7 Fun & Easy Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day With Kids

I know a lot of people think parents are getting a little over-the-top with holiday celebrations. But here's the deal: in our house, we love holidays. Big or small, we celebrate as many of them as we can. My kids get a kick out of all the little things we do, and it's a great opportunity to learn a little bit about the history and/or culture behind the holiday. And we're a little bit Irish and we're Catholic, so here are 7 easy ways to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

1. Build a leprechaun trap. The first time we ever had a leprechaun trap was when the first grade teacher at our elementary school assigned it to my oldest's class for homework. That was 10 years ago, and we've had at least one in our house every year since. And honestly, when I say build a leprechaun trap, I mean, let your kids do it. Let them raid the art supplies and the recycling pile. Give them glue, glitter, and gold coins (leprechauns love gold, you know). Use legos or blocks or play dough. Let them have at it. This is a great STEAM (that's science, technology, engineering, art, and math, by the way) activity. They can get creative, build, try out different ideas, and see if they work. We've never caught a leprechaun in one of traps, but maybe this year will be different...

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2. Put together a St. Patrick's Day sensory bin. Kids too little to build a trap? Put together this sensory bin, instead! The dollar store has all things green and lots of cheap St. Patrick's Day trinkets. Grab a couple bags of green paper shred (or Easter grass), some foam shamrocks and other green things, and some fake gold coins and toss them in a bin. My kids love digging through the grass and finding all the hidden things.

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3. Eat Lucky Charms cereal. No, this isn't an ad for the cereal. In fact, since I typically don't feed my kids cereal full of marshmallows for breakfast, I generally don't buy it. But, once a year, we have it in our house and it's a big treat for them.

4. Make a walking rainbow. If you've ever done this, you know what a cool experiment it is! You need 6 clear jars/glasses/cups, paper towels, some water, and red, blue and yellow food coloring. Put the jars in a circle and fill every other jar about 1/2 to 3/4 full of water. Add red food coloring to the first jar of water, yellow to the second jar of water, and blue to the third. Fold 6 paper towels into strips and put them between the jars, one end in each. Make sure the ones in the water jars are touching the water. Let them sit. Check them every once in a while to see the colors climbing the paper towels between jars. After several hours, you will have an entire rainbow, like magic!

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5. Go On a Gold Hunt. Gather some fake gold coins, pennies, or anything you can find that is yellow. Hide them around your house and send your kids on a "gold hunt". Make it more interesting by setting a timer and seeing how many pieces they can find before it goes off. Of make it a race, seeing who can collect the most pieces of gold. Or have them team up to help each other.

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6. Bless someone else with "the luck o' the Irish". Take some time to leave a treat for a neighbor or someone you love. Leave a card with it explaining that a leprechaun has blessed them with some luck. There is never a bad time to teach kids to show kindness to others.

7. Make a little mischief. Leprechauns love mischief! They might take things out and put them away in the wrong place, steal the gold out of a trap without being caught and hide it around the house, or leave a fun little note about why they are so hard to catch.

 

Raising Emma: Learning How to Parent a Tiny Version of Myself

Recently I read a post on Instagram that someone had made talking about how the older her daughter gets, the more she can see how her personality is influencing her daughter's. So much of the time, I feel the same way about both of my girls. As different as they are from each other, they are both just like me in their own ways. Sometimes, it can feel like God took all the most difficult parts of my personality, multiplied them by 1,000, and gave them to my daughters. Sophia inherited my anxiety and my perfectionism; Emma got my tendency to say EXACTLY how I feel and what I think, and they BOTH got my stubbornness (and while I'd like to say that their dad is partially to blame for this one, I know, in my heart, that's not really the case).

Parenting is all about picking your battles and finding a way to guide your children to making positive choices while letting them be themselves. But man, some days, these personality traits can make parenting so hard because I'm fighting against these little versions of myself. It's particularly true with Emma. Maybe it's because she most definitely has a mind of her own and isn't afraid to say what she thinks (like me). Or maybe it's because once she has her mind set on something, it's nearly impossible to compromise (also, like me).

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Regardless, I sometimes find myself having to work extra hard to have patience with her and being too quick to scold her. And then I always feel really bad. Because she is the sweetest girl. Of course she has her not-so-wonderful moments, but most days, she is full of ideas and nice words and compliments. She tells me EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. that I am the best mommy ever. She is a wonderful sharer, even when other people won't readily share with her. She loves to help out at home- to help make dinner, or do special jobs for me or help her younger brother. She is silly and loves practical jokes. She will tell you EXACTLY how she feels, but wants to make sure that it doesn't hurt your feelings if she disagrees with you. Really, she just wants to be needed, and I can understand that. She is one of two middle children- both girls- and as a middle child myself, I remember feeling the same way. I thinkk we all just want to be noticed.

The other night, Emma's class had a big play at school. They've spent the last three-ish months "flying" around the world and learning lots about different continents, countries & cultures. And the culmination of that lesson was the annual "Around the World" show. Each of the kids was assigned a country, and they dressed in traditional clothes and taught the audience the things they learned about their country. They were each asked to bring some sort of food to represent their country, and afterward there was a little party. 

It was during this party that the school music teacher sought me out to talk about Emma. She told me, "I really think Emma will be President one day. She is just so SHARP. If she were the President, I would know I was in good hands". She told me about a comment she made- one that could be considered rude- but she didn't think it was. Instead, she was impressed with the quickness and wit of her answer.

Emma as a little girl from Kenya. She chose Africa because her uncle is from Liberia.

Emma as a little girl from Kenya. She chose Africa because her uncle is from Liberia.

So here's the thing. I always tell myself that if my kids behave well when they are out with other people, then we're doing a pretty good job. Home is the place where they should feel most comfortable and most able to be themselves. Where they should be able to express their opinions without worrying that they will risk losing someone's love or affection. And because of that, home is the place where they can fall apart, and scream and cry when they need to. This doesn't mean that it is ok to be disrespectful or hurtful. It simply means that they have a safe place to be themselves, and know that they will be loved no matter what. And hearing this teacher's perception of Emma was just a little reminder that we're doing ok.

And so, I'm trying harder. To be patient. To remind myself that she is only seven. That she wants to stand out in this large family of ours and that she might feel like she has to work hard to shine from the middle. To let her know that she is special and she is loved and I wouldn't change anything about her. Because what I know about Emma is this: these frustrating parts of her- they are GOOD things. As she grows and changes and navigates this world, these things will serve her well. Some day, she will develop a filter and learn to choose her words wisely and realize that compromise is a good thing (I think, for the most part, I did). But, until then, I will do my best to guide her to right choices while letting her be herself.

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Make Your Own Binoculars (That Actually Work!)

We've been having some really great weather lately- much more spring than winter- so we've been trying to get outside as much as possible after being cooped up inside for a couple of months. The other day we went for a walk; the weather was warm, the birds were singing, and the kids were trying to spot them all in the trees. And that made me think that we should have some binoculars to help us spot them. So we decided to make some.

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At first I was just going to pull out my stash of toilet paper tubes, let the kids decorate them, and then glue them together, but I thought it would be interesting and more fun to make some binoculars that actually work. So we did!

Really quickly, here's the science behind how this works: binoculars use lenses (curved pieces of glass) to draw distant light rays together to bring them into focus. There are two types of lenses- concave and convex. Concave lenses are curved so that the middle is thinner than the outer edge, which forces light rays to spread out as they pass through. Concave lenses are used in things like movie projectors to make light cover a larger area. Convex lenses are sort of dome shaped, with thinner outer edges and a thicker middle. As light passes through convex lenses, the rays converge, making objects appear larger. Convex lenses are used in things like magnifying glasses and, yep, you guessed it! Binoculars. 

Binoculars actually use two convex lenses. The first lens catches the light rays and makes them converge, creating an image, and the second lens magnifies it, making it look larger and closer. So, how did we make our binoculars?

Well, first, I DID pull out the TP tubes and let the kids decorate them.

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When they were done coloring, decorating, etc., I punched a hole in the top outer edge of each side, glued the two tubes together, and tied some yarn through them for a neck strap.

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I bought some 2 1/4-inch magnifying glasses from the local party store, removed the handles, and glued one lense to each opening (two per TP tube), making sure that the curved part of each lens was facing into the tube. If you look at the picture, you can see that I didn't originally remove the little plastic tab that held the lenses into the handles. I went back afterward and used a pair of very sharp scissors to cut them off.

 It is worth mentioning here, that we used very cheap magnifying glasses, which work, but are quite blurry. Your binoculars will only work as well as the magnifying glasses you choose, so the better the lens, the better the binoculars! You may also want to play around with the placement of the lenses. We glued ours to each end, but they may work better if they are placed closer to each other; for example, one lens on the outward-facing end, and one lens just behind it inside the tube. 

And that was it! We took them outside to play with and search for birds.

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Valentine's Day Mini Pull-String Piñata

Hi, Everybody! Thanks for stopping by today! I'm putting together a fun little surprise for my kids for Valentine's Day this year and I thought I'd share a little bit about it with you!

I love to give my kids fun and thoughtful little gifts, and I'm all about the packaging, so this year I'm making these small pull-string piñatas for them. My kids span a pretty wide age-range (4-15 1/2), so the plan for these is to fill them with some fun small gifts and let them break them open on Valentine's Day, but I also think that these would make a really great box for a kiddo to collect valentines in at school. How cool would it be to let your friends and classmates fill up your piñata, and then break it open when you get home?! So, if you have a school-ager, consider helping him or her make one to take to school if they celebrate Valentine's Day! Or, you could make an even smaller version and fill it with candy, or stickers, or even confetti... lots of possibilities here ;)

Ok, on to the tutorial. First- a disclaimer. This is going to look like a REALLLLY long job, but it actually comes together fairly quickly. I took lots of pictures and am trying to be very clear in my directions so that I don't confuse anyone! Here we go!

Tools and Materials:

8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper
Cardboard
Masking Tape
Heavy brown craft paper OR very thin cardboard (like a cereal box)
Tissue Paper
Regular old school glue
Embroidery/large needle
Twine/yarn/string of some sort
Scissors
Craft knife
Pencil
 

What To Do:

Create a heart template: fold your piece of paper in half so that it is now 8 ½ x 5 ½. Trace one half of a heart on the fold and cut out. Unfold your heart and lay in on your cardboard; trace 2 and cut using your craft knife (it's a good idea to put a spare piece of cardboard underneath where you are cutting to protect your work surface).
 

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Set hearts aside. Cut 2- 4 ½ inch wide strips from your cardboard (if you are making a smaller piñata, I would use narrower strips). I cut mine from a tri-fold board I purchased at the dollar store, so they were approximately 24 inches long, but the length you need will depend on how large your heart is. I purposely cut mine long so that I could trim them down where needed. 

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Gently bend your cardboard strips to help make them more flexible.

Sorry about the glare! It was hard to get a good picture of this on my table!

Sorry about the glare! It was hard to get a good picture of this on my table!

Beginning at the top center of, attach one of your hearts to the top edge of one cardboard strip. Use lots of tape! Stop taping about 2 inches from the bottom point of your heart (1 inch for smaller piñatas). Trim off your cardboard strip so that you will have an opening at the bottom of the piñata.
 

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Reinforce the outside of the seam with masking tape. Tape the seam on the inside of your piñata if you wish.

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On the other side of your heart, measure up 2 inches from the center point (1 inch for smaller piñatas) and mark. Line up one edge of your second cardboard strip with this mark and tape it to the heart the same way you did on the first side. STOP taping about 2 ¼ inches away from the top center point. Trim off your cardboard strip where it meets the center point on the top of your heart (this will be your flap to open for filling the piñata). Tape inside if you wish. Reinforce the outer seam with masking tape as before.

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Flip the piñata over so the front heart is on your work surface with sides sticking up. Lay your second heart on top, lining up edges and points. Tape in the same manner as first side. Don’t forget to reinforce those edges!

Cut a 6 x 5 ½ piece of your heavy craft paper (or cereal box). Mark a line 1 inch in from each long edge. Fold in half length-wise with lines on the inside. Make a good crease- this will become the bottom point of your heart. Open the paper up and fold the long edges in to meet the lines you drew.

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Thread your needle with a length of twine. Push the needle up through the bottom of the craft paper at the crease. Pull the end of the end of the twine out of the needle’s eye and knot well (I tied mine about 5 times in the same place). You should now have the knot between the folds of the paper, with the string hanging from the point of your heart.

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Fold the paper back in half and insert it into the bottom of your piñata, lining the crease up with the bottom point and the fold of the long edges up with the sides of the piñata. Tape into place on the outside. 

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Time to cover your piñata (I promise, we’re almost done)! Cut a bunch of 2 inch wide (1- 1 ½ for smaller piñatas) strips of tissue paper. Stack your strips on top of each other and cut fringe along the bottom edge.

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Now, here’s where I’m going to tell you to do look at the pictures for reference, but also ignore them. I made the mistake of starting on the outer edge of my heart and then covering the front and back. It worked, but would have been a lot less difficult if I had started with the front & back and then done the edge. So. Do as I say. Not as I… did.

Starting at the bottom point of the piñata, you are going to layer your fringe strips on top of each other, making sure to over lap so no cardboard is showing. I glued the top edge of each strip about 1/8th to 1/4 of an inch above the top edge of the previous strip. I also found it helpful to glue the first few layers so that they followed the shape of the bottom point. Then, just lay the strips straight across, trimming off any excess length. When you get to the top, be sure to tuck the strips in around the center of your heart so you maintain the shape!

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When your front and back are covered, then cover the sides, starting at the bottom on either side of your point and working your way up to the center. If you need to, once your whole piñata is covered, give your fringe a little haircut to make it nice and even & emphasize the shape!

Bottom is to the right in this photo- see the pull string?

Bottom is to the right in this photo- see the pull string?

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LAST STEP! Cut 2 pieces of twine that are equal in length. Thread one into the needle and push it down through one of the top curves of your heart. Knot well inside the piñata. Thread your needle with the other piece of twine and do the same thing on the other side of your heart. Try to make sure that both pieces are placed in approximately the same spot and centered in the top of the curve. Finally, pull up your ends so that the piñata hangs evenly and knot the twine pieces together. Trim off excess and VOILA! You are done!! Hang your piñata up somewhere so that the glue can dry, then decide how you want to haveve fun with it!

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Phew! Thanks for hanging in until the end! I hope you got an amazing little surprise for your kid(s) out of it...  I can't wait for mine to see their surprises!

Three Winter Sensory Bins for Preschoolers

Ok, you guys, I have to tell you that I really, really, really, really, REALLY (really) love sensory bins. They're just such a great tool to have because they encourage kids to explore their surroundings, experiment, and make connections between their play and their learning. And that's really important because not only does it create neural pathways in the brain, but it helps to promote language development, scientific reasoning, understanding of cause and effect, understanding of sensory attributes such as temperature and texture, problem solving skills, fine and gross motor skills, and social skills.

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How to Make Fire Starters

One of the things I love about our house is our fireplace. Especially during the winter, when our ground floor seems to be freezing cold, no matter how high our thermostat is set. But I feel like it always takes us FOREVER to get a fire going because we have to hunt down a bunch of kindling and paper to light it. So, I decided to make some fire starters to have on hand to help us get fires going. And I'm not going to lie, they're kind of cute sitting there in the basket waiting to be used.

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When I was in Girl Scouts forever ago, we used to make fire starters out of melted wax from used crayons, which we poured over dryer lint-stuffed sections of egg cartons. But really they can be made out of anything that will light easily and burn slowly enough to give the larger sticks and logs time to catch. 

Since we had two Christmas trees to haul out of our house, I decided to use them to make these fire starters. I cut off a whole bunch of branches before Josh hauled them away, then I raided the lint can in the laundry room, 

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I trimmed down my pine branches into smaller wrapped them up with some lint in some paper. I could have used news paper, but we didn't have any lying around, so I used my stash of craft paper instead.

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I tried to really fill them up and pack everything in so that they burn long enough. Then I twisted up the ends and tied them off with twine. And then, because I'm weird and I like things to be... pretty... I added a branch to the outside and tied it on.

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And then I was done. I stuck them all in a basket on my shelf, and there they are ready to be used when we have a fire. Actually, that's not true. They aren't ALL waiting to be used, because we've used some over the last couple of weeks, but the ones that are left are still hanging out in their basket, looking all cute, and waiting to be used.

Winter Boredom Buster: DIY Cardboard Tube Swords

Well, its that time of year again. Christmas and the New Year have come and gone, and we're digging for the cold winter months. Winter came into our area full-force over Christmas and I have a feeling we're going to be spending a lot of time cooped up inside over the next few months. Which means that I'm going to be looking for lots of ways to stave off boredom and keep my kids from fighting over EVERY. LITTLE. THING. Because, let's be honest, short days + cold weather + being stuck inside = cranky kids (and mom & dad, too). So, hopefully, over the next days/weeks/months, I'll be sharing with you easy crafts and activities to help keep the boredom at bay.

Today I'm going to share with you a quick tutorial on how to make these cardboard swords. I actually made these for an event I did at work in early December, and had extras that I passed on to my kids. They go together pretty quickly and my kids have played with them quite a bit over the last few weeks. If you're like me, you'll even have leftover cardboard boxes and wrapping paper tubes from Christmas, which makes these super easy to do!

 

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For the swords, you will need:

  • Cardboard tubes- when I made these for work, I raided my wrapping paper, unrolling the rolls that had only a little bit of paper left, and stealing the tubes inside. Now, I have some more tubes from Christmas wrapping, but if you didn't just happen to save them to add to your ever-growing stash of cardboard like me, fear not! You can make cardboard tubes by scoring a rectangle of thin-ish cardboard, rolling it up, and hot glueing the edge.
  • Pencil
  • Masking tape (I couldn't find my masking tape, so I used blue painter's tape, instead).

Not Pictured:

  • A piece of thin-ish flat cardboard- like the side of a box, or an empty cereal box.
  • Craft knife
  • Hot glue gun
  • Foil (optional)
  • Markers/gems/glue/paint/decorations (also optional)

It's going to look like there are a lot of steps to making these swords, but that's because I wanted to break them WAAAY down to make them really easy, so don't worry, and don't feel overwhelmed!

  1. If your cardboard tubes are long, trim off the end to your desired length. I probably made mine about 24 inches.
  2. Flatten one end slightly and cut a curved edge (be careful to round out the top point a little bit so that it isn't TOO sharp; some of mine were actually sharper than I wanted and I had to go back and round them off some more):
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        3. Tape off this edge with masking tape:

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        4. If you would like to cover the blade with foil to make it look more like a sword, now is the               time. Simply wrap pieces of foil around it (if you want, you can hot glue them to give them             more staying power). I left my swords uncovered for two reasons: a) I was worried the foil            would give them too sharp of an edge and b) I was giving kids free reign to decorate them            as they chose.

       5. On your flat piece of cardboard, draw one rectangle per sword. I made mine 3x12 inches,                but you can make any size you want as long as they are wider than the width of your                      sword blade. These will be the hand guards. Cut out using your craft knife:

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        6. On the left side of the hand guard, trace the bottom round edge of your blade and cut it                 out with your craft knife.

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       7. Slide hand guard up over the bottom of the blade. Make sure the hand guard is extending             out to the right, and that the curved edge of the blade is facing the same direction:

       8. Bend right side of hand guard down, forming a "D" shape, and hot glue to the bottom of                the blade. Hold for a few seconds to make sure the hot glue dries:

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       9. Let your kids decorate them with paint, markers, gems, etc. (this keeps them occupied                    longer!), and when they are dry, they are ready to sword fight!

Just a note about safety- before letting my kids play with these swords, we talked about making sure that they were hitting SWORDS ONLY, not people, so no one got hurt.

And that's it! My kids have spent several hours sword-fighting, playing pretend, and just generally enjoying their swords!

Christmas: Contained (Free Printable Planning Pages)

For the last few years, I've been feeling like the holidays are nothing more than one of those REEEEAAALLLY stressful times. So many events to attend, gifts to buy and give, relatives to make sure we visit, and traditions to uphold, all squeezed in around the regular-level craziness of our daily lives. I was just beginning to feel like, somehow, I needed to contain Christmas so that I could spend as much time as possible during the holidays making memories with my husband and our kids. 

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Let's Play a Game!

Yesterday I said to the kids, "Let's play a game." "Yay! Let's Play Monopoly!"- this from my four-year-old. He's been really interested in Monopoly Junior lately. I love to play games with my kids, you guys, but oh, man, this one is not my favorite to play with littles. First of all, it takes forever- almost like regular Monopoly, so one game can seem to drag on for hours. It's like going down the rabbit hole! For another thing, even though he's getting pretty good at it, it's really NOT geared toward kids his age. Which can make it hard (and even harder if we're playing with more than one kiddo, like when we play with his five-year-old cousin), because it sometimes requires skills that he hasn't quite developed yet. So, why do I keep playing this game with him?

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A Berenstain Bears Birthday

In our house, we love the Berenstain Bears. We have a LARGE collection of the books, and we read them so often that I can recite many of them by heart. The kids look for them at the library and the bookstore, and they're often our go-to during story-time. And I love that our kids love them, because they are such a special piece of my childhood (some of the books in our collection were mine when I was young). So, you can imagine how excited I was when my daughter decided that she wanted to have a Berenstain Bears-themed party for her birthday!

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Thankful Turkey

I took a shower today.

I feel pretty good about it.

Not just one of those quick showers where you hop in and wash up, leaving your hair unwashed. Nope. A real, full-fledged shower. With face, body AND hair washing. And all the grooming. It was SO nice, you guys. Sometimes, it is the smallest things in life that make us happy. We're so busy that I can go days (yes, days, sometimes up to a week) without actually washing my hair (hello, dry shampoo!). And sometimes, when we get so busy, we forget to be thankful for all the amazing people and things we have in our lives (like showers).

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To the Mom Who Sat in Front of Us at Church Today

To the mom of four little kids who sat in front of us at church today:

I hope you don’t mind that I gave your little girl some stickers to distract her from fighting with her brother. I know I should have asked you before giving your child anything, really, but I could see that you were busy trying to manage the baby while separating squabbling kids, and I thought asking you to divide your attention one more way might be more frustrating than helpful. You may have noticed that our families are pretty similar: 4 kids- boys on either end, with two little girls in the middle, with a similar age gap.

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Reconnecting

Today, Josh and I had lunch alone together. That might not seem like such a huge thing to a lot of people, but you guys, let me just tell you: it is for us.

Years ago, when I was still in school and we were both still working at the Y, when we had only one child and life was a little slower and a lot less stressful, Josh and I used to meet for lunch several times a week. Sometimes we would pack our lunches and eat together at work, sometimes we would go out, and sometimes we'd pick something up and bring it back. Sometimes it was just the two of us, and sometimes friends and coworkers joined us. Some days we had an hour together and sometimes it was a quick 20 minutes, but the point is, we had that opportunity to connect, and we did it often. We were able to take time out of our day and just be together.

Since that time, I've gotten my degree and moved on to working elsewhere and then to staying home with the kids, he got a new job and has changed shifts and schedules more times than I'd like to count, we've added 3 more children to our family, and life has gotten SO busy.  Our lunch dates fell away, and sometimes we even struggle to find time to connect with each other on a daily basis. So often, I feel like we are just ships, passing in the night. Our calendar is full, and most days, our conversation revolves round our schedule: which child needs to be where at what time, and which parent is going to get them there? Whose turn is it to watch which child's sporting event this week? How will everything else fit in between our work schedules? And the free time we have? We usually try to spend it with our kids, connecting as a family. It can all be so complicated, and it often leaves little time for us to have time to ourselves.

And even when we might get time alone, it sometimes still feels hard to connect. It's hard to turn off my brain, to not think about the 645 million things that I need to remember, and just spend a little time focusing on us. Remembering the things we love about each other, how much fun we can have together, how much we make each other laugh, and how nice it is to just sit quietly next to each other, enjoying each other's company (and not falling asleep on the couch).

But TODAY. Since Columbus Day is a state and federal holiday, Josh happened to have the day off. The kids still had school, all four of them. And Monday is the only day I don't baby-sit. So, after Number Four had lunch and went off to preschool, but before the crazy afternoon & evening schedule started, we had 2 hours together. Two hours during which we could hang out and we did not have to focus on anyone else. There were no tears because our kids were getting left with a sitter, no guilt over taking time away from them to spend by ourselves, no anxiety attacks about someone having to be separated from Mommy. So we went to lunch, just like we used to. And then we went to pick up a few things from the grocery store, something else we haven't done together in I-don't-know-how-long.

To some of you, this might seem like a trivial thing; something silly to be grateful for. But you know what? Today, it made all the difference. Monday afternoons are rough around here. But,, when it came time for the evening rush- leave the house at 2, pick up the girls at 2:30, Number Four at 3:00, my oldest at 3:10, get my oldest & his teammates to cross country practice at 3:45, give the younger 3 snacks, get homework done, get E to soccer practice at 6, get home and make dinner, feed everyone, and get them to bed- all while Josh is working his second job- it didn't feel so overwhelming. I had infintely more patience with everyone, and a lot less stress.

You guys, we have partners for a reason. We choose them for a reason. I'm pretty strong, and I'm used to doing things on my own when I need to (which, to be honest, is pretty often). I'm the keeper of all things for my family, the one who has it together (because if I don't our s*** will be ALL over the place), but I need support, sometimes, too. It can be so easy, in the hustle of every day life, to lose each other, to fail to put time aside to connect with our partners and enjoy each other's company, and let each other's love buoy us, and when we let that get lost, our lives are so much harder. 

I don't say it often enough, but today I was reminded of just how thankful I am that I have this man to support me in our life together. My hope is that days like today come more frequently. That, as our kids get older, and even as their schedules get crazier, we can continue to find moments together like we did so many years ago.

Pom-Pom Monsters!

Ok, so yesterday was the first day of fall, and it was seriously 91 degrees here! What is that about?! I want cool weather and scarves and coffee and pumpkin everything and jeans and boots and sweaters and Halloween costumes and...well, I want FALL! So, despite the weather's lack of cooperation, I broke out the fall activities and we made some cute pom-pom monsters. You guys, I seriously love yarn pom-poms. They're so easy to make and fun to play and decorate with! Not only did these pom-pom monsters turn out super cute, but the kiddos had tons of fun making them!

First, I put out this invitation to play:

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In the muffin tin, I included small pom-poms, feathers, different kinds of googly eyes, and some pieces cut from foam sheets. I also layed out glue and chenille stems which I had cut in half for a previous something forever ago.

Then I let them pick some colors of yarn to make into pom-poms. If you've never made a yarn pom-pom, here is a quick breakdown:

You will need:

  1. Yarn
  2. Scissors
  3. A piece of cardboard approximately the desired width of your pom-pom (or just use your hand)
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  1. Wrap the yarn around the cardboard (or your hand). Wrap snugly, but not too tightly, because you'll need to be able to slide the yarn off. The more yarn you wrap, the fuller your pom will be.
  2. When you think you have enough, cut the end off. Then cut another length of yarn with which to tie off the pom.
  3. Slide the pom off the piece of cardboard and lay it on top of the length of yarn.
  4. Wrap the separate piece of yarn up and over the top of the pom, crossing it over. Pull tight and tie a good knot. You should have many loops of yarn at either end.
  5. Slide blade of scissors through one end of loops and cut.
  6. Flip pom around and cut through loops at other end. Trim off any overly-long pieces, and you're done!

Once I had their pom-poms made, I handed them over and let the kiddos have some fun! 

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Let me tell you, these two are four and five years old...any activity involving glueing is SO EXCITING for them, because glue is pretty much the best thing ever. This kept them (and me) occupied for a good 45 minutes, and my six-year-old has been asking to make some since she got home from school yesterday, so I think we'll be making more very soon. I think I'll make them into a garland and let them put it up when it's time to decorate for Halloween!

Elegant and Easy Boho Floral Wreaths

When we bought our house, I was thisclose to the end of my pregnancy with our oldest daughter, and we wanted to be in and settled before she made her grand entrance. Because of that, we only took the time to paint and put together the kids' rooms before moving in. That was a little over 10 years ago, and in that time, while I've done a lot in the rest of our house, their bedrooms have seen little change. Since we've added two more children to our family, and since they are all getting a little older, it's time for their spaces to get some updates. 

The girls decided that they would like to do their room in gold, coral, & navy, and I'm leaning in the direction of floral and whimsical and a little bit boho. As I was searching for a little bit of inspiration, I came across this post over at 100 Layer Cake-let, and fell in love with the simple floral wreaths used. And I thought they'd be perfect, so I decided to make some for the girls' room!

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So I did. And I love them. And I think you might love them, too, so I'm sharing with you a quick tutorial on how I made these SUPER simple wreaths! 

Let's get started! You will need:

  • Embroidery hoops of various sizes
  • Silk flowers and greens of your choice (I used various roses, but if I had been able to find peonies in the right colors, I would have used those, too!)
  • Hot glue & glue gun

 

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If you want to maximize the use you get out of your embroidery hoops, you can use both the inner and outer hoops, but I haven't decided how I'm going to hang these yet, and I didn't want the added weight of the clamps on the outer hoops, so I removed those and set them aside. If you choose to use the outer hoops as well, just make sure you cover up the clamps with your flowers, and know that your hoops will list even more to the one side than they would with just the flowers. I also considered painting the hoops gold (just because I love it), but ultimately decided that I preferred the natural wood of the hoops with the flowers. If you want to paint your hoops, now is the time to do it! 

Once your hoops are ready (and dry!), remove all of your flowers and leaves from their stems. This way you can lay them out and get an idea of how you want each wreath to look, You can either lay them out directly on the hoop, or next to it, in the same general shape. I try to use odd numbers of flowers.

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Now, you're going to glue on your leaves. You want them to stick out from behind and under your flowers, so spread them out a little, but try not to leave too many large gaps in your groupings. In the picture below, I did leave space between the leaves going opposite directions that would be filled with flowers, but in the end, I wish I had added a little more greenery.

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Once you have all of your leaves the way you want them, add your flowers! I found that the easiest way to do this was to put hot glue on the back of the flower and the small stem part still attached, and attach it to both the top of the hoop, and the inner edge, if that makes sense (sorry, I didn't get a picture of that!).

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Keep adding!

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Once you have all your flowers in place, that's it- you're done! See? Easy-peasy! And so pretty! 

Like I said, I haven't decided how, exactly I'm going to hang these, but you can tie on some ribbon, add a loop to the back, or probably even hang them directly on hooks on the wall. Now- I need to go paint the girls' room to I can put them up! I can't wait to see them on their wall!

"Boy, You Have Your Hands Full" - A Busy Mom's Advice For Keeping It Together

When you parent a lot of kids, you tend to garner comments about the size of your family. See, people assume fewer kids equals easier parenting. Parents with partners aren't outnumbered by one or two children and even single parents have two hands, so it must not be so bad. But once you hit three, the comments start rolling. At three kids, I started hearing things like, "Boy, you have your hands full!" and when we hit four, all bets were off. I've gotten everything from "I don't know how you do it!" to "You have a lot of kids- do you think this is a fair price for families?". I don't know what it is about having multiple children that makes people think it's ok to comment on the size of your family, but typically I just respond politely and leave it at that.

These comments can sometimes be snide, but are more often made by well-meaning strangers, people we know, or parents who have fewer children and think they would be overwhelmed by more. The truth is, even though we are a large family by today's standards, I can think if at least three families in our tiny school (think fewer than 200 students) that have more kids than mine, and back in the day, 4 kids would have been easy-peasy.

Honestly, no matter how many kids you have, or how old they are, parenting is hard AF. And the things that make it hard are constantly chnging. When my kids were little, parenting was hard because of the constant physical needs. They needed me to do or help them do everything. And when you are elbows-deep in kids all day, with no adults in sight, that can be really draining! Now that they're older, the challenges have changed. They no longer need me to do ALL.THE.THINGS., but they definitely need more emotional support (remember puberty? and high school? and love and broken hearts and trying out for teams and trying to get into colleges and all the things? yeah, be ready!), and they need to be taken EVERYWHERE. Seriously, everywhere.

The older they get, the crazier their schedules get, so it makes me laugh a little inside whenever people ask me how I keep it all together. Because, in all honesty, I'm really not. Most days, I'm just faking it and hoping no one will notice all the things I missed... like vacuuming up the dog hair that's been smeared on our carpet for the past two days (can I tell you how much I hate dog hair?!), or you know, bathing my younger kids every couple of days, or being on time. To anything. Ever. I haven't quite given this one up, and I'm trying to get better, but it takes a lot of planning and cajoling on my part. In fact, I'm counting it as nothing short of a miracle that we have made it, dressed and fed, to the bus stop on time all year long (who care that we're only two weeks in?!).

Which brings me to the one thing that adds some semblance of together-ness to my life and that is: MY PLANNER. You know I love organization, and this is the one thing that helps me keep it together. I've always been a calendar/planner/organizer kind of girl, and it's one thing I can't be without!

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Now, I know that a lot of people think planners are boring, but there are so many different kinds out there, and so many different accessories, that they can be a thing of beauty. In fact, over the years, mine has evolved from a calendar into something more like a calendar/to-do list/menu planner/ home binder/scrapbook all in one. It's now kind of like a cross between an organizer and a bullet journal- something I wish I could do, but find that it takes up more time than I have, despite all reassurance that bullet-journaling is quick an easy (it's the layouts that get me- i just spend far too much time making them perfect!). 

So, what, exactly, do I use that makes this so amazing? Read on for some tips!

1. Find One That Works For You: Maybe you need lots of room to write, or perhaps you prefer something compact and easy to carry. You might want only a monthly lay-out, or a weekly lay-out, or maybe you're like me and you want to have both! Spiral bound, or one that you can easily rearrange. Only a calendar, or one with additional sections for budget, workout/health tracking, and more, I've used a lot of different planners over the years, and it took me a little while to figure out what I needed. There are lots of options out there, whether you want to purchase a pre-made one or download templates to print and make your own! Think about your needs. 

2. Color Code It: I color-code calendar entries. I've designated a specific color to each family member so that I can quickly glance at my calendar and know which activity belongs to whom. It makes it so much easier to find things and, honestly, it's kind of pretty to look at! 

3. Make It Fun!: I love all the sickers and stamps that are out there, and I use them to help me designate special events, work items, to-do lists, menu plans, chores and more. I use fun binder clips to mark current week's sections so I can flip to them quickly and easily. Plus, the organizer I use has add-on pages for home planning, fitness tracking, notes and more, which make it easy to customize.

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Recently, my planner took a step up to "scrapbook" when my kids and husband gave me a Polaroid Instax camera for Mother's Day. The prints are the perfect size to fit in the boxes of my calendar, so whenever we have an important event, or just something I want to remember, I snap a picture and add it to the book.

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4. Keep It All Together: I keep everything- except my pens and planner itself (those travel with me everywhere I go)- together and easily accessible in a basket on my desk. Any time something comes up, I add it to my planner.

5. Communicate It!: Having myself organized is only half the battle! If everyone else, particularly my husband, doesn't know what's going on, we're still a mess. So, once a week, I transfer everything that everyone else needs to know (i.e., our dinner menu and weekly activites) to the two chalkboards I have designated in our house for those purposes. This way, we're all on the same page

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So now you know my secret! Hopefully these tips help you, too!

A Vintage Train- Themed 4th Birthday

So. We recently celebrated another birthday in our house- the summer months are full of them around here! Number Four turned four at the beginning of the month, and we celebrated with a train-themed birthday party. I prefer to use themes that don't center around licensed characters and I love all things vintage, so I tried to take his train request in that direction, using a lot of natural elements and vintage looking items in the decor. 

We kept it pretty simple, inviting family and just his one little friend. I created invitations that resembled vintage train tickets. We have this great collection of older Geotrax trains that we've been acquiring since our oldest was about three, so we brought those out and set up a large track for the kids to play with. His only food request was macaroni and cheese, so I added to that fruit, burger sliders and mini hotdogs (so fun!), and potato chips served in fun paper cones. We also had lots of sweet treats, including cake pops, chocolate covered marshmallows, and cake & ice cream, of course! Favors, displayed in vintage luggage, consisted of a train whistle (I'm sure parents loved me), an engineer's cap, and bandanna. Check out some of the details below!

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