Friday, December 19, 2014

Toys not just for Boys - Chuggington StackTrack Playset

Like a kid on Hanukkah morning...

...not quite the same ring, but the Christmas tree and jammies still give you that feeling of holiday excitement.   The first night of Hanukkah was Tuesday and since that day we dealt with the most epic meltdown ever coming home from school, I decided to nix the gift of the night.  Actually, since we only celebrate the holiday for culture and family and not traditional or religious reasons, we don't do a present every night.  If we did, they'd probably just be getting stickers and Little Golden Books. So since my mom usually sends a Hanukkah gift, as does my step mother in law, we just space them over the 8 nights.

We were lucky enough to receive a Chuggington StackTrack playset from TOMY to review and knew it would be the perfect Hanukkah gift.   Since we also received the Chuggington Snow Rescue DVD to go along with the StackTrack's Koko's Icy Escapade theme, I thought we'd get a lot playtime without having twenty other shiny new toys alongside it.  Not to mention, having a holiday DVD to inspire play and get a break from the repeat of holiday Sofia and Jake episodes.

I was really excited when we were asked to review this playset.  Chuggington was one of the first shows Ashlynn was interested in watching and we still catch episodes onDemand since they are fairly short, I can get away with only allowing one, instead of a whole half hour.  Aside from the fact Ashlynn is a fan of the show and characters (she has no idea who Thomas is), I was stoked we were being asked to try a toy that is so classically labeled a "boy toy".  

Of course, we have our fair share of tea sets, dolls, and princess dresses, but I really try to stay aware of the gender stereotyping that is forced upon us when shopping at toy stores.  Pink aisles and boxes for girls and blue for boys.  We have a nice collection of cars, Green Toys trucks, and a pirate ship, but we don't have a train.

Ashlynn was so excited.  It's recommended for ages 3+, but at 2.5, she plays and is entertained with it just fine.  Of course, assembly was all me, but I had her help with handing me the pieces I needed.  The die cut stack track allows you to build elevated layouts and it can built multiple ways, which gives it new life when toddler ADD casts it aside.  The pieces all easily snap together, however, the instructions noted it's best on a flat (not carpeted) surface.  Which we figured out after godzilla Kenley walked into about three times knocking the risers off from the track.

I definitely think this toy would be a great gift idea for any Disney Jr fan - boy or girl!  The creative and imaginative play, as well as the track building - future engineers?? - is fun for any child.  I love that the track goes with the Snow Rescue episode and it also connects to any other Chuggington StackTrack set.

Of course, Kenley on the other hand was more interested in the box.  ;)

If you'd like to pick up your own playset in time for the holidays, Koko's Icy Escapade playset is now available at Target and

Do you buy toys marketed to the opposite gender for your children?


FTC Disclosure:  TOMY generously sent us the Chuggington StackTrack playset and Chuggington Snow Rescue DVD for our review,  however all opinions and excitement are our own.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

[Guest Post] Skincare Treats for Moms

Audrey is a skincare nut turned blogger who’s leaving skincare in every stocking this season. She specializes in personalized skincare during the day (and bad reality TV at night.) Find out why she believes stay at home moms deserve beauty me-time on her blog, Vain Pursuits. Today, she is guest posting for me on how to treat yourself this holiday season!

Skincare Treats for Moms (in 5 minutes or less!)

Being a mom means taking advantage of every free moment life gives you. If your kiddos are finally down for a quick afternoon nap, you probably rejoice silently before running to their laundry baskets, throwing in a load, and getting started on the dishes downstairs. While it may be tempting to get as much done as you can during these little breaks, sometimes the best way to make the most of your minutes is to spend a little time on nobody but yourself.

It’s written all over your face when you’re sleepy and stressed. The battle wounds of motherhood are tired eyes, stretch marks, cellulite… you get the drift. When you’re feeling wiped out, there are few things better than taking a deep breath, relaxing, and pampering yourself in small, simple ways. You’ll emerge feeling healthier, brighter, and ready to take on whatever your kids throw your way!

The next time you find a moment, try out a quick skincare treat that takes next to no time:

Make a no-cellulite coffee scrub: The cellulite scrub is a classic because it can do wonders for full-body skincare. Caffeine is cellulite’s enemy #1, and even if that’s not a concern of yours just yet, this scrub smells and feels amazing. Mix equal parts coffee and coconut oil with a dash of salt, and rub it onto your problem areas the next time you step in the shower.

Use teabags to ease tired eyes: I love putting chilled teabags on my eyes, mostly because it means I get to drink tea! The caffeine in tea can reduce skin inflammation and ease the appearance of dark circles, but the very act itself perfect for relaxing & slowing you down. Good luck trying to do chores with teabags on your eyes! Lay back on the couch, breathe deeply, and just let your mind wander.  

Raid your pantry to make a DIY mask: My hands-down favorite homemade mask is a blend of avocado, raw honey and pumpkin puree. The pumpkin puree is mainly good for scent and texture purposes, but the honey has fantastic antioxidant properties, and the avocado comes packed with face-friendly vitamins. Altogether, this mask is an amazing combo that uses things you probably already have in your pantry. Just make sure to wear a headband, because nobody wants honey in their hairline!

Give yourself a soothing face massage: Facial massages are one of the most underrated things you can do to ease your mind and aid your appearance. A good massage invigorates underlying face muscles, increases circulation, and reduces puffiness in your eyes. It’s easy to get the hang of with the help of a mirror! This video offers a perfect tutorial on how to pamper your face - and it only clocks in at 7 minutes.

How do you make the most of your me-time?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our Holiday Traditions

I have such fond memories of the holidays as a child and I hope we create a home and atmosphere for our girls to make happy memories of their own.

Passed Down Traditions

1 - Driving around and looking at Christmas lights (this has always been a favorite of mine!)

2 - Cookies! My mom always made a huge variety, I love doing this too! This year we did sugar cookies, buckeye balls, peanut butter kisses, and (my favorite) chocolate ribbon cookies.  I also like to do eggnog balls, Finnish cookies, snowballs, cocoa cookies, and double chocolate biscotti. 
3 - Waiting for Santa on the fire truck!  Love that our town does this just like my hometown.  Our Santa came at night growing up, this one comes during the day, but the fire firefighters hand out candy canes, so that works too!
4 - Giant gingerbread cookies.  I have the 1980 cookie cutters my mom used with us.  A gingerbread man, girl, house, and snowman.  We got to decorate them with icing, sprinkles, red hots, etc.  We didn't do a gingerbread house, but this was just as fun and probably easier when we were preschoolers.
5 - Hanukkah.  I grew up with parents who were raised in different religions.  Since my parents didn't actively practice either, they shared the diversity of the season and our extended relatives and we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas.  I have my mother's heirloom menorah and I look forward to teaching the girls the history.  And since my husband's step mother is Jewish, it's nice to be able to celebrate with her traditions, as well. 

6 -Visit Santa!  I still have a lot of my old mall Santa polariods.  Time honored tradition filled with joy or tears, and perfect either way.  Wish us luck, we are headed out for our trip today!
7 - Tree (artificial) goes up the day after Thanksgiving! 

New Traditions

1 - Elf on the Shelf.  We joined the masses, it's silly, but cute. 
2 - Gingerbread house.  I know I said we would do the giant cookies, and hopefully that's what we'll do the next few years, but I would love to do some awesome gingerbread houses maybe when the girls are in elementary school and can handle having the creative freedom a bit more.  
3 - Day of service.  It is better to give, than to receive  - and I want my girls to remember how lucky they are in a season filled with want, want, want.  Whether it's a local volunteer opportunity, doing small acts of kindness for neighbors, or going door to door to collect canned goods or clothing to bring in to donation centers.
4 - Go ice skating or a winter activity as a family.  (Skiing/snowtubing/etc... just a fun family activity that will help us bond as a family and have fun memories of the special activity).
5 - The Nutcracker.  When the girls are old enough to sit still, I would love to start taking them to see The Nutcracker in the city.  I was never a dancer, but I saw local productions of The Nutcracker as a kid and always loved the movie... even if it oddly stared Macaulay Caulkin.

6 - Advent calendar.  We had the little Hallmark ones growing up, but I would love to our new version year after year. 

I'm sure there are lot of other things we'll add over time, traditional meals - like baked french toast or cinnamon buns for breakfast Christmas morning - with Irish coffee for mom and dad and hot cocoa for the girls.  However, I just thought I'd share what we do and plan to do as I know I always love hearing what others do and what preferences are.  

What is your favorite tradition you look forward to each year??

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Insta-spired... Photo Dump

@houseofjadeinteriors | | @michellearmas007
@dolcebellabyerin | @danielleoakeyinteriors | @houseofjadeinteriors
@cindyconfettisparkle | @urbanwalls | @_brittbass
@thealisonshow | @henandco | @laurenfair
@houseofjadeinteriors | @stitchmyfix | @kirstenkrason
@dolcebellabyerin | @schuelove | @meganjbailey

It's been a while since my last screen shot dump of instagram inspiration.  Looks like lately I've been obsessed with interiors and cookies.  Considering we are halfway through a bathroom reno and I'm living off Christmas cookies, I'd say it's art imitating life indeed!  Who are your favorite accounts to follow? 

And a Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate, enjoy your evening!

Monday, December 15, 2014

How I Cookie Party - Royal Icing Sugar Cookies

Okay, so I've shared most of my sugar cookie royal icing attempts on here and instagram, and while you can learn all the same tips, tricks, and recipes with Alison's Cookie Party, I thought I'd share a little about my experience now that I've "partied" five times in less than two months.

Have I ever mentioned I love cookies?

Moving on.  Some background.

I love baking.  Cooking I can manage, but I am no chef. I am just not really into it and if it includes meat I become obsessive that it's not fully cooked and end up refusing to eat it.  Baking, now that includes my love language - sugar.   I could probably survive on muffins and cookies alone.  And some days, I do... just add coffee.

I've seen some royal icing tutorials or photos here and there and never really felt compelled to do it myself.  I was never a huge fan of the decorated sugar cookie.  Usually the cookies were more along the lines of shortbread and didn't include chocolate, so interest lost.

As you probably have figured out by now, I freakin' love Alison of The Alison Show.  She's ingeniously creative and business savvy, but she also basically spews positivity and rainbows and puppies and unicorns too.  Anyway, when she was promoting her Cookie Party course and said there would be a discount for the presale, I jumped in.  I had been seeing all her promotion pics on instagram and it might have been the emoticon cookies that did me in.  After learning that she enjoyed doing the cookies because it helps ease her anxiety, it was like she was speaking directly to me.  I love any type of crafting, sewing, painting, or baking because of how it's a nice relaxing escape for my brain, and I've been this way since I was in high school.  This year was particularly hard for me with dealing with post partum anxiety, and this was a light bulb moment.  Since I stopped making teepees, I was craving something that used the creative side of my brain to keep the balance.  This was the perfect answer.

As soon as I finished watching the tutorial and perusing the included e-book, I started ordering my supplies and committed myself to getting enough experience under my belt that I could make cookies for Kenley's birthday party and knock it out of the park.   While I waited for my AmeriColor gel based food coloring to arrive, I used an old Wilton kit I had and just didn't get the colors I needed, but was still able to make some fairly cute Halloween cookies.

Not perfect, but I was definitely encouraged that I had the ability to do it and would improve each time.  Learning the right consistencies to the icing, techniques, and color schemes.  The AmeriColor gel definitely has more vibrant colors and options, and according to Alison has less effect on the taste of icing.

Tangent here, but a bit more personal background.  When I was in elementary school, my mom got really into baking and decorating cakes.  She was very talented and soon began making cakes for neighbors and friends and word continued to spread.  She ended up with a nice little at home business making wedding, birthday, communion, you name it cakes.  Of course, this was the early 90s before the craze of fondant and reality tv extreme cakes, but she was really good.  She broke her wrist when I was 10, and she wasn't able to continue her cakes after she got her cast off since she was never able to squeeze the piping bags with the same precision.  However, the skills she had, I must have picked up along the way by watching and making many of my own 'for fun' cakes.  Let's be clear, I'm no professional cake decorator, but I know how to handle a piping bag and not be a total hot mess.

Point of the story, those skills definitely translate right into cookie decorating.

I've had a nice stash of piping bags, couplers, and tips for years.  However, I needed to purchase a standard number 1 tip since it really allows you to get the tiny detail for the cookies, that takes them from cute to professional.  There is no way I could have done the snowflakes above without that tip!

I actually ended up buying a second so I can do detail in two different colors.

I also ordered edible writing pens.  Alison used them a bunch in her tutorial and I loved how you can fancy up a rather plain cookie, like above, with text or a drawing. Let's face it, I can barely write in fancy or cursive handwritings with a pen, let alone an icing bag, so this was genius to me.

When I made the Thanksgiving cookies, I made the error of using icing that was a bit too stiff.  You can see above how the cookies didn't set in a nice smooth and glossy surface. This is definitely something I would warn, learning to do this whole royal icing technique is not something you learn on your first try.  My first batch was actually much better than these, which were actually my 3rd attempt.  I'm slowly learning my lessons as I go, evidenced below.

As for flooding my cookies, a royal icing term - search any tutorial to learn more, but basically the runny consistency icing that "floods" your cookie and hardens to a smooth surface overnight - I went with Alison's technique of using squeezy bottles.  Some people just use spoons and spatulas to drip and spread it, others piping bags, but I think the squeezy bottle is the happy medium.  There is enough control that you don't get sloppy like a spoon or spatula, but it's also easier and quicker than using a piping bag. And I like that you can put the cap on it and store it if need be.

The next thing to note, the actual cookie itself.  Alison also gives her sugar cookie recipe and tips how to bake them in her course.  These cookies aren't quite the Pillsbury sweet sugar cookie that I'm used to, but they aren't dry boring shortbread cookies either.  I did have a nice collection of cookie cutters, though I'm not sure where some of them came from, especially considering I didn't even own a rolling pin.  I bought this one, and it's awesome (and it was cheap).  I prefer to keep my cookies on the thicker side.  When baking, you definitely want to error on the side of underbaking to overbaking. This density will help keep the cookies soft and fresh, especially if you choose to bake them one day, and then decorate them the next night like I do since it a time consuming activity.  Once they are iced, it's also as they are almost "sealed" and the icing also helps keep the cookie from getting stale too quickly. 

For Kenley's birthday,  I baked her cookies on Wednesday, and decorated the bears on Thursday night and the number 1s on Friday night.  Her party was on Sunday.  They stayed fresh stored in an airtight container and we actually just ate the last ones over this past weekend.  While not the freshest, they were still good and worth eating. 

Royal icing takes a while to set.  I would say you generally have a few minutes while it's wet to manuever it around on your cookie before it starts drying.  After ten minutes or so, if you add more icing, it will bump up against the drying icing and create that groove that you see between the bears feet and body, and body and arms.  When I did the bears I first did the feet and ears (dark brown) of each bear, I had 21.  Then I went back to the first and did the head.  Then the body.  And then light brown on the feet.  Then arms and finally the mound for the snout nose.  After I finished the snout, I piped the eyes and noses and them set on cooling racks over night.  After ten hours or so, they are fully set and you can CAREFULLY stack them back in an airtight container.   Warning:  Do not try to stack them if they appear set, but significant time hasn't passed.  The outside may appear dry, but underneath is not and they will smudge and like nail polish, they will be almost impossible to fix.   I know it's hard, but.. patience!

So there is my ode and too many words about cookies.  The best coincidence is that over the weekend, after I already planned on putting together this post for today, I was notified by Alison that she is offering 20% off her Cookie Party course thru Wednesday with code COOKIEFACE for anyone who would like to gift it for a holiday present or purchase it for themselves.  She says she most likely will never offer a discount lower than this, so if you were on the fence, you are probably being swayed the way I was when purchasing during the pre-sale.  Personally, I've definitely gotten my monies worth taking her course and while I don't know if I'll keep up the speed at which I've been doing these cookies - which seems like every other week - I definitely love having this skill in my wheel house to impress when needing to bring something to a party or event.

And full disclosure, I am not getting paid or receiving swag or flamingos from Alison for all this promotion.  I seriously just genuinely love this stuff and love supporting other blogger moms.

Did I miss anything?  What is your favorite impressive dessert?  Cupcakes? Cake Pops? Cookies?...

I've never made a cake pop, truth.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Five - Favorite Baby Products of 2014

It's that time of year, get ready for the overkill of recaps, year in reviews, and favorite things every where you look - including here.  I thought since was my second time through the babyhood rodeo I'd highlight a few of my favorite products that helped me survive the second child.

While I still swear by a handful of products from the first time around, but we added a new items this time around that would recommend to any friend.

1 - Fisher Price Swing  

We didn't have a swing with Ashlynn.  There were so many other big ticket items when pregnant the first time we thought we'd hold off and just buy one as a last resort if needed.  When Kenley started her witching hour insanity at 4 weeks old and nothing, but pacing and listening to her wail for six hours we asked a friend to borrow their swing.  It was a Fisher Price Snug-a-bunny and it saved the day (and arms, and sanity, and everything else).

2 - Tommee Tippee Bottles 

The first time around Ashlynn started with nursing and bottles since she was born early and nursing wasn't very easy start.  I used Dr. Browns bottles and by the time we finally got the hang nursing I basically swore I would burn my pump, bottles, and all the tiny little parts that came with each.

When I was pregnant with Kenley, I attended a social media mixer and received a Tommee Tippee bottle in a swag bag. When I started testing the waters of bottles with Kenley, the only one she would take was the Tommee Tippee.  I love that it's smaller and the shape of the cap and nipple wider to closer mimic a mother.  Although, my very favorite feature is that it's just three easy parts to wash and assemble.

3 - Merino Kids Sleep Sack

I was lucky enough to review a Merino Kids sleep sack a few months ago, and it's quickly become my go to.  Kenley wears it nightly.  I wish I would have known sooner before having to purchase multiple sizes of other brands.  Definitely an investment, and being honest, I'm not sure I ever would have purchased one if not asked to review, but I am so glad I was.  Love it. 

4 - Exergen Temporal Thermometer

I got one of these from my dad last Christmas, after asking for one.  At this point I still only had a infant rectal thermometer and with Ashlynn at a year and half, it really wasn't the way I wanted to check for fevers.  While my main reason for wanting one was Ashlynn, I have used it way more often with Kenley.  Unlike Ashlynn who only had one fever and cold during her first year, Kenley has battled multiple ear infections, colds, and even pink eye.  I loved being able to check her first with the temporal thermometer before needed to know if I really needed to confirm and an accurate rectal reading.  Such a simple product, that makes an annoying task much happier for everyone.

Yeah, more love for the moccasin.  While Ashlynn has had Freshly Picked longer than Kenley, she didn't have them during her first year and while learning to walk.  I am so glad we had them for Kenley when she was beginning to cruise around and walk this year, they definitely helped with her being able to keep her balance and they hold up well. And of course, they are adorable and much cuter than the "starter shoes" I started Ashlynn with. 

What are your tried and true products or favorite things to recommend??


Thank you to Tommee Tippee for sponsoring this year end review!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sister/Sister - 12 Months

Twelve Month Stats:

Height:  28" (10%)
Weight: 19lb 3oz (50%)
Teeth:  2 

Height:  29" (40%)
Weight: 19lb 3oz (42%)
Teeth:  8 (and working on her bottom molars)

Not sure why the % scale is different, but close enough.  So funny they weighed the exact same at one year old, even funnier Ashlynn was a whole inch shorter!


Ashlynn (taken from week 52)
"Hit a strange phase for about 5 days, hoping it's ending.  She'll wake up crying hysterically.  I have to go in and hold her for a bit to calm down and then finally can put her back in the crib and she'll go back to sleep.  Not sure if it's nightmares, teeth, general growing pains, but my heart breaks to hear her cry like that."

Kenley (as of this week, her 53rd)
Not too bad.  Generally goes down at 6:30-7pm no fuss, doesn't even need a high maintenance bedtime routine like other family members.  She's weaned from formula and bottles and basically, just goes to sleep.  She does wake a few times, usually looking for her lost paci.  This was the case for a few months with Ashlynn too at one point. She typically wakes up for real sometime between 5-6am.  I usually try to just hold her in the chair in her room and snuggle for a bit until closer to 6 when I can make her dad go down and get a cup of milk and turn on the news and snuggle in our bed until Ashlynn joins.  This week, Ashlynn's has been up earlier or in my bed, and if K wakes, she insists I get her.  Naps are good.  Basically, could do away with the quick paci retrieval trips, but could be a lot worse. 


"Really doing away with purees.  Eggs, pancakes, or french toast for breakfast.  A lot of soup for lunch (recipes makes a TON and she loves it, eats adult sized bowls.) And chicken with egg noodles or a veggie for dinner.  She's finally eating teething biscuits for a snack instead of throwing them on the floor and of course, loves herself some kiwi, avocado, and mandrin oranges.  Staples around here."

Solely on finger foods with the exception of yogurt.  Actually, she eats a lot of food with a fork and does surprisingly well with it.  I'm thinking about letting her try a spoon with yogurt or oatmeal, but I well aware of the mess that comes with that, so I might hold off a little longer.  She loves berries of all kinds - blue, rasp, straw and bananas.  She's pretty good with her veggies - peas, corn, carrots, and loves sautéed spinach.  She eats a lot of the "toddler" food Ashlynn has, nuggets, cubes of cheese sticks, mac and cheese, pizza, noodles, tortalleni and fish.  She loves turkey meatballs and lasagna and crushed Thanksgiving.  She also likes deli turkey and any type of carbs - bread, waffles, bagels, etc.  


Shy, clingy, and happy.  Basically the same as now.  Is friendly and bashful, but just don't enter her bubble of personal space. 

In some crazy turn of events since the last post at 9 months, Kenley has just become the happiest, silliest, adventurous, social butterfly.  I can only credit it to weaning her earlier than I planned at 10.5 months.  She's spent more time with my MIL which I think has helped her separation anxiety and general social demeanor.  She will go up to anyone and expect them to pick her up or she'll try to give them or show whatever toy she has while babbling about.  She's a dare devil scaling anything she can, climbing the couch, tables, standing at the top of the slide and trying to walk down, standing on toys to climb higher on the bookcase.  She's nuts.  And fast.  She's been walking since 9.5m and at this rate if her legs were longer she could probably take Ashlynn in a race.

Picture Time!

If only I could freeze time!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Uncommon Baby Gift Guide

Recently we had a handful of friends welcome new arrivals to their families.  Typically, I shop baby registries when the first baby is born, since I know how nice it is to have help buying the essentials the first time around.  However, when having the second (or third) child, most people are well equipped with bottles and bumbos and have made brand preferences for the other necessities.  So I usually have the urge to buy something more thoughtful and unique for the new baby.  Something that hopefully they don't already have, yet something the parents and baby (and siblings) will love.

A special and unique baby book was something I searched high and low for when pregnant the first time around.  I didn't get around to ordering Kenley's until well after she had arrived.  This baby book is so cute and has adorable illustrations and envelope pockets included for keepsake mementos.

I actually had the organic veggie teethers, found here, on my registry when I was pregnant with Ashlynn.  I thought the idea of a baby teething on a veggie was comical (to me) and I knew they would be awesome for kitchen play later on after all the teeth broke through.

A personalized story book pillow is such a cute personal keepsake.  The detail on this pillow is amazing, even down to a story synopsis and 'review' on the backside, see it all here.  This would be the type of gift the child would most likely hold on to their whole life.

These classic wooden baby blocks are totally made over with a modern font and clean design.  Educational, fun, and cute for display too.

You know my love, and moreso Ashlynn's, for Babiators.  She wears her's almost daily and I've actually given them away as birthday presents a handful of times this year.  They are basically indestructible and come with a replacement warranty if broken... or LOST! Can't beat that!

Having girls, I have a hard time finding the right gift for boys.  These little buffalo check lumber jack socks are so fetch.  Sorry, but seriously, how cute (and practical, too).

And, since most of the recent babies are also little siblings, I like to try to include something small for big brother or sister, to help them feel special during the transition to a larger family.   I actually have this book saved on one of my wishlists, but I love that you can actually personalize it.  They make one for both boys and girls.

Crayons and a cute coloring book are always a great go-to gift, it doesn't cost a lot, but lots of self entertainment included which is always helpful when a new mom or dad has their hands full with a fussy new baby.

The little rattles are cute gift for baby, but also something fun for brother or sister to play with.  My mom had bought similar rattles for Kenley last year when she was born and Ashlynn played with them more than her.

And finally, another super sweet baby book.  I love the vintage postal border and how you can write letters to your baby through all the milestones, events, and years ahead.

All of the items featured can be found at Uncommon Goods. Based out of Brooklyn, NY, Uncommon Goods strives to feature unique designs and handcrafted gifts created in harmony with the environment and without harm to animals.  Also, $1 of your purchase is donated to a non-profit of your choice.  Since starting their Better to Give program, Uncommon Goods has donated $300,000 in the past twelve years!

What kinds of gifts do you like to give to additional additions?


Thank you to Uncommon Goods for sponsoring this post.  And thank you for supporting the companies that support this blog.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Teddy Bears' Picnic 1st Birthday Bash

Okay, bash is a bit of a stretch, it was definitely closer to a celebratory playdate, but holy so much easier, more enjoyable and less stressful than trying to throw a bash.  Probably for everyone, not just me.

Our friends who attended all said what a great job I did and how cute things were, yet I brushed it off because in reality, I reused so many things we had and really didn't have that many crafty DIYs - something I usually go overboard on.  However, looking through these photos I am seeing it through a different set of eyes and am really proud with how everything turned out, even if I felt like it was a bit half assed compared to how I usually plan a party.

As I previously mentioned, we went with a Teddy Bears' Picnic theme.  I have a copy of the book from my childhood, one of my favorites that I made sure to keep, and we read it to Ashlynn often. It actually still has the record in the back, not that she'll ever understand what that is outside of a funny looking frisbee.  While Kenley isn't obsessed with story, her favorite little lovey (next to her linus-style carry everywhere blankie) is her little teddy bear.  I thought it would be cute to have all the kids bring their teddy bears and since we would be decorated for the holidays sticking to a theme based around red and white would keep my OCD from either taking down all the holiday crap or completely bugging out over things completely clashing. 

We only invited a few local friends since we wanted to keep the number of children to a non-stressful amount, less than ten, and knew rsvps might be low during the holiday season.  We had it Sunday morning from 10-12 knowing that anyone with kids would be up early enough, that it would hopefully fall between any naps, and everyone would be home in time for football and Sunday relaxing.  After trying to think of "bear" related foods, I just nixed it and went with easy brunch.  Panera bagels, donut holes, and some fresh bearies with yogurt dip.  Of course I threw in some cups of Teddy Grahams and had to have some cookies and cake with it being a party and all. We also had a coffee bar of Irish Coffees with Baileys and Tullamore Dew, Bellinis, and chocolate and strawberry milkboxes for the kiddos.  

The happy birthday banner I bought for Ashlynn's first birthday and have reused it for every birthday since. 

The letters I DIY'd a few weeks back.  I saw the cardboard letters at JoAnn's while picking up gingham fabric for Kenley's skirt.  I think they were about two bucks each and I just painted the bottoms white for a dipped dyed effect.  I actually had planned to make a lot more with the red gingham fabric, but alas, never got around to it.  My left over yardage left me with the perfect table runner to cover our white table cloth I never got around to ironing, and concealing the majority of the wrinkles. This is real life. 

I took a complete risk attempting an at home "naked" cake for Kenley's smash cake.  I used box cake mix (always) and homemade buttercream icing.  I used this tutorial by The Alison Show to make the little mini cakes since my smallest round cake pan is 8" and Kenley didn't need to smash into that!

Emily at Dear Owen was so sweet to offer to design us some adorable placemats.  I made one for each "older" kid, as in could sit in a child size chair to eat.  The reverse side was an adorable play doh mat.  And while I should have made another batch of homemade playdough like I did for Ashlynn's favors, I grabbed a set of ten fruit scented generic mini tubs at Target for $5.  I threw in a mini fruit shaped cookie cutters so the kids could cut out play doh shapes to fill their picnic baskets.  I took the PDF downloads Emily sent me to FedEx and had them printed and laminated.

The only other DIY aside from sewing Kenley's skirt and baking the cookies and cake, were the bear ear headbands. After getting a few quotes from bow shops, I decided to just try it myself.  I ordered 10 headbands for about $7 total and used felt (and hot glue) I already had in my stash, but it probably wouldn't have cost more than $3.  Emily supplied the cute print to play off the story book, which I just printed at home.  And truth, I made those headbands at the 12th hour the night before while continuing my Serial binge that I started when I was making the cookies a few nights prior.  I'm hooked, but back to the party.

You may remember the giant bear from one of my Instagram saved snaps posts.  As soon as I saw it, I knew it would be the perfect activity for toddlers.  The downloadable package from Caravan Shoppe included all the numbers (which I used over the table) and lots of items, like this bear with hats and bow ties.  I knew most of the kids would be too short for the hats, so I went with the bow ties.  It didn't even cross my mind that that bow ties could be hair bows, #girlmomfail. So cute seeing the kids try to stick them around.  The prints are super easy too, I just took the files I wanted to Staples and told them I wanted them printed on the black and white engineering printer at the size I wanted, 36x48.  It's about $7 per print, can't beat that for statement decor or activities.

It may seem like I went out of my way to find and dress Kenley with red tights with a bear on the bottom, but nope, just a coincidental hand-me-down from Ashlynn that I found that morning when thinking it was probably too cold for bare legs.  Her ONE onesie?  Another hand-me-down. 

Of course, after all the snacking, playing, and coffee talk, it was time for cake.  Kenley started by trying to pinch of the sugar sprinkles before really digging in.  She also had a little helper showing her the way, naturally.

It was the perfect little party and was followed by Sunday naps by all.  I can't believe my little bear is officially a toddler and not my little baby.  While I'm sad that these years seem to pass at a speed I never could have imagined, I can't wait to watch personalities and relationships grow from our whole family. There is nothing that brings me more happiness and joy than my family.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dear Santa,

I got a tip from the jolly big guy that the girls might find some of these items under our tree this year!

Even though Ashlynn gets really excited over scooters lately, we decided to get her a balance bike.  It will be her first bike since we never got a tricycle or big wheel.  We hope her interest in it last longer than a scooter and help her learn to ride a bike.   Although I had wishlisted a Strider Bike, Santa decided to go with a Radio Flyer because it was a great deal and he was able to use a 20% Off coupon on a catalog he received.

Ashlynn has a little MagiClip Anna that we picked up back in the summer.  She plays with it a lot (and Kenley loves to chew it) and she always asks for "little Elsa".  It's actually the only thing she says she wants to ask for from Santa.

Toddler Anna came with the Toddler Elsa we had stored away for a Christmas present months ago.  Elsa became the no paci prize, so Anna will go to the appropriate little sister.  I like to make sure Ashlynn knows not every toy is "her" toy and that Kenley is so kind to share and that she should too. Plus K babe loves herself some dolls.

Back to the MagiClip dolls, I saw this castle set at Kohl's on Black Friday for 50% Off. It's a mini Castle and come with Ariel and Belle.  Since Ashlynn has Anna and is getting Elsa (and Rapunzel too), this is the perfect place to keep them and I know this is a toy that will continue to grow with her for a few years.

Ashlynn is in a big puzzle phase, doing lots of actual puzzles with interlocking pieces, not just the chunky style ones.  So we stocked up on a few new 24 and 48 piece ones and added a few new toddler ones for Kenley since she's surprisingly good at them too!

K is also getting her kitchen stocked.  This Step 2 101 piece food set was another 50% off find on Black Friday.  Another toy that will be loved by both girls probably for many years.

The Fisher Price Little People Skyway and Trampoline are actually gifts from my dad.  I'm pretty sure they might be the two biggest hits.  Nothing like having Bopo beat out Santa!

Have you heard from Santa?  What fun things is he dropping at your home??

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