Thursday, June 23, 2011

What do you do in the summertime...

With the lazy, hazy, and sometimes crazy days of summer upon us, we’re always looking for something to fill those hours of down time we tend to have.  I can’t make the kids do word problems and read books all the time, when they are not swimming or riding their bikes, that is.  So it’s fun to look for something else, something new that will give us plenty of enjoyment.

A website that has really impressed me with the interesting toys and games they carry is  Their online store is not full of the same-old/same-old things, but has a huge variety of toys, games and books.  One of the games we have put on our wish list is the No Stress Chess game.  When we were still in Missouri the two younger boys were learning to play chess from their Uncle Kyle, so this would be a great way to reinforce that and keep them going.  I'm big into learning toys.  Why not learn, or work on, a skill while playing a game or with a toy?

There are so many ways to narrow your search when looking for toys children love:  You can search by a child's age, by price if you are working with a specific budget, and by category of toy, or by the skill that you might want to teach or reinforce. 

Most sites have product reviews. ebeanstalk reviews happen before a product makes it on their site. Their team of child-experts looked at, tested and selected only the best toys. Then, they matched the toys to a child’s stage of development. Then they custom write an instruction card for each and every toy. This is the ebeanstalk review process. No other site does this; not even close. By conducting the review ahead of time, they ensure that their toys are the best and are matched to a child’s stage of development.

The baby toy section has everything imaginable, including a Resource Guide for Baby Toys & Child Development, including short, cute videos with adorable babies like this one:

Whatever you do this summer, make it a great one, with lots of family time.  What better way to do it than to play together?

This post was sponsored by  The opinions expressed are all my own.  I'm very opinionated, you know. ;)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ten time-saving tips to make your life as a busy mom easier

A friend that I’ve had since I was a teen-y-bopper called yesterday.  We agreed with each other that we have been really, really, busy.  We are not sure what we have been so busy with, but it has taken up all of our time so far this summer. 

The problem is that I have a love/hate relationship with organization.  I love the idea of being ultra-organized, but I hate the whole process of it.  It means I try {yes, I really do try!} to keep some organized chaos to our days.  Another problem is that I love the idea of having a laid-back, easy-breezy, ham and cheezy summer.  I want to let the kids swim when they want, I want them to read books, create art or anything else they want to try their hand at, and I want the days to just ebb and flow.  Then reality sets in.

Here are ten time-saving tips to make your life as a busy mom easier:

Meal Planning:  I try to make a menu on Sunday afternoons for that week.  I keep track of what I have on hand in my pantry, fridge, and freezer, and try to plan my grocery shopping and menu all at once.  Then I try to do my grocery shopping on Monday.  I try to keep the afternoon free to put everything away, brown the meat and chop veggies.  I like to get a jump on the food prep so I can put a meal together quickly.

Grocery Shopping:  This goes along with meal planning, but I wanted to add a little bit more.  I love to plan my menu and shopping by first using the ads.  I look for things that I regularly use, go through my coupons and put them in some sort of order, and make my list by store.  I have a notebook that I jot down the prices of things I regularly buy, and I also have a maximum amount that I will pay for something; for example, I won’t buy fruit for more than $1/lb.  If it is more expensive then it is probably not in season and not worth buying.  I always check the per unit or per ounce price on the shelf tags, too. 

Piggy-backing Errands:  My bank is in one of the grocery stores, so I try to do my banking at the same time.  The kids have youth activities and Scouts on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so going into town early on those evenings and picking up forgotten items at the grocery market happen then. 

10-Minute (or 10-Things) Pick-up:  When I was growing up, mom would hold a “10-minute pick-up” which meant that we had to work on the house for ten minutes, putting things away where they went and doing a general straightening.  I remember groaning about it back then, and now when I holler out “Ten Minute Pick Up!” my kids groan about it now.  But it’s amazing how great the house can look after just 10 minutes of everyone pitching in together!

Clean in the Morning:  Lets face it, most of the summer the temperature may be hot, hot, hot!  Another thing that I learned from my mom is to get the housework done in the morning when it is cooler in the house and cooler outside.  Then I won't feel guilty when we lounge in the pool or head to the library for the afternoon since the work is already done.

Keep the Calendar Updated:  I don't know how many times the peeps in our home have forgotten about an upcoming appointment, event, etc.  I try to write everything on the calendar, even if it's just a little note to remember which garbage can to put out on the curb (green or blue).  My sister Emily is great at this, and I am getting better.  I've even started writing down what we're having for dinner, so when that question inevitably comes from one of my four darling chilren I can say, "Look at the calendar!"

Be a List-Maker:  List-making is part of my love/hate relationship with organization.  I try to keep a running to-do list so I don't have to dig too deep into my own brain to remember what it is I'm supposed to be remembering.  I have a small notebook that I keep in my purse with my purse-sized calendar (which I try to keep updated and coordinated with my on the fridge calendar) to jot down an epiphany as it occurs.  If a minute or two goes by my brain is diluted enough to forget that an important thought ever hatched there.  I also keep a post-it note pad by my computer to jot down important information, like a reminder that Baskin Robbins has 99 cent scoops on Tuesday nights.

Keep the Laundry Rolling:  In a household with a softball player, a football player, swimmers and a now shedding dog, I've got laundry going constantly.  At least it seems like it is.  One way to keep up with it is to make sure I put a load in first thing in the morning.  If that means that my hubs has no water pressure for his morning shower, so be it.  He should have gotten up before I did.  The early bird gets the water.  I also use TV as a bribery to get the laundry folded.  If the kids want to watch a show or a movie, then they must be folding the laundry whilst they watch.  It's a win-win for me.

S.Q.U.I.R.T.:  Super Quiet Uninterrupted Reading Time is our summer reading program.  The kids have to read for 30 minutes per dayWe are participating in the library's reading program, as well as Barnes and Noble.  Keeping the kids reading through the summer goes a long way to keeping them up to speed when school starts again!

Schedule Down Time:  If the days are getting away from us, I like to schedule a little bit if down time.  Maybe it's just taking an afternoon to do nothing, or heading to the park with a picnic.  Whatever it is, I don't let it get me stressed.

I'm looking forward to the summer {I think!} and using these ideas will hopefully make it gravy.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Starbucks blogging program, for a gift card worth $30. For more information on how you can participate, click here.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ligers and Leopards and Bears, Oh, My!

Our Memorial Day weekend was spent with friends, family, food, and the fair.  We had a "cookout" (which my children call a "BBQ") on Saturday, and even though it was  cool and stormed a little bit afterward, it went off without a hitch.  It was fun to have the Long family here, and we spent some time wandering the fair, first at a Lonestar concert on Friday night, then Monday afternoon to scout out some First Place winning art and eat some yummy, greasy food.

The third grade classes also visited a wildlife refuge on the last week of school.  It was an amazing place where they take in animals who have health issues or have lived in less than ideal circumstances.  We met a black Leopard, 2 spotted Leopards, 1 Siberian Tiger, 1 Sumatran Tiger, 3 Bengal Tigers,

2 African Lions, 2 Ligers,

1 Serval, 1 Lynx, 2 Caracals, 1 Snow Leopard, 1 Clouded Leopard and 3 Ocelots. The Sanctuary is also home to 2 Coatimundis, 2 Fennec Foxes, 1 Ring-tailed Lemur, 1 Wallaby, 1 Kinkajou, 2 Black Bears, 1 Otter and an assortment of exotic birds and reptiles, including 2 Giant Burmese Pythons, 1 alligator and an assortment of tortoises. A priority of the Sanctuary is to provide these animals with all they need to keep them not only healthy, but content as well.

Here is some information from the liger cage:

I really want to take a trip back there with the family.  The tour was a couple of hours long and we didn't even see all of the animals because the guide was so thorough in talking about each of them.  At the end the kids gathered together and saw a few more animals, including a grizzly bear cub.  Unfortunately my camera battery died before I could get a picture of him.  She was adorable, weighed 20 pounds, and squirmed all over the place trying to get out of the handlers arms. (Reminds me of my kids at that age.)

Fez was "petting" an Argentine Red Tegus.  (That's Ben the guide holding her.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's bittersweet. And I'm not talking about the chocolate.

Summer vacation has started.  It's always bittersweet.  I think my friend's daughter put it best when she wrote "Last Day of School" and drew a happy face and a sad face next to it.  What a great expression of how I feel about summer break!  The last week of school was full of parties, including a swim party that ended in a hail storm and three classes taking refuge in office of the city pool.

1st grade ended up having a movie party because the weather wouldn't cooperate, and the Middle School pool party was cold and overcast, too.

On our soundtrack for the summer is plenty of Jack Johnson, especially the Curious George CD.  My faves are Lullaby and We're Going to Be Friends.  On the last day of school the kids at the elementary school put on an adorable Variety Show, and two of the the girls dressed up in sweet matching outfits and sang We're Going to Be Friends.  Great music for Mom and kids alike.  (I love Banana Pancakes, too!)
We put together some thank you gifts for the boys' teachers.  Let's just say the teachers had their work cut out for them with these two,  We took some ideas from all over, including this subway art from eighteen25.  I printed it as a 5x7, backed it with striped scrapbook paper and brown tagboard, then taped it onto a small dowel.  We bought the adorable striped pots at Michaels for just 1.99 each.  There's a bottle of water with a wrap around label (inspired by Crystal and Co.) that I made in Word that reads:
Thank you
for fostering a
in a pretty font and matching colors to the subway art.  We also added a bag of hugs and kisses with a cardstock folded label stapled on that says:  You deserve tons of Hugs and Kisses!

 I also covered some small notebooks (found at Office Depot for 25 cents each) with fun paper and had the boys write a note to their teacher on the front page.  I used mod podge and just slipped off the front and back covers, covered them and punched the holes back through.  We added a package of popcorn with a tag printed from Crystal & Co. and tied on with rick rack.  Inexpensive but cute and colorful teacher's gifts.  We also tucked in a Barnes and Noble gift card for some summer relaxation.

And here's what Sally and Jazz did on the first day of summer.

Guess they were a little worn out or something.

I'm linking here:

Nothing But Country

Tip Junkie handmade projects

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