Posts Tagged ‘Kids Activities’

Family Disney Travel Tips

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Note: this is a combined post from our first article about the tips-and-tricks to get the most out of a Disney trip and the follow-up I wrote a few years later of all our best Disney tips. Together, they provide the best family Disney travel tips that goes along perfectly with our June M Challenge on Travel! I know a family Disney trip is high on most of your wish lists, so I hope that these things we learned and still use will be helpful to you in planning your own Disney trip!

Family Disney Travel Tips on

Our family has LOVED our Disney trips, and one of the reasons we’ve ALL loved them is because we have learned a few things that make the planning, preparation, travel, and time at the park much more enjoyable. Once you take your first trip, you learn a few “insider tips” and my hope is that if you’ve never been to Disney, you can use these family Disney travel tips to make your first time run as smoothly as if you were a seasoned Disney traveler!

Our Best Family Disney Travel Tips:

Preparation is Key

1. Financial Preparation- Set aside money into a separate savings account to prepare for your trip – consider talking with your bank about opening a special account. Have an automatic transfer made for $25 or more each month put into this account all year long and then you will have the money saved when it is time to make your family trip.

Savings can be had when booking your travel through places like AAA and additional savings can be found while visiting in Orlando by printing a free Orlando Magicard to take with you when visiting restaurants and attractions while you are in Orlando.

2. Safety Preparation- I don’t need to tell you that Disney is a big place and safety is very important when visiting theme parks.  Each child was assigned a buddy to be their partner throughout the days and they were to hold their buddy’s hand while we were there.  We took additional safety precautions by printing out recent pictures of our children to keep in our wallet and bags just in case something should happen and they were separated from us. With a handy Sharpie, I wrote my cell phone number on their arms so if they were separated from us, someone could call us and reunite us quickly.

3. Meal Preparation- You can bring snacks and drinks into the park with no problems. We packed fruit snacks, granola bars, and bottles of water for our day in a bag with no objections. Rely on these snacks and bottles of water to help cut some of the costs. I recommend visiting this MouseSavers page to find the best cheap eats while you are at the parks.  We did get table service for the evening, but you want to call ahead since reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance of your vacation. Since we called the reservation number that morning when we arrived, we ended up at the Plaza. The table service was about twelve dollars more than the fast food service in the park and quite a bit better with a lot more food included with our meal. If you want to explore the menus before you go, you can view all the menus for the parks here.

4. Souvenir Preparation-  Souvenirs are a big expense and children can be plagued with horrible cases of what our family lovingly calls, “a case of the gimmies.” At the same time, I remember the amazing souvenir ears I got and how much I wanted those items when I went to Disney.  I hit the local Disney store for t-shirts and small toys which were a third of the price as they were in the shops and a girlfriend recommended picking up ears at a local party store (only $5.99 each). The kids were thrilled with their ears and shirts which they wore throughout the park and they did not even ask for anything while we walked through thanks to this little bit of preparation.

5. Navigation Preparation- When you pick up your tickets, you can pick up a handy map of the park. Thanks to my iPhone I was able to get some reinforcement on the map with Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) that helped us navigate the parks easily and find what we needed quickly. We also had everything in our GPS before we left for getting to the park and how to get back to where we were lodging.

Disney Family Travel Tips

Getting the Most Out of Your Ride Time

1. Make a Plan of Attack- Along with your Navigation Preparation, discuss as a family what rides are most important to you and order them in a list of importance. The rides with the longest wait times we rode first so that we could make sure that we got those out of the way before the crowds and wait times got really long.  If you aren’t’ sure what rides would be best for the age group of your kids, I do recommend buying the Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) because this actually gives you a plan for your day based upon your age group. Oh, and one brilliant suggestion from a reader is to start at the back of the park and move forward while most other people will be doing the opposite!

2. Use FASTPASS to Make the Most of Your Day-FASTPASS isn’t anything you need to sign up for, it is simply a way to place a reservation on rides with long wait times. On your map that you receive when you come in, it will have a FASTPASS icon next to the rides that you can FASTPASS. Head to those rides specified and a machine will be available to insert your ticket and a receipt will print out when you can come back to the ride with a one hour window that you can cash in on. Head to other rides with shorter wait times and then come back at the designated time to go through a faster line.

3. Add a free Wait Time App to Your Mobile Phone- No need to invest in a pricey Wait Time App, just the free Disney World Wait Times app will work perfectly since all wait time information is user generated. Check the wait times on the rides and use that to help decide which rides you want to go on.

Disney Family Travel Photo Tips

Capturing the Magic

The last thing you want on your kid’s magical day is terrible pictures that don’t showcase just how amazing the day was.

1. Capture Their View-  When Emily saw the castle for the first time…well, I could start bawling just thinking about it. I wanted to see that moment over and over so I captured her first gaze at the castle and then got to her eye level and took a picture at her level at exactly what she was seeing.  Having pictures of your kids seeing this magical beauty and the magical beauty itself are things that your family will never forget.

2. Capture the Movement- How can you capture the hilarious and dizzy feeling of some of those rides without movement in the picture.  Capturing motion in photography is so much fun especially when riding on moving things like the teacups. My tip is to focus on one thing (like a bag, etc.) as you spin. I recommend this article if you are looking for more tips on how to capture motion blur in your pictures.

3. Take Fun Pictures on the Go-  My camera equipment can get awfully heavy so we took turns with the big camera and I relied on my mobile phone when I wanted to capture details quickly and easily. I love Camera+ and Instagram for sharing fun pictures on the go. It is such a fun way to take a quick photo, add an effect, and send it to family and friends to keep them updated on how your day is going.

Disney Family Travel Tips for Photos

4. Get a Family Photo- I looked for someone who had a camera like ours to take our family picture. If you have a point-and-shoot,  finding someone to snap a picture should be really easy. When I handed off my camera I switched it to Aperture Mode (Av on my Canon) and changed the Aperture to f/7.1. I then used a photo editing tool (like PicMonkey) to crop as many of the background people out of our picture.

They also have people all over the parks taking pictures and you can have them snap your picture for their portrait and then ask them to take one with your camera too. They know the best spots with good lighting and backgrounds for your family photos. Best of all, they know how to work cameras.

Disney Nighttime Photo Tips

5. Capture the Nighttime Magic- Nighttime magic was tricky to photograph and may require a little research on your part. When I took pictures of the castle I was so disappointed. The colors were off and lights were blurry. It was not the magical pictures I had hoped for.

Over dinner, I went on this Disney Photography Blog and found this information how to capture the nighttime parade. I took test shots after our dinner until I was happy with the lighting and able to capture some of the nighttime beauty at Disney!

So, to recap, here is a condensed version of our family disney travel tips (just in case you’d like to print them out to help you prepare!):

1. Advance Preparation Tips

  • Financially: start saving and looking for deals as soon as you start thinking about your trip.
  • Safety: print out current photos to carry of each child, bring a sharpie to write cell phone numbers with, and assign buddies.
  • Meals: plan for snacks and drinks before heading to the park.
  • Souvenirs: buy them at a local Disney store or the party store and pack them with you!
  • Navigation: load all needed GPS info beforehand.

2. Ride Tips

  • Make a family plan: list the rides everyone wants to go on by importance.
  • Visit rides with longest wait times first.
  • Use FASTPASS to get through longer lines faster.
  • Add the Wait Time App to your mobile phone to check ride wait times.

3. Photograph Tips

  • Capture your children’s view – not only of them seeing things, but how they see it (get down to their level).
  • Capture the moment – as many of the hilarious ride moments as you can!
  • Take pictures on the go, too – in the car and at the hotel – using both phone and regular cameras.
  • Remember a family photo: scope out someone who can take a picture of your family in front of something you like.
  • Capture the nighttime magic – do a bit of research in advance to know your camera settings so you can get some good memory shots of the fantastic light displays.

What would you add? (Head to this post and read the comments for even more tips!)

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Amy’s Notebook 05.20.15: M Challenge Technology Syllabus

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015


Note: As a wrap-up of each month’s m challenge theme, we will be using the last Notebook of the month as a sort of “Cliffs Notes” edition of the challenge – a place where you can find a list of all the articles we’ve published for the challenge, as well as more inspiration and links from the web around the challenge theme. Our hope is that this will serve as a one stop shopping for the theme that you can refer to as well as catch up on in case you’ve missed anything!

May M Challenge: Focus on Technology

Other Links for Using & Managing Technology:

Efficiency Apps via Buzzfeed

Source: BuzzFeed


Great list of apps that will make you more efficient.

20 tech hacks – game-changing secrets for the stuff we use daily.

How to use The Cloud to organize your life.

Do you think you could go paperless?

List of top apps to try this year!

Ways to organize your home with Evernote.

Tips to maximize the power of Gmail.

How to make your Wi-Fi signal stronger.



Source: Driven By Decor


DIY a decor-worthy charging station for the whole family.

Or dedicate a mudroom cabinet for family electronics.

Simple ways to declutter your online life.

An app to help kids earn screen time – and helps parents manage it!

10 tips to keep technology from taking over your family’s life.

How to talk to teens about distracted driving from smartphones.

17 apps that can save you money.

Could you detox from your smartphone in 7 days?

5 easy steps to clean up & organize your desktop computer.


I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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Using Technology to Make the Most of Summer

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Boy using laptop outdoor

I’m not sure if you’ll see this as good news or bad news, but friends, summer break is almost here. Yes, it’s true. Those little people who eat so much food and make even bigger messes? They are going to be home for a solid 10 to 12 weeks, and they are going to need something to keep them occupied.

My almost-second-grader is a girl after my own heart these days and totally into books. That means our schedule is filling up with library events, reading programs and make-your-own bookmark craft projects. But eventually she’ll need a break from books (gasp! why?! I KNOW.), and then it’s time to figure out other ways to spend our summer days.

Now, obviously our summer and yours will involve lots of outdoor play, pool time, baseball games and the like. Even if – like me – you’re a little indoorsy, sunshine and swing sets and sandboxes and sweat seem to be required summer ingredients. Even if the siren call of our friends Netflix and Kindle is loud. Right?

So the question becomes: How can we balance our use of technology during summer break?

Great ideas, advice & tips on using technology during the summertime with your family from Mary Carver via

I’ve found that we use technology in four ways during family time (or Mama-is-working-so-find-something-quiet-to-do time).

Watching. Obviously this is the most passive of uses for the wonderful world of technology. From episodes of Kitchen Crashers saved on the DVR (my daughter’s latest obsession) to silly, G-rated clips on YouTube, it’s nearly impossible to run out of things to watch online. That’s why I work hard to keep track of her screen time (and mine) so we don’t overdo it and turn into Screen Zombies!

TIP: PBS, Disney, Nickelodeon and Sprout have free apps that show full episodes of your kids’ favorite shows.

Playing. Are your kids into Minecraft? If so, you can probably skip this one, because you are covered. My daughter hasn’t discovered Minecraft yet, though, so we have to look hard for appropriate games. Games that don’t require spending money to get to level three. Most the games we’ve found require just about as much brainpower as watching an episode of The Odd Squad on our PBS app, so I count games with her other screen time.

TIP: Don’t forget to adjust your settings so purchases require a password.

Learning. Now, learning games? THOSE I can get behind. (Even for myself, not that it’s a real hardship to “force” myself to play Trivia Crack instead of Candy Swipe…) My daughter knows the way to convince me to allow a little more time with the Kindle is to play an educational game, but she doesn’t mind the compromise anymore than I do. Tons of games that really do teach kids are out there – and many of them are free. One I plan to encourage her to play this summer is from PBS Kids, and it has several ways to teach her how to count money (something she hasn’t mastered just yet).

TIP: Your kids’ school is a great resource for educational websites, especially ones that they’re already familiar with. My daughter begs to play ABC Ya or read with Raz Kids, and we log on through her school’s website or with her teacher’s username and password. So find out about your options before school’s out!

Researching. When I was a kid and had a question about something my parents didn’t know (or wanted me to learn on my own), they always said the same thing: “Look it up.” Back then, that meant going to our shelf of World Book Encyclopedias. Not so much these days! Today if I tell my daughter we need to look up some information (she’s still a little young to do it herself, although she’ll be on her own soon), she knows we’re heading to Google, Wikipedia, Pinterest or another website.

TIP: In addition to looking up facts about whales, recipes for popsicles and the history of LEGOs, you and your kids can also look up community events or reserve books at the library.

Child playing video game with father

A Few More Tips & Ideas:

For older kids, technology is certainly going to be used for keeping in touch with friends. But even the youngest kids can Skype with grandparents or help you send a thank-you email after a play date.

One way to make sure your whole family is getting enough activity is with a device that measures your steps. Set a daily goal for each family member or even launch a friendly competition throughout the summer! Whether you use an app, a Fitbit, or a pedometer from the discount store, the point is to be more mindful of how much you – and your kids – move, and to encourage each other to do a little more.

And, of course, family night doesn’t always have to revolve around a movie or board game (those are the go-to activities at our house). Break out that Wii Fit, LeapTV or XBox Kinect – and break a sweat together!

Last but not least, summer is a great time to start discussions about safety. Remind your kids that not everything on the internet is healthy for them, and help them learn a few family rules about what you share online and what you do not. And as you tug the Gameboy (or whatever is cool these days…I CAN’T KEEP UP!) out of their hands and point them toward the backyard or the baseball field, use that opportunity to make talk about balance (and not turning into that Screen Zombie!) part of your regular conversations.

How do you plan to use technology during summer break?


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10 Ways to Make the Holidays Meaningful for Your Kids

Monday, December 1st, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Making the Holidays Meaningful

We took our girls to get their picture taken with Santa the weekend before Thanksgiving. And just like that, the race was on. I’d already liked and shared a local mom blog’s list of holiday events around the city, and don’t even get me started on my mental debate about Christmas cards.

Every year I swear I’m going to do less; I swear off holiday bucket lists. I vow to focus on what’s really important, to truly take to heart the idea that being present is so much more valuable than any present I could make or buy or wrap in pretty, pretty paper.

And every year I still manage to drive myself – and my family, at times – a little bit crazy anyway.

Despite my tendency to go a little haywire during the holidays, I keep trying. I have to! It matters too much to quit. I know the importance of meaningful holiday experiences, and even more than desiring them for myself, I want to create them for my children. So today I sat down with my seven-year-old, and we brainstormed a few ways to turn this wish list into reality.

Here are 10 Ways to Make the Holidays Meaningful for Your Kids:

1. Remember (or research) the meaning of the holiday.
Read the Christmas story from the Bible (or the story of the holiday you celebrate). In the past couple of years, we’ve loved learning about the origins of lots of the holiday traditions celebrated during Christmas and Hanukkah by watching Why Do We Call It Christmas, a video with funny puppets and catchy tunes.

2. Take time to give back to others.
For the past few years my daughter and I have enjoyed shopping for items to fill an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. But there are plenty of different ways you can give during the holiday season. Whether you buy gifts for a child in foster care or drop a handful of change in the red Salvation Army bucket outside the store, serve dinner at a homeless shelter or buy an extra set of blocks for Toys for Tots, giving to those in need is always going to help us remember both to be grateful for what we have and to focus on others instead of ourselves.

3. Change the kind of gifts you give.
For me, giving gifts is one of the most fun parts of the holiday season. I love finding the perfect present for the people I love. But I realize that sometimes more is not better if my goal is to make the holidays meaningful for the young people I love!

Several of my friends have chosen to only give each of their children four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. I love that! I’ve also seen floating around Pinterest lots of non-toy gifts. Beauty and Bedlam and Raising Memories have great lists of ideas!

4. Decorate with intention.
This was my daughter’s idea! When I asked her for ways to make our holidays meaningful, she said, “Well, Mommy, holidays aren’t all about decorating…but decorations are nice. So…maybe if we decorated with Jesus things??”

She recently received her first nativity set from my parents and is excited to find the perfect spot to place it in her room. So she might be a little biased with her advice, but she still has a good point. I don’t have anything against ceramic Santas or Frosty mugs, but I also love pulling out my own nativity sets and placing them in a place of prominence in our home. And anytime I have a chance to use my Jesus is the Reason for the Season platter, I take it!

5. Add meaning to your countdown with an Advent calendar.
A simple activity each day in December can keep your focus on what’s most important to you and your family. Whether that’s reading a Bible verse, performing an act of kindness, or completing a craft project (or a coloring sheet, for the less-crafty moms like me), taking time out of the holiday craziness can remind kids and grownups alike why we’re celebrating in the first place.

My daughter and I love doing Truth in the Tinsel, which incorporates crafts and scripture to create meaningful conversations and experiences. You can find a 12-day schedule for Truth in the Tinsel here, and the ebook also includes four alternate schedules as well: Just the Basics (with 6 activities), By Book of the Bible (6+ activities), Characters (10 activities) and Prophecy (7 activities). (And if you’d rather not tackle craft projects during this busy season, you can also buy the printable ornaments. Easy peasy!)

Read Christmas books together

6. Read a book a day.
Speaking of a simple daily activity…we tried this one a couple years ago, and it was a blast! I wrapped Christmas books – from our own collection and from the library – and we opened one each night. And this is one you can start at any point during the season.

7. Plan a family date.
For as long as I can remember, my parents have made a point to plan a Christmas date for our family. Even as adults, we made room in our calendar for this outing for years. These days, my daughters have taken over as their designated Christmas dates, but that’s okay. My husband and I are excited to start this tradition with our own family, planning an outing with our girls. (Probably a trip to see Santa and a stop for hot chocolate this year. Nothing fancy, but still special for the season.)

8. Plan a family night in.
Christmas movies. Slice and bake cookies or a bag of microwave popcorn. Sticking label and stamps on the holiday cards. Trying on new, matching pajamas and playing Uno. In a season of busyness, a night at home with the people you love most is a gift in itself and just might do the trick to center your minds and hearts on that meaning we’re all longing for.

9. Consider your calendar carefully.
I try to stick to one “festivity” during the week and one during the weekend in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For my small, easily overwhelmed family, that’s just about all the extra fun we can handle. Others might be able to do more, while some families might be better off cramming everything into one crazy week. You can’t do everything, so consider your calendar – and capacity – carefully when making your plans.

10. Just say no.
Whether this is your last resort or your go-to response, saying “no” is an option – even during the holidays. We can say no. We can! We can say no to the light display or the homemade goodies or the elaborate countdown rituals or the open house at your house or the cookie swap at someone else’s. We can say no to the expectations and the demands and the stress. Whatever doesn’t work for your family, whatever takes your focus too far from the true meaning of our holidays – you can say no to it. Go ahead, give it a try!

How do YOU make the holidays meaningful for your family?


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5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids

Monday, October 13th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

My six-year-old will turn seven in just a few weeks, which for our family means a party. My mom told me yesterday that Annalyn had reminded her of pending celebration and said, “I need to get busy and make some lists!”

Hello, apple. I’m your tree.

It’s true that my daughter gets her penchant for list-making and party planning from me. Some of that may come along with her curly hair and short legs, but most of it is likely a learned behavior. The fact is that I love planning events, and as my daughter has grown, I’ve shared that love with her.

When I planned her first few birthday parties, I handled every little detail – just like I have for every other event I’ve planned. From theme to food to decorations, I took care of all of it. But when I began dreaming of her fourth birthday party – a Mickey Mouse themed bash at our houseI decided to let her help.

Since then, my little mini me has jumped on every chance to help me plan a party, from birthdays and holidays to fundraisers and church events. She gets so excited, and it’s been a fun way to share something special. Today I’ve got a few tips for making party planning a family affair at your house – without losing your cool (or ending up with an all-candy buffet and buckets of glitter on your floor).

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids

1. Be prepared for brainstorming.

It can be a lot of fun to dream up ideas for your next party with your kids. But – what’s that phrase? Don’t give the keys to the zoo to the monkeys? (No, no, YOUR kids aren’t monkeys. Just mine.) Seriously, though. Unless you are truly 100% okay with your party taking any shape your kids can imagine, I’d recommend having a framework in mind before sitting down to brainstorm with your children.

Anyone can get overwhelmed or out of control when faced with too many options – and that rings even more true with children. I’ve learned the hard way to do my Pinterest surfing in advance, to narrow down the options and filter out the crazy (too expensive, too difficult, not age appropriate, etc.) ideas before bringing Annalyn into the mix. Now, I talk with her about ideas for a theme (if it’s her birthday party), then create a Pinterest board for us to look at together.

Not only does this keep her options limited and manageable, it also makes sure we don’t land on less-than-family-friendly pins and pages by accident while searching. (Believe it or not, searching for Minnie Mouse costumes with my four-year-old on my lap taught me that lesson!)

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

2. Take the guesswork out of your guest list.

Left to her own devices, my daughter would invite every girl she’s ever met to her next birthday party. Telling her she was only allowed to invite seven girls took the wind out of her sails and began a weeks-long deliberation.

Unless your budget is unlimited, you might have to cap the number of invitations you send, too – and I’m learning that elementary school adds a whole new level of complication to this process. When we started talking about this year’s party, I didn’t realize the politics involved – and the life lessons that would come out of these conversations. After all, if you can’t invite every girl you know, choosing who to invite can be hard. Making these decision together has given me the opportunity to discuss friendship and fairness with my daughter – as well as financial responsibility. (Because yes, of COURSE inviting all 22 girls on her first list would be easier!)

3. Ask for input about the agenda.

Much as I like to think I’m hip to what the kids are loving these days, I don’t actually have a clue. So while I think musical chairs and carrot sticks in the backyard is a perfect plan for a sixth birthday party, it turns out my actual six-year-old (hypothetically speaking, of course) might prefer Goldfish and swimming at the community center.

Likewise, when planning a family event or other party that’s not necessarily celebrating your child, he or she might have the creativity you’re looking for. (Playing charades at the family reunion? Serving pizza at the committee meeting? Making a welcome banner for small group or book club? Why not?!)

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

4. Cook up some fun with your menu and decor.

Keeping it simple is the key to every part of planning a party. But when you bring kids into the planning, you might just find your event looks a little more whimsical than you originally imagined. That might mean streamers in every color of the rainbow or balloons covering the floor instead of floating in bunches around the table. It could mean a build your own waffle bar or a pitcher of chocolate milk next to the fancy tea party china. Or it could mean pizza delivered to your door instead of the Pinterest-inspired three-course meal you’d envisioned.

Or, if you aren’t smart enough to curate a Pinterest board before your brainstorming session, it could mean you find yourself making an ocean-themed cake for a mermaid party – despite your annual vows to Never Make a Birthday Cake Again.

5. Put them to work!

When I was a kid, my parents often teased my brother and me by saying the only reason they had kids was to have someone to do chores. Now that I have my own home to manage, I’m not sure there wasn’t a bit of truth to that! But even more than lightening my load of work before and after a party (which may or may not happen, depending on the task and her age and ability), working side by side with my daughter as we prep for a party gives us one more opportunity to spend time together and teaches her the skills of cooking, decorating or cleaning. It also helps her understand just how much work goes into a fun afternoon or evening!

Special Offer: If you’d like more tips for planning parties – with or without kids – I’d like to offer a discount for my ebook, Plan a Fabulous Party {without losing your mind}. Just use the code MOMADVICE for 50% off the regular price!

Photo source

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One Easy Way to Encourage Your Child’s Imagination

Monday, August 11th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

One Easy Way to Encourage Your Child's Imagination via

A couple months ago I posted this on Facebook:

“Annalyn gets so into character when she plays make believe that when she says, in a panic, “Mom! Where’d you put our helium tank?” I actually think, “Hmmm…where DID I put that helium tank?” (Guys, WE DON’T HAVE A HELIUM TANK.)”

Now, believe me when I tell you that I do not take credit for all the amazing characteristics my daughter has. Just like her strong will and curly hair, some things just came with her. And her vivid imagination and flair for the dramatic are two of those things.

[I suppose I could take credit and/or blame for those things, since they certainly came from my gene pool. But it’s not like I intentionally passed on those traits anymore than I did my green eyes or seasonal allergies.]

However, I did recognize early on the benefit of encouraging my daughter’s imagination – and one simple trick has helped me more than any other. Ironically, it’s something I can’t do well in any other area of my life, but when it comes to pretend play with my kiddo, I’m all over it.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m not always the most FUN person. I’m practical and grounded and realistic. I think fast and I’m able to see what will work and what won’t, and I have a low threshold for the ridiculous. This is exactly what led to a lecture from my manager at the advertising agency I worked at following a brainstorming lunch. That’s another story for another time, but let’s just say I wasn’t exactly the best team player during that meeting. (In my defense, though? Their ideas were insane.)


My first reaction to silliness is to squash it, but that’s not the kind of mom I want to be to my girls. So as I’ve noticed my oldest daughter’s love of acting and pretend play grow stronger, I’ve worked hard to encourage her (and to be a little more fun). Though I mostly just reminisce about my role as Glinda the Good Witch when remembering my days in high school theater, I also learned a little about improvisational acting back then.

Encourage Imagination: Playing Dress Up via

When participating in an improv exercise, you should never deny your fellow actor. This rule is the cornerstone of improv and, while never denying your child wouldn’t exactly be a wise strategy for parenting, going along with my daughter’s pretend play every chance I can has become nearly second nature.

The first rule of improvisational theater (improv) is to say, “Yes, and…” Accepting the premise one actor offers (the “yes”) and then building on it (the “and”) is the best way a scene develops. This Mad Lib-ish strategy can lead to hilarious results – and a lot of fun for your children. For example:

Child:  We’re going to the circus today.
Mom: Great! Do you think we’ll see some elephants there?
Child: Of course we will. I’m the elephant trainer.
Mom: That’s right. That’s why we have elephants living in our back yard.
Child: Yes, and when it rains they sleep in my bed.
Mom: Sure they do – and they always leave peanut shells on your pillow!

See how much fun that is? And, at least at my house, a pretty drastic break from the norm! So even though fun and silly and pretend don’t come to me naturally, I’m learning to take that old theater lesson and put it into practice at home.

That means that these days, when my daughter runs into the house, jabbering about the fairies she found in the big tree in the back yard? I “yes, and” her. I ask her how many fairies she found and what they’re named and what color their dresses are. And, of course, I ask her if they can fly. And when we’re driving in the car, and she leans up toward the front seat and says, “Mom! Hand me the tools, please,” well, it usually only takes me a couple seconds to switch [mental] gears, realize she’s pretending, and pass the wrench and hammer to the back seat.

I’m pretty sure she’s not actually building a roller coaster back there.

How do you encourage your child’s imagination and creativity?


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Planning One-on-One Time with Kids

Monday, June 9th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Spending One-on-One Time with Kids at

“I just . . . feel like you don’t pay any ATTENTION to me!” she wailed.

My six-year-old daughter, folks – the drama queen. Just half a dozen years under her belt, and already she’s a master manipulator, saying the words that cut deepest in my mama’s heart. I often ask my husband where on earth she could possibly get these traits – and then pretend not to notice when he stares at me pointedly.

Yes, it’s true we are a melodramatic bunch in my house, but despite the crocodile tears and bedtime delay strategies, I know there’s truth in my daughter’s complaint. We had a baby in January, and after being an only child for six years, my oldest daughter is having a rough time with the adjustment.

Don’t get me wrong! She LOVES her baby sister. Like, crazy over-the-top adores her. But she still has felt overlooked and underfed, at least in the attention department, and has found lots of ways to let me know. Even though her methods (and method acting!) irritate me, I’m thankful she’s spoken up so my husband and I know she needs a little extra assurance that we love her just as much as the tiny baby everyone keeps fussing over.

I know that so much of good parenting is being intentional, setting specific ideals and goals for our families and then following through. But man, oh man, is that ever difficult when you’re tired! And if there’s ever a time for being tired, it’s when a new child enters our homes and throws everything – sleep, meals, family dynamics – into chaos. Still, this is important.

So what’s a tired mom to do when one of her kids feels left out? Make a plan, of course! Okay, maybe a plan isn’t the obvious go-to solution for all of your problems, but if there’s one thing that makes me feel better about life, it’s a solid to-do list or outline. Or chocolate. So maybe there’s more than one thing…


Though I love plans and lists, I didn’t foresee this issue the way I did meal planning and grocery shopping. So while I spent my last trimester shopping, cooking and freezing in bulk, I neglected to plan ways to make sure my older daughter felt loved after we brought home her baby sister.

That’s okay, though! It’s never to late to make a parenting plan, and besides, your kiddos might be feeling overlooked for any number of reasons (not simply as a result of a new baby in the family). So let’s make a new plan together.

Planning One-on-One Time with Kids

My approach to planning one-on-one time with kids is three-fold:

First, I make sure we connect every day. Whether that’s an extra bedtime story or snuggling in the morning before anyone else wakes up, adding to our gratitude journal during dinner or discussing the latest kindergarten “gossip” in the car on the way home from school, I make sure to look her in the eye, hold her hand and listen to her heart. That seems like the bare minimum, I know, but slowing down enough to really connect with the people we love most can fall by the wayside easily on busy days if we’re not intentional.

Secondly, I ask my daughter for her opinion and input about family activities. When it’s appropriate, of course! I certainly don’t check with her before paying the bills or planning a date night with my husband. But occasionally, she gets to choose what we have for dinner (and then, ideally, help me fix it) or what movie we watch on a Friday night.

And on the day after school ended in May, we went to lunch for a “summer planning meeting.” I told her when she’d be attending summer school and theater camp, and what days she would spend with a babysitter or grandparents. But then I asked her who she’d like to invite over for playdates and what special summer activities she wanted to add to our list. (Sidewalk chalk paint, s’mores and a family game night, in case you’re wondering!) She loved feeling like her opinion mattered as we made our summer plans (and bringing her notebook to Chick-Fil-A for our “lunch meeting” pretty much made her day).

Finally, we plan dates. Sometimes it’s an actual outing:

– going to a movie
– getting ice cream cones
– shopping for a new outfit

But other times, it’s simply taking time to be together:

– reading an extra story at bedtime when the baby happens to fall asleep early
– walking home from school so we have more time to talk about her day
– letting her paint my nails
– having her tell me all about her make-believe superpowers and fairy princess friends

One-on-one time together doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It doesn’t have to be fancy or formal, and you don’t have to spend hours on your city’s calendar of events or Pinterest to find the perfect activity.  Playing a round of Go Fish, making his favorite dessert together or playing catch in the backyard after dinner could be all it takes to make sure your kids remember that you think they’re special, all by themselves.

The point isn’t spending money or spoiling a kid who’s feeling underappreciated or overlooked. And sometimes, it isn’t even about spending hours and hours together, gazing into each other’s eyes or – even worse – wielding glue sticks and glitter to make the Pinterest-perfect craft that will prove your devotion and Mom of the Year status. It’s simply about showing your kids a little extra love when they feel unloved.

We all feel unloved at times, and our kids are no different. So whether it’s because of a new baby or a new house, overtime keeping you or your husband at work more than usual, or any stage when they need a bit more attention, making a plan to keep your relationship with them on track will go a long way.

And now I have to get busy typing up my daughter’s “Summer Plan,” because that was my action item after our lunch meeting and summer is already underway!

How do you spend one-on-one time with your kids? Have you ever made a plan to prevent one child from feeling neglected or overlooked?

Photo by Dave Parker

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5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm!

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

From our food contributor, Diana Bauman.

5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm! | The U-Pick Season has begun. It’s during this time of the year that my entire family gets excited to hit the u-pick farms and indulge in the juiciest, sweetest candy that we’ve been dreaming about since the summer before. You see, in my family we intentionally eat fresh fruit in its season. Sure, we can buy fresh berries in the winter months, but they’re void of flavor and anything good that it was created to have. So instead we wait patiently, salivating for that first juicy bite of the sweetest strawberry picked in June. 5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm! | Or the pucker of a tart cherry, ready to be made perfectly sweet when made into pies or  jam. 5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm! | As the strawberries dwindle down from large, juicy berries that can fit into the palm of your hand to the smallest of cones, still sweet and great for jam, blueberries and raspberries surge into season in the sweltering heat of July and August. 5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm! | Again, my family hits the u-pick farms to gather as many buckets of fruit that we can that will eventually be made into jam, pies, and sprinkled in our pancakes throughout the winter. As much as we enjoy the flavors in freshly picked fruit grown locally by family farmers, we really enjoy that we not only save money by picking our own fruit and purchasing it in bulk but also that we’re able to get the following 5 things for FREE. 

1. You Can Get a FREE Sense of Community!

5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm! | To my family, community is important. Supporting one another in our endeavors and celebrating with each other in everything good that nature provides teaches us to respect and be mindful of creation and in each other.

2. You Can Capture FREE Memories That Will Last a Lifetime!

5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm! | One of the things that I most enjoy about heading out to the u-pick farms is the opportunity to spend intentional time with my family. As most children do, they come up with their own stories, their own thoughts on what they can make with the fruits of their labor, and all sorts of other sweet sayings that I’ve been able to capture in my memory… forever.

3. You Can Get a FREE Family Outing with FREE Berries As You Pick!

5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm! | Visiting a u-pick farm with your family makes a great FREE outing. The kids have fun and what they enjoy the most is being able to eat berries as they pick. Now, I’m not sure exactly what the written rule is about eating while you’re picking but seriously, when you have kids, it’s going to happen… and they’re going to love it!

4. You Can Get a Tan and a Great Workout for FREE!

5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm! | It’s true, you can get a free tan and great workout while picking fruit. Squats while your picking, heavy buckets and trays filled with fruit works the biceps, and on top of that, you’ll be doing a lot of walking up and down rows. After an hour, I’d say you just had a great workout and you’ll be tan to boot!

5. You Can Get a FREE Therapy Session!

5 Things You Can Get for FREE at a U-Pick Farm! | There is nothing that relaxes me more than being outdoors in the natural world. Visiting a u-pick farm can be meditative and therapeutic and in my opinion, is a great way to de-stress from the busyness in our lives. I’ve been known to leave the kids with a sitter in order to pick some berries alone to unwind and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet while picking berries for my family. In order to find a local u-pick farm near you, visit or visit your farmers market and ask some of the local vendors. I’m sure they’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.

Have you ever visited a u-pick farm? Tell me, what’s your favorite fruit to pick at u-pick farms.

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Our Best Disney Tips

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Disney Tips

Our family is currently having the time of our lives at Disney World for the Social Media Moms Conference and I was reminded of our family’s first experience visiting the Magic Kingdom and what we learned during that trip.

Are the tips I shared then still helpful? You bet! In fact, coming into this trip armed with the “insider” tips we learned during our first visit has made this one a lot smoother, even though it’s a bit different because I’m also attending a conference.


So I thought I’d take a moment to share again how we planned for Disney and what we learned (for further information on each tip, be sure to read the original post), and give you the opportunity to add any of your tips or tricks you’ve learned in visiting Disney World in the comments!

1. Advance Preparation Tips

  • Financially: start saving and looking for deals as soon as you start thinking about your trip.
  • Safety: print out current photos to carry of each child, bring a sharpie to write cell phone numbers with, and assign buddies.
  • Meals: plan for snacks and drinks before heading to the park.
  • Souvenirs: buy them at a local Disney store or the party store and pack them with you!
  • Navigation: load all needed GPS info beforehand.

2. Ride Tips

  • Make a family plan: list the rides everyone wants to go on by importance.
  • Visit rides with longest wait times first.
  • Use FASTPASS to get through longer lines faster.
  • Add the Wait Time App to your mobile phone to check ride wait times.

3. Photograph Tips

  • Capture your children’s view – not only of them seeing things, but how they see it (get down to their level).
  • Capture the moment – as many of the hilarious ride moments as you can!
  • Take pictures on the go, too – in the car and at the hotel – using both phone and regular cameras.
  • Remember a family photo: scope out someone who can take a picture of your family in front of something you like.
  • Capture the nighttime magic – do a bit of research in advance to know your camera settings so you can get some good memory shots of the fantastic light displays.

Now it’s your turn – what can you share with us about the best way to experience Disney?


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