Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

Use What You Have: Handmade Advent Calendar

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

In the years past, we have always had a Christmas Jar of activities. Each day we would randomly draw from a set number of activities and enjoy a holiday activity together as a family. This year, our life with our two children has become increasingly busy and scheduled. We have two school schedules, extracurricular activities, homework, holiday programs, holiday family events, and so much more going on. Our life of leisure seems to have taken a detour and I have had to be more thoughtful in our approach towards carving time out for what we would hope to accomplish this year.

I wanted to create our own countdown to Christmas in a creative way, but I didn’t want to spend any money on it. I decided to use what I had to create our homemade Advent filled with fun activities and wanted to share with you what we created!

Homemade Advent Calendar

Supplies needed:

A large circle punch (in scrapbook supplies at craft store) or a jar or glass for tracing
Tape
Scrapbook or festive holiday gift wrap
Ribbon
Marker
2 Muffin Tins
A picture frame stand or a place to prop your finished tins

I began this project by punching out 48 circles. On half of these write the numbers 1-24 and on the other half you can write fun activities to do with your children in anticipation of the big day.


Stick your holiday activity folded up inside of each muffin tin and then attach the numbered circles to each individual muffin tin. Secure with tape on both sides to hold your activities in securely.


Break out your trusty calendar and jot down the activities for each day to remind yourself what you need to plan for and what supplies will need to be purchased to accomplish the activities.

Add a little festive ribbon to the top of your muffin tin. Display the muffin tin by using a picture frame stand or finding a sturdy wall to prop it up with. Have your child draw an activity each morning to complete as a family.

Our Activity List

1. Decorate the Christmas tree.
2. Big bubble baths with holiday music playing.
3. Going to the library to pick out holiday books.
4. Special popcorn and hot cocoa snack (possible visit for the tree lighting ceremony in town).
5. Going to a Christmas Concert.
6. Decorating gingerbread houses.
7. Make Christmas cards for our special friends.
8. Watch a holiday movie.
9. Color a holiday coloring page.
10. Bake Christmas cookies.
11. Go see holiday lights.
12. Go see Santa and a trolley ride through downtown.
13. Write a letter to Santa.
14. Pop popcorn & play a board game together.
15. Host an ornament decorating party.
16. Color a holiday picture.
17. Holiday party to attend.
18. Go to the dollar theater and see a movie.
19. Go see the Christmas lights.
20. Deliver holiday treats to our friends & the firefighters in town.
21. Big bubble bath with holiday music.
22. Open one gift early.
23. Watch a holiday movie.
24. Celebrate our family Christmas.

Total cost for this project was zero and very little money will be spent to do these activities together. The memories I hope to create with my children though, I hope those will be priceless!

Do you do an Advent calendar or have a special way your family celebrates the countdown to Christmas? I would love to hear your ideas!

Ten Great Children’s Books to Give This Holiday Season

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

My favorite gift to give and to receive around the holidays are books for my children. I love seeing my sweet kids curled up with a good book and enjoying a quiet moment reading. Thanks to our frequent library trips and making our own reading a priority, I have raised two readers with ferocious appetites for a good book. I am so proud!

This is our list, created with my children, of our favorite books that we have read this year.


1.) Alice the Fairy by David Shannon- My daughter’s favorite book this year has been, “Alice the Fairy.” I had found a paperback edition at my son’s book fair and the pages have already been lovingly worn after being read almost every single day by myself or by her.

Alice considers herself a temporary fairy because she has not gone to fairy school yet to become a permanent fairy. Her super fairy powers include changing her dress colors (by spilling her juice) and making cookies mine (by eating them). Fairies never eat food that has been poisoned by the “wicked duchess” (broccoli served by her mother) and she has yet to learn the one super fairy power that her mother wishes she did…making clothes dance away into the hamper.

This book will make you giggle out loud and has the sense of humor and comedic writing that David Shannon is known for. If you are at the library, just pick up every book by this author and enjoy every single book he has written! (Amazon Price- $11.55)

2.) Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer- Last year one of my last minute holiday purchases for the kids included the book, “Olivia Helps with Christmas.” This immediately became an instant holiday classic in the Clark house and I know that your children will love it just as much as we have. It was the book that we kept out on the coffee table that got lots of giggles from grandparents and children alike.

This book focuses on all of the holiday traditions and planning that the family does to get ready for the holiday festivities. Olivia helps her mother by setting the holiday table (by removing the top of the Christmas tree for a centerpiece), burning the holiday cookies, and overfeeding the baby (until he pukes).

More than that, it perfectly captures the nervous excitement that children go through waiting for a visit from Saint Nick and the disappointment with those boring holiday gifts. I guarantee that this will be a book that you read over and over again- the perfect addition to any holiday book basket! (Amazon Price- $11.10)


3.) Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea- One of my son’s favorite books this year is, “Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime” and I am sure it will get a giggle or two out of you too. This book is ideal for a beginning reader or for a child with a short attention span.

The book is a simple concept, can a dinosaur conquer and win matches against anything from a bowl full of spaghetti to a room full of talking grown-ups? In each round, the dinosaur wins with a giant, “ROAR! ROAR! ROAR!”

He conquers everything there is to conquer, but then has to face his toughest match yet… bedtime! Will he ever win it? As the dinosaur winds down, even he admits that bedtime is just one thing he can’t conquer.

This is a fantastic bedtime story that is nice and short…with a goodnight and sweet dreams finish! (Amazon Price- $10.87)

4) Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems- Our family is in love with Mo Willems! My son loves his easy readers and my daughter adores the Knuffle Bunny series. He is one of those author’s that has a fun book for everyone in your family.

This year our new favorite book was, “Naked Mole Rate Gets Dressed.” If the title doesn’t make you laugh, then this book might not be for you!

Wilbur is a naked mole rat who doesn’t like being…so naked. He loves to wear clothes and adds variety into his wardrobe with everything from his space suit to his tuxedo. He hates feeling naked, but no one in his naked rat community agrees.

The naked mole rats decide to have a town meeting with the most naked mole rat of them all.. Grand-pah. Much to the town’s surprise, Grand-pah arrives in his own seersucker suit to address the issue at hand and the town realizes that sometimes it might be okay to be dressed. (Amazon Price- $11.55)
5) Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann & Elizabeth Kann- My daughter’s favorite colors in the world right now are pink and purple. Luckily, there is a book out there for a child that is obsessed with pink, w
ith purple
, and even with gold.

Pinkalicious is a book about a little girl that is obsessed with pink. Everything she uses and eats must be pink which leads to a horrible case of pinkitis, a condition that turns her physically pink. Is too much of pink a bad thing? This cautionary tale shares how even our favorite things in the world are best in moderation.

The book is a delight for the eyes and perfect for the perfectly pink princess in your life (Amazon Price- $10.52)


6.) Ladybug Girl & Bumblebee Boy by David Soman- If you are not acquainted with the original, “Ladybug Girl,” be sure to check out that book, but for a household that has both boys and girls, the new, “Ladybug Girl & Bumblebee Boy” strikes the perfect balance.

Ladybug Girl is an endearing little girl who is all about girl power! She is a positive little girl that can do anything including counting to infinity and jumping over sidewalk cracks. When her mom brings her to the park she is unable to figure out how her and her friend Sam can play together. Noticing his yellow and black striped shirt, they decide that the he can be bumblebee boy and they can save the day together. As other children want to join in, they give them their own character names and Ladybug Girl realizes that they can do so much more good working together as a team rather than separately.

This is a book that not only your girls will love, but your boys can love too! Don’t overlook this book for your family (Amazon Price- $11.55)


7) Scribbles: A Really Giant Drawing & Coloring Book- Want to get your child to read and use their imagination too? The Scribbles drawing book is the perfect book to encourage your child to read and draw together.

Instead of having you simply color, each page tells you something that it would like you to draw. One page will tell him that the alligator is angry and have him fill in his face. Other pictures are exactly alike, but may request colors and patterns to make each of the pictures different. My favorite series is a simple line that is drawn and then it asks you to draw different animals all sitting on the pole. It is truly the best drawing book I have ever come across for allowing children to use their own creativity and imagination to fill in and create pictures.

The book is very durable and it is truly giant. My son still has many more pages to do and with the durability factor, I plan to tuck this away with his age on it as a keepsake of his creative talent at this age. Because the child is doing all of the drawing, you could buy the same book again another year and see what different things they come up with. (Amazon Price- $13.59)


8) Charlie & Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child- My kids both really love the Charlie & Lola series. This book in particular is a new favorite as it teaches children the importance of recycling and how you can do your part.

Charlie convinces his little sister, Lola, to recycle her old toys instead of throwing them away. When Lola discovers there is a recycling contest at school that can earn the school a free tree, she begins learning and doing her part to do everything she can to recycle.

The book is printed on FSC-approved paper and includes recycling tips as well as a tree poster just like Lola’s, so kids can keep track of their recycling projects and help to save the planet all on their own. (Amazon-$11.55)


9) Finn Throws a Fit by David Elliott- Do you deal with crazy toddler tantrums in your house? We have had all too many in our home with our children, and maybe that is why this book is so laugh-out-loud funny.

Finn loves peaches, but on this particular day, he hates peaches. Finn goes into a tantrum that is unlike any other tantrum you have ever seen. The illustrations of his tantrum will make you and your children laugh from the bottom of your toes. His tears flood the floor so much that his mom has to stand on a table so she doesn’t drown, his tantrum creates real storms and avalanches, and the drawings set the book up perfectly for the perfect tantrum storm that is brewing in Finn’s house.

This is a great book for kids, but a fantastic gift to give to a mom that is dealing with those terrible twos and threes that will shed a little humor onto a stressful parenting situation. (Amazon Price- $11.55)


10) Twimericks by Lou Brooks- This is a book that I actually received as a sample copy to review, but will be a fast favorite in our household. Our son is in first grade and loves telling jokes, tongue twisters, and
riddles. If you have a child like that in your house, then this book is for them!

Twimericks are what happens when tongue twisters crash into limericks. It is an adorable book that will be perfect for a long car trip or read aloud and passed around at your child’s birthday party.

The illustrations are deliciously old-fashioned and funny which make this book already look like an instant classic. Don’t forget to put your name in the cover where it says, This Beak BooLongs To…” Seriously hilarious and highly addictive, this book is perfect for children and adults alike (Amazon Price- $8.95)

What are your kid’s favorite books this year? Please share your favorite picks of the year here!

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Movie Review

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009


I had the unique experience of attending a fantastic movie premiere of a great family film that I know you are going to want to see! I was given the opportunity to have a round table discussion with the stars and directors of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” and earned a small place of honor on the red carpet to interview and photograph the stars.

Sony hosted a wonderful event for bloggers to learn more about their products and offer in-depth photography tutorials from the amazing Me Ra Koh. For someone who is still figuring out the world of photography, I was more than willing to participate in such a fun event. We got to take our cameras out on the Sony Studio Lot and even gained a little behind-the-scenes access on sets that were being built for future movies.

All that being said, I really want to focus on what a wonderful movie this was for children and adults alike.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is about an aspiring inventor, Flint Lockwood, who is the socially awkward genius behind some pretty bizarre contraptions. His inventions include everything from a pair of spray-on shoes to a monkey thought translator. Flint is determined though to create something that will make people happy.

When Flint’s latest machine, designed to turn water into food, accidentally destroys the town square and rockets up into the clouds, he thinks his inventing career is over. Until something amazing happens… cheeseburgers begin raining from the sky.

Unfortunately, the people in the town become increasingly more greedy and the mayor decides to change what the town was once famous for (sardines) to a town that is famous for raining food. The greed and demands from the people force the machine to begin making more and more food and the town is threatened to become buried in a food avalanche. To save his town and reputation, Flint has to figure out a way to stop it and save them from certain disaster.

The movie is a delight for the eyes and will make you hungry just watching it. The animation is superb and food highlights include the raining cheeseburgers and a fantastic animation sequence with orange Jell-O. In other words, be sure to have lots of popcorn to feed your children or suffer through the whining for food through the entire show!

Anna Faris
Mr. T
Neil Patrick Harris

The film features the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Al Roker, Lauren Graham, and Will Forte. The film is written for the screen and directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller.

The directors were fantastic and truly kid’s at heart. Sitting down with them and hearing the excitement in their voices was contagious. It was truly a delight to see the pride that they felt about this project and see their favorite childhood book in animation form.

What Parents Need to Know:

- The character of Sam Sparks will be a winner for your daughters. Sam Sparks, played by Anna Faris, is the local weather girl who is hiding just how intelligent she is. This movie will show your little girls that it is totally cool to embrace your inner geek and that you should never hide how smart you are for anyone.

- There are no death scenes. Many children’s movies have death scenes which frighten my small children. The mother is in a scene in the beginning of the movie and then it is later said that she has passed away, but no heart wrenching scenes that you wish had to fast forward through. Of course, no death is ideal, but Flint’s sequence with his mother is an important one and shapes the character of Flint.

- This movie is timeless. The directors purposefully decided to create a movie that could be enjoyed years and years down the road so they omitted pop culture and anything that would not be enjoyed for years to come.

- Your whole family will love this movie. I appreciated the funny sense of humor and comedic timing in the scenes. I know that my hubby will appreciate the fantastic graphics that can truly be appreciated with those 3-D glasses, and I know my kids will love just how cool it is to be smart!

Catch this flick with your entire family when it premieres on September 18th! In the meantime, be watching for some great reviews and information from the other participants at this event:

Alli Worthington @ Blissfully Domestic (Represented by Cassie Boorn)
Beth Blecherman @ Techmamas
Darcy Cruwys @ Mommy Pie
Karen Bodkin @ Karen Sugarpants
Kimberley Blaine @ The Go-To Mom
Kristina Sauerwein @ MOMformation
Melinda Roberts @ The Mommy Blog
Monica Villa @ The Online Mom

I give this two mommy thumbs up for fun entertainment and a thoughtful discussion about how cool it is to be smart and believing in yourself!

HOT TIP: Get a FREE movie ticket to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs when you purchase any Spot Shot product! Great deal, there’s even a $1 printable coupon you can use on your purcha
se. (Courtesy of Heather at Freebies 4 Mom!

(Disclosure- My travel and airfare were covered by the Sony team. To read more about how things are handled by MomAdvice.com, be sure to read our full disclosure.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geVxQo4jD78]

Back to School Celebrations

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

In our house, we celebrate just about everything. If there is a reason to do some celebrating, our family will find it. We had to break out the celebration plate twice this past week to celebrate our first day of school. Ethan started on Tuesday and Emily started on Thursday. Next year I plan to combine the celebration into one because doing this twice was a lot of work in that busy first week of school. Hindsight is always 20/20 though, but I wanted to share with you some pictures from our parties.



For Ethan’s big day, we all worked together to make the Family Fun school bus cake (there is also a video tutorial here). This cake was absolutely adorable and will be the new Clark family tradition. We found angel food cake loaves at Aldi over by the bread which helped make this cake a little bit lighter. Four people fit on the bus, so we added our family on the bus, complete with a hair bow in Emily’s hair! The kids adored this cake. After we cut into it, we headed over to the neighbor’s house to share it with the other little boy in our neighborhood who just started his first week of school.

Served with the cake, I made my simple pizza crust in the bread machine so that we could enjoy a little pizza with our cake.



In case you missed Emily’s theme for her school year it is purple and flowers. Unbeknown to me, as we sat down for the “back to school party” on Tuesday night, Emily said she could not wait for her perfect purple flower cake for her party. With weary eyes, I looked at my husband over our pizza. “I hope you like pizza,” I said.

For her party, I just used store-bought cake mix and frosting. I used tip #129 to pipe flowers and then used tip #4 for the center dot in white on each flower. Prepared icing is a pain to work with, but the day had been too crazy to make a batch of icing. She is three so I didn’t think she would mind that the flowers were not as perfect as I hoped.

I love to pipe a little border on the cake plate to go along with the toppings on cupcakes. I think it pulls it all together. Just as her brother’s party, Emily’s flower cupcakes were served with my simple pizza crust in the bread machine so that we could enjoy a little pizza with our cake.

I am thinking we will be skipping our Friday night pizza routine this week!

What are your back-to-school traditions? Do you do anything special for the big day?

And Then There Was One…

Thursday, August 20th, 2009




Her face is pressed against the window and tears are rolling down her face. “I want to go to school. Why can’t I go to school?” Gently I tell her, “Sweetie, you can go next year, I promise.” For one entire month, this was part of our morning routine, as her brother would ride away on his school bus.

We would talk about what her perfect first day of school would be like when that big day came. “I will have a flower dress. I will have flower shoes. I will ride a flower bus. I will have a purple backpack.” We would play pretend school and talk about what she would learn.

To Emily’s delight, her year is finally here. I drove all over town to find her flower dress, her flower shoes, and her purple backpack. I couldn’t find a flower bus to drive her in, but everything else was exactly as she envisioned it.

As we pulled up, my eyes filled with happy tears for her. This was her big day that she had waited for. As I opened her door and leaned in to grab her backpack, she put her two hands on my cheeks and said, “Mommy, I will be right back!” It was a voice I did not recognize. A voice of a little girl who has suddenly become independent. A girl who won’t always hold my hand, who has to get in her seat by herself, a girl that would rather wear her clothes backwards then let her mom assist her.

My big girl grew up and her big eyes were filled with delight when she arrived. There were no tears and barely a nod in my direction as I left.

Yes, this was her day and my day too. We worked hard for this day.

And then it was just me, in a house by myself. I have not been alone in my house like that for over three years. It felt strange and very quiet to be alone.

A new stage in my motherhood journey is here.

Wordless Wednesday: Learning to Tie Our Shoes

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009


Any tips or tricks you can share on this important milestone?

My Best Friend Left Today

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009






I was doing good. So much better than last year. We walked down to the bus stop and he looked up at me with his big brown eyes. “Mama, I am going to miss you so much!” He squeezed my hand and leaned into me.

I cried all the way back, tears dripping in my coffee.

This does not get easier.

Ideas for Making Lunch Fun & Healthy

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009


My son will be attending school all day now and this means that he will be eating lunch at school. I have been gathering supplies and ideas over this last month on ways to make his lunch fun and healthy and wanted to share with you some of the information I gathered.

One idea that I am excited to start with him is adding Knock-Knock jokes each day to his lunch. My girlfriend told me about someone doing this at her school and I thought it was such a cute idea to do with my children. I used our free lunchbox notes printable and found this website for ideas on knock-knock jokes to write to him.

I stocked up on small plastic containers that I plan to fill with batches of boxed pudding, applesauce, trail mixes, or raisins to cut down on the cost of the individual serving cups. We also bought stainless steel water bottles that can be filled with juice instead of the juice boxes. Sundays will be spent filling mini-containers and bagging up veggies for the week so that the mornings will be easier on everyone.

He used to eat lunch at preschool each week and the only thing he would ever eat was peanut butter sandwiches. To save on time, I would make five peanut butter sandwiches, put them in baggies, and then I would put them the freezer for the week. In the mornings, I would pull one out and it would be thawed by the time lunchtime rolled around. It was a time-saving strategy that worked really well for us. Unfortunately, he has moved on from peanut butter jelly so I can no longer implement that!

Last month I was hired by Sara Lee to act as a consultant for the company to help them plan a nutritional summit to share with moms ideas for creating a healthy and nutritious school lunch. It was such a unique opportunity for me to help in the planning stages of a blogger event and it is one that I hope I can repeat again with future companies.

Their emphasis was on creating balanced lunches and educating consumers in the bread aisle. I have to say that I have already added many of the ideas that were shared as well as implementing many of the shopping tips and I wanted to share with you some of the best information I got at this summit.

  • Instead of juice, which can add a lot of calories to a child’s diet, try making fruit-flavored waters. I loved this idea for infusing water with mint, strawberries, or oranges for a fun way to make inexpensive flavored water.
  • Get your children to eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables by hanging a rainbow on the refrigerator. As they eat from each color, they can add a star to it. This helps them see what colors they need to eat and what colors they are doing really well on.
  • Trail mixes are a healthy and satisfying snack in lunches or before/after athletic events. An easy formula to remember for making trail mix is 1/2 cup of dried fruit, 1/4 cup of nuts, and 1/8 cup of chocolate.
  • One of the easiest ways to incorporate whole grain into your child’s diets is to to pack a fun whole grain snack like popcorn!
  • When examining nutritional labels on bread, make sure that the first ingredient listed is, “whole wheat flour.” If the first ingredient listed is, “enriched flour,” look and see whether whole wheat flour is listed and where it is listed on the ingredient list.

If you have any nutritional questions or if you are needing guidance on packing a school lunch, you can contact Sara Lee through their Facebook page. They have added all of the great recipes that they shared with us while we visited the facility and they have Chef Jill checking the site and sharing ideas daily so it is definitely a page worth peeking at.

I think that the main message that I walked away with, is to do the best you can with nutrition, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it perfectly. Lunch is supposed to be fun and not a chore. Educate yourself about nutritional labels, do your best sharing fruits and vegetables in their lunch, try to incorporate whole grains into your child’s diet, and pat yourself on the back for trying… and don’t forget that cookie cutters, knock-knock jokes, or a sweet little note can be a fun way to make lunchtime fun for your children.

(Full Blogger Disclosure- This was an all-expenses paid trip to their Chicago headquarters which included air travel, a one-night hotel stay, and a gift bag. All thoughts and opinions on this trip are my own.)

What are some of your favorite ideas for making lunches fun & healthy? This is our first year packing lunches and I would love your ideas!


[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJY_K2Q__rE]

A Beautiful Day for Berry Picking

Thursday, July 30th, 2009



There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart. ~Celia Thaxter

Blueberry picking was a huge success for our family. I can’t recall ever picking blueberries before and I think we all marveled at how beautiful these berries were and the amazing abundance of them on each bush.

We headed to the Organic Blueberry Ranch in Mishawaka, Indiana. It is one of the largest in the Midwest, but their latest claim to fame is that they only sell certified organic berries. What a treasure this is to our community and it is only fifteen minutes from our house!

If you want a sweet little adventure with your children, make sure to take advantage of all of the berry picking. I was fortunate to have one child who doesn’t like berries, who could assist me with filling our pail, and one child who just sat down and consumed berries the entire time. In my opinion, that makes for a perfect team!

We only filled a small pail, but it was enough to have a little fun in the kitchen with and eat by the handfuls. I hope to return again before the season is over so that we can create a few more dishes with this summer treat!

I hope you are enjoying some of these sweet and simple summer pleasures too.

Images From Our Summer List

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
Making Our Summer List

had a pizza and a movie night

made milkshakes

went to soccer camp for a week


ran through the sprinklers (and lounged by them too)

went to the (stinky) zoo

planted our garden

had a campfire night with marshmallows

Also accomplished: went to the movies * ice cream sundae night * attended VBS * went to the library * sleepover at Grandma & Grandpa’s * made homemade slushies

I realize that many of you have just recently got out of school, but we have been out since May so our summer will be coming to a close in August. We are trucking through our list and looking forward to lots more fun stuff this summer.

I hope you are having a fantastic summer too and spending lots of quality time with your sweet children! I am hoping the sun will be shining more here so we can do more water activities. In the meantime, we are having a blast and enjoying these precious moments together. I am trying to store each of these moments in my heart and treasuring these lazy summer days as much as I can for I know they end way too soon! Happy summer!

In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. ~Aldo Leopold