One Megacoolmama…

…with fun and healthy ideas for kids!

“Little Monster” first birthday party

 

The birthday boy enjoying his first taste of cake!

The birthday boy enjoying his first taste of cake!

My little guy recently turned one, and I wanted to focus his party on a theme that had not been overdone. Also, his birthday is on Valentine’s Day, so I wanted to make sure that I was making a clear separation between the holiday and his birthday.

The “Little Monster” theme came to mind when searching through Pinterest, (of course, where else?).  I wanted to try and do as much as I could myself in the way of decorations and to use as many scrap materials around the house as possible when doing it.

After a while, I was starting to drive myself crazy with all of the cute Pinterest-y things I was finding, hoping that I would find the time to do everything…yeah, didn’t happen!  However, I think we still pulled off a pretty cute Little Monster Party, and I did it by just focusing on a couple of main things instead of trying to make every single little detail perfect.  And, guess what?  I got lots of “Great party!” comments on the way out!  I would say that is a success!

I am sharing with you a few of the activities, foods and decorations that I did for the Little Monster party.  Feel free to use any of the ideas for your own Little Monsters!

 

DECORATIONS

-Tissue poms with pasted on eyes.  We hung a few and stuffed a few into buckets for centerpieces for the tables.

 

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tissue pom decoration

-Homemade birthday banner.  I used scraps of card stock that I had leftover from my scrapbooking days, and went with the colors I had most of- blue, orange, green, purple and yellow….those ended up being the main colors of the party!  I drew and cut out the letters and just pasted everything with Elmer’s glue.  I used a paper hole punch, strung some yarn through, and voila!  I plan on using this banner in years to come and just switching out the “1” with a different number!

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-Big wall monsters.  I used big butcher block paper and colored paper plates for the eyes and claws/teeth.  I cut out the shapes, colored where necessary and taped to the walls and doors!

door monster

 

 

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wall monster

wall monster

-Hanging monsters.  These little inflatables I bought from Amazon and were a cute touch.  I hung them from the light fixtures in the kitchen and dining room and had another one just floating between tables.  Super cute and lasted the entire party!

 

FOOD

-Monster fruit.  I drew faces on some clementines and bananas, and then I used a chip tray to arrange green grapes and blueberries with a big eye in the center.  I used, once again, a paper plate and marker for the eye.

monster fruit tray

monster fruit tray 2

-Monster pretzels.  My sister helped me out here!  We took rod pretzels, dipped them in white chocolate, covered with colorful sprinkles and then stuck an edible eyeball on them.  So cute and a nice sweet/salty treat!

monster pretzels

-Monster mix.  For the sweet table, I had two buckets of Monster Mix (as seen in the far right and left buckets in the picture above).  One was a bucket full of colorful jelly/sugar candies, like gummy Jolly Ranchers and LifeSavers, jelly beans, and gummy SweetTarts.  The other bucket was full of M&M’s.  I had little striped cupcake paper wrappers out for the little ones to fill with candy.  The sweet table was a big hit, especially with the option to fill the cupcake wrappers from the buckets!

-Monster lollipops.  Yep, ordered these from Amazon, too!  Something simple, but added just the right touch to our little sweet table.

ACTIVITIES

-Adopt-a-Monster.  The goodie bag for the kids at the end of the party was a little monster that they could adopt.  I ordered a couple of bags of cute little monster dolls from Amazon and created an Official Monster Adoption Certificate that each child could fill out and take home with the monster of their choosing.  The kids loved being able to adopt a monster; as a matter of fact, I think my niece snagged three! 🙂

-Make your own Monster.  All I did here was make copies of a monster body parts template that I found here.  The kids cut out body parts, colored them and pasted them on their monster bodies.  It kept kids busy and creative at the same time!

-Monster labels.  I just printed these out, cut them, and left them on the table for the kids to do as they pleased with them.  Some used them as labels for their adopted monsters, others used them to give monster names to themselves, and others stuck them on their cups.  Just something a little extra to go with the theme.  🙂

 

We had a great time celebrating my little guy’s first birthday, but all of these ideas were just a fun addition to what made the party the most special– the people, of course!  We are blessed with amazing family and friends, and were are grateful to be able to celebrate our children’s milestones with the people we love most!

first birthday

Oh, and CAKE!  Lol…I almost forgot the cake!  To serve the guests, we just ordered a blank sheet cake from Costco, and I decorate it myself–not too shabby, eh?  And, the special birthday boy’s smash cake was ordered from a bakery by my house.  Loved it! (and, yes, those are Monster cookies you see in the background!)

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monster cake

 

 

Thanks for reading!  Hope you can use some of my ideas…I would love to hear some of yours in the comments below! 🙂

 

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Encourage a love of reading in your kids this Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day is such a beautiful holiday based around the concept of love.  Show your little ones some love this year by fostering a love of reading in them!  By no means does this mean that you have to go out and spend tons of money; great books are cheaper than you think! (click on the pictures of the books for prices)

I will be showing my little ones some “book love” by giving them a cute Valentine themed book.  I have readers at three different levels- 2nd to 3rd grade level, Kindergarten level, and picture-book level (baby).  I plan on gifting them these books with a book light to encourage them to read anywhere they please- our reading niche, their beds, the floor, the car….you name it!  I know they will love using their new lights with their new books; anything to make reading novel to them is keeping it interesting as well!

Below are some of my personal recommendations for great Valentine’s Day books for the little ones, according to age group:

1.  Baby/Toddler-

Llama Llama I Love You

Sturdy book for little hands that grab.  Cute, short and sweet!  Also a classic!

 

My Fuzzy Valentine (Sesame Street)

Babies love to feel the fuzziness in this book.  Once again, short book, but perfect length for the really little ones.

 

2.  Ages 3-5 (preschool)-

Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool

Pete the Cat is a favorite with kids in this age group, and they will love seeing how Pete has a change of heart on Valentine’s Day.  Complete with a poster and stickers, too!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, Curious George

Curious George is a classic, and the little ones will enjoy reading about his adventures on one of the happiest days of the year.  The book also comes with pull-out flaps, making it even more entertaining!

 

3.  Ages 6-8-

My Weird School Special: Oh, Valentine, We’ve Lost Our Minds!

A humorous twist on Valentine’s Day, involving a duel over a special valentine– great for the “big kids”!

 

Little Critter: Happy Valentine’s Day, Little Critter!

A pull-the-flaps book that will keep the littlest “big kid” entertained.  And, who doesn’t like “Little Critter”?  🙂

 

4.  Ages 9-12-

Mad Libs in Love

There are several versions of Mad Libs for Valentine’s Day, and what could be more fun?  I remember that I used to LOVE doing these with my sister when I was little…who am I kidding, I still do!

 

The Candy Smash (The Lemonade War Series)

An age-appropriate book based around a series of candy hearts that keeps appearing in a sixth grade classroom.  The kids in the book are set to find out who has a crush on whom and learn how difficult keeping a secret really can be.  So entertaining!

 

Did you have a favorite Valentine’s book growing up?  Were any of the above characters favorites in your household?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“One-derful” first birthday gifts

first birthday gifts

 

In our family, we LOVE a good party!  Lately, there have been a lot, especially with all of these babies turning one!  Next up on the list is my little guy, who will be turning one very soon– oh, where does the time go?

Recently, we had the pleasure of attending our nephew’s first birthday party, and I knew right away what I wanted to gift him.  Since I have had three kids, I know what we have enjoyed receiving, and I know what things have made their way to the basement after a few days.  It occurred to me that not everyone knows right away to give to a one year old.  They are in a weird stage where they are too old for rattles, but too young for some of the more popular toys.  And if you don’t have kids or it has been a while since you have had one that small, it may be difficult finding just the right gift.

The list below is sure to make any one year old (and their parents) happy.  Of course, only you know the personality, beliefs and background of the family, but I have either personally received for my children or given all of the gifts below, and they were a hit!

 

1. LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set

We have owned a set of these for 8 years now (the same one)!  Having one for that long and having it still work is something to attest to its durability.  This has been one of our favorites because it keeps the baby close to me in the kitchen since it goes on the fridge, and I am ALWAYS in the kitchen.  Also, toddlers and preschoolers are reminded of the sounds that go with each letter.  One of my favorite all-time gifts, EVER!

 

2. VTech Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker

This walker was my oldest son’s first birthday gift from my aunt and uncle and has remained a favorite for all three of my children!  I love the versatility of it- it can be used as a walker or the front can be taken off and put on the ground as a floor toy.  Lots of activities to keep them busy, too!

 

3. Cloth blocks

I LOVE big cloth blocks!!  The little ones love stacking, but really love knocking things down!  These Melissa and Doug blocks are perfect for stacking, knocking down, throwing, chewing, and learning something in between!  Obviously, a big plus here is that there are no sharp edges or heavy blocks to hurt the little ones while they play.

 

4. Big chunky puzzle

Little hands love big pieces!  And this one is adorable!  Three chunky pieces with big knobs is perfect for the one year old.  And the bright colors are catchy!  Make this even more educational by practicing the sounds and names of the animals as your little one places them in the puzzle.

 

5. Forward facing car seat

Right between the ages of one and two is when most parents start transitioning their children to forward facing car seats.  This Graco one (shown above) is one of the highest rated ones and would make an excellent gift for parents (especially first-time parents who don’t already own car seats from previous kids).  I would love to get one of these for my kid’s first birthday!  Check out my post on the best and highest rated forward facing car seats on the market.

 

6. Play kitchen

This Step 2 Play Kitchen is one that we have owned for four years now.  My kids starting playing with it from about 1 1/2 years of age, and they are still playing with it at 7 and 5.  The baby, who will be one very soon, even joins in on the fun!  He loves the sounds that the stovetop makes (frying and bubbling) and all of the doors and compartments.  My older two love pretending that they are working in a restaurant, frequently serving up bread, veggie soup, and sandwiches of all sorts!

 

7. A Radio Flyer Wagon

During the spring and summer months, a wagon is a very nice piece of equipment to have, especially if you want to frequent any outdoor places like zoos and parks.  This Radio Flyer wagon is FIVE stars on Amazon, and with good reason.  It provides shade for your toddler, comfortable seating, and storage space.  Everything you need for a nice ride with your toddler!

 

8. Little Tikes Junior Play Slide

This is probably one of the best investments we have ever made in a toy– no joke!  We have had this miniature slide for going on eight years now, and it is still going strong!  As a matter of fact, it has endured the elements of all seasons, and we can just wipe it clean in the spring and be ready to use it!  This provides tons of fun for your little one, obviously VERY supervised and on a softer surface (grass worked just fine for us!).

 

9. Water table

A water play table is sure to provide hours of fun for your little one.  I am not sure what it is about the simple fact of putting water out to play, but little ones love it!  And this table makes water play a much more interactive experience, with all of the twists, turns, and loops that the water could take.  This has been useful as a hot-day toy, filled up with the hose outside.

 

10.  Gift card

Amazon Gift Card in a Tin

Everyone loves Amazon because there is just SO MUCH selection!  If you know that the person is an online shopper, an Amazon gift card is the way to go.  And, they have so many cute little tins that you can choose from to hold the card, too!

Etsy gift card

This is one that I got for my sister-in-law, the trendsetter!  She loves everything small business and custom-made and purchases tons of clothes and accessories for her baby on Etsy.  With an Etsy gift card she can find something unique and that she really loves.

 

11.  Subscription box service

I have used the subscription box service for BluumBox, and I have absolutely loved it!  All of the items I received in the box were awesome quality and unique (Some items I have received– a cute tuxedo bib, a keyring/board book for infants, full size Playtex bottle, dishwasher rack for bottle parts, pacifiers, soft washcloths, etc).  There was such variety, and I loved being introduced to products that I may not have discovered otherwise.  This is the perfect gift for any parent/toddler, especially ones that enjoy discovering new things but just don’t have the time to go searching around for the newest and best of everything!

 

Hopefully, you can find at least one option of the above that will make your special one year old (and their parents!) happy.  Happy shopping!

 

 

 

 

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Best forward-facing car seats

If you have a little one between the ages of one and two, the inevitable discussion has ensued as to when you will put your child forward-facing in the car.  My husband and I have been talking about this a lot lately, as our littlest guy is about to turn one in February.

Our youngest has been fairly big since about two months of age, and he outgrew the infant car seat right around nine months old.  My husband and I failed to realize that the infant carseat weight limit was 20 lbs., and our little porker was 21 lbs. by the time we actually figured out that there was nothing wrong with the carseat, he was just chubby!

Parents decide to put their little ones forward-facing for a variety of reasons, including the following:

-child has reached two years of age (age recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for beginning forward-facing)

-child is at least one year old and big for his/her age

-child is at least one year old, average size, and absolutely HATES facing backward in the car

In our case, we had an extra convertible car seat from the older two kids that was bigger, so we put the baby in there, rear-facing.  However, some parents may want to go right to the option of buying a forward-facing seat, and there are plenty of affordable and durable options.  Here are five car seats that are highly rated from a variety of brands:

 

1. Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 Car Seat, Matrix

Features:

  • #1 Best Seller on Amazon
  • weight limit from 20-100 pounds
  • 5-point harness system with LATCH
  • offers three positions
  • cup holder and storage pockets
  • machine-washable cover

What do the reviews say?  Ideal in every way, except for the crotch strap (too short).

 

2. Evenflo Chase LX Harnessed Booster Car Seat, Reese

Features:

  • 4. stars on Amazon
  • weight limit from 22-110 pounds
  • 5-point harness system
  • integrated cup holders
  • machine-washable cover

What do the reviews say?  Great price for the 5-point harness, but not for the above average in size toddler.

 

3. Britax Pioneer 70 Harness-2-Booster Car Seat, Kiwi

Features:

  • Base with SafeCell technology, keeping your child significantly safer in a crash
  • weight limit 25-70 pounds
  • converts to a booster that holds up to 100 pounds
  • 5-point harness
  • integrated cup holders, storage and armrests

What do the reviews say?  Super easy to install, but a little difficult to find the lever to adjust the harness at first.

 

4. RECARO Performance SPORT Combination Harness to Booster, Knight

Features:

  • CoolMesh air ventilation to keep child cool
  • reinforced side wings to keep child safe during impact
  • weight limit 20-65 pounds in harness mode; 30-120 pounds in booster mode
  • twist resistant HERO harness technology
  • side pocket cup holders/storage
  • comes in a TON of different colors!

What do the reviews say?  No-tangle straps and safety/durability are unmatched (made by a company that makes seats for race cars and fighter planes); car seat is a little heavier than others.

 

5. Graco SmartSeat All-in-One Car Seat, Rosin

Features:

  • Convertible from infant to toddler to forward-facing booster
  • Weight limit 5-40 pounds in harness, 20-100 pounds in forward-facing booster
  • Smart-LATCH equipped (one-time install in rear and forward-facing modes)
  • 5-position recline and cup holder
  • Machine-washable cover

What do the reviews say?  Extremely easy to install, nice materials; a little bulky.

 

All of the above car seats are available for purchase on Amazon (clickable links through the name of seat and the image).  And, don’t forget that if you form a baby registry with Amazon, you receive 15% off all items not purchased 60 days from your baby’s due date (or 10% if you are not part of the Amazon Mom program).

Shop Amazon – Create an Amazon Baby Registry

Shop Amazon Mom – 20% Off Diapers
 

 

 

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Family time fun!

family time fun

We all know the importance of spending time together as a family, and at the end of the work week, the thing I want most is to come home and spend some quality time with my own.  Some time ago, I realized that the time I was spending with my kids seemed always to be occupied by other things that moms have to do- cook, clean, prepare lunches for the week, check homework, pay bills, and so on.  Yes, I was doing valuable work that needed to be done in order to keep the household running, but that guilty feeling kept creeping up every time I had to tell the kids “Just a second” or “Let me finish this” when they asked for me to play.

My husband and I talked and decided that we needed to change that.  At the time, our kids were six and four; the baby had not been born yet.  We came up with the solution of instituting “family time.”  Yep, it was that simple.  All we did was make a conscious effort  to spend 30 minutes together  as a family every night doing an activity that one member of the family picked, taking turns.

Before we knew it, “family time” became such an integral part of our routine every evening that the kids expected and asked for it.  We were so happy that all it took was a little change and focused effort; our kids felt so valued, and we all looked forward to having our turn at deciding the activity!

Read on for some of our favorite picks for family time…

1.  Play a board game.  Our favorites:

Operation— Fun to hear the buzzer if you hit the metal, and they come in different versions now!  We play the classic (but updated version).  Most appropriate for ages 5 and up.

 

Candyland— Been playing this one since the kids were old enough to move the little game pieces!  Still a favorite for the kids…of course, they love fantasizing that they are gobbling up all the sweets along the way!

 

Monopoly Jr. Party version— Lots of fun and a more appropriate version for the little ones.  Sometimes we make up our own rules for the Party Box (we pay the box instead of the bank when someone buys a party), and we take turns between myself, my hubby and my seven year old with being the banker.  Great math practice!

 

Time Will Tell game— Awesome game to help kids tell time!  We have been using this since my son was six and in the first grade.  I would recommend waiting until your child is old enough to understand the concept of time before playing this, otherwise tears and frustration may ensue!  (I learned this the hard way!


Kids Games: Kids Learn to Tell Time Game – Time Well Tell Game – $16.95

from: The Land of Nod

 

Zingo!— My five year old daughter LOVES this game, and I love it too since she is practicing sight words and patterns!  The kids love the card dispenser, and I love that the pieces are sturdy enough (made of a harder plastic) to withstand lots of play time!

Cat in the Hat, I Can do That— All-time favorite of the entire family!  Comes with cards and props.  You draw three cards from the bunch and have to complete the action that the cards describe. We have had some funny combinations, like “Walk backwards around the Trick-a-ma-stick three times while holding the boat under your left arm”.  Definitely a test of coordination skills, and it keeps the kids guessing what combination will come next!

2.  Have a dance party.  We either put on the iPad and rock out to our songs downloaded on iTunes or use the Pandora music stations on our tv.  Sometimes the dance parties get so intense that we go into dance-off mode!  This is one of my daughter’s favorite activities for family time! (See her take on dance parties in this video.)  The baby has definitely joined in on more than one occasion, too!  (Watch his first dance moves here!)

 

3.  Build something together.  We LOVE the Melissa and Doug Suspend game!  The idea is to build a tower of sorts with these long wire pieces that are kinda bent at different angles.  The object is to see if you can get all of the pieces to stay on the base together, obviously without having it fall.  This is such a fun, intense, and surprising game which practices strategic thinking !

Another building idea is to partner up and give each group the same amount of Legos or K’nex.  Then see who can come up with the best/most creative construction!  Of course, you may want to come up with some criteria ahead of time, like what you are building, time limits, etc.

 

4.  Have a puzzle competition.  We like to partner up (one of us per kid) and go against the other team to see who can put together a puzzle
the fastest.  Once again, this gets really intense, and we all really get into it!

 

5.  Play Transformers Hide n Seek.  Or My Little Pony, or whatever toy!  My little guy invented this game for one of his Family Time activities.  Check out the video we made explaining how to play!

 

6. Make something creative.  Cheerios, popcorn and pasta have all been victim to necklace accessories in this household!  It is also fun to just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl (old craft stuff, dry pasta, little trinkets that kids receive from birthday parties, etc.) and see which group can come up with the most interesting creation!

 

The most important thing of all is to do what is fun and meaningful to your family.  I have shared what works for us– use if you wish, or use my ideas as a starting point for something totally unique!

If you already incorporate family time into your routine, how is it done in your household?

 

 

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Create a reading niche for your kids

My own little ones' reading niche!

My own little ones’ reading niche!

Reading is a crucial part of learning and brain development for our growing little ones.  We all know that reading just 20 minutes a day has been linked to significant increases in achievement in kids as well.  Reading is pretty darn important, so it is necessary to give reading the respect it deserves, especially when dealing with somewhat reluctant readers (like my second-grade son).  By treating the act of reading as a special event and giving it an attractive “home”, I have seen that my kids are more likely to pick up a book on their own without me even having to ask them!  Thus, the idea of the “reading niche” was born.

How do you create a reading niche?  Basically, I included components that I felt would make my kids want to stay in the “reading niche.”  I wanted it to be comfy, colorful and full of light.  Here is what I chose (refer to pic above for image):

1.   Comfy seating.  This is a necessity.  If there is nowhere comfortable to sit, the kids won’t stay there very long.  The point is to entice them to relax.  So, don’t be afraid to invest some $$ in some seating that will do the trick.  I chose the ones in the picture from Land of Nod.  They are personalized so there is never any fighting over who gets which seat!  Also, I like that the cover to the seat is washable.

2.  Kid-friendly book storage.  This is absolutely necessary when creating a reading niche.  You will want to make sure that the place where the books are stored is accessible at all levels and safe for the kids.  I like the one we use since it has soft canvas pouches that hold the books, and it is the perfect height for all of my kids!

3.  A good reading light.  Once the daylight has gone, you will want to have a nice floor lamp that can be adjusted in order to give light to the little ones if they decide to read at night.  I like the one we have since it has three different lights, and I have the ability to turn one on or turn all three lights on at once!  I have placed the floor lamp behind the bookcase so that cords are out of reach.

4.  Natural light.  If at all possible, you will want your reading niche’s central location to be by a source of natural light.  My toy room is perfect for this because we have a little bump-out with the window that created the perfect spot to put our reading niche.  You don’t have to have yours right by a window, but somewhere near one is preferable since natural light is just better overall for kids. 🙂

5.  Basket of stuffed animals and blankets.  I decided to include this for two main reasons:  First, kids like to cuddle.  By placing their favorite stuffed animals and a few snuggly blankets in a basket, I am encouraging them to make themselves comfortable and stay a while.  Secondly, my daughter loves reading to her dolls, so I thought throwing a few of those in the basket would be fun. 🙂

And, finally, I thought I would share a few of my kids’ favorite books that have taken up residence in our reading niche.

–>Favorite books/magazines of my seven year old boy:

Pop-up Facts Human Body

Scholastic Wild Weather Pack

–>Favorite books of my five year old girl:

Pinkalicious

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

–>Favorite books of my 11 month old baby boy:

Disney Baby Einstein Amazing Animals Play-a-sound

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

–>Magazines my kids love:


Highlights for Children


Disney Princess Magazine

 

 

Do you have a reading niche in your home?  What are your children’s favorite books?  I would love to hear about what you do in the comments!

 

 

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Toy organization: which type of storage is best?

If you have kids, you have toys.  And, it’s likely that you have so many toys you have absolutely no idea what to do with them all.  Welcome to the club!  I have three children (two boys and a girl), all at different ages and stages.  So, I have found myself in a few different dilemmas when it comes to toy organization:

-What toy storage is appropriate and safe for a toddler AND school-aged kids?

-What kind of toy storage goes with my décor? (let’s face it- this is a big one!)

-What is going to give me the most value for the best quality?

The issue of age appropriateness is probably the most difficult one of all to address since toddlers and school-aged kids have different needs.  My toddler is playing with toys that are bigger, that make sounds, and the have lots of blocks, balls, and big parts to them.  He needs a space big enough to contain those bigger toys and another place to shove smaller toys- a place that is not going to hurt him if he falls into it, and one that is lightweight yet sturdy enough for him to maneuver.  My daughter needs space to store her dress-up clothes, dolls & accessories, puzzles, games and other endless amount of tiny trinkets.  She needs to be able to have some sort of organization happening so that the dolls and their hair do not get tangled up in the puzzles and dress-up clothes.  Then my oldest son needs a place for his Legos, cars, Transformers and learning games. Ideally, he needs something that will allow him to display built toys and divide up and categorize his blocks and such.  Also, having somewhere to put all those stuffed animals and another spot to to put the hundreds of books we have would be nice (the book situation will be discussed in another post:). What the heck can I get that will address all of THAT?

I think I have done a fairly adept job at researching the best toy organization systems out there that are neutral enough to go with almost any décor and give lots of value for the price.  Below I have highlighted various toy storage options that I have used and explained how and during which developmental stage I used each.

1.  The big ol’ basket.

Half Tone Rattan Floor Baskets – Blue Rattan Floor Basket
from: The Land of Nod

This type of storage has been awesome for keeping those stuffed animals and baby doll clothing at bay.  It is great also for storing those toddler toys that are bigger and can literally just be thrown into a container (soft blocks, balls, all manner of stuffed toys with buttons that make noise, etc.).  Currently I own a few baskets and use them in different areas of the house to contain the mess.  Bonus–they are so neutral they are like part of the décor itself. 🙂

2.  The storage trunk with a lid


Elephant Toy Box – Canvas Elephant Toy Chest – $24.95

from: The Land of Nod


Upholstered Toy Box With Feet – Custom Upholstered Storage Bench with Feet

from: The Land of Nod

The first image above (the toy box with the elephant) is like one I have used with my kids when they were old enough to know to open a toy trunk, around a year or so of age.  I prefer canvas, since it is a durable material, yet the lid is soft enough not to cause pain or injury to the little ones if it is to fall on top of them while they have their hands in rummaging for toys.  Isn’t that elephant just adorable though?

The toy box in in the bottom image is like one I have used with my daughter (except hers is pink, of course) since she was about three years of age.  It works great as another place in her room to keep her dress-up clothes and the few stray dolls that have found their way out of the toy room upstairs.  It is durable as well, and I love the fact that the top is removable since there is no chance of bending it backward and breaking it.  The material is soft enough to lessen the chance of injury, once again.  Oh, and it’s super cute!

3.  The open toy bins with shelves


Storagepalooza: Kids Stacking Toy Storage – Grey 2-Bin Storagepalooza

from: The Land of Nod

This has been a favorite purchase of mine, though understandably a bit more costly since it is made of real wood.  My husband and I purchased two sets of the three-bin toy storage and two sets of double-tiered shelves of the same style to go on top instead of the double toy bin you see in the picture.  So, each of the older children would have their own three-bin toy storage system on bottom and a double-tiered shelf on top.  We chose to order them in an espresso color (they are available in a variety of colors–white, navy, grey, espresso, purple, etc.), since it went with our bamboo flooring that was in the toy room.  We have been so pleased with the sturdiness, utility and beautiful look of these pieces that we would totally buy more in a heartbeat if we needed them!  Once again, the open top concept has been a lifesaver, since we literally can just throw toys into the bins and they look organized!

For my daughter, we divided her toys into the following categories for the three-bin storage:  toy food, dress-up clothes and accessories, dolls & accessories.  On the top double shelves, we organized her puzzles, play doctor’s kit, horse figurines, dollhouse, and carrying case for her ponies.

For my son, we divided the bottom three-bin storage into the following categories:  cars, Transformers and Bakugan, and other random small things that would go nowhere else…lol.  On the shelves we put his built Lego sets, a few special Transformers, card games, and other building sets.

We ordered these when the kids were three and five, and we are happy that we will be able to get some use out of them in the future as desk or dresser shelves when they are older.  We definitely got our money’s worth here!

4.  Smaller baskets to contain loose stuff


Kids Storage Containers: Kids Woven Strap Shelf Basket – Dk

from: The Land of Nod

This type of basket is wonderful for storing those extra little pieces of Legos, Transformers building instructions, little girl make-up and hair accessories, loose puzzle pieces, and anything else small that needs a home.  I like that the height of them is tall enough to store longer objects, but the size is manageable for a little one.  They come in so many different colors that you can find them to go with any room décor and are a great value.  Also, they fit nicely inside of one another if you ever needed to swap some out and store them for any reason.  Awesome little basket!

I have personally used and loved the products mentioned.  What toy storage do you use?  Have you tried the products above?  Do you have a creative way to store toys?  Leave me a comment– I would love to feature your idea as a blog post!  🙂

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Tips for a healthier you, around the clock!

Becoming “healthier” is something that tops almost everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions.  Though most of us moms and dads lack tons of free time, there are some things that you can do that take very little time to make your day as healthy as possible.  When you are healthy, you feel good.  And when Mama feels good, don’t we all?  Here are some tips that I gleaned from a few resources, as well as some I threw in myself.  Follow these and your day is sure to end with you feeling at least a little more awesome than normal!

In the A.M.

  • Wake up to natural light.  Your body likes it.  This could be as simple as waking to an alarm and then throwing open the blinds.  Or you could try one of these nifty devices if you don’t want to wake your significant other.
  • Do some stretches to get your blood flowing- just a couple minutes is enough.
  • Sit down and eat a nice breakfast, full of protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy and fruit.  This will give you the energy you need to get your day started and take you through mid-morning. If you don’t have the time to sit and eat breakfast, take it with you.  I have a banana with my coffee in the car in the morning, then a little later eat my Greek yogurt topped with fruit, cinnamon, a bit of honey, and a high fiber granola or cereal.
  • If possible, only have one cup of coffee so that you avoid a crash later on in the morning.  If you have to have more than one, try one cup of regular and one cup of decaf.
  • Get moving right after breakfast for at least 20 minutes.  Just sitting there is doing nothing for you or your metabolism.  Your nice breakfast will have given you energy to get up and going, so do it!  20 minutes of light to moderate activity will give you even more energy to start your day (this could be cleaning up the kitchen, taking the dog for a walk or running around getting the kids ready, too!)
  • Eat a mid-morning snack.  Pick from one of the recipes below, or just have a piece of fruit to hold you over until lunchtime.   Going into lunch ravenous will only cause you to overeat, which in turn causes your blood sugar to crash in the afternoon, making you tired and sluggish.
From noon to evening
  • Eat a lunch rich in protein, balanced with veggies-a-plenty and a serving of whole grains or nuts.  This will keep your mood and energy up throughout the afternoon.  Try a version of my Very Veggie Salad for all of the above.
  • Be briefly active after lunch (take a quick stroll, go grab your mail upstairs, etc.)
  • The after-lunch afternoon slump is brutal.  Instead of falling into that slump, focus your attention on doing a different task than the one at hand or get up and walk around a bit.  Also, some breathing and stretches will do the trick.  Get to some natural light if possible.
  • Have a snack that is balanced in protein and carbs,  such as one of the options below or a healthy protein bar or fruit and nut bar.
  • Have a light dinner.  Eating a big meal right before bedtime can make digestion more difficult and can lead to sleep problems.
  • Instead of a rich dessert, have some organic herbal tea and some fresh berries with yogurt or a frozen fruit/yogurt bar.
  • Get some movement in right after dinner by making a point to clean up the kitchen immediately after eating.  By getting moving, you aid both your metabolism and digestion.
Getting in my 30 minutes with the kiddos! (Baby in stroller, too!)

Getting in my 30 minutes with the kiddos! (Baby in stroller, too!)

Late evening
  • Try to hit the sack before 11 p.m.  Those who go to bed later and wake up later have been proven to gain and retain more weight over time.
  • Do some meditating or light yoga before going to bed to get into a relaxation state.  Taking a warm bath infused with lavender is also a nice way to get your body into sleep mode.  You could even rub some lavender oil on your pulse points to get the fragrance on you.
  • Try to stick to the same routine every night- washing your face and brushing your teeth at relatively the same time.  Your body will be trained to fall asleep around that time every night, making it easier for you to get some quality z’s.
SNACK RECIPES (one of these in mid-morning and one in the afternoon is ideal):
  • Coconut Celery-  Fill 3 celery ribs with 1 tbsp.  peanut or other nut butter; sprinkle with 2 tbsp. each shredded coconut and dried blueberries
  • Apricot Supreme- Slice open 4 dried apricots and stuff with 2 tbsp. low-fat cream cheese (I like the whipped variety).  Top each with half a walnut or pecan.
  • Coco-nutty Popcorn- Melt two tablespoons of unrefined organic virgin coconut oil in a pan on the stove; add 1/2 cup popping corn and pop until finished over medium-high flame on stove.  Add a pinch of sea salt before serving.  (This recipe makes about five servings)
  • Yummy Yogurt- Top one serving on organic non-fat Greek yogurt with a serving of chopped fruit (apples in my case), a few walnuts, some unsweetened shredded coconut, a bit of honey, and cinnamon.
Yummy yogurt ingredients

Yummy yogurt ingredients

IN GENERAL…
  • Try to get in about 30-45 minutes of cardio about three times a week, along with a few brief resistance training sessions (about 25 minutes per session is sufficient).  Also, yoga at least once a week aids in strength, flexibility and balance.
  • Never go more than three hours without eating something (healthy, that is!).
  • Drink LOTS of water!
  • When choosing foods, try to choose as many REAL and unprocessed foods as possible.  This is truly the key to optimum health and feeling and looking your best!

What do you do to stay healthy?

 

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Healthy turkey chili recipe!

With the crisp coolness in the air, October is the perfect time to start making my turkey chili (also perfect for a hearty winter soup)!!  As a matter of fact, next weekend I will be making a batch from which I will get about three meals (for a family of five, with three small children).  I found a recipe some time ago for turkey chili, but, of course, modified it to make it even healthier!  My recipe for healthy turkey chili is below–Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 can of tomato soup
  • 2 (15) ounce cans of dark red kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 (15) ounce can of black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 (15) ounce can of white beans (like Northern beans) (drained and rinsed)
  • about 11 ounces of organic chicken broth or chicken stock
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 c. pureed butternut squash or pumpkin (in a pinch, I buy the canned organic pumpkin purée)
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (you could add up to a teaspoon, depending on your taste.  I wanted my kids to be able to eat it, so I stuck with 1/4 tsp.!)
  • 1/2 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  • 1 pinch ground allspice

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place turkey in the skillet, and cook until evenly brown; drain.
  2. Pour condensed tomato soup in a small bowl and mix with chicken broth/stock until evenly mixed in.
  3. Coat the inside of a slow cooker with cooking spray, and mix in turkey, tomato soup, kidney beans, black beans, white beans and onion. Mix in pureed squash.  Season with chili powder, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, cumin, black pepper, allspice and salt.
  4. Cover, and cook 8 hours on Low or 4 hours on High.

 

Now, you might think that adding squash and pumpkin to chili is a little strange, but it gives it such a nice texture and flavor that I am sure you will love!  My family loves this recipe…I serve it with crumbled blue tortilla chips and a sprinkle of shredded cheese on the top.

Let me know if you try it!  YUM!

 

 

 

 

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