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Friday, November 6, 2015

VTech Baby Amaze Learn to Talk & Read Baby Doll Review

**This post is sponsored by VTech. We received this fun toy to play with and try out at no cost to us. Even though the toy were free, all opinions are my own and I don't write about products that we don't love and wouldn't use ourself. Enjoy!**

At 2 1/2 years old, Ginny has definitely entered the baby doll phase. She absolutely loves anything and everything baby doll, so when VTech asked if we'd be interested in reviewing the Baby Amaze doll, I jumped all over it. 

Since bringing home the box a few weeks ago, this baby doll has become Ginny's favorite. Anytime she's home (toys don't go in the car or to daycare with them), Ginny's Baby Amaze has been at her side - strolling around the house, playing games, going to bed with her, etc. 

What does Baby Amaze do?

Baby Amaze is an interactive talking baby doll that actually plays and "grows" with your child. Crazy, right? It really does! When you begin playing with Baby Amaze, she says fewer, simpler words and requests. As your child interacts and talks to Baby Amaze, she learns more words and her language goes from "milk" to "milk please Mommy!" For instance, if Baby Amaze asks for milk and you give her a bottle, she makes sucking noises until she's done, then a little burp noise. It's quite adorable to watch Ginny interact with her so lovingly. 

There are four modes of play that can be activated by easy buttons on her outfit: 
  • Caring - where baby asks for milk, her pacifier, to go to sleep, etc.
  • Talk with Me - where you can play games and teach baby words, which she repeats to back. 
  • Reading - baby can read to you or you can read to baby from one of three included books.
  • Music Time - baby coos and plays 4 sing along songs and 8 melodies
A button on the back (inside the battery compartment) allows you to reset Baby Amaze back to "newborn" mode and play all over again. I'm not sure how long it takes to get Baby Amaze to it's full potential vocabulary wise - it's kind of fluid and just happens over time.

Our Favorite Features

My favorite part of this doll is how interactive she is. In just a few short weeks, Ginny's interest in role playing and imaginative play has skyrocketed and I truly believe Baby Amaze is partly to thank. The baby care mode, especially, sets the stage for Ginny to care for baby, even running to the play kitchen to "refill her bottle" when it's empty or rocking her to sleep when baby says she is tired. Ginny has transferred these interactions to non-speaking baby dolls, expanding her pretend play. 

The other unique thing that we really enjoy is the vocabulary building and games. The pink button on baby's bib makes her ask questions like, "what color is your shirt?" "what does a dog say?" Answering "w" questions helps to build vocabulary and other language skills. 

What We'd Change

Truthfully, the only thing I'd change would be to add an "off" button. Baby will talk until the automatic shut off kicks in (after a few minutes of no play), but there are times, like bedtime, where I wish I could shut her off on command. Otherwise, this is a solid, enjoyable toy!

The Verdict

Overall, we really love this toy. I was a little leery at first because of the stereotypical creepy baby doll voice, but seeing Ginny's absolute love for her cuddly, pink, chatty dolly self melts my heart. I'm so glad we were able to experience Baby Amaze Learn to Talk and Read Baby Doll. She retails for only $29.99, which is a pleasant surprise considering how highly interactive it is. I have a feeling this, along with the other Baby Amaze toys, is going to be one of those big toys this year, so don't be surprised if your kids know about it before you did! 

The Baby Amaze line of products is available at Toy R Us stores nationwide and at ToysRUs.comVTech has been generous enough, however, to provide one of my lucky readers with a Baby Amaze doll of their own! Check out the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win! Thank you, VTech!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Skill Building with Family Chores

This post is also featured on Libman's new site, Cleaning as a Family. Check out their Cleaning as a Family forum and blog for information, cleaning solutions, and ideas on how to get your kids in on the housekeeping action!

The truth of the matter is, Jeff and I both work full time (and then some!) so we need to use our evening and weekend time wisely. We realized that there were a lot of things that needed to be done around the house that could benefit Charlie and not just in a life skills way. We got creative and began to integrate him into our family cleaning routine, partly to establish a role for him in keeping up with the house, but to also let him practice and build skills that he is working on in speech and occupational therapy.

Here are some examples of jobs (we call chores "jobs") that Charlie does around the house and how they contribute to his growth and development.

First, Then
Something that Charlie struggles with, and all young children need to learn, is how to follow two step directions. This has to do with his delay in processing language. He needs all the practice he can get in following both two step related (first put on pajamas and then put your clothes in the hamper) and two step unrelated (first brush your teeth and then feed the dog) directions. We use a combination of visual cues (picture cards) and auditory reminders to let him practice and build this skill. Instructions like "first put your dishes in the sink and then wipe off the table" or "first pick up the train tracks and then put your shoes away" meet goals of tidying up, but also give him that practice.

Matching and Sorting
Understanding the concept of bigger/smaller and same/different is another important skill that all kids learn at different times and one that Charlie is still working on. Chances to match and sort by size, shape, color, etc. let kids practice and develop this important skill. Charlie helps put away toys in their bins, match socks when we fold laundry, put away silverware, etc. These are some of his favorite jobs! Organizing things into groups is calming to him.

Imaginative Play
The ability to imagine and play pretend doesn't come easy for Charlie and impacts his ability to interact and play with his peers. When we clean, it's a great opportunity to put on some music and play! Is this a broom or a dance partner? How about a race to clean up the living room toys before the floor becomes lava?! Not only does it make the time go by faster, but it encourages creativity and pretend.

Staying Engaged
If it were up to Charlie, he would spend the time from when we got home until bedtime playing quietly, using the iPad, watching TV, etc. Though we also tend to his introverted nature, we want to challenge him and keep him engaged, practicing important social skills such as eye contact, the concept of personal space, and conversation. When he helps make dinner, run errands, or do chores such as dusting or sweeping, he's up and interacting with us. Even though he can't exactly mop, he can help point out the spots to get next or some other super important helper job!

As Charlie gets older, I'm sure his jobs will change, but I hope to always link them back to a skill he is working on obtaining. Don't get me wrong, we play and read and craft - A LOT, but at the end of the day, the cleaning needs to get done - might as well make it a fun learning opportunity!

Thank you to Libman for inviting us to be part of their new Cleaning as a Family campaign. We've learned so much about how to make cleaning fun! 

New Goal: 12 in 12

One of my goals for the past year was the run a 5K, 10K, and half marathon. I've definitely accomplished that and even made my way into Half Fanatics with my record of 2 half marathons in 2 weeks! So, what's next?

Twelve half marathons in twelve months - how does that sound?

Well first off, it sounds expensive, but besides that it sounds amazingly fun!! What races could I find to fill in the gaps? Something I realized as I started planning was that there are some months that are just not big on races, period. Like July and August - I get it, who in their right mind wants to run 13.1 miles in sweltering heat? Not me, but it has to be done!

Since it's already the middle of June, I think I'm going to forgo finding races this summer and work on conditioning instead, hopping back into the circuit in September. Hopefully, I'll be able to find something next summer to complete the loop! Here's what I have on my wish list so far...

September: Hokie Half (Blacksburg, VA)
You get to run through the beautiful country side and get a Hokie Bird medal at the end. Enough said!

October (1): Crawlin' Crab Half Marathon (Virginia Beach, VA)
This one will be back to back with Hokie, but that just means I'm already trained up, right? After running my first J&A race last March, I fell in love with the whole racing scene in Virginia Beach. With an option to run the "Shell Yeah" 5K + Half challenge, they sure know how to woo me with pretty medals.

October (2): Baltimore Half Marathon (Baltimore, MD)
The final leg of the King Crab Challenge, I'm super excited for all the scenery, crowds, and swag from this race. I have several friends coming from across the country to run it as well (for many, their first!!) so it's going to be extra exciting.

November: Harbor Lights Half Marathon (Virginia Beach, VA)
Another beautiful racing weekend in Virginia Beach. I'm not sure if I'll run the 5K + Half "Get Lit" Challenge, but see the above comment about being a medal hoarder.

December, January:
Still looking. These are the months I'd LOVE to run since they're so cold, but alas, not popular distance running months. Maybe I can find a holiday themed something or other...

February: Disney's Princess Half Marathon
Sarah and I are ready and waiting for the registration for the Princess Half Marathon to open up next month! We're hoping to sign up for the Glass Slipper Challenge (10K + Half) and are already planning costumes (of course).

March: Shamrock Half Marathon (Virginia Beach, VA)
Are you sensing a theme yet? This is my current PR and I'm looking to crush it.

After two big back to back traveling races (Princess and Shamrock) I'm going to try my best to keep this one local. I don't have one picked out just yet, but there seem to be several in the area that can check off the month without breaking the bank.

May: Frederick Half Marathon OR Pittsburgh Half Marathon
I ran Frederick this past year and had a wonderful time, but have also heard great things about Pittsburgh - a city that I absolutely love. They're back to back weekends during a busy time at work, so it'll come down to one tough choice!

June, July, August: 
Which brings us back to the main point of this post. There are a few half marathons in June that I've stumbled upon, but July and August seem pretty bare. It may take some creativity or traveling to get it worked out, but I'm open to suggestions!

If you have any suggestions for great races in the PA, MD, WV, VA area, hit me up!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Create & Celebrate Art Party!

This is at least 7 months late at this point, but I'm so proud of how Charlie's 4th birthday party turned out, I have to share! Let's pretend I've just been ruminating on the perfect way to present it...

When I asked Charlie what he wanted to do for his birthday, he quickly told us he wanted to, "paint with [his] friends." Done, buddy. After a few trips to Hobby Lobby, Amazon, and Target, Charlie's art party came together relatively easily.

Hobby Lobby had...

  • Tiny easels (4 for $5)
  • Washable paint ($1.50 bottle)
  • Paint pallets (8 for $5)
  • Chip board letters ($1 each)
  • Paint theme cupcake liners ($2)
  • Paint splotch wall decorations ($3)
  • Black butcher block paper ($6 roll)
  • 144 paint brushes ($5)
  • Brown paper goodie bags (5 for $2)
Target had...
  • Back to School sale markers, crayons, chalk, and paint brushes (various prices, all under a dollar)
Amazon had...

All in all, I was able to purchase the snacks, supplies, favors, etc. for under $75. The back to school sales going on the months leading up to the party really helped out with the various art supplies used for favors and decorations. Crayons were a quarter a box, which I'm thankful for as we went through tons of them!

My favorite decoration for the party was the "cake." Since we planned to decorate cupcakes, there was no centerpiece to the food table. I saw this art supply cake on Pinterest and just had to recreate it. Thankfully, we had enough art supplies laying around to put it together at no additional cost. 

Another fun Pinterest find were these "spilling paint" can decorations. The empty paint cans were about $5 each at Lowe's and the plastic table cloths were from the dollar store. I used tripods (one was mine, one I borrowed) to prop up the paint can to look like it was spilling paint all over the food table. The space under the "paint" tablecloth also made for a good place to stash extra snacks, cupcakes, and supplies out of sight. 

To keep the kids occupied, we set up three activities for them - a chalk wall (black butcher block paper and chalk), a painting activity, and cupcake decorating. Alternating between the activity and free play time worked well for the kids and their parents. It seemed to mix things up and be just the right amount of entertainment while giving parents a break to eat and chat. 

Each child's station had the first letter of their name, smock, brushes, and paint in cut up egg cartons. I grabbed some small canvases as well in case little siblings wanted to do hand/foot print art. We included instructions on the invitation to come dress in clothes appropriate to paint in, which was appreciated by the parents. The paint was washable, but things happen!

I wasn't sure how the cupcake decorating activity would go, but they loved it! A plain cupcake along with little bits of different decorations (sprinkles, candies, Teddy Grahams, mini marshmallows, colored sugar, etc.) entertained them for way longer than I could have imagined. Clean up was as simple as dumping the excess decorations in the trash and throwing the paint pallets in the dishwasher.

Charlie's favorite part was blowing out his "4" candle. He had so much fun painting with his friends and playing the afternoon away. 

Each child got a splatter painted goodie bag with their name in crayons (tutorial on the way!) a scroll of paper, paint brushes, and of course their smock and painted letter. There were some beautiful masterpieces created that day!

The best part of this party theme is that the supplies to make it happen are easy to come by, inexpensive, and if you don't happen to need 100 tiny paintbrushes or big bottles of paint afterwards, can be donated to a daycare or preschool. 

Thanks for checking out Charlie's art party (and being patient with it's slow posting!) Even now, 7 months later, Charlie still talks about his paint party and has kept up his love of everything art. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Could you get rid of half of your stuff?

If you want to take a real look at the amount of stuff you have, give yourself one week to move it all and half the space to move it into. Talk about enlightening.

We live in an apartment that we absolutely love, but unfortunately it is in a building scheduled for some pretty heavy renovations this summer. This meant moving all of our belongings to a temporary space from mid-April to the beginning of August, when we could move back in. Problem is, the available apartment was nearly half the size and short one bedroom.

We knew the move was coming for at least year, but not the exact date. At the beginning of April, we had a meeting with the building and project managers and decided the second week of April would be the week. Wait, what? Yes, I accidentally scheduled a move a week after the meeting deciding said move. I knew the date as a number, but somehow completely missed the small window of time it created.

We'd live in the apartment for almost 4 years by this point, settling into every nook and cranny. Yet, looking around, we were confident we'd get it done in a day or two. We were so wrong.

Packing started immediately. Since the actual move date snuck up, we didn't have time to coordinate work schedules. My job is very 9 to 5, but Jeff's is retail hours, so who the heck knows. For a week straight, while one worked, the other packing and watching the kids - two activities that I do not recommend doing alone, at the same time.

Luckily, my kids are easily entertained and we quickly discovered ways to get them involved. Ginny packed the same box of books and stuffed animals about 900 times and Charlie was in charge of labeling boxes, which as you can imagine, he loved.

We also had a lot of "need" vs. "want" conversations. How many coffee mugs do we need, exactly? Do I really need three winter coats? Did you realize we still owned this?! Stuff just kept coming out of closets and corners - every time we thought we were nearing the end, we found more to be packed.

In the end, the move got done. It's hard to truly realize how much stuff you have until you lay hands on every piece of it in a short amount of time. We threw out lot, donated a lot, sold a lot. There is still a significant amount that we ran out of time to go through, so it got packed with the intention of deciding it's fate later.

Living with essentially 1/3 of our belongings for a summer has been surprisingly refreshing. We don't have a dishwasher anymore and are paying for laundry, yet somehow, the kitchen is cleaner and the laundry is significantly more up to date than in our old place. Why? I think the minimal space motivates us to keep things tidy, but I can't help but wonder if the smaller amount of stuff in general contributes to that as well.

Fewer toys means they get played with more and are quicker to clean up. Fewer plates and bowls means we need to clean them more frequently to use them again. Same goes for sheets and towels. Pared down wardrobes to fit in smaller closets means we only bring what we'll wear - why are we keeping the rest?

It's been an interesting time of reflection for both of us and I think our apartment will look drastically different when we move back in and unpack. I want to get rid of a lot of the stuff we have in storage. We just don't need it and there are probably other people out there who do.

This is another instance where an inconvenience is actually a blessing in disguise.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fitness Friday: Baltimore 10 Miler Recap

King Crab Challenge Race #2 complete! Last Saturday, Jeff and I left home before the crack of dawn and headed down to beautiful Baltimore for the Baltimore 10 Miler.

Starting out at the Baltimore Zoo, the 10 Miler is Corrigan Sport's lovely summer jaunt through Druid Hill, the north side of town, and around Lake Montebello. This was our first year at this race and we kept hearing over and over how uncharacteristically kind the weather was; a welcome coincidence.

Arriving at the race site, parking was easy and the walk up to the starting line was a nice warm up. We were surprised to find a mini expo at the starting/finish area with merchants, freebies, and full news coverage! They had free coffee, Dunkin samples, and even sunscreen. Very cool, Corrigan. The atmosphere was friendly and the weather was mild. Time to get started.

Jeff and I had discussed on the way down that we wanted to stay together for this race since we'd run the previous few apart. Our goal was to finish in under 2 hours, which is a comfortable 11-something minute/mile pace. Totally long as the sun didn't come out and kill us. Thankfully, there were pacer groups at good intervals up to 2:00 that we could follow to try and get to our goal.

We decided to start with the 1:50 pacers to give ourselves a buffer. A 1:50 ten miler is exactly 11:00 mi/mi. I typically run/walk faster and slower than that, averaging to about 11, but never consistently running at that in between 11 mi/mi sweet spot. A race is the PERFECT time to try this out.

No it's not. Don't do that.

This was my first 10 miler and I can honestly say, it's an odd distance to pace out. I don't know if my brain kept hearing 10 miler and thinking 10K, but man. The wheels came off around mile 7 and it was all struggle bus from there. Thankfully, we'd picked up a bunch of excess time in the first 5-6 miles, buffering our 11-12 mi/mi on the back end. This makes for "positive splits" and it's not necessarily a good master plan. Does it work? Sometimes. Do you have to basically drag your tired ass over the finish line because you burned out too early? Most likely.

Lesson learned. If you're going to try and run without walk breaks further than you've ever run in your life, don't make it a race and especially don't make it a hot and sunny summer race.

In the end, we made our goal and finished together at 1:57 and some change. Waiting for us at the finish line were ice cold wet towels and the best darn watermelon I've ever had. THAT'S how you end a race, people.

To make the deal sweeter, the race premium was a buttery soft quarter zip with thumb holes, pockets, and a beautiful embroidered logo and all King Crab Challenge participants got a medal that no one else got. Nah nah nah boo boo.

Gosh, we go on such weird dates. 

The last race in the three part King Crab Challenge is the Baltimore Half Marathon in October. I'm pumped for that one - it's a tremendous race festival with tens of thousands of people, a great expo, and sweet Under Armour swag. Waiting for us at the finish line is the half medal, the Maryland Double medal (Frederick + Baltimore), and a crazy looking medal hanger made of golden crab claws. Gotta love Maryland.

Keep an eye out, friends - I have an idea brewing to raise some money for a great cause in conjunction with this race. Hopefully, I'll have information put together soon and can share it far and wide.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

I Need an Accountibili-buddy!

Someone, please, make me post. I have a strange type of writer's block where I have ideas, but then when I sit down to write, my brain runs away - exhausted from the rest of the day. Anyone else have this problem?

I need an accountibili-buddy. These are the things I'd like to write about in the coming weeks. Someone please yell at me when you don't see them popping up...

  • Ginny's Pinkalicious Birthday Party (ya know, from March)
  • Charlie's Art Birthday Party (even worse...from October)
  • The fact that we recently moved to a temporary apartment, half the size, and what that looks like. Deciding what to take, what to toss, and what to pack was enlightening.
  • Toddler/Preschooler chores and how we clean as a family.
  • My continuously evolving thoughts on raising a child with autism.
  • Our endeavor into a gluten free diet.
  • A few product reviews and maybe even a giveaway!
  • The running and conditioning plan I have for the summer, as well as upcoming races.
  • Our upcoming (and probably hilarious) attempt at taking the kids camping. 
  • The woefully poor job I did on my 30th birthday bucket list. 
  • How I still can't find adult piano lessons and that sucks.
  • Summer activities that don't cost anything. 
  • A sewing project here and there.

And hopefully many more. It's been so long since I've consistently updated and I want to fix that. I just need help!