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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Preschool Brain Games

Some of Charlie's favorite activities right now are brain games; counting, colors, puzzles, and problem solving. Preschoolers have thirsty, curious brains that want more information and to know why (Why? But why?!) He has tanagrams, counting pieces, and puzzles of all sorts, but his absolute favorite game right now is Bunny Peek-a-Boo by SmartGames. When I saw this game at Blogger Bash back in July, I thought it was cool, but once we started playing with it, I knew he was going to love it.

Bunny Peek-a-Boo may sound like a game for infants, but it's a brilliant learning toy for kids ages 2 and up. It's simple; the child choses a card and uses the four pieces of the puzzle to replicate it. There are four levels of difficulty (starter, junior, expert, and master) with a total of 60 challenges. These are some examples from each level that Charlie and I put together...

This toy has incredible longevity; it has multiple, age appropriate challenges for kids to try and master over the years. It also has a tremendous educational benefit; in addition to learning concepts like above, below, inside, outside, behind, in front of, etc., kids can practice logical reasoning, planning, fine motor, and visual-spatial skills.

Here's what else we love:
  • Sturdy, colorful blocks made of wood, not cheap plastic.
  • Chunky pieces, sized just right for little hands. 
  • Only four pieces means less to loose and easy to travel.
  • Lots of challenge cards to keep you busy, but you can also come up with your own. 

We use this little box from WalMart to store our Bunny Peek-a-Boo and cards, though it's more often out being used than stored away! Right now, Charlie can do the Starter challenges and some of the Junior challenges. He loves testing me and Jeff on the Master cards and, I'll be honest, some of them take a bit of thinking!

If you're unfamiliar with SmartGames, definitely check out their site. All of their toys have this kind of educational quality, creativity, and uniqueness. When I met them at Blogger Bash, I was incredibly impressed with the variety of toys and products they offer. If you're looking for a unique birthday or holiday gift for a preschooler in your life, Charlie recommends "Bunny Puzzle" with enthusiastic excitement!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Countdown to Four

This week will be all about Charlie to celebrate his birthday! Stay tuned for a 4 year old gift guide of his favorite things, a Frozen themed review you won't want to miss, a fabulous VTech giveaway, and of course a recap of his birthday and party!

Have I said that I can't believe he'll be four? Because, yeah, I still can't.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Getting the Most Bang for Your Space with Step2

**This post was sponsored by Step2 and contains links to their products and media outlets. The products being reviewed were provided to me by Step2, free of cost. All opinions are 100% my own and I do not review products that I don't believe in or use myself.**

Just like furniture that can serve multiple purposes, I like it when toys are versatile. When you live in a small space, that space is valuable. When toys pull double duty, work for multiple children, and are made to last, they become worth that precious square footage.

It's tough to find toys like this, to be honest. Often, toys have one specific purpose, for one age group and/or gender, and that's about it. This is why I love Step2 toys. Not only are they high quality, well priced, and easily found at local stores, but so many of them are versatile and I am happy to give up apartment space for them.

The Step2 Deluxe Canyon Train Table is perfect for apartment living. Though the piece it's self is larger than most other toys we have, it is well worth the space it takes up.

Here's what we love:
  • It is large enough to accommodate multiple children playing at it, but still compact. 
  • It's colors are gender neutral (at least I think so).
  • It was very easy to put together and the stickers were forgiving if I didn't place them just right the first time.
  • The roads are open tracks, meaning any smaller vehicle you have will fit; no special track kits or vehicles to match up. 
  • It does well being wiped down or when cleaning up spills (ask me how I know this!)
  • There is a lot of open space under it for bins of cars and trains. 
  • The table top makes it a toddler play space for blocks, coloring, or even a kid's table at Thanksgiving!

That's right, this train table is also a play table! I love the sleek white board that fits perfectly on top; it's easy to put on and take off, it covers the toys underneath making for a quick "clean up," and makes for a super versatile and sturdy table. The table top is wipeable and stands up to a bit of scrubbing after sticky hands or rouge crayon marks.

Charlie and Ginny have loved playing with train tables at the library and friend's houses, but I could never bring myself to buy one because we also had a small picnic table for them to build and color on. Plus, many train tables have small pieces that are fun for Charlie, but not safe for Ginny. So, two train tables then? A play table and a train table? No, that's just silly. Just too many things in one small space. This table is appropriate, safe, and entertaining for both of them to play on together - no matter what they're doing.

To corral all of the toys we have, we needed a toy box. We've done the bins and buckets and they work well for small things, but we've begun collecting larger toys and stuffed animals that really needed a home. 

The Step2 2-in-1 Toy Box & Art Lid fits the bill perfectly. Growing up, I had one of those toy boxes that was, well, just a box with four equal sides and a lid. Things would get lost down in the abyss constantly and we'd have to almost dive in head first, legs up in the air, to grab them. That being said, I absolutely love the shape of this toy box! 

At first you'd think the shape would make it hold less, but you'd be wrong! This thing holds a ton of stuff and it's easy for both kids (even Miss Shorty Pants) to get things out without the head first dive. 

Here's what we love:
  • The shape makes it easy for even small children to get toys out. 
  • Since the lid isn't a hinge type and lightweight, there isn't a chance of it falling on little fingers or noggins. 
  • There are two storage bins on top to hold small parts or favorite toys for quick access.
  • When purchasing, there are three color options (primary, pink/purple, or neutral tones) to match whatever space you need it in. 
  • While it's obviously not it's purpose, the lid is sturdy enough to stand on (which my kids do constantly, despite my efforts).
  • The lid doubles as an easel, lap desk, or display for artwork. 

That's this toy box's secret! Using the orange paper clip, you can hang pieces of construction paper on the front of the desk so children can color or display their artwork. The lightweight lid can also be taken off and used elsewhere as a lap desk to color, do puzzles, etc. We love this part! My kids love art, but easels are HUGE and we do not have room for one. 

The storage bins on top hold art supplies so they don't go rolling away and the height is perfect for both kids to enjoy. 

With such little space, I can be pretty picky about what we bring into the house, but both of these toys have been such wonderful additions to our home. I appreciate the thought and quality that goes into everything Step2 makes. Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for updates about products, fun contests, and more! 

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Is That a Bookcase in Your Bathroom?

Why yes, yes it is.

As I mentioned yesterday, we've lived in a lot of different apartments of varying sizes. The trouble with that is the furniture. What happens when you own something that your new place no longer has a place for? Or you lose an area that you were accustomed to having, like a closet or a whole room? Well, you've got to make due and try not to spend too much time and money buying and selling furniture pieces. We've done our fair share of selling furniture we didn't need and then scouring Craig's List for something we were left without. A little creativity and flexibility can go a long way. 

But yes, there is a bookcase in our bathroom. When we moved here, two things happened - we lost a linen closet and we ran out of room for a short bookcase. It just made sense to throw the bookcase in there. If in the future, we find ourselves in need of a bookcase we can still move it around to serve a different purpose. In the meantime though, it holds towels and extra TP nicely. 

As another space saving helper, we use this Room for Two Utility Tote instead of a hamper. Between the handles and the ability to fold flat if need be, it's perfect for the space. 

Another piece of furniture we've repurposed is my bedroom vanity. For years, it sat with it's gorgeous mirror, in my bedroom serving it's intended purpose as a vanity. Unfortunately, our current bedroom hardly has room for a bed and dressers, so the vanity had to go. There was no way I was going to sell it though, look at this thing! With the mirror removed, it works well as a side table in the dining room. Right now it's home to Charlie's carnival fish (that are still living somehow.....), but who knows, it could be a vanity again one day. 

Some of my other favorite furniture hacks I've found on Pinterest. Ideas like turning the top of your dryer into an ironing board, turning a bookcase into an "office" with charging stations and file storage, bookcases and cube storage can lay down and become storage seating, and that just about anything can be a TV stand or side table. The possibilities are endless. All of these ideas allow you to use furniture in a different way without destroying it or changing it so much that it loses it's versatility. 

For more apartment living ideas, follow my Pinterest board here!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Apartment Living is a Skill

Seriously, learning to love apartment living is a skill. Not all apartments are created equal and we've experienced that first hand in our years of living together. From tiny one bedroom places that don't even have room for a couch to large apartments that rival the square footage of some houses, we've lived in a lot of different places. This mini blog series will be all about apartment living, from decorating that make you lose your deposit to toy storage that doesn't make your house look like Toys R Us, with a few surprises (perhaps a giveaway?) thrown in. 

The first thing we learned about living in a small space was that we couldn't have a lot of crap. It sounds like a simple equation, but you'd be surprised how easy that is to get wrong. I think no matter how big the space you live in, it's easy to collect a lot of...stuff. Stuff that you're not even sure how you got or why you still have it. Keeping what you own to a dull roar is often the most helpful thing you can do. Plus, if and when you move, it's less to pack and transport! 

Earlier this year, we went through the entire apartment with the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge and cleared out a TON of stuff we weren't using. We're currently working on doing that again, believe it or not. I swear, we're not hoarders. We just accumulate...stuff. 

Here's our latest 40 Bags in 40 Days list...

I'll admit to cheating a little bit and going out of order. Due to opportunistic circumstances, days 9, 10, 18, 24, 25, 26, 35, 38, and 39 have happened in the last week or so. Don't you worry, I'm certain there will be days that we miss, skip, or forget about. 

The important thing is that we're getting rid of crap and keeping it to a manageable level of clutter. In the meantime, stay tuned for more apartment related posts and check out my Pinterest board for more ideas on how to make your little piece of rental into a home. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hershey Half Marathon Recap

Yesterday I had the pleasure of running the 5th Annual Hershey Half Marathon, benefitting children at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. Not only was this race kicked off by a pediatric patient receiving care at the hospital, but the entire atmosphere was cheerful, friendly, and supportive!

As I mentioned in my prep post on Saturday, we left super early in the morning - 5:15AM to be exact. I can't lie, getting up sucked, but waking up the kids was oddly satisfying since it's normally the other way around. Charlie was not a happy camper and laid on the couch in a ball asking to go back to bed. I knew how he felt, but at least he could sleep in the car.

After we were all dressed and ready, off we went. I love the amount of traffic on the roads at 5AM on a Sunday morning. The answer is "none." It was only when we approached the park that we ran into a bit of slow down. Having gone to Hershey Park many times, I was surprised (and slightly scared) to see that parking was a free for all instead of the highly structured system we typically see. We all survived, but I would have really appreciated some parking attendants waving people along into spots instead of having to do the aisle by aisle hunt for an opening.

Packet pick up began at 6AM and the race at 7:30AM, so arriving right around 6:30AM turned out to be perfect. When I stepped out of the car the wind nearly knocked me on my butt. It was FREEZING. I knew I'd be fine once the sun came up and I got moving, but holy moly. I seriously regret not bringing a pair of sweats to throw on over my tights until the race started! The kids were all bundled up in the stroller and, a fun fact for you, the My31 Stadium Blanket fits perfectly as a rain/wind shield over a double stroller!

We said our goodbyes and I headed over to the corrals. While they weren't well labeled or really enforced, I knew well enough to not be too close to the front. I wasn't a "walker" for the race, but I wasn't one of the spring chickens crowded at the front. Once the race started, it took about 2 minutes for me to actually cross the starting line. A race of 5,000 in a small space will do that to ya.

The first few miles felt AMAZING. The wind was pretty bad, but the sun came out and started to warm up. The pack started to thin out, but I found myself still in good company, meaning I wasn't falling to the way back. Around mile 2, I saw Jeff and the kids for the first time. They hauled ass from the start to the first spectator spot. Good thing too, I tossed my hat and gloves to him as I passed and rolled up my sleeves, finally getting comfortable.

The race course lead us through the town, through parts of Hershey Park (which was really neat!), and through the Milton Hershey School campus, where we were welcomed with tons of students cheering us on for miles. Their sports teams, marching band, clubs, and general students all lined up with signs and high fives - talk about encouraging!

Oh hey, Fahrenheit. Just passing through. 
At one point, around mile 7, I ran with a woman who had battled cancer and this was her first race back since going into remission earlier this year. Since the Hershey Half was the last race she ran before being diagnosed in the winter of 2012, she trained and trained to get back for this year's race. Talk about inspiring. The shirts and signs I saw today were wonderful. There was definitely the funny, cheeky ones, but I saw some really inspiring stuff. It's one of my favorite parts of running.

The other thing that kept me going was how many times I saw Jeff and the kids along the way. It had to be 4 or 5 times! He continued to run (with a front to back double stroller, no less) from spectator spot to spectator spot to see me pass by. By mile 11, I was hurting...bad. My feet and ankles felt great and my lungs were working for me, but my hips were on fire. Almost to the point of weakness. I've gotten that a few times when I've run; a stiff, locking pain down the front of my hips. I stopped to stretch several times, but the pain kept on. As I turned onto Chocolate Avenue and saw the hill ahead of me, I wanted to cry. Jeff saw me slowing down and yelled encouraging things to keep going. I only had a mile and a half left.

I did the math on my Garmin and realized that if I could keep my miles under 12 minutes, I could clear 2:30 - my goal. My previous half marathons were 2:51 and 2:52, so 2:30 was mighty ambitious, but I was on track for it. Looking at my splits, you'd never know I was struggling, which amazes me. I did mile 11 in 11:07, mile 12 in 10:52, and mile 13 in 11:31. All times I am very proud of.

I crossed the finish line with a final time of 2 hours 29 minutes and 39 seconds, taking over 22 minutes off my previous time.

As I came across the finish line, I noticed that everyone had these space looking foil blankets. I didn't need a blanket, I was hot as heck from running. Well, the second I stopped running I figured out why everyone had a blanket. BRRRRRR!! Those foil  blankets are my new favorite thing ever. Holy moly, are they warm.

For my previous two races, I felt like the miles dragged at times. This race was different for some reason. While the end was pretty tough, I feel like the miles flew by for the most part. I also never felt the need to turn on my iPod, only keeping the ear buds in to block the wind (which worked like a charm, by the way). Maybe it was the fun scenery or the friendly people? I don't care, it was awesome.

I hope to run the Hershey Half again next year. It was well organized, energetic, had a beautiful medal, and by darn, they had more than one flavor of Gatorade at hydration stations. Okay, maybe that last one isn't as important as others, but my hatred of lemon-lime is not a secret.

If you live anywhere remotely near the Hershey area, I highly recommend checking out the Hershey Half Marathon! It sells out fast, so register early in the summer to guarantee a spot!

A big thank you to Leslie from Greater Fitness for my awesome Hershey Kiss tutu! Leslie hand makes custom tutus to match any running outfit or costume you can dream up. I told her what I was going for, emailed her a picture of my shirt, and she sent me a coordinating tutu. Easy as that! Follow her on Facebook or Twitter and email her if you want information about your own custom tutu.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Party Planning with

**Although this post is sponsored by, I only agree to write about products, sites, and services I truly enjoy and would use myself. All opinions are my own.**

If you can't tell by my posts, I absolutely love planning parties. I love the theme, coming up with ideas and decor, making everything match, and making things myself. Well, that last one has begun to wane. I still love to make decorations and supplies for the party, but the problem is finding the time. As it stands, I have less than 2 weeks until Charlie's birthday party to get things together and my ideal "to get done" list is much longer than realistically possible. I've certainly prioritized it, but to help, I went on the hunt for decor that would match without breaking the bank. I often like what I find on Etsy, but the back and forth and back and forth while designing and tweaking can take an eternity.

Have you heard of I hadn't, but am very glad I found out about it! Not just for decor, but for thank you cards, and even holiday cards. It's all there.

Here's how it works. Minted is a market place for independent design. Founded by Mariam Naficy, this is a place for all artists to introduce their work to the public in an accessible way regardless of where they were educated or what type of personal capital or connections they have. The only thing that decides what work is showcased and sold through Minted is the community. That's right - new designs and ideas are voted upon by us, the consumers. How cool is that? Currently, Minted has designers from 43 countries and the number of participating artists is increasing all the time. 

So check this out, whether you need to design your family holiday card, pick decor for your child's party, or outfit your entire wedding from save the dates to the reception, you can find it on Minted. You can even print business cards, day planners, and personalized wrapping paper. 

For Charlie's party, I was specifically searching for a birthday banner and thank you cards. Under the banner menu alone there were 280 options! Banners come with 16 flags and can be personalized with a message, spacers, and even pictures. 

Once I found a banner that matched his party, other coordinating pieces from other categories was listed right on the page. No hunting around if want other things to match. Purchasing multiple party items in a package reduces the overall cost, helping you buy what you need without excess items you're not going to use. 

The thank you card search yielded over 1,400 gorgeous, unique designs (don't worry, the search function helps you narrow things down!) That's the cool part of this, since they're all independent and different artists and designers, all of the designs have their own unique look about them. Sometimes when you're surfing other stationary sites, it's easy to see the same things over and over. 

While it makes me feel old to say it, I'm at that point in my life where I want good, quality stuff at a fair price, recognizing the individual responsible for making it. Since designers get paid a commission from each sale, this has a small business feel with big business convenience. 

I haven't started to really look at the Christmas card options, but once Charlie's party is over, you can bet that's on my to do list. With gorgeous foil pressed cards and free (for a limited time) Pinterest-esque card addressing, it's going to be a pretty Christmas. On a first pass through, however, I did find this one, which would be perfect, especially for little Miss Ginny. ;-)

Check out Minted and their social media outlets for updates about new artists and designs, coupons and sales, and gorgeous Pinteresty inspiration. Tis the season!  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Pinterest  |  Instagram  |  Blog