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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bye Bye Mommy!

Standing in my living room the other day, Ginny walked up to me with my keys. She handed them to me and said, "Bye bye, Mommy!" She thought I was leaving. In reality, I had gotten home about an hour earlier and was only getting up to help Charlie with something, not leave. She had a point though; I haven't been home much lately. Late meetings, late events, weekends traveling for work or something going on. It needs to be done, but the guilt. Oh, the guilt!

I'm away right now actually, at a conference for work. Jeff can't get FaceTime to work, so I'm left with a text letting me know that the kids have been asking for me all day. Crushed.

It comes and goes, the guilt. The guilt, knowing that I love my job and the people I work with and would do anything if it meant their success.....balanced with the fact that I should probably be home once in a freaking while to put my kids to bed, help with dinner, or play outside before it gets dark. As the busy times at work come and go, proportionally, so does the amount of time I am at home (and the time I have to blog - sorry, friends). I've been doing what I'm doing for several years now and the ebb and flow of chaos isn't new to me. I don't know what it is, but the past few months have been rougher than the typical schedule predicted. Maybe it's stress about Jeff's job search, maybe it's stress about Charlie's still mysterious immune system problem, maybe it's 100 other things. Maybe it's that every time I come home, the kids run to me screaming my name like it's been a year since they've seen me. Maybe it's how they cry and ask why I'm "leaving again" when I eat a quick dinner then head back out to a meeting.

I've read enough HuffPo Parenting articles to know that it's not the end of the world, my kids still love me, and that I'm not the only working parent out there who deals with this. I also recognize that at least I get to GO home in between (hey all you deployed military parents out there doing the real hard work). It still sucks. Not the most poetic word to describe it, but it's the best one I can muster at the moment. It sucks. I feel guilty when I'm at work, I feel guilty when I'm at home. I want to be in two places at once, fulfilling two identities; two pieces of myself.

I keep waiting for the magical time when I have it all figured out, but I know it's not as easy as that. It is what it is and I just need to make the best of it. For now, I'm bringing home a big stuffed (Finding) Nemo that I got from the conference as a peace offering to my children. They'll love it, hug me, and life will go on. We'll play all day, then Monday I'm back to work. It's getting to the time of year where things will slow down for a while, meaning fewer events and more time at home. They don't care either way - they're happy for the time we have together, miss me when I'm gone, and celebrate when I return. I just wish I could keep things that simple. It's amazing how wise even the littlest ones are about life and how to live it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

VTech Learning Toys Review & Giveaway!

**This post is sponsored by VTech. We received these fun toys to play with and try out at no cost to us. Even though the toys 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!**

My little review team and I had so much fun reviewing the VTech Go! Go! Smart Animals Forest play set that we're back for more VTech fun. Just in time for holiday wish list season, VTech sent us an incredible set of four learning toys; The Chomp and Count Dino, Sit-to-Stand Smart Cruiser, Smart Shots Sports Center, and the Grow-Along Music Center. 

When the box arrived, the kids knew there had to be something good inside and it took quite a bit of bribing just to get a picture before we tore into the boxes!


Chomp and Count Dino

Assembly: None
Batteries: 2 AA
Age Range: 12-36 months

The Chomp and Count Dino is a classic pull along toy with a twist. Press the red button on the dino's head and he'll tell you that's he's hungry and it's time to eat! There are eight colored coins, each with a food on it. The dinosaur can actually distinguish between the coins, which reinforces color and food recognition. In addition to the coins, there are six bright buttons to press and a wheel to spin for songs and activities.


Though the recommended age range is 12-36 month, Charlie still enjoys the food/color recognition games at 4 years old. Ginny is right in the middle of the age range and is all about it. She jabbers on to the dino as he sings and asks for certain coins.

Things we love about the Chomp and Count Dino...
  • Recognizes coins by food and color for recognition reinforcement
  • Pull along string
  • Multiple settings for different modes of play
  • Over 100 songs to sing along
  • Bright, chunky pieces for little hands
  • All pieces store inside the dino for easy clean up
  • Helps develop fine motor skills
You can purchase the Chomp and Count Dino on the VTech website and Amazon




Sit-to-Stand Smart Cruiser

Assembly: It takes about 15 minutes and requires a screwdriver
Weight Limit: 42 pounds
Batteries: 2 AA
Age Range: 6 - 36 months

We've had our fair share of ride on toys come and go, but the Sit-to-Stand Smart Cruiser is my favorite by far. It's a compact little cruiser that has the classic features of a sitting scooter, with the learning technology that VTech is known for. The wheel has a steering action, a shifter, left and right signals, and of course a horn. With three play modes for alphabet, music, and animals, there are a lot of activities, lights, and sounds to learn and entertain.

I'm proud to say that Ginny has mastered the forward scoot after many, many (many) frustrated backwards attempts to go forward. The best part is that she yells "scoot, scoot, scoot!" while she does it.


 Things we love about the Sit-to-Stand Smart Cruiser...
  • Removable steering wheel activity for on the go or younger, sitting babies
  • Lots of interactive buttons, levers, and lights
  • Dozens of songs to sing along
  • Multiple modes of play
  • Easy to get on and off for little legs
  • Compartment under the seat for hiding Mommy's keys (wait...what?)
  • Bright, friendly, gender neutral colors
You can purchase the Sit-to-Stand Smart Cruiser from the VTech website or Amazon

Um, pardon me, you're in the way of my scooting...


Smart Shots Sports Center

Assembly: It takes about 15 minutes and requires a screwdriver
Batteries: 3 AA
Age Range: 12 - 36 months

No ball in the house! Alight, alright....you can play ball in the house. The Smart Shots Sports Center may be Ginny's favorite VTech toy at the moment. The songs and sounds cheering her on as she kicks, dunks, and scores points get belly laughs every single time. While it takes up a little more room than some of our other toys, the kids can play with it together and it has genuinely encouraged and taught Ginny how to throw overhand and kick a ball forward.


Things we love about the Smart Shots Sports Center...
  • Sensors recognize when you score a goal and count accordingly
  • Gender neutral - girls can be sports stars too!
  • Storage for balls on the legs of the 
  • Auto turn off and volume control
  • Fun actions, sounds, and light up score board
  • Encourages gross and fine motor skill development
You can purchase the Smart Shots Sports Center from the VTech website or Amazon




Grow-Along Music Center

Assembly: It took about 5 minutes and required a screwdriver
Batteries: 3 AA
Age Range: 12 - 36 months

Music is huge in our house and no flat surface or hollow tube is safe from becoming a drum of or a flute. The Grow-Along Music Center fits right in amongst the parade of instruments. With an adjustable stand and the ability to be taken off and carried with it's handle, this is a versatile toy in both use and age range.

Is it a microphone or a telescope?
Things we love about the Grow-Along Music Center...
  • Height adjustable
  • Top comes off for on the go or sitting babies
  • Microphone really works!
  • Lots of sounds and songs
  • Flashing lights and instrument buttons




We really enjoy VTech toys; the quality and intentional development that goes into each design is obvious. As a parent of a past Early Intervention kid, I really appreciate that the each toy has the developmental benefits and goals listed right on the box. This let's parents and care givers know how the child can grow and develop by way of this toy. From letters and numbers to fine motor and social skills, it makes shopping for specific needs much easier.

And it may sound minor, but this seriously impressed me. Have you ever seen screws packaged like this? Now I know how many screws to expect and will KNOW there aren't any floating around as toddler choking hazards. Brilliant, VTech. Brilliant.


Here are the other overall things we love about VTech products...
  • Easy to put together with clear instructions
  • Few, if any, stickers to apply
  • Volume controls and on/off buttons (or auto off functions) to save batteries
  • Take up little room and have multiple uses
  • Multiple play modes on each toy (letters, shapes, foods, counting, etc.)
  • Most toys come with batteries.
  • The manuals include a song list and lyrics so you can sing along!

Would you like to win ALL FOUR of these toys? (See what I did there?) Well you can by entering below! VTech was gracious enough to promise a prize pack, containing all four of the toys reviewed here, to one lucky All Four Love reader.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't forget to check out VTech's social media outlets for product info and more fun stuff. Thank you VTech for sponsoring this fun review!

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wubble Bubble Ball Review

**This post is sponsored by Wubble Bubble Ball. We were provided a Wubble to kick, punch, pull, squish, and squash, free of charge. All opinions are my own and I don't review products I wouldn't use myself!**

On the list of "where was this when I was a kid" is the Wubble Bubble Ball. I'm sure you've seen this thing on TV and wondered the same thing we did - can it actually get beat up like that and not pop? Charlie and Ginny put it to the test!


The Wubble Bubble Ball was invented by NSI President Frank Landi when his children wished they could play with a bubble without it popping. Made from a secret super stretchy plastic, the Wubble is just that - it looks like a bubble, it moves like a bubble, is incredibly lightweight, but it doesn't pop like a bubble!

When we received the Wubble in the mail, it came in a neat little box with a battery operated pump, inflation guide, mail away replacement kit, and instruction booklet. My favorite part? No nasty plastic smell! After I gave "jobs" to my "helpers," it took about 5 minutes to inflate the Wubble and get it set up. The instructions were fairly clear as far as instructions go, but if you have trouble inflating it, you can always check out this handy tutorial video. The Wubble can be inflated up to 3 feet tall (!!!), but I kept it around 30" so it wasn't towering over Ginny.

The smaller the Wubble is, the stronger it is (since it's stretched less) - something I hoped would protect it against my less than gentle children who were begging me to bring it outside to play.

Outside we went! What fun this thing is!! The Wubble is so different than any other ball or toy we've played with. You can literally grab a handful of it and chuck it in the air or at the floor to bounce it. The noises it makes when you hit it, kick it, or bounce it are hilarious and incited many, many giggles.

My two love to whack the Wubble with their hands, making it vibrate and ring out a whacky hollow sound. And as long as you keep an eye out for sharp things, you're good to go - no need to worry about it popping. Since it's light, even Ginny can lift it up and throw it or kick it, which she loves.




We're not the only ones who have enjoyed the Wubble Bubble. Target selected the Wubble Bubble Ball as a 2014 Top Toy for the Holiday Season. It was listed among other popular toys and games that are sure to be on every holiday wish list (read: if you see it on the shelf, grab it before it's gone!) The Wubble Bubble Ball is also a Family Fun Toy of the Year Award winner. The 25 winners are featured in the November 2014 issue of Family Fun Magazine. The Wubble has also won numerous toy awards, including an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Best Toy Award, a National Parenting Center Seal of Approval, a Mr. Dad Approved Award, a Parent's Choice Award, the Dr. Toy Best 100 Picks Award, and more!

For both inside and outside play, I'd have to agree - this is going to be one hot toy this holiday season. The Wubble Bubble Ball is available at TargetToys R UsAmazon, and on their website, in both red and blue. The Wubble is tough, but nothing is indestructible. Luckily, they have a lifetime guarantee. If something happens to your Wubble, don't fear! You can get a replacement for $6.99 (cost for shipping/handling).


Check out the Wubble Bubble social media outlets for the latest news and product updates.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Best Ever Meatloaf

I don't know about you, but I love a good meatloaf. This is one of those recipes that I'm not quite sure where I got it, but I've had it forever. It's simple, but it's a crowd pleaser!

Ingredients:
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 slices of white bread
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
Topping:
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp mustard
Directions:

Beat eggs and milk. Tear bread into pieces and let sit in the egg/milk mixture until its soggy. Stir in chopped onion and shredded cheese. Add ground beef and mix until integrated.

Get in there with your hands. It's gross, but just part of the meatloaf experience. Shape it into a loaf.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, combine topping and spoon over meatloaf. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, spooning topping over the meatloaf about halfway through.

Notes:

It reheats well too, so if meatloaf sandwiches are your thing, this is your recipe! Sometimes we substitute the ground beef for ground turkey and it stays super moist and delicious, with less fat and calories. Enjoy!

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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