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Monday, December 1, 2014

We've Been Waiting for Tuesday

For the few weeks, we've been waiting for Tuesday. Tomorrow, the 2nd. It's been marked on the calendar for one thing or another for weeks now and it's almost here. I know I've been a little sporadic lately around here; it's been busy and yadda yadda yadda. I want to post; I have ideas and draft after draft started, but I've been distracted by too many other things to count. 

So what has been going on? Two major things, really, that come to a head tomorrow. Firstly, Jeff is still unemployed after being laid off from his teaching job back in June. We've been making it work, but it has obviously been a goal to get him back into the working world. On a random stroke of luck, I ran into a recruiter for Target while at work one day. I talked to her about Jeff and his experience and she gave me her card. I passed on the info to him and he applied. After a on site interview and a phone interview, tomorrow is his final interview for a leadership position at a local store. A salaried management position that could get us back on track. A position he would enjoy doing, be able to pour himself into, but then leave at work when he comes home. We need this so badly for so many reasons; namely his sanity and confidence, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it was financial as well. 

Who knows how long after the interview he'll hear anything. All I know is that tomorrow at 4PM is make it or break it time for this opportunity and I'm pulling for "make it" with everything I have. 

Now the other thing. It's more complicated and I'm still not sure how to wrap my head around it. Charlie. Charlie, my sweet, brilliant, quiet, quirky boy. When Charlie started preschool a few months ago, we were approached by his teacher a few weeks in. She had....concerns. Not "earth shattering, stop the presses" concerns, as she said, but rather, "keep an eye out" concerns. Alright... 

Jeff and I have always wondered if Charlie was brilliant, different, quirky, or all of the above. It's not that we aimed to label him, but as educators and generally worried preemie parents, his development is on our minds quite often. When Charlie learned his alphabet, upper and lower case, at 22 months from a talking toy, we were proud. When he learned the letter's phonetic sounds by 26 months from the same toy, we were impressed. When he started spontaneously writing letters and spelling his name, we were pretty shocked. He's always been this way. He picks things up with very few exposures and blows us away with the things he knows. When he began to forego pretend play and toys that didn't have to do with letters, numbers, etc., we were confused.

When his teacher said she was concerned, I knew exactly what she was concerned about. He lacks imagination, struggles to carry on conversations with peers and adults, doesn't ask or answer "why" questions, still engages in parallel play, at best, and often plays with toys incorrectly (spells letters with train tracks or sorts play food by color, for instance). His peers get frustrated with him because he swats at them for disrupting his organization or when he talks about letters and numbers instead of playing... There's so much more that I can't even put into words at this point. Lately, he's gotten a little better. We encourage pretend play quite a bit at home, but most of the time he just doesn't seem to get it. 

People tell me not to worry because he's smart. Yes, he is smart, but there is more to development than "being smart." Is he gifted? Maybe. Could he be bored with such little kid play? Maybe. What of this is normal 4 year old stubbornness? What is normal Charlie? What should we be concerned about, if anything?

Tomorrow at 1PM, Charlie has an evaluation with the Early Intervention program. We've gone this route before for a gross motor delay when he was younger, but not for something like this. I don't know what to expect, I don't know what will happen. My brain and my heart are so tired of worrying. I'm not afraid of a label and I'm not seeking a diagnosis. I would, however, like to know if there are areas he needs to focus on and if there are things we could be doing for or with Charlie to help.

Tomorrow is a big day and the worst part of it is that after it's all done, we won't know much more than we do right now. Once it's done, we'll be waiting. Waiting for a phone call, the next step, next appointment. Only time will tell.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tis the Pinterest Season

That day you go into the store and the Christmas decorations are out (you know, around October), you begin thinking about the impending holiday season and all it brings....your to do list. Decorate the house, put up the tree, find matching outfits for kids, send approximately 8,564 cards, the ever growing list of gifts to hunt down, and don't forget about the holiday themed festivities at daycare, school, work, Mom's group...

Holiday prep is fun and I genuinely enjoy spreading the love, but over the years I've noticed myself turning my focus further and further from my family and my home; gifts to buy, things to do, people to see, places to be. With an addition of Pinterest inspired desserts, gifts, and projects to the already crushing layer of Christmas cheer, I feel like the expectations (whether real or imagined) are more overwhelming than ever. This year, I'm taking a step back and changing my focus using the culprit of holiday pressure itself; Pinterest.

Why Pinterest? Why not. It's already a tremendous collection of creative ideas ranging from hand print art to stunning ornaments that cannot possibly be made by a normal person. Why not take advantage of it. Plus, this way we can share.

Follow Jen (All Four Love)'s board Advent Calendar on Pinterest.

Follow Jen (All Four Love)'s board The 12 Dates of Christmas on Pinterest.

We aren't doing fancy Christmas portraits or matching holiday outfits. I'm not going to obsess over menus for Christmas breakfast and dinner. If holiday socials don't fit into our family schedule, I'm not going to stress about it. Now, don't get me wrong; this isn't about locking my family in the house and ignoring everyone for a month. This December is, however, going to be about us and sharing the things we love with those we love.

A few weeks ago, I started two Pinterest boards; Our Family Advent Calendar and the 12 Dates of Christmas. One for our family and one for Jeff and I as a couple. As a family, we've been scouring Pinterest and our imagination, adding activities to these boards; activities we're excited to do together as a family or as a couple. There's no order, no requirements; just 24 activities (and 12 dates) that we hope to enjoy as we countdown to Christmas, together.

The activities aren't rocket science and don't require a BA in Fine Arts or a culinary degree to accomplish. It's simple things like baking cookies for a neighbor, bringing Great Grandpa holiday decorations for his retirement home, watching a holiday movie together, or having a camp out in the living room around the lit tree. It sounds simple because it IS simple, but it's things that I, admittedly, haven't made time for in past years. As the kids get older I want them to look back on the holiday season with memories of love, kindness, family, and fun.

I'm hoping our new Advent calendar sparks tradition for years to come, but if not, that's okay too. We'll try something else, pick new activities. Maybe that will be our tradition. Regardless of what works for us, the important part is that it works for us and doesn't become a season of stress and rushing.

That is my wish for you out there. Drink hot cocoa before bed, make more popcorn and Froot Loop garland than is logically necessary, watch cheesy movies, and keep your lap warm with little ones in Christmas PJs. May you have a holiday season full of love, kindness, family, and fun.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Fitness Friday: Annapolis Classic Recap & New Footwear

No, not new running shoes, unfortunately. This.

But we'll get to that. First, the race that got me here.

Way back five years ago, I married this guy. Don't we look so young and well rested?

For our 5th wedding anniversary I knew that we didn't need more "stuff," so instead I bought us registration for the Annapolis Classic Half Marathon. He's always wanted to run a half, I am practically addicted to race bling at this point, and Annapolis is the place we were married. Brilliant, right? Though our anniversary was Halloween, the race wasn't until November 22nd. Plenty of time to get a sitter, find somewhere to stay, and finish getting trained up.

One thing I didn't think about was the weather. End of November on the waterfront is COLD. I am entirely too non-committal to dress myself properly for running in these kind of temperatures. Do I wear this? Or this? Too much? Too little? It's enough to make me crazy. I settled on my new Under Armour Infrared hoodie and hat, Under Armour cold gear tights, and this sweet Bay Six shirt I got at the Diva's expo back in September. Finished off with Feetures socks and my good ol' Brooks, I was ready to roll.

When we arrived on Saturday morning, it wasn't nearly as crowded as we though it would be. The race cap was 5,000, but apparently only about 2,000 had registered. That's what happens when you're up against Philly, I suppose.

Here we are, bundled up at the starting line ready for 13.1 miles of freezing our butts off!

Truth be told, the weather didn't turn out to be too much of an issue. Our layers were good and kept us at the right temperature, especially once the sun came up into the cloudless sky. The sub-freezing temps did affect, however, the water stations. Carelessly tossed water + freezing temperatures = ice. Runners + ice = bad. I'm so grateful that I didn't fall, because normally I would have been one of the first ones to bite it.

Then there was the scenery; Annapolis. This was the reason I wanted to do this race. Annapolis is such a gorgeous city. The water, the boats, the bridges, and shops. Absolutely gorgeous. Part of the race took us down Main Street and across the water front, then over a few bridges. The beauty made up for the wicked, leg burning hills and lack of port-o-potties.

Though we stopped for one pee break, we clocked in at just over 2 1/2 hours. I appreciate that Jeff stayed with me without complaint despite being a faster runner. Towards the end, he thanked me for pacing him and keeping him grounded; he realized that he probably would have blazed out in the beginning and been wrecked by the end. Ah, the run/walk method claims another supporter.

After our 13.1 mile date.
I even got jewelry out of the deal.
Onto the boot...

Most of Saturday I felt fine; the typical just ran 13.1 miles fatigue. The race was uneventful, pain wise. By Sunday morning, however, my left foot hurt something awful when I walked. Not when I stood, just when I walked. I stretched, I rubbed, I took meds - nothing helped. The first few steps didn't hurt, but as I kept walking it got to the point where I'd limp. Monday was awful at work, hobbling around the office to and from meetings. Tuesday morning I went to the doctor and Tuesday afternoon I was in x-ray. Though nothing definitive showed up on the x-ray, my doctor is fairly confident based on my symptoms that I have a 5th metatarsal stress fracture. Whomp whomp whomp.

The good news is that with the boot I can walk on it and it doesn't hurt. The bad news is that I'm out of running for at least three weeks. The other good news is that apparently this kind of injury heals quickly without much issue. I'm bummed that I can't run, but let's be honest, I wasn't exactly planning on doing a ton between Thanksgiving and Christmas anyway. I guess this is a good time as any to chill out.

So what is to become of Fitness Friday in the meantime? I've got a "Runner's Wish List" next week, my spring race list coming together (hopefully), as well as a cool review of the Hipster Running Dog Leash, courtesy of my still able bodied hubby. With our hot mess of a dog, this will be a fun one folks!

Stay warm out there, runners!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wish List Wednesday: SmartMax House with Car

**This week's Wish List Wednesday is sponsored by SmartMax. I received a sample for review purposes at no cost to myself, but as always, all opinions are my own and I only review products my family uses and loves.**

Growing up, I was a little science nerd. I wanted to know how everything worked and often did "experiments" to test out whatever rhyme or reason I was curious about. Already at 4, I see the same qualities in Charlie, Mr. Curious Tinker. When I was introduced to SmartMax, I figured it would be a fun building toy for him to try out, but it turned out to be so much more than that!

SmartMax Magnetic Discovery sets are a series of plastic and metal bars, shapes, and balls with high quality magnets in them. They stick together to create not only fun shapes, letters, vehicles, and contraptions, but they are a creative way to teach kids about magnetism and structure.

For this review, we received the SmartMax House with Car set. This set, which includes a total of 22 pieces, builds a house and a small (adorable) car. Now, Charlie has obviously encountered magnets before, but not a magnetic building toy. It definitely surprised him when he dumped out the box and all of the pieces flew together into a pile!

Together, we built the house and the car, then a few letters, a microphone, several shapes, a castle; he was getting the hang of what connected to what. But why? He was intrigued. He's not a kid to "ask" why, but I know he's thinking it, so we did some experiments. Does this bar connect to this one? What about here? Why don't the balls connect to each other? Though he doesn't understand the science behind magnetism, in simple enough terms, he understood that magnets stick to each other and to metal, but that metal doesn't stick to metal and nothing sticks to plastic.

During our "experiments," Charlie and I discovered that some of the bars connect to each other and some push away (magnetism and repulsion), but all of them connect to the metal balls. We also learned that the longer bar can pick up much more weight than the medium size bars. Charlie had a blast running around the house playing "what else is magnetic?" He found out that our car keys, pots and pans, the fridge and dishwasher, door knob, the laundry rack, and the dog's license tag were all magnetic. Thank goodness we have a patient dog.

Yes, Charlie, the pots are metal. Can I made dinner now? 
Though we've categorized almost everything in the house as metal and non-metal, he's still thoroughly enjoying experimenting and building with this SmartMax set. I am hoping to buy him more pieces for Christmas to add to his collection! I've been eyeing up the Mega Ball Run. Seriously, tell me that doesn't look awesome.

No need to worry about Ginny getting a hold of tiny pieces.
Things we love about SmartMax Magnetic Discovery...

  • Large, chunky pieces that are safe for toddlers and great for little hands. 
  • Encourages an understanding of magnetism and repulsion. 
  • Teaches concepts of architectural structure as kids try different methods of building towers, bridges, and more. 
  • Bright, gender neutral colors. 
  • All sets work together. 
  • No tiny pieces, nothing comes apart. Read more about their safety here!
  • Project ideas span from young toddlers to school age children. 
Courtesy of the SmartMax website.
With over 40 different building sets available, SmartMax has more than the House with Car set. Check out all SmartMax has to offer on their website and social media outlets. I've already seen some deals for SmartMax around the internet, so keep your eye out! I think this is going to be a big one this holiday season!

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stocking Stuffer Sunday: SmartGames IQ Twist

**This post is sponsored by SmartGames. I received a sample product, at no cost, for the purpose of this review. Have no fear! All opinions are genuine and I only write about products my family uses and loves.**

I don't know what it is about stocking stuffers, but I have the hardest time finding things that aren't just random, meaningless filler (or candy, which we are still eating from Halloween...) My goal this year is to find cool items for stocking stuffers that go beyond the norm and actually serve as gifts you'll be happy to stuff those stockings with.

First on the list is my new favorite travel game - IQ Twist by SmartGames. Growing up, my sister and I absolutely loved puzzle games. She was much, much better at them than I was, but regardless, we would sit for hours working on them. When SmartGames sent me IQ Twist to try, no lie, my sister stole it and it was missing for like 3 weeks. When I finally got it back, I tried it for myself and is this thing hard! Not hard like NY Times Crossword hard, but like fun, addicting, keep my brain busy hard. No batteries, no screen - just a good old fashion logic puzzle....with a twist.

Here's the scoop. In this innocent looking travel case is a challenge book, 7 colored pegs, and 8 colored twisty pieces. They look all cute and colorful, until you need to reconfigure them back into the case in particular order!

The challenges range; Starter, Junior, Expert, Master, and Wizard. While I am still somewhere in the expert range, my sister has conquered all of them (and reminds me of this regularly). This is an example of the 1st puzzle in the "Starter" category. Line up your pegs and pieces as the diagram shows, then give it your best shot.

All of the twists fit back on the board, but only the matching colored twists can go over a colored peg. No yellow twist on a red peg! I promise, all of them have solutions....and for you cheaters out there, those solutions are in the back of the book.

Voila! This is what level one looks like completed. Now that you have the answer, you'll just have to try out the other 119 puzzles for yourself!

Small enough to throw in your purse or diaper bag this little game is perfect for travel, waiting rooms, or when your kids fall asleep in the car and you'd rather sit in the driveway for an hour than wake them up. Don't lie, you've done it too.

Now that I have it back, it's been living in my purse. It came in handy this weekend as we drove to and from the race. Jeff played with it on the way there and I played with it on the way back. Good thing we're not the competitive types or else that could have gotten ugly...... ;-)

Know someone who would love IQ Twist? Available from Amazon and the SmartGames website, you can stuff their stocking with this torturously addicting puzzle game for about $10.

SmartGames has much more than just IQ Twist. Check out their social media outlets and website for loads of information and amazing toys and gifts for children and adults.

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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, 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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