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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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Half #3 and How I Prepare

Tomorrow morning, I'll be running the Hershey Half Marathon; half #3 for me! This was actually supposed to be my first half, but Divas and the Hands on House races ended up creeping in before it. I'm so excited; for the chocolate, for the bling, for the cool weather, for everything! While I was packing up my stuff tonight, I realized something - I take a lot of crap with me when I go to a race! Though I've only run 2 half marathons at this point, I have already fallen into a pattern of things I like to do and bring with me to a race.

Here's my day before a race check list...
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
  • Stretch and stay active
  • Charge cell phone and Garmin
  • Load iPod with audio book tracks or music
  • Lay out clothes for the morning
  • Paint nails to match the event (c'mon, this is obviously a necessity!)
  • Gather up everything I'll need and pack it
  • Get a good night's rest
My outfit for tomorrow's race includes a long sleeve tech shirt, this sweet Hershey Kiss tie dye shirt, silvery foil headband, capri running tights, calf sleeves (for support and warmth), my absolutely favorite running socks - Feetures!, and most likely my Under Armor Storm beanie until at least the sun gets high enough to provide some warmth. I genuinely forget what running in 45* weather feels like, so I hope I'm doing this right...

Then there is the bag. What's in the bag, you ask? It's everything I'm going to need (or may need) tomorrow before, during, or after the race. I do not travel light if I don't have to - I would MUCH rather have things I don't end up needing than be left stranded without something. While it wouldn't be the end of the world, it is just a race, but why not prevent issues if you can?

  1. Hippie Runner "Go Belt"- With two separate compartments (so your keys don't scratch your phone) and four gear loops, it's light and comfortable, but holds a lot of stuff. 
  2. Road ID bracelet
  3. Sweatband, because yuck
  4. Babyganics stick sunblock for my face
  5. Yurbuds Earphones - the most comfortable ear buds on the planet
  6. Reusable zip ties for my bib
  7. KT tape for this darn ankle
  8. Cheapie sunglasses I can toss if need be
  9. Nuun for my inevitable post race dehydration
  10. An indecisive collection of bars. I don't carry them all; I'll pick one or two right beforehand.
Also in the bag, but not pictured are extra socks, an extra sports bra, a hoodie, my glasses, and a small first aid kit with Tylenol, bandaids, extra contacts, and blister block. 

In the morning, I'll have a solid, but easy breakfast (coffee, oatmeal, banana) and get on the road. The race is starting early, really early. We're going to need to leave way before dawn to get down to Hershey to pick up my race packet and get ready. With such an early hour, Jeff and I have gone back and forth about whether he and the kids will come. There will be absolutely nothing to do aside from watch the race at 7:30AM on a Sunday morning. Nothing even opens until closer to 9AM or 10AM and Hershey Park isn't open until noon, but the latest update is that yes, they're coming. I'm hoping they'll be entertained enough by the race until things start to open.

Now off to bed - lots of miles to cover tomorrow!

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Colors! Piggy Paint Review & Giveaway

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

Earlier this year, I teamed up with Piggy Paint to bring you a fun review and giveaway. With new colors available, I'm excited to announce giveaway #2!

Last time I wrote about Piggy Paint, Ginny was just under a year old and way too squirmy to sit while I painted her nails. If you recall, I had to paint her tiny toe nails after she fell asleep! Nail polish by flashlight - hey, as a parent I've done weirder things. Now a days, Ginny absolutely loves to have her nails painted and will actually sit still while I do it! When our Show Stopper gift set arrived in the mail, she grabbed a bottle and hopped up on the couch yelling, "TOES! TOES!!" She already knows a good pedicure can fix any day.

This set, Show Stopper, includes favorites Jazz it Up and Berry-Go-Round, but also includes a new color to celebrate Muddles' 6th birthday, appropriately called, "Muddles the Pig." We were also sent a new beautiful blue color called "Bubble Trouble" as well as the newly reformulated base/top coat.

After her bath tonight, Ginny loved picking out a color for her toes. Though she went back and forth (and back and forth and back and forth), she eventually picked Berry-Go-Round and correctly identified it as purple! We've been working on colors, so any opportunity to talk about color names and choosing colors is wonderful.

This one. No, this one. Wait, I really want this one.
To be honest, I'm pretty shocked she'll sit still for it, but the girl loves having her toes painted! It's a lot of fun to paint and sing while they dry. Two rounds of ABC's or Row, Row, Row Your Boat and they're dry. Juuuuust about the length of her attention span these days, so it's perfect. No waiting forever and hoping they don't smudge.

I truly love everything about Piggy Paint, from the amazing, quality products to the friendly, interactive social media outlets and customer service.

Why we love Piggy Paint:
  • Water-based, nonflammable, hypoallergenic, and does not contain any harmful chemicals or solvents.
  • Doesn't have that stinging, open a window stink other polish has. 
  • Safe for use on babies and during pregnancy.
  • Made in the USA.
  • The colors are fun and appealing to kids. There are even glitter, neon, and glow in the dark colors!
  • Dries to a hard, chip resistant finish like any other polish. 
  • Lots of color themed sets for different holidays and seasons. 
  • There is even a low odor, acetone-free, biodegradable nail polish remover.
  • Easily found at WalMart,, and children's boutiques nation wide.

I was excited when Piggy Paint wanted to send me polish to review, but now that I've tried it, I'm thrilled that they're sponsoring a coupon code and giveaway so I can spread the cute, tiny painted baby nail love with all of you.

Everyone can use the coupon code, but ONE lucky winner will receive a Show Stopper nail polish set (MSRP $24.99) which contains three full size bottles of fun polish. Oooh! Colors include Muddles the Pig, Berry-Go-Round, and Jazz it Up!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you to Piggy Paint for sponsoring this awesome giveaway! Check out their social media outlets for updates about new colors, sales, and fun photo contests. 

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I Don't Want a Pinterest Craft Room

They say that if you have a pile of unfinished projects, you're a crafter. Or sewer. Or scrapbooker. Or knitter. The list goes on an on. The problem is when you live in an apartment with three other people and try to dabble in a little bit of everything. I'm fortunate to have a little corner for all of my crafty stuff, but I'm at the point where two things are happening; 1) There is so much stuff that I can't find anything 2) There is no room to work on things when I have time. I try my hardest to keep things organized and pretty, but the truth is that I just have too many projects on the list and not enough time.

My Aunt gave me excellent advice - pare down to one hobby you know you love and just do it.

It's true. I haven't touched yarn work (knitting or crocheting) in years. Why the heck do I still have supplies? I don't ever make greeting cards and while I do scrapbook for the kids, there is a bunch of stuff I could get rid of in that department too. And who needs this many glue sticks?!

Sewing. I love sewing and I miss it so very much. I have a piles of fabric, patterns, and good intentions. I could sew for a year straight and never run out of ideas. BUT my craft table is covered in other projects, ideas, and to be honest, junk. Time to destash, for real this time. I'm going to keep some of the general crafting things (paint, ribbon, glue, etc.), but the other hobbies sneaking into the craft area are getting out. Like this unnecessary pile of stickers. I know a few teachers who would make use of these.

The other part of this issue is function. When I set up the space, I was so focused on making it pretty, I missed the point. Hanging mason jars full of buttons and pins? A bouquet of crochet hooks in a little vase? A pile of strategically ordered books with a tchotchke on top?


Seriously, how the heck am I supposed to use the open space if there isn't any? It looks nice in pictures, but it was not useful at all. I ditched all of the mason jars and weird "organization" tactics and went for straight function. Labeled photo boxes, plastic storage tubs, and shelves. It's not pretty, but I know where everything is and I have an open space to work on. What's better than that? Pinterest is pretty, but not always functional - especially in such a small space.

Unfortunately, after 4 hours of organizing and cleaning, there isn't an "after" picture just yet. I don't know if there will ever be. It's not that it will never be clean and ready, it will be, but I don't know how much it will be to look at. I think that's the point though. I want/need a space where I can have a hobby, not a place to display all the craft supplies I'm not using. Hopefully, you'll be seeing a whole lot more tutorials like the good old days. I've got plenty of ideas, now it's time to do them.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Art Party Update

Invitations are out and there's only about 3 more weeks until Charlie's 4th birthday party! I swear, planning my wedding was a chore, but for some reason I LOVE planning kid birthday parties. Seriously, someone hire me. ;-)

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Charlie requested to "paint with friends" this year for his birthday, so an art party is on the schedule. This will be his first party with little friends from daycare and with their age, it'll also be the first year that we have actual activities vs. throwing a bunch of toys out to keep the toddlers occupied.

I did a little googling for inspiration for the invitation. I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I had a general idea ahead of time, so that's what I went with; an artist pallet with party info on the paints. I made sure to include a little message about wearing paint clothes - don't want any angry, unprepared parents at this party! Printed on card stock and cut out, I punched two holes and threaded a thin paint brush through. The brushes were $1 for a dozen at WalMart.

With invites out, next comes activity and menu planning. I started on the hunt for birthday supplies at the dollar spot in Target. Sometimes they have Crayola themed stuff, but no dice. I headed to Michaels, but even with coupons things were on the expensive side and there wasn't much I wanted to use for decorations. I hadn't been to Hobby Lobby in a long time, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Come to find out that not only did Hobby Lobby have decorations, but they had an entire line of art themed birthday supplies and decorations! Ugh, I love to hate to love you, HL.

I scored some tiny easels to mark food and drinks, streamer decorations, punch outs to hang up, cupcake liners, and stickers that look like paint drips. I also found big chip board letters on sale for $1 each for the kids to paint. I bought the first initial for each kid and will just return the letters for whoever cannot come. While we were shopping, Charlie found a chip board music note that he simply fell in love with, so I figured he could test out the tempera paint on it.

Not only did the paint stick and spread well on the chip board, but it dried super fast. Perfect! Ginny got in on our little paint experiment too, but mostly just to make a big mess.

I also found tempera paint for $1.50 a bottle and small pallet trays to use as "decorate your own cupcake" plates a la Pinterest. All in all, I'm into this party about $40 so far for decorations and activities. I'm hoping to find child size smocks to personalize for the kids' favor, but so far I have to choose between expensive or poor quality. There has got to be something in between!

Image credit: Hostess with the Mostess
Other than painting letters and decorating cupcakes, there will be a few toys out to play with as well as a crayon drawing wall VERY well protected with butcher block paper. That should be fun and reinforce not drawing on the walls, right? This party is full of positive messages. I also want to create a birthday banner for behind the cake table with the butcher block with splatter painting (kids can't have all the fun!)

I also hope to make on of these "cakes"with art supplies we already own, cutting down on cost while still making for a really fun centerpiece.

As for food, the party is at 2PM, so the food will be light. Veggies, fruit, crackers, cheese, all manners of dips, a few snacky appetizers, a few sweets, and cupcakes for dessert. Voila! I'm a huge fan of ordering party trays from Giant, so that part will be easy and since we're not making a crazy complicated cake this year, I'm anticipating it to be fairly low key. Ya know, aside from the 10 or so four year olds running around with paint!

To Do List

  • Design, print, and send invitations
  • Buy decorations
  • Find a birthday shirt/outfit for Charlie
  • Paper goods
  • Supplies for letter painting activity
  • Butcher block paper for walls
  • Smocks for kids
  • Order party trays
  • Figure out appetizers and drinks
  • Balloons
  • Make thank you cards
  • Other things I'll think of later........

I'm super ridiculously excited for this party and keep finding the coolest stuff on Pinterest. Follow along as I go pin happy!

Follow Jen (All Four Love)'s board Charlie's Birthday on Pinterest.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bedtime with FarFaria

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

Past the newborn phase, my kids have always been good, consistent sleepers. There are always the occasional bad nights due to illness or somehow knowing I have an especially brutal work day approaching, but overall I really can't complain.

One thing I attribute this to is a solid bedtime routine that we established with them when they were tiny, almost too young to really understand. Though the order changes up night by night, the basics are always there - clean up toys, put on pajamas, brush teeth, and read a story...err, stories. We try to keep it to one, but these kids absolutely love being read to. How can I put a limit on that? Though we have shelf loads of favorite books, sometimes it's nice to change up the same old stories with something new. I can only read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Skippy Jon Jones so many times!

Regardless of what stories we read until the spines break down, sometimes bedtime is the most time we get to spend together all day. With the hustle and bustle of work and school and dinner, it gets crazy. Bedtime is calm. It's just us.

With our love of bedtime stories, we were given the opportunity to check out FarFaria; an app for iPhone, iPad, and Android that, through a subscription based service, gives your family access to hundreds of books each month. It's like having the local library at your fingertips; able to choose new stories whenever the picky toddler mood strikes.

Covering five different reading levels, FarFaria has a tremendous variety of stories for toddlers and children with topics ranging from dinosaurs to fairy tales to non-fiction to bible stories and everything in between. I introduced Charlie and Ginny to the app one night and they were almost overwhelmed with the choices. The menu was easy to navigate and since they're both familiar with running the iPad, it was easy for them to choose their own story......again and again and again.

Recently read stories are saved on top to make them easier to find next time and favorites can be downloaded and accessed without wifi, which is perfect for bedtime when you're traveling.

Why we love FarFaria:
  • Unlimited reading from a library of more than 750 stories.
  • Five new, engaging stories added every week.
  • Bright, fun stories with something for every interest.
  • Every story can be read aloud with a "Read-to-Me" feature.
  • Reading-level badge on every story cover.
  • Offline access to read favorite stories.
  • No advertising and no hidden fees.

FarFaria is available through the App Store or Google Play. Downloading is free and the subscription is $4.99 a month or $39.99 a year. You can also send a subscription, making for a fun and different gift for a little reader in your life.

Reading to children is such an important part of their educational journey, no matter how old they are. Even if they're tiny, trust me - they're listening. To share the joy of reading and our new found love of FarFaria, I'm excited to offer a 3 month subscription to one lucky reader!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you FarFaria, for sponsoring this awesome experience!