11 Ways to Give Back This Christmas

I was sitting on my couch last week just thinking about all of the presents I still had to buy & just kind of fixating on the idea of giving. With our budget being a bit tight this year, I started to get a little sad about how much we COULDN’T get this Christmas. But God stopped me real quick. How about being GRATEFUL for all we do have & all that we CAN give this Christmas. So I started researching a little & came up with this little list of ways we can all give back this holiday season!

Donate pajamas at Carter’s

This is actually something that I am personally participating in this holiday season. And one that I probably will do every year from now on. I think this is so cool! You can read more about their mission here. You can go into any Carter’s store & pick out any pair of pajamas, take them to the check out counter & donate them to a child that needs them. Toys are always so fun to give, but some kiddos really need a cozy & warm pair of jammies!

Donate to your local food shelter

Most food shelters accept more than just food items. They also need toiletries, formula, diapers, blankets, paper plates, cups, the list goes on! All great things to give & donate!

Care Packages for Deployed Service Members

If you are apart of a military family in some way, you may have a loved one overseas or know someone who is deployed over the holiday season. Throw a care package together for one of the many men & women who are away from their loved ones. It doesn’t have to be much. It can little stuff. Toothpaste, kleenex, chapstick. Just some things to help them out & give them one less thing to worry about. I found this really cool website where you can put your care package together, send it to them & they will ship directly to a military service member over seas! The website is call Support our Troops. They make it so simple, so that if you do not have any direct ties to any one over seas & don’t have an address to ship to, you can just send it here & they take care of it for you!

Volunteer 

You don’t have to donate material things…donate your time! During my research I also found this website called Volunteer Match. You may have heard of it, but I just discovered it. It’s amazing! You basically put in your general location & keywords of any specific thing or place you’d like to volunteer with & tons of options pop up. I typed in “Christmas” & most of what I saw was helping recycle/dispose of old Christmas trees after the holiday. Something you probably don’t think about, but it needs to be done & they need volunteers for it!

Donate toys/books

I feel like this is one that is beginning to be very popular in our society. Collect toys around your home that your kids no longer play with & donate them to a local daycare, family in need, library, foster home, goodwill, etc. It’s not only a great way to declutter a bit, but it can really make a little family’s Christmas that needs it!

Baked Goods

Odds are, you have baked or will bake something this Christmas. Why not make a little extra for your local fire house or police officers? Deliver them on Christmas Eve or Christmas day! They are always working , even on the holidays! It would just lift their spirits to get some homemade cookies during the time away from their families. Also, if you live on base, take one to the gate guards that are working that day. Such a simple way to say “thank you” for all of their service!

Giftcards for Teachers

I’m not just talking Starbucks or Chick-fil-a, although I KNOW those are much appreciated. But throw in a Wal-mart, Target or a local school supply store. It’s nice to give them something fun, but they also spend a lot of their own money buying things for their classroom. Help them out a little!

The Salvation Army

There are lots of different ways to give on their website! You can find them here.

Fisher House/Ronald McDonald House

I have personally stayed at the Fisher House at the Naval Hospital in San Diego. We were blessed enough to come home just in time for Christmas, but we did spend our Thanksgiving there. And let me tell you how amazing the people were who donated so much food & time during the holidays. It helped us feel a little better when our little guy was in the NICU. The families that stay in these houses are all going through some really hard stuff.  A small Christmas tree to put in their room to decorate or just a meal they don’t have to cook would mean the world to them! When we were in the Fisher House, someone donated pumpkins during Halloween & we got to carve one with our little girl. It was a nice little getaway from the stresses we were dealing with.

Donate to your local NICU

Majority of NICU families were not prepared for their baby just yet. We weren’t Our little Noah was 3 months too early. We didn’t have clothes to fit a 3 lb baby. We didn’t have his room put together. Heck, we hadn’t even bought his crib yet! Donations are so appreciated by these families. We got quite a few clothes donated to us & it was amazing & heart warming. The momma sitting alone in her baby’s pod waiting for the next feeding time when she gets to hold her baby, who has cords hanging off of every limb of their tiny little body, isn’t thinking about Christmas shopping or what she’s even going to wear the next day. Anything & everything helps! We were also in the NICU for Halloween & someone donated these adorable little pumpkin knitted hats they made. Every baby in the NICU got one. We still have it. It is so special to us! So donate anything! Strollers, carseats, clothes, books, crafts for decorating incubators, knitted hats, etc. Also, send some goodies to all those nurses, nurse practitioners & doctors who are working with those tiny humans! Send a sweet card or some yummy gingerbread cookies! They love it!

Show Thanks to Your Mailman/woman

I got this idea from a sweet insta-friend of mine. She set out a little basket full of water & snacks for all of the delivery services delivering her packages. So thoughtful, right? You can see the one she put together on her instagram page, @holdingmoonbeams.

Are there any ways YOU like to give back during the holidays that I don’t have listed on here? I always love new ideas!

Merry Christmas, Y’all & God bless †

Brittany

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Three Sensory-Filled Pumpkin Seed Crafts

I am SO excited to share these fun crafts with y’all! I really contemplated what I wanted to do. I sat for awhile with my notepad trying to think of something a little creative to give y’all. Lately, my creative juices have been super low. For some odd & random reason, pumpkin seeds came to my mind. Then the juices started to flow! I’ve come up with three different art activities you can do with your littles [or just yourself- not gonna lie I did one of these all by myself after my kids went to sleep 🙂 ].

No. 1 Pumpkin Seed & Confetti Painted Pumpkins

Painting pumpkins is the new thing. I thought of putting a different spin on it. I love to add different touches to things 🙂 You can buy bags of pumpkin seeds at your local grocery store for dirt cheap & use them to decorate up your little pumpkins! I also found this super cute halloween themed confetti & I just couldn’t resist.

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The kids had so much fun painting. Paislee was obsessed with the glitter glue….so was I. Not gonna lie, it got a little messy. But we had so much fun & the paint washes off so #yolo.

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I love them! They turned out so cute! A great sensory activity 🙂 I liked painting the white pumpkins too, the colors really pop out more.

No. 2 Pumpkin Seed Outlined Pumpkins

I wish I could come up with fancy names for these, but like I said, my creativeness is a bit low these days. This was the first thing I thought of when pumpkin seeds came to mind. It’s an awesome fine motor activity & we got to use more glitter glue, so everyone wins!

I just found a pumpkin coloring page on google, printed it out, cut it out & had the kids help me glue it on the paper. Then we outlined the pumpkin with glitter glue & the kids put their seeds on. Now that I look back, it might be a little easier to color the pumpkin first then cut it out. But I had them color it after because I make life more difficult than it needs to be sometimes.

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About this time in our crafting shenanigans we had a bit of a bee fiasco. Paislee got stung by a bee earlier this week & now she is terrified of them [I don’t blame her, I’m terrified too]. Long story short, Mr. Bee showed up to our arts & crafts club & caused us both to scream our oh-so-girly screams. So we went inside, I gave the kids a bath & had them finish up their little pumpkins with some fun halloween puffy stickers!

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I. Can’t. They turned out so cool! Also, these stickers had glittery stars in them that you could shake around. You’d be surprised what you can find in the card/gift wrap section at the grocery store!

No. 3 Fall Themed Sensory Bottles…with pumpkin seeds 🙂

THESE ARE MY FAVORITE! I find any excuse to make sensory bottles. Seriously…ask my husband. This was the thing I did by myself after the kids went down. We have so many I’m thinking of just taking some to work because it’s getting a little excessive. If you want, you can go buy empty bottles made specifically for sensory-bottle-making at Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. But I just used what we had at the house.

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The first one I made was halloween themed. I had some spider rings I had bought for our teal pumpkin bowl that I just cut the rings off of. I added those in there along with the orange & black glitter glue. I used about a tbsp of each if I had to guess. It’s up to your own discretion on how slowly you like your sensory gadgets to move around the bottle. I also added in the Halloween confetti & pumpkin seeds left over from our pumpkin painting from earlier. Fill the rest of the bottle with water & you’re good to go! Googley eyes would be cool too, but we were fresh out.

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The second one I made was very similar but I added in some different sensory gadgets. I found some fall-y leaves from our trees outside & added those in. Then I put in some leaf confetti I found at the store as well. I left out the black glue & just stuck with the orange. This was actually the only craft here that does not include pumpkin seeds. But it was my favorite out of all of them. It turned out really pretty.

And the last one I used a cute little mini bottle & did not use any wet ingredients. I used the leaves from our trees, pumpkin seeds & some hay from our little hay stacks by our front door. If your littles like to make music or just like noise as sensory input, these are perfect!

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I would love to see y’alls crafts that you do for fall if you have any special ones. Or comment below with pics of these if you try them out 🙂

HAPPY FALL Y’ALL!

As always, God bless †

Brittany

How We Potty Trained Our 2 Year Old with a Token Economy

Potty training is a BEAST. Plain & simple. I won’t sugar coat it for you. Our journey with Paislee was a long one & it took a ton of patience to get through it with her. Every kiddo is so different when it comes to potty training. I heard of parents having their littles trained in like 2 days….um what? HOW is that possible?

The answer I’ve gotten is candy. Candy, candy, candy. “We gave our kiddo an m&m or skittle every time they went potty.” I wasn’t totally against the fact as I’ve used candy as reinforcers for clients I work with as an ABA therapist. Plus, I’m a huge candy lover. But I guess I wanted her experience to have some other type of reward. Something more natural. My thought process was that, eventually, the candy will not be given after she goes potty. I felt that the weaning from that might be too much of a headache. I won’t lie, there were a few times she was rewarded with a cookie or gummies after she went potty. But it was not our go-to.

We started her training around when she was 19 months. Her pediatrician told us at her 18 month check up that she could start potty training. So we went out & bought her a little potty. We just started out with her sitting on the potty. We PRAISED her like crazy for sitting on that potty. And she soaked up every little bit. She actually went a few times. But she just wasn’t quite ready. We would still encourage it but we took a little break for a few months.

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We started back up again once she turned two. I tried everything y’all. We sang potty songs, read potty books, dry erase markers on the potty, went & sat on the potty every 30 minutes. None of it seemed to be working for our girl. She wasn’t showing any initiative to go to the potty. She went through a phase for a couple months where she just flat out didn’t want to go. She would start crying when we told her it was time to go potty. We thought that maybe she just wasn’t ready. We did not want to force her & make the experience aversive. So we stopped. Again. We also had a lot of things going on in our lives at this point in time. We were getting ready to move. We had lots of family coming to visit us during the holidays. Too much for her to focus on going potty when she needed to.

Once we moved into our new house I decided that it was time to get really serious about it. I was home every day during the week. We were going to be in this house for about 4 months. I thought now was the best time as any to crack down on this! So I started the every 30 minutes thing. She was starting to do much better. She had some big girl panties I had her wear most of the time during the day but she was still having accidents. Then I had the greatest idea!

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As I’ve mentioned, I’m an ABA therapist. One of the many reinforcement tools we use with our clients is called a token economy. Token economies are used to reinforce very specific behaviors. That behavior can be anything that a certain child is working on. At work, it’s usually when a client gives a correct response to a certain lesson/target being run or it could be reinforcing every instance of them having gentle hands with their peers during play. I thought this would be perfect for Paislee while she was potty training. So I got to work. Token economies that I usually work with are easily portable & can be carried around. But I wanted to make a big one. One that Paislee would notice & be excited to see every time she went potty. Plus we were almost always home, so we didn’t need to take it anywhere [but a portable one would also be helpful if you’re on the go a lot!].

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One thing that I think really helped make this method effective for us is that I included her from the get-go. I had her pick out the tokens she would earn. Of course, Ana, Elsa, Shimmer & Shine were the obvious choices. Including your child in anything really makes them feel important & special. This experience should not be aversive! It should be fun & rewarding! I also had her help me pick out the colors she wanted to use on the board. I put everything together once she was asleep. I wanted her to start this new system on a brand new day. Fresh start.

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After lots of velcro, cutting & laminating, this was the final product! I love how it turned out & I couldn’t wait for Paislee to see it.

She loved it y’all. And I can’t tell you how much it helped. It was like a light switched in her that day. She was 1000 times more motivated to use the potty because she wanted to put her tokens on her board. I still did the 30 minute rule. I did this so she could really associate the tokens with using the potty. I added a few other goals to make it easier for her to start earning them. The goals I set for her were:

“I sat on the potty when mommy or daddy told me to”

“I told mommy or daddy I needed to go potty”

“I went pee-pee in the potty”

“I went poo-poo in the potty”

“I went 30 minutes with NO accidents”

I added incentives for each goal too. Like if she went & sat on the potty every time we told her to for a whole day she could have any preferred item or food she wanted that day. If any of y’all are ABA therapists reading this, I hope you can relate. I totally do ABA with my kiddos at home too! Eventually those goals were made a bit more challenging to reach as she progressed in her training. Like having zero accidents in a whole day, & eventually in a whole week.

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IT WORKED y’all. Don’t get me wrong. She still had accidents here & there. But they significantly decreased when I started this reinforcement system. I loved it because it was still tangible for her & a great visual to motivate her through this huge milestone. One thing that also helped I think was tossing the diapers & pull-ups. When we started the token economy she only wore big girl panties during the day. We put her in pull-ups at night, but after a few nights she didn’t ever go in her pull-ups. Slowly but surely we had her in panties all day & all night. Pull-ups can be a crutch when trying to potty train. Littles are much less likely to go poop in their cute little undies rather than a pull-up that they know will be thrown away anyways.

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Fast forward a few months during our move & this girl rocked it. We drove from California to Texas. Four days on & off the road. Never wearing pull-ups & she had zero accidents! We did have a little setback when we arrived at our new house. There was a lot going on around her & new surroundings. Any big changes can affect the potty training journey for any kiddo. But we have made it to the other side. The entire journey lasted about a year & five months. Once we started the token economy, it was over in 4 months.

All the praise hands for those parents who speed train their kiddos. We were not so lucky. This is what worked for our family, & everyone is so different! I do truly believe that if you incorporate your child’s choices, wants & preferred activities/items you can get them potty trained in less than 6 months! I feel like this is a much more realistic goal rather than trying to get them trained in a week. No matter what big changes might be going on in your lives. Being a military family, it is sometimes hard for us to have a steady routine. Especially when there are moves coming up, husbands or wives are gone, or relatives in town, what have you. There is probably never a “perfect” time to potty train. Just grab the beast by the horns & run with it!

We are so proud to say that our girl is fully potty trained & our awesome token board is no more!

As always, God bless

Brittany

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Our Family Favorites: 17 Children’s Books Your Littles Will Love

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Every family has their particular bedtime routine with their kiddos. I mean evenings would be pretty chaotic without them right? They’re pretty chaotic even WITH them. Our routine with our littles has always included a bedtime story. We started incorporating books into our routine with Paislee when she was a brand new baby. It took us a little while to get Noah into reading, but he loves it now. We all like to cuddle up on the couch after bath time with their lovies & read a book they pick out. Sometimes Tommy & I will tag team it & he will read to one kiddo while I read to the other. Other times we will all read together as a family if the kids are into the same book that night.

I recently started thinking about new parents & how sometimes it can be a little overwhelming how many books there are out there. I decided to go through what my family already had on our little bookshelf & share our favorites with y’all. My hope is to help any new parents kinda narrow their search down a bit to ones I know my littles love. Some of these books I’m going to share with you are classics & ones you may already have in your home. I have a few categories I’ll break them up into & tell you our faves & share why they can also be important for developmental reasons.

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Touch & Feel Books

These are amazing! Especially for those really little guys. Using those sensory input skills by touching and exploring their curiosity with the different textures. Seriously, whoever invented these is a genius. There are a plethora of different touch & feel books to chose from. For this one, I’ll give you Paislee’s pick. Because this is her favorite book right now. We read it pretty much every single night.

That’s Not My Princess- Usborne Touchy-Feely Books

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There are many different versions of this books as well if you have a little boy. That’s Not My Monster, That’s Not My Dragon, etc. This one has velvet, faux fur, & silky fabrics inside. Paislee absolutely loves it!

Literally laughing out loud to the pic on the right.

Books About Hard but Meaningful Topics

You might think this category is weird for littles & babies. But our goal as parents is to raise our kiddos up right. In the most loving & intentional ways possible. I have found that teaching our kids manners, coping with their emotions, & following the rules at an early age has really set them apart from others at times. I don’t mean to sound boastful or say in any way that my kids are better or “perfect”, but not only do we teach them these things every day but we read about them too. These next four books are our favorites that our littles enjoy too. The first three are all by the same author. Todd Parr. Who, if you haven’t heard of him, does an amazing job portraying difficult topics into fun & colorful life lessons.

It’s Okay to be Different
The Feelings Book
& Do’s and Dont’s by Todd Parr

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I first was introduced to these books in college when I attended a camp for adopted children & their families. It’s Okay to be Different was one of the books that was read to the children at camp because it talks about being adopted. Some illustrations are so silly & kids really eat it up. There are also a few more “serious” examples of being different in the book as well [i.e. being adopted, being in a wheelchair, saying no to bad things, etc.]. It’s all incorporated in a tasteful way & really educates kids about topics you may not even think to talk with them about.

He leaves it open too. Like saying no to bad things…you can relate that to real life situations with your kiddos. Something they can understand. I just love these books so much. They’re awesome!

The fourth book is Tommy’s (my husband) pick. Growing up he loved the Berenstain Bears books. Their whole collection is great for teaching all kinds of useful life lessons. They also have a lot of Christian based topics & stories. Our favorite right now is this one.

Please & Thank You Book by Mike Berenstain

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This book is a simple illustration of using please & thank you during every life. And it’s great at showing how it makes the other person feel when you use/don’t use them. This is something we started teaching really early on in our kids’ lives. Now Noah, our youngest, will say please & thank you 90% of the time without us having to prompt him. It really helps y’all!

Sing-A-Long Books

Our kids LOVE music. They love to dance around to their favorite song, but lately they have really loved sing-a-long songs. I think because they do a lot of these at school. Baby shark is all Noah sings. Our two favorite sing-a-long books are also by the same author [we’re pretty consistent in this house].

Pete the Cat Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
& Pete the Cat Old MacDonald Had a Farm by James Dean

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I feel like children learn best through songs. Especially at young ages. We have a song for everything. Brushing teeth, going potty, feeling mad. Pete the Cat is just so fun. There are so many other PTC books out there. Some even have CD’s that sing along with the books. I also like the “groovy buttons” one. I used to sing that one with my preschoolers. But these are great for starting out. Paislee used to read these every night too. She would fall asleep singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It was the most precious thing. You could even incorporate instruments into storytime. More sensory input! How fun!

Flap Books

These books were the very first ones we introduced to Paislee when we began to read to her. So many developmental skills can be used with these. Fine motor skills, object permanence, problem solving. And again there are so many different versions depending on what your littles are into. These two were our favorites!

Animals
& Things That Go- Lift-a-Flap Books

A couple of flaps may or may not have been ripped off. The excitement of reading must have gotten a little out of control.

Books about Faith & Jesus

I have a lot of these! Teaching our littles about God’s undenying love & our faith in Him is extremely important in our home. If you share the same values, I have some really precious books to share! The first is a prayer book. It’s a collection of bibles verses, poems, & prayers you can read with your kiddos every night before bed. We usually read through a few because they can go by pretty quickly. Or you can pick out a main book to read & then pick out a prayer to read from the book. Either way it’s a great way to encourage prayer in your child’s life.

Bedtime Bible Promises by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

The next three are all a little different but have important messages that your littles need to hear all the time. You Are Special & God Gave Us You are very alike in their theme. It teaches kids that no matter how sparkly someone else may seem or how much more they have than you, you are special in your own way. God made you special, for a special reason & a special family, because He knew you would do great things. A Very Thankful Prayer is based around the season of fall and Thanksgiving. It encourages kids to give thanks for the things around them. No matter how big or how small. The author is the same who wrote the prayer book above! We have many books similar to these but these are our favorites!

You Are Special by Max Lucado
God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren
& A Very Thankful Prayer by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

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Our last Christian based book is my pick! This book made me cry the first time I read it to the kids. It is so sweet & not only portrays my love for them, but more importantly describes God’s love for them. It is so special to my heart & I will keep it & read it to them until they won’t let me anymore!…& even then I still will.

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman

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Randoms

These two don’t really fall into any of these categories, but are still worth mentioning nonetheless. They really are some big favorites in our house. The first one is a classic. This one we literally read every. single. night. for almost 2 months. No joke. Goodnight Moon might seem like a simple, short & sweet little bedtime story. But you can really turn it into a learning experience. We would have Paislee point to certain things in the “green room”. It’s a great book to learn basic items you might find in a house or bedroom. The black & white contrast has also shown to be very incising & healthy for little eyes.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

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This one is Noah’s pick. He is obsessed with Llama Llama right now. He loves to read these books. We only have a couple versions right now, we need to stock up though because he is just all about them! These are more fun books, but are pretty repetitive. Which can be really great & helpful for speech development. They mostly teach good morals & manners.

Llama Llama Gives Thanks by Anna Dewdney

This last one that I’m going to share with y’all is more of a gift you might give to your littles. We gave this to Paislee for her first Valentines Day. She was only 6 months old & we couldn’t give her candy or anything else really “Valentines-y”. We lived in California at the time & didn’t see our family much. I thought of this idea to make her a book with her family in it. Something that she could look at all the time & know who everyone was. I just started with a blank board book & added each member of our immediate families. They each have their own page with a picture of them & Paislee next to their name [or what she calls them]. It came out so cute & you can tell how much she loves it because it’s really worn out already. It’s great for military families since, most of the time, we are away from our families for long periods of time. I really need to make a new one that has both of the kids in it. Maybe a Christmas gift for this year!

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In case y’all want to order one for your littles, I ordered & created it at http://www.pintsizeproductions.com

I’ll leave picture links below for y’all for all of the books in this post if you’re wanting to purchase any 🙂

Books mentioned in this post:

 

As always, God bless †

& keep reading 🙂

Brittany

How to Create the Ultimate Kid’s Birthday Party Without Breaking the Bank

This past weekend we threw our little girl the most fun birthday party! We had the family over & it was such a great time. But let me tell ya…planning for & preparing for a kid’s birthday party is so much work. And stress, I’ll add. What’s the number one cause of stress in situations like these [at least for most of us]? Money. After going through a few birthdays with my tiny ones, I’ve learned a few things. Everything from how to decorate, gifts, food, treats, games, you name it. All for a reasonable price. Especially for us. Our kiddos’ birthdays are so close to each other, so it’s important that we try and spread the “wealth” around if ya know what I mean. I am totally not a party planner, but I will share with you what’s worked for us & hopefully they will help y’all have an awesome party for your kiddo too!

Let’s get this party started! 🙂

No. 1 Make a New Best Friend…PINTEREST

I got ALL of my ideas for my daughter’s party from Pinterest. If you have a super creative mind, by all means go for it. But if you want to create less stress & thought on your part, just search what you’re going for on Pinterest. If you don’t have an account it’s super easy to create. Paislee, my daughter, wanted a My Little Pony party. My first thought was, “I’ll just go to Party City & get all the themed plates and such.” Once I started searching on Pinterest though, I found a ton of cute decorations that I knew would cost so much less. It’s your one stop shop for anything & everything you could ever think of! Most things you find you can just make yourself, which is SO much cheaper than going out and buying it all. If you want some cute party ideas and decorations, you can follow my party board 🙂

No. 2 Make your Own Cake

Birthday cakes can be so incredibly expensive. The year Paislee turned two and Noah turned one [so, last year] I started the tradition of baking their cakes myself. I know what you’re thinking…”how does this cause me LESS stress?” Well for starters, it’s much, much cheaper. So you won’t have to worry about the expense of paying someone else to make your cake. And it doesn’t have to be fancy. I even used boxed cake mix. don’t be ashamed. My favorite thing about making the cake myself is that I know it’s baked with love. I pray my kiddos appreciate this gesture I make for them each year & it makes for precious memories. Plus, the theme is usually something my kiddos are already into and they have toys I can use as toppers! Nothing better than using things you already have. Less money out of your pocket. I have never spent more than $20 to make their cakes! And the materials you build up over time making the cakes can be used for years to come, so go you for being proactive! 🙂

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I found this rainbow cake recipe on Pinterest…duh. You can find it here. The only difference from this recipe and the one I made is that I used pre-made frosting. But homemade frosting is so good and super easy/cheap to make too!

No 3. Your Second Best Friend….Dollar Store

All of our decorations came from the dollar store. Serving bowls, scoops, streamers, balloons….E V E R Y T H I N G. You would be amazed at all the decor they have. Granted, our “theme” for Paislee’s party was super easy to create things with. My Little Pony is easy to make into a “rainbow” theme as well. Rainbow Dash all the way! Some decorations were ones you put together yourself, but they were only a dollar so it was totally worth it. And the balloons we got were ones you blow up yourself, so we didn’t have to pay for someone to blow them up with helium. Perfect.

Even all the table clothes were a dollar a piece & made for a great pop of color that went with the theme!

My mom made this adorable little piece for the fireplace where her presents were placed. She got the fabric from Joann’s & the ribbon from Michael’s. Two places that always have coupons available online- you can go to the RetailMeNot website. They also have an app for your smartphone. I use it almost everywhere I go, it’s very convenient.

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No. 4 Use What You Have at Your Disposal

I am always about using what you have. Close family and friends are usually always willing to help out if you’re needing to use something for a big party like this. We borrowed my Nana’s big tables & my cousin’s fold up chairs for everyone to sit on/at while eating. My mom has this beautiful milk glass collection that went really well with our candy bar.

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The less you have to go out and buy or rent, the better. When you’re looking on Pinterest, look for things that you can incorporate with materials you already have. It makes your life so much easier. And cheaper.

No. 5 Make Your Own Games & Activities

This kind of piggy backs off of my previous point. Try to use things you already have & turn it into something fun! We live in Texas, so it is crazy hot right now. Originally we talked about getting a bounce house or some type of blow up water slide for the kids. Those things run anywhere from 100-300 bucks. It gets pretty pricey. When it comes to children, you really don’t have to try so hard. They enjoy the littlest of things. It’s like when you buy them that nice, big electric four wheeler & they’d rather play in the big box it came in. We decided to blow up the kiddie pool, set up the slip n slide & filled the kid’s water table with water beads. The kids LOVED it. They end up making up their own games too. So this is something you really don’t need to stress about! Kids aren’t complicated! Especially little ones.

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If you’re on the artsy side or have someone in your family or friend circle who is willing to help, take advantage of that! My sister is an awesome artist & I had her make this cute little “pin the tail on the pony” game. We used some cheap little thin ribbons as the tails. The kids had fun with it!

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The other thing we decided to do was a candy bar for all the guests! It was such a cute idea that I found on Pinterest. My mom was more than willing to help & totally took it on. Again, use what [and who 🙂] you have! I liked this idea more than giving the kid’s a goodie bag. My Little Pony is a pretty girly theme, so this was a good way for us to let everyone take something home & wasn’t gender specific.

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The recipes for the treats we made can be found here:

Fruity Pebble Rice Crispie Treats

Unicorn Popcorn

Chocolate Dipped Wafers

No. 6 The Gift

Last but not least, don’t stress too much about the gift. Chances are that if you’re throwing your kiddo a party, they will be showered with gifts. Don’t feel like you have to spend a ton of money or get them a ton of gifts. Because that will happen anyways. I don’t even remember the gifts I got at my birthday parties growing up, but I do remember the party and people that came to celebrate with me. That’s what matters most! We had Paislee open our gift to her on her actual birthday. It was more intimate for us & she was able to enjoy it before she got her other gifts during her party.

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This was such a fun party & day. I will always remember it! Some of the decorations we used can even be used again! Some are hanging in Paislee’s room because she loved them so much 🙂 A birthday party doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple decor & treats will do the trick, I promise! As long as there’s free food for your guests, they will be happy! I tried to link up all of the recipes & other helpful things you might need, but if I forgot something or if you have any questions just shoot me a comment below!

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As always, God bless

Brittany

THE BIG MOVE

Long time no see, friends! Howdy FROM TEXAS!

I have missed writing these past couple of weeks! Needless to say, our little family has been busy busy busy. We have travelled over 2,000 miles, seen majestic national landmarks & made it back to our home state of Texas. And can I just say, “Ahhhhh it feels so good!” We have only been back for a little over a week but it feels great to be home. There’s just no place like it!

I am so excited to take you through our whole moving experience- especially the road trip. It was all a huge whirlwind at first. Let me fill you in a little bit….in case you are just now tuning into the blog, my husband, Tommy, is a Marine and just recently graduated from recruiter’s school. The anticipation of waiting to hear where we would be stationed next was intense. Tommy had put in a special request for Fort Worth, Texas, where we were born and raised. We prayed hard for it and had tons of prayer warriors behind us through it all. I remember Tommy calling me the day he found out and he said, “Are you ready for this?” At this point I had no idea what to expect. The Marine Corps is so incredibly unexpected [my fellow spouses can attest to this]. So, honestly I was expecting the worst. He just sat there for a minute and said, “Killeen, TX baby!” I was sitting at the table eating lunch with the kids & I jumped up so high with pure excitement and joy flowing through my body. I was crying tears of happiness and relief. We were finally going back H O M E.

The next couple of weeks after we found out, we were basically just chillin’. Tommy was finishing up his school & I was constantly looking for houses to rent in the new area we would be living in. The amazing thing about this whole set-up was that we didn’t have to pack or move ourselves. The Marine Corps was going to do that all for us…or so we thought. About a week and a half before our expected move date, all of the Marines in Tommy’s class found out that the movers that were supposed to be scheduled to move all of us were backed up, therefore would not be able to move anyone out until middle or late July. That was just not going to work for us. We had a house lined up, a road trip planned to see all of these awesome places in almost a week & NOW you choose to tell us this?!

IO mad guy

You’d think I would get used to things just not going my way after almost 4 years of being a Marine Corps spouse, but no. I was livid. And extremely stressed out, to say the least. After getting some advice on what to do from a family friend of ours who is also a Marine, we decided to go ahead and move ourselves.

So I had about 5 days to pack up our house. Which in hindsight was not bad at all, but in the moment it was immensely overwhelming to me. All the while, my husband was working on getting the moving truck, towing trailer [for my car] & making sure we had all the funds necessary to make this move of ours happen. If you have ever or plan to ever rent a moving truck out of California to anywhere else in the U.S., I have a little tip for you…don’t do it. It’s so insanely expensive. My husband ended up buying a cheap flight to Vegas, picked up the moving truck there, drove back to our house [about a 5 hour drive] & we packed up and moved out 2 days after. See…whirlwind, I warned ya. It was way more inconvenient on our part, but much less in regards to money [like 3 times as less]. It was definitely the smarter route.

A friend of ours joked that we were proof that Murphy’s Law truly does exist. The journey leading up to our move & even some happenings on our road trip was just one chaotic mess after another!

DAY 1

Then we headed out on our trip. Once we knew we were going to have the moving truck we debated on whether or not we wanted to still make our stops along the way. I was so looking forward to seeing the Hoover Dam & the Grand Canyon. We finally decided, “Why not?!” We had four whole days to kill [what my husband “rates” for this particular move]. The first day, our goal was to make it to the Hoover Dam. Tommy was especially excited about this stop. We were all packed up & ready to head that way!

It took us a good 7-8 hours to get to the Hoover Dam. Another little road trip tip- if you are going to be traveling a long ways with toddlers in a car, just be prepared to stop A LOT. Especially if one or both of those toddlers is potty training. Both of the kids did amazing in the car. We watched Coco maybe 30 times, but they were calm & kept themselves entertained the whole way. Paislee had zero accidents the whole time, too! We were & are still so proud of her for that! Huge milestone in her potty training journey!

Anyways, back to the Hoover Dam…it was a huge heartbreak. TIP- check the websites of any major landmark or stop you plan to make before you go on your road trip. I say this because we failed to do this & we were not able to see the Hoover Dam in result. The Dam closes at 5:30. They are currently doing some construction & they close from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. What really sucks is that we literally pulled up to the gate at 5:30 on the dot. Tommy was so bummed. I felt terrible. So, do your research people. Learn from our mistakes!

We were still super excited about the Grand Canyon the next day, though. We drove a little more to our hotel in Kingman, AZ & called it a day. The kids also slept really well in the hotels. They went to bed a little [sometimes much] later than their usual bedtimes, but that’s just all part of it. We weren’t too concerned about bedtimes & nap times. The kids never have trouble sleeping in the car either. So sleep was not an issue on this trip!

DAY 2

We woke up the next morning & made our way to the Grand Canyon! The kids were in such great moods that morning! And so were we. We got some decent sleep & were very excited to get back on the road again.

This is the day it started to rain. It rained almost the entire day. Except for the time we were actually at the Grand Canyon [we can thank God for that 🙂]. I will try not to spam the next portion of this post with the beautiful pictures we captured, but I can’t make any promises! It was so majestic & serene, y’all. I can’t begin to explain how big it actually is. There are no words to describe it. It was true proof of God’s handy work. We are so blessed to have been able to take the kids [and the dogs] to see this.

It’s like you almost feel like you can touch Heaven. That’s how magical & peaceful it is there.

Tommy went out on this cliff where you could get some awesome shots of the Canyon. I was too much of a chicken to go out there myself, although I did try.

It was a wonderful day. The kids are still so little & couldn’t really appreciate the beauty, but it was still such a memorable moment for us as parents & something we will always remember doing with them!

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But you better believe that Paislee remembers this! It was the highlight of her trip to the Grand Canyon, if you ask her.

And of course we had to get the kids matching shirts! I got the smallest sizes they had…I just couldn’t help myself.

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Day two was our favorite road trip day! It was filled with tons of fun & lifetime memories!

DAY 3

This day was filled with lots & lots of driving. This is the day we made the most time. And it rained all. day. long. This is the day we finally made it to Texas! This was the hardest day for me. I was getting so tired of driving. And although the kids weren’t having any real meltdowns, they were constantly dropping something that I couldn’t get for them. Their snacks, their blankets, the cups, their toys. Everything. And I was driving, so it was hard for me to pick whatever it was up for them.

Something that made the drive so much easier was the walkie talkies that we bought before we left California. So if the kids did drop something, I could let Tommy know immediately & we could both pull over to the shoulder really quick so I could grab it. It was so much easier & safer than picking up the phone & calling each other every time we needed to stop. It was also helpful in just keeping the other person in the loop of cars passing or something coming up that I couldn’t see because the huge moving truck was in front of me the whole drive there. I would highly recommend getting a pair if you have to drive separately on a road trip with someone. The ones we purchased are down at the end of this post 🙂

Then we made it. To Texas. The homeland. The promiseland.

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We were a little excited, could you tell??

We started the day in Albuquerque, NM & ended the day in Abilene, TX. We drove a lot, but it was so worth it. Because the next day would only be a 3ish hour drive to our new home!

DAY 4

The final day had come! We were going to see our new house today! No more driving. We would get to sleep in our own bed. It was going to be a glorious day! Abilene is only about a 3 hour drive from our home in Nolanville. It seemed like the longest 3 hours though. Probably because we were just so darn excited. When we arrived, my dad and one of my younger sisters was there to greet us! A huge sigh of relief & thankfulness came out of me when we saw our home. It was beautiful. And it was in Texas. What could be any better?!

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DAY 13

Jump ahead a little, & today we are just loving our new home & town. It just feels right here. We are still unpacking & trying to get in all of the quality time we can before Tommy starts his new position as a recruiter & I start my new job [which I just accepted last week, yay!]. It is so nice being so close to family. We can spend the big holidays together, & even the weekends that nothing is going on. We are cherishing this time in our lives & love that our kids are finally getting some real Texas time. God has answered our prayers. Like He always does. The road was surely bumpy & stressful along the way [when is it not?], but we got here. Welcome to the next chapter in our life! We hope you keep reading 🙂

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As always, God bless

Brittany

8 Engaging Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet

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Ever get tired of singing the ABC’s over & over again? Do you feel like your kiddo is just singing along with the “words” or do they actually know what each letter is and looks like? I started thinking about this last week. Our daughter has really gotten into nursery rhymes & we love to listen to her sing her ABC’s. She is to the point now where she says every letter! But if I were to ask her, “Where is the letter A?” She would most likely hand me a different letter. She can sing it perfectly, but identifying letters is still a learning process for her.

This lead me to think of some fun ways I could incorporate learning letters into our everyday life with items or toys we may already have in our home. In honor of teacher appreciation week, I am here to tell y’all that learning letters can be so much fun! Learning is not always associated with worksheets! Back when I was a preschool teacher, I remember having to come up with so many different ways to teach the alphabet [and really anything in general]. You have to be creative! You can incorporate modern day ideas & learning techniques to teach your kiddos just about anything. And your kiddo will feel so rewarded after completing each of these fun activities. Which is the whole purpose right?! Enabling that independence that I touched on last week is key!

Learn more aboutHow to Encourage & Promote Independence in Your Child

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No. 1 : Letterboard

I see these things all over the place! Like my kitchen for instance ;). But they aren’t just for cute & witty quotes or sweet bible verses you want to read every day. They can also be a wonderful way to teach you child the alphabet! It’s a great visual tool. Your child can be hands on with it, but the letters can be pretty small, so make sure you monitor them during this activity.

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If your child[ren] are starting to learn the letters, up the challenge level a bit! Put the entire alphabet on the board, but leave out 3-5 letters. Have them put in the missing letters in the correct places. This can also be a great way for them to learn how to spell their names, & [you all know how much I advocate for this] helps them to work on those fine motor skills. I guess it’s the child development student in me, but that’s always an added bonus that makes me happy 🙂

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I got mine on Amazon. You can get it at the link here!

No. 2: Chalk

So simple right!? I did this SO much with my littler clients doing ABA therapy. Mixing the fresh air and kids’ love of the outdoors with learning. My kids love to play with chalk & they can start practicing writing out their letters in a fun way! No boring pencil & paper!

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This is the chalk we use & it lasts us forever!

No. 3: Bath Crayons

Bath time is everyone’s favorite time of the day in this house. Our daughter is always singing her nursery rhymes in the tub. When she starts singing her ABC’s, I like to get out the bath crayons or markers & write out some letters on the side of the bathtub. She loves to guess the letters I’m writing. We are starting to introduce the letters to our son too. He’s still pretty little, though. The night I took these pics, I was having her trace the letters I had drawn. She did pretty good! I love watching her try new things & absorb every ounce of knowledge I try to pass onto her! They really are little sponges.

We have always used the Crayola bath markers & crayons. They comes off easy, are non-toxic & are the perfect size for their little hands!

No. 4: Apps

My children are allowed 30 minutes a day on the iPad. I feel strongly about limiting their screen time, but I am totally not opposed to it. I do believe there are some educational apps out there that can help our children learn. This is one of them!

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ABC Genius is an awesome app to help children learn the alphabet. They have different kinds of activities you can do as well. They have a simple game that tells you to, “Touch the A”, and gives you a little check mark and tells you, “Great job!” when you get it right. They can practice tracing, matching, differentiating between uppercase and lowercase, and tons of other stuff. The game is free, but you can pay a little to unlock a lot more games for your kiddos. Its very engaging and interactive!

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No. 5: Letter scavenger hunt

You can turn a lesson for letter recognition into something super fun for your kiddos with this interactive game! You’ll need a sheet of paper, or whatever you have around the house to write on, for every letter. Then you post the letters in random spots around your house. Or you can make it a fun water play game as well. Get some water guns & whoever finds the letter first gets to shoot it!

This would be a really fun game for those older kids. You can make the hiding spots a little more tricky for them too!

Here are some other fun activities & props you can use!

No. 6: Matching & board games

There are so many types of educational games out there to help your child practice recognizing letters & eventually learning to spell words. There’s matching games, card games, board games, you name it. These can also help with differentiating between upper and lower case letters. They also have games that help you identify letters & match them up with the picture that starts with that letter. All so wonderful in teaching your kiddos the alphabet!

Here are my top choices for y’all!

 

No. 7: Food

Food is a fun & very reinforcing tool to use when teaching children any type of skill. I recently found some fun foods that come in ABC shapes! My daughter LOVES them. Sometimes I even make a mixture of regular macaroni and cheese and ABC mac n cheese, mix the noodles, & have her find the letters. When she finds them, she gets to eat them! Perfect reinforcement & it won’t feel like the kiddos are doing work, because it’s fun! I’ve also just gotten into this thing where I like to find fun cookie cutter shapes & cut their sandwiches into that shape! You can buy ABC cookie cutters & do the same! Or you can actually make ABC cookies! How fun!

My favs!

No. 8: Foam letters & magnets

My last little items on the list here are so popular! I’m pretty sure if you have a friend with kids they have a fridge covered in those plastic or wooden alphabet letters. I sure do. You might also walk into their bathroom & see the foam bath letter scattered all over the tub! Again…guilty. These two items are perfect for little guys. Especially the foam letters. I really like these when first introducing letters. They can put them in their mouth & can be perfect little teethers. I like to try and spell things out for Paislee & then have her tell me what the letters are. Same with the fridge magnets. I’m in the kitchen for probably a quarter of the day [at least] and the kids are always following me in there. While I’m doing the dishes or cooking dinner I can ask Paislee, “Hey, can you find the P?” You keep them busy [which is always a plus] & they are practicing that recognition!

Here’s what we use!

 

Honestly, I think I’m going to start setting aside time every day to work on these skills with my kiddos! Working things like this into your daily routines is so important & can really set your child up for success when they enter preschool. When I taught preschool we would spend a week, sometimes two, on each letter. This will really help your child to learn and absorb all the info you teach them. Repetition is key!

Like I always say, I’m no expert, but I pray y’all have so much fun teaching and guiding your kiddos! That’s one of the many blessings of being a stay at home momma. You get to be apart of all the learning that takes place! It’s such a rewarding and warm feeling when you see them “get it” for the first time. Enjoy, & happy learning! 🙂

As always, God bless †

Brittany

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