Thursday, October 10, 2013

Good Stuff

It's rainy, chilly and dreary in the DC-area today; a perfect day to snuggle in bed. I was lucky enough to do so for a few extra minutes this morning because we had a meeting at Lucas's school (so I didn't have to get out the door to work) and Nathaniel was a little snuggle bug, not wanting to get out of bed, either. Those moments are incredibly rare, so I was happy to savor it.

I have a post up on The DC Moms about my recent experience with the Avon You Make it Beautiful Tour.

It's October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While my mom is in remission she's suffering from lymphedema as an aftereffect of having lymph nodes removed. I so admire the fact that as much as it really sucks, she doesn't complain about it. Such an inspiration and example.

I hope you'll also read a few incredible posts as you see all the pink pop up this month...

Marty writes about how to be a good friend to someone who has breast cancer. She doesn't know me, but she was Susan's best friend so I keep her in my prayers often, especially the many times I think of Susan.

Susan's words are so, so important to remember. This is bigger than going pink.

And Marty linked to a blogger I've never read before, but her words are heart-breaking, raw and true. Please take a moment to read what CancerInMyThrities has to say about National No Bra Day and other "awareness" campaigns.

xoxo, friends.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Photo Booth Backdrop: Sneak Peak

This weekend my beautiful niece is celebrating her Quiceanera and I've offered to create a photobooth backdrop and props for the party. When I think about it, I've been preparing for this moment for years -- purchasing stick-on mustaches for a funny family photo while my brother-in-law was deployed (and grew a pretty amusing-looking mustache!), creating photo props for a New Year's Eve party, pinning bunting after bunting and photo backdrop after photo backdrop.

And I'm ready for my debut.

Here are a few sneak peaks! I'm so excited to put it together and really hope it helps make what will surely be a fabulous celebration even more fun.

These are just a few pieces of what I've been working on -- I can't wait to report back next week with photos of the actual backdrop and some fun photos with props!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Livin' the life in a Cadillac ATS

You can't mistake that distinctive grille!

GM's Northeast Team lent us a Cadillac ATS recently and it was so fun to drive in the lap of luxury -- and really confuse our neighbors -- for a week! When they offered the loan, there were several models to choose from. My choice was to get as far away from a minivan as possible, and I'd have to say we succeeded pretty nicely.

Abel and I both loved driving it, and throughout the week we kept noticing different features. For example, the sound system somehow automatically adjusts the volume to remain at the same level based on the outside noise. So, if you're driving with the windows down and then stop at a stoplight the volume adjusts down and when you start driving again, with the wind whipping around you, the volume goes up. Love it!

Abel also noticed (although I never encountered this, ahem!) that the seat gives the driver a little buzz when you go a certain number of miles over the speed limit. Again, I will emphasize that I did not experience this particular feature!

The best part of the week, though, was forcing ourselves to enjoy two lunch dates -- and driving to them in a car that momentarily took us out of our messy and stick-strewn life as parents.

Listening to the Kojo Nnamdi show on the way to a lunch date!

Thanks GM Northeast for such a fun week!

GM Northeast delivered and picked-up the car for us to enjoy for a week, but didn't require this blog post. All opinions are mine.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Meet the producers: REAL Seal Challenge Part 2

...And by producers, I mean this beautiful lady and her companions!

Going back to school and getting into the routine of early wake-ups, packed lunches, homework, etc., really kicked our butts, so it's taken me too long to report on our awesome last-hurrah-of-summer trip to the Eastern Shore to visit with the Patterson family at their dairy farm in Queen Anne's County, MD, along with my friend Sandie and her family.

The Patterson family and Amber from the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association were so incredibly generous with their time, giving us an incredible tour of the farm and answering our many, many questions.

Althought I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and many of my high school classmates lived on working dairy farms, I'd never actually visited one. Neither had Abel or the kids. It was fascinating to see a working dairy farm up close and personal!

As I mentioned in my REAL® Seal recipe challenge post, we drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of dairy in our home. We get most of our milk delivered directly from another Maryland dairy farm, but often have to pick up a gallon or two from the grocery store in between deliveries. Did you know that, for example, Giant brand milk is locally supplied milk from dairys like Patterson Dairy? Who knew that buying a grocery store brand would be supporting local family farms? After learning that, I definitely feel better about our grocery store purchases! (By the way, the ice cream we used to make our Creamsicle Floats was also a store brand which proudly bore the REAL® Seal, letting me know that it was true dairy produced in the US!

The Patterson's explained every step of the milking process -- how the equiment is throughly cleaned, how the each cow is tested and how the day's batch of milk is also tested to ensure that it is top quality before it is trucked away.

After we pulled ourselves away from the adorable baby and juvenile cows, the Patterson's suggested we stop by the Queen Anne's County Fair, which we did! We even got to meet Charlie and Sherry Patterson's oldest son who was showing a beautiful cow there!

Thanks, Patterson family, MDVAMilk and REAL® Seal for such a fantastic day! and for teaching us so much about dairy farms!

REAL Seal provided our family with a stipend for travel expenses. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Balancing Act {+Giveaway!}

Today is the first day of school! (Adorable pics to come in another post!) We can hardly believe how fast the summer went by....of course, as Lucas keeps pointing out, it is still summer even though school has started. True, but school means the end of late bedtimes, lazy mornings (for the boys in the household anyway, remember, I'm a full-time work-outside-the-home mama!), and carefree days. And school means the start of a balancing act -- getting lunches packed, homework finished, getting to bed earlier and waking up earlier.

Anyway, the metaphor I'm going for here is that summer = carefree easy living and school = lots of stuff going on that requires planning and preparation and balance.

So when Balance Bar offered to send me a back-to-school pack including Balance Bar mini energy bars, I jumped on it.

And then I promptly used a few of them to create some back-to-school presents for the two ladies in our school's front office. I thought this would be a nice gesture for two reasons. One, it must be really tough to be in the front office during the first week of school. And, two, I'm on year two of my campaign to kill these ladies with kindness. My previous efforts were all on behalf of the PTA, but now that I'm not president anymore, I decided they should be from our family.

I also threw in a package of new pens because front desk pens just disappear, right?

But back to balance -- one thing I did to help make mornings easier was to create a morning checklist chart for Lucas. It includes his tasks (written and clip art) in one column with a clock showing the time in another column. It starts with wake-up at 7:30 and ends with shoes on at 8:15. Today he was up and had everything finished by 7:05--but I don't expect that level of enthusiasm to last!

Balance Bar is inviting us all to join in a back to school twitter party tomorrow at 2pm EST to share tips and hopefully pick up some new ones!

And I'm inviting you to share one way that you find some balance in your life to win a Balance Bar back-to-school giveaway including some Balance Bar mini energy bars and an awesome reusable snack bag from itzy ritzy.

Just leave a comment by August 26 and I'll randomly draw the winner on August 27. The winner must provide her/his name, U.S. mailing address and phone number in response to my e-mail notification.

Balance Bar provided me a back-to-school care package including Balance Bar mini energy bars and an itzy ritzy reusable snack bag. They are providing the same as a giveaway to one lucky reader. All opinions and ideas are my own.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sending Summer Out with a Blast

I can not believe summer is nearly over. Lucas goes back to school -- 2nd grade, wow! -- on Monday and Nathaniel starts nursery school after Labor Day. This summer has flown by!

Lucas and I decided to send summer out with a blast by hosting a water fight party. Honestly, I don't know who is more excited about it, him or me. We hand-delivered these invitations to 12 friends (boys and girls) this weekend. Most of the kids have younger siblings who are also good friends, but we're just inviting the "big" kids to this one (and are arranging an off-site play date for Nathaniel) to minimize the potential for tears if things get a little rough.

Overall, I'm anticipating that this will be an incredibly easy party to host. Here are my plans:

In advance:
X Create invitations
X Deliver invitations
X Gather up all the water guns we own
-- Purchase watermelon, trail mix, drinks, etc.

Day of:
-- Fill baby pool with water and spray paint a perimeter circle around it (for refill station)
-- Fill water balloons and hide several dozen around the yard (this will hopefully be a surprise for Lucas, too!)
--Hide extra water guns around the yard (everyone will bring their own, but we thought this would be a fun surprise, too)

During party:
--Watch from a safe distance
--Refill baby pool as needed
--Serve snacks when kids get tired (or too insane and need a break!)
--Turn on sprinkler for the rest of the party

Does this sound like fun or what?!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 12, 2013

50 Book Challenge

Lucas finished first grade below grade level in reading. Not only was he behind, but by last school year, he had decided that he hated reading and that he couldn't read.

For someone who literally can't remember a time when I didn't love, love, love reading, this has been a real struggle for me as a parent.

He got special attention and time with the reading intervention specialist at school and we took him to weekly tutoring with a neighbor who is pretty amazing at what she does. And he made great strides, but still, professed his hate for reading and that he'd never be able to do it.

We knew we needed to make sure he read over the summer. He'd made great progress the last few months of school and I knew it would be so easy for him to loose all that momentum. June was incredibly busy and by the end of the month, he'd only read a handful of books. So in July I decided to set a summer challenge for Lucas: to read 50 books before school started.

We have a giant mirror in our dining room and I used teacher bulletin board letters to write "Lucas 50 Book Challenge" across the top of the mirror. Each book = a paper ring to give him a visual of success.

There were some tears, lots of frustrations, lots of cajoling and some yelling, from all of us. But, all that was forgotten when Lucas read his 50th book yesterday and we all savored his triumph and success. Abel and I are so incredibly proud of Lucas and -- even better -- he's really proud of himself.

He might still profess that he hates reading, but now we have tangible evidence to show him when he tells us that he can't read. Because all know that after reading 50 books, he definitely can read!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 5, 2013

So much

San Augustin, El Salvador; Photo by Abel

I wonder if it slipped right past you that I mentioned that I was taking advantage of having the house to myself to host a girls fact, I had an entire week at home alone. Every mama's dream, right? It was luxurious but I also put in a pretty good amount of work cleaning, organizing and purging (and actually working at my job!). The organizing part (toys and bedrooms, at least) lasted for about five minutes after the kids got home, but it was great to purge several large bags of old toys and ephemera and to give all the upstairs rooms a really deep clean. (Even the baseboards, folks!)

The cause of my time alone was that Abel went on a week-long work and community-building trip with our church to visit our sister parish in a very, very rural town in El Salvador. And the boys were at my parents' house for their annual week of Camp Grammy and Grampy.

They all had an incredible week, for different reasons, of course. And Abel came home with lots and lots of stories to share.

One of the most poignant was that he was talking with a young girl (Abel is fluent in Spanish, which was a huge help to him and the group!) and was answering her many, many questions about life in the US. He got out his phone and used the WiFi* to show her some Google Earth pictures of our town and she asked about the rows of small buildings just outside of town. Well, that's the local storage unit facility. How do you explain such excess to a young girl living in such poverty? He told her that in the US some people have so much stuff that they buy extra space away from their house to store it. Her eyes opened in amazement.

When he told me that story, I don't think I've ever been so grateful that we live in a relatively (for the US, but of course luxurious by so many standards) small home and that we definitely do not have a storage unit!

I was thinking a lot about this story and about the young girl this past weekend when Lucas was begging to buy something (er, have something bought for him!) nearly every single second. So much about parenthood is so hard, but I definitely find that one of my biggest challenges with Lucas, especially, is this constant desire for things. Even silly small things that may only cost 50 cents or $1 that he begs for desperately then forgets about they day after he gets them. It is so much easier to give in and buy something for him (or let him buy it) but in the long-run that is not the solution, and not the lesson I want to teach him. Neither Abel or I give in all the time, but I still think that we do give in too often. This is definitely an area that I need to work on as a parent.

*He had limited access to WiFi in parts of the town and yet for a few days there was no running water. Crazy.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Inside Out BREs

I know this has been on Pinterest and craft/design blogs before, but I thought I'd share my own creation here.

Lots of business reply envelopes have really cool patterns inside -- for security purposes. I get business reply envelopes from one business with this very cool pattern inside. I decided to deconstruct them and turn them inside out.

The final product is a really cool-looking design.

Hopefully the recipient will enjoy receiving this quick note inside a cool envelope as much as I enjoyed creating it!

When was the last time you mailed a card, note or letter to someone? Do it! It will make your day and theirs, promise!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pear and Goat Cheese Crostini

I took advantage of having the house to myself last night and hosted an amazing, incredible and awesome evening with about 20 friends. It was so easy and casual and I loved every minute.

I asked everyone to bring something to drink or something to eat, but to not let lack or time to do either to stop them from coming. I did worry a bit that the ratios wouldn't work out, but it all ended up perfectly -- with an abundance of food and drink, even though a few people did indeed come empty-handed. (I was SO glad they just came!)

I, myself, didn't have time to get to the liquor store so offered up some wonderfully cold water that had been marinating (?) with sliced cucumbers for the day. (One of my favorite things about going to a spa is the wonderful cucumber water--why had I never done this at home before?) I also had time to put together a quick and delicious appetizer.

I had pears, goat cheese, honey and olive oil on hand. On my way from work to the Metro I stopped by a bakery and picked up a baguette. (Then spent my Metro ride wondering where that amazing smell was coming from! Silly me.)

It was easy and delicious. By the end of the evening, the pears were turning a bit brown, so this isn't really something you can put together in advance but it only took me about 20 minutes start to finish, including about seven minutes in the oven.

Pear and Goat Cheese Crostini
Slice baguette, place slices on a cookie sheet.
Brush or drizzle slices with olive oil.
Toast in oven until warm and a bit crunchy.
Move to serving plate, top with goat cheese, then a thin slice of pear.
Drizzle with honey.

Absolutely delicious!

Well beyond the yummy food and drink, I was so grateful to have a houseful of awesome women I'm lucky enough to call friends -- and to meet a few new ones! Good for the soul.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

REAL® Seal Challenge: Creamsicle Float

Isn't it funny how sometimes things from your childhood which loom so large as the best thing ever don't live up to your expectations as an adult? Take creamsicles for example -- orange popsicles filled with ice cream (or perhaps an ice cream-like substance?!) just aren't the same as they used to be.

So when REAL® Seal asked me to participate in a recipe challenge using REAL® Seal ingredients, and offered me a gift card to pay for them, and then Lucas suggested ice cream floats, I wondered if I could recreate -- and perhaps even improve on -- my fond memories of creamsicles.

And oh my goodness, I sure did!

These creamsicle floats have been the begged-for dessert in our house over the past week. They are delicious and the perfect treat for the oppressive heat wave we've been experiencing in Maryland.

I bought a six-pack of those adorable mini cans of soda, in orange flavor, of course. Then I scoured the ice cream section for a brand with the REAL® Seal.

Here's the quick and easy recipe:

Smiling Mama's Creamsicle Floats
Scoop one scoop of ice cream into a glass.
Add a few ounces of orange soda.
Top with another small scoop of ice cream.
Add straw and spoon and enjoy!

We eat a lot of dairy in our house. Our milk is delivered fresh from a local farm in throw-back glass bottles. But we buy our yogurt, cheese and ice cream from the grocery store. I know my kids are getting delicious, healthy milk and I want to make sure that the rest of their dairy is high quality as well. When Lucas was a toddler, I used to think that he subsided on cheese and yogurt alone. Now Nathaniel is the picky one who eats yogurt daily -- and often multiple times a day.

I never knew that the REAL® Seal is a really easy way for me to know that products we buy are from 100% US cow milk. Products bearing the seal must must meet specific guidelines and be certified by their dairy processing or food manufacturing companies.

And I'll be honest, as a full-time work-outside-the-home mama to two crazy boys, uber-involved community member and blogger, I don't have a lot of time to put together fancy, complicated desserts. I mean, we're lucky to get a well-rounded dinner on the table every night. And because dairy is such a huge part of our diet, I'm grateful to know that the REAL® Seal gives me assurance at a quick glance in the grocery store.

So, here are a few things I love about these creamsicle floats:

  • I can feel good about the quality of the REAL® Seal ice cream.
  • Even though I just used a few ounces of orange soda, the boys feel like it's the most exciting thing ever because they are getting soda.
  • They can be put together in just a few minutes.
  • They're amazingly refreshing and, of course, delicious.
  • Any excuse to use jelly jars and paper straws to make them feel extra-special is a WIN for me!
  • And, finally, it's such a treat to see my kids enjoy something similar to such a strong childhood memory for me.
This is one satisfied customer!
Thanks, REAL® Seal for helping this busy mama feel good about our family's dairy choices and for funding this recipe challenge which was a fun trip down memory lane for me and hopefully is helping to build some fun childhood memories for my kiddos, too.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cascarones on The Daily Buzz!!

Many thanks to my good friend in Nashville for pointing this out...   

 And then scroll down to #15...

What's that? A link to my 2008 Cascarones tutorial! Awesome!!

And, crazy! How did they ever find it?

I really hate to admit that this is the one year since 2008 that I actually haven't saved eggs for Cascarones. Ugh! Total slacker! We live in a fairly heavy Hispanic area and found some pretty great pre-made ones at Shoppers Food Warehouse last year. So, we're counting on that again this year. Next year, though, I'll be back on my game. And I'm vowing now to write a new tutorial with better pictures. Here's a slightly better post I wrote for The DC Moms last year!

Happy cracking!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sending you elsewhere...

1. I'm over at The DC Moms with a suggestion for getting through a cold or allergy season.

2. I adore this article from the New York Times. Truly. And considering the fact that Lucas likes to tell everyone about his great great great great great great grandfather (# of greats varies every time, and also, it's more like some sort of distant uncle) who fought in the Civil War, I think we're doing a decent job of this already!

3. If you only click on one of these links, THIS is the one. So beautiful.


Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Class Valentines

I've long wanted to get in on the melted crayon mold fun that's all over Pinterest and the blogosphere and we've finally done it for Valentine's Day!

Lucas has been saving up broken crayons all school year (and perhaps breaking a few on purpose--that silly kid!) and I purchased a silicone heart pan. The hardest part was peeling all the little papers and after that it was a blast to arrange the crayons in the hearts, bake and admire the creations!

Then I discovered this awesome free printable from The Long Thread. They say "Have a colorful Valentine's Day" at the bottom! I'm the queen of enjoying all the wonderful free printables that designers share on their blogs. My trick is to upload them to and have them printed in color on card stock. It's cheap and so easy--plus the quality is always great.

Over the past few days, Lucas has been writing his classmates names and his name, then we taped the card to the front of little treat bags, dropped in a crayon heart, tied them up and viola! Fun Valentine's for his class!

I'm pretty sure we're all looking forward to having enough crayon nubs to make another batch!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Nathaniel Turned 3!

Way-too-quickly after Christmas -- as in, we barely got our Christmas decorations down in time for his party! -- Nathaniel turned 3!

This boy is the light of our lives! I surmise that because he barely uttered a sound until about 9 months ago, he spent the first 2+ years of his life developing the most expressive facial and body movements ever seen in such a young child. When he's happy, he doesn't just smile, his entire head lights up and his back straightens and he seems to literally jump with excitement! When he's sad or moping, he doesn't just get a down-turned face, he hangs his head and droops his shoulders and does this crazy, lumbering walk while his arms droop and swing.

And nearly every day over the past nine months, Nathaniel has amazed and delighted us with his new-found words, expressions and songs. He is amazing! (Oh, and also a genius, of course. I mean, really a genius!!)

We had small celebrations with our little family for Naffy's first and second birthdays and for his third -- the first birthday he really, truly "got" -- we had a really wonderful party.

Nathaniel's birthday was on a Friday and our party was going to be that Saturday. But, I wanted to do something to help make his actual day special.

Inspired by a few posts on Oh Happy Day, Lucas and I made this little party hats and ribbon neckties for our dino collection. They greeted Nathaniel at his seat on his birthday morning.

Lucas was pretty pleased with our work!

Panda-cakes are Nathaniel's favorite breakfast (food in general, actually!) so he enjoyed a stack of three pancakes topped with sprinkles and a candle on this birthday morning!

For our BIG celebration on Saturday, we decided to fill the day with Nathaniel's favorite things. There's nothing this boy loves more than WATER! We invited a few families to join us at a local indoor pool for some fun time splashing!

After an afternoon break to give the littles time for a nap, we invited those friends back to our house for a good old-fashioned birthday party filled with playtime, pizza and cupcakes!

Using things we had around the house, I was just thrilled with the little table scape I put together while Nathaniel was napping and Abel was on the pizza and beer run! (If you have a Wegman's nearby, they sell these awesome sheets of pizza which serve 32!)

When Nathaniel woke up, I told him it was time to put on his fancy clothes, to which he immediately replied, "Spiderman!!!" That wasn't exactly what I meant, but why not let the birthday boy wear whatever he wants? I dug out his Halloween costume and he couldn't have been happier!

Does it get any better than this? I don't think so!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Missing Susan

From The DC Moms

After she died, it took me a long time to write about Susan. And now, suddenly and far-too-long at the same time, she has been gone for an entire year. I did lose count of how many moons it's been since she died, but whenever I look up and see the moon--full or just a sliver--I think of her. So, so often, I think of her. I didn't know Susan as well as so many others. I only knew her for a few years before she died. But she touched my life forever. And I am so, so grateful that I may have touched hers just a bit as well.

I miss you, Susan. I love you, Susan.

As we honor Susan’s memory, please consider furthering her legacy through a contribution to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Link to Susan’s Toddler Planet site:

Please join bloggers throughout the web in honoring Susan Niebur's life and contributions with a post, and please add your link below.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Spelling Practice

We've had this magnetic wall and alphabet magnets for several years, but other than the magnets getting batted off the wall at every opportunity, they don't get much use. You see, although we followed the directions and put at least three (or was it four?) coats of magnetic paint on the walls, they barely hold lightweight magnets and you can forget holding up a piece of paper.

Recently, as I was struggling to engage Lucas in the practice of his spelling words (homework is a huge struggle every. single. day.), a light bulb went off.

We ran downstairs and pretended to be on the Electric Company -- pulling the letters down to form words. Yay for our magnetic wall! Yay for alphabet magnets! They certainly make spelling practice a lot more fun -- for both of us!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

2012 Resolutions: Review

Better late than never, I thought I'd take a moment to review my 2012 resolutions. Last year is one of the first years I actually made several resolutions and overall, I'm happy with my success.

Initially I was going to go through each resolution one by one, but I even started to get bored with the post! Instead, I'll expand on my two most successful and enjoyable resolutions:

Do Creative Things
I feel really successful on this one! I completed several creative projects throughout the year and by letting myself splurge on the purchase of some washi tape, I've had fun doing little things that are creative as well. I can't paint or draw, but I do feel that I am a creative person and it's been a lot of fun to encourage that in myself!

Mail Birthday Cards
This was my most successful resolution to date! I have mailed dozens of birthday cards and birthday postcards over the year and the response has been wonderful! One friend mentioned that it was the only mailed card she received! A neighbor told me that the card made his week! Plus, I love an excuse to be on the look out for cute stationary! Decorating the envelopes with small pen flourishes or washi tape has also helps with #1! I must add a disclaimer, however, that I did miss a few entire months, so if you didn't receive a card (and are someone I know IRL!) please don't feel bad -- it was probably one of my off months!

I enjoyed these so much that I'm continuing those into 2013! Here's to creative things and birthday cards!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lucas Turned 7!

I'm not sure where January went, but I'm still catching up on December!!

We celebrated Lucas's 7th Birthday in Ohio this year. It falls just a few days before Christmas, so we've always been away for his actual birthday. After Nathaniel's birthday, however, Lucas declared that he wanted to be home for his birthday next year. I figured that was coming sooner or later, and really, who can blame him?

He did have a pretty fun day, though!

Lucas has been begging for a Chuck E. Cheese birthday and got it in his head that he was definitely going to have a party at Chuck E. Cheese this year. There's a Chuck E. Cheese in my in-law's town, so it was definitely doable. Of course, we felt bad that he wouldn't have any friends there with him, so we invited a neighbor that Lucas plays with whenever we're visiting Ohio. Unfortunately he couldn't join us. Lucas was a little bummed, but was okay with it.

We arrived in Ohio the night before his birthday, after one of our worst drives ever. So it was around 11pm before I started planning the party via my iPhone. I had figured we'd just go and buy some pizza and tokens. But, Abel insisted that Lucas was expecting the entire Chuck E. Cheese shebang. I was panicking for a little while, but it all worked out perfectly. (Can we hear it for the iPhone!?)

I discovered that you can book a birthday party for as few as four children! Plus, by booking on-line, you get extra bonus tokens. Of course we only had two children and the hostess was a little confused when we told her we were all there, but it was fantastic. Lucas got the full birthday party treatment -- blow up crown, attention from the Rat himself (oh, is he a mouse? Hmmmmm!) and--the be all end all--a minute in the ticket blaster! Plus, Abel and I happily gave the boys our birthday party tokens, so they both enjoyed a lot of games.

And, let me tell you, the Saturday before Christmas is the BEST time to visit. It was approximately 1/4 the madhouse that it usually is! Later that night we celebrated again with cup cakes. It was a really fun day!

Lucas continues to be the boy who wears his heart on his sleeve. It was such a joy to watch his excitement and pure delight that day at Chuck E. Cheese. We all bask in his warm emotions--this is the boy who still tells me that he loves me about 100 times each day. He exclaims it and whispers it. He wears all his other emotions on his sleeve as well. As Abel reminded me recently, when I was getting very frustrated with how vocal he is about getting upset: we can't expect to have one without the other. And I definitely don't want to ever give up Lucas's all-encompassing love. We are all so, so lucky to have him for our own.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 28, 2013

GMC Road Trip + Holiday Kindness

I was offered such a fun opportunity over the holidays -- GMC's Northeast team lent us a brand new and totally decked out GMC Terrain Denali for about a week. And, for a bonus, the offered me $50 to spend on random acts of holiday kindness while we had the vehicle.

Lucas and I picked out various snacks and I found these awesome Road Trip Survival Kit printables (agh! I am so sorry, I can not find my source for these!) (double agh! I can't get the image to flip!), including the cute outer label, a license plate game and a roadtrip checklist game (to check off items as you see them). We also included a bonus for the parents -- a gift card for gas!

Lucas enjoyed helping me to assemble them, but was pretty dismayed when I told him that none of the bags were for us to keep. Rather, we were going to give them out to other travelers at a rest stop.

He was pretty bummed out about the news that he wasn't going to get to enjoy any of the goodies and I was a little nervous that our random acts of kindness were going to totally backfire with some spoiled behavior.

But, when we pulled into the South Mountain Rest Area on 1-70, Lucas was nearly accosting folks in his excitement about giving out the packages. In fact, after we'd given them all out, he exclaimed, "I wish we had even MORE to give out!"

Score one for kindness being infectious!

Back to the Terrain, we LOVED it! The pick-up (hello Detroit muscle power!) and inside amenities were incredible (I'm still missing those leather, heated seats!). As you can see, we encountered a snowstorm on our road trip and Abel and I were incredibly impressed with its handling in some pretty slick and rough weather.

Perhaps the best part, though, was when we unloaded the car seats into my parents car and headed back to Maryland to enjoy New Year's Eve without kids! The SUV was a little too small to be our main family vehicle since the kids are still in a car seat and booster, but Abel and I would love to have it as our second vehicle, where that lovely interior would have a chance at a crumb-free existence!

Goodbye lovely Terrain! We miss you already!

The GMC Northeast team loaned me a GMC Terrain Denali and a full tank of gas. They also reimbursed us for the $50 we spent on our Holiday Acts of Kindness as part of a promotion with TheDCMoms. I was not compensated in any other way for this post. All opinions and ideas are my own.

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New 'do!

I've had long hair my entire life. The two times I've had short hair are in 5th grade when I had a HORRENDOUS hair cut (ahem, mom!). Seriously, it may have scared me for life. And, at the start of this little 'ole blog when I donated many inches to Locks of Love.

But right after New Year's, I got it in my head that I wanted to go really short. I even considered a pixie cut. (Possibly inspired by this lovely lady?)

So last night, with celeb photo sample in hand, I went to my beloved stylist of a dozen years and she made it happen!



Despite the look in the photos, I didn't change the color at all; it's still my natural brown with a bit of auburn. When I was in the chair, I loved it. When I got home, I wasn't sure at all about it. But, today I think I'm falling in love with it (certainly the many awesome FB comments are helping that along!).

So maybe I'm now a short-haired lady?! Crazy!

Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Digging Out

Whew! I feel like I'm digging out from an avalanche that hasn't stopped yet. Does that make any sense?

I have many posts brewing in my head, including:

Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here's an update of what's currently on our awesome DIY display frame:

Top Left to Right

- print of an instagram photo of two sentences and a drawing Lucas did last year in Kindergarten. It reads, "I have a mama. I love my mama."
- instax photo of a fun group of friends on NYE
- photo booth photos of Abel and me
- instax prints of the boys (2)

- 2 instax prints of Abel and me on NYE
- print of an instagram of Nathaniel
- wedding save the date topped with a pretty leftover Moo card

- art by Nathaniel topped with an instax print of Abel
- Abel and my cousin showing off their winter beards
- family photo from our summer vacation in the mountains below a quote that was included in an Etsy order (soooo wish I could remember the vendor!) that reads, "I have decided to be happy because it's good for my health."

 Original post by Smiling Mama. Thanks for reading!