Friday, December 6, 2019

Top 10 Toy Must Haves for Boys & Girls

It seems like everyone has Christmas shopping on the brain this time of year.

Toys are everywhere.  Stores are stuffed with fun products and it can be overwhelming to navigate.

I am excited to share with you our Top 10 Toy Must Haves for Boys & Girls list today.  These are all toys that we use, love and own.  I'm not making a random list of affiliate links for you to shop based on a title.  These are all toys that are in our home and we love.  All the links below are my Amazon affiliate links.  That means that I'll making a very small commission on the toys your purchase through my links at no extra cost to yourself.  Thank you for reading and supporting my blog!!

The kids sat down to write out their Christmas wish lists and several of these toys are loved so much that they're asking for more.  For references, I have a 6.5 year old girl and a 3.5 year old boy.  All of these toys get their stamps of approval.

1. Picasso Tiles
I've talked about these for at least a year.  My kids got them last year and loved them so much they're getting more this year.  They play with them daily.  Each day they build new and different structures.  Some days they collaborate and other days they solo build.  They are the best toy!  We have never had one break even after rough play and can't recommend them enough.

2. Duplos
We've been adding to our Duplo collection for probably 5 years.  We have a giant basket full of Duplos.  They get played with all the time and are so much fun.  The kids have built zoos, garages, cities and can really enjoy playing together.  I love that they can build without all the frustration of having tons of tiny pieces (ie Legos).

3. Barbies
I mentioned this before, but it's worth saying again.  My kids love to play Barbies together as long as they have boy and girl Barbies to play with.  I've pulled out some of my old Ken dolls and New Kid's on The Block guys and the kids love playing Barbies together.  The mini Chelsea series of Barbies is also a hit at our house.  Olive asked for an is getting a Barbie house for Christmas.  We got both kids new boy/girl Barbies to play with.

4. Paw Patrol
Olive started the love of Paw Patrol a couple of years ago and we've just been adding to our collection ever since.  The Mighty Pups are hot on our current love list and Christmas wish lists this year.

5. Games
We are always up for adding new games to our collection.  I'll list our family favorites plus the new ones the kids are getting this year.  They are all kid/parent approved.  That means I won't be adding Chutes and Ladders to my list because that is my least favorite game of all time - ha!

6. Kindle Fire
Olive received this as a gift last year and it's been such a fun resource for us.  There are books, learning apps and games that both kids love to play.  We travel with it, it holds a charge for a very long time and it's kid and parent approved.  One day we'll get  both kids their own tablet, but for now it's perfect to have one tablet to share and take turns with.  It comes in so handy for flights, long car trips, sports activities, waiting at doctor appointments and it's great on the go.

7.  LOL Dolls
My daughter first started liking LOLs when she was 5ish.  The first version she got were glittery pets and they came with this sandy play-doh.  They were messy and not my favorite toy.  I'm VERY happy to report that LOL Dolls have changed for the better each year.  There are now many versions to buy and they are really fun.  She currently loves the LOL Glitter Globe dolls and the LOL Pets.  She loves to play with all of them and my son enjoys playing with the pets.  There are also Lil' LOLs, LOL Boys and LOL Fuzzy pets.  They come with little pieces and offer a fun variety.  You do not know which doll you are getting inside the packages.  Each ones is sealed and under wraps.  The doll + all of their accessories are disguised in blind bags so each item you open is a fun surprise.

8. Nerf Guns
We own a few Nerf Guns and they are on the wish list again this year.  Kevin LOVES them.  The kids LOVE them.  So Nerf guns are the perfect Dad activity at our house.  He supervises and they have the best time making toy towers to knock down and finding characters to use as Targets.  We don't let the kids play with these unsupervised.

9. Hatchimals
Olive gets most excited about the new Royal Hatchimals series, but both kids enjoy playing with them.  She put them on her wish list again for the 2nd or 3rd year in a row.  Each year Hatchimals seem to come up with a new version or a new variety of Hatchimals.  The royals have tiny accessories and are glittery.  It's not the kind of glitter that sheds at all.  It just makes the Royal Hatchimals sparkle.

10. Art Supplies
Both of my kids really enjoy doing art together.  You can't go wrong with Crayola markers.  Olive has the Crayola Inspiration Art Case and it's AMAZING.  It has held up so well over the years.  She feels very official with a case for her supplies.  We love it so much that we've gifted it to friends a time or two.  They love lots of different art supplies so I'll link our most used ones below.  These are all items that I've purchases a time or two and that we use on a regular basis.

Let me know if you have any questions!  It was fun to share our favorites with you.

What toys are on your family's favorite list??

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas Here

We've had a fun kick off to the Christmas season so far.  We added lights to the outside of our house, put up a few trees inside and are excited to finish decorating this week.  We've also done some fun Christmas activities.  I don't know about you, but there seems to always be way more events than we can possibly attend.  This means that I end up sitting down and going over our calendar to pick and choose our FAVORITES.  That way we are doing things we love and leaving plenty of time in our schedules for down time.

We had our annual gingerbread house decorating party on Sunday.  Each kid picked out their own house to build and it was really fun.  Baby brother was doing some serious ninja kicking during the whole event.  I kept startling me and making me laugh.  Our houses both made it home and are proudly on display in our kitchen.

Fletcher picked out the gingerbread house kit that came with the most candy.  Smart guy.

Olive picked the Frozen gingerbread house.  It was more complicated with mixing icing colors, loads of sprinkles that made quite a mess and a tricky triangle shaped house.

Then we had a delicious dinner - meatballs, spaghetti, chicken tenders, veggie lasagna and more!  Give me all the comfort food!

We got to see Frozen 2 with our cousins.  Review:  We enjoyed Frozen 2, but didn't LOVE it.  To be fair, it's hard for a sequel to live up to the hype of the first movie.

The plot was more complicated/harder for kids to follow, they were more villains, the music was complicated and difficult for kids to sing along with and both kids asked when it was going to be over several times during the movie.  I even found myself checking the time.  It was definitely a darker movie than the first one.  We still enjoyed ourselves, but none of us are eager to own the movie or watch it again.  Have you seen it?  What did you think?

We headed to our favorite local spot and picked out a Christmas tree.  We looked at lots of options and the kids picked this tree as their favorite.  I can't wait to decorate it once I find our Christmas lights. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

North Pole Breakfast

Every year we welcome in the Christmas season with a North Pole Breakfast.  I've been doing it since 2014 thanks to Andrea of Momfessionals for the inspiration.  My kids love it.  I love it.  I just seems like an easy, fun way to kick off the holidays.

Rules: I'm super flexible with the details of our North Pole Breakfast.

It's always breakfast, but the date changes every year.  I managed to pull it off on December 1st this year.  I try to always do it on a Saturday to give the kids a slow morning to relax and enjoy the festivities.  I start collecting goodies for the breakfast in November stashing them away for this event.  It's low stress, low key and tons of fun. 

I always get the kids new Christmas ornaments to match events or favorite memories from the year, new Christmas books and the rest changes from year to year.  I've done slippers, Christmas pjs, bottle brush trees, Christmas stuffed animals and Christmas themed candies.

We don't have a set menu.  I try to come up with cute Christmas plates every year.  The Christmas meals are rarely filled with homemade treats.  Just lots of fun, easy to prep holiday foods.

North Pole Breakfast 2019.
I'll link anything I can at the bottom of the post.

Mini Muffin snow man
Nutragain bar hat
Favorite Christmas candy
Mini Marshmallows
Mix of cereals - Reese's Puffs, Honey Combs & Cinnamon Chex

Three new Christmas books - one for each kid.  I'll put my links to them at the bottom of the post if you're wanting some new Christmas book ideas for this year.

Both kids started with the candy.
Some years I remember to put the kids in Christmas pjs for bed the night before.  And other years I remember last minute that the next day is December 1st and the kids show up to breakfast in regular old pjs.  Oh well.

My kids love Beanie Boos and play with them a lot.  I found these sequined Christmas ones at Once Upon a Child in their new toy section.  They LOVED them!

North Pole Breakfast Archives:

2018 (details here)

2017 (details here)

2016 (details here)

2015 (details here)

2014 (details here)

My amazon links to the products above.  Thanks for supporting PDP!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Vegetable Beef Soup

Happy December!  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and a fun time with family and friends.  We had a great time in Florida and fun times with family.  I'll recap that later on in the week.

Today I have a delicious soup recipe to share with you.  I've been craving comfort foods my whole pregnancy so vegetable soup was on my radar.  I looked for recipes on Pinterest and ultimately ended up making up my own.  I did a grocery pick up order with all of the ingredients.  My kids helped me make it.  We've been enjoying it all weekend.

Vegetable Soup Ingredients:

Montreal Steak Seasoning to taste
Salt & Pepper to taste
64oz V8
1/2 c Quaker quick barley
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 yellow onion diced
1/4 purple onion diced
1 c diced tomatoes
1/2 c frozen peas
1 carrot peeled and chopped
1 can corn
1 can beef broth
1 can green beans
1 can diced potatoes
1 can mixed veggies
1 15oz pkg Hormel Beef Roast Au Jus (use beef + au jus sauce)

Diced up veggies, open and drain all cans and microwave the beef roast.  Let it cool, shred and remove any fat pieces. Add in shredded beef + au jus sauce to all the soup ingredients.  Season to taste.  Let cook for at least an hour and serve.  Reheats really well and tastes better the longer it cooks.  You can make this on the stove top or in a crock pot.

This recipes is wonderful because you really can add in ANY veggies that you like.  You can customize it to work for your family.  I used this as an opportunity to clean out my freezer.  I had a mix of random frozen veggies to finish off along with plenty of canned veggies.

Shred the beef:
Microwave it for 2-3 minutes.  Separate the meat out on a plate, let it cool and the shred it.  Remove any fat and throw that away.  This Hormel Beef Roast is SO GOOD!  It's about $5 and saves you SO MUCH time when making this soup.  It's tasty and adds so much flavor to the soup.

All the ingredients are added and now it's ready to cook.  You'll noticed all the fresh veggies softening and the barley puffing up as it cooks.

 After the soup cooks, things will soften and look more like this.

Moms, Aunts, Grandmas, Friends...
This is a really fun recipe to make with kids.  It's really fun to practice taking turns, being patient and adding in all the ingredients.  They loved alternating adding ingredients.  My kids are also more likely to try a new food or eat a food if they've helped prepare it.  They were SO PROUD of the soup.  They kept coming in to check on it, smell it and couldn't wait to try it.  Fletcher ate several bowls of it.  Olive enjoyed tasting it, but wasn't sure she loved it.

Hope your family loves this soup as much as we do!

Friday, November 22, 2019

My Best Thanksgiving Recipes

Happy Friday!!  Hope you've had a great week.  I am doing a Thanksgiving recipe round up for you today of my very favorite Thanksgiving recipes.  I hope you find a new recipe or two to make for your family and friends this year.

I wanted to let you know that I'm taking a Thanksgiving blog break after today.  I'll be off enjoying some sweet time with my family.  Kevin and Olive both have next week off of school!  Hooray!  I hope you have a wonderful holiday and I'll see you back here on December 2nd.  It's crazy how fast November flew by this year!

My Favorite Thanksgiving recipes:

Turkey Cinnamon Roll
(recipe details here)
My kids think that canned cinnamon rolls are a delicacy.  They LOVE them.  I bake them weekly and we are having this turkey cinnamon roll for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
(recipe details here)
These are my family's favorite cookie. I make them year round because we love them so much.  They're soft, delicious and so easy to make.  My kids request them all the time.  I'm making them to take to Kevin's family Thanksgiving.

Sweet Potato Cinnamon Bread
(recipe details here)
I made this bread for the first time last year and it was so good.  Kevin found the recipe, bought the ingredients and planned a fun date night at home for us to make it together.  It was really sweet.  I was a tiny bit skeptical about sweet potato bread, but it was wonderful.

My Favorite Pie Tips
(recipe details here)
I'm in charge of bringing the pies for Thanksgiving again this year.  I've done this for several years because I love making pies so much.  Plus, they travel well which works great for our holiday plans. 

Pumpkin Streusel Muffins
(recipe details here)
These are homemade pumpkin muffins and they're delicious!  Kids and adults love them.  They also feel really fancy, but are pretty easy to make.

Thanksgiving Charcuterie Board

I may even put together a charcuterie board for my family on our week off!  Add some extra oranges, mini pumpkins and it'll be perfectly festive.

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!  I know the holidays aren't the happiest time for everyone.  If that's true for you this year, I'm sorry.  I'm thinking of you if you're facing some tough things this holiday season and praying for your family.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Baby #3: Weeks 15-18

I wanted to squeeze in one bonus Thursday post this month about baby boy!  I've been trying to keep track of the fun weekly milestones and I wanted them to be documented on the blog in November.  Here's an update on the last four weeks of baby #3.

I've been sleeping pretty well (minus the nightmares and crazy dreams).  I dream that my teeth fall out regularly and everything seems so real that I have to think through things when I wake up in the morning.  My skin has been really dry.  Baby boy still moves a lot fluttering around all day long.  I've mostly graduated to maternity pants and a mix of maternity and regular tops.

My cravings have been comfort foods - mashed potatoes, dumplings, carbs, gravy, fried chicken, cheesy potatoes, roast, etc.  I've also been enjoying coffee, ice cream and gummy candies again.

Week 15: October 22
Baby is the size of a pear

The kids are getting excited to find out if the baby is a boy or girl.  Here's Olive's DIY gender reveal decoration :)

It's a BOY!

I'm feeling good and got to do some fun Halloween things this week.

Week 16: Oct 29
Baby is the size of an avocado

This week was a germy one.  Fletcher got a stomach bug and was out of commission for several days.  Kevin and I washed our hands like crazy and managed to avoid getting it ourselves.  Although we all seemed to have colds and no one felt great.  We cancelled a road trip to stay home and relax.  We hated missing out on the fun, but it was the best decision for all of us.  The Fall weather was just gorgeous.

Week 17: Nov 5
Baby is the size of an onion

I voted with my boys.

We did some furniture shopping for new beds for the kids.  They're campaigning hard for the triple bunk bed.

It snowed our first big snow of the season!  Olive was already out of school for the day so it worked out perfectly for us to stay home to be cozy and play in the snow.  Olive ended up with a stomach bug this week.  Thankfully it was short lived and no one else got sick.

Week 18: Nov 12
Baby boy is the size of a cucumber

Baby is growing and Kevin tells me that I can no longer pass as non-pregnant.  The bump is out there.  And it's true.  I can tell things are stretching while baby is growing.  People who don't know me well have started asking me about being pregnant.  My hips are bothering me so I know that things are shifting around.  I've started bumping into things with my baby bump.

The kids are so cute following along with the baby milestones and food sizes.  They ask questions about him, talk to my belly and are very curious about this whole baby business.  We're discussing baby names regularly, but have yet to all agree that we've found the one.

We got to celebrate my birthday, decorate the outside of the house with Christmas lights and enjoy a week of fun festivities.

 All is well with baby and mom!  I've got a few appointments coming up in December.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

5 Easy Ways to Love on Your Friends & Family from Out of Town Over the Holidays

Do you have out of town family and friends coming in town for the holidays??

We have always been the out of town family and friends.

Our entire adult life we have lived out of town from most family and friends.  About 95% of the time, we are the ones to travel to family on the holidays.  We are lucky that our extended families live in the same city since Kevin and I grew up together.  It makes it easy for us to travel to one city and see tons of family and friends in one spot.  We are well aware the most families have to split up and divide holidays.

I thought I'd share some simple tips with you today to help you make your out of town family and friends feel extra welcome and comfortable this holiday season.

1. Take into account their schedule
Are they on a different time zone and used to doing things at different times?  Are they trying to see a lot of people while they're in town?  What are the things that are on the top of their to do list when they visit?  Do their kids nap?

We usually travel from East Coast time zone to Central time zone.  It makes evenings a little trickier because we're used to eating and going to bed one hour earlier than the people around us.  This means that we love earlier dinners to make sure when have plenty of time to visit before the kids need to head to bed.  This also means the adults are extra tired because our kids are waking up early.

2. What are their favorite local spots?
Do they love a local donut shop?  Have a favorite pizza place?  Do they want to go to stores that they don't have in their city?

Ask them and make sure to try to hit up all their favorite spots.  Offer to go pick up donuts for breakfast or make plans to have dinner at their favorite spots.  We always have favorite foods and favorite stores we like to visit when we go out of town.

3. If your out of town guests are staying with you, ask them for a little grocery list.
What foods do they or do their kids love to have around?  What do they like to snack on?

It's so nice not to have to get in town and head straight to the grocery store.  My mom and Kevin's mom are both great about asking for some grocery list items from us so that when we arrive the kids the milk they like to drink, their favorite snacks and fresh fruits.  If you are needing a lot of groceries, you could also do a grocery pick up order and ask a family member or friend to pick up your groceries before you arrive.

4. Make sure your set up is comfortable and cozy and think through transportation

Ask your guests what they need to feel at home - blankets, towels, temperature, shampoo, extra toothbrush, kid beds, alarm clock, night light, sleeping bags, etc.  Offer up lots of options and just have them accessible to guests.

We fly with car seats and end up renting cars sometimes when we travel.  We've also borrowed cars and shared cars when we are in town.  Most of our family lives about 2 hours away so we have gotten into the routine of road trips where we have our own car.  But, there were MANY years where our visits required being picked up at the airport, sharing cars when we were in town and needing a ride back to the airport.  Air travel is so expensive and we really appreciated not having to have the added expense of transportation during those grad school years.  Plus, it's a fun holiday bonus to be greeted at the airport by family and friends.

5. Ask your friends and family when YOU can travel to see THEM.

We travel for most holidays and birthdays so it's a treat when family asks to come visit us.

We pick some holidays to stay home, but we love to celebrate with family and have made the choice to travel regularly to see them.  We have had lots of fun day trips over the years when people are passing through our city or are excited to come and see where we live.  We have been visited by former students, family, friends, church friends, etc.  Sometimes it's just a quick meal together and other times it's an overnight stay.  We love having guests come to us!  It's so fun to show the people we love our home, our city and visit with them in our space.

What other things would you add to my list??

We had an unexpected day off of school so my mom and sister offered to come up and spend the day with us yesterday!  It was wonderful

Cute cousins