Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The thrill of the hunt....

I was raised in a family of hunters.  Not animal hunters but bargain hunters.  My parents were big on garage sales, thrift stores, swap meets, church bazaars, antique stores, etc.  I spent hours and hours as a kid looking around for treasures with my parents.

The thrill of finding a bargain has not left me; although I now prefer to hunt more in Nordstrom and less in garage sales. :)

Which brings me to why I am writing today.  I have discovered a store called DownEast Home.  There is a store up in North Phoenix that carries furniture (their line), clothing and hundreds of personalized Pottery Barn Kids items at incredibly rock bottom prices (ie - PBK lunch box/bag for $5.99!).    

I spent over an hour digging through piles and stacks and baskets full of personalized backpacks, pencil bags, towels, suitcases, etc looking for my little girl's names as well as the names of friends.  If your child has a trendy or classic name you have to check this place out.  There were so many to look through and I was able to find a few items that had our names or initials.  They have grown up brands too so I found one goodie for myself.

I ended up with a PBK lunch bag ($5.99), PBK pencil pouch ($5.99), PBK pillow case ($1.99), PBK canvas tote and a personalized leather zip bag (not sure of the brand) for only $23 total!

So if you live in my area or have a DownEast Home near you check them out.  

You're welcome.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Fisher Price Friday - 2016 Dept 56 Christmas Ornaments

For the last few years I have shared on my blog the current Fisher Price ornaments available.  In 2015 and 2014 they were created by Department 56.  Before that it was Hallmark and a couple other places.

This year Department 56 released ten more ornaments this summer but....I'm not impressed.  Except for a couple they're not very innovative, rather repeats with slight variations of past ornaments.

Department 56 ornaments already pale in comparison to the ornaments previously produced by Hallmark and Basic Fun. They are made of heavy resin and have limited detail and no movement.  However, they are better than nothing since no one else has produced vintage Fisher Price toy ornaments since Hallmark stopped in 2012.

Here is a closer look of the 2016 Department 56 ornaments.  I usually take photographs of them next to the original toys or similar ornaments but as I said before I'm not super excited about them and haven't decided whether I want to spend $15-$20 (each) on them.  

First up the "Chatter Phone".  This is very similar to their 2013 version except this one has a bow on top.  Since I already have 4 other Chatter Phone ornaments I'm not convinced that I need this one too. :)

L to R - Basic Fun, Dept 56 (2013), Hallmark and Fisher Price


Next up is the "Baby Blocks 2016".  This one is a unlike prior ornaments and is double sided.  It doesn't shout out vintage Fisher Price but it is cute.  I'm considering adding this one to my collection.

This one is called the "Toy Chest Personal Ornament".  Personally I think it looks like a copy of Basic Fun's 2006 Toy Chest.  Except this version is polyreisin (Basic Fun is made of plastic) and has Baby's First Christmas written on the outside.  I'm going to pass.  It is the most expensive of the 10, costing $20.

Three ornaments using the Rock a Stack were introduced this year (four if you count the rock a stack in the toy chest ornament).  This version has the familiar Rock a Stack with tinsel around it and a star on top.  It is very similar to their unadorned 2013 Dept 56 version.  The other two will be shown below, they are accompanied by elves. :)

This years Xylophone ornament may make it onto my tree since it is fashioned cleverly like a sled.  This is a more intersting version than their original 2013 Xylophone.

This years Corn Popper is also different enough that I may consider paying the $15.  It looks like it is made of candy cane pieces, which is similar to the Basic Fun Candy Cane Popper, but a little different. I wonder if it has any moving pieces like the Hallmark and Basic Fun versions?  I will make sure to update if I purchase it, but if it is anything like previous Dept 56 ornaments then the answer will be no.

Now last and possibly least are the final 4 Fisher Price ornaments made in 2016. 

Except for the "Little People Cake Topper" ornament the other three do not look very vintage to me.  They are also more variations of the same toys produced before (Rock a Stack & Chatter Phone).  At this point I don't think I'll be paying the $15 each.  The ornament names listed on the Dept 56 website are: Little People Ornament, Chatter Phone Elf Ornament, Little People Cake Topper and Rock a Stack Elf Ornament.  

So there you go.  The 2016 Department 56 Fisher Price ornaments.  Will you be adding them to your tree this year?

To see more Fisher Price themed ornaments check out these prior posts:

For Hallmark Fisher Price Ornaments: 

2007 - See 'N Say 
2008 - Play Family Farm 
2008 - View-Master 
2009 - School Bus 
2009 - Chatter Telephone 
2010 - Play Family Fun Jet 
2010 - Zookeeper Says 
2010 - Play Family School 
2011 - Music Box Teaching Clock 
2011 - Play Family House 
2011 - Little People Lil' Movers Fire Truck (not a vintage toy) 
2011 - Snoop 'N Sniff - Limited quantity 
2012 - Corn Popper 
2012 - Two Tune TV

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Observations of a Part Time Stay-At-Home-Mom

My job changed quite a bit when school started this month.  I went from a full-time Stay At Home Mom (SAHM) to a part-time not quite sure what to do with the rest of her day SAHM.  It feels a little like I was laid off from my job...and I miss it.  

I'm still figuring out what to do long term as I have options, you know, with my Master's Degree and all that. :)

Here are some of my observations as my day-to-day has dramatically changed.

1. I still cry (sometimes) at carpool drop off.  We're only 3 weeks in and I am getting stronger, but it is still hard walking back to my van from the Kindergarten room all alone.  I notice other parents with this reaction, so I know I'm not alone.  I never cried in prior years with my older child by the way, not because I missed her any less, but because my life was full with her little sister.

2. Carpool lane is a no-go.  This one has taken a little effort to remember, I'm so used to flying by in the left hand lane until 9am and after 3pm.  Not. Any. More.  Those were the days.

3. At the grocery store I can use the small non-child seat cart.  I can also get through MUCH quicker.  And.....I talk to myself out loud.  Does anyone else do this?  I am literally narrating my shopping TO MYSELF.  Sigh.

4. I also have an overwhelming urge to tell moms out in public with adorable cooing babies, crying/tantruming toddlers and precociously verbal pre-schoolers to enjoy these moments, because they go so so fast.  But don't worry, I hold my tongue because I remember those days and how super annoying it was when a put together (ie clean clothes and had clearly showered) woman was telling me the same thing. 

5. I can fill an entire day between carpool drop off and pickup doing errands and random things around my house. Who knew?

6. I can listen to grown-up music in the car.  You know, the ones with bad words that you don't want to explain to your rather inquisitive and perceptive child(ren).

7. I don't feel the same struggle between deciding whether to go to bed or stay up to have "me-time" since I have me-time during the day.  Therefore I'm more rested....which makes....

8. Getting up in the morning not as challenging.  I don't find myself pressing snooze as much.  More time getting us all ready in the morning means we aren't rushing out the door and I'm not having to yell at everyone!  Amazing.

9. And last but not least I am finally getting to those items on my really long to-do list that I never had the time or energy to get to before.  Items like backing up photos on an external hard drive (umm, I have just a few, ha!), making photo books for the girls (I do one every year but am about 2 years behind) and a bunch of other items.   

But to be completely honest I am also sad, because as much as I craved some time to myself I still loved my job as a full time SAHM.  I know that their growing up and becoming independent is basically the goal and inevitable, and that I can't keep having babies just to keep my full-time status (although I get why some moms do!!), but it is still a transition and I was unprepared for how different my days would be.

How much longer until summer break? ;)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Fisher Price Friday - Marvin's Invention: A Story Book

We're back to school here in Arizona so in the spirit of learning I have another Fisher Price Little People Book to share with you.  It is Marvin's Invention by Dina Anastasio published in 1987 by Marvel Books.

This fun little book is full of familiar Little People faces including Timmy, Penny, baby (with a hat) and of course Lucky (the dog).  Cousin Marvin looks familiar too, he resembles the little brown hair/glasses wearing girl from the Little People School #2550.  Perhaps that's his sister. :)

The story is about cousin Marvin coming for a visit and the havoc he caused while creating an invention in their home.  He takes pieces and parts from all over their home in order to create his super cool bubble blowing, music making, rolling robot.

Usually the Fisher Price books throw in a few familiar old toys within the pages.  This book did not have as many but I did notice the Baby's First Blocks #414.

Another familiar FP toy shown in the book on a few pages is a Puffalump toy.  We haven't collected any of these in our family but they were soft, stuffed, feather-light dolls or animals made of parachute-type materials.  They were introduced in the 1980s and came in a variety of sizes.  

They are shown in the book as toys on Timmy's bed and characters in the movie the family watched (seen driving the car in the page above).

Of course the book ends on a happy note with the family seeing all the missing objects on the invention Marvin made.  And although they take everything back Marvin does not mind and goes back to creating.

This particular book is a hit at my house because both of my girls are constantly "inventing" usually by taking things from our recycling bin or from around the house.  They can absolutely relate with this little guy.

For more Fisher Price Books Check Out:

Shape Books:

Hardcover Story Books:

Activity Books:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sending my baby to Kindergarten

Yesterday was the first day of school for our girls.  It was my youngest daughter's first day of full day Kindergarten.  She *just* turned 5 so this was a harder transition for her (or maybe me!!) than when her big sister started half day Kindergarten at almost 6 yrs old.

Like with my oldest I planned ahead to help all of us with the transition.  I talked about school for MONTHS ahead and brought it into daily conversations.  We also visited the school in the summer and went to Meet the Teacher night.  

Last weekend I rearranged their closets so both girls could reach their own clothes (my youngest used to have hers up high) and made sure they had enough school appropriate outfits.  This can be a challenge here in HOT HOT AZ as they're back to school even though it's still 100+ degrees outside.  They aren't allowed to wear thin strapped tops or dresses which is well, pretty much all they wear in this weather!

The night before school started we had a special dinner with sparkling grape juice toasts, picked out first day dresses, read 4 books about starting school and I gave my youngest a special matching necklace.  I did the same with my oldest when she started K.  She wears a necklace and I wear a matching one so that when we miss each other we can touch our necklaces and remember that the other person is missing us/thinking of us. Basically it's a cute and easy transition object (remember I used to be a therapist....using my skills people, using my skills).

  1. We Like Kindergarten - A little Golden Book from the 60s.  Honestly it isn't very relevant for school today as those little kids had nap time, juice and cookies and clay play...but still a fun book.
  2. The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing - This book was my favorite and I will admit to crying at the end.  Sigh.  Highly recommend!  
  3. Teachers are for Reading Stories by Harriet Ziefert.  We have a few books from this series (cousins, mommies, daddies, etc) and my girls loved the lift-the-flaps aspect of it.
  4. Last but not least: Katy's First Day a vintage 1970's "Tell-A-Tale" book.  I LOVE these tiny little vintage hardback books and have collected dozens for my kids.  This sweet story is about a reluctant kindergarten girl who starts out not participating in the school day but ends up loving it!  It's the cutest.  Here is another copy on Etsy.

She loved her necklace and I made sure to add an initial for my oldest to my necklace so she knew I was missing her too!  They are both birds and mine has an extra pearl added.  I purchased them from an Etsy shop rememberZEN.  

The morning of school I snuck little love notes into their lunch boxes and pennies in their pockets (as a mommy surprise).  We got to school early and I walked both of them to class.  

The Kindergarten teacher had the kids sit down in the reading circle and she read "The Night Before Kindergarten".  I mentioned that book above, it is one of the books I read the night before so I knew what to expect.  Basically the book is about a first day and how the kids were fine but the parents were surprisingly emotional and teary.  In the book the teacher reads a book and then the kids give their parents hugs and send them on their way.  

Well that was exactly what my daughter's teacher did which was both humorous and emotional.  And oh yes, I did cry as she gave me that last goodbye hug and a cheery "by mom, see you later".  

She was totally fine but I was a wreck.  It's a big transition for both of us as I no longer have any littles at home!  Boo hoo.  

They both had a great first day and I'm easing into my new normal...will keep you posted. :)

For more first day of school tips check out my oldest's Kindergarten transition back in 2013. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rocky Point/Puerto Penasco with Kids - Review and Tips

Our family spent the week before school starts down in Mexico at Rocky Point aka Puerto Penasco.  Rocky Point is a popular destination for Arizona desert dwellers as their beautiful white sand beaches are only a 4 hr drive away!  I still can't believe that this beautiful paradise is only a short road trip away.

We first discovered Rocky Point 7 years ago when our oldest was just a baby.  We stayed at Las Palomas Resort after seeing listings on VRBO.  We loved our week there so much that we returned for another week that summer only a month later!  We had planned on making it a yearly trip but were scared away for many years due to the increase in violence in the area as well as near the border. The risk didn't seem worth it to us.

Well fast forward 7 years and we were ready to try again.  The beauty of the location as well as the close proximity and budget prices helped motivate us to give Mexico another chance.

Although Rocky Point has many resorts and house rentals at or near the beach we have chosen to stay at Las Palomas Resort & Spa every time.   Las Palomas is rated #1 (out of 19) on Tripadvisor and once you've had the best why try something else? ;)

We selected our rooms each time by using VRBO.  The resort is a combination of hotel rooms and privately owned condo suites between 1-3 bedrooms for regular suites and there is at least one 4 bedroom 5000sf (!!!!) room as well.  By going through VRBO you can chose for yourself what room you want as well as the location in the buildings.  There are 2 Phases (a 3rd is being built right now).  Both Phases have ocean views but the pools are better in Phase 1 according to my girls (I agree).

Each Phase has a lazy river, swim up bar and infinity pool.  Phase 1 also has a splash/spray kids pool, regular pool and a slide (requires a tube to go down).  Phase 2 has a kids pool (super shallow) as well as a kids area with spraying animals.  

Note that the hotel DOES NOT provide inner tubes for the lazy river or any other pools.  You have to bring your own.  We did not realize this and had to buy 2 tubes from their little mini-mart store...for the low low price of $12 each.  Well worth the money and the kids were thrilled to have a couple souvenir tubes to take home.  I just wish I'd known to bring my favorite donut float. :)

  • A little tip: The store has an air pump near the register (by the ice cream freezer) that you can use to fill up the tubes MUCH quicker than the old fashioned way.  The store staff will probably not tell you about the pump, we were given the tip by another family watching my husband and I oh-so-slowly try to inflate ours poolside.

We selected a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom this trip (from VRBO listings) in the Topaz building in Phase 1.  The unit is owned by a family that happens to live near us in Phoenix.  I contacted her by email and she set up our reservation with Las Palomas.  Very simple!  You can also make reservations directly thru Las Palomas but I do not believe that you can request a specific unit, so it will be a surprise when you arrive (not our style).

Our unit was beautifully decorated with a modern beachy theme.  The unit had a master bedroom (with on-suite bathroom that included a soaking tub and separate shower), a guest room with bathroom next door, kitchen, utility room (washer & dryer), foyer (perfect for storing our inner tubes and beach toys), living room and dining room.  

The HUGE lanai had three sets of sliding doors to access it from both bedrooms and the living room.

My girls loved having their own room that just happened to include a flat screen tv with cable.  Ah heaven (we don't have cable at home).  This particular unit had 3 flat screen tvs with cable and dvd players.

Now for a little review of the resort (and traveling to Rocky Point) here is the good, bad and the ugly.

The good

  • Many sparkling clean pools and water attractions for kids (and grown ups too).
  • Warm water beach RIGHT there.
  • Every room has a view.
  • Large spacious suites with multiple bedrooms available (up to 5000 sq ft!!).
  • Large lanais, many with tables, sofas, etc.
  • Cable and wi-fi included.  Many rooms have dvd libraries.
  • No extra resort fees.
  • Covered parking in the buildings.
  • Pool hours are strictly enforced.
  • Property is clean and well maintained.
  • 2 for 1 happy hour drinks 2x a day! (2-3pm and 5-6pm)
  • You can pay for everything with American money, no need to bring or use Pesos. Also you can charge items to your room easily using the wristbands.

The bad

  • Our room had pretty cold showers.  We didn't bother asking for maintenance, so partly our fault. :)
  • Occasional rotten egg smells in our master bedroom (not sure if coming from the shower or overhead vents).  It didn't last long (just a few minutes) but we'd have to open the sliding door and turn on the fan to clear the smell.  So strange!
  • The border town as well as the area in Rocky Point leading up to the resort are run down with obvious poverty.  Once you get to the resort (through a guarded gate) everything is clean and immaculate and pretty luxe.  The contrast can be jarring and I will admit to feeling disheartened at the obvious differences between the "haves" and the "have nots".  Once you're in the resort this is easily forgotten (for better or worse) except for the prolific and polite people selling items to tourists on the beach in front of the hotel.
  • You have to wear wristbands the entire time in order to use the pools/beach and to charge to your room.  If you lose the bands they cost $10 to replace.  Broken bands can be turned in for a new band at no charge....which I happen to know since my girls broke 2 bands during the week.

The ugly

Some risk to traveling near the border; can get pulled over unnecessarily and require paying a cash "fine" to go on.  This has happened to our friends on a few occasions.  They are pulled over for "speeding" near the border crossing (Mexico side) and told that they have to pay a fine right then in order to continue.  My friends have emptied their wallets in order to keep moving, so I suggest carrying only $20 in your wallet and if you get pulled over inform the police officer that that is all you have.  It will most likely do the trick (did for my friends).

A few tips

I recommend going during the week and avoiding weekends if possible.  It was MUCH quieter and less crowded even though we were there during the high season (1st week of August).  By friday it had gotten much more crowded and the live music was LOUD although they did wind down by 10pm when the pools close.


Bring your own meals/food if possible.  The resort has a couple restaurants but since the rooms have full kitchens it is much cheaper (and easier) to just make your own.  Especially with kids b/c the kids meals are pretty limited.  I am not much of a meal planner but I did map out meals ahead and brought only the ingredients that I'd need.  I also included 3 Hello Fresh meals which were wonderful, made it soooo much easier and a little fun to try something new too.

  • A tip: Any unused fruit, vegetables and meat products brought into Mexico (or purchased there) cannot be brought back to the US.  According to the border agent "once they're in Mexico they're Mexican".  So just toss any leftovers before you head home. (If undeclared at the border and caught you risk fines).

We bought little multi-pack variety cereal boxes (I only buy them for vacations as a special treat) for breakfasts.  Also eggs, bacon and toast.  Now, coffee is a big deal to me.  I knew the room had a regular coffee maker (I'm normally a Keurig gal) so I brought some regular grounds for that but also my Starbucks Via iced coffee packs.  I found those worked best for me, super easy and only needed a bottle of water and a little creamer.  Plus iced coffee is better by the beach than hot anyway!

Speaking of bottled water; although the room had a tap with "filtered water" on the kitchen sink we decided to only drink our own bottled water (that we brought with us).  I froze a few bottles each night to use at the pool/beach the next day.  The water stayed cold and we were able to stay hydrated without buying poolside drinks (although I did get a few mommy frozen drinks at 2 for 1 happy hour!!).

  • A little tip: Don't forget to bring spices, olive oil, butter, salt & pepper and any other must-have condiments for your family.

If you eat at the poolside bar/restaurant I recommend the fish tacos, they're delicious and only $8!  For another $2 you can have a Mexican recipe coke. :)  

  • A little tip: Coke cans are only $1 in the resort store. 

The kids shared a rather large chicken nugget kid's meal (chicken and fries) for $6.  During lunchtime (12-1 I think?) they include ice-cream for free with the meal, although in our case the kids got a shirley temple since they were out of ice-cream.

A Coke with a view, now that's paradise!

The Beach

The resort has a beautiful white sand beach right on the property.  They have palm tree cabanas that are first come first serve.  I recommend going first thing in the morning as the there is more availability.  

  • A little tip: Before you drop all your belongings check out the lounge chairs, many of them are broken and don't recline correctly. 

There are many people selling items on the beach (although they have to stay outside of the boundaries the resort set up) including: sunglasses, jewelry, personalized bracelets, hair braiding, massages (RIGHT in front of everyone though, yikes!!), cigars, henna tattoos, temporary tattoos, coconut water, etc.   We noticed that there were about 4x as many people selling on the weekends as the weekdays. 

You can also have banana boat rides ($5 per person) or rent a wave runner for $40 a 1/2 hr.  7 years ago there were horse rides on the beach but during this last visit we didn't see any.

I had to wait until Friday (the weekend) to get the ice-cream popsicles that I'd remembered from 7 years ago.  They were worth the wait though!  Flavors like vanilla, strawberry, pineapple, chocolate covered, etc and only $1!!  

  • A little tip: They don't always make change so have the exact amount.  It should only be $1 each, they may try a higher amount first (happened to me). 

The beach has wonderful shells, lots of different varieties that my girls had the best time hunting for.  Beach combing is especially fun during the low tides.

They loved the "unicorn" shells the most.  They are pretty special, very different than the shells we see during our WA visits.
  • A little tip: The water is warm and shallow, which makes swimming easy and lovely no matter how far out or in the tide is!

Also Bring

  • flotation rings/devices
  • laundry soap
  • sunscreen (bring extra!)
  • Books/magazines (I recommend cheap books that you don't mind getting wet/sandy and leave them at the hotel when you're done).
  • Passports for adults and original (or certified) birth certificates for kids.
  • Mexican car insurance, can be purchased online or at towns on the way to the border.  Insurance is necessary and not very expensive.  Ours was just under $100 for 5 days (they are in 24 hr increments). 

So there you go, I hope my tips are helpful to you and your family.  We had such a great visit that we will be making this an annual event once again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A week of lasts...

It is hard to believe that our summer break is already coming to an end!  How is that possible?  And how oh how can these kids go back-to-school when it is 110+ out?

I digress.  Last week was good and long and hard and fun.  We had a bunch of "lasts" on in a row.  Here's what we did:

Last Peter Piper Pizza Summer Fun

My girls loved going to tuesdays at Peter Piper Pizza.  They offered a different themed activity each tuesday morning (before the regular store hours) which included crafts, coloring, games (sometimes) and then pizza and tokens at the end!  For only $5.49 each it was a great deal.  

Last Harkin's Summer Fun Movies

There is one more week but this was the last movie for my girls.  The Harkins Summer Fun has been a great summer destination the last few years.  For only $7 each (total!) the girls and I got to see up to 10 movies this summer on friday mornings.  We skip a few but it's still a great deal and super fun to meet friends at.  We also added swimming at our community pool with friends after and that made it an even better summer morning!

Last week of Swim Lessons

I calculated that this has been our 9th summer of Parks Department Swim Lessons!  For the low low price of $15 (each) our girls get safe and kind instructors for 2 weeks of lessons (M-Th).  It's the best deal around.  Now granted it was cooler when I was in the mommy-and-me lessons back in the day and sitting on metal bleachers in 115+ degree afternoons isn't super fun, but it's so worth it to see my girls progress in swimming.

and finally....

Last week of my Thursday Morning Mommas Group

This one is so bittersweet.  Some friends and I started this group in the late summer/early fall of 2011 so that I'd have somewhere to hang out while my oldest was in pre-school one morning a week.  We kept meeting through the summers and into the next almost 5 years!  Some moms outgrew our group and many many new babies were added and it has been a very sweet and special time for me and my youngest (and big sis during breaks).  Some of her very best friends were in this group and I can't imagine not seeing them weekly.  Sigh!

However, with my youngest starting kindergarten next week I won't need a preschool playgroup anymore.  Change, bittersweet I tell you.  

One more week of summer vacation and then we're back to school.  I'm looking forward to new things but man, that first day of school is going to be rough!

I'll be back to let you know how it goes, and to fill you in on our Kindergarden transition with the youngest.  I plan on doing some special things just like we did with the oldest 3 years ago.