Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer Sisters

I recently saw a blog post on Nienie dialogues about her big-girls and all the sister things they do.  It inspired me to write about my own sisters, although they're a lot younger at age 5 (*almost* 6) and 9.  We're almost halfway through summer and this is what I live/hear/survive/enjoy most days. :)



They laugh
They swim
They play Lego's
They play hairdresser
They do piano duets
They argue
They fight
They make up
They sing
They dance
They play little people
They create messes (aka projects)
They eat Popsicles
They read
They talk instead of sleeping

They sister

So far summer is going fantastically!  We have more adventures ahead including our trip to visit grandma in WA for the 4th of July.  As much as I love living here in Phoenix I will admit that the summers do get a *tad* hot and it's nice to have a break in cold and wet Washington and to stay in the tiny beach cottage.  I'm sure I'll have some photos to share, stay tuned!



Thursday, June 22, 2017

Where to stay and eat in Springfield (Zion) with Kids

We're almost half way through our summer break and we've already had a few adventures.  First up was our family road trip to Zion National Park!  I planned ahead for the many hours in the van by making activity bags.  They pretty much got us smoothly to our destination(s).  Now for where we stayed when we got there!

Our favorite resort (Cable Mountain Lodge) was booked so this time we had to try someplace new.  We ended up staying at two different hotels/resorts during our week there.



We spent the first two nights at the La Quinta Inn & Suites at Zion Park/Springdale.  We stayed in a Family Suite that included two rooms and a kitchenette (small fridge & microwave).

Pros

  • Kids got to sleep in bunk beds (built in) which they loved.
  • The bed was comfortable.
  • FREE Breakfast!!  I liked the waffle maker, kids loved the cereal.  
  • New (4 yr old) hotel in a great location in the middle of town.
  • Kids LOVED the swimming pool it had water features, shaded areas (not in the pool) and amazing views.

Cons

  • No elevator.
  • Balcony/Patio area isn't private, people walk right by. Same with the windows looking out, all have people walking by.
  • Limited views from the rooms.
  • Coffee is not-so-great.
  • Wi-fi isn't very strong.


As a result of the lack of view, tiny fridge and wi-fi we switched accommodations after 2 nights.  My husband found us a sweet last minute deal on a beautiful vrbo in town called the Watchman Villas.  It was quite luxurious compared to the La Quinta and we were comfortable for the next 2 nights. 

Pros
Beautiful huge 2 bedroom condo with full kitchen (and another 1/2 kitchen), 2 bathrooms, private balcony, free laundry and faster Wi-fi.

Only Con is that it would have normally cost 2x what La Quinta did.  So look into last minute bookings when possible  It also didn't have a pool but we could have used the pool at a sister property.

Both properties were right on a Zion Park/Springfield shuttle bus line.  You can catch a bus that takes you to the park entrance (for free).  My girls enjoyed the bus and it ran pretty frequently.  The were usually packed, so be prepared to stand.

While we stayed in Springdale we explored the shops and found a few fun things to do.  Our kids are really into rocks right now so we looked at a few of the rock shops in town (there are at least 3!). Our favorite was Zion Prospector: 694 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale UT.  



We spent over an hour looking around the shop at all the different rocks, fossils and beautiful stones.  They have the biggest selection!  Then as if that wasn't enough fun we paid for the kids to have a "sloush-jar".  They had the best time sloushing and looking for treasures in the jar.  We ended up with so many beautiful stones and objects (shark teeth).  The kids LOVED it.  

And of course no trip is complete without an ice-cream cone!  We found ours at the Springdale Candy Company.

Family Dinners

There aren't many restaurants in Springdale, especially family friendly with gluten-free choices.  We're a bit picky. :)  These three had options for us and at each dinner at least 75% of us were happy!

  • Bamboo Chinese Restaurant: Had lots of options and we ended up with leftovers!  The water was tasty too.
  • Blondies Dinner: This kitschy diner had a relaxed atmosphere and lots of comfort/diner food.  My kids appreciated the chicken tender/fries (ah kids) and I had yummy sliders.  There were also salad choices for the gluten-free.  An aside, they introduced us to "Utah Sauce" a popular condiment that is a mixture of ketchup and mayo.  We are all about it now!
  • MeMe's Cafe: My favorite restaurant!  This lovely restaurant had all day crepes (savory and sweet), wine, fresh squeezed OJ, espresso and regular food too.  The kid's meals included fresh fruit and the crepes could be gluten-free.  Love love!

Stay tuned, I'll be back with information on our favorite family Zion hikes and also our family UTV adventure!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Fidget Cube or Knock Off? A Side by Side Comparison!


Fidget Cubes and spinners are taking over the planet!  It's the Giga/Nano pet of this generation.  At least this one doesn't require batteries. :)

We looked into getting a Fidget Cube for our fidget friendly family.  Let's just say I've broken many a pen while fidgeting with the clip portion.  And my kids and husband wanted to try them too.



We bought our first Faux-Fidget at a local itsugar store for $9.95.  We planned on giving this one to our 9 year old daughter to use.



Then a week later I ordered my husband the original Fidget Cube from the inventor of the product.  This project started on Kickstarter and the inventors raised over $6.5 Million (so far) of their original $15k goal.  Wow!  You can now purchase the original Fidget Cube from that company for $22 (mine was $25 with tax/shipping).  So...it's a lot more than the knock-off cube.

So how do they compare?  Let's look at them side by side.



They look almost exactly the same at first glance.  Both have the same features which include: Click, Glide, Flip, Breathe, Roll & Spin.  Both of the fidgets have a similar weight although the original one feels a bit more solid and is a bit smaller. 

Although they are very similar each has a benefit over the other.  The Fidget Cube has a smooth spinning circle (top R photo) while the knock off barely moves.  However, the knock off spinning circle (bottom R) both spins and clicks (pushes down) while the Fidget Cube only spins.

So which do we like better?  Well the family is divided, 1/2 like the original and 1/2 the knock off.  So save your money and get the cheaper one! :)



Monday, June 5, 2017

Road Trip Bags for School Aged Kids (aka how to reduce travel bickering)

Do you have summer road trip plans?  Ready to pack up your family and hit the open road?  It's all fun and games until the kids keep whining and the radio won't pick up a decent signal.  Or maybe that's just me?



I've shared other traveling tips in the past and now my sweet angels (ah-hem) are both school aged (5 3/4 and 9 1/2 yrs old). In preparation for a week long trip this summer that includes 3 separate (!!!) days of driving I prepared the following keep-em-busy-organized-and-fed bags.  Perhaps I should call it a KEBOAFB instead.  Hmm, still not working.  I'll have to think about that some more.l

Anyhoo, I have been preparing these bags-of-fun (ooo that's better) for a while now; picking up goodies at the Target Dollar Spot, dollar stores, clearance sales, etc.  





The bags are personalized for each of my precious pumpkins from Shutterfly using free codes so I only had to pay shipping.  They ended up costing $5.50 each.  Well worth it to me as they're:

1. Adorable
2. Fold able
3. Reusable
4. Easy to figure out which goes to which child! (aka no fighting)



Inside each bag I included (so far)

-new book(s)
-activity book(s)
-candy
-art supplies
-sticky note books ($1! on clearance)
-activity to do at the hotel (growing dinosaur eggs)
-a couple child specific goodies



Other things to remember/consider packing for road trips include:

*Game player packet w/charger (or extra batteries) and games.
*Headphones 
*pillows/blankets to get cozy
*ipods/ipads with individual playlists and games


I found this fantastic road trip book a couple months ago and put it away for this trip.  It has activities and car games to help make the trip more interactive.  You could also get car bingo or other road-trip specific books/games for travel. 





And don't forget snacks!  I made bags for each day of travel that were clearly marked.  And yes, I'm keeping Day #2/#3 somewhere else since my kids are awesome but not super-human.  If they had all the snacks in a bag they would eat them!



For travel friendly car snacks I recommend:

-Apple Sauce
-Snack Bars (I'm all about fruit/nuts lately, protein for the win!)
-Gummy Bunnies
-Hard candies (they can take awhile to eat, careful with the smaller kids for choking hazards)
-Pretzels (less messy than crackers)
-Nuts
-Fruit Tape
-Jelly Beans
-clementines

And don't forget to pack in a separate cooler:

-Cheese Sticks
-Yogurt Sticks (freeze them first if possible)
-sandwiches
-juice boxes/water bottles
-cubed meat chunks
-apple slices

You get the idea.  The more you pack ahead the less junk you'll be tempted to buy at a random 7-11 with questionably clean restrooms and selections that only included beef jerky, cheese in a can or candy bars that are most likely expired.  Just saying.

Now I'm not a travel scrooge, we'll plan stops for Slurpee's and M&M's here and there, I just prefer that the snacks be more healthy and less $$ if possible.

I plan on putting the bags-oh-fun in their carseats the morning that we take off.  I'm excited to see their reactions but preparing myself for the inevitable "no fair she got _____".  Sigh.  

ETA: Guess what they were a hit and I didn't hear them say "no fair"!!  Hooray. 

For more travel trips check out:

Road Trips with Babies & Pre-Schoolers
Traveling with a Toddler - Airplane Activity Kits
Drugging Your Kids and Other Ways to Survive a Red Eye Flight
Disneyland with Small Children - Tips and Tricks

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Donut Mind If I Do




















We had a fantastic National Donut Day yesterday. Did you pick up any freebies?  I ended up buying a dozen donuts plus a package of donut holes to share with our friends.  Then we had a fun morning at the pool. Perfect!

But all this donut talk had me thinking about non-edible donuts and I found the best/funniest items.  I just had to share them with you.  



1. Kinda Care Kinda Donut by ThisIsMyYearGear on Etsy for $20. 
2. Printed Cactus Donut beach towel from Target.  Only $9.89!  
3. Donut Shopkins Pillow from Target.  My youngest would LOVE this! $19.99
4. Donut Give Up Tank by SuzySquats on Etsy for $23.99

Love those donuts!  I have got to get that awesome donut + cactus towel, perfect for Arizona.  

I'm going to try out some new gluten free donut recipes and will come back and post them soon.  This may be the summer of donuts!

Friday, June 2, 2017

National Donut Day

Happy National Donut Day!  Yes it's a thing, I promise.  I've even blogged about it in the past.  Today you can celebrate all the yummyness that is a fried dough with delicious toppings. Yes!


To be honest most of the donuts we eat these days are made at home from scratch, but a donut here and there won't do any harm.  Especially if they're FREE!

Where to get freebies today?  Why I'm glad you asked:
  • Dunkin' Donuts: free classic donut with any beverage purchase.
  • Fractured Prune: free OC Sand donut.
  • Krispy Kremeany free donut (not just the classic ones like every other day).
  • LaMar's Donuts: any free donut & a cup of coffee.  You'll need to bring a printed golden ticket to redeem the offer.
  • Rainbow Donuts: free donut with any beverage.
  • Desert Donuts: free donut with purchase.

Hooray for donuts!  Go get one or two and celebrate.  If you want to make your own try my easy (baked) recipes!



For more info on National Donut Day including the official history check out my entry from last year: National Donut Day 2016.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Lavender Flavored TODDY? Why Yes, don't mind if I do.


It is true that I'm a *tiny* bit obsessed with coffee.  Although I have favorites (Hello Keurig!) I still find myself trying out new ways to make it.

So far I have at home:
I've also done Cold Brew by using mason jars.  In the summertime I prefer iced drinks and I found that my previous low-budget Cold Brew method wasn't reliable (didn't turn out well consistently).  I can use my Keurig for iced by putting less coffee (6oz instead of 8) over ice but I do love me some Cold Brew.


At a friend's suggestion I ordered the Toddy from Amazon and it's A-MAZING.  Made delicious, consistent cold brew that stores easily in my refrigerator.  I add a little nutpods non dairy creamer, ice and water and I'm all set.  

Or if I want a little more flavor I use my homemade Lavender Simple Syrup.  I adore Lavender so this syrup is a special treat and was super easy to make!

Lavender Simple Syrup

2 cups filtered water
2 cups organic sugar
2 Tbsp dried lavender (food grade)

Bring to a boil all of the ingredients on the stove, stirring occasionally.  Once the sugar is dissolved remove from heat and let the mixture cool.  Once cool strain through a fine sieve into a jar.  Mixture will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

I just added a small bit to my coffee as I've been cutting back on my sugar.  But even a little goes a long way.  And a bonus, my house smelled like lavender for awhile after making the syrup!



I highly recommend the Toddy, NutPods (creamy and dairy free!) and my syrup.  Two of the three are available at Amazon!

Now if you'll excuse me, mama needs another cup of coffee.  It is the fuel of summer break. :)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday School Teacher Thank-you Gift


This time of year means lots of thank-yous.  When thanking teachers don't forget your Sunday School teachers!  Our kids promoted to the next school grade this weekend so I had the kindergarteners make this project on their last Sunday before promotion.  Then I dropped it in the mail for their teacher as a sweet surprise.



I had the kids each write on a 3x5 card a note, drawing or thank you for their teacher and then sign it.  I took a few photos of the kids including a funny group shot.



When I got home my daughter and I picked out a few photos and made copies on our super cool Polaroid Zip Mobile printer (LOVE that thing)!  We added a few sheets with photos, punched a hole in the pages and added a ring.  (You could print regular photos out as well)




Voila a cute (and easy) teacher appreciation gift!  


*You could also add a gift card, art supplies and/or flowers.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Vintage Fisher Price + Shopkins + Trolls = Creative Play


My kids are pretty organized in their play, using one type of toy at a time.  Perhaps they get that from their mom...I may be a *tiny* bit OCD. ;)  


So I was surprised and a bit delighted to find them playing with different toy types recently.  I'd find Trolls in the Play Family Castle #993 and Shopkins in the Play Family House #952.  


Then last week after we pulled out the Lift & Load Railroad #943 I found that my little one added her Shopkins to the party.  

Love. It.

How do your kids add the 1970/80s to the 2010's? :)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Last Day of School: Before/After Photos (a mama can't help herself)

Last Day of School and the First Day of School

Today was my girl's last day of school.  It's been a long and sometimes hard year (for me!!) but they've had a fantastic time.  So Kindergarten/3rd Grade is in the books and we're onto 1st/4th grade in....2.5 months.


So how did I spend my last morning of school, why having breakfast with my best friend of course. 




We've got lots going on this summer; trips, swimming lessons, camp, play-dates and a few surprises!  I need to work on my Summer Plan board!  But first, an afternoon with the kids and a swim play-date tomorrow morning.  

Welcome Summer!

Monday, May 22, 2017

End of the Year Teacher Gifts - Pinterest for the win!

Ah Pinterest, I have a bittersweet relationship with you.  Projects look so shiny, beautiful and easy.  Teacher Gifts are so clever, complicated and...time consuming.  Yet your siren song calls me year after year.

That said I decided to improve on a past Pinterest Teacher Gift by making it bigger and better.  Sigh.  I thought I'd take my go-to "Thanks for Helping Me Bloom" gift (don't judge it's a classic) and fancy it up with some extra decorations and pizazz.



Here's how it ended up looking.  I think it's a Pinterest win and it was actually pretty easy!

This is what we did:

1. We bought a potted flower/plant (kids picked out) and asked the florist for a few extra floral sticks.
2. Had the kids make flowers out of construction paper and stuck on a photo of them (from my nifty Polaroid Zip - coolest toy ever!).
3. Added a gift card (or 2 or 3 depending on how challenging your kid was this year) on another stick.

4. Had the kids write thank-you cards and stuck those on sticks too.  Bonus if your cards are personalized like my daughter's (from Shutterfly, how cute are they???).

5. Have the kids fill out an adorable "my favorite" fill in the blank form for their teacher.  My girls LOVED doing this.  I found 2 different sheets since I had a K and a 3rd grader.  Fold them up and put it on you guessed it, another stick.

6. Don't forget to add a parent thank you note too!  I wrote my notes on the back of the construction paper flowers.

7. Last but not least add a pretty bow, or decorate the actual pot for extra credit, super special Pinterest Parents have their kid's hand prints painted on the side, just saying.

Voila, a lovely end of the year gift!

What do you think?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Fisher Price Friday - Lift and Load Railroad


Today I have a new (old) set to share with you, the Fisher Price Lift & Load Railroad #943.  Made between 1978-1979 this was the second of the Lift & Load sets produced.  The #942 Lift & Load Depot was first produced from 1977-1979.  The third set in the series was the Lift & Load Lumber Yard #944 from 1979-1981.

This is the final of the three sets that we added to our collection.  I bought it as a Christmas gift for my youngest and it is a perfect addition to the other two!  But more on that in a bit.


The Lift & Load Railroad came with quite a few pieces (24), many of them exclusives to the set.  The set came with a total of 7 track pieces; 4 curved pieces and 3 short straight tracks.  

The base looks similar to the Lift & Load Depot but has the addition of a built in track.  It also included a crane that moves side to side, a platform that tilts up to load cargo, a removable orange ramp and a "cage" that moves by a crank.  



The accessories that came with the set included 3 little people figures, a train engine, flat car, green forklift, ramp, 7 pieces of cargo and a cage.  I've read conflicting reports on whether there were variations to any of the pieces, one source said no and the other said the crates could be brown or tan (as shown).  

The little people construction figures included the two tall ones shown above and a third that looks just like the small guy but is regular height.  I looked EVERYWHERE but couldn't find him in our playroom this morning.  I'm sure he'll appear once I post this entry. :)

We have quite the pile of people (this isn't even all of them) but I didn't see him.  Do you? 😆

The set came with 8 pieces of cargo: 4 light orange shipping pallets, 2 black oil drums and 2 grey crates with wood slats molded into the side.  All of the cargo pieces are made of plastic.  The orange pallets were exclusive to this set, three different sets used brown pallet versions. 

The coolest and most exclusive piece is the train engine.  It is a wind up train that has an on/off switch.  The engine can go around the track up to 4 times according to what I've read, but I've experienced more like 2-3x.  The problem with these engines is that it's hard to find one that actually works!  It took 4 tries (!!!) to get one that wasn't overwound.  

The train can also be pushed manually by a child but that's not quite as fun as watching it go on its own. 

Our train makes a...high pitched sound but I like to think it makes it more authentic.  Check out my video to see what I mean.  Does your train sound like this too?


These are almost 40 year old toys and through the years overly enthusiastic children have broken the windings which from what I can tell are unable to be fixed.  If you know how to fix the engine I recommend posting a how-to video on youtube for the rest of us. 

Now for a closer look.  The orange ramp is an exclusive, not to be confused with a similar yellow ramp that came with the #944 Lift & Load Lumber Yard.  It is removable and helps the forklift get onto the deck for easy loading/unloading.

The train flat car has a yellow base that lifts up.  The flat car can load here where the forklift is or inside the tunnel from the cage.


Here you can see the orange cage in action.  The cage moves back and forth with the orange crank.  

The cage is a set exclusive and although it looks similar to the yellow cage from the Lift & Load Depot they are actually quite different.

This orange cage is removable and attaches to an orange plastic ball.


One end of the tunnel/base piece has a orange platform that tilts up to help unload.  


Although the set is fun on it's own it is even more fun with our other Lift & Load sets.  I keep them organized (sort of) in a big basket in the playroom.


Doesn't that look fun?!  Now if I could just find that missing construction worker.....


Lift & Load Lumber Yard #944
Lift & Load Depot #942
Dump Truck #342

For more Trains check out: