Monday, July 30, 2018

Elephant Party

My daughter loves elephants.  She loves all animals, but elephants currently have her heart. Truthfully I never thought much of elephants unless there was one in the room.  Those are hard to ignore.

Did you know that elephants symbolize strength, honor and loyalty?  One of the things I've learned about elephants as I searched for party ideas.

My youngest daughter has elephant stuffed animals, toys, pictures, paintings and clothes.  For her 9th birthday she wanted an elephant party.  I went on Pinterest and found all kinds of great ideas for her party that require me to carve elephants out of watermelons.

That was all I needed to stop looking on Pinterest. I did see an idea for Nutter Butters as party snacks and that one I put to good use. 

Instead of carving watermelons into elephant heads, I went to the dollar store for baby shower products. Elephants are pretty popular for new babies.  I found an elephant garland and table decor, went to Claire's for small elephants for the girls to "adopt" and asked Sam's Club to make me an elephant cake.

My older daughter, bless her heart, made us a "pin the tail on the elephant" game.

The party, with snacks and swimming, was a hit. I now have one more year with a child in "single digits." 

I can't even. I may need another puppy.

Cheers to elephants, nine year old and Mondays. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


The older I get, I've decided I believe less in luck and more in karma. The energy you put out into the world is the energy you you receive, like a boomerang. I've seen it with my kids, my friends and the world in general.  

You reap what you sow.

I'm not saying if you're a good person you won't have heartache.  We all know that isn't the case. Life has a way of surprising us, and we go through many trials and tribulations. But your attitude through everything, and the energy you put out into the world comes back to you. I'm sure of it.

I know some miserable people. They make other people miserable and no one wants to be around that kind of energy.  I've heard them complain and cry about their luck and how they can never "catch a break."  Year after year it's much of the same and they can't see how they are behaving. They don't see their blessings as easily and they struggle to find that everyday happiness.   

I also know some people who are inherently happy. They just are.  They do favors without the blink of an eye; they offer a hand when its needed and never expect anything in return. I always refer to them as "refreshing."  They are easy to be around, they aren't complaining and they seem to just enjoy life. 

I'll be the first to say with four kids I've needed a hand more than a few times.  There is nothing better than calling a friend for a favor and rather than hearing a list of all the things they have to do before they say they'll help, they just say "no problem. I've got it."  

My third child is extremely charismatic. He has a way of letting things roll off his shoulders.  His room is a scattered mess, but he just lives in this happy bubble of oblivion.  While he's very refreshing, sometimes it's enough to make a mom nuts.  For almost thirteen years I've had mini heart attacks from being late, worrying about his never-ending sense of adventure, losing him in public places and visits to the ER. 

But he is lucky.  Good things happen to him.  He has found money on countless occasions. We'll be in the ocean and all of a sudden, "hey look, I found $10." He has many friends and he is very easy to be around. I often find myself in situations such as when I gave him money for the book fair and when I ask for my change he shrugs his shoulders and responds, "I gave it away."

My first reaction is always Why did you give it away?  And then he tells me he gave it to a much younger student who didn't have enough money for the fair, and I immediately realize I am the one in the wrong.

When we were on vacation this past spring, there was a lazy river at our resort. You had to provide your own tubes or hope to find some people left behind. We brought tubes, but we were lucky enough to have a family give us nice tubes as they were leaving the resort.  They had cupholders and headrests...the kind you can really get cozy in. 

The second day of our trip, I noticed one of our nice tubes was gone. My daughter told me my son gave it away.  I looked at him disappointed and asked him why on Earth did he give our tube away? He gave me that shrug and answered that we have plenty of tubes, and a family needed one. 

He constantly reminds me how to be a better person. 

I kid you not an hour later my son found an even nicer tube a family left behind. Life gives him back what he gives, every single time. Whether it be when he shares his snacks at lunch, funds another student's trip to the book fair or gives away our super nice tubes he always is rewarded two fold. 

This is my reminder to everyone to be refreshing.  Before you say no, think about saying yes. Open your curtains at home and let sunlight in; roll down the window in your car. Say hello to a stranger.  Do favors. Smile. Lend a hand.  

Give away a super nice pool tube when on vacation.

Life will return the favor.  I promise. 

Have a fantastic week!

Monday, July 23, 2018

King's Hawaiian French Toast

I'm a sucker for easy dinners.  We are always on the run, and anything that requires more than five ingredients isn't my cup of tea. I've said it before and I just said it again.

Being married almost 18 years, and parenting four kids, I've become accustomed to repeating myself in order to be heard. Anyone else have this issue?

In the summer, breakfast for dinner is an easy solution on those nights we are all over the place.  Last night we had summer league basketball and a sleepover.  My older son had eaten already and the rest of us were starved. 

The only issue is that my older son had eaten peanut butter and jelly, and had several sandwiches. Anyone else have a teenage boy?

Due to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich feast, the white bread for my french toast was no longer. I did, however, have a fresh package of King's Hawaiian rolls.  These sweet rolls are a staple in our house around the holidays. I immediately thought about how much I love going to a restaurant and seeing french toast on brioche bread.  Or a cinnamon roll. 

Why not french toast on King's Hawaiian rolls?  

To my delight, the recipe was a huge success. 

My favorite part is the french toast is perfect for dipping. The dinner roll sized slices go well with tiny hands, or big hands that don't want to clean utensils. 

I could eat breakfast for every meal, so this recipe will most certainly be featured plenty in our house. 

Before I begin, this is what you need to make this french toast:

King's Hawaiian French Toast

One package King's Hawaiian rolls
five large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla
cinnamon, to taste

Heat greased pan or skillet on medium heat. 

Beat first four ingredients until well blended.  Cut Kings Hawaiian rolls in halves, and coat both sides in egg mixture. Place on greased pan sprinkle generously with cinnamon. 

Cook on medium heat until lightly browned, then flip and cook other side (cinnamon as desired).  I turn the heat to low and cook about five minutes once both sides are crisp to ensure egg is cooked through.

Serve with powdered sugar and syrup. I usually add whipped cream on the side for the kids. Enjoy!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Cookie Dough Topping

It's National Ice Cream Month. Music to my ears. 

Does anyone else have a deep and sincere love for cookie dough balls on their ice cream?  Or is it just my family?

I've passed on my appreciation for ice cream to every one of my four kids. We mix flavors and try a variety of toppings. One topping we all agree on is cookie dough, and the more the merrier.

I've mentioned that going out for ice cream is expensive, and I'm a fan of making at home treats whenever possible.  Much to my family's delight, I've added cookie dough making to my repertoire.  This recipe doesn't make the buckets I need for my family, but it makes enough to top your ice cream for a few weeks. 

This can also be used to transform vanilla ice cream into cookie dough ice cream...for all you ice cream makers.

1 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

In mixer, blend first 6 ingredients (no chips) on medium speed until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.  On wax paper, spread mixture to a little less than 1/2" thick.  Freeze until firm (about 1 hour).

Remove from freezer and cut to desired size.  This will thaw quick, and I like to roll the pieces to resemble cookie dough ball topping.  But squares work too!

Happy National Ice Cream Month!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Mama's Specialties

A few years ago, I started making something I dubbed a "Mama's Specialty."  Basically our family was in a downward spiral (that I created) of going out for ice cream.  This gets very expensive.  I decided to make my own little ice cream shop in my kitchen.  My creations were more impressive than any ice cream window, and I could make several for less than $5.  

The trick behind a Mama's Specialty is the size.  It needs to look impressive.  Often this can be achieved by overfilling an 8 oz cup.  I usually use 12 oz, but that's because I know I wouldn't want any smaller myself. 

Two generous scoops (minimum), drizzled chocolate syrup (or marshmallow, caramel, or anything) with sprinkles, chocolate chips, cookie crumbles or other toppings need to go on the bottom of the cup AND the top of the sundae.  Add whipped cream, drizzle a little more topping over the whipped cream. 

My kids wait for their specialties these days.  My kids' friends even know about these wondrous creations.  I have a line of munchkins every time we go away on vacation with other families.  They are all waiting for their desserts. 

Making your own sundaes saves a crap ton of money when you are on vacation. Trust me, I know this firsthand.  Too often we get into the habit of thinking a special treat or a special evening needs to be outside the home.  We go out to eat, out for dessert or out for a movie.

Stay in.  You'll be surprised how much an evening in can overshadow any evening out. You'll save money and the kids will be more comfortable than if they were sitting in a restaurant.  In your living room you can wear jammies or sweats and really focus on family time.

While my kids love a special treat every night, you can make Sunday for sundaes.  Or Friday. Or whatever your heart desires.

Play it up, set the toppings out and let the kids get crazy!  If this gives you anxiety take their orders and you get crazy.

A few of my favorite toppings:

M&M's (any variety)
chocolate chips (mini are best)
crumbled cookies
chocolate syrup
caramel syrup
marshmallow (made by mixing 1/2 cup Fluff with a tablespoon of boiling hot water)
whipped cream
melted peanut butter

I've also ventured into milkshake making, and this is one of the easier desserts to surprise your kids. A few scoops ice cream (any flavor) and a cup of milk, add syrup to the cup before you pour in the milkshake, and top with a few toppings.

Happy almost weekend!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Happily Ever After...

On Saturday, my sister got married.  This was a very special occasion for me. Not only did she marry her best friend and soul mate, I found him on the sidelines of my son's football scrimmage three years ago.


The short story of the long story is my sister was living with me after moving back east.  While I love her dearly, and she means the world to me, I have four kids.  My house is already full, and an extra person was starting to wear me down.  I knew she may eventually need a good reason to start looking for a place of her own, and I wondered if a good man might do the trick.

One day, at my son's football scrimmage, I saw Dan.  He is the athletic trainer at our high school, and he is adorable.  Tall, dark and handsome and even though I didn't even know his name, I wondered if maybe he would take my sister out.

And he did.  

The rest is history.

Weddings have a magical way of bringing families and friends together.  There is so much happiness and people tend to be their best when they are celebrating a new life.  Whether it be a baby or a wedding, there is something to be said about a new beginning.  

And we celebrated well this past weekend.  I had family in for several days, and seeing everyone left my heart full.  The weather was phenomenal.  Blue skies as far as the eye could see.

The venue was fitting, a barn in the countryside. We do live in rural Pennsylvania and my sister wanted to honor the lifestyle she has grown to love. From the people to the flowers to our brother officiating the ceremony, we couldn't have asked for a better day.

My children were blessed to be included in everything, which was fitting since they were involved from the beginning.  From my oldest son showing the trainer a picture of his aunt before they met, to my younger kids reading all Dan's text messages that first week, it's safe to say my kids felt they had a hand in this union as well. I can still see us laying on her bed when she would open a message, and my kids would tell her what to text back.  

My sister would calmly tell them, No, have to sit on a message for at least a few hours.  We don't want him thinking I'm sitting here waiting for him to text...

I'm laughing as I remember it, but I guess she knew what she was doing. 

On Saturday, they were thrilled to be sharing in every bit of my sister's happiness.

Look at this face..

My sister has waited a long time to find the perfect person to share her world with, and I'm feeling extra wonderful this morning knowing I had a hand in helping her.  While marriage and family isn't for everyone, when your heart desires it finding someone to start that journey with gives new meaning to the word love.

Not everyone fits the "forever" mold no matter how much we wish they did.  The good news is that when we see the happily ever after we truly know that God works in mysterious ways.  You never know where life is going to lead you.

Happy Monday all...wishing you a week full of love!

Monday, July 9, 2018

25 Activities to do with Your Kids this Summer (for under $20)

The other day I blogged about the importance of keeping kids young. We need to encourage them to play and be outside, and keep the screens off as long as possible.

We don't know who our kids are talking to and that is frightening. Smart phones are smarter than most of us, and we need to spend time with our kids to know what is happening in their lives.

Who are they talking to?
What do they like to watch on YouTube? 
What scares them?
What are they proud of?

This summer unplug and spend time together.  Ask hard questions.  Laugh.  Share memories. 

Below I'm listing 25 ways to make awesome memories this summer.  All of them for $20 or less. 

1.  Write letters to friends and family that live out of town
2.  Family tie dye night
3.  S'mores over a fire (or even a grill)
4.  Play cards
5.  Picnic in a park
6.  Family cooking lesson
7.  Family wiffle ball
8.  Bike rides
9.  Paint rocks with inspirational messages and plant them around town
10. Ice cream sundae night
11. Make a fort in the living room and sleep in it
12. Camp in the backyard
13. Plant a garden
14. Popcorn and a family movie
15. Take the kids fishing
16. Hike
17. Make a scavenger hunt in the backyard (the Dollar store has gold coins and fun prizes!)
18. Take a day trip to a state park (and pack lunch for a picnic!)
19. Catch fireflies
20. Make a playhouse out of a cardboard box (save those boxes from big deliveries!)
21. Play charades
22. Check your local craft store for project days (Michaels has different crafts for minimal cost)
23. Make a backyard water park (all you need is a sprinkler and a slide!)
24. Make an obstacle course 
25. Teach the kids a life skill (laundry/gardening/cooking/cleaning)

Enjoy your family this weekend and always! 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

This is Eight Years Old

This is eight years old.  These girls still play barbies, imagine and exchange letters and stories about being best friends.  They don't have phones and they don't play video games.  

My daughter is lucky enough to have her best friend live behind us.  They can run from yard to yard when we are home and they go home for dinner.  I learned from raising the first three that the most important thing I could do was keep my baby young for as long as possible.

This picture was right before they jumped into my pool holding hands while yelling, "friendship jump!" 

We didn't pressure our youngest to join sports, we didn't sign her up for tons of classes and activities.  Other than a club once a week after school she was free to do as she pleased.  It kept her carefree and gave her time at home to play.  Yes she was dragged to several activities for her older siblings, but that taught her how to wait.  

She knows how to be patient and that is a skill most adults still need to acquire.

In a world where kids seem to have just about everything they don't need (phones, video consoles) its ironic to me that many kids don't have what they do need.  

Responsibility. Attention. Time to be kids. 

Keep your kids young.  Resist the urge to buy them the newest phone or the best video game. You may be surprised to see they'll find something else to do. I've fallen into the trap of giving my kids electronics, and luckily they're still involved in sports and school and love to be outside.  

But there are many days I need to remind them that video games are the last thing they should be doing. 

We've moved a couple times, and every time it took a few days to set up internet and television. I remember what a struggle it was that first day. By the end of the second day, I realized we really didn't need any of it.  The kids found other ways to occupy their time and I did as well.  

It was like magic. 

This summer unplug.  Get outside.  Limit the data on the phones. Life passes us by while we're staring at screens, and we need to lead our kids by example. Our kids will find ways to be kids, and if they need help:

Build a fort
Make S'mores
Tie Dye shirts
Ride Bikes
Sleep in a tent in the yard
Write letters and mail them

Happy July 4th week!  Spend time together!

Monday, July 2, 2018

And then there were puppies...

Something happened to me when we decided we weren't having more babies. I got into puppies.
I'll add that I could have had at least one more baby.  Maybe two.  I love the baby snuggles and diaper butts.  The chaos babies and large families bring does not deter me one bit.  I'm like a moth to a flame.

When I was growing up, my parents had so many pets I swore I'd never have a pet.  They were so much work.  We had birds, dogs, guinea pigs, chinchillas and ferrets.  My skin still crawls remembering all the squawking and barking. Those days gave me my current appreciation for quiet.

My sister can't believe how quiet my house is with four kids and three dogs. I've worked hard for the harmonious space I call home.

As an adult, my stance on pets has changed.  They are work, but they also provide us with many laughs and great companionship. Our pets have taught my kids how to care for a living creature, which is not an easy task. We brought our first dog home eleven years ago, a french bulldog/pekingese mix (a Bullnese).  She has been (and continues to be) a phenomenal family dog.

Three years ago, when the pang of no more babies was settling in, a friend of ours brought Pomeranian puppies to my son's baseball game.  Have you ever seen Pomeranian puppies?  They are like live stuffed animals. My heart about melted and that weakness landed me with another puppy. 
With two dogs and four kids, life was full.  Our Pomeranian was difficult for a year (please always remember this...they are work!) but she is now the sweetest most well behaved little pup.

A few months ago I had that urge to add another...I thought a big dog would be a nice change of Enter Blu.  A Boxer/Newfoundland mix that has totally stolen my heart.

Can you even?  That face. This girl is a dream. 

Blu loves digging in dirt, wet kisses, bullying the Pomeranian, going for walks and finding big sticks.  She is the perfect pup to complete our large crazy family.  

Puppy love.  Not the same as baby love, but I'll take it. 

And for anyone who wonders about our senior citizen Bullnese, you can follow her on Instagram courtesy of my oldest son.  He is kind of pup obsessed as well. 

5 SIMPLE Steps to Planning a Disney Vacation

The one thing I've gathered from just about everyone who has ever tried to plan a trip to Disney World is that its overwhelming.  It's a huge undertaking and by the time their vacation rolls around, they are just praying they can figure everything out when they get there.

For families who have never been, planning a trip to Disney World is intimidating.  I understand it, because every time they make an update to their system even I get a little concerned I won't "get it" when I get there.

The truth is, while there are thousands of planning articles, websites and books Disney World is not as difficult as it seems.  Even reading through my own posts (which I try to keep simple) I realize there is so much information it gets confusing.  

Here is a step by step breakdown of how to plan a trip.  I have made this as simple as possible, leaving you plenty of room to read other articles and gather more information about specific activities.  

This is not a guide on all the rides, restaurants and parks.  I have plenty of other posts that highlight the best and easiest ways to navigate Disney World.  This post will focus 100% on planning the trip.

Once you have the week you want to vacation, pick it up from here...

1.  Hotels 

Inside Disney World, there are many options as far as park passes and hotels. ALL Disney hotels are clean and kid friendly.  The "value" resorts have less amenities (rooms are smaller, no restaurants on site) but they are still fabulous.  Your hotel will mostly depend on what you want to spend.

An overview:

"Deluxe" resorts are closest to the theme parks, have more transportation options (monorail, boat, bus) and more restaurants.  These resorts are expensive, truly five star and offer the most as far as amenities.

"Moderate" resorts have bus only to major theme parks. There are less restaurants but overall the resorts are still top notch and everything from rooms to pools will please most travelers.  Cost is more affordable but will still be expensive for many families.

"Value" resorts have smaller rooms and the buses may take a little longer to get to the parks. There are no restaurants, only cafeteria style dining (which is fine with most families).  Pools are still impressive and there is plenty for families to enjoy. These resorts are popular for spring break college kids because of the prices and families with young children because of the themed rooms and decor.

"Villa" resorts are the timeshare resorts. You can choose between studio, one, two and even three bedroom villas.  There are full kitchens and these are fabulous for families traveling with grandma and grandpa. They are similar to the deluxe resorts as far as amenities and price.

Once you booked a reservation make an account on My Disney Experience.  This website (and app!) keeps track of all your plans and gives you reminders to book dining and fast passes. More on that later. 

Tip: Look for deals in the summer and fall months with free dining or free passes for families staying in certain resorts.

2. Park Passes

You can buy passes for one park a day or multiple parks a day (park hoppers). If you have young children (5 or younger) I would NOT park hop unless you have a loose budget. Small kids tire quickly and you can always visit the same park morning and night. Park hopping is suitable for older kids or families preferring to experience all four parks in less than four days. 

You will get magic bands in the mail for your trip.  Everyone gets a band. You can customize them on My Disney Experience. These will have your park passes on them as well as your dining plan. You use them to get into your room, the park and eat.  More on dining below. 

3. Dining

*You do NOT have to have a dining plan. You can bring food into the parks. Most everyone has a stroller, and food is easily stored underneath.  If you have a villa or a fridge and microwave in your room you can easily eat cereal and other quick meals in your room. In the parks, buy two meals for four kids and have them share, supplementing with snacks you bring into the parks.**

Dining plans are expensive but extremely convenient. You receive a refillable resort mug for everyone ages 3 and up, which is very handy for the resorts. 

Deluxe Dining - This includes so much food and is so expensive I won't even discuss it. Unless you are traveling with only adults, skip. 

Disney Dining - This is the one snack (think kiosk type food), one quick service (counter like a food court) and one sit down meal (restaurant) a day for everyone in your party. You get your money's worth, but it is still pricey. More on this option here:

Disney Standard Dining Plan

Quick Service Plan - Two quick service meals a day and two snacks a day for everyone in your party. This is more than enough food, just not as fancy.  You won't be dining with Cinderella, but you also will have more time to be at the pool or in the parks. More on this plan below.

Disney Quick Service Plan

For your reference a snack could be a hot pretzel or a milkshake.  It could also be a banana.  Use all your food credits wisely. 

Your dining credits (how many meals you purchase) will be loaded onto your magic bands. 

4. Book Your Meals

If you opted for quick service, you can skip this section.  Unless you want to enjoy one meal in a restaurant (which I do recommend).  You can book dining reservations 180 days before your trip. Book reservations on My Disney Experience and make sure you plan meals accordingly if you are NOT park hopping.

You can change reservations if you desire.  If I don't get the restaurant and time I want I check several times a week to see if a time has opened up.

5.  Set Your Fast Passes

This is also done on the My Disney Experience app. If you are staying inside the Disney resorts, you can make your selections up to 60 days in advance of your trip.  If you are staying outside Disney this can be done 30 days before your stay (with the advance purchase of a park ticket).

My advice is to set Fast Passes starting at 10am or later.  Anything before 10am is usually not worth it because lines are manageable.  You may wait for 45 minutes, but lines in the afternoon and evening can be hours long for popular attractions.

To start, you get three fast passes per person.  Obviously if you want to stay together you set all people with the same selections.  However, when you get older kids that enjoy coasters and haunted mansions, you may want to consider splitting up.  I send dad with the daring kiddos and I choose a ride nearby.

For more information on Fast Passes click here.

For more planning tips, and all my best Disney advice, visit my Disney Tips and Tricks page!