Sunday, October 20, 2013

getting ready for Halloween!

Of all of the Halloween traditions, Vivi was probably most excited about carving pumpkins. I don't have many of my own childhood pumpkin carving memories except for the fondness I felt for digging out the guts and roasting the seeds. This year, we opted to let the girls take a more active role (read: Vivi took an active role. Charlie was more interested in helping out in the kitchen than in carving.) by using kid-friendly Pumpkin Masters kits.

The kits come with stencil-like pictures and safer cutting instruments. I must admit that even though there's nothing particularly safe or fun about my usual sharpie pen/steak knife method, I was skeptical about adding new elements to our pumpkin-carving routine. I guess it's just that rituals are ingrained, and cursing while I look around the junk drawer for tea lights and a mostly worn down sharpie is part of that ritual.

Having said all that, there is much to be lauded about this alternative. Nate effortlessly carved two pumpkins in about 15 minutes, then we plopped in two blinking lights (also by Pumpkin Masters) and called it a day. No sharpies, steak knives, or tea lights involved!

The best part for the girls was that each kid got to choose a design for their own pumpkin, which beat my standard approach of scrawling boring, misshapen jack-o-lantern faces without their input. They beamed at the finished results, and even if Nate did still do the lion's share of the job, the girls felt involved. For me the best part about the kits, apart from ease and safety, is that we can store and use them for years to come, making the whole experience a frugal one!

In case you'd like to go pro and share your results, you can join up with the Pumpkin Masters Carving Contest. Here's info about that:

Pumpkin Masters is searching for carving talent as part of its annual Pumpkin Masters Carving Contest. Share a pic of your carving via Instagram or Twitter with #PumpkinMasters2013, submit via the Facebook app or send via email to: to enter for the chance to win one of six prizes, including $5,000 for the Best Pumpkin. The contest runs through October 31, 2013. For Contest details and official rules, go to: (be sure to use this specific URL when linking to the contest!).
{Author's Note: Here are posts I wrote about Halloween in past years: Horsie CutenessDIY Holiday FunYEE-HAlloween!Wonder Woman's Beauty Secrets}

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

the star of our show

Yes, that is a pretzel ornament behind Vivi. What can I say? We kinda like food.

Christmas is right around the corner, and Genevieve couldn't be more excited about it. My mom is in town to celebrate with us, and she mercifully allowed the overjoyed child to open one of her gifts early.  It was a box full of dress-up clothes, and Vivi got to work right away accessorizing herself with boas and frills. A girlier girl has never existed, nor one who is more anxious to step out on a stage somewhere. She's the yin to her wallflower sister's yang, and being a bit of a wallflower myself, it's a hoot to play the role of stage mother to one of my own flesh-and-blood offspring. What a ham!

Macy's sent me a cool heart ornament, made specifically for #CleverHaiti bloggers, so I could share their charitable Heart of Haiti collection with you on the blog. Macy’s Heart of Haiti initiative upholds the belief that “trade not aid” is a powerful way to create needed financial opportunities in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The campaign employs artisans to create home decor items and features recycled and sustainable goods made almost entirely from bags, cardboard, oil drums and local wood. Rather than solely offering a one-time financial contribution, the program provides dignity of work and economic self-determination.

And guess what? They gave me two ornaments! I'd love to give away an ornament to one of you. If you'd like to have it for your holiday decorations, just leave me a comment below this post about the stars in your life, and I'll select a commenter randomly. I'd love to hear about what's happening in your neck of the woods!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own. #CleverHaiti

Thursday, November 29, 2012

rocking out with the fam

This post is brought to you by The New Santa Fe from Hyundai. Think your family rocks? Show us by uploading a photo of your family rocking out. Enter now for a chance to win great prizes.

Rocking out while mommy cooks.

Music is not only a part of our lives every day but nearly every second. Singing songs passes the time in so many occasions, especially when we're stuck in traffic or in a long line at a store. My girls love nothing more than belting out a tune with mom and dad. I notice that it can make them happier and calmer, and it helps my mood too. One verse of "What a Wonderful World" or "Three Little Birds," and I can't help but relax a bit.

I've written about our love of music before (including some tips for great kids music), so I won't reinvent the wheel. But I will add that if you have small kids, the Raffi station on Pandora is a must listen! You don't just have to put on kids' music for them to dance along though; my kids also rock out to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Vampire Weekend stations.

I'm a firm believer in introducing them to a wide variety of musical styles. After all, there's only so many times any of us can hear "We're going to the zoo zoo zoo, how about you you you?"Do you love to rock out with your kids too? If so, Hyundai Santa Fe and Rolling Stone are hosting a fun photo contest you'll want to enter.

What I love about the contest is that it's not just about sending them a funny or "cute" photo, which seems to be a mainstay of the parenting photo contest scene. You submit a photo but also write 500 words about your family. They're looking for families who rock and whose values include kindness, sharing, hard work, loud singing, mud, practical jokes and mischief in general. Cool, huh?

One of many Pat Benetar moments in our family jam sessions.
Prizes include a photo shoot in Rolling Stone magazine featuring the winning family shot by an industry photographer, plus you'll get airfare, hotel and transportation to the 55th Grammy Awards, and a Hyundai Santa Fe! Not bad, eh? So check it out!

Last but not least, take a gander at this Rolling Stone video to find out more about the contest. And let me know in the comments your favorite ways to rock out with your family. I'm always looking for new ideas!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

{animoto}: family togetherness rocks!

Even with cleaning the house, making grocery lists, and beginning to cook side dishes for Thanksgiving, this video was a cinch to prepare. I was actually happy Animoto gave me the option to brush up on my holiday video-making skills (note: see their holiday Busy Parents' Guide video on YouTube) because I needed something to get me zoned into the task at hand. I decided to focus on all pictures of us and other family with the girls, mostly in the winter to get us in the mood for the upcoming season.

The hardest part was gathering the photos, but I was glad I did because I have been wanting to make a photo book to display during the holidays anyway. Animoto makes it easy on you with their iPhone and Android app so that you can even create video with your phone's photos. Call it reason eleventy bazillion I want a smartphone. And with that, I'll stop talking and let the video do the talking for me.

Ta da!

Try our video maker at Animoto.

Like my video? Make your own and enter to win a prize!
Animoto has graciously offered the code busyparents to my readers, which is good for a free video download. And that’s not all! When you use that code to download a video between now and December 15, you’ll automatically be entered to win a copy of "Capturing Life Through Better Photography" (MSRP $70) by Tamara Lackey, the woman featured in this episode of "Busy Parent's Guide: Photo & Video Tips for Parents for the Holidays." Additionally, you can use the code clever until December 15 to receive 20% a year of Animoto service. All rules and requirements regarding this sweepstakes can be found here.
I was selected for participation in this campaign as a member of Clever Girls Collective. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

unleash your kid's inner the mall!

This post is sponsored by GapKids. Check out all the fun Shine On activities at your nearest Gap store. For event dates and locations, visit Gap’s Facebook page and join the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #ShineOn. 

Designed by Merrilee Liddiard of Mer Mag, the special "Shine On" art projects were inspired by the GapKids and babyGap fall collection. From creating geometric masterpieces on canvas using paint and tape to colorful, custom journals to get kids ready for back-to-school, the projects help kids express their creativity! And more importantly, they help you (aka me) get through the mall experience in one piece.

I normally avoid the mall like the plague, but when there are haircuts, clothes, and school shoes to check off the lengthy back-to-school list, I brave it along with the rest of the embattled moms. We so rarely go to the mall that when we get there, Vivi exclaims "Mommy, look at all these cars! Who are all these people and what are they all doing here? What is this place?!" She will bulldoze through a crowd if markers and glue are offered, so she'll go nuts over this event. Art projects are a little girl's idea of heaven on earth.

The GapKids at South Shore Plaza in Braintree, Mass is offering a Shine On event tomorrow, Saturday August 25th, from 10am to 1pm. Check out this link for other locations.You have to shop any way, so you may as well score some mom points in the process, right?

  I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Monday, July 16, 2012

parenting tip: simple self-esteem building tricks

3 Ways to Build Self Esteem

When it comes to teaching my kids about reading, real food/healthy eating, and the joys of playing in their natural environment, I am like a duck to water. I am supremely confident in my ability to convey my love of these subjects in a way that will instill a lasting passion in my kids too. However, when the folks at Healthy Routines asked me to write about how I let my children's confidence shine, I struggled at first about how to put my actions into words. Building my kids' self-esteem has been a tougher parenting task for me.

It's not that I don't think my kids are great; they are the best! (unbiased mom's opinion) I guess it's more that I feel this is a complex task parents find themselves with, and one that it seems many get wrong. Then there was the book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, which I enjoyed but which also admonished me not to tell my kids they are smart or pretty too much. Say what? That's what I do! Without those phrases as ammunition, I was a bit lost about how to proceed.

I should qualify my statement above by noting the authors of that book don't tell you to remove the smart/pretty praise completely from your dialogue with your kids; rather, researchers noted kids who believe they are inherently intelligent are less likely to work hard to solve problems when presented with tasks more difficult than they were expecting or are used to. Got that? So basically kids who think they're smart aren't willing to work as hard. Whereas, kids who believe they come by their skills through hard work rather than intelligence will attack each task with energy and tenacity.

With their advice in mind, I have come up with some ways that seem to work toward positively improving Vivi's self-esteem. I find parenting how-to lists intimidating, but I promise these lessons are both easy to read and initiate with your kids. Here are three simple tricks that work for us:

1) "Talk about it."

Every night, we discuss with Vivi our favorite and least favorite parts of the day. We call it "Talk about it," and it's a continuation of a beloved routine my parents started with me as a child. Her favorite moments are predictable, like "I love that we ate ice cream" or "My favorite thing was our trip to the park." When it's my turn, I try to pick a time she excelled at an activity, such as "I enjoyed playing 'Go Fish' with you because you tried hard to remember which cards I had asked you about the time before. You're an excellent card player!"

2) Introduce new challenges frequently, both intellectual and physical. 

Vivi is a voracious learner, and I have struggled in the past to keep up with her desire to absorb more information. In the past year, I have begun to get ahead of her by diligently staying on top of projects and subjects we haven't tackled yet. One such example is our study of other languages. So far, I have only introduced the two languages I am most familiar with, Spanish and American Sign. We're having fun! There are many ways to accomplish language study; our way is to incorporate different media, like books, DVDs, and video games. It's been rewarding lately to try signing with Charlotte, and I am able to praise simultaneously Vivi's memory and patience as a big sister.

As far as physical challenges go, I learned by trial and error with Vivi that I should take a more hands-off approach to dressing and grooming her. Now she picks out her own outfit every day, brushes her teeth and uses the restroom on her own, and because of her short hair cut she's also about to maintain her grooming by herself. When she marches downstairs in the morning with a new look, she beams with pride at the compliments we lavish on her.

3) Involve the village.

I've said it before, but I can't stress enough how important I think it is to surround your children with people who care about them, whether they be relatives or friends. When Vivi is around her grandparents, great grandparents, and other aunts and uncles, they each seem to notice and point out different strengths, and I see her self-worth grow with each shower of praise and affection. My great grandmother patiently taught her to play a few card games during their week together, giving Vivi the chance to try, fail at times, and learn from her mistakes to succeed.

What are your methods of building your kids' confidence and self-esteem?

As a member of Clever Girls Collective, I was selected to participate in the Healthy Habits program sponsored by Kimberly-Clark and Colgate-Palmolive. The content and opinions expressed here are all my own. #healthyhabits #cgc

Editor's note: This post is part of Teach Me Tuesday and Kids Co-Op.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

summer camp part two: animal care with kids

Thank you to LeapFrog for sponsoring my post about LeapFrog Summer Camp. To sign up for LeapFrog Summer Camp, please click here. #CleverLFCamp #spon 

I'm glad to have connected with LeapFrog on their summer camp because their great printables and activity ideas have kept my preschooler occupied in both her quiet and active times.

The first week's "Out & About" challenge was a great one to complete on the road. My favorite activity was a printable "modes of transportation" chart that allowed us to color in the different types of vehicles we encountered, which was Vivi's first chart-making experience. I was pleasantly surprised that she understood the concept.

The second week focused on care of animals, which was a great theme for our week of camping at a state park for our family reunion. Vivi and I discussed the park's elaborate method of garbage maintenance to keep bears at bay and why we don't feed the Canada geese that swim in the lake. 

Bird feeder, via tiny cell phone camera

During Charlotte's naps, when I would normally have Vivi doing "room time," I had to find other activities to keep her busy (apart from her favorite, playing on the nearby jungle gym), and my favorite of the animal care ideas was to make a bird feeder. I was able to gather the few required items even on vacation: toilet paper roll, string (I used dental floss), peanut butter, and bird seed. I made a short video of our project (note: it would have been longer if the camera battery hadn't died in mid-shoot).

The third week was all about puzzles, which are one of Vivi's most requested activities. They are both a great game for us to do together and one that she willingly completes alone, allowing me to step away if need be. I am perhaps most excited by this coming week's theme of arts and music. We will definitely plan to make our own instruments and create an art gallery wall.

I hope you're having a great summer! I'll be back later in the week with my Simplicity Parenting carnival post and another international guest post. Enjoy!

Editor's note: This post is sponsored by LeapFrog. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

This post is also a part of Kids' Co-Op, DIY Link Party, Seasonal Celebration Sunday and The Homestead Barn Hop.