Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Perfectly Organized Diaper Bag


As a mom to twin toddlers, I have to carry a lot of stuff. When they were babies, getting out of the house with everything that I needed was daunting to say the least! I found that being organized made our outings possible - I always knew that I had what I needed and I could find things - often with one hand!

I want to share my favorite way to organize my diaper bag - this works for babies or toddlers, and will make heading out with your little one (or little ones!) so much easier.




It starts with this Zip Top Organizing Utility Tote. This is a great all around bag and works perfectly as a diaper bag. It's roomy, has a zipper top to keep things secure, and 7 outside pockets to hold things you need to grab quickly - your wallet, keys, cell phone, a favorite toy, and a water bottle for mom.

The secret to being organized is what's inside! These versatile pouches make it easy to keep everything you need in its place and easy to find.



First, I use this large zipper pouch for diapers, wipes, and a changing pad (I prefer the disposable kind). I can easily fit 4 diapers, a wipes case, and a pad in here.  The inside is wipeable so no worries if it gets dirty.


Next, I love this Bring A Bottle Thermal! It fits a baby bottle (or 2 if you use the 4 oz size), a large sippy cup, or a water bottle. It's thermal lined so it keeps liquids warm or cold. This is one of my must haves!


I also like to add a Mini Zipper Pouch as a first aid/toiletry kit. I have band aids, diaper cream, lip balm and advil for me, tissues, etc. All those little odds and ends that usually get lost at the bottom of your bag can be easily contained!


And everything fits easily in your tote, with room to spare for extra clothes, burp cloths, nursing cover, whatever other essentials you may want to carry!



Just go to www.mythirtyone.com/Laura-R (consultant link) to shop now! Or contact me if you have questions.

And there are lots of other pattern combinations to choose from! Mine is Sketchy Dot and Plum Plaid. Here's a few of my other favorites:


Nautical Navy









Go Girlie









Classic Chevron









SHOP NOW!

I am an Independent Consultant for Thirty One Gifts. All ideas and opinions are my own, however I do receive a commission for sales through my Thirty One websiteDisclosure Policy


Friday, December 26, 2014

Clear the Clutter in 2015


If your house is anything like mine, Christmas brings clutter! New toys, games, gadgets... it's wonderful but where are you going to put all that STUFF?  Starting in January, I'll be helping you get organized with my favorite solutions for every place the junk piles up - the playroom, family room, the car, and of course, your purse!

Where do you need help organizing? Leave a comment and let me know! 



I'm also very excited to share the brand new Thirty One Spring Catalog! It's jam packed with new products, fabulous prints, and solutions for you, your home, & your family. The new catalog debuts online on December 30, but you can still shop Fall patterns and products until then. Just visit www.mythirtyone.com/Laura-R.  And be sure to follow me for organizing ideas and solutions all year long!

I am an Independent Consultant for Thirty One Gifts. All ideas and opinions are my own, however I do receive a commission for sales through my Thirty One websiteDisclosure Policy

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Gift of Life: A True Christmas Miracle

At Christmas time, we hear a lot about miracles and angels. It makes for great movies and storybooks, but I can also tell you that sometimes it actually happens. It happened to me and my family. Our angels didn't have wings or halos, and I will never know their names. I will never have the opportunity to thank them for giving us the greatest gift we could ever receive. But maybe, by telling this story, I can inspire someone to turn their darkest moment into a precious gift and truly, a miracle.



Me and my dad.
My father suffered from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, an incurable lung disease with no known cause. In November 2010, he was placed on the lung transplant waiting list. Though no one wanted to say it, we all feared that 2010 would be his last Christmas. One of our favorite family traditions was a big Christmas Eve lunch. My husband and I were driving to Christmas Eve lunch when my cell phone rang.

"We got the call," my mom said. There was no explanation needed. The call. A lung. It seemed unbelievable. My parents had to be at the hospital right away, and we changed course and sped in that direction.

The transplant doctors had cautioned us that we may experience one or more "false alarms" - where an organ seems to be a match but as they do more extensive testing it is not. Or the donor organ is not viable. We arrived at the hospital, my dad was checked in, and they started the tests. We all kept expecting them to tell us it was a false alarm. It seemed so impossible - he was going to get a lung, on Christmas Eve! But as the hours ticked by they kept doing more tests and no one told us to go home. This was happening.


They took him to pre-op at about 11:00pm. There were two other families and patients in the same area. Though they carefully guard any information about the donor, they did tell us that these two patients were also getting organs from the same person. One the donor's heart and one the other lung. Three families, total strangers, brought together by an amazing gift and with cautious optimism and hope for the future.

But somewhere, I do not know if in that same hospital or even the same city, there was another family. A family experiencing the most devastating and unimaginable loss. On Christmas Eve. My heart still breaks every time I think of them in that moment. And how they were somehow able to put aside their shock and grief and sadness and make the decision to donate their loved one's organs. So that my dad, and many others, could live.

My dad was wheeled into the operating room shortly after midnight on Christmas Day. The nurses later told us that he led them in singing Christmas carols on the way. He loved Christmas and his joy was infectious. I will always remember the doctors and nurses, called away from their homes and families on Christmas, and how happy they seemed to be. They knew the amazing work that they were doing and what it meant to us.

At 5:30am on Christmas Day, the surgeon came to the waiting room and told my family that the transplant was a success. There would be a long road to recovery, but we had hope. My dad had a new lung. He wouldn't be tethered to an oxygen tank. It was a true Christmas miracle.

My dad with my newborn sons.
My dad passed away, suddenly from complications of pneumonia, on March 28, 2014. His new lung gave him 3 years and 3 months of life, a precious and amazing gift that he never once took for granted.  In those 1,188 days he saw the birth of my children, his last 2 grandchildren, and lived to hear them call him "pap-pap." He got to spend 3 more years with my mom, the love of his life for 50 years. He went to the US Open and to his grandkids' sporting events and dance recitals. He made new friends and spent time with family near and far. He watched his children and grandchildren thrive and flourish. He lived every moment of those days, often saying that "today is a good day, even if it rains."

My dad wrote a thank you letter to his donor's family (he was not given any information about the donor, however he was able to give his letter to the transplant center and they then gave it to the family.) The family chose not to contact us, and I completely understand and respect their choice. I will never be able to thank them for their gift to us, this Christmas miracle, but I would like them to know that I think of them often. I think of their loss and how difficult this time of year must be for them. I think of their pain and how they pushed it aside to make their decision. I hope that somehow they know that their gift was treasured and that it gives them some measure of peace.

Transplants are miracles that happen every day, not just on Christmas. And they are miracles that only happen because people choose to give the gift of life. If you are not an organ donor, I ask you to please become one. Become someone's angel. Tell your family of your desire to donate your organs and help them to create a miracle should the unthinkable happen.

For more information on organ donation, visit organdonor.gov. Or consider supporting an amazing organization that assists transplant recipients and their families, the National Foundation for Transplants.





Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Toddler Friendly Christmas Tree


I pride myself in making my home toddler friendly. I have 2 year old twins, and I want them to have a safe, inviting environment to explore, create, and play without me having to constantly hover and say "no, don't touch!"  Of course, this means we made some changes to our home over the past couple of years. Our breakfast room became a playroom. Our slate topped iron coffee table was packed away to the basement for a softer ottoman. Our sofa was covered in a washable slipcover. Gates keep certain areas off limits. You know the drill.

We had a good thing going until December rolled around and we plopped a big, brightly lit tree in the middle of the living room, hung what appeared to be small toys from the branches, put a gate around it and told my toddlers not to touch. Ha!

I carefully picked which ornaments we put on the tree, knowing full well that they would be touched, most likely picked off, and possibly thrown. My boys are 2, and they are curious and quite active. We are working on the throwing but it's definitely a work in progress. I picked ornaments made out of plastic, without too much sentimental value, and thought we would be OK.



Four days in, and we had 4 broken ornaments. Who knew that even though they were plastic they were still quite breakable, especially with rough little hands. We had gone through several rounds of "don't touch! put that back! no! time out!" All of us had cried at one point or another. I put the boys down for their nap, made a cup of coffee, and sat down to look at my tree.

I had moved all the ornaments out of reach, so about half the tree was bare. And I put myself in my kids' shoes. In the midst of the MOST exciting time to be a kid (parties! cookies! Santa!) I had placed this huge temptation right smack in the middle of the living room and asked them to restrain themselves. In the very place that I had worked their whole lives to make comfortable and kid-friendly. That just didn't sit well with me. Yes, they need to learn self control, and restraint, and for goodness sakes not to throw things. But now, at Christmas? In the place where they should be able to play? Nope. Then I got an idea.

I grabbed a box and took all the ornaments off of the tree.  Then I grabbed the big bunch of Christmas shapes that I had cut out of felt and craft foam that I had cut out for our No Mess Christmas Collage the week before. I got out my scissors and some ribbon and went to work.



I cut a small slit in the top of each shape, slid some ribbon through, and tied it in a loop. Voila! An assortment of soft, toddler safe, cheap, and unbreakable ornaments, just ready to be hung on the tree.

When the boys woke up, I told them I had a surprise. We were going to decorate the tree, and use ornaments that we could touch! They loved it.


OK, so my felt ornament decorated tree isn't beautiful, but it couldn't be more perfect for my house. If  one of my toddlers wants to touch or grab one of the ornaments, OK, no big deal. Nothing is going to get broken and no one is going to get upset. 

Interestingly, now that the tree isn't totally "off limits" (it's still behind a gate so it doesn't come crashing down!) it seems to have lost some of its tempting appeal. And we are still going to work on restraint and for goodness sakes, the THROWING but I can do it in a calm, reassuring way that will allow my boys to learn and grow in a nurturing way.
So if you're out there, making yourself completely crazy hovering over your toddler and protecting your Christmas tree, I encourage you to give this idea a try. Christmas is all about peace and harmony, right? So why not start in your own home and give yourself (and your little ones) a break. You might just enjoy Christmas a little more.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Memories

Christmas is a time when memories are made. I've been reminded of this so many times as it is sadly the first Christmas that I am spending without my Dad, who passed away in March. I didn't realize how many of our happy times and special memories are focused around Christmas - I was reminded when I turned on Christmas music for the first time this season and was just overcome with tears. 

My dad loved Christmas, and made every one incredibly special for us as kids and as adults.  From the year he stayed up all night to assemble a Barbie Dream House for my sister and I to the pre-Christmas trip we took together to visit his family in Canada in 2009 (his last trip home and our last trip together, just the two of us), Christmas time was always filled with happy and memorable moments.

As hard as it is this year, I am determined to make Christmas special for my own family. My boys are 2 and just beginning to enjoy the season. We are making our own traditions and forging what I hope are many happy memories.





That is why I was so grateful to Rachael Wunderlich of Adventures in Wunderland for sending me a copy of her new e-book, Merry Memories: Holiday Traditions to Start with Your Family. (affiliate link)


This book is filled with recipes, crafts, and activities for families to share around Christmas time. I found several favorites from my own childhood (remember clove oranges? The smell will instantly transport you back!) as well as several new ideas that I am looking forward to trying (reindeer toast!).

I think my favorite activity is the Jar of Christmas Magic - a wonderful activity to reinforce the true spirit of the holiday season and a great way to count down to Christmas! There's also a great section of printables too.

Though I may have some tough days ahead, and I know there will be tears both happy and sad for my family this Christmas, we also have many blessings to count. And many new memories to make and traditions to start. Merry Memories (affiliate link) is a wonderful guide to inspire you to revive some of your treasured Christmas traditions or to create some new ones of your own.

Merry Christmas to all!


I received a copy of Merry Memories from the author but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All opinions are solely my own. This post contains affiliate links.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Humbug Sketching

So this time last year, elves and reindeer preoccupied my sketching time. This December I've rediscovered a love for Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I think you'll see a lot more doodles in the coming weeks inspired by.



No Mess Christmas Collage for Toddlers

Making collages on contact paper has been one of our favorite activities for a long time - I love it because it's easy, entertaining, and doesn't make a mess.  Now that we are getting into the Christmas spirit I thought we'd make one with a holiday theme!

As a bonus, you can save and reuse all the materials so it's an activity that can be done over and over again!



You will need:
  • Clear contact paper
  • Painter's tape
  • Felt and/or craft foam (I used both to have different textures)
  • Christmas shaped cookie cutters - mine are from this set (affiliate link)
  • Scissors
  • Marker
  • Cotton balls
  • Pom pom balls
Directions:

Gather several pieces of colorful felt and craft foam along with your Christmas shaped cookie cutters.


Trace your shapes onto the felt & foam and cut out. I made trees, candy canes, gingerbread men, snowmen, bells, ornaments, gift boxes and stockings. You can draw on details if you'd like - I drew faces and buttons onto the snowmen.


Using painter's tape, adhere a large sheet of clear contact paper to a wall or window (I use my sliding glass door) with the sticky side facing out. Give your toddler your cutout shapes and let them play!


 Mine loved naming all the shapes and colors while creating a masterpiece.


I added in some cotton ball "snow" and some small pom pom balls. The pom poms stick to the felt so we used them to decorate the trees!


This activity was so much fun, we will definitely do it again. But, if you want to save your collage, just layer another piece of contact paper on top and press together to seal. Then you can hang it up and show it off!

Looking for more felt Christmas activities for your toddler? Check out my snowman and gingerbread busy bags!

Need something to store your cutouts and craft supplies? Visit my Thirty One gifts site for lots of ideas. (affiliate link)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sawhorse Reindeer How-To


This sawhorse reindeer is a fairly easy Christmas' decoration to make. It's not an original idea, similar ones have been around for years, but it's my take on it. I hope it gives anyone who makes it the amazing instant creative satisfaction feeling I got once done. Ignoring the time painting, was completed in less than an hour.

Materials:
- A wooden sawhorse. I used a Burro Brand one. They are inexpensive and easy to find at most big box hardware places.
- Jigsaw
- Drill/driver
- Sander/ sandpaper
- Pencil
- Ruler/Tape Measure
- Plywood with a nice clean finish. I used 1/2" thick Poplar.
- Paint and colors of choice. I used both latex house paint for base color and craft paint for detail colors.
- 10 - 12 Small "L" brackets. 3/4" x 3/4" ones worked for me.
- Short wood screws for brackets (less than the thickness of your wood)
- Eyes. I used large buttons, but you could paint on if want.
- Exterior grade clear varnish. Anything your comfortable using would work. Spray or brush-on.
- Wood glue (OPTIONAL)  This is designed to be a temporary assembly for the holidays so you can take apart and store easily, plus use sawhorse as really intended later, but you can make a permanent prop just by adding wood glue to any of the steps below.

Step 1 - Print out the templates I drew up ( see below). I grid them out so you upscale onto plywood by drawing a larger grid on. Trace the pattern on the plywood and cut out with jigsaw. Be sure to cut out the notches in the head and on the antler carefully (these are 1/2" thick. if you use thicker or thinner plywood redraw notch that thickness). Sand all the rough edges.

Click on images to enlarge.




Step 2 - Attach head and tail to appropriate ends of your sawhorse using "L" brackets.

Step 3 - Place the antlers on by sliding it's notch onto the head notch.

Step 4 - Paint and decorate the way you want. Have fun, on my first take I added a red ornament for a nose (see below). Clear coat if needed for exterior use.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Road Trips with Toddlers: Tips & Tricks

I'm getting ready to go on a road trip with my twin toddlers to visit family before Christmas. Traveling with kids can be tough! I've picked up a few tricks over the past few holidays and I wanted to share them with you. Happy travels!


1.  Plan your trip around your toddler's schedule as much as possible. Toddlers are creatures of habit and keeping them in a routine makes life so much easier.  My kids are good car sleepers, so I always plan to leave right before nap time. They usually fall asleep pretty quickly and then I have a good 2-3 hours of quiet driving time.

2.  Stock up on good audio books and music. I love audio books for the car and there are tons of great choices for even the smallest listener. My kids adore the Eric Carle/Bill Martin bear books and we listen to them on CD all the time.  You can find the CD on Amazon (affiliate link) or check your local library for even more choices.

I'm also a big fan of Amazon Prime Music (affiliate link) for kid's songs in the car - there are thousands of songs to choose from and you can also add in your own music to create your perfect playlist. Plus you can try it free for 30 days!



3.  Find green space along the way. If you're taking a longer trip, plan ahead and map out parks or playgrounds on your route. Allow extra time to stop and let the kids stretch their legs. Yes, it will take longer to get to your destination but everyone will be much happier.


4. Pack snacks.  Skip the fast food and convenience stores and pack some healthy, fresh options. Applesauce pouches, yogurt tubes, fruit slices, cheese sticks, and granola bars are all much better choices to keep your little ones full for the ride. I love to pack my Thirty One Picnic thermal (affiliate link) for long trips - it holds plenty of drinks and food and keeps everything nice and cool.
5. Be flexible. The first rule of traveling with toddlers is that things will not go as planned. They will decide not to nap, or insist on only eating the one snack that you didn't bring. In the words of Elsa, let it go. Take a deep breath and do your best to stay sane and drive safely. It might mean a break for mom at the Starbucks drive through. Or an extra stop at a park. Take your time, you'll get there!

I also have to share one of my FAVORITE road trip helpers - my Timeless Beauty Bag! (affiliate link) Yes, it's normally a cosmetic bag but it can do so much more. You can fill it with crayons, pencils, books, games, even a tablet. Hang it on the back of the front seat for easy video viewing, and when you arrive, fold it up and use it as a busy bag. I never leave home without it.



Looking for more ideas for surviving a road trip with little ones? Try these:


Road Trip Snacks - Kids Activities Blog





Friday, November 28, 2014

The Millenium Falcon!


I actually welled up seeing the Falcon fly again. The music, the sound of it's engines, TIE fighters!!!!!

I'm probably gonna ball like a baby when we actually see Han and Chewie at the controls once more, I just know it.



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Easiest Ever Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls equal holiday breakfast to me! I love the smell of cinnamon and the delicious sweetness. But, with two toddlers, I try to avoid the ooey gooey frosting covered rolls because they make for terribly sticky fingers! This recipe is still sweet, yummy, and so easy to make!


Ingredients:

  • 2 cans crescent rolls
  • 1 cup (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 



Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a large cookie sheet and set aside.

In a bowl, mix together cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla until well combined.



Take 2 triangles of crescent rolls and press seams together to form a rectangle. Spread cream cheese filling onto rectangle.  



Roll into a log and press ends together.  Cut into 3 equal pieces and place onto cookie sheet. Repeat with remainder of crescent rolls.



Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly and enjoy!



Friday, November 21, 2014

Footprint Angels with Cotton Clouds

I've been thinking a lot about angel crafts for Christmas this year as it will be the first since my dad passed away. Something about angels is very comforting to me right now and makes me feel like he's watching over me. 

I love hand and footprint crafts for toddlers as they make such great gifts and keepsakes. I came up with these footprint angels to hang on our refrigerator as a reminder that Grandpa is with us.




You will need:
  • Blue construction paper.
  • Washable paint - white, brown, yellow
  • Black marker
  • Cotton balls
  • Glue
Directions:

Paint your child's foot with white washable paint and press down onto the construction paper to make your angel body.

Paint your angel's head, halo, and wings using brown and yellow paint. I used a marker for the eyes and smile. Be creative!  Depending on their age, kids can certainly do this part for themselves. Allow to dry.

Then, put some glue on a paper plate. Give your child some cotton balls to dip in the glue and stick onto the paper to make clouds. This was by far the best part for my toddlers.


That's it! All done!


This was a really easy craft to do with my toddlers - making the cotton ball "clouds" let them be creative and add their own special touch. We love our little angels!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

10 Indoor Boredom Busters


Brrr! It was cold and rainy here yesterday and I had to pull out all my tricks to keep my kids entertained inside. Since it's just the beginning of bad weather season I thought I'd share some of my favorite easy indoor activities. These are perfect quick fixes to keep kids entertained during long days inside.




1. Have a picnic. Turn snack or meal time into an event! My toddlers find this so amusing. I just lay out a blanket in the living room and we pretend we are dining outside on a beautiful summer day. There's definitely a mess potential here but my boys are usually so taken with the novelty of eating on a blanket that they keep their food pretty well contained.

2. Make a fort. I'm all about intricate indoor forts but I promised this would be a list of easy activities.  When I'm in a pinch, I just throw a sheet over the kitchen table and call it done. Kids have amazing imaginations and I love to let them use them! The sheet fort is always a hit.



3. Pillow mountain. This is one of our favorites.  I just pile as many pillows as I can find - bed pillows, throw pillows, cushions, whatever - into a mountain in the living room and let them go. They have a ball climbing and diving on the "mountain." And its nice and soft so no one gets hurt.

4. Jumping on the bed. Similar to pillow mountain - we have an air mattress which I blow up and let them use as a trampoline. They love to bounce and tumble, and it's only a couple of inches off the ground so if they fall off it's OK. Just be sure to have plenty of space for this one so they don't roll off into a piece of furniture.

5. Sheet sleds. This one came about quite by accident when I was trying to fold laundry while my kids were playing (silly me!). Have them sit on the end of a sheet and hold on while you pull them around. My kids love this!



6. Turn off the lights. This works so well on these short days where it gets dark before dinner time. I turn off the lights, give them flashlights, and let them explore. Simple and fun!

7. Pipe cleaners, colanders, play dough. Look for fun things around the house that your kids can use to create. Mine love putting pipe cleaners into a colander and into play dough to create all sorts of wacky art.



8. Go swimming. In the bath tub! Letting them splash and play in the tub in the middle of the day is great fun. Add in some awesome toys, bath crayons, and bubbles and you're set.

9. Make a sensory bin. This might sound complicated but its just a tub filled with fun materials to explore. Check out my Farm Fun Bin for more details.



10. Give them a cardboard box. Seriously, this is all they need to be entertained sometimes. A huge box can become a car (push them around in it for major laughs!), a playhouse, an art canvas - let their imaginations go wild!

Hope these activities help you enjoy some of the long days ahead. I'd love to hear your favorite indoor boredom busters too!