Wednesday, May 29, 2013

a summer craft for kids of all ages: rose art color blanks

between the two of us, nellie and i have 7 kids.....and that makes for a lot of summer entertaining trying to keep them busy and happy.

we were fortunate enough to have the awesome people at rose art give us enough of their new color blanks for our kiddos to test out. color blanks are these super cool figures that are made out of a fantastic shatter-proof plastic. the individual sets come with three markers, some awesome decals and glue dots to allow for maximum creativity....and the rest is up to you.

sadly, nellie and i live on two different coast so our munchkins were not able to create together....but yesterday we both let the kiddos loose on the color blanks in california and north carolina and waited for their imaginations to run wild.

the kids all had a good time and it even kept our 3 year olds entertained! (a *huge* miracle bonus).

in the end, they each had a creature that they were proud of and are able to play with and not risk breaking ----a win-win in my book! i love that they each used their own imaginations and every figurine came out looking unique.

so, if you are looking for a fun and fairly inexpensive craft to entertain the kiddos this summer, pick up a color blanks by rose art---you will be happy that you did. 

Disclaimer: Nellie and I were provided with product samples but all opinions are solely mine and/or hers.

Friday, May 24, 2013

friday fun finds: netflix and the kiddos

I am so thrilled to have this opportunity to share my experience as part of this sponsored campaign from Netflix. While Netflix is sponsoring this post, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

about a week ago, a friend of mine asked if i could watch her sweet children while she attended her father's funeral. i was so thankful she had asked me and was absolutely willing to help in any way possible. her sweet babies are close in age to my own kids so i knew exactly what was in store for me. while my friend and her family took part in a sweet remembrance of her daddy, i sat in a little room in the back of the sanctuary with her babies where we were still able to see and hear the service but we were not seen and heard. it was perfect. the parents had so much on their plates that day that i was just grateful to be asked to help...and i came armed with a charged ipod and my netflix app. (if you're unfamiliar with the app, it's a free app and can be downloaded on multiple devices. for basic streaming, the cost is about $8.00 a month.)

the funeral service was so far over the sweet 2 and 3 year olds' heads that they were quickly antsy and needing a distraction. i passed over my iphone and the sweet little technically savvy ones jumped right on the netflix app without batting an eye. i hadn't spent a lot of time looking through the toddler programming but, seriously, i could have kissed someone in their corporate offices that day. when had netflix added a bunch of disney programming? i was so happily surprised and spent the next four hours (funeral and reception combined) moving from "mickey mouse clubhouse" to "mater's tall tales" with other pieces of disney in between. when their four year old brother joined the viewing, we just kept the party going with other choices. i have never been more thrilled with an app in my life (not to mention thankful that i came with a phone fully charged.)

armed with my new bit of netflix knowledge, i continued my love affair with the app over then next week when both of my youngest came down with a horrible virus and high fevers. the poor babies were miserable and didn't want to do anything but lay on the couch or on the recliners, snuggle and watch tv. i was able to keep them both happy with netflix again and the sweet ones loved having control of the tv viewing as well as my iphone (just for sick occasions). they were so well occupied that i actually had a chance to shower (i know, shocking!) and get some laundry done. again, i felt i should be laying a big thank you kiss on someone in corporate those days as well...if for nothing else than time to shower!

he finally got his chance...

i know it sounds as if i only use netflix as a form of childcare (sometimes that is the case, i'm not going to lie). the truth is that while i am thankful for the programming that allows me to get some things done, we also do movie night at our house and use netflix movies so we don't have to go out and rent anything. netflix has a dedicated kids section that has family favorites appropriate for children ages 2- 12. all content is selected with help from common sense media to provide ratings, reviews and information so i can easily make choices for my kiddos. as i am typing this, my kids are cuddled up together watching "the lorax" that we are streaming through our nintendo wii. they are spread out with pillows and blankets all over my family room and these moments are some of the most peaceful ones in our crazy lives. movie nights are moments when we get to be "that family"...the ones who post pictures of their kids hugging each other and holding hands on their way to school. while my kids aren't cuddling with each other, they are all in the same room and no one is trying to beat anyone else with a pillow. i'd say that's pretty much a hallmark moment for my family. all of this love and tolerance and i didn't have to leave my house to get a movie...that is nothing short of miraculous. 

so here is my public thanks to netflix. thanks for adding the new disney programming. thanks for the shower. thanks for making me a superhero when my friend needed help. thanks for entertaining my kids when they were sick. thanks for providing me with a great movie night with my family when i didn't have the energy to run one more errand today. thanks for making me look good. tell me who needs kissing in corporate. i'm on it.

what are you watching on tv with your family? netflix has family favorites from disney, disney jr., hasbro, cartoon network and dreamworks that are available to stream anytime, anywhere. and streaming is easier than you think! download the free app on your ipad, click on the netflix app on any gaming device, go to the website on your computer – and you’re in business.

this is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of netflix.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

diy: building an outdoor room with a privacy fence

i grew up in california...the land where people believe that good fences make good neighbors. in the south, things are done differently. a lot of homes are completely without fences. backyards become big playgrounds for the neighborhood kids. people live in communities. i both love this and struggle with it at times. i absolutely love my neighbors but there are some days when i don't want to be visible for the world to see. i also like the idea of creating a space in my backyard that feels like an outdoor room. so, this is what we created...

we had an outdoor fire pit, a patio area and a metal and fabric canopy in one area of our yard. one day i'd love to build a pergola there but that will have to wait for a future post. to enclose a small portion of the patio and block off the lovely view of our outdoor garbage cans and the back gate, we put up two 8-feet sections of fence. you can purchase the 8-feet wide and 6-feet tall sections of fence at a hardware store for about $30.00 (at least that's what they cost here.) you will also need: (4) 4 x 4 fence posts, (4) 50 pound bags of cement, outdoor fence stain, some nails and a little bit of extra time.

lay your fence sections somewhere easily accessible and apply the stain first. you do not want to drip stain onto your patio area so this is a job best done elsewhere over a tarp of some sort. 

decide where you want your lengths of fence to go. you will want the good, flat side of the fence facing in and the railed section facing out. dig (4) two feet deep holes where you will place your fence posts. these holes need to be right next to your patio but they do not need to be in a specific place for the fence. as long as you are able to attach each 8-foot section of fence to (2) posts, you will be fine. each hole should be at least (1) foot in diameter and (2) feet deep.

fill each post hole with 1/2 of one of the 50 pound bags of cement. add water and mix to a thick but workable consistency. put in a fence post, making sure a flat side of the post is up against the edge of the patio. add the remaining 1/2 of the 50 pound cement bag and water. mix with the fence post in place. using a level, make sure your fence posts are perfectly vertical on all sides. allow the cement to dry. do this for all four fence posts. make sure you have stained all your fence posts the same color as your 8-foot fence pieces. 

once the cement for all four fence posts has dried, you are ready to attach your fence pieces. line up your fence pieces and use a level to make sure they are level. most patios are built with a downward grade so that water will run away from your house. you will not want to use your patio as a measurement for what is level as you'll end up with a crooked fence. using galvanized nails (i used 3 1/2 inch nails), attach the fence posts through front flat side of the fence section through the cross piece of wood and into the fence post. do this in several places along the fence post. i used two nails at the top, two in the middle and two at the bottom for each fence post. 

find some fun things to hang on your fence and decorate the space like it's a fun outdoor room. we have a ton of fun, painted pots that bring life to our patio. if you would like to learn how to paint outdoor pots so they will last, check out the diy here:  diy painted flower pots.

relax and enjoy your space. these are great areas to start an herb garden that you can use all year long...or just to sit and enjoy some beauty while your kids play. i'll take that any day.

Monday, May 20, 2013

mmmmm, mondays: southern mac-n-cheese

i am a born and raised california girl. i was transplanted to the south five years ago and, while i miss the great mexican food and in-and-out burgers that california has to offer, there are some things that are pretty amazing about the south. one of my favorite things about life here is that you can get macaroni and cheese as a side just about anywhere. it is pretty much considered a vegetable. i've tried a few recipes to replicate the goodness i can find everywhere and this is my personal favorite. if you are craving a piece of the south, make this up from yourself along with some sweet tea and you'll be ready to go. enjoy, y'all.

southern mac-and-cheese

2 pounds (2 boxes) of uncooked penne or macaroni pasta

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup flour

6 cups milk

8 cups sharp cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon chili powder


1 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 cup panko bread crumbs

preheat oven to 350 degrees. spray a 9 x 13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. cook the pasta al dente (about 2 minutes less than package instructions). drain pasta, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

while pasta is cooking, prepare the cheese sauce. melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. add the flour to form a roux. add the milk and stir constantly until the milk begins to thicken (about 10-15 minutes). remove from the heat and add the cheese, salt, garlic powder, and chili powder. stir well until cheese is melted and sauce forms a thick, creamy mixture.

add the rinsed pasta to the sauce mixture and stir until well blended.

pour mixture into the prepared 9 x 13 pan (you may have a little left over). sprinkle with extra cheese, bread crumbs and chili powder. bake uncovered for 20 minutes. enjoy!

Friday, May 17, 2013

friday fun finds: hayden reis bags

a couple of weeks ago nellie and i spent the weekend surrounded by inspiring brands and bloggers at an event called mom 2.0. the fact that it was going to be held at the incredible ritz carlton in laguna niguel was a big bonus.....another bonus was having the privilege of sporting our own hayden reis bags and accessories. 

yep. all packed up headed from san diego to laguna. yes---it is only an hour drive. yes---we were only going for the weekend.....but a girl's got to be prepared. we joked and called ourselves part kardashian and part clampett. sad but true.

hayden reis is catching the attention of people everywhere, from celebs to mamas like us. hayden reis is a line of high quality bags made in the usa of fine sailcloth (water-resistant, sand-resistant and durable). they are amazing beach bags for that summer vacation you are planning or local romps to the beach....they also make a great pool bag, accessory for a park picnic or a fab weekender bag. nellie and i even used the wristlet for a pop of color while out for a dinner event! 

while we dreamed of using our bags while lounging at the pool or beach (which did happen once, briefly). the reality was that we were so inspired and fortunate to listen to so many amazing speakers, connect with brands we already loved and meet so many quality women (and men) that we ended up using our bags mostly indoors. we were on our feet for most of the days and our bags were filled to the brim with business cards, our water bottles, ipads and fantastic swag. the bags were so well made that our shoulders didn't  hurt and we had *so many* people coming up to us asking us where they could get their own hayden reis. the cute bags we sported were striped and the largest "ditty totes" style. the hayden reis line also features a range of style and sizes of bags to fit every event or lifestyle. 

look! my bag even made an appearance in the dove suite during our shoot!

another favorite feature is that the tag is attached with a super cute hair tie!! they think of everything!!

we didn't even get the chance to show off the beach buds/swimsuit bags or sunscreen bags! be sure to follow our instagram, facebook and twitter feeds because this girl is going to be at the beach and the pool *a lot* this summer and you will for sure see them popping up in pictures throughout the next few months. 

you can find hayden reis bags for purchase online and in a growing number of retail locations. you can also follow them on facebook, instagram (@haydenreis), twitter and pinterest

happy shopping! hope you enjoy the bags as much as we have! 

Disclaimer: Nellie and I were provided with product samples but all opinions are solely mine and/or hers.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

have kids, will travel: the road trip

with five kids, the very phrase "road trip" makes my blood pressure rise. spending hours upon hours confined in a very small space with all of those restless little people can be a recipe for disaster. still, taking an airplane doesn't make sense in some cases because of the time frame and the cost so lengthy car rides are a part of the "nellie" family vacation framework.

a couple of weeks ago, we packed up the five kiddos (oldest: age 9 and youngest age 1) and headed to disney world. orlando is a seven and a half hour drive (without stops) from our home and we were going to be gone for a week. packing five kids (four in either car seats or boosters) and all the luggage required a degree in engineering all on its own. keeping the kids happy on the trip was close to impossible. still, we managed to get there and back in good spirits so i thought i'd pass on what worked well for my clan.

if you are taking a road trip with your kids, here are my tips for survival:
  • pack as many items as possible out of the way. we borrowed a travel metal grate that attached to our towing hitch. we used that to carry the big luggage and two strollers. we wrapped it all in a large tarp in case of rain and secured it with bungee cords. we looked like the "clampetts" but the kids had enough leg room to wiggle a little bit. we have previously made the mistake of packing the car so full that no one could move. this was miserable for our kids and miserable for us as we listened to their complaints. it is better to swallow our pride and look like a hillbilly than to have anyone suffering.
we may need a bigger car...
  • dvd players are a gift from heaven.  i am all for family bonding. i love playing the alphabet game and other road trip adventures. they really do create great family memories. i'm also for a couple of hours of peace and quiet while everyone watches a movie. if you have the means, invest in a dvd player for your car, especially for your younger kids. we had two separate for the older kids and one for the younger. we had "mickey mouse clubhouse" and "narnia" playing at the same time and everyone was happy. 
dvd players...strapped in and ready to roll

  • buy headphones and other attachments in advance. for easter this year, each child found new headphones in their baskets. these gifts were really for me but the kids never figured it out. when you have more than one child watching more than one dvd, you want the sound isolated. head sets are a life saver. purchase other travel attachments as well. you can purchase a splitter so that two kids can watch the same dvd player at the same time when there is only one headphone jack. set this up and have it functioning properly days before your trip. if you need more power outlets, purchase adapters for this as well. our car is painfully short of power outlets so we lived by extra adapters. make sure all electronics have the proper car adapter as well before the trip begins.

a much needed car adapter...

everyone is happily in their own little world...

  • pack each child a "car bag" before the trip. my kids actually helped me with this process to make it easier. each child had a new coloring book or puzzle book, sufficient crayons and pencils, a new book to read (also an easter basket treat), school work they needed to complete, and an electronic game like a nintendo ds or a leapster or leap pad. their games were also organized and divided by child so everyone had their own items to use on the trip. we also had no video games for a couple of weeks before the trip to make the game time a little more enticing. it might seem cruel but it did work well. having everything divided by child made them responsible for their own activities and ensured there would not be any fighting over items. it worked like a charm.

seats ready with bags, pillows and water bottles

  • bring a pillow for each child and at least one blanket for the trip. this may seem excessive but one of them was always cold. there was also a brief, blissful moment when all of the kids fell asleep for about a half an hour. yes..even the nine year old. that is proof that miracles do happen. 

  • bring enough snacks and drinks to feed a small foreign country. our motto has always been, "when nothing else works, give them something to snack on." this proved especially the case with our one year old. he pretty much ate or threw food on the ground for the entire trip. we could have lived for days on the food remnants on our floor. still, it was worth it for the entertainment factor alone. when kids are bored, they often think they are hungry. they will ask for snacks. they will be grumpy if they are not fed. have more than enough food to feed them. you won't be sorry. 
this was only part of it...and we stopped for meals...

  • plan your trip around stops you plan to make. it might sound crazy, but we planned to leave at a certain time so we could drive for a couple of hours before we stopped for lunch. meals always included a place to run and play (usually a fast food playground) in order to burn off some of the pent up energy. after lunch we planned on nap time for the little ones and figured we could go a couple more hours after they woke up. that put us at a good place for an out-of-the-car snack break (and another potty stop). then it was a couple more hours before dinner. you get the idea. you will have to stop for bathroom breaks and meals. we wanted to minimize those as much as we could and coordinate them with the kids normal schedules as well. we also planned specific times for activities. there was movie time but there was also reading time, school work time, game time, etc. keeping things to designated time kept the kids entertained and happy.

  • most of all, remember your sense of humor and adventure. i'm going to be really honest. these tips may not work for you. you could plan like crazy and everything could fall apart in that car. it could be carmageddon. three years ago when we did this same trip, my now three year old spent the entire trip...all 7.5 hours of driving time...baaing like a lamb...loudly...without stopping. i can't tell you how many friends i called to have them listen. he didn't nap. he didn't want to play. he just made that sound, over and over again. it was the longest trip i have ever taken. if everything goes wrong, it's okay. it will not define your's just a small part of the whole. keep a sense of humor and keep your chin up. with each mile that goes by, this too shall pass. you might as well make the most of it. 
wherever your travels take you, i hope these suggestions help. my kids are all still alive and they remember the trip with happy memories so that has to count for something. if you have any other great suggestions, i'd love to hear them. if you see us traveling this summer or any other family with baggage strapped to every inch of their vehicle, smile and wave. we all just might need a life line. happy trails!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

mom 2.0 summit whiplash

this last weekend, chach and i had the privilege of attending an amazing conference, mom 2.0 summit, held at the ritz carlton in laguna niguel, ca. not only was the weekend a chance for us to visit and spend some quality time together, but it was also the perfect opportunity for us to connect with other talented bloggers and some of our favorite brands. top that all off with a location that is nothing short of spectacular and the weekend was close to perfection. 

the view from the hotel. seriously.

we had the best time. we slept uninterrupted. we ate delicious food. the ritz carlton delivered us white chocolate and a plate of cookies at night. we had turn down service each night and fresh towels every morning. we laughed often, conversations flowed freely and we had perpetual smiles on our faces. 

so gorgeous. 

proof that blogging has its perks...

all too soon, the weekend was over and we were heading home. after a weekend away, it feels like we should be able to ease back into our normal keep from pampered whiplash. a slow re-acclimation to reality wasn't on our agenda. our first stop was chach's house. we had shortly gone to sleep on our first night back to reality when chach's poor three year old woke up sobbing. after looking at his sweet feet that night, we found that, while at a birthday party that day, he had run on a deck barefoot and had nothing less than 40 splinters covering his little piggies. it was a long hour of tweezing those bits of wood out of his tiny feet. 

nellie's midnight tweezing session...poor baby!

after my (nellie's) flight was cancelled and i was redirected to get home to my babies, chach returned to her two boys only to be woken in the wee hours of the morning by projectile vomiting. both boys threw up for the day and chach got to play zone defense...this is the result.

i wish i could compare this with one of our weekend of these things is not like the other. she managed to take care of her sweet boys and is in charge of teacher appreciation week for their preschool. have i mentioned she's a rock star? don't let the picture fool you. 

meanwhile, on the other coast, i was happily hugging my babies and trying to recover from my rerouted red-eye flight. after a day recovering, life came jumping back into full swing.

first on the agenda: ducklings...two of them...for a kindergarten class project. nothing says, "welcome home" like cleaning up baby animal poopies. still, they were pretty adorable and my kids loved them so it wasn't so bad. i told chach they were actually pretty fun. her response? "one person's 'fun' is another persons 'nightmare'. love her.

sweet things...

my amazing husband was worn out after a weekend with the kids. he is also a super hero and decided to surprise me by steam cleaning all of our carpets. so, on the night we were going to sit and watch a movie together, this is what happened...

our version of "alone time"

cap it all off with chaperoning a field trip today with several classes of first graders and we are back to parenting...with bells on. 

at least we can look back at our pictures of last weekend and bask in the glow of the weekend that was...and laugh at the pictures of what our reality sometimes is. one without the other wouldn't nearly be so sweet. until next year, mom 2.0. thanks for the memories.