How We’re Keeping Artistic Creativity Flowing, but Away from the Furniture

Both of my girls really enjoy painting, but my 2-year-old seems to just LOVE it. She paints with so much energy and passion, with her paint strokes reminding me of a concert pianist in the midst of the most challenging part of a piece. I’m not saying that what Layah produces is always a masterpiece, though of course, as her mom, I think her work is pretty darn cool. I love to set out invitations to create for her and watch her get lost in her colors.

But I DON’T love the clean up that happens afterwards. She paints so intensely that she regularly breaks through her paper and gets paint all over our dining room table. We actually have a very cheap table, and it’s also painted black, and those two characteristics are real blessings in disguise during this season of life, let me tell you. But I still get nervous that I’ll miss a spot and that someone will get paint on their clothes by touching it later. And I always limit Layah to the table for her art time, too, because I don’t want our floors or our other pieces of furniture to get ruined.

Satsuma Designs is a brand that reached out to me recently and I immediately noticed their art mats. This company specializes in eco-friendly and affordable gifts for little ones. They have a great variety of products, but for now, I want to draw your attention to their products for young artists. We received the Kids Art Mat in the ladybug pattern (one of 4 different adorable patterns) ($25). It can be monogrammed for an additional fee, but I left that feature off since I wanted my girls to share it.

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And share it, they most definitely can! I was really pleasantly surprised by the large size of the mat. I wish it was a pinch wider, but it is quite long, and as you can see, two kids can actually work on art projects side-by-side, if needed.

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The art mat has pockets for tucking away any supplies you might be using, like paint brushes, scissors or crayons. That’s a nice feature, though I do wish the mat had a way to hang up so that you could more easily keep those supplies in the pockets when not in use. I suppose if you roll up the mat from top to bottom you might be able to keep them in tact.

But if your mat gets dirty with paint, you simply toss it in the wash or wipe it down. Easy!

I think the art mat is a great choice for anyone out there with little artists who can’t always keep their creativity on the paper. And Satsuma Designs is a really fun online shop you should definitely check out. This month they are giving 20% of every purchase back to the Young Survivor Coalition, to help support mommies out there who are fighting breast cancer. Take a moment to check them out! As for me, I’m looking forward to Layah coming from from school in a few hours because today, she gets to paint on the floor! :-)

Set it and Forget It: 16 Yummy Chicken Soups for the Slow Cooker

Thanks to Foodie.com for partnering with me to develop this yummy collection of chicken recipes. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own! 

Earlier today I threw together an insanely good chicken soup all thanks to some leftovers I had on hand. I had some shredded chicken and black beans in the fridge, and some homemade veggie stock in the freezer that needed to get used up soon or else get tossed. I put those items together, along with a little salsa, a little frozen corn, a handful of rice and a pinch of cumin. I let is simmer for about 45 minutes; it was just perfect for this beautiful fall weather we are enjoying here in Chattanooga.

Soups really are an incredible meal option because they can come together so easily. I especially love making soups in the slow cooker, and I find it to be a really great way to cook chicken, which can dry out pretty easily (but not in a slow cooker!). So today I put together a great list of 16 slow cooker soups that all make use of chicken in some form. I hope it provides some inspiration for your lunch or dinner table in the coming weeks. It doesn’t have to be hard to be tasty! :-) Check it out and save anything that looks delicious to you!

Check out 16 Cozy Chicken Soups for the Slow Cooker

by Tiffany at Foodie.com

Get Your Kids to Eat Veggies: My 2 No-Fail Tricks

Last night at the dinner table, these exact words came out of my 5-year-old’s mouth: “Mom, can I PLEASE have more pretzel sprouts? My plate is empty of them!” She is actually referring to brussels sprouts. She ate two full helpings. So did my 2-year-old. And no, my kids are not superstar adventurous eaters, though we strive for that in our home. They are pretty much just as picky as the next kid, and we struggle just like most other families do to get those veggies in their tummies.

So what’s my secret? I have 2 tips that have a 100% success rate in my home, even with brussels sprouts!

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The two tricks I have involve a prep trick and a cooking trick. The prep trick is really simple but does require a bit of patience from the parents: you need to have your kids play an active role in getting the food ready. I PROMISE you, the time you put in to this part of the dinner making process will pay huge dividends when it’s time to eat.

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I very highly recommend that you have some sort of cutter that your kids can use. We really love this one. I still supervise my kids when they use this, so please use your own discretion! Cutting the veggies is a really fun way for your kids to be involved, to feel like they are doing a very important job (even if you don’t actually NEED the veggies to be chopped), and on a practical level, I find that having veggies chopped up a bit makes them less overwhelming to the kids when it’s time to eat.

I went with the Bird’s Eye brussels sprouts because I like their size better than fresh Brussels Sprouts, which tend to be a little larger. I also know that Bird’s Eye veggies are flash frozen within 4 hours of harvest, so they are actually at peak freshness with those great vitamins and minerals all locked in.

I let them thaw for maybe 10-15 minutes before we started chopping them, so they were still pretty frozen, but they had just a bit of give to them. I also chose this particular vegetable because it has a really bad rep, often thought of as a pretty gross vegetable. I don’t doubt that it can be prepared in a way that doesn’t taste good, but it can also be CRAZY yummy, trust me! I picked this under-loved veggie just to prove my point that these strategies can work for any vegetable, even brussels sprouts. :-)

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If you are going to season your vegetables, also have your kids be involved in this part of it. If they are old enough to measure themselves, just tell them what to add. Otherwise, measure it for them, and hand the spoon over for them to do the dumping. In this case, I had them pour out 3 Tbsp of olive oil, and 1 Tsp salt. After eating it, I would suggest cutting it down to 1/2 tsp salt...it was a little too salty, although my kids certainly didn’t seem to mind! We also added 1/4 tsp pepper. You can add any seasoning that you like to your veggies. I like Italian seasoning on a lot of things, personally!

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Have the kids throw the veggies in with your oil and seasoning mix. Then have them give it a good stir, while you prep a baking tray with some parchment paper. I actually pre-measured a sheet and we used it for prep AND for baking. Yay for multi-purpose stuff!

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Spread out your brussels sprouts and pop them into a preheated oven at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. Roasting your veggies is my second trick…for some reason, it makes all vegetables taste A-MAZING.  At the 20 minute mark you’ll want to take them out and flip them over, and then start watching the around minute 35. Ovens vary in how they bake, so you don’t want to burn them. However, brown edges are totally fine (in fact, they’re delicious!).

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My kids were absolutely clamoring to get to try the veggies they helped to make (and again, I want to emphasize that my kids are very typical…they are inclined to leave green things on their plates if they get a choice in the matter).

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By involving my kids in the food prep, and by using my no-fail cooking technique, which is to roast the veggies, I had 2 little girls each 2 big helpings of brussels sprouts. Guess what I’ll be picking up next week when I head to the grocery store? More Bird’s Eye products, and most definitely more of their brussels sprouts, as they are now a household favorite! I hope my tricks can help you get more veggies in those little tummies, an even in your own! :-)

If you want more ideas on ways to get kids to eat their veggies, check out this great and helpful video from Melissa d’Arabian, host of the FoodNetwork.com’s web series The Picky Eater’s Project, who has partnered with Bird’s Eye! I’m loving this trick about working veggies into breakfast!

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

Remembering When My Brother Served: #ComfortsFromHome

This post brought to you by Marie Callender’s. All opinions are 100% mine.

I’ll never forget the day my older brother called me to tell me that he had to go overseas and that he couldn’t really tell me any details. It was 2003, and I was in my teeny tiny bedroom in Somerville, Massachusettes, getting ready to walk out the door to head to class (for graduate school). The world was still raw from 9/11. The war was new. But already, our troops were over there. And some of them were dying.

I knew the news was coming. I knew it from the moment I saw that second tower fall on live television. You see, my brother was in basic training during 9/11. The attacks happened on a Tuesday, and he was scheduled to graduate that Friday. I knew he would have to go fight before I knew anything else, at all. And yet, it was still such a blow to hear it. 

I was absolutely terrified and grief-stricken for my brother. I feared the worst, and failed to understand just why it all was happening. I think many of us felt, and still do feel that way. War is such a horribly complicated beast. 

I think one of the worst feelings for people with loved ones overseas is the feeling of helplessness. What can we really do, besides Skype, email and pray? Not too much, honestly, though perhaps we can help in a few small ways that can actually have quite an impact when we all chip in just a little bit.

I’m pleased to see Marie Callender’s taking some initiative to support our members of the military through the #ComfortsFromHome program. 

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Simply look for specially marked packages of Marie Callender’s frozen entrees in your grocer’s freezer section. After you get your food home, log on to the Comforts From Home website and enter the 8-digit code you’ll see on the back of the product. It takes all of 10 seconds to do it, which is awesome! 

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For every code from participating products (U.S. only) submitted between now and 01/31/2015, Marie Callender’s will donate .50 to the USO2GO program. They have guaranteed a minimum donation of $100,000, but they are ready and willing to donate up to $250,000, with just a little bit of help from us! There is a limit of 5 code entries per person/computer each day. But that’s a lot of Marie Callender’s! :-)  

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I like to support companies who support our troops. I am thankful for programs that help veterans, like my brother, and like hundreds of thousands of others who have served and are currently serving. And I’m glad to have the opportunity to partner with a company my family already likes to give back. These .50 donations will add up quickly if we all make at least 1! And bonus? Dinner looks like this:

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For more information on the #ComfortsFromHome program, or on Marie Callender’s, but sure to check out the Marie Callender’s Facebook page. 

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My Experience Owning a Bounce House: Are They Worth It?

#spon: I’m required to disclose a relationship between my blog and MGAE. This could include MGAE providing me with content, product, access or other forms of payment.

October seems to be the month of never ending festivals on the weekends, which I have to tell you, I absolutely LOVE! And at pretty much every festival, there’s at least one bounce house. I spend quite a bit of time on the outside of bounce houses watching my little girls jump and squeal with delight; it’s a joy to see!

I’ve actually contemplated the idea of purchasing a bounce house of some sort for our own backyard, but I was quickly deterred by the expense and the sheer enormity of some of them; they simply looked like more trouble than they could possibly be worth.

But let me tell you, I absolutely LOVE the Triangle Bouncer from Little Tikes. I have a 2-year-old and 5-year-old and it seems perfect for both of them. It is currently on sale for $209, which is not an insignificant amount of money for most people, myself included. Yet I find the price point very in line with many other toys that parents purchase with the expectation of frequent play (tablets, gaming consoles, etc.). And this is one item that will, indeed, get VERY frequent play, I promise you that! 

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Let me walk you through the set up process, from delivery to take down!

The Triangle Bouncer will arrive in a box this size, weighing right at 30 pounds. Adorable child not included.

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Everything you need except for an extension cord comes in the package. Once you unroll the bouncer in the part of the yard where you want to do set up, it’s time to blow it up!

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Actually, it’s time to take advantage of your instruction manual so you can make sure you are following the steps correctly!

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Ok, so NOW it’s time to blow it up. You have a machine that will make this easy right in the package. Yay!

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There are two places where you actually tie pieces together. Obviously it is not truly air tight, and that is why your blower is continuously adding air while the kids play. Want to see exactly how long it takes to be inflated? (Spoiler alert: it’s a short video!)

Once the bouncer was inflated Tim used the spikes to secure it more to the ground. This is an important safety feature, so please don’t overlook it! It keeps the bouncer from falling victim to gusts of wind, and also keeps it from moving around on the ground while in use.

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Have your kids make use of the shoe holder on the side of the bouncers, and set them loose! Our girls played for 40 minutes, only stopping because it was time for dinner. It was a MONSTER hit!

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3 Reasons Why I Think This Bouncer Makes Sense

Now that I own a bouncer, I have some perspective on the pros and cons of having one, and I want to share with you why I would wholeheartedly recommend one to other parents with younger kids.

1. Energy release! We have noticed that our little ones have no trouble falling asleep on the nights when they have had bounce sessions. They get a lot of energy out in the afternoons this way, which is good for everyone in the family.

2. It’s bigger than you think, yet not TOO big. Tim and I both commented that the triangle bouncer was a surprisingly large size, and yet it is still not anything like the bouncers you see at festivals, in terms of its size. It’s pretty much perfect for 2 kids, maybe 3.

3. Set up and take down is easy. This was my biggest worry, hands-down. If it takes 20 minutes to set up and 20 minutes to break down, we’d just never use it. Thankfully, it is super quick, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a hassle. I will say that I don’t think it is a good idea to leave your bouncer out overnight, even deflated. I think the material isn’t meant for wet weather and you could encounter some problems if you leave it out. Just my two cents!

If you are on the lookout for your Christmas “showpiece” gift for the kids; that one that will really wow them, I think this bouncer or similar ones from Little Tikes are a GREAT choice. We are thrilled with ours, and now that we own one, we’d recommend them to anybody with a kid who loves to bounce! Check out the Little Tikes Website for a full listing of their bouncers (you’ll find a dozen varieties!).

And if you are a big Little Tikes fan, too, check out Team Little Tikes for more information on how you can become an advocate for the brand!