Shortbread Cookie Deliciousness!

The first day of our 12 days of Allergy friendly holiday cookies is one of my hubby's favorites ... shortbread! This recipe is one of Elizabeth Barbone's a Gluten free chef. I know you may be wondering why a mom with an little with an egg and peanut allergy is reading gluten free recipes. Well it's simple. I want to do my best to provide cookies that edible for all of our little friends. These cookies do have dairy in them but could simply modified to dairy free by using Vegan Butter.  If you haven't tried allergy friendly baking before you may be surprised to find that with the exception of a few missing and a few new ingredients baking allergy safe foods is simple and fun! 

Just be sure to remember that if you are cooking for an allergy family it's not just the ingredients that need to be allergy friendly your cooking practices and storage need to also be allergy friendly.  Make sure you cooking surfaces and utensils are sterile and free from allergens, that you store them in allergy safe containers away from known allergens, and always let the family know what allergens are present in your kitchen. 


5 1/3 ounces (1 1/3 cups) white rice flour
2.5 ounces (1/2 cup) sweet rice flour
2 ounces (1/2 cup) cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (this prevents the cookies from spreading)
7 ounces (14 tablespoons) butter, softened
5 1/4 ounces (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Step 1- Prep:
Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In small bowl, whisk together white rice flour, sweet rice flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and xanthan gum. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, and vanilla extract together, on medium-low speed, until a thick paste forms, about 30 seconds. Shut off stand mixer. Add dry ingredients. Turn on mixer and mix until a dough forms, about three minutes.

Step 2 - Mold:
Lightly spread white rice flour your countertop. Turn dough out onto counter and shape dough into a disk. Using a rolling pin, roll dough out, about 1/4-inch thick. Cut using a round cutter and place cookies on prepared baking sheet, about two inches apart.

Step 3 - Bake:
Bake until cookies are lightly golden brown on the edges and aromatic, about 30 minutes.Allow cookies to cool on the pan for five minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool.

Repeat using remaining dough.

About the author: Elizabeth Barbone is an alumna of the Culinary Institute of America and Mount Mary College. With her solid professional baking background, Elizabeth is known for creating gluten-free recipes that taste just like their wheat counterparts. She is the author of Easy Gluten-Free Baking.


Water Play & Color Mixing!

Water play always seem to be a great way to entertain, engage and educate my littles.  I have seen a great many ideas for using water play to teach color mixing theory.  I have tried a lot of them.  They worked wonderfully and proved to be great fun.  However, most of them involved using multiple vessels full of water.  In our house that tends to lead to less time exploring color theory and water and more time exploring how to quickly mop the floor before the baby slips.  Then I had an idea. 

I use a BPA free take a long lunch box with three comparments.  I fill all three compartments with water and the tint the two smaller compartments with two easily mixable colors (i.e. red/blue, yellow/blue, yellow,red).  Then I provide mixing and pouring tools (i.e. a measuring cup that fits into all compartents, a spoon, little dipping ladel) It's amazing how much longer and independent the play for my littlest became as a result of the change.  It's also amazing how many dishes I can get done while he happily makes purple!!


Wordless Wednesday ...

A Boy and His Cupcake!

This year at Veg Fest, I discovered a local bakery, Sweet Theory, slated to open in late November.  As a mom with a little one with and egg and peanut allergy I usually pay ZERO attention bakeries.  In the two years since our allergy diagnosis, I have not found one bakery store front that confidently accomodates food allergies.

Here is what knocked my socks off about this place ... not only is it organic and vegan (by definition egg free!) ... it is top 8 allergy friendly!!  We made it a priority to head out and support this local pot of gold for allergy families.  Not only was I blown away by the knowledgable and welcoming staff; but I was also amazed at the HUGE variety of delicious treats!  If you haven't been and are in the Jacksonville Metro area ... add this to your must do list this holiday season!  You can head to thier facebook page here: Sweet Theory on Facebook ... Show that like button some love, allergy mamas!!  :)


"I Spy" Christmas Ornaments

Around the holidays I always feel the incredible draw to make ornaments with my littles.  There are so many great ways create fun memories and create cherished keepsakes.  These ornaments are one of my new favorites.  They are super simple to make and the kiddos can truley be hands on the whole time.  Even better they don't break so the littles can enjoy sensory play with them long after the crafting is done.  Thanks PAHM for the inspiration!

Pouring the sand in is a favorite part for my littles.  :) One of the great things about pouring in the sand first is that helps to stabalize the ornament when your little is adding there found objects.  However, for my youngest, I let him put in pom poms and found objects first, because he is super excited about dumping things these days. :)

Let your littles explore and put whatever items they can fit and love into the ornament. 

When the ornament is complete add the metal top.  If you think they are completely done adding items you can hot glue the top on bulb.  The terrific thing about the sand is that it helps to add to the sensory nature of the ornament.  Since the bulb is not glass they can shake it and identify sounds as well as move the sand around the ornament to find the items they have tucked inside!


Mom, Pop, and Photoshop ...

There was a time when the options for professional quality family photos consisted solely of the staged, in-studio photographs we all have hanging on our walls and in our wallets.  However, with the advent of accessible digital SLRs, online high quality print shops, and photoshop lots of independent photographers are open for business and opening up options for unique ways to build your family photo gallery .  Here are a few tips for how to find the best photographer for your family.

Browse online photo galleries.  A photographers website/facebook says quite a bit about a their style, client base, and experience. If you can't find at least one or two picture that you love ... odds are you should keep looking for another photographer.  Photographers typically select their favorite images out of sessions for first looks. Given that an online gallery should represent the best work the photographer has to offer.

Check References.  This is particularly important if you do not personally know your photographer.  Look for online references.  If no online references are available and even if they are consider asking the photographer to provide one or two.  Also, don't forget to ask about publications that have featured the photographers work.

Look for a schedule of open or suggested appointment times.  As a mom with a young family, I like to work with photographers that have clearly defined, but flexible schedules.  This way I can be confident that I know when my session is going to take place and cater the time to suite the mood of my littles.

Studio or On Location Policy: Working with photographers that have both options tends to be awesome.  I love taking our family photographs outside.  Our children love being outside and it's where we often see their biggest and brightest smiles.  But, studio locations can be great as well, especially with small babies. The right photographer can make any location ideal.

Look beyond the photographs lipstick.  Of coarse, photos don't really have lipstick.  But with photoshop things like color, lighting, even location can be altered in post-production.  Focus on features of the photograph that are relatively fixed the moment the photographer snaps the shot.

Here are a few shots that caught my eye...

I love the magic of youth and fun captured in this photo by Tiffany Carolyn Photography
This photograph demonstrates the photographers natural talent for finding the smaller details. 
The angle and action in this shot to me are unmistakable artistry.
This is just my favorite studio shot ever!  Made by Pure Life Photography it is the perfect example
of studio shots done well!  It is clean and focused on just a few subjects.  In this case, two adorable ones. 
Studio sessions can get cluttered easily with to many props, backdrops, and what not. 
I like to stick with photographers that clearly demonstrate the ability to smartly and creatively edit props. 

The cake smash!! It's such a classic moment ... if you can have professionally photographed
I highly recommend it.  This shot also snapped by Pure Life Photography exemplifies
the simplicity and honesty captured in each of their amazing photographs. 

This adorable fire side shot defines props done well!  Joay Photography snapped this classic, sweet holiday picture. 
The props here not only accent the subject but provide a wonderful touch of color and nostalgia all at once without being overdone.  


A Season of Thanksgiving ...

I have so many things to be thankful for this year.  I have been blessed with two wonderful littles, an awesome family and terrific friends.  We have our challenges but with each challenge we have always been blessed to find opportunity, love, grace or my personal favorite ... all three.  I wanted to take this season of gratitude to finally finish a blog post I have been working on for a while. 

While this year has been full of fun and exciting milestones, we have also had to say good-bye to some beloved friends.  Late in the summer months one of our four legged family members was struck down by tragedy.  One afternoon while picnicking with my three favorite littles and our dog,  a cane brake rattle snake approached our littlest who was playing on our picnic quilt.  Our feisty little pup sprung into action.  As the snake lunged for the baby our pup lunged for the snake.  It all happened so quickly.  I was able to grab the baby and get the other two littles to safety thanks to our super-pup's quick spotting and brave action.  However, by the time I made it back to my pup he had sustained 4 deep strikes to his abdomen that would, in the coming hours, prove fatal.  His sacrifice humbled me and my gratitude for our sweet pup is something I don't think I will ever be able to put into words. 

One of the most important parts of our super hero pups story, in my opinion, isn't the way he died, but rather the way he lived.  Our puppy was lovable, sweet, and HIGH ENERGY.  We adopted him before we had children.  We soon learned that he tended to be "male aggressive".  Even though he was a smaller pup he had a BIG bark.  Every time men would pass by or come to visit he would bark his head off!  We went to training classes, read every dog book we could find, DVR'd and watched Dog Whisperer religiously.  Some things worked mildly but his anxiety around men was a tough nut to crack. 

Then it happened, I dropped him off at a groomer with the promise that he would be ready for pick up before lunch.  When I called to check on him at 11 they said he was ready.  When I arrived to pick him they said, "Oh, so sorry he isn't ready.  We need 30 more minutes."  So I agreed to wait.  Moments later I heard unmistakable screaming and barking.  The manager came out and said, "We are sorry.  We forgot about your dog.  He was in his kennel, quite and the tech skipped him.  When we took him out to groom him he was very anxious and squirmy, so we accidentally cut him."  That would mark the last time he would ever go un-noticed at the groomer.  From that moment on, getting our little pup groomed would always be a HUGE ordeal. 

While he was always anxious, struggled with house breaking and could be aggressive towards strangers.  At home he was a lovable fellow never aggressive towards the children and a beloved member of our pack.  The demands of raising a young family though often left us questioning whether or not we had what it took manage our pups needs. 

I hope a truth you take away from our story is not just that our super hero pup is a super hero, but also that he was a dog with behavioral challenges before he was a super hero.  I cannot tell you how many people encouraged us to abandon our dog full well knowing that a dog with his issues would struggle to be re-homed.   If you find yourself facing a challenging season with a pet please consider reaching out for help before you walk away.  There are so many more options available than you realize!  And if you have a healthy pup around your table this thanksgiving give him an extra scratch for me. 



The Utlimate Sensory Bin ...

We spend a good amount of time planning sensory bins and multi-sensory learning activities. But I am always humbled by how impactful and simple it can be to create amazing sensory experience by doing little more than opening the front door.  The outdoors truley are the ultimate sensory experience.  Recently, our signing play group took a trip to a local farm.  The wide open spaces, piles of hay, and dried corn swimming pools where a fantastic sensory eperience for littles and bigs of all ages.  The scale of outdoor environments like farms, hiking trails, and nature preserves are awesome! 
There is something unmistakable and irreplaceable about experiences like a day at a real working farm.  Even so ... there are tons of simple ways you can bring a little bit of the magic home.  One of our friends had the brilliant idea to use thier inflatable swimming pool as a scaled down version of the corn swimming pools at the farm.  She was able to get dried corn at a local hunting/feed store.  You could also consider using dried rice or bird seed.  With any of these options though you do have to be attentive to ensure that your littles are not mouthing or eating the corn, seed, or rice.  All of these items present a choking hazard to little ones.  Happy digging!! 


Sticks and Stones ...

When my oldest son was about 6 months old I was invited to join a mommy group by a high school mate of mine.  I was nervous.  I am far from picture perfect, well organized and super domestic.  So the thought of hanging out with a bunch of moms who primarily defined themselves as MOM scared me to bits.   The thrilling thought of hanging out with ACTUAL adults again won out and I finally made my way to my first park play date, I soon discovered that most moms where just like me, not totally defined by their title but absolutely in love with the job while also being a touch overwhelmed with research, more than a little under slept and occasionally rattled with insecurity. 

That crazy mix of muddled up emotions, goals, and abounding love can lead to some pretty awesome bonding, solidarity and help.  Sadly, in particular that hefty dose of insecurity and sleep deprivation, can also lead to down right depressing group dynamics.  It didn't take long for me to find myself getting the 411 on every member of my new group from my old high school class mate.  The groups leader at the time was a particularly well put together woman.  My old classmate defined her as something called a "Mom-petitor".  I found the term hilarious at the time and was equally intimidated by its implications.  In essence, she described the "Mom-petitor" to me as a mom that always thought her kid was the best, the brightest and thought she was a superior parent to everyone else.  I'm super ashamed to acknowledge that I let her judgement of this mom linger in my head for longer than I should have. 

Then one day, I could not make it to a play date.  My baby had a fever all night and I was struggling to get in to see my doctor.  That mom, who I was told would have my head for canceling the day of any event, sent me a warm email with a bulleted list of things to try to get his fever down while we waited to get into the doctor.  Item number 3 worked!  We got in to see the doctor and when we got home I had another email checking in on my little's health.  I soon discovered that, in fact, this mom pretty much did know it all.  But not because she was a "know it all".  It was due to the fact that in addition to being a nurse she also went through her early days of mother-hood on her own isolated from her family and childhood friends.  She was super efficient because she had to be not because she thought she was better than anyone else.  Today, I feel so lucky to count her as a friend and advisor. 

I try to remind myself of that scenario when I start to feel marginalized and sized up by other mommies.  It can be really hard through the blurry lens of motherhood to hold on to the things that unite us.  As moms we all have a habit of speaking a bit sanctimoniously and without filter about everything from TV viewing, to food, beliefs about what makes a child "good, smart, or more".  Some of us are NOTABLY better at monitoring our messaging but none-the-less with such diverse viewpoints the play date conversation can be a minefield. The decisions we are called to make as parents, "Which school,which teaching methodology, which playgroup, marsupial or stroller mom, attachment parenting or traditional disciplinarian" almost require us to commit deeply to positions.  Then like political candidates we tend to start rattling of facts to one another as if we are headed to the polls.  However, I almost always find that moms respect each other and differing viewpoints.  This makes our debates, unlike most political ones, typically productive and enlightening.

The reality is as much I would like to give everyone a pass because man this job ROCKS but sure is grueling .... bullies do exist in the mommy-verse.  From my perspective, there is a big difference in someone who holds strong beliefs and someone who is a bully.  No ... the bullies aren't created by pintrest, mom blogs and social networking.  They are, in my opinion, most likely great moms who have given into their own insecurity and possess that same magical mix of authority and need to isolate people that make the mean girls in high school ... well ... so mean! 

So what do you do when you find yourself in the cross hairs or standing beside a bully? I haven't a clue.  It hurts to be on the receiving end of snarky and catty comments.  It happened to me just this past week and I still don't know why.  I can now honestly say, though, I think it hurts even worse to hear snarky and mean comments about other moms and friends then about yourself. But the whole thing has gotten me thinking pretty intensely about social choices. 

Here is the commitment I'm making to myself as a result.  I will not let other people define who I am as a parent, a friend, or woman.  I will also not let them define my children or their abilities.  I know I bring value to the table. I know that my children are gifts from God and that we are all perfectly imperfect.  I am committed to forming my own opinions and respecting everyone else's opinions.  <<Insert Big GULP>> I am also committed to finding my voice when I see and hear nasty, catty unproductive behavior even if it comes from the most popular mom on the block.  No matter how tired, worried, or overworked we all might be ... letting each other sink to that kind of behavior is not being a good friend. And  <<Insert Bigger Gulp>> I will remember that being a bully is a behavior choice not a person.  As big, blustery and mean as it all may come across ... there is a person behind those hurtful, careless words ... a person that may be hurting and unable to properly communicate it.  It doesn't make it okay, but it should and will impact my choice to respond with kindness.

“Just because an animal is large, it doesn't mean he doesn't want kindness; however big Tigger seems to be, remember that he wants as much kindness as Roo.”  - Winnie the Pooh


Faith Like a Child ...

I have been struggling with the content of this blog post for a while.  It's honestly just an intensely personal conversation I have been having with myself and never really intended to post it.  But I have decided that, that is not an authentic choice to make.  So here I go ...

I have always known my faith and my heart.  Seriously, I cannot remember a time when I did not know the God that I still know today.  My parents raised me in a very open minded, loving, Christian home.  And they raised me to treasure my faith as well as diversity in all things.  The amazing thing is that my Dad is a member of the clergy in the South.  Yep, the South.  I know not known for open mindedness, but we do exist and thier are more of us then you might think!  However, right along with all that open minded love came a swift helping of reality delivered courtesy of closed, minded church politics.  In fact, most of the churches we called home often fell short of being truley places that mirrored the grace and love that they procclaimed to be.  I have many beautiful memories of lovely people and vacation bible school, but I also have heartbreaking memories of churches that act in ways unimaginable and honestly left me with a wound.

While my faith in God never waivered and infact grew stronger in those heartbreaking moments, my faith in the authenticity of Church suffered greatly.  Then somewhere in my mid-college years my mom happened upon Church that seemed a breathe of fresh air.   That Church had a really great minister and I went to talk with him one day.  Regardless, of what question I asked of him, or detail of me I "unpacked" waiting for a gasp of some kind ... all I found was grace, honesty, and funny guy. Shortly after that I did what we call in my faith "moving my letter".  It just basically means I joined the church.  I told him I wasn't sure that I would ever be able to open myself up enough in church to be as authentic I felt worship requires us to be.  I will never forget what he said, "You don't need to do anything but walk in the door, sit on the back row and slip out. If it's what you have it's more than enough to qualify as worship."

So I slipped in quietly, sometimes frequently, sometimes less so, sometimes even on Wendsdays, but always quietly.  I always felt grace and peace and slowly my wound became a scar.  I started to feel like maybe I could find a true "chuch home" again.   And then started to try to connect and serve.  Trying to find a way to fit in the more active body of the church proved challenging.  I was committed and really wanted to serve where I felt I had experienced so much healing.  I volunteered in the nursery, taught some english as a second language courses and such.  But shortly after I got married at the church I found it really hard to plug in.  There were not programs that supported my young family and I found many of my ideas about how engage more with young families were quickly dismissed.  At a time when I needed the church the most to help support my new family, I felt completely isolated with a deep desire to serve and grow in my church but no visable opportunity. 

One of the things that I had deeply wanted to see begin was a moms group. I had heard so many wonderful things about Mops and Mom 2 Mom groups.  After submitting several emails and white paper to my church leaders and women's ministery to no avail ...I dedided to do the unthinkable ... go into a new and in my view very conservative and theologically disperate church.  I was terrified, which now seems silly. The moment I walked in I felt down right ministered to.  Somone greeted me and showed me where my children would be loved and cared for while I enjoyed coffee and breakfast with new friends along with *gasp* adult conversation.  It ROCKED.  It is truley a place of grace for me and my little family and place where I see opportunity to serve.  While I still love my home church I still can not find a place to easily serve or a comfortable place for my little family.

So here I sit my heart somewhere between two churches full faith and looking for ways to ensure my little ones have a solid church foundation.  Have you ever experienced something similar? 

James 2:17-18In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.


Roasted Pumpkin Seeds ...

I got a few questions yesterday about how I roast my pumpkin seeds.  Here is how I do it! 

Pre-heat Oven to 325 degrees

1 - Rinse and dry your pumpkin seeds.
2 - Lightly oil a baking sheet with organic olive oil.
3 - Spread you pumpkin seeds in a single layer on the oiled baking sheet
4 - Dust with salt and crack fresh black pepper on to the seeds.
5-  Roast!  25 minutes in the oven.

Let your seeds roast untouched in the oven for 10 minutes.  Then give them a stir, making sure they return to a near single layer.  Let them roast to a toasty light brown for about 15 more minutes!  Viola!  Roasted pumpkin seeds!! :)


Calabaza en Tacha ... You Betcha!!

If you are looking for something fun to do with a pumpkin ... have I ever got something yummy for you!! Calbaza en Tacha is a traditional Mexican desert that is pretty simple and oh so good!!  I'm always looking for ways to grow my little one's knowledge of world and flavors beyond our shores.  A sweet treat like this one sure to please! 

Here is what you need:
4 lbs of fresh pumpkin (cut into chunks)
1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 whole clove
2 lbs Piloncillo ( you can use brown sugar or
raw sugar)
a pat of butter

Place a few inches of water in your pot add juice of 1 orange, cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, 1 whole clove, 2 lbs Piloncillo (or brown or raw sugar) and a pat of butter (optional) Stir and add in your pumpkin pieces. Simmer covered until tender.

These things are YUMMY warm.  If you don't have a dairy restriction spoon over a bit of sweetened condensed milk and hello delicious just became decadent!  For some crunch and a little bit of salty spice I recommend you top it with fresh roasted pumpkin seeds!  Even better news this treat gets yummier in the fridge. Including pumpkin cleaning and slicing I would say the process took about 20 minutes! Enjoy!!


Mr. President

I normally don't make political blog posts. Don't be too scared ... I really don't consider this one to be "political" in the here is who I'm voting for way. It's really about my 3 year old and one of his toys. I know I sound like a broken record, about Play @ Home Mom rocking the bloggersphere for moms. But they do and I get a great deal of inspiration from those ladies. One of their product recommendations is this collection of multicultural dolls sold at discount school supply. I ordered a set during one of their sales and I'm so happy to have them. All the little ones that come over love playing with them. While, I don't think the resemblance is great, my son started calling one of them Mr. President. I love it. It's adorable. He often has the president set up to give a speech to crab, frog, and Thomas the tank engine. He also loves to read with him. I had to fight back laughing the other day while making dinner listening to him as he said, "Now Mr. Prezident ... what you see on this pages?" I personally think it's cute and I think that teaching our little ones to respect our democracy, government, and those who serve in the military and in political office is important.

The other day he wanted to take Mr. President to the store with us. We had a ton of running around and while I normally would hold fast to the rule that his toy needed to stay at home ... I waivered. While we were at the store, he asked Mr. President to help him count the marshmallows in a bag. At that moment a gentlemen on the isle with us made a point to stop and tell my 3 year old that, "If that was Obama he would have a better chance of asking the marshmallows to count themselves." I smiled said "excuse us" and began to push my cart as far away from this guy as possible. As we go I and everyone else in the store hears the man yell, "What kinda mom gives a kid a doll of that <<insert expletive here>>." Really?!? So we just headed to fruits and veggies and waited an appropriate amount of time to head back for the rest of our marshmallows. Yes, I needed that many marshmallows :) We had a serious volume of Rice Krispy Pumpkins to make for trunker treat!!

Then today I see a Facebook post made by I mom I totally respect. It's a picture of bumper sticker showing an extremely unflattering picture of the president calling him that same expletive I heard slung at me across the grocery store ... her caption: "Best Bumper Sticker, EVER!". That pic keeps popping up in my newsfeed because other moms I really like and respect liked the thing. Really?!? What offends me isn't necessarily the political viewpoint (I know it happens on both sides of any political debate) It is the choice in communicating the viewpoint.

Here is the thing. No, I don't believe that politicians are saints. Yes, I believe most of them make concessions that leave many of their campaign trail promises in the dust. Yet, I am proud to be an American. To live in a country where free speech is aloud and encouraged. (Which does mean in a wierd way I love that random guy can share his explitives to my 3 year old and all of publix without fear of imprisonment).  I also think it is important for us to choose responsible speech. We are missing something in all of this name calling and posturing, something big. How can we expect our children to rise above bullying and elitist behavior if we continue to set the example that as long as you are calling your president or his opponent names it is A-Okay ,,, just not your friends on the playground or siblings. In my house, once elected be it the republican or democratic candidate, the person in office will be called Mr. President and with that very hard job will come well deserved respect.


The Ordered Environment ...

I love the montessori approach to teaching but applying some of techniques has been challenging. Every time I read anything about montessori the term "the ordered environment" always sends chills up and down my spine.  True confession time: I am not a tidy person.  I do not always put things in there proper place.  I am not proud of it, and I am, of coarse, on a voyage of self improvement on that front. I sometimes leave the dishes until after I get the kiddos to bed, fall asleep myself before getting to them and wake up to the treatury that is a sink full of crusty dishes.  Yes, I understand that my day would get off to a better start if I hadn't left the dishes.  I worry about the bad example and all of that.  But somedays I'm just exhausted, energy zapped and prioritize my shower over the dishes. 

One of my main challenges is that our "learning space" is smack dab in the middle of our house.  On good weeks this actually makes it easier to keep up with things.  But on days when I or the littles or the whole family is behind the 8 ball ... it is horrific.  When I look at pictures of montessori pre schools they are calm,open and well ordered.  My environment tends to be well a little less serine.  :)  Here are my top 3 tips that help keep me on track and help me to right the ship when it all goes wong.

  1. Open Bins, Baskets and Trays: I can't believe I'm saying this because it's a concept that I found very annoying when I started implementing Montessori curriclumn in our home. But when displayed in a lovely way toys can be quite lovely.  I have also found that having visable open items reduces dumping and digging.  When they can see what it is they tend to only go for it when they want to play with item.  My favorite change was taking our twigs out of the
  2. Creating environmental freedom doesn't mean EVERYTHING needs to be out all the time.  Especially in a small space having ALL of our materials accessible to small hands creates a cluttered environment. 
  3. Montessori Mats: I LOVE THESE THINGS!  I made some faux montesorri mats until we can afford an upgrade.  I was inspired by Montesorri At Home to make them out of soft shelf liner.  They have been fantastic.  I use them everytime I teach a 3 part lesson.  My oldest son and niece use them all the time when they want to create space for themselves to work on something.  They love the process of rolling and un-rolling them!  :)


Doing Disney with Food Allergies ...

I have to start this blog post with an honest disclosure.  I LOVE Disney World.  It rocks.  My devotion is ...well ... to quote Barney Stinson, "Legendary".  It's really a family affair.  My hubby and I traveled to Disney quite a bit before we had children and we go several times a year with our little ones now.  There is nothing better to me than going for a stroll down Main Street USA.  

However, when my son was diagnosed at a year old with a severe egg, peanut and tree nut allergy my view of Main Street USA changed. I was terrified! In my minds eye, I could see my son with his nose pressed against the glass, looking at - but not able to taste a single confection, ice cream cone, or float.  The amazing news is nothing could be further from truth!  While yes, there are plenty of can't haves at the confectionary there are also plenty of safe alternatives and amazing well educated staff to help you along the way.  Here are my tips for getting the most out of a peanut and egg free Disney World Trip!

1 - Map it out!

Download a map before you go to the park and familiarize yourself with first aid locations.  You can also take some time out to find dining locations near attractions on your must do list.  Disney World not only has all of our their property maps available online @ http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/maps/; but you can also print a customized map out just for your trip.  :)

While it is super fun to print or order a custom map ... you really don't need to.  There are plenty of durable pre-printed maps as you head into the park.  Our favorite way to keep our maps in to is via our windows phones.  You can access maps, dining, wait times and more from your smart phone @ http://m.disneyworld.disney.go.com.I am also including hotlinks to the PDF Maps for each of the parks here: Map of the Magic Kingdom, Map of Epcot, Map of Animal KingdomMap of Hollywood Studios, Map of Downtown Disney

2 - Meal Plan before you get to the park.

I know meal planning has become a no brainer for most allergy families.  But it bares metioning. Disney does a lot to make meal planning a breeze.   Your best place to start is @ Guest Services - Special Dietary Request Page.  You can find a comprehensive list of thier policy and procedures for managing food allergies.

- Snack Bag: Disney is great about letting you bring in safe snacks, drinks and treats for your little one.  Be sure to pack a cooler filled with energy rich, safe snack items and refreshing drinks.  It can get hot depending on which park you are in and the time of year you travel.  You can also store your epi-pen in your cooler tote to ensure it doesn't get overheated.   

- Reservations are your friend.  While I am sure you will most likely not want a sit down experience at every mealtime.  Reserving a breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even after fireworks dessert makes life awesome.  When you place your reservation you can alert staff to your allergy and they take special care to prepare for you visit.  You can make dining reservations in advance here: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/reservations/dining/

- Managing Quick Service Walk Ups.  In most places you will find staff at walk ups to be friendly and knowlegable.  Don't worry to much about making a pick from the displayed menu.  As soon as you reach the cashier and alert them to your allergy need, they will page an allergy specialist.  The allergy specialist will walk you through Disney's big book of allergy info to make sure you get a safe alternative for you or your little. Our favorite walk up restaraunt is hands down the starlight cafe.  They just rock and always have.  A few walk ups to avoid: The Walk Up Dine in Option in the American Pavillion at epcot (This is the location of our one and only bad experience).  You also want to be cautious doing walk up dining at any of the asian eateries because of the use of peanut oil.  However, don't rule out all sit down asian options.  Just be sure you make a reservation ahead and note your allergy when booking.

Disney also offers great dining plan options for every budget and lifestyle need.

3 - Stay on property.

From the All Star Resorts to Resorts on the Monorail, disney properties have terrific, accomodating food options. All of the "quick service" spots are well educated on how to safely create options to meet your allergy need. We have NEVER had an issue at quick services or restaraunts in the resorts. Given how fequently we travel and stay on property that is pretty amazing. We love resort quick service in the morning. It's terrific to head to the park with a full tummy. You need that energy boost. And almost all the resorts have wonderful dine in options, some even have pretty fantastic character breakfasts!

4 - The Magic Kingdom ROCKS!

I don't know if it is extra pixie dust, a higher ratio of fairytale royality to commoners, or just sheer happenstance but the Magic Kingdom is in my view the most allergy friendly park at Disney World.  Seriously, I love all the Disney Parks but the Magic Kingdom is well just magical.  So I recommend you start there.  Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios have fewer walk up options, but all will still be able to accomodate you, typically with out making you feel like they are "accomodating" you.  Hollywood Studios is a great park and has some wonderful attractions, but only has one walk up that we felt comfortable in, Pizza Planet.  So when heading to Hollywood Studios our typical plan is Pizza Planet or Making a Reservation. 

Important Links from this post ...
Disney Food Allergy Info
Dining Reservations
Disney Maps


Montesorri Monday: Recycling is Sorting Fun!

One of our guiding principles is that we will practice sustainable living. My older littles are great at throwing trash into their bathroom sized lidded step on trash bin near the art center. One of my nightly duties is to go through their little trash bin and sort out the recycl-able items.

One night, I had a profound moment of realization with regard to the littles "trash bin". Number 1 ... almost everything in it was a recycle worthy item. Number 2 ... My littles can sort. We sort toys, we play sorting games, so why I am building in this extra step and robbing them of a valuable life lesson? The next day, I popped our little recycle bin (made of old rolled up magazines) on the floor next to their trash bin and carefully discussed what went where. They ROCKED it!! I was super proud.

Then about 20 minutes later, in came my little crawler carefully and happily unsorting the recycling. Ooops ... no lid on the bin! My solution. I purchased two brackets at the hardware store and mounted the recycle bin just above our full size trash can in the kitchen. It's high enough to be out of reach for the super little and just in reach of the bigger littles. Perfect! They love recycling and proudly announce when they have an item that need to go to the "cycle bin"


Sprout School Notes: Activity Planning

I am knee deep in activity restructuring and planning for the fall season of sprout school.  We have joined a "Tot School" co-op and I want to be sure that I align our weekly group class initiatives with the other work I am doing at home.  I am excited for the adventure and to be connected with local moms on the same track.

While the tot school is providing a "curriculum" of suggested play based learning activities, I am super committed to not leaving behind my Montessori, art and ASL initiatives.  I'm excited to learn that some of the other tot schoolers are striving for a montessori approach as well.  I was right to have confidence in the co-op moms putting the guide together the first 4 weeks are out and they are good fun activities.  Many that we have done or do regularly and sourced from some of our favorite blogs! Hooray!! :)

My first surprise is that I think my approach may differ more than I initially anticipated to the most of the moms in the co-op.  Ultimately, I don't think the differences will make a huge impact on our experience.  But it's exciting to me to be exposed to so many different approaches.  I think the diversity will only make the group stronger.

One of the areas that I have noticed the most diversity is how each family approaches planning and prep time.  Here is how I manage both ...

Planning Time Vs. Prepping Time

Planning Time:
When I say knee deep in planning time.  It's on paper and on the computer.  I am using my planner printable to pop the concepts and ideas we are going to be working on into a structured plan.  I am reviewing my Signing Time, Montessori at Home, Young at Art and favorite blogs and other resources.  I am making a list of all the things we will need.  It is one of the only times I believe I truly plan without input from my little ones.

Prep Time:
I consider prep time a big part of learning time.  For that reason, I include my littles in almost all layers of prep time for activities.  For example, once I have the list of supplies we need we grab our magnifying glass and go on a scavenger hunt for the supplies we need.  If my little ones aren't into helping I don't force the issue.  But thus far ... they almost never, barring illness, aren't into helping.  If we need "play doh" for an activity they help me make it.  Prep time is full of practical skill and confidence building opportunity.  Yes, it can be a bit messy.  But I have found that it also helps to build excitement about the activity. 

I don't think or I should say I hope there isn't a right or wrong method.  Just a right method for each family and learning style :)  What is your method for prepping learning activities for or with your little?


Montesorri Monday: Laundry Day

My oldest has always loved laundry.  Typically, the clean clothes basket if unmanaged quickly, fast becomes a mountain to climb or a pile of leaves to hide in!  During our practical life activities we have been working on all sorts of things like sorting, pouring, and measuring during play.  But I decided it might be time to put some of that theory to work.  My little one loves to help me out around the house.  But sometimes slowing down enough to accept his help can be a challenge.  Realistically, there is a certain level of observation that will always be required when you are talking about ones so little taking on tasks that, frankly, can be so big that I have psych myself up them.  :) 

None-the-less we decided to add his laundry to my oldest to do lists.  He was ecstatic when I asked him if he wanted to wash his clothes!  He ran to his hamper, grabbed it and carried into the laundry room.  I lifted the basket to the top of the dryer and said okay drop your clothes in.  He had a blast!  And a memory of a good time for almost every outfit that went in.  Then we measured out the detergent and he poured it into the dispenser.  I pointed out which buttons to push and away we went!  We watched the clothes wash for quite a while.  We have a top loader so it would be impossible for my little to fish out the we clothes ... hehehe ... I can barely reach the small loads.  So when the wash cycle was done I pulled them into the hamper and had him toss them into the dryer.

Next step: Folding!  I am setting up a few play based activities to help us practice and develop the skill before adding that to his tiny to do's.  While it takes a bit more time and attention to accept little helpers, I have to admit that I actually look forward to doing the boys laundry now.  Primarily, because I have this adorable little one that asks me nearly every morning, "Is it Laundry Day?!?" Here is hoping that his enthusiasm lasts!!

The Wasting Nothing Philosophy

Playing, cooking, reading, exploring, loving, laughing, and making a mess with your little one is NEVER a waste of time! It is priority one! It's not just about getting to know your little one. It's about letting your little one get to know you!