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!! :)

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!