Children’s Birthday Parties—The Gift That Keeps on Giving

By: Aimee Tafreshi

IMG_9374Birthdays have the potential to strike fear in the heart of every levelheaded parent. And I’m not talking about our own inevitable decline toward middle age and the nursing home—I mean our darling children’s birthdays.

Some moms lament on Facebook the advancing age of their precious little ones. “Oh my goodness—Junior is already 18 months old—make time slow down please!” The lazy and unsentimental part of me wonders if we really want our children to be babies forever, and isn’t increasing maturity and autonomy a good thing?

I love seeing my kids grow up. I don’t miss the sleepless nights (for months on end) and their complete dependence on me during their newborn days. I am thrilled that my middle child will finally be entering kindergarten next year and beyond excited that my three-year-old is potty trained. No more budgeting for diapers or one dollar a piece pull-ups.

What I have discovered is that children’s birthdays are extremely stressful. These days the expectations are sky high, and I have no one to blame but myself for that mindset. My husband and I both enjoy entertaining and planning elaborate parties, and by the time the last guest has left, we need about a week to recover. Over the years, we have managed to put together some memorable shindigs.

The most over the top was probably my daughter’s fifth birthday party in Connecticut. We lived there only six months for my husband’s work, and we planned to combine her soiree into a social gathering to say goodbye to all of our friends. I began soliciting catering quotes, and some of the bids sounded more appropriate for a small wedding. We lucked out with a local military wife who prepared our food at zero or negative profit because she loved cooking for others.

The entertainment was a different story. I found a website that matched local talent—like clowns, balloon artists, face painters—with families looking for birthday party entertainment. I could enter in the event details and the price I was willing to pay, and the site would provide potential matches. On our shoestring budget, even Giggles the Clown had better things to do. I finally found an enterprising high school student who fit the bill as a talented magician and performer. My husband tried to negotiate down his price, but “Austin” stuck to his guns. We bit the bullet and hired the young magician, and he was every bit the consummate performer and professional. The kids loved him, and my MasterCard bill would tell me their satisfaction was “priceless.”

For the drinks, we actually considered bringing in a bartender but decided we could save money by providing our own liquor and a signature mixed drink recipe. As my daughter’s birthday falls on Cinco de Mayo, we had to go with the classic margarita. The recipe we inadvertently chose was so strong that only a few men could handle the stiff concoction. Luckily we had some beer and wine as an alternative to our tequila on ice.

Most people would assume hosting a birthday party in your home would be the most economical choice, but I have found it to be the most stressful and expensive option. The food and drink bill usually runs several hundred dollars, and then you have to worry about entertaining the little guys and gals, so they won’t decide to destroy your house instead. And forget buying your own child birthday presents—that budget gets blown out of the water by food and entertainment expenses.

Another in-home birthday party for my middle child was more low-key but probably about the same price as the high-end catered affair in the end. My son’s birthday falls near Halloween, so he is stuck with a ghoulish theme for the rest of his natural life. We rented a bounce house, the best investment ever, as some kids jumped the entire time, including ours.

We also had fun placing dry ice in a cauldron for a spooky effect, and we turned our garage into a modest haunted house with a few scary characters and creepy music and sounds. Finally, we picked up some smaller pumpkins from a local church-run pumpkin patch and set up tables with washable paints and brushes. Each child could decorate his or her own pumpkin and take it home as a party favor. Normally I forgo party favors unless the party lends itself to them—like the pumpkins or cascarones (a/k/a confetti eggs) on Cinco de Mayo. Those filled-to-the-brim-with-confetti eggs are a fun favor to send home with unsuspecting parents. Now everyone will have something to vacuum post-party.

Two of my favorite birthday parties occurred outside of the home. For my daughter’s most recent birthday, we weren’t feeling up to the usual big bash and elaborate preparations. She loves to swim, so we rented out the local pool for the morning timeframe before it opened to the public.  When I schedule a birthday party for the a.m. hours, the event doesn’t consume my entire day, and the kids (and adults) are still pleasant and alert.

We bought some kid-friendly beverages, heavier hors d’oeuvres and Minion-themed cupcakes for dessert. We invited her girlfriends, and they had a blast swimming and hanging out. A few of the moms told me they enjoyed the low-stress nature of the party, and I agreed. I marked this idea down as one I would replicate in the future. And most importantly, the birthday girl had a blast doing her favorite activity with her school and dance friends.

Another memorable birthday fete occurred at a local ranch that rents out its space and services for events on the weekend. The price was reasonable, and the featured entertainment was worth the cost. For my son’s third birthday party, the kids interacted with barnyard animals, including giving a bottle of milk to a baby cow. A rustic hayride was also part of the package. We simply showed up with some sandwiches, drinks and cake, and sat back and let the party hostess run the show.

For our two sons’ most recent birthdays, we decided to scrap hosting a shindig and go with a “family” birthday party instead. We don’t have any relatives whom live close by, but we are lucky in that various family members have traveled from Texas or Alaska to join us in celebrating our children’s birthdays each year.

For my youngest son’s third birthday, we made a dinner reservation at our favorite downtown joint, and they seated us in an area that was private yet open to the restaurant. My in-laws were visiting, so we had a festive number of people around the table. We devoured a custom Minion cake (what else), and the adults enjoyed margaritas during the delicious dinner. Following our meal, we headed down to the waterfront to load onto a boat for a sunset family cruise. We saw dolphins, some lightning (eek!) and enjoyed the tranquility of cruising around a river at dusk.

We took a similar approach for my oldest son’s fifth birthday last month. I asked him what he wanted to do, and in his direct nature, he told me exactly what he wanted—to visit the zoo, eat at a particular restaurant and go to the beach. Our family dedicated the entire weekend to his birthday. On Saturday, we spent the good part of the day at the zoo, riding the train, attempting to pet stingrays as they glided by and walking through the butterfly garden.

The following day, his actual birthday, he opened presents and ate cake mid-day, and then we headed to a casual beachside eatery that evening. The weather was blustery, but we were able to dine outdoors sitting under an overhang, while the kids climbed on a playscape in the sand, and waves broke in the background. Following a low stress dinner, we walked a few hundred feet to the beach. The weather was so uncharacteristically windy and chilly that we lasted about five minutes on the shore—enough time to shriek in the frigid air—while the kids dipped their toes into the tidal pools, and the sun melted down into the horizon.

We bundled ourselves up in towels, sprinted to the car and found satisfaction in checking another birthday off the list, the last one in our family for the calendar year. As that crazy weekend wound down, I realized the most important part of a child’s birthday is to simply live in the moment and focus on your child’s happiness. I don’t need a costumed character or twenty sugared-up children to properly celebrate my little one’s big day. Please send my regrets to Giggles the Clown because I see more carefree birthday celebrations in our future…

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. She also enjoys teaching Zumba in her spare time, seeking out Mexican food dives (in Florida!) and watching Texas football.

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Ten Popular Boys’ Names Inspire 101 Fresh Picks

By: Aimee Tafreshi

baby boy pic

Throughout my childbearing years, I have kept a list for potential boys’ and girls’ names. The girls’ list is about twice as long as the boys’ one. Girls seem to have a myriad of naming options, even borrowing from the boys (i.e., James, Wyatt, Hayden, Sawyer and McKinley) for a modern twist. There are gender-neutral girls’ names (Blair, Peyton, Quinn), retro girls’ names (Lottie, Lucille, Olive), frilly girls’ names (Lilliana, Annabella), exotic-sounding girls’ names (Catalina, Arabella) and made-up girls’ names (Brylee, Gracelyn, Julissa). But oh yeah, this column is about boys’ names…

In the boys’ camp, I could never come up with as many options as I would have liked. When my first child – a girl – was born, I almost named her Brooke. But I loved the name Brooks even more, and given my perceived dearth of boys’ options, I was thrilled to bestow the name upon my second child, a boy. When it came to my youngest son, my name options varied among stylish choices like Hudson and Emmett, classic options like Henry, and names that I felt a connection with like Beech (husband said no way!) and Blaine (the winner!).

As I delved more into the world of baby names, I discovered that there is a treasure trove of boy names just waiting to be unearthed. Boy names are great because there is a strong collection of classic names, Biblical names, (mostly) non-annoying trendy names and interesting word names that are ripe for the picking. As many of us parents are drawn to the same boy name choices, I have put together a list of 101 name alternatives to some of the most popular baby boy names used today. These names are inspired by the original and may share similar origins, sounds, letters or styles.

(Numbers in parentheses refer to a name’s popularity ranking on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) “Popular Baby Names” list; a name not followed by parentheses is ranked below the top 1000 most used boys’ names.)

1. Noah has enjoyed a presence in the SSA’s top 1000 baby names since 1900. In the mid-90s, Noah took off and began its ascent to Number 1, a position it has held the last two years. Noah calls to mind the biblical Noah, the character Noah from The Notebook and Noah Wyle of ER fame. It’s not surprising that this cool and softer-sounding name has climbed the ranks. For parents looking for a similar feel to Noah but wanting to avoid the most popular boys’ name in the country, consider these choices: Jonah (Number 138), Judah (Number 243), Nash (Number 364), Ronan (Number 366), Thaddeus (Number 732), Alton, Boaz (nickname Bo), Lazaro, Tobiah or Jorah.

2. Liam was a relative latecomer, breaking into the SSA’s top 1000 in 1967, after which it drifted in obscurity. The Irish Liam picked up its pace in the mid-90s and broke into the top 100 in 2006, now sitting high at Number 2. If you are after an Irish-inspired or softer sounding boys’ name, think about these cool names: Rory (Number 416), Rhys (pronounced Reese) (Number 483), Callum (Number 729), Cael, Cian (pronounced KEE-en), Corbin, Cormac, Deegan, Eamon (pronounced AY-mon), Edmund, Lyle or Rafferty.

3. James has an illustrious history on the SSA’s top baby names list as a moniker bestowed upon presidents, royalty, biblical figures and pop culture icons. James remained in the top 5 of baby names for a period of at least 80 years, beginning when the government made available these statistics from 1900. James reveled in the Number 1 name spot for 13 years straight from 1940 through 1952. This name titan once again returned to the top 10 list this year at Number 9, after a 21-year hiatus. For an alternative to the cool and durable James, consider the following strong and classic male names: Vincent (Number 104), Theodore (Number 126), Victor (Number 152), Edward (Number 160), Oscar (Number 183), Maximus (Number 192), Rex (Number 663), Seamus (Number 900), Magnus (Number 977), or Chester.

4. Elijah, a biblical and literary name, began gaining traction in the early ‘90s and steadily climbed to the Number 11 spot in 2013. I predict that Elijah will break into the top 10 and continue its climb to the top. For parents wanting to avoid an uber popular name but who desire a similar vibe, think about one of these promising names instead: Ezra (Number 119), Malachi (Number 179), Ezekiel (Number 181)/nickname Zeke, Atticus (Number 370), Enoch (Number 721), Ephraim (Number 928), Jericho (Number 948), Canaan or Jethro.

5. Aiden popped onto the top 1000 scene in 1995, perhaps influenced by the actor Aidan Quinn, who played Brad Pitt’s brother in a movie of the same year, Legends of the Fall. During Aiden’s meteoric rise to popularity, modern parents may have associated the name with Sex and the City character Aidan Shaw, Carrie Bradshaw’s amiable boyfriend. For those ready to give another name a turn, how about these pleasing to the ear choices? Cole (Number 116), Brantley (Number 120), Declan (Number 122), Bryce (Number 131), Rowan (Number 239), Joaquin (Number 326), Kellan (Number 385), Jensen (Number 395), Garrison or Stellan.

6. Although Gabriel (Number 24) has enjoyed a presence in the top 1000 since 1900, this biblical name has experienced its greatest popularity during the past seven years in the top 25. Gabriel lends itself to the friendly and preppy Gabe for a nickname, and I nearly gave both of my sons this name. However, its burgeoning popularity scared me off. For other parents afraid of a name becoming too in demand, try one of these viable alternatives: Micah (Number 109), Emmett (Number 156), Gage (Number 202), Gael (Number 213), Gideon (Number 349), Ellis (Number 443), Quentin (Number 471), Yael (Number 910), Bartholomew/nickname Bart or Galen.

7. Carter, a trendy surname name, achieved its highest popularity to date last year at Number 27. I predict Carter will continue its climb into the top 20 in the next few years. For those parents looking to distinguish their sons, here are some other upscale surname choices to add to your list: Harrison (Number 127), Dallas (Number 268), Knox (Number 286), Cruz (Number 290), Archer (Number 303), Anderson (Number 304), Dalton (Number 312), Walker (Number 327), Cohen (Number 342), or Porter (Number 368).

8. Though not (yet) in the top 10, last year Luke found its greatest popularity of record, climbing to Number 28. Many parents find Luke appealing for its biblical roots, cool vibe and simplicity. If you already know three baby Lukes, think about one of these new (or new again) choices: Nathaniel (Number 94)/nickname Nate, Jude (Number 162), Mark (Number 189), Peter (Number 204), Seth (Number 250), Rhett (Number 338), Malik (Number 376), Ace (Number 379), Tate (Number 388) or Piers.

9. Is the name Wyatt your huckleberry? With its western roots, Wyatt sits at its highest peak ever at Number 28, and I see it breaking the top 20 in a few years. If you want to keep the outlaw vibe, try Weston (Number 136), Maverick (Number 206), Jasper (Number 218), Beau (Number 228), Lane (Number 295), Colt (Number 339), Boone, Django, Townes or Wilder.

10. Hunter, a name that calls to mind a pink polo-clad lad sailing on Martha’s Vineyard, has hovered steady in and around the top 50 spots for the past 20 years. Though this name’s not completely played out, consider giving one of these dapper options a go: Blaise (Number 845), Dash (Number 951), Baylor (Number 958), Bridger (Number 986), Bishop, Bowie, Flint, Gentry, Ledger or Ranger.

Whatever your style, the only limits when it comes to naming boys is your imagination. There are plenty of untapped names that are within the bounds of good taste but not destined for overuse.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. She also enjoys teaching Zumba in her spare time, seeking out Mexican food dives (in Florida!) and watching Texas football.

What To Do When Your Baby Name is Loved by (Hundreds of) Thousands

By: Aimee Tafreshiblogpic

For expecting parents, or even those just daydreaming about their hypothetical future children, choosing your child’s name is one of the most important tasks you will face. Your child’s name will most likely stick with her for life, influence how other’s perceive her and possibly subject her to teasing. For those reasons, most parents take the job of naming a child quite seriously, researching baby name websites, reading baby name books, polling friends and family members and making lists of potential monikers.

In our modern world, there is a vast sea of inspiration for naming children that gives us more freedom than ever to create our own unique name for our little offspring. Television characters, nature words, emotions, place names, super heroes – not many names or words are off-limits when it comes to creating new baby names. Many parents cut through the name slush pile by using guidelines such as tradition, good taste and personal preference. Not surprisingly, there are names that become, or remain, insanely popular each year, and the poured-your-heart-and-soul-into-it pick that sounded so fresh and original suddenly blends in like vanilla with the masses.

Take the name Evelyn, for example. My mother and I were discussing this very name last weekend. When my sister and I were children, we would often tease our youngest cousin, Hayly (who happens to now be the tallest and biggest bad ass in the family). We all shared a grandmother who was very proper and a tad scary at times. During holidays, we would get together for formal meals at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother instructed us to politely utter, “I have reached my capacity,” as opposed to the rather blunt, “I’m full,” at the end of a meal.

As mature preteens, we informed our young cousin that we used to have a sister named Evelyn, whom our grandmother had done away with when Evelyn used poor table manners. We would then chant the name “Evelyn” in a soft, creepy voice to scare the bejesus out of our poor little cousin. (Yes, we were mischievous little devils.) The point of this strange tale is that we chose the name Evelyn because it was obscure and vintage sounding, and we sure didn’t know any children around our age named Evelyn.

Fast forward to 2015 (where we still crack Evelyn jokes at family get-togethers; let the poor fake girl rest in peace!), and Evelyn is Number 16(!) on the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA’s”) annual popular baby names’ list. Evelyn enjoyed great popularity in the early 1900s leading up to World War II and then bottomed out in the low 200s in 1980. Beginning in the 2000s, though, Evelyn has enjoyed a great resurgence, which showed it breaking the top 20 of popular baby names last year.

Evelyn is a great example of a name that sounds somewhat obscure and original until you realize everyone else is loving the name for their daughters too. Now I don’t dare group Evelyn with names like Emma, Olivia and Sophia (Numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the SSA 2014 list). Those latter names have reigned high up in the popularity charts for a while, and anyone who visits a local park or primary school knows that those monikers must be doled out to one in four girls, every day. Evelyn, however, is one of those names that catches you off guard when you discover its popularity. Upon hearing it you think, wow, that’s different. But it’s really not, when you look at the usage numbers.

Not everyone wants her child to have a unique or lesser-known name. Some will happily name their little ones Isabella or Brooklyn and call it a day. For those parents who desire a more distinct name than the ones the masses have declared cool, this blog is for you. I have picked various popular names from the SSA’s popular baby names list and offered alternatives that are underused and overlooked by your peers. Some of the options may share the same first letter or a similar sound with the original name inspiration, while other suggestions may simply evoke a similar vibe or impression.

And for the record, I do like many of the names I am “making over.” But I also think it’s fun to think of different names that haven’t been discovered yet by your circle of mom friends. Some of these names rank in the top 20 of the SSA, whereas others rank a little lower, but in my neck of the woods, they seem commonplace.

In the spirit of Evelyn, today we will focus on leading girls’ names. For the suggested alternatives, I have noted the SSA’s 2014 popularity ranking in parentheses. If there is no number noted, then the name is not within the top 1000 baby names for last year.

1. Riley, along with its various related spellings, such as Rylee, is a very popular name, especially for girls. Riley busted onto the Top 1000 scene in 1990 and peaked at Number 38 in 2009. Today, she holds steady in the Top 50 of girls’ names. If you love the sound of Riley, consider the following alternatives: Finley (Number 223), Allie (Number 257), Leslie (Number 337), Hallie (Number 586), Hattie (Number 590), Stevie (Number 951), Kailani (Number 980), Landry (Number 981), Annalee (Number 987), Lottie or Lettie.

2. Madison (along with other top 1000 spellings, Maddison, Madisyn and Madyson) made her top 1000 baby name debut in 1985 and climbed rapidly up the charts into the Top 10, a position she has held since 1997. Madison peaked in 2001 through 2002 in the Number 2 spot. Hence, a mob of Maddies has ruled the playground for 30 years. Should we allow some other names a turn at the swings? How about Delaney (Number 268), Miriam (Number 305), Megan (Number 308), Sloane (Number 370), Leighton (Number 540), Cameron (Number 578), Dallas (Number 580), Matilda (Number 583), Meredith (Number 606), Ireland (Number 983), or Merida?

3. Ava has enjoyed consistent popularity since the SSA began tracking popular baby names in 1900. Perhaps inspired by screen siren Ava Gardner or celebrity baby names, Ava has shown staying power in the top 10 for the past decade, currently sitting comfortably at Number 5. For parents looking for a baby name with glam, consider these choices instead: Angelina (Number 153), Evangeline (Number 276), Lena (Number 279), Dakota (Number 285), Elsa (Number 286), Nadia (Number 288), Diana (Number 297), Talia (Number 330), Dahlia (Number 445), Vivianna (Number 454), Serena (Number 455), Farrah (Number 759), Greer or Rita.

4. Chloe is a sweet and girlish sounding name that gained traction in the 1990s and entered the Top 10 in 2008. Today Chloe stands solidly at Number 18 and has perhaps inspired the rapid rise of Zoey/Zoe/Zoie. For those parents looking for an untapped twist on Chloe, how about: Clara (Number 108), Daisy (Number 180), Callie (Number 186), Marley (Number 202), Charlie (Number 229), Kira (Number 350), Carly (Number 357), Mae (682), Jolie (Number 790) or Joey?

5. Emma – Calling to mind Jane Austen’s Emma, this classic name saw a huge surge in popularity in the late 1990s through today, where it currently holds the Number 1 most popular spot. If you want to distinguish your baby from the more than one percent of U.S. babies named Emma, consider the following choices: Brooke (Number 137), Emery (Number 161), Elise (Number 166), Eliza (Number 212), Daphne (Number 356), Louisa (Number 973), Sula, Lisbeth, Elinor, Tess or Marianne.

6. Lillian, currently ranked Number 25, is a beautiful vintage sounding name that lends itself to the pretty Lily/Lilly for a soft-sounding nickname. Lillian peaked on the SSA’s popularity chart in the early 1900s and resurged into modern times in the early 2000s. We may see this name climbing higher in the coming years. For a retro name with a feminine feel like Lillian, try Cora (Number 103), Adeline (Number 219), Georgia (Number 243), Leilani (Number 281), June (Number 317), Pearl (Number 628), Coraline (Number 630), Celia (Number 788), Emmeline (Number 907), Clementine (Number 943), Cordelia (Number 993), Susannah, Millicent (nn. Millie/Milly), or Maude (nn. Maudie).

7. Olivia is a name juggernaut with a long history on the SSA’s baby name list. She currently claims the Number 2 spot, and she has remained in the Top 10 since 2001(!).  Pop culture figures such as Olivia Newton-John and Scandal’s Olivia Pope have cemented her status as a cult favorite. Parents looking for a hip alternative to this favorite should mull over these cool girl options: Delilah (Number 130), Fiona (Number 204), Olive (Number 282), Willa (Number 549), Greta (Number 594), Natasha (Number 644), Renata (Number 659), Paola (Number 679), Claudia (Number 724), Elin (Number 733), Odette and Ophelia.

8. Penelope disappeared from the SSA top baby names list for a whopping twenty-five years before reappearing at the bottom in 2001. Fast-forward to the most recent stats and Penelope has climbed steadily up to the charts to a respectable Number 42. Many celebrities have bestowed this quirky and feminine name onto their offspring. I predict that Penelope will continue to climb quickly up the list into the top 25 or higher. For those looking to avoid an already popular name on the rise, consider one of these fresh picks: Isla (Number 150), Eden (Number 151), Melody (Number 156), Presley (Number 189), Athena (Number 195), Anastasia (Number 240), Gemma (Number 272), Catalina (Number 365), Esmeralda (Number 376)/nn. Esmé, Astrid (Number 913), Magdalena (Number 976) or Pernille.

9. Charlotte, the newest member of the royal family, is a beautiful, understated and classic baby name. It’s no surprise that Charlotte broke into the Top 10 this year and will probably keep climbing up due to the royal influence. For parents looking to start new traditions, here are some suggestions for your own little princess: Scarlett (Number 30), Genevieve (Number 210), Eloise (Number 300), Beatrice (Number 601), Martha (Number 735), Margot (Number 749), Lara (Number 824), Amalia (Number 884), Julianne (Number 901) or Muriel.

10. Harper was a latecomer to the popular baby names clique – she made her appearance on the Top 1000 list in 2004, and within ten short years, Harper shot up to her current spot at Number 11. Perhaps inspired by the author Harper Lee or the trend with names ending in –er, Harper will probably break into the top ten spot sometime soon. For those looking to avoid an explosively popular name, here are some viable options, many inspired by other female literary figures: Maya (Number 74), Piper (Number 75), Alice (Number 97), Quinn (Number 126), Parker (Number 235), Jordan (Number 247), Teagan (Number 253), Tatum (Number 392), Juniper (Number 490), Sylvia (Number 493), Virginia (Number 581), Sutton (Number 774), Zora, Liesel, Brontë or Scout.

Hopefully these naming possibilities will inspire original choices for those parents looking for a distinctive baby girl name beyond the top 25. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog on unique baby boy name alternatives to mainstream choices like Noah, Aiden and Elijah.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. She also enjoys teaching Zumba in her spare time, seeking out Mexican food dives (in Florida!) and watching Texas football.

Breaking the Routine – Summer Ideas for Your Little Explorers

By Kim Patterson

Through the seemingly endless winter months parents of small children envision all the fun they’ll have with their kids once summer rolls around. No longer confined by four walls, the kids will be free to frolic and enjoy all that warm weather has to offer. That’s the dream anyways. Many parents of little ones find that once summer is upon them they can’t seem to break out of their regular routines. If you’re eagerly anticipating outdoor escapades with your littles, but haven’t a clue where to start, here are some ideas for summer fun and exploration.

Babies

Babies love to touch, feel and taste. While you might think that the tasting part of their exploration excludes babies from arts and crafts, there is still an opportunity for infants to have their Picasso moment. There are a number of edible finger paints on the market made especially for creative babies. They are colored with fruits and vegetables and are completely safe (probably even tasty). There are even several online edible finger paint recipes for the DIY parents out there. If your baby is old enough to stand while holding onto something, a store bought or homemade water table can provide hours of entertainment and an opportunity to cool down.

Toddlers

As any play dough wielding parent knows, tactile play is best left outside. The toddler set love it, but have you ever tried to get ground in, dried up modeling clay out of your carpet? Summer is the perfect opportunity to move these kinds of activities to a more dough-friendly environment. There are some fun sensory dough recipes to be found online. One that suits the hot weather very well is ice cream dough, which you can readily find recipes for on Pinterest. Whip up a batch or two in different colors and give your toddler a dollar store ice cream scoop and he’ll be serving up your new favorite treats in no time. Sidewalk chalk is another fun option, but why go mainstream? Instead, mix up some spray on sidewalk chalk (do a quick search for chalk spray) and prepare to be amazed by your little one’s creations.

Preschool

Kids this age love to help make things. Don’t worry if you’re not super handy. There are plenty of things you can create together – play to your strengths. For instance, kids (and adults) love to eat ice pops in the summer. Pick up some fill-able tube zip pouches and get mixing with your preschooler. She’ll love coming up with special flavors and you’ll be happy knowing that you’re making healthier frozen treats. If food isn’t your thing then why not experiment with bubbles? Mix up a batch of homemade bubble solution with your preschooler and then play around with different household objects that double as bubble blowers. You can also try your hand at building a giant bubble maker (check Pinterest for instructions).

Of course, water play is always fun for all ages. Invest in a small blow-up pool, turn on the sprinkler or take your little squirt to a local wading pool (hint: it’s always a good idea to find out what time of day the pool gets drained and re-filled and go right after that). Visiting local zoos and going fruit picking are also popular choices. Remember, summer play doesn’t have to be complicated, just break out and have fun!

Sources:

https://weecantooart.com/

http://www.playcreateexplore.org/2013/01/ice-cream-dough-new-play-recipe.html

http://zipzicles.com/

http://www.cometogetherkids.com/2011/04/really-big-bubble-maker.html

http://www.crafts-for-all-seasons.com/giant-bubble-maker.html

Baby Boy Part Deux

And the blog writing hiatus continues… The last time I found the energy to sit down and write something other than a grocery list was oh I don’t know, a trimester ago or so? That’s right. I’m preggers. Knocked up. With child and without an ounce of energy, which is compounded by the fact that I have a 14 month old boy who unlike his mama has enough energy to power the great state of Texas.

Thankfully I am feeling more energetic with every passing day. The first trimester was brutal. The past couple of weeks have evolved into doable. It’s no coincidence that my little fire cracker has found himself in mother’s day out twice a week despite the fact that I resigned from my teaching job in June to stay home with my growing boy.

And how is the stay-at-home life treating me, you ask? It’s hard. Really hard. I seemed to have had way more time on my hands when I was teaching, which probably doesn’t reflect positively on my role as an educator, but come on… I taught fourth grade. Those kids are independent. They could work quietly at their desks for hours on end while I worked quietly at my desk for hours on end. And by “worked quietly” I obviously mean trolled Pinterest for recipes I’d never find the time to cook and outfits I’d never find an opportunity to wear. But that’s neither here nor there now. My days of leisurely trolling Pinterest (or leisure in general for that matter) are long gone.

It’s funny how different the second pregnancy is than the first. Other than a closet full of clothes that don’t fit, I really don’t feel pregnant. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a whole lot of time to focus on this baby like I did when I was pregnant with Jack. Most weeks I can’t even remember how far along I am (15 weeks I think?), and don’t even ask about fruit-size comparisons.

I am happy to report that I have managed to remember prenatal vitamins each night, but I have been wayyyy more lax in every other regard when it comes to this pregnancy. With Jack, I didn’t drink any coffee during the first trimester and throughout the remainder of my pregnancy I would have one cup per day.

These days, a cup of one coffee is absolutely necessary to function within the loosest definition of mother, and most days it requires a second. I haven’t made the plunge into three cups daily, but I often wonder if that would propel me into good wife and homemaker status, as well. Guess we’ll never know…

During my last pregnancy, I avoided cokes (Southern for soft drinks) like the plague as I normally do in everyday life, but the past few weeks, a late afternoon Diet Dr. Pepper has become somewhat of a daily ritual. That ritual may or may not also involve a bean burrito from Taco Bell.

It has to stop.

Jack, the product of my perfectly executed first pregnancy, is pretty dang flawless in my opinion. Sure he’s strong-willed (stubborn) and the pickiest eater around (aside from myself), but other than that we’ve got ourselves a golden boy on our hands. I’m worried that my less than ideal habits with baby boy #2 (yes, it’s a boy) may equate to a less stellar version of baby boy #1.

I’ve got to turn this pregnancy around.

No more late afternoon Taco Bell runs. No more ordering pizza multiple nights in a row. More walking. Less chemicals.

Starting tomorrow, of course.

In my previous post I shared some photos from the first half of our summer. Below you will find pictures from the second half of summer, which include Jack’s first birthday and a trip to Florida, as well. Hope you are enjoying some cooler temperatures this weekend. We are loving this late summer cold-front here in Texas!

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Not interested in his smash cake AT. ALL.

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Not really interested in the beach either. Boo.