My Top 10 “Back to School” Must-Haves

My two kids went back to school this week (insert sad face emoji) so we are working on a new routine.

Gone are the lazy summer mornings, trips to the beach, Chick-fil-A for lunch twice a week, and ice cream in front of the TV almost every night. I need to keep the kids organized, healthy, and well-rested. Here are 10 of my “back to school” must-haves that help me handle all of that and more!

1. Backpack

I know a “back to school” backpack is a no-brainer, but it took me awhile to find the perfect one for my tweens. We love the Lands’ End backpacks with custom monogramming. My kids were also able to add a fun design to show personal style. These backpacks are extremely durable and there are lots of color choices.

Lands’ End Classmate Large Backpack

2. Lunch Box

I love these simple insulated lunch bags from EasyLunchBoxes. They are inexpensive and hold up the entire school year. They are the perfect size to fit a lunch container, thermos, and more.

 

EasyLunchboxes Insulated Lunch Box Cooler Bag in Blue

3. Snack Bag

My daughter still takes a morning snack to school and this sweet pouch is perfect for a granola bar, grapes, banana, or pretzel bag. I love that she can use it everyday and I just wipe down the inside.

Itzy Ritzy Happens Reusable Snack and Everything Bag in Donut Shop

4. Water Bottle

My kids need clear water bottles for school and this brand fit the bill. These bottles do not leak and they slide nicely into the side pockets of their backpacks.

Aladdin 1-Hand Water Bottle, 24 oz in Marina Blue

5. Lunch Notes

I still love to put little notes inside my kids’ lunchboxes. I asked Daniel if he felt he was getting too old for Mama’s notes and he said, “No way!” That made me smile. These tear-out lunchbox jokes are PG-rated fun and I can add my own personal message on the blank side.

Lunchbox Jokes: 100 Fun Tear-Out Notes for Kids

6. Lice Hair Spray and Tree Tea Oil

Fun fact about me: I’m a complete germophobe! And my biggest fear is getting that call from the school office saying my kids have lice. I have been lucky so far (KNOCK ON WOOD!) and it’s probably because I put tea tree oil in their shampoo and spritz them with mint spray every morning before they walk out the door.

Tea Tree Oil with Glass Dropper

Ladibugs Pesticide-Free Mint Spray

 

7. Wall Calendar

I need to keep our school year organized, so I put all the kids’ activities on a monthly dry erase wall calendar that is stationed by their desks. They can look at it anytime. We update it every month and also include their birthday parties and social events.

DesignOvation Framed Magnetic Dry Erase Monthly Calendar

 

 

8. Cozi App

The Cozi Family Organizer app is a complete lifesaver! My husband has it on his phone too, so we can coordinate his work obligations with all the school activities and appointments. It’s our entire family’s schedule all in one place. I love it so.

Cozi Family Organizer

 

9. Labels

I need to label all my kids’ clothes because they change for gym twice a week. These labels are also perfect for their shoes, lunchboxes, water bottles, and anything else they need to carry to and from school.

Mabel’s Labels Self-Laminating Write On

10. Smoothie Recipes for Breakfast

We have a small window of time in the morning for a healthy breakfast. One of our all-time favs is a breakfast smoothie. I found easy, nutritious breakfast smoothie recipes on Weelicious, Rachael Ray, and Super Healthy Kids. My two kids also love the banana bread smoothie bowl from Real Housemoms. You will need a good smoothie blender and I highly recommend the Ninja. And on those mornings we need to run out super early, we’ll stop by our local Smoothie King drive-thru to grab a strawberry banana to go. Yum!

Ninja Professional Blender

 

Is there a “back to school” essential that you can’t live without? Comment below!

 

My Halfway Through 2017 *Updated* New Year’s Resolutions

Back in January, I was motivated.

I love a new year! It’s filled with hope and renewal and promise. I made a list of things I wanted to do and accomplish. Some of the goals were lofty (lose 15 pounds!) and some were even loftier (organize my entire house from top to bottom!)

Now that we are halfway through this year (Hello, JULY?!), things have changed. I need to adjust some of these resolutions. Why? I’m a MOM.

So here are my updated resolutions for the rest of 2017:

1. Lose Weight. Forget losing weight. I’m trying to not GAIN any more weight at this point. Curse you, holidays. And summer vacation. And weekends. And Tuesdays.

2. Organize My House. All that house organizing? My new goal is to move all the darn Lego bricks, golf balls, and scraps of craft paper from my floors before my family comes to visit next month. Oh, and wash the guest room bedding.

3. Read More. Does reading the “Reality Steve” Bachelorette spoilers count? No? Okay, then I’m changing this to “GET THE KIDS TO Read More” so I have time to watch The Bachelorette.

4. Stop Drinking Wine on Weekdays.  Hahahahahahaha.

5. Cut Down on Spending and Save More. This one might have worked if #4 had worked. Oh, well.

6. More Date Nights. My plan was for the hubby and I to have a date night every other weekend. It would be a time for the two of us to talk and bond. This has changed to picking a Netflix series we can watch in bed together while the kids are watching Disney Channel in the other room. We have to turn the volume down really low because of curse words and sex scenes. It’s super romantic.

7. Spend Quality Time with the Kids Separately. I simply need to add “running errands” into the middle of this one. I brought Daniel with me to gas up the mini van last week. Annabel and I ran to Walgreens to pick up more printer paper. Check and Check.

8. Cut Down on Caffeine. Hahahahahahahahaha.

Okay, Moms. What are some resolutions that you need to “adjust?” Comment below!

Summertime as a Kid: Then and Now

Then: My mom told me to go outside and find someone to play with.

Now: I text other moms to orchestrate weekly playdates which include detailed lunch plans and an activity or craft.

Then: I learned to swim with 20 other kids and one instructor at the local Y.

Now: I enroll my kids in one-on-one infant survival swim lessons when they’re nine months old.

Then: A cool treat was a five cent freeze pop that I opened with my teeth.

Now: A cool treat is a five dollar unicorn frappuccino from Starbucks.

Then: My day camp was a CAMP. We made necklaces out of sticks and collected rocks.

Now: Their day camp is an EXPERIENCE. They develop skill sets and complain if they spend too much time outdoors.

Then: My vacation was one week at the beach. The same beach. Every year.

Now: It takes six months of pre-planning to take my family on a summer adventure that is way too expensive and then I realize I should have just gone to the beach.

Then: Catching lightning bugs and placing them in a jelly jar was as “high tech” as I got.

Now: My kids spend hours mastering the next level of some new battle game on their iPad.

Then: I knew to come home from playing kick-the-can when the sun went down and the streets lights came on.

Now: Whose kids are wandering around outside at dusk??

Then: My bike was my freedom and my only mode of transportation during the day.

Now: I live in my car as I cart the kiddos to and from the aforementioned camps and playdates.

Then: The only summer television I watched was morning cartoons and Miami Vice on Friday nights.

Now: My kids have already “season passed” AGT, World of Dance, Big Brother, and everything on the Disney Channel.

Then: My mom wanted to protect our skin so she slathered us with the new Coppertone SPF 4. That lasted us all day.

Now: I cover my kids with SPF 50 every hour on the hour. Even on rainy days.

Baking Lessons

My son and I have similar personalities. He’s a lot like me while my daughter is a lot like my husband.

My husband and Annabel are extroverted and carefree, while Daniel and I are more introverted and cautious. We’re thoughtful. We don’t want to be the center of attention, but we want to be invited to the party. We’re conscientious and organized.  We’re also sensitive to things that throw us off, like traffic jams or bad weather.

Where this mother-son connection might get a bit tricky is when both of us are in a situation that makes us uneasy. One example is flying. The first time I went on an airplane was college. I wasn’t into it. I still get nervous every time I fly and I’m sure it’s because of my lack of experience but also because I have no control. That’s a crappy feeling for someone who’s already cautious.

So it made sense that Daniel might be intimidated to get on an airplane too. His first flight was with me when he was three-years-old.  The two of us were headed to DC for my nephew’s first birthday. I wanted Daniel to start flying when he was very young so he would think of it as “no big deal.” I also couldn’t let him see me sweat. I smiled through every bit of turbulence and told him anything bumpy was fun! Hooray! Like a roller coaster ride! And it worked! He’s a good flyer.

The same thing happens with the weather. Daniel hates bad weather, although he wants to be a weatherman. (There is probably some big psychological explanation for that, but that’s a post for another day.) When the storms are terrible, I hate it too. But ever since he was a little kid, I act as though it doesn’t bother me. I tell him everything is fine and to look at his weather app to track the storm. To take deep breaths.  He used to get very upset when he saw dark clouds and lightening, but now he’s learned to handle it.

The other day Daniel came home from school and wanted a snack. I guess there was nothing here to his liking, so he looked inside the kid’s cookbook he bought at the school book fair. He decided on biscuits. He looked around the pantry to make sure we had all the ingredients and away he went. He preheated the oven, mixed up everything in a bowl, put perfect circles of dough on a cookie sheet, and then baked them until golden brown. He did this with such confidence and ease, the complete opposite of his Mama.

I am not the cook in the family. My husband takes on those main duties. Sure, I can make simple eggs and pasta, but the thought of cooking an entire meal or baking homemade biscuits (!) stresses me out. It’s overwhelming. But watching my own son so relaxed about the whole process made me want to venture out of my cooking rut. I actually found myself dusting off a cookbook my mother-in-law gifted me two Christmas’s ago (it’s Jessica Seinfeld’s The Can’t Cook Book. How appropriate.) and started looking at some pork recipes to try.

Parents are supposed to teach children how to navigate the hard stuff, but it turns out my son taught me a lesson that day. And those were the best biscuits I have ever tasted.

Sushi is Life

One of my greatest challenges as a parent is trying to find a meal that everyone will eat. After ten years, we’ve managed to get the eating vs. non-eating ratio up to 3 out of 4 on most weekdays. Turkey chili? Everyone, but Annabel. Homemade pizzas? Everyone, but Daniel. Chicken always works, but then I’m adding pasta for the kids and salad options for the grown-ups and it feels like four different meals at the end anyway.

I did find the one golden ticket: Sushi. I say golden ticket because do you know how much raw fish costs these days? If you like sushi, then you do. If you don’t like sushi (wait, are there people who don’t like sushi?) Sushi had always been reserved for date night. When the kids were babies, we would leave them with a sitter and head out for sushi and a conversation. It became our monthly tradition. That gradually turned into weekly sushi date nights at home. We’d put the kids to bed at 7:30 and order sushi take-out. We’d open a bottle of wine and catch up on old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and then, later, Parenthood. I looked forward to it every Friday night. Then, when the kids got older, we let them try some of our sushi. They loved it. It’s healthy, so I was all about it. I didn’t know at that time the gigantic mistake I was making.

I now have sushi-obsessed children.

We began adding a roll here and extra orders of salmon sashimi there. Soon, the kids were sitting down with us on those Friday evenings and eating sushi instead of their usual microwave pasta delights. Don’t get me wrong. It’s fun to share the love of sushi with my children. But it’s not cheap. We do it one time a week, either Friday or Saturday night. It’s the one meal all four of us completely agree on. Annabel loves her California rolls and fish eggs and Daniel has his salmon and crab. It’s now our FAMILY tradition.

Annabel recently joined the musical.ly app. It’s an app where you lip sync to songs or movie lines. (Necessary parental side note: Yes, she’s private. Only her friends can see her on it. It’s the only social media app that she is allowed on at this time.)

On her musical.ly bio, she has space to write one sentence about herself. This is what she wrote:

“Sushi is Life.”

Followed by a bunch of heart and smiley face emojis. You could see it for yourself, but she’s private. You’ll just have to believe me.

Now this sushi obsession has grown into the kids asking for it more than once-a-week. They see me muddling over the dinner menus and trying to fill in the blanks: “Annabel, will you please TRY chicken soup?” “No, I don’t like anything with broth.” “Daniel, can I make you a turkey burger? Everyone else eats them? “No, thanks.” Sigh. Then they always shout out in unison, “SUSHI! Can we have sushi on Thursday? or Monday? or TONIGHT??”

“No, guys. Sushi is once-a-week only. A special treat.”

The other afternoon we were all lounging around the living room after school. You know, that small window of time after activities and homework, but before dinner is ready? Annabel turns to me suddenly and says, “You know what, Mama? When I’m rich, I mean, DIRTY RICH, I’m going to eat sushi EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.”

Me, too, Annabel. Me, too.

The sushi pics are from our AMAZING dinner at Fat Salmon in Philly! Some of the best sushi we’ve ever had. Yum!

Long Days

As my daughter was climbing out of the car during morning drop-off yesterday, she turned back to me and said, “Mama, I can’t believe third grade is almost over. It went so fast! It feels like it just started!” And off she ran into the school after emotionally punching me in the gut. Good one, Annabel! Now I have to go to the gym and try not to tear up on the treadmill while your childhood is melting away!

I don’t want to be that dramatic, but the other day I was rocking out to my “I love the ’80s” CD in the mini van ( I still can’t do those mp3/iPhone hook-ups. Old School 4Ever.) and the song “If You Leave” comes on. You know, from The Breakfast Club?

“We’ve always had time on our side
But now it’s fading fast
Every second
Every moment
We’ve got to, we’ve gotta make it last.”

And I start crying. Semi bawling. I have to walk into Walgreens to get my kid a Flonase spray and I pretend it’s for me because my eyes are red and puffy and snot is coming from my nose. Why am I losing it lately?

I’m blaming my friends. My one friend has a daughter graduating from high school and my other friend had a baby girl two months ago. I am in an emotional overload sandwich over here. I’m constantly thinking about my babies leaving me for college or thinking about how they are not babies anymore and where are my babies and why are they leaving me?

I sometimes wish for the days when I had my babies at home with me. The long days when there was no school yet and it was just the three of us filling the day with puzzles and juice boxes and walks to the park. Can I tell you new moms out there a secret? You won’t remember the bad stuff. Those really crappy LONG DAYS that never end? You won’t remember them. The sleepless nights, the tantrums, the poop, the food messes. Nah, you won’t remember that stuff. I don’t even know if I could change a diaper anymore. But you will remember the good stuff. The chubby legs and the night snuggles. The Santa visits and all the family vacations.

Now I try to enjoy every little moment. I put down the camera and just watch. I jump in the pool instead of staying on the side. I play checkers on the floor instead of doing more laundry. I pay attention when they tell me all about the fourth book of Harry Potter. I run upstairs and kiss them goodnight, every night. Because the LONG DAYS?

I wish for them more than ever.

 

My Gender Reveal Party! (It’s Not What You Think)

My gender reveal party had three people in attendance. And it wasn’t actually a party. It was me, my husband, and the sonogram tech. “Congrats, it’s a boy!”  I had the same party a year later. “Congrats, it’s a girl!” That was it.

Don’t get me wrong. We were thrilled! We were overcome with emotion! I cried. My husband fist pumped. It was a memorable moment. For the three of us. In a tiny dark room during my husband’s lunch break.

As a mom to older kiddos (9 and 10), I’m realizing I missed out on a lot of these cool, new mommy trends. When I was pregnant with my son Daniel, there was no such thing as a “gender reveal” anything. I missed out on the party where all your friends and family gather at your house to enjoy a taco bar and mango margaritas while you hit at a piñata until blue confetti pours out. A son! Or maybe you go on Facebook Live! to cut into a giant white cake to reveal a strawberry pink middle. A daughter! I’ve even seen the YouTube video where the happy couple opens a giant cardboard box and pink AND blue balloons fly out. Twins! One of each! How awesome!

I love planning parties. I would have really annoyed my family and friends with an obnoxious gender reveal party. I could have done an 80’s theme. A Michael Jackson impersonator moonwalks into the room and tosses us a pink or blue Rubik’s cube. Or since it was 2006 when I was pregnant, maybe I would have jumped on the popularity of American Idol which was the number one TV show at the time.  Everyone would sing karaoke, drink Coke, and eat star-shaped food until it was time for the grand finale. Hubby and I would stand on a stage while blue or pink confetti poured down on us.

A girl can dream.

I’m done having kids so there are no gender reveal parties in my future. But that’s okay. I have two amazing, healthy little ones who I love and adore. And I do have a photo from each of their gender reveal moments that I cherish with all of my heart.

Did you have a gender reveal party? Tell me about it below!

#MelanomaMonday

Happy Monday! And guess what? It’s MELANOMA MONDAY! Woot!

Okay. I know this is not a fun way to start your Monday. (Where’s my coffee? I need coffee.) But it’s important. Melanoma awareness is important. Skin cancer awareness is important. I feel this way because..

I HAD MELANOMA.

That’s right. So this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. It’s something that has changed the way I take care of my skin and my husband’s skin and my children’s skin. I am THAT MOM. The mom who runs around and tackles my kids so I can apply sunscreen to every single inch of their body. I’m the mom yelling “Don’t forget your hat!!” as they head off to swim or play golf or walk to get the mail. I’m the mom who winces when I see another kid in the hot sun without a hat or sunscreen. I’m the mom who’s already taken both my kids to the dermatologist for a mole check.

My melanoma was from an irregularly shaped mole. I had the mole my entire life but it was on my back and I never paid that much attention to it. When I was 25 I developed a weird skin rash and went to a dermatologist for the very first time. My doctor decided to do a full body skin check since I’m very fair skinned and had never been to a dermatologist. She saw the mole on my back and immediately removed it. That didn’t phase me. I was glad to see it go. But then I got a call later that afternoon. You need to come back in. You have skin cancer.

I was floored. I had never heard of melanoma before. It is the deadliest form of skin cancer. But it’s also highly treatable if caught in time. I had to have surgery the next week. They were going to cut a tennis ball size circle around the mole to make sure any possible cancer cells would be removed. They had to clear the margins. They would take a thin layer of skin from my left thigh to cover the giant scar. So I’d have two large scars.

After the surgery they told me I was clear. Thank goodness. I could breathe again. I didn’t care about my scars. I didn’t want to have skin cancer anymore. I now have to get my eyes checked regularly. I had to get a lung scan (because melanoma can spread to the lungs or the eyes) and of course I get annual body scans. I’ve had every mole removed from my back and pretty much everywhere else on my body. I still get nervous every time I go to the dermatologist even thought it’s been 20 years since I had the melanoma. They tell me I can’t go into the sun without sunscreen.

So I’ll continue to be THAT MOM. I’ve been made fun of because my kids are wearing SPF-50 on a cloudy day. My kids have complained they are too greasy to play sports. A day at the beach does not happen without a tent or umbrella. I’ll constantly check my children’s moles and take them to the dermatologist once a year.

Please be aware of skin cancer. Go to the dermatologist and do a skin check. Have fun in the sun with your family, but just pile on that sunscreen! (My favorites are THIS ONE and THIS ONE.) For more information on melanoma and how you can #spotskincancer, visit HERE.

Annabel’s American Girl Birthday Sleepover

Annabel had her very first sleepover party last weekend and we all survived to tell about it! But seriously, all the girls were super adorable and well-mannered and you know I LOVE a good THEME PARTY! (See here, here, here, and here!)

Our sleepover theme was American Girl. All our guests were told to bring their sleeping bag, PJs, and favorite doll. Annabel helped me come up with all the fun activities, games, and decoration plans. We went with pink and hot pink streamers, balloons, paper products, and American Girl doll accessories. I had matching party hats and tiaras for the girls and their dolls. Each guest received a sleeping bag and eye mask for their doll and a personalized eye mask for themselves. Annabel also sewed each girl a pillow for their doll. (She learned to sew last summer during camp.) We organized our playroom as the sleeping area for the night and Annabel also made each girl a cute bed sign to welcome them to the party!

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We had five main American Girl themed activities for the party: A “Lea” Scavenger Hunt, a “Saige” Painting Craft, “Grace” Cupcake Decorating, a “Julie” Basketball Toss, and an “Isabelle” Dance Party! The girls loved it and it kept them busy between dinner and movie time.

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I also planned a couple cute filler games. One was a “Love it” or “Don’t Love it” quiz where they each had a sign with a pink heart on one side or a heart with a big “X” drawn through it on the other side. Then they flipped their sign to answer questions like “Do you like roller coasters?” “Do you like cats?” or “Do you like scary movies?” We had each girl ask a question too which made the game turn super silly. They loved it!

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We picked An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success as our movie of the night. It was adorable and I knew there would be zero issues with language or content which is something to always consider. We had popcorn, pretzels, and fruit trays as snacks. One of Annabel’s girlfriends gave her an adorable nightgown which all the girls could autograph as a first sleepover memory. Love! Once the movie was over, it was time for some sleepover-themed Mad Libs and then lights out!

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The girls slept for about 6 hours which was a great success in my book. Yay! In the morning we had a pancake breakfast, present opening, bead necklace and scrapbooking crafts, but mostly they just wanted to play and girl talk. Oh, and try out big brother’s four-wheeler in the backyard.

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The girls went home with a pink tote bag for their goodies and we attached a special star necklace and poem for each friend. Thank you Pinafores & Pinwheels for the awesome idea. Find it HERE.

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The sleepover was so much fun. Annabel gave it a “100” on a scale of 1-10. She was so sad when it was over. As a gift, I gave Annabel a mini photo album that would hold all the instant photos we took throughout the night. The only challenge was I had to remember to snap those photos with my Fujifilm INSTAX camera while also taking separate iPhone photos. But it worked out great and now she has a sweet photo album from her very first sleepover party. It was such a special celebration of my girl’s 8th birthday and I’ll never forget it. I hope she won’t either.

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And at least I have a year until I plan the next one, right?  :)

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PARTY DEETS:
American Girl Sleeping Bags: Etsy shop, JMaga Clothing

American Girl Eye Masks: Etsy shop, Little Buttercup Dolly

Girls Personalized Eye Masks: Etsy shop, The Sleepy Cottage

Initial Paint Craft Items, Paper Products, Doll Crowns: Target

Pink Jelly Goody Bags: Oriental Trading

Instant Camera and Mini Photo Album: Amazon

Annabel’s Party Outfit: J. Crew

Eight

It’s been a big year for my girl. She got glasses and lost teeth. She joined Brownies and church choir. She saw her first concert and her first orthodontist. She learned to make sandwiches, sew, and multiply. She still loves fashion, art, and music and spends hours in our art room making new creations and coloring masterpieces. She adores her stuffed animals and American Girl dolls. Her “Pinky” puppy is her number one companion – my daily reminder that she’s still my “baby” girl and for that I’m so grateful.

She’s loyal and funny and loving. She loves BIG, this girl. She’s always giving the best hugs and kisses. She tells me she loves me every single day. She sends sweet notes to her friends. She’s kind and oh so smart. I love you to the moon and back a bazillion times, Annabel Marie. Happy Birthday. Eight sure is GREAT.

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