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!

 

One Day in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter! And Happy Birthday to my son Daniel who turns 11 next month. (He’s ready to receive his invite to Hogwarts!)

To celebrate, we surprised him and his sister with a trip to Universal Studios Orlando to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was our first time at Universal. Daniel is a HUGE Harry Potter fan, so we knew he’d be excited. We bought “Park-to-Park” tickets to experience all of Harry Potter in both Universal Studios (Diagon Alley) and the Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade and Hogwarts). If you are planning on visiting, you’ll need to keep your tickets handy to ride the Hogwarts Express between both parks.

We booked a one night stay at a Universal resort and woke up ready for a full day of magical fun, rides, and butter beer. Here’s how it all went down:

7:45 am

We arrived at the entrance to Universal Studios so we’d be ready to run when they opened the gates. I highly recommend you stay at a Universal Studios resort so you can have the perk of entering the park an hour early. This is key for hitting all those Harry Potter attractions without long lines and blistering summer heat. When the gates opened, we went straight to the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride in Diagon Alley.

8:10 am

The Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride had a short five minute wait. Score! Since this was our first ever ride in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we were awestruck at every turn. The waiting area alone is Harry Potter immersive. It’s the famous Gringotts bank from the second “Deathly Hollows” movie. The goblins writing checks are awesome to watch. And the actual 3D ride is fantastic! You strap into a thrilling runaway car where you will be greeted by villains Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange and attacked by snakes, statues, and one really scary dragon. It might be a bit spooky for little ones, but my tweens loved it. Before you walk away, be sure to look up and wait for the giant dragon on top of Gringotts to breath fire. I was able to capture the moment!

8:45 am

As soon as we were done with the Gringotts ride, we went straight to Ollivander’s Wand Shop across the way. This was my favorite moment of the day. You are split into groups and led into a small, dimly lit room inside the wand shop. One lucky “wizard” is picked from each group to have their wand specifically chosen for them. Daniel was picked from our group! It was seriously the coolest thing ever. The wandmaker, Ollivander, gave Daniel three tries before he was presented him with his chosen wand. There were neat special effects and lot of magical touches along the way. Daniel ended up with a 16 inch oak wand with dragon heart string, the exact one he wanted. How magical is that? Then, we were all led into the shop to purchase the wands. Annabel picked out an ivy one. They were fifty bucks each, but it’s the best souvenir from our trip. Be sure to pick at least one “interactive wand” so you can have fun with the magic throughout the park. The interactive wands cause water to shoot from fountains and make the window displays come to life all throughout Diagon Alley.

9:30 am

Now it was time for Butter Beer! We could not wait any longer to try the signature Harry Potter drink. It’s a cool mix of butterscotch and cream soda with a sugary cream foam on top. You can order the iced, frozen, or even hot version! We indulged in the traditional iced version and we all gave it two thumbs up. (Daniel ordered a second one for lunch!) I also tried the Fishy Green Ale which is a minty cinnamon boba tea with blueberry bubbles. It was delicious, but I would pick the butter beer if I had to choose only one.

10:00 am

We were off to Kings Cross Station near the entrance to Diagon Alley to finally take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade. This was my favorite ride by far. It was not crowded, so we had time to watch each other walk through the brick wall to Platform 9 3/4. The special effects are super cool, so be on the look out for this when you’re in line. We boarded the train and sat in our own family car. The train ride feels very real as we “traveled” from London to Hogsmeade. You’ll want to look out the window and into the hallway to capture every moment.

10:30 am

We arrived in Hogsmeade and ventured uphill toward the Hogwarts Castle for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. After reading all the reviews about motion sickness, I decided to take a pass. But my husband and kids loved it. The stomach-turning ride takes you through Hogwarts Castle where you feel like you’re flying on a broomstick. You’ll see Dumbledore’s office, dementors, spiders, and a Quidditch match. The ride uses realistic holographic images and 4D elements like water and smoke. Even though I passed on the ride, I was still able to do the “Castle Tour” to see all the fantastic features and that iconic Sorting Hat.

11:15 am

Since the Flight of the Hippogriff was right next door, we took a quick spin on this kid-friendly roller coaster. It reminded me of Goofy’s Barnstormer from Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It’s bumpy and fast with milder hills, so it’s perfect for younger ones. The line was a little long, but we were entertained by Hagrid’s hut, pumpkin patch, and the interactive hippogriff.

11:45 am

Daniel and my husband were the only two brave enough to try the Dragon Challenge roller coaster* which is based on the dragon challenge in the “Goblet of Fire.” You can pick the coaster you want to ride: the Hungarian Horntail or the Chinese Fireball. They rode the Hungarian Horntail and Daniel said he loved the big drop and upside down loops. You can get back in line and compare both coasters, but my boys decided once was enough, so off we went to search for sweet treats.

*Note: Dragon Challenge is closing September 2017 to make way for a new ride coming soon.

12:15 pm

There were fun Harry Potter-inspired singing and dancing shows on a stage near the coasters. Be sure to stop and watch one or two between rides. We caught one of the Hogwarts Frog Choirs as we were walked to Honeydukes. Honeydukes is the famous candy shop featuring the Chocolate Frog, Pumpkin Pastry, and “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.” We got one of each and they were all yummy. Well, except when Daniel tried a bunch of the beans and “accidentally” ate a “vomit” and “dirt” one. Ewww. We then stopped in the Owl Post to see where all the letters get mailed.

12:45 pm

We decided it was time for lunch and we all agreed to eat at the Leaky Cauldron back in Diagon Alley. You can also choose to eat at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. Both locations serve classic English fare. The Leaky Cauldron is a bit larger and the kids thought it looked just like the movie, so we jumped on the Hogwarts Express and headed back to Diagon Alley. The train ride back was just as special as the first time with the scenic views and magical effects.

1:15 pm

The line at the Leaky Cauldron was not that bad and we were ready for some cooling off time indoors. The restaurant is a traditional British tavern and it completely resembles the spot where the wizards enter Diagon Alley for the first time. You will want to walk around and check out all the cool details. The menu features fish and chips, smoked turkey legs, fish pie, and bangers and mash. They also have kids menus with mac and cheese and chicken fingers.

2:00 pm

After lunch, we let the kids run wild with their interactive wands and test them out on all the special sensory areas in Diagon Alley. They had a great time exploring all the shops and magical spots including Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. I loved window shopping and taking photos of the kids in the colorful scarves and robes. Afterwards, the kids had a chat with the conductor of the three-story purple Knight Bus, the bus featured in the “Prisoner of Azkaban.” The shrunken head in the driver’s seat had a conversation with Daniel about his birthday! Then, they checked out the English red phone booth right outside Kings Cross Station. If you dial the word “MAGIC,” you’ll get a special message from the Ministry.

3:00 pm

Seven hours later, we had covered all of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and even had extra time to explore some of the other rides in Universal Studios. We had an awesome first time experience and can’t wait to go back and visit the magical Harry Potter world again.

Happy Birthday, Harry!

10 Movies To Watch With Your Tweens This Summer

It has been raining for weeks here in Florida! WEEKS! We miss the sun. So I thought this was the perfect time to write about movies since I’m spending a bunch of time indoors with my kiddos.

I sat down with my son and daughter (ages 9 and 10) to compile this list. These are movies that parents won’t mind watching either. There are fun classics (I love my 80s!) mixed with some contemporary favs.

The one rule I had: No Animated Movies. Happy Watching!

1. School of Rock (2003, PG-13)

My favorite Jack Black movie of all time! It totally ROCKS! Jack’s character mistakenly becomes an elementary school teacher and starts a band with the kids in his class. There are a few bad words here and there, but overall it’s a lot of fun with some seriously catchy music. (Not sure why there’s the PG-13 rating.) This movie also has important lessons for tweens like opening yourself up to trying new things and accepting others for who they are.

2. E.T. : The Extra Terrestrial (1982, PG)

I could not wait to show my kids this one. This Steven Spielberg classic truly stands the test of time. It has humor, mystery, and suspense. It also has messages about loyalty and trust: Between Elliott and E.T. as well as the three siblings. Drew Barrymore, who plays baby sis Gertie, is the cutest thing ever. Even though E.T. lacks today’s advanced special effects, my tweens were still mesmerized by it all.

3. The Karate Kid (1984, PG)

This classic taught my kids the very important lesson of standing up for yourself. It’s also about creating a goal and then working hard (I mean, REALLY hard) so you can achieve it. You remember the “wax on, wax off and painting the fence” scenes, right? The innocent love story between Daniel and Ali is adorable. There are a few bloody noses and bruised eyes, but it’s all worth it to witness the central relationship between Daniel and Mr Miyagi. “You’re my best friend” makes me choke up every time.

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001, PG)

My son has read the first five Harry Potter books so we started watching the movies after he finished each one. You should start with this first, but we also highly recommend continuing on with the rest. The entire series is great and the movies make the books come to life. The movies do change into PG-13 ratings, but your tweens will be able to handle all those scarier moments if they are big fans of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

5. Back to the Future (1985, PG)

I adore Michael J. Fox and this movie is a great way to introduce your tweens to one of the coolest actors of the 80s. It’s about time travel and family relationships. My kids loved Doc and all the weird science. There are some awkward moments with the mom liking her son from the future and some bully violence, but the rest is classic 80s fun. Side note: Unlike Harry Potter, all the other Back to the Future movies are terrible. Check out old episodes of Family Ties instead.

6. Holes (2003, PG)

This movie grew on me. My kids loved it from start to finish, but be warned: it’s a little…strange. Holes is about a bunch of teen boys who are sent to dig holes at a detention camp. It’s based on the book of the same name. The visuals are pretty amazing. The young actors (including Shia LaBeouf before he hated acting) are the center of the story and they are all terrific. There are also some great lessons about racial tolerance, determination, and the power of friendship.

7. Freaky Friday (2003, PG)

I love this 2003 remake of the 1976 classic. It stars Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis as mom and daughter who switch identities after a crazy spell is placed upon them. They are both so entertaining and charming. You can tell they are having fun. This movie also sheds a nice light on the complexity of parent and tween relationships. You will also understand how we all fell in love with Lindsay Lohan. She’s so great in this.

8. Night at the Museum (2006, PG)

I love any movie that mixes a history lesson with lots of laughs. Ben Stiller stars in this high adventure flick. He’s the night watchman at New York’s American Museum of Natural History and magically interacts with all the exhibits when the museum is closed at night. This movie is great for your tween’s imagination and I bet they will beg you to take them to a museum this summer. Not a bad thing at all.

9. Rudy (1993, PG)

There is some salty language in this one, but the bigger message made it worth watching with my kids. It’s about Rudy, a young college student who’s one goal in life is to play football for Notre Dame. He is the underdog who never gives up on his dream. Rudy will remind you and your tweens that anything is possible with hard work and determination. Love!

10. Little Manhattan (2005, PG)

I had to add this sweet little gem that I’m sure many of you have never heard of. My daughter loved it more than my son because it does deal with a “whole lot of feelings.” (My son’s words.) It’s the story of two school friends living in Near York City and what happens when the boy develops a big crush on the girl. It’s a bit like When Harry met Sally for tweens. It’s full of heart and a great way to open up the conversation about love and those “feelings.” (But I could do without the opening vomiting number – you’ve been warned.)

Are there other movies for tweens that you recommend? Comment below!

Teen Movies

Tween Movies

Tween Milestone: Trying Out for Stuff

Can I first say that I’m freaking out that both my kids are TWEENS? What is happening right now? My son is 10 and my daughter just turned 9. I wanted to blog about this milestone and I was unsure what age to call them: are they “big kids?” “older kids?” Then I googled “tween” and it said “ages 8-12.” These are the “between” years. My kids are between kid and teenager right now. (WHAT?)

My daughter is trying out for her school talent show tomorrow. She is cool as a cucumber while I have a million butterflies in my stomach. My kid is trying out for something! It could be the most exciting moment ever if she gets into this talent show or she could be devastated if she finds out later in the week that she did not make the cut. This is tough stuff.

There are so many milestones with children and I’ve limped my way to the finish line with most of them by now. My kids sleep through the night. My kids poop on the potty. My kids eat solid foods and can dress themselves. My kids walk and ride bikes. They know their address and they know how to write their name. In cursive too! They are kind, healthy kids and I’m so blessed. So can I take a deep breath and feel like I’ve conquered all this milestone mania?

Well, no. These “tween” milestones are different, but they are still there. Most of them are emotionally charged. Those baby and little kid milestones felt like survival mode. I wanted to keep my kid alive and developmentally on track. Now you have to help protect your kid’s heart from breaking. And that’s basically impossible.

Kids can be mean. School is complicated. The world is bigger. Now my girl faces rejection and I need to figure out how I’m going to react. Sure, she’s joined sports and clubs. The key word here is “joined.” She’s a girl scout. She’s a dancer. She’s in choir. She’s a basketball player. All because she wanted to do it and someone said, “Yes!” I paid some money and she was in! But now she has to try out. They might say, “NO.”

These tween milestones feel so much heavier because this is something my daughter will remember. She won’t remember walking for the very first time, but she will remember getting rejected. But I’m praying this memory will be about the day she sang a Moana song in front of her entire school during the end-of-year talent show. Either way, it’s a moment we BOTH will never forget.