Some Mornings You Just Need to Stay Home

posted in: Parenting | 4
Some Morning You Just Need To Stay Home
Photo by Jill Wellington, from Used with permission.

I have to tell you, I love being a mom.  I love seeing my boys grow and develop, watching them refine their social skills and practice empathy. It feels good to be able to take them to activities like preschool, swimming, music class, and other activities outside the home.  But sometimes, it can feel a little overwhelming.  Sometimes all the hustle and bustle can make you feel worn thin.

It’s on mornings like today that I know I need a break.  An unplanned departure from our routine.  Some days it is better to skip everything and just stay home.

Today was that day.  We had a morning Moms and Tots group to be at, but the boys slept late, and I was feeling frazzled.  The house was a mess, nothing felt calm, and the past week it seemed like we have been at home only long enough to eat, mess up the kitchen getting food prepped, and sleep.  I needed a break.  Not from the kids — because we’d been fortunate enough to have date night this week — but from the grind of our routine.  While I love going to our Moms and Tots group, and I know it’s great for both boys, I could tell we all needed a break.

The clincher was when Toby, during breakfast, asked: “Mommy, can we miss part of Moms and Tots so that I can have energy?”  The poor kid has been crashing around lunchtime the past few days.  Although he gave up naps about a year ago, this week Toby consistently asked to be done with lunch so he could go rest — resulting in a four hour nap each time.

I know when to cut my losses.  The schedule, the routine, isn’t more important than our sanity and well-being.  It’s not worth “making it” to all our activities if my kids are going to have meltdowns from being so exhausted they can’t sit at the table for lunch.  And I’ve needed those naps too.

It’s not like I’ve gotten nothing done this morning.  On the contrary.  I tidied the kitchen, put away the straggling Christmas gifts that were piled by the piano, emptied laundry baskets (yes, plural) of clean clothes, and started a load of laundry.

But it feels peaceful. Relaxed.  Calm.  The stress is melting off my shoulders as I sit here and type.  Toby is playing happily with his matchbox cars and Zack is diligently watching.  We are a contented bunch, our morning obligations thrown to the wind.

We are happy.  We are having fun.  This break was much needed…. essential for our sanity.

Instead of the activity being our priority this morning… my kids are my priority.  Isn’t it crazy how the things we do for our kids can sometimes take our attention away from our kids?  That’s not right.  So this morning we are getting things straightened out.  I’m listening to myself and my subconscious desire to stay home.  I’m listening to my boys, interacting with them, taking time for them — instead of shuttling and directing them. Toby is now playing peacefully with his toys, bringing me tea and pizza from “his” kitchen.  Zack is cooing while he rolls on the floor, trying to get places.

We’re not doing much, but sometimes nothing means everything.

Some mornings, you just need to stay home.

What about you?  Have you felt worn thin by the many pressures of parenting?  The schedules that seem to become ever busier?  How do you decompress and help yourself find peace in the middle of a tumultuous week?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 


Balloons! 10 Easy Indoor Activity Ideas

posted in: Parenting | 15

Balloons! 10 Easy Indoor Activity IdeasWith the chill of winter in full swing, we’ve been getting a little antsy.  The single digit weather requires indoor entertainment.  And on that front, balloons have delivered.  I’m going to share 10 easy indoor activity ideas with balloons.

I’ll add the obligatory notice about not letting balloons get into the hands of babies or younger children who could suffocate on the plastic, and then let’s get on with business!

So, here are our 10 ways to play with balloons inside… toddler approved, but fun for any age, of course (If you don’t have balloons on hand, you can buy balloons online #afflink).

Balloon Paddle Ball

This balloon activity was a favorite, and Toby invented it all by himself.  He found a long cardboard tube (leftover from our Christmas wrapping paper) and asked me to tie his balloon to the tube.  I used a piece of string about three feet long — and attached it to the tube by poking a hole and then tying one end of the yarn to the tube.  The other end of the yarn I then tied to the balloon.

Toby had a blast hitting the balloon with the cardboard tube, and watching it bounce up and away from him.  He tried gently bouncing it up in the air, then swung speedily at it (like a ball player).

At the end of this post, I’ve shared a few more pictures of our balloon paddle ball, both in action, and a detail shot to let you see how it’s constructed.

Keep it Up!

A classic balloon game, probably with many names.  You can play this with one or more individuals, and it’s a cooperative activity.  The goal?  Keep the balloon up in the air, and don’t let it touch the ground!

Sticky Static

One day Toby was bouncing the balloon around on his own… when all of a sudden he got upset.  Apparently the balloon was stuck to the ceiling …giving us an opportunity to learn about static electricity.  After his balloon was rescued, Toby had fun seeing what his balloon would stick to around the house.

Balloon on a String

Toby has, on multiple occasions, asked me to tie a string on his balloon so that he can kick or hit it — without having it run away from him.  Sometimes he will secure the other end of the string to his desk, a chair, or his shopping cart.  This lets him focus on playing with the balloon, while restricting where it can go.  Smart kid!  In this form, the balloon was also “walked” around the house on its string leash.  Wonder what kind of pet it was…

Indoor Kick

I don’t know about all kids, but my son has a strong kick — we’ve had to relegate ball kicking to outside at this point.  But, kicking a balloon?  That’s a different matter.  No matter how hard Toby kicks the balloon, it will only float delightfully through the air.  This activity will keep him entertained for a good half hour.

Hide the Balloon

Hide and seek is fun, but so too is hiding the balloon!  Toby enjoys finding places for his balloon to be hidden, and then asking for my “help” to find it.

Balloon Sounds

My toddler is into music, so we will often talk about the different sounds that objects make.  Balloons are no exception.  Toby has enjoyed tapping and flicking balloons to see the different sounds they make.  If you have a balloon that hasn’t been tied shut, you can also experiment with those fun squealing sounds made by escaping air.

Balloon Rockets + Cars

I’m sure most of us have made balloon rockets in some form or another.  Erica at What Do We Do All Day made a balloon rocket race — attached to a string race track.  But if you don’t mind chasing the deflating balloon all over, you could just blow one up and then let it fly.  Along the same lines, you can make a balloon-powered race car.  Almost Unschoolers shows you how to build balloon powered cars from toilet paper tubes.  Toby would love this activity, I’m sure.

Passage of Time

As time passes, your balloon will start to shrivel and shrink.  This is normal balloon behavior, but kids aren’t always familiar with balloon “life cycles.”  It has been fun for Toby to watch his balloons age… and compare the new ones to the old ones (we acquire a new balloon every week at swim lessons).  You could even make balloon “prints” with paint and balloons of different ages to see the textures transferred to paper.  Also, eventually, your balloon will pop.  Maybe it collides with a sharp object, or maybe it meets an untimely end at the claws of an interested feline.  However it happens, this gives opportunity to talk about the impact balloons and other plastic can have on the environment.  Birds think the plastic is food, and can’t digest it… and the like.

Balloon Basketball

My toddler commandeered our cat play tunnel #afflink… it’s about 1′ x 3′ in size. When turned on end, it makes a great basketball net.  I suppose you could use a trash can or laundry basket if those are easier to procure around your house than mine.  Anyway, Toby used this tunnel as a goal, or basket to shoot his balloon into.  He had a friend over and they spent quite some time playing balloon basketball inthe playroom.  I love that this idea doesn’t require much space (balloons can’t be thrown as far as a real ball).

It’s always interesting to see what games and activities kids will come up with when left to their own devices, huh?  Hopefully these ballon activities will be well received by your housebound kids too!

And now for the photos of our balloon paddle ball, as promised.  Click on any image to open in gallery view mode.

Have more ideas?

If you have more ideas about indoor activities that use balloons, I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments below!

This post is part of an Indoor Activity Blog Hop — Indoor Activities.

Make sure to visit the other blogs below for some fun indoor activities that you can do when the weather’s not conducive to playing outside!

Sick Bug Banishing Homemade Throat Tonic + Cough Syrup Recipes

posted in: Parenting | 5

bphotoart-sick-bug-banishing-homemade-recipes-I sit here in the house, on New Year’s Eve, thinking that this is kind of ironic. One of goals I had been contemplating for 2015? Take better care of myself. And this morning I woke up without a voice. So, instead of rambling on about my New Year’s resolutions, I figured it would be better to cut to the chase and share some home remedies that seem to be helping my sore throat and sad vocal chords.

The first thing I did, when I felt this sore throat coming on, was to whip up a batch of homemade cough syrup. I found a recipe a while back, maybe from, but this is my own improvised take. If you research natural remedies online, you’ll find that honey performs just as well as over the counter cough syrup. And the spices and garlic have natural properties that can help your body get better sooner. It may not taste nice, but it definitely coats my throat, and loosens up any congestion.

Homemade Honey Cough Syrup


  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/8 c. olive oil
  • 1/8 c. warm water
  • 1 T. cayenne pepper
  • 1 T. ground cinnamon
  • 1 T. ground ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed


Mix the first three ingredients together in a mason jar. Then add the spices and combine well. Finally, stir in the garlic clove. You can use this right away, or wait until the garlic infuses into the concoction. Take by the spoonful, as needed.

Note: this cough syrup is not for kiddos younger than 1 year, due to the honey. Also, for my toddler, I typically make a variant that excludes the cayenne and ginger.


Sick Bug Banishing Throat Tonic

Now, this next concoction was adapted from a recipe on Home Remedies for Laryngitis. It’s a warm beverage you can keep going in a crockpot all day long… with the added bonus of being able to get an aromatic steam breathing session as needed for those poor sinuses. I wasn’t sure what to call this… but it sounded better than “onion, garlic and ginger infused water drink.”


  • 2 vidalia onions
  • 1/2 – 1 head garlic
  • 1″ chunk of ginger root
  • 1-2 quarts water
  • apple cider vinegar


Put water into slow cooker (I love my Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker #afflink) and turn on high. Quarter the onions, peel and lightly crunch the garlic cloves, and grate or slice the ginger root. Add all to the crockpot, cover, and bring to a simmer or boil. While you wait for things to cook, feel free to remove the lid and breathe in the steam (I have even covered the lid with a hand towel to help capture the steam and direct it towards my face (see below).  A note of caution, if you to this — the steam can be hot… so don’t scald yourself!!!

Sick Bug Banishing Homemade Throat + Cough Syrup Recipes

After about 20 minutes, ladle the liquid into your mug. It should have a slight yellow tint by this point and not just be water anymore. Add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to your mug, and a couple ice cubes if needed. Sip often; refill your mug, adding more apple cider vinegar each time.

The crock pot can be left on all day; you can add more water as necessary.

More Thoughts

Yes, I have more suggestions for you.  Take a look at the ideas below, and also make sure to check out my post: Moms Can’t Get Sick (…yeah, right).

  • Bone Broth — fabulous for anytime, but great for when you’re sick.  It has lots of minerals and will help keep you hydrated
  • Essential Oils – I like to diffuse essential oils with my aromatherapy diffuser — there are a lot of different ones that help with immune strength in general, or you can diffuse an essential oil like eucalyptus, which helps open airways.
  • Sleep — get lots of sleep. Stock up on naps.  Your body needs rest when it’s tired and run down.

It seems like I’m not the only one to let New Year’s Resolutions go by the wayside.  I polled some other bloggers, asking for thoughts on resolutions, if they planned to do anything, or how resolutions have worked out for them in the past.  And here are three responses.

  • In theory, New Year’s resolutions are a wonderful idea. It’s a new year so why not a new you? But life doesn’t work out that way. There’s a reason these resolutions are so easily abandoned. So I don’t make a resolution based on a holiday but rather when I really am ready to make a change. – Jennifer, The Jenny Evolution
  • The only New Year’s resolution I have ever kept is a 30+ year old Jan 1st resolution to never drink Bailey’s Irish Cream again. – Erin, The Usual Mayhem
  • My resolution is not to do any! If I need to change things I try and do it in the here and now! – Maggy, Red Ted Art

So, there you have it.  Some realistic thoughts on the whole New Year’s resolution concept, and hopefully some helpful recipes for the next time you have a sore throat (or lose your voice completely, like I did!).

Do you have any suggestions for helping a sore throat?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Betsy’s Top 10 Parenting Posts of 2014

posted in: Parenting | 0

Thoughts on My Top Parenting Posts of 2014This past year has truly been full of blessings for my family and me. I have enjoyed watching my boys grow and giggle together, and it has been fun documenting many of our activities to help provide inspiration for you as we all continue the journey of making (and capturing) memories.

Here are my top posts from 2014. Well, top parenting posts. I had to strike out a few really popular posts, like my one on photos on train tracks being unsafe, and how I reclaimed my sanity by minimizing my Facebook friends list. But I wanted to cut to the chase, and share some posts that were more personal, more meaningful, and perhaps more helpful for you as you pursue the ever challenging task of parenting your children.  So here’s my count down:

10. 50+ Road Trip Games + Activities to Keep Your Kids Entertained

I compiled this list of activities and games for our road trip through five states.  Surprisingly, the drive went very smoothly, and both my toddler and my baby had few meltdowns.  They travel like champs!  And I have some of these activities to thank for that.  So if a road trip is in your near (or not so near) future, make sure to check out these 50+ road trip games and activities to help you keep your sanity (somewhat) intact.50+ Road Trip Games + Activities: Ideas to Keep Your Kids Entertained for the Long Haul - Betsy's Photography {}

9. Capturing Baby Milestones on Camera

Part of any parents’ life is documenting memories …taking snapshots, videos, and the like.  This post provides some tips for you as you document milestones and memories.  Plus, I share some of my older son’s snapshot memories to give you ideas for what to photograph.  If you have a camera and aren’t sure what to take pictures of, this post is for you.

Baby First Year Milestones -

8. Gift Guide: Arts and Crafts for Kids

It’s hard to raise a creative kid amidst technology.  But it is possible.  On this post, I shared my suggestions of arts and crafts oriented gifts for kids.  Plus, as a bonus, you’ll find a list of 50 items to include in a DIY arts and crafts bin!  We gave an art bin to Toby, my toddler, one year for Christmas, and he still loves it to this day.  The bin can be easily replenished as items are used up, and it encourages open-ended play.

Gift Guide: Arts and Crafts for Kids 50 Items to include in your arts + crafts bin! -

7. 15 Ways To Have Kids Help Clean House

I’m all for including kids in household upkeep.  While it can be challenging for us as parents to find ways for children to help without being a hindrance, they gain many important life skills by being included in these tasks.  My toddler’s favorite chore? Cleaning the toilets.  Or changing the cat litter.  It’s interesting which tasks kids gravitate toward as “fun” when they’re young!

15 Ways To Have Kids Help Clean House -

6. Why you shouldn’t wrap your kid in Christmas lights for photos

I shared this post around the holidays, but it has been very popular — while photos of kids entwined in Christmas lights may look adorable, there are some health reasons to avoid this photo trend.  Namely, lead exposure.  Oh, and then there’s the whole electricity thing, but that’s more of a given, right?

Don't wrap your kid in Christmas lights for photos ...why? lead exposure!

5. Be Ready for School Picture Day (8 Tips!)

As my toddler’s first year of preschool began, the many fliers about school picture day reminded me how stressful this even can be for some parents, or kids who are new to the school portrait experience.  So I shared this post about getting ready for school picture day, complete with 8 tips that will help you and your child be ready when the big day comes.

Be Ready for School Picture Day with These 8 Tips! - Betsys Photography {}

4. Big Brother Kit (3 Busy Bag Activities)

We welcomed baby Zack into the family this year, and went through the standard big sibling adjustment period.  This post shares three busy bags that I made for Toby to help him cope while mom and dad were at the hospital.  The busy bags were wrapped in cheerful paper, and put into a green gift bag for easy transportation from one grandparents’ house to the other.  Two of the activities included pictures of our family, which I was told helped Toby immensely while we were away.

Big Brother Kit - 3 Busy Bag Activities -

3. How to Plan an Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt for Kids

We spend many of our summer days in the great outdoors, so when I came up with the idea for an outdoor photo scavenger hunt, Toby was elated.  This post discusses how to plan an outdoor scavenger hunt, and ways to make the activity work for younger and older kids.

Plan an Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt -

2. 5 Things New Parents Really Need

What do new parents really need?  Sometimes the answer is simpler than you think.  In this post I suggest five ways you can help new parents acclimate to having a little one.  Hint, bringing them meals is a big one!

Newborn family portrait with hands -

1. 50 Things You Can Do With Your Toddler While Caring For Your Newborn

And my number one post, by far, has been this post on easy activities to do with your toddler while caring for your newborn.  Sometimes it can be tough to come up with ways to entertain your older child, especially if you’ve had a sleepless night.  Most of these activities require little advance setup, and I will attest to their effectiveness, since we used many of these as jumping points for activities of our own!

50 Things You Can Do With Your Toddler While Caring For Your Newborn - Betsy's Photography

So, there you have it.  The top ten parenting thoughts I shared in 2014.  If you want to check out some other “2014 Top Parenting Posts” …check out this Popular Parenting Tips round up by Kelly at The Reformed Idealist Mom.


Make a Yearly Time Capsule

posted in: Parenting | 6

Make a Yearly Time CapsuleAs we were relaxing after a whirlwind spree of Christmas celebrations, I started thinking ahead towards the new year.  As adults, we often make resolutions and promises to ourselves, but how could that concept be reinterpreted for kids?  It reminded me of a scene in one of the Berenstain Bears books , where Sister Bear gets to compare her drawings and handwriting from when she was 5 and 6 years old — to help her see how far she’s come (The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday #afflink).

And then it hit me — we could make a yearly time capsule for the boys to fill each year after Christmas!  The capsule could be stored away with all our holiday decorations, so I wouldn’t need to remember where it got stashed… and have the bonus of being brought out every year since we always get our house decorated to some extent (some years more than others).

So, I found a cute tea tin that we’d received a present in, and had Toby decorate a panel of paper with Dot a Dot markers #afflink.  The markers were one of Toby’s gifts from Christmas.  I have to say, these are the greatest things ever.  The fun of paint, without the prep work, mess, or cleanup.  Toby had fun putting dots all over the paper.  Meanwhile, I cut out a family photo of us.

We then used a glue stick to coat the backs of both items, and fastened them to the tin can.  Toby ran around the house with our time capsule excitedly for a few minutes; then it was my turn to write “time capsule” on the side.

After that, we filled the capsule with a variety of items:

  • Zack’s baby stats
  • Toby’s favorite things and “interview questions” that were included in our Christmas card
  • outlines of the boys’ hands
  • a family photo
  • pictures of the boys
  • favorite presents we each received
  • favorite presents we each gave
  • favorite thing we ate over the holidays
  • Toby’s artwork

Toby wanted to put a toy in the capsule too, but once I explained he wouldn’t be able to use it until next year, he decided against that.


We had a lot of fun filling this yearly time capsule, and I envision it becoming a treasured family tradition.  Maybe I’ll even document or scrapbook the contents each year… who knows?

Have you ever made a time capsule?  What were the most popular items you put inside?  What would you put inside a yearly time capsule?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Why you shouldn’t wrap your kid in Christmas lights for photos

posted in: Parenting | 11

Don't wrap your kid in Christmas lights for photos ...why? lead exposure!Around this time of year, it’s inevitable that I see photos of kids happily decked out in Christmas lights.  Hey, I know I helped trim the tree when I was young!  But there’s a difference between helping put the lights on the tree and deliberately wrapping a kid in Christmas lights.  And either way, there may be a hidden danger that has flown under your radar.

Lead exposure.  

Most Christmas lights come bearing California’s Prop 65 warning, which alerts consumers that the products may be carcinogenic and cause birth defects (lead is used in the plastic coating that insulates the wires of Christmas lights).  Jeanne Roberts of writes:

 Lighting manufacturers readily admit there is lead in the PVC (polyvinyl chloride) used to insulate holiday lights from contact with water, or to prevent exposed wires which could cause a fire or electrocution … Over time, in the presence of sunlight and heat, the PVC portion of blinds, toys and light strings deteriorates, releasing lead as a form of “dust” indistinguishable from ordinary household dust. [Read more]

In a 2010 USA today article about avoiding a toxic Christmas, three sources of concern are Christmas lights, artificial trees, and candles. The article also discusses ways to minimize exposure.  But as was noted by pediatrician Philip Landrigan (Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NY):

…lead-based paint in windows is a far greater source of lead poisoning than individiual [sic] consumer products, especially ones such as Christmas decorations, which are used for only a few weeks a year.

When used normally, your child will likely have minimal exposure to lead.  After all, the Christmas lights are meant to be wrapped around the tree, not to be used as a toy.  Christmas lights aren’t something that your child should be touching for any extended length of time, and certainly not something to be played with or wrapped around a child’s body.

So it shouldn’t really be a problem.  That is, unless you are considering taking it upon yourself to duplicate those “adorable” kid wrapped in Christmas light photos.

And, lead exposure aside, why mess with electricity?  We spend so much time teaching our kids not to play with outlets, how it’s unsafe, yada yada yada… but in the pursuit of “the perfect Christmas picture” we fling common sense to the wind?  Yes, unfortunately, sometimes life does work that way.

Just like taking portraits on train tracks is a bad idea… it’s a bad idea to risk lead exposure for the sake of a cute photo.

But please ….please… now that you know, please don’t go wrapping your kids in Christmas lights any more.

Some further articles on the topic.

Cocoa Salt Dough Ornaments

posted in: Parenting | 1

bphotoart-cocoa-ornaments-Toby was excited to make salt dough ornaments again this year (last year we made gluten-free ornaments during a playdate).  After our Polar Express hot cocoa activity, Toby was ready to write off cocoa powder as being “yuck” …so I decided we would scrap the entry level stuff and just save our Godiva hot cocoa powder #afflink for any future ingestion.

So, what to do with several cups’ worth of cocoa powder no one in our house enjoys?  I suppose I could’ve given it away, but we decided to try our hand at making cocoa powder ornaments.  This is an adaptation of a salt dough recipe I’ve used before.

Cocoa Salt Dough Recipe:


  • 1 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 c. flour
  • 2/3 c. salt
  • 1 c. water


  • Combine all dry ingredients, mix well.  Add water; blend until well combined.
  • Roll out onto flat surface and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.  Transfer to baking sheet.
  • Poke holes for hanging with the end of a chopstick.
  • Bake at 275 F for 30-60 minutes per side, or until dried.
  • Minimize cracking by leaving the ornaments in oven to cool.

So, there you have it.  These ornaments have held up pretty well so far.  I’d say they’re a bit brittle, but maybe that’s just because Toby dropped several on the wood floor and they broke.  Can’t expect them to be unbreakable, right?

You can either thread ribbon through the holes or just use the metal hangers… your choice!  We hung them on the tree with our popcorn garland!

Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.

Teaching Kids to Use Words …Not Actions

posted in: Parenting | 2

I’ve heard it said that kids express their feelings through actions.  Actions are their words when they don’t know how to express themselves.  It seems like every child goes through a stage of using their body to communicate rather than their words.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, or fun, for parents!

Teaching Kids to Use Words... Not Actions.  Ideas for helping kids communicate verbally instead of physically.Some examples?

  • baby is crying — it hurts toddler’s ears.  Toddler hits baby because baby is “being mean.”
  • cat steals toddler’s toys — toddler is upset and swats at cat to grab the toy back.
  • mom is busy on phone — toddler wants attention, hits or pushes mom.
  • toddler gets pushed by another toddler — both are upset, and start hitting.
  • toddler doesn’t like that an older kid is doing something “wrong” — goes to hit bigger kid for “not listening.”

So, how can we teach kids to use their words instead of getting physical?  Is it really that simple?

Sometimes it’s not.

Kids hit and become physical for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it’s due to sensory overload, and an inability to process things because of the environment around them.  Other times, strong emotions can dominate their mind, and it’s tough to not act in the moment.

Physical communication can also be a cry for attention.  An attempt to communicate feelings of sadness, rejection, loneliness.  Other times, it may be a planned way to get attention.

Because sometimes, any attention is better than no attention.  But that doesn’t solve our problem, does it?  As we grapple with understanding the “why” behind physical communication, it’s not like we can put our response, our discipline and correction, on hold.  Toddlers who communicate physically need to be redirected.  They need help verbalizing their feelings, and learning that there are other, more appropriate ways to respond to something that frustrates them or makes them feel bad.

When a child reacts physically, it can be tempting for a parent to respond forcefully and angrily.  Especially if the action seems to be done out of malice.  But sometimes it does more good to understand the root of the problem.  Sometimes it helps to say, “come here, let me hold you while we talk this through.”  Or, maybe suggest: “if you need my attention, a better way to get it would be to use your words.”

When my son uses his body to communicate instead of his words, I do my best to talk things through with him.  If another child, or an animal, is being hurt, a stern initial reaction may be necessary.  But then, it’s time to focus in on the motivation, the trigger for the outburst.

Instead of honing in on how it is mean to do ______, perhaps the better approach is to ask, “what were you feeling when you did ______?”  If the child evades giving an answer, perhaps the emotion is not describable.  Maybe suggesting emotions could help.  “Are you sad, angry, lonely, upset, hurt….”  It’s amazing how helpful it can be to give words to a child so that their emotions can be communicated.

Once the emotional motivation is understood, then alternate actions can be taught.  “Instead of hitting back, next time use your words to say, ‘please stop.’  Or walk away.  Or find an adult.”  If a child is really in need of a physical outlet, then perhaps it would be good to provide an example of when such physical behavior is appropriate.  “We don’t hit people.  We hit balls with bats, we hit nails with hammers.”

Consistent reinforcement of what is inappropriate physically, as well as what an appropriate response might be, …well, it may take time for you to see results.  But don’t just focus in on the negative behavior.  Make sure to reinforce the positive communication, both verbal and physical.  “I see you are being so sweet to your baby sister, thank you for making her giggle, and for hugging her gently.”

But sometimes, kids get physical for a simpler reason. They have too much energy pent up — and need to blow off some steam.  Maybe a daily rough-housing session with mom or dad could use up some of that energy.  Or a fun time spent outside running after a soccer ball.  By finding appropriate ways to “get physical,” kids often become more self-controlled in situations where physical communication isn’t warranted.

What advice, ideas, or tips do you have for helping kids deal with their emotions and learn to communicate with their words?

Raising Kids Who Love Music

posted in: Parenting | 6

bphotoart-tips-raising-kids-love-musicI grew up surrounded by music.  My mother was (and is) a professional flutist, my father has played the French horn regularly since he was a boy.  Love of music runs deep.  My paternal grandmother was an organist; in first grade I convinced her to give me piano lessons.  I continued piano through my school years, and still play occasionally today on the upright piano I inherited from my grandparents.  I also played flute, then switched to oboe so I could be “different” than my mom.  Needless to say, Toby has a keen interest in music.  He loves to sit at my piano with “his” music book and play the keys.  We have a variety of musical instruments for toddlers that make a joyful noise throughout house on some days.  And then there are the tunes we listen to regularly.

We have a special car ride CD, one that Toby calls his “special songs” (Songs for Saplings tunes). And then there are the typical nursery rhymes and childhood songs that every child loves.  More recently, I had the pleasure of singing “99 bottles of [beer, er…] milk on the wall” to my boys to keep them calm while driving.  Music is a part of our lives.   And with the digital era, I’m ashamed to say we don’t really even have a CD player anymore.  Ok, that’s not true. Our computers have CD-rom drives.  And we have a stereo system gathering dust somewhere.  But smartphones are just easier.  Load the mp3s onto the SD card, and you’re good to go.  Or if you prefer, you can play streaming music.  Either option is so much easier than CDs.

What tips do I have for raising kids who love music?  Well, I can only speak from my own experience, but here are three thoughts on music from my childhood:

  • Incorporate music into your everyday tasks — my grandmother would whistle while she worked.  I loved to listen to her, and now do this myself (though sometimes I hum).  I will sing while doing dishes and other chores around the house — it takes my mind off the drudgery and helps me to focus.  I’ve noticed my toddler does the same; sometimes I will hear him singing to himself as he plays.
  • Sing their own song to them — my mother made up special songs for me as a child, songs which I can still sing today.  I treasure those memories of my childhood, lying in bed with the lights out, listening while she would sing.  I carried this tradition on with my own boys, and have composed my own song for them.  It’s not written down anywhere, so I should probably write it down at some point, but my toddler knows it and it is a familiar song he loves.
  • Regular music lessons build character — yes, most people have either good or terrible memories of their music lessons.  But more often than not, I hear the regret “I wish my parents had made me stick with it.”  I don’t really ever hear the other regret.  I had times when I wasn’t thankful about lessons, but overall, I’m glad I stuck with it.  Lessons teach the concept of “practice makes perfect,” stick-to-it-ness, and some other desirable character traits.

Here are some resources for you that relate to music.  As usual, all links will open in a new window for your convenience.

Do you have any family traditions when it comes to music?  Or maybe some fun activities that you love to do with your kids?  I’m always interested to hear how other parents are doing things.  Share in the comments below!

Teaching Empathy Through Happy Heart Kid Crafts

posted in: Parenting | 6

I’ve been loving activities that cultivate empathy, compassion, and understanding.  Last year around the holidays, Toby chose toys to give to “sad kids” (compassion).  Last month, we explored the concept of diversity with a book and rainbow popsicle activity.  And most recently, we got to try out the Empathy box from Happy Heart Kid.

The kit contained a number of different crafts and activities:

  • Flowers (to give to others)
  • Empathy Placard
  • “Feeling” Faces
  • Coloring Book

I handed Toby the unopened box and let him have at it (while documenting in pictures, of course).  He was excited to unpack the box, and checked out each of the activities as he placed them on the table.  I loved that all the crafts were compartmentalized in plastic bags, so that the parts didn’t get mixed up.  Ok, well, the crayons weren’t.  But all the small bits and pieces.

After checking out all the options available to him, Toby decided to make the flowers first.  I was in charge of reading the directions while he got out all the craft supplies.  As he made the flowers, I followed the conversation guidelines mentioned in the activity booklet.  We talked about how giving people flowers can make them feel better, and I mentioned some times in the past that I had received flowers or when they might be given:

  • “Just because” – from Daddy to Mommy
  • “Get well soon” – to people who are sick, like the people to whom we deliver meals
  • “Congratulations” – to celebrate the arrival of a new baby like Zack

Since the craft included enough materials to make three flowers, Toby decided to give flowers to three people (instead of the whole bouquet being given to one person — spread the joy, right?).  First, he wanted to give one to “the sick mama” that we delivered a meal to several weeks ago.  It took me a few minutes to figure out who Toby was talking about, but I thought it was so sweet that he remembered her, and was being empathetic!  Next, he decided he would give one to Grandma… and since he has two grandmas, that filled our quota of three flowers.

We then briefly explored another craft — feeling faces.  Toby enthusiastically stuck eye stickers to all of the faces, and we talked about different emotions associated with specific events, but he was hesitant to put mouths and noses on the faces because he didn’t like the texture of the included clay.  Ever the problem solver, Toby ran to the playroom and returned with his own modeling clay.  Smiling and frowning faces were then created, with nose that then turned into a tooth.  Don’t you love how creative and adaptable kids are?

Over the next few days, Toby diligently reminded me that we needed to deliver his flowers to the “sick mama” and his grandmas… because “that will make them so happy!”

DIY Photo Advent Calendar

posted in: Parenting | 4

DIY Magnetic Photo Advent CalendarAs a child, I used to love getting to open a window in my advent calendar in the days leading up to Christmas.  This homemade take on the advent calendar is a great alternative to store bought calendars, is reusable, and your child will enjoy helping put everything together!

You can actually make this two ways — hold the photos on with tape, or with magnets, depending on what supplies you have available, and how long you want this calendar to last.

First, we cut out a free form tree from a pretty green gift bag.  I found a plain brown paper lunch sack for the trunk of the tree.  We taped this whole segment on the fridge.

Then, we printed out 24 photos, with the faces approximately quarter-sized.   I printed out two copies, one for Toby to cut with his scissors, and a set for me to cut into circles. This let Toby practice his scissor skills and feel involved while I made the circles for our face “ornaments.”  Toby had a lot of fun helping me pick which pictures to use.  Sadly, we couldn’t include all our family members…since we have more than 24.  If you’re planning to have this last for more than one year, I’d suggest printing on card stock or laminating the photos.  Otherwise, plain paper works.

Once all the photos for the 24 days of advent were cut out, we started putting them on the fridge, around the tree, of course.  If you’re using plain paper photos, just use pieces of rolled up tape to hold them on; if you made durable photo ornaments, then attach squares from an magnet tape roll #afflink so you can have these stick to the fridge.

The final touch was a sign, also from the paper lunch sack, that said “Countdown to Christmas!”

Toby is really excited to start putting ornaments on the tree, and I’m sure he will have fun picking out which family member should go on the tree next.  This DIY magnetic photo advent calendar is a great way to familiarize kids with their relatives (and their names too)… and it is definitely more meaningful than your run of the mill advent calendar that can be bought at the store.

We may also add a gold star for the tree topper, that would be put on the tree Christmas morning.  I think that would be a nice touch — but didn’t think of that until just now.

Enjoy some pictures of our photo advent calendar being made below!  Click on an image to open it in gallery view mode.


Making Memories – Family Thanksgiving Traditions

posted in: Parenting | 0

Making Memories - 7 Moms Share their Favorite Thanksgiving Traditions - BPhotoArt.comAs the years go by, life seems to keep getting busier and busier. Despite the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I always love the timelessness of our own family traditions. Some of our family traditions were begun generations ago, while others were started since the births of our sons.

Some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories center around Thanksgiving day football. For many of those raised in Michigan, it’s a tradition to watch the Detroit Lions play ball on Thanksgiving, year in and year out. Beyond that, for us, Thanksgiving is a day of family togetherness. This year, Toby helped make a photo thankfulness tree, and we tried to focus on gratitue by celebrating a month of Thanksgiving. And for my husband, tradition may be the food — he loves to cook either a delicious turkey or ham, plus create decadent desserts for all to enjoy.

That being said, Thanksgiving conjures up different memories for other families than it does for ours. Most of these traditions, despite their differences, do focus on the family …and on cultivating gratitude.

Favorite Family Thanksgiving Traditions

All families have their own traditions, though, right? So I asked some bloggers: “what’s your family’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition and why?” Here’s what they had to say.

We go around the table on Thanksgiving and we each say what we are thankful for. It is a great way to keep the point of the holiday in perspective. I also like that we are modeling gratitude for our kids! here is a Thanksgiving tradition we do as well.

– Brittany, Love, Play, and Learn

Thanksgiving truly is my favorite holiday. I love the idea of gathering around the table and being thankful. From watching the Macy Day Parade, to throwing the football around outside in the leaves. However, my FAVORITE tradition for that holiday is our gratitude journals that we do each night starting November 1 with our kids. Each day, they write about something they are thankful for (or draw a picture if they can’t write yet) – these have become beautiful examples of gratitude over the years with my children.

–  Mandy, Worshipful Living

Our traditional Thanksgiving used to involve packing up two trailers, pulling them to Death Valley behind our Honda Aspencades (touring motorcycles), camping out at Furnace Creek, and cooking Thanksgiving dinner over campfires and on Coleman stoves – turkey, potatoes, gravy, veggies, rolls – for anyone camped there (or working at Furnace Creek ) who wanted to drop on by. Rain or shine (or wind etc), dinner was always an adventure. We rarely had under 15 people show up – and often over 40.

– Casey, The Garden Lass

We go to the Outer Banks for Thanksgiving and have pizza from Pizza Hut. It’s quirky, yes, but it’s quiet. The pizza started because many years ago, it was the only place that was open Thanksgiving Day. Now it’s just tradition. We do a big family get together for Christmas, and just enjoy our small unit on this day.

– Yvie, Gypsy Road

He was excited to point out some of the people he was thankful for.
This year’s photo thankfulness tree.  Toby was excited to point out some of the people he was thankful for.

Creating a Thanksgiving tree. I love that it is a creative and cooperative way to prepare for the holiday together.

– Erin, Bambini Travel

We have a thankful tree each November and write out what we are thankful for on leaves and add them to the tree each day. Then for thanksgiving we tape the leaves together to become the table runner for our meal. Great conversation piece!

– Katie, Paradise Praises

I look forward to seeing what my children will choose for our Thanksgiving Calendar. Some times I am really surprised.

– Christy, Thriving STEM

What are Your Favorite Thanksgiving Traditions?

So, let me ask you the same question. What family traditions do you treasure, what memories of Thanksgiving celebrations do you hold dear? What traditions do you want to pass on to future generations?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Learning About Diversity

posted in: Parenting | 9

Learning About Diversity - a book -based activity We recently got the opportunity to a children’s book that was intended to spark conversation and awareness about diversity in our world.

The book, Beautiful Rainbow World #afflink, was inspired by song of the same name.  The three verse song has  been used around the world, and was written by by DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou).  Published by Multicultural Kids —  crowd-sourced, with a photo contest, and an additional verse written (by Suzee Ramirez), every book includes a free download of DARIA’s song.  Here’s the first verse and refrain:

Today I woke up to see

A beautiful rainbow world

Won’t you dream it along with me?

A beautiful rainbow world

Beautiful rainbow, beautiful rainbow

Beautiful rainbow world

Red, black, yellow, brown and white,

A beautiful rainbow world

We used the book in the context of a book-based activity to learn about diversity.  Toby loved the simplicity of the book, and I think we both found the song lyrics to be calming and contemplative, even when spoken rather than sung. Since our initial reading, this book has been read multiple times; Toby has enjoyed examining the pictures and talking about the people he sees.

And then, as an extension activity, we made popsicles.  Bear with me, this will make sense and relate to the concept of diversity in a minute.  I got these neat rainbow colored set of popsicle molds #afflink, and we filled them with raspberry kombucha.  Toby was thrilled and enjoyed checking on them in the freezer every few minutes (until I told him to leave them be for a while). As we waited for them to freeze, we read Beautiful Rainbow World and talked about how no two people look alike.  Everyone is different, some people have different colored eyes, others have different colored skin.  But despite our differences on the outside, that doesn’t change the fact we are still all people, we are all alike at our core.  Then, I pulled out one of the popsicles, and asked him — “none of these look the same, do they?”  After he agreed, I reminded him that despite their differences in popsicle mold colors, the popsicles inside were all the same flavor.  And that was our diversity lesson, simplified for a toddler.

I realize that diversity and acceptance are not a one-time discussion to be had with my child.  We talk about differences as the opportunity for conversation arises in real life.  Like when my son is intrigued by the grocery store greeter in a wheelchair.  Rather than just hushing his inquisitive nature, I’ve found it best to acknowledge his observation and help him understand that some people need help getting around.  Toby then proceeded to engage in conversation with this particular individual, and they talked about the wheelchair’s light-up wheels were neat.  Rather than trying to ignore the fact that this world contains diversity, I want my sons to realize and accept the diversity in the world around them.  I’m happy that we had the opportunity to review this book so that the topic of diversity can be incorporated into our reading routines.

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts and opinons.

Gift Guide: Arts and Crafts for Kids

posted in: Parenting | 0

If you have a kid who loves arts and crafts, sometimes it can seem daunting to find just the right gift.  There are so many creative options out there these days, and it’s sometimes tough to get a feel for what your kid might really enjoy.  To that end, I’ve put together a gift guide of arts and crafts for kids.  I’ll cover some things you can buy locally or online, supplies you may want to stock up on, and finally how to make your own arts and crafts box for hours of imaginative crafting.

Note that all links will open in new windows for your convenience (most are Amazon affiliate links).

Arts and Crafts Products You Can Buy

Although I’m a fan of repurposing things around the home for arts and crafts, there are some things I’ve found worth purchasing.  I’m sure there are more things I’ve acquired for my toddler’s arts and crafts time… but these should get you started so far as items I consider essential for our home for when my little Van Gogh wants to go to town.  All the product #afflinks below will open in new windows for your convenience.

Gift Guide: Arts and Crafts for Kids 50 Items to include in your arts + crafts bin! - BPhotoArt.comCraft Supplies – various craft supplies that are geared towards kids are often fun.  Here are some suggestions of things we use (that still allow for open-ended creating:

Craft Kits – sometimes kids like to work by the book, so to speak.  And that’s when a kit comes in handy.  Here are some kits that I think are pretty neat:

Art Travel Easel – we gave this to my son last year as a gift, and it has seen much use.  The portable art kit has two drawers for art supplies, a white board, a chalk board, and props open for use as a table-top easel.  It can also be used as a lap desk.

Learning Tower – this is a must; we do a lot of our crafting in the kitchen and I love how the learning tower allows my son to stand and work at the counter with me.  The railing keeps him secure, and he can climb up and down as needed; my toddler can even slide this around the kitchen to get supplies since I put felt pads on the bottom of the learning tower.

learning-tower-amazon #afflink

Art Easel – We were gifted an art easel similar to this one when my oldest son was not quite big enough to use it.  I love the dual sided nature of the easel, the holder for a roll of art paper, and the fact that the easel can be made taller as your kids get bigger.  We ended up storing bins of art supplies on the shelf under the easel.  If you’re not an easel fan, you might check out this artist table, which incorporates many of the same features into a flat-topped workspace for kids.



Artist’s Smock – these are essential for younger children if you’re at all concerned about keeping the mess off your kid’s clothes.  We have one or two like this that came with our easel.  Or, you can go the old fashioned route and wear some of dad’s cast-off work shirts.  Whatever works!


How to Make an Arts and Crafts Box

Finally, there is nothing better than gifts that inspire open-ended play.  Last year we made an arts and crafts box for my toddler, stocked with everything you could think of.  It was a huge hit.  Want ideas for making one of your own?  Here are 50 different things you could include, depending on what is age appropriate for your child:

  1. buttons
  2. assorted pony beads
  3. tube of glitter
  4. glue sticks
  5. construction paper
  6. empty toilet paper tubes
  7. q-tips
  8. cotton balls
  9. assorted stickers
  10. multi-colored tissue paper
  11. cardboard shapes
  12. pencils
  13. pencil sharpener
  14. crayons
  15. paint brushes
  16. shoelaces
  17. embroidery floss
  18. old fashioned clothespins
  19. magnet  strips
  20. pom poms
  21. googly eyes
  22. bubble wrap
  23. toothpicks
  24. cinnamon sticks
  25. pieces of string
  26. assorted origami paper
  27. post-it notes
  28. fabric scraps
  29. pop bottle lids
  30. rings from milk jugs
  31. bread bag tabs
  32. twisty-ties
  33. jingle bells
  34. pipe cleaners
  35. sheets of foam
  36. felt shapes
  37. key rings
  38. envelopes
  39. paper plates
  40. wooden beads
  41. yarn
  42. fake fur
  43. ribbon
  44. blank address label stickers
  45. mini spiral notebooks
  46. bingo chips
  47. homemade playdough
  48. hotel room keys or used-up gift cards
  49. tape
  50. stamps + stamp pad

Do you have any more ideas for arts and crafts gifts?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

More Resources and Gift Guides for Kids

This post is part of the Kid Blogger Network Gift Guide for Kids. More than 75 unique lists for all ages, interests, and budges have been compiled by bloggers around the world. To visit other lists, visit Gift Guides for Kids.

Follow Erica • What Do We Do All Day?’s board Gift Guides for Kids on Pinterest.


50+ Road Trip Games + Activities to Keep Your Kids Entertained

posted in: Parenting | 9

50+ Road Trip Games + Activities: Ideas to Keep Your Kids Entertained for the Long Haul - Betsy's Photography {}Car rides, even short ones, can be tough!  This fall I was gearing up for a cross-country road trip to visit family in the southern states.  Call me crazy, but I decided to pack up the boys and undertake a 12 hour road trip.  As I told my driving buddy (my mom) — the goal of this road trip wouldn’t be just to get from point A to point B.

No, our road trip would have to be leisurely and include opportunity for frequent stops.  After all, we would be traveling with a toddler and a baby — recipe for road trip disaster, no?

So, we started planning.  The 12 hour drive would be split into two days (ideally).  We could travel during nap times, stop for lunch or eat en route depending on everyone’s mood. Maps and such were scoured for possible side stops, should we need a break to stretch our legs.  The hotels we would stay at had to have a swimming pool.  And so on and so forth.

But what about keeping the kids entertained en route?  Well, that’s where this list comes in.  As I was planning our trip, I knew we would need a plethora of games and activities to keep my kids entertained for the long haul.  Ok, let me amend that. This list was really meant for my older son… we all know babies are content to eat, sleep, and be changed regularly.

50+ Road Trip Games + Activities

So, let me share the huge list of 50+ road trip games and activities to keep your kids entertained for the long haul…hopefully from point A to point B!  Make sure to scroll to the bottom for some more (shorter) lists of snack ideas and travel resources.

  1. Best Road Trip Songs
  2. Road Trip Bingo
  3. DIY Buckle Toy from an old car seat
  4. Road Trip Experiment Printable
  5. Restaurant “I Spy” Printable
  6. Road Trip Journal Pages – Printable
  7. Airplane Math Roadtrip Game
  8. Road Trip Drawing Prompts – Printables
  9. Road Trip Printable: ABC Order
  10. Alphabet “I Spy” Printable
  11. Portable Activity Kid for Little Travelers
  12. Are We There Yet Map Game
  13. Squares and Dots Board (Printable)
  14. Wacky Tracks Fidget Toy Busy Bag
  15. Car Trip Busy Box
  16. Record Audiobooks for Children
  17. Paint Sample Rainbow Fan
  18. DIY Counting Sticks Busy Bag
  19. Pumpkin Number Matching Busy Bag
  20. Shoe Tying Busy Bag Board
  21. Make Your Own Kid’s Travel Binder
  22. Fine Motor Weaving Busy Bag
  23. DIY Portable Art Board
  24. Outdoor Photo Scavenger Hunt (Do this en route)
  25. High Tech Coloring (Painting Lulu App)
  26. Train Track Counting Activity and Busy Bag
  27. Travel Sensory Activities for Baby
  28. Rainbow Lacing Busy Bag
  29. Map a Road Trip (Map Skills for Kids)
  30. Using Google Maps to Help Kids Follow Your Travel Journey
  31. DIY Clipping Toy
  32. Magnetic Tangram Puzzle in a Mint Tin
  33. Ladybug Math Game
  34. Road Trip Playlist
  35. Travel Storage Organizer for the Driver’s Seat
  36. DIY Travel Coloring Cases
  37. Animal Trackers Club
  38. Velcro Dot Craft Sticks
  39. What Will I Do If I Can’t Tie My Shoe” – Fastener Busy Bag
  40. Road Trip Busy Boxes
  41. Teaching Kids to Budget on a Road Trip
  42. Tic Tac Toe Busy Bag
  43. Kids’ Travel Pack
  44. Big Brother Kid (3 Busy Bag Activities)
  45. Mini Lego Playset
  46. Pocket Sized Magnetic Fishing Set in Altoids Tin
  47. Road Trip Activity Bin and Binder
  48. Printable Lacing Cards (Numbers 0-10)
  49. Busy Bags 101
  50. Portable Lego Kit For Little Travelers
  51. Peek-a-Boo Toy Sacks (sewing tutorial)
  52. Creepy Crawly Seek and Find
  53. “I Spy” Bottle
  54. 5 Travel Games to Help Ease Culture Shock
  55. Magnetic Pipe Cleaner Discovery Bottle
  56. Easy DIY Seek and Find Bag
  57. Make Your Car Road Trip Ready
  58. 5 Road Trip Apps
  59. Number Recognition Car Ride Game

10 Road Trip Snacks for Kids

What are some good snacks to take on a road trip?  Well, that depends on your idea of a “good snack.”  I wanted to make sure we had nutritious and healthy fare for our road trip, so keep that in mind.  Yes, we did bring a cooler, since some of the items wouldn’t last too long otherwise:

  1. Travel-friendly fruit (apples, bananas, clementines)
  2. Veggies (carrots, celery)
  3. Hummus (for veggies)
  4. Dried fruit (raisins, dates, prunes)
  5. Nuts + seeds (almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  6. Larabars
  7. Homemade sourdough crackers
  8. Yogurt pouch snacks (in reusable snack pouches)
  9. Homemade popcorn bars
  10. protein (cheese, jerky, hardboiled eggs)

More Road Trip Resources

And finally, because I couldn’t help myself, here are some more resources you may find helpful for planning your next road trip.

  1. Road Trip Activity Pack (including printables, ages 2-8)
  2. Books About Road Trips
  3. Road Trip tips for kids that get carsick
  4. Ultimate Road Trip Guide for Families
  5. What to keep in a road trip essentials kit
  6. Eating on the road: meals and snacks
  7. How to entertain your baby in the car
  8. Airplane mode with a one year old (kind of related!)
  9. The Best Apps and Tools for Rocking Your Next Road Trip
  10. 11 Screen Free Activities for the Car

What tips do you have for taking kids on a road trip?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

DIY Buckle Toy (From an Old Car Seat)

posted in: Parenting | 12

I’m a big fan of repurposing things and finding ways to reduce our environmental footprint.  So, when one of our carseats was issued a new buckle under a recall, I was lamenting the fact that we would have to just throw out the old one.  Obviously it’s essential that the buckle not be used due to safety reasons (just like with those expired car seats) — but I still cringe when it comes time to toss “treasures” like these in the trash.

DIY  Buckle Toy From an Old Car Seat  - Betsy's Photography {}Perhaps by coincidence, I realized we could use this seat belt buckle from the car seat to make a DIY buckle toy.  Toby has been trying to learn to buckle himself into his carseat, and while he’s mastered the chest clip, the buckle itself has had him stymied.

I used two lengths of string to attach the clips to the buckle’s metal clip… and then we were in business.  This toy took me less time to make than it took to swap out buckles in the carseat by a long shot.  I spent maybe one minute making this DIY buckle toy… easiest toy ever!

And, you are probably wondering how it went over.

Well, when I told Toby my plan to make him a car seat buckle toy for him to practice with, he exclaimed: “that would be wonderful!” and squealed in delight.

The next ten minutes were spent devoted to mastering the car seat buckle — Toby is still working on the release button (which, since recalled, is a little sticky to depress), but he quickly figured out how to get the clips clicked in.

When Daddy got home, Toby was thrilled to show off his car seat buckle toy. He proceeded to demonstrate, saying “this is how you…”

Overall, I’m thrilled with this quick and easy DIY buckle toy.  It serves a practical purpose, helps keep junk out of the landfill, and was really simple to put together.

So, next time you have to get rid of an expired car seat, consider removing the buckle components from the carseat to make your own DIY buckle toy!  I won’t suggest hoping for a recall on your buckle, because really, who wants to stress out about having used an unsafe carseat?

Alternatively, you could buy an automotive seatbelt extender #afflink for practice with an adult seatbelt, like the one to the right.

I’m probably going to use this as a busy bag activity for Toby, as it travels well.  I haven’t decided whether to allow it in the car or not… as I could see myself getting thrown off by the seatbelt clicking sound while enroute.  We’d have to have a talk about not trying to click this buckle toy into the actual car seats.

Take a peek at the images below to see the DIY buckle toy in more detail, both clipped and unclipped, as well as my toddler practicing putting the buckle together.

Click on any image below to enter gallery mode.

Cultivating Gratitude: Ideas for a Month of Thanksgiving

posted in: Parenting | 4

Cultivating Gratitude: Ideas for a Month of Thanksgiving - Betsy's Photography ( month I want to focus on gratitude.  Being thankful for what we have, being aware of others who have not.  I want to make sure my boys know the importance of being thankful for all the blessings in their lives — and also that they understand the importance of paying it forward. There’s a saying about being “blessed to be a blessing to others.”  Helping others isn’t a one way street.  It benefits us too — it grows character and deepens empathy.

So, this November, we’ll be doing several things to cultivate gratitude.

Make a Gratitude Frame or Jar.

I love looking at all the fancy Pinterest projects that focus on giving thanks and recognizing our good fortune.  I’ve had friends tell me the best thing they ever did was put up a gratitude poster in their kitchen, where everyone wrote down things they were thankful for throughout the week.  I saw an adorable shadowbox picture frame that was filled with slips of paper on things to give thanks for.

Last year, I helped Toby make one of these. We used a plastic peanut butter jar (cleaned, of course), and strips of brightly colored paper.  He told me things he was thankful for and I wrote each item and drew a picture of it on the paper.  He enjoyed pulling them out and talking about the things we should be grateful for in our lives.

We’ll do something similar this year — I’m thinking a garland of paper slips or something (but not fall leaves since it’s already snowed here in Michigan).

Donate our excess and unused items.

Throughout the year, we gather bagfuls of things we no longer need or use — and take them to be donated.  I include my boys in this errand, as it helps to make it real for them.  We have more than we need.  By donating things, we can share with those who are not as fortunate.

There is a local place called House By the Side of the Road that I like to take our donations to.  It doesn’t resell the items, but rather offers them freely to members of the community who are in need.  Sometimes we’ll take donations to the more standard Salvation Army, Purple Heart, etc.

Take meals to new moms and the sick.

Our church has a meals ministry, where you can sign up to take a meal to the new moms, or those undergoing surgery or recovering from illness.  This is a good way to give back to the community …and I can involve my toddler with the process too.  Sometimes there is nothing more helpful than the delivery of a home cooked meal, ready to be eaten.  And we can share out of the abundance of food in our pantry.

Keeping an open dialogue.

Toddlers notice everything.  And they aren’t blind to the injustices in this world.  Whether it’s something as child-like as the refusal to share a toy, or the more “adult” (for lack of a better word) concern of homelessness — they are experiencing life around them and it is our job as parents to help them process these things.

When Toby and another boy were both in tears about who had the swing first, I gently asked my son to give the swing to the other boy, even though Toby may have had it first.  As my son willingly forfeited “his” swing, I was struck by his generous heart — I am thankful for opportunities to teach selfless compassion.  Other opportunities arise when we walk past the homeless on the sidewalk, or spot someone who needs a hand getting the door open. Yes, there are bigger problems in this world than whose swing it is, but by cultivating gratitude on a small scale, our children can learn to apply it on a larger level.

Remembering to talk about why I’m thankful.

I’ve been trying to focus on being thankful. Cultivating gratitude for the many blessings in my life, or even the little things. By talking about these things with my boys, I can help them understand just how much in life there is we can be thankful for:

  1. Friends who share without reserve, family who takes care of me. So many of the blessings I encounter involve friends and family. In the same day, I was blessed unexpectedly with handmedowns for our newborn… and during a rough afternoon, was grateful that my boys were being entertained by family (and we were treated to takeout!). It’s the little things that let people know you care.
  2. Sleep.  I’m so grateful for a newborn who sleeps for long stretches — often 6-7 hours at night. It’s the complete opposite of what my first son did as a newborn (woke every 1-2 hrs). The extra long stretches of sleep are such a blessing for my sanity. I’m also thankful that my toddler is content to play by himself while mommy takes a nap from time to time.
  3. Beautiful sunrises.  My toddler woke up one morning, came downstairs, and stopped dead in his tracks as he looked out the window. Then he turned to me and exclaimed, “look at the beautiful sunrise!” He then proceeded to describe it: “light, dark, light dark, light!”  The clouds had indeed formed a gorgeous pattern for us to enjoy.  I’m so thankful that my son reminded me to enjoy the beauty of nature today.

What ways do you cultivate gratitude in your children?


6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins

posted in: Parenting | 1

I have fond memories of carving pumpkins when younger.  At a kitchen table covered with comic pages, we would concoct elaborate designs for our jack o’ lanterns as we scraped out the pumpkin guts and seeds.  Our mom would whisk the seeds away to the oven, roasting them while we carved our pumpkins.  At some point, we’d be asked to pause for a snapshot or two, and once we finished carving pumpkins, the creative masterpieces would be carried carefully out to the front stoop.  I’m sure many of us have similar fond memories of carving pumpkins.  And I want our boys to have the same fond memories of carving pumpkins when they are grown.

6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins - Betsy's Photography - BPhotoArt.comOf course, there’s the whole question of helping kids carve pumpkins — how much should you let them do on their own?  Last year, our pumpkins were object-specific.  Toby wasn’t really at the point of designing yet, so he gave input on the things to be carved.  We ended up carving a tractor, a block letter for our favorite sports team, and called it good at that.

This year, Toby was ready to do the whole carving pumpkin thing himself. …well, aside from touching the pumpkin guts.  For whatever reason he hated the slimy feel.  i wasn’t ready to let him do everything on his own, but set him loose on the pumpkins to create designs — with no restrictions.  he got to help me cut some of the holes, but most of his time actually carving pumpkins was spent waiting for me to finish cutting so he could poke out the pumpkin pieces.

It was great to see his creativity come alive as he told me about his designs.  We had 5 pumpkins this year — two gifted to us by our neighbors, another two from grandma.  Here’s what he designed, from left to right:

  • a bear with ears and a toothy grin (the teeth were added midway through carving).
  • an alien monster, with many eyes and mouths all over.
  • an angry face (he let me draw this one).
  • a silly face with a really big mouth, and an almost forgotten nose.  This one also had a baby on the side, go figure.
  • a happy face – 2 eyes, a noes, and a mouth.

Toby was thrilled with our activity, the fact he got to design everything himself was a big selling point.  When Daddy came in from cleaning the garage, Toby proudly showed off the pumpkins we’d made.  And, of course, we enjoyed toasted pumpkin seeds too (recipe later on).

Now let’s get to those 6 tips for helping kids carve pumpkins I’ve promised you!  These are geared towards helping your child feel “in charge” while keeping things safe.  Because that’s part of helping kids carve pumpkins — making sure they’ do so safely.

1. Don’t micromanage your child

It’s amazing how many times I catch myself about to direct my son’s activity in a certain way.  It’s a force of habit, but one I try to curb.  I’d much rather Toby create something from his own ability and thought process, rather than draw within the lines of my constraints.  It’s like process art vs. paint by number. Process art lets creativity shine.  So set back and don’t micromanage when carving pumpkins with your child.  Who cares if the smile is crooked, or missing a tooth?

2. Help as needed, to keep things safe.

While I’m all for letting kids do things themselves, there is an age appropriateness factor.  My son has been practicing knife skills for quite some time, but I decided it wasn’t time yet for him to saw the openings in the pumpkin.  Maybe next year.  So to keep him involved, I let him place his hand on top of mine as I sawed; he also “held” the pumpkin steady for me while I sawed (hands far away from the blade).  You know your child — go with your gut and keep thing safe.

3. Invite your child to draw a design on the pumpkin.

And then step back and watch.  Ask open-ended questions if you want, but try understand your child’s creation from their point of view, rather than making assumptions or guesses.  I gave Toby a permanent marker and let him have at it.  He drew swirly spiraling circles for eyes, lines for ears, and chicken-scratch noses.  It’s ok if there are too many lines (I’ll address that in the next tip).

4. Have your child direct you which lines to cut.

Toby pointed out the lines I should cut — I followed one of the many lines for the eyes to make a shape that approximated his abstract swirls.  The mouth I followed, to an extent — suggesting we shorten it so the pumpkin didn’t fall apart on us.

5. Don’t be afraid to improvise.  Follow your child’s lead.

We added teeth midway through our bear pumpkin carving — Toby was thrilled with the design change.  It may not have been on his drawn design, but that’s ok.  I let him call the shots as we carved the pumpkins.

6. Have no expectations.

Having no expectations really freed me to enjoy the whole experience.  And I have to say, I love the results.  The pumpkins that Toby and I carved are whimsical, creative, and definitely not run of the mill.  The most standard one is the baby pumpkin that I carved… how uncreative of me, right?  But that’s the thing.  As adults, we have preconceptions of how things are supposed to look.  Kids are often free from those constraints — it lets their creativity flourish.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

Now, as promised, here’s my recipe for delicious roasted pumpkin seeds.  Or, one of my recipes… I have a few variations!  There’s no measuring, you do everything by feel and to your preference.

  • pumpkin seeds
  • olive oil
  • sea salt

First, separate the seeds from the guts.  I tend to leave some of the slime on the seeds, but you can rinse it off if you want.  I add enough olive oil to coat the seeds, then sprinkle generously with sea salt.  Then it’s into the oven on a baking sheet at 350 F for 30-40 min, stirring after the first 15 min and then every 5 thereafter.  They’re done once the pumpkin seeds no longer are wet, and the pan has no remaining oil or liquid on the bottom.  Usually by this point, mine are nicely golden brown, or even a little darker.  Enjoy once they’ve cooled enough to handle!

I’ve also added seasonings with much success — one of our favorites is Italian seasoning sprinkled over top.

One of Toby's drawings on a pumpkin
One of Toby’s drawings on a pumpkin
Removing the cut out pumpkin pieces
Removing the cut out pumpkin pieces
Excited to show off his first pumpkin!
Excited to show off his first pumpkin!
The pumpkin carver and his creations
The pumpkin carver and his creations
Pumpkins with the lights out
Pumpkins with the lights out
And a close-up of the glowing faces
And a close-up of the glowing faces
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