Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Get Your Kids Outside: Go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt

Sick of the kids staying inside looking at screens? Get them outside in nature on a fun scavenger hunt where they can use their screens appropriately.

The worst part of summer is the desire my children have to sit in front of electronic screens. As a mother, I'm constantly trying to come up with ways to stop them from zoning out while playing video games, looking at pointless videos of funny cats, or even pinning cute outfits. The summer checklists are doing a pretty good job this year, but I'm still coming across drooling, zombie-like children on the couch, mesmerized by a three-inch long glowing screen more often than I like.

"Why don't you go outside?" I ask.

"There's nothing to DO outside!" they unanimously sigh.

So, I made them something to DO outside.

Right now, Chloe is at camp and Bria was actually reading. Sophia was the bored one, so I made up a quick scavenger hunt for her and we went outside to scavenge.

Go on a fun nature scavenger hunt and get off electronics.

Nothing too complicated, but also lots of great chances for looking at the neighborhood a little more creatively. We didn't have the car or I might have driven her somewhere else, but it was easy enough to do in our neighborhood--we do live in the middle of the woods, after all! (There's a link to the printable download at the end of this post if you are interested in doing this with your own kids.)

I decided to make our scavenger hunt a "things to photograph" one. You could do "things to collect" and hand them a paper bag. Or you could do "things to do" and they could video themselves doing various things in nature. 

Even though there is still "electronics" usage in this scavenger hunt, it is an appropriate use of electronics and Sophia wasn't tempted at all to look at anything on my phone other than her own photos. Half of the time she handed the phone back to me so she could mark off her list and more effectively search for the next item.

I really enjoyed watching her get down on the ground and try to find her favorite angle of the thing she chose to photograph. She had some really creative ideas, too!

Here, she is smelling various plants to find out if any of them are "stinky." In the end, she decided that forget-me-nots are stinky. I'm not sure I agree, but it was her scavenger hunt, not mine!

In the end, she got some really nice photos. She also got some exposure to nature, a bit of exercise, together time with mom, and she learned a few things--like what wild apples look like when they're just starting to develop. She found some trash in a lilac bush for her "something ugly" and I was proud of her for climbing right up there and taking it home to throw away, too. And I most loved her "something sticky"--a dead tree branch full of sticks.

As much as I want my kids out of the house and in the beautiful summer sunshine, I also want to make sure that they are protected from that beautiful summer sunshine. Even a quick jaunt around the neighborhood on a summer day is going to require sunscreen.

I'm a big fan of Banana Boat® sunscreen, I like the spray versions because my kids are always annoyed by the time it takes to put on lotion sunscreens (though we still use plenty of that, too!). The sprays go on white so you can make sure you have enough coverage, and they are easy to use. I love the Banana Boat® Kids Free version best, because it has nothing in it that will irritate skin or eyes.

Easy peasy. We sunscreened up, then off we went to find something itchy.

Want to download this printable to use for your own kids? 

To download:

If you are on a laptop or desktop computer, enter your email in the form below.

If you are on a mobile device, click here to see the form.

The printable will be sent directly to your email inbox.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Banana Boat® . The opinions and text are all mine.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Backyard Summer Fun: Water Balloon Baseball

Thanks to Banana Boat®  and Tapinfluence for making this post possible!

You guys. We are two weeks into summer vacation and it's already started. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?

"I'm BORED." "There's NOTHING to do!" "When are we gonna do something FUN?"

Usually I point them to the same things: reading, playing outside, making a craft. But sometimes I decide to be a fun mom and make some summer fun for them. The other day, I decided we would invite some friends over and play water balloon baseball.

Get your kids outside having a great time without spending much money! Try water balloon baseball--the kids will love it!
Chloe and I filled a bunch of water balloons--but, let's be honest--I filled 95% of those balloons! I think next time I'm going to buy one of these water balloon fillers or even try these funky bulk water balloon filler things.

Once they were filled,  the kids had at them with the wiffle bats. (If you don't have any, they are always at the dollar store or you can buy these ones for a pretty good deal.) I had envisioned we'd do a whole baseball game, but they were content with batting practice.

They had so much fun!

I only had three bats, but they had themselves lined up for turns. It was fun to watch them organize the game.

Even the teenagers got into it!

Meanwhile, Sophia got out some other water toys and it was just a free-for-all! Pool noodles, water rockets, water balloons, and lots of screaming, happy children!

What a fun afternoon on a hot, sunny summer day! And it really didn't take much planning at all--just a little time to fill the balloons and find the water toys and wiffle bats in the basement and a few texts to the neighborhood moms. Sometimes I think being the "fun mom" means a lot of ultra planning and cutesy ideas, but it doesn't have to. Just grab what you have and make your own fun. The kids will love whatever you come up with.

If you're afraid to allow water balloons in your yard because of the mess, I have an easy solution.

Give a popsicle to every kid who helps clean up the broken balloon pieces.

Happy kids, happy mom, clean yard. Win, win, win.

One thing that I've noticed about summer fun in the backyard is that I often forget sunscreen. It's just the backyard, right? But guess what? The sun is still just as damaging in the backyard as it is at the beach or the pool. So, I'm making a concerted effort this year to remind the kids to apply lots of sunscreen before they go outside to play.

I like the Banana Boat® products because they've been tested in seven different conditions--sun, pool water, ocean water, wind, sweat, sand, and extreme heat. I also like the Kids Free line, because I have a couple kids who are sensitive to anything I put on their skin, and they do just fine with Banana Boat® Kids Free. And I always like to have a pretty high SPF because despite their Hawaiian heritage, my kids are pretty fair.

And after a water fight, it's a good idea to reapply the sunscreen. I like those sprays, because they aren't messy and the kids don't feel like it's sidetracking their fun to reapply the sunscreen really quickly!

The last thing you want is a sunburn putting a damper on your summer fun!

What are your favorite backyard activities for summer?

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Banana Boat® . The opinions and text are all mine.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Kick Off to Summer 2015

Start your kids off right this summer by throwing them a party designed to help them set goals and be productive during the summer--and have lots of fun, too! #overstuffedlife

 Every year we do a little summer kick-off party. We usually do it on the day after the last day of school and we make a big breakfast and do several things to start the summer off right:

  • Set goals
  • Work on a summer bucket list for the family
  • Agree on the daily schedule for summer
  • Give the girls their book bins 
  • Explain the chore system

This year, we had to postpone our kick-off party for a few days, because Sophia and I went on a Girl Scout trip as soon as school was out, and the day after we got back Bria went to an orchestra camp. But last Monday we had our party.

I love the first week after the kick-off, because the girls are on fire and really want to do everything just right. Much like school, towards the summer, they are less likely to finish their workbooks or read and practice every day. But that's okay, because we still accomplished a lot!

We start with a giant breakfast of eggs, sausage, fruit, and waffles. I think it's important to make the event something the kids can really look forward to! While we eat, we talk about how the school year went, how we did with our family theme for that school year, and what the girls are looking forward to in summer.

After breakfast, we pass out their book bins for the summer (read more about the book bins here: choosing summer reading for your kids and summer reading motivation). This is the part they most look forward to--after all, who doesn't love receiving a pile of new books to read?

Give the kids a bin of books to read over the summer--but not so many that they don't get to choose some for themselves!

Chloe was especially thrilled to receive The Kill Order--it's the final installment in The Maze Runner series and she's had trouble checking it out at the library because there is a long waiting list. If you'd like to see what other books were in their bins this year, click here: Our Summer 2015 Reading Lists.

After they oohed and ahed over their new books, we introduced the summer workbook format we are using this year. They thought it was the greatest thing ever, which thrilled me! Basically, they have to complete an hour each of exercise, music practice, and reading plus do their chores before they are allowed to look at a screen. Then they can look at screens all they want.

Their summer workbooks also contain goal setting sheets. They worked on setting goals for the both the month of June and for the first official week of summer. Every Sunday night we will have another small goal setting session where they can also follow-up on their goals from the previous week.

Help your kids be amazing this summer with goal-setting.

After they set their goals, we made our family bucket list for the summer. For this activity, I just have them each write down the top ten things they'd like to do and then I write it on a posterboard and hang it in the kitchen. I'd show you a photo, but I haven't managed to get it written on posterboard yet...I'll update this post when I do.

As a mom, it's always awesome to see your kids happy and productive. They have been an absolute joy for the first week of summer, and the second week is shaping up similarly.

They practice without complaint:

They're doing a lot of reading--sometimes even finding books in unexpected places and reading while walking home from the park. We have a lot of Little Free Libraries cropping up around town and the kids are loving them!

Set up your own little free library in your yard or at a park!

And my favorite part is to see them exercising! This is something The Maestro and I have been concerned about in our household. We aren't terribly good examples as parents, but we are both working on it this summer, too. Bria and Chloe go on runs, Chloe had a basketball camp and plays soccer, Sophia loves to go ride her bike or take the dog for a walk, or they just go run around in the backyard. We're also going on more walks as a family, when the weather is cooperative. I'm hoping to see some great health benefits for them by summer's end.

And that's just the first week! Hopefully the weather will warm up and we'll still be able to spend plenty of days at the beach and knock out a lot of our family summer bucket list, too. I love kicking off our summers this way, and can't wait to see my children accomplish some great goals this year!

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Make Your Living Room More Inviting--5 Tips I Learned the Hard Way

My living room has always been difficult for me. I've lived in this house for six years now, and I have never been happy with the way my living room was working. It was always just clunky and nobody ever really wanted to spend time in there. Guests would come over and the living room always felt awkward and uninviting. I hated it.

My house is over 100 years old and the living room is right in the center of the floor plan with every other room on the main floor flowing into it. This means that there are six (SIX!) doorways in the living room and four windows. Oh, and a fireplace! Which means there isn't a lot of wall space for either furniture or decor.

In fact, there is really only one wall that is suitable for having furniture next to it, and I have put bookcases there for the last six years. This resulted in the couch having to be pushed forward to the middle of the room, and a very awkward furniture arrangement.

IMG_5688 Tree decorating 2012 web
Awkward couch arrangement #1
Awkward couch arrangement #2
I should add that these were very cheap bookcases from our years in student housing--I think I paid all of 50 dollars for both of them, and that felt like a huge splurge back then! Well, about a month ago, they completely fell apart. I was lucky we noticed it in time, because we were able to get everything off of them before they gave up the ghost.

Having your bookcases kill themselves like that presents a great opportunity to reassess the room and figure out a better way. I originally thought that I would just replace them and keep the arrangement the same, but while I was sans bookshelves, I moved the couch back into their spot and I couldn't believe how much the room opened up! I finally figured out the secret to a functional living space, and after a trip to IKEA, I am so happy with my living room now. The best part is that people use it—the kids are in here all the time doing homework, reading, or just sitting around enjoying each other.

Want to spend more time in the living room? Here are 5 tips to make it your favorite room in the entire house!

How to Make Your Living Room More Inviting

I may have learned them the hard way, but here are my five best tips to making your living room inviting:

1. Brighten it up

As you could see from the old photos, when we moved in, one full wall was dark wood paneling. It was pretty, but so gloomy! Actually, it wasn't pretty and I really hated it. A couple of years ago, I decided I would just paint it a cream color--I figured if it looked bad it couldn't be worse than the dark paneling. And while I was worried about how it would look with our beautiful wood trim, I was pleasantly surprised! It turned out beautifully--and the best part is that it brightened the whole room up.

And then I went and put two big, black bookcases over the new light walls. Once I moved the couch against that wall instead, I was amazed at how much brighter the room was when the bookshelves weren't taking up all the room.

The other three walls in the room are painted a lovely olive color, and the white helps to keep that color from being too gloomy, as well.

2. Open it up

My biggest mistake was pushing that furniture forward to accommodate for the bookcases. It was too hard to navigate to the couch or the chair, making it awkward for guests. They never really knew how to use the room, and the arrangement wasn't super comfortable or conducive to good conversation.

By pushing the couch back three feet, the space opened up. Then I could add not just one, but two chairs flanking the fireplace. I also added a coffee table, and even though that takes a little extra space, it adds coziness to the room. There is still plenty of space to walk through the room.

I got rid of a lot of books, and only replaced one of the two bookcases. It has a perfect spot next to the fireplace with one of the chairs in front of it. The room feels bigger now, and people can easily navigate the furniture situation and have no problem choosing a place to sit. We actually congregate here now, which hasn't happened for six years.

While I was at it, I turned the piano from its old position and created a lot more space by putting it under the window instead of against the wall. The music corner is now much more functional--and inviting!-- than it once was.

Little Maestro
Old position of the piano--scroll down to the next section to see how great it looks now!

3. Declutter

Too much stuff is a huge turnoff for a living space. I have learned that that (unfortunately) includes books. I finally bit the bullet and got rid of quite a few books, and even though that was difficult for this bookworm, I am so glad I did it!

The bookcase I purchased has three open shelves and a cupboard on the three lower shelves. I liked this, because I could put things we needed to keep but that aren't very pretty in the lower shelves. I chose only our nicest, prettiest books for the open shelving and stashed everything else (mostly vocal music and opera scores) down below. I always hated the eyesore all my music created in the bookshelves, so this is a lovely solution.

Next project: Fix the piano bench cover!

I also ended up buying a smaller bookcase to put next to the piano to hold our most oft-used music. This helped cut the clutter that was always going on around the piano area since nobody ever bothered to put their music back into the shelves. Now, they mostly do. (Though you can see there's still plenty left out...proof my children practice anyway!) The basket next to the piano holds their various music bags for orchestra, piano, violin lessons, quartet rehearsal, etc.

The coffee table I bought also has a lower shelf, so I hid a bit of the necessary clutter that had lived in the old bookshelves in baskets under the coffee table. The rest I happily got rid of.

In order to hide the electronics clutter, I devised a charging station made from a wine cabinet I purchased at Target. The drawer hides all of the cords, and sometimes even all of the devices. But, as you can see, we leave devices on top of it pretty often, too.

4. Personalize it

An inviting living space has personality. It showcases the things you love. I've read before that you shouldn't have too many family photos, but I couldn't disagree more. I love family photos and I want them all over my house! So, they are all over my living room. (You'll have noticed by now that my dog is also all over my living room!)

My Mother's Day gift this year was a huge canvas of my favorite family picture (taken by brockit, inc.). Don't you love it? It gives a fabulous focal point to the room and highlights what I love most. I also have photos from that same shoot on the fireplace and the coffee table.

Other photos in the room include several that I took myself when the girls were much younger (such as the ones near the piano), the temple we were married in, and a painting that The Maestro's grandmother did (hanging above our charging station). I also put up a cute chalkboard sign to remind the girls to practice. I'm not sure it actually works, but it's something fun that gives the room personality.

If something has great meaning to you, keep it and find a way to make it work. Otherwise, get rid of it. It's no use keeping something that doesn't bring you joy or that serves an important purpose. Especially when it comes to the living room.

5.  Clean it up

Clutter is one thing, dirt and dust are quite another. Vacuuming and dusting often are essential to keeping your living room a place where people want to be.

You may have noticed that we have a lot of laminate in the living room. The bookcases, the coffee table, the charging station cabinet, and even the digital piano are all laminate. And I don't know about your house, but mine collects dust very quickly!

I love that I can quickly refresh the living room with a quick wipe down with Pledge Lemon Clean. I also love that the girls can quickly refresh the living room with Pledge, too. In fact, Sophia thinks dusting is the best job ever and routinely does the entire house for me. I don't have to worry about the Pledge stripping or clouding the laminate at all because it is pH balanced. The fresh lemon smell is my favorite though. Nothing like lemon to invite you into a room!

I'm seriously thrilled with how my living room has turned out. I love how we gather there every night as a family and enjoy being in the space. It only took me six years to figure it out, but what a WONDERFUL difference!

What are your best tips for making a living space more inviting?

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

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