Thursday, April 28, 2016

Make Road Trips More Memorable With Kids' Vacation Journals

Are you planning a road trip to Southern California? Book it through Get Away Today and get $10 off by entering the promo code "STUFFED10"

I love taking road trips with my family. Some of my very favorite family memories were made in the car in the middle of nowhere as we traveled to our destination. Also, some of my least favorite family memories are made in the car on those road trips due to the whole being stuffed in a tiny space together for long periods of time without anything to do but look out the window or maybe at a screen.
Road trips can be long and boring for kids. Make them memorable with this fun vacation journal idea. They'll love it! #overstuffedlife

I've seen lots of great road trip games and ideas, but the one that we really love to do is to have the girls keep vacation journals. They really love them, especially at the beginning of road trips, and enjoy keeping a personal record of the things that they see and do. Their interest wanes a bit—usually on the way back home—but I'm thankful for any time that it keeps them occupied!

But I'm most thankful for the record of the vacation through the eyes of my children.

I usually buy simple composition notebooks to use as their vacation journals. They're super inexpensive, and you can find them almost anywhere that school supplies are sold.

Use composition notebooks to make vacation journals for your kids. #overstuffedlife

For our Epic Vacation of 2012 (which I never did finish blogging about, sigh), I actually found some composition notebooks by Mead called "Primary Journal: early creative story tablet" that were perfect for our vacation journals! Each page includes a space to draw a picture and then has lines underneath where they can write about it.

You can purchase these notebooks here: Early Creative Story Tablets.

I can't find Sophia's anymore—she was 6 years old at the time—but I do still have Bria's and Chloe's. Bria was 11 and Chloe was 9. I think it's so much fun to compare the things they wrote and drew with the photos I took with my camera, and even the things I wrote in my blog.

Here are a few examples:

Seeing a Big Horn Sheep at the Badlands:

Bria's vacation journal

Chloe's vacation journal

My photo (blog post is here: Big Horn Sheep)

Visiting Devil's Tower:

Bria's vacation journal

Chloe's vacation journal

My photos (blog post is here: Devil's Tower)

Pony ride at the Laura Ingalls Homestead:

Chloe's vacation journal

My photos (blog post is here: Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota)

Yellowstone Hot Springs

Bria's vacation journal

Chloe's vacation journal

My photo (blog post is here: Yellowstone National Park)

The thing about creating memories is that you always have to record them, too. I can't tell you how many times I've opened up an old journal and read about an experience I had completely forgotten. These vacation journals will be a way to remember all the little moments that make a vacation wonderful—especially since they're through the eyes of children!

Happy vacationing!

More ideas for composition notebooks:

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Circle with Disney: How it Works, How We Use It, and Why It's Worth It

In January, I purchased a Circle With Disney device to help me monitor and limit the screen time in our household. I was frustrated with how much energy it was taking to get my kids to follow the household rules regarding electronic devices. I have already written about our experience with the device here: How I Finally Found a Way to Limit Screen Time Without Being the Bad Guy.

After reading my original post, many of you have had questions about exactly how it works, how we have implemented it in our home, and whether or not the $99 price tag is actually worth it. Today I am going to answer those questions, show you how we use it, and show you how we have made the most of its strengths and limitations.

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

Thinking of purchasing a Circle with Disney and wondering how it works? Here's how we use it, and why I think it's worth buying. #overstuffedlife

Is Circle with Disney difficult to set up?


I received it in the mail while The Maestro was out of town at a conference and was able to set it up all by myself. I just needed to plug it in, download an app on my iPhone, and enter my wi-fi password. I was really impressed with the simplicity and ease of the set-up process.

After about 15 minutes I had the app all set up with everyone on it. It had already found all of the devices that were connecting to the wi-fi in our house, and while some of them were named weird things, I was able to figure out which devices were assigned to which family member. There is also a "home" which is where I assigned all shared devices (it's the circle in the middle with the house icon).

 Once you know what a device is, you can rename it so that it is easier for you to discern which is which on your app. I was thankful to see I could rename our Chrome cast "Chrome Cast" instead of "Chewbacca," which is what my husband named it when he set it up.

Any time someone walks into my home with an electronic device and connects to my wi-fi, I can see that via notification to my phone from the app. You can configure those to be filtered as well. Mine are automatically added to the home circle with a teen filter, as most of these devices walking in my house are friends of my teenage daughters.

You can see that I also receive notifications as my children hit their time limits.

What exactly can Circle with Disney do?

The Circle can do four main things to help monitor and control the electronics usage in your home: Filter, set time limits, pause the internet, and give daily usage insights. Each device that is connected to the wi-fi in your home will be picked up by Circle. You can then assign it to a person, assign it to the home, or choose not to manage that device.

Once you have the devices assigned properly, you will be able to start managing them. If I click on Bria's picture on my app, her profile comes up and I can choose which filters and time limits to put on her phone.

Let's see exactly how to put those in place.


Circle with Disney has five different general filters to choose from: Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult, and None. When you pick a specific filter, you can see which specific apps it is allowing or disallowing by default and then override those if you so choose.

The filter will also show you which types of websites it will be filtering, and you can override those as well. Just use the toggle buttons to override a set filter.

You can also get even more specific and set custom filters for specific websites. For instance, I have the adult filter set for my profile, but I found that it was blocking a photo sharing website that I need to use for blogging. So I just set up a custom filter that will allow that website.

Here you can see that I set up a custom filter under Bria's profile for Spotify, which is how she generally listens to music. It was disallowed under the teen filter, but as long as I keep that toggle "on" it will allow her to use it. I could toggle it to "off" if it were a website that was allowed under the general filter that I didn't want her on.

Time Limits:

Circle with Disney has several different ways to set time limits on devices, which I love.

You can set a general time limit. As you can see here, Bria's time limit is 2 hours. Now, be aware that this is only for wi-fi. Since Bria has a phone that uses data, the phone can just continue to work by using the data instead of the wi-fi. (I'll talk about how we have addressed this later in the post.) My other two children have iPod touches, which only work with wi-fi, so that isn't a problem with them.

You can set time limits for specific apps. I have done this for a handful of apps that my children tend to spend the most time on, but mostly I find that unnecessary since I already have a fairly strict general time limit.

Finally, you can also set a bedtime and a wake-up time for each device. I often disable the bedtime on weekends, but they have also usually used up their daily time limit anyway, so it doesn't much matter.


I can see exactly how my children have been spending their time online in the daily report. While this is a little more difficult on the shared devices (that is where the iPad is, and Sophia tends to use that a lot), it is still very helpful.

Here, you can see how Bria spent her two hours today.

You can also get weekly and monthly reports. I have to admit, the reports I was getting for my own usage were slightly horrifying and have helped me to tame my own Facebook habit a little bit!

Internet Pause:

There might be a reason for you to completely pause the internet for a certain family member or a particular device. Perhaps a child is grounded from their device for a time period, or maybe you just want to have some device-free family time.

Circle with Disney has made it easy to pause the internet in a number of different ways, allowing you to use the feature in whichever way makes sense for your situation.

Having family dinner? Just pause the entire family! That pause button there on the home page will do the trick.

Need one child to be off the internet for a period of time? Maybe they are grounded or perhaps they just need to finish their homework before they are allowed to have their screen time. Use the pause button on the individual profile.

What if you need to pause just one of the devices? I often pause my laptop so the kids don't sneak it when I'm not looking and use it to watch Netflix or play AnimalJam. In that case, just go to your list of devices, and then pick the device you would like to pause. And then—you guessed it!—use the pause button on that device.

Are there ways around the controls set by Circle with Disney?

Unfortunately, yes.

Circle with Disney is not a magical device that absolves you from overseeing the limits you use it to set. Kids are smart, and they will figure out ways around everything if they can! That is why we need devices like Circle with Disney!

That said, by paying attention to how my children were getting around the controls, I have been able play defense and outsmart them. Here are the top ways they have gotten around the controls and how I have dealt with it:

Defaulting to data when they hit their limits

This one was the hardest one to figure out for me, but I did it! Not only did I not like that they were still using the internet when their limits were up, they were using more data than normal.

(We are an iphone family, so this workaround only works on iphones and I don't know if it's possible for Android.)

1. Go to settings and choose cellular.
2. Go through the list of apps and choose which ones you do not want your child accessing via data. Use the toggle switch to restrict them to wi-fi only.
3. Go back to the main settings page.
4. Choose general and then choose enable restrictions.
5. Create a passcode for the restrictions (be sure to choose one your child won't be able to guess!).
6. Scroll down to the "allow changes" section.
7. Click cellular data.
8. Click "do not allow"

Now when your child tries to use an app with data, it won't work and will direct them to change the settings. But because they don't have the passcode, they will not be able to change the settings.

This has worked well for us, however Circle with Disney will be releasing another app soon that will also restrict data usage. Stay tuned for that!

Using a less restricted device when they hit their limits

Time's up? No worries, I'll go steal mom's laptop or the home computer. The easiest way around this is to have those devices on pause unless someone is using them. The other thing I have done is to put difficult passcodes on each computer, ipad, and phone that only my husband and I know.

This works well, but you have to remember to put the device back on pause after using it, or to make sure the computer is on lock screen when you get up.

Using a less restricted device to access a game or website they shouldn't

Sophia, my 9-year-old, loves to play AnimalJam. Because it is a kid-friendly game, it isn't restricted in her filter. Instead I have a custom filter set up, and I just toggle it on and off as she is allowed to play. However, she has the habit of hopping on other devices whenever she can in order to play, so now there is a custom filter for AnimalJam on every single device in the household!

Using mom or dad's phone to change the restrictions

Having a pretty tight passcode on your phone helps, but sometimes I give my phone to my kids to play games or to do something else. Luckily, you can enable a passcode right on the Circle with Disney app.

I'm sure there are many other ways to get around it that my kids haven't found yet, too. But I'm not too worried about it because when they do find them, I will figure out a way around it. My kids may be smart, but I am still the parent.

Thinking of purchasing a Circle with Disney and wondering how it works? Here's how we use it, and why I think it's worth buying. #overstuffedlife

Is it worth it?


For just $99, Circle with Disney has changed the screen time culture in our home for the better. It has allowed me to more easily enforce rules that were already in place—rules that were not being enforced before because I couldn't always keep track of screen time minutes and who was using which device.

As the parent, I have appreciated how Circle with Disney has freed my parenting time up for other things. Things like helping with homework, helping with music practice, and spending more quality time with my kids.

To purchase your own Circle with Disney device, click here: MeetCircle. When you purchase using this link, you will also be added to a message board that will connect you with other parents using the device. It's a great resource to see how others are using it in their homes. You can also ask all your questions there and they will be answered by a representative of the company or other parents. You can also purchase one at Amazon by clicking here: Circle with Disney at Amazon.

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to Improve Your Photo Composition: Take Candid Shots

This post is the fourth in my photography series on improving photo composition. To see the rest of the series, click here: How to Improve Your Photo Composition Series. For your convenience, this post contains affiliate links.

Of all the ways to improve your photography composition, this is my favorite. While being aware of the things we've already talked about, like zoom, visual triangles, which angles you're shooting from, and the rule of thirds--none of it really matters if you're not actually capturing real life. I love having my camera with me and just noticing a great shot of my kids doing something together.

Those are the photos I treasure most.

Improve your photo composition by learning to notice great candid shots and capture them honestly. #overstuffedlife

In fact, many of the photos I've already shared in this series are candid.

Candid doesn't necessarily have to mean your subjects have no idea you are taking their picture. The word candid means "open, sincere, informal, straightforward, unposed, or free from reservation." To me this says that a candid photo is simply honest and real.

Candid photos tell an honest story.

For the rest of this post, I'm going to just share a few examples, along with the stories behind them, so you can see what I mean.

This photo of Chloe and my mom shows their relationship. We were in Chicago at the Ravinia festival and Chloe asked her grandma a question. I snapped this photo while she was getting the answer. How sweet is this? Just look at how much Chloe adores her Mamah!

This is a photo of my Sophia and her cousin in Hawaii at the end of a long day of playing at the beach together. It evokes such strong feelings of peace and sheer bliss to me. And it shows the relationship of these two little girls who love each other so much and can't get enough of each other when they are together (which isn't often since they live on opposite ends of the U.S.). 

Bonus: This one was taken with my phone!

This is a photo of a 3-year-old Sophia who overheard me tell her bored older sister that if I were her, I would go out on the deck and read a book. A little while later, I glanced outside and saw Sophia out there with her favorite book—Curious George. So sweet.

This is another photo of Sophia, taken last summer at our very last beach day on Lake Superior. She was just standing there eating her sandwich and waiting for her friends to come. Maybe it's just because I love the beach so much, but this is another one that evokes powerful emotion for me. I can't even put my finger on exactly what I'm feeling, but it's wonderful.

These next four photos are from our most recent road trip. We went to Minneapolis where we visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It was the only time on the whole trip that I actually thought to take out my big camera, and I got several fun candids.

This photo is of Sophia (I know, I'm realizing how Sophia heavy this post is, too!) and The Maestro playing chess in the children's area of the museum. Sophia is totally into chess and is quite an amazing little player. She regularly beats both me and The Maestro. I love her exasperation with the dumb move her dad just made in this photo!

And while we're on Sophia and her chess obsession, here's a photo of her during the same game from a different angle. You might notice that these two photos both have a lot of digital noise (grain) in them, due to the difficult lighting, but I don't even care because I captured something far more important to me than a perfectly exposed photograph.

I love this one of Chloe and Sophia tying their shoes. Totally unplanned, and here they are sitting in these funny chairs wearing identical beanies. What a perfect photo opportunity!

Finally, here is one of Bria. I was behind her as she was walking down the stairs of the museum, and I caught this. It captures the essence of Bria well—romantic and beautiful.

Do you see how each of the photos tells an honest story? I just love that. It's why I wanted to learn photography in the first place! 

Next time you have your camera out, start looking for all those real moments that you can honestly capture. Don't worry about perfection. Many candid photos don't turn out well, but when you find the gems that really tug at your heartstrings, you'll be glad you took 20 bad photos to get that one great photo that you'll keep framed forever!

Want to catch up on the rest of the series?

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

An Easy Way to Save Money on Household Goods {free printable}

The first rule to saving money on anything is to know how much you are spending in the first place.

I used to keep all the household goods under the grocery umbrella in our budget. It sort of worked in that we just added whatever we needed each week onto the grocery list and went from there. But in my mind, the grocery money was mostly allocated to food, so it would surprise me when we would always go over budget, not realizing that it was due to the trash bags, paper towels, and cleaning supplies I purchased that week.

I really had no idea how much we were spending on the non-food items.

This checklist will help you save money on your household items--what could be easier? Plus a few other ways you can make shopping for household supplies easier and cheaper. #overstuffedlife

Then we made a separate budgeting category for the household goods, but still purchased them along with groceries whenever we needed them. In order to keep my numbers straight, I had to go through and separate the items on the receipt to enter into our budget (we use YNAB). Talk about annoying! Have you ever tried to read some of the items on a receipt? What is LC CT CHS and why did I buy three of them? What did I buy three of that could possibly be LC CT CHS?

Yeah. Totally annoying, time consuming, and definitely not conducive to understanding how much I was spending on household goods.

I finally started doing an entirely different shopping trip at the beginning of each month just for household goods. This made it much easier to track my spending in this category, but I was still having to run to the store during the month to pick up shampoo or toothpaste or something else we had run out of that I had forgotten to buy in the initial trip. Worse, I was often having to add them into the normal grocery shopping anyway and having to decipher and split receipts again.

Free downloadable printable—a checklist to help you keep track of your household goods. Includes paper goods, cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, toiletries, and miscellaneous categories. #overstuffedlife

So, I finally sat down and created a checklist with every possible household item I might purchase (and some blank lines because we all know I couldn't have actually come up with every possible household item!). At the end of each month, I take a quick inventory of the items on the checklist and create my list for my household shopping trip. Most of these types of items only have to be purchased once every few months and so the checklist makes it so much easier to remember what I need and what I still have on hand.

To download the checklist, simply enter your email into the form below. If you are on a mobile device, click here to see the form.

I have saved money just by doing it this way for several reasons:

1. I do not accidentally overbuy items. I'm still working through all the laundry detergent I bought when I wasn't really paying attention!
2. I do not forget items. This always results in having to run out in the middle of the month to buy garbage bags where I will inevitably also buy "just a few more things."
3. I am aware of just how much we tend to spend in this category. Now I can budget accordingly, and do not go over budget every single month.

I do most of my shopping for household items at our local WalMart since the closest Costco is 4 hours away (sad face). While I know coupons would save me money, I rarely coupon anymore because it is too time consuming for me.

However, there are a couple other options I also use to save me money on my household purchases. I have used affiliate links for your convenience.

1. Grove Collaborative (formerly e-Pantry)

Grove Collaborative carries all of my favorite natural/organic brands for a cheaper price than I could get them at a brick and mortar store. Brands like Method, Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, and Toms of Maine.

If you're interested in trying them out, my readers can get $10.00 off their first order by clicking here: $10.00 off Grove Collaborative order.

For your first order, choose the products you want, and then you are automatically signed up for monthly boxes. You can change the products you receive each month, or keep them the same. Totally up to you.

2. Amazon Subscribe and Save

I have a few items on my Subscribe and Save—toilet paper, toothpaste, oxi-clean, and my fridge filter. I also do some of my gluten-free flours via the subscribe and save.

You can choose exactly how often your products ship with subscribe and save. For example, I get a 27-count package of toilet paper, which usually lasts us a little over 2 months. So I have it shipped every two months and I don't ever worry about buying toilet paper. My refrigerator filter comes every 6 months. I have my subscribe and save down to a science!

If you have 5 items coming in one month, you will get a 15% discount on your entire subscribe and save order. Still, the prices are somewhat discounted just doing it subscribe and save, so I don't always worry if I don't happen to have 5 items in a month, because it's not worth it to try to add a couple more items that I don't really need.

To see what's available on Subsribe and Save, click here: Amazon Subscribe and Save products. Be aware that items get taken off and added onto the program regularly.

And here are a couple more services that I don't personally use, but can definitely help to save you money on household goods. I have heard high reviews on both:

1. Amazon Prime Pantry

For members of Amazon Prime, you can start filling a pantry box full of items you need (and groceries do count here, too, not just household items). When the box is filled, it will ship for a flat rate of $5.99.

Since one of the big perks of Amazon Prime is free shipping, you may wonder why the $5.99 shipping rate. As it turns out, many of these household products are not Prime eligible because of their weight—it would be cost prohibitive for Amazon to ship them for free. So you are getting a pretty good deal by doing Prime Pantry as far as shipping costs go, and most of the items in the Prime Pantry selection are cheaper than they would be if you bought them on Amazon without using the Prime Pantry option.

Not a Prime member? Try it out free for 30 days by clicking here: Amazon Prime Trial.

See all products eligible for this service by clicking here: Prime Pantry.

For the month of April 2016 you can get free Prime Pantry shipping by purchasing five selected items and entering the code PANTRYAPR. It looks like most of the items are pretty normal purchases and I see both Method and Mrs. Meyers on the docket. I may be trying this out myself next month.

2. Boxed

I have a good friend who has used Boxed and really likes it. As far as I can tell, it works very similarly to Grove Collaborative but has a larger range of items. They do also carry the organic/natural brands. The prices are almost always cheaper than WalMart, so it is worth it to try out.

How do you save money on household goods?

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.

Monday, April 04, 2016

35 Diary Style Book Series for Kids Who Love Dork Diaries

As a parent I have learned that I have to pick my battles in many areas. The books my children choose to read is one of those areas. If I had my druthers, they'd all be reading Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women but, as it turns out, my oldest daughter prefers fantasy, my middle daughter loves almost anything (even Nancy Drew and Anne Shirley!), and my youngest daughter is going through a great big Dork Diaries phase right now.

This post contains affiliate links.

If your kid loves reading Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid and you can't get them to read anything else, try these other books that are very similar to Dork Diaries. #overstuffedlife

While I think that The Dork Diaries series is certainly fun, I guess I can be a bit snobby about books and I sort of put it into the junk food section in my mind. But when you have a child that will not read anything else, you have to be happy that they are reading instead of being glued to screens all the time. So, I'm biting my tongue and even buying her the books in the series as they come out (we are big book buyers over here--much cheaper than paying the library fines!)

I hit a small conundrum for Valentine's Day, though. Our tradition is to give the girls each a new book at our special Valentine's Day breakfast and there were no new Dork Diaries books out--she had already received Book 10 for Christmas. What's the mom of a reluctant reader to do?

Well, what I ended up doing is giving them each a book IOU, and we went to the bookstore together to pick our books. I resolved to not be dogmatic about what Sophia chose this time and hoped she could find something that appealed to her.

And she did. She found a book called Drama by Raina Telgemeier. It's not so much a diary style book as it is a colorful graphic novel, but she really wanted it. So we got it for her.

Drama by Rainia Telgemeier is a book that appeals to kids who like to read from Dork Diaries

And then she read it 5 times in a week, she loved it so much. (Warning: It does have a gay character that is mentioned but not so much a part of the novel—this does not bother me as it is a good way to discuss it with kids and there is nothing more than mentions of his being gay.)

It got me doing some more research on these diary-style and comic-book style novels that would appeal to Sophia (age 9) right now.  I was astounded at the amount of books there are that are written in this style! I had heard of a handful of them, but the majority are new to me. Since it's nearly time to make my summer reading lists for the girls, I want to make sure Sophia has at least a few of these in her book bin this summer.

I started with her Easter basket and bought her a book called Adventures of a Kid Magician (you can only purchase it at WalMart apparently) and she has been loving that one, too. So there it is--as long as she is reading I am thrilled!

Adventures of a Kid Magician is a new book that will appeal to kids who enjoy reading Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid

35 Diary Style Books & Book Series for Kids Who Love Reading Dork Diaries

(In the case of a book series I will link the first book in the series here--and most of these are series!)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Cheesie Mack is not a Genius or Anything by Steve Cotler
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale
Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliott
Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper
Letters to Leo by Amy Hest
The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow
Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters by Marissa Moss
Timmy Failure by Stephan Pastis
Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson
The My Life Series by Janet Tashjian
Stick Dog by Tom Watson
Desmond Puckett Makes Monster Magic by Mark Tatulli
Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail
Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce
Tales of a 6th Grade Muppet by Kirk Scroggs
Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom by Eric Wight
The Ellie McDoodle Diaries by Ruth McNally Barshaw
Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf by Jennifer L. Holm
Spaceheadz by John Scieszka
Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon
The Doodlebug Adventures by Scott Jaster
Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald
Max Quigley, Technically Not a Bully by James Roy
Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg
Zeke Meeks vs. The Gruesome Girls by D.L. Green
NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society by Michael Buckley
Artsy-Fartsy by Karla Oceanak
Please Write in This Book by Mary Amato
Dear Max by Sally Grindley
Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Adventures of a Kid Magician by Scott and Justin Flom

Phewsh! That's a lot of books!

If your kid loves reading Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid and you can't get them to read anything else, try these other books that are very similar to Dork Diaries. #overstuffedlife

I'm super excited for Sophia to read these—because I know she will enjoy reading them. I'll worry about getting her to read the more serious books later. For now, I'm just thrilled she has found something she likes to read.

You might also like:

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.