Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas in sunny Florida

The Christmas chaos has come and gone. Our day was not quite as expected since the kiddos were sick. Amelia was recovering well by Christmas day and enjoyed the time with extended family, but baby Andrew was not well at all. He is still not himself, almost one week later; we are currently trying a breathing treatment (wheezing) and a new antibiotic (ear infection that won't clear). Poor baby!

Happy New Year to all!

My Christmas sweetheart

And a boy who just did not feel like it

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Pinterest success! One-pan zesty chicken dinner

Do you want your family to ooh and mmm and ask for seconds? That actually happened in my home the other week, thanks to an idea from Pinterest that I kicked up a notch. I'm not much of a chef, so I was thrilled. The pan was literally scraped clean, even from my light and picky eater!

This delicious recipe is easy, uses one pan, and can be prepped ahead of time (in my case, during baby's nap time). The original Pin is here: Dinner all in one pan - chicken

It sounded a little bit bland to me, so I searched the fridge to kick it up a notch. I added sliced onion to the potatoes section, Hormel real bacon bits to the green beans section, and I spread whipped cream cheese over the chicken. I did each of those steps before the Italian seasoning and melted butter.


Use 3-4 chicken breasts for a family of four; more if you have more mouths to feed. If using canned cut green beans, I suggest 2 cans for every 4 people. They all went for seconds! 

Needed: chicken breasts, green beans (fresh or canned), red potatoes, real bacon bits, onion, whipped (or softened) cream cheese, packet of Italian dressing mix, 1/2 stick of melted butter

  • Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray 
  • Cut chicken breasts in half and place in the middle of the pan
  • Cut red potatoes into chunks, place on one side of the pan
  • Place fresh or canned green beans in the other section of the pan
  • Slice onion, sprinkle pieces over the potatoes
  • Sprinkle real bacon bits over the green beans
  • Heavily spread softened cream cheese over the chicken
  • Sprinkle all liberally with one packet of Italian dressing mix
  • Melt the butter and pour evenly over the entire pan
  • Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes 

The cream cheese lightly browns to perfection and the onion and bacon bits add flavor to the vegetables. Melted butter adds goodness to anything, right? This is absolutely an A+ recipe for my family, and I especially love it because I can prepare during baby's nap and cooking only involves placing in the oven. And one big pan to wash? Yet another plus! 

Happy kids at dinner make for an enjoyable family evening. Enjoy, and please Pin it if you like it! Hover over the image above to add to your favorite Pinterest board.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wishes for a very merry Christmas

For my husband,
I wish you a release from thoughts and worries of work, fun adventures with your children, and easy success and joys in the new year.

For my darling first grader,
I wish for you excitement and surprises, never-ending learning and wonder, and a healthy dose of confidence so we may always see that glowing and adorable smile.

For my sweet baby boy,
I wish you continued growth, discoveries, and squeals of laughter.

For family and friends,
I wish you peace, happiness, and love with safety, health, and prosperity in the new year.

May all of you find your happy place this season, and may that happy place reside in your soul each and every day.

*** Merry Christmas to all! ***

Monday, December 22, 2014

First grader's tips for calming your fears

I discovered at the start of this school year that my six-year-old daughter has an actual phobia. Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting. When she has nightmares, they do not often feature monsters or bad guys. Her nightmares are often about someone throwing up at school. This happened once last year and twice so far this year. Not exactly a frequent occurrence, but she is afraid nonetheless.

She and I discuss this fear frequently, and especially last week after several very difficult mornings.  She understands that her reaction to vomit is physical and involuntary. She likes the big word, Emetophobia. We are working together so she may learn simple ways to cope and calm the physical reaction.

The other day? A child vomited in her class. She said her body became jittery and her teacher said she was pale. But this time, she did not end up in the school clinic. She actually made it through the day. The following morning however, she was inconsolable and quite afraid to attend class. But she was brave, and she got herself out of the car and ventured into the school building, wiping the tears from her eyes.

Needless to say, I thought of her all day long.

She greeted me with a smile as she clambered back into the car after the final school bell had rung. She immediately presented me with a journal entry she wrote at school. She tore it from the journal, because it was a note especially for me:

"Dear Mommy,

I was fine today at school but in the morning I was a little sad. In the end it got better.

I talked to my teachers.
I talked to my friends.
I thought happy thoughts.
And it all got much better.

So I want you to know that I love you. You're the best mom ever." 

I think these coping skills are phenomenal for a first grader and applicable to anyone. When we have worries or anxiety, it helps to talk to supportive people. It helps to focus on the positive.

I could not be more proud of her accomplishment that day at school. She tackled a frightening situation in a very grown-up way and gave us some pretty smart advice.

Friday, December 19, 2014

You still have time for these glowing Christmas light displays: Georgia and Tennessee

You still have time! Grab the extended family and venture out for some twinkling festivity.

It is a favorite December activity of ours: driving around to view shimmering displays of holiday lights. With our penchant for road trips and US travel, we have managed to experience a several of the below favorites in Tennessee and Georgia. Are you near any of these displays? Here are a few select Christmas light experiences southern folks might be able to view this week and the next:

 Note: most of these require a fee; check the websites for pricing and operating hours.


Garden Lights - at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens (extended until 1/10!)

Magical Nights of Lights - Lake Lanier Islands Resort in Buford, GA (ends 12/31)

The Lights of Life - Life University in Marietta, GA (ends 12/31)

Petit Creek Christmas - Petit Creek Farms in Cartersville, GA (ends 12/30)

Stone Mountain Christmas - Stone Mountain Park (ends 1/4)

Fantasy in Lights - Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA (ends 12/30)

Ludy’s Christmas Light Spectacular - Columbus, GA (private home)

Meckley Family Christmas - Kennesaw, GA (private home)

Enchanted Garden of Lights - Rock City, Lookout Mountain, GA 


Speedway in Lights - Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, TN (ends 1/3)

Snowy Nights in My Big Backyard - Memphis Botanic Garden in Memphis, TN (ends 12/30)

Starry Nights - Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, TN (ends 12/28)

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland - TN Smokies Stadium in Kodak, TN (ends 1/4)

Christmas on the Cumberland - Clarksville, TN (ends 1/3)

Chad's Winter Wonderland - 8-acre farm in Lebanon, TN (ends 12/31)

Lights on Old Charlotte - Franklin, TN (ends private home)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Baby boy's current favorite toys - 11 months old

Do you need a last-minute gift idea for a 10-18 month old? We celebrated "Thanksmas" with my family after Thanksgiving dinner, so my kids received a few of their gifts several weeks ago. Andrew, currently just shy of 11 months old, has some very clear favorites.

This post is not sponsored, but these toys for 10-18 month olds are life savers right now! So I thought I would share, as some of you may still be finishing up your gift shopping. I have the Fisher-Price Go Baby Go Poppity Pop Musical Dino in my master bathroom so baby boy can entertain himself while I get ready in the morning. And the Bright Starts Having a Ball Cluck and Learn Barn is downstairs so he can play most of the day.

If you need a gift idea for Christmas, Hanukkah, an upcoming birthday, or any other occasion for a 10-18 month old, I recommend these. My nephew also loved both of these toys around his one-year birthday.

The Fisher-Price Go Baby Go Poppity Pop Musical Dino is a popper toy dinosaur that bounces six colored balls (and any other lightweight objects) inside a cute blue dinosaur. The balls also drop into a hole and roll out the dino's mouth, so baby can continue to put the balls back in. I think Andrew could probably do this for at least 30 minutes, consecutively. That's an eternity in baby concentration! The dino plays music while it pops and the moment I turn the "on" switch, Andrew begins to clap and bounce. He truly loves this toy.

The Bright Starts Having a Ball Cluck and Learn Barn was a bit more difficult for baby boy to master, because it takes coordination to get the little chicken head balls into the top of the chicken head. He still misses quite often, but that makes it all the more exciting when he gets one in and it rolls out toward his feet! The balls randomly roll out one side or the other, so he never knows where to look next. The toy barn also has three large easy-to-press buttons on the side that play tunes and make animal sounds. We like it a lot!

Any affordable toy that can entertain my on-the-go little guy for over 10 minutes is my favorite too!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Favorite decor highlighting the "reason for the season" #Christmas

When I was in the holiday shopping traffic the other day with Amelia, I mentioned to her that shopping and buying are not the meaning of Christmas. Her reply? "I know, it's presents!"

Alas, it has been too long since private church preschool. I realized that, other than her art projects from her former preschool, our Chirstmas decor in the home was all exceedingly commercial. Therefore, I launched 'Operation Bring Baby Jesus Back' in the house.

A friend recently posted a photo on Instagram of a perfect Advent calendar - a nativity scene that you build upon each day, with cute little stuffed figures that reside in pockets until their given day. I searched online and found that it is made by Vermont Christmas Company and I could order the nativity Advent calendar via Amazon.com. Yes to free shipping!

The calendar now hangs on the door to our deck, in the hustle bustle area of the kitchen so we can remember it each day. Amelia is having fun adding a character each morning, and we talk about the shepherds, kings, angels, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. The calendar is really big and I love that. It is now a perfect eye-catching and fun keepsake to hang up year after year.

Speaking of preschool Christmas art, I still hang this one by the front door - an adorable hanging angel banner. Amelia made it with the help of teachers during her final year of pre-K. The banner was made with blue felt, white and brown paint, puffy glitter paint, and thick white and silver wired ribbon. Plus some hot glue to adhere the ribbon for wings and a black Sharpie pen for the eyes and mouth. After the banner is created and dried, fold down the top of the felt so a wooden dowel can slide through. Finally, tie on shiny cord for hanging. It is a cute and pretty hanging for a lovely family Christmas keepsake. Don't you just love kid art?

Christmas is on its way! 2014 was pretty much a blur.

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Follow BalancingMama on Pinterest for more kid crafts, kid science, travel, Disney, holiday décor, cute food, easy entrees, kid style, and more.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Inspector Gadget would enjoy the Ford Flex

Atlanta area - don't forget to bring your holiday donations to John Bleakley Ford in Lithia Springs! They are accepting donations of toys (through 12/18), canned dog food (through 12/31), and coats (cold weather months) for area families and the Douglas County Animal Shelter.
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Da da da da dah, Inspector Gadget! 

Children of the 1980s know who I'm referencing... remember Inspector Gadget? The animated TV show series with a sometimes bumbling bionic police inspector was one of my favorites. He had all kinds of great gadgets! I have been driving a new 2015 Ford Flex this week, courtesy of Ford Southeast, and it has some auto gadgets I have never seen before.

Like the chiller compartment: the available second-row refrigerated console can chill up to seven 12-ounce cans, four half-liter bottles or two 20-ounce bottles in refrigeration or freezer mode! We are often rolling down the highways on family road trips, and I always bring a small cooler with a few drinks and snacks. This would save us from needing that extra piece to lug around and no more melting ice cubes or plastic freezer blocks that do not stay cold long enough. Family travel approved.

And the BLIS system: the Blind Spot Information System warns drivers of objects in the blind spot when backing up, helping to avoid aggravating parking lot mishaps. It uses radar to  detect the relative position of other vehicles and warn drivers before a potential impact.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What goes on in their heads? Inside Out trailer now available from Disney/Pixar

This newly-released trailer for Disney/Pixar's summer release made me chuckle. Just take a look; moms, you will know exactly why! INSIDE OUT seems to be about a typical family with an angst-ridden child and pretty normal parents. But we get to see what's going on inside their heads which are apparently, run by colorful happy creatures.

This looks to be a great movie for grown-ups and big kids! I'm sure younger children will love the creatures and basic storyline as well. I am always amused by the masterful way Disney/Pixar weaves in grown-up jabs and "old school" references to keep Mom and Dad entertained through films as well.

INSIDE OUT opens in theaters on June 19th.

Follow Disney/Pixar on Twitter
Follow Disney/Pixar on Instagram 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

That time I really surprised him...

I was sweating the schedule, big time. We were supposed to be on the road but he wanted to meander the sidewalk a bit more slowly, take a few additional photos, drive to peek at the golf course. I tried my hardest to push him along, all while bursting with a big secret. He did not know why I wanted to rush off from this lovely location so soon.

When my husband turned thirty years old, I set up a big surprise. He knew we were going on a trip and I told him what type of clothes to select for the suitcase. Other than that, he was kept in the dark. I drove the car and with his knack for maps, he continually guessed destinations.

On Friday night that week, we stopped in Savannah at a lovely hotel with a comfortable room and a sparkling view of the lights along the river. He thought we were done, but I informed him that we had another trek in the morning. We were staying just one night. He thought the surprises were over, but I had a big trick up my sleeve.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Unique and thoughtful gifts come from shopping local #WhiteRabbitMarietta

As a working parent, I frequent the "big box" stores and chain drug stores when I need everyday items quickly. I also purchase online when I know what I want, because the convenience is fantastic. But sometimes, I just want to shop.

Sometimes, I want to see beautiful items in person and experience a lovely store with my own senses. I want to take in gorgeous arrangements of products that I have not seen in the box stores. I want personal service and kind hellos. For special people who have touched my life, I want to select truly unique and heartfelt gifts. Something I can place gently in a basket while perusing the tables and shelves, instead of a quick grab-and-toss into a squeaky cart before trudging to a further aisle for some toothpaste.

If you are near Atlanta or visiting soon, take a little trip over to Marietta, GA and look up the White Rabbit Cottage. This store is loaded with sparkle and shine, cute and sweet, and tasty and fragrant. The original building of the White Rabbit Cottage is set in a 1920s farmhouse with charming rooms and original rustic pine floors and has been a popular décor and gift destination with Marietta locals for over ten years. The store expanded into a second building about seven years ago to house more décor and gifts, plus larger pieces like paintings, furniture, and a clearance area (right now, Fall décor is 40% off!).

I recently browsed the holiday cheer within the White Rabbit Cottage with some fellow area bloggers. The look of the store changes with the seasons, but here is a glimpse of the offerings right now at the White Rabbit Cottage:

Holiday reds

Monday, December 8, 2014

Favorite holiday gift lists

Are you on Pinterest? BalancingMama is on Pinterest! Check out my various boards on travel, kid style, cute food, easy family entrees, and Christmas gift ideas.

If you are still searching for some fantastic holiday gift ideas, click over to these from some blogging buddies of mine:

STEM gift ideas for girls - from Really, Are You Serious. I love that she encourages science and engineering for her girls. And she was a science teacher, so she knows what she's talking about!

Kitchen Must-Haves - from Redhead Baby Mama. This working mom of a little boy, a bulldog, and a cat shares her experience with some of the most useful kitchen gadgets for her busy life.

Ideas for Techie Parents - from The Mommy Insider. Parents love gadgets too! I definitely want some of the goodies on this list.

If you still need some assistance with your shopping endeavors in the form of deals and coupons? Check out the new Personal Shopper partnership with my friend, Mamalicious Maria:
Get Reward Points + Coupons for @LandsEnd and more

Happy gift hunting!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Experience is our gift to each other #FamilyTravel

My husband and I do not buy each other Christmas or birthday gifts. We barely buy gifts for our kids, either. They have plenty of packaged surprises from family and they are definitely not in need of "stuff". Years ago, the husband and I decided not to do the gifting thing because, really, we would just tell each other what to buy and spend time sneaking around to buy that thing that would not be a surprise when unwrapped.

I have seen a few articles about the increase in parents gifting experiences this year and while we never had a catchy phrase or a national news story on it, this is exactly what we have done in our household for years. Often, we are able to stop by Disney World to break up our long trek to visit family. When we don't spend hundreds on toys from a lengthy wish list, we can buy a couple park tickets instead. Or even if we don't go to a Walt Disney World park, we can enjoy Disney fun without the park via a perfectly themed resort and character-inspired dinner.

Experiences last longer than toys because they live on in precious family memories and favorite candid photographs of glowing, happy faces. Experiences teach our children about the world and the people in it. Experiences show our children that it feels good to be together, away from the house and the "stuff", simply enjoying together.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sometimes you've gotta have "Thanksmas"

We traveled for Thanksgiving this year, up the interstate to Tennessee. It was a chance for my entire family to be together since my sister and her family were able to travel at the same time. The baby boys have been antsy and bored with the colder weather, and since we were all together with no work or appointment distractions... we decided on "Thanksmas"!

At first, my littles played with the old toys that Grandma has saved for all these years. Tell me you remember this Holly Hobbie play kitchen! It's 30 years old but still a hit!

And, of course, this one can almost always be found in her natural state. Reading 3rd grade level books at age six. She can't get enough!

Thursday morning dawned and shortly afterward, cousin Logan arrived! The boys are exactly six months apart in age and they are already working on becoming buddies. No tears! Progress.

So, Thursday was our Thanksmas. Thanksgiving plus Christmas! A dream come true for both adult bellies and child excitement.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Glossary of health insurance terms and student health plan options from United Healthcare

This is a sponsored post via United Healthcare. All opinions are 100% my own.
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So, you are down to the wire on those health insurance open enrollment selections. If you have already browsed the informative videos on how to select a health insurance plan and save money but you are still stuck, maybe you need to take a step back to understand the basics.

Let's learn more with this "people on the street" series from United Healthcare:

What is a premium?
Interviewers asked folks on the street to define it.

What is a deductible?
Not everyone is fully up to speed on the meaning of this word.

What is a copay?
Testing the knowledge of passersby on health insurance terms.

What is co-insurance?
Some, um, interesting responses here! Learn what it really is.

What does PPO stand for?
Knowing the answer could help you lower the cost of your healthcare.
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