Thursday, January 29, 2015

The #Minecraft craze: what IS it?

Minecraft. Apparently, it is a gaming craze that is devouring children by the minute. I hear about it often, from friends talking about their kids' obsession to seeing a gazillion Pinterest pins for Minecraft birthday parties, t-shirts, and crafts.

So... what exactly is Minecraft? If you navigate to the Minecraft home page, you will find this description:

"Minecraft is a game about breaking and placing blocks. First, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things. It can also be about adventuring with friends or watching the sun rise over a blocky ocean. It's pretty... you can also visit a land of mushrooms if it sounds like your cup of tea." 

...and if you are anything like me, you still have no idea. What is Minecraft?! 

Over 18 million people have purchased the PC/Mac version of Minecraft so surely I am missing out on something amazing. The game is also fully mobile so it's reach is now astounding. 

The smart folks who developed the Minecraft web page apparently heard my plea before I ever asked it. The site navigation includes a "Game" section and lo and behold, they address the big question right there. Er... sort of. See for yourself by clicking over to "what is Minecraft" on

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Getting to know local author Stephanie Davis #books

Smart and confident women know how to get things accomplished. Atlanta PR pro and children's book author Stephanie Davis saw a gaping hole in the industry and is making her mark with her Kayla The Great series featuring a spunky multicultural little girl. I shared a review of Kayla The Great and The Magic Red Dress with you recently, and I also had a chance to interview the author.
Being a professional in "real" life with a love for writing on the side myself, I am in awe of her accomplishments and her go-get-'em attitude. Read the interview with Stephanie Davis below, and stay tuned for more on the new Kayla the Great book publishing soon! 
Stephanie, what inspired you to write children's books?
I love writing and I love children. A few years ago, one of my family members gave birth to a baby girl. I wanted to buy the baby a book as a gift. I searched far and wide, and I was so surprised at the lack of female lead characters in children's books. I was even more disappointed to learn there were very few characters of color. I had the idea of Kayla The Great years ago, but after I realized there was a huge lack of diversity in children's books, I decided it was time to bring her to life. My intent was not to make a grand statement with my books. Kayla The Great is here to represent the world we live in. And I really wanted children to fall in love with books. I wanted them to enjoy reading and see images of themselves and others in books. 

Is Kayla modeled after you as a child or any child you know?
Kayla The Great is the combination of little girls I've met throughout my life, my nieces and my little cousins. She's also loosely based on me. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

It has been one year... #happybirthday

Dear baby boy,

Today marks one full year since my title changed to "mom of two". One full year since your sister shed her title of "only child" and instead became the best big sister ever. It has been one year since the snow and ice rocked our plans for bringing you home and since Grandma and Granddad managed to get your sister safely home from school that crazy afternoon. One full year has passed since Daddy nervously watched you come into the world in a way we had not experienced or planned; in an operating room.

Upon seeing your little newborn face, my first words were, "oh, he's CUTE!". And little guy, you have certainly lived up to that assessment! Your sister refers to you as the cutest baby in the entire world and your smiles and chatter ensure that we make new friends everywhere we go.

Your face is cute and your personality is strong. One day in the future, you will learn that we called you "Hurricane Andrew", so named after the third strongest hurricane in US history. But we nicknamed you lovingly, amazed by your ability to investigate absolutely everything. You keep me on my toes daily, but your inquisitive nature means you will learn and grow and become someone great. 

You changed our lives forever very early in the morning one year ago. You are a shining star that we cannot imagine our world without. Thanks for being silly and sweet and happy and even difficult at times. Keep being you throughout your life and you will go far.

We all love you so much! Happy birthday, my baby boy. Wishing you many, many more years of joy and wonder and giggles.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

An unforgettable Cars birthday via #DisneySide Home Celebration (and @MariettaPizza)

I received party supplies and other free products to host a #DisneySide @Home Celebration from Disney Parks and MomSelect. All opinions are 100% my own.
- - -
Our little one is almost... one! He had quite the celebration over the weekend with 40-some guests in our home, Disney Pixar's Cars décor galore, cake, and twelve hot, gooey pizzas from a delicious local shop.

One secret to making your themed party really "pop" is to concentrate all décor in one main area. The teams at Disney Parks and MomSelect generously sent a 20-pound box of #DisneySide Home Celebration goodies which arrived just in time to incorporate into our personal festivities for the little guy. I originally had plans to place decoration in the foyer, basement, and kitchen. I am so glad that I opted, instead, to focus everything in the kitchen area which is really the heart of any home party. It was really quite the Cars extravaganza!

 Some of the party supplies included in my shipment were these themed cups:

Also in the complimentary supplies were the Lightning McQueen cupcake stand and cute little snack buckets. Since I was getting a large sheet cake, I did not have cupcakes to place on the stand. Instead, I filled the treat buckets with candy that served as a little take-home treat for the kiddos.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Exercise and heart rate: A first grade science project

We turned in this beauty of a science project yesterday morning!
Amelia came up with the idea. She also wanted to determine if all fruit snacks pouches had the same number of snacks within, but we decided that "heart healthy" fit much better into curriculum.  

"Heart Healthy" began with this question:
"Which activities will raise my heart/pulse rate the highest?"
Our result, from the list of activities we came up with, was..... jumping jacks!
Does your elementary school child need a science project idea? Do you want something that does not require a lot of materials? This is a great one! It just takes some patience to do all the testing, but the bonus here is that it adds exercise into the child's day.
Here is a detailed list of materials and a procedure:
Ball, video game, and water bottle can be swapped out for anything based on the activities you choose. We selected the following activities: walking, jumping jacks, up/down stairs, lifting an object, playing a video game, passing a ball.
-- Stopwatch/Timer (must able to track 3 minutes and also 20 seconds)
-- Objects for selected activities:
-- Ball to pass
-- Video game system
-- 20-oz water bottle
-- Assistant to count the participant’s heart/pulse rate
-- Paper and pencil/pen to write the results

-- Make a list of activities you will perform
-- Perform an activity (other than resting) and use a timer to track activity for THREE  minutes
-- Immediately have the adult assistant feel for your pulse and count the beats for TWENTY seconds and that number X 3 = your heart/pulse rate or “beats per minute”
-- Write the result on your list next to the activity
-- Over 5-8 days, perform each activity and track heart/pulse rate immediately afterward.
Do not do activities back-to-back; let heart rate slow before testing again.
-- Repeat each activity TWO times to make sure your heart/pulse rate number is correct.
If the two numbers are very close for the same activity, data is good. If numbers are very different for the same activity, repeat that activity and count again until you have matching data. This ensures that your count wasn't a mistake.
-- For resting heart/pulse rate, have assistant count beats per minute in the morning.
-- When you have two close numbers for each activity and resting, put each activity on a line to show which activity had the highest number.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Social Media Moms chat about happy marriage

The upcoming weekend will be a whirlwind of activity for Andrew's first birthday festivities, including a Cars party courtesy of #DisneySide Home Celebrations. But before Andrew made his mark on those late January days one year ago, it was another special occasion. On January 25th in 2003, Steve and I said our "I dos" in a small, historic white church in the Atlanta suburbs.

Twelve years have gone by!  One dozen years. While we have had issues and ups and downs like everyone else, we are happy and blessed more than we could ever have imagined.

If you do not think having children will completely change the dynamic of your marriage, I would advise you to think again. Adding additional people into a home, especially babies/kids who need attention, education, food, cleaning, etc.? It can rock the world you knew before. With powerful blessings come a few bumps in the road sometimes.

I launched a conversation with some of my favorite Georgia Social Media Moms to mark my upcoming anniversary: What are your tips for a happy marriage with kids?

Smart, busy, influential moms give some pretty smart advice:

"Spend some time together completely offline, just the two of you."
--Krystyn from Really Are You Serious, married 11 years, 4 daughters

"Be sure to make time for your spouse! Date nights at home can be just as much fun as going out - and you don't have to spend money on a babysitter."
--Kecia from Southern Girl Ramblings, married 7 years, 2 sons

"Never speak ill of each other and don't hold grudges."
--Autumn from Classic Mommy, married 8 years, 1 daughter 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The sun came out and I didn't get anything done

I am behind on my blog posts and an analytics report for one of my three consulting jobs. I am not ready for a big party happening this weekend at my house, and Amelia and I have not finished her "100 days of school" shirt that is due on Thursday.

You see, the sun came out on Saturday.

It stayed through all of Sunday.

The warm shining glow in the sky had been missing for a while; we had been living in a damp fog for a week. When the sun came out, neighbors began popping out of their homes. We did too! The neighborhood children rode bikes, played ball, and chased each other while the parents stood out in the sunshine and chatted about whatever came to mind.

My to-do list was pouting about being forgotten indoors, but the SUN was out! No guilt here. I will catch up on writing and work another time.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New experiences: learning to step into them, even a bit blindly #parenting #education

My daughter began a new accelerated learning program at school this week. She will complete her first grade year with a new teacher, different classroom, and totally unknown schedule on Mondays. She was accepted for this "gifted" program via a letter and some parental forms in the mail a few weeks ago. We were given no information about what to expect, just a school supply list and a date.

My first instinct was to email the teachers with twenty-five questions about where she will go, what she will do, the other students she will be with, what she will miss in her other class, how she will make up the work, what time she will eat lunch... you get the idea. I wanted to prepare her for absolutely everything.

See, my daughter is exceptionally bright, yet somewhat introverted with a reluctance towards change. It took her several weeks to become comfortable with the new group of classmates in the transition to first grade, and now the school was pulling her out and into a new situation all over again. She was nervous the night before and asked me many questions, most of which I could not answer at all.

I couldn't answer them because I decided a week prior that I would not ask the questions. I had an email barrage of questions halfway drafted when I thought, maybe there is a reason they didn't give us a detailed synopsis of the days to come? Perhaps, going into a situation blind is a valuable lesson that can be learned?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why grown-ups should have a play day!

Play. We all know how important it is for children. It develops creativity, helps them to burn off energy, builds the mind, makes them happy. Play is also beneficial for adults! Of course we have jobs and bills and kids and homes and what feels like never-ending tasks that take precedence over play. But once in a while, it pays to just let go of all the to-dos and have some fun. Several studies in the academic world have shown that play strengthens the brain, makes people more creative, and creates joy. It can also help to prevent Alzheimer's disease, some say. When you play with your kids and really let go of all the surrounding pressures and tasks, something memorable is bound to happen.

We gave the baby hugs and kisses and left him with our favorite babysitter on Saturday so we could take our big girl to Stone Mountain Park for fun in the (manmade) snow. Stone Mountain transforms into Snow Mountain every year with a Snow Zone field for sliding, digging, and rolling around in the frozen precipitation that we do not often get to experience here. The SnoDeck snack shop sells hot chocolate, popcorn, pretzels, and s'mores kits to roast in a nearby area. A gooey, warm s'more pairs perfectly with frolicking in the snow! Snow Mountain also produces squeals of excitement as families zoom down the 400-foot tube runs, either together in the Avalanche Alley family tubes (36" tall or more) or individually in the red Tube Runners (42" tall or more).

I have been at home with the baby for almost every day of the past 11 1/2 months. I have been struggling to keep up with life in general and I was going a bit stir crazy. With the kids sick over the Christmas break, even that "vacation" that I had so looked forward to, was just exhausting.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Kayla celebrates girls, diversity, and uniqueness! #books #multicultural #giveaway

photo: Kayla The Great website
Books, books, books. My first grader is obsessed with reading books! No complaints, here. As a mom and fan of reading myself, I love to encourage her thirst for written entertainment and knowledge. She enjoys books of all kinds from picture books, to fantasy fiction and non-fiction biographies or science topics.

One of the newest books we have come across is Kayla The Great and The Magic Red Dress. Six-year old Kayla The Great is an energetic biracial girl who lives with her family in Atlanta, GA.(Amelia loves that we share the same home city!). Kayla wears bright, colorful outfits and her favorite dress, a red one, is the subject of the first book in the new Kayla The Great series. Her favorite dress? It goes missing! And Kayla must embark on an important mission to locate it.

photo: Kayla The Great website
The author, Atlanta-based Stephanie Davis, created this bi-racial little heroine because she saw a need in the children's book industry. Did you know that less than 4% of books feature Latino children? And less than 2% feature an African-American child? A recent study from University of Wisconsin reported those facts. And the presence of multicultural content in children's books has not increased in the past 18 years! Take one look at my blue-eyed, light brown-haired girl and you will see she is not of minority ethnicity, but it is just as important for white children to enjoy stories about all races and cultures. How else will we continue to evolve in our acceptance and love for others? Amelia does not see differences at age six and I hope she grows up just as color blind through all of her years.

 Kayla The Great and The Magic Red Dress is an ideal story book for ages 5-8 of any race or ethnicity. The character is a fun-loving heroine and it is enjoyable to "follow" her on her mission to locate her favorite item of clothing. And if you read and love this book? Stay tuned, because the next in the series is coming out soon! Kayla The Great Goes To Washington will be available February/March 2015. Follow Smart Sweet Kayla on Facebook for all the latest info.

WIN TWO COPIES OF KAYLA THE GREAT - one each for your child and a friend
Share the love of girl power and diversity! You can win two copies of Kayla The Great and The Magic Red Dress - just enter via the simple Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
- - -
I am a blogger ambassador for the Kayla The Great series. I was provided compensation to share information with you about this book and the upcoming new release. All opinions are 100% mine.

Friday, January 9, 2015

BalancingMama's most-read posts of all time #disneyside #elfontheshelf #crafts #parenting

I love digging into analytics to find stories for my advertising clients. Occasionally, I find time to do the same for BalancingMama. It helps me to better understand what you love to read.

And... it looks like Disney décor and Elf on The Shelf are your favorites! Also, a popular preschool craft and my heartfelt letter to my girl. It is so nice to see some of my own personal favorites appearing on this list.

BalancingMama's top posts of all time - so far:
Some of my favorite Elf ideas compiled from Pinterest, all easy enough for busy moms and rated G for all ages. Who has time for the elaborate poses with this guy?
Andrew's bedroom, complete with the best Mickey head crib sheets ever, and some great wall décor with a decal and paint. Plus DIY wall art!
Amelia's room, blue with a Disney Cinderella decal and "A dream is a wish your heart makes..." over the bed. Plus gorgeous Etsy photography that's not too childish.
I love that my personal post has received so much attention. I hope this heartfelt letter makes it to Amelia's eyes in upcoming decades. 
Apparently, we all want to know what to do with empty toilet paper rolls. Learn how your preschooler can create their family with some simple supplies.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Winter Reads! The Complete Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects #books

Winter is the best time to catch up on reading! I just completed over 1,000 pages of reading. A couple months ago, I downloaded The Complete Gillian Flynn on my Nook reading app. I had heard a lot about Gone Girl, and figured I would take a chance on reading all three of her books. The complete collection includes Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects.

Gone Girl (2012) is the most well known, I believe, as it was made into a major motion picture in 2014 starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Neil Patrick Harris. Gone Girl tells the story of a wife's disappearance, a husband's infidelities, and the complex issues and personalities that usually stay behind closed doors. I felt like the book began somewhat slowly and I was unsure that I was going to like it. However, I distinctly remember a point in the story that hit me, hard - and I did not want to put it down from that point forward. The twists and turns and intriguing writing made this a quick and engrossing read.

Dark Places (2009) follows a mess of a 32-year-old, her life thrown into disarray at a young age because her family was murdered. Down and out and desperate for money, she begins meeting up with a "kill club", people who fancy themselves amateur detectives who meet and discuss famous murder cases. Reluctantly, she begins to see things differently and embarks on a mission to discover the truth. Dark Places was good, but my least favorite of the three. I felt like it was slow in places, although the storytelling did leave me guessing throughout. I was not as glued to the pages as with the other novels, but like the main character, Libby, I wanted to know what really happened.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Disney Parks for all ages: Tips for making it work

Walt Disney World resorts and parks are magical and a lot of fun for all ages. The parks have a good mix of rides and attractions for the very young, students, parents, and older. But what does a park day look like if you are traveling with different age groups?

We just came back from a visit to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios with our 11-month old baby boy and 6 1/2-year old thrill ride junkie, Amelia. In prior visits, we were able to focus entirely on Amelia's wants and likes. We could ride everything all together and enjoy any shows without a concern for volume or darkness. But with Andrew in tow this year, it was much more difficult. We spent much of the day separated instead of together as a full family. We had lots of fun and experienced much magic in our 12-hour mega day, but it was certainly different than what we were able to do in the past with the older cousins or just the three of us.

If you are planning to visit a Walt Disney World park with a very young child and one who enjoys all the rides, here are some tips for managing your expectations and having an enjoyable day:

PARENT SWAP - know it and love it. If you all enjoy rides but the youngest is not able to partake in the adventure, ask the line attendant for a parent swap ticket. This ticket allows one parent and child(ren) to enter the line while the other stays out and enjoys a rest, stroll, or nearby shopping with the young one. And once the ride group disembarks the ride, the waiting parent can get in the Fast Pass line. The child(ren) able to ride can go again with the second parent at this time. Amelia enjoyed getting to experience her favorite rides twice this way! 

BABY CARE CENTERS - these are so nice! I hadn't been in one before. Clean, quiet places for a break from the hustle and bustle and noise. Soft play spaces, tidy diaper changing areas, and lots of baby goods are available in these centers. The one at Epcot had a television and coloring so the older child can have something to do during the quick baby break. It really gives everyone a chance to recharge and regroup.

STROLLER PARKING - do not forget about this. Many rides and attractions require you to park the stroller, which means parents need to be prepared to carry non-walkers. We waited in lines for Nemo and the Mexico boat ride at Epcot, and a Lillebaby carrier was helpful for toting Andrew around and keeping him snug and happy while we inched through lines. Any good quality baby carrier will do; it really saves your back and arms when the stroller is not allowed.

CHARACTER MEETINGS - plan, plan, plan. Use the My Disney Experience app to look ahead throughout the day to when various characters are out and get in line early if you can. Even better, have one parent wait for one character who comes out about 15 minutes after the character for whom you wait so the family can essentially get two character experiences for only a bit more than the wait of one.

Basically, go to the parks understanding that you and your spouse (or other accompanying adult) will be separated a lot if you want to keep both children happy. Be sure to enjoy the attractions that everyone can enjoy like Nemo at Epcot or It's A Small World at The Magic Kingdom, plus dine and snack together. And otherwise, divide and conquer! Enjoy the magic for all ages - with just a bit of extra planning.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mommy and Me: Holiday nighttime fun Marietta, GA

It's 2015 already and Christmas has come and gone, but these photos are too cute not to share. Linking up again to Mommy and Me Monday with Really, Are You Serious.

The Atlanta area has a small chiropractic college called Life University in the Marietta area (close enough to the city for a quick evening out). They display a free drive-through light show each year for the holiday season. For families who want to enjoy even more, you can pay per vehicle to enter the Christmas wonderland with a petting zoo, trackless train ride, animated Christmas displays, and lots of goodies to eat. (Extra charges for these activities.) We try to go every year because it is a low-key and festive activity that doesn't require an all-day long commitment.

Amelia and I browsed the windows, peeked at the petting zoo animals, and roasted marshmallows. Amelia ate hers "raw", but she did toast (um, blacken) Daddy's for him. This year, Andrew took his first train ride! I am sure it will be the first of very many. I hear that pretty much all little boys become obsessed with trains!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Dressing up outfits with jewelry

I received two jewelry sets from Luxury Jewellery, a European jeweler, for a review. All opinions are 100% mine.

2014 ended with the dropping of balls, fireworks, and music. How was the year for you?

I have friends who had the time of their lives and others who are gladly pushing the year out the door. For me, 2014 was a big change. It began with the birth of our baby boy nearly six years after our daughter. I also took the leap to working entirely from home. No more fighting traffic for 90 minutes to be in an office for a few hours, just to leave again to make it to school carpool line on time.

Both of these major changes have obliterated my wardrobe. My body is a weird shape now and it seems it is here to stay. I am beginning to accept that nothing I own will ever fit well again. Also, because I do not work in an office, I have slipped into the comfort zone. I do not own business pants that fit my new smooshy waistline. I do not have a flattering dress. My feet revolt at the thought of heels.

I resolve to try to dress things up more often. Looking less frumpy will make me feel better about myself and the unknowns of where my new life will lead. While I seek out new clothes, piece by piece, I am learning to accept the fit of my existing pieces and dressing them up as I can by accessorizing. I purchased a few inexpensive long necklaces at a department store which can dress up a sweater or plain long-sleeved shirt instantly.

I was happy to accept a review opportunity with Luxury Jewellery because the timing could not be better! I received the Crystal Tri Set and the Live, Love, Dance, Sing Bracelet Set.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...