Monday, August 30, 2010

This for That: Bloggers Helping Bloggers

Ten Talents hosts a daily This for That McLinky that allows bloggers to get some help in exchange for helping others. Here are the rules:

If this is your first time linking up with us on This for That, please READ THIS POST for more information!

Post your "need" in the MckLinky by writing about what you need and linking to where others can fulfill that need. Meet the need of the 3 ppl DIRECTLY ABOVE your link, AND THEN YOU ARE DONE! If you want more than 3 ppl to help you out, then wait a bit, come back later and enter your need again (just make sure you AGAIN help out the 3 ppl DIRECTLY ABOVE you). The idea is that you help out 3 ppl and 3 ppl help you out...AND you don't have to wonder if you left someone hanging because your job is done as soon as you help out the three ppl above you! You can link up as many times as you want!

Just a couple of quick points:

1) PLEASE DO NOT link up unless you have time @ the very moment you link up to meet the requests of the 3 people directly above you. Please.
2) Less is More! Please ask for one need to be met at a time. You'll find that you get more help when what you ask for is easier for others to do. More than 3 people will probably try to meet your request if it's something they can do in five minutes or less!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why Do You Use Captcha?

I like to comment on my friends blogs. I also like to enter giveaways on blogs. But I hate entering CAPTCHA codes. Sometimes they are annoyingly hard to read. And when I can't get it right after 2 tries, I just give up and don't leave a comment.

This is the text I saw on a recent CAPTCHA:
As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

It makes me wonder, how many automated programs are out there trying to comment on stories about potty training or the newest birthday giveaway. Do programmers really go out of their way to write software to SPAM us?

I've had CAPTCHA turned off on my own blog for at least a year. And I have also deleted the rel=nofollow code. And I only get a few SPAM comments a week.

I want to challenge other mom bloggers to change their CAPTCHA settings for 2 weeks to see what kind of difference it makes. If SPAM reaches an unacceptable level, put it back on. Otherwise, give us busy moms a break and keep the CAPTCHA option turned off.

Friday, August 27, 2010

New Meal Time Rule

For a while now Bruce and I have had trouble with Charlotte's eating habits, particularly at dinner. She dawdles and takes her time. We don't like to leave her at the table to eat alone, so it has sometimes meant that every one's meal is drawn out too long.

So today, I decided to try something new. I set the timer for 20 minutes and then explained that whatever wasn't done at the end of the time, could be saved for later.

I think by making it clear that meal time has its limits, she'll be encouraged to do more eating and less talking.

What do you think? Do your children dawdle at the table?  What did you do to solve the problem?

Review: Pose Prints

PosePrints.com is unique in the world of customized cards, announcements, and invitations. They allow you to create a cartoon or silhouette version of your little one to adorn your card instead of just relying on stock images.  I had fun playing around with different birthday invites for Mary (since Charlotte already had invitations printed).

I was able to email the pose and card I designed to myself to use as a digital invitation for Mary's 1st birthday. It worked perfect for us because we do 1st birthdays pretty low key around here, so there is no need for a printed card. Once I received the email, I was able to forward it to my family as an informal invitation. I think the card would have looked cute printed as well and there is an option to order blank cards to use as thank you notes or to print invitations yourself.

One thing I had trouble with the first time I used the site was how to create a baby pose. I could only see the adult female pose. I e-mailed customer service and had a detailed response in no time. Once I read it, I couldn't understand how I missed it!

Just in case any of you have an un-techy day, here are the instructions for creating a PosePrints.com card.

The site automatically defaults to the female. To create cards for boys, girls and / or babies, here is how to proceed:
  • Click on the Design Tab,
  • Select your card background from over 40 templates, and click on "Personalize this design with my Pose" button.
  • You will wait a moment for the layers to upload, and these will automatically be for the Female.
  • At the top will be a drop-down menu where you can select Little Girl, Little Boy or Baby.
  • Next to this is another drop-down menu where you can select the skin color.
  • After making your selections, click on Change Model button to the right, and wait for the layers / features to upload to your computer.
  • Using the scrolling arrows, layer on your hair, eyes, mouth, clothing and accessories to create your caricature.
  • Click on Save Model when you are done.
  • A pop-up will appear telling you that your pose has been saved and that now you should either Make a 2nd Person or Personalize your Message. Press OK.
  • After you've either created a 2nd person or Personalized your cards, you'll then be prompted to either Add to Shopping Bag or Send as Pose-card (this is our free e-card service where you can email your card to yourself or someone else.)
It was easy and quick to make. It was easy to email. And even though the cards cost $2 each, if you don't need too many the prices are in line with other online custom card companies.

FTC Disclosure: I received no compensation for sharing this site with my readers. I just liked it and thought some of them might as well.

Birthday Party With A Purpose

Toddlers are not too young to learn to give to others. And honestly, most kids have too many toys anyway. That is certainly true of my own toddler. So for her 3rd birthday, instead of asking guests for gifts, we asked them to bring a pair of new pajamas. I also took her shopping to pick out a pair to make sure she was really involved in the process.

Then, Charlotte and I went to the FL Baptist Children's Home and donated the pajamas to their emergency shelter. We were able to get a tour of the facility and learn more about how children end up in their emergency care. I hope that by doing this, she will start to learn about the value of helping others and be excited to come up with her own caring and sharing ideas for parties in the future.

Other moms are doing the same thing to help their kid's celebrate. Malia, of Homemaking 911, has done it twice. One year her daughter hosted an Operation Christmas Child Birthday Party. Another year, her daughter asked to support the Touched Twice Clinic, a place where people in need can get one-stop service for their medical, physical, emotional, relational, and cosmetology needs.

I have a friend named Ida who planned her 26th birthday party with a purpose. Ida asked us to join her at a local coffee shop for coffee, cupcakes, and fair-trade shopping. She worked with Trade As One, a fair-trade company, to highlight the needs of others. It was simple and meaningful for a girl who has so much love to give to the world.

What charity would you or your child support if you were to plan a "party with a purpose?"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Sprinkles Cake Shooters

Lots of things about Charlotte's 3rd birthday party worked well. But one of the things that worked the best (besides my mom who helped out a lot), was the cake. Actually, they are called Cake Shooters. And a bakery in my very own Central FL makes them. These are an innovative way to serve cupcakes at an party, whether its for kids or adults.


The push-up style dispenser is filled with layers of cake and frosting that are easy for even young children to eat. This little girl is about 1 1/2 and she was able to work the push-up on her own. Admittedly, the flavors inside were some pretty powerful motivation!


The flavors are definitely better than your typical home baked cake as well. Each shooter has a few layers of cake with yummy frosting in between them. All a kid has to do is push up slowly from the bottom and start nibbling the goodness.
There are several different Cake Shooter flavors to choose from. The kid's at Charlotte's party tried Sprinkles Signature and  Chocolate Cake Shooters. At home, I was able to sample the Yellow Raspberry Swirl and the OMG Cake Shooters. No one was disappointed by what they tried.


You can learn more about Cake Shooters or order some for your own party at the Sprinkles Cake Shooters website. And while you're there, notice that my review is right next to the review from Tori Spelling. Yep, I'm that popular. :)

Review: The Party Starts Here

When your daughter asks for a pink and purple birthday party, planning is pretty simple. There is room to be creative and have fun with the invitations. And you know what, I did just that. I found these cute birthday invitations at The Party Starts Here and thought they fit Charlotte's personality perfectly.


The personalization process is easy to follow and the variety of invitations to choose from is awesome. They really had something for every personality or party theme out there. One thing I appreciated about The Party Starts Here is that they will also sell you a blank card so frugal moms can save the $7 personalization fee and do it themselves. The cards themselves were printed on thick card stock with an appropriately thick envelope to match. I wasn't worried about these cards getting damaged in the mail and I think the one I saved for posterity will stand the test of time.

After browsing the various invitations, I want to throw more parties just so I can order and use these adorable invites! How about a Super Hero Party invitation?

Or for a jungle theme birthday party:

Maybe your child is really into movies too? I can already imagine the whole party, just by the inspiration from this movie clapboard invitation:

The number of different invites, cards, or announcements they offer truly is stunning. Moms who are trying to involve their children in the party planning process could even use the selection to spur their child's imagination. Or once you have settled on the theme, you could let your child pick the invitation from within that theme.

Where do you normally get your invitations from? Which The Party Starts Here invitation do you like best?

FTC Disclosure: I received 1 pack of party invitations for review purposes only.

Birthday Ideas From Other Moms

Moms are some of the most creative people I know. If you think about it, we created little people, so there must be something flowing in the left side of our brains! It was easy to find professional party planning ideas. But I know that many moms can't afford to hire professional help for executing their wee one's birthday party. So, I went looking for moms who did it themselves, and these were some of the ideas I found.


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Dora-Themed Birthday PartyIf you are into character themed parties, Karli at SweetBeaker designed a Dora the Explorer Fiesta for her own Charlotte. The Dora birthday invitations look upscale and she made them just by using the free printables available at Nick Jr.com. Same for the rest of the Dora decorations and favors. It just took some digital paper crafting skills. The color palette is simple (yellow, orange, and pink) and I can see how it would fulfill any toddler's Dora the Explorer birthday party needs! Karli told me that they kept to a simple, kid-friendly meny too - quesadillas, bananas, and salsa with chips.

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Wendi, a mom and photographer, shared the following with me about her baby's Monkey themed birthday party:
I am by no means an expect, but I am a mom and a creative person! For his first birthday, we had a monkey theme. We decorated our backyard with a hand-made happy birthday banner I made using twine and natural-colored papers. We used greens and browns and a little yellow throughout the party. The cake was a 3D monkey hanging from a tree, and his smash cake was a banana shape. We had fresh bananas laying all around, and the favor bags, decorated as a monkey, included a little stuffed monkey, a banana (of course), and a picture frame that the kids got to put together. All the kids also had safari hats to wear. We didn't do games, since they were mostly younger, but it was a hit!
Then, Wendi told me about her son's 2nd birthday party, which will have a fire station theme:
This year, we are doing firetrucks. For his invitation, we took him to the fire station and photographed him with a truck. We have firefighter hats for the kids to wear, and little foam badges they get to put together. The cake will be a 3D firetruck, of course, and the favors will be little wooden firetrucks that they can paint. We are also having the local fire department bring a small truck down and talk to the kids about fire safety.

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If you love literature, you might be interested in the Where the Wild Things Are Birthday Party that Erin put on for her son. There are several pictures at this site which give you a great idea how to decorate. Even though Erin is a mom-preneur and used those skills in decorating, I think most of what she did is accessible to the average mom.

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If you need some game ideas for the toddler crowd, why not play Cloud, Cloud Rain, as suggested by Emily, a non-blogging, but still really cool mom.

This is just like Duck, Duck, Goose except in these hot summer months we had a big sponge that we dunked in the water balloon bucket to fill. Kids sat in a circle on the ground and one child begins by holding the sponge over people’s heads while they walk saying Cloud, Cloud, Cloud, etc. When they choose the person they want to chase them around the circle back into that person’s seat, they say Rain and squeeze the sponge over the child’s head. This works for parties that have diverse age groups that need to be entertained and expend a lot of energy.
Another one of Emily's ideas (and added proof that she must be a cool mom)  is the Imagination Mover's themed party she helped with that included a skit.Yeah, a skit. Tell me that isn't cool!
We had the 4 guy characters (using husbands and a god father) and me as the god mother, the only female character on the kid’s show. The birthday mom played the mom holding the 1 1/2) We solved the problem of how will he be able to blow out his candle and taught him how with bubbles and funny solutions. This encouraged group participation and silliness by all.

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With fall right around the corner, outdoor themes are becoming more popular. Even though I don't live anywhere near an apple orchard, doesn't Sara make it sound like fun to hold a birthday party there? Here is a link to an article Best Kid Friendly Travel did about her child's Apple Orchard birthday party.

Every family got a half a bushel bag and to pick apples with and them each child had a chance to pick their pumpkin! After about 45-50 minutes of apple picking we met at picnic area on the farm had a light lunch and ate cake. There were no goody bags filled with junk or cheap toys. Just yummy apples, a pumpkin and great memories.


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What birthday party ideas have you used? How did you get creative with limited resources or a particular theme your toddler just HAD to have?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Unexpected Birthday Ideas

When I was looking around and talking to different people about birthday ideas, I came across some particularly unexpected ones. What do you think, would you ever throw one of these parties?

Karate Party Anyone - Children have lots of fun while actually learning TaeKwonDo at your child's birthday party! Your child and guests will fully participate in a safe introductory TaeKwonDo lesson. All the children learn the rules of safety while gaining self-confidence and self-respect at a party that no one will ever forget.

Soccer Collies - Invite doggies to the party! I bet some of these collies are more well-behaved than some toddlers!

Orange Kite Theme - A color themed party is what we did for Charlotte. Her colors were pink and purple, but the little girl with the kite party chose orange and I think the results are stunning! And using kites for a spring party makes tying everything into the theme so much easier.

Have you planned any birthday parties with an unexpected theme? Feel free to tell us about it or leave your link in the comments below to share them with others.
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This For That - Bloggers Helping Bloggers

I've come across a really neat way that one blogger found to help other bloggers out and I want to take a moment to share it with you.






The owner of Ten Talents wants to help us connect with one another by sharing links. They can be links to giveaways that you want more entries on, links to your Facebook page, or requests for more Google Friend Connect followers. This is beautiful in it's simplicity.

If this is your first time linking up with us on This for That, please READ THIS POST for more information!

  1. Post your "need" in the McLinky by writing about what you need and linking to where others can fulfill that need. 
  2. Meet the need of the 3 ppl DIRECTLY ABOVE your link, AND THEN YOU ARE DONE!
  3. If you want more than 3 ppl to help you out, then wait a bit, come back later and enter your need again (just make sure you AGAIN help out the 3 ppl DIRECTLY ABOVE you). 
The idea is that you help out 3 ppl and 3 ppl help you out...AND you don't have to wonder if you left someone hanging because your job is done as soon as you help out the three ppl above you! You can link up as many times as you want!

8 Tips For Succesfully Managing a Toddler's Birthday Party

It helps sometimes to put a toddler's birthday party in perspective. Recently, I spoke with Candy Wingate, the President of Nannies4Hire, and she shared the following tips for managing a child's birthday party.
  1. Keep it simple. Your child won't care if there are elaborate decorations, or a meticulously thought out menu. He just wants to have fun.
  2. Get some help. Many parents get overwhelmed trying to do it all themselves. If your father-in-law is artistic, ask him to make the invitations. If your sister is a great baker, put her in charge of the cake. Consider hiring someone to entertain the kids, run the games or clean your house pre- and post-party.
  3. Ask for your child's input. Before you start planning, get your child's opinion. Even young children enjoy a trip to the party store to choose between Elmo and Thomas the Train plates. My kids love to browse through party catalogs to choose a few special things for their party.
  4. Keep it manageable. Instead of inviting your son's entire first grade class (27 kids - can you imagine?), suggest that he invite his two or three favorite friends to do something special, like going bowling and out for pizza. Likewise, don't feel like you have to invite all of his school friends, neighborhood friends, cousins and so forth. Chances are, it will be overwhelming for him - and for you!
  5. Don't plan too much. It's great to have a few ideas for games, crafts or other activities, but there's no need to schedule a ton of different activities. 
  6. But do have a "back up plan". It's smart to have a few extra crafts or games in mind, just in case the kids seem bored. Musical chairs is fun for all ages, a dance party is an easy, enjoyable activity, and younger kids would probably love a few stories.
  7. Have a set "end time" and a friendly way of ushering people out the door.
  8. Remember, the birthday party should be a celebration of your child, not an elaborate affair. Keep it simple and you'll all have a great time.
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I appreciate Candi's tips and they ALL made Charlotte's party go more smoothly. I tend to over plan and these 8 birthday party tips reminded me to relax and have fun. One more tip of my own though is to appoint someone to take the party pictures for you. Just enjoy watching your child have fun with their friends and don't get caught up in taking the perfect shot.

If you are interested in learning more about Nannies4Hire, connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Twittermoms. You may also subscribe to the Nannies4Hire Blog.

Monday, August 23, 2010

We Interrupt This Birthday Bash...

... to tell you why I need a blog makeover.

Long time readers will know that this blog has worn many different fashions.  

Some nicer than others to be sure.


At one point, I even  had a really cool professional blog design, but then, that company went under and my awesome blog design went away with their image hosting. :(

[Insert really cool blue silhouette of girl holding a balloon here]

And I've been floundering for several months since Mary was born because my old blog design didn't include her, just Charlotte.

I finally got tired of not seeing both my daughters on my page and now, I'm just stuck with this simple, standard Blogger template. The colors are great, but a gazillion other people have the same design! And now my button doesn't match my blog.

I am in major need of a blog makeover that reflects my family, passions, style idiom, and favorite colors!

My style idiom is very well defined. I do my best to make sure my home and my personal wardrobe are in line with it - Clean lines. Bright colors. With a touch of whimsy or the unexpected.

Also, I am easy to work with because I know what I like. I know there are few things worse than trying to create for someone who has no idea what they expect.

So, if you happen to know anyone giving away free blog makeovers... please send them my way. In the mean time, I'm hoping this post will convince Jacqui to give me a blog makeover courtesy of Wacky Jacqui Designs.

Edited to add that Jacqui's Grand Prize giveaway includes so many blog upgrades I can barely handle it! Check it out!


This GRAND PRIZE includes:

A Blog make over that include everything I can do.
• 2 or 3 column design
• Custom background
• Custom header (basic or animated)
• Matching font color
• Sidebar titles (unlimited)
• Custom signature
• Custom post divider
• Social network icons (unlimited)
• Convert to a 3 column layout (if needed)
• Custom blog button (2 included)
• Matching profile picture
• Navigation bar with text or images
• Matching twitter background
• Favicon
• Deletion of Blogger navigation bar if desired
• Installation

Winner: Bake Me A Wish

The first giveaway in the Family Musings Birthday Bash is over! I used the random number generator at Random.org to select from the 157 comments. And the winner of the Bake Me A Wish giveaway is....

Anonymous commenter # 85.

I've emailed the winner and hope they enjoy their Triple Chocolate Enrobed Brownie Cake!

Giveaway: DaSweetZpot Jam

Party favors come in all shapes and sizes. And if you are lucky enough, all flavors too! DaSweetZpot Jam can turn any flavor or beverage or food into a yummy jam or jelly that can please the youngest and the oldest party guests.

For Charlotte's 3rd birthday party, I included a small, personalized jar of Kool-Aid jelly from DaSweetZpot on Etsy. This was an easy choice because pretty much every kid knows Kool-Aid and the flavors are accessible to tiny taste buds. It was a fun addition to our favor bags and something that no one had seen before. (Actually, our favor bags had lots of cool things, but you'll have to wait a day or two to read about the rest of them.)

I had to pick our jelly flavors before Charlotte decided on her birthday theme, so I chose to do a rainbow of jellies. The jars were beautiful to look at and they included her name, age, and a thank you for coming note on the label. The flavors were listed on the bottom.

I asked owner Marlene how they took flavors of Kool-Aid and made them into jelly and she made it sound so easy. "Making jelly is simple.. it is sugar plus something liquid or solid. When we take cocktails, wines, or juice (kool aid), we simply mix the liquid with sugar. Every recipe has a different ratio of sugar versus ingredients. Depending on the citric level of the liquid, we add pectin, which is the key ingredient to form jam. Some foods have natural pectin (such as strawberry, lemons, lemonade), therefore you need no pectin, just sugar. But in the case of Kool-Aid, there is no natural pectin, and therefore we need to incorporate it. The rest is chemistry in the stove-top... like blue cheese, cottage cheese, or raisins... the transformation happens on its own!"

One of the neatest parts of ordering jam or jelly from DaSweetZpot is choosing a flavor. Marlene says
"people are used to the traditional jam flavors - grape, strawberries, peaches - but we create exotic flavors like pomegranate, hibiscus flowers, or watermelon or elegant flavors such as merlot, chardonnay, or champagne and roses. Whatever the customer wishes for. One customer wanted "beer" jelly for her husband while another wanted "coconut," so we created them. If a particular custom flavor is a hit we incorporate it into our line of flavor offerings."

They like to think of themselves as the Ben & Jerry's of jams and jellies. That's sounds cool to me! And I think you'll appreciate the process more once you try some. DaSweetZpot is offering a $25 gift card to one reader of Family Musings.

How to Enter: There are five ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to five entries:

1. Visit DaSweetZpot on Etsy and then leave a comment telling me what flavor you might buy or what flavor you might like to have turned into a jam or jelly,
2. 'Like' DaSweetZpot on Facebook and then leave a 2nd comment telling me you did so,
3. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 3rd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
4. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
5. Follow Family Musings , then tweet this giveaway and leave a 5th comment with the permalink. -- I entered to win a $25 gift card from DaSweetZpot and @FamilyMusings {link here}

That's it. 5 ways to win and 2 lucky winners. This giveaway will end Saturday, August 28th at midnight. Read all contest rules here.

Photo Credit: Emily Rose Portraits, used with permission.
FTC Disclosure: I received 12 party favors to facilitate my review.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Giveaway: Sassy Signs

When you have a park party like Charlotte just did, it is important to make sure your guests know which pavilion or picnic area to go to. Sassy Signs are a fun way to do that. They are completely adorable and completely customizable for birthday, anniversaries, yard sales, fundraisers, or just about any other event where people need directions to get there.

Sassy Signs is another great company started by moms who saw a need and knew how to meet it. And they didn't do the job halfway either. After using their signs for Charlotte's party, I can see why they are so much better than the traditional plastic cardboard type sign that gets staked in the ground or the typical piece of paper taped to a poster board.

The Sassy Sign is very easy to customize with letters, numbers, arrows, greetings, or other symbols. You just peel and stick your characters onto the thick poly sign, insert the spring wires, and then place in the ground. It bends with the wind but can't be blown over. I don't think I'll ever have a park party without something like this. And if I were the type to do yard sales, I would definitely use these signs.

Another great featue of Sassy Signs is the numerous fonts you can purchase for making your signs. Your tyke's lemonade stand doesn't need the formality that an adult birthday party might require.

To be honest, I enjoyed creating and displaying my sign so much that I am trying to think of the next time I can use them. I may just buy up a bunch of fonts and stickers so I can have a seasonal display instead of the normal 2x3 flag that many people keep in their front yard.

The mom-owners of Sassy Signs are offering 2 $15 gift certificates to their store.Can you say yay?!

How to Enter: There are five ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to five entries:

1. Visit What is as Sassy Sign? and then leave a comment telling me one thing you learned about the signs (something different than what I shared of course),
2. 'Like' Sassy Signs on Facebook and then leave a 2nd comment telling me you did so,
3. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 3rd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
4. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
5. Follow Family Musings , then tweet this giveaway and leave a 5th comment with the permalink. -- I entered to win a $15 gift card from Sassy Signs and @FamilyMusings {link here}

That's it. 5 ways to win and 2 lucky winners. This giveaway will end Saturday, August 28th at midnight. Read all contest rules here.

Photo Credit: Emily Rose Portraits, used with permission.
FTC Disclosure: I received a value pack of Sassy Signs to facilitate my review.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Giveaway: Cake Crystals

A cake from the local grocery store bakery is a fine way to celebrate a birthday. But what if you could take it to the next level? You know, bling it up a little? Now you can!


Cake Crystals are a new product this year that can take an ordinary cake to the next level. It is hard enough to make a delicious cake, let alone one that is beautiful. Most of us just don't have the time to mess with tints and tips the night before our loved one's special day. In steps Cake Crystals.


And thank goodness too! I promise I had every intention of making cute cupcakes for Charlotte's party. Then, I realized that I had less than 14 hours to party time and hadn't even cracked one egg. In steps the local grocery bakery and out comes the Cake Crystals. I was able to take their cake to the next level of cuteness. They have the texture of a lollipop but don't get melty or sticky in the heat. And the flavor is a vague fruity flavor that doesn't interfere with a great chocolate cake.

This is what the company says about Cake Crystals:
Available in five different colors and flavors, Cake Crystals are the _only_ three dimensional cake decorating accessories that look like real jewels! The beautiful gem-like designs are not only beautiful, they are edible, making these cake crystals the ONLY crystal you should chose for your next decorating project.

I received a 2 oz back of assorted crystals and they went a long way. I still have enough left to do one more cake. Cake Crystals is also offering to give away 5 more bags to 5 lucky readers of Family Musings.

How to Enter: There are five ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to five entries:

1. Visit Cake Crystals and then leave a comment telling me how you might use them for your next cake,
2. 'Like' Cake Crystals on Facebook and then leave a 2nd comment telling me you did so,
3. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 3rd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
4. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
5. Follow Family Musings and Cake Crystals on Twitter, then tweet this giveaway and leave a 5th comment with the permalink. -- I entered to win Cake Crystals from @CakeCrystals and @FamilyMusings {link here}

That's it. 5 ways to win and 2 lucky winners. This giveaway will end Saturday, August 28th at midnight. Read all contest rules here.

Photo Credit: Emily Rose Portraits, used with permission.
FTC Disclosure: I received 1 pack of crystals to facilitate my review.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Giveaway: NYC Subway Line

Sometimes I think I am a rural, slow life down country girl.... then I wake up and realize that chickens, 40-minute drives to the nearest Target, and making my own butter just aren't for me. And when I've visited major cities, I feel energized and think, I could live here.

But really, I couldn't. It is just too darn expensive to be a SAHM in NYC. In part, that led us to settle in Lakeland, a semi-urban city with some wide open spaces nearby (like Kathleen). So, the next company I am going to share with you let's me have share a taste of urban life with my family without hurting my wallet.




Hip moms like myself in NYC have discovered NYC Subway Line apparel. They  make the "Birthday Shirt" which uses the NYC Subway "route indicators" as their subject. These shirts allow your toddler or preschooler to show how proud they are of their new age.






In these pictures, Charlotte is sporting her new '3' shirt which represents her new age and the route indicator for the Harlem to Brooklyn line. Definitely cool and trendy and you can see Charlotte is obviously very proud of her NYC Subway shirt, and of being 3 of course!

NYC Subway Line is an apparel and accessory company started by Lynne, a mom who needed to find unique birthday presents for her own toddler's birthday circuit. She approached the Mass Transit Authority in NYC and received a license for their indicators and maps just so she could create the number shirts and other subway items.


Lynne is so excited to participate in Birthday Bash that she is offering a NYC Subway Line Birthday Shirt to 1 lucky reader plus 10% off any purchase for everyone else. Just use code BIRTHDAY at checkout to receive your discount.

How to Enter: There are five ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to five entries:

1. Visit NYC Subway Line and then leave a comment telling me what item you like best,
2. 'Like' NYC Subway Line on Facebook and then leave a 2nd comment telling me you did so,
3. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 3rd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
4. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
5. Follow Family Musings and NYC Subway Line on Twitter, then tweet this giveaway and leave a 5th comment with the permalink. -- I entered to win a $25 gift card from @NYCSubwayLine and @FamilyMusings {link here}

That's it. 5 ways to win and 2 lucky winners. This giveaway will end Saturday, August 28th at midnight. Read all contest rules here.

Photo Credit: Emily Rose Portraits, used with permission.



FTC Disclosure: I received a NYC Subway Line t-shirt to facilitate my review.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Giveaway: Chocomize

You've heard the expression, "like a kid in the candy store," right? How about being like a kid in the virtual candy store of Chocomize?


Chocomize allows customers to customize their chocolate; that's how they got their name. Clever isn't it? They are the first company in the US that allows people to customize their own chocolate bars.

First you pick your chocolate base - milk, white or dark premium Belgian chocolate. Then you can add up to five additional ingredients from a list of over 100 that includes things like dried fruits, nuts, chocolate plaques, beef jerkey and even 23 karat gold flakes.

Charlotte was a happy little girl when I let her sit in my lap and browse the add-in ingredient choices at Chocomize.com. In the end, she chose a chocolate butterfly, pop rocks, dried strawberries, and gummy bears. Obviously, I had little to do with choosing her items. :) This girl doesn't get candy too often so the treat was extra special.

Fortunately, the anticipation was worth it. Charlotte thought her butterfly was almost too pretty to eat! But don't worry girls... she did eat it all up in no time. It was fun for me to watch her pick out the pieces of candy and get chocolate all over her. Who said we couldn't have fun while eating chocolate, right?!

I had a little chocolate to enjoy as well. Since it costs the same to send 1 bar as it does to send 2, I also received a bar. I asked my contact at Chocomize.com to surprise me with something and he sent the Smores Bar which has a milk chocolate base with teddy grahams and marshmallows in it. Yummy for mommy too. And no, I didn't share with Charlotte. Or Bruce. But he isn't into chocolate (and he got to pick the Vanilla Bean Cake).

In my opinion, Chocomize.com is a great way to send a long-distance treat to a small friend. They would make great birthday or other holiday presents. Chocomize also offers discounts for large orders if you'd like them as party favors, weddings, or corporate gifts.

And, they have a sweet giveaway for one of you. Chocomize.com is offering a $25 gift certificate to one of you!

How to Enter: There are five ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to five entries:

1. Visit Chocmize.com and then leave a comment telling me what type of bar you would order (be creative!),
2. 'Like' Chocomize on Facebook and then leave a 2nd comment telling me you did so,
3. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 3rd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
4. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
5. Follow Family Musings and Chocomize on Twitter, then tweet this giveaway and leave a 5th comment with the permalink. (I entered to win a $25 gift card from @Chocomize and @FamilyMusings http://bit.ly/chocomize25)

That's it. 5 ways to win and 2 lucky winners. This giveaway will end Saturday, August 28th at midnight. Read all contest rules here.


FTC Disclosure: I received 2 Chocomize bars to facilitate my review and giveaway; along with a $25 gift card  to share with two of my readers.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Giveaway: hoops&yoyo

How about we go a little outside of the box with this review? Explore a unique idea for a party favor? Have a little fun with hoops&yoyo? According to my sources at Hallmark, these are the most popular characters Hallmark offers.

What if, next time you threw a toddler party, you gave the moms a party favor instead of just the kids? They’ll share great memories and laughs at your toddler's birthday and then continue the laughs when the hostess offers an assortment of hoops&yoyo Happy Birthday sound cards to moms on their way out of the party. I don't know anyone who doesn't crack at least a small smile when they hear hoops&yoyo.

They can choose one and use them to send to one of their friends who has a birthday coming up. I’ve never seen anyone do this before but what a great idea/parting gift for moms who came and gave of their time/money making your toddler’s experience a great one.

Another out of the box idea is to throw a hoops&yoyo party. The pink and green colors can be used together or alone to fit either a boy or a girl theme. Or if your party is like ours will be next week, they can work together for a gender neutral party. Favors could include the hoops&yoyo plushes, CDs, or sound buttons. You can also use the cards online as e-invitations. There are several free cards to choose from that can be modified to do this.

What about serving your cake on a plate with your toddler's face? Hallmark has several customizable plate designs to choose from for people of all ages. Of course they have a hoops&yoyo plate, but they also have plates that can be customized for more formal affairs such as anniversary dinners. It is kind of fun to play with the plate customizer too, even if you didn't end up ordering one, your toddler would probably have fun seeing their picture on one of these plates.

One of the nice thing about a hoops&yoyo theme is that you can purchase your supplies online if you have plenty of time or you can go to your local Hallmark store (call 1-800-HALLMARK to fine one that carries what you are looking for).

My contact at Hallmark (the one who came up with some of these great, out of the box ideas,) sent me 2 hoops&yoyo cards and 2 hoops&yoyo CDs to give away to 2 different readers - 1 card and CD per person.

How to Enter: There are five ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to five entries:

1. Visit hoops&yoyo online (hit your mute button if you have a sleeping baby in your lap!) and then leave a comment telling me one thing you learned about hoops&yoyo or Hallmark,
2. 'Like' hoops&yoyo Facebook and then leave a 2nd comment telling me you did so,
3. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 3rd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
4. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
5. Follow me on Twitter, then tweet this giveaway and leave a 5th comment with the permalink.

That's it. 5 ways to win and 2 lucky winners. This giveaway will end Saturday, Augsut 21st at midnight. Read all contest rules here.

FTC Disclosure: I received no products from Hallmark to facilitate my giveaway; only the giveaway products to share with two of my readers, were provided.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Giveaway: Peppers and Pollywogs

If you have ever planned a toddler birthday party, then I am sure you will agree having an expert to come along side and help you figure out the details is a great idea. Ack! But who can afford a party planner for a 3 year old? not me, that's for sure. But I may have found the next best thing - Peppers and Pollywogs!

Peppers and Pollywogs is the creation of Lisa Kothari, who brought us the earlier guest post about planning a park party. On her website, we learn that "her main party planning belief is that no matter the budget or amount of time a parent has, an incredible party can always be thrown, keeping children cheerful and parents stress-free during their wonderfully planned celebration!" That sounds like my kind of party planning!

What most impressed me about her site is the wide variety of party planning ideas. She certainly has her hand on the top trends in kids parties and entertainment. Recent posts provided a tutorial for Despicable Me costumes, the French Macarons trend and how it can be used in a child's party theme, and even how to use balloons as a party invitation.

I hope you will find the site as inspirational and creative as I have. To thank you for visiting and taking a look around her site, Lisa is offering a copy of her book to one lucky reader.

How to Enter: There are five ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to five entries:

1. Visit Peppers and Pollywogs and then leave a comment telling me something you learned about planning a birthday party,
2. 'Like' Peppers and Pollywogs on Facebook and then leave a 2nd comment telling me you did so,
3. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 3rd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
4. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
5. Follow both Family Musings and Lisa Kothari on Twitter, then tweet this giveaway and leave a 5th comment with the permalink. (Win a party planning book from @FamilyMusings and @LisaKothari! http://bit.ly/pollywogs)

That's it. 5 ways to win and 1 lucky winner. This giveaway will end Saturday, August 28th at midnight. Read all contest rules here.


FTC Disclosure: I received nothing in exchange for this review. I genuinely learned from the site and asked the author to share a copy of her book with my readers.

Guest Post: Birthday Parties In The Park

For Charlotte's third party, I wanted to throw her a friends party. I thought she might enjoy having people her own age to play with instead of the "family only" parties we have done so far. But we live in a small place and there is not room to host 8-10 toddlers plus their parents. So, I am planning a park party. And to help me, Lisa Kothari of Peppers and Pollywogs, Inc shared these tips. I know we will be implementing some of these and I hope you find them useful as well. Feel free to chime in on the comments with your own tips about park parties. I still have a few days left to finish everything up!

Top Tips for Planning a Party in the Park

It’s the season of planning outdoor parties and one of the best outdoor venues to hold your party is a park. It’s usually free and can accommodate large groups. If the idea appeals to you, keep these top tips in mind when planning your party in the park:

Make sure to call your parks and services board and ask if a permit is needed. Even if you do not need an official permit, you may need to let some authority know about your party. You never know until you call and ask.

For your party decorations:
  • Blow up lots of balloons beforehand and anchor them - this looks festive and also marks the parameter of your party area.
  • If there is a fence around the park, decorate it with streamers to make the area look festive. If you were doing a safari theme, as an example, you could hang vines off of the fence to give a jungle feel.
  • Use colorful blankets in the park for the children to sit on - also adds festive color

For your party in the park menu:


Make veggie and/or meat and cheese sandwiches. You could also make PB & J, which is easy but may not be so popular given peanut allergies. Cut the sandwiches into cool shapes like stars, animals, numbers, letters, etc. depending on your theme.

Other ideas include:
  • Buy self-serve packets of small carrots or other veggies for a healthy side snack.
  • Include fruit leather or some other easy type of fruit.
  • Have boxed fruit juices and plenty of water on hand.
  • Boxes of animal or savory crackers would be great.
Put the pre-prepared lunches in a sand bucket, lunch pail, or lunch box. You could give these containers to the children as part of their goody bag at the end of the party.

For dessert, a party in the park would do well with cupcakes. They are easy to hand out and carry and less messy for the kids to eat as well.

Make sure to bring along Wet Ones so kids can clean their hands after lunch is finished.

For your party in the park activities:
Create a series of classic games that the children are sure to love, including:

Pass the Parcel
Items needed: gift wrap, small present, music
Wrap your prize in as many layers of gift-wrap as you have kids attending. Have the children pass the parcel around to one another while music plays. When the music stops, the child holding the parcel must unwrap one layer. The game continues until the last child unwraps the final layer and wins!

Candy Hunt
Items needed: candy, paper bags
Hide the candy around the party area and give each guest a paper bag. Give them five minutes to find as much candy as they can. The children can take these sweet bags home as the party favor.

Have a wonderful party in the park!

************
If you are interested in more party planning ideas, you can follow Lisa Kothari on Facebook and Twitter.

Don't forget to share your own ideas and stay tuned for a giveaway sponsored by Peppers and Pollywogs!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Giveaway: The Sewing Loft

It was my delight to review the product I am going to share with you today. The Sewing Loft sent us their Tea Party set and from the very first time I opened the box, I was itching to let Charlotte host her first tea party. Showing Charlotte the beautiful pieces made by Heather of The Sewing Loft got her excited too. The pieces were beautifully and thoughtfully packaged, as if I had picked the items out of a high-end bakery myself.

Before I show you the pieces of the set though, I have to share what might be the funniest tea party story ever. While Charlotte was drinking her punch, I suggested she lift her pinky to be fancy. And she did.

Of course, the other mom and I chuckled. Which led her her friend Porter, who was so kind to play the Knight for our Tea Party, to say he would show her how to do it. I must say, I don't think I have ever seen a more manly expression of lifting a pinky while drinking tea!

Don't worry though, we did get the pinky in the air part of the tea party figured out almost perfectly.

And the cupcakes were thoroughly enjoyed by another of our guests, Princess Clara.

Their sister, Princess Lydia, made the Tea Party complete when she showed us the more lady-like way to eat the cupcake.


Now... to The Sewing Loft's Tea Party Package. This would be perfect as a gift for your favorite birthday girl, or could also be used to host a small birthday party.

The Tea Party package included 3 handcrafted donuts,

6 delicious looking sugar cookies with frosting,

4 tea bags,

as well as a set of matching napkins, tablecloth, and apron. The feather boa is not included... Charlotte would be devastated to give that up!

Each piece was made with attention to detail. Even down to the tiny stitches that represented sprinkles on the cookies and donuts. I've seen lots of felt food before and this is definitely among the best in quality. Now that Charlotte knows what a tea party is playing with the felt food on its own will be a wonderful experience for her and the Fancy Nancy doll she is going to get from my parents at her birthday party next week.

Heather at The Sewing Loft wants to give one of you the exact same set we received. This is so generous of her especially considering what a busy time of year this is for her shop and the cute-as-a-button toadstool backpacks she creates and sells. (You'll see when you get to the Etsy shop!)

How to Enter: There are five ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to five entries:

1. Visit The Sewing Loft on Etsy and then leave a comment telling me which item you think you'd like best,
2. 'Like' The Sewing Loft on Facebook and then leave a 2nd comment telling me you did so,
3. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 3rd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
4. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
5. Follow me on Twitter, then tweet this giveaway and leave a 5th comment with the permalink.

That's it. 4 ways to win and 1 lucky winner. This giveaway will end Saturday, Augsut 28tht at midnight. Read all contest rules here.



FTC Disclosure: I received the Tea Party Set from The Sewing Loft to facilitate my review. No other compensation, other than a second Tea Party set to share with one of my readers, was provided.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Giveaway: Bake Me A Wish

This giveaway is closed.

When I came home from running errands recently, I saw a big box sitting on my doorstep. As I got closer, the anticipation built and then I realized it was a Vanilla Bean Cake from Bake Me A Wish! Woo hoo! This was a review I knew my husband would enjoy participating in.

The Vanilla Bean cake from Bake Me a Wish! came packed in a cooler and ice pack because it is perishable. It took self control, but I put it in the fridge straight away and waited patiently for my husband to come home so we could celebrate life.

When we finally got to sample the cake, I put some candles on it so Charlotte could practice blowing them out. We are slowly getting ready for the big day of her birthday party and have never put candles on a cake for her before.

As I was enjoying my slice of the Vanilla Bean Cake, Bruce and I brainstormed when this type of cake service might be useful. And here is the list we came up with:
  • When you want a gourmet cake, but don't have access to a local bakery that you trust for something classy and elegant;
  • When you are on vacation during the celebratory event, you could have the cake shipped to your destination and not have to worry about finding a local bakery at the last minute;
  • When you want to send an appreciation gift, you can choose a chocolate "Thank You" plaque to go on your cake;
  • When you are having a small gathering and just don't have time to make a delicious cake and decorate it beautifully;
  • When you forgot to send a gift, you can send a Bake Me A Wish! cake because they offer overnight shipping to most locations.
  • When you have a soldier overseas celebrating a birthday, they ship to APO.

I think Bake Me A Wish! might be the only company doing this sort of thing with cakes. To begin with, they can be delivered directly to your door thereby taking part of the hassle out of grabbing a cake. Not only that but they are delicious, come in variety of flavors and have chocolate plates that can be marked for any occasion.You can include a greeting card that you get to customize with you own message and it arrives in elegant packaging (see photo below).

Also, 5% of every order will be contributed to Bake Me A Wish!’s Operation: Birthday Cake, which, with their partner Soldiers’ Angels donates birthday cakes each month to our valued service men and women overseas.

    Bake Me A Wish! is offering a Triple Chocolate Enrobed Brownie Cake to one lucky reader of Family Musings. This cake is what I would have picked for myself if my husband wasn't involved. I love chocolate and this looks like it would fit the bill perfectly!  

    How to Enter: There are four ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to four entries:

    1. Visit Bake Me A Wish! and then leave a comment telling me which cake you think you'd like best,
    2. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 2nd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
    3. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
    4. Follow me on Twitter and then tweet this giveaway on and leave a 4th comment with the permalink.

    That's it. 4 ways to win and 1 lucky winner. This giveaway will end Saturday, Augsut 21st at midnight. Read all contest rules here.


    FTC Disclosure: I received the Vanilla Bean Cake from Bake Me A Wish! to facilitate my review. No other compensation, other than a great Triple Chocolate Enrobed Brownie Cake to share with one of my readers.

    Birthday Bash Has Arrived!

    After weeks of anticipation, planning, and sampling, Birthday Bash is here! Over the next two weeks, I'll be sharing a gazillion birthday ideas with you, from other moms just like us, from mom-preneurs who have started their own businesses, and from companies who want to send you the same products they sent me!


    I have more than 15 giveaways planned as well as a handful of other posts that will give you great ideas for planning birthdays for your toddler or preschooler. This might just be your one-stop shop for birthday ideas!

    The giveaways will all be kept simple with at least 4 ways to win every time. Make sure you are subscribed so you don't miss anything. And yes, I'm still giving extra entries for tweets and blog links.

    Hang tight...the first review will be posted soon! Happy Birthday!

    Sunday, August 08, 2010

    Happy 3rd Birthday Charlotte

    Dear Charlotte,

    Wow! You are three years old today! I can hardly believe that you are now a preschooler. In the last three years you have brought so much joy in my life they seem to have flown by. You amaze me with how much you have grown, not just in the last year, but in the last few months.

    The conversations we have are delightful. You are creative and love a good story. Each night at bedtime you ask me to tell you one. Many nights you finish because I am just not creative enough for you. Pink tigers. Talking Howie dolls. Goldilocks. Goldi-cat. Goldi-hat. It seems you never tire of hearing these stories.

    Praying is something you are really enjoying too. And while we mostly do it at bedtime, you like to go with mommy to pray for the unborn babies too. I get such joy from hearing you pray for your family and friends. There is no one who is safe from being on your prayer list!

    The way you are towards your sister is definitely better than I had hoped. And sure, you do have your moments of desperation when Mary is pulling your hair or trying to play with your toy, but over all, you enjoy playing with her. Making Mary laugh is one of the things you enjoy and are best at. No one else can make her giggle like you!


    Miss Lindsay, your babysitter, is easily your most favorite non-family member. You run the other direction when you see me coming to pick you up from her house. Some days I know you have more fun there than you do with me. And that's okay... I hope you always have fun people in your life.
    I hope you'll forgive me for repeating myself, but the words I wrote to you on your first (and second) birthday are never more true than today.

    Sweet Charlotte, you are only on loan to me from God, for however long he sees fit to let me have you. While I selfishly pray it is for a very, very long time, I also promise to always support you in following the unique path God has created just for you, wherever it leads.

    You see, as much as I love you and as much as your daddy loves you... it is nothing compared to how much God loves you. He has a plan for your life that, while unknown to us now, will undoubtedly lead to indescribable adventures and certain challenges. But don't worry, he will give you all the resources you need to face them with courage and grace.

    For your first second third birthday Charlotte, it is my prayer that God will give you a mother worthy of such a special little girl. I pray that he will continue to grow me into a proper example for you of how a Godly woman thinks about the world, treats other people, worships, and brings glory to God.
     I love you Charlotte Moon and am looking forward to the adventure that you being 3 brings!

    Saturday, August 07, 2010

    Catching Up - Way Back Edition!

    Getting out on a boat makes me feel so free. It is wonderful to get closer to nature in that way, so long as no one drives too fast. I guess that is why pontoon boats suit me just fine. Over Spring Break (yes, I realize that was  5 months ago!), my parents treated us to an afternoon of pontoon boating with the family and we all had a great time.

    Over and over, Charlotte remembered the boat ride in Nicaragua when she got to play with the monkey. I think her memory is more fond of the monkey than she really was, but I don't bother to correct her. If she wants to think she and the monkey hugged and played and she loved every minute of it, then so be it. My blog post from last summer will always be around to testify to the truth. :)

    We had two small babies on the boat with us, Mary and her cousin Rebekah. Both of them wore infant sized life vests. Charlotte had the same size!

    It was a gorgeous day for picture taking... I hope you enjoy these. I enjoyed reliving the afternoon as I looked over them. (Some were taken by my sister-in-law Michelle, and some by me.) And with more than 300 to look through, these are in no particular order!