Monday, November 27, 2017

50 Hottest Presents of 2017

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Christmas shopping has begun! There are so many great gifts out there for kids. But how do you decide what to purchase for them? So many different factors come into play... What are they interested in? What is most educational? What can they get use out of for a few years? All this being said, I've put together this list of the 50 hottest gifts for kids this year (in my opinion, lol). 

(This post contains Affiliate links. I make a small percentage to keep this site running when you purchase. More here.)

To keep it easy to read, I've broken down these hot gifts into different categories. Keep reading and maybe you'll find an item or two that would suit a kiddo in your life.
Set up house outside with the Step2 Neat and Tidy playhouse. My daughter has it and loves it!
The Plasmacar offers endless fun for a variety of ages.
Develop your soccer player's skills with the Adidas Microcoach Training Smart Soccer Ball.
My son soooo wants a Razor Flashrider 360 ever since trying out his friend's.

Find out how far your little princess will go with this Moana dress-up costume.
Let your kiddo shop til they drop with this fun shopping cart.
Encourage your future doctor with this play medical set.
Or maybe you have a future vet that would love this VTech Care for Me learning carrier.
I actually ordered this Disney princess dress up trunk for my little girl. Very versatile!
Every kiddo should have a play kitchen! This Step2 Heart of the Home center is ideal.
Set up some fun imaginative play with the Melissa & Doug cardboard ice cream truck.
Expand and supplement that play with this fun pretend ice cream set.

Start an annual tradition with the 2017 Holiday Barbie.
Everyone is talking about the Luvabella doll this year. Get yours here!
Give those Barbies and your kiddo a surprise new home with the Barbie dream house.
Or let them take a trip in this awesome Barbie camper.
If you don't have the room/finances, get the 3 story Barbie doll house that we have. It's kid tough.
Also at our home is the Barbie food truck. A much loved toy!
Let your little one play mommy with the new Baby Alive Sweet Tears.
Welcome a new baby doll home with this darling baby doll furniture set.
Encourage your kiddo to explore veterinary science with the Barvie Pet Care Center.
Enjoy some magical play with the Enchantimals Garden Magic play set.


The Rollercoaster Challenge Game uses logic and fun to create hours of entertainment.
Develop vocabulary and creative thinking skills with the Word on the Street game.
There's just something to the Hearing Things game that seems like it would be a hoot for family fun.
Yeti in My Spaghetti is an older game, but it's silly and fun and guaranteed to produce laughs.
The kids are getting the No Thumbs Challenge game this year. How could I resist it?

Have fun while playing with this Leapfrog Picnic Basket your toddler/preschooler.
Let them create their own indoor garden with this glow and grow terrarium set.
This Star Wars Droid Inventor kit is a definite for a young inventor.
This 4m Magnet Science is a great tool for mini-scientists.

Let your little scientist have hands-on fun building electrical circuits with the Snap Circuits Jr kit.
Let their imagination run free with this Picasso tiles building set.
Build forts, ships, and other creations with Gigi Blocks.
Let them create  roller coaster for a motorized cart using the K'nex Thrill Rides kit.

How far will imaginative play go with this Moana Island Adventure set?
Let your kiddo build their own Arrendale playground with the Lego Frozen Playground.
Explore women in science with the Lego Women of NASA set.
There might be "something there" to this Lego Princess Belle's Enchanted Castle set.
Bring out an inner architect with the Lego Modular Modern Home set.
The Lego Boost Toolbox can teach kids coding while having fun building.
This 1100+ piece BB8 Lego set is a builder's dream.

Have fun with the classic Play-doh Fun Factory.
Cook up some fun with the new Play-doh Kitchen Creations Oven.
Bring Play-doh creations to life with the Play-doh Touch to Shape Studio.
Have hours of open-ended fun with the Play-Doh Super Molding Mania set.

Keep your train enthusiast busy for hours with this train table.
Get the latest in Hot Wheels fun with the Criss Cross Crash Track set.
Have glow in the dark fun with the Mindscope LED Laser Twister Tracks set.
Entertain your Shopkins fans with the latest Cutie Cars.
Have you started your holiday shopping yet? Are any of the items on this list part of your purchases? I'd love to hear what products are hot ticket items for you this holiday.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Forest Animal Snowy Shadow Match Game and A Song for Snow Review & Giveaway

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We recently got a chance to review the new book Hoot and Peep: A Song for Snow. Penguin Books sent us a free copy to check out. The kids loved it! My three year old wants to read it almost every night. So I thought I'd create a fun learning activity based on the book for her (and you!). See below to download your free version of it. And make sure you enter to win your own copy of this book!

(This post includes affiliate links. Please see here for details.)
Hoot and Peep: A Song for Snow is a darling book that captures a young owl's first winter. From the publisher:

It's Peep's first winter, and it's going to snow very, very soon. Peep has so many questions for her older brother Hoot: Does snow drop, ploppety splop, like the rain's song? Does it scrinkle scrattle like falling leaves? But Hoot can't remember snow very well. The one thing he knows for sure is that it is worth waiting for.

But Peep doesn't have his patience, and as she flies around the gorgeous wintery Paris skies, she tries her best to make up her own snow song. But once those first flakes start to fall, Peep realizes just how wise her older brother really is for waiting...and just who she wants to cuddle up to when the snow starts to really sing.

With all the wonder and the joy of a first snowfall, this tender follow-up to Hoot and Peep is certainly worth waiting for, too.

My preschooler loved this story, so to further explore the book, I created a match-up game for children where they match images related to the book with an outline of the image. After downloading the game using the link below, all you have to do is print, cut, and play. You may want to laminate for durability.

Want to get a copy of Hoot and Peep: A Song for Snow for your young reader? Enter this giveaway before buying your own copy. You'll enter to win your own copy of the book plus a few extra goodies from me!
To enter, use the Rafflecopter entry below.  Contest is limited to U.S. only. Entries close on November 21st at 12 am. Winner will be announced by midnight on May 22nd.
Check out these other great posts on this fun, new book here:
Art Coloring Sheet at Thoughts from a Highly Caffeinated Mind

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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of A Song for Snow via Penguin Books. All opinions are mine. The received a copy of A Song for Snow in exchange for an honest review. Giveaway items are supplied by publisher.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November Photo Prompts for Moms: Moments Matter

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I've falled off the wagon again....Stopped focusing on the small parts of our days that make them wonderful. Life has been crazy, so instead I've been in survival mode. Can you relate? Do you ever feel like you're missing the little things that make being a family so amazing? The Moments Matter monthly photo challenge can help with that. In previous months, it's helped me  to focus more on the details of our days. I  hope that other mommas can get the same rewards I've found with it. Often, I've found the photo prompts lead me to look for moments in our day that match the challenge. Other days it gives me a great boost to create an activity that suits the day's theme. That's the beauty of this project... it allows us to focus more intently on ourselves, our family, or just life in general.
There are several ways you can join me in this project:
  • Use the photo prompts to capture moments in your day that fit them.  Join me on Instagram and share them or keep them for just you and your family to enjoy.
  • Use the topics to hone your photography skills.
  • You can also use the prompts as inspiration for activities for you to do with your children. 
  • If you can’t participate every day, no worries.  Just post when the prompts speak to you and relate to the moments in your day.
  • Share whatever photos you like with the tag #momentsmatter to share the special moments in your day.
  Here are the photo prompts for this month: 
Don't forget to use the hashtag #momentsmatter when you share!  See you on Instagram!

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The Very Hungry Pumpkin Thanksgiving Felt Board Activity

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It's Thanksgiving time! One book that I've always found to engage preschoolers' favorite books is Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. So I wrote this fun Thanksgiving felt board story that invokes the same storyline with a Thanksgiving theme. It's a great way to help preschoolers practice colors and have fun through a new rendition of a familiar story. 

The idea behind this interactive felt board story is that a hungry pumpkin goes around eating various foods, which then turn him different colors. The pumpkin gets worried. At the end, he finally eats a food that turns him into something he is happy and comfortable with. A few years ago, I presented this at our local library for a storytime for 20+ children. It was a hit!

Below you can find images of how to present this activity individually, or in small or large groups, as well as a link to download the script and images for this activity.

The story goes like this....
"One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and -pop!- out of the ground came a tiny and very hungry pumpkin.  He started to look for some food..."

As the days progress, the hungry pumpkin eats a variety of food that turns him many different colors. And he isn't happy with the results....
Each day, the pumpkin is upset at the results of what he's eaten. It isn't until the last day that the pumpkin finally finds a food to eat that makes him feel right...
But something didn't feel quite right. So he went looking for something to help him feel a little bit better. He nibbled on a turkey leg. And then he said, "Oh me, oh my!" he began to sigh.  "I'm a piece of pumpkin pie!"

Click the link below to download 

 If you love this activity and want to do it next Halloween, check out the jack-o-lantern version.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

If You Wouldn't Have Screamed... What Domestic Violence Actually Looks Like

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Can we get real for a minute? October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I read that 1 in 4 women will experience abuse from their partner. In looking at stats, that means that somewhere around 5,000 of you who read this page often have experience it. And that breaks my heart. So, I invited my dear friend, Stephanie, to share her powerful story. It's raw, and scary, and heroic. After she's done sharing, please read on how to detect and fight domestic abuse, as well as how you can support domestic abuse survivors.

**Warning** This post may be triggering to survivors of abuse.

When I was going through my divorce and custody battle with my ex-husband, I was asked by the evaluator to write down a timeline of abuse. At first, I thought it would be easy and told him I could absolutely do that for him. So that night, I sat down at my computer with a glass of wine, a notebook, and my phone to pinpoint when the abuse truly began.
I had no idea that this one task was going to be so hard. As I read through all the messages I realized that the abuse had started in the very first text message he had ever sent me. That night ended with several entire pages filled with scribbled out notes, an empty bottle of wine, and me a sobbing mess on the floor.
My very short first marriage was filled with abuse. It started small, with things like “I think you looked better in high school … before you lost all this weight.” Red flag right? That’s an awful statement alone, but was brushed off as a stupid man, saying a stupid thing. But when you start compounding it with the rest, it was clearly abuse.
The comments about my weight escalated over time. He would continue to say things like, “You were so much better looking before you had kids. I wish you wouldn’t have ruined yourself before you met me.” In the same breathe, he was constantly making comments on how much he hated overweight people. So not only would I not have been happy with myself had I gained weight like he was suggesting, I knew he would have used it against me. All a part of his brainwashing.
He would find ways to punish me, without even being in the same state. I would be at my mom’s house and he would want me at home, alone. It didn’t matter that he was across the country on a marine base, if he wanted me home that was where I had to be. And if I didn’t listen, he would take all the money out of our bank account, so I couldn’t get gas, groceries, anything. Other times he would take himself away from me. Meaning, he wouldn't talk to me for several days in a row. He would also talk to ex girlfriends or any other people that we agreed were off limits and made sure that I knew about it but couldn't do anything and he still would not reply to me.
His abuse was never physical, until closer to the end.
The first physical incident, was within ten days of having our son where I had been rushed into an emergency c-section, one that almost ended up taking my life.
We had gotten into some kind of argument at home and as I went to leave the room, he wrapped his arms around my waist and tackled me to the ground. I can assure you that I was in severe pain as I was brought down to the ground by the man that was supposed to be supporting and loving me.
I started screaming and crying, begging him to release me.
Of course, as a reaction to hearing his mommy cry out in pain, my newborn started screaming and my oldest son began to cry, asking if I was okay. I took everything I could within me to stop screaming for my children’s sake and just continued to beg him to stop. I told him that I would do whatever he wanted. I would take whatever he wanted to dish out I just begged that he didn't let our children see this. That he didn't allow them to know that this is what was happening.
His reply was something like this — “This is you. This is your fault. If you wouldn’t have screamed, they’d still be asleep. You caused them to see you like this, so now you will have to deal with it.”
In order to finally get him to agree to release me, I had to promise him I would never walk away from him again. You know when you watch those shows on tv, and the bad guy does something to the parent and they are helpless as their kids are looking on? That is exactly how I felt. Utterly helpless.
I didn’t leave after that incident. Why? Because he apologized to me profusely and claimed that he only did that because I told him that holding me calms me down. In my abused mindset, I then convinced myself that he was just trying to listen to the words that I had said.
Most people think that abuse is an all the time thing. It's not. Every couple months another questionable thing would happen but in between we were “great.” No, it was not perfect and I know that now because I'm married to damn near perfection, but we were good. He made sure I had anything I could ever want and need. He was loving. He said kind things and did kind gestures. The in between times made me question myself and if the abuse was just normal marriage issues.
Months later from the C-section incident, I was attending my high school reunion. As a mom to a toddler and a young baby, I was in need of some me time. I mean everyone needs our time, regardless of the ages of their children or even if they have no children....
Within the first hour of me being out I began to receive text messages with threats and insults. Saying things like “Good mothers and wives don't go out to bars and act like 'single sluts.'”
Because the kids were at my moms, I decided to ignore the texts and continue on with my night. During my reunion there was a photo booth area set up. My best friend and I were taking a photo using it when an old high school classmates boyfriend jumped in and joined us. That photo was posted on Facebook immediately and my ex husband saw it. Then he REALLY began to blow up my phone. He accused me of cheating and using the night out to get in touch with this guy that he decided was my boyfriend. I had had a couple of drinks and I don't know if it was liquid courage or drunken stupidity but I turned my phone off and had a wonderful rest of the evening.
When I got home that night I was immediately berated by my ex. He was FURIOUS. Again I was feeling ballsy so I told him that I was not interested in arguing with him and went to bed despite his anger and yelling.
The next morning, we attempting to talk but his anger took over and the yelling began. His temper quickly escalated and he proceeded to throw containers full toys around the apartment/at me and threw a potted plant at my head. This time I was not going to put up with it, I grabbed the keys and fought him to get out the door.
I left the apartment to head to my mom's and had a decent head start. But then, he jumped off our second story balcony and raced me for the car. I lost that physical altercation so I began walking on the road headed towards my mom's house and he walked beside me, screaming. During this incident, I called my mom and she could tell by what I was saying, and things she was hearing, that things were not good. I began to tell her where I was, so she could call the police. He caught on and fled back to the apartment.
I thought maybe he was going to leave me alone but then I saw our car speeding towards me. I honestly thought he was going to run me over. This was the first time I truly believed he was capable of killing me. Thankfully, the police arrived at this time.
The police took me back to my apartment and told me that I had two choices. That I could have my children and I brought to a shelter or that I could stay at my mom's. I asked why I couldn't go back to MY apartment. It was mine before it was his. Their response was that my ex said he had no where to go. Apparently the person that has no where to go is the one that gets “ownership” of the home. That meant that because I had family close by I had to be the one to go. He had family an hour away but because he said the magic words he got my apartment.
I didn’t even leave after that incident. Why? Honestly, I'm not sure.
When I finally left him, it was after finding an exchange of text messages to a friend of his. In these texts he was making a plan, to kill me.
Yes, I just said that he was trying to have a friend murder me.
This text was completely out of the blue. We hadn’t been fighting recently or anything. Because of a previous affair, and him having actions similar to those he had back then, I decided to peek in his phone. Here I was thinking maybe I was going to find out about him cheating and instead found that he was planning out how to end my life.
I immediately called my mom and the police, and have had an order of protection against him ever since.
I was extremely lucky. Had I not decided to check his phone that day, I may not still be here.
It was a long road, and one I will walk for the rest of my life. But I’m here and I’m doing it.
Stephanie Easley is a wife, mother of 3, restaurant manager, and a domestic abuse survivor. She has launched a collaboration with small shops and brand reps through Instagram to share her story and spread awareness about a misunderstood and often silent cause. You can watch her talk about her journey in a livecast here. Get a "She is fierce. She is strong. She is mom" tank top inspired by Steph's story at the Ellie and Ellie website.

I'm so thankful that Stephanie is such a brave and strong woman. She is a warrior.  And I'm thankful that she has shared her journey. But at the same time, my heart breaks for those of you who may still be fighting this battling, even if you don't realize it.
As Stephanie stated, the signs of abuse aren't always presented clearly...
Signs of Domestic Abuse
Physical abuse is hitting, throwing things, shoving, shaking, or any unwanted physical contact.
Victims of  physical abuse may:
  • Have visible injuries that are unexplained or have questionable sources
  • Wearing long sleeves, scarves, or pants out of season
  • Easily startled or avoidant of people they would normally socialize with
Emotional abuse is attempting to control actions, yelling, manipulating situations so that their target feels at fault, refusing to be content with anything their victim does, or issuing ultimatums based on behaviors.
Victims of emotional abuse may:
  • Apologize frequently, even for things that aren't their fault
  • Have low self-esteem and put themselves down
  • Avoid eye contact and appear submissive or refuse to state their opinions
  • Exhibit signs of excessive crying or sleeplessness
Sexual abuse is forcing sexual contact or encounters that are unwanted.
Victims of sexual abuse may:
  • Have difficulty walking, sitting, standing
  • Have injuries in their private areas
  • Have recurrent STDs or abdominal pain
How to Help Targets of Domestic Abuse

Don't be hesitant to call 911 if you or a family member/friend is in danger. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 800-799-SAFE (7233).

If you are the target of abuse, confide in your family or close friends. They can help you to get out of your current situation.

Remember that the abuse is not your/the victim's fault. The abuser is culpable for their behavior.

An abuser isn't abusive all the time. There are going to be times where they are loving and attentive. Don't let that dissuade your concerns.
If you suspect someone else is being abused, document the behaviors, dates, times, and places that the incidents occur. Don't be afraid to call 911 if someone is in danger.

Try to find a time to talk with the suspected abused person one-on-one. Let them know that you are concerned for their safety.
Create a code word with the person being abused. This word is something that could be said or texted to let you know that they need help, for you to call 911, or to pick them up at a secret location.

Lastly, believe the person who says they are being abused. Don't make them feel guilty, or shame them. Just offer support and understanding. Their life may depend on it.

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WikiHow to Tell if a Woman is Being Abused

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Caramel Apple Scented Homemade Playdough Recipe

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Halloween is fast approaching and I'm struggling to cram in all those fun activities I've jotted down in my ratty composition notebook. This activity, making caramel apple scented homemade playdough was one of them. Caramel apples are symbolic of fall for us. A trip to the local pumpkin patch isn't complete without one of their yummy, sticky caramel apples. So I thought we'd take that experience and have some sensory fun at home.

One of the coolest things about this recipe is that it allows kiddos with wheat allergies to make their own playdough without concern of allergen issues. The recipe is below.
1 part apple scented shampoo/conditioner
2 parts cup corn flour
caramel extract
green food coloring (optional)
It's not exact science. Sometimes you just have to add a bit of one ingredient to balance out the other. (More corn starch if too runny, more conditioner if too stiff)
We mixed all the ingredients in a large bowl, adding the food coloring last. In hindsight, I would suggest you add it to the conditioner beforehand to make color distribution more even.
The final product has the feel of smooshed circus peanuts. It was a bit firm, but hand warmth made it more pliable and oozey.
Here is our Instagram post if you want to see this yummy playdough in action.
A post shared by Andie Jaye (@therealandiej) on

 If you try this recipe, I'd love to hear how it goes!

 Check out my Pinterest boards to find more fun fall activities or sensory activities for kids.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

25 Free Halloween Printables for Kids

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It's getting close to Halloween!! I love this holiday because it affords so much in terms of creative and imaginative activities for kids. There are so many great resources to find fun activities for kids during the Halloween season. Here are a few of them that have free printables to use with kids.

Halloween is a fun time for kids and adults alike. Here are some exciting activities that can be done with children during this imaginative season.

Enjoy some relaxing coloring with this Halloween Coloring Book.
Practice shape recognition with these Shape-o-Lanterns.
Have more coloring fun with these Halloween Color Pages.
Exercise young minds with this I Spy Halloween game.

Create some Halloween bookmarks with this free printable page.
Complete a Halloween scavenger hunt  by Typically Simple
Have some fun with stampers and these Halloween dot printables.
Enjoy some coloring time with this Happy Halloween Coloring Page.
Give your kiddo a daily laugh with these Halloween Lunch Box Jokes.

Play bingo at your holiday parties with this Halloween Costume Bingo.
Celebrate the Halloween season with this Halloween Traditions Countdown.
Practice fine motor skills with these Halloween Lacing cards.
Build a Monster with this fun, free printable.
Create your own haunted house with this fun flap printable.

Play a game of Halloween Charades with these fun prompts.
Keep young hands busy at home or in the classroom with a Halloween word search.
Play Halloween Bingo as a family activity or for a class party.
Have some Halloween fun with this spooky edition of mad-libs.
Use this Halloween Color by number as a free extra activity.


Work those brains and practice counting with this Halloween I Spy & Count sheet.
Break out the dot stampers and decorate these Halloween Dot printables.
Practice handwriting with this Halloween themed Color & Trace.
Explore a colors and a favorite story with the Very Hungry Pumpkin felt board activity.
Have some word fun with a Halloween Word Scramble.

Find more fun Halloween activities for kids on my Halloween Pinterest board.

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