How to Kick Off Christmas with Santa HQ

“This is a sponsored blog; while the views expressed here
were genuinely mine, consideration was paid to me by Macerich/HGTV’s Santa
HQ.”






We live for traditions in our house and one of our favorites during the holidays is visiting Santa at HGTV's Santa HQ inside Fashion Fair Mall.  We've been going for several years and so the girls start asking for it as soon as Christmas starts sneaking into our house and around town.   It's usually our first holiday activity so it kicks off the season.

What makes Santa HQ so special is you don't just wait in line and visit with Santa for a minute but you have a full interactive experience before meeting the big guy!  There are four stops prior to Santa, each offering a new bit of fun.

The first stop is probably our favorite; the Naughty or Nice Meter.  Each child inputs their name with the help of an elf and then stands on an interactive board to see where they fall this year.  After the meter makes its determination the child's name appears on the appropriate list.  I think Santa is very forgiving because all three of my little animals made the Nice List. Seriously, Santa, even Jack?!?!

The second stop is inside the first room and is the Magic Mirror which turns you into an elf where you can choose an elf and an outfit and then send yourself a photo.  Also inside this room is where you can make your own Elf-ID which you can also send to yourself.

In the next room you can use an iPad for Elf-Ray vision and catch an elf along the ceiling and walls.  Santa's Sleigh Command Center is also available for you little elves to play and navigate.

The last stop before the grand finale is a professional photo opp with a backdrop and props.  Of course they save the best part for last and you get to climb into Santa's sleigh and chat with the main guy himself.   You know sometimes Santa is having a good day and other times a bad day but Santa was PHENOMENAL with our little ones.  He was beyond patient, kind, friendly and warm.  Our kids had the best experience not only telling Santa about their wishlist but reading about the elves and even the Christmas classic, Twas the Night Before Christmas.   Santa even helped Madi to read on her own.






Spend less time in line and purchase a FAST PASS which will allow you to pick a 30 minute window on a specific date.  You prepay for your picture package and skip the line when you arrive.  You can also opt-in for text reminders.  Also during your visit you may consider bringing a new toy for HGTV's Help Through the Holidays Giving Drive.  For more information and special event dates check HERE.

We absolutely love Santa HQ and give it two thumbs up.  It keeps us coming back year after year and would love to hear what you think about the experience!  Merry Christmas!

How to Create a Birthday Breakfast Tradition


Since Emily was very young I've thrown a small birthday breakfast to celebrate the day and it's become such a fun tradition.  It's very simple but makes the girls so happy and feel very special.  I almost always use our Re-Play tableware to add the pop of color to our kids table but sometimes I use paper goods.  In the past I've done a donut cake but this year I did a pink pancake tower with chocolate drizzle on top.

How to Throw a Bright Rainbow Roller Skating Party


Emily paints a rainbow wherever she goes!  She lights up any room and she finds the silver lining to any cloud.  I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate her 8th birthday than with a Rainbow Roller Skating Party.  She is now of the age where roller skating is doable and would be fun for her and her friends so we picked United Skates Clovis for her party.

How to Create a Perfect Smile with Thurman Orthodontics


When Kevin was growing up braces weren't in his family's budget even though he had very crooked teeth.  As a young adult he did get veneers on his top teeth to help with the appearance of his smile but his teeth always bothered him despite the slight fix.  We've been talking about Invisalign for years and recently we finally pulled the trigger.  We decided to visit Thurman Orthodontics to explore options.

Adorable Halloween Costume Ideas


When Emily was the only child dressing her up for Halloween was fun but everything went to another level when I could coordinate sisters and then last year with Jack we made it a family affair.  So for several years I've loved planning costumes and to be honest with you I frequently coordinate their costumes with Emily's birthday parties since her birthday is one week after Halloween.  This way I'm killing two birds with one stone.

My kids are still at an age where I can "gently sway" them into costumes that I like or approve.  I start planting seeds and so far I've been very lucky and they've gone with my ideas.  I fear my days are numbered but I'm hanging on as long as I can.  Now that we have 2 girls and 1 boy it makes it a tad harder to come up with sibling costumes.  But, last year was our first year of doing so and we went as the Incredibles because it was just so natural as a family of five and we had our own Jack Jack.  I can't wait to share this years costumes but in the meantime here is what I've put together over the years.

How to Make Simple Pudding Pops




If you know me or if you've followed me for awhile you know that I am all about simple.  Yes I love to be creative, to decorate and set up fun activities but at the end of the day I'm only tackling simple tasks.  I'm not sure if that's a little lazy or survival but it's the truth of this mom life.  We love to make homemade popsicles but I like using ingredients that are on hand and recipes that aren't tedious.  This pudding pop recipe couldn't get any easier; it took us less than five minutes from start to freezer.

Ingredients:
Directions:

Stir pudding mix and milk as per instructions on box.  Once soft set pour into popsicle molds and place in freezer.  After one hour place sticks into each popsicle and let freeze overnight.  Run warm water over mold for 60 seconds and then pull popsicles out of mold.  Enjoy!


These are the simplest of simple, a great way to include my girls in an activity and so delicious to enjoy together.




How to Throw the Best Back to School Breakfast


For birthdays, milestones and holidays I like to celebrate in some way.  It doesn't always have to be big or over the top but I don't want the day to go by without showing the girls that it's an important day and that we like to celebrate the special days in our lives.  

Luckily I created this BTS Breakfast last year so I still had all the printables.  So keep that in mind that the first year it does take some time to print and cut everything but if you store it, subsequent years are super easy.  I only had to buy red paper plates, green apples and make the pencil waffles.  The waffles are super easy to create.  Make waffles as usual and then cut into a rectangle.  Cut a piece of toast into a small triangle and top with a chocolate chip.  At the top of the "pencil" place 2-3 raspberries.  Breakfast was completed with Producer's milk that we dyed yellow.  In addition to the printables I used a mason jar filled with alphabet letters and colored pencils.

Here is where I found the free printables:









How to Make Healthy and Delicious Yogurt Popsicles


We have a tradition of making popsicles every Summer and I usually try and keep them "healthy-ish."  When the girls received flamingo popsicles molds we knew it was the perfect time to keep our tradition alive.  They were so excited to make them and it was a fun and easy project to do together.  This recipe couldn't be easier and it's quite healthy compared to any store bought popsicles.

Ingredients:
Directions:

Chop strawberries very small and place in a mixing bowl.  Add sugar and yogurt and mix.  Pour into molds and freeze overnight.  Run warm water over the molds for about 60 seconds, then carefully pop out the popsicles from the mold.  Store in a ziplock bag in the freezer.




How to Make Back to School Simple but Exciting

My girls are still at the age where back to school is lots of fun.  I dread the day they dread going back to school.  Although my girls are very excited about school I have mixed feelings.  I'm excited to have them out of the house but I'm not looking forward to having to be up and at of the house by 7:45 every morning.  It's not that I ever sleep in but it's just a lot to get four people (self included) all ready by that time.  I also wish I lived in a world where Summer lasted all year round.  I love the warm weather, the play dates, the trips and all that Summer brings (minus the darn mosquito's).

So I have one hand tightly holding onto Summer and the other busily preparing for Back to School.  I saw a meme that other day that said there are 5 seasons in a year: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall and Back to School.  It made me laugh and it's so true.  There is so much hype around back to school and so much to check off the to-do list.  There are subscriptions for just about everything now a days so why can't there be a biannual subscription for school supplies.  Delivery would be in August and January to replenish all that has broken, gotten lost, etc.  I'm going off on a tangent but maybe this is something I need to invent.  Because it's a pain to online shop and run to several stores to get everything you need for your kids to be ready to go.

Until I invent a one stop shop for Back to School shopping you are left with the current situation.  Since that's not the easiest and most convenient I've tried to make it much simpler for you and round up everything I think your children need and what is the best (all while staying affordable because that's my mantra).




The Best of Santa Cruz: Fun Vacation Guide


How we got there

We live in the Central Valley so it's a quick and easy drive for us, under three hours.  However, if you need to fly to Santa Cruz you would want to fly into the Bay Area and then rent a car.

Where we stayed

We've been traveling to Santa Cruz for several years so it's become a Summer tradition for us.  However, up until last year we always STRUGGLED with where to stay.  Santa Cruz does not have a lot to offer in terms of hotels.  Most of them are below average or there is one classic hotel but it is quite expensive.  We've tried staying in the surrounding area and even across the bay to stay in a decent place.  Luckily, last year a brand new hotel opened right in the heart of Santa Cruz.  The Hyatt Place Santa Cruz is now our very favorite spot to stay.  The location is great and the facilities are wonderful.

How to Make the Perfect Summer Snack


This post is sponsored by General Mills. All thoughts and opinions are my own.




Does anyone else have kids that are HUNGRY all day long but only for snacks?  (Come mealtime they couldn't be bothered by hunger.)  My girls could eat all.day.long and I run out of snack ideas.  I try to keep things healthy but I also try to add as much fun to Summer as possible.  So every now and then we indulge.  Insert NEW Peanut Butter Chex Cereal from Walmart...and we are NUTS about how it's the secret ingredient to summertime sweetness.  We had the perfect afternoon while brother napped "cooking" together and then a little front yard picnic for snack time.  It was so delicious we all could have finished the bowl in one sitting.  Daddy tried to hoard it and finish it himself but us girls didn't allow that.

How to Make A Delicious & Easy Sante Fe Salad

Summer is my all time FAVORITE time of year!  Hair gets lighter. Skin gets darker. Weather gets warmer. Drinks get colder. Music gets louder. Days get longer. Food gets yummier.  Life gets better. 
I love to entertain and even more so during the Summer because nothing beats a Summer BBQ. One of my favorite spots for stocking up for a party is Smart & Final because I can buy bulk all while grabbing the “normal” goods {can you say, best of both worlds?!?!}. Less stops for me is a total win.

My go-to dish for a Summer BBQ is my Sante Fe Salad that is great as a main course or a side dish.  It's fresh, delicious and super easy to make.  I think a key to this salad is using fresh corn off the cob and not canned corn.  It is a game changer when it comes to flavor and crunch.  Also it's just about as easy as opening up the can.  All you do is shuck the cob and then cut off the kernels; not cooking involved.  Another reason I love this salad is because it's so versatile.  You can add or subtract ingredients to your liking.


Ingredients:
  • Lettuce
  • Tortilla Strips
  • Cob of Corn, Cut raw
  • Black Beans
  • Bell Pepper, Sliced into thin strips
  • Avocado, Diced
  • Shredded Mexican Cheese
  • Ranch Dressing
Directions:

Wash lettuce or use 1 bag of Iceberg lettuce mix.  Place in bowl with fresh cut corn, rinsed black beans, bell pepper, avocado and tortilla strips.  Toss in Ranch Dressing and top with shredded cheese.  Use amounts to your desire of all ingredients.  If I'm making this salad for 4-6 people I use 1 cob of corn, 1 can of black beans, 1 bell pepper, 1 avocado,  and 1 bag of lettuce.  If I'm making this salad as the main entree I add chicken.

Summertime Fun- Breakfast in Bed with Blueberry Cheerios

This post is sponsored by General Mills. All thoughts and opinions are my own.




Summer is flying by way too quickly; it's our favorite time of the year.  We are soaking up all that summer brings including slow mornings.  During the school year, mornings are always hectic, rushed, and chaotic, so I make a point to make mornings more enjoyable during the break.  Every now and then, I make it even more fun because hey it's summer and I can!  My girls always are so excited to bring me breakfast in bed on Mother's Day, and so I knew they would get such a kick out of me doing breakfast in bed for them. It was even more exciting to have a breakfast party in mommy's bed.


What kid doesn't love Cheerios?!?!  So we had to give the NEW Blueberry Cheerios a try for our family breakfast in bed.  After a little taste test, I already know it will be for sure a summertime staple for breakfast, and I know it will stick around as soon as school starts because it's a quick and easy option. The girls love the fun new flavor, and this mama loves that it's made with real blueberry puree.







I'm always looking for simple ways to create memories with my girls, and I want to encourage you to do the same.  Life is crazy, and we all need opportunities to slow down and appreciate our time together. It's not about the "things" in life but way more about the moments.  Breakfast in bed was fun and memorable and only took a little milk, cereal, and a whole lotta fun. You can find the NEW Blueberry Cheerios at your local Walmart.




Jackson's Blessed Baptism


I'm so excited to share the pictures from Jackson's baptism so get ready for overload!  There are just so many amazing shots.

I think because Jack is our final baby his baptism was extra special.  I was able to really savor the sacrament and truly appreciate it.  We were so lucky because his baptism was private which made it so intimate.  It made my heart so content to have our family surrounding him on such a beautiful day.

For anyone that knows me you know how much I love throwing a party, bringing a theme to life and sharing all the details.  As much as I love entertaining I also like to keep things simple because I don't have endless time or money.  For Jack's baptism I wanted a natural theme that included succulents and eucalyptus.  

I used metal rings and wrapped eucalyptus around them.  I didn't use anything to attach them to the ring just wrapped several strands around the ring.  I found out the hard way that you can't do this ahead of time.  I first did it about 36 hours prior to the party and they wilted so I had to get fresh eucalyptus the day of the party.  The wreaths hung above a table with a bible and a sign.  The bible is intended as a gift to Jack on his confirmation when he is a teenager.  All of our guests signed the bible and highlighted their favorite verse.  I warned everyone ahead of time to find their favorite verse and keep it in mind so that people were prepared.



How to Create a Fun & Colorful Unicorn Birthday Party



Madison's birthday was in May and we had Jackson's baptism scheduled for the beginning of June so we decided to combine the festivities.  The main reason was so we didn't have to ask guests to come to back to back to celebrations.  Everyone is very busy and we felt like it was asking too much.  Also it was a lot easier on me to only have to throw one party at our home. 

Even though I was adding Madi's birthday party to Jack's baptism celebration I still wanted her to feel special so I still did a small table for her with a unicorn theme (and let's not forget the endless fun of a bounce house).  For the first time I attempted a balloon garland which has been on my party planning wishlist for a long time but I've always been intimidated by them.  I read that a Balloon Decorating Strip was a game changer so I picked up this super cheap one from Amazon.  Another game changer was a handheld Balloon Pump.  After doing this I CAN NOT imagine doing a balloon arch without one, you would for sure pass out!!!  I suggest setting aside plenty of time to blow up the balloons.  I did it over two nights; it's not hard work but just time consuming.  I also want to note that the balloons lasted over a week so you could do this ahead of time.  Blow up the balloons at different sizes, tie them off and then insert them in the strip.  I was putting two balloons to a hole and found that it was too full.  Start with only putting one balloon in each hole and then when you hang your garland you can see if there are any spots that need more.  I found hanging the garland was a little difficult.  We ended up using fishing line to hang it because tape wasn't strong enough to attach it to the wall.


When it came to dessert I enlisted the help of the super talented and creative Kaja of Kaja's Kreations.  She has done several parties for me and she blows me away every time.  I told her I wanted a unicorn cake and that we were doing the baptism at the same time so she added a few succulents to the cake to tie everything together.  It was such a nice touch and super cute.  Kaja has several flavors and everything we've ever had was delicious.  I picked strawberry for this cake so that it would be pink.  Kaja also did a few unicorn sugar cookies for us and the details were amazing!



For the paper goods I found Geese & Ganders and they offer the cutest selections.  The patterned pink dessert plates and napkins added the perfect pop of color.  For party favors I picked up rainbow popcorn from a local spot called Grandpa's Popcorn & Sweets.  Each color is a different flavor and they are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. 






Our absolute favorite photographer who has now become a dear friend, Melissa Gotelli took Madison's 5th birthday photos.  I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't taken her birthday photos since she was 2!  I never missed any of Emily's birthdays but hey second child.  I can't imagine what will happen with Jack, lol.

We can't believe our baby girl is already 5.  The years have flown and yet I don't remember life without her.  She adds laughter to our lives every single day.  She is the sweetest, most sour, and ultra spicy little girl you have ever met.  She's way beyond her years and is too smart for us.  She's super excited about starting kindergarten and I know the school years will just fly by.

Madi is fairly small but mighty and built solid.  She is obsessed with music and dancing (like her mama) and has a song request during every car ride.  Her favorite foods are mac & cheese, cheese pizza, and quesadillas.  Her favorite desserts are ice cream and cookies.  Her favorite things to do are eat donuts, get toys, ride her bike and swim.  Her favorite movie is Frozen and her favorite shows are Elena and Fancy Nancy.  Her favorite songs are Old Town Road, Champion, Whose That Chick, Ain't My Fault, Red, I Miss Me More, Runaway Baby and Youngblood (see I told you she loves music). Her best friends are Hayden and Tinsley.  (These were all answered by Madi.)




Thank you to everyone who made Madi's birthday so special including all her guests as well as all the shops.  We are very blessed!