Sawyer’s third birthday party: Bubbles on a budget

I recently learned that there are professional bubble-blowing entertainers that you can hire to make bubbles as big as a car and enclose party guests in soapy orbs, but those guys charge $300 for a 45-minute show. Dazzling as that would be, I figured I could save $275 and have nearly as much fun by hosting Sawyer’s third birthday party at our closest playground.

Throw a bubbly bubble party with bubbles

We threw a bubble birthday party, and it was not hard at all. Apparently, I’ve been acquiring bubble tools and solution for years now: when we hauled out all our bubble gear, we didn’t need to buy a thing. If you’re not crazy-insane for bubbles, you may want to purchase a few things or take some time to mix up DIY solution and create your own wicked cool bubble wands (with or without the children depending on your patience).


The main attraction is the BUBBLES so kids can play with bubbles, blow bubbles, make funky bubble wands, spill solution, chase bubbles, pop bubbles, try to catch them without popping them.

And when all that gets boring, play at the playground. I love having parties at the park because I just prevented 15 soapy little three- and four-year olds from trampling all over my home looking for the good toys.


Bubbles, of course! Set the bubble blower on automatic. Helium balloons also work well for that bubbly feeling – and make great party favors.

My favorite purchased bubble thingies:

  • We love this Gazillion bubble blower and have had it for years. Worth noting: kids and careless adults (ahem, myself included) frequently overfill this little guy so it can be a mess. Put on a picnic table with a paper towel underneath to keep it from vibrating itself to the ground. Use the correct solution or it can get all gunked up. At only $10, I think it might be a fun gift for a bubble-loving child, too. Best automatic bubble blower for the price
  • Wacky wands and tray. For less than $7, this set gets fun-shaped wands in the hands of your guests. You can use the provided bubble solution tray or put out a plastic dishpan for even more suds like we did. Super fun bubble wand assortment
  • Automatic handheld bubble shooters like this Toysmith mini ray gun let little ones just dip and blow lots of bubbles at a time with a motorized fan. I like the reduced frustration for small people. For less than $7, this one looks like an animal head and is well-reviewed.Great little bubble blower for little kids

The thing I wish we had: Beeboo big bubble blower. I swear we had one in the garage but the day I go to build a party around it — poof! — we can’t find it anywhere! For only $13, I woulda got another one if I realized it was missing before the morning of our party.Super cool big bubble blower

Worth mentioning is the bubble stuff I wish poured down the drain rather than use: Whatever you do, do NOT purchase or use Crayola colored bubbles. These things are stainy, messy, and don’t really create colored bubbles.


At Sawyer’s request, we served bagels (round) and cake for a mid-morning brunch party with a slight Frozen theme. I think you can divert from the theme a bit to serve food the birthday child likes.

Party Favors:

Jumbo bubble wands as party favors (look like light sabers)Why not give out these epic jumbo wands in solution? $18 buys you a dozen. They are cooler than your average bubble kit and look like lightsabers. I nearly provided them to our guests but then I forgot to click “order” on my Amazon cart so, instead, made an accidental anti-materialist statement by not passing out favors.  You can also hand out the balloons if you got the right number.

Sawyer had a blast at his bubble-themed birthday party and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an easy, fun, outdoor party!

Related: 5 tips for a cheaper third birthday party and 10 cheap birthday party tips.

Throw a bubbly bubble party with bubbles

Activity #291: Let your baby ride the family pet

Someday, your baby will be a man.

Or a woman.

When that time comes, your pet will fit into your kid’s lap. But for now, isn’t it super cute and funny to take pictures that really show how teeny weeny your little one is?

Let your baby ride the family pet, within reason of course

Make sure to follow common sense tips for pet safety, but he’s your pet (dog, cat, tarantula, snake, rhino, etc.), so I shouldn’t have to tell you that.

{photo by Maury Boswell, used with permission, all rights reserved}

I bribed my picky eater with toy dinosaurs for 2 weeks

Professionals recommend bribery
Inspired by an NPR/Freakonomics story about bribery in which an economist gives each of his four children the opportunity to earn “a lot of money” for eating fresh fish in Hawaii every day during their vacation, I decided to try to bribe my preschooler with trinkets to try new-to-him foods. After all, the radio story revealed that children were more motivated by prizes than anything else (like knowing that good foods build healthy bodies).

The prize I laid out was a plastic dinosaur for each new-to-him food. For roughly two weeks, I presented him with his dinner along with 1-3 toy dinos for trying eligible foods. He didn’t earn anything for eating applesauce or cheese quesadillas, but he could have for trying a bite of a grape (yes, a GRAPE!!!), which he declined.

I bribed my child to eat healthy food with toy dinosaurs

If I’m totally honest, you should know I wanted to keep this bribery program running long enough to for him to earn 72 dinosaurs, no matter the duration. My friend, the engineer, calculated that he could try seven different foods at ten times each and I was overly optimistic when I purchased them. Instead, I had to cut the experiment off after 14 days because it was such a colossal failure that Whitney was losing her patience with me. Yes, Whitney.

In 14 days, Sawyer earned only four dinosaurs and two of them were total cheats on my part.

Where did we begin?
Sawyer is not your typical picky eater, if there is such a thing. He approaches unfamiliar foods with anxiety and nervousness. If he’s going to try it, he might sit in my lap cowering and retching before he fully tastes the thing and declares that it is not bad.

Got that? He actually likes most foods that he tries, but he is unwilling to try new things. Ugh. So frustrating.

According to family legend, this was never more true than his approach to ice cream. Once we felt like he was old enough for a taste, he refused. He was offered ice cream many times, until he finally — nervously — agreed to open his mouth for it. Of course, he loved it. By the next time we had ice cream, he had already forgotten that it was a positive experience. So he refused it another few times. This usually happens about three times before he remembers that he liked any food in the past.

It is also worth noting that he has two big brothers who willingly eat food like salmon and kale salad with smiles on their faces and we all sit down to family dinner most nights of the week, where everyone eats the same thing.

When Sawyer decided, for the second time, that broccoli was pretty good, we made a video together so I can show him next time he is reluctant. It was his idea.

Did bribing work?
Sawyer was largely unmoved by the dinosaur bribery scheme. He tasted what he was going to try anyway so we did have some slight progress toward trying and liking new foods. He acted like he wanted the toys but never enough to move the needle. The four dinosaurs I gave out were for the following:

  1. a dessert with honey, raisins, and dates — after days of no progress, I wanted to make it easier for him (and me!) to succeed. But c’mon.
  2. homemade cheese pizza — the crust was unusual so I thought he might not eat it, but awarding a bribe for a kid eating cheese pizza is embarrassing.
  3. a cheeseburger — this was HUGE for us, real progress toward a new food. Interestingly, we were not at home when he ate it so I think it is very likely he didn’t have dinosaurs on the brain.
  4. broccoli — and he said he liked it. Notice he’s in my lap because of his anxiety but quickly wanted to make himself a video because broccoli rocks.

Other days, he ate all the foods that were not dino-eligible or Nothing At All. Yes, multiple days in this game, my two-year old went to bed with no dinner.

What did I learn?
Was it a waste of time? Was it fun for me because I am a data geek? Was it nice to get positive feedback from other friends with picky eaters? Yes, yes, and yes.

I enjoyed trying something new on this kid but, all in all, I only passed out four dinosaurs. I don’t think that bribery changed Sawyer’s behavior in a significant way, but Whitney and her family think I need to offer a better prize.

Activity #28: Pack a picnic and roll in the grass

Rookie Moms Challenge 28: Pack a picnic dinner and save time on cleanup

The challenge for the day is to take advantage of a warm afternoon and feed your family outside; it’s time for a real live picnic. It is so much easier to clean up Cheerio crumbs when I can just shake my blanket into the grass and leave the rest to the bugs.

I like to keep it simple by splitting planning duties with friends or just hitting the great outdoors with my lunch and my baby:

  • Pack up the requisite baby gear during a naptime.
  • Pick up your lunch at a favorite deli or take-out joint. In other words, don’t hurt yourself by cooking if you don’t have to. (Another variation is have the pizza come to you)
  • Head to your local park or favorite grassy patch with a blanket.
  • Enjoy the first-rate free entertainment of light dancing through the leaves and cold, prickly grass. Watching other kids and dogs rounds out the fun. Baby Holden could just sit there and watch a caterpillar (like for 30 whole seconds).

rookie moms maternity leave challenges - try all 52

This is your twenty-eighth weekly challenge! Share your successes, attempts and photos with us here or on facebook. Share on instagram with hashtag #rookiemoms for a virtual high-five.

Baby and toddler activities in Myrtle Beach, SC

Activities for babies and toddlers in Myrtle Beach, SC

Stacie from the site formerly known as offered to share with us a week’s worth of favorite baby and toddler activities in her hometown of Myrtle Beach, SC. Thank you Stacie! As a mom of four little ones, she knows the local hotspots and places to avoid.

She tells us: Myrtle Beach is often referred to as family vacation land. There is way too much to do here.

This guide is designed to give you the best of the tourist attractions, while also pointing you in the direction of some lesser known local favorites. Enjoy the best of the East coast and low country charm of South Carolina!

Monday: Beach Day!
Try going at the beginning of the week, and maybe you’ll like it so much you will come back another day. If you’re looking for a less crowded area, try one of the public beach access points–head North on Ocean Blvd starting at 48th Ave N. Even your littlest one can enjoy the sound of the waves and the constant breeze you’ll find at the beach. Not to mention hours of fun for a toddler digging in the sand and jumping waves as they wash in. We have to drag our children away when it’s time to go home. Have lunch at Ultimate California Pizza (2500 N Kings Hwy).

Tuesday: Library
Baby Storytime at Chapin Memorial Library (10:00 AM). For details call Sue Ellen or Jen at 843 918-1275. They have a large outdoor playground too. Have lunch at Magnolia’s, a much-loved favorite among locals and tourists (2605 N Ocean Blvd.)

[Read more...]

Instagram vs. Real Life for moms

Inspired by a very funny recent post on Bustle, a few of us wanted to share the maternal version of What I instagrammed vs. What was really happening or my entire life is a lie. For better or worse, we could go on all day like this!

What you saw from @mommyprojectSD

Instagram vs real life by @mommyprojectsd
Trend setter. #babystyle #skinnyjeans #sparklyshoes

Beautiful baby girl posing perfectly for a photo showing her cute new bow, sparkly shoes and very trendy skinny jeans. This baby is so stylish and is always dressed in trendy baby gear. What a little model in the making!

What was actually happening
Blake HATES anything on her head or feet so capturing this moment with a huge bow on her head and the sparkly shoes (both) on her feet at the same time was quite the task. During the “shoot” she kept yanking her bow off, kicking her feet and flinging the shoes in every direction. Most of the shots that I was able to capture, her feet were moving so fast that they were just tiny blurs of pink in the photo. I literally took 39 pictures before finally getting this one where she was looking at the camera and you can see her sparkly shoes. Also, during the shoot she had a major blowout and let’s just say, the “skinny jeans” took the brunt of that one. All in all she was in this outfit for about 3 minutes. Isn’t it cute? :)

What Jen ‘grammed
Instagram vs real life by aSplendidMessyLife

Ah, Christmas morning! The Christmas glow and spirit is upon my son. Our Christmas tree is so beautiful that he looks up in wonder as he admires an ornament. Look how well-behaved he is by the tree.

What really happened
Probably about to rip off the one valuable ornament I forgot to put above his little reach. It’s a shot of the back of his head because he was wicked sick the day I took this picture and has snot all over his nose. Nonetheless, I thought I had a nanosecond to try and recreate this picture from Pinterest (as long as I added the right filter). Also, he was in his pyjamas because he wasn’t feeling well, and it wasn’t taken on Christmas morning.

See more Instagram Vs. real life from Jen on My Splendid Messy Life >

What @rookiewhitney showed you

Instagram vs real life by @rookiewhitney
Happiness is making poolside friends on vacation. BYO Chinese Jump Rope.

The whole story
Five minutes earlier: my daughter spies these same age girls at the pool. She wants to play with them. She wants them to want her. There is so much wanting going on here and she hangs on my body whining and whispering and rejecting every suggestion I make for how to start playing with these sisters. I really want her to make poolside friends so I can read my Kindle. That’s what this vacation is for. I nudge her to smile and make eye contact as a start. Why is this so hard? They are not the Kardashians. Now I have to play Chinese jump rope with her, my boobs bouncing out of my bathing suit as I jump on the concrete. I am not seven, which is apparent to everyone who is watching my skin jiggle with each bounce on the pavement. I am sweaty because we are in Mexico and my daughter is plastered to me. Wait, she’s moving away.

They are playing and it is adorable. It is vacation magic. I’m going to read now. After I check my phone.

I want to share a picture but I’m too embarrassed to ask the other parents if I can post their kids on Instagram. I crop off their heads.

What I, @rookieheather, shared

Instagram vs real life on Mother's Day
Happy Mother’s Day from the top of the Bay Area

What I’m thinking
Can you see the coffee and juice that splattered my dress five minutes earlier? Is that guy going to steal my phone? Why’s he taking so many pictures? Does my arm look fat?

After — literally — hiking uphill both ways to and from this special Marin County breakfast spot, I lost count of the frustrations and the Are We There Yets. I laughed when two of the meals blew over onto my clothes. I let most of the sibling bickering roll off my back. But, dammit, we were going to have a picture!

When I look at this photo, I see the rest of my family happy and relaxed; they are beautiful and I love them so. But I see so much irritation on my own face, I wish I weren’t in it. I needn’t have worried so much though: No, he didn’t steal my camera and it is easy to crop out a floppy arm.

We showed you ours, now you show us yours! Share us your favorite instagram vs. real life pictures in the comments.

Another crazy experiment in potty training

Tie-dye toddler undies | how and whyUgh. We are not THERE yet. We are so close. In fact, 12 months ago, I thought we were super duper ticking-time-bomb close because my not-yet-two-year old was so interested in pooping in the potty. Fast forward a year and he’s still quite interested in #2 because he gets to trade $h1# for candy. But peeing is boring and takes him away from playing, so we haven’t advanced to undies from diapers.

When I wanted to do a tie-dye party, I decided to dye his plain gerber training pants and make them more fun and exciting. Because why not?

I prefer these super absorbent undies because they keep more liquid in (and less on my floor) and also help the child feel wet when he’s peed. Win/win. But they’re boring as heck. So, if your child wants character pull-ups, these are lame in comparison.

My ingredients:

Following the instructions on Wendolonia for tie dye, I started off by trying to make brilliant swirly patterns and designs. After my second sangria, I just let my kid spray the squirt-bottles all over and tried to steer clear of getting any colors on my skin and clothes.

Tie-dye toddler undies | how and why

And our results!

Tie-dye toddler undies | how and whyThough I felt silly doing this — hence the sangria — there are two reasons why I think it is a good enough idea to share and replicate:

  1. high-quality training undies are now personalized and fun
  2. tie-dye hides stains (‘nuf said)

It’s too soon to say whether these are the magic missing piece to get my son to pee in the potty, but he was asking about them this morning, and self-motivation is the true key ingredient.

[See also a Control Freak's Guide to Potty Training and 5 Crazy potty training experiments worth trying]

Good luck and for the love of your furniture, don’t do this in the house, I already told you how I feel about food coloring and toddlers!

Slings and carriers: Baby Halloween Costumes

For wee babies experiencing their first Halloween, I think the baby carrier costume is the most practical (that is, if you leave the house). Your baby is cozy and snug against you and you have your hands free.

Here are a few adorable sling costumes to try:

Turn a sling into a Halloween costume: spiderSpider: add white or silver (or glow-in-the-dark) web to black sling in less than 30 minutes. Instructions at

Watermelon: Have an hour and a red or green sling? You can try this watermelon costume. More sling costume ideas like race car, peacock and pumpkin pie from Mammas Milk.

Babywearing costume inspiration from Mammas Milk Slings: watermelon and cow

Other carrier costumes:

Popcorn. Kate from This Place Is Now A Home made a white and red striped popcorn container out of felt and simply wrapped it around the Baby Bjorn she wore. But not before attaching real popcorn to her son’s cap. Is this not the cutest family costume?

Baby costume popcorn

Total Recall (Kuato & George): Nothing gets Daddy to carry the baby for Halloween like a costume inspired by a classic Schwarzenegger movie’s mutant death scene, right? (Wait, was that sexist?) [Read more...]

My very strong opinions about kids’ backpacks

Back to school shopping. Ugh. As I walk through Target and see the many character-themed backpacks trying into leap in my shopping cart, I remember why I must make this journey alone. Back-to-school shopping is no place for kids. Alluring as my sons might find these school bags, they will never come home with us.

I insist on purchasing high quality backpacks only. REI, Lands’ End, Eastpak, L.L. Bean, Jansport, I’m looking at you.

Buying a sturdy back pack means two important things.

  1. It will last longer. Duh.
  2. But if it doesn’t, it will be repaired or replaced for the lifetime of the backpack. As in, never buy another backpack again!!

So the $30 to $50 you spend on a good strong pack will more than make up for the annual purchase of a $20 crappy-zipper, break-before-the-year-is-out school bag. Though my cheap gene shudders at paying nearly $50 for a kid’s backpack, I know it will withstand many years worth of aggressive treatment.

My kids are going into fourth and second grades this year and their backpacks are not being replaced. That’s it. That’s all I wanted to tell you.

Sounds too boring? If your child still wants to personalize, there are many ways to make a plain pack seem more childish childlike: glowing zipper jewelry, mini-me felt patches, labels and stickers, dogtags, printable star wars tags (free from Amy Locurto), or all of the above.

Here are a few picks of high-quality backpacks (that I hope do not fall victim to the blogging curse of breaking because I said nice things about them). [Read more...]

Activity #26: Count your steps

RookieMoms Challenge 26: Track your activity

Your 26th weekly challenge is to invest in a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps each day. You’ll be surprised how many steps a mom can take just running around the house, but if you’re going to reach 10,000, you’ll need to take a walk outside for sure. This is good motivation to get some fresh air.

Both Whitney and I enjoy tracking things and counting steps has been an on and off obsession over the past years. One day, I called her and said something ridiculous like, “I hope you don’t want to do anything with me before Baby Brigade because I walked 17,000 steps today so I’ll be on the couch.” Being in the middle of my maternity leave, I thought this was a totally normal thing to say.Omron pocket pedometer is one way to count your steps #rookiemoms

Whit recommends the Omron pedometer (their best seller is only about $40 but this basic one is only $17) which has a memory function that lets you look at the past 7 days worth of data. Additionally, it tracks both your total daily steps and your aerobic steps, or those that were part of a 10 minute or more walk. We’ve also amped up the geekery by having the Fitbit activity monitor and Misfit Shine monitor (both also track sleep!), and the Nintendo DS pedometer nugget. The monitors cost about $99 and track calories burned, steps taken, and distance traveled in addition to sleep quality.

Do you, would you, could you count your steps?! Let us know we’re not alone!

Who doesn’t like yoga pants and wine? (sponsored)

This post was sponsored by Eppa SupraFruta Sangria and Soybu (who offers a discount below)

My real life is not as glamorous as all this. While I haven’t decided how much to share about the BlogHer conference I attended over the weekend because I’m never sure how much you guys care about behind-the-scenes stuff — though perhaps you would like to hear about me being shoved out of the way by Rev Run from Run DMC or asking a question about motherhood to Kerry Washington in front of a large crowd — I figured we could all relate to the universal favorites of moms everywhere: yoga pants and wine!

The conference kicked off at the NamastEPPA Sangria Sundown Soiree, a yoga-themed cocktail party on BlogHer Eve. It was hosted by Heather Barmore, Jenny Ingram, Heather Spohr, and Morgan Shanahan, with Lucrecer Braxton taking photos.

NamastEPPA party, organic sangria is yummy, OM

Jenny, Lucrecer, Morgan, Heather, and Heather

While bloggers were mingling, yoga poses were being struck. The sun was shining (ok, blazing!) and refreshing sangria was pouring down through a mega-cool block of ice to reach the perfect temperature. I now want this ice thingie for Mother’s Day or Christmas if that’s possible, ok?

NamastEPPA party, organic sangria is yummy, OM

Can I add this to my amazon wishlist?

My favorite of the flavors is Eppa Red made with a blend of pomegranate, acai, blueberry & blood orange. My date, Wendy, preferred the Eppa White with peach, mango, mangosteen & blood orange. Apparently Eppa Sangria has 2x the antioxidants of red wine and 3x the antioxidants of white wine. So there’s that. Available at Whole Foods nationwide.

NamastEPPA party, organic sangria is yummy, OM

Selfie-style with beverages out of view. So classy.

What to do with your bottle of EPPA Sangria?

  • Host a Sangria sipping party in your backyard with other mom friends
  • Binge-watch a new-to-you TV show with your partner
  • Enjoy your summer dinner just a little bit more (does this serving of fruit count as a vegetable? yes, yes it does I am not qualified to answer)

True story. A few weeks ago I invited friends to my backyard for a summery backyard meal. I offered to make sangria — because, you know, over-achiever — and spent nearly an hour looking up recipes, finding a big enough pitcher, sourcing ingredients, chopping fruit, before chilling for an additional four hours. Frankly, I would have much rather twisted open a bottle of EPPA sangria made with all organic fruit juices and then just enjoyed the party. Now I know.

And now for that deal on yoga apparel. Visit Soybu, check out the activewear (including the dress I’m wearing below and everything the bloggers are wearing in the top photo above), and use code #NamastEPPA for 25% off. Limit of one coupon per household. Valid through Sept. 24, 2014.

NamastEPPA party, organic sangria is yummy, OM

This comfy dress is totally made from yoga pants material

[Photos by Farrah Braniff (first two), Heather Flett, and Wendy Copley]

This is a sponsored post: I received product and compensation from One2One Network. Always drink responsibly.

Tech Tuesday: How I get out the door faster with Shoe Time Music

I have tried many things to make mornings run smoother in my house — especially school days — like reconfiguring my kitchen so kids can make their own breakfasts, making lunches the night before, and choosing clothes a week in advance.

One of our more successful family hacks is an alarm set to kid-approved music that tells us when it’s time to leave the house. We use a SONOS speaker that alerts us ten minutes before we need to leave, but any cheap musical alarm clock will work for this. When the music plays, we all drop what we’re doing and report to the backpacks and shoes area get ready to leave.

How to get shoes on and kids out the door with no yelling

This trick radically improves the need to remind or raise my voice to get action because the music just keeps on playing without me saying a word. (For kids upstairs, we will often yell “SHOE TIME” once but after that, they know the drill.)

Music plays for about 15 minutes and if we’re still home, then I raise my voice and act crazy. But that only happens about 2% of the time so I’d say we’ve found a good trick.

Would this work in your house?