Monday, September 9, 2013

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Birthday Party!

I am so excited to finally share some photos from Aiden's birthday party. As some of you may already know, he turned 5 at the end of August. I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to have his party. Like many moms today, I began searching Pinterest for ideas and inspiration for his party. This was going to be one of his biggest parties (besides his 1st birthday) and I really wanted it to be special and memorable. This was also going to be his first birthday party away from my hometown, so it was all up to me to do the planning.

Since his birthday is so late in August, many kids were already going back to school, so I was worried that it would be hard to get some of his old classmates to join. I contemplated having water activities since he has a perfect Summer birthday, but considering the way the weather is here in Pittsburgh, it's hard to predict what the day would've been like. I chose a local park and just prayed for good weather. Luckily, it ended up being a perfect day for a party, many of his friends came, and he had a blast!

The party invites I made on my own, no template, no Etsy seller, just a Ninja Turtles photo and a Paint program. I ended up paying about $8.00 in total for printing about 30 invites. I had his birthday shirt custom made by friend and shop owner of Itty Bitty Heart Creations. She did a great job and Aiden loved his shirt!

I knew it would be difficult for me to oversee his party and try to take photos at the same time, so I hired friend and photographer of Katie Fair Photography to take photos of the whole party. She did a great job and gave me permission to share some of these photos with you all. :)

Mutagen Ooze (Lemonade)
Michelangelo Veggie Tray 

Dirt and Earthworm pudding cups

It's not a Ninja Turtle party without pizza!
I made some simple and easy photo props that I printed from here for FREE. These were for a photo-booth type set up for him and his friends to be silly and have fun with. 
photo props (Booyakasha sign not pictured)
Thanks to another friend and business owner of Face Painting Designs By Dana, she helped the kids mutate into Ninja Turtles with her great face painting skills. Of course the mutagen ooze helped the process. ;)

After the kids played, ate, and mutated into turtles, it was time for them to defeat the piñata, or better known as the Shredder. The kids had a blast with this! Since I was unable to find any type of Ninja Turtle piñata, (preferably a Shredder one) I just bought another piñata from Party City and had a couple photos of Shredder printed at Office Depot that I glued to each side of the piñata. I can't take full credit for this idea, inspiration for the piñata and some of the other decorations came from a fellow Blogger through Pinterest.

After the party, Aiden told me "This was the best day ever!" Besides the decorations, planning, and all the organizing, at the end of the day I'm happy that my son had a great 5th birthday party to remember! Thanks to all the guests, and those who helped make this day special!
Special thanks to
Katie Fair Photography
Itty Bitty Heart Creations
Face Painting Designs by Dana
Moio's Bakery
Allegheny County Parks

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Aiden's 1st DIY Workshop

This Saturday we took Aiden to his first kids workshop at Home Depot. These are FREE workshops held at ALL Home Depot stores on the first Saturday of every month. I really wish I would've taken him to these workshops sooner because he really enjoyed it. The website states for ages between 5-12 but I saw plenty of younger kids there. Any who, I was really glad we finally made it to one.

The workshop was held outside in a closed off area of the parking lot. There were several tables set up with hammers and wood glue. There were also a few games set up with a prize table, popcorn, and balloons to be given out after they completed their project. We happened to be the first ones there, so we went over to the sign up table and  Aiden wrote his name on the sign up sheet. He received the signature orange Home Depot apron and a kit to get started on. Their project was to build and paint a football ring-toss game, just in time for football season. Aiden got his apron on, opened up the packaging to his kit, and both he and Dad got to building while I took pictures of course. :)

 Excited to get building! 

                                                            Dad helping with the directions 

                                        He felt so grown up being able to use REAL tools. :)

                                                                The finished product!

                                                               Proud of his work
He was very proud of his work and happy to bring something home that he built. He received a certificate of completion and a project pin to add to his apron. When I asked him, he said his favorite part was hammering the nails. This was a different experience for him compared to other crafts he's done at home and at school because he got to use tools. This is the first of many workshops we'll be attending!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Library Days!

I have recently designated Thurdays as library day in our house. I decided to focus on reading a little more with Aiden more than anything else to begin the new school year. I do believe a passion for books is the gateway to many great opportunities. I did have a library card while living in Seattle, Aiden and I frequented the library often during that time. After living in Pittsburgh for a year, we finally got around to getting a new card just last week.

Aiden has always loved going to the bookstore and getting new books. Somewhat surprisingly, his current favorites are non-fiction books about animals, the human body, and outer space. Since he is working on his reading, I thought it would be useful for him to search for some of his own and practice with a variety without buying a new book every week (even though I do have a minor book shopping obsession). I picked him up from school today and as he excitedly began to tell me about his 3rd day of school, we headed to the Monroeville Public Library to search for story books. We read everyday from his collection of books at home, but bringing home some a little more unfamiliar may spark some new interest. And frankly, I'm quite impressed with how well he's been doing sounding out words. Proud mommy moment number 15,003:)

As we walk in, I hand him his library card from my purse and right away I could see how big and proud he felt about the whole process, getting to do things himself like "big kids" do. He scanned the shelves and eventually bee-lined to a table of Super Hero books displayed in the back. He picked up a Batman book and asked me to read it. I approvingly began to read, pointing at certain words that he read as well. 

When we finished the book, we made our way to the other shelves and continued our search. We left the library that day with a moderately sized stack:
     • Jackie's Bat
     • Ook the Book
     • Imagine You're a Knight
     • Gregory, the Terrible Eater
     • Tiny Goes to the Library
     • Unicorns Don't Give Sleigh Rides

A couple books for family and bedtime reading, and a couple more "easy readers" for him to practice with. We even picked up one of my childhood favorites from the Bailey School Kids series. :)
He wasn't quite ready to leave when we did, but he managed to narrow it down and made his way out as a happy camper. He even used the self-checkout scanner all on his own and happily filled up his book bag. On the car ride home, he grabbed "Ook the Book" from his bag and began to sound out the words and read. 
Do you make regular library trips with your kids? What are some of your favorite Children's books? I'd love to hear your feedback!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Military Friendly Guide to Exploring Pittsburgh

Since coming to Pittsburgh just last Summer we've had to adjust to living in a different part of the country. Moving and traveling isn't new to us, but it does take a while to get adjusted to a new place to call "home." Our first Summer in Pittsburgh, though we had many days of great weather, was spent house hunting and exploring the area for the best neighborhoods and schools. This Summer we've been able to explore and enjoy a lot more of the city's outdoor activities. Many of which offer great military discounts;) Take a look at some of our favorites below!

• Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium
The zoo offers FREE entry to any active duty military member everyday with a photo ID! While this is a great deal, it doesnt include the whole family. So we purchased a very reasonably priced Family membership for only $85. This includes 2 adults, and 2 kids and is good for one year from the purchase date. This is probably one of the places we visit the most. On a nice day, we pack our lunches and head to the zoo, our son loves it! It has more than paid for itself, considering single admission is $14! 

• Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
During the Summer months between Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Pittsburgh Children's Museum offers FREE admission to military families and up to four additional guests. This is part of the Blue Star Museum program that many museums nation-wide take part in. This is a great way to keep your kids busy in the Summer, and keep them engaged. Also a great way to check out museums in your area before choosing to buy those yearly passes.

• Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Another one of my son's favorites! He loves to see all the dinosaur bones and even dig for bones himself in the children's area. This museum also participates in the Blue Star program. They also offer great family memberships that include access to the Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum.

• Frick Park-Blue Slide Playground 
Out of the several parks that we've visited around Pittsburgh, this is one of the whole family's favorites. It's a great place to take the whole family including the dog. With a large off-leash area and several wooded trails, there are several options for exploring and hiking. My son's favorite part is the popular Blue Slide which he can slide down for hours. Unlike any other playground slide, this is great fun for all ages. Just dont forget to grab a piece of cardboard to sit on as you slide down. 


• Idlewild and Soakzone
We made our first trip here this Summer and the whole family had a blast! It's definitely a must for Western PA residents. Giant Eagle has some great sale days throughout the Summer, such as "buy one, get one tickets" and even a car load deal. Just pay $99 for a carload of up to 8 people to get in the park making it less than $15 per person! They also offer $8.00 off the regular admission price of $29 for Active Duty Military members. Don't just trust my opinion, Idlewild has been named "Best Kid's Park in the World" and "Best Park for Families" several years in a row!
• Triple B Farms
The local farms aren't just for the Fall. Triple B Farms, among many of the other local farms in Western and Central PA have great Summer festivals and Summer Day Camps for the kids. There is always fresh produce to pick yourself, or available for purchase in their market. Check their website for their harvest schedule and activities. Don't forget to come back in the Fall!
• Spray Parks
This is such a great way to cool off and have fun during the Summer, and the best part is that they're FREE! I grew up in the hottest, smallest, most rural desert valley of Southern California. And even though the beach was only an hour and a half drive away, I wish we had other ways to stay cool locally. There are several of these fairly large spray parks throughout the Pittsburgh area, and some just recently built. Pack a lunch, grab the sunblock and towels and spend your afternoon at the spray park. Check the Pittsburgh Citiparks website to find a spray park in your neighborhood.

• Baseball/Football Games 
You can't come to Pittsburgh without heading to a ball game of sorts. Whether you go to a Steeler's game at Heinz Field, or a Pirate's game at PNC Park you're bound to have a good time. PNC Park is a great family stadium and has a great view of the city. Not to mention the Pirates are currently in first place which should ensure a good game! As a Steeler's fan, I may be a little biased when I say there's nothing like going to a Steeler's game, but there really is nothing like going to a Steeler's game! Because tickets can get pretty pricey, I recommend checking StubHub or other ticket exchange sites to purchase tickets. We have found some great deals AND great seats, especially for pre-season games. 
*Just a reminder if you can't make it to a game, don't forget to check out the FREE Steeler's Summer Training Camps in Latrobe. Great opportunity to see the players practice up close, and possibly get some autographs. (My son got Troy Polamalu's autograph, yes I might be bragging a little) :) They also have several activities and games for the kids to play and enjoy. 

Whether you're a Pittsburgh native or just visiting the area, you can be sure to have a good time enjoying a few of our favorite activities just mentioned. We've only lived here a year, so we are always looking for new things to do and new places to explore! 

Do you have a favorite and inexpensive place to visit in Pittsburgh? Please share your favorites, I'd love to hear your feedback!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Weather, You Like it or Not

It's unofficially known as the "End of Summer," Labor Day is upon us and I can't believe how quickly this Summer has flown by. Our first Winter in Pittsburgh lasted for what seemed like an eternity. I've spent these Summer months trying to defrost and enjoy the warmth of the sunshine that my Southern California roots so highly need to survive. <That's not an exaggeration either. Although, since becoming a Navy wife (in 2007) and moving away from home, I've never craved Southern California sunshine and beaches more than now.

What's slightly more disappointing to me is all the RAIN we had this Summer! Sure, someone who's lived in Seattle for 5 years may be used to a little rain, but a light drizzle doesn't compare to the downpours and street flooding we've dealt with this year. Our first Summer in Pittsburgh wasn't nearly as wet and wild. 

When the sun did come out, with probably a high of 87 for the warmest temp of the year, we spent our days outdoors. While native Pittsburghers complained of the warm temperatures, I couldn't help but enjoy the Summer I knew would'nt last, even if we did have to deal with humidity. I knew the rest of our family was suffering in the Southern California desert with average temperatures above 110°!  

Rain or shine, we did manage to have some enjoyment this Summer. A list of some of our favorites can be found here. It's a bit of a bittersweet feeling for me with the return to school and the end to swimming pools. I have always looked forward to the Fall, with all the spicy warm smells, boots and sweaters, and of course the highly anticipated FOOTBALL season... and YES we are Steelers fans! But knowing that another Winter is shorty behind, I'm not as ready to jump for joy at the end of Summer. 

As I look out my window it's yet again raining, which explains our lack of plans for Labor Day weekend. Despite some of the unfortunate weather, we still have another Summer of memories in the bank that we will enjoy forever. Part of what I've learned through moving is no one place is like the other, nor is one place technically better, each place has something to offer and should be enjoyed for what it is. As a military family, we have always enjoyed the adventure and taken in each opportunity to get out and "explore." So, even though I vent about my frustrations of unfortunate weather, we always find a way to enjoy the day through the inevitable. Because the rain doesn't last and neither do the days... whether we like it or not. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

To Kindergarten, or Not to Kindergarten? A Mother's Toughest Question

It's that time of year again! Amongst all the hustle and bustle, some excitement and some tears about going Back to School this Fall. The Fall season is one of my most looked forward to times of the year. The weather begins cooling off, not so hot and (hopefully) not snowing yet. The leaves start to change, the highly anticipated Pumpkin Spice Latte returns to Starbucks, and all the outdoor crafts, activities and trips to the local farms. It doesn't get much more relaxing than this. But, I have to say, this has been one of the most stressful times of the year for me so far in 2013.

My son Aiden, who is now 5 years old as of a week ago will be returning to school again for his 2nd year. Let me take it back a year when we were new residents of Pittsburgh in 2012, just before he started his first year of Preschool. I couldn't hide the tears with the realization of how fast my only child was growing up. Seeing the excitement on his face, I also couldn't help but be excited for him as well. This was one of those bittersweet "proud mommy moments".


 Weeks went by and he still had the same excitement for school. I have to admit, I was slightly envious that his teacher had the opportunity to enjoy his presence and was teaching him much of what I thought I should be teaching him. Shortly after those first few weeks, his teacher pulled me aside and told me he was having some problems with another student in the class and was imitating some of this student's inappropriate behaviors. (name calling, language, hitting) I let it go the first time saying in my head, "this is something all kids do." Right? He's adjusting to the social aspect of school and it'll eventually pass. I couldn't help my frustration with this other student who had my son repeating some of these behaviors. Aiden, myself, and my husband had several discussions about this issue and while Aiden seemed to completely understand what he was doing wrong and what he could've done differently, he continued to butt heads with the other student and ONLY with this student. I met with his teacher, tried to figure out exactly what was going on so that we could get to the bottom of this and try to correct it.

We tried a few things, including separating the two, and creating a chart for all of Aiden's good behavior, and rewarding that behavior. Eventually, most of these issues had subsided but I was also realizing that not only was the other kid the problem, but my kid was a bit of a disturbance. I volunteered to help out during classroom activities when all I could hear from the opposite end of the room was my kid being a goof ball and putting on a bit of a clown act to make the other kids laugh. This seems fun and cute and all, but unfortunately this was during an activity. I wasn't surprised that my kid was the class clown. He was always putting on shows at home and my husband and I were the bad parents who laughed at his nonsense joking that he'd be a great actor/comedian one day. Oops! His teacher assured me that this was VERY common in boys and that he highly enjoys socializing in school but struggles with differentiating between play time and learning time, part of which could be blamed on his age. (Being one of the much younger ones in the class with a late August birthday.)

Despite some of the conflicts with this other student, and the goofiness, I have to say Aiden did very well in school. He's always been a quick learner and pretty advanced for his age. He learned his whole alphabet in sign language, learned to write both uppercase and lower case letters, he was socializing, he was creating, he was being a kid! So why was I so worried? Why was the next year going to be so hard?


This summer we stayed as busy as possible, staying outdoors, getting together for play dates, and even continuing to work in his workbook and reading. He did turn 5 last week as many of the schools were already returning to school, he did mature some, he did A LOT of learning, and at the end of this Summer he is already reading and sounding out words, as well as doing some basic math. So after last year, and considering what he learned this Summer, how do I know if he's ready for Kindergarten or if he'll be challenged enough in pre-K? 


After alot of discussion with my husband, and several arguments we decided that we'd have him repeat a year of pre-K before starting him in Kindrgarten next year, and here's why; I've read the articles, heard the often unwelcomed opinions of other moms, and taken in the advice from teachers, etc. I'm not worried about him being unable to learn, but I do often think of how his actions and "immature" thought process may affect him in the long run. With him being at the very bottom of the age group, I worry about the possible pressure he may face in those dreaded high school years. I worry that he'll imitate the behaviors of older students to fit in. I worry about him fitting in as a follower because he's significanly younger rather than leading. Let's face it, saying I'm a bit of a worrier, is an understatement. Age 4 has been a difficult age for me to deal with disciplining and I want him to gain more control of the independence he so craves, in an appropriate way. I want him to understand more about how his decisions create consequences, which is something he failed to understand a year ago. He KNEW what was right, but acted before thinking and realizing the possible consequences. 

I do worry that he won't be as challenged in Pre-K, but that's where I come in. That's one of the luxuries of being a stay-at-home mom;) I will continue to take part in his after school learning to challenge him with games, books, and other activities as well. I do often go back in my head to wonder if I'm making the right decision. As a mother, all I want is what's best for my son in the long run. It's difficult enough making decisions that affect your life, but making decisions for your children is a whole other challenge! 

I'd love to hear your feedback! Please comment if you have any similar experiences to share. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Hard Life of a 4 Year Old...

You don't hear much about the "How To's" of raising a preschooler before having kids (at least I didn't.) There are the ever so popular books What to Expect When You're Expecting and the "Toddler Years" books. But, what about school age kids? One thing I always say is "little kids = little problems, big kids = bigger problems" and I completely believe this to be true. Of course, no one misses the sleepless nights associated with the infant years, or the tantrums that go along with the toddler years but I'm up to the pre-school age and I have noticed a trend, and raising them actually becomes tougher.

I like to call what my son is going through, the "Ferocious 4's" because I'm highly hopeful that it's just a phase much similar to the "Terrible 2's" that he skipped. Like many kids, he enjoys whining in refusal to the things I ask him to do, and of course back-talk was introduced during the school year as well. My son is not only very smart, but he's also highly skilled in dramatizations. I just don't understand how the life of a 4 year old can be so hard. I've also tried many different ways of offering rewards and it only seems to work temporarily. I've recently re-designed our RESPONSIBILITY CHART to hopefully offer some incentive to complete tasks. Threatening and yelling is a method I MUST put behind me. I've learned that the yelling really does NOT work, he guards himself in defense and my firm and directness doesn't get through to him while yelling. I send him to bed out of anger and frustration while he's crying, and neither of us end our day well. Then I'm only left with the guilt and saddness from yelling and still nothing was accomplished. Instead, I'm trying a few new methods listed below, that will hopefully work to get him to complete his few responsibilities, listening, and improving our overall mother and son relationship. 


This is one of those things that is often questionable to some parents. As the queens of the castle we often want to rule EVERYTHING, make it known who's "in charge", and make all the decisions ourselves. Remember when they were babies and you made all the decisions about their daily lives and what they wear? Well, by this time they've grown accustomed to their independence and are developing their own personalities. Some of these non-worthy battles include things like eating all their food, wearing rain boots with their shorts, wearing a batman mask to dinner, bringing his favorite toy in the car, etc. Figuring out that these things just aren't worth the battle will only make your life easier, and less stressful at the end of the day.
2.) BE CALM! 
We all lose our tempers and get frustrated but during these battles it's important to remain calm! Children know how to push our buttons, and once they've figured out how, they will keep doing it... often times regardless of the consequences unfortunately. So it's important to keep our "Poker Face" on, take deep breaths when you start to reach a level of frustration, and speak only showing directness and without any emotion. It even helps to walk out of the room, take a few deep breaths, gather your thoughts and return back with your instructions. 

If you have school-age children and older, how many times have you said this? Too many right? This simply does NOT work. Why? Because it's not an answer at all! Children are learning on a daily basis whether at home or at school and they question EVERYTHING! This simply isn't a reasonable answer for them. When giving them your firm instructions, explain to them the consequences if they refuse to obey. More than likely, they will understand that you mean business and will obey. They need to understand "cause and effect" and over time will eventually learn that the choices they make have consequences. Kids are smarter than we think, and even smarter than we often times want them to be. Give them the benefit of the doubt, don't belittle them, and TALK to them
by explaining your reasons for disciplining them and why their actions resulted in those consequences. Another thing to remember is, don't leave the talking only for when they are in trouble, talk to your kids, and talk to them often.

Give your kids options. Yes, that is what I said... As I mentioned above, make them aware of the consequences. Unless it's something that requires immediate attention, or for safety reasons, let them decide what they're going to do and be fully prepared to follow through with the consequences. The more we push and force our kids into doing something, the more they are going to refuse. This is just the general nature of ALL kids. So if you continue to push to pick up their toys, most likely they aren't going to. Giving them options is not a bargaining method, it is a way for them to learn to make decisions but also be ready to face the consequences for the poor choices they make. This also helps them understand and respect you as a parent and as an authority. Of course, there are some things that require immediate action and hopefully your direct, firm voice expresses that. Counting always seems to work for me too. As soon as I start 1..2... my son can usually tell I mean business. 

So I mentioned earlier that I revamped our responsibility chart, and while it still is a work in progress I have faith that it will help. My son is at that age where he likes to make his own decisions, and cares about the little treats such as going to get frozen yogurt, or picking out a pack of temporary tattoos at the store. Our chart consists of a list of the few things I'd like for him to complete every day. (keep this list small, you don't want to pile on the list of chores just yet) When he completes a task 7 days in a row, then he shall receive a small treat depending on the task itself. If he picked up his toys everyday without whining then that receives a smaller treat vs him putting in some extra effort to work in his pre-school workbook and practicing his reading without refusing. Trial and error is the key for this to work, find the rewards that work best for you and stick to small treats, and an occasional larger treat for extended periods of good behavior. Another thing I like to avoid as treats are toys, there's nothing wrong with toys but they don't "NEED" toys all the time, even with good behavior. Consider a new book to read, coloring book, or other art supplies. And don't forget to praise them when they are doing a good job! :)

These are some of the methods that I am going to focus more on when disciplining my son. Even in the short period of time, things are starting to work well. I hope you find these tips helpful and they work for you. Whatever methods you decide to do, don't get discouraged if they don't work right away, just try to stay consistent. I will update you on how this is working in the near future. I'd love to hear your feedback! Feel free to comment with some of the methods that you have tried.