July 22, 2015

Race for the Case: Back-to-School Philanthropy with Cartoon Cuts

Note: I received a Cartoon Cuts gift card exchange for helping to promote the Race for the Case campaign. No further compensation was received and all opinions are my own. 

A starts school in 41 days, a figure I know because we drew up a countdown chart this morning. School supplies popped up in Target around the Fourth of July, and we bought our girl's first grade supplies  a week ago. Pencils, glue sticks and crayons are tucked on a shelf in her closet ready for the first day of school...but not everyone is able to fill their child's supply list so easily.

In many homes across the country and around the globe, families struggle to get their children the supplies they need for school. Cartoon Cuts is working to change that with their Race to the Case on August 6, 2015 at Cartoon Cuts salons across the country.

Cartoon Cuts, our favorite place for kids' haircuts, has partnered with Pencils of Promise (PoP) to raise $25,000 to build a school in Guatemala. PoP is a for-purpose organization that builds schools in developing countries in addition to providing scholarships, teacher support, and water and health programs. Since its founding in 2008, PoP has built more than 200 schools. 

On August 6, 20 pencil cases filled with pencils, combs, free haircut cards and other freebies will be hidden around each shopping center with a Cartoon Cuts salon. Clues will be given out via social media, and the winners will be announced on the company's website.  The pencil case winners will share their experience on social media using the #RaceForTheCase, and Cartoon Cuts will donate $1.00 for each social media post. In addition, during the busy back-to-school month of August, Cartoon Cuts customers will be able to  purchase pencils for a suggested donation of $1.00 each - the proceeds of which will go toward building the new school. 

Can't make it to a Cartoon Cuts salon on August 6? Don't have one in your area? You can also help the Race for the Case via social media. For each social media post using the hashtag #RaceForTheCase, Cartoon Cuts will donate $1 to PoP. 

Click here to find a Cartoon Cuts salon in your area!

July 21, 2015

Better housekeeping through booze: how to clean your microfiber furniture with vodka

Once upon a time, my dear husband and I moved into our very first house. To celebrate, we bought a lovely couch and chair. They were expensive for us, but they fit our new living room perfectly, and we loved them. For the first few years we lived in our house, we loved them primarily from afar, preferring to hang out on our old sofa in the basement because what if we spilled on our good furniture?

Then we had kids.

The living room became family central, and our beloved good furniture became lived in. And it showed. But what could we do about it? I would briefly wonder if there might be a way to make it look better every time we had people over, and then I'd get busy and forget about it. But today, I was up early and my sweet children slept late and so I googled "how to clean microfiber." And friends, the answer is vodka (or rubbing alcohol, depending on who you ask).

Don't believe me? Take a look at this very embarrassing before, and very clean after:

All you need are three simple supplies:

A clean spray bottle
A scrubby sponge (I used a Dobie)
Vodka (the cheaper the better)

A note on the vodka - be prepared to use a lot. It took me 3/4 of a bottle to fully clean our small couch and chair. 

What to do:

1. Put vodka in spray bottle.

2. Working one section at a time, spray your furniture until the fabric is damp. Scrub with your scrubby sponge, pausing frequently to rinse the sponge (I rinsed with water, you could be fancy and rinse it with more vodka if you really want to keep water away from your microfiber).

3. Let your furniture air dry.

4. Repeat as necessary. The most heavily stained areas took a second application.

5. Bask in your non-filthy furniture glory.

6. Fix yourself a Moscow Mule with any remaining vodka. :)

Cheers, and happy cleaning! And don't even think of drinking that cocktail on your freshly cleaned furniture.

July 19, 2015

Hit the beach

We're a month and a half into summer vacation. In that time we've had four weeks of swim lessons, seen three plays, been to two concerts (one with kids and one without), built an airport and a library and a million other things out of Legos, and finished our library's summer reading program.

Last week was my birthday, and we've made a family tradition out of going on an adventure for it. I've celebrated my birthday as a parent at the zoo, at the aquarium, and now I've celebrated it at The Beach.

No, not that beach.

This BEACH. The BEACH is a special summer-only exhibition at the National Building Museum, one of our favorite places in DC. It's a simulated ocean of translucent bubbles that wash onto white Astroturf-y shores. It's an art exhibit. It's in a museum, so it's educational?

It's a fancy 10,000 square foot ball pit, and it's entertaining chaos.

At its deepest point, The BEACH is about four feet deep. We bypassed the gentle zero entry slope at the beginning and headed straight for the deep end. This, my friends, was a mistake, because all four of us sank.

Sinking into a few feet of plastic bubbles doesn't sound like a problem until you realize your feet can't seem to touch the ground because you fell into a sitting position, and if you can't get out you can't get your kids out and OH MY GOD you are going to be in this ball pit forever. It took me several long minutes to figure out that the trick is to wiggle your feet until you hit the bottom and then stand up.

After our great sinking and panicking adventure in the deep end, we made our way to the shallow end. Even in this part of the "ocean" it is easy to lose your kids under the bubbles.

The good news is that most of the time they thought it was funny when they went under. We took turns falling backwards and stumbling our way back up again. It was definitely the weirdest place I've spent a birthday, and it was also some of the most fun we've had this summer.

What to know if you decide to go:

Start in the shallow end and work your way deeper. Get your bearings and practice fishing your kids out before you head for the deepest part of the "ocean" near the mirrored wall.

Divide and conquer: if you can bring one adult per kid, do it! Not only can you fish out sunken children faster with another set of adult hands, you can split the line duties. One person gets tickets, another gets in line to enter the exhibit. We waited about 20 minutes to get in on a Thursday afternoon.

The ticket price is steep...but it's not so bad if you do more that just hit The BEACH. Kids six and under can play in the museum's Building Zone play area, kids of all ages can enjoy the fantastic Play Work Build exhibit upstairs, and all four of us loved the Scaling Washington exhibit.

Zip it! There are cubbies for shoes but no secure place to leave valuables, so be prepared to bring your belongings into the pit with you. Travel light if you can and bring your favorite zippered bag to avoid losing your keys in the "ocean."

Note: This isn't a sponsored post...just me sharing our experience. We paid for our own tickets to The Beach.

June 29, 2015

Three years later

Three years ago today, I closed the door to my office on my last day of work. I said goodbye to the university world and went home with my three year old daughter and almost six month old son. I was equal parts excited and terrified about making such a huge change.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Three years later, we're heading into our third week of summer with a six year old A and an almost three and a half year old D. We've entered a new era of no naps, and that means we have a freedom this summer that we've never had before. Preschool and first grade are months away, and summer stretches out before us with weeks and weeks to fill.

Something is always wet thanks to swimming lessons and splash fountains, and the washing machine is perpetually running. A is determined to swim well enough to pass the test at our neighborhood pool so she can use the diving board.

Two little voices are reading in our house now, and both kids zoomed through our county library's reading program in record time. They are now the proud owners of sticker books, water bottles, free book coupons, and baseball tickets. I used to think learning to walk was the defining line between baby and kid, between little and big, the big milestone...but it's nothing compared to hearing our children read and watching them fall in love with books.

Three years ago I wrote here while one or both kids were asleep. Now one of them is at my elbow, asking me why it says water bottle on the computer. It's a big part of why there are less words here, but not the only one.

This summer I made a commitment to spend more time being present and less time online. As a stay-at-home mom, the internet has been a link to the outside world and an escape over the last three years. But the older my kids get, the less I need that escape, and the more I feel guilty about the time I spend in front of a screen. I'm also feeling especially aware that our time at home together won't last forever. So this summer, we're spending more time having fun and making memories.

Three years ago, I compulsively made a multi-page calendar and list of activities and events to occupy our time during our first summer at home. I think we might have done one or two of the things on that monster of a list. This year, we're finally going to get to some of those fun things.

Here's to a summer of adventure!

June 3, 2015

Summer thoughts

Summer is almost here, and it has me feeling reflective. I look forward to summer all school year long, and this one is a special one. It's our first summer after a real big kid school year for A. D has already finished his preschool year, and A has nine days of kindergarten left. Two years of preschool were good preparation for kindergarten, but I don't think any of us were truly prepared for how different and big elementary school really is. A has earned a summer of fun after learning to read and write and make a PowerPoint presentation (no, that's not a joke). D has missed his big sister intensely, and he will be happy to have her at home with him soon (me too).

The upcoming summer will be our first with no naps, meaning we'll have the freedom to play and plan without needing to keep an eye on the clock. I found swim lessons for brother and sister at the same time, which means no more trying to keep one out of the pool while the other swims as we did last year.


A few weeks ago, I applied for a job that would have meant cobbling together camps and babysitters for the summer. I was excited for the possibility to be heading back to work full time a bit ahead of schedule, but sad at the thought of missing out on the summer fun I've been planning and thinking about for months. The process moved faster than I expected and...then I didn't get the job. It hurt me more than I'd expected, especially since I'd felt so sad about the prospect of "losing" this summer with the kids. And then I bid on and didn't get a large editing project, and I dropped down lower than I've been in a long, long time.

It's taken me more time than I'd like to admit to get over both of these things, and I'm still climbing out of my own self-pity. But if there is a good side here, it's that I'm determined to appreciate this summer because I realize it could be one of our last at home together. Kids grow up and move on to sleep away camp and bigger and better plans with friends, and eventually I will head back to work outside the house.

But this summer is still ours. My two are six and three and we will play and explore and create without needing to come home for a nap. We'll go to plays and movies and museums I've been meaning to take them to for the last two years. I am lucky to have this time with them and I wouldn't wish it away for anything, but I realize that the at home years are drawing to a close and so we will send them out with a bang, starting now.

Summer, we're coming for you.

May 14, 2015

Heroes of the City YouTube Channel Review and Giveaway

Waiting is a big part of the life of the little brother. Wait for sister to finish talent show rehearsal. Wait for sister to finish her homework. Wait for sister's Girl Scout meeting to be over. Oh, and if you could wait AND be quiet that would be great. This is easier said than done at three years old, so we find ourselves running through a list of distractions for D on days when he needs to wait for his sister. When all else fails, we turn to the iPad - and the Heroes of the City YouTube channel.

We have been Heroes of the City fans for a long time, and if you're not familiar, it's a Swedish cartoon about rescue vehicles in a small town where everyone has a chance to be a hero. Aimed at children ages 3-7, Heroes of the City emphasizes friendship and teamwork as Paulie Police Car, Fiona Fire Engine and others work together to keep their town running smoothly. 

Though both A and D enjoy the Heroes of the City apps, which include video clips, I was hesitant to introduce them to the Heroes YouTube channel. Why? Because so much of what's on YouTube isn't kid friendly, and the videos that pop up in the sidebar aren't always ones that are appropriate for little eyes. 

We gave the Heroes channel a try one day when all other distractions failed, and I'm so glad we did. The channel has everything from full episodes of Heroes of the City to short videos aimed specifically at toddlers to memory games. I've been pleasantly surprised that we've yet to run into something I'm not okay clicking on in the sidebar on this channel too.

Heroes of the City sent us this fun prize pack - and they're letting me give one away to one of you too! The winner will receive a t-shirt, DVD, and a die-cast car.

Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. The giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada - good luck to all those who enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received the prize pack pictured above in exchange for my honest thoughts and opinions.

May 3, 2015

I believe if you believe

A turns six tomorrow...how has it been six years since we brought home our six pound baby girl? Six is little and big, and the worst insult in A's world is no longer you're not my friend but that's babyish. Nobody who is almost six and almost finished with kindergarten wants anything to do with things that are babyish. Babyish and first grade do not mix.

Not long ago, we hosted a Girl Scout meeting at our house, and after we'd finished planting seeds in recycled egg cartons the girls headed upstairs to play. I chatted with the other parents who'd stayed for the meeting until I heard the sounds of a squabble in A's room, and I headed upstairs to investigate.

The girls were on the floor in A's room, arguing over a small door near her closet. It's a fairy door, brought from Ireland by my mother on her last visit. One girl insisted fairies aren't real, and A said yes, they are. No, they aren't, said her friend. Yes, they are, said A. My grandma says so. Sometimes grown ups say things that aren't true, countered her friend. A stood her ground. I've seen Tinkerbell and fairies are REAL!

Later that afternoon I walked A to a birthday party in the neighborhood. I liked how you stood up for yourself today, I told her. Friends can have different ideas about things.

I know, A replied. That's what makes you you!

I worry often about whether or not we're doing a good job as parents, if we're doing and saying the right things. The big kid years bring lots of pressures from peers and the world at large, and in that moment I wished that A would always feel so free to march to the beat of her own drum.

I snuck into A's room that night after she fell asleep and sprinkled some of the pink fairy dust that came with her fairy door on the carpet so she'd see that her winged friends had visited her in the night. Because six is big enough to decide that Mickey Mouse cartoons are too babyish these days, big enough to stand her ground when a friend disagrees with her and be confident in her own opinions, but it's also little enough to still believe in fairies.

I'll believe as long as you do, sweet girl.