Summer Thriving with Toddlers Series: Creating Your Outing List!

I have always had the largest love for summer vacation. Being a teacher there are few things that hit quite as right for me as knowing that I have the entire summer off with our kids to experience all of the best things in our local area. Stay at Home Moms–you have all of my wonder and amazement. I do the job for three full time months a year and am constantly reminded how badass you are on the daily.

Before I had kids of my own I was friends with some coworkers who loaded up their kids and went on an adventure every.single.day. I immediately decided that when we had kids, that would be me. I’ve taken their get-up-and-get-gone mentality and added in some Leonard family specific parameters and it’s completely changed my summer parenting game.

I attribute this to the fact we aren’t EVER wallowing around the house or the backyard “bored”. There’s always something exciting to do, and we have set some very clear outing expectations that our kids have to follow. You can check out that blog post on behavior expectations that work for our family here. (Coming next week!) My kids have spent the morning exploring and having a great time, which means they normally take AMAZING afternoon naps that allow me to recharge my batteries, prep afternoon activities and meals, get caught up on housework or lesson planning for the fall, and then we are all ready to have a great afternoon.

Do you have a friend who has kids close in age with yours? We normally spend at least three of our days with my best friend and her daughter who is two years older than Virginia and it makes our adventures even more fun! We’ve also ended up noticing lots of the same moms and kiddos at some of our favorite spots, so we are hoping to be able to link up with those Mamas and their kiddos this summer for some play groups! You’ll actually see our BFFs in most of our pictures and posts this summer. Everything’s more fun with a pal!

My rules for an amazing summer outing schedule? So simple!

  1. We go and do something outside of the house every single day.
  2. We only skip a nap when it’s absolutely unavoidable, and only a few times MAX per summer. (We’ve gone two whole summers without missing naps, it’s totally possible!)
  3. We only do ONE outing weekly that cost money. I’m a frugal fun QUEEN, and I’ll take you with me.
  4. We prepare the night before to make the day of smooth sailing.

Often enough I hear from fellow moms who feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, and I have BEEN THERE. Literally getting started and committed to taking your kids out of the house is the hardest part. Pre-Rona we had a lot more local happenings that were completely free and so fun. FINALLY we are starting to see some restrictions being lifted thanks to vaccination rates in our area, which is opening up so many great kid friendly resources!

How to Make Your Summer Outing List

I always start with the free program offerings in our local area.

Call your local public libraries.

Call your local movie theater–ours always offers already released cartoon films for free in the summer!

Ask your local Board of Education what programs are available to the public.

Check out local government organizations to see if they are sponsoring events for kids in your area.

Ask local mom groups on Facebook for their favorite summer activities!

From magicians in the town square to bug hunts in the park, I’m sure that you have something similar where you are, or within a reasonable driving distance.

Once you’ve checked all of the scheduled events/programming that are free to the public, I suggest making a list of the best playgrounds. Sometimes a small change in scenery like new equipment makes a fun and easy morning trip! I like to sprinkle playground days into our schedule about once a week.

What local hikes, bike paths, or manageable water locations are near you? If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times that we have so many cool places locally available to us in the panhandle of West Virginia, but what’s close to you? New hiking trails, stroller friendly bike paths, public stream access–these are some of my kids FAVORITE summer outing days.

Once I’m finished with absolutely all of the free outings I can wring from my May-teacher-tired-brain I like to start listing all of the “pay to play” locations and activities near us. I’ve found that most of those types of locations are indoor activities, which is really great for rainy days or instances where the heat index is just too hot for our youngest to cope and we need to be inside. Some of these locations that you likely have regardless of your location are: indoor playgrounds, pottery painting, trampoline parks, science museums, aquariums, petting zoos, movies at the cinema, children’s museums, tea service at a tea room, art classes, nature centers…the list could go on forever!

I like to make two “master lists” with all of my findings. One for free fun, and one for pay-to-play. I then sit down on Sunday night, look at the weather forecast for the week and my calendar and plug away. Having a plan of what we are going to do and when we plan to head there makes everything so much easier and stress free.

Ready for part 2? Click here to see how I prep for summer outings with my kiddos as well as how we structure our summer days otherwise.

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The Ultimate Flat: Rothy’s Review

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If I had to describe myself in a few sentences, here’s what I’d write.

I am the cheapest–I love a bargain. I love the environment. I love classic styles. I love luxury products. I love things that make my life as a Mama and a wife easier.

As someone who lives in what I would consider a world of neutrals and “smart” wardrobe choices–the things that I really branch out into a fun pattern or statement are my jewelry and my shoes. I can buy a great quality J.Crew sweater and mix it up with some statement jewels, or with a fun pair of flats for a night out. That makes that sweater a good investment, right?

When I was a Freshman in college I found the absolute cutest pair of leopard print ballet flats from Forever 21. They were my size, they had the perfect pattern, they were a soft material, and they met my two major requirements. They were 6.99, and they folded up into my clutch to take to the bar on my friend’s 21st birthday.

They were amazing companions–and I wore them for the better part of 8 years…until they started dying on me. Thus the hunt for the perfect leopard replacement began.

As what I consider to be an ultimate consumer–I had very high expectations. I was ready to invest in a great pair of shoes–so they had to work for me, right?

The Ultimate Leopard Flats:

  • Will not feel like they’re made of “fur”
  • Will not rub my ankles
  • Will be gorgeous, the perfect neutral shades that will go with all blacks, browns, camels, and tans.
  • Will not make my foot sweat.
  • Will be easily cleaned.
  • Will not leave my feet aching after a long day of teaching.

I tried so many different brands. I purchased 3 pairs thinking they were the ones, just to send them back to where they came from each time. I loved my original flats so much that I needed something AMAZING to replace them.

I had previously had a couple of pairs of Tieks, but I didn’t find them to be worth the money. They weren’t washable, they gave my heels blisters during the wearing in process, and I never felt like I got more than a solid year of wear out of them before they began looking less than gorgeous.

Which leads me to where I found my holy grail Cinderella (ballet flat) slippers.

Social Marketing is such a thing ya’ll. No sooner had I started my search for the ultimate replacement I began seeing adds for Rothy’s. After reading some promising reviews and doing my research on the company–I ordered a pair.

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Aren’t they absolutely gorgeous?

So here’s the skinny on Rothys

They’re good for the environment.

As someone who tries to be very conscientious about what I purchase and from which company’s I support–this was an easy choice for me. They are made from recycled water bottles. For some reason I thought that this would make them hard or rigid, but according to Rothy’s .

“The bottles are sterilized, washed, and chipped into flakes that are spun into a soft fiber. That fiber then goes into a 3-D knitting machine specially programmed to minimize waste. The upper is knit to shape inside the machine and comes out fully formed… It’s then attached to the sole made from recyclable carbon-free rubber…”

The shoes feel like a very soft knit material. I personally LOVE them. They are very breathable.

The sizing can be tricky. 

In Rothy’s I (along with the rest of the consumers online) suggest you go up 1/2 a size in their traditional styles and a whole size in the pointed flat.

They’re machine washable.

When your flats get a bit erhm…scented…by the weekend you can just take out your soles, toss them in the wash on a gentle cold cycle with some great detergent and they’ll dry overnight.

Not going to lie-the first time I washed mine I expected them to take forever to air dry. However, they were dry as a bone when I went to grab them in the morning!

They keep you comfy and dry.

My feet sweat. So do yours, I gather. These seem to wick the sweat away from my feet. I love them! They also hug my narrow feet very nicely, but I also have plenty of friends with wide feet who say their Rothy’s accommodate  them so well, too!

They are so easy to style.

I’ve found myself planning my outfits around my Rothy’s, and not wanting to wear any of my other shoes. Seriously.

I have so many other pairs on my wishlist. They’re amazing.  I’m never taking these off.

Ready to give Rothy’s a try? Use my referral link to get $20 off your new pair of the best shoes you’ll ever have. Full disclosure: I get $20 off a pair for myself, too, when you use this link. 

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Top Sleep Tips From Our Sleep Consultant: Mama Likes

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I wasn’t always a Sleep Specialist, but for much of my life I’ve been a poor sleeper. Sleep is hard work for me, the stress of sleeplessness wears me down emotionally and physically, so I am overjoyed that it’s NOT something my girls will struggle with. Fierce independence and willfulness… yes. Sleep, no.

After teaching Social Studies and Dance/Yoga in the public schools for 10 years I moved to New York City where I began teaching Yoga to kids and adults. Soon, I was drawn to teach prenatal and postnatal yoga and became certified as a Birth Doula. I loved that I could support families in so many areas of their journey: pregnancy, birth, healing your post-baby body, and then teaching children themselves. Mindfulness, relaxation and support was a key part of all these benchmarks.

Then, I became a parent myself. And it was HARD. I found pregnancy limiting, uncomfortable, and anxiety provoking. I had an empowering home-birth and then I spent five months in a state of crisis as I attempted to function on very little sleep with none of the coping skills I had before. I was eager to get back to my work supporting families, but I was too tired to do it.  As my child became more independent, her sleep became increasingly dependent, interrupted and off balance. We were ALL exhausted, confused, and desperate. No matter where I looked for advice and information I was ineffective at successfully implementing it. Finally, at 11 months someone pointed me to a sleep consultant who turned our lives around in a matter of days.Kristine2

As it turns out, my first born is an expert sleeper – she went from sleeping 9 random hours a day to a solid routine of sleeping 16 hours a day. By the third night on our new routine she was sleeping all night long!! Life with kids isn’t always unicorns and rainbows, but the day to day chaos of parenting is much easier to problem solve when the whole family is getting the sleep they need. After a few months I felt like a whole new person, and I was so grateful each morning I woke up well rested. It was really fun to parent my patient and cooperative child who was no longer throwing baby tantrums and hurting other kids in her exhaustion. In fact, life was so dreamy that I began to scheme about two things: having a second child and becoming a sleep consultant myself.  

Now, I have a thriving business and two well-rested daughters. It’s really an honor for me to nurture families in this new capacity: to empower them with education, reassurance and support as they walk their own path to healthy sleep.

These Are My Top 5 Sleep Tips:

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Why the Mia Mily Hipster Plus Carrier Changed our Game: Mama Likes

When I was pregnant I spent so much time researching what baby carrier we were going to purchase. My sister in law (read sister in love) is a Physical Therapist who works predominantly with pediatrics. I have so many memories from before either one of us were pregnant about how she was seeing hip problems become rampant, and a cause of the problem is incorrect body positioning in a standard baby carrier. Whenever I would find a baby carrier that I liked I would immediately ask her if it met the “M” position that the best carriers have.

As someone who has a great deal of anxiety in public places before having a baby, that became amplified times one hundred when I needed to tote the baby, the idea of baby wearing was really appealing to me. When you hear so many crazy stories about people having their babies abducted or the baby walking away and that panicked feeling–I just thought baby wearing would make us all feel a little safer. It does, by the way…when we are in public make me feel less anxious about what is going to happen as we shop.

We ended up purchasing (or were gifted!) three carriers for baby VC. We have two Moby (stretch) carriers, a Tula, and the Mia Mily.

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Today I Miss You More: Mama Musing

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Did you know that every morning your Dad rushes to be the first face you see when you wake? It has become one of my most favorite parts of my day. I finish getting dressed while listening to him whisper sweet tidings of morning love into your ear as he gets you out of bed through the baby monitor.

Seeing the smile (and spastic for the boob juice) look on your face every morning always starts my day off in the best way possible.

This morning after putting your outfit and, of course, your coordinating hair bow and moccasins on we went downstairs to get packed for our big days. Mine teaching, your Dad’s at his office, and yours at daycare with the ladies who love you almost as much as we do.

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Virginia Claire’s Labor & Delivery: Pregnancy

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Here I sit, six weeks postpartum and feeling ashamed and humiliated to write this down for you to read. The girl who so adamantly fought tooth and nail to prepare for a natural childbirth but begged (literally) for an epidural. I was prepared to labor at home, in my beautiful jetted bathtub. I was prepared to breath through my contractions, and use what I had learned from Bradley classes to labor my daughter into this world. My husband was prepared, too. We were so ready to do the dirty work to bring Virginia into this world without the interventions that we had read, debated,  and decided against for our baby.  We had a birth plan, written and even illustrated in certain points. We were so, so, so, so, so, ready for everything that could come our way. Except we weren’t. I was so, so, not ready. I wasn’t ready for a 28 hour labor. I wasn’t ready for over 48 hours with no sleep during that labor, and I really wasn’t ready to even entertain pain medication options. Bad combo, guys…bad combo.

In order to really give you the nitty gritty details I’m sure I’d want to read if I were you, we have to bump ourselves back a week with my 39 week appointment at the OBGYN office.

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Hospital Bag(s) Hits, Misses, and Regrets: Pregnancy

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When I hit my third trimester it seemed like all of my nervous first time mom energy was thrown into what needed to be packed into my hospital bag. I blame Pinterest. You can’t spend ten minutes searching for Chip and JoJo inspired home decor on Pinterest without seeing at least seven different “Hospital Bag Must Have’s”.  Believe me when I tell you that I combed all of them over at least twice. Some of them were so ridiculous that they included “straightener and round brush” while others seemed to lack the important addition of shower flip flops. Another massive “perk” of my crippling anxiety is the desire it gives me to make a list, achieve the list, and then triple check the list. So, in short order, we had a list for baby’s hospital bag, my husband’s hospital bag, my hospital bag, and of course–the ever so important snack bag. We kept putting off making the bags actually happen, and I also attribute this to the anxiety that once the bags were packed, she was shortly following.

I was positive that I would be the first time mother that showed up to Labor and Delivery with fourteen bags, and never got out of my hospital gown. I decided that I would walk on the edge of caution and pack lightly.

Here is the rundown of what we actually used, what never saw the artificial light of day, and what I wish we would have had at our disposal.

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10 Maternity Must Haves For Mom: Pregnancy

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Pregnancy is by far the hardest thing that I’ve done in my short quarter of a century here on earth. When people ask how I’m feeling, I make sure to let them know that I feel like I could run a marathon…now. I felt like everyone told me that it would get better magically when week 12 hit. They (aka all of you doctors, midwives, and moms who are luckier than I) are either massive liars, or my body just never got that message. I was so miserably sick in the first sixteen weeks of pregnancy I swore our daughter would be an only child. In fact I frequently tell people that my husband may need a week 1-16 surrogate for future Leonard babes. But the second trimester, and what’s happening in the third so far (we are almost to week 38!!!)…this I can do and enjoy! Thank God that somewhere, some person decided to make things that can help make pregnant life a bit less rough for us all. Here’s the list of items that I think have made a drastic improvement in my pregnancy to this point!

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Iron Daughters Subscription Box: Mama Likes

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Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely adore a good deal, a cute boutique find, and things being delivered directly to me. Wrap those things together and I’m a regular subscriber to companies like iPsy GlamBag, Sephora PLAY, and daily deal sites like Jane.com that find the boutique best for me.

When one of my friends from my cheerleading days and her business partner opened up their own business in downtown Martinsburg, I was thrilled. A place that had the boutique finds that I so love to wear at an affordable price–AND I can could shop online so that I didn’t have to leave the house? I was ecstatic.

Cue ahead to a week later and Emily announced on Facebook that their new boutique, Iron Daughters, was going to start doing HAND PICKED subscription boxes for $30.00 with some amazing loot inside, and I was begging her to sign me up. When they posted that you were guaranteed a top in your size (not one size fits all style like so many sub boxes out there!), 2 accessories, and inspirational bonuses I was legitimately running home every day with the hope that my box had arrived.

When the box arrived I was ecstatic, Emily and Brittany mailed it and then two days later I came home to this!

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Childcare Part 2- The Surprise Visit: Pregnancy

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If you missed part one in the Childcare Series, click here to catch up before reading on!

So you’ve done your homework, made your list, and you’ve checked it twice. At this point, you likely have anywhere between three to seven trillion options that meet your requirements from our figuring out the basics list.

What do we do next? Well, the best advice that I have for you is to do what I liked to call “drive by” or “pop in ” visits to these places.

Think about it, if you know that your in laws are coming for dinner on Tuesday night you’re going to make something really yummy, clean the house, and light that fancy candle you reserve for special occasions, right? Unless you hate your in laws…anyway I digress.

I started driving to the places that I was really interested in finding out more about at random times and asking if the director, or a staff member, could show me around. You’d be so surprised by some of the things that I saw.

This was the most eye opening thing for me, to see the way that the childcare providers were interacting with the children that were under their care.

You should be very observant of the surroundings, and ask questions if you want further information.

For example:

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