Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Primitive Camping on Shell Key Preserve

The definition of the word "camping" means different things to different people. On our last camping trip to Disney's Fort Wilderness, we saw big campers with 50 inch televisions hooked up outside of them and kids gaming away on their Xboxes. My husband is a die hard outdoorsman and would never allow that on our camping trips. I think the only reason he even tolerates our annual Disney camping trip is that our kiddos love it so much and he loves to make them happy! To him, having electric hookups and air mattresses (which is my preferred way to camp:) is not roughing it enough. So this past weekend, he took us camping his favorite way-the primitive way.

We packed up the car and hooked up the boat because where we were headed that is the only way to get there. Our destination was Shell Key Preserve, an undeveloped barrier island in Tierra Verde, Florida, which is about an hour and a half drive for us. Thankfully, my kiddos behaved in the car and before we knew it we were there. We unloaded the camping stuff from the car and loaded it into the boat (an extra step to do when your campground is only accessible by boat) and headed to the island, which was a 10 minute boat ride. We've been to the island before to play for the day and my husband and daughter have camped there before, so he knew where to go and there were no surprises.

When we arrived, my little guy immediately got to work filling his buckets with water while we set up camp. Now, if you're not sure what "primitive" camping is, it's camping with no electric, water, bathroom, etc. I mean, we were on an island with nothing except what we brought (which started to worry me a little when we started unpacking!) and no way to "plug in" to anything! We had charged our phones before we left and had them in case of emergency, but we planned on no electronics at all, just time to be together to connect as a family with no disruptions or distractions. You can't imagine how successful this was! My kids enjoyed time together exploring the island, discovering marine life, fishing, and just plain having fun and since they are over ten years apart in age, this is no easy task to accomplish!

The sea life on the island was a diverse variety. We saw hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, live sand dollars, sea slugs and many different shorebirds. There were dolphins everywhere, swimming very close to the shore. The highlight of our trip had to be when  two of them swam along behind our boat jumping, flipping and showing off for us! They were swimming so close to us that we could have leaned over the boat and touched them. I felt like we were getting our own private dolphin show. They truly are very playful and friendly animals!

While snorkeling in the blue water, we found amberjack, snook, a tiny shark and a manatee. We took a hike around the island, admiring the view and marveled at the way the sun set over the mangrove trees casting an orange glow on the sea oats that swayed back and forth in the wind. We stopped to watch the crabs scurry through the black mangrove roots, which stick straight up out of the marshland like daggers. At night, we looked at the stars which were bright and plentiful in the sky because of the lack of light on the island. And we made s'mores because no camping trip is complete without them!

This was one of our best camping trips yet! No one was distracted by computers, phones, ipads or t.v. We absolutely and completely were focused on each other and our beautiful environment the entire trip and we are all better off because of it. Who knew it was possible in this day and age to be completely electronic free for days at a time? I would completely recommend it and can't wait to do it again!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

12 Easy and Sugar Free Homemade Popsicle Recipes

Nothing beats eating a cold, delicious popsicle on a steaming hot summer day. My kiddos love nothing more in summer time than to splash in the pool eating more popsicles than I can count, leaving them to drip and drip and stain their faces. We love making our own popsicles especially since most store bought popsicles are packed full of sugar or artificial stuff. Making your own popsicles is so easy and so much more healthier than the store bought ones. Plus, it's fun to do with your kids. I feel no guilt about letting my kiddos eat as many of these popsicles as they want during the hot summer months because I know exactly what is in them, that they are sugar free and that they are adding nutritional value to their growing bodies!

Both of my kids love this super simple popsicle made from fruit and juice. My teenager and my little guy regularly make this one together. First, you need popsicle molds, which you can find here. Fill the molds with blueberries, rasperries and kiwi slices. Then fill the molds with a light juice (we use white grape juice). Freeze overnight and then enjoy!

Very easy and so yummy! Below is a list with links of our most favorite sugar free popsicle recipes.

Peach Popsicles from Chocolate and Carrots
Orange Creamsicles from Oven Love
Blueberry Vanilla Yogurt Popsicles from The Slow Roasted Italian
All Natural Strawberry Ice Cream Bars from Happiness is Homemade
Sugar Free Banana Popsicles from Vegalicious
Fruit Layered Ice Pops from Raw Edibles
Watermelon Whole Fruit Popsicles from Nourishing Meals
Honeydew Cucumber Mint Popsicles from Nourishing Meals
Mango Yogurt Popsicle from My Darling Lemon Thyme
Creamy Coconut, Mango and Banana Popsicle from The Makeshift Nest
Pea Wee Kiwi Popsicles from Weelicious

Happy Summer!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Imaginative Play: Peter Pan in Neverland


Peter Pan has always been one of my favorite characters. There's just something so endearing about a little boy who refuses to grow up. As an adult I've come to love him even more, since my son insists on watching the DVD over and over and over again. My little guy is turning four in a couple of weeks and he told me the other day he does not want to be four, he likes being three. Peter Pan immediately came into my thoughts as he said that and a Peter Pan birthday party theme came into the making. I knew he would enjoy pretending to be Peter Pan and the photos would be awesome on the invitations. My teenager even got into the fun by playing Tinkerbell and helping to make her own Tink dress. So off we went to Neverland.

My little Peter Pan was ecstatic. In the Neverland forest, he explored the surroundings, played with woodland creatures (he found a rabbit and a squirrel) and fought imaginary pirates and Captain Hook (who dad willingly pretended to be). He also had a lot of fun playing with Tinkerbell (his sister). The fact that she participated in his imaginary fun truly melted my heart.

 Playing in Pixie Hollow

Childhood is a magical time, and for me, it is important to make as many memorable moments as I can with my kids in this season of their lives. Is it always easy and convenient? No, but it is worth making the time and sharing these experiences with them. As I am realizing with my now fourteen year old, these years are fleeting and before I know it, unlike Peter Pan, they will grow up.

Imaginative play is important for child development. Here are some great articles about how creative and imaginative play is beneficial for children:

So whether it's in Neverland or in your child's room having high tea with the Queen,
Happy Pretending!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Blueberry Picking (and yummy muffin recipe)

My kiddos have become addicted to picking their own food. Going to the farms and picking fruit and veggies is super fun and rewarding and a great family activity. Besides helping out local farmers, it teaches kids where their food comes from and how it's grown. A few weeks ago we picked strawberries and we have been patiently waiting for our local organic blueberry farm to open for u-pick season. Crown Jewel Farms opened this past weekend and we went on opening day. My little guy was so excited! We walked (and ran) up and down the aisles of blueberry plants and  picked pounds and pounds of them. Every time I looked at my little guy, he was shoving blueberries in his mouth. He ate more than he put in his bucket, which is what usually happens when we go picking!

When we got home, we wanted to make something yummy with all of our fresh berries. My little guy loves to help in the kitchen so I decided to make some blueberry oatmeal muffins with him since the recipe is easy and kid friendly. It's also super healthy and we made a sugar free version. For the ingredients we used:
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. honey
3 cups old fashioned oats
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup vanilla soy milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. baking powder 
1/2 cup bluberries
You could add in a Tbsp. or two of sugar or stevia if you want them a little sweeter, but we made them with no sugar and they were delicious! You could also substitute the vanilla soy milk for any kind of milk that you have. Next:
Preheat oven to 375 dgrees
Mix all ingredients except the blueberries
Prepare muffin pans by spraying the pan or muffin cups with non-stick spray
Stir in the blueberries
Fill 15 muffin cups almost to the top
Bake about 20 minutes
Let cool almost completely until firm to the touch

Cooking with kids is a fun and enjoyable learning experience for them. My little guy helped measure the ingredients (including pouring half of the container of baking powder in the mixture, which I had to dig out:) and stirred everything together. He also mashed the bananas for me. This recipe is awesome for letting the kids help, because it's pretty much fool proof. Even after my little guy poured in too much baking powder, they came out great!


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Let's Build!

I do so much exploring, creating and crafting during the week with my little guy, which is so rewarding for me, that I get pretty excited when the first Saturday of the month comes around and my husband gets a chance to spend some time doing a project and connecting with him. The Home Depot kids workshop is a great program that sets up a building project on this day for kids to participate in. It's wonderful for my husband because they have the project planned out and ready to go so there is no advanced planning to be done on his part. This makes it super easy for him and our little guy to spend some quality bonding time together while building a fantastic project!

My little guy has built a football game, a car, and this past Saturday he surprised me with a wonderful flower pot for (an early) Mother's Day present! It gives him such a sense of accomplishment to put these projects together with the help of dad. It also helps with his fine motor skills by placing the nails and learning to use the hammer and with learning how to follow directions by putting the pieces of the project together. Then he paints the projects which adds to the fun! They also give you an apron, a certificate of acheivement, and a pin that displays the building project that you created!

I would recommend everyone to try out a Home Depot kids workshop! I am sharing this post because we have just recently found out about these workshops a few months ago and it has been such an enjoyable experience for my husband and little guy to do together. Mom's of course could do it as well, but I love how my husband gets involved with him and they build together!

Happy Building!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Learning About Lizards

My little guy has been fascinated with lizards since he first started toddling around. He loves to search for them in our backyard and observe them, so I thought it would be fun for us to spend a week focusing on them by doing some learning activities and crafts. My husband has been catching lizards for him to look at since he was itty bitty and my little guy has learned to put his hand out in front of the lizard so it can crawl on him, if the lizard desires to do so. This is a gentle way to see the lizard up close, but not hurt it in any way. We jokingly call him the lizard whisperer, because more times than not, the lizard will crawl up his arm not scared at all! We upcycled a grape juice container by cutting out a square on the side of it and taping a piece of tulle over the square to make a temporary lizard habitat. My little guy filled it with leaves, sticks and grass for the lizard to hide in and it was a great spot for him to observe the lizard for a couple of hours. When it was time to let the lizard go, we just took the lid off and it crawled right out!

We made a fun and simple lizard out of a large popsicle stick. He painted the stick his favorite color (orange) and decorated it with black polka dots. He stuck google eyes on him and added the feet and tail (which were made from pipe cleaners) with tape. You could also glue them on, but tape was quicker and less messy for us. He played with this thing all day long! He pretended it was a real lizard and stuck it in our bushes outside and in the lizard habitat we made from the juice container. It may as well have been his new pet!

We talked about how "L" is for lizard and I found this cute lizard printable from Get Er Done, Momma, which was perfect for our letter lesson. My little guy colored it and we assembled the lizard. He was pretty proud of it!

We read some good books about lizards including these:
(Affiliate Links)

And we learned some fun facts about lizards, too! 

Did You Know:

Like snakes, lizards smell with their tongues and shed their skin.

Lizards can escape if caught by their tail, by detaching it from a weak vertebra link and will grow another one later. The new tail will be smaller and will contain no bones.

Some lizards, like the chameleon, can change colors. This camouflage can help protect them from predators and is a way to communicate with other lizards.

Lizards eat mostly insects and can live for more than 30 years!

We had so much fun learning about lizards!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Bug Cupcakes: Cooking with Kids

My little guy loves bugs. We are constantly out in the backyard looking for them and trying to catch them. If we have to be somewhere at a certain time or have errands to run and he happens upon a lizard, frog, caterpillar, dragonfly (you see where I'm going with this) we must halt to observe or try to catch whatever it is to avoid a total melt down. So, this past week, we have been studying bugs. We've been doing bug crafts, activities, and some hands on learning (all of which will be in my next post:). To go along with the these things, I thought it would be fun to make some cupcakes (which is a real treat for him because very rarely do I let him eat sugar) and let him decorate them with his favorite kinds of bugs. For the ingredients and decorations I used my favorite cake mix, M&M's, gummy worms, candy orange slices and pretzels. My little guy helped with the measuring and mixing.

He has learned so much math from me allowing him to use the measuring cup. He knows most of the measurements on the measuring cup and can fill the cup to the correct amount needed! This was the first time he used the mixer and although he didn't like the noise, he had fun watching the ingredients mix together to form the batter. We filled the muffin cups and waited for them to bake. In the meantime, my little guy was asking every 30 seconds if they were finished yet, so we went outside to hunt for bugs to take his mind off of them. Finally they were done and cooled and it was time to decorate.

I decorated a few with him first to show him how to put the candy on to make different bugs. We made spiders, butterflies, caterpillars, and dragonflies! He did such a great job decorating and said they were very yummy. Cooking with kids is fun and also educational! Here are some tips for cooking with kids:

Be Flexible
Help them sharpen their math skills by stopping to count, read the recipe to them so they can learn new words which helps with their vocabulary and let them help with the steps in the recipe to improve their listening skills. My little guy counted the candies as he put them on and followed my directions while measuring the ingredients.

Give Kids Age Appropriate Tasks
Stirring, measuring, tearing lettuce, rinsing vegetables, adding ingredients and pounding dough are great things for small children to do in the kitchen. 

Encourage Them to Try New Things
Many kids are picky in their food choices and when kids are cooking with you, it presents an opportunity for them to try new things. Although these cupcakes aren't healthy, most of the food we eat is, and my little guy is open minded enough to try a variety of foods when we cook together. 

Talk About Food Choices
It's important for kids to know what is healthy and what is not. I made sure my little guy knew that this was a special treat for us and is only ok to eat cupcakes and candy on special occasions. He knows that fruits and vegetables are the healthiest choices for his growing body.

Share the Accomplishment Together
Working together on a meal boosts confidence in kids and helps them feel a sense of accomplishment. Let your child know what a great help they were in preparing the meal with you!