My First Guest Blog!

With the weather getting cooler and days growing shorter, I’m longing for summer sun and family camping adventures. I thought it’d be a great time to share with you my first guest post and product review featured on Camping with Your Kids Blog hosted by my good friend, Sue.

The Camper’s Mansion: Napier Sportz™ Midsize SUV Tent Review

The Sportz™ Midsize SUV Tent is a perfect shelter for family camping adventures. The innovative design uses an adjustable durable tarp-like sleeve to transform your CUV, SUV or minivan into ample camping space.  This sleeve is also detachable to transform your shelter into a standard ground tent.

sportz tent

Last spring we were surfing the web for new family camping ideas and my husband stumbled on this SUV tent. I immediately fell in love with the idea of using the back of our Chrysler Town & Country as additional camping space. I was picturing a twin-sized air mattress in the back and space to change diapers while standing up. It was full of potential and convenience. As luck would have it, I found one barely used on a regional swap and sell site.

A few days before our camping trip, I backed my van into the yard and unfolded the tent to gain some experience setting up. I highly recommend this for any new tent purchase. There is little worse than showing up to your campsite in the dark and arguing over what goes where. I know I’m not the only one who’s done this.

camping 1

camping 2

The assembly is a breeze and can be done by one person if needed. The tent assembles into a plentiful height of 6′ in the corners and a spacious 7′ in the center. The connecting SUV sleeve goes up over the open hatch and under the bumper encasing the backend of your vehicle to extend your living space into a mini mansion. The tent is equipped with a 6′ x 6′ awning and a 6′ x 7′ bottomless screen room if you’ve purchased that model.

I highly recommend this mini mansion shelter to any SUV owner looking for a little extra space and functionality in their car camping excursions.

camping 3

Specs:

  • Adjustable SUV sleeve custom fits your CUV, SUV or minivan hatch creating additional camping space.
  • Detachable SUV sleeve transforms tent into a standard ground tent.
  • 9′ x 9′ footprint comfortably sleeps 4 – 5 persons.
  • 7′ of overhead room at the center and 6′ in the corners.
  • Steel and fiberglass pole structure for strength and durability.
  • Waterproof polyester taffeta tent featuring full length taped and seamed rain fly and storm flaps in the windows.
  • Durable waterproof shower liner style floor prevents rain runoff from flooding in.
  • Cyclone Ventilation system provides adequate airflow without compromising storm coverage.
  • Two inside gear pockets and a gear loft.
  • Approximate weight: 30 lbs.

Recommendations:
Go for the screen room. We definitely wish we had that extra space.
Shop around. Most sporting goods stores offer the screen room model new from $260 – $370.
If you purchase the screen room model, spend the extra $30 on the Sportz Footprint to line the bottom of the screen room.

A standard twin sized air mattress is a bit too wide to fit the bed of an SUV or minivan. Coleman makes, at a reasonable price, a Portable SUV Quickbed that measures 41″ x 63.”

Likes:
I have to say the spacious overhead layout is my favorite feature of this tent.
The shower liner style floor is new to me in the world of camping equipment features and I was quite impressed with the ease of sweeping it out at the end of our trip as well as the ability to keep light rain from leaking in at the bottom seams.

Dislikes:
The adjustable SUV sleeve doesn’t quite fit around the bottom of my 2013 Chrysler Town & Country. The bumper is a little wider than my previous 2010 Dodge Caravan model and consequently the sleeve comes up about an inch or two short in material to encase the bumper. To solve that issue, I tuck the bumper portion of the sleeve under the back row of my stow-n-go seating and the folded down seats seem to hold it in place just fine.
I saved a ton of money buying slightly used. The problem is that not everyone sweeps their tent out at the end of a camping stay and over time that dirt grinds at the tent like sandpaper when the tent is stored away. Our tent is in excellent condition with a few little holes in the mesh of the ceiling vent and top of the fly.
While the tent is perfect for car camping, it’s much too bulky to kick the car sleeve and pack into camp to use as a ground tent even if the load was split between two persons.
Campground camping often requires lot scouting and reservation in advance to secure the perfect space to fit the vehicle and tent side-by-side.

Get Outdoors Holiday Gift Guide

When I was a kid, I remember playing outdoors until the streetlights came on. I had a collection of Barbies and dolls and a whole closet stuffed with toys, but what I remember most from my childhood days is riding bikes, lemonade stands, building forts, catching snakes and digging in the dirt.

My kids belong to the few who still enjoy outdoor play. That’s not to say we don’t own too many electronics and toys because we do. My kids have WAY too much in my opinion and I don’t want another Christmas to come around and be overwhelmed by stuff. I’m completely aware this is my fault as a parent. We’re beyond that fact, so keep up. We’ve considered alternatives like tickets to the Monster Truck Finals and Disney on Ice, gift cards, clothes, books, art supplies, but most of all we’re excited to expand on our love of camping.

After moving our son into a local independent scout troop and sending him out the door for monthly camp outs, we fell in love with camping as a family and made it our goal to hit the great outdoors once a month through the summer. It was a bit of an expense each outing since we were short sleeping bags and supplies, but little by little we’re building our family gear. Last spring we opted for day and overnight packs filled with treats, gadgets and gear in lieu of baskets for our oldest boys

eastergearso this upcoming holiday the idea continues.

I present to you my

Get Outdoors Holiday Hotlist:

1. Paracord & DIY Paracord Projects.

2. Games for family fun: Knot So FastNite Ize Flashflight Disc-O, Terrafun Backpack Board Games.

3. Geomate Jr. and Geomate Kit. Whether experienced to the world of Geocaching or just starting out, your kiddos are sure to love the thrill of the world wide treasure hunt given this gadget and party pack.

4. Camelbak Hydrobaks.

6. Camp Chair. Kids love having their very own camp chair especially if it features cup holders and extra pockets.

7. Hammock. It’s the first thing to go up at camp and the last to come down.

9. Headlamps. Perfect hands free lighting for hiking to the bathrooms or finding a safe path to your tent after an evening by the fire.

10. Fishing Pole Roasters from Firebuggz. These are a family favorite. Be sure to check out their video. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.

Find these items and more by following my Pinterest board. 

Implement a New SuperMom Family Routine

I grew up in a home where routine and schedule were not a part of our vocabulary. At a young age, my day started with by getting myself and my brothers out of bed so we could get ready for school. Our parents were already off to work most times and still at work when we came home from school. We had one job: a simple rotating chore chart and the chores were expected to be done by the time our mom came home from work. There was no set time to do them so we usually procrastinated until the very last hour before her arrival. Dinner was anywhere between 5 pm and 7 pm most nights. As I got older, dinner was usually “fend for yourself” whenever we made it home from extra curricular activities. Bed time happened anywhere between 9:30 pm and 1 am–long after our parents were already in bed.

Having children of my own, I’ve fallen into the same pattern. Some nights, dinner is cereal or something my older two can make for the rest of the children simply for lack of planning. Our mornings are pretty consistent.
7:00 am Get everyone out of bed
7:15 am Be sure everyone is dressed and to the bathroom to comb hair and brush teeth.
7:20 am Prompt people to grab hoodies and back packs.
7:25 am Monitor administration of medications
7:30 am Be sure children are putting on shoes. Go find my shoes because I never remember where I put them.
7:32 am Out to the car and on our way to school.

If you’re judgey, you may have noticed breakfast wasn’t included in there. My children eat breakfast at school because they offer a free breakfast program to all students. It’s a total winner allowing me to pinch my pennies in the food budget this year.

Nine times out of ten my second oldest child is in a mood and doing his darnedest to create tension and stir a ruckus in the morning as he often wakes hangry and in a moody little rebound. It’s an unavoidable combination but we do our best to keep him moving forward with the routine each day.

The morning ideally sets a good tone for the rest of the day. We are stellar at our morning routine simply because we are stuck in a time frame. We wake at 7 am and have to be out of the house no later than 7:35 am. The kids experience a full day of routine at school then arrive home.

The second the door opens, back packs and shoes are hitting the floor left and right. They are begging to play outside, whining about the chore they have for the day and reminding me of things that aren’t even on the calendar for another week or two. In less than an hour of being home, the bickering and fighting begins. I often joke that dinner is between 5:00 and 9:00 pm and sadly it’s a half-truth. Bedtime usually follows a few hours after dinner. Let’s just say there have been many times I’ve seen my children’s obnoxiously rambunctious little faces in the wee hours of the morning. They have no sense of time or prioritizing and they learned it all from me. By lack of routine, I’ve both taught and allowed them to drive me crazy for the past 12 years.

We’ve tried to implement a routine schedule numerous times before but my husband and I are the worst offenders when it comes to breaking it. I can tell you right now that it takes serious commitment from parents to keep a schedule going strong. I promise you, though, it’s all possible and peace in the home is attainable.

It takes practice and time to get it right. The habit didn’t perfect itself overnight and neither will the solution. The first day may or may not go well. A few weeks into it, you might still struggle in areas. Know that each day is a work in progress. If one day goes poorly, wipe the slate clean at the end of the day and start anew tomorrow.

One of my many excuses to avoid creating a schedule is “I just don’t know where to begin.” To start, I first broke my routine into segments: Morning, Afternoon, Evening and Bedtime. I prioritized the tasks we needed to accomplish daily during each segment and wrote them in at an appropriate hour within their segment making sure to allow enough time to complete the task. Some days (for example where extra curricular activities come in) can be a little more tricky to outline. Do your best. If it’s not quite right, make adjustments and try again next time. I’ve learned that these are the days we should absolutely be on task or nothing else that should be done will be done.

Here is an example of our schedule.

Routine Schedule

Sunday, Monday and Saturday are each so different from the main T-Th/F routine that I’ve found it best to create a separate outline for each. Here’s our Sunday schedule for comparison.

Sunday Schedule

I enjoy this format because we have a larger family with children of varying ages and each person needs ample time for individual needs.

If you have a smaller family or children’s activities are similar throughout the week, you can try a more simple format.

7:00 AM
Family awake, Get kids ready for the day
7:30 AM
Drive kids to school
8:00 AM
Arrive home, breakfast, clean up
9:30 AM
Shower, get ready for the day
10:00 AM
Pick child up from Kindergarten
10:30 AM
Snack and playtime
11:30 AM
Prep lunch
12:00 PM
Lunch, clean up
12:30 PM
Children quiet time/nap
Mom chores
2:00 PM
Littles up from quiet time/nap
Errands
3:30 PM
Older children arrive home from school
Chores
4:30 PM
Children free time
Mom prep dinner
6:00 PM
Dinner
Homework
7:00 PM
Littles clean up toys
Littles Bedtime Routine
7:30 PM
Littles Bedtime
Older children Bedtime Routine
8:00 PM
Older children Bedtime
Mom Quite Time
9:00 PM
Bedtime Routine
Bedtime

Since we’ve implemented a daily family schedule, I’ve noticed I’m no longer the bad guy and my kids try less and less to manipulate me because of it. How so? When they start begging to play outside I ask them to check the time and go to the schedule. The schedule says chore time, not me, therefore making the schedule the bad guy. It’s immovable and never caves. Except for that time the boys removed it from the fridge and hid it thinking if it went away, the schedule never had to be followed. The kids know if they do their chore properly in less than the time given, they earn extra free time. It’s a win-win for all of us. No one is fighting because they’re all busy doing their prioritized tasks. If one child refuses, they get to see the others enjoy the benefits of extra time in their day. Everyone eats before a mass hangeriness sets in, bedtime routines and lights-out are far less chaotic and I have peace and quiet to finish my day.

I hope you find this helpful and I want you to know you’re not alone. You are supermom in many things and implementing a routine schedule will just add another star to your super cape!

You’re welcome to copy and paste this simple format into a word program and adjust it to fit your needs or download my blank Schedule Template to create a schedule similar to the one we use.

Come to Him

As I was reading  through General Conference talks yesterday evening, I found a talk that speaks to me and the many trails in my life that I tend to face feeling both isolated and alone.

Ten years ago was a time when life was rock bottom for me. I was a single working mother of two rambunctious little boys. My ex was calling and harassing me from the county detention center almost daily. I couldn’t seem to get things in order and struggled each night watching the clock just waiting until it was time for bed so I could go back to sleeping my life away. It seemed to me the easiest way to shut out my problems. The morning would come too soon and a new day of the same struggles would unfold.

At the time, I was meeting with the missionaries (for the 4th time in 2 years) and working toward baptism. I began praying and reading my scriptures often and within weeks, I found the strength to ignore the phone. That strength lead to a phone call to my provider to block all calls from the detention center. For the moment, he was out of our life and healing could continue.

My evenings soon changed from watching the clock in complete isolation and loneliness to reading my scriptures with no sense of the hour. Prayer was my constant companion. My Heavenly Father was the only person I could turn to in those quiet evenings and although the conversation seemed one-sided, I was content that He was enough. My life seemed to settle into peace while chaos still nipped at the light that now filled my home. I realized all this time I was never alone. I just needed to reach out to Him. To follow Him. He knows me and knows what’s best for me and He will not lead me astray.

Here I sit 10 years later struggling with severe depression, a strong sense of isolation and sadness, and I often wonder what happened to that happy, peaceful person I was. The truth is I still am that person. I’ve just let go of the things I used to rely on to get me through each day. I let go of Him. I don’t think to pray, rarely read scriptures and my church attendance is sporadic. Life was never meant to be easy, but I do have faith and knowledge that it’s easiest when following the footsteps of the Savior.

In the recent sessions of General Conference, Elder Eduardo Gavarret addresses this very subject during his talk “Yes, Lord, I will Follow Thee.” Elder Gavarret reminds us the Lord said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28 He goes on to share the many open invitations Christ offered us to come, follow him and shares that we can do so by:

  1. Feeding our desire to be a better follower of Christ.
  2. Praying for the desire that your faith in Him to grow.
  3. Obtaining knowledge from the scriptures to light the way and strengthen your desire to change.
  4. Make the decision to act today and say, “Yes, Lord, I will follow Thee!”
  5. Persevere by by exercising these principles daily.

Knowing the truth will not provide needed change unless that knowledge is turned into actions. It seems I’ve forgotten that without resting upon my Savior, I will find no peace or strength in my trials. I’m not alone. I was never alone. Nor do I want to continue being alone. I have every bit of faith in Him that as I come to know Him once again, I will find my positive change–my peace and happiness in this madhouse life of mine.

positiveinterchangecwrt lg

Confusion and Other Nursery Rhymes

Last night, my toddler and I were lying in my bed reading Tomie’s Baa Baa Black Sheep by Tomie dePaola. Whenever we read, she loves to listen and then read it back to me. Last night, story time went something like this:

She: Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
eating her turds and whey.
Me: *giggle giggle*
She: Along came a ‘pider
who sat down beside her
and she ran away.
She: Hey Little Diddle
Cat and a fiddle
the cow jumped over the moon.
That doesn’t look like a moon.
Me: It is a moon, Princess.
She: Oh!
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Why does he have a purse?
Me: That’s not a purse. It’s a suitcase.
She: No it’s a purse.
Me: Well, maybe the dish is a girl. See her pink lips? She’s wearing lipstick. Maybe they are running away to get married.
She (pointing to the spoon): He’s wearing lipstick too.
Me: No I think his lips are just pink.
She (back to the dish): Where is her boobies?
Me: Under the plate.
She: No, I think they are both boys and he has a purse and they are getting married.
Good observation. I’m now just as confused as Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in the tub.

Bin Loveing You

Reflecting on the past few months, I have new gray hairs. My boys are getting older, adolescence is nigh, and we’re experiencing a change in attitude, testing boundaries, and new developmental stages. Sometimes I find myself wishing Calgon really would take me away.

A few days ago, we had a serious meltdown. More so than every before. The boys were standing on the stairs and there was gnashing of teeth and blows to the face. It was an all out Battle Royale. I stepped in and sent them to their rooms to rest of much of the afternoon. Exhausted and separating myself from the chaos, I sunk to the floor in my bathroom and called my husband on his way to work. We seem to be having more and more of these fits and talks and at times I’m feeling so lost. Lost in a state of feeling I’m no longer connecting with my children, often wondering if they do know I love them as I always say I do.

The events and emotions of the other afternoon have passed and all been forgotten, except for the lingering sound of  “I hate you!” coming from my child’s mouth to me for the very first time. I know that truly he does not, but it still pains me that in a moment of overwhelming frustration, he would feel that way. I’ve mulled it over in my mind for this space of time and found myself believing him at times and at others, surely knowing he does not feel that way about me.

This morning as I walked past my desk, which I’ve neglected for the past few days, a box caught my eye. Assuming it to be trash, I swept it up and froze as I extended my arm to toss it out. Adorned in the sweet writing of my children the afternoon we had this explosive fit, it reads:

“I love you bin I have bin loveing you since I was little”

“We all love you”

“Sorry we use a box”

As I look at these sweet notes and take them in with wet eyes, I believe the apology is all mine. Sorry for wanting to be swept far away from here in extreme moments of need. Sorry for not pulling them into my arms and squeezing them tight more often as they feel irritable and overcome with emotion. Sorry for being less than I know I can be in their times of need.

Truth is I’ve always “bin loveing” them too.

Party Planning 101: The Invitations

Finalizing the guest list is the first step to planning invitations. This is always the worst part of my party planning. The more people you have the more expensive things get, not to mention the noise and the chaos if every parent decide to use you as a babysitting service on the day of the party. My children have a number of cousins nearby so there’s no way to avoid large numbers. This year I allowed my children to choose 3 friends each. All together, we’re expecting 16 kids!

I love using Vistaprint and Shutterfly to create announcements and invites, but didn’t want to spend that kind of money this year. We bought an inexpensive set of themed invites when we purchased our party supplies from Party City, but I found they will not arrive until the 16th. I need invites right now–we only have 10 days until the party.

I searched around for invite ideas and really loved some of the examples I found on Stop, Drop and Blog. I browsed Snapfish and for a second thought to spend the money because it’s so much easier, but surprisingly I stuck to my budget–which is now zero for invites. Hmm…how do I get nice invites for nothing at all?

I searched online for a firefighter theme digital scrapbooking kit and found myself back at Stop, Drop and Blog, jumping over to Kim’s Scrappin’ and Designing to download Just Call Me The Fireman. This is the best darn fire theme ever and it’s free!

I had my pieces, a rough idea of what I wanted to do, and fired up Adobe Illustrator. I set the red flame paper to background and layered additional papers cropping their shapes and sizes as I went. I used Adobe Photoshop to remove the lettering on the fire engine sticker and added lettering that’s a little more personal to my boys (Engine No. 09, Perry F.D., Ladder No. 07.) I placed the Maltese cross button and the engine sticker, added drop shadows and layered on the text.

I started playing with Illustrator for the first time about a year ago and this is the first complex project I’ve ever finish in under an hour. I went in with little confidence and came out tooting my own horn. Really. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t know I had this kind of craftiness in me.

To keep the printing cost low, I grabbed an open pack of Kodak Ultima Picture Paper that I had collecting dust on a shelf and printed at home. They came out glossy and vibrant, even better than I hoped.

My plan was to purchase a pack of black paper for $4 and cut them to shape for my envelopes, attaching the invitation to the inside center, folding the flaps and closing with a gold foil sticker; however, after searching four stores I had no such luck finding the paper I needed. I settled for an invitation kit from an office supply store and pieced the invitations together for less than 60¢  an invitation.

The Birthday Bash

Growing up, my birthday was always during the worst part of the year. Instead of enjoying a fun outdoor party, the first week of June always seemed to be a major disappointment. I was no longer in school, so I could not bring cupcakes to share with the class. It often rained and sometimes snowed. As I got older, I was either gone babysitting for my aunt through the summer or my parents left on vacation. There are very few memories I have of my own birthday.

Then my boys blessed my life. Born exactly 2 years and 2 days apart, I swore that each of them would feel special and have individual birthdays. I quickly took that back as I schemed to do a super birthday bash to save time and money. My youngest son had health problems that were a constant battle in his younger years and that first year took a huge toll on us. I looked at his birthday as a celebration of his life. He had made it to one! There were times I wondered if he ever would.

At that time, my oldest son loved Spongebob Squarepants so that’s what I focused on. I rented a costume and sewed a large fry cook hat to cover the wearer’s exposed head, so the kids would think it really was Spongbob coming to visit–not my good friend in a ridiculous costume. It worked. At 3 and 1, they didn’t know the difference! See that little guy in the red shirt on the right? That’s my 9 year old. I’m so glad I have moments like this because I’d forgotten how cute and chubby he was. The girl with the long hair is his preschool girlfriend. I can just hear him saying “Mom you’re embarrassing me,” but I don’t care.

Kids were running every direction, jumping, screaming, spilling juice and I couldn’t be any happier. They played pin the tie on Spongebob, had cake and ice cream, opened presents, jumped in a bounce house my mom bought for the party (and years to come.)

When the noise had vanished and the mess cleared away, my mom and I kicked our feet up. Exhausted she said, “I really hope you had enough fun and you never put us through that again.” But the truth is that party was the best day ever (in the voice of Spongebob) and I’m now living my birthdays vicariously through my children.

Since then, we’ve fought Davey Jones for the map to the treasure chest

and got our faces painted, spun cotton candy, rode a pony, played games for prizes, and even stuck our head in a lion’s mouth at a rainy day carnival.

Every other year, my biggest challenge is finding the right theme for a birthday bash. It’s got to be something both of my kids will love and the activities now have to be appropriate for guests whose ages range from 2 to 9. I was really at a loss for ideas this year…until I saw this.

Who doesn’t love shiny red helmets and firetrucks?

Dealing with Bullies

Tonight at dinner I heard my children call someone from their school a “cool cat.”  This term is a little old school, so I was unsure if I heard them correctly.  They repeated it for me and burst into laughter, which confused me even more. They shared a glance.

“Should we tell her?” my oldest son asks the youngest.

Coming to an agreement, they commence to tell me there are a lot of bullies on the playground and the two of them have started calling the bullies “cool cats” whenever they see them.  They inform me that, to them, “cool cat” is code for “dirty cow’s butt.”

There is another roar of laughter–which I take part in–and my oldest continues:

Today I walked by one of them and said, “Hey cool cat.  How’s it goin’?” and he looked at me and smiled.  I think he likes the attention.  Too bad he’s a dirty cow’s butt.

Well, that’s one way to deal with a bully.

Way Back When I Was a Cowgirl in the Old West

Have you ever heard your pulse amplified through your pillow?

As I closed my eyes the other night, my final thought was of how my pulse sounded similar to the hoof beats of a galloping horse.  I find horses to be beautiful, magnificent creatures, but you’ll never catch me riding one because, to me, they seem unpredictable and a little frightening.

I awoke around 2 am to the realization that I was not on the back of my horse at a dead run through the dusty streets of an old western town while firing my pistol into the air.  I couldn’t see what I was wearing, so I don’t know how well I looked the part, but I would like to think I looked a little something like this

Blanche Messier Foster

. . . and that my bum was planted firmly in the saddle.