Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Easy Chocolate Chip Cake

Today I am sharing one of my favorite go to recipes for dessert!  We had company last night and I had planned to try a new cookie recipe I spotted on pinterest, but when the small bag of rolos (star ingredient) was $4.50(!) at the store I balked out of principle.  Unbelievable.  So, I defaulted to a cake mix based chocolate chip cake that is as delicious as it is easy!

I'm not a huge cake person, but I really like this one.  I usually need something rich thrown in... peanut butter, fruit, copious amounts of icing, make it a cheesecake... whatever.  (In fact, my mom always tells this story about my sister and I informing some other little guests at a birthday party that they don't have to eat the "bread part" of the cake and should just eat the good stuff, the icing.  I am sure my mom got the look (you know, the "gee, thanks a lot" look) from the other moms, but let's be honest... the truth is the truth!)  Anyway, this cake recipe turns out a super moist chocolate cake with lots of little bursts of smooth, rich chocolate-- especially if you serve it warm!  Plus, you bake it in a bundt pan, and that means it looks faaaaan-cee. ;)  Hope you enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Cake

1 box devil's food cake mix
1, 3oz. package instant chocolate pudding
1, 12-oz. package chocolate chip morsels
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
2/3 cup oil
Mix all dry ingredients and then add eggs, sour cream, and oil.
Bake in bundt pan that had been sprayed with coking spray in a 325' oven for 1 hour.
Cool in pan 10 minutes.
Yum!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Outings

Yesterday, we talked about ideas for at-home outdoor activities.  Today I thought I would follow up by sharing (and soliciting!) ideas for actual outings.  Here is a simple list of favorite destinations, both outdoor and indoor...

Outdoor Destinations:
Parks (especially with ducks to feed)
Join some pals for a Picnic
Playgrounds
Pool (summer, of course)
Sprayground (only open weekends through September, then closed until Spring)
A buddy's Backyard :)

Indoor Destinations:
Indoor Play Places (like Little Bears or a CatchAir)
Play date at a buddy’s house
The mall play area (and lunch/shopping!)
Have a buddy over for play date at your house
Lunch Date at Chickfila (indoor playplace)
Imagine It Children's Museum
Story Time at the Library
A little older: $1 movies

What are some other outing ideas that we've missed?  I would love to hear!

And as we close out August, here is the link to the rest of our Summer Fun pictures.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Outside!

Raise your hand if your kid wants to go outside all. the. time.  I am raising both of my hands!  This has been our first summer with a busy toddler (baby summers don’t count!) and I have found myself building an arsenal of summer fun ideas.  Of course there are the usual go-tos, like the park or the pool, but what about the instances when there isn’t enough time for a full-fledged outing, or you have 45 minutes to kill before dinner and your tot is itching to get out that door?

After discovering Reed’s love of splashing in buckets at the beach, I picked up three large buckets (on clearance for 80 cents) at Sears.  We keep them right inside the garage, and can quickly set up a bucket station in the driveway by filling them up with the hose, so that Reed can splash and pour to his heart’s content.  Reed’s Mimi introduced him to painting with water, so now we keep paint brushes handy too, and Reed paints the driveway, house, and wall.  Big hit!  Here is a picture of Reed and his cousin Cole painting like it’s their job!


Quick outdoor activities like the buckets are lifesavers when you want to get outside but don’t plan to venture from home.  However, I think having the activities and supplies organized and ready to go is a must.  Recently, I saw a patio shelf (originally posted here) on pinterest, and fell in love...


My goal is to make our own outdoor activities shelf, tucked right inside the garage, by spring.  I have found that the flat area of our driveway (aka the basketball court) is shaded for most of the day, and since we have a big drop off in our yard and too-big railing spaces on our deck, the court is our favorite spot to spend time outside.  So it would be perfect for our shelf to be right inside the garage rather than on a patio.  So far, I think our shelf will include…

Water buckets and supplies (like paint brushes, water toys, cups)
Sidewalk chalk
Water Guns (and we’ll fill them with food coloring and water for some wintry outdoor art when it snows!)
Balls and other outside games
Sand toys (Matt doesn’t know it yet, but he is going to build a sandbox soon!) :)
Digging Tools
Bubbles
And maybe in a couple of summers some supplies for a scavenger hunt like this one:
Via












Or this one:
Via

















 Can’t wait for my "outside fun" shelf!  What are other good items to stock in an armory of ready-to-go outdoor activities?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Baby Book Updates

Ever since I kicked the notebook habit, I have been trying to be sure to keep Reed’s Baby Book up-to-date.


I have been doing pretty well!  I have everything filled in except for the section about the first haircut, and that’s only because Reed hasn’t had his locks chopped yet.  A few days ago, I updated the page titled, “A Little Story about You.”  I wrote about Reed’s zoo obsession and how we have gotten such a kick out of it, and I also chronicled his intense love for his ducky robe…

At one of his baby showers, Reed got the cutest little ducky bathrobe from Ms. Kathy.  We put it on him a time or two for a Kodak moment, but everyone knows that the time lapse between bathtub exit and diaper cover is crucial to evading a pee shower, so mostly the robe served as picturesque décor hanging in Reed’s bathroom.  That is, until he recently rediscovered it.  A few months ago, he must have noticed that the robe had duckies on it, and Reed reallllly likes duckies.  As Matt was drying him with a towel, Reed pointed to the robe and yelled “DUCKIES!”  “Yes, duckies” we said.  He persisted in excitement until we put the robe on him.  Now, every time we get him out of the tub he insists on wearing his ducky robe.  "Need duckies!"  We help him into it, and he runs down the hall and into his room beaming with pride.


Reed’s robe love wouldn’t be any problem except that he is 17 months old, and the robe is size 0-9 months!  The sleeves are too short.  It barely ties around his middle.  And the length… well, you can see for yourself what we are dealing with there!


So, we have Reed’s ducky robe ritual recorded in his baby book, but we have yet to see how the little story will end!  :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

"Every step we are breathing in Your grace"

Our church website has a unique section called This week at Sanctuary, which allows people to preview the scripture we will be studying and the songs we will be singing in order to prepare for worship.  I love it!  This Sunday we will be worshiping with a new Matt Redman song, "Never Once," which powerfully declares God's steadfast faithfulness.  I think it is such a moving song.  Matt shared it with with me (using spotify-- have you discovered spotify yet?!), and I wanted to share it with you.  It is a beautiful reminder that God will never leave us on our own... that we are carried by His constant grace...




"Never Once"

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Troubled Youth

...Welcome to Youth Ministry?






I about died laughing when Matt came home from a meeting like this.  Had to take this picture while he was driving away... He thought publicity would only egg on our favorite delinquents (Probably safe here on my blog) :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Imagine It! Children's Museum

Last week, Reed and I made our return visit to Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta.  We now have a pass to the museum, as I mentioned in our zoo post, so we met my dad (Papa), my mom (Murry), my sister (Aunt Bri), and my nephew (cousin Cameron) to visit and play.  (I live on the other side of Atlanta from my family, if you happened to wonder why Reed and his grandparents/cousins frequently crash the ATL!)  Anyway, I think Imagine It will quickly become one of our go to playgrounds in the city… especially as we wait out the rest of these HOT summer days, and then once the weather turns cold.

A few nuts and bolts in case you are interested, and then I Reed and Cameron will take you on a little tour of the museum!  There is a lot of information online, including about events and programs, so be sure to check out the museum’s website.  Also, I have only been twice so I’m not a location expert, but Imagine It is in the same area as the aquarium, so it is just across the street from the playgrounds and fountains in Centennial Olympic Park, as well as within walking distance of the CNN center food court.  I also noticed that there’s a nursing area for moms- awesome!  You might be thinking a children’s museum would be way over Reed’s head, but Imagine It is actually very toddler friendly, in my opinion.  There are 1 or 2 exhibits that don’t cut it for Reed’s age, but the majority of them keep him running around the place having a good ‘ole time…

First, there is a toddler’s only exhibit called Crawl Space that is designed for tots aged 2 and under.  It has big, soft building blocks, musical instruments, padded slides and climbing spots…  Reed and Cameron especially enjoyed the Charlie brown piano.  (I want one!)

The seasonal exhibit right now is about science and sports.  It has some really neat components; below Reed is “learning about” angle, force, and bounce passing. :)  The actual concepts are above Reed’s pay grade, but like most little boys would, he got excited about seeing his favorite sports balls and thought he was experiencing the exhibit at its finest.

The first exhibit when you enter, called Fundamentally Food, is supposed to follow food from the farm to the table… it has a cow, a tractor, a grocery truck and store, and a house equipped with a play kitchen. The first time we visited, Reed threw a potato at one of the workers, but this second time he had a better grasp on etiquette fit for the farm/food exhibit.

Oh, and there are a couple of little reading nooks with oversized cushions spread throughout the room too!

The Tools section is the one most aimed at older children.  (Also the dress up area, but I just think that’s gross anyway…)  My niece, Chloe (5yo), loved the giant ball machine when she visited.  Reed of course had no idea about pulleys and levers and such, but he really enjoyed watching the colorful balls roll and spin everywhere, and he liked chasing after the ones that fell on the floor.  They do have several different types of building blocks appropriate for younger ages.

Let’s see… Oh, these next pictures are from the Leaping into Learning, a forest for 8yo and under, where you can splash, fish, and explore.  So cute!  Not pictured: tree house, woodland puppets, and waterfall.  And don’t forget to out on a rain coat!

 Last but not least is the creative area with the painting wall and sculpting sand!  My favorite!

Whew!  Bet you feel like you don’t even need to actually go to the museum now!!  But you should.  Because apparently it is where A-list celebs visiting Atlanta take their kiddos… Our friends Jenny and Mason played alongside Ben Affleck and his daughter there.  Now that you know how much fun it is (and that a movie star sighting might be at stake), let us know when you venture that way, or if you have any questions!  Enjoy! :)



Friday, August 12, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Gift that Keeps on Giving...

Last Friday, we went to the zoo.  It was our TENTH visit since mid-march.  Crazy, I know, but let me tell you a little bit about our love story with the zoo…


It all started as a first birthday gift to Reed.  (Happy Birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! You read books about gorillas and monkeys, and we think you’d like the zoo!)  As I mentioned above, we have already been to the zoo TEN times since Reed turned one.  Matt and I like to refer to our present for Reed as the gift that keeps on giving.  Sometimes we mean that in a good way…

Our first visit to the zoo was a family day in celebration of Reed’s birthday!
Since then, we’ve visited with various cousins and friends!  Zoo Atlanta isn’t even all that big, but each visit is still fun and unique.

And we aren’t just fair weather friends!  We have hit up the zoo in the full-blown summer heat, and even in the rain!  In fact, the day it rained on us was probably my favorite visit so far.  It was (understandably) NOT crowded.  And the animals were so active!  That was the day the lion (usually sleeping in the sun with his back to us) showed us his magnificent mane, and the day that the gorillas put on a fantastic show right outside the observatory window!

Over the past few months, we have watched Po, the sweet baby Panda, grow bigger and bigger.


We got an up-close peek at a brand new baby gorilla being cradled by its mom, and then a couple of months later getting a piggy back ride.


Most recently, we caught a glimpse of the not-yet-named giraffe calf out for the very first time!


Chelsea, one the Sumatran tigers, just had two cubs, but their exhibit won’t debut until next month.

Reed really loves the zoo!  He points and laughs and yells out his favorite animal names/noises as we make our way around.  (This is a significant improvement in just 3 months from his first visit, where we weren’t even sure whether or not he was looking at the animals).  He has learned a lot, and we had no idea he would fall so in love with the gift that keeps on giving.  Sometimes, though, we mean that reference in a not so good way…

After our first couple of visits, Reed began to enjoy the zoo a little too much.  He would cry and beg to visit daily.  “Zooooo! Zooooo!”  I am sure you understand that we cannot go to the zoo everyday.  Reed, however, does not.  Get this: one day, we spent a delightful morning with friends at the zoo and Reed fell asleep in the car on the way home.  He woke up as we pulled into the garage and started crying to visit the zoo!  What!?   Below is a series of pictures taken as Reed notices a membership email (with pictures) I opened from Zoo Atlanta… He sees the pictures, freaks out, shows me the animals again, and launches into his elephant impression.
Crazy tot.  My fave is the second pic!
  
We think Reed’s favorite animals are the gorillas, which he call “pat pats” (while he pats his chest).  Usually when he cries for the zoo, it sounds something like: “Zoo! Zoooooo… Pat! Pat! Pat! Pat!”  Matt came up with the idea one afternoon to look up videos of gorillas on you tube to watch with Reed.  That worked for the moment; they had a good laugh.  Now he cries for the zoo AND the pat pat video.  Backfire.

Thankfully, Reed has mellowed some.  He often cries for other things besides the zoo (like, for instance, cookies and cheese).  But it really is cute how much he loves that place.  He thinks anything green and forest-like is possibly a zoo exhibit; this makes for some funny outbursts in the middle of west cobb!  He learned the word an-i-mal (pronounced so clearly that is will make you giggle) last week, and seems to understand the concept.  So, our entrance into the zoo on Friday was heralded by loud, hysterical, Tourette-like exclamations of An-i-mal! An-i-mal! An-i-mal!  People were turning and looking, and we can only imagine that they were thinking to themselves, "that kid needs to get out more!" :)

I guess that was a very long way to say it, but I wanted to tell you how much Reed loves the zoo!  Maybe your family would enjoy a membership as much as we do!  Here are five reasons why we chose a zoo pass as our bday gift:

1-    Who would pick a toy over a year full of fun and learning and memories at the zoo! :)  We thought something experiential that would last his whole 2nd year would be a great gift.

2-    Zoo Atlanta is easily accessible from 75 and 20, has free parking, and allows you to pack your own lunch from home… easy on the wallet.

3-    We were able to put "guest" instead of specifying Matt’s name on the membership, so that when we go during the week we can take along a mommy friend and any buddies Reed’s age for free.  (My ulterior motive!)

4-    I love that it is outside!  Sure, the summer can be hot, but there is a lot of shade at the zoo.  We usually get there at 9:30 when it opens (and is cooler), and we leave right after lunch.

5-    We had a $10 off coupon, plus Zoo Membership is tax deductible (okay those aren’t reasons, but definitely perks you should know about!)

Okay, this isn’t a zoo commercial, but the membership has seriously been a huge hit.  Or, if you don’t have a zoo in your area, how about a pass to an aquarium, children’s museum, or even a children’s play place, like a bounce house or Gymboree!  My parents recently added me to their grandparent membership at Imagine it, which is also so cute and fun.  We can’t wait to go back!  If anyone wants to plan a visit, let us know!
But don’t take it from me… Here is an interview with the little zookeeper himself.
(Warning: not professional quality (read: dumb mom comments), and representative of a 1-take video with a 16 month old!)


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pray for Caden

You might remember a few weeks ago when I shared pictures of a baby shower for my dear friend Becca and her "little man" Caden.  Caden was born on Wednesday morning, and is so, so precious!  A few hours after his arrival, Becca & Adam found out that Caden's heart isn't healthy and that he is in need of open heart surgery.  The surgery has been scheduled for Monday.  You can read the current updates from Becca and Adam about Caden's little heart on the Stanley's blog (in order) here, here, and here.
Matt and I are hurting for our friends and their sweet baby son, and we are trusting God with them.  Please join me in praying for Caden and for the Stanleys--Adam, Becca, and (big sister) Jayci.  You can stay updated with the Stanleys and find out how to pray for and encourage them through their family blog, The Stanley Clan

**Update: Caden's surgery went as well as expected.  Thank you, Lord for carrying him through!  The next 24-48 hours are critical.  Please continue to fight for Caden and his family in prayer.  The Stanleys continue to share updates on their blog.  Please feel free to grab the care badge (image) above and post it on your website, blog, facebook page, etc as a visual encouragement to Adam and Becca of those praying and standing with them during this battle**

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Photo Book Methodology

Do you ever get the notifications about free online photo book offers that expire in a day or two, and have to either scramble to throw something together or miss out on a great deal?

I do.

So I have two ideas to pass along to you today...

1- On Deck
I have a friend who always keeps a completed photo book “on deck” and ready to order when a “50% off” or “free” offer comes available.  I think that’s a great idea!  Of course, the photo book in queue would have to be one that you don’t mind waiting a bit to have in your hands.  Also, the deals often specify a certain size of photo book, and are (obviously) specific to each company; it would be a big ordeal to pre-make albums in each size for each online photo brand.  Personally, I have a photo book on deck with Shutterfly (since that is the company I use most often), and I try to keep some ideas up my sleeve for other pop-up offers…

2- Friends and Family Children’s Book
Knowing how much I love photos and photo books, my savings savvy sister gave me the heads up when Walgreen’s ran a promo code a few months ago for a free album.  I didn’t have an event in mind to document at the time, so I came up with the idea of using the deal to print a book for Reed with names and pictures of family members and some friends.  I love it and he loves it… and it was free!  Check it out:

Cover:


Title Page:
I added "REED" stickers because I wanted him to see and learn his own name too!

Some of the Pages:



I was scrambling to beat the expiration on the deal, but I tried to add some other fun too—like “Can you clap your hands?” on the page with a picture where Reed is clapping, and inviting him to recognize the colors on a particularly bright picture page.


I made pages for all of Reed’s family, and then added a bunch of pictures of some of his favorite friends on the last page.  He loves to point them out :)


Some other ideas for quick photo books include a counting and/or colors book using pictures of your child’s favorite things.  Or maybe a version of the family book as a gift for a cousin?  Reed’s You Are Loved book could stand to be replaced with an updated version every couple of years, (especially if it is free!) …Just can’t forget to hold onto the previous versions as special keepsakes!

Hope these ideas help you take advantage the next big photo book deal that comes your way! :)