Thursday, November 17, 2011

Give a little cheer

First of all, I know that I promised to do this more often and have failed miserably, but I promise I have a good excuse. I've had sick (and I mean really sick) kids for the past 2 weeks that have kept me up at night, home from work, and elbow deep in laundry. So, I ask for your forgiveness, and promise that I will TRY to do better next time.

Now, I've had a blog idea that I've been wanting to write about for a month, my little helpers (or should I say 1 helper and my anti-helper), but yesterday something happened and I feel compelled to save that story for another day.

Yesterday I found out that our daycare is closing. And as horrific and panicky as it made me, I immediately began to feel for the 20 or so dedicated men and women who will be losing their jobs, right before Christmas. It made me sad, and upset that I couldn't pay for each and every one of them to have the wonderful Christmas that they deserve. Which got me to thinking about all of the children around the world that won't have toys at Christmas and won't have anything to eat that day, let alone a Christmas dinner.

It also made me think about how thankful I am that my mom raised me the way that she did, knowing that when you can and are able, you should always give back. Every year that I can remember, our family has always adopted a family at Christmas, or bought for an angel off the angel tree, or bought something for someone at a nursing home who won't get any visitors at Christmas. My mom was also always involved in service organizations growing up that had nothing to do with my brother and me. She was involved because it was the right thing to do. She passed that on to me.

In college I picked up the tradition and am so proud to say that my friends and I have adopted a family for 10 years. That is 10 (actually more than that because some years we did 2 families) families that we made a difference in. I'm not writing about this to toot my own horn, but to show how easy it is to make a difference. You might ask why I'm writing about this in a parenting blog, and it is because one of the most important values we can teach our children is philanthropy.

I don't have a lot to give, but I remind myself that the $10 I set aside each month in my grocery budget to buy food for the food bank will provide a meal for a family that would otherwise not have one. And when Braden asks why the mac n cheese I just bought can't come home with us, I happily explain to him why we buy for other children. Now, at 3 I have to put it in terms he will understand, but even as young as three he is beginning to understand what it means to help people. What it means to give of yourself and not expect anything in return.

So, this holiday season, I urge you to give back, and take your children along when you do it. Below I've listed some places that we've chosen to give back to in the past, in case you need an idea to get you rolling:

- Send a letter of thanks or a package to a soldier. You can adopt soldiers at (We adopted an entire platoon one year at Christmas and they wrote us a very sweet letter back)
- Find out from local schools if they do backpacks at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most kids who are on free or reduced lunch at school won't have anything to eat during long school breaks.
- Get an angel from an angel tree (Wal Mart usually has them; I know our Walgreens has an elderly angel tree, too)
- Call a school, church, or nursing home to see if anyone has expressed a need
- Rainbow Village is a domestic violence center we've worked with in the past. I know sometimes these centers are difficult because of the secrecy surrounding these women, but I am sure they can always use help.
- Reach out to your local volunteer clubs (Kiwanis, Rotary, Junior League, and Junior Auxiliary). They've always got folks in need.

And remember, it doesn't have to be a lot of time or money, but what you do can make a difference in someone's life, and that is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ballet Birthday Bash

Ok, so I know I've been bad about updating this, but life has been a little hectic lately! I have some great blogs in the works so stay tuned!

Since I last wrote, Amelia has turned 1! And of course in true Benson fashion, we partied! On Amelia's actual birthday, we headed out to Aunt Nancy's house for cupcakes and presents from the family! The birthday girl tried to sample each and every cupcake, but can you blame her when we sat her on the table right next to the cupcake stand?
My aunt made her her own cake and cupcakes for everyone else. The other 3 kids ate 11 cupcakes between themselves!
New rocking horse from the Sanders

Last day for bottles - I'm a big girl now!

Then, on Friday Mimi came to town to help us celebrate! it was off to one year picture session (after mommy and Mimi had some Cothoms downtown!)

Saturday before her party we went to the pumpkin patch and both kids had a blast. Then it was off to nap for Amelia and time for mommy to get the party ready. Now, we've discussed my tendency to go slightly overboard with birthdays, but I do not see anything wrong with individual tulle tutus for each cupcake… I really don’t =) The theme of the party was a ballet birthday. Mommy made tutus for all of the little girls that came to the party. The weather was perfect so we partied outside with lots of friends and family! Amelia very much enjoyed her cake and then it was off for a quick bath and outfit change. Then it was present time. She got lots of great stuff, and she wanted to hold it all at one time. Every time she got a new baby or pair of shoes she would try to squish it all into her chubby little hands at once.

The table with the banner mommy made for Amelia

Mimi, Amelia, and Marlee


Yes I'm under here, but I must have room for all my babies!

Good party...I'm ready for next year!

It was a wonderful time, celebrated with special people, and even though she won't remember it, I will. We had a wonderful time celebrating Miss Amelia!
Now, in honor of birthdays gone by, I'm posting some pics from some of my old birthday parties. You can probably start to see how I got the crazy birthday gene… (you mean it's not normal to wake up on your birthday to a banana with candles in it and the family singing happy birthday to you?)
13th birthday dance party with Lizzie Hood - we had a rock and roll theme

9th birthday pool party at the Holiday Inn (January birthdays do not lend themselves to outdoor pool parties!)

Another pool party birthday

Luau birthday party - mom hand made the outfits for all the girls

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fall in the South

I know it's been a minute since I've given an update on what we've been up to, so here goes. In a nutshell I've been teaching my kids how to be good southerners – you know, family, football, friends, and fairs!

Mom and Larry (aka Mimi and Pops) came for a visit over Labor Day weekend. Although their visits are never as long as we'd like them to be, we had such a blast! We took the kids to their first high school football game on Friday night and it happened to be with 25,000 other people in a college stadium. I don't think we remembered a camera that night, so we don't have any pics, but the kids (and adults) had a blast! Both kids loved the cheerleaders and run throughs and were totally impressed with climbing all over the bleachers.

Pops and his little monkey
The next day was jam packed, too. Took the kids to Chuck E Cheese to celebrate Evan's birthday and then went to play in one of the city's outdoor water fountain parks. Again – the kids had a blast! Amelia was walking (sort of) so she kept finding herself in the middle of everything and loved it!

I can't believe they stopped to eat pizza!

Amelia and her new boyfriend. Already a woman in control =)
That night, mom and I (with some help from Amelia) put together Amelia's new birthday present from Mimi and Pops – a dollhouse bookshelf. Amelia was having a blast climbing in and out of it. She was bummed when we put the shelves in and she figured out that it wasn't really a little house for her. =)

I'm mommy's little helper...I promise =)

Finished product - very much bolted to the wall
The very next week I took the kids to the fair parade (not quite brave enough to take them to the actual fair yet – it reminds me a little too much of deliverance, but worse!). Braden sat right on the edge of the road and loved watching all of the floats go by. Amelia was busy trying to escape and do anything she wasn't supposed to do, so she and I missed a lot of the parade. Anyway, the parade brought back lots of memories for me because I rode in it once or twice as a kid.

Taken the kids back to a few other high school football games to watch a friend's son play. It's a smaller school, so smaller stadium and the kids again have a blast! We even got to go on the field after the game and Zach let Braden try his helmet on.

Braden and I also had a much needed Mommy/Braden date to Disney Live a few weeks ago. The productions were Cinderella, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast. Of course, Braden's favorites were the beast and the evil queen =)
We've also been to a few festivals over the past several weeks. Braden got his face painted at one and we managed to lose no less than 8 balloons in a 90 minute timeframe. Craft fairs seems to be a way of life in the south and a yearly reminder that fall is here. I love them!

Mom came back for Amelia's first birthday party (another post on that later) and we took the kids to the pumpkin patch. This one was really neat! They had a train and a hayride, and an old Western town, and pumpkins of course. Amelia loved the baby chickens at the petting zoo. Braden pretty much loved it all!

Hanging out in the Old West with Mimi

I want this one, mom!

Can I have a baby chicken for my birthday?

At least this year Amelia's out of the womb for the hay ride.
Thought the one last year might have put me into pre-term labor!
So, I guess what we've been up to is just living life. Had a few great visits from family and friends, some great food, and some great visits to fairs and parades.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Baby Weight no More!

Every mom struggles with baby weight. Even Heidi Klum I'm sure struggled with getting the weight off, but for those of us who are not super models and can't afford to hire a live in trainer, getting that weight on certainly isn't as easy (or fun) as putting it on.

I'm one of those people who have struggled with weight my entire life. I look at a bag of Cheetos and gain 5 pounds. Always have. It didn't help the situation when I met beer. =)

Now, after Braden I was able to get the weight off (I still had the freshman 15 and the beer weight, but at least the baby weight came off). But Amelia was a different story. I tried it all – counting calories, exercising, low carb – you name it, I tried it. And NOTHING worked.

The thing is though, I didn't realize how much it affected the way I felt about my body. After having a baby your hormones are crazy to begin with and you get so little sleep that a tank top and maternity pants cut it most days. So, the fact that I was still dressing like that 9 months later didn't really bother me. I told myself that I was a mom and my body would never be the same and that one day I would get the weight off and when I did it would be fine, and I believed myself. I even stopped dancing around the house to a favorite song on the radio and didn't notice. I developed a chronic pulled muscle in my heel that hurt almost on a daily basis, but I wrote it off to changes one goes through after delivering a baby.

Well, I finally found something that worked for me. I'm about 37 pounds down and I feel so great! I feel so great that it makes me realize how not great I felt for those 9 months. I'm wearing clothes now that I haven't worn in almost 4 years and I promise you that last week I wore heels, something that wasn't possible with the foot pain! I'm wearing dresses now and looking forward to putting together outfits.

Now, not that I'm above tooting my own horn because if you knew me, you'd know what an accomplishment losing weight is for me. But more than that, I wanted to write this to let everyone out there who is carrying an extra 10, 20, or even 50 pounds of baby weight, that it can be done. You just have to find what works for you. I'm thinner now than I was when I got married and don't plan on stopping just yet (still have those freshman 15 lurking around). Are there days when it's hard to work out? Yes – especially since Amelia's favorite place to camp out during my ballet routine is clinched to the inside of my thigh, and sometimes after a full day of work, playtime, and cleaning up poop from one or more of my kids, all I want is to lie on the couch and melt into it and not get up. But, then I remember that cute little pink dress in my closet and it makes me get up and do a little something. I even find myself dancing around the house again, and I'd forgotten how much I missed that. =)

Anyway, better head to bed. Big day tomorrow – my baby girl turns 1 and obviously I need to bring the 'A game' since this will set the precedent for all future birthdays. I promise an update of the birthday festivities and other fall activities to follow soon!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A great life gone too soon

I think that one of the hardest decisions for a new mom to make is if and when to return to work. You are so enamored with your new buddle of joy that you can't ever imagine spending a moment away from them. So the thought of giving your child to someone for the better part of your waking hours pains you to your core.

For some, like me, staying home wasn't an option, so starting down the road of trying to choose who will take care of your child was daunting at best. Before Braden was born we explored several options, in home, churches, and group based daycares. We finally decided on a group based daycare situation and then began the task of finding one we could afford that we felt comfortable with. We finally found one and as many of you know, that first day is so hard! I went back at lunch to nurse and just to check on my little guy, but lo and behold he was doing fine. We had somehow managed to find someone who would love and care for our child the same way we would.

Last week the world lost an amazing light. One of Braden and Amelia's former daycare workers passed away suddenly and as I began to think about this woman, I began to think about all of the people who provide care on a daily basis to my kids.

I feel extremely lucky to have found not 1, but 3 different daycares that have provided amazing care to my children at different times in their lives. Not only do they provide care for my children, but they have fostered a want and a will to learn, which is so important at this age.

I feel so lucky that I have always been greeted each morning when I drop my kids off and been given a full report of the day's activities when I pick them up. The teachers and staff members truly come to love your children and respect your role as a parent. We still have a poster that Braden's class in Georgia made for him on his last day there. That was one of the hardest parts of leaving Georgia – leaving our friends and family at the Sunshine house.

I truly believe there are not many harder jobs in the world. Having to deal with kids who have an unimaginable energy level and being constantly outnumbered by them. Having to deal with children who are disciplined in different ways in each and every home they come from, yet having to make sure they all follow the same rules at school. Having to do all of this while making not nearly as much as they should, but doing it all with a smile and a heart full of love.

So, today I write this blog to say thank you to all of Braden and Amelia's teachers and the many staff that have touched all of our lives. You deserve much more than my praise and gratitude, but today that is all I have to offer. I write this in honor of you and in memory of Mrs. Chris Fain. For those of you with children, please take a minute today to thank the people who take care of your children when you can't be there with them, the ones who love your children like their own.

In memory of Chris Fain – a wonderful woman and friend, and someone who loved my children and always brought a smile to my face

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Birthday Blast on a Budget

Ok, in anticipation of Amelia's 1st birthday next month (and Braden's 4th in March) I thought I'd post a blog about some fun DIY stuff you can do for your kid's birthday. Now, there is nothing wrong with grabbing a pack of streamers and balloons from Party City and giving kids store bought favor bags, heck – I'm guilty, but I can tell you that I get no greater satisfaction than making stuff for my kids' parties.

So, to start with, let's focus on invitations. I've gone both ways (store bought and hand made) and love them both. If you want to do store bought, try They have great stationary and a great price! I've never been dissatisfied with their products or service. Do it yourself invites, to me, are some of the most time consuming things about DIY birthdays. Last year for Braden's train party I did handmade golden tickets and it almost did me in. Just some helpful hints on invites though. Try to include a picture of your child, and if the party is a theme party, try to get a pic of the child doing something related to the theme. For Braden's train party we had a pic of him riding Thomas with his train hat on. Tip 2 – clip art is your best friend. Use the search option in word clip art and you will be surprised at how many cute things you can come up with. Tip 3 – a screenprint software is your best friend. I use FastStone (and LOVE IT!), but there are lots of free screenprint services out there. It will allow you to copy parts of your computer screen and use in whatever invite your're creating. So, get the scissors and glue and enjoy!

Moving on to décor. Now, this can go as overboard as you'd like, but I'll throw some ideas out there. I made a huge banner for Amelia's birthday this year (think door size) and it was cheap and not too hard. I got a piece of fleece fabric from the leftover bin at Hobby Lobby for next to nothing and used that as my background. I then used Word to print out gigantic letters in stencil font on pink and blue paper. I spelled out 'HAPPY 1ST BIRTHDAY AMELIA". I cut out the letters and glued the "HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMELIA" with hot glue to my banner. I then found some ballerinas that I liked and printed them out and glued velcro to both the ballerinas and the "1st". This was I can reuse the banner each year and just change out the birthday and the theme.

Other really cute, easy, inexpensive décor for a girly party are tissue balls. Basically all you need is tissue paper, tape or thin wire, and fishing wire or string. Take 8-10 pieces of tissue paper and place them on top of each other (looks really cute to alternate 2 or 3 colors and/or get some with polka dots). Then fold the tissue paper over 2 inches. Turn over and repeat (think like you're making a fan) until it is entirely folded. Once folded fold in half lengthwise and unfold. Wrap wire or tape around the crease. Then you can cut (either a rounded end or a pointed end) each end about half an inch (should look live a V or a half circle). Then you just fan the ball out and hang it up. The great thing about this is that kids LOVE them and you can hang them up in your room once the party is over. For any of you who are particularly brave, I've heard of folks lighting them on fire (outside of course) and letting the wind take them away. I would however not suggest this for a kid's party.

Now, I am not one to attempt baking and decorating, so we'll move right on to the party favors. I am just as guilty as the next parent of buying overpriced party favors at Party City, but with these simple ideas, you don't have to!

The delivery bag – you can have this double as an activity for the kids, too. Just set out brown bags and have kids decorate their own and then stuff them during the party. Another cute idea is to use the favor as the bag. For Braden's first birthday we had a construction birthday so I had kid size construction hats for all of the kids. I found some stick on letters and personalized each hat and filled the hat with candy and toys. Also, always be on the lookout in the Target $1 section. Every so often (around back to school time) they'll put out both ziploc and paper bags with Disney characters (Princess, Cars, Toy Story, etc) on them and at just $1 for 25 you can't beat that if it goes with your theme!

Now, we've got a delivery system, what do I put in it? The first idea is super simple and cheap! All you need is a computer, color printer, and some small to medium address labels and you can make your own stickers. Let's say your theme is Disney Cars. Go to and google 'free disney car clip art'. It should bring back some sites that you can go to that offer free, downloadable clip art. So, find the ones you like, download them, and go to Word and create some labels. You can add words or just leave the clip art as your sticker. Then print out on your label paper and let the kids enjoy. I've found that file folder labels are just about the perfect size.

Now, to go along with your stickers, you can also make a personalized sticker book. Take one of your clip art designs and just enlarge it to be about 2-3 inches tall. Go back to Word and create another label that is a postcard label. Then you can insert your clip art along with "Child's Name's Sticker Book". Print out for each child and then cut out the 4x6 label. Add some blank 4x6 index cards behind it and hole punch in the upper left corner. Add a keyring to hold them all together and Voila (if you've got a laminator at home, laminate the top page, but this step isn't necessary).

Another idea is to print your own color pages to send home with the kiddos. Head back over to google and search for "my theme color pages" and you will inevitably get several results (unless you are having some sort of crazy party like rattlesnake catching or something like that) so all you have to do is choose the one or ones you like best and print. All kids love to color! And remember, at back to school time, crayons go on sale for 25 cents a piece so that could round out your favor basket.

A take home outfit is always fun, too. One year I had a luau and my mom hand made Hawaiian outfits for all 20 of us. I've also made tutus for all of Amelia's little friends (which requires no sewing), so if you'd like to know how to make a tutu, feel free to ask me.

Now, I could go on and on about this (I did after all make 25 individual tutus for cupcakes for my daughter's birthday this year), but I think I've given you all enough to get started. Google, word, and a printer are your best friends when it comes to a kid's birthday party – well, that and a lot of time and dedication =) I promise to post pics of Amelia's birthday next month so you can see all of my creations.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All Grown Up?

It has recently become evident to me that I have forgotten what it means to be a grown up. I attended a meeting last night, a grown up meeting, which in and of itself is a treat. But this was a new member meeting for Junior Auxiliary (for those of you not in the know, think Junior League for small towns). I have been around this organization for years because my mom was a member, so I should have known better. But, somehow I thought is was appropriate to go to this meeting in a cotton shirt, knee length shorts, and flip flops. Granted, it is what I had on all day long, but I should have known better. When I walked into the room, every other woman had on a dress or slacks with heels. Ahhhh! And it's not that I was the only parent or the only parent of small kids so I had no excuse.

So it got me thinking…what other normal adult behaviors have I acquiesced since becoming a mom. The list was a bit astounding.

First of all, the only things I have to talk about are my kids (as my friends without kids love to point out!). Granted, I work from home so I don't get a lot of daily interaction with other humans so I don't get any 'funny work stories' to pass around the table, but still, you'd think a reasonably intelligent 30 year old woman could come up with something else to talk about than the fact that my kid got peed on at school yesterday (yes – it was a rather traumatic moment for Braden).

I've touched briefly on the clothes, but I haven't let you in on the worst of it. Granted, shorts and tank tops are perfectly acceptable dress code for my daily life since I work from home, but practically all of my clothes are stained with some sort of baby milk, throw up, etc by the end of the day. By the time I go out in public I've forgotten they are there so I often go out in public looking like a hot mess! (Not to mention the shower, shave, makeup, and hair routine has been reduced to about 5 minutes these days)

Now, for those of you who knew me in my college days, you know that I frequented a bar or club once or twice. And don't get me wrong, I in no way miss that life, but these days I would rather go to bed and get an extra hour of sleep that drink a beer or go dancing. I guess I still do get to dance, but it is with Amelia and Braden in our living room and to silly songs about trees and nuts, not songs about gangstas and hoes.

And forget going to dinner at a restaurant. Now, we still go sometimes, but by the end of it all I'm normally so exhausted that it probably would have been a better idea just to stay at home and cook. Between keeping the baby busy, and trying to pick up whatever it is that she's thrown on the floor and keeping Braden from climbing over the back of the booth to visit the folks next to us, it is constant chaos. And my kids are not bad kids, they're just kids and kids are meant to run and be loud, not sit in restaurants.

So, am I really all grown up, who knows, but is it worth losing a little bit of my old self to get to snuggle up with my babies every single night? Absolutely! I'll put my big girl clothes on and drink to that =)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beach Babies

Ok, I promised a blog about the beach, complete with pictures, so here goes. Hope you have as much fun reading as we did making the memories!

So, the kids and I were fortunate enough to tag along with my cousin and her family for vacation this year to Orange Beach, AL (for those of you not in the know as I wasn't, it's near Gulf Shores). Now, as excited as I was about going on vacation, I was very nervous about 2 specific parts of the week.

The first part was obviously the drive. It was 522 miles from my house to the condo. As the drive grew closer, I chose not to look at it as 522 miles, but rather only 140 miles further than Nashville (a trip we had made 2 weeks prior with no issues). Little did I know, those 140 miles would almost be my undoing. The trip went find until about 140 miles from the beach. It then took us 4.5 hours to go the last 140 miles. To say that I was over the drive by the time we got there might have been the understatement of the year. 11 hours in a car with the kids by myself is another thing I can add to my list of accomplishments. The kids did great though! God was looking out for the 3 of us that day.

The second part I was a little worried about was the condo – not the fact that it was 6 floors off the ground (I had Melissa and Uncle Dennis to do their fair share of worrying over that), but the fact that there were 7 of us that were going to share a 900 square foot condo for 6 days. And, believe it or not, we all survived and did it quite well. I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't lived it. That's just a lot of people in a small space, but the kids all did great! (I wasn't really ever worried about the adults!)

So, now into the good stuff. Of course almost immediately when we got there we trekked out to the beach. Then brought stressor number 3. SAND. I hate sand. The kids didn't seem to mind it much, but I just hate it, and when you have two small kids, you can't help but get sand all over you, but as the week went on, I learned to live with it and enjoyed myself.

So, our days pretty much went as follows. Wake up (my kids slept surprisingly late for them, i.e. woke up after 6am each morning), head to the beach, kids beg to go to the pool, we tell them we didn't drive 522 miles to swim at the pool, play at the beach for a few hours, take a quick dip at the pool, lunch, naps, crafts, out for dinner.

This restaurant served the kid's meals on frisbees so it gave my kids weapons to use as they were digesting!

We want to go to the beach. Let us out!
One day I decided to take Braden to a souvenir store instead of making him take a nap. Big mistake! He loved the souvenir store, but had numerous melt downs the rest of the day. That was of course the day that all 4 families (there were 2 other families there with us) decided to go to dinner… That night was not my best.

After Braden screaming at me for 20 minutes, we get to the restaurant only to find that Amelia has thrown up all over herself. Change her, make it to the restaurant to find there is an hour and 40 minute wait. Decided to eat at the grill instead. We sat down and as everyone else was arriving and we were getting our drinks the waiters come running through telling everyone that we all have to go to the front of the parking lot. I grabbed what I could off the table and headed out with the kiddos (Bobby was carrying Braden because he had fallen asleep in his lap). I honestly thought it was a restaurant mandated limbo contest or something… No, come to find out it was a bomb threat. So we, along with the other 7000 people waiting to eat at this restaurant were ushered to our cars and out of the parking lot. The stuff I left on the table was never to be seen again, but nothing I can't replace. The group decided to head to another restaurant closer to the hotel. All 13 of us were seated immediately on an outside patio. To say that the service was slow was perhaps the understatement of the year. It took over 2 hours to be served and get our dinner eaten. Keep in mind that we had a 10 month old, 3 3 year olds, a 5 year old and a 6 year old. Thank goodness they discovered that they could feed Amelia's cheerios to the fish and turtles swimming around the patio. We quickly went through those so they started throwing whatever they could find – bread, ice, probably a fork or two, but no one really cared because it kept them busy. Amelia decided that 2 hours was too much for her and promptly threw up on me again. At this point in the evening I decided I was done. Took the kids back to the condo and changed clothes and put everyone to bed. However, considering that there could have been a bomb and we had that many kids in a confined space for 2 hours, the evening didn't go nearly as bad as it could have!

Do you think the turtles will eat my little sister if we throw her over?
Our last afternoon we took a Dolphin tour. The whole trip from beginning to end was fantastic! When we got to the marina there were jellyfish everywhere, so the kids loved seeing that. The boat ride out was very nice and we saw dolphins almost immediately. We then hooked up with a charter shrimp boat, and unbeknownst to me, dolphins are smart enough to follow the shrimp boat to catch whatever falls out of the net. So, for about 20 minutes the dolphins followed the shrimp boat and we followed the dolphins. Then, the shrimp boat brought their net in and the dolphins went nuts! The folks on the charter boat were hand feeding fish to the dolphins at one point and that was really awesome! On the way back, all 3 of the older kids got to drive the boat, which was super cool for them! However, all of that being said, one of my favorite memories of that boat ride was the way Amelia looked in her life jacket – think of a neon orange stay puft marshmallow!

I see one!

Just call me Puft Diddy!

Are you sure I'm going the right way?
The trip home wasn't any better or worse than the trip out there. Took 10 ½ hours to get home, but I drove in rain for the last 45 minutes and Amelia got sick every time we stopped so I call it a draw =)

We had such a fabulous time, and even though my kids probably won't remember it, I know they had a great time while they were there! So glad we got to go!

Coming to a Christmas card near you

I find it amusing that the folks trying to amuse my kids so they'd smile weren't standing behind the camera =)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beach Bums

Since my last few blogs (and my next one, too) are about vacations, I thought I would share with you some tips I've learned over the past months about vacationing with small children.

1) Plan, Plan, Plan! – From the packing to planning whatever adventure you're off on, planning is the key to vacationing with small kids. Even if your entire plan is to sit on the beach for a week, you still need a plan. Believe me, getting lost on hour 11 of a drive or getting to the place you're staying just in time for bedtime and realizing you forgot night time diapers is a nightmare! You don't have to pack as early as I do, but at least start a list of what you need to pack. I start a list about 2 weeks out from vacation. Then, every time I think of something I need to take, I write it down. As I pack, I mark it off my list.

2) If you can, take food with you – I love eating out on vacation, mainly because it is a break from the cooking and cleaning of real life, not necessarily because I love the local cuisine. That being said, eating out for every meal can be exhausting and bad for both your pocket book and waistline. So, if you're staying in a place that has any sort of kitchen, take as much food as you can and fix a simple breakfast and lunch each day and plan on eating out each night. I know that whatever place you're staying in probably has a grocery store near by, but seriously, do you really want to grocery shop on vacation? It's enough of a pain at home, so to avoid, mentally prepare a grocery list of what your family will eat each day and plan to pack it. (Note – eating out is only less stressful if there is no bomb threat involved…believe me – I know!)

3) Plan for "just in case" – Inevitably with any vacation lasting more than a week, something will always happen to ruin your perfect plans. For example – it may rain every day you plan to go to the beach or Disney and you're now stuck in a 900 square foot condo with 6 other people. Since watching Sponge Bob from sun up to sun down will most likely put most parents over the edge, have a just in case bag packed. This also comes in handy when the kids just need a little vacation down time. For our most recent trip I had the following craft projects that the kids LOVED!

a. Color your own shirts – I found white and light gray shirts at the dollar store and got some of the iron on printer paper from Wal Mart. I then designed some shirts that said "Beach Bum" and listed the city we were staying in and found a clip art of some flip flops. I made all of the wording in stencil font so that the kids could color their own shirts with some fabric markers that I brought along. They cost way less than the kids shirts at the souvenir shops and kept the kids busy for at least an hour one day. They were very excited to show off their new creations.

b. Theme color your own stickers – again I went into word and found some clip art that related to the beach and would allow coloring by the kids. I found some large address labels that I already had and made a few sheets for each kid. My particular address labels were the re-stickable kind meaning that the kids could stick them to anything and they'd come right up.

c. Vacation picture frame – I found some wood frames at Wal Mart for less than $1 and packed some stickers and paint I already had. This was a 2 part project so it was even better! First the kids painted their frames. Once they dried they came back and decorated them with stickers. Once we get pics from the trip back I plan to put one of them in the frame that Braden made.

4) Shop for souvenirs ahead of time – This is something I've practiced for just about every trip we've been on – whether it be a trip to the Atlanta zoo or a weeklong trip to the beach. Souvenir shops can be the expensive death of an otherwise fiscally responsible trip. I'm just as bad as the kids are. We get in there and I want to get every tacky t-shirt and knick knack to commemorate this occasion. So, in order to avoid the pitfall, I plan ahead and just don't go. That doesn't mean my kids don't get souvenirs. Example – when I began planning trips to the zoo and aquarium for out of town guests I began amassing zoo and aquarium knick knacks wherever I went. I found cute color your own zoo masks and zoo keeper rubber duckys at and some cute fish stuff in the $1 section at Target. So, when we go to the zoo I pack a cute mask, a juice box and snack, and a rubber ducky in a cute little zoo themed box. When the kids ask to go into the store I pull out the ready made souvenir and they forget all about buying the $20 hat that they'll never wear again. Same thing for the beach, since we went at the end of summer I got new beach water bottles, pails and shovels, etc on clearance at Target, but all of the kids had new toys to play with and didn't care much about going to a souvenir store.

5) Make naps and downtime a priority – take it from the mom who didn't enforce this one day – make your kids take naps! Kids are always more keyed up for vacation and chances are they'll be outside in the heat and be expending more energy than they normally would, so even if you're temped to not make them take a nap, DO IT. You and your kids will thank you later. Plus, it gives you a little time to recharge as well.

Now, you may look at this and think I'm crazy. A no nap, 13 trip to the souvenir store, unplanned vacation might sound like a blast to you. If so, kudos to you and enjoy! If not, hope the above tips help out just a little! I promise the next blog will be filled with pics of my beautiful kiddos and our white polo/khaki short adventures along the beach!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Exhaustion has a new meaning…

So, I thought that having a newborn was as exhausted as I would ever be. That was before I took out of state trips two weekends in a row with the kiddos. I would like to say that at this moment and I delirious and exhausted, but entirely hopeful that our trip to the beach in 2 weeks might not actually kill me!

Two weekends ago the kids and I took off on our first road trip in a car by ourselves. To say that I was worried, was an understatement. But, I was bound and determined that we'd make it to Dallas no matter how long it took us. It had been mother's day since we'd seen Mimi and Pops and we all needed a little face time.

Contemplating life with Pops after a game of hoops
Well, the trip was as perfect as could be! We left right at Amelia's naptime so the first 90 minutes were bliss. Braden was content watching movies and Amelia was napping. When she woke up we stopped for a bit and got on down the road. Only took us 4 ½ hours to get there.

(One complaint I do have is that every public restroom, save a 21 and up place, should have a baby changing area in it. More often than not, when we stopped it seemed like there was no changing station which posed all sorts of new problems!)

So, we got to Dallas and got settled in our fabulous room. Late that night Mimi, Pops, and Uncle Ross arrived. Amelia was not feeling the crib in the closet set up and woke us all up at 4:30am. Good times.

Later that morning Melissa and Bobby, and Jenny, Aunt Susie, and Madden stopped by the hotel. This was pretty epic because the 4 of us cousins had not been together in one place in 12 ½ years. We had a blast catching up!

Ross is excited that he's finally the tallest

The traditional 'Benson' pose - gotta start em early!

After that it was off to the water park for me, the kids, and mom and Larry. The water park was great! Had lots of kid areas for both Braden and Amelia and I won't lie – we all enjoyed the lazy river for about half an hour. And I can proudly say that Amelia didn't try to catapult herself off the raft even once.

After a nice refreshment of Marble Slab creamery we went back to the room for some down time. We were all kind of zonked from the sun.

The next morning it was more pool time and catching up with Deana. Uncle Ross decided to brave the ride back to Arkansas with us. It wasn't too bad of a trip either. Both kids threw small fits, but nothing a little time and tuning out couldn't handle =)

When we got home I didn't really even bother unpacking all of the bags because the very next weekend we were headed to Nashville for a girls' weekend.

Again, the kids and I headed out Friday afternoon and surprisingly enough made it to Nashville (380 miles) in one piece. We got all checked into the hotel and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive from Atlanta.

Friday night was an early-ish night for the kiddos and some much needed girl talk for the grown ups. Saturday morning we got up and headed to the Nashville Zoo. The kids had a blast and I was very impressed with the zoo, but it was 8000 degrees outside so we left after 2 hours. Spent the afternoon in the pool where it was again confirmed that I have the least buoyant (Braden) child on the face of the planet, but we all cooled off and had some fun.

They had a great playground that the boys loved!

It was Ice Day at the zoo so the boys checked out (aka licked) the ice sculpture they had on hand
Amelia was Amanda's little buddy all weekend
That night we loaded up and went to downtown Nashville. Ate dinner at a BBQ restaurant downtown and then crammed ourselves into a buggy for a horse drawn carriage ride through downtown. The kids were amazed and I have to admit, it wasn't a bad way to see the city. That night we all kind of crapped out early and tried to get a good night's sleep.

Sunday we tried to go see Opryland, but since both of my kids fell asleep on the ride over I thought it best to get on down the road towards home. We stopped at a Train museum on the way home and played for about 45 minutes. Other than that, no notable issues or meltdowns.
Choo Choo

For now, we're home and unpacked, but I'm already mentally preparing myself for the trip to the beach in T – 10 days (520 miles).