Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Netflix Giveaway! #StreamTeam

Another Christmas has already come and gone. It's so true when they say the older you get, the faster time flies by.  My husband and I rarely get each other gifts at Christmas time and focus rather on our children. We always say we have a March Christmas because we tend to exchange gifts at that time of year.  It's become our own tradition and I love it! This year we did exchange a few gifts and managed to surprise one another!
One of our favorite gifts we've given each other in recent months is time. We've made going out on a weekly date a priority--even if it's only for a couple hours.  It's been good for our marriage and our family!  Best. Gift. Ever.

Our home dates always include Netflix! We can always find something we want to watch together. Christmas Eve we, Santa & Mrs. Claus, stayed up wrapping and building, we started watching an old show we used to watch when it was on tv called Life, but it abruptly ended with the Hollywood writers' strike.  It was fun to watch it again this many years later after seeing the same actors on other shows we have loved, namely Damian Lewis from Homeland.

All that to say how much we LOVELOVELOVE Netflix!  I've said before and cannot say enough that I am so thrilled to be a part of the Netflix #StreamTeam.  And it's going to get awesome for you too!

Maybe you didn't get something you really wanted for Christmas and are still longing for that one elusive thing.
Well, you are in luck!
Netflix has generously given me two complimentary 1 year subscriptions to give away and I have decided after gifting one to a deserving family to give one away here on the blog to a lucky reader! I'm grateful for y'all and as this season of giving and holiday wraps up and a New Year begins, I'm happy to share Netflix with one of you! I wish I could share it with all of you! :)

The deets:

Entering to win is easy! Simply choose one of the options in the rafflecopter widget below or choose as many as you'd like for more chances. It's up to you! You do not have to complete all entries to win.

Open to US residents only. Winner will be notified by email and announced on this post. Winner will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner will be chosen. Contest will end January 3, 2015 at 11:59pm. Good luck, friends!

p.s. for a few more chances...head on over to my friend, Stef's blog ! Her giveaway ends 12/30.

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Disclosure: As a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam I was provided subscription to Netflix and also exclusive insights or other products. All opinions are my 100% my own.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Connecting Past & Present with Netflix-- #StreamTeam

**Make sure you make it to the end for a near future announcement and a funny surprise my husband is sure to kill me for, but it's connected!

As December comes to a close and feels like the fastest month ever with all the hustle and bustle between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it almost seems impossible to get everything done! Sometimes I simply recognize it's not possible and reprioritize. Watching holiday movies and shows is one of our favorite traditions. One thing that isn't always the easiest is finding something to keep my teenage son, preschool girl, and baby girl engaged for some family watching.  It can be tough with that wide age range.  This month, Netflix has us covered--easily!

From the time Andrew was little, we've loved The Madagascar movies. He was only 5 1/2 when the first movie came out and we saw it at the theater. He had a Madagascar videogame he loved too! Over the last few years, we've watched the original movie and sequel again. Lily loves the penguins, just like I do! And WHO doesn't love, "I like to move it, move it!?!"

Last Friday, Netflix launched another original series! All Hail King Julien  is a fun and funny series with 5 brand new episodes!  We've had a busy last few weeks with band rehearsals and concerts and some sickness tossed in for good measure, so Saturday night was the perfect night to relax, pop some popcorn, and watch this new show!  If there is music involved, Violet is right up in the thick of it and from the beginning of the show, she was happy!  She and Lily danced every time the music started. Andrew and I enjoyed the show, laughing quite a bit! He made a few observations in relation to the Madagascar movie also.  We watched two episodes that night before deciding to watch a few holiday shows on Netflix as well.

The girls busting a move during All Hail King Julien

Andrew using Lily's Penguins of Madagascar binoculars to watch King Julien and then the Madagascar Penguins: A Christmas Caper.

Here's a video of Andrew in 2008 playing his Madagascar 2 game on the Wii. It still makes me laugh! {He had just turned 9} The song in the game is called Dance Like an African

The kids finally settled into a pile on the floor {you can only see the top of Lily's head} to finish out our night watching Veggie Tales: Saint Nicholas A Story of Joyful Giving. This is one of my faves!

There are a lot of holiday choices on Netflix and we've been watching most of them! Mickey Mouse, Curious George, and The Muppet Christmas Carol just to name a few.

Here are some recommendations:
Curious George
in search of santa

And for teens and parents...
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As a part of the Netflix #StreamTeam, {which I simply could not love more} we will be ringing in the New Year with our King Julien party kit! I'm a sucker for those glasses displaying the year and can't wait to have a picture of my family in them!  2015 here we come in style! We'll actually be ringing in the New Year with another #StreamTeam member, so be sure to look for lots of us hailing King Julien! I'll also have a great Netflix giveaway too, so be sure to check back!!

I'll leave you with this...

Disclosure: As a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam I was provided subscription to Netflix and also exclusive insights or other products. All opinions are my 100% my own and I was already a proud Netflix subscriber prior to this opportunity. Please see my full disclosure

Monday, December 15, 2014

Milestones with VTech + Giveaway

*Disclosure: The VTech product, information, and giveaway have been provided by VTech. 

The first years of your baby's life is filled with so many milestones. As a first time parent, I remember wishing for my son to hurrying up to crawl and then walk. What was I thinking?!  The second and third time around, I was just as excited when the girls did both of those, but I was in much less of a hurry to have a mobile baby. :)  Watching the development in the early years is just as exciting the third time around as it was the first time!  As Violet has just hit her first year, we've loved watching her learn and hit her developmental milestones!  Her most recent milestone achieved has, in fact, been learning to walk.  It's been almost a month since she finally took off and life has gotten a little bit sweeter and a little more challenging as well. :)

VTech works closely with a panel of experts to develop their infant and preschool learning products. Insight garnered from these experts can be found in an online milestones resource to help guide parents with recommendations that are developmentally appropriate to choose toys based on the individual needs of children birth through age nine.  

Dr. Lise Eliot, an early child development expert and member of the VTech expert panel, shares an introduction to these milestones in a video you can view here:  milestone introduction.

*Bio:     Dr. Lise Eliot is Associate Professor of Neuroscience at The Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science. A Chicago native, she received an A.B. degree from Harvard University, a Ph.D. from Columbia University, and did post-doctoral research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. In addition to more than 50 published peer-reviewed journal articles and magazine pieces on children’s brain and mental development, Dr. Eliot has authored two books.

Those milestones are broken down into three categories of learning:
  • Language and cognitive
  • Social and emotional development
  • Physical and Motor             
Below are a few fantastic toys to help babies and toddlers as they reach different milestones.

Violet is our most musical and all the rest of our kids are pretty musical!  Anything that sings to her, is her favorite! My favorite is when they are interactive learning toys as well as musical.  VTech has that covered. Violet was excited to check out the sweet Lil Critters Play & Dream Musical Piano as soon as I unpacked it. 

Lil’ Critters Play & Dream Musical Piano™  
The Lil’ Critters Play & Dream Musical Piano has a variety of fun musical activities that engage your child on the floor or attached to the crib.This soft piano features five animal piano keys that introduce music, instruments and animals. The piano also includes a light-up sun that shines and flashes to the music to attract your baby’s attention.  Parents can choose from two modes of play for learning that is fun and musical activities. 

Chomp & Count Dino™
The Chomp & Count Dino is perfect for ages 12-36 months.
 Simply place one of the eight brightly-colored play pieces in the dino’s mouth and watch as he eats and recognizes each piece. 
 Play in either food or counting mode and the dino responds with rewarding sounds and phrases all while introducing colors, numbers, shapes and more.
 Press the question button and kids can answer the dino’s questions to show what they’ve learned.
 Five shape buttons help kids learn shapes and numbers, while spinning the disc on the dino’s back will play sing-along songs.The dino can also be pushed or pulled by a string for even more fun melodies.

I can't wait to see Violet learning shapes and colors with this dino!

Roll & Surprise Animal Train™ 
 The Roll & Surprise Animal Train is perfect for babies ages 6-36 months. Your little one will enjoy peek-a-boo fun and develop fine motor skills through turn, slide, and press activities. Animal friends introduce animal names, animal sounds and colors. This educational toy also rewards curiosity and teaches cause and effect with pop-up surprises and 55 songs, melodies, sounds, and phrases. 

All of these toys can be found at and you can get social with VTech on Facebook  and Twitter!

One My Not So Little Guy & My Little Punky & Pumpkin Pies reader will receive a VTech Toys Milestone Toy Bundle which includes the above featured toys:
  • Lil’ Critters Play & Dream Musical Piano (Ages 0-12 months; MSRP $24.99)
  • Roll & Surprise Animal Train™ (Ages 6-36 months; MSRP: $15.99)
  • Chomp & Count Dino™ (Ages 12-36 months; MSRP: $19.99)
Giveaway will run through Thursday 12/18/14 at 11:59 p.m EST.  Open to US readers only (no p.o. boxes). Winner will be contacted by email and have 24 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen.

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Dr. Eliot also shared a Q&A with some fellow bloggers about development milestones.
 Q. As a parent, what are your suggestions on things I can do with my child to help them develop their social and emotional skills? What are ways I can help my child to get the most of their playtime? 
A. Social-emotional skills are the bedrock of learning, so good for you for taking an interest in cultivating them in your child.  The best way to promote emotional and interpersonal skills is through interaction--reading, singing and lots of talking with your child.  Make eye contact with him or her. Laugh together.  Direct your child's attention to interesting things in your environment.  When you read together, ask your child questions about the characters' thoughts and feelings. This can help build empathy. Another way to think about it is to use books or videos as a stepping stone for dialogue with your child.  It's the two-way, back-and-forth sharing of words and feelings that build emotional and communication skills.  Playtime has ample opportunity to do this, whether you are visiting the zoo, finger-painting, or playing with toys.  Take every opportunity to talk about the feelings and relationships among characters your child is drawing or playing with.

Q. As a stay-at-home mom, I feel like I'm responsible for most of my toddler's learning the first couple of years. How can I ensure that I'm teaching him all he needs to know? What are the best games or play to help him learn basics things like numbers, colors, words, etc.?
A. Children learn through play, so almost any activity is a learning opportunity for your child.   Show your child how to count banana slices at lunch time, or toothbrush strokes at bedtime.  Read ABC books to him to teach letter sounds and recognition.  But don't worry too much about academic skills in younger children.  Most important at this age is for children to learn the joy of discovery.  Try to avoid drilling exercises (like flashcards) and instead focus on learning about the real world around him--animals, people, vehicles, music, art--whatever you encounter through books or the world outside that excites your child.  When kids find a passion and get absorbed in it, early literacy and number skills follow easily.

Q. What if it seems like your child isn't reaching a particular milestone, what can you do to facilitate the learning of it?  While every child is different, are there any Milestones (when not achieved on schedule) a parent should be concerned about?
A. It's important for parents to know what milestones to expect, because failure to reach them can be a warning sign of a developmental delay.  For social skills, we like to see babies making eye contact early on, and worry if it doesn't happen by 3 months or age, or if s/he is not sharing facial expressions or some other kind of back-and-forth communication by 9 months. For language skills, we worry when children are saying no words by 16 months, or only a few words at 2 years, and when there is any loss of communication ability at any age.  For motor skills, it is concerning if a baby cannot bring an object to his or her mouth by 7 months, sit independently by 10 months, or walk by 18 months. If your child isn’t reaching these milestones, talk to your pediatrician, who may propose additional testing and exercises you can do with your child at home to promote his or her development.

    Q. My 2 year old (26 months to be exact) barely talks unless she wants to.  She has two older siblings who tend to      speak for her.  She can string a few words together like "me up" or "love you."  How can we encourage her to talk more and what VTech products would be most beneficial for her?
A. There's a simple equation to verbal development:  "Language in = Language out"  The more words you and others address to your child, the larger her own vocabulary will eventually be.  You are right that younger children sometimes do have trouble getting a word in edgewise in a big family.  Find opportunities when your daughter can be the only one speaking.  Try to carve out some one-on-one time, when you are just focused on each other, and make sure to listen and respond to every word or babble she makes, acting as if you understand her.  Imitate her words and sounds and offer lots of praise.  Just giving your child the confidence that she is being heard will provide great reinforcement to encourage her to speak more.

Also, VTech's infant toys can promote this language development since most produce simple words or phrases that babies love to control.  Toys such as Cody The Smart Cub™ and Cora The Smart Cub™ introduce children to first words, emotions, stories, sing-alongs, and more.

Q. How do doctors come up with specific milestones for each age group? What are some milestones for older age groups (up to age 9)?
A. Infant developmental milestones have been cataloged by studying thousands of babies from all walks of life.  In healthy children, the various milestones emerge in a predictable sequence and time, give or take a few weeks or months.  This predictable pattern is due to the maturation sequence of the developing brain, along with the typical sequence of practice most babies engage in, given their gradually growing strength and coordination.  Some milestones you can look for as your child gets older include: able to draw a circle at age 3, asking lots of "Why" questions at age 4, knowing his or her letters at age 5, tying shoes at age 6, reading aloud fluently at age 7, and a big spurt of social independence beginning at 8-9 .

Q. What are some of the benefits of teaching children sign language at a young age to help improved their cognitive, motor and social skills? How can teaching sign language to my child help promote more than language development?  How can sign language help stimulate a child’s brain in other ways?

A. The research on sign language is not terribly strong, but enough has been done to indicate that sign language may benefit your child's overall language development. The more words addressed to babies, whether spoken or gestured, the faster their own vocabulary growth. Sign language also has the advantage that it is easier for babies to communicate using simple gestures, compared to oral articulation.  So especially in the first year of life, some babies find it easier to communicate their needs when taught simple signs, and may express less frustration than infants who were not exposed to baby signing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


We've had a pretty low-key weekend with a few highlights tossed in there.

My girls, still in their pajammies, are currently playing with Anna, Elsa, and some other Barbie-type dolls driving them in a school bus and a Little People chariot because that's how we all should travel, of course. Violet thinks she can run now since she started walking less than a month ago, so it's funny to watch her try to push the chariot or the bus along as fast as she can! The Steelers game is playing in the background, Andrew is playing Xbox online with his friends and George is sleeping. The sun is shining and even though it's 37 degrees, it is much happier than the rainy weather we have been having the last couple days.

Friday night, I had planned on taking the kids to the Children's Museum Christmas event to see a penguin and a reindeer, but it had rained all day long. It was still raining when we got home from Lily's school and a few errands and it was cold.  The thought of dealing with traffic, parking and downtown stuff resulted in a "let's stay home" decision.  We all ended up in bed pretty early Friday night anyway.

Saturday, we went to a local nursery near our house to visit Santa.

Lily isn't in the screaming phase anymore, but still isn't crazy about going up to him.  Andrew decided to go over to Santa first to help his little sisters see it's ok.

Lily thought Violet should go first before her, so that's what we did.  I stopped to get Violet a cookie first to keep her occupied and maybe she wouldn't really notice I'd set her down next to someone...
It didn't work out quite that way.  She held on to her cookie though!

I asked Lily if she was ready and she said no. I picked Violet up and of course she was completely fine. I sat down next to Santa for a minute and Lily came over next to us comfortably. Baby steps, I suppose.

Lily asked Santa where Rudolph was and seemed satisfied with his answer. She replied that she wanted Frozen toys when he asked her what she wanted for Christmas.  She wanted to talk to him, just not be right next to him and Violet, as you can see, was content again.

Lily and Andrew had their cookies and it was time to leave.  As we drove away, Lily exclaimed excitedly, "We live near the North Pole!"  I love that magic!

We headed home for the girls to nap before we were going to another local light up night event that evening. This one was in our old, old neighborhood before Lily was born, but it's where she goes to preschool.  I was helping out with some crafts inside Lily's school for her teacher who was in charge of this entire event. You know, after just having given birth 5 days before!

Violet loved just walking around and trying to run inside Lily's school!  The kids "painted" puffy snowmen made of shaving cream, glue, and glitter, colored in coloring books, and made candy canes. Andrew helped cut the red stripes for the candy canes to be glued on.

We headed outside to listen to some kids sing and watch some others dance before strolling by Santa and waving from afar. :) Violet was clapping along and "singing" too and both girls were dancing along as well.

Soon the evening had come to a close and it was time to go home. While the kids waited for me to get packed up and into the car, Lily could not take it anymore and zonked.

When we got home, I put the girls to bed, and watched the rest of my favorite Christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" on tv.  George has been working a lot of overtime lately, so in addition to it being tough with the overnight shift he works, he's been going in early too.  It's simply the season we are in and I'm grateful for such a hardworking husband.  I miss him too!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Steph's Snippets

Funny how the intent of sitting down and being able to blog is always there,but the reality is, it isn't happening much.  If I try to accomplish this at any time during the day while the other people who live in my house are around, there are one million stops and starts and there is no fluid writing at all whatsoever.  And by the end of the post, I simply just want it done!  That's no good.  Waiting until after bedtime is ideal except we've been so busy and I'm exhausted, so writing hasn't happened much then either.  All that to say, I have a ton of posts in the works!  Actually, I'm going to continue writing about our summer and other events, activities, and birthdays that have since passed as well.  I know you simply cannot wait haha!  In the meantime, here's a snippet of life lately.

~We are gearing up for band concert season in the next few weeks! Reagan began rehearsals tonight and her very first concert is in a couple weeks. Andrew's last one for 2014, is next week.

~Wednesday night, I took Andrew and Reagan downtown to see the local kid Chris Jamison who is on NBC's The Voice, perform a local show that they were also doing some hometown filming of for next Monday's show!  Chris is a 2012 graduate from Andrew's high school, so we've been watching this season from the beginning and rooting him on! Andrew laughs at me for cheering and clapping in our family room like I'm at the show. Well, lo and behold, when I saw yesterday I really could be at a show cheering and clapping for him, I decided we were going! I tried to win tickets on the tv station's website with no luck. I won them on the radio that afternoon!  Andrew, aka, The Grumbler, immediately said he wasn't going. This was one of those things where I told him he wasn't being given a choice.  Turns out, as always mama knows best and he had a good time!  This was Reagan's first "concert" ever!  Even though there was a lot of waiting and reshooting going on for the tv show, it was still fun and Reagan thought it was "really cool."  We were standing near Reagan's science teacher and a kindergarten teacher from her school --both of whom had Chris Jamison as a student in elementary school.  Andrew saw a bunch of friends from school and Reagan saw some of hers also. Chris sang the songs he's done on The Voice and then he and his band played 2 originals.  I love his version of Uptown Funk! It was a lot of fun and I'm glad we went! George dropped us off and picked us up at the venue and he and the little girls hung out at home.

~I have a couple giveaways coming up next week! Be sure to check back for those.

~I have Violet's and Andrew's birthdays to get up on the blog--photoshoots and parties. I love them and can't wait to share about them!

~There's some stepmom stuff that's been going on I'd like to write about, some inlaw stuff, and some friend stuff.  So in addition to what we've been doing, I do have a little heavier stuff to write about as well.

~Recently, I took some maternity pictures of Lily's preschool teacher. She's also the owner of the school and over the last year plus, we've become close friends. I think the world of she and her husband and I was so happy to be able to do these pictures for them!  As her due date came and went, I had my phone turned on all night to be able to go and take pictures of their baby when she arrived. This past Monday was that day! What an honor to be there as their daughter entered the world! It was miraculous and I couldn't be more happy for them! I'm so glad they let me continue to work on my own skills. :)  They are first time parents and doing amazing! I hope to finish edits by the end of the weekend!

~We had a busy, happy Thanksgiving, Andrew's birthday weekend. Can't believe I have a 15 year old!

~Lily went back to the eye doctor this week for a check up. I'm so glad she loves to go! Update with her eyes coming soon.

~I'm personally gearing up for this winter weather.  I don't love the cold and feeling trapped in my house for eons.  We've already had a little bit of snow which I actually love still, but the cold zaps me.  Here's hoping winter flies by!

~A few months ago I started watching Sons of Anarchy for the first time.  I binge watched late at night to get caught up to watch this final season with George, who has been watching the show since it started.  There's only one episode remaining.  I love this show and just like I did with Dexter, I liked being able to binge watch since I didn't watch from the beginning.  Sons of Anarchy ending, Parenthood favorites.  Scandal better keep on!

I'm off to feed Violet lunch.

Happy Friday!