Love Them Madly on Better Connecticut

Best Products for Traveling (and Living) with Kids

If you are joining me from Better Connecticut, welcome and thanks for visiting!

I was thrilled to make my first appearance on Better Connecticut this morning to share some baby gear that makes our lives a lot easier. Me, on TV! As some kind of parenting expert! Scary but totally exciting. So many wise parents have come before me — and thankfully, some have the ingenuity, persistence and energy to find solutions to everyday parenting problems.  I like gear and gadgets that make life easier, rather than just add clutter to the already cluttered-world of parenting, and these products all fit the bill.  Check out the products below and please enter the product giveaway while you are here.

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In the Friendly Skies

Baby B’Air

Ninety percent of all injuries occur during flight, mainly due to turbulence.  The Baby B’Air is the only FAA-approved baby/toddler in-flight safety solution for lap-held children while traveling in an airplane.  The soft 100% cotton vest fits over baby and connects to the seat belt of the adult, safely securing the child in the parent’s lap.  $34.95, babybair.com

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For keeping kids occupied on-board, check out Love Them Madly’s Guide to Air Travel.

Keeping it Clean

Banda Bib

Most babies go through a drooling stage, soaking adorable outfits and irritating necks and chins.  The Banda Bib is a unique bandana shaped bib that fits closer and more comfortably to the chin than any other bib.  They are supersoft and less cumbersome than other bibs making it easy for baby to wear all day.  The stylish prints make them look more like a fashion accessory than a drool catcher.

$8.99, bazzlebaby.com

The product’s tagline is “We Make Drool Cool.”

For my favorite cleaning tip, check out Love Them Madly’s Best Junk Management Solution.

Snacking on the Go

Snack Trap

This one has quickly become a classic in many homes.  The Snack Trap is a tip-resistant, handled toddler snack cup with a unique lid with slits that allows toddlers to see and retrieve food with ease themselves but automatically closes when the toddlers remove their hand.  BPA-free plastic and now in stainless steel too.

$4.99, snacktrap.com

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No-Spill Bottle Caps

Replace the original bottle cap of any leading water and juice drink with the No-Spill Bottle Cap and the bottle is ready for no-spill drinking.  Each pack of No-Spill Bottle Caps includes adapters for all the leading drink bottles.  A small but very useful item for your diaper bag.

$6.99/pack, snacktrap.com

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Try one of Love Them Madly’s favorite toddler snacks, Energy Bites.

For car-travel activities for kids, check out Love Them Madly’s Road Trip Tips.

Pit Stop

Flexi-Fit Toilet Trainer

Flexi-Fit is a fully size adjustable toilet training seat that can easily be attached and detached to and from any standard toilet seat.   Unlike other potty seats that wiggle, the Flexi-Fit fits toilets snugly, ensuring children feel secure and comfortable.

$19.95. http://www.pourty.com/products/flexi-fit-toilet-trainer/

Flexi-Fit 1

For potty training tips, please check out Nana Bonnie’s (My Mom’s) Guide to Potty Training.

Sidekick

The Sidekick is the world’s first and only full function diaper bag and baby carrier combo, perfect for running errands with a baby.  The bag comes with a changing pad and insulated snack bag, but the carrier is really what sets this bag apart.  No more juggling baby, along with your wallet, keys, phone and a paci.  Everything tucks neatly in the bag, with baby comfortably seated on your hip (up to 35 pounds).

$120, gogobabyz.com

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Thanks for checking out all these great products and for visiting Love Them Madly.   I will be giving away a Toddler On-The-Go Package, including 1 Banda Bib, 2 Snack Traps, 2 No-Spill Water Bottle Caps and a Pourty Toilet Trainer (a $50 value).

giveaway

How To Enter:

1. Comment on this post by naming the parenting gear that really helps you save time or eliminate hassle.  Be sure to leave your email address in the form (will not show up on the site) so that I can contact you if you win.

2.  Next, do one of the following: subscribe to Love Them Madly (fill in your email, top right corner of this page) or LIKE LOVE THEM MADLY on Facebook.

3. The contest will close at midnight on August 4th. All entries will be entered onto www.random.org on August 5th and a winner will be randomly selected.
Baby B’Air, Bazzle Baby, Snack Trap, Pourty and GoGoBabyz provided me with free samples of their products to review.  I was under no obligation to review them, nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a product giveaway in return for the products I received.

Anything Girls Can Do…

The boys’ camps finished on Friday so my counselor gig has officially begun. We’ve been getting through our Summer Bucket List  and finding fun everywhere.  I supplemented a little and dropped both kids off at Art Class with Tara (that’s the “A” on our list) yesterday.

“What are you going to do when we’re at art?” Noah asked.

“I’m going to get a pedicure so my toes will look nice for my friend’s wedding next weekend,” I answered, having gone through half the summer with lots of tennis blisters and not-so-pretty toes.

Ryan spoke up, “I thought we were going to go with you.”

You don’t need any more details of how this conversation went.  You already know I love them madly.  And that I’m a total sucker.  That is how I ended up in a nail salon on a hot July afternoon with two little boys.  The salon was not busy and kindly agreed to give the boys mini-mini-mini pedicures (a soak, lotion and polish) at a reduced fee.  I’ll let my iPhone tell the rest of the story.

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noah drying

Both were so well-behaved and smiley, thank-you’s appropriately flowing, so patient and still while the polish dried, that I starting thinking we all should get pedicures a lot more often.

Then, about an hour later, as I helped the boys into the car, I noticed a lot of little green paint chips on Noah’s stroller.  Sure enough, he scratched nearly all of “Shake your Moneymaker” off his little toes.

Maybe one pedicure is enough.

Heat Wave Edition

Four summers ago, we went through a heat wave just like this one. Only recollectable difference: I was nearly eight months pregnant last time. With Ryan in tow (then three years old), I climbed our playscape with a power drill and expertly installed the water slide adapter my husband said would not fit on our swingset. Or would fit, but would be a tripping hazard. Or some other reason that seemed insane to a very hot and bothered pregnant person.

I slid down too, with such impact into the playground mulch that I spent the next 24 hours rehearsing how to tell my husband, my doctor and my mother what had triggered early labor.  Somehow I made it to my due date some weeks later.

Four years later, that $19.99 water slide adapter had both my kids singing “it’s the best day ever” (sponge Bob version) after a multiple water slide sessions this week, including one pre-bedtime slide, topped off with outdoor showers on the playscape deck.

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Last night, with the help of two friends, the kids set up a tarp catch basin at the bottom.  Before long, they had a few inches of a splash pool to land in.  Instant water park in your backyard.

You can order one from Timbergyms and other swingset retailers.  You could of course simply position a garden hose or sprinkler near your slide, but we sure have gotten our $20 worth of this device.

Since my local news team keeps teasing that the heat isn’t going away just yet, here are a few other ways we have been keeping cool:

POPSICLE SEASON

My kids had never tasted creamsicles before, a major staple of my summer camp experiences.  Now they’ve been spoiled with these homemade ones, made from fresh oranges, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.  Recipe and photo from a wonderful blog called A Beautiful Mess.

 

SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO GO INSIDE

Like hundreds of thousands of others, we’ve been smitten with the Rainbow Loom bug. This clever loom, created by an engineer-dad for his two daughters, provides great fine motor work with quick colorful wearable results.  It takes a bit of patience to get started, but spending a few minutes watching a nine year old’s tutorial on YouTube will get you and your little ones up to speed quickly.  The box says 8 and up, but my almost-seven year old picked it up quickly, and my almost four year old can make the simple stitch with assistance.  Available at Learning Express stores and on-line; $14.95 for the basic kit, $3.99 for additional bags of rubber bands.

How have you been staying cool?

I Spy My Most Puzzling Neighbor

I had no idea that Walter Wick, creator of the “I Spy” and “Can You See What I See?” children’s book series, has been working on his best-selling picture puzzle books in a renovated firehouse just a few miles from our house. With 43 million copies of his books in print, I’m guessing I am not the only parent struggling to bite my tongue at bedtime when I’ve found the objects on the page and my kids are still hunting. Or the only one letting her kids stay up late until we’ve found every last item on the page.

We were lucky enough to take a tour of his awesome studio last month.

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Wick designed the space for his “I Spy”  creations, complete with a carpentry workshop, rows and rows of storage for his carefully sorted toy bins and seemingly endless natural light for his photography.

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Every scene takes Wick and his team nearly three months to create. A book can take nearly a year.

When you work on the books page by page, you might not notice the story in each book. In the “Can You See What I See? Treasure Ship” book, the first page zooms in on some dazzling treasure: a gold coin and a strand of pearls. The next pages continue to zoom out further and further, first on the treasure and then on a larger scene of which the treasure is a small part.  As you turn the pages, you realize the treasure is actually in a ship in a bottle in a gift shop on a boardwalk, on a postcard.  Every dizzying page is a photograph, with scenes and props meticulously designed by Wick and his team.

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In the latest book, “Can You See What I See? Out of This World,” a princess from the past meets a robot from the future.  Click here to see how the stagings from his workshop (shown below) turn into the pages of the book.

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castle

Wick has hidden a little figure named Seymour (SEE MORE!) on each page and his name once in each of the “Can You See What I See?” books.  Just as we like hunting for Goldbug in some of the Richard Scarry books, my kids and I loved going through our books looking for Seymour.

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The boys and I hope to set up own I Spy scenes and take some photographs of them this summer (it’s letter S on our Summer Alphabet list).  Happily, I found a great tutorial at Scholastic.com and on Delia Creates by a mom who amazingly made her kids their own travel DIY I Spy books starring their very own toys. 

Ambitiously impressive!

Photo from Delia Creates. 

Our Summer Alphabet in Photos

Our Summer Alphabet Bucket List…in photos

lake list

Art Class with Tara

Blueberry Picking

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Fishing

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Kayaking

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Lots of Lake

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Paddleboarding

Quonnie Pond

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Surprise. They Don’t Like Surprises.

The latest wonder of my world: is it really possible that some people, in particular two people born of my very DNA, don’t like to be surprised?

In college, I almost show up a day earlier than my parents expected.  SURPRISE!  I’m home on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, not Wednesday. Surprise!! I’m home on December 20th, not December 21st.  It’s hard to imagine they didn’t catch on, but then again, we all like surprises. You know how some people are susceptible to hypnosis? Well, we Hamills are susceptible to surprises.

When I was newly engaged, my mom asked me what kind of bridal shower I had in mind (at home, at a restaurant, etc.).  “A surprise one,” I answered right away.  I completely requested a surprise party, and that’s just what I got when I showed up a few months later at my parent’s home for what I thought was a day of dress shopping and shower invitation assembly.  I was a little annoyed, but oddly not suspicious that I’d left my apartment on Boston’s Newbury Street to go dress shopping in the ‘burbs, not to mention I was responsible for stuffing my own shower invitations.  I loved that surprise party as much as the one my mom hosted for my 14th birthday, as much as the one my college friends threw for me the day I took the LSATs, as much as the few I have planned for friends and family.

Well, the verdict is in: susceptible or not, my kids don’t enjoy surprises nearly as much I do.

I pulled a trifecta on them last week: after five days at Gigi Pearl’s house, they each found a box like this waiting for them one morning.

lego box

legoland plans

The Lego travel boxes were a hit (check out the DIY here), and so was the destination, but they didn’t LOVE being surprised.  I expected shrieks and jumping up and down; instead, I got quiet, confused smiles.

After driving to our hotel in Orlando, we “bumped” into both boys’ best friends from home at the pool.  Surprise!  There was no crying or bad behavior but not quite the happy delirium that I expected.  Within minutes, they were relaxed and happy to be together but they clearly were not so thrilled about being surprised.  Ditto, the next day, when we surprised them after a day at Legoland with dinner at Disney World with their cousins, aunt and uncle.  Ryan looked embarrassed and uncomfortable — not at all what I intended.

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I was aiming for happy, but how did the surprises make them feel? Dopey? Bashful? Grumpy?

I’ve thought a lot about why the surprises fell flat.  I think this is it: kids spend a lot of time getting ready – ready for school, ready for karate, ready for bed.  If ready is so important, it must feel awfully weird to be surprised, standing there so un-ready to see your best friend or best cousins.

My oldest is becoming very independent and like the rest of us, he likes to be right and in charge. I think the surprise might have been happier if I had given Ryan even five minutes notice of what was about to happen. Or maybe five days.  Or five months. Perhaps, for some, anticipating good things is as lovely as being surprised.

I, for one, am still daydreaming of the morning when my husband wakes me up, relieves me of my day’s duties and sends me shopping to the outlets with my friends or sisters.

Lousy surprise predictions aside, the trip did not otherwise disappoint.  I was so glad we added a weekend in Orlando to our great visit with Gigi.  Our mini-parks vacation – day at Legoland and a day at the Magic Kingdom with best friends and cousins - was just right.

A Look at Legoland:

once upon

…Our family went to Legoland. The park was clean and manageable, the crowds were small and the kids could go on nearly every ride.  The waffle sticks with whipped cream, chocolate and sprinkles weren’t bad either.

 

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We loved the Lego shows and hand-on activities, like this WeDo Construction workshop Ryan and I attended, where we built an alligator, then programmed it to open and close his mouth to chomp on food.

legoland car

Everything is made out of Legos. Everything. That little hot dog vendor. The boy walking his dog. Everything.

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minifigs

All Legoland staff have a few Lego Mini-Figures on their name tags and are happy to trade them with guests. This guy is the hottest thing in the park with “TRADE ME” and “TAKE A LOOK” tags all over his minifigure-clad shirt – front and back. If you go, bring lots of mini figures (even mismatched) from home for a fun (free-ish) souvenir.

Day at Disney World (slightly soggy)

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The cousins would have been happy just riding the monorail all day together.

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Don’t forget to check out our LEGO TRAVEL BOXES  – easy to create for your next road trip.

The Scooter Guide to Washington, D.C.

Scott, Ryan and I spent last weekend in Washington, D.C.

ryan white house

Any guilt I felt about leaving our three year old with his grandparents melted away with our first walk around the White House.  No naps, no stroller…just lots of patriotic sightseeing.

Ryan Monument

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First, What Makes Me The Wisest Lady in the Land

One word. Scooter.

Having his own wheels gave Ryan lots of playtime and independence between monuments, museums and meals.  It saved us from piggyback rides and whining about tired feet (I complained just a little bit).

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We held or checked the scooter in the museums, but I had to let Ryan take a spin in the lobby of The W.

What We Did

Once in D.C., we relied entirely on The Washington Post’s Explore DC app for directions, museum hours, event listings,  and restaurant listings.

Monuments: White House,  The Mall, The Sculpture Garden, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial. The scooter made it all possible.

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My sister Kim tipped me off to bring cash to DC, if only for the photo opportunities. Even better, Kim and her husband overlapped on our weekend in DC and Dean even had a $100 bill ready for Ryan when we happened upon a statue of Benjamin Franklin.

dollar collage

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum: Fantastic and endlessly gigantic. Lots to look at and much to make me aware that I am NOT a rocket scientist.  I don’t think I answered a single question Ryan asked.  The Hubble 3-D IMAX, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, was visually stunning and raised more questions than answers…starting with how could we give up our space program?

Bureau of Printing and Engraving (“The Money Factory”): Made possibly only by my husband waiting on line for tour tickets for over an hour one chilly morning. Simply cool to watch money being printed in sheets, view stacks of hundreds of thousands of bills and explain corny signs like “Free samples: Tomorrow Only.”

National Museum of Natural History:  Built in 1910, the halls and exhibits look unbelievably modern and fresh and we could have spent a full day here.  Highlights included The Live Butterfly Pavilion, Sant Ocean Hall (especially replica of 45 foot whale), Nature’s Best Photography Exhibit, the Hope Diamond and the Dinosaurs.

National Building Museum: A welcome respite from the crowds on The Mall, the Great Hall of the National Building Museum has hosted inaugural balls and DC society events since 1885.  My pick for serious hands-on playful learning.

You can see how challenging it is to build an arch.

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You can borrow Tool Kits for $5 and explore building themes like housing, patterns and our choice, construction.

builder apron

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In one toolkit exercise, we measured these columns in hugs. Six and half hugs around…or 25 feet.

There’s a play area for kids under six, and a “Play. Work. Build” zone for all ages, with real and virtual blocks for building and knocking down.

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Apparently, the Great Hall is also an excellent place to nap, according to Mr. & Mrs. Love U Madly.

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What We Ate:

Acqua Al Due: Sweet to bring our son to the DC cousin of the restaurant Scott and I enjoyed when we studied abroad in Florence, Italy.

Native Food Cafe at the National American Indian Museum: Kids may gravitate towards the cheese-filled fry bread and corn bread, but I fell for the vegetarian side dishes like this wild rice salad I’m making today.

Lebenese Taverna: The Woodley Park location (near the Zoo) is a perfect spot for families to try some new cuisine amid comforts like hummus and pita.

Teaism: This “collection” of teahouses and restaurants offer quick, fresh meals and snacks with Asian influence. Don’t tell Ryan the crispies atop his Soba noodle bowl were fried Shiitake mushrooms.

Good Stuff Eatery/“We” The Pizza  – Toasted marshmallow milkshake lives up to the hype at celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn’s cafes.

What We Missed/Are Saving for Next Time:

Newseum, International Spy MuseumNational Museum of American History, Eastern Market, the Old Post Office Tower, the National Postal Museum.  The banana fluffernutter at Founding Farmer. Oh, and those stubborn Cherry Blossoms which are probably blooming this weekend.

For the (Not-So) Clueless Guide to Washington, D.C, visit Love U Madly today.

Maple Snow Candy: A Sweet Taste of Winter

Wondering how to get through the last month of winter?  An extra hour of daylight (thank you, whoever thought of that brilliance), spring skiing in the sunshine and maple candy made in the snow should certainly do the trick.

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We recently spent an uber-New Englandy Saturday morning tapping maple trees at a local farm.  The kids loved drinking the fresh sap along with a few sips of locally made maple syrup.

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I don’t think topping the tapping experience off with maple candy was entirely necessary, but we had to do something with all the snow that arrived a few days later.

We modified Catherine Newman’s maple snow taffy recipe into these coin size sucking candies.  The kids played Willy Wonka as they made candy molds in the snow and  wrapped and decorated our treats.

maple candies

Maple Snow Candy

Ingredients

  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • clean snow (or ice cream)

Instructions

In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, melt the syrup and butter together until the mixture reaches 220ºF-235ºF (about 5 minutes after it comes to a boil) or until the mixture is a bit thick and a light brown caramel color.

mixing syrup and butter

Let the mixture cool for a couple of minutes. You can pour it by the spoonful over bowls of clean snow (or ice cream). We made our candies by poking holes in a tray of clean snow (with a clean finger or the tip of a funnel), then filling in the holes with our syrup mixture.

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In a few minutes the maple candies harden.  Now just a little snow removal and you’ve got homemade sweets.

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We poured some of the maple syrup mixture into a plastic candy mold and also made lollipops to be a bit safer for my little one.  You can see quite a bit difference in the candy colors – the candy mold batch was a nice light caramel color which looked and tasted much better than the slightly burnt lollipops.

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What Happens (When Dad Is) In Vegas…

Well, the truth is we don’t know what happens when Dad is in Vegas at a beer convention (yes, he calls that work).

I do know that we miss him and we’re grateful that he manages to fly cross-country, attend a bunch of (beer) meetings and make it back home in 50 hours.

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I do know that it’s both easier (french toast for dinner) and harder (Mommy! Mommy!! Mommy!!!) without him around.

I do know that I enjoy a certain independence and freedom being the only grown-up around. I might act like I call the shots all the time, but I do defer often to my husband’s good sense. Without him, I do things like painting in a 30 degree garage while also cooking breakfast for dinner in the kitchen.

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And this was AFTER I took my kids to Sunday’s opening of our new local Home Goods store. This may deem me an unfit parent, but at least I know I’m not alone in my excitement as there was a theme park-like “thirty minutes from this point” sign in the check-out line. We WI-WA-WO-d it (walk in, walk around, walk out), wistfully leaving behind a lovely 8 by 8 nonstick brownie pan to move on to Michael’s and the grocery store.

The kids were kindly enthusiastic about my choice of errands. On the way of out Home Goods, I did promise that our next stop had an excellent selection of C-A-N-D-Y. Noah looked at me with the biggest, most sparkly grin and whispered “Mickey Mouse????” (You know, like M-I-C-K-E-Y…)

Though we are on our own plenty, something about Dad being across the country always prompts me to make a few special memories with the kids. I mean the kind you can’t make at a very crowded Home Goods.

At bathtime (usually dad’s domain), I had the kids close their eyes as I got the tub ready.

They held hands and opened their eyes – one, two, three.

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I’m not sure who had more fun. We took the glow stick lanterns apart (50 cents at Michaels) and put them back together, then made one giant lantern. The boys swam with glow worms and electric eels.

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We played basketball in the tub, and eventually in the bathroom sink.

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The boys went to sleep with the lanterns glowing by their beds.

I’m counting on the glow lasting just about until Dad comes home tonight.

The Beach Is So Sandy

I like the beach. Ideally, I like it from a padded lounge chair, with an unspoiled view of the ocean.  A light breeze, a thick towel and a good book.  Easy on the sweating, the stickiness and the sand.

My kids feel differently.  I admire their willingness to be knee deep in the sand, to roll around and be caked in grains for hours.

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To keep us all happy in the sand, I did some beach homework before we headed to Puerto Rico.

Did you know if you sprinkle baby powder on your sandy hands, you can rub the sand right off? That worked just as advertised and now I get to be the crazy lady on the beach chasing her kids with baby powder.

I brought some random supplies for beach play – a plastic ice cream scooper and some little cups for an ice cream shop and a half dozen plastic test tubes (the watering vials from my Valentines’ roses) for my beach scientists.  Coupled with a few sand toy sets our awesome Aunt Ginny picked up at the local Walmart, the kids were set.

We also had fun with our beach shadows.

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my shadow

Miraculously, I remembered to bring along these wood craft dinosaur models I picked up months ago.

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My husband helped me stage a little dinosaur dig for Ryan, Noah and my 5 year old nephew.  After I tagged each set of bones with a color for each paleontologist, Scott hid the “bones” in a mound of sand in a small, defined area of the beach.

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The kids dug and sifted through the sand, looking for bones and sorting by the colored dots – pink for Milo, blue for Noah and green for Ryan.

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Dino Dig

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The boys loved the digging and amazingly found every last bone (at least 60 pieces each).  Putting the dinos together was a bit trickier.  N.B….use the diagram on the instructions to number the bones BEFORE you pop them out of the wood board.  Once, we labeled the bones, fitting them together according to the instructions was easy and the kids could build their dinosaurs with just a little guidance.

dino snack

The dino sets are now available half-price at The Mill Stores at 74 cents each.  No sand required – you could “bury” them in a tray of rice, couscous or cereal or just about anywhere.  I think it would be very cute to decorate them with markers or paint before (or after) putting them together, but Ryan plans to spray paint his white to make it look more like real bones.

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