Florida –> dawn till dusk + some fireworks!

Can 3 kids under age 6 endure a 22 hour drive with the promise of unlimited sunshine, swimming, bike rides, time with family and a visit to Disney? They can, and they did.

These images aren’t all from the same day, but I chose them because they crystallize moments of our trip, and I’m arranging them dawn to dusk (and a lot in between) for the sake of narration.

Below is my grandma’s back yard around 6:45 am. I tiptoed out at sunrise one morning before anyone was up, including the fire ants. I haven’t seen the sunrise (without a baby in my arms who didn’t realize that only vampires like to be up all night) in I don’t know how long! This morning will stay with me for a long, long time:

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Behold the textbook toddler. This little man learned that he could escape outside into the warm air as soon as he opened his eyes, which he did in his pj’s around 7 am every day. He learned how to free dogs from their pen, drive his cousin’s Barbie jeep like a boss, pin the pedal on an electric golf cart, and how to commandeer his great-grandma’s Jazzy.

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This is the ONE and only Disney photo of the pumpkins and their cousins. We went the day after Christmas, undeniably the busiest day in the ENTIRE year to go. “The” camera was under wraps (meaning Phil had to lug it around in his lap top bag all day) since I could have zero distractions. No children were temporarily lost during this visit. Win! Oh, and if you visit, don’t take small children to the Haunted Mansion first. Parenting learning curve.

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Oh palm trees, how I love you.

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All hail the Punta Gorda splash park!

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The Peace River

 

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This little girl learned how to swim in the “deep deep” end of her great-grandma’s pool. She was very, very proud of her new skills, and we are too. She wanted “everyone” to know she can swim, so now you know!

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Green plants and flowers: northerners, do you remember what this looks like!?2014-132014-12

This kiddo told her Daddy to take off her training wheels without ever having them off before. He did, and she took off without looking back. (Insert tear emoticon!)

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Sanibel Island seashells

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Sanibel Island mermaids!

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These two little ladies are part of mom’s dachshund collection that made the NJ –> Florida trip. Ginger and Bella soaked up the rays.

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Oranges and grapefruit all picked from my grandma’s yard!

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Christmas lights sewn to a sunset.

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~ Clouds on fire ~

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New Year’s Eve sparkled on its way out.

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…And 2015 came in with a BANG! (Many bangs because Phil and my cousin put on QUITE a show.) Good thing the neighbors like my grandma.

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We filled our paper lanterns with wishes and sent them up, up and away into the night sky. Here’s to hoping all of yours come true too.

Lessons from a skincat

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Happy New Year! AND it’s mid-January. I know it. I’m a bit late to the party. Back at blogging! Yes. Photography ate me alive this fall. I love those sunsets and leaves, then Christmas rolled around, and well…I’m back!

Meet Lucy. She’s our two year old Sphynx, aka a “skin cat.” A few recessive genes (yay double r’s in the Punnett square!) makes a Sphynx cat. How’s that for a hands-on STEM lesson plan? Yeah, bring the kids by! Either you’re fascinated and wanna come over and pet her, or you’re totally grossed out right now and possibly wondering why we’re friends. And that’s ok. If you have any sort of reptile or poisonous insect in your house as a “pet,” I’m wondering the same about you. This is our kitty, Lucy, our Lulu, and we love her dearly. But I didn’t always. GASP! I’ll get to that.

Lulu isn’t the first or only of her kind. She’s also not our first Sphynx. Fish was. Now you think I’m even stranger for having a cat named Fish. That’s ok too. My 94 year old grandfather was so terrified by what he thought as a “possum” in my living room that he tried (repeatedly) to stomp on my pretty kitty and save our family from the “varmint” while I shrieked, trying to explain who and what she was, while family members pulled him into a chair. I will never forget the look of sheer panic on his face. Who knew a guy that old could jump so high? I digress.

In January of 2013, I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. Fish was battered by kitty cardiomyopathyheart disease. On a freezing, cloudless Saturday morning padded with fresh snow, January 26th, at the door of the vet’s office, I had to decide to end her suffering. UGH. Not only was that hideously difficult, try watching your then 4 year old cry hysterically for weeks each night, petting the cat’s pictures on the iPad, begging God in her nightly prayers to send her back from heaven. Stomach churning, heart wrenching, gut punching difficult moments as a mom. How did we handle it? Guess. A kitten, of course. Kittens can solve a lot of problems.

A few months later, as birds arrived with spring, Lucy arrived at Newark Airport via from Ed and James, her loving breeders in Raleigh-Durham NC. She purred and welcomed cuddles from day one, and she loved the kids – a bonus, because Fish loved me (and Phil way, way more), and really no one else.

Despite her adorable-ness, loving nature and lightening-quick adaptability to our home, I found myself working to love her. She did nothing wrong. She did everything right. Purred, chased strings, attacked feather toys with bells on cue. So why was my heart so hardened like the Grinch’s on Christmas Eve? It was because every time I saw her, in the background of my mind was a dark urn holding the remains of Fish-cat. I only figured out later, after I realizing how much I had grown to love this 9 lbs of happiness, what my problem was. It took me about a year to get over the fact that she wasn’t Fish.

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Don’t I sound like a monster now? Hear me out.

My problem wasn’t with Lucy. My problem was with me. I couldn’t get over the fact she wasn’t who I had to let go of. Fish was gone at just 8 years old. Without even knowing it, I couldn’t accept the change, and so I didn’t – I couldn’t accept Lucy, let alone love her. As the adage goes, change isn’t easy. No kidding. Major, major understatement. We are creatures of habit, like it or not. Most change is forced upon us. SLAP! Life goes at you again. When the situation is painful, as I learned, it’s easy to become bitter & jaded – and without even meaning to – to hold a cold, marble heart even in the face of an aqua eyed, tiny purring kitten. (Monster! I admit it on a blog!) What did I learn? I learned I don’t always have a say in the changes that happen around me, but I can help how I react to those changes.

Besides my slow climb toward nirvana, there is a happy ending. I was able to make room for Lulu. One morning as I watched T carry her all curled up like a baby doll across the living room for the 55th time without complaint, without even trying to escape the clutches of a super-loving 4 year old, she did it. She won me over big time, oh-yes-she-has-oh-yes-she-has (insert smothering kiss sounds as seen below:)

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(Had to.)

 

 

 

Gwenyth in Wonderland

So this happened. Aunt Melissa gave Gwen an Alice in Wonderland costume, and being as theatrical as she is, she became Alice for our photo shoot. With our yard lit up in fall’s perfect shade of gold, we had a lot of fun together. And a lot of imaginary tea. When we were finished, she told me, “Mommy, I’m always Alice in Wonderland.” That’s pretty point on, kiddo! Enjoy the 801 photos! “I’m late, I’m late I’m late!”

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice a 700-27Alice a 700-4Alice a 700-5 Alice a 700-8Alice a 700-28Alice a 700-29 “Yes, that’s it!” said the Hatter with a sigh, “it’s always tea time.” 
“Alice:How long is forever?”
White Rabbit: “Sometimes, just one second.” Alice a 700-3Alice a 700-16 Alice a 700-18 Alice a 700-19 Alice a 700-33Alice a 700-20 Alice a 700-21 Alice a 700-22Alice a 700-32Alice a 700-25Alice a 700-10
 
“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. 
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.” 
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.” 
“Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice.” 
 

Harvest

I’m part of the Mommy Blogger Collective. Each month we’re given a one word prompt to riff with. This month’s prompt is *harvest.*

Summer is coming to a close, (or is it gone the first time I wear boots?) and I’m coming up for air! (Insert insanely exaggerated gasp for life.) August was a blur of sun, sand, parks, play dates and keeping the kiddos busy, happy and outside as much as possible. Mission accomplished. I have tan lines to prove it.

I didn’t see how big these kiddos were getting right under my nose, how every day their baby faces thinned out just a bit more than the day before. I’m no gardener, and definitely no farmer. I can’t even keep a cactus alive. I can, however, grow people. No small beans. So what do I know about a harvest? I imagine that aspects of farming and parenting are pretty similar. You’re bringing something into the world that didn’t exist before you decided to nurture it. You work hard – really hard to make sure it’s ok, more than ok  – that it thrives, even on days when it (he) is trying to repeatedly face plant into professionally decorated cupcakes at a birthday party.

You watch out for the elements. Sun, rain, wind – “bad” influences, people, mean kids on the playground. You nurture, you hope, pray…you wish for the best, you will break your back if something harmful gets in the way. You work, wait, and watch. Maybe bite your nails a bit, getting impatient. Then, even when your back aches and you’re dead tired, you stand up, step back and see what you grew and you’re proud – really proud of your harvest.

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“Harvest” is the September writing prompt of The Mommy Blogger Collective. In addition to a monthly writing prompt, the collective hosts a monthly blogger featurette. This month we are featuring Courteney of The Titled Blog. A few words from Courteney — Hello! I’m Courteney from “The Titled Blog” I live up in Canada (in Abbotsford, British Columbia – just East of Vancouver) with my husband, one year old daughter Lucy, a pug named Minnie and an angry flame point siamese cat named Bigsby. My blog has evolved over the last 7 years from random rants and social commentary to lifestyle and now most recently to being a mom. My daughter was born with a lot of health problems and I often write about the challenges that have come with having a baby that has spent a good chunk of her first year in and out of the hospital and how to deal with those challenges head on. When I’m not blogging, I work as a photographer with my own business (Courteney Rodda Photography) sing in my jazz band “Courteney Rodda and the Other Guys” and most recently I am sewing for an awesome local company making baby moccasins called “Minimoc
You can also find me on Instagram, where I post too many pictures of my daughter, dog and cat.

/// The Mommy Blogger Collective /// Christina, Courteney, Dena, Erica, Erin, Gillian, Katie, Misty, Nicole, and Renée. ///

Perspective and sunset swim

Let it go, let it go…sorry. Now it’s in your head, I know. I had to. It’s relevant, I promise. Not the song, but the sentiment. Bear with me. I’ve always been a bit…how shall I put it…uptight. Those who know me best would nod. My sister is probably laughing. (And you can stop now.) It’s been a life long struggle to go with the flow, to be carefree – well maybe not carefree, but more like bamboo  – bendable – and less like concrete. I’m a work hard, line-up-the-dominoes and watch them all go down my way type of girl. Motherhood (life itself) continues teaching me that I can’t control it all, or sometimes anything at all!

And that sometimes…sometimes it’s just plain fun to take my hands off the wheel, keep my mouth shut, shove that neurosis under wraps and sit back and watch life in front of me instead of meddle with it. Actually, it’s a lot of fun.

Recently, we spent an evening with our friends on their private beach in the lake community we live in and took some photos of their little one for her birthday at the “golden hour” (all photographers drool now.) The sun was setting, the light was perfect, the air was balmy and the water equally as inviting. In birth order, Gwen, Teagan then Hudson dipped in their little toes, feet, legs, and then the rest, fully clothed. Splash into the sunset. Who could resist?

My first inclination was to freak out…you don’t have your suits on…your clothes are going be soaked…the car seats will be soaked…blah blah…but you know what? What’s the harm? Who cares, really? REALLY? Sometimes I sit back and measure what matters and what doesn’t by remembering something my dad said a few months before he died. He was sick, and knew he wasn’t getting well. We all did, but moved through our days like that wasn’t real. I was bugging out about being late to some event for work, and called him for directions because mine were wrong. I was in full freak out mode. Screeching and all. He said, “THIS is not a problem. Cancer is a problem.” Yep.

Who was I to get in between the pumpkins and a perfect summer night? Get soaked, be happy, get dirty, giggle, swim, smile, watch the sun dip down over the treeline, get to know those warm summer nights that make the feeling between air and water invisible, twirl in the last rays of the day. Live. Know that your mother learned a lesson a while back that keeps things in perspective from a man you never met but who lives on in you.

Let it go…let it go. Sorry again. See? I promised it was relevant.

And enjoy the sunset. I did.

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Summer Heat

I’m part of the Mommy Blogger Collective. Each month we’re given a one word prompt to riff with. This month’s prompt is *heat.*

Spring and summer are hands down my favorite times of the year. Why? HEAT. You won’t catch me complaining about balmy summer days that give way to hazy sunsets lit up by fireflies. No way. I can take the heat, and so can the kiddos. There hasn’t been one day we haven’t been in a lake or a pool. I’m tan (tan for me, that is.) Soaking up the rays (with a good sunscreen, of course!) is my mission this summer. I’m storing up all this sunny goodness for the colder months, but we won’t talk about that.

What’s summer look like for us? Drippy melting ice cream cones, long days at the lake, trips to the Jersey shore, fishing with family, paddle boat rides with grandma, sand castles with cousins, catching fireflies at dusk, making new friends, growing taller, tanner and stronger under the sun. This is our summer.

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This makes me claustrophobic just looking at it. Next!

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Eli, sporting his sister Serena’s shades.

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Hudson, mid-sand castle build. One of the moments he was not spiriting toward the boardwalk. Note Gwen’s sun-worshiping pose in the background.

Point Pleasant Beach

Swimming all day = Gwen’s athletic physique. Who needs a trainer?

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Phil, relaxing in between volleyball games.

Point Pleasant Beach volleyball

Point Pleasant Beach hosts competitive volleyball games that happen every Saturday morning and run all day.

Point Pleasant Beach

Cousins, awaiting the promised ice cream cones.

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The promised drippy, melting ice cream cone to end our day at Point Pleasant Beach.

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Oma took 3 grandkids for a paddle boat ride at the lake!

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New Jersey and pizza. She knows where it’s at.

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Sir Charles!

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Gwen, fishing with her grandpa.

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There are few things that Hudson loves more than fishing with Daddy.

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And we watched the sun go down, down, down…


“Heat” is the July writing prompt of The Mommy Blogger Collective. In addition to a monthly writing prompt, the collective hosts a monthly blogger featurette. This month we are featuring Renee of oh renée. A few words from Renée — Oh Renée started as a creative outlet for me a few years ago, a happy place to share creative and fun projects or fashion. Since then, it has evolved into one of the best things I could ever have done with my time! The last few years of blogging have become much more personal to me- more of a way to document this life of mine, with my husband, with my little boy and with the world around me. I enjoy sharing glimpses into our days and sharing in other mom’s lives as well, as part of this wonderful world of social media. Being a mother is better than anything I could have expected! Truly. I call Ohio my home, I keep the joy of traveling and exploring new places close to my heart, i spend my evenings knitting and am never without a book in my hand or in my purse. My blog is much of the same! You can find me on Instagram at instagram.com/ohreneedesign.

/// The Mommy Blogger Collective /// Christina, Courteney, Dena, Erica, Erin, Gillian, Katie, Misty, Nicole, and Renée. ///

Teagan’s need for speed

So one of my babies had to end up with the need for speed gene. Between my dad’s lifelong obsession with motorcycles and Phil’s, one of the pumpkins had to want to pin a throttle. It’s Teagan, for sure. Here she is a few weeks ago on Father’s Day with “Uncle Aaron” (my cousin), owner of Maverick’s Cycle House. Now don’t fret. She didn’t go over 5 miles an hour, but she wanted to. I’m sure Aaron and Dana’s neighbors could hear her screeching, “FASTER, FAAAASTER!”

While watching this front yard fun (& holding the fish eye lens like Gollum guarding his “precious,”) I was putting together a list of her possible future adrenaline-pumping hobbies: cliff jumping, drag racing, flying fighter jets…ah!

Meet (part of) my amazing family.

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Never a dull moment with Aaron!

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This is how we roll.

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Note the look of satisfaction on her face. “I don’t need help.”

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Hudson Tommy, never to be left out! Let’s see what July 4th brings!

 

 

Father’s Day and a Fisheye lens

What to do on Father’s Day? How about an impromptu visit to the city (“THE” city = NYC) + a borrowed fish eye lens (thanks Kathy and Justin!) + uber messy ice cream and a family BBQ? Yes!

So I’ve been itching to get my mits on a fish eye lens, and thanks to some friends, borrowed one. What ensued? Lots and lots (and lots) of photos. Hudson had a full wardrobe change after this outing. Enjoy the progression of sticky sprinkes, filth and fun!

We saw the Freedom Tower, which is quite awesome:

Freedom Tower

We watched boats, helicopters, planes, people, dogs, and you name it zoom, walk, run, sail or fly by.

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Then we got ice cream. Chocolate with sprinkles.

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“You talkin’ to me?!”

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And things got messy, toddler style.

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Teagan never likes my suggestions to lick all sides equally. See? ^ ^^ Has NOT mastered the art of ice cream eating in the summer yet. In time, young one. In time.

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Gwen’s approach is that of speed. That ice cream never had a chance.

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Sccccoooowwwwl. He wasn’t mad or anything here. He had ice cream in his eyelashes. Not kidding.

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Ah, those eyes! STILL not mastering the even licking pattern I suggested needed to beat the heat. Fine then. Carry on.

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Ah, yes. About 50 baby wipes went into cleaning this dude.

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Hi, Mom! I just ate all of my ice cream in warp speed, and now I’m taking your shake! Good thing anyway, because you’re off dairy, and had three sips! GASP! I’m helping you, see?

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Pretty sure he’s having an out of body experience here.

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All cleaned up, and FIRED up on chocolate.

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See that blurry toddler hand grabbing for the giant balloon? Yes, I’m balancing all 30 lbs of sugar-charged Hudson on my hip and still taking photos.

Hope everyone had a Happy Father’s Day! BBQ pics and Teagan’s new favorite toy (a quad – sigh) to come!

 

Shine

I’m part of the Mommy Blogger Collective. Each month we’re given a one word prompt to riff with. This month’s prompt is *shine.*

Gwenyth, my monkey, came into this world nearly 6 years ago. She has reminded me every day since last Wednesday that she wants a “purple” birthday party, because (this week), it’s her favorite color.

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I’m not sure what I expected from motherhood. Before I had Gwen, the last time I had changed a diaper was 1984 acting as a 3 year old fumbling “helper,” wrangling one on my sister. Gwen was born at 7:22 am. That night, after visitors were in and out, and a thousand pictures of my tiny baby with taken, the nurse assigned to me insisted that I “get some sleep” after my 19 hour drug free labor (!). She promised my bundle of joy would come back to me “in a few hours” to eat. NOT a few hours later…1.5 hours later…I can vividly re-play the creak of the hospital room door, the tiny squeak of the baby-cart and the hideous (don’t roll your eyes and lie, it is awful) shrill of an infant cry, MY infant, as she was pushed into my room by an apologetic nurse who let me know that she and her team “couldn’t console” this little baby like they could the others. Oh, holy crap. This was the soundtrack to insomnia, I was sure. I don’t know what I expected out of my first night as a mother, but I think I (foolishly) expected sleep. (Don’t all laugh at once.) I held Gwen on my chest, pet her tiny back, and she fell asleep in an instant. So it began, and so it went. She slept there all night long, only waking up to eat, for the first 8 weeks of her life, and it’s time gone by that I cherish.

About 3.5 years later, when she first began preschool, Gwen had an inconsolable crying fit (notice a theme?) over an art project. Her teacher couldn’t figure out what set her off. That night when I tucked Gwen in, I asked her why she was so sad, so upset by the project: dip hand in paint, stamp hand down, teacher makes sheep ears, tail, etc. Each sheep was white, identical. My 3 year old explained in a serious way I’ll never forget: “I don’t want to be a white sheep. I want to be pink or red.” My lesson as a mother? My kid, though a bit more difficult, knows who she wants to be. She digs her heels in and can pitch fit when someone tries to define her. Yes. I’m thankful.

Zoom to the present. Tonight I’m editing Gwen’s graduation photos. She’s my free-spirited millennial hippy, who makes fairy rings out of flowers alongside elaborate architectural structures out of found objects. She’s far more interesting than me already.

Jumps when it’s not time? You bet. Talks when it’s not her turn? Guarantee it. Marches to the beat of her own drum? Absolutely. She made the drum. Cried the loudest and longest in the nursery? Yep. Won’t be one of the white sheep hanging on the wall? No way, no how. I wouldn’t change a thing. My little girl shines.

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“Shine” is the June writing prompt of The Mommy Blogger Collective. In addition to a monthly writing prompt, the collective hosts a monthly blogger featurette. This month we are featuring Christina of Mouse in Your House. A few words from Christina — At Mouse In Your House, I’m bringing you stories about being a working mom, quirky family lifestyle trends, frugal living, DIY ideas and the talented people who make life something amazing. I hate getting bored and occasionally use Mouse In Your House to ask people very personal questions that I would, otherwise, never get away with. My goal is to find chicks and gents doing something cool and inspiring, which could lead to a feature about a family who took the year off to travel the world one day and the next day’s post could be all about how to dress a stylish toddler. To qualify for a feature, I need only go, holy moly that is frigging awesome….and you may even get a long set of questions for our next Q&A. That’s the way I roll. And P.S. I LOVE budgeting and it has taken over our lives in the past. We recently graduated from living in a 400 square-foot apartment to a 1,400 square foot house in my beloved small town of Knoxville, Tennessee. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

/// The Mommy Blogger Collective /// Christina, Courteney, Dena, Erica, Erin, Gillian, Katie, Misty, Nicole, and Renée. ///

Tea Tea’s chocolate party in the park

She asked for chocolate. She asked for her preschool friends. Our blue eyed girl turned 4, and we celebrated Teagan’s “chocolate in the park” (yes, her idea) themed party under sunny skies.

I wanted to incorporate everything Tea asked for, and do it low-key. I’m not low key. I want to be. I also have an awful habit of underestimating the amount time needed to complete just about every task. The man can tell you that I estimate everything to take about “ten minutes.” This is why the night before Teagan’s party, I was roaming around Michael’s (the craft store) at 8:45 pm as employee announced they’d be closing in 15 minutes, feverishly looking for the perfect ribbon to use for 40 bagged lunches that I hadn’t made at that point. (Insert insane laughter.)

Found. Done. Cake walk. Fast forward to 12 am, when the hole puncher (used to create the holes to tie said ribbon, of course) inexplicably breaks into 4 pieces (whaaa?) and smashes on the kitchen island in some slow, dramatic sequence. Low point. The man took a break from his battle in Clash of Clans and fixed it. Thank you 1,000 times, because the scissor holes I punched in two  bags to try and compensate was just not looking good. 1 am. Bagged lunches for the kiddos complete with at “T” for Teagan. Check, check, and check.

I have never seen a kid not like a Nutella sandwich, so the lunches went over big. Score again.

Picnic theme party lunch

Picnic theme party lunch

Picnic style party lunch

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Cousin Maverick!

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Taylor and mom, Heather

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Tea’s  sweet cousin Frankie and her mom, Aunt Lynda of Lyn’s Cookies!

One of my good friends/mom of Teagan’s friend looked around and the set up, looked at me and said:”You didn’t make all of this.” She’s totally right. She knows me well! I know I’ve said it before. It’s  magnificent to have family members who are caterers. I’m smiling as I type this. It’s beyond wonderful. Any locals already know about The Little Food Cafe in Pompton Plains, but Dana is in full effect there and an aaaamazing party planner. She hooked Teagan up with these (of course chocolate) zebra cupcakes:

Zebra and polka dot cupcakes

Zebra cupcakes? You bet. Why? For the past year, Teagan has religiously sported her “Oma dress” (from her Oma), which is a zebra-print tutu dress, nick-named “the uniform.” Of course the day of her party, she refused to wear zebra print but opted for horizontal stripes, since they’re “kinda like zebra stripes, see?” Fair enough. I was just happy she didn’t insist on wearing pajamas, a tutu and rain boots, one of her favorite and signature looks.

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Aunt Dana and Aunt Colleen went with cheeta print for the day! Jersey girls think alike.

The party parting gift for the kiddos, these super-fun cookies, were made by another fabulously talented family member, Lynda of Lyn’s Cookies! These were gone faster than I could hand them out:

Zebra print cookie

Happy Birthday, Teagan, my beautiful little poet! Next up: Gwen’s 6th birthday in July. Let the planning begin! (“Low key” of course.)

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blonde girl with necklace

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