Family

Planning a Family Vacation Without Losing Your Mind (plus FREE packing list printable!)

                                     
Summer is here! Schools are letting out and everyone starts thinking about pool days, park time, and family vacations! When you’re planning a vacation with kids, it can be easy to stress about lots of details: where to sleep, what to eat, what to bring, etc. I have a list of ten things to help you plan a family vacation without losing your mind (plus a free packing list printable, so keep reading!)

1. Don’t overplan.

Kids are unpredictable. You may arrive at your destination only to find that your kids are content with doing one activity the entire time you’re there! Have a few preplanned outings or activities, but keep your schedule loose and allow for flexibility.

2. Bring snacks.

This is basically a given when you’re traveling with kids, but it will make your life easier. Rather than having to search for food to eat when those inevitable hangry meltdowns occur, pack some healthy snacks that your kids enjoy. It also helps for those “You want me to eat WHAT?!” moments that happen a little more often when traveling. ;)

3. Schedule nap/rest times.

When you’re away from home and filling your days with activities that aren’t the norm, your kids are going to need some down time. And let’s face it – so are you! Plan to spend at least an hour each day (or more, depending on the ages of your kiddos) resting and doing quiet activities like reading, card games, or taking naps. This will help everyone to recharge and have more energy – and fewer meltdowns!

4. Pack light.

Unless you’re vacationing in a remote village somewhere, you probably don’t need to pack everything you own. Many hotels and water parks have laundry available, so you don’t have to worry if baby goes through all five outfits in the first day. When my kids were younger, I would pack lots of toys for them to play with, only to discover that they were so excited to be in a new place, they barely looked at their toys! So bring the bare minimum and know that you can always grab extra supplies at a nearby store if you find you absolutely need them. You’ll be happy to carry fewer suitcases!

5. Pack a few familiar comforts.

Whether it’s a lovey, an essential oil diffuser, or a cozy bathrobe for snuggling in after swimming, everyone likes to feel at home when they’re away. I always let my kids chose one stuffed animal or blankie to have on long car rides or in hotel rooms. That familiar feeling tends to help everyone sleep a little better!

6. Make a list.

I just looove lists. Whenever we take a trip, I make a huge list of everything I need, so we don’t forget anything. I really adore checking off boxes. :) I have a great packing printable for you free at the end of this post!

7. Choose a kid-friendly location.

Not all vacation spots are made for kids, so choose wisely. We love vacationing in the Wisconsin Dells, because there’s something for everyone. The Kalahari Resort is family friendly and has activities for all ages. They have both indoor and outdoor waterslides, so you can have fun even when the weather isn’t that great.

The Kalahari Resort here in Wisconsin recently added an awesome new outdoor waterslide, which just opened this Memorial Day. The new ride “The Smoke That Thunders” looks amazing! You can pile on these big rafts with your family and friends and thunder down the epic waterslide. I can’t wait to try it!

Over the years, my family has traveled to the Wisconsin Dells many times, and the Kalahari Resort is perfect for families with multiple ages. Since there’s such a wide variety under one roof, you don’t have to get in your car to go elsewhere unless you want to. One-stop vacationing is my jam. Because once I’ve gotten everyone out of the car, I really don’t want to get back in unless we’re going home! Mom can hit up the spa (um, yes please!!) while the kids are playing arcade games, then we can all meet back at the waterpark. There are water activities appropriate for every age level, so no one feels left out. That’s important for a big family like mine. ;)

Since there’s so much to do in one spot at the Kalahari Resort, you really don’t need to pack much. They have towels, food, fun activities, arcade games, and more. So you just need to pack a few personal items! I’ve made a free printable to help your packing go a little smoother.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE PACKING LIST PRINTABLE

If you’re not close enough to drive to the Wisconsin Dells Kalahari location, be sure to check out the Sandusky, Ohio location!

What packing tips do you have to help keep your sanity?

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A Baby to Snuggle

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve heard the news, but I’ve neglected to share it here. Baby five has arrived!dsc_8962-copy

Little Ezra joined us about two months ago, though it feels like he’s always been a part of our family.

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He spends his days being adored by his big brothers. And I spend my days keeping his big brothers from smothering him with their love and affection. ;)

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Now I have an adorable model for my baby pants and baby hat patterns (which are both free, if you haven’t snagged them yet!)

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The hat has gone from wide cuff to narrow cuff as he’s grown, but he’s been wearing it since he came home from the hospital.

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The pants were a little big on him when he was first born, but they fit him perfectly now. He’s on the smaller side for his age, so he’s getting a little extra wear out of his itty bitty sizes, compared to some of his brothers.

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I haven’t been doing quite as much sewing as of late, but I’m squeezing it in when he lets me.

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These baby days will be gone before I know it, though, so I’m going to soak them up a little bit longer.

Something New is Coming….

Or rather, someone. ;)

Blog Baby Announcement

This October we will be welcoming baby number five into our home! We are so excited to bring this new little miracle into the world. We’ll be finding out the baby’s gender later this month, but I’ll refer you to this post if you’re wondering my thoughts on possibly having a fifth boy. ;)

So get ready for more teeny tiny baby sewing!

Finding the Lovely in the Chaos

Motherhood is a chaotic business. Each day is filled with noise, lots of messes, and countless challenges. The days can be monotonous and exhausting. When faced with all the chaos, sometimes it can feel anything but lovely.

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Some days it’s easier just to focus on the challenges. To simply clean up the messes, change the diapers, and do the same things over again the next day.

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But every day has something lovely. Every moment. Even in the midst of a tantrum-throwing toddler, there is something lovely. The tear-stained hug when the crying stops, the laughter during the tickling that diffused the moment, the triumphant moment of standing your ground and not giving in to the kicking and screaming.

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“There is a correlation, I’m finding, between beauty and perseverance. It feels like beauty might be knots in the rope you are climbing, gas stations along the cross-country journey, the water stations strategically set up on a racecourse. Beauty is what makes it possible to keep going. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? It’s not just in the things everyone sees, but it is what YOU see, what sticks out to you, the unique moments God gives you to collect up and hold and draw strength from.”
-Annie F. Downs, Looking for Lovely
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Motherhood is a long-distance marathon. A test in endurance. An uphill climb. When you’re in the middle of the race, you feel tired. Your feet hurt. You can’t breathe. But as you keep going, you see the beauty in the persevering. You find your stride, you get your second wind, you drink some water and feel refreshed.

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Annie F. Downs recently released her latest book, Looking for Lovely. It is, in every sense of the word, lovely. I read it in two sittings, absolutely unable to put it down. This book reads a little like a memoir, as Annie shares her struggles and the loveliness she fought to find in the midst of them. Because sometimes you need to actively pursue the lovely. You have to ask the Father to show you all the good gifts He has put in your life, to open your eyes to what’s around you that you maybe haven’t noticed yet.DSC_6251-2 copy

That doesn’t mean that the chaos disappears or that suddenly life and motherhood become a walk in the park. Or that the messes are magically cleaned and the kids will never fight with each other. But looking for lovely can give you – give me – the change in perspective you need to embrace the chaos.

I don’t know about you, but I can always use more lovely in my life. Looking for Lovely is all about collecting the moments in your life that matter. In these days when I’m knee-deep in motherhood, I would much rather set my mind on what matters – the lovely, not the chaos. The snuggling on the couch, the basketball in the driveway, the “I love you” scrawled across the heart-shaped paper.

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Will you look for the lovely with me? Check out Annie F. Downs and her new book Looking for Lovely. I promise, you won’t regret it.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

An Ordinary Day in the Life

Last week, I woke with a long day ahead of me. My husband was out of town and the dangerously cold temperatures were going to keep us cooped up inside all day. I was faced with a choice: I could watch the hours drag on or I could capture the moments of the day, monotonous and messy though they may be. Into my head popped my dear sister-in-law and how she captured her own family’s season of life.

Brooke is an incredibly talented photographer in Michigan (we’re not blood related, so I’m not biased, I swear ;). She prefers to shoot in a photojournalism style, where no one is posed and she’s more a fly on the wall in the midst of whatever it is that’s going on. Looking at her photos is like getting a peek into someone’s life. I love that they capture a moment in time, and she inspired me to capture the ordinary.

I chose to make this a day worth remembering. I carried my camera around throughout the morning and early afternoon, only intervening as I normally would. Nothing was staged or posed. We went about our day, and I watched through my lens, finding the beauty in the everyday. There will never be another today, and I want to remember it. My floors weren’t swept and there are boxes piled up for our impending move, and most of the boys stayed in their jammies longer than necessary. There were tantrums and frustrations and cuddles and silliness. But oh, the sweetness of these boys. Their little toes and their eyes and their Star Wars obsession… these are the things dreams are made of. The way my family is right now won’t be how it is in six months, six years, sixteen years. I want to remember this moment, this season, in all its messiness and beauty.

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Crockpot Chicken and Easy Family Dinner Ideas

This time of year, I spend extra time sewing, wrapping, and prepping for all the holiday craziness. I find myself wishing for a couple extra hours in the day, especially that hour before dinner. Seriously, my kids turn into CRAZY people right before dinner. Is that just at my house?? This is why I need a couple of super easy meals a week. It makes me a little less crazy. Crockpot chicken is my go-to sanity saver!Crockpot Chicken and easy meal ideas

 

Crockpot chicken is one of my favorite meals, because it is so.stinkin.easy!

  1. Place chicken in crockpot.
  2. Add desired seasonings or herbs (I used fresh garlic, sea salt, and rosemary).
  3. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Crockpot chicken that's easy and yummy

That’s it! So simple! There’s no need to add any liquid to the crockpot – all the liquid you see in the picture above is made while the chicken cooks. So it stays perfectly moist! You can use whatever kind of seasonings your family enjoys. I typically use rosemary, fresh garlic, and sea salt. I also enjoy using paprika and garlic, or I have a greek seasoning that I love.

Easy dinner ideas for busy evenings

Then add a couple easy sides, like these new Bird’s Eye Flavor Full sour cream and onion potatoes. There are a bunch of different flavors, veggies and potatoes. Pop them in the microwave, and a few minutes later, you have a super yummy – and fast – side! You can find a coupon for $1.00 off here.

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Along with some steamed broccoli, this dinner had almost zero prep during that dreaded pre-dinner hour.

Easy meal ideas

I’ll admit, when these potatoes were cooking, I was a little skeptical. The sour cream and onion smell was STRONG. I was worried they would be a bit too flavorful, and that the kids wouldn’t eat them.

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But that couldn’t have been further from the truth! Seriously, my kids DEVOURED them. They ate seconds and thirds and my eight-year-old declared them “the best potatoes he’s ever had in his whole entire life!” No joke.

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Between the fall-off-the-bone chicken and the best-ever-in-the-world potatoes, this meal was a total mom win. I love when I can get through a dinner without anyone complaining that they want to eat something else!

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I’m all about adding some shortcuts in to make life a little easier! Make sure you grab your $1.00 off coupon, because every little bit helps in the wallet too. ;)

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Summer Fun for Kids: DIY Pool Noodle Sailboats!

For our family, summer = lake. We live near Lake Michigan (which is amazing) and we vacation every year with my family at a small lake in northern Wisconsin. When I was packing up our swim toys, I had a great idea: this year we would make pool noodle sailboats! Simple, inexpensive, and hours of fun. You could do this at a lake, river, or even in your own backyard pool or tub!
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All you need:

  • pool noodle (if you have one that is ripped or broken, this is a perfect use for it!)
  • small stick or dowel
  • piece of paper

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1. Cut off a small section of the pool noodle.

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2. Cut the pool noodle section lengthwise. You can cut it exactly in half if you want, but we found the boats to float a little better if you cut them a little more than halfway.DSC_7770

3. Fold your paper in half and make two small holes to poke the stick through.

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4. Poke the stick into the center of the boat (we found it floated better when in the center vs. on one end of the boat). DSC_8102

You should also trim the sail to be about the width of the boat. If your sail is too wide, the boat will tip over. Ask me how I know… ;)DSC_8110

Then set your boat in the water and watch it sail the open seas!

DSC_7956My boys have been loving these boats! They’ve had such a great time testing them out in different conditions, with different sails, and a variety of “passengers!”

DSC_7894Rock passengers were the biggest hit, and also helped to balance the boat if there were any waves.

DSC_7882There’s so many things you can do with these boats, from races to experiments (how many rocks before the boat sinks? how tall is too tall for a sail?).IMG_5784

We discovered that the boats are also super fun to float with the noodle turned the other direction! If it’s super windy, this will also help your boat stay upright.

DSC_7936Keeping childhood simple and fun! That’s how we like it. :) Happy sailing!

 

The Summer Fun series is going on at Nap-time Creations, and there are some fantastic ideas for you and the littles to enjoy!

Summer Fun Series 3

Check out today’s posts in the summer fun series:

Frozen Pineapple at Nap-Time Creations

Orange Frozen Treat at Frances Suzanne

Ways to Play in the Sandbox by Messes to Memories

Pool Noodle Boats by If Only They Would Nap

Summer fun for kids - make Pool Noodle Sailboats! Easy, fun, and inexpensive!

Create your own Summer Essential Car Kit

Summer days in our house are filled with play dates at parks and splash pads, zoo days, road trips, and spontaneous stops to get frozen custard. Over the years, I’ve gotten smart and have begun carrying some essential supplies in the car for the inevitable messes and to avoid as many meltdowns as possible. Because nothing can make a day go sour like a toddler melting down because his shirt is soaked or his hands are sticky or (Heaven help us) we forgot to pack a snack. My mom secret to disaster-less days is a Summer Essential Car Kit!
Summer Essential Car Kit - help curb all the mini-disasters that happen away from home

Every Essential Car Kit will look a little different, because each family has unique needs. And as the summer goes on, you’ll probably find that you don’t need something you thought you would or that you need to add something. I like to use the reminders app on my phone when I’m out of the house when I think of something that I need to add to the bin.

What to put in your Summer Essential Car Kit

  • Paper towels
  • Extra clothes
  • Snacks that won’t melt
  • Sunscreen
  • Huggies ® Wipes – even if your kids are out of diapers, wipes are a must. I can’t tell you how many times I’m so grateful to have them!
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Band-aids and/or first aid kid
  • Extra diapers, if you have littles
  • Water bottles (we prefer reusable bottles, but no one wants to be stuck without water on a scorching hot day!)

DSC_6785I put everything in a bin with a lid that snaps on, but you could also make a tote bag to put everything in. This is especially helpful if you want to carry your supplies with you when you arrive at your destination. I like to know that when I put it in the bin, it’s going to stay in there, and not fall out as the car moves or if it gets kicked around the car.

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One of my kiddos does NOT like to be messy. Anything sticky or muddy can turn into a major disaster. So carrying wipes with me is a non-negotiable. Huggies ® Wipes have Triple Clean Layers for handling even the biggest of messes. A change of clothes is also necessary to avoid meltdowns. I add clothes that are in the middle size range, since my kids aren’t all that far apart in age. They might be a bit too big or small for some kids, but will fit the kids that are most likely to make a mess and will work in a pinch for the others.
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Here are some other ideas you can put in your Summer Essential Car Kit:

  • Bug spray
  • Larger first aid kit
  • Bubbles (for when you arrive at the pool before it opens and have to wait!)
  • Sweatshirts for cool summer evenings
  • Blanket
  • Instant ice packs
  • Extra sunglasses or hats

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Stock your Summer Essential Car Kit before your summer gets too busy, Because Kids Outgrow Diapers, Not Messes*
Here’s to a meltdown free summer!