Giveaway! *CLOSED*

**GIVEAWAY CLOSED**

Happy Leap Day everyone!  I’m so excited to host my first giveaway on Sunshine and Munchkins!  I want to thank all of you for taking time out of your day to check out my blog.  It means so much to me.  I recently hit 100 followers on my Facebook page and as a thank you I am offering a $25 Amazon gift card!

And now…on to the giveaway!

To Enter:

  1. Visit and ‘like’ my page on Facebook.
  2. Share this post.
  3. Leave a comment below with what you’d buy if you win.
  4. *Bonus Entry* Subscribe to my email list.
  5. Comment on the original Facebook post when you have finished all entries.  For example: “liked”, “shared”, “commented” and/or “subscribed”.  (These do not have to be separate posts.)

Rules:

  1. I’ll be leaving the giveaway open for one week, starting today (2/29/16) and ending on Saturday (3/5/16) at midnight.  
  2. You can only enter once and you must do all the entries.
  3. This giveaway is only open to U.S. citizens (must live in the U.S.).
  4. Must have a valid email address.
  5. The winner will be randomly chosen.
  6. I will announce the winner on my blog and on Facebook on Monday, March 7 @ 8am.
  7. This giveaway is available to anyone who completes all the entries.

a Rafflecopter giveawayhttps://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Good luck!

The DOs and DON’Ts of Planning an Extended Family Vacation

The DO's and DON'Ts of Planning an Extended Family Vacation

A few months ago, we approached my husband’s family about doing an extended family vacation as a way to have some family bonding time and create fun memories.  Out of the six kids in his family, four live in the same state as us and within a 30 minute drive of us and each other.  His parents are also local, so we see them fairly regularly.  However, two of his other siblings and their families live in two different states, so we don’t see them very often, maybe once or twice a year and it is a rare thing to have everyone together at the same time and place.  Everyone was excited about it, but then the holidays came and life got busy and it got put on the back burner.

One day, my husband and I looked at each other and the calendar and realized we had better get a move on planning, otherwise, it wasn’t going to happen.  So over the last couple of weeks, my husband and I have been researching vacation homes.  We took it upon ourselves to find some places we thought would work for everyone and stay within a reasonable budget.  It was tedious and time-consuming and we started to get a little bugged with each other over the whole thing.  Finally, finally, after lots of emails and phone calls back and forth between siblings and parents, we made a decision on a place to stay.  Phew!  Can you say stressful?

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20 and I thought of some things that we should have, or shouldn’t have, done to make planning it out easier.  And I’m sharing those things with you in case you ever find yourself in a position to plan an extended family vacation.
The DO's and DON'Ts of Planning an Extended Family Vacation

DO decide on a lodging budget before you start looking
My husband and I made the mistake of assuming what everyone’s budget was based on what we had decided ours was going to be.  As we searched for homes to accommodate our large family, we had a hard time finding something we thought everyone would be happy with.  The longer it took us to decide on a place, the less options we had to choose from.  In many families, there is a range of incomes and a range where each family feels comfortable.  So while we were thinking one number in our heads and searching according to that, other people had a different number in mind.

DO prioritize amenities
The amenities, or features, that are important to you and your family will probably change depending on the location and time of year you are going on vacation.  Since we are going in the summer to a hot place, we knew everyone would want access to a pool.  In addition, kids outnumber adults and we knew that they would need activities to entertain them when we weren’t out and about.  For my husband and I, we weren’t as concerned about having a bedroom for each couple.  But for other members of the family, it was higher on the priority list.  Obviously, you can’t please everyone.  So it’s important to prioritize and be ready to compromise if needed.

DO ask for help
When all was said and done, the place we ended up choosing to stay wasn’t even one of the places my husband and I had found.  My sister-in-law found it.  Turns out she’s planned a lot of family vacations for her extended family and has a little more experience with it than my husband and I.  Looking back, we should have asked for a little bit of help instead of trying to take it all on ourselves.

The DO's and DON'Ts of Planning an Extended Family Vacation

DO start looking early 
As I mentioned previously, make sure you do the opposite of what we did and start looking early.  Whether you are looking for lodging or tickets to an event, it’s definitely worth it to schedule the time to look around and do your research.  Prices change all the time depending on demand and the closer it gets to a demand, the less options you’ll have and you just might end up putting yourself, and your family, in a hard place.

DON’T forget the purpose of the vacation
My husband and I had to keep reminding ourselves what the purpose of the vacation is: to spend time together as a family and create memories.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of planning because there is so much to do.  But when you take time to think about the real reasons you are getting together, other things don’t matter as much.

DON’T look at too many options or you might get overwhelmed
On the flip side of starting to look early, remember not to look at too many options, otherwise you run the risk of getting overwhelmed.  One of the parts of planning that was so stressful for my husband and I was that the homes we were looking at renting all had so many different features.  One had a private pool, another had a community pool.  One had a game room, another had only video games.  I think this goes back to remembering that prioritizing is important and that you can’t please everyone.

The DO's and DON'Ts of Planning an Extended Family Vacation

DON’T be afraid to disagree a little
Most of our communication with family throughout this process was by email.  As such, it was hard at times to tell exactly what someone meant when they asked a question or brought up a concern.  We are all reasonable people and not prone to fighting, but when it was coming up on two weeks of researching and still no decision, people started getting antsy.  While we didn’t have a fight or argument, it was clear to see that we disagreed in certain areas.  I included this “don’t” because I think that when we communicate our opinions with the intent to understand, it’s a lot easier not to take offense and to compromise.  For example, one of the places we looked at had a pool, but it didn’t appear to have a fence.  My kids are young and it made me nervous to think that they could access the pool without anyone noticing.  When I brought it up, we were able to agree that the safety of all the kids was important and that a place without a gate around the pool wasn’t a good idea.  We came to an agreement and moved on to find a solution.

DON’T expect everything to be perfect
When all is said and done, your family vacation is bound to have some hiccups.  If you know ahead of time to expect that, things will actually run more smoothly because you’ve prepared yourself.

Now that we have a place to stay, we are so excited for our vacation this summer.  And while these tips apply to our larger family, I think they are also applicable to planning a vacation for your immediate family.

What are your “do’s” and “don’t” for planning an extended family vacation?

15 Yummy Single Serve Desserts

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control

You know what happens.  It’s late at night and the craving hits you.  BAM!  You need something sweet and you need it now!  You’ve got a few store bought cookies in the pantry or some candy, but what you really want is something fresh baked and hot.  Maybe with some milk or ice cream.  Yeeeaahhh….  You know what I’m talking about.

Well my friend, I’ve got you covered.  I don’t have just one sweet treat.  I’ve got fifteen to choose from.  You can thank me later. *wink*  Some of these treats are baked in the microwave, others in the oven, but all will make your taste buds happy.  And this isn’t just any round up of sweet treats.  Oh no.  I’ve tried all of these recipes and know they’re good.  So go ahead.  Take a look and make something delicious.

(And one more thing: while some of these recipes are technically for two people, don’t let that stop you from making them.  You don’t even have to share the second portion.  I won’t tell.  *wink*)
15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
Fudgy Brownie  |  Babble  

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
Chocolate Chip Cookie  |  No. 2 Pencil  
15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
 Crazy Cake in a Mug  |  Sweet Little Bluebird

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
 Snickerdoodle Mug Cake  |  Five Heart Home 

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
 Peanut Butter Rice Krispies Treat  |  Something Swanky

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
Monster Cookies for 2  |  Like Mother, Like Daughter

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
Snickerdoodle Cookies for 2  |  Like Mother, Like Daughter

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
 Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies for 2  |  Like Mother, Like Daughter

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
 Chocolate Chip Cookies for 2  |  Like Mother, Like Daughter

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
 Oatmeal Raisin Cookies for 2  |  Like Mother, Like Daughter

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
 Double Chocolate Cookies for 2  |  Like Mother, Like Daughter

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
Sugar Cookies for 2  |  Like Mother, Like Daughter

15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
Cupcakes for 2  |  How Sweet It Is
15 single-serve desserts--perfect for those cravings for a sweet treat with a little bit of built in portion control
Chocolate Souffle for 2  |  My Recipes

(sorry no image, but trust me, this is good stuff!)
Single Serve Cookie Dough  |  Cut Out + Keep 

Do you have any single serve desserts you love?  Please share!

St. Patrick’s Day FREE Printable

Ahhh…  Spring is in the air.  We’ve been enjoying some beautiful 50 degree weather the last few days, which is a welcome change from 30s and a week and a half long inversion.  Yuck!  Thankfully the weather seems inclined to stay nice, at least for the next week or so.

And can you believe that St. Patrick’s Day is already around the corner?  With February being such a short month, it seems to come even faster.  To get you in the green spirit, I’ve created a fun printable for you!  There are two different colors and they each come in either an 8×10 or a 5×7 size.  Just click on the link below the picture to open the file.  Then print it out and display it.  Who knows?  You just might get a kiss or two!

5×7   |   8×10

5×7   |   8×10
How do you decorate for St. Patrick’s Day?

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!
This post originally appeared on Muddy Little Toes where I was previously a co-contributor.

One of the first songs I remember singing to my daughter was the alphabet song.  I’d sing it while changing diapers, in the car, during bath time, waiting for dinner…pretty much all the time.  When she was about 20 months, she started singing the song on her own with a little help here and there.  By the time she turned 2 years old, she knew the song and could recognize some letters (mostly the ones in her name).  Currently, she is 3 (turning 4 in January) and she knows all the letters by sight, can write about half of them, and knows 3/4 of them by sound.  I’m not telling you this to toot my horn or say that I’m a great teacher when it comes to letters.  But there are some tools I’ve used that have proven to be successful for my daughter, and my son is starting to catch on as well (he is 18 months).  Check out the list below and see if anything catches your eye!

Sing the ABCsI mentioned this one already, but I wanted to include it as part of the list.  This is the simplest way to expose your kids to the alphabet.  Most babies and young children like songs and music and catch on quickly.  Even if you only sing the ABCs anytime you change their diaper and they’ll hear it at least 5 times a day.

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!

Watch Sesame Street alphabet videos
Say what you will about letting small children watch tv, but it was something that I allowed my daughter to watch for maybe 10-15 minutes a day when I needed to distract her while I got dinner ready or used the bathroom or straightened up the house.  I wanted to make sure that any exposure she had was educational, so I simply subscribed to the Sesame Street channel on YouTube and let her watch alphabet videos and other songs.  Before long, she’d ask for the “elemeno” song and would try to sing along.

Sidewalk Chalk (3 variations)

  1. In Order: Write the alphabet out on the sidewalk, driveway or patio with chalk.  I got into a habit of doing this almost every time we went into our backyard in the summer (starting when my daughter was about 18 months).  She didn’t pick up on a lot at the beginning but just seeing the letters consistently helped her recognize them more easily as she got older. 
  2. Mixed Up: Write all the letters of the alphabet on the sidewalk, driveway or patio with chalk.  Then quiz your child on where any given letter is.  This is an activity to be used once your child is older, probably 3+.  It stimulates them mentally and physically since they are walking/running to each letter. 
  3. Trace Letters: Write all the letters out on the sidewalk, driveway or patio with chalk.  Give your child some chalk and help them trace the letters as you tell them what the letter is.  Not only does this expose them to the letters, but it also helps strengthen their fine motor skills which are important for activities like writing.
12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!

Bath Crayons
This is really just another way to help introduce letters to your child.  It is fun for them because the get to color in the bathtub, but it’s also an opportunity to teach them where they (generally) won’t run away from you.  You could do all of the same activities as you would with bath crayons as you do with the sidewalk chalk.

Foam Bath Letters
Foam bath letters are similar to bath crayons but nice because the are reusable and cheaper than bath crayons.  The same activities used with chalk and crayons can be used with these as well.

Refrigerator Magnets
I bought some inexpensive letter magnets from the dollar store and wrote out the alphabet on a piece of construction paper and stuck it to the fridge.  Then I gave my daughter the letter magnets and told her to find the letter that matched the one I had written and place it on top.  She loved this activity and has asked me to do it multiple times.

Alphabet Books
This is kind of a no-brainer, but alphabet books are awesome tools to help your child learn their letters.  My kids love the ones that have the letter and objects that start with that letter surrounding it.  I think it’s a good way to help them make an early connection between letters and reading and the objects around us.

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!

White Board
When you feel comfortable letting your child use markers, a white board is a good indoor activity to use to help your child practice recognizing, tracing and writing letters.  (We’ve also used our white board for shapes and numbers.)

Letters of Their Name
The first letters my daughter became familiar with were the letters in her name.  I would write her name over and over and we’d practice saying each letter.  She got to the point where she could recognize those letters in books, on signs, cereal boxes, etc.

Pencil/Pen and Paper
Recently, my daughter has been asking for pen/pencil and paper to practice her letters.  Sometimes we’ll write the alphabet and other times we’ll write words or names.  We started with her name and we’ve expanded to writing my son’s name, “mom” and “dad”.  This is another activity that helps strengthen their fine motor skills.

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!

Leap Frog
Once your child hits about age 3-4, letting them watch the videos put out by Leap Frog may be something you want to look into.  They cover everything from letters to numbers to reading.  I really like them because they are simple, straightforward and they use music to supplement the learning, which kids love.  My two favorites are Letter Factory and The Amazing Alphabet Amusement Park.
 

Bananagrams
Another activity we’ve been doing recently with my daughter is using the game Bananagrams to quiz her on letters.  We also spell words with the letters or ask her to spell some of the words she knows. It’s just another activity to help with letter recognition.

I hope you found something that you think will help your child learn their alphabet!  Keep in mind that all kids learn at different rates and what works for my kids might not work for yours.  But I think the key is consistency.  If you are working with your child on a fairly regular basis, they will catch on eventually and at their own pace.

What have you done with your kids to help them learn their alphabet letter and sounds?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

When "I’m Sorry" Is Enough

Recently, I’ve been dealing with some hard things in my life.  Nothing life threatening or relationship damaging.  But hard nonetheless.  Things that don’t seem fair and I’m having a hard time seeing the positive and having hope.  I was sharing my feelings with a friend the other day and she just looked at me and said, “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  That really sucks.”  And then she gave me a hug.

Life is hard.  Life can give us really difficult things to face.  Some are fleeting.  Others stay with you for a long time.  And it’s during these hard times that it’s really nice to confide in someone.  To spill your guts and not think about how irrational or negative your thoughts might be.  To not have to think through exactly how you’re feeling.  It might change in 30 minutes.  It might not.  But what you don’t need to hear from the person you’re sharing your thoughts and feelings with is an insincere, “That’s too bad.”  Or “well at least…” and then name something that is clearly worse than your current circumstances but doesn’t make you feel any better and might even make you feel worse.

Sometimes, all you need is for someone to say, “I’m sorry.  Life isn’t fair and what’s happening to you sucks.”  That’s it.  You don’t need them to solve your problem.  You don’t need them to try and find the silver lining.  You just need to know that they hear you and they are sorry that your life is hard right then.

Obviously, I’m not saying that you should complain about every single bad thing that happens to you.  Doing that will just make you and those around you unhappy.  I’m referring to the times when you are trying to be strong and deal with something that is genuinely hard and you just need to get the frustration or sadness or whatever you’re feeling out.  It’s during those times that you should find someone to talk to.  A person you can trust to not make you feel worse.  A person who loves you.  Someone who will simply say, “I’m sorry.  This is a hard thing.  You’re not alone.”

So if you’re going through something hard right now, I’m sorry.  That is a hard thing.  And you are not alone.

Raspberry Pretzel Jello Salad

Back when I was a junior in college, a friend invited a group of us over to his parents’ house for dinner and a movie.  This was awesome for many reasons, but the best being that his parents were providing all the food.  (When you’re a poor college student, home cooked meals are like gold.)  When it came time to eat, we formed a line and starting filling up our plates.  I came across a dish that looked like a layered-jello salad but it had pretzels in it.  Um…what?  My friend, whose parents’ house it was, saw me looking at it and said with a smile “Just try it.  It’s amazing!”  I took his word for it and scooped a medium sized portion onto my plate.  I sat down at the table and took a tentative bite and…oh my heavens!  It was seriously one of the best first bites of anything I’ve ever had in my life!  The pretzels provided a little texture and saltiness while the jello and fruit added sweetness and the middle layer of cream cheese provided a lighter texture to balance everything out.  Needless to say, I went back for seconds…and thirds.

A few days later, I was still thinking about how good it was so I asked my friend for his mom’s number so I could call her for the recipe.  After a slightly awkward introduction on my part, she was kind enough to pull the recipe out and read it to me over the phone while I happily wrote it down on a spare piece of paper.  Since then, I’ve made this recipe any time I want to add a little “wow” factor to a lunch or dinner I’m invited to.  Some people have the same reaction I did when I saw it the first time.  Others know what it is and scoop themselves a heaping portion.  But without fail, the dish is all but licked clean (not literally, thank goodness) by the end of the gathering and I have people asking for the recipe.

While not a complicated recipe, it does take a little time to prepare, mostly due to the time it needs to cool/set in the refrigerator.  (I always make it the night before the event to ensure it sets properly.)
So let’s get started:

First, melt the butter and the break the stick pretzels in half, spreading them in the bottom of a 9×13 pan.  This creates a “base” for the rest of the jello to sit on.  I just kind of pat them down using my fingers or a spatula until it is mostly covered and there aren’t any pretzels sitting on top of each other.  Then you stick it in the oven for 10 minutes at 400 degrees.  The pretzels will have absorbed the butter and this will help soften them up.  Put the pan in the fridge to cool, about 30 minutes.

Next, mix together the cream cheese, whipped topping and sugar in a medium bowl.  Mix until the ingredients are well incorporated, especially the cream cheese.  (As good as this stuff is, no one likes biting into a chunk of cream cheese.)

Once the pretzels are cool, spread the cream cheese mixture over the top of the pretzels.  I find it easiest to scoop large spoonfuls all over and then spread it around using a rubber spatula.  Do your best not to disturb the pretzels.   Put it back in the fridge for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, pour 2 cups of boiling water into the jello and stir until dissolved. Do NOT add cold water.  Put the jello in the fridge to cool.  When cool, pour in raspberries and pineapple, then stir.  Pour the jello/fruit mixture over the cream cheese mixture.  Keep in the fridge overnight and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Raspberry Pretzel Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. butter, melted
  • 2 1/2 c. stick pretzels
  • 1 8-oz tub of whipped topping, thawed
  • 1 8-oz pkg cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 6-oz pkg raspberry jello
  • 2 c. hot water
  • 1 14-oz can crushed pineapple
  • 1 12-oz bag frozen raspberries

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Melt butter.  Pour in bottom of 9×13 pan.  Break pretzels in half and cover bottom of pan.  Place in the oven for 10 minutes.  Put in fridge to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, whipped topping and sugar until well blended.  Spread over pretzels using a rubber spatula.  Put in fridge for 1 hour to cool.
  3. Boil 2 cups of water and add to jello until dissolved.  Do NOT add cold water.  Put jello in fridge to cool.
  4. When jello is cool, pour in raspberries and pineapple, then stir.  Pour over cream cheese mixture.  Keep refrigerated overnight.
  5. Chill until ready to serve.

This jello salad is perfect to take to any gathering, during any time of the year.  It’s that good and that versatile.  I hope you like as much as I do!

What is your favorite jello salad?