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End of Summer Bucket List

End of Summer Bucket List

We are only a couple of weeks away from the start of school. Hard to believe! Before we know it we will be hitting up the weekend fall festivals, watching football, and carving pumpkins. That sounds pretty good right about now since the forecasted heat index is 107 degrees. But back to school seems bittersweet.

Summer is so alluring. I think we always hold a childhood view of summer, as we should. Long days, less rules, salty hair, endless sunshine. For me, I imagine playing flashlight tag in my front yard, listening to crickets as I look out for fireflies along the tree line, and feeling the salt, sand, and sunscreen dry on my skin in the sun. That feels like summer. So even though I can’t stand the thought of this heat (thus me being inside typing on my laptop), I will miss summer. I will miss what summer means. I’ll miss my girlls’ sweaty blonde curls, sitting outside with popsicles guilt-free, watching them run after seagulls in the sand. So let’s make the best of the last days of summer. Let’s make a bucket list.

Here are some fun summery things that anyone can do, no matter where you live!

Go Out for Icecream

As I mentioned, popsicles are a summer staple for us, but nothing feels more nostalgic than going out for an ice-cream cone after dinner and sitting outside trying to eat it before it melts away. Take your kids out and let them pick from the menu, then snack away while watching the sunset. Or, enjoy the atmosphere of an ice-cream shop if it’s a million degrees out. It still beats sitting around at home counting down until bedtime!

Build an Epic Sandcastle

No beach needed (although it’s preferred), just a sandbox or a visit to the playground will do. We often play in the sand on the volleyball court at our local park! Make a real sand castle and have your kids scavenge to decorate it: shells, sticks, leafs, even making toothpick flags for it at home. Snap a few photos to remember it by, and try to make an even bigger one next summer! For fairly cheap, you can buy or make a sand table and let the fun stretch into the fall.

Go for a Sunset Walk

When sunset is after 8pm, it’s pretty exciting to be able to stay up as a kid and do something, anything, when you’d usually be in bed. It’s been awhile, but I remember that feeling vividly. It makes whatever you are doing more exciting. Grab a couple flashlights and take a walk at sunset. Enjoy chatting with the family, screen-free, and talk about the sky’s colors and other things you see. Then whip out the flashlights and walk back under the moonlight. What kid doesn’t love flashlights? They’ll have a blast and be tired enough for bed!

Catch Fireflies

What’s better than watching kids run and shriek with glee in the backyard? Not much. My daughter asks to do this every other day or so. Sometimes we see fireflies outside, and sometimes we don’t. But the thought of catching these little glowing bugs to serve as her nightlight makes her so happy. Definitely a great summer to-do item. If you can’t find fireflies, make some out of construction paper and have your kids look for them in the backyard with a flashlight for a little bug scavenger hunt. They’ll still have a blast!

Watch a Movie Outside

Set up a picnic blanket in the shade (or a tent if you’re feeling adventurous) and watch a family film outside. Add pizza or popcorn if you dare! Whether you use a projector, an iPad, or your phone, it’s different enough to peak your child’s interest. Plus, you could probably take a book outside and squeeze some “mom time” in! Win-win.

Pool Party

Visit a pool or splash pad while you can, because many of them close Labor Day weekend leaving both kids and parents a little sad! Especially when you live in a place where temps stay in the 80s through October (or November or December!) Pools can be elusive as most require memberships and guest passes are a thing of the past. See if there are any public pools (or pools where you can buy a day pass) in your area, or visit your local Parks & Rec page for your county to find public splash pads.

Family Day

Last but not least, schedule a family day. You only get 18 summers with them. That means even though my oldest is 3, we are 1/6th of the way through her summers with us. SAD! We try to travel and go camping and spend as much time together as possible, but time will still fly. Find a summer festival, pack a picnic, or plan a day trip everyone can make and soak up that summertime bliss. Then daydream of all the ways you can make summer magical again in 9 short months.

How do you soak up summer? What activities should we add to our bucket list? Share in the comments below!

H.A.G.S.!

XOXO, Elizabeth & Kate

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Ditch Sugar & Screens: A Guide to Keeping them Busy

There are few things more stressful than dragging kids to a place they don’t want to be, and having to wait there. The doctor’s office, DMV, oil changes, etc. We don’t always have a choice to go solo, and we can’t make the wait any shorter. Plus, we don’t want to be there either! Even during family outings we find ourselves with downtime in which we need to keep our kiddos busy, like waiting for food at a restaurant or waiting in line for a fair ride.

Here are some tried & true ways (aside from sugar & screen time) to fun up those un-fun environments for kids:

Old School Games

Our parents used to drag us everywhere, and didn’t have tiny TVs or gameboys to hand us. Have we forgotten so easily? Sometimes when we struggle for the answer with our littles we just need to look back. In this case, look back to what our parents and grandparents did.

One of my favorite things to do with my preschooler while we are waiting somewhere is play “I Spy.” We once had to wait 3 hours in Urgent Care and the silver lining was getting to learn more about how my child’s mind works. We played “I Spy” for about 2 hours. We took turns and started with colors and then moved on to shapes and patterns. Even, “I spy something clear” or “I spy something with a dog on it” and she had a blast! I had a few laughs too at how clever her finds were. If this is too advanced for your child, simply name colors an have them point out something red, blue, green, etc.

We also like to list out animals. Animals that have a tail, animals that “roar”, animals that have fur. This isn’t as popular as “I Spy” in my household, but it gets your kids thinking and comparing. For older kids, bring out the ABC’s and tie in whatever they are into. ABC animals- aardvark, beaver, cat….ABC automobiles- airplane, boat, car…and so on.

Pointing out shapes in the exam room while we wait for the doctor.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Have your kid copy your actions. They’ll think it’s hilarious and you can keep them in line. If you are somewhere very public like a pharmacy waiting room, stick with facial expressions and hand movements. If you are confined privately to say a doctor’s exam room, break out the dance moves!

Work of Art

I always carry a few crayons and some scrap paper in my purse, but even those limited materials can be challenging to break out. One of my new favorite things for waiting rooms and car rides is Melissa & Doug’s Color Blast or Magic Wow coloring books. One mess-free marker and a neat little book is all you need, and it keeps kids busier than handing them some blank paper and a few crayons.

Sticker Books

I know, I know, stickers can be ridiculous, but hear me out. For toddlers and preschoolers, even up to elementary school-age kids, the right sticker book can be a game changer. Hop on Amazon and search “sticker activity book” and see which strikes your fancy! My oldest loves the Sticker Dolly Dressing collection.

You can also print out our own matching game. Search online for free printables or use characters from your kid’s favorite movie to make your own. Puzzle and maze print-outs work well too! I often grab extras of these at restaurants or the public library. Here’s a website I stumbled across that has some cute activity worksheets you can print for free.

Real Life “Where’s Waldo”

This is kind of like a version of “I Spy” with people, so if you are somewhere you can people-watch, this can be pretty fun. We once had our car inspected at a building with a lot of sidewalk traffic outside, so we looked out the window and saw what we could see. I would tell my daughter, “Find someone with glasses,” or “Find the orange cat.” It’s surprisingly fun for adults too!

Re-Imagine a Favorite Book

Waiting around makes for some great reading if you ask me, but if you have little kids with you who can’t read on their own, bring a favorite book or two of theirs. I like to pack two that are full of possibilities, aka have very busy illustrations. You can use a book in so many ways. Find things in the pictures, ask your child to point out all of the letters that are in their name, make up your own story, etc.

Classic Deck of Cards

My daughter doesn’t quite understand all of her numbers yet, but loves counting and matching. While trying to keep her busy one rainy afternoon on a family beach trip we realized the magic of Crazy Eights. Ever played? If not, look up the rules! It’s the perfect card game for preschoolers. All they have to do is match the cards (same number or suit) and they can basically play unassisted. (Jumbo cards make it extra fun.)

Bring a String

Okay, call me crazy, but my daughter can entertain herself with a string for ages. She “ties knots,” drags it around, puts things on it. It sounds nuts, but sometimes simple objects bring out the most in their imagination. I have this car dash gripper for placing things in your car so they won’t roll around and she asks to play with it all the time. She pretends it’s a camera, folds it up different ways, all kinds of things. So toss a shoestring in your purse the next time you think about it and break it out when you’re waiting somewhere and let me know if your kid keeps busy too!

We hope this helps ease those unwanted waiting times. If you have any genius ideas, please share them with is! It takes a village!

XOXO, Elizabeth & Kate

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To My Friends Without Kids

Try as you may to avoid it, having kids changes your social life, and I think for some people who have yet to have kids it’s hard to understand why the change is often very drastic.

“Why don’t you just have someone watch them for a little bit?”
“Why don’t you sleep when they sleep?”
“Why don’t you try telling them ‘no’?”
“When I have kids they are going to listen to me, that’s for sure.”
“At least since they are staying up late they will sleep in!”
“Noisy kids in a restaurant is one of my biggest pet peeves.”
“Just bring them with you!”

No, no, no.


This is a super sinister comparison, but what the heck, having kids is like contracting a virus. No, more like a lifelong disease. It impacts every single aspect of your being. How you breathe, how you sleep, what you can and can’t do, how you feel. It literally alters how you think. Are there ways around this? Sure thing! Some people manage to travel the world with their babies and change very little about the life they lived before. But for most of us, it will forever change how we live our lives. We need our friends who are not yet parents to understand that we are still us, and we still are still friends, we may just ask to do a few things differently. Just bear with us.

Most of you know Kate and I are military spouses. Among other things, that means we live away from home. Away from family and friends, and our husbands are often gone. When we have someone else watch our kids, it’s either A) each other, or B) relying on a stranger. And I know you don’t yet have kids to worry about, but it’s a scary world out there, and I am not that mom that interviews babysitters. I need to know you, I need to trust you. That may seem like a helicopter mom thing to say, but my next door neighbor told me her 18 month old was killed in a daycare fire, so no, I think I would rather bring my child along to our coffee date rather than hand them off to someone else. I think about 75% of parenthood is worrying about all the things that could happen. And even if I do get a babysitter, that’s costs money and doesn’t really relieve any stress because I have to anticipate everything he or she may need, pack it, and then worry about it the whole time we are hanging out. Sure, we watch each others kids from time to time, but that is no easy feat either, so please understand that sometimes it’s not that easy to just leave young children with someone else to get a little time away, no matter how much we need it. Conversely, it’s not always easy to just bring kids with us, because then we actually have to watch them instead of holding an adult conversation or enjoying the party. However; and this is very important, PLEASE KEEP INVITING US. We want to come and be our old selves, we want to feel included, we want to spend time with you too.

As a stay at home mom, I simultaneously feel like I don’t have a job, and also I have a job that never stops. I respect my friends that work full-time (and then some), especially those that work weird hours. I am glad I don’t have to do that. But please know that even though I am home all day, my life is also exhausting. I don’t get to sleep in. Ever. No one makes meals for me. I am a 24/7 Google search bar for my preschooler whose curious little brain wants to know why all the things are the way they are. I’m also a complaint box for my toddler who screams at me in a foreign language and I’m pretty sure would give me one star on Yelp. I am extremely thankful that I get to be a SAHM, but sometimes I want to complain. I want to vent. I want my friends to understand that my day spent at home was long and hard. You may think I get to play with kids all day and that’s awesome, and yes in many ways it is, but sometimes I want to just hide in the bath tub and listen to white noise, which by the way I can’t do because someone will probably harm themselves in the 30 seconds I am gone. And if I do get to sneak away for some “me” time, I always feel like I’m staring at a stopwatch, seeing seconds fly by and feeling like I need to get back to my kids. So please know that my job may not be the same as your job, but it’s a hard job, and just like you complain about yours, I may want to complain about mine too.

You would think that with all the hours in the day, I could clean or do laundry while I’m at home. You probably look at my laundry on the couch or see dishes in the sink and think “Man, if I have a full-time job and do this, why can’t she find the time?” Or actually you probably don’t think that at all, you’d help me in a heartbeat if I asked, but that’s what I am worrying that you are thinking because I often feel like I should be able to do it all. Trying to get anything done during the day when your kids are home is like trying to type a research paper with an undo button on repeat every 10 seconds. I put toys away, it’s instantly the most fascinating thing in the room and my kids must play with it. I fold laundry and my preschooler wants to “help”, which really means take laundry from the folded pile and try to fold each one again. Cooking meals takes extra time because I have to tell my kids, “it’s hot!”, “don’t touch!”, and “stay back please!” a million times, and again the preschooler wants to help. I once sent my friends a picture of dirty laundry in color-sorted piles lining my hallway and one friend said, “I don’t think I have ever seen that much dirty laundry in my life.” It didn’t hurt my feelings. It was a lot of laundry. When you have two small children who are messy eaters and play in the dirt and the water you never get to have empty laundry baskets, that’s for sure! And FYI, if you sleep when the baby sleeps, that means you never get any of the above done either. It’s very unfortunate.

Have I gotten annoyed at a baby crying in a movie theater? Sure. A lot of things used to bother me before having kids. I never knew getting crapped on could actually bother me so little, but what do you know?! Please know that some parents take their kids places as a way to enjoy their time together (not doing kid things) and that means that the kids can get a little bored. Having fussy kids in a restaurant is MUCH MORE annoying to us than it is to you, trust me, we just may not show it on our faces. We have to choose our battles and therefore our frustration at our kids often lives deep inside and slowly just eats away at our souls, that’s all. We also would prefer our kid not cry or throw rolls but to us, it’s worth it to have a little time out when we are used to cooking mac n cheese. We are sorry that our kids cause a ruckus. We wish that wasn’t the case too, but kids are kids.

Trying to talk to kids when you don’t have kids can be challenging. I’ve been there myself. Sometimes you don’t even know what they are trying to tell you. You smile and nod and say “ohhh, cool!” on repeat. But please be mindful of what you say when they are around, because they are ALWAYS listening. Even in a conversation you are having with me, they are listening, and they will ask questions later. Also, some common topics to avoid: dead pets, Santa, sweet treats or any food not currently in my house, and anything scary. If I spend MONTHS convincing my child that ghosts do not exist, and you come in and they say, “What was that noise?” and you say “A ghost, eek!” I will gut you with my eyes. True story. Getting kids to eat vegetables, getting kids to not be scared, these are just some of the things we spend so many man hours on, please don’t ruin it for us! And if you mention some food that we don’t have I am going to hear about it every day until I buy it.

Please know that kids also defy logic. If they stay up two hours after their bedtime, they will not sleep in later. They will wake up at the same friggin’ time with an attitude like they have a hangover. There is this thing called “overtired” where they get SO tired that they are actually restless, and it is real. And it is scary. So if we have to leave early or skip an event because of child nap times or bedtimes, please know it is for our own sanity. We wish we could be there. If we make an exception for you, you know that we must like you a whole lot! A young kid staying up late is similar to Daylights Savings, it takes several days to adjust after.

I want to be clear that I am not speaking to my friends directly, or any friend in particular. (Except you Jeremy, the ghost comment was not cool!) This is just an open letter to things I have heard or had said over the years. All of this is in good fun. As parents, we are used to the stereotypical sayings and assumptions. We get it ALL THE TIME. Even from other parents. The point is, we don’t really know anyone’s whole life, do we? The friend that works 60+ hours a week in the medical field, the mother of one who has to give her child multiple medical treatments each day, the friend without kids who desperately wants kids, the mother of five under five who barely keeps her head above water but always has a smile on her face. We don’t know, so we don’t judge. Or we try not to. There is always someone worse off than you. There is always someone better off than you. The best you can do is be understanding. When a friend says they can’t come, they can’t talk right now, believe the best in them. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Believe that they are trying to juggle all the things, but right now something is more important and it is not a reflection of you. Also know that we don’t just assume you think badly of us. You overlook our laundry and dishes and restaurant tantrums and so much more with understanding eyes. Sometimes we just worry we don’t have it all together, just like I’m sure you do.

To my friends without kids, I love you. Thank you for being my friends. Thank you for letting me be yours.

XOXO, Elizabeth and Kate

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Sick Days

I have always been in awe of people who dedicate their lives to taking care of the sick and elderly. What a noble and selfless thing to do. I also know that I could never do it. I am not that friend that will come watch movies with you and nurse you back to health. I’d like to be, but I’m not. My husband is lucky that he gets a version of that, although I usually sit on the opposite couch. It’s not that I’m a germaphobe (or maybe I am a little bit), it’s just that I’m not that great at being comforting in those situations. But I try really hard. And having kids has definitely forced me to be better!

When my now-husband told me he wanted to join the military nearly a decade ago, I told him I wasn’t having kids while he was active. I just wasn’t. He said okay. Of course then we grew up a little, went through a deployment without a baby and decided we were ready. I’ve since handled a deployment with a 3-9 month old, and Kate has managed to wrangle a toddler and give birth while her husband was deployed, so it’s fair to say we’ve grown up even more. But with another deployment looming, my number one worry is always this: What if the kids get sick or hurt? What if I do? Can I handle it on my own? HOW will I handle it? The same concern that made me tell my husband my bottom line ten years ago still lives on today.

Now let’s just take a moment to talk about 2019. Kate and I agree, it has been ROUGH. Why? Well, mostly a thing called preschool. We have paid dearly for those short hours of “free time” we have been granted each week. It seems our kids have caught everything imaginable in a span of 7 months: Strep, ear infections, stomach bugs, cold after cold after cold, pink eye. Not to mention fire ant bites, poison ivy, bee stings, sun burn, mysterious rashes. It’s like 2019 hit and the tides turned. My historically healthy family took hit after hit, and I think our attendance rate was probably like 60%. And when you have more kids, you would think you just get more comfortable with sickness, which I guess is partially true, but it feels more like the fear just doubles. Or triples. Or quadruples, depending on how many kids you have. When one kid gets a stomach bug and you are just waiting on the edge of your seat to see what will happen next. Will it take everyone down or are we in the clear? Let’s just say I expect to be seeing some grey hairs sprout sooner rather than later after this plague of a year.

Some of you reading this may have little ones and now be scared to death of preschool, which, I’m sorry I probably can’t calm your fears there! Know that our preschoolers LOVE IT and I just hope it pays off with better immune systems in grade school. But some of you will have much more experience under your belts than us. I can only imagine the knowledge and psychological damage that 18+ years of being the in-house nurse will bring. However; here are some of the things we do, both to keep sickness at bay, and treat it when it comes:

Vitamins

Vitamins and a healthy diet never hurt. We have some favorite vitamins we give our over twos. Some have been found to be more tasty than others, but with so many gummy varieties our kids never complain too much.

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry syrup can now be found at most convenience stores. It’s a great immune booster and my kids love how it tastes. Just a little bit, based on their age/weight, once a day and they are good to go. You can also make your own at home!

Essential Oils

It took me awhile to hop on the essential oil train, mostly because I didn’t understand the basics. How do you use them? How do you apply them? How do you mix them? And while I am no guru, I do love putting some doTERRA On Guard in our diffuser when illness is looming. I also use lavender and blends like Serenity and Breathe in my girls’ rooms while they sleep if they are stuffy or under the weather.

Young living also has a kids department that I love for both of my children. The Sleepyize and SniffleEase have come in handy multiple times this year. You can put them into the diffuser or directly onto your child. They are already diluted and they smell so calming.

Leave Shoes at the Front Door

I am the biggest people pleaser, and it makes me really uncomfortable to ask friends and family to please take their shoes off at the door. Especially if they are elderly. Even my husband has lace-up work boots which you can’t exactly kick-off. However, I came across an article referenced on Huffington Post revealing that an average of 421,000 bacteria are found on the outsides of shoes. I mean, think about where your shoes have been…the McDonalds restroom? The doctor’s office? Walking through an elementary school even? You don’t need to bring all of those germs into your home and rugs where, lets be honest, your kids eat. I remember washing my first child’s pacifier for the first few months, every time it hit the floor. My second child was lucky if it got washed off if it hit the floor of a restaurant, and eating fallen snacks off the living room carpet is commonplace. An easy way to minimize exposure to germs and bacteria is to put a bench or chair by your entryway along with a “shoe spot” and ask guests to please remove shoes. I use a little (washable) accent rug for highlighting the shoe spot. If you have a porch or mud room, you can make a designated area there too.

Wash Those Hands

This is the most obvious but also the easiest and most effective thing you can do. Wash hands after coming in from running errands. Wash hands before eating meals and snacks. Wash hands after school. Wash hands, wash hands, wash hands.

Clean Clothes

This may be overkill, but when we get home from preschool or the doctor’s office or hospital, we change clothes. Kids roll around all over the place, including places they shouldn’t, and I don’t really want the doctor’s waiting room all over my couch. It’s an easy thing that may save you from a few sniffles.

Keep Staple Items on Hand

Last week I had to haul my sick preschooler and tired toddler to Walgreen’s at bedtime for medicine. Don’t be like me. Be prepared. Running out is not always easy or doable, so make sure you have in-date medications just in case to at least manage pain and fever. Infant Tylenol, Children’s Tylenol, IB proffen, Lysol, and an ice pack at bare minimum.

Take Them Outside

Taking your kids outside not only allows them to explore and release energy, but it also improves their overall health. I stumbled upon this article from Stanford Health and they went over all the benefits of taking your kiddos outdoors. Being outdoors is an easy way to boost your child’s immune system. Now, this is obviously weather determinate, but whenever we can get outside even if it’s just for 15 minutes, we go. In Sweden, parents put babies outside to nap in freezing temps with the belief that fresh air, specifically cold fresh air, improves their health and keeps away some of the winter illness that circulate.

First Aid Kit Basics

Aside from the medicines mentioned above, keeping basic first aid supplies will help set your mind at ease as well. I actually purchased a pre-made first aid kit for a camping trip from Walmart because it came in a handy, easy-to-identify red box. I took some of the surplus supplies out to make room to add a few extra things. It stays in my van, so I have it at home or away, and it includes:

  • Band-aids in various sizes
  • Butterfly bandages, for those almost-stitch-worthy cuts (which has saved us a trip to the doctor, BTW)
  • Gauze
  • Tape
  • Benadryl, for any sudden allergic reactions
  • Dermoplast Spray, as a quick topical pain reliever for scrapes and cuts
  • Insect Bite Relief stick
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Instant Ice Pack

Keep in mind we go camping a lot and spend time in the woods, so we try to cover our bases when we are in remote areas, but to be honest I have used this first aid kit more around town, and pulled it out of the car for my kids and friends’ kids several times.

Less Common Approaches

I cannot say these are tried and true by us, but interesting tips I’ve heard over the years. One is cutting an onion in half and placing it beside the bed of the sick child. Historically people believed this kept the flu from spreading as onions have the capability to absorb bacteria. That is why some people use them to soak up bad odors in the fridge or pantry, and also why you shouldn’t eat an onion stored in the fridge long after it’s been cut. Some people go as far as to put cut onions in their socks to “absorb” the bacteria or virus overnight while they sleep.

Another hearsay tip is drinking grape juice to keep stomach bugs at bay. Supposedly if you have been exposed to someone with the virus you should drink grape juice which has a pH level that inhibits the virus from multiplying in your stomach, and therefore keeps you from actually experiencing the full force of the bug. Couldn’t hurt to try, right?!

Now this IS one tried and true remedy, but less common for sure. Judging from my non-Southern friends’ reaction, I am pretty sure it’s a Southern thing. For bee and wasp stings, wetting tobacco (either loose chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, or unrolling a cigarette) and placing it directly on the sting helps significantly take the pain away. And spoiler alert folks, you usually “wet” the tobacco with saliva! I clearly remember my dad doing this when I was little and stepped on a bee, and my husband quickly reminded me of this remedy when my youngest was stung by paper wasps earlier this summer. It works!

What are some uncommon tips and tricks you have to keep your children from getting sick that you’d like to share? I don’t know about you, but any way to prevent sickness is well worth a house free of coughing, sneezing, or puking. Are you with me?

XOXO, Elizabeth & Kate

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Beat the Beach: How to Actually Enjoy Taking Your Kids Along

For starters, I’d like to take a moment of silence and remember what the beach was like without kids, when your biggest worries were tan lines and a solid beach read. A drink that you enjoyed cold, maybe even alcoholic, and listening to the soothing roar of the wind and ocean. Is it time to go home? Oh wait, doesn’t matter, because you don’t have to feed anyone but yourself. Stay as long as you want!

Okay, moment over, because the beach is much different now. Swim diapers, keeping mountains of sand out of every orifice of one’s face and vehicle, snacks snacks and more snacks, sunscreen applications, etc. Ahhhh, I feel relaxed just thinking about it. Even for those of us lucky to live by the seashore, a trip to the beach requires planning and bringing the right things, but we think we have figured out how to narrow down what is truly needed and still make sure everyone has a good time. Some of my favorite childhood memories take place on the beach, and I want to make sure my children have the opportunities to make their best memories too.

Baby Powder

If you don’t already know, this magic substance removes sand like a mofo. I keep a bottle of it in our car just for this reason, and it works perfectly for sweaty playground sand too. Just generously apply and watch that beige demon fall right off. Otherwise, as well all know, it clings to the car carpet and bathtub for ages.

Bucket & Shovel

You do not need to load up the wagon with a ton of beach toys. A simple bucket and shovel is all they really need. Between chasing birds, running from the waves, and playing with seashells, an exorbitant amount of sand toys aren’t necessary. Give kids the chance be creative in their surroundings and make their own fun. This also decreases the amount of things you have to lug to and from the beach.

Fitted Sheet

Flip that bad boy upside down, put something in each corner to hold the sides up, and just like that you have a little “sand free” area. This is great for when your little one isn’t mobile. It makes a safe area for them to lay, crawl, and sit without sand getting everywhere. Now, if you have mobile kiddos this will not stay sand free for long, but probably a little more so than a normal towel or beach mat.

Canopy

Our canopy has been the best beach accessory we have ever purchased. It is big enough for everyone to fit under and is a great retreat from the heat. Our lunches, naps, and breaks from the sun are all done under our canopy. All beachgoers know that umbrellas and tents can take some trial and error. Some work well, some don’t. You don’t want to always be battling the beach breeze. Canopies are the perfect pop up solution when you need a little shade for little people.

Snacks & Water

This may sound obvious, but bring a ton of snacks and water. Like how much you think you will need times three. From the heat of the sun to the nonstop playing, snacks and water are key. I know I get a serious case of the hangeries and so do my kids. So, I always make sure I have more snacks and water then I think I will need. Some of our favorites: Watermelon, cucumbers, goldfish, and strawberries.

Frozen Juice Boxes

One of my favorite childhood “snacks” was a frozen juice box, and they are so easy and portable. Take your favorite brand of juice box (pouches like CapriSun work too, but are a little harder to hold for little people) and stick a few in the freezer the day before. Take them to the beach with a few spoons and peel open the top of the box. (Save those tiny straws for another day!) What you end up with is a perfect little juice slushy in a disposable box that’s easy to carry around. They stay frozen better than popsicles due to the box, and you can pick sugar-free juice boxes if that is something you are into. A great beach hack to get your kids to slow down and hydrate.

UV Shirts

My preschooler could hang out at the beach all day long. She loves it and never wants to leave, but one of the challenges with having little babies too is that they can’t hang in the sun as long. One of the best beach investments I’ve made are these UV shirts. They are 50 SPF and lightweight, plus I bought them in white to keep my kids as cool as possible. Of course always use sunscreen, but when we have been at the beach for awhile I tend to throw one of these on my youngest to make sure her less-experienced skin doesn’t get too much color.

Trash bag

This may seem like a no brainer, but a trash bag is always a must when packing for the beach. There is already so much trash on our beaches that we do not need to add anymore. Bringing your own trash bag allows you to easily transport all your trash and anything that you may find while walking the shore from the beach. Help safe those cute little sea animals and help our beaches clean.

Seine Net & Kritter Keeper

If you have little nature lovers like we do, a seine net (or casting net) is a great thing to have. On my family beach trips my dad always brought one along. We would set up a glass tank on the deck of our beach house and have a little aquarium to watch for the week, and then we’d set them all free. For a day trip option, bring along a portable Kritter Keeper. There are so many creatures right there in the waves- seahorses, shrimp, small fish, hermit craps, pipe fish…your little ones will LOVE IT and you almost always catch SOMETHING with a seine net. It’s a great way to slow down and take the time to touch and learn on the beach.

Sunscreen

Apply before you unleash your kiddos to the beach, then reapply, and reapply again. Sunscreen is such an important part of going to the beach. If you apply before they see the waves, you have a better chase of them staying still long enough to cover their entire body. Then once snack or lunch time rolls around reapply again. They will be too focused on eating to escape. Finding a good spray sunscreen is great for quick and mess-free reapplication.

Make-Up Brush

This is a wonderful beach hack that I have to credit my husband for! Our oldest always gets sand in her eyes, but hates hates hates water in her eyes, so trying to flush out the sand is a NIGHTMARE. We have started throwing an unused make-up brush (just a cheap, soft one I grabbed at Target!) and using that to brush sand from eyes and eyelashes. Usually it does the trick! For rubbed-in sand you may have to break out the water bottle too, but this has definitely saved us a few tears on multiple occasions.

As you head to the beach, go with an open mind. Know that the beach with kids is a completely different experience than going alone. There will be so much sand, in bathing suits, their mouths, and your car. Don’t stress it, it will eventually disappear. Just think of sand as the glitter of the beach. So, go and enjoy making those memories with your little ones, and we hope some of these ideas helped make it that much more fun!

XOXO, Elizabeth & Kate

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He’ll Never Know

It’s 5:30am. Still dark. My preschooler walks in, to my side of the bed of course. I nudge my husband. “Can you get up with the kids? I had a rough night.”

You can tell them, but they won’t know. They may see the tip of the iceberg that is motherhood, but they don’t see what lies underneath. The feelings behind the tears, the mom guilt, the aching body, the worry you aren’t doing things right, the magic and overwhelming exhaustion of what it means to be the one everyone needs something from. To be mom.

Last night I was rocking my toddler back to sleep. It was 4am. The one who rarely wakes overnight anymore. The one who hardly ever wakes up crying. I heard her fuss, heard discomfort in her cry, and glanced at the clock. For thirty seconds or so I continued to listen without moving. Was she in pain? Was it her teeth? Is she sick? Maybe she’s thirsty. Will she go back to bed? Beside me, my husband sleeps. I roll out of bed and fill a cup of water, grab a new diaper, and head into her room. She giggles. “Great, I’ve been duped,” I think. She sips water while I change her diaper, then I rock with her for a bit. My mind drifts between wishing for my bed and realizing one day I’ll wish for this moment again, when she’s small enough to cuddle and rock in my arms. I hug her a little tighter, stay in her room a little longer, and try to be thankful she’s okay and all is well.

A few hours before this, my preschooler came in. She went to bed at 10pm, pretty much yanking any “me time” right out from under me. My husband and I tried to watch a movie together, and I fell asleep on the couch. So now it’s past midnight, and she’s standing by the bed. My side, of course. She doesn’t want to sleep in her room. She can’t find her bear. She’s thirsty. I rolled out of bed, got her more water, found the missing bear, tucked her in, told her goodnight. I crawl back in bed and wonder if she’s going to go back to an early bedtime? Will she eventually start to sleep in? Today is the first day back at preschool. I hope she doesn’t catch as many viruses as she did last year. Am I giving her enough attention? What can I do today to help her learn? Beside me, my husband sleeps. Eventually I drift back to sleep too. For a bit.

I was unprepared for the constant mental exhaustion that is motherhood. Mom brains run 24/7. A mantra I repeat to myself when I get overwhelmed is “Worry is a prayer for the unwanted.” I know it’s true, but worry is inevitable. Am I strong enough for this? We want another child, can I handle it? Am I patient enough? Who will I ask to help me if one of my kids has to go to the ER and my husband is gone? I hate asking for help. Will I be able to ask for help? I lost my temper today. Will that effect them long term? Are they going to have tempers too? Are they going to be kind to others? Am I kind enough to them? Am I doing my best?

These are thoughts that go through my mind all the time. When I have a quiet moment to myself, when I am trying to fall asleep, when I am holding back tears. I try to self-soothe by reassuring myself I wouldn’t be given more than I can handle. I have great family. My kids are good kids. I have friends who will help if I ask. There are families who deal with so much, we have it so good. I know these things are true, but they don’t erase the words that fill my mind in the silence. Beyond the worries, there’s filling up our mental plates: What is for dinner? When is their next dentist appointment? Did I pay preschool tuition? What can I plan for today to keep these little people active? Are there any bills I forgot about? When should kids know their ABC’s, are we behind? When does my car need an oil change? Stolen sleep. Silent worries. A neverending to-do list. A house that is never as clean as I’d like. A project left incomplete. A book unread. Laundry for days. Mom guilt. Stress. Feeling less than. Waking up feeling this way, before even the sun. Beside me, he sleeps. He’ll never know.

It’s hard, feeling the weight of all this, the weight that is motherhood, before the sun even rises. When you’re exhausted and can’t rest. You can say it, explain it, cry it out, he can even take a shift now and then, but he’ll never know what it’s like all the time. Just like I’ll never know his stresses at work, or what it’s like to leave his babies for months at a time, even half a year. Worrying about providing for his family. Worrying about retirement. Missing holidays and birthdays and milestones while he’s away. I’ll never know.

Motherhood is hard. Fatherhood is hard. Parenting is hard. These are facts.

I have amazing children. I can handle anything thrown my way. I am a great mom. These are also facts.

To anyone who feels like they aren’t enough, or whose emotions go misconstrued, or who cries when you feel you shouldn’t, just know we all feel that way sometimes. It means you are better than you think, braver than you know, and as strong as you need to be. When you are grumpy and short-tempered with your family and worry everyone sees you as a monster, take comfort in this: Your husband knows the real you, he knows you are tired, and is thankful for everything you do. He isn’t thinking badly about you, he just hopes you’re okay. Your kids forgot about it almost as soon as it happened. They are worried about snacks and playtime, and they will still choose you over dad for everything. Your babies love you endlessly, they are loving little blank canvases. They just want to touch you and be near you, no matter what you say or do. The only person upset at you, is you. And you are doing just fine.

XOXO, Elizabeth & Kate

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Our House is a Zoo

I can’t imagine a house without pets. I have literally never had to. When I was born, there was my dad’s black lab, Jezebel. Then slowly we added cats. A good many cats, because my mom had to pass the animal shelter on the way home from work and couldn’t turn down giving them a good home. In middle school and high school came less cats and more dogs. And while we were in college my (now) husband and I got our first dog, Kenzie.

By the time my first daughter was born, we had somehow had accumulated three dogs. Three. I say somehow, but I know exactly how it happened. I should have seen it coming. See, we had every intention of breeding Kenzie when she was younger, and try we did, but she was not a fan. After meeting five or so male labs over the years to try and make that happen, we just decided to give up and find a second dog to keep her company. We found what were advertised as “snow white labs” a state over and became obsessed. Kenzie was a yellow lab, and we both remember the day we saw a portly white male lab walking through Bass Pro Shops and wanted to kidnap him, he was so perfect. We drove to pick out our new puppy and arrived in a very rural town in South Carolina. When we pulled up to the house there were two puppies left for us to choose from. Pro move: I hopped out of the car first and didn’t wait for my husband. I walked straight up to the puppy pen and one cute little dog with a cowlick on his nose jumped right up to me. The other literally turned away from me and faced the fence. My husband didn’t stand a chance in helping to choose this dog, it was decided. And that’s how we got Cotton. He was trouble from the start. And before we could get him fixed, right after his “coming of age”, he got our 8 year old lab pregnant. Go. Figure. And that’s how we have Olive, our pick of the litter. Cotton and Olive are less than a year apart in age.

So, my daughter was born into a house with three dogs. And as much as I love my dogs, our house is a zoo. I started to imagine what having a house without dogs was like. Do people without dogs even have to vacuum? What does their dirt even look like if it doesn’t have dog hair in it? Wouldn’t it be nice to leave the house overnight and not have to take the dog? Don’t get me started on keeping up with vet visits and heart medication and 15month well baby check-ups and dentist appointments…my head is a zoo too. I used to get really upset when people had kids and got rid of their dogs. I just didn’t see how they could do that to a member of their family. One of the FIRST members of their family. Because that’s what our dogs were to us, family. But now that I have kids, I do understand. Some days you barely feed and bathe yourself, so that means the dog is getting better care than even you are. But, while I no longer judge that decision, I could never do it. We love our little zoo.

When you see your 1 year old throw the ball for the dog and laugh and laugh and laugh, it’s worth it. When you find your 3 year old giving the dog a check-up with her doctor kit and he’s totally cooperating, it’s worth it. When you’ve had a long day and finally got the kids to bed and plop on the couch and the dog comes to cuddle with you, a soft, SILENT creature that isn’t asking you for anything, it’s worth it. And that may not be the case for everyone, but our house will always have dogs.

About a year ago, when our kids were 2 years old and 5 months old, Kenzie passed away. Our first dog, our fellow adventurer, our kid before kids. Because yes, dog mom is a thing. She passed away suddenly in her sleep. When we found her outside, we had just put the kids to bed. I hugged her and cried. And cried some more. I told her I was sorry over and over. It just poured out of me, because since having kids she hadn’t gotten my attention. I didn’t have as much patience for dog things. She hadn’t been taken to the beach, or in the boat, or anything we used to do. She hadn’t been played with as much in the backyard. She’d slowed down, and so had I. That was a brand new form of mom guilt that hit me like a wave. I know she had a good life, but I feel like I dropped the ball at the end. And I didn’t know it was the end until it was. We called a pet crematorium and sat in the driveway with her under the stars until they arrived. The next morning, when our two year old asked where she was, we told her she was an angel now. My tiny little toddler said “Oh, I wish she would come back.” And it’s worth it. She won’t have memories of Kenzie, just like I have very few of the black lab I was brought home to, but we will remember those things, like how Kenzie sniffed the carseat on that very first Spring day.

Just like kids, dogs teach us so many things about the world around us, and they teach our kids so many things too. Responsibility, compassion, friendship, trust, loyalty. It seems so true of everything in life that there are seasons. Childhood is a great season. Pets are a great season. When they run together, it’s amazing. Seasons may reoccur, with new pets and new babies, but you can never go back. It’s also true that sometimes the hardest things are the most rewarding, and while pets and kids are HARD, I wouldn’t trade it. I love they they have furry best friends to hug and whisper to when we, their parents, make them mad. I love that they can dress them up and involve them in their games. I love that the dogs will sleep at the foot of their bed when we let them, watching over them as they sleep. They are a comfort of childhood, and it warms my heart to watch these seasons. Two very different seasons that go by way too fast.

XOXO, Elizabeth & Kate