11 Ways to Give Back This Christmas

I was sitting on my couch last week just thinking about all of the presents I still had to buy & just kind of fixating on the idea of giving. With our budget being a bit tight this year, I started to get a little sad about how much we COULDN’T get this Christmas. But God stopped me real quick. How about being GRATEFUL for all we do have & all that we CAN give this Christmas. So I started researching a little & came up with this little list of ways we can all give back this holiday season!

Donate pajamas at Carter’s

This is actually something that I am personally participating in this holiday season. And one that I probably will do every year from now on. I think this is so cool! You can read more about their mission here. You can go into any Carter’s store & pick out any pair of pajamas, take them to the check out counter & donate them to a child that needs them. Toys are always so fun to give, but some kiddos really need a cozy & warm pair of jammies!

Donate to your local food shelter

Most food shelters accept more than just food items. They also need toiletries, formula, diapers, blankets, paper plates, cups, the list goes on! All great things to give & donate!

Care Packages for Deployed Service Members

If you are apart of a military family in some way, you may have a loved one overseas or know someone who is deployed over the holiday season. Throw a care package together for one of the many men & women who are away from their loved ones. It doesn’t have to be much. It can little stuff. Toothpaste, kleenex, chapstick. Just some things to help them out & give them one less thing to worry about. I found this really cool website where you can put your care package together, send it to them & they will ship directly to a military service member over seas! The website is call Support our Troops. They make it so simple, so that if you do not have any direct ties to any one over seas & don’t have an address to ship to, you can just send it here & they take care of it for you!

Volunteer 

You don’t have to donate material things…donate your time! During my research I also found this website called Volunteer Match. You may have heard of it, but I just discovered it. It’s amazing! You basically put in your general location & keywords of any specific thing or place you’d like to volunteer with & tons of options pop up. I typed in “Christmas” & most of what I saw was helping recycle/dispose of old Christmas trees after the holiday. Something you probably don’t think about, but it needs to be done & they need volunteers for it!

Donate toys/books

I feel like this is one that is beginning to be very popular in our society. Collect toys around your home that your kids no longer play with & donate them to a local daycare, family in need, library, foster home, goodwill, etc. It’s not only a great way to declutter a bit, but it can really make a little family’s Christmas that needs it!

Baked Goods

Odds are, you have baked or will bake something this Christmas. Why not make a little extra for your local fire house or police officers? Deliver them on Christmas Eve or Christmas day! They are always working , even on the holidays! It would just lift their spirits to get some homemade cookies during the time away from their families. Also, if you live on base, take one to the gate guards that are working that day. Such a simple way to say “thank you” for all of their service!

Giftcards for Teachers

I’m not just talking Starbucks or Chick-fil-a, although I KNOW those are much appreciated. But throw in a Wal-mart, Target or a local school supply store. It’s nice to give them something fun, but they also spend a lot of their own money buying things for their classroom. Help them out a little!

The Salvation Army

There are lots of different ways to give on their website! You can find them here.

Fisher House/Ronald McDonald House

I have personally stayed at the Fisher House at the Naval Hospital in San Diego. We were blessed enough to come home just in time for Christmas, but we did spend our Thanksgiving there. And let me tell you how amazing the people were who donated so much food & time during the holidays. It helped us feel a little better when our little guy was in the NICU. The families that stay in these houses are all going through some really hard stuff.  A small Christmas tree to put in their room to decorate or just a meal they don’t have to cook would mean the world to them! When we were in the Fisher House, someone donated pumpkins during Halloween & we got to carve one with our little girl. It was a nice little getaway from the stresses we were dealing with.

Donate to your local NICU

Majority of NICU families were not prepared for their baby just yet. We weren’t Our little Noah was 3 months too early. We didn’t have clothes to fit a 3 lb baby. We didn’t have his room put together. Heck, we hadn’t even bought his crib yet! Donations are so appreciated by these families. We got quite a few clothes donated to us & it was amazing & heart warming. The momma sitting alone in her baby’s pod waiting for the next feeding time when she gets to hold her baby, who has cords hanging off of every limb of their tiny little body, isn’t thinking about Christmas shopping or what she’s even going to wear the next day. Anything & everything helps! We were also in the NICU for Halloween & someone donated these adorable little pumpkin knitted hats they made. Every baby in the NICU got one. We still have it. It is so special to us! So donate anything! Strollers, carseats, clothes, books, crafts for decorating incubators, knitted hats, etc. Also, send some goodies to all those nurses, nurse practitioners & doctors who are working with those tiny humans! Send a sweet card or some yummy gingerbread cookies! They love it!

Show Thanks to Your Mailman/woman

I got this idea from a sweet insta-friend of mine. She set out a little basket full of water & snacks for all of the delivery services delivering her packages. So thoughtful, right? You can see the one she put together on her instagram page, @holdingmoonbeams.

Are there any ways YOU like to give back during the holidays that I don’t have listed on here? I always love new ideas!

Merry Christmas, Y’all & God bless †

Brittany

A Letter to the Girl Who Holds It In

If you ask anybody that knows me well, they will tell you that I am a very emotional person. Stereotypical “girl” over here. And it’s not that I just see a sad puppy on TV & it makes me feel sad….I’m a very empathetic person. I will put myself in that sad little puppy’s shoes & really try to understand how they feel. I do this with everything & person in my life. I have grown to be this way. I don’t think I’ve always done this. But over these 26 years of my life I have learned that, usually, there is a reason for every action someone takes. Any time I’m in an argument with someone [which is hardly ever because I hate confrontation] or when someone I know does something I don’t understand, I try my hardest to put myself in the other person’s shoes before I assume wrongful things or judge them. This is a huge work in progress for me, & I am by no means perfect. The reason I started doing this was because of my own personal struggles I dealt with in the past, & still honestly deal with them to this day.

I grew up in such a loving household. I have been blessed beyond measure when it comes to close family. My daddy is an emotional bird like me. He was always so open about his feelings & I never felt ashamed to talk about anything I was feeling. Once I started reaching older high school age & my college years, I began to withhold a lot of my feelings. Maybe that’s just a phase everyone goes through? That’s such a huge transition in your life. So many changes & literally all of the hormones are going crazy. I tend to wear my feelings on my shoulder. Anyone can tell when something is bothering me. Now getting it out of me….that’s the kicker. I’m sure some of y’all can relate, right? I know my husband can. We are so alike in this way. Which can make for some difficult “let’s discuss our feelings” talks, because we always just say, “I’m okay”.

I’m okay.

So many hidden messages can be found in that small, two-word phrase. That’s usually my immediate reflex answer. Very recently, I started to realize that there is something really wrong with this. I sat down one evening waiting for my husband to come home from work & started thinking about why I felt so down all of the time. I thought about my family. My beautiful children & husband. The brightest joys in my life. They were definitely not the reason. We are close to our hometown now, so Texas nostalgia was not the source of my gloominess. Okay….my appearance? I was not happy with my body, but I was working on it. Could be a little part of why I feel this way. But what was really the issue here? Everything in my life seemed to be just as I wanted it to be. Around the same time some old pictures had popped up on my phone. When our sweet Noah was in the NICU. Then it was like this ton of bricks hit me.

I have never dealt with the emotional roller coaster of having a premature baby & the aftermath of it. I never really talked about how that whole experienced effected my physical state & mental psyche. It wasn’t just about the NICU, it was about all of it. The unplanned nature of both of my pregnancies. The timing of it all. It was all a lot. Especially to all happen in the course of just 2 years. The first two years of our marriage to be more precise. The first time I had lived away from my family. Eleven hundred miles away. It all just started rushing back to me. Please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying. My whole life is a huge blessing. Something I grew up praying about. A thing not everyone in this world gets to have. But it was the fact that I never expressed it. I never really let it all out. The undiagnosed post-partum depression that I never treated. The anxiety I felt having our baby boy home but nothing hooked up to him to make sure he was still breathing. The control I felt I didn’t have over my life because nothing was going how I had planned it.

Here I was, 2 years later having this “ah-ha” moment. And this is me, starting to let it all out. Taking that first step. To the girl like me. The girl who holds it all in. You may not realize it now. It may take you awhile like it took me. But those things build up. They get to a point where they overwhelm you. To the point where you might look around & not see anything wrong, but your mind tells you different. You want to know what helped me start to let it all out? The one thing that never faltered through all of my experiences? That overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of my God. When all else seems to be falling apart. When all else feels out of your control. There is one thing you can always trust in. That He has full control over everything. He holds your life in His hands. And He will never steer you down the wrong path. We may lose sight of that sometimes. I know I did. But like God always does, He made me see again. He helped me let out what I felt was holding me back for so long. Holding me back from enjoying what was right in front of me. So if you’re that girl like me, I pray you find that peace. I pray you realize that even if you feel like you don’t have anyone to vent to, God is always there. He hears your cries & your struggles. And even better, He heals them.

This blog has been such a wonderful thing in my life. It has allowed me to challenge myself. Encourage myself & others. And even document memories with my family. It’s also been a journal for me to write down things like this. I just wanted to give a huge thank you to all who read along with my words. It means so much to me.

As always, God bless

Brittany

Three Sensory-Filled Pumpkin Seed Crafts

I am SO excited to share these fun crafts with y’all! I really contemplated what I wanted to do. I sat for awhile with my notepad trying to think of something a little creative to give y’all. Lately, my creative juices have been super low. For some odd & random reason, pumpkin seeds came to my mind. Then the juices started to flow! I’ve come up with three different art activities you can do with your littles [or just yourself- not gonna lie I did one of these all by myself after my kids went to sleep 🙂 ].

No. 1 Pumpkin Seed & Confetti Painted Pumpkins

Painting pumpkins is the new thing. I thought of putting a different spin on it. I love to add different touches to things 🙂 You can buy bags of pumpkin seeds at your local grocery store for dirt cheap & use them to decorate up your little pumpkins! I also found this super cute halloween themed confetti & I just couldn’t resist.

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The kids had so much fun painting. Paislee was obsessed with the glitter glue….so was I. Not gonna lie, it got a little messy. But we had so much fun & the paint washes off so #yolo.

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I love them! They turned out so cute! A great sensory activity 🙂 I liked painting the white pumpkins too, the colors really pop out more.

No. 2 Pumpkin Seed Outlined Pumpkins

I wish I could come up with fancy names for these, but like I said, my creativeness is a bit low these days. This was the first thing I thought of when pumpkin seeds came to mind. It’s an awesome fine motor activity & we got to use more glitter glue, so everyone wins!

I just found a pumpkin coloring page on google, printed it out, cut it out & had the kids help me glue it on the paper. Then we outlined the pumpkin with glitter glue & the kids put their seeds on. Now that I look back, it might be a little easier to color the pumpkin first then cut it out. But I had them color it after because I make life more difficult than it needs to be sometimes.

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About this time in our crafting shenanigans we had a bit of a bee fiasco. Paislee got stung by a bee earlier this week & now she is terrified of them [I don’t blame her, I’m terrified too]. Long story short, Mr. Bee showed up to our arts & crafts club & caused us both to scream our oh-so-girly screams. So we went inside, I gave the kids a bath & had them finish up their little pumpkins with some fun halloween puffy stickers!

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I. Can’t. They turned out so cool! Also, these stickers had glittery stars in them that you could shake around. You’d be surprised what you can find in the card/gift wrap section at the grocery store!

No. 3 Fall Themed Sensory Bottles…with pumpkin seeds 🙂

THESE ARE MY FAVORITE! I find any excuse to make sensory bottles. Seriously…ask my husband. This was the thing I did by myself after the kids went down. We have so many I’m thinking of just taking some to work because it’s getting a little excessive. If you want, you can go buy empty bottles made specifically for sensory-bottle-making at Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. But I just used what we had at the house.

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The first one I made was halloween themed. I had some spider rings I had bought for our teal pumpkin bowl that I just cut the rings off of. I added those in there along with the orange & black glitter glue. I used about a tbsp of each if I had to guess. It’s up to your own discretion on how slowly you like your sensory gadgets to move around the bottle. I also added in the Halloween confetti & pumpkin seeds left over from our pumpkin painting from earlier. Fill the rest of the bottle with water & you’re good to go! Googley eyes would be cool too, but we were fresh out.

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The second one I made was very similar but I added in some different sensory gadgets. I found some fall-y leaves from our trees outside & added those in. Then I put in some leaf confetti I found at the store as well. I left out the black glue & just stuck with the orange. This was actually the only craft here that does not include pumpkin seeds. But it was my favorite out of all of them. It turned out really pretty.

And the last one I used a cute little mini bottle & did not use any wet ingredients. I used the leaves from our trees, pumpkin seeds & some hay from our little hay stacks by our front door. If your littles like to make music or just like noise as sensory input, these are perfect!

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I would love to see y’alls crafts that you do for fall if you have any special ones. Or comment below with pics of these if you try them out 🙂

HAPPY FALL Y’ALL!

As always, God bless †

Brittany

How We Potty Trained Our 2 Year Old with a Token Economy

Potty training is a BEAST. Plain & simple. I won’t sugar coat it for you. Our journey with Paislee was a long one & it took a ton of patience to get through it with her. Every kiddo is so different when it comes to potty training. I heard of parents having their littles trained in like 2 days….um what? HOW is that possible?

The answer I’ve gotten is candy. Candy, candy, candy. “We gave our kiddo an m&m or skittle every time they went potty.” I wasn’t totally against the fact as I’ve used candy as reinforcers for clients I work with as an ABA therapist. Plus, I’m a huge candy lover. But I guess I wanted her experience to have some other type of reward. Something more natural. My thought process was that, eventually, the candy will not be given after she goes potty. I felt that the weaning from that might be too much of a headache. I won’t lie, there were a few times she was rewarded with a cookie or gummies after she went potty. But it was not our go-to.

We started her training around when she was 19 months. Her pediatrician told us at her 18 month check up that she could start potty training. So we went out & bought her a little potty. We just started out with her sitting on the potty. We PRAISED her like crazy for sitting on that potty. And she soaked up every little bit. She actually went a few times. But she just wasn’t quite ready. We would still encourage it but we took a little break for a few months.

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We started back up again once she turned two. I tried everything y’all. We sang potty songs, read potty books, dry erase markers on the potty, went & sat on the potty every 30 minutes. None of it seemed to be working for our girl. She wasn’t showing any initiative to go to the potty. She went through a phase for a couple months where she just flat out didn’t want to go. She would start crying when we told her it was time to go potty. We thought that maybe she just wasn’t ready. We did not want to force her & make the experience aversive. So we stopped. Again. We also had a lot of things going on in our lives at this point in time. We were getting ready to move. We had lots of family coming to visit us during the holidays. Too much for her to focus on going potty when she needed to.

Once we moved into our new house I decided that it was time to get really serious about it. I was home every day during the week. We were going to be in this house for about 4 months. I thought now was the best time as any to crack down on this! So I started the every 30 minutes thing. She was starting to do much better. She had some big girl panties I had her wear most of the time during the day but she was still having accidents. Then I had the greatest idea!

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As I’ve mentioned, I’m an ABA therapist. One of the many reinforcement tools we use with our clients is called a token economy. Token economies are used to reinforce very specific behaviors. That behavior can be anything that a certain child is working on. At work, it’s usually when a client gives a correct response to a certain lesson/target being run or it could be reinforcing every instance of them having gentle hands with their peers during play. I thought this would be perfect for Paislee while she was potty training. So I got to work. Token economies that I usually work with are easily portable & can be carried around. But I wanted to make a big one. One that Paislee would notice & be excited to see every time she went potty. Plus we were almost always home, so we didn’t need to take it anywhere [but a portable one would also be helpful if you’re on the go a lot!].

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One thing that I think really helped make this method effective for us is that I included her from the get-go. I had her pick out the tokens she would earn. Of course, Ana, Elsa, Shimmer & Shine were the obvious choices. Including your child in anything really makes them feel important & special. This experience should not be aversive! It should be fun & rewarding! I also had her help me pick out the colors she wanted to use on the board. I put everything together once she was asleep. I wanted her to start this new system on a brand new day. Fresh start.

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After lots of velcro, cutting & laminating, this was the final product! I love how it turned out & I couldn’t wait for Paislee to see it.

She loved it y’all. And I can’t tell you how much it helped. It was like a light switched in her that day. She was 1000 times more motivated to use the potty because she wanted to put her tokens on her board. I still did the 30 minute rule. I did this so she could really associate the tokens with using the potty. I added a few other goals to make it easier for her to start earning them. The goals I set for her were:

“I sat on the potty when mommy or daddy told me to”

“I told mommy or daddy I needed to go potty”

“I went pee-pee in the potty”

“I went poo-poo in the potty”

“I went 30 minutes with NO accidents”

I added incentives for each goal too. Like if she went & sat on the potty every time we told her to for a whole day she could have any preferred item or food she wanted that day. If any of y’all are ABA therapists reading this, I hope you can relate. I totally do ABA with my kiddos at home too! Eventually those goals were made a bit more challenging to reach as she progressed in her training. Like having zero accidents in a whole day, & eventually in a whole week.

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IT WORKED y’all. Don’t get me wrong. She still had accidents here & there. But they significantly decreased when I started this reinforcement system. I loved it because it was still tangible for her & a great visual to motivate her through this huge milestone. One thing that also helped I think was tossing the diapers & pull-ups. When we started the token economy she only wore big girl panties during the day. We put her in pull-ups at night, but after a few nights she didn’t ever go in her pull-ups. Slowly but surely we had her in panties all day & all night. Pull-ups can be a crutch when trying to potty train. Littles are much less likely to go poop in their cute little undies rather than a pull-up that they know will be thrown away anyways.

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Fast forward a few months during our move & this girl rocked it. We drove from California to Texas. Four days on & off the road. Never wearing pull-ups & she had zero accidents! We did have a little setback when we arrived at our new house. There was a lot going on around her & new surroundings. Any big changes can affect the potty training journey for any kiddo. But we have made it to the other side. The entire journey lasted about a year & five months. Once we started the token economy, it was over in 4 months.

All the praise hands for those parents who speed train their kiddos. We were not so lucky. This is what worked for our family, & everyone is so different! I do truly believe that if you incorporate your child’s choices, wants & preferred activities/items you can get them potty trained in less than 6 months! I feel like this is a much more realistic goal rather than trying to get them trained in a week. No matter what big changes might be going on in your lives. Being a military family, it is sometimes hard for us to have a steady routine. Especially when there are moves coming up, husbands or wives are gone, or relatives in town, what have you. There is probably never a “perfect” time to potty train. Just grab the beast by the horns & run with it!

We are so proud to say that our girl is fully potty trained & our awesome token board is no more!

As always, God bless

Brittany

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Raising Superheroes

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What do you envision when you think of a superhero? Does your mind wonder off to Marvel & the Avengers? Do you picture Superman flying through the air or Catwomam sneaking through the night fighting bad guys? First responders & our military? Or maybe you think of a particular person in your life or someone you may not know personally but know of their accomplishments through the media.

Have you ever stopped to think how they became so heroic? I mean if you’re Superman, you’re kinda born that way, with super human powers & strength. But even Superman could have used those powers for evil or unethical things. It’s all in how he was raised. That goes for most of us. And I said “most” because there are some heroes who grew up not having a healthy, respectable role model to look up to & learn from. The majority of our lives can all be connected back to our upbringing with our parents and/or caretakers.

So how do we do this? How do we raise our children to be heroes? And what is a hero? It can mean so many different things to each person. For me, a hero is anyone who overcomes adversity with faith, dignity, kindness & humbleness. An adversity can be anything that creates a challenge, turmoil, or grief in a person’s life. I started thinking about this after watching the movie I Can Only Imagine. It’s a beautiful film. I highly recommend it. Tiny spoiler alert though, it may trigger some stuff if you’ve ever gone through/dealt with abuse in your life. It’s about a father-son relationship & basically how it created a powerful testimony of God’s love & purpose in these two lives.

Photo from https://www.courageouschristianfather.com/i-can-only-imagine-movie-review/amp/

The movie is extremely encouraging to any parent, in my opinion. I related to it in the fact that I struggle with guilt after disciplining my children. My husband & I would never physically or emotionally harm our children. We would never harm them in any way. Period. But I always think, “Maybe I could’ve handled that differently.” Or, “I shouldn’t have yelled.” But my husband is always so great about reminding me that we are just trying our best to raise strong, loving, independent & rule-abiding adults. Our littles get upset when they get in trouble & I just hate seeing them cry. But we get down on their level & explain why we can’t do certain things- for theirs/others’ safety, it’s not kind, they’ll get too full & not eat dinner. The list goes on.

But then it happens. It clicks with them. Whatever the lesson may be. And you see them implementing them in their day to day lives.

One thing I have learned being a momma is that children, especially little bitties learn best by their environment. So lead by example. SHOW them how they are expected to act & speak. That’s how you raise superheroes. This is not to say you can’t ever be angry or sad or what have you. But it’s in the way you handle yourself & cope in those situations. You raise heroes by being a hero yourself. Be the best version of you. And you may not feel like it. But just by taking the time to play with them. Putting their dolls clothes on. Get on their level. Opening their juice [it really can be that simple!] or making them lunch. You do everything for them & they see it. Holding them when they have a bad dream & reminding them it will all be okay. It all matters. Much more than any of us realize.

Related: He’s Not Just a NICU Survivor

My kiddos are my heroes. Hands down. My Noah has overcome some huge obstacles even before he was born. And same with my baby girl. My Paislee. She is so full of life & knows no stranger. God is working through them both in so many ways already.

Related: My Beauty and the World’s Beasts

Making them feel loved, important & heard is the most heroic thing you could ever do for them. I promise you they see it. You are their world & it’s your job to guide them down the right path so they can survive in this world of sidekicks. A great leader creates more leaders. Why do you think God created us?! So we can lead others to Him!

Just some food for thought on this quiet Sunday 💕

As always, God bless †

Brittany

He’s Not Just a NICU Survivor

Have you ever stopped to think about all of the little things you love about your children? I mean the really little things. Have you ever just stopped to look at them? Study them? Watch them? I’m not a creeper mom I promise! I just get caught up in a moment sometimes. Watching my kiddos. Here the past few weeks I have really been watching my Noah. My sweet boy.

We are big advocates for NICU families, survivors & angels. All because Noah was born 11 weeks premature & spent 12 weeks in the NICU overcoming obstacles most grown ups couldn’t overcome. Given that September is NICU Awareness Month AND Noah’s birthday month, I love to share his story. Even though it’s an amazing story & testimony of faith, struggle, motherhood, & birth that I love to tell- I’m not gonna talk about that today.

Related: The Littlest Warrior: An Inspiring NICU Story

Today is bub’s 2nd birthday. And I just want to talk about him. I want to share the little things that make him special. That make him “him”. God has sculpted this little boy perfectly fitting for our little family. He is so wonderfully made that I felt inclined to share with y’all my favorite things about him.

His smile

Since he came into this world, he was smiling. Always such a happy soul. His laugh is incredibly infectious. I pray you never lose this smile, bub. It has brightened my darkest days.

His snuggles

Noah gives the best hugs. Lately he’s been so busy. He is such a busy body. So I sneak in those cuddles every chance I can get! Snuggle your babies. Even if it’s just a quick hug or head on the shoulder. Soak up those moments. Two may seem young, but I want to look back when he’s 22 & think, “I stole all the snuggles I could!”

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His passion

This boy is so passionate about so many things. Some may call it obsessive, but he knows what he loves & he will talk your ear off about it! He’s so passionate about his blankie, baseball, hats, superheroes & shoes. Just to name a few. All very different things. I think it’s just a tiny look into the passion he will have as he gets older. When he begins to love & maybe play baseball. Or when his passion for Christ overcomes him & leads him down a successful path. I look forward to that time of watching him grow into the man he will be.

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His eyelashes

Everybody always talks about his eyelashes. It’s one of his many characteristics that are so, so precious to me. It just adds to his childhood innocence. Girls will go ga-ga over him & those dang eyelashes. I love them, but they’re gonna drive me crazy one day!

The love he has for his family

The love he has for us is undeniable. He may only be two, but he is the most loving boy. The random “I love you’s” & sweet goodnight kisses. He adores his sissy too. The way he plays with her & follows her every move reminds me of my little sisters growing up. I give Paislee a good bit of credit when I think about all of the things he has learned over the past year. He has learned so much from her it’s crazy. How much he talks & the motor movements he’s learned. All her! I can’t wait to watch their relationship grow as they do ❤

His strength

Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the NICU, but just for this one I’ll mention that that experience was only the beginning of the immense strength this guy has. Throughout his whole two years of life, he has overcome some huge obstacles. Physical & occupational therapy. Possible speech delays, eye issues, hearing tests. Each one he showed how much of a miracle he is. Such a healthy boy. He started preschool this year & that transition was so hard. He had only been home with me most of his life. He had such a hard time at first. But now, when I drop him off he goes in & sits right next to his friends with that big handsome smile on his face. Although it’s hard for me to let go a little bit, it makes me feel successful as a momma to watch my sweet boy be so independent.

I could literally go on & on about this boy. I want to challenge every momma & daddy out there to do this with me. Write down the special things you love about your littles. Big & small. I think these things in my head, but actually writing them down is very therapeutic. Also going through old pictures & memories really makes this momma happy! Other people may think it’s annoying, but I take SO many pictures. And I’m glad that I do. Capturing all of these precious moments that I can have for a lifetime.

So take ALL THE PICTURES. Write down all the memories. You only get this one life to live & remember. This boy of mine is just starting his life, but it has been more full than I could’ve ever imagined. Although it is a huge part of who he is, he is NOT just a NICU survivor. He is a vibrant little boy full of so much joy. There are so many parts to him that we haven’t even discovered yet. Happy 2nd birthday bubba! We love you!

As always, God bless †

Brittany

Crock Pot Turkey Chili

I posted this easy recipe on my insta stories last week & had a ton of interest in it! And a ton of requests to publish it on the blog, so by popular demand….here it is! This is so perfect for fall & incredibly easy. You can even prepare it ahead of time & freeze it for later use. It’s a healthy & hearty meal packed with savory flavors!

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 lb lean ground turkey

1 15 oz can organic diced tomatoes

1 8 oz can organic tomato sauce

1 15 oz can organic, low-fat/sodium pinto beans

1 15 oz can organic, low fat/sodium dark red kidney beans

3 cloves garlic

Half a purple or white onion

3 stalks celery

3 Tbsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

1 Tbsp oregano

*optional* 1 tsp red pepper flakes

*optional* about 1/4 cup chicken stock

Sour cream & shredded cheddar cheese for topping

Salt & pepper to taste

First you’ll want to chop up you onion, celery & garlic. I don’t like huge chunks of veggies so I cut all of mine up pretty small. That’s to your own discretion though 🙂

While you’re chopping your veggies, heat up some olive oil in a large skillet. I used about a tablespoon or so.

Toss everything in the skillet & sauté for about 3 minutes or so. Or until the veggies begin to soften. Then you’ll want to add in your turkey.

I like to push the veggies to the sides of the pan to get the meat started. Once it starts to brown just keep giving it a good stir to makes sure it all gets cooked through.

Let that meat sit & cook for a few & start adding in your other ingredients to the crock pot. Pour in your tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans [do not drain or rinse] & seasonings.

The last thing I add in is a water & chicken stock mix. I get one of the 15 oz cans and fill it 3/4 with water & 1/4 chicken stock just to give it a tad more flavor. Pour that in the crock pot with your turkey/veggie mix & stir it all together.

Then you let it sit for 2-4 hours on low. Or, at this point I would let the meat and veggies cool then bag it up to stick it in the freezer. If you can let it sit closer to 4 hours the flavors will really mash up!

I like to top mine off with some shredded cheddar or Colby jack cheese & sour cream.

Crackers & cornbread are 👌🏻 with this too. Or pour it over some Fritos for a fancy Frito pie 💁🏻‍♀️.

As always, God bless †

& happy eating

Brittany

Our Family Favorites: 17 Children’s Books Your Littles Will Love

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Every family has their particular bedtime routine with their kiddos. I mean evenings would be pretty chaotic without them right? They’re pretty chaotic even WITH them. Our routine with our littles has always included a bedtime story. We started incorporating books into our routine with Paislee when she was a brand new baby. It took us a little while to get Noah into reading, but he loves it now. We all like to cuddle up on the couch after bath time with their lovies & read a book they pick out. Sometimes Tommy & I will tag team it & he will read to one kiddo while I read to the other. Other times we will all read together as a family if the kids are into the same book that night.

I recently started thinking about new parents & how sometimes it can be a little overwhelming how many books there are out there. I decided to go through what my family already had on our little bookshelf & share our favorites with y’all. My hope is to help any new parents kinda narrow their search down a bit to ones I know my littles love. Some of these books I’m going to share with you are classics & ones you may already have in your home. I have a few categories I’ll break them up into & tell you our faves & share why they can also be important for developmental reasons.

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Touch & Feel Books

These are amazing! Especially for those really little guys. Using those sensory input skills by touching and exploring their curiosity with the different textures. Seriously, whoever invented these is a genius. There are a plethora of different touch & feel books to chose from. For this one, I’ll give you Paislee’s pick. Because this is her favorite book right now. We read it pretty much every single night.

That’s Not My Princess- Usborne Touchy-Feely Books

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There are many different versions of this books as well if you have a little boy. That’s Not My Monster, That’s Not My Dragon, etc. This one has velvet, faux fur, & silky fabrics inside. Paislee absolutely loves it!

Literally laughing out loud to the pic on the right.

Books About Hard but Meaningful Topics

You might think this category is weird for littles & babies. But our goal as parents is to raise our kiddos up right. In the most loving & intentional ways possible. I have found that teaching our kids manners, coping with their emotions, & following the rules at an early age has really set them apart from others at times. I don’t mean to sound boastful or say in any way that my kids are better or “perfect”, but not only do we teach them these things every day but we read about them too. These next four books are our favorites that our littles enjoy too. The first three are all by the same author. Todd Parr. Who, if you haven’t heard of him, does an amazing job portraying difficult topics into fun & colorful life lessons.

It’s Okay to be Different
The Feelings Book
& Do’s and Dont’s by Todd Parr

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I first was introduced to these books in college when I attended a camp for adopted children & their families. It’s Okay to be Different was one of the books that was read to the children at camp because it talks about being adopted. Some illustrations are so silly & kids really eat it up. There are also a few more “serious” examples of being different in the book as well [i.e. being adopted, being in a wheelchair, saying no to bad things, etc.]. It’s all incorporated in a tasteful way & really educates kids about topics you may not even think to talk with them about.

He leaves it open too. Like saying no to bad things…you can relate that to real life situations with your kiddos. Something they can understand. I just love these books so much. They’re awesome!

The fourth book is Tommy’s (my husband) pick. Growing up he loved the Berenstain Bears books. Their whole collection is great for teaching all kinds of useful life lessons. They also have a lot of Christian based topics & stories. Our favorite right now is this one.

Please & Thank You Book by Mike Berenstain

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This book is a simple illustration of using please & thank you during every life. And it’s great at showing how it makes the other person feel when you use/don’t use them. This is something we started teaching really early on in our kids’ lives. Now Noah, our youngest, will say please & thank you 90% of the time without us having to prompt him. It really helps y’all!

Sing-A-Long Books

Our kids LOVE music. They love to dance around to their favorite song, but lately they have really loved sing-a-long songs. I think because they do a lot of these at school. Baby shark is all Noah sings. Our two favorite sing-a-long books are also by the same author [we’re pretty consistent in this house].

Pete the Cat Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
& Pete the Cat Old MacDonald Had a Farm by James Dean

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I feel like children learn best through songs. Especially at young ages. We have a song for everything. Brushing teeth, going potty, feeling mad. Pete the Cat is just so fun. There are so many other PTC books out there. Some even have CD’s that sing along with the books. I also like the “groovy buttons” one. I used to sing that one with my preschoolers. But these are great for starting out. Paislee used to read these every night too. She would fall asleep singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It was the most precious thing. You could even incorporate instruments into storytime. More sensory input! How fun!

Flap Books

These books were the very first ones we introduced to Paislee when we began to read to her. So many developmental skills can be used with these. Fine motor skills, object permanence, problem solving. And again there are so many different versions depending on what your littles are into. These two were our favorites!

Animals
& Things That Go- Lift-a-Flap Books

A couple of flaps may or may not have been ripped off. The excitement of reading must have gotten a little out of control.

Books about Faith & Jesus

I have a lot of these! Teaching our littles about God’s undenying love & our faith in Him is extremely important in our home. If you share the same values, I have some really precious books to share! The first is a prayer book. It’s a collection of bibles verses, poems, & prayers you can read with your kiddos every night before bed. We usually read through a few because they can go by pretty quickly. Or you can pick out a main book to read & then pick out a prayer to read from the book. Either way it’s a great way to encourage prayer in your child’s life.

Bedtime Bible Promises by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

The next three are all a little different but have important messages that your littles need to hear all the time. You Are Special & God Gave Us You are very alike in their theme. It teaches kids that no matter how sparkly someone else may seem or how much more they have than you, you are special in your own way. God made you special, for a special reason & a special family, because He knew you would do great things. A Very Thankful Prayer is based around the season of fall and Thanksgiving. It encourages kids to give thanks for the things around them. No matter how big or how small. The author is the same who wrote the prayer book above! We have many books similar to these but these are our favorites!

You Are Special by Max Lucado
God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren
& A Very Thankful Prayer by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

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Our last Christian based book is my pick! This book made me cry the first time I read it to the kids. It is so sweet & not only portrays my love for them, but more importantly describes God’s love for them. It is so special to my heart & I will keep it & read it to them until they won’t let me anymore!…& even then I still will.

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman

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Randoms

These two don’t really fall into any of these categories, but are still worth mentioning nonetheless. They really are some big favorites in our house. The first one is a classic. This one we literally read every. single. night. for almost 2 months. No joke. Goodnight Moon might seem like a simple, short & sweet little bedtime story. But you can really turn it into a learning experience. We would have Paislee point to certain things in the “green room”. It’s a great book to learn basic items you might find in a house or bedroom. The black & white contrast has also shown to be very incising & healthy for little eyes.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

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This one is Noah’s pick. He is obsessed with Llama Llama right now. He loves to read these books. We only have a couple versions right now, we need to stock up though because he is just all about them! These are more fun books, but are pretty repetitive. Which can be really great & helpful for speech development. They mostly teach good morals & manners.

Llama Llama Gives Thanks by Anna Dewdney

This last one that I’m going to share with y’all is more of a gift you might give to your littles. We gave this to Paislee for her first Valentines Day. She was only 6 months old & we couldn’t give her candy or anything else really “Valentines-y”. We lived in California at the time & didn’t see our family much. I thought of this idea to make her a book with her family in it. Something that she could look at all the time & know who everyone was. I just started with a blank board book & added each member of our immediate families. They each have their own page with a picture of them & Paislee next to their name [or what she calls them]. It came out so cute & you can tell how much she loves it because it’s really worn out already. It’s great for military families since, most of the time, we are away from our families for long periods of time. I really need to make a new one that has both of the kids in it. Maybe a Christmas gift for this year!

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In case y’all want to order one for your littles, I ordered & created it at http://www.pintsizeproductions.com

I’ll leave picture links below for y’all for all of the books in this post if you’re wanting to purchase any 🙂

Books mentioned in this post:

 

As always, God bless †

& keep reading 🙂

Brittany

ABA: Why Do It? A Therapist’s Perspective

I always tell people how much I LOVE what I do. And I. DO. But just like any job, there are some really rough days. I have just recently started with a new company & it has been quite an adjustment. New clients, new coworkers. But one thing that stays the same is the therapy that is given. I’m gonna shine a little bit of light on what I do & the amazing outcomes & benefits I have witnessed first hand.

“I LOVE what I do”

ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, is basically is a therapeutic intervention mainly used with those who have special needs. But the amazing thing about it is that it can be used with literally anyone. More specifically though, it has shown substantial improvement with children who have autism. I have seen it firsthand. I have worked with children & adults ages 3 to 21. Not one person is the same. Autism is such a complex thing. There are so many different behaviors & delays that you would never even think of. That’s where myself & my supervisors step in.

The supervisors, or BCBAs,  on each case [child] create the programs and targets that need improvement basically. The therapist, that’s me, applies those programs & hits those targets during each session with the client. Let me emphasize the importance of this program by saying that EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY. Red flags start to show their color early on in life- as early as the first year of life. Kiddos can be placed in ABA programs as early as 18 months old. The biggest sign that is the most prominent is regression. Parents will say that their child was hitting all of their developmental milestones- crawling, babbling, even talking in 2-3 word sentences. Then all of the sudden they start to lose those skills. Their child will stop making eye contact, seem disengaged, & participate in repetitive movements or sounds. Or others may display some serious social deficits- not picking up on basic social cues, laughing out of context, or making inappropriate comments that don’t fit the current situation. Like I said before, every kiddo is different. To make the diagnosing process a little easier there are very descriptive guidelines & criteria a child must meet in order to receive the diagnosis of autism.

“EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY”

I do not have any personal ties with autism. Which might seem a little weird. I feel that most people I come into contact with in my line of work have some sort of common ground with it. Which inspired them to get more involved with special needs. I’ll save my story of how I became a therapist for another time, but for now I’ll just tell you that it is truly my passion. I become so invested in my clients’ success & watching that “click’ happen is a miraculous thing, y’all. I can’t even begin to explain it to you. I have been an ABA therapist for about 1 year and 9 months now, & here are the three most important things about ABA I can pass along to you.

No. 1 It’s Effective

Now, I’m not going to give you stats [which are pretty high btw], but I will share with you what I have witnessed with this program. At the first center I worked at, I was placed on the case of an adorable little 3 year old. She was mostly nonverbal, meaning she didn’t use words or many sounds to communicate. I started with her after she had been with us for about 6 months or so. I watched her go from making some letter sounds to saying full words requesting things she wanted & random objects around her. It was so awesome! All because of the intensive ABA therapy she was receiving.

No. 2 It’s Positive

This is a HUGE one. the biggest thing that is drilled into our heads & what we are taught in our training is the power of positive & negative reinforcement. I know, I know. “Negative” doesn’t sound positive. But it can be! Sorry, don’t mean to confuse you…let me explain. Positive reinforcement is exactly what it sounds like. Giving a child, or adult, vocal praise or some type of preferred item in order to increase a behavior. Essentially, you’re adding some type of stimulus in order ensure that behavior will happen again in the future. Negative reinforcement would be like washing your hands then drying them off. The action of drying your hands off results in the water being gone, thus increasing the likelihood of you drying your hands off in the future. These types of reinforcements are engraved into every lesson, target, & behavior we come across on a day to day basis. Imagine if you made your hubby his favorite dinner. He got home & was SO happy. He gave you a big smooch & said, “Thank you babe, you’re the best!” Would you be more likely to surprise him with his favorite meal again in the future? Well yeah, most likely.

That’s what I do. Even if it’s the tiniest of goals. Like saying “b” for “ball”. Every time that kiddo reaches for a ball & says “b” you better believe I’m giving them that ball. And providing praise at the same time. “Great job asking for ball!” Then eventually that goal will be shaped into what the client can do. “Ba”, “Ball”, etc. I keep saying this, but y’all it’s amazing to watch these kids grow and see how powerful the impact of positive reinforcement can be! The overall goal is to improve their quality of life by helping mold basic & more complex life skills.

No. 3 It’s Flexible

There is no black & white when it comes to ABA. At least not in my eyes. Any kind of goal can be created for every kiddo. I had an older client who was really into anime, so there were targets created based on anime characters she liked that could also represent her emotional state. It was reinforcing to her & it was a functional way to help her communicate how she was feeling at any given time. You have to be really creative sometimes in this line of work. Actually, a lot of the time. If you make it too structured or too loose, it can be really hard to find what is motivating for that specific client.

So…why do it?

As a therapist we see a lot of these kiddos/adults. Most clients attend ABA 20-40 hours a week. For instance I only have two clients at the moment but I see them 6 hours a day. That’s 12-18 hours with just me. That’s what I love about this job. We get to really build rapport with our clients. Which is the base of all successful outcomes. If you don’t have a strong connection with your client, it’s very hard to have them comply with demands you place on them or to just have fun with them in general.

I work with a lot of challenging behaviors on a daily basis. Tantrums. Aggression- biting, hitting, kicking, scratching, pushing. Spitting. Elopement (running away). Stereotypes (repetitive behaviors). Noncompliance (big one!!). And self-injurious behaviors. Among many, many others. It would take me forever to list them all. But these are the most common I see. When I explain this to others they kinda give me the look like, “Why the heck do you put up with that?” and it’s simple really….because I just love what I do.  Yeah one minute my client may be pushing me in order to obtain a certain item they want, but then, after redirection & many times of practicing, they finally use their words to ask for it. Sounds silly & something that everyone should know how to do. But those with autism don’t know how to regulate their emotions properly. They don’t know how to express their needs in words most of the time. They may need to use an electronic device that talks for them because they just simply can’t get the sounds to come out [another reason why early intervention is essential].

“It challenges me & makes me stronger”

It’s a hard job. I come home, just after 6 hours of working & get back to it with my own little toddlers. My feet hurt. I can feel my arm starting to bruise from my client who got a little too frustrated & I was the closest person to them. I’m tired from waking up before the sun rose because there’s no way I’m going to the gym AFTER work. I’m hungry because I didn’t get to finish my lunch due to having to give my full 110% attention to my client to make sure they ate their food & stayed at the table. Please don’t misconstrue this as complaining, I’m just giving you a small glance into the life of an ABA therapist.

It’s difficult. It’s tiring. It challenges me & makes me stronger. And it’s so rewarding.

As always, God bless †

Brittany

How to Create the Ultimate Kid’s Birthday Party Without Breaking the Bank

This past weekend we threw our little girl the most fun birthday party! We had the family over & it was such a great time. But let me tell ya…planning for & preparing for a kid’s birthday party is so much work. And stress, I’ll add. What’s the number one cause of stress in situations like these [at least for most of us]? Money. After going through a few birthdays with my tiny ones, I’ve learned a few things. Everything from how to decorate, gifts, food, treats, games, you name it. All for a reasonable price. Especially for us. Our kiddos’ birthdays are so close to each other, so it’s important that we try and spread the “wealth” around if ya know what I mean. I am totally not a party planner, but I will share with you what’s worked for us & hopefully they will help y’all have an awesome party for your kiddo too!

Let’s get this party started! 🙂

No. 1 Make a New Best Friend…PINTEREST

I got ALL of my ideas for my daughter’s party from Pinterest. If you have a super creative mind, by all means go for it. But if you want to create less stress & thought on your part, just search what you’re going for on Pinterest. If you don’t have an account it’s super easy to create. Paislee, my daughter, wanted a My Little Pony party. My first thought was, “I’ll just go to Party City & get all the themed plates and such.” Once I started searching on Pinterest though, I found a ton of cute decorations that I knew would cost so much less. It’s your one stop shop for anything & everything you could ever think of! Most things you find you can just make yourself, which is SO much cheaper than going out and buying it all. If you want some cute party ideas and decorations, you can follow my party board 🙂

No. 2 Make your Own Cake

Birthday cakes can be so incredibly expensive. The year Paislee turned two and Noah turned one [so, last year] I started the tradition of baking their cakes myself. I know what you’re thinking…”how does this cause me LESS stress?” Well for starters, it’s much, much cheaper. So you won’t have to worry about the expense of paying someone else to make your cake. And it doesn’t have to be fancy. I even used boxed cake mix. don’t be ashamed. My favorite thing about making the cake myself is that I know it’s baked with love. I pray my kiddos appreciate this gesture I make for them each year & it makes for precious memories. Plus, the theme is usually something my kiddos are already into and they have toys I can use as toppers! Nothing better than using things you already have. Less money out of your pocket. I have never spent more than $20 to make their cakes! And the materials you build up over time making the cakes can be used for years to come, so go you for being proactive! 🙂

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I found this rainbow cake recipe on Pinterest…duh. You can find it here. The only difference from this recipe and the one I made is that I used pre-made frosting. But homemade frosting is so good and super easy/cheap to make too!

No 3. Your Second Best Friend….Dollar Store

All of our decorations came from the dollar store. Serving bowls, scoops, streamers, balloons….E V E R Y T H I N G. You would be amazed at all the decor they have. Granted, our “theme” for Paislee’s party was super easy to create things with. My Little Pony is easy to make into a “rainbow” theme as well. Rainbow Dash all the way! Some decorations were ones you put together yourself, but they were only a dollar so it was totally worth it. And the balloons we got were ones you blow up yourself, so we didn’t have to pay for someone to blow them up with helium. Perfect.

Even all the table clothes were a dollar a piece & made for a great pop of color that went with the theme!

My mom made this adorable little piece for the fireplace where her presents were placed. She got the fabric from Joann’s & the ribbon from Michael’s. Two places that always have coupons available online- you can go to the RetailMeNot website. They also have an app for your smartphone. I use it almost everywhere I go, it’s very convenient.

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No. 4 Use What You Have at Your Disposal

I am always about using what you have. Close family and friends are usually always willing to help out if you’re needing to use something for a big party like this. We borrowed my Nana’s big tables & my cousin’s fold up chairs for everyone to sit on/at while eating. My mom has this beautiful milk glass collection that went really well with our candy bar.

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The less you have to go out and buy or rent, the better. When you’re looking on Pinterest, look for things that you can incorporate with materials you already have. It makes your life so much easier. And cheaper.

No. 5 Make Your Own Games & Activities

This kind of piggy backs off of my previous point. Try to use things you already have & turn it into something fun! We live in Texas, so it is crazy hot right now. Originally we talked about getting a bounce house or some type of blow up water slide for the kids. Those things run anywhere from 100-300 bucks. It gets pretty pricey. When it comes to children, you really don’t have to try so hard. They enjoy the littlest of things. It’s like when you buy them that nice, big electric four wheeler & they’d rather play in the big box it came in. We decided to blow up the kiddie pool, set up the slip n slide & filled the kid’s water table with water beads. The kids LOVED it. They end up making up their own games too. So this is something you really don’t need to stress about! Kids aren’t complicated! Especially little ones.

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If you’re on the artsy side or have someone in your family or friend circle who is willing to help, take advantage of that! My sister is an awesome artist & I had her make this cute little “pin the tail on the pony” game. We used some cheap little thin ribbons as the tails. The kids had fun with it!

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The other thing we decided to do was a candy bar for all the guests! It was such a cute idea that I found on Pinterest. My mom was more than willing to help & totally took it on. Again, use what [and who 🙂] you have! I liked this idea more than giving the kid’s a goodie bag. My Little Pony is a pretty girly theme, so this was a good way for us to let everyone take something home & wasn’t gender specific.

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The recipes for the treats we made can be found here:

Fruity Pebble Rice Crispie Treats

Unicorn Popcorn

Chocolate Dipped Wafers

No. 6 The Gift

Last but not least, don’t stress too much about the gift. Chances are that if you’re throwing your kiddo a party, they will be showered with gifts. Don’t feel like you have to spend a ton of money or get them a ton of gifts. Because that will happen anyways. I don’t even remember the gifts I got at my birthday parties growing up, but I do remember the party and people that came to celebrate with me. That’s what matters most! We had Paislee open our gift to her on her actual birthday. It was more intimate for us & she was able to enjoy it before she got her other gifts during her party.

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This was such a fun party & day. I will always remember it! Some of the decorations we used can even be used again! Some are hanging in Paislee’s room because she loved them so much 🙂 A birthday party doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple decor & treats will do the trick, I promise! As long as there’s free food for your guests, they will be happy! I tried to link up all of the recipes & other helpful things you might need, but if I forgot something or if you have any questions just shoot me a comment below!

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As always, God bless

Brittany