Bribery (and a Dream Lite)

Dream Light

First and foremost, I was not paid in any way, coerced, asked, suggested, or even chatted with about this post from anyone at Dream Lite. Nope. In fact, the last thing I would have ever imagined picking up for my tot this weekend WAS a Dream Lite. And it all started with a bit of bribery.


That’s right.

I bribed my tot.

There’s been a lot going on lately, between starting a new preschool, having a new schedule, me not having as much time for her lately, and my husband’s commute pretty much being THE WORST lately, I was starting to seriously twitch every night at bedtime when she tossed her regular nightly fit.

We try to stay away from watching the big TV. We catch Sesame Street in the morning, maybe a bit of Sprout in the afternoon, but not much else. So when my tot started asking for this so called “dream light” thing, I had no clue. I made up songs, hit her up with some imaginary play (still trying to figure it out) and then one afternoon I finally caught the commercial (after I had left Poppy Cat on too long…). Dreeeaaaam liiiiight, DREAAAAAAM light. You know it if you’ve seen it.

And then it got it.

This was a great opportunity to bribe my tot with a toy (which is something I really haven’t done before) and go with it. I was done with the hours of listening to the whining, the trying talking to my tot in the same tone of voice she was using, the yelling, the serious grey hairs that were popping.

So I did it.

I told her if she behaved herself at school like a big girl, was nice and quiet at bedtime, I’d pick her up a Dream Lite. Well, low and behold, the tot held up her part of the bargain, so the husband and I found ourselves searching around our non-box-store-allowed town for a crap-tastic Dream Lite. After picking the coveted thing up, we headed home, loaded the thing up with batteries, and then listed to the tot complain about how it didn’t work AT ALL.

Finally it got dark out and then the magic happened.

It worked.

She was amazed, in love, in awe. Honestly, we were too.

There’s no way you can share pictures (because taking pictures in the dark just doesn’t work) but all I know is that my tot LOVES going to sleep, falls asleep, and the husband and I sneak downstairs to check out the glowing stars too.

Thank you Dream Lites.

Thank you.

Picnic under the Golden Gate Bridge

Today was awesome. We hit our local farmers market, splurged on goodies, and decided to head out for a picnic. Our plans were to meander around Muir Woods and then enjoy a picnic at Muir Beach, or on the lawn at the Pelican Inn, but we totally spaced on the fact that it is LABOR DAY WEEKEND, which means everyone in the area has plans to do the same thing. So, after a long drive (that should have only taken minutes), we decided to turn tail and head to another spot and see what might happen.

Tucked under the Golden Gate Bridge next to the Discovery Museum (which is also awesome!) is a marina and pier surrounding Fort Baker. We snagged one of the very few picnic tables and enjoyed eating all our goodies while waiting for the bridge to pop through the rolling fog. After a leisurely lunch we strolled the pier to see if anyone had snagged some crabs or tasty fish.

There’s no fee to check this area out and, if you’re brave, you can stroll along the bike path all the way up to the bridge and then walk the span. This is a popular area for tourists that rent bikes, so be ready to battle for walking space. But the views are spectacular, and if you’re coming from north of San Francisco, it’s basically free.

*I’d love to take credit for these pictures but I actually only took the first one, but my husband took the rest.


Oakland Zoo

Today we spent the entire day at the Oakland Zoo. We’d never been there so weren’t sure how things would go but were pleasantly surprised by happy animals, friendly people, and lots and lots of open space to wander. We even enjoyed a decent meal, got to meet a snake, and loved the petting area. We went to the San Francisco Zoo last year and were not that impressed. The penguins seemed sad (and their area was dirty), the lions wouldn’t even look at anyone, and it seemed small and frustrated. Yeah, yeah. I know, the whole “zoo” thing. But I was happy to learn that many of the animals at the Oakland Zoo had been rescued from circuses or homes/ranges that thought they could raise a chimp…

If you’re in the Bay Area, the price of admission is totally budget friendly ($9.75 for kids over 2, 15 and up for $13.75 – with a $7 parking fee), and you can bring your own lunch or pick something up for around $6 per person, making the Oakland Zoo is a great way to spend a leisurely day. There are tons of benches for sitting and relaxing, a play area for the kids, lots of tables for eating, and a fantastic children’s educational area.

California Academy of the Sciences (and a toddler)

Yesterday we all had the day off and decided to (finally) take advantage of a few free passes the husband had won for admission at the California Academy of the Sciences in San Francisco (before they expired at the end of the month). Located next to the de Young Museum, and the Japanese Tea Garden, as well as paths and paths in Golden Gate Park, this is a total destination spot for San Francisco visitors – and even those of us that live in the Bay Area. There is no way to explain this place. With aquariums galore (one you even walk under), crazy realistic stuffed animals, real penguins, baby ostriches running about, amazingly good food, a complete faux rainforest with three levels, a planetarium, special exhibits, interactive activities for the kids, museum shops, and upper natural living roof observational level, you can’t go wrong. I’ll be honest – admission isn’t cheep. But, if you’ve got a toddler like we do (kids 3 and under are free), it’s not that bad. And there’s enough stuff for the tots to keep them entertained and engaged. We did everything twice – and being there on a weekday meant less crowds. Kids under 6 aren’t allowed in the planetarium, which gives us something to look forward to in the future. My husband did an awesome job taking pictures while I chased after the tot…

Want more info? Here’s the California Academy of Sciences website.

Impromptu learning – Spiders

Yesterday, while I was trying to get a bit of work done and the tot was watching Curious George, she came into my office and said there was a spider under the floor. I assumed her yammering was connected to something she was watching so I brushed her off and kept typing. But, a few minutes later, she came back to tell me the spider was really under the floor. Then my brain hiccupped back to last year (remember the black widow incident?!) and I went to make a thorough investigation. Sure enough, there was a spider, but just a small one, crawling along the floor. I am not a fan of spiders – at all. But she was looking at me with those big, excited eyes, so instead of squashing it up, I grabbed a glass lidded jar, swept in the spider, and figured it was time for some impromptu learning.


My toddler is three. No need for bug vs. spider discussions – just a bit of observational learning. We discussed what color the spider was, how many legs he had, how he could walk upside down, if he had a family – or a name…

learning about spiders

After about an hour (full of showing the entire house to the spider) I was beginning to become worried about lil’ spider’s well-being and declared it time to head outside. We could look for spider’s family and release him if we found any relatives.

It was decided that spider loved water so a shallow mud-pit was created. During this time, spider was positioned safely on a table so he could see.


When I asked my tot if she was ready to let spider go and have lunch time, she said NO.



I have to KEEP HIM.

He LOVES me.

All I could think was that dear old spider was going to be lifeless any second and how I needed to use my super-mom abilities to save poor spider (whom I actually didn’t really like). I offered lunch and the incentive of some sort of sweet treat, which sent the tot trotting up the stairs. While her back was turned (and hopefully before she’d remember to grab spider) I popped the top of the jar and hoped spider would make a quick escape.

Once upstairs, she realized she had forgotten spider, looked out the window and observed the open container.

Oh NO! SPIDER! Ohhhhhh!

We talked about how spider had decided it was time to find his family but that he’d probably be back to visit.

After lunch, and a quick clean-up and change, we sat down to draw spider – and his family.

Drawing spiders

We taped the finished drawing to the fridge and both enjoyed a much-needed nap/quiet time.



Toddler art

displaying your child's artwork

My tot is totally into getting creative. Along with making lots of art, she has begun to master the concept of putting her art tools away and how to display her own artwork. I’ve also encouraged this through a few simple things, like giving her a dedicated drawer in the kitchen to keep her crayons and such and leaving out the tape for her to use. Displaying your child’s artwork shows you are proud of her creativity, which encourages her to strive to create more. For toddlers, creativity is more about the process than the end result, meaning most artworks won’t be representational in any way – just a bunch of big scribbles.

Nurturing self-esteem is one way to foster successful, healthy, and happy kids (and adults). For toddlers, art is one of the main means of self-expression, so when your child sees her art displayed within the home, she truly feels special. We adults can focus on:

– The child’s ideas (and not our own) during creative times. Hey, if your toddler wants to scribble her way through a drawing of a dinosaur cooking dinner, so be it.

– Providing accessible art materials available for when your child wants to create. This is a challenge because no one wants crayon-coated walls. Start with leaving out paper and stickers and eventually moving to mark making implements as the child develops. I cleared out a drawer in the kitchen and my tot has proudly organized her art materials. Here’s her craft drawer compared to mine….

craft drawer

– Creating a comfortable creative space. No matter if it’s a spot at the kitchen table or a dedicated art table, if your child has a go-to scribble spot, she’ll feel good about getting arty when she feels the creative juices flowing.

– Allowing your child to display her finished artworks! Sure, if you have a few favorites along the way, pop them in an old frame or hang from a clothesline in your home. Leaving out a few strips of tape for your child to use to hang her own creations is a wonderful way for her to be in charge of where she wants her art to be seen. I tear off a few strips and leave them on the edge of the kitchen counter for her to pull off and then stick onto her paper – and then wherever she wants that art to go (which is usually the fridge).

I love finding the tot totally engrossed in getting creative without any prompting. Sometimes it involves mess, but, hey, that’s what sponges are for, right?

making art

Sticker finger paint

sticker finger paint

This is such a simple project with fun – and educational – results. Along with honing fine-motor skills, it also encourages color recognition. Toddlers love getting messy – and finger paint doesn’t disappoint. Combining stickers and finger paint also creates a multi-step activity, which also helps tots learn how to wait and follow directions. This doesn’t mean that things are going to go smoothly – plan for chaos by having wet-wipes or a few damp paper towels handy and donning your tot in a smock or okay-for-mess clothing.

Finger painting is an exciting way to introduce color theory through mixing paints. Most toddlers are on their way to mastering color recognition, which means it’s time for the next step. Using two colors keeps things from turning into a big brownish-grey mess o’ paint. Most tots are also still in the scribble stage and getting pretty comfortable using pencils, crayons, and markers to draw, draw, draw.  This activity encourages kids to use the entire paper, focusing on the big picture, and use something exciting (fingers!) to make those big scribbles.

Start by taping a sheet of white drawing paper to your work area or on a plastic place mat. Offer your toddler a selection of stickers to peel and stick to the paper. We used a combination of puffy stickers as well as regular stickers to mix things up and add to the fun textural feel when finger painting.

sticker finger paint

Once your tot has finished stickering, place about a tablespoon of one color of finger paint on the paper. Encourage your child to spread that finger paint all over the paper until it is completely covered.

Now add a small dollop of another color of finger paint for your child to mix with the first color observing what color is created. See if your child can figure it out all on her own!

sticker finger paint

Let the finger paint dry and then invite your child to peel the stickers from the paper revealing the white paper underneath. Removing the stickers takes focus and concentration – as well use of those fine-motor skills!

Hang the finished sticker finger paint creation on the fridge for all to see.


Crafts for camping

campingWe’ve just returned from our first camping adventure with our tot and it was fantastic. I spent way too much time obsessing over if she’d have fun, if she’d sleep through the night, if she’d have fun, if she’d…. Basically, I totally over-obsessed the fun out of it so by the time we got to our campsite we were all exhausted. But, things went wonderfully, and everyone had a fantastic time!

Along with packing WAY too many things, I put together a craft bag for fun camping crafts. Even in the great outdoors there are moments when kids get tired and ornery. Having a few crafty items to get creative with kept those little hands happy and busy (allowing for some much-needed down time for the adults!). I kept the craft bag hidden so when I pulled something out, the tot (and a few of her new friends) were really excited to get crafty!

What’s awesome about sidewalk chalk is that is it cheap, doesn’t stain, and can be used just about anywhere. After using the chalk around the campsite (on the picnic table, tent, chairs…) we drew letters on the road and painted over them with water and a paintbrush.


Crayons and watercolors are easy to transport and offer tons of fun. They can be used on their own to create paintings or colorings, or use a crayon to outline a picture for your toddler to paint.


Along with bringing a stack of paper, I brought a roll of paper for doing big group creations. Simply roll out the paper, toss down a few markers, paintbrushes and paints and you’re good to go.


The final night I brought out a container of sparkly beads and green pipe cleaners for necklace, headband, or bracelet making fun. What I loved was after my tot and one of her friends made necklaces, the beads became part of an elaborate treasure hunt game the kids at the campsite enjoyed until well after dark with the help of flashlights and a map.


Happy camping!


Carrot-yogurt faux mac-n-cheese

healthy homemade mac-n-cheese

I have a toddler that loves pasta. She could eat the stuff all day everyday and be happy. I’ve played around with different kinds of pasta with great success (homemade spaghetti-ohs, white bean mac-n-cheese) but she was ready for something different. After the fifth round in a row of homemade spaghetti-ohs, she was moping around and even asking for peeup-and-belly-witches.

So the other day, while she was chomping down her sandwich, I experimented with a new pasta dish for dinner. I had fresh carrot juice in the fridge along with a bit of Greek-style yogurt. Yes, they don’t sound like a good pairing, but along with the help of some cheddar cheese, anything is possible.

And, I was right.

This is a really easy recipe, you just need the ingredients. Most markets carry carrot juice, but make sure you don’t pick up a blend with orange or cucumber. If you’ve got your own juicer, you’re totally good to go.


8 ounces dry fusilli pasta cooked (which makes about 4-cups)

1/2 cup carrot juice

1/2 cup Greek-style plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt (you know, that Lawry’s stuff)

1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese


Bring a big pot of water to a boil, toss in a bit of salt, and then your pasta. Any shape works, but the fusilli really is perfect. While things are bubbling away, mix together the carrot juice, yogurt, oil, seasoned salt, and salt in a bowl. Give things a whisk to make sure it’s all creamy. Go ahead and shred your cheddar, too.

Once your pasta is cooked and happy, give it a strain. While it’s hanging out, toss the carrot-yogurt mixture into your hot pot and turn the heat down to medium-low. Give things a stir while the sauce starts heating up.

As soon as the sauce starts bubbling, add the pasta back to the pot. Stir to coat the pasta and then add the shredded cheese. Keep stirring and simmering until the cheese is all melty.

Now is the time for taste testing – this is a kid-friendly recipe, so it’s low in salt and also not too strong in flavor. If you know your kid loves garlic, add some in with the mix. Got a child that loves the spice? Kick things up with a few shots of hot sauce. Mine can’t get enough of that tangy yogurt flavor, so I added an extra dollop at the end, along with a dash of pepper (and another sprinkling of salt).

The finished faux mac-n-cheese has an almost neon-orange color and is good hot or cold. My tot scarfed down 2-bowls for dinner, and happily ate a big serving cold the next day at preschool.

*The first time I made this recipe, I included shredded, slow-roasted turkey breast, which was out of this world. For an adult version, finish the pasta with a couple of good handfuls of spinach, top with extra shredded cheddar and pop under the broiler for a fabulous side dish.

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What to do when your toddler colors on everything and anything

Remember last week when I shared that post about right-brained dominant (a.k.a super creative) kids? While writing it, my toddler was enjoying her not-really nap-time. She doesn’t really sleep anymore, she just has quiet time in her room. I’ve got it stocked with her favorite books, stuffed animals, a chalk board with chalk, and most recently, crayons and a few coloring books. She’s really into creating tons and tons of creations to mail to Gamma and Opa, so I figured I could trust her to keep those crayons on the paper.

Because, you remember when she colored on the wall, right?

(which resulted in the homemade chalk board…)

The thing is, your toddler is hard-wired to make marks. Her right-brain is in overload, desperately searching for ways to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas. This stage of creation is referred to as the scribble stage, due to the child’s desire to scribble, scribble, scribble. Nothing looks like much, but your toddler can actively tell you about the animals, monsters, people, and other crazy stuff in artworks. Before you discard those pages and pages of scribbles, understand it is the expression of your child’s brain developing in amazing ways. From starting to understand hand-eye coordination to simple mathematical concepts, your toddler’s scribbles are the stepping stone to speech, reading, and writing development.

Meaning, it’s a good idea to encourage your child’s disorganized scribbling as much as possible.

But what to do when your child colors on everything and anything possible?

Remember the afore-mentioned day – that day I was writing and the tot was “napping?” When I went down to see if she had actually fallen asleep, because things had gotten pretty quiet, I made quite the discovery. She had colored everywhere. From her dresser to her closet doors to her side table to her light switch, just about everything in her room had a colorful mark.

Before I took a moment to think I scolded her. Instantly I realized it was the absolute wrong decision. She had spent just over an hour artfully decorating her room in a way she was excited about and excited to share with me. She had spent time expressing herself though scribbles and colors (really, each area was a different color combination), and she was looking forward to dazzling me with its beauty. And, I had left those crayons in her room. After we both calmed down, the two of us spent some quality time together cleaning up those scribbles and discussing where those crayons belong – on paper!

Do you have a super scribbler? Here are a few simple ways to encourage those marks to stay where you want them:

Don’t leave any mark making implements within reach of your child (unless you are right there!): Yes, this is a bit of a no-brainer, but, as your toddler ages, you begin to feel they have an understanding of keeping crayons on the paper. Remember your toddler is still a toddler (until the age of four) and still has those inner-toddler instincts to see what might happen. Leaving crayons out for your child is an open invitation to color away on whatever is available. Make time to color alongside your toddler showing your amazing skills to keep those crayon scribbles on your own paper. Toddlers love copying behavior.

Designate a coloring area: Make a spot in your home just for your toddler to create. Whether it’s the kitchen table, a small end table no one uses or an easel in the corner, make sure your toddler knows this is “the spot” to go for making marks. Keep the area stocked with paper, stickers, and chalk (which washes off everything) but keep the markers and crayons out of reach. When your child finds herself over at her creative spot, offer crayons, markers, or paints – but keep an eye on things. As your child matures, she’ll understand the area is for being creative, and markers shouldn’t travel around the house.

Don’t be afraid: Sure, you might not be into fingerprinting, but your child is. Art is one of the main ways a child defines who they are. Getting creative with your child shows that you find her scribbles important, encouraging her self-esteem. You’re going to get messy. Your child is going to get messy. Stuff in your house might get messy. But, if you have a plan of attack, and stay calm, things will turn out wonderfully. Use plastic placements under paper to cut back on mess. Or, place a sheet pan under artwork while painting. Keep a wet washcloth (or a container of baby wipes) next to your creative area to tackle messes the minute they happen.

Don’t yell (but don’t praise either): At some point your child is probably going to color on something. Hopefully, it will be with a mark-making implement that is washable. Before reacting, take a deep breath. If you are expecting it to happen during the toddler years it won’t be such a big surprise when you come across a colored white wall, right? Start by acknowledging what you see and then calmly explaining that crayons only belong on paper. Walk your child over to your creative area and get out a paper for your child to scribble on. Once she’s had a moment to make a few marks, remove the crayons. Walk back to your newly colored wall and discuss how the walls aren’t for coloring, but for hanging pictures and that you can frame one of her artworks to look at….

Frame your child’s scribbles and hang them on the wall: Even though you might not think her scribbles are anything exciting, she sure does. If your child spends a good amount of time on a creation, pick up a simple frame (less than $10 at the craft store!), pop in her artwork, and display in your home. Make sure to point it out to your toddler or hang it at just above arms reach so she can stand in front of her framed artwork and appreciate it. Not only are you showing you are proud of her and her abilities, you are encouraging her to continue exploring her creativity.

So get out the crayons and start scribbling – on paper!