Thursday, December 18, 2014

Blogger Holiday Gift Exchange

You guys, did you know there's only ONE WEEK until Christmas?  What the hell?  How did this happen? Why did no one think to tell me that there are only a few more shopping days left and I had better get my shit together.  Where did the rest of December go?  I am NOT READY!

Not only am I just not ready for Christmas to be here, I'm not ready for this holiday season to be over. I'm having so much fun this year doing all the holiday stuff with the kids.  The last few years I've been so "bah humbug" about the holidays.  Last year I was in my first trimester with Mim and so exhausted I just didn't have the energy to do much of anything.  The year before that, Mac was too little to understand Christmas, so we skipped the holiday completely and spent a week in the islands. And the year before that I was in a pretty serious infertility-induced funk because I wanted a baby so badly that I couldn't deal with the holidays at all.  Oh, how times have changed and how blessed we are now. So, this is the first year is quite a while I've really felt the holiday spirit and I'm totally loving it!  I think there's something about experiencing it all with Mac and seeing the magic through his eyes that makes it all the more wonderful.  I've been trying to give him a Christmas experience that will make him love the holiday as much as I did when I was a kid.  I think the only thing better than being a kid at Christmas, is having a kid at Christmas.  

As I mentioned before, this year we participated in a couple different Secret Santa swaps.  This time, Elizabeth from Chasin' Mason and Meghan from The Adventure Starts Here organized a swap between a few bloggers with toddlers all around Mac's age.  It's always fun shopping for someone else, packing their gift and shipping it off across the country.  Mac helped me pick out a couple really fun things for Liam, son of Laura from Tiny Toes, Little Nose.  We chose of a few of Mac's favorite things and we hope Liam loves them as much as we do.  

We were also pretty excited to get our gift, from the amazing Tara at A Tale of Four Maples.  She put together a care package gift that our whole family could enjoy, complete with Christmas movies, hot chocolate, gummy penguins and chocolate chip cookies.  The snacks lasted about a day before they were gone.  We loved them! 
Don't let his sour look fool you, he was thrilled with the gifts.  He's just not thrilled with my camera.
I'm so excited to get the Christmas classics movies.  
This is exactly what we got Liam because it's so awesome! 
I think Mac was most excited about the gummy penguins.  He hasn't stopped asking and talking about them. I actually had to hide them so he wouldn't eat the whole bag in a day. 
Thanks so much Tara!  
Check out the other bloggers to see what everyone else got. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Crush the Cups

Have I mentioned that I have a pretty serious coffee addiction?  Yes?  Probably a dozen times, at least.  I drink coffee from the minute I wake up until basically dinnertime.  I don't even think the caffeine does anything to me anymore, as I didn't have a problem at all switching to decaf when I was pregnant.  I just really like the taste of warm coffee, even if I have to heat it up 75 times a day because kids, you know.  Black coffee is good.  Coffee with a little milk and sugar is even better. And a latte is pure perfection, in my book.  

A few years ago we swapped out our big coffee pot for a Keurig, so Ryan and I could each have our choice of coffee and not have to wait for an entire pot to brew (we're impatient...ok, I'm impatient). Since then we've probably each had 1-2 cups of coffee a day and are madly in love with our machine. He gets to have his strong manly breakfast blend and I get to drink my girly froo-froo flavors and we're both happy.  Coffee = happiness.  Lately Mac has been "helping" us make our morning coffee - he picks out a K-cup for us, pops it in the machine, presses the button and jumps up and down clapping because he's so proud of himself.  It's adorable and makes the whole process so much fun. The love of coffee is going to be strong in this one.

The only thing I don't love about my single-serve coffee experience is the waste.  It breaks my heart to think of all the plastic K-cups we've pitched/recycled.  I read somewhere that all the K-cups used in a year could wrap around the Earth 10 times.  Geez.  That's crazy.  But finally, there's a company that's created individual single-serve coffee pods with WAY less plastic.  May I introduce you to your new best friend - Cameron's Coffee.
When I was first asked to try Cameron's Coffee, my first reaction was, "HELL YEAH, COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE!!!"  I was just so damn excited to get to try a new coffee that I missed the entire point of their campaign - better coffee, less plastic, brewed through a filter, no plastic taste.  So I was very pleasantly surprised to find such a cool looking coffee pod, with a filter and very little plastic.  
It fits right in my Keurig, like a regular K-cup, but tastes remarkably better.  Apparently the thin plastic bottoms on the K-cups can let in air and make the coffee stale.  I didn't know that.  And K-cups can also give your coffee a slightly burnt plastic taste.  The Cameron's Coffee pods are sealed in a bag for freshness and use a filter instead of the plastic, so no stale coffee and no burnt plastic taste.  And they come in amazing flavors like Chocolate Caramel Brownie (for me) and Kona blend (for Ryan).  
Cameron's Coffee is promoting a campaign called "Crush the Cups," which runs from December 9 - December 22 where they're encouraging all coffee lovers to upload a video "crushing" a competitor's K-cup to social media (with the hashtag #crushthecups) and submit your link to crushthecups(dot)com before 12/22 and receive a FREE box of Cameron's shipped to your home!  Yes, you read that correctly - FREE COFFEE!!  Oh, and you might just win a free trip to Hawaii.  No biggie.
Of course we wanted to take part in the cup crushing as well.  I thought it would be fun to let Mac run over one with his four-wheeler.  Little did I realize that these little buggers are pretty tough and hard to destroy (all the more reason to use the environmentally-friendly filter pods with less plastic).  However, Mac was determined and got the crushing done manually.  Love my little crusher.

(Sorry it's sideways - does anyone know how to fix that?)

*Thanks to Cameron's Coffee for sponsoring this post.  All opinions and love of coffee are my own.  Brute strength, crushing and stomping courtesy of Mac. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

White Chocolate Gingerbread Cookie Truffles

'Tis the season for peppermint, pumpkin, eggnog, gingerbread, candy cane, spice, sugar, cinnamon, cranberry and pecan flavored everything! And while they are all delicious, gingerbread is by far my favorite flavor of the season. Gingerbread cookies, gingerbread lattes, gingerbread muffins, gingerbread bars, gingerbread it all. I've tried making homemade gingerbread cookies from scratch once and it turned out terribly.  They were dry and crispy and took forever.  If you've ever made them, you know that gingerbread cookies are rather labor-intensive and take a long time to prep.  Nearly every recipe I've seen requires an hour or two of prep time and at least a dozen ingredients.  Who has time for that?!  Not to mention all the dough rolling and flour-covered mess that leaves on your countertop.  Not a chance in hell I'm going there with a toddler.  

Busy mamas, rejoice!  Nestle Toll House now has rolled and ready gingerbread cookie dough sheets in the refrigerated dough section. These are A-MAY-ZING!  They come in 3 flavors: gingerbread, sugar cookie and chocolate.  Each package contains two sheet of cookie dough, rolled out and ready for you to bake with. If you have kids that want to make gingerbread (wo)men or shaped sugar cookies, all the work is already done - just grab your cookie cutters and get cutting.  No mess, no wait time, no flour, no rolling pins. If you want to make gingerbread bars, stack the sheets together and bake.  If you want round drop-cookies, you can do that too.  And they only take 7 minutes to bake. Hallelujah! 

I love gingerbread men, but I wanted something a bit less messy (and requiring less artistic ability) for Mac's preschool holiday party, so I decided to use the cookie dough sheets to make gingerbread cake pops (without the pop because I could just see the little kids in his class using the sticks as swords and someone losing an eye).  So cake balls, or "truffles" if you want to be fancy.  I'm so fancy!  :)  Hahahaha.  No. 
I just pulled the cookie dough sheets out of the package, threw them in the oven and baked for 7 minutes. Once they were cool, I crumbled them up with my fingers in a bowl.  Don't worry about having some crunchy chunks of cookie from the edges.  Those are going to make the truffles extra awesome and add a little bit of texture to the cookie ball. 
Next, add some cream cheese icing of your choice.  You can make this from scratch if you have a great recipe, or do what I it in a jar.  
Mix it all together so that is a big gloppy sticky mess.  You want a bit more cookie than icing, so make sure you don't add too much or they'll fall apart. If you have extra icing, feel free to eat it directly out of the jar with your fingers. This is a no judgment zone.  
Roll the dough into balls and pop them in the freezer for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, melt some white chocolate in a double broiler on the stove (or microwave it in a bowl on a low setting).  Once the balls are completely frozen, dip them in the chocolate.  It's important that they're cold so they don't fall apart once submerged in the warm chocolate.  
I use a fork to fetch them out and place them back on a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with sugar (or drizzle with chocolate) and then pop them back in the fridge to harden the chocolate coating.  Viola! 
They are SO SO SO SO SO good.  I am not even kidding when I say they're one of the best desserts I think I've ever made.  I cannot stop eating them.  They're rich, with a tiny bit of crunch, a hint of spice and the perfect amount of chocolate, cream cheese and gingerbread.  

White Chocolate Gingerbread Cookie Truffles

- One package Nestle Toll House Rolled & Ready Gingerbread Cookie Dough
- 2/3 jar of cream cheese icing
- 12 ounces of white chocolate

1.    In a large bowl, crumble the gingerbread cookies into small pieces.
2.    Add enough cream cheese icing so that the cookies are coated and sticky enough to form balls, a truffle-like consistency.
3.    Using your hands, ball up the dough and place on cookie sheet. 
4.    Stick cookie sheet in the freezer until hardened.
5.    Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler, stirring frequently.  Allow to cool for a minute or two and then dip each gingerbread ball in the white chocolate, turning to coat. 

6.    Place back on parchment lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with sugar as you go.  When all balls are dipped, place back in refrigerator for 15 minutes or until white chocolate is hardened.
What's your favorite way to use cookie dough?

*Thanks to Nestle Toll House for sponsoring today's post and encouraging me to try their new Rolled & Ready Cookie Dough Sheets.

**Use the Product Locator to find a store near you that carries the Rolled & Ready Cookie Dough.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

We're Just Not Santa Fans

It's that time of year again!  Time to deck the halls, bake cookies and traumatize your children for life by forcing them to sit on the lap of a giant maniacally laughing bearded crazy man.  Not surprisingly, Mac was very anti-Santa from the beginning.  Like way before we left the house.  Actually, any time we mention the big man, he gets this sad look on his face and tells me he doesn't like Santa.  I think he's drawing on the photos he's seen of himself crying on Santa's lap from years past (I might have at least one of them proudly displayed in our home because I think it's hilarious).  And although this wasn't part of my diabolical plan to get the kids to have dramatic Santa photo meltdowns, I can't say that I'm disappointed in their reactions.

Mac's tears started before we even got in the car.  They were short-lived and then reappeared when he saw our jolly Santa in all his glory.  But he knew that he'd get a treat (a sucker) if he did the photos, so he sucked it up and complied.  By the time we took the photos, the tears were more because I told him he couldn't open the sucker until he sat on Santa's lap than the actual man himself.  Mim, not surprisingly, was actually pretty into Santa - she was kicking and smiling and blowing spit bubbles at him (the infant equivalent to flirting, I think) from the sidelines.  She's pretty laid back, so I expected that.  But despite her initial excitement, she tends to take emotional cues from her big brother.  So, when he lost it, so did she.  I think the progression of her expressions in these photos are just the greatest thing ever - from a serious pout to a full out meltdown.  
So that went well.  
Actually, it went just as well as it has the last three years.  
At least we're consistent.

Anyone else a horrible parent and love bad Santa photos?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Secret Santa Book Exchange

Sometimes blogging can feel like a lot of work, with very little reward.  Bloggers tend to put our lives out there and subject ourselves to public scrutiny, usually just in the hopes of making connections with friends and readers.  I'm so lucky that this little piece of the internet has been such a positive place, filled with support, encouragement, love, laughter, understanding and honesty.  I absolutely love getting comments, likes and emails from anyone that's read this blog (that's YOU!) and I always try to reciprocate the love by visiting your blogs, emailing you back or reaching out in some way.  And every now and then, real friendships start to form over common threads and this big giant world we live in becomes a little smaller.  

A few weeks ago, a couple of my favorite blog friends (Elizabeth, Courtney & Jenny) organized a Mommy & Me Secret Santa book swap as a fun way to introduce bloggers to each other and pass on their love for reading for both mom and baby.  I love participating in things like this because I love giving gifts and getting to "meet" new bloggers in the process. This blogging community is filled with so many wonderful women and mothers - I'm just blessed to be a part of it and I love getting the opportunity to make connections with other moms with kids the same age that "get" what I'm going through on a daily basis.  And I especially loved this book exchange because not only did the kids get a fun new book, but the mamas got a little something special as well.  I can't say no to a good book (even though it's been WAY too long since I've read one).  
We were lucky enough to get a wonderful book package from the amazing Stephanie at Wife Mommy Me.  She's another book lover and mama to an adorable toddler boy (with the best name ever).  Stephanie sent us three books, Frosty the Snowman for Mac, Where Is Baby's Present for Mim and Inferno for me.  Ever since our photographer had us read a Frosty book during our fall photo shoot, Mac has been obsessed with Frosty.  We've watched the movie a dozen times, so this book is perfect for him.  I've been wanting to get my hands on Inferno for a while, so I'm thrilled with my choice.  And I wasn't even expecting Mim to get a gift (she's more into eating the book than reading it), but it was so sweet of Stephanie for included her as well.  She loves her book and thinks it's delicious!  Thank you SO much Stephanie! 

And we got to pick out some books for Nina and Ezra from The Joni Journey.  Head over to Nina's blog to see what we sent them (and wish her congrats on her big announcement!).  I hope they like it! 

This is just one of THREE fun Secret Santa gift exchanges I'm participating in this season.
Woo hoo!  
More to come on the others soon.  
Chasin' Mason
Are you doing any Secret Santa swaps this year?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Merino Kids Sleep Sack

Anyone else a big fan of sleep sacks?  We're kind of obsessed with them at our house.  Mac wore a sleep sack to bed every single night of his life until he turned two and insisted on his own pillows and blankets in bed.  Most parents will tell you that they like sleep sacks because they keep their children warm and cozy in bed, without the extra bulk or hazard of a blanket.  And while all that's true, I will tell you that I love sleep sacks because they prevent your child from climbing out of their crib or running away from you as you try to put them to bed.  Yep, my friends, do not underestimate the power of the sleep sack. 
Mac is no longer wearing a sleep sack to bed, so a little someone I know has inherited all his hand-me-downs.  However, with all the wear and tear that he put them through, they honestly didn't stand up as well as I would have hoped.  Most of the ones we have are fleece and they are getting pretty thin in places and a few have broken zippers or holes in the seams.  
About a year ago I saw another blogger's kid wearing one of these Merino sleep sacks I was really intrigued. I can't even remember who it was (the bad part about reading hundreds of blogs), but I do remember her saying that she was sick of throwing away sleep sacks because they all fell apart after being washed hundreds of times so she splurged and bought this one, which has lasted her kids years.  YEARS!  That kinda blew me away.  I immediately looked into it, but when I saw the price tag ($120), I decided to stick with the cheaper ones.
However, that was stupid.  When Mim was born I pulled out all the sleep sacks that we used for Mac and realized that I'd spent well over that amount on inferior sleep sacks that were all falling apart, meaning we were going to have to buy all news ones for her.  And even the cheap(er) ones add up - they're $20-30 each and we need at least one in 5 different sizes (NB, S, M, L, XL).  That's not as "cheap" as I thought.  So, when I was asked to review one of those "fancy" sleep sacks from Merino Kids (one that would fit a newborn all the way up to a 2 year-old), I was SO excited!  
You guys, this is a NICE sleep sack.  I'm not kidding when I say that this is the most expensive and luxurious clothing item this tiny beautiful baby owns.  And she loves it...can't you tell by the look on her face?  But really, it's nice.  The fabric is very soft, but thick and sturdy.  It's a superfine layer of Merino wool and an outer layer of soft cotton, so it keep the baby warm without being bulky.  It's 100% natural, itch-free and allergy-safe.  
The sleep sack is long, which gives the baby plenty of room to grow into.  Even a long baby like Mac would have fit into this.  The sack has two buttons on the shoulder, which open up wide enough for you to get the baby into and out of without having to go over their head.  The bottom has a durable zipper that zips the entire length of the bottom and all the way around the side, up to the armpit.  This makes diaper changes in the sleep sack really easy, as the whole thing opens up.  
The top is snug fitting, with additional snaps on the sides to make the arm-holes smaller, which means that the sack won't ride up on smaller babies or allow them to wrangle their way out of it.  All the snaps are really sturdy and aren't the type of snaps that pop open with just a little pressure.  Your kid's not getting out of this one. 
We haven't used this feature yet, but there's also a slot in the sack for a buckle to go through so it can be worn while in a car seat or stroller.  This would be great for traveling at night, so you don't have wake the baby to change her in or out of her sack before going in the car seat.  
Mim is still swaddled at night, but has been wearing this sack for naps.  It's never ridden up on her and so far she's been unable to wiggle her way out of it or unsnap it.  She's worn pajamas (both fleece and cotton) as well as just a long sleeve onesie under the sack and she hasn't gotten cold or cried because she was too warm.  Merino also makes swaddlers, which I wish I knew about a few months ago.  And they make this same sleep sack for TODDLERS (age 2-4)!!  I'm seriously considering getting one for Mac and ditching all the blankets in his crib that never stay on him.  I wish they made adult ones, because this would be so comfy to wrap up in on the couch while watching movies. 
So yeah, we're big fans.  I'm kicking myself that I didn't get this sooner.  It's great fabric, durable, well-made and thoughtfully designed. Really, the only "con" to this product is the price tag.  But really, when you think about it how much use you're getting out of it (everyday) and how long it will fit your child (2 years), it's well worth it.  You have to look at it as an investment that will end up saving you money in the long run (especially if you have more than 1 kid). 
So, because I love you and love sharing great deals on products that I know you will love, here's your opportunity to get a $20 discount on one of these awesome sleep sacks! Just in time for Christmas!

Merino's new sacks have a super cute dot pattern and come in four different colors.  See all the baby colors HERE and the toddler colors HERE.  From now until December 31, use the private code: DOTS20 when you order to get $20 off one of these amazing sacks.  And, for any purchase over $100, use the code BBSETFREE to get a free Cocooi beanie and bootie set (HERE).  The free item requires you add the free item to your cart, in order to get the discount.  

Who else loves sleep sacks?
Do you use them for warmth or for entrapment (kidding...kinda)?
Which brands do you use?

* I was provided a Merino Kids Sleep Sack free of charge for purposes of this review.  All opinions expressed are mine.  Happy baby smiles provided courtesy of Mim.