Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Packing for Travel Fun & Memories

This week, we traveled to the beach for spring break. We have been looking forward to some time away for a while. Our drive is about eight hours (with stops). I tried a few new things to make the trip go by easier with our three children and our big dog. Hopefully, this will give you some helpful ideas to try.

I made sure to pack lots of snacks for the car, both for the kids and for my low carb needs. In an attempt to keep spillage to a minimum, I brought empty Parmesan cheese containers to hold the snack mix. The opening on these containers makes it easier for the kids to shake out a handful of goodies and not spill it on the floor.

I made a quick and easy snack mix of Cheerios, M&Ms and marshmallows. I brought hard boiled eggs, protein bars, sunflower seeds and roasted almonds. 

To keep the kids occupied, I created a travel binder with coloring sheets and games such as the license plate game, the ABC game and a funny face magnet game. This is our first trip in our new car; it doesn't have a TV like we did in our van. Surprisingly, the kids did quite well without it. However, my oldest did have her iPhone.

I also made a new playlist that included songs from Frozen and Teen Beach Movie.

To keep the whining to a minimum, I used a reward system. I made three circles with each of the kids' faces on them and clipped them to the visor. If there was fighting, whining, talking back or disobedience; the offending person's circle came down. When we made a pit stop, the kids who had their circles clipped to the visor either got a treat or to pick the next music cd/playlist/Sirrus channel. Whomever had their circle off the visor, was assigned car clean up duty. Acts of kindness could earn your circle back up. The system worked fairly well and was a good incentive.

I also tried a new packing trick. We have a deep, but narrow, trunk space. I packed our clothes in these rectangular plastic tubs, which are easily stackable. This allowed us to stack things seat height and was easy for the foldable wagon to fit on top. 

Speaking of the wagon, I got it off Amazon figuring it was a good way to haul beach gear and stuff needed for a day at the horse track (plus I can haul my scrapbook gear to crops in it later). It will hold both kids and a small cooler and provides a sun shelter when needed. 

I also got a collapsible cooler basket for the car, beach and racetrack. I thought it would also be great for the pool. However, after two uses one if the rivets came off so I am not sure it is going to last the summer. 

With that, we were all set for a week at the beach. 

What is on your Spring Break packing list?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Easter Angst: The Bunny v The Cross

Another religious holiday taken over by consumerism faces us this month. As a believer, a Catholic and a parent, I am torn between the significance of the day and my children's delight in the expectation of the bunny. Do I forgo the bunny all together or try to balance the bunny fun with the gift of Easter?

Growing up I remember shopping for our Easter finest, dressing up, attending Mass and having a big family dinner. But I also remember dying eggs with my brothers, getting up on Easter morning and searching the house for the eggs that made a trail to our hidden baskets, and devouring lots of Easter chocolate. When I was young, I'm not sure I understood the significance of Christ dying on the cross for my sins, but somewhere along the way the Easter bunny took a back seat to Christ. Maybe it will be that way for my kids. But can they enjoy the bunny and still honor Christ?

I don't really want to keep them from the egg hunts, egg dying and Easter morning excitement. I just want them to understand that we celebrate because Christ has risen and we are free! So do I blend baskets, bunnies and eggs with the cross and empty tomb? 

Focus on the Family tell us that: Bunnies, eggs, baskets and more can become tools that parents use to bring a greater understanding of the message of Easter. Some ideas they offer here include telling the story of Easter with eggs, use characteristics of the Easter bunny to show how they are similar to characteristics of Jesus and define the terms told in the biblical Easter story so they can understand the story that is being told.

Other ideas for putting the focus on faith over fur this Easter, include:
  • Make a resurrection garden
  • Put faith-related items in the Easter basket such as a new devotional, cross jewelry, a Christian fiction novel, a puppet skit book that tells stories from the people who met Jesus, faith-based toys from Wee Believers and chocolate in the shape of a cross
  • Count down the 12 days til Easter by telling the Easter story through Resurrection Eggs
  • Celebrate the Passover meal and discuss the relationship between the last supper and Passover 
A book I recommend is The Sparkle Egg by Jill Hardie and beautifully illustrated by Christine Kornacki. The story is about a boy named Sam who is very excited about Easter coming. His excitement is dampened by the guilt he feels over a lie he tells his mom. Even though Sam's mom and dad forgave him, and he prayed for God's forgiveness, Sam still feels shame for the fib he told. Sam's mom helps him make a special craft called a Sparkle Egg and tells him to write down anything he feels bad about, or ashamed of, on a piece paper and put it inside the egg.

On Easter morning, Sam is excited about his Easter basket and even more excited about his Sparkle Egg. When he opens the egg, it is empty- just like the tomb. His parents explain that because Jesus died and rose again, we are forgiven. Once Sam accepts that he is truly forgiven and receives God's grace, he can shine and shimmer just like the Sparkle Egg. This relatable tale provides a tangible reminder of God's goodness and forgiveness.

I would love to hear how you observe Lent and Easter. Do you include the bunny? If you are a Christian, how do you keep Christ the center? 

Disclosure of material connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free in the hope that I would give it my fair review. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Return to Hollyhill for a Summer of Joy

Ann H. Gabhart, author of Scent of Lilacs takes us back to Hollyhill to check back in with Jocie Brooke and her family who are navigating life in the early 1960s. In Summer of Love, Gabhart weaves an eduring tale of small town people from a time gone by who are used to doing life always it had always been done. These simple folk are facing the tumultuous changes of life in the 60s and finding meaning and truth in the process. We enter the story from the perspectives of Jocie, a fourteen year old girl coming of age; and her father David the town newspaper editor and preacher, whose past and future finally find resolution, despite quite a few obstacles.

The story is about belonging. Jocie's mom left when she was younger taking her older sister with her. In Scent of Lilacs, her pregnant sister returns to Hollyhill looking to reunite with her family but is sure no one would want to be involved with a single mother with a interracial child. Jocie's dad is the town newspaper editor and pastor of the local church. Still hurt by the sudden departure of his wife years ago, David Brook has found a reason to hope for happiness again, but will he accept that his is worthy of that love?

Summer of Joy is the tale of three, once-bitten twice shy individuals are all learning how to overcome insecurities and trust that they can find love and belonging once again.

I really like this series from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Disclosure of material connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free in the hope that I would give it my fair review. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Behind the Scenes Tour of Hobby Lobby

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to tour the amazing headquarters of Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma City. It was a really neat experience.  Today, I am sharing some of that behind-the-scenes tour.

The headquarters complex is massive. I toured the corporate offices and main warehouse. One things that is really neat is they have a full size store inside the warehouse completely set up with merchandise just as it is in the store. They test placement , displays, etc. to try to create the best I store experience.

Hobby Lobby also designs and manufactures much of its own merchandise, eliminating the middle man which results in lower prices and a lower bottom line for the business. I got to see the process from a design idea to the resulting products. For example one design pattern could end up as a sheet of card stock, a reem of fabric, a element if jewelry, a piece of print art, and so forth.

Next, crafters and designers take those unique products and create cool projects for the Hobby Lobby website and idea magazines, etc. I have to admit I was a little jealous of the people whose job it is to come up with fun craft projects all day!

My favorite spot was the scrapbook merchandising room. Each store has managers for the different speciality areas such as sewing, framing, holiday decor and scrapbooking. Tip: If you don't see something you want on the shelf, be sure to ask for the store's section manager - such as the scrapbook manager- and they can communicate to corporate what the consumer product demand is.

While on my tour, I spotted a few things I would like to create. Here is a welcome sign made out of Scrapbooking supplies. It's another way to use up my stash of product! I really like the layers of patterned and textured paper , fun stamps and the dimensional floral elements. I would put this in a beautiful frame and put it in my front entry. I'm thinking of doing different versions with patterns that match the season.

I hope you enjoyed my mini tour behind the scenes of one of my favorite craft stores! 

If you want more creative inspiration jump on over to where I am so excited to be co-hosting the Come Grow Your Circles Google+ party today. If you are a creative blogger looking to grow your circles -  join us at  on Wed. and link up your g+ profile.
Are you looking to grow your circles on Google+?  Do you want better SEO and increased website exposure? This is the place to be!  Welcome to the" mommy is coocoo circles hop.

*Update we've created a facebook group for Creative bloggers who google+.  Message" target="_blank">here
 with your email address if you would like to be in to the group.

If you want to get coocoo with us on Google+:

1. Add all of the cohost to one of your circles.

2. Link up your Google+ url NOT your blog url.

3. Share a creative post (i.e. posts about cooking, DIY, crafts, etc...) to the public on Google+ and include the hashtag #mommyiscoocoo.

4. Socialize - The more shares a website or blog post has the better chance it has of ranking well.

  • Add new friends to your circles.

  • Comment and Share posts you really enjoy!

  • Throughout the day +1 posts with the hashtag #mommyiscoocoo on Google+
  • *If you want to grow your presence on Google+ email Amanda at mommyiscoocoo(at)gmail(dot)com to cohost.

    Tuesday, March 25, 2014

    The Measure of Success: How Do You Measure Up?

    It is Transformation Tuesday! Today, coinciding with the Measure of Success Blog Tour, I am writing about how my view of success has transformed throughout the past 20 years. 

    As part of the Blog Tour, I am excited to be writing alongside hundreds of other inspiring authors about what success looks like. Learn more and join in the blog tour – CLICK HERE! Read on to learn more about my own transformation.

    Do you think it’s possible for women to “have it all”? In other words, can someone have a thriving career and a thriving home life? What do you think makes this possible or impossible?

    I think it is possible for women to have both a thriving career and home life but not with out a lot of hard work, trial-and-error and support from her employer, colleagues and family. The trick is to find out how to keep things relatively in balance. Ever since I became a mother in 2001, I have been a full time, work outside the home mom. Now, with three kids from tween to preschool, I have different challenges than when I only had my first child. When I had one child, it was easier for me to do what was necessary to get ahead - work longer hours, travel, etc. There were fewer schedules to juggle. We also had less expenses so I felt a little more at ease taking career risks.

    Now, with three kids, I feel more pressure when I am traveling, staying late, taking after hour calls or answering emails at night. I know how much pressure that puts on my husband's shoulders. His understanding and support is the main thing that has made it possible for me to be successful in my career. He wants me to do my best. He doesn't shrink from childcare duties, from parenting.

    Have you ever had to make a difficult decision about work? This could be something such as quitting a job, taking on a second job, changing careers, starting over in the workplace after staying home, etc.? What motivated you to make that decision?

    There have been a few times when I had to make difficult work decisions. One big one was when I was recruited to go run a PR firm for Catholic organizations. I had just completed six years of service at my firm, I loved my colleagues and I had the flexibility of working from home one day a week. But I wanted to grow and experience new challenges that launching a firm and managing an agency would bring. Challenges I could not experience where I was. So, I took the plunge and left a relatively secure workplace to launch a start up without any previous management experience. I would never do that now! 

    Another time, during the recession and when I was out of work, I had to make the decision to be up front about the work/life balance needs I was desiring in a new position. Atlanta is a huge traffic nightmare and If I was going to commute into the city, I was not going to give up the ability to work from home at least one day week or lose vacation time I had accrued elsewhere. This kept me from some good opportunities, but I have my sanity intact - at least most of the time.

    What do you think has shaped your sense of success? What do you think has driven your choices about work?

    My sense of success has changed over time and as I have matured as a person and as a Christian. I used to think the big salary, title and corner office meant success. When I got the big title I sort of let it go to my head. That experience taught me a lot and out of it came my biggest period of professional and spiritual growth. Now I feel that success for me means so much less about material things and so much more about connection. To me success means:
    • Having a deep, personal relationship with Jesus and making room to grow in faith
    • Making a decent living, doing something meaningful that I enjoy (which in my case is helping Christian organizations, businesses and nonprofits communicate) and doing it well
    • Having the respect and friendship of my clients, my colleagues and my senior management team
    • Enjoying a level of balance that allows me to give my best to my job and my family
    • Living within our means 
    • Having a comfortable, inviting home
    • Being involved with each of my kids in a meaningful, personal way and connecting with them daily
    • A strong devotion and connection with my husband that deepens every year despite any struggles we face
    • Making a difference in my community
    Certainly, finances have influenced my choices about work but I have always known I would work. My mom worked and yet she had the flexibility to always be there when I was home from school. I did well in school and pursued a journalism degree in college and never really thought I would not work. I am doer. If I was a SAHM, I can't even imagine the number of things I would be involved in outside the home. It is just in my nature.

    Can a woman be godly and pursue a successful career?

    Absolutely, women have always worked. They just might not have gotten paid for it. Being Godly is a condition of the heart. If you are following God's will for your life, loving and serving others it should not matter whether you work inside the home or outside the home. Both of those jobs have their own set of challenges. God has given each of us gifts and for some of us that means using them in a traditional work environment. 

    What about you? Please comment below with your answers to the prompt questions and share on social media using the hashtag #measuringup or post a picture of “where you work” using the hashtag #measuringup. 

    Carolyn McCulley wrote the Measure of Success about women, work and the home. Get your copy here.

    Friday, March 21, 2014

    World Down Syndrome Day: Our Hopes for Joey

    It's World Down Syndrome Day! A day to celebrate the amazing persons who happen to have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. This is my three year old. This sweet little guy had stole my heart. I'm so proud to be his mom and am so hopeful for his bright future.

    While this developmental disability means that in some things Joey progresses a little slower than his peers, raising Joey hasn't been too much different than raising his sisters. Sure we take him to tutoring to make sure he's ready for Kindergarten. We have speech therapy, physical therapy and IEPs. But really, each of our children has their own issues, things we are working on and skills we are trying to develop. And they each present their own set of parenting challenges. 

    For Joey, that means providing him the therapies and education opportunities from pre-K through college so that he can develop the skills and compentencies to eventually earn an appropriate wage doing something he enjoys, participate in hobbies and activities, live independently and have meaningful relationships. See, not really that different! 

    Here's a glimpse at Joey's life now.

    He is the first to wake up most mornings. 

    He is learning to butter his own toast. He's so proud of himself!

    He loves it when his Pop drives him to school.

    He is learning his letters, to spell his name, colors, shapes and school readiness skills in his three year old Pre-k class. Our goal is that he will be ready to join Kindergarten with his typical peers.

    He loves to help out, even sweeping up at the hair salon. He also helps switch over the laundry and empty the dishwasher.

    He loves playing with friends at GiGis playhouse on Saturdays. 

    He loves his big sisters and enjoys playing with them, chasing them, dancing with them, and currently, watching Frozen with them over and over.

    Consider joining me in support of World Down Syndrome Day by donating $3.21 on 3/21 to the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta!

    Monday, March 17, 2014

    In Case of Emergency: Five Tools to Help Your Prepare

    As parents, we don't like to think about the emergencies that might pop up. However, if we take some time to think through potential situations and make some basic advance preparations, we will be better positioned to handle these situations when they happen. 

    Like last month when we were on our way home from my sons weekly tutoring session. My daughter, who plays while her brother has his session, had gotten a goodie bag filled with chocolates and candy hearts that was left over from a party at the center. During the ride home, Carlie sweetly shared a candy conversation heart from her little goodie bag with her three year old brother who was sitting in the car seat beside her. 

    As we were pulling into the neighborhood, Carlie exclaimed, "Mommy, Joey is choking!"
    I looked in the rearview mirror to see Joey coughing and gagging. I pulled into the drive, quickly parked the car, and got him out of his car seat. He was breathing, gagging and spitting up a bit. He was clearly uncomfortable and trying to cough the candy up. I attempted to do the Heimlich and called 911. With the sense that everything was going to be okay, but worried nonetheless, I tried to comfort my little guy while we anxiously waited for the paramedics. 

    It did not take long for a fire truck and EMS vehicle to pull into the drive. Several guys jumped out and came to the door. As the paramedics asked me questions and assessed my son, the candy finally dislodged and went down. Joey quickly calmed down and was excited to see the fire truck parked in front of our house. He was very interested in the firemen and paramedics, who were very sweet. By this time, my parents and husband had arrived on the scene. We decided he was ok and turned down the trip to the ER. What a relief.

    This incident was a reminder of how quickly an emergency can pop up. I was thankful my daughter knew the signs of choking and could alert me. Basic CPR/First aid training helped me to remain calm. Being prepared really does help. 

    Today, I'm going to share five tools to help you in case of emergency. 

    1. Smart 9/11

    Smart911 is a free service that allows citizens across the U.S. to create a Safety Profile for their household that includes any information they want 9-1-1 to have in the event of an emergency. Then, when anyone in that household dials 9-1-1 from a phone associated with their Safety Profile, their profile is immediately displayed to the 9-1-1 call taker providing additional information that can be used to facilitate the proper response to the proper location. At a time when seconds count, being able to provide 9-1-1 with all details that could impact response the second an emergency call is placed could be the difference between life and death. You can sign up at It takes about ten minutes.

    Smart911 is also very helpful to families who have a member with a developmental disability

    9-1-1 telecommunicators play a key role in figuring out the type of emergency that is occurring and determining the proper staff and equipment needed in the particular situation. Smart911 can let 9-1-1 operators know that there is a person with a disability at your home, communicate the specific details about the person's condition and needs, and ascertain if the response may require very specific actions. 

    If a person with a developmental disability dials 9-1-1, but is not able to speak with the call taker, that can be noted in their profile. Call takers will see each person's specific medical notes and can dispatch teams appropriately based on their needs.
    If a person with a developmental disability dials 9-1-1 for assistance, but does not have the ability to clearly relay specific information to 9-1-1 — such as their name, address or details of their emergency — that information can all be stored within their profile. Additionally, an emergency contact can be listed for this person as well.

    2. Guardian

    The Guardianthe world’s first cloud computing safety network for children, is a tracking device for your child that can be clipped on his or her clothes or hung on a necklace. As long as your child is wearing the device, you can see their exact whereabouts on your smart phone through the corresponding app. 

    All parents know what it’s like taking children to parks, malls and amusement parks. With all the people around, sometimes it’s quite nerve-racking trying to keep an eye on your children while they’re running about. For those of us who have a "runner," this device can be life saving. 
    The app alerts you if your child wanders out of the perimeter you set. Parents can also add trusted ones, such as neighbors, teachers, nannies and relatives, to their group as co-guardians, so that more people can help keep an eye on the little ones.
    The more people who install the app, the more watertight the network becomes. Here's why: If a child is found missing, parents can immediately launch a global search. When the child in question passes by a person using Guardian app, the cloud system immediately sends the location to the parents. When the lost child passes by a user of the Guardian app, only the parents of the lost child and anyone else the parents chose to include as co-guardians are notified. The user does not know about it. I'm really excited about this tool for keeping track of my son in public places as he has a way of squirming away from us!
    3. Evernote

    My third tool is also an app. Evernote is a notebook app for your computer and mobile devices. The apps syncs between devices so all your information travels with you. In my Evernote, I have created a family health notebook where I keep track of what medications each person is on or has been on and other details I need to know when going to doctor's offices or in an emergency.

    4. Family Emergency Notebook

    Next, I have an actual emergency notebook in our house that has profiles on each family member, including a recent picture, finger prints, health information, important papers, etc. Should we have to evacuate in a hurry, I can grab this notebook and have all of our important information with us.

    The notebook includes:
    • Personal ID sheets for each person and pet in the house
    • Birth certificates
    • Immunization records  
    • Passports
    • Social security cards
    • Allergies or health information
    • Important information overview sheet, including:
      • Our address and phone numbers
      • Essential info for every member of our family (name, DOB, allergies)
      • Phone numbers to all our insurance companies along with the insurance policy numbers (car, life, health etc)
      • Other important emergency numbers (poison control, 24 hr nurse line, gas company, plumber, etc)
      • Our doctor’s phone numbers.
      • My husband’s family’s numbers (parents, siblings, grandparents)
      • My family’s numbers
      • Local friend’s numbers
      • Non-local friend’s numbers
      • Other important numbers
    • A written copy of all our log-in information for our various online accounts including banks, insurance, cell phone, school loans, Facebook, email etc.  
    • Property titles (homes, autos, boats etc)
    • Insurance policies
    • Copy of car registration
    • Will
    • Medical directive
    • Marriage License
    • Written Home inventory (and a DVD of a video inventory)
    • Map of the area, with meeting locations marked
    5. Emergency Car Kit

    Finally, an emergency kit in your car is a helpful tool in case of bad weather or a break down. Here is a post I wrote about car kit essentials.

    I hope these ideas help you in case of emergency! Please share your tips below in comments. I'd love to hear how you prepare for emergencies.