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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Rainbow Unicorn Birthday Party - sort of

Monday was the Babes' 4th birthday.  For months she had been requesting a rainbow unicorn party.  I did what I could starting with some rainbow cupcakes and a cake.

I made some homemade icing using the following recipe:
4 cups powdered sugar
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
approx 6 tbsp milk 
(adding a little more to make it creamy but not too much or it's runny and you'll need to add more powdered sugar to compensate).

Once I had the icing made, I divided it into 6 bowls and added food coloring to make the colors of the rainbow.

Here I am half way through icing the cupcakes and cake.

And here's the completed rainbow cupcakes and rainbow cake!

Since this wasn't just a rainbow party, but a unicorn party too, I wanted to add some unicorn flare to the cupcakes.  I looked in the cake decorating aisles but couldn't find any unicorn or pony cup cake toppers.  So I made my own.

I found some My Little Pony stickers and stuck them onto the ends of a toothpick as shown below.  Then the Babes added them to her cupcakes.  I know not all the ponies are unicorns but it still worked.  I expanded the theme to include horses, because I'm the mom and I can do that.

She really wanted to ride a unicorn for her birthday, but since I couldn't find one, we did the next best thing and went for a pony ride.  So of course she needed to get some cowboy boots.  She was so excited.  Not only did she get to ride a pony, but she also learned how to brush it.  

Big sister got to ride a horse too, while the Spencinator helped guide the little pony.  We went to the stables where the older two had attended horse camp this summer.  It was a fun family outing and everyone loved being around the horses again.  Overall this was a simple birthday party and fun for all ages.


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Candy Bar Poster Gift Idea

September is a busy month for us.  Not only are both of my girl's birthdays in September, but so are my parents.  Over the weekend we celebrated my dad's birthday.  What do you get a guy who has everything?  Well..... I decided to make a candy bar poster.  There are lots of variations floating around on Pinterest, you can check some out HERE.  I combined a few and used the candy bars I found at my local store to create this:

And since I couldn't find a way to incorporate this Twix bar into the poster, I decided to make a love note for my husband.  I'll spare you the mushy details, but inside the card is a list of reasons why I love him. 

Candy posters or cards make a great gift for the person who has it all.  It's fun, personal and delicious.


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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Nursery in the Master

Our fourth child is due in five weeks!  I'm sure he'll come earlier as he's measuring big.  He'll probably be my biggest baby and that makes me a bit nervous.  The last ultrasound indicated that he's 6 pounds 9 ounces and that was at 34 weeks.  My other three babies weighed in at 6 pounds 15 ounces up to 7 pounds 9 ounces and they were born between 38 and 39 weeks.  I'm planning to have this baby early and need to make sure I have things all ready for him. 

First up was making room for the cradle and baby clothes.  We like to keep our babies in our bedroom when they are newborns so they are close by and I don't have to walk that far for the middle of the night feedings.  Since having the nursery in our master bedroom is only a temporary situation, I didn't want to buy any new furniture, I kept things simple and just used what we had.

What we had was a handmade cradle and some plastic storage crates.  I brought this stuff up from the basement, cleaned off the dust and set it up in our sitting room.  Our sitting room is basically a hallway from our bedroom to our bathroom.  To the right is the opening to our bedroom and to the left are doors to the closet and our bathroom.  The wall on the opposite side has a large cabinet that houses my scrapbooking supplies.  Previously on this wall was a bookcase that I moved to one of the kids rooms so this blank wall became the new nursery.  The crates on the right side house all the 0-3 month baby clothes bibs and burp rags.  The bin under the cradle has sheets, blankets and towels.  The white bin on the left will hold diapers.  I hope to fit a rocking chair on the opposite wall.  As for a diaper changing area, that will probably be on the floor in the middle of the night and on our bed when no one is sleeping in it.

We'll also have a pack and play in our living room that has a bassinet and changing table feature on it so that will come in handy.   That is my next thing to set up.  I love washing baby clothes and organizing all their tiny things.  Can't wait to meet our little guy.  In the mean time, I've got both the girls' birthday parties to plan.  

How do you get ready for a new baby?  Do you set up a nursery in your bedroom?  


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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Practical Baby Shower

Hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend.  I know I did.  I certainly enjoyed getting to sleep in.  Getting up at 6am to get my middle schooler off to the bus stop by 6:40am has been rough.  Boy oh boy has it been rough.  Last school year I'd get up at 6:30 to get ready before waking the kids up at 7, but getting up a half hour earlier has me dragging the rest of the day.  

I couldn't resist adding this picture of me at about 32 weeks.  
You can find my inspiration HERE on Pinterest.

OK, back to what this post is really about....

On Saturday, I thought I was going to a Labor Day cookout at my parent's house.  There was some reason, my mom explained, why they were having it on Saturday and not on Labor Day Monday.  It made sense to me and I didn't suspect a thing.  Turns out, it wasn't a Labor Day cookout, it was a baby shower for me!  

What a wonderfully unexpected surprise.  I didn't expect a shower at all.  This is my fourth time going through this, but because of the age gap in kids, I had gotten rid of most all my baby stuff.  My mom and I had been getting things at yard sales like clothes but there are some things you need to buy new.  So it was super nice to have a shower where I received all the practical stuff I'd need, as well as a few more cute outfits.  If you're looking for some practical baby shower gift ideas, be sure to keep reading.

Here's the sun room and dining room all decorated in blue and green.
In the picture above, the frame between the two bears has the shower invitation.  My mom loves to rhyme her invitations whether it's for our birthdays or family reunions.  This one was no exception.  
Here's what it said:

Christa is having her fourth, a boy
She is over filled with excitement and joy!
It is getting closer to the date she is due.
So we are having a 'sprinkle' of blue.
Since finding out she has been to yard sales
in search of greens and blues for young males.
Practical items are what she will need.
We hope to keep this a surprise indeed.
Please join us on Saturday, August 30th at 1:00
As we celebrate Christa's addition over lunch and fun!

And of course there were delicious desserts like the "It's a BOY" cupcakes and a cake.  

But before we dived into dessert, it was present time!
I received so many nice things.  My friends and family are so thoughtful and generous.  It was great to get some baby necessities as well as some more adorable clothes.  I feel readier than ever to have this baby.  

Practical Baby Gifts:
* Bath products: lotions and shampoos
* Diapering products:  diapers, wipes, rash cream
* Nursing products:  nursing pads and lanolin cream
* Baby toys and books:  yes, you can find these at yard sales but it's nice to have new ones that haven't been chewed up or slobbered on by other kids
*  Plain white onesie undershirts:  sometimes this item is overlooked when buying clothes
* Gift certificates and cash:  always a great choice to help cover the cost of diapers or to get some other needed item that wasn't gifted
*  Hygiene items:  hand sanitizer, baby syringe bulb, pacifiers....

Before the party was over the guests got to take home one of these really cute favors.  They are so simple yet so clever.  It's lotions and body wash bottles with tags that say:

"Thank you for coming!
From Christa's shower
To Your shower"

 Me and my girls.  I love how the Babes hugs my belly.  We're all excited for this baby to come.  Only 6 weeks to go (hopefully less)!


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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Watermelon Sticks

Here's an easy to eat treat for your summer picnics.  I know, I know the kids are back in school and it feels like summer's over, but you still have time to do this for Labor Day.

Cutting watermelon into sticks turns it into an easy to eat finger food which is great for little kids and parties.

I originally got the idea from HERE, so be sure to check out that post for a full tutorial with pictures.

It's really easy to cut a watermelon this way.  
Just cut the watermelon in half.
Lay cut side down.
Cut horizontally and then vertically into about 1 inch thick sections.
Serve on a platter or in a bowl.
Your family or guests will have them eaten up in no time.

I'm in the mood for some watermelon right now.   Of course being 33 weeks pregnant, I'm always in the mood for food.  At least I don't have to feel guilty eating this delicious treat.


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Monday, August 25, 2014

Make a School Bus Cake to Celebrate the First Day of School 2014

I don't know about the kids, but I love getting back into the routine of school.  The Spencinator is now in Middle School which means his bus comes about 6:45am.  Wow, that's early.  He did great this morning, on the first day.  Up and ready without any trouble and plenty of time to spare.  I'm hoping this trend continues.  I'm sure it helped that he had all of my attention as the other kids were still asleep.

Sweetie Pie is now in 4th grade and catches her bus at 8am.  I love having one on one time with them in the morning, certainly makes things less hectic.  Remember this post about how breakfast was driving me crazy and what I did to solve it?  Well, that didn't last too long and we were back to everyone eating at the same time which brought on the craziness.  With this new school schedule, all that craziness has been eliminated.  I have peaceful mornings again.  Well, it's only been the first day, but I have high hopes.

While the older two were away at school, my 3yr old and I decided to make them for when they come home.  

A School Bus Cake to celebrate the first day of school:

I thought of this idea myself then checked Pinterest for some inspiration / instruction.  I used ideas from HERE and HERE.

It was pretty simple to make.  I just used a box cake mix and baked it in a 9 x 13 inch pan.
After it had cooled, I cut away the top left corner being sure to round the corners of the part left behind.
Then I frosted it with some homemade yellow icing.  It would have been easier to add yellow food dye to some white icing but since I didn't have white icing on hand, I made my own using THIS recipe I found on Pinterest.

I made my cake simpler by leaving it in the pan and not embellishing it too much since I didn't have those items on hand.  It still turned out pretty good, I mean you can tell it's a school bus, right?

I was counting down the hours till the kids got home from school.  I couldn't wait to hear all about their day and to eat this fun cake.

Here's how happy the kids looked coming home from school.  The Spencinator said his first day of middle school was "awesome".  And Sweetie Pie liked everything about 4th grade.

I love how the Babes wanted to be there to greet her siblings after school.  And of course dessert was a hit.

How was the first day of school for you and your kids?
And fun traditions, or snacks?


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Preparing for Back to School

I want to thank you all for your supportive comments regarding my previous post about autism.  It's great to be able to connect with and uplift each other - Thanks.  Now onto today's post..

My kids go back to school on Monday.  Yikes!  Where has this summer gone?

This year my oldest will be in Middle School.  I'd say I can't believe it, but I can.  He's just as tall as me now, and I'm not short at 5'6".  So yeah, I can totally believe he's going into Middle School.

Before school starts, there are some preparations that need to be made.

1.  Get used to waking up early

Usually the week before school starts, I wake the kids up at the time they'd need to get up to get ready for school.  That means waking my daughter up at 7am and my son up at 6am.  Not this summer.  They've been waking up early on their own.  They've actually gotten into a good routine of waking up, getting dressed and watching TV.  This early in the morning I only let them watch PBS shows like Curious George since my 3 year old is usually up that early too.  Sometimes they even make their own breakfast.  I think this is great because it allows me to sleep in.  By the time I get myself ready it's usually around 7-8am and I come down to get breakfast going and start on the days chores / activities.

2.  Back to school shopping for school supplies and clothes

My kids get lots of hand me downs and clothes from garage sales, so we haven't had to buy a new back to school wardrobe.  We just go through the clothes they have, plus the bin of  'too big' clothes I've saved to see what fits.  I usually have the kids try on a few items so I know what's too small then I use that too small shirt or pants to 'measure' the rest of their clothing.  That way they don't have to try on everything.  This is a great time to sell or donate the unwanted clothing and to reorganize their drawers and closets.

As far as buying school supplies, they get a list from their school or teacher.  We see what we have around the house that's on the list and what we don't have, we buy during one of our regular grocery trips.  We've been lucky to find gently used backpacks at garage sales too so we have a couple on hand to use throughout the year.  My daughter likes to change backpacks about halfway through the year (guess she gets bored of the same one), and my son usually rips through one so we need a spare.  Some goes with lunch boxes.

3.  Meet the Teacher Open House

Because of my son's autism, he has difficulty with crowds and new situations.  We request to meet his teacher one on one before school starts.  This helps him to feel more comfortable and he's able to ask questions he might be too shy to ask with others around.  Our schools also have an open house right before school starts for all the kids to meet their teachers.  We also attend that so we can see which friends will be in his class, but those events are still uncomfortable for him and he tends not to mingle. 

4.  Grocery shopping for school lunches and after school snacks

My kids get bored of having the same thing for lunch and snack everyday, so I like to buy a variety of food and snacks for them to choose from.  I need to make sure I have enough on hand to pack 10 lunches a week plus after school snacks.  I like to have extra since my 3 year old wants to eat what her older siblings eat.  Sometimes I'll even pack her a lunch since she see me packing the other kids' lunches and wants one.

5.  Set up a Homework Area

We typically use the dining room table or kitchen island.  Everyday before the kids come home from school I make sure it's clear and school supplies are nearby such as pencils and erasures.

And speaking of homework, I know it's not always fun.
Here are some tips from a previous post for turning Homework Struggles into Homework Success

Turn Homework Struggles Into Homework Success

What kid really wants to do homework anyway?  By making the homework routine easier for our children, we are also making our life easier, and our homes more peaceful.

The most important thing is to get into a routine.  A routine of when, where and how you expect your kids to do their homework.

WHEN to do homework?  
What time to start, should there be a break before, and when to end?

- Some kids need a break between coming home from school and starting homework.  Decide what that break consists of.  Is it just a snack, or will they get to play with friends, or video games for 30 minutes before starting their homework?  Whatever it is, make sure your child knows what time homework starts.  Try to be consistent with this so they will get in the habit of sitting down to do their homework.

- Some kids have difficulty with transitions. This is true of many kids on the autism spectrum.  So getting some play time and then having to settle into homework mode might not work for these kids.  Try talking to them about their day when they come home, then have them eat a snack at the table while you set out their homework for them.  Then go right into homework.  Since they are already at the table to eat, they don't need to move to do homework (that is assuming your homework spot is at the table)

- Some kids have sat still all day long and need to expend some energy before sitting down to focus on homework.  Activities that involve their whole body such as running, jumping, playing catch or tag will be helpful to settle these children down.  Once all their 'wiggles' are out, they will have an easier time of concentrating on their homework.  We have an small trampoline we keep indoors for anytime the kids need to burn off extra energy.

-Along with setting a time to start homework, it might be helpful to set a time to end homework.  This is especially helpful if you have a child that day dreams or fools around instead of doing their work.  Let them know that they have 1 hour (or whatever time) to complete their work.  After that homework time is over and they get the grade they get.  Your child should learn responsibility for their work or lack there of.  Most teachers agree that homework should take 10 minutes per grade.  So my 5th grader's homework should take him 50 minutes.  If it takes longer it's usually because they are throwing a fit about doing it, or they don't understand the work.   If they don't understand the work, consult the teacher.  If they are avoiding the work (day dreaming, throwing temper tantrums, endless whining and complaining....) keep your sanity and just end the homework.  It's a horrible day for everyone if your child is throwing a fit about doing homework and you're hounding them to get it done.  It can go on for hours and hours.  Restore peace in the home by closing the books and saying you're done.  I even tell my kids that I'll write a note explaining to the teacher that they weren't able to get it done.  I've even had to put the ripped up homework in a baggie and send it back to school with a note saying how frustrated this assignment made my child.

- I understand things can be hectic in the evenings with after school activities, but try to be as consistent as possible so your child knows what is expected.  If you can't have the same routine each day, have the same routine each week (for example Mon, Wed, homework starts at 4:30, but Tues, and Thurs, it starts at 6:30 because of sports)

WHERE to do homework?
Limit distractions, use non traditional homework settings if needed.

-Just like you should be consistent with when you start homework, you should be consistent with where you child does their homework.  That being said, if a certain spot isn't working, you may need to move around till you find a spot that does.

-Ideally the place where a child does homework should be quite and free of distractions.  Do you have one of these spots in your home, because I don't.  A quite place would be in my kid's bedroom, but there are plenty of toys there to distract them from doing homework.  So if you're like me and don't have an empty sound proof room, you'll have to make your house work for you.   Designate a spot for doing homework such as the dining room table or kitchen island.  Make sure all needed supplies are handy and other siblings leave them alone.  Turn off the tv or any other distracting noises.  I usually have my kids do their homework at the kitchen island and my youngest watches a movie in the office with the doors closed.  That way I am with my school age kids to answer questions, and help keep them on task with their homework.  And since I'm in the kitchen getting dinner started that spot works for us.  Yes, there are noises and distractions, but we try to make it work.  Sometimes that means the kids take shifts doing homework if they can't work in the same room together (you know who sibling rivalry can be).

-If you child is easily distracted by what's around them, they could wear ear plugs or listen to music (as long as that's not distracting)

-If your child is fidgety have them sit on a ball instead of a chair, or on an air cushion such as the fit disc.

-Other non traditional homework settings include standing and working at an easel, laying on the floor, laying on one of those big exercise balls, or laying on their back writing on the underside of a desk.

HOW to do homework?
Break it down, work alone or with help, keep focused.

-Some kids (like my son) need lots of motivation to get their homework done.  So after every subject, he gets a break.  Even though he has trouble with transitions, this break between subjects has worked well.  He doesn't feel overwhelmed by having to do it all at once.  He usually has 3 subjects a night to do (plus reading which he does at bedtime).  So after the first subject he plays a video game for 10 minute, pauses it and then comes back to do the second subject.  It's amazing how fast he can get some subjects done because he really wants to go back to his video game.  Once you find the motivator for your child, a reward system like this works great.  Other reward systems could be stickers, or tokens, or just getting play time once all their homework is complete for the day.

- Younger kids will need more help which will require you to be there with them to explain what needs to be done.  Make sure you give your kids the time and attention they need from you if they need your help in getting their homework done.  Be prepared to stay off the computer and don't take phone calls so you child knows school work is important.

-While some kids need to have someone there to help them, others don't need help, it's not that they can't do it on their own, they just want some company or reassurance.  So sitting next to them (reading a magazine or something, not hovering) or just being in the same room can help.  I have my kids do their work in the kitchen while I'm making dinner so I'm available for questions but also not looking over their shoulder the whole time.

-Some kids need some form of stimulus to keep one part of their brain occupied so they focus on homework.  Chewing gum or eating something crunchy might fill this need.   Fidgets for hands or mouths can also be used.    This type of sensory stimulation could also be used as a break in between subjects.

-Some kids will throw a fit to get attention and avoid doing the work.  If this is the case, walking away and ignoring the situation may be the best thing.  With no audience to whine to, they just might stop and start their homework.  We've learned to use this approach with my son.  As long as he understands the assignment, is capable of doing the work, and has a reward for its completion, this works well for us.  For now anyway.

-Kids change and what works one school year, or month, may not work the next.  You have to be flexible and willing to try something different if what has worked in the past is no longer working.  Talking with the school and seeing what works in the classroom is another resource.  That way you can be consistent with home and school work.

Every child is different and what works for one child may not work for another.  I hope with all of these suggestions, you are able to find something helpful so you can keep your sanity while helping your child do their homework.   The most important thing is to do what works for you and make a routine out of it.

For additional resources and to see where I got some of my ideas, you can check out:

How do you prepare for going back to school?


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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Autism Sucks

I had an experience the other day that I just can't stop thinking about.  Not everyone knows our autism journey, and I'm sure some people look at my son and his behavior and probably think "what a brat".  Other people have seen how far he's come and everything we do to try to help him and know what a great kid he really is.  Our life with autism has changed over the years.  Some things have gotten better while others have gotten worse.  It's a constant struggle but a fight I will never give up on.

Shortly after he turned 4, our son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (a high functioning form of autism).  It didn't really come as a surprise to us as we had been doing some research since things didn't seem quite right.  Back then, there were a lot of social issues.  He had extreme difficultly entering a classroom setting such as storytime at the library or his church primary class.  It was like those old cartoons where they try to give the cat a bath and the cat has it's legs stretched out and just won't go in.  There were other things like lack of eye contact and not playing with others.  And because of his inability to understand and communicate his feelings, he did the only thing that he could, he ran.  It was classic escape/avoidance behavior.  If there is something he doesn't like, he escapes to avoid the situation or task.  When he was little this would mean running away, but now that he is older, he is much more manipulative.  He tries to talk or argue his way out of a situation.  And believe me, all that negative talk and arguing can be just as draining as chasing after a child.  This is the part of our autism journey that sucks right now.  But like other hard things my son has overcome, I know he can overcome this too.

As my son has received therapy and gone to numerous social skills classes, and we've read book upon book about how to best help him, his social skills have definitely improved.  He is now able to not only enter a classroom, but to sit next to other children and give presentations in front of the class.  He is friendly, helpful and a natural born leader.  However, these qualities are not always present, especially when he has to do something 'non preferred'.  When he is uncomfortable or anxious about a situation, he can become disobedient, disrespectful and an all around rude guy.  He will argue, call names and complain in order to avoid the situation or task.  Simple, direct orders are best in these situations, as well as don't argue back -that will just escalate things.  Most of the time when this happens at home (and it pretty much happens every day, sometimes multiple times a day) we have him take a time out in his room.  Removing him from the situation and giving him the time needed to calm down is what works for him/us.  This is not always possible when we are away from home or he is with people who have not been trained on what works for his behaviors.

 The other day my son was acting out because he was in an uncomfortable situation away from home with someone who didn't know him.  I was made aware of his negative behaviors and how it wasn't right.  My initial reaction was "I can't believe my son treated someone this way", and I felt like a bad parent.  I quickly got over that and felt bad the person had to experience this side of him.  I briefly explained he had autism which made me feel like I was using autism as an excuse to justify his negative behaviors.  I'm not saying what he does is OK.  There are consequences to his behaviors.  However, when he is triggered or put into a situation that will lead to those behaviors, he really can't help it.  He has a disability, he is unable to regulate certain aspects of himself, he doesn't think like most people and we should take that into account when dealing with him.  You wouldn't punish a blind person for not being able to see, so why punish an autistic person for their autistic behaviors.  It is a teaching moment.  We hope that by explaining to others and him that what he did was not appropriate, that everyone can learn.

Some people have no experience with autism, they don't know the daily struggles the child and parents face.  I'm lucky enough to have several friends who can relate to what we go through as well as friends who aren't on their own autism journey but are compassionate and sympathetic to our struggles.  Sharing our struggles and voicing my thoughts is therapeutic for me.  It's not just the child with autism that can benefit from therapy.  Autism affects the whole family and the whole family needs to find effective ways to deal with it.

Over the years, I've become more and more open about our struggles and successes with autism.  I love connecting with people going through a similar journey and would be happy to discuss our journey with you.  Feel free to contact me in the comments or through Facebook if you'd like to talk.

Oh, and I just want to clarify that not everything my son does is a results of his having autism.  Some of his behaviors are regular sibling rivalry or not wanting to do chores like any other kid.  It's hard to tell the difference, and either way there are consequences and things to be learned.   


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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pregnancy Photos

There won't be any month by month photos of my belly in this post.  I only did that with my first pregnancy and didn't think about it or wasn't consistent in taking monthly pictures in any of my other pregnancies.  

I do however think monthly pregnancy photos can be tastefully done and are a great way to capture the beauty of pregnancy.  So if I were to do them, I might pick one of the ideas below.  All of these were found via Pinterest so be sure to clink the link below each picture to pin the original source if you'd like to.

Here's a simple monthly photo with the same outfit to show how much the belly has grown:

I like this one because it gets the sibling involved.

 The simple silhouette
There are a few comical ways to showcase your pregnancy as well.  Here are two of my favorites:




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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bye Bye Playset

Call me crazy, but with a 3 year old and a new baby on the way, I decided to get rid of our playset. 

The older two kids don't really play on it.  And yes, it would get used by my 3 year old and the new baby, but, I was tired of telling them not to play on it.  

You see, our yard gets rather wet.  Not just when it rains, but days afterwards too.  And some of the rains are more like floods.  The slope from our neighbors yard doesn't help either.  In fact, it looks more like a river back there.  See what I mean?

So rather than having to tell the kids it's too wet to play back there, and having my poor husband mow around it each week, I finally decided to let another family enjoy it.  I should have done that years ago when I realized it just wasn't working in our wetland of a backyard.  It feels so good to have one less thing to worry about.  And I think the view looks better too.

My kids aren't without a playset.  There is a local park within walking distance so when they want or need to play, we just go there.  The park is better than our little playset anyway, plus it forces me to get some exercise rather than just watching from the patio.


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