Thursday, August 17, 2017

Our Day at the Zoo: Finding New Ways to Encourage Outdoor Play

Our Day at the Zoo: Finding New Ways to Encourage Outdoor Play
Thank you CLIF Kid for sponsoring this post. Be sure to check out the new CLIF Kid Zbar Filled and encourage your kids to get outside and play!

Summer begins with a burst of motivation from kids to play outside as much as possible, but I notice that as it winds down, the usual activities become less appealing for them. After a couple of months, the park play sessions, family hikes, afternoons at the pool and splash parks, outdoor family yoga classes, soccer practices, and even good old outdoor playdates with friends that were so exciting at the beginning of the season are suddenly boring. Encouraging outdoor play is incredibly important to us, and the last thing we want is for our kids to prefer sitting around inside because they've lost interest in doing the same outside activities over and over. Thankfully, we've discovered that by finding new ways to encourage outdoor play - just by breaking from the norm and doing something different from time to time - that spark to be outside is ignited within them again.

When we want to break up the monotony of our usual outdoor activities, the main place we turn is the zoo. We love our local zoo (Brookfield, near Chicago) because in addition to being a guaranteed fun day for the kids, it's known for its work on compassionate animal care and welfare, and its leadership in conservation efforts - things we feel are essential for our children to learn about and recognize. Our zoo also provides a huge variety of opportunities for free play for kids beyond just walking around and exploring the animal exhibits. There's a park style playground, splash pad (it was too chilly on the day we went, but it's normally so fun for the kids), family play zoo, petting zoo, trails to explore, hands-on statues and art, and more. Essley and Emmett both get so much exercise when they're there, and get to participate in really organic, beneficial outdoor play while they're learning. We get a membership every year for this very reason. And it's always a great reminder that when kids get bored with their usual outdoor activities, there are always less ordinary ways to encourage them to be active outside - often that we can be enjoyed together as a family.

Our zoo adventures always end up taking up an entire day, so before we leave the house, I always throw a few CLIF Kid Zbars in my bag for the time between meals when my kids get hungry. Those of you who are regular readers know that we are long-time fans of these as a nutritious, super easy snack. And their new CLIF Kid Zbar Filled bars are our absolute favorites. Essley calls them "Surprise Bars" because she says "there's a yummy surprise inside!" And she's right - inside each soft-baked bar is a smooth, creamy nut butter filling. They're filled with the stuff parents like for their little ones too - certified USDA organic and non-GMO ingredients that are nutritious and wholesome (like oats and nut butters). They're also free from ingredients we'd rather do without, like high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors. And while they're particularly wonderful for our zoo days because the kids can munch on them while they're playing and exploring without having to take a break, they're also the perfect grab and go snack to keep your little ones nourished and satisfied during pretty much any outdoor activity. We feel good about supporting the brand too, and appreciated CLIF Kid's dedication to always encouraging children to get outside and feed their adventures.

Regardless of whether or not you have a zoo close by, if your kids hit the same wall as mine this time of year with outside playtime, I highly recommend spending a day in an outdoor play place (or any outdoor area that allows for active fun) that is different than the everyday. Maybe explore a new bike trail or hiking spot in an area your children haven't been before. Visit a big outdoor water park, arboretum, or botanical garden that has lots of trails. Sign up for a family race (running or walking). Head to a local outdoor family concert - and dance! Find a big park or playground you haven't visited before, or even do a "playground day" and visit several in your area in one day. When you sit down and brainstorm, there are countless ways to encourage outdoor play through new-to-you places or activities. And I'm telling you guys, it makes a big difference during the end-of-summer outside play burnout.

How do you encourage outdoor play with your own kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/friends who are little ones during those times of the year when they're beginning to get bored? Have any of you visited your local zoo or animal sanctuary this summer?

Thank you for supporting the brands that help make Bubby and Bean possible. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Puppy Dog Pals Inspired Dog Bone Sugar Cookies

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Dog Bone Sugar Cookies
Dog Bone Sugar Cookies
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Disney Junior. Thank you for supporting the brands that help make Bubby and Bean possible.

Long time readers and followers may recall back when Essley was a baby and I beamed with pride over the fact that her first word was "dog." We didn't have a dog at the time (although some of you likely remember my sweet Bubby dog, for whom this blog was named), but she was instantly drawn to every dog she saw. Emmett is the exact same way. They are convinced that my sister's dog Laika and my best friend's dog Harley are their dogs. They pretend they're dogs when they're playing, every single day. And Essley constantly asks me when we're getting a dog for our house. (It will happen when her little brother gets out of the incredibly exhausting toddler stage, thank you very much.) So it was no surprise to me when they both fell in love with Disney Junior's new show Puppy Dog Pals. I'm a big fan of the show myself because of the positive messages it promotes (more on that later), and there is very little cuter than watching Essley pretend she and Emmett are Bingo and Rolly, the funny, adorable Pugs that star in it. A couple of weeks ago, she very seriously informed me that Bingo and Rolly (she and Emmett) needed some dog treats. So I decided that dog boned shaped sugar cookies we could make together, inspired by Puppy Dog Pals, was a must. She had so much fun making them, and both she and her little brother absolutely adored eating them. Today I'm teaming up with our friends at Disney Junior to show you how we made them, along with the recipe so you and your little ones can make some of your own!

Dog Bone Sugar Cookies
Dog Bone Sugar Cookies
Dog Bone Sugar Cookies

Puppy Dog Pals Inspired Dog Bone Sugar Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies


3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
cookie icing pouches (1 chocolate and 1 vanilla)
chocolate sprinkles

Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slower add the dry mixture in the bowl with the wet ingredients until well combined. Chill dough mixture in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle the surface you'll be using with flour to prevent sticking, and roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Use a dog bone shaped cookie cutter to cut out shapes, and place on cookie sheets. Bake for 9-12 minutes, or when edges just begin to turn golden. Cool completely on a cooling rack.

Once the cookies are cool, have fun decorating! We used store-bought pouches of cookie icing (also called royal icing), but you can also make your own, along with chocolate sprinkles. Aside from eating them, the decorating was Essley's favorite part. (Mine too.)

To really get in the spirit, we also whipped together some quick pug ears for Essley to wear. We just cut out construction paper triangles, taped them onto a headband, and folded them over. She's been wearing them everyday since.

Dog Bone Sugar Cookies
Dog Bone Sugar Cookies
Dog Bone Sugar Cookies
Dog Bone Sugar Cookies

We have plans to make another batch of our Bingo and Rolly dog treat cookies on August 25th, which is when a new episode of Puppy Dog Pals premiers on the Disney Channel (at 9 AM). Disney Junior's FRiYAY morning shows have been such a treat for the kids this summer (you've already heard me rave about Sofia the First and Mickey & The Roadster Racers; Lion Guard and Elena of Avalor are other favorites), and it's been a treat for me as well, to know that the programming they love is full of important lessons and positive messages we can apply to our own lives. In Puppy Dog Pals, Bingo and Rolly are super enthusiastic and gregarious, which often leads them to new adventures (some of which they may not be prepared for). This is Essley's personality to a T; so watching the pups work together to solve problems and try new things is something we feel is really beneficial for her. And both the kids think the dogs are hilarious, which is fun for us too. (I mean, what's better than watching your little one burst with laughter?)

You can find Disney Junior shows on two different television channels: Disney Junior (a dedicated channel that runs Disney Junior shows all day long), and Disney Channel (which airs Disney Junior shows during the morning block). New episodes (like Puppy Dog Pals!) usually air on the Disney Channel first. If you're a fan like we are, also be sure to check out Disney Junior's Facebook page and on their YouTube for even more fun.

Dog Bone Sugar Cookies
Dog Bone Sugar Cookies
Dog Bone Sugar Cookies

For those of you with dog-obsessed kids with mine, I'd love to hear any fun dog-themed (especially if they're Puppy Dog Pal inspired) activities or recipes you may have!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Disney Junior. Thank you for supporting the brands that help make Bubby and Bean possible.


Monday, August 14, 2017

One Year Seizure Free!

First birthdays are a huge deal, for all kids and their families. But in the world of epilepsy, there is another major one year celebration that we desperately hope to achieve: one year of seizure freedom. And yesterday, we got to celebrate that day with our son Emmett. I honestly can't put into words what this day meant to us, or how much different life was for us one year ago on this day. We are so incredibly grateful.

For those who don't know, when Emmett was 7 months old, he starting doing an occasional movement that just seemed a little "off" to me. It was incredibly subtle, and mainly looked like reflux. (He would do a little shrug, and every now and then his head would slightly bob - which is common for babies.) It happened for a few days, and while everyone who saw the videos I took felt that it was nothing unusual, we decided to take him to his pediatrician. His pediatrician didn't seem overly concerned, but referred us to a neurologist, just in case. Long story short, less than 24 hours later we were in the children's hospital with a diagnosis of Infantile Spasms, the most dangerous (literally labeled as "catastrophic") form of childhood epilepsy. The prognosis with the vast majority of IS kids is very poor. The seizures are difficult to stop, the treatments have horrific side effects, and most children with IS have developmental delays, cognitive issues, and physical challenges. I can confidently say that this time last year was the absolute worst period of my life. I have never been so sick with fear. To have what you believe is a completely healthy baby and then be told, almost overnight, that he has an absolutely horrible disease that is profoundly difficult to treat, is devastating.

Emmett underwent countless tests (multiple EEGs including a 48 hour video one we did at home, MRIs, spinal taps, genetic tests, multiple blood draws, and more) and was started on an intense, expensive ($34,000 a vile; he needed several) medication called ACTH, which had to be injected into his thighs (by Robbie and me) over a two and a half month period - first twice a day then tapered down to once, then eventually to every other day. The medication was the worst part of the journey for us, because of its side effects. In addition to causing children to develop Cushing's Syndrome (weight gain, "moon face," etc.), it causes reflux, blood pressure issues, and horrific irritability. While on the highest dosage of this medication, Emmett completely stopped smiling. We had to sleep sitting up and holding him upright or he would scream and writhe in pain. He nursed around the clock, and had an insatiable appetite. (I have tears pouring down my face writing this; it's not easy to relive.) Our happy, engaging son was replaced with a shell whose only emotion was misery. But the medication worked. Since August 13th, 2016, Emmett has not had another seizure.

A couple of weeks ago, Emmett had his yearly assessment by his developmental therapist, occupational therapist, and physical therapist, and was evaluated as not only completely on track, but ahead in several areas (including speech; something he was slightly behind on when first assessed!). He is truly just a typical little boy who loves running, swimming, climbing, reading, coloring, and playing with his sister and other kids. We were told at his therapy assessment that he is a "miracle." We do not, and never will, take this for granted.

To this day, we have no idea what caused Emmett's Infantile Spasms. His MRIs showed a normal brain. His genetic testing came back normal. His bloodwork was all normal. His lumbar puncture was normal. The best guest from his neurologist (who by the way was absolutely incredible; we feel he saved our son) is that he had a random, spontaneous genetic mutation (every human has an average of 40 of them!) that manifested as IS, and that the medication rebooted his brain. Whatever the cause, in April, his Infantile Spasms diagnosis was dropped. If he can remain seizure free one year from now, his epilepsy diagnosis can be dropped as well.

For now, we are celebrating! Yesterday, after his sister's dance recital, we got a special cake for Emmett in honor of this massive milestone. We couldn't be happier or more grateful.

Happy Father's Day!

There is so much more to the story, so if you're interested, you can read about the journey right here. And if you come across this because you have a child with Infantile Spasms, or you know someone with a child who has IS, please feel free to reach out to me. I have made a lifelong vow to help other parents going through this, and it is my hope that when Emmett is old enough, he will be able to do the same. We are one of the rare cases (5-10%) where our child will likely go on to live a "normal" life (not a fan of that term, but for lack of a better word). Most other parents of IS kids continue to face challenges that are now in the past for us. I want to do whatever I can to be there for them. I also want to say that being in a IS support group has taught me so much - the greatest lesson being that no matter what the outcome with these strong, brave kids, they and their parents are able to find the same level of happiness (or honestly, even moreso) than those of us with "typical" kids. Love is powerful you guys. It is the greatest healer. And If you want to meet a truly inspiring child who can teach you some incredible life lessons, get to know a child struggling with IS or the other challenges that can accompany it.

My Little Loves
Summertime Family Story Night

Every single day I thank the universe for how fortunate we are. I am admittedly a very different person because of this - because of the trauma, yes, but moreso because of the intense level of profound gratitude I feel every single day. I will never stop thanking all of you - our extended group of kind, generous friends and family who helped us on so many levels while we were in the worst of this. You know who you are, and not a day goes by that I don't think about what you did for us and for our Emmett.

If you're still reading, thank you! And to my beautiful, happy, sweet Emmett - I love you beyond words. How lucky I am to have you as my son, and to be able to celebrate this amazing milestone with you.

P.S. Check out this awesome Today Show clip featuring Miguel Cervantes (the lead in the Chicago production of Hamilton!), whose daughter is fighting Infantile Spasms. I feel so much gratitude to him and his wonderful wife, who continue to work so hard to raise funding for and awareness of this awful disease.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

7 Tips For Making Back to School Easier

This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own.

In just a few weeks, Essley heads back to school. (And in just a few months, we register Emmett for preschool for next year which is mind boggling on so many levels - but we'll save that for another post.) Last year was Essley's first year of preschool, which makes this the first official summer break we've experienced. And we've enjoyed every minute of it, from the travels to the pool and beach days to the late night ice cream runs to the overall freedom that comes with a lack of schedule. As summer break winds down, we're all getting excited - and admittedly a little nervous - about jumping back into the routine of a school year. While we're certainly no experts when it comes to back-to-school, we're learning a lot as we go. And from our own experience, as well as talking to friends who have years of back-to-school seasons under their belts, we've discovered some ways to make the transition easier on everyone. Today I thought I'd share some of these tips and tricks with you guys, in hopes it helps with your kids as much as it's been helping with ours.

1. Get back to a routine early. We are admittedly a pretty unstructured family in terms of schedule (when you work from home and your husband works on the road for a band, you don't have much of a choice!), and we thrive on the go-with-the-flow type of vibe, which has especially been our motto this summer. But with Essley heading back to school in early September, we've started to establish more of a routine once again. We've been firmer about her getting to bed on time (and have been easing into an earlier bedtime), waking up on time (because like her parents, this girl is not a morning person), and eating breakfast right away. And while Essley has been in several activities throughout the summer, we've been trying to create schedules on the days she doesn't have anything going on as well. This will make the sudden change back to structure feel less harsh, for all of us.

2. Stock up on items for before-school breakfasts and school snacks/lunches in advance. We've already gone to Costco for our favorite school year staples, which include Betty Crocker Bisquick Pancake Mix (pancakes are Essley's favorite breakfast), Nature Valley Oats’n Honey Crunchy Granola Bars (these are Essley's favorite snack to bring to school), and Ziploc Variety Pack (which has every size I need for her snacks, back-up outfits, etc. to keep things organized in her backpack). This alleviates the pressure of having to rush for food/kitchen items last minute, and ensures you have enough to last you awhile.

3. Buy and organize school supplies in advance. Just as getting food supplies ahead of time takes away that last minute pressure, so does getting school supplies early. I'm in the process of getting Essley's supplies together and organized right now, so it will be one last thing on my list when the first day of school arrives.

4. Have breakfast ready to go in the morning. While you can't exactly make breakfast for the first day of school now, you can plan on making it the night before throughout the school year. We often make pancakes - Essley' favorite - the night before, put them in the fridge, then warm them in the oven while we're getting ready. It saves so much time! This is especially helpful for the beginning of the school year, when you're trying to ease back into a structured morning routine.

5. Purchase items with Box Tops to help your school. This is such a great way to jumpstart the new year in a positive way, by getting your kids involved in something that helps raise money for (and brings really wonderful classroom benefits to) their schools. We've been stocking up on General Mills products with Box Tops at Costco (see #2!), where they happen to be running a really cool program and contest called the Inspire Imagination Box Top program. To enter, you just snap a photo and post to Instagram (or tweet on Twitter) about how Box Tops for Education inspires imagination in your kid (for Essley, it's always about art and more school art supplies!), follow @BTFE on Twitter or Instagram, and share with hashtag #InspireContest. 3,000 Costco members will each win 100 Box Tops for their school. Pretty cool, right? See more on this awesome back-to-school program here (and at the end of this post*).

6. Pack snacks in your kids' backpacks. A few friends have told me that one less obvious challenge for their little ones when they head back to school is the issue of not being able to grab a snack every time they get hungry like they get used to at home over the summer. To make this a little easier, they suggested packing an easy snack (our favorite is Nature Valley Granola Bars and an apple) that they can munch right after school. We'll definitely be doing this for Essley this year.

7. Take a first day of school photo. This is a great way to make a big deal about the first day in a way that will get your child (maybe not so much if you have a teen, of course) excited and pumped for the year. We did this with Essley last year (and took one on the last day too, as seen above), and she's already talking about how she can't wait to do it again. Anything you can do to help your little one view the new year as something joyful and exciting (rather than stressful) will make the transition easier for them (and you!).

How do you make the back-to-school transition easier? Who else collects Box Tops?

Thank you for supporting the brands that help make Bubby and Bean possible. This post is in partnership with  Costco Inspiration Imagination Box Tops and Acorn.

*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Legal residents of the 50 United States (D.C.) 18 years or older. Ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on 9/30/17. To enter and for Official Rules, including odds, and prize descriptions visit Void where prohibited by law. Use of “#InspireContest” when posting entry constitutes entrant’s agreement to Official Rules. Sponsor: General Mills.

Each box top is worth 10 cents to redeeming school when clipped from box tops products and sent to the redeeming school. Only BTFE registered schools can redeem box tops. Limit $20,000 per school per year for box tops redeemed through the clip program. See for program details.