Category: Activities

Spring-themed umbrella baskets: an Easter basket alternative

Easter is a strange holiday when you’re not Catholic. Plus, unlike Santa, I find the Easter Bunny to be straight up bizarre and I’m still confused about why we put jellybeans and chocolate in eggs so that side of the holiday is also lost on me. While last year Easter at our house kind of fell by the wayside what with me being hugely pregnant and having just moved in a few days earlier, the prior year I decided I would make the day a spring celebration. Lily got new rain boots, some garden tools (thanks Grandma and Grandpa!), seeds, and a seed starter tray. We planted the seeds in the tray and spent the day digging in the garden. I had high hopes of those seeds growing into beautiful vegetable plants but that didn’t happen because I didn’t read the instructions and way overestimated the amount of time I’d have on my hands (I ended up buying small plants instead of starting from seed). But it was a really fun way for me to still recognize it as a special day, and Lily ended up in the garden all summer long. I’ve also mentioned before that we try to emphasize experiences over things, and garden-related gifts are a nice way to still have a little something for kids to “open” while really giving them an experience that will last well into the fall.

Now that I’m a few years into this parenthood thing and have been learning more about gardening through my job, I have a better idea of what I can actually handle growing-wise. I saw an umbrella Easter basket on Pinterest which is a perfect alternative to the traditional Easter basket and fits in well with my spring theme. Plus I’m all about practicality, and a wicker basket filled with shredded paper is possibly the least practical thing you can give a baby or toddler. In case you’re interested in making your Easter a spring celebration and spending the day getting dirt under your nails, here is my umbrella Easter basket inspiration!

1)  Frog Rain Boots: There’s nothing that says “spring” like rain gear. Lily already has a raincoat, but her rain boots are pretty small and starting to fall apart. Western Chief is definitely the best brand of rain boots we’ve purchased, and these frog ones are adorable. They’re built to last, and come in all kinds of cute patterns. Oakiwear is another brand we’ve purchased that’s also pretty popular, but they just don’t hold up like Western Chief boots (Lily’s current pair of Oakiwear boots is cracking, a handle fell off, and they fade super fast). Plus these boots have a matching (2) froggy umbrella. I can’t wait to see how pumped Lily is going to be when she sees she got an umbrella. I might get Maggie some (3) sandals too, but Easter is a week before her birthday soooo we’ll see because let’s be honest, Maggie will just be excited to see everyone when she wakes up in the morning.

4) Wildflower seeds: We have this weird patch in our yard where the grass is different than everywhere else and grows really fast. As long as the weather is nice on Easter, we’ll turn the soil here and sprinkle some wildflower seeds or pollinators. Wildflowers are a great option for planting with kids because they are super easy to get in the ground and are fairly hardy seeds. Crossing my fingers that these work out for us this year!

5) Lettuces and (6) kale: When it comes from the garden or  farmers market, Lily loves kale.

She doesn’t have a huge vegetable pallet, so I’d like to capitalize on this. We also go through a ton of greens. We’re way too busy to have a full veggie garden, plus both our parents have huge gardens. We do have window boxes out front, and I want to try planting a variety of greens in them. This way they’ll be semi-attractive and also practical. I also know I cannot manage anything that can’t be sown directly, which makes greens an excellent option. I also just recently learned you can plant them a few times throughout the season, or rotate with something else like radishes so if I’m feeling ambitious and I get my act together we’ll try that. I’m going to order the seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Co. They have these art packs which are really pretty and Lily got a kick out of the ones my mom gave us last year (that didn’t get planted…oops.). Plus, shout out to the Hudson Valley.

7) Garden-related books: I don’t have a particular book in mind but these both look really cute. Lily is just getting to the age where she could grasp the concept of things happening underground, and babies love flaps. Plus I still have plenty of time to ask Dog Ears to  order them!

*Let’s be clear that I’m the family heathen: both my girls were baptized and Ryan takes Lily to church on weekends. I do join on holidays and may more often when Maggie gets older.

Valentine’s Day Crafts

Ryan and I don’t really do gifts for each other (experiences, not things and all), but I still like to commemorate birthdays and other occasions. One of my favorite ways to do this is to make hand-print or foot-print art with the girls. It’s a fun way to see just how much they’ve grown. I admittedly haven’t done this as much with Maggie because unlike Lily, she won’t sleep through me pressing her hands into salt dough or an ink pad. We made a pretty successful tree for my mom’s birthday last month, so we’re giving hand-print Valentine’s Day crafts a go. Here’s a roundup of some of my favorite ideas (hand-prints and beyond!), and tips for semi-successful final products.

Tips for Doing Hand/foot-print Art with Kids under 4

  • Use ink pads instead of paint. This cuts down on the mess a ton, and you get a much cleaner hand-print.
  • Have a wet washcloth or small towel ready. Like right next to you so you don’t have to take a step away from your paint covered baby.
  • If possible, strip the kid down to their diaper or underwear so they can go directly into the tub afterwards. This is a great plan for babies, who are much harder to just wipe paint off of.
  • If you’re using paint, have your project set up and know exactly where you are going to put it to dry. Have paper and paints in reach that they can use immediately after they do their hand prints. Kids get really excited about painting so being able to show them “this is where we’re doing our special project” and “this is your paint to play with” is helpful.
  • Have zero expectations. If you think you’re going to end up with a Pinterest-worthy picture, you might be disappointed. It’s best to recognize that your baby/toddler/preschooler is much more interested in covering his body in every paint color than sitting still while you paint his hand and press it to paper.
  • If it ends up absolutely terrible, you can always let it dry and then cut it into little pieces and make a collage. This works great as part of a card.


Hand-print Art Ideas

Thumbprint Love Bugs Card

  • This cute card:

Easy Peasy Valentines Day Card ~ Your children's hands and feet prints always make for really awesome keep sakes and it's fun for them too.:

  • One I think the grandparents would appreciate:

  • Just came across this and I’m definitely tackling it this weekend!

Blowing Lots of Kiss Handprint Valentine's Day:

What will you be making for Valentine’s Day?

Free indoor activities for kids

We all know about winters in WNY, but this past summer we had to endure some record-breaking heat. Summers aren’t usually so sweltering, so a lot of us don’t have air conditioning. At my house, we spent a ton of time in our humpback whale cool (ahem, pool) and basement while I was on maternity leave, but we also got creative with free activities that you can do away from home. There are a lot of inside play spaces for babies and kids where we live, but it can get expensive quickly. Between borrowing AC in the summer, and battling out cabin fever in the winter, we have a pretty well-rounded list of free indoor activities for kids. I’ll save the ones you can do at home for another day, but here are some of my favorite things to do when you need to get out of the house on a budget:


When I worked part-time, Lily and I went to the library once a week and we would sometimes stay for two hours. While the library in our old town didn’t have activities for under threes, it had an incredible children’s section. There was a big wooden dollhouse, complete with garage and wooden people, furniture (indoor and out), and car. There was a play food section with a shopping cart, a toy kitchen and table, few cozy reading areas, and hamsters. I haven’t spent much time in our new library because the girls go there twice a week (once with each grandma), but while it doesn’t have all of that fun stuff, it does have a ton of programming for kids. Most of it is for three and up, but there are often evening activities for families (so kids of all ages). The girls have been to a few, but I’ve only gone to one. There were monkeys, so I was over the moon.

Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble has various story and song areas for babies on up. They also have a train set and, of course, hundreds of books. We’ve gone there to do the stories and songs and then play, and other times we’ve just gone there to play. I recommend first heading straight for Starbucks, then over to the train set so your kid can play with the other kids and you can sit back and enjoy your latte.




Pet Stores

One time I had planned to go to the Children’s Place with Lily in tow. Their website said they opened at 10, but they actually didn’t open until 11. Thankfully there was a PetSmart right next door. We spent the entire hour looking at different animals, watching the dogs in the dog area, and playing with doggie toys (because let’s face it, who can really tell the difference between them and baby toys).

The same mall our Barnes and Noble is in also has a cat adoption store! You used to be able to go in there and pet all the cats roaming around, but I heard they’ve stopped letting them out of their cages. Sad face.

Side note: I can’t stand our Children’s Place, and the customer service is terrible. I was at least 36 weeks pregnant with Maggie when I went there with Lily, because I figured (correctly) it would be my last real free weekend. No idea what I would have done if the pet store wasn’t next door, and the Children’s Place employees didn’t seem to care.

Grocery Stores

There was a day this past summer when it had been over 85 degrees inside our house, and between being hot and exhausted I almost passed out. I knew I had to get somewhere cooler, and that I also had to get groceries. So we headed to the grocery store, Lily hopped in one of those carts with the ride-in car on the front, and Maggie checked out all the lights and colors from her spot in the carrier. I did this a few more times over the summer with Lily, because those cars are basically a sure deal to get her to fall asleep.


Side note, we had gone to the farmers market before Tops, and by the time we were done getting groceries we needed some lunch. I took the girls to Taste, because I had my mom’s stroller which Maggie tolerated when she was much littler. Lily and I had a long, lazy lunch. Then the rain came. It hadn’t rained in such a long time, that I hadn’t thought to check the forecast. The windows in my car were cracked quite a bit, the groceries were right under these windows, Maggie’s car seat was in the car, and I didn’t have an umbrella. When it started coming down in torrents, it took me a minute to realize that everything was going to be soaked. There wasn’t any point in rushing out to the car, since we were going to get soaked, too. We got drenched on the walk to the car, and Maggie’s bucket seat was full of water. I had to put her in it, and she didn’t even cry on the way home as the water sloshed around her. Chillest baby.

Fisher Price Store

We’re fortunate to live in the hometown of Fisher Price. Their store is chock full of every toy they have on the market, and is really spacious. Lily LOVES looking at all of the different toys, and pressing everything that makes sound. She’ll go up and down the aisles visiting her favorite toys over and over. They also have this room with ride-on cars, which are in huge boxes. The balls are also stored in this room, and she loves to throw them around and let them bounce off the boxes.

It might sound crazy to bring a toddler to a toy store, and I have to credit my MIL with establishing toy stores as an environment for play. She was the one who gave me the idea, as she used to bring Lily there while babysitting her. She does usually get Lily fruit snacks while they’re there, and I’ve occasionally gotten her a Little People (they were only $1 last time!), but Lily never expects for or asks for anything (at least when she’s with me). I also LOVE looking at all of the baby things. Kids’ toys don’t really change much, but there is always new baby gear out there. When I was little I used to pour over the baby section of the JC Penney catalog. It’s a good thing that our friends and siblings are starting to have kids because even if we have more, we probably won’t need any new gear (except a car seat, and I love researching car seats so the thought gets me excited).

Toy Loft

Yes, there are two toy stores in our town. Toy Loft is more high-end, and they carry a lot of Melissa and Doug. It’s my go-to for gifts, and between Lily’s classmates and our friend’s and family’s kids, I’m there more and more often. The best part is they have an area set up in the middle with Magna Tiles and a little toy house full of doll house people and Calico Critters, and a train set. We had to go there to get presents a few times this summer, and I always lingered so Lily could play and I could check out the books (and baby toys–again, I can’t get enough). It’s really tight in there, and you can’t usually get a side-by-side double stroller any further than the ramp. It’s also not ideal if your kid is in a really rambunctious mood. Bonus: they have a great bathroom.


In case Fisher Price wasn’t enough to get East Aurora on the map, we also have Vidler’s. In the winter, the Christmas decoration section will keep any kid entertained for a while. They’re all in themed groups, so it makes it easy for kids to pretend play. Not that that’s what ornaments are intended for or anything, but they don’t seem to mind as long as you’re not breaking anything. There are a ton of toys upstairs and all manner of nooks and crannies to get lost in (cards! lunch boxes! books!), but the highlight is Sandy, the ancient mechanical rocking horse that’s only 10 cents per ride. They also have cheap popcorn, which can occupy a toddler for a good 20 minutes.

What are some of your favorite free indoor activities?


Paint-splatter art

This summer when I was home on maternity leave, I quickly discovered that I needed to have at least one semi-structured activity planned for Lily every day. We struggled with some behavior issues, in the form of her simply not listening. I really couldn’t blame her for this: A week before her Halloween birthday, we officially potty trained her. In December, we said goodbye to her Wubbanub. We spent most of January and February sick, and she ultimately ended up hospitalized with RSV in March. A week after we were released, we moved to a new house in a new town. Then she got her first stomach bug, and Maggie was born 2 weeks later. It was a huge amount of change and upheaval, and I am so proud of how well she dealt with and adapted to it all. So when she started running away when we were in the yard or at the playground, I knew she needed more of my attention.

We stopped going to the playground with Maggie in tow after an incident where Lily ended up with a bloody lip. When Maggie was really little, she refused to go in the stroller so I had to bring her everywhere in the carrier. One day while at the playground, I had Maggie in the Ergo when Lily started running away to a sidewalk that leads directly to a busy road. She is fast. She wouldn’t come back and get in the stroller, and because Maggie was in the carrier and Lily was kicking, I couldn’t pick her up. She had fallen (sort of) off a swing earlier so her bottom lip was puffed up (she was swinging on her stomach and fell off face-first. Me: “Sweetie, do  you want to go home?” Lily: “No, I want to do it again!”). I grabbed her while she was in mid-run, and she fell…right on her puffed up lip. It started bleeding and it was this whole horrendous experience of (thankfully few) other playground-goers watching as I dragged a bleeding toddler to the stroller. I learned a few things from this: 1) Always follow Lily with the stroller. Getting her into it is much easier when it’s not on the other side of the playground. 2) Don’t go anywhere alone with both kids. Ever.

We spent a lot of time at home after this, so I knew I had to look for some activity ideas. I headed for Pinterest because, duh. I found some great ideas, and a lot of blog posts that had links to websites or blogs full of ideas for kids activities. These kept us entertained all summer. Let me say that the activities we did didn’t end up looking as nice as they did on these sites, or going exactly as they were planned. We did a lot of adapting, and a lot of rinsing off in our blow-up whale pool (which I already miss Lily’s mispronunciation of: “My humpback whale cool.”). One of my favorites was Paint Splat Art.


Is it only me, or does the sight/thought of a mallet make everyone else shudder thanks to The Shining?

This is a great outdoor activity to do on a hot summer day. You’ll definitely need to hose off or head into a pool or other body of water right after because it is messy.



  • Dollop globs of paint a few inches apart all over the paper, and cover each with a cotton round.
  • Wallop each cotton round with the mallet, and watch the paint splatters fly!


This activity is definitely intended for kids who are a little older than Lily was (almost 3). They need to be big enough to actually be able to control the mallet if you want to get anything worth sending to Grandma. However, Lily had a blast doing this. She smooshed the cotton rounds all over the place, and for some reason was really interested in putting them in the flower pots. As you can see, she also covered her entire body in paint. I showed her how to walk through the paint, and then make footprints all over the driveway. We had a really dry summer, so I was reminded of this activity every time I went by her colorful footprints.

I tried to make our summer activities about what I would have wanted to do. It can be really tempting to guide little ones through an activity with an end goal of something pretty. But even if you don’t follow the rules, these activities are great sensory experiences and help them to explore their creativity. Lily loved layering on the squishy paint, and watching each different color footprint appear. The cotton rounds are a texture kids aren’t often exposed to, and she experimented with covering them with paint, sliding them around, and sticking dirt to them. I didn’t push her too much to try to perfect her aim with the mallet, because it was so heavy and she was more interested in touching everything with her hands. This would be a great way to work on targeting aim with older kids though.

I really look forward to doing this activity again when the weather gets warmer, and to seeing how Lily decides to experiment with another year under her belt!