Toddler Art (without the mess)

I have to thank my good friend Helen who is also the author of I Dream of Pretty Things for this amazing art project idea.  During some recent rainy weather, I started to panic when imagining full days stuck inside with a super energetic toddler.  We are fortunate to have numerous indoor options here in Houston including the Children's Museum, the butterfly exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, open gyms at various schools and community centers, not to mention the largest mall in Texas.  When it rains in Houston though, it really does pour.  So, I'm building up a stash of ideas for things we can do to keep entertained without having to brave potentially flooded streets and heavy traffic.  

This very simple and easy art project only requires a few basic tools and creates NO MESS WHATSOEVER!  How is this possible you ask?  Thanks to the Ziploc bag, all paint stays completely contained.  You could even throw in some glitter for fun and you would still have clean toddler hands when it's all said and done.  I plan to use these mini masterpieces for upcoming Mother's Day gifts!  Hopefully, Landon's grandmothers aren't reading this...

See below for the step-by-step guide to an instant art piece:

Step 1: Purchase washable finger paint.  I found these primary colors here and figured I could mix them to create secondary colors if needed.

Step 2: Squirt a little bit of each color onto white cardstock paper.  

Step 3: Place the cardstock in a gallon size Ziploc bag and let your little one have at it!  They will love spreading the paint around and mixing the colors and you will love that it all stays in the bag.

Step 4: Carefully remove the cardstock from the bag and allow to airdry.  Your mini masterpiece is complete!

Landon's First Birthday Party

We had so much fun celebrating our little guy's big day with friends at our neighborhood park.  I'll admit that it was a little nerve-wracking leading up to the party because our early November weather was unpredictable with heavy rain, thunderstorms, and unseasonably warm weather.  Luckily, it all cleared up just in time for our Sunday afternoon get together and it was a beautiful sunny day in the low 70s!  I'm so glad we decided to do the party at the park since there was plenty of space for running around, multiple play and swing sets, and minimal setup required.  Since our new house was barely unpacked and decorated at the time, it was a big relief to have the party close by (2 blocks away!) but without the pressure of actually hosting at home.

I went for a fall/woodland animal theme based off of a cute invitation from Minted.  I found a lot of crafty décor supplies at Paper Source including fall leaf die-cuts for food labels, fox dishtowels for layering on the tablecloths, an acorn garland, and a wood grain paper that I used as the background of the monthly photo board.  I found balloons, tablecloths, and plates/cups/napkins/plastic flatware in the theme colors at our Houston party superstore, Arne's Warehouse.  See below for the sweet birthday hat and banners created by PopFizzHooray, a great Etsy shop.  We even repurposed the "Landon" portion of the banner and it now hangs over his crib!

Since the party was in the late afternoon, we kept it simple with a few healthy appetizers from Zoe's Kitchen and mini cupcakes from Crave.  Instead of a smash cake, I opted for a regular size cupcake for the birthday boy.  He was unsure at first but dug in eventually for a couple of sweet bites.  It was his first taste of dessert, and so far it looks like he will be a sweet tooth like his mom.

The menu:

Orzo Tabouli Salad

Seasonal Fresh Fruit and Roasted Vegetables

Chicken Salad, Hummus and Pitas

Limeade and Iced Tea

Birthday Cake, Red Velvet, Chocolate, and Dulce de Leche Mini Cupcakes

While planning the party, I heard over and over again that the first birthday is really a celebration for the parents and I think that's absolutely true.  Your little one has no idea what's going on and might even be overwhelmed by all the attention.  The key is to keep the party short and sweet so that there is time for baby to have fun without affecting their nap and eating schedule.  I'm so glad our friends could come out to join us for a big milestone and very special day.  The first year flew by in a flash and my baby is suddenly a toddler.  I can't wait to see what surprises this next year will bring!

Monthly photos and party décor. Banners by PopFizzHooray.  Space Saver Highchair by Fisher Price.  Riviera Armchair by Serena & Lily.  Photo by R&J Studios.

6 month silhouette by Love & Victory.  Party Invitation by Karidy Walker/Minted.  Photo by R&J Studios.

Cupcakes by Crave.  Photo by R&J Studios.

Make a wish!  Party hat and banner by PopFizzHooray.  Photo by R&J Studios.

Inspecting the smash cupcake.  Photo by R&J Studios.

Loved the frosting, not so sure about the cake.  Photo by R&J Studios.

It was a perfect day for a party at Colonial Park.  Photo by R&J Studios.

Local Caffeine Fix: The Best Neighborhood Coffeeshops

There are plenty of times when the Starbucks drive-thru is the only way to go.  When I am in a rush, late for a meeting, baby is fussy, full-on crying or fast asleep, it is a lifesaver and can't be beat.  On days when we have a little more time, I like to visit our neighborhood coffee spots for a latte or flat white.  Here are my favorites for a quick stop-by with the stroller or when meeting up with friends for coffee and a meal.

Clockwise from top:

Sister to Montrose-area Black Hole CaféAntidote has a great laid-back vibe and funky mid-century modern seating along with ample patio space.  This spot serves fair trade organic coffee and goodies from local spots such as Fat Cat Creamery, Sinfull Bakery, and their own Black Hole kitchen.  Open late!

Blacksmith has become a weekend ritual for me and the hubs.  These guys have great coffee down to a science. Barista John Letoto even competes in latte art championships.  Breakfast and lunch are served all day and options such as the Vietnamese Steak and Eggs and Scratch Biscuit with Crème Fraîche and Marmalade will hit the spot.  Even Alton Brown is a fan.  Check out the artwork on the back wall that states, "When Queen plays, Freddie pays!"  A few months ago, I was lucky enough to be first in line when a Queen song came on and my drink was free!  Open daily 7am-5pm.

The hubs ordered a customized breakfast at Blacksmith last weekend.  He asked for a few avocado slices so clearly they do not skimp.

Common Bond has a bright, airy space on the corner of Westheimer and Dunlavy and is definitely my favorite place in Houston for delicious pastries and artful desserts.  Even their to-go boxes are beautifully branded and would make for a super hostess gift filled with croissants, macarons, or mini tarts.  With a full bakery and kitchen, you can enjoy your coffee with a variety of gourmet breakfast and lunch choices that change daily.  The parking lot fills up fast and lines are frequently out the door.  If you can avoid the breakfast or lunch rush, this is a great spot for a mid-morning meeting.  Breakfast is served 7-10:30am, lunch is available from 11am-3pm, and weekend brunch is 9am-3pm.  Closed Mondays.

Located on Heights Boulevard, EQ Heights or Equilibrium Social House opened earlier this year taking the place of previous coffee spots, Boulevard and Waldo's.  The classic bungalow that houses this little shop has been renovated and filled with some beautiful furniture including a gorgeous reclaimed wood communal table by Heights shop Mod-Tops.  This place is setup like your neighbor's comfy living room.  They really won me over when I found an Architectural Digest on the table.  The tricky part was trying to skim it while simultaneously bouncing a sleepy baby and sipping a latte.  Open daily 7am-9pm.

Revival Market, on the corner of Heights and White Oak, is part coffeeshop, part restaurant, and part butcher/market.  Landon and I walk here in the mornings at least once a week.  Owned by the same duo responsible for the always-packed Coltivare down the street, Revival has great coffee (free drip on Monday mornings!) and a delicious menu filled with locally sourced ingredients.  Very family friendly and dogs can always be found on the patio (I once saw a Great Dane and a St. Bernard squeezed under the same table).  Open daily, they recently started serving dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

More local ideas to come after we make the move in a few months!  What are some favorites in your area?

Fun Ways To Meet Other Moms

Let's be honest.  The first few weeks at home with baby are tough.  Cry, feed, diaper change, sleep (baby, not you), repeat.  There are moments of immense joy and excitement directly followed by weepy frustration.  It's hard to even fathom leaving the house.  Once family members have dispersed and your significant other is back at work, quality time with other moms and their babies can be a saving grace.  It may take a lot of schedule coordination and a few failed attempts to make it happen, but once it does, having time to connect with someone who can truly relate makes all the difference in the world.

1. Prenatal Yoga ClassesI was pretty set in a Bar Method routine during my pregnancy but I have several friends who really enjoyed getting to know other expectant moms in a relaxed yoga environment.  The benefit here is that you have a chance to get to know other moms-to-be whose babies will be around the same age as yours.  It is also much easier to get to know someone while you are still pregnant and can have a leisurely one-on-one conversation.  Trying to connect with another woman once you are both sleep deprived and simultaneously tending to newborns is a little more tricky.  The conversation can be hilariously fragmented.

Houston Ideas:

The Motherhood Center - This place is an all around great resource for moms and moms-to-be.  I attended a few prenatal classes here and loved them.  

Joy Yoga Center - Another great option.  I love the classes here as well.  One location is in Memorial and the original is on Washington Ave.

2. Local College or Sorority Alumnae Associations - When I moved to Houston, I only knew two people.  I was lucky to meet some of my closest friends a few weeks later through the local chapter of my sorority alumnae association.  We all went to different schools and ended up in Houston within a few months of each other in 2009.  In fact, two of them threw us a beautiful baby shower last year!*  By joining a local association, you can immediately connect with numerous women as many of the Houston chapters have thousands of members.  Smaller interest groups such as Moms Night Out and Playdate in the Park are available within the larger associations.  Don't pass up this opportunity to expand your network of moms!

*To see photos of the gorgeous nautical themed shower that my friends threw for us, check out this post featured on I Dream of Pretty Things, a blog by another friend that I met through our alumnae association.

3. Neighborhood Moms Groups - In a city as large and spread out as Houston, it is essential to get to know other families in your own neighborhood.  Add heavy traffic to the mix and you will quickly realize that attempting to cross town before 10am or after 3pm can often be a nightmare.  Check out sites such as Nextdoor to find kids play groups in your area.  I was excited to learn that an upcoming moms meet-up in my area is walking distance from my house.  This particular site is also great for information on upcoming neighborhood events, used baby gear for sale, and handyman recommendations.

4. Mommy and Me Classes - Having the chance to bond with your baby through activity in the company of other families is so much fun.  Whether it is a fitness class for moms that baby can attend or an educational experience for baby, there are a variety of options out there.  We are still new to these classes so I will add updates as we discover more opportunities.  

Houston Ideas:

Define Baby - This is a great way to get a quick workout while baby rides along in the carrier or lays next to you on a blanket or in the carseat carrier.  30 minutes may seem like a short class but the instructors do a great job of packing in a full body workout.  Now that Landon faces out in the carrier, he loves to watch what's going on in class and I can easily make faces at him in the mirror.  Right now, the class is only offered at the Tanglewood location.  No minimum age for baby.

Mommy and Me Yoga at The Motherhood Center (also see #1).  For ages 4 weeks to 2 years.

The Little Gym - Highly recommended by other moms.  We will be trying this out soon!  There are four locations around town.  Minimum age for baby is 4 months.

Mommy and Me Yoga at Houston Public Library - Landon and I are excited to check this out.  The baby class is held at the Heights Neighborhood Library and the toddler class (for ages 3 and under) is held at the Central Downtown location.  There are several other fun activities to check out at the library such as 'Storytime' and 'Playtime' for different ages.

Infant or Toddler Music Classes - We recently checked out a demo class at our neighborhood location of Fundamentally Music and had a great time.  The 45 minute class includes several songs with dancing, instruments and even a bubble machine.  It was so fun watching Landon interact with the other kids that ranged in age from 5 months to a little over a year.  I have also heard great things about Prelude Music School and Crescendo Family Music.  More details to come!  Minimum age for baby is 4 months.

5. Get Involved!  One of the best ways to meet other moms and new friends in general is by volunteering.  Whether at your child's school, your church, a hospital, local charity or through an organization such as Junior League, lasting friendships can easily be made while giving back to the community.