Our Five Ring Circus: 2020

Monday, December 7, 2020

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Big Family Blog

One week of December is already behind us, and we have been busy! We decorated every nook and cranny for Christmas, we welcomed our elf back into our home, and we went to see zoo lights. Every December weekend ahead of us is full of Christmas fun, and we are thoroughly enjoying this season!

Each year, we try to put up our main Christmas tree on Black Friday, then decorate it within the next few days. Some years, real life gets in the way, and it gets put off a bit longer, but we managed to stick with our plan this year. The tree was up on Black Friday, fully lit on Saturday after fixing some light issues (I will never buy prelit again), and decorated on Sunday!

Decorating our tree is one of our favorite family Christmas traditions. We always work together to get it done, then get to enjoy our hard work for the next month and a half. There is nothing like the glow of a Christmas Tree to make our home feel happier and cozier. That's probably why we have one in every room!

Monday, November 30, 2020

The End of the Fall-idays

The Lucky Few

2020 is most certainly a challenging year, but we had one of our best Thanksgiving breaks ever! I know it's contradictive, but this is the most relaxed AND productive I have felt in months. We spent 4 great days together as a family, and I'm not even bummed about it coming to an end on Tuesday morning, because we are all so excited to celebrate the Christmas season together!

Despite being an unprecidented year full of things we never expected to face, this year went surprisingly fast. Spring in quarantine quickly turned into a Summer at home, then my kids went back to school, cheerleading/football began, and Fall arrived. The busyness of (somewhat but not really) normal life took over, and before we knew it, Halloween passed and November was here. 

Before moving on to all things Christmas, I wanted to share my last Fall post. I figured it was easiest to lump the rest of the Fall-idays together. Here are the pictures from our annual trip to the pumpkin patch, and the quickest Thanksgiving recap ever!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Dylan's Sweet Sixteen Pandemic Birthday

Sweet Sixteen Pandemic Birthday

It seems like just yesterday that I was staring down at my firstborn child, who had just arrived in our lives, making us a family of three. I blinked, and sixteen years passed by. Now I'm staring UP at my son, and wondering when he slipped through my fingers and who, exactly, this young man is! I desperately tried to slow down time, but today, he celebrated his SIXTEENTH Birthday!

When I started this blog, Dylan was 3 and Lexie was 1. Now they are both teenagers, and we have three more children. Sometimes it's really hard to wrap my mind around that! It's even more difficult to accept the fact that my first two babies are not babies anymore, and are just a few years away from leaving home. That's the point of raising children, but I don't have to like it one bit!

2020 was a rough year for everyone. We try to make birthdays a big deal in our home, but this year we had 4 major milestone birthdays, and we weren't able to celebrate with parties. Sweet Sixteen is supposed to be a big deal, and we had big plans at the start of the year. Unfortunately, we weren't able to follow through with those big plans, but we made the day as special as we could for Dylan. It may not have been exactly what he expected, but he had a great 16th Birthday!

Monday, November 16, 2020

Ten Adorably Festive & Inexpensive Christmas Decor Target Finds


Ten Adorably Festive & Inexpensive Christmas Decor Target Finds

I usually have a firm rule of No Christmas Before Thanksgiving. This year is a different story! All the stress caused by 2020 is making me to get into the Christmas spirit early this year. Christmas music is already being played, the Christmas clothing is coming out, and Christmas decor is starting to show up in my home!

Over the past week, I picked up a few new Christmas home decor additions from Target. If you couldn't tell, I LOVE Target! My savings account - and my husband - doesn't love Target, but I'm very thankful for all the options Target has for a big family on a budget!

All of my finds are $5 and under because I love a good deal! Most are from the Target Dollar Spot, and can be used throughout Winter, too. If it's inexpensive, cute, and versatile, it somehow ends up in my cart. I'm not quite sure how that happens, but I sure do love what I brought home!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A Week In The Life - Halloween Edition

Big Family Blog

For as crappy as 2020 has been, it has gone by surprisingly fast! It's hard to believe that October is already over, and we're in the midst of the holiday season. I absolutely love this time of year, and I'm not going to let the pandemic stop me from enjoying it!

We filled the last week of October with some fun Halloween activities. We went to the pumpkin farm (post coming), carved pumpkins, went Trick or Treating with friends, and went to a small party. A few of our regular traditions had to be canceled, but I'm very thankful for a fairly normal Halloween week!

Now that Halloween is behind us, we're focusing on Dylan's 16th Birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. November is going by so fast! We're just trying to slow down enough to fully enjoy the holiday season!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

What We REALLY Want You To Know About Down Syndrome

Down syndrome

Down Syndrome Awareness Month has come to an end. Most people are aware of Down syndrome, but the majority of people don't understand exactly what it is. So many people still view it as a tragedy or something to fear. What they can't allow themselves to see is that a person with Down syndrome does have differences - just like any other person - but they truly are like every other person on this planet...just with an extra chromosome!

I advocate for Liam and his peers through inclusion. I share about life with Down syndrome by simply sharing our family. Liam does what we do, goes where we go, and is very much an intricate part of our family unit and our community. Down syndrome is a part of him, just like his big blue eyes that are flecked with Brushfield spots or his joyful smile, but we refuse to let it define him.  

I spent the month of October advocating for Liam by sharing how he has impacted the lives of those around him. I have been advocating for over 7 years, but my ways have definitely changed. I used to share facts, but now I just let Liam and our experiences lead the way. I always share from my heart, so I will let Liam's siblings and grandparents tell you all about life with Down syndrome, before wrapping it up with a few things I really want you to know about Down syndrome.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Halloween 2020

Halloween 2020

2020 has been quite a year, and I really didn't think Halloween was going to be the same. As Fall began, and social distancing guidelines were still in place, I started to brainstorm alternative ways to celebrate. I didn't have to worry too much. Trick or Treating was still on where we live, and the community came together to make it extra special for the kids!

This Halloween wasn't filled with the usual amount of activities, and hand sanitizer was a staple while Trick or Treating, but it went surprisingly well. Actually, I said I preferred the C-vid Halloween! Everyone was in their driveways, extra festive candy tables were set up, everyone was just HAPPY to be out, and it was much more efficient!

There are stressful moments every single day in a big family household, and Halloween was no exception. I was a bit bummed that Dylan went off with his best friend and his girlfriend, but they made a surprise appearance later, and it made my night! Overall, it was a great Halloween, made even better due to the fact that it was on a Saturday! Here's how we celebrated...

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Weekly Review

Life with littles

As October nears an end, we're back to our typical level of busyness! We're just not seeing as many people as we typically do, and life does look a lot different than last year. My kids are still going to school in person, and participating in some activities, so that keeps us going!

This past week was filled with school, time spent outdoors, time spent with our quarantine circle, and cheerleading. Fall was in its full glory with beautiful colors and 80 degree days, and I LOVED it! Then it all came to an end on Saturday. The temperature dropped 30 degrees, Lily's cheerleading season came to an end, and the trees lost most of their leaves.

And here we are, in the last week of October! We jumped straight into Halloween week. I'm not overly bummed about the beauty of Fall coming to end, because it's officially the holiday season, and we're here for it! It might look a bit different than previous years, but we're excited to celebrate Haloween, Dylan's 16th Birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Favorite Finds of the Week - Sam's Club & Aldi


Favorite Sam's Club and Aldi finds of the week!

Confession: I love shopping...but I love a good deal even more! I even love to shop in a mask! With 5 growing kids, we have to shop smart, search for deals, find things that work well for our family, and add extra money to the weekly budget to allot for clothing, household necessities, and gifts.

I frequently share my finds on Instagram, but got away from sharing them on the blog. Sometimes I only bring home a few things other than groceries, while other weeks are a bit heavier in the extra stuff department. (This week, we have a birthday.) I decided to transition my finds back to the blog again, in addition to sharing on social media. I love discovering new things on social media, and love sharing mine as well!

My weekly shopping trip is an undertaking with 7 people in my family. I also shop for my neighbor each week, and occasionally grab things for my parents. I always stop at Sam's Club for the bulk items (we go through a LOT of food), Aldi for the rest of our groceries, and I rotate between Walmart and Target for the extra grocery/household items that I can't find at those stores. Every so often, I stop at a different store, but most of my finds come from Amazon, Target, Aldi, and Sam's Club. This week, I'm sharing my favorite Sam's Club and Aldi non-food finds!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Long Time No See

Big Family Blog

Hello, strangers! It has been a hot minute since the last time I really blogged about US. Back to school, a family vacation, a busy cheerleading schedule, a husband working from home, and juggling life and 5 kids takes up every single minute! 

I miss blogging so much, so I'm going to attempt to get back into it. I can't make promises anymore, though. This stage in our lives is just too busy right now, and my number one priority is spending time with my family, especially since my kids are growing up so fast. Guilt over not being able to put the time into writing has consumed me, but I refuse to let myself feel that way.

So here I am. I will write when I can. Sometimes I'll be able to blog more, while some weeks might be silent. I have so much to catch up on - Lily's birthday, Liam's birthday, our awesome beach vacation - as well as some new topics I want to tackle. For now, here's a look at life lately...kind of a reintroduction since we're pretty much strangers now!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Supporting Kids Health With Gut & Immune Supplements

Parenting Blog

I received this product for free from Moms Meet in exchange for my honest review. Compensation for this post was provided and this page may contain affiliate links.

Health and wellness is a regular part of my family's daily routine. Although we focus on a healthy diet and daily exercise, we boost our immune systems with vitamins and supplements. Right now, my kids are using Gut Connection Kids from Country Life!

Did you know that 70% of the immune system resides in the gut? That's why a balanced microbiome is so important! Gut Connection Kids is one of the first children's supplements to contain Epicor Whole Food Fermentate prebiotic which was clinically studied and shown to improve gut microbiome health.

Every child has unique needs, and it's definitely true with my five kids! Gut Connection Kids has a variety of formulas to support their growing bodies and individual needs. Several formulas have become a regular part of our daily wellness routine! Read on to find out what my kids are taking, and how you can win a supplement of your own to try!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The First Day of School - Going Back in Person!

The First Day of School

Last week, on Tuesday, September 8th, our kids headed back to school in person! If you read this post, you know the decision to send them was practically impossible to make, but we decided to give it a try. We are almost two weeks in, and so far so good. My kids were so excited to go back, and they actually enjoy going to school each day!

This year, we had two big changes. Dylan decided to go back to public school instead of continuing with cyber school. He missed high school a lot more than he expected he would! This is the first year that Lily and Liam are in the same building, and it won't happen again until Lily is in 11th grade and Liam is in 9th grade. Lily is so excited to be in the same school as her baby brother!

We're nearing the end of week two, and we're finally getting into a routine. It was a big adjustment after being home almost 24/7. I don't think any of us will ever take school for granted again. Dylan, Lexie, and Lily said it isn't even that bad wearing a mask all day. I think they're just really happy to get that small bit of normal back into their lives! (I absolutely agree!)

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Teaching Little Learners One Book At A Time

Raising Readers

I received these books for free from Moms Meet for my honest review. Compensation for this post was provided, and this post may contain affiliate links.

Coen has been in quarantine for 1/3 of his life. ONE THIRD. There are so many valuable learning experiences he missed out on over the past 6 months, like visits to the library, having hands-on experiences at museums, exploring favorite spots in our city, and discovering animals at the zoo. One thing he did not miss out on, however, was reading. At 17 months old, Coen absolutely loves books, and happily flips through books every single day!

During those 6 months of social distancing, Coen flipped through every children's book in our house (and we have a lot) from cover to cover. We read to him multiple times a day, but lately, it seemed like it was the same books on repeat. We also had to remove some books from his collection, because he was ripping the pages. It was time to update his bookshelf with some sturdy board books that would pique his interest!

The Priddy Books Early Learning Collection arrived at the perfect time! Priddy Books, who is currently celebrating their 20th anniversary, publishes unique books for babies, toddlers, and young children that help boost their development. We already own quite a few beloved titles from their Alphaprints series, Touch and Feel Series, and See Touch Feel series, so we were excited to add some new favorites to our collection!

Children's Books

Friday, September 4, 2020

The Impossible Back To School Decision

The Impossible Back To School Decision

2020 was a year of firsts for so many of us. It was a year full of making impossible decisions, and doing things we never imagined we would have to do. Like most parents, the back to school decision weighed heavily on our minds for so many months. Do we send our kids back to school, do we opt for virtual learning, do we enroll all of our kids in cyber school, or do we just start homeschooling?

It was truly an impossible decision to make. We weighed the pros and cons of every choice we were offered, and nothing seemed right. We changed our minds multiple times, and didn't really confirm our decision until a few weeks ago. The 2020-2021 school year is going to be even stranger than this past school year, but the impossible decision has been made. 

On Tuesday, our four older kids are going to be starting school in person, five days a week. It was not a decision that we made lightly, considering we have a child who has extra needs. We plan to reassess our decision at the end of each week, and we fully expect more curveballs to be thrown at us over the next 9 months. All we can do is mask up, continuously remind our crew of proper hygience during a pandemic, stop second guessing our decision, and prepare to face every possibility throughout the school year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Happy "Lucky Seven" Liam!


Down syndrome blog

When Liam was born, he gave us the surprise of our lives! It's hard to believe 7 years have passed since that life-changing moment. The years flew by, and here we are celebrating our extra special son's 7th birthday!

As I searched through my blog to find pictures from each of Liam's birthdays, tears streamed down my cheeks. We have come so far since the moment Liam stared into my eyes and let me know that he had Down syndrome. We didn't celebrate his actual birth day, so we try to make each of his birthdays just a bit more special to make up for it!

Liam Dayne was born on August 18th, 2013, at 1:58 PM. He was 7 lbs 11 oz and 20 1/4 inches. He was rocking an extra chromosome that we didn't know about. His birth was unique, and incredibly emotional and unexpected. Liam is our light and our joy, and today, we celebrate 7 amazing years with him!

Monday, August 17, 2020

An Easy Way To Give Your Immune System a Natural Boost with Sambucol


Big Family Blog

I received this product for free from Moms Meet to review. Compensation for this post was provided and this page may contain affiliate links. 

If this was a typical year, we would be getting ready to head back to school, and starting to boost our immune systems for the influx of germs. But really, there's nothing typical about this year, is there? Instead, we're doing what we can to stay healthy, and preparing ourselves for the unexpected...because the unexpected just keeps hitting us in 2020!

Health and wellness has always been a part of my family's daily routine. We eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, exercise daily, and (try to) get enough sleep each night. We also take vitamins and supplements each day to fill in any gaps. 

We haven't changed much in our wellness regimen this year, but our lifestyle sure has changed! Remote learning, cleaning our home and washing our hands more often, mandatory mask wearing, social distancing...every morning I wake up and think, "Is this really happening?!?"  Unfortunately, it is, and it has made me more focused on maintaining my family's good health. Thankfully, there's an easy way to boost our immune systems!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Last Days of July

Large Family Blog

I can't believe July is over, and the first day of school is just weeks away! The pandemic might have put an end to all our usual fun Summer activities, but time isn't slowing down one bit. After 4 months of social distancing, we managed to cram some fun into the end of July!

During the last ten days of July, we spent a lot of time outdoors, celebrated a birthday, reinstated family hikes, and jumped back into a busy cheer schedule. With the exception of wearing a mask in public, life started to feel a bit more normal. It is such a welcome feeling!

July was a fun month! (It was definitely more exciting than the previous three months combined!) I shared the first half here, and here's how we spent the remainder of the month...

Friday, August 7, 2020

Fun Target Dollar Spot Finds For The Upcoming (Home)School Year


We are 3 1/2 weeks away from the first day of school, and we still haven't chosen a schooling option. It's a decision that has been taking over my thoughts every waking hour for months. Nothing feels right, and there are no good options for my family. I have absolutely no idea what to do, but that's another topic for another day!

This past school year taught me to expect ANYTHING to happen! I never expected to enroll a child in cyber school, and I never expected schools to close abruptly in March. There was no closure this past school year, and this upcoming school year is going to be unlike anything we've ever experienced. Whether we choose going to school 5 days a week, live streaming classes 5 days a week, cyber school, or homeschooling, I wanted to be prepared, so I stocked up on supplies at my go to - the Target Dollar Spot! 

I wouldn't be surprised if we all ended up learning from home again at some point this school year, but if that doesn't happen, I'll still support in-school curriculum with learning activities at home. Plus, I'll be working with Coen at home in the near future, and I use a lot of items for at home therapy with Liam, so nothing will go to waste. (Remember my Target Dollar Spot busy bags? They are one of my most popular posts on here and on Pinterest, and we still use them every week!) 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Lily's 9th Birthday Interview & Photoshoot

Birthday Interview

We are back from Lily's 9th Birthday celebration! We had a great time, and found a new favorite tradition to add to our list. I will be sharing our little adventure later this week, but first wanted to honor Lily's wish to share her birthday interview!

My kids love answering the questions for their birthday interview each year! It's fun to see how much their answers change from year to year, and compare their answers to their siblings' answers. I didn't realize how much Lexie and Lily had in common until I copied Lexie's 13th Birthday interview, and changed the answers for Lily!

Lily had a wonderful 9th Birthday despite the pandemic changing all of our original plans. She wanted to answer these questions the night of her birthday, but we were all exhausted. Instead, she answered them last night, and I promised I would share them today. So here is Lily at 9 years old...

Monday, August 3, 2020

Happy 9th Birthday, Liliana!

Parenting Blog

She arrived on a warm August morning, as the sun was rising over Pittsburgh. What I remember most about that day was how still, how silent, how calm, and how beautiful that morning was. Not a sound was heard in labor and delivery, as she took her first breath. Her arrival was peaceful, as if she had always been with us. 

As of 7:24 this morning, Liliana is 9 years old! I truly can't believe 9 years have gone by since her birth day. Lily is a beautiful, smart, loving, funny, strong, and confident kid. She is so sweet and unique, and has the ability to capture the heart of everyone she meets. 

Lily had her heart set on a party with her friends at a skating rink, followed by a big family party this year, but hello, pandemic. She was so bummed, so Grant and I worked extra hard to give her a socially distanced birthday celebration that she will always remember. We can't wait to celebrate our beautiful girl when she wakes up later this morning! For now, here's a look at Lily's birth day, followed by each birthday she celebrated. She grew TOO fast!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Just Another Pandemic Birthday

Big Family Blog

Since the pandemic started, both Grant and I have had birthdays. It's not really that big of a deal for us, because once you pass the age of 21, birthdays are just...meh. And we are CERTAINLY over the age of 21!

We haven't had much luck with birthdays and birthday parties for our kids, though. Lexie and Coen's birthdays were just before social distancing began, but their party for their 1st and 13th birthdays was planned for the week the stay at home order was issued. We hoped to have it later, but the pandemic and social distancing is still ongoing. Now Lily and Liam have birthdays in August, and it isn't looking promising for them, either! I just hope it's somewhat better in time

The latest birthday was Grant's 41st birthday on Friday! We didn't have our usual date night or big gathering, but he said it was still a great day. Plus, he got a 4 day weekend out of the deal...now that's an extended birthday celebration!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Simple At Home Learning Activities for Young Kids of All Abilities

Simple At Home Learning Activities for Kids of All Abilities

As the new school year approaches, there are big decisions that need to be made! Whether you choose in school learning, virtual learning, cyber school, or traditional homeschooling, it isn't a decision that is going to be made lightly. Thoughts about the upcoming school year have been keeping me up at night for weeks!

Truthfully, I don't want to be a homeschooling mom, but the reality is that I will probably have to be one to some extent this year. I have a child who has Down syndrome, and with it comes extra needs to consider. There are lots of options for the upcoming school year, but none of them are ideal for Liam. No matter what I choose, Liam loses. Our country is barely prepared to educate neurotypical students in a pandemic, so students who have extra needs just get lost in the process. 

I don't really think I'm poorly equipped for homeschooling. I already boost my kids' educations with at home learning activities. I just don't want the pressure of juggling four educations on my own again. Liam thrives in school, and virtual/online learning and therapy was a nightmare this past Spring. I quickly learned that he learns best through play and hands on activities, so I jumped ship halfway through virtual schooling, and went my own way with his education. Although no decisions have been finalized yet, I'm prepared to do that again this school year. If you're with me, maybe some of these ideas will help you out in the weeks/months to come!

Monday, July 20, 2020

July Happenings

Large Family Blog

July is halfway over. We are still social distancing, and we have officially surpassed the point of boredom. This too shall pass...that seems to be my motto these days! 

July is feeling a bit more normal in some ways. We went to a graduation party...without the littles. We celebrated the 4th of July with a few close friends who are at the same level of social distancing as we are...AKA working from home and not going anywhere. And we're spending our afternoons and evenings in the pool...even though it's a 2 foot inflatable pool in our backyard!

I'm sure the rest of the month will pass by quickly. We're going to reinstate our weekly family hikes, Grant's birthday is on Friday, cheerleading is supposed to start at the end of the month, we're going to try to plan a beach vacation for September, and we have big decisions to make about school. I just wish this was a typical July full of fun outings and excitement over upcoming birthdays, reunions, and family vacations. But really, there's nothing typical about this July...

Friday, July 17, 2020

3 Can't-Put-Them-Down Books That You Must Read This Summer

3 Can't-Put-Them-Down Books That You Must Read This Summer

Before I had kids, I read a book every 1-2 days. Then I had a baby. And another baby. And another and another and another! Needless to say, my free time for reading was GONE, and I was lucky if I was able to get through a few books a year!  

One good thing about social distancing, is that I suddenly had a little bit of extra time, because I'm not constantly driving kids around. I'm not reading a book every day or two, but I am going through at least one book a week now! I have a long list of books that I wanted to read, so I have been checking those off of my list. 

Most of the books I've read were really good, but three recent ones stand out. I know just how hard it is to find time to read when you're a busy mom, so I narrowed my much longer list of recent favorites to a list that's actually doable! One is a bestseller that's being made into a movie, one is fast paced and full of twists, and the last one has a slow build to a twist that I never saw coming. All three made the list, because I could not put them down!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Scenes from the 4th of July

The 4th of July

The 4th of July is one of our favorite holidays! Due to current circumstances in our country, however, we weren't able to fully celebrate the day like we usually do. We tried our hardest to make the day as normal as possible for our kids during this very abnormal time period! 

This 4th of July, there was no pool to swim in or parade to go to. We were unable to have a big picnic. Masks accessorized our traditional red, white, and blue. The day certainly lacked its usual oomph, but we still had fun! 

We were able to enjoy a long 4 day weekend. We enjoyed sleeping in and staying up really late. It was hot - SO HOT - but we spent hours outdoors. We laughed, we played, we ate, and we were together. The 4th of July ended up feeling like an ordinary Summer day at home...just with fireworks!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Most Boring June Recap Ever! (But the pictures are cute!)

Baby Photography

Happy July! Can you even believe it's July? It feels like June went by in the flash, but it also feels like we're on the millionth day of Summer Break. (Who can relate?

The month of June is typically exciting for us! It's full of end of school year activities, the last day of school, dance recitals, the first day of Summer Break, going to the pool, going to playgrounds and the library, and weekend parties with friends. This year, June was nothing like we expected!

Sure, we had a last day of school...at home. We had a first day of Summer Break that didn't feel any different from the three previous months. A car almost hit our house, so there's that. We celebrated Father's Day. AND...that's about it! June 2020 was most definitely our most boring June ever, but I'm committing to a recap!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Social Distancing Through Summer with a Bajillion Kids

Social Distancing Through Summer with a Bajillion Kids

2020 has been quite a year! It was looking so good for the first 2 1/2 months, then it all went downhill from there. Just when things started looking up, the uncertainty hit again! After 3 full months of social distancing, we're now facing a very monotonous Summer of continued social distancing.

We have been very lucky where we live, because we haven't had many cases. In a sense, I feel like our community is sheltered, and doesn't understand the impact this virus is having around the rest of the country. Our state acted quickly with mandatory social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines, and I believe it helped protect us. A few weeks ago, we moved to the "green phase" with fewer restrictions, and now cases are rising again all over the country. Coincidence? I think not!

My family never really stopped practicing social distancing, but we were starting to cautiously spend time with some family and friends who are living similar social distancing lifestyles. Now, neighboring counties are starting to reinstate some restrictions, and I have a feeling we're next. The little hope I had for a "normal" Summer with our kids is rapidly disappearing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Why We Opted Out Of Extended School Year

Why We Opted Out of Extended School Year (ESY)

When Liam was born, we were introduced to a whole new world, and a whole new lingo. IFSP, IEP, LRE, and ESY became everyday words for us. Just like any other child, having a child with extra needs can be difficult at times, and navigating the school years is probably the most stressful thing to deal with!

From birth until age three, children who have special needs are given an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), which helps the child with development, and helps the family with services they need to support them. We live in Pennsylvania, and Liam qualified for Early Intervention. He received weekly therapy from three different therapists within our home until his third birthday, then transitioned to the preschool years with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Suddenly, we had to stress over LRE (Least Restrictive Environment), Inclusion, and ESY (Extended School Year). 

When you have a child who has extra needs, so many questions fill your head. Am I doing enough? Am I overwhelming my child? Am I making the right decision? What is the RIGHT answer? I know I tend to stress over every single decision I have to make, and I know I'm not alone. Sometimes you just have to weigh the pros and cons, and go with your gut. YOU know your child best!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Celebrating Father's Day 2020

Big Family Blog

Happy Father's Day to all the amazing dads! Our celebration today was a bit different from previous years due to continued social distancing. The world is in chaos, but we took a break to spend the day celebrating the awesome dads in our lives!

Grant is my co-ringmaster, and I couldn't run this circus without him! Parenting five kids, including a child with extra needs and a clingy baby is not easy. He always said he wanted one, maybe two, kids, but he wrangles the chaos quite well!

My own father has always been, and will always be, my rock! I always thought he was the best, but when I see him interact with my kids, I realize that he's an even better Papa. My kids adore him, and the feeling is mutual. All I could think about today was how blessed we are to have him in our lives! 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Five Favorite Aldi Finds Of The Week

Favorite Aldi Finds

I'm going to be completely honest - I avoided Aldi for so many years! Family members and friends would tell me how great it was, but I refused to try something different. One of my best friends finally dragged me to Aldi for gluten-free snacks after Liam was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and from that moment on, I was hooked!

I absolutely love Aldi now! Prior to the pandemic, I stopped in once a week, but now I go every other week. I still shop at other stores, but I get at least half of our groceries from Aldi. Shopping there for a big family truly saves us so much money each week, and we have found so many foods and snacks that we love. There are always some fun extras that come home with me, too!

It has been a while since I shared a favorites post, but this one was inspired by my fun finds this week. I ran to Aldi for vanilla almond milk, tea, and popsicles, and came home with so much more! (Isn't that how it always goes?)

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Last Day Of The Strangest School Year Ever

Social Distancing School Year

If this had been a typical school year, we would have had our last day of school on Friday. The kids would have headed off to school that morning full of excitement. They would be anticipating the fun Summer ahead of them, but also a bit bummed to say goodbye to friends and beloved teachers. Once those tears were shed over the last goodbyes, they would have wiped them away, and we would have celebrated after everyone was home. We would have taken the traditional last day of school picture, where you can just SEE the excitement on their faces, and kicked off Summer Break with ice cream and summer gifts. But nothing about this school year was normal!

Instead, the last day of school as the knew it was March 13th. It ended so abruptly. Their belongings were left behind, and they didn't even get a chance to say goodbye. As they left school on that ordinary Friday, they had NO idea that their lives were about to be turned upside down. Students, teachers, and parents were thrown into unknown territory, and everybody's limits were tested over the next three months.

When social distancing first began, I think we all believed that life would be back to normal within a few weeks. But as the weeks ticked by, we began to lose hope, and sure enough, traditional schooling was done for the school year. Although there are so many worse things in life, I told my kids that it was okay to feel sad about the abrupt end of the school year. I have three kids who love school, and they were in the midst of wonderful school years with wonderful educators. They spent three long months missing their teachers and friends. Liam didn't have an open house or an art show. Lexie didn't have her Spring chorus concert or Medieval Fair. Field Trips and Field Days were canceled. The last few exciting weeks of the school year never happened. Yearbooks and class shirts never got signed. There was absolutely NO closure, and that's a tough thing to process!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Love and Kindness Begins At Home

Teaching Children Love and Kindness

I love. I love fiercely and I love unconditionally. My family taught me to love others, no matter their race, gender, religion, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. They taught me to always be kind and respectful. They also taught me to speak up when something is wrong. Love and kindness filled my childhood, and I carried that with me as I grew. Now I put my all into raising kind, loving children, because it is my duty as their mother. Love and Kindness begin at home.

There is so much hatred surrounding us right now. It is weighing heavily on me, and I simply can't understand how or why people feel this way. Sometimes I just want to run away from it all, but I know I have to do my part to help change the world: to speak up, to speak out, to do better, to be better, and to teach my kids to always be GOOD human beings. 

I traded writing for personal reflection over the past few weeks, and also immersed myself in research. I was always a "neutral" person who did everything I could to ease tensions, and help people get along. I avoided serious topics like the plague. But now, more than ever, I need to lift up my voice with so many others. I'm still kind. But I will speak up about injustice. I will speak up about how change needs to occur. And I will speak up about how important it is to start that change within your home, with yourself and with your own family.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Capture The Everyday Moments

The Lucky Few

"We Take Photographs As A Return Ticket To A Moment Otherwise Gone." -Katie Thurmes

I love taking pictures! Although portraits are my specialty, I love to capture the ordinary everyday moments, too. I take pictures daily on both my DSLR and iPhone, but only share a small fraction of the pictures I take. Life has been so boring for the past few months due to the quarantine, so instead of sharing the continuous loop of each day at home in a weekly recap, I'm going to share my favorite DSLR photos, month by month, over the next few weeks!

We are in the midst of a massive project right now. Between our project, homeschooling, and everyday life, I planned to skip blogging completely this week, but here I am with a few extra minutes. Sure, my little kids might be refusing to sleep, but I'm going to take advantage of this time while they are mesmerized by Moana for the billionth time! (Just keeping it real!)

After months of social distancing, and days of extremely hard work, I am exhausted mentally and physically. I have so many things I want to share, but I only have the energy to share a few of my favorite pictures right now. I'm going to start with February, make my way through March, April, and May, and hopefully by the end of it, life will be somewhat normal so I can get back to weekly recaps!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Life At Home 24/7

Big Family Life at Home During the Pandemic

As we head into the gazillionth week at home, life still seems so surreal! Nine weeks ago today was our last "normal" day, but as the day came to an end, we began to realize that life as we knew it was changing fast. I still can't seem to grasp the concept that THIS is our life now. 

Our area wasn't hit hard at all, so the quarantine seemed very strange, but we are slowly starting to open up. A lot of restrictions, like wearing masks in public, are still in place, and many people will continue to work from home for months to come. School is nearing an end, and at this point,  I am honestly praying that kids are able to return in the Fall! Truthfully, Welcome to the Sh*&show is pretty much our home motto these days!

I can't seem to bring myself to refer to this as our new normal anymore, because NOTHING about this is normal. We are getting by, and I am so thankful that my family and I are healthy and safe in our little bubble, but I still feel sadness over how everyday life came to an abrupt end. At this point, I just want this all to be over, and I want to return to life as we knew it. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Socially Distanced Mother's Day

Big Family

When social distancing began, I didn't think we would still be in "quarantine" for Mother's Day, yet here we are! Truth be told, it didn't matter where we were today, as long as we were able to celebrate motherhood. I spent the day with the five beautiful kids who call me mom, and had a short visit with my own mother. The day wasn't perfect, but it was exactly how it was supposed to be during this stage in life!

I sometimes have a difficult time letting go of the concept of perfection, but as I get older, I'm learning. Mother's Day is not supposed to be filled with one picture perfect moment after another. Motherhood is incredibly beautiful, incredibly emotional, incredibly challenging, and incredibly rewarding. Motherhood is both perfect and messy at the same time, and it makes sense that Mother's Day will be the same way. The trick is to focus on the moments that are so good that they will take your breath away, and be captured in your memory forever!

I never thought I would be raising five children. I always hoped for four kids, but I didn't think it would be my reality. My wish came true, along with something a little extra AND a bonus baby! Even on the days when raising children brings me to my knees, I still thank God for the gift of motherhood. There is so much pressure to be more than just a mom, but I consider it my most important task, and I am SO proud of my little humans!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Menu Planning: The Big Family Way

One of the many things my husband and I agree about is the importance of family dinners! It's no surprise that taking a family of 7 out to eat is incredibly expensive, so we save eating out for special occasions. Takeout can also add up very quickly, so we rely on menu planning for our almost daily family dinners!

I have been planning our meals for many years, and it's a way of life now. It just comes easily, and naturally! Before I started, I thought it was unnecessary, and I didn't think it would work for us. I can honestly say that it was life changing! I save so much time and energy, and we really save a lot of money compared to what we would spend eating out and getting take out once a week!

In our family, we have a picky eater (GRANT), a child who has Celiac Disease (Liam), a non-meat eater (me), and a baby who is now eating the same meals, but somehow, I manage to please everyone with each dinner. It really isn't difficult to juggle, and we usually end up with leftovers. (Hello, lunches!) After years of trial and error, I perfected my method for menu planning for a big family with dietary concerns, and I plan to share my tricks with all of you!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

How To Set Up a Simple & Fun Homeschooling Corner

Homeschooling space

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through, and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. Everything I recommend has been tested by me or my family!

We are on week five of remote learning, and we've finally found our groove! Just kidding...every day is a new adventure around here. Some days are really good, and some days are REALLY bad. (I didn't sign up for this!!!) The homeschooling corner, however, is my A+ project!

BSC (Before Social Distancing), I was a homeschooling mom to a 15 year old, and I didn't have much to do other than to oversee his education. Now, I'm overseeing four educations, actively assisting my 8 year old, fully supporting my 6 year old, who has Down syndrome, and "attending" daily circle time, and 5 additional teletherapies a week for him...all with a needy baby on my hip. The terms OCI, remote learning, Zoom meetings, and teletherapy are a part of my daily lingo.  (I repeat...I didn't sign up for this!) 

After the first few weeks of trial and error, it became apparent that we needed a homeschooling space. 3 of my 4 school-age kids will be returning to school in the Fall (PLEASE!), and Dylan only needs a laptop and a shelf for supplies, so I didn't want to do anything major. A homeschooling corner was the solution, and guess what? I think we'll keep it!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Celebrating the LAST First Birthday

Baby's First Birthday

On Sunday, March 8th, our last baby celebrated his first birthday! It was just days before life as we knew it came to a halt. Although we had to cancel his first birthday party due to coronavirus and social distancing, we were able to celebrate his actual birthday with our parents. It was a special day!

Coen's first birthday was probably the most bittersweet one we've ever celebrated. He is our last baby, so it was in our minds all day that this was the last time ever that we would be celebrating a first birthday for one of our children. That first year goes faster with each child that we add to our family, so we were reeling from the shock of having a 1 year old ALREADY!

That day, we introduced Coen to our favorite birthday traditions, and made sure he was properly spoiled. He was showered with attention and love, which is what makes birthdays so special. There is no doubt that our beautiful bonus baby is loved beyond measure!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

How We Teach Our Kids To Love and Respect the Earth

Big Family Blog

I think this year, on Earth Day, we're all appreciating our planet just a bit more! With nowhere to go, many of us are relying on the great outdoors to keep us busy. Sometimes I feel like this was Earth's way of saying, "I need a break!!!"

As a mom, I want my children to succeed and do big things. More importantly, I want them to be kind and respectful, to love equally, and realize they CAN make a difference. Kindness is not just for our fellow human beings. It also should be directed at the world we live in!

It's our job to teach our kids to love and respect our planet. We started teaching our kids early, but there is always work to do. As adults, WE are still learning, so we're in this together!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Currently...in Quarantine

Parenting Blog - Currently in Quarantine

We just began our sixth week of social distancing, and our fourth week of online learning! When this all began, I thought for sure we would be back to normal life within 2-3 weeks, and definitely 6 weeks tops, but as the days went by, I began to suspect that it would be much longer. Now, I'm starting to worry this is going to extend through Summer. 

Life sure is different now. We don't go anywhere, but our days are long and busy! Some days it feels like we've got this, and other days our emotions are all over the place. I'm beginning to think we could have our own reality show at this point: Quarantine with 5 Crazy Kids!

I have been sharing snippets of our everyday lives on social media, and so many people have told me that it either makes them laugh, or that they can relate so much. Yes, we have "normal" days and incredible moments with our sweet kids, but when you put 7 people together in a 4 bedroom house, things can escalate QUICKLY!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lexie's a Teenager! (13th Birthday Interview & Photoshoot}

13th Birthday Photoshoot and Interview

She was born on February 22, 2007 at 4:16 PM. She entered the world with just a few quick pushes, and when everyone in the room screamed, "It's a GIRL!" the tears streamed down my cheeks. She was exactly the baby I had been praying for to complete our little family. 

13 years went by far too quickly, and our baby girl filled our lives with so much love. With each passing year, I anticipated her to pull away from us more and more, as many kids naturally do, but her love for her family is fierce. She is still as close to us as ever, and our love for her is immeasurable.

Lexie is a rare gem. She is beautiful on the inside and out. She is incredibly mature, responsible, and smart, and is one of the kindest, most compassionate human beings I've ever met. She is truly an amazing person, and I have no doubt she's going to do great things. At 4:16 PM on February 22, 2020, Lexie officially became a teenager, and the next stage of her childhood began!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Why We Started Homeschooling Our Teenager

Why I Started Homeschooling My Teenager

Although I'm now homeschooling four kids, homeschooling is not a new concept to me. This past Fall, we pulled our then 14 year old son out of the public school he had been attending since Kindergarten, and enrolled him in Cyber School.  It was a bit of an adjustment for us, but it's a method that works well for him at this time. 

I wasn't quite ready to take full responsibility for educating a teenager, so we opted to have him do online schooling after doing our research and reaching out to other parents. Managing his education, making sure he gets PE and outside learning experiences, encouraging hobbies, and allowing him to lead a normal social life (until social distancing happened) is my responsibility. It wasn't a decision we made lightly. We really wished he could continue in our school district, but it just wasn't working for him, and we knew in our hearts that we had to make changes.

There are many factors that led us to this decision, which I will finally share with you. After several months, we are starting to see little steps in the right direction, so we know we made the right decision. Little did we know when we embarked on this path that we would have 3 other kids joining him at home months later!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The 10 Valuable Lessons I Learned From Easter in Quarantine

Big Family Blog

Easter Sunday was definitely a lot different this year! Although we missed hugging our family, getting back to the basics in quarantine actually turned out to be a positive experience. I love Easter, but I wasn't expecting much this year. Surprisingly, though, it turned out to be one of my favorite Easters, and it will certainly be a memorable one!

I think the biggest difference this year was TIME. We had time to enjoy our family traditions, time to enjoy the holiday, and time to focus on the important things. Despite not spending the morning at church, I feel like this Easter was the most meaningful Easter we've ever had as a family.

Easter activities might have been canceled, but Easter was still very much here! Easter is about celebrating the fact that He is Risen, and that can be done anywhere. When we took away our usual Easter hustle and chaos, we were able to focus on what we were truly celebrating, and spend time together as a family!

Friday, April 3, 2020

My Birthday in Quarantine During a Pandemic

My Birthday in Quarantine During a Pandemic

Today was my birthday. When I envisioned this birthday, I imagined it would be my usual day of driving my kids around, breakfast or lunch with a sibling or friend, going out for dinner with my husband, and a little party with my family in the evening. In reality, my birthday was much different. I never imagined I would be celebrating it in quarantine, during the coronavirus pandemic!

I would say that my birthday felt just like any other day, but that isn't quite accurate. Nothing is ordinary right now! Instead, it was just like every other day we spent social distancing. It was a bizarre birthday, but definitely one I will never forget!

There wasn't a doughnut breakfast, I didn't have to drive kids to school, I didn't meet a friend or sister for lunch, my husband and I didn't have date night, the presents came from my Amazon wishlist, and there wasn't a party. This was the first time I didn't get to see my mom on my birthday. Heck, I didn't even leave the house except to get the mail! Birthdays in quarantine, during a pandemic, are definitely out of the ordinary! Despite the circumstances, I still felt the love!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Snack and Play Edible Rainbow Sensory Bin

Snack and Play Edible Rainbow Sensory Bin

As we headed into week two of social distancing, my kids were bored, lonely, and snacking non-stop. I am so thankful that we have books, streaming services, and FaceTime, but this situation that we're facing is scary and uncertain, and it just plain sucks! My older kids can usually find something to do, but my youngest two needed something to capture their attention - enter the "Snack 'n Play" Edible Rainbow Sensory Bin!

Sensory play is a big part of our lives. I believe my kids should be given opportunities to explore, so I'm always coming up with new ideas for them. They love sensory bins, so I always try to create 1-2 new sensory bins each month for them. Now that we're stuck at home, I'm changing them up weekly. We have done edible sensory bins before, but it has been a while. Last week was the PERFECT time to set one up and introduce Coen to edible sensory bin fillers!

Needless to say, it was an instant hit! The kids had fun playing, snacking, scooping, and color sorting. Sensory Bins do not have to be complex. It really can be as simple as throwing in dry cereal and marshmallows, and giving them tools so they can play. Just doing something out of the ordinary can make it extra fun! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The First Official Day of Quarantine Homeschool


When my four older kids went back to school in September, I never would have guessed that I would be homeschooling one - let alone FOUR - kids by April! One child is homeschooled by choice, and the other three are now homeschooled by necessity. It's definitely a huge adjustment for all of us!

I started homeschooling Dylan in November. To be fair, he is a teenager, and he does Cyber School, so I'm not really teaching him. It's just my job to oversee his education, make sure he gets exercise, give him additional educational experiences, encourage a healthy social life, and make sure he reads and is exposed to the arts. (He is a talented artist, so no problems there!) I still have to share the reasons why we chose this for Dylan, but it has been a positive experience for him and for me!

Homeschooling is definitely not for everyone. While it works well for Dylan, it isn't the best option for Lexie, Lily, and Liam, who thrive in a public school setting. Lily and Lexie are very smart, and they are very involved in school activities. Liam has Down syndrome, which means he has an IEP. He has a wonderful team working to help him thrive - a general ed teacher, a special ed teacher, a para, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and a social worker. He receives all therapy at school, and has so much support. The three of them LOVE school, which is why this new homeschooling adventure is difficult for all of us. But with schools now closed indefinitely, it's now our new normal...

Monday, March 30, 2020

Social Distancing the Big Family Way

Big Family Blog

It's unbelievable how much life can change so quickly. Two weeks ago, I had no idea that our lives were going to change so drastically as I dropped my kids off at school on a perfectly normal Friday morning. Two weeks later, my family is finishing our second week in quarantine like most of the country, and "social distancing" is now an everyday term. 

Life still feels so surreal, but the threat of coronavirus is very real. We are missing our normal, busy life, and I'm realizing just how much we took for granted, but the safest place for my family right now is home. In two short weeks, so much happened. Our schools initially closed for two weeks, by the order of the governor, until March 30th, but it was extended until the Monday after Easter. (That being said, I doubt they will go back then since the virus just hit our county.) My husband ended up working from home, because his office is closed due to the governor ordering that all non-essential businesses close. And as of Friday, our county officially has a stay home order. No going out unless it's to exercise, go to the grocery store, check on family members, or (safely) drop off or pick up essentials from another home.

Our health and safety, and choosing to protect others by staying isolated, is the most important thing right now. Life in isolation is definitely tough, though. It's so difficult not seeing our family and friends, we are worrying about our health and the health of our loved ones, we are trying to explain to the kids about what's going on, and our kids are dealing with the disappointment over school being closed and so many important events and activities being canceled. There is so much uncertainty and fear right now, but we're just trying our hardest to stay positive during this incredibly difficult time!

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Busyness of a Big Family

Big Family

I didn't really consider us a big family until baby #5 joined our world. Now that we're officially one year into having five children, I get it. I understand exactly why there aren't very many big family bloggers out there!

The issue is time. Or more accurately, the LACK of time. My day starts at 6 AM, and I literally don't get a break from parenting until my head hits the pillow at 11 PM (or later). And really, it doesn't end. I have a big problem with turning my thought process off so I can sleep!

I miss blogging. SO much. It was a part of my life for so long. I don't want to give it up just yet, and I have so many posts waiting in my queue. I had big plans to post 2-3 times a week, and I was doing so well until the busyness that comes with big family life got in the way. See, over the past 4 weeks, a LOT has come up that threw us off track!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Arctic Sensory Bin for Indoor Winter Sensory Play

Arctic Sensory Bin - Indoor Winter Sensory Play

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through, and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. Everything I recommend has been tested by me or my family!

The calendar might say it's Winter, but Mother Nature is a bit confused! Our weather has been all over the place lately. Last Monday, it was 65 degrees and sunny, and on Friday, we woke up to 4 inches of snow. Just two days later, all the snow has melted, and it's raining and in the high 40's. No matter the weather, we decided to make the Arctic our theme for this month's sensory bins!

I'm sure you already know this, but we are big fans of sensory play here! So much that we actually have a sensory table in our living room, and allow the kids to engage in messy play. Play is such an important part of early learning, and there are so many benefits of sensory play. I would rather have my kids explore a sensory bin than sit in front of the TV or iPad!

This month, we have been talking about the Arctic and the animals that live there. Even when my kids are in school, I believe in learning within the home as well. In addition to creating an Arctic world for my kids to explore, we read books about Arctic animals (National Geographic Kids has some great options), and there are some fun documentaries on Netflix and Disney+ to help kids learn more about the Arctic!