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Review: Fazoli’s Italian Style at Home!

I’ve always enjoyed eating at Fazoli’s, and now I can make Fazoli’s snacks in my own oven! Fazoli’s recently introduced Fazoli’s Italian Snacks, which can be found in the frozen food section of your favorite supermarket!

I was given the opportunity to try two snack options from the new Fazoli’s line. I tried the Lasagna Fritta and the Six Cheese Toasted Ravioli, which I located at my town’s Walmart Supercenter.

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There are several other options, which I haven’t yet tried, the Mozzarella Cheese Mini Breadsticks, Chicken Alfredo Flatbread, and Parmesan Boneless Chicken. All of these options were not in stock at my store.

These snacks would be great for a party, by themselves for dinner with you’re in a snacking mood, or as appetizers for a dinner with friends! I went the snacky dinner route, myself!

I loaded up a cookie sheet with half of each variety.

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And in about 20 minutes, I was ready to rock!

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The toasted ravioli also comes with a marinara dipping sauce in a packet (not pictured, but delicious).

Here you can see the inside of the Lasagna Fritta and the Size Cheese Toasted Ravioli.

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NOM.

These are soooo good. Seriously yummy. The marinara sauce inside the Lasagna Fritta is zesty, exactly what you’d expect from Fazoli’s! It’s creamy, crunchy on the outside, and overall just delicious. The Six Cheese Toasted Ravioli is a perfect blend of cheeses and tastes great on its own or in the included marinara dipping sauce.

Anyone who is a fan of tasty Italian appetizers should pick up some Fazoli’s Italian Snacks so you can have Fazoli’s Italian Style at Home! Find out online where you can purchase them near you and tell Fazoli’s what you think of the snacks after you try them yourself! Learn more at FazolisSnacks.com!

Disclosure:  I was sent free full-price coupons to try this product on my own to facilitate my review. I was not paid for this post nor was I required to write a positive review.

No More Trash Bags in Foster Care!

TrashBagsAreNotLuggage Our family has some amazing people in our lives! One person I’d like to tell you about today is Tracy. She read on my Amazon Wish List this quote about kids in foster care:

In the world of foster care moves can happen quick…Often a trash bag ends up being the easiest way to pack and move in a hurry. What does that say to a child? (source:  Young Single and Adopting)

And after Tracy read that, she did something about it and bought two suitcases and two duffel bags (among other gifts!) and they were delivered to our house this week! The children who come to us in foster care might come to us with trash bags full of their belongings, but they will not leave with a trash bag!

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If you have suitcases or duffel bags in your home that are in great condition, please consider donating them to local foster care or children’s services agencies in your community! After checking into it, I found out that our agency has a nice stockpile currently but they will be doing another luggage drive in the late spring and I’m excited to help them raise awareness for that!

I don’t have much in the way of updates for you today. We are still waiting for a phone call or an email about A that will either continue our wait for her or open up our home to other placements. In the meantime, I’ve begun binge-listening to The Foster Parenting Podcast, which is an excellent resource for people just starting out or considering foster parenting!

Foster Parenting Podcast

Hurry Up and Wait

HurryUpandWaitIt has been an exciting time at our house since my last post! We completed our Foster Care Certification classes on Thursday, January 15th and then had our final pre-certification home visit on Monday, January 19th! After that, we waited for my husband’s background check paperwork to come back, which thankfully for him (because it was due to his “I’ll get it done…eventually!” mentality that caused a hold-up), was received by our worker the very next day. She then finished uploading all of the pieces of the paperwork and documents for our certification and completed our home study. It was sent off for the final stamp of approval, which came back the next day. All of that to say that our home is officially certified and “open” for foster care as of Wednesday, January 21st! The rooms are ready, we’ve been blessed by some incredibly kind gifts which I’ll share more about in another post, and our hearts are as “ready” as we feel we can be for the emotional rollercoaster ahead of us.

So why are we still waiting?

On the same day that our home study went off for approval, it also went to the social worker of a little girl who is waiting for a forever home via our state’s “Special Needs Adoption Program”…We’ll call her A. I found A’s photo listing on October 28th and since that day, I can’t get her out of my head. When I saw her that first time, I actually gasped. There’s something about A that has stayed with me, in my heart. I feel very strongly that we could be the family that she is waiting for.

The day I saw her listing, I contacted our certification worker and asked how the process goes for inquiring about for the SNAP program. I was told that when we got closer, if she was still waiting, we would pursue it. Almost three months later, she is still waiting, and I haven’t let it go.What happens now is that our home study is read through by this child’s worker, the worker’s supervisor, and an adoption specialist. They will evaluate whether or not we are a match for this child and if we are, they would offer the referral to us. At that point, we would have a conference and go through her history and decide if we are the right fit for her.

I’ve been keeping a little journal of important dates and thoughts throughout this process, so that if we are possibly matched with A and end up adopting her, she could read it. Here’s what I wrote last week:

“Sweet A, I hope you know that you are wanted. We wanted to be your family. Every day, we thought of you and wanted you here with us. I thought about you all the time and wondered where you were. I saw your name EVERYWHERE in these last days before our homestudy was finished – an author’s name, a dress pattern – you were everywhere and in my heart. You’re still waiting. You still need a family. I hope it’s us that you need. There are so many people praying for you. I hope you get the chance to experience being in a loving family. I know I’ll have no way to tell you if we don’t get your referral, but I want you to know that you are wanted. We wanted you.”

Until we hear back on our inquiry, we are “on hold” with our agency, meaning that they won’t send us any foster care referrals until we know whether or not we will be getting the referral for A. This period of being “on hold” might be another week or it could be a month or more. It’s one of those things where it could change very quickly — either in the positive, that we find out that we are moving forward, or the other direction and we get a foster placement right away.

You could say that patience is not one of my stronger virtues. I’m definitely struggling with not having any additional information to analyze. It’s entirely out of my control, which I’d better get used to. We want so desperately to follow God’s will and in this case, I believe He is saying “Just wait. I have something amazing coming, but you’ve got to trust me.”

So I’ll wait…I won’t necessarily be happy about the uncertainty and silence, but I’m trusting that He is leading us to something incredible.

And that’s where we are today. We haven’t chickened out, or changed our minds, we’re just being patient trying to be patient and listen to His leading.

Review: Levana Keera Video Baby Monitor

Levana Keera PTZ Baby Monitor

Levana Keera PTZ Baby Monitor

Over the years, I’ve used quite a few baby monitors. It’s safe to say that the technology used in monitors has definitely improved since their genesis several decades ago. Whereas you could at one time only hear garbled sound from your baby’s room, you can now see, hear, talk to, and comfort your baby from wherever in your house you may be!

I had the pleasure of receiving and reviewing the Levana Keera PTZ video baby monitor – a sleek monitor with lots of great features!

This baby monitor was introduced in 2014. Here’s how it arrived:

 

Here’s a quick rundown of the features of the Levana Keera PTZ Baby Monitor:

  • Smooth & Silent Pan/Tilt/Zoom Camera – The camera can be moved from the parent’s unit in almost every direction! No worries if the camera got slightly jostled – you don’t have to go back into baby’s room and risk waking her!
  • Touch Panel and Icon-Based Menu – You won’t need to fumble around in the dark, because the touch panel is lighted!
  • Record Video and Take Photos – Catch your baby doing something adorable? You can catch it in video AND photo forever!!
  • 24-Hour Battery Life (in PEEP mode) – When using the Power-on/off Energy Efficient Picture (PEEP) mode, your battery’s life will be extended but you’ll still be alerted if your baby makes a “peep”! (Get it?)
  • 2-way Communication – I can’t even tell you how much I love this. You can talk through the monitor to your baby! You can reassure your little one that you are near from the comfort of your bed!
  • Smart LED Communicator Ring – A colored, lighted ring on the parent unit lights up in different colors depending on the noise level in the baby’s room! Very helpful if you’ve got the sound down.
  • Invisible LED Night Vision – No irritating red lights in baby’s room!
  • Private ClearVu® Digital Signal – You can get a clear digital signal from up to 750 ft. away from the base unit! We tested this at my office (long story) and you can get a great signal so far away!!
  • Soothing Lullabies – You can play three different soft songs to baby’s room to soothe your little one back to sleep!
  • Expandable up to 4 Cameras – If you have multiple areas you need to monitor (multiple kids, play room, etc.), you can now do this from one parent unit!

My review unit came with two cameras, which I set up in the boys’ shared bedroom and in the playroom upstairs. I was able to find a location in each room that would give me excellent visibility of both spaces. keera_monitor_frontIt’s easy to get your monitors set up – using the control panel, you navigate to the connecting area and push a button on the bottom of the camera. It’s easy to toggle back and forth between different cameras.

I love having two camera units set up. My boys are very active, so you never know where they might be. This would be great for someone with multiple kids in different rooms. The parent unit is small (a great size – I’ve had some that were crazy bulky), has a little easel stand to keep it upright, and a fold-out antennae in case you need some extra range. At night, the picture wasn’t perfect (a little cloudy, in my experience) and the sound sometimes breaks up a bit.

All in all it’s a great monitor – absolutely loaded with features without being too much! It’s a great buy with a retail tag of $189.99 and you can add cameras for $109 each. You can purchase the Keera monitor on Levana’s website as well as other online retailers like Amazon, Toys R Us, Target, and Best Buy.

Disclosure:  I was sent a review unit to facilitate this post. I was not paid for my post nor was I required to write a positive review.

Preparing a Bedroom for Foster Care (Part 2)

Foster Bedroom 1Brandon and I have done more work since my last post, preparing a bedroom for foster care, and I wanted to share it with you! We are so excited – only 9 days until our home study will be finished! At that time, on January 19th, our home study will be sent to two places:  the person who puts the final stamp on it at our agency, at which point they will officially “open” our home and we could be called any time after that with a referral, and also to the caseworker of a child we saw on a photo listing back in October and want to learn more about.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since my last post!

We got the twin beds set up in the bedroom, which was a bit of a feat. We got them used from some very gracious friends, but had no assembly instructions and no information on the brand of the bed. Brandon was able to get them together though!

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As you can see, we still need to purchase one twin mattress, for the bed on the left, which we will purchase in the next few days. As a reminder, we chose gray because it goes with almost everything. So we will get comforters, throw pillows, and accent items once we know the age, gender, and likes/dislikes of the kids we will be receiving!

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We also put a fresh coat of paint on the walls!

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I hung up my Easy Daysies Magnetic Schedule, which I reviewed over a year ago. We’ve been told over and over that kids in foster care need a structure and need to see what the schedule looks like. I think this will be a big help!

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We got some more cute artwork for the room, another canvas from Big Lots, and this cute printable that I stumbled upon on Pinterest.

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I also worked on creating a little Welcome To Our Home Book, which I saw recommended on this blog. It’s something I’ll leave in the bedroom and can easily change the content based on the child and the information they need.

I also added this book holder, filled with lots of books, classic ones like Cordoroy, and also the many wonderful books we’ve received from friends and family that were on our Foster-to-Adopt Wish List! We are so thankful for our friends!

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Speaking of them, here are more gifts we received this week:

THANK YOU!

I got some great comments and input after my last post. Do you have any more suggestions or ideas for these rooms? I’d love to hear them!

Preparing A Bedroom for Foster Care (Part 1)

Foster Bedroom 1 It’s hard to believe, but if all goes smoothly the next few weeks, our home will be certified as a foster home by the end of the month! We have two more classes to complete and a few more T’s to cross and I’s to dot, but it looks like it’s going to happen, and SOON! I wanted to share with you how we’ve been preparing a bedroom for foster care.

With over a week off of work, I’ve been working on de-cluttering our house, particularly the extra bedroom, preparing it for foster care and for the kids that our agency will send our way! It is so exciting! This room has been many things over the years:  a nursery for Spencer, a shared bedroom for both boys, a “guest” room (though we never had a spare bed in there, just an air mattress – much to the chagrin of our guests!), and a game room. There have been several occasions over the years where we almost re-did it as a man cave for Brandon but it never happened and I guess there’s a reason for that! :)

We have some awesome friends that you’ll hear about in this post who have helped this room get outfitted for our new family members, whether those children stay for a week, months, or years. We are so grateful to these people and those who are surrounding us with prayer as we get ready for this new adventure! The first friends you’ll hear about are Jacob and Brenda, who work with us at our church. They are giving (GIVING!) us a set of bunk beds that their daughter hasn’t used! Those beds will be set up as twin beds tomorrow. You’ll see pics in Part 2!

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We decided to purchase gray bedding for the beds for the in-between stage. Gray is so chic (yeah, I said chic) and looks great with almost every color! So depending on the age and gender of the kids we have placed with us, we will get some decorative pillows and accents for the room – how cute will these look, paired with a hot pink, sky blue, or bright orange pillow set? Also, these blankets are super warm, and will work under a printed comforter that we’ll pick out with the kids.

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On the dresser, which had been upstairs in the bonus/play room (kind of randomly holding craft supplies), I have a little basket with some toiletries, new toothbrushes, an extra throw blanket, extra nightlights, and a few other things, including the book Maybe Days, which my parents gave us at Christmas.

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I don’t expect the kids to use hotel shampoos and soaps, I just want them to have something that is THEIRS right away and we will pick out their favorite scents and colors later. An awesome friend that I’ve never met in person, Jennifer, ordered some items from our Foster/Adopt Amazon Wish List — a Tracfone, which I’ve seen recommended for kids’ phone calls with their biological parents, and a box of individually wrapped toothbrushes! How sweet is that??

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I also found this cute little print at Walmart ($3.97!) and thought it was perfect for the room, with the gray and yellow!

Today we worked on peeling off the car decals we’ve had on the wall since Miles was little. Man those things are sticky! They also peeled off a lot of paint, so we’ll patch those spots this week. The final awesome friends that you’ll hear about today are Tom and Jenny, who saw that I wanted this wall print for the bedroom and said “GET IT! We’ll reimburse you for it and you can consider it an ‘open for fostering’ present!”

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Perfect, right? I have my eye on another print of the same size at Big Lots that says “So many of my smiles begin with you” to go on the other side of the window.

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This week we’ll be finishing up the beds and also my clothing stash. I have so many friends (Renee, Carrie, Rachel, and Angela) who have blessed us with hand-me-downs for the boys and now our future foster children! We have an incredible amount of clothes on hand — so much that I’m not sure where to keep them all and I was able to get together two bags and a big box of clothes to take to our foster care agency, who wants to start a clothing swap for their families!

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Been There, Done That foster parents, do you have any suggestions?



Guest Post: What Level Swim Class Is Right For My Child

Today I have a guest post from Kaitlin of An Apple Per Day! Enjoy and welcome her in the comments!

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When we started a family, I wanted to make sure my sons were well schooled when it came to swimming. I wasn’t sure how soon to start them in lessons, so I did some research. The lessons that are right depend a lot on the child – kids progress at different rates. I learned to watch my kids to see what would work for each of them.

How comfortable are they with water? One of my boys was a natural water baby. I could tell that from bath time. He figured out the joys of splashing fairly quickly. I knew his exposure to the water could progress fast. When he was six months old, I signed him up for a Mommy and Me class, and he was beaming with joy through the whole class.  I found some great resources with more information about swim lessons:

What if they hesitate? My second son was a lot more cautious when it came to the water. He wanted to investigate the

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bath, and even looked scared and cried the first few times we had to bathe him. I gave him a lot of reassurance and moved really slow. My instinct was that a Mommy and Me class would be too much stimulation all at once. I took the concept of lessons in a completely different direction with this son. My thinking was that if he feared the water and was exposed to it too quickly, it could be very damaging.

A slow introduction. When my second boy was about six months old, we began a very slow and patient introduction to the water. My husband and I took our son (in swim diapers) to the community pool. My husband held my boy, sitting in the shade back from the water. We sat there and let him look around and investigate everything. After he looked comfortable, I went in the water, and began laughing and splashing where he could see me. We did that for a short time, then went home. The next day, we did it all over again, for a short time. The third time, my husband moved a little closer. Soon my boy was watching me with a little smile on his face. He finally reached out for me, and I took him in my arms in the water. Things progressed pretty quickly from there.

Formal lessons. Once my boys were oriented to the water, when they were around 4 years old, we began with classes. The first ones were introductory and showed the kids how to do basic movements, survival skills and fundamental swimming concepts. When they were 6 years of age is when they had enough skills to begin a program that would teach them not only the swim strokes, but water safety and how to help others in an emergency. My first boy moved through to intermediate lessons as soon as he was the right age, but I had my more hesitant child repeat the beginning class, because he absorbed information in a different way.

Use the resources. When it was time to decide what lessons were right for my children, I didn’t try to guess, or figure that out on my own. I asked for help from a swim instructor at the school. He took each child in the water, worked with them for a few minutes, and gave me an assessment of which class would suit teach child. He was the one who recommended letting my younger boy see the beginning classes again, to better reinforce what he was learning.

My boys can both now swim and enjoy themselves in the water, because we made swim lessons a focus on our parenting world. It just makes me smile to watch them play in the pool.

Kaitlin

Kaitlin Gardner started An Apple Per Day to explore her passion for a green living lifestyle, and healthy family living. She and her husband have just moved to rural Pennsylvania, where they enjoy exploring the countryside to discover interesting and out of the way places. She is also learning how to paint watercolors.

Healthy Eating in 2015 with eMeals!

Happy New Year!

Like many of you, I’m starting the new year with lots of hopes and dreams for the days ahead; we have a lot happening in our family soon, and in order to stay on top of things and be my best self, I need to get better control of my health.

eMeals-Logo-Green-LargeSeveral years ago, I was introduced to eMeals, a meal planning service, which was at the time in its infancy. I loved the idea of having someone pick out meals for me, tell me exactly what I needed to buy! Our family used eMeals for awhile and it helped a great deal. We were more in control of our menu, we were eating healthier, and meal planning was less stressful!

I’m not sure exactly why we didn’t continue, but since that time when we first used eMeals, the service has grown and grown up, meaning they now have an app where you can see the recipes, create and customize a shopping list, and more! Their meal plans have expanded too! Now you can find a meal plan for most dietary needs! And their cost to users has remained low, so that you can keep your budgets intact while saving yourself time, money, and calories!

Here are some tips to get your family eating healthier in 2015:

  • Breakfast Counts! Start your morning off with lean protein and fiber for energy and essential nutrients that you need to get moving! Try to avoid eating on the run; meals together are an important part of family life.
  • Get Kids in the Kitchen! Before you sit down at the table together, let your kids help you prepare your meal. You can teach them about nutrition and healthy foods, and they’ll also get a little math lesson as they learn to measure!
  • Plan Ahead! This might be the most important tip of all. When you haven’t planned your meals, you end up in the drive-thru or spending your calories in ways you wouldn’t normally choose. Even spending 10 minutes at the beginning of the week to think through your schedule and meal options can help you choose healthier foods. Better yet? Why not let eMeals do the work for you?
  • Pack Your Lunch! As a working mom, I know how difficult it is to pack healthy lunches for your kids and yourself, but I know that I stay more “on track” when I brown bag it from home rather than getting lunch from a restaurant. I prefer to pack up leftovers from the night before, but salads in a jar are a great option, as well as wraps and sandwiches. To get my kids off of their PB&Js, I’m going to try making our own “uncrustable” sandwiches with meat and cheese with healthier sides.

Our family is jumping back into using eMeals in 2015 and I invite you to do the same! You can get a free 2-week trial to test-drive the service before you commit! Let eMeals help you make 2015 a healthier year for you and your family!

Do you have any meal-time or health resolutions for 2015? Share them in the comments below!


*Relationship Disclosure:  I am a member of the eMeals Blogger Network, post contains affiliate links

Listen-Read-Watch: December 2014

As I ease back into writing more frequently here at Playdate Crashers, I figured an easy thing to do that would update you on my state of mind and being these days is to tell you what things I’m listening to, reading, and watching. I’m a big consumer of media, whether on TV, the printed word, or the Internet, which you may or may not know about me. I consider myself somewhat of an early adopter but with the terrible Internet situation we’ve been in for several years, I’ve fallen behind on a few things. It’s nice getting caught up with the rest of society! Anyway, here’s my first installment of Listen-Read-Watch!

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Listen

I’ve been a podcast fan for many years. I listened to Pregtastic podcast while pregnant with Miles, Manic Mommies for awhile when I was a SAHM, and other shows from time to time. The week of Thanksgiving, I decided to give a podcast a try that I’d heard about somewhere on the Internet, probably BuzzFeed. So I downloaded the first episode of Serial on a day that I was home sick from work and was instantly hooked. I called my husband and said “You HAVE to listen to this first episode so that we can listen to the rest while we’re in the car traveling for Thanksgiving!” So we did.

If you’re not familiar with it, Serial is a podcast by the producers of This American Life. It’s a story told over multiples weeks/episodes. This is the first season and the story told by Sarah Koenig, the host, is a true crime story of a high school student, Hae Min Lee, who was killed one day after school in 1999. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of first degree murder but maintains his innocence while serving a life sentence in a Maryland prison. It’s fascinating and so easy to find yourself mesmerized by Koenig’s telling of this tragic story. You can get completely wrapped up in the details – was there a payphone at Best Buy? Was the Nisha call a butt-dial? Will we ever know if Adnan really did it? The last of the twelve episodes aired this morning, so if you don’t like to wait in between episodes, you can now binge-listen to them all at once on the website or via iTunes.

In addition to Serial, I’ve also been listening to various Serial-related podcasts (yes, podcasts about a podcast about a murder) for more analysis. These shows have made my work commute so much more entertaining and I’m going to miss it! I’m excited to hear what Sarah Koenig will do for Season 2 of Serial!

Read

In 2012, I had a goal to read 50 books, which I surpassed by about a dozen books. Last year I read 53 books, and this year I have read 30 books, with a few more in progress. It would have been more, but I picked some duds that I gave up on after a few chapters.

This year I read a mix of YA and Adult Fiction, with a focus on reading books before the movies came out this year. I’m currently reading The Circle* by Dave Eggers and Under the Dome: A Novel by Stephen King.

A few notable mentions of my favorites from this year:  Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (YA Fiction), UnDivided by Neal Shusterman (YA Fiction series-ender), and Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman (Memoir).

*If you click the above links and purchase from Amazon, I get a small percentage of the sale to support the blog!

Watch

With our new Internet, I’ve rediscovered my love for Netflix! Brandon and I have been watching Rectify (recommended for fans of Serial), Black Mirror (kind of like a rebooted Twilight Zone all about technology and society), and I’ve also been watching The Killing. Other than that, we’ve been watching Master Chef and Master Chef Junior in addition to Parenthood, Modern Family, and The Middle.

So that’s me, what about you? What are you listening to, reading, or watching these days? Do you have recommendations for me?

The State of the Blog Address

Once upon a time, I started a blog.

I had big plans for the blog and spent many hours devoted to it. It was my third child and I was determined that it would grow up into a big girl project with many readers and sponsorship deals.

Then one day I went back to work full-time. My kids were preschool and Kindergarten aged, and my job at a private school would allow us to spend the day “together” in the same building, but I would finally be contributing to our family’s income once again.

At the same time, our Internet service at our new home was all but nonexistant. “Wireless broadband” service in our area is a joke and while I still had thoughts I wanted to get onto screen, lengthy load times and snails-pace load times sucked the joy right out of my little hobby. While I still fulfilled the odd product review post (usually late…sorry!), that’s all this little project has been for over a year – impersonal, infrequently updated, and in desperate need of a redesign.

Then one day, a miracle occurred. Perhaps that’s an overexaggeration, but in my life, it was huge. Broadband Internet by way of Time Warner Cable finally came to our subdivision and Extreme Internet entered our home. Netflix was resubscribed, my browser updates finally downloaded, and my friends…I AM BACK!

So that’s where we are today. I’ve got a long list of posts I want to write and I finally have the capability of doing so again. We are planning to add to our family in 2015, so be prepared for posts about that. I still want to do product reviews when it seems right, and I desperately want a blog redesign.

The Playdate Crashers aren’t going away any time soon. There’s still playdates to be crashed.

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