DIY Sensory Toys – Pinterest Fails & Mommy-Made Winners

Sensory toys are all the rage these days on Pinterest and elsewhere on the internet. E had his first exposure to sensory toys at a great play date we went to a few months back. The group leader had all different kinds of sensory stations set up, including a bucket of corn starch (E’s favorite), a bubble machine, homemade finger paints, sensory boards, and marshmallow goo. Our little guy had so much fun at that play date that I decided to come home and make a bunch of sensory toys that he could enjoy any time.

I started with the idea of this sensory box, which was inspired by the sensory board at the play date. I liked the idea of putting the sensory activity into a small, portable object that we could bring with us when we are out at a restaurant, etc. I happened to have an empty craft cigar box lying around in one of my craft supply closets and it worked perfectly. I stayed up late one night looking through all of my craft closets for things to glue in the box. I was so excited to give the box to E the next morning, and was so happy when he loved it. πŸ™‚ It was really easy to make…just scraps of fabric and paper with varying textures and miscellaneous items I had in my craft drawers. I used super glue to hold everything in place.

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Next I made him a shaker that he loves using an empty tea tin, some coins and some medical tape. It’s not cute but he loves it! It is shown below in a basket with some more of his sensory toys. In his sensory basket, there are also some rubber sensory balls, a Kush ball, and the sensory bottles that I made.

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As I noticed that E was playing quietly and independently in his bedroom, I thought that would be the perfect time to finally photograph all of his sensory toys (this is something I have been meaning to do for months). As soon as he heard his sensory bottles shaking and making noise as I lined them all up for a photo, he came crawling around the corner so fast that he ended up in my photo. πŸ™‚

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From left to right, the bottles include:
1. Sequins and water (the sequins turned the water pink)
2. Water with green food coloring, body oil and miscellaneous beads and charms. This was a big Pinterest fail…I do not like how the body oil turned so cloudy. It may stay clear with some brands of body oil, but this is how it ended up looking with Avon Skin So Soft. E loves it though so I guess that is all that matters.
3. Water, blue food coloring, dish soap, and glitter. He loves this one.
4. Plastic rhinestones and water.
5. Plastic magnetic letters (from the dollar store) and beads.

I glued all of the bottles shut with super glue, but still make sure he only plays with these when we are keeping a close eye on him since he likes to try to chew on everything.

Next up is his sensory board. I made this using a small shipping box that I cut open and laid flat. I store it folded in half and it works out pretty well. It was quick and dirty assembly with duct tape, and not Etsy style pretty, but I could not care less. He loves the board, it didn’t take me long to make, cost me almost nothing, and that is all that matters to me. πŸ™‚ I used pieces of felt leftover from his room decorations, bits and pieces left over from my bathroom mosaic, carpet sample, miscellaneous beads and rhinestones, pipecleaners, popsicle sticks, and some leftover swatches of textured wallpaper, window covering, and drawer liner. Again, I used super glue to secure everything to the pieces of felt. Then I attached the felt with duct tape.

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Here is his absolute favorite, even after months of playing with it…the container of corn starch!
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Here are two that I saw on Pinterest that were huge fails. I made squishy bags with some little dollar store finds, blue hair gel in one and shaving cream in the other. I closed up the two freezer bags with duct tape. I thought he would love them, but he hasn’t shown much interest in squishing them. He just wants to chew on them and those teeth are dangerously sharp. I am putting these bags away for later, when he stops chewing on everything.

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Another sensory activity that E was crazy about was a small bowl of water with ice cubes. I have stopped doing this activity with him though since it has turned into a frustrating thing every time we are at a restaurant and he wants to stick his hands in everyone’s ice water. πŸ™‚ He makes a pretty big mess with his sensory play time, but the vacuum robot is great for cleanup. My husband is not a fan of the corn starch thing since it tends to get everywhere, but the robot is usually pretty good about getting rid of the evidence of the huge white mess before Daddy gets home. πŸ˜‰
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As with any homemade toy with small parts, be sure to only let your baby play with these while supervised so the small parts don’t turn into choking hazards! Also be sure that everything is properly adhered with strong glue. I like to arrange the parts in shapes so I immediately will be able to see if something is missing and I can grab it out of his tiny little hands. πŸ™‚

Valentine’s Day at the Queen Mary with Ehrmann Mixim Launch Party

Last week for Valentine’s Day, we had the honor of attending the Ehrmann Mixim Greek Yogurt launch party on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. The Queen Mary was transformed into the Love Boat for the event, all lit up in pink. After growing up in the Long Beach area, I have been to the Queen Mary many times in my life and I have never seen her look so beautiful as she looked all dressed up in pink!

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We started off the night in style on the pink carpet! So fun. πŸ™‚
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Then we were brought up to the VIP lounge, where the tastings were held.

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If you read my blog regularly, you know that I have had to unfortunately cut dairy out of my diet temporarily while I am breastfeeding our baby since he was having an allergic reaction to cow’s milk proteins, even via my milk. We are hoping that this will only be temporary! So, until I can have dairy again, my husband was more than happy to be my taste tester. πŸ™‚

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I actually remember that when we were on our vacation in Germany a few years ago, Ehrmann yogurts were part of our picnic lunches that we were packing up on most days (Ehrmann is a family owned company from Germany). It is so exciting to see them launch here in the U.S. My husband absolutely LOVED the Mixim yogurt! He said it was smooth and creamy, and not tart like some other Greek yogurts he has tried. We loved that there are two options for the toppings, each in their own individual compartments in the adorable heart shaped containers. I am allergic to artificial food dyes, so I was really happy that there are no dyes in any of the toppings! Before our son was born, I used to get so frustrated with constantly checking for artificial dyes in yogurt ingredients. Thanks for keeping things natural and healthy, Ehrmann!

For any fellow photographers who may be reading this…don’t freak out that something is wrong with the white balance of my photos. πŸ™‚ The VIP lounge was all lit up with these pink lights, making it fun and festive.

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Later in the evening, Ehrmann made a donation to the Children’s Heart Foundation, $1 for every photo that was uploaded to social media with the hashtag #miximlove. I loved that they picked a great charity to help with this event!

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My silly guys had fun playing around with the Mixim staff with the lit up heart balloons! πŸ™‚
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And then, the cutest thing happened! Recently, I did a birthday photoshoot for this adorable little baby girl, who is the daughter of my good friend. My baby boy E came along for the photoshoot and fell madly in love with the little girl that day, as you can see below (more at www.apluscphotography.com). πŸ™‚

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My friend saw my posts that we would be attending and told me that they were going to come to the party as well. When I saw how many people were at the party, I thought there was no way that E was going to find his new little girlfriend for his first Valentine’s date. As luck would have it, as soon as we went down on the main deck for the Guinness World Record event, we ran into our friends! E was pretty excited that he got to spend Valentine’s Day with his new girlfriend. πŸ™‚

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E was not too thrilled that she kept trying to steal his hat. He had to explain to her that they aren’t married yet so the whole “what’s mine is yours” thing doesn’t quite apply yet. πŸ˜‰

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All of the couples at the event participated in a new Guinness World Record, of the most couples simultaneously feeding each other. πŸ™‚ It was such a fun thing to participate in!

After the tasting, a Journey cover band, DSB, played. The music was great and some amazing fireworks followed the concert.

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E was in awe of the heart shaped fireworks. πŸ™‚

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The party was so much fun! Definitely the best Valentine’s Day I have ever had. I was so happy that I got to go to such a fun event with my two handsome dates. The fireworks show even finished with my favorite song by Heart. πŸ™‚

After the party was over, we decided to walk around the ship a bit. E is quite a night owl like his parents. The boys had fun playing some video games.

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Then they goofed around a bit inside a giant bell on the ship. πŸ™‚

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Definitely a night to remember!
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Thanks so much for having us, Ehrmann! I can’t wait to be able to eat dairy again! Ehrmann Mixim’s six flavor combos can be found now in California, Arizona and Nevada in retailers such as Albertsons, Bashas and Safeway. For more information on Mixim, visit the Ehrmann website: http://www.ehrmann-usa.com/. You can also find them at the following links!
β€’ Ehrmann MIXIM Love Boat Event Page: http://bit.ly/1f8bgQC
β€’ Twitter: https://twitter.com/EhrmannUSA
β€’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EhrmannUSA
β€’ Pinterest:Β  http://www.pinterest.com/ehrmannusa/
β€’ Instagram: http://instagram.com/ehrmannusa/
β€’ Valentine’s Day Sweepstakes:Β  http://tinyurl.com/psq3b87

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*This is a sponsored post.

My Journey As a Photographer

A+C Photography

I often get asked how I got started as a photographer. Since I had to take over a year off from shooting while laid up with my pregnancy and my difficult postpartum recovery, I feel like I have had to start over with the photography business (link here). My husband (and business partner) and I had to make the decision that we will no longer be shooting weddings since I can only handle being on my feet for about two hours at a time before the pelvic and leg pain from the pregnancy comes back. Since weddings were the primary focus of the business before, I have been working on refocusing and re-branding the business to just focus on portraits, primarily babies & families.

It is interesting to me how everything with my photography has come back around full circle to where I started as a photographer, many years ago. When I was in high school, I started taking an interest in photography. My dad, a former photographer, got me a camera and started teaching me about photography. I signed up as the photographer for the community service club at my high school. I went around photographing all of the volunteer events and absolutely loved it. I loved focusing on the joy and happiness of the interactions. There was one place where we all volunteered where I really took an interest in photographing the events, a local shelter for women and their babies.

His Nesting Place is a house in Long Beach, CA where women can go with their babies when they don’t have a lot of options. They are an alternative to abortion, and provide a safe haven for women and children at risk. I loved volunteering there so much, and started photographing all of the new babies that came through there, gifting the mothers with some prints of their babies. This was many years ago, before the digital photography revolution, so those prints were very precious. I received so much positive encouragement with my photography from the staff of His Nesting Place, and it really helped spark my confidence as a photographer. I did not have any fancy props or elaborate set ups, but I took some beautifully simple pictures with just window light, a bed, and a baby. Back in those days, I was spending most of my babysitting/pet sitting/house sitting money on film and lab development. πŸ™‚

Every year, our club went to a tri-state convention where our yearly scrapbook with all of the photos from our events was entered into a competition. My photos kept winning out of all of the high schools from three states. I got so much encouragement from the staff at His Nesting Place to consider pursuing a career in photography. When I spoke with my high school guidance counselors, I was strongly discouraged from doing anything of the sort. To a prep school guidance counselor, apparently photography is not a valid career path, especially for a student who showed strong aptitude in math and science.

I put all thoughts of becoming a photographer aside while in college. However, whenever I was stressed out, I would find myself wandering around campus taking photographs of the architecture, flowers, etc. The guy at my local photo lab at that point thought I was crazy for studying engineering when clearly I had a strong creative side that was begging to come out. When I made the switch to fashion school, we had a lot of marketing classes where I really started to have fun with my photography again.

After I finished school, I found my way into working in e-commerce in the fashion industry. It was the perfect mix of my engineering background and my creative, fashion-loving side. E-commerce obviously is very photography dependent, so it was a natural progression for me to start using my photography skills at work. Years later, and a few different jobs later, I entered a very challenging phase in my life.

My grandmother was suddenly sick with cancer and dying. We were very close, and she was one of the few people I talked to every day. The stress of knowing she was dying flared up a very large cyst/non-cancerous tumor in one of my ovaries. Work was getting out of control also. My boss’ plan was to get rid of much of my support staff, and increase my workload significantly. I left work early one day to go see my grandmother at her house when I found out how sick she was. I tried to not tell her that I was feeling sick myself, but she knew right away when she saw me.

I had a long talk with my grandmother about the stress at work, and the strain it was putting on my body. I had been showing her various pictures that I took both for fun and for work any time I saw her. She urged me to consider a career change at that point to lessen the stress on myself. She told me that she had been watching my photography progress over the years, and that she strongly felt that it was time for me to get rid of all the stressful parts and just focus on what I love, the photography. She was very wise and I really valued her opinion, especially since she was right from the start about my husband when I had some reservations about him (he was very anti-religion when we started dating but soon had a conversion of heart).

When the time came and my grandmother was about to pass, the growth on my ovary ruptured and I had to go to my own hospital across town.Β  While I was in the Emergency Room, the doctor was concerned about how many times I had been in there in the few years prior with similar situations. He told me that I was at extremely high risk for developing ovarian cancer, and he highly recommended that I have my ovaries removed right then and there. Since my grandmother was sick, we had moved our wedding date up to a.s.a.p., in the hopes that she would be able to attend. I refused to have my ovaries removed then, especially since our wedding was going to be taking place in just a few days. I still had hopes that maybe, by some miracle, I would be able to get pregnant, and I was not willing to give up on that hope.

The doctor recommended that I seriously evaluate my life and cut down on my stress levels since I refused to have my ovaries removed. My grandmother passed that night, and her funeral came a few days later. Our wedding took place a few days after that, despite how upset we all were.

I ended up taking a week off work for my hospital visit, my grandmother’s funeral, and our wedding. When I had a meeting with my boss, she said that it was “very inconvenient” that I had taken a week off, and I would not be eligible for a raise since I had taken that time off. I had barely taken any of my allowed vacation time in the years I had worked there.Β  My husband and I decided at that point to add me onto his insurance, and that I would quit and start working on starting our own photography business.

We started out primarily focusing on weddings, but I also started shooting babies, children and families again. It felt so easy and fulfilling, without being stressful like a “regular” job. I felt like I was really getting the hang of things when everything got put on hold with our move and then my pregnancy.

After our baby E was born, I could not wait to be able to start shooting again. Before E was born, I feel like I approached the photography business in a certain way. I wanted to make sure that I got most of my weddings and engagement shoots published in wedding blogs, so I tried to mold my photography around what it seemed like the blog editors were looking for. Props and styled shoots are popular, so I worked hard on incorporating lots of props and styling into my shoots. Certain styles of photo editing and actions are popular, so I started editing my photos using a combination of those techniques. In retrospect, I feel like I put aside my own creative voice a bit in order to try to get my work to conform to what the blog editors wanted. Don’t get me wrong…I still love the work I did before I was pregnant with E (and it definitely got us published in many places and won a prestigious award), but I still felt like a bit of my own creative voice was missing from it all.

Recently, I started trying to prepare myself to get the photography business back up and running again. I evaluated my portfolio, and even went back through and looked at some of my really old photos and editing, from before I started the business. I started thinking back about all of the photos I used to take at His Nesting Place, and the clean simplicity and beauty of them. I wish I still had some of them to reference, but I made the dumb mistake of letting the school convince me that they were their property, even the negatives, even though I paid for it all with my own money.

I came to the realization that I would let my own creative voice dictate my photos going forward, and try to ignore what the “trends” are as dictated by blog editors. I loved some of my customized photo editing before I started purchasing Photoshop actions, and have been inspired by those to try some new things lately. I decided to do E’s three month photoshoot with inspiration from my memory of my old photos that I used to take at His Nesting Place (example from this shoot seen above). I contacted His Nesting Place to see if I could start volunteering there again and photographing the babies again. I am so grateful that the Lord has blessed us with E, despite all my infertility problems, and really want to find a way to give back.

A lady from His Nesting Place called me the other day and let me know that unfortunately, they cannot utilize my services to shoot the babies at this time since the house is currently vacant. Apparently they had some major plumbing problems, and have had to turn all of the women and babies away for now. Many of them are living on the street until HNP can raise enough funds to have the plumbing repaired. I am excited that I will be helping HNP with a charity fundraising event later this month. I really hope they can raise the funds quickly. Their cause and mission is so close to my heart, and I feel especially supportive of them since they were so encouraging and supportive to me when I was just starting out with my photography. I find it so amazing that I started feeling my love of photography when photographing babies at their house, and now my journey has come back around to focusing primarily on photographing babies. If you would like to help His Nesting Place get back on their feet, please click here to contribute!

Conquering The Paper Clutter Organizing Challenge

It seems like ever since we bought this house that we have been drowning in paperwork that needs to be saved for reference. We have a pretty good system for keeping mail organized when it arrives (seen in this post), but anything past that point started turning into piles of paperwork throughout the house, driving us nuts. I started out trying to add it in with my little desktop file folder holder (seen behind the stack of binders below), but that quickly filled up and got disorganized. I decided to try harder to get all these papers and manuals organized, put away, and still easy to access when needed.

I divided everything into three binders, leaving my file folder box for it’s original purpose: business contracts, tax documents and business related receipts.

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I started with the binder I will use the most – my Home & Family binder. The first section has all of my printed cleaning checklists printed out and organized. I love the Martha Stewart cleaning checklists…so helpful to keep on hand!
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After that, I made a section of papers that I reference occassionally with gardening information, like instructions for the potato planter and the soil tester.3

The last section in this binder is a bunch of ideas for fun things for us to do as a family on the weekend. I put in clippings from local magazines, lists of ideas we have come up with, and fliers from local attractions. This should help us think of something we would like to do each weekend, and better stick to our plan of one day of working on projects and one day of fun each weekend.4

The next binder has all of the baby related paperwork. The first section has all of the reference paperwork that I got while I was pregnant. There is first aid info, breastfeeding resources, etc.5

Next is a section with all of the receipts from our major baby purchases, such as stroller, car seat, crib, etc. I want to make sure we have all of these together in case we have any problems with anything.6

Last in this binder is a section with all of the baby product manuals.

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The last binder has all of our important records, documents and manuals for all of the other things around the house, such as appliances. The first section has our most important records: marriage certificate, title and insurance paperwork for our house and the one we just sold in Texas, etc.
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Next is a section with important health records. I made sure I kept all of the paperwork from this pregnancy in case we want to reference it with a future pregnancy. I also have another sheet protector with important vet records (our dog Stella was named Skittles by the adoption agency but we renamed her).
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Next is important paperwork and records for things around the house, such as the chimney and care instructions for the kitchen counters.12

Next is a section with important records about our cars.
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Lastly, I have a section with manuals for all of the non-baby related items around the house. I further divided them into categories such as small appliances, kitchen appliances, garden, and misc.14

Hopefully this should help keep things better under control!

I Love Finishing Big Projects!

In our downtime during E’s first month of life, I focused on trying to get all of the photoshoots I had planned executed. This was not an easy task given my difficult post-partum recovery from the Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction symptoms. During my free time in his second month, I worked hard trying to get all of the pictures from his first month edited and processed. It was a LOT of pictures, and it took me a long time to go through them all (multiple memory cards full!). I am so happy to say that I just finished blogging the rest of the pictures from his first month! Time to do a two month photoshoot now! πŸ™‚ Be sure to check them out at www.apluscphotography.com/blog.

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Baby E 6 Week Update

Our baby boy “E”, has been much happier the past few days. Every day it seems like he is feeling a little better without the dairy/soy in my diet and therefore in his. He still has some pretty fussy periods at night, but he has been so much happier overall.

He is growing up so quickly! He outgrew the size “tiny” cloth diapers this week and moved up to size small. Not that he was really ever “tiny” to begin with (he was over 9 pounds at birth!), but it still made me a little sad. My little guy is getting so big so quickly! My husband and I are in love with this little outfit shown below. He looks like such a strong little guy in it. πŸ™‚

Another thing of note this week is that he outsmarted the Velcro close swaddle blankets. I could tell even before he was born that he was not going to like to be swaddled because he was constantly pushing out against my uterus, trying to find more room. Swaddling him with blankets only worked for the first couple of days. By about the third day in the hospital, he figured out how to get out of those in no time. We started putting him in the Velcro close swaddle blankets for bed time, and he never seemed to like them. One morning this week, we looked over to see him with his arms and legs all out of the swaddle, with just the Velcro part left around his waist. We have since given up on trying to swaddle him at bed time, and let him wear big boy footie pajamas to bed now. πŸ™‚

Other than us and my parents, E has not met too many people yet except for when we have gone to all of our doctors’ appointments. Apparently he is already working on his flirting skills with the ladies and has taken a liking to nurses. He charms all of the nurses at all of our appointments. At one of our appointments this week, we walked past two nurses and they made a “what a cute baby!” comment. He heard them say that, turned his head toward them and gave them a big huge smile. What a little charmer! πŸ™‚

All of our furry kids love E a lot, but his “sister” (seen below) has a special devotion to E. She seems to think of him as her own baby and rarely leaves his side. If he is napping and starts to wake up, she runs to come and get me. It is so cute how she is always watching out for him!

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This last one was his very upset face after our dogs chased away the birds E was watching in our back yard. πŸ™‚

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Gardening Inspired Newborn Photo Session

For all my gardening readers, be sure to check out this cute newborn session that I did with tons of goodies from my garden! πŸ™‚

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Garden Newborn Photos