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July 29, 2014
by Jennifer Hughes
20 Comments

What a Glorious Morning Wordless Wednesday

The Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York

The family and I were on vacation last week in the Adirondack Mountains. (Did you miss me?) Here’s a quick sneak peak of the vaca… more photos to come later.

 

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July 29, 2014
by Jennifer Hughes
13 Comments

10 of My Favorite Things About Summer

Summer was always a magical time when I was a kid. I remember lazy days of riding my banana seat bike around the neighborhood searching for frogs in the mud and sneaking off to the local candy store. The freedom I experienced as a kid isn’t the same for my own kids. Neighborhoods don’t feel as safe as they used to. But I can still give my boys the magical feeling I experienced.

Despite some people talking about going back to school already, I’m embracing everything summer here!

My Top 10 Favorite Things About Summer

10 of My Favorite Things About Summer | The Jenny Evolution

1. Watermelon: Well, it’s not just watermelon but all of the amazing fruits that come into season — blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe. The moment they come into season, I’m literally fill up my fridge to the brim. But watermelon is the most fun to eat. I loved biting into it with the juices dripping down my arms. Of course, as a kid you had to eat around all of those black seeds “way back when,” but then you also got to have watermelon seed spitting contests.

2. Bike Rides: There’s nothing like being able to go on a bike ride with the family. This year, my youngest son was finally big enough to get kicked out the baby bucket seat we had for him and moved him to an attached bike trailer that he “pedals” when he’s feeling like contributing to the ride. As enthusiastic as my kids are about getting out for a ride, their legs never seem to go as long as they wish. But they’ll get there when they’re older!

3. 4th of July: This is my favorite holiday only second to Christmas. For me, 4th of July is about embracing our American heritage and celebrating with our community of friends (including all of our lovely expat friends from across the pond and beyond). There may be things I want to change about the U.S., but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it just the same. For my boys, the sense of community has defined 4th of July as well. Okay, it also includes a lot of glow-in-the-dark sticks, swords and bracelets, but that’s really just an added bonus.

4. Fireworks: Wait, you say. Didn’t you just mention 4th of July? Well, if you live in Chicago, fireworks have absolutely nothing to do with the 4th of July. Navy Pier hosts fireworks two times a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. When I was living downtown, even when I couldn’t see them I would hear the booming like clockwork. Those sounds would transport me to the excitement of the fireworks even when I was stuck inside rocking my newborn. Now my boys are just as excited about seeing the dazzling fireworks as I am and have their own personal favorite ones.

5. Backyard BBQs: For those of you who don’t live with four seasons, perhaps you have backyard BBQs all year round. But for those of us fighting our way through the Polar Vortex, the moment it gets warm, we get outside! Really it’s just an excuse to hang out with friends and let the kids play. But is there really anything better than a relaxed evening with friends?

6. The Color Green: Speaking of the outdoors, summer in Chicagoland is an explosion of green. The decades-old elms, oaks and maples create a ceiling of color along the streets. Last year, our lawn was a lush carpet of green (and I didn’t even water once!) Want to see the blanket of green in my backyard? Check out the video I made for a post about Summer’s FunSuckers. Of course, all of this green also means tons of bugs and mosquitoes, but we’ve got them under control.

7. Outdoor Concerts: We are fortunate enough to live near some pretty amazing outdoor concert venues. As a teen, I lived in upstate New York near the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I got to see the New York City Ballet, Yo-Yo Ma and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all perform on the same stage. Not at the same time, silly! Chicago has Rivinia. Over the years, I’ve gotten to see James Taylor, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  and Chris Botti (one of my favorite jazz artists) play. And that’s not even talking about all of the local events put on by our town. My boys are a bit too rambunctious to make it through a concert… but perhaps next summer they’ll be ready.

8. The Beach: I didn’t grow up with a beach nearby. But I am sure thankful to be so close to Lake Michigan now. Last year we were banned from playing at the beach because of my son’s allergies. He’s horribly allergic to mold and sand can breed it because of the water table. But we got the green light this year and am happy to pop down there for a quick afternoon of making sand castles and splashing in the water.

9. Bonfires: Oh my goodness how I love a good fire. Having a roaring fire in the fireplace during the winter is heavenly. But having an outside bonfire is absolutely define. As a teen, my family would build a fire down at the lakeside near our lake house. We would talk the night away. And when we had guests, it was even better because then we got to hear their entertaining stories as well. From my boys perspective, bonfires mean only one thing…. s’mores!

10. Fireflies: When I was a little girl, my parents would let us stay up late to capture fireflies. We would get an empty glass jar (kids were allowed to play with glass back then) and poke holes in the metal top. (Kids were allowed to play with metal back then, too.) My brother and I would try to collect as many fireflies as we could. I always wished I could keep them and read by their light at night. We would let them go, but there was always one that didn’t fly away. Now my kids use these fun plastic nature explorer kits from Backyard Safari. But either way, the magic of those fireflies still remain.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT SUMMER?

July 28, 2014
by Jennifer Hughes
108 Comments

Are You Noseblind? Find Out and Enter to Win $60 from Febreze

This review and giveaway was made possible by Double Duty Divas and Febreze. I was compensated for my participation in this campaign, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Febreze wanted to put us to the test. Could we tell if the scent of our home wasn’t exactly inviting? We thought we could… but we were wrong?

Febreze Wants to Know if You're Noseblind #noseblind

Apparently, the nose will actually turn off and ignore scents it encounters on a regular basis. So a person who works in a floral shop won’t smell the flowers like someone who just walked into the shop. But it can work the other way, too, where a person won’t notice the bad odors in their house because the nose turns off the scent. Scientists call this noseblindness. Crazy, right?

To create our noseblindness and see if Febreze could help, we invited a couple of friends over the take in a movie. We all filled out a questionnaire stating what kind of scents we perceived in the house. Then we popped up some serious butter popcorn in the microwave. The scent took over the entire downstairs and even wafted its way upstairs. It was a tough job, but of course we had to consume all of that popcorn!

Did Febreze help remove the popcorn scent in our home and cure of us noseblindness?

Did Febreze help remove the popcorn scent in our home and cure of us noseblindness?

When the movie was done, we took another quiz asking us what we could smell in the house. Did we still smell the original scent of the house? Did we still smell the popcorn? Honestly, that butter popcorn did take over. But when the movie was done, it was extremely faint in the house.

To clear up our noseblindness, Febreze asked us to use its products. Unlike some products that try to mask the scent, Febreze contains a molecule known as Cyclodextrin that traps and eliminates odors, leaving behind a pleasant scent. Did it work? You bet it did! Not only did the popcorn scent go away, so did the scent of our dog! Hmmm. I wonder what our guests thought how our house smelled before this whole experiment. They promised they didn’t notice anything… but I’m not buying it! I’ve plugged in that fabulous scent diffuser into a plug in the kitchen and am leaving it there.

Want to learn more about noseblindness? Visit Febreze’s Noseblind 101 website. And to learn more about Febreze at Facebook and Twitter.

ENTER TO WIN

If learning about noseblindness wasn’t cool enough, how about the chance to win:

  • $60 AMEX Gift Card
  • 1 Febreze Air Effects
  • 1 Febreze Fabric Refresher
  • 1 Febreze Noticeables with refill
  • 1 Febreze Candle

This giveaway runs through Wednesday, Aug. 6, 11:59pm. US Only. Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

July 28, 2014
by Jennifer Hughes
1 Comment

5 Sunscreen Tips for Summer

I participated in an Ambassador Activation on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for Banana Boat Sun Care. I received product samples to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for participating.

With summer in full swing, how are you doing on keeping your skin healthy from the sun? It can be easy to lose track of time out in the sun (as well as your sunscreen). Keep your skin happy with my 4 sunscreen tips for summer! And be sure to check out my other tips on keeping your kids safe in the sun.

But first, I simply must share that Banana Boat® sunscreen is teaming up with actress and mother of two, Busy Phillips, to offer you the tips, tools and fun prizes you need to have the Best Summer Ever! They’re hosting a huge sweepstakes and you can enter by visiting their Facebook page. You could even win the grand prize of a family trip to a Treehouse Resort. But hurry! The sweepstakes ends on July 31.

5 Sunscreen Tips for Summer

1. Pick the right sunscreen for the day.

If you’re going to be in the water, make sure you choose a water resistant sunscreen. If you’re like my active husband, who loves to go running in the middle of the day, choose a sunscreen that won’t sweat off and feels light weight.

We like the new Banana Boat® Sport Performance® Clear UltraMist® Sunscreen with Powerstay Technology. It was specifically designed for the sport enthusiast like my hubby , who doesn’t want to be slowed down while out in the sun. This new formula has been designed to have a light-weight feel compared to the original formula.

2. Make sunscreen a daily habit.

There’s nothing worse than trying to get out the door only to realize you have to spend another 15 minutes slathering yourself and your kids in sunscreen. Why not make it an automatic habit, just like getting dressed or brushing your teeth. It will ensure everyone’s skin is protected and you won’t have to interrupt your attempts of getting out of the house.

3. Reapply every 2 hours when outside.

I live by this rule religiously. However, my husband took the kids to a water park earlier this summer and didn’t insist on reapplying their sunscreen every two hours. What happened? Let’s just say the kids are not fighting us anymore when we say it’s time to reapply the sunscreen!

4. Use a higher SPF than you think you need.

Especially if you are near water or snow, which reflects the light, choose a higher SPF than you think you need. Snow and water intensify the sun and can make you burn even faster than you’d expect. Besides, it’s better having a slight sun-kissed look from wearing a higher SPF than crisping yourself into a lobster.

5. Make sure your sunscreen is handy.

This may seem like a no-brainer; however how many times have you gone to put on sunscreen only to not be able to find it? We keep a central basket in the downstairs pantry as well as the upstairs linen closet where we always know the sunscreen will be. We also keep a bottle of sunscreen in our beach bag (and any other bag we use on a regular basis, including my sons’ day camp backpacks). This way, if we run out of the house without putting on sunscreen, we know we always have a bottle on hand.

At the beginning of every summer, I purchase multiple bottles of sunscreen and stock up the entire house. We always go through whatever I purchase, so nothing goes to waste.

WHAT ARE YOUR SUNSCREEN TIPS FOR SUMMER?

 

July 28, 2014
by Jennifer Hughes
7 Comments

Night Time Picture Books That Say “I Love You”

Good Night Children’s Books that Say “I Love You”: Find these books at your local library or to purchase use the links provided. This post contains affiliate links; however, all recommendations are mine.

Children's Books That Say I Love You

At the end of the day, there’s no better time than to curl up with a book that tells your child just how much you love him. Here are 10+ books we’ve enjoyed reading that say “I love you.”

Love You When… Popular “rock artist” Linda Kranz returns to remind us that those we love are always with us. During the course of each day, something sparks a thought or memory, and a loved one comes to mind. Perhaps it’s a sound, a fragrance, or something that catches our eye; when this happens we can’t help but pause for a moment and smile. So give this book to the special loved ones in your life, and they will share with you all the times they think to themselves how much they love you, when . . .

I Love You Through and Through: A toddler and his teddy bear illustrate a young child’s happy side, sad side, silly side, mad side, and more! Babies and toddlers will feel loved all over when they hear this declaration of adoration and affection!

Snuggle Puppy (Boynton on Board): A great big hug in book form, Snuggle Puppy is a year-round valentine from parent to child. It is bright, chunky, a pleasure to hold, and has a die-cut cover that reveals a glimpse of the joy inside before it’s even opened. Best of all, it’s packed, of course, with pure Boynton: her inimitable language, her inimitable illustrations, her inimitable sense of fun.

The Runaway Bunny: A little bunny keeps running away from his mother in an imaginative and imaginary game of verbal hide-and-seek; children will be profoundly comforted by this lovingly steadfast mother who finds her child every time. The Runaway Bunny, first published in 1942 and never out of print, has indeed become a classic. Generations of readers have fallen in love with the gentle magic of its reassuring words and loving pictures.

How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? More than 7 million copies sold. Parents and children can never have enough ways to say “I love you”–and now, America’s favorite dinosaurs are giving families a funny book, perfect for bedtime, storytime, anytime. Even when little dinosaurs are naughty, it’s important to remind them that no matter what they do, they are always loved. In this book, readers will laugh aloud as parents cope with the typical antics of childhood, but in the end, hugs and kisses show your little one how much you care.

Mama, Do You Love Me? In this universal story, a child tests the limits of independence and comfortingly learns that a parent’s love is unconditional and everlasting. The story is made all the more captivating by its unusual Arctic setting. The lyrical text introduces young readers to a distinctively different culture, while at the same time showing that the special love that exists between parent and child transcends all boundaries of time and place.

Guess How Much I Love You: Little Nutbrown Hare shows his daddy how much he loves him: as wide as he can reach and as far as he can hop. But Big Nutbrown Hare, who can reach farther and hop higher, loves him back just as much. Well then Little Nutbrown Hare loves him right up to the moon, but that’s just halfway to Big Nutbrown Hare’s love for him.

I Love You, Little One: Deep in the woods, animal mothers reassure their little ones of the many ways they are loved. Endearing, full-color artwork from a Caldecott Honor artist highlights the bond between parent and baby.

Big Hugs Little Hugs: With bold and beautiful art, mega-selling author and artist Felicia Bond crafts a picture book filled with animals hugging across the globe that celebrates the universality of love. Perfect for any time that you simply want to snuggle up together.

All Kinds of Kisses: Mommies and babies aren’t the only ones who enjoy sharing kisses. All throughout the farm, animal families snuggle up with their little ones, offering them warmth and love. Following a mama bird on her journey back to the nest to give her own baby some special cuddles, Nancy Tafuri uses beautiful, inviting illustration to share how different creatures, from peeping ducks to mooing cows, show their love and affection in very similar ways. A heartfelt homage to all of the wonderful kinds of kisses.

I Love You, Stinky Face: Lisa McCourt and Cyd Moore beautifully weave a reassuring tale of the love and affection of a parent. The imaginative son turns himself into a meat-eating dinosaur, a swamp creature and much, much more before being satisfied with the fact that no matter how stinky he is or how slimy of a creature he could possibly be, he is loved and nothing will change that.

The I LOVE YOU Book: In his newest picture book, Todd Parr explores the meaning of unconditional love in a heartfelt, playful way. Featuring a heart-shaped die-cut and sparkling silver foil on the cover, this is the perfect way to say, “I love you!” Parents and caregivers are sure to be inspired by Todd’s vibrant illustrations and tender sentiments, and will enjoy sharing this very special book with the little ones they love.

Love You Forever: A young woman holds her newborn son. And looks at him lovingly. Softly she sings to him. So begins the story that has touched the hearts of millions worldwide. Since publication in l986, Love You Forever has sold more than 15 million copies.

I Would Tuck You In: Perfect for fans of The Runaway Bunny, this children’s bedtime story is filled with baby animals and their mothers: an otter tucks her little one into a kelp forest bed; a family of brown bears snuggle all through the winter; a bowhead whale sings a song to soothe her calf. Lovingly illustrated and lyrically written, I Would Tuck You In is written and illustrated by husband-and-wife author and artist team Mitchell Watley and Sarah Asper-Smith.

July 25, 2014
by Jennifer Hughes
9 Comments

Finding Cool Back-to-School Clothing on a Budget

Shopping for back to school clothes can get expensive quickly; that is, unless you know where to shop for bargains. Children, especially teens, are into brand-name clothing that can be quite pricey. So how can you find good back to school clothes for your kids without killing your tight budget.

Shopping at outlet stores can ease up on your budget without sacrificing your teen’s wants. There is also the opportunity to make your children’s clothing if you are handy with a sewing machine. (This, however, is not an option for me. I’m grateful I know how to sew on a button.) Use these bargain tips to give your children a cool back to school wardrobe without breaking the bank.

How to go Back to School Clothes Shopping on a Budget

Photo Credit | Photo Modified

Outlet Stores

Shopping at outlet stores such as TJ Maxx or Marshalls and online shops like Zulily can help cut back the cost of buying designer clothes. Closeout stores such as these purchase the leftover products from designers at a lower price so they are able to pass the savings on to you, the consumer. In addition to designer clothes, backpacks can be found at decent prices at these outlet stores as well.

Because I have younger children, I use the Carter’s and Osh Kosh outlets to save big money. These outlets usually have their clothes at 40% off. Look for their monthly coupons on their site and you could save up to an additional 20%. It’s amazing the cost savings.

Sew Sew Sew

If you are handy with a sewing machine, it is possible to make your children’s clothes yourself. To make it a family activity, involve your children in picking out fabrics and designing them with rhinestones and such after they have been completed. Involving your children in the process will help them to be proud and enthusiastic about wearing their clothing.

You can also purchase basic clothing and then let them add their own unique twist to make it their own. One year I got some amazing deals on corduroy pants. My son was less than excited. So I purchased some patches of hot rod cars, lightning bolts and pirate flags and sewed them on. Suddenly his pants became incredibly cool, and I certainly didn’t pay anything close to retail!

Second-Hand Shops

Second-hand shops usually carry a good variety of clothing. Before shopping in outlet stores, check out any local second-hand shops in your area. Since most of the proceeds go to charity, you will be helping out local organizations and saving money at the same time. You cannot go wrong there.

Hand-Me Downs

You can also accept hand-me-downs from other family members who have children your age or older. Many times clothes are only worn a few times before children grow out of them and family members are happy to share them instead of throwing the clothing out. If you have nieces or nephews that have outgrown clothing, consider asking their parents if you could have the clothing instead of letting it go to waste.

In my family, my first son wears the clothing. Then my second son wears the clothes. Then whatever is still holding together gets passed on to our nephew. But just because you don’t have a family member who can pass clothes on to you doesn’t mean you don’t have a neighbor or friend who would like to pass on the clothes to someone they know rather than just donate them. Plus, you’ll be doing them a favor by helping them get those no-longer-needed clothes out of the house.

Buy in Stages

Buying a full year’s worth of clothes can be produce serious sticker shock. One last option is to budget for school clothes and buy a little at a time instead of all at once. It is perfectly fine to start your child off with just a few outfits and then build up the wardrobe over the course of the school year. Save up money over the summer while your child is out of school and you will be prepared when the time to do school shopping approaches.

Shopping for cool school clothes does not have to be a wallet cruncher. There are many places you can shop around and find bargains on clothes, designer or not. If you cannot afford to buy designer clothes, even at a discount, you can involve your children and make their clothes for them if you are savvy with a sewing machine. If you budget properly over the summer and build up your child’s wardrobe little by little, you will not break the bank in one shopping trip, give them the wardrobe they need while giving them a little of what they want as well.

July 24, 2014
by Jennifer Hughes
15 Comments

Friday Flash Blog No. 78 {Plus Features}

Friday Flash Blog is a flash mob of blogs, highlighting the best of bloggers from the week. Be sure to check them out (and the ones I’ve featured) as well as link up your own.

Weekly Thoughts: My family and I took a wonderful vacation to the Adirondack Mountains, which is located in upstate New York. It really is quite gorgeous up there, and summer wouldn’t be complete without getting to that part of the country. Have you taken a summer vacation?

Pack up these 50 Toddler Beach Trip Essentials from Lamberts Lately

Pack up these 50 Toddler Beach Trip Essentials from Lamberts Lately

Now this is summer on a plate! Strawberry Country Cake from Picture Perfect Cooking

Now this is summer on a plate! Strawberry Country Cake from Picture Perfect Cooking

Terrific tips on How to Save Money on Family Portraits from Saved By Grace

Terrific tips on How to Save Money on Family Portraits from Saved By Grace

DIY Fabric Flower Hair Clips. DIY Tutorial from Titi Crafty

DIY Fabric Flower Hair Clips. DIY Tutorial from Titi Crafty

Lemon Italian Ice from Three Kids and a Fish

Lemon Italian Ice from Three Kids and a Fish

For the older kids in your family... Mystery Books for Middle Schoolers from The Jenny Evolution

For the older kids in your family… Mystery Books for Middle Schoolers from The Jenny Evolution

Friday Flash Blog is a Flash Mob of Blogs

Share ALL Your Favorite Posts of the Week

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July 24, 2014
by Jennifer Hughes
3 Comments

Summer Sensory Activities: Ice Play for Kids

When you think of ice, you may not immediately think of it as a terrific sensory outlet. But ice is the perfect companion for some summer fun and sensory experience!

Every week you can find amazing projects, crafts and activities to do with your kids with the Kids Co-Op, and The Jenny Evolution will highlight some of them with a common theme. This week’s theme is summer sensory activities – ice play for kids.

Summer Sensory  Ice Play Activities for Kids | The Jenny Evolution

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July 23, 2014
by Jennifer Hughes
2 Comments

Help Friends in Medical Need with GiveForward

This is a sponsored post by GiveForward; however, all opinions are strictly mine.

What if one day you found out your friend had cancer? Or if your neighbor was in an serious accident? Or if one of your child’s schoolmates needed a life-saving operation? Would you know how you could help?

We often feel unable to make a serious difference when the people in our lives need medical assistance. But what if you could make a difference beyond delivering a couple of meals?

GiveForward is a fundraising site designed to help friends and family come together to support someone in medical need. In under 10 minutes, you can easily set up a fundraiser for a friend. Just tell your loved one’s story, upload a few pictures and hit publish! Then share your page with friends and family using email, Facebook or other social media. You can even add in team member to help you spread the word.

Over the past several years, we’ve had several friends who have faced some a serious medical crisis, and I wish we had known about this service sooner. I often felt stuck and unable to help as much as I wanted to because I just didn’t know what to do.

 

Unlike over crowdfunding sites, GiveForward works with donors (who often cover the low transaction fee) so the money donated goes to the recipient in need unlike other crowdfunding sites. What I particularly like about the service is you are assigned a fundraising coach so you never feel like you’re working on your own. You can connect with a live person via phone, email or even online chat. Don’t believe me? Go check out the bios of their coaches.

At the end of the day, in addition to the money, many recipients feel the love from friends, neighbors and even strangers who donate and leave encouraging messages to help the person during their medical crisis. You just can’t put a price on that.

July 23, 2014
by thejennyevolution
3 Comments

Potty Training Made Easy: Strategies That Really Work

Potty training can be a process of trial and error. It can be both exciting and quite frustrating. Rest assured, eventually your child will be potty trained. It’s not like you see teenagers running around in diapers!

That being said, there are proven potty training strategies that have worked for parents over the years. Let’s take a look at a few of them to make the potty training process as easy and painless as possible.

Potty Training Made Easy: Strategies that Really Work | The Jenny Evolution

1. Wait until your child is ready for potty training before you begin. Many parents, undoubtedly excited to be done with the whole diaper thing, rush potty training. Good intentions aside, if a child isn’t mentally and physically ready to learn how to use a toilet, the potty training process is going to take much longer and be frustrating for the both of you.

If you’re not sure if your kiddo is ready for potty training, read about when it’s time to ditch the diapers.

2. Make sure you have the right gear. There are a lot of potty training aids available. From small portable potty chairs to floating targets (like Cheerios) you can place in the toilet to help your little boy aim and enjoy the training process. Getting the gear before you begin training will help you and your child create a structure and a routine around potty training.

It also helps to have potty training friendly clothing. There’s nothing more frustrating than a child who tells you they have to go potty and then having them wet their pants because it took too long to get their clothing off. Slip-on pants are the easiest and of course skirts and dresses make it easy for girls.

And don’t forget about using incentive charts or treats. You’d be surprised at how excited a child can get over earning a single mini M&M.

Potty Chart

This is the potty chart with used with my son. It really wasn’t about keeping track. It was about celebrating his success. So every time he used the potty, he got to add a sticker to his chart.

3. Have a positive mindset. Mistakes will happen, and children will make huge leaps forward only to then have really bad potty training days or weeks. Reward and celebrate successes and stay focused on having a positive attitude. Recrimination, punishment and yelling only makes a child feel bad about themselves. It doesn’t further the potty training process.

Know that it’s much easier for a child to be aware of their body during the daytime and nighttime accidents can happen well into elementary school. Be prepared. Protect your child’s pride and their belongings with a mattress pad, rules about drinking before bedtime and support and understanding.

The potty training process can take a while and each child’s experiences are different. Be patient, be positive and be prepared!

Some of the potty training products I love, include:

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