Chocolate & One Cool Cat {Halloween 2017}

This Halloween we took Coen trick or treating for the first time. This amounted to bribing him with the promise of going home and changing into his costume in order to get him to leave his beloved preschool for the day. Then, once we got home, we had to bribe him with chocolate in order to get him to put on his costume (This really shouldn’t be at all surprising if you read this post). Three-year-olds are so much fun.

Before I picked Coen up I got a text from Jeremy’s cousin’s wife, Chelsea. She asked if he was a fan of Frozen and suggested we come by her dad’s house where they were dressed up as the characters from the movie. I talked it up while we drove home, but even telling him we were going to see Chelsea didn’t convince him to put on his cute cat costume for trick or treating. Somehow, after a lot of coaxing and a little dark chocolate, we still made it over there right around when they were starting. It was a good thing too because by the time we left there was a line of trick or treaters waiting for photos and a traffic jam in front of the house! My little cat wasn’t feeling the photo op though and all we got out of him was this sly half-smile. It really was the purr-fect expression considering the temperament of most cats!

A frozen themed house set up just for Halloween!

We ended up going around the block to trick or treat at the rest of the homes in the neighborhood. By the time we made it back around our little kitty was hungry and ready for a cat nap so we headed home. I’m still not sure what we are going to do with all the candy we brought home. I was considering starting a Switch Witch tradition, but surprisingly Coen hasn’t been asking for any of it! We may just wait until next year for that. Plus, shhh, don’t tell, but I already ate quite a bit of it anyway. My favorites are the Reese’s!

How was your Halloween?

7 Socially Conscious Backpacks

The weather is cooling off (68 degrees for my run this morning!), my Facebook feed is filling up with pictures of freshly bathed and smartly dressed children holding “First Day of School” signs, and the parents behind the cameras (er, phones) are collectively exhaling, both in relief and anxiousness, on this Monday morning. In short–it’s Back to School time in Arkansas. It’s the time of year that makes me think of bouquets of newly sharpened pencils, composition books, trapper keepers (yeah, I know I’m dating myself), and school supplies in general.

Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. -Joe Fox, You’ve Got Mail

Last month, I volunteered with the United Way of Northwest Arkansas for their Fill The Bus initiative. We collected school supplies at Walmart locations in Benton, Madison and Washington counties to help children in NWA start their school year off on the right foot. After my 2-hour stint in the Arkansas heat, I wanted more. Well, maybe not more of the Arkansas heat, but I wanted to know what else I could do to help send children to school armed with both confidence and the tools for their success. I was secretly hoping this would not include more standing in the hot July sun, but I was ready to roll up my sleeves regardless.

In my search, I stumbled upon Backpacks with a Purpose, or B-WaP. By now, we’re all familiar with socially conscious companies with a one for one business model (think Toms, Warby Parker, Tacos4Life, etc.), but B-WaP takes it one step further by giving TWO backpacks for every one purchased. I was so excited to see that this company is based in a state that is a close neighbor to those of us here in Northwest Arkansas, Oklahoma. So cool! I think the bags from B-WaP are great, but I also know that kids like to have a bag that shows a little of their personality and individuality, so I decided to dig around for other companies selling backpacks with similar missions. I think I rounded up the best–there are some seriously awesome companies with equally awesome missions and products out there. I hope you agree!

  1. Backpacks With a Purpose/B-WaP
Purchase a B-WaP bag and they will donate 2 bags to children in need.
Purchase a B-WaP bag and they will donate 2 bags to children in need.

As if giving two backpacks for every one backpack purchased wasn’t awesome enough, B-WaP allows you, the consumer, to have a say in where the backpacks are given. During checkout you can select “Domestic” or “International” to have 2 bags sent to either the Regional Foodbank of Oklahoma’s Food for Kids Backpack Program, or to The Maisha Project in Kenya, Africa. Read more about BWaP’s partners here.

2. STATE Backpacks

For each backpack sold, a STATE bag packed with essential tools for success is delivered to an American child in need.
For each backpack sold, a STATE bag packed with essential tools for success is delivered to an American child in need.

STATE bags are incredibly stylish (check out this sweet swan backpack), durable, and full of functional storage. On top of that, for each backpack you purchase, STATE hand-delivers a STATE backpack packed with the tools for success to an American child in need. This socially conscious company doesn’t stop there though. Their bag drop events are motivational rallies intended to leave the kids receiving backpacks with a renewed spirit and belief in themselves. Side note: How appropriate is it that this week is Gray Week in their Colors of Summer Instagram series?

3. Bixby

For each backpack purchase, Bixby will donate a schoolbag with supplies to a kid in need around the world.
For each backpack purchase, Bixby will donate a schoolbag with supplies to a kid in need around the world.

Bixby backpacks have a kid-friendly, whimsical style. Whether your kid is into sparkle, animals, things that fly, or even emoticons, they will find a bag that will suit them, while also sending one full of supplies to a kid in need with Bixby’s “One Here. One There.” donation model. Read more about Bixby’s mission to donate bags around the world here.

4. Esperos

Every Esperos product sold helps fund one year of education for a child in the developing world.
Every Esperos product sold helps fund one year of education for a child in the developing world.

Esperos bags are plain Jane, and they’re okay with that. When you open the website you are met with the tagline, “No frills. No Gimmicks. Just really good bags.” Instead of focusing on frills, they focus on functionality and funding education around the world. They accomplish their mission through giving 10% of their profits to The Nobelity Project, an Austin, TX nonprofit that works to bridge gaps in information and infrastructure to ensure education for all.

5. Stone & Cloth

Each Stone & Cloth purchase helps provide scholarships for students in need.
Each Stone & Cloth purchase helps provide scholarships for students in need.

The sophisticated style of the Stone & Cloth backpacks will likely appeal more to older students, or even adults.  Through a partnership with the Knock Foundation to ensure scholarship opportunities for children in Tanzania, a Stone & Cloth backpack purchase provides 25 hours of classroom learning to a child in need.

6. Krochet Kids

The Ridgeview is a bag that does more. The Krochet Kids program empowers women with the resources to rise above poverty. Forever.
The Ridgeview is a bag that does more. The Krochet Kids program empowers women with the resources to rise above poverty. Forever.

Can a backpack be a tool for lifting women out of poverty? It can when it’s a backpack like the Ridgeview, made by women in Peru as a part of the Krochet Kids Cut & Sew empowerment project. “The production of each of our items offers jobs, education, and mentorship to impoverished individuals. Your purchase connects you with the maker through a hand-signed label.” Learn more about the project here.

7. Jatalo

For every bag Jatalo sells, they donate one year’s worth of textbooks to a child in need.
For every bag Jatalo sells, they donate one year’s worth of textbooks to a child in need.

Not only does Jatalo draw inspiration from global design trends, they also give back in a global way. When you buy a backpack from Jatalo, they give a year’s worth of textbooks to a child in need.

Since today is the first day of school that means that school supplies have already been purchased round these parts. However, is it really ever too late to snag a backpack that will spread some good to others? Which one is your favorite? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Easter Egg Shakers & Sensory Play for Toddlers

Repurpose your plastic Easter Eggs for toddler sensory play by making egg shakers! Let toddlers fill the eggs with rice, beans or both and then shake, shake, shake! #gerberlilbeanies #sensoryplay #toddlerplay #healthytoddlersnacks juliannegray.com

I was hired by The Women Bloggers to participate in this campaign led by Kendal King Group on behalf of Nestle. All words and opinions are my own.

Now that Easter is over, you may be looking for something to do with all of those eggs, both the hard boiled variety and the plastic. I am sure there are plenty of recipes to enjoy with the former (avocado egg salad, anyone?), but I am here to talk about what to do with the plastic ones. We are all about reusing and repurposing around here so I put together a fun, sensory activity that also involves making a little music. And, even if you don’t allow many sweets, you may have let your little one indulge in some sugary treats over the weekend as well. I am thinking you may be looking for a healthy snack to balance things out after the sugar rush (hey, same here). I have just the thing for that too!

Repurpose your plastic Easter Eggs for toddler sensory play by making egg shakers! Let toddlers fill the eggs with rice, beans or both and then shake, shake, shake! #gerberlilbeanies #sensoryplay #toddlerplay #healthytoddlersnacks juliannegray.com

While Young Master Gray was napping, I set out an invitation to play with dried rice, dried white beans and empty plastic Easter eggs. The object was for him to fill the eggs with the rice and beans to make shakers, but also to touch and experience all of the different textures. I also set out a snack for him to munch on as we played.

Gerber Lil' Beanies are a great new toddler snack made from navy beans and rice flour. Free of GMOs, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. #healthysnack #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnack juliannegray.com

Gerber Lil’ Beanies are a brand new snack for toddlers made from navy beans and rice flour, so there was an added element of talking about what our snack was made of as we played with the main ingredients! There are only seven ingredients listed on the can of the original flavor with sea salt which makes thislabel-reading mama happy! If you or your kids have food allergies like we do (or if you are just health conscious), you know that what is left out is just as important as what is in the food you give your kids. I was thrilled to learn that Lil’ Beanies are not made with GMOs, and do not contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

A fun toddler sensory experience using items from your pantry and leftover Easter eggs! #gerberlilbeanies #sensoryplay #toddlerplay #toddler snacks juliannegray.com

Because Young Master Gray cannot have dairy, I left the White Cheddar and Broccoli flavored Lil’ Beanies in the can. Just out of curiosity, I had a taste of them for myself. They were really good! I may or may not have finished off a whole can (hey, he can’t eat them anyway). They reminded me of cheese puffs, but they didn’t leave a whole lot of messy cheese and powder on my fingers, a big plus for a toddler snack!

When Young Master Gray woke up, he dove right into the activity!

Fill empty Easter Eggs with rice, beans or both for a fun toddler sensory play activity! #toddleractivity #sensoryplay #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnacks juliannegray.com

Fill empty Easter Eggs with rice, beans or both for a fun toddler sensory play activity! #toddleractivity #sensoryplay #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnacks juliannegray.com

And he dove right into the Lil’ Beanies as well!

Gerber Lil' Beanies are a great new toddler snack made from navy beans and rice flour. Free of GMOs, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. #healthysnack #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnack juliannegray.com

We experimented with filling the eggs with rice and then beans to see how different they sounded when we shook them. It didn’t take long for the beans and rice to get mixed together, so we filled some eggs with both rice and beans.

Rice & Bean Easter Egg Shakers

Overall, it was a really fun activity that kept him interested for quite a while (major win!). He is still talking about it today. I taped up some of the eggs afterwards so that we could continue using them as shakers in our everyday play. I am sure that I will still be finding rice in my rug for weeks to come, but all the fun we had outweighed the inconvenience of a little mess. Luckily the Lil’ Beanies didn’t add to the mess at all.

Gerber Lil' Beanies are a yummy, mess-free snack for toddlers. Just don't expect your toddler to share them with you! #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnack #healthysnack juliannegray.com

Young Master Gray says, “Sorry! I didn’t save any Lil’ Beanies for you!” However, you should be able to find them in the baby and toddler snack section at Walmart!

Let me know if you try the activity or the snacks! I would love to hear how your toddlers like them!