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UltimateMama believes the greeting card is (sadly) going the way of the rotary phone.  Still a believer in sending a nice hand written message, it was delightful to discover The Orb Factory Sticky Mosaic Pretty Cards kit for kids.  UltimateMama’s two children had fun creating cards for their friends.  The cards are easy to do (just peel and stick) and they look terrific too.

 

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UltimateMama loves to involve her children with the creation of tablescapes, preferably ones that have meaning.  Using shells your children have collected from vacations and placing them into clear glass jars is a nice, inexpensive way to display a souvenir of fun times and create a tranquil setting for your table or countertop.

To do:

1.  After your children have collected various shells in myriad colors, shapes, and sizes, you will want to bleach them in a solution of half bleach and half water (usually without the help of your youngsters).  This way the smell is eliminated (if you don’t smell the odor of your shells immediately, you will if you don’t bleach them).

2. Select a clear glass vase or jar.  UltimateMama found this glass jar with lid below in a thrift shop for $1.  Open vases work well too.

3.  Have your children look at the shells and decide which ones should go into the jar or vase and fill away!

4.  Display your souvenir shell project as a lovely tablescape.

5. Enjoy it every day.

 

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UltimateMama loves to buy easy to do art kits ahead of long weekends (or potential snowstorms).  Recently, her children had a blast painting and decorating with the Melissa & Doug Sweets Set. At $14.99, the kit offers 3 treats to decorate and UltimateMama promises loads of fun too.

 

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UltimateMama is known for her big weekend breakfasts.  Many times the meals consist of eggs (various styles), turkey bacon (or chicken sausage), and pancakes.  While UltimateMama loves making meals from scratch, sometimes, due to timing, she needs to take a few shortcuts on the pancake front and calls Williams-Sonoma to the rescue.  The pancake or waffle mixes at Williams-Sonoma can be pricey at approximately $11 per tin(1 lb 8 oz), however, post holidays many of these mixes are 50% off (watch the expiration dates).

This weekend UltimateMama tried the Williams-Sonoma Spiced Pecan Pancake & Waffle Mix and it received rave reviews.  Purchased in early-January for $4.99 it was definitely a fine after holiday treat for all.

 

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UltimateMama’s friend recently lamented a mistake in purchasing costly artwork for her child’s room.  Unfortunately, less than two years after the art was purchased the child labeled it as “babyish” and wanted it off the walls.  UltimateMama has an easy, cost efficient way of decorating bedroom (or bathroom) walls that will bring a smile to any child’s face — use your child’s artwork as the focal point and frame it!

Children have so much pride in their creations.  By displaying their efforts you are showing them that you value their unique, individualized masterpieces.  No matter the age of your child it is highly likely that you can find something they have created that will work well in a frame (sometimes the youngest children create the best abstract art pieces).

Several options exist for framing your child’s art projects.

Of course you can get your child’s artwork matted and framed professionally in a matter of days (or even hours).  The plus with using a professional framing shop is that you will have many options in terms of color, sizes, shapes of both the mats and the frames.  Additionally, if your child’s artwork has a unique shape or multiple dimensions a professional framer may be able to give you some ideas on ways to make it stand out.  One minus is that it may be harder to “update” the artwork if you decide to change the piece you had framed.  Additionally, professional framing comes at a cost (approximately $50 on the low end and a few hundred dollars on the high end).

UltimateMama has both used a professional framer as well as done it herself and was quite pleased with the results of both.  Self framing is quick, easy, and cost efficient.  Also, it allows you to easily swap out last year’s masterpiece for this year’s winner.  UltimateMama loves the Studio Décor frames in white from Michaels.  They are simply, classic, and easy to hang.  Many times, you can purchase one and get the second frame for free which is wonderful if you have multiple children’s rooms to decorate.  Both the land of nod and pottery barn have terrific frames for children too!

 

 

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UltimateMama feels that Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman is a must see for everyone.  You will feel the soft, silky sand in your toes as you walk down to the edge of the crisp, blue, warm waters of the Caribbean.  Lodging options are plentiful in Grand Cayman but UltimateMama suggests staying on Seven Mile Beach if you can swing it (if you can’t Sunshine Suites seems to be a nice option).  From the top of the line Ritz Carlton or Caribbean Club to the Marriott, Westin, or Comfort Suites, Grand Cayman has it all.

UltimateMama and her family opted for a condo at the Casa Carribe through www.vrbo.com and were extremely pleased with the accommodations.  The condo on the beach offered a pristine pool and well maintained tennis courts.  It was on one of the best snorkeling reefs on the beach.  Additionally, the condo was walking distance from the Strand shopping plaza which was filled with restaurants, grocery stores, liquor shops, and boutiques.  We stocked up on breakfast, lunch, and snack foods and strolled down the beach for dinner options which were plentiful.  Our condo was located near a wonderful restaurant that we loved to frequent for dinner called Luca — terrific Italian fare.  If you are eating with children or a large group UltimateMama recommends making reservations in advance.  The Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman not only had a spacious pool but also yummy restaurants.  UltimateMama’s children took advantage of the Ambassadors of the Environment programs at the Ritz Kids Club and saw some fabulous iguanas on site!

Not to be missed is the Dolphin Discovery experience which is a cab ride away (we used a taxi driver named Rita for all of our excursions).  Swimming with the dolphins was an extremely positive experience for our family of four!

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UltimateMama’s family loves fun in the sun so going to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean was an absolute delight.  We decided to forgo one of the ritzy hotels (Grace Bay Club, Gansevoort, Parrot Cay) and even some more moderately priced hotels (Seven Stars, Alexandra) for a two bedroom condo with kitchen at the Villa Renaissance.  We took a unique taxi service that we had previously arranged from the airport directly to a grocery store, stocked up on food for the week (including ice cream, popsicles, breakfast goodies, lunch items, and more), and arrived at the condo with plenty of time to hit the pool and beach.  During the week UltimateMama took a short stroll to Graceway, a local grocery store.  UltimateMama has a bit of advice for those who do not rent a car while in Turks and Caicos — the taxi fare can be outrageous — make sure you are clear of the cost of transportation before getting into the taxi.  Another piece of UltimateMama advice is to bring all of your own snorkeling equipment (masks, snorkel, fins).

After a morning of tennis, our girls were able to go to Iguana Island, snorkel, and eat conch salad with Caicos Dream Tours.  Great fun was had on the boat’s slide by UltimateMama and daddy too.  Seeing the dolphin JoJo was a real treat!

The crystal, clear blue water is breathtaking but so is the food (seriously)!  Make all reservations in advance of your trip.  We dined at wonderful places with our girls, including:

Infiniti at Grace Bay Club (we also roasted s’mores late at night)

Bay Bistro

Hemmingways

Da Conch Shack

Crackpot Kitchen

Coco Bistro

Seven

Magnolia was one restaurant we missed on this trip but will definitely hit next time due to rave reviews from friends.

For more snorkeling fun we took the kids (and our underwater disposable camera) to Smith’s Reef, right off the beach — we got there via taxi.  The colorful fish were amazing and playful, even in shallow waters!

UltimateMama’s family had their ultimate adventure riding horses on the beach with Caicos Corral.  Although it is pricey, it is a once in a lifetime experience that our kids will never forget.

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UltimateMama decided London was a great first stop in Europe for her family and it proved to be a brilliant move! Although they were a little too young for the Harry Potter – Warner Bros. excursion the first time they travelled across the pond, we still found plenty to kid friendly things to do.  And, “Katie in London” by James Mayhew was a favorite pre-trip book.  We have the a special edition as we were in London during the Queen’s Jubilee.

In both London and Paris, we bought our family tickets for the Big Bus Tours to allow us to hop on/hop off and see all the main attractions in a civilized manner.  You may be able to find discount codes or coupons online or on maps/brochures at tourist booths.  You won’t want to miss seeing top attractions in London such as the River Thames, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, or the London Eye.  Kids really enjoy watching the changing of the guard inside the gates at Buckingham Palace (check the time).  Pick up some lunch and eat in Hyde Park.  Go to Diana Memorial Playground and watch your kids let off steam by climbing the famous Pirate Ship.  Make sure you don’t forget letting them sit on the lions at Trafalgar Square.

Coming from a New Yorker, this says a lot, don’t miss the pizza — yes, the pizza — after you enjoy a morning shopping at Harrods.  And, of course let your children hug the big bears!

Purchase advance tickets to one of London’s numerous plays, such as the kid friendly “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Cap off a day and indulge in pub fair at Walkers of Whitehall, near Big Ben.

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When in Rome you may want to take a little side trip to Venice via train.  UltimateMama’s family of 4 did just that and loved every second of it.  Contrary to what you may expect, Venice is actually very intriguing to kids perhaps due to its numerous canals and winding city streets.  We booked our train from Rome to Venice online at trenitalia.com months before our trip’s departure date to ensure our family of 4 was seated together in an air conditioned car.  UltimateMama made sure to board the train with plenty of water and food in case of delays.  In terms of lodging, once again we chose to avoid the high priced hotel rooms in favor of a spacious flat and never regretted our decision.  Based on a friend’s positive experience we used The Red House company in Venice for our booking.

Equipped with the knowledge gained from the kids book “This is Venice” by M. Sasek, we explored the city in full taking numerous vaporettos in the process.  We also enjoyed watching the colorful, romantic gondolas go underneath bridges.

Besides getting a daily intake of gelato, we visited the Guggenheim, Ca Pesaro Art Museum, Rialto, and Doges Palace.  Did the girls feed the pigeons in Piazza San Marco? Of course they did!

Once special evening we ventured to dinner at Cipriani via their private boat shuttle from San Marco.

The weather cooperated with us to we even got to show the girls the Venetian Lagoon islands of Murano (glass making) and Burano (lace making).

Unfortunately, it rained the days we wanted to hit Lido Beach but I guess that means a repeat trip is in our future.

 

 

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UltimateMama loves Italy so taking her two kids to Rome was a wonderful treat for all!  Whether you stay in a hotel or rent a flat UltimateMama would suggest picking a centralized location near the metro line which will make it easy for your family to get around to the tourist attractions.  Perusing websites such as www.vrbo.com or www.homeaway.com is a good way to start your search for lodging, especially if your family is too large to share one hotel room and you want to avoid the high cost of booking a suite or two adjoining rooms.

A nice way to see Rome and learn its rich history in the process is by booking a private tour guide for your family.  Most tour guides will tell you to buy tickets in advance.  Most major tourist attractions that require tickets have websites so you can purchase the tickets months before your trip.  There are myriad tour guide options out there but we had a delightful experience with Vera Rome Tours.  Whether you want to see the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, or numerous Piazzas (Venezia, Navona, del Campidoglio, for instance) tour guides are a great way to organize your itinerary and get kids excited to gain knowledge.  Don’t forget to hit the Vatican Museum including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica!

UltimateMama bought several books on Rome before the trip to get her girls excited for their adventure.  Miroslav Sasek’s book, “This is Rome” was a favorite!

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