HGTV Presents Santa HQ!


It isn’t too late to get that iconic photo of your kids and Santa! HGTV has once again outdone themselves with the Santa HQ display at locations across the country. My family was invited to walk through Santa HQ at Scottsdale Fashion Square in Scottsdale, AZ. Even though the kids are starting to feel like they’re a bit too old for this Santa business… they loved being scanned by the electronic “Naughty/Nice” meter upon their arrival. We also were able to create an adorable holiday family video where we “elfed” ourselves. The video was emailed right to me. How adorable is that? And finally- they were able to explore the secret wonders in Santa HQ by using a tablet as a viewer and discovering hidden elves, gifts, and starlight displays!

Our family took a few photos without Santa as we exited Santa HQ and then as we rounded the corner, the big guy was waiting with open arms for the children! And while Allison didn’t want to sit on his lap, it’s an adorable memory, just the same. HGTV paid close attention to every detail, making Santa HQ feel warm, homey, and full of magical mystery. Find a location near you and make photo reservations today, before Santa packs up and heads back to the North Pole!

*Note: We were invited as a guest of Scottsdale Fashion Square to tour the event. I was not compensated for this post.

2016 Holiday Gift Guide for Special Needs Kids

Byrds Fore A CureOn the podcast this week, I shared my frustration about how our kids with SMA intellectually outgrow babyish toys, but don’t gain the strength a typical child has in order to operate more age appropriate toys. This is never more a challenge than at the holidays, when friends and family–while thoughtful and generous–buy our kids toys they can’t play with very easily, because they don’t realize how complicated it can be to find just the right fit for our kids! I shared some gift ideas for kids with SMA as they grow up (or for almost any kiddo with a fine motor impairment), based on my experience with my nine-year-old twins.

I’ve collected this holiday gift guide for special needs kids onto my Maven board, to make viewing and shopping them super easy! Give the podcast a listen for the reasons why these items made my list!

Click through to my board to browse the list and even shop, or read here (in order of suggested age):
1. Xylophone
2. Disney Princess MagiClip dolls
3. Kinetic Sand
4. LeapFrog LeapPad
5. Hexbug Nano
6. Orbeez Hand Spa Kit
7. Pokémon trading cards
8. Nintendo 3DS (with two new Pokémon games)
9. Nintendo Wii U
10. Xbox One

If you have other ideas, I’ll include them in our next podcast! Comment here, or email me at!

I Made a Gift Guide for Preschoolers, So You Don’t Have To!

As you may remember from this post, my sister and I both have an older singleton and then a set of twins. My twins are nine years old now (when did that happen??), but hers are just 2, and the sad fact is that’s a challenging age to shop for unless your kids are currently in that age bracket.


Melissa & Doug Pizza SetAs I brainstorm ideas for them, I’m also jogging my memory by sifting through photos of my twins at that age in an effort to see what kinds of gifts they opened back then: there was a lot of Elmo + Sesame Street, Caillou, tea sets + pretend food, and puzzle boards! I specificallyMelissa & Doug Wooden Latches Board remember the Melissa & Doug pizza set being a hit with both of my twins, and they, and their O.T., loved the latches board! They’re of such high quality, we still have them today (somewhere, in the dark corners of the play room I still need to sort through…).


Now that I’ve done the research for myself, I’ve curated some of the best gift ideas from the PBS Kids Shop and Melissa & Doug, which is a toy company with some of the most high quality products I’ve seen. You can’t go wrong with these brands, and the upcoming holiday season is the best time to shop for them–just in time for Black Friday!

Click through to view, or visit my newest Pinterest board!


A Shape Mag-nificent Summer!

Listen closely–do you hear that? It’s the sound of a quiet house! You know what that means? The kids are back in school! Obviously, I love my kids and appreciate their cherubic charm at all times, but I also appreciate a peaceful cup of coffee with Kathy & Hoda and it’s been three months since I’ve enjoyed either of those two things.

My oldest is in 7th grade–which suddenly makes me feel old–and the twins are now in 4th grade. The school year is off to a great and healthy start for all of us, thank goodness!



Shape Mags 1Over the summer, the kids received a care package from the kind folks at Shape Mags, and it has been the only thing to draw them away from their screens for the last month. As you may recall, one effect of the twins’ SMA is weakness of their voluntary muscles, including their hands. Traditional Legos and other snap-on types of building blocks require more dexterity and strength than they’ve ever had, so when I heard that this product uses magnets I was intrigued. You can see from Lauren’s video that she can easily pull them apart and put them back together as she builds things. The kids’ occupational therapist thinks they’re a great activity to keep their hands (and minds) busy, and I agree. We only have two sets so far, but there’s a wide selection of over a dozen different sets here, ranging from $10-$99. I think it’s a fun alternative to Legos for children who can’t “do” Legos–or even for those who can, because what kid doesn’t like to play with magnets? The kids can even combine their Little People pieces, Hot Wheels, or small stuffed animals with Shape Mags to create even more imaginative play! Plus, I don’t see Shape Mags as a choking hazard for small children like I see with Legos. The Starter Set even comes with idea books (also sold on Amazon for $10 each)!
Shape MagsLauren also reminded me that “Shape Mags are good for age three to eighty-three!”, as the box says, so we brought them to my dad to see if he would use them. My father has advanced Parkinson’s and is in a rehab center right now, so I also got to show off the Shape Mags to his therapists. They hadn’t heard of Shape Mags, but they all agreed that the gentle magnetic feature make it an unusual and fun way to keep his hand strength and dexterity. His speech therapist also pointed out that with some “rules”, it could be a cognitive exercise, also–use only the red shapes, or see how many types of round shapes he can make, for example.




Lauren, in particular, is also a big fan of toy reviews by kids on YouTube, so I let her record one–hopefully, this will jump start her career as a young YouTuber, and will jump start that college fund!

Shape Mags have been a fun addition to our toybox, and now they may temporarily relocate to my parents’ house when my dad comes home! Santa may have some ideas already…

Shape Mag







Shape Mags provided the toy starter sets, but we were not otherwise compensated for this posts. Opinions here are my own.


Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why she has hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at

How to Get a US Passport for Your Child

family vacation

We recently had the opportunity to take our family to the all-inclusive resort, Beaches, in Turks & Caicos. Neither of my girls had passports, so I set out on a quest to figure out how to get them. It’s a pretty straightforward process, but I’m divorced from their father, so that added another layer of complexity. In this post, I’ll guide you through the passport process. Happy Travels!

Before You Get Started:

Every child, regardless of age, needs a passport to travel out of the USPassports for children under 16, are valid for 5 years. If your child has never had a passport before, you must apply in person. The child must be present and BOTH parents/guardians must be present. If one parent is unable to be present, there is a consent form.  My ex-husband was present and I had a consent form, just in case, because we were going overseas and it made me more comfortable. The consent form must be notarized.

What You’ll Need to Apply For Your Child’s Passport:

  1. Evidence of U.S. Citizenship
  2. Evidence of Parental Relationship
  3. Photo Identification
  4. Parental Consent
  5. Passport Photo
  6. Application Forms
  7. Passport Fees

US Passport Application Forms:

Complete by Hand

Complete Online and Print

What Type of Passport Does My Child Need?

You can obtain a passport card or a passport book for you child. The passport card is not valid for International air travel. So, if you’re planning on traveling by air for your vacation, you will need to have a passport book for your child. The passport book is the only passport valid for International air travel. 


Here’s a list of passport fees and how to properly pay for them.


Traveling with your children is one of the most amazing gifts you can give them. We took our first trip as a blended family in October of 2015. You can read all about here + some tips for traveling as a blended family. I’ve also shared some tips on how to pack for a beach vacation for adults and children.

Happy Travels!



*Note- This was not a sponsored post. I wrote this post in order to be a help to traveling families.


Springtime Updates for Your Child’s Living Space!

We recently had the pleasure of talking Spring DIY with the good folks at Trulia, your home for real estate! As we noted last week Spring Break is almost upon us–what about using some of this time to collaborate with your children to refresh their bedrooms (and maybe even, coughcough, some spring cleaning)? We are pleased to feature a guest post by Hannah Goodman of  Trulia with some tips and the latest trends in kid-friendly design!


Spring is a time for new beginnings. As the days get longer and the heat of the Arizona desert begins to rise again, many homeowners in the Phoenix metropolitan area are struck by the inspiration to take on home improvement projects that they have been putting off. For some, spring projects may be as simple as cleaning and redecorating for the summer months, while others will choose to take on a larger remodel or upgrade project. If you are a parent and thinking about taking on a larger scale project, spring is the perfect time to upgrade your child’s living space. With your kids still in school most of the day, you will have time and space to execute your remodel before the summer months begin. The following are some trends and factors to consider when remodeling your child’s living space.

Springtime Updates For Your Child's Living Space!Choose a Design Aesthetic that will stand the Test of Time

Perhaps the most important thing to take into account when conceptualizing your child’s room is the adaptability of the design. Will the color scheme and theme you choose outlast the inevitable changes that adolescence bring? Choosing a neutral color palette for your remodel in Chandler can give you a great base to build upon throughout your child’s formative years. That hot pink or bright green color scheme may seem like a good idea in the moment, but it may end up costing you more time and money down the road. While this upgrade is typically a simple one, repainting can be a daunting and sometimes costly task. so try using wallpaper or wall decals as time and cost-effective method to satisfy the decorative wants and needs of your children. Another way to navigate your child’s change in style is to choose a theme for the whole room. Travel and adventure motifs, in particular, lend themselves to growth and change while also inspiring imagination and creativity.

Springtime Updates for Your Child’s Living Space!Purchase or Upgrade Built-In Furniture

This trend has been around for a few years and seems to be here to stay. Built-ins not only offer great space saving techniques for smaller spaces, they are also easy to modify as your child grows. For instance, built-in shelves that hold toys for young children can be repainted or redecorated and used later on to hold books, schoolwork and picture frames for teenagers. Currently, some of the most popular built-ins are beds with storage drawers. Not only do these furniture pieces help cut down on clutter, they add a classy touch to any design scheme. However, we know that your child will outgrow his or her childhood bed, and that the installation of built-ins can be more complex than a simple paint job. So, as an alternative to purchasing a costly new bed frame with built-in storage every few years, pick up an under-bed storage bag or box which can be reused with each new bedframe.


Springtime Updates for Your Child’s Living Space!Add a Loft or a Decorative Partition

Does your home in Fountain Hills have high ceilings? Consider adding a loft to your child’s room. Although this project is perhaps the largest undertaking, the benefits are immense. Lofts can serve many different purposes and hold everything from beds to desks to reading areas stuffed with pillows. For children sharing a room, lofts can also make each individual child feel as though they have their own space to escape to. Lofts also create more storage and living space in a smaller room. For a more temporary solution, try setting up a reading nook with pillows in a window seat or create some divisions in your child’s room with decorative partitions.

There are many different ways to update your home this spring. While it may be tempting to go for the typical kitchen or living room remodel, consider an improvement to your child’s space, as it can save you time cleaning and repainting for years to come. If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out Trulia’s Life at Home blog for more tips and tricks!