mindful living, effortless style

Recently, one of my neighbors sent out a group text asking if anyone had logs from cut-down trees for a friend who had some cool plans for her backyard. It immediately reminded me of the Natural Play Spaces series we did a few years ago and I sent it to her.

Looking over it, I remembered how wonderful it was and wanted to share it with you guys with the 3-day weekend, and unofficial start of the summer, here. 

I hope it inspires you to look at your backyard in a whole new way this summer!

I’ve written before about how much I value outdoor time for kids but recently I’ve been thinking more specifically about the topic. Outdoor time of any type is great in my book, but time spent actively exploring nature is even better.

You may remember a few months back I told you guys I had the pleasure of attending an amazing talk on raising creative kids in a hurried world by Nancy Blakey. Read More

*This post is sponsored by Abbott Nutrition, all opinions are 100% our own.

Today we’re back with our latest sponsor, Go & Grow by Similac Food Mix-Ins. Inspired by how easy Mix-Ins makes it to add vitamins and protein to our kids’ favorite foods, we’re once again sharing a healthier twist on a classic kid recipe.

And, in case you missed our last post, don’t forget you can get free Mix-Ins samples sent right to you!

Visit this page for free samples (while supplies last)

 

Here’s Kaley with recipe the details…

It is always my goal to give my kids a varied, colorful diet with plenty of healthy foods. But no matter what I put down in front of my 2 year old, she pushes it away and asks for mac and cheese.

I can’t really blame her. Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? But the boxed mac and cheese is far from the nutritious meal I want her eating on a daily basis.

Thankfully, I have found a way to make her beloved mac and cheese a whole lot healthier. 

By using cauliflower as a base for the cheese sauce, mac and cheese goes from being a request I dread to something I am proud to serve the whole family!

And on those days when I know my toddler really hasn’t been anywhere near a vegetable, adding in a packet of Go & Grow Food-Mix Ins supports her brain, eye and overall development with their unique blend of DHA, lutein and vitamin E along with protein, fiber and other vitamins and minerals.

Super healthy cauliflower mac and cheese that your toddler will love!

The Mix-ins don’t change the taste of the food, so your toddler will never know the difference! My healthier mac and cheese is always a hit and my little one has no idea I have added anything to it.

Healthier Cauliflower Mac n’ Cheese

Ingredients:

Read More

*This post is sponsored by The Quaker Oats Company, all opinions are 100% our own

I’m so happy to announce that this year I’m once again a part of The Oat Authority, a great team of bloggers out to help Quaker meet the needs of families’ evolving lifestyles with tips, recipes, and products that provide delicious, wholesome and convenient breakfasts and snacks.

Today we’re kicking things off with our new go-to breakfast for summer (Yay! It’s finally time to start talking about summer!)

Here’s Kristin with the goods…

I don’t know about you, but around here, summer weather makes us start craving tropical flavors.

In fact, it might seem like an surprising combination, but tropical flavors and oatmeal are one of our family’s favorite duos this time of year. Quaker Oats (whether Old Fashioned, Instant or Steel-Cut Oats) are 100 percent whole grain, making them the ideal morning start to help us prepare for the day ahead.

Today I’ve put together for you a chilled overnight oats recipe that’s perfect for summer. It’s creamy, sweet, and will knock your socks off (I swear).

Plus, the Quaker Oats, protein powder and coconut create the perfect combination to help keep everyone fueled until lunch time.

The best part about this recipe is that you make it the night before and breakfast is served upon waking. Easy peasy.

There’s absolutely no cooking involved. The oats soak in a liquid all night long and in the morning you have a hearty, satisfying breakfast. Read More

Image Credit: © Jason Lander | Play date | CC by 2.0

It’s that time of year again when parents of preschool-aged kids have to lock-in their decision about what kind of school their kids will (or won’t) be attending next year.

While our journey has been a lot different than today’s contributor, (between them, my kids have attended play-based, religious, secular, outdoor, and montessori preschools). One thing I can definitely relate to is the surprise at having to wrestle with the decision again and again each year and with each kid.

I naively thought I’d find a great preschool when my oldest was 3 and be set.

But circumstances change (we’ve moved since then), options change (I just couldn’t pass on that outdoor preschool experience once it opened and the next year I needed more hours than it could provide), and – most importantly – each kid is different and sometimes even the same kid’s needs change from year to year.

So here I am, with 6 collective years of preschool under my mommy belt, once again looking at a whole new place for my 2 1/2 year olds’ first preschool experience next fall.

I have to say, Jessica’s experience makes me feel like at least I’m not the only one!

Who knew we’d be shopping for preschools with kid number three? But here we are, basically waving the middle finger at our old preschool as we motor past to the new one, all because we recently discovered that we have serious preschool deal-breakers.

And the price tag is one of them.

I felt a twinge of guilt last week when I sat in the playground, filling out the paperwork for the new preschool, the one our wildcat of a four year old will be attending in the fall. But then I looked up at my son zooming down the slide and back down at the monthly fee highlighted on my clipboarded papers, and I instantly felt better.

Obviously, the bottom line isn’t the only reason we’re changing things up. But all the deal-breakers I had the first time around – the stuff that had me wrinkling my nose when we toured preschools, like an older facility and teachers lacking education-based graduate degrees – don’t really matter anymore.

Five years ago, we were impressed by an immaculate facility with its hand-painted murals, coded entry, sprawling play sets and child-sized garden plots off each classroom. We approved of the emailed notes sent home every day by our kid’s teacher, and we thought the academic-based curriculum was important, even though socialization was the actual point of preschool.

For the privilege of sending our son here twice a week from about nine am to just after lunch finished at one, we paid $315 every month.

Our preschool priorities were: nice facility, educational curriculum, involved director, highly qualified teachers, good parent/teacher communication, great location and reasonable price.

When our second child was ready for preschool, we went back to the same school. Easy peasy.

Because of the August birthday craziness that completely messed up our preschool/kindergarten scheduling with number three, it’s been a while since we shopped preschools. We hadn’t planned on shopping at all, actually. Why would we?

Well, because Read More

I’ve got to start today with a warning: this is a LONG post. (If you want to skip straight to the mattress I finally ended up with – and LOVE – and the limited time offer for MPMK readers of 10% off and a bonus worth $500 that includes my favorite bamboo sheets, go here!)

It’s one I’ve been wanting to write for a long time and is packed with so much good stuff that I just couldn’t trim it.

I know it’s a lot but I really hope you do read it all! I have become so passionate about the importance of sleep– especially for us parents who never seem to get enough!

Studies from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services show that if you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change…

This is a BIG deal for all of us trying to maintain our cool with our kids and create a peaceful home.

Sleep has a big impact on our physical health too. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke

Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity.

Finally, actively prioritizing sleep for yourself and your family sets a critically important example for your kids and sets them down the path for better health too.

This is imperative because children and teens who are sleep deficient may have problems getting along with others. They may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation. They also may have problems paying attention, and they may get lower grades and feel stressed.

 Hopefully I’ve convinced you about the importance of sleep!

Here’s my story…

Since I was a teenager I’ve dealt with two chronic health issues: back pain and insomnia.

Chronic Low Back Pain

The back pain started with a sports-related stress fracture. Once that healed and the physical therapy was done, it seemed that area of my body was just always going to be weak.

A very long story short… over the past 18 years I’ve had multiple MRIs, several herniated lumbar discs, a couple of steroid injections in the surgery center and many, many rounds with physical therapy, therapeutic massage, and the chiropractor.

Not surprisingly, with each of my three babies the back problems only got worse.

My daughter, S, had to be induced after she shifted in the womb, placing pressure on my lower back in just such a way that it made it impossible from me to stand up straight or walk. (I can still remember the confused look on my 20-month-old son’s face as I pushed myself around our house stooped over our wheeled office chair and then disappeared to the hospital for two days to have his little sister.)

On Father’s Day when my son was 3 and my daughter was 1, we were heading out to lunch. I took a step out of the house and into the garage, felt the familiar stab of pain, and knew my husband was going to be spend his special day taking care of me instead of being celebrated.

I also went through several weeks of physical therapy and chiropractic treatment after having our third child, M.

I had to learn special ways to bend down to pick him up and to hold him when breastfeeding, but we got through it.

Then early last year, when he was just over a year old, I had an especially bad episode (see the photo of me and my walker below).

Steph

That time, I ended up getting my second steroid injection performed in our hospital’s surgery center by a spinal surgeon. It did wonders for my pain and healing… after about two weeks of being out of commission.

During that time, between injury onset and the beginning of pain relief, my 6-year-old, 4-year-old, 1-year-old and I made it through the day with some truly ridiculous routines.

These involved me literally crawling up and down our stairs, having my oldest help to lift the baby in and out of his crib, and having my 4-year-old help me walk the baby up to our SUV, get him up and in, and then hoist him into his carseat on her own so I could buckle him in.

So there’s that.

 

Insomnia

And then there’s the insomnia, the root of which is less clear. It didn’t really become an issue until college and grad school.

I spent so many nights helplessly watching the clock thinking, “If I fall asleep now, I’ll still get 5 hours of sleep… If I fall asleep now, I’ll get 4 hours of sleep”. After a few nights of this, my body would inevitably crash and either mercifully readjust or the cycle would start again.

Eventually, thankfully, I developed a series of strategies to deal with my insomnia. (Cue the angel choir here!)

Nothing crazy revolutionary, just routines that many smart people have found to help out anyone that’s not sleeping as well as they want to be: 

  • a regular bedtime routine and schedule
  • cutting my use of screens at night
  • taking baths and drinking tea to relax
  • setting up a truly restful bedroom

The Game Changer

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One of the things that has really been big for me in dealing with my insomnia is the bed I sleep on. Sleeping on a truly supportive bed helps so much not only with falling asleep, but also with preventing tossing and turning while sleeping.

You know what else a high-quality, super supportive mattress helps with? Yep, you got it, back health.

And let me just say, even if you don’t have crazy back issues like mine (and I hope you don’t!), it is still so, so important to support and protect your back. Why?

A whopping 80% of adults will deal with low back pain in their life (according to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke).

When I was 17 and had back issues, people were always so surprised… Now, not so much.

In fact my neighbor (who also has small children) threw out her back just last month. The next day I brought my walker over to her and several of our other neighbors were chiming in with offers of things like chiropractor recommendations and offers to lend their husband’s back pain witch hazel cream.

Moral of the story? We’re not teenagers anymore and back pain is so much more common as we all get older (and by “older” I mean in our 30s!).

So do what you can to prevent it now- trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

I’ve known for years that investing in a high quality bed was one of the most important things I could do for my health.

But let’s be real, beds are expensive.

When we started having kids, and therefore sometimes found ourselves with three or more bodies in our bed, we upgraded to a king size, pillow top Tempur-Pedic that we purchased from Costco. That was a big upgrade from the hand-me down mattress we had been sleeping on and, for a couple of years, and it seemed all good.

But then, only about two years after purchasing the Tempur-Pedic, we started to notice that, no matter how much we rotated the mattress, it dipped in the spots we each slept in.

So we tried adding a fancy foam topper. It was very cushy, but the support still wasn’t there.

I was waking up each morning stiff and sore. It got to the point where getting myself out of bed each morning was often what hurt the most, even when I was otherwise feeling fine.

I knew it was time to seriously invest in a high quality bed.

But here’s the thing. I didn’t want to do this every five years.

I am the type that researches the heck out of big decisions like these and I didn’t want to be spending weeks, or even months, of my life thinking about it ever again. I wanted to find the best and be done with it.

IntelliBEDvsSleepNumber

Around this time, my parents had decided that they wanted a non-toxic mattress and were going to get rid of their Sleep Number bed. The mattress was only about two years old and was basically like new.

I’d seen the commercials on TV about how great the Sleep Number bed was and thought something that I could adjust to feel the best for my back could be just the ticket.

But then we went to the Sleep Number store.

The mattress was comfortable and I did like the adjustability factor, but I just wasn’t as blown away as I thought I would be. I wondered if this new bed would really be any better than our old mattress or if it was just a gimmick.

I started researching the Sleep Number technology online and found a lot of reviewers referring to it as “a glorified blow up mattress” as well as many people who were less than impressed with what they really got for their warranty.

Plus, it’s not like my parents were satisfied customers either.

That’s when it struck me that instead of focusing on the latest, most well-marketed, fad… what I should be trying to find was the best mattress for back health. A little digging, and I found…

The mattress that has changed my life: The IntelliBED.

 

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I found myself reading A LOT on one specific mattress, the intelliBED, and on the special material it is made of, Intelli-Gel.

Intelli-Gel is made from a soft, but extremely strong and elastic solid copolymer gel formed into a honey comb design of the many individual support squares- each of which have the ability to sense when the pressure load would be uncomfortable to the human body and automatically relax to relieve that pressure.

I also watched a lot of videos like the one below, comparing Sleep Number mattresses to IntelliBED mattresses.

 

 

After all that research, I felt like I really needed to try it out.

If there was even a chance it would help with my back pain, it would make such an enormous impact on my life and my children’s life.

So I contacted the company to see if I could try out the mattress and come on as an affiliate if it worked for me.

Spoiler Alert: We got the mattress and we love it.

 

There are three very big reasons we are such big fans of the IntelliBED.

Reasons I Tell Everyone to Get an IntelliBED

 

#1 IntelliBED is the Only Mattress that has Helped My Chronic Back Pain

 

We’ve had our mattress for about 5 months now and my days are so much better. No more waking up stiff and sore. No more wincing as I stand up from bed in the morning!

In fact, this may seem odd, but having this bed has finally given me the confidence to have minor back surgery next month… In the past I’ve been so stuck on such a never-ending merry-go-round of injury, recovery, injury, recovery that it felt like surgery would be pointless.

Sure, I could have the procedure in which they suck out what my surgeon referred to as “not a medium or large herniation- but a huge herniation”, but I had zero confidence that the problem wouldn’t just come back, as it always has.

Now, I’ve been functioning without significant back pain for nearly half a year and I finally feel ready to have the procedure done, to get the herniated disc material out of there, and move on with my life.

There is something I want you to know, though… the first night I slept on the IntelliBED mattress I didn’t like it.

I thought it was going to be too firm for me. I was used to the foam topper we’d been using and my body woke up more sore than ever.

The super-friendly customer service agent I worked with to select the right mattress for me, The Posture Perfect Lo-Motion, had warned that this would happen, that all of the mattresses take a week or two to “break in”.

Nevertheless, I was crestfallen.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I was determined to truly find the best bed out there for my back and I was thinking this just wasn’t going to be it. But I hung in there and tried it for a few more weeks.

Sure enough, with each day my body got a little more used to this new, more supportive mattress that actually pushed back to give support to my stress points (hips and shoulders since I’m a side sleeper).

Until one day I woke up and realized I was probably the most comfortable I’d ever been in my entire life.

And it wasn’t just the nights- during the day my back has been performing better than it has in years. It makes sense, right?

We spend so much of our lives in our beds!

I had been buying all sorts of chair cushions, back supports and step stools to try to properly align myself while sitting during the day but hadn’t been doing anything about my alignment during the night– that’s 1/3 of my life that my back was going unsupported!

#2 The Gel Technology Has Meant No Insomnia for Months

 

This one actually surprised me a lot- it never occurred to me that a different mattress could actually help my insomnia. But the truth is I almost never toss and turn anymore. I just don’t.

This video does a better job than I ever could of explaining why…

#3 It’s Non-Toxic

 

I mentioned briefly above that my parents were getting rid of their bed because of concerns about what they’d read about conventional mattresses and off-gasing.

Around that time I also started to become really interested non-toxic products.

I’m not sure what started it exactly, except maybe that a couple people we are close to have gotten critically sick lately… It’s made me realize how truly precious our health is and to make me want to do all that I can to protect the health of my family.

We are so lucky to live in a time where people care about this stuff and there are so many resources out there to help you make better choices in all of your purchases for your family.

When making such a big purchase as a new mattress, I’m of the belief that this is definitely something that should not be over-looked.

Here’s another video explaining why the IntelliBED is a better choice. (Sorry for the video-heavy post, I just think they’re such a great way to learn!)

So that’s my story. I decided to share it now because in the past our family has used our tax refund to make important purchases and I thought the info. might be useful to you this time of year.

And also because, since I am now an official IntelliBED affiliate, I am authorized to extend a very special, limited time discount to my readers!

MPMK Reader Special Offer:

 

May 19th, 2016 – June 19th, 2016

Get 10% Off Your Mattress + Luxury Bamboo Sheet Set & 2 IntelliPILLOWS ($500 value)

I love these bamboo sheets, by the way! They are so wonderful for helping to regulate body temperature and keep me wonderfully cool all night long.

One last thing I should mention, IntelliBED far exceeds the industry standard when it comes to their trial/return process and their warranty.

So you can feel confident about plunking down your hard earned money to try it out.

 

Intellibed Mattress Return Policy

I know this is a big decision and one that you want to get right.

If you have questions, please leave them below, I’m happy to help!

 

P.S. If you’re wondering about my parents, they had an organic mattress made in California and shipped to their home a couple of months before we got our IntelliBED. Then they came over to my house and my dad, who also has chronic back issues, tried it.

His response? He turned to my mom and said simply, “We need one.”

I couldn’t quite swing a new mattress for him, but I did gift him the IntelliBED desk chair pad (the same pad I use at my desk when I’m working) and he loves it.

What’s on your summer bucket list this year?

How about the simple goal of  slowing down and entertaining the kids with some engaging and hands-on activities? And what if you could even check some stuff off your own “To Do” list as well?

Sounds like a good plan, right?

But scouring the web to find activities to fill the days just takes way too long. If you’re like me, you need simple ideas that will be successful for all of the kids – and lots of them.

Activities that will allow for bonding time, but also independent play, and that will keep the kids happy and their brains stimulated all summer long.

That’s where the Camp Mom: Summer Activities Pack comes in. It’s an 86 page PDF I cooked up with a group of the best playtime bloggers around.

And here’s the best part. We’re having a…

Simplify Your Summer Sale!

 

campmom3Dcover

Buy the Camp Mom Activities pack now and get

 

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Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life: The Quick Start Guide $9.99 for only $1.99!

 

That’s 80% off my uber popular organizational handbook that has sold over 10,000 copies worldwide.

Simplify Your Summer Bundle:

 

Regularly $21.98, Now $13.98

Add to Cart

 

Limited Time Only: Get your bundle now!

 

Not familiar with the 86 page Camp Mom Activities Pack?

It’s basically what you’d get if you asked all of your favorite teachers, babysitters, and supermoms to make a summer curriculum just for you…

It’s really going to help you make the most of the precious time you have this spring and summer. Plus, the activities are open-ended so they’re great for a wide range of ages. 

Included in your 86 page Summer Activities Pack, you’ll find:

 

4 Comprehensive Theme Weeks

Each including playtime activities, ideas for getting out of the house, and reading lists:

  • Water: Splash and Play
  • Art: The Earth Without art is just “Eh”
  • Nature: Explorers in Your Own Back Yard
  • Bonus: Sensory Play Any Day theme with a printable list of ideas you can refer to any time you need an activity QUICK that will engage the kids and keep everyone happy. The Sensory Play section also includes links to loads of sensory activities that rank as favorites with our kids.

Planning Printables

  • Bucket List – Make sure you don’t miss something you REALLY want to do.
  • Summer Routine Sheet – Combine your tasks and the kids activities.
  • Theme Adventure and Activity Planner – You won’t forget what supplies you need.
  • Summer Survival Sheet – Keep your most important data in one spot.

 

Camp Mom: an 84 page PDF download put together by the best playtime bloggers around - full of activities, reading lists, crafts and adventure ideas for making the most of your spring and summer break!

In total the pack contains 45 detailed play activities as well as TONS of bonus ideas and resources.

Along with the planning printables, activity instructions, adventure ideas, and reading lists – we’ve also included bonus sections to ensure your summer runs smoothly.  Topics include:

  • How to Plan for a Mindful Summer
  • How to Keep the Peace Between Siblings
  • How to Put Together a Basic Summer Art Supplies Kit (Plus 20 more art ideas using just those basics)
  • How to Get the Most Out of Museum Field Trips and How to Discuss Art with Kids
  • Kitchen Sensory Fun
  • And more!

Don’t wait to get all set for a simplified summer:

 

Order your bundle today

 

And don’t forget about the bonus: Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life: The Quick Start Guide for 80% off!

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Inside this easy 50 page read you’ll find a new approach to starting down the road to a simplified and more organized life.

  • Rather than instructions on how to fold your T-shirts or organize your pantry, you’ll take a look at your daily habits and weekly routines to start thinking differently about how to efficiently spend your time. Along the way we’ll conquer some of the biggest obstacles to living the simplified life you’re yearning for: decluttering, cleaning, organizing, meal planning and more.
  • Customizable strategies for it all.  We’re of the belief that one size does NOT fit all. Which is why the quick start guide is full of resources for a variety of lifestyles, schedules, and personalities.
  • A built-in support network.  Yeah, we know, a support system for organizing? Sounds a little over the top – but you’d be surprised how motivating a facebook group of over 12,000 fellow simplifiers can be.
  • No unattainable goals, only real-life expectations. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that simplifying and organizing is a journey, not a destination.  So we’ve set up our quick start guide accordingly.  By offering lots of different strategies for tackling a problem, we’re arming you with the tools you need to be successful when life changes on you.
  • Bonus Material: We’re also teamed up with our favorite meal planning service, Relish!, to offer everyone who buys the eBook an exclusive 20% discount code – it’ll make dinner prep a snap!

Want a peek inside? Here’s a look at the table of contents and first few pages of the book…

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Here’s what readers have to say about the book…

I have moved over twelve times in the last ten years, once with only three boxes and know the freedom that comes from less stuff. I also know, that less stuff doesn’t equal being more organized, and that is what I love about this book.  I have the clutter down – but the cleaning, meal planning, schedules and overall sense of “got my act together” not so much. POYEL the book goes beyond being inspirational. It’s ACTIONABLE. Filled with simple tips, plans, and steps for any lifestyle that you can put into action immediately.

~ Destri Bumfack, founder of The Mother Huddle

 

In this crazy, busy world we all crave a little more simplicity and a life full of intention.  The first step to all of that is organization.  Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life: The Quick Start Guide breaks down what always seems to be an impossible and daunting task into manageable, bite-sized chunks that are easily applied in your own life.  Stephanie’s friendly writing style makes this an easy read and her brilliant twists on an old theme make for plenty of light-bulb moments that will leave you excited to jump in and conquer whatever chaos plagues you.  I’m coming back to it again and again as I work on my vision for this new year.  From dejunking to meal planning and schedule making there’s so much useful information packed into this one ebook (plus the online resources it connects you with!) —  it will be a resource you’ll keep coming back to as well.

~Amanda Morgan, founder of Not Just Cute

 

Project Organize Your Entire Life – The Quick Start Guide is more than an ebook, it’s a brand new way of life.  If you’ve been looking for a way to revolutionize your routines and your life with a family, start here.  Steph takes you through the process that worked for her family.  Thoroughly, she also lays out different methods to ensure that you will most definitely find a method that will work for your personality and style.  This is a must-complete process for busy families in 2013!

~Becky, founder of Clean Mama

 

Don’t wait, get your Simplify Your Summer Bundle now and be fully prepared on the first day of summer!

Simplify Your Summer Bundle:

 

Regularly $21.98, Now $13.98

Add to Cart

 

Limited Time Only: Get your bundle now!

As a stay-at-home mom with a baby and preschooler, summer life doesn’t look ALL that much different than my regular mom life.

But it feels different, doesn’t it?

The warm weather, longer hours of daylight, weekday trips to the pool, road trip vacations, and kids filling the library, park and neighborhood streets, all add up to a totally different routine in my mind.

And summer reading is part of that, obviously.

Whether your book is accompanying you to a park bench or a sparkling view of the ocean, here are twenty reads to put on your summer reading list.

From chick lit and parenting wisdom to memoir and stuff sure to make you laugh (#11!), there’s a little bit of something for everyone here:

  1. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. If The Nightingale was your book last summer, this is your WWII book for 2016. Three women – a German doctor, a Polish teenager, and a New York socialite at the French Consulate – will all find their lives intertwined when Hilter goes marching into Paris.
  2. When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This is absolutely my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. Paul is a neurosurgery resident in his final year of training when he’s diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. His memoir is touching, thoughtful, and surprisingly funny. I want to buy a copy for every person I know.
  3. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. The title of this smash-hit debut refers to a Nest Egg or trust fund that four siblings have counted on receiving as the stock market has soared. But when one brother gets himself in legal trouble, thanks to a DUI, the Nest is in trouble and his sibling decide it’s time to confront him.
  4. Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living by Jason Gay. This fun, quick read reminded me a lot of Dave Barry, with witty, laugh-out-loud essays about the banalities of life. There’s also a lot of sweetness and good advice here too, so it’s the perfect thing to take along on your plane flight or for dipping in and out of between swim lessons.
  5. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. How could I leave off the new Harry Potter novel? I was in eighth grade when I first discovered Harry Potter and I was instantly a fan for life. My adult self is no less excited about this new release than my 13-year-old self would have been.
  6. Elements of Style: Designing a Home & a Life by Erin Gates. If summer organizing is more your thing than spring cleaning, this book will have you dying to fix up your house, and this book is one of the best home decor books I’ve ever read. It’s super accessible, inspirational, and fun – after reading it, I felt empowered, not overwhelmed.
  7. My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Elizabeth Strout is known for her novels that gently explore relationships, and this one looks at the relationship between a mother and daughter after Lucy undergoes what should have been a straight-forward medical procedure.
  8. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. There’s nothing better than when an author you love puts out another winner. From the author of the super-popular Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, comes a romance set at the brink of World War I. If you’re mourning the ending of Downton Abbey, grab this one.
  9. The Year of Cozy: 125 Recipes, Crafts, and Other Homemade Adventures by Adrianna Adarme. Summer is a time to try new things, break out of the normal school-year routine, and tackle adventure, big and small. This book is the perfect way to do all of those things in the cozy walls of your own home.
  10. Too Much of a Good Thing: How Four Key Survival Traits Are Now Killing Us by Lee Goldman. Not to put a damper on your burger grilling, but this book will definitely make you rethink some of the ways you live, and in a good way. This is non-fiction at its finest, with tons of research and science combined with fascinating storytelling.
  11. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. If you just need to laugh a little at how ridiculous parenting and family life can be, Jim Gaffigan is your man. Bonus points if you can get your hands on the audio version since he narrates it himself and you’ll be crying with laughter by page three.
  12. Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton. For those who have followed Humans of New York online, you’ll love having this bound copy ready to read in one sitting. Moving, insightful, and hilarious, this is a book that makes you feel happy to be alive.
  13. The BFG by Roald Dahl. Read this classic aloud with your kids and then go see the movie together. You’ll probably need to buy some Frobscottle, er, soda to go with your popcorn.
  14. Maisie Dobbs
  15. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. This is one of those books that defy description, but Bone Gap won the Printz Award and was a National Book Award Finalist, so you can trust that this YA book with a hint of the otherwordly, a taste of romance, and a lot of mystery is going to be worth your time.
  16. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. This author shot to fame for her historical fictional title Between Shades of Gray (not to be confused with that other Shades of Gray novel), but I’m inclined to think this one, a YA novel about a girl in 1950s New Orleans who grew up the daughter of a brothel prostitute, is even better. Josie is desperate to leave the Big Easy behind, but then a mysterious death forces her to reassess her plans and her relationships.
  17. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe. If you have a child who is always asking “why” and “how” and you can’t figure out how to explain it, Randall Munroe is to the rescue. And if you’re the person always asking those questions, all the better. This book is definitely for you.
  18. American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales. Whether you’re raising girls or boys, this book is a must-read that looks into what social media is doing to childhood, adolescence and a culture where communication means an electronic device, not a conversation (also check out the very excellent Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age).
  19. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. With the movie coming out in June, now is the time to read this international bestseller if you haven’t already. You likely already know the premise – Will is confined to a wheelchair after a chance motorcycle accident, and Louisa is hired to be his caretaker for six months. Buy this one with a box of Kleenex.
  20. A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. Whether or not you’re a die-hard Jane Austen fan, this is a delightful read about a graduate student who has zero interest in regency’s most famous author until he’s forced to read Emma and discovers that even he might have something to learn. He does an excellent job weaving his own experiences into those of Austen’s six novels and her own life story. Cue up Colin Firth for when you’ve finished!

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More Summer Reading Resources from MPMK

Free Printable: Summer Reading Scavenger Hunt

12 Month Book Club for Moms

All-Time Favorite Kid Books: Picks for Every Age

Now that summer break is just around the corner (or maybe even here for some of you!), It’s time to start thinking about how to keep our kids active and engaged without resorting to video games and television.

At the top of my list is (rather predictably) outside, unstructured play.

Here’s Julee with one of my all-time favorite set-ups for doing just that

Our yard was one of the top reasons we chose our new house. We have lots of space, a large deck and trees to keep us sheltered from the sun. My goal is to get my kids out there as much as humanly possible in the summer.

I decided to stack the deck in my favor by giving them their own ‘exploration station’ to dig, explore and experiment without hearing a endless rounds of “stop …” from me.

Playtime: Creating an Outside Exploration Station

Turns out, setting up an area for outside exploration is really easy and can be as simple as designating a space and providing a few basic tools.

We took it a step further and designed a space and a plan that will, hopefully, continue to hold their interest over the course of the summer. Read More

This post is sponsored by Abbott Nutrition, all opinions are 100% our own.

Having trouble getting your toddler to eat a balanced and nutritious diet? I hear you. Not only has my 2-year-old never met a vegetable he likes, he seems to want to eat nothing but pancakes and waffles morning, noon, and night- it’s so frustrating!

Which is why our contributor, Kaley, and I are partnering up with Abbott Nutrition to tell you all about new Go & Grow by Similac Food-Mix Ins to help toddlers between 12 months and 4-years-old maintain balanced nutrition while they are learning to eat new foods.

Mix-Ins is available at all major retailers but you can get free samples sent right to you!

Visit this page for free samples (while supplies last)

 

You’ll also find store locators and more information about how Mix-Ins helps your child maintain balanced nutrition.

The Picky Eater Problem

As moms we all know proper nutrition is the foundation for a healthy life for toddlers. In a perfect world, our littles would happily gobble up nutrient-rich foods like broccoli and sweet potatoes.

As moms we also know that the reality is it can take a while for certain foods to appeal to kids. (You’ve probably heard the often repeated wisdom that a child may have to try something 10 to 15 times before she will like it.)

A Tool Designed to Help

Abbott created new Go & Grow by Similac Food Mix-Ins to help toddlers maintain balanced nutrition while they are learning to eat new foods.

Similac products are based on the latest science and innovation, and Mix-Ins is no different. Each single-serve powder packet has OptiGRO, their unique blend of DHA, lutein and vitamin E that supports brain, eye and overall growth and development. Mix-Ins also offers protein, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals

All that in a simple powder my 2-year-old will never even know I added to his much-loved waffles and pancakes (Can you hear the angel choir singing?!). I’m telling you…

Go grab your free samples here

Then read on for Kaley’s Nutrient-Packed Pancakes recipe! Read More

Who’s up for a totally free meal plan just in time for summer?!

I realized recently that a lot of you don’t know about one of our coolest freebies here on MPMK.

It’s a deluxe 5 week meal plan that includes:

  • 5 weeks with seven dinner recipes each – no repeats!
  • 5 shopping lists (one for each week), categorized for convenience

And the best part is the meals are kid-friendly, nutritious and not-overly complicated… It’s just what you need for an easy breezy summer.

 

5 Week Meal Plan

 

Get your free meal plan here!

 

Get your meal plan by clicking above and enjoy!

More MPMK Dinner Posts

What’s an Instant Pot? And How Can it Save Dinner Time?

18 Slow Cooker Dinners Your Kids Will Actually Eat!

How to Connect at Dinner: Conversation Starters

Are you guys’ big planters? I have to admit, I never really thought about planting until we moved into our forever home. Now when spring rolls around, I just can’t wait to start adding bold, beautiful colors to the yard via a few artfully designed pots.

In the past my mother-in-law has graciously done my pots for me as an anniversary present to my husband and I. This year, though, my kindergartner’s elementary school was having a massive plant sale so he and I are going to attempt the task together.

I’ll soon be up to my neck in coleus, potato vines, petunias, and snap dragons! Keep an eye on our instagram account for updates and read on for more info. from our contributor Kristin on the method we’re using to ensure big and beautiful plant pots this year!

P.S. Along with getting excited about flowers – I also can’t wait to dig into projects from this book with the kids this summer!

The weather’s getting warm and I’m starting to focus my attention to my yard.  Winter months are great for inside paint jobs and organizing shelves, but spring is a perfect time to spice up the yard!

I used to be a little intimidated by gardening, especially mixing different types of plants AND making them look beautiful.  My thumb tends to be more black than green.

But after looking at this Patio Perk-Ups article on Better Homes and Gardens, I got inspired and turned to the internet and a few friends that love to garden to find out if there was a method to the madness.

A beautiful potted plant looks organic. It looks as though the different types of plants were found like that in nature.

Nevertheless, it turns out that there IS a method!  Seasoned gardeners typically mix three different types of plants together in a pot and the result looks effortless.

Here’s how it works:  You start with a ‘thriller’, add a ‘filler’ and end with a ‘spiller.’  Easy to remember, right?

 

Get Your FREE Cheat Sheet to Bring to the Nursery

The Thriller

Thrillers are the divas of the plant world.  They are tall and the types of plants that people are drawn to in the rows at Home Depot.

A thriller might also be structurally impressive or just unique in color.  You’ll know when you see a thriller!  Some examples are Ornamental Grasses, Tall Growing Succulents and Cannas.  Start by planting the Thriller first – typically in the middle of the pot.

The Filler

Fillers tend to be billowy and lighter in texture.  They are there to Read More

We’re back today with Janssen’s follow-up post on what it was really like taking her regular old home and turning it into a “smart home”. Did you see her first post on the topic?

Full disclosure: after reading Janssen’s review, I am more than a little jealous that I gave this post to her instead of keeping the Iris by Lowe’s system for myself. I could really use the ability to turn off my son’s star light with my phone after he falls asleep at night.

And a smart fob I can just put on the kids backpack and always be able to know where they are? Amazing.

Here’s Janssen with all the details…

I’ll admit, I was intimidated by the Iris system.

I mean, could it really be that easy to turn my regular house into a smart house?

You guys, it really was that easy.

I couldn’t believe it. I feel like invariably, with an electronic product or something you install yourself, something ends up not working as you expect it to, or you get half-way through and discover that batteries AREN’T included, and suddenly your hour-long project turns into a never-finished product because it’s so frustrating.

Iris was NOTHING like that.

I opened up the box for the Smart Hub and it says “Download the App” and then “Follow the Setup Instructions,” followed by “You are going to love it.”

077A7289

That pithy and charming introduction immediately put my mind at ease.

I pulled up the Iris App in the App Store, and 90 seconds later it was on my phone and ready to go. Read More

I think you’re really going to enjoy this installment of our column, Parenting Styles. It resonated so much with me and what I’ve experienced this year with both my 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. I’ve found that it can go both ways as far as unwanted attention and it’s something parents don’t seem to know how to address…

Something happened a few weeks ago, and I’m still mulling it over.

My daughter, a first grader, invited us to her classroom presentation, some goats and trolls thing with cute songs and clapping and, somewhat unrelated but still sweet, every child individually announcing reasons they have to be thankful.

We applauded everyone for the usual lists – “my family,” “my house,” “my teacher,” but then, at the end of one little boy’s turn, we heard, “I’m thankful for my girlfriend!”

Around us, parents laughed and clapped as the first graders breathed a collective “oooooh!!” and turned to look pointedly at our daughter, who stood there grimly, eyebrows raised and mouth pursed.

My husband gave me a look that said, I’m going to kill that kid, just as the mother in front of us turned around to coo, “Oh my goodness, that is the cutest thing!”

I tried to smile.

After school that day, we got the scoop: This little boy had been insisting for weeks that our daughter G was his girlfriend. He chased her at recess to give her hugs that she told us she didn’t want. She said she told him to stop it every time, but he wouldn’t and so she just outran him whenever she could.

While my husband instructed her, in all seriousness, to Thai kick his head the next time he bothered her, I had a flashback to a few weeks prior. We were on the playground after school. I chatted with a few other moms while the kids ran off some energy, and suddenly, G made a beeline to me, screaming, “Mom! Mom!” She collided with me, wrapping her arms around me, just as a little boy came racing up.

“Hug, hug!” he shouted, arms already out wide. G turned her face toward me, squeezing tighter, saying “No!”

I put my hand out and spoke without thinking.

“Hey. When a girl tells you to stop, you stop. Do you understand?” Read More

I told you guys last week about my collaboration with Tom’s of Maine as a member of their Goodness Circle. Today, I wanted to share with you about a special collaboration Tom’s is involved in with one of my favorite places in the world – Target.

Have you heard of their Made to Matter – Handpicked by Target Program?

It’s Target’s mission to build strong partnerships with purpose-driven brands in the wellness space to make natural, organic and sustainable products more accessible.

This year, they’re going even further, inclusion in the Made to Matter 2016 program required each brand to meet one or more of 5 criteria:

  1. Reduced waste and packaging to meet the rising consumer demand for eco-friendly products that limit waste. Right now, 50 percent of U.S. waste is comprised of product packaging.
  2. Closed loop systems that utilizes a production system where the excess of one process or product is used to make another product. U.S. waste has tripled since 1960 and the average U.S. resident produces 1600 pounds of waste but only recycles or composts 35 percent of it.
  3. Clean label products that are made without additives and harsh chemicals.
  4. Dietary and allergen restrictions that accommodate the growing commonality of specialized diets and food allergies. According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.
  5. Reduced sugar—plain and simple! In 1822, the average American consumed 45 grams of sugar—the amount found in one of today’s 12-oz. sodas—every five days. Today, the average American consumes that much every seven hours.

“Guests love the Made to Matter collection because it offers them a way to easily discover new products that are better for them, their families and the world around them.”

-Jeff Jones, Target CMO

So once they were hand-picked to participate in the program, what did Tom’s of Main contribute? Read More

Mother’s Day is on May 8th this year.  If you’re like me and don’t have a thing planned, first, no judgement.

We’re all juggling what feels like a million things. Second, we’re here to save the day with some adorable DIYs that your kids can make in just 10 minutes this week.

Maybe your kids will be making them for you or maybe for their grandma or that special ‘grandmotherly’ person in their life.

Either way, the recipient of one of these gifts is going to be awed that someone took the time to make something for them.  Then they’ll think, wow, this is something that I’ll useRead More