mindful living, effortless style

We’re teaming up with our newest sponsor, Bona, today to share our best tips on how to keep your home clean and clutter-free, but still super festive, for the holidays.

Before we get to the goods – don’t forget to click over and get

your exclusive $3 off coupon

 

on Bona’s awesome hardwood floor cleaning products.

Have you tried them before? My neighbor, who owns a flooring store, turned me on to them when we were selling our house and had a lot of showings. The results really were astounding!

Here’s Alli, with more tricks for keeping your holiday home clean…

Ah, the holidays, what’s not to love?

Okay. Maybe just one thing–one small, teensy tinsy thing…

The cleaning.

If you are anything like me (maybe a little bit type A?) keeping the house clean over the holidays is a challenge. Call me crazy, but I want my house to feel warm and welcoming all throughout the season. I want my decorations to sparkle and shine (because I didn’t hang them for nothin’, right?).

One of the first steps to keeping your house clean over the holidays, is containing the clutter. Which, can be pretty darn hard to do. Read More

Looking for a fun craft to do with your kids, that won’t add any more stress to the holiday season?

These little stars are festive, super quick to make, and just a little addicting. They are cute as ornaments, but work equally well strung together as a garland.

Plus, they are Read More

Here’s a quick and messy little art project for you to tackle with the family this weekend. I first did this at C’s toddler group years ago, but it wasn’t quite as impressive with only three handprints to fill it out. Now, as a family of five, we make quite the turkey – if I do say so myself. (Although I didn’t manage to get all the full cooperation of all three kids until after the project was photographed – imagine that – so you’ll just have to settle for a 4-handed turkey for today.)

Check out the full tutorial here and for a less-mess version with a very sweet little poem to go with it, see my friend Amanda’s family hand turkey here.

For more MPMK Thanksgiving fun, see:

DIY Gratitude Turkey

The Best Thanksgiving Books for Kids

Happy Family Habit #9: Teach Gratitude by Remembering to Thank Your Kids

One of my favorite parts of this strange and unexpected blogging career of mine, is that I get to play so many different roles. Some days I’m a managing editor, some days I’m a photographer and graphic designer, some days I’m even a coder (those are usually dark days indeed).

Some of my favorite days lately have been when I get to put on my “writer” hat over at eHow’s Mom Channel.

I’ve been stretching myself a bit this year and taking on more parenting topics (less crafts and DIYs). This month I’m tackling what it’s like to have three kids (something I couldn’t get enough info. on before actually having my third child) and I’d love for you to click over and check it out.

Here’s an excerpt…

…At the time, it felt like a monumentally important decision, perhaps one of the biggest of my life. So I did what I always do when it comes to the important stuff — I researched. I had heart-to-heart discussions with my close friends (and, I admit, cornered a few unlucky acquaintances).

And, of course, I Googled. Terms like “what it’s really like to have three kids” and “can you handle three kids” were regulars in my search bar. The results were somewhat homogenous and not altogether encouraging. There were many mentions of no longer being able to “play man-to-man defense” and more than one blogger pointed out that the world, or at least this country, is basically set up for a family of four.

Now that I’m the proud mama of a 6-year-old, 4-year-old and, yes, a 7-month-old, I feel there are a few things I need to add to the Internet’s conversation on life with three kids. READ MORE HERE

 

Now that my months of research have come to a close and all 10 of our infamous Gift Guides have FINALLY  been published, I’m super excited to take a little time to tell you about each one.

After all, detailed descriptions and age recommendations on over 300 toys can be a lot of reading! It’s not a bad idea to break it down a bit and take it piece by piece.

Today I’m highlighting three guides that focus on active and family play (two of my very favorite kinds of play). Ready to see them? Here we go…

 #1 Best Outdoor Toys & #2 Best Toys for Getting Energy Out While Inside

If your little one has an adventurous spirit, I say run with it!  Whether their fascination lies in the stars above, their own backyard, or testing out their own speed and agility, our finds will help you milk their curiosity to keep them active all year long.

Subcategories of this guide include:

  • Top outdoor games
  • Best sports gear & toys
  • Toys to explore nature

Also included in this two-part guide are the best toys for burning off steam when you’re stuck inside and, let me tell you, these finds can be an absolute life-saver on a rainy day.

Whether you opt to play outside, inside, or a little of both – a pick or two off this list will keep the whole family happy and feeling good all year long.

Click through for the full list of over 40 top toys.

#2 Best Games for Kids & Families

Having a regular family game night is a great tradition to strengthen the family unit. Not only does it ensure time for connecting with each other, it also gets your kids in the habit of communicating with you – something that will pay-off big time when they’re older. Plus, with the right game, it can be really fun!

Just as valuable as popular family games, are games that kids will happily play alone or with a sibling so that you can get stuff done!

Below you’ll find a selection of games the whole family will love, games perfect for one or two players, and games ideal for pre-readers to help you start a game night ritual even with your youngest kiddos.

Click through for the full list of over 35 of my favorite picks for family game night, broken down into:

  • Highly Acclaimed Games
  • Games Especially for Toddlers & Pre-Readers
  • Single Player Games
  • Classic Games Recommended by Age

 

Don’t forget to check out all 10 of MPMK’s Gift Guides, covering interests ranging from LEGO-lovers and S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to Arts and Crafts and Princesses.

The holiday season seems to be the time for DIY decor. I don’t know if it’s an attempt to avoid spending bucket loads of money on spendy store-bought decorations, or just the endearing memories that are created sitting around a table together getting our craft on, but even the most creatively-challenged amongst us seem to be up for a DIY or two this time of year.

I think it’s fantastic, of course, and today we’ve got the perfect activity to get your started. It’s one of those rare projects that’s simple enough for preschoolers to try, open-ended enough for bigger kids to get really creative with, and results in some truly stylish modern decor.

Plus, I’m dying to try it with our yarn block stamping technique. Here’s Julee with all the details on how the whole family can whip out some fabulous hand-stamped napkins for your holiday table this year…

Last year we visited relatives during Thanksgiving and traveled over Christmas, so this will be our first time celebrating the holidays in our own home. My daughter and I both love holiday decorating, so this year we decided to create our own napkin designs for our family gatherings.

This is a wonderful project because it can be as simple or elaborate as you want and can be adapted to suit a variety of age levels.

I started by choosing the color palette myself, mostly because I didn’t want to incorporate pink and purple into our holiday table decor. We have a set of polka dot linen napkins that I love but hardly use because we only have 6, which doesn’t seem to be enough for gatherings when we’re actually using linen napkins.

The napkins below, as wells as our striped placemats, were my starting point for the palette. Read More

Growing up my grandma made the most delicious frozen pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I’ve always thought her recipe couldn’t be topped… and then I saw this version from our contributor Natalie that adds in chocolate and Oreos.

 Sorry Nana, but I think I may have a new favorite. Read on for the full recipe.

Make-ahead menu items can be a total lifesaver during the holidays. You can plan and execute in advance and then look like a superhero at your holiday meal. And while an ice cream cake isn’t the typical thanksgiving fare, I like to switch things up and serve something unexpected.

With a frozen dessert, I’m guaranteed to have a beautiful presentation on the day-of (as long as it stays untouched in the freezer). Read More

Advent calendars have become such a HUGE part of Christmas these days – have you noticed? We’ve tried several variations over the years from our DIY Freezer Paper Stencil Advent Calendar and our Family Activities Advent Calendar to our Reading Advent Calendar. 

This year, though, with three kids including a 7 month old, I’m opting to go the super simple route. This free printable Christmas Joke countdown will take zero effort from me once it’s up and I can feel great about that because I know S and C will absolutely adore it. At ages 6 and 4, they just can’t get enough puns and knock-knock jokes

Print your free calendar using the link below and you’ll be all set for December. Here’s our contributor MJ with the details…

The countdown to Christmas is one of the most magical times of year in our house and every day leading up to the 25th feels like a day worth celebrating.

This year we figured, why not take something as charming as lunchbox jokes and turn them into a fun way to laugh together throughout the season?

 

To make the simple Advent calendar:

  1. use the link below to print out the three pages of red and green ornaments.
  2. Cut these out and hole punch the top circle of each number.
  3. Cut out the jokes and glue one to the back of each ornament.
  4. For our calendar tree, we used floral wire to string the numbered ornaments on and added gold washi tape to hold both ends. The wire allows some space from the wall or poster board for kids to flip over the ornament and reveal the joke.

Read More

Now that all 10 of our infamous Gift Guides have been published, I’d love to take a little time today and introduce you to three of my favorites.

While each of these lists covers a range of skills, ages, and interests – they also all have a common thread. Each one highlights toys that do a particularly good job of teaching your child new skills and building brain power, all while keeping them incredibly engaged.

Ready to see them? Here we go…

#1 Best Learning Toys for Quiet Time

This list was a new category for last year and quickly became one of our most popular. When I came up with it, quiet time was on my mind quite a bit in preparation for baby #3. You see, one of the big things I learned about making sure all my kids felt loved once the baby arrived was the importance of just 10 minutes a day of one-on-one time with each of them.

With three kids, though, that’s easier said than done.  Which is why I stocked my arsenal with quiet time toys so awesome that my kiddos don’t even mind being shooed away to play with them when it’s not their special time with me.

As self-serving as this list is, I think you’re gonna love it too.  After all, what busy parent can’t use a stimulating educational toy their child can play with independently every once in a while?  Even if you only have one child, we all have to find ways to squeeze in cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, bills, etc.  How great would it feel to set your child up with an educational activity they love during these times instead of repeatedly defaulting to the TV? (No judgement, by the way, I’ve totally been there!)

Click through for the full list of over 40 of my favorite learning toys for quiet time broken down into:

  • Reading & Writing Toys
  • Single Player Games
  • Sensory & Mess-Free Art Supplies
  • Puzzles (Recommended by Age)
  • Magazine Subscriptions (Recommended by Age)

 

#2 Best Toys for Babies & Young Toddlers

Babies and young toddlers can be especially tough to shop for – it’s not like we can just ask them what they want.  Plus, kids develop differently and at different rates at this age.

Your best bet is to go for the tried-and-true toys that aim to build hand-eye coordination and fine and gross motor skills in an engaging but not over-stimulating way. Music is always good too.

In this list you’ll find my top picks for babies and young toddlers. They all cover a variety of developmental skills and ages and you should find plenty of options to make baby happy!

Click through for the full list of 40+ of my favorite developmental toys for babies & young toddlers, including:

  • Floor Toys
  • Riding & Walking toys
  • Music Toys
  • Toys for Developing Fine-Motor Control, Gross-Motor Control, Concentration and Hand-Eye Coordination

 

#3 Best Toys for Fostering S.T.E.M. Skills

With all the talk I’ve been doing on the blog about the importance of fostering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills, I felt I absolutely had to include a STEM themed gift guide.

I just keep hearing over and over how important cultivating innovation is in our kids’ future success.  So watching both my son and daughter excitedly engage with open-ended toys to construct, engineer, explore and experiment fills my heart with joy. I’m on a continued mission to find the absolute best toys to keep the innovations coming!

Click through for the full list of 40+ of my top Learning Toys for Fostering STEM Skills, broken down into:

  • Engineering
  • Robotics & Technology
  • Chemistry & Life Sciences
  • Single-Player Math & Logic Games
  • Multi-Player Math & Logic Games

Don’t forget to check out all 10 of MPMK’s Gift Guides, covering interests ranging from LEGO-lovers and S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to Arts and Crafts and Princesses.

As I start the process of unpacking my haphazardly stored holiday decor each year, I always think to myself that there must be a better way. So this year I decided to do something about it as part of our Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life series. What did I do exactly? I turned to a pro, of course.

I asked our in-house professional organizer, Annie, for her favorite tips! Bookmark or pin them now and save yourself a lot of time and grief at the end of December.

It might seem as though this post is jumping the gun a bit, as the holidays still have yet to arrive. On the contrary, now is the prime time to discuss holiday decoration storage.

Now is the calm before the familial, shopping, gift-wrapping storm – the moment when you’re most likely to have the brain space to consider such a thing as being organized with the storage of your decorations.

You can stock up on the supplies you’ll need in advance (after being massively inspired by the following 10 examples) and then come New Year’s Day, your systems will be all ready for you.

Onto those 10 examples, then.

1. It’s impossible to fail storage-wise with the combination of plastic bins and labels. When it comes to holiday decorations, labeled, clear bins are exceedingly useful. Yvonne at StoneGable drives this point home; she uses smaller bins to store all her christmas decorations, thereby distinguishing between ornaments, pinecones, garlands, and so on, while maintaining a uniform system.

2. Aimee of It’s Overflowing employs the same storage principle as lady Yvonne (above) except that she opts for larger plastic bins and slightly broader labeling categories.

If you’re not as concerned with keeping the various types of decorations separated and more concerned with keeping them safely stored and easy to identify in your storage room, then larger bins are for you. Read More

I’ve got some HUGE news today friends! Drum roll please… the 2015 Toy Gift Guides are here!

How great would it be to get all of your Christmas shopping done ahead of time this year AND to feel confident your kids are going to love their gifts and keep returning to play with them again and again?

In case you’re unfamiliar with our infamous gift guide collection, this is not your average roundup of a few of our favorite things – Oh no. This is an incredibly extensive library of the most engaging, brain-growing, and yet still super-fun toys available, over 300 in all this year!

And here’s the best part, all of those awesome toys are arranged into specially themed guides with detailed descriptions of each and every toy and categorized by our recommended age ranges for the utmost enjoyment.

This is the only resource you’re going to need this year to nab the perfect gift for every child on your list – pin it to your favorite gift or toy board or bookmark it now (and share it with your mom friends – they’ll thank you!).

As I said, this is not your run of the mill gift guide.  I work on these babies all year long researching, cultivating, and fine tuning the gift guides until they’re just right. Where do I research? Everywhere.

I’ve spent hours upon hours talking to friends, school teachers and even toy store owners as well as reading reviews, polling our readers, and scouring toy award lists to come up with these finds.

Which toys should I spend my money on?,” is probably the question I get asked most often by you guys, especially right around now.

When I first started these annual guides, I considered grouping our picks by age, or gender, or even benefit – but then I got to thinking about how I shop for my own kids.  Ultimately, it’s what my littles are into that most motivates my purchases.

If they’re going through a constructing stage, then I want the goods on the most stimulating building toys out there.  If their creativity is blooming, I’m looking for info. on the highest quality and longest lasting art supplies.  And if they can’t get enough of role playing, that means I’m on the search for toys that do a superb job in supporting dramatic play.

In addition, I’ve got a few goals of my own when it comes to toy shoppinggetting in some solid independent play during quiet time, burning off steam when stuck indoors, and feeding their little brains in a fun way to name a few.

I’ve organized this year’s picks with all of these things in mind.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be highlighting all 10 of our gift guides but you don’t have to wait.  You can see them all right now.

Just click on the photos below for the complete guide… Happy shopping!

Best developmental toys for babies & young toddlers - great list for that tricky 0 - 24 month age range.

The most engaging S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Toys for Kids - Everything on this list looks awesome! Such great educational finds.

Best toys for keeping kids active - everything from yoga games to best beginner bikes and more!MPMK gift guides, Christmas gift guides, toy gift guides, the best toys for quiet time, best educational toys, best reading and writing toys

Top dolls for girls and boys - because playing with dolls builds empathy and emotional intelligence in kids.Best building toys for developing math, problem-solving, and spatial thinking skills - love that there are suggested age rangesMPMK gift guides, Christmas gift guides, toy gift guide, best games for kids, best games for families, family game night, best single player games, pre-reader games, best toddler games

Dramatic play promotes literacy through vocabulary and story-telling practice as well as social skills such as empathy, turn taking, etc.

Top toys for kids who love planes, trains, cars, and construction vehicles - great detailed recommendations here!

Gift guide: best art supplies for open-ended creativity - all great to have on hand for a rainy day!

 

Kristin, one of our professional photog contributor’s here, is back today with another super helpful iPhone camera tutorial. I’ve always wondered how to use those fancy tiltshift apps with my iPhone but have been too intimidated/busy to really explore them.

I’m super excited to have Kristin here to add to our Photography and Memory Keeping category by de-mystifying it all and show us exactly what we need to know to jump in and start using the feature today.

Have you ever noticed that when you take photos with your iPhone they look flat?

The reason is that everything in the photo is in focus.  People love fancy cameras because they can adjust the aperture, meaning the child is in focus and the trees behind them are soft and blurry.  We are drawn to these types of photos because that’s how our eye sees.

If you look at your child, your eye focuses and everything behind the child is out of focus.  While the iPhone camera takes a quality photo, it’s not able to create the depth of field that happens when you can adjust aperture.

 

How to take cool pics of people, places and more using the TiltShift generator - this is my new favorite thing!

But, that doesn’t mean all the photos taken on your iPhone have to be flat.  You can use an app, like Read More

Happy Monday guys, hope everyone had a great Halloween weekend!

It’s so hard to believe it’s already November… it seems like I just had baby M and he’s already 7 months old. And don’t even get me started on his older siblings – while M is busy growing his first tooth, his big brother has suddenly lost three in rapid succession.

As usual for this time of year, I’m feeling like things are moving too fast and I’m yearning for ways to slow down and be in the moment.

This Paper Leaf Gratitude Garland project I did for eHow is just what I need to help our family slow down and focus on each other this time of year. Hope you enjoy (and hope you try it out this month)!

Happy almost Halloween guys! I’ve got a lot on my plate between the big day tomorrow and wrapping things up to reveal our complete 2015 Toy Gift Guide next week, but I still wanted to quickly pop in and share what I’ve been up to elsewhere.

Just in case you need it, here’s a last-minute treat for a class party or impromptu, pre-trick-or-treating bash.

Hope you enjoy and hope your kiddos score lots of goodies tomorrow.

Since we’ve already done a round-up of her favorite Thanksgiving books, I thought a collection of books centering on strong families from our resident children’s librarian, Janssen, would be perfect for this time of year.

We went with chapter books so big kids can read them on their own or families can read a chapter together each night. Enjoy!

With the holiday season just around the corner, family is on everyone’s mind, whether it’s making gift lists for siblings or visiting relatives across the country.

There are so many great books about families, whether it’s families with magical powers, siblings who alternately get along and fight bitterly, families with health problems or disabilities, or families struggling through difficult circumstances.

These titles are perfect for kids to read on their own or to read aloud, snuggled up together. Add a little hot chocolate and, voila!
Instant quality family time. Read More