mindful living, effortless style

I’ve spoken to so many parents who want to improve their photography skills but don’t know where to start. They take photos of their beautiful children, their wonderful vacations and their delicious-and-impressive food, but it all comes out… badly (insert sad face here).

Everything’s blurry, or the photo is too dark, or the subject’s face looks HUGE, or the contrast is all wrong. Or sometimes it just doesn’t look right in some way – not like how a professional would do it.

Years from now we all want to be able to look through our photos and instantly be transported back to those special moments – not wracking our brains to remember what a particular episode really looked and felt like.

Well… the good news is there’s a bundle for that! Read More

I’ve got a favor to ask of all you Modern Parents with Messy Kids today. Write me – won’t you please?

You see, as much as I love sharing useful parenting tricks, clever organizational DIYs, and family-friendly healthy recipes, there’s one thing that I feel has been lacking around here – the stories of parenthood.

Recently, I brought on our parenting contributor, Jessica, and I’ve just loved chatting with you guys here and on facebook about what she has to say.

From potty training and co-sleeping to the truly big stuff, it’s so nice to get in another parent’s head sometimes and see their point-of-view. Makes us all feel a little less alone (and a little less crazy) dealing with it all 24/7.

So what do you say – Want to contribute? It’s easy, just…

E-mail me your story here

You don’t have to be a professional essayist or even a blogger to share with us. (Although, if you do have your own space on the inter-web, I’ll be happy to link up to it.) But I am looking for fully-formed post material – somewhere around 600 – 1000 words with a definite beginning and conclusion.

Not sure what to write about? Here are some jumping off points…

  • Your parenting successes – Stumbled upon a technique that works with your kiddos or just FINALLY overcame a roadblock after months of struggling with your little? We’d love to hear about it.
  • Your parenting failures – We’ve all had them. And there can be something oh-so cathartic about commiserating while we’re still trying to find our way out/over/around/past them.
  • Your funny moments – Because no one survives parenting without a good sense of humor.
  • Your rants – Need to vent? As long as it’s constructive (and entertaining or informative) this could be the spot to finally get something off your chest.
  • Your questions – It takes a village right? If you have a story that needs a little help with the ending, write us and lets get a conversation going.
  • Your story – Parenthood is so beautifully different from family to family. We’d love to hear about the experiences that have shaped the parent you are today.

This, like all new things on the blog, is an experiment. So write in and we’ll see how it goes!

P.S. Speaking of parenting stories, turns out I actually have TWO FAVORS to ask of you today…

I just found out that they are doing something truly awesome over at Munchkin.com. They are offering

free shipping and giving away 100% of profits

for the next 11 days to a remarkable foundation founded by two parents racing against the clock to accelerate research that could save their beautiful 4-year-old and 2-year-old girls from a degenerative brain brain disorder that will cause both girls to go blind, lose their ability to communicate, move, and eat and ultimately die, likely before the age of 12.

I’m not affiliated with them in any way currently but last year, we partnered with Munchkin and people went totally nuts over this super smart way to get organized AND save hundreds of dollars on an in-vehicle DVD system. Go get one or two and stock up on snack cups, bath toys, and more!
 

 
I put in my order last night and hope you do today (and tell your friends and family too)!!

 

One of the things I have loved, loved, LOVED about being momma to baby M are the pre-nap snuggles. 

My third baby is the only one who truly loves to snuggle with me. Even as infants, S and C would wiggle in my arms as I rocked and sang to them before nap. They weren’t upset, they just wanted to look around – at the room, at the fan, even at me.

They were never fully relaxed enough to snuggle up as I had envisioned they would. Eventually I came to terms with it, figuring that’s just how babies actually were.

Then little M entered my life.

The first four months of his life were literally, one long hug. He never wanted to be anywhere but on me. So that’s where he stayed, 24/7, living and sleeping in his carrier during the day and sleeping right next to me at night.

Eventually he grew out of it but even when he started sleeping and napping in his own crib at around 5 months, everyday before sleep time he’d still bury his little head into the crook of my neck, nuzzle his chest right up against mine, and hug me contently until I lowered him to his crib.

It was heaven.

Everyday at that time I would experience actual, physical sensations of joy and it always reminded me of the instant euphoria I felt when the nurses placed my first child, C, on my chest right after he was born.

The undeniable impact these baby hugs had on me and my mood got me thinking a lot about hugs and happiness. And then I saw this clip on “the right way to hug” on The Today show (it’s at the end, around the 3:30 mark) and, despite the fact that Hoda and Kathy truly suck at it, I just knew that our next Happy Family Habit had to be all about the hug.

So I asked our contributor Kristin to do a little research on the science of it all. Here’s what she found…

There’s nothing better than the smell of a newborn.  That squishy skin and fluffy hair just makes you want to snuggle all day long.  As they grow, you get to the stage where they are pushing off and ready to go explore the world.

They come back for cuddles, but the older children get, the more independent they become.

That’s a wonderful and healthy process but have you noticed that as we propel through adulthood, we cuddle less.  Our amount of daily hugs goes down.  And here’s the crazy thing, studies show that we need hugs to maintain emotional health.

In fact, when it comes to staying healthy, Hugs are underrated! They boost everything from oxytocin levels to self-esteem.  There’s also added benefits like lowering our stress level, relaxing our muscles and creating a sense of safety. Read More

*I’m a PediaSure SideKicks Partner and am a sponsored blog partner, but all opinions are my own. Please see below for additional disclosure.

With weekend bar-b-ques, swim lessons, and park play dates in full swing, it’s definitely starting to feel like summer around here!

Around our house that means a lot of things, including more lax bedtimes and, often, less nutritious eating then I normally strive for… This week alone we’ve already grilled hotdogs and cooked s’mores in the backyard with friends, we have an end of T-ball pizza party tonight, and an end-of-school milkshake party in a few days.

Overall, I love the relaxed schedule and opportunities to get our party on – but I also jump at the chance to grab a healthier treat when I can this time of year. Which is why I’m loving this frozen dessert our contributor Alli came up with that incorporates Pediasure’s Sidekicks Fruit & Veggie Smoothie mix.

It’s such a win-win. The kids still feel like they’re getting a frozen treat and I know I’m being stealthy and sneaking in some fruits and even a veggie! Add sprinkles of your choice and these are great for celebrating summer birthdays, the 4th of July, and anything else you can come up with.

Here’s Alli with the recipe…

I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, so when it comes to picky eating…I feel like quite the professional.

It wasn’t always this way. They used to be such good eaters. But something happened in the last six months that turned my healthy snacking boys into…well…mac n’ cheese fiends.

And that’s all they’ll eat!

I’ve also learned the hard way that forcing fruits and vegetables just doesn’t work. It’s best to let the phase (which we all hope it is) pass. Read More

Image Credit: © Christopher Michel | Date Night | cropped | CC by 2.0

Jessica is back today for another humorous glimpse into her life as a mom of four. This time she’s tackling date-night with her signature wit (read to the end and you’ll smile – I promise).

I’m curious – how long did it take all of you to finally take a night away from baby?

I think it was somewhere around 9 months with M, once he no longer breastfed right before bed maybe? It depends less on the parents and more on the temperament and sleep habits of the baby, don’t you think?

You guys. Guess what just happened at our house? Two magical words – date night.

I finally had my dreamy husband all to myself for a full three hours on our first for-real date night in – wait for it – ten and a half months.

My friends are horrified that it took so long, and I can feel your raised eyebrows from here. But I raise my brows right back at the parents who can hand off a screaming baby and proceed to actually enjoy themselves afterwards.

Seriously, how do you do that? Is it compartmentalizing? You just put that image of your howling kid in a little box, close the lid and focus on appetizers while waving for the drinks menu?

Date night is supposed to be relaxing and lovely and a reminder of a time way back before kids when no one leaned over to spit partially-chewed chicken fingers into your hand or actually pooped in their pants right there at the table. But how are you supposed to make meaningful eye contact over the crispy polenta immediately after walking out on your traumatized offspring?

It’s one thing when you have no choice. Leaving a crying kid because you have to go to work or a meeting or whatever sucks, for sure, but you do what you have to do. No one has to go on a date. Right?

And it’s not like we haven’t been out together since our fourth came onto the scene. Read More

First and foremost today guys, I wanted to tell you all that this is STILL going on! But only for a few more days, so don’t miss your chance!

Now that you’ve done that – today’s tip will be a big help!

As hard as it is for me to believe, my youngest is already 14 months old (how did that happen?!). He grows and changes so much at this stage that – like many Moms in my shoes – it’s extra important to me to take lots of photos.

Not only that, to take photos with the two of us together! I want to be able to look back with him someday and show him what it was like when he was tiny and the two of use were best buds.

What I’ve come to realize, however, is that a successful selfie with a baby is not exactly an easy thing to come by.

I offer you, Exhibit A:

Yesterday was a gorgeous day so I decided it would the perfect time to snap a selfie with baby for charity.

I’ll just hold up my phone and give him a little tickle to make him smile…

How to get baby to smile in selfie - love this tip, I have so

Um, no.

Ok, maybe we just need to get closer. Maybe if I just pick him up… Read More

Image Credit: © Brandon Atkinson | Dad | cropped and text box added | CC by 2.0

I’ve just partnered with a new-to-me company, TaskEasy, to tell you guys about the coolest Father’s Day gift idea I’ve heard in a while.

Actually, if I’m being honest, this gift is as much for me as for hubby (don’t you love it when that happens)? Read More

Our resident lover of all things green and non-toxic, Kaley, is here today with the second installment of our new series: Project Green Clean Your ENTIRE House.

Like Kaley, cleaning my oven is one of those things I avoid at all costs, but her method actually seems pretty easy and you can’t argue with those results!

Here’s here step-by-step instructions

After a long winter of casseroles, roasted veggies, roasts, and other baked meals, our oven was looking pretty neglected.

I like to think it is because we have a teeny tiny European oven, thus it is easier to get dirty, but I have a feeling our oven would look like this no matter what size it was. We cook at home nearly every single night, so the oven has to be one of the hardest working appliances in our house.

But I avoid cleaning the oven like the plague. And as with most things, out of sight, out of mind. So I would quickly open the oven door, throw in a pan, and close it again before my eyes could really focus on the grease and grime that coated every square inch.

Depending on how often you use it, you should aim to clean the oven at least twice a year. Read More

If there are two things you know we love around here, it’s open-ended, hours-long, glorious play and yummy food to help fuel it all.

Turns out these are both things Quaker really cares about too. Which is why I am so happy to be able to finally tell you about signing on as one of four bloggers making up Quaker’s new team known as The Oat Authority.

First, a little background, and then some great resources and a truly amazing contest!

What is The Oat Authority

The idea came about from Quaker’s dedication to providing both the fuel and the inspiration families want to make playtime a frequent priority. They do this first by providing kid-friendly and hassle-free snacks made of goodness, like the 8 grams of whole grains in most Quaker Chewy Granola Bars.

They also do it by taking play seriously. (Be sure to read to the end of this post to find out how to win $25,000 to makeover the family play space of your dreams.)

So much so that for the brand’s “Keep Playing with Chewy” campaign, they commissioned a study on the state of family play to find out what’s working for families (and what’s not) as well as which cities in America have it figured out when it comes to getting families to play together.

The study found that while 95 percent of parents nationwide say that play is important to their families, a little over half are devoting less than three hours per week to playtime.

So where are families actually finding the time to play together the most?

Most Playful City in America for Families

To find America’s Most Playful City for Families, Quaker Chewy examined a number of criteria indicative of family fun and playtime. The top 10 most playful cities represent communities with a high population of families and children and ample access to both outdoor and indoor family-friendly amenities.

The top 10 most playful cities in the U.S. are:

Read More

Today, I’m going to let you in on a little Father’s Day trick I discovered a few years ago – the free printable.

These simple little sheets will save you so much Father’s Day stress from here on out. No more pulling your hair out, trying to find a sentimental gift that he’ll actually like.

Step 1

Get him the completely un-sentimental gift you know he’ll love. Some of our favorites include:

Step 2

Add any of the following 20 printables lovingly colored or filled-in by your off-spring and you’re good-to-go!

The best part is you can do this over and over again because the way your kids fill-in the printables each year changes and they become great keepsakes in their own right.

Without further ado, here’s a list of our favorite printables with something for everyone from the Geek Dad to the Handy Dad and every Dad in between.

Pictured Above

For the “Super” Dad

For the Handy Dad

Read More

About once a week, usually on Friday night, we have a movie night and some kind of take-out. It’s something for the whole family to look forward to and it’s quickly becoming a highly anticipated family tradition.

What’s not so wonderful, though, is the toll it can take on our wallets (especially now that we’ve graduated beyond the baby food and officially have five mouths to feed).

This has led to a new mini-obsession of mine – the “copy cat” recipe.

Turns out, the interweb is full of genius folks who have done all the hard work for me and figured out how to replicate some of my favorite take out dishes at home, in my own kitchen.

Along with saving us a lot of money, I also really appreciate that even if the meals aren’t what I’d call healthy food, at least I know (and have control of) what’s going into them!

Here’s our resident food contributor, Natalie, with her current top 20 copy cat recipes

Got that urge to pick up the phone and order takeout tonight? Or were you thinking about hitting the drive-thru on the way home? This post may not be helpful if you’ve already called in your food, but don’t leave just yet!

Making takeout food at home is easier than you think. It’s also cheaper, and probably faster if you’ve got the ingredients and you plan ahead.

Read on for a list of our favorite takeout recipes.

American Takeout

New York Style Cheese Pizza

Sticky Chicken Fingers

Copycat ChikFilA Sandwich

The Perfect Philly Cheesesteak

Baked BBQ Pork Sandwiches

Copycat In-N-Out Burger

Tex-Mex Takeout

Steak Burrito Bowls

Avocado Egg Rolls Read More

*I’m a PediaSure SideKicks Partner and am a sponsored blog partner, but all opinions are my own. Please see below for additional disclosure.

Are you struggling to get your kids to eat enough fruits and vegetables? You’re not alone!

93 percent of kids don’t eat enough vegetables and 60 percent don’t eat enough fruit. At our house it’s currently the veggies that are the problem. I try and try but to no avail, it’s beyond frustrating and I worry about my kids’ nutrition.

Which is why I was pretty jazzed to get the opportunity to help debut a new product, Pediasure Sidekicks Fruit & Veggie Smoothie mix, that I really think is going to help fill in the nutritional gap for a lot of kids.

It contains powdered dried strawberries, bananas, apples and sweet potatoes and is designed to be mixed with milk (or a milk substitute) to create a super quick and easy smoothie that will serve up a full serving of combined fruits and vegetables.

Here’s what really got my attention – it incorporates four essential nutrients that many kids are missing; Fiber, Calcium, Vitamin D, and Potassium.

And here’s what else I love – it can be used for even more than smoothies. In the coming months we’re going to highlight some of our favorite uses for the mix you might never have thought of.

Today we’ve got a yummy energy bite recipe the kids are sure to love.

It has only 5 ingredients but, thanks to Pediasure Sidekicks Fruit & Veggie Smoothie mix, is packed with nutrient, fruits, and veggies. (Hooray!)

Here’s our contributor, Kristin, with the full recipe.

Getting out the door in the morning is hard enough on it’s own.  Much less figuring how out to do so while getting some nutrients in your kids in the process.  Every morning I’m struggling to come up with options for breakfast that my kids will eat.

The trick is Read More

Image Credit: © Eden, Janine and Jim| Doctor Aunt | CC by 2.0

We’ve all been there – cruising along, well into yet another well-check appointment for your child when your ped asks about “it”.

That child-rearing topic (sleep, discipline, vitamins, etc.) that you know you’ve either been slacking on a little or you just don’t completely see eye-to-eye with doc on.

So what do you do? Proudly come clean with a “you wanna tussle?” glint in your eye , fudge the truth a bit knowing you’ve got the situation fully under control, or hang your head, mumble the truth, and wait for your lecture

I’d LOVE to hear your honest answers in the comments, here’s our parenting contributor, Jessica, with her story…

Co-sleeping, the family bed, call it what you want, but we do it.

I just wrote about it, but here’s the gist: our ten-month old has been snoozing in “the big bed,” as it’s called around here, since the day she came home from the hospital.

Our three-year-old makes a nightly trek to join us in the wee hours of the night, so that’s four of us sharing a Cal King. It’s getting a little tight, I won’t lie, and while the three-year-old’s dreamland acrobatics can be disruptive, for the most part, we’re all getting decent sleep.

And that’s our measuring stick. It has been for four kids now.

It’s no secret among our friends, some of whom think we’re crazy (and back at you, you sleep training maniacs) and the others who just give us that slow “uh huh” head nod and a look of utter been-there-doing-that commiseration.

But we took E to the pediatrician the other day for her ten-month check-up. And when the doc ran through his little checklist – Breast or bottle? Soft poops, not a constipated baby? Sleeping through the night, and she’s in her own crib now? – I didn’t hesitate.

Breast, with lots of mashed/pureed/pre-chewed food. Oh, and water in a sippy cup. Nope, no constipation issues.

And then I looked him straight in the eye, smiled and lied.

Yes. Read More

If I’m honest, I’ve always thought setting up a birthday gift closet was a pretty unrealistic and over-the-top idea (as evidence by probably the most popular thing I’ve ever written).

But then my son started elementary school and I quickly realized that the number of birthday party invites that come once your child becomes a student can be immense.

Not only is it a stress-saver to always have an appropriate gift around, it can also be a serious money saver if you stock up whenever you see a quality toy on sale.

But how do you know how many gifts (and what type) to keep on hand? Today our resident professional organizer, Annie, is here sharing her signature strategy for setting up a killer gift closet.

And how do you know a high quality toy when you see one on sale? Check out all 350+ of our toy recommendations in our famous MPMK Toy Gift Guides (17 detailed guides sorted by age and interests).

Here’s Annie with the DIY… 

In my experience, parents of young children tend to fall into three camps in regards the birthday party present-prep.

1. They keep no gifts on hand, have no time to shop, and generally find themselves whispering obscenities under their breath when they realize, hours before the big event, there’s nothing in the house to give to little ____. Read More

Image Credit: © Suzette Normand | 07.17.10 191192 | CC by 2.0

The weather is warming up and summer is feeling like it’s just around the corner. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this summer was free of whining on the kids’ part and yelling on your end?

It’s possible! I’m once again teaming up with my friend and personal parenting guru, Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions, as affiliate and host of:

A FREE Positive Parenting Webinar: Get Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, or Yelling

We are only able offer this webinar only 3 to 4 times a year and it’s always enormously popular, often selling out all 1,000 spots so if you want to learn her tricks and use them to enjoy a peaceful summer with your family, now is the time to sign up!

If you’re not familiar with Amy and her Positive Parenting Solutions program, she’s a self-described “recovering yeller” and champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids.

She’s also a frequent guest on the TODAY Show and has also appeared on Rachael Ray, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, and elsewhere.

During the webinar she’ll be sharing a few of her most effective positive parenting techniques and talking all about her positive parenting toolbox (something our family loves).

Here’s a little more info. on the course in case you’ve missed it the first couple of times around… Read More