mindful living, effortless style

Jessica is back today with her unique take on parenting as a mother of four and I’m so happy – I always connect with her posts.

And, really, I feel like the name of this one could easily be “YES – Three Kids is Crazy” or “YES – {Fill-in-the-Blank} Kids is Crazy” because life as a parent is just general craziness.

But I always love to hear about other parents’ perspectives, and I find the experiences of parents who have more kids than the three I have to be especially fascinating.

Before we get to that, though, don’t forget that you can submit your own parenting story to MPMK here! (More details here.)

A few things happened recently that really drove home the idea that four kids is a crazy number of kids to have all in one house. First, I was plugging in a password on some online account. It took me a few tries, but then I remembered that I used to shop at this particular place quite a bit a few years ago. I used my old standby password at the time – a combination of our two oldest kids’ names. Bingo.

And then I imagined for a minute what life would be like if we had stopped there, a family of four. Read More

Zucchini season is in full swing!

That means many of us have zucchini covering our kitchen counters, filling up our fridges, and mostly coming out of our ears.

One can only eat so much zucchini bread, so why not branch out and serve your veggies for dinner instead?

Here are twenty ideas for using up all that squash!

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Raise your hand if you’re interested in getting your hands on some free, top-quality, multimedia math apps for your kids in order to prevent the dreaded “Summer Slide”.

That’s pretty much what I thought… Friends, let me introduce you to UMIGO (Short for “You Make it Go”).

Funded in part by a US Department of Education’s “Ready to Learn” grant, the content on UMIGO is aligned with the Common Core Standards for mathematics for the first and second grades.

It’s also TOTALLY FREE and designed to appeal to children from a range of diverse backgrounds.

In an effort to be maximally entertaining, the site uses the building blocks of math to engage early elementary age kids in narrative-driven “appisodes” made up of stories, music videos and games.

With vibrant online adventures plus free downloadable offline at-home activities, UMIGO encourages parents and children to explore together for a fun, shared learning experience.

How It All Works

The key premise of the site is that kids learn from all sorts of things, which stems from research showing that, indeed, kids get more out of learning from several kinds of media. Therefore, the site is engineered for kids to interact with math in multiple exciting ways.

Here’s how it went down when I let my first grader try UMIGO for the first time…

First, The Show Teaches the Idea

There are lots and lots of different units to chose from on the site. Each covers a specific math concept and each start with an “appisode”. Read More

Image Credit: © Don Lavange | Tavian and the Water | CC by 2.0

I have to start today with a heartfelt Thank You for all of you who have taken the time to submit your parenting story with us.

Keep ’em coming!

I have loved reading them all and am so happy to share what will hopefully be the first of many parent submissions today.

We have written about poop before and, sadly, I am sure we will again. Today’s story is proof that kids can come up with thousands of ways to use it to make our life hell.

Whether you agree with the author’s stance on re-usable swim diapers or not, I think you’ll find her story relateable.

I also had to giggle as I read this one as I myself had just returned from wrangling a 6-year-old, 4-year-old and 1-year-old at swim lessons that morning. Enjoy…

Recently I put my baby in a plastic garbage bag.

WAIT! Before you call the police, let me explain.

Basically, it all started when the dog got arrested. My husband was arguing a case at the 9th Circuit (he’s seriously awesome, you guys) and the kids and I were going to meet up with him to spend the weekend down in the Bay Area.

Anyway, the husband was going to take the dog to “camp” on Sunday (“camp” is where the dog goes when we go away. Normal dogs go to a boarder but fancy dogs, like our dog, go to hunting camp where they get to hunt and run and swim and do other fancy dog things, I think. It’s all very camp-like, if you ask me).

But since the dog was in jail on Sunday, taking him to camp was an impossibility which meant that the husband had to take him on Monday instead. The end result of all of this is that the husband was not able to help with swim lessons.

Which meant that I had to take all three kids with me to swim lessons (normally just the 3-year-old, the 1-year-old and I go to swim on Mondays and the husband and 5-year-old go home and make dinner).

But since Washoe County Animal Control is in the business of removing dogs from THEIR OWN FRONT YARD, (True story. They “found” OUR dog on OUR front yard. And they arrested him. And since they’re not open on the weekends, we had to wait until Monday to spring him from the clink) I was tasked with taking everyone to swim. 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.

We’ve talked several times on the blog before about ways for moms to get more energy – there just never seems to be enough, does there?! – but I always like to get new perspective on the subject.

Today, our contributor Janssen (a mom of three, including a baby) is here sharing what works best for her. And, I have to say, it’s a really solid list.

I love all her tips, especially #3 and #5, and I’m really excited to try her recipes for a yummy energy smoothie AND fruit and veggie popsicles!

Without further ado, here she is with the tips and recipes…

With three little ones (including a four-month-old who still gets up in the night most of the time), I know what it’s like to feel pretty drained before I’ve even gotten out of bed in the morning.

By the end of the day, if I’m not careful, I can really be dragging.

Fortunately, I’ve learned some tricks to keep my energy levels high (or at least higher) during the day:

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Image Credit: © Tim Roth| youth lagoon + open road | text added | CC by 2.0

‘Tis the season of the roadtrip! Do you make one each year with your family?

We try to head to my in-laws lake house in Montana every summer… It’s a 7 to 8 hour drive with the littles but the serenity is oh-so-worth it once we’re there.

Traveling is the one time I lift my somewhat strict screen time rules and let the kids have at it. It’s a strategy that works for us for the most part, but I do have to say that I cringe a little as we drive through amazing greenery, mountains, and lakes and I know the kids are missing all of it with their eyes firmly glued to a screen.

The answer, I think, might very well be some family-friendly audiobooks mixed in with the movies.

I just love the idea of us all participating in the same activity to pass the time (and the idea of us all quoting these books for years to come as Janssen’s family does!). I also like that the kids can listen to the books while using their eyes to take-in, and appreciate, the beautiful scenery we’ll be traveling through.

But which books to listen too? Of course, I had to turn to our resident children’s librarian, Janssen, for her favorites…

When I was a child, my parents would check out audiobooks for us to listen to when we made long car trips. Our family still quotes lines from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which we listened to on a 10-day camping trip through Colorado in 1994.

Now, I’m a completely addicted to audiobooks and listen to them constantly (especially when I’m doing something mindless like cooking or cleaning the bathroom). I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to listen to them with me in the car.

While I wait for her to grow up a little more, here are nine of my favorite audiobooks for the whole family to enjoy, whether it is during the endless driving loop between school, sports, and errands during the fall or for longer road-trips for summer vacation. Read More

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