mindful living, effortless style

Image Credit: © David D | 137 – Look up! | CC by 2.0 (cropped & text added)

When we published our free B.O.R.E.D. printable I told you we’d be following up with some posts on how to help your kids carry out the different tasks. Today we’re addressing R – read a book with the help of the non-profit Raising a Reader.

They’re hooking us up with some really solid ideas on how to keep kids reading this summer (and the rest of the year too!) and how to use the time to instill a love of reading that will last a lifetime.  According to Gabrielle Miller, Ed.D., national executive director of Raising A Reader:

“It is important to instill a love of books in children at an early age and introduce reading as a pleasurable experience. One way to do this is to establish a regular home-based literacy program that is independent of school, and the summer is a perfect time to start.”

Sounds like some sage advice to me – let’s raise us some readers, shall we? Here’s how…

Put it on the Schedule

  • Reading often gets lost in the shuffle of summer activities such as camp, sports and vacation travel. Schedule a regular time to share books with your child and establish a regular routine to ensure reading doesn’t become a low priority and has the same importance as other activities.

 Read the Book, Watch the Movie

  • If your child wants to see a summer blockbuster movie that is based on a book, read the book with your child first and then let them see the movie as a reward. This also works well with popular movies on DVD. Engage your child in discussions about differences or similarities between the book and the movie.

 Take it Outside

  • Create an outdoor reading area so the while family can enjoy the summer weather and not feel stuck inside. Children generally read indoors, so being outdoors will create a new environment for enjoying a book and boost a child’s enthusiasm for reading.

Read More

Do you guys make your own baby food? It’s something I always wanted to do but never quite got my system down in time.

I really wish I’d had Kaley write this post about a year ago!

She walks you through every step and points out the exact tools you’ll need to get the job done quickly and easily. She makes it look so easy I’m going to give it a go and serve it up to my 6, 4, and 1-year-old in reusable pouches like these as a nutritious snack!

Oh, and P.S., be sure you check out all of Kaley’s brilliant fruit and veggie puree recipes at the link near the bottom of the post!

Making fresh, homemade baby food is easier than you think, and you will feel good about giving your baby the very best food possible.

Most times, it is healthier, tastier, and cheaper than jarred baby food. It does take a little bit of preparation, but once you get the hang of it, you won’t even think twice about it.

Plus, you can put all the money you will save into baby’s college fund!

Everything you need to know about making fresh baby food at home Everything you need to know about making fresh baby food at home

To make your own healthy baby food, you will need:

  • fresh produce (organic if possible)
  • a pot
  • a steaming basket  or strainer
  • a rubber spatula
  • a blender – Don’t fall into the trap of buying a baby-specific blender. While the idea is great, to steam and blend in one, they only make a serving or two at a time, which isn’t the best usage of your time. Also, they are expensive and won’t be used for long. You will be much better off investing in a really good blender, that can be used long after your baby is done with purées. You can also just use whatever blender you already have, a nice blender just makes things a little faster and easier. We have been using this blender for years and are very happy with it (and Steph and her family love this one if you’re in the market for a super cost-effective alternative).
  • glass containers to store baby food in the refrigerator – I use Weck jars with an air-tight lid for storing, and also for serving.
  • freezer trays for freezing baby food in small portions – Anything that won’t be eaten in the next day or so goes into a Beaba Multiportion Freezer Tray. I love that it freezes in nice 2 ounce portions, and comes in bright, fun colors. If you prefer to freeze in 1 ounce portions instead, this cube ice tray also works well.
  • baby food cookbooks for inspiration

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

Can you believe we’re talking First Day of School already?!!? It’s so funny to find out that parents kind of feel the same way about it as kids do (I never realized when I was a kid) – not wanting the summer to end but also a little excited about the new schedule and changing of the seasons.

I also never realized as a kid how stressful the first day of school can be for a parent! So much to worry about from making sure they have everything they need to crossing our fingers they’ll have a friend in the lunch room.

Today, I’ve asked our contributor, Kristin, who just happens to be a former 1st grade teacher, to share her best tips on having a successful first day back.

I love her ideas, especially #5, such a smart way to help ease your child’s anxieties!

My kids have been out of school for a month now and we’re at the half-way point, we have another month to swim and play. But there are parts of the country where the first day of school is right around the corner!

No matter where you are at this summer, though, most likely kids are thinking about school.  Even if school is a schedule you’ve kept for several years, anticipation of the first day can affect children in a variety of ways.

I asked my kids about some of the things they are nervous about on the first day of school.  Some of their fears were that they would have trouble making friends or they wouldn’t be able to find the friends they haven’t talked to over the summer.  They worried about having a nice teacher and keeping up with the homework.

If it’s the very first day of kindergarten, children might worry about things that we wouldn’t even think about, like where to put their backpack or how to find the bathroom.

New experiences can be scary.  But, as a former teacher, I can offer a few simple tips that will start your year off great

Conquering the First Day of School Jitters

#1 Take a Tour of the School Before the First Day

You can call and make an appointment to have a tour of the school and meet some of teachers that are on campus.  It might not be your child’s teacher, but just meeting friendly adults will ease your child’s first day jitters.

Walking around the campus can help your child find the lunch area, the playground and Read More

Image Credit: © www.suzette.nu | Raaf playing | CC by 2.0

We’ve got another parenting story sent in by a reader to share today!

I’m so happy you guys are taking this idea and running with it, I can’t even tell you.

If you’d like to share something, I’d be honored to read it and maybe even post it here – just send me your submission here (more details here).

Today Laura is writing about what she’s learned during her transition to becoming a SAHM. Her words ring so very true and it’s a familiar tale but her spirit is all her own.

I especially loved the ending – made me think, “Hell ya, we do!”

Before I became a Stay at Home Mom, I had a very romantic idea of what my days would be. I was naïve enough to think I would have plenty of time to teach my little boy the alphabet, numbers, and animal sounds in English and ya know, if we had a little spare time, in Spanish, as well.

I thought I’d spend his naptime working on my print design business and blogging. I was confident that I’d be saving my family money by preparing nightly dinners and sending leftovers for my husband’s lunch the next day. I wish someone had told me.

It’s nothing like you could ever imagine.

I wish someone had told me that by time nap time rolls around you are exhausted and it’s not a perfect opportunity to work on side projects.

I wish someone had told me that preparing nightly dinners requires forethought because running to the grocery store for a few extra ingredients is not a simple feat with two kids at 4 o’clock.

I wish someone had told me that even if you are “chill” enough to let your child watch endless amounts of television, they eventually tire of it and start acting out by the third round of “Hot Dog, Hot Dog, Hot Diggity Dog”.

I wish someone had told me that you can only visit the open gyms, parks, and pool so many times before they lose their luster.

I wish someone had told me that you need a support group otherwise known as mommy friends. They are the only ones that can appreciate a mid-morning text saying “we’re still in our pajamas, not leaving the house, but feel free to come over and play”. Read More

I don’t know about you, but for us… Summer is all about fun without the fuss. Our family loves the new-found together time. And we love doing activities together, both in and out of the house. But the key to making things more enjoyable for everyone? Especially for Mom?

Minimal planning and set up.

I mean, it’s KEY.

We’ve been focusing on getting outside as much as possible this summer, even despite the Texas heat. So any backyard activity that we can set up quickly is just what we’re looking for.

You, too???

Here’s our list of 20 “no/low” set-up ways to play with your kids in the backyard this Summer!

  1. DIY Enormous Slip-N-Slide: (Pictured above) Steph did this last year with her kids and they loved it so much they brought it back this summer. All it took was a sprinkler, a hill, and a huge piece of plastic (found at the local hardware store) secured to a small plank of wood on each end.
  2. Play Sponge Bullseye: Use chalk to draw a target and assign points to each circle. Then let your kiddos aim and fire away with wet sponges.
  3. Make a Straw Bubble Wand: Tape paper straws together to make a geometric bubble explosion.
  4. Make your own Super Sprinkler: Using a pool noodle, duct tape, and a hose…make this quick version of a backyard sprinkler (but a lot more fun!).
  5. Play Pool Noodle Ring Toss: Just like it sounds, cut pool noodles to make your very own ring toss game.
  6. Make a Tin Foil Boat River: Make boats out of ice cubes and toothpicks, then watch them float down a river made of tin foil.
  7. Have a Kiddie Car/Bike Wash: Roll out the trikes and trucks, grab the suds, and let the kids get to washing their kiddie cars.
  8. Make Giant Bubbles: Make this giant bubble want using just a few items from your local hardware store.
  9. Play Water Balloon Basketball: Play the classic sport with a basket ball net, or even just a basket. Toss the water balloons and see who can make the furthest shot!
  10. DIY Yard Twister: Just paint the circles on the grass, let dry, and play until your heart’s content.
  11. Play Glow in the Dark Tic Tac Toe: Here’s a night time game. Twist Glow sticks into x’s and o’s, and play under the moonlight.
  12. Make up a Water Game: Like this one called “Roll and Splash”.
  13. Play Tag: An oldie but a goodie. Here’s five different ways to mix it up.
  14. Play Stumps Tug-of-War: Make tugging a little more challenging by balancing on crates or upside down baskets.
  15. Go on a Treasure Hunt: Send your kids off to hunt for gold with this free printable treasure map.
  16. Make a Dirt Volcano: Make your own lava explosion out of, you guessed it, dirt from your very own backyard.
  17. Play Backyard Scrabble: Draw over sized letters on pieces of square cardboard to create this fun-filled outdoor game.
  18. Do a Backyard Alphabet Hunt: Write out the alphabet, using paper or chalk, then have your kiddos find something outdoors that starts with each letter.
  19. Sheet Painting: Hang an old white sheet and let your kiddos create their very own masterpiece.
  20. Outdoor Target Practice: Let your kids practice their water gun aim by setting up cones and other obstacles.

For even more ways to play outside, be sure to checkout the “Outdoor Play” section of our famous Make & Play Vault!

Do you guys do family night?

I read in one of my favorite parenting books that it was an important thing to establish early on. You know, promotes communication, sibling and parent/child bonding, will make your kiddos confide in you more when they’re older, yadda, yadda.

So, we established family game night… And it was awful.

There was SO MUCH whining and pouting, and lots of the general mayhem and misery that occurs when a preschooler looses an all-important game of Chutes & Ladders.

I was all ready to throw in the towel on family night when I had an epiphany – “Family Night” doesn’t have to be “Family Game Night”. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t have to be “Sibling Fight for Ultimate Supremacy Night”. 

Since realizing that it was the pitting the kids against each other that was our specific undoing, things have been so much better! I talked to our contributor, Kristin, who’s kids are significantly older than mine about this and, wise parenting sage that she is, she totally got it.

She also had so many more genius tips for Family Night that I asked her to write them down for us – here and now. You’re welcome.

I was recently talking with a friend about families.  She mentioned that she’s a lot like her dad.  He was quiet and sometimes their interactions were a bit reserved.

He was raised in the same type of home, so it was what he was familiar with.  We discussed the ways that our family environments set the tone for the types of relationships we have. Read More

Summer for most families means even more time than usual spent in the car.

While this can easily mean chaos, temper tantrums, and sticky messes, these hacks prove car travel – whether long haul road trips or quick jaunts to the playground – can just as easily be organized, well-equipped, mess-free, and, dare I say it, pleasant for both parents and their offspring.

1. Missy of Lookie What I Did‘s car hack means that kids no longer have to balance (or not!) a drink, snack, or meal in their laps. Her solution–$1 shower caddies–makes transporting and eating on the go impressively easy, not to mention the amount of energy it’ll save you on car clean up time.

2. Speaking of cutting down on clean up time, consider this genius hack from Holly over at Kids Activities Blog, you’ll never clean your cup holders again!

3. Remedy the lack of a stable, even surface in your car by giving your kids a lap tray. Two Sisters Crafting did just that by transforming a cookie sheet. The flat surface makes coloring, eating, and watching movies possible for kids in the car. The testament to the power of the lap tray? Two Sisters says it kept a 4 year-old happy and entertained throughout a fourteen hour road trip. Read More

Being the mother of three kids ages 6 years down to 15 months, I get asked a lot by new mothers about my must-have baby items.

So when my very favorite store, Target, approached me and asked if I’d like to partner with them to shop the huge baby sale they’re having now through Saturday, July 11th, I just knew it was the time to finally publish my list.

Plus, this sale is no joke, so I was delighted to get a gift card to buy some of the items I’d been eyeing, as well as to stock up on those I continue to use all the time with baby M.

My favorite deal of the sale?

Spend $100 and get a $20 gift card or spend $200 and get a free $40 gift card!

With that $40 giftcard and the everyday 5% discount I get with my Red Card, I got everything pictured above for under $200! Yipee!

Read on for what I got along with my full list of what you must have (and what you really don’t need) for baby

Newborn – To Buy Right Away

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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:

Read More

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