mindful living, effortless style

We’re back with another installment of MPMK’s 2013 Christmas Gift Guides today. Building and construction toys, blocks in particular, are my absolute favorites for both my son AND my daughter. They are the ultimate open-ended creativity toy and I love that my children play with them for huge chunks of time, all while developing math, problem-solving, and spatial thinking skills.

Don’t forget – you can check out all 10 of our 2013 Gift Guides here!

Once again this year, I’m heading up each list with my favorites from all the picks – here, in no particular order, are my top 7 Building and Construction Toys (scroll down for full details on each):

  1. LEGO Duplo My First Set $24.14 (18 mos – 5 years)
  2. Magna-Tiles $120 (2 – 12 years)
  3. Melissa & Doug 60 Piece Standard Unit Blocks $50.99 (2 – 15 years)
  4. Battat Take-Apart Vehicle Series starting at $17.95 (3+ years)
  5. LEGO Creator 3-in-1 Kits starting at $11.24, (age varies by kit, most start around age 5)
  6. Green Toys Tool Set $19.59 (2+ years)
  7. Designed by You Doll House with Furniture $82.09 (3+ years)

Read on for 30 of my favorite building and construction toys, broken down into:

  • Best Blocks for Open-Ended Play
  • Take Apart & Build Again Toys
  • LEGO Sets for Every Age
  • Dramatic Play Construction Toys

Special Note: In an effort to help you out as much as possible this year, I’ve included both prices and age recommendations for each item.  Please take the age ranges as just that – recommendations – you know you’re child best after all!  

Also, this time of year prices can fluctuate quite dramatically.  So if you see something a little outside of your price range, it might not be a bad idea to click over and check  it out anyway – you may get lucky and catch a sale.

Along those lines, I’m doing my best this year to keep our readers up-to-date on any sales I see on our gift guide items.  To be in the loop, be sure to follow us on facebook and subscribe to our newsletter.

Ready for the big list? Here we go… Read More

Looking for an easy and fun treat to make with the kids this year for your favorite neighbors, teachers, and friends?  Look no further!  

This semi-homemade recipe relies on the goodness or Oreos, Teddy Grahamas, and some melted chocolate. Easy enough to make dozens at a time and a definite crowd pleaser.

These cute cookies are one of my favorite things to make around the holidays. They are darling, a nice combination of homemade and storebought, and make great teacher gifts.

More importantly, they are delicious. I don’t even really like Oreos (I know – my husband can hardly believe it either), and I absolutely love these cookies. I’ll warn you that they are a bit messy to eat, but an important half of this blog’s name is “Messy Kids” after all.

You’ll need:

  • Melting chocolate (or almond bark)
  • Oreos
  • Teddy Grahams
  • A fork
  • A baking sheet or cooling rack (or both, which is what I did)

Melt your chocolate according to the package directions (I microwaved mine for Read More

Happy Cyber Monday friends.  While you’re online shopping the sales today, we wanted to make sure you don’t forget about all the great handmade learning toys readily available to parents at the tap of a keystroke.

And good news! One of our favorite purveyors of just these types of toys, and also our newest sponsor, Mama May i is generously offering up a discount to MPMK readers. Read More

Happy Black Friday friends, I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I got up extra early this morning to scope out the on-line sales and promptly sent my best finds off to my newsletter readers (sign up here to join).

Normally, I don’t share newsletter bonus material here on the blog but thought I’d make an exception today so you guys can get in on the deals too. These are 2013 Ultimate Toy Gift Guide selections that are on special Black Friday sales – which seem to be going on past Black Friday – so get ‘em while you can! Read More

Sometimes, you’re looking for a specific kind of Christmas book, but it’s hard to find one because the bookstore or library has them all just categorized as “Christmas.”

Whether you’re looking for a Santa story, a Christmas version of your child’s favorite book, or a sweet story to read together, this list will have you covered with suggestions for exactly the kind of book you want.

Yay! I’m so excited it’s time to talk about art supplies as part of this year’s Gift Guide collection. This is one of my favorites. But that probably doesn’t surprise you, huh?  You all know how much I love anything that promotes open-ended creativity… I believe that every house with kids has to have a stocked art drawer – if not an entire art closet!

I absolutely love gifting my kids art supplies because I know that while using them they’ll be flexing their creative thinking skills and likely spending a lot of time doing so independently.  Plus – big bonus – because these supplies get used up, they don’t contribute to a huge pile of toys that will inevitably lead to power struggles between me and the kids over clean-up time.

Don’t forget – you can check out all 10 of our 2013 Gift Guides here!

Once again this year, I’m heading up each list with my favorites from all the picks - here, in no particular order, are my top 7 Art Supplies for Open-Ended Creativity (scroll down for full details on each):

  1. Twistz Bandz Rainbow Loom $19.95 (8+ years)
  2. Playskool 2-in-1 Digital Camera and Projector $49.14 (3 – 7 years)
  3. Doodle Cook $12.46 (4+ years with some adult help or reading age)
  4. Ultra Thin Portable Light Panel $189.99 and Light Table Panel Blocks $19.99 (babies – 10 years)
  5. Perler Beads Multimix Bucket $8.90 (5 – 12 years)
  6. Play Doh Barrel $26.95 (3 – 8 years)
  7. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Alphabet Stamp Set $17.23 (3+ years)

Read on for 27 of my favorite Art Supplies for Open-Ended Creativity… Read More

Julee is back today with a seasonal addition to The Forever Home Project.  I love her easy-to-do ideas and I’m seriously thinking about picking up one of those bay leaf garlands – so gorgeous (see the Etsy link in the post). Without further ado, here she is…

I’m so excited to spend the holiday season in our new home that I started decorating the day after Halloween. A little crazy, I know! My first project to tackle was the fireplace in our formal living room.

We decided to place our Christmas tree in this room, which means it will be the center of our family togetherness during the holidays. Yes, I’m totally picturing the kids wearing plaid pajamas, reading stories and sipping hot chocolate by the fire.

The scene is beautiful in my mind, but the reality of our fireplace is not. Our home was built in the early 1980s, and nowhere is the glam of the 80s more apparent than in the black marble tile and shiny brass trim of our fireplace. We’re hoping to resurface the fireplace someday, but it’s definitely not in the budget this year.

In contrast to many of the design decisions that I’m making in our ‘Forever Home,’ this decorating challenge seems like an interim solution – one that I hope will change drastically by next year. The challenge is made even more difficult by the fact that we’re still purchasing furniture for the room, making it hard to want to spend money on seasonal decorations.

My approach: keep it simple, repurpose items I already own and mix in a little DIY. Read More

Thanksgiving is next week and I’m giving my thanks to all of you for being such loyal and wonderful readers with this FREE 24 page PDF download.  Put together by our friends at Relish!, it contains everything you need to make Thanksgiving fabulous this year including:

  • A full Thanksgiving menu complete with mouth-watering recipes
  • A complete grocery shopping list
  • How-to sections on defrosting, brining, carving and making the perfect gravy
  • Recommendations and descriptions of 6 “perfect for Thanksgiving” wines
  • An hour-by-hour prep and cooking guide so you’ll be on schedule all day long

Get it all with one click, right here: Thanksgiving Menu Planner. That’s it! No contests to enter, pages to like, or newsletters to subscribe to – it’s our gift to you. Enjoy!!

Everyday Freezer Recipes eBookP.S. If you like this guide, check out another collaboration from MPMK and Relish!

Our Everyday Freezer Recipes ebook is packed with 50 freezer recipes you prepare ahead of time so your family can quickly heat and eat on busy weeknights –  plus 10 full weekly menus, printable freezer labels and shopping lists.

Go here to purchase in PDF, ibooks, kindle, and nook formats for only$6.99.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Today I bring you one of my all-time favorite gift ideas EVER! The genius in this gift is that it has sentiment and thoughtfulness in spades but is shockingly easy to put together. This will be a gift for my mom that I know she will treasure as my “Nana” is no longer with us. You could easily knock several people off your gift list with this same idea in no time, especially with the free recipe card printable that’s 100% editable so you don’t have to worry about pretty handwriting.

Ready for the DIY? Read on for the full tutorial PLUS my Nana’s famous frozen pumpkin pie recipe.

Read More

With next week being all about Thanksgiving and December rolling around right after that, this is the perfect week to get your Advent calendar squared away.  Of course, we’re here to help with our list of 24 of our all-time favorite Advent activities for families.

We’ve included activities that fall all over the preparation level spectrum (although we definitely tended towards the less-prep side of things).  I also fully reserve the right to switch the day’s activity when my kids’ heads are turned and I highly suggest you do the same. That way you’re sure to have some real memory makers in the mix, but can also keep it simple if your day is already heading south by 10 AM.

And if you need something stylish to house your activities in, check out our DIY Advent Calendar (pictured above) – so chic and super easy to make with kids of all ages.

One final note – this time of year is supposed to be about enjoying your time as a family, not stressing over squeezing everything in.  If getting an activity done every day is too much, don’t stress! Just pick your favorites from the list and focus on those. If you still want to do an Advent countdown there are some pretty rad options on the market these days too.  Our favorites include:

Ready for your daily December activity list? Here we go…

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 had to include a STEM themed gift guide this year.

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!

Don’t forget – you can check out all 10 of our 2013 Gift Guides here!

Once again this year, I’m heading up each list with my favorites from all the picks – here, in no particular order, are my top 7 Learning Toys for Fostering STEM Skills (scroll down for full details on each):

  1. Snap Circuits $45.07 (8 – 15 years) and Snap Circuits Jr $20.55 (5+ years with parental help, 6 or 7+ for independent play)
  2. 3D printer $1,199.00 (10+ years)
  3. Hanz Innovations Inventor’s Lab Building Set - $59.95 (8 – 15 years)
  4. Qwirkle $19.21 (5+ years)
  5. LEGO Mindstorms EV3 $349.95 (10+ years)
  6. The Everything Kids’ Science Experiments Book: Boil Ice, Float Water, Measure Gravity-Challenge the World Around You! $8.99 (8+ years)
  7. Hexbug Nano Elevation 3D Habitat $40.34 (3 – 15 years)

Read on for 40 or so 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

Special Note: In an effort to help you out as much as possible this year, I’ve included both prices and age recommendations for each item. Please take the age ranges as just that – recommendations – you know you’re child best after all!  

Also, this time of year prices can fluctuate quite dramatically.  So if you see something a little outside of your price range, it might not be a bad idea to click over and check  it out anyway – you may get lucky and catch a sale.

Along those lines, I’m doing my best this year to keep our readers up-to-date on any sales I see on our gift guide items.  To be in the loop, be sure to follow us on facebook and subscribe to our newsletter.

Ready for the big list? Here we go… Read More

We’ve got a real treat for you guys today.  This ice cream sandwich dessert bar is so tempting I’m thinking of throwing an ugly sweater party just to have an excuse to set one up.  Be sure you read through to the end of the post for all of Natalie’s amazing sandwich combination suggestions. Ginger Molasses Cookies with Eggnog Ice Cream rolled in crushed candy canes anyone?

Question of the Day

What’s your favorite dessert for holiday parties?

The holiday season and cookies go hand in hand, am I right? So many family traditions include making, baking and sharing cookies together. I love a good cookie plate, cookie tin, cookie table, cookie swap… you say cookies and I’m there!

Start a new holiday party tradition: an ice cream sandwich bar in festive flavors - love the cookie recipes and ice cream flavor suggestions here.

This year, I wanted to add a new little twist to our Christmas cookie tradition with an ice cream sandwich dessert bar. This is a fun and interactive way to share cookies with friends and family during the holidays (or get rid of your cookies so you don’t eat them all yourself). Guests can choose their own cookies, ice cream and toppings to make a one-of-a-kind ice cream sandwich.

You can make this relatively simple or more involved, depending on your resources and how much time you have. Here are some tips for putting it together:

Cookies

You can use store-bought, homemade or even holiday cookies that you’ve been gifted. I chose to make my own this time. Give your guests a few cookie choices, but not too many to overwhelm them.

Try to pick cookies that are flat and not too soft or crumbly so their sandwiches stay in tact. I made Double Chocolate Chip Cookies (with sea salt flakes added on top), Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Snickerdoodles, and Ginger Molasses Cookies. The Double Chocolate and the Snickerdoodles were the favorites with our group.

Ice Cream

Again, you can use store-bought or homemade here as well. There are some great holiday ice cream recipes out there but, for the sake of time, I bought my ice cream. I went for two distinct holiday flavors and two more friendly, classic picks that would work with any cookie.

My picks were Candy Cane, Whiskey Egg Nog, Read More

It’s been a while since we’ve let our children’s librarian, Janssen, do her thing. So get your library cards out, here are her picks for the the books that will get your kids super excited for Turkey Day this year. If you’re looking for a couple more Thanksgiving recommendations, check out these on her blog.)

With kids, it’s sometimes easy for Thanksgiving to get lost in the shuffle. Halloween is such a kid-centric holiday and then Christmas is, indisputably, the biggest holiday of them all – at least in the United States. Sandwiched between the two, Thanksgiving can be almost entirely forgotten.

But, even though the selection of books for children around Thanksgiving is slimmer than for either Halloween or Christmas  (I’ll admit, my living room Halloween book display was much more impressive than my current Thanksgiving one), there are still some stellar books for the season. (

Check out these six winners:

  1. Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet. This is, hands down, my favorite Thanksgiving book. Melissa Sweet does such amazing illustrations, and in this book, you really get to see her top-tier research and writing abilities on display. The Macy’s Parade is such a Thanksgiving staple, but I had no idea how it’d all come about. Reading this book made it even more magical for me.
  2. One is a Feast for a Mouse by Judy Cox and Jeffrey Ebbeler. This is a sweet and funny little book about a mouse who, when the humans finish their Thanksgiving feast, sneaks out to gather a feast of his own. But he’s not the only creature lurking about the table. Read More

Bet you didn’t think the words “gratitude” “chore” and “game” really went together did you?  With all the holiday stuff I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about another word, one that can sometimes arise as a consequence of too much focus on the gifts: entitlement.

Also, I recently partnered with one of my favorite brands and our new sponsor, The Honest Company, to try out some of their cleaning products. Have you tried their stuff yet? I admit it took me a while to get on the bandwagon when it came to their cleaning supplies as I figured the all-natural, eco-friendly products would be pricey – I was pleasantly surprised to find out how wrong I was. My new bamboo dish brush with a pretty ceramic base is only $4.95!

So, somehow in my convoluted brain these two things became merged and I started to think about this discussion we had on mindfulness and daily chores as part of our virtual book club last year.

Do you remember discussing this quote?

Housework may be the best opportunity to practice being present.  If we choose, mindful house cleaning can be space away form the noise of our racing thoughts and feelings.  The back-and-forth motion of a broom creates a rhythm to focus on.  The act of preparing a meal invites all the senses to attention.

Whoa.  The idea of seeing housework as an opportunity for focus and calm – a gift even – in the midst of a busy day, that kinda turned my world on it’s head.

Actually getting myself to do this, though, seemed tough.  Then, as I often do when thinking about habits I wish I had, I started thinking about Read More

Today’s the day friends – All 10 of MPMK’s 2013 Gift Guides are finally available for your perusing pleasure!

How great would it be to get all of your Christmas shopping done ahead of time this year?  I’ve spent hours upon hours talking to friends and school teachers, reading reviews, polling our readers, and scouring toy award lists to come up with these finds. With over 250 of the most engaging and stimulating toys out there, I guarantee there’s something for everyone here.

“Which toys should I spend my money on?,” is probably the question I get asked most often by you guys, especially right around now.  So this year, MPMK is doing the gift guide thing bigger, bolder and just plain better! I’ve added 3 totally new guides, included the babies and the older kids, and expanded all the of the descriptions to include more detailed info. and suggested age ranges.

When I first started these 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 shopping – getting in some solid independent play during quiet time or burning off steam when stuck indoors, for instance.

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!

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

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

 

Question of the Day

Which is your favorite Gift Guide? (Never too early to start doing some market research for next year’s batch.)