mindful living, effortless style

You guys know I’m all about getting outdoors whenever possible! I’ll admit, however, that has been a little more challenging this year with the baby in tow – sometimes I’m just too tired to face arming all 3 kids in the layers and layers of outdoor clothes, you know?

So I’m over at eHow this week with my top 10, all-time favorite ways to keep the kids active when stuck inside.

These are some seriously low key and zero prep ideas that are sure to rescue you when the kids are bouncing off the walls – guaranteed.

Back tomorrow with something fun (she says mysteriously).

Every year Trader Joe’s gets their holiday products in stock.  They fly off the shelves and quickly as they arrived.  Peppermint is king around the holidays and we love everything from the candy cane tea to the candy cane ‘joe-joes’  (Trader Joe’s version of an oreo.)

We decided to make our own version of the candy cane joe-joe in the form of a whoopie pie.

Whoopie pies are basically cakey little cookies with frosting to hold them together.  Like a soft oreo!  Whoopie pies have been around since the 1920’s and now we can find them in every variation under the sun.

Let’s start with the cookie!

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 4 Tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Read More

Headed to potluck after potluck this season? Looking for something that’s easy to assemble, festive AND healthy?  Read More

I love the smell of Christmas. And truth be told, I’m not exactly sure what that smell is. But in my mind…it’s part pumpkin, part pine tree, and part cinnamon. Mmmmm.

Every year we like to fill our house with holiday aromas. And we’re always looking for new ways to do it.

This year, our family decided to make our own painted cinnamon pine cones. Not only do they smell fantastic, but they work so beautifully with our natural Christmas theme and they make fantastic gifts.

Sure, you can always buy your own scented pine cones at the craft store. No harm, no foul. But did you know that you can make your own for a fraction of the cost? It’s so easy!

And the best part is,  you can control how strong the scent is. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like wearing a gas mask into craft stores at Christmas time, simply because the smells are so strong. If that’s your thing, then by all means…make ’em strong! But if you are more like me, then fear not. You can make yours as lightly scented as you please.

Here’s how to do it… Read More

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! Now that we’ve all stuffed ourselves and, hopefully, had a great day with the family – it’s time to get a little Christmas shopping done.

I stayed up extra late last night/this morning to scour Amazon for deals they’re running on any and all of the 350+ Toys featured in our gift guides this year. I really hope this goes a long way to saving you a little time and money today!

You’ll find the toys on sale from each of our gift guides below – each currently 15% – 45% off. Before we get to that though, here are the standout deals…

*note: These deals aren’t specifically labeled as “Black Friday” sales, so I’m not exactly sure when they end, could be today, could be this weekend – consider yourself warned. Also, for more deals, be sure to follow our facebook page – which we are continually updating with the latest sales through December!

Top 12 Deals Today from all 350+ Toys

  1. Playskool 2-in-1 Digital Camera and Projector $50.21 $38.99 (3 – 7 years) – Photography is an amazing art to introduce to your children at a young age.  Encouraging them to get behind the lens gives them a different perspective on their surroundings as well as control of their world. Plus, if you tend to take a lot of photos of your kids (ahem), getting them into photography will make them more likely to put up with your shutter bug tendencies. We’ve had a few digital kid cameras in the past and, while the kids have always been excited about them, they all were difficult for the kids to operate on their own and broke easily.  So I’ve been on the lookout for a better designed kid camera for quite a while and this Oppenheimer award winning version is it!  We got it for the kids for Christmas and their favorite feature has to be that with the flip of a switch this camera will instantly project captured images up onto a wall (cool!). Coming in a close second are all the funny clip art images you can superimpose onto the photos within the camera. Big buttons and screen, along with durability, good photo quality, storage of 1000 photos at a time and those instant special effects means the kids continue to reach for it for play time again and again.
  2. Kidkraft Waterfall Mountain Train Set & Table $170.99 $119.97 (18 months – 8 years) – We bought our son a train table for his 2nd birthday and we always say it’s one of the best purchases we’ve ever made.  Over four years later both he and his sister still play with it several times a week.  At 4 he was able to completely construct the track by himself using the map and that added a whole new level of building play to this fantastic toy. I think the model we bought has been discontinued but this one has all of the same key components: a bridge, waterfall mountain, helicopter landing pad, and the all-important drawers for storing all the little pieces. If you’re going to be putting your train table in main living space, you may want to spring for the more expensive and KidKraft Metropolis Train Set Table with Trundle Drawer.  It’s got a nicer “furniture” look (and that double-decker bridge is pretty cool too). Also, over the years we’ve amassed quite a collection of Thomas trains to go with this table.
  3. LeapFrog Leappad3 $89.99 $79.99 + $20 Amazon credit = $59.99 (3-9 years), or the Leappad Ultra $129.00 (4 – 9 years) – If you’re looking for an educational introductory wi-fi tablet that’s safe for your kids, the consensus is a LeapPad is what you want. Only LeapPad Ultra has LeapSearch — a secure browser that lets kids explore the content they love. Everything on LeapSearch has been handpicked by a team of learning experts, with parental settings for easy additional fine-tuning. The continually growing collection of eBooks and educational apps available for them foster reading, art, music, language and culture, science, geography, mathematics, and health education but what I really love about them are the possibilities for creating.  They come equipped with two front and back cameras and video recorders allowing children to create masterpieces in the Art Studio, edit pictures they’ve taken in the Photo Studio and create, direct and narrate their own animated movies in the Cartoon Director app. New with the Leappad3 this year is a faster processing speed, a higher resolution camera, and (most impressively), peer-to-peer play.
  4. Leapfrog Leapreader Reading and Writing System $37.49 $29.99 (3 – 8 years)  – The leapreader has been a leader amongst educational toys since it’s debut, and with good reason.  My son first got his when he turned 4 and not long after we decided to get one for our 3 year old too.  Both kids (now 4 and 6) still spend large chunks of time “reading” stories with the pen and they used it to practice their letters as well.  This is one of our top tier toys that has really helped instill a love of reading in my kids and never really makes it out of rotation.
  5. Learning Resources Pretend & Play School Set $36.00 $19.49 (3 – 6  years) – This is such a popular toy and it’s no mystery why. Kids absolutely love playing school, especially when they have some awesome props like this, and parents love how it fosters a love of learning.
  6. Tinker Toy 100 Piece Essentials Value Set $28.99 $16.49 (3+ years) – Tinkertoys are a total classic. My grandparents had a set I used to play with whenever I would visit them as a little girl and now both my 4 year old girl and 6 year old boy love them whenever they discover them at friends’ houses at play dates. I’m thinking this one may be under our tree this year.
  7. K’NEX 375 Piece Delux Building Set $19.97 $11.98 (6 – 14 years) – My son spotted this at a consignment store shortly before his 5th birthday. When I went back to get it for him the very next day, it had already been snatched up – a sure sign of a good toy. K’NEXs have been around for a long time and with good reason. If your child loves LEGO, this is a natural next step for him or her. The pieces offer lots of flexibility and many of the guided builds have dynamic, moving parts. This set includes a variety of builds including a Ferris Wheel, helicopter, train, etc. Also don’t miss: K’NEX Education – Kid Group Set $49.99 $32.90 and/or K’NEX Education: Transportation $76.99 $52.49 (3 – 7 years) –  I also love that K’NEX has an entire educational line of sets that teach specific scientific principles such as the Intro. to Simple Machines: Gears and Intro. to Simple Machines: Levers and Pulleys.
  8. Playskool Sesame Street Big Hugs Elmo $48.42 $29.99 (18 months – 6 years) – Elmo has once again managed to land himself a coveted spot as one of the hottest toys around. Parents report that this dancing, singing, sleeping and hugging super-sized Elmo outshines his tickle-me predecessor.  I especially like how he encourages imaginative play with scenarios revolving around astronauts, rabbits, frogs and horses and how his affirmative words and hugs will help kids build emotional intelligence as well.
  9. Diggin JumpStart Trampoline $65.40 $49.99 (3 – 7 years) – Every day around 4:30 PM I wonder why we haven’t bought one of these yet.  Two of C’s buddies have one and they each love to jump and jump and jump on it.  Chances are very high Santa will be bringing the kids a trampoline this year and if he does it’ll be this one due to the good reviews and space saving design.
  10. Mini Micro Scooter $79.99 $63.99 (3 – 5 years) – Hailed as “the quality choice in 3-wheel scooters for young children” this scooter has more than it’s fair share of rave reviews and awards (the Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Gold and Platinum Award Seals for Best Toy, the Parent’s Choice Approved Seal, ‘Best Pre-School Scooter’ by Toy Report, ‘Best Outdoor Toy’ by Learning Express Stores and was featured on the NBC Today Show as part of its ‘Best Toys for Summer’ series). The key is the “learn to steer” design and back brake, both of which grant preschoolers an extra element of stability. Also, the Mini can be ridden inside while learning (or waiting for Spring) as the quality wheels, made especially for Micro, are non marking. Also, don’t miss: Micro-Mini 3-in-1 Kick Scooter $114.99 $91.99 (1 – 5 years) – lets even new walkers in on the fun. 1 year olds start out sitting on the scooter with the seat attachment and using it as a typical ride-on toy. Later they advance to the O-bar (which is lower than the traditional Mini Micro Scooter) and eventually graduate to the real deal.
  11. PlasmaCar $60.80 44.99 (3 – 8 years) – Check out the stellar reviews on this one and you’ll be sold.  It’s a cool space-age car that’s powered solely by wiggling the steering wheel.  This multi-award winning toy is one that will be enjoyed by kids of all ages for many years.
  12. Hasbro Furby $52.99 $29.99 (5+ years) – Dolls don’t have to be just for toddlers.  Older kids flip over this tech-based friend. Feed it, speak to it, tickle it, play music for it, and shake, tilt or turn your FURBY upside down. But be warned – how you treat your FURBY will shape its personality.

And here are the sales currently going on for each gift guide. (Hint: click on the title of each guide to see all 40+ toys in each one.)… Read More

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

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

your exclusive $3 off coupon

 

on Bona’s awesome hardwood floor cleaning products.

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

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

Ah, the holidays, what’s not to love?

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

The cleaning.

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

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

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

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

Plus, they are Read More

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

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

For more MPMK Thanksgiving fun, see:

DIY Gratitude Turkey

The Best Thanksgiving Books for Kids

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

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

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

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

Here’s an excerpt…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Subcategories of this guide include:

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

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

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

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

#2 Best Games for Kids & Families

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To make the simple Advent calendar:

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

Read More

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

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

Ready to see them? Here we go…

#1 Best Learning Toys for Quiet Time

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

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

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

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

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

 

#2 Best Toys for Babies & Young Toddlers

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onto those 10 examples, then.

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

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

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