5 Essential Books for Baby's 1st Library

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

We love celebrating and welcoming new babies just as much as the next person and are always on the look out for fabulous baby shower book gifts. Today, we wanted to share five favorites that have been our go to gifts lately. These are books that we both love and that are sure to delight both parents and children and help kick start the building of a first library.

best books for baby shower gifts

1. The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin. Emily's whimsical illustrations are the perfect fit for this sweet book that presents both parents and children a world of wonderful possibilities for the future. The details are to die for and the sentiment strikes just the right balance of being sentimental but not overly saccharine.

2. Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers. This book serves as both an introduction and a welcome to the world, and its all packaged up by the inimitable illustrations and wry hand of Mr. Jeffers. He wrote this book for his infant son, and the overwhelming message is an oh so lovely call for kindness and understanding for our planet and the people on it.

3. Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Graphic, funny, and fast paced! We love this cheeky board book that introduces us to Triangle and Square, and their friendship. This is the first in a shape trilogy by one of our favorite author illustrator pairings. Square is out May 8th and sure to delight as well. Perfect gifts for your design loving friends or minimalist leaning parents. 

4. Touch Think Learn: ABC by Xavier Deneux. We think a wonderful ABC book is essential for a first library. We love that this one provides a tactile as well as visual experience for little ones and the design is superb!

5. AB See by Elizabeth Doyle. This ABC book also doubles as a clever seek and find. Each letter is embedded with objects that help you start conversations that will help with letter recognition and vocabulary building as well as provide a fun way to look beyond the basics of the alphabet.


Surviving Arsenic Hour: Part 4 Sanity Saving Play Materials

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Some nights it's all I can do to plop something in front of my kids and ask them to play, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.  Thankfully, we've got a pretty well stocked arsenal of materials to keep them busy.

Note: to contain the inevitable mess, I own several of these IKEA trays.  They are fantastic and create a designated, easily washable space to keep the materials on.  And for $2, you'll have no problem stocking up.

1. Kinetic Sand
I know, I know.  So messy.  But still so fun.  I host a rotating play date for my 3 year old daughter and a few of her friends every other week and I usually start by setting out a tray for each of them with one of these materials on.  I got a bulk package of pink kinetic sand (and these toys for them to play with in it- HUGELY popular) and the girls will play for an hour or more.  (My son loves his blue sand and having battles with his army figures- and they'll mix and match their toys or trade sand, depending on the afternoon)

2. Aaron's Thinking Putty
This is another item that we ONLY play with on our IKEA trays, a huge caveat here is that this stuff sticks to everything and stains fabrics if you leave it there.  I am militant about this being kept in the kitchen.  But we have it because my kids absolutely love it.  It is stretchy, squishy, perfectly malleable, and never dries out.  I love watching them incorporate this into their play and all the different scenarios that unfold.

3.  Play-Doh
I don't feel like a lot needs to be said about this.  Fantastic fun for the under 5 or so crowd.  These are a few of our Play Doh sets that get the most use:

4. Waterbeads
As a mom who doesn't enjoy stepping on slimy balls and cleaning them off the floor for days, I kind of hate these.  As a mom who is desperate for my kids to be engaged with an activity so I can cook dinner and put my screaming baby down for a nap, I'm a big fan.  These are sensory wonder.  Inexpensive and easy to set up, these are a great toy for completely open ended play.

5. Magnatiles
If you don't own these yet, you should.  You really should.  All of my children, from 1 year old to the 6 year old play, and play, and play with these.  Definitely start with the 100 piece set and add on from with different types (glow-in-the dark, clear, black),  bases with wheelsexpansion packs.  If I'm feeling a little extra superstar Mom, I'll throw out a building challenge or prompt to see what they come up with.


Surviving Arsenic Hour: Part 3 Storybook Endings

Sunday, March 11, 2018

This is a recent development in our home, and an idea that I got while visiting with my nephews.  They have a stack of simple, homemade books and an array of fun art materials and they will spend hours creating their own storybooks.  The results were inspiring, and inspired me to implement the activity in my own home.  My 6 year old has no interest in writing, he seems to actively dislike it.  We struggle to get him to write anything- except letters to his cousins and these books.  He's taking ideas and story lines he's already telling me about, or playing out with his toys, and putting them down on paper.  It's wonderful for writing practice, spelling, understanding story elements and so much more. Sometimes the best ideas are, blessedly, also the easiest.

Step 1: Pre-make the books.  Construction paper on the outside and a few sheets of blank, lined or otherwise prepared white paper, stapled or taped together.  Viola.  Magic waiting to happen.

Step 2: Stock up on writing materials. Kids love exciting writing supplies, think sparkles, invisible ink, etc. The supplies we've had good luck with are colorful, fun and good for writing. Here are some of our favorites:

Step 3: Have some writing prompts ready.  Just in case your little writers need a boost getting started. Here are some great sources and already developed prompts to help you along:


Surviving Arsenic Hour: Part 2 Mind Games

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Another favorite way to pass the time is playing games.  Family game nights, while absolutely wonderful, are a different beast, and we'll do another post on those in the future.  Those nights are all about fun.  Everyone is home, fed and happy, probably eating treats. Games during Satan's Revenge?  None of the above. We're focusing on games here that encourage independent play and problem solving and which keep kids occupied.  Here are some of our top picks:

1. Rush Hour: We'll start out with the classic traffic jam logic game.  Released in 1996 with more 10 million sold, this game is a classic for a reason.  In case you're not familiar, Rush Hour sets up "traffic jams" on a grid and the players goal is to manipulate the pieces until you're able to drive the red car off the board and out of the jam.  It says ages 8 and up but I've had more than one 5 year old sit down and work through multiple beginner level cards without getting frustrated.  The game comes with 40 challenge cards in 4 different levels.  And, bonus, when my son gets tired on working on the challenges, he'll often entertain himself with cars and game board for an additional 20 or 30 minutes.

2. SmartGames Little Red Riding Hood: Isn't this just darling? This is similar in some ways to Rush Hour but the story element and fewer steps makes it a little friendlier for the younger crowd. Appropriate for ages 4 and up.  If Little Red Riding Hood isn't your kid's cup of tea, there are multiple other versions of the game: dinosaurs, North Pole Expedition, the Three Little Pigs, etc.

3. Q-bitz and Q-bitz Jr. : This is a newer game in our home and a great addition.  The winner of numerous awards (Parent's Choice Gold Award, National Parenting Publications Awards' Nappa Gold. Tillywig Toy Award's Brain Child Award Winner, and the Major Fun Award), Q-bitz is simultaneously engaging in numerous ways.  Each player has a tray with a number of patterned dice (16 for regular and 4 for the junior version) that they must use to recreate the pattern on the challenge card.   And there's a lot of room for improvisation, you can create patterns with the dice for your child to extend, challenge them to recreate patterns from memory, or have them create patterns on their own.  

4. Set and Set. Jr.   The idea for set came when Marsha Jean Falco was doing genetic research on German Shepards and drew symbols to represent the different traits she was tracking.  After seeing the fun in finding patterns among the traits, SET (and a game empire) was born.  This versatile game is genius, you can play alone or with up to 4 people, and it's a great for a wide range of ages.  The Jr. version is a great way to ease into recognizing the patterns, which can seem a little overwhelming at first and is suitable for ages 3 and up, but the regular version is for ages 6 and up so no need to get it unless you've got really young kids.  Each card has four different characteristics and a set is formed when three cards have each of those characteristics ALL in common, or ALL different.  It's fast-paced, challenging, educational and still fun.

5. Keva Brain Builders : If you've followed us for a while, you know that we're huge proponents of building toys.  Both of our toy rooms are filled with them.  I love that this game incorporates building, and requires you to consider the challenge from three different angles to come up with the solution.  Taking the challenge from 2 to 3 dimensions, building, and problem solving all in one.

If you miraculously have all these games, here are five more on our wish list:



Surviving the Arsenic Hours: Part 1 Shut Up and Dance

Monday, February 26, 2018

As I stood, huddled in the dark corner of my dining room, eating a cinnamon roll and pretending not to hear my offspring fighting in the kitchen, I realized that perhaps I was surviving, not thriving, this evening.  And the evening before that, and the evening before that. 4:30 p.m. hits in our house and, almost like clockwork, my children turn into demons.  When you add in homework, meal prep, dinner, clean up, bathing, pajamas- an absolute delight.

We both have husbands who work very, very long hours and travel extensively.  Our arsenic hours, from the beginning to bitter end, are almost always exclusively our responsibility.  So we've had to get a little creative, finding ways to fill the time without developing ever more elaborate hiding spots.  I still have days where I need to hide from my children, for my own survival and theirs, but there are some pretty beautiful moments of thriving thrown in there.  And I'll take it.

This is the first in a series of five posts, where we'll share some of our favorite ways to make it through Satan's Revenge/the witching hours/the arsenic hours.  We would also love to hear what works for you, because if we've learned anything so far, it's that thriving as parents requires help from a tribe.

Cranking up the music and setting the stage for an impromptu dance party is probably the quickest and easiest way to lighten the mood and bring a little fun into the evening slog.

First off, I think the disco ball is non-negotiable.  My kids, and every kid that we've had over during a dance party, love it.  It takes the activity from listening to music in the background to serious business.   It's inexpensive, small, portable, and remote controlled. We've gotten hours of use from ours and I don't see that changing any time soon.

Second, accessorize.  My daughter loves to wear things that sparkle and twirl, and especially enjoys being in character during Disney songs.  My son's dancing is often a lot like running in a giant circle around our main level (burning energy=huge win) and for some reason, wearing his Indiana Jones get up or golden ninja costume seem to help that along.  But our all-time favorite is a giant crying baby-face mask.  It is hilarious. I bought it as soon as I saw it because it's one of those things you just need to own- even if you're not quite sure what you're going to do with it.  Everyone looks ridiculous, with their tiny bodies dancing under this huge, whiny face and it never fails to up the ridiculous factor.

Third, let your kids add a personal touch.  Sometimes they want the songs to be along a specific theme, sometimes all the curtains need to be closed, sometimes they want to teach you a few moves.  The other night my son brought up our box of instruments and laid them out in very specific groupings so that we could play along while dancing to the music.  They're really small things, but giving them a chance to make a decision and exert some control and independence goes a very long way.  Especially in the evening hours.

Fourth, have a playlist ready. Have a list of songs that your kids love, that are upbeat or silly or dramatic and fun to dance to.  I'm the first to admit I have terrible taste in music but, lack of refinement aside, here are some my kids really enjoy:


How to Put Together a Capsule Wardrobe for Kids

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Okay guys, I am going to give you a peek into how my mind works and why I decided to try out a capsule wardrobe for my kids and myself

First of all, I feel like I am drowning in laundry. Yes, laundry is a part of life but as I was folding my kids clothes I realized that there are just too many of them. Part of that was clothing that needed to be sorted out, because it was too small or in disrepair, but even after the sorting I realized I could eliminate more.

Next, came the realization that I am probably spending more than is necessary on kids clothes. When it comes to their clothes, I want my kids to have items that will hold up, that are comfortable and that are styles that they like to wear, so I am somewhat selective in what I purchase for them and have been trying to follow the quality vs quantity mantra, but I realized that creating a capsule wardrobe would help me do better.

Lastly, I decided that I should look at ThredUp for as many of their capsule pieces as possible. My train of thought for this was very convoluted, involving random thoughts on the desire to buy new things vs the need for the new things, the amount of clothing in landfills, how expensive kids clothes can be, etc. Regardless of how I got there, ThredUp turned out to be a goldmine for me so I thought I would share some of my insights on how I created this capsule.

Full Disclosure: this post is NOT sponsored by ThredUp, and they have no idea I am writing it. Just passing along some mom hacks because I love saving money and making my life easier, and I figured some of you might too.

How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe

Capsule Wardrobe Details:

The key to a capsule wardrobe is sticking with a limited color palette so that everything goes together easily. Which means that pulling together outfits will be a simplified process for my tween, and that will help eliminate decision fatigue, at least that is the goal. With her help we settled on, shades of pink, blues (mostly chambray), white, gray and hint of olive green for her capsule color palette.

I also thought about how many pieces I thought she needed and worked off the general idea that less is more. We can always add if we need to, but I find it is a lot harder to take clothes away from kids once they have them, unless they are itchy.

We then shopped her closet for pieces she already had that would work with the palette and transition well to spring/summer which is essentially the same season where we live in Texas and which I generally just describe as HOT. And I am pretty visual person, so I created a pinterest board for each capsule I'm working on.  You can check out my daughter's board here.

4 ThredUp Shopping Tips:

1- The ThredUp sight is really amazing in terms of user friendliness it lets you drill down and search by size, brand, style, category, gender, color etc. which makes finding things you want to buy so easy. It may be the East Coaster in me, but I love Crewcuts (J.Crew's kids line) so all I had to type in the search box was 'crewcuts', then select girls and the sizes I was looking for and all the available items would appear.

2- Also, they are always offering promo codes so be sure to take advantage of them for even more savings.

3- If you see something you like, add it to your cart because usually there is only going to be one of that item and once it is in your cart it is reserved for 24 hours. So you will have plenty of time to consider everything and then remove items if you find something else.

4- Be prepared for slower shipping. We know we are spoiled by Amazon Prime but ThredUp shipping ranges from 3-8 business days which can seem like an eternity.

The Nitty Gritty (for those of you who love details, like I do)


Crewcuts Bon Bon Bon Tee via Thred Up (similar)- when looking for basics I still like there to be something a little bit special whether it is a fun graphic or an embellishment so this one fit my requirements and in my cart it went.

Crewcuts Daisy Tee on Sale, I probably subscribe to way too many store email lists, but one of the reasons is that I like to make the most of my dollars and generally only buy my kids clothes when they are on sale. When J.Crew sends out the additional 50% off sale emails I usually find a gem or two and this was one of them.

Crewcuts Striped Peplum via ThredUp (similar, similar), another versatile top with a cute peplum shape.

Crewcuts Chambray Top on Sale, such cute details and once again super versatile- meaning she can wear it with leggings, jeans, shorts, skirts.

Pink GapKids Flutter Sleeve Tee her closet (similar), soft comfortable and love the details on the sleeves.


Crewcuts Ruffle Pull-on Shorts, I have these labeled as "wishlist" because I am waiting for them to go on sale before I buy. They are really cute, but I am not willing to pay full price for them and my motto is that "eventually everything goes on sale."

Tucker & Tate Chambray Shorts via Thred Up (similar), easy pull on styling that will work with basically any top she has.

Abercrombie Kids Pink Bermudas via ThredUp, I was only going to buy one pair of pink bermuda shorts and had my daughter select her favorite between the pale pink and bright pink, but when it came time to check out I was either going to pay for shipping or another pair of shorts so I picked the shorts. Anyone else hate paying for shipping?

GapKids Pale Pink Bermudas via Thred Up (similar).

Crewcuts Striped Bow Shorts on Sale, I am a sucker for anything with bow details.


Crewcuts Heart Dress via ThredUp (love this one too), works for church and any events where she needs to be more dressed up.

GapKids Pineapple Romper via ThredUp, my daughter has wanted a romper since last spring and we both loved the cute details on this: tasseled drawstring, buttons at the shoulders and the little cutout on the back. As an extra bonus, it was in their "new with tags" section so we snatched it up.

Crewcuts Striped Dress via Thred Up (another cute option), I generally only like to buy items that are described as in excellent condition, could be mistaken for brand new. However, this one said there was a little snag, but I decided to take a chance to do a little comparison. If it doesn't work out when it gets here, I will send it back and get credit towards another purchase.

Crewcuts Chambray Dress via Thred Up (similar, similar) a chambray dress was another item on my daughter's wish list and I have one on mine too, so I was happy to comply.

Crewcuts White Embroidered Dress via Thred Up (similar), seriously loved the details on this and it will be great for the heat and humidity here.


Crewcuts Candy Cardigan on Sale, I am thinking of this as a splurge compared to everything else I bought, but it will literally go with everything and my daughter was in love with the candy details.

GapKids Disney ruffled Jacket her closet (similar), we picked this up when it was on sale and with GapCash.

ArtClass Sweatshirt her closet (target), I'm not going to lie, this was an impulse buy. It was one of those times my daughter was with me and she was lured in by the softness of this and my parental resolve was low. Luckily, she loves and wears it.

Crewcuts Factory Tulle Sweatshirt her closet (similar), this was on clearance when I bought it and it has been so versatile.

GapKids Cable Cardigan her closet (similar) another clearance find.

Swim & Shoes: 

Mini Boden Seahorse Suit from her closet (similar)

Mini Boden Ticking Stripe Suit, another item on the wishlist, meaning I will wait to purchase until it is on sale or look for something else.

Crewcuts Terry Pom Pom Dress- I swear J.Crew's pricing changes every day. I just bought this last week for the price I have on my graphic but now it's back up to full price. Another example of why it pays to read their marketing emails.

Rose Gold Saltwater Sandals in her closet- I love having a pair of metallic sandals in her closet because they can be worn to church and for play.

Tan Saltwater Sandals - I've been buying my daughter salt water sandals each summer since she was a toddler and I love the tan ones best. I also have a pair and wear them constantly.

*These do have a little bit of a break in period and I have my kids take them out of the box and then drench them in water outside to help them form to their feet and soften the leather once we make sure the size is correct.

Adidas Pink Baseline Sneaker - she is dying to have these and I am won over by the pink too.


NEWS FLASH: Not All Princess Books are Terrible (just most of them)

Friday, February 2, 2018

Princess Picture Books
My daughter loves absolutely anything having to do with princesses.  Her play dates with friends are essentially two hour dress up sessions as they change from one Disney dress into another.  She won't let me touch her hair with a brush unless we're doing her hair into Princess Anna or Queen Elsa braids.  And, when we go to the library, she is exclusively interested in books having to do with royalty.  Which is how I discovered how many terrible, tedious, and thoroughly mediocre books there are in this genre.

To save my own sanity, I've been hunting for picture books that are clever, beautiful, and engaging- as all picture books should be- even though they are about princesses.  Today we are sharing a few of our favorites.  (There are also so many wonderful versions of Cinderella, here are ten of our very favorites) To anyone with a daughter under the age of 8, you're welcome.

1. Princess Cora and the Crocodile:  Released last year, this tale (written by Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner Brian Floca) is delightfully different.  Princess Cora leads an extremely structured and dull life until she and her pet reptile switch places for a day.   Chaos  ensues and life at the castle will never, thankfully, be the same.  In addition to being a fun read, it's also beautifully illustrated- and at $8 for a hardcover is a steal on Amazon.

2. Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated):  Princess Hyacinth has an unusual name, and an unusual problem.  She spends her days weighed down, figuratively and literally, until she finds the freedom she seeks, and an unexpected friend saves the day when things go slightly awry.

3. The Ordinary Princess:  This is the story of a princess who, though born looking and acting exactly as a princess should, is given the extraordinary and unexpected gift of becoming ordinary at her christening.  How she escapes the confines of the castle and then returns on her own terms is an adventure that I absolutely loved as a child. The ordinary princess was more appealing to me than all the Disney princesses put together.  Please note that this is a chapter rather than picture book, but it makes for a wonderful read aloud.

4. The Paper Bag Princess: This one is a classic.  If you haven't read it yet, you need to, there's a reason the NYT has called it one of the best children's books every written. Ahead of its time, author Robert Munsch turns the traditional rescue of the fair maiden on its head and gives his readers a feisty heroine worth cheering for.  The ending is my favorite.

5. The Apple Pip Princess: This book is sadly out of print, but I loved the thoughtful and original protagonist.  After the queen passes away, the once beautiful and vibrant kingdom becomes hopeless and barren.  When the king charges his three daughter with creating something meaningful to determine who will inherit the throne, Serenity finds a way to bring new life into her kingdom and restore lost hope.  The illustrations are as beautiful as the story.

6. Sleeping Beauty: A Mid-Century Fairy Tale:  The inimitable David Roberts has partnered with his sister Lynn to re-imagine several classic fairy tales.  Set in the 1950's, their fourth collaboration, Sleeping Beauty, features an all female cast and David Roberts' brilliant retro illustrations on every page.   Need I say more?

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