Cool coloring books for adults? Yes!

I had never even considered the idea of coloring books for adults until a few weeks ago, when Jessica Ashley mentioned that they help keep her focused on long conference calls. Wait, what? That’s awesome! I asked her for some recommendations and before I knew it, I had bought myself two coloring books and a set of fancy markers.

Coloring for stressed-out moms: basic suppliesSide note: my birthday was coming up so I told my kids that if they didn’t have a present for me they could give me the coloring books and markers. Holden thought shopping for my own self was ridiculous but the others thought it was fantastic:

Milo, “So you won’t be surprised?”

Me, “Nope”

Him, “But you know you’ll like it?”

Me, “Yep”

Him, “Cool”

And that is how it came to be that I am the proud owner of new coloring books and 48 gel pens. The first day I tried it out, I was hooked. The whole process of picking colors and playing with markers (instead of hiding on my phone or doing dishes) is calming. [Read more…]

25 Activities to try during your maternity leave


When I have a long stretch of unstructured time, I just about lose my mind. I like to have goals and a to-do list, even if its someone else’s list.

Running out of ideas for what to do with your baby during maternity leave? Here is my list of goals for you. Try to choose one outing or activity to build your day around.

Afterward, you can spend the rest of the day staring at your baby or hiding from your baby and I won’t judge you one bit!

Be fearless
1. Observe Fearless Fridays.
2. Talk about sex.
3. Go on a recon mission.
4. Take your baby swimming. Scary and fun.
5. Take your babe to the movies. Twice. In case the first time is a failure.

Be romantic
6. Go out for just dessert.
7. Celebrate your old selves and be in love.
8. Reconnect over dinner. Have a romantic meal just the two of you.
9. Lube up. It’s the only way to get past 2nd base anymore.
10. Pretend you and your partner are teenagers babysitting instead of housebound parents.

Be selfish
11. Track your own mama milestones. Be proud.
12. List 50 things you like to do. Do those things once you finish my list.
13. Learn to rely on daddy. Then schedule a spa day.
14. Interrupt someone’s work day. (as if you’re the first one to do this!)
15. Learn how to take a shower while home alone with your baby. Trust me, this skill will serve you well.
[Read more…]

Tech Tuesday: All-you-can-read children’s books from Amazon

Thank you to Amazon for sponsoring today’s post.

Literacy tip: Grow your hair long

When my oldest son started reading, I learned that there are two Holdens: the one that is constantly in motion, never stops talking, wants to touch every single thing and the one that quietly reads for hours at a time. I need that second one in order to live with the first one. You get me?

No matter what, we make time for reading every day.

We keep lots of books — both old-fashioned and electronic — in the car to reach our reading goals. Since our route around town is pretty straight, the boys do it while I drive.

Literacy tip: We read in the car all the time [Read more…]

How to improve your family’s cranky moods in five minutes

As much as I’d like to use my remote control to PAUSE then REWIND some challenging moments with my kids, the technology just doesn’t work like that yet.

When we start to spiral into the whine-yell-hit-your-brother-scream cycle, we need something external to stop the seemingly neverending loop. Often one of us will ask for a “Do over” then we hug and try to move forward being less snappish (in my case) or whiny (usually one of them).

We’ve had pretty good success with our do-overs, so I really liked seeing this list of imaginative ways to “Reset” when the kids are having a hard day. Lisa has nine children so I can imagine how handy it is to have a few — TWENTY — tricks up her sleeve to improve the overall mood. Some of my favorites:

8. Tear paper. Sometimes we all just need to do something wild and completely unexpected. So I will give each child 3 pieces of construction paper and we’ll stand in a circle and when I say, “GO!” we all start tearing up our paper and throwing it on the floor. We jump around and scream and laugh and giggle and fall down and throw the paper around for about 5 minutes. Then I say, “STOP!” and we have to clean it up as quickly and silly as we can.

16. Color their name. I write their name in really big, puffy letters and they get 3 Crayons to color it in. No sharing, no trading…just 3 colors…GO!

19. Animals. I sit on the couch and and gather them around, with an arm length between them. Then I call out animals and they have to act like that animal until I change the animal. I might switch it up by calling out a specific child’s name with an animal.

How to hit the reset button on your kids' moods

The common denominator of all these activity suggestions is for everyone to pause what they’re doing (especially Mom or Dad!), break the cycle of frustration, and spend a few minutes together being a little silly. I love it. I’m going to stock my mud room with colored paper to tear up right after I finish coloring in my own puffy name.

Do you have any successful mood busting tricks up your sleeve?

The Control Freak’s Guide to leaving your baby with someone else

There are three big parts to dealing with leaving your baby with another caregiver for the first time:

  1. How YOU are feeling.
  2. How the BABY is feeling.
  3. What the SITTER needs to know.

I will offer to you — in total empathy with how hard it is to leave a precious baby — that the first part is the most important.

How to let go and trust a babysitter

Can you handle going somewhere else? Are you ready? Because if you are ready, then your mood will positively influence your baby’s state of mind and help the caregiver too. Most skilled babysitters can figure out the rest to keep your baby alive until you return.

I once had a babysitter watch my five-month old in a hotel room during my brother’s wedding. Her instructions were to do whatever she could to leave the breastmilk stash untouched so that I could nurse him once more before the reception. She messed up my one instruction; and now that child is eight. It all works out.

Let’s deal with you first (and last)

This will be okay. You can do this. You want (or need) to be somewhere else and that is ok. Whether it is work or your best friend’s bachelorette party, it is alright to leave your baby with someone. Take some deep breaths, feel the feelings. Now be brave. [Read more…]

Marvel Universe LIVE! on tour for superhero fans

Tracking PixelMarvel Universe Live! is a traveling live action arena show designed for superheroes for fans of all ages. Thanks to Marvel for the gift of tickets, I plan to hit the matinee with my family in March.

Marvel Universe LIVE! is a touring arena show for families: yay! spiderman

My youngest is three and a half so I hope we’re ready for all the awesome. Truth be told, I am more worried about the Spider-Man costume + barely potty-trained child equation than the pyrotechnics and intensity on stage. Yes, we will encourage him to wear his costume to the show. I like to get my money’s worth out of Halloween investments.

My family will see Marvel Universe LIVE! in San Jose, but it is touring all across the country throughout the year and into next. I see dates in Oklahoma, Arizona, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and more. Find out if it will be in your town and purchase tickets here. Save 25% on your tix with code MOM2.  (Savings does not apply to VIP or Gold Circle seats. No double discounts.) [Read more…]

The Control Freak’s Guide to sippy cups

I have one overarching piece of advice for you: Standardize, standardize, standardize!

Though any controlling and freaky parent will want to know that she is using the absolute best brand of drinking cup perfectly suited to the environment and the ergonomic shape of a child’s mouth that will never leak… I just want you to buy four of the same thing and move on.

The psychic toll of having to match up lids to bases exceeds all those other benefits in my book.

Here are a few great brands, choose one of these and buy four of them!What you need to know about choosing a spillproof toddler cup

When available, just buy into the entire sippy cup universe of one make and model. I aim for you to reach into a messy drawer, grab one lid and one cup and know that they will fit together. Go crazy and experiment with different lid styles (standard sippy, hard, soft, straw, or 360 any-side); I don’t care. That’s between you and your kid.

  1. AVENT. Terrific because you can grow from bottle to sippy cup and beyond. If this is already your bottle brand (Lord help me if you have more than one brand of bottle in your home!), just buy the replacement spouts and fit them to your existing bottles where the nipple fits. They offer a ton of different spout options that fit on the same base. Two (pictured) 7 oz penguins for $7.60 or a single training cup with drink-anywhere top for about $5.
  2. MUNCHKIN. Going straight from boob to cup? Bravo for you. Many parents love the Munchkin model of cup. I might buy four of these today for car rides and keeping near the bedside. Munchkin Miracle 360 Trainer Cup comes in a 7 ounce two-pack for about $13. The 360 Sippy Cup (no training handles) is about the same price for two 11 ouncers. Choose your favorite color combos and buy two. Lids are a single piece and allow tots to drink anywhere around the rim with no special spoutMunchkin Miracle sippy cup system is mom approved
  3. SASSY. The Sassy Grow Up cup comes in a 7-ounce and 9-ounce design also with no spout. Handles are interchangeable on the four different models.  Get two for either $11 (good price) or $22 (keep looking!)
    Sassy spill-proof sippy cup
  4. PLAYTEX. I am disappointed to report that my go-to brand for cups and lids has changed the design and made parents very unhappy. All hail the honest Amazon reviewers who sound insane getting up in arms about click and lock design flaws. These are my people!

I did not cover some of the many stresses you might have about transitioning to a cup from breast or bottle, so let me know what questions you have!

Guessing game: me or my kid?

This is me at ten. This is my son at (almost) ten. Can you tell which is which?

Guess which is me and which is my kid

Kid reenacting a scene from mom's childhood at Disney World
Pretty striking, huh? Thanks to Wendy for scaring up this retro Mickey Mouse visor on ebay for our fun! And these are the outtakes. Turns out it is not so easy to get a kid to show just the right amount of eyes, smile, teeth, hair, and chin even when he’s totally up for it.

This is both of us around age five when, again, the resemblance is rather strong.

Big thanks to Anthony at PicMonkey for making my son more “vintage” and teaching me a few cool tricks!

Do you want to play my guessing game? Is your child a mini me (or a mini-Other-Parent)?

Cookbook review: Dinnertime Survival Guide

Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide: Feed Your Family. Save Your Sanity.

If I truly like a cookbook, it starts to look like all the others in my collection: oil-splattered and spine broken with hundreds of my notes scrawled all across it — both in the margins and also copy editing the book itself. I thought that was true of everyone, but Whitney, who had never thought to write in a cookbook, asked me to photograph a few of my many notes from Dinnertime Survival Guide as I shared my family’s feelings.

Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide: Feed Your Family. Save Your Sanity.: My notes in the margins [Read more…]

5 great date nights that don’t require a babysitter

5 great date ideas, no babysitter requiredI’m a firm believer that new parents need to figure out a way to get out of the house and have some dates. Best case scenario, that’s only one night a week. More realistically, that’s one night a month. Or never.

So, what about all those other nights? Here are five fun date-night ideas that don’t require a babysitter. I’m assuming that you can get your baby in bed and have the date afterward. I put my kids to bed around 7:30 and can trick them into bed at 7pm if I’m really on my game (because they can’t really tell time yet and we have black-out shades in their room).

Rookie Parents alone together
Rookie Parents alone together

I’ll follow-up with a post for sneaking in dates when the kids are awake.

First step, put the baby in bed.
Second step, choose your own adventure:

  1. Make dinner after dinner but in a fun, sexy way. Enjoy the dance of cooking together and let it last the whole evening.
    Recipe for date: mix food with ambiance and cooking stuff. Average difficulty but planning is required.
  2. (if cooking is too much effort) Share a fancy dessert and wine by candlelight. Make it something decadent like souffle or fondue.
    Recipe for date: dessert plus beverage of choice. Pretty easy, if you get carryout or grocery dessert, prep is minimal.
  3. Invite friends over for a post-bedtime double date with board games or video games. If your friends have kids, try a half-sleepover. If it fails, then next time you can stick to your child-free pals.
    Recipe for date: let your friends bring the game and you just clear the plastic toys off of the couch. Easy!
  4. Turn an ordinary evening in front of the TV into a movie date with junior mints and a big bowl of buttery popcorn. Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and many cable plans now have onDemand options so you don’t even need to plan ahead very much for the film. Make it a series.
    Recipe for date: film plus movie snacks. Easy! (since its so easy, remember to put on a clean shirt so your partner knows its a date)
  5. Hop in the car (yes, with your baby!) and go to a drive-in movie if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby.
    Recipe for date: must have nearby drive-in, cooperative baby, and vehicle. Advanced.

Third, calculate how much you saved by not using a babysitter this time, and treat yourself next time!

Related posts:

If I were the boss of the auto industry, this is how families would roll

I was invited to attend the Chicago Auto Show this year by a very friendly car company. While I considered the invitation strongly (I would have been able to visit my posse of Chicago besties) I had to decline the trip because of the impact to my family.

If I were going to write about vehicles, which is not exactly my beat, I’d have to keep it real and share my fantasy features that probably don’t exist in any auto show. Since I could write that list without getting on an airplane and having a slumber party with Crystal, I did it.

Fantasy vehicle features for nerdy moms like me:

  1. Retractable limousine-style window dividing myself from my kids – for so many reasons!
  2. A special blocking technology that would lock up my phone during the drive so I can’t ever text during stoplights. I would still be able to use the phone as a navigation system.
  3. Completely lice-resistant fabric.
  4. Bluetooth in the backseat, so when my mom or husband call and I answer on speakerphone, the kids’ greetings can be heard clearly by the caller.
  5. On the other hand, I would like to selectively not allow the speakerphone to broadcast to children. (Put up that limo window?)
  6. Built-in booster seats
  7. Tiny tray tables for kids to color and do homework
  8. Robot that carries in my heavy loads from the trunk and puts itself away.
  9. Built-in mini fridge.
  10. Self-vacuum crumbs and sand, or maybe it’s a magic filtering floor. Or a venting system. Or that robot that is at my beck and call. Execution is someone else’s problem.

If I had gone to the car show, I might only be disappointed to learn that the new lines of cars targeted at families don’t have these features. Or maybe I would have been wowed by a whole list of functions I could never have dreamed up myself.

What’s your fantasy new car feature?

Dream car for moms

5 ten-minute Valentine’s Day ideas

In about ten minutes, you can make someone feel loved for Valentine’s Day. Here are five fresh ideas for you using stuff you probably have around the house:

1. Mix up a love potion

5 ten minute Valentine's Day ideas: Smoothie as Love Potion
Follow the tasty (and fast) instructions from the lovely Marie at makeandtakes. Serve your love for breakfast, snack or dessert.

2. Turn your baby into a conversation heart

5 ten minute Valentine's Day ideas: baby conversation heart greeting
Got construction paper and a cute baby? Now you just need a sense of humor and your camera to make a funny conversation heart greeting. When creativity is failing, Love ya! works.

3. Crank out some decorations

5 ten minute Valentine's Day ideas: Easy valentines decorIf you have paper or fabric scraps, you can make quickie hearts to hang about the room. It really sets the tone for your daytime date.

4. (Heart) someone or something

All you need is a Sharpie and a plain white tee to make your baby be the bearer of your message of love. See instructions for speedy onesie customizing.

5. Have sex or something like it

If you don’t have time for a full-on session of making whoopie, might we suggest the “5 minute fix” from Babyproofing Your Marriage? If that’s not to your liking, there are many other great sexy, fast, and easy ideas from Kristen Chase’s sexual resolution (like wear a thong, make a sexy playlist, or give a massage).

Now, I really hope that someone is planning an eleven minute surprise that will knock your socks off!

Photos: delicious smoothie: Marie; Conversation heart: reader who wishes to remain nameless; Fabric hearts: Whitney; Heart onesie: Thompson Tribune.