9 Favorite clutter-free gifts

Friends don't buy friends clutter, figurines, or bookmarks

Again this year, we have created clutter-free gifts for babies, kids, grandparents, moms (AKA girlfriends), and dads. But this is the mack daddy round-up of our tippy top favorites. The good news is that most (if not all) of these ideas can be obtained up to the very last second of the holidays (like Christmas Eve at 11:50 pm or the next morning right before you leave for brunch at Grandma Barb’s).

Often, you just need access to the internet and a halfway decent printer. If you don’t have that, a crayon and piece of paper might work, too!

All I want for Christmas that is not a thing:

  1. Lessons for anything. Whether you’re registering your husband for pastry classes, your nana for Italian, yourself for hip hop, the kiddo for music together, or anyone for swimming, we love this gift of self-improvement. Try a free baby music class #rookiemoms
  2. Membership to a museum. Children’s museums, hands-on science, and zoos top our list of family destinations. Soooo much better for the family who lives in an apartment, am I right? {related: tips and hacks to get the best deal at your children’s museum}
  3. Tickets to a performance. Make a big deal out of putting it on the calendar. Check Living Social and GoldStar for half-price deals on local events. In our area, the Harlem Globetrotters are on tour next month.
  4. Something to eat or drink. Wine and coffee are popular consumables. Nuf said.
  5. A nook or new room. De-clutter some existing space for a child’s reading nook or a parent cave as needed. This year, two of our children are getting their own bedrooms. But they can read, so I won’t say who.
  6. Adventurous tourism (light). Though I’d like to take a trip to Paraguay with my family, I’d also be happy with the gourmet chocolate walking tour of San Francisco. Cloud9Living makes lots of experiences possible through their quirky tours.
  7. Amazon Prime. Yes, we are affiliates, but we are crazy-frequent users of this service. Two-day shipping, great digital programs including 48-hour movie rentals, and discounts on kindle books make this a must-have in our homes. Get amazon prime for someone you love. Amazon Prime makes a great gift
  8. StitchFix. I’ve been pretty happy with my subscription to StitchFix. Each month, I pay $20 for a person to choose clothes for me. If I like anything, I can apply the styling fee to my clothes. If I love everything — yet to happen — I get a mega discount. {related: My strong opinions about Stitch Fix}
  9. Your time. Even cheaper than half-price tickets is your time offered to do something together. Can you fix a broken something or offer to make dinner? My son would like an hour each weekend dedicated to art. I want a date night, I’ll even put the boys to bed first.

What’s your go-to, last-second, can’t-go-wrong, clutter-free gift?! I might need it.

[Photo credit: of us Megan Small + of Weston Olivia Howell]

When we gave each other nothing more than ideas for Christmas

We really did this when we had infants. If you have a little baby (or nutty toddler), permission granted to do the same!

Three easy steps to a super cheap (FREE + GREEN) thoughtful gift:

  1. THINK about your friend. Really think about them. What does she need? More time away from the kids? Time to run a great trail? An excuse to try the newest brunch place?
  2. Write out some fun ideas. Use your markers or different fonts to make it look interesting.
  3. Pack it up. Pretty envelope. Tin can. Decorative box. Ribbon around a scroll. Glitter on a toilet paper tube. Whatever you have on hand.

This goes along well with our holiday mantra of more fun and less clutter. Ok, I just made that up but it sounds like us.

You can do this for a friend — capture ideas for her to do on her own or things for the two of you to enjoy together.

Give the gift of experience to your besties

Or, give this gift to a couple. A few years back, in lieu of holiday gifts, Whitney and her husband and me and my husband exchanged the gift of seven different date concepts. It was funny to see where we overlapped. Having written a book together, we were not surprised to discover that our styles of presentation were very similar.

Alec and I still have two more of the assigned dates to cross off our list (and we won because as far as I know, Whitney and Ryan have done only one!). If we can only squeeze in a date-night at the rock climbing gym on Friday night, then find a day when the kids are in preschool and we have no work, we might just get the daytime cycling date in as well.

We keep our list on our fridge so we never run out of ideas for dates. You can see our scribbles from which ones we crossed off already. This was indeed a gift that lasted all year long.

Related post: Babies should wish for non-material possessions

Activity #45: Do what YOU want to do

Do what you want to do #rookiemoms challenge

my date enjoys an appetizerWhen my husband had to be gone for six whole nights on business leaving me alone with baby Holden, I panicked and called in my smartest mom friends for advice.

They had perfectly reasonable suggestions about lowering my expectations, keeping it simple, and making plans to keep from going stir crazy.

This tip came from my friend Molly, a mom of two, and thus an expert:

Think about one thing you might do if it were just you on your own, or perhaps if you were going to play host to a dear friend who you rarely see and wanted to impress. Visit a museum with an important art show? Take a drive to a beautiful place and go for a hike to see the magnificent view? Go to a cafe and chat with the strangers at the tables nearby just to feel the buzz of the city?

[Read more…]

How to get your breast pump covered by health insurance

I’m so happy to offer this guest post today about how to get your best breast pump covered by insurance. Sarah Wells is a mom, an entrepreneur and a women’s health advocate. She is also the CEO and founder of Sarah Wells Breast Pump Bags and she shares her best tips with us. Affiliate links and excellent advice included.

How to get your breast pump on insurance

By now, you may have heard that the health reform law (or Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obamacare, whichever name you prefer to use) will cover a breast pump for expecting and new moms who have health insurance coverage. Many moms have already reaped the benefit of a free pump; while some may still not know exactly how to get started. Here’s a quick rundown, for most* moms, on how to get your breast pump on insurance:

  1. Find a supplier. Call your insurance (or look at their website) and ask for an approved list of “durable medical equipment” (DME) suppliers that stock breast pumps, or Google “breast pump and DME” and you’ll find several with easy-to-use websites from suppliers and pump manufacturers. (In most cases, you cannot go out and get a pump from a retail store and be reimbursed – you need to work with a supplier.)
  2. Let the DME do the heavy-lifting. Contact the DME and ask them to deal with your insurance on your behalf (they will probably have you fill out a form and/or get a prescription from your doctor for a pump). Trust me, this will save you a lot of hassle of back-and-forth with your insurance. They will figure out WHEN you can get the pump (while pregnant or after baby is born?) and WHAT pumps you can get (based on insurance reimbursement levels and the suppliers inventory).
  3. Make an informed decision about your pump. Talk with the DME you have chosen to work with about which pump brands and models are an option for you, but also which pump is RIGHT for you and your circumstances (e.g., the full-time working mom who plans to pump a lot may want a double-electric pump to own).
  4. Ask for help. After you receive your pump from the supplier, speak up and call the DME if there are any problems with the equipment, it doesn’t fit well, or if you need extra parts. Many DMEs have certified lactation consultants on staff who can help you with pumping challenges, such as low supply (and if they do not, seek out support from a CLC practice in your area).

A breast pump can be a really helpful (and often necessary) tool for a mom to achieve her breastfeeding goals; under the new law, you are entitled to a pump from your insurance. Buying a pump off-the-shelf can run upwards of $300+, so this benefit is a huge one to many new moms. [Read more…]

5 ways to save money on your Children’s Museum Membership

If you are a toddler owner, local children’s playspaces are a treasure trove because littles can run, jump, explore, paint, drip water, and play without you doing any chasing or cleanup (well, maybe clothes and hands). An annual membership can save headaches about who has a meltdown when and cut our visit short. Not naming names, but ummm… you know what I mean.

Save money at the children's museum

I have some mom-tested ideas for saving on admission prices and I know that at least one of them will work for you.

  1. Leverage another membership (zoo? science museum? student discount? AAA? affiliate children’s museum) to see if it can save you money on a yearly pass or daily outing. My zoo outing got me into a smaller hands-on wildlife preserve for the day.
  2. Split a membership with a friend. Our friend Darci used this sneaky strategy with terrific results. If you and a buddy are both on maternity leave or similar schedules, do this!
  3. Borrow a membership from the library. Our local Discover+Go program gives FREE day passes to these destinations with certain restrictions. Superhero Andrea likes to do this.
  4. Ask for a membership as a big gift. Birthday or holiday? A huge YES PLEASE for a year of outings rather than one more noisy toy. I coordinated a group gift for my sister and her toddler son when they were living in a Manhattan apartment.
  5. Look for deals on Group Deals sites. They happen pretty regularly. You might make a trade-off in your reciprocity benefits, but it may be worth it. My Oakland zoo membership didn’t include free ride passes but it was about half off, so, yay!

I’d love to know if you have any other tips for saving cash at kids’ museums (beyond packing your own snacks)!

Activity #42: Send your mate out to jog

The wonderful thing about an almost-nine-month old is that fabulous head control that just screams “put me in a baby jogger and let’s see how fast this thing can go.”

Send your partner out for a run with the baby #rookiemoms challenge

Send your partner out for a short run with the jogging stroller and you can catch up on sleep, phone calls, or reading. Make sure to check with your pediatrician before the first trip for any safety tips.

I recall the supreme pleasure of sending my husband out for a run with not one baby, but both!! I had a full extra half hour of near-sleep (after loading everyone up and making some mini waffles for the road) and a blissful shower before making pancakes and bacon without anyone crawling up my leg. Yay!

Rookie Moms challenges are for parents and babies

This is your 42nd challenge (and you don’t even have to leave your bed)! Love or shove it? Let us know with any of these methods:

  • Comment below with your wild adventures at home while baby was on the open road.
  • Share a picture with us on Facebook.
  • Name your destination on Twitter or Instagram and use hashtag #rookiemoms.
  • Or, post a link in the comments to your own blog post about this challenge.

Baby too young for this?  Pretend you’re in Paris (sorry, now you have to get out of bed but Europe awaits) or choose another adventure.

ps about that stroller:  My husband and I — well, mostly him — have been driving BOB jogging strollers for more than nine years (6 with the locked wheel and 3 with the BOB Revolution SE with the swivel wheel so I understand the difference).

  • The locked-in straight wheel allows you to run fast and far; you need to turn corners by lifting up the front; we have been huge fans of this for both real jogging and running errands outdoors. Alec used to run Holden to his nanny share throughout his very verbal toddler days.
  • The swivel wheel allows us to bring this comfy off-road powerhouse of a stroller to urban life and crowded places. It steers easily with one hand even around corners. The basket is a good size (though it gets blocked when baby reclines) and it looks comfy enough that I wish it came in my size. The BOB SE allows us to lock the swivel wheel in place when Alec or I are ready to run. Ok, I’m sorry, I am gushing.

{read my full review of the Bob Revolution if you’re in the market}

The Control Freak’s Guide to packing your diaper bag

Thank you to Seventh Generation and Touch of Cloth™ Disposable Diapers for sponsoring this post.Tracking Pixel

Diaper bag prep from rookiemoms and 7th generation diapers

I have definitely been in the position to bum diapers off strangers in the past. Accidents happen, of course they do. But to be prepared for the next rookie mom adventure, I need to channel my inner control freak (who am I kidding? that part of me is always very near the surface) and offer some strategies.

Diaper bag prep from rookiemoms and 7th generation diapers

Allow me to suggest a two-pronged approach for the very best ready-to-meet-every-challenge diaper bag packing:

First: Pack the diaper bag with only the essentials

I use a very small packing cube tossed in the bottom of my stroller stuffed with the items I’m 79% likely to need on any given outing. It can fit around my wrist when I’m doing a quick change and takes up very little space when it is not in use. Not to mention, it is gender-neutral so my husband doesn’t mind carrying it (I don’t take chances carrying a floral bag that my parenting partner won’t touch).  [Read more…]

5 strategies to put HAPPY in your holidays

Reposted from the wayback machine because it’s that time of year!

Generally speaking, my extended family on my husband’s side (AKA in-laws) are a wonderful bunch of people that we don’t see nearly enough. Because we live clear across the country, we’ve grown accustomed to our own way of doing things so getting together involves friction. Every time. Yes, I’m a big ‘ol control freak. And when I’m on their turf, I’m not the boss of anything. Usually, a few days into the visit, I’m shedding tears because I don’t get to make any decisions.

So grumpy.

In the ongoing quest to lower the bar and have happier holidays, I reached out to the professional happy people for tips. As a personal goal, I’m hoping to get through a cross-country in-law visit without crying every day — or maybe not at all! — but there I go raising the bar again.

Gretchen Rubin, the best-selling author of The Happiness Project, responded right away. We’re not BFF’s or anything, but she probably recognized this task as something she could clear out of her in-box in less than a minute.

Reflecting on my goal of less family drama at the holidays, Gretchen sent me these posts: [Read more…]

Activity #40: Throw an Inside-Outside party

My inside-out baby party was sushi and cocktails #rookiemoms

Your 40th weekly challenge is to celebrate that your baby has been on the outside longer than she was on the inside! There are many fun ways to celebrate this milestone. We’ve done cocktails and sushi (pictured) and a moms night out at the hot tubs in the past.

My Inside Out Party above was at Blowfish Sushi in San Francisco. I think I even wore uncomfortable heels. I definitely ate raw fish and drank pretty cocktails with my fabulous friends. Unless you’re currently knocked up, I suggest wrangling a posse of girlfriends and doing all those things you weren’t allowed to do (in good conscience) while pregnant, stuff like:

  • Drink wine
  • Eat soft cheese
  • Luxuriate in a hot-tub
  • Ride an ostrich or mechanical bull
  • Go bungee jumping

These are just my own ideas, maybe you’re dying to burn a duraflame log or indulge in some other activity that has us wondering if it’s so bad for the pregnants, why do we do these things to ourselves at all… Have at it!

Share your ideas in the comments to inspire another mother. Or tag us on instagram with #rookiemoms so we can toast you with champagne!
#rookiemoms maternity leave challenges

Win an iPad Air 2

8 ways to win an iPad Air
Friends, I am excited to share this immensely rad giveaway with you today! Whitney and I have partnered up with the lovely Christine Koh (Boston Mamas), Audrey McClelland (Mom Generations), Allison Czarnecki (Petit Elefant), Jane Maynard (This Week For Dinner), Morgan Shanahan (The 818), Rachael Herrscher (Today’s Mama), and Sarah James (Whoorl) to offer one lucky follower a 128GB wi-fi iPad Air 2 ($699 value)!

Enter to win between now and November 21 via the Rafflecopter widget below; you have 8 entry options and, of course, we encourage you to enter all 8 ways to maximize your chance to win! Once the giveaway ends, the winner will be chosen randomly and contacted by email, with 48 hours to respond. Good luck!

{please wait patiently for the rafflecopter widget to load}
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: This prize is not sponsored by anyone. We all chipped in to award it to one lucky US-resident follower. Thanks again to Christine, Audrey, Allison, Jane, Morgan, Rachael, and Sarah because I didn’t have $699 to buy it for you on my own! Good luck.

On my inexplicable pang for babies

About a year ago, my eight-year old ratted me out when he was talking to a fellow third grader, “My mom gets so weird around babies.”

He was right. I had just seen an adorable infant and gotten all mushy in the brain. Involuntarily I said something like, “Oooooh BABY!” and clutched an ovary.

Now that my littlest child is three-years old, I have a dull ache for a baby. As I continue to make his food and shop for his clothes, I can’t help but notice that he’s not so little anymore. My baby is no baby; he can find his own shows on Hulu+, for God’s sake.

Sawyer’s preschool pals are becoming big siblings. The mamas and papas say things about their snugly, colicky newborn and I compare their statements to the rambunctious, full-sentence-speaking child climbing off the couch in front of us. Or they talk about their in-progress pregnancies and I remember my nauseated first trimester or itchy cholestasis. As I attempt to make appropriate conversation, I realize my first-person anecdotes are pretty stale.

I look around at my peers having more babies and I feel like I’m missing out on something. Twinge. At the risk of alienating any of you readers, I so completely don’t want to go there anymore, where there equals pregnancy and further increasing my family, but I still have the pangs. What the hell is that?

After we had our second baby, we had a devil of a time deciding if we wanted more children. But this time, I know we’re done done. So, why is it so hard to move on?

FOMO for parents, moving out of the baby phase

Do you see this face? Of course I want one. Kidding. Not kidding.