Activity #64: Photograph the inanimate objects, too

If your baby has a lovey, take a photo of it. We promise, it will get increasingly ragged over time as well as inexplicably smaller. You will both love to remember what its original shape was.

Lovey with sleeping baby

Here’s some ideas for how to capture the object of your child’s affection:

  1. For the sentimental: sneak into her bedroom and take a photo of her snuggling lovey while sleeping.
  2. For the artsy: take a roll of wrapping paper that’s white on the inside. Unroll a fair amount and drape it from the coffee table onto the ground. Position lovey on the paper and get down on the ground to shoot the photo. You might need to use the “macro” setting (usually represented by a flower icon on your digital camera) to get a clear picture close up.
  3. For the bizarre: photograph lovey outside, on grass, on a lounge chair or hanging in a tree.

linus and his loveyRelated: Why we think every baby needs a lovey, our favorite lovey is available as a pair and a spare (have one for backup — recommended! — or for each photo opp), and Linus.


How to bring the fantastic children’s book Not A Box to life in your living room

Activities to extend the book Not A Box

The clever children’s book Not A Box by Antoinette Portiss has a special place in my heart because it’s the first book title my son could read to me.


The theme of the book is a young bunny’s point of view that the box he is playing with is “not a box,” but rather a rocket ship, mountain, or skyscraper.

Not-a-box-full(It’s not a box. It’s a robot!)

Find Not A Box on Amazon.

When I saw photos of my friend Patti’s son being introduced to Not a Box at a bookstore event, I thought it looked like easy-to-execute toddler fun. Plus, if you’re lucky, once you introduce the box to your toddler, he’ll gravitate to playing with it on his own, and give you 14 seconds of peace each day.


Patti told me that at the bookstore, “They put a bunch of boxes in a line and had a kid sit in each one then pretended they were riding a train, on a plane, rocket ship, etc.”

Box party anyone? The publisher suggests having folks BYOB (that’s Bring Your Own Box) to a toddler party.

Not into hosting? Outdoors, my friends. Set up your box party at the park, and everyone who passes by will think you’re a total Pinterest mom. Hope no one slashes your tires.

Find the follow-up book Not A Stick on Amazon.

Photos by Patti Lew

How to create a supersized outdoor playdate for maximum summer fun (sponsored)

We are pleased to be part of CLIF Kid’s “Come Out to Play” campaign. This post is sponsored by CLIF Kids.

Sponsored by CLIF KIDS: Super fun outdoor playdate with a Wubble Bubble

My weekend ended on a high note as Heather and I partnered with Wendy from Wendolonia to host a supersized outdoor playdate sponsored by CLIF Kid. It was so much fun, I would love to do it every Sunday afternoon.

CLIF KIDS sponsored #outtoplay Play DateHula Hoops – not just for your hips

Here’s what worked so well:

  • We agreed on a 2-hour window for playing and we each invited a handful of friends for our kids.
  • We selected a local elementary school playground that is open to the public on weekends, so we had plenty of space, and the kids had access to standard playground equipment and also a big blacktop area and grassy space to run around.
  • We brought some novel outdoor toys to engage the kids, from ladderball (for older kids) to a Wubble Bubble, pictured above (assume one-time use for this thing, but it’s worth it!)

My son said that what made it special was that you could “play and then get a snack and then play some more.” Admittedly, we wouldn’t usually set up such a fabulous snack situation for our kids, but since we were working with CLIF, and they gave us a supply of CLIF Kid Zbars and ZFruits to share, we turned snacking into a fun activity as well.

CLIF KIDS Zbar and Zfruit tasting station

We had such a variety of flavors that we set up a CLIF Kids taste test with samples of each flavor, and invited the kids to try them out and VOTE!

Sponsored by CLIF KIds - taste testing Zbars and Zfruit

We even posted the results so they could see if other kids liked the same things.

CLIF Kids - favorite Zbar flavors


Parents were pretty happy with this guilt-free playdate because our kids were getting exercise, the parents were socializing in the shade, and everyone was snacking on foods that contain no high fructose corn syrup, synthetic preservatives or artificial flavors.


CLIF Kid challenges families to get outside and play every day. (The CLIF Kid Play Hub provides tips and tools for parents and communities to promote play for kids of all ages.)

Where do you go to play outside? Show us how your outdoor play activities using the #outtoplay hashtag on social media.

All photos courtesy of Wendy Copley, author of Everyday Bento.

Activity #138: Plan an overnight getaway with another family

Here’s the thing. When you go out of town as just the family and the baby goes to bed before 8 p.m.*, the rest of the evening can be oppressively quiet for you and your partner, and sadly, not that different from evenings you already spend together at home.

One answer to this dilemma is to recruit another trio to go on a trip so that you can continue to socialize with grown-ups once the little people are asleep. Morning is also more fun —  your early-rising party of six can hit a popular restaurant before it gets crowded.  Those brunch places you enjoyed at 10 am post-baby? They actually open at 8, so if you’re already on your second diaper change by then, why not go out?

Rent a house

Why you should rent a vacation house with another family

We learned early on that staying in a hotel room with a baby can be rough. While my kids had no problem sleeping while we watch a movie on a laptop just a few feet away, many parents are not so lucky. Renting a vacation house offers a living room to escape for the evening. Maybe even a deck.

{Try our new affiliate VacayHero for searching for rental houses >}

Cook dinner

I’m not hugely confident in my abilities to cook for other people, but I do enjoy that the payoff for producing a meal for four adults is double what it is when it’s just me and my husband. And clean up seems less burdensome when it’s in a spartan rental kitchen with less clutter to navigate. Unless they don’t have a garbage disposal, of course.

*What? Your baby stays up past 8? The Rookie Moms are open-minded people except when it comes to babies and bedtime. Consult our bible to learn why we put our babies to bed so dang early.

This activity and 249 more things to do in the first year of motherhood are in our book The Rookie Mom’s Handbook, available for Kindle.

Water toys and gear that make swimming more fun for rookie moms

Puddle jumper swim floaties for kids getting more comfortable in the water
{Photo of Puddle Jumper in action by reader Kate Marzo}

When your children can swim independently, the word vacation takes on a whole new meaning. Relaxing at the pool while my kids wear themselves out with cannonballs is my happy place. Here are some fun items that I keep seeing at the swimming spots we’ve hit so far this summer.

1. Puddle Jumpers. Sold at Amazon, Target, Costco, and even Bed Bath and Beyond, this new-fangled life jacket allows kids to have the mobility their arms need to get used to swimming. If you’re looking to get your child more comfortable in the water, this is the swim-aid for you. For kids 30-50 lbs. Runs about $25; click to see all the color and design choices.

Products that make swimming more fun

2. Sunsuits. In my house we called this the “super suit”. You may find it dorky, but I found the peace of mind in having my child’s body nearly covered with SPF 50 fabric invaluable. A swim diaper under one of these babies from One Step Ahead (pictured) is our beach uniform for toddlers. Infant sizes come with snap up crotches for diaper changes. I also dig this striped one from Columbia Sportswear.

Sunsuits make a day at the beach more relaxing

3. Water toys for babies. For babies and toddlers, plastic cups and bowls from wherever you are visiting will suffice as water toys. Scooping and pouring is the work they’ll do. In the sand, those same cups can be used as sandcastle molds. Want to get fancier? One of these spinning wheels toys is a lot of fun. Pour water or sand to make it move.

Sand toys to make beach time with a toddler fun

4. Floatsuits. These swimsuits from Konfidence USA have foam inserts that keep children safe, like a life jacket, while allowing complete motility for arms and legs. As children gain confidence in the water, the floats can be removed one-by-one. I have not used this brand, but a few million years ago when I was a nanny during college, the girls I watched, ages 18 months and 3 years old, had bathing suits like this, and they were great. Also comes in many colors/styles for about $25-$35 (boys’ versions too).

Floatsuits make swimming safer

5. Portable shade. We own this “Sportsbrella” and so should you. It offers about 1 Million SPF because the fabric is coated and the sides can roll down further than I did in this photograph for more protection. Also, the red one is about $10 cheaper. File that under the Mysteries of Life. Find three colors on Amazon >


6. I-can-totally swim toys. My kids love to hunt for things to rescue in the pool, so we usually have a set of dive rings or sinking balls, and I’ve just discovered these Avengers dive characters. (Test any of your rubber action figures at home to see if they sink. Maybe you already own “dive characters”!)

Toys for the pool - you might already own some of these!

7. I-don’t-like-to-put-my-face-in-the-water goggles. Before my kids would willingly put their faces in the water, they wore these mega goggles by Aqua Sphere. Now, their inability to enter a pool without goggles baffles me, as I never wore goggles as a child, but they have graduated to normal smaller goggles. The bigger goggles come in many colors, including a 2-pack where one pair offers a tinted lens for the sun.

Gear to make swimming fun: huge goggles

8. I can, like, totally swim, so like, don’t even talk to me. My daughter and I watched with great interest as some older girls donned mermaid fins to swim in a hotel pool. Unfortunately these only fit kids who wear shoe sizes 1 and up, so it’s quite a few years away for my little girl who has her mama’s very small feet. But I’m tempted to try a mermaid monofin myself.

Gear to make swimming fun: mermaid monofin

{photo via}

Stuff parents with boobs should know about

This post includes some affiliate links.

I have four unrelated golden nuggets to share today.

First, I was treated to a bra fitting by Molly, the bra buyer for Title Nine stores, who made me fall in love with her and the bra she put me in by talking about how important it is for women to have access to the right sports bra, no matter their size. Not only did Molly direct me to the perfect bra in my hard-to-find size, but she sent me an email the next day with a list of bras to check out. (All from Title Nine, of course.)

My new favorite bras from Title Nine

If you have a Title Nine in your area, keep your eyes peeled (or go to this page) for one of their Fit Fest events, where they will have bra evangelists on hand to help you out.

Related: Nursing bras for running

Note: This next tip is not actually for parents with boobs, as dudes are equally invested in car seat selection. I was tipped off to this super-affordable carseat from Cosco (not COSTCO!) that is a) made in the USA b) less than $50 c) comes in a lot of prints d) is easy to clean and e) FITS THREE ACROSS in most vehicles.

Cosco Scenera car seat fits 3 across

If you can accept the idea that an affordable piece of baby gear is just as good as the overpriced, have a look at the Cosco Scenera NEXT. (More expensive on Amazon, but here’s that link, too.)

Quick – Father’s Day book alert: Our real-life friend Mike Adamick has released his third book in the Dad’s Book of Awesome series, Dad’s Book of Awesome Recipes. Look for his books at any retailer that sells books. My daughter loves paging through the Projects book.

Dad's Book of Awesome Recipes

Crafts in a Box –  I received a subscription to Darby Smart as a gift from my husband. A new project arrived in a box every month – a craft project for grown ups. It’s kind of like Kiwi Crate, which is for kids, in that everything you need to create the project is included. No hunting for needle-nose pliers or a silver Sharpie if that’s what’s required for the project. It comes in the box.

Darby Smart Crafts in a Box for grownups

So that’s cool, but I wasn’t always interested in the project in my subscription box. Like I have ZERO interest in making a set of coasters, so that one sat around for months.

I did enjoy making a little neon sign that said “EAT” and sat in my dining room. And I attempted to use the metal stamping kit to make a birthday gift for Heather, but failed at coming up with a presentable product at the end. Sad face.

I would like to receive the kit to make this because I have a new obsession with air plants.

Darby Smart air plants

Then I discovered, who sells craft kits for adults in a marketplace where you can choose your own project a la carte. They sent me a kit for that owl pillow and I made it. Darn cute, too. There’s a diversity of projects, and for the uber crafty, you can create your own kit to sell on their site – they source the materials for you.

THEN I checked again and saw that they have added an online store where you can buy everything you need for any of the projects as kits — without a subscription. Excellent. Plus, if you know you already have that silver Sharpie, just delete it from the shopping list and save the money. They’ve won me over. If you have been jealous of your kiddos’ Kiwi Crates, check out both sites.

If you’re not crafty at all, check out Kiwi Crate, because they send everything to your kid in case it never occurs to you to use markers.

Calm-down practices for rookie moms from a family therapist

Rachel Tucker, a mom and family therapist in my community reached out to us with an offering of some best practices for managing the stress of new parenthood. She conducts home visits for new parents who are experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety.

“It’s such a common experience during the first year of parenting and many families really struggle to get help for a number of reasons,” she said. “I want to increase the mental health of rookie parents, so I am trying to make it as easy as possible for them to get support.”

In Rachel’s work as a family therapist, she gets to meet a lot of brand new parents. People who are just stumbling, bleary eyed, into the chasm between the fantasy and the reality of parenthood.

“It’s such a rich time of life. Everything is new. Everything is different. The learning curve is steep. The learning seems to happen all night long.”

“Some of us are comfortable in that place of learning. But most of us are used to feeling pretty in control, in charge, and rested. Then comes parenthood.”

Next time you look in the mirror

“There are so many more questions than answers in those first months. I haven’t met anyone who didn’t need some help along the way. I feel so lucky to get to be there for the families who I work with.”

Here are the top five things Rachel shares with every new family she works with:

Just as your baby is learning about life you are learning to be a parent. It’s a parallel process. Learning is hard. It takes time and it involves making mistakes. Try your best to remember this and have patience with yourself.

Give some of your love and nurturing to yourself. You deserve it. You are figuring this whole parenthood thing out. Next time you look in the mirror, smile. You are doing this!!

Connect with other new parents. They are on the same crazy and amazing ride. Having one other new parent to call, text, or meet up with is a game changer. My friend Kristina saved my sanity on more than one occasion.

When you’re having a particularly hard time, find a sentence to repeat. Here are a few mantras that have worked for my clients:

  • My baby is safe, I can sleep.
  • I am learning and doing my best.
  • I can do this.
  • One step at a time.

(Related: Mantras from a triplet mom. Spoiler: When it comes to triplets, humor is mandatory.)

Enjoy the good moments. Breathe them in. These are just as real and profound as the challenges. Learn as much from these as you do from the struggle.

Related: How to behave: a Mom’s Group toolbox

Rachel has a private practice in the East Bay offering therapy to children and families. Her areas of focus include postpartum support, parenting support, child and parent relational help, behavioral difficulties, and special needs support. She offers home visits as well as service in two offices located in Oakland. Families who work with Rachel share that she helps them to feel more connected more of the time.

Tech Tuesday: A Time Timer that Times

Once upon a time, we were all little kids who didn’t understand what “five more minutes” meant. But people said it to us anyway. After a while, we mastered the idea of time and began to use it to organize our lives. But that short window of life, during which there are only two times — “now” and “not now” — in the mind of a child, is a challenge to navigate.

My parenting coach, Amy, uses one workaround in her strategies, called “When/Then”.

“When X, then Y” is a tool to use for discipline. When your dirty clothes are picked up, then I will read you a book. And it’s also a way to use sequencing instead of duration for a child who cannot grasp the passing of minutes. When we have finished dinner, then Grandma will arrive.

There is a frequently retold story in my family that my aunt and uncle lived their lives in units of “Dougs” when their son was a little boy and didn’t understand time. Doug was a cartoon character from the early 90s whose show lasted 15 minutes. They would tell my cousin that the length of a car ride was “about two Dougs” to mean 30 minutes.

Now there’s an app for that.


Time Timer puts a graphical timer on your phone or iPad that shows how time is elapsing. This seems so simple that it’s not even interesting, but the positive experiences I’ve heard from parents who use Time Timer to show kids “how much longer” tells me it’s worth sharing. Watch the video to get an idea of why it works.

The advice I found useful for dealing with kids getting distracted or dragging their feet on chores was to blame the clock as the bad guy instead of parents. For example, if a child uses up time dawdling or tantruming instead of getting ready for bed, there will be less time for books. (Assume lights out is at a certain time, so not getting into jammies and getting teeth brushed is cutting into storytime.)

Time Timer allows you to set the clock for any increment of time. Parents can announce that shoes should be put on before the clock is done measuring 15 mintues and any leftover time is “free time”. My kids are highly motivated by free time, although to me it is just a positive spin on “I don’t have anything planned for you right now and wish you would play independently.” FREE TIME!

Timer App

See Time Timer on the iTunes store.

7 ideas for small world play with preschoolers

I’m in a Facebook group with other parents who have subscribed to the Positive Parenting Solutions coaching program. One of the tenets of the program is one-on-one time with each child in your household during which the parent lets go of other obligations, phones, and impulses to correct, and does exactly what the child wants to do. It’s called Mind, Body, Soul time (MBST) because the parent is supposed to be 100% present in Mind, Body, and Soul.

One of the threads that keeps popping up is brainstorms of things to do with your child for MBST.  Did I mention it has to be screen-free? So no movie watching, even if that is together time.

I sent my husband a list of ideas for our household, including playing catch, playing keep-it-up with a balloon, drawing together, looking at their memory boxes, and other ideas that suit the ages of our two kids. Although I’m not very interested in my son’s trading cards, I can participate with him if I offer to help him organize them in notebooks.

When I stumbled onto this concept of “small world play” on a blog from New Zealand, I thought immediately of MBST. Small world play refers to creating little environments for pretending, similar to Playmobil, but by combining objects from around your house, existing toys from play sets, and maybe some found objects from the outdoors.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Assign a large tupperware container to the world you create so you can put it away and get it out again. And contain things like pebbles.  (Alternative: make use of a divided container to inspire another style of play, like rooms or beds. These are meant for lunchbox purposes, but might be useful for a Zoo!)


Use fabrics to lay the foundation. Collaborate with your child to come up with the plans. We need green! Do you know where we keep the pillowcases? I think we have a green one.

Washcloths can be a body of water. Or rafts for cars that need to cross a river. Or anything.

Small World Play with Water

Or use real water!

Small World Play - Water Scene

Suggest a theme, such as Dinosaur World or Fairy Land. (Read all the educational benefits of pretend play with small worlds at I am so impressed by how she used a book to create a cave – just toss a blanket or cloth over it. Brilliant!


Small World Play Inspiration -

Then add layers of detail and texture. See that green cave back there? That’s the yellow book!

Small World Play Inspiration -

Rummage through holiday decorations and tchotchkes to find new props. Please enjoy this photo of my garage.

Small World Play - Ideas for finding toys in your house [Read more…]

Activity #342: Make some easy kids pants

How to make toddler pants from a tshirt: a 30-minute sewing project, start to finish

I did this project and wrote the post for the first time when my now ten-year old was as pictured above, after being inspired by tinyhappy who displayed inspiring before and after pictures of her tshirts made into pants!

Now, let’s celebrate my success, people. I took this long-sleeved t-shirt belonging to Ryan, and while Julian was asleep, I cut the two required pieces to make pants. About 5 minutes. It’s just a left leg and a right leg. Then, I sewed them together. Now ten minutes have passed. The kid was still sleeping! Then, Heather and Holden came over. Julian woke up, and while the boys wreaked havoc in my bedroom, tossing plastic shovels, cotton balls and Cheerios this way and that, Heather made 75% of a pair of lounge pants for Holden while I coached her and wrangled her baby. Sure, he had to sit in the Pack and Play for a few minutes, but we had a good time. Later that night, I sewed my elastic waist in. The whole project was about 30 minutes.

The full tutorial is here. If you don’t have the patience for my video, just keep scrolling for the instructions laid out in text.

[Read more…]

Father’s Day gift ideas for people in small houses

Like everyone else on the Internet, we are trying not to accumulate too much stuff. However, we do like to show the dad in our house a little appreciation on Father’s Day. There’s nothing I can do about the kids’ art projects (popsicle sticks!) he’ll be forced to keep forever and ever, but I can try to focus on clutter-free gifts for him.

As I made a list, I noticed three categories emerge: Edible, Digital, and Experiences.

Let’s do this.

Edible gifts for Dad

Candy, chocolate, and junk food.  Even a mature CEO with greying hair or a wise high school chemistry teacher enjoys shoving his hand in a big bag of kettle corn or Doritos. Whatever his poison, indulging in a super-sized serving on his behalf is a good move. When it’s gone, simply crumple the garbage that remains. Hooray! (If you’re crafty or just own a printer, you can print a dad-centric label to make it more fun. My husband loves Twizzlers and Good & Plenty.


Stuff to drink. I get completely overwhelmed in front of the beer section of Whole Foods these days. There are so many specialty items. But beer, wine, or fancy soda water are all consumables that can be bundled up as a gift. Or the really nice coffee beans you never splurge on.

Favorite meals. Bacon is a good way to start Father’s Day. Just a thought.

Digital gifts for Father’s Day

DVD players and CD players are banned from my house. We have gone completely digital, cloud-based, whatever you want to call it. So even a gift of a favorite movie, tv series or “album” is going to be weightless. Amazon and iTunes both make it possible for you to gift these things. I just print out a piece of paper with the cover image on it to create a gift card.

Content my husband might like:

Experiences for Father’s Day

Touristy activities are at the top of my list for a family outing to mark the day. Think museums, state parks, local boat ride tours. Crowd-averse partner? Pack up the backpacks for a hike.

Clutter-free gifts of experience can be tickets to an upcoming concert or live sports event; a food tour for the hungry man or a walking tour for the history geek; or, a bundle of hours from a handy-man or gardener to take over some responsibilities from which he’d enjoy relief.

Sources to check: