7 Commandments for the New Year

Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season was swell. I, for one, am glad to be back in our usual routine though this first week has felt exceptionally long. As previously mentioned, I am a huge fan of setting New Year’s resolutions and goals. And while I have plenty of those this year, I took it a step further this year by also thinking about what “rules” I would give myself for living well in 2016. New Year’s resolutions for mothers, in a sense. Here’s what I came up with:

New Year Resolutions for Mothers

  • Be mindful of what comes into your home. Clutter is one of my biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to maintaining a tidy home. I’ve found it helpful to just not bring things home in the first place. This goes for buying things that I could really survive without or accepting free things that I don’t really need. I recently came across an old post on Gretchen Rubin’s blog about the 27 most important rules for keeping your house in order (that’s some evergreen content right there). Worth a read, and if you want to keep up with any other gems I find online, be sure you’re following me on Twitter.
  • Use your library card, and otherwise be a good steward of your money. I’ve fallen into a bad habit of just buying books because it’s slightly easier than borrowing. But this a) leads to piles of stuff (the actual books, plus the packaging it arrives in), and, b) deprives me of the opportunity to support my public library (which, having been to library school, is actually something I feel passionately about). It’s really not the best use of my money.
  • Write for yourself. If I were a superhero, words would be my superpower.  Words are my thing. Writing them, indexing them, wrangling them into digestible bits of information. I don’t want to sound like a tortured soul, but I’m a better person when I’m writing. And more specifically, when I’m writing a lot. It’s easy for me to get so focused on client work that I forget to write just for fun, and then writing, regardless of what I’m writing about, becomes a whole lot less enjoyable. I don’t want that. I’m committing to writing more words, just for the heck of it.
  • Live your truth without apologies. My life, for better or for worse, doesn’t look like anyone else’s. I’m grateful for that. I think, in this world of over-connectivity, it’s easy to get sucked into the idea that my reality is one that should be pitted against my peers. But what is there to gain? In 2016 I want to keep my eyes on my own paper, so to speak.
  • Build routines, even especially when you don’t want to. I thrive in routine, but I am incredibly resistant to starting them. A certain routine will sound like a good idea to me, but when it comes time to repeat it for the twelfth time, my inclination is to say, “ugh, this again?” and make up an excuse to skip it (“I’m really tired. It doesn’t really matter if I wipe down the kitchen counters before bed.”). Except it does matter to me later on (when I wake up to a dirty kitchen or when I have to dig through a pile of laundry to find something clean to wear). I think I’ve gotten a lot better at forcing myself to do things repeatedly to the point where it eventually becomes second nature, but there’s always room for improvement.
  • Keep your home smelling like lemons. A few months ago I had this sudden realization that I wanted my home to smell like lemons. Lemons are fresh, clean, and energizing. Not a bad vibe for your home, right? “Clean” is subjective, and maybe impossible to achieve with a toddler tornado and four (hairy) pets, but the smell of lemons? That’s a clear yes or no. Despite my best efforts, my home does not always smell like lemons. Sometimes it smells like trash that needs to be taken out, but this gives me a clear destination to work towards.
  • Be kind. Both to myself and to others. I think if there’s one thing we can all agree about the current state of the world is that it needs more kindness. I’m not likely to achieve world peace by speaking more gently to my husband or not laying on the horn when someone cuts me off while driving, but it couldn’t hurt. Ripple effects and all that.

Creating Really Awesome Free Things by Jamie Dorobek

This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Creating Really Awesome Free Things by Jamie DorobekCreating Really Awesome Free Things by Jamie Dorobek
Published by Adams Media on November 6th 2015
Genres: Family & Relationships, Activities, Crafts & Hobbies, General
Pages: 224
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100 kid-friendly projects from the creator of C.R.A.F.T.!
Get ready for some serious family fun! Filled with 100 fun crafts, Creating Really Awesome Free Things helps you develop your child's creativity, imagination, and fine motor skills--all while using common household items. Each budget-friendly project features step-by-step instructions and keeps kids entertained, engaged, and learning all day long. You and your children will love recreating one-of-a-kind crafts like:

Memory Game
Egg Carton Flowers
Key Wind Chime
Ring Toss
Lion Mask

Complete with photographs for every project, Creating Really Awesome Free Things promotes hours of playtime fun with the entire family!

The really awesome blogger behind Creating Really Awesome Free Things, Jamie Dorobek, recently published her first book. Like her blog, it’s called C.R.A.F.T., and it features over 100 Seriously Fun, Super-Easy Projects for Kids. Jamie was kind enough to send over a copy for E and me to review, and I’m so glad she did!

Craft by jamie dorobek

This book is a parent’s dream come true. First of all, it’s jam-packed with projects (it really feels like there’s more than 100, but maybe that’s because they’re all awesome?). I can see the projects appealing to a wide range of ages, from toddlers to tweens. And everything’s made with super simple supplies, stuff you probably already have hanging around the house (that’s the free part!). This is the book you’re going to want to have in about 3 weeks when the holiday excitement is long gone and everyone is BORED and tired of being stuck inside (assuming you don’t live in Texas, anyway, it was 80 degrees the day I wrote this post). There’s also tons of full-color photos and interesting little facts sprinkled throughout (did you know sushi is traditionally a finger food?).

Craft by jamie dorobek bird feeder

E and I decided to tackle the bird feeder on page 210. It took all of 2 minutes to gather supplies (an empty toilet paper roll, peanut butter, a knife, and birdseed), which was good because that’s approximately the attention span of my crafting assistant. E enjoyed spreading the peanut butter on the toilet paper roll, I coated it with bird seed, and we hung it on a branch visible from our backdoor. I saw increased avian activity in the backyard a couple of hours later, so I’m going to call the project a success!

Craft by jamie dorobek bird feeder 2

There are many other projects in the book that I’d love to try with E, like the ziptop bag sheep. C.R.A.F.T. is a great addition to our library of craft books, and I can’t wait to dive into it more.

Bored with Motherhood: How to Bust Out of a Mama Rut

What to do when you're bored with motherhood

 

Having a baby is a lot like being thrown to a pack of wolves: pure survival mode. Everything is uncharted territory while you get to know this tiny human you’re tasked with keeping alive, and your daily to-do list is reduced to the bare minimum of eating, sleeping, and making sure you’re both (somewhat) clean. But sooner or later, life with this brand new little person becomes routine, and you might look up and realize your life has become a dull, never-ending cycle of naps, grocery store runs, and laundry. In short, you’ve found yourself bored with motherhood. It can be disheartening, especially for a mama who previously fancied herself an interesting, well-rounded individual. But never fear! There are plenty of simple ways you can bust out of this rut and put a little pep back in your step.

bored with motherhood

Bored with Motherhood? 7 Things to Try

Get sweaty.

Love it or hate it, exercise is good for you. Aside from the obvious reasons for working out (burning calories, toning muscles that got a little flabby during pregnancy), those endorphins can’t be beat for making you feel like you could kick some serious ass and take on the world. I swear by Fit4Mom (and really great option for mamas who are ready to work out but not ready to leave baby in the care of someone else), but a Y membership is also affordable and usually comes with childcare. Can’t leave your house? There are tons of exercise videos on YouTube.

Find your tribe.

Being around other moms who are in this same season of life can be very uplifting and energizing. If you’re not blessed with a group of friends who all had children around the same time, you might have to do a little leg work to find your tribe. Join MOPS or MOMS club, or find other local groups of like-minded parents on Facebook (Babywearing International, Hike It Baby, and a free forest school all have large, active groups in my neck of the woods) or meetup.com

Get out of the house.

Pretty much every SAHM/WAHM I’ve met swears by getting out of the house once a day. Again, Fit4Mom is perfect for this, but you can also look into some classes or memberships that are appropriate for your baby or kiddos. Swimming, Music Together, Gymboree, Little Gym, children’s museum, zoo, aquarium, story time (not just at the public library, many bookstores and toy stores have weekly events, too) are all great options for infants to preschoolers. It’s easy to spend a fortune on classes and memberships, but there are probably a ton of free events in your area, too.

Switch up your routine. 

It sounds silly, but even shopping at a different grocery store can feel new and different. You might even discover that you spend less time or money shopping at a new store versus your previous go-t0.

Squeeze in some pampering.

Schedule a pedicure, pick up a face mask and new nail polish on one of your thrice-weekly Target runs (don’t tell me I’m the only one that ends up there more than once a week), even taking 30 seconds to slather on some night cream can help you feel so much better about yourself.

Give yourself permission to be creative.

A creative challenge can be good for your soul, too. If you have a hobby that you’ve largely abandoned since becoming a mom, jump back into it. Or pick up an entirely new hobby. Let’s face it, some hobbies just aren’t very compatible with parenthood, particularly if it involves leaving the house. If you’re looking for something cheap, easy, and totally relaxing, try an adult coloring book. Pairs nicely with a podcast or audiobook.

Workout your brain.

Motherhood certainly does a great job of turning your brain to mush. Want to feel smart and up-to-date again? Grab a book of crossword puzzles, Sudoku or logic puzzles (I always hated math, but I did love logic puzzles!) and start forging new neural pathways to replace the ones your kid destroyed. They’re also strangely relaxing and gives you a chance to use a different part of your brain (you know, the part that doesn’t calculate how little sleep you got last night). Read a book off the current best-seller list or grab a news magazine (The Week is my favorite).

Notes on November

horsesI hate being cold (I know, I know, I live in Austin, but basically every time it gets below 60 degrees I can no longer feel my hands) but I do love this time of year. There’s a lot going on and life is full, but there’s also the pull to reevaluate, to shake things up. The past two years I’ve missed out on that post-Christmas navel gazing. In 2013, I’d just had a baby and in 2014 I had ptosis surgery the day after Christmas. I’m truly glad both those things occurred (my kid is awesome, having surgery over the holidays meant my mom was available for childcare), but I’m really looking forward to some serious introspection next month, unhindered by recuperation.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, including an early birthday celebration for my almost-two-year-old (we’ll have another small party on his actual birthday). And now we’re rolling on to Christmas, counting down the days with advent activities. But before then, here are a few things I found interesting over the last month.

5 Toddler Christmas Board Books

Looking for a good book to share with your baby or toddler this holiday season? I’ve got you covered with this list of 5 toddler Christmas board books, all heartily approved by my own toddler.

toddler Christmas board books

Where is Baby’s Christmas Present? by Karen Katz: E is obsessed with the Baby lift-the-flap books from Karen Katz and this one is no exception. Baby is looking for the Christmas present, and along the way encounters Christmas essentials like cookies, candy canes, and ornaments. For further reading, check out Baby Loves Winter.

The Cheerios Christmas Play Book by Lee Wade: I recently picked this up to use for one of our advent activities, so while E hasn’t seen it yet, I know it will be a hit. Toddlers can use Cheerios to complete Christmas scenes: adding buttons to the angel’s robe, decorating the Christmas tree, etc. Great for perfecting the pincer grasp and hand-eye coordination!

Corduroy’s Merry Christmas by Don Freeman: This book is sadly out of print but happily available for a penny on Amazon. We have a couple of other holiday-themed Corduroy books (Halloween and Valentine’s Day) and E loves them all. Each follows a similar storyline of Corduroy preparing for the holiday with his friends. The text is simple enough for babies and young toddlers and talks about some of the activities that are likely going on in your house to get ready for Christmas, like trimming the tree.

My First Christmas by Tomi DePaola: I can never resist DePaola’s books. This is a sweet little story perfect for baby’s first Christmas, filled with charming illustrations of familiar Christmas scenes, such as holly and a candle in the window.

Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle: Little Blue is delivering Christmas trees to all of his friends. Although lacking the life lessons present in Little Blue Truck and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, this is still a solid entry in the series. Plus, the last page lights up. For transportation-obsessed kiddos, this is a solid choice.

Winter-Holiday-Child-Story-Books

This post is part of the Winter + Holiday Children Story Books series. Discover 30 more amazing book lists to check out this holiday season.

25 Toddler & Preschool Advent Activities

I’m excited to try an activity-based advent calendar with E this year. I had thought about doing toddler preschool advent activities last year but didn’t because I hadn’t fully recovered from the first year of his life. And I didn’t think he would get too much out of it, anyway. He’s able to do so much more now and I think he’ll really enjoy all of these activities.

toddler preschool advent activities

Some are things we would be doing anyway (my mom and I always have a cookie baking day, E’s school is putting on a combo Christmas pageant/ breakfast with Santa event), some don’t require much effort (looking at Christmas lights), some require some prep work on my part. I’d like to get everything scheduled out and purchase any supplies so I can have everything organized and ready to go (hah!). I’m attempting December Daily this year so at the very least the advent calendar will give me a photo and story for each day (I hope!).

25 toddler preschool advent activities

 

25 Toddler & Preschool Advent Activities

  1. Breakfast with Santa
  2. Bake Christmas cookies
  3. Make reindeer food
  4. Make a bird feeder
  5. Magnetic nativity scene
  6. Decorate a cardboard Christmas tree
  7. Handprint reindeer
  8. Decorate the Christmas tree
  9. Dot sticker Christmas wreath
  10. Hot chocolate date
  11. Santa pancakes for breakfast
  12. Write a letter to Santa
  13. Make a snowglobe
  14. Cheerios Christmas playbook
  15. Felt stacking tree
  16. Washi tape ornament
  17. Visit a live nativity
  18. Look at Christmas lights
  19. Decorate a gingerbread house
  20. Make an advent wreath
  21. Read Christmas books
  22. Listen to Christmas music
  23. Make a cotton ball snowman
  24. Leave out cookies and milk for Santa, and sprinkle reindeer food on the lawn
  25. Watch a Christmas movie

7 Things I Learned at MomCom 2015

A couple of Saturdays ago I spent the day at MomCom Austin 2015, a conference that aspires to bring the community together to discuss the social, political, economic and cultural matters of motherhood. The deeper I get into this motherhood gig, the more I find these types of discussions fascinating.

It was a full day, and I learned a lot. Here are 7 things in particular that have been on my mind since the MomCom Austin conference.

MomCom Austin 2015

1. Half of children in the United States will be raised by a single mother at some point. For black children, this number rises to 70%. It is, without a doubt, a huge social justice issue.

Many know Rabia Chaudry as the immigration lawyer who brought Adnan Syed’s case to the attention of Sarah Koenig. The rest is podcasting history. But Chaudry is also a kick-ass speaker concerned with social justice issues– and a former single mother herself, after leaving her abusive first husband.

Chaudry spoke passionately about the obstacles facing single mothers- the lack of support, the high cost of childcare, the inability to move forward in life when money is in short supply. The things that most mothers struggle with, only magnified times a thousand.

From the age of 6 to 8, I was a child raised by a single mother. In so many ways, we were very fortunate. There was no regular child support check, but my grandparents were able to pay the rent on a comfortable, safe apartment. My aunt and uncle lived nearby and often helped out with childcare. We had food stamps.  But I know that raising two children alone, even for the briefest amount of time, could not have been easy for my mom.

2. Many college savings plans can be set up with as little as $15 month.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t super interested in hearing about college savings plans. For one thing, I’m still paying off my student loans from college. It’s hard to think ahead to E being college-age, but as Betty Lochner pointed out, a 9-year-old is halfway to college. Given how quickly the last two years have passed, I feel like I’ll have a 9-year-old before I know it, and that’s pretty crazy. No one knows better than me how student loans can hold you back. I don’t want E to be saddled with the debt that I ended up with (although I’m not sure I would have made different choices; they all got me here), and while he does have a savings account for cash gifts from family, it might be time to start thinking bigger. As Betty noted, the cost of college tuition has risen 8.6% over the last decade– much faster than inflation.

3. The pay gap is very real, and women make a median of $154 less than men.

Obviously the fact that men outearn women isn’t exactly news to me, but hearing an exact number like that is pretty crazy. Cara Ardis and Courtney Duncan gave a great presentation about the importance of addressing the money messages we grew up with, and how we can reframe the messages we are sending to our kids. I loved hearing that other women had similar experiences to me growing up, and knowing that I’m not the only one who struggles to not buy something for my kid because money isn’t an issue (that’s still not a good reason for buying something).

4. My son is a member of the Homeland generation, which will be characterized by their focus on being at home, a close relationship with their parents, and a lack of interest in being out in the world.

Anne Boysen is an Austin-based futurist and her talk on Millenial Moms and Mothering in the 21st Century was fascinating. It was really interesting to find out that E’s generation already has a name and defining characteristics (focus on being at home, not as interested in being out in the world). I definitely recommend checking out Anne’s blog, especially her generations timeline.

5. Perimenopause can be terrifying.

It seems odd to give menopause much thought when I’m still in the thick of my child-bearing years. Laura Cisneros equated her entrance into perimenopause with a bipolar episode that had devastating effects on her life. She stressed the importance of having your hormone levels checked early and often; the hormone cascade that keeps you fertile is also what keep you stable, and knowing that your hormone levels are changing can make a huge difference in how you approach perimenopause. She advocated for arming yourself with info and being aggressive with your healthcare providers.

The good news is that regular exercise, specifically with weights, throughout life can help lessen the effects of perimenopause when you get to that stage.

6. You are constructing your own motherhood.

A panel of moms spoke about how there is more than one way to be a good mom, and this quote stuck with me. In the age of Pinterest-perfect everything and our practically voyeuristic knowledge of what goes on in other families homes thanks to social media, it can be really, really tough to remember that motherhood can take many different shapes. My motherhood can and should look different from that of my neighbors, regardless of the fact that we are in a similar season of life.

7. There will always be someone who questions the choices you make. Tune them out. 

Wendy Davis was the closing keynote. Politics aside, she’s a great speaker and is clearly a motivated and determined woman (though I guess you kind of have to be to attempt an 11-hour filibuster). She stressed the importance of female friendship and support, and the need to not judge other moms (which ties in nicely to the idea of constructing your own motherhood).

MomCom Austin was a day filled with intelligent, passionate moms and possibly the best food I’ve ever had at a conference (thanks, Westin!). The next MomCom Austin is set for February 18, 2017, and I highly recommend putting it on your calendar now.

Notes on October

Happy Halloween! Between multiple trips to pumpkin patches, a fall festival, and Halloween parties at preschool and with Stroller Strides, I feel like we’ve been celebrating Halloween for a month! I’m a little bored with it, to be honest! We’ll be trick-or-treating tonight if the weather holds out, and then we can move on to Christmas or whatever holiday the retail industry is trying to get us hyped up about.

Pumpkins

Here’s what we were up to in October:

  • Before I was really bored with Halloween, I made E a cute little ghost t-shirt using my Silhouette and heat transfer vinyl. Super easy. Not sure why I haven’t been whipping out custom tees for every occasion.
  • I went to my first MOPS meeting. I used to joke about finding a support group for people who think their toddler is trying to kill them, and that’s basically what MOPS is.
  • A friend recently became a yoga instructor and started offering classes in her home. I haven’t done yoga regularly since I was pregnant so it’s been really great to get back into it.
  • E had more fun stuff on the calendar this month than I did, including a fire station tour.
  • Many pumpkin spice lattes were consumed.

Some fun links for your perusing pleasure:

Notes on September

Friends. September was a very, very long month.

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E’s backpack

It started out well enough. E went back to preschool 2 days a week. I love the program we found for him (so much that I joined the board). I love seeing how much he’s learning, I love the artwork he brings home (and if I’m being honest, I love the Scholastic book orders, too!). 

IMG_2789

We went on a quick trip to the coast after Labor Day. My sister-in-law was attending a conference at Port Royal and generously invited us to tag along. It’s hard to say no to a free room at the beach! The weather was iffy, but E and I enjoyed a trip to the aquarium, some time at the resort’s splash pad, and, once my husband got into town, maybe the best afternoon we’ve ever had at the beach (not hot! not crowded! no seaweed!). It was really great.

But then we came home, and my husband almost immediately left for a 12 day trip (12 days!!!) to Europe (why oh why I told him I didn’t mind if he went is beyond me). And I suddenly had more freelance work than I knew what to do with (a good problem to have, of course), on top of studying for my group fitness instructor certification. 

I thought I was managing the whole solo-parenting thing pretty well, until I realized that the cold E caught earlier in the month wasn’t getting any better, and oh, by the way, I kinda felt like I maybe had a sinus infection myself.

After a trip to Minute Clinic for me and a trip to the pediatrician for E, we were diagnosed with a sinus infection (no surprise) for me, and a double ear infection for E (kid did not act sick at all!). 

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But it wasn’t all doom and gloom! While my husband was galavanting around Europe, E and I attended a Day Out with Thomas in nearby Burnet.

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We also went to a fun blogger event sponsored by Hot Dang Burgers at Hat Creek Burger Company, where part of the swag was an incredibly yummy pizza from Bola Pizza. Best frozen pizza ever. 

And now it’s October. I’m still buried in work and studying, but at least we’re all healthy and my husband is home. Hopefully I’ll be back in this space a little more regularly.

Your Daily Brain by Garth Sundem

This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Your Daily Brain by Garth SundemYour Daily Brain by Marbles: The Brain StoreGarth Sundem
Published by Crown Publishing Group on August 18th 2015
Genres: Health & Fitness, General, Psychology, Cognitive Psychology & Cognition, Science, Life Sciences, Neuroscience, Self-Help, Personal Growth, Memory Improvement
Pages: 192
Buy on Amazon
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Want to stop losing your car keys? Will a creative idea into existence? Have more productive arguments with your spouse?   In Your Daily Brain, the team behind Marbles: The Brain Store, a chain devoted to building better brains, shows you all the weird and wonderful ways your brain works throughout the day--even when you think it's not working at all, like when you're on the treadmill or picking the kids up from school.   Consider this book a wake-up call, a chance to take a closer look at and jump start your brain. From the minute your alarm clock buzzes in the morning until your head hits the pillow at night, your daily activities--everything from doing a crossword puzzle to parallel parking--are part of a process for how you evaluate the world, make choices and decisions, and reach short-term goals while keeping your eyes on the bigger ones. In each, you have the opportunity to use your brain for better or worse, whether it's what to listen to you on your morning commute or avoiding mental traps at the grocery store.   Packed with information as well as useful tips and tricks, Your Daily Brain is the brain hack you've been looking for!

If you’ve ever wondered exactly what your brain is doing as you go about your everyday life, this is the book for you. Your Daily Brain “collects science’s best understandings of how to maximize the use of your brain, generally organized by the situations in your day when you’re likely to use these skills.”

The book is cleverly divided into morning, day, and evening sections, and then further by time (8:15 am, 2 pm, 6:45 pm). Each time entry delves into a common occurrence (picking which radio station to listen to during your morning commute, going to the gym, dealing with squabbling children) and addresses, in plain English, what the best choice is (if current research knows what the best choice is).

I found the entry on how to know if your relationship will last particularly fascinating; as a child of divorce I’ve always been curious about what makes some marriages last and others not. Your Daily Brain presents interesting research about the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” that make relationships fall apart (criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt).  Thankfully, I don’t recognize any of those is my marriage, but if I did, the author helpfully suggests it might be a good idea to seek help before it’s too late.

Your Daily Brain is written in a super conversational tone: you will understand what the author is explaining, even without a PhD in neuroscience. It’s also a slim little volume, a mere 191 pages, easy enough to breeze through in a sitting or two. It makes a great beach or plane read if you’re looking for something that’s easy to dive into but will still make you feel smarter when you’ve finished it.

My one complaint about the book is that it lacks an index to pull discussions on a singular topic (sleep, for instance) together, though there is a detailed table on contents.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.