Gift Guides for the Kids


We are T-minus-5-hours until Thanksgiving vacation, and we couldn’t be more excited around here. More twinkle light strands are going up, and the baking will begin soon–accompanied, of course, with one of our favorite holiday movies on our list. That brings us to the first of the holiday gift guides this year. Friday, I’ll share THE 2017 EPIC STOCKING STUFFER LIST, my favorite guide to make every year, but today I thought I’d share some kid gift ideas based on each of my kids and what they’re loving and some favorites I’ve spotted online recently. Hopefully these help spark some ideas for those of you looking for that perfect treasure for the special little people in your own life. And that picture above? That was last year, and finding Nella’s favorite gift was easy and cheap. Nutella Nella forever.

For Lainey

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1. Old Navy Glitter Booties – My sparkle-loving fashionista will be all over these affordable glitter booties. Now if I can just find a pair to match.

2. Kids Personalized Stationery – I remember thinking I was the coolest thing as a kid when I got my first stationery set. And with these adorable personalized note cards, they’ll be begging to write holiday thank you cards.

3. Paint Chip Poetry – Chronicle just released this a couple months ago, and I’m so excited about it. Get kids (and adults) out of robot-writing habits and easily unleash their creativity with this fun game that makes creating poems easy. Players draw paint chip cards and, given a prompt, rearrange the chips to create spontaneous beautiful (and funny) poems with the color names.

4. Yarn Unicorns – Lainey is all about making things and arts & crafts, so she’ll love these yarn unicorns. Everything’s included to create adorable yarn-bombed unicorns, and the instructions are easy to follow along.

5. Shadow Puppet Set – Can’t wait to see what kind of shows she puts on for Nella and Dash at bedtime with this full set of paper characters that create perfect shadows given a light in a dark room.

6. Cat Neck Warmer  This elongated cat cozy is filled with lavender and buckwheat, so all you have to do is throw him in the microwave to make a warm comforting pal for movie night, homework sessions or bedtime reading.

7. Little Feminists 500-Piece Puzzle – All the great role models from Maya and Frida to Sally Ride and Marie Curie, combined in a colorful puzzle that will keep her busy over Christmas break.

8. Slime DIY Book – Add a few bottles of glue, some contact solution and glitter, and this might be the favorite gift for all the 10-year-old slime chefs out there.

9. A Year Full of Stories – I love this story book, mapped out with one story a week, each matched to internationally celebrate dates, including Valentines Day and the International Day of Friendship, as well as seasonal events and festivals.

10. Creative Lettering for Kids – Combined with #11, this book contains everything budding little artists need to know–at their level–to master the art of bubble letters, artsy script and more.

11. Brilliant Brush Markers – These colorful markers write like a paintbrush.

12. Homemade Organic Bath Bombs – Turn any night into spa night with colorful homemade bath bombs (Lainey’s into all things beauty right now) that come with a bath bomb mold so kids can make their own.

13. “Starbucks” Apron – Lainey’s obsessed with Starbucks, frappuccinos and slushies, so she can be her own barista with this green apron…

14. Frappe Mixes ...these frappe mixes (bubble gum, cotton candy and cookies & cream)

15. Frozen Drink Maker …and her very own frozen drink maker.

For Nella

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1. Pattern Bears – These adorable little bears are part toy, part math manipulative and come with cards to practice recognizing and making patters.

2. Kids Cherry Apron – Helping you in the kitchen just got cuter with this pint-sized cherry apron. Lick all the spoons you want.

3. Melissa & Doug Pasta Set – Ever since Nella was a baby, spaghetti has been her favorite food. Her pasta love has expanded to include a variety of noodle shapes now, so this play food set was made for her. While we don’t have a play kitchen for space reasons, we keep all our play food toys in a bin which the kids pull out frequently to play restaurant at our dining room table.

4. Rainbow Sweater – The perfect sweater for my color-loving rainbow girl.

5. Little Edge Threads Comfy Lounge Set – One of Nella’s favorite things to do after school is to switch out her clothes to “get cozy.” This comfy little lounge set is perfect and is cute enough to pass as a day outfit.

6. Melissa & Doug Suspend Jr. Game – All my kids love pulling games out, and this balance/coordination one works great for all three.

7. Inchimals Measuring Toy – Another toy/math manipulative, these charming animal blocks are sectioned into inches and include card prompts to encourage kids to play with measurements and math.

8. Old Navy Double-Strap Jersey Tank and Galaxy Print Yoga Leggings – We’re definitely going to get Nella #8, 9 and 10 this year, and I’m so excited about giving them to her because I know how much she’ll love them. Whenever she sees me exercise at home, she always wants to join me and runs to her room to find sporty clothes. She can’t quite lift my dumbbell weights for exercise though, so she’ll be delighted with #9.

9. 2-pound dumbbell weights – Little pink dumbbells, perfectly sized and weighted so that she can keep up with my exercises and enjoy the satisfaction of working alongside me.

10. Gaiam Kids Yoga Mat – And what’s a mommy/daughter exercise session without her very own yoga mat?

11. Handheld Microphone with Built-in Speaker – Nella spends half her day barking out songs to Alexa and singing along, and she’ll love it even more with this microphone. Skip the kids’ plastic microphone toys and get this gold handheld microphone with the speaker built right in.

12. Walking Flamingo Marionette Puppet – We’re big into puppets at our house, but this one goes to new levels–it walks! I think Nella will love manipulating it and creating adventures and conversations to go along.

For Dash

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1. Fred’s Dinner Winner Meal Tray – Whoever invented this (was it Fred?) is brilliant. A dinner tray mapped out into sections (eat this first, then this…) so that if they eat everything along their tray path, they get the treat hidden under the cover at the end.

2. Classic Vans – Retro cool, goes with everything.

3. STEM Take-Apart Car – I’ve been researching take-apart toys because Dash really loves constructing things and solving problems. This one’s made of wood, makes up to 20 different vehicle models, and the keypad helps kids adjust the 360 degree rotating buckle.

4. Kids Gnome Apron – Dash loves to help me in the kitchen more than any of my kids, and this little apron is great for boys or girls.

5. Zara Brotherhood Sweatshirt – Cozy for cooler months, simply designed and the perfect color for winter.

6. Magna-Tiles – Magna-Tiles are one of Dash’s favorite construction toys (all my kids love them), and expanding our set means more complex designs and possibilities for their imaginations.

7. Shark Slippers – Dash loves anything fierce and ferocious with teeth, so he’ll love these adorable Jaws slippers.

8. Magic Tracks Glow Racetrack – This is the toy he’s been asking for after he saw it somewhere, and I have to admit…it looks pretty cool. Definitely one of those I’ll still be playing with after the kids walk away.

9. Squigz Set – Another fun creativity construction toy, these little Squigz are addicting to play with. They connect to each other and any flat surface with suction.

10. Wooden Marble Run – This has Dash’s name all over it, combining the fun of design and construction with dropping a marble in and watching it fly. Bonus? Made of wood.

Let’s Talk About Drinking: Alcohol Mindfulness

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Last week, I started a conversation on Instagram Stories about drinking after I shared a quick recipe for my current favorite non-alcoholic “spritzer” and my commitment to having a healthier relationship with alcohol. I couldn’t believe the response–hundreds of direct messages sharing your own stories and expressing a desire for more conversation about this very important topic. While I wouldn’t exactly consider the amount I was drinking unhealthy, my awareness regarding purposeful choices for my body had gotten sloppy, and I was slipping into a place that, if left ignored, could definitely shift into habits that were harder to break and change my natural abilities to deal with discomfort. I don’t let myself run to the bakery to buy a creme brulee to give myself a moment of pleasure every time the kids’ demands feel overwhelming, and yet–come the witching hour–that’s what I was doing with alcohol. It wasn’t like swigging a bottle of vodka in the closet so much or passing out on the couch after too many, but I was definitely pouring a little glass of wine every night or dropping some ice in a cocktail glass for some club soda and vodka to take the edge off and present myself a calming ritual–a moment of “me time” when things got demanding.

This started to feel uncomfortable for many reasons, but it began with changes in my body. In my exercise commitment and talking with my health & fitness professionals about my goals, the conversation naturally turned to what I was putting in my body. I could eat healthy, no problem, but of course I’d laugh every week and admit that the drinks hadn’t been removed. I blamed it on the witching hour and made stupid cliché jokes about moms needing their wine. The truth is, though, I was starting to feel crappy–bloated after beer, sluggish after wine, achy after vodka. And I was hating that I couldn’t prove to myself that I had the discipline to not drink if I committed to it. I was saying things to myself like, “This is stupid–if you want to have a drink, just have a drink. It’s been a long day. You deserve it.”

Earlier this spring, the motivation gods somehow granted me a great month, and I stuck to some hardcore goals of eating good, removing gluten from my diet (experimental), nearly completely cutting alcohol and diligently running and working out. The results were transformative, mainly because I felt better than I had in a long time–refreshed, productive, clear-headed, motivated. Bonus? I fit back into some of those clothes that were getting tight. Summer slipped me back a little bit, but I don’t beat myself up too much over it. Last month, though, I realized I needed to restore my awareness with drinking habits.

I’ve made one main rule for myself with alcohol, and it’s the same rule I try and use to govern everything else: Be purposeful. Don’t just pour a glass to pour it, don’t jump to get a drink the minute the house gets chaotic. Think about it. Wait until you can enjoy it. Don’t use up your alcohol quota during moments when you can’t savor the experience. I’ve found that if I wait until everything settles down when I can sit down with a book and a drink, I don’t really want one any more anyway.

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Fancy mid-afternoon non-alcoholic spritzer.

As for the conversation around alcohol, I wrote this–yes, to share a goal with some transparency–but also to hopefully create a safe, open place to talk about women and alcohol without judgment and in a responsible way. While there are many beautiful, healthy conversations about sobriety out there, I’ve also witnessed a lot of holier-than-thou conversations that slant toward shaming the “weak public” for choosing to cloud their clarity with alcohol and forming an exclusive club for those who are better than that. The conversation’s even worse on the other end of the spectrum–you can’t dip a toe into social media these days without being hit with a “wine o’clock” meme that summarizes moms into a heap of weak drunks who can’t cope with life. I’ve made some of these jokes myself, and while–yes, every once in a while, there is an appropriate meme about drinking that really is funny–I want to be more aware of my contribution to this discussion. I’ll definitely feel better about sharing a cocktail recipe or posting a photo of a holiday toast if I’m making responsible decisions about moderation in my personal life.

From so many of your responses on Instagram, it sounds like many of you are in the same boat–gaining a little bit more awareness about the role of alcohol in our culture right now, especially with middle-aged women.

Here are some responses from readers (and thank you so much for joining the conversation on this!):

So many moms our age treating alcohol use as something funny and sassy and necessary “it’s wine ‘o clock” but it worries me that it normalizes habits that shouldn’t be habits. Alcohol is fine and dandy in moderation. But having “mommy juice cups” for wine seems a bit much and worries me about what our children might see as normal and necessary to function.”

“I used to need a drink every night to take the edge off, but I started exercising four months ago and found my drinking went way down. I no longer felt like I needed it to take the edge off.”

“I reevaluate my drinking habits every few months or so and take time off from it to keep me in check. I just always want to be in control of drinking and not have drinking be in control of me.”

I don’t drink often but at parties or groups, I find my friends shaming me if I don’t drink enough, and so I do because I want to keep fitting in. I don’t want to go back to the place where I feel judged all the time, and choosing not to drink feels like that place.”

“I’m a 2-3 glasses a night Canadian gal and recently had the same “self awareness” as you. I was feeling crappy in the morning, gaining weight, and it is expensive up here! So I am cutting back and only see positive changes.”

“I figured every time I  use alcohol to “take the edge off” or numb something, I was teaching my kids bad coping skills.”

“In my culture, drinking with moderation is completely normal. I grew up with my parents having wine with dinner, and they’ve never had a problem with alcohol. While I often have a drink with dinner, I never have more than one drink and usually can’t even finish that. But I’ve definitely received judgment from friends who don’t drink.”

“I feel like the ‘wine mom’ thing is on the verge of out of control. Alcoholism runs in my family. Over the last 5 years, I have had to deal with some very difficult situations with my mother who became an alcoholic later in life.”

“I’m a 33 year old and after having my two children and never growing up around alcohol and being raised in a non-drinking home, motherhood threw me into a tailspin where I was using it to cope with my moods and the ups and downs of day to day life with kids. I kept thinking I was just “taking the edge off,” but I literally became a full blown alcoholic. One was too many and ten was not enough. It could never just be one drink. Long story…I had to surrender.”

“Thank you for talking about this. My dad started drinking a little here and there when we were younger, but over the years, it’s taken over his life. It’s affected our family in so many ways, and I live with a lot of shame because of what alcohol did to our family. I don’t want to end up like my dad.”

So here’s where I am now. I know I’m a smart, responsible woman, and I make the rules according to what I know I can handle. Your rules might be different than mine. My friends are also smart, responsible women–some who are completely sober but have no problem with friends who drink, and others who drink more than me but do it responsibly within their own limits. I’ve made some rules for myself at this period in life based on my current habits and consequence awareness. They may change over time, but for the most part, I want to stay away from drinking during the week during these demanding years with kids, schedules and my own personal work goals. Cocktails and wine are special treats, and I savor them more when I treat them that way. I’m a ritual and celebration girl, so I’ve found other ways to create moments that still feel special at the end of a day but don’t involve alcohol. I keep Pelligrino and LaCroix in my refrigerator, and when I drink them, I pour them in a pretty glass and garnish with a lime wedge or a few berries.

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Pelligrino with a splash of tart cherry juice.

I stock up on hot tea and settle for nothing less than a good mug when I drink it.

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When the witching hour gets ugly, I practice using music, candles, fresh air, a hot bath, five minutes of a poetry book and a fancy spritzer to remind me “I’m worth it.” I give my drinks special names like the “Cutie Fizz” (Pelligrino on ice with the juice from one cutie orange and a little zest from the peel shaved on top) because it makes me happy. And when I do decide to have a drink–like last weekend when Brett’s parents took us to a charming French restaurant for dinner–I enjoy it, with a smile and the satisfaction that I make efforts toward balance. Will there be occasions where I indulge in a good cold beer on a Wednesday night? I’m sure there will be, and that’s okay. I just want to be a little more mindful about them. Also, if we’re going to a social event and know we are going to be drinking, Brett and I made the decision long ago that we Uber. We Uber not to create freedom to get crazy but because it’s a small price to pay to be safe. We Uber because we’ve heard of too many people who don’t even drink that often mess up their lives from one night of lacking judgment. We Uber because I want everyone else who’s had two drinks with dinner to Uber when my kids are on those roads, and I want my kids to Uber someday when they might possibly be on the borderline of what’s safe.

I want to drink responsibly on “regular” days to keep the other occasions special–summer-in-Michigan cocktails on the dock, first night of vacation toasts, Christmas Eve martinis. And I don’t want to make choices that disrupt my commitment to living my very best life.

I’m fascinated by this conversation though and would love to hear your thoughts on it.  (Also, check out this Enjoli essay by Kristi Coulter–insightful). And if anyone has any fabulous mocktail recipes, please…do share!

As we head into a holiday week where we make room for indulging, I’m looking forward to finding the right balance so we can enjoy all the things we are meant to enjoy…with purpose.

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New Christmas (and Thanksgiving!) Kids’ Books and Puzzles for Holiday Break Fun

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With our first holiday break coming up next week, we are beginning to plan some of our fun traditions that make our holidays and time at home so memorable. Pulling out our collection of children’s Christmas books is definitely one of them, but we also love little holiday activities we’ve done over the years that have now become traditions such as tackling a Christmas puzzle as a family, playing games together and bringing along some Christmas-themed coloring and activity books on holiday travel adventures. This year, we’re repeating one of our favorite trips we took last year, returning to Chicago for a weekend of Christmas wonder; and I’m giddy just thinking about it. One of the things that the kids LOVED and helped make our trip go a little more smoothly last year was planning ahead and packing little Christmas activities and games to pull out in restaurants, before bed, etc. It made the trip so special, and I can’t wait to surprise them again with our holiday-themed activity bag for this year’s trip. And heck yeah we’re playing Christmas Bingo while we wait for our pizza at Giordano’s.  L

If you missed our holiday book list last year, I shared 24 of our favorite children’s Christmas books that we read before bed every night in December. Our new favorite Christmas books and activities for this year:

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1. Thanksgiving in the Woods. This book has given me new life goals–host a Thanksgiving dinner for 200 people in the woods…at night…with twinkle lights. I mean, come on.  And here’s the best part–this book is based on a true story of a real couple in upstate New York who have been doing this on their farm for twenty years. The photos are simply beautiful–warm, cozy, inspiring. Published just last month, this story will give you all the holiday feels.

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2. Red and LuluI just read this to my kids, and they loved it. Accompanied by beautiful, wintery photos, this story follows the journey of the tree that was chosen to be Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree and the two birds that lived in it before it was cut down. The photos change from beautiful country scenes to festive Christmas-in-the-City illustrations.

3. The Little Reindeer. The understated black-and-white illustrations in this book are magical, enhanced with red foil and interactive die cuts. The sweet story follows a friendship between a little girl and a lost reindeer–perfect for pre-bed snuggles in Christmas pajamas.

4. The 12 Sleighs of Christmas. I love everything Chronicle publishes. This brand new release will delight kids with its imaginative details and humor. The elves discover Santa’s sleigh is broken, so they dream up designs for a new one and their creations–inspired by tractors, motorcycles, space ships and more–are hilarious.

6. Pick a Pine Tree. I LOVE the drawings in this book–so colorful and festive with a little retro vibe. And little kids will love the rhyming.

7. The Everything Kids’ Christmas Puzzle & Activity Book. Whether you’re traveling for the holidays, sitting at a restaurant waiting for food or want to have some fun entertainment at the holiday kids’ table, this book is chocked full of holiday-themed mazes, puzzles, brain teasers, hidden pictures, word searches and fun tidbits of information about everything Christmas.

8. A Little Christmas Tree The illustrations in this book are beautiful, but the story is what makes it special. Told from the perspective of a tree who wanted so badly to be picked by a family for their Christmas tree, this story follows the little tree as he has to accept that his dream may not come true, due to a broken branch that changed his fate. His mother always told him that someday he would bring a family the true meaning of Christmas, but all hope is lost as he watches his branches get thrown in the fire. The last bits of his wood are saved though…and carved into a baby in a manger to be given to a little girl by her grandpa. (and free shipping on this book right now until November 22).                                                        

9. Christmas Stories. All the great winter wonder from Laura Ingalls Wilder in one book, each chapter holds a wonderful read-aloud story perfect before bed. This is a reillustrated paperback edition that includes bonus material with games and activities. Nobody does winter stories like Laura Ingalls Wilder…swoon.

10. The Night Before Christmas Coloring Book. I’m super picky about coloring books, especially Christmas ones, but this one passes the test. All the beautiful illustrations that made Charles Santore’s picture book version of this a New York Times bestseller are in here, and they’re dreamy.

11. Christmas Morning Christmas Puzzle. I love puzzles, but I have a few rules about how they work with us. 500-piece are my favorite, and I like beautiful illustrations or photographs that have a variety of patterns and colors to keep us from getting frustrated. There’s a Christmas puzzle out there that’s a photograph of about 5 billion candy canes tangled together, and I want to punch the person who made it in the face. Nothing more frustrating that not being able to distinguish one puzzle piece from another. This one has enough variation to keep you from losing your mind and creates the sweetest Christmas scene when finished.

12. Sweet Christmas Mini Puzzle. One of my favorite memories from our Christmas in Chicago trip last year was sitting in the cafe at the top of the John Hancock Building, drinking hot chocolate, looking out at the snowy city and completing a mini puzzle together. When Lainey heard we were going again this year, she asked if we could do that again, so I found this perfect little Christmas puzzle to tuck in my purse that day.

13. Christmas Party 60-piece Puzzle. This darling Christmas party scene is cut down to only 60 pieces, so it’s easier for the little ones to help.


Tomorrow’s Friday…followed by a short week before all the festivities begin, so the mood is rising over here. Happy Thursday!