Easter Basket Fill-Up

featured easter

It’s official: The Peeps are out, so it’s time to get a head start on Easter. If you are a regular reader here, you know that curating lists of cool tiny shit is my jam. I take this job seriously and spend far too much time searching high and low for the coolest stuff kids will love that stands out from the regular ‘ol trinkets lining the store aisles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff–Dash is completely infatuated with Chapsticks, so he’s getting a pre-packaged plastic egg full of Bonne Bells, and he’s going to love it. I love filling baskets with treasures that will last and things my kids will really love and play with, so I dig, dig, dig for the good stuff. Also, I have a thing for children’s literature, I love to tuck a new book in my kids’ Easter basket, and this list gives me the excuse to gush about my newest kid book loves. With no further ado, here’s my Top 20 Picks for Easter Basket Goodies:

 photo easter best_zps6vhsdydx.jpg

1. Over and Under the Pond. Published just this week, this book is perfect for spring. A work of art and a magic combination of author and illustrator, this follow-up book to Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt disguises a wealth of information as sheer poetry. From “light-dappled leaves on shore” to drowsy turtles and scuttling crayfish, this story paints a picture from sunrise to sunset of all the happenings hidden in pond life and is a joy to read out loud.

2. Love Is. With sweet illustrations and simple but powerful text, this book describes the cycle of love in motherhood through the story of a little girl who finds a tiny duckling, raises it and eventually has to let it go. Try and not cry with your kids snuggled next to you–their feet poking out of footie jammies they’re too quickly outgrowing–while you read this part: “Love is nudging, gently tugging, coaxing baby from the nest. It’s getting to the edge and hoping, letting nature do the rest.”

3. Little People, Big Dreams: Frida Kahlo. If you don’t know this series, you need to. The stories of all the great thinkers and dreamers and doers of the past, presented in kid form, with fun illustrations and the important lessons highlighted: “Frida Kahlo taught the world to wave goodbye to bad things and say ‘Viva la vida…’ ‘Live life.'”

4. The Littlest Family’s Big Day. Emily Winfield Martin is one of my favorite children’s authors and illustrators (Have you seen The Wonderful Things You Will Be? Gah!). Long after you read the text on each page of this story, you’ll still be studying the pictures, pointing out every sweet little detail that brings this story to life. Let’s just say there’s a woodland creature party at the end and tiny gnomes are singing campfire songs, squirrels wearing itty bitty hoodies are roasting marshmallows, and a garland of firefly jars lights the scene. I can’t even.

5. Things to Do. This brand new book from Chronicle (Chronicle ALWAYS delivers. Always.) makes me want to be a teacher again. Its poetry and gorgeous soft illustrations makes it perfect to stand alone simply as a favorite book to read out loud, but there’s more–literacy lessons and word patterns and a buffet of beautiful adjectives and juicy verbs that help kids learn how to recognize and write good sentences. A great take on perspective: “Things to do if you are an acorn. Wear a bumpy, round cap and a starched brown coat. Grow, plump, ripen, snap from your stem… Or “Things to do if you are rain. Polka dot sidewalks. Freckle windowpanes. Whoosh down gutter spouts. Gurgle into drains. Patter ’round the porch in slippers of gray.” COME ON. This is beautiful.

Alright, alright, I’ll stop gushing about kids’ books. Moving on…

6. We Go Together Pop-Up Notecards from Chronicle. Technically, it’s still from Chronicle, so we’re blurring the line of books here. This is definitely one of those gifts you get for your kid but kind of hope they forget about it so you can claim ownership. But, for the sake of Easter baskets, let’s say you’re buying these because you know your kid will love them and be more inclined to write sweet notes to their friends and grandparents. Trust me, they will when they see how cool these are. The outside of every notecard begins the same: “We Go Together Like…”, but the real magic lies inside…a pop-up of the cutest pairs–salt & pepper, milk & cookies, coffee & donuts…Adorable.

7. Unicorn Snot. Lainey found this in a cute boutique in Vail, and I pretended to be all “Oh, you don’t need that…” but really I was all “Put that back, you’re getting it in your Easter basket.” It’s a shimmer glitter gel they can put in their hair or on their face to get all Ariana Grande (wait, does Ariana Grande sparkle? I don’t know, but I’m guessing she does because she’s Ariana Grande.). Cool enough on its own, but then they named it “Unicorn Snot” to be even cooler and get more sales.

8. Dress-Up Bath Tub Stickers. Always on the hunt for cool tub toys that are age appropriate, I love these and know Nella will too.

9. Manhattan Toy Baby Doll in Bunny Sleeper. The doll itself is adorable–simple design, sweet little features, cute stripey pajamas. And then they went and tucked her in a bunny sleeper. You win, Manhattan Toy. YOU WIN. Easter baskets are begging for this baby.

10. Rainbow Clip-In Hair Extensions Set. My girls are going to lose their shit. I’m just sayin’. (I’m giving these to them early because we are going to Weeki Wachee next week, and mermaid theaters call for mermaid hair.) They clip in nice and tight with real wig clips. Let’s just say I may have ordered an extra set for….*cough*me*cough*.

11. Wood Tetris Game. This is my recommendation for the year. In fact, I’ve recommended it to three of my friends after we fell in love with it, and they all bought it and came back to me saying, “Oh my God, I love this, I’m buying it for gifts forever now.” Buy two because we have races to see who can finish theirs first, and that’s what makes it fun (Lainey’s getting GOOD). We keep them on our kitchen barstools, and they get used ALL the time. Neighbors who stop by too.

12. Prismacolor Colored Pencil Set. I always love to tuck an art supply in the Easter basket, and these colored pencils are the best of the best. They come in a cute little tin too. Want a cute bunny coloring book to go with it? The cover design on this one is kind of awful, but the coloring pages inside are really cute.

13. Bunny PJ’s. I got these for the kids for spring jammies and then loved them so much (snug, super soft, cute and inexpensive), I called Heidi to tell her about them because friends tell friends about cute kid jammies. Yesterday she called me after they arrived with, “Holy crap, you weren’t kidding. These are amazing!”

14. Hatchable Pet Chick. You can never go wrong with an egg that hatches a fake rubbery chick. Always a win.

15. Folkmanis Chick Finger Puppet and Bunny Finger Puppet. Folkmanis makes the best puppets, and their finger puppets are my favorite–totally lifelike but tiny and cute. Their chick and bunny has “Easter Basket Approved” stamped all over it.

16. Hatley Bird Umbrella for Kids. Welcome spring with a pretty new umbrella for your kids. This one’s covered in vibrant birds, and everything Hatley makes is meant to last (even through Dash).

17. Masha and Her Sisters Board Book. Okay I lied, another book. And it’s from Chronicle too. This one’s good for the littlest tykes–a board book. But the cutest board book ever–a matryoshka doll.

18. KrazyStraws Personalized Name Straw (THE BOMB!). For $5, you can have your kids’ name stretched into a krazy straw (a little more for names over 6 letters). Not only will your kid love it, it makes for some adorable pictures. And if you have multiple kids, you can ditch the name tags on the baskets and have these straws tucked in each one to identify whose basket is whose.

19. Snake-in-a-Can Prank Jelly Beans. So, this was supposed to go in Dash’s Easter basket but got pulled out early because I’m married to a prankster. My mom is visiting, we offered her some jellybeans, and–oh my God, I died. Never not funny. Unless you give it to someone with congestive heart failure. Don’t do that.

20. Beanboozled Jelly Bean Game. No better way to celebrate “Christ is Risen” than deciding if your jelly bean flavor is booger or juicy pear.  This game brings howls of laughter (and possibly gagging) every time we play it. Great for preteen Easter baskets.

*Also, if you’re looking for a book to tuck in the basket of a little bit older kid, we’re reading Flying Lessons right now, a collection of short stories published in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. I couldn’t love this book more. It introduces so many wonderful themes and conversation starters on uniqueness from skin color to social class and celebrates how we are all more alike than different.

You’ve Got Vail

featured

We were no sooner home from Vail Wednesday evening just long enough to peel off long-sleeved shirts and drop suitcases where they’ll no doubt sit unzipped for at least a week (cough*month*cough), and I was already in my office for a quick preservation of what I was feeling before it faded and folded back into cutting sandwiches for school lunches, gathering dropped underwear around the house for another round of laundry, and sifting through the Valupak envelope for coupons I’ll save but never use. From my suitcase, I pulled a Ziplock bag full of Colorado dirt and skinny pine cones I had collected from the creek we walked along last week, and poured it into an empty jar. VAIL, FEBRUARY 2017–I scribbled on a torn piece of paper, attached it to the outside of the jar and placed it on the memory hall of fame shelf in my kitchen where it joins jars of soft white shells from Dash’s first trip to the beach, red clay from the ground outside the sewing co-op in Rwanda, tiny pebbles from our writing retreat in Ojai, piles of coffee-colored snail shells from the Michigan lake where we’ve had so many summer adventures, and other Earth treasures from memories that stood out over the years, needing to be commemorated in driftwood, smooth stones and dirt dug from sacred ground.

And then I clicked around the Internet, collecting the songs we listened to on the trip, ones that will now always remind me of this tiny window in our lives and our family and how grateful I felt last week to be standing under the cold blue sky while the snow fell, surrounded by mountains, watching my kids with their red cheeks and chapped lips take up space in that immense scene–catching flakes on their tongue, forging trails on snowy paths, running back to me to get a glove adjusted, a boot tied, a nose wiped–and feeling so much love and peace and enjoyment for where we are right now. I collected songs just like I did dirt and pine cones and tucked them in a playlist where I can listen to them again when I want to revisit this feeling. I collected “If I Needed You”–the song that made me cry when I heard the musician start singing it as we walked into the old lodge Saturday night on the ranch where we made one of the best family memories ever.

 photo print 50_zpsib2h6za0.jpg

I tucked in an enchanting country version of “Twinkle Twinkle”–the song he sang for Nella that night–and “Hallelujah,” Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” and, of course, John Denver, because–duh–Rocky Mountain High.

 photo print 33_zpswjo3l2in.jpg

 photo print 113_zpsclqwddmo.jpg

When friends and I heard Deepak Chopra speak a few weeks ago, he talked about learning to separate ourselves from our experiences by thinking of them as a dream that we had…we wake up to a new day, and yesterday and the things that happened to us were just a dream. I’m not very good at separating myself from anything, so if we’re going to go that route, let’s just say I’m the BFG and I’m trapping my glowing vacation dreams in jars so I can save them and relive them and blow them to my children when they sleep. Because those glumptious phizzwizzards fuel us and remind us of what we seek–togetherness, an acute understanding of our presence in the world, and an appreciation for mountain creeks and beach sunsets and also finding a cool pub with cold beer in a new town. Come on, Deepak, you know that’s important too. Memory hoarder for life, I am. For the record, routine home days and stirring cream into our coffee at the same counter where we begin every morning also reminds us of what we seek–togetherness, an acute understanding of our presence in the world, and an appreciation for a spoon that clinks against your mug like a morning wind chime, good-smelling dish soap, a little granola left in the bottom of the bag and a still-sleepy kid on your hip. Going away to inhale new air, coming home to breathe it out.

 photo print 100_zpshav8gq5k.jpg

A rambling intro to say…come with me. Come with me to a small ski town nestled at the base of a mountain in a national forest full of magic.

 photo print 9_zpsgjxyxnnr.jpg

You don’t need to ski–we didn’t. It is enough simply to stand in that little town and look up; to see what is often viewed as an inconvenience–cold and snow and ice–in its greatest element, in unspeakable beauty that belongs in the world.

 photo print 102_zpsapipqp1r.jpg

It makes you feel small in the greatest way.

 photo print 14_zpskpy2gqrn.jpg

Brett’s parents know this feeling of small greatness well as they are committed to traveling and drinking up as much as the world has to offer in landscapes and people and experiences. They are good at adding to their own memory jars and have tucked away adventures from Iceland to Africa and invited us to come with them for this one in the mountains.

 photo print 47_zpscc1ihvek.jpg

They also value family and little moments, and my favorite memories of this trip by far were made in pajamas and fueled not by scenery but by love.

 photo print 32_zpsalktdt4u.jpg

 photo print 19_zps8irqsyqp.jpg

 photo print 38_zpscryyrwfn.jpg

My kids got to experience the childhood thrills I know growing up in the Midwest–running–breath held, half naked–to feel the snow…

 photo print 26_zpsd7iemvgl.jpg

…and hopping through the steamy cloud above a hot tub to sink in and warm up.

 photo print 28_zpsa0ubn9td.jpg

Sacrificing dry pants to make a snow angel…worth it.

 photo print 76_zpse9mrajc4.jpg

Testing fresh snow for packability. Too powdery but so pretty.

 photo print 34_zpsiapzhihb.jpg

Searching for sledding hills and letting the incline from a barely there ditch qualify.

 photo print 90_zpsu4oueoeu.jpg

Kicking snow off boots…

 photo print 95_zps4qa8eupj.jpg

 photo print 114_zpsgwvqhrbb.jpg

…and huddling closer to keep warm.

 photo print 15_zpsfneqiugk.jpg

 photo print 88_zps8sq3kxiz.jpg

Vail was the perfect place for following the prescription our family currently needed–adventuring little and resting a lot.

 photo print 16_zpscjkqko65.jpg

 photo print 36_zps3p0sv4ty.jpg

(Vail Village)

 photo print 21_zps4nh0bwxo.jpg

My three favorite memories from the trip:

1) An evening sleigh ride dinner at 4 Eagle Ranch

…nestled in the little town of Wolcott, just outside of Vail.

 photo print 39_zpsizjvousw.jpg

Brett’s parents planned the evening and, let me tell you–for years, I have talked about a hypothetical experience at the top of my bucket list. I dreamed it up in my head and imagined there was a big cozy lodge tucked in the snow in the mountains somewhere, and there was a crackling fire and twinkle lights and music–definitely music–wine, hot cider and family–all of us together. I have described this scene in bucket list conversations, even though I didn’t know where it would happen or if it really existed like I imagined, but when we arrived to the ranch, out there in the middle of the cold nowhere, and walked into the lodge and heard the music and saw the fire crackling, I started to cry. “This is it,” I told Brett. “This is what I have dreamed of for so long.”

“She’s crying,” Brett laughed to his dad.

 photo print 60_zps84swdqr1.jpg

 photo print 52_zpskz2xrwux.jpg

It’s the kind of memory my kids will never forget but struggle to recall all the details thirty years from now, retelling the story when a  “Describe a memorable trip from your childhood” card gets pulled from the Table Topics box at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

“Wasn’t there, like, a cat roaming around in the bathroom?” Lainey will ask. “And there was a swing set, right?”

“Oh my God! Yes! Good memory!” I’ll laugh.

 photo print 55_zpscfpvuowq.jpg

 photo print 41_zpslyda4kli.jpg

 photo print 40_zpsgd8xbyn5.jpg

“Dash, do you remember the names of the horses?” I’ll ask. And we’ll all smile because of course he’ll still remember after all those years.

“Nip and Tuck,” he’ll answer.

 photo print 48_zps4cb6o4je.jpg

And I’ll tear up remembering how little he was–mesmerized by the snow, those horses, hopping around the dance floor under the star lights with his stick horse.

 photo print 58_zpsi4supzi2.jpg

I’ll remember it like it was yesterday but wonder, as Deepak says, if it was all but a dream.

 photo print 49_zpsry3azexj.jpg

And the sleigh ride. Brett’s dad has told us the story of one of his most precious memories with his own beloved grandpa–it was a sleigh ride late at night in the dead of winter. My kids now have their own sleigh ride memory with their grandpa.

 photo print 56_zpsqqbntyrv.jpg

We stayed and danced far past the kids’ bedtimes because every song the musician sang was our favorite song and we didn’t want it to end. And when we finally called it a night, I hugged Brett’s parents, thanked them over and over and then looked back at that little place of magic lit up against the night and whispered my gratitude for what we shared there as we drove away and kids slumped into our laps falling asleep.

 photo print 57_zpshjcgufka.jpg

And the takeaway of 4 Eagle Ranch besides–oh, I don’t know, one of the most magical nights of our lives?

A genuine cowboy hat for Brett from their trading post.

 photo print 84_zpsoveefyha.jpg

He wore it for the rest of the trip, and now I’m trying to make cowboys hats in the Florida ‘burbs a thing.

 photo print 72_zps3qp8odne.jpg

Favorite Memory #2: Nella’s walk.

I now have a sacred memory of a walk with each child far away from home, just me and them, when I felt so connected and in love with the moment that surely the world could end at that very second, and all would be well (Lainey’s was in Chicago, Dash’s–New York City). I had left the house for a long walk alone, and when I returned, Nella was standing by the door all bundled up. “She’s been waiting this whole time,” Brett told me. “She wanted to go with you.”

“I’ll go again,” I said, lacing my boots back up, “Just me and her this time.”

We walked a long ways–way longer than she’ll usually walk without whining or asking to be held–and much of it was uphill, in the cold. She never complained. We held hands, made sled tracks where the trail allowed and threw sticks in the creek and watched them slowly float away.

 photo print 92_zpsnbieadxu.jpg

 photo print 99_zpswytsz2d2.jpg

We found a deserted playground, rode swings against the wind, watched our breath paint the air and finally trudged back home where she said “I love you Mommy” not once but three times along the way, for no good reason other than we had shared something special.

 photo print 97_zpsrelxep7u.jpg

And Memory #3: That same walk, that same path, repeated as a family. A bit more complicated with all of us and accompanied by some tears over falling in the snow, cold fingers, who got to ride the sled and “I don’t want to walk anymore,” but so very us, perfect in its own way…and led by the almighty cowbay hat.

 photo print 86_zpspdsfjakr.jpg

 photo print 82_zpsysfmoccn.jpg

 photo print 78_zpsk4xvv9we.jpg

Think you have to be a big skier to have fun in Vail?

 photo print 63_zps3g2ax6vt.jpg

Not if huddling up with family is your thing.

 photo print 115_zpsdqz2rjee.jpg

Our lips are chapped…

 photo print 42_zpsq24zu04r.jpg

…but our memory jars are full.

 photo print 66_zps8bfy1dep.jpg

 photo print 64_zps9gah1hto.jpg

 photo print 73_zps2cmw39fm.jpg

…and a huge thank you to my beloved in-laws who see the beauty past spilled hot chocolate, fighting kids and prolonged fits in the backseat over ill-fitting mittens. xo

Happy Weekending.

 photo print 106_zps3cv3vmtm.jpg

The Art of Being Read To

print 4

This post is sponsored by Audible.

I won’t deny that I became a teacher partly because I wanted to read books aloud to my class. I mean, also so I could write on the chalkboard and decorate bulletin boards and, heavens, let’s not forget about putting stickers on good papers and scribbling stars with red pens. But mostly, so I could read aloud. It’s just that I had studied how teachers read books aloud for so many years and how, if you were good at it, you could bring a story to life by a simple subtle shift in your voice. So, I kept a journal of books I wanted to read aloud to my class someday and put stars by the stories I knew would require all the passion of the read aloud commitment–to make my readers feel the words and feel a part of the story–to perform it well. Years later, during the fifteen minute block after lunch every day, my fifth graders would shuffle back in the classroom–still sweaty from recess–and settle down with their heads in folded arms at their desk and listen while I fulfilled my read aloud dreams, doing my best to bring to life the words of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins and the mystery behind Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember.

I still love reading aloud to my own kids, but what I really love these days in the trenches of school schedules and motherhood demands is being read to–taking the role of listener for performances of great stories and books I might not otherwise have the time to read given my “to be read” pile on my nightstand and the slow pace it’s taking me to attack it.

That’s why I love audiobooks. Not only do they allow me to catch up on reading during times I’m not able to hold a book–driving in the car, going for a run, cooking dinner–but they fulfill that need of my inner child–the one that still loves to be read to. Have you heard of Audible? Audible is the leading provider of premium digital spoken audio information and entertainment and offers customers a new way to enrich their lives every day. Audible adds new titles to their catalog every day and has an unmatched selection of audiobooks to choose from from childhood classics to the newest adult reads on bookstore shelves.

 photo print 5_zpshfeln6o1.jpg

Audible made our summer road trip to Michigan a lot more fun last year  as we listened to Swing Sideways on the way up, and the narrator (Tara Sands) delivered a wonderful theatrical performance of the book that held my kids’ attention much like a movie.

We are currently listening to Audible’s presentation of Harry Potter, and I love the way it’s giving both my kids and me the opportunity to listen together before bed and the riveting presentation (and British accent!) the narrator Jim Dale delivers.

 photo print 1_zpscbk8xddj.jpg

But my favorite recent audiobook experience has been a revisit to an old favorite, Anne of Green Gables, one of Audible’s star powered listens, read by Rachel McAdams.

 photo print 2_zpsaynl82rw.jpg

I started it on our trip to Vail, and it’s been the perfect accompaniment to a vacation dedicated to relaxing, nourishing and huddling in. I did take it out with me the other morning though, on a walk alone in the mountains, and let me tell you–the experience was unforgettable. It was as if one of my favorite storybook characters came along with me, and if there’s one person you want to take with you on a winter walk to appreciate the snow-tipped branches and majestic mountains against the cold blue sky, it’s Anne Shirley.

 photo print 4_zps7z4maqd0.jpg

If you’d like to try Audible and want to download a book you’ve been wanting to read, Audible is giving readers a 30-day trial with a free download. Click here to try it out, browse their incredible collection of titles and see for yourself how good it feels to be read to. Play it in the car, tuck ear buds in your purse so you can listen in waiting rooms, bring your narrator along for evening walks or sneak in a chapter while you’re chopping onions for dinner.

I still love to hold books, follow words and encourage my kids to do the same, but we can read so many more titles with Audible and enjoy the experience of listening and being moved by a great performance of a story. As any kid who’s ever experienced the comfort of falling asleep to their mother’s voice reading Goodnight Moon or Ramona Quimby knows, being read to is one of life’s great pleasures.

 photo print 3_zpsx6f6slab.jpg

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible. The opinions and text are all mine.