Quarantine with a Toddler: A Week of Pinterest Activities for Littles

I know that this quarantine has been challenging for so many people for a multitude of reasons. Some people are still having to go to work every day at essential jobs to help keep people fed, protected, cared for, and safe. All these essential workers – doctors, nurses, medical staff, police, fire fighters, grocery workers, gas station employees, cleaning staff, and many more essential industry workers are putting themselves on the front lines (and potentially risking their own health and safety) to keep our communities up and running, and my gratitude for these workers cannot be understated! Some people are able to continue their careers from home, but for many, working from home has come with its own set of challenges. Others are staying home for the safety of themselves or loved ones with underlying risk factors or compromised immune systems, and this social isolation is taking its toll. We all have undoubtedly faced challenges in the face of these unprecedented circumstances.

As a teacher, I’ve been able to continue my work from home in the form of e-Learning, but this new frontier has come with its own set of challenges. Those face-to-face interactions that we thrive on in the classroom have been virtually eliminated, and we’re left struggling to support our students in the only ways we can. I know that I’m incredibly blessed to still have a job and to be able to work from the safety of my home, but nevertheless, this pandemic has unleashed changes and challenges that I never could have anticipated.

One of the most pressing challenges for me has been the feat of working from home while parenting an active toddler who doesn’t have the capacity to understand the current situation. It’s definitely a blessing that she’s blissfully unaware of the chaos and uncertainty that’s facing many of us these days, but it’s been challenging for her to understand that, even though mom and dad are suddenly home all the time now, we both have work obligations that are taking some of our attention away from her. In her limited experience, she’s typically had our undivided attention when we’re home, so this sudden change has been a shock to her little system.

As we navigate this new frontier as a family, I’m doing my best to keep her mind active and her screen time somewhat limited, which has definitely been a challenge. I’ve felt a lot of guilt as a parent lately about how much screen time she’s had recently, but I’m often reminded of the need for grace – to allow ourselves some “wiggle room” as we figure out these uncharted waters. If you’re a parent or a spouse, or even a single individual who’s feeling guilty about those hours of Netflix bingeing you’ve been doing lately, remember to allow yourself some grace. We’re all still figuring out this new “normal,” and for our health and sanity, we need to cut ourselves some slack.

But if you’re a parent of littles who’s looking to keep their minds active and give them a break from screen time, I’ve challenged myself to try out a few new Pinterest activities each week with my daughter! Will we still have some “screen time” while mommy is in a meeting? Of course we will! And nevertheless, she might still try to head-butt me in the middle of said meeting, despite my attempts at distraction. But if I can infuse some other fun, engaging, and educational activities into our day, I think we’ll both be happier in the long run. Best of all, we did all of these activities with just the basic things we already had at home!

Here’s our week of Pinterest fun:

Edible “Paint”

My daughter loves yogurt – it’s probably her favorite food these days. So when I came upon this edible paint “recipe” (yogurt and food coloring), I knew it would be a hit! Not only did my daughter LOVE painting her high chair tray, but she nearly cleaned the whole thing up afterward when she realized it was yogurt!

Cereal Sorting

We’ve had a box of Baby Shark cereal in our cupboard for quite a while. The tasty little marshmallow bits had long since been picked out of the bag, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to toss the rest of the cereal. Needless to say, I was excited to find this activity that would make use of the cereal we already had on had. I made a quick little sorting mat with some paper and markers (and my hubby even laminated it for us with our home laminator – because #teacherlife). It was a fun little activity with minimal prep, and it was a great way to work on important sorting skills!

Sensory Bag

I found a number of sensory bag ideas on Pinterest, but we didn’t have all the “ingredients” they called for, so I just improvised! This bag was 2 colors of washable paint, vegetable oil, and water. After a while, the paint and water mixed to form a uniform color and it wasn’t quite as exciting, but initially it was really neat how the paint and oil separated when you squished the bag.

Bowl of Bubbles

Another super simple, low-prep activity. A squirt of dish soap and a little water in a shallow bowl. We used a straw to to blow the bubbles, and she loved scooping them up and popping the bubbles. This one was a huge hit!

Bubble Foam

Following on the coat tails of the bubble bowl from the previous day, we made soap “foam.” A cup of water and two tablespoons of dish soap, and then I whipped it in our Kitchen Aid mixer for a minute or two until we got this awesome bubble foam! You can even add food coloring before mixing to make it colorful. Another fun and easy activity that my daughter loved!

Sticking to My Resolution: 4 Essential Things to Help Stay On Track

We’re still in the first month of the new year. Or as I like to call it – the honeymoon period for New Years resolutions. We’re still excited about these new goals. Joyful about getting on track with healthy eating habits or a new exercise routine. Hopeful about making more time for ourselves. Determined to stick to that new budget or skip those extra Starbucks drinks.

I’ll admit, I’m a honeymooner here too. I’ve set a goal of making healthier eating choices this year. The holidays have caught up with me, and I’m not loving those few extra pounds I’ve put on. So once again, I’ve set off on this dieting journey, and I hope to actually stick to this New Years resolution. So how do I plan to stay on track this year? As someone who’s been down this road a few times before, I’ll share the 4 key things that I’ve found to be essential for sticking to a new diet.

Motivation. As someone who was not blessed with a fabulous metabolism, I’ve done my fair share of dieting throughout the years. In college, I loved hitting the gym each morning. I took up running, and trained for and completed a 5K. One summer, I started biking and would bike 10-20 miles a day. I even became a vegetarian for a long stint during college, and was obsessed with tofu and Greek yogurt and black bean burgers. I was definitely in my peak physical shape back then, and my motivation to eat healthy and BE healthy were at an all-time high. Now that I’m a busy working mom, the time I have to devote to exercise and healthy eating are at an all-time low. When you don’t have the time to hit the gym every morning or spend hours trying out that new keto recipe from Pinterest, it’s sometimes really hard to get motivated! But if there’s one thing I’ve found, it’s that motivation is essential to sticking to a new diet. If you’re not in it whole-heartedly, you won’t stick to it in the long run! So I had to dig a little deeper here, but for me, making healthier choices for myself means making healthier food choices for my family too. And like many other moms, I would do just about anything to make things better or easier for my daughter. So for me, I made this resolution about my daughter. If I make healthier eating choices, our whole family will be eating (and feeling) better! What motivates you in your New Years goal? Is it finally fitting into an old pair of jeans? Getting healthier for yourself or your loved ones? Maybe just loving what you see when you look in the mirror? Whatever it is, find your motivation and keep your eye on the prize!

Tracking. Another thing I’ve personally found to be essential to all my dieting endeavors is food tracking. Some people like to keep a journal, some people prefer to join a program. I personally love the app MyFitnessPal. The basic version of the app is free, and after creating a profile and setting a goal for yourself, it calculates how many calories you should consume each day based on your current weight and personal goal. You can then search through thousands of pre-loaded foods, or even scan the barcode on your favorite snack to add it to your food “diary.” You can also create custom recipes for things you make at home, making it super easy to track your eating. I also love that you can track your weight on here, and it creates a little graph to show your progress. I won’t lie, I don’t stick to this 100% for tracking every calorie I put in my mouth, but I do try to track my food as much as possible. When I go out to eat or make a more complicated recipe that is too cumbersome to input into the app, I won’t bother trying to track it. I know that keeping it simple is key for me – if I make it too difficult, I won’t stick with it in the long run.

Partnership. When I consider the times I’ve been the most successful in my dieting endeavors, it always comes down to this – if my mom was also dieting with me. A few months after my daughter was born and I was ready to lose the baby weight, my mom and I both decided to try the “keto” diet. We shared recipes, texted pictures of our healthy meals, and celebrated each other’s victories on the scale each week. We both were super successful with shedding those extra pounds, because we helped keep each other accountable, and we cheered each other on along the way. For me, I need someone else in the passenger seat with me on this dieting journey. I need someone to talk to, share ideas with, and celebrate with! My mom has always been that person for me, so when she told me around New Years that she was going to start dieting again, I was so happy to have her as my partner on this journey again! Who is your dieting partner? Maybe it’s your spouse, parent, sibling, or friend. Maybe even a coworker. Whoever it is, resolve to help each other along this journey, because it’s so much easier to do it with someone else!

Forgiveness. This last thing is oh so important. I would argue that it’s the most essential thing to sticking to a new diet! We have to remember that we’re only human, and not every day is going to be perfect! You might not always be able to deny the temptation of the box of donuts at work. You might cave and grab a bag of chips at the checkout line. You might need a glass of wine after a long day. And all those things are OK! For me, I have a horrible sweet tooth, so passing on the sugary treats is always torture for me! Some days, my willpower is super strong and it’s easy to turn things down. Other days I want to devour an entire pack of Oreos, and I might just give in to that temptation. Is it IDEAL for my diet to eat a pack of Oreos? No way. But one bad day can’t completely derail me. As a teacher, I preach this almost daily with my students. One bad choice doesn’t make it a bad DAY. One bad day doesn’t make it a bad WEEK. We all make mistakes, so if you slip up and eat something you shouldn’t have, forgive yourself and move on. Sometimes those little “mistakes” even act to renew our motivation and drive us to do better the next time. So don’t fall off the wagon because of one little slip-up. Or two or three little slip-ups. No matter how many “mistakes” you make, you can still get right back on track and move past it.

5 Tips I Discovered While Helping My Toddler Battle a Tummy Bug

Our fun day at the children’s museum yesterday quickly took a turn when my daughter got sick on the car ride home. She’d just polished off a bottle and snuggled in for a nap when she woke up coughing. Suddenly she was throwing up – not once, but twice – and we were still nearly 20 minutes from home.

Mom tip #1: Always keep extra napkins and wipes in the car – you never know when you’ll need them! I even keep a few burp cloths in our diaper bag too, which was an extra bonus for our clean up efforts. It still was a messy ride, but my husband (who was driving) instantly tossed me the huge pile of napkins we’ve hoarded in our glove box. Between that, the burp cloths, and the pack of wipes we had on hand, I was able to clean things up enough to get my daughter home without being completely miserable the whole rest of the drive. Once we got home, however, we were faced with the entirely new challenge of cleaning up a messy toddler and car seat.

Mom tip #2: When buying a car seat, make sure it’s easy to clean! Ours has a removable cover that is machine washable, so that was helpful. However, it also has lots of nooks and crannies for things to settle down into, and the straps are not completely removable (or at least, not as far as I could figure out). It took me quite awhile to get everything clean, even after removing the cover and tossing it in the washing machine. I ended up having to remove the whole seat from the car to get everything cleaned out, but I finally got it cleaned up. Next up – getting and keeping a sick toddler clean!

Mom tip #3: Zippered jammies and expandable-shoulder shirts and onesies are essential when you’re dealing with sick baby or toddler. Let’s face it – it’s pretty impossible to contain the mess when a baby or toddler is sick to their stomach. You can definitely expect a few outfit changes during a battle with the stomach bug, and these easy-to-remove outfits are surely a necessity. Rather than having to pull clothes up over their head, thus spreading the mess into their hair and face, you can just pull it down over them. It makes life so much easier!

Mom tip #4: Keep some old bath towels and paper towels or a damp washcloth handy! We kept all of these things on hand while she was sick, and it really helped to contain the mess and keep her comfortable. We tried to keep the towel under her as much as possible, which was pretty easy to do since she mainly was napping or snuggling on someone’s lap the whole day. When she did get sick, this helped to soak up the mess to prevent our couches and clothes from taking the brunt of it. We also had a big bowl we used to try and catch the mess whenever possible, however, that is not always easy to do with a toddler. It was still handy for cleaning up the mess afterward, as we could just toss the dirty paper towels into it. That way, we could get my daughter cleaned up and comfortable again as quickly as possible!

Mom tip #5: Keep water and Pedialite on hand. When we talked to our pediatrician, her main concern was dehydration. This is always the case when someone is sick to their stomach, and it’s no different with little ones. They are losing lots of liquids and electrolytes when they get sick, so it’s important to keep giving them fluids so they don’t become dehydrated. Our pediatrician recommended a diluted solution of Pedialite and water, so we filled her favorite water bottle with this solution and kept it right beside her all day. At first, she even had a hard time keeping that down, so we just offered her small sips every few minutes. Eventually, as the brunt of her tummy bug passed, she was able to keep that down, and we were able to keep her comfortable and hydrated without a trip to urgent care.

Having a sick little one is a miserable feeling as a parent. It breaks your heart to see your little one in any sort of pain! Keeping them comfortable and hydrated, and giving them lots of extra love and snuggles are all key for a speedy recovery! Luckily, our little ones are so resilient, and they’re usually back on their feet in a matter of days.

My Favorite Clean Living Products – and a Handy App I LOVE

I’ve always gravitated more toward “clean” and “green” products – both for myself and for our home. However, I took a heightened interest in this when I was pregnant and trying to avoid unnecessary chemicals. I was shocked at how many seemingly “green” and “clean” products were misleading in their branding and labeling, and actually contained a shocking number of chemicals and toxins. So many cleaning products – even widely know and beloved brands that are marketed as “natural” – are so misleading in their marketing!

I was fascinated and intrigued by this, and I started doing a lot of research into truly “clean” products. I want to be using safe, effective, and natural products for our family, not falsely marketed chemicals. Somewhere along the way, I stumbled upon the app Think Dirty. It is a convenient app that reviews and grades thousands of cleaning and cosmetic products, awarding them a score out of 10, with 0 being the “cleanest” and 10 being the most “toxic.” The app has dozens of categories and an easy search feature to look up your favorite products. If you’re interested in learning more about their scoring guidelines, you can read their rationale here.

One really crazy thing I learned from this app is that Dreft laundry detergent – the stuff marketed as a “gentle” cleaning alternative for newborn baby clothes – has a score of 9 according to Think Dirty. Plain old Tide detergent has a score of 4! My pick? We use Seventh Generation Natural Landry Detergent, which has a score of 0 on Think Dirty. I absolutely love this product, and it does a great job getting out tough baby stains, even without pre-treating. Plus it leaves our clothes smelling clean and fresh without the strong, overpowering, and chemical smell of artificial perfumes. I use this detergent for all our laundry, not just my daughter’s clothes, and I would never go back to anything else! We also use Seventh Generation’s dish soap, which works great and smells amazing! Especially considering that this is a product I’m using to clean the dishes and utensils my daughter is eating and drinking from, it’s super important to me that this product be safe, chemical-free, and effective. This dish soap definitely checks those boxes for me!

As for household cleaning, my absolute favorite product is Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soap. This product also scores a 0 on Think Dirty, and I use it for EVERYTHING. It’s a concentrated cleaning liquid that you dilute with water, so one bottle of this stuff has lasted us for months and can be used as hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, multi-purpose cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner… the list goes on and on. We’re currently using the lavender scented soap, but they have all kinds of different scents. If you’re into essential oils, you can even buy the unscented kind and add your favorite oils to scent it yourself. I bought a pack of glass spray bottles from Amazon to make our multi-purpose cleaner, and I keep a bottle of this in both our kitchen and bathroom. It works amazing on everything from kitchen grime, grease, and dried on food, to soap scum and hard water stains in the shower. I can’t say enough about this product – it’s “clean” and natural, it’s safe and effective, and it’s so cheap! A 32-oz. bottle costs $16 on Amazon, but it can be used for everything! Plus when you only use a few ounces at a time to make a bottle of cleaner, it seriously lasts forever. The photo below shows my bottle of Dr. Bronner’s, which is still nearly full after months of use! Not only is this product safe and effective, it’s also saving our family money!

Are you a clean living family? What are your favorite natural products?

The Rocking Chair

Most nights as I put my daughter to bed, rocking her to sleep in the darkness, I find my mind wandering to all the things I still need to accomplish once I put her to bed. Writing my mental to-do list, if you will. I can’t forget to throw that load of laundry in the dryer. I need to make sure I finish that lesson plan. I really should mop the kitchen tonight if I have time. As a busy working parent, the mental to-do list is never ending, and my mind is always taking inventory of all that I’ve accomplished, and all I’ve yet to get done.

But tonight as I rocked my daughter in the darkness and my mind started to drift, I looked down at my daughter’s legs, which now stick out past my arms when I cradle her in the rocking chair. I recalled how, seemingly just yesterday, my arms could wrap completely around her tiny little body. She used to lie in my arms, swaddled tightly like a little burrito, and her entire body would fit perfectly in my arms. I blinked, and somehow my tiny, sleepy newborn became a sweet, but strong-willed toddler.

Tonight, I stared down at her little face in the darkness, forgetting the list of things I wanted to accomplish once I put her to bed. I watched her little eyelids flutter as she fought sleep, and I recalled all the sleepless nights we spent in this rocking chair. I remembered rocking her back to sleep on that very first night home from the hospital, so overwhelmed with love and joy, but also plagued with exhaustion. I thought of all the nights between then and now that we’ve spent in this rocking chair. The tough, sleepless nights – through growth spurts, teething, and colds – and those sweet and easy nights where she drifted to sleep effortlessly and slept the whole night through.

Tonight, I watched her eyelids become heavy as she drifted off to sleep, and I snuggled her a little tighter and rocked her a little longer. The days have flown by since we brought this tiny little blessing home, and I know that time is never going to slow down. I know that there will come a day in the not-too-distant future where my precious little girl won’t want her mama to rock her to sleep anymore. She won’t want to hear Goodnight Moon for the one millionth time. She won’t want me to kiss her forehead and wish her sweet dreams before tucking her into bed.

So tonight, I made sure to be present in the moment rather than letting my mind wander to the next item on my to-do list. I watched my precious girl fall asleep in my arms, and I savored every moment of it. I rocked her and rocked her and then rocked her some more. I stared at her sweet face, wishing I could freeze this moment and keep her my baby forever. But I know that time will never slow down, and I know that the future will bring new and exciting things as well. But for the time being, I’m going to enjoy where we are right now, and do my best to just BE in the moment. Because the laundry will still be there in an hour or two, and if the floors don’t get mopped until tomorrow, no one is going to die. Right now, just being here in this rocking chair with my baby is the most important thing in the world.

Walmart Grocery Pick-Up: You’re the Real Hero That All Moms Need

When I first heard about the whole grocery pick-up trend that was sweeping the nation, I’ll admit, I didn’t initially think I would ever use it. I’ve always liked picking out my own produce, perusing the clearance racks, and checking the end caps for new products I might like. I didn’t think I’d be okay with someone else picking out my groceries – trusting them to get the non-bruised bananas and the clamshell of blueberries without a few gross, mushy ones stuck at the bottom.

Cue motherhood – the experience that’s taught me to never say never! Because when you’ve got a ticking time bomb in your shopping cart, you never know how long you’ll last in the grocery store. You might not make it to the clearance rack in the baby section, you might not even finish in the produce section before a full-on meltdown or a diaper blowout. So Walmart’s grocery pick-up was truly the hero we needed, and I imagine that moms everywhere can sympathize!

Even though my daughter is older now and can (usually) handle a standard trip to the grocery store without much of a fuss, we still use grocery pick up sometimes. This weekend was no exception. My husband had planned to go into work this morning, and our local Walmart (conveniently located on my husband’s route home from work) recently started offering grocery pick up. Previously we had to drive a little out of our way to get pickup from another Walmart, but the extra 10 minute drive was still worth it when our daughter was an infant! Now that we have pick-up at our local store, we’ve been using it a lot more again. It’s so easy to fill my “cart” from the comfort of my couch on Saturday morning, and then have my husband pick it up on his way home. It means an extra hour of snuggles with my baby or an extra hour of playtime at home, rather than wrestling a toddler through the chaos that is Walmart on a Sunday. Today with our pickup order, we even got an extra little “goody bag” filled with free samples, all packed into a cute reusable shopping bag.

An added bonus is that whenever we’ve used the grocery pick-up, we’ve found that we actually SAVE money! Not only is pick-up free, but we don’t end up buying those gimmicky items on end caps or at the checkout line. We don’t buy our daughter the stuffed animal she grabs and we can’t say no to. In other words, it’s much easier to cut out the things you don’t REALLY need when you order online. Additionally, you can see your cart total as you shop, so if you’re on a budget, it’s much easier to stick to it.

Life can be so crazy and hectic these days. Whether you have kids or not, whether you’re a working parent or a stay-at-home parent, whether you’re a retiree or a single person, we all could use a break these days. Especially this time of year, when the chaos of the holidays is enough to stress anyone out… cut yourself a break and try the grocery pick up. Save yourself an hour of time to spend with your family. Save yourself an hour for a little alone time. Save yourself an hour to catch up on work, or have a date night, or watch your favorite show on Netflix, or do something that makes YOU happy. Because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that very few people find themselves ENJOYING a trip to a crowded grocery store when they could very well be doing something else instead.

Use my link below to get $10 off your first pick up order! Happy shopping!

Gratitude Challenge

This year has been an especially trying one. My husband and I are both teachers, and we BOTH started at a new grade level this year. For those outside the field of education, this seemingly simple change is really quite a drastic shift. It means scrapping all of our plans, activities, grade-level content knowledge, and state standards, and starting completely from scratch! Essentially we are both first year teachers again, learning everything from the ground up. So as you may imagine, our lives have been a bit chaotic and stress-filled these past few months.

I’ve learned that it’s all too easy to let my career stress dominate my life. I think this is especially true in the field of education, where our care and concern for our students stretches far beyond the walls of the school. It’s easy to “leave work at work” when you’re dealing with machinery, computers, business deals, and marketing pitches. But when “work” involves tiny humans who depend on us to teach them, mold them, and foster their growth, it’s a whole lot harder to simply forget that world when I step out of the building. Their lives go on even when I’m not there, so my concern for their wellbeing is never-ending!

Nevertheless, I reached a point this weekend where my mind was so bogged down with work stress that I was forgetting to live in the now. My husband noticed this – noticed me – and found the perfect way to put it all into perspective. He reminded me of our beautiful life, and how our pieces have all fallen together so perfectly. He reminded me how blessed we are to be here – a place we’d only dreamed of when we first met all those years ago. We couldn’t have imagined how beautifully our life would have turned out when our paths first crossed back in college! And how lucky we are to be doing something we love, touching the lives of students every day, and coming home to our sweet little life together when the work day ends.

I know that it doesn’t eliminate my work stress. I will still worry about my students, and lesson plans, and assessment data, and pacing guides, and common core standards. But I will remember to keep that piece of my life in perspective. I’ll remember that it’s a small slice of my beautiful life, and I need to take the time to live in the moment and be grateful for the rest of the picture! This month is a time when we often reflect on things that we’re grateful for, so I’m challenging myself to stress less and rejoice more! I’m challenging myself to live in the now, soak up every precious moment with my family, and be more grateful for the things I have, rather than dwelling on the stress and negativity that I can’t always control.

I challenge you to reflect too! We can’t always control our stress, but we can keep it in perspective. What is one thing YOU are grateful for?