Essential Kitchen Tools

As parents, we all want our lives to be as easy as possible. Cooking and meal planning can be stressful, but with some of these essential kitchen tools, you can take the stress out of it all!

Essential kitchen tools - plus access to a free meal planning group!

I love easy. I love easy cleaning hacks, and I love anything that will make my time in the kitchen shorter. When my kids are hungry, they’re hungry. So there’s really no waiting allowed. I compiled a list of some of my favorite essential kitchen tools.

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Teacher Gifts your kids’ teachers want

Teacher gifts – arguably one of the most hot button topics in moms groups as the holidays (and end of the year parties) approach. I’ve polled some teachers and have created a great gift guide for those important teachers in your life!

Teacher gifts your kids' teachers will actually enjoy

The holidays are so amazing, aren’t they?

They certainly can be, but I find that the most stressful part of the holidays is finding the best gifts for everyone on your list. But on the top of almost everyone’s list (outside of family) are those teachers. The people who spend so much time with your kids, whether we’re talking daycare, preschool or elementary school. They are such an important part of your lives and your kids’ lives. We want to treat them right, am I right?

First, let me address the “do I need to get my teacher anything?” question. In short, no. You absolutely do not. To be honest, I did not have a list of who was giving gifts and who wasn’t giving gifts. It doesn’t make a teacher treat your kid differently (yes, I’ve heard that question before from parents!). Anything you decide to give is appreciated – whether it be a tiny piece of chocolate or a $50 Target gift card. It means you and your child were thinking of them and that warms their heart!

In my 10 years of teaching and managing, I have received some of the best and some of the most odd gifts you can imagine. In the mom’s groups I’m a part of on Facebook, every year around this time people are asking what we’re doing for our kids’ teachers. Almost always, you have teachers chime in and tell the moms what to get and what not to get.

With the help of my trusty old memory and my teacher mom friends, I have compiled a list for you. Things to get your kids’ teachers and things to take a hard pass on this year. Also, here is a free printable if you want your teachers to fill it out for you so you can get even better stuff.

Teacher gifts to buy:

  • Gift cards. I think this one is pretty obvious. Every teacher is so different. I always hate giving gift cards because it feels so impersonal to me. But with teachers, I think it is an exception. I have worked with so many teachers with such different personalities. With a gift card, that teacher can spend it on him/herself – and trust me, they appreciate it! Some gift card ideas:
    • Amazon
    • Movie theatre
    • Liquor store
    • Lettuce Entertain You
    • Dunkin Donuts/Starbucks
    • Target
    • Restaraunts
    • Red Box
    • Visa gift card
  • Beverages. But, always ask first! This goes for alcohol and coffee. When I taught, I had stacks and stacks of Starbucks and DD gift cards and you know what? I hated coffee! I didn’t start drinking coffee until I had kids (go figure). As far as the alcohol goes, please make sure they are of drinking age and it’s okay with the higher ups. A gift card might be better in place of an actual bottle of wine 😉 Not every teacher drinks wine and coffee. I know, hard to believe.
  • A nice, thoughtful letter. Teachers want to be appreciated. Sometimes it can be the most thankless job out there. So just write them a letter and if your child is old enough, have them do the same. This one was mentioned a lot and I remember really enjoying reading some I received as well.
  • Pens. Sounds silly, right? Teachers love different colored pens! Teachers go through pens like water because they get used up or stolen/lost. Buy them one of those huge packs from Costco!
  • Personalized blanket. Last year I made these for my son’s preschool teachers (and towels for end of year) and they were a huge hit. I tossed in some warm socks and some R+F stuff for the winter. You can order some personalized ones here (sorry, shameless plug!) but the deadline is 12/1 to make sure they come in time for Christmas break. You could also order some for anyone else!
  • Essential oils. Yes, out comes the weirdo in me. A roller bottle for winter time! Ask your local distributor! A couple teachers I polled said they received roller bottles to help with fighting winter colds and they loved them.
  • Baking mix. I hate baking because I feel like it takes too long and makes such a mess. One year I had a parent (who is now a good friend and our boys are besties – shout out to Karla!) give me the dry ingredients in a really nice glass canister. It had directions on how to make the cookies (just had to add a few wet ingredients). Bonus – I now have a glass canister I use in my kitchen and I think of Zach each time I make rice! 😉

Teacher gifts to avoid:

  • Smelly stuff. Teachers get so much of this. Hand sanitizer, lotions, candles, body washes, etc. A lot of times teachers will get stuff that they do not like. The only exception to this rule is if you know for a fact that they like that scent and want it. I know, I know…”but Melanie, you said get them essential oils!” This is different! Trust me! The oils can help you fight colds.
  • Candy. So much candy. Again, the only exception is if you know they like it and it’s their favorite.
  • Clothes. Yes, this happens. Stick to a gift card to a clothing store if you are really set on clothes.
  • Apple related gifts. Not every teacher likes apples.

So there you have it! A teacher gift guide written by teachers! Have fun 🙂

2017 Gift Guide

(This post contains affiliate links – meaning, if you purchase from any of these links, I will get a small kick back at no cost to you.)

Choosing gifts for your kiddos can be stressful. But it doesn’t have to be!

I’ve asked some moms of kids ages 0-5 what their children’s favorite toys/activities are and have compiled an Amazon list for you. Please feel free to add toys to the comments and I will periodically update the list!

Don’t get hung up on the age titles. A lot of these gifts can be useful for most of the ages – I just broke it up based on the ages that all the moms gave me. You may also see some repeats!

Under 1 year

1 year

  • Roller Coaster – My daughter has this at speech and she absolutely loves it. I can’t get her to leave!
  • Water Wow – These are so clean – and my 2 year old and 5 year old love them. Just fill the pen up with water and draw away. They’re made by Melissa and Doug so you know they stand up to a lot.
  • Weebles – I had no idea these were still a thing until someone mentioned them. Definitely picking some up for my little one.
  • Touch and Feel Books – These never get old in our house and Amazon is full of all different kind.
  • Lift the Flap Books – Also a huge hit in our house! They are great for working on fine motor skills.
  • Baby Stella & Friends & Accessories – Another favorite in our house. About 18 months was when my daughter really started being interested in baby dolls. These are soft and can be thrown in the wash when they decide their baby Stella needs a drink of water. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…..
  • Mega Blocks – Ages 1-2 are a great time to introduce Mega Blocks. Their big size are perfect for toddlers’ little hands.
  • Drum Kit – Toddlers like noise. Need I say more?

2 years

  • Matchbox cars – These were huge when my kids turned 2. Amazon has a ton of them and lots of accessories.
  • Roller Coaster – This is one of those toys that is found in a few age groups.
  • Dress Up Clothes – for boys and girls. Kids love to pretend play. Don’t forget superhero capes, too!
  • Water Wow – Found in a few of our age groups! 😉
  • Weebles – Yes, they’re still a thing!
  • Floor Puzzles – Keep it simple with these large floor puzzles.
  • Train Table – 2 years old is about when kiddos start to have favorite things – superheros, trains, cars, babies, etc. Train tables are huge at this age, too!
  • Elefun – This fun game uses an elephant’s trunk to shoot out little butterflies and you have to catch them! A great game to start teaching taking turns.
  • Career Figures – These little wooden guys are so cute – and start teaching kiddos about different career people!
  • Mega Blocks – Great for this age and so close to Duplos!
  • Luvabella Responsive Baby Dolls – I had no idea what these were until I looked them up. They are exactly as they sound. Responsive baby dolls! They look so fun.
  • Look and Find Books – These are great for the car, doctor’s office, basically anywhere kids have to wait.
  • Magic Track Sets – These are so cool. They are tracks kids can set up by themselves (or with help) and they glow in the dark.

3 years

  • Felt Story Boards – and all their accessories. It’s like reading a book, only you don’t have to read it to them and they can choose the outcome! 😉
  • Matchbox cars – don’t forget all the accessories, too!
  • Cabbage Patch Little Sprouts – Think “little people,” but they look just like Cabbage Patch Dolls.
  • Dress Up Clothes – for boys and girls. Kids love to pretend play. Don’t forget superhero capes, too!
  • Magnatiles and Magformers – Just like Legos or building blocks, but they don’t click together. They stick together! Always a hot item.
  • Leap Frog DVD’s – I am convinced this is where my kid learned his alphabet. You can browse all of them here.
  • Grossery Gang – These will be a hot item this year too, I think. They are little figurines (which seem to be all the rage right now) and you can even grab some cases to carry them.
  • Play-doh – If you’re like me, you hide the play-doh and really only let them play with it when you’re in serious need of quiet time 😉
  • Plus Plus Blocks – A new fun and interesting building block for the kids who can build for hours.
  • Squigz – Another fun building toy! These would be great for sensory seeking kids who need the push and pull effect.
  • Zoob – More building stuff!

4 years

  • Shopkins – I am not sure these need an explanation. These have been pretty popular toys for a while. You’ll find carrying cases on Amazon, too.
  • Dress Up Clothes – for boys and girls. Kids love to pretend play. Don’t forget superhero capes, too!
  • Fingerlings – Apparently these are the hot toy this year. Personally, I don’t get it but I’m not a kid! They sell out pretty quickly.
  • Magnatiles and Magformers – Just like Legos or building blocks, but they don’t click together. They stick together! Always a hot item.
  • Microscope – My oldest has a microscope and will grab anything to put it in there and look at it.
  • Baby Alive – Another cute baby doll is the Baby Alive. You can feed her and her poop comes right out! Haha. Sorry, apparently I’m 4.
  • Twozies – These are sort of like the Shopkins, Grossery gangs, etc. They’re little figurines and you absolutely have to collect them all, duh!
  • Blind Bags – So there is this new phenomenon where people sell bags with figurines that you obviously have to collect all of them. But you don’t know what you’re getting until after you buy it. Whoever created this phenomenon is a genius. Because we’re suckers for it in our house, too. We do a lot of the superhero ones here.
  • Play-doh – If you’re like me, you hide the play-doh and really only let them play with it when you’re in serious need of quiet time 😉
  • Plus Plus Blocks – A new fun and interesting building block for the kids who can build for hours.
  • Squigz – Another fun building toy! These would be great for sensory seeking kids who need the push and pull effect.
  • Zoob – More building stuff!

5 years

  • Nerf guns – And don’t forget the darts!
  • Legos – My 5 year old wants ALL THE LEGOS for Christmas. It is the only toy he is allowed to keep in his room, mostly because I don’t want to be tripping all over them in the playroom.
  • Magnatiles and Magformers – Just like Legos or building blocks, but they don’t click together. They stick together! Always a hot item.
  • Imaginext sets – Fisher Price makes these super fun figurines and accessories. We have a Batman one and it gets played with every single day.
  • Osmo – So I had never heard of this but it goes along with an app for your iPad. You can get all these accessories and is a huge hit for kids who love science and math. You watch on the screen and do the work on the table. Osmo just knows what you’re laying out. So cool!
  • Plus Plus Blocks – A new fun and interesting building block for the kids who can build for hours.
  • Squigz – Another fun building toy! These would be great for sensory seeking kids who need the push and pull effect.
  • Zoob – More building stuff!
  • Mario Monopoly – Um, I want this.
  • Board Games – I think I could play board games all day. Just sayin…
  • My Little Pony – Another classic toy that is still around.
  • Science Kits – My oldest turns everything into a science experiment so we are big on these in our house.
  • Art Supplies – Everyone is an artist, right?

All ages

  • Kindle Fire – great for road trips, waiting rooms, heck, even just quiet time. I don’t judge screen time! Keep an eye out for these on Black Friday!
  • Nest Swing – my daughter has one of these at speech therapy, and like the roller coaster, I can hardly get her to get down from it.

Have an idea that I’m missing? Let me know in the comments! Happy Shopping!

The Best Unsolicited Baby Advice

So, you’re pregnant with your first baby. Yay babies!

I am sure by now, you have discovered that as soon as you make that fun, super cute Facebook announcement, EVERYONE is a baby expert and EVERYONE has the best advice out there.

“Cherish this time!”

“Breast is best!”

“You can’t hold a baby too much!”

“Don’t eat hot dogs!”

“Sleep when baby sleeps!”

“Do you have heartburn? That means baby will have hair. Buy some bows!”

“You are carrying low. You’re having a boy. I just know it.”

“Are you going to find out the gender? You totally shouldn’t!”

The list goes on. and on. and on. and on. so. much.

Now, I am no expert, but I went against a lot of this advice. I ate hot dogs, I had heartburn like a champ and both my babies had no hair, I had no idea what “carrying low” meant. But what I did learn in my 2 pregnancies is you have to take any and all advice with a grain of salt. The bottom line here is it is YOUR baby and if you make any mention at all about said baby, you’re going to get advice or suggestions.

In my moms group, I asked what everyone thought about this advice. I approached them with this question:

“Imagine you have a friend who knows NOTHING about being pregnant, having a baby, labor – nothing. What is one piece of actually helpful advice you would give them?”

The helpful advice started pouring in, and I’m here to compile it for you.

First and foremost – take any and all advice with a big old grain of salt. Like I said earlier, this is your baby. Whatever you (and your partner) decide will (probably) be the best decision. Don’t want to buy that fancy rock n play? Don’t. When I was pregnant with my second, it was all the rage. Everyone told me to buy it. I didn’t – because it was expensive and our house was tiny. Also, I had no intention of my kid rooming with us. And you know what? My kid is a great sleeper.

Accept all help offered. I wish I had followed this one more. If a friend of yours calls you up and asks “what do you need,” don’t be afraid to tell her “I need my dishes done.” But also don’t feel guilty if you want to be the one to do those dishes. Which brings me to my next point….

Ask for help. Don’t feel guilty if you’d rather do the dishes than sit with your newborn. Caring for a newborn can be incredibly overwhelming and exhausting. My oldest was an awful napper, so once I got him to sleep, I never wanted to start anything because chances are he was going to wake up in 45 minutes anyway.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone “no.” If someone wants to come over and you want alone time, do not be scared to tell them to buzz off. Maybe not in those words, but you know what I mean. 😉

Hormones are real and they suck. You will hate and love your partner 15 times in one day and that is normal. You will laugh and cry at the same commercial. If you thought hormones were crazy when you were pregnant, just wait until your body is trying to level out after having the baby. This too, shall pass.

Don’t put your babe on a schedule just yet. You are 2 strangers getting to know each other. It’s going to take time to figure each other out, and that’s okay. Keep an open mind and expect the unexpected.

You are not a failure. I know you’re going to go through days where you think you are. If you and your baby survived the day, you did not fail.

What I feel to be most important – it’s okay if you don’t feel an instant connection with your baby. It really is. You are both strangers to each other and you’re supposed to just click. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, months, whatever. I wish someone had told me that it was okay to not feel that instant connection. I felt like a horrible mother. But trust me when I tell you, it will come.

And last, but certainly not least. If you have a boy, point that penis down when you change his diaper 😉

I hope this helps. Is there something you would suggest to a newly pregnant friend that we didn’t list here? Tell us in the comments!

An Open Letter Of Apology To All The Moms I Used To Judge

To the mom who just hardly made it to the grocery store looking halfway presentable herself, with her toddler’s hair out of whack, no shoes and socks on (because she took them off in the car and you didn’t feel like fishing around for them) and dirt on her sweet little pink pants. I apologize for thinking you didn’t care enough to get you and your kid dressed and ready for the grocery store.

To the mom trying to leisurely stroll through the aisles of a clothing store while her toddler handles her cell phone like it’s an indestructible dog toy, just so she can get some peace while shopping, I apologize for thinking you are careless and spoil your kid because you are allowing her to play with your cellphone – your lifeline.

To the mom who hands her preschooler an iPad during dinner at a restaurant because it’s the only way you and your husband can enjoy some peace and quiet because you can’t afford a babysitter or have no family to help you. I apologize for thinking “why don’t you just have a conversation with him?”

To the mom who turns on the TV for her kids from 7am – 5pm just so she can have some time alone or because she doesn’t feel like “momming” that day. I apologize for thinking you should really just spend time with your kids.

To the mom who dropped her kid off at daycare when she very clearly had the day off, I apologize for thinking you should be keeping him at home and spending time with him.

To the mom who “allows” her kid to climb into bed with her in the middle of the night or who climbs into his bed when he needs her because of a bad dream or just to fall asleep, I apologize for thinking you were just spoiling him – when in reality, that was the only way to get him to go back to sleep and at 3am, you do what you have to do.

To the mom at church on Christmas or Easter with her son in dress pants and a dress shirt but ratty old gym shoes because he refused to put on the nice ones you bought because they were “too tight,” and that’s just not a battle you chose to fight that morning. I apologize for thinking you should be coming to church every Sunday and your son should have something much nicer on his feet than ratty old gym shoes.

To the mom running errands with her toddler (who can clearly walk) strapped to her back in a carrier because if you allowed her to walk, she would tear through the store like a tiny tornado. I apologize for thinking you should let her explore and learn how to walk properly through a store.

I apologize to all of these moms because I am that mom now.

My toddler’s favorite activity is tossing her shoes, socks and hair tie around the car on any trip longer than 30 seconds.

My preschooler spends more time in front of the TV than I’d like to admit so I can get stuff done and he won’t bother me.

I have handed my toddler my cellphone while it plays music so she’ll sit still in the cart at the store.

I have a carrier in my car at all times for quick errands when I don’t feel like allowing her to run around like a crazy person.

I don’t wear jeans simply because “baby weight” is now my normal, even though my kids are almost 5 and 2, and none of my jeans fit anymore. I don’t want to spend the money on new ones and can’t bear to go shopping, finding out what my true size might be.

I have “allowed” my oldest to climb into bed with us in the middle of the night because he “needed to.” I lay with my son every other night until he falls asleep because he “needs it.”

My kid will spend hours in front of the iPad watching ridiculous YouTube videos so I can get stuff done or just not have to answer one of his 4000 questions of the day.

Now that I am a mom, we are all on the same team. So I don’t judge you anymore – I salute you. I am happy that you found a way to get through your days with still keeping your sanity. Let’s keep supporting each other because you don’t know what happened in that mom’s house 15 minutes prior to the activity that you’re judging. And she knows nothing about yours.