Fantastic Winter Books for Kids of All Ages

We find ourselves in the days when the holiday hustle and bustle is behind us but spring feels like it will never arrive. The days when daylight is still short and the windows are still closed. My favorite thing to do on those days is curl up with my little people to read great books.
Here are 12 amazing books to keep you and your little ones cozy this winter.

For the little littles

 
 

“The Mitten”

by Jan Brett

“The Mitten” is a whimsical, animal-filled tale that delights children. Jan Brett is masterful with her storytelling and illustrations, showing woodland animals exploring a child’s lost mitten in the snow. Funny and classic, this is a tale kids will love.


“Bear Snores On”

by Karma Wilson (Author), Jane Chapman (Illustrator)

“Bear Snores On” transports kids to Bear’s cave as his animal friends come to see if he is still sleeping for the long winter. No one is as surprised as Bear to wake and see all the commotion he has been missing! Charming and funny, kids will love pretending they are Bear, snoring for a long winter nap.


“The Emperor’s Egg”

by Martin Jenkins (Author),‎ Jane Chapman (Illustrator)

“The Emperor’s Egg” explores the incredibly cute world of the Emperor Penguin. It is full of amazing facts and illustrations about the animal while holding on to its cute, fuzzy, lovable nature. Telling the story of the father who sits determinedly on the egg for months while the mother goes out hunting, it is a wonderful way to talk about how animals, just like people, do so much to provide for the little ones.


For the school-aged littles

“The Snowy Day”

by Ezra Jack Keats

A perfect introduction to classic poetry, this delightful picture book captures a child’s day in the snow. With charming illustration and the beautiful verse by Jack Ezra Keats, the reader experiences the joys and wonder of “A Snowy Day.” This classic is not to be missed!


“Snowflake Bentley”

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Author),‎ Mary Azarian (Illustrator)

“Snowflake Bentley” is a true story of Wilson Bentley, a boy from Vermont that grew up seeing snowflakes as unique miracles. His scientific and artistic brain collided as he photographed snowflakes, capturing their utterly matchless shapes and designs. A delightful tale that is the perfect inspiration for making some paper snowflakes of your own!


“Winter Days in the Big Woods”

by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Author),‎ Renee Graef (Illustrator)

“Winter Days in the Big Woods” and the rest of the “My First Little House Books” are a beautiful introduction to the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. These stories of a cabin in the woods before there was internet or even electricity captivates kids for their simple beauty. Kids fall in love with these Wisconsin tales of Laura and her family, while parents fondly remember the original books and the joy they brought.


“Blizzard”

by John Rocco

“Blizzard” is a beautifully told tale based on The Blizzard of 1978 where the author’s small Rhode Island town received 53 inches of snow. As the boy watches the storm begin from his classroom window, the reader journeys with him through the changing landscape of his little town. As the snow piles high you experience the wonder of all he knows being covered in over four feet of snow! A perfect tale for a snowy day!


“The Story of Snow”

by Mark Cassino (Photographer),‎ Jon Nelson (Contributor)

The “Story of Snow” is a magical non-fiction that answers questions about snow in all of its amazing wonder. Written by a nature photographer and snow scientist, this book is full of fantastic photographs and scientific information perfect for kids. It even includes instructions for how to catch snowflakes! Perfect during a snowstorm or for kids who just wonder what snow is really like, “The Story of Snow” is beautiful.


“Mr. Popper’s Penguins”

by Richard Atwater and‎ Florence Atwater

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is an early chapter book that has been a classic for decades. As Mr. Popper longs for things he has yet to do like visit the North and South Pole, he receives a most peculiar gift: a penguin. A family with one penguin grows to 12 penguins and the shenanigans that ensue are hilarious. Kids love reading about the eccentric Mr. Popper and his band of penguins!


Finally, for those who deny they were little

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C. S. Lewis

Hands down my favorite family read-aloud, this book of fantasy and adventure takes four siblings to an enchanted land trapped in a perpetual winter. Narnia is full of talking animals, a witch, trees that whisper, and a Lion that changes everything. After their journey the children – and Narnia – will never be the same. A delightful tale of bravery, loyalty, and love, this book will enchant all who read it.


“Breadcrumbs”

by Anne Ursu  (Author), Erin McGuire (Illustrator)

“Breadcrumbs”  is a tale woven with references to classic fairy tales. Two friends are separated when one disappears into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Will Hazel risk everything to find Jack? A tale of friendship, fantasy, and growing up, Breadcrumbs explores fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen as well as modern stories to tell the story of Jack, Hazel, and a friendship that grows.


“The Call of the Wild”

by Jack London

“The Call of the Wild” has been famous for over one hundred years for its simplicity and raw story of a dog during the Klondike Gold Rush. The dog is sold into a life as an Alaskan sled dog where he learns to adapt to the harsh circumstances of the wild. Written with Buck the dog as the main character, this classic is hard to put down.
Take advantage of these colder days and snuggle up with a book. What are your favorites to read with your kids in the winter? Share in the comments!
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What the Experts Say About Keeping Babies Warm in Winter

The benefits to heading outdoors in the winter mean bundling up and heading out. But how do you properly dress an infant for the winter elements?

The weather outside is frightful. Inside it’s pretty frightful too. My older kids are actually trying to climb the walls and the baby will only nap while in motion. Unfortunately, I can only pace up and down the hallway so many times before I start climbing the walls myself. We need to get outside, snow or no snow.

However, since we have a newborn in the house this year, I started to wonder if I should put our snow adventures on hold. Perhaps I should just relinquish my sofa to the kids and let it serve as a trampoline for the next four months while I hang out with the little one in the rocking chair.

I called my pediatrician to ask her opinion on taking babies out in cold weather. “The overall recommendation is we like to see kids playing outside year round,” said Dr. Venus Villalva, a pediatrician in snow-prone Helena, Montana. So no free pass on skipping the snowsuit battle this year. But with winter break temperatures forecasted in the single digits, I wondered how cold was too cold.

It’s difficult to put an exact temperature on when it’s time to stay inside with babies and young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that playing in temperatures or wind chills below -15 Fahrenheit should be avoided because exposed skin can freeze within minutes. My pediatrician’s office doubled down on the importance of paying attention to the wind as it can penetrate clothing, even if the air temperature is warmer.

While -15 F may be far below what any parent finds enjoyable for a trip to the playground, young infants are even more susceptible to the cold. The AAP also notes that, “newborn infants are prone to hypothermia because of their large body surface area, small amounts of subcutaneous fat, and decreased ability to shiver.”

The benefits to heading outdoors in the winter – physical exercise for the whole family, fresh air, vitamin D, a good nap for the baby, not to mention preserving my furniture – mean bundling up and heading out. It’s typically worth it, even if it requires a little extra planning.

The AAP (in addition to every winter fashion guide, as well as your own mother chasing after you with an extra scarf) recommends dressing babies and children in layers. How many layers exactly? The best recommendation is one more layer than you have on yourself.

The types of layers matter too. The conventional wisdom among winter outdoor enthusiasts is to go with three separate types of layers – wicking, warming, and weathering. A wicking layer of polyester, bamboo, or wool (that is, anything other than cotton) keeps sweat off of skin and reduces the chance of hypothermia. The warming layer (or layers) can simply be street clothes – sweatpants, sweatshirts, fleece. The weathering layer, like a snow or rain-suit, should be waterproof if your child will actually be playing in the snow. Look for ones that are long enough to keep snow from sneaking into ankles and wrists, a surefire way to cut any toddler’s outdoor excursion short.

Despite the fact that babies have more difficulty than older children regulating their body temperature, they are often easier to keep warm in the snow. Wearing the baby in a carrier means she can benefit from your body heat. Put on an extra-large coat around both of you to trap heat in. However, don’t forget that a sleeping infant is not moving her extremities, so extra care should be taken to keep hands and feet warm. And an infant will be less able than an older kid to communicate discomfort, so check her temperature frequently.

It’s time to head inside when you get uncomfortable. If you’re cold, baby is also likely to be cold. For older kids, shivering, goosebumps, lethargy, and disorientation are signs of hypothermia and mean it’s time to seek warm shelter immediately. If skin is starting to look red, it’s also time to go warm up as it could be an early sign of frostbite.

After you make it back inside, check your baby’s  belly, hands, and toes. Hands and toes should be cool – not cold or warm. His belly should be warm, not cool or hot. If belly, hands, and toes are too warm, it means he was likely overdressed for the weather. If they’re chilly, warm him up and make a mental note to put on more layers next time.

What was the one piece of outdoor prep my pediatrician reminded me about repeatedly? Sunscreen. For babies older than six months, sunscreen is important even in the winter. Snow can reflect the intensity of the sun’s rays, making sunburn a possibility. Don’t forget sunglasses, either. Even babies can experience snow blindness. Keep an eye out for excessive blinking and crankiness.

Even if you spend more time bundling up than you do outside, it’s worth venturing out a few times every week. Older kids may beg to go build snowmen, but even infants and their parents benefit from a little fresh air and sunshine.

One thing is for certain – nothing makes hot chocolate taste better than a romp through the snow. And I’m guessing babies feel the same way about their milk, too.

You Can Do It! A Pep Talk for Parents During Cold & Flu Season

Of course there are suggestions for avoiding colds and flu, but even with all of these preventions, sick days are almost unavoidable.

Dear Parents,
‘Tis the season. The season for lost mittens and hats, frigid walks to the bus stop, and – oh, yes – mornings where you look at your partner and ask, “Who can stay home with her today?”
According to the CDC, adults will have two to three colds per year, and children will have even more. If those colds are bad enough to cause you to keep yourself or your child home one day each time, we’re talking about up to eight sick days for a typical family of four – and we haven’t even talked about stomach bugs and the dreaded flu.
Of course there are suggestions for avoiding colds and flu and also some good suggestions on when you keep your children home so they can adequately recover and you don’t share it generously with all of the other families in town (please, please don’t push the limits here). But even with all of these preventions, sick days are almost unavoidable.
Between handing out tissues, cleaning the toilet, and catching up on the emails you missed while you were gone, you might find yourself asking, “How the #$%@ do parents do this??”
I don’t have all the answers. In fact, after seven years, I still ask the air (or my husband) that same question about a hundred times a year. But I have found a few strategies that help us cope.

Part 1: Prepare for it

Don’t live in denial. You know that cold and flu season is coming. As with most things in life, an ounce of preparation can go a long way when it comes to sick days.

Be prepared when it comes to taking sick days at work

Know your leave policies and review them before the season starts.
How many days do you get?  To whom do you need to report to let them know you’re taking a day? Does your workplace have a “pool” for those dealing with extended illnesses who need to borrow sick days from others? (Yes, this actually exists in some places). Can you take a half-sick day and just report a few hours?
Consider talking to your boss or colleagues as cold and flu season begins to make sure you are on the same page. How will you fill in for each other?

If you have a parenting partner, discuss how you’ll handle sick days

If you are both working parents, how do your sick time policies compare? Who has more flexibility? If equal, how will you make the decision each time? If you’re a stay-at-home parent, what will happen when you get sick?
As soon as it looks like a child is getting sick, prepare your contingency plan. If you don’t end up needing it, you’ll be ready for next time. My husband and I have a routine of checking in on each other’s schedules for the upcoming week and putting major commitments on shared calendars so we have an idea of what each of us is up to. If an illness comes up, a quick glance at the calendar can determine who will be staying home.

Prepare your house

Are you stocked up on tissues? Do you have tea and local honey in the house? Do you have a bucket to place by your kid’s bed and an extra bed pad that can be thrown on at night? Do you have an emergency stash of chicken soup? A humidifier? Children’s Tylenol?
Add anything that comforts your family during an illness to the list. If you don’t have these items in the house, go shopping today. There’s nothing worse than running to the pharmacy just before their 10 p.m. closing time in single-digit weather or snowfall because your child isn’t sleeping well.
When you use these things, put them on the list to be replaced before the next round.

Part 2: Embrace it

You are home sick and bed-ridden, or your child was vomiting all night. If it’s bad enough to stay home, then for goodness sake, stop pretending you can do everything. Let me repeat – you are taking a sick day. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Wherever you go, there you are.” And right now, you are home sick or with a sick kid.
You are not taking a “work on that project for my boss between naps” day or a “get all my work done even though my child has diarrhea” day or even a “now I can do the laundry and clean the kitchen” day. You need rest and recover, or help your child rest and recover. Engage your away status, call in the reinforcements as needed (because you’d do it for them), and hit the pause button.

Part 3: Get a little strategic

One strategy for embracing a sick day with your children is to involve them in the plan. Go over a list of the things you want to “accomplish” that day (i.e. we need to sleep, read, watch a movie, go for a short walk, take a shower, and take our medicine). Then discuss the order in which they want to do things.
This helps avoid the “I want to watch TV all day” syndrome that convinces kids that every day should be a sick day – unless that’s truly all they can manage.
You can also create a “menu” for the day (like the B.R.A.T. diet for diarrhea or the Chicken Soup-and-lots-of-fluids diet for a cold) so that they know that they have a choice of foods that will help them get better even though they might be restricted from some things.
Your child might be so sick that a plan is not necessary and they will spend all day in bed, but I find that phenomenon rare. A list they can check off will remind you all what today is all about and increase your chances that it won’t repeat for too long.

Part 4: Remember, you can do it!

Here’s the thing, parents – you’re pretty awesome at juggling a million things at once. You work (at home or in an office), take care of your kids, balance your budget, clean your car, put food on the table, and somehow manage to clean yourself, too.
Your challenge with a sick day is to stop doing almost all of those things and just focus on getting you and your family back on track. That will be easier if you prepare for the inevitable sick days and even easier still if you embrace them when they come.
So, you got this.
Take those sick days in stride knowing you can handle anything that comes your way. Who knows, maybe you even need those sick days to give yourself an excuse to slow down.
Sincerely,
One Who Has Been There
(and is in fact there again today, but I promise, I’m just editing during nap time!)

Ten Things You Can Do Right Now to Make Next Holiday Season That Much Easier

The holidays can be totally exhausting and overwhelming. Take advantage of the tailwind and make next year a little easier.

It’s January. Someone, somewhere, just hung up a “348 Days Til Christmas Sign,” but you’re over it. Sure, the holidays can be wonderful; they can also be overwhelming. So what if you start planning now to avoid feeling like this a year from now? Here are some ideas to make next winter as easy as figgy pudding:

1 | Float the idea of changing the way you gift

If you’re feeling tapped out, emotionally and/or financially, jump on that feeling to start a conversation with your friends, family, and coworkers about how things can change next year.

On my husband’s side of the family, we draw names in November and are each responsible for one gift for one person. It’s so much cheaper and easier than the alternative. But if even a gift exchange is enough to give you hives, what about deciding on a charity together and donating?

Do a cookie exchange or, better yet, a soup/casserole/quiche exchange to relieve yourselves of cooking on some of those busy December evenings. You don’t have to decide now, but getting the ball rolling may get others thinking too.

2 | Talk to your kids about giving as well as getting

Our daughter has a November birthday, so the last three months of the year seem to be a festival of gifts and treats. Make January your month to divest. Give away the things your little ones have outgrown to smaller kids and those in need. You’ll have less stuff when the holidays roll around next year, and you’ll have started a tradition that’s good for the heart. Here are ten excellent ideas of who might benefit from your donations.

3 | Research some low-key traditions and pencil them in

In Holland, the feast of St. Nicholas (known to the Dutch as Sinterklaas) is celebrated on December 5 and 6 with people writing each other funny poems. I loved this holiday when I lived in Amsterdam and brought it back with me: I’ve invited the same group of friends over for almost the last decade and you can hear us laughing at our dumb poetry for miles.
It’s honestly my favorite December event, and it’s incredibly simple. More info on Sint here, including a nod to the controversial (read: racist) presence of Zwarte Pieten during the festivities.

4 | Make it your New Year’s resolution to learn a craft that you can turn into gifts next year

According to this informative article in the Atlantic, beginning in the late 1700s in New York, people made gifts for one another during the winter season. It was only in the early to mid-1800s that the dawn of the children’s toy, book, and magazine industries made it easy for parents to buy, not make, their Christmas gifts. How much fun would it be to go back to that tradition?

Knitting, woodwork, perfecting a chimmichurri recipe or your Nana’s famous caramels — if you spend the next 11 months working on a skill, you’ll be ready to go by December. So as not to overwhelm yourself, you might focus on one big project (a wooden dollhouse for your little one) or something manageable for a particular group of your usual gift recipients (habanero salsa for all your coworkers).

5 | Load up your holiday bin before you pack it up

This may seem obvious, but packing new candles with the menorah or kinara or Advent wreath (hey, look at that — we all use candles!) means you don’t have to worry about it next year. You have to put the box in the basement, garage, or dusty-corner-behind-the-bed anyway, it may as well be ready to go when you pull it back out next year.

There’s nothing worse than waiting until the last minute to decorate and then realizing your dog ate the garland last year. (Okay, so there are probably worse things, but it’s up there.)

6 | While you’re at it, tuck away “The Polar Express” with your ornaments

Putting those seasonal books and toys out of reach until next year will make them more special and give an added boost to the magic of the season. Of course, this isn’t hard and fast. There’s no reason your seven-year-old can’t play with a dreidel in July if he really wants to, but keeping it out of sight until it’s asked for is a good way to keep him from getting bored by it come February.

7 | Make your schedule and back it up as much as you need

Did your cards go out late this year? That box to your nephews a little thrown together? Plan ahead so you won’t run out of time again. If you’re responsible for the company holiday party, pick the date now and let the higher-ups know. If you think you might want a moms’ night out before people leave town, pencil it in.

You don’t have to tell everyone what’s going to be happening a year from now, but if you have it in your own calendar you can let them know in, say, late October and be sure they’ll get it in the books themselves. I’m a luddite and still like my paper day planner, but here’s a great resource for choosing a digital calendar if you’re slightly more hip than I am.

8 | Estimate your children’s sizes in a year, then hit the outlets

I bought my daughter a gorgeous Fair Isle sweater a couple of years ago for about eight bucks. It was two sizes too big, but by the time we gave it to her the next year it fit fine with the sleeves rolled up. This year, it’s perfect.

I live in a warm climate so our winter gear has a very short shelf life, but wherever you live, tartan-plaid and dreidel sweaters never get a long run. If you buy them now, you’ll probably save 75 percent, which means feeling slightly less bad when they’re underutilized.

9 | Speaking of sales, buy an artificial tree

If they haven’t run out, your local big box or hardware store will be having a big time sale on these bad boys. Sure, the pine smell is lovely, and picking out a tree with your family can be magical. You know what else is magical? Having one less thing to do next December, and not spending three weeks in January sweeping pine needles out of every crevice of your house.

10 | Start your shopping list now

Maybe it feels a little soon to tell Santa what you want in 11 months. Here’s the thing: by the time the holidays roll around, I usually can’t think of anything that I want, so I tell my husband not to get me anything. He doesn’t listen, he gets me things, and then in January I realize I’ve kind of been coveting my friend’s perfume and could really use some six-pound weights.

Much better to start keeping track of your wish list early. Bonus: you’ve got a birthday coming up at some point too. Sure, the holidays may have their downsides, but getting the perfect gift from someone you love? That’s always in season.

How to Help Kids Cope With Post-Christmas Letdown

When the morning of December 25th arrives, it’s seemingly gone in an instant, often leaving children with a post-holiday letdown.

The hype of Christmas begins earlier each year, which means the build-up to the big day becomes even greater with each passing season. When the morning of December 25th arrives, it’s seemingly gone in an instant, often leaving children with a post-holiday letdown.
With well over a month of shopping and decorating and baking and binge-watch Hallmark movies, the excitement on Christmas morning can often feel like a rushed, chaotic scene of unstuffing stockings and unwrapping presents. Then poof, it’s done.
When I was young, I recall being sad by early afternoon but wouldn’t quite know why. It wasn’t because of the gifts I received; I was always really appreciative of what I had opened. I couldn’t quite pinpoint my blues until my Mom once said “It’s the Christmas letdown.” But even for the years to follow, I remember still telling my parents, “I don’t want it to be over. I want to continue to listen to Christmas music and make crafts and decorate sugar cookies.”
It was like I was mourning the loss of the holiday season. How could I possibly wait 11 more months to do this again? As a kid, that amount of time seemed like an eternity.
So how can parents help their kiddos navigate what may be confusing feelings for some?

Keep it joyful

“First, always keep it positive. Help them to see all of the good that has come out of Christmas,” said pediatric Nurse Practitioner Stephanie Bosche of Tri Country Pediatrics in Pennsylvania. “One thing I love to do is have the kids choose one of their old toys to donate to another child after the holiday season so that they can learn how good it can feel to give.”
For my own daughter, I try to help her keep the excitement going by talking about all of the other special times of year. Although the magic of Christmas can’t exactly be recreated, there are many aspects of the holiday season that we can incorporate at anytime.

Create special events

One thing that works well for us is writing activities and fun made-up days on the calendar. This gives my daughter something to look forward to. For example, pick a date in January when you know schedules are clear and declare that day “The Great Snow Fort Challenge” or “Science Experiments with Friends.” Whatever best suits your child’s interest and the family’s budget.
“Help guide children by encouraging them to feel excited but also feel prepared for other activities throughout the week. In a year like 2017 when Christmas falls on a Monday, followed by seven vacation days for most families I encourage spreading out the holiday events across the week so that there are endless options for fun and creativity,” said Julia Colangelo, LCSW in New York City.

Talk it out

Colangelo also said that keeping an open line of communication and being prepared for these conversations will help for smooth transitions. In fact, she said, the earlier families can have these discussions, the better.
Anytime you hear your child exclaim something like “I can’t wait,” encourage the excitement but link in another activity that follows Christmas to help remind them that there are other great events ahead. For example, you could say to your child: “I love that you are so excited about Christmas. You know what else is just around the corner? New Year’s Eve! I have some fun things in mind for that day.”
Ultimately, it’s important that children feel comfortable expressing their emotions across the board. Sometimes, they just need help making sense of what they’re feeling.
Something that always stuck with me as a kid was when grandmother shared this piece of wisdom with me: A part of what makes Christmas so special IS that it only happens once a year.

Throw a Family-Friendly New Year's Eve Party

Whether you couldn’t find a sitter for New Year’s Eve or you don’t feel like heading out in the fray, you can still have a fun, kid-friendly celebration.

Whether you couldn’t find a sitter for New Year’s Eve or you just don’t feel like fighting holiday traffic, you can still have a fun, kid-friendly celebration. The key is to keep the kids occupied as the clock counts down. We’ve gathered a few family friendly ideas to help you ring in 2018.

Countdown the hours

There are so many fun ways to help kids mark time until the new year arrives. Pick the time you want to start (and end!) and count down the hours by opening a bag, package, or even popping a balloon. Mark each bag with the time and include a fun activity for each hour. This need not be expensive. Here are some ideas of what to stuff the bags with:

  • Party hats and noisemakers
  • Party poppers
  • Candy
  • A deck of cards and game instructions
  • Pens and paper to write New Year’s Resolutions
  • Craft projects
  • Glow Sticks
  • Bubbles

Milk and cookie cocktails

Every party needs snacks! Serve up milk and cookies in style by coating the rims of small glasses or even wine glasses with colorful sprinkles. Spread a thin layer of honey or corn syrup on a plate, and then pour out sprinkles onto a separate plate. Simply dip the rims of glasses in honey or corn syrup then dredge in the sprinkles. (Leave the glass upside down in the sprinkles for a few minutes so that the sprinkles don’t slide down the glass!) Cool the glasses in the fridge or serve right away with cookies.

DIY noisemakers

Create DIY noisemakers for midnight from objects around the house. Decorate empty, lidded canisters such as butter containers, coffee cans, Pringles cans, etc., and add dried beans or rice to make shakers. Or thread large jingle bells onto pipe cleaners, then twist the pipe cleaner together at the ends for a jingle bracelet.

Sparkling science

Younger kids love to watch bubbles grow when vinegar is added to baking soda. You can glam up this simple science experiment by mixing glitter or confetti to the baking soda. To do this, mix together baking soda and glitter or confetti in a shallow bowl (be sure to use plastic confetti, not paper). When kids add drops of vinegar with droppers to the soda mixture, it will produce sparkling bubbles. If you don’t have droppers, kids can pour small amounts of vinegar over the baking soda with cups.

Bake a clock

If your kids love baking, a fun and delicious activity is to make a countdown clock. You can do this by baking cookies or cupcakes and arranging the treats in a circle on a round serving platter or pizza pan. Decorate each with the numbers of the clock and use licorice sticks such as Twizzlers as clock hands to mark the time.

Balloons, balloons, balloons

It’s not a party without balloons, right? These confetti-filled balloons will brighten up your space, then you can pop them at midnight for a confetti shower! You can fill these with helium or not – either way, the kids will love them.

If you really want to wow the kids, stage your own balloon drop! You can make one by taping a plastic party tablecloth filled with balloons to your ceiling, or buy this kit.

Photo booth

Even if it’s just you and the kiddos, why not have a photo booth? No need for an elaborate set-up, tacking up a sheet or plastic tablecloth to the wall to use as a background works well. Gather fun props from around the house such as hats and sunglasses or buy a New Year’s Eve photo booth prop set.

Christmas crackers

Christmas crackers may be traditional for Christmas dinner but they’re equally as fun for New Year’s Eve. These brightly wrapped cylinders are pulled apart, breaking the cracker open with a popping sound. Be sure to check the prizes inside before purchase to get kid-friendly items (most boxes of crackers have a description on the back of the box).

Try these, which contain wind-up toys, a joke, and a hat. Or this brand, which includes a party hat, jokes, and stickers.

Family time capsule

Putting a time capsule together as a part of your New Year’s Eve activities can be a nice way to reflect on the past year. This can be as simple or elaborate as you wish! Grab a shoebox or big manila envelope and gather your time capsule items. Ideas for what to include: your child’s handprint, a family picture, and an interview. Questioning your kids about their current likes and dislikes, life goals, and more is fun in the moment and to look back on next year. Simply google “interview questions for kids” for ideas on what questions to ask – some bloggers even offer printable Q-and-A forms. Once finished, tuck away your time capsule and open next year. You can also buy a time capsule kit.

New Year’s Eve picture books

The night can get long and a quiet break for storytime is good for everyone. Try one of these holiday-themed books to balance out the activities.

The kids want to stay up until midnight, but can they make it?

A fun way to explain New Year’s Resolutions to children.

This book introduces kids to the way New Year’s is celebrated in different cultures.

Whatever you choose to do with your family on the eve of the New Year, you can make sure it’s memorable with these sure-fire party pleasers.

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The House-To-House Holiday Shuffle: a Chaotic Tradition We’re Lucky to Have

Is it a challenge to cart around children, canines, presents, diaper bags, and baked goods to multiple houses? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

“So, I was thinking we could try to put Emma down for a nap early, and when she wakes up we’ll head over to your mom’s for the dinner – since we did my mom’s for dinner last year. Then, we’ll head over to my mom’s for dessert. Jakey’s just gonna have to wing it with the naps. We can’t worry about his schedule today. How does that sound?”
My wife sounds a bit frantic as she says this. She’s more stressed than usual about our Christmas schedule this year. For the first time, we’ll be lugging two children around with us – two children under two.
Every year since we’ve been together, we’ve split Christmas Day evenly between our immediate families. Our moms only live 10 minutes from one another so rotating holidays was never an option.
First, my wife and I did the Christmas tour as a duo. Then we added a Boston Terrier to the family. For years – enough years for our moms to worry about the likelihood of grandchildren – we were a trio. Last year, our daughter enjoyed her inaugural dual-grandmom Christmas. And this year, thanks to an arrogant disregard for birth control, we have another new baby making his Christmas debut.
When my wife got pregnant the second time, I was sure we’d start doing everything at our house. But the closer we got to the holidays, the more ridiculous the idea of hosting Christmas became. Of course, our moms would keep their long-standing traditions alive. And why shouldn’t they? They both work so hard at making the holidays special. For my mom, this hasn’t been easy. After her divorce, I thought Christmas would always be something she dreaded. Now, some of my mom’s friends leave their own holiday gatherings just to end the night at the amaretto-sipping, Left-Right-Center-playing, Italian-dessert-filled after-hours party at my mom’s.
Is it a challenge to cart around children, canines, presents, diaper bags, and baked goods to multiple houses without the kids getting their proper naps? Absolutely. But here’s why it’s well worth the chaos:

It’s nostalgic

Nostalgia isn’t quite the right word for what happens when I turn onto my mom’s street and see everything looks just as it did 10, 15, or even 20 Christmases ago. Going to my mom’s for the holidays is part longing for a childhood gone by, sure, but it’s also something much stronger.
The standard rules of time and space don’t apply to 1712 Kendrick Lane on Christmas. On that day, in that house, I experience everything both as a 36-year-old father of two and as the obnoxious 16-year-old prick with frosted-tip “Sugar Ray” hair who had just gotten arrested for something called “turfing,” i.e., joyriding on the lawns (back and front) of suburban homeowners.
As an adult, when you return to the place you spent your childhood Christmases, it’s only natural to revert to how you were as a kid. We all do it. My mom becomes the concerned parent who subconsciously needles my sister with a string of passive-aggressive jabs. My sister once again becomes the teenage daughter who won’t hesitate to go for the emotional jugular in response to those jabs. (It’s all because you smoked during your entire pregnancy with me!) And I devolve into the attention whore who spends the entire day seeking out the line of good taste and then leaping headfirst over it. Just two years ago, my mom yelled at me in earnest for making a prank phone call at the dinner table. I was 34.
My wife’s family does the same thing. Every Christmas, my mother-in-law and her siblings – or “The Louds” as we affectionately refer to them – scream at one another for hours on end. If I wasn’t accustomed to it, it would be terrifying. But there’s no anger in The Louds’ yelling – they’re simply reverting to the communication methods they relied on growing up in a home with six kids. The regression is so strong they even refer to their own mom as “mommy” when they retell the old stories at Christmas.

It’s good for the kids

My mom’s mom died when I was very young, and I don’t have many memories of her. But I do have a few. Each of those memories takes place at my grandmother’s house … in her kitchen. It makes sense that my limited memories of my grandmother would take place in her kitchen. That was her domain, and it’s the domain of my mom and my mother-in-law, too.
I want my own kids to have the same type of memories of their grandmoms, I mean of their Nonnie and MomMom. And to fully experience Angela and Susan in their element, you have to see them bipping and bopping around their kitchens on Christmas Morning. The sheer amount of food these manic Italian women can create in such a small space is a wonder to behold, a Christmas miracle in and of itself.

It won’t last forever

The things I complain most about tend to also be the ones I miss the most when they’re gone. I might bitch about how hectic it is to rush from house to house, worrying that everybody’s getting a fair split of time with the grandkids. But deep down, I love it and I don’t want it to ever change. Because I know when these remarkable women finally do relinquish their holiday hosting duties, it’ll be because they can’t handle it any longer. And I don’t want to think about what it looks like when that day comes.

How to Keep Romance Alive When Your News Feed Feels Like the 2017 Libido Ice Bucket Challenge

Good luck, friends! It’s time to ring in 2018 like we didn’t just spend 12 months wading through a stinking pile of poop.

It’s the time of year for toasts, and I would like to make one.
First, I want to take a moment to commend those of you who have chosen not to disconnect from society and/or move to Canada this year…
To those of you who take a deep, steadying breath before reading the headlines and then read them anyway, understanding the risk…
To those of you who are doing everything you can to be upstanding citizens and model parents and thoughtful neighbors, even when those roles are starting to feel like quaint, old-timey Norman Rockwell sorts of things to be…
And especially to those of you who still have it in you to be tender and loving, even flirtatious, with your partners despite the withering assault of aggravated sexual misconduct allegations at all levels of society…
Hats off to you! You people are amazing. Because nothing douses the nuptial fire like stress and fatigue, and nothing is more stressful and fatiguing than a news feed that feels like the 2017 Libido Ice Bucket Challenge.
Despite the sobering fact that your health care, your taxes, your state’s educational funding, your sense of right and wrong, the stability of your job and, by extension, your life with your family as you know it, are in total flux, you prevail.
Even your private nostalgia for old TV shows and movies (“Annie Hall,” “The Cosby Show,” SNL, every picture Harvey Weinstein ever made) is seriously threatened or perhaps already demolished, and yet there you are, humming along to “Here Comes Santa Claus” while buying something tasteful for your mother-in-law.
How do you do it? Your kids will be all set in the resilience department because all they’ll need to do is watch you in action, being hopeful in the face of so much ruinous bullshit. In an effort to model such resilience myself, I’m taking inspiration from people like you who seem to have it together.
After an informal yet extensive poll of friends, family, work associates, yoga students and instructors, health care providers, clerks, baristas, postal workers, neighboring Wi-Fi freeloaders, buskers, kindergartners, acupuncturists, and pets – plus the odd amiable-looking stranger on the street – I have come to the following conclusion about resilience in the face of ruinous bullshit:
People prevail because they have to. It’s what they were taught. They keep on doing what they know how to do because it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative: giving up.
Why do you think (brace yourself for super sexy literary analogy) the Old Man from Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” held onto that fishing line until his hands blistered and bled and delirium set in? Because it felt good? No. Because he was hungry? No. Because he wanted to bring home the biggest fish that little Cuban fishing village had ever seen? No.
He did it because he was a fisherman. My brother keeps teaching music theory to high school students because he is a music teacher. My neighbor keeps delivering babies because she is a doula. I keep writing because I’m a writer.
If we expect to find it within ourselves to keep loving, we need to be lovers. And respectable ones at that.
Writing about sex and love is an odd thing to do when you’re someone who’s been considerably inelegant at both. But it’s like with yoga – you don’t practice because you are the picture of health and calm. You practice because you need to, because it heals your hurt in some way. The Buddha, after all, didn’t sit in mediation under a Ficus religiosa tree without moving for seven days because he was already enlightened.
So: How do we recover from the Great Libido Ice Bucket Challenge that has been the Year 2017? My theories are still being tested, so don’t get your holiday knickers in a twist if they don’t work for you.
That said, if you haven’t had sex since your kids started arguing over whose turn it was to open the advent calendar, I suggest you take notes.

Tell your news feed to take a holiday

Fairly obvious, but hard to do when a) you’re a news junky, b) you can’t resist the siren song bleeps and dings of your iPhone, or c) you feel some moral obligation to be up on current events so you can pitch in an insightful-slash-searing comment or two at your neighborhood Solstice party.
Forget it. Plan to smile knowingly, play the I’ve-chosen-to-reserve-comment card, and block your RSS feed pronto. Salvage what remnants of joie de vivre and joies du sexe that still remain post-hellish-year-of-indiscriminate-soul-crippling-social-degradation by checking the fuck out for a while.

Take a holiday yourself

Also fairly obvious, but how often do parents actually do this? Be honest. Not so much. Holidays are defined as days “of festivity or recreation when no work is done,” which, I think, should include opportunities for actual intimacy with the person you sleep next to every night.
Figure out what “holiday” means to you and your partner (weekend without the kids, sleeping in until after 7 a.m. for more than two consecutive mornings, S&M, glacier camping, whatever) and find a way to take it. 

Avoid family drama

Tough around the holidays, I know. But take a moment to consider the importance of your marriage….
Good job!
Now take a moment to weigh that importance against how second-cousin Shirley may or may not feel should you skip the spiked eggnog tradition over at her place.

Never underestimate experiential giving

Ask yourself how you feel inside when opening a box containing a pair of quality socks reinforced at the toe and heel. Now, ask yourself how you feel inside after an orgasm.
Pick one.

Quick, put your kids to bed early before the days start getting longer again

This might be the darkest time of the year, but it’s also the time when you can fool your kids into thinking it’s waaaaaay past their bedtime even though it’s only 6:45 p.m. Sleeping children plus well-rested adults multiplied by time for some bona fide foreplay equals more action in the sack.
(Don’t make the rookie mistake of forgetting to disable all legible clocks, especially digital alarm clocks right next to your kids’ beds.)

Take advantage of the cold weather

Think back to those 85-degree nights in July and how yucky it felt to lie within two feet of another hot-blooded creature. These refreshing zero-degree nights make it close to impossible not to wedge your freezing fingers into your partner’s toasty armpits.
Hint: Other fun human puzzle arrangements are only a few under-the-cover adjustments away.

Imbibe a little

Know that hazy, rosy, glow effect you can add to your Tiny Prints holiday card? You can also do that in real life with my baller recipe for Hot Buttered Rum. Your spouse will look 15 years younger in 15 minutes or less, I swear.
PM me for details.

Believe

The kids get to believe in Santa. Why can’t parents believe in something, too? Like 20-something abs or a bottomless sex drive? Mind over matter, people. It comes in handy.
Also, if you took my advice from earlier, the world is at least digitally silenced for a while, which helps achieve allusions of all kinds.
Holiday time is known for its warmth, richness, complexity, and excess. Don’t spoil it for yourself by caring at all about what happens in the eleventh hour of the legislative session. There are more important things to attend to! There are spouses who need your full attention! And if your full attention is required in the closet where you both happen to be naked because you haven’t figured out what to wear yet, l’chaim!
Like Santiago, the old man who spent three days and three nights in a 16-foot skiff trying to catch an 18-foot marlin with a single hook and a line, we need to be married like it’s our job. Sure, there was nothing left of the fish by the time he got to shore thanks to a bunch of ravenous sharks, but Santiago had restored his faith in himself, and he had earned the respect he deserved.
Good luck, friends! It’s time to ring in 2018 like we didn’t just spend 12 months wading through a stinking pile of poop. Against all the odds and in spite of the sharks, let’s love as if our lives depended on it.
Because they do, actually.

Santa and His Magic – in Full Effect for as Long as Possible

When it’s all said and done, if my children have joyful memories, then I have given them a great gift.

The magic of Christmas is always alive for those who believe. While this may be my life’s eternal motto, I’m certainly not a crazy Christmas lady.
I do know that, for every Christmas light lit before Thanksgiving, one of Santa’s baby reindeer die, so I would never take that risk. But once the official Christmas season begins, I am all in, and dragging my entire family along with me. Santa and all of his magic is in full effect.
Before you roll your eyes right out of your head, hear me out.
I heard an interview recently in which someone described Christmas as a dream – the one time in our lives when we suspend reality in exchange for fantasy. It’s the one day of the year when dreams come true, the one time when magic is real. Really real, not just sleight of hand.
It’s also the one time of year when I have the opportunity to make this magic happen for my family.
I’m 43, and while I acknowledge how beautiful and wonderful life can be, I also know that it can be cold, hard, and relentless. There are times when people don’t care. There are times when your dreams truly don’t matter at all. There are times when you are alone, or worse, lonely. The realization that life isn’t always fair or pleasant comes quickly – far too quickly, in my opinion.
We spend the vast majority of our adult lives, well…being adults, which is exactly why I choose to give my children the chance to experience pure, dream-making magic. While they’re children, I feel that they deserve it.
I get it. Maintaining the Santa illusion hard. But for me, hard isn’t a reason to abandon ship. Last year, we pulled off a live animal Christmas, and it required more logistical arrangements than when I gave birth to my second child. It was also, hands down, the most stressful Christmas Eve on record.
My husband and I fought and bickered while trying to establish the best plan for Santa’s gifts to spend the night. I forgot to remove several labels and tags – clearly, a rookie mistake induced by an adrenaline-fueled combination of stress and excitement.
Boy, was I excited. I was so incredibly excited. I knew how much they wanted this. It never crossed my mind that Santa couldn’t make their Christmas dreams come true. No matter how many favors I had to call in or arrangements I had to make with neighbors, their dreams were coming true.
On that moderately cool, rather balmy southern morning, when my kids saw their dreams materialized at the foot of the Christmas tree, adorned with a freezing cold letter from the North Pole, every minute, every argument, every request, every switch, every exchange was totally and completely worth it. I watched magic happen right before my eyes, and it was worth it.
I admit I’m selfish. I love every minute of watching the holidays through the eyes of my children. In some ways, it’s even better now than when I was a kid. I wish this time of our life would last forever. The magic of Christmas experienced by my children directly improves my holidays, too. Their excitement, joy, and awe make it exponentially better.
While I may be selfish, I’m also a realist. I remember vividly when I found out that my reality wasn’t exactly reality. It was a pretty difficult blow. I remember feeling a palpable sense of loss. Over time, however, I was able to channel the energy and excitement of receiving into the joy of giving.
I’m prepared for my children to experience this loss. I am aware of the sadness that will likely affect them – hopefully, not any time soon. (Truthfully, I’m more prepared for the sex talk than the Santa talk.) But I believe that my kids’ excitement and energy will grow from the magic and joy of receiving into the magic and joy of giving.
When it’s all said and done, if my children have joyful memories – feelings they can return to when the world is not such a friendly place – then I have given them a great gift. So, for now, the magic remains real, and I am forever joyful and grateful for it.
Within my joy, though, a slight sadness tugs at my heart because I know this time is fleeting. Only for a very short time can we capture this excitement. Letters to Santa and personalized cards for our elf, Cookie, will make way for doubt and questions.
I am ready, though. I am ready to block doubt and reassure fears by holding on to my life motto. I am ready to remind my children that, as long as you hold on to the spirit in your heart, the magic will always follow.

How to Survive Mom-Shaming When Home for the Holidays

Mom-shaming seems to be a pervasive problem; however, a different interpretation may help young parents through the holidays.

The holidays are a time for togetherness – and with all that togetherness, mom-shaming.

That’s the finding of a poll released earlier this year by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The poll of 475 mothers with children aged up to five years old found that 61 percent of mothers have been criticized about their parenting.

Discipline was the most frequent topic of criticism, reported by over two-thirds of mothers. The poll’s authors suggest that this criticism may result from a combination of modern research and shifting attitudes toward corporal punishment.

Other common topics of criticism were diet and/or nutrition (52 percent), sleep (46 percent), and breast or bottle feeding (39 percent).

Despite so many viral posts about public mom-shamings, strangers in public were the least likely to criticize new moms (12 percent). Friends were also an unlikely source of criticism (14 percent). The majority of criticism new moms experienced came from spouses (37 percent), parents (36 percent), and in-laws (31 percent).

Given the number of women reporting criticism and the types of criticism they received, mom-shaming seems to be a pervasive problem; however, one additional finding from the poll suggests a different interpretation that may help young parents through the holidays.

There’s no doubt huge amounts of mom-shaming going on, but the study presupposes shame by asking respondents to answer “yes” or “no” questions like, “Have you been criticized about your parenting choices by your in-laws?”

Because of the way the questions were phrased, it may be more appropriate to say that the mothers polled felt criticized. Without specific examples from the respondents, and perhaps without the experiences of everyone else in the room at the time the criticism was delivered, it’s hard to know whether any criticism or shame was intended.

With that said, here are some tips on how to make the most of all this togetherness.

1 | Keep your criticism to yourself

Half of the respondents in the Mott poll said that they avoid people who are critical of their parenting. The poll’s authors offer one piece of advice for family members with strong opinions: “Those who wish to spend time with a young child may want to present their advice in a positive tone, or risk having that time abbreviated.”

The poll also shows that receiving criticism helped change parents’ own behavior. Over half of the study respondents reported that they stopped criticizing other parents after receiving criticism themselves. If you are the object of unsolicited advice or criticism, take comfort in knowing it’s helping you be kinder to other moms.

2 | Treat your family members as experts

The poll reports that new parents receive the most criticism from their families, suggesting that everyone might benefit if all family members kept a few more opinions to themselves. But the study’s authors also suggest that “criticism” and “shame” are in the eye of the beholder.

The increased rate of criticism and shame coming from family members may simply result from spending more time with them than with strangers and health professionals. Alternatively, the study’s authors suggest, “it is plausible that statements from professionals are perceived as expert advice, not criticism.” In other words, if your healthcare provider suggests you switch to skim milk, you might view that as a medical advice. When your mom makes the same suggestion, you might interpret it as criticism of your parenting.

In the holiday spirit, parents might want to extend the same generosity to family members that they offer to their health care providers. Assume that the advice, welcome or not, is well-intentioned.

3 | Discuss expectations, and consider changing yours

The poll’s authors suggest that mismatched expectations are a frequent catalyst for parenting criticism. Family members might hold “unrealistic expectations for a toddler or preschooler,” while the parent “feels she has a better understanding of her own child’s abilities.” Those mismatched expectations could be seen as a natural consequence of a mother spending more time with her children than anyone else.

Then again, all those hours spent with your child might actually be making it hard for you to see where your expectations need to change. Because they spend less time with your child, your family members may have an easier time noticing significant shifts in your child’s behavior. Perhaps your extended family members can help you raise or lower expectations that aren’t working well for your family.

Do you have tips as to how your family ensures the holidays are merry and bright? Share in the comments section below!