All posts by Erin Balsa

About Erin Balsa

Erin Balsa is a Boston-based mom of two who met her husband on an airplane. Her interests include reading, writing and sleeping through the night.

a boy hiding behind some pumpkins

You’ll Adore These Simple Halloween Crafts for Toddlers

October is seriously the best month ever. Between tractor rides, corn mazes and pumpkin picking, the options for outdoor family fun are endless. But when it’s pouring rain and you find yourself stuck inside with a toddler who’s bursting at the seams with energy, it’s wise to have some seasonal craft ideas and materials ready to help pass the day. And wine.

My son Sebastian adores doing arts and crafts at any time of year, but Halloween art projects are especially fun for him. He loves gluing googly eyes on monsters and shredding rolls of toilet paper for making mummies. This month he’s crafted both of the aforementioned creatures, plus pumpkins, spiders and skeletons. We used objects we had lying around the house (cotton swabs and popsicle sticks) and purchased a few new paint colors. Not only did we make great use of a few rainy days, we also made inexpensive and absolutely adorable decorations we can put out for years to come.

Here are seven not-so-spooky crafts that are simple to make at home with your toddler this Halloween season:

Popsicle stick monster and pumpkin

Don’t toss those popsicle sticks into the trash can – wash and dry them, then use them to make these cute, customizable Halloween decorations. There is no wrong way to make these – let your imagination be your guide. Tip: Affix press-on magnets to the back of your finished decorations and stick them to the fridge!

If you're feeling creative, try making other creatures out of popsicle sticks - Frankenstein anyone?If you’re feeling creative, try making other creatures out of popsicle sticks – Frankenstein anyone?

Materials (monster):

  • Popsicle sticks (at least four).
  • Glue.
  • Blue and purple paint.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Googly eyes.
  • Additional decorative elements of your choice (pompons, glitter, confetti, felt, etc.).

Materials (pumpkin):

  • Popsicle sticks (at least five).
  • Glue.
  • Orange paint.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Googly eyes.

Instructions (monster and pumpkin):

  1. Place 3-6 popsicle sticks vertically in a line on the table (long sides of the popsicle sticks should be touching).
  2. Break a separate popsicle stick in half.
  3. Spread glue on one side of each broken half and affix one half horizontally toward the top of the vertical group of sticks and the other half horizontally toward the bottom.
  4. Let glue dry.
  5. Turn the sticks over so that the broken halves are now against the table and out of sight.
  6. Use paint and paintbrush to cover the front of the creature.
  7. Let paint dry.
  8. Use glue to affix googly eyes and any other decorations you desire.

Toilet paper pumpkin and mummy

You’ll make your toddler’s day when you give him or her free reign to shred a roll of toilet paper! Both the pumpkin and mummy are super simple to make and can be placed on a shelf to display. These also make cute decorations for your office/desk as well as great grandparent gifts!

This simple Halloween craft is perfect for placing on a shelf season after season.This simple Halloween craft is perfect for placing on a shelf season after season.

Materials (pumpkin):

  • Empty roll of toilet paper.
  • Orange paint.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Black, brown and green scraps of construction or tissue paper.
  • Scissors.
  • Glue.

Instructions (pumpkin):

  1. Use paintbrush to cover empty roll in orange paint.
  2. Let paint dry.
  3. Use scissors to cut mouth, eyes, stem and leaves from paper scraps.
  4. Use glue to affix cut paper shapes to roll.
This mummy is my favorite craft of the bunch - simply adorable!This mummy is my favorite craft of the bunch – simply adorable!

Materials (mummy):

  • Roll of toilet paper (half used rolls are best to avoid waste).
  • Black paint.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Scissors.
  • Glue.
  • Googly eyes.

Instructions (mummy):

  1. Remove any remaining paper from your tissue paper roll; set paper aside.
  2. Use paintbrush to paint roll black.
  3. Let paint dry.
  4. Use scissors to cut toilet paper into thin strips.
  5. Use glue to affix toilet paper strips to roll.
  6. Use glue to add googly eyes.

Abstract pumpkin

This super simple project requires just four materials: construction paper, scissors, glue and googly eyes. You can tape the finished product to your refrigerator, or – if you’d like to display it year after year – set it inside a picture frame to preserve its color and prevent fading and wrinkling.

You can't go wrong with googly eyes and glue!You can’t go wrong with googly eyes and glue!


  • Black construction paper.
  • Orange construction paper.
  • Green construction paper.
  • Brown construction paper.
  • Scissors.
  • Glue.
  • Googly eyes.


  1. Place black construction paper flat on table horizontally.
  2. Use scissors to cut squares from orange paper.
  3. Glue the orange squares to the black paper, allowing some of the black to show through, especially at the edges.
  4. Use scissors to cut a stem from the brown paper and a leaf from the green paper.
  5. Glue the stem and leaf to the top of the pumpkin.
  6. Use glue to affix googly eyes.

Googly eye spider

Does your toddler love singing Itsy Bitsy Spider? If so, he or she will love to get their hands dirty while creating this sorta-spooky spider! I love using handprints in artwork, as it’s nice to look back as the years pass and see how much they’ve grown in size.

Handprint crafts are a fun way to measure your child's growth over time.Handprint crafts are a fun way to measure your child’s growth over time.


  • Purple construction paper.
  • Paper plate.
  • Black fingerpaint.
  • Glue.
  • Googly eyes.
  • Silver Sharpie marker.


  1. Place purple construction paper flat on table horizontally.
  2. Squeeze fingerpaint onto a paper plate and help your child cover his or her palms and fingers in it.
  3. Press your child’s outstretched hands onto the paper as shown in photo to create the spider shape.
  4. Let paint dry.
  5. Use glue to affix googly eyes to spider.
  6. Use silver Sharpie to draw a spider web.

Cotton swab skeleton

This is probably the spookiest of all the crafts, but it’s also an educational project as it helps illustrate the concept of having bones beneath the skin. I like to read a book about skeletons prior to doing this craft so that the learning is reinforced.

The spookiest craft of the bunch, the skeleton arm features your toddler's handprint plus cotton swab bones.The spookiest craft of the bunch, the skeleton arm features your toddler’s handprint plus cotton swab bones.


  • Black construction paper.
  • White fingerpaint.
  • Paper plate.
  • Scissors.
  • Six cotton swabs.
  • Glue.


  1. Place black construction paper on table vertically.
  2. Squeeze fingerpaint onto paper plate and help your child cover his or her palms, fingers and forearms in it.
  3. Press your child’s handprint and forearm onto the paper.
  4. Let paint dry.
  5. Use scissors to cut five of the cotton swabs in half.
  6. Glue cotton swabs to paper as shown in photo.

Did you try out any of these Halloween crafts? Let us know how yours turned out!

The creepy things kids say might have you laughing out loud - or locking yourself in a safe room.

Creepy Things Kids Say That Will Make You LOL

You haven’t lived until you’ve woken up in the middle of the night, turned your head to the side and found your child standing there, six inches from your face, staring at you menacingly like that girl from “The Ring.”

Boy stares blankly at cameraUm honey? It’s 3 a.m. Shouldn’t you be sleeping rather than plotting my demise?

Kids can be creepy, there’s no denying that. Case in point: Last week, me and my two children were sitting in the kitchen enjoying pancakes for dinner. Suddenly, my three-year-old son looked under the table and started mumbling something. My one-year-old was in her highchair, busy slathering herself in mushed blueberries and maple syrup, so I knew he wasn’t speaking to her.

Me: Honey, what are you doing?

Him: Talking to my friend.

Me: What friend?

Him: He’s sitting on the floor right there.

Say what now? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I sat in stunned silence for a bit, then told Alexa to add sage to my shopping list.

Whether they’re predicting your death or alerting you to otherworldly roommates, children do and say things that may leave you scratching your head, giggling nervously, locking yourself in a safe room or some combination of the three.

After I shared my story with some local moms, some of them had spooky stories of their own:

“I was in the basement of my new house doing laundry. My two-year-old daughter looked into the corner and said, ‘He’s coming.’ I asked, ‘Who’s coming?’ and she replied, ‘The scary werewolf man in the corner.’

My husband now does the laundry.”

Small girl stares angrily at cameraI wouldn’t go in the basement if I were you, mom.

“When my daughter was little, she used to say a man would come into her room at night and do the sign of the cross on her forehead. We just thought it was typical three-year-old imagination, until a year later, when my mother-in-law brought an old photo album over.

My daughter immediately shouted, ‘That’s the man who comes into my room at night and blesses me!’ It was a photo of her grandfather who had died 10 years before she was even born.”

girl dressed up in a witch costumeNothing to see here, folks, nope – just me and the guy making the sign of the cross on my forehead.

“Once, my daughter asked me to make sure her curtain was closed because ‘sometimes the black ghost stands outside her window.’ Yikes!”

Little girl dressed with cat makeup on for HalloweenCan you read us a story, mom? The black ghost in the window loves “Goodnight Moon.”

“My son kept waking up every night because of ‘a girl named Sally who had spots on her.’ He was about 4 years old at the time and was tired every morning from playing with this girl.

My uncle was a state trooper, so he was able to look into the history of our house. We learned that a girl named Sally had died of smallpox.”

Little boy with open mouth, surprised.My friend Sally is going to sleep over tonight … again.

“When my son was 3 years old, we were at a red light in our neighborhood, stopped next to a big apartment complex. He looked at me and said, ‘100 years ago, when I lived here, that big building wasn’t there. But there was a fun swing on a tree outside my house.’

I have lived in this area my whole life and when I was younger, the apartment complex wasn’t there but there was the house! He still tells me he lived there 100 years ago.”

Boy smiling and looking wistfully into the air.Gee whiz, I sure do miss that tree swing I used to play on 100 years ago!

“When my daughter was a toddler, we lived in a creepy apartment. She would always talk to her friend in the closet – she would talk to it daily. One day I asked her, ‘What is your friend’s name?’ She told me, ‘She doesn’t have a name. I call her old lady in black.’

So yeah, that freaked the poop out of me! I saged the place, but a few nights later, I had a scary nightmare, and when I woke up I saw the scariest person standing in my bedroom doorway.

Let’s just say we moved out immediately.”

Little baby dressed like ghostI wanna be like the old lady in black when I grow up, mkay?

This creeptastic story comes from Parents of Reddit user UnfortunateBirthMark:

“I was tucking in my two-year-old. He said, ‘Good bye dad.’ I said, ‘No, we say good night.’ He said, ‘I know. But this time it’s good bye.’

Had to check on him a few times to make sure he was still there.”

boy with Halloween face makeup on stares into the cameraI see dead people.

Do you have a creepy story to share? We’d love to hear it!

Don't go it alone - there are tons of great apps for new moms to help make life with baby easier.

The Best Apps for New Moms

Technology provides new moms with solutions for many common problems. Does your infant have trouble falling asleep? There’s an app for that. Did you forget to bring your baby monitor with you on vacation? Worry not – there’s an app for that, too.

Here are a few must-have apps for new moms:

Help baby sleep better

If there’s one thing all new moms need desperately, it’s a few uninterrupted hours of sleep. But when baby’s unable to fall or stay asleep, ain’t nobody getting any rest! Here are some apps to help:

Help ease your infant off to dreamland with a white noise app or a lullaby app.Help ease your infant off to dreamland with a white noise app or a lullaby app.

Baby Shusher

(Available for iOS and Android devices. $4.99.)

When I was pregnant with my first, I went out and spent $34.99 on the actual Baby Shusher, an egg-shaped tool that emits a repetitive “shush” sound that has been found to soothe infants. (It reminds them of being back in utero and hearing mom’s blood flow.) If I had known I could get the same results for $30 less, I would have jumped all over this app!

Baby Sleep Lullabies

(Available for iOS devices. $0.99.)

Lullabies “lull” babies to sleep with their repetitive notes and 6/8 meter, according to the New York Times. This app is cute as little ones can look at images of stuffed bears while listening to 21 pre-recorded songs. You can set the timer to play for as little as 3 minutes to conserve your phone’s battery – or you can let the music play for as long as it takes for baby to drift off to dreamland!

Baby Sleep – White Noise

(Available for Android devices. Free.)

If you aren’t willing to spend any money, this app is a great choice. It creates a variety of sounds that help block out outside noise that might disturb babies and prevent them from catching their ZZZs. Noises include rain, forest, ocean, wind, river, car, train, plain, vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, white noise and more. Additionally, the app also has four lullaby options.

Monitor baby from another room

Unless you co-sleep, having the ability to hear your infant at all times is crucial. Using a smartphone as a baby monitor has many benefits like not having to invest in a pricey traditional model!

Baby monitor apps allow you to keep an eye on baby while you relax in the other room.Baby monitor apps allow you to keep an eye on baby while you relax in the other room.

Cloud Baby Monitor

(Available for iOS devices. $3.99.)

Appropriate for use at home on a daily basis, or in a pinch when you’re on a family vacation and realize you forgot to pack your regular monitor, this video app allows you to use your iPhone, iPad or Mac to keep an eye on your baby in another room. As an added bonus, you can stream lullabies or white noise into your child’s room to encourage sleep.

Baby Monitor All-In-One

(Available for Android devices. $2.99,)

This app can be synced to multiple Android devices so that you, a significant other and any other caretaker can monitor your infant. Record your voice and use nanny mode so your message is automatically played after the app has detected noise from baby’s room. Or, use walkie-talkie mode to talk to baby in real time and check room temperature.

Document growth and milestones

(Available for iOS devices. Free.)

While traditional baby books are right for some parents, others prefer to go the digital route. These days there are apps that allow you to document every milestone from first steps to first birthday and beyond.

Baby Pics iRocks

(Available for iOS devices. Free.)

Did your infant just smile for the first time? Snap a photo on your iPhone and use this app to apply filters, text and stickers. You can also track your child’s height and weight over time in a visual way that’s perfect for sharing with family and friends on social media. All your edited images will be saved to your camera roll, so you can easily save them to the cloud or an external hard drive.

Moment Garden Baby Photo Book

(Available for Android devices. Free.)

This app allows you to take your photos and videos and add text descriptions such as “Baby’s first car ride.” As your child grows, you can document the funny things he or she says so you never forget a word. You can share your edited images with family and friends, and even create a printed photo book with the tap of your thumb. It doesn’t get much simpler than this to create an amazing baby book!

Beautiful ethnic first time mother to be holding her belly

How to Take the Best Baby Belly Photos

If you want to capture your baby belly on film in a way that’s anything but ordinary, you’re not alone. Everyone from Beyonce to surfer Bethany Hamilton has shared their breathtaking maternity photos on social media, and the internet has gone wild over them. (Bethany posted a memorable underwater pic of herself to her Instagram in 2015 and got 116,000 likes!)

Mermaid momma #33weeks

A post shared by Bethany Hamilton (@bethanyhamilton) on

And let’s not forget about beekeeper Emily Mueller, whose 2017 outdoor shoot certainly generated a lot of buzz! Check it out on

Short of submerging your pregnant self in the ocean or reclining beneath a swarm of 20,000 honey bees, there are many memorable pregnant belly photos you can take from the comfort of your own home. Here are a few ideas to consider, along with some basic tips to ensure top-notch images:

Required equipment

If you don’t have a professional DSLR camera, you can get great results with any modern smartphone. I take tons of great photos with my Samsung Galaxy S8 and the A Color Story app, which allows me to apply various filters and effects.

You’ll be the subject of the photos, so you might want to use a tripod and a self-timer – especially if you know you’d feel self-conscious posing in front of your significant other. There are lots of inexpensive tripods that will hold a smartphone or a basic point-and-shoot camera. If you’ll be shooting in your yard, or in a room with lots of diffused natural light, this is really all you need. However, if you will be shooting in your house away from the window, you might want to invest in a light source such as the Diva Ring Light.

Do a time-lapse series

Without getting overly technical, a time-lapse series pieces together several still images in video form so that you can watch an object’s movement over time. People have used time lapses to speed up a sunset or to show a flower blooming. When used to document a growing baby belly, as seen in the video below, the results are pretty spectacular!

To pull this off at home, you’ll want to start as early in your pregnancy as possible so that the first and last images are in stark contrast to each other.

Pick a spot in your house with a simple, uncluttered background and plan to shoot in that same location every day. If you’re using a tripod, set it up and leave it there throughout your pregnancy. If you can, take the photo at the same time every day to ensure consistent lighting. If you worry you’ll forget, set a timer to remind yourself.

Some women like to wear the same outfit in every photo, but personally, I think the variation in wardrobe makes for a cute end result – especially as you transition into maternity clothes.

At the conclusion of your pregnancy, use a free editing program to turn all those photos into a video you’ll cherish forever. You can edit on your computer or download an app like Lapse It and do it right on your phone.

Utilize seasonal props

Fall is a wonderful time to take at-home baby bump pics because you can take advantage of the many cute props you already have around your house. In terms of wardrobe, keep it simple and seasonally-appropriate: jeans and a simple white button-down or black leggings with a cozy plaid shirt.


I love the idea of playing with a pumpkin theme. You could use non-toxic body paint to paint your belly to look like a pumpkin. Wear an oversized button-down shirt, and knot it in the middle so that your belly is exposed. Stand against a simple, uncluttered background such as a white wall or an open field.

No matter what the background or what you wear, always let your personality shine through.No matter what the background is or what you wear, always let your personality shine through.

Alternately, you could face your significant other so that your sides are facing the camera. Have your partner hold a pumpkin in front of his stomach so that your bellies appear to be the same size.


If you live in an area where the leaves change colors and fall to the ground, you can use that to your advantage. Simply turn to the side and put your hands beneath your belly to accentuate your bump.

If you want to incorporate older siblings into the photo, rake fallen leaves into a pile and use that to ground the image. You should stand in the center of the pile, and your children should sit (or play) in the leaves. Your significant other could join in by standing behind you and reaching around to hug your belly.

When it comes to achieving swoon-worthy belly pics, there’s one thing for certain: Let your personality shine through. Don’t be afraid to laugh out loud if that’s what feels most natural!

Child's hand painted watercolor in heart shape against white background

A is for Apple: Simple Craft Ideas for Toddlers

My toddler is obsessed with the idea of going to school, and although we won’t be sending him to preschool until next September due to his late birthday (poor little guy), we’ve been replicating the classroom experience in our home by reading books, singing songs, writing on a dry erase board and doing simple crafts that are both fun and educational.

Last week he learned about the letter A. We selected an object and an animal that begin with the letter – apple and alligator – and went to the library to borrow books on each. Next, we sang songs about apples and alligators. After that, we used a white dry erase board designed to look like a lined notebook to practice writing uppercase and lowercase As. Finally, we completed some crafts to further reinforce his comprehension.

Children have different learning styles – some respond best by being read to, others by doing hands-on projects and so on. When you provide toddlers with multi-sensory activities, they’re more likely to retain new information, according to Dr. Judy Willis, writing for Psychology Today.

Here are five simple craft ideas to help teach your toddler the letter A:

A is for alligator

Dig out the fingerpaints, and let your little one get his or her hands dirty. This cute project is totally fridge-worthy!

For a simple craft idea that will delight your toddler, just add green fingerpaint!For a simple craft idea that will delight your toddler, just add green fingerpaint!


  • Green fingerpaint.
  • 8×10 inch construction paper, white.
  • Scissors.
  • 8×10 inch construction paper, blue.
  • Glue.
  • Silver Sharpie marker.
  • 2 googly eyes.


  1. Help your toddler cover the palms of his or her hands and fingers in green paint.
  2. Press your toddler’s hands on to the white paper.
  3. Rotate the paper so that the thumbs are toward the top, and use scissors to cut out the hands in the shape of an oval.
  4. Lie the blue paper flat on the table and use glue to attach the white oval in the center.
  5. Use glue to attach one googly eye to each alligator. The eye should be placed where the thumb intersects with the palm.
  6. Use a silver Sharpie to write the letter A.

Underneath the apple tree

Don’t put that green fingerpaint away just yet! If your toddler is older, you could have him or her cut with safety scissors.

Your toddler's thumbprint makes apples in this sweet design.Your toddler’s thumbprint makes apples in this sweet design.


  • 8×10 inch construction paper, white.
  • Green fingerpaint.
  • Red fingerpaint.
  • 8×10 inch construction paper, brown.
  • Scissors.
  • Glue.
  • 8×10 inch construction paper, green.


  1. With a pencil, draw a faint circle in the center of the white page toward the top.
  2. Have your toddler use green fingerpaint to color in the circle – the messier the better!
  3. Using his or her thumb and red fingerpaint, have your toddler press down to make apples on the tree.
  4. Cut a long strip of brown paper with scissors and use glue to attach it vertically on the page to make the tree trunk.
  5. Cut horizontally across the bottom of the green paper so that you have a two-inch strip. Use scissors to cut tiny slits in the top half of the paper to make grass. Use glue to attach it.
  6. Cut a circle and several tiny strips from yellow paper. Glue them on to make the sun.

An apple a day

This apple, which upcycles an empty toilet paper roll, is Pinterest-worthy and simple to make – even though it looks super fancy!

Using an empty toilet paper roll and some paint, you can make this marvelous object.Using an empty toilet paper roll and some paint, you can make this marvelous object.


  • Two coffee filters.
  • Red paint.
  • 2 paintbrushes.
  • White paint.
  • Empty toilet paper roll.
  • Black Sharpie marker.
  • Glue.
  • Scissors.
  • Green construction paper, scrap.
  • Brown construction paper, scrap.


  1. With a paintbrush, cover both coffee filters in red paint.
  2. Using a different paintbrush, paint an empty toilet paper roll white.
  3. Let the paint dry.
  4. Using a black Sharpie marker, draw seeds on the core of your apple.
  5. Use glue to attach one coffee filter to each end of the toilet paper roll.
  6. Use scissors to cut a leaf from the green paper and a tiny stem from the brown paper.
  7. Glue the leaf and stem to the top of the apple.

Stick with me, kid

This project makes a cute refrigerator magnet when it’s complete – just order peel-and-stick magnets online or find them at your favorite craft store.

Guide your toddler in arranging the sticks to create the letter A.Guide your toddler in arranging the sticks to create the letter A.


  • 3 popsicle sticks.
  • Red paint.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Glue.
  • Scissors.
  • Brown construction paper, scrap.
  • Green construction paper, scrap.


  1. Using a paintbrush, paint three popsicle sticks red.
  2. Use glue to attach the sticks into the letter A.
  3. Cut a leaf from the green paper and a stem from the brown paper, then attach with glue.

Spray paint apple

Your toddler will have a blast using a spray bottle to squirt paint onto the paper. Be sure to put a tablecloth down and have your child wear a smock or old t-shirt!

Your toddler can squirt paint onto the paper using a spray bottle.Your toddler can squirt paint onto the paper using a spray bottle.


  • 8×10 construction paper, white.
  • Spray bottle.
  • Red paint.
  • Water.
  • Scissors.
  • Brown construction paper, scrap.
  • Green construction paper, scrap.
  • Glue.


  1. Pour a few dabs of red paint into a spray bottle. Fill to the top with water.
  2. Help your child squeeze the spray bottle trigger so that the red paint is applied to the paper.
  3. Let the paint dry.
  4. Using scissors, cut a short, fat strip from the brown paper and a leaf from the green paper.
  5. With glue, attach the stem and leaf to the top of the red apple.

Do you have any simple craft ideas to teach your toddler other letters of the alphabet?

Is your nanny the best ever? Show your appreciation with these gift ideas.

10 Nanny Gifts You’ll be Obsessed With

Juggling motherhood and career is a challenge, but when you have an amazing nanny helping you every step of the way, the sun tends to shine a bit brighter, and you just know that it’s all going to be OK. Whether it’s her birthday, a holiday or nanny appreciation week, it’s never a bad time to give back to the one person who gives her all for your family every day.

Here are 10 awesome gifts that will show your thanks and gratitude:

If you want to purchase a present:

1. A spoonful of sugar

If Mary Poppins ain’t got nothing on your nanny, let her know with a heartfelt card and this engraved silver spoon from Etsy. Depending on your budget, you could add a pound of gourmet coffee beans and a coffee grinder – or some fancy teas and a few jars of honey. Don’t forget a bag of sugar!

An engraved spoon along with gourmet coffee or tea will make her feel special.An engraved spoon along with gourmet coffee or tea will make her feel special.

2. Personalized jewelry

Between Etsy, Amazon and your neighborhood jeweler, there are endless options available at every price point. This cute charm bracelet features the word “nanny” alongside neutral tones that would mix well with any wardrobe. Or, if your nanny prefers a simpler style, gift this sophisticated initial necklace in 24-karat gold by Maya Brenner.

3. A shopping spree

If your nanny is like most, she tends to do plenty for others while neglecting herself. Make her feel like a queen for the day by taking her on a shopping spree! Visit the mall or her favorite department store together and let her pick out whatever she likes until you reach your pre-determined budget. It’s amazing how special a new outfit or tube of fancy lipstick can make a woman feel.

Want to put a smile on your nanny's face? Take her on a shopping spree to show her how much you care.Want to put a smile on your nanny’s face? Take her on a shopping spree to show her how much you care.

4. Cash or a gift card

While etiquette experts recommend that cash gifts be equal in value to one-half of her monthly salary, you know what you can comfortably afford to give, so let that be your guide. If your nanny has been dying to renovate her bathroom or go on a weekend getaway, a cash bonus would go a long way to helping her achieve that goal. For those who send money home to family, cash helps there as well.

If she’s a budding photographer or avid gardener, a gift card from a camera store or local nursery will allow her to purchase all the essentials. It’ll also let her know you pay attention to her interests!

If you want to gift your nanny an experience:

5.  The ever-popular spa day

Caring for infants and toddlers is both mentally and physically exhausting (as you well know). Help your nanny recharge by sending her for a peaceful, rejuvenating day at the spa. You could give her a gift card so she could call to select her treatments or choose them in advance and plan an entire day of pampering.

6. A table for two

Book a table at your favorite upscale restaurant and treat her to dinner. You should have a babysitter lined up so she’s not tempted to pitch in and help with the kids during the course of the meal. Or, if she has a close friend or significant other, you could book them a table and arrange in advance to pay the tab.

7. Concert tickets

Does your nanny love live music? Find out when her favorite band or singer is performing and buy a few tickets so she can attend with a friend. If your budget allows, get seats in the first few rows – she’ll never forget the rush of sitting in front of the stage, and it’s a splurge she’d likely never purchase for herself.

Music lovers will go crazy over front row concert tickets.Music lovers will go crazy over front row concert tickets.

If you want to go the handmade route:

8. Photo gift

There are so many cute options out there and most cost under $25. Check out this cute wooden frame, engraved with the slogan “Best nanny ever.” Insert adorable photo of your precious cherub – or a photo of the two of them together if possible – and you’re good to go. You could also go for a photo mug – I’m loving this enamel camping style one on Etsy.

9. Hand-painted object

She loves your child, and that means she’ll love anything made by your child. Visit a paint-your-own-pottery shop and let your little one create a hand-painted frame, mug or ornament. Or, cover your baby’s hand in paint and help him or her make a handprint on a rock for a cute yard or garden decoration.

Your baby's handprint on a rock makes a nice garden keepsake.Your baby’s handprint on a rock makes a nice garden keepsake.

10. Time-off voucher

This gift is amazing because it combines your child’s creativity with some well-deserved R&R. On a rectangular piece of paper, have your child color whatever he or she wishes. Then, using a permanent marker, write “This voucher entitles the recipient to one paid vacation day.” If you can manage to give her multiple days off, all the better.

No matter the gift, it’s the thought that counts – and remember, a happy nanny is one who’s likely to stick around for the long run!

To amp up the magic factor on your DIY photos, just add chalk art.

How To Use Chalk Art in Your Toddler Photos

Step aside, white walls. You’ve had a good run, but you just don’t embody the magic of childhood like chalk art drawings do. Sure, you offer a clean, crisp photo backdrop that doesn’t clash with the multi-patterned outfit my toddler picked out for himself this morning; however you’re not exactly the life of the party either, now are you?

Moms: If you’re ready to kick normal to the curb in favor of extraordinary, it’s time to incorporate chalk art into your at-home photography repertoire. By adding a punch of vivid color along with hand-drawn details, you’ll achieve frame-worthy, one-of-a-kind images you’ll cherish for years to come!

There are endless ways to use sidewalk chalk to create DIY photo shoot backdrops. Here are a few ideas to get you started, along with some tips:

Chalk art best practices

When life hands you a cloudy day, don’t complain about the lousy weather. Instead, seize the opportunity to snap some chalk art photos! Overcast skies provide ideal portrait photography conditions. With the sun out of sight, children are able to gaze up at your camera or smartphone without squinting as if they’re judging you (which, let’s face it, they probably are).

First, use a broom to sweep any leaves or debris from your driveway or walkway. You want a smooth surface to draw on.

You’ll also want to fold a paper towel into a small square. You can tuck it behind your child’s head like a pillow. I learned the hard way that toddlers do not enjoy lying on asphalt.

Chalk art idea No. 1: The rainbow chaser

Rainbows are awesome and they make for spectacular photographs. Check out this photo of my one-year-old daughter below:

Chalk art photography allows you to capture your child in a magical, whimsical setting.Chalk art photography allows you to capture your child in a magical setting.

As you can probably tell, I did the drawing myself. However, you can also have your child create the image if he or she is old enough to handle chalk. It really depends on what vibe you’re trying to accomplish. While adults have the strength and coordination to produce a neat, color-saturated rainbow, toddlers typically scribble thin lines that may or may not resemble a flock of seagulls.

I use an abundance of colors in my chalk art drawings, so I keep the kids’ wardrobes as minimal as possible: black, white and gray. I love dressing them in fun clothing that’s as whimsical as the artwork.

Chalk art idea No. 2: Ground control to Major Tom

If blasting off in a rocket ship is your toddler’s idea of a good time, use chalk to draw our solar system and make his or her dreams come true. Here’s a shot of my two-year-old son:

For an out-of-this-world photograph, use sidewalk chalk to draw our solar system.For an out-of-this-world photograph, use sidewalk chalk to draw our solar system.

When sketching planets and other objects, be sure to use various shades to add dimension and interest for out-of-this-world results. For example, the sun you see in the photo is made with dark yellow, primary yellow and pale yellow chalk. Mars is composed of reddish-pink and orange as opposed to just plain red. You don’t have to color the planets as they appear through a telescope – go wild and crazy and let your imagination be the guide.

To get your toddler super excited for posing in the pic, read a book about outer space prior to heading outside.

Chalk art idea No. 3: Wet and wild

For a quirky shot that will elicit lots of laughs, raid your bathroom for a towel and a shower cap. Use sidewalk chalk to draw a shower head and water, then let your toddler bring the personality.

A few props from the bathroom will ensure a quirky photo everyone will adore.A few props from the bathroom will ensure a quirky photo everyone will adore.

The great thing about this design is that it’s super simple to draw. You could sketch the outline of the shower head, then let your toddler fill it in. Or, you could put your child in charge of the water; it’s really as simple as scribbling a big blue cloud.

As there’s minimal color in this project, feel free to select a bright, patterned towel or shower cap to ensure a silly eye-catching effect.

Chalk art idea No. 4: Lend a hand

Second only to pudgy infant hands, tiny toddler hands are cute as can be. The best part of this project is that your toddler can color his or her own skin. Giggles will abound!

Cover your toddler's tiny hands in chalk and preserve the image forever.Cover your toddler’s tiny hands in chalk and preserve the image forever.

After you’ve made sure that every square inch of your toddler’s palms and fingers are covered in chalk, position his or her hands and shoot from above. While you can use plain asphalt as your background (colorful chalk really pops against the black backdrop), you can also capture your child’s drawings in the background – it makes for a very special memory!

Learn the 7 essential, must-have items that belong on your baby registry.

7 Items That Need to be on Your Baby Registry Checklist

Selecting items for your baby registry is exciting, but it’s also daunting thanks to the explosion of in-store and online products available – as well as uncertainty about what you actually need. For example, if the nursery is right next to your bedroom, do you need a monitor? If you do register for a monitor, should you get the more expensive video version or will the traditional audio-only type suffice?

In identifying your baby registry must-haves, consider the activities your little one will be doing (sleeping, eating, bathing, etc.) and select a few items that will make each activity go as smoothly as possible. Unless you have a large house with plenty of storage space, register only for the items you’ll need in year one, and purchase the rest as your baby grows.

Here are the seven items that need to be on your baby registry checklist:

1. A safe sleeping space

I kept both of my babies beside my bed in a bassinet for the first six weeks then transitioned them into their cribs. Some women co-sleep in the family bed and have no need for a bassinet or crib. Before you register for anything, decide which sleeping arrangement works best for you.

At the very top of your baby registry checklist should be a safe sleeping space.At the very top of your baby registry checklist should be a safe sleeping space.

If you plan on using a bassinet at first, then transitioning baby to his or her crib:

You can splurge on a chic bassinet like this one by Baby Bjorn or go for something more affordable but equally effective. Whatever brand or style you choose, it should be stable and have breathable mesh sides to keep baby safe. You’ll also want to register for a crib. I suggest choosing one that converts to a toddler bed.

If you plan on co-sleeping in your family bed:

Co-sleeping with a newborn doesn’t mean just placing him or her on your mattress – there’s too great a chance the baby could suffocate. If you’re going to co-sleep, you need to purchase a co-sleeper.

One product that’s all the rage right now is the Dock-a-Tot, which can be used for co-sleeping in the family bed as well as for napping on the floor, tummy time and diaper changes, among other things. However, if you’re on a budget, there are countless other options that work great such as this co-sleeper by Summer Infant.

2. Blankets

I used three types of blankets during the first year: a swaddle blanket, a wearable blanket and a stroller blanket.

Some newborns sleep best when swaddled tightly in a swaddle blanket.Some newborns sleep best when swaddled tightly in a swaddle blanket.

Swaddle blanket

Newborns have a startle reflex that can interfere with their sleeping. Sometimes swaddling can help. That said, not all newborns need or like to be swaddled, so you’ll have to wait and see how your baby reacts. Register for one muslin blanket so you can try swaddling the traditional way (I’m obsessed with the Little Unicorn brand swaddles) as well as one easy swaddle blanket, which makes swaddling a breeze!

Wearable blanket

After baby outgrows the swaddle, I recommend putting him or her down to sleep in a sleeveless wearable “sleep sack” blanket. Unlike a regular blanket, which can slip up over baby’s face, this kind stays in place – and keeps baby warm during winter or in summer while the air conditioner is on.

Stroller blanket

You’ll need a traditional blanket to keep baby warm and cozy while you’re out and about running errands on a chilly day. You can also use this in the car.

3. Diapers and wipes

One of the most essential things a newborn baby needs is diapers. You’ll first need to decide between disposable and cloth diapers, which are better for the environment but less convenient.

If you go with cloth, register for several reusable diapers, as well as a few packs of stay-dry liners, which can reduce diaper rash and make clean-up quicker.

Don’t forget the wipes!

4. Feeding supplies

Whether you plan to breastfeed or formula feed, there are several supplies you’ll want to have on hand.

For more comfortable breastfeeding, use a nursing pillow.For more comfortable breastfeeding, use a nursing pillow.

Breastfeeding supplies

Must-have baby registry items for new moms who plan to breastfeed include a pump, bottles and burp cloths. (Insurance often gives a breast pump to new moms for free – call ahead to see if yours does.) If you plan to return to work or have other caretakers feed your baby, you might end up needing to freeze your breast milk and should also register for a pump adapter and breast milk pouches. Kits like this one from Tommee Tippee include a pump adapter, bottles and pouches.

You might also choose to register for a nursing pillow for more comfortable breastfeeding, although a regular pillow works as well.

Formula feeding supplies

Some moms can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, and should register for bottles and burp cloths. Hospitals will feed your baby whatever brand of formula they carry, so you’ll likely want to wait and see what that is and how your baby responds to it before blindly choosing a formula ahead of time. However, if you know you want to use organic, soy-based or GMO-free formula, you’ll want to register for that in advance and pack a can in your hospital bag.

5. Car seat

Another one of those must-have baby items is a car seat. You’ll need to choose between an infant car seat and a convertible car seat.

Infant car seat

The biggest plus to an infant  car seat is that it detaches from the base, which means you don’t need to wake your sleeping baby as you take him from the car to the store or your home. On the other hand, it only lasts for the first year or so, until your baby reaches a certain weight, at which time you’ll need to purchase a second car seat with a higher maximum weight limit.

If you’re a two-car family, or have a grandparent or nanny who will be driving your infant, register for an extra base for your infant car seat.

Convertible car seat

Convertible car seats grow with your baby from the newborn stage to the time they’re ready for a booster, making them a smart financial investment. While you can use the infant car seat as a carrier, you will need to physically remove your infant from the convertible car seat every time you leave the car – even in the dead of winter.

6. Stroller

One of the most basic things to buy for a newborn baby is a stroller. Look for one with lots of storage space underneath.

A stroller with lots of storage space is an essential baby registry item.A stroller with lots of storage space is an essential baby registry item.

If you plan on having a second child within the next year or two, you might want to register for a double stroller, which you can use as a single now and a double later as your family grows. (You can even use it as a triple by adding a ride-on board!) My kids are 22 months apart, so the City Select Baby Jogger worked great for us, although there are lots of similar models at a much lower price point.

If you have an infant car seat, don’t forget to purchase an adapter so it can snap right into the stroller.

7. Bath seat

While you’ll be giving your newborn a sponge bath for the first week or two, you’ll eventually have to submerge him or her in water. Some moms prefer bathing infants in the sink, others in the tub.

The Blooming Bath is the cutest sink bath I’ve found, though I bathed my two kids in the tub using the Angelcare bath seat, which works great for newborns and older infants who can’t yet sit up steadily.

Beyond these seven must-have baby registry items, all the other things on the market are nice but not absolutely necessary. Many products serve more than one purpose! For example, if you’re on a tight budget, burp cloths can also be tucked into baby’s shirt and used as bibs. Babies can be fed with regular spoons and bowls. You don’t even need to purchase special baby food – all you need is fresh produce and a blender.

Oh, and as for my position on baby monitors: When my son’s room was directly next to ours, we never used one and we heard him just fine. However, when we moved to our new house, both kids’ rooms were further down the hall, at which time we used monitors – so they may or may not be essential depending on your home’s floor plan. (And although we have video monitors, my husband and I both agree that we would have gotten by with the more affordable audio kind.) You live and you learn.

The gestational diabetes test is a two-part screening designed to ensure a safe pregnancy for both mom and baby.

What Gestational Diabetes Mellitus Screening Is Really Like

Pregnant women have lots of questions and worries when it comes to diabetes testing during pregnancy: Do I have to fast? Will the sugary drink make me vomit? Is there an alternative to the drink? Will I fail the screening? If I fail, will they really take my blood once per hour for four hours straight? Is this testing even necessary?

Here’s everything you need to know about the dreaded, much-discussed gestational diabetes mellitus screening, as well as some insights from my own experience during both pregnancies.

What is gestational diabetes mellitus screening?

The gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) pregnancy screening is a two-part diagnostic method that’s composed of the glucose challenge test (GCT) and the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). The two screenings are wildly different.

The gestational diabetes mellitus screening comprises two parts: the glucose challenge test and the glucose tolerance test.The gestational diabetes mellitus screening comprises two parts: the glucose challenge test and the glucose tolerance test.

The Glucose Challenge Test

The GCT (which I’ve also seen referred to in online community forums as the “glucose screening test” and the “gestational glucose tolerance test”) is typically scheduled between weeks 24 and 28 of your pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic. This test examines your body’s ability to process sugar.

There’s nothing you need to do to prepare for the test – eat and drink as you normally would.

When you arrive at your doctor’s office or lab, you’ll be given five ounces of a glucose syrup (glucola) to drink. The solution contains 50 grams of sugar and is designed to spike your blood sugar levels. After one hour, a medical professional will draw your blood from a vein in your arm, and then you can go home.

You should get your results within a week. The Mayo Clinic explained that a blood sugar level below 140 milligrams per deciliter is normal, while a higher number could mean gestational diabetes and will require further testing to determine a diagnosis. Failing this test does not mean that you have diabetes; it means that you might have diabetes.

The Oral Glucose Tolerance Test

If your blood sugar tested high during the GCT, you’ll likely have to take the OGTT. This screening tests how well your body effectively uses glucose and will allow your doctor to determine for sure whether or not you have diabetes, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Unlike the GCT, you do need to prepare for this test by fasting for 14 hours. Additionally, your doctor will ask you to consume a minimum of 150 grams of carbs for three days leading up to the test.

When you arrive at your doctor’s office or lab, your blood will be drawn to determine your baseline glucose levels. Then you’ll drink the syrupy solution, which contains 100 grams of sugar. You’ll have your blood drawn three more times at one-hour intervals after finishing the glucola.

You should get your results within a week and will know for sure whether or not you have diabetes.

As much as you're craving that hamburger, the oral glucose tolerance test requires you to fast for 14 hours prior.As much as you’re craving that hamburger, the oral glucose tolerance test requires you to fast for 14 hours prior.

Is diabetes testing during pregnancy necessary?

During pregnancy, some women might develop gestational diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that up to 10 percent of pregnant women in America develop this condition. While the American Diabetes Association stated that the cause of gestational diabetes has not been determined, it’s likely that placental hormones that support the baby interfere with the mom’s ability to properly use insulin.

Diabetes poses many risks to babies, including delivery complications due to the baby’s large size, jaundice and an increased chance of childhood breathing problems and obesity, noted the American Diabetes Association. It also increases their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adulthood. Moms are more likely to require a C-section during delivery and are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes down the road.

In my opinion, diabetes testing during pregnancy is important – especially for women with a family history of diabetes and those who are obese. With proper treatment, the majority of moms have healthy pregnancies and babies.

What is the gestational diabetes test really like?

I’m deathly afraid of having my blood drawn due to past experiences. I also suffer from fainting spells and get dizzy pretty easily. Needless to say, I was a ball of nerves rolling up to my first-ever glucose challenge test.

I’d heard that the drink was beyond horrible, but I didn’t think it was too bad. I waited an hour and had my blood drawn without incident.

A few days later, I received a call: I had failed the GCT, and my doctor wanted me to take the follow-up OGTT.

I failed the screening test? What do you mean I failed the screening test?!I failed the screening test? What do you mean, I failed the screening test?!

I dragged my husband along to the OGTT, which I scheduled for first thing in the morning due to the fact that I needed to fast. I had my blood drawn right away to get a baseline glucose level then drank the syrupy glucola. This time around I struggled to get it down – probably because I hadn’t eaten since the day before and my stomach was doing flip-flops.

After an hour, I had my second blood draw. This one made me queasy, but I managed it well enough.

Another hour passed and it was time for blood draw number three. Unfortunately, the phlebotomist couldn’t find my vein and ended up poking me again and again. Before I knew it, I passed out cold. (Thank goodness my husband was there with me!)

I woke up on a gurney with an ice pack on my forehead. Bad news: The test couldn’t continue, and I’d have to do it all over again. Good news: As I had difficulty with the traditional blood draw method, they were going to do it via finger sticks, a much less-invasive procedure where they draw blood from your fingertips.

On my second go-round with the OGTT, I drank the glucola, had my fingers pricked four times and made it out feeling well.

When I got pregnant with my second child, I had to see a different doctor as mine had since retired. When the subject of gestational diabetes testing came up I was adamant from the get-go that I needed a finger stick. In addition to saying yes to my request, my doc also allowed me to eat 28 jelly beans instead of the drink, which was pretty much the best thing ever. (Twenty-eight jelly beans contain the required 50 grams of sugar.)

This time around I passed the GCT with flying colors!

If you can't stomach Glucola, ask your OB/GYN if you can eat jellybeans instead.If you can’t stomach glucola, ask your OB/GYN if you can eat jelly beans instead.

Is there a better way to test for gestational diabetes?

Possibly. Diabetes Daily reported that Brigham and Women’s Hospital found in a study that gestational diabetes can be identified through a single blood test that measures plasma glycated CD59.

Until then, be brave, know that you can request alternative testing and don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for jelly beans!

Encouraging your child to play with mud could benefit her in more ways than one!

Why Your Toddler Should Play in the Mud

Mary Kate Murphy, founder of Massachusetts non-profit Spark Playspace, has four children under the age of six. One of her kids’ favorite activities is playing with their backyard mud kitchen, which comprises an old sink that was salvaged from a home renovation, plus some muffin pans, spatulas and strainers she bought at the local dollar store.

“I think they like it so much because they get to play on their own terms,” Mary Kate said. “I don’t care if it gets messy – in fact, it’s supposed to get messy! They feel empowered being in charge of a space where they have room to use their imaginations without adults hovering over them.”

Research shows children benefit greatly from experiential learning activities such as playing with mud. Here’s why getting down and dirty can boost your toddler’s brain and physical health, plus some mud-based activities you can do at home:

Playing with mud can boost your toddler's brain function!Playing with mud can boost your toddler’s brain function!

Playing with mud is good for your toddler’s body and brain

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children do a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity every day. However, most kids are spending more time sitting on the couch than moving their bodies. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics noted young children are sedentary for 32.8 to 56.3 minutes per hour on average.

Passive activities such as watching television or playing on a tablet or smartphone might keep your toddler occupied while you sweep the floor or do dishes, however, they don’t benefit the body or brain like getting outside and playing in the mud does. In fact, playing with mud can even prevent your kids from getting sick!

Time Magazine reported that when kids touch “dirty” objects in nature such as mud, worms and frogs, they’re encountering microbes that build their immune system. Children who are kept indoors and not exposed to a wide array of microbes have been shown to be more prone to asthma, allergies and obesity.

In terms of brain functioning, any type of free play, such as baking mud muffins or building mud castles, changes prefrontal cortex neuron connections and wires the brain for successful emotion regulation and problem solving, according to NPR.

Free play wires the brain for successful emotion regulation and problem solving.Free play wires the brain for successful emotion regulation and problem solving.

This is what happened at Spark Playspace’s first-ever Mud Day

The Murphy family’s beloved mud kitchen inspired Spark Playspace’s recent Mud Day event, an afternoon of mud pies, mud pools, mud slides and even a mud launcher!

“We had dirt donated from a local construction company, and with the help of the town fire department and some very timely rain, we created some beautiful mud for the kids to play in,” Mary Kate said with a grin. More than 600 people attended the event, which was a resounding success – in spite of the extra laundry it necessitated.

In addition to the physical and physiological benefits of mud play, Mary Kate noted that there’s an additional perk – one that is crucial in today’s parenting climate.

“Many parents feel their kids are missing out on the joys and experiential learning opportunities they had as kids,” Mary Kate said. “We grew up riding bikes and building forts with neighborhood friends, but kids today don’t have that independence. We live in an era of over-parenting. Before we know it, we’ve created a stifling environment where children quickly lose their natural instinct to explore and create on their own. Playing and learning is synonymous for children, it’s the adults who have drawn lines between the two.”

Mud play is a highly-beneficial experiential activity that can be facilitated right in your own backyard.Mud play is a highly-beneficial experiential activity that can be facilitated right in your own backyard.

Mud play activities to do at home

  • Make mud! The simple action of dumping a bucket of water over dirt and mixing the two together with sticks is a scientific learning activity for toddlers in and of itself.
  • Add trucks! Does your toddler love vehicles? Playing in the mud with trucks allows children to use their hands and imaginations to shape roads, parking spots and hills.
  • Grab a net! Live near a pond, stream or lake? Take a net with you and let them scoop up bugs, frogs, fish and lily pads. See skunk cabbage nearby? Let them step on it. It’s all about engaging the senses and playing into their natural curiosity.
  • Use PVC pipes! Little Bins for Little Hands suggested using PVC pipes, which can be bought at your local hardware store. Budding engineers can build anything they’d like!
  • Be artsy! Use large paintbrushes and let your child “paint” in the mud.

How do you encourage mud play in your home?