A little update

After two months of ridiculous amounts of snow, really cold weather and sick kids (with the related ear infections, coughs and no-sleep nights), I’m finally starting to feel some Spring optimism. Mostly that means I’m able to stay up past 8:30 p.m. to tackle some of the backlogged items on my to-do list. That includes: reducing clutter and getting some clothes that fit my post-pregnancy body (especially now that I’m prepared to accept the inner-tube shape of my waist).

I’m also hoping to pay more attention to this blog space. My goal to post something once-a-week went the way of joining an aerobics class, learning to knit and meeting new people. Good intentions, always. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s survival mode all the way when you have young kids. You do what you have to do (and what I have to do is sleep). 

I thought I would kick off my blog revival by sharing a couple of things that are rocking my world currently. Hopefully they will do the same for you! 

1.) I admit this book sounds like a chore to read, but I’m actually really enjoying it.

The author, Marie Kondo, is an organizing/cleaning expert in Japan and shares her fool-proof method for getting rid of clutter for good. I’m really good at resorting and organizing, but that doesn’t really solve the clutter problem at our house.

“Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved. But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, the room once again overflows with things, and some new and “easy” storage method becomes necessary, creating a negative spiral.” 

My massive basket/storage container collection stands as evidence of my clutter band-aids, and I’m pretty tired of spending my free time picking things up off the floor, moving piles on the counter top and throwing things in the back of a closet. So I’m ready to downsize our belongings. Kondo talks about the relationship we have with our stuff and allowing yourself to let go of things – I’m already quick to toss things out so she’s speaking my language, but I think it’s a good read for anyone on the clutter-reduction spectrum. It will change the way you view your clothes and other belongings for the better! 

2.) Due to the aforementioned inner-tube waist, I’m on a mission to find flattering, comfortable clothes. The Dynama series from Mountain Hardware features a stretchy knit waistband that brought back fond memories of maternity pants. I tried the skirt and shorts and was pretty thrilled with a waist that fit with no pudge spill-over (it’s the little things, right?). This is definitely a more athletic type of material and look so best for casual wear. Since that’s all I own, it works great!  I, for one, am happy to support a company that makes things with a stretchy waist. Available options here.


Next up on my Spring bucket list: purchasing bikes for Ed and I (and then actually riding them). I’m just waiting for it to be above 40 degrees. No dice on that one so far. 

Construction party!

I tossed around a few ideas for Alex’s 3rd birthday party but ended up choosing a construction theme. We have a small army of vehicles in the house already, so it made sense. 

I was originally going to have a local bakery make a cake for us – the last time I made a cake from scratch, it was nearly rock-hard and tasted about as good as a rock-hard cake can taste. That was at least six years ago, so clearly I had some baking scars from the experience. I found a few cakes I liked on Pinterest, and most people seemed to be able to assemble them DIY-style, so I decided it was time to face my fears. I went with a recipe that used a box mix as the base, which seemed more fool-proof. It was a little more dense that I might have liked, but you could put a fork through it, so I’m going to count this one as a success. People seemed to like the chocolate buttercream frosting, but I think I’d try a different recipe next time. I wish I went with my gut and used the one with Crisco. For some reason Crisco is synonymous with delicious frosting. 

I kept things pretty simple by just using a rectangular pan. (I’m not ready for layers yet.) We used little constuction vehicles I bought at Target awhile back, and I added a “dirt” path of sprinkles and took a scoop out of the corner of the cake to enhance the work-site effect. This was also a handy way to make sure the cake didn’t taste gross.

Chocolate Digger Cake

I wanted to create a play construction site, so I cleaned out our water table and got some little rocks from the floral section at Michaels, plus a bag of play sand. I knew the sand would be risky business, but I figured we’d only be using a small amount. I put down a shower curtain to collect whatever might end up on the ground. 

Construction sand table

I think it went well overall, but my shower curtain idea was something of a funny joke since we had sand all over the house. If you try this, make sure you have a decent vacuum. And perhaps not surprisingly, my texture-loving 13-month-old not only managed to get a mouthful of sand, but also found at least two tiny rocks around the house and popped them in his mouth. I think I’d get the bigger rocks next time around.

 For additional construction-fun, I put our road play mat upstairs in the nursery (in the event any small people in attendance got partied-out and needed a break), plus I picked up a rock-making Play Dough set (affiliate link).

Play mat and Play Dough

I got party cups, napkins and a garland from my favorite party supply company, Meri Meri. Naturally, we went with pieces from their Big Rig collection. I also highly recommend their alphabet buntings. We did one last year with Alex’s name and it was adorable! It’s great to hang up in the bedroom after the party. 

Possibly my favorite party detail was Alex’s “Wild & Three” t-shirt, which I found on Pinterest and tracked back to Etsy seller Purple Possum. It’s available in a bunch of colors so it’s perfect for wild children of any gender. 

Wild & Three shirt


Toddler-Friendly Dipped Marshmallows

Growing up we had lots of sweets available to us around the holidays – rugelach, spritz cookies and an assortment of powdered-sugar coated confections. Many thanks to my mom and aunts, all accomplished bakers, for these delicious memories. I wanted to share this sweet experience with Alex and have him help with the preparation, but at (almost) 3-years-old, it has to be pretty simple. I thought about having him decorate sugar cookies, but I’m lazy and don’t like frosting things. So, I did what I usually do and wasted an evening on Pinterest looking for ideas. I found precisely what I was looking for: dipped marshmallows.

Dipped Marshmallows

Here’s my toddler-adjusted version. We bought a bag of Jet-Puffed marshmallows and a container 0f Baker’s dipping chocolate (you can also make your own dipping chocolate by melting 16 ozs. of milk chocolate chips with 2 tbsp. of shortening. But then you’d have more dishes to wash). I bought lollipop sticks from the craft store, and Alex stopped sprinting around Jo-Ann Fabrics long enough to select bright pink sugar crystals and daisy candy sprinkles. I love that he supports having pink in our boy-centric house. I also got some mini chocolate chips.

Dipped Marshmallow Ingredients

I used ramekins to pour our various dipping options into, then prepped some marshmallows by putting them on the lollipop stick. I put everything on a sheet of parchment paper so we would have a non-stick place for the chocolate to dry. Heating the chocolate took about two minutes total, and I was pleased to note that the container was not too hot to handle (the contents, however, are quite warm, so I wouldn’t try this unless your kid is hip to the concept of hot things).

Parchment paper is the best!

Alex was a fan of the marshmallow on a stick concept, and started eating them immediately.

Alex vs. the marshmallow

Once he got that out of his system, he seemed to enjoy the dipping concept. Ed and Charlie came over to watch, and Ed dipped a few himself at Alex’s request, so consider this an excellent family activity (bonus!). Next time I think I would wait a few minutes for the chocolate to cool a bit — we had lots of chocolate goop co-mingling with the sprinkles and I think the chocolate just needed to firm up a bit. We managed to dip about 10 marshmallows before Alex moved on to other things, so it was not super successful in terms of focus, but I still think he liked it. 

While setup took about as long as the execution, this was easy-peasy clean-up since everything stayed on the parchment paper. Our hardest-working family member (the Roomba) took care of the spilled mini M&Ms under the table. At least the ones that weren’t stuck to Charlie’s pants or in his mouth. There are benefits to being small and floor-bound.

Charlie continues to approve of his experience with solid foods to date.

Charlie continues to approve of his experience with solid foods to date.


What I’ve learned about brothers

Alex and Charlie holiday photo

In just a couple of weeks, my littlest monkey will be turning 1. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I started sobbing looking at the totally unexpected pink lines on the pregnancy test (those were panic tears). At the time we had a handful of a 14-month-old and had discussed waiting at least another year before trying to have a baby so we could spread out daycare costs a bit. So much for that.

At first, I was a little concerned about introducing another tiny person to the family. As Alex’s preferred parent (daddy is second-fiddle at our house), we have a close relationship. I knew I wouldn’t be as available to him, and I had a hard time visualizing how an extra person was going to fit into what felt like a pretty perfect family of 3. It seemed hard, and a lot of work, and maybe even a lot of misery for Alex. I felt pretty guilty about that last part, even though I am pro-sibling as a general rule. I expressed my concerns to my BFF since middle school, who said she felt the same way when they had their second, but it all worked out great and seeing the affection her kids had for each other was beautiful to watch. She’s usually right about these things, so I assuaged the guilt by buying Alex condolence vanilla bean Frappuchinos.

Mommy and Charlie

When Charlie arrived, I fell in love with the little peanut. I called him my kitten piglet — he was pretty small, and his crying sounded like little kitten mews. Even the nurses commented on it. We brought him home just a couple of days later, and so began a pretty amazing year of sibling affection. Maybe it was because Alex was barely about to turn 2, but we didn’t experience any of the jealousy and regression you worry about when bringing home a new baby. He was sweet to his baby brother (when he wasn’t ignoring him all together — there were toys to be played with and Thomas the Tank Engine to watch, after all), and I could tell Charlie enjoyed interacting with his big brother.

When Charlie got to the magical 6 month stage, when you can park your kid sitting up somewhere, I couldn’t help but notice that Charlie watched Alex. A lot. He was interested in everything he did, and found what he was doing to be pretty funny. Curiously, he especially found Alex tackling him to be funny, which made said tackling difficult to police. I remember constantly thinking “wait, you’re WAY to little for parallel play,” but that’s what the two of them were doing. I don’t remember Alex ever “playing” with other kids, but Charlie pretty quickly became Alex’s baby sidekick. 

Today there are lots of games of “chase” (or Alex’s modified version which involves lapping crawling Charlie several times over). Lately we’ve been dealing with Alex climbing in the crib and sleeping with Charlie. And Charlie continues to think Alex is the BEST THING EVER. There is no doubt in my mind that Alex enjoys the encouragement and attention from his brother. 

Okay, so it's not all sunshine and rainbows.

Okay, so it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

The biggest lesson for me in all of this is that love grows. What I thought was a heart already brimming with love for Alex was actually only the tip of the iceberg. There was more room than I imagined. Not just in me, but I saw it happen in Alex’s small toddler-centered world — a space grew for Charlie, and with it came lots of hugs and kisses and concern for his well being, something I absolutely would not have expected to see from a two-year-old. Empathy? Worry? Those are pretty big concepts for a little kid, but they were there all the same because he allowed love to grow. I’m truly humbled by watching that process happen over the last year. It was a good and necessary reminder for me. In this imperfect world, sometimes it feels easier to harden my heart and stifle growth, but I bet I’ll miss a lot of beautiful moments that way.

And with that, a few words for my sons as they approach their first and third birthdays:

Charlie pic

Charlie: Knowing you are likely my last baby, I have savored so many moments of this last year, and sniffed your head countless times. Apologies in advance because I will continue to cuddle and sniff you. I love your serious and playful sides, and I can’t wait to see your personality shine over the next year.

Alex pic

Alex: Charlie is super lucky to have you as a brother. I can’t even begin to imagine the fun you two will have.  I am so, so proud of you for being kind to your brother, but for the love of Pete, would you please stop climbing in the crib. I’m afraid you’re going to step on your brother’s head. 



DIY tent for tiny persons

No Sew DIY Tent

We recently made the decision to turn our dining room into a playroom. And by “we,” I mean “I” decided this a year ago and it took awhile for Ed to come around to the truth that we were not utilizing our formal dining room. Sometimes I think Ed clings too much to our past life. You know, when we had time and money to entertain people. 

We shipped our dining room table off to the in-laws for storage, sold the china cabinet and took a trip to Ikea to outfit the room with kid friendly accessories. I would say the endeavor was mostly successful, except that Alex now drags toys from the playroom into the living room, rather than playing in the actual playroom. This kid . . .

But, we did get a pretty awesome tent out of a random Ikea kid’s canopy. It’s the one thing Alex does play with! Bonus: The entire project is no-sew. If you can use safety pins and glue, you can make this tent.

While Ikea does ship some items direct, they don’t ship their Mysig bed canopy, which makes up the roof of the tent. You can find Ikea products on Amazon, but you’ll pay quite a bit more than the Ikea store price. So if you’re not close to an Ikea, I recommend finding a friend who is. Or heckle the folks at Ikea.com until they offer this item for shipping. 

In addition the Mysig Bed Canopy, you will also need:

3 yards of standard fabric (home dec is not the correct width and will need to be trimmed if used)

3 yards of ring/shade tape (available at Jo Ann Fabrics)

Medium-sized safety pins

3 yards of trim to edge opening of tent

Fabric Glue (Fabri-Tac is the best!)

To start, assemble the canopy according to package directions (basically, stick the rods through the pocket). Glue the ring tape around the perimeter of the canopy, just above the area where you’ll be sliding the rods through. Let this dry overnight or at least several hours so it’s good and stuck on.

Tent instructions

For the tent walls, cut the 3-yard length of fabric in half along the short side (so you’ll have two 1 1/2 yard pieces). Along one cut edge on each piece of fabric, use the glue to adhere the trim. The trim edges will be positioned at the tent entrance, so just make sure you’re keeping everything turned the way you want (in the case of directional fabrics). The trim and glue will help protect the fabric edges, but you can also use Fray Check to prevent fraying if needed.

The next step is key to what makes this project truly no-sew. You need to hang the canopy high enough that the fabric panels hang at the correct height without any trimming. For us, this was about 75″ high. We just used a nail to hang the canopy hook on. You could also use a screw-in hook if you’d prefer. Once the canopy is hung, settle yourself under it and get ready to pin up the panels. This part involves some eyeballing, but you’re basically just using the safety pins to attach the fabric to the rings you glued to the canopy earlier. Spread them evenly on each side, starting with the center-most ring. (The center ring will end up with two pins in it, to keep the tent edges properly closed.)

Tent interior

And that’s it! The fabric width is perfect for this project, and with the selvage edges positioned at the top and bottom, you don’t need to hem or worry about fraying. The whole thing took about an hour to complete (not including drying time), and I think that was mostly because I kept gluing my fingers together during the trim step.

I outfitted the tent interior with a cushy rug, beanbag chair and lantern. I’m not sure Alex appreciates my interior decorating, but I forgive this temporary toddler oversight. Perhaps when he’s older he will thank me for his magical childhood.

Tent interior

Alex seems to enjoy his little hideaway, including running out of it repeatedly.

Alex running out of tent

Quick Apple-Mustard Pork (or chicken!)

Quick Apple Mustard Pork

I am trying really, really hard at scheduling out meals every week, because otherwise I get home from work, tired and directionless, and we end up ordering take out. I mean, I love having other people cook for me, but the costs add up. So, on Saturday evening, I scour the internet for recipes to try the following week. I found this recipe for Apple-Mustard Chicken Tenders on the Taste of Home website. I’m a fan of their magazine but I let my subscription lapse after watching the pile of unread magazines reach fire-hazard levels. Sayonara Taste of Home, Better Homes & Gardens, Country Living, This Old House, and every other special interest publication not related to children. See you in 10 years.

What attracted me to this recipe was the short ingredient list and the fact it has two steps. SOLD. One of the reviewers said they used pork instead of chicken, which sounded like a good idea. I don’t usually cook pork unless I have a plastic baggie and some shake-and-bake, but sometimes you need a little cooking adventure. That said, the apple base is pretty versatile, so any white meat will do the trick.

In addition to one pound of pork or chicken, you also need apples, brown sugar and mustard. I used Stonewall Kitchen’s maple champagne mustard. You could use spicy or stone-ground for more kick.

Ingredients for Apple pork recipe

To get started, melt a little butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Throw some salt and pepper on both sides of the meat, and put it in the pan when it’s hot. I like to use thin cuts of meat — I find I’m less likely to burn the outside this way, but just make sure you don’t overcook the meat, either. Otherwise it’s dry and tough. I haven’t quite figured out that happy medium between moist and tender and charred and inedible, but I mention it in case you have meat-cooking skills.

Once the meat is cooked (about 3-4 minutes per side), remove it from the pan. Turn the heat down to medium, and add chopped apple (from 1-2 apples), 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup mustard. Stir it all around and let it cook down a bit. For a crispier topping, just cook this until it’s heated through. For a saucier topping, cook it as long as you like! The apples will get mushier the longer you heat them.

Throw the meat back in the pan and let the meat and apple topping mingle for a minute or so. Then serve with the apple goodness spread on top.

Apple and pork mingling happily

We served this with butter noodles and a little side salad. It was quick to make, and even Ed – who is sparing with his thumbs up on recipes – liked it. I’ll be adding it to our official recipe binder! (Which is rather thin thanks to my unwillingness to cook things with more than 5 ingredients.)

Quick Apple-Mustard Pork
Serves 4
  1. 1 lb. pork (or chicken if you prefer)
  2. 2 apples, chopped
  3. 1/2 cup brown sugar
  4. 1/2 cup mustard (stone-ground or any other kind you like!)
  1. Season meat with salt and pepper. Melt about a tablespoon of butter in a pan, and cook meat over medium-high heat, about 3-4 minutes per side. Turn the heat down to medium, and add chopped apple (from 1-2 apples), 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup mustard. Stir it all around and let it cook down a bit. For a crispier topping, just cook this until it’s heated through. For a saucier topping, cook it as long as you like! The apples will get mushier the longer you heat them.
  2. Return meat to pan for about a minute. Serve with apple topping.
Adapted from Taste of Home
Adapted from Taste of Home
Busy Boy Guide http://busyboyguide.com/


Toddlers love pictures (of themselves)

It’s a fact. Toddlers are vain creatures. Alex can’t handle walking by a mirror without giggling at his reflection, pausing to take a closer look. I note that there is not much this kid pauses for in general, other than the aforementioned mirrors, and choosing a snack.

I happen to enjoy looking at my cute munchkins as well, so it is my mission to put their faces on as much stuff as possible. I think it also makes them feel important, something the under-3-foot-tall crowd needs.

Below are several ideas for incorporating your kids mug shot into daily life. Some of these require only uploading a few photos and doing some simple cropping via the respective company’s customization tools. Others I made myself using Photoshop Elements, which I recommend if you do any kind of photo editing or like to dabble in graphic design. Elements is much easier to pick up than feature-heavy Photoshop, and doesn’t cost $600 (hooray!).  As an added bonus, the software license can be installed on up to two computers. Just the ability to control the dark/light levels in your photos is worth the investment, but it’s also useful for creating posters and any other printed material you can dream up. If you’re not ready to make the leap, though, Pixler might be worth checking out! It’s a free web-based editing tool with features similar to Photoshop.

This is the newest entry to my personalization collection: custom wrapping paper. It’s from minted.com, a company that makes adorable customized art and gifts. I can’t wait to wrap gifts with these cute faces. Bonus — everyone will know who the gift is from. I recommend signing up for Minted’s emails. I got a deal for five free additional sheets of wrapping paper, so double the cute.

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Truck parking sign

Alex’s collection of giant-sized vehicles keeps expanding, so I made this truck parking sign to keep them all corralled in the playroom. I created the design in Elements, and ordered a standard 8×10 print from Mpix. To make it a bit more sturdy, I chose to have the print mounted on mat board. The print arrived ready to hang with some tape, and now Alex has parking for his trucks. (And I have a place to throw them at the end of the day.)

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Custom stickers

Everybody loves stickers. Stickers with your kids face are just two times the awesome factor. I used these to seal up goodie bags from Alex’s second birthday party. I ordered mine from Pro Lab Express, but Snapfish has an even easier ordering tool, no special software required. Snapfish always has coupon codes, so make sure you check before completing your order. Are you an Ebates user? Cash back is almost always 10%!

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Book of names and faces

One of my favorite projects to date is Alex’s names and faces book. It has pictures of our family, and the name of each family member on a brightly colored page. This was a big hit in the 12-30 month range. After age 2 1/2, Alex only wants to see your face if you’re handing him a Danimals smoothie (just kidding, I hope).  You can make your own book at Pinhole Press.

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Custom canvas print

Last, but not least, is the ever popular canvas print. You’ve seen the Living Social and Groupon deals, now bite the bullet and order a giant canvas for your house. We gets lots of compliments of the one I took of Alex at 15 months. At some point I’d like to get a nice picture of the boys together to hang in their room, because I think that would just be adorable. The company I’ve ordered from in the past is MyPix2Canvas. They offer their own canvas and print specials from time to time, so you may want to sign up for their email list. Or visit your favorite deal site and see what’s available!


Field Trip Fail

Due to some confusion about where the student mailboxes were located in Alex’s new pre-school classroom, we didn’t find out about his apple picking field trip until just a few days before, when they were looking for permission slips. I hardly had time to process the fact that my 2-year-old would be going on a field trip WITHOUT ME, let alone the fact that he would be riding on an actual school bus WITHOUT A CAR SEAT. I had misgivings, so I did what any parent would do and signed up to chaperone. Rookie mistake.

We left the house in the usual chaotic fashion, dropped Charlie off with his baby friends in the infant room, and headed up to the pre-school classroom to wait for the bus. Alex went into his typical hysterics when we got to the room, in spite of my repeated assurances that I was staying. The cling monster didn’t let up until it came time to get on the bus.

Check out this ecstatic bus face.

Check out this ecstatic “I’m on a bus!” face.

Still, I was proud of my little munchkin as he calmly boarded and waited patiently for the kids to get buckled in (this bus had seat belts at least, thankfully). He laughed with delight as the bus got moving, and smiled for the first 5 minutes of the trip, just because of the bus excitement. I thought, “this was so worth it. That look on his face – that’s what this is all about.” Oh, optimism. I guess it’s nice to know I still possess it this far into raising a toddler.

Misery ensued the moment we stepped off the bus. We had to wait. Wait for potty trips, and wait for the tractor that would bring us to the apples. And then we had to get off the tractor. And the tractor left. It was too much. For the next hour, Alex pulled out all the trantrum stops: refusing to walk, crumpling to the ground, screaming. Out of the 25 children on the field trip, do you know which one lost it because he couldn’t drive the tractor? Do you know which one ran off repeatedly? Do you know which one refused to have fun? Yes. That would be my kid.

Visions of apple picking

The morning ended up being pretty miserable. I kept checking my phone, counting down the minutes until it was time to board the bus again. I tried not to give into the tantrums, but I still ended up carrying Alex pretty much everywhere. When I wasn’t carrying him, he was in a heap on the ground crying. So, fun times.

He rallied toward the end, and was pretty quiet on the bus ride home. I’m sure all that falling on the ground gets tiring. And this story does have a happy ending. Both boys took a 2-hour nap, a rarity for Alex these days. I even snuck in an hour nap, which is hands down my favorite thing in the world. I heart naps. We may have also gone out for milkshakes.

Alex is actually pretty good at school, as his teachers confirmed. I guess I’m glad he saves his punk behavior for me — I made him, he’s my problem. I just don’t understand what I’m doing to make the tantrums an option for him. We’re supposed to be having fun. Why aren’t you having fun, small person? Why??

Conveniently, I read that one of my favorite blogs, Momastery, is hosting a three-session webinar with the author of “Parenting Without Power Struggles.” I’m thinking about signing up so someone can fix my parenting. The tantrums are just getting longer as Alex grows and apparently develops the ability to remember life’s injustices. So much for waiting the tantrums out.

Time for a new plan. I may be exhausted and exasperated kiddo, but I’m not giving up yet. We WILL be a happy family with slightly less screaming, so help me.

Truck Wash Time!

I spend a lot of time perusing the internet for activities to keep Alex busy. Generally, somewhere in the description, the blogger will go on about how her kids played with their homemade marble ramp or gluten-free slime for hours or all afternoon. I call foul. I promote honesty in my blogging, so I promise to report truthful times in which my kid was distracted from emptying the toy box or watching another episode of Fireman Sam.

This activity is super easy to set up, and is one of Alex’s favorites. It’s one of my favorites because he’s pretty happy to entertain himself with it. I present you with the illustrious truck wash!

Easy peasy truck wash

All you need are trucks – preferably ones without electronic components, of course – a bowl of soapy water (I use Dawn dish soap but bath bubbles work, too) and one bowl of clean water for rinsing. I set this up on our deck and let Alex go to town. I can usually count on a good 15 minutes of Alex washing his trucks, which is like a goldmine of free time for me. It’s a good opportunity to get the house back to livable conditions without someone asking for a snack every 30 seconds.

Alex is nothing if not thorough in his truck rinsing.

Alex is nothing if not thorough in his truck rinsing.

This could also work well indoors. We are fans of bringing in the water table during the winter months – adding bubbles and trucks to the water table mix would be even more fun. Something absorbent to put under the water table is highly recommended, unless you think your homeowner’s insurance would cover water damage by a toddler.

In the event you don’t already have a million and one cars and trucks in your toy collection, this set gets the most use at our house. Each of the trucks have some type of moving part, which adds to the truck appeal.

We interrupt this truck wash for a phone call from daddy.

We interrupt this truck wash for a phone call from daddy.

Best Brands for Boys

Best Brands for Boys: Clothes that won't break the bank

Once upon a time, I would spend hours combing through clearance racks, hunting down the absolute best deal, then whipping out a coupon to make the savings even bigger. This sort of shopping tactic takes a lot of time, and as such I no longer spend Saturdays at the mall. Oh, shifting priorities.

To streamline the clothes-buying process, I have a list of stores that I can count on for well-made, reasonably priced clothes. Considerations include fun and unique tops, durability and elastic-waist pants with a relaxed fit . (What is it with stores making skinny pants for boys? Could you please tell me how they are supposed to climb trees and jump off of things in those?? It’s nuts, people. It needs to stop.)

Without further adieu, here are my top picks and how to get the best deals!

Hanna Andersson: Those Scandinavians know how to make clothes. The Nordic sweaters and matching family outfits are not really up our alley, but you would be hard pressed to find more durable pants, whether it be jeans, sweats or chinos. I’ve had pretty good luck finding this brand at area consignment shops, but have purchased from their store and website a few times as well. A 20% off sale is typically the best I’ve seen, though their outlet stores occasionally have additional savings. It’s worth signing up for their emails so you stay abreast of sales. This is also a good brand to scout out on Ebay if you are familiar with their sizing (sizing goes 60, 70, 80, 90, etc. . .). Free shipping is a little hard to come by, but they do allow free in-store pick up. If you are in their retail store (or outlet) and they don’t have the size you need, they’ll ship it to your home for free and honor any in-store discounts. I was able to pick up a pair of their carefree jeans for $24 (originally $39) that way!

Baby Gap: This is where I get the bulk of Alex and Charlie’s clothing. The price is right, and you can get cute staple pieces. I have not had great luck with their pants — they trend toward slimmer children than my chunky monkeys — but I love their tops and I am a super big fan of their pajamas. They wash well, come in adorable prints and they all survived Alex abuse so Charlie will be able to wear them, too. I would be remiss if I did not mention their ridiculously cute winter hats for babies. Buy those early because they tend to sell out fast (you will not regret the bear ears, I promise). Sales happen constantly. I get one email from them a day announcing some sort of discount. Hold out for the 30-40% off sales for sure. If you’re not opposed to a new credit card, I’ve done well reward-wise with their store card. You also get additional discounts when you use a Gap card. Shipping is free after $50, and return shipping is also free. I actually find the online experience to be better than their stores, which don’t have the full selection, and can be a little on the messy side sometimes.

Mini Boden: This brand is one of personal favorites for its whimsical-cute tops, fun accessories and good-quality bottoms. But it’s definitely a splurge, so I stick to just a few purchases (assuming I can control myself — their baby clothes are ridiculous in the best possible way). This is a British brand, and a fun one at that — my packages usually have a sheet of stickers in them, and the catalog comes with a little tear-out activity. Tops feature animals doing funny things (I just got a shirt for Charlie with a pigeon riding a scooter), big prints and an expanded color palette. In terms of sales, 20% is pretty standard. Occasionally you see 30%, but it’s rare. I do recommend keeping an eye out for offers for a $50 Boden credit for $35. These occasionally show up on Plum District and Rue La La, and can be combined with coupon codes. Shipping is almost always free except during clearance sales, and you can often get return shipping free as well. Just pay attention to the coupon code details. I usually pay between $14-$22 for tops, and have paid as much as $40 for a pair of jeans, but they were really awesome pants, and I vowed to never do it again (it was at a time Alex was in a pants crisis. Nothing was fitting this kid in the waist without being 2 feet too long. Darn chocolate milk belly). Anyway, do yourself a favor and check out the cuteness.

LL Bean: I can’t speak highly enough about LL Bean’s outerwear for toddlers. Talk about getting what you pay for. Their rain gear is especially great, and I plan to get it in every size for pretty much the rest of time. Alex can lie down in a puddle (don’t ask) and thanks to their rain pants and coat, he comes in the house with dry clothes. It’s amazing. They have great fleece coats, too. Wait for a 15% sale to get the best deal! I do have their store card but it takes forever to get rewards, so I wouldn’t necessarily bother with it. If you have younger kids, you can count on being able to pass down what you buy, and a lot of the colors are gender neutral, so it doesn’t matter if it’s going to a boy or girl.

Alex's clothes

Honorable mentions:

Lands End has a decent collection of toddler boys clothes. You can return anything that doesn’t work out at their Sears retail locations.

I check out Diapers.com for deals on Hatley apparel, like this “Master of Disaster” shirt. Hatley also makes super adorable rain coats and boots. It’s best to buy these when Diapers.com offers a 20% off apparel coupon code. Returns are always free! Diapers.com is just generally awesome for any of your baby/toddler purchases, I highly recommend them.

Gymboree has great pajamas. I like that they call them Gymmies.

Zappos has a million and one shoes to choose from. Sales are sort of non-existent, but they ship overnight for free and offer free returns, so it’s great in a pinch or if you’re looking for something specific (I love the Native shoes I bought from them — they’re similar to Crocs but styled more like sneakers).

If you’re looking for a deal on shoes, I highly recommend their sister site, 6pm.com.

In case you missed it, read my tips on saving money on children’s clothes!