2014 Gift Guide: Cool stuff for kids

unique gift ideas for kids

I know “kids” is a broad category – a 3 year old and an 11 year old probably aren’t going to be psyched to get the same types of presents. While I know most kids would be happy with an iTunes or GooglePlay gift card, here are some fun ideas to get kids of all ages off their screens.

Deluxe Bubble Wand Kit, $29.
Two activities in one – first, bend copper wire to make a unique wand. Next, make some bubbles! It’s a unique craft that families can do together. Arterro has a bunch of other kits you may want to check out from bookmaking to jewelry design ($22-$29.)

Pizza Parlor, $17.
What kid doesn’t love playing with fake food? Get them set up with their own pizza parlor for hours of imaginative play. Made in the USA from 100 percent recycled milk jugs.

Stuffed Penguin, $26.
I mean, just stop it with the adorableness. Handmade in Peru, fair trade.
The Little Market Penguin. 16377
InRoad PlayTape, $8 – 13.
Let the road (and their imagination) go anywhere with this cool tape that creates a road or railroad tracks.

You’ve Been Sentenced Board Game, $17.
Fun to play with older kids. Great for anyone who loves words, or who wants to improve their grammar skills and expand their vocabulary. I’m making it sound boring but trust me, it’s a blast!

Books, $5 -20.
I love giving books to kids. If you have a local bookstore (or the kid you’re buying for has one near them), grab a gift card or confirm their return policy and pick up a few chapter books that they can return for credit if they’ve already read them. Kids of all ages love reading books whether it’s with their parents or if they like to read by themselves. If you’re not sure what kind of books the kid you’re buying for will like, a book of facts/how things work or joke books usually go over well. Optical illusions, easy magic tricks or “kitchen science” books are also usually safe bets.

Is it hard for you to find cool gifts for kids?

2014 Gift Guide: Made in Vermont

made in vermont gifts, made in usa gifts, unique gift ideas 2014

Vermont is filled with entrepreneurs, makers and artisans of all kinds. The state is also home to historic companies that have been flying the “Made in USA” flag for many years. Find gifts on this list for everyone – kids, coworkers, friends and special someones. These gifts can be purchased online from anywhere in the world, but I hope they also inspire you to take a trip to my state someday soon!

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Artisan Griller Set, $39.99

For the griller extraordinaire or the wanna-be chef, this set includes a delicious selection of rubs and sauces made in Vermont! My favorite is the Benito’s Organic Maple Chipotle BBQ Rub. I mean, maple + chipotle? Heaven!


Tata Harper Skincare Set, $48

This all-natural skincare line features simple, organic ingredients that really work to reveal your best skin. Give that special someone (or hard-to-please niece/mother-in-law/etc.) this sampler and she’ll thank you forever.

RealSticks Sampler
Real Sticks Sampler, $32.95

For the person on your list who travels a lot, or just someone who appreciates delicious food! These are great for on-the-go protein or pre/post workout.

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Snowflake Earrings, $199

A higher-end gift perfect for a special woman. Seasonal, yes, but also timeless. These are handmade with sterling silver and diamonds in Burlington, VT by Perrywinkle’s Fine Jewelry.

15" Holiday Hoodie-Footie™ Bear
Holiday Teddy Bear, $79.99

For the kid (or kid-at-heart) on your list, this cozy “Hoodie Footie” bear will be a delightful surprise! Choose from lots of styles for everyone from snowboarders to ballerinas.


Puzzle Soap, $10

Bath time fun for the kid in your life! Or, a cute stocking stuffer for anyone on your list. Also great for a work party or secret santa.

smooth skin gift set - Flourish Natural Body Care
Smooth Skin Gift Set, $48.50

This set of lotion, scrub and lip balm covers all the bases! Pick one scent for all three products or mix and match from Flourish Body Care’s delicious scents.
Engravable Money Clip
Pewter Money Clip, $25
Engrave this beautiful money clip for the special man in your life. Danforth Pewter products are high quality and reasonably priced so they are my go-to for gifts for many different occasions. Another favorite is their frames – add a photo for a personalized touch.


Double Knit Beanie, $25
Hemetic Trading Co. is a new Vermont company launched using Kickstarter. Their simple, functional products like this super warm beanie would be perfect for lots of people on your list.


Wrap Bracelet, $76

This style of bracelet is beloved by women of all ages. Pick up a single, double, or triple wrap from BellaMink depending on your budget and the style you like.

Travel Essential: Weekender Bags

weekender bags

Tis the season for weekend travel!

Weekender bags are designed for, you guessed it, holding as much as you need for a weekend away. I use this style for personal and professional travel, as does my husband. Typically in a travel duffel or large tote style, these bags marry gorgeous form and ideal function. While the traditional weekender style includes one large compartment with perhaps one or two smaller pockets, the newer models include lots of pockets for more organization. The Birdling Bag is a great example of simple exterior styling and incredible interior organization.

There’s a time and place for a roller carry-on, but swinging one of these gorgeous styles over your shoulder can be just as easy – and, bonus if you’re traveling by airplane, you’ll never be asked to gate-check one of these beauties. At least I never have ;)

All styles in this post are Made in America and built to last.

Birdling Bags, Driftwood Grey Weekender Bag, $225:

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Parrott Canvas Company, Medium Cumberland Duffel, $185: (Monogram for only $6!)

parrott canvas
Beckel Canvas, Possibilities Bag, $65:

beckel canvas possibilities

Blue Claw Co., Exeiza Weekender Bag, $375:

blue claw co weekender
Frost River, Flight Bag Carry On, $140:

frost river flight bag
Duluth Pack, Medium Sportsman’s Duffel, $325: (Note: this is possibly the largest option – may not work for all carry-on situations)

Duluth_Sportsman_Leather_Duffel

Which one is your favorite??

New Mom Makeup

new mom makeup tips

I can see the headline now… “New Mom Wears Full Face of Glamorous Makeup, Wins Award for Being Most Ridiculous Amazing Robot Woman Ever!”

Hahahah.

But seriously. Let’s talk about what (all natural, green/clean, non-toxic) makeup a REAL new mom would wear. Two words: skincare makeup. Two more words: SO TIRED.

Okay, back to the makeup.

1. Pick a foundation and/or concealer that has some other beneficial properties like moisture or skin rejuvenating vitamins or some miracle properties that make 1 hour of sleep feel like 7. Sure you might use moisturizer or some lovely face oil too. But probably one step is hard enough.

My choice: bareMinerals bareSkin Pure Brightening Serum Foundation, $29. RMS “Un” Cover-Up, $36.

2. Pick a lip color that has some other beneficial properties like moisture or skin rejuvenating vitamins or some miracle properties that make 1 hour of sleep feel like 7. You should be noticing a trend here.

My choices: Kari Gran Peppermint Tinted Lip Whip, $15, Korres Lip Butter in Pomegranate (or Wild Rose), $12, Juice Beauty Reflecting Gloss, $15.

… Aaaaaaand that might be it. It’s just enough to make that quick glance in the mirror when you’re taking 5 seconds to pee for the first time in 2 days a little less soul crushing frightening. Halloween is over, folks.

But if you’re feeling particularly awake ambitious, by all means, continue:

3. Do your fastest brow routine. Like whatever the bare minimum is to get your brows from messy and possibly nonexistent to … less messy and “oh yeah I see you have brows up there.”

4. Curl your lashes and slap on some mascara. Pump 10 times with your curler on the ends/tips and then middle of your lashes (or… wherever you can grab safely) and swipe on a coat of mascara on each eye. Be careful – you might be so overtired that you forget how to do this. When in doubt, stay away from your eye area with metal tools and/or pokey wands.

My choice: That Revlon curler I’ve had for 5 years that I should replace + Pacifica Stellar Gaze in Brown (or that Physicians Formula Organic Wear Mascara everyone has). By all means do not use any formula that is “wet” or needs to “set” because that sh*t will be all over your face in two seconds. I’m talking to you, Ecco Bella Mascara.

5. Add a very light wash of a blush that has some highlighter/light-reflecting properties in it. This might just make you feel like a million bucks because OH YEAH. I’m wearing light-reflecting blusher AND I just built and birthed a human being. HUZZAH.

IMPORTANT NOTE >>> If anyone judges you for wanting to put some makeup on your face when your babe is small, that’s just silly. Same goes for judging moms anyone who doesn’t wear makeup. Let’s all just BE COOL and be ourselves and do what makes us feel good, k?

What are your favorite multi-tasking makeup-skincare hybrids? Seriously, send them my way. Also send coffee and hugs.

Meredith Tested: Kari Gran Cleansing Oil

I have a strange relationship with skincare. On the one hand, I love testing out products and when something works for my skin, it makes me so happy. However, I also kind of hate that it’s a daily (sometimes multiple times a day) task. Bottom line: it’s a chore. So are taking showers but I’ve tried to get better with that by keeping my hair a little shorter (backstory: my hair is super thick and wavy and therefore maintaining long hair is a huuuuuge hassle). ;)

Basically I just admitted to everyone that I’m lazy. I prefer to think of it this way: I’d rather spend my time doing other things than going through a messy 7-step process just to keep my skin under control. ;)

kari gran starter kit

Anyway, I think I’ve found something that helps reconcile my two opposing feelings about skincare: Kari Gran Cleansing Oil.

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Natural Birth Hospital Bag Packing List

hospital bag packing list

The internet can totally use another birth bag post, right? Right? ;)

Here is what I had in my hospital bag for my natural birth (I used the hypnobirthing method, FYI). What I used/strongly recommend bringing is noted with a ‘*’. Please note, though, I’d probably recommend bringing everything. Don’t let people call you “that crazy over-prepared/over-zealous/nutso pregnant lady.” Unless you live right next door to your hospital or birthing center and are OK asking your husband/birth partner to run back to your house if you need anything, you’ll enjoy the peace of mind knowing you’re (over) prepared.

My hypno-birthing instructor said it best: “Air on the side of caution and your comfort. If you don’t want to lug everything into the hospital, just leave it in the car!” Eureka! Maybe it was pregnancy brain, but for some reason this simple solution of leaving stuff in the car didn’t come to mind when I was reading the zillions of hospital bag “what I brought vs what I needed” lists out there. So, we left a lot of stuff in the car, including all of the baby’s stuff, my birthing ball, etc. If I really needed something, it was easy enough for my husband to grab it from the car in the parking garage. But we didn’t have to worry about schlepping tons of stuff into the delivery room (…and then to the recovery room.)

Also – ask on your tour of the birthing center what kinds of things the nurses recommend bringing. It might be different at every hospital/center so the best way to be prepared is to customize for your situation.

Main bag (I used “day-tripper” sized tote):

*Button-down sleep shirt (black)
*Black cotton robe
*Sleep nursing bra
*Nursing tank top
*Cozy socks
Underwear (big/old)
*My favorite lip balm
*Hair elastics and clips (I had a bag just for these and I had some in my toiletry/makeup bag)
*Toiletries (hand/body lotion, face lotion, lip balm, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razor, deodorant)
*Makeup (lightweight foundation, concealer, blush, mascara, eyelash curler, lip gloss)
Cleansing face wipes
Nipple cream
Small spray bottle of witch hazel (some people also bring Tucks wipes/pads)
Pacifica Tuscan Orange solid fragrance (Scent is huge for me so I used this to develop positive associations during my hypnobirthing practice)
Tennis balls (for lower back massages)
*A bath towel
*Extra long phone cord & charger (you never know where outlets will be!)
Reusable shopping tote for hospital stuff (like the super-glamorous disposable underwear, etc.)
*My wallet
*My iPhone
Headphones (for music and recordings to help with hypnobirth)
Aux cable for plugging my iPhone into the hospital’s speakers
*Eye mask
*Plastic bag for laundry
*Coconut water & snacks (FYI our hospital had great food and were super awesome about my food allergies)
Gum, lozenges and cough drops
Some prenatal vitamins
Small notebook & pen
*Manilla envelope (copies of birth preferences sheet, misc forms/paperwork/brochures from hospital)
*Gallon ziplock bag for baby blankets/etc. to bring home for the dogs to smell. (FYI, our dog trainer recommended this book on how to prepare pets for baby.)

My husband’s bag (not pictured, he used a backpack):

*Change of clothes (pants/shirt)
*Toiletries (the basics – toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant)
*Eye mask
Cash/coins
*Phone charger
*Small blanket

Leave in car (smallish canvas tote):

*Baby’s stuff (Footie pjs in various sizes cuz who knows how big your baby will be, a hat, swaddling blankets, a few disposable diapers)
*My going home outfit (comfy black leggings, loose t-shirt, warm wrap sweater)
Slippers
Box of nursing pads

Also in car:
*Car seat & car seat base (Obvi! Hospital won’t let you leave without it!)
Birthing ball (my birthing center/hospital had tons of balls to use but I brought mine just in case)
Pillows (recommended by the labor & delivery nurse but I didn’t want to bring to my room right away)
Nursing pillow

Packing a hospital bag can be a fun way to prepare for baby’s homecoming, but don’t stress. As the amazingly wise Pregnant Chicken says, “You really don’t need much to have a baby. Got your vagina? Packed!”

I didn’t have my hospital bags 100% packed until week 37/38 but I started doing research and got a few things together starting week 30ish. Start packing at week 22 if you want! This is your pregnancy and you can prepare however you wish. If your sister/aunt/friend laughs at you, just shake it off. Shake it like a Polaroid picture, baby! Not that anyone knows what a Polaroid picture is anymore.

 Feel free to leave questions/advice/rants about how I over-packed in the comments ;)

Meredith Tested: Hand and Body Moisturizers for Dry Winters

hand and body moisturizers

I know it’s not “officially” winter … yet. But as the air gets colder and dryer in New England, I’m already in winter mode with my skin. Here are my favorite ways to battle the dry skin that comes with living in a cold winter climate. Even people who wouldn’t call their skin “sensitive” experience more reactions in the wintertime. At the bare minimum, avoid products with fragrance. Better yet, stick with products that are green, clean and natural to make sure you’re helping, not aggravating your possibly-already-aggravated dry skin.

I have a lot of other moisturizers hanging around, but these are the ones I reach for most often and I find are most effective (aka I don’t have to reapply every 5 minutes):

1. Argan Oil
I use it on my hands, body, face, hair … It’s incredibly versatile and can be mixed with other products. I usually use it on it’s own but if you find the texture hard to spread on arms and legs, mixing with a moisturizer can help. My current favorite brand is Arzoyi, available on Amazon.

2. Aveda All-Sensitive Moisturizer
This has a thin texture that might make you think it’s not as effective as a huge glob of thick cream. Not so! I like that it’s easy to spread out over my arms and legs. Super dry skin will easily “drink it up.” It’s fragrance free but I find it does have a nice light scent. This is always in my rotating arsenal of moisturizers because it always works. I sometimes use it as a bottom “layer” of moisture and then add one of the other products mentioned in this post as needed. Another great, similar option I sometimes use is from Beauty Without Cruelty.

3. NovaKera Cream
Made in the USA with simple ingredients. Not greasy but works really well on hands and feet. I see pretty instant results even on cracked fingers/heels but it’s designed to be used for 7 days straight to get full results. Buy it on Amazon or buy it here. Get the small tube if you want to test it out.

4. Coconut Oil
No list would be complete without this workhorse oil! Depending on how dry I am, I find this doesn’t work as well on my hands as I’d like but it’s great for the rest of my body and I do like working it into my fingers to keep hangnails at bay. It smells great and absorbs relatively quickly, though I usually have to wait a few minutes for it to fully soak in. I buy a huge tub at Costco so I usually portion out a small amount to keep in the bathroom.

TIP >>> If you’re standing at the (mainstream drug or grocery) store, desperate for something to help your dry/itchy skin, check out the baby stuff. Aveeno, Burt’s Bees and a few other big brands have with good moisturizers that are green/clean/non-toxic but marketed for babies. Scan the bar code or search the product on EWG’s Skin Deep app from your phone to double check that there aren’t any gross/possibly irritating ingredients inside.

What are your favorite hand and body lotions and potions? Share in the comments!