Sprout Score Book Reviews

As a book-loving parent, I spend a lot of time reading, reading, and re-reading children’s books to my family.  Since I have three kids, including twins, there is an ever-present array of books scattered throughout my house. They might have a permanent home on a bookshelf, but spend most of their days in use or scattered across the floor, waiting for the next time.  We make regular trips to the library too, so there is also a library heap that stays stacked in the living room to reduce the chances of getting lost. It may change in content and height, but the library heap is a regular part of our decor.

Though I have three kids, my focus for Sprout Score reviews will be the books my twin daughters are reading.  There are a lot more books rotating through this house for them than my school-age son, simply because his days are filled with other activities and his books take more time to read.  So this blog series will be devoted to books for toddlers and pre-schoolers.

These reviews will not only be a simple synopsis of the story. As a parent, I find it very helpful to hear what other parents, and especially other kids, think about the products/books/activities they see and do every day.  So, each review will contain a Sprout Score and a Reader Rating:

Sprout Score

  1. ★ I won’t sit still to read this book
  2. ★★ I’ll sit but I will be bored
  3. ★★★ I’ll sit and be interested
  4. ★★★★ I really like this.  I’ll point and interact.
  5. ★★★★★ I love this!  Again!  Again!

Reader Rating

  1. ★ I’m bored while I read this out loud.
  2. ★★ I’m indifferent while I read out loud, just another book.
  3. ★★★ Good book, I enjoy reading out loud.
  4. ★★★★ I have fun and feel good about reading this out loud.
  5. ★★★★★ A favorite that I love to read to my kids and will remember.

Since this series is all about sharing, I welcome and encourage you to give your rankings in the comments if you have read the book being reviewed with your kids, too.

Let’s Read!





6 Ways Sleep Training Twins Is Like Caring For Drunk College Roomates

If you have any kids past the age of three, you’ve lived to tell the tales of removing the crib walls and the hours upon hours spent struggling to get your child to stay put in the new big kid bed. There are tears, exhaustion, and screaming, and the toddler might get upset too.  We are living through this right now in our house, with the additional entertainment of living through it with twins.

For a while now, my daughters have been running the show.  They aren’t taking naps and they are awake longer than my first grader every night.  I don’t understand how they are physically capable of being awake for that many hours.  It is slowly starting to shift;  I lived through this once with my son and I know it gets better.  But that doesn’t make it any less maddening.

Managing this process with one child takes patience.  Adding a playmate to the same room ensures a merry-go-round of mayhem.  In between the constant trips back and forth to break up the party, instead of stewing and going crazy, I’ve started to discover the similarities to another time of life.

I think back to my early twenties when nights out didn’t start until 10 pm and the only time I saw the sunrise was because I hadn’t gone to bed yet.  Those days are so very long gone, but the memories of caring for roommates who had one too many drinks are some of the best stories that remain from that time. Strangely enough, nights caring for tipsy roommates share quite a few similarities to nights juggling slap-happy twins:

  • They keep asking for just one more drink.
  • They think it’s hilarious to take off their clothes.
  • The more frustrated you get the more they laugh at you.
  • Hysterical giggling abruptly turns into sobs of despair.
  • The longer they stay awake the greater the chances of dealing with a hazmat situation.
  • Making sure they go to sleep in their own beds eliminates any morning-after drama.

The last few nights are already seeing quicker results, but I’m not ready to believe this is over. Bright summer evenings and warm upstairs bedrooms are just around the corner, and I expect that to bring out the clowns once again.  In the meantime, I am just expecting the worst and enjoying when it’s not, and trying my best to look at the funny side of all of it instead of banging my head into the drywall.  Like all phases, this one will pass, and I can add it to the list of accomplishments I survived and can laugh about later.


Dresses, spiders, and laundry; little moments with big lessons

I like to think I am not reinforcing gender stereotypes with my kids.  Even so, I have to constantly remind myself not to say and do the same things I have been subjected to throughout my own lifetime of fighting pink, dresses, and heels. I learned pretty early on that this is a lot harder to do now that I have both a son and two daughters.    Even though I know that I want my kids to be who they are and do what they want, and I feel very strongly about that in my own life and family, I’m realizing it may not always be obvious to my kids.  I also recognize I have to be consistent from now until, oh, forever in how I model this, otherwise it just gets confusing.  Living with me has to be confusing enough as it is, I don’t have to make it worse.

So, even though I do rely on hubby to kill spiders, I somehow have to model that it’s not because I’m a girl, it’s because SPIDERS ARE CREEPY AND EVIL.  And hubby isn’t afraid of that awful squish sound.  Not because he’s a boy, but because our fears are different.  Spiders.  Blech.

So what can I do every day to avoid teaching the wrong lessons?  (the stereotypes, not the spider extermination process)

Well, when Bear and Goose wear dresses and anyone tells them they look beautiful, I have to remember to also tell them they are beautiful when they are wearing mismatched outfits they picked on their own and are dirty and digging in mud.  I have to tell Bean that he is handsome both when he is dressed for church as well as when he is a sweaty mess.  I have to compliment their appearances at a much lower frequency than complimenting other parts of who they are.

When Bean wants to help me cook, wash dishes, or fold laundry, I need to find the patience to let him.  Hubby does all of these things as much or more than me, and is already a great example, so I have to be ok with the six-year-old version of helping.

When my daughters imitate me and throw a purse on their shoulder and wave bye-bye, I can’t say “are you going shopping?”, I have to challenge myself to come up with something other than the easy comment.  So far I have asked if they are going to the library, to work, to the doctor, to play, to the museum, and for some reason I have to think really hard to say something other than shopping.  Why is that?  I don’t go shopping, why would I even say that?  The point is, I’m looking for more creative activities to suggest than what a girl and a purse are stereotypically assumed to be doing.

(Also, just to be snarky, anything that would normally be a “princess” something I choose to use “queen.” If you’re going to aspire to be part of a royal family, at least shoot for the leadership role.)

When it is time to split resources and have one parent outside playing with the kids and one inside being productive, I can’t always default to being the productive one, even if it soothes my overwhelming need to “catch up.” I need to be the parent playing and running around just as much as hubby needs to be the one being productive, because we are equal partners in this circus and our kids need to know that, too.

I recognize these are all small moments in the thousands that go by every day. I’m trying to focus on the little things now before they get older and the little things turn into big things that are hard and confusing. I may get it wrong more often than I get it right, but thankfully I have kids to be the first to point that out. At least that means they know what the right thing is, and they will never ask me to get rid of the spider.


When it straight up breaks down

Parents do countless things on a daily basis that can only be explained by “because I am a parent.” We accept a constant barrage of stress, illness, sleep deprivation, fear, guilt, and running our lives around what is best for our children. That is a short and bleak picture, and nowhere near comprehensive.  There is, of course, all of the reasons we wouldn’t change it for anything in the world because we love those little buggers with a power indescribable.  But this post isn’t about all of that.  This post is about what happens to me when that parenting self-sacrifice, that maternal instinct, straight up breaks down.

Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I can usually look back and see the progression, understand the unlucky combination of events that leads to this point.  But hindsight is only helpful for understanding; I have not yet mastered the ability to realize I am in it while it is happening.  So here I sit in a coffee shop, with a husband at home who has (mostly) lovingly kicked me out of the house to recover, to gather myself, to find the sh*t that I lost. It is cold and icky midwest spring weather outside, so I won’t hit the trails. I hate shopping. I am in no place to talk to any of my friends who would love to listen.  So this is my default.  Sitting with the quiet buzz of grown-ups around me as I drink hot drinks without fear of little hands. I am calm, but it isn’t the watching a sunrise kind of calm, it’s the dumbfounded what just happened? calm when you can’t even gather the energy to shake it off and move on.

Our lives are hectic even on most good days. The last few weeks of my job have been intense.  All three of my kids have been sick  in an alternating and overlapping fashion for three to four weeks.    Hubby and I have not been sleeping enough because when kids are sick there is always overnight assistance needed, on top of late evenings and early mornings.  For the last three days, I had been home with sick kids, trying to work, and hanging on tightly to the tiny sliver of candle I have been torching at both ends for too long.  Yesterday, the candle just disappeared altogether.

You’ve been there, right?  This isn’t just me?  Absolutely no gas left in the tank but no choice but to move forward.  I got Bean to the bus on time.  I fed my daughters.  We played,  we cuddled, we did all of the things we normally do.  But I was on autopilot.  I was letting two toddlers run the show, and thankfully they had no idea.  I desperately looked forward to their nap time so I could just catch a few minutes of rest.  But then they didn’t nap. They jumped and squealed and had a grand old time, and I laid on the couch with a blanket over my head, wanting to drown out the noise but knowing that I had to keep listening for the sounds of danger.  By the time I gave in and got them up, all patience, all creativity, all selfless powers of motherhood were gone.  I was physically there but that was it.  I muddled through until hubby got home.  I ensured safety but gave no more.  I only talked when necessary.  I was a broken mess.  Once the kids were in bed I stared at the tv in silence while hubby avoided me. At some point I gave up and mercifully ended the day, passing out within seconds once I went to bed.

So right now I am out of the house and recovering because I have a very understanding partner who is living through the same events and has kept it together.  We seem to balance our breakdowns, a yin and yang of crazy if you will.   Today it is my turn, and another time it will be his.  Perfect parents with stars on their report cards aren’t the only ones who earn perks like a few hours to think in solitude.  We all need a break, and the helpers who can and do provide that break are extraordinary heroes.  Every day with kids is a new adventure.  After a few hours to myself, I’ll be better prepared to jump back in and not only tackle, but enjoy, the next round.



4 tools this (not so) new blogger wants to share

In February of this year, I did a “re-launch” of my blog.  I started blogging  back in another life, in 2011 when my only child was 3 and I found I finally had more time on my hands.  I blogged for a while about finding my identity again after getting completely immersed in motherhood.  Then I went through a twin pregnancy, and my blog pretty much went quiet while I got back into the life of 24-7 child care.  Now those twins are toddlers, and I don’t quite have enough time on my hands to add anything more, but I chose to get back into blogging anyway.  This time around, though, I wanted to challenge myself to make more of the blog.  The original version was more of a personal journal, shared with whoever cared to read it.  Now I am writing differently, writing more, trying new things, and being intentional about growing my audience and defining my brand.

I started over without any idea how to do so.  I have spent a lot more time doing research and learning how to do things blog-related than I have actually writing.  Most everything I have learned so far has been through using resources available online.  There is SO much information available.  There are bloggers blogging about blogging, freelance writers writing about writing, reviews of plug-ins, step-by-steps on how to do pretty much anything, advice about marketing, about social networking, about titles, about images, it goes on and on.  I feel like I have read a lot of it.  I haven’t even scratched the surface, and it is sometimes overwhelming.  But I do think I have figured out a few things.

When you are blogging for more than a personal journal, it takes a larger time investment.  Exactly how much is of course up to the owner, but staying current and active in social media and spending time reading other blogs takes extra effort.  I’m trying to find and share relevant and interesting content from other places, creating and sharing my own content, reading and commenting on other blogs that I find interesting, and all of that on top of my full-time job, marriage, and three kids.  This isn’t something I would do without really enjoying it. In fact, even while I really enjoy it, I still struggle to balance everything I want to do.  Not a new concept to any bloggers, I know.

There are so many talented bloggers and writers publishing content.  So very many.  With all of that talent out there, you would think it could be extremely competitive, but I have found the opposite.  Sure, everyone is focused on their own work, but the majority of writers are psyched to help out the newbies, to support up-and-coming talent, to give advice when it is needed.  To all of you I say a big ol’ thank you! I’m trying to do the same as I stumble along.

It is always helpful to hear what works for other bloggers.  With that in mind, here are a few tools that are working for me:

  1. Transitioning my blog from Blogger to WordPress.com.  The instructions were easy to follow once I found them, and there were little to no hiccups.  I chose to make that move based on my impression that it is a much more popular and widely-used service for what I’m doing.  Someday I’ll work at moving to my own self-hosted site, but I have to learn to walk before I can run.
  2. Canva is a really easy and impressive online design program for creating awesome graphics.  I’m just starting to figure it out, and I am not very artistic, but I know if anything can make me look like I am, it’s Canva.
  3. Elna Cain is a freelance writer and coach who I stumbled across when I first started thinking about re-launching my blog.  I signed up for her Free 6 Day Email Course to learn how to get paid to write online.  (She also offers other freelance courses and services for a fee). I didn’t sign up for the purposes of starting a freelance career, but I was interested in reading about what that world looks like.  I’m a fan of step-by-step, and the content was extremely helpful.  When I was completely overwhelmed and sorting through the massive amounts of information available, this was a nice, clean, easy-to-follow guide.
  4. @SarahArrow‘s Twitter account.  She offers paid coaching as well, but just by following her tweets I have discovered a treasure trove of helpful posts to improve my blogging skills.

Do you have a post like this one sharing tips and tools that work for your blog?  Please share in the comments and we’ll all learn together.


A fond farewell to the woman who wore my wedding dress

For almost 13 years I have been indecisive about what to do with my wedding dress.  I didn’t really want to keep it at first.  I was six years away from being a mom. The thought of paying the kind of money it takes to correctly store that sort of thing for someone who may or may not exist, and then may or may not want it, was silly.  But I couldn’t bear to get rid of it, either.

Today is a totally different situation, but the feelings are the same.  I’m a mom, I have daughters, and I still can’t bear to get rid of the dress even though I hate the amount of money it takes to clean and store. But I finally made the move, and took the dress this morning from the back of Goose and Bear’s closet and handed it over to a perfectly helpful dry cleaner who specializes in this sort of thing.

I guess the process of finally completing this task after so many years was a bigger deal than I realized, because I found myself in a daydream of memories on the way home.  The woman who wore that dress and somehow managed not to spill anything on it anywhere, a feat I currently fail to accomplish ever, feels like an alternate reality version of me.  I remember the day, I remember our life then. But it almost doesn’t feel like mine.  Everything was new, exciting, and simpler, even though mid-20’s me might not have agreed.  We spent a lot of time planning and looking towards the future, the constant “once we get THIS (house, better job, kids, yard, dog, etc.) then we will be able to relax and enjoy” mentality.  I regret that we wasted that simpler time stressing about the future.  But we did.

It is a bizarre feeling to realize that the life I am in today is the one I had spent so much time looking towards from the other side.  I am currently living “THIS”; we have the house, the better jobs, the kids, the yard.  (We had the dog for almost 11 years, who sadly died when my toddlers were babies, and we aren’t quite ready to start that again). But I’m in it, I’m the me I was always planning towards.  Have I lived up to expectations?  I don’t know, that’s probably a whole other blog series.  But whatever I am, I’m living and not just hoping and planning.

IMG_20160312_143634470As for the dress, I didn’t try it on.  I know that three-kids me had no chance of zipping up a dress that wedding-day me wore perfectly.  Strange as it may sound, though, I had to touch it again.  It honestly looked a little foreign once I pulled it out of the closet and studied it for a few minutes under the plastic cover.  It’s a far cry from yoga pants and a 10-year-old fun run t-shirt with a reminder of someone’s breakfast on the sleeve.

But once I felt the fabric again, somehow that  touch assured me that dress was mine, and it was me who wore it and me who existed in such a different time of life.   I just hope that one of my kids decides to use some part of that dress so I didn’t spend the money just to have a really expensive epiphany.


Managing life when your kids are sick: A working parent’s survival guide

  1. After being woken up 23 times by a sick child overnight, have a cup of coffee and try to come up with a mental list of all the productive things you need to get done over the next few days.
  2. Go off on a tangent wondering if there is some philosophical connection between your current mental state and Dory from Finding Nemo.
  3. Forget all of the productive things.  They aren’t getting done anyway.
  4. Repeat.