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While the fall weather tempts you to curl up on the couch or in front of a fireplace, the reality is that this season is busier than ever. Between after-school activities and gearing up for the holidays, families don't have a ton of time to create delicious meals—but that doesn't mean your weekly menus have to skimp.

We rounded up some of the tastiest recipes that are ideal for chillier nights. The best part? You can prep them in 20 minutes or less so you have more time to spend on what really matters.

1. Carolina barbecue chicken

When it's too chilly to cook on the grill outside, opt for this meal indoors.

Ingredients (for 2, double for family):

  • 12 oz chicken breasts
  • 1 Thai chili
  • 6 oz green beans
  • 1 oz cream cheese
  • 5 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 oz chives
  • 4 oz gemelli pasta
  • 1/2 cheddar cheese
  • 2 oz barbecue sauce
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter

Instructions:

  1. Wash and dry all produce. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place chicken on a cutting board and cover with plastic wrap. Pound with a mallet, rolling pin, or heavy-bottomed pan until ½ inch thick.
  2. Heat a drizzle of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Season chicken all over with salt and pepper. Add to pan and cook until no longer pink in center, 3-4 minutes per side. Remove pan from heat. Meanwhile, finely mince chives until you have 1 TBSP. Mince chili, removing ribs and seeds first for less heat.
  3. Once water is boiling, add 4 oz gemelli (about ⅔ of the package) to pot and cook, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes, add green beans to same pot and continue cooking until tender, about 4 minutes more.
  4. Once green beans are tender, remove from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper-towel-lined plate to dry. Season with salt and pepper. Drain gemelli, then return to empty pot off heat.
  5. Add cheddar, cream cheese, minced chives, 1 TBSP water, 1 TBSP butter, and a pinch of chili (to taste) to pot with gemelli. Stir until a thick and creamy sauce forms. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add barbecue sauce, vinegar, and as much remaining chili as you like to pan with chicken. Return to stove over low heat and toss until chicken is coated in a sticky sauce. Divide between plates and serve with mac 'n' cheese and green beans on the side.

    Recipe from HelloFresh.

    2. Whole-wheat pasta with caramelized lemon, mushrooms and thyme

    Sweater weather calls for carb-loading. This one will have some yummy leftovers.

    Ingredients (serves 6):

    • 1 lemon
    • 5 tbsp olive oil
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 lb cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
    • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    • 1 lb whole-wheat spaghetti
    • 1/4 tsp crushed red chile flakes
    • Grated parmesan, for serving

    Instructions:

    1. Using a Microplane grater, completely remove the zest from the lemon, leaving no patchy parts, and transfer the zest to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and reserve. Trim and discard the ends from the lemon then chop into rough 1/2-inch pieces, discarding any seeds.
    2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped lemon, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lemon is caramelized in spots and the pith is tender, 6 to 8 . minutes. Transfer the lemon pieces to a bowl. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and return it to the heat.
    3. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in the skillet then add the mushrooms, thyme, and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden brown and starting to fry in the oil, about 16 to 20 minutes.
    4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 7 to 10 minutes, according to package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.
    5. Add the cooked pasta and 1/2 cup reserved water, the reserved lemon zest, and the chile flakes to the skillet with the mushrooms, and cook, tossing, until everything is combined and warmed through, adding up to 4 tablespoons more pasta water to keep everything well-moistened. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and serve while hot, sprinkled with parmesan on top, if you like.

    Recipe from Tasty Ultimate: How to Cook Basically Anything.

    3. Chicken quesadillas with apple salsa 

    The apple salsa adds the perfect finishing touch.

    Ingredients (makes 2 servings):

    • 1 medium apple, cored and chopped
    • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
    • 1 teaspoon honey
    • 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
    • Kosher salt
    • Unsalted butter, for the pan
    • 2 medium flour tortillas
    • 1⁄2 cup cooked and shredded chicken or turkey
    • 2 ounces (1⁄2 cup) shredded cheddar cheese
    • Handful of baby spinach

    Instructions:

    1. In a small bowl, combine the apple, lemon juice, honey, onion, and salt. Set aside.
    2. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt a little butter.
    3. Put 1 tortilla in the hot pan and sprinkle it evenly with chicken, cheese, and spinach.
    4. Put the remaining tortilla on top.
    5. Cook until the cheese just begins to melt and the bottom of the tortilla is golden, 2 to 3 minutes.
    6. Using a broad metal or plastic spatula, carefully flip the quesadilla over and cook until the cheese is completely melted and the tortilla is golden, another 2 to 3 minutes.
    7. Remove the quesadilla from the pan and allow to cool for 2 minutes.
    8. Cut into wedges and serve with the apple salsa.

    Recipe from Cooking From Scratch. *(c)2018 By PCC Community Markets. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Cooking from Scratch by permission of Sasquatch Books.

    4. Bacon-studded brussels sprouts with pecans

    These make a delicious salad on their own, or as a side to an entree.

    Ingredients (for 2, double for family):

    • 9 oz brussels sprouts
    • 3/4 cup chopped bacon
    • 2 1/2 tbsp pecans
    • 6 tbsp shallot

    Instructions:

    1. Cook bacon and pecans. Medium dice bacon into about 1/2 inch pieces. Place bacon in a dry medium sauté pan over medium heat. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pecan, cook 8-10 minutes, or until pecans are toasted and bacon is crispy, stirring occasionally. Transfer bacon and pecans to a paper towel (keep bacon fat in pan).
    2. Prep brussels sprouts and shallot. Cut ends off brussels sprouts. Lay flat and cut into about 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut ends off shallot and remove peel. Halve lengthwise. Lay flat and cut lengthwise into about 1/4-inch thick strips
    3. Start brussels sprouts. Return pan with bacon fat to stovetop over medium heat. Add brussels sprouts and shallot to hot pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 7-10 minutes, or until veggies are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally.
    4. Finish brussels sprouts. Add about 1/2 cup water to pan with brussels sprouts. Stir. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until water or until water cooks off and veggies are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heart. Return bacon and pecans to pan. Salt and pepper to taste. Stire to combine.

    Recipe from Green Chef.

    5. Slow cooker butternut squash soup

    The prep for this only takes 20 minutes, and then you can let the slow cooker do the rest of the work!

    Ingredients:

    • 2 1/4 lb butternut squash, copped into small chunks
    • 1 large yellow onion, diced
    • 2 granny smith apples, diced
    • 2 carrots, cut into chunks
    • 1 tbsp salt
    • 1 tsp pepper
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 tbsp curry powder
    • 1 tsp turmeric
    • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
    • 1 tsp ginger
    • 1 tbsp minced garlic
    • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • Parsley (for garnish)

    Instructions:

    1. Spray a 7- or 8-quart slow cooker with a nonstick cooking spray.
    2. Add all ingredients except heavy cream into slow cooker.
    3. Cook on low heat setting 7-8 hours or high heat setting 4-5 hours.
    4. Add to a blender and blend until smooth.
    5. Stir in heavy cream and adjust seasoning to taste.
    6. Garnish with extra heavy cream and herbs.

    Recipe from HelloFresh.

    6. Tiger mountain turkey chili

    Photography by Charity Burggraaf

    Chili in the fall? Groundbreaking... but it's just too good to pass up.

    Ingredients (about 8 servings):

    • 1 1/2 lbs ground turkey
    • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
    • 1/2 medium green bell pepper, diced
    • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
    • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/2 tsp ground chipotle
    • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
    • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
    • 1 tsp kosher salt
    • 1 (15-oz) can crushed tomatoes, drained
    • 1 1/2 cups water
    • 1 (15-oz) can tomato sauced
    • 1 (15-oz) can kidney beans, drained
    • 1 tbsp packed light brown sugar

    Instructions:

    1. Spray a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot with cooking spray and put over medium heat.
    2. Add the turkey and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and to break up the meat into smaller pieces, about 5 minutes. Once the turkey is no longer pink, drain off and discard all the liquids.
    3. Stir in the onion, bell peppers, garlic, chili powder, black pepper, chipotle, cumin, thyme, and salt.
    4. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the spices are deeply colored and fragrant.
    5. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce, then stir in the water.
    6. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables have slightly softened and flavors have melded.
    7. Stir in the beans and sugar, heat through, and serve.

    Recipe from Cooking From Scratch. *(c)2018 By PCC Community Markets. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Cooking from Scratch by permission of Sasquatch Books.

    7. Maple + rosemary-glazed pork cutlets

    Apple and maple syrup... what more could we want in the fall?

    Ingredients (for 2, double for family):

    • 2 scallions
    • 1 gala apple
    • 12 oz pork cutlets
    • 1 oz maple syrup
    • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
    • 1/4 oz rosemary
    • 1/2 cup couscous
    • 5 tsp white wine vinegar
    • 1 unit chicken stock concentrate
    • 2 oz spring mix lettuce
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • Salt and pepper

    Instructions:

    1. Wash and dry all produce. Trim, then thinly slice scallions, keeping greens and whites separate. Pick and finely chop enough rosemary leaves from stems to give you 1 tsp. Halve, core, and dice apple.
    2. Heat 1 TBSP olive oil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Add scallion whites and ½ tsp chopped rosemary. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in ¾ cup water. Bring to a boil, then immediately stir in couscous and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand until tender, about 10 minutes.
    3. Meanwhile, pat pork dry with a paper towel. Season generously all over with salt and pepper. Melt 1 TBSP butter in a large pan over high heat. Add pork and cook until browned and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside on a plate.
    4. Reduce heat under pan to medium. Stir in remaining chopped rosemary, 1 TBSP vinegar (we'll use more later), maple syrup, stock concentrate, and ¼ cup water. Let simmer until thickened, about 1 minute. Stir in 1 TBSP butter, then season with salt and pepper. Return pork to pan, tossing to coat in sauce, then remove pan from heat.
    5. Whisk together mayonnaise and remaining vinegar in a medium bowl. Add lettuce and apple. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
    6. Fluff couscous with a fork, then divide between plates. Arrange pork on top of couscous and drizzle with any sauce in pan. Garnish with scallion greens. Serve with salad on the side.

    Recipe from HelloFresh.

    8. Pronto chicken white pizzas with baby broccoli, fresh mozzarella + tuscan herbs

    When you want to cozy up with pizza, make this flatbread.

    Ingredients (for 2, double for family):

    • 10 oz chicken cutlets
    • 8 oz broccoli florets
    • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
    • 1 tbsp Tuscan heat spice
    • 1 unit roma tomato
    • 2 unit flatbreads
    • Salt and pepper
    • 7 tsp olive olive

    Instructions:

    1. Adjust broiler rack so that it is in position closest to flame and place a baking sheet on rack. Preheat broiler to high. Rinse chicken, then pat dry with a paper towel. Season all over with salt and Tuscan heat spice.
    2. Heat a large drizzle of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat (use a nonstick pan if you have one). Add chicken and cook until browned and no longer pink in center, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and let cool slightly, then cut into bite-size pieces.
    3. Wash and dry all produce. Cut any large broccoli florets into bite-size pieces. Core, seed, and dice tomato. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in same pan over medium-high heat. Add broccoli and tomato. Cook, stirring, until just tender and wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
    4. Scatter mozzarella in an even layer over flatbreads, followed by chicken, broccoli, and tomato. Carefully remove baking sheet from broiler and sprinkle with a drizzle of olive oil. Place flatbreads on sheet and sprinkle each with a drizzle of olive oil.
    5. Carefully return sheet to broiler and broil flatbreads until cheese melts and crust starts to brown, 3-4 minutes. TIP: Check flatbreads occasionally for any burning.
    6. Remove flatbreads from broiler. Sprinkle with another drizzle of olive oil and season with salt, if desired. Let flatbreads rest for 1 minute, then cut into slices and serve.

    Recipe from HelloFresh.

    9. Paleo sweet potato nachos

    Whether you're hosting people over for game day or want a healthier snack, these look incredible.

    Ingredients (for 2, double for family):

    • 1 lb ground beed
    • 2 tsp chorizo-style seasoning or taco spice blend
    • 1 large sweet potato
    • 1/2 cup chopped red and green bell peppers
    • 6 large radishes
    • 2 tbsp shredded carrots
    • 2 tbsp shredded red cabbage
    • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
    • 1 tsp agave (or your favorite sweetener)
    • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
    • 1/4 cup dairy free sour cream
    • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
    • 1 lime

    Instructions:

    1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel sweet potato, if desired. Halve lengthwise; lay flat and slice into thin half moons. Place in a large bowl. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons cooking oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
    2. Chef's Tip: Cut the sweet potato as thin as you like. The thinner the slice the crispier the chip.
    3. Spread sweet potato out in a single layer on a lightly oiled foil-lined baking sheet (see Chef's Tip). Roast 15-20 minutes, or until chips are lightly browned and slightly crisp, flipping halfway through. Heads Up: Two baking sheets may be needed to fit all the chips in a single layer.
    4. Meanwhile, trim ends off radishes and cut in half. Lay flat and slice into about ¼-inch thick half moons.
    5. Combine apple cider vinegar, agave and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Mix until the agave is dissolved into the vinegar.
    6. Bring spiced apple cider vinegar and about 1 tablespoon water to a boil in a small pot. Once boiling, remove from heat. Add radishes and carrots and red cabbage. Season with salt and pepper. Stir. Cover. Let pickle at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    7. Meanwhile, cut ends off red onion and remove peel. Small dice into about ¼-inch pieces. Small dice red and green bell peppers into about ¼-inch pieces.
    8. Heat about 1 ½ tablespoons cooking oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell peppers to hot pan. Season with salt and pepper. Stir. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until veggies soften, stirring occasionally.
    9. Add ground beef to pan with veggies. Stir to break up beef. Sprinkle with desired amount of chorizo-style seasoning. Stir to evenly distribute seasoning. Cook 6-8 minutes, or until beef is fully cooked, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir. Take Note: Ground beef is fully cooked when it's no longer pink.
    10. Add the dairy-free sour cream to a small bowl with cilantro and the juice of the lime. Mix until fully combined.
    11. Plate sweet potato chips. Pile chorizo-seasoned beef and veggies over top. Drizzle with creamy cilantro dressing. Serve curtido next to nachos. Enjoy!

    Recipe from Green Chef.

    10. Lentil and white bean stew

    Photography by Charity Burggraaf

    Cozy up with your favorite drink and this hearty stew.

    Ingredients (makes 6 servings):

    • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
    • 3 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
    • 3 ribs celery, finely chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
    • 1 cup French green lentils, rinsed
    • 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed
    • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
    • 3 cups vegetable broth
    • 1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
    • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, tough stems removed and leaves shredded
    • Splash of balsamic vinegar, plus more as needed

    Instructions:

    1. In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat, heat the oil.
    2. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
    3. Stir in the thyme, then add the lentils, salt, pepper, and vegetable broth; bring to a boil, stirring several times to prevent the lentils from clumping.
    4. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the lentils are cooked, 25 to 30 minutes The lentils will keep their shape but should be tender all the way through.
    5. Add the beans, kale, and vinegar. Simmer until the beans are heated through and the kale is tender, about 8 minutes.
    6. Remove the thyme and season to taste with more salt, pepper, and perhaps another splash of vinegar.
    7. Serve hot.

    Recipe from Cooking From Scratch. *(c)2018 By PCC Community Markets. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Cooking from Scratch by permission of Sasquatch Books.

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    There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

    The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

    I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

    Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

    1. Getting on the school bus.

    Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

    2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

    Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

    3. Posing with their backpack.

    Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

    4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

    Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

    5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

    Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

    6. With their graduating class shirt.

    When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

    Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

    7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

    Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

    8. In their classroom.

    From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

    9. With their teacher.

    If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

    10. With you!

    We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

    This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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    The summer season is the perfect time to get creative and enjoy fun projects around the house with your little ones. Some of the most memorable family moments can start with a piece of construction paper or end with a table covered in shaving cream.

    While you're having fun, just remember that being creative is about the process, not the result. Your kids' artwork may not be museum-worthy, but that's okay! Embrace the fun of the creation and not necessarily the end result.

    First thing's first, get organized.

    before you can begin any project, it's important to start on a clean surface. A fresh canvas sets the stage for family activities and DIY projects so I always put away clutter and clean the surfaces to prepare for new activities.

    I always recommend creating or purchasing organization bins or spaces for each activity or categories of items. For example, a container specifically for crayons, markers and colored pencils. Then when it's time to clean up, everything has a specific place. Make sure to clearly label the bins so everyone can easily determine what each container contains. This is a great way to exercise good organizational habits from an early age. As soon as they are 2-years-old, they can play a part in cleaning up and putting things away. And, if you have systems set up for them from the start, it makes it much easier for them! Kids also love to help clean counters once you've put everything away. Whether it's after you've cooked a meal together or exhausted all of the glitter glue, they love wiping down counters with wipes. Set the expectation that kids who craft are responsible for cleaning up their supplies when they're done. It's crucial to start the healthy habit of tidying up after yourself early on.


    Ask your kids for their input.

    Imagination runs wild, so take advantage of their creativity. Ask them what type of art project or fun family activities they want to prioritize. If you have multiple kids, create a "suggestion jar" they can continually add and pull from when they are looking for an activity to do.

    It's important to embrace collaboration. You know what they say: Teamwork makes the (crafts) work. Encourage your kids to work together and call out ideas for each other's artwork.

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    Here are a few of my favorite craft projects:

    • Flipbooks: Have each kid create their own flipbook full of creative crafts, poetry, or other fun moments they want to capture.
    • DIY dollhouse: Make a custom dollhouse filled with handmade mini furniture to decorate it in their own way.
    • Out-of-the-crayon-box crafting: Challenge your kids to craft with creative elements around the house—whether it be clothespin snowmen or sponge sailboats, there are endless possibilities.
    Garner even more excitement by making the prep part a project itself! Have your kids help create a fun workspace for food-making, craft-building, or DIY science-slime experimenting. They can pick a color scheme, help find the right organizing bins, or decorate the wall with art projects from this past school year for inspiration.

    Try DIY projects.

    Kids need to get out their creativity and energy so hands-on projects are a fun way to put their growing brains to work while they do it.

    Be sure to practice safe crafting. Store all scissors and other sharp objects in protected, designated places, make sure to read all directions for new craft supplies or projects, and watch out for slippery messes!

    Stock up on these essentials:

    1. On-the-go park bag: Parents should be ready to go to the park at a moment's notice. Have a bag pre-packed with all the essentials: a mini kite, a picnic blanket, a ball to toss around, sunscreen and more.

    2. Chalk: I love bringing crafts outside whenever possible, and something as simple as colorful sidewalk chalk is an easy way to make drawings larger than life!

    3. Contact paper: You can use contact paper to add temporary color and character to flower vases, glass jars or really any decorative container with a hard, smooth surface. As a first step, wipe the vases or jars down with a disinfecting wipe to make sure the surface is clean so the paper will stick properly.

    4. Felt: Felt is one of my favorite kid-friendly ways to incorporate color into crafts. You can make fun flowers, finger puppets, or whatever your heart desires.

    5. Bubbles: They provide instant fun for any age!

    6. Instant camera: Capture all of your moments —happy, sticky, and everything in between. Let your kids get in on the action of capturing their favorite family moments and compiling them into an end of the year scrapbook!
    Learn + Play

    Is it too soon? I ask myself as you toddle in and chat excitedly about the baby in mommy's belly. "Where is she?" you ask. "But I don't see her," you insist when I tell you she's in there.

    Will you miss our special time as a trio? I wonder, as we snuggle on your rug at night, you, Daddy and me, under a blanket too small to cover us all. But you don't realize, pulling it up over us anyway, feet popping out, giggling all the while.

    Were we selfish? I worry as I rush to comfort you during the night when a fever spikes and you call out our names. "Mama!" "Daddy!" And we're both there in a minute.

    How can I possibly love another child as much as I love you? I question myself, as you run into my waiting hug and beg for just a million more.

    But I tell myself that we'll learn these new steps together in stride, just as we did when you found your way into the world and became all of mine. Because it was you, my sweet boy, who taught me how to be a mama.

    It was you who, in those first weeks, rested your head contently on my chest, just when I thought nursing might be too hard to handle. And it was you who flashed your first smile as the washer broke, amid mounds of spit-up stained laundry.

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    You were the one who settled my breathing, as it quickened and tightened during my first panic attack. And it was rocking you at night that saved me when my maternity leave came to an end.

    When you brought your very first stomach virus home and we all got sick at the same time, it was the sound of your first laugh that saved us during the eleventh hour, when we were questioning what made us think we were strong enough to care for a family.

    We learned together how to navigate pediatrician visits and shots, what rocks and rhythms made nighttime smoother, how to introduce foods and when to wean. After six months, it was you who gave me the signal it was okay to stop nursing. When endless pumping sessions at work had me in tears, you assured me you'd love me just as much if I picked up a bottle of formula, gulping it down with a smile, your hands resting on mine.

    When I worried at work each day that you were bonding more with your daycare teachers in those long hours than we ever could at home, you shared your first word, reminding me how special our bond is in that sweet, jumbled "mama."

    We did it all, together.

    And even now, as I worry about transitioning you into a big boy bed, you excitedly accept the challenge and graciously tell us we can give your crib to your new baby sister–just not your blanket.

    At daycare, you rock the baby dolls, and you tell everyone you pass what your baby sister's name will be. You ask to read about Daniel Tiger and Baby Margaret, making sure I know how to navigate what's on your horizon.

    Because, baby boy, you've always been quicker to adapt than me. Sometimes I think it's you who is teaching us.

    You see, baby boy, it was your encouragement and love all along that guided me into motherhood. And it was your hugs and kisses and "good job mama's" that told me I could do this again.

    Life will change as our family grows, but we'll keep learning together.

    It'll be you who marches into that Kindergarten class, head held high as you proudly wear the backpack you picked out yourself, reminding us that time stops for no one.

    It'll be you who introduces us to practices and clubs, field trips and permission slips–I'm sorry in advance for the ones I'll forget to sign!

    It'll be you who turns my grip white, as you tuck your permit into the glovebox and pull onto the street for the first time.

    It'll be you we wait up for first, worried that you haven't called. And it'll be you who heads off to college, leaving the house that seems too small feeling much too big.

    But before your baby sister comes, and time continues to carry us in its unforgiving pace, I'll soak up every undivided second of attention I can give you. I'll snuggle you close and savor our chats. And we'll follow each other's leads, continuing to figure out this whole thing called life together.

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    A recent trip to the movie theater had me brimming with excitement to reunite with Woody, Buzz, and the crew of Andy's (er, Bonnie's?) toys in the Toy Story franchise's new installment. Sure enough, my family laughed at the adventures of the cast, but it was a newcomer to the gang that really stole the show: a plastic spork named Forky.

    While his reluctance to accept his place was charming and sweet, Bonnie's creation of Forky, and her subsequent attachment to him as her new favorite toy, points at a bigger picture—what constitutes a toy? Likewise, what does a child really need to be entertained?

    The film's inclusion of such a common, utilitarian object as a chosen plaything serves as a reminder that children's imaginations are a powerful thing, and—when left to their own devices—kids are quite capable of having fun with far less than our society typically deems necessary.

    Forky is a throwback to a time when less was more, and when families' homes weren't miniature toy stores.

    I remember recently being spellbound as I watched my daughter engrossed in play with a handful of rocks. Each pebble had its role—mommy rock, daddy rock, baby rock, etc—and she carried on with a captivating scene encompassing equal parts comedy and tragedy. It was a rock family saga, and frankly, I was mesmerized.

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    Despite a house full of flashy, modern, (and sometimes expensive) toys, I've found that some of the most creative play comes from the most unexpected "things" that most adults would consider non-toys. Kids have a unique way of looking at things, and often the items they gravitate toward as their preferred toy may leave parents not only scratching their heads, but also howling in laughter.

    Kitchen accessories seem to be a favorite for many little ones, as I remember my own niece insisting on carrying a serving spoon everywhere with her. These inanimate objects function as the perfect plaything for children, as their minds are free to create whatever story or fantasy they desire. The make-believe is endless.

    Other favorites for my kiddos include shoelaces, ropes, or yarn, which have infinite aliases—stuffed animal leashes and zip-lines being their go-tos. And who can forget the magic of cardboard boxes and of course bubble wrap. We're talking hours of fun and play.

    After watching the film, I looked around my house at the abundant number of toys that my own children possess. Then I turned around and watched as they chose to stack Tupperware containers and throw foam koozies at them in a competitive game of kitchen bowling.

    So yeah, we're all probably a little guilty of overindulgence with it comes to our kids. To be honest, it's fun to watch their eyes light up upon receiving a new toy at their birthday or other holiday. And I'm not arguing that those practices need to change completely. Rather, let's not forget the power of minimalism and its place in our lives. Let's encourage resourcefulness and creativity.

    Behind the fun and nostalgia of the Toy Story series are important lessons and messages. In today's culture where more is more, Forky is a reminder that parents don't necessarily have to break the bank in purchasing toys for the little ones in our lives. In many cases, a "spork" will do.

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    Life

    School will be here before we know it, mamas. Which means it's time to take a look in your kid's closet, pull out all those leggings and jeans with holes in the knees and replace them with durable, super cute options... today! Why? Because Prime Day, that's why!

    We've been lucky enough to try out Amazon's Spotted Zebra and Look by Crewcuts, and trust us when we say these clothes are quality with a capital "Q." And at these prices, you just might want to stock up on multiple seasons' worth!

    From sneakers and sweatshirts to shorts and hoodies, these are the cutest staples at the best prices that you want to take advantage of today!

    Amazon Essentials Girls' Long-Sleeve Elastic Waist T-Shirt Dress

    Amazon Essentials Dress

    Available in seven colorways and sizes 2T to XXL, this dress is the perfect transition piece from summer to fall...just add leggings and she can rock it all winter long, too.

    Price: $10.50 (regularly $15.00)

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    Spotted Zebra Girls' Toddler & Kids 4-Pack Leggings

    Spotted Zebra Legging

    Mamas, listen up: We've tried out leggings from many retailers and Spotted Zebra's are among the best. And they come in 18 different patterns/sets.

    Price: $10 (regularly $20)

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    LOOK by crewcuts Boys' 2-Pack Knit Pull on Shorts

    Look Crewcuts Knit Shorts

    Cozy shorts for little boys to run around in are imperative for the school year and these ones fit the bill perfectly.

    Price: $16.80 (regularly $24)

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    Spotted Zebra Kids' 12-Pack Low-Cut Socks

    Spotted Zebra Socks

    Mamas, if you've got school-age children, then you've also probably got a bin full of random socks. At a buck a pair, this set is well worth it.

    Price: $12.60 (regularly $18.00)

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    Crocs Kids Bayaband Clog

    Crocs Bayaband Clog

    No mom has ever regretted buying Crocs for her kids! The easiest shoe to slip on and off chubby feet, Crocs' big rubber toes make them for great scootering and biking.

    Price: $18.99 (regularly $34)

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    Simple Joys by Carter's Boys' 2-Pack Flat Front Shorts

    Carters Shorts

    For the days when you want him to look a bit crisper, this two-pack of flat-front chino-esque shorts will do nicely.

    Price: $16.75 (regularly $23.99)

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    Spotted Zebra Boys' 2-Pack Light-Weight Hooded Long-Sleeve T-Shirts

    spotted zebra

    You can never have too many lightweight long-sleeve shirts for your kids, and we love the hoods and patterns/colors on these.

    Price: $15.40 (regularly $22.50)

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    PUMA Kids' St Runner Velcro Sneaker

    Puma Velcro Sneaker

    Available in 12 colors for girls and boys, these sneakers are perfect for pre-K and young elementary school kids who haven't quite learned how to tie their own laces yet.

    Price: $17.49 (regularly $40)

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    LOOK by crewcuts Girls' Lightweight Cat-ear Hoodie

    Look Crewcuts Cat Hoodie

    This hoodie is going to be their new fave when the school year rolls around.

    Price: $18.20 (regularly $26)

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    Spotted Zebra Girls' Toddler & Kids 2-Pack Knit Sleeveless Tiered Dresses

    Spotted Zebra Dress

    Even if your girl is going through a no-dresses phase, we're pretty sure she'll love this for two reasons. One, it's SO twirly, whirly, perfect for spinning around (and around and around). And two, she's going to love the bright blocked colors.

    Price: $16.80 (regularly $26.80)

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    Starter Boys' Pullover Logo Hoodie

    starter hoodie

    Perfect for throwing on after a baseball game or on the walk to school when the temps start dipping again.

    Price: $13.94 (regularly $19.99)

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    UOVO Boys Running Shoes

    Uovo Boys Running Shoe

    UOVO's running shoes are about as durable as they come thanks to rubberized finishes that mean you can wipe stains (grass! mud!) right off. Also available in orange at this price.

    Price: $23.64 (regularly $42.99)

    SHOP

    Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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