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A letter to moms, love Joanna Gaines

The word “mother" makes me think of a few people: My own mom was an amazing mother who dedicated her life to her three daughters. She was selfless yet strong—and the most beautiful woman I know. And, now, “mother," is also a verb used to describe my relationship with the four little ones of my own.

So, today I wanted to sit down and type up a little letter to all moms, encouraging you to fully appreciate the season you're in—and also to share some of the challenges and triumphs I've experienced as a mom.

As a quick side note, when I started writing this post it was all about the joy of motherhood—but when I thought about all the strong moms around me, it didn't take me long to realize the name “mom" isn't easy to come by. These mothers have fought infertility, miscarriage or even the loss of a child. Whether you're a mom right in the middle of raising your babies, or you find yourself in the throes of immense pain—this is for all of us.

1. You are enough

I think at times all moms get this insecure feeling of "I'm not doing enough." As a working mom, it's the hardest when my kids grab onto me as I'm walking out the door and say, "Mommy please stay home!" I don't want to ignore that, so I always explain to them that being with them is my favorite thing in the world. I explain that I have to work just like they have to go to school. I also let them know what I'm doing at work that day—whether it's filming the show or going into the office—and what time I'll be home. Taking a few seconds to let them in on this other huge part of my life has really helped them understand that Mom and Dad have big jobs to do.

Now that I work, I have had to find creative ways to connect with the kids during the day, to let them know I am always thinking of them. I'll send them a little note in their lunchbox or surprise them and pick them up early from school for a fun date.

When I was staying home these same feelings of "not doing enough" would find their way into my mind. In that season I spent a lot of time focusing on balance. Nap time was when I got things done. Whether it was folding laundry, prepping dinner, writing my blog or doing design work—that was my time. It was important I kept myself creatively fed during those years, so I never let myself be filled with feelings of discontent.

I hope if you're in this season now you'll take the time to allow yourself a few minutes a day to do what you love, too. I found it was the thing that kept me balanced and energized.

2. Taking the time

The young stage my kids are in is the sweetest. Chip and I are their favorite people and they still stop what they're doing to greet us at the door when we get home. I really want to savor this season for as long as I can.

When I get home from work, I try and leave my phone in the car and make that intentional effort to play and connect face-to-face with them. Even when I'm tired at the end of a long day, it's fuel to see the look in their eyes when I ask them to cook with me or go play outside. As a mom, sometimes I have to change my mindset and remind myself what's important. I only have so many hours a day to spend with these sweet, little people. And they won't be little forever. So, I get up and keep moving.

3. The littlest things

The details have always mattered to me, especially when it comes to my kids. Whether I'm making cereal for breakfast or a big, fancy dinner, I want them to know that celebrating them in small ways in everyday life is a big deal to me. When Chip and I are traveling a lot, the first thing I want to do when I get home is cook. I want my kids to have the security that when mama's home, there will be a good meal. At my birthday breakfast a couple weeks ago, Chip had the kids go around the table to say what they love most about Mom, and each one of their answers was that I cook for them. I've been cooking since they were born, and I've never heard them say anything like that. The fact that they notice and feel provided for in the kitchen was a sweet moment for me.

Motherhood can be difficult. It's not an instant gratification thing all the time. When your kiddos are just babies and you're changing diapers or listening to whining constantly, it can feel overwhelming.

But I want to encourage you—because one day you'll be sitting around a table for your birthday breakfast and you'll realize that their little hearts are thankful for you. And they do notice things like mom's homemade meals.

I hope you feel so loved and celebrated. And no matter what season you find yourself in, just know that you are doing enough, and you are loved and appreciated. Take a few moments today to look around and appreciate your children and the stage they're in. I know for me, the thought of them growing up and moving off makes me want to burst into tears!

So, for today, squeeze them just a little longer.

This story was originally published on Magnolia Market.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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These kids dishes don’t look like kids dishes

And that's exactly why my toddler loves them. ❤️

My 4.5-year-old is, let's say, spirited in his opinions. He very clearly knows what he wants and doesn't want (oh to have the confidence of a stubborn preschooler!). And what he doesn't want right now is anything that looks too babyish. "That's for babies," he'll say if I give him anything with primary colors or looks too miniature. He doesn't want the baby fork and spoon, he wants what grown-ups use. He doesn't want the baby plastic cups and plates, he wants the glass and ceramic ones.

Well, you can see where this is going.

I had to find something that would satisfy his "not a baby" opinions but still not shatter to pieces if he accidentally drops it on the floor. I had to find him something that's made for kids but doesn't feel made for kids.

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10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

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