Happy Classy Thanksgiving

Nov 26 2014

Let’s say, hypothetically, your cousins showed up at your house last Thanksgiving in a massive RV and made references all weekend to the Griswolds and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

GriswoldRV“That there’s an RV, Clark.”
“Yeah, Eddie. It looks so nice parked in front of the house.”
“Sure does, but don’t you go fallin’ in love with it, now,
’cause we’re taking it with us when we leave here next month.”

And then let’s say you have the opportunity to borrow an airporter — you know, those enormous, bulky, sexy shuttle buses? woot woo! — to make the 6-hour drive to see said cousins this year which means you can totally, completely WIN the Classy Cousins Contest. For, like, ALL TIME.


I think you’re pretty much obligated to do it, right?



And to spend the 6 hours on the road making important announcements over the intercom? 


Yep. That’s what I thought, too. But I just thought I’d check.

In short, 

Happy Classy Thanksgiving
from our family to yours


Wishing you all a fabulous time.




P.S. We may or may not have used the wheelchair straps in the back to secure the keg of home brew we brought. Just saying – we TOTALLY win.


Griswold RV photo credit Old Navy


An Open Letter to Moms Who Stay Home (From Your Momrades Who Work Outside It)

Nov 24 2014

Dear Moms Who Stay Home,

We have a lot to get to in this letter, but first we need to address this “Stay-at-Home Mom” thing, OK? Because “Stay-at-Home Mom?” Really? Who invented that phrase? And after what market research? And can we demand a refund? Because that can’t be the best we can do to describe your role, can it? No. No, we think not.

Sure, you can stay home. It’s not that you never do. It’s the juxtaposition of “Working Mom” vs. “Stay-at-Home Mom” that troubles us, because we know – we know – you WORK, momrade; either a paid job you work from home or ALL THE UNPAID WORK of home. Plus the errands, and the pick-ups, and the drop-offs, and running around. The extracurriculars, the play groups, the sports teams, and the PTO. The doctors’ appointments, and the pharmacy, and the hours and hours volunteering at school… so you can come home and help with homework. And more. Always more. Because we are mamas, too; we know there’s always, always more

The crux of it is this: there’s not always much “stay home” in Stay-at-Home Mom, and it’s certainly not staying home instead of working. So we’ve decided to call you Work-at-Home Moms, instead, because, paid or unpaid, that’s what you do. Although if someone’s figured out how to make that whole Eat-Bonbons-on-the-Couch-All-Day Myth a reality, we want to know about it, STAT, because, based on that data, we’d like to reevaluate our life choices.


Let’s begin again…


Dear Moms Who Work at Home,

Dear Mamas Who Get It All Done But Never Get a Break, 


Dear Momrades Who Don’t Get It All Done for Fear YOU Might Break, 

You are amazing.

You are AMAZING.

Amazing-er than you know. 

Listen; we’ll be honest here. We don’t know how you do it, Work-at-Homers. Breaking up fights. Kissing boo boos. Singing Let It Go nineteen times in a row. Chasing the dog who escaped again. Maybe chasing the toddler who escaped, too. Feeding children who think they need food more than once a day. Wiping the goo. Forgetting your credit card at home after everything’s rung up. Fighting a migraine and rock-rocking the baby. Peeing with the door open. Showering with noses pressed to the glass or playing peek-a-boo with the shower curtain. Or, you know, showering – what’s that?? 

BIG KUDOS to all of you who picked up the entire house in the morning, only to be faced with an identical mess after dinner.

And BIG KUDOS to all of you who picked up nothing because what’s the point? 

BIG KUDOS to you because you were there, mamas. You were there, and that matters. 

To those of you who made and doled out three meals today AND snacks…

To those of you who loaded the dishwasher…

To those of you who didn’t load the dishwasher because you got on the floor and played that matching game AGAIN and smiled through your exhaustion because they love it…

To those of you who said, “Screw the dishwasher” and “I’m not playing that matching game again” and plugged in a movie…  

To those of you who love those little voices which NEVER STOP FOR A BREATH…

And to those of you who live for afternoon naptime…

You are a GIFT.

You are a gift to your littles.

You are a gift to your home.

You are a gift to your community.

Yes, we know you fall apart sometimes. We know you are patient and impatient, loving and loud, kind and unkind. We know you say things you wish you didn’t, and we know you don’t get credit for all the things you don’t say.

We know you are tired and spent. And tired and happy. And tired and unhappy. And All the Things. We know you are human. We get it, because we’re human, too. And we’re here to tell you,


Human and heroic, momrades. Both/And.

Let us say this again:


You don’t get annual reviews when your boss takes the time to tell you you’re doing a great job — Outstanding! Exceptional! Exceeds expectations! You don’t get a pay bump or a bonus. You don’t get to check off “complete” or “done” on your most important projects because your little people take a lifetime. So let us be the ones to say this, “You are INCREDIBLE. You are BREATHTAKING. You are making this world a better, more loving place, and you are doing it for ALL of our children. Thank you.”

Dear Mamas Who Work at Home, YOU ROCK.

Dear Mamas who do all the volunteer stuff at school, THANK YOU! Your hard work is noticed and appreciated. Thank you for being the Village who brings up our children as well as your own. 


Thank you for showing up for your kids, mama, day after day.

Showing up to put another meal on the table that you’ll have to clean up after they nibble on it. 

Showing up to schlep the kids to the lessons and practices and performances and appointments.

Thank you for showing up for our kids, too; for the kids whose mamas are working outside the home. For taking them and shepherding them and loving them like your own. For being their soft place to land.

Thank you for showing up to listen to the same little people chatter at you all day.

For showing up in a big way even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like anybody SEES you.

For showing up even though sometimes it must feel like nobody HEARS you.

We see you, mama. We hear you. We value the sacred work you are doing, molding and nurturing and growing amidst so much repetition.

You are the glue that holds our communities together.

You have more patience, courage, fortitude and strength than you know. We can hear you saying, “but I just yelled…” and “but I don’t feel strong…” and “I made mac and cheese for the 47th time in a row…” and we know. We know, mama friend. But hear us. You’re human – AND you’re more heroic than you know. 

You are legends. You are champions. 

You are doing GREAT things. You are teaching our children wonderful things. You are teaching them important things. And you are doing a damn fine job of it. But when you stumble and when you struggle, know this: there are Momrades out there waving in the dark and cheering you on.

With love,

Your Momrades Who Work Outside the Home 


This letter follows a letter written to Work-Outside-the-Home Mamas from Your Momrades Who Are Home. It was inspired by (and many phrases stolen from) your deeply moving comments to each other on the 5 Kids Blog Facebook page. I cannot adequately express my love and admiration for the unreasonably generous ways you encourage each other. You people seriously put the RAD in Momrade. If you want to see more encouraging comments from Sara, Jenny, Amber, Janae, Sheri, Amara, Elizabeth, Jennifer, Jessica, Julie, Josie, Diana and more, click on over to the original post. Get tissues first to wipe your eyes; you’re going to need them.

x’s and o’s, friends,
Beth Woolsey


A Season for Everything

Nov 20 2014

I’ve been a little off the grid lately, for which I’d apologize except that apologizing for attempting to manage a life that’s full-to-overflowing seems a little silly and a little like I think you wouldn’t understand. Like I think you’re not this busy. Like I think you’re not trying to hold things together, too. And I’m not opposed to being silly, but I think we’re past that last part, right? Apologizing for doing the best we can? Or for doing our mediocre, which sometimes is the best we can? Right. So let’s skip that part, shall we? Excellent. Moving on.

I’ve been a little off the grid lately, what with my regular Parenting Gig, and my current Work Outside the Home Gig, and the Kids With Special Needs Gig (psst… it was I.E.P. Day today! Happy I.E.P. Day!), not to mention the Married Gig, and the Friend Gig, and the Family Gigs, and the Bits and Pieces of Stuff I’m Never Gonna Get Done Gigs. 

There are lots of gigs, is what I’m saying, and I’m managing some of them and not others, and, well, I’m OK with that. 

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, etc., etc., and so forth. It’s just that the guy in Ecclesiasties who listed all the times and seasons forgot to tell us the seasons overlap a lot, and so we find ourselves constantly in the process of dying to ourselves and being reborn, every minute and every day, consolation and desolation intertwined, grief and joy, losing and finding ourselves and each other again and again, and being found, somehow, by Love in the mess, which is what we call grace.

I smelled like pineapple yesterday. 

All day.

Like pineapple was the fragrance I was wearing, instead of what really happened, which is that I was wearing pineapple. 

Here’s what happened.

I have a temporary job; my former job, actually, at Medical Teams International as executive assistant to the president, in the interim while they hire for the position. 

The truth is I love Medical Teams International, a humanitarian aid organization that works with the world’s most marginalized people. People affected by disaster, conflict and poverty. People who’ve fled their homes as refugees in Syria and the Congo. People who’ve lost their homes, their jobs and their families to tsunamis and earthquakes. Mamas who have sick babies and nowhere else to turn for medicine and help. People who are eager for community health programs. Medical Teams responds with aid, medical supplies, doctors and nurses, and quality, sustainable programs. It’s amazing work run by passionate, talented, incredible people. And, to be totally honest, with all the crappy stuff that happens in the name of Jesus these days, it’s a balm to my soul to work with people who live Love out loud to all comers.

Medical Teams International owns a piece of my heart. 

But listen; I do not have time for this job. 

I don’t.

There’s no time in my kids’ schedules, in my writing schedule, in my personal schedule, in the holiday schedule. 

No time.

So when the president of Medical Teams called me and asked me if I would consider coming back after a two-year hiatus for a few weeks while he hires the next assistant, I took one minute to think about it before I said yes.

Yes, absolutely.

Yes, unequivocally.

Yes, I’ll be there.

Yes, I’ll sacrifice from the time I don’t have. From the time with my family and friends. From my time here with you. 

Because there are mamas and dads on the other side of the world watching their kids suffer, and there are kids losing their mamas and dads. There are people here in our own communities who are hurting, too. Medical Teams International eases their suffering, and I have a skill set and relationships in place to help in this season of transition.

The lack of time simply doesn’t matter when it’s the right thing to do. The lack of time doesn’t matter when Love whispers, “Say yes.”

Which is how I found myself yesterday in a sweater and heels, with damn good hair if I do say so myself, and full make-up, and my best bra, and a skirt I dug out from the back of my closet hoping it wasn’t too, too out of date to wear to a board meeting, crossing the parking lot with a fruit tray in hand. After hours of meetings, I thought, fruit is the perfect afternoon snack. The final touch on comprehensive board planning and document preparation and thoughtful conversation and moving global, life-saving work forward. Fruit! A must have.

I dropped the tray.

Upside down.

On the pavement.

In the middle of the parking lot.

Of course I did.

Because I’m me no matter how fine my hair looks.

And so I squatted there in the parking lot, in my skirt and heels. 

The GOOD news is, the tray had a lid.

The bad news is, the lid had popped off.

The good news is, it was only slightly askew and not much fruit fell out.

The bad news is, I had to figure out how to reattach the lid without smashing the fruit which had shifted in flight. 

The good news is, I realized I could hold the lid and tray in place and flip it quickly upright, thus saving the fruit.

The bad news is, I flipped pineapple down my shirt in the process. And into my best bra where it lodged and squished and juiced itself.

The good news is, pineapple isn’t a bad way to smell all day. 

And the extra good news is, if you secretly pull a piece of pineapple out of your bra in front of the Chief Financial Officer for a major humanitarian aid organization and she happens to have a rad sense of humor, she’ll laugh with you. And a little bit at you. But mostly with you.

Look. I am a mess — all the time — because I’m made out of human. But I also, like all of us, have small opportunities to change the world, to love my neighbor as myself, and to remember everyone is my neighbor.

I sat in a board meeting yesterday full of doctors and lawyers, CEOs and founders of businesses. All successful. All poised. All whip smart, on the ball, and undoubtedly without fruit in their undies. But here’s the thing: I’ll bet they’re all made out of human, too. All intertwined. All full of simultaneous seasons. All mixed up with joy and grief and tears and laughter. None of them had time to be there, either, and all of them said yes anyway. 

‘Tis the season.


An Open Letter to Moms Who Work Outside the Home (From Your Momrades Who Stay Home)

Nov 14 2014

Dear Work-Outside-the-Home Mamas,

We Mamas Who Stay Home have some choice words for you, so grab a cup of something yummy and have a seat, OK? We might be here a little while.

Here’s the main problem we need to address: the internets can sometimes suck. Right? I mean, the internets can sometimes suck hard with all the judgments and the ill-considered words. With the flippant comments and targeted asides. With the snarky observations and pointed remarks about WHAT you should be doing, Mama, and HOW you should live your life.

Here’s the other problem we’ve noticed: we don’t always let you know, clearly, what we really think of you. The internets are LOUD, the vocal minority or vocal majority, depending on the topic, but it’s hard to hear the other voices sometimes — the kind voices — over the din and whirring and clanking of the electronic webs.

That’s why we decided to write you this letter. To tell you what we think about you, your job outside the home and your work in it. We want to tell you what we know. What we honestly believe is the true truth about you and all you do.

We’ll start with this:


You ROCK, mama friend. You rock and…


We know you’re amazing because you go out into the world day after day — after day after day — to do your job, and then you come home ( you keep coming home instead of running away to Mexico! ), and you do that work, too. AMAZING, we tell you; that’s what you are.

You work hard. And you work long. Your task list is infinite, and there often aren’t breaks for mamas of any kind so we suspect you’re tired sometimes and maybe feel like your full-out sprint isn’t fast enough, like there’s never enough time, really, for anyone; least of all you, Mama. So we want to be the ones to whisper this into your ear, “You’re doing great. You’re doing more than you can stop to acknowledge right now. You ARE great. Greater and stronger than you probably know.”



as fabulous and fallible as all of us.

You wake with the sun, get kids ready while magically making yourself look like you’ve had some sleep, rush everyone around, try to stay in good standing at work so no one gets pissy when the kids inevitably get sick and you have to call in; you manage the household, pay the bills, shop for food, plan the meals, kiss the hurts, attend teacher conferences, and squeeze in school emails, not to mention being a good wife/friend/daughter/sister/aunt. It just never ever ever stops, and yet you get up every morning and usher in the day for those babies, and YOU, Working Mama, are their sunshine and their soldier, their healer and their living example of meaningful work, the rock of their world. You are one hell of an awesome mother. Don’t you EVER forget it.


We SEE you, Mama. We see you, loving your family and sad to leave your littles… or loving your family and thrilled for the break from them.

If you choose to go to work because you love it, thank you. Thank you for showing our kids it’s okay for women to pursue dreams outside the family and it’s important to nurture yourself. None of us can be whole mamas without these things.

If you go to work because you have to and it rips your heart out, we are cheering you on. It’s hard to walk away from your heart every day.


If you go to work for more than one reason — all intertwined and mixed up and full of certainty and uncertainty — we’re there for you in that place, too, because we know life is more than one thing, this grief and guilt and gladness at the gory, gorgeous mess of it all. We know it’s more than one thing and all mixed up together, and we SEE you. We see you, momrades, and our hearts beat in time with yours. We see you and we grieve with you. We SEE you and we rejoice with you. All together. All at once.

Finally, we want to say…


Thank you for being examples to our little girls that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up.

Thank you for showing our daughters that there are women who do web design, who do math and science, who are artists and poets, who run companies, who run machines, who run the world.

Thank you for braving a world that is not always complimentary to you for the choice you have made. Thank you for being the women who will make enormous gains for our children and our future.

Thank you for going out there, kicking ass and taking names and still coming home to do the mommy stuff. Thank you for all you do, for those days when you just keep going, and even for the days you just can’t go on and crash onto the couch or into bed because you’re human. Human is beautiful, too.

Thank you for making sure nobody forgets we women are a force to be reckoned with.

So… to the moms who worked outside the home today, who wore actual pants, who dealt with coworkers, traffic and deadlines, and then went home to work your other job caring for your family, that was a long ass day. Sit down and have some wine and cookies with us. You deserve it.

With love,

Your Momrades Who Stay Home


This letter was inspired by (and many phrases stolen from) your deeply moving comments to each other on the 5 Kids Blog Facebook page. I cannot adequately express my love and admiration for the unreasonably generous ways you encourage each other. You people seriously put the RAD in Momrade. If you want to see more encouraging comments from Stephanie, Stacy, Mary, Whitney, Rebecca, Nicole, Carmen, Marilyn, April, Georgi, Robin, Julie, Jessica, Linda, Sara, Ashley and more, click on over to the original post. Get tissues first to wipe your eyes; you’re going to need them.

And stay tuned for another letter from Moms Who Work Outside the Home to the Moms Who Work Inside It (’cause we all work our butts off.) It’s coming soon.

x’s and o’s, friends,
Beth Woolsey

How to Teach Your Kids to Appreciate Art

Nov 12 2014

I took my boys to an art gallery, but it was completely by accident, so I don’t feel like anyone should blame me for all the naked people they saw. Not real naked people; that’s what the locker room at the YMCA is for, and bursting into my bathroom every time I try to take a shower, and, eventually, college art classes. But paintings of nudes? Yeah. Sure. You betcha. Lots of those were all over the gallery.

Now, I wasn’t worried about the naked people. My kids are very metropolitan. I mean, as metropolitan as kids can be who can see llamas from their house. But we’ve traveled and stuff, so no biggie, right? Naked ladies; pffttt. My 8- and 14-year-old boys can totally handle pictures of naked ladies.

F Your I, my boys totally can’t handle pictures of naked ladies. Or naked men. Pretty much any kind of nakedness, and my kids can’t handle it.

We went into the art gallery for two reasons:

  1. There was an espresso sign outside, and Nice Mommy wanted to stay Nice Mommy so a hit of caffeine was in order.
  2. There was a toilet somewhere therein, and I had two boys who needed to pee.

We opened the door, and the metal-art, salmon-shaped cow bell clanged our arrival.

I guided my boys — all flying limbs and wild energy — past All Things Breakable and to the espresso counter. Success!

I ordered a cappuccino from the distinguished elderly gentleman behind the counter, the owner of the gallery, it turns out, in his tweed jacket and artsy / old-guy spectacles, and asked for directions to the restroom for my boys.

And here was where we discovered there was good news and bad news.

Painted in WaterlogueGOOD NEWS: The restroom was right next to the espresso counter, so I didn’t have to guide squirrelly boys back through the breakables to find it. Hooray!

BAD NEWS: The restroom, which was decorated in nudes, was right next to the espresso counter where the distinguished gentleman and I could hear every word they said.

Every whisper.

Every giggle.

Every guffaw.

Every sentence as my boys grew louder in their incredulity.

Every “LOOK AT THAT ONE!” And “There’s more over there!”

Every “HAHAHAHA. BUTTS!” And “Hehehe, boobs.” And “PENIS! That guy’s got a GIANT PENIS.”

Every snicker.

Every howl.

Every delay as they stretched time immeasurably to cavort in the bathroom, pointing and cackling up a storm.

And I tried — I want you to understand, I tried — to ignore them. I tried valiantly to pretend I was deaf so, when they emerged, I could claim ignorance and maintain some form of dignity in front of this stranger.

I tried to act like we’re mature.

I tried to act like we’re cultured.

I tried to act like we’re a family that doesn’t find nudes of either gender hilarious. 

I tried. But then one of my boys yelled, “I didn’t know those things could be so pointy!” And another one yelled, “Or so bumpy. Those things got lots of bumps.”

And I lost it.

I just… lost it right there in front of the store owner. Laughing and laughing, and wiping my eyes.

Which turned out to be fine, because the old guy was laughing, too.

“What can I say?” I asked as I shrugged.

And he said, “You know what? You’re doing a great job, mom. Your kids obviously appreciate art.”

So there you go, folks. Words from a professional. You know how to get your kids to appreciate art? Expose them to it. As the nudes have taught us, the more exposure, the better.


P.S. Like all my How To posts, this one is chock full of helpful information. For more utterly useless How To posts, which won’t help you at all but will make you feel better, see How to Organize a Linen Closet, How to Decorate for Fall, and How to Mop.



Let’s Play Good News / Bad News

Nov 9 2014

Sometimes we play Good News/Bad News. We played a few days ago over on the 5 Kids Facebook page. Now I have an update! So I thought we’d play here, too.

I’ll go first, starting with last Wednesday’s Good News / Bad News and then updating you to the present.

Here we go!

Good News: We did not have to take a kid to the hospital tonight.

Bad News: The kid may have a cracked jaw.

Good News: He can eat!

Bad News: But not solids.

Good News: We have access to effective over-the-counter pain medicine in this country.

Bad News: He couldn’t swallow it.

Good News: And then he did!
Created by MDKGraphicsEngine - Licensed to LEGO System A/S

Bad News: His sister did this to him with a pool noodle, her shoulder and some mad ninja spinning skillz. 

Good News: She says it wasn’t on purpose.

Bad News: All the witnesses disagree with her.

Good News: Someone bit her at Youth Group tonight. HARD. There are tooth marks and a bruise.

(Maybe that was Bad News. I’m getting confused.)

Bad News: It was her brother who bit her.

Good News: Not the same brother whose jaw might be cracked. He could’ve re-injured himself.

Bad News: I gotta figure out what to do with the Pool Noodle Ninja AND the Biter. Sheesh.

Good News: It’s bedtime, so I’m doing NOTHING ’til tomorrow. 


That was Good News / Bad News from Wednesday.

Now that it’s Sunday, I have follow-up Good News / Bad News. 



Good News: The kid’s jaw wasn’t cracked, and he could totally eat solids 2 days later. 

Bad News: The Pool Noodle Ninja and the Biter had to suffer unreasonable consequences like Doing Nice Things for the Siblings They’d Wounded. For a WHOLE DAY. Which was TORTURE.

Good News: The human spirit is resilient and everyone bounced back.

Bad News: That kid whose jaw wasn’t cracked? The 8-year-old, 60-pounder of a kid? Got bit in the leg by a dog this weekend. BIT. By a dog. A big dog. With a big, huge mouth. Like, puncture wound kind of bit, not like scratched-and-scared kind of bit. BIT bit.

Good News: The human spirit is resilient and everyone bounced back. Again. Even this mommy who has her own teeny, tiny history with dog bites… and who, you know, has a nose made partially out of ear, some pretty darn good facial scarring (if I do say so myself), and a nice number of reconstructive and plastic surgeries to my credit thanks to my own childhood run-in with a dog. Still – we are resilient, man! We will overcome!

Bad News: The kid’s playdate at the friend’s house – the one with the dog – was shorter than he’d hoped what with all the wound-cleaning and couch-sitting and doctor-calling and mommy-rocking-her-baby-boy that had to be done. Mostly for the mommy’s sake, but whatever.

Good News: They still got to play together because, “NO, I do NOT want to go home, Mom. They put that dog in the backyard, you know, and we still have to play Minecraft ’cause they have mods. Doy.” 

Bad News: My kid’s mom has all the wrong priorities – Minecraft FIRST; freaking out over dog bites SECOND. Stupid moms.

Good News: The other kid’s mom had a really, really good selection of calming teas, which, let’s be honest, we both needed. And my kid’s mom has a bathtub and beer, both of which she used liberally this weekend. 


So PHEW! You know? Phew. We survived the weekend, and I am not even exaggerating this time. We lived through it, and PHEW!

And now it is YOUR TURN to play Good News / Bad News. Please do share. It’s always more fun when we play together.

Here are a couple examples from our Facebook sharing, just to inspire you…

From Ryann:
Good News: I was able to get into my car tonight at work.

Bad News: I only was able to do that after calling my husband and yelling at him because the battery and my emergency key wouldn’t work on the car.
Good News: It was the wrong car I was trying to get into with my keys. 
Bad News: I’m getting so old and forgetful I spent 10 minutes using my keys on someone else’s car.

Good News: I wasn’t arrested for attempted car theft.


From Miranda:
Good News: The lake is frozen thick enough we can skate on it!

Bad News: My 4th grader took a hockey stick to the face and busted his lip and front tooth.
Good News: It was cold enough outside to at least keep the swelling down.
Bad News: All the blood froze where we skate. How to you get frozen blood off of a frozen lake?

Oh my gosh, you guys. I just love you all SO MUCH. 

So what’ve you got, friends? Do tell…

Holiday Shopping Guide for All Ages

Nov 6 2014

I know some of you already have ALL your holiday shopping done, and if that statement applies to you, you just SHUSH. I mean, good job. But SHUSH.

This is for the rest of us. The rest of us who TRY to get our shopping done ahead of time and, well, fail. The rest of us who pick up a thing here or a thing there. The rest of us who realize on December 20th or 21st or 23rd we never did manage to do all the Christmas shopping we’d intended. The meticulous shopping. The organized shopping. The shop-local shopping. The shop-small-businesses shopping. The thinking-about-what’s-perfect-for-everyone-on-my-list shopping. And, most importantly, the cheap-GET-THE-BEST-DEALS shoppingbecause five kids is a lot of kids all the time, but five kids at Christmas? Sheesh.

Now, it’s only November, so it’s WAY TOO EARLY for Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa shopping for the Rest of Us, but I AM ON THE BALL this year, friends. I am FIRED UP. Because I realized I tanked on shopping well last Christmas, when it caught me completely off guard that there were only 4 weeks between Thanksgiving and the birth of Baby Jesus. I was woefully unprepared. I spent more money than I wanted to spend. I wasn’t as mindful about gifts as I wanted to be. I stressed myself out far more than necessary. And I was, quite honestly, embarrassed at how much of my last-minute Christmas attention was on oh my gosh, what am I going to BUY and not so much on my family or my faith.

This year will be different.

Here’s my general problem, though: I am the WORST shopper in the history of shopping, and I have no idea what I’m doing because I just HATE it. I want – rather desperately – for someone to just tell me what to buy or what to assemble or what to do and be done.

So I turned to you and asked for help, and, as always, you were there for me.

As a result, even though it’s only early November, here is the OFFICIAL 

hand5 Kids Is A Lot Of Kids Holiday Shopping Guide for All Ages
Exactly the Same as Oprah’s Favorite Things!™*
*except totally different and probably cheaper

Before you get started, please note:

  1. This list is divided into age categories as much as possible. Some things are listed for all ages; some for specific age ranges.
  2. Nothing is divided by gender because I don’t see what our boy and girl parts have to do with building or nurturing or drawing or reading. I’m sure there are lots of Boy Gift Lists and Girl Gift Lists on the internets. This just isn’t one of them.
  3. I really (really, really) care about cost. In case you do, too, I’ve added a cost key to as many items as possible. 

$ = $0-10
$$ = $11-20
$$$ = $21-30
$$$$ = $31-40
$$$$$ = $41 and Up

OK, ready?

Here we go. 


Activities and Experiences for All Ages, $$$-$$$$$: In recent years, as our volume of STUFF has increased and, subsequently, become increasingly challenging to contain, gifts of experiences have been my very favorite things for my family, both to give and to receive. Consider these fun ideas.

  1. TicketsZoo Passes
  2. Aquarium Passes
  3. Movie Tickets
  4. Play Tickets
  5. Pool Passes
  6. Museum Membership
  7. Amusement or Water Park Tickets
  8. A Night Away — my kids ADORE a night in a hotel with a swimming pool!
  9. Restaurant Gift Certificates – Meghan writes, “One year my kids got Dominos gift certificates so they could buy pizza and drinks for themselves. They LOVED being in control of their dinner choice and overruling what I wanted them to eat. And I didn’t have to cook – WIN/WIN!” 


Active Play Kits for Kids Ages 3-10, $ – $$: Many of you suggested these build-your-own kits. I have to say, my kids would adore this kind of thing and it’s the kind of gift you can both personalize and make for very little money. I’m in!

  1. FlashlightBuild-a-Fort Kit, ages 3-10 – I LOVE this idea, and I plan to make some for my nieces and nephews this year. The idea comes from Armommy, and it’s very simple. Assemble flat sheets, a battery-operated lantern or flashlight, clothespins, and perhaps a book or two. Consider sewing ribbon ties on the corners of the sheets. Put all items inside a pillowcase. Voila! Instant fort-building supplies without tearing apart the linen closet or the beds. Love, love, love!
  2. Building Kit, ages 6-10: Debbie writes, “Assemble a moving box of scrap lumber salvaged from a job site (with permission of course), a hammer, a box of nails, a small hand saw [if you’re brave], measuring tape, work gloves, and eye protection glasses.” Someone added… and bandaids. 😉 Agreed!
  3. Jeans with Sewing UtensilsSewing Kit, ages 6-10: Melanie writes, “I had my own sewing box full of brightly coloured threads, needles and buttons. I still remember the shirt that I sewed about 50 buttons onto that my Grandfather actually wore to church one Father’s Day.” 
  4. Duct Tape Kit, ages 3-10: We gave our 4 youngest kids duct tape for Christmas last year. (Told you I like CHEAP.) And so did their grandparents. You’d think that would be duct tape overload, but NOPE; they had a wonderful time making things out of multi-colored tape and cardboard boxes. The tape is long gone, but they’ve been spending their own money to replenish the duct tape supply. Guess what they’re getting again this year??
  5. Career Kits, ages 3-10: Imagine:Play from McMinnville, Oregon writes, “Make a post office kit in a plastic box with real envelopes, tape, a stapler and stickers — all those things parents won’t let them play with and waste! Or a play restaurant kit with aprons, table cover, menus, personalized signs and order pads from a bulk grocery store like Cash N Carry.” The options for career kits are as endless as your imagination. I’d love to see a Safari Kit or a Pilot Kit or a Teacher Kit. 


Cool Toys for Little Kids, ages 3-8, $$-$$$$$: Like I said above, we have veered far from traditional toy buying in recent years, simply because TOO MUCH STUFF. But there’s still something special about opening that One Cool Toy on Christmas morning. Here are some reader favorites:

  1. PuttyBattat Take Apart Toys, ages 3-6
  2. Magformers Building Sets, ages 3-5
  3. Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, ages 3 and Up
  4. Music Maker Zither, ages 6 and Up – “Anyone can play–just slide a songsheet under the strings and follow the notes in connect-the-dots fashion.” 
  5. Kiwi Crate, ages 4-8 – Boxes that come once or every month with craft and science projects. Everything you need is included. You can use Stephanie’s referral link here to get $10 off your order.


Cool Things for Bigger Kids, ages 8-16, $$$-$$$$$

  1. Make Your Own CandyTinkerCrate from Mindware, ages 8 and Up – make candy, learn chemistry. What’s not to love?
  2. Tinker Crate, ages 9-14 – Like Kiwi Crate above, these are boxes that come once or every month. Unlike Kiwi Crate, these are designed for the 9-14 year old set interested in science, techology and engineering.
  3. Doodle Crateages 9-16 – Like Kiwi Crate and Tinker Crate, except these boxes are for the 9-16 year old artist and crafter.


Stuff to Read for Kids of All Ages

  1. Magazine Subscriptions
    • My kids love Zoobooks for ages 6-12 (there’s also Zookies for ages 0-3 and Zootles for ages 3-6).
    • Cindy writes, “The  folks who do Cricket have cool kids magazines for all levels, focusing in science, Crickethistory or literature.” You can find all the Cricket magazine options, from age 1-14, here.
    • Cindy also says, “If you don’t mind the gross and irreverent factor, MAD magazine. My 12 year old boy voluntarily gives up computer time to read it when it arrives. Laughs and laughs and laughs.” 
    • For the geek in your life, I highly (highly) recommend Wired magazine. Truly an excellent publication.
    • And, for the cook you love, Cooking Light has a new editor, new philosophy and new look. This is one of my personal favorites… although I tend to add extra butter and cheese.
  2. Gift Certificate to a Local Bookstore: this is a consistent favorite for my kids. They’re all ecstatic when they get Chapters gift certificates, although, granted, my 16 year old uses hers in their coffee shop. 🙂
  3. And, of course, BOOKS. For specific book suggestions, check out the 5 books I hope my kids will read and then scroll through the AWESOME comments you left with myriad more ideas. 


For Tweens and Teens: Depending on how you look at it, tweens and teens can either be much easier or much harder to buy gifts for than little ones. While it’s not nearly as fun to wrap a gift card (although I try with big boxes!) as it is a truck or a doll or a game, it is fun to watch my tweens’ and teens’ eyes light up when they realize they get the freedom to spend a little money however they choose. Here are some of our kids’ favorite, go-to gift cards and a couple actual physical items to consider.

  1. iTunes Gift Cards
  2. Coffee Gift Cards
  3. Cash for Sports or Other Classes: Nikki writes, “I’ve decided on envelopes of money saying ‘this chairis for soccer’ attached to a soccer ball and ‘this is for gymnastics’ attached to a leotard since it always seems that during the year sign-ups happen when we are running short. This year, I can say, ‘Go get your Christmas envelope!'” 
  4. Hanging Rope Swing Chair – My friend Erinn put this is her 9-year-old daughter’s room. It was a HUGE hit. Now her other daughter wants one, too. I’m kind of afraid to let my kids see this.
  5. Gamewright Card Games – Loot, Ratatatcat, and Zeus on the Loose are favorites
  6. Boot Cuffs – I’m buying at least one set of boot cuffs for my oldest daughter this year. These, by Hooked by Hanna, are adorable.


For Grown-Ups

  1. TeaHouseDesignsConsider something handcrafted like these cutting or cheese boards from Swamp Otter Designs, these Tree of Life necklaces from JW Arts and Crafts, or my latest find, from an Oregon Coast art gallery, these fun earrings from Tea House Designs (pictured right), $$-$$$$.
  2. If you’re in Oregon or Washington, check out Black Tie Tours‘ Holiday Wine Tour Special – an afternoon (3 hr) wine tour for $150. I can personally recommend Black Tie Tours – they are AWESOME. You can be a TOTAL wine idiot and they will help you. They also cater to people who actually know wine, too.
  3. Oregon White Truffle Oil, $$-$$$$ – Holy cow! Drizzle some on pasta, grate some KonduriKoffeeParmesan, and this stuff is HEAVEN. I keep some in my cupboard all the time. 
  4. Direct Trade Coffee at Konduri Koffee, $$-$$$
  5. An Unforgettable Experience, $$$$$. Susan writes, “My son is now 26 and really hard to buy for. He was in the Army for 5 years and is now back living at home. He is in school getting his degree. He always tells me, ‘I don’t want or need anything.’ Last year I went on Groupon & got him Sky Diving….. I was elevated to Super Star status!”


Other Cool Places to Shop Online for All Ages

  1. Think GeekThinkGeek – This is my go-to site for when I need a gift for Greg. TOTALLY geeky, awesome merchandise. I usually go for a shirt like Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock
  2. If you like Think Geek, also check out Celtic Dragonfly at Etsy for some awesome felt character dolls from Doctor Who, Dr. Horrible, Firefly, The Walking Dead and more, and September Embroidery for embroidery with a geeky/nerdy twist.
  3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store
  4. Mindware


You can find more ideas on the original post over here at the 5 Kids Facebook page.

And we need your ideas, too! If you have other great options (including your own businesses), please share them in the comments section.


“Tickets Sign” image credit artur84 via freedigitalimages.net.
“Flashlight” image credit Gualberto107 via freedigitalimages.net.
“Jeans With Sewing Utensils” image credit Mister GC via freedigitalimages.net.
“Empty White Wall with Gift Box” image credit Master isolated images via freedigitalimages.net.

All other images are not mine; they belong to the stores or businesses listed in this post, and I’m assuming people are OK with me using them to promote their work. Here’s hoping.
P.S. I was not compensated for the promotion of any of these products/services. I just thought you might like some ideas.