The Only Baby Gate You Will Ever Need

The Only Baby Gate You Will Ever Need |

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This post is in no way sponsored by Retract-A-Gate; they have no idea I even exist. I am just that big of a fan and wanted you to know about this awesome baby gate that makes a mom’s life easier!

The Only Baby Gate You Will Ever Need | EverydaySmallThings.comI’m not one to fawn over baby gates, but this gate is the best thing since sliced bread and I had to share it with you!

My biggest beef with baby gates is their awkwardness. When not being used, where does one store it? Behind a door? In a closet? Ugh…who has the time?! It would just end up being put off to the side and would fall over with the slightest breeze. (Maybe I’m being a little dramatic…but they were truly annoying)

With a home daycare and my own children being preschoolers, I only need baby gates for a portion of the day. At the end of the work day, I want to be able to put it away without tripping over it but that wasn’t realistic with the setup of my house.

I did a lot of research. A lot. Like a ridiculous amount of time spent researching baby gates. But I am so glad I did because I discovered the Retract-A-Gate.

These are my 6 favorite features of Retract-A-Gate.

  1. Retractable
    Yep, it does exactly what the name says! It rolls up into a nice frame that rarely gets in the way and you hardly notice it. I never have to “put it away” because it is always wrapped up nicely when not in use.
  1. Easy Install
    My dad came through on this one and installed all of our mounts. Super easy! The permanent install with hooks sticking out of the wall could be seen as a negative; but honestly, we don’t even notice them!
  1. Single handedly open and close the gate – quietly!
    There’s nothing like holding a crying baby and trying to get a gate open that is parent proof as well as baby proof. Squeeze here, then pull up, then push all while performing a rain dance…or something like that, and yet the darn thing still won’t open. Or naptime is in full swing and I need to open the gate but it makes so much noise that the baby wakes up. I never have to put a child down when opening up the Retract-A-Gate. I can single-handedly unlock, open and close the gate like a ninja.
  1. Move the gate around the house with ease.
    Retract-A-Gate comes with hooks that you mount to the wall. You can purchase extras so that you can move your gate around the house. We personally have two gates but 5 sets of mounts, so I can easily move the gate (again, single-handedly) to whichever room we’re in.
  1. Locks in place.
    This is probably where the most skepticism lies…does it really keep a kid from going through? If installed properly, I’m here to say, “Yes! Without a doubt!” My kids have pushed, pulled and even tried to climb under (yes, under) but were not successful. I have had these gates for a year now and have never had problems with a child escaping when the gate was locked.
  1. Great customer service
    Customer service isn’t something you normally receive with a baby gate, but this company is different! A few months after we received our Retract-A-Gates, one of the mounting hooks broke. It was a freak thing and Retract-A-Gate came through, sending us the new mount.

Have I convinced you yet? If you need to see it in action, check out this wobbly video that my daughter shot of me sharing how we use our Retract-A-Gate.

39 “Something To Read” Gift Ideas

39 Reading Gifts That Aren't Books |

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This post was updated in November 2021.

39 Reading Gifts That Aren't Books |“We have enough books!” my husband said to me when I asked him for ideas on what to get the kids for the “Something to read” category of Four Gifts of Christmas. This sparked a search for some “outside of a book” ideas. Ssshh…don’t tell them these are educational, you don’t want to spoil the fun. 😉

Regardless of reading ability: If, like us, you don’t live within city limits of a library a Library Membership would be a great gift idea! Or a membership to one of the following apps:

Get Epic! is a FAVORITE in our household – seriously it got one of my kids who doesn’t enjoy reading to start reading!

Audible has been fantastic for road trips and down time in their rooms with an alexa.

The whole goal is to think outside the box. Last year, our daughter was learning how to play piano and read music. So her “something to read” was actually this Note Quest music reading activity book.

But if you’re looking for more “traditional” reading activities, I’ve got you covered!

Want to jump ahead?


Early Readers

Young Readers

Avid Readers


Violet or Scout can read to your child with LeapFrog Story Time Buddy

Wipe Clean: Early Learning Activity Book offers endless learning opportunities as you can wipe it off and do it again

Kids loves mail! How about a monthly Highlights High Five subscription?

Begin letter recognition with Osmo Little Genius Starter Pack for Ipad

Hot Dots Beginners Phonics Card Set can be used as flash cards or with any Hot Dots pen.

Help your child learn new words with these Wooden Reading blocks

How fun and colorful is this Read to Me Tot Tower?! And bonus in my book…non-toxic inks!

Thinkfun Roll and Play Board Game comes with pictures but can grow with your child as they learn how to read the instructions

Early Readers

They won’t even realize they’re practicing reading skills while playing this fun Super Why ABC Letter Game

What a fun way to practice reading with the uKloo Early Reader Treasure Hunt Game

My First Bananagrams is great for children just learning to spell

The BYJU’S Magic Workbooks: Disney powered by OSMO takes your child on a guided adventure combining the magic of Disney storytelling with interactive learning activities.

Zingo Sight Words is a twist on bingo

Building words is fun with Lunchbox Letters

Let your child create their own book that is professionally bound with Lulu Jr. IlluStory Junior

Highlights For Children will be a monthly “highlight” (I’m here all week) in the mail.

A twist on an old favorite Boggle Junior Game

Hot Dots give your early reader autonomy and fun while playing Let’s Master Kindergarten Reading

Learning phonics is fun while playing Sequence Letters

Silly Sentences keep your child engaged in the fun of reading

Your auditory or visual learner will love Alphabet Bingo Game

Scrabble Junior is a great way to learn and recognize letters

Help little ones make the connection with an object and its name in MengTing Alphabet Game

Young Readers

Even short words like at, of, and zoo, can lead to a win in Quiddler

If you have a kid that loves to know what’s going on in the world, The Week Junior could be a great gift for them!

Dabble is a fast paced word game for the whole family!

Spark creativity with 642 Things to Write About: Young Writer’s Edition

Cricket is more monthly happy mail

Your reader can write and publish their own book with Lulu Jr – My Awesome Book

Ok, so yes Brain Games for Kids is a book, but it is packed with crossword puzzles, word searches, math puzzles, mazes, picture puzzles, and more

National Geographic Kids Subscription provides educational fun in the mailbox each month

Christmas Fun Mad Libs would make a great stocking stuffer!

The higher you stack, the higher you score in Upwords

Sports Illustrated KIDS for your sports fan

Avid Readers

Bananagrams is fast, portable and fun (this would be great to keep in the purse to play while waiting at restaurants…speaking from experience)

Finish This Book gets the creative juices flowing in story telling

Play On Words is an extra clever mind-expanding card game

A favorite Magazine Subscription

Mad Libs can be fun at any age (be aware that some can be racy)

Wreck This Journal: Now In Color has become a favorite in our household! Really, all of the journals by Keri Smith provide lots of fun and creativity!

399 Games, Puzzles & Trivia Challenges Specially Designed to Keep Your Brain Young…enough said

Crossword Book provides hours of brain games

The Imaginary World Of… Yet another creative Keri Smith journal

Get the creative juices flowing with 642 Things to Write About

How fun is this Magnetic Scrabble Set?!

Daily fun with Word Search Desk Calendar

Scrabble Slam Cards is a high-speed game promising loads of fun

Learn a new word each day with 365 New Words-A-Year Page-A-Day Calendar


39 Something To Read Gifts | EverydaySmallThings.comComment below with any other suggestions for “Something To Read” gifts that aren’t books.

18 Gifts that Give Back

Gifts that Give Back | EverydaySmallThings.comThe gift giving season is upon us.  Honestly, it is one I dread because the love language of gifts is so incredibly foreign to me. I have to really work and think hard about it, it doesn’t come naturally.

Several years ago, Matt and I reconsidered traditional gifts we would give our loved ones for Christmas. While physical gifts can be wonderful, we also believe that there are eternal ways we can give as well. For example, Matt’s dad referees every sport possible.  Sports are a big deal to them both.  One year, we decided to donate towards a Compassion International Sports Camp in his honor.

Here are some ideas of gifts that can be given in honor of a loved one. Some even have printable cards that explain what this gift will do for someone in need, but you could always make your own.

Gifts of Compassion (My Personal Favorite)
World Vision Gift Catalog
A Gift from the Heart – Habitat for Humanity
Operation Smile Giving Catalog
Partner’s International Harvest of Hope
Changing the Present
Heifer International
Donors Choose
Operation Christmas Child
Bible League
Any Soldier

Shop With Meaning

Maybe you’d still like to give a physical gift, but also like the idea of helping. Check out these organizations that give back when you purchase through them!

Amazon Smile – 0.5% of your purchase price goes to an organization of your choice — like Hearts At Home!
Toms Shoes
 – For every pair of shoes you buy, one is donated to a child in need
Fashionable – Beautiful products made by women who have overcome
Ten Thousand Villages – Your fair trade purchase of handmade jewelry, home decor and gifts helps improve the lives of thousands of artisans in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East
Better World Books – Book for a book
CommonThreadz – For every tshirt you buy, a school uniform is donated in Africa

Any other ideas for Gifts that Give Back? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!

Please note, aside from Compassion International, I have no personal experience with any of these companies and cannot vouch for their integrity. If you are concerned about where your money is going, please do your research! 

How Four Gifts Could Save Your Christmas Spirit

Four Gifts of Christmas | EverydaySmallThings.comIt’s just about that time for Christmas trees to be put up, lights to be strung and budget conversations on how much will be spent on gifts. *cringe*

Matt’s love language is gifts…mine is quality time. An ideal Christmas morning for Matt looks like a ton of gifts under the tree waiting to be unwrapped; while I could really care less how much is under the tree and more enjoy the sentiments behind the gifts given and time shared (for this reason I also do not enjoy making Christmas lists).

Three years ago, it was our first Christmas with two children who had plenty of toys, more than enough clothes and limited space to add more. I was dreading the idea of spending money on things that we truly didn’t need and I would just have to find a home for when I am already clutter challenged.

We began having a conversation about what we wanted our children to experience on Christmas morning. We agreed that we wanted to be purposeful in the gifts given, rather than buy a ton of stuff to fill the bottom of the tree. It was important to both of us that we instill in our children that Christmas isn’t about the gifts given but about remembering Christ’s birth and his ultimate gift of his life.

Four Gifts of ChristmasWe finally came across an idea (thank you Pinterest!) called the Four Gifts of Christmas. Within our family, each person unwraps:

·      Something they want

·      Something they need

·      Something to wear

·      Something to read

There are a lot of ideas out there for labeling each gift if that is your thing…personally, it takes the fun out of it for me to know which category I’m opening.

We still do a stocking for each family member that includes an ornament representing something that happened in their life that year and other goodies like crayons, markers, chapstick, a small toy, Play-Doh…you get the drift. Side note, the ornament is one of my all-time favorite Christmas traditions because decorating the tree becomes a walk down memory lane!

The Four Gifts of Christmas have saved our sanity during the holiday season! It has simplified the gift-buying process, helped us stay within our budget, encouraged us to be purposeful in our gift choices and allowed us to truly enjoy Christmas morning with one another.

How do you do Christmas gifts? Ever tried doing the Four Gifts of Christmas?

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When Clutter Sends You Running For Cover

When Clutter Sends You Running For Cover |

This post contains affiliate links. Should you choose to purchase from these links you'll receive tried and true products I love While supporting Everyday Small Things at no added cost to you!

When Clutter Sends You Running For Cover | EverydaySmallThings.comWhen it comes to home organization, are you an Innie or an Outie? And no, I’m not referring to your belly button.

Innies appear very organized because most of their stuff is “in” something. They tend to have files, not piles. Their kitchen counter is practically naked. An innie’s mantra might be, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

Outies often have to deal with clutter. That’s because their mantra might be “Out of sight, out of mind!” Outies might love sticky notes and use them everywhere. They tend to be pilers rather than filers, because if they file something they might forget about it.

As my mom and I talk about in our book Better Together, (releases March 2016 Woohoo!!!) we are both outies. If I don’t see it, I forget about it. My mom has learned some great innie practices to use in her home. However, I am still working on how to make my “outie” more “innie.” I have cute files ready to be used for all of my paperwork; I just don’t think to use them…you can find them in one of my piles.

Being an outie with a home daycare has proven chaotic at times, especially when a parent comes to pick up their child and we are searching for a lost shoe for the umpteenth time. “You need a locker system for each kid!” suggested one of my daycare parents.

Coloring On the Wall |
The artwork on our walls

Lockers would be ideal for a daycare setting, but this is my home first and foremost so I wanted to find a solution that worked for both. Another daycare parent had suggested a bench with baskets underneath. This cabinet was the best of both worlds. However it was so…white. White and little ones don’t mix. Just ask my walls.

Storage Cabinet with Custom Wood Top | The white bookshelf was a blank canvas calling for some wood accents. My dad gave me a ton of furring strip a few months ago as I’ve been wanting to redo a few tables and a wall (yes…a wall). However, those projects just haven’t happened. I’m the type of person who, when inspiration strikes, wants to get to work right away. So, true to my nature, I did. I LOVE how it turned out! Adds the right amount of warmth and character to an otherwise cold and plain bookshelf.

Now, each daycare kid has their own basket that their stuff can go in and my family each has a bin to put their shoes in. Who knows, I might change things up a bit, but right now I’m loving the new storage!
Cabinet with Wood Top | EverydaySmallThings.comPossibly more exciting than my new piece of furniture in my entryway is that it could be in yours! My Etsy shop is now open for business and I can’t wait to make custom creations that reflect YOU! So head on over to my Etsy Shop!

The Unconventional Guide to Finding Mom Friends

An Unconventional Guide to Finding Mom Friends2 years ago, my family moved to a new city and I knew absolutely no one.  This was a first for me.  The only other time I had moved to a new city was when I got married, but my husband had already been living there for a year, so I had a ‘head start’ of sorts.  In college, at least where I attended, they provided ample opportunities to meet your peers.  Plus, if you had a roommate you at least went in knowing one person’s name.

Find out more about mom friendships in our book releasing in March 2016. You can preorder now!
Find out more about mom friendships in our book releasing in March 2016. You can preorder now!

Finding new relationships can be daunting, even paralyzing for some.  Maybe it’s not finding friends in a new city, but you’re in a new season of life and want to make similarly seasoned (Is that a thing?  going with it…) friends.   Which brings me to 5 Ways to Meet Mom Friends.  But honestly, these pertain to any friendship, so if you don’t have little fingers wiggling under the bathroom door when you’re trying to use it in peace, you can still utilize these!  If you’ve ever had a toddler permanently attached to your hip, then settle in for a brief moment of girl time.

Be Brave
If you’re anything like my introverted self, hearing “Go make friends” makes me immediately relate to the Wicked Witch of the West where she screeches “I’m melting! I’m melting!”.  Not the wicked part, the screeching and melting part.  Putting myself out there and meeting new people is incredibly intimidating and draining to me.  What I’ve learned about myself is that because of this, I choose to avoid these situations at all cost.  I would rather stay in my house.  But this is unrealistic.  We were built and wired for relationships.  We need them.

So the next time you are at a park and there’s another mom there, start chatting with her.  Begin with a common experience. “How old is your daughter?   Mine too!  We are looking into local preschools, have any suggestions?”  You may not walk away with a friend, but you’ve been brave and that’s certainly worth being proud of!  And consider this, what if she is looking for friends too?  You may be what she’s been looking for!

Be Approachable
Did you know that it can take just 20 seconds to detect whether a stranger is inclined to being trustworthy, kind or compassionate?  It’s true!  Backed by science.  So that means you have 20 seconds to make the best first impression to your future BFF.  And let’s be honest, it’s not going to happen if you have Angry Resting Face (yes, it’s a thing and you know what I’m talking about if you’ve been diagnosed with ARF) or you’re buried in whatever is way more interesting in your phone.  So make a habit of smiling and putting away your phone when you’re out in public (it’s a good practice for home too).

Be Creative
There are many different ways of meeting others from joining a group or signing up for a class. Here are a few places to begin your search:

Be Open
Remember how it takes 20 seconds to size up a person?  Take this opportunity to put your judgement aside when you see that she has different parenting techniques than you.  Or maybe she’s actually dressed in real clothes (not sweats) and you instantly think you know she has it all together. There is no way to know someone’s insides by the look of their outside.  We have an incredible chance to learn from one another and our differences.  Who knows, she may have a great tip on how to transform last night’s leftovers!

Be a Coordinator
Don’t be afraid to start your own group!  Put something out on Facebook or start a group on  Being a coordinator means setting the place and time.  Don’t put pressure on yourself to put on an event, just a casual time of meeting other moms.  Maybe that’s setting the place and time for a park playdate or a kid-free coffee time.

Do you have any other suggestions for meeting new mom friends? I’d love to hear them!

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A Twist on the Clean-Up Game

“Clean up, clean up
Everybody, everywhere
Clean up, clean up
Everybody do your share”

If you have a little one you may be familiar with that little jingle made famous by a purple dinosaur.  It’s a little song that you sing when it’s time to clean up with children.  It worked great…until my kids turned 3.  Then they realized they had an opinion.

I hate to clean and picking up is the last thing I want to do at the end of a day.  I owe a huge apology to all of my college roommates because, looking back, I was a very messy roommate.  Unfortunately, I have passed this on to my children…as you can see in this video below.

Our clutter finally was more than we could handle so today we went into clean up mode.  It was like pulling teeth to get the kids to help clean up their rooms.  I get it! I didn’t want to be doing that either. And it’s very overwhelming to look at a messy room and think you have to start working on it. After telling Rilyn for the umpteenth time that she needed to start picking stuff up, I finally had a lightbulb moment.

A Twist On the Clean Up GameI downloaded the Random Number Generator + app.  The reason I chose this app was because it does random generations of numbers, dice and colors.  But there are several out there to choose from.  So, I gave Rilyn my phone and told her to choose either numbers or colors and she had to pick up whatever the phone told her to.  If the app generated a 3, she would pick up three items.  If the app generated the color purple, then she would have to find a purple item to pick up.

This transformed clean up time for us!  She became engaged in the process and excited to see what number or color would come up.

It was also a homeschooling win-win because we worked on counting, adding (there is a dice feature – so she had to add the dice up) and organizing (home ec!).

Do you have a clean-up time trick with your kids?  Or a tip for someone with messy tendencies like me?  Comment below!

Managing Mommy Melancholy

Managing Mommy Melancholy |

10 Questions Moms Can Ask As the weather has become cooler and it is getting darker earlier, my children have become moody and whiney.  It’s been a long week of managing fights over toys and whether or not a sibling is looking at the other one.  Towards the end of the week, I realized my children’s attitudes weren’t necessarily reflecting the weather…they were reflecting me.

Often, moms find ourselves on the back burner.  It’s not necessarily on purpose, but we find it easiest to take care of everyone else before we realize that we are on empty and ready to throw in the towel.  To quote an amazing woman (my mom), “Taking care of ourselves, IS taking care of our families.”

Adapted from this post.

Managing Mommy Melancholy

Watermelon “Popsicle”

I have a hard time reconciling the idea of giving my kids free reign of sugar and other junk when they are sick, but limiting it when they are well.One of my children has come down with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease…again.  This thing is awful!!  She is literally sitting on the couch with her tongue hanging out of her mouth because it hurts so bad.  “It feels like a bee stung my tongue!” she cried this morning.  Ugh!  Breaks my heart!

HFM is something you just have to wait out.  There’s no medication one can give to combat it (although I am pumping her with Vitamin C and slathering with Essential Oils).  Making them comfortable is the main objective.  The doctor recommended popsicles and ice cream.  That doesn’t exactly sit well with me after the last year of discovering how to eat well and being conscious about what is put into our bodies. I have a hard time reconciling the idea of giving my kids free reign of sugar and other junk when they are sick, but limiting it when they are well.

Watermelon Popsicle |

Enter in Watermelon “Popsicles”.  These are the best of both worlds!  It’s like eating a popsicle but without all of the added sugar and dyes.  I have my freezer loaded with these things and I have absolutely no problem giving them to her one after another if she asks.

It is so easy!

-Cut up your watermelon

-Put a stick in it (make sure the stick goes in enough to support the weight of the watermelon)

-Lay out one layer at a time on a pan with parchment paper

-Once frozen, stick them all into a freezer bag.

Next time, I’ll use popsicle sticks because the cake pop sticks just don’t hold the bigger ones well.

This food-conscious momma is very happy.

Have any other ideas for fruit popsicles?


It’s {not} the thought that counts.

It's Not The Thought That Counts | EverydaySmallThings.comDo you ever have those moments where someone pops into your head randomly?  Or you know a friend who is struggling and you continually think about and, if you’re a person of faith, pray for them?  But here’s the thing…

How do they know they’ve been thought of?
How do they know they’ve been prayed for?

Life’s struggles are often accompanied by loneliness, discouragement and/or anxiety.  We aren’t meant to carry these loads alone.  We are built for relationship.  Yet, in the midst of trials, it is often the last thing on our mind to seek out friendship and encouragement.

So this is what I’ve come to realize…it’s not the thought that counts.

There have been countless times where people will randomly come to mind or I just can’t stop thinking about them.  As a person of faith, I’ve begun to recognize, many times, this is God laying them on my heart for the purpose of praying for or encouraging them.  Therefore, it’s a call to action.

Relationships can be hard.  Especially for an introvert, like myself, who values depth in friendships.  Because of this, I find it doesn’t come naturally to casually “check in” to see how someone is doing or let them know I was thinking about them.  I know some people who are incredibly gifted in this skill in relationships.  And this is what I’ve come to identify.  This is a skill.  And skills can be mastered with practice.

My neighbor is a wonderful example of someone who utilizes this skill well.  On several occasions, she has brought by little gifts for the kids or overstock from her pantry.  To me, it says, “I was thinking about you.”  

When my parents separated, the outpouring of love I experienced was incredible.  And while I may have not responded to every single message or text, the fact that someone took a moment to let me know they were thinking about me was appreciated.  I felt like I had a community around me…that I wasn’t alone.

So, I am challenging myself to intentionally exercise this skill.  How about you?  Not even sure what to call it.   The skill of “letting someone know I was thinking about them” is a little lengthy.

Some everyday small things to keep in mind…
The next time you interact with a young mom and think “She’s a good mom!”…tell her.

The next time you are baking cookies and think “I should double this recipe and take some to the neighbors.”…go for it.

The next time you can’t get an old friend off your mind…let them know.

The next time you see someone with fabulous hair…be bold and tell her!

The next time a friend going through a difficult time comes to mind…pray for them and let them know.

The next time you think “I would love to do coffee with her.”…text her and make a date.

You never know what that person is going through or experiencing in that moment.  Your text or quick encouragement may be exactly what they need.  And they’ll never know…unless you tell them.

How have you engaged the moments people pop into your head?  If you’ve been on the receiving end, what imprint did it leave?

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