St. Paddy’s Playdate with Rainbow Craft & Snacks

BY GENA KITTNER

Holidays and food go together: Christmas and cookies, Thanksgiving and turkey, St. Patrick’s Day, and … green beer and corned beef? Sure, but not if the crowd you’re entertaining consists of a bunch of toddlers and preschoolers.

But just because a few of the guests are still in diapers doesn’t mean we can’t be festive. Here are a few ideas for some St. Patrick’s Day fun, complete with rainbow craft and rainbow snacks that kiddos can enjoy during a playdate (while you and the other moms reminisce of crazier St. Patrick’s days gone by).

EasyIdeas for PlanningaRainbowPlaydate 

RAINBOW FRUIT PLATE

This is a great way to serve a variety of fruit sure to please picky eaters. Arrange cut-up fruit pieces in an arch according to color to make a rainbow. My 3-year-old daughter had a great time helping with this. You can replace marshmallows at the end with goldfish or gold-wrapped candies for a more leprechaun feel.

RAINBOW WAFFLES

Waffles are a great playdate/party food because they can be made (and even frozen) ahead of time and reheated in a 200-degree oven or toaster. Plus, waffles are easy for kids to eat but not terribly unhealthy. Ellie and I used my heart-shaped waffle iron to batch the afternoon before her friends came over. A few drops of food coloring in the batter is all it took to turn plain waffles into rainbow treats. We used the Heart Smart Bisquik waffle mix, but any batter and iron will do.

A SALTY SNACK

I find all playdates require goldfish. They are salty goodness that every kid enjoys. We grabbed a bag of rainbow-colored ones and set them out in pre-filled cups to avoid 10 preschooler’s hands in one bowl.

A TASTY RAINBOW CRAFT

I love mixing food and crafts because if the kids don’t like the craft, at least they’ll have fun eating the food. We set out bowls of Fruit Loops for kids to glue on paper plates and make a rainbow for the rainbow craft. They did more eating than gluing, but it was a fun, low-mess craft that kids of a wide-age range could enjoy.

So this St. Patrick’s Day, consider throwing a rainbow playdate and joining me in raising a frothy glass of green milk (and maybe indulging in a few gold coins at the end of the rainbow).


Gena Kittner

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous guest posts on Mommy Sanest.

5 Strategies to Help Overwhelmed Moms Find Balance

As a mom (and maybe as a human being), I feel overwhelmed. And not only am I an overwhelmed mom, I feel like I shouldn’t be — I only have one kid, I work from home, I don’t have to worry about our basic needs being met — which only makes things worse because I become more overwhelmed that something is wrong with me for feeling overwhelmed in the first place.

It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated by mommy guilt, a culture of busy, self-doubt, and the weight of family, social, and/or work obligations. I know I’m not the only overwhelmed mom out there.

Here’s the best way I can describe it: I feel like I am the sun and my family orbits around me. When I walk in the door, before I can put down my car keys, the dog, the toddler and even my husband are coming toward me, blocking my way, wanting attention, jockeying for position.

Maybe I should find joy in moments like this — to be loved so much that all of these people/animals must greet me immediately upon arrival with as much energy as possible — but usually what I feel is overwhelmed. It’s a struggle to get through the door, a struggle to get my coat off, a struggle to keep everyone a few feet away from me so I can start the next necessary task (a meal, a chore, etc.), a struggle to have a moment to collect myself.

I don’t want to struggle. And I don’t want to be a constantly overwhelmed mom.

But I’ve realized that the problem isn’t them, but it’s not necessarily me either. It’s that chaos is a part of life, especially life with young children. And I can’t change that — the fact that I’ve been trying to change the chaos is (at least partially) what makes me feel overwhelmed.

I’m trying to shift my thinking and the way I react. Instead of trying to lessen the chaos, I’ve been looking for strategies that will allow me to function better in and through the chaos. Maybe if you’re an overwhelmed mom, you’ll find these ideas helpful — they cost no money, and most of them take only a few minutes and require minor tweaks to your routine.

Try these five strategies to help you feel more balanced throughout the day. Perfect for overwhelmed moms who feel like they don't have time to center themselves. All of these take less than an hour a day (and some save you time).

STRATEGY 1: WAKE UP 30 MINUTES EARLIER THAN YOUR KID(S).

For me, this is HUGE.

In January, our family transitioned to a new routine. Last year, my husband worked the midnight shift, which was hard for many reasons, but when he came home in the morning, he managed getting our daughter dressed and off to daycare, giving me plenty of time and space to get ready for work. Now he’s on the day shift, which means he leaves the house by 6 a.m., while I am at home, attempting to figure out the transition from working full time in an office to starting my own business. It’s up to me to get our daughter out the door in the morning, which should be easy, right? It’s not like I’m on a hard and fast schedule.

I’ve mentioned that the process to get Emme dressed in the morning can be trying. This morning “routine” overwhelmed me; it made me feel anxious and frustrated, and I was struggling to bounce back from getting my day off on the wrong foot. Setting the alarm seemed unnecessary since I knew Emme would wake me up, but I finally convinced myself a few weeks ago that I needed to try to get out of bed before her.

What a difference having a cup of coffee by myself makes. The entire morning dynamic shifted, and not because she changed, but because I have a few minutes to wake up, enjoy my coffee, and relax — not dive in head first with morning toddler drama. But it’s funny, now that I’ve stopped fighting against it, the toddler drama doesn’t seem quite as dramatic.

STRATEGY 2: DO THE THING YOU ARE DOING EVEN IF IT’S JUST FOR A FEW MINUTES.

As a blogger and a freelance writer who is trying to find work, I can easily convince myself that I’m “working” no matter what I’m doing. After all, I’m scanning freelance jobs, posting on Facebook, checking my email, chatting online with a friend, reading an industry blog, researching an article for a client, and updating my resume… all at the same time. Which means literally nothing is getting done.

This multitasking mentality creeps into all facets of my life. I turn on the TV after Emme goes to bed with the intent of watching a television show to unwind, only to sit down with my laptop in hand, screwing around on one million different websites, the TV on in the background. Or I’m trying to manage my daughter while texting with a friend and tackling random tasks (that never end up getting done).

Multitasking is necessary sometimes, but when you can, slow down and do the thing you are doing. Just give the task at hand five minutes of your attention.

STRATEGY 3: TAKE A DEEP BREATH.

Whenever you need to throughout the day — when you’re starting to feel anxious or frustrated, take a few seconds (just a few seconds!) and breath in. Count for a couple of seconds while you hold your breath and then breath out. Don’t worry, the mess your child is making will be there when you’re done.

STRATEGY 4: CREATE BOUNDARIES AROUND SOCIAL MEDIA.

Social media is a great way to connect with the world around us and the people we care about, but it is undoubtably a time suck. At worst, it can turn your energy and attention to something that makes you feel angry (your crazy uncle’s extreme political rants), judged (your “friend” who posts articles about how formula is poison), or lacking (all of the happy pictures and status updates that suggest that everyone else is living the perfect life). I don’t know about you, but sometimes social media just makes me feel anxious.

And yet it’s such a habit. I open my Facebook app on my phone without even thinking about it. I don’t even mean to do it, it’s just what I do. Here are some ideas to cut down on your social media time:

  • Try moving the social media apps on your phone every so often they are a little less accessible to you. You can also hide it in a “subfolder” on your iPhone — I can never find the apps I put in subfolders. #problemsolved
  • Jess from North & South Nomads pointed out in the comments that you can change your phone settings so your not constantly getting social media notifications. Thanks Jess!
  • Attempt to keep your social media surfing to a few times a day — maybe once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
  • Sometimes knowledge is power: You can download the Moment app to see exactly how much time your spending on your phone. Though it doesn’t tell you exactly how much of that time is spent on Facebook or other social media apps, this information is still helpful for me because I know a lot of the time I spend zoning out on the phone, I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed. Challenge yourself to decrease that time.
  • Unfollow Facebook friends. You don’t have to unfriend people and make it a whole thing. Go to the profile page of the person who is driving you batty and uncheck “Following” to take that person’s status updates out of your feed.

STRATEGY 5: MEDITATE FOR 10 MINUTES.

More and more research suggests that meditation really can help relieve anxiety as well as other medical issues. I have been trying to get into the habit of meditating every day. I’d say I manage to do it 5 out of 7 days a week. But when I do take 10 minutes to meditate, I feel less overwhelmed and more balanced throughout the day.

I find if I mediate right before I pick Emme in the afternoon, it has a similar effect as my morning coffee — I’m suddenly much more capable of dealing with post-daycare toddler demands (milk! potty! crackers! Caillou! books! paci! apple! Frozen!), getting dinner on the table, and feeling, you know, content with my life not overwhelmed by it. On the weekends, I try to meditate when Emme takes her nap.

When I decided to try meditation, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. I found Headspace, a website that provides a lot of information about meditation, and I downloaded the free app, which includes ten 10-minute meditations.

SO WHAT ABOUT YOU… ARE YOU AN OVERWHELMED MOM/PARENT/PERSON? DO YOU HAVE ANY GO-TO STRATEGIES THAT HELP YOU FEEL MORE BALANCED?

5 Strategies to Help Overwhelmed Moms Find Balance

As a mom (and maybe as a human being), I feel overwhelmed. And not only am I an overwhelmed mom, I feel like I shouldn’t be — I only have one kid, I work from home, I don’t have to worry about our basic needs being met — which only makes things worse because I become more overwhelmed that something is wrong with me for feeling overwhelmed in the first place.

It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated by mommy guilt, a culture of busy, self-doubt, and the weight of family, social, and/or work obligations. I know I’m not the only overwhelmed mom out there.

Here’s the best way I can describe it: I feel like I am the sun and my family orbits around me. When I walk in the door, before I can put down my car keys, the dog, the toddler and even my husband are coming toward me, blocking my way, wanting attention, jockeying for position.

Maybe I should find joy in moments like this — to be loved so much that all of these people/animals must greet me immediately upon arrival with as much energy as possible — but usually what I feel is overwhelmed. It’s a struggle to get through the door, a struggle to get my coat off, a struggle to keep everyone a few feet away from me so I can start the next necessary task (a meal, a chore, etc.), a struggle to have a moment to collect myself.

I don’t want to struggle. And I don’t want to be a constantly overwhelmed mom.

But I’ve realized that the problem isn’t them, but it’s not necessarily me either. It’s that chaos is a part of life, especially life with young children. And I can’t change that — the fact that I’ve been trying to change the chaos is (at least partially) what makes me feel overwhelmed.

I’m trying to shift my thinking and the way I react. Instead of trying to lessen the chaos, I’ve been looking for strategies that will allow me to function better in and through the chaos. Maybe if you’re an overwhelmed mom, you’ll find these ideas helpful — they cost no money, and most of them take only a few minutes and require minor tweaks to your routine.

Try these five strategies to help you feel more balanced throughout the day. Perfect for overwhelmed moms who feel like they don't have time to center themselves. All of these take less than an hour a day (and some save you time).

STRATEGY 1: WAKE UP 30 MINUTES EARLIER THAN YOUR KID(S).

For me, this is HUGE.

In January, our family transitioned to a new routine. Last year, my husband worked the midnight shift, which was hard for many reasons, but when he came home in the morning, he managed getting our daughter dressed and off to daycare, giving me plenty of time and space to get ready for work.

Now he’s on the day shift, which means he leaves the house by 6 a.m., while I am at home, attempting to figure out the transition from working full time in an office to starting my own business. It’s up to me to get our daughter out the door in the morning, which should be easy, right? It’s not like I’m on a hard and fast schedule.

I’ve mentioned that the process to get Emme dressed in the morning can be trying. This morning “routine” overwhelmed me; it made me feel anxious and frustrated, and I was struggling to bounce back from getting my day off on the wrong foot. Setting the alarm seemed unnecessary since I knew Emme would wake me up, but I finally convinced myself a few weeks ago that I needed to try to get out of bed before her.

What a difference having a cup of coffee by myself makes. The entire morning dynamic shifted, and not because she changed, but because I have a few minutes to wake up, enjoy my coffee, and relax — not dive in head first with morning toddler drama. But it’s funny, now that I’ve stopped fighting against it, the toddler drama doesn’t seem quite as dramatic.

STRATEGY 2: DO THE THING YOU ARE DOING EVEN IF IT’S JUST FOR A FEW MINUTES.

As a blogger and a freelance writer who is trying to find work, I can easily convince myself that I’m “working” no matter what I’m doing. After all, I’m scanning freelance jobs, posting on Facebook, checking my email, chatting online with a friend, reading an industry blog, researching an article for a client, and updating my resume… all at the same time. Which means literally nothing is getting done.

This multitasking mentality creeps into all facets of my life. I turn on the TV after Emme goes to bed with the intent of watching a television show to unwind, only to sit down with my laptop in hand, screwing around on one million different websites, the TV on in the background. Or I’m trying to manage my daughter while texting with a friend and tackling random tasks (that never end up getting done).

Multitasking is necessary sometimes, but when you can, slow down and do the thing you are doing. Just give the task at hand five minutes of your attention.

STRATEGY 3: TAKE A DEEP BREATH.

Whenever you need to throughout the day — when you’re starting to feel anxious or frustrated, take a few seconds (just a few seconds!) and breath in. Count for a couple of seconds while you hold your breath and then breath out. Don’t worry, the mess your child is making will be there when you’re done.

STRATEGY 4: CREATE BOUNDARIES AROUND SOCIAL MEDIA.

Social media is a great way to connect with the world around us and the people we care about, but it is undoubtably a time suck. At worst, it can turn your energy and attention to something that makes you feel angry (your crazy uncle’s extreme political rants), judged (your “friend” who posts articles about how formula is poison), or lacking (all of the happy pictures and status updates that suggest that everyone else is living the perfect life). I don’t know about you, but sometimes social media just makes me feel anxious.

And yet it’s such a habit. I open my Facebook app on my phone without even thinking about it. I don’t even mean to do it, it’s just what I do. Here are some ideas to cut down on your social media time:Try moving the social media apps on your phone every so often they are a little less accessible to you. You can also hide it in a “subfolder” on your iPhone — I can never find the apps I put in subfolders. #problemsolved

Jess from North & South Nomads pointed out in the comments that you can change your phone settings so your not constantly getting social media notifications. Thanks Jess!

Attempt to keep your social media surfing to a few times a day — maybe once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Sometimes knowledge is power: You can download the Moment app to see exactly how much time your spending on your phone. Though it doesn’t tell you exactly how much of that time is spent on Facebook or other social media apps, this information is still helpful for me because I know a lot of the time I spend zoning out on the phone, I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed. Challenge yourself to decrease that time.

Unfollow Facebook friends. You don’t have to unfriend people and make it a whole thing. Go to the profile page of the person who is driving you batty and uncheck “Following” to take that person’s status updates out of your feed.

STRATEGY 5: MEDITATE FOR 10 MINUTES.

More and more research suggests that meditation really can help relieve anxiety as well as other medical issues. I have been trying to get into the habit of meditating every day. I’d say I manage to do it 5 out of 7 days a week. But when I do take 10 minutes to meditate, I feel less overwhelmed and more balanced throughout the day.

I find if I mediate right before I pick Emme in the afternoon, it has a similar effect as my morning coffee — I’m suddenly much more capable of dealing with post-daycare toddler demands (milk! potty! crackers! Caillou! books! paci! apple! Frozen!), getting dinner on the table, and feeling, you know, content with my life not overwhelmed by it. On the weekends, I try to meditate when Emme takes her nap.

When I decided to try meditation, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. I found Headspace, a website that provides a lot of information about meditation, and I downloaded the free app, which includes ten 10-minute meditations.

Serious Question: What’s Your Favorite Weird Food Combination?

WELCOME BACK TO SERIOUS QUESTION, A FEATURE IN WHICH I ASK A “SERIOUS” QUESTION AND THEN ANSWER IT AND CROSS MY FINGERS THAT A FEW OF YOU LOVELY BLOG READERS WILL ANSWER IT TOO IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. BE FOREWARNED: THIS FEATURE WILL AT LEAST SOMETIMES TREAD INTO TMI TERRITORY. LUCKY YOU, TODAY IS NOT A TMI DAY.


I have something to tell you guys:

Serious Question: What's your favorite weird food combination?

While the rest of the world goes Paleo, I’m bargaining with the gods of macronutrients… um, so what if I just eat bread like, say twice a day?

But seriously, while I’m not giving up carbs any time soon, it does seem that bread and pasta should be more of a sometime food, rather than an all-the-time food, and so, I’ve had to find healthier sources of carb goodness.

Enter the sweet potato.

I could argue that sweet potatoes are the perfect food (I could, but I won’t — we all know that the perfect food is Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream). But when it comes to stuff that isn’t bad for me, the sweet potato is up there: It feels like comfort food and tends to be satisfying, while its sweetness fills the sugar-shaped hole in my heart.

It’s not the fact that I like sweet potatoes that’s weird — it’s that I eat roasted sweet potatoes with hummus (if you knew me, you would know that I’m a bit hummus-obsessed). Right now sweet potatoes dipped in hummus are my favorite snack, which is kind of a weird food combination, don’t you think?

So what’s your favorite weird food combination? It’s OK, we won’t tell you it’s gross or anything, unless it’s totally gross. Should I try your weird food combination? Are you going to try mine? Is mine not that weird?

How to Host an Easy, Kid-Friendly Brunch

A few weeks ago, we threw a surprise brunch at my house for my brother-in-law Lars’ 40th birthday. Lars, my sister Sarah, and their son moved to the Chicago-area less than two years ago (they live around the corner from us — seriously, walking distance — and it’s awesome). After living on the East Coast for most of their adult lives, they are still in the process of putting down roots here, so we decided to do something low key, but still special, for his 40th that would include family, a few of Lars’ close friends, and the toddlers in our lives. Since we wanted the party to be a surprise, we lured Lars to our house under false pretenses on a Sunday morning for a kid-friendly brunch.

When you have kids, simple entertaining is a must. Use these tips to host an easy, anxiety-free, and kid-friendly brunch.

 I love entertaining at my house, but tend get super anxious about having people over — though I seem to be getting better about that second part. Maybe having a kid forced me to take my type-A tendencies (I have very few type-A tendencies, but this is one of them) out of my ideas about entertaining? I’ve also realized that brunch is the perfect time to throw an adult party that includes small kids — everyone loves brunch food, adults can drink if they want to (but people rarely go overboard with the booze), and toddlers are generally functioning from 9am – noon. Generally.

TIPS FOR HOSTING A FUN, ANXIETY-FREE, AND KID-FRIENDLY BRUNCH

Keep the menu simple and prep to a minimum. I always have grand plans when it comes to cooking, but the truth is keeping it simple saves time, energy, and anxiety (all things that can be in short supply when you’re a busy mom and have a curious toddler under foot). Here are some specific ideas:

  • Let your grocer do at least some of the work. Pre-sliced cheese, fruit that’s been washed and cut up, and my favorite salad — no chopping required — were all on the menu. Yes, it’s a little more expensive, but a lot more convenient.
  • Two words: Breakfast casserole. I made two. They can be prepped the night before, feed a crowd, and get rave reviews. My family’s go-to special occasion baked french toast casserole is always a favorite.
  • Don’t do separate food for the kids. Breakfast food is pretty kid friendly — there’s really no need to do anything special for young kids.
  • Prosecco mimosas. Enough said.
brunch1

Ask for (and accept offers of) help. I put my sister in charge of the cake and then called her when I knew she was at the store to pick up cups and napkins — it saved me the trip. A friend offered to bring a side dish, and after first rejecting her offer — no, no you don’t need to do anything — I realized I was BEING INSANE, back-pedeled and said, you know what, that would be great.

Surface clean and close doors to rooms that you aren’t using. Wipe down counters. Vacuum. Make sure your bathroom is presentable. Don’t stress about the rest. Close your bedroom door, and be done with it. You’re going to have to clean again after the party anyway.

Maximize space by keeping coats and bags out of the mix. We have a coat closet, but it doesn’t fit 20 winter coats, scarves, hats, gloves and diaper bags. Usually I’m not smart about this, and coats get tossed on the couch and bags set down on chairs, taking up valuable space and time when things inevitably need to be shuffled around. This time, I made a point of grabbing everyone’s coat at the door and storing items on my daughter’s big girl bed, away from the party.

Designate a kid area (and maybe turn on a movie). My house is small, and the first floor is one open space. I decided that the best way to handle a kid-friendly brunch for five 2-year-olds and 15+ adults was to try to contain the toddler set in the front part of the house. So I did what any sane parent would do — I turned on Frozen and put out containers of toys and coloring books. Yep, no crafts or special kid activities to see here. The toddlers still roamed around, but that room was clearly their home base, and they were less in the mix than usual.

Set up food and beverages stations. With parties, flow makes a difference. Put all the food and drinks in one place and you often end up with everyone crowded in one area. My main food station was our kitchen island. The dessert was on the buffet in our dining area. Coffee and other beverages were situated around the kitchen away from the island.

Use disposable dinnerware. I know I’m not doing the earth any favors. But when you’ve got a crowd — and especially when you’ve got kids — disposable is the only way to go. Something like Chinet is biodegradable, heavy duty and looks a little nicer than flimsy, cheap paper plates. Plus it’s kid-proof. Definitely worth the cost.Lars had no idea, and it was an awesome surprise — he loved it. We spent the morning eating, chatting with friends and family, and of course singing happy birthday and having cake. It ended up being a really fun, low-stress celebration.

LarsParty1

Do you get anxious when you’re prepping for a party? What do you do when you’ll be hosting multiple ages? Anyone else a fan of the kid-friendly brunch?

An Interview with Abby Brennan, Owner of Brennan Spa | Work Life Mom

One of my many goals with the Work | Life | Mom series is to show various mom-owned businesses, including those that have a real, live storefront. So when I started to think about who I could reach out to, I immediately thought of some of my favorite local businesses in the Chicago western suburbs. Brennan Spa in Brookfield, owned by mom-of-two Abby Brennan, is one of those businesses.

Abby Brennan is the owner of Brennan Spa

Brennan Massage and Spa has been open for seven years and is housed in a beautiful 100-year-old home near other shops and restaurants in downtown Brookfield. The upstairs rooms are used for spa treatments, including massages, facials, cranialsacrals, waxing, and more. I have tried several of their services and always have an amazing experience — in fact, after leaving the city and struggling to find a place where I could get a great massage, Brennan’s Spa filled that suburban void for me, and in an adorable space to boot. I was thrilled when Abby — a former art teacher who is warm, funny, creative, and engaging — agreed to be featured as part of the Work | Life | Mom series on Mommy Sanest.

LOU: TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY.

Abby: My husband is the stay-at-home parent. He also helps at the spa with behind the scenes stuff, like some phone calls, coordinating, and repairs. He’s in charge of the plumber, the carpenter, anybody we have to hire to actually do work, and then he makes sure it happens. He’s home with Harriet, our 3 1/2-year-old who is in preschool part time, five days a week. And then we have Iris who is 10 months.

HOW DID YOU GO FROM BEING AN ART TEACHER TO SPA OWNER?

I was a fine arts teacher at a Chicago Public School. It was mostly classroom management, but we got a lot of artwork done — I figured how to make that happen. I was there for seven years. Emotionally, it was poison, and even though I could positively get through the day, I wanted to make a change. After three years, I started to job hunt, but being an art teacher, there was just nothing. I realized, unless I stay here and become the crabbiest teacher in the world, I knew I was going to be making a career change.

I remember thinking, what would be the most natural thing for me to do; what would be something that would make me really happy? I tried to reflect on what I enjoyed doing as a child because I feel like at that time, you’re connected to what brings you pure joy. This is crazy, but playing in the dirt brought me and my bother and sister lots of joy. So I thought I would be extremely happy doing something with gardening or anthropology. But when I thought more about it, I realized that would mean going back to college, and there was no way I would go back to college.

My second idea was about these dreams I used to have. I had them every night for years; they probably didn’t stop until I was in high school. My dreams were of these glowing hands, and they would go through everybody in my family’s body and heal them. I never even told people about that until I realized why I opened up the business. I remember thinking about energy and healing, so something with Reiki or healing touch. But I was worried about whether or not that would be a sufficient income, so I thought, I can move into energy work, but I’ll start with massage. So I signed up for massage school and just kept going. And now Brennan Spa has been in business for seven years.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PROCESS OF OPENING BRENNAN SPA?

I finished massage school, and it was time to look for a space. I had worked at a few spas and for a physical therapist, so I had two years of experience in the industry. I knew I wanted my own space, and I always envisioned owning a business in a home.

I was living in Chicago, but I didn’t want to open a business in the city — I don’t want to compete with that. So I drove to all these neighborhoods during my school spring break. I just spent a week exploring and looking for either a rental or an opportunity to buy.

Brookfield was the last place I looked. I was driving down Grand Blvd., and I saw this for sale sign falling out of the bushes, so I jumped out of the car and thought, “If this is zoned for a business, I’ll buy it,” before I even walked in the door. I called the realtor and asked, “What is this zone?” and she said, “Mixed use.”

I had to get the business code changed, which took six months. I had to make presentations to the Village of Brookfield and get the community to vote for whether I could just do massage. They said, “If you want to open up a hair salon you can do massage in the back,” but it’s against code to just do massage because the code was written in the 1940s. The village was all for it, but I had to go through the formality of changing the code. So the minute they changed it, I called the realtor and started bidding on the house.

The whole time, I’m teaching and in business classes through the Hull House. The Hull House was a not-for-profit that had free classes on everything, but they also had a solid business course for eight weeks taught by a professional. That’s how I created my business plan. [Note from Lou: The Hull House closed in 2012.]

So, I bought the spa in May 2007. As soon as I got the keys, we started the work. I did a little work while school was still going and then worked the whole summer. My husband and I got married in August 2007, and Brennan Spa opened January 2, 2008.

I was still teaching then, but the spa didn’t open until 4pm during the week. I would teach all morning, then I would put the petal to metal and fly out here to open the spa. I’d stay until 9, then I would wake up and go teach again. I did that until the end of the school year 2008. At that point, I thought, “I can make this work,” so I quit teaching.

photos of Brennan's Spa

MOST SMALL BUSINESSES NEED TIME TO TURN A PROFIT. IN ADDITION TO TEACHING THE FIRST YEAR THE BUSINESS WAS OPEN, HOW ELSE DID YOU PLAN FOR THE UNCERTAINTIES OF OPENING A BUSINESS?

We were really budgeted — that’s why I kept teaching that first year, so we had income. But I think we did everything just right with the spa. We started slowly and small. We only used the first floor. When I quit my job, we rented out our house, and we lived here. So we lived upstairs for two years to see if we could make any money.

HOW DID YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND DECIDE THAT HE WOULD BE THE STAY-AT-HOME PARENT?

He was a landscape architect and when the economy tanked, his boss closed their company in 2010. Then, when our oldest daughter was a year and a half, he got a job working for another big architecture firm. We had heard unpleasant things about the work environment, but we thought, maybe he could take it. But it was terrible and making him sick. We decided that he should just leave, stay home with Harriet, and we’ll figure it out. And it’s been fine.

HOW DO YOU AND YOUR PARTNER BALANCE HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT WITH YOUR BUSINESS?

Right now, I don’t think there’s any balance. It’s just trying to get through. I make sure things keep going at the spa. And then he does everything at home. I do put together the grocery list, but he does all the laundry, all the cleaning, all the cooking. If I can, I do it too. I don’t have a problem doing it. It’s just normally I don’t have time.

HOW MANY HOURS A WEEK DO YOU WORK?

Our receptionist is here about 20 hours a week, so I’m here the other 45 hours that we’re open. But it goes beyond just that — it doesn’t end at 45. There’s events and after-hours planning. Sometimes I have to sneak away just so I can think. My marketing intern and I are headed to the library because I can get a lot more work done there. So all in all, with my staff’s help, I’m up to about 55 hours a week.

HOW DID YOU HANDLE TAKING A MATERNITY LEAVE?

With Harriet, I was able to take a good nine months off because I had two people running the spa. I had a lot of time to be with Harriet when she was little, but then it shifted so I needed to get back in full time. Since then, it’s just been full time, overtime, double-time, quadruple-time. When Iris was born, my receptionist had left, so I was definitely on 80 hours a week. It was crazy. That’s why sometimes I look at Iris, and I’m like, “You’re pretty cute, but I don’t know how we got here.”

ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING, AND HOW DOES THE REALITY OF OWNING BRENNAN SPA FIT WITH THE PICTURE YOU HAD IN YOUR MIND WHEN YOU WERE SITTING IN YOUR APARTMENT CONTEMPLATING YOUR PATH 10 YEARS AGO?

It totally works. I feel blessed that I paid attention to, I guess what you would consider pure joy, and making that work as a career. People don’t get that luxury, or they don’t realize that that could be an option — thinking back to what they loved as a kid. I feel completely satisfied. I’ll probably be doing this the next 30 years until I retire, as long as I can keep it going. But I’ve also figured out that, in the future, if I need to downsize and make it work as a smaller business that would be fine. I don’t have an interest in too much expansion. I don’t want to be too big because I want to keep things under my guidance.

PART OF TAKING ON ALL THE RESPONSIBILITY OF A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER IS LOVING WHAT YOU DO, BUT YOU ALSO HAVE TO BE BUSINESS-MINDED. DO YOU FEEL LIKE THOSE TWO THINGS ARE EVER IN OPPOSITION?

Luckily for me, I feel like some of that came naturally. I learned a lot about being business-minded by running a classroom. People ask me all the time, “Did you take business classes; did you take marketing classes?” No. The business classes I took were at the Hull House and then, running a classroom. I think being fair and professional — a teaching career will ingrain that into you. I always want things to feel really positive around here with my staff. I think they feel that way. We have a lot of fun, and I don’t let the small things really stress me out. There are tweaks here and there that we have to make so that we continue to do our best work. I always make an extra effort to be professional, but we can still have fun and be goofy. I have a friendly relationship with my team and with customers, but there are boundaries.

HOW DID BECOMING A MOM CHANGED YOUR AMBITION OR HOW YOU WORK?

It’s definitely made me more protective of my time because I don’t get to see my kids as much, so that has become a priority. The time that I’m at the spa, I try to manage it the best I can so that I don’t have to bring work home. If I’m working I work, if I’m playing, I play. It’s also made me want to work harder, and those boundaries with customers, that’s a bit more important to me because family is what matters first.

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT YOUR CURRENT SITUATION TO PROVIDE YOUR FAMILY WITH MORE BALANCE, WHAT WOULD BE IT BE?

Where we’re at right now, things are really good, at home and here, minus not seeing them as much as I would like, but I have to work, so there’s no way around it. I keep trying to force my husband to hire a babysitter. He needs a babysitter at the house every once in awhile. So today is a Wednesday, so I’m here from 9:30am to 9pm, so he should have a babysitter come and help him. He needs a break.

AS A MOM TO TWO GIRLS, HOW IMPORTANT TO YOU IS THE EXAMPLE YOUR SETTING AS A BUSINESS OWNER?

It is important to me. Suze Orman, the personal finance adviser, said something that stuck with me. It was, “Don’t whine and complain about going to work in front of your kids, it’s going to make them think that work is a bad thing.” So even if you don’t like your job, you don’t voice that in front of your kids because whatever their experience could be, you want them to feel like working is a positive thing. Your kids want to see mommy loving her job. So even though it’s hard, I do say, “Mommy loves to work, I have to go.” I keep the attitude that somebody has to do it, and I like working.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR MOMS WHO WANT TO START BUSINESSES?

Get a babysitter or childcare because starting a business is like having two full-time jobs. Once you’re up and running, you can create more of a balance with your time. But to open a business and you’re a mom, you’ve got to hire a babysitter. You have to be like, I have that person for three hours, so for three hours, I’m working solid, there are no breaks. You also need willpower and motivation. I know that seems mundane. You have to take it seriously, and you have to make it professional. If you need a designer get a designer; if you need a realtor get a realtor. Get your paperwork and finances in a row, and don’t cut any corners. It’s never worth taking the easy way out.

A big thank you to Abby Brennan of Brennan Spa for giving us a glimpse into her busy life as a small business owner and mom to two young girls. If you’re in the Chicago-area, check out their website, sign up for their mailing list, and like their Facebook page so you don’t miss any of their great monthly promotions or sales.

Want more working mom inspiration? Check out the first interview in the Work | Life | Mom series with Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of Flexjobs.

Try this Super Simple Walking Workout

Last week, I complained to a good friend over Google chat that I needed to workout, but didn’t really feel like doing anything. I’m pretty honest with myself about whether I’m being lazy or truly need a break, and lately my typical HIIT workouts are just too much — they leave me feeling weak and exhausted and not in a good way. Maybe it’s winter and a general lack of vitamin D; maybe it’s the huge career change I haven’t quite settled into, but right now, my body seems to be asking me to cut it some slack.

A Simple Treadmill Walking Workout

This particular friend happens to work for a major gym chain. “Do you want me to give you a workout,” she asked. I responded with, “As long as it’s low impact.” She immediately came up with a treadmill walking workout that included speed and incline intervals, and I totally did it. It was just what I needed to get my heart rate up a bit without the impact of high intensity cardio. I asked her if she minded if I shared it here, and she said go for it.

You can walk this. You can run this. You can do a combo, but I found this to be a perfect antidote to my high-intensity workout blues.

A SIMPLE 25-MINUTE WALKING WORKOUT FOR WHEN YOU’RE SHORT ON TIME & ENERGY

5 minute warm up at an easy pace
1 minute average pace (about .2 – .5 higher than warm up pace)
1 minute + .5 mph
1 minute average pace
1 minute + 1 mph (if walking, this should definitely be a “power walk” speed)
2 minutes average pace
1 minute + .5 mph
1 minute average pace
1 minute + 1 mph (if walking, this should definitely be a “power walk” speed)
1 minute average pace
2 minutes incline level 5
3 minutes incline level 10
5 minute cool down easy pace

Not sure how to fit this into your busy schedule? Check out how other moms find time for fitness.

Serious Question: Does Natural Deodorant Work?

WELCOME TO SERIOUS QUESTION, A FEATURE IN WHICH I ASK A “SERIOUS” QUESTION AND THEN ANSWER IT AND CROSS MY FINGERS THAT A FEW OF YOU LOVELY BLOG READERS WILL ANSWER IT TOO IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. BE FOREWARNED: THIS FEATURE WILL AT LEAST SOMETIMES TREAD INTO TMI TERRITORY.


Alternative title: Do I smell?

A year or so ago, I decided to switch from Secret to natural deodorant. I’m sure you’ve heard rumors that deodorants containing aluminum (among other chemicals) cause cancer. My brief Googling tells me that research has been inclusive about this, but when you consider the chemicals and toxins in deodorant as well as the proximity to your lymph nodes, I feel like it can’t hurt to make the switch to natural deodorant.

Does Natural Deodorant Work?

So I did. Yay for less chemicals, right? Except one thing, I can’t seem to find one that works.

I first switched to Toms deodorant, and it definitely left me feeling sweaty. A week ago, I switched to Lafes, but I’m still not convinced. It could just take some time to get used to, or I might just have to accept being a little bit smelly, and maybe that’s OK too. For the record, I have inquired IRL, and my friends have told me they don’t think I smell. Just you know, FYI.

So serious question: Do you wear natural or regular deodorant? Have you found a natural deodorant that works for you? Should I try it? Have you ever considered making your own?

‘Why Does She Look Different?’: Teaching Diversity to Preschoolers

BY GENA KITTNER

While riding in her stroller the other day, Ellie held on to the sides and said “Whee! This is my wheelchair!”

Teaching Diversity to Preschoolers and Young Children

Unsure of what to do or how to react, I stopped and asked her what she meant and how she learned about wheelchairs. Instead of answering, in true 3-year-old fashion, she repeated the wheelchair line. So I told her this was her stroller and wheelchairs are for people who need “a little extra help.” 

I have found this is my go-to phrase when explaining to Ellie certain things we’ve been doing lately — like how we bought Christmas toys for kids we didn’t know, but whose parents “needed a little extra help.” Or why we put money in the Salvation Army kettles or donate toiletries to a local shelter.

But I realize I’m going to have to up my game and find a better response. Ellie’s a smart girl who is starting to notice that people look and act differently. And she’s going to want to know why. And, chances are, she may not pick the most appropriate time or volume of voice in which to inquire.

This got me thinking about a thread from a mommy group I follow on Facebook. Awhile back, a member posted, saying her 3 1/2-year-old is near the age where she notices people who look differently than she does — be it size, race, disabilities, etc. The mom expressed wanting to raise her to be loving and accepting of diversity; however, she wondered how best to respond to these questions when asked in public.

Bingo. I found many of the suggestions about teaching diversity thoughtful and creative. Here are some solutions that you can try when your child asks about differences:Explain that everyone different and “that makes the world beautiful and interesting.”

Respond to your child’s inquiries and observations about differences with, “I know! Isn’t that cool?” This tip came from a mom who said her daughter comments on “everything” indiscriminately.

Try showing kids this short Elmo video featuring Lupita Nyong’o. During the video they talk about all of the great things about their skin and that skins comes in all different colors and shades.

Read People, an award winning book that will help your child understand that it’s OK to be different.

Check out the book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, which includes a chapter about race. The mom in the Facebook group said, “the main point is let [children] ask and try not to ‘hush’ what we think are embarrassing questions. Acknowledging for kiddos is different than judging. We know about judgement — toddlers are just learning.”

These are great tips, and I’d be curious to hear some more. How do you answer your children when they ask pointed, but perhaps embarrassing, questions about diversity in public? How do you respond in private?

Serious Question: Do You Wear Underwear When You Workout?

WELCOME TO SERIOUS QUESTION, A FEATURE IN WHICH I ASK A “SERIOUS” QUESTION AND THEN ANSWER IT AND CROSS MY FINGERS THAT A FEW OF YOU LOVELY BLOG READERS WILL ANSWER IT TOO IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. BE FOREWARNED: THIS FEATURE WILL AT LEAST SOMETIMES TREAD INTO TMI TERRITORY.


A few weeks ago at book club, the conversation turned away from books — as it does often/what book? — when someone* posed the question: Underwear while working out… to wear or not to wear?

(We like to talk Shakespearean at book club because, duh, literary.)

Do you wear underwear when you workout?

What is fascinating is that the group was divided — half ALWAYS wear underwear, the other half NEVER wear underwear and one or two ladies were decidedly neutral with “It depends…”

I am on Team No Underwear. The more you know, right?

My journey to no underpants started when I took up running in 2006 and bought running shorts with built-in undies. It evolved from there when I eventually realized that I didn’t have to wear underwear with my workout clothes ever really. I mean, what’s the point? (I know you underwear enthusiasts have opinions on the point.)

For me, the choice to go commando while working out is threefold. First, comfort: Underwear just adds an unnecessary, potentially chaffing layer. Second, lazy (always up there on my lists of why I do or don’t do anything): Wearing underwear when I workout adds to my already unmanageable laundry pile. And finally, vanity: No more panty lines when wearing those yoga pants.

So, serious question: Do you or do you not wear underwear when you workout, and why?

*That someone may or may not have been me. I truly don’t remember. #toomuchprosecco