Blush-worthy Romance Novels for Your Kindle


I’d be embarrassed if anyone saw my Kindle library. The bodice-rippers combined with your basic chick lit far outweigh any classics or novels you’d find reviewed in the New York Times.

Embarrassed, but not alone.

According to the Romance Writers of America, readers spent $1.08 billion on romance novels in 2013, resulting in this genre making up 13 percent of adult fiction. Most purchased the novels in e-book formats.

See — I’m not the only one with a trashy Kindle.

Three years ago, at the height of the “50 Shades of Grey” phenomenon, I wrote about the trend in readers seeking books considered “mommy porn” and the Harry Potter-esque wait-lists at local libraries for “50 Shades.”

So I’m putting my knowledge about romance novels to work (with a little help from some friends), and giving you a top 10 list of trashy reads, just in time for Valentine’s Day.


The Chocolate Thief (Amour et Chocolat, Book 1), by Laura Florand
Kindle price: $9.59
The gist: What’s more romantic than a young, high-strung chocolate mogul traveling to Paris to persuade a young, hot chocolatier to go into business? Not much. It’s a quick read accented with lots of French, lots of chocolate, and a fair amount of steamy scenes.

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Linda Berdoll
Kindle price: $5.99
The gist: The (largely) happily ever after of “Lizzy” and Mr. Darcy is every Austen-ophile’s dream. The book is fairly well-written and peppered with bedroom scenes that will make you blush, but don’t overpower the story. Like “The Chocolate Thief,” it’s the first in a series, but I can only vouch for the first.

Outlander: A Novel (Outlander, book 1), by Diana Gabaldon
Kindle price: $1.99
The gist: It’s unfair to call this book trashy. “Outlander” actually is a well-written novel about a nurse who time-travels to 18th-century Scotland. It’s also a tomb, with the paperback coming in at more than 600 pages. But within those pages is romance with a capital R and all that that implies. It requires dedication, but doesn’t disappoint. So far I’ve read five books out of eight in the series, and I now know more about Scotland and pre-Civil War America than I ever imagined I would.



Darkfever: Fever Series Book 1, by Karen Marie Moning
Kindle price: $5.99
The gist: A young woman heads to Ireland to solve the mystery of her sister’s death where she runs into mysterious and sinister forces. She meets a guy with much experience with the sinister forces, which often turn out to to be nymphomaniac fae. My friend calls this series “the trashiest thing I think I’ve read… but also really quite good.”

A Hidden Fire: Elemental Mysteries Book One, by Elizabeth Hunter
Kindle price: FREE!
The gist: An ancient and handsome vampire needs a super smart librarian with mysterious past to help him with his research, but danger lurks near. According to my friend, “This is a grown-up ‘Twilight,’ but smarter and sexier. Really well done.” I read the first in the series and totally agree.

The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
Kindle price: $10.99
The gist: Set in the Tudor court of Henry VIII, it’s the story of Mary Boleyn and her sister Anne and their “relationship” with the handsome and charming Henry VIII. If Showtime’s The Tudors wasn’t hot enough for you, download this book immediately.

Black Lies, by Alessandra Torre
Kindle price: $3.99
The gist: A woman finds herself caught between two men — a tech billionaire who has proposed (and she has rejected) marriage three times and the gardener famous for banging housewives. My friend explains, “It skipped over some of the unnecessary details you can imagine for yourself, but it kept my attention and has a truly unexpected twist.”

Talk Me Down, by Victoria Dahl
Kindle price: $4.47
The gist: A bestselling erotic fiction author is forced to skip town and move back to tiny Tumble Creek, Colorado when her inspiration runs dry. There she meets former high school hot guy and chief of police Ben Lawson, and she’s back in business. My friend describes Dahl as her “favorite contemporary romance author” who writes “probably the most imaginative sex scenes without edging into ’50 Shades’ territory.”

The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt
Kindle price: $3.99
The gist: A widowed young woman needs to find a job so she becomes secretary to The Earl of Swartingham. During her employment she (of course) falls in love with him. When she learns he plans to visit a brothel she decides to take it upon herself to take care of his… urges. My friend warns these books are “pretty explicit.”

Beguiling the Beauty (The Fitzhugh Trilogy Book 1), by Sherry Thomas
Kindle price: $7.59
The gist: When a duke meets a mysterious baroness on a transatlantic liner, he is fascinated and soon proposes marriage. But then she disappears. My friend explains the author writes traditional historical romance — the kind you used to need to hide before Kindles. But “her stories are typically above par and her female characters never merely debutants.”

In our opinion, all these romance novels are better bets than “50 Shades,” and who hasn’t read that? So dig in, it will be a little secret between you and your Kindle.

8 Must-have Items for Pumping at Work

If you knew me back in the day — the day being approximately two years ago — you might remember that during Emme’s first year of life, breastfeeding and pumping consumed me. It was all I talked about, all I thought about, and when I would get around to posting on my old blog, it was all I wrote about.

If you did not know me, you’re welcome.

Pumping at work is an unfortunate reality for many working moms who are heading back to the office post-baby and want to continue breastfeeding.

Now, I realize that you’ve spent the last nine months romanticizing the idea of lugging a bulky breast pump to and from the office in your sassy, standard-issue Medela bag; huddling topless in a storage closet away from the hustle and bustle of cubeland while praying that the weird guy from accounting doesn’t decide that right now is the perfect time to search for some obscure office supply; and answering questions like, “Can’t you put that milk somewhere else?” from horrified colleagues who are “fine” with your life choices, but just don’t want to see your life choices in the fridge next to their turkey sandwich. You understand, right?

Is there anything more beautiful than pumping at work?

Sadly, I’m here to burst your bubble and tell you that pumping at work is time-consuming, messy, inconvenient, annoying, awkward, and uncomfortable. Raise your hand if someone has walked in on you while pumping at work.

Represent ladies.

But the good news is that it’s doable, especially if you have a better attitude than I did about it. And to make pumping at work marginally easier on yourself, put these items on your baby registry or purchase them before you find yourself locked in a vacant office with your top off. Trust me, when you’re pumping at work, even marginally easier is worth it.

Must-have items for breastfeeding mamas who plan to pump at work, including tips for making pumping at work just slightly less painful.


If you’re going to be pumping at work, you’ll need a breast pump, and I’m not talking about one of those little hand pumps. You’re going to want the best double electric breast pump you can get your hands on. My book club went in on a group gift for my baby shower and gave me the Medela Freestyle Breast Pump. What I like about the Freestyle over other popular pumps is that the pump is small enough to carry around in a normal bag or backpack.

If the Freestyle seems like too much of a splurge, check out the Medela Pump In Style. Tried and true, you can’t go wrong with this pump. My sister’s lactation consultant also recommended the Ameda Purely Yours, another solid, less-expensive option.

You could also rent a hospital-grade pump. My sister actually did this as well and kept the rented pump at home and her Ameda pump at work, so she didn’t have to carry it around.

Keep in mind that insurance now covers breast pumps, so check with your provider to see if you can get a pump for free or at a reduced cost. I received my pump about six months before the rules changed, so I’m not an expert on the new breast pump insurance policies, but my understanding is that most providers have specific brands and models that they cover.


This little contraption might be the greatest invention ever for moms who pump. I would actually recommend having a spare hands-free pumping bra — I bought the more expensive Simple Wishes bra and had a back-up version that I picked up at Target.

Some of the Medela breast pumps come with a rubber contraption called a “hands-free accessory kit.” I never figured out how to use it. If you did, you probably have a degree in engineering. Either way, once your hands are free, you can spend your pumping time surfing the Web or chatting on Google.


Here’s what an extra set of pump parts gives you: options. I have friends who kept their spare parts at work, so they had slightly less stuff to haul around. This also prevented the inevitable, oh-crap-I-forgot-my-pump-parts nightmare that does happen.

I, on the other hand, tempted fate and carried my extra parts back and forth so that I had less washing to do. I would swap out new parts each day so that the other set could be washed in the top rack of the dishwasher instead of having to hand wash them every night.


Do you have an issue with oversupply? Is each day a new adventure in finding out how much you’re going to pump? Not sure if you should bring two bottles or four or six or 12? Here’s a good tip: Don’t worry about it. Bring two bottles that you will pump into, and then pour the milk into a breastmilk storage bag. Keep a supply of storage bags at the office, and you will never again have to worry about having enough bottles. Bonuses: They are less bulky than bottles, and they can go directly into the freezer if you don’t need to use the milk immediately. Don’t forget to double check that the bag is sealed tightly.


You can go ahead and move those cute dresses into a storage bin until you’re done pumping. The name of the game when you’re a working mom who pumps is to undress as little as possible. I highly recommend investing in some office-appropriate nursing tops as well as nursing tanks that can be worn under sweaters and other shirts. I liked these Gap nursing tops, and I bought two of these nursing tanks (a little pricey, but very well-made, and I may or may not still wear them). If you are using a hands-free pumping bra, you can just put the bra on over your nursing shirt or tank for maximum coverage while pumping at work.


Let me tell you how not fun it is to stand in a communal bathroom or kitchen washing pump parts two to four times a day. It’s not. So don’t. I started using breast pump wipes because I had a space where I could air dry my pump parts, which is really the only caveat for using these.


Pumping is a messy business and milk stains on your clothes at work is generally not cute. Bring a handful of burp cloths or old hand towels so that you can wipe yourself off after pumping. A friend told me she also would keep a towel in her lap to prevent splashes of milk getting on her clothing.


Most breast pumps will come with a cooler and an ice pack, but if yours didn’t you’ll want to purchase one. My office had a full-size fridge where I kept my milk, but a cooler will work if there’s no room in the mini-fridge your company was generous enough to purchase for the whole floor. Medela states that you can store breastmilk in its cooler with a freezer pack safely for up to 12 hours. Just make sure the freezer packs are frozen when you leave for work.

Did I miss anything? For those of you who have pumped at work, were there items that you could not live without? Help a working mother out by leaving your tips for pumping at work in the comments.

How to Dress a Toddler in 30 Easy Steps

Do you have a toddler? Do you attempt to convince him or her to wear clothing every day? Have you found this process time-consuming and dangerous? Are you looking for strategies to make your morning routine go a little more smoothly? Then you’ll find my 30-step method for dressing my feisty and opinionated toddler completely useless.


Step 1: Compose yourself before entering the toddler’s room. If you go in expecting a fight, there will be a fight.

Step 2: Resolve that there will not be a fight.

Step 3: Greet the toddler with a friendly and casual demeanor—remember, she can smell fear.

Step 4: After removing the little one from her crib, prepare to dress her in the clothes she “helped” you pick out the night before.

Step 5: Stand your ground when she refuses to wear the clothes. Ignore signs that a tantrum is imminent.

Step 6: Ask her nicely, but firmly to wear the clothes. Remind her that she chose these clothes. Realize she does not care about the protocol that exists in the adult world about wearing the clothes you picked out the previous night.

Step 7: Prepare for a full-on tantrum.

Step 8: Realize you’re running late.

Step 9: Attempt to restrain a kicking and screaming toddler with one hand while pulling on her pants with the other.

Step 10: Get kicked in the face.

Step 11: Retreat.

Step 12: Reason with yourself that toddlers like choices. If you give the toddler a choice, she’ll feel empowered to make a decision.

Step 13: Attempt to silence the voice inside your head that laughing hysterically at likelihood of Step 12.

Step 14: Pick two perfectly acceptable shirts and let her decide which once she wants to wear.

Step 15: Breath deeply when she refuses both options.

Step 16: Go through the toddler’s entire wardrobe attempting to get her to pick something.

Step 17: Breath deeply when she refuses all options.

Step 18: Stare hopelessly at the pile of clothes you’ll have to clean up later.

Step 19: Ask the toddler what she wants to wear.

Step 20: Attempt to not lose it when she responds, “Wanna watch Caillou.”

Step 21: Remind yourself that you’re the adult, and the toddler is going to do what you say.

Step 22: Laugh/cry when you realize how insane this sounds.

Step 23: Ask again: What do you want to wear today?

Step 24: Breath deeply when she points to the Minnie Mouse t-shirt and penguin pajama pants that she slept in. Restrain yourself when she indicates that she wants to wear an Elsa tank top over this getup.

Step 25: Retreat. Regroup. Prepare for war.

Step 26: Beg her to wear something that she hasn’t slept in for three nights instead.

Step 27: Accept that the toddler isn’t going to budge.

Step 28: Admit defeat.

Step 29: Allow her to go to daycare/a playdate/music class/the zoo in her pajamas… again… this week.

Step 30: Pray that she’ll agree to put on shoes.

An Interview with Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs | Work Life Mom

Let’s talk for a minute about how awesome the Internet is. Last month, when I wrote about the pitfalls of flexible work arrangements, it happened to catch the eye of FlexJob’s PR manager who reached out to me about the post. After a few emails and with my Work | Life | Mom series on my mind, I decided to ask if Sara Sutton Fell, FlexJob’s founder and CEO as well as a mom of two, would consider being profiled on Mommy Sanest.

Sara Sutton Fell, Founder and CEO of Flexjobs | Work Life Mom

I assumed it was a long shot, but they pretty much immediately said yes, to which I responded: o_O (because nothing says professional like an emoticon).

If you’re not familiar with Sara Sutton Fell’s story, it’s a good one. An entrepreneur from a young age, Sara started a company in college called Job Direct, which she and her co-founder sold in 2000. Sara went on to other professional endeavors, but in 2007, she found herself looking for work that would allow her to have a flexible schedule.

Did I mention that Sara was pregnant at the time?

When she struggled to find legitimate flexible work, she did what any pregnant woman would do: She started a company that would solve this dilemma for job seekers by connecting them to real companies offering professional opportunities with flexible work benefits.

FlexJobs was born.

I’ve actually been a member of FlexJobs since last year, and now that I’ve quit my full-time marketing position, I plan to actively use the site to find contract and project work. I highly recommend that anyone looking for telecommuting, part-time, short-term, or contract positions check out the site.

As for Sara, she thoughtfully and thoroughly answered my questions about her family and work life, how she balances it all, and what advice she has for those of you seeking flexible work arrangements. I couldn’t have hoped for a better profile to kick off my Work | Life | Mom series.

Sara Sutton Fell, Found and CEO of FlexJobs talks motherhood, ambition, and how to talk to your supervisor about flexible work options.


Sara Sutton Fell: I’m a proud mom to two young boys, Harrison and Palmer. While I work from home, my husband works outside of the house, but I have our chocolate lab Derby to keep me company in my home office.


I often joke that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend someone start a company when they’re pregnant! Probably the biggest benefit to this timing was that it proved that FlexJobs must be a REALLY good idea, because I kept with it even through all the sleepless nights and stress that being a new mom brings along. The challenges were exactly what you’d think–trying to balance my time between a newborn and a new company, all while giving myself a little time, too. Luckily I had tremendous help from my husband and my own mom, which made it all possible. Easy? No. Possible? Yes.


FlexJobs isn’t your typical job search website because we don’t feature any advertising or other clutter on our site. Instead, FlexJobs members are greeted with a clean, ad-free, scam-free, screened database of flexible jobs. In exchange for our 100% commitment to, and focus on, job seekers, we ask for a small monthly or yearly fee from our users. It’s not typical to charge job seekers as a job board, but we truly believe — and have proven through our success — that we’re able to provide a better job experience because of it. FlexJobs aims to make job searching easier, faster, and safer for job seekers.

Another big difference is that we have a client services team for our job seekers. Monday through Friday, job seekers can call, email, or chat with our client services team, ask questions, and get help with their job search questions. It’s not often with any service today that you can call and speak to a human being with no hassle!


We offer pretty much every type of flexibility you can imagine. All of our 53 staffers work from home, and the vast majority have flexible schedules and can set their own hours (except client services, which needs to operate on a set schedule). We offer full-time and part-time roles, and hire for freelance contracts. I definitely take advantage of our flexible work options! I work from home myself, and while I keep fairly regular business hours, I don’t feel guilty switching up my schedule to care for sick kiddos, or attend to other family and life issues. And our staff know that they are free to do the same!


Most days I work from around 9am to around 6pm, from the converted office above our garage. Earlier in the morning, I’m able to help our kids get ready for school and drop them off. When the weather is nice, I’ll get out for a bike ride, and I attend a weekly yoga class. And I’m lucky enough to work from home, so during the growing season, I can make a fresh salad from our veggie garden for lunch. But, as I mentioned, I feel able to switch up that schedule to meet the needs of the day, both for work and for life. I might have an early morning interview with a local TV station, or take a break in the afternoon to attend my sons’ school activities. I know I can shift my hours to later in the evening to make up the difference.


We have a great team of babysitters to help us when our kids aren’t in school. When they were very young, before they were in school full-time, our sitters did a great job of caring for them while my husband and I worked. We also take full advantage of summer camps. My advice for anyone with young children is to have multiple childcare options in case something falls through. Trying to work from home and watch your kids at the same time simply isn’t fair, for your kids or your job.


Google calendar! We have a color-coded shared calendar that, to anyone else, probably looks like a child’s art project more than a method of running a household, but it works really well for us. We each have our own calendar, and share items with each other to stay on track. I’m happy to say that we definitely share the load when it comes to chores, cooking, etc. We work really well as a team.


Overall, things work really well for us. Especially because I really see work-life balance as just that — a balancing act that will tip back and forth depending on the needs of the day. The key is to not let things tip too far in one direction or the other. I’m probably not the only one who struggles with this, but I’d love to be better at the ability to let the little things go. There’s always going to be that one last toy that needs to be picked up, or that one last email that needs to be sent, but I often remind myself that if it’s not critical, it can be let go.


Yes! There are so many surveys that show what people would give up to get more work flexibility, but I try to show people that you don’t need to give things up! One of the biggest misconceptions is that telecommuting jobs pay less than in-office jobs, but from the research we’ve done, we’ve found that’s not the case. Salaries for telecommuting and office jobs are right in line with one other (accounting for the industry, location, experience level, etc.).

One of the keys to keeping your career on track with a flexible job is to be proactive with your manager. Don’t wait for them to contact you–reach out and show them what you’re working on. Because you’re a bit separated from them, physically, you need to proactively communicate your value to the company rather than waiting to be recognized. Doing this regularly will help keep your career on track regardless of where or when you work.


It didn’t change my ambition, but it certainly changed how I wanted to work. Becoming a mother made me realize how vital work-life balance is to a healthy and happy life. I still want to be professionally active, and it’s become really important for me to show my two boys that a mom can have a successful career just like a dad can. I love work, but having a family also showed me that to continue loving work, you need to balance it with other obligations and fun things in life!


There’s a bit of the fear of the unknown. Managers are used to seeing employees at work, but with telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements, you have to change up your management strategies to rely less on seeing employees, and more on understanding exactly what they’re working on regularly. If you want to talk to your supervisor about flexible work options, I highly recommend planning your proposal in advance. Be sure to demonstrate all the ways flexible work benefits your manager and the company (you’ll be more productive, you’ll require less real estate and office equipment, you’ll take fewer sick days, etc.). And give them a clear picture of where, when, and how you’ll be working. Tell them about your well-equipped home office, schedule a regular weekly call to go over your projects, and promise to email them every day with status updates on your work. The more you can do to assuage their fears, the more receptive they’ll be.

A big thank you to Sara Sutton Fell as well as Kathy Gardner, PR Manager at FlexJobs.

You might also be interested in checking out the next interview in the Work | Life | Mom series with Abby Brennan, Owner of Brennan Spa.

Moms Who Work

We made it! Twenty fifteen is here, and I’m already beyond on my content calendar.

Since I started Mommy Sanest, I knew the “mommy blog” space was relatively crowded (#understatement). I wanted to do it anyway, but I also wanted to find a niche that felt like the right fit for this blog. And while I am not about to abandon general parenting topics or personal essays—I like that stuff—I want spend a little more time discussing moms and work.

I’ve decided that the whole stay-at-home vs. working mom thing is a red herring. It’s good for headlines and makes for feisty debates in the comments sections of The Huffington Post and Jezebel. But the Internet spends a lot of time pointing fingers and judging everyone else’s choices… probably because no one feels totally comfortable with the ones they’ve made. It’s a distraction.

Here’s the thing, I don’t know any moms who don’t work. Some do unpaid work, taking on the lion’s share of childcare and home management responsibilities. Some stay in the more traditional workforce. Some do side projects or freelance work during nap times, in the evenings, and on weekends. Others start their own businesses.


I’d like to to talk about the different choices moms make with regard to paid and unpaid work, the ins and outs of going back to an office job after having a baby, the policies and politics that make balancing careers with family life more difficult or more doable, and how motherhood doesn’t have to be a fork in the road where you either off-ramp or step on the gas, but rather, how it can be a time to reassess and re-imagine.

As part of the discussion, I will be profiling moms who work. I’m planning to divide the year into three parts. The first part of the series will profile moms who own businesses. The second part will look at moms who take on freelance, project, and/or part-time consulting work. And the third part will profile moms in more “traditional” work roles. The series will kick off with a profile of–and I think this is especially apt– founder and CEO Sara Sutton Fell. If you’re not familiar with Flexjobs, it’s an awesome website where job seekers can search for and find legitimate flexible work. Sara actually started the company when she was pregnant, but you’ll hear more about that later this week.

I hope you guys dig this stuff. I legitimately believe that changing the way we work so that all people, including moms, dads, and caretakers, can better balance the demands of home and career is quite possibly the legacy that late-Gen-Xers and early-Millennials will leave the next generation of American professionals. That’s my hope anyway. Probably too lofty a goal for this lil’ blog, but I’m excited to contribute to the conversation.

Coping with Your Kid’s Holiday Hangover


I think my 3-year-old is suffering from a holiday hangover. After 10 awesomely jammed-packed days in Ohio over Christmas, our return to Arizona has resulted in a moody, tired kid who doesn’t want to eat. You know the feeling.

Is your child having a hard time coping with the letdown after the holidays? Read how one mom handed the holiday hangover with her three-year-old.

The biggest problem, thus far, has been the disposal of our (once) live Christmas tree. We got our tree Thanksgiving weekend, and since then, Ellie has grown quite attached. As we packed away ornaments on New Year’s Eve, she asked, “But how are we going to fit the tree in that box?”

Bad news, kid: The tree is headed for our wood pile. But as an upside, I’m sure we’ll be vacuuming up needles for the next 12 months.

Then I came downstairs to find our now undecorated tree freshly adorned with Ellie’s hair ties.

Strike one.

I tried to get her excited about New Year’s, explaining how we were going to a party and she could wear a fancy dress. This somehow turned in to daddy’s birthday party (because I said it was at daddy’s friend’s house), which prompted her to spend 24 hours asking when we were going to have cake.

Strike two.

So I’ve decided to embrace Valentine’s Day a little early and decorate the inside of our front door — near where the tree stood — with hearts and the like.

We started by finally hanging up all the wonderful Christmas cards we received while we were gone. I covered clothespins with heart washi tape to make the display look more Valentine’s than Christmas and attached them to a red string of stars.

Next, I took a brown paper bag and drew block letters and hearts for Ellie to paint. After cutting those out Ellie taped them to the door, at her level, of course. This leaves plenty of room for us eventually to make and hang a wreath.


This seems to have helped her holiday withdraw for the moment, although she’s still asking randomly for presents, and then having a mini-meltdown when I tell her we don’t have any more and Christmas is over.

The holidays are so much fun to celebrate with children, but I’m finding it important to remember that all the excitement, travel and gifts takes its toll on kiddos as well as adults.

Let’s hope a week of our regular routine–combined with a few new crafts and distractions–is just what the doctor ordered.

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.

You Need a Content Calendar for Your Blog

It’s been a while since I blogged about blogging, but I’ve been planning to post this month about how to create and use a content calendar for your blog. How did I know that I’ve been planning to write about content calendars? Because I put it on my content calendar for December.

Full circle. Blog post over.

How to Create and Use a Content Calendar for Your Blog

Not really. There’s actually more than 2,000 words left to read. Feel free to bail now.

Anyway, today I’m going to cover what a content calendar is, how you can create one, how mine is set up, and why all of this content calendar nonsense is important.

What is a Content Calendar?

If you come from a journalism or editorial background, you might be wondering what the difference between a content calendar and an editorial calendar is. The answer to that question is nothing–at least in my opinion. I use the terms interchangeably. Case in point: My content calendar file is actually named “Mommy Sanest Editorial Calendar,” so you do you.

What ever you call it, a content calendar is basically a tool that helps you plan the content that you intend to publish. As far as I’m concerned, beyond that very simple definition, the other details you include in a content calendar are up to you, and you can make it as basic or as complicated as you want.

You’ll notice I said “intend.” That’s because when you’re dealing with a small publication like a blog, it’s likely that you alone are creating the content, designing the graphics, formatting the articles, and hitting “publish.” You want to plan to the best of your ability, but you’ll probably need to move posts around a bit; you’ll furiously write something unforeseen and want to add it in; you might want to move an article to later in the month because sometimes life gets in the way of being a publishing mogul.

How to Create a Content Calendar

The concept of a content calendar was not foreign to me when I started my blog. I am a planner by nature and also do “content marketing stuff” for a living, but I struggled to find a format that worked for me. Every time I searched for content calendars, the examples I found seemed overwhelming and not at all intuitive.

At first, I tried using Google Calendar as my blog’s editorial calendar. I love the visual format, and I’m comfortable using Google Calendar, so it seemed like an easy answer. My plan was to add the name of the post to the date it would be published on. It would be simple and clean–except in practice, it didn’t feel like it was enough information. Moreover, even though I thought I would do best with a visual calendar layout, I found that it wasn’t how I wanted to see this information.

For the record, I see a lot of bloggers offering blog planners/content calendars that can be downloaded, printed, and used offline. Honestly, I’ve never once even looked into using something like this. I wanted my calendar to be online and accessible from anywhere. In addition, there is an editorial calendar plugin for WordPress — I did try it — but it also uses a visual calendar format and populates using your posts, so basically, to add something you had to have a draft started. I didn’t like that. Anyway, I bailed on the plugin pretty quickly, so maybe it’s awesome, and you should ignore everything I’ve said.

Moving on…

One morning, when I was in the process of getting this blog off the ground, I was laying in bed thinking about how to set up a content calendar (sadly, this is a true story), and it came to me–a content calendar spreadsheet built in a Google Spreadsheet with categories that made sense to me. Like the mother of the year that I am, I turned on some cartoons for Emme that morning and got to work.

I tend to get a little spreadsheet happy, so what I use might not work for you. You might do better planning offline or in an actual calendar format. You may find that one of those content spreadsheets I found confusing makes total sense to you. But without further ado, here is a sample of my content calendar from earlier this year:

Ridiculous, right? I haven’t even filled out all of the sections that I came up with. I was going to back fill it, but then I thought it would be more realistic to show you that I don’t have everything planned out all of the time (most of the time). But I do know exactly how I want to use each section, and as I make my way from frazzled blogging novice to slightly-less-frazzled blogging goddess, I will hopefully do a better job of it.

How I Setup My Content Calendar

I plan my content month by month. The month is the column on the far right. Each month I decide how many times I am going to try to post. With the exception of November, I shoot for two to three posts a week at this point. Then I look at a real calendar and decide what days I’m going to post–i.e., I will often post Mondays and Thursdays. I fill in those dates for the month and start brainstorming ideas.

Let’s go through the sections, shall we?

Date: The date that the post is scheduled to be posted.

Status: The status of the post. The options for this field include: Idea, Draft, Scheduled, and Posted.

Post Title: The title of the blog post or the working title.

Post Type: A description of the post type. I’m pretty loosey goosey with this section and have wondered if it’s redundant. But, it might be a good tool if you want to diversify your content. This can be an easy way to see if you’ve balanced the number of “how to” posts in any given month with the number of “personal essays” or whatever.

Author: I added this section in November when I started working with contributing writers.

Categories: The categories section corresponds to the categories I have set up in WordPress (most of which appear in the top navigation bar). I try to stick to three categories or less for each post. Categories represent the major topics I blog about.

Tags: This section gives me a chance to think about what tags I want to include in WordPress. Tags are different from categories–instead of representing major topics, they describe the post in more detail. For example, if a post falls under the category of Recipe, a post about pasta will be tagged with “easy weeknight dinner recipe” and “pasta recipe.”

Keywords: I use the SEO Yoast Plugin as well as the Google Adwords keyword planning tools to try to figure out how to best optimize my post based on searches. This section is where I write the keyword (or words) that I plan to optimize in my post.

Graphics: I describe the graphic(s) I am using/creating for the post in this section.

Promotion: This section includes the social media platforms where I will be promoting the post.

  • Twitter: Two or three sample tweets to go along with the post. This way I can easily copy and paste them into Hootsuite.
  • Instagram: Most of my posts say N/A right now, but I have experimented with adding a photo with an #ontheblog hashtag in Instagram. I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep promoting my posts there or not.
  • Google+: What I plan to post on Google+ to promote my post.
  • Pinterest: The “alternative text” or “alt text” I plan to write for my pin-able image. I usually create one image for each post that is optimized for Pinterest. Pinterest typically (but not always!) grabs the alt text when someone pins your image, so you want to make sure that you write a good description of your post.
  • Facebook: What I plan to post on Facebook to promote my post. Typically this is very similar to the Google+ post.

If there’s one thing I think my content calendar lacks, it’s a spot to identify holidays in advance, but since I sit down and plan with a regular calendar, I kind of just know when stuff is coming up. The other thing I probably need to add is a section that has the actual URL of each completed post. I’ll do that right now. (See? The Google Spreadsheet format is flexible to your needs.)

Again, whatever you choose to do or not do with your blog’s calendar is your call. But I do think it’s worthwhile to check a few different calendars out and think through what makes sense to you and for your blog.

We’ve covered the how; onto the why.

Why You Should Use a Content Calendar

Back in ye ole blogging days, I would have never set up an editorial or content calendar. It never even occurred to me. I was just blogging by the seat of my pants when the mood struck me. And sometimes the mood struck me like 20 times a month and other times the mood struck me like never.

I feel like I should add a caveat here: There is nothing wrong with choosing to not care about this stuff. If you prefer the free form style of blogging what you feel like blogging when you feel like blogging, then that is awesome and you should do that. But if your goals are a bit more lofty, there are good reasons to be more planful.

Here are five of those reasons:

1. A content calendar will help you treat your blog like a business. If you care about people finding and reading your stuff because of love or money or pride or fame or whatever, then you need to accept that running a blog is like running a very small, poorly funded, barely staffed magazine. In other words, if you want blogging to be your business or even just part of your business, you need to treat it like a business and you need to plan your content. That doesn’t mean it will be successful; it just means it will have a better chance of being successful.

2. A content calendar can help smooth the bumps of writer’s block. Remember when I said that sometimes with my old blog, I would write all of the time and sometimes I wouldn’t post for months? It was like two paragraphs ago. A content calendar can help you plan for the times when you feel a bit less creative and inspired. I keep a running list of ideas and half-written posts, and I draw on that to help fill my content calendar. So let’s say I wanted to write about New Year’s resolutions, but wasn’t feeling it… I look at my content calendar, and see that I’ve already started a draft of a post about creating a content calendar for your blog. I move a few things around and ta da! The blog is saved, and a post will go up as planned–just not the post that was originally planned. The content calendar also eases my mind when it comes to posting frequency. It can feel overwhelming to come up with a whole new month of posts, but if you’ve decided to post twice a week, you can look at your calendar and see that you really only need eight pieces of content. Eight sounds doable, right?

3. A content calendar will help manage your audience’s expectations. If you’re using a content calendar, you can easily get yourself on a posting schedule. This manages your audience’s expectations about how often you’re going to post and also builds trust as they see they can count on a certain number of fun new things to read or watch each week.

4. A content calendar will give you an archive that you can use to promote your older posts. Do you promote stuff you wrote a month ago? Or a year ago? You should. And an easy way to keep track of that content is in a content calendar. And, if you’re including social media in your calendar, you can easily copy and paste your tweets and posts for reuse.

5. Because it’s all about the content, it’s also all about the content calendar. How many times have you heard that blogging is all about the content? And moreover, how many times do we need to be told that our content needs to be optimized? If you’re providing good content, you want people to see it. Planning in advance with a content calendar will (hopefully/eventually) get you off the panic cycle of “OMG I HAVE TO WRITE A BLOG POST.” It will help you get a handle on your content mix and plan for new topics, series, and/or guest writers, and it will give you time to think about SEO and do keyword research, which will help boost organic traffic.

I’m sure there are more reasons to have a content calendar, but my word count is pushing 2,300, so I’m going to let all of this sink in. Have I convinced you that you need a content calendar? Do you already use one? Is it way better way, and can you give me your secrets, please?

Tips for Traveling with Toddlers


It seems fitting I’m finishing this post about traveling with small children while sitting on an airplane. Today my 3-year-old and I are on our way to Cincinnati for the holidays.

Traveling with young kids, especially doing it solo as I am today, isn’t easy. Ellie’s had many travel adventures in her short three years, having been as far as Germany and Jamaica, as well as exploring most major (and many minor) Midwest cities. And, last year the whole family (including the three cats) made a cross-country road trip from Wisconsin to Arizona.

So when it comes to traveling with little ones, we’ve picked up some tips along the way.

Tips for traveling with toddlers. Tips for car trips and plane rides. How to keep your toddler busy while traveling.


  • Leave early because you’ll be stopping a lot. Whether it’s for feedings or just to get some wiggles out, your kiddo is going to want to escape from the car every few hours. Leaving early ensures lots of well-lit and populated options to pull over for a snack, as opposed to the dark, isolated rest stop in nowhere Indiana.
  • When you stop to eat, don’t worry about the kids actually eating. Let them run around while you wolf down your burger. Take their food to go and have them eat in the car–that will keep them busy for a bit. And, a little exercise plus a full belly may equal a car seat nap.
  • It’s hard to beat an indoor playground three hours into a car trip, especially during the colder months–think McDonald’s Play Places. If the weather cooperates, a park with a playground and a picnic lunch makes for a nice break in the monotony of a long drive. Think about these options before you get in the car and know where you’re going to stop ahead of time.
  • Make the road part of your trip. If you’re driving through larger cities, there’s probably something pretty great to see and do, so plan your route with side trips in mind. An easy way to get get recommendations about must-do kid activities in the cities you’ll be passing through is to ask your Facebook network.


  • If you’re a nursing mom, bring a bottle just in case if your little one is still young. Your perfect nurser might be too squirmy or distracted to latch, and you’ll want some way for the child to swallow and pop his ears.
  • This summer I wrote a story about family travel and got some great advice from a mom who hosts a popular mommy group on Facebook. One was don’t over pack toys. A coloring book, few crayons and a favorite toy should get you by. Instead of toys, emphasize all that’s new and exciting about the plane–like the barf bags or Sky Mall magazine in the seat pocket.
  • Bring more diapers, snacks and clothes than you think you’ll need. Mid-way across the Atlantic may be just the time your adorable child decides to, in our case, have explosive diarrhea as you and your husband are suffering from the norovirus. Best to throw in an extra shirt for mom or dad too. Lou also learned this one hard way when she flew with her 18-month-old last year to visit Ellie and me in Arizona. During the four-hour flight, Emme threw up twice. They both exited the plane in various states of undress–Lou in a tank top she was luckily wearing under her sweatshirt and Emme in her diaper.
  • Don’t board too early. It can be temping to take advantage of family boarding, but letting your child run around the terminal as much as possible before strapping her in a seat could buy you a squirm-free half hour or more if you time it right. If traveling with another adult, have them board first to secure you adequate carry-on space. If you’re in an open seating situation (like Southwest) and there are no seats together, tell a flight attendant. They’ll make sure you’re seated with your child.
  • Try some simple distractions before you lock yourself in the bathroom with a wailing baby. Since you’ve kept your toy packing light, put a surprise book or trinket in your carry on. Busy bags are also a great option. And, a fun, special snack can often distract an upset toddler. That said, I’ve locked myself in a bathroom with a wailing baby, and it totally worked, the change of scenery was all she needed!
  • Spring for a separate seat for your little one. Saving money is always enticing, but unless your flight is less than 90 minutes, you (and your kiddo) will probably appreciate the option to spread out a bit. This also gives you the option to bring a car seat with you on a plane.


  • iPads have revolutionized air and car travel for my little one. But here’s a tip I’ve learned the hard way: Make sure your child understands apps like Netflix likely won’t work on the plane, and connections can get spotty on car trips through less populated areas. Download a few movies from Amazon before you hit the road.
  • Lastly, and this may sound crazy, try to relax. A stressed mommy is going to make for a stressed kiddo. If your angel starts crying don’t freak out right away. If you’re in the car, take comfort in that only you can hear your screaming child and turn up the radio.

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.

The Liebster Award

Until about a month ago, I didn’t know what the Liebster Award was. I stumbled across it on a someone else’s blog, and I literally thought, “I’ll never be nominated for that.” It was a real Sad Panda moment.

And then I forgot about it.

And then Jules from One Ruud Mom nominated me! I now get to start referring to my blog as “award winning.” Thanks Jules! And don’t forget to check out her blog; she has a pretty amazing story to tell.


The Liebster Award is given to bloggers from bloggers. The only criteria is that you have less than 200 followers. It’s both a blogger love fest and a way for readers to discover new blogs.

So here’s how it works. I thank Jules for the nomination (see above). Then I nominate up to 11 other bloggers/blogs who fit the criteria.

And my nominations go to…

I Try: The Additive Property of Happiness
Queen of the Land of Twigs n Berries
At Home With Meg
Kuanyin’s Travels (Globetrotting with a Toddler)
Life Prekarious
Second Chance Mom
Musings by the Bay
Very Erin
Life is Sweeter By Design

Then I answer 11 questions from Jules, tell you 11 random facts about myself, and give the nominees 11 questions to answer when they post about the Liebster Award on their blogs. Onward!


It’s about to change, but during the week, I get up by 7am. Sometimes my daughter is up (yelling, “Mommy!”), sometimes she isn’t. My husband works an overnight shift (also about to change), and he usually walks in the door at this time. He gets Emme ready and out the door for daycare.

Because I prioritize coffee over everything else, I get ready as quickly as possible (no makeup and my hair goes in a ponytail). I check my email about a dozen times before I walk out the door at 7:50am. My sister meets me outside my house, and we take the train into the city together every morning.

I’m at my desk by 8:35. I’m work in marketing for a university, and I spend most of the day on the computer or in meetings. I also gchat with friends and coworkers. I rarely leave my desk for lunch. Basically, I have about a million bad habits. I leave work at 4:15pm.

My husband has already picked up our daughter when I get home at 5. We make her dinner and just hang out until we put her to bed at 7. I spend the evening catching up on freelance work, writing, and doing stuff for my blog. I actually feel like I work around the clock. I am a person who needs downtime, and I have to watch at least one television show every night, so I do my best to put down the computer for at least a little while. Lately, I go to bed around 11pm, which is too late for me.


Eight-plus years, if you count my old blog. But I had become a thoroughly unreliable blogger for the last few years. I actually “quit” for a awhile, but that’s what made me realize that I wanted to put more energy into blogging and start something new. I starting planning Mommy Sanest in the spring, but actually started writing and telling people about it over the summer.


I like to hear myself talk. This is the next best thing.


Like I mentioned once or twice already, I am planning to make some life changes, including my job situation. The advice that seems to be helping me the most is to think about what the worst case scenario is. So when I think about making a career switch, this is a big decision and scary for someone who has always been employed in a traditional office environment. But at the end of the day, what’s the worst case scenario? Money might be tight for awhile. I might not get enough clients. I might end up having to go back to a traditional marketing job in an office. It’s possible that that will mean a pay cut. It’s a slightly negative way of looking at things, and I realize that, but it makes me feel better. I believe that I’m going to be successful, but if I’m not and this is what failure looks like, I can handle it.


Somewhere with a beach and good food. Maybe Barcelona or Nice or Cabo San Lucas. I don’t travel so much as I vacation.


I dunno… I want to write. I like the idea of having an à la carte career–a little of this, a little of that. I want a part-time schedule. I want freedom and balance. I want to take care of my house and myself and my family.

But mostly I want to win the lottery. If I won the lottery, I’d start a new blog called Living La Vida Lottery.


Living La Vida Lottery


Based on looks (OR SO I’VE BEEN TOLD), Bridget Fonda


I want to learn how to sew, but I’m afraid to invest in a machine because I’m worried I’ll never actually finish any projects.


I love to soak in a hot bath and read though my bathroom isn’t ideal for this. I’d consider murdering someone for a real master bathroom with a soaking tub. And I do actually find time to do this once every couple of weeks. I also talk to friends when I’m stressed out. I have a few go-to friends who will listen to me go on and on. Thanks friends!


I could lie and tell you that I’d do something amazing and special for myself, but I’d probably end up on my couch binge watching Sex and the City episodes on E! with a frozen pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.


  1. We bought a 100+ year old home and renovated it for about five months before moving in. And when I say “we renovated,” I mean the contractor and crew.
  2. I had a dream about a baby girl shortly after I met my husband, but a few months before we started dating. I knew when I woke up that the baby was my baby even though I couldn’t figure out why my kid had dark hair and olive skin. Now I know.
  3. I’m from Ohio.
  4. I moved to Chicago for graduate school. I left immediately following graduate school and moved to Boston for three weeks before I was offered a job at a PR agency back in Chicago. So I turned around and came back.
  5. My sister and her family live a block and a half from us.
  6. We only have one car. We actually had two cars when we were in the city.
  7. I taught Zumba for two years before having Emme. Someday I plan to write about why I I quit.
  8. I do everything on my computer/phone/tablet/online, except to-do lists. I have to hand write to-do lists for some reason. Otherwise, they will not be done.
  9. My favorite TV shows right now are The Mindy Project and Nashville, and if either one isn’t renewed (I think Nashville is on the bubble), I will be pissed.
  10. I met my husband at an event called Nerds at Heart.
  11. I’ve been in PR/marketing communications for my entire career, which started 14 years ago.


  1. How long have you been blogging?
  2. Why did you start blogging?
  3. What’s your favorite blog post that you’ve ever written?
  4. Do you log onto your computer/phone within the first hour of waking up in the morning?
  5. What’s the best book you read in 2014?
  6. What are your three favorite TV shows?
  7. Are you a dog person, a cat person, an animal person or none of the above?
  8. What do you do or are you trained to do professionally… other than blogging, obviously ;)?
  9. What is your favorite hobby… other than blogging, obviously?
  10. Where did you spend your last vacation?
  11. If money wasn’t a factor, how would you spend your time?

What’s in a Nickname?

Choosing a name for your child is a big job—one that often requires intense negotiation between partners and ultimately says something about what is important to your family. You’ll find that tradition, or conversely, bucking tradition, is important; that you prefer to roll with trends or fight against them; or that it’s all about compromise.

We learned that we’re nickname people.

What's in a nickname?

The discussion over our daughter’s name wasn’t too contentious. While I am a fan of more traditional names, my husband is not, but we found middle ground with somewhat gender neutral, but not too common names—names like Quinn, Everly, and Hadley. We settled on Waverly, a name I suggested based on the character in the book The Joy Luck Club.

The choice was made long before our daughter arrived. We checked it off the list and moved on to the next to-do item.

But the decision kept nagging at me. Something wasn’t quite right about Waverly—and yes, I was slightly bothered by the fact that there was a Disney channel show called Wizards of Waverly Place, but that wasn’t it.

It was that Waverly had no nickname. We could try to force something, but we knew she would end up being called Wave—let’s be honest—I’d end up calling her Wave. And I wasn’t OK with that. So three days before my due date, we went back to the drawing board.

We landed on Emery—nickname Emme—and we never looked back.

But the truth is, on any given day, I call my daughter by a half-dozen different nicknames. And they are pretty terrible.

It started out innocently enough. My daughter was not the easiest infant. And so, in my haze of postpartum angst, I started calling her Fuss… Butt. I called my daughter Fuss Butt—like in public, sometimes going so far as to actually introduce her as Fuss Butt.

I eventually dropped the Butt, but I still call her Fuss sometimes. I call her Sill Sill Fuss too (which is short for Silly Silly Fuss—a nickname within a nickname).

I also call her Sweet Pea and Butter. Sometimes I call her Bubba. And I usually call her Stink Pot or Stinky Stink when I am changing her diaper. Since she’s two now and of her own mind, she has started calling me Stinky back.

So I’m pretty much the worst, and I’ve created monster.

What nicknames do you call your kid?