Five Things To Know About Ellie

BY GENA KITTNER

We have passed T-minus one month and counting till New Baby’s arrival. And instead of thinking deeply about a birthing plan, I’ve concentrated on making arrangements for my oldest while my husband and I are doing the whole delivery thing. Grandma is scheduled to fly in plenty early, but being the obsessive planner that I am, I need back ups for my back ups.

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So for any of my kind friends who find themselves caring for Ellie while John and I are otherwise indisposed, I’ve developed a “Five Things To Know About Ellie” list. I should warn you, it’s a bit graphic.

  1. The password to her iPad is EML1.
  2. She still needs a grown-up to wipe after going No. 2, and while doing No. 2, she’ll likely want her iPad. (See No. 1).
  3. She has no food or medical allergies we know of.
  4. She has no concept of time. If she asks, mommy and daddy will be back in an hour.
  5. Popsicles or popcorn solve most problems.

While accurate — and I hope potentially useful — this list was actually fun to put together. I encourage any parent to spend 5 minutes and think of five things a caregiver should know about their child. It’s a fun snapshot of pre-schooler life.


Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, 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 posts on Mommy Sanest.

Organizing Your Freezer Meals for Easy Summer Cooking

by Gena Kittner

I love the term “nesting.” It brings to mind a plump little momma bird busily feathering her home. Lately, I can relate, at least regarding the plump part, and with this pregnancy, my nesting tendencies have taken a decidedly food-related turn.

Let me explain.

“New Baby” will be born in July, one of the two hottest months in Tucson, with an average high temperature of 99 degrees.

There are many adjustments I’ve learned to make here during the summer. For example, I now place a frozen water bottle in Ellie’s car seat while running errands to make it bearable for her to climb in after a grocery run.

Crayons and granola bars are diaper bag no nos as both will melt into gooey messes.

But the trickiest part, for me, is figuring out what the he** to cook for dinner. I’ll admit, this question stumps me even when it’s not 100 degrees, but I find it especially challenging when the last thing I want to do it turn on the oven or stove.

So I’ve turned to the freezer.

Don't turn on the oven or stove this summer to cook! Instead spend some time organizing your freezer meals and have easy meals all summer long using these tips.

I’m a big fan of freezing food. Soups, steaks, fruit, quiches, pies, hummus — all find homes in my freezer. The problem, though, is finding and remembering what you have, otherwise you’re stuck with a quart bag of what you think is spaghetti sauce that turns out to be beef stew (true story). My goal is that leading up to, during and after New Baby’s arrival, I can take the stress out of making dinner by easily pulling something out of the freezer.

So I recently decided to spend half an hour and overhaul my freezer. Here’s what I did:

  • To avoid future spaghetti sauce/beef stew mishaps, virtually everything in the freezer is stored in a quart or gallon freezer bag that’s labeled and dated.
  • I have a side-by-side freezer with several shelves and a drawer at the bottom, so I organized all food into separately themed shelves. For example, the bottom two shelves are MREs — Meals Ready to Eat. Leftovers like chili, soup, or already cooked meat that can be defrosted and heated in the microwave. NO STOVE REQUIRED.
  • Another shelf I dedicated to raw meats for the grill. Steaks, pork chops, scallops, etc. On the door I have smaller shelves dedicated to frozen veggies, cheeses and lunch items (Morning Star burgers, etc.).
  • The biggest shelf is for over-sized items. The huge bag of chicken breasts from Costo, a gallon of ice cream, a pork butt, etc. Finally, the top shelf is for dessert and breakfast items such as frozen loaves of bread, cookie dough and popsicles.
  • In addition to labeling the bags of food themselves, I put actual stickies in the freezer indicating which shelves have which foods. My thought is when my butt’s glued to the couch nursing new baby, daddy, grandma etc. can easily located some dinner options.
  • If you have the type of freezer that sits on top or underneath the fridge, I suggest organizing the freezer bags of food into small plastic bins that you can easily pull out and look through. I did this in my house in Wisconsin with good success.

This is just what applies best for my family — your freezer organization might take on different themes. For example, my husband grills most every weekend, so having a shelf dedicated to just raw meat makes sense. Maybe you’ve done a make-ahead crockpot workshop and want to dedicate a shelf just for that. Or you often take frozen dinners to work for lunch — dedicating a freezer shelf would maximize your staking space and minimize the chances of those boxes sliding out every time you open the door (yes, I know from experience).

The key, I believe, is knowing what you have and where it is. So here’s to a coming summer of keeping cool and low-stress dinners (I hope!).


Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, 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 posts on Mommy Sanest.

Tough Questions: Talking to a Young Child about Baby No. 2

by Gena Kittner

Ellie: How is new baby getting out of your tummy?

Me: I’m going to wiggle him out.

I was just about to pat myself on the back for what I thought was a snappy, non-graphic, on-the-spot answer regarding delivery of our second child, due in July, when my 3-year-old came at me with a follow up:

Ellie: How did it get in there?

Oh boy.

How to talk to your Young Child about baby #2

Ellie is super excited to be a big sister, in fact I’m pretty sure it’s her favorite topic of conversation. She alternates between what toys she thinks “new baby” (as we’ve coined him) will like, and which ones she plans to hide.

She’s also had lots of questions. In the beginning, when I’d started to show and we told her mommy had a baby growing in my tummy, Ellie decided she had a baby growing in her tummy, too.

She’s since abandoned this idea as I’ve continued to expand and she hasn’t. Now she’s more concerned with the details of her brother’s arrival.

In the true preschooler mindset, everything must happen immediately. Almost daily she asks if new baby’s here. I tell her he has more growing to do and will be born when “it’s really, really hot.”

Ellie Is your baby giving kicks?

Me: No, I think he’s sleeping now.

Ellie: Why is he sleeping? It’s morning time!

But back to the tough question at hand — how he got there to begin with. In the end, I took the easy way out.

Me: You know when we plant tiny tomato seeds and they grow into big, tall plants? Well, mommy has a small seed in her tummy and it’s growing into a baby boy.

Ellie: Oh, OK … (But) he’s going to be too big to get out of your tummy.

Yeah, no kidding.

A couple days later, I went online to see how other moms approached this topic, figuring I could always improve my answer when I’m inevitably asked again.

But I didn’t find anything I really liked. I’m the first to admit I’ve taken the easy, not-anatomically-correct route. But I’m just not ready to get that real with my 3-year-old. Some Internet commenters suggested watching a video of puppy or human births. But as truly awesome as I think the miracle of birth is, even I don’t want to watch it on video. Plus, Ellie tends to get scared during tense moments of Sofia the First. I don’t want to scar her with, literally, blood and guts.

So I’m still on the hunt for better answers.

Mommies of multiple children — how did you answer inquiries involving the arrival of your “new baby”?


Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, 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 posts on Mommy Sanest.

‘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!”

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.” Teaching Diversity to Preschoolers and Young Children

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?


Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, 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 posts on Mommy Sanest.

Blush-worthy Romance Novels for Your Kindle

By Gena Kittner

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 romance novels 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.

If you liked 50 Shades of Grey

Gena’s Top 3 Recommended Romance Novels

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.

7 More Romance Novels Recommended by Friends*

*Who shall remain nameless to protect their standing as high-brow readers

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.


Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, 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.