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How to prepare for your children’s first sleepaway camp

Poppy and Pete are just a few weeks away from their first sleep-away camp, an event for which I have been mentally preparing myself for months. I know that they’re going to have a wonderful time, but that hasn’t stopped me from envisioning all manner of unfortunate events. The full extent of my personal experience with summer camp as a youth was watching a lot of “Salute Your Shorts,” so most of the unfortunate events in my head involve Budnick-style hijinks.

So anyway, I’ve had to do what I always do when there’s something a little panicky on the horizon: Lots of research. The following list is the result of that anxiety-driven study.

9 things to do before your kids go to camp
  1. Scour the camp’s website for information. Read and re-read the “Day in the Life” and FAQ sections at least once a week for a month.
  2. Print and memorize the “What to Bring to Camp” list. Find other summer camps’ packing lists. Compare. Contrast. Make your own hybrid packing list for each child. Do or do not color code the lists based on what you need to purchase, what you might be able to borrow and what you already have.
  3. Realize your 10-year-old has outgrown her sleeping bag. Add new sleeping back to your ever-expanding Amazon cart.
  4. Worry that your daughter’s new sleeping bag will be too warm / not warm enough.
  5. Label everything. Label their toothbrushes. Label their socks. Label their Claritin.
  6. Wonder if the camp’s nurse will track them down when they forget to stop by for their Claritin.
  7. Sew your 8-year-old’s second-best blankie to the inside of a pillowcase so: (a) it doesn’t get lost; and (b) the other 8-year-old’s don’t make fun of him for still having a blankie even though you’re pretty sure they probably also have a blankie or lovely or something.
  8. Purchase post cards. Apply stamps. Address them to: yourself; every grandparent; the aunts and uncles; and a few friends. Assume every postcard will return to your house, crumpled and unused in the bottom of a duffle bag.
  9. Wonder how you’re going to fit everything from your possibly overwrought hybrid packing list into a duffle bag.

It’s possible that some of these items might be ridiculous, extreme and helicopter-parentish. But a few of them are absolutely essential. Particular the one about Labeling Everything. I’m hoping that some of the kids’ belongings actually make it back home with them after camp, and I figure one way to help that happen is by making sure they know exactly which left sandal et al is theirs.

I used to use a trusty ol’ Sharpie to label the kids’ stuff. It eventually wears off, but I always figured it would last longer than a certain-to-peel-away-at-the-slightest-provocation stick-on label. Then a few years ago I went to a Type-A Parent conference and met the folks at Mabel’s Labels, and with one generous sample they proved my labeling hypothesis wrong.

I’ve been using their Write Away labels on our water bottles for years. They get tossed around the soccer field, the tennis court, co-op and the car, and I always run them through the dishwasher. I don’t know what sort of alchemists they’re employing over at the Mabel’s Labels laboratory, but they’re doing some Hermione-level wizardry because those labels do not come off.

Mabel's Labels sleep-away camp setSo this year, instead of hand-writing the kids’ names on every T-shirt, flashlight and poncho, I bought some of Mabel’s Labels Sleep-Away Camp labels. Despite my best efforts to lead them toward the raccoon, the sloth or the narwhal, Poppy chose the cupcake design and Pete went with the puppy. But it isn’t too late for your kid to get a set of snazzy sloths, because the lovely folks at Mabel’s Labels want to give one of you a Sleep-Away camp set!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I just like Mabel’s Labels a lot, so I asked them if I could give away some labels. And they said yes.

This is what Gwen Stefani’s “Truth” sounds like

The first concert I went to with my friends was in February 1996. I was a senior in high school, and a group of us drove two hours to see Bush. We were all there to see Gavin Rossdale & company, but all we talked about on the way home was Gwen Stefani and No Doubt. By the next day we all owned copies of “Tragic Kingdom.” (I still have mine.) No Doubt was good, but Gwen Stefani was great. She was all energy and electricity, and it’s no wonder that Gavin fell for her.

Yeah, it was that tour. The one where No Doubt opened for Bush, and Gwen and Gavin fell in love. All of which paved the way for Gwen’s new album, “This is What the Truth Feels Like.” It’s all about old, broken love and exciting, scary new love, and it’s pretty personal stuff.

"This is what the truth feels like"Some of the lyrics on the new album — from “I don’t know why I cried, but I think it’s because I remembered for the first time since I hated you that I used to love you” to “I feel worthless, I’ve been hurt so bad, I get nervous you won’t love me back” — seem so personal that I felt a little weird listening to them. Like I was reading her personal emails to Gavin Rossdale or Blake Shelton. Of course, this isn’t the first time Gwen has written pretty transparently about a relationship. Most of “Tragic Kingdom” is about her breakup one of her No Doubt bandmates, but even 20 years after that album her lyrics strike me as shockingly frank.

“This is What the Truth Feels Like” is just as confessional as “Tragic Kingdom” was, but its sound is far less raw. Gwen’s look was more track star than movie star two decades ago, and her music now sounds more recording studio than garage band. A couple of tracks on the album, such as “Misery” and “Asking 4 It” (featuring Fetty Wap!), sound like they would be right at home on the soundtrack of a high school romance movie. I like high school movies, so that’s not a bad thing. Other songs are decidedly more post-graduate. I’m looking at you, “Send Me a Picture.”

For an album that came out of what had to have been a very upsetting and confusing time, “This is What the Truth Feels Like” is packed with danceable tracks. And when I say “danceable,” I mean I can very easily bounce around the kitchen to them while I’m making dinner. People who actually know how to dance would probably find songs like “Naughty,” “Make Me Like You” and the scorned-woman anthem “Red Flag” actionably danceable.

You can buy “This is What the Truth Feels Like” starting today at iTunes, Target and other retailers.

Disclosure: Nichole participated in this sponsored album review program as a member of One2One Network. She was provided the album to review, but all opinions are her own.

Green peas, glitter and a lifelong aversion to crafts

I didn’t spend a ton of time at my paternal grandfather’s house when I was a kid, but the few memories I do have of being with them are pretty vivid. I remember laying on their floor in front of their TV watching a VHS of “Savannah Smiles,” a winning and winsome tale of accidental kidnapping. I remember a weird and fascinating lamp they had hanging from the ceiling that featuring a lady in the center who was surrounded by strings that had oil dripping down them. It was mesmerizing.

And I remember Betty’s craft room.

Betty was my grandfather’s second — and, as it turned out, final — wife. Her craft room was a Pinterest-enthusiast’s dream. She had every bead, glue gun and bauble you can imagine. She had stamps, stickers and glitter, tissue paper, ribbon and a hundred varieties of scissors. And I have no idea what she did with all of it because she only let me in there to get crayons from the crayon drawer and coloring books from the coloring-book shelf.

When I was in kindergarten or first grade, Betty came to Grandparents Day at my school to have lunch with me. I embarrassed her by pulling my plate away just as she tried to put peas on it. The peas hit the floor, and she was not pleased. I’m not sure that particular incident is the reason I wasn’t granted free reign amongst her craft supplies, but it certainly couldn’t have helped things. I’m not going to say that Betty is to blame for my aversion to crafts, but that incident in the cafeteria was clearly traumatic for both of us.


My children enjoy a good craft project, which could have been most unfortunate for them because in addition to not having a fully stocked craft room, I am very bad at thinking up good craft projects. Fortunately for Poppy and Pete, they are being raised in the Pinterest era. So I have 24/7 access to the best crafting minds on the internet, and I make frequent use of that modern-day blessing.

The first day of Spring is just a few days away, so I’ve been compiling a list of easy, cute and Springy arts and crafts projects for the kids to enjoy. Hopefully I’ve squirreled away enough coffee filters, paint and toilet paper rolls to make a few of them.

Follow Nichole’s Spring Art Projects board on Pinterest.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of floral-themed art projects out there. That Artist Woman’s paper hyacinths and found-poetry nests and this up-cycled bouquet from Chica Circle are stunning, but the very easy cherry blossom pieces from Alpha Mom and Kim K are probably more my speed.

I’m positive I don’t have all of the materials required to make these wax-resist bunny garlands from Housing a Forest, but I think you could make the bunnies using pretty much any sort of colorful, abstract artwork. I also don’t have the yarn I’d need to make this texturized bunny silhouette from Katie’s Crochet Goodies, but I might have to fix that because I love it. In non-mammal news, I also love the sweet and spiky baby chick from All Free Kids Crafts. Who would’ve thought you could paint with a fork? (Art teachers and other creative folk, that’s who.)

I have a beautiful Pysanky egg that a neighbor made for me about a decade ago, and I always put it on the mantle in the springtime. (I also put up the one I made, but it is… not beautiful.) I’d like to have some more permanent egg art to put on display. I think the tape-resist Easter eggs from Mom To 2 Posh Li’l Divas, the splatter-painted Easter eggs from Hands On As We Grow or the marbled Easter eggs from The Chocolate Muffin Tree would look pretty great on the wall.

How about you? Was your childhood wrought with arts & crafts?