Baking With Kids: 9 Tips

Baking is one of Little G and my favorite things to do together. Maybe you and your children enjoy it, too. Or maybe you’ve never tried it before. But if you have some extra flour and sugar left over from your holiday baking … and your kids have a few more days of winter break, too … then give it a try. Here are nine tips to help you along, especially if your kids measure in at three feet or shorter. 🙂

1.) Pick an easy recipe. Little G and I love this one for Orange Dark Chocolate Blossoms, which my Mom passed along to us. Nine ingredients—that’s what I’m talking about!

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2.) Know that things might get messy—and that’s OK. As Harriet van Horne said, “Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”

3.) Also know that everything will take longer: prep, cleanup, everything. That’s OK, too. P.S.: Don’t hurry to preheat the oven anytime soon.

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4.) Enjoy your time together, you and your child. No need to rush through mixing the butter, flour, and sugar. Chat; laugh; steal a dark chocolate kiss or two from the ingredients list.

5.) At the same time, make sure your child doesn’t eat too many of the ingredients. (Yes, I speak from experience, friends!)

6.) Give your kiddo a job, maybe even a few jobs. For our Orange Dark Chocolate Blossoms, Little G’s main job is to unwrap the 40 dark chocolate kisses. She also likes to stir the dough using a wooden spoon, and roll the dough into circle-shaped cookies-to-be.

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7.) Use this time together to teach—about kitchen safety, for example. “The oven is hot, Little G, so you need to stay right there while Mommy puts the cookies in.” Another worthy lesson: “Mommy’s mommy made these cookies every Christmas, and now we’re making them, too. We’re carrying on a family tradition. Those are important.”

8.) Baking with kids is a wonderful mommy-and-me activity, for any season. It encourages conversation. It teaches skills. And it makes your house smell homey.

9.) Most of all, baking with your kids creates memories. I’m no Cake Boss, but I love baking with Little G, and I’m excited for us to make cookies (and memories) with her little sister one day, too. Happy baking, friends.

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5 Reasons to Write Thank-You Notes

‘Tis the season for gifts and giving, for counting our blessings and expressing our gratitude, too. Last night, after snuggling Little G to sleep and watching an old “Breaking Bad” episode with my hubby, I sat at the kitchen table and wrote some thank-you notes. Three different friends had made my family’s Christmas season merrier with their kindnesses, and I wanted to let them know we appreciated them.

11_5 Reasons to Write Thank-You Notes

When I was growing up, my mom taught my three siblings and me to thank people for their thoughtfulness and generosity with a handwritten note, promptly composed. This lesson resonated with me and has stuck with me all these years later. I like the idea of putting pen to paper to consider a kindness, acknowledge it, and then send off my appreciation.

Can’t you just e-mail or text a thank-you note? Sure, of course. And when I use electronic communications like these, I like to attach a picture of the gift “in action”—for example, Little G having a tea party with the Raggedy Ann doll my brother mailed her as a Christmas present.

But I really enjoy writing and mailing thank-you notes that you can touch; hold; hold onto as keepsakes. Here are five reasons why:

1.) Say, “Thank you,” in a heartfelt, unhurried way. Slightly more meaningful than a “Love the new Anthropologie potholder!!” text (which I dashed off to my sister a few days ago—we all have our moments, right? 🙂 ).

2.) Relive the joy. When I write a thank-you note, I take time to reflect on the gift and the giver. And in doing so, I give myself the opportunity to enjoy the gift and the goodwill it generated—and the accompanying friendship, a gift itself—again.

3.) Be present in the moment. Writing the old-fashioned way, with simple pen and paper, enables me to take a break from electronics—from the hum of my laptop and the mere being of my phone, constantly reminding me of all the people out there to connect with, all the possibilities, all the things to do. *Simplicity.*

4.) Brighten someone’s day. When I open my mailbox and see a handwritten note, it’s the first thing I open (sorry, Pottery Barn catalog and Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer!). You too? Personal correspondence brightens my day, and I think it may brighten others’, too.

5.) And … fun stationery. I love picking out note cards and writing papers of all kinds, anywhere from the Hallmark Store to Half Price Books. Writing thank-you notes gives stationery a purpose. Would you agree?

Meanwhile, here are some helpful links related to thank-you notes …

A Last-Minute, Stress-Free DIY Christmas Gift Idea

9_Only one week before Christmas. Are you ready, friends? Or might you be in need of a last-minute gift or two?

If so, I can help!

One of my favorite gifts to give is a loaf (or mini loaf) of homemade bread, paired with tea or coffee in a holiday-themed gift bag. It’s heartfelt, thoughtful, and useful. And best of all, it lends itself perfectly to minimal stress at the last minute.

What You Need

For the homemade bread

For the accompanying tea/coffee

  • Tea: Check out this article to get ideas on teas that pair well with different kinds of bread. This blog post from Great Harvest Bread Co. offers up additional suggestions, too. Hint: Everyone seems to agree that the flavors of pumpkin bread and chai complement one another perfectly.
  • Coffee: The website Coffeeinated features this article about coffee pairings and foods, including breads. According to this article, try pumpkin and banana bread with Colombian or Costa Rican roasts.

For the packaging

  • Aluminum foil, to wrap around the bread
  • Wrapping paper, to wrap around next (I’m using this brown craft paper this year, for a rustic effect.)
  • Ribbon
  • Tissue paper
  • Holiday-themed gift bag

And that’s it! Heartfelt, thoughtful, useful. Happy Holidays, friends. 🙂

Writing Your Mom Blog: Lotsa Post Ideas

What to blog about next? As bloggers, this question is always on our mind. In my experience, I’ve found that I get some of my best ideas when I’m not thinking or worrying about this question—when I’m busy moving through the day, trying something new, or simply living in the moment.

Everyday life can be inspiration enough. But sometimes, the inspirations fall short. For those times, it can be helpful to have a bank of ideas—better yet, several idea banks.

Thus, I’ve done a little Googling to come up with and share the following resources for my fellow bloggers out there. Altogether, these resources promise approximately 1,000 blog post ideas and writing prompts. Here’s to never again wondering, “What to blog about next?”

“31 Fresh Blog Post Ideas” from Family Blog Tips

“If Our House Could Talk” is an interesting topic! So is “From the Spouse’s Perspective.”

“32 of the Most-Popular Blog-Post Ideas” from The Blog Stylist

Personally, I love reading and writing tutorial and how-to posts. This kind of “service journalism” benefits bloggers in a few key ways, including begetting appreciation from readers and establishing the blogger as a content expert.

“101 Blog Post Ideas That Will Make Your Blog Hot” from Start Blogging Online

Contests, giveaways, conspiracy theories … lots to choose from here!

“600+ Brilliant Blog Post Ideas” from Kludgy Mom

Some of my favorites here included the following:

  • 10 Things I Believe
  • If you were only allowed to give your children one piece of advice, what would that be?
  • A Letter to My Unborn Child
  • How has your own childhood changed the way you raise your own kids?
  • Why I Stay Married

“Blog Post Prompts and Ideas” from Pinterest

As of this writing, there are 103 pins here!

“The Secret to a Gazillion Blog Post Ideas” from Blog Clarity

Magazine covers … who knew?!

Good luck, friends. 🙂

What Are Your Family Traditions?

8_What Are Your Family TraditionsAll the ladies in my family love Michael Strahan. Not for his football prowess, of course, but for his friendly, easy-on-the-eyes morning-talk-show presence. And I especially love this quote he once shared: “I have the best memories as a kid eating ice cream. It was a family tradition that I had with my father. It was nice.”

Many family traditions involve food, it seems. I myself remember, as a child, stopping by a local ice cream shop called Curly Creme with my mom, two brothers, and sister. Curly Creme specialized in soft ice cream, and operated during the summer only. Throughout my childhood, my summer vacations included weekly cones of chocolate-vanilla “twist” custard from this homegrown institution. I can almost—almost—still taste that rich two-in-one flavor.

Beyond encounters with ice cream ( 🙂 ), family traditions include customs both big and small, from multigenerational holiday getaways to Saturday-morning basketball games in the driveway.

These days, Little G and I have fallen into a cozy Sunday-afternoon mother-daughter tradition that I love, and that I hope Little G loves, too. After we get home from church and have lunch with my hubby, we give him some time to himself (yesterday he watched his beloved Texans play the Jaguars) while we head over to one of my favorite local coffee shops.

Our mother-daughter date includes hot chocolate for me and a chocolate-chip cookie for Little G. We make ourselves comfortable at a table for two, and I bring along a coloring book and crayons in case we feel creative. A lot of the time, though, we simply enjoy hanging out together—people watching, listening to the overhead music, and flipping through the various magazines on hand.

I stumbled across this article, “Creating a Positive Family Culture: The Importance of Establishing Family Traditions.” The article notes, “Traditions, when done right, lend a certain magic, spirit, and texture to our everyday lives.”

At first glance, there may not seem to be much magical about chocolate-chip cookies from a coffee shop. But maybe the magic lives in the experience—of carving out time together, of being in communion with each other. The article also notes that “through regular family dinners or activities, the centrality of familial solidarity is instilled.”

What do you think, friends? What are your family traditions? What makes them magical?

Hello, Grilled Cheese

6_Hello, Grilled CheeseI just made grilled cheese for the first time, for dinner. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I didn’t cook much before Little G was born three years ago, and the limited menu I did prepare simply didn’t include this all-American favorite.

Well, friends, I’ve finally jumped on the grilled cheese bandwagon. I even consulted this recipe for “Grilled Cheese Sandwich” to make sure I didn’t mess up. And happily, I didn’t. Next time, though, I’ll use more cheese. And maybe a bit more butter, too.

Beyond butter and cheese, check out Woman’s Day’s “10 Greatest Grilled Cheese Sandwiches” for scrumptious twists on the classic.

Speaking of twists, what do you think about this grilled cheese Cronut? “The whole thing comes together in a few short minutes [and] the result is something you will never forget—especially if you serve them with tomato soup, which of course you should,” the Huffington Post says. Yes, you should! 🙂

How do you like your grilled cheese?

17 Fun Christmas Gift Ideas

DSCN5477In the past week, I’ve ordered gifts for my family’s Secret Santa picks, colleagues, and Little G’s preschool teachers. Oh, and Little G, too—a ukulele that my hubby and I think our music-loving little girl will have lots of fun with. I have a few more Christmas presents to take care of, but for the most part, I’m feeling fairly on top of the gift giving this season.

How about you, friends? If you’re in need of some inspiration, here’s a list of 17 fun gift ideas. Please “Leave a Comment” to share your own, too!

  1. Coffee mug with an inspirational or funny quote, accompanied by coffee or tea (you can’t go wrong with illy or Mighty Leaf Tea products)
  2. Current bestselling book such as John Grisham’s “Gray Mountain” or “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline (an excellent read!)
  3. DVDs of addictive TV shows (“Downton Abbey,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Mad Men”)
  4. Good-quality writing supplies (think Moleskine notebooks and Vera Bradley pens)
  5. Gourmet chocolate (Vosges makes for heavenly, high-quality stocking stuffers!)
  6. Magazine subscription to a sure-to-please rag like Real Simple (ladies) or Esquire (gents)
  7. Personalized stationery, from Crane & Co. to Shutterfly
  8. Funny office supplies, for home or work (these Knock Knock products crack me up!)
  9. Funny desk calendars (like Awkward Family Photos 2015)
  10. Holiday kitchen linens and/or supplies from Williams-Sonoma (I just ordered some of these Winter Forest-themed kitchen essentials kits for Little G’s teachers)
  11. Plants (you can order from a local floristry like Shades of Green here in San Antonio, or a national company like Harry & David)
  12. Quirky finds compliments of Uncommon Goods
  13. Gift card to a favorite store
  14. Gift certificate to a favorite café or restaurant
  15. Movie theater/date night tickets (you must see “Gone Girl”!)
  16. Amazing socks (I’m not talking about a six-pack from Walmart here … check out REI for the adventurer in your life; Urban Outfitters for funky, teen-friendly and young-at-heart finds; and Zappos for lots more options, including brands like Betsey Johnson, Hunter, and Smartwool)
  17. And just for kids: activities such as games (Candy Land, Cootie, the Frozen edition of Monopoly), craft kits (from charm bracelets to origami), and puzzles

De-Stressing Christmas: 5 Tips

4_De-Stressing Christmas 5 TipsThis year, I’m trying to simplify our holiday season. De-stress Christmas, so to speak. The major reason: I’m seven months pregnant now, but about as big as I was before giving birth to Little G. (That’s right: a smidge uncomfortable.)

So this year, my hubby, Little G, and I are planning for a happy yet laid-back yuletide. We’ve decided to:

1.) Forgo traveling. We were sad to decline invitations to spend a December weekend with friends at a Fredericksburg bed-and-breakfast, and to join Christmas celebrations in Pennsylvania with my family and in Dallas with his. But we’re looking forward to wishing everyone season’s greetings from the coziness of our own space.

2.) Celebrate at home. In our own space, I’m excited to recreate some of the Christmastime menu that my mom has been preparing for my dad, siblings, and other loved ones for more than 30 years now. My mom shared with me her recipes for spinach dip and fried cauliflower, and luckily, we have her homemade lasagna in our freezer from her last visit to San Antonio. Yes, friends, I’m cheating a little with the cooking here, but it will be nice to carry on these culinary traditions with my hubby and Little G.

3.) Decorate in steps. Because this will be our first Christmas at home, we’re decking the halls more than usual, though slowly. By mid-December, we’ll have our tree up, plus our stockings, wreath, and outdoor lights. And one thing I need to take care of post-Christmas: A stocking for Baby G. Lands’ End (and other retailers) begin discounting their stockings and related holiday-cheer items by 50 percent on December 26; I’ve already made a note to self to take advantage of these sales.

4.) Buy presents online. On the topic of shopping, I’m relying on the Internet for the majority of our Secret Santa, co-worker, and preschool teacher gifts. Little G and I have had fun wandering through some stores to get ideas (may I just say, I love the Hallmark store this time of the year?!), but we’re leaving most of the logistics, heavy lifting, and delivery to UPS.

5.) Pass on professional Christmas-card photography. Scheduling a photographer, coordinating outfits, coaxing Little G to smile so that one out of every ten shots will turn out OK … We’ll try again another year, friends. 🙂 I took the lazy mama’s way out and snapped a few shots of Little G on my own, to insert into store-bought Christmas cards. I love giving and receiving season’s greetings, and I equally enjoy browsing through the designs at Shutterfly and Minted … this year will just be a little less creative than others.

Tip: For quick, good-quality prints, Walgreens is my go-to store.

Have you ever felt compelled to simplify your holiday season, friends? Why? And what are your de-stressing tips?