Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Amid your New Year's celebrating, take some moments for quiet reflection.....


20 questions for a New Year’s Eve reflection
2014-12-30 05:01
winter sunset
by Tsh
As you end this new year and move on to the next, I hope you take a bit of time to reflect. Post-eggnog, it’s easy to want to speed forward with gusto, packing up the ornaments until next year and juice-cleansing your system from all the holiday indulgence.
But ease your foot onto the brake for the next few days, and gift yourself the space and freedom to reflect on the past twelve months.
I’m all about starting a new year fresh, making a few goals, finding that one special word, and cleaning out the cobwebs from the corners. But all that stuff is much more meaningful when you look behind you at the bends in your road.
Honor the past year by celebrating your joys, mourning your losses, and shaking your head at the wonder of it all. Isn’t it amazing another year has passed? And so the earth goes round and round, with us about to orbit once more.
Whether you’re headed to a party or headed to the living room with a bowl of popcorn, New Year’s Eve is a great day for reflection. A whole year has passed since the last one. You’re a year older. Are you a year wiser?
Use these next 48 hours to reflect on the past 365 days.
20 questions for a New Year's Eve reflection (free printable!)

20 questions for a New Year’s Eve reflection

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?
4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
5. Pick three words to describe this past year.
6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your year—don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you. (If you’re not married, have fun guessing the answers from other friends and family, or just skip this question.)
7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their year—again, without asking.
8. What were the best books you read this year?
9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?
11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?
12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?
13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?
14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?
15. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
16. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?
17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?
19. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?
20. Create a phrase or statement that describes this past year for you.
Want to answer these questions solo? Grab a cup of coffee and a pen, and use the space provided on the first three pages of the free download.
Want to chat over the answers with your spouse or with friends? Use the last page of the PDF to cut each question into squares, and then toss them in a hat to draw, one at a time.
And new this year—a set of questions for your kids! Pass it along to them for a personal reflection exercise, or you could cut up the questions, toss them in a jar, and pull them out to answer as a family.
Tomorrow, I’ll share another round of annual questions that’ll help you think about 2014. Have any dreams? Hopes? Goals so big they make you laugh?
What would you like to happen for you personally, for your children, for your family? Tomorrow I’ll share some ways you can be intentional, jot down your ideas, and possibly create a plan to kick yourself in the pants.
But for now, happy reflecting! And pass over that bowl of popcorn!

Easy-as-Pie Chickie Pie, as promised (Though belated. Many apologies!)

This is the foundation recipe for the chicken pot pie that I make once a month. I'm not a huge fan, but my husband and sons like it so much that it's a monthly request (sometimes weekly) and I actually have to make 2 of them, or make it in a large casserole dish (buy extra pie crust if you do this) and there still aren't any leftovers. Enjoy!

Savory Chicken Pot Pie

Savory Chicken Pot Pie
Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts make a delicious pot pie that’s made using chicken and Green Giant veggies - a cozy dinner.
  • prep time10 min
  • total time40 min
  • ingredients4
  • servings4



box Pillsbury™ refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box


cups diced cooked chicken
cups Green Giant™ Steamers™ frozen mixed vegetables, thawed (from12 oz bag) (I start out with sautéed chopped onion and garlic, and usually use fresh veggies, which adds to the prep time)                                             
can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of chicken soup (I use cream of mushroom, much to my 17 year old's dismay)                                            
  • 1 Heat oven to 400°F. Soften pie crust as directed on package. Remove 1 crust from pouch; unfold crust. Place crust in bottom of pie plate (9 inch).
  • 2 In medium saucepan, combine all filling ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Pour into crust-lined pie plate.
  • 3 Remove second crust from pouch; unfold crust. With small cookie cutter or sharp knife, cut holes in crust. Top  with crust; seal edges with fork or flute, trimming edges if necessary.
  • 4 Bake at 400°F. for 20 to 30 minutes or until filling is bubbly and crust is golden brown. If necessary, cover edge of crust with strips of foil after 15 to 20 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning.
  • Friday, December 26, 2014

    Can I just say December is exhausting????

         I've been away, caught up in all the to-do that goes along with the holly-daze, and I've missed being able to pop in and fill people in on the weirdness and loveliness that is my life. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, whatever you observe, filled with fun, laughter, introspection, fulfillment, friends and loved ones. I'll be back later with a simple recipe for a nice, calm, sit-down dinner...something I'll be making tonight after I find my house. I lost it somewhere amid the paper, ninja gear for the five year old, books, resumes and college transcripts. I know it's here somewhere.....

         Much love to you and all you hold dear, and I'll be back. I'm looking forward to sharing recipes, books, music, and quiet times with all of you!    <3, Nicole

    Monday, December 1, 2014

    Publishing conundrums...and cookies.

    My short story Endurance is getting mixed reviews at FictionMagazines.com....we'll see if it makes the cut for New Realms Magazine. (I thought it was a good story, lol). I've decided to take the plunge and investigate self-publishing through Dorrance Publishing (http://dorrancepublishing.com ). The biggest drawback I can foresee (at present) is the fees. I have no idea what they are going to be, or what the payment process looks like. There's only one way to find out, I suppose. Guy Furpurr is on its way, and we'll see what Dorrance has to say. (Ooo, I'm rhyming again. Time to write some poetry, I guess.) In the meantime, while I wait I'll rampage through my kitchen and make some messes. And cookies.

    Orange Hazelnut Bars (from the much-missed For Me Magazine)

    2 sticks butter, softened
    2/3 c. granulated sugar
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
    1 tsp. vanilla
    3 c. flour
    1 Tbs. grated orange zest
    1 c. orange marmalade
    1 c. hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
    1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

    1:Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2: Line a 13x9 pan with foil; spray with non-stick cooking spray.
    3: In a large bowl beat butter, sugar and salt. Add egg and yolk and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
    4: Add flour gradually, beat until just blended.
    5: Stir in orange zest, mix well.
    6: Pat dough evenly in bottom of prepared pan. Prick with a fork.
    7: Spread orange marmalade on top of cookie dough to the edges of the dough; sprinkle with hazelnuts.
    8: Bake 15 to 20 minutes until edges are light golden brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack.
    9: To decorate, melt chocolate chips in the microwave as directed. Scrape into a zip-top bag, snip off a corner and pipe melted chocolate on cookie bars. Let set, and cut lengthwise into six strips, then crosswise into 6 strips. Makes 36 bar cookies.

    (I've also used Nutella for the drizzle instead...zap in the microwave for a few seconds, then pour from the bowl, drizzling as you go.)

    Monday, November 24, 2014

    A letter from the Editor:


         Thank you for sending us "A Cookie Jar Full of Seashells, and Other Poems". 
    The staff and I have accepted this piece for FIVE Poetry. Congratulations!
         You may spread the word far and wide that you will be published in this issue. We encourage you to promote your issue alongside your fellow authors to generate sales and gain readers. Reach out to a small blog you follow, get them to interview you, and send the interview to bigger blog; post to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+; share with a forum like AbsoluteWrite.com, reddit.com, or wherever you hang out; and email your fans, friends, and family. 
         Please reply with any comments or questions you may have about the publishing process.

    Your editor,



    OH MY GODS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've done it!!!!! SQUEE!!!!!

    (Ahem.) Thank you, readers and friends, for all your support and encouragement. I am now going to resume dancing around my kitchen with the cat.

    Sunday, November 16, 2014

    101 Homemade Holiday Gifts!

    I'm not going to post each one of these...there's 101!! But check out these great ideas that the crew at Hello Natural shared!

    101 Homemade Holiday Gifts

    101 Homemade Holiday Gifts | HelloNatural.co Not sure where to start your Christmas shopping? Look no further than your own home – you probably have at hand most of the supplies you need to make all sorts of thoughtful homemade holiday gifts. From delicious treats in a jar to jewelry and kid-friendly gifts, we have it pretty much worked out:


    1. Winter trail mix by Cafe Johnsonia. A little bit of snacking never hurt anyone, especially when they’re as healthy as these mixed nuts. Perfect for co-workers!
    2. Cranberry marshmallow swirl brownies by Beard and Bonnet. These are not only delicious and Christmas-looking, but also gluten-free!
    3. Caramel apples by Modern Wife Style. If there are kids in the household, they’re gonna want these caramel apples. That’s a fact.
    Homemade Mulling Spices | HelloNatural.co 4. Homemade mulling spice by Hello Natural. Because everyone likes a spicy, warm drink this time of the year, offer this thoughtful combination of spices in a festive jar.
    5. Brownies in a jar by My Sister’s Suitcase. This affordable food gift only sets you down about $3! The blog also provides a free printable label.
    6. Gluten-free gingerbread men by Minimalist Baker. It’s not Christmas without gingerbread, and the gluten-free version, version surely is healthier and guilt-free.
    7. The best sugar cookies by Yummy Yummy Kitchen. Sugar cookies make a nice gift if you wrap them in craft paper and some twine. Plus this version is vegan!
    8. Homemade salted caramels by Live Life Rowe. The sweet and salty flavors are perfectly complementary, making them a treat for kids and adults alike.
    9. Basil simple syrup by Oh My Veggies. Your gourmet friends will be over the moon to get a jar of basil syrup!
    10. Hot cocoa mix by Hello Natural. You provide the ingredients, while the other person gets to assemble them in a delightful mug of hot cocoa.
    11. Homemade vanilla extract by Tidy Mom. This the beginning of all delicious baked goods, plus it can be customized with vintage-looking printable labels.
    12. Spiced pumpkin bourbon by Spache the Spatula. Infused liquors such as this one are easy to make and they always please. It doesn’t hurt that it’s good for guys too!
    13. Candied pecans by Two of a Kind. A treat in themselves, pecans are even more tasty candied. Jared and bowed, they make a great gift.
    14. Limoncello by Confessions of a Foodie. Limoncello is perfect to sip on this time of the year, and it tastes divine when homemade.
    15. Infused honey by Hello Natural. It’s the perfect time to offer a jar of homemade infused honey, for anyone on your list.
    16. DIY Jarlsberg crackers by Souffle Bombay. The host will be happy to snack on these between two holiday meals!


    17. Calming homemade bubble bath by Hello Natural. Give your pal some well-deserved time off, with this homemade bubble bath that relaxes and calms.
    18. DIY shaving cream by The Chic Site. Dad will enjoy using an all-natural shaving cream on his face.
    19. Candy cane sugar scrub by JJ Begonia. The candy cane makes this scrub festive enough for every gal on your list.
    Peppermint Beauty Gift Basket | Hello Natural 20. DIY beauty gift basket by Hello Natural. Make it a big pampering holiday for all your girlfriends with a beauty gift basket! This one has a peppermint foot scrub, soap and body oil included.
    21. Pumpkin spice sugar scrub by The Kitchen McCabe. Pumpkin spice season is not over yet! And neither is scrub season, because that one never ends.
    22. DIY whipped coconut + shea body butter by Hello Natural. Pamper your loved ones with this moisturizing DIY body butter that’s perfect for winter skin.
    23. Scented salt scrub by Mad in Crafts. With free printable holiday labels, this salt scrub looks festive and it can be customized as you wish.
    24. Dr. Pepper lip balm by JJ Begonia. This homemade version of the Dr. Pepper lip balm makes the perfect gift!
    25. Confetti soap by Crafterhours. It’s a time for celebration, and this confetti soap couldn’t be a better fit for the theme!
    26. Creamy homemade body lotion by Sprouting Healthy Habits. A creamy, luxurious body lotion that makes winter skin less of a problem.
    27. Homemade lavender bath bombs by Homemade Ginger. Stack these bath bombs in a mason jar for a nice presentation.
    28. Himalayan pink salt scrub by Evermine Blog. A feminine and delicate gift for feminine and delicate gals.
    29. Wild pollen lip balm by For the Makers. Wild pollen works wonders for the lips, as does this lip balm for your gift list.
    30. Homemade hand cream by Soapdeli. If your hands are dry in winter, raise them up! A thoughtful, natural gift for the ladies in your life.
    31. Homemade lip balm by Hello Natural. Created especially for winter chapped lips, this lip balm will make anyone happy.
    32. Homemade poppy seed citrus soap bars by Horses and Heels. This recipe makes an exfoliating, citrus-smelling soap that is bound to delight.


    33. DIY copper triangle necklace by Hello Natural. A minimalist, easy to make necklace for those hard-to-please women in your life.
    34. Anthropologie inspired scarf by Be Loved Blueprint. An accessory that’s both a scarf and a necklace, plus it’s so much cheaper than the coveted original.
    35. DIY pompom gloves by Paint the Gown Red. Plain gloves and colored pompoms make a cute and cozy gift.
    DIY Cufflinks for Father's Day 36. DIY gold leaf cufflinks by Hello Natural. For the one that’s always hard to shop for, these DIY cufflinks make a personal, thoughtful gift.
    37. DIY antler embellished beanie by Gina Michele. With a beanie and some felt antlers, you get an instant festive and cozy gift.
    38. Metallic gem zipper pouch by See Kate Sew. In different colors and sizes, these gem pouches are fun for every gal!
    39. Pressed flower phone case by Capture by Lucy. As long as the case is right for their phone type, there shouldn’t be any problem making this!
    40. DIY fur scarf by Hello Natural. Cozy gifts are the best this time of the year! This infinity scarf is easy and it looks as good as store-bought.
    41. Star necklace by Repurposeful Boutique. There’s no better time for star-shaped gifts, and this necklace is easy as can be.
    42. Rope bracelets by Hello Natural. These unisex rope bracelets are easy to make last minute, but still look rather cool!
    43. DIY tote bag by The DIY Dairy. A fabulous combination of fabric and (p)leather, this gift costs only $3!
    44. Faux labradorite drops by Fall for DIY. These earrings are festive and beautiful, a gift that your sister or friend would both enjoy.
    45. DIY chunky bead bracelet by Thanks, I Made It. A statement bracelet that couldn’t be easier to make.
    46. Anthropologie-inspired wire rings by Free Series. Make as many of these as you like – they’re super easy – and gift them in stacks to your girlfriends.
    47. DIY polka dot leather clutch by See Kate Sew. Fill it with chocolate and give it away to a good friend!
    48. DIY earrings by Hello Natural. The holidays are for wearing red! Your friends will be pleased to wear these earrings until New Year’s and beyond.


    49. No sew zipper pillow by Lovely Indeed. These add a touch of glamour to any couch.
    50. Handmade Hickory chop board by Francois et Moi. The kitchen gurus in your life will appreciate a stylish chop board.
    51. Cat rope basket by Hello Natural. Whether it’s an adult or a kid, this cat rope basket will make someone really happy!
    52. DIY chunky tassel blanket by Design Sponge. This blanket literally makes a good gift for anyone. Anyone who likes to bundle up in winter, that is.
    53. DIY copper hanging planters by Style Me Pretty Living. Copper planters are a choice for any design lover on your list.
    54. Origami ring holder by DIY Candy. If she loves fashion, origami and/or boats, she’ll love this!
    DIY Chai Candles | HelloNatural.co 55. DIY chai candles in canning jars by Hello Natural. These delightfully scented candles make the perfect gift, without being too personal or too generic.
    56. Paperwhite bulb kit by Francois et moi. You give them the kit this Christmas, and they have a pretty paperwhite in spring!
    57. Loom weaving by Sugar and Charm. Woven wall art is all the rage right now – this one would look great in a cozy, modern home.
    58. Gold geo napkin rings by Almost Makes Perfect. Although they’re made of cardboard, these napkin rings are festively gold and easy to match with any dinnerware.
    59. Clay ring dishes by My Lifebox. These are so easy to make, you’ll probably end up with a bunch for yourself too.
    60. Aromatic wax fire starters by Hello Natural. Anyone with a fireplace could benefit from these wax firestarters that smell like the holidays.
    61. Geometric wood trivets by A Beautiful Mess. Just because they’re trivets, doesn’t mean they should look trivial! This set is elegant and modern, just like the person you can offer it to.
    62. Faux cross stitch wall art by Kittenhood. This faux cross stitch wall art would fit in perfectly at your quirky friend’s house!
    63. DIY wood hexagon coasters by Jade and Fern. Hexagons are stylish, and so are these wood coasters that any host would like to receive.
    64. Painted striped napkins by BD Design. These gold stripe napkins are so seasonal, they’re probably getting some use right away!
    65. Layered scent holiday candles by Hello Natural. Each layer is a different color and a different scent, including sweet orange, cinnamon and clover or vanilla.
    66. DIY floor poufs by Style Me Pretty Living. These make an awesome gift, and you only need foam filler and fabric to get started.
    67. DIY copper salad tossers by Almost Makes Perfect. The kind of thing that everyone needs, but rarely buys for themselves.
    68. Marbled tealight holders by Make and Tell. The marble-looking holders are actually made from polymer clay – how easy is that?
    69. Wooden geometric wine stopper by The Merrythought. With all the wine drinking around the holidaus, this stylish bottle stopper couldn’t be fitter.
    70. Fabric moon clock DIY by Running With a Gluegun. This clock is based on an embroidery hoop and painted fabric, so it’s what you would call “easy-peasy”.

    Paper goods

    71. Kate Spade notebooks by Craft a Doodle Doo. The look of those Kate Spade notebooks for way less, a gift for any stylish gal.
    72. Embroidered Christmas cards by Crafts Unleashed. A simple, hand-embroidered Christmas card is thoughtful and will probably be appreciated.
    73. DIY travel journal by Hello Natural. Make sure your friends document all their 2015 travels in their new journal!
    74. Gardener’s book by Daily Fix. A gardener never rests, even in winter. This notebook is a nice way for them to keep everything well organized.
    Anthropologie Leather DIY Journal | HelloNatural.co 75. Anthropologie leather journal by Hello Natural. A stylish suede journal inspired by Anthro, which makes a great unisex gift.
    76. DIY winter art by Hello Natural. What looks like a sophisticated piece of artwork is the result of less than half an hour of work!
    77. DIY Instagram mini album by Gathering Beauty. All those common memories in one album, for a truly special homemade gift.
    78. Snow globe shaker card by Waffle Flower. A beautiful, detailed postcard that shows you really put some effort into it.
    79. Dutch canal house luminaries by Kate’s Creative Space. These paper houses can be placed in front of the window for a special type of decoration.
    80. Glittery geometric garland by Line Across. If you’re headed for a holiday party, why not bring a garland along?
    81. DIY travel journal by Say Yes. This homemade notebook features a map cover, perfect for winter wanderlust.
    82. DIY festive stationery by Kittenhood. Add sequins to a regular piece of paper and you have festive stationery for a lifetime!
    83. Gold leaf notebooks by Eat Sleep Cuddle. These tiny notebooks are pure style.
    84. Make an iPad case from a notebook by Man Made. A perfect guy gift, it features tech hidden in a notebook cover.
    85. Stationery box by Dannie’s Designs. When everything else fails, a custom stationery box cannot.


    86. Doll pattern by Shiny Happy World. A pretty, handmade doll made of recycled fabrics and safe for small kids.
    87. Robot blocks by Plenty of Paprika. A nice gift, as well as a fun activity, which comes with a free printable for the robots.
    88. Dragon finger puppets by Vicki Brown Designs. If you can sew, even just a little, you can make these fun finger puppets for your host’s kid.
    89. Train tunnel by Sisters What! If you child is into trains lately, they’ll love playing with a custom wooden tunnel such as this one.
    90. Upcycled globe lamp by Crafts Unleashed. The little geographer will love having their own retro globe lamp!  
    101 Homemade Holiday Gifts | HelloNatural.co 91. DIY 5 panel teepee by Nalle’s House. Although not a traditional holiday gift, this teepee will surely get some happy giggles.
    92. Ballerina shoes for little feet by Sweet Living Magazine. Experienced knitters will make these tiny ballerinas in no time!
    93. Mix ‘em up animal spools by Handmade Charlotte. Can anything be cuter than these printable animal illustrations? Maybe just the mix ‘em spool set.
    94. Waldorf-style doll by Snugglebug University. Your daughter will love this pretty, detailed doll, and she can try sewing outfits for her.
    95. Flying squirrel softie by Wild Olive. Easy to make and easy to hug, this flying squirrel softie will be a hit with the kids.
    96. DIY glow in the dark snow globe by Hello Natural. This snow globe can be customized with Christmas toys to look even more festive.
    97. Shark hoodie towel by Just Crafty Enough. Save your sanity with this shark towel that makes bath time more fun.
    98. Sun softie by Evie Barrow. This sunny toy is made of yellow felt and can be stitched in no time, to remind little ones of warmer months.
    99. DIY Lego bracelet by Ja Monkey. If they’re no longer into Lego, they might be into fun jewelry!
    100. Jump cord by Say Yes. A game that doubles as exercise? Yes, please.
    101. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles charms by Craft Klatch. Fans of the ninja turtles will enjoy these charms/keychains made from golf balls.

    Read more at http://hellonatural.co/101-homemade-holiday-gifts/#jiU6FKSkH0FSfuLR.99

    A DIY gift for the guys...or the guys in your life!

    by |
    make your own shaving cream at home
    If you’re still on the hunt for a fun idea for Father’s Day, trying whipping up our DIY Shaving Cream for dad. This is an awesome last minute Father’s Day gift that is so easy to make all the kids can help! The Shea butter, coconut oil and jojoba oil are great skin softeners to prep the skin for a close shave, and the bergamot essential oil leaves a clean, fresh scent. If you have a little extra time to spare, pair it with a fancy customized shave set like one of my favorites from Art of Shaving. ~Brandee
    how to make homemade shaving cream
    DIY Shaving Cream For Dad 
    1 cup Shea Butter
    1/2 cup Coconut Oil
    1/2 teaspoon Jojoba Oil
    25 drops of Bergamot Essential Oil
    First, soften Shea Butter (it is very hard in natural form)
    Add Shea Butter and Coconut Oil to large mixing bowl.
    Add Jojoba and Bergamot oils to bowl.
    Using a hand mixer, mix all ingredients for 10 minutes. (This will create a light, whipped texture).
    Store in an air tight container.
    Brandee’s Chic Tip: The key to getting a light, whipped texture is by letting the Shea soften. You can also whip Shea butter with a hand mixer in it’s natural form, but it will result in a thicker, creamier texture that is a little harder to spread evenly over skin.
    DIY Shaving Cream

    Keeping a Journal.

         How many of you keep a journal? I am on my eleventh volume, if you want to call it that. The other ten are a variety of styles, from whimsical blank books picked up at Target to large 11x14 artists' sketch books. What do you write about? (That's a rhetorical question, I'm not trying to be nosy.) Are you satisfied with what you write? I'm not. That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? It's a journal. In any bookstore or library we find piles of journals written by people whose innermost thoughts turned out to be something that our world needed to hear. Their words are moving, appalling, thought-provoking, enchanting, horrifying. My journals, as much as I wish they were of such caliber are more of a daily brain-dump. I complain about housework, finances, my husband, my children and my cat. I write tarot card readings, dinner menus, half-formed poem ideas, first lines of stories that I might try to write sooner or later. When I read older volumes, I can't help but wonder why I bother to journal at all. And then I stop. And then a week or so later I begin again. Much like this blog, I find I have an insatiable urge to just write, and while I don't write what I dream of (a journal that others might one day wish to read. Hell, a journal I want to read.) I am at least putting a part of myself down on paper, saving a bit of who I am for the person I will some day be. Following, an excellent blurb on 'The Art of Keeping a Journal'  from The Art of Simple:

    The art of keeping a journal
    2014-11-14 05:01 the art of keeping a journal
    by Katie Clemons
    I snuggle into my favorite corner of the couch to write in my journal. The evening is dark and chilly.
    The quilts are stretching themselves all across the room after a summer of being tucked away. I’ve got a mug of hot chocolate – a delicious change from my typical evening pot of herbal tea.
    I think: should I light a candle? Or would that just become way too clichéd? Skip the candle. I pick up one of my favorite German pens to get started. I write the date.
    Then I stop. What on earth do I journal about?!
    My mind starts to wander. I think about all the incredible journal keepers (Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, Lewis and Clark, and even Ronald Reagan). If journaling is such a ritualistic and graceful self-discovery contrivance, why is it so hard to do? Why can’t I just sit down with my tea and candle, and start pouring my heart out in poetic prose?
    Just like simple living is an art that requires constant tweaking and self-adjustment, so is journaling. When you find the art of it, you discover how easy journaling can become. And I promise you: it can become easy.
    I call the struggle Blank Page Syndrome. It comes with a pretty tall barrier. But it isn’t insurmountable. Not yet.
    My mission to help folks celebrate their stories (and themselves) through journaling began a couple of years ago. You might know me from my writing prompt journals at Gadanke.
    I still remember how I watched my grandmother fight to remember her stories so that she could document them and share them with our family when she was 90 years old. The two of us hopped onto NPR’s StoryCorp bus and only touched the very tip of the stories we both yearned for. “I’m sorry, Katie,” she told me. “I just don’t remember anymore.”
    Later this month, my baby boy, Niklas, is turning one year old. I ask my mom for stories about what she felt when I was just a year old. She laughs like I am a crazy person. “How can I remember 30 years ago, Katie?!”
    Then there is silence. We both wish not that she had the memory of an elephant, but that she’d paused to write some of those thoughts down. She did try. The beautiful little baby book she bought for me is mostly filled out. My little hospital band and footprint are inside. There are a few cards and keepsakes.
    But there is no telling my mom’s story. Most baby books just don’t do that; they report facts. Obviously, one of my first missions at Gadanke was to create a baby book that could guide a new mother in everyday documentation about her life and her baby when she had the opportunity to write – milestone or not.

    Why is journaling so darn difficult?

    It’s because we either unintentionally write about the sad, frustrating things in our lives, or we quit halfway through a journal. Usually, it’s both.
    When you look back at old journals and records, the facts aren’t what matters. It’s the stories. It’s the heart.
    As we approach the winter season, I see people curling up and starting to journal more than any other time of year.
    We’re more reflective during the holidays.
    We’re deeply aware of gratitudes and people we love.
    We’re craving a quiet indoor activity when it’s too dark and too cold to be outside.
    And to be honest, we just need to know we have a voice and that our stories matter.
    The art of keeping a journal isn’t about the tea, quilts, or candles. It’s about what’s inside of you. It’s about what makes you feel alive. And secretly, something like a mother-daughter journal or a mother-son journal is a clever tool we can use to help our children gain confidence and improve their penmanship as they create a time capsule of this stage of life.
    So start there. Document what you’re grateful about this season. Write about what made you laugh today. That’s what documenting the heart is. Just pick up your pen and begin writing with this sentence:
    Today, I want to document what makes me happy and the people I love.

    Thursday, November 13, 2014

    A bonus DIY gift post for all you bacon lovers!

       Which in my reality includes my husband, my seventeen year old son, my fifteen year old daughter, my five year old son, my nineteen year old stepson, my dad, my father, my mother's husband (yes, those are three separate entities...don't ask) and my best friend. My father in law, brothers in law,  and both of my husband's grandfathers are probably on that list as well. I think I'd better buy stock in bacon.

    This comes from the very kool new-to-me blog, Snixy Kitchen. Thanks Sarah!

    DIY Bacon Gifts - Bacon Jam
    Bacon Jam
    Yields: 12 ounces. Fills one 8-ounce jam jar and one 4-ounce jam jar.
    • ¾ pounds sliced bacon
    • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
    • ¼ cup packed dark-brown sugar
    • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
    • Scant ½ cup brewed coffee
    • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
    1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil (for easier clean-up) and rest a wire rack on top. Lay the bacon on top of the wire rack, making sure none of the pieces overlap. Bake until crispy, about 15-20 minutes.
    2. Coarsely chop the bacon and set aside.
    3. Spoon one tablespoon of bacon grease from the baking sheet into a medium cast-iron skillet or pan and heat over medium heat.
    4. Add the chopped and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
    5. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any crispy browned bits from the pan.
    6. Transfer to a slow cooker with the chopped bacon. Cook on low, covered for 6-8 hours, or until liquid is syrupy.
    7. Transfer the cooked jam to a food processor and pulse a few times to chop it up a bit. Transfer to prepared jam jars and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

    Bacon Salt
    Yields: One 4-ounce jam jar
    • 5 slices thick-cut bacon
    • ¼ cup sea salt
    1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil (for easier clean-up) and rest a wire rack on top. Lay the bacon on top of the wire rack, making sure none of the pieces overlap. Bake until extra crispy, about 20-25 minutes.
    2. Transfer the crispy bacon and sea salt to a food processor or blender and pulse until the bacon is finely chopped and evenly distributed throughout the salt.
    3. Transfer the bacon salt to a 4-ounce jam jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

    Bacon Candy
    Yields: One 4-ounce jam jar
    • 5 slices thick-cut bacon
    • About a cup of brown sugar (dark or light will work just fine)
    1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil (for easier clean-up) and rest a wire rack on top.
    2. Spread the brown sugar out on a plate and press each strip of bacon into the sugar to thoroughly coat each side.
    3. Place each sugared strip of bacon on the wire rack, making sure they aren’t touching one another. Sprinkle any remaining brown sugar on top of the bacon slices on the rack.
    4. Bake until crispy, about 15-20 minutes.
    5. Coarsely chop and transfer to a 4-ounce jam jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month...but let's get real for a second, you're going to eat this in one sitting.

    DIY Gifts, Post #1

         If like everyone else I know, your holiday budget is looking a little lackluster, may I suggest homemade gifts this holiday season? Here's the first of a number of shares I'll post, as now is the time you're going to want to start making gifts. (Really, if you're smarter than me, you've already begun.)

    First up: Homemade Herb and Spice Glycerin Soaps from Hello Natural (http://hellonatural.co/diy-herb-spice-homemade-glycerin-soap/ )

    DIY: Herb + Spice Homemade Glycerin Soap for the Holidays

    My favorite gifts to receive are those made by hand, and they are also my favorite to give to others. Pretty homemade soap is the perfect little gift to give to a friend, co-worker or anyone, really. They look stunning in a soap dish by the side of the bathroom sink or stored in a decorative jar on a shelf.
    Holiday Homemade Soap | HelloNatural.co If you’ve ever wanted to try homemade glycerin soap, take note! It’s easier than you ever imagined it could be.

    Holiday Homemade Soap | HelloNatural.co Herb + Spice Homemade Glycerin Soap

     Supplies needed

    • Block of glycerin soap base, available at most craft stores
    • Essential oils
    • Dried flowers, herbs, spices, and leaves
    • Soap molds – small cups or trays in various sizes (silicone works best)
    I used some dried hibiscus and rose petals (mostly because I wanted a pink/red color), green tea, dried rosemary, dried eucalyptus, dried juniper berries and dried lemon peel. (Note: some dried flowers will change color. The hibiscus turns blue!)
    Chop the glycerin into cubes for easier melting.
    Melt the soap base. This can be done using a double boiler, a small pan or a glass measuring cup. (I like the measuring cup because it’s easier to pour.) Melt over medium-low heat or on 50% power in the microwave. Be careful – it will be very hot! Remove the measuring cup from the microwave when the soap is almost melted and stir it gently. Add the essential oils to the base. Use about 5-10 drops per ounce of soap. Stir slowly to prevent bubble formation. (There will still probably be a few bubbles.)
    Holiday Homemade Soap | HelloNatural.co
    Arrange the desired petals, herbs, and leaves in the molds. Carefully fill the molds with the melted soap base. Let them sit for about an hour to solidify. Then pop them out and package them or store in a jar. Super easy!
    Holiday Homemade Soap | HelloNatural.co
    Holiday Glycerin Soap
    • Dried flowers and/or leaves, such as rosemary, eucalyptus, hibiscus, juniper berries, dried citrus peels
    • Solid glycerin soap base (available at craft stores)
    • Essential oils - eucalyptus, lemon, rosemary, orange, etc.
    • Molds - cups or trays in various sizes (silicone works best)
    1. Cut the glycerin soap into pieces. Melt according to package directions.
    2. Carefully and slowly add the essential oils, about 5 drops per ounce of soap used. Stir gently and slowly to prevent bubbles from forming. Gently rap the jar or container on the countertop to release any larger trapped air bubbles.
    3. Place the dried flowers or herbs into the mold and carefully fill each one with the melted soap base.
    4. Let cool completely, about 1 hour. Pop out of the molds and store in an airtight container or package to give as a gift.

    Read more at http://hellonatural.co/diy-herb-spice-homemade-glycerin-soap/#Rr2QmjgcHfGWoehW.99

    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    A little poem for my Gramma....

    As I've been working on a nonfiction book I've named for her, my much-missed grandmother has been on my mind quite a bit lately. While taking a break from writing and editing, I made a mug of tea (how apropos) and read some poetry from a new treasure picked up from my library's semi-annual book sale. Here, Autumn Leaves by Janie Screven Heyward found in The Home Book of Modern Verse:

                                                         Autumn Leaves

                                           The dear old ladies whose cheeks are pink
                                            In spite of the years of Winter's chill,
                                             Are like the Autumn leaves, I think,
                                              A little crumpled, but lovely still.

    The Family Cooks, review #1

         As promised, a review of one of the recipes from Laurie David's The Family Cooks. Tonight's dinner was her Saucy Eggs: eggs poached in tomato sauce. Not bad, all things considered. Both teenagers liked it enough to clear their plates and ask for the recipe in their cookbooks, and my husband gave it two thumbs up. I don't think it needed quite four cups of tomato sauce, and when I make it again I'll probably add some veggies like zucchini and mushrooms to the sauce before dropping the eggs in.

         Anyway, here's the recipe for those of you who might want to give it a go:

    Olive oil, for the pan
    1 medium onion, chopped
    3 cloves of garlic diced
    4 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
    6 eggs
    garlic bread
    Salt and pepper
    Shredded mozzarella cheese

    1. Heat up a  medium skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle in enough oil to cover the bottom; once the oil is hot, add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Carefully, but quickly, pour in the tomato sauce (it will splatter).
    2. Once the tomato sauce is bubbling, crack an egg into a teacup , then slip it into the sauce. Do the same with the rest of the eggs, leaving a little space between each egg.
    3. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 5 minutes for soft eggs or a minute longer if you prefer hard-cooked eggs (I cooked ours about 7 minutes).
    4. Spoon the eggs and sauce onto slices of garlic bread. Add salt and pepper if needed, and top with mozzarella. Mmm.

    Eggs in marinara

    101 Fall Freezer Meals from Once a Month Meals

    101 Fall Freezer Meals | Once A Month Meals | Freezer Cooking | OAMC  from Once a Month Meals!

    I've only shown 30 here, because the other 71 are lunches, side dishes, breakfasts and desserts. I've included the link: http://onceamonthmeals.com/101-fall-freezer-meals/ so you can go check out the rest of the posts, and maybe follow the links for 101 Spring Freezer Meals or 101 Summer Freezer Meals!

    1. Paprika Chicken & Rice Bake**
    2. Slow Cooker Carnitas +
    3. Pork & Apples (GFDF) **
    4. Apple Pie Pork Chops + **
    5. Vegan Spinach Meatballs
    6. Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Cream Sauce
    7. Pumpkin Black Bean Tamale Bake**
    8. Butternut Squash Lasagna**
    9. Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash**
    10. Beef and Butternut Squash Stew (GFDF)** +
    11. Chicken, Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash ** +
    12. Thai Curry with Beef Brisket** +
    13. Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers **
    14. Sweet Potato Chicken Casserole (GFDF)**

    15. Slow Cooker Rosemary Pot Roast
      Sweet Potato and Ham Burgers**
    16. Sweet Potato Chili** +
    17. Mexican Pork and Sweet Potato Stew** +
    18. Cranberry Chicken** +
    19. Vegan Pistachio-Cranberry “Chicken”**
    20. Rosemary Pot Roast** +
    21. Shepherd’s Pie
    22. Hearty Beef Stew** +
    23. Buffalo Chicken Shepherd’s Pie
    24. OAMM Favorite Pot Roast** +
    25. Slow Cooker Stuffed Acorn Squash** +
    26. Slow Cooker Curried Coconut Chicken Soup** +
    27. Crockpot Mongolian Beef** +
    28. Crockpot BBQ Meatballs** +
    29. Italian Sausage Risotto
    30. Chicken Stuffing Bake