Minimizing Christmas Tree Allergies

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10+ Tips for Minimizing Christmas Tree AllergiesThe past few years around Christmastime, I’ve been researching Christmas tree allergies.  I have not-so-fond memories of, as a youth, getting sick around exams right before Christmas.  The timing was always impeccable.  And retrospectively, I wonder if it was due to the arrival of our Christmas tree.  My dad would spend a week decorating it (read about how we decorated our tree this year)… and I would spend at least a week being sick.

Apparently, there’s even a term for this. Christmas Tree Syndrome.  Here are a few articles I found on the matter of Christmas tree allergies:

To summarize, when you bring a live tree inside, it typically harbors tons of mold spores.  Along with the tree’s own pollen, there is usually dust and other organic matter on the tree as well.

So, allergy sufferers, be forewarned.

But it’s not like artificial trees are all that much better… they still harbor dust and whatever else is hanging out in your storage area.  And artificial Christmas trees lack the charisma of real Christmas trees.

We had an artificial tree for a year or two, when we were first married.  It wasn’t our cup of tea.  We got rid of it, and have cut down real trees for Christmas ever since.  So, what can be done to minimize Christmas tree allergies?

Well, in my research, I discovered a number of suggestions in forums.  These ideas went the full range:

  • Get a Leyland Cypress (they’re sterile, so produce no pollen)
  • Test exposure to different tree species to see if any are less problematic
  • Wash the tree down with a garden hose (problematic here in Michigan)
  • Wash the tree with a diluted bleach solution
  • Remove loose debris from the tree with a leaf blower
  • Use bursts of air from an air compressor to remove debris
  • Have the tree farm run your tree through a tree shaker
  • Shake the tree yourself by hand
  • Run an air purifier
  • Leave the tree up for only a short time (under a week)

Our Plan to Minimize Christmas Tree Allergies

So, with all that advice, what did we ultimately do to (hopefully) minimize Christmas tree allergies in our house this year?

We did the following:

  • Bought a freshly cut tree (we did the cutting ourselves)
  • Had the tree farm shake the tree to remove loose debris, dust and spores.
  • Rinsed tree off in garage, drenched it with two batches of my tree allergy prevention recipe (1 gal. water, 1 c. vinegar, 4 drops eucalyptus oil essential oil #afflink).
  • Left tree in garage to dry with fan blowing on it overnight.
  • Brought out our air purifier, which will be on continually (we have an older model of this Oreck Professional Air Purifier #afflink).
  • Decided to diffuse essential oils once daily (4 drops Thieves essential oil, 3 drops Eucalyptus essential oil #afflinks)

We also selected a different type of tree than our usual.  After talking with the nice folks at Westman’s Tree Farm (just north of Dexter), we decided to forgo the usual blue spruce and get something different (I think it was a Douglass spruce?).

UPDATE: Christmas came and went… we had the tree up for about two weeks, with nary a sign of Christmas tree syndrome!  One thing we did do, in addition to my action plan items listed above, was to air out the house a couple times (including after we removed the tree from the house).  Yes, it was cold to open all the windows, but letting the fresh air in was worth it.

 What about you? Do you have any tips to add to the list?  Share in the comments section!

Making a Popcorn Garland – 5 eco-friendly tree trimming ideas

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Making a Popcorn Garland: 5 eco-friendly tree trimming ideasWhen it comes to decorating our Christmas tree, I’m all for making it simple and easy these days. I grew up with a show-stopping, light laden tree, trimmed to all get out. Sometimes it would take my dad a week to put all the lights on — when finished, every single branch would be individually wrapped in strands of Christmas tree lights. And the ornaments would follow suit. Sometimes the tree was almost blinding! Very pretty, but a lot of work.

So for our own tree, we’ve gravitated towards simplicity. Each year, we’ve done fewer and fewer strands of lights, until this year we found the perfect number – two. Two strands of lights… no double digits. No hours spent working with lights. Just a simple spiral around the interior of the tree’s branches. Add a home-strung popcorn garland, and then it was time for the ornaments. We went simple on the ornaments, putting up less than one of our two boxes. Toby was so excited to help hang ornaments this year; I had a box of non-breakable ornaments for him to work from while we hung the breakable ones higher up. He was thrilled. Our tree may be a little unevenly laden with decorations, but that’s part of its charm.

I’ll talk about my five eco-friendly tree trimming tips in a minute, but first let me share our popcorn garland experience. As we did when making popcorn bars, we used the Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper #afflink — but didn’t add any butter, of course. No one wants a greasy popcorn garland.  The popcorn was made, then spread on cookie sheets to cool.  We then got out some lengths of thread and needles… and started stringing popcorn.

Initially, I’d planned to do the traditional cranberry popcorn garland for outdoors, but then I thought, why not string the popcorn only, and put it on the Christmas tree?  We’ll still put the garland outdoors, after Christmas day has come and gone… when the tree goes outside.  So the birds will still be getting a feast.  But this way we can enjoy the results of our hard work too.

Toby was very diligent about doing this project, even though it was probably a little “old” for him.  He poked his finger with the needle a few times, but not enough to draw blood.  He threaded most of a 3 foot strand himself, while I made a 15 foot strand with Steven’s help.  Note to the wise — you can make a few shorter strands, line them up on the tree, and it will look like one continuous popcorn garland.  No need to make extra work by dealing with an extra-long tangled thread.

Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.

Now that you’ve seen our project… I’ll share the finished tree pictures with you.  But first, those 5 eco-friendly tree trimming tips.

  1. Make a popcorn garland to trim the tree.
  2. Reuse old ornaments.
  3. Cut down on the number of light strands.
  4. Get an on/off switch for your tree lights so you can save energy more easily. They even have switches that look like ornaments #afflink
  5. Let your tree do double duty by putting it out in the backyard for the wildlife after Christmas

I know these aren’t mind blowing tips, but they are pretty simple — and easy to do.  And the easier something is, the more likely you can incorporate it into your routine.

And now for a sampling of our Christmas decorations. Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.


What about you?  How do you trim your tree?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

365 Days of Light Play Challenge for 2015

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365 Day Light Play Challenge - BPhotoArt.comWhen I was invited to co-host the 2015 365 Day Light Play Challenge, I was really excited. As you know, photography is the capture of light. Without light, there would be no photographs. My manipulation of light is what makes an image unique.

And this 365 Day challenge is just that. Manipulation and experimentation with light through play. While I know 2015 is a ways off still, I’m excited about being able to start documenting light play through photographs (probably on Instagram).  And if you’re reading this and thinking, “wow, a photo a day, that is intense!” Don’t worry.  This challenge isn’t a by the book kind of thing.  It’s more about committing to a year of light play — if you do it several times a week instead of daily, no big deal.  Or, if you just want to follow along and see what everyone is doing for the light play challenge, you can do that too.

To participate, just share your photos with these hashtags: #LightPlayChallenge or #ULTG (Ultimate Light Table Guide).

But, what exactly counts as light play?  Well, if you can relate it to light, I bet it counts.  Light play can be:

  • Light table / Light box play
  • Overhead Projector play
  • Glow in the dark play
  • Black Light Play
  • Natural Light Play
  • Light and Mirror Play

As I mentioned before, feel free to participate as you are able, or just observe from the sidelines – there is no wrong way to do this light play challenge.You can start early, or join in the fun after January 1st.

What about the photos?  There are no requirements.. They do not have to be complex or difficult. Just a snapshot of anything you and your kids are doing that pertains to light play somehow; the photo can be new or old…. you get the idea?  Anything goes!  Plus, in December 2015 there will be a contest to end the challenge and bring in 2016.  How exciting is that?

Be sure to visit my fabulous co-hosts:

If you have a blog, you can grab the button!

365 Day Light Play Challenge


Join the board to post your light play photos. Email to be added to the board. No blog necessary, just a Pinterest account and your daily light play challenge photos!  Old or new light play photos welcome in this challenge!

There are hundreds of examples on the board linked below.

Follow Kristen (Caution! Twins at Play)’s board Light Tables, Light Boxes, Light Panels & Light Play on Pinterest.

Custom Picture Puzzle

posted in: Notes | 17

Custom Picture Puzzle - BPhotoArt.comaMy son is a puzzle fiend.  He delights in putting together puzzles, and has gotten pretty good at it.  We’ve long since moved on from the basic wooden puzzles… and regularly tackle puzzles with 20+ pieces.

But this custom picture puzzle has become one of his new favorites.  And that’s because the subjects of the puzzle are near and dear to us.  Let’s just say, when I got the opportunity to review a custom picture puzzle, I was pretty sure it would go over well.

After ordering the puzzle, we had to wait for it to arrive by mail.  The day it came, I handed it to Toby, who had an afternoon playdate with one of his grandmas.  He was so excited when he saw the picture of him with his daddy and brother on the box lid.  I opened the box and explained it was a puzzle of them — and Toby was rearing to go.

Toby delightedly chattered about finding “Daddy’s eye” …”Zack’s face”… and the like.  As the puzzle pieces were put into place, he was visibly beaming from ear to ear.

I will say, after ordering this, I was slightly concerned that some of the pieces might be difficult, given the restricted color scheme of the picture I chose to turn into the puzzle.  But, my toddler was not to be underestimated, and there were no problems whatsoever.

Quality-wise, the custom picture puzzle was nice.  We received the cardboard version, but there was an option to upgrade to a wooden puzzle too.  When ordering, you can alter the puzzle difficulty level by determining how many pieces it should be.  I should note that the photo on the front was not as true to color, photographically speaking, as the image on the puzzle pieces themselves.

To learn more, visit Piczzle Picture Puzzle (Piczzle on Facebook or Piczzle on YouTube).

Making Hot Cocoa – The Polar Express

posted in: Notes | 8

Making Hot Cocoa: A Book-Based Activity (The Polar Express)As I got out our box of Christmas books, seeing The Polar Express #afflink reminded me of the fun times I had as a child making hot cocoa.  And then, I realized that Toby has never made hot cocoa.  Sure, we’ve made warm milk on the stove, and stirred in cinnamon, but that’s not quite the same.  So, for this Christmas Read and Play activity, I decided that our book-based activity would be making hot cocoa.  And reading The Polar Express while drinking it, of course!

So, I gathered our supplies… we filled up the electric tea kettle #afflink (I love this thing!) with water and turned it on.  As the water heated, we got out tea cups, spoons, and hot cocoa powder.  Then finally, I got our our milk (if you store things in mason jars, these pour spout lids #afflink are awesome).

As he always does in the kitchen, Toby had fun scooping, dumping, and stirring the hot cocoa.  I even let him assist with pouring the piping hot water from the kettle into the tea cups (very closely supervised, of course).  Once the hot water and the cocoa were in the cup, Toby stirred vigorously and gleefully.  Once all the powder had been incorporated, I then had him help me pour in some milk to cool it down.  As a side note, next time we do this I may heat the milk on the stove… hot cocoa always tastes richer when made with milk as a base.

Still warm, but now not too hot, Toby’s hot cocoa was ready for tasting.  He had a few sips, and decided it would taste better with raisins in it.  Go figure.  My son loves to experiment in the kitchen, just like his Daddy.

Once the raisins were added, we curled up by the fire with our hot cocoa and our stack of Christmas books.  What fun!



More than 20 bloggers have teamed up to participate in a Christmas read and play blog hop, with holiday-themed activities and crafts based on our favorite Christmas picture books. (#afflinks below)

12+ Recipe Ideas For Thanksgiving Leftovers

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12+ Recipe Ideas For Thanksgiving LeftoversNow that Thanksgiving has come and gone, we’re always left with the inevitable question of what to do with all those leftovers.  Assuming your have leftovers, that is.  Our family always errs on the side of having too much food.  This year, we had Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws’ house.  And it included a fantastic spread: two turkeys (1 in the oven, 1 smoked), corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy (with and without giblets), rolls, raw vegetables (leftover from earlier in the day), and more.  Despite having just shy of 20 people to share in the feasting, we did indeed have leftovers.

So, what to do with the leftovers?  I’ll share with you my plans, and then make sure to keep reading for more ideas on repurposing those leftovers.

My plan of action for our leftovers for this year?  First of all, don’t throw away those bones!  I always like to keep the bones for making broth or stock.  These actually went in my freezer, as I already had enough broth in my refrigerator.  We also were sent home with leftover turkey — I think we’ll be making stew, maybe some turkey quesadillas  or nachos with turkey.  Here’s my stew recipe.

Thanksgiving Leftover Soup Recipe:

  • 2 c. turkey meat, shredded or cubed
  • 2 c. cooked vegetables (corn, green beans)
  • 1 c. uncooked rice
  • 2 qt. broth (approx.)
  • salt, pepper, to taste

Combine all in a crockpot, adding enough broth to cover all ingredients.  Cook on low for 6 hr or on high for 3 hr, until rice is cooked through.

More ways to use up Thanksgiving leftovers:

And here are some more great ideas for all those Thanksgiving leftovers — you definitely don’t want them to go to waste!

Noodle Entree

We mix about 2 cups of leftover turkey with cream of mushroom soup and soy sauce for a nice main dish to eat over egg noodles. It takes about 10 minutes to put together.

– Ticia, Adventures in Mommydom

Open-Faced Sandwich

We eat open-faced sandwiches for the week. Such a wonderfully indulgent way to enjoy and you can mix ALL of the thanksgiving ingredients together.

– Jenny, The Jenny Evolution


I always have a ton of leftover turkey …I came up with this yummy (and super easy) way to make them into little “pockets” that everyone enjoyed! [turkey pocket recipe]

– Justine, Temecula Qponer


I’m originally from Minnesota and we always make ham and wild rice soup the next day with the leftover ham.

– Amanda, The Educators’ Spin on It

Shepherd’s Pie

I make a few turkey casseroles, maybe a turkey shepherds pie and sandwiches.

– Amy, Umbrella Tree Cafe

Freeze for Later

Leftovers are one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving! If we have an abundance (I’ve been known to overcook), then I will freeze the turkey in quart freezer bags to use in recipes after we’ve gotten over being “over” turkey. If we just have a “normal” amount, they will be lunch or dinner for the next few nights, just as they are.

– Vicki, Simply Vicki


I love this white turkey chili. It is simple (can be adjusted to be made in a crockpot) and is quite delicious.

– Jenni, The Good Long Road


Once we’ve eaten all the turkey I put the bones in the crockpot and cook all day with water and spices to make turkey stock! I freeze it and we can have homemade turkey soup all winter long.

– Laura, Sunny Day Family

Alphabet Soup

Rich turkey stock turned into turkey alphabet soup!

– Jennifer, A glimpse of our life


We like to find ways to use the leftovers for breakfast, lunch and dinner… add leftover ham to a breakfast omelet, make turkey cranberry sandwiches for lunch… for dinner [make] Leftover Turkey Casserole.

– Courtney, The Chirping Moms

We make cheesy bruschetta turkey casserole & crispy ranch potatoes.

– Krystal, My Life of Travels and Adventures

Pot Pie

We use leftovers to make soup and turkey pot pie!

– Beth, 123 Homeschool 4 Me

What about you? do you have any favorite ways to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers?

Making a Photo Thankfulness Tree

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Make a Photo Thankfulness Tree for Thanksgiving - BPhotoArt.comTo help us get in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I came up with the idea to make a Thanksgiving tree decoration with photos. We are calling it our Photo Thankfulness Tree.

Making a thankfulness tree can be as simple as elaborate as you like. We went the simpler route… I pulled out some craft supplies (orange paper, a brown paper bag, tape, scissors, and a glue stick). After cutting the brown paper bag into strips, we taped it onto the window, bending and folding the straight strips to create knotty branches. While we were doing this, my printer was putting family snapshots and photos onto paper for us to cut out. Once printed, we cut out the faces in free form circular shapee. I then traced a few leaves onto a piece of paper for Toby to practice his scissor skills while I cut out the rest of the leaves free handed.

Toby picked out the photo faces one at a time, gluing each to its own leaf. We talked about that family member while their leaf was being made. As we worked, I also asked Toby what he was thankful for. His responses were recorded on the leaves that were leftover. Have kids collage a Thanksgiving tree by cutting out faces of family and friends they are thankful for. Include pets, toys, and other “favorites” that are cause for thanks. Just a simple: “what are you thankful for?” prompted all sorts of interesting conversation for us while making this photo thankfulness tree.

When it came time to tape the leaves onto the tree, Toby intially was reluctant. In his words, “the leaves fall off the trees onto the ground.” So we compromised with several fallen leaves on the ground, and then he proceeded to post the rest on the branches as I requested.

We finished our tree just as my husband was walking in the door; Toby was really excited to show Daddy everyone and everything he said he was thankful for.

Next time we do this, I’ll incorporate it into our month of gratitude for November. How, exactly? I think I would make and set aside an additional set of 27 leaves (or however many days until Thanksgiving), and each day, I would have the kids add another thing they are thankful for. Note to self – remember to plan ahead for that next year.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Dip

posted in: Notes | 0

Peanut Butter + Jelly Dip Recipe - BPhotoArt.comThe other day, Toby was really interested in having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for snack.  Yes, for snack.  A quick look in our breadbox nixed that plan — we had no bread.  So, I offered peanut butter and apple slices instead.  Well, as you know, toddlers can be quite persistent, so we ended up compromising with peanut butter and jelly on apple slices.

To make it easier to eat, I put the peanut butter in a little bowl, followed by some homemade apple butter.  Toby proceeded to stir the two until well combined.  He then happily dipped his apple slices into the peanut butter jelly dip, thoroughly pleased with our concoction.

Here’s the recipe we ended up with.  Feel free to swap out the peanut butter for another nut butter, or even sunflower seed butter, if you have allergy concerns.


  • 2 T. peanut butter
  • 2 T. homemade apple butter (or jelly)


  • Combine peanut butter and apple butter in bowl; mix until well combined.
  • Enjoy with apple slices, crackers, or whatever your toddler wants to experiment with so far as pairings go.

Initially, I wasn’t really sure that that peanut butter and jelly dip would be a hit, but it was well received.  Here’s a picture of my happy food tester with an apple wedge and his peanut butter jelly dip:

Peanut Butter + Jelly Dip Recipe -

Has your child invented any recipes?  I’d love to hear what wild and crazy concoctions are appealing to other kids.  I know mine has been putting mustard on everything from rice to veggies lately.

Why You Should Vote Today

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Why You Should Vote Today - BPhotoArt.comVoting is a privilege.  If you remember your history lessons at all, you’ll know the right to vote was a big deal.  At one time, only white males holding property were allowed to vote.  Over the years, this has changed, thanks to pressure from our citizens.  To name a few:

  • Fifteenth Amendment – racial minorities
  • Nineteenth Amendment – women
  • Twenty-Sixth Amendment – adults 18-21

So many people throughout the world, throughout history, have been DENIED the opportunity to have their voice heard.  You may think that your vote doesn’t count, or your vote doesn’t make a difference.  But it does.  You have the right to vote, to be a part of selecting the officials to preside over you.

I have a friend who has always said something to the effect of: “Don’t complain about the way the country is being run if you don’t bother to vote.”  And it’s true.  If you care about what’s being done right or wrong by our government, you should care enough to go to the polls and vote.

To that I asked some bloggers: “Why do you vote? Why you take the time out of your busy lives as parents to go to the polls and vote?” Here is what they said:


Women before me suffered to pave the way for my right to vote. Imagine if we left those kinds of decisions entirely up to men!”

– Menucha at Moms and Crafters


I vote because I want my opinion to count. I also believe that it is my civic duty and want to show my children how important it is to live in a democratic society.”

– Amanda Boyarshinov at The Educators’ Spin On It


I think that it’s an incredible privilege to live in a democratic country like Canada. I took my son with me when the last federal election was held and talked to him about how important it is to vote for who we think will represent us best. Although sometimes the results can be disheartening, it’s our duty to keep trying to make a positive change and we have no right to complain about our governments if we’re not participating at the most basic level.”

– Sue at One Time Through


I love my country.  I love the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I believe in the tradition and honor of having the vote.  We are blessed to live in a democratic society.  Women before me could not vote.  I can and I will.”

– Amy at Wildflower Ramblings


“I was born and raised in the former Soviet Union, when voting was a meaningless circus, I appreciate the idea that my vote actually counts, especially while voting on local issues.”

– Natalie at Planet Smarty Pants

And I found two other quotes on the web to share with you:

People didn’t simply die for the right to vote. They died for the right to choose who they thought would be best to support their views, aims and interests, both locally and nationally. – Emily Wilson

Voting is a tremendous gift. Young people just like you in other countries actually fight and even die for this right; a right that so many youth in democratic nations take for granted. You should vote because you can, if you don’t you may one day wake up in a country where you can’t.” – Mike Hardcastle, Top 5 Reasons Youth Should Vote

So please, do your civic duty and go to the polls today.  Take your kids with you, teach them about the importance of being able to vote, and how you take that responsibility seriously.  Let’s raise up a generation of conscientious voters!

Voting at Dutch elections 1918
“Voting at Dutch elections 1918” By Cornelis Johan Hofker (1886-1936) [2] ([1]) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Plan Ahead: Family Photos for Holiday Greeting Cards

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Growing up, my mother always sent out a Christmas letter — complete with family photo.  We would contribute to this family tradition by telling my mom what we wanted to share in the letter.  Not all of our input made the cut, but it was definitely a personalized yearly greeting that our family and friends enjoyed receiving.

Plan Ahead for the Holidays... Tips to Get a Jump Start on Your Family Photo Greeting Cards - Betsy's PhotographyWhen Steven and I got married, I knew this was something I wanted to turn into a tradition for us as well.  So, every year since we’ve been married, I’ve created a holiday greeting card or letter.  The year, I stuck with the format from my childhood: a letter on 8.5″x11″ paper, detailing all the new events of the year, and a separate photograph greeting. Do you remember those long envelope-sized photos?  They had the greeting printed on the right quarter of the photograph. And then I discovered the thrill of designing a custom holiday greeting card.  A greeting card can incorporate photos and text, which streamlined the assembly process.

So, that’s what we do to this day.  And I offer custom greeting card design services to the families I photograph too.  There’s something nice about having someone else do the grunt work for you — just saying “these are the photos I like, and here is what I want it to say.”  A far cry from the days of my childhood, when we would all spend hours composing the text, proofreading, and re-wording to fit it onto a single page… then having to assemble all the components to fit in the envelope.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m writing about this so early, right?  I like to let the various seasons be celebrated in their time, and I’m not one to jump the gun on decorating.

But, with family photos being included in the holiday greeting cards, you have to plan ahead.  In fact, sometimes families will take their holiday picture in the summer, during a family vacation.  This year, my goal is to capture the fall colors in our family picture. I’ve been watching the weather, the leaves, making sure I don’t miss that narrow window of opportunity, when the leaves are golden but still mostly on the trees.

Now, since I promised you some tips for getting a jump start on your family photo greeting cards, here they are:

Tiny Prints Holiday Cards1 . Plan your family photo in the summer or fall.

There is no reason to be stressed out and trying to get a last minute snapshot of the family for your greeting card.  If you have kids, your stress may be reflected in their willingness to cooperate for the photos.  And you probably don’t want a family portrait with unhappy faces, right?

2. Hire a pro; outsource your picture-taking.

Let’s face it, sometimes it is tough to get your own kids to smile for the camera.  A non-parent can often elicit better smiles and expect better behavior.  I know my mom gave up trying to teach me flute; I just wouldn’t listen to my teacher because she was also my mom (sorry mom!).

3. Ask everyone about their highlights of the year.

In our greeting card, everyone gets a little blurb, one or two lines about what’s going on in their life.  As my kids get older, I’ll begin asking them what they want to share — and an “I don’t care” answer means mom gets free reign (kind of)!

4. Have a second set of eyes check your work.

I can’t tell you how many last minute typos we’ve caught over the years, just by having another person look through the text of a card.  One year, a relative discovered their card had a typo too late — and ended up gluing a strip of paper with the correctly spelled word to every card.  Not a fun task!

5. Order your cards early – before the holiday rush.

While there’s no set date you need to get your cards, I like to finish mine by the end of November, so I can get it ordered at the beginning of December.  That way, I can focus on holiday parties, planning, and the like instead of rushing to get our greeting cards out.  There has been a time or two where we got caught with too many holiday “to-do” items — and the greeting card went out as a “New Year” card instead of a Christmas one.

6. Keep in touch with contact information.

It can be hard to keep peoples’ contact information straight, with families frequently relocating or changing email addresses.  I like to include our mailing address, email addresses, and phone numbers in the card — that way our friends and family can update their contact book with any changes.  Plus, you can share your blog or facebook profil if there’s more you want to share than will fit in a letter or card.

7. Use an online service.

Sometimes it’s tough to get a jump start on things like this — it’s just easier to deal with the immediate needs, particularly if you have a lot on your plate.  Maybe your plans for a family portrait (professionally done) fall through, or you need to pull together a quick last-minute card on the fly.  Either way, you can use a service like Tiny Prints #afflink.

Hopefully these tips have been helpful for you, and perhaps inspiring, even?  I’d love to hear about any family traditions you have for the holidays… particularly if you grew up helping with some sort of annual greeting card or letter.


Memories of Montana – Camping With Family

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I have many fond memories of Montana.  Growing up, we would take trips almost every summer to visit my aunt and cousin.  My mom, brother, and I were the frequent travelers; my dad would often stay behind due to work obligations.  We would spend several days at my aunt’s house, enjoying the outdoor hot tub and getting the RV ready.

Then, we would load up. Pack everything into the RV: food, clothes, toys, games… you name it.  We were ready for our adventure.  Buckled into the bench seats at the table, we would play cards, color, or often people watch out the rear window.  We would stop when we needed, or if stopping wasn’t an option, there was always the choice to use the facilities enroute. Food was always a few steps away, in the kitchen; although opening the refrigerator door while rattling down the road was a little hairy.

Campgrounds were our destination, sometimes KOAs, sometimes pristine wilderness areas.  Once, we parked in a campground during the pitch black of night.  We’d been on the road all night, and didn’t even hook up when we pulled in for the night. That morning, when we woke, we found ourselves in the charred remains of a forest.  My mother has vivid memories of driving the RV around hairpin curves, steep drop-offs.

55 mph was our speed limit (if that).  But didn’t matter. We loved every minute of our travels.  We visited the “must-see” places, Yellowstone, Glacier, and the like.  We stopped at indiscriminate sites too.  Colored pencils let us document our trip in drawing pads, or stones from one of the rivers that we gathered to paint.

We rafted down rivers, once being dropped off by the adults, to meet at the pick-up point a mile or two down the river.  We had campfires, watched wildlife, and enjoyed late nights whispering under the covers in the “loft” bed above the cab.  Self-sufficiency was ours, we could go wherever, whenever.  As long as we monitored the gray and black water tanks.

We stayed in bear country. We saw bears. Black bear cubs climbing over fences, many yards away.  Grizzly bears, brown bears.  Bears that came up to our RV while we were on the road — my cousin’s bicycle handle had the teeth marks to prove it.

We always came back from Montana with many fond memories, eager to return again.  We would always bemoan the fact our families lived so far apart.

But even today, we still have the memories.

Family Trip to Montana

Finding Our New Normal

posted in: Notes | 0

There’s something about life.  It is ever changing.  Just when you think you’ve got things under control, and are finally getting into a routine…

…things change.

The only certainty is change, right?  No matter how much we try to plan our days, to create a routine and maintain order… the inevitable happens.  Someone gets sick, sleeping schedules change, someone has a rough day.

Life is anything but routine.

Yet we try to create patterns, make routines, practice habits that will make life easier.

And sometimes those things work.

Since my younger son was born, we have been working on creating a new normal.  Helping my older son to deal with his emotions on those days when he “needs mommy time” …but baby’s basic needs have to be met.

I assisted at Toby’s preschool the other day.  While comforting a boy who didn’t want his  mom to leave, I noticed my son’s demeanor change from cheerful to concerned, and perhaps jealous.  I averted disaster by asking him to help find a toy to cheer the sad boy up.  But several other times that morning, I saw an angry frown on my normally happy son’s face.

Later I asked him about it.

He didn’t want to share his mommy.  He needed me.  He didn’t want others to need me.

And I get that.  In a world where you’ve gone from being only child to older brother, it’s important to know you can still have mom’s attention, that you still are deserving of mommy hugs.

Since my younger son was awake and needing mommy when we got home, the older had to settle for shared mommy time.  The three of us settled into our comfy reclining chair, and I read book after book to my boys.  Ultimately the three of us all fell asleep together.

The new normal isn’t bad, by any means.  Most days, Toby loves being a big brother.  He is a phenomenal helper, bringing diapers, wipes, pacifier for Zack, and snacks, drinks, or even a blanket to me when I need.  He has a giving spirit, he excels at helping others.

Our new normal isn’t perfect, but we are getting into a routine.  A routine that will be ever-changing as both boys continue to grow and develop.

Click on any image below to enter gallery view mode

Studio Senior Portrait :: John

posted in: Notes | 0

Sometimes a simple studio session can be the perfect choice. For John’s senior portrait session, we stayed in the studio and kept the background elements simple.

With senior sessions like these, the focus is on personality and facial expressions. There’s nothing to detract or distract from the most important part of the image.

Grandparents who are used to traditional yearbook photos are usually very pleased to receive portraits like this; but the timelessness of these images make them work when displayed in more contemporary homes too.


My First Car (Grandma’s Car) – Snapshot Story

posted in: Notes | 2

Snapshots tell so many stories, they take us back to a particular time and place. This snapshot is of me, my brother, and his friend as we were about to leave for school one day. In my car — my first car, my grandma’s car.

My First Car - Grandma's Car -

My First Car

My first car was nothing spectacular, but it was special to me. My grandmother had gotten it years before. I remembered riding in it when younger, and now I was driving it. A Chrysler LeBaron, it was the epitome of luxury, with velvety blue seats and upholstery inside of its white exterior. It was small, but a perfect fit. I drove that car for several years, until it was time to take a car to college and my parents decided it wasn’t “young” enough to handle the long distance driving. A fine car for around town — but not for across state.

My grandfather “sold” me the car for $1 after my grandmother had passed away. He had no use for it, and wanted it to stay in the family to be used. And that it was. Used and cared for. I was and still am grateful for that gift-that-was-not-technically-a-gift.

Grandma’s Car

A bittersweet acquisition,
my grandma’s car
came to me through loss.
It was luxurious and fine,
my own chariot of the road.

My grandma’s car, now mine,
gave me freedom and responsibility.
Freedom to manage my own schedule
but with the expectation to
get my younger brother
safely to and from school.

We drove through town most days,
the highway being an unpredictable
route to get to school on time.
Rush hour traffic dominated
the roads during our daily drives.

In the early morning light one day,
my mother documented our departure.
We were ready to leave, and
reluctantly waited while she
took a snapshot of us — and my car.

Years later, the car is gone.
No longer in my possession,
I have only photographs to
remember my first car.
I no longer begrudge the delay
of a single snapshot.

Rather, I treasure this moment,
A captured memory from everyday.
The ordinary no longer,
but a piece of history.
My life history.
My grandma’s car
…now mine.

What was your first car like?

I’d love to hear memories of your first car, whether you had to save money to buy it yourself, or if a gracious family member passed an older car on to you.

What was it like? Did it drive well? Do you have a snapshot of you with your first car?

I’d love to hear your stories.

14″ Hair Donation!

posted in: Notes | 7

Well, this is the second time I’ve grown out my hair …and successfully gotten it long enough to donate! I tried numerous times throughout high school to do this as well, but my hair is just so thick it can be a pain to deal with. Honestly, I’m surprised it got this long 🙂 — but with little baby hands in the picture now, I finally decided it was time to donate my hair and get it cut off.

My most recent portrait of me with my long hair was our maternity session… since then, life’s been a little busy to get pictures with my hair down — while keeping those tiny baby fingers out of the enticing strands.

Before my haircut, I grabbed an instagram photo of myself with my lovely long hair… maybe as proof of how long it got? I loved having it long, but the practicality of long hair — that long of hair — was not there.

And then here’s my post-haircut teaser on instagram…

And since that photo elicited a number of complaints — I stayed up after the kiddos went to sleep and took a few pictures to show you. Here’s what my hair now looks like!


And then me with the ponytail of hair I’ll be donating. All 14 inches worth. Last time I did this, I donated my hair to Locks of Love, but since then I heard about a more local organization that doesn’t charge the kids for wigs at all. They’re also less stringent about hair, and are willing to accept dyed hair and gray hair too. Once I check with my mother-in-law about the name of the charity (she’s the one who found it!)… I’ll update this post with details.


Have you ever donated your hair? Or tried to grow it out with donation in mind?

Living The Dream – Life In Spain

posted in: Notes | 8
Today I’d like to welcome Orlena of Snotty Noses.  Orlena is a British pediatrician who lives in Spain with her husband and four children.  Her website helps parents recognize when their child is ill …and know what to do about it (not meant to replace your doctor’s advice, of course!).  She also blogs about their hectic and crazy Spanish life.

If you’ve ever contemplated living abroad, then you’ll love Orlena’s insight on living the dream and how her family adapted to life in Spain!

— Betsy

The Reality of Living the Dream - Life in Spain - Snotty-Noses @

Living the Dream

When I look back, I can’t pin point exactly when I decided I wanted to live abroad. I’ve always enjoyed travelling, always had that itch, that yearning to travel abroad, to seek new experiences, new smells, new sights. To taste life from different cups.

When I met my husband-to-be, he felt the same way. We shared a dream of living and working a different life. It’s not that I don’t like England, I do. I think most people there don’t really comprehend what a great country it is. For all its faults, we’re lucky to have a free health care system, free schooling and a welfare state. The problem lies more in its latitude and rather unfortunate climate.  “Perpetual winter,” I have heard it called, not unreasonably to my mind.

Deciding Where To Live

It took us a while to decide where we’d like to live. Australia would have been, relatively speaking, an easy place for me to work. But it’s a long way from family and friends. I have family in the Caribbean, a paradise destination. But that’s nearly as far and very isolated. We settled on Europe. After all, we’re all “European,” right?  We share similar cultures and our history goes back, for better or worse, a long way back.

A rather cerebral thought process led us to the Costa Brava. We both wanted Spain. I wanted Mediterranean. Not too far south that it was ludicrously hot. Pretty much as close as we could get to my mother, who lives in the southern area of France.

The only problem remaining was one of language. A double edged sword. Our children would grow up bilingual, which would be great. We would both have to learn another language, which would be fun but difficult, not to mention a barrier to working.

My by-then husband finished his PhD and started up a software business. By started up, I mean from scratch, including learning how to program computers and write software. In theory at least, we could be mobile and still earn money.

Arriving In Spain

So that was how we arrived. We spent a week in Spain looking for somewhere to rent, packed up our stuff and moved. Pretty much like that. Except my husband drove our stuff across the continent and I flew with my 2 small children. But that’s a story for another day. We arrived in one piece.

And that was it. Our new life in the sun. Now what? How were we going to integrate? Learn two new languages? They speak Catalan and Spanish here, two different languages, but similar enough to make it confusing to learn them both. What about bureaucracy? Spain is hot on bureaucracy, not even the locals like it. It’s even worse when you don’t really understand what’s going on.

We arrived in one piece to Spain - Orlena
We arrived in one piece to Spain – Orlena

Settling Into Our New Life

That was three years ago. Now we’re relatively settled. The children go to school and nursery. The oldest two speak Catalan, pretty much like a native. Although, I expect their vocabulary isn’t as good as some of their school mates.

I still feel like an outsider, but I’ve learnt to live with. The culture here is very different from the UK. I’d love to join a mother’s group and drink coffee while we watch the children play and do activities. But they just don’t exist here, not in our little town. People are very friendly and I have some friends who are happy to work beyond the language barrier. Most of my friends I met because they wanted to learn English. I guess their interest in another language makes them more forgiving.

I still find it difficult at the school gate. I’m friendly with some of the mums. Some of our children are very close friends. But, I know I’m not “one of them.”  As much as I can do small talk chat, it can be difficult to express yourself quickly and with the subtleties of your native tongue. They chat away easily, I only understand half of what they say.  Especially since, as a mark of acceptance, they now talk in Catalan to me.  They know that I’ve started to learn it; I just understand Spanish better.

There are many groups at the school gate. In fact, there aren’t that many Catalan children at the school. Spain has always had a long history with Morroco and there are lots of Morrocans. Romanians and Latin Americans make up the majority of the remaining foreigners. We’re the only British people at our school. I suspect there are others who feel like an outsider too. Perhaps we should all get badges.

Our Dream For Raising Our Children

The children don’t remember our home in the UK anymore. They know they aren’t Catalan but I don’t think it bothers them. They’re the blond, blue-eyed English boys. I think it gives them a bit of a status symbol. I sometimes worry that it will affect them, “not really belonging” to this culture. But I hope that if I keep an eye out for it, we’ll work around it. I hope that they’ll grow up reaping the benefits of two cultures. When they’re older, I hope, they’ll be able to live where they want. In this ever growing global culture, as boundaries and barriers disappear.

My dream was to bring our children up in a beautify country - Orlena
My dream was to bring our children up in a beautify country – Orlena

It was our dream that we could bring our children up in a beautiful country where we can enjoy the outdoors and teach them to enjoy the fundamentals of life. Obviously we’re always learning and adapting as parents, but we’ve achieved the first goal. Sure, there have been sacrifices — namely my career, but that’s also another story.

If something is worth having, it’s worth fighting for. And that means sacrifices. A dream that involves a fairy godmother is unrealistic. A dream where you work hard?  That’s do-able.

— Orlena

What’s Your Dream? Are You Living It?

I love how Orlena described their dream, and how they made it a reality. They are truly living the dream, and loving it.

The truth is, everyone’s dreams are different. And every dream is worth considering, no matter how far out there or how mundane it might be. Some people dream big, while other people have more subtle dreams.

What is your dream? Are you working hard to achieve it? What sacrifices have you made?

I’d love to hear your stories, your dreams, your struggles… leave a comment below!

Conquering Your Kitchen – A Kitchen Guide You’ll Love

posted in: Notes | 0

I recently had the opportunity to review a cookbook that’s right up my alley, and I wanted to share it with you!  Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink), by Annemarie Rossi, is about one mom’s journey to becoming competent in the kitchen.  With no formal training and little knowledge of how to cook healthy food, Annemarie set out to learn to cook meals from scratch that her whole family would enjoy.

Conquering Your Kitchen with Menu Plans and Easy Prep Recipes - An Interview With the Author -

Conquering Your Kitchen

The book isn’t just a cookbook, but a guide on how to get organized in the kitchen.  Annemarie explains how to meal plan, grocery shop, and make meals from real food — without a lot of complicated directions or a huge time involvement.  All of the 80 recipes in Conquering Your Kitchen require 30 minutes or less of prep work; with recipes this easy, there is no excuse not to eat healthy!

There are sections on breakfasts, snacks, dinners, desserts in Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink) — you’ll be inspired and ready to feed your family once you’ve delved into the various recipes.  I know I’ve been on a quest to cook from scratch and make healthy meals for my own family, so it was exciting for me to find some recipes that we could incorporate into our (very relaxed) meal plan.  I’m especially excited about the fact many of Annemarie’s recipes are low in sugar, or use natural, unrefined sweeteners like maple syrup or honey — things I can actually eat!  She also discusses adaptations for those with food restrictions (i.e. gluten free).

Also, make sure to check out the free printable resources — including menu plans, conversion charts, a shopping list, and more!

My Thoughts On Conquering Your Kitchen

Long, extravagantly prepared meals are lovely, and we have accomplished a number of those at our house, but that’s mostly thanks to my husband.  He has a lot of cooking experience, including restaurant training, so at least one of us is great at timing meal components to be ready simultaneously, even though it’s not me. The recipes that Annemarie shares are right up my alley, and I love the promise of 30 minutes or less to a finished meal.

I have to admit, there are a number of occasions where I’ve gotten flustered in the kitchen while cooking, and my dear husband has rushed to my side to take over and rescue whatever meal I was attempting to create on my own.  He’s even saved a gluten-free playdough experiment from failing for me.

Despite these speed bumps, my cooking skills have improved over the years.  Practice makes perfect, and if you don’t try, you won’t have a shot at ever succeeding.  Maybe that’s why this book was such an enjoyable read for me — I’m in the process of learning how to conquer my kitchen

While reading through Conquering Your Kitchen, I definitely had some “aha!” moments.  I don’t have any specific examples that come to mind, other than the kitchen organization section in general, but I definitely found some information and ideas that could be immediately incorporated into our kitchen.

Anyways, no need to bore you with an more extensive review (though I will share some more thoughts at the end of this post).  Let’s get on to the really exciting part — an interview with the author of Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink)!  I think you’ll find Annemarie to be really down-to-earth; her journey to conquer her own kitchen may sound similar to your own story.  Without further delay, here are the questions I asked, and Annemarie’s candidly refreshing answers!

An Interview With The Author, Annemarie Rossi

Tell us a little about yourself, your family, and the kind of cooking you all enjoy most (any favorite recipes?)
I live with my husband and two elementary school aged children outside Boston, Massachusetts. We’re a mainstream suburban American family. My 10-year-old son helps on occasion with the cooking, but it’s my 9-year-old daughter who really likes to get in on the action. She likes to make recipes out of her ChopChop Kids Cookbook (#afflink). Our favorite family meals include taco night and pizza. Personally, my favorite meal is a big, loaded salad. And we all love just about every type of dessert! Homemade ice cream is a treat we enjoy during the summer.

What was the inspiration behind The Untrained Housewife Series?
The Untrained Housewife was started by Angela England in response to an email that was sent across her mothers’ group email list: “Help! My mother never taught me how to cook!” Many women who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s didn’t learn basic cooking skills at home. A whole generation of intelligent, accomplished women find themselves overwhelmed by the prospect of providing homemade food to their families.

Were you what you’d consider an “untrained housewife?”
I did learn a recipe or two from my mother, but in general, I was not especially “trained” in the kitchen. I learned to cook little by little over the years.

I love the concept of empowering women to feed their families good meals. Where did you get the idea for Conquering Your Kitchen?
Angela envisioned this book long before we met, but the topic was a natural one for me. I get sad when I hear women say, “I can’t cook,” and I loved the idea of writing a book that would walk people through the logistics of how to cook good meals at home. I believe that everyone can cook. My 9-year-old makes lasagna all by herself. It’s not rocket science – it just takes time and commitment.

How did you go about changing from a packaged food household to a from-scratch food household?
We started out with the 10 Days of Real Food challenge from the website, 100 Days of Real Food. During those 10 days, we made a commitment to eat food that was either made from scratch at home or that had a very short ingredient list with ingredients that we might cook with at home. For those 10 days, we didn’t eat anything with added sugar except for natural sweeteners (honey and pure maple syrup). This 10 day experience help get me started on adjusting to a homemade food lifestyle.

Was your family enthusiastic about the home cooked meals, or did they need some convincing of your new cooking style?
My family was generally enthusiastic. They liked the idea of the 10 day challenge. There were a few instances during the 10 days when the kids encountered highly processed treats like popsicles and lemonade stands. I left it up to them to decide if they wanted the treats (I wasn’t forcing this commitment on them), and they did choose to stick with the real food commitment.

What’s your opinion on the importance of families having sit-down meals regularly together?
Sitting down as a family to eat meals together regularly is essential. My family has dinner together most nights, and we like to do a sit-down breakfast on the weekends. Family mealtime is one time of the day when distractions are set aside and we can simply spend time together.

How do you keep on top of the never-ending cycle of keeping good quality food ready for your family?
It’s impossible to keep on top of the cycle without meal planning. I plan meals one week at a time so that I never find myself without anything healthy available to eat. I also try to keep my freezer stocked with back-up meals and healthy snacks like muffins and granola bars. That way, there’s always something available even when our schedule gets interrupted.

I’m not perfect. We do go out to eat sometimes, and we do eat processed food sometimes. It’s all about doing your best and not getting stressed out about food.

Do you have any recommendations for those who are trying to conquer their kitchens — on a restricted diet?
I was diagnosed with dairy and gluten sensitivities several years ago, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It woke me up and made me more aware of what I was eating. I stopped eating dairy for 2 years, and I didn’t eat gluten either for one of those years. I became skilled at reading ingredient labels, which I hadn’t regularly done before that. I now eat small amounts of high-quality gluten and dairy, but they aren’t the focus of my diet like they used to be.

For those who are living with food restrictions, I recommend focusing on the positive. You have an awareness about what you’re eating that others don’t have.

How did you see your food budget change when switching to completely homemade foods?
My food budget didn’t actually change much when we switched our focus to homemade food. Processed food is almost always more expensive than homemade food (contrary to popular opinion), but my budget remained stable because I started buying higher quality, often organic ingredients. It’s important to look at your food priorities and decide where you want to focus your spending. Organic milk and veggies, grass-fed meat, and locally produced items often cost more than their lower-quality counterparts, so you need to decide where to focus your resources.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those considering a CSA or farm share, but are worried about the “odd” foods?
I was nervous to join a farm share at first, but now I can’t imagine how I ever lived without it. A farm share stretches people outside their comfort zones and gets them eating veggies they wouldn’t buy at the store. This imposed variety results in a healthier diet, and it facilitates meal planning. Many farms allow you to swap veggies that you know your family won’t eat, so you won’t necessarily come home with food that’s destined for the compost bin.

Is the Farmer’s Market a good step down from a CSA, for those who aren’t willing to make the commitment?
I wouldn’t call it a step down. Farmers’ markets are another great way to support local farmers and get delicious, locally grown produce. Shopping at the farmers’ market is a good fit for people who want to pick out exactly what produce they bring home. It’s also a good option for those who travel often in the summer and can’t get to the farm share pick-up each week.

Do you maintain a vegetable or herb garden, and why?
We don’t have a lot of sunlight in our yard, but I do grow raspberries, chives, and a few other goodies each year. We’re planning to try pumpkins this summer. I love being able to show my children how food grows, and we all enjoy the fresh bounty that comes from our own yard. I don’t have a green thumb, so it feels a bit miraculous when things actually grow in our yard and we can eat them!

Any suggestions for those of us who have trouble timing all the components of a meal to be ready at the proper time?
I always prepare part of dinner before dinnertime. We all get hungry and cranky around 5:00 at my house, so I can’t bear to do the entire dinner prep in that time and space. I put some of the pieces in place the night before, or else during the morning. Planning ahead is a key element to success in the kitchen.

How has eating from scratch impacted your family’s health?
When we used to eat a lot of processed food, my children were always bringing home the latest cold or stomach bug from school. These illnesses would typically spread through the family, and someone was sick more often than not. I also suffered from seasonal allergies. I never thought these minor health annoyances had anything to do with food. But when I started cooking most of our food from scratch, we stopped getting sick and my allergies disappeared completely. I haven’t been congested in years. Our quality of life has improved dramatically as a result.

Of all the recipes in Conquering Your Kitchen, which are your favorites?
From the breakfast chapter, I’d say it’s the blueberry banana baked oatmeal. The raw chocolate energy bars are my favorite snack at the moment. From the veggie chapter, I love the roasted cauliflower. For dinner, I never get tired of the chili recipe. I love every recipe in the dessert chapter, but I think the brownies are probably my favorite.

Do you have any favorite cooking websites or cookbooks that inspire you?
I’ve always been inspired by Lisa Leake’s website, 100 Days of Real Food (#afflink). She helped me to see that a typical family can move away from processed food. My favorite cookbooks are Joy of Cooking (#afflink) and anything by Mark Bittman. In Bittman’s cookbook, Kitchen Express (#afflink), the recipes are written in paragraph form without specific quantities. The reader has to figure out what he means when he says to add a little bit of this and a handful of that. I think it was this cookbook that taught me how to cook things on my own without following a recipe exactly. Everyone should learn how to do this.

Anything else you want to share, about Conquering Your Kitchen or otherwise?
This may come as a surprise, but I don’t actually love to cook. I’m not one of those people who gets excited about cooking all afternoon and creating a feast. I don’t mind cooking, but I don’t love it. I do LOVE to eat, though, and I love having a healthy family. This is what keeps me motivated in the kitchen. Anyone can do this!

Annemarie Rossi, is the author of Conquering Your kitchen. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the College of the Holy Cross, as well as a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College. Now a suburban mom in the Boston area, Annemarie has been happy to see a trend in healthier eating throughout New England. She enjoys traveling with her family, and they always visit farmers’ markets and restaurants that celebrate locally sourced food while on vacation. To keep up to date with Annemarie’s recipes, tips, and food travel stories, follow her at

Final Thoughts On Conquering Your Kitchen

While I received a complimentary copy of the book, Conquering Your Kitchen (#afflink), for review purposes, my opinion of this book is my own — and I am a fan. I really enjoyed the recipes, the discussions of how to arrange your kitchen for efficient cooking, and many other tips that fall in line with my vision of a well-run kitchen.

Thank you so much, Annemarie! I hope Conquering Your Kitchen helps many feel more confident and at home in the kitchen. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that there is nothing like a good homecooked meal. They always taste so much better.

So, what about you? Do you have any favorite easy recipes or go-to meals that can be made from scratch — without too much effort or pre-planning? I’d love to hear thoughts on your confidence in the kitchen, or where you are at in your journey to conquering your kitchen!

What Makes An Exceptional Teacher?

posted in: Notes | 6
Today I’m welcoming Sue Lively of One Time Through as she shares a snapshot from her childhood, and the wonderful story about how her teacher, Mr. Smith, inspired her to learn, grow, and ultimately, become a teacher herself. What a wonderful tribute to an exceptional teacher!

Sue is an elementary school teacher on extended parental leave to stay at home full time with her son. She is passionate about all things related to arts and-crafts, language, and science! Thank you Sue, for sharing these musings on what makes an exceptional teacher. I can think of a few such teachers from my own childhood.

— Betsy

What Makes An Exceptional Teacher - One Time Through @

What Makes An Exceptional Teacher?

What do you think makes an exceptional teacher? Is it that unique ability to put oneself into a student’s shoes and see things through their point of view? Is it having a mastery of one’s subject or exceptional communication skills? Is it about seeing a student as more than just a sum of their parts?

Everyone has a favourite teacher that they can remember from early school years. Probably your favourite teacher had a few, if not all, of the qualities listed above. My favorite teacher certainly did.

Mr. Smith

He was a little unusual for an elementary school teacher, because he was a man. Also, it was widely known that teaching wasn’t his only gig. Mr. Smith not only taught full-time, but he wrote the drama critiques and reviews column for the large newspaper in the city close to where I grew up. He was highly involved in theatre himself and brought that love to his students.

I was lucky enough to have Mr. Smith for my teacher in grades 1 and 2 and later when I was in grades 4, 5, and 6; I was involved in school musicals that he directed.

What I remember most about Mr. Smith from the early grades was that he was FUN. Isn’t it always those teachers that stand out in your memory? Our classroom was full of laughter, poetry, art and drama.

I remember that he used to keep exceptional artwork up on his walls, long after those students had moved into higher grades. I was always proud to return to his class as a “big grade 5 or 6er” and see one of my art pieces still there! He just had a way of making kids feel good.

Teaching Through Discipline

He also treated his students exceptionally fair. There was one time when I was given the privilege of staying inside at recess on my own to finish an art piece. For some reason, only God knows why, I went around the room and tore a small corner off the page of everyone else’s work. I can remember clearly doing this, but to this day, have no idea why I did it!
When the kids came back in from recess, Mr. Smith easily figured out who the art culprit had been, as my piece was the only one without a missing corner!

I remember being quietly pulled into the hallway and firmly but gently confronted about my behavior. There was no scolding or shaming, just a very serious discussion about my actions and how they had affected others.

I think I remember that episode so much because I felt very deep remorse about my actions, and I was grateful my favorite teacher still liked and cared about me, even though I had been quite naughty!

Committed to Excellence

Later on, in grades 4-6, Mr. Smith directed me in the school musicals. He encouraged me to try out the first year, and really took me under his wing.

These musicals that he directed were not just “kid-stuff” either – they were big productions. We had amazing costumes rented from a theater company, professional lighting, and performed for large audiences. We rehearsed for months and really felt like we were a part of something important. They were a source of self-esteem and positive memories.

The time commitment from Mr. Smith, and the other teachers involved, must have been huge. It’s hard to see that as a kid, and although we all loved Mr. Smith, I don’t think any of us really appreciated how much work and time he must have put in to do these shows with us…and really, FOR us.

As a teacher and a parent now, I can see all the amazing things he did…and was. Mr. Smith was such a huge positive influence on me.

Encouragement Into Adulthood

He encouraged me to pursue singing and acting, which has been a source of incredible enjoyment in my life. Even into adulthood, he followed my “career” and supported me by interviewing me for his newspaper column, even giving me great reviews for my performances in several musicals.

He has become a positive mental teaching template for me. I often think about how Mr. Smith would deal with certain situations when I am challenged by a student.

He has also inspired me to direct musicals with my own students over the years and hopefully I can make a difference for some of them as he did for me. This has been one of my favorite, and the most rewarding, parts of being a teacher.

Lifelong Positive Influence

The photograph above shows Mr. Smith and me after I had received the grade 6 Drama Award. You can tell by my face that I was thrilled, and especially honored to receive this award from my favorite teacher.

When I look at it now, tears fill my eyes, and I send a hearty thank you to this special man who had such a positive influence on me as a child, and as an adult.

Thank you, Mr. Smith.

– Sue Lively

What About You?

Do you have an all time favorite snapshot from your childhood? Maybe a photo from your school years? I have memories of my favorite teachers, and seeing snapshots of their classrooms can bring so many memories to mind.

Do you have an exceptional teacher who inspired you like Mr. Smith inspired Sue? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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