Minimizing Christmas Tree Allergies

posted in: Notes | 4

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!

Cocoa Salt Dough Ornaments

posted in: Parenting | 1

bphotoart-cocoa-ornaments-Toby was excited to make salt dough ornaments again this year (last year we made gluten-free ornaments during a playdate).  After our Polar Express hot cocoa activity, Toby was ready to write off cocoa powder as being “yuck” …so I decided we would scrap the entry level stuff and just save our Godiva hot cocoa powder #afflink for any future ingestion.

So, what to do with several cups’ worth of cocoa powder no one in our house enjoys?  I suppose I could’ve given it away, but we decided to try our hand at making cocoa powder ornaments.  This is an adaptation of a salt dough recipe I’ve used before.

Cocoa Salt Dough Recipe:


  • 1 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 c. flour
  • 2/3 c. salt
  • 1 c. water


  • Combine all dry ingredients, mix well.  Add water; blend until well combined.
  • Roll out onto flat surface and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.  Transfer to baking sheet.
  • Poke holes for hanging with the end of a chopstick.
  • Bake at 275 F for 30-60 minutes per side, or until dried.
  • Minimize cracking by leaving the ornaments in oven to cool.

So, there you have it.  These ornaments have held up pretty well so far.  I’d say they’re a bit brittle, but maybe that’s just because Toby dropped several on the wood floor and they broke.  Can’t expect them to be unbreakable, right?

You can either thread ribbon through the holes or just use the metal hangers… your choice!  We hung them on the tree with our popcorn garland!

Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.

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

posted in: Notes | 0

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!

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)

DIY Photo Advent Calendar

posted in: Parenting | 4

DIY Magnetic Photo Advent CalendarAs a child, I used to love getting to open a window in my advent calendar in the days leading up to Christmas.  This homemade take on the advent calendar is a great alternative to store bought calendars, is reusable, and your child will enjoy helping put everything together!

You can actually make this two ways — hold the photos on with tape, or with magnets, depending on what supplies you have available, and how long you want this calendar to last.

First, we cut out a free form tree from a pretty green gift bag.  I found a plain brown paper lunch sack for the trunk of the tree.  We taped this whole segment on the fridge.

Then, we printed out 24 photos, with the faces approximately quarter-sized.   I printed out two copies, one for Toby to cut with his scissors, and a set for me to cut into circles. This let Toby practice his scissor skills and feel involved while I made the circles for our face “ornaments.”  Toby had a lot of fun helping me pick which pictures to use.  Sadly, we couldn’t include all our family members…since we have more than 24.  If you’re planning to have this last for more than one year, I’d suggest printing on card stock or laminating the photos.  Otherwise, plain paper works.

Once all the photos for the 24 days of advent were cut out, we started putting them on the fridge, around the tree, of course.  If you’re using plain paper photos, just use pieces of rolled up tape to hold them on; if you made durable photo ornaments, then attach squares from an magnet tape roll #afflink so you can have these stick to the fridge.

The final touch was a sign, also from the paper lunch sack, that said “Countdown to Christmas!”

Toby is really excited to start putting ornaments on the tree, and I’m sure he will have fun picking out which family member should go on the tree next.  This DIY magnetic photo advent calendar is a great way to familiarize kids with their relatives (and their names too)… and it is definitely more meaningful than your run of the mill advent calendar that can be bought at the store.

We may also add a gold star for the tree topper, that would be put on the tree Christmas morning.  I think that would be a nice touch — but didn’t think of that until just now.

Enjoy some pictures of our photo advent calendar being made below!  Click on an image to open it in gallery view mode.


12+ Recipe Ideas For Thanksgiving Leftovers

posted in: Notes | 2

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 Memories – Family Thanksgiving Traditions

posted in: Parenting | 0

Making Memories - 7 Moms Share their Favorite Thanksgiving Traditions - BPhotoArt.comAs the years go by, life seems to keep getting busier and busier. Despite the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I always love the timelessness of our own family traditions. Some of our family traditions were begun generations ago, while others were started since the births of our sons.

Some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories center around Thanksgiving day football. For many of those raised in Michigan, it’s a tradition to watch the Detroit Lions play ball on Thanksgiving, year in and year out. Beyond that, for us, Thanksgiving is a day of family togetherness. This year, Toby helped make a photo thankfulness tree, and we tried to focus on gratitue by celebrating a month of Thanksgiving. And for my husband, tradition may be the food — he loves to cook either a delicious turkey or ham, plus create decadent desserts for all to enjoy.

That being said, Thanksgiving conjures up different memories for other families than it does for ours. Most of these traditions, despite their differences, do focus on the family …and on cultivating gratitude.

Favorite Family Thanksgiving Traditions

All families have their own traditions, though, right? So I asked some bloggers: “what’s your family’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition and why?” Here’s what they had to say.

We go around the table on Thanksgiving and we each say what we are thankful for. It is a great way to keep the point of the holiday in perspective. I also like that we are modeling gratitude for our kids! here is a Thanksgiving tradition we do as well.

– Brittany, Love, Play, and Learn

Thanksgiving truly is my favorite holiday. I love the idea of gathering around the table and being thankful. From watching the Macy Day Parade, to throwing the football around outside in the leaves. However, my FAVORITE tradition for that holiday is our gratitude journals that we do each night starting November 1 with our kids. Each day, they write about something they are thankful for (or draw a picture if they can’t write yet) – these have become beautiful examples of gratitude over the years with my children.

–  Mandy, Worshipful Living

Our traditional Thanksgiving used to involve packing up two trailers, pulling them to Death Valley behind our Honda Aspencades (touring motorcycles), camping out at Furnace Creek, and cooking Thanksgiving dinner over campfires and on Coleman stoves – turkey, potatoes, gravy, veggies, rolls – for anyone camped there (or working at Furnace Creek ) who wanted to drop on by. Rain or shine (or wind etc), dinner was always an adventure. We rarely had under 15 people show up – and often over 40.

– Casey, The Garden Lass

We go to the Outer Banks for Thanksgiving and have pizza from Pizza Hut. It’s quirky, yes, but it’s quiet. The pizza started because many years ago, it was the only place that was open Thanksgiving Day. Now it’s just tradition. We do a big family get together for Christmas, and just enjoy our small unit on this day.

– Yvie, Gypsy Road

He was excited to point out some of the people he was thankful for.
This year’s photo thankfulness tree.  Toby was excited to point out some of the people he was thankful for.

Creating a Thanksgiving tree. I love that it is a creative and cooperative way to prepare for the holiday together.

– Erin, Bambini Travel

We have a thankful tree each November and write out what we are thankful for on leaves and add them to the tree each day. Then for thanksgiving we tape the leaves together to become the table runner for our meal. Great conversation piece!

– Katie, Paradise Praises

I look forward to seeing what my children will choose for our Thanksgiving Calendar. Some times I am really surprised.

– Christy, Thriving STEM

What are Your Favorite Thanksgiving Traditions?

So, let me ask you the same question. What family traditions do you treasure, what memories of Thanksgiving celebrations do you hold dear? What traditions do you want to pass on to future generations?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Cultivating Gratitude: Ideas for a Month of Thanksgiving

posted in: Parenting | 4

Cultivating Gratitude: Ideas for a Month of Thanksgiving - Betsy's Photography ( month I want to focus on gratitude.  Being thankful for what we have, being aware of others who have not.  I want to make sure my boys know the importance of being thankful for all the blessings in their lives — and also that they understand the importance of paying it forward. There’s a saying about being “blessed to be a blessing to others.”  Helping others isn’t a one way street.  It benefits us too — it grows character and deepens empathy.

So, this November, we’ll be doing several things to cultivate gratitude.

Make a Gratitude Frame or Jar.

I love looking at all the fancy Pinterest projects that focus on giving thanks and recognizing our good fortune.  I’ve had friends tell me the best thing they ever did was put up a gratitude poster in their kitchen, where everyone wrote down things they were thankful for throughout the week.  I saw an adorable shadowbox picture frame that was filled with slips of paper on things to give thanks for.

Last year, I helped Toby make one of these. We used a plastic peanut butter jar (cleaned, of course), and strips of brightly colored paper.  He told me things he was thankful for and I wrote each item and drew a picture of it on the paper.  He enjoyed pulling them out and talking about the things we should be grateful for in our lives.

We’ll do something similar this year — I’m thinking a garland of paper slips or something (but not fall leaves since it’s already snowed here in Michigan).

Donate our excess and unused items.

Throughout the year, we gather bagfuls of things we no longer need or use — and take them to be donated.  I include my boys in this errand, as it helps to make it real for them.  We have more than we need.  By donating things, we can share with those who are not as fortunate.

There is a local place called House By the Side of the Road that I like to take our donations to.  It doesn’t resell the items, but rather offers them freely to members of the community who are in need.  Sometimes we’ll take donations to the more standard Salvation Army, Purple Heart, etc.

Take meals to new moms and the sick.

Our church has a meals ministry, where you can sign up to take a meal to the new moms, or those undergoing surgery or recovering from illness.  This is a good way to give back to the community …and I can involve my toddler with the process too.  Sometimes there is nothing more helpful than the delivery of a home cooked meal, ready to be eaten.  And we can share out of the abundance of food in our pantry.

Keeping an open dialogue.

Toddlers notice everything.  And they aren’t blind to the injustices in this world.  Whether it’s something as child-like as the refusal to share a toy, or the more “adult” (for lack of a better word) concern of homelessness — they are experiencing life around them and it is our job as parents to help them process these things.

When Toby and another boy were both in tears about who had the swing first, I gently asked my son to give the swing to the other boy, even though Toby may have had it first.  As my son willingly forfeited “his” swing, I was struck by his generous heart — I am thankful for opportunities to teach selfless compassion.  Other opportunities arise when we walk past the homeless on the sidewalk, or spot someone who needs a hand getting the door open. Yes, there are bigger problems in this world than whose swing it is, but by cultivating gratitude on a small scale, our children can learn to apply it on a larger level.

Remembering to talk about why I’m thankful.

I’ve been trying to focus on being thankful. Cultivating gratitude for the many blessings in my life, or even the little things. By talking about these things with my boys, I can help them understand just how much in life there is we can be thankful for:

  1. Friends who share without reserve, family who takes care of me. So many of the blessings I encounter involve friends and family. In the same day, I was blessed unexpectedly with handmedowns for our newborn… and during a rough afternoon, was grateful that my boys were being entertained by family (and we were treated to takeout!). It’s the little things that let people know you care.
  2. Sleep.  I’m so grateful for a newborn who sleeps for long stretches — often 6-7 hours at night. It’s the complete opposite of what my first son did as a newborn (woke every 1-2 hrs). The extra long stretches of sleep are such a blessing for my sanity. I’m also thankful that my toddler is content to play by himself while mommy takes a nap from time to time.
  3. Beautiful sunrises.  My toddler woke up one morning, came downstairs, and stopped dead in his tracks as he looked out the window. Then he turned to me and exclaimed, “look at the beautiful sunrise!” He then proceeded to describe it: “light, dark, light dark, light!”  The clouds had indeed formed a gorgeous pattern for us to enjoy.  I’m so thankful that my son reminded me to enjoy the beauty of nature today.

What ways do you cultivate gratitude in your children?


6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins

posted in: Parenting | 1

I have fond memories of carving pumpkins when younger.  At a kitchen table covered with comic pages, we would concoct elaborate designs for our jack o’ lanterns as we scraped out the pumpkin guts and seeds.  Our mom would whisk the seeds away to the oven, roasting them while we carved our pumpkins.  At some point, we’d be asked to pause for a snapshot or two, and once we finished carving pumpkins, the creative masterpieces would be carried carefully out to the front stoop.  I’m sure many of us have similar fond memories of carving pumpkins.  And I want our boys to have the same fond memories of carving pumpkins when they are grown.

6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins - Betsy's Photography - BPhotoArt.comOf course, there’s the whole question of helping kids carve pumpkins — how much should you let them do on their own?  Last year, our pumpkins were object-specific.  Toby wasn’t really at the point of designing yet, so he gave input on the things to be carved.  We ended up carving a tractor, a block letter for our favorite sports team, and called it good at that.

This year, Toby was ready to do the whole carving pumpkin thing himself. …well, aside from touching the pumpkin guts.  For whatever reason he hated the slimy feel.  i wasn’t ready to let him do everything on his own, but set him loose on the pumpkins to create designs — with no restrictions.  he got to help me cut some of the holes, but most of his time actually carving pumpkins was spent waiting for me to finish cutting so he could poke out the pumpkin pieces.

It was great to see his creativity come alive as he told me about his designs.  We had 5 pumpkins this year — two gifted to us by our neighbors, another two from grandma.  Here’s what he designed, from left to right:

  • a bear with ears and a toothy grin (the teeth were added midway through carving).
  • an alien monster, with many eyes and mouths all over.
  • an angry face (he let me draw this one).
  • a silly face with a really big mouth, and an almost forgotten nose.  This one also had a baby on the side, go figure.
  • a happy face – 2 eyes, a noes, and a mouth.

Toby was thrilled with our activity, the fact he got to design everything himself was a big selling point.  When Daddy came in from cleaning the garage, Toby proudly showed off the pumpkins we’d made.  And, of course, we enjoyed toasted pumpkin seeds too (recipe later on).

Now let’s get to those 6 tips for helping kids carve pumpkins I’ve promised you!  These are geared towards helping your child feel “in charge” while keeping things safe.  Because that’s part of helping kids carve pumpkins — making sure they’ do so safely.

1. Don’t micromanage your child

It’s amazing how many times I catch myself about to direct my son’s activity in a certain way.  It’s a force of habit, but one I try to curb.  I’d much rather Toby create something from his own ability and thought process, rather than draw within the lines of my constraints.  It’s like process art vs. paint by number. Process art lets creativity shine.  So set back and don’t micromanage when carving pumpkins with your child.  Who cares if the smile is crooked, or missing a tooth?

2. Help as needed, to keep things safe.

While I’m all for letting kids do things themselves, there is an age appropriateness factor.  My son has been practicing knife skills for quite some time, but I decided it wasn’t time yet for him to saw the openings in the pumpkin.  Maybe next year.  So to keep him involved, I let him place his hand on top of mine as I sawed; he also “held” the pumpkin steady for me while I sawed (hands far away from the blade).  You know your child — go with your gut and keep thing safe.

3. Invite your child to draw a design on the pumpkin.

And then step back and watch.  Ask open-ended questions if you want, but try understand your child’s creation from their point of view, rather than making assumptions or guesses.  I gave Toby a permanent marker and let him have at it.  He drew swirly spiraling circles for eyes, lines for ears, and chicken-scratch noses.  It’s ok if there are too many lines (I’ll address that in the next tip).

4. Have your child direct you which lines to cut.

Toby pointed out the lines I should cut — I followed one of the many lines for the eyes to make a shape that approximated his abstract swirls.  The mouth I followed, to an extent — suggesting we shorten it so the pumpkin didn’t fall apart on us.

5. Don’t be afraid to improvise.  Follow your child’s lead.

We added teeth midway through our bear pumpkin carving — Toby was thrilled with the design change.  It may not have been on his drawn design, but that’s ok.  I let him call the shots as we carved the pumpkins.

6. Have no expectations.

Having no expectations really freed me to enjoy the whole experience.  And I have to say, I love the results.  The pumpkins that Toby and I carved are whimsical, creative, and definitely not run of the mill.  The most standard one is the baby pumpkin that I carved… how uncreative of me, right?  But that’s the thing.  As adults, we have preconceptions of how things are supposed to look.  Kids are often free from those constraints — it lets their creativity flourish.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

Now, as promised, here’s my recipe for delicious roasted pumpkin seeds.  Or, one of my recipes… I have a few variations!  There’s no measuring, you do everything by feel and to your preference.

  • pumpkin seeds
  • olive oil
  • sea salt

First, separate the seeds from the guts.  I tend to leave some of the slime on the seeds, but you can rinse it off if you want.  I add enough olive oil to coat the seeds, then sprinkle generously with sea salt.  Then it’s into the oven on a baking sheet at 350 F for 30-40 min, stirring after the first 15 min and then every 5 thereafter.  They’re done once the pumpkin seeds no longer are wet, and the pan has no remaining oil or liquid on the bottom.  Usually by this point, mine are nicely golden brown, or even a little darker.  Enjoy once they’ve cooled enough to handle!

I’ve also added seasonings with much success — one of our favorites is Italian seasoning sprinkled over top.

One of Toby's drawings on a pumpkin
One of Toby’s drawings on a pumpkin
Removing the cut out pumpkin pieces
Removing the cut out pumpkin pieces
Excited to show off his first pumpkin!
Excited to show off his first pumpkin!
The pumpkin carver and his creations
The pumpkin carver and his creations
Pumpkins with the lights out
Pumpkins with the lights out
And a close-up of the glowing faces
And a close-up of the glowing faces

Plan Ahead: Family Photos for Holiday Greeting Cards

posted in: Notes | 0

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.


Independence Day – Fireworks

posted in: Fine Art | 2

Happy Fourth of July! To celebrate Independence Day, I’m sharing a photo from my archives — it’s of an Independence Day fireworks display that was done in conjunction with an orchestral concert (post-ballgame). Sadly, I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that the fireworks were lovely, and the music was too.

It’s always interesting to pull out old photographs like this and look at them. I find myself smiling at how digital art techniques have improved over the years, how something that was new and cutting edge 15 years ago is now quite dated and elementary. Regardless, here’s a throwback from years ago:

Independence Day - Cotton Candy + Fireworks -

And then, I figured a poem was in order to celebrate Independence Day… so here you are!

Independence Day

A day steeped in history,
the celebration of our nation
and our freedom to pursue
life as we deem fit.

A day whose meaning is
overshadowed by fireworks,
forgotten except as a vacation.

Do we remember our roots?
Is our past forgotten?
Our independence came at a price.
Let us never forget that fact.

Patriotic Crafts + Such

If you’re looking for some patriotic crafts to do with your children to celebrate today, check out this Patriotic Artwork Activity for Kids, or Patriotic Painting (Outdoor Fun).

You may also like this post on dealing with sensitive kids and fireworks — one of my tips is featured there.

Just Like Daddy – A Father’s Day Poem

posted in: Parenting | 7
A Truly Rich Man Quote - Father's Day -
“A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty.”
Father’s Day is finally here! We’ve been preparing a few surprises for Daddy over the past month, which I know he will enjoy. Take a peek at the handprint Father’s Day gift we made (also adapted for both grandpas).

Further on, you’ll find a poem I wrote in honor of all fathers, but based on one in particular. 🙂

As the parent who gets to stay at home all day, I try to cultivate a welcoming atmosphere for my husband when he gets back from a long day at work, which includes having our son welcome Daddy upon his arrival. When we hear the garage door opening, Toby will typically race to the laundry room to greet his Daddy… then there is an ensuing race to “steal Daddy’s spot” on the couch. I love being a spectator in this ritual.

Which brings me to this anonymous quote I found the other day. I had to pair it with a father-daughter portrait from last summer, it seemed too perfect.

How true are those words. While we, as parents, focus on what we can provide for our kids, we often forget about how children enrich our lives and bless us.

Here’s a poem I wrote in honor of Father’s Day, for my husband, based on the little things about him that light up my son’s life. I’m so grateful to have married this man, and I know our son just adores his daddy.

Just Like Daddy

Daddy is a giant
in his son’s eyes.
A champion to imitate,
a man to admire.

“I’m your little man”
exclaims an adoring son
who wants nothing more
than to grow up
to be just like dad.

Daddy is his hero,
his protector,
his lifelong friend.

Daddy is the best,
the greatest,
always stronger,
always bigger.

Following in
Daddy’s footsteps
becomes a goal,
a lifelong pursuit.

The highest compliment
a son can give
is to tell his father
“I want to be like you.”

Still Need Gift Ideas for Father’s Day?

Here is my pinterest board with gift ideas!

Follow Betsy @’s board Gift Ideas on Pinterest.

Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity For Kids

posted in: Notes | 16

In honor of Memorial Day, I put together an impromptu art activity for our son …so we could have some patriotic artwork to hang on the front door today!
Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity - Planning a free-form activity to encourage self expression and creativity in kids! -

While I love seeing elaborate crafts and projects others have done (via Pinterest), my style is a little more informal and aimed at culturing creativity. For us, replicating a craft or following steps to end up with the “correct” project just doesn’t always work out. Toddlers, when they have their mind set up on doing things their way…. are an immovable force to be reckoned with.

So, this free-form activity had no rules, aside from keeping ink and glue on the paper canvas (i.e. off the table).

I laid out a large white envelope as the paper canvas for this patriotic craft, pulled out some red, white/silver, and blue items that we had on hand (paper, sparkly pipe cleaners), etc. Of course, no patriotic artwork craft would be complete without stars, so I set out a star rubber stamp and ink pad. Supplementary supplies included scissors, a glue stick, tape, and a blue highlighter.

Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity Supplies -

While Toby went after the scissors and started cutting paper enthusiastically, I showed him how he could tear up the paper into strips and even squares. He allowed me to help make some squares while he cut abstract shapes.

Then he discovered the stamp and ink pad. First his thumb went onto the ink pad, and since this was our first time using an ink pad, I told him about how he could make thumbprints — which he tried. But the stamp was more fun.

Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity for Kids -

Toby immediately stamped his hand (just like at the library), then asked for permission to stamp his arms and face. I have to admit, I declined on the face, but did permit the arms do gain some stars.

Stars were stamped everywhere, on the paper, on the little torn squares, you name it. He then started spreading glue on the white canvas and sticking things to it.

It was great to watch the creative gears turning as Toby switched from one tool to another. The scissors were a frequently used tool, although the blue highlighter was briefly more popular.

Patriotic Artwork Craft Activity for Kids -

Finally, he got to the tape. Long streams were pulled from the dispenser and stuck to the canvas, the table, everywhere. I helped Toby get the tape back onto his canvas, and once we decided to “save” the rest of the roll for Grandma, impromptu craft time was complete.

Toby was proud to show off his patriotic artwork craft to Grandma (whose house we were at), and to Daddy when he got home.

I love that this project came together so easily, that there were no rules or restrictions, and how our son really got his creative thought process going.

[Click on any image in the gallery below to view full size]

Resources + Supplies

Here are supplies similar to what we used for this artwork craft project. I’m all for buying in bulk when it comes to kid craft supplies… it never hurts to have extras on hand.

You may also want to check out my Art for Kids Pinterest board, where I’ve been pinning lots of fun art projects for kids (not specific to any holiday in particular)

Follow Betsy @’s board Art For Kids on Pinterest.

Do You Have Any Patriotic Artwork Craft Ideas?

Are you a fan of the pre-planned activities, or is free-form crafting more your style? What works best for your kids?

I’d love to hear about any craft or art activities you’ve tried, whether they’re patriotic in nature or not. It’s always fun to see what others are doing!

Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

posted in: Parenting | 14

Still deciding what to give mom or grandma for Mother’s Day? I’ve got some ideas to share (and a link to a Mother’s Day poem I wrote too)! But first, let me share some art from quite some time ago that I created — and as I was preparing for Mother’s Day, I remembered these two pieces in particular. Both are digital/drawing/photo collages that I created over ten years ago.

This first one is my favorite of the two. I honestly can’t even remember what I titled it at the time, aside from Sunset Girl. My mother loved this image, and ultimately it graced the cover of her book, Riding Past Grief – A Daughter’s Journey #afflink.

So while this piece isn’t about mothers specifically, it is about being a daughter, finding your own way, and holding firm through the storms life may bring. I vaguely recall titling Riding Past Midnight (but that may be the title of a short story I wrote around the same time). The sunset and rough terrain are based on a photograph I took in the mountains of Montana, and the girl began as a sketch. I blended the two, using digital painting and other applications that are probably long obsolete by now.

Mother's Day Gift Ideas - Sunset Girl Fresco

This second image inspired a poem for my mother. The piece and the poem share the same name – Mother Daughter Walk. Well, her poem may have assimilated whatever I had originally titled it (but I’m ok with that). This image was created in a similar fashion, digital painting with the mother and daughter originating as a sketch and paired with a photograph of mine. The rocky mountain path is from Scottsdale, Arizona, on Camelback mountain if I recall correctly.

Mother Daughter Walk

Given my mother’s love of poetry and all things art, I’ve actually planned ahead and written her a poem.

I submitted it to a Mother’s Day writing contest, and amazingly, my poem was selected as one of ten “finalists” — head over to Positive Parenting to read “A Reflection of My Mother.”

Mom, if you’re reading this (don’t moms always read their daughter’s posts?), you don’t get to read it until Mother’s Day. Sorry. you can read it early but no complaining!

But then the next question, for me, at least, was how to help my son with the concept of Mother’s Day. I will *not* be helping him make a gift for me, as that seems tacky. Dad can be in charge of any gifts that might materialize (and frankly, I’m ok without… toddler hugs are sufficient for me!).

But, grandmothers are still important — so we will be creating something for both grandmas between now and Mother’s Day. Again, since one or both of them may read this before Mother’s Day, I am not going to share what we are creating. But, I do want to give you some ideas in case you’re in the same boat I was a couple days ago.

What to make/do/give… that’s the tough question!

Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Here are some ideas and resources for thoughtful Mother’s Day gifts! I’ve included the link to the aforementioned grief poetry in case you know someone who has lost a mother and may find it helpful. Links will open in a new window for your convenience. You might also want to check out my Gift Ideas Pinterest board, as I may find some more cute ideas between the time of posting and Mother’s Day.

Follow Betsy @’s board Gift Ideas on Pinterest.

Do You Have Plans for Mother’s Day?

We typically go out for a nice Mother’s Day brunch, and this year we may spend time outdoors too if the weather is nice. Do you have any family traditions for Mother’s Day? I’d love to hear them. And, if you want to share any creative Mother’s Day gift ideas, I’m all ears 🙂

Jackson Pollock Art with Permanent Markers

posted in: Parenting | 4

Now that Christmas has come and gone, I can share these pictures of a top secret present being made. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this year our little one really understood the concept of giving — and so, both Mama and Daddy took turns helping him make presents for both parents. I received several lovely drawings with toddler-traced hands (so cute). And when we were deciding what to make for Daddy’s present…someone *really* loved the idea of personalized golf balls (“So Dada can golf!!!”).

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Shoveling Snow

posted in: Parenting | 0

Happy New Year! I hope you had as much fun ringing in the new year as a toddler does (since after all, don’t they have fun doing EVERYTHING?). It’s been interesting to reflect on the past year while simultaneously contemplate the year ahead.

As I wrote in our personal Christmas card —

while life is not without its struggles, we truly have been blessed this past year. It has been amazing to reflect back and see God’s hand at work in our lives, and all the blessings that have ensued — including a growing family [see post about in-utero #2].

And before we part for the day, let me share this picture of my toddler…having fun…shoveling our deck the other day (today’s snow was much more substantial). I love how little minds work: “mama, I need my dump truck.” Next thing you know, the dump truck is helping move the snow off the edge of the deck and dumping it. I think he had the most fun inside afterwards, rinsing off the “inside” dump truck and toweling the truck dry. It was tough for me, in parent mode, to think outside the box and let that inside toy play out on the deck, but the whole experience for my son made my “sacrifice” worthwhile. I love when our children teach us things, don’t you?

May your 2014 be filled with peace, joy, and love!

Making Memories for the Holidays

posted in: Notes | 0

What have you done this year to cultivate family time and creative play for the holidays?


We really had fun with holiday activities this year (see pictures below). Many memories were made, including: playing in the snow, experimenting with grain-free cookie recipes, seeing Santa,and giving toys to those in need. Instead of cultivating the “I want for Christmas” attitude, we focused on making gifts to give to others, crafts that symbolized the meaning of Christmas, and outdoor play, of course! Pinterest has been pretty helpful for ideas, especially crafts that are easy enough for an independent toddler to do mostly on his own (follow me on Pinterest). Read More

Indoor Winter Fun | Holiday Ornaments

posted in: Parenting | 1

We haven’t ventured outdoors too much lately with it being so cold — the teens is just a little chilly to play outside for long. So, many winter crafts have ensued. I figured you might enjoy seeing a touch of our holiday decorations as they go up, and maybe these will inspire you to get creative with your little ones this week too!

Today’s craft was from a well-anticipated playdate; we improvised a gluten free dough recipe so both kids could participate. It actually turned out really well — the ornaments are adorable, don’t you think? Ok, I may be a little biased, but I am just glad the dough baked into something durable and non-breakable. Plus, Toby finally got to use his favorite cookie cutter, the train.

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