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Bring Healthy, Homemade Gifts to Your Next Holiday Party: Ideas from the Authors of ‘Grain Crazy’

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Tired of bringing the same old high-calorie bottle of wine or box of cookies as gifts to holiday parties? The co-authors of the new book Grain Crazy: Recipes for Healthy Living are here to help. Their homemade gift ideas are easy, creative, delicious and healthy. (Or check out these presents your kids can make.) You’ll feel good about giving their ideas listed below, and your host will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Here’s what Cherie Schetselaar, mother of seven, and her daughter, Britney Rule, mother of three, put together. They also run the popular blog called Grain Crazy.

“We’ve gathered some of our favorite ideas here of treats you can bring that will add some additional health to your friends’ holiday–along with some sweet cheer.

1. Homemade Salsa—It’s the type of snack that we see way too little of during the holidays. Who doesn’t like a spicy treat to warm up a chilly night?

2. Granola—Granola is great because it can be a snack, breakfast, or a dessert—just throw it in with yogurt and fruit for a healthy parfait. We provide our recipe below.

3. Freezer Jam—Jam is something every household uses, right? This is a yummy, but useful gift that you can dress up to be festive and cute. Package it in a mason jar with a ribbon tied around the top.

4. Whole Grain Bread—Everyone loves homemade bread. Pair this with the freezer jam and you’ve got a slam-dunk gift.

5. Candied Nuts—Give some of those “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” The aroma of toasted nuts and spices feels like Christmastime. Our favorites are pecans and almonds.

6. Jarred Fruit—If you spend time canning in the summer months, consider giving a jar of your favorite jarred fruit. To those that don’t have the time, means, or knowledge to can their own fruit, this is a perfect taste of summer in the cold of winter.”


We love the “clumping factor” of this granola. It’s a healthy alternative to the cold cereal my dad and brother love to eat. It would make a perfect hostess gift or Christmas present for a neighbor.

Here’s my favorite recipe:

2/3 cup of honey
1/2 cup of coconut oil
3 cups of old-fashioned oats
1 cup of almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup of sesame seeds
1 cup of sunflower seeds
1 cup of unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground nutmeg
Dried fruit, raisins, dates, craisins, if desired

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt the honey and oil together in a small bowl. Set it aside.

2. Mix together all of the dry ingredients. Pour in the honey mixture. Stir until all the ingredients are combined.

3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Pour the granola onto the cookie sheet. It will be thick.

4. Place it in the oven. Bake it for 30 minutes. Stir the granola a couple of times during cooking.

5. Let it cool on the counter and store in an air-tight container.

Makes 5 cups


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3 Steps to Get Your Kids in the Spirit of Giving by Authors of ‘Deliberate Motherhood’

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

I read a story on The Huffington Post today about a little boy who wrote a letter to Santa in 1915. He asked for a box of paint, a book and a back to put it in. If Santa had any to spare, he also asked for nuts and candy. I showed this letter to my little girl the same age who has asked for a Nintendo DS, Super Mario Brothers, an iPad, an American Girl doll, a hamster and other things. She doesn’t understand that the spirit of the season is about giving. It’s my job to teach her. I need to get to work.

Authors Saren Loosli and April Perry totally agree with me. They recently wrote the book Deliberate MotherhoodRead their story below and find the two tips they have about teaching kids the joy of giving.

“As the holidays approach and our children get excited about all that Santa might bring, materialism and give-me attitudes can start to set in. While it’s wonderful to see our children’s joyful anticipation regarding the gifts they may receive, perhaps one of the greatest things we can give our children is the opportunity to experience the true joy of giving.

When I was growing up, my siblings and I worked hard in November and December to earn money for Christmas presents. My parents wanted us to fully experience the joy of giving at Christmastime alongside the joy of receiving. So from the time we were very young, we worked, earned money and purchased all our own Christmas gifts. And some of my favorite holiday memories are centered on the gifts I was able to give to family members and the sweet modest gifts I received from siblings.

I’ll never forget one year when my sister gave me a very unexpected and generous gift. Whenever we were shopping with my mom, I’d been loudly admiring a little wind-up doll that played a beautiful song. I’d already requested a fancy present from Santa. I knew my parents would only be buying me clothes. So I figured it was worth letting my siblings know about my interest in the doll, even though it cost $20 which was way out of the range of what my siblings could afford. I was so surprised and delighted to find that doll in the lovingly-wrapped box my sister handed me on Christmas! But I think that she might have been even more delighted than me when she saw how happy I was.

With our own children, my husband and I have carried on this tradition. As a mom, some of my all-time favorite moments have happened as I’ve watched my children’s excitement as they’ve carefully picked out gifts for their siblings, barricaded themselves into a secret spot to wrap those gifts, and then watched with great anticipation as their gifts were opened and appreciated.

Here are 3 Simple Steps to get kids in the Spirit of Giving this holiday season:

1. Work with your children to figure out a Christmas present budget. You may want to look online or check out what’s available at stores to help them get a sense of what types of gifts would be available in different price ranges. Setting a Christmas budget and shopping around for the best prices on gifts is a great and simple step towards teaching our kids real-life economic principles. Of course the budget needs to be somewhat flexible. I’ve loved seeing my children occasionally dip into the funds they were saving for something for themselves or team up with another sibling to buy a perfect gift that costs more than they’d planned to spend. When my children were younger, I found that it worked best to have them buy each others’ gifts at the dollar store where everything is conveniently the same price.

2. Set up a way for your children to earn extra money towards their Christmas budget. Look at the money children have so far (from allowances saved, etc.) and show them a list of jobs they can do around the house to save up extra money. For younger children, you can make a simple chart with a square for every $.25 or $.50 they’ll need to get up to the overall amount they plan to earn and create a list of “money jobs” they can doaround the house to check off each square on their chart (Watch this video to see my twins explain how they learn money toward specific things using a chart: Learning About Earning).

3. Set aside a special time on Christmas or even Christmas Eve for the kids to give out their gifts. This way, your children’s thoughtful gifts will not be overshadowed by grander ones. After all the hoopla of stockings and Santa gifts on Christmas morning, we eat a special Christmas breakfast and then spend a good chunk of time having each child give out their gifts, one at a time. We make a big deal of every gift and ensure that every giver gets a great hug and thank you from the receiver plus praise from us for their thoughtfulness.

We wish you all the best as you strive to give your kids the gift of giving this holiday season!”

April Perry and Saren Loosli are also the Co-Founders and Directors of Power of Moms. April is the mother of four children ages 5 to 13 and Saren is the mother of five children ages 8 to 13–see her in the photo above on the far left sharing gifts with her own siblings years ago.

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Author Allison Winn Scotch Talks About Her New Book ‘Theory of Opposites’ and The Myth of Having It All

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Former blogger and current New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch wrote a cool new novel, and of course she wants to tell us about it. In her book, The Theory of Opposites, she writes about a woman who thinks she has the perfect life–that the stars have aligned for her and her dreams have come true. Then, her husband asks for a “break,” her boss fires her and all hell breaks loose. Read this book for a fun–and sometimes sad–adventure through heartbreak and healing.
What inspired Allison to write this kind of women’s fiction? Find out in her guest blog below:
“What’s the toughest part of parenting for you, dear readers?
For me, It is accepting that I can’t control everything in my kids’ lives. Not the day to day stuff. I’ve always been a parent who believes that children have to sort out many things on their own, and with a 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, there is plenty to sort out. :) Complicated friendships; homework time-management; sticking up for themselves against a not-so-nice kid who sits behind them on the bus; sibling squabbles that could potentially end in broken limbs. These are things that I happily let my kids manage on their own (unless I really do sense that a broken limb is imminent).  (more…)
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Here Are 4 Tips for a Safe and Delicious Gluten-Free Thanksgiving from Blogger Nicole Hunn (Plus a Breadstick Recipe!)

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Do you need to go gluten-free this Thanksgiving? Popular blogger Nicole Hunn is here to help. Check out her 4 Tips for a Safe and Delicious Gluten-Free Thanksgiving below. From her new book, Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread, she also shares a breadstick recipe she swears is as good as The Olive Garden’s!

“As the mom of a gluten-free kid, I know stress can come as its own special side dish to family get-togethers and holidays. Double it when you’re talking about Thanksgiving, or as I like to call it, The Food Olympics. But whether you’re hosting your own Thanksgiving this year or you’ll be a guest in someone else’s home, you can (and should!) expect great gluten-free food for your gluten-free kid, with all the trimmings! In fact, since we moms of kids with food intolerances and allergies tend to think about food more than the average person, our allergy-friendly food should be the envy of the table. I can help you with that! Beyond the food, I recommend you stay away from religion and politics at the dinner table, and the holiday should go off without a hitch.

Before I share with you a gluten-free bread recipe from my new book, Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread, here are a Four Tips for a Safe and Delicious Gluten-Free Holiday for yourself and those you love:

1. If you’re hosting the holiday, guests feel uncomfortable showing up empty-handed. Since I keep an entirely gluten-free household, I ask guests to bring wine or fruit. I tell them that this is going to be the most stress-free holiday that they’ve ever had, since they don’t have to lift a finger.

2. Second, if you’re a guest in someone else’s home, don’t expect them to cater to your and your family’s dietary needs. In fact, I much prefer it when they don’t, since then I am free of any worry that their kind attempts to help will end up making my son sick. Did they chop up those vegetables on the same cutting board they use for regular bread? Did they bake those muffins in their regular muffin tin, the one they used the day before to bake regular cupcakes? Instead, I offer to bring as many sides as the hosts will allow. Then, I just serve my son his meal first before everyone else digs in. Otherwise, I basically cater a whole meal for my gluten-free son and bring it, already warm, in an insulated cooler. That’s why I prefer to host. It’s easier! But we do what we have to do for our kids.

3. Make a fabulous dessert. They’ll always remember you for it.

4. Finally, pick a part of the holiday meal that is typically filled with gluten, like breadsticks or rolls, and knock one out of the park with an amazing gluten-free version. Like these Soft Olive Garden-Style Garlic Butter Breadsticks, from my new Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Cookbook:

Soft Olive Garden–Style Garlic Butter Breadsticks

Makes 12 breadsticks

Bread Dough

4 1/4 cups (595 g) Gluten-Free Bread Flour (recipe included below), plus more for sprinkling
2 teaspoons (6 g) instant yeast
2 tablespoons (24 g) sugar
2 teaspoons (12 g) kosher salt
6 tablespoons (84 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water (about 95°F)
Garlic butter
3 tablespoons (42 g) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon garlic salt

First make the bread dough. (more…)

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5 Ways for Moms to Get Unstuck Right Now by the Author of ‘The 52 Weeks’

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Did you like the book Eat, Pray, Love and wish you could devote a whole year to becoming a better person? Yeah, me too. But with three small kids, trips to Italy, India and Bali (or even the local spa) are out of the question. That’s where a fun new book comes in. The 52 Weeks: Two Women and Their Quest to Get Unstuck with Stories and Ideas to Jumpstart Your Year of Discovery was written to inspire readers to try new things no matter how crazy-busy they are.

One of the authors, Karen Amster-Young, gives the scoop on the book below. And don’t miss her 5 Ways to Get Unstuck!

“We are bombarded each and every day with countless responsibilities, errands, work, family and taking care of those we love. Carving out time for ourselves is usually last on the list. In fact, we often feel guilty when we sneak off to the gym, a movie or even a long lunch.

A few years ago a good friend and I found ourselves complaining about this–a lot. We were restless and wanted to shake things up. Our children were no longer babies, and we felt stuck. We wanted to make an effort to do new things again. We would be happier and healthier, plus we would be better moms, wives and friends if we just did a few things for ourselves. We vowed to try something new or different every week for a year and write about it. Now, our book, The 52 Weeks, inspired by our blog, is out. We’ve included our adventures and expert advice, and we hope this book gets you doing more things you love.

Don’t now how to get started? Here are 5 Ways to Get Unstuck Right now (and have some fun along the way!):

1. Learn something new. Even if your newborn keeps you at home most days, sign up for an on-line class, learn a new language at home or teach yourself new recipes right from your computer. Learning new things stimulates the mind and improves your mood.

 2. Take 10 minutes to give back. Send flowers to a friend just because, make soup for a sick neighbor, donate clothes you don’t wear anymore to a non-profit organization. Giving back makes you feel like you are doing something beyond your four walls.

3. Hire a sitter for an hour and take a yoga, Pilates or other exercise class. We all know that exercise lifts your spirit. Do one new thing for health and well-being this week.

4. Don’t forget your significant other. As new moms, we often neglect our primary relationships. It may be hard to get out for date night for a while but find time to bond. Take advantage of naptime on weekends and rent a movie together or light a candle and play cards.

5. Get out of your zip code. Hire a sitter or borrow your mom for a while and plan a trip to another neighborhood–even for an hour. Simply getting out of your immediate area can give you a new perspective on everything.”


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