An Uncomplicated Life Blog: 2019

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Monday, December 9, 2019

Favorite Moments Of 2019

As 2019 draws to an ever closer end, here's my look back on the year and all the high point that made it great


I literally have Auld Lang Syne running through my head as I type this, and it's still just early December, ha! I usually take the last two or so weeks of the year off, so that's why I'm starting the 2019 wrap up now. We talked about goals already, I don't think the low parts of the year are worth rehashing, so this post is all about what made the year great for me. It's mostly what made it great professionally, but I'm including a few tidbits of personal details too to keep it interesting. Here are my favorite moments of 2019:

- Watching my son's come into their own person(s)
Henry can now ride a bike without any training wheels and his pedals fully installed on his balance bike. He's playing for his elementary's basketball team, and within a few months, advanced three or four levels of swim lessons. He's athletically inclined! Otto, on the other hand, loves music. He can hear a song once, and be able to sing along with it in the car. It blows my non-musical mind! He could carry a tune (and be in tune) before he was three. I think some sort of dance or music lesson of some sort is in his future. The twins are starting to develop their own personalities too - Teddy is more verbal and loves to talk, while Knox is more physical and loves to play and "do stuff." Knox is easily self-entertained and is always playing, walking, or moving. I wonder if Teddy will take after Otto and Knox after Henry! Time will tell.

Matchy matchy even though their personalities are all coming out now and they all couldn't be more different!

- Niching down
I've now been active in the blogging world long enough, and have developed a portfolio of brand partnerships strong enough to really work with exactly who I want to (see below for my partnership with Revive, right?!) I decided to narrow down the brands to cooking related, child related and eco-friendly or "green." And the coolest part about that is that this year, all those types of brands were the ones who reached out to ME to partner - I didn't have to do anything besides answer emails! Sure, a few random brands reached out, but by and large, everyone who did were people I'd actually want to work with. That makes me feel like I've finally built a reputation as a knowledgeable source on those three key topics that I want to write and share about, and brands are seeking not only my creative side for my ideas, but my marketing expertise too. Yet again... Finally!

Creating recipes, having honest convos about motherhood, exploring gardening and doing it all with a "crunchy" twist has been so fun this year!

- Embracing my passions
I suppose this kind of relates to niching down too. But more than simply writing about my desired topics and partnering with great brands that I'd buy anyway, it's speaking my truth and being myself on social media. It's having an opinion I'm not scared to share. If I've got an opinion about the latest controversy in motherhood, I'll share it. At first I was afraid I'd offend people, but here's what really happened: I get tons and tons of DM's and emails from followers THANKING me for speaking my mind! Saying they agree with me and support me. I even had a follower send me a gift because I spoke up about a topic she was passionate about, and appreciated me taking a public stand on it! That absolutely was a favorite moment of 2019 for me. Every time a follower sends me a message saying I'm hilarious or made their day or they feel like we're secret best friends, my day is made. 100 percent made. It is SO freeing to be yourself and it's rewarding to have people comment on how you make their day by being your true self. This is definitely one of the best things to happen to me all year.


- Discovering REVIVE essential oils
Two words: GAME. CHANGER. I had been a Young Living distributor for a few years, and made all of about $30 from them. Then they wanted me to take down some of my best performing content, and the best course of action for me was to stop (attempting) to sell their oils on my site. But that brand has a website that's hard to navigate ("what exactly is an enroller ID and what the heck am I actually buying... I just want some lavender!) and so expensive, even affluent readers didn't want to take the plunge. And I don't blame them. I felt guilty every month spending the money I did on those oils too!

Then one of the Instagram accounts I really trust for oil recommendations said Revive was the best out there. I went to their site and saw that a bottle of lavender was $7 and they had free shipping, so I thought ok - I'll get one bottle and compare it directly to YL. I had tried other brands before and was consistently disappointed. Revive did NOT disappoint! I couldn't tell the difference between the two lavenders. So I ordered lemon, peppermint and frankincense, three more oils I use regularly. All were of equal quality to YL, and I got all of them for less than one 5ml bottle of Frankincense from Young Living.

Have you tried Revive oils yet?
After researching and trying the oils myself, I reached out to the company to see if they had an affiliate program. They had just launched it! I got my discount code and got to work updating my most popular blog posts. And I'm THRILLED to say that their brand was a natural fit for me! FINALLY! Within 4 months, I became their number one sales rep in the world. The. World. My website is a top traffic and sales driver for them. I've partnered with them on marketing campaigns and they genuinely listen to my recommendations. It's by far the best brand partnership I've ever experienced! They let me bounce ideas off of them and we create together. They're hands down the reason my blog was successful in 2019! My first paycheck was enough to pay my cell phone bill. Now it can fund the mortgage!

If you're skeptical about oils or you don't think Revive is good option, accept my challenge: Go to revive-eo.com/shop and pick out an oil. If you don't know what to get, let me suggest the lavender. Use code PAIGE10 to get 10% your first order (along with free shipping to the US and Canada!) and try it yourself. If you don't like it, email me and I'll buy it back from you! One bottle. It will change your mind and your life.

2019 was a hard year personally. It was full of nonstop diaper changes, sleep regressions and breastfeeding twins. Late in the year, the twins finally started to sleep through the night and they were fully weaned by 13 and a half months. Since both those milestones, my personal life has become much easier and more manageable! My professional life was another story! 2019 was a roller coaster. I started the year off strong and confident. Then hit a low in mid-March and stayed low until I found Revive. I can say that, in 20/20 hindsight, the year was full of growth and learning that is definitely ending on a positive. I'm so thrilled on where I'm at in both my personal and professional life heading into 2020. I hope it's a sign of good things to come!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Goals For 2020

New Year, new decade! Here's what I'm hoping to accomplish, both personally and professionally, in 2020


I'll be honest; I love reading other people's goals. Usually, it not only gives me things to consider for my own life or business, but it also sheds perspective on why a person is the way he or she is. This New Year's is a big one. It's the start of a whole new decade. I've now been blogging for six years, and it's a totally different animal than when I started. I also am a homeowner and a mom to four boys. Given all that changed this decade, I thought it'd be fun to share my short term goals for the year and some long term visions I have for the future. Here are my goals for 2020, and where I hope to head both personally and professionally into this new decade.


Personal goals for the decade:
- Stay in shape; stay vegetarian 3-4 days a week. I hope to keep working out most days of the week, and hope to keep learning about new ways to incorporate vegetarian dishes into our everyday lives. I know eating vegetarian is key to a better environment; and what meat I do buy, I want to learn how to buy off local farms. It's funny - when I lived in Minnesota, EVERYONE belonged to a meat and veggie farm co-op - here, it's all a new thing. I'm slowly learning about local farm shares, buying local meat, and growing our own veggies (see my goals for gardening above!) I hope to expand that into the future and cut out as much waste and transportation as I can, to help the environment, improve my family's health, and support local business owners.

- Move into a larger home. Man, y'all.. This one might kill me. I LOVE our home. I LOVE it. I walked into it and knew it was home immediately. In fact, I made an offer on it while my husband was traveling (with his permission) because I knew this was where we needed to be. But it's a four bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home. And we have four we have four kids, only out of state family and both my husband and I office from home. Currently, my "office" is in the corner of the play room and his is in a corner of the formal dining room. Everyone shares a bedroom.  All boys plus guests need to share a bathroom. Some days, I seriously can't wait to move into a bigger home. Other days the thought of leaving it makes me nearly burst into tears. It's still fine for now, but as our babies grow... It's going to get very small very quickly. I just wish it was a tad larger, or even just had one more bathroom... First world probs, right?! A larger home is def on the list for the next decade, though, as our boys grow up and become TEENAGERS. They'll be teenagers within a decade! Ahhhhhh!

Personal goals for 2020:
- Learn more about gardening. I suppose this could be a professional goal too, since my gardening posts are some of my most popular, but truly this is a personal passion of mine that I've simply translated into my professional life. As you know, I have a raised garden bed in our backyard that I mostly use for veggies. I do lots of container gardening for flowers too. And this last year was one of my most successful yet! Mostly, I've been learning via trial and error, which was fun... But it's time to start to attempt to limit the errors! My flowers are usually always a success but my veggies are at a 50% success/fail rate. I want to dive deeper into what veggies should be planted when so I have a better yield, what flowers do best in the Texas heat, and share more of that with y'all. We have great landscaping, and we have beautiful potted plants, but I'd really like to learn more about when and what grows best when and where to optimize our garden life - of course, doing it organically and as sustainably as possible. In other words, I won't be dumping a bunch of chemicals and fertilizer (outside of manure) on the plants to make them grow artificially.


Professional goals for the decade:
- Be flexible. Here's the truth: who knows where influencer marketing is headed. I think 2017-2018 really did a number of our credibility. I think it will still exist, I'm just not sure in what form. But I hope to still work for myself, with my flexible schedule. I believe that blogging, in whatever form, will ALWAYS exist, but do I think the dependence on social medial will be the same in the next 10 years? Absolutely not. I think we'll see a return to independent website marketing, like we saw in 2014-15, and perhaps more talented, dedicated bloggers will write for the personal blogs of professional websites, and run their own more "underground" or grassroots web sites. One thing that's clear heading into 2020 is that people are SICK of social media. They still consume it, but they're sick of it, and it's only a matter of time before they stop consuming what they're sick of. Here's to adapting to the next chapter, whatever that is!

- Learn a new skill. I'm not sure what that skill will be, but I'd love to learn a new skill to keep me relevant. This past decade, I learned photography. I had been in marketing communications and a writer since I graduated undergrad, so the writing aspect of blogging was a natural fit. But very quickly, I learned that I'd need to learn how to take GOOD pictures. Then I learned that I needed a DSLR camera, and would need to learn how to use it too, and I'd also need to learn how to size and edit those photos. What will the new skill set be? Dunno! Maybe learn more about HTML. Maybe learn how to work in wordpress and transfer this whole site over to a self-hosted domain. Maybe I'll learn a new trade or craft that I end up selling on my site. I'm not sure yet, but I'd love to learn a new skill to keep me motivated and my mind fresh.

Professional goals for 2020:
- Go to a blog conference. In 2015, I went to two, and learned SO much! It was so fun to network and meet people in person. In 2016, I had a young breastfed baby at home so I couldn't travel or attend, and then in 2017, there weren't any coming to Dallas that I wanted to attend. Now I'm more aware of which conferences would benefit me, and they all involve getting on a plane and traveling to them. And I SO want to go. My goal is to go to one, even if that means airfare and hotel and all the other expenses of a conference. If there's also one coming to Dallas, I want to do two! But definitely hit up one big blogger conference and expand my network this year. It's been far too long since I hung out with people in person!

Are you a goal setter? I remember always being annoyed with year end reviews and goal settings sessions when I worked a 9-5, and find it hilarious that I'm now doing it annually on my own and also reading everyone else's goal posts and statuses on social media. Tis the season for goal setting! Get your mind right and set up your decade for success. I love that I not only write these to make them concrete, I publish them publicly so that I'm held accountable for them. Go set some goals and do little things everyday that drives you to those goals' success.

Monday, December 2, 2019

How We Manage Holiday Gift Giving

With Christmas around the corner, my mom groups are talking nonstop about stocking stuffers and how each family manages gift giving. Here's what we've found to be most effective


All my kids are still young enough to believe in Santa. I'm not looking forward to the day where Henry learns there's not such thing, but until then, we'll Santa on! They each have stockings with their names on it hung over our fireplace. Personally, I wasn't aware there was a controversy surrounding Santa and the gifts he brings (or doesn't) until I was scrolling Facebook and saw all these moms get into heated debates about it. Then I thought about gift giving in general, and how my husband and I manage it, and realized yes - there absolutely needs to be a strategy if you've got a large family and many people who want to gift presents to your child(ren). In the season of giving, and as a person who is anti-materialism and consumerism, here's how we manage holiday gift giving. Hopefully, it inspires you to be more mindful about how gifts are given (and received) in your home, too.


There's a popular article circling on social media about the four gift rule: give your kids four gifts for Christmas - something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. Clever with the rhyming! And easy enough to implement. But what about family members that want to gift the kids things? What about Santa?

We have an interesting situation because we have all out of state family. Nobody is showing up for any holiday with gifts; rather, they ship them to us. Which works well, because I can run an interference! While I know they mean well, sometimes the gifts our families send are simply too many. Which seems like it would be a good problem to have, but let me tell you about what happens when your children have too many gifts: Christmas turns into a straight up nightmare. The kids get over stimulated and overwhelmed with all the opening and excitement of new toys. For the first few presents, everything is fun and watching your kids' eyes light up is the BEST. Then they start to get over-stimulated, and with every new present placed in front of them, they fall deeper and deeper into a whiny, overly excited and hyper-stimulated state. Soon, they're fighting over who's presents are who's and aren't listening because they want to go and play with the last toy they opened that really excited them. Things fall apart. Quickly.

If you're a parent of toddler aged kids or older, odds are good you've had this happen, be it Christmas or a birthday. It takes a fun celebration and makes it hell. Yup, hell.

Creepy Elfie watching the kids from the TV. Who came up with this tradition?!

What can be done about it? First, we ask our parents (the kids' grandparents) for contributions to their 529 college funds instead. Still, I know they find it fun to shop and wrap up presents for them, and despite everyone's best intentions, large boxes of presents show up at our door. I take one for each child, and place it under the tree. Not too early, because that's too much temptation for toddlers (and frankly, our 13 month old twins would open them and chew on the paper!) so a few days before Christmas, I set out a few of the gifts. I usually take what we get and cut it in half. The other half the kids get to open on their birthday. That's super easy for Otto since he was born Dec 18. Henry waits until his birthday in May (he never misses the presents he never sees anyway!) And yes, the twins will have to wait all the way until October to open the other half of their gifts. That's a long wait, so I try to put out any age-sensitive gifts first.

Honestly, last year my husband and I didn't do any shopping for the kids. What was sent to us from grandparents was far more than enough.

Now what about Santa? Growing up, Santa always gave me small gifts. Things like magazines, candy, new gloves or socks, and maybe a small accessory for a doll or stuffed animal. I'm talking gifts under $15! I think this is the best way to do it. Nothing expensive for flashy, just fun little treasures to open up on Christmas morning. This way, the "big gifts" are given the night before on Christmas Eve, and Christmas morning is spent opening a few little items from Santa, then playing with the toys from the night before.


I know some people like to have Santa bring the "big" gifts, but that's never been how my family has done it. Why? For starters, it makes your kids wake up even EARLIER on Christmas, since they're excited to see what they're getting. My kids wake up at 6:30am anyway, and I sure as heck don't want them getting up any earlier, especially after a night of having wine during Christmas Eve dinner! Second, why give "credit" of the expensive gifts to a make believe person? No, mommy and daddy or grandma and grandpa got you that! Not every child's family can afford some of the gifts my kids are able to get, and having that come from Santa sets up my kids to be "bragging" or make others feel bad about what Santa brought them. That's too intense for a make believe character for me. Third, what do you do after your kids are too old to believe in Santa? Or when one is but the others aren't? Just transition those gifts from coming from Santa to magically coming from family now? That doesn't make sense to me, and it certainly doesn't make sense to your kids.

I think the theme of our holiday gift giving is attempting to simplify. Some years I'm better at it than others. Some years it's easier than others. But the attempt is always there, to curb meltdowns and over stimulation. In a world of materialism, I want my kids to focus on what the season is all about: love, family and togetherness. Celebrating the birth of our Savior. Not new toys and technology and bikes and games. None of that will mean anything to them in  a few years, but spending time together will create memories that will last a lifetime. Creating holiday traditions will last and perhaps even carry over into when they start their own families. THAT is what's really important; not the gifts. Simplify your holiday gift giving and watch how much more fun the Christmas season is, both for you and your kids.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Taking the day to cook and chill with my family! It's just my hubby, the kids and me this year which is a nice relaxing change from years past. You can bet we've got the Macy's Parade on the TV with cinnamon rolls baking, the turkey is going in next, we'll probably take an afternoon walk to our neighborhood park after we eat, and Christmas movies will be on later tonight.

Happy Thanksgiving! One of the biggest blessings I'm thankful for is this blog and you coming to read it. You've provided me a way to be home with my kids, earn an income, interact and stay connected, laugh, love, and meet new friends. Thanks to YOU for reading me and putting up with my antics on social media. Happy Thanksgiving friends! I'll see y'all with new content Monday.

Peace and love,
Paige


Hope your bird turns out as good as this one! Need some turkey cooking tips? Check out my best ones here!

Monday, November 25, 2019

My Favorite Moments As A Twin Mom

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Triple Paste Medicated Ointment for Diaper Rash. All opinions are 100% mine.


While it's trendy to talk about all the ways motherhood is hard or outright stinks, here are some ways it's so fun and beautiful!


We started introducing solids at the 6 month mark with a variety of purees, but now that they each have eight teeth (and are currently cutting their one year molars) they're on regular table food. And honestly, they lost interest in purees very quickly.

Fruit and crackers: Teddy's favorites
One thing that's NOT fun about teething and introducing solids is the diaper rash that can come along with it. The twins aren't prone to diaper rash at all. In fact, the first time they ever had a diaper rash was when they went on antibiotics for an ear infection at 4 months old. But since introducing new foods, I notice every now and again they'll both have red bums. The twins still nurse twice a day but we also give them a little bit of whole milk to supplement and increase their fat intake. I've noticed that dairy in particular seems to be a driver of diaper rash for Teddy. I love using Triple Paste to take care of it quickly! Trust me, I've used just about every cream on the market (Otto was extremely prone to horrible diaper rash, so I learned allllllll about which cream is the most effective with him). Triple paste is the best by far! Save yourself some money and time stock up on it if you've got a baby entering or in the "teething and new foods" stage. Don't waste your time with the other brands! Trust me, you'll want this stuff on hand to quickly take care of any red bums after you've started solids and/or when your baby starts to cut teeth.

Diaper changes on the floor with distractions!
Being a twin mom has been a wild ride. Sure, lots of moments were stressful (times two!) or sleepless. But that means the good moments are enjoyable times two, too. And we're entering my favorite age, full of so many fun "firsts" like new teeth and new foods, discovering toys, crawling, and (hopefully soon) walking. Being a mom is hard, it's exhausting, it's frustrating and it's relentless; but it's also full of so many fun memories. I can't wait to make even more favorite moments as a twin mom, and I'm so glad I have Triple Paste to make my life easier.

Don’t forget to enter this amazing GIVEAWAY: Triple Paste is giving a $150 e-Gift Card from buybuyBABY.com and a Baby Gift Basket to 5 lucky winners! Enter Here: sumlab.com/giveaway

Thursday, November 21, 2019

5 Best Anti-Aging Essential Oils

At 35, I have minimal wrinkles and crows feet. Here's how I keep my skin looking youthful with essential oils, from the exact oils I use to how I apply them.


I remember when I turned 30, I saw it in a photo of me: the beginnings of crows feet around my eyes when I smiled. Now, I'm not one of those women who are terrified of aging. In fact, I'm more terrified of Botox and what's in that to cause muscle paralysis than I am of wrinkling or aging skin! I've been invited, but have yet to go to the Botox parties that are extremely popular here in Dallas. Instead, I went the more natural route. I did some research on skin care and essential oils that help your skin fight the free radicals in the air from pollution and from years of sun damage, and I started there. So far, I'm more than impressed. Here are the 5 best anti-aging essential oils I use, and how I use them to combat aging skin on my face, neck, hands and upper chest.


I'm going to go head and state the obvious, just in case there was any question. The best way to prevent premature aging is to stay out of the sun, and to wear sunscreen daily. Yes, even in the winter. Yes, even if you're "just" going to sit in the shade. Yes, even if you're just going to garden for an hour, or take the kids to the park for a bit. Everyday. Every time. My favorite is Babo Botanicals tinted SPF. I don't wear foundation. In fact, I wear very little makeup and don't use many products because it's actually been proven that the chemicals in conventional skincare in the United States prematurely ages your skin. If you're interested in my standard morning routine and the products I use, you can check it out in this two minute makeup routine post where I outline it all.

Sunscreen? Check. High quality, organic and chemically minimal skincare? Check. What else can we use to combat aging? The following essential oils!

I mix in frankincense and lavender to my face cream daily, just in the palm of my hand before applying to my face and neck

       
5 best anti-aging essential oils
Geranium and Rose Geranium - a strong anti-inflammatory, this oil helps to shrink pores and tighten skin. I notice my face is brighter within about two minutes of mixing one drop with my daily moisturizer. When I have dry, pale winter skin, this is my go-to oil to apply in the morning to my face and neck! It's a strong anti-oxidant, so it will fight the free radicals in the air (thanks pollution) to help reduce daily damage to your skin.

Frankincense - known for thousands of years to be beneficial to the skin, this oil is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiseptic, all three factors that are essential to slowing down the aging process of your skin. It helps your skin regenerate cells faster, so it's the "go to" oil for reducing age spots, sun damage and balancing your skin's pH, which helps improve it's tone and elasticity. FYI, this oil is also great for stretch marks!

Carrot Seed - not commonly found on many lists, this oil is just starting to prove it's worth scientifically. It contains a large amount of flavonoids which improve the outer most layers of the skin. It's also high in carotol, which helps regenerate skin cells. Just like geranium, it works to fight the free radical damage done to the skin so that new wrinkles and age spots don't form. You can also add a drop or two to your body moisturizer to help tighten the skin on your arms and legs. 

Lavender - is there anything this oil isn't good for?! I always say if you're skeptical about essential oils, buy a bottle of lavender. It's a known "soother" so if you have dry, irritated, inflamed skin, lavender will help. Like Frankincense, it assists your cell regeneration so that your damaged skin cells can turn over faster. A unique thing about this oil is that it indirectly helps your body do it's job better by reducing stress (a major factor in aging!) and promoting better sleep. When you sleep well and are less stressed, your body naturally ages slower.

Ylang Ylang - this oil is known for moisturizing the skin. Moisture balance often becomes a problem as we age, and the drier your skin is, the more likely it is to wrinkle and form fine lines. Ylang Ylang works to balance the skin's sebum, keeping it hydrated without producing too much oil.

Another great oil - perhaps the QUEEN of essential oils for skincare - is rose essential oil. I didn't include it on my top 5 list because it's so insanely expensive, it's not obtainable for the average person. Young Living sells it for well over $200 for a 5ml bottle; Revive will launch it soon for $70 for a 2.5ml bottle (click here to get added to the waitlist for it's launch! I'll be getting this as soon as it's available myself) or they have a rose oil roll on for $50 which you can get today. Why is rose the best in terms of skincare? It's insanely rich in microbial and anti-inflammatory compounds that help refine the skin's tone and texture. It's a moisturizing oil that works to deepen the skin's natural moisture without causing breakouts. It's kinda like Lavender, Ylang Ylang and Frankincense all rolled into one, with an incredible scent to boot. 

At 35, I'm feeling great about how my skin is "aging"
What I've learned (hopefully early enough) is that the best methods in anti-aging are all preventative based. It's hard to actually reverse aging; therefore, it's best to try to curb what causes it! Wearing sunscreen is a great first step. Even better, stay out of the sun or wear a hat! After that, limit your exposure to skincare chemicals that actually work against you. After that, the essential oils from plant materials are one of your best bets to fight free radicals that age the skin; these are found in pollution and from sun damage.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Holiday Hostess Hacks

If you're hosting a get-together during the upcoming holiday season, be sure to check out these hostess hacks so that your guests are comfortable and enjoy themselves


This post is sponsored by McCormick® but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Since my mid 20's, I've hosted at least one of the major holidays. I love to cook and I love to make a whole bunch of food for people. Now that I have four kids, I ask my family to come to us for the holidays, because who wants to deal with flights and flight delays with four kids age five and under?! Not to mention the expense of traveling with a family of six. And all our family is a flight (or two) away. So! I'd much rather host my family and friends than travel to others. Especially since I'm a decent cook. I've learned some great hostess-ing hacks in the 10 or so years I've been a hostess, and want to share some of my best cooking and hostessing tips with y'all so you can host with confidence too. Here are my best holiday hostess hacks to ensure everyone (even you!) have a great holiday season.


If you're like me and live in Texas, you've got to check out H-E-B for all your holiday shopping. Now, I hadn't previously been to an H-E-B because the closest one is about 45 minutes from my North Dallas home. But I ventured out to Waxahachie (which is about the most fun name of a town to pronounce ever) to visit the store closest to me, and I was so pleasantly surprised! They have EVERYTHING. Organic produce, conventional brands, a pharmacy, they even sell clothes! The aisles are clearly labeled so even if you're new to the store like I was, you can easily find what you're looking for. I was able to get in, get what I needed and be back on my way to Dallas in less than 15 minutes. I really appreciated the way they organized and labeled their McCormick® spices, too - it's alphabetical, so whatever you're looking for is easy to find. Holiday hostesses, if you're in Texas, you've got to get your goods at H-E-B.




Preparing the bird:
I think one of the most daunting tasks of hosting is preparing the bird. Hams are easy - just throw them in the oven to warm them. Maybe add a glaze if there isn't already one on there. But a turkey?! Or a whole bunch of Cornish hens? You have to take the neck and gizzards out of the body cavity. You have to position the legs for baking. You've got to season it right and bake it correctly. It's intimidating! I've made a few bad turkeys in my life. Well, not bad, just cooked wrong. Here is the absolute BEST way to roast poultry for the holidays, that I've learned via trial and error over the years:


Positioning:
You want to get the bird in the right position in the pan for the best baking result. Now, my method isn't the prettiest! You won't land the cover of Food and Wine Magazine with this method. But you will have a fully cooked bird, with the white meat staying moist and the dark meat fully cooked. I happened across this method on complete accident. I put my bird in upside down and didn't realize it until I went to carve it, and saw that the breast meat was on the bottom. It was the juiciest bird we had ever had! So, from there on out, I cook all my poultry upside down. As the skin and the other meat roasts, the fat drips into the white breast meat, which is notorious for drying out. It dries out because it cooks the fastest. When you put it on the bottom of the roasting pan, therefore cooking it upside down, it cooks slower and also gets all the drippings running through it as you bake it. This keeps it moist and delicious as the other parts of the bird, typically the thighs, take the longest to fully bake. It's recommended that you cook poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Stick your meat thermometer in the hip joint. When it says 160, pull your bird out of the oven and cover it in foil. The remaining five degrees will come up from residual heat and your bird won't be over cooked. That, along with putting your bird upside down, will result in some of the best and juiciest poultry you could hope for.

Seasoning:
I like to keep the seasoning of the bird super simple. Especially with other holiday side dishes, that tend to dominate the flavor dynamic of the meal. There are heavy flavors in holiday foods - lots of sage, rosemary, butter and salt - so I like to keep my poultry light. I'm a big fan of stuffing the body cavity with a quartered onion, a stick of celery that's been quartered, a carrot that's been quartered, and then a lemon that's either cut in half or quartered. The citrus provides a fresh taste that cuts the entire stick of butter I recommend rubbing all over the skin (to help it brown and provide additional fat for the gravy) then sprinkle it with a light coating of kosher salt and McCormick® Poultry Seasoning all over the skin.

Perfectly Baked Bird:
- 1 stick of room temp butter
- 1/2 a medium onion
- 1 stock of celery, cut into large pieces
- 1 medium carrot, cut into large pieces
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 teaspoon McCormick® Poultry Seasoning
- 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Cover the skin in a stick of room temp butter (rub it all over!) Fill the body cavity with the onion, celery, carrot and lemon. Sprinkle McCormick® Poultry seasoning and kosher salt on the skin of the bird. Bake at 350 (for a chicken) or 325 (for a turkey) for 10 to 15 minutes per pound, or until your meat thermometer reads 160.


Baking time:
The key to baking a bird is that it needs to be defrosted in order to cook evenly. The range is 10-15 minutes per pound. If you have a convection oven, you'll be more like 10 minutes per pound. If you have an old school electric oven, you'll be closer to 15, provided your oven has even heat. I'm not a fan of adhering too much to TIME, but rather using it as a guide to watch the meat thermometer you use, and being sure to pull your bird at 160 degrees. If you didn't buy a turkey in time to fully defrost it, you're looking more at 20 minutes per pound of baking time, but beware! Your bird won't cook evenly unless it's totally unfrozen. It's best to have a completely thawed turkey.

A few more tips:
  • For the first few hours, bake it under a tinfoil tent so that it doesn't get too brown too fast
  • Baste your turkey in the juices that run in the pan every 20-25 minutes. A turkey baster is the easiest way to do this, or a food/cooking brush can be used to rub the skin with the pan juices.

Easy appetizer for holiday get-togethers
One of the things about being a hostess is having all your guests' needs met when they arrive (or shortly thereafter). I like to have drinks already made, wine chilled, the table already set, essential oils diffusing and a few snacks out upon the arrival of guests. This way nobody is thirsty, hungry, my home smells great and I don't have to waste my time setting a table when I'm already maxed out with cooking. And I like to do as much of this ahead of time (aka the night before) as possible! A snack we always had out growing up was seasoned and candied pecans. They're easy to make ahead of time, they sit out well (no refrigeration needed), they're easy to eat one or a handful at a time, and they've got a surprise kick to them.




Spicy Candied Pecans:
- 1 12oz bag whole pecans
- 3 tablespoons of salted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 teaspoon McCormick® Pumpkin Pie Spice
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon McCormick® Ground Red Pepper (depending on how spicy you or your guests like it)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over low heat, then add the seasoning, extract, sugar and salt. Cook until the sugar bubbles for a minute or two, then add the pecans. Coat the pecans with the mixture evenly, then pour out on to wax or parchment paper to cool and harden. Break up any large pieces and place in a bowl where your guests can easily snack on the nuts while they wait for the main meal. Enjoy!


Hosting for the holidays can be stressful. Use these tips to ensure your bird is cooked perfectly every time, and put out some spicy candied pecans for your guests to enjoy as they wait for the main meal. Fellow Texans, make sure and do your holiday meal shopping at H-E-B for great deals and one-stop shopping! Their variety of products and organization of their spice aisle will make your life so much easier.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Creative Christmas Wrapping Ideas

Creative and environmentally friendly ways to wrap your presents and gifts this holiday season


I LOVE wrapping presents. My husband and I make a good team because he does the shopping, and I do the wrapping. I very much dislike shopping, but wrapping is a fun art form to me. Whereas his wrapping leaves... a bit to be desired! This year, I thought it'd be fun to try something different. I've been on a small crusade to make my home more eco-friendly, and it's always struck me how wasteful wrapping paper is. Especially if you're a last minute shopper, then the wrapping is only on the present for a small time before it's ripped up and thrown in the trash! The print on it makes it not even appropriate for your fireplace. So this year, I've come up with some creative Christmas wrap ideas that are eco-friendly, easy to do and honestly, cost effective too.


As I was researching this post, I was sitting at a lunch bar that I frequent and was talking to some other regulars as I worked. We all chat about what we do regularly, and we all have very different jobs: hairstylist, insurance agent, small business owner, clothier and so on. But there was one consistent response as I unofficially polled my regular lunch companions - nobody has time for super fancy wrapping! With that in mind, I wanted to keep my "creative" ideas as simple and as easy to implement as possible, while keeping it classy and good looking. So I came up with a few variations for you:

I reused brown paper bags from Whole Foods, cutting them open and using the inside which has no printing on it. Then I used twine I had leftover from goodness knows what, and attached a few jingle bells I had leftover from photographing this DIY peppermint foot scrub (which is a great gift to wrap in this, I should add!). I also had some snowflakes that I used regular white glue to adhere to the front of the package. Instead of using a gift tag, I used a metallic Sharpie to write the gift recipients name on the package and boom. Done. It took all of 4-5 minutes, too.

Wrapping tips for:

Reusing grocery bags for wrapping
- cut the bottom out of the bag
- remove the handles, if there are any
- turn inside out

Making clean edges when wrapping
- after taping the wrapping around the package lengthwise, use your thumbs to press the short edges inward
- crease with your fingers
- cut the top (where you taped the lengthwise seam) of the wrapping short enough to just cover the sides of your package
- pull the bottom piece up and around and secure with tape



To decorate the paper bag wrapping, I got creative with holiday decorations I already had on hand. Twine keeps the look farmhouse rustic; jingle bells add flair and color; the snowflakes are easy to attach with a glue stick; and the candy canes I had on hand as a former photo prop from this DIY ornament (hint hint, another great gift you could wrap with these creative Christmas wrapping ideas!) and were super easy to incorporate into the packaging.




The thing that I like about the paper bag is that it's so versatile - what do you have? Maybe you have a rubber stamp collection - get some gold or silver ink and go to town! Or perhaps you've got an amazing ribbon collection. The brown paper works with just about any ribbon, from glittery and fancy to twine, like you see me use. Have fun colored Sharpie markers? Yup, those work too! Glitter paint or pens? Those are perfect. This method really works with whatever you already have, or all you need is a few cheap additions (those snowflakes were $1.99 for three colors, and the jingle bells weren't much more!)

Like it? Pin it!

I wasn't kidding when I said each package took 2-5 minutes, depending on what I did. Which is about standard for wrapping any present and tying a ribbon on it with a gift tag. So not only is this method eco-friendly because you're reusing paper bags and potentially other materials too, but it's also more cost effective than traditional wrapping. Not to mention, nobody else's presents will look like yours, so when you bring them to your family's Christmas, they'll stand out with your creativity!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Currently, November Edition

Here's what happening around here, currently


It's a total cliche, but man if it isn't true: I blinked, and it's the holidays already. Thanksgiving is perhaps my absolute favorite: memories were made over Halloween but there's still Christmas to look forward to. Stuffing/dressing (do you know the difference? It's in how it's cooked - stuffing is actually placed inside the turkey to bake while dressing is in it's own pan. The more you know, right?!) with gravy is probably one of my favorite foods, and I love getting up Thanksgiving morning to start cooking and to watch the parade (from the warmth of my home) with my kids. They're at the age where the balloons are fascinating and "super cool" to them, and I'll soak up these precious years while I can. Outside of the holidays, here's what's going on around here currently:

Otto is OBSESSED with Frozen, and I AM HERE FOR IT.
Y'all this kid. He loooooooves Elsa. I don't understand where the current obsession came from, because we've had and watched the movie for years. We did bring it in the car for our trip to Galveston last August... But even more recently than that, this kid is all about that Frozen life. I already got us tickets to see Frozen II with a friend and her two boys. And yes, Otto will probably be dressed up as Elsa. I told my friend to bring bail money, because if I hear anyone say something about how a little boy is dressed up as a princess, I'm losing it on them. All that mess aside, it's so fun to see his eyes light up when the music comes on and how much he loves it. I'm not that big a fan myself, but this movie theater has great food (popcorn with REAL butter), wine and overstuffed reclining seats so hey - even the most annoying of children's movies is a fun time.

My princess loving little boy Otto

Henry is a full fledged little boy.
We got his school pics and it was the first time I really noticed that he's no longer a toddler - he's a kid! He's in boy size 7 or 8 now. He has opinions. He just went on his first field trip with school where he rode an actual school bus. I know that doesn't seem like a big deal to most parents, but our bus system in Dallas is... Unsafe. Nearly every week there's a crash, it's not unusual for it to be fatal, and the drivers, of SCHOOL BUSES, are so bad at running red lights, they installed cameras on the buses to track driving performance. Needless to say, I was excited for his field trip but terrified that he'd be on a bus. All went well and I, not he, climbed that first mountain. He's lost all his baby chub and is for sure a big (little) boy now.

Photo of a photo so the quality is awful but look at this man child I have! And that forced smile, haha! Oh, school photos

Convinced I'll get my act together for Christmas early this year.
I'm that woman who's a last minute shopper. In fact, I normally don't even do any shopping for the kids - I leave that to my husband. Now we all know that I'm not a big shopper in general, but you'd think since I love the holiday so much, I'd be all about it, right? NO. I can't stand holiday shopping. Ughhhh, finding a parking spot during December is the worst. But! I'm going to try to get all my shopping done this month so I don't even need to worry about parking spots. Here's to hoping I can get it done... What are y'all getting your spouses? He's the hardest one to shop for!

Looking forward to 2020.
Here's a weird trend I've noticed about my life: odd years are always harder or more stressful than even years. Almost without fail, this holds true! I spent the first part of 2015 deep in postpartum depression with Henry. Then in 2016 I had Otto (well, he came Christmas of 2015) and adjusting to two babies was so much easier than I thought. I didn't have PPD with him. We hired a nanny, who still works for us, and this blog started to make good money. 2017 was one of the most challenging years I've had as an adult. Perhaps I'll open up about it in a blog post soon... But man, that was a hard one. Then I got pregnant with twins in early 2018 and it was an easy, complication free pregnancy. 2019 was all about survival mode with two infants and two toddlers and a husband who travels extensively for work. As we head into 2020, all my kids sleep from 7pm to 7am (a MIRACLE), Henry is now an actual kid and no longer a toddler, the twins will start walking and I only need to cook one dinner as everyone can eat table food. So right off the bat, it's set up better than 2019! I'm looking forward to having more energy, more sleep, and older kids who are more independent which translates to more time to pursue personal interests - which, of course, will result in fun blog posts. Bring on an even year!


Switched up my veggie garden for fall.
There's still herbs (sage and rosemary, great for the Thanksgiving meal I'll be preparing soon) growing, and I recently planted carrots that are sprouting, but on a whim, I decided to try my hand at sunflowers in my raised garden bed. It was a success! They're taller than I am now and we constantly have fresh sunflowers on our dining room table. The kids are fascinated with them. I planted a color mix, so some are yellow, some are red and a few are white. It's been a nice change, and it's great to have flowers deep into the fall. 

That's what's going on around here currently! In addition to all that above, I'm looking forward to taking a two week break from blogging around Christmas and New Years. I may even take a social media break too, it's hard to say! There's nothing better than a little reset with time away from the internet to help generate new ideas and get motivated to jump into 2020 with strong content. Holiday season 2019, here. we. come!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

A Healthier Take On Kid-Approved Favorite Meals

Sure, mac n'cheese, hot dogs and chicken tenders always go over well with toddlers and kids; here's a healthier take on a classic kid-approved meal to better serve your family


This post is sponsored by CAULIPOWER but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

While I love to cook healthy things like homemade minestrone soup and tons of variations on quinoa salads, here's the truth: I'm just like you. I'm a mom of four kids. And while the twins are still in the stage where they'll eat whatever is placed in front of them, my older two boys won't. Despite breastfeeding each of them and attempting to incorporate tons of veggies and legumes early on, I still have toddlers/young kids. And that means they love classic, comforting "kid" approved food, like mac n'cheese, hot dogs and chicken tenders. Chicken tenders is one of their all time favorites - everyone, twins included, LOVE them! I've discovered a few ways to make their meal a tad healthier for them. Here's what I've found to have a healthier take on kid-approved, favorite meals.

Let's talk about Otto's face for a min here... He couldn't be bothered with a photo, he was too busy eating!
For ages, I couldn't get Henry to eat any meat. When he was about 4, he'd at least try a chicken nugget, and by four and a half, he was requesting them for supper. Which is great! Except I felt guilty feeding him highly processed, "junk" filled protein. There were so many fat grams and so much sodium in conventional chicken tenders I wondered if there was any real protein in them!


Enter CAULIPOWER chicken tenders. They've got 86% less fat when baked than any other chicken tender on the market. They also have a reasonable calorie content - only 460 calories for the entire bag of chicken tenders. The secret is in their gluten free crust, made with cauliflower and other gluten free ingredients. And the chicken? It's all natural from cage free chickens that have never seen an antibiotic. Wanna give them a try yourself? Click here for a $2 off coupon! CAULIPOWER chicken tenders are available at most major retailers.


But do kids actually like a healthier chicken tender? I'll let these photos speak for themselves. I'd say there were a great crowd pleaser, from my one year old twins all the way to my five and a half year old kindergartner.

Knox ate the most of anyone! Kid ate four chicken tenders. Hes 12 months old. WHAT?
Even fruit loving Teddy loved them!
If you've got kids with discerning palettes, aka a good old fashioned picky eater aka every child on the face of the planet, you've got to pick your battles. Sure, sometimes it's worth the struggle to get them to try new foods. Sometimes, you've got to pick those battles and help your children experience new foods and textures. But sometimes, you've got to please your children. Sometimes, it's worth it to give them what they want. The great thing is, with CAUIPOWER chicken tenders, you don't have to sacrifice quality for great taste that your kids will love. I call that a win-win.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Weaning A Breastfed Baby

Finally, I made my breastfeeding goal of nursing my twins exclusively for a full year! Here's how I'm weaning them slowly and at a pace that works for them and ME


I can't believe it. I made it! I made my goal. Four kids later, I actually made it a full year exclusively breastfeeding... and twins, no less! Many women have asked me how I did it, what tips I have, and the most recent topic of conversation in all my mom groups, how the heck to we wean babies - perhaps not even entirely, but night weaning or having them nurse so that it's secondary nutrition and the bulk of their calories come from table food. I've done this four times now, all to various levels of success and at different times in the child's life. Here's how I'm gently weaning my breastfed babies, along with how I made it breastfeeding twins and a few tips on transitioning to solids.

I'm going to write this post backwards, since the title is about weaning. Weaning and transitioning to solids are intertwined to me. When you do one, the other naturally follows. Sometimes your child is a picky eater so introducing solids can be additionally more challenging, but usually they're one closely tied together.
 
Right at the start of our breastfeeding journey - I can't believe we're going on 13 months!

Weaning a breastfed baby
The biggest thing in weaning a baby is to do it slowly so that you don't get mastitis. As we introduced solids to the twins, they naturally became more interested in eating and less interested in nursing constantly. From birth to about five months, we nursed every 2-3 hours, usually around the clock. Then starting at 6 months, we introduced purees to let them "taste" food. Now some people are Baby Led Weaning nuts who will never do a puree. I'm not a fan of immediately giving them the food that we're eating because they literally don't know what to do with a solid in their mouth! I like to do a few months of purees so that they can taste new foods and learn how to swallow food that is a different consistency than breast milk without the choking hazard. As soon as they show signs of having that under control, we give them small amounts of the cooked (and therefore soft) food that we're eating in addition to some purees, and slowly wean off the purees until they just have what we're eating. It's almost like a hybrid baby led weaning model that's not as risky (to me) as a full BLW.

As you start to introduce solids, nursing session number and duration both start to decrease. When you're just starting out, you'll want to make sure to breast feed your child first, then offer solids. If your kids are like mine, they'll slowly transition to wanting to eat first, then feed. And then after a few months of that, they'll not even want to nurse after eating. For us, we introduced solids at 6 months and kept the normal nursing schedule. Then by 9 months they were eating solids first, then nursing. And by 11 months, they only nursed 4-5 times a day, and had regular table meals with their older brothers. So weaning down to just a handful of nursing sessions a day was nearly a 6 month process. Also, at the 11 month mark, we started to mix the one bottle they'd get a day with the milk we planned on using with them (we like whole milk - nobody has any dairy allergies and the fat and calories are best for brain development and how naturally thin my kids are). This way they got used to the taste of the bottles they'd get after the 12 month mark. 

Don't worry, just because they love table food and like whole milk doesn't mean we're done nursing! The World Health Organization recommends nursing until 2. I'm not sure if we'll make it that far, but I'd like to. Regardless, it's such a relief to have the twins on table food - almost like the pressure is off me, finally. Now that the twins are a full 12 months old, they get three meals and two snacks a day, one bottle (4oz) of whole milk and nurse first thing in the morning, once in the afternoon, and nurse to sleep. I no longer need or have to pump, and it's great!

Tips for introducing solids
Most peds are now fully on board with waiting until the 6 month mark to introduce any solids to babies. Some peds still give the ok at 4 months, but most studies show that's premature, and the tummy can't take it yet. That said, every baby is different! My first child barely showed any interest in food until 9-10 months, Otto was self feeding at 6 months, and the twins started right away at 6 months too. They only took a month or purees and then outright refused to eat anything their brothers weren't eating, whereas Henry (my first child) would have been happily fed by me until he was 18 months old! I really think it helped my younger children to have an older sibling to watch, and to want what he had. 

Once you get the ok from your ped, like I said, I'm a fan of purees for a little bit, until your child can figure out swallowing something thicker than breast milk or formula. I know a few die-hard breastfeeding friends who didn't introduce solids until 9 months to even a full year, and they had the HARDEST time getting their child to eat! I feel like there's a window of opportunity. You've got to start introducing food early enough before they'll refuse new flavors and textures, but not so soon their tummies can't take it.

Teddy loves breakfast! Eggs, toast and water

Even if your child won't eat whatever that solid is (puree, veggie, meat, whatever) KEEP TRYING. You'd be surprised how often kids change their minds. What was their favorite food one day is the worst thing that ever happened to them the next. Just because your baby won't eat carrots one day doesn't mean that he won't eat them two days later. Just because the spaghetti went down well one day doesn't mean she won't refuse it tomorrow. Just keep offering a wide range of foods. Once your child is on table food (no more purees), offer him or her whatever you're making for supper. No special meals. That means if you're making fish and veggies for dinner, that's what's offered to baby, too. In my experience, kids are a lot more likely to eat the food that they see other people eating. So if you fix a special meal for baby, they're not as likely to eat it because YOU aren't. But if you have family meals and everyone is eating it, they get their cues from you and other family members, and they're much more likely to follow suit.

A final note on encouraging kids to eat "real" food: we have the three bite rule in our home. If I've made something new and my kids don't like it, they have to have three bites. If they have three bites, they can have their bedtime snack and milk (there is NO ALTERNATIVE MEAL option). If they don't eat three bites, they're out of luck and don't even get a bedtime snack. They have to wait until the following day to eat. This rule nearly always results in my kids trying new foods, and most times, by the third bite, they decide they like it and eat it. I cannot tell you enough to never offer your child meal options if you want to break them of a picky eating habit.

Tandem feeding in the hospital after the twins were born

Night weaning
This isn't going to go over well with a lot of people but here it is: if you want to night wean your child, it really helps to stop sleeping in the same room. They can smell your milk. Everyone's sleep cycles are massively disrupted. We put the twins in their own room with their own cribs at 2 months because nobody was getting any sleep with them in our room. By 6 months, they were down to one night feed a night, which I found manageable. By 9-10 months, they slept consistently through the night - for me, that's a straight 12 hours, or longer. I think the technical definition of "sleeping through the night" is an 8-10 hour stretch, but to me that's garbage. If they go to bed at 7pm and wake up at 3am, I didn't sleep through the night, so - that's not how I define it. I need a solid 12 hour stretch for me to consider the baby sleeping through the night.

The other trick to night weaning is slowly cutting down the nursing session length each time. Then start cutting down the actual number of nursing sessions. You'll want to get your pedi's ok on this, but most babies are totally fine to not take in any nourishment for 12 hours at night starting at 6 months. Again, ask your doctor what's best for your baby. But when you get that ok, and you want to actually sleep, start timing nursing sessions. Cut a minute off each one, until you can start totally cutting some out (if they wake up crying, pat them on the back, offer a pacifier, etc)