Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 :: Living Life Out Loud

With each New Year’s beginning, I choose a word or phrase to help guide me through the coming year; call it a mantra, if you will. Past verbiage has included: firsts, learning, and simplicity; the latter was my guide through 2014. And, while my life is anything but simple, I did make some great changes to help simplify the way I and my family lived day to day. It took a lot of work on my part to make sure I stayed as close to the track as possible with this particular concept and sometimes I got a bit derailed, but I do know some wonderfully positive changes have come about for simplicity’s sake (and mine).
I tend to buck the system when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I don’t believe in them and find them detrimental to the individual who breaks a pact with one’s self. I do, however, believe in setting goals for myself each year and in hoping so, I choose a beacon to guide me on my path. This year, I will live life out loud.

In 2015, I will strive to live in the present, say yes more often to things that bring me joy, get out of my comfort zone, seek out adventures, focus on my strengths, march to the beat of my drum, and stay the course. I plan to rediscover my creative passions that were shelved long ago and inspire my boys to express their own creativity through whatever outlets they pursue. I cannot wait to sally forth into this year full of possibilities.
Wishing you all a year like none before...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Simple Living :: Enjoying Autumn One Leaf at a Time

On Wednesday, Jake and I got a moment to just enjoy the beauty of Autumn. Here's what we spied along the way....

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Taming Your Home :: How to Organize and Defy Clutter in a Week : Kitchen & Dining Room

Today, I worked super hard in the kitchen and dining room to eliminate clutter from my cabinets, pantry and counter space. If your family is anything like mine, this area of the home tends to be the busiest and the fastest to become a mess. We live in our kitchen.
Similar to the living room, the thought of where do I begin first crossed my mind when tackling the kitchen. I just picked the cabinet closest to me and dove in! As I begin, I made sure to remember I only need the items I use on a continual basis, but I also have to make sure not to get rid of items I use on a seasonal basis, too. When going through the kitchen, make sure to take your time and really think about each item’s use before getting rid of it.

In addition to cleaning out drawers and cabinets, I also tacked the pantry. This is a great time of year to take stock of your basic pantry items and refill any of them while on sale. If you have time and a little extra spending money, you can also find some great canisters for sugars, grains, spices and more. As you organize, if you come across food items you haven’t used like you thought you would and they are still in date, consider donating them to your local food pantry.
After our busy fall, I truly needed to reorganize the pantry. It helps me keep baking on track and I have a better sense of what baking items I have on hand or which ones need to be replaced.

By the time I made my way through the kitchen, I had a bag full of small appliances, old kitchen towels, food items and even a casserole dish to place into the donation pile. The kitchen had become functional again!
Our dining room is a fairly simple one. We don’t have much in it to clutter, but my baker’s rack needed some immediate attention as it is one of those clutter catching hot spots. After throwing away some old items, storing away my dried herbs from the garden, and a light dusting, it was good to go.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so I'm going to rest for the day. Friday will entail a light weekly cleaning and delivering items for donation to their drop-off points. Thus, finishing the house is a week's time.
This Fall, why not challenge yourself to go through each section of your home with several bags or boxes meant for donations, trash and recyclables? Take your time and if you need guidance refer to my past posts or leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to offer sound advice.
Tips for the kitchen and dining room:

·       Keep seasonal use only items in their own cabinet or drawer. This keeps them from crowding out your daily use items in drawers and gives them a home all on their own.

·       Don’t neglect small appliances. Sometimes we can get into the habit of purchasing these while they are on sale with every intention of using them. Realistically, many of these products go unused or after the first use, the owner realizes they are not easy to clean or simple to operate. Consider getting rid of any such items.

·       Be sure to look through your table linens and remove those with heavy stains, tears, pulls or worn.

·       I’m pretty sure everyone has a junk drawer in the kitchen. Go through it and dump the majority of it in the trash.


Graham Girl Recipes :: Chocolate Buttermilk Pie

Recently my oldest son and I made one of our most favorite pies for a Thanksgiving Feast with our friends. As always, the chocolate buttermilk pie was a hit. I've had numerous requests for the recipe and I thought I would go ahead and share it before Thanksgiving, so you could add it to your menu!

The recipe was originally made by my grandmother as a plain buttermilk pie and was my favorite. Then, my mom decided to add a bit of pizzazz to the plain, but delicious pie and made it even yummier. Thus, the chocolate buttermilk pie came to be.

Please note, this is not a beautiful pie like a hand weaved cherry or a lovely orange pumpkin, but it is absolutely, with out a doubt delicious.


1 1/2 cup  granulated sugar
   1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur)
   1/2 cup buttermilk + 1 tablespoon buttermilk
3       eggs
   1/2 teaspoon salt
   1/2 stick unsalted butter (melted)
1       teaspoon vanilla
   1/4 cup of cocoa

Let's begin:

First, combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Add melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla and combine until smooth. Add eggs and again combine. Pour into a pie shell. You may make your own pie crust or use a frozen one, either option is fine. Bake @ 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until done.

Please note, it is difficult to tell when the pie is fully cooked because of it's color. Be careful not to burn it.

If you make this pie, please let me know how you enjoyed it by commenting on this post. I do love to hear about it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Taming Your Home :: How to Organize and Defy Clutter in a Week : Master Bedroom & Living Room

Over the weekend, I finished decluttering the master bedroom. Luckily, this room was one of the quickest as I had reorganized it back in September. I did find a few items to let go – a couple of knick-knacks and some fashion jewelry. I also found a trove of lost socks our sweet dog had stolen out of the laundry basket over the past six months along with a few other random items that had “disappeared.”

In addition to getting rid of unnecessary things, I decided I could use more storage space in this particular room. With all the furniture in our bedroom, the only real unused space was found under the bed, but I couldn’t really store much under there due to height restrictions. While out running errands, I popped into Bed, Bath & Beyond and purchased a set of bed risers for $8.99. I can’t wait to get those in place and see how I can better use this particular area in our room.

After the master bedroom, the next natural step led me to the living room, which is currently full of items slated for donation, Christmas decorations, school books, garden essentials from my class, and more.  Where to begin?

First, I gathered all the donations into boxes and bags and put them in one centralized space. Then, I moved all the Christmas decorations under the tree to get them out of the way for now. Garden items made their way into the garage, but only temporarily, while school books returned to their allocated shelves. Only then could I actually begin decluttering and reorganizing.

After about an hour, I had a large stack of books ready to either be sold or donated, plus a few smaller items. Later this week, the remaining Christmas décor will find a place or it too will also end up being donated.

The kitchen and dining room will be tackled tomorrow morning followed by the boys’ rooms. Well, let’s put it this way, while I’m working in the kitchen, the boys will be working in their rooms. I’m hoping they have at least one bag of items they can part with this season.
This Fall, why not challenge yourself to go through each section of your home with several bags or boxes meant for donations, trash and recyclables? Take your time and if you need guidance refer to my past posts or leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to offer sound advice.

Tips for the master bedroom:

·       Keep clutter to a minimum in your bedroom as it can still a sense of peace and calm from you. Start in one corner of your room and work around it searching for items that have no sentimental value or décor value and remove them.

·       Double check under the bed. While you might not find any monsters, there is always something to be found.

·       If you have a TV or entertainment center in your bedroom, go through your movies and remove any you do not LOVE. The same goes with video games. Most places except used DVDs and games for store credit.

·       If you have lots of jewelry, go through your collection and keep only those pieces you love, wear, and enjoy.

·       Look for unused space in your room. Is there an empty wall which would be useful for a bookcase, jewelry case or even a lovely mirror?
Living room clean out tips:

·       Everyone’s living room is different, but make sure to make it functional for you and your family. It doesn’t have to be used in the traditional living room sense.

·       Go through your book shelves and eliminate any books that have been on your shelves for more than a year and that you have never read; any books given as gifts and still crisp because you’ve never opened them; or any that have never held your interest.

·       Simplify the clutter by looking at your walls – Do you have too many photos or pictures? If so, think about creative ways to streamline them to make them look less cluttered. For example, frame them all in similar frames and arrange them in a fashionably or load them onto a flash drive and play them through a digital photo frame.

·       Hide TV or other electronic cables by using special wall covers from your local hardware store.

A Texas Girl Speaks Out :: Ferguson

This morning as I sipped my hot cocoa by the fire, I opened my laptop and headed to my daily news source to be utterly appalled at what I discovered. Regardless of what camp you're a member of in the Ferguson debate, you must all agree that violence, rioting, destruction of private property, threatening acts, gun shots and arson are an intolerable response.

I do not understand why anyone would behave in such a way towards others. I watched a video from last night depicting an older woman begging younger looters to spare her antique shop adjacent to a Little Caesar's Pizza. Both were left in shambles and burnt. Is this how we should treat each other?

Cars set ablaze by those who protested moments earlier chanting ...we'll burn it down. Police cars, brand new cars at a car dealer's lot, cars of those protesting - all destroyed. This type of destruction fuels a stereotype in this country; it ensures for more hatred and more heartbreak.

Businesses looted and left in embers. Firefighters and EMTs scrambling to help with fires and those injured. Neither were successful because those who were rioting would not give them access to those who needed help.

Those who rioted last night, those who destroyed last night, they are the ones who should be held accountable, who should be ashamed of their actions. They should look long and hard at themselves and think about what strife their actions have caused their community and their country.

{I need to interject at this point in my writing as I seem to have offended someone. Let  me be very clear when I say "those who rioted last night, those who destroyed last night, they are the ones who should be accountable..." I am talking about EVERYONE. If you have been watching videos from this location, it is not just African Americans partaking in the looting and rioting, there are people of ALL skin color, including mine. I'm very unsure why if a white woman calls out those who are being destructive in Ferguson, she must be a racist. No, I'm a realist who calls it as I see it. And, those American people should be charged with criminal acts no matter their skin color.}

We are all called on to do good in this world and not to facilitate evil actions. We, as Americans, have a duty to one another and last night many turned their backs on their fellow countrymen and allowed chaos to ensue.

This morning as I write these words, I wonder about the future of racial tensions in our country, about the children who watched these events unfold, and about the safety of our nation's uniformed officers.

- Michelle

The Review is In :: In the Forbidden City and This is the Greatest Place!

Earlier this month, my postman delivered a handful of beautifully crafted children’s books for me to review and share with my readers. In addition to the RoamingReindeer, I also received This is the Greatest Place! written by Brian Tse, and In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-chiu.  

Both This is the Greatest Place! and In the Forbidden City are about Chinese culture and are a part of a new series to explore Ancient China put together by the China Institute in America, the oldest American organization devoted exclusively to China. Through the four book series, children will learn about the Forbidden City and its impact on the people who lived there.

In the Forbidden City takes readers (ages 9+) on an adventure throughout the monumental palace’s walls. Accompanied by a mischievous cat, readers will encounter the people who have walked through the Forbidden City’s halls and gardens, including emperors, empresses, and rebel leaders. In addition, they will hear exciting tales about the power struggles within the palace and the intrigues of everyday life.

Similar in style to David Macaulay’s illustrated books (Castle, City, Cathedral), this book is not only fantastically illustrated with highly detailed line drawings of its buildings, gardens and courtyards, it also includes a plastic magnifying glass for inspecting drawing detail and allows for the characters to come to life. The book includes numerous foldout spreads to capture the interest of the reader.

In addition to being a visually grabbing book, it is filled with historical information about the Ming and Qing dynasties. My older son’s favorite section of the book was the timeline of Emperors which included an anecdote about each one.

In contrast to the black and white line drawings of In the Forbidden City, the colorful and playful illustrations in This is the Greatest Place! (The Forbidden City and the World of Small Animals) will have your younger readers (ages 5-9) falling in love with such a uniquely designed book. Full of vibrant colors, lift flaps, foldouts, and adorable animals, this book grabbed the attention of my younger son who thoroughly enjoyed learning about how nature supplies us with the wonders that enrich our lives.

In addition, this book teaches children about Chinese architecture and how nature’s influence can be seen around us, as well as how people and animals can live together in harmony.

Both books would make excellent companions to a lesson on ancient Chinese culture, the Forbidden City or even architecture. This link provides educators with more resources on teaching about the Forbidden City.  Both of my children enjoyed these stories and I will keep an eye out for the next two books in the We all Live in the Forbidden City series. Along with the books, here is a website to help explore the Forbidden City.

The creator of In the Forbidden City, Chiu Kwong-chiu, is an artist, designer, and professor who explores Chinese traditional visual arts along with adopting groundbreaking ways to interpret and promote Chines art and culture. 

The creators of This is the Greatest Place!, Brian Tse and Alice Mak, are internationally renowned children’s book artists. They are well known for their heart-warming and educational stories for children.  

{Disclaimer: PR by the Book provided me with review copies at no cost.}

Friday, November 21, 2014

Taming your Home :: How to Organize and Defy Clutter in a Week : The Bathroom

After admiring my clean and organized closet throughout the day, I set to work on the master bath yesterday evening. I wasn't expecting to find an entire bagful of items for donation like I did in the closet, but I also wasn't expecting the bag and a half of items destined for the trash.

Our bathroom counter has a pair of Jack and Jill sinks and under each one is a large cabinet which throughout the year accumulates all sorts of items. After removing the dog shampoo and other misplaced things, I set to work decluttering items we no longer used or needed: hair products I didn't necessary find satisfactory, old make-up, expired medicine,  and useless beauty product samples. Most of these items found their way into the trash. However, I was excited to find several new travel toiletries to donate to my boys' Anchor Club project Bags of Hope for the Homeless which they are working on later today.

I also took note of items I need to replace or replenish at the first of the year. Allergy and pain medicines, first aide supplies and new bath towels are all on my list. If you need towels and any other linens, keep in mind retailers have great white sales on those items in January of every year.

Our linen closet was easy. I just needed to retold a few items and straighten. About two years ago, I went through our linens with a great deal of discernment and only kept what I truly felt we needed.

What I really enjoy about organizing and clutter busting is that once I get one small section of our home in tip top shape, I'm ready to move on and conquer the whole house. I just know you will start to feel the same way - it truly is gratifying to let go of items you don't use and don't need.

Tonight, I think the master bedroom is next on the list. It shouldn't take me very long as it usually stays neat and tidy, but I'm sure there are a few items under the bed and hidden in drawers that can find a new home.

This Fall, why not challenge yourself to go through each section of your home with several bags or boxes meant for donations, trash and recyclables? Take your time and if you need guidance refer to my past posts or leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to offer sound advice.


Bathroom clean-out tips:

·       If old make-up, toiletries and medicines fill your drawers or cabinets and make it tough to find the items you use daily, get rid of them. Please keep in mind unused toiletries or samples can be donated to the homeless and all medicines should be properly disposed (please don't flush them down the toilet).

·       Don't neglect the readables in your bathroom. Keep magazines up to date and remove older issues regularly.

·       Be sure to clean sink pea traps at least once a year. They can get pretty yucky!

·       When it comes to linens, only keep items in good condition. Holey or rarely used linens should be donated, used for other purposes around the home, or thrown out.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Review is In :: The Tree of Water by Elizabeth Haydon

The next installment of the acclaimed young readers series, The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme: The Tree of Water, written by bestselling author Elizabeth Haydon, is now available for purchase and would make a great gift for any lover of science fiction. Geared towards children ranging from ten to fourteen, The Tree of Water takes its readers on an epic adventure. In addition to The Tree of Water, there are three previous titles in The Lost Journals of Vent Polypheme series.


As Royal Reporter of the land of Serendair, it is the duty of young Charles Magnus "Ven" Polypheme to travel the world and seek out magic hiding in plain sight. But Ven needs to escape the clutches of the nefarious Thief Queen, ruler of the Gated City, whose minions are hunting for him. His friend, the merrow Amariel, has the perfect solution to his dilemma: Ven and Char will join her to explore the world beneath the sea.

As they journey through the sea, Ven finds himself surrounded by wonders greater than he could have ever imagined. But the beauty of the ocean is more than matched by the dangers lurking within its depths, and Ven and his friends soon realize that in order to save thousands of innocent lives, they may have to sacrifice their own. For everything in the ocean needs to eat…

Special Interview with Elizabeth Haydon, documentarian, archeologist, and translator for Ven's journals:

         The main character in The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme series is Charles Magnus "Ven" Polypheme. Tell us about him.
Ven was an interesting person, but he really didn’t think so. He and his family were of a different race than the humans who made up most of the population where he lived, the race of the Nain. Nain are an old race, a little shorter and stockier than most humans, with a tendency to be on the grumpy side. They live about four times as long as humans, are very proud of their beards, which they believe tell their life stories, don’t like to swim or travel, and prefer to live deep in the mountains.
Ven was nothing like the majority of Nain. He was very curious, loved to travel, could swim, and longed to see the world. He was actually a pretty nice kid most of the time. He had the equivalent of a baby face because only three whiskers of his beard had grown in by the time The Tree of Water took place, when he was fifty years old [around twelve in Nain years]. He had a great group of friends, including the merrow and Char, who were mentioned earlier. It is believed that his journals were the original research documents for two of the most important books of all time, The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic. The only copies of these two volumes were lost at sea centuries ago, so finding the Lost Journals is the only way to recover this important information.
             Are there more books coming in this series?
Well, at least one. In the archaeological dig site where The Tree of Water was found was another journal, a notebook that Ven called The Star of the Sea. We are still working on restoring it, but it looks like there are many new adventures and different kinds of magic in it. The problem is that it might have been buried in the sand with an ancient bottle of magical sun tan lotion, which seems to have leaked onto some of the journal’s pages. This is a very sad event in archaeology, but we are working hard to restore it.
As for other books, it’s not like we just write them out of nowhere. If we haven’t found one of Ven’s journals, there can’t be another book, now, can there? We are always looking, however. We’ve learned so much about ancient magic from the journals we have found so far.
        You are a best-selling author with other books and series for adults. What made you want to write books for young readers?
I like young readers better than adults. Everyone who is reading a book like mine has at one time or another been a young reader, but not everyone has been an adult yet. Young readers have more imagination and their brains are more flexible—they can understand magical concepts a lot better than a lot of adults, who have to deal with car payments and work and budget balancing and all sorts of non-magical things in the course of their days.
Besides, many adults scare me. But that’s not their fault. I’m just weird like that.
I think if more adults read like young readers, the world would be a happier place.
        Tell us where we can find your book and more information about where you are these days.
You can find The Tree of Water anywhere books are sold, online and in bookstores. There are several copies in my steamer trunk and I believe the palace in Serendair also has one. I also sent one to Bruno Mars because I like his name.
At the moment, I am on the beautiful island of J’ha-ha, searching for a very unique and magical flower. Thank you for asking these interview questions—it has improved my mood, since I have only found weeds so far today. I am hoping for better luck after lunch, which, sadly, is peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, olives, and yellow tea again.

 An excerpt of The Tree of Water is available online. In addition, I am hosting a giveaway for one lucky reader to win a copy of The Tree of Water.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


About the author:

Elizabeth Haydon was working in educational publishing in 1994 when she met up with an editorial friend and mentor in New Orleans at the American Library Association conference. He asked her to write for him a fantasy that might cross over to other genres and contain some of their shared mutual interests: medieval music, history, anthropology, and herbalism among others. Thus, The Symphony of Ages was born. These novels have made numerous "Best of the Year," as well as national bestseller lists. A harpist and madrigal singer, Elizabeth Haydon lives on the East Coast with her husband and three children, where she is writing fantasy novels for both The Symphony of Ages for adults and the Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme for children.

Taming your Home :: How to Organize and Defy Clutter in a Week : The Master Bedroom Closet

Every six months I tend to have a major cleaning throughout our home and remove unwanted or outgrown items. In past blog posts, I’ve taken you on my Fall Cleaning 101 routine, my 30 Bags in 30 Days Challenge, and Crystal Paine's Organize and Declutter Challenge. Usually by October of every year, my seasonal cleaning is complete or at least well underway. Needless to say, I’m behind the curve and Thanksgiving is next week. While we don’t plan on having a house full of guests, you just never know how the week will progress.
Last night found me knee deep in a clothes and closest clean-out. Why the master bedroom closet first when no one besides my husband and I see it? Well, it seems to be the place where items with no place go to first – there or the garage (which is an entirely different job all on its own). By the way, we aren’t messy people. In fact, I’m an organizer by heart and it offends my sensibilities when I have things out of place in my home. Having things misplaced is one of my main stress points and by acknowledging this, I strive to keep my home orderly.

Back to the closet – first things first, after the cool weather moved in, our Winter gear came out and got added to our closet. Bulky jackets, ski bibs and cold weather boots take up quite a bit of room when all sorts of other items have also made a home next to your blue jeans and tennis shoes. I felt that starting in the closet would lead to the next place in the floor plan being cleaned out and thus move through the entire house in a matter of week at one to two hours every evening. I'm hoping to evade holiday clutter by being proactive and removing items for donations beforehand. 
Last night, I rearranged my clothing to reflect the season, filled an entire garbage bag full of clothes to donate and cleared out old papers, broken hangers and other items not in good shape to donate. Why do we hang on to these things for so long? Three bags later and my side of the closet appears to be neat and orderly once again.

Now, onto the bathroom and linen cabinets where all sorts of unnecessary items lurk.
This Fall, why not challenge yourself to go through each section of your home with several bags or boxes meant for donations, trash and recyclables? Take your time and if you need guidance refer to my past posts or leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to offer sound advice.


Closet clean-out tips

·       If your garment is not a seasonal item and you have not worn it in the past 3 months, get rid of it.

·       If you have a stack of clothes needing repairs and they’ve been there long enough to collect dust, get rid of it.  

·       If you love to wear scarves year round, purchase an inexpensive scarf hanger at any major retail outlet (The Container Store, Target, Wal-Mart) to keep them in one place.

·       Don’t keep old worn shoes. Well, keep one pair for outdoor or messy work, but other than that if they are scuffed, faded, or holey, it’s time to remove them from your closet. (I’m not the best at throwing out old shoes!)


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Roaming Reindeer :: A New Christmas Tradition (Plus Coupon & Giveaway)

Carefully packed in a keepsake box, the Roaming Reindeer set arrived at our home earlier this fall. The box itself has a lovely simplicity to it and holds not only the story book, but the accompanying plush reindeer as well.
After getting a glimpse of the package, my youngest son decided he had to hear the story. We sat down together and I read it out loud. To my delight, the illustrations and sing-song verses caught his attention and he listened carefully to the soon to be Norris family Christmas tradition. Watching him as I read, I could see he really enjoyed the story and the idea behind the Roaming Reindeer.
When asked about how the author's family uses Roaming Reindeer, Angela Meju responded, "Well, my children were exposed to “Gus” and “Sam” (that’s what our Reindeer 1 and 2 are named) very early onlong before Christmas. Our Reindeer 1 and 2 do a lot of travelling, so we have a lot of pictures of them in various (and sometimes random) locations. My children LOVE to play with the reindeer but we officially start our Reindeer countdown after Thanksgiving."
She also noted that, "Roaming Reindeer is not a tool for punishment, it is an activity to help promote positive behavior. My hope is that children have fun playing with the reindeer and see them as friends that want to stick together."
Similar to Elf on the Shelf™, Roaming Reindeer’s premise allows families who have heard about the Elf tradition, but for one reason or another, never tried it out or discovered it wasn’t quite what they were looking for, to have a unique experience for their children. Featuring two reindeer, Sam and Gus, who help Santa with his Naughty and Nice List, the Roaming Reindeer story takes children on a magical adventure where Sam and Gus turn themselves into toys to watch over the behavior of boys and girls all over the world. Reindeer 1 reports back to Santa while Reindeer 2 stays to watch. However, along the way, they get behind in their work and enlist more reindeer to help.
Included in the gift set are two plush reindeer with shirts labeled 1 and 2. Your family can personalize them by giving them names – we have Fred and George at our home. (I imagine our reindeer might be a little mischievous considering their namesakes – the Weasley brothers.
We have not used the Elf on the Shelf™ product line in the past because it scared my youngest. After reading the story of the Roaming Reindeer and naming his 1 and 2, he asked, “Mom, when can we put them out?”
In addition to the story book set, Roaming Reindeer has tips and suggestions online at their homepage, Facebook page and Twitter feed. You can order the Roaming Reindeer set online; the set costs $34.95. However, through November 27th, you can use code ROAM2014 for a $5.00 coupon making the price $29.95.
I will also be holding an online contest for a chance to win an additional Roaming Reindeer set.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Roaming Reindeer is written by Angela Meju. She and her family currently live in Austin, Texas. Angela was inspired to write Roaming Reindeer by her children’s excitement and anticipation of Santa’s arrival.

The book is illustrated by the Gau Family Studio™, an illustration service for independent authors, publishers and educators.

{Disclaimer: I received this product for free from PR by the Book for review.}

Friday, November 14, 2014

Helping the Sensory Child During the Holidays :: 6 Tips to Avoid Meltdowns

I often think about the hustle and bustle of the holidays and how that affects the sensitive child. As we approach this season of joy, I thought I would share a few tips on how to make this time of year sensory friendly.

·        Plan ahead: Be sure to schedule your holiday visits, parties and gatherings in advance and avoid any last minute changes when possible. By knowing what events are in the future, your child will be ready for the situation or venue and know what to expect. Oftentimes, I find it is the unexpected that makes a child anxious. Plus, you will also know what items you may need to bring along to make events more enjoyable. For example, headphones may be needed at a Christmas Symphony. 

·        Ask: As parents, we sometimes schedule the day to day routine of our children without asking them for input. Yes, The Nutcracker Suite has a great cultural merit, but if your child has no interest, it might prove advantageous to pass on it. By avoiding sensory overload,  you are helping your child from becoming overwhelmed.

·        Be Proactive: You know your child’s limits, but your extended family may not. Let them know your child’s triggers so the holidays don’t become tedious for all those involved.  

·        Keep it Simple: If you’ve ever been to Wal-Mart on Black Friday and experienced being overwhelmed by the mass of people or the onslaught of purchasing choices, than you can relate to a child with sensory issues. Now, imagine feeling this way day in and day out regardless the time of year; to this, add the holiday stresses we all feel. It really is no wonder our sensational children dread November to January. Keep it simple – pick a couple of low crowd events to attend; choose one party to the eight your invited too; and avoid those things which are an ill fit for the child with sensory needs.

·        Enjoy the Season: More importantly, make sure to enjoy the season with each other. There are many ways to make memories at home. Reading stories, making gifts and enjoying hot cocoa are some of our family’s favorite activities. Pick those things which your child delights in and go from there. You may be surprised at the kitchen helper’s Christmas cookies or the beautifully wrapped presents by your little artisan. Not only will this approach alleviate stress, but it will also encourage your child to view the holiday season in a positive light.
·       Help Others: Sometimes engaging your sensory child in tasks help alleviate overload. By asking your child to pick a way to help someone this holiday season you are not only empowering them to help another person, but also busying their hands and keeping their minds from being overwhelmed. A great way for a sensitive child to be of service to someone else may be in the form of creating small gifts you both could drop by an assisted living facility or deliver to a fire station. Another way may be to choose a name of another child from an Angel Tree and “play Santa.”

Readers, please share any of your family’s useful tips to help children with sensory issues avoid overload this season.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Graham Girl Recipes :: Chicken and Dumplings

When I was a little girl, my grandmother would call me into her kitchen and teach me how she made her delectable edibles: cookies, cakes, pies, main dishes, sides and more. She was a true southern cook who relied heavily upon bacon grease and Crisco, as well as fresh produce and whole grains. She made food that made you feel good even when you didn't feel bad.

As an adult, I've definitely earned the Foodie title and love food from all around the world, but on those days where life sometimes sneaks up behind you I often think about my grandmother's dishes and set to work cooking a little soul food. One of my family's favorites are her chicken in dumplings.



1 lb. chicken breasts, boiled (seasoned with salt and pepper)
1 cup chicken broth, cooled
2 cups flour, plus more for rolling out dumplings
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Let's begin:

First, hand mix together 1 cup of cooled chicken broth, 2 cups of flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl.

Sprinkle flour on a cutting board and work the dough until the dough is soft and easy to handle. It is best to lightly coat your palms in flour to make this task easier. Then, divide the dough into two equal pieces. Taking one half of the dough, gentle roll it out until it is 1/8" to 1/4" in thickness.

Cut into pieces and drop into slow boiling broth leftover from boiling the chicken. Continue this process until all the dough has been cut into strips and is in the broth.

Add pieces of previously cooked chicken to the pot on top of the cooking dumplings. Allow to slowly cook for about 30 minutes, checking broth levels periodically. If you begin to run out of broth, add a little water to keep the dumplings moist.

Allow to cool a little before serving. Homemade cornbread makes a delicious accompaniment.