Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 :: Grounded in Life

Words are a sacred expression to me - spoken or written, it does not matter. Every year, I strive to find a word or phrase to help guide me through my accomplishments, whims, insurmountable challenges, moments of fortitude, and so on. Simply put - my life. 

2015 heralded in my first phrase - living life out loud - which meant living life to it's fullest in all aspects. From the amazing traveling we did to the newest made friends, I feel certain I met my standard. 2015 was definite full of ups and downs, as is every year, but I did open new doors while letting old ones close, some tighter than others. I tried my best to find new outlets for my creativity and passion to serve. I look forward to seeing how I can grow in these new areas. 

Thinking about 2016, I am continuously wandering to one of my favorite U.S. Presidents - Theodore Roosevelt. It could be the need of such an individual for our country and the constant bombardment of election fodder constantly gracing my screen, but I truly believe there is more to it. Aside from being an incredible leader, Teddy knew about passions in a man's heart and fulfillment of the soul - he was a humanist.

My word for 2016 is grounded

Merriam - Webster defines grounded as a person who is sensible and has a good understanding of what is really important in life. Roosevelt believed being grounded gave the individual a better understanding of how to reach his goals. Teddy knew that for a person to be successful, he or she had to first be admirably sensible, realistic, and unpretentious. 

In 2016, I hope to always have Roosevelt's quote, "Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground," running through my unconsciousness. I want to take this year at a slower pace and make time for those moments I cannot relive. I want to make the best choices at what to fill our lives with and make the most out of my family's time. I want to work towards maintaining a better discipline in this realm and proceed through 2016 in a manner that makes me smile everyday. 

In addition to all of this, I want to make sure I read over Roosevelt's speech below on an occasional basis and remind myself that his words indeed ring true.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

So, here's to 2016 and whatever word you choose to represent this next year on your journey through life. May your word herald in the changes and hopes you seek. 

- Michelle 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Texas Homemaking's 2015 Holiday Gift Guide

Looking for great gifts to round out your holiday shopping? You've come to the right place! This year, I've put together a hodge-podge list of interesting Christmas presents for children and adults that you can purchase or make over the next couple of weeks. So, grab a cup of hot cocoa, warm your feet by the fire, and take a gander at some of my holiday picks!


How Machines Work: Zoo Break by David Macaulay

If you’re looking for a great book to purchase your child this season, make sure you add DK’s How Machines Work: Zoo Break by David Macaulay to your shopping list! This is without a doubt one of the best books on the market for children interested in learning all about basic machines like planes, levers, the wheel and axle, the pulley, and screw. What makes this book simply amazing is the context in which these advanced science ideas are explained in such a way that even the earliest learner can appreciate how these machines work.

Along with learning, readers are engaged in a hands-on story about a sloth and mouse who work together using simple machines to escape from the zoo. Chalk full of detailed drawings that help explain physic concepts, the book also features a three dimensional lever in the form of a see-saw to help the main characters soar across their paddock fence. This happened to be one of the best ways I’ve ever seen demonstrating levers inside of a book – kudos to the author for his creativity!

The story line is well written and engages young readers from the start. My youngest absolutely fell in love with this book and we’ve now read it several times. He was extremely interested from the moment he picked up the book and there was a pulley system he could engage on the front cover – I can’t wait to purchase this for some of his buddies. They will think it is the coolest book ever!

In addition to a great read filled with a plethora of information, it also includes a lovely glossary for parents and children to defer to when needed. There is also a table of contents which allows for quick searching regarding a specific topic.

Aside for this book, David Macaulay has penned wonderful titles in the past that our family has thoroughly enjoyed, such as: Castle, City, Pyramid, Cathedral, The Way Things Work, and more. Macaulay has won numerous awards as a writer, including the Caldecott Medal, the Horn Book Award and the MacArthur Fellows Program award.

How Machines Work: Zoo Break is available to purchase at Amazon

Casey's Bright Red Christmas by Holly Dufek

Casey and her friend, Tillus, are at it again, but this time Christmas on the farm is in jeopardy. Casey has been too busy to finish all her farm chores and decorate for the holidays. What's even worse is that she caught a cold and can't finish everything on her list. 

In a loving tale of friendship during the Christmas season, Tillus and the farm implements work together to create a special Christmas surprise for Casey. The gang decorate the tree, wrap bales of hay, and even make festive cookies in order to put a smile on Casey's face. 

Young children will love to hear this Christmas story read aloud to them this year. In addition, the author included a yummy frosted sugar cookie recipe in the back of the book you can bake with your little ones. 

If you enjoy the Casey series, be sure to check out a previous review on the first book of the series! Casey's Bright Red Christmas is available to purchase at Amazon.

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

If you're a fan of the Pout-Pout Fish stories, then you are going to want to add The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish to your collection! Mr. Fish is on a quest to find the perfect presents for all his friends: For a gift should be big, and a gift should be bright, and a gift should be perfect - guaranteed to bring delight. And a gift should have meaning plus a bit of bling-zing, so I'll shop til I drop for each just-right thing.


Young readers will enjoy following Mr. Fish through all the unique sea stores and the whimsical illustrations that fill each page. As the story progress, Mr. Fish finds he is unable to find the right gift and becomes upset. However, Miss Shimmer reminds Mr. Fish that the best gifts of all come straight from the heart. I love that this story relays to children that gifts made by them for others have meaning and are just as thoughtful as store bought gifts. 

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish can be purchased at Amazon


Star Wars Play Dough Kit | Mama Papa Bubba

As I'm sure you've noticed, Star Wars is all the rage this season! I was searching through blogs the other day for a great gift idea and came across the Star Wars Play Dough Kit created by Jen of Momma.Pappa.Bubba and fell in love with how adorable this little play set was and that its creator even shared all her homemade dough recipes! Props to one of the cutest things I've seen all year!!! If you've got a massive Star Wars fan at home, be sure to add this to their Christmas list!

Super Hero and Princess Fort Kits


Super Hero and Princess Forts are always a lot of fun to make and can be easily customized for each child. I made these in the past and featured them here on Texas Homemaking. Needless to say, the children who received these loved them! Want to get fancy? Add a monogram to the bag holding all the essential fort materials! 

Gifts for Everyone:

Root Beer Tasting Kit

This is one of my most favorite gifts to give! The boys and I love picking out all the artisan root beers! I make a crate filled with our selection and then add gourmet popcorn and chocolates, tasting cups, a custom made tasting score card for each family member and a few other treats. This is a very easy, but creative gift and the root beer aficionados in your life will love it!

Gold Canyon Candles

If you haven't been introduced to Gold Canyon candles, well let me be the first to tell you that I not only adore them, but I'm also a Junior Team Leader for the company. Gold Canyon's product line includes not only candles in over 80 scents, but also self timed warmers, scent pods, fire starters, candle care implements, volights, tea lights, and more! Visit my personal website to peruse the catalog and get your orders places asap to insure Christmas delivery! 

We also have a great sale going on right now until December 15th on our large Heritage candles! Be sure to check out all of our great products and specials! 

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Sticks

These tasty treats have been a long standing hit in our home! The boys love making these with me and they are incredibly easy to put together - which is even better during this busy season of festivities! Here's the link on how to make these with your children!

Dog Treats

Don't forget the furriest of friends this Christmas! Texas Homemaking has a great recipe for dog biscuits featuring ingredients found in your kitchen. My youngest son enjoyed making these with me and they were very easy to create. Don't you just love the Texas cookie cutter? These treats have been dog tested and approved! 

Enjoy your browsing! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

{The books mentioned above were sent to me by the book publishers to review. Please view my disclosure statement located on my homepage.}

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Review is In :: Countdown to Christmas: 24 Days of The Jesse Tree Tradition

Every year at Christmas, the boys and I celebrate Advent through a variety of ways. This year, we were wanting to incorporate the Jesse Tree into our Christmas tradition as a way to celebrate the birth of Jesus. For those unfamiliar with the Jesse Tree, it is a depiction of Christ’s ancestors and begins with Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David and is a representational family tree. Its origins are found in a passage of the Book of Isaiah, "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots."

Here is an artistic depiction of a Jesse Tree created in 1485 by Jacques de Besancon of Paris. It depicts 43 generations. While beautiful, our tradition would need a more modern Jesse Tree.

Countdown to Christmas: 24 Days of The Jesse Tree Tradition written by Theresa Seidlitz and illustrated by Katia Lara helps recreate the Jesse Tree for children and families who would like to incorporate this idea into their Christmas celebrations.
The author, Theresa Seidlitz wrote this book when she was ten years old in hopes to share their family tradition with others. Each night, before they began a new story about Jesus’ ancestors, her family would sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” together. In the book Countdown to Christmas: 24 Days of The Jesse Tree Tradition, the author has included the words to this cherished song.

The book begins with the December 1st reading featuring Adam and Eve and a paraphrased story from Genesis 2. Following the reading, a child may hang the corresponding paper ornament which are included in this book. Each subsequent night, a new reading about Jesus’ ancestors accompanied by a new ornament to hang, guide families through the Jesse Tree tradition. The very last story to be read on Christmas Eve is about the birth of Jesus and should be followed with the singing of “Silent Night.”

Easily read, single-page stories combined with beautifully illustrated pages and ornaments make this book extra special to children. I see it quickly becoming a family tradition in our home. Editor, Marguerite Hartill, feels this book allows, “Children to learn that Jesus had a family just like they do. They learn that, with God, families grow confident and strong.”

Everything you need to start your own Jesse Tree tradition are included, save the string and something to hang your ornaments with. The paper ornaments have already been hole punched for ease of hanging. Best of all, this is a children’s book written by a child, which helps to soften some of the harder parts of the Bible for young readers.

Be sure to order your copy before December 1st and start a new tradition this year with your family! 


{Disclosure: This book was provided to me free of charge by the publishing company Canter Press and marketing firm PRbytheBook. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.}

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Je Suis Paris

Yesterday was beyond tragic. Yesterday, all the feelings of 9/11 resurfaced and in a moment I felt the stomach lurching panic, the overwhelming sorrow, and the subduing fear that cascaded down upon me in my twenty-first year. Yesterday reminded me of the wickedness that seethes within man and the violence which we are capable of. Hot tears of sorrow welled within my eyes at the memories and emotions that overrode my senses. My empathetic nature ached with knowing those in France suffered the same pain Americans did in 2001. Je suis Paris.

Yet today,  while perusing Facebook, I saw images of friends and family covered with the French flag. A sign of solidarity in the face of the abhorrent actions of terrorists. I felt a kindred spirit of love, liberty, and understanding. Nearly every profile picture had been changed and shared a oneness of compassion.  In 2001, we were all Americans. In 2015, we are all French. 

We are all together in this fight against evil. There is hope. We can stop this. Now is the time to call upon our world leaders and to have them end this wickedness before it can no longer be contained. We should not live in fear.

Our world reels with violence; our communities overflow with it. At a local level, we can all be helpful to each other, keep a watchful eye upon our neighborhoods and report crimes, and volunteer more in our cities to make them better places for our children to grow up in.

Liberte, egalite, fraternite. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mommy & Me Owl Handprint

Here is a throw back post from an activity I did for Dandelion Moms a few years ago. It has made the rounds and has garnered 29 thousand plus pins on Pinterest! I hope you enjoy it as much as the rest of the internet has!

Owls can be wise, all-knowing, and even whimsical. This autumn, owls seem to be all the rage in fashion, art and décor. Here is a delightful Mommy & Me craft to create with your young children this season.
  • Non-toxic acrylic paint of your choice. (Owls typically are brown, white and grey; however, pink owls are cute too.)
  • Craft paper of your choice. (I used a manila paper, but any craft paper will do.)
  • Various styles and sizes of paintbrushes.
  • A nearby sink to rinse small painted hands.
Let’s begin:
After selecting your color choice for the owl body, gently paint your child’s palm. Once the palm is painted, place the palm down on the paper to create a handprint. Lift your child’s hand gently and rinse off the paint.
With your child, select the different features and the colors you both will use to create your owl art. Add eyes, a beak, talons, and other details to your owl. Create a tree limb for it to rest upon. You can add more than one owl or tree to your creation. Imagination counts!
Hint: When layering paint for eyes or body coloring, ensure the bottom layer of paint has properly dried to avoid smudges or smears.
These owls would make adorable Fall Cards for grandparents or other family members, especially when signed “Wishing you owl a Happy Fall!”

Texas Travels :: The Grapevine Botanical Garden

Tucked away on a quiet street in the bustling city of Grapevine, Texas, shoppers and visitors alike can escape to a serene plot of green space frothed with flora and fauna. Our family recently visited this boutique botanical garden and thoroughly enjoyed our time away from the normalcy of Dallas.

Upon entry, we were promptly greeted by migrating monarchs in the butterfly sanctuary. Gathering in bunches, they performed varied acrobatics on their way to each new flower. Quite a few of these charming beauties were tagged with tracking stickers for the great migration count at Monarch Watch.

Beyond the butterflies, the Grapevine Botanical Garden offers streams, woodland bridges, ponds and learning alcoves. In one such alcove, vertical gardening was prominently featured and reminded me of the lovely vertical displays in Parkland Gardens I visited in Brisbane, Australia.

As we crossed one water garden, a flicker of orange and gold caught my eye. The discovery of a gorgeous koi pond put a smile on my lips. I watched each fish delicately glide through the water skirting the lily pads as they went. I could have stayed for hours caught in their mesmerizing movements.

The garden also offers visitors a lovely stroll in an open park-lawn setting with a picturesque water feature, as well as a gazebo and stage. Weary legs can find ample sitting areas throughout the gardens, too.

The next time you're in the Grapevine area visiting Lego Discovery Center or shopping at Grapevine Mills, be sure to take time out of your day and enjoy the serenity of the gardens at Heritage Park.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Homeschooling Life :: Changing Gears - A Mini Semester

My youngest son has already finished his first term of 5th grade. Boy, that went fast! We have about 6 weeks before our Christmas break and since we homeschool the next six weeks will consist of a mini semester of learning. While we will still complete his daily work, (math, language arts, etc.), I'm changing the normal school routine by providing a few major differences to keep him engaged before the holidays. 

While change is not always a good thing for him, we've thoroughly discussed the upcoming differences to lessen any surprises and I've asked him about a few topics he might like to cover in addition to his regulars. He was very eager to help me make plans and he is really looking forward
to our new lessons.

Here's a peek at some of his additional educational experience and life lessons:

National Novel Writing Month (

November heralds this yearly festivity of writing daily to produce a novel within a single month. While my
5th grader isn't quite ready for this heavy writing load, I'm planning on adapting this wonderful concept to
meet his needs and my writing requirements. Each week, he will write mini books and 
learn how to develop the plot, conflict, characters, and even provide illustrations for each of those. 

A great book to kick off this writing lesson is The Library Mouse written by Daniel Kirk. The story focuses
on a mouse who writes a variety of stories that he shares with the children who visit the library and they, 
in turn, create their own little books to share with others. This is one of his favorites to read.

Art & Drawing

In addition to our artist study, we will begin taking a look at the works of naturalist John Audubon in 
preparation for our avian studies beginning next term. 

We will also work on creative arts via mixed media using several ideas and techniques presented by 
one of my favorite online art bloggers, The Artful Parent. She currently has several posts using 
natural fall elements with art techniques. Zentangling leaves in silver and gold is first on the list of fun
art projects.


Beyond nature study, I've got a plethora of great science experiments and activities planned to accompany 
our recent readings on Issac Newton and the adventures of Lewis & Clark. In regards to Newton, we will
be investigating matter, mass, friction, prisms, density, momentum, forces and more. Lewis & Clark's 
exploration has my guy interested in animal tracks, creating his own sextant, learning how to map
with the stars, and making his own candles. Check out some of my pins on Pinterest! 


My son is also very eager to delve deeper into the Native American tribes encountered by Lewis & Clark
during their travels. We'll spend more time reading up on the individual tribes and create a map depicting
tribal boundaries during Lewis & Clark's time. 

In addition, we will review the history we just completed in our first term and create an interactive timeline 
of events and people. I'm really looking forward to seeing what aspects of history he finds important 
to include on his timeline and why. 

Christmas & Winter Holidays Around the World

This was one of the topics requested to be covered during our mini semester and I am happy to oblige. 
I think cultural studies is always a plus and what better way to do it then through holidays and customs! 
We will start with Christmas and then work our way through the others - Hanukkah, Las Posadas, 
Saturnalia, Boxing Day, Festivus (just kidding!), and a few others. I'm hoping to find books in our library 
about all of these different holidays and allow him to find activities relating to them. Our children's 
museum is also hosting a program in early December about different Christmas traditions, so we
will be sure to attend. 

We will also read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol over the next six weeks. My youngest has performed 
in the theatrical production of the story, but I would really love for us to sit by the fire each day and 
enjoy reading it together. I can just see him now, curled up with his cat and drinking hot cocoa. 

Handicrafts & Community Service 

My youngest is planning to work on several handicrafts before winter break, mostly making Christmas 
gifts, but he also wants to learn how to weave his own fishing nets like Lewis & Clark and create a solar
oven to cook smores. 

He and I have a special project we will be attempting, too. It's called Kokedama and it is the Japanese art
of enclosing a plant's roots in a ball of moss and then suspending the plant to create a small hanging 
garden. It resembles the art of bonsai, but it is much simpler and less time consuming. 

Throughout the year, we work on various community service projects. This six weeks, he will be 
collecting canned foods for the Thanksgiving Food Drive, as well as working on several other smaller
projects. We will also be filling 2 bags for the homeless.
I'm hoping he also chooses a random act of kindness he can bestow upon someone.

We have a lot to accomplish in six weeks, but it will be fun and interactive. I know we will both enjoy it! 
As we move through our lessons, I'll share some pictures, our activities, and how it all ended up. Hope
your school year is moving right along and don't be afraid to change things up a bit to keep you fresh an 
an educator and your learner engaged in their lessons.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Christmas Tradition :: Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker

I love the Moscow ballet! One of my most favorite memories from college happened to be my front row seat to the Moscow ballet's performance of Swan Lake! I oohed and ahhed over the gorgeous dances and their costumes; especially every single hand sewn sequin and feather. Marvelous! 

Now's your opportunity to see them preform the Nutcracker in Shreveport on November 21st! My readers can save on tickets with this exclusive offer from US Family Guide. 

The Nutcracker Ballet is the ultimate holiday tradition and will create memories for a lifetime. The production includes over 200 romantic costumes and 10' tall playful animal puppets; shimmering colorful, backdrops splashed with 3-D effects; life-sized Matrushka (Nesting) Dolls and a puppet show for shadowing the Nutcracker Story at the opening Christmas Party. 

During the battle with Nutcracker Prince and the 3-headed Rat King, a golden cannon shoots roses! In the Magical Snow Forest an authentic Russian style Troika Sleigh, known as the fastest sleigh in the world, is escorted by Father Christmas (Ded Moroz) and Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) on their way to Act II. 

The Great Russian Nutcracker is known for its dedication to world peace with Act II named the "Land of Peace and Harmony." The first scene of Act II features a stunning "Dove of Peace" with a 20' wingspan and danced by 2 dancers each with one feathered wing. 

Be sure to get your tickets soon as they will sell out! All ages feel the spirit of the season at Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker! Use the code JOY to get the biggest discount of the season for your family. Save up to $30 off ticket price!

For a Full Schedule of Event Dates/Venues and Times please visit:

Monday, October 5, 2015

In the Garden :: Pumpkins, Gourds, and Squash, Oh My!

October is synonymous with pumpkins, gourds and squash. Throughout the month, they are used for décor, the main ingredient of seasonal dishes and as children’s whimsical canvas for spooky designs. However, did you know pumpkins and gourds, as well as squash, come in more shades of color than orange or yellow?

1. Red Warty Hubbard 2. Jack-O-Lantern 3. Jack-Be-Little 4. Apple 5. Sweet Pie 
6. Cheddar 7. Turk’s Cap

With over 300 varieties of pumpkins, gourds, and squash grown annually, it is amazing to discern the color palette of nature: oranges, greens, yellows, blues, whites, striped, splotched, and spotted. Textures also vary greatly. Due to the close familial orientation of the three, it can often be difficult to tell them apart. All are members of the Cucurbita family, with each variety belonging to a different sub-category. It seems the stem is the primary way to distinguish a pumpkin from the group. If the stem appears woody and hard, it can be deemed a pumpkin. A common adage for determining differences often insists, “A gourd is generally something you look at; a squash is something you eat; and you carve a pumpkin.” However, I personally admit to eating more pumpkins than I have ever carved; therefore, I recommend taking the above advice with a grain of salt.
When visiting your local garden center this season, stop by the pumpkin patch and see what types of pumpkins, squash, and gourds you can discover. Children enjoy seeing the many varieties available (to be honest, adults do too), especially the Fairy-tale and Cinderella pumpkins.
 If you plan on creating your own pumpkin patch for next year, start planting seeds by mid-June to ensure harvesting by October as most varieties take between 80 to 125 days to mature. I would recommend creating dirt mounds about 10” to 12” in height to plant seeds. These mounds will allow for proper drainage and keep your seedlings from drowning. Pumpkins don’t require excess watering like watermelons; be sure to keep to normal watering requirements of most vegetables.
How does your family incorporate the natural beauty and deliciousness of autumn’s bounty into your household?