Christmas 2016

Recipe: Gingerbread Scones with Mandarin Icing

A week before Christmas, I had all my baking done: cookies, pies, you name it, I'd baked it and I promised I wouldn't do anymore. But then, Christmas Eve rolled around, most of the cookies had been given as gifts, the pie was reserved for Christmas dinner and... it just didn't feel right to not have a little something in the evening. 

I didn't feel like baking more cookies. I didn't feel like a cake or another pie. I wanted something simple and easy to have with tea or coffee after dinner. 

Enter... the gingerbread scone. 

I'm a big scone fan because they tend to be a little less sweet than a cookie and, as a baked good, they have a bit more wiggle room than something like a cake. This is one of my favorite recipes that I thought I'd share. They are gingery, flakey, and oh-so-good. 

Gingerbread Scones with Mandarin Icing

For the scones

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 stick of butter (or 1/4 cup) 
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup milk

For the icing

  • 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • the juice of 1 mandarin
  • 1/8 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder & soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and sugar. Cut in butter using a paster cutter or a large fork, until you get large crumbs (almost like sand). In a cup, combine egg, molasses, and a few tablespoons of the milk. Add to the flour and butter mixture and combine. Add a bit more milk until you get a decent dough (it will be slightly sticky). Form into a ball and place on a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper lining it. Form into a flat disk and cut into 12 scones. Separate on the sheet about 1/2-1 inch apart. Bake for about 12-15 minutes. 

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and mandarin juice, as well as pumpkin pie spice. Add more powdered sugar and juice if you'd like more icing! Drizzle on top of scones and allow to dry. 

Absolutely one of my favorite scone recipes ever. It's super quick and easy and the pay off is pretty amazing. If you don't have mandarin oranges, you can use lemon juice as well; or, if you aren't in the mood for a little citrus, you can just use water or milk and add a dash of vanilla extract. 

A Sensible Gift Guide for: Toddlers

Have a friend with a toddler? (Is that friend me? I hope it's me.) It's really, really tempting to go crazy in the toddler clothing and toy aisles. Trust me, I know. 

But please, friends, I beseech you: don't load your loved ones with toddlers with toys and clothes. Guaranteed, their toddlers probably already have more than enough of both. I created this gift guide to give people without kids (or who have older kids) an idea of what to get for toddlers--besides clothes and toys! 

1. Decor items

Toddler rooms are in transition: it's no longer a nursery, everything is safety-proofed, and the crib has possibly transformed into a toddler bed. Ask parents what kind of decor the parents would like for the room and find something cool. I love this pillow from TJ Maxx and this wall art from Etsy

2. Books

Toddlers are getting right to the age where books are fun. (Forrest will sit for a long time, for him, looking at his books now, which is exciting.) If you can think of nothing else, a favorite book of yours from childhood is a perfect and thoughtful gift. And if you're totally not sure, a gift card to a (local!) bookstore is also perfect. 

3. Toy storage solutions

The toys, at a certain point, no matter how organized I am as a parent, get out of control. Cute, clever storage options are a great gift idea, especially if they can be used in the toddler's room. I love these stacking boxes from Target, but there are tons of options out there. 

4. Wooden toys

If you really, really want to buy toys, I encourage you to buy wooden toys. The less plastic, the better. These wooden stacking dinosaurs are perfect for young toddlers; they're educational, durable, and fun. 

5. Blankets

Forrest loves blankets and it feels like I'm always looking for one to give to him. When it doubt, a cute, cozy blanket is a great gift. Toddlers can use them in bed, for naps, or on the floor--or for cuddling up with their parents. It's more of a family gift, actually. 

5 Christmas Movies I Have to Watch Every Year

Christmas. You feel it in the air, right? The faint scent of peppermint, cinnamon, and pine trees everywhere, the crowds of people at the mall, the Christmas tree posts on Instagram. 

I don't make any excuses: I'm obsessed with Christmas. And Christmas movies, specifically. 

Rituals are very important to me. I resist to call them "traditions" because traditions suggests a cultural relevance--and my habits are highly individual, especially when it comes to Christmas movies. 

There are five movies that I have to watch every single year to mark the Christmas season. If I don't get them in (like last year), it almost feels like Christmas didn't happen. Am I the only one? 

Anyway, here are my five favorites: 

1. The Santa Clause

"The Santa Clause" is one of those movies that I loved as a kid and I still love as an adult. I also recently found out that a significant number of people believe Claus is actually spelled with an "e" and don't realize the title is a pun. Oops. Watching it these days, I totally see Scott's side of everything--and find myself even more bewildered by Charlie's mom and Neil. It's such a great movie: simple, heartwarming, and featuring some of the best, goofiest, 1990s-era jokes and effects. 

2. The Polar Express

Pretend for a moment that this movie doesn't have that weird, hyper-Christian undertone. Ok, now I love it. I just ignore all that part. It's a beautiful movie (even with the uncanny valley effect) and has some amazing songs and moments. I always find myself wishing to know more about all the other kids on the train and I wish more of the movie was spent in the actual North Pole, because the buildings, elf workshops, and square are just beautiful. 

3. The Muppet Christmas Carol

Every year as a kid, I looked forward to watching "the Muppet Christmas Carol" on TV. It was the best part of the holidays. I still love this movie. When I finally got a DVD copy a few years ago, I had to order it from Hong Kong. Now, you can find it in Target almost every year. It's totally worth owning because I like to watch it every single Christmas eve. It's the perfect goofy, fun movie. 

4. Love Actually

I know there are some critics out there who argue that "Love Actually" is not, actually, a very good movie. Here's the thing though: they're wrong. Is it problematic in some ways? Oh, sure. But does that take away from my enjoyment of it as a Christmas movie? No. Because every single time Emma Thompson turns on that Joni Mitchell CD and cries in her bedroom, I cry like an infant whose been left behind. It's a breathtaking scene and any criticism of the film is redeemed in that moment. Because Emma Thompson is queen. 

5. the Nightmare Before Christmas

Is it a Halloween movie? Or a Christmas movie? That's the question. I like to think it's both. It's a movie that's perfect for the run up to the Christmas season--for that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when it's still Fall, but you want to get excited about Christmas. All I know is, it was one of my favorite movies growing up and it's still one of my favorites now. And it's not Christmas until I've watched it. 

What are your favorite Christmas movies? 

Oh, and while you're at it, sign up for my new newsletter! I'll be sending out the first edition on Wednesday, December 14--and then every other Wednesday after that. 

A Sensible Gift Guide for: Moms

Gift guides. Two words that you hear, roughly, every 5 minutes in the month of December. 

I'm here to add a little more clutter to that segment of the internet. You know why? Because sometimes, moms get forgotten in the gift guide mania. Gift guides are often created with the intention to be used by the primary shoppers in family units (re: moms). Gift guides are sometimes made for moms or wives to "treat themselves." 

That's not this gift guide. This gift guide is for you (you're a mom or maybe a wife or a girlfriend who wants some nice stuff because you're stressed) to subtly (subtly) send to your husband/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/whoever to give them ideas for your Christmas presents. 

So, take note people who are reading this lift to figure out what to get the mom in their life: these suggestions come from a mom who is just as exhausted as your person. I know what I'm talking about. 

1. Giftcards, giftcards, giftcards.

Listen, if you don't know what to get the mom in your life, I have two simple words for you: gift cards. Some people think gift cards are terrible gifts, but I would argue that, no, they are the best gifts. I get so excited when I get a gift card, especially to a place I already shop. Target, Sephora/Ulta, Starbucks... where does that special mom in your life like to treat herself? Get her a gift card for that store because most likely, she doesn't get the things she needs for herself very often. 

2. A really nice wine glass set & a bottle of wine. 

Not to play into stereotypes here, but most moms love a nice glass of wine after their wrestle their toddlers or young kids into bed. It really takes a lot out of you. Mostly, though, wine glasses are beautiful and a nice set is often something young families don't have, leading many moms to drink their wine out of coffee cups (no shame in that game). Throw in a bottle of your favorite wine and you're set. 

3. A journal or planner. 

Nothing says "I care about your mental wellbeing" like something to record thoughts or appointments in. I love getting a new journal for Christmas because journaling is incredibly relaxing and perfect for the end of the day. Pick one that's fancier than the average spiral bound notebook, prerferrably something that will look nice on Instagram. 

4. Candles.

Candles are often gifts that are thought of as boring or last minute. Nah! Candles are great because: 1) they smell nice, 2) they're relaxing, and 3) they look beautiful. I like this one from Zoella

5. Picture frames. 

Most moms have a ton of photos that they just, well, haven't gotten around to doing anything with. Personally, I'm always just a little behind when it comes to getting stuff framed and put up. Take the plunge and buy the mom in your life a nice set of frames (or even a collage frame). She'll appreciate it,  I promise. (You can even get a head start and frame all those photos she's been meaning to!) 

Want to know where everything from this photoset is from? Check it out on my Polyvore!

Why We Decided to Put a Strict Limit on Christmas Gifts

Every year when I was little, the same thing happened. Every Christmas Eve, my family would gather either at our house or my grandmother's house. And every year, as the clock ticked closer to 7pm, my siblings and I would find ourselves sitting next to stacks of gifts. If we were at our house, we would be in the family room, the room with the fireplace and the tree, the best furniture. We would pick a spot and divvy up the gifts, which would often be dragged into the house by my grandmother and grandfather in giant, black trash bags. 

My grandmother was one of "those people." You know the ones. The ones who just can't not buy a gift. 

We got things we wanted, sometimes. We got sweatshirts and toys that featured our favorite characters, art supplies or computer games. But we got plenty of things we didn't want either. Things we didn't need. Junk piled up in our rooms until summer came and we took it to Goodwill. A continuous cycle, over and over and over again. 

As I got older, we decided, as a family, to stop it. To stop the gift thing. We do a small gift exchange every year--no more than one or two gifts each, if that--but that's it. For a few years, we have tried to do just Tree of Joy gifts: we would all go to the mall and choose an ornament featuring the want or need of a foster child in the area, aged from 0 to 18. In lieu of gifts to each other, I try to make sure we all give to someone who really needs it. 

I still remember the anxiety of that pile of gifts. I hated clutter, even as a kid, but found myself inexplicably acquiring things that piled up and up and up. Boxes for computer games, books and journals, notebooks and pens and electronics. It stressed me out, even as a young teenager. 

When Forrest was born, Danny and I had to decide what we wanted our Christmas to be like. We could make Christmas an affair based on gifts, based on buying and giving and receiving. Or we could make Christmas about the spirit: hot cocoa and a clean house, warm blankets and a pretty tree, driving together at night to look at lights, giving to those less fortunate, baking cookies and watching our favorite movies. 

Which one would you choose?

It was this Christmas that I proposed that we limit ourselves to one gift each and stocking stuffers. 

That means, I only get Danny one gift. Danny only gets me one gift. And we only get Forrest one gift. We fill stockings; we wrap one gift. When Forrest is older, that one big gift will be from "Santa"--until he's old enough to know that, you know, Santa is us. We set a spending limit. We use the time we would have spent shopping and wrapping and stressing and counting our money on other things: watching movies, cleaning the house, being together. 

Aren't those things more important? 

I don't want to sound like a fuddy-duddy. Everyone gets to choose how they spend their money and how they spend their Christmas. But I'll admit--it's hard to watch people I love spend hundreds of dollars on gifts for their kids, just so they can have piles upon piles to open on Christmas morning. It's hard to know that many children in the United States go without--not just without gifts on Christmas morning, but without food every day, without the basic necessities like coats and warm socks. 

Our logic is that we have everything we need. Trust me when I say, Forrest does not need more toys. He needs more clothes, but he grows slower now than he did before and guessing season-to-size matches is hard. He wants for nothing: he is warm and fed and happy and enjoys throwing every toy he owns over the baby gate, repeatedly, day in and day out. He doesn't need anything else to throw, I promise. 

It's the same for Danny and I: we don't need anything. 

So we are limiting the gifts, but increasing everything else: more nights baking cookies together, drinking hot cocoa, watching movies. More days spent sitting on the couch, reading books and singing. More days spent together, instead of shopping. 

We still get asked, plenty, what we want for Christmas or what Forrest wants, and our answer is the same: please buy supplies and gifts for foster children, or children in need, in your area. Please donate time or money to a local soup kitchen. We don't need anything, I promise. 

3 Tips to Get Better Christmas Photos of Your Toddler

Taking photos of a one-year-old is more challenging than I ever thought it would be. Forrest is constantly moving, but doesn't stand independently for very long yet--so I can't get those cute standing shots!

I've figured out a few ways to take better photos though. These are just a few of my tips and hopefully, they'll help other moms get those all-important holiday photos. 

1. Give your little one something to hold. 

Best examples: a leaf, a pumpkin, a chalkboard. Something to simultaneously distract them, keep them still, and give them something to focus on. When I use this technique, I know I have maybe a 2-3 minute window to get photos--so I kick it into high gear and hope for the best. 

2. Pick one spot and stick with it. 

If I try to move Forrest around--say to face another direction or to get different lighting--it's over, it's done. He's not gonna do it anymore. That's usually when the tears start or the eatings of rocks and leaves--whatever he knows will get us to go back inside and play sooner. So, my advice: pick one spot you like, watch the lighting, and stick to that one area. If it's a bust, it's a bust--try again later. 

3. Be patient

Toddlers don't quite get the picture thing yet, especially younger toddlers. Forrest is 13 months old and kind of gets what I'm doing--but doesn't really follow instructions. It's important to remember that they don't know what you're doing or why it's important to you. Don't take it personally if they just don't want to cooperate, make faces, or generally make it impossible to get a good photo. 

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