Holiday Roundup: Gifts, Crafts, Recipes

 

Origami Stars

I thought I’d round up a bunch of recommendations and past favorites from this time of year.

Regarding the stars, a few weeks ago I got obsessed with making these. Directions here.

Let’s start out with a few gift recommendations.

Books for Kids:

Here’s my list from last year. Here’s a list of favorite craft books for kids.

This year I’m giving Into the Unknown to two of my nephews. It’s a beautifully illustrated nonfiction book about explorers. More about it here.

Another nephew and son book this year: Boycraft, a British craft book with plenty of blood and guts and monsters, beautifully photographed. It can certainly be given to girls as well. I find a lot of kid craft books are full of purses and headbands and jewelry, and this book fills a void. We checked it out from the library earlier this year, and my son loved it.

I’m a big fan of Ed Emberley’s drawing books and thumbprint art books. Another illustrator with great drawing books is Sachiko Umoto. We have Let’s Draw Cute Animals, and I love it. She has several others, though. Wishing I had all from both authors.

One more drawing book, for preschoolers especially: Hand Art from Klutz. And another recommendation: high quality colored pencils. A few good brands: Prismacolor, Lyra, Caran D’ache. There is a huge difference in these vs. the cheapie kinds.

For the little chef in your life, we’re loving Chop Chop magazine, which has a great balance between fun and nutrition and encouragement to try new things.

If you need more recommendations, try going to your local independent bookstore (and of course actually buying there). Speaking of which, my own books are stocked at Charlotte’s own Park Road books, an excellent bookstore!

Amy Karol at Angry Chicken also has some great recommendations over at her blog.

Crafts of Christmas Past:

Quick wreath from backyard greenery

Simple ribbon wreath

Gift wrapping cloths

Cardboard Christmas trees

Fabric mache ornament

Simple gifts to make (with or without kids)

Cookies:

German-Inspired Almond Meal Cut-Out Cookies

Gluten-Free Almond Meal Cut-Out Cookies

Hope you are keeping warm and cozy. Cheers!

Origami Star

 

 

 

Flourless Oatmeal and Dried Cherry Bars

Gluten Free Oatmeal Bar

So these came from Budget Bytes. They are the “Apricot-Walnut Bars,” but I used pecans and dried cherries since that was what I had on hand. They’re super easy, there’s very little added sugar, and I was able to use gluten-free oats—-triple win! My seven-year-old (who has gluten troubles) loves them, which is no small compliment. Recipe here.

You use mashed banana for sweetness and stick-together-ness, which means the bars taste a little like banana bread–yum! We eat them for snacks and sometimes for breakfast.

American friends, how was Thanksgiving? We enjoyed time with extended family down at the beach. Beforehand, the hubs and I got to spend a few days in Mexico (thanks, mom and dad for kid-watching!). The trip was great, but we got stuck an extra day, which was not the most fun. Fortunately we had lots of folks covering for us back home with the kiddos—-I’m eternally grateful.

Christmas is now descending upon me, and I feel only half-ready and half-remembering what it was I meant to do to prepare. I’m going to try to post some round-ups of favorite gifts to give. recipes, and simple crafts, so stay tuned. As usual, I’m spending most of my kids-in-school time working on my novel. Is it getting anywhere? I sincerely hope so!

For more posts on cooking and eating, click here.

Bald Eagle Costume

Bald Eagle Costume

Hope you had a happy Halloween. Ours was lots of fun, and thankfully, the cold and rain held off until right when we were all ready to go in anyway.

This year, I only made one costume, since my daughter only needed a thrifted dress for her “diva” outfit. Our son, seven, wanted to be a bald eagle. He has a thing for birds of prey. At one point it seemed his visions were never going to match up to reality, but in the end, both of us were happy with how it turned out.

It’s made from four thrifted items: brown jammy pants (unaltered), long-sleeved brown T-shirt (sized down), brown henley shirt (cut open and scalloped for the wings), and the cut-off top of a fleece hoodie (sized down and scalloped for feathers). My son made talons made of yellow foam and cardboard. He also made the foam beak, which he attached to a pre-bought plain white eye mask. I tried to convince him to just attach a beak to the hood, but he was having none of that.

I thought he did a great job making eagle poses here. For more semi-homemade costumes from previous years, click here.

Meanwhile, I’ve been slog, slog, slogging through my novel rewrite. Also, enjoying the fact that Bletchley Circle has new episodes. Woo!

Homemade Taquitos

Taquitos

These come from Budget Bytes. Recipe here. It’s just a twist on the taco, but we love all things taco-related, and it’s nice to change it up now and then. My kids actually cheer when they hear these are for dinner, and anytime that happens, I’m pretty pumped.

The first time I made these, I found the rolling process to be frustrating. By the second and third times, though, it’s no big deal. We’ve been addicted to Trader Joe’s frozen taquitos for awhile now, but although these take a bit more time (obviously) it’s nice to be able to control exactly what’s in the taquitos and how much salt, etc. is involved.

I deviated from the original recipe in a couple of ways. First, I used ground turkey (rather than beef) with the black beans. Secondly, I just used the Penzey’s taco spice mix, which is a favorite, very handy and nicer than most grocery store mixes (i.e. less junk in it).

I like to dip the ends in salsa. My daughter likes to do the same with sour cream, and Beth Moncel (blogger and author of Budget Bytes) recommends her “Creamy Cilantro-Lime Dressing,” which sounds delicious (it’s in the book but I haven’t found an online link).

Turkey and Bean Taquitos

The first time I made the taquitos, I made part of the batch with extras like onions and peppers for the grownups. They were really good, but I don’t always have time for the chopping. I’m thinking of experimenting with some other fillings. Spicy chickpeas and sweet potatoes, maybe?

These are great leftover. Not quite as crunchy, but still excellent if you heat them up in the oven or toaster oven. I would not recommend microwaving them, though.

I continue to be addicted to Budget Bytes‘ chipotle black beans. So yummy and satisfying, also simple and quick. For more posts about food, go here.

Listened to a most excellent podcast from Fresh Air the other day about the creation of Wonder Woman. Completely fascinating and also, hilarious. Highly recommend.

Charting Works in Progress

Chart

I’ve been busy making revisions to my works in progress (nonfiction middle grade and  YA novel). There are lots of ways to use spreadsheets to “see the forest for the trees” when you’re writing, and good thing, because I’m often getting lost in the trees. Or the weeds, maybe.

I used the chart above to help me look at the timeline as it relates to theme in my nonfiction manuscript. (Yes, the picture is blurry on purpose. Call me crazy, but I’m not comfortable sharing THAT much info on a work-in-progress)

Related: a couple of weeks ago I went to a fantastic plotting workshop by Rebecca Petruck. She shared another charting method that I found very helpful. If you ever have the chance to take a workshop from Rebecca, jump at it. More info here about Rebecca and her approach.

Darcy Pattison also has some great ideas on how to use spreadsheets to chart your fiction.

What about you, writers? Do you use spreadsheets to analyze your work, and if so, how?

Currently reading: Michelle Icard‘s Middle School Makeover. No, I don’t have a middle-schooler yet, but I will soon. I am loving Icard’s sensible, practical approach and especially all the science about the adolescent brain.

What about you? Reading anything good?

 

 

What’s On the Nightstand: Fall 2014 Edition

Recent Reads: Books

What have you been reading? I’ve always got several books going at once, and let’s be honest, they don’t stay on the nightstand, so every night I’m frantically looking for the three I want at the moment.

First up, we have The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but so far, it’s very funny, and I’m impressed by the intricate world Udall has created and all the many characters and their complexity.

Next, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I can’t remember if this was a random book I picked out or if it was recommended by a friend, but it’s a goodie I turn to again and again. It has some excellent writing exercises, which I need, because lately I’m feeling a bit depleted creatively.

On to Budget Bytes by Beth Moncel, which you may remember me mentioning before. It’s a good, solid, weeknight cookbook with lots of fresh ideas. Simple but never boring. Currently loving the chipotle black beans, which are quick enough to make myself for lunch. The author also has an excellent blog.

Next: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? which I borrowed from my friend Susan.

This may be my favorite book of the year. By Roz Chast, of New Yorker cartoon fame, it’s the story of the slow descent of her elderly parents. It’s told in handwritten journal-like entries plus cartoons, drawings, and photographs. The story is laugh-out-loud hysterical (yes, I know, sounds strange, but it works) but also sad, poignant, and above all, deeply human. It makes me want to write a cartoon journal book. Think I may have to read it again.

photo 3-001

Under that, The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen. I’m just getting into this book, but I really like the way it’s set up and the extensive research that goes into each recipe. The folks behind it test everything to death and make sure it works.

GF cookbook-001

It includes a DIY gluten-free flour mix (my other go-to GF cookbook does this as well). The hubs made me a gorgeous and delicious apple pie using said flour mix and cookbook. See?

Gluten-Free Apple Pie

Next: Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000 by Roderick Kiracofe

This book kept popping up on quilting and crafting blogs, and I just had to have it (thanks, mom and dad!). It is so completely gorgeous I can’t even tell you. The collection features my favorite kinds of quilts—-improvised, imperfect, and made with the materials at hand.

book

Unconventional3-001

Unconventional4-001

And finally, we have Williams-Sonoma’s Cooking Together. Sometimes kids’ cookbooks seem to be more about making cute things out of candy and junk food than about real food. This one has a really nice range of recipes and lovely photographs to help kids envision what they might like to cook. My kids like to sit and plan—-but, confession, we haven’t actually made anything out of the book yet. I’m expecting good things, though, because our other Williams-Sonoma books are solid.

Btw, for kids interested in cooking, Chop Chop is another excellent resource for kid-friendly yet healthy, not-intimidating recipes.

Also, just finished Gone,Girl——totally worth a read if you haven’t yet. Can’t waaaaait to see the movie!

Low-Sew Halloween

It’s time for the yearly round-up of costumes, in case you need some ideas. What are you dressing up as? Last year, I was the Prancercise Lady, but it’s going to be hard to top that one. The kids want to be a diva (10 year old) and a bald eagle (7 year old). We’ll probably get started on costumes this week. This always starts with a trip to the thrift store. Our costumes are of the slapdash variety—-altered rather than sewn from scratch, with not too much (okay, almost no) emphasis on perfection.

Here are a few from years past:

Fireman Costume

Fireman

Turtle Costume Front

Turtle Costume

Green Ninjago Costume

Ninja (Ninjago)

Anastasia costume

Anastasia Romanov (Russian princess)

Knight Costume

Knight Tunic and Helmet

DSC_0125

Princess

DSC_0399-002

Marco Polo

So glad to get my copy of the Budget Bytes cookbook the other day. If you haven’t yet discovered the Budget Bytes blog, you’re in for a treat. The recipes are on the simple side—weeknight friendly, for the most part, but not boring in the least. As the title suggests, the recipes are wallet-wise, but beyond that, they’re just appealing, and in many cases, less-meatarian, which I love. Also many are gluten-free or easily adaptable to GF. I checked the book out from the library and liked it so much I had to buy my own.

Discovered another new-to-me podcast for children’s and YA lit enthusiasts. It’s called First Draft, and it’s interviews Sarah Enni conducted with authors during a cross-country road trip. Good stuff, food for thought.

What about you? Discover anything good lately?