Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you all feel very loved today and always! So my story today is about my attempt to show some extra love to my family while producing something beautiful I would be able to share with you and feel proud of. I succeeded in one part of this quest and didn’t quite in the other…
If you have ever visited Holland, you know that we like to enjoy a cookie or treat with our coffee and that Holland has some of the best baked goods. Growing up, my grandmother used to make something very Dutch called “boterkoek” which basically means butter cookie. Guess what the main ingredient is??? You got it!
Apparently, I felt inspired with Fat Tuesday and Valentine’s Day falling so close together that I decided to attempt baking boterkoek. I wanted to share the yummy treat with my family while reminiscing about my childhood memories. I also wanted to share the recipe with you along with some drool-worthy pictures because you know I’m all about celebrating simple joys and what better way to celebrate than with a sweet, homebaked treat made with love?
The recipe looks very easy and doesn’t have many ingredients but I’m humbled to say it is NOT easy to make, at least not for me. This is where I had trouble:
So…. if you have fantastic baking skills and want to improve on my attempt, here is the recipe anyways. I invite you to share your tips and recommendations in the comment section because I obviously need them. Consider it your baking challenge!
For 16 squares, you will need:
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 1/2 cups of powered sugar
a pinch of salt
2 sticks of cold butter
1 egg, beaten
Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small piece and add. Knead this mixture into a ball without air bubbles (with cold hands). Put the dough into a 8 x 8 cake pan and make sure there is some space between the dough and the side of the pan. Spread the egg on top of the dough. Put the cake pan on the oven rack and bake at 425 degrees for 15-25 minutes (depending on your oven) until it is done and golden brown. Let the cookie cool down in the pan and don’t take it out until it is completely cooled off. Enjoy!
I’m glad to say that while my boterkoek ended up dry and NOT worthy of an instagram spotlight, I did manage to show my love for my family. In return, they love me so much that they told me it wasn’t too bad… (while drinking some extra water).
So the moral of the story is: show your love even if your attempts are a bit clumsy!
Have you ever tried to bake a recipe from your childhood? How did it turn out? What is your favorite family recipe? Share in the comments!
Keep in touch! Sign up for a sprinkling of positivity and simple joys in your inbox!
You hop in the car. Go go go. Until you hit that red traffic light. You battle crowds for a parking spot. Ah, there, you got one! You push your big-box store cart (you know, the one with the squeaky wheel that constantly threatens to push you into stacks of merchandise and other shoppers) through endless aisles lit by fluorescent lighting. Kids are screaming because this is not really fun…for anyone.
Finally, you arrive at the right aisle hoping to find a thoughtful gift for Valentine’s Day, your wedding anniversary, your best friend’s birthday or your mom… What you find is lots and lots of stuff. None of it made with love. None of it thoughtful. All of it factory made and mass produced. You end up empty handed and frustrated having wasted precious time on top of it.
Yet, there is another way! It will save you time, make a real person jump for joy receiving your order and make the person you’re buying a gift for really happy! Also, you can check this gift finding "to do" off your list while sipping your favorite hot drink, wearing your cozy slippers and listening to "Relaxing Sounds of Nature."
Purchasing a gift from a small (creative) business truly is a win-win for everyone. So, if you’re shopping for a gift that will make you look like you care, here are just a few of my handmade gifts. These love-themed gifts are ready to ship right now for Valentine’s Day. To check availability on these one-of-a-kind gifts, please click the images or this link to visit my etsy shop (PresentsofLoveShop).
Because I’m all about spreading the love, here are a few other etsy shops you’ve got to check out:
For handmade doll clothes: HoleInMyBucket
For brightly colored, cheerful mixed media art: TurquoiseRhinoceros
For beautiful, handmade jewelry: JenKJohnsonDesigns
For knitted & crocheted gifts: YarnTreasuresbyHeather
What has been your best experience buying a handmade gift? What made it extra special for you? Would love to hear from you in the comments!
Keep in touch! Sign up for a sprinkling of positivity and simple joys in your inbox!
To share some joy this week, I wanted to let you know that I'm running a giveaway on my instagram page. If your New Year’s resolutions included learning a new language or if January is the perfect time for your family to connect through playing games or reading captivating books, you may want to head over to check it out! I'm giving away one printable of YOUR CHOICE from my etsy shop to two lucky winners (the digital file is only for personal, non-commercial use).
You can read more details about this giveaway on my instagram page but I wanted to make sure you knew about it so you don't miss out! Of course, you can always receive a free gift tag printable just by joining my email club. Check the sidebar of my blog to sign up! Thanks so much!
You CAN teach an old dog new tricks! It’s true! All kidding aside, let me tell you the story of how I found myself (several DECADES older than the other students) on ice skates amid a bunch of kids taking figure skating lessons at our local ice skating rink.
Our daughter decided about a year ago that she wanted to learn how to ice skate. We signed her up for figure skating lessons. For the first 6-week session, I patiently sat on the sidelines watching her and waiting for her lesson to be done. At some point during that session, I decided ice skating looked way too much fun for me to just sit there and not give it a try myself. I decided to sign myself up for lessons too and have been enjoying skating with my girl ever since.
Growing up in the Netherlands, I never had any fancy skating lessons but grew up skating outside in winter on our local ponds and rivers just like any other Dutch kid. I have special childhood memories of skating past some beautiful, old windmills as my family skated from village to village. To warm up, we would sip hot choco and split pea soup, sold by local farmers from little booths on the ice. Just like an old-fashioned postcard, really.
Starting my lessons, I couldn’t do any tricks or jumps but felt comfortable skating around. I had the advantage of experience as compared to my daughter but within a couple of months, she left me in the dust being able to move her body in ways my middle aged body was resistant to. It was humbling for me but so good at the same time! What a confidence builder for our daughter being able to give me tips! And even though I couldn’t do certain skating skills as easily, I felt grateful to still be able to skate, after suffering from painful spinal issues only a few years ago which ended up in surgery. I was building my core muscles and cautiously getting stronger every day!
Encouraging my daughter to advance to higher skating levels, I have since switched to the adult classes and met some really nice grownups who love to skate as much as I do. I still practice my figure skating skills with my daughter outside of the lesson time and really appreciate that we found a sport we can do together!
In short, I learned these 3 lessons from ice skating with my girl:
1. Learning from our kids is good all around!
2. Don’t give up!
3. Find opportunities to spend time together, whatever you do!
Now, I'd like to hear from you. Have you found an activity you enjoy doing with your child? What is your favorite way to connect with your child in a positive way? I'd love to hear in the comments! Also, if you like this blog post, please share with friends on social media. Thank you!
P.S. As you can see, my new found love for ice skating inspired me to create a cute illustration of a girl on ice skates! This new design is available in my zazzle shop on close to 70 gift items, from party supplies to shirts to home decor (most can be customized or personalized with a name), so if you’re into figure skating or are looking for an ice skating gift, check it out by clicking this link or the images!
Keep in touch! Sign up for a sprinkling of positivity and simple joys in your inbox!
Well, not THAT type of family planning but the type where you excitedly think of the possibilities of a brand new year! Last year, I created a free worksheet printable to help guide you and your family through the process of daydreaming, writing down your goals and making them concrete with pen and paper. Setting goals is such an important skill to continue to develop for all of us, regardless of our age
This year, I have updated my “family goals” printable for 2018 and I’m even publishing it a week earlier than last year! Hopefully, this means you can use these quiet days leading up to the New Year for reflecting and setting positive goals for yourself, along with your kids! I'm still offering it for free too! Just click on the image and download. If you don't want to miss out on these fun, free gifts, please be sure to hop on my email list.
Thank you for all your support this past year! As my best nine from instagram show, 2017 was a year of reconnecting and appreciating the beauty of nature. I also added nature inspired, handmade gifts to my etsy shop which is an area I would like to put even more focus on for 2018. My illustrations were shipped all over the world, from Australia to France to the UK, through my zazzle shop. So very thankful for each and every one of you who have supported and encouraged my art!
I’m still going through my own reflecting and goal setting for the New Year but I’m hopeful and excited about what 2018 will bring! Happy New Year to all of you!
You don't want to miss out on all the exciting things happening with presentsoflove! Join my email club for a splurge of positivity and celebration of the simple joys!
Who wants a perfect Christmas tree? Beautiful, green branches with pretty ornaments spaced at just the right distance. A tree that is shaped evenly with a nice, straight top. On that top, a special tree topper that reaches to the ceiling. Just like the magazine pictures. I think we all enjoy a beautiful Christmas tree but...
How do we balance our perfectionism for the picture perfect tree with allowing the tree decorating to be a family affair?
Because kids don’t always have that pinterest touch….
In our family, the focus has been on building memories together. We have always had a real tree but the past two years, we have taken our tree “shopping” to a whole new level. While listening to Christmas music (okay, I had to kind of force this as my middle school aged kids would much prefer their favorite pop music station), we headed into the mountains to choose our “perfect” tree from the forest. This year, we hit some snow in the process and it was quite the adventure! We eventually found our tree in a little open spot after clambering up a hill and it was perfect! At least to us!
Once we got the tree in the stand, my husband and I strung the lights around it while the kids excitedly unpacked the ornaments. Decorating with ornaments has always involved the whole family. When the kids were little, I would give them the ornaments that were less fragile and have them decorate the lower branches which were perfect for their height. Now that the kids are older, they especially enjoy decorating with ornaments that are special to them!
This year, one of my kids decided to make a branch with ALL the ornaments that he had received as gifts or that were personalized with his name. This resulted in one branch being loaded down with many ornaments so I had to remind him this is our family tree and to spread things out a bit before the tree was going to fall over from being lopsided!
I would love to hear from you about your Christmas tree traditions! Do you let your kids decorate the Christmas tree? How do you create and foster special Christmas memories in your home? I look forward to your comments below. And sharing is caring! Thanks!
P.S. Don’t miss out on the handmade, wooden ornaments in my etsy shop! Click here to check availability for these one-of-a-kind Christmas keepsakes! Have a wonderful holiday season!
Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the negative news? Worn down by the craziness of the world? Receive a dash of positivity and a friendly reminder of the simple joys in your inbox when you sign up below. You even receive an exclusive, free gift tag printable! Join the club!
When I learned that the book Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells made it onto the Oregon Battle of the Books list, I was so excited! Marcia Wells is one of my favorite kids book authors!
After reading the first book in the Eddie Red, Undercover series (Mystery on Museum Mile), we eagerly looked forward to the sequels as soon as they were published and read all three books as a family. We really enjoyed the suspense and relatable characters which made these books fun to read (yes, even as adults!).
Considering our family’s international background, I appreciate books that embrace diversity. I felt that Eddie Red being a smart and funny African American protagonist was refreshing and definitely an added bonus. Sitting in the living room, we sat on the edge of our seats and stayed up a bit too late to finish just one more chapter.…
Being a big fan of her writing, you can understand I felt beyond thrilled that Marcia Wells agreed to do an interview with me! I will not be giving away any details of the Eddie Red books because I want you and your kids to enjoy the experience of reading these captivating books yourselves but reading Marcia’s responses to my interview questions gives you a sense of the wonderful person she is. Enjoy!
Eddie Red has a photographic memory and talent for drawing. Museums and art play an important role in your books. How has art had an impact on your life?
MW: I studied Asian art in college, and then when I lived in Spain during my Master's program, I studied Spanish art and would haunt the art museums in Madrid and Barcelona regularly. I love art museums; I think they're some of the most beautiful places on earth. I wish I could draw like Eddie, but alas, I am quite hopeless:)
What are your hopes when kids read your books? When did you start writing?
MW: I love it when kids learn from my books, but mostly I just want them to have fun, to find joy in reading. I began when I was 35- I was teaching middle school, and the students made for great character fodder.
My art celebrates the simple joys in life. What are the simple joys you cherish most?
MW: I love being with my family, no matter what we happen to be doing. I love quiet mornings and a beautiful view. Living in Vermont is perfect for that!
Do you have any special routine that helps you to focus when you are writing? Any favorite places to write?
MW: It really depends on the year- lately I find that although I enjoy the quiet, I am most productive at a cafe and being around the hum of other people. I take walks with a voice recorder, and find that the ideas really flow when I'm moving.
Our family has an international background and our kids are enrolled in Spanish Immersion School so I was interested to read that you have a Master’s Degree in Spanish Literature. What inspired you to learn Spanish?
MW: I think that's terrific that your kids go to an immersion school! Everyone should have a second language. I always studied Spanish in school, and I just stuck with it in college. I was a business major and wanted to be bilingual; at some point I realized that I love language a lot more than business, so I got a degree in Spanish and became a teacher/translator.
Where do you find inspiration?
MW: Everywhere! Stories are all around us- we just need to open our eyes.
As a mom, how do you manage your schedule to make time to write?
MW: My kids are growing up fast (they're 14 and 11), so I find that I have a lot of time in the morning because they sleep in, and also when they're at school. I would say to any busy parent that you still can write, you just need to grab 15 minutes here and there. I also write a ton in the car. Again, with a voice recorder:)
Your bio mentions you live with farm animals in Vermont. My kids are über-curious to know what type of farm animals. :0)
MW: We've had pigs two different years, and we always have chickens. They eat the ticks from the yard, and lay great eggs:)
What are you working on right now? Any new creative projects?
MW: Yes! I'm working on an upside down fairy tale.
Thank you so much, Marcia! And to all of you who are participating in the Oregon Battle of the Books, best of luck!! I hope this interview with Marcia Wells inspired you!
If you are interested in reading more about Marcia Wells and her award-nominated books, please visit her website.
If you read the Eddie Red, Undercover series, which book was your favorite? Is your child participating in the Oregon Battle of the Books? What other books do you recommend that captured your child’s attention? Please be sure to share in the comments!
If you enjoyed reading this interview with children's book author Marcia Wells, please sign up for more inspiring stories and news from my art studio. You even get a free gift tag printable!
PS. Did you know that I offer educational and bilingual printables in my etsy shop? Please visit the "Printables" tab or click the image below for more information. Thanks!
I’m not talking about doing push ups or squats. Or a bright red sunburn. Ouch! I’m not talking about the forest fires that are burning all over the West either, because they just make me really sad. No, I’m talking about something much happier! I somewhat accidentally discovered pyrography! What is pyrography you say? The dictionary explains it as “the art or technique of decorating wood or leather by burning a design on the surface with a heated metallic point.”
It started out with some wooden coasters I made for my husband’s birthday. At first, I was thinking of stamping some designs onto the wood but really wanted the images to come out looking sharp and permanent. I did some research which led to the idea of burning the designs onto the wood. I ordered a basic pyrography or wood burning tool and found it to work well with my simple designs. It was so much fun! When I gave the coasters to my husband, he really loved them and encouraged me to make some more items with this type of art. The feedback I received on my instagram post of the coasters was so positive and encouraging as well!
So, here I am, slightly obsessed with wood burning! It’s ironic, really. I’m not fearful of that many things but I would admit I’m a bit fearful around fire. So it’s probably good that even though the wood burning tool gets really hot, there are no actual flames or fire involved!
I have been drawing all my life so the transition from pencil to pyrography pen has been pretty straightforward. While my art used to be very photorealistic, I have been simplifying my illustrations and artwork for many years now, to communicate my ideas with minimalist, simple lines. This type of design lends itself really well to pyrography with a visual impact that Simon Easton in his book “Woodburning with Style” compares to wood tattoos.
I have added five necklaces to my etsy shop with wood burned designs on the pendants. You can find out more when you click on the photographs in this blog post. The designs are inspired by nature and are very lightweight to wear. The necklaces don't have that factory made feel because each individual piece is handmade with love. No trees were cut down to make these necklaces - they were created out of a branch that had fallen down.
I’m planning on adding some ornaments soon because wouldn’t wooden ornaments look so pretty in the Christmas tree? Be sure to add your name to my email list in the sign-up box below if you don't want to miss out!
Anyways, I would absolutely love it if you check out my new, handmade art in my etsy shop! If you like these "inspired by nature" gifts, please let me know in the comments. Positive comments make my day! Please share this blog post with your nature lover friends.
Our family doesn’t watch tv (too many commercials!) but we do love to watch a good movie! Here is a quick list of family movies to inspire you in case you can’t think of any kid friendly shows to watch this weekend. They are not in any particular order. I included the content rating but you are the best judge of any topics that may be sensitive for your kids. Common Sense Media is a great website to help parents decide on which movies are best for their kids.
Which movie is your favorite on this list? Which ones have you not watched yet? Please share in the comments!
15 Great Family Movies
With school back in session and busy schedules during the week, it feels great to celebrate the weekend by relaxing and snuggling up with the kids to watch a movie. Even better with some popcorn!
Cozy family movie time is exactly what inspired me to draw my latest design: a simple illustration of a bucket of buttery popcorn like you eat at the movie theater. Here are a few products with my popcorn design but you can find the entire collection at my zazzle store.
Planning a Movie Themed Birthday Party
Gift Wrapping with Popcorn Theme
Organizing a Neighborhood Block Party - Popcorn Anyone?
Just Because You Love Popcorn!
Whether you are planning your kids birthday party, organizing your neighborhood block party, wrapping some fun gifts or decorating your home, I hope these products with fun, modern popcorn design inspired you. Enjoy your family movie night and let me know in the comments which movie you watched!
Thank you for sharing this blog post!
As I was browsing Facebook the other day, I noticed a friend’s picture of her adorable daughter all excited about her first day of kindergarten. What?! How can it already be back to school time? We experienced record high temperatures of 108 in Portland last week and this week we are still in the 90’s. This heat wave definitely feels like summer! Well, I realized parents living in other parts of the country are already packing school lunches and wishing kids a happy school day. We still have a couple of weeks to go here in the Pacific Northwest before the kiddos head back but seeing my friend’s picture reminded me that it might be a good idea to start planning for a stress-free transition back to school.
Here is my quick back to school checklist for happy kids and a happy mom:
Purchase school supplies
I looked up to see if the school supply list was already posted on the school website and no way, it was! I printed two copies so each one of my kids could check off items and feel in charge. Before we left for the store, I checked if we still had any school supplies left from last year. To avoid any discussions about wanting vs. needing stuff in the middle of the store aisle, I made sure to set expectations with the kids on what we would definitely not need this year. While our school supply shopping still took forever and my head felt like it was spinning from kids excitedly showing me notebooks and backpacks and lunch boxes and….. all at the same time, I survived the trip and got the job done. Pfff!
When I talked with my mom about the experience, she told me I got “a cookie from my own dough” which is a Dutch expression that means “a taste of your own medicine”. It’s true. I loved shopping for school supplies as a kid!
Get important appointments scheduled
It is so much more difficult to schedule appointments when school is back in session. Between homework assignments, after school activities and other commitments, it can be so tricky to fit appointments into a busy schedule. It doesn’t always work out but I try to schedule our kids’ medical, dental and orthodontic appointments while we are still on summer break. If the timing doesn’t work out due to insurance requirements or spacing between appointments, I look for dates on the calendar when the kids have a teacher planning day or other no school day.
Plan after school activities for fall
Whether you are planning for child care after school or extracurricular activities, it helps to plan ahead. Does your child need new soccer cleats? Now may be the time to find them on sale! Do your kids’ activities overlap or fall on the same days? Are you planning to carpool with other parents? Time to figure out the weekly schedule!
Get our kids on a regular sleep schedule
I’m not always good about getting enough sleep myself but I am a big believer in our kids getting good sleep! Quality sleep makes such a big difference in their moods and everyone knows it’s important for learning. Our kids must have been growing a lot this summer because it seems that all they do right now is eat and sleep! They have been sleeping in really late so the plan is to start getting them back on a regular sleep schedule and waking them up earlier so the shock is not as great when that first day of school alarm bell rings!
This is a silly one maybe but besides a new haircut looking good for those first day of school pics, it is nice to start the school year without having to worry about haircuts for awhile! It’s one of those chores that takes quite a bit of time, but at least is easy to schedule. Much easier than doctor appointments or dental appointments! Those first few weeks of school are always crazy busy though, so you will be thankful when haircuts are checked off the list when school starts.
Mark important dates on the calendar
The calendar fills up quickly so it’s helpful to get important school dates on the calendar now. When are the teacher planning days? Any late openings or early release days? When are teacher-parent conferences? Will school host an open house evening? Getting these dates on the calendar helps to avoid scheduling conflicts which leads to more work on your part. Save yourself the headache of trying to frantically reschedule things at the last minute by getting organized now.
What helps your child transition back to school? What helps you to have a stress-free transition? Any other items on your checklist? I would love to hear from you in the comment section. If you find this back to school checklist helpful, please help other parents stay sane and share! Thank you!
P.S. Did you know I have an Etsy shop with bilingual and educational printables? Especially helpful for those parents with kids who are in a Spanish Immersion program, the bilingual printables can help your child to refresh their Spanish language skills before school starts. Click the button above to check them out!
Illustrations and nature inspired, handmade art that celebrates simple joys.