Easy Hot Chocolate in the Crockpot for Cold Winter Days

Some nights I just want to throw stuff into my small 2 quart crockpot and have a warm drink for the kids when we wake up. This recipe is a great, low effort take on a classic winter comfort drink, and so easy!

hug in a mug

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup granulated sweetener
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • cream, milk, or nut milk
  • water
  • (optional) 1 tbsp honey, maple syrup, or date syrup for depth of flavor
  • (optional) 1/4 tsp beetroot powder–my kids like to have pink cocoa ūüôā

Directions:

  1. Combine cocoa powder, salt, sweetener, beet powder, and syrup/honey in crockpot.
  2. Fill crockpot to the top with water. Whisk as well as you can (it won’t incorporate perfectly) and set crockpot on low overnight.
  3. In the morning add vanilla extract. Blend in a bullet or use immersion blender for frothiness.
  4. Spoon into mugs and serve with cream, milk, or nut milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Easy Yarn Wrapped Christmas Tree Decoration

This little joyful thing is so easy that nearly anyone can do it and it utilizes the most basic of crafting supplies. It makes a cute table centerpiece, adorable window decoration, or fun pop of color among Christmas p resents. You can even give them away as gifts!

Supplies:

  • Tape
  • Cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Yarn
  • Beads (or other trinkets for decorating)
  • Hot glue gun + extra glue

Steps:

  1. Form your cardstock into a cone shape. Tape in place and cut the bottom excess paper off so that it sits flat.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, good enough is fine.

Slowly wind your way around the cone, gluing as you wind. I like to do a small line of glue and then wind around, sinking the yarn into the same stripe of glue a few times as I go.

If you’re using a regular yarn don’t worry about gaps in between, since you’ll be winding back down to fill it in. If you’re using a textured or fuzzy yarn it can be a little harder to glue down, but it should look great without a second layer. Keep going!

2. Begin the yarn winding process by securing the tip of the yarn inside the cone with a bit of hot glue and pressing it in.

Around the outside on the base, glue down the yarn all the way around. This is to create a stable base.

Slowly wind your way around the cone, gluing as you wind. I like to do a small line of glue and then wind around, sinking the yarn into the same stripe of glue a few times as I go.

If you’re using a regular yarn don’t worry about gaps in between, since you’ll be winding back down to fill it in. If you’re using a textured or fuzzy yarn it can be a little harder to glue down, but it should look great without a second layer. Keep going!

3. When you get towards the top begin securing it with glue a little more often again. At the tip, glue it all the way around.

If you are satisfied with how your tree looks at this point without going back down then skip ahead to the next step. As you can see from my picture, I had some glaringly obvious blue gaps and hot glue, which I wasn’t happy with.

Wind back down the tree, filling in gaps, hiding glue, and fluffing out the tree. Be careful with how you glue now so you don’t need to worry about seeing it later! Secure around the base similarly to before, gluing around so it stays nicely.

Cut the yarn, wrap the tip around the base cone, and secure inside with a dab of hot glue.

4. It’s time to decorate your brand new Christmas tree! Whatever you have on hand as decoration is fair game. Beads, pom poms, bows, ribbons, buttons–whatever it is, have fun! I like to use broken jewelry pieces, too.

Hot glue decorative elements all over your tree to your heart’s content. Don’t forget to select a tree topper! We had these large star beads, so I glued 2 together for my tree topper. I’ve also used broken brooches and ribbon bows as toppers.

5. Decide where you want to display your new mini tree for maximum cheer!

Fuzzy Table Centerpiece

https://www.instructables.com/Yarn-Christmas-Tree/

Thanksgiving Carrot Apple Pecan “Pie” (gluten and grain free)

This is a wonderful blend of nostalgic fall flavors mixed into one nutty, sweet slice. Everything easy, leftover, and extra, not already used in a recipe or set aside for something to be cooked later, thrown into one pan of magic. We made this for Thanksgiving breakfast. It can be dessert. It pairs wonderfully with a cup of coffee, although the kids preferred milk.

There is no crust. There is no fuss. Simply mix it all together, pour it in a pan, and bake!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pecans, chopped
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar/swerve
  • 2-3 carrots shredded
  • 1-2 large apple, shredded
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice
  • 3 tbsp oil, plus more for greasing
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp molasses, 1 tbsp honey (optional)
  • 1/8 cup coconut or almond flour (to thicken)
  • 1 tbsp flaxseed

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Shred apple and carrot with a food processor or cheese grater.
  3. In a large bowl mix carrot, apple, pecans, sweeteners, flour, flaxseed, spices, and coffee. Taste (make sure you like it!) Adjust to taste.
  4. Add oil and eggs. Mix well.
  5. Spread into greased pan or baking tin. Bake 40-45 minutes or until visibly set.
  6. Allow to cool and serve.

Quick and Simple Strudel Topping

This quick, easy to do strudel topping is a magical accompaniment to many classics: cheesecake desserts, muffins, pumpkin pie custard, yogurt, whipped cream and berries…the possibilities are limited only to your imagination!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup brown swerve/sugar
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

Combine in food processor and pulse until smooth. Sprinkle on desired dessert and enjoy!

Easy Pumpkin Custard for Thanksgiving

I loooooooove pumpkin pie. Seriously. It evokes fond memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases from years past, always at my grandma’s house.

Honestly, though, sometimes I don’t feel like baking a pie. It’s easier to put it all in a crockpot, add some toppings, and be done with it. Plus, with the addition of an easy strudel and whipped cream or yogurt, I don’t even miss out on the pie! I won’t lie and say that it’s as good as pie, because let’s be honest, nothing is as good as pie, but it’s very close.  

It’s also nice to have the oven free to prepare other dishes. I don’t know about you, but my family always has a ton of dishes waiting in line to go in the oven.

I use a small crockpot for this. If you want to serve this for a large gathering, simply double the recipe. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 tbsp avocado oil, or melted coconut oil, butter, ghee, other cooking fat of choice
  • 1 cup granulated sweetener (stevia, erythritol, monkfruit) 
  • 4 tbsp honey (optional)
  • 1 tbsp molasses 
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla or maple extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice or 1 tbsp cinnamon + 1/8 tsp allspice + 1/8 tsp nutmeg 

Directions:

  1. Grease crockpot.
  2. Whisk or blend eggs until thick and foamy.
  3. Beat in sweetener.
  4. Add vanilla/maple extract and pumpkin puree and beat. 
  5. Add coconut flour, spices, salt, and oil. Beat until well mixed.
  6. Optional: At this stage my kids are starting to get mad and impatient that they can’t eat it for hours. Scoop a small amount into a microwave safe container (such as these silicon ramekins) and microwave for 1 minute and serve to the impatient ones. 
  7. Pour mixture into crockpot and wiggle a little to distribute evenly. Insert a paper towel underneath the lid to collect condensation. Set crockpot on low.
  8. Cook 2:30-3:00 hours. Mine usually takes 3xaround 2 hours and 40 minutes.
  9. Serve with this strudel, this whipped cream, a dollop of vanilla ice cream, yogurt, or kefir. 

I know my spice blend isn’t technically pumpkin spice, but I prefer it in some ways. I like the cinnamon to be prominent and here’s some heresy for you: I don’t really like the overpowering notes of ginger or clove in some traditional pumpkin spice mixes.

Too Much Stuff

There’s no other way to say it, my kids have too much stuff. Books, stuffed animals, clothes, and electronic toys are frequently everywhere. They like to make messes, but when they get bored with what they’re playing with in five minutes they’re rarely willing to pick it up. It’s a constant source of tension for us.

I don’t think any mom wants to admit that their children might have too much stuff. We want them to have everything, right? All the fun toys, learning materials, and warm and comfy clothes and shoes are so tempting!

I was recently confronted with this issue in a way that I couldn’t ignore. On a 3 hour drive to go camping my girls cried for toys and tv for about an hour. I must admit that we discussed a portable DVD player during this time, desperate for backseat contentedness. Once we got there their moods improved only marginally–they were bored. A lot of the day was filled with complaining and testing my patience until bedtime. The next morning, however, they began to settle down. They found leaves to run around in and collect, sticks to stack, and large rocks (dinosaur bones). Madilyn found a little metal nut and labeled it “robot finger” and spent the rest of the trip doing everything, including sleeping, with her robot friend. On the trip home they played with straws, pretending that they were musical instruments, and their socks, using them as mittens, bags, and “dinosaur eggs”. There was no whining on the drive home except to express disappointment that we were going home and not back to the campsite.

How can I ignore the message here? I was disappointed in myself for even considering the DVD player, when clearly they need less media and electronics, not more! Research even demonstrates this. Kiddos need activities and experiences over objects.

We have an overabundance of loving and well meaning friends and family, myself included, that like to get new stuff for the girls on a regular basis. While it’s something that I struggle to keep up with, we generally counteract the overcrowding in a few ways:

1. Toy Tub Rotation

Sometimes I just throw toys in tubs, leave one out, and put the rest away. Once they seem bored the tub can be swapped for another one.

2. Zebra Boxes 

I haven’t done a zebra box in a while, but it’s a great motivational tool for getting children to help clean up or cooperate. You can read more about it here.

3. Toy Auction

When things just get too out of hand I will pick up everything and hold a toy auction. Little buyers get a set amount of coins–in our case they’re poker chips from a thrift store–to buy their belongings back with. I usually do about 5 book coins (although their books are kept close by anyway, because reading), 1 large toy coin, 2 or 3 small toy coins, and 1 coin for building blocks or puzzles.

4. Disappearing and Reappearing Toys

Occasionally one of my kids will ask where a certain toy that they haven’t seen in a while is. This is when I pull out what they’re missing. They usually play with it for a day or two before getting bored, and I can put it away again.

5. Sticker/stamp Chart

I’ve written about the stamp chart before. This is such a great way to get kids engaged in keeping their belongings tidy(ish) and rewarding them for helping.

6. Toy Culling

Rarely I get so overwhelmed that I qill do a culling of toys. Anything they don’t play with, refuse to pick up, or volunteer to get rid of is donated. I did this in July, and the girls were actually so overwhelmed with clutter at that time that they helped decide what to get rid of.

7. TV Time

I’m really bad with the TV. I’ll leave it on when they ask and turn it on to try and bore them to sleep. I have to have some kind of controls in place to stop myself from thos, because I have definitely noticed that the less screen time they have, the happier they are and more imaginative they play. There are soem great learning shows for kids, but I still feel interactive play and outside exploration is better.

For now, our system is that they can watch as much TV on Friday as they do worksheets/workbooks. Today it was 40 minutes. They actually got bored very quickly and left before the time was up anyway. Still a work in progress.

Primary Color Blending “Sludge” Messy Activity for Kids

I can’t think of an eloquent word for the consistency that this creates. Paste? Slop? Sludge? It’s gooey and colorful and a little bit gross, which I think makes it perfect for young kids, always happy to stick their hands in goop.

This little activity is super simple and great entertainment for the kids. It’s messy, it’s fun, and my kids always love some good quality sensory play. As an added benefit, you can choose to do primary colors as an educational example of color blending.

A word of warning: this is an outdoor activity! Make sure that you immediately wash vinegar off of wood. I am a little embarrassed to admit that by letting my children do this inside on our table, I accidentally ruined the table by rushing them off to the bathtub rather than cleaning up first.

Supplies:

  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Food coloring or watercolors (food coloring may stain hands)
  • Bowls and utensils for mixing
  • (Optional) squirt bottles with vinegar water–careful where you do this!

Steps:

1. In your bowls, add a cup or so of baking soda. You may use as many bowls/colors as you like.

2. Add water until it turns into a pasty consistency and stir together.

3. Add food coloring and stir.

4. Separate colors into containers. I did some stripes of color in a large Tupperware container for each kid.

5. Give them their squirt bottles and watch them have fun.

Stamp Chart Reward System

Sometimes it can be really difficult to get kids to cooperate when you need them to. Believe me, I know. My kids can be as stubborn and ornery as their mom and dad.

One of the best ways that I’ve come up with to get the kids to help out is a stamp chart. It looks like this:

Stamps could easily be exchanged for stickers, but we use stickers elsewhere and my girls really enjoy the process of getting to ink the stamp and press it on paper, so it’s more rewarding for them.

The kids can earn a stamp in a few different ways:

1. Picking up their own messes/cleaning up toys

2. Eating like a civilized person and not throwing stuff

3. Not whining or hitting, aka trying to express emotions with words

4. A day without TV

5. Filling a row on the potty sticker chart

The rewards on the chart are usually a fun trip or activity that the kids enjoy. We try to keep the cheap, easy rewards towards the top and more expensive rewards for the end of the chart. This requires quite a bit of help from the girls to actually get to go do something like go out to eat or go to the riverwalk. The chart ends on the last day of the month, so it’s possible to reach the end without acquiring every reward–and that’s okay, too. It’s okay to not get everything. I want them to see that sometimes you don’t win, and working harder improves your odds. Right now when one of them earns a stamp they both get it, but that will change soon.

This is intended as an active, exciting way to engage them in the process of learning how to help out and pick up after themselves. It’s also a precursor to earning an allowance, or “salary.”

Having said all of this, sometimes it doesn’t work. One kid is almost 3 and the other is going on 2, so they often know better than mom and dad or just want to be bratty (as indicated by the accompanying smirk they give), but it’s alright. Some kind of system is better and more successful than no system at all.

SA Outdoor Adventures for Kids

Hey, hey, hey! Today, as with many August days here in San Antonio, it’s nice and sweltering. Sure, it may get down to 90, but you’d never know it with the humidity. Of course, the heat keeps us indoors in an attempt to avoid it a lot of the time, but it’s still important to get out and go somewhere. I’m a serious believer in the importance of exposure to nature for so many reasons, so we always try to go out and explore outside a couple of times a week.

Here’s my personal list of what makes something a great day (morning or afternoon) destination:

$$$–is it cheap, or even better, free?

Will my small children be happy there?

Safety, weather, and you know, preparedness things

We moved back in February, so I have certainly not scoped out the hottest mom spots in San Antonio by any means, but here’s our favorite spots to kill some time outside with the kid monsters!

1. Guadalupe River State Park

Okay, so not in the city, I know. But hear me out! This beautiful state park is easy to get to, just a drive up Blanco Road to 46. In addition it’s extremely family friendly: they have camping, hiking, a playground (currently closed, boo), a children’s discovery center, a ton of picnic tables, and of course, swimming. There’s deeper water for parents and older kids, but for smaller children there’s also a wonderful section of shallow water. My water-timid 3 year old gets to play and splash around without being worried here. We like to take a big mat and lounge in the shade. Hands down my favorite spot to cool off.

$$$–We have a state parks pass so it’s worth it for us to go. If you don’t, you will have to pay a day use fee.

Happy kids? Very. Always have a hard time leaving.

Preparation–sunscreen (please use a non-toxic kind!), swimsuits, shade, water, snacks, water shoes¬†(don’t underestimate how painful river rocks can be on bare feet), and whatever water safety devices you feel appropriate.

2. Phil Hardberger Park

If you’ve never been to Hardberger Park with your kids it’s definitely worth a trip. This place is huge and even has two entrances, one on Blanco Rd and one on Military. There are dog parks and playgrounds on each side near the parking lots. In addition, the hiking trails just can’t be beat. There’s a large picnic area on each side, benches on some of the trails, and even a large overlook. We go hiking here a couple of times a week and always have a great time. Sometimes we do nature scavenger hunts here while hiking to engage the kids.

$$$–free

Happy kids? Usually. Sometimes a kid gets mad that she has to walk or ride in the stroller instead of being carried.

Preparation–sunscreen (or sun hat and sleeves), water

3. San Antonio Zoo + Brackenridge Park

We purchased zoo memberships as soon as we moved. It was a no brainer for us, we went to the LA Zoo all the time in California, and it wasn’t even particularly close! The girls absolutely love it. And with all the fun enclosures (sorry, animals) and features I can’t blame them. Plus, summer animatronic dinosaurs! You can take a (very short) ride on the carousel, see the pigs and goats at the petting zoo or ride the train. You could spend hours in the splashpad area. There’s all sorts of outdoor things over in the kid’s area, including adorable mini benches. There’s even a small discovery center for the kiddos. If that’s not enough (and let’s be real, you might be beat, but the munchkins have some magical reserve of energy just for moments like this) Brackenridge park is right outside!

$$$–just buy a membership. If you go twice it’s worth it.

Happiness factor? Kids always enjoy it. Even Matt and I are usually glad we went. Exhausted, but glad.

Preparation–sun protection, water

4. Eisenhower Park

I really enjoy this place. There are more difficult hiking trails if that’s what you’re looking for, easy paved trails if you need something simpler. There are nice, wooded trails, too. I like taking the double stroller here. There’s a nice little playground and a large climbing wall for older kids.

$$$–free

Fun level–decent. My kids are always happy if they get to play on a playground.

Preparation–sun protection, water

5. Orsinger Park

Now you should have a very good idea of where I live! This is our basic time-killing place. It’s got a large pavillion for events, bathrooms, a sandbox, and a very large, nice playground. Karissa is obsessed with the sandbox, but Madilyn always has to be coaxed into playing in the sand. There’s lots of lovely cedar elms and picnic tables scattered throughout the grove behind the play equipment. We always go for a little walk through the trails, too.

$$$–free (ca-ching!)

Happy? Oh, so very happy.

Preparation–a diligent parent might bring hydration? I usually don’t…eek. It’s okay, though, because water fountains.

Big Kid Bonus: Tom Slick Park

I’ve only been here once, but the playground was awesome. It was definitely better for older kids, but the play equipment was shaded and I was impressed. There’s a lake with a nice, easy trail to walk, exercise equipment, and what I’m pretty sure was a baseball diamond. This one is on the west side but was a really fun adventure.

$$$–free

Happiness–thumbs up

Preparation–sun protection, water

 

Top Ten Baby Shower Gifts

We are just emerging from baby territory into young kids and it wasn’t long ago that we were having gifts showered upon us in preparation for an entire new phase of our lives.

Karissa is officially a kid and Madi, sadly, is no longer a baby in many ways. It’s a very bittersweet thing. But because we are fresh out of baby phase, I definitely still know what my favorite baby products are.

Disclosure: some of the supplies linked are affiliate links, meaning that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you use this link to make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

1. Diapers

This is the practical¬†parent in me speaking! Unless someone is doing EC, they’re going to need a ton of diapers. Why not give them a bit of a head start! We were given many, many¬†different varieties and sizes¬†of diapers at our baby showers for Karissa, and we didn’t have any left over. My favorites at the time were the Honest Company, they seemed comfortable enough, baby friendly, lots of cute prints/patterns, and most importantly (in my opinion), they didn’t leak like a lot of the other natural brands did. Since our kids are older now, I’ve actually changed to cheaper diapers, HEB store brand or Pampers depending on where we’re shopping.

2. Animal Pacifiers

I’ve written in depth about my experience with losing my breastmilk when Karissa was young. Because of this, she used a pacifier as a soothing mechanism frequently for a few months while we adjusted to the situation. I was bound and determined not to use pacifiers in our lives, but let’s be honest, sometimes life doesn’t care about our plans.

It only seemed natural to make sure that Madilyn had a pacifier that she liked, just in case. We settled on this cute moose pacifier  pretty quickly, and she loved it! Neither of my kids used pacifiers for long, maybe 2-4 months, but Madi still carried it around as a dear toy and chewing device for a long time. Worth every cent.

3. Books

We have a million books in our house. We have so many, in fact, that recently I made some cardboard bookshelves to try and keep them from being thrown across the floor every day. Which didn’t work, by the way–now the kids just take pleasure in removing them from the shelves to peruse and then toss on the floor. Argh.

Anyway, books are a great way to get a child interested in learning! I try really hard to read to the girls every day, and when I’m just not feeling it thankfully their dad steps in and handles things.

Some of our family favorites include: Little Yellow Bee, the Gruffalo, Blue Hat Green Hat, Dinosaur Dance (most Sandra Boynton), Hand Hand Fingers Thumb, Mr. Paint Pig, Karen Katz lift the flaps, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

4. Baby Carrier/Sling

Hands down the number one most used item in my day to day life every day for the last (almost) three years is a ring sling. A family member gifted me a wonderful¬†Maya wrap¬†for Karissa’s baby shower and I was instantly in love. I actually ended up buying a second one, a lightweight summer sling, and a water sling.

Matt and I both tried many varieties of carriers and the ring sling is what we were both most comfortable with. The learning curve is so-so, but once you figure out how to comfortably sit baby in one it’s so fast and easy. I personally couldn’t do any of the front carriers well and I had a Moby wrap that I genuinely tried to get the hang of, but the way she sat in it always felt unstable for me. User error, surely. A big plus to the ring sling for me was that the kid sits on one side/hip, so my dominant hand and other side remained largely free. Usually it’s helpful for doing whatever work I’m trying to do or carry the other kid.

5. Multipurpose Healing Balm/Diaper Ointment

We use¬†Kuumba Made salve¬†for EVERYTHING. Any cut, rash, itch, or skin problem at all gets this salve slathered all over it. It’s just wonderful to not have to worry about having multiple tubes of stuff for different purposes when one great concoction will do the trick.

6. The Nosefrida

The Nosefrida¬†is the modern parent’s solution to the uncomfortable problem of snot and congestion. This wonderful device replaces a traditional bulb syringe and is, in my opinion, easier to use and easier to clean.

7. Toys: Manhattan Toys, blocks, musical Caterpillar

This ridiculous caterpillar lived in our house until the batteries finally died, and then for a year after that, that’s how popular he was. As babies the girls both just loved the little mirror and the tune he played, and frequently it was the only thing that would calm them down when upset.

Some other wonderful toys for young ones include almost anything from Manhattan toys: we had the winkel rattle, classic baby beads, skwish classic rattle, and bababall. The bababall is still very popular with everyone for throwing because mom doesn’t get mad if soft toys are thrown in the house. These blocks¬†are also still very popular. Blocks are really great. We used Megabloks for a while but swapped them out for Duplos now because I really like the size and options better.

Now that the kids are older, this LeapFrog music player, dubbed “the green thing”, is the most popular toy around. Someone gave this to Karissa when she was really young and soon after Madilyn was able, they began to fight over it. We actually bought a second one, which I kid you not to my horror perished in an open cup of water about two weeks after we bought it. We finally replaced the one that we lost with a pink one, which is now the “pink green thing”. The original one, now nearly 3 years old, is on it’s last legs, so I am both amused and embarrassed to admit that serious talks have begun on whether or not to buy another “pink green thing” to replace the original. I am probably making a mistake in revealing the most popular toy in our house, because we seem to heavily rely on Amazon’s stock of these and may rely on it until our kids turn 18 and move out of the house.

 

8. O Ball

My aunt gave us the O Ball¬†¬†when Karisssa was 3 months old and uh honestly, I wasn’t all that excited. I mean, I got the concept of it, but it seemed really lackluster. So very, very wrong. This wonderful contraption mounts onto strollers, carseats, rockers, and probably bouncers (don’t know, never tried one) and so many things can be attached to it! This was a wonderful distraction for a year or so for Karissa, and then about 3 months for Madi because her sister would come over and take the toys that were hanging away from her.

This pairs wonderfully with the musical caterpillar from earlier. There were many, many hours of musical caterpillar hanging on O Ball when Karissa was small.

9. Rocker or bouncer

A lot of hours were also spent, for both of my girls, in a rocker a lot like this one. I can’t find the actual one that we used, I guess the latest and greatest model has replaced it. Any time I needed my hands free I could put them in here, usually with the O Ball to play with, and feel confident that they were comfortable and secure. Some naps were even taken in here, huzzah!

10. Money

I know, money is such a lame gift, but if you don’t know what they need they will be¬†ever grateful for the donation.