DIY CRAFT: A GNOME FOR YOUR HOME

Appears that gnomes are all the rage this holiday season. 

And boy have I drank the juice.  Heck, I think I’ve bathed in it because I’ve gnome off the deep end.  I can’t even count the amount of gnomes I’ve made already this year for friends and family, and I’m certain I won’t stop there. 

Want to join in the craze, but don’t want to pay a boatload for these adorable lil’ dudes?  

Here’s how you can get in on the action and save yourself a pretty penny (and for some, fund a new addiction):

  • hot glue gun
  • 1 sock (any color, any size)
  • dried lavender (optional)
  • a mason jar or a similar type of wide-opening jar
  • ~ 10” x 16” piece of fabric for a gnome hat
  • ~ 5″ x 5″ piece of faux fur for the beard
  • ~ 1 cup of rice (or dried legumes of some kind)
  • scissors
  • sewing machine (optional)
  • ruler or a straight edge
  • 3/4″ – 1″ wooden bead (with or without holes)
  • decorations for your fabulous gnome (optional)

Step 1: Plug in your hot glue gun and then find an old, lonely sock. We had so many laying around the house that that’s what actually sparked my interest in wanting to make something with them!  If you can’t find any stragglers, use an outgrown pair or maybe some of your own that you don’t like all that much.

Step 2: Place your sock, stretched over the brim of a jar.  Trust me, this will make it so much easier to fill your sock with your material than attempting to hold with one hand and pour with another.  Once your sock is stretched, pour in rice till your gnome head is the size you would like. (I legit have made so many of these, and couldn’t be bothered to go to the store in-between, that most of my guys are filled with ridiculously expensive organic lentils, rice, barley and/or split peas. Don’t make that mistake and get your hands on some cheap-o rice before you begin!)  Try adding in dried lavender for a peaceful smell or even dehydrated citrus for some zing.

Step 3: Once it’s full to the capacity that you’d like, either tie off the top of the sock and cut off the excess, or sew the top shut (and again, trim off any excess).  If you choose to sew this shut, your sewing skills do not matter much here as it’ll be covered by your gnome’s amazing hat!  I suppose you could also just hot glue the bad boy together?

Step 4: Measure the circumference of the ‘head’ you’ve just made.  Add 1 inch to that.  We will call your head measurement ‘H.’  Cut a piece of pre-washed fabric H x 16” (longer than 16” if you want a longer hat, shorter than 16” if you would rather it shorter and able to stand up straight).  Fold the cut piece of fabric in half lengthwise, and then cut from one lower corner to top, opposite corner.  At this point, it does not matter which bottom corner from which you start.   After you’ve made the cut, choose to work with the piece that has the fold (not the piece that is now two pieces.)  Discard/put aside the piece you will not be using.

Step 5:  If you have a fabric with a pattern, now is the time to fold your fabric so that the right sides (the sides you ultimately want to be seen) are together. (facing one another on the inside of your fold).  We will inside-out this hat once we are done for a more neat seam.  Sew or hot glue the entire length of the hat, making sure not to sew shut the opening on the bottom.

Step 6: Flip your fabric so the right sides are showing.  You may want to use a pencil to get the very tip top undone. You’re done with your gnome hat!  Set it aside for now.

Step 7: Once again measure the circumference of your gnome’s head, at the widest width.  Divide that width by 2.  We will called that measurement ’B.’  Cut a piece of faux fur B x 5” (making sure you note the direction that your fur is laying before cutting).

Step 8: Glue down your beard. Using the hot glue gun, apply glue along the top rim of your beard.  Make sure you’re laying it centered in the middle of your head.  Trim and shape your beard once the glue has dried.  Note: You could also do this step before gluing if that’s easier for you too.  I prefer to do it after so that I can really see how the beard will be laying on my gnome’s face.

Step 9: Put the hat on your gnome and glue it down, making sure not to apply glue to the front center.  I find that it’s best to put the hat on without glue (covering the beard line in all places) and then go through and randomly apply beads of glue in 2-3 spots.  I also like for my hat to rest lower in the back than in the front so that it appears more slouchy.

Step 10: Once your hat is adhered and dried, find your wooden bead and apply a dollop of hot glue to it.  Apply the bead right in the center of your head just below the hat and directly on the beard fur.  If you like the look of a scrunched hat, place the bead just under your hat fabric as well (this is why we didn’t apply glue here yet).  If you like the look of a wider nose, try adding two smaller wood beads to the left and right side of the center one.  Don’t have any wood beads?  Try an acorn or a rock or a marble!

Step 11: Your basic gnome is done.  Decorate as you see fit or leave him clean and simple.

Need some ideas on how to spice up your gnome?

  • Try making it some glasses out of thin crafting wire
  • Add different color fur to the beard for more texture
  • Sprinkle glitter on the hat for some ‘magic’
  • Wrap a band of fur, ribbon or jute around the brim of the hat
  • Sew or glue a tassel or pom pom to the end of the long cap
  • Glue the head to a giant pinecone for a Forest-friendly look
  • Add a button somewhere

The options and decorations are limitless. 

The important thing is to have fun making your newest lil’ member.  Also, if you choose to fill the sock with rice and not add any decorative metal (i.e. wire glasses), your gnome can double as a personal heater.  My kiddos love to sleep with their lavender and rice-filled gnomes on cold nights.  Just plop your new friend in the microwave for 30 second increments (it’s okay, he likes it) until he’s satisfyingly warm and ready to soothe.

Austin’s Best Girls Night Out Spots

Are mounds of laundry, loads of dishes and screaming kids consuming your life? Mom-ing is challenging and girl time is important to recharge! I have curated a short list of my top faves, both flavorful food, relaxing, creative and active.

Food & Cocktails Spots

High Note – a healthy, boozy place to eat, drink, and live well. Sounds perfect for Austin right?? The Austin Mom’s team was able to enjoy our Holiday Happy Hour this year and it was truly delicious, gorgeous and made us all feel merry! Try the sweet potato cocktail paired with the dip trio #vegan + #glutenfree

Grizzelda’s – GNO vibes with vibrant pops of hot pink, gold patio chairs and palm wallpaper this restaurant is such a fun spot with the ladies! Traditional Mexican fare, sister restaurant of Jacoby’s which means farm to table bites and drinks with names like “queen bey,” your evening will surely be fantastic.

Josephine House – Quaint cottage turned restaurant in Austin’s historic Clarksville neighborhood offering seasonal menus is sure to be a hit for your next evening away from the kiddos.  Sitting under the patio bistro lights sipping on house made cocktails is the perfect way to enjoy time with your tribe.

Kitty Cohen’s – Located in East Austin, with a patio pool bar is 1970’s meets Palm Springs.  If you are looking for an evening that is retro in flavor this is a fantastic choice. Check out their calendar for culinary pop up events, the currently they have Cambodian soulfood on rotation.

Elevé – Makeup and champagne…need I say more!? Book a private party and enjoy faux lashes, lip application, 5 min makeup touch-up, and a glass of house bubbly for $45 per person. Additional party perks like a cheese platter, discount off purchases and a makeup artist reserved just for your group. Pamper yourself!

Crafting Spots

Upstairs Circus – Where DIY workshop intersects with a fabulous bar! 25 craft project options to select, every girl in your group is bound to find something they will swoon for. Craft projects are categorized by level of difficulty and amount of time to create. Sip on drinks from the full bar to really get your creative juices flowing.

Articulture – Host to various creative classes, offering a dense event calendar full of on trend projects such as macramé plant hanger class, flower crowns or succulent wreath making. Many of these are offered during the day, so turn your GNO to a fun filled outing during the day.

Board & Brush – Create DIY wood signs that scream Magnolia’s Fixer Upper! Dozens of sign options to select from, BYOB policy and five different locations around Austin, this a great option with the ladies.

Healthy & Active Spots

GOGA Goat Yoga – What is better than breaking a sweat AND laughing with your girls? GOGA is a 45 minute traditional Vinyasa style yoga class. While the yoga style is traditional the baby Pygmy Nigerian Dwarf goats are not.  Your furry friends will be walking, running, hopping, and kissing their way around your mat throughout your practice. Enjoy a good sweat and great photo ops with those cuddly little goats.

SoulCycle – Feel strong, clear your mind and rock out on a spin bike with your besties. SoulCycle classes are for all levels of experience and can be so much fun with a group. All classes are full body, incorporate weights and different resistance training. You are sure to leave one of these classes refreshed and recharged.

Diva Dance – Hip hop classes for mamas wanting to feel confident and burn some calories. These fun, energetic and cardio busting classes are always a fun night out. Book a class or set up a party with a group.

What are your go to spots with your gals? Share with me!

Organize & Keep It Safe Through the Holidays And Into The New Year

Sponsored By :: Apparent Insurance

Photo Courtesy: Jessica Rockowtiz Photography + Film

Alright mamas, Christmas is around the corner and then comes 2020, in the new year brings change. Our houses are begging for de-clutter, organization and checking up to make sure all is safe for our family after all the family gatherings, decorating, shopping, and new presents in the house.

In the back of your head be thinking of ways to protect your family in the coming year and decade.

Cleaning, de-cluttering, and creating a safe haven for my family helps me to be more productive, it frees my mind to be able to do creative and effective work. Organization calms me. It centers me. It keeps me sane.

Here are some of my favorite organization tips:

1. A place for everything.

There’s no doubt this principle is essential in staying organized. Every object in your possession should have a place to be stored. After using something, try to get in the habit of returning the item as soon as you’re done using it.

Time often gets in the way of this healthy habit, so I do a quick 10-minute de-clutter at the end of the day to make sure everything is in its place.

To perform a de-clutter, set a timer for 10 minutes, scan a room in your home, and put away anything that needs to be put away. Move from room to room until the timer goes off. Repeat daily!

2. What about our cars?

How often do you pay attention to the “health” of your car? It is important to check over insurance policies that best fit the entire family. Updating them to make sure the whole family is safe from car seat and stroller replacement from any car accidents, to upgraded accident forgiveness. Or maybe your teen is about to start driving, have you downloaded the teen driving app??

Speaking of teen drivers, did you know there is an at-home mechanic app with Apparent Insurance? If you do need extensive repairs, a replacement rental can be ready in a jiff.

3. Put it on the calendar.

My calendar is my life. Seriously. I put almost everything from my main list onto my calendar, which I update once a week on Sunday evenings. I set up my calendar as far in advance as I can. I put all important events or appointments. Like what about car seat replacement… did the hustle & bustle of the holidays end with a minor accident? Did you know that guaranteed replacement is offered by Apparent Insurance to keep your and your little loves as safe as possible all year through.

4. Make a date to pay the bills.

On the last Saturday morning of the month, we have a standing date with our bills. We sit down at our computer, and manage our money. We has a chart of every bill we pay monthly. There is a column for checking a bill off when it’s paid, the name of the company, and how much we owe. We pay what needs to be paid on this date, though most of our bills are on auto pay.

In addition to our handy little electronic list, we try to find where our family can save. Did you know students get a good student discount with Apparent Insurance? Or how about a multi-car discount? Or when your student is away at college, it makes sense to have a discount when they are not with the vehicle for a length of time.

5. Know when you’re at your best, and get things done during that time.

It is important to know yourself and when your energy levels are at their highest because this is the ideal time for getting things done. I am a morning person, so I try to plan my tasks earlier in the morning. That way, I have the energy to complete them. If I wait until 3 p.m. or later…well, let’s just say…it’s probably not gonna happen!

So, there you have it–a few tricks of the trade which have allowed this Mama the appearance of being 100% organized when, really, I’m only about 50% organized and 50% hot mess.

As the holidays commence, make sure your families are ready for the New Year! We wish you a happy, safe, efficient 2020!

HALTS For Simpler Parenting

Photo Courtesy: Jessica Rockowitz Photography + Film

When our children are young, communication can be incredibly frustrating.

Usually it involves crying and acting out and other fun-filled behaviors that push our buttons.

It can feel like panic and exhaustion and anger all bubble up together as you race through possible scenarios about why your child is crying this time, and what exactly to do about it.

But let’s not stop there, because a part of the equation is also the adult in the relationship, *gulp*. Us.

How are we showing up to our babies? Are we having our own versions of acting out? What’s a worn out parent to do?

Well, I have a shortcut that might help. This is borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous, actually, and adapted, because I think it’s just handy for anyone to consider.

When your day is feeling bumpy, or your kid is pushing your buttons, it’s time to HALTS. (Ok I know that doesn’t really work structurally and grammatically, but stay with me.)

Remember this acronym and do a quick check. “Am I feeling, or is my child feeling…”

Hungry
Angry
Lonely
Tired
Scared

These issues affect our abilities to be our best selves.

Any one of these, or worse, a combination, depletes our energy required for empathy, patience, kindness, learning…you name it.

And in fact, it activates the parts of our brain that are our most selfish, combative and uncooperative (through our fight/flight networks).

No one can be their best when experiencing HALTS, especially children, whose emotion regulation and behavior regulation skills are still under construction anyway.

So, when the going gets tough, pause and check your HALTS – address those real, valid needs (whether in yourself or someone else) first before reacting, disciplining, or saying something you might regret.

Hungry?

Grab a snack, then talk.

Angry?

Tell someone, take a walk, take some deep breaths – or help your kiddo do the same. (For anger in particular, it can be helpful to do something to discharge the body energy first, like doing push ups/squats/walk/run/push or pull something heavy…then talk it out).

Lonely?

Connect with someone, give a hug, get a hug, text a friend for support.

Tired?

Find some short moments to practice a little mindfulness for a temporary boost, then consider some real changes to your sleep hygiene, and ask for help so you can nap or go to bed earlier.

Scared?

Talk it out, get support, give support. More hugs.

Our kids HALTS are just as valid as ours, and vice versa.

Our culture doesn’t do a great job with validating real needs, whether physical or emotional…but it makes our relationships so much harder when we ignore them.

Set yourself up for a smoother day at work, at home, and with your family – check your HALTS.

 

Photography: www.jessicarockowitz.com

The Best Organic Products to be Putting On Your Kids

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Sponsored By :: Greenerways Organic

Technically it’s Fall/Winter, but we are still hitting pretty hot temps here in Austin. Just when I think all of the bugs have been frozen to death from the arctic blast we had a few weeks ago, I’m reminded of how unpredictable not only our weather can be, but how relentless the bugs can be! We absolutely love to be outdoors and between sports, swim, going to our family ranch, playing in the backyard, and everything in between, we are faced with mosquitos, gnats, flies, and more all. day. long.

One of my favorite new products that has become a staple in our home is Greenerways Organic. I’m sure insect repellent isn’t one of the most exciting “products” to have at home, but seriously, it’s a necessity in Austin, Texas! Having 3 little ones ranging in age from 3-9 years old, there are so many things to consider before slathering myself {and my kiddos} in some toxic spray just to keep the pesky bugs away. Alas… it’s unavoidable. Here is why our family loves this DEET FREE bug repellent and why yours should too!

5 Reasons Why We Love Greenerways.

  1. Eliminates Insect Phobia — My boys are literally freaked out by things that fly and land on them. I don’t know if it’s a phobia per say, but we can barely make it through an outdoor meal without someone having a panic attack over the flies. Now I can’t guarantee that Greenerways is going to keep all the flies away, but I can promise you that it helps immensely! And at least my littles don’t have mosquito bites from head to toe anymore.
  2. All Natural — Greenerways Organic produces the best, USDA Certified Organic insect repellents and cleaning products on the market. Made in the U.S., all of the products are essential oil-based, Deet-Free, Lab-Tested, safe for the environment, and very affordable. Founder and mompreneur, Jayme Bella, created this brand out of a need for her family and children.
  3. Odor — I haven’t found a single product on the market that is 100% odorless {even if advertised as such}, but Greenerways doesn’t have an obnoxious repellent smell. Often times I decide to just deal with the bugs, because I don’t want to be plagued by the smell of bug spray; however, Greenerways is way more tolerable than any other product I’ve ever tried.
  4. Amazon — Greenerways is sold on Amazon and if you’re Prime, you can have it in 24 hours.
  5. Their Other Products — Y’all they have so many other products like sunscreen bug repellent {yes!!! both!!!}, all purpose cleaner, the best Wonder Balm ever…it’s AMAZING for the lips, and they have essential oils!

The Greenerways products truly are incredible and the best part? I feel so so good about putting them on my family!

Praise the Pelvic Floor

Sponsored by :: UT Health Austin

Written by Lauryn Feil and Maureen Christian, PT, WCS, CLT

Ladies. Let’s address the post-baby-sneeze-and-pee phenomenon. If you’re a mom, first-of-all, go you – you rockstar – for creating, nurturing and birthing an actual human-being into this world and then dealing with all the drama once it’s actually left your body. Seriously, major kudos to you. We can talk all day long about how beautiful motherhood is, but if you’re experiencing the not so beautiful “I laughed so hard I peed a little” situation, or have had some, ahem, accidents, where you just didn’t quite make it to the ladies room in time, you should know, you really don’t have to just live with it. Urinary incontinence is a common symptom of pelvic floor dysfunction, which can often occur after childbirth. But, as far as we are concerned, it is not a sacrifice you have to make as a mom. We’ve got a fix for it, which can make motherhood, womanhood, and life in general that much better.

So what’s the deal with the pelvic floor – what exactly is it, how can pregnancy and childbirth affect it, and what can you do about it? We talked with expert pelvic floor physical therapist, Maureen Christian, at UT Health Austin’s Women’s Health Institute, to pick her brain about it. Below are her answers to questions about pelvic floor health during and after pregnancy and how you can get it back into tip-top shape.

1. What is the pelvic floor, and how is it stressed during pregnancy?

The pelvic floor is a multi-layered group of hammock shaped muscles along with other
ligamentous and connective tissue structures, which span from the pubic bone anteriorly to the sacrum/coccyx posteriorly, and between the “sits” bones bilaterally. These structures help to support the pelvic organs and as pregnancy progresses, the added weight pressing down on these structures can cause compression and prolonged stretching, possibly making the muscle tissue weaker and more challenging to contract. This, combined with added pressure directly on the urinary bladder, can cause urinary leakage with surge pressures from coughing, sneezing, laughing, position changes, etc.

2. How may childbirth cause damage to or weaken the pelvic floor?

The degree to which the pelvic floor structures are stressed during childbirth is dependent on many factors, some of which include fetal weight and head size, length of stage II labor, and labor to birth positioning. The soft tissue structures, which include peripheral nerves, may experience prolonged compression and stretching during childbirth, rendering them less functional and less supportive, and in the case of muscle tissue, less able to perform optimal contraction. Some studies have suggested that a great deal of these changes may occur more in the latter stages of pregnancy, whereby, cesarean section may not always contribute to preventing pelvic floor injury.

3. What are the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction?

Symptoms that are possibly related to pelvic floor dysfunction can manifest in many ways,
including urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pain with sexual intercourse or other
sexual complaints or dysfunction. The truth is, childbirth does change things and puts a woman at greater risk for pelvic floor dysfunction. However, given time, the body heals, recovers, and returns to its pre-partum state. However, when the pelvic floor is not functioning optimally, there are several interventions a trained pelvic floor physical therapist can educate the patient on in order to reduce and, ideally, eliminate the symptoms. In short, don’t assume it’s normal to leak urine or have pain or other sexual dysfunction following childbirth. Seek the assistance of a pelvic floor therapist should you have persisting symptoms after 6-8 weeks postpartum.

4. Can pelvic floor dysfunction lead to other more serious issues, like pelvic organ prolapse?

The most common risk factor for pelvic organ prolapse (when one or more of the pelvic organs drops or presses into or out of the vagina) is vaginal childbirth. However, there are other risk factors as well, including obesity, chronic constipation, and long term respiratory conditions, including incessant coughing. All of the conditions mentioned may affect the pelvic floor negatively, creating dysfunctional muscle activity. It is important in the presence of pelvic organ prolapse, to have a thorough pelvic floor assessment and learn interventions to help prevent the progression of the prolapse and increase the integrity and function of the support structures such as the pelvic floor muscles. In severe cases, however, surgical intervention is warranted. Following recovery from surgical intervention, pelvic floor dysfunction should be addressed in order to assist in facilitating an optimal outcome.

5. Is there anything recommended to minimize pelvic floor problems prior to giving birth?

Becoming well informed about your pelvic floor prior to pregnancy is ideal, and a visit to a
pelvic floor physical therapist is a great place to start. During an uncomplicated pregnancy, it is important to remain generally active and maintain a low impact exercise routine such as walking, swimming or yoga, for instance. Utilizing safe body mechanics, being mindful of
engaging abdominal muscles and a balanced routine of pelvic floor muscle engagement and
relaxation is helpful. In the latter stages of pregnancy (post 37 weeks), I recommend having an experienced therapist begin manual perineal stretching treatment and instructing proper self perineal stretching techniques. This can help to prepare the tissue for the extensive stretching it will encounter during the birth process. Also, it’s important to learn as much as you can about ideal labor and birth positions, which can aid in optimizing the process and potentially reducing risk of soft tissue injury.

6. What can you do to restore pelvic floor health after giving birth?

First of all, give your body time to recover prior to returning to high impact activity such as
running. While childbirth is a wonderfully natural process, there are demands that the body
requires time to heal and repair. As your pregnancy progressed, your center of gravity shifted, and your core musculature was profoundly affected. It’s very important to regain optimal postpartum core stability prior to engaging in high impact activities which place significant demands on those structures. It’s advisable to see a physical therapist who is well versed in how best to initiate a postpartum core stability and pelvic floor function program.

So there you have it, ladies. While treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction might be slightly more involved than this article can get into, the bottom line is, there is treatment, and you don’t have to settle for peeing your pants every time you cough just because you had a baby. With therapy and guidance from experts, many women are able to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles, regain control and live without incontinence or other issues.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned or may be concerned about your pelvic floor health, talk to your doctor, or make an appointment with experts at UT Health Austin’s Women’s Health Institute by visiting online here or calling 1-833-882-2737.

Fair Trade Christmas Shopping 2019

Last weekend I attended the annual Artreach Ethical Gift Fair and was inspired to share the many ways we can support local, fair trade businesses.

First, what exactly is fair trade? Fair trade is a global movement made up of a diverse network of producers (farmers, artisans, and workers), companies, shoppers, advocates, and organizations putting people and planet first. These handcrafted products are fair trade certified and reduce poverty, encourage environmentally friendly production methods, safeguard humane working conditions, and promote gender equality. Some well-known fair trade companies include TOMS Shoes, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Noonday Collection, Beautycounter, and Young Living.

10 Fair Trade Principles

As blogger Jen Hatmaker writes, our dollars can be a powerful force for good. Take a look at some of her recommendations for companies that give back, employ vulnerable workers, invest in struggling communities and follow fair-trade and ecologically sound policies.

In May I attended Mom 2.0 Summit and met a life and style blogger, Molly Stillman who believes in ethical fashion and clean beauty. She has great advice about where to start when it comes to shopping ethically. She created an ethical brand directory with over 400 companies for everyone – from jewelry to menswear to intimates to kids clothing to gifts.  Molly has educated me with her view of cheap goods.

I’m a bargain shopper and LOVE a good deal. However, during Fair Trade Month in October, she wrote, “…when a shirt or a pair of jeans is really cheap, normally that means that the people making it were not paid fairly.”

Molly also mentions that secondhand is one of THE most ethical ways to shop. I recently bought a beautiful “upcycled” purse. I learned that upcycling (versus recycling) means you reuse discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.

Here are a few of my personal favorite fair trade companies, many women-owned (I have something from each of them), and some based in Austin.

I love them for their products, but even more importantly for what they stand for and how they directly make the world a better place.

In addition to these organizations, we also have Austin-based fair trade certified coffee beans like Dominican Joe, farm to table restaurants like Emmer & Rye, and ice cream shops like Lick Honest Ice Creams.

  1. Thistle Farms: I love their lip balm.
  2. Preemptive Love Coalition: I love their refugee-made soap.
  3. Ten Thousand Villages (Austin): I love that it’s run by volunteers.
  4. Purse & Clutch (Austin): I love the classic camel clutch.
  5. Raven + Lily (Fredericksburg): Great earrings and lovely smelling candles.
  6. Noonday Collection: Just bought the pom-pom wreath and I love it.
  7. Beautycounter: Best dewy, light weight foundation.
  8. Sanctuary Holistic Kitchen (Georgetown): Phenomenal hydration salve and rose hip face serum.
  9. Young Living: nature’s greatest gifts wrapped in a bundle that transforms lives with wellness and purpose.
  10. Bombas: most asked for item from homeless shelters is socks, they have made some pretty comfy socks…and they’ll give a pair for every one purchased

Knowing that I’m helping others, supporting ethical businesses, and contributing to a healthier environment make me feel better about how I’m spending my money. I’m grateful to the entrepreneurs who have made these products – and the beautiful benefits they provide – accessible to us.

Guide to Holiday Giving in Austin

Photo Courtesy: Jessica Rockowitz Photography + Film

It’s easy to get caught up in shopping, dining, party-going, and traveling during the holidays in our affluent Austin area bubbles.  The continual bustle also makes it easy to forget that there are so many families, children, and animals in need that would be beyond blessed for someone to bring them a warm blanket, serve them Christmas dinner, or fulfill a few items on their wishlist.  There are so many ways to give back and meet needs in the Austin area…if you don’t have the resources to give financially, you can always volunteer your time.

Here are a few Austin area favorites that are local and easy for you and your family to get involved with!  

 

Partnerships for Children Holiday Wishes

Every holiday season, Partnerships for Children needs volunteers to help purchase christmas presents for foster children in Central Texas.  The kids who are in CPS care get to fill out a wish list with three things things they really want for Christmas, they give the wishlist to their caseworkers, and then volunteers get to shop for the specific items on these wishlists.  Last year, Partnerships for Children provided gifts to more than 5,500 children in Central Texas.  You can make a donation, sponsor a child, or send in general gifts of toys. Deadline is December 13th!  For more information, contact [email protected]

Center for Child Protection Teddy Bear Tuesday 

Giving Tuesday, also known as Teddy Bear Tuesday at the Center for Child Protection, is a global generosity movement happening on (or before) December 3.  When a child victim visits the Center for the first time, they are given a new teddy bear or stuffed animal to help provide comfort and a sense of healing during a difficult time. That’s over 2,000 teddy bears each year!  The goal of Teddy Bear Tuesday is to raise a year’s supply of teddy bears for child abuse victims. Donate a teddy bear or stuffed animal through amazon: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1JL0PQV6L2RJK/ref=hz_ls_biz_ex  Or give financially here:  https://centerforchildprotection.org

Community First! Village Home for Christmas

You can help bring holiday joy to those with no family or no place to call home this Christmas season.  Community First! Village is a community that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness.  You can make a difference by either volunteering your time or donating financially toward a safe place to sleep and a warm meal for someone in need. To donate visit:  https://mlf.org/home-for-christmas/  To Volunteer: https://mlf.org/volunteer-community-first/

Salvation Army Angel Tree

Give a gift to a local in need…it’s so simple but so meaningful!  The Angel Tree program brings gifts to children and families in need in Travis and Williamson Counties.  You can visit an Angel Tree at an area mall (Barton Creek Square, Lakeline Mall, or Hill Country Galleria) and choose a name from the tree to donate to.  You can also sign up online to sponsor an Angel. Then purchase gifts for the specific “Angel” and bringing them unwrapped to a drop-off location. You can also donate money to help the Salvation Army purchase gifts for the holidays.  Deadline is December 14th. For more information, contact [email protected]  To register online visit: https://angel-tree-austin.herokuapp.com

Austin Police Operation Blue Santa

APD’s Operation Blue Santa helps families in need by delivering holiday meals along with wrapped Christmas presents for boys and girls. You can support Blue Santa by donating new, unwrapped toys at locations across Austin.  Volunteers are also needed to adopt a specific family and sponsor their meal and gifts. Of course you may also give financially to Operation Blue Santa. Donation collection ends December 13. Click here for more info: https://www.bluesanta.org/drop-off-toys

Central Texas Food Bank

The Food Bank, Whole Foods Market and Capital Metro have partnered for the 2019 Stuff The Bus campaign, which helps families in need receive a full holiday meal.  This program actually fills a Cap Metro bus (or two!) with food for the hungry. You can donate non-perishable food items December 12-14 at Whole Foods Domain or Whole Foods Downtown.  Whole Foods customers may also make cash donations to the food bank when checking out. More info: https://www.centraltexasfoodbank.org/events/stuff-bus

Austin Pets Alive!

You can support APA!’s mission to provide care for homeless animals and keep Austin a no-kill city by donating financially or attending one of their fundraiser events on December 8th.  A Very Pupper Holiday Paw-ty or Holiday Charit Rocktacular. Visit their website to learn about events: https://www.austinpetsalive.org/events  Click here to donate: https://www.austinpetsalive.org/donate  APA always needs foster families too so if you’re in town for the holiday, why not foster an animal?  https://www.austinpetsalive.org/foster

Austin Humane Society 

There are so many ways you can support the animals of the Austin Humane Society during this holiday season!  Send a lifesaving donation, shop at one of their partners that donates from every purchase, adopt a pet over the holidays, or volunteer your time.  AHS also has Adoption Vouchers if you would like to GIVE someone a pet that they can pick out themselves. There is no deadline for donations, but please donate today.  Follow this link to learn how you can make a difference: http://www.austinhumanesociety.org/holiday-giving/

 

How will you give back this holiday season? 

What’s your favorite charity organization?

 

Photography: www.jessicarockowitz.com 

 

Chicken Soup from Around the World

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As cold-cool-chilly-ish weather finally makes its appearance in Austin, I find myself craving hearty comfort foods like pot roast, chili and chicken noodle soup. Chicken noodle soup has been a staple of the American diet since Campbell’s debuted it in 1934. This soup is so popular that the company claims to have sold 200 million cans of it in 2013. Since the cold months are long and your standard can of Campbell’s tends to get a little boring, I decided to look for chicken soup recipes from around the world. During my search, I found three delicious recipes from Food Network that are sure to satisfy during the cold(er) months ahead.

Photo Courtesy: Food Network

Arroz Caldo

While browsing the internet for my first international recipe, I stumbled upon Arroz Caldo and decided to try out this Filipino-style soup. This chicken soup is dense and packed with flavor. The unique taste of this Arroz Caldo comes from combination of garlic, ginger, bay leaf, lime and saffron. An added bonus is that it was an easy sell for my two toddlers since it contains two of the few foods they will actually eat – chicken and rice.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons canola oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

6 bone-in chicken thighs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small onion, minced

One 1-inch piece of ginger, minced

3/4 cup jasmine rice

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Pinch of saffron, plus saffron threads saved for garnish

1 bay leaf, torn

2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more for serving

Juice of 1 lime, plus 1 lime cut into wedges, for serving

1/3 cup thinly sliced scallion greens

Directions

  1. Heat a 5-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the garlic is fragrant and golden, about 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to a paper-towel lined plate, and reserve for serving. Reserve the garlic-infused oil in the pot, off the heat.
  2. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Return the pot to the stove over medium-high heat, then add the chicken, skin-side-down and cook until the skin is golden, turning halfway through, about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a bowl. Add the onion, ginger, and rice to the pot. Cook, stirring often, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, 4 cups water, a pinch of saffron, and the bay leaf to the rice. Return the chicken and juices to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer.
  3. Cook, partially covered, until the chicken is tender, the rice is cooked, and the soup is thickened, about 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf, stir in the fish sauce and lime juice, and season the soup with salt and pepper. Serve one chicken thigh per bowl of soup and garnish with the fried garlic, scallion greens, freshly ground pepper, reserved saffron threads, and lime wedges.
Photo Courtesy: Food Network

Red Thai Curry Chicken Soup

The second soup I made also comes from Asia, specifically Thailand. It wasn’t spicy hot, like I thought it might be due to the curry. Instead, it was full of scrumptious flavors like lemongrass and basil. The soup contains thin, glassy vermicelli noodles soaked in coconut milk and interspersed with thinly sliced chicken thighs. This Red Thai Curry Chicken Soup was my husband’s favorite and will definitely be enjoyed a few more times this year at my house.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

6 tablespoons Thai red curry paste

8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk

3 tablespoons fish sauce

One 4-inch piece lemongrass, lightly bruised

Kosher salt

Pinch of sugar

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast or thighs, thinly sliced

3 ounces dried rice vermicelli noodles

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup cilantro leaves

1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

1/3 cup torn Thai basil leaves

Juice of 1 lime

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the garlic, ginger, and Thai red curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, until dark red and very fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, fish sauce, lemongrass, 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the lemongrass and ginger are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard the lemongrass.
  2. Meanwhile, put the noodles in a medium bowl and cover with hot water. Let stand for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside. Toss together the red onion, cilantro, scallions and Thai basil in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. Stir the chicken into the broth and simmer over low heat until tender, 5 minutes for chicken breast and about 15 minutes for chicken thighs. Increase the heat to high and stir in the noodles. Bring the soup to a boil, then immediately remove from the heat. Stir in the lime juice. Serve the soup in bowls topped with the reserved onion and herb mixture.
Photo Courtesy: Food Network

Chicken Caldo Verde

The last soup I cooked was a Portuguese Green Soup and was the most unique of the three. The broth in this Chicken Caldo Verde is thickened with potatoes and seasoned with onion, garlic and bay leaf. The highlight of this soup is the slices of cured Spanish chorizo that bring an excitement to this soup whose other main ingredients are chicken and kale. I found that this soup became even more flavorful after it sat for a few days.

Ingredients

3/4 cup thinly sliced cured Spanish chorizo (about 3 ounces)

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 cups diced white onion (about 8 ounces)

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 russet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and diced into 3/4-inch pieces

1 bunch lacinato or other kale (about 8 ounces), stemmed

Directions

  1. Set a large pot over medium heat and add the chorizo and olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo is crisp and the oil is red and infused, about 2 minutes. Remove the chorizo to a paper towel-lined plate and reserve; leave the oil in the pot.
  2. Add the chicken broth, onion, chicken thighs, garlic, bay leaf, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 4 cups water to the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer until both the chicken and potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 10 to 15 minutes more. Remove the chicken to a bowl.
  3. Mash the potatoes coarsely with a potato masher to thicken the consistency of the soup. Discard the bay leaf. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the meat and set aside.
  4. Layer the kale leaves to make a stack. Cut the leaves in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch-wide pieces (or tear into 1/2-inch pieces). Add the kale and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper to the soup, return to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the leaves are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the shredded chicken to the soup and return to a simmer.
  5. Divide the soup among 6 bowls and serve topped with several pieces of the reserved chorizo.

 

What are some of your favorite chicken soup recipes from around the world?

 

Why We Are Breaking With Tradition

 

Photo Courtesy: Jessica Rockowitz Photography + Film

“We’ve always done it this way.” That sentence always makes me stop in my tracks. Growing up, I never questioned when someone would say that girls and boys should act a certain way. I knew that the reason my little brother was allowed to do things at a younger age than I was allowed to was that he was a boy, and I wasn’t. Because he was a boy, he was allowed, and things were different for him. That’s just how it was. 

Then I got pregnant, and I realized that I didn’t want to fit my future child into a box. If I ended up with one of each, I didn’t want my daughter or my son to think that one was given certain privileges just because one chromosome was different. My husband felt the same way I did.

We were going to raise a child, not a gender. 

To start our campaign against the pink versus blue mentality, we decided not to find out the gender of our baby until birth. Our decision forced our families and us to provide gender-neutral gifts, which was what we wanted. We focused on the fact that we were going to have a ‘baby’ versus focusing on what their gender would be. It made it so much easier to enjoy the pregnancy, and honestly, it was one of the greatest surprises of our lives. 

Once Madison graced us with her presence in April of 2017, we then decided that we would not allow for the norms that come with having a girl. While we were gifted with pink and frilly outfits, those weren’t the only ones in her closet. We bought clothes from the boy section. We bought gender-neutral toys and chose a neutral theme of woodlands for her nursery. 

My husband and I decided that we wouldn’t inundate her with princess themed movies or TV shows early on.

Instead, we chose to show her movies, and tv shows that either featured animals, objects (like cars and trains) or had a healthy mix of male and female characters. People are shocked when I tell them my daughter prefers to play with cars, trains, and read books versus playing with her kitchen set. 

When we speak to her we don’t focus on her looks or call her names like ‘princess,’ instead we talk to her about her abilities, her kindness, thank her for her manners, and call her ‘baby.’ (We really need to stop calling her baby because she’s convinced that’s her name.) 

Now I don’t want you to think we look down or scoff when we hear or see other parents with girls or boys reinforcing the norms. It happens, sometimes girls love princesses and boys love cars, and that’s okay. But we shouldn’t expect that those are the only things they will like. We should give them the chance to explore other themes.

Boys should play with dolls and be allowed to dress up as a princess if they want. Girls can get dirty in the mud, build with blocks, and crash together cars if they’d like. 

We should be breaking with traditional gender norms and allowing our children to simply be themselves.

They will have likes and dislikes; they will explore their feelings and us as their parents, their support system should encourage them.

 

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