Friday, October 10, 2014

Working at Home Rainbows

Rainy day. Working on John Paul 2 High Book 5. And Cora is working on learning to crawl.

I just bought the little carpet square sample on the floor at a thrift store, and it makes me absurdly happy every time I see it. I must really like rainbow colors, judging from my sticky notes on the plot analysis board.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Double Morris Harvest decor

My daughter Joan convinced us to plant popcorn this year. Popcorn must be dried, so we decided to combine drying corn with harvest decoration, thus getting a double-Morris score ("Have nothing in your home which you do not either know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris   Both!=double Morris)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Window art for baby

My teen daughter used a window-paint marker to make this delightful mural on the car window next to the baby's seat. What a sweet way to entertain the baby during countless hours in the car!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Life Hack: Baby mobile for the office

So many of my babies have spent time in my office next to my desk chair as I work away, and I am always trying to entertain them.  When they are little I like to dangle a soft toy above their legs so that they can move it around as they wiggle and kick--good foundation for movement control! But how to hang a soft toy easily and safely was always a concern -- until some common office tools came to the rescue. One large binder clip and two paper clips made the perfect office baby mobile, and I can change out the toy for another one to keep her interested. This will work until she gets into grabbing the toys -- then I'll either hang the mobile higher up or find something more secure than paper clips. Always glad to find something that works!

Friday, May 09, 2014

A Useful Travel Wardrobe

Summer is approaching and lots of us are preparing for extended vacations. Next week my daughters and teen son embark on a cross-country trip to see their uncle ordained to the priesthood, for example. Given that they are flying and hitching rides with relatives in already-crowded cars, they have to pack light. But that's fine, because for years, we've used a few principles to create a travel wardrobe that will last a week or more.

Now, I didn't come up with this idea myself. I read the basic plan in the sidebar of a women's magazine when I was a teen, and committed the plan to memory. Since I don't have the original, I'm reproducing it here. Obviously the model uses a girl's wardrobe, but this is fine, since our female tendency is to pack more than we need, whereas my sons and husband would toss a toothbrush, a spare tshirt, and a pair of boxer shorts into a bag and consider themselves packed for a weeklong trip!

Below, I've shown pictures of a travel wardrobe my oldest daughter wore for a warm summer vacation when she was thirteen.  You can see from the picture that all the pieces coordinate with one another in color and style. They're not super-basic pieces by any means: they all reflect my daughter's summery-boho taste. But they do all work together, and that's what makes them fun! 

Basically, as you can see from the diagram above, the travel wardrobe consists of: 
1. A dress, jumper, sundress, or tunic that is also the dressiest outfit of the trip but which can be dressed up or down. It's usually the only piece that includes both a top-and-bottom. The male correlative item would be a Sunday outfit of some kind. In my daughter's wardrobe, this piece was represented by the blue-and-white sundress in a butterfly print.
2. A casual top.  It can be a tee-shirt or a blouse, depending on the needs of your trip. In my daughter's suitcase, this was her favorite manga tee, designed by her cousin. Since it was white, she could wear it under a jumper or by itself with jeans, so she had a few options. 
3. A dressy top. Given that this was a casual vacation wardrobe, my daughter packed a jersey knit green top with a scoop neckline and gathered sleeves. It worked with both a skirt or with shorts. It matched the green sundress.
4. A casual jacket/blouse/tunic/shrug/sweater/blazer that can be layered over the tops or the dress. My daughter packed a light green cotton cardigan that worked with everything.
5. A dressier jacket/blouse/tunic/shrug/sweater/blazer that also layers over other pieces to dress them up. A gypsy blouse in light blue cotton with embroidered flowers and gold detailing was my daughter's choice to dress up her outfit. Given that this was a beach trip, it worked just fine.
6. A dressier bottom, whether it's a skirt, slacks, or even another jumper dress. My daughter picked a light green striped sundress with gold embroidery that could be dressed up with the gypsy blouse or the green knit top, or dressed down with a simple tee or the casual sweater. 
7. A casual bottom, either shorts, pants, or a more casual skirt. For my daughter, this slot was filled by her favorite bell-bottomed jeans. I suspect she wore that and her manga tee for most of the week!

What else? PJs, swimwear, underwear, accessories, jewelry, and shoes. My daughters and I usually extend our wardrobes by packing a tee shirt that coordinates with everything else just in case. I usually bring a basic black tee, and black satin pajama bottoms. On one trip a few years ago, my husband and I spontaneously decided to go out for cocktails one evening, and since everyone was wearing silky slacks that summer, I just wore my "pajama outfit" with a knitted tunic over it, and silver sandals, and no one guessed how frightfully dishabille I was actually being. :)  In the photos above, my daughter brought polka-dotted pants and a bright pink tee that would have worked under the gypsy blouse or with jeans if she had needed an extra outfit.

So that's it! If you're away for seven days, all you need is seven pieces - one piece per day.  This works for boys too, but for young boys and/or messy toddlers of either sex, you might want to make it one outfit a day, but where all the pieces mix-and-match: easy with most boy clothing. 

As you can see from the top photo, my daughter's wardrobe easily fit into a backpack or small carry-on. So if you are facing exorbitant fees for checked luggage or small luggage space in the car, try going with the 7-piece travel wardrobe. It's worked for our family for years. 

Happy packing! 

The Siren Song of Quiet Early Morning

I should still be in bed, taking the last days of my post-partum bedrest, but it is difficult not to be swayed by a quiet early morning, and the chance of a cup of coffee and the last piece of lemon pound cake shared with your husband before the rest of the house gets up.  So I found myself stumbling out of bed, and sitting in the early morning light, and enjoying the few minutes of silence before the daily roar began.

Cora Regina born!

On April 24th, 2014, our ninth child and fifth girl, Cora Regina was born at our local hospital, weighing almost 9 lbs, and unbearably cute. Even though she was our first c-section after eight home births (she was breech), we were so happy to have her with us safe and adorable!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Remains of the Easter Brunch

Being that I was due to give birth, I delegated all Easter cooking to my oldest daughter -- and my, she rose to the occasion! She created a French Toast Casserole (in the pan in front of the teapot) from a magazine recipe, made even more delicious with homemade blackberry jam, which eliminated much of the cloying sweetness. When I had exclaimed several times over the flavor, she said, "Mom, what you're not tasting is corn syrup."  She served it with whipped cream from our family cow, sausage links, and exquisitely fried potatoes chopped into tiny golden pieces. My son and I had set the table using all our fun spring china -- miniature teacups, peacock-printed dessert dishes, fragile demitasse, and small gold chalices to hold the Easter eggs. A patterned folk tablecloth, painted wooden napkin rings, and cherry blossoms in blue mason jars added to the celebration of color. It was a wonderful breakfast, for a truly wonderful feast day.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Penitential Pile of Rocks

On Good Friday my husband's idea of a hands-on devotional was to have the whole family pick rocks out of our freshly-tilled field, as a meditation asking The Lord to soften our stony hearts. It was a good morning's work, but we were amazed at how many rocks it generated!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The 2014 Easter Basket Tour is Here!

As you know, my husband and I own a book company, Chesterton Press, which publishes my own books and several other series, and we carry books from other publishers as well. As we were putting together our spring lineup, it occurred to me that many of the books would make wonderful Easter gifts. So my daughter and I created an Easter Basket Tour around the books, using ideas we've used in our family for the past number of years, ideas which I've enjoyed sharing on House Art Journal in the past.  I hope you enjoy the posts, and I hope that some of the titles will find their way into your own family's Easter baskets!

Have fun browsing the tour, and please pin, post, and share with your friends!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Easter Basket Tour 2014: Chesterton-loving Guy

Whether that Chesterton-loving guy is a collegiate bachelor or a husband of many years, we hope that this Gilbert-themed basket will make him very happy. Of course we had to start with the books, namely a G.K. Chesterton classic, Orthodoxy (and this writer's personal favorite), although What's Wrong With the World or The Poet and the Lunatics might also work, depending on what's needed to read. Be sure to browse our collection of popular and obscure Chesterton books at

The second choice, like Chesterton himself, may seem absurdly whimsical: the Fairy Tale Novel Alex O'Donnell & the 40 Cyberthieves. But this book is actually dedicated to GKC himself and features a very Chestertonian adventurer, Alex, as the hero.  Lastly, any serious fan of the great man will appreciate this handsome illustrated edition of Chesterton's epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse, with extensive annotations and stunning illustrations by Ben Hatke.

 No Chestertonian basket would be complete without a beer stein, although English pewter might be better than our ceramic German-made model. We filled ours with Pirouline cookies, but cigars might be even more appropriate!

Chesterton famously observed that poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese, so that's a good reason to include some in the basket, whether it's a stout Amish Bacon Cheddar like this one, or something equally robust. A spare tie (Chesterton was always losing his) and a folk-art 1920's era-Madonna (Chesterton's era) in a leather frame complete our Easter basket ensemble for the Chesterton lover.

We hope you've enjoyed our first Easter Basket Tour at Chesterton Press!  If you did, please share this tour with your friends by pinning or posting, and shopping our fun Catholic fiction.  We look forward to seeing your comments and your feedback at Chesterton Press!

Shop these books at Chesterton Press:

Thank you for taking our tour! Browse Chesterton Press?

Easter Basket Tour 2014: Manga-Loving Teen Girl!

For that fun, romantic, and quirky teen girl in your life, we've assembled a few gift ideas that are sure to please. For an Easter basket inspired by the Far East, we chose a cotton scarf in a Chinese pattern and slipped in some Oriental lunch plates from the flea market (they look like china, but these are plastic!). And added an assortment of fun and romantic Catholic books to feed the soul as well.

Many are Called is the most manga-like of all our Catholic graphic novels, a steampunk & swords adventure that is actually a cleverly-imagined interweaving of Christ's parables of the End Times. In it, a prince whose bride has been stolen away by his enemy seeks to bring her home to the Wedding Feast. Two very different servants and ten equally disparate virgins play key roles in this creative and very Catholic parable.

We also included our most romantic of the Fairy Tale Novels, Waking Rose, a story of unrequited love and impossible quests based on Sleeping Beauty. It's also available in eBook format as well.

And for wit and wisdom, introduce your teen girl to The Universe According to G.K. Chesterton, an offbeat dictionary featuring GKC's takes on topics as diverse as agnostics and pulp fiction. Check out these titles and more for teen girls from Chesterton Press.

A brocade coin purse makes a great rosary case, and we felt lucky indeed when we found chocolate-dipped Easter fortune cookies! And the martial-arts bunny we stumbled upon? Pure fun!

Japanese holy card (found online) + dollar store frame = a unique devotional that's hard to pass up. And the Groucho-Marx-esque chenille chick adds just a touch of whimsy that suits GKC's "mad and metaphysical" dictionary.

Shop these books at Chesterton Press:   Many Are Called    Waking Rose: a fairy tale retold

Easter Basket Tour 2014: Teen Boy Easter Basket

For a teenage boy's basket, you might put in such necessaries as a iPhone case or earbuds, but don't overlook the power of print media, especially in the form of good Catholic fiction.

For this basket, I included The Shadow of the Bear, which has become a guy favorite. (If your teen doesn't have time to read, consider getting him the Shadow of the Bear audio drama, four hours of listening adventure for only $9.00.)  And for Catholic apologetics and an overall good story, I recommend Book 4 of John Paul 2 High, Undercover Papist, in which class nerd Brian Burke goes to Bible camp to persuade the most popular girl in his small high school to return to the Catholic faith. Not to be missed!

Both of these titles are available in three of the most popular eBook formats on our site.And I can't resist including a classic challenging book by G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, the book which helped C.S. Lewis become a Christian, and which has inspired countless others.

Other gifts for teen guys? A jar of gourmet jelly beans might be appreciated as well as the irony of a chocolate rubber duckie. A purple cowboy bandanna is an Easter-basket liner that's actually useful, and for break times, what about a teacup and some bags of really good tea?  Guys drink tea too: remember Fish.

What about an everyday rosary of wooden beads? And consider putting in a Resurrection-themed Mass card (this one is from Marytown). Guys need prayers, too, and a thoughtful note to that effect might just mean more than you know!

Shop Chesterton Press products:

See the next basket on the tour! 

Easter Basket Tour 2014: A Tween Girl Easter Basket

 Instead of Easter ribbons, twine a new spring kerchief around the basket's handle, line it with a lace scarf, and organize treats with fun (and doubly useful) containers like a china teacup and a colorful tin box. Then fill the basket with some fun Catholic reads from the new Tween Girl section at Chesterton Press!

Specially for this Easter, I am pleased to offer one of my daughter's fav reads, the mystery Riddle at the Rodeo by Claudia Cangilla McAdam, also known as the author of our popular tween novel Awakening. Either book makes a great Easter read, since Awakening is a time-travel adventure about a girl who finds herself in Jerusalem the week of Christ's death and sets out on an impossible mission: to stop the crucifixion. Really powerful book that not a few moms have enjoyed as much as their daughters!  Also check out the graphic novel Judith about a little-known Biblical heroine who deserves just as much status as Esther and Deborah in Bible-lore.

For more Easter fun, consider hiding earrings or a necklace in those ubiquitous plastic eggs, and instead of a bunny rabbit, try a vintage collector's doll from your family's country of origin. My daughter loved this Polish doll which she found in last year's Easter basket.

Shop these books at Chesterton Press:  

See the next basket on the tour! 

Easter Basket Tour 2014: 8-10 year-old Boy Basket

 As you can tell, I picked categories according to the children I have in my own family, and I have a ten-year-old son, so I couldn't resist showing off the fiction that he's enjoyed which we carry at Chesterton Press. His favorite read was the new book by John McNichol, The King's Gambit, which features giant chess pieces, cool FBI agents, a missing dad, and a son who's determined to find him, even if it means facing down twelve-foot-tall knights from another dimension. This certainly qualifies as fun Catholic fiction, and with its short chapters and quirky cartoon illustrations, we both bet it will be a favorite with many boy readers! Click here to get a copy.

My son also loves the graphic novel Paul: Tarsus to Redemption, available here, and the intriguing adventures of the most famous priest detective ever, Father Brown, who in The Father Brown Reader catches an international jewel thief (three times!) and solves a magician's puzzle in this first installment of the series, which continues in The Father Brown Reader II, also available from Chesterton Press.

When looking for other Easter gifts for boys, don't forget the quirky candies like this carrot ring pop (we found it at Big Lots), useful novelties like the wooden duck pencil sharpener, or vintage Catholic items like this glow-in-the-dark crucifix.  Though normally I'm against cheap flimsy "Christian junk" in Easter baskets (it seems to say our faith is transient and trendy, instead of priceless and permanent), I find that items from the past like this one acquire a certain dignity when they survive the decades, despite their humble origins. And tuck in a holy card to your boy's basket, such as this one of Christ the Reigning King. They also make great bookmarks for the cool books you buy from our store! ;)

What about a boyish-looking Easter bunny? Despite my preference for the homemade and home-grown instead of overseas cheapness, I confess I have a fondness for Beanie Babies, thus proving the irony that sometimes something extremely popular (like Shakespeare, cheddar cheese, or Downton Abbey) also happens to be very good. Beanie Babies 1) often look like real animals which makes them good "boy gifts", 2) are cheap (we never bother with the rare "collectibles" and purchase all ours secondhand) 3) really are "child-sized" and don't have the bulk of most stuffed animals, and 4) are suitable for travel and outdoor play, which often handmade toys are not.   Anything can become a monster if collected in quantity, so we keep only a modest amount of these creatures in our home. But I've been pleased with their spring lambs, stripey cats, and amazing variety of birds, all of which fit well into an Easter basket.  So look out for your son's favorite animal when shopping at the thrift store!

 Shop Chesterton Press Books:  The King's Gambit by John McNichol     

See the next basket on the tour! 

Easter Basket Tour 2014: Baby Easter Basket

Easter baskets for babies should be fun and simple with a few things for Baby that are easy to grab and explore. Our basket, lined with a second-hand daisy-embroidered doily, has a soft and huggable Fair Trade Cuddle Doll and a sunshiny Tug Toy, both specially available for the holiday from Chesterton Press, along with our best-selling baby classic Angel in the Waters. A duck lollipop bouquet provides color and a little Easter sweetness, and plastic eggs might have goldfish crackers and other toddler-friendly treats.

The 100% cotton terrycloth Tug Toy has no internal squeakers or rattles to break or come out, just fun petals to grab and a friendly face to smile at. Limited quantities available from Chesterton Press for just $7.00.

Still a favorite with thousands of children after ten years, Angel in the Waters is a lovely present for Easter or any time new beginnings are celebrated! $8.00 from Chesterton Press -- and you can request a signed copy!

Easter Basket Tour 2014: Little Girl's Easter Basket

Sugar and spice and everything nice -- here's some ideas for a sweet basket for a little girl. I started with a colorful cotton napkin from the thrift store that could easily become a tablecloth for a doll's picnic, and added a doll-size picnic tin full of colorful chocolates. Chenille chicks from the dollar store and a secondhand bunny rabbit find a new nest in the rustic wicker basket, along with an fun adventure from Chesterton Press: misfit nuns who solve mysteries: The Sisters of the Last Straw!  I included the first book, The Case of the Haunted Chapel, but the second adventure, The Case of the Missing Novice should be available for Easter ordering!

 Plastic eggs hide more treats, but also a homemade rosary ring of wooden beads.

 Obscure patron saint? No problem! Google, download and print a pretty image of the saint that bears your daughter's name and glue to an inexpensive plaque from the craft store with Modge Podge or white glue. Decorate with embellishments and attach a hanger.  St. Joan is admittedly easy to find pictures of, (though I love this atypical medieval image of the girl warrior), but by the same method, I created a matching plaque for my daughter of St. Paula, whose adventurous story (conversion, sea travel to foreign lands, and translating the Bible!) is undeservedly neglected these days.

And speaking of saint's names, if you're looking for more story choices for a young girl reader, don't forget the Zita the Spacegirl series, by Angel in the Waters artist Ben Hatke, also available from Chesterton Press! (Fun trivia: Ben's Zita is named for St. Zita, who was a distant ancestor of his wife's!)

Friday, March 28, 2014

St. Patrick's Day tea

On a chill spring day when I was under the weather with a cold and extended-winter doldrums, two friends and my daughter cheered me up immensely by bringing over a spontaneous tea for St. Patrick's day. One friend brought over exquisitely-baked scones: another brought a selection of jams and a homemade loaf of bread, and my daughter set the table with a tablecloth of green satin and white knitted cotton lace. I boiled the water, and brought out the Baileys for a fun grow up alternative to creamer. All in all, it was a wonderful celebration enjoyed by  adults and our plentitude of children alike.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Teaching chickens

My husband is updating his teaching resume (he teaches many subjects, with a specialty in fiction and Catholic theology, and he is looking for online teaching positions in the summer/fall), and he asked me to take a new headshot of him, since his current photo doesn't show how distinguished his hair color has become in recent years.  As we prepared to get a good camera shot, our flock of chickens spotted him and they all came running expectantly. Notice how they are all looking attentively at him (not me!) because they know well the hands that feed them. He began to give them some instructions on egg laying locations, and I could not resist capturing the moment.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Next generation of House Art Journal?

When I downloaded pictures from my camera, I discovered this photo on it, taken by my oldest daughter. It shows her freshly-iced loaf of gingerbread set out with chai tea (hence the cream and sugar) for the family to enjoy.

This is the daughter to whom I served started serving tea in china cups before she was two, and she has fond memories of the tea-parties we used to have where we ate cookies before dinner and practiced our manners. I was struck that she wanted to capture her little feast on camera. I for one hope it is one of thousands of teas that she will prepare in her lifetime. Culture is made of such little ceremonies, and our modern life is often desperately impoverished in this regard.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Putting Away Christmas

On Candlemas, we put on the Christmas carols for the last time of the season and took down our valiant tree (the kids stood it up next to their playhouse outside), and I packed away the Christmas ornaments. As I was doing so, I wanted to share a trick that I've discovered that makes the whole process less onerous: both decorating the tree and taking it down. Like many people, I have acquired many Christmas boxes, tins, and containers through the years, usually with sweets inside. I used to donate them at the end of the season, but now I save them, and sort my Christmas ornaments into them, as you can see above. I even use Christmas totes for soft items like hats and stockings. I then pack the filled containers in large plastic tubs and put them away in the attic.

This has made Christmas decorating so much easier, particularly for our family, since we decorate the tree on Christmas Eve after the children are asleep. On the Pink Sunday (Gaudete Sunday), our traditional Christmas decorating day, I take out the tins and stack them in decorative piles atop my desk and other display surfaces. It's easy to locate and use or hide groups of ornaments ("Let's put the crocheted snowflakes in the window this year!" "No, don't use the wooden hearts this year: too drab next to the blue glass balls"), and it's fun to keep using such festive boxes.

Above you can see some of the ornaments our family has made through the years, such as wooden mushrooms and felt owls. It makes for a more cheerful end to the season, and follows William Morris's dictum doubly: both useful AND beautiful. Blessings on your Ordinary Time!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Random Moment of Beauty: Vintage Afghan

A "random moment of beauty" is a post which features something I see in my day-to-day housework which catches my eye and makes me pause and just wonder at it, and reflect. In this case, there is a story behind the moment.

When deep-cleaning my room the other day, I decided to wash the vintage afghan which I have had on my window seat for years (I believe I've posted it on my blog before, but it wasn't fully visible). It was crocheted of pure wool in the 1960s, and this was the first time I had ever dared to wash it. When it came out of the wash, the colors were so bright and unfaded I just sat for a while and looked at them, as though seeing them for the first time.

You see, I've seen this afghan all my life long, since I was an infant. It belonged to my father, who kept it on his bed for years. He had received it as a gift when he was in the hospital recovering from his Vietnam war injuries. It was made specially for him by a kind older lady who wanted to do something to show her appreciation for a young soldier who had just lost his leg in the service of his country. She also knitted him a Christmas stocking, which he later gave to me, his first child, and which I still use every Christmas.

When the afghan became fragile with age, my mother packed it in a chest, and years later, after I married, I found it and asked to have it. For a long time I kept it in a cedar chest of my own, but I finally decided to take it out and use it in on a bedroom window seat which is out of the traffic-ways of our busy home.

All these years, it has been a thing of beauty that I never really noticed, and it still is. I wish I knew the name of the lady who made it. Her act of kindness is a gift that has kept on giving throughout the years.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reorganized Office

I had to do some photography this morning, and I thought I would take a picture of my recently-reorganized office. We installed shelves made by The Strong Oaks Woodshop, but not on my side of the office. However, this allowed me to have more space on my desk, which is now beneath the round "Hobbit window," our single splurge when we built the addition some years ago.

Yesterday's trip to the Salvation Army yielded some office enhancements for the princely sum of $3.65: wooden document trays, a little red metal tub for correspondence, and curtain panels, two for a dollar.  I love the salvaged lamp with shade spray-painted brown by my daughter, the picture of Blessed John Paul which the Pope sent to us from the Vatican in 1994 in response to receiving our wedding invitation, and baskets and tins of small toys to entertain my children when they make official visits (every 45 minutes or so). 

A close perusal of the desk (click on the photo to see) might inform the viewer that I have yet to correct typos on Rapunzel Let Down (in anticipation of the hardcover edition) or another manuscript, that I am revising our wholesale catalog, as well as revealing my source of inspiration for our website redesign. The black cat speakers do not work as well as I hoped, but I have a hard time surrendering them. 

And of course, there is always a cup of tea close at hand. (The biscotti are on the other side of the computer.)  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Little Good Shepherd

This year's Christmas centerpiece, the children and I tried something ambitious and made sheep out of wooden blocks covered with fleece, and a little Baby Jesus to guard them. 

While the Christ Child Shepherd was a bit more complex and I'm not sure if I could replicate him, I wanted post a short tutorial on how we made the sheep, which was quite fun and led to a quite finished product. You can click it to enlarge. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

House Art Journal Now on Pinterest!

As some of you have noted with delight, I've had time to post more often on House Art Journal these days, and today I spent some time updating forms and links, and I decided to open up a House Art Journal board on Pinterest.  Now all of my photos should be pinnable, and I hope it will make the journal entries easier to share and organize!

I went through several years of House Art Journal and pinned the posts I believe you all found most interesting to the board, so hopefully you will find it easy to find older articles you enjoyed, and newer readers can enjoy getting filled in on older posts.

Once again, I want to thank all of you readers who have encouraged me in this "occasional project" throughout the years, and who have been kind enough to express your delight that I am once again able to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes.  Thank you, and enjoy sharing!

Healthier Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate is the traditional drink served after outdoor playtime on snow days, but moms like me sometimes find it problematic, since American hot chocolate is really high in sugar. After all, sugar lowers the immune system, and is that what my child truly needs, especially after exposure to frigid temperatures?  Why not a vitamin boost along with something naturally healthy, like milk?  Here's one strategy that our family has used for several winters, and I'm happy to share it, even though it represents a significant exception to my preference for whole foods and my avoidance of brand names!

Several years ago, I was grocery-shopping with my husband, who is a label-reader when he has time to indulge in the practice. I wanted to get some baking chocolate to make the low-sugar hot chocolate mix (similar to this one) we used to make from scratch. He began by comparing prices on powdered chocolate and then began inspecting labels of various products, going back and forth between several aisles while I wondered what in the world he was doing. Finally, he announced to me that from now on, instead of buying chocolate mix ingredients, we were going to buy Ovaltine. "Look at all these vitamins!" he said, "And you can't beat the value!" So we began a stealth campaign to convince our younger kids that hot chocolate was actually Ovaltine -- and it worked marvelously.

So ever since that year, our family has made hot chocolate mix by mixing Ovaltine with powdered milk. Until this year, when we bought a milk cow. Now we just mix a bare half-teaspoon of Ovaltine in a little child's mug of fresh milk and warm it on the stove or in the microwave for 44 seconds. It has become our breakfast staple. This Christmas my husband conspired with one of our former little children, now a teen, to buy all three kinds of Ovaltine as a family Christmas present, and our kids enjoyed trying the different flavors. It tastes great with a candy-cane stir-stick too for a snowy-day treat. 

I hadn't quite realized how much we had changed our children's palate until I overheard the five-year-old conferring with her older sister about the holiday packet of cinnamon hot chocolate Baby Jesus had left in her stocking. "It's way too sweet," the five-year-old informed her older sister. "So when you make it, just put in a tiny teency bit, okay? Then fold it up and save the rest for later."  I think she made that one-serving packet of hot chocolate last a week, and now she is happily back to drinking Ovaltine