Category: Holidays-Seasons

My First Christmas Gift to You

Ready for Christmas Giving

There are many families that would love to make a gingerbread house but, well, it can be intimidating. The few I have known to actually do it usually have mediocre results. I have also seen families use the kits and I haven’t seen one work out yet. That is because the recipes for gingerbread and the frosting count!!

So today I want to share a wonderful story of family and tradition with you and a recipe that is over 100 years old. It ‘s my favorite cookie recipe of all time. For those who are not gingerbread fans, this cookie is for you. Mild and delicious. I have used it for both gingerbread men and gingerbread houses. It works perfectly.

 

The Christmas Gingerbread Story

Over ninety years ago Ann Gardner, my grandmother on my mother’s side, taught first grade in Star Valley, Wyoming. In fact, she taught all of the grades over a 40 year period of time. She was known as a tough, but fair teacher. My dad, Verl Cazier, was in one of her first-grade classes!

One of her holiday classroom traditions was making gingerbread men with her students. Each child would get a large ball of dough. They would break that into smaller balls, for the body, head, legs, and arms. They would also get a square of cardboard. Each child would flatten the largest ball of dough in the middle of the cardboard square. They would then add the head, arms, and legs by doing the same with the smaller balls of dough. The ‘man’ had to fit in the square of cardboard with nothing hanging over. Then red-hot eyes, mouth, nose, and buttons were pressed into the dough. Each child would then carefully carry their piece of cardboard, with their gingerbread man, to the cafeteria to be baked.

When I was a young mom, making gingerbread houses and villages to pay for our families Christmas, I asked her for her recipe. She gladly shared it with me and the story of what she had done all those years before in her first-grade classes. Since then her gingerbread has graced many Thanksgiving tables, been given as countless Christmas presents and been shaped into numberless gingerbread houses and cookie people.

I hope that you will enjoy this recipe and pass it down to your own families. It is now well over a hundred years old and you won’t find a better recipe out there. : )

Ann Gardner’s Gingerbread Man Recipe
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ – 1 tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • (if you like a little bite, add 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper – this is my own addition to the mix)

Cream sugar and shortening. Add molasses and beat until fluffy. Add eggs and mix. Add dry ingredients. When it gets too stiff to mix with a spoon turn it out onto the counter and knead until all the flour is mixed in. Chill one hour.

Roll out ¼ inch thick on tin foil, parchment paper or waxed paper. (If I am making a house I roll it out 1/8 inch thick because I want to cut down on the weight and bulk.) Lift foil onto the pan. Cut out shapes. Remove excess. Make sure to leave at least 1/2′ between each gingerbread piece. Bake at 350* for 8-10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a flat surface. Enjoy!

If you want to try your hand at making a gingerbread house these patterns will get you started. The frosting recipe for holding gingerbread house pieces together makes a huge difference too. Here is one that works every time. Be sure that you beat it until it is thick and stands up in peaks and then your house will hold together just right.

This frosting is easy to make and handle. Unlike royal frosting that is made with egg whites, grease does not break it down and it can be re-beaten for later use. It can be stored in a covered container for up to 6 months. Meringue powder can be purchased at some craft stores and any store that sells cake decorating supplies.

Royal Frosting (Meringue Powder)

¼ cup meringue powder      ½ cup water      4 cups or 1 pound powdered sugar

Mix the meringue powder and water…beat until it peaks. Add the sugar (1/2 cup more for stiffer frosting) ½ cup at a time on low and then beat on high to desired consistency. This will beat up a bit more quickly than the egg white version. Royal frosting dries quickly and as hard as cement so keep it covered at all times with a damp cloth or in a tightly covered bowl. Keep any utensils, tip, bags etc. covered also.

I experimented with transferring the pattern to a printed page. Right-click and save the photo. Paste it into Word, Publisher or a similar program. Size it to fit on an 8×10 sheet of paper and print. Cut out pattern pieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you that want to make a gingerbread house with your children, I will be giving you all of the details and directions in my next article. It requires no baking!

SERVICE FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

During December I want to do some form of service each day. I want to increase my sense of joy and happiness during the holiday season as a gift to myself and to the Savior, and serving others does just that. “In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25: 40

I found a link that gives you a calendar to download with one act of service to do each day leading up to Christmas day. It is family and time friendly. You too might want to check it out.

GREAT NEWS!!!!!! Just in time for the holiday season. On December 21st I will be giving away 5 copies of Becoming a Present Parent via a Goodreads Give Away. There are no strings attached. You won’t be added to any lists. So head on over and enter. You just may be a WINNER!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Becoming a Present Parent by Mary Ann Johnson

Becoming a Present Parent

by Mary Ann Johnson

Giveaway ends December 21, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

I WILL BE SPEAKING at the Winter Homeschool Conference on January 27, 2018 in Layton, Utah. This conference is designed to support and rejuvenate home educating parents who want to thrive, not just survive the homeschooling experience. You don’t have to be currently homeschooling to attend! I will be speaking on Process vs Outcome. Knowing the Difference Can Change Your Family. If the topic resonates with you I would love to have you join me. ​​​​​​​

P.S. You can learn more about how to connect with your children, even when times are busy, in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. Knowing the difference will help you let it be enough. You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection rather than having points of contention, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com It can be life-changing for your family. I promise!

Making it through the Last Month of Summer!

The Summer Dilemma –

Mary and Jack learning to water the garden.

 

As much as we love summer and our kids, both can challenge our patience and our energy as the season winds down. We want to enjoy fully the last weeks of this magical and free-feeling season but there is also the thought that it is coming to an end. School isn’t far away. Clothes need to be purchased. If you homeschool there’s curriculum and a schedule to plan. Add to this the feeling that there is still a multitude of things that need to be done before the cooler days of fall set it. We all go into the summer with so many plans for organizing, cleaning out, etc. It can feel a bit manic in our minds. Possibly you, as I have done in the past, have begun pushing your family to get things done – yard work, organizing, cleaning, one last outing, etc.

None of this internal and sometimes outward chaos is going to go away until the slow days of fall actually arrive but we can do something during these waning summer days to relieve the pressure a bit. We can turn a family activity that is usually a point of contention into a point of connection. If we adjust our thinking we can make chores and family work a point of connection. This will help you savor being with your children, ease the sense that there are things that must get done, as well as help you actually get things done.

Chores and Family Work

Thinking about the word WORK can make a parent groan inside because work is often a point of contention in a family. But work can be a place where we create a touchpoint, a place of connection, rather than a point of contention if building relationships is our ultimate goal.

CHORES
Maggie doing her chores.

Often we get so involved in the management portion of family life that it’s difficult to address the relationship portion. Everyone wants support when facing a tough job. No one wants to be isolated in a mess. We sometimes forget our kids feel the same way we do.

Moms have had the experience of walking into a disaster of a kitchen after a long day. Your family’s watching TV, and here you are, in this messy kitchen. Where do you even start?

How does it feel when your husband abandons his show, comes in and begins helping you pick up? And how does it feel when he also asks you how your day went? It’s amazing!

This happens to dads in garages and backyards. How does it feel when your seventeen-year-old volunteers to help get the backyard in order?How about when your thirteen-year-old offers to spend time helping you organize the garage? It feels better, doesn’t it?

When a child is faced with what seems like a daunting task, cleaning their room, for example, check on them. Put your hand on their back or rub a shoulder and say, “Let me give you a hand.” Help them for 2-3 minutes while having a mini-conversation. Then say, “I’ll be back to check on you”. Now head off to the next child or to your own work. It makes all the difference in how chores feel and in how well they get done. It solidifies relationships. It allows you to be Present with your child for a few minutes. Chores can be a touchpoint, a place of connection!

FAMILY WORK

Family work is another time when you can create connection rather than have a point of contention. When working as a family we need to keep in mind the objective isn’t just to get another item off the to-do list – we’re creating relationships and bonding our family.

I love gardening alone. I love the quiet and feeling the dirt in my fingers. But I understand it’s an opportunity for me to teach and connect with my grandchildren. Gardening can be transformed into an enduring memory for all of us when I remember the garden isn’t what’s important, the relationship is.

My daughter knows how to add fun to family work!

Add fun to any work you do as a family – sing, dance as you clean, play great music, tell jokes, laugh, have mini-conversations and lots of random touches.

Things aren’t going to work out all of the time. You’ll have family work that turns into chaos or contention. We’re all imperfect, we get tired, and we have grouchy moments. It’s inevitable. But what if you could make family work more pleasant even one-quarter of the time?

If you can be Present as you work together, check on each other and add a bit of fun even one-quarter of the time, your family members will feel supported and relationships will be built. You’ll experience GREAT results in the happiness level of your family.

Enjoy the waning days of summer,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about family touchpoints in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. There is an entire chapter on this one topic. In fact, you can access this chapter on Utilizing Touchpoints FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

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Why Take Your Kids Camping?

I had the opportunity to go camping for four days, twice this summer. When I was a younger mom, with seven kids at home, we went camping a lot. I loved cooking over the fire and toasting marshmallows. But now my kids are grown and camping had become something from my past.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel going camping again. And it wasn’t just any camping, it was ‘rough’ camping. You know, no flush toilets or showers, just an outhouse, and a fire pit. Yikes! However, I survived and was again reminded why I used to take my kids camping, as I interacted and watched my grandkids learn about and experience the great outdoors.

The following article by Simon Baker will remind you of some of the reason we take the time and trouble to get our kids out of doors through camping. It’s sprinkled with some super pictures of my own grandkids and our camping experience.

There are a few weeks of summer left and Labor Day is coming up. Why not take a couple of days and go camping. Enjoy!

5 Reasons to Take Your Kids Camping

It might not seem like a good idea to bring your kids when you go camping. However, bringing your kids with you is less work and stress than leaving them alone at home. For one, you won’t need to worry about them staying up too late or how they’re treating each other while you’re gone. You won’t even need to feel stressed about who’s going to look after them. : )

If you’re still not buying the idea, here are 5 more reasons why you should consider taking your kid’s camping.

1. It increases your children’s physical activity

With the internet and all the cool devices today, it isn’t surprising to find a lot of kids who would rather sit on the couch and play mobile games than to spend time outdoors. The problem with this is that it encourages a sedentary lifestyle. Furthermore, it can make children overweight and weak.

Camping encourages your kids to participate in a lot of outdoor activities. You will also be exposing them to the sunshine and fresh air, which are essential in boosting their natural immune system. Camping activities can strengthen their muscles and bones, too.

2. It helps them appreciate what they have

It’s easy to take things for granted if you have everything within easy reach at home. You have food ready when you get hungry. You have a roof over your head when the weather gets bad.

With camping, you’ll be able to let your kids see a different way of life. You can teach them how to create fire from scratch and barbecue on it. You can teach them to cook simple meals and the importance of cleaning up after themselves (to keep the rodents and small animals at bay). There will also be a lot of hard work, particularly when it comes to erecting tents, hauling drinking water or chopping firewood.

When you get back home they will have an appreciation for hot water from the tap, clean sheets, and a refrigerator. For a while at least, they will be very grateful for home.

3. It builds memories

Even though you may experience a few mishaps while camping, they’re likely to be the same memories you’ll be laughing at in a few years. Camping allows you to bond with your children in a different way than you do at home.

There will also be fewer distractions so you won’t need to compete for your child’s attention or them for yours. It’s a great break for everyone in the family.

4. It’s a cheaper alternative for a family vacation

Camping is an affordable way to vacation with your family. With proper planning and preparation, there are ways to make it even more affordable.

National and state campsites are  far less expensive than hotels or theme parks. Meals cooked on the fire are cheaper than restaurants and often taste better. It isn’t hard to find a place with water for fishing and canoeing and that costs less than a fancy waterpark.

You can build up the necessary equipment over  time so that it doesn’t need to break the bank. Look for durable equipment, high on quality and be less concerned with name brands.

A great option to consider is an electric cool box. You can fill it with ready-to-cook meals and lots of water so you won’t have to buy from nearby stores. Make sure there’s enough snacks for everyone and include sandwiches, cookies, and chips in your box.

5. It’s a good opportunity to enhance their skills

Camping skills don’t come naturally to everyone. They need to be taught and learned. Taking your kids camping gives you the chance to teach them survival lessons they’ll be able to teach their kids. It’s a good opportunity to pass on or even start your own family traditions. You can learn many things together – to identify flowers and trees, animals and how to care for the earth. Camping can also enhance your children’s social skills. They’ll be able to meet a lot of people from different places and with different cultures, depending on your chosen campsite. If you find a lot of kids in your area, make sure to invite them over for a campfire, some smores, and a few scary stories. These experiences are the ones your kids will remember for a long time.

Camping is a truly connected, family activity that pays dividends for the time and effort it takes. So use what’s left of the summer and take your kids camping.

 

Author Bio:

Simon Barker writes to inspire people about low-cost ways of traveling and camping. Aside from sharing his best tips in saving while making the best out of his trips, he also does in-depth electric cool box reviews.

Take Control This Summer – Your Stories Affect Your Family Relationships

One of the chapters in my upcoming book is about the stories we tell ourselves and how those stories affect our relationships with our kids.

You’ve all heard this old saying or something like it, “What you say is what you get.” It’s true.

If you say “My kids are driving me nuts,” they’ll drive you nuts. If you say “I can’t stand my kids today,” or “My kids are so sloppy, messy, noisy, naughty, etc.,” that’s what you’ll get. It’s what you perceive is happening, regardless of what’s actually going on. This will influence your response and your ability to be Present.

The negative stories you tell yourself over and over again impact how you feel about your children and your ability to be Present with them. Negative thoughts hinder you from achieving things you want. Positive thoughts do the opposite.

Saying, “My kids are so messy,” or “My son doesn’t respect me,” generates low energy. This low energy attracts the very thing which is distressing us. If our words are, “I love being with my kids,” “My daughter is sure helpful today,” or “I’m having a peaceful day,” we generate high energy which attracts what we want to have happen.

Think of all the phrases we say and hear over and over again about kids:

• You’re driving me crazy.
• You’re so messy.
• You’re so noisy.
• I can’t get a minute’s peace.
• Why can’t you listen to me? You never listen!
• You’re so irresponsible.
• I don’t know what I’m going to do with you!
• You make me so mad.
• You’re so sloppy, disobedient, messy, argumentative, quarrelsome, etc.
• You’re wearing me out.
• I can’t listen one more minute.

If we want better outcomes, we need to watch our words. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Words are your thoughts/stories put into concrete form. Words generate emotions. You’ll feel the way you speak. How you feel moves you to an action which gives you a result, either good or bad. Your words move you closer to or away from the ability to be Present.

Take responsibility for your thoughts, the stories and emotions they create, and your responses. Stop blaming. Take responsibility for your words, which are your stories in concrete form.

You’re in control of the stories you tell; stories about yourself, your family, your children and the world, the past, the present and the future. Knowing this gives you ALL the power.

REMEMBER the summer Zing I mentioned was coming? Well, it’s here. On June 30th at 7pm MST I will be hosting a webinar for mom’s and dad’s who want to be PRESENT this summer in fun and easy ways. Ways that occur every day all ready. No pre-planning. No extra time or fuss.  Check it out here. I hope you’ll join me.

Happy Summer,
Mary Ann

Touchpoints For Summer PRESENCE

As much as we love summer and our kids both can challenge our patience and our energy. The upcoming book – Becoming a Present Parent: Maximizing Presence in Five Minutes or Less teaches you how to use touchpoints to connect with your kids. Let me share one touchpoint that will really sweeten the summer pie!

Maggie doing her family work.

TOUCHPOINT 4 – Chores and Family Work

Thinking about the word WORK can make a parent groan inside because work is often a point of contention in a family. But work can be a place where we create a touchpoint rather than a point of contention if building relationships is our ultimate goal.

CHORES

Often we get so involved in the management portion of family life that it’s difficult to address the relationship portion. We’ll cover this topic in depth in chapter 9. For now, know that when we’re Present things work out better.

Everyone wants support when facing a tough job. No one wants to be isolated in a mess. We sometimes forget our kids feel the same way we do.

Moms have had the experience of walking into a disaster of a kitchen after a long day. Your family’s watching TV, and here you are, in this messy kitchen. Where do you start?

How does it feel when your husband abandons his show, comes in and begins helping you pick up? And how does it feel when he also asks you how your day went? It’s amazing!

This happens to dads in garages and backyards. How does it feel when your seventeen-year-old volunteers to help get the backyard in order? How about when your thirteen-year-old offers to spend time helping you organize the garage? It feels better doesn’t it?

When a child is faced with what seems like a daunting task, check on them. Put your hand on their back or rub a shoulder and say, “Let me give you a hand.” Help them for 2-3 minutes while having a mini-conversation. Then head off to the next child or to your own work. It makes all the difference in how chores feel and in how well they get done. It solidifies relationships. It allows you to be Present with your child for a few minutes. Chores can be a touchpoint!

FAMILY WORK

Family work is another time when you can create a touchpoint rather than a point of contention. When working as a family we need to keep in mind the objective isn’t just to get another item off the to-do list – we’re creating relationships and bonding our family.

I love gardening alone. I love the quiet and feeling the dirt in my fingers. But I understand it’s an opportunity for me to teach and connect with my grandchildren. Gardening can be transformed into an enduring memory for us all when I remember the garden isn’t what’s important, the relationship is.

Add fun to any work you do as a family – sing, dance as you clean, play great music, tell jokes, laugh, have mini-conversations and lots of random touches.

Things aren’t going to work out all of the time. You’ll have family work that turns into chaos or contention. We’re all imperfect, we get tired, and we have grouchy moments. It’s inevitable. But what if you could make family work more pleasant even one-quarter of the time?

If you can be Present as you work together even one-quarter of the time, your family members will feel supported and relationships will be built. You’ll experience GREAT results in the happiness level of your family.

Happy Summer,
Mary Ann

Try Active Listening for a More PRESENT Summer

As you know I have been writing a new book – Becoming a Present Parent: Maximizing Presence in Five Minutes or Less. I started in August 2015 and finished in January 2016. Since then I have been learning the dance of being an independent author. Whew, it has required a lot of dance lessons!!

However, the book is in the formatting and cover design stage and it is going to actually make it to press this summer. Woohoo. I will breathe a sigh of relief for sure.

While we wait for the books release I thought I would share a bit of the content with you.

ACTIVE LISTENING

When we’re Present, we listen to connect with the speaker and to understand how they feel about what they’re saying. It’s active and engaged and seeks to hear the words and, more importantly, to hear the heart.

Because this type of listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to develop steps to make it happen more often. They may be helpful to you also.

A. STOP what you’re doing. Turn away from any technology, book or project. If you truly can’t stop, tell your child you can see this is important to them and you want to hear what they have to say. Set a specific time when you’ll be free and keep it. Saying “we’ll talk about it later” is not specific and sends the message you’re not available to them, that whatever else you’re doing is more interesting or more important. If at all possible STOP and listen now!

B. Make eye contact with your child. I remember reading that an infant can tell the difference between a face which is in order and one with the features jumbled.

From my experience, I know babies are interested their parent’s faces. They look at their parent’s faces constantly and reach out to touch them. Infants want us to look back at them. As we grow older, desire for eye contact with the people in our lives that matter to us remains.

Eye contact is looking directly into your child’s eyes and not looking away at other things or looking down. When we look at our children as we listen to them, it sends a powerful message that we care, that we hear them, that they matter.

C. Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. When you’re Present you’ll respond to feelings more quickly and more accurately. This helps your child feel heard. You can say things like, “Boy – how maddening!” or “You didn’t like that did you?” or “How did you feel?” This helps your child know that you view their feelings as valid and important.

D. Listen with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind which will help you maintain interest and patience.

For example, you can think, “I sure love this kid. They’re so interesting, funny, kind, thoughtful,” whatever. Hold thoughts which allow you to embrace fully the moment you’re sharing with your child.

Avoid interrupting. Ask only those questions which help clarify. Your job at this moment is not to teach, reprimand or to fix. It’s to listen.

Being present with your child is an end in itself. It isn’t about resolution, teaching, making progress, none of that. It’s about connection, pure and simple. You can always teach later. Right now, be Present!

During a day, there are dozens of opportunities to stop and listen. We can’t actively listen in all of them. But if we can increase those times we do, it will have a big impact on our relationships.

Remember, being Present is a gift we give another person without thought of return. It means giving full attention, our whole self, nothing left on the table.

I do have something special in the works to add a bit of zing to your summer and to help you get a head start on Becoming a Present Parent. Watch for it. : )

Happy Summer,
Mary Ann