The Perfect Christmas Card

I’ve always loved Christmas cards. I remember as a little girl, eagerly checking the mailbox during the month of December for cards. I loved opening them and seeing what was inside. I loved looking at the pretty pictures, like this: … Continue reading

My Family’s Favorite Christmas Tradition by Priscilla A. Kissinger

Welcome Priscilla A Kissinger back to PBK!

Christmas is my favorite holiday.  I love the music, the baking, the giving and receiving of presents, the parties and good food—remembering our blessings and why we celebrate.

Most of all, I love getting together with family and friends to celebrate.  If you read my last guest blog on PBOK, you probably figured out how important my family, especially my three daughters, is to me.

In our house, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without some of our long-held family traditions. I worried as my girls grew older and went off to college that some of these traditions might fade away.  Blessedly, they’ve remained just as important to my girls as they are to me.

Some of our traditions have religious meaning—singing “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” as we light the advent candles on the dinner table. Others are a mix of religious and secular—reading the original Christmas story followed by Twas the Night Before Christmas while wearing our new  pjs on Christmas Eve.

One special tradition we’ve followed every year since my girls were in pre-school is making gingerbread houses. From scratch. I’m talking, bags of flour, jars of molasses, Crisco, sugar, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, eggs, oil and a dash of vinegar. Lots of mixing. Getting an arm workout as you roll the dough. Using pattern pieces to hand cut walls, roofs, chimneys, and more. Puffs of confectioners sugar billowing as you add tablespoons of hot water and meringue powder and start the mixer to whip up batches of Royal Icing. Tables splattered with a mix of candies, chocolates, frosting bags with tips. Lots of snacking as you work and Christmas music playing in the background.

Mind you, this isn’t just an afternoon event. I’m talking a long evening or afternoon of baking pieces. Another day of decorating your building sides and creating fir trees from upside down sugar cones, a special tip and lots of green Royal Icing. Another day of “gluing” your houses together and adding the roofs.

In case you haven’t noticed, we take our gingerbread house baking pretty serious.

It all started when I bought a VHS tape entitled “The Magic of Gingerbread Housed with Cheryl Lesh-Maughlin.” It’s a short video that comes with a recipe and pattern pieces you cut out by hand. Little did I know what I was starting when I watched the video with my girls and sparked our love of house building.

What started out as one simple house our first Christmas season

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Has morphed into much more. We’ve made gingerbread neighborhoods, complete with a frozen pond and a sleigh train full of toys.

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Being avid Chicago Cubs fans, one year we attempted to create a mini Wrigley Field, complete with mini gummi bears as Cubs fans and a sports bar across the street. Yes, for any Cubs fans out there, you’ll be happy to know we included rooftop seating on the bar and a handicap parking space in the lot.

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One year we scratched our itch to travel by creating three spots we’d either like to visit or would love to visit again. This turned into a hotel on the Greek shores of Santorini—complete with brown sugar and cinnamon sand, the Roman Coliseum—with crumbled ruins inside, and a pavilion in Guell Parc in Barcelona—multi-colored Nerds candies provided the fabulous colors Gaudi envisioned in his park.

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When my girls were younger, you’d probably find a Jasmine or Belle figurine on the front porch.  Now those figurines have been donated or hand-me-downed to cousins. But the fact remains that my girls still remind me gingerbread time is arriving. One might comb Pinterest for ideas. Another might come up with some outlandish design, which means another one has to talk her back to reality.

It’s a lot of work. A lot of hours. In my mind, that means a lot of bonding time. A lot of singing carols together. A lot of laughing as we reminisce.

We used to start early in December. Then we’d have the house to display during the holiday season. The frosting and gingerbread make a great potpourri on the kitchen counter. Then sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve we break out a hammer and a butter knife to start chipping away. Yes, Royal Icing dries that hard. I’m talking, cement hard. That’s what makes it perfect for house building.

So it’ll mean another year’s creations demolished and devoured. But the memories we’ll have created will linger. My girls will once again scatter off to colleges and jobs in other states. But the together-time  we shared will be priceless.

To me, it’s the reason for the season—peace, love, and joy. That’s what I wish for you and your family this holiday.

And speaking of your family, do you share any traditions that carry on, no matter how old your kids have grown? I’d love to hear about them!

A001Priscilla A Kissinger is a three-time Golden Heart finalist who writes contemporary romance with a Latino flavor. A single mom with three daughters, Priscilla recently earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. During the day she works as an administrator at a major university, and she spends her free time writing, reading, playing tennis, training for half marathons, watching sports and singing karaoke with her family.  You can find out more about her at www.prisakiss.com.

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Guest mom Hattie Ratliff (Robyn’s mom!)

We have a super special guest mom today. My mom! Please give a big welcome to Hattie Ratliff – Robyn DeHart’s mom. 

306469_241475839244581_1787699928_n-1Let me say that I am not an authority on raising children, but I have been at it for a long time.   I’ve made my share of mistakes but all and all I can honestly say that they all grew up to be awesome adults.

A little about myself; I married my high school sweetheart at the age of 17,  had my first child at the age of  19 , the second child at 21 and the last at age 30.  I attended every thing the three performed in, made costumes, baked thousand of cookies, took in friends of theirs with problems, even watched scary movies.

I seemed to always be on the go.  I believe I spent as much time in the car dropping one here and another there, than I did at home. But I wouldn’t have missed a minute of that time.  And they did repay me.  They all gave my husband and I grandchildren, five girls, one boy.   Just when I thought my job that I loved was finished, I was now a part of six more lives.

The oldest is my grandson, who turns 21 in August.  He is 6ft 5 now, but will always be my little man.  I have had the privilege of watching him grow and am so proud of the man he is becoming.

The three oldest girls are ages, 19, 18, and 16.  The youngest of those just became an officer for her drill/dance team.  The 19 year old just graduated as Valedictorian.  And the 18 year old graduated and is on her way to perform on Broadway in New York, and my husband and I will be there.

When they were all little starting at age 8 until they started high school I held grandma camp ever summer.  They would come stay a week and we would have a blast. We’d cook and do crafts and go shopping and to the movies. And we’d stay up late talking.

Now I have been given a third chance to be a part of two young lives. My two youngest grandchildren, ages 2 and 4 (Robyn’s kiddos). I look forward to once again opening up grandma camp and knowing even at my later years that I will have a blast.

The reason I have told my life story on this wonderful blog is to nudge you a little to enjoy the moments with your children.  What they say is true, time goes by so fast. Don’t waste your time thinking about your mistakes instead stop and watch in wonder as your child does something or says something just the way you taught them. Tuck that smile or giggle away and when they are all grown up don’t be surprised if you hear that giggle again and see that great smile. And this sit back and know you did good, mom.

Guest Post: My Annual Sanity-Saving Scrapbooking Vacation

The PBKMoms are pleased to welcome Amy Moss and her sanity-saving vacation tips!

It started so innocently, like most life-changing, amazing ideas do.

I was sitting around a dining room table with my four close girlfriends.  Two years prior we had all taken up scrapbooking as a hobby.  This is not a story about scrapbooking; so if you are not into scrapbooking, don’t worry. In place of scrapbooking you can insert knitting, crocheting, needlepointing, cross-stitching, quilting or any other favorite craft.  We’d found a hour or two here and there on rare weekends to get together, drink wine and try to put pictures of our children into scrapbooks.  Scrapbooking is a great hobby because it is a shopper’s dream.  There is always something new to buy – sparkly jewels, Mickey Mouse die cuts, just the right shade of black paper (It does not exist.) and on and on.  I have more scrapbooking supplies than I will use in my lifetime, but still I buy that new Victorian Halloween paper that would be perfect for my imaginary fall layout.

Anyway, it was not for a lack of supplies that led to the great revelation, but rather an over-abundance of them.  We had so many neat scrapbooking toys that it made it hard to get together.  Even with Creative Memories rolling luggage bags, it was a hassle to pack it all up.  We’d complained about this problem at several crops.  Then enlightenment hit – What if we went away for the weekend and scrapped?

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Wait a minute! Could we go somewhere away from the kids, away from the husbands, away from the jobs, away from the cleaning, cooking, laundry, playdates, swim teams, etc.??  This idea was pretty unheard of outside of bachelorette parties to Vegas or New Orleans.  Our voices dropped to whispers, lest anyone hear of our novel scheme.  The more we talked, the more we loved the idea, and so we made a list of requirements:

  1. Location must be within driving distance – shorter the better.
  2. We each need our own room – Ladies, after college you are too old to share a room.
  3. We need a place with a large space to all sit together.
  4. We need a TV, DVD player and sturdy blender.

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The plan was born: Friday through Sunday in a rented house on the beach in Galveston, Texas.  Just us girls – all together with no responsibilities (and, as it turns out, a lot of tequila) for three whole days!  After our first weekend together we knew that we had something unique and precious.  Something we were determined to do again… regularly…  and our annual scrapbooking weekend was born!

Unlike other girls-only vacations there is no running around to see antiques or museums or going out to restaurants or bars.   And no shopping.  No need to worry about what to wear or wanting to go home because you are tired when everyone else wants to party.  With this vacation there is no schedule!  You get up when you want to.  You go to bed when you want to.  Hell, you even get to take a nap if you feel like it!  You also don’t need to worry about what to bring.  Pajamas, t-shirts and yoga pants are pretty much all you need.  No one to see you.  Your girlfriends don’t care that your hair is in a scrunchie and you are wearing old Eeyore pjs.

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Remember there is no schedule here and you have nowhere to be.  So cocktails start whenever you want them.  It is a safe drinking environment because there is no driving.  Your girlfriends are watching out for you with Advil and water.  So have that mimosa with breakfast and smile!

This is the time to watch all those chick flick movies that your husband and kids don’t want to see.  So pull out the Notebook and the tissues!  Haven’t seen the first season of Downtown Abbey – you can watch the whole thing this weekend!  Want to watch Gone with the Wind again – all four hours of it – with enough vodka you can do it.  I also recommend a PBS mini-series, any Jane Austen movie and missed seasons of Glee.   

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 Now is the time to indulge in the food you love.  Never have you seen a grocery cart so full of delicious and unhealthy junk.  Oreos, five different kids of cheese, salami, BBQ potato chips, peanut M&Ms, etc.  You name the junk food and we eat it guilt-free.  This is vacation and the calories don’t count.  We take turns cooking dinner or we decide to just eat olives and cookies.

However, the best part about these scrapbooking weekends is being with friends that are family.  We talk.  A lot.  About everything.  Life’s scary challenges have been tackled with laughter, tears and loving support (plus a little drunken dancing).  If I have a problem, I know these girls will be there with at least three possible answers and a shoulder to lay my weary head on.  Their experience with home and business matters is invaluable and this weekend gives us the opportunity to swap stories and best practices.  It is a safe place to bare our souls…. and we get a little scrapbooking done too.

In short, this is a wonderful stay-cation away from home with your best girlfriends doing a hobby you love.  This relaxing time is the best weekend any over-stressed mom could have.  I hope you can plan your trip soon!

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Amy Moss is Corporate Securities and M&A partner at Haynes and Boone, LLP in Houston, Texas.  She is the proud mom of two amazing kids, Z-Girl who is finishing up third grade and Z-Boy who starts kindergarten in the fall.  She is lucky to be married to Z-Husband, whose idea it was to pick names for the children that start with Z.

C, D, P, M and K – can’t wait till scrapbooking weekend in September!

Let’s get crafty!

IMG_1250So here we are upon another holiday and if your kiddos are in school or some daycare or Mother’s Day Out program, it’s time for Valentine’s Day parties. Last year when I did this, I ended up buying 2 boxes for each girl even though there are only 10 kids (total) in their classes. The girls wanted the princess and fairy ones, but I didn’t feel right about giving those to the boys in their classes so we got boy stuff to hand out as well. And many of the Valentine’s come with temporary tattoos – I’m not sure how y’all feel about this, but I’d rather not introduce my children to tattoos just yet.

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Needless to say, this year I decided we’d make our own and hand those out. The girls would get to participate and it would mean more than me sitting down one night and addressing all of them for their friends. This way they’d know what they were giving away and they could say they helped to make it. And I thought it would be a fun project for us and for reasons I can’t explain I thought it would be cheaper.

IMG_1253First it was not cheaper. BUT I will say that all of the supplies I bought can be used/eaten at at later date so nothing will go wasted. And we did have a great time. They loved it. I don’t know if those of you with small children have played with the foam stickers, but my girls love them. Even Babybee is quite adept at peeling off the back paper and sticking them on whatever they’re decorating. Busybee even got to write her own name on each of her Valentine, she was quite proud of herself for that.

IMG_1254One of the things I like most about doing crafts with my girls is to see their personalities come out. Babybee is very methodical and precise (pretty amazing for a 2.5 yr old) and Busybee likes to over-do, so her stuff always comes out very decorated. It’s great to see how they create and use their imaginations.

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I found the recipe for the “trail” mix on Pinterest, so I can’t take credit for it, but I used Cheerios, Goldfish Pretzels, Yogurt-covered raisins, Valentine M&M’s and Chocolate Teddy Grahams. I think they came out cute and I hope their classmates enjoy them.

So do y’all craft with your kiddos? Do they enjoy doing arts & crafts?

Crafty Mom

If you’re reading this hoping so get some great craft ideas, then you might want to find another blog. I am definitely NOT the crafty mom.

I know a lot of moms (Robyn, Tina, and Amy, I’m looking at you!) who are crafty. They make bibs and picture frames and decorate cupcakes. They even macramé. I don’t know what macramé is. I don’t want to know!

I buy bibs and picture frames and cupcakes, but occasionally I am put in a situation whereby I must do something crafty. Often Baby Galen’s school is the culprit, as they seem to think all moms can sew and bake and make fabulous themed wreaths to be auctioned for hundreds of dollars at Christmas time. Hello! That is why someone invented craft stores.

Other times I am at a museum, where the kids are supposed to do craft activities. Ha! Baby Galen inherited my lack of craftiness. She is always excited to start a craft and then quickly loses interest. Either that or the craft is too hard for her, although the sign will say ages 2+. Then I end up helping with the craft, and we have a butterfly that looks like this.

Or a house that looks like this.

But occasionally I do something sort of right. This summer I checked out a lot of kits from the library. These kits are designed to help parents and kids interact with books. One kit had a Curious George book and all the materials necessary to make a porthole. So Baby Galen and I (okay, mostly me) made a porthole. We were both proud of it, even if she kept trying to get in the plastic “glass” and eat the goldfish.

Are you crafty? Do you ever feel like the world expects you to possess a skill just because you’re a mom?


Shana Galen, Multitasker Mama
I’m Shana Galen, AKA Multitasker Mama (and aren’t we all?). I’m a wife, mom to a two-year-old daughter I call Baby Galen. My parenting motto is, “Keep moving. Don’t pass out. Don’t throw up.” Or maybe that’s my fitness motto? www.shanagalen.com

No-Sew Super Hero Capes

Welcome Wonder Mom Christina Hergenrader back again. This time she’s armed with fun birthday ideas! With her permission, I’ve reprinted this fun post from her Best of Times blog

For the twins’ five-year-old birthday, we had a pool party. Inspired by the millions of times our kids get out of the pool and use their towels as capes as they play “Super Hero! Emergency!” I loved the idea of giving towels morphed into capes as the party favors. Here’s a shot of the capes, hanging on a clothesline on our front porch. Still waiting for that call from the HOA.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that my first stop for any party planning is IKEA. Here I found the PERFECT towels to turn into cape. Not only was the HAREN bath towel only $3.99, but the colors were brilliant and beautiful. AND there was a clever little loop for hanging up the towel. PERFECT for a no-sew towel-cape.

Here’s SuperDad modeling a finished SuperHero Cape so you get the gist of little loop’s purpose. All I needed to add was a button (which I covered with matching fabric) and a design on the back. I guess putting on the button was technically sewing, but even I can deal with a little needle and thread.

Otherwise I was serious about the No-Sew. This is because I don’t have a sewing machine. Not only do I not have a sewing machine, but SuperDad (the mechanical one in the family) is crazy busy at work right now and didn’t have time to help me master a sewing machine. I could have figured it out myself, but he’s so good at that kind of stuff that wrestling with bobbins and threading and all that without him seemed ridiculous. So, I asked the bewildered seamstresses at Hobby Lobby what I could use to affix designs onto the towels. Of course they suggested a needle and thread, but when I explained my lack of sewing ability, they told me about E600, a waterproof glue that should do the trick.

Guess what? It did the trick! I found some snazzy material and some crazy-cheap washcloths and went to work not sewing…but tracing and cutting and gluing the 40 superhero capes.

For about a month our house looked a little like Gotham City with all kinds of shiny fabric lying out to dry. And such en masse glueing did seem a little much. Like trying to make Thanksgiving Dinner without using an oven. More than once I wondered if mastering sewing would have been easier than crouching over glue. But my sweet seamstress neighbor assured me this was the way to go since sewing would have meant pinning and surely hours more work. I took her word for it.

And the Towel Capes were a HUGE hit. HUGE! Here’s our SuperGirl modeling her custom-designed cape.

Below is SuperBoy showing off the cape’s super powers–as he dries off from a swim.

Speaking of drying off, this was by far the most awesome benefit of giving out superhero towels as party favors. When it was time for the kids to get out of the pool and move inside for gift-opening, we handed each one a towel. SO HANDY. They wrapped those nice, thick towels around their wet bodies to keep themselves warm and to keep our furniture dry.

I like this picture because it nicely shows the chaos of twins opening presents. And it’s a rare picture of me–in a SuperGirl t-shirt. Which is about how I felt after the towels worked so well…with no sewing!

Oh, and speaking of t-shirts, I was so inspired by the towels that I made each of the kids a Super5 t-shirt. They were not impressed and besides this picture, refuse to wear them.

So, if you’re planning a SuperHero party, try the capes, use towels…and let me know if you need a couple of BRAND NEW t-shirts for your five year old.
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Christina is the mom of four kids, ages 7, 5, 5, and 1. Her most recent book is God Loves Moms, a Bible Study about twelve moms in the Bible.

Guest Mom: Eloisa James

–Congratulations to Sharlene W., who won a copy of Eloisa’s book, WHEN BEAUTY TAMED THE BEAST. Thank you to all our commenters, and we hope we’ll see you back at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard!–

We’re so happy to have guest mom and New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James here today! Thanks, Eloisa, for sharing some thoughts on motherhood with the PBOK family! 

The End of School Debris

One of the complexities of being a writing mother, for me, lies in a passionate wish to catch my children’s lives, for good or bad.  For example, when Anna was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease for the third time, I wrote Duchess by Night, which includes a child infected by rat bite fever.  (I also moved out of New Jersey, but that’s another story.)

Similarly—and more obviously—I wrote the memoir Paris in Love because I wanted to capture the year my family and I lived in France, rather than allow it to slide away in the easy, dreamy way by which happy years disappear.  I wanted to remember for myself, but I also wanted Anna and Luca to remember details they might otherwise have forgotten.

Which this leads to one of the trickiest motherhood questions of all: what do you do with the boatloads of debris that accrue during childhood?  Are they precious memories, to be frozen in amber, or candidates for the recycling bin?  Yesterday Anna brought home multiple versions of a print made from a school bus gouged out of linoleum.  It’s a nice school bus.  Really.  Great headlights.

Still, with a 13-year-old’s wisdom, she detected lack of enthusiasm in my face and cried: You never like anything I create!  You think I’m a terrible artist!  Leaving artistic judgments aside (Picasso would have trouble with a linoleum school bus too), what about all the art I’ve got framed and pinned all over this house?  The lopsided purple candle-holder/monkey, who is carefully propped up in my bookshelf? The factory made out of cardboard and cotton balls that my husband refuses to throw away?  The glittery, purple paper maché turtle in the dining room?

Anna’s turtle

It’s hard to give up those memories, both for her sake and mine.  But we live in an apartment in New York City!  We can’t keep everything.  Anyone have any great advice about what to keep or not to keep?  Not as important as to be or not to be, but still weighty!

Peanutbutteronthekeyboard.  Summer 2012

Thanks again for being a guest mom, Eloisa, and for giving away a copy of your Rita-nominated Regency romance novel, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, to one lucky commenter!

Something about lemons and lemonade…

When the girls first arrived at our house (a year ago yesterday!) we set them up in one bedroom; a crib on one side of the room, a toddler bed on the other. It quickly became evident that they would not be able to sleep in the same room. In the meantime, we opted to have a pack-in-play in our bedroom for a while for Babybee and then eventually I caved (cause I knew it was coming) and we moved her into my office and moved me out to share the loft office with The Professor. Admittedly it was an emotional weekend for me. I knew I’d lose that space to a kiddo someday, but I hadn’t thought it would happen so quickly. I loved my office, it was my space.

But Babybee needed her own room so we got down to coming up with a decorating scheme. Like most kiddos her age, she’s a big fan of Sesame Street – well, the characters at least because we actually don’t watch it all that often. So when I came across wall decals at Target that were the SS characters, I snatched them up. My mom found some bedding that’s super cute with a big face of Elmo and Oscar on it. So we set up the furniture and put the decals on the wall, but something was missing. We looked all over for wall art to add to it, but couldn’t find anything with Sesame Street peeps on it. And well, when all else fails, I just make it myself so here are the pictures I made for Babybee’s room.

Okay so I’ve had some questions from friends and family as to how I put these little babies together and really the answer is pretty simple, I actually had almost everything I needed already in my house. So here are the supplies you’ll need and you can make any kind of paper art you want:


*Coloring book (preferably one with large up close pictures)
*colored card stock
*adhesive (either a glue stick or scrapbook picture adhesive)
*good sharp scissors
*pencil
*tracing paper (optional, but helps!)

I took pics as I went with one of them for step-by-step directions though admittedly I wish I would have picked a different character considering he actually turned out to be my least favorite. But here we go, let’s put Ernie together.


Okay so step one is to pick your page from your coloring book, then you simply trace it onto the tracing paper. Next you cut out each individual element that will make up the picture, you’ll want to start larger and go smaller so like with my muppets here I started with the head, cut out the corresponding paper, and then cut down the other elements like the nose and eyes, etc. Then you just start piecing everything together, building your picture using your adhesive until you get everything glued together onto a solid piece of card stock. Now you might think you’re done here but this last step is important. You want to take your sharpie and just outline each element so that you give your picture dimension and make it come alive. Easy-peasie. Really it is. Granted all the scissor work can give you finger cramps, but it’s really a simple and fun craft. And Babybee loves all her wall buddies. She talks to them all the time which is totally charming.