travel essentials

travel essentials.  Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker

I make an effort to pack light traveling as a family of 6.  Isn't vacation a wonderful time to realize we really don't need that much? As long as we have the right tools for the job.

I'm always concerned I'm forgetting to pack the essentials.  This check list is perfect for someone who likes lists and since using it for our last few vacations it's simplified my packing.  Absolutely my favorite packing tool.  

I have been searching for the right travel backpack for a long time and I think I finally found it!  And it's super inexpensive.  Not all women's backpacks have side pockets to hold water bottles and this was essential for me.  It's light weight, lots of pockets, and my favorite part is it opens big with a doctor bag style zipper top.  

In my bag:

I sprayed this Pixi mist on my face at least a dozen times on the flight to Hawaii.

Origins Peace of Mind is a lovely peppermint relief.  It has cured a pressure headache in seconds and I never travel without it.  

Sweet and healthy Apple Chips, dark chocolate and gum

My Fab Fit Fun aloe infused fluffy socks and cozy poncho made for a comfortable flight.  The poncho worked as a blanket for a couple of us and an extra pillow.  I've officially used everything that came in this awesome subscription box!

A good book 

My camera and iphone

My favorite Young Living oils

This lip balm.  

This Malin & Goetz hand lotion was from a hotel and I'm now obsessing over the entire brand.  Full of natural ingredients, vitamins and fatty acids.  

My husband uses this travel pillow that takes up minimal space in his cary on.  And this is the best travel pillow we've ever experienced for our kids and it worked great for me also.  If your child falls asleep it gives you more control on head/chin placement.  

Yes, all that, and several of my kids things, fit in my new travel backpack!

This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  Learn more here.  

Family Movie Reviews

I confess, I'd so much rather watch a movie in the comfort of my own home than at the theaters.  However, tis the season for new movies that we don't have the patience to wait to be released on our home television.  And because we don't do this very often it makes going to the theater even more special.

A family evening at the movies was actually a very thoughtful Christmas "experience gift" from Grandparents.

I read Wonder years ago with my daughter and we finally got to see the anticipated movie, along with my son who heard the book as a read-along in his class.  I love how well it followed the book and it's touch on real life.  Such a beautiful message!  This was a movie about feelings.  We laughed hard and cried hard.  It opened so many great conversations with my 9 and 11-year-old.  The message relayed over and over, "Choose Kindness" is one this world could always use more focus on.  I wish we could watch the ending scene 5 times over. 

I highly recommend reading the book first.  I always use Common Sense Media as a reference on age-appropriate movies.  I knew in advance this wasn't something I wanted my 6-year-old to watch just yet (bulling and a couple violent fight scenes).  I'll look forward to reading the book with him first in another couple of years.  Therefore, my husband took our younger two at the same time to see Coco.  He walked out and told me 1. The message was perfect: the most important thing is family.  2. It was very colorful in animation and music. 3. The kids were glued and entertained the entire time.


Both of these movies were listed as Common Sense Media's best family movies of the year.  This list has me realizing we have several movies to catch up on over break.

I'd love to hear your favorite family movie of the year!

This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  Learn more here.  

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A weekend of Christmas sounds and treats

Christmas Hot cocoa bar for music recital. Lovely Matters by Heather Walker

Our weekend was filled with live Christmas music & baking!

Friday we had our family pizza night in listening to music, baking pecans, and playing our new favorite game, Ticket to Ride

Saturday we baked holiday treats with the kids (including a favorite from my Grandparents' recipe from their Bohemian bakery that I'll be sharing this week) and then Hubby and I attended a friend's surprise party!  I love a good surprise, as long as it's not for me :). 

Sunday we attended a Christmas concert that my son's guitar teacher is the band leader for.  The music was heavenly!  It was special for my son (and the rest of us) to see his teacher on stage performing.  Then we hosted that same guitar teacher's students at our home for their annual guitar recital.  I say it often, there's nothing like a party at home.  We needed a large enough space for seating 40-50 people so we held the party outside.  The temperature was in the 50s, therefore, we provided hot cocoa and lots of blankets and our guests commented that they felt cozy and comfortable.  Everything about this evening made this season feel complete.  Friends and strangers and music filled our home.  I mostly stood in the back of the crowd because I wanted to take in all the magic that surrounded us.  Little and big ones snuggled in close and one little one fell asleep on his mama's chest.

Outdoor Christmas music recital. Lovely Matters by Heather Walker
DSC_1648.jpgChristmas Hot cocoa bar for music recital. Lovely Matters by Heather Walker

I framed Christmas sheet music to decorate the hot cocoa table for this special event.  This is the original sheet music that my Grandparents played on the Organ every Christmas as we sat beside them singing along as children.  I love decorating with a memory!

Christmas Hot cocoa bar for music recital. Lovely Matters by Heather Walker
Outdoor guitar recital.  Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker

We had some extra time while putting together the hot cocoa station so we quickly whipped up these treats that the kids will share with their school friends and neighbors.  I was excited to find these wooden spoons on Amazon because I didn't want to dip plastic in melted chocolate.  I did the dipping in the melted chocolate and then let the kids top with their favorite mix-ins.  Easy and fun!

DIY Hot Cocoa spoons. Class Christmas gift idea.  Lovely Matters by Heather Walker

Here's how I packaged them for my little one's old's preschool class.  The others I'll have the kids write their names.

DIY Hot Cocoa Spoons.  Great idea for class gifts.  Lovely Matters by Heather Walker

Shouldn't every night in December end like this - sleeping beside a Christmas tree on top of a Christmas book.

sleeping child beside Christmas Tree. Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker

This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  Learn more here.  


Christmas tree traditions

Christmas tree Traditions. Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker

We made time for one of our favorite traditions, cutting down a Christmas tree.  All our kids get a turn at helping cut and then we always cut a few slices of the trunk to make ornaments or gift tags.  My older son holds the honors of dragging the tree back to the tractor.

Christmas Tree Traditions.  Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker

My daughter/first born has always had the honors of placing the angel.  Pictured is our Kids' artificial tree in the playroom where Santa will leave their gifts.  Everything on the tree is homemade by the kids - except for the Angel topper which was from my childhood.

Christmas tree Traditions. Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker

Christmas is such a great time to get a similar photo to record your child's growth.  I have the same picture of my son and daughter year after year doing the honors of dragging the tree and placing the Angel.  

The artificial tree in our entryway is mostly decorated from the stairs and shoulder rides because it's so tall.  

Christmas tree Traditions.  Lovely Matters by Heather Walker

This first weekend of December was mostly spent at home celebrating our gifts of togetherness as a family and also included some friends.  Lights in our backyard were definitely called for.  

Christmas Traditions.  Decorating for Christmas.  Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker

We hosted our monthly Mother/Daughter Book Club meeting at our home and shared our Christmas morning tradition of monkey bread.  Our book this month was Mango Shaped Space and my daughter mentioned it as her favorite book of 2017!

Mother Daughter Book Club Christmas. Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker

And here's where we snuggled up on Sunday night next to our farm cut tree to watch Frosty the Snowman.  Our Advent Calendar really reminds us to live in the moment with these simple gifts of togetherness.  And I especially love that most of these gifts are at home -   where our favorite memories are made.  

Christmas Tree Traditions.  Gifts of Togetherness.  Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker

Christmas music is filling our home with this Pandora station being my favorite and my little ones request this children's station

This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  Learn more here.  


On gift-giving: Something to wear (part 4 of 4)

4 thoughtful gifts.  Something to wear". Part 4 of a 4 part post.  Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker

If you haven't read our "4 thoughtful gifts", you may want to read this blog post first. 

"Something to wear" is now my 11 year olds favorite category in our gift giving.  Here I'm going to showcase a few of our favorite apparel brands.  Click on images to link to site.


I love the company's motto: SHE is the root of power. So, more power to you.  My daughter and I both appreciate the simple and comfortable style of Athleta.  It's our favorite brand to work out in and our favorite brand for school and work.  Here are some new items we have our eyes on.  The fun part for me is there are a few pieces that we share given some of these layered styles can go both ways, fitted or oversized.  


This is my go-to when I need something unique for a special event or photo shoot for the kids.  Love the clasic feel of the pieces I find at Zara.


All 6 of us love Toms.  It's a hard brand to pass up when you know every purchase has a purpose.  I think I've had mine for over 10 years and although they have holes I still can't toss them because there's something that feels okay about wearing Toms with holes.  Just me?  And the collection of sunglasses are beutiful!

Here's some random "something to wear" that I think could help with ideas. 

Have you seen this ring?  My active and handy husband could use one of these!  I think my daughter will love this nail polish color.  I recently saw this brand at a salon and it labeled itself as the "big 5 free nail polish" (a safer toxic free option).  Shouldn't all socks be fun like these or these!  Here's a bargain - for $6 I'll give the purse organizer concept a try.  Yes, technically in my eyes that last one you do "wear".

That completes my shopping guide on "4 thoughtful gifts", Something to read, something you want, something you need and something to wear (the post you are on).  I'm hopeful that Santa Clause is reading this blog because I'll be giving some ideas for stocking stuffers as we get closer to December.  

This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  Learn more here.  


On gift-giving: something you need (part 3 of 4)

Thoughtful gift ideas: something you need (part 3 of 4).  Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker

If you haven't read our "4 thoughtful gifts", you may want to read this blog post first. 

The "something you need" category is of course, the most practical.  Every year we take a different spin on the word "need".  My "rule follower" child commented that everyone should get a wrapped water bottle.  And my out of the box thinker tries to convince me that this is the category for a rocket launcher.  Here are my ideas:

4 year old 

I truly think my 4 year old would appreciate a special set of flannel sheets for his bed this winter.  We are short a backup set so this becomes his "need".  Love all the target options of flannel I'm seeing this season. *click images to link*

6 year old

A few extra pairs of underwear are in need right now.  So to keep the practicality in gift giving he'll get his favorite package of undies.  All my boys say the Calvin Klein Briefs from Costco are the most comfortable. They aren't online for me to link, but you Costco shoppers know where to find them.

Here's a "needed" solution for getting out the door quick.  We don't wear shoes in our home so this makes the constant on and off very helpful.  

8 year old

This hair gel for my long haired boy keeps his hair under control with the "I'm not trying too hard because I'm a free spirt wild child" feel.  It's a very safe brand (it's made with quinoa and smells like orange peel for goodness sake) and leaves no flaking or crunchy hair.  I originally found this at whole foods and never thought to see if Amazon had in stock until now.  Win!

11 year old

The advantage of my oldest having a phone is that I can contact her when I need to, but only if she has her phone with her.  I think this would be the easiest way for her to take her phone when she goes for a run or a bike ride.

My daughter is at the age where I'm sharing lots of self-care tips and she mentioned her interest in this when she saw at a friends house.  Caring for skin is something that needs to become a habit at a young age.  I was only familiar with the Clarisonic brands but they are over $100!  This one has amazing reviews and is only $22.  


Most men really don't take the time to shop for themselves (especially Dads).  Shopping for my husband's clothing is simple but when it comes to beauty products and self-care it's trickier to know what he might like and actually use.  I found Birch Box, a beauty box subscription for men!  This is a better idea of a gift than my normal toothpaste or wrapped up toilet paper as his "something you need".  Isn't this what a gift should be, something unique that you wouldn't normally purchase for yourself.  Undecided on starting a subscription for him (only $10 a month!) or choosing one of these two gift sets (one-time purchase).

Me (aka: Mama):

My favorite bowls keep getting dropped by my little kitchen helpers.  Bowls definitely fall under the "need" category.  They are only $6, the perfect size, and more durable than most, so I keep replacing them.  

Okay, saving the BEST for last again!  I know you all rushed off to Anthropology after my post yesterday, but this one you just need to click a link!  At the TOP of my wish list is a subscription box to FabFitFun!  I recently saw a friend's box and my mouth was dropped open at all the fun and unique goodies that I'd never seek out for myself.  The box is filled with fabulous finds in beauty, wellness, fashion, and fitness, hand-picked by the FabFitFun team, delivered once per season.  Each box is limited edition and contains $200+ in retail value. The starter box is only 19 dollars!  What??!! Seriously!  Sweetie, if you are reading... hint hint hint FabFitFun has lots of my "needs" inside.  

This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  Learn more here.  


On gift-giving: Something you want (part 2 of 4)

4 thoughtful gifts for Christmas - something you want (part 2 of 4).  Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker

Want want want! 

The "something you want" is the gift category I'd probably let get a little out of hand if I didn't stick with the one gift rule.  If you didn't read about our "4 thoughtful gifts", you may want to read this blog post first. 

I have a good idea well before December what's on my kids "want" list.  When I hear them talk about something, or I see something I think they'd like I immediately add to my amazon wish list so I don't forget.  The other "wants" go on their Santa wish list.

I'll start with my favorite,  Kiwi Crate!  Currently my 9 year old and 4 year old receive monthly boxes.  I can't say enough good things about this company and the products they develop.  My 9 year old gets their "Tinker crate".  It's this perfect combination of STEM education and creative tinkering.  Ironically, he dressed as a Rocket Scientist for Halloween and the week before he received a crate with a rocket project inside.  What's been most incredible is how much he tinkers and creatively explores on his own since starting the subscription.  As for my 4 year old, he receives the "Koala crate".  This is filled with hands on learning and crafting.  Last month he put together a working xylophone and wrote his own music with ink stamps.  Art is extremely important to me and this is such a fun way for me to explore learning through art with my littlest.  So, unknown to my 11 year old daughter, her "want" will be the "Doodle crate".  She loves art and never has much of a wish list so this will be a fun surprise.  Here's last month's Doddle crate below.


I think this is also the perfect gift from Grandparents.  They can choose how many months to subscribe and will be thrilled they are giving such a unique and educational gift.  AND, using this referral link you'll get $10 off your first crate.  They set the bar high on finding other gift ideas... moving on:

Family Gifts for all ages (post-toddler stage)

My younger two are the vocalists in our family band.  We have a cheap toy microphone that barely works, but used often.  It's time for an upgrade to this portable Singing Machine with a bluetooth speaker.  Shocked by the low price!

All my kids play with these.  Time after time, one of the most played with toys in our home.  We only have a small set and can be limiting when more than one child is playing, so I'm thinking we add to this great toy.

Between our love of music and our kids' curiosity on how things work, I think we'd all love one of these.  

Kids and adults love playing with darts, but this one has impressive reviews with its magnets.  Hmm, maybe another idea for my hubby?  Men are just big kids who still want toys.  I'm reminded of this every year at Christmas time.

Legos are always high on the wish list for almost 8 years now in our home.  It's still at the top of my 6 year old's wish list, therefore new sets are hard to come by.  I purchased this set because I don't believe we've ever seen it.

I think my active 9 year old boy would love a fitness tracker like this so he doesn't need to share my old one with his sister anymore.  It's practical and almost a "need" because he's constantly asking me what time it is.  He'd also love this computer kit!  When did being a kid become so awesome!

Gifts for Hubby:

I asked if there was anything on his wish list and he gave me this.  We've had a Toddy for several years but, it's gotten old and this would be less expensive than buying cold brewed coffee. 

Gifts for Me (aka Mama):

10 coupons to sleep in over Christmas break would be the best gift!  Followed by breakfast in bed of course.

But if my family insisted I make a wish list, jewelry from Anthropologie and Madewell would be on that list (click on photos below for links).  I explored the jewelry at both these stores today because jewelry is something, in my opinion, that needs to be seen in person.

I would love to hear the top gifts in your family!


This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  Learn more here.  


On gift-giving: Something to read (part 1 of 4)

If you aren't familiar with the 4 gifts, you may want to read this blog post first. 

Thoughtful gift ideas with 4 gifts ~ something to read ~ Lovely Matters by Heather Walker

The "something to read" is my favorite to shop for!  My kids love books, and I love previewing books.


I was recently at Costco and spent a great deal of time looking at books.  I found two books for my older two and I was glad to know that my Costco membership is beneficial since these were less expensive than amazon.  I just love feeling the energy of children's books as I pick them up.   Good finds for my 9 year historian and my 11 year old artist.  And this author has several different topics of interest.  


My older son read The Book With No Pictures at school, and just hearing him talk about it made me want it.  It was his idea that we should get it for his younger brother.  I can't wait to hear them laugh as they read this one!


I'm still searching for a book for my 4 year old.  Considering one of these below after looking through amazon reviews.  I hope to visit a book store to preview these.


My husband is often reading about business and leadership so he'd probably choose something like this.  But I'm thinking something more unique and leisurely.  Before we see Hamilton the musical (I hear it's coming to Austin people!!!), I think my husband would be interested in reading the book... and my older two would probably fight him for it with their obsession of the soundtrack.  I've never done a magazine subscription so this is also a runner up.  

Me (aka. Mama)

The problem with Christmas shopping is I find stuff I want... normally I don't give my husband many hints.  He's naturally an amazing gift giver and gifts are the only surprise I like.  However, two years ago he gave me a cookbook and I've never opened it.  Wishful thinking on his part - there's always hope.  This book would be practical for me right now.  Or I know I'd enjoy this book on raising my wonderful wild children.  And this one I also flipped through at Costco and is of interest to me because I often try focusing on eating the seasons.

This is my top pick! I know our entire family would enjoy.

This post contains affiliate links.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  Learn more here.  


giving matters - make it thoughtful

4 thoughtful Christmas gifts ~ lovely matters blog by Heather Walker ~ Christmas simplified

The first year we celebrated Christmas as a family (11 years ago) we decided to keep the focus of gift giving with four thoughtful gifts; something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.  This has not only simplified our Christmas shopping, but it follows the "less is more" reminder.  This allows for more time and thoughtfulness as we choose each gift.  This also allows for more time spent as a family, celebrating our "gifts of togetherness" in December - another post to come explaining this. 

These are the gifts they get from us and then Santa fills their stockings and brings a gift or two for each and or a group gift.  This varies year to year and just depends on what they are asking for.  

My husband and I also give these 4 gifts to one other, but we simplify it even more.  The "need" is often a kitchen utensil that needs replacing, or a tube of toothpaste to show the kids just how practical we are. ha ha.  One year I wrapped lipstick as his "something to wear".  And you can use your imagination on what he wraps for me each year as my something to "wear".  There was 1 or 2 years my husband and I skipped doing this for one another (somewhere between the thick of parenting and birthing and nursing 4 babies), but now especially as the kids are more aware, It's important to us that they see us sharing these thoughtful gifts.

I involve the children as much as possible in shopping for all members of our family.  They've come up with some very creative ideas - like how to give Daddy a gift that they actually want.  Family board games have work well in this category.

The next 4 posts I will share my read, wear, want and need gift ideas for my family.  I hope you'll follow along and find some new ideas for your family and I'd love to hear your gift ideas also!