Lovely links on love

Happy February!  I have Valentine's Day on my mind.  

Stay in or go out?  Even before children, I preferred the night in on Valentine's Day.  I will however, be using the Where to eat on Valentine's Day restaurants list for other date nights in Austin.  For my kids it's simply about heart shaped food and homemade valentines.  

Valentines day inspirations - lovely Matters blog - heather walker
 

I always write my husband a love letter with a printed photograph of us.  Check out these famous love letters to inspire you.  

I think making a book of photos from one's relationship would be so sweet.  My simple and quick go to for making books is Chatbooks and I talk about the reasons why here

Here a romantic music video by Ed Sheeran I'm crushing over.  

A friend gave me the book Love Lives Here and I can't get enough of hearing how this Mother raised her children on love and rituals.  She gives woman permission to be the best wives and mothers and not feel like they have to be more.  She encourages to do what you are passionate about, not what society thinks you should be passionate about.  YES!

Here's a collection of my favorite Valentine's Day ideas here.  I wrote on post its and left on my husband's mirror and in his car one year.  Thanks pinterest.

His DIY Valentines box - 2016

His DIY Valentines box - 2016

 

Found this sweet gift that gives back - we look forward to giving to our daughter on valentines day.  I can't resist a company that has a story like this: The #loveisproject grew out of a simple desire to find out what love means to people around the world and how, despite our circumstance or history, love unites us all. Our “Pay It Forward” model extends this concept to empower artisan communities worldwide in an ethical supply chain of love.

Our boys will get long underwear for skiing.  This has always been our go-to base layer for skiing. I don't always get them gifts but when there's something they need I like to sneak it in as a gift.  I think it helps them appreciate that all they are given is a special gift - even the underwear.  

Look at this cute valentines shirt that I'll be wearing all year long.

I was humbled and shy to be interviewed on my friend Kristen's podcast series called Beyond Good Intentions.  Isn't that name lovely!  Just me, a normal gal, talking about family, happiness and all the messes life brings.  I'll tell you that I really didn't plan out what I wanted to talk about because I wanted it to be a natural conversation... Let's just say it fits with my motto, "not perfect, but real".  A public speaker I am not, but I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to do this and in the end, it made me feel strong and happy.  You can listen to the podcast here and find Kristen's inspiring blog here.  

lovely links on valentines day - lovely matters blog - heather walker

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

 

Ingredients for a smoothie lifestyle

 
Smoothies 101 - the why and what of smoothie ingredients - lovely matters blog by Heather Walker
 

I don't think I've ever followed a smoothie recipe in my life.  I do a combination of what I like and what I know is good for me.  The "what I like" part is easy but the "what is good for me" is, and should be, in question constantly.  Therefore I'm constantly doing my researching.  I'm especially interested in researching real food and the power behind it.  In our home smoothies are consumed daily.  In the morning by most of my people, and often another in the afternoon.  It's a lifestyle that I didn't find until pregnant with my 2nd baby in 2008.  I call it a lifestyle because it was LIFE CHANGING!  As a stay at home mom I rarely make myself a salad or add greens to my breakfast or lunch.  Once I realized I could just dump all the "good for me stuff" in a smoothie and hide it with the sweetness of fruit or chocolate, I never looked back.  AND, this was quick, easy, and something I could consume on the run.

There's so many great recipes out there that can help if you are new to the smoothie lifestyle.  I encourage you to start with your favorite flavors for the base.  My favorite base is almond butter, cacao, banana, and almond milk.  My older two prefer mixed berries and yogurt/kefir as their base.  Then add in the high power minerals and nutrients (aka, superfoods).  With lots of research over the past 9 years, and many conversations with specialists in this field, here's a list of my favorite smoothie add ins.  My disclaimer is I'm obviously not the scientist conducting the nutrition research... and bottom line is most scientists don't have the funds to back up the appropriate research that is needed on many of these superfoods...  Therefore I practice moderation and variety after doing the research and reading all the warnings and disclaimers.  

Acai. I often hear this fruit being called the healthiest berry in the world.  Most things found in the Amazon rain forest are.  Its fruit has been called healing, immune-stimulating, energy-boosting. Research also reveals this antioxidant-rich berry to help suppress and repair oxidative damage.  How crazy awesome!  Yes, this one is a family staple at our home.  

Shelled Hemp Seed.  Yes, it's true, hemp seeds come from the same plant that produces marijuana, but they are cultivated and processed differently.  This is my go to superfood because of the many benefits.  It is almost tasteless (a soft nutty taste) so your children would never know you snuck this in their smoothie, or muffin or protein ball.  A recently study from Spain’s University of Seville found that hemp has an ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.  You can read why this is so important here.  In addition, hemp is a plant based protein.  With everything, even superfoods, I emphasize on the word "moderation" especially when reading the warnings of "contain trace amounts of THC".  

Goji Berries.  I once suffered from dry eye so bad that my eye lids were literally scratching my eye balls and eye specialists had no answers for me.  I saw a natural path Dr. and along with acupuncture she suggested I eat a handful of goji berries a day to help balance hormones after having my 2nd baby.  Dry Eye was gone in a week.  I still consume a small handful every day.  These amazing nutrients have been used for centuries in Asian cultures to strengthen eyesight, fight against viruses, balance hormones (worked like a charm during my 4th pregnancy), and even to assist with longevity.

Chia seed.  Unlike flax, chia seeds don’t need to be ground in order to enjoy their nutrients.  If you soak almonds you can add directly to that and they almost dissolve.  This is another superfood high in Omega 3s therefore I wouldn't necessarily use with the hemp.  Doesn't hurt to do so, I just like variety.

Spirulina.  I have another personal success story with this superfood and a homeopathic Dr who suggested this.  I don't eat much meat (mainly just because I prefer the taste of vegetables) and this is said to be a great addition to a vegetarians diet because the two main ingredients are protein and omega fatty acids.  You can read more about the amazing Spirulina benefits from Dr. Axe.  

Camu Camu.  This has one sour punch but the highest content of vitamin C found today so It's something I keep on hand.  I'm always cautiously curious about something being labeled as a "new superfood".  Camu camu is a good example of why one must research foods and portions before consuming.  The reported health benefits of Camu Camu are impressive but it also comes with many warnings given the extremely high concentration of vitamin C.  It's rare for me to give this to my children and when I do it's only a tiny pinch.  Still I keep it as an occasional superfood for my family when I feel we need an additional boost.  One tablespoon a week is the most I've heard recommended.  If you like reading the research you can read about the benefits and warnings here.  

Maca.  This superfood is known for balancing hormones and reversing hypothyroidism. It is an endocrine adaptogen, meaning that it does not contain any hormones, but rather it contains the nutrients necessary to support normal hormone production.  

Cacao.  Two words: Antioxidants and deliciousness!  The difference cacao and cocoa is cacao is raw and unprocessed.  When you hear studies on the benefits of chocolate, although still good for you, they are not often referring to cocoa.  

Greens (spinach, Kale, etc).  Enough said - you've heard the research.  I prefer frozen greens to keep my smoothies icy cold.  

Nuts (soaked almonds are my preference).  The list is long on the healthy benefits of Almonds.  Beyond the benefits, my reason for including them in most of my smoothies is because they fill me up until my next meal.  

Pumpkin seeds.  Just read this article and you'll be convinced.  

Carrots.  Make sure you are working with a good quality smoothie blender to puree the carrots well.  I use the Blendtec and I've never had chunky carrots in my smoothies.

Sweet Potato.  This is one ingredient your kids won't notice.  When I cook sweet potatoes for a meal I bake an entire bag to have left overs for smoothies.  It is a great way to thicken up a watery smoothy with a smooth texture.  There's a great deal of research on sweet potatoes and their health benefits ranging from heart health, immunity and cancer prevention - here's a great article from Live Science.

Avocado.  Not only will avocado make your smoothie perfectly creamy, but you will benefit from almost 20 vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds.

Tip: when you make a less than tasty smoothie, please do not toss it.  Smoothie ingredients can be expensive.  It's a great idea to experiment, but when doing so the outcome can go wrong.  Instead, I pour the mistake into an ice cube tray like this and next time I make a smoothie I toss in a cube or two - you won't taste the mistake in a new mixture.

I hope you are encouraged to experiment with some new ingredients.  I definitely don't use all these ingredients at once.  Variety and keeping things interesting is very important in a diet, so I like many options.  Smoothies are how I stay balanced, because I love a chocolate indulgent desserts and pizza nights!  I plan to share examples of my recipes but I felt it important to start with the fundamentals.  

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

 

how to raise tech-positive family values

I don't claim to be an expert in this area, just a mom trying to figure out the balance of technology while raising our 4 children.  Over the years I've been opening the conversation with friends, observing those around me, and doing my research. 

I've read the facts over and over, stating that technology will either enhance one's life or distract one's life.  There's enough concerning research and statistics to know that this is a subject where we need to keep the conversation going.  Time recently did a study to show the correlation between smart phones and teen mental health

“What this generation is going through right now with technology is a giant experiment, and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Frances Jensen.  

There’s strong research linking isolation to depression, and time spent socializing with improved mood and well-being. "If smartphones are getting between an adolescent and her ability to engage in and enjoy face-to-face interaction—and some studies suggest that’s happening—that’s a big deal", Primack says.

Technology is obviously here to stay, therefore we need to embrace it with positive teaching.  Just like we teach our children table manners with baby steps as they grow.  This too needs baby steps.  We can hide and fear the direction technology is going or (here's where the good news comes in), we can mentor positive technology in our children's lives.

Here's how we keep technology use positive in our home:

1. We set a good example. 

Technology is not the problem - it's often parents who are the problem.  We must have parental awareness.  I've been a Mom for 11 years and I remember how easy it was when my first born was a baby to go to a park and meet new friends.  No one had their phones between them and the fundamental need for human socialization.  Now I go with my 4-year-old to the same parks and the phones feel as if they are used as a social shield so people don't need to talk to strangers.  After school activities are another example where I think the use of cell photos has changed social interactions.  We've all witnessed parents giving more attention to the social scenes on their phones than socializing with the ones sitting beside them.  I look around a restaurant and  know that I don't want to be that face in a phone when I'm next to real humans.  Don't let technology remove you from the face to face world.  

Set your phone in a different room if it's a distraction between you and your family.  Our family needs my attention the most between the dinner time and bedtime hours so my phone is put out of reach.   I always find that those in-between moments in life, when you are waiting for the next thing to happen, those are often the most teachable moments of your child's life.  Use wisely.

2. Moderation and balance

It is our job as parents to help our children navigate what is appropriate and positive media use.  We start the conversations explaining our concerns and our hopes with screen time.  The end goal is to teach them self-moderation.  I want them to have freedom at home after being in a strict and structured environment at school.  I want to empower them to make those choices.  This takes time... it's a continued conversation.  One that will change over the years with the growth of your child and the growth of the tech world.  Most of the time if they are asking for electronics its just because they are looking for something to do.  If I come up with a creative activity to do or a chance to spend time with family my children will always choose this first.  The first time they don't you bet I'll be concerned and asking myself "why not?".  

Find the positive and focus on that.  Our children understand the difference between time spent on an educational website or app vs. a violent video game.

3. Mentoring vs. monitoring

I keep it simple with only one social media app on my phone.  My daughter and I have Instagram as our chosen social media app.  Believe me, I contemplated holding off altogether, but when schools and teachers and other social outlets are using it I wanted instead to introduce it early to teach her how to use it in positive ways.  This is something we navigate sitting side by side.  Permission must be given before she posts anything.  So far, this has been a very effective way to learn social edict of technology.  Sometimes I'll help her refrase a comment and we have discussions over how social media can positively impact society.  This act of sitting down together has opened many doors to insightful conversations.

4. Rules

We involve our children in setting the rules.  We do this because so often kids want what they can't have.  And this is a way for them to learn the "why" rules need to be in place. It's not the minutes that count, but the material instead.  We have a no cell phone use during meals, at restaurants, or in their rooms.  All devices are plugged in at night in our electronic area. If they break any rule, all electronic privileges are lost for 24 hours.  Its rare for my kids to spend time on devices during school days just because there are so many other things they'd rather do.  If it was something they asked for on a rainy day I'd say "sure, how many minutes do you think would be reasonable?" And then I'd have them set the timer so they are learning self-moderation.  In the summertime, however we need more structure.  The kids came up with a list of tasks that need to be completed before electronics.  "Do something creative, play outside, write in your summer journal...".  The best part about this "task list" is most of the time their creativity takes over for hours and they never get around to the screen time.

5. Take interest in their interests

This one sounds so simple.  Yes, back to parental awareness.  If your child is into minecraft try to understand exactly what it is about Minecraft.  I did this and learned that it was more about the building and coding that my son enjoyed, not just playing video games.  So I purchased a few books about coding and since then he has turned to this in his free time instead.  Now my 9-year-old has read many books on coding, has programmed several of his own video games, and now imagines himself having a career in coding.

Let's keep this conversation going, with our kids, our friends, our teachers.  We have so much to learn from one another.  As always, I'd love to hear how your family is raising tech-positive children.  

How to raise tech positive children - Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker
 

Hawaii memories on video

I make it a goal to put together a short video from every trip we take.  What inspires me most is watching how these videos help our children retain their memories.  Our children can recall moments on vacation as young as 3 years old.  I believe occasionally looking over photos and video is partial to thank for this.  

I often hear people say they want to wait until their children get older to travel so their children can remember the vacation.  I respect this, however, my husband and I have always done the exact opposite, for many reasons. 

First, the only guarantee we have in life is our current moment.  Of course, we need to plan and budget, but make those memories you've been dreaming of happening sooner than later.  Don't wait for the perfect time, because there's really no "perfect time".  

Second, My husband and I believe that these adventures live inside of us and make us who we are, from the very youngest age.  I've watched my 1 year old fall in love with the Colorado Mountains and I've watched my 2 year old fall in love with dolphins.  And through their eyes, I've fallen in love with each and every adventure we've taken.  

Third, it doesn't matter that they won't remember, we will never forget.  There's value in any trip.  Like the closeness it brings, and the little moments my husband and I share adoring our children, and each other.  

Document your adventure.  Then take the time to watch and relive your adventures.  I'll be sharing details soon for those of you curious about our Hawaii itinerary.  

The water and zip line video was shot with my gopro and the rest with my iphone.  

If you are interested in my other short vacation videos you can see some favorites here and here.  

 

Christmas unplugged

Some memories are saved just for us.  Lovely Matters blog by Heather Walker
 

For several days surrounding Christmas I took a break from news, social media and basically using all devices for anything other than calling and face-timing family.  It helped slow Christmas down and put the focus on our family and the moments happening right in front of us.  I'm not sure who to quote, but the words "Some of my best moments don't make it to social media" speak to me!  Christmas is one of those memories that feels like it's just meant for us.  That said, I absolutely adore seeing what other people's Christmas look like, but the photos and messages will still be there when we are done celebrating our days of Christmas.  I want to encourage others to find your balance in knowing when it's time to unplug.  It's unique for each of us.  3+ days was right for me... 3 hours may be more fitting for some.  Sometimes I feel as if we are living in a time where capturing our moments with our phones is more important than actually living in the moment with the people next to us.  I'm aware of this, and I strongly feel I must set the example for my children.

When I did turn my computer on the first thing I wanted to do was look at images from around the globe of Christmas.  This was a beautiful photo review of the day.  

Besides our outing to the theater, we spent a lot of time playing new games.  I had no idea Family Trivial Pursuit even existed!  The adults have different cards than the kids so it's actually a challenge for all. We've also been enjoying Labyrinth, Farkle, and 5 Second Rule.

What I will be sharing about our Christmas is that our children unwrapped these luggage tags leading them to new suitcases wrapped with clues of a Hawaii vacation!!!  We leave in 2 days!  And now we pack!

I hope your Christmas was magical and happy!

Beautiful happiness quote by Heather Walker - Lovely Matters Blog
 

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!

Bohemian Kolacky cookie

the real Bohemian Kolacky - A favorite Christmas tradition - Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker
 

A favorite Christmas cookie from my childhood is my Grandparents' Bohemian Kolacky (yep, this is how they spelled it).  The kids love every step of making these.  From pushing their thumb prints in the cookies, to sprinkling the streusel on top.  My Grandparents immigrated from Czechoslovakia and opened a bakery in Chicago and this is the original recipe from their Czech village.  I love the simple ingredients and the sugar is minimal as far as Christmas cookies go.  I used a mixed berry jelly but you could use any fruit compote.  I hope you enjoy as much as we do!

the real Bohemian Kolacky - A favorite Christmas tradition - Lovely Matters Blog by Heather Walker

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.