We are a blended family with 5 wonderful adult children, 1 amazing Golden Retriever, 1 Goldfish, 5 grand dogs and 2 grand cats. Getting everyone together for the holidays or anytime during the year is an impossible feat! We have a daughter in Colorado, a son in New York, a son in North Carolina and a son and daughter still nearby in Iowa. We pray for them daily, talk with them most everyday and love them beyond what words can express. Cell phones, FaceTime and texting make them feel not so far away and bonded in family ties. They tend to call while they are driving home and catch us up on their day, giving us the highs and lows of what’s going on in their lives. When the call comes in, we drop everything and answer and just enjoy the moment together in conversation. We love to hear their voices and share in their day. The two younger ones are my bonus kids that I love dearly. I feel very blessed to have them in my life and to witness what a wonderful father my husband is. He loves to laugh with them, tell jokes, give advice (wanted or not) and just spend quality time with them. We dream of having the whole big crew together with their significant others, dogs and cats for the holidays…we know this is a big dream and the reality of it happening slim to none. We prayerfully put this dream in Gods hands and if that is to be it will be. Until then we feel blessed to be together anytime we can. Last year we almost pulled it off with Christgiving, where we combined Thanksgiving and Christmas together. We were blessed to have everyone and their pooches, minus our son in New York, at our home. However, with Facetime we got him and his girlfriend with us! The day was wonderful! We celebrated Christmas with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the background, played games with fun prizes, ate the traditional Thanksgiving meal with all of my parents’ and grandparents’ recipes and opened presents. The holiday cheer and spirit was amazing! My advice to blended families: be flexible, patient and kind when blending a family especially during the holidays when so many pressures and demands for time are high. We truly are blended, blessed and bonded… we pray the bond continues to strengthen in God’s perfect timing and in His perfect way. Wishing our readers a joyous Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas… or Christgiving!!
For us, camping is one of the best ways to get in some quality family time (and A LOT of laughter.) With boys who love their video games a little too much, and the older siblings always busy with work or school, camping gives us the opportunity to really connect without the distractions of every day life. Phone service was present, as always, but our batteries gave out pretty quickly (yahooo!)
Now, we are no camping pros, but we have picked up a bunch of tips and tricks that make camping with a large crew more accessible and easy going. We think everyone should be able to enjoy the outdoors with their kiddos so we want to share what we have learned with you!
1.) Find a park with a hiking trail system, especially if your group wants to go on an adventure!
We chose the Mississippi Palisades State Park for our camping excursion. It boasts a 13-mile trail system, with five trails in the north and five in the south. On the park’s website, we found that the north trail system was less hazardous and had wider paths. Considering we had two puppies in tow (more on them later) and it was nearly 100 degrees out, we chose this path first to see how everyone would do, and it was amazing! At the peak of one of the trails was an incredible view from the top of the palisades. A selfie of the whole group was obviously in order! Troy’s arms are so long we call him the “selfie stick”.
The next day was a bit cooler and we all felt great from our previous hike, so we hit the south trail system. It was much more rugged and “off-road,” if you will. Climbing was required much of the time and the trails weren’t as marked so we were really happy to have our trail map with us. It was so fun to explore an area nearly untouched by civilization. We definitely enjoyed the south trails more because of the feeling that you were walking on the same paths that the Native Americans forged so many years ago.
2.) Use a carabiner to make your backpack feel lighter while hiking.
If your backpack already has a chest strap then you’re good to go, but ours didn’t, so we improvised! Just use the carabiner to attach the backpack straps at your chest. This takes so much weight of your shoulders (literally!) and makes carrying a heavy backpack much easier. We packed a bunch of water and sandwiches in ours so we could have a picnic once we found a cool view.
3.) If your dog is afraid of the water, throw him in a kayak!
This is where the newest addition to our Silly Zoo comes in, Bear! No, not an actual bear, just a little puppy the kids named Bear. He is half German Shepard, half black Lab so the name is pretty fitting considering he should grow up to be a big boy.
After our hiking we were all in need of some refreshing water to play in, so we loaded up the kayaks and headed to a nearby lake. Our slightly older puppy, Paisley, loooooves the water so the minute we got out of the car she was off like a flash. On the other hand, this was Bear’s first experience with a large body of water. It was so cute, and a little heart breaking, to watch him tentatively paw the edge of the water. As much as we could see that he wanted to join in on the fun, Bear would not take the plunge. Not wanting him to be left out, we plopped him into a kayak.
4.) Bring a yoga mat to double as a sleeping pad.
Regular camping sleeping pads are great, but you never know when you might want to bust out a downward-facing dog, right?! Plus, not everyone has a plethora of camping supplies in their garage and this way you can shave off some of the supply costs. Camping should be stress-free, not expensive!
5.) Cook corn on the cob with the husk still on.
This will minimize the amount of clean up and cooking supplies needed. Gently peel away the outer layers so that the husk remains attached at the bottom of the ear, remove the silks, then recover the cob with the husk. The removed silks can then be used to help start the fire. Once the corn is prepared you can either throw it directly on the grill over the fire, or place tin foil over the grill first. We put ours directly on the fire and it gave it a great smoky flavor. Don’t be afraid if it starts to look charred on the outside, the inside will still be great! Since cooking time varies depending on the size and heat of the fire, check the corn occasionally and remove once the kernels are tender. If you have reluctant corn huskers, make it a game! We had a competition to see who could husk the most ears of corn. Yes, we are from IOWA!
6.) Use Keebler Fudge Strip cookies (or another chocolaty cookie of your choice) to make s’mores.
This is by far my favorite part about camping. Who doesn’t love a gooey, marshmallowy, chocolaty cookie sandwich of goodness? Needless to say, we scarfed down a few too many of these bad boys. Good thing we went on that super long hike!
Anyways, to make creating this traditional camping dessert simpler, we used Keebler Fudge Stripe cookies in place of the traditional graham cracker and Hershey chocolate combo. The result was really tasty! I might even like it more than the traditional version!
7.) If you don’t like chocolate (like most of our boys), replace the chocolate of the s’more with blueberries.
Don’t ask me how Troy thought of this, but while we were sitting around the fire making s’mores he asked for some blueberries (or BLUEBS as we now prefer to call them), and we curiously watched as he put them on top of the melty marshmallow of his s’more. The result was surprisingly delicious and everyone wanted to try making one. BLUEBS all around! They were definitely a hit with the boys who don’t like chocolate quite as much as the girls (why is that a thing?!), but I’m willing to bet that a combo of chocolate and blueberries would be even more amazing. We’re definitely going to have to give it a try next time! Or, you could try it out for us and let us know what you think!
8.) Last but not least, LOVE each other!
If you don’t do anything else, enjoy your time together. Talk, laugh until your abs hurt, share funny stories, do weird dance moves, whatever makes you happy! Get out into the wild and make some memories!
Have any camping tips or stories to share with us? Leave a comment. We would love to hear from you!
This was a great day for everyone. The Ellsworth Men’s basketball players split up and read the book “Silly Zoo Is All I Can Say” to kindergarten through 3rd grade classes. The players also answered a few questions about the book and Panther Basketball. The Panthers finished with a few assists as they helped some of the students work on their WRITE YOUR WAY activity sheets.
By the time all of the classes were finished, it was time for lunch – and who doesn’t like pizza?!
Looking back, it was an awesome day at Alden Elementary. We’re not sure who had more fun – the students or the basketball players! We are planning on going out again in a few weeks to follow up with the activities that we did together.
Last minute gift ideas
Sometimes better late is sometimes just that, better. I have never really been one to go out and get the Xmas presents months ahead of time. It sounds like a great idea. But still, to find the time and actually know what the kids want at that point is simply impossible. It seems that Christmas lists are ever changing and have a mind of their own. I cannot tell you how many times over the years that I have actually purchased a gift only to find out that it is not on the Christmas list anymore. You think there may some things you can get early that should be a sure thing, but even with shoes, clothes, and games the kids can have a change of heart, and in many cases grow out of them before they get a chance to unwrap them!
More often than not, my procrastination has turned out to be the smart move. I am able to get shoes and clothes that they like and fit right now. Sure, sometimes it is too late to find the more popular gifts like the “Tickle Me Elmo” or this year’s “Pie Face” game, but other things do come along and sometimes are even better because it is a surprise. You do find something that they really like and it is not on the list.
Do you still have a gift or two find?
There is still plenty of time out there for those of us who may have a gift or two to find. So here is a short list of ideas for the kid in all of us: A favorite movie on DVD or online, hats, mittens, gloves, scarves, a daily journal or notebook, nice socks, action figures, a handy flashlight, a nice picture with a frame, a board game, or a water bottle. A favorite for parents and children alike could be new book or in this case an ebook like Mommy Loves Baby or Silly Zoo Is All I Can Say…both now available as an ebook and an Ibook. These are two books that both the child and the parent will enjoy to together.
What motivates an author to write a children’s book?
I have always enjoyed reading books to my kids, the kids in my preschool and the kids at Sunday School classes. To see their faces as they absorbed the story warmed my heart! It was almost like they were right there in the story and part of it. I could see their imaginations come to life! It was the books that dealt with animals and animal families that peaked their curiosity and amazement the most.
Good stories come from your own experiences
Troy and I talked about writing children’s books by drawing from our experiences raising our children and the things we did with them, like, for example, taking a trip to the zoo. I began to reminisce about story time with my children and the idea for Silly Zoo was born. It has been a journey writing Silly Zoo Is All I Can Say, remembering trips to the zoo from when I was a child, to taking my own family. Everyone has their own favorite animal that they like to see and revisit every time they return to the Zoo. My favorite animals to visit are the monkeys and gorillas. I love to watch them groom each other and care for each other. Their attention to one another is so endearing to me. They love their babies like I love my babies!
The rewards from sharing a good book are endless
It is my hope that through writing these books with Troy that I will have the opportunity to visit schools and libraries to read to children and again see little faces light up as they enjoy the story. To see a child’s imagination light up through books is an amazing sight!
What is your favorite time to read books to your children? Is a gathering place you like to take your kids for story time, like a library, book store, or park? Let me know and If I am in the area I will try and be there, Silly Zoo and all.
The reasons behind a favorite children’s book character may be found in memories from childhood
As I sit here and think about what my favorite children’s books were from my childhood, I remember my sweet mom reading those books to me and the cozy safe feeling that she created and I almost feel like a little girl again. As an adult woman with grown children of my own, I believe my favorite stories are the same stories that my daughter loved, perhaps for the same reasons. In each of these favorites, Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears, Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella, there is a little girl on a scary journey who carries on with courage and a sense of adventure to see what lies ahead.
Children, adults too, love stories where they can see themselves in the characters they admire
I realize that I saw myself in each of these favorite characters. I was Little Red Riding Hood on an adventure to see her sick grandma and there was no way I was going to let a big scary wolf get in my way! I was Goldilocks trying to find the bed that was ‘just right.” I was Gretel, enjoying the forbidden candy on the candy house with my brother. I was Cinderella doing the work that had to be done with a song in my heart while I awaited my Prince Charming! It is amazing how children can identify with strong characters in a story and how those characters can play a role in shaping their lives. In fact, studies show that readings stories can help kids develop confidence and cope with feelings. When books are so powerful it is no wonder they stay with us for a lifetime.
What are some of your favorite childhood stories and why?
Now I get to play the role as a story teller on another scary journey with my Prince Charming! I hope this journey ends with many stories and books being enjoyed and lives being enriched by what we write. What are some of your favorite childhood stories and why?
A trip to the zoo brings family together
Over the years we have taken the kids to see many places and done many adventurous things. Of all the places we have visited, it never fails that the zoo is the one place where the kids can go and just be their silly selves. There are so many animals at the Zoo, doing what they do best – “be themselves.” The things that make animals unique, through a child’s eyes… who am I kidding… even through an adult’s eyes, are such funny sights to see. For example, who can resist a giggle at elephants playing in the water, giraffes getting a drink, and of course, monkeys doing what they do best, entertain us all.
The inspiration behind Silly Zoo Is All I Can Say
It was during these visits to the zoo and the continuous giggling sessions that followed that encouraged us to ask “what was so funny?” The kids would simply answer “what a silly animal!” After stringing together enough visits to the zoo, it was time to put all the experiences on paper. We thought a book would be a great way to showcase all the funny, little things that animals do in one place. Through a book, we can bring those “silly sights” to each and every child in the comfort of their own homes, schools, and libraries.
A great illustrator completed the picture for Silly Zoo
What we needed was someone who could tell our silly story of all of our numerous trips to the zoo through illustrations. After seeing Len DiSalvo’s work in other books, we realized that this would soon become a reality. We talked with Len about the story and our vision of what it could be. Len enjoyed his trip through the zoo and he came up with a series of illustrations that took us back to those moments we had with our kids. And of course when he sent us the Silly Zoo Is All I Can Say cover, we knew that we were on our way to share with everyone a chance to visit the Silly Zoo. Silly Zoo Is All I Can Say, a children’s book for kids aged 4-8 will be released and available in May on our website and on Amazon.
I am sure you have had some good times at the Zoo as well. What is your funniest memories of visiting a zoo? What is your favorite zoo animal?
By popular request, prints of Mommy Loves Baby illustrations available
The publishing business has been a enjoyable experience for all of us here at Curtis Christine Press. It is important to us that our customers and fans are happy. We are willing to try new things and take action on your suggestions. For example, we have had several requests for prints of the Mommy Loves Baby illustrations which were created by artist, Andrea Dickkut. You have asked and we have responded. We have obtained several prints on a trial basis to find out if they are worthy of a place on your child’s wall.
The free prints offer
While supplies last you will receive a free 8 x 8 print of your favorite Mommy Loves Baby animal page with each book purchased through Curtis Christine Press! We want your feedback on the book and the prints. Share your thoughts on any other products that you may be interested in, too! Comment here or reach out to us on our contact page.
Our next book Silly Zoo Is All I Can Say will be available in late May 2015. It has been crazy-fun putting it all together, but you will hear more about that soon.
It has been an exciting time here at Curtis Christine Press!!
Thank you for being part of this journey with us!