3 Incredible Days That Will Supercharge Your Career

“What’s next?”

“Uh, what?” I’d just finished what I thought was a TedTalk-level promotional report for a new client and there was something about the way he asked me the question that stopped me cold.

Now, for his company, the next step was going to be a series of small videos showing the fabulous tastiness of his restaurant. But it hit me: what’s next for me?

At some point in even the most focused career, we flounder. We shift around our options and mull the possibilities. And sometimes, we just sit there. Yeah, I’m raising my hand because I’m in that third group, where apparently my most decisive thought about my career’s future is, “Huh?”

 

This is where Chocolate Villa’s executive women retreats come in. The retreat really has nothing to do with chocolate – aside from the spectacular cake the villa’s chef makes. But it’s been a pivotal moment in countless careers. Merrilee Buchanan – the founder – has gently guided, coached, and sometimes prodded professional women into their next step with her consulting firm. With a dual background in organizational development and behavioral health, Merrilee brings years of experience and perspective to Villa Leadership to help companies open the next chapter to their success. Need more convincing? Merrilee’s coaching is so powerful that male business owners in regions like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt pay to have her come coach their female executives. If Merrilee can make CEO’s see the importance of women-focused coaching on that part of the globe, I’m guessing she’s terrifyingly effective.

Why a women’s only retreat? The short answer is, women think differently. There are pressures many men in the workforce don’t face. The way women communicate and support each other – when guided in the right atmosphere – changes who we are when the barriers are let down for a change.

 

(Image credit: Pexels)

Tracy, a marketing executive for a global consultancy firm, says she still uses skills she learned at a Chocolate Villa retreat eight years ago. “It’s like core strength! There are times where you’re just going to be off-balance, like sitting on a yoga ball with your feet off the floor. But you have tools now that when you feel yourself getting off-balance, you know how to get yourself back up.”

“What’s my superpower?” Carol Storey is a licensed clinical social worker, “I came away from the retreat with the intention to leap from my current clinical work to opening my own business. My superpower was more confidence in myself. I have this. I can do this.”

“There’s this natural trust that happens,” Meagan, is a Villa consultant, “I have been able to become much more vulnerable, honest and real in these past ten years, working with Merrilee and developing these ideas and tools.”

 

(Image credit: Rawpixel)

This is important: the retreat works, the attendees say, because they’re able to let down their guard and be honest with each other, sharing their hopes and fears, trying to find a balance when life is pulling them in every direction. Many of the women keep in touch with each other – years later –  checking in on progress and sharing successes, encouraging each other when forward movement seems so hard.

 

“We see that a lot,” agreed Merrilee, “when you’ve come away from a retreat where you’ve really allowed yourself to be open – your heart and soul bared, almost –  there’s a strong bond between you and these other women, these other executives who understand the pressures of the business world.”

Now that I’ve been to Chocolate Villa- four glorious days of an experience that was not only career-changing, but life-changing-  I’ll have a lot to tell you next week. In the meantime, you can learn more about the Chocolate Villa retreat and some of Villa Leadership programs here and here.

Six App-Tastic Ways to Make Your Kid the Smartest One in Class

(image credit: ebpilgrim)

Six App-tastic ways to make your kid the smartest one in class.

My eight-year-old stormed into my office today looking like she’d swallowed a bug. “Mom! I’m going back to school next week and I HAVE NOTHING!”

I’m not sure what a third-grader must have for back to school success, though I did order the cat and dog backpack she really wanted and a little stapler shaped like a panda. Yeah, they’re cute. But what’s really exciting STEM teachers in our school district is a promising crop of free educational and study apps. Hover your thumb over the App Store button, you’ll want these for the new school year.

(image credit: Steveriot1)

 

Six App-tastic ways to make your kid the smartest one in class.

Elementary School:

Khan Academy for Kids: There are hundreds of interactive lessons on this app, kids choose a “learning path” for math, science, reading and more. Teachers and parents can check the student’s progress and work through any challenges. You can download it from either the App Store or Google Play.

ScratchJr: The STEM teachers in our district are recommending ScratchJr because of the drag-and-drop programming- it’s a great way to get kids into digital creation and simple coding and programming elements. Find it on the App Store or Google Play.

Junior High School:

myHomework: I need this for my grown-up world! The app tracks homework assignments, tests, and projects, reminding the student about due dates, etc. The best element for me is the app syncs between devices, making it easier to follow. You’ll find it on the App Store or Google Play.

Canvas Student: When multiple teachers at our neighborhood middle school put Canvas Student on their course requirement list, I take that to mean that this app is spectacular. Canvas Student lets teachers expand on mew assignments and complicated information, and lets students turn in assignments, get feedback regarding new material and study for tests. Since the app works anywhere you have access to a phone – and those are currently gripped in the sweaty paw of every teenager I know – this is a win. Pick your favorite: App Store or Google Play.

High School:

Coggle: When it comes to brainstorming (with some deft guidance) Coggle is excellent. The app’s designed to help a student with complex assignments. The app sets up mapping plans to go through difficult information, so it’s easy to share homework projects with other students. The visuals are surprisingly beautiful. Download it free from the App Store or on Google Play.

OneNote: Beloved for its versatility, the app can be used as well for creating to-do lists and boasts a number of formatting options that turn it into a good word processor. I’m fond of its dictate feature that’s much more accurate for turning spoken word into the written text than other more expensive apps I’ve used. Many universities are using OneNote for classes and lectures, so it doesn’t hurt to be fluent with it now. The app is free on the App Store and Google Play.

 

(cover image credit: Angela Yuroko Smith)

The 5 Best Gifts In A Jar

 

 

The 5 Best Gifts In A Jar

I love jars.  You can pack ‘em full of anything and they look cool. However, there are some things to put in jars that also make them delightful to open.  The twins, Zoe and I have been working on some simple “gifts in a jar” this summer, and these are all achievable (sometimes a tad messily) by even your youngest kiddo. (Though Zoe ended up covered in granola and yogurt, but let’s not place judgment…)

 

The Five Best Gifts In A Jar

(image credit: Vairane)

 

1.  Salted Caramel Sauce with Fresh Apples in a Jar: Especially perfect as we’re heading into fall and teacher gifts become important. (Editor’s note: especially in this house. I do a lot of sucking up to a good teacher. A lot.) There’s a good salted caramel sauce recipe by clicking here. 

 

(image credit: Personal Creations)

2.  Pies in a Jar: There’s a heart-stoppingly good recipe for Pumpkin Pie in a Jar by clicking here, but any recipe looks adorable.

 

(image credit: Nicole Vaughan)

3.  Sewing Kit in a Jar: Especially helpful as a dorm or new apartment gift, since every Millennial I know is genuinely perplexed by the concept of sewing up hems or replacing missing buttons. Crap. I just sounded like my grandmother there, didn’t I?

 

 

4.  Memories in a Jar: I make these with the kids every summer – we collect sand, shells and such from the beaches we visit and include some sepia-toned photos. During the winter, they love to unscrew the lid and “take a sniff of summer.”

 

(image credit: soulinasuit)

5. Salad in a Jar: You really can’t go wrong here and there’s a wild array of tasty combinations. Fine 30 different salads in a jar here.

 

Cover image credit: Nina Nelson

3 Non-Toxic Spider Killers: Because They’re Coming For Your Basement

3 Non-Toxic Spider Killers: Because They’re Coming For Your Basement

I squished a wolf spider I found in the basement today.

It was huge, with a bulging egg sac just ready to pop and flood my basement with a scuttling tidal wave of lifelong trauma. (Editor’s note: I then ran around in circles shrieking and waving my hands like some 50′s cartoon housewife, screaming “Kill it! Kill it with fire! IT’S TOUCHING ME!” but let’s not get judgemental here.)

The Farmer’s Almanac is dourly predicting an early and harsh winter this year, which means every spider within a 500-mile radius is hoofing it for the interior of my house as fast as their eight legs can carry them. And my neighborhood is notorious for hobo spiders, which are extremely toxic.

But spraying poison all through the house to kill the spiders is counterintuitive, when we have a handsy, grabby, “Look how cute they are!” bug-loving daughter. (Editor’s note: yes, Zoe my little angel, I’m looking at YOU!) So, here’s the battle plan…

 

(Image credit: Silviarita)

3 Non-Toxic Spider Killers That Really Do The Trick

  • First, peppermint is very effective. Spiders hate peppermint, so placing just a few drops of peppermint essential oils into a spray bottle, adding a little liquid dish soap and filling with water gives you an excellent remedy for ridding your home of spiders. Spray this mixture around your windows and doors, under the sink and wet places- like around the shower, a dripping faucet outside, etc.

 

  • You can also use vinegar and coconut oil. Mix the two together into a spray bottle and spray around doors and windows, in the shower and under beds.

 

  • Finally, spiders also tend to dislike citrus oilsLemons, limes, and oranges are great essential oils to spray around.  Plus, it smells better than Raid.

 

The links above are to our influencer page on Amazon.com. We may or may not receive a tiny amount of money if you purchase something there.

What are your favorites? What’s worked to keep the disgusting little critters out of your house and out in the garden where they belong? Share!

Asking for what you want: a script for requesting support from your boss.

(Image credit: RawPixel)

Asking for what you want: a script for requesting support from your boss.

This is a great format I picked up from Villa Consulting-  the amazing women who are running the female executive business retreat on September 8-12th in Heber Valley. While this is specifically for requesting that your company pay for this inspiring coaching event, this can be used as a good starter to present your request for anything that helps build your career. Logically, the most important thing is to show how this is a value for your business: how does this retreat improve your performance, how does it help you bring more to your position and your company’s bottom line?

 

(Image credit: Startup Stock Photos)

Ask yourself these questions…

…write out your responses so you’re confident that you can express them clearly.

  1. What you want
  2. Why it is valuable (to the company/boss/team)
  3. How it could happen

 

(Image credit: Terimakasih0)

Example conversation with your manager:

What you want

I’ve learned about an executive retreat in September where I would be able to get 3 full days of intensive coaching and skill-building, and I’d like to attend. (Add details later)

Why it is valuable

You and I have been talking about my development path in this company, and I believe this would be a great way for me to get a jump start. I know supporting and promoting women has become a strategic priority for the company, and I am confident the experience would help prepare me for my next critical role, as well as equip me to influence and mentor other women to meet the company’s goals.

How it could happen

I understand there may be some funds set aside for talent development in each team, and I’d like to ask you to sponsor my attendance. The cost for the 3 days/4 nights is all-inclusive, and it’s a fraction of the cost of an individual coaching package. I would be willing to come back and do a training session for our team, and I think this would be a cost-effective way for us to leverage those funds. I need to sign up within the next week to secure a reservation. Would you like to look over the materials?

Here are some short one-sentence examples:

  • Chocolate Villa can help me identify my authentic leadership style and discover opportunities to achieve my potential.
  • I would like to connect to a broader community of women and develop efficient communication and interpersonal skills to improve my career development.
  • I have been looking into coaching and development and found this program that provides that and much more for a fraction of the cost.
  • Chocolate Villa will provide me with a framework to coach myself, coach others, and effectively influence my team so I can do more within the organization.
  • Chocolate Villa helps executive women explore and break down the barriers that may be holding them back from moving up in the organization.
  • I am ready to take the next step in my career and Chocolate Villa is a unique, intensive program that can help me with a roadmap to get there.

 

Once you have your manager’s support, register for the retreat here. Don’t forget, there’s only 10 spaces open at the retreat as I write this, so please hurry! I’m looking forward to learning with you.

5 Family-Friendly Camping Spots Along The Wasatch Front

5 Family-Friendly Camping Spots Along The Wasatch Front

(image credit: rawpixel)

5 Family-Friendly Camping Spots Along The Wasatch Front. Introducing the offspring to the joys of camping sometimes requires thought and careful planning. You’d think all kids would be thrilled with a tent and a stick for marshmallows. But with today’s technology leashes holding our kids tighter than ever, it’s not always that easy. If you’re thinking of something fun before summer is over, here are some good suggestions.

5 Family-Friendly Camping Spots Along The Wasatch Front

(image credit: Ken Lund)

Mirror Lake Highway:

There’s dozens of wonderful little nooks and crannies all along the road that leads from Kamas to Wyoming. Easy in and out campsites, and if you need a little more structure, there’s Mirror Lake Campground with bathroom facilities, tables and fire pits with grills.

 

 

(image credit: a4gpa)

Jordanelle Reservoir and State Park:

It’s hard to whine about being bored when you’ve got a lake sitting in front of you. Jordanelle is less than 30 minutes from Salt Lake City. There’s plenty of places to eat if you’re not a fan of stocking the cooler, bathroom facilities and nightly shows with the park rangers.

 

(image credit: Murray Foubister)

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park:

This is one of those spots that’s so surreal and beautiful it’s hard to remember you’re still in Utah. The area is huge for off-roaders, but you can relax in one of the campsites and just enjoy the view. There’s modern restrooms and even showers.

 

 

(image credit: MaxPixel)

Antelope Island State Park:

Another park within a 30-minute drive from Salt Lake City or Ogden. You can spend the night in one of the primitive campsites- there’s all kinds of free-roaming bison, bighorn sheep, and wild horses. Bird lovers will find hundreds of different species and yes, you can still float in the Great Salt Lake.

 

 

(image credit: flickr)

Yuba Lake State Park:

There’s developed and primitive camping, based on your willingness to handle your own porta-potty, amazing fishing, and lovely sandy beaches. This is a great camping area for little ones because Yuba Lake is exceptionally warm.

What about your family? Where’s your go-to camping spot? Share! Discuss!

(Cover image credit: Brahmsee)

Why I Sat In A Hot Car For 25 Minutes On A 100 Degree Day

Why I Sat In A Hot Car For 25 Minutes

(Image credit: Quimono)

 

Like every other parent in North America, I’ve been haunted by the story of little Cooper Harris, who died in his car seat when his father left him there in the Georgia heat. Since then, Ross Harris has been charged with murder. This story is unspeakably sad, but it still highlights how terrifyingly dangerous–even fatal–a short time in a hot car can be for a child or pet. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as little as 12 minutes is enough time for heatstroke and death.

Monday (July 14) was our first 100-degree day here in Utah–it actually hit 103. I decided to sit in the back seat of my car for 25 minutes. I wanted to understand what it feels like for a child or a pet to endure this kind of mistake. I didn’t do this to punish myself, but I am still haunted by the time I left my twins in the car while I ran into the radio station to pick up some items. Granted, they were parked in the shade, and it was around 70 degrees, windows down for 7-8 minutes. But that was 7-8 minutes too long.

 

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Here’s why:

1. It takes 10 minutes for the temperature in a car to go up 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Cracking a window open and parking in the shade aren’t sufficient safeguards. (DUH, me!)

3. A child’s body temperature can rise up to five times faster than an adult’s. A child dies with a 107-degree body temperature.

4. Even if it’s in the 60s outside, your car can still heat up to well above 110 degrees.

5. It only takes a 57-degree outside temperature to cause heatstroke.

6. On an 80-degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly peaks in 10 minutes.

So, with the express disapproval of The Todd, I waited till the high was around 99 degrees. I started with the air conditioning blasting–like we all would when driving–then turned off the car. I started with an interior temperature of 75 degrees, which rose to 100 within 5 minutes. Five.

At Five Minutes: sweating like a goat. Eck. The interior temperature is 100 degrees.

 

At Ten Minutes: skin is itching, feels like I’m on fire. The interior temperature is 110 degrees. The Todd calls to tell me that he and the kids are enjoying a cool glass of lemonade in the pool. My reaction is not positive.

 

At Fifteen Minutes: I realize my initial plan of 15 minutes isn’t enough–I’m wearing a tank top and shorts. A child would be strapped into a hot car seat, and a pet would be wearing their “fur coat.” I decide to go for 25 minutes. I’m having trouble texting properly and the words aren’t coming to mind the way I need them to. The interior temperature is 118 degrees.

At Twenty Minutes: my skin is bright red and I’ve stopped sweating. But all I can think about is that I know I’m getting out of here. I have a timer. What does a child endure, wondering where their adult went and not knowing if they’ll come back to save them? The interior temperature is 118 degrees.

 

At Twenty-Five Minutes: how could I have left my sons in the car? How? What kind of a horrible mother am I? “Oh, it’s just for a minute.” Never. Not ever again. The interior temperature is 118 degrees, and I deserve every degree.

Oh, GREAT. The camera’s thermal protector shut it off at 18.5 minutes. I was enraged because I stuck it out, fair and square. But it also says something when even an electronic device is smart enough to exit the situation before I do.

 

So, what did I learn from all of this? Well, this is me after a long, cool bath and 3 glasses of ice water. I still look like a brain-damaged lobster. I had nightmares all night about children crying in cars. But I know this for absolutely certain. I have a safety tool that breaks glass and a roll of duct tape in my car. If I see a child or a pet in a car, I will:

  1. Call 911 2.
  2. Roll the tape over the window and break it right then. I will not wait.

If you feel like watching the video–which is sweaty and kind of gross–you can find it here.

Our A/C Free Challenge: How Our Blistering Month Concluded

 

(Image credit Elasticomputerfarm)

 

Our A/C Free Challenge: How Our Blistering Month Concluded…

It all started with opening an electric bill for a galactic $423.74 last August. FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE FREAKING DOLLARS (and don’t forget 74 cents!) to cool our home for ONE MONTH? So – mostly based on spite – we decided to go A/C free this July to see if our pampered selves could handle it.

Naturally, we received tons of old-school suggestions, some that worked, some that kind of worked, and some that completely killed our love life.

That first round of ideas lasted us two weeks. June had softened us, my friend. We kept hopefully thinking, “Yeah, July won’t be so bad this year, right?”

Suckers.

Once it hits 100+ for days and days in a row, when even opening our windows to a cooling night breeze is yet another cruel taunt, we had to get creative…

 

Our A/C Free Challenge:

(Image credit: Freephotos)

 

  • Eat spicy foods. What, seriously? This came from our friend Tran, his family hails from Vietnam. Spicy foods like curries and chilies stimulate the heat receptors in your mouth. They also make you start sweating and raise your internal temperature. This kind of worked? The Todd loves hot food anyway, but I couldn’t convince myself that setting my esophagus on fire was going to cool down the rest of me.
  • Turn on the bathroom and kitchen fans. When we showered or cooked, we kept the fans on to pull out the hot air that rises out of the house. This worked: surprisingly, it did seem to lower the temperature- at least temporarily.
  • Using our windows as a sneaky pioneer-trick cooling system: we created a cooling pressure airflow, open the top section of windows on the downwind side of the house, and open the bottom section of windows on the upwind side. Sometimes worked: if there was a breeze, this was pretty handy. Unfortunately, sometimes Utah summers blast nothing but a spiteful flow of hot air, even at night.

 

(Image credit: Tlingerpictures)

 

Plus, we got some excellent suggestions from YOU:

From Tracy L – “When our A/C broke earlier this summer someone told us to run your wrists under cold tap water and it will cool you right down. It sounds goofy but it really works. Getting a good nights sleep is another challenge. Good luck!”

Kind of worked? This wrist-cooling technique was surprisingly helpful during the day.

From Auriette – “We have ceiling fans in the living room and the office (the rooms where we are sitting the most) and we have a box fan in the hall, drawing the a/c out of the bedroom and through the house. We don’t run the a/c at night, except on very rare occasions, but we do have a ceiling fan right over the bed. Our electric bills run between $50 and (rarely) $100. Our house is about 1400 square feet.

I find that “ice balls” instead of ice cubes will last longer, especially if you (a) use two at a time and (b) use a thermal cup. I have one that seems to compare nicely to a Yeti, based on the amount of time it takes ice water to warm up. Also, I keep a bottle of water in the fridge, so I’m pouring already-cold water over my ice balls. There will still be bits of ice eight hours later, even if I take it to the boiling hot park for my fitness group.

Worked! The ice ball trick – while making me giggle uncontrollably -was surprisingly effective, keeping our drinks cold as I relentlessly nagged my offspring to hydrate. BTW: You can find some cheap ice ball trays here.

 

So, the Big Bill Reveal:

It was with a savage level of satisfaction that I went online to check our July 2019 power usage. Anything had to be better than that glaringly offensive $423.74. And frankly, after all the days of – let’s be honest -marinating in our own sweat as we fanned each other feebly, I wanted something BIG! A steep dive in the bottom line of that bill!

So… July 2018: $423.74

July 2019: $211.14

Huh. I’m not going to lie, I totally thought we’d done better than THAT. I called the power company, asked for a review. They called back to apologize and say that they’d miscalculated our energy usage and the final total was… $209.67.

While I’m happy it was significantly lower, I wanted to screech like a barn owl in fury. ALL THAT WORK for $200 less?

 

But then it occurred to me… In the middle of hacking and twisting and manipulating the blast-furnace ferocity of a Utah summer, we did a couple of other things. We went to the cheap movies a lot. Traveled through every canyon in a 70-mile radius. (We’re in the mountains, there’s a lot of canyons.) Spent several nights sleeping in our backyard and telling the kids about the Big Dipper, and the story of Andromeda and then about the constellation of Orion. We completed our local library’s Summer Reading Challenge in record time because we spent many an afternoon there. My eight-year-old Zoe and I learned how to suspend those cool hammocks between two trees at the park. She ended up giving lessons on prime hammock suspension to a bunch of interested Millennials.

 

(Image credit: Josh Hild)

In short, our family ended up spending more time together than in any summer in my memory. Drawn together by our desperation to cool off, sure, but we hung out. So in the end? It was worth it. Totally. Will we do this next year? Oh, hell no!! We’re researching solar and swamp cooler options.

Oh! And congratulations to Auriette, who offered some great ideas for keeping cool. She wins the $50 Amazon.com gift card for her valiant efforts to keep us from broiling like a chicken breast. Thanks to everyone from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and several concerned emails questioning our mental stability.

For more genius ways (not ours, obviously) stop by our Amazon.com page – this is an endorsement page and we may make a small sum if you purchase something.

(Cover image credit: pexel2013)

Too Much Zucchini & No One Willing To Take It? Meet My Cream Cheese Zucchini Muffins…

(image credit: Meaghan O’Malley)

 

Too Much Zucchini & No One Willing To Take It? Meet My Cream Cheese Zucchini Muffins…

AAAAAAAAGH! Or, What I Found On My Doorstep This Morning… *shudder* I like to think I’m fairly tough. I can clean up a sick kid with vomit still stuck to my shirt. I can pick up 3 day old dead rats and throw them away. I can… well, let’s not make you nauseous, shall we? The point is, there are very few things that turn my stomach. That make me break out in a sweat. Spots in my vision, the whole thing.

I opened the front door this morning to find a pile of zucchini squashes squatting malevolently on my front lawn. No signature on the note, mind you because there is the chance I might return them if I knew who did this terrible thing. Utahns take their veggie gardens very seriously– right up to the point where they forget that one innocuous zucchini plant can spawn, like, 8,009 of those disgusting tubes of death.  Then, the “generosity” begins. Perfectly nice neighbors are subjected to “drive-by squashing” because there’s only so many of those vile, spongey things one can consume.

 

zuch

(photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/raludwick/)

Simply for self-preservation, I came up with a killer Zucchini Bread recipe a few years ago when I lived in Virginia. If the bloom of romance with your zucchini has faded on the vine, perhaps it’s time to make those vile creatures actually edible.

Hampton Roads Zucchini Bread Muffins:

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

1 cup shredded, raw zucchini

1/2 peeled and grated raw apple

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 safflower or canola oil

1 cup white sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Cream Cheese Frosting (optional, but always welcome in my world)

1/4 cup unsalted butter

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

3 tsp. powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Grease (or spray with a nonstick vegetable spray) a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan. Toast the pecans or walnuts for about 8 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool and then chop coarsely.

Grate the zucchini, using a medium grater, and then peel and grate the apple. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract until well blended (about 2 minutes). Beat in the grated zucchini and apple. Add the flour mixture, beating just until combined. Then fold in the nuts and coconut. Scrape the batter into the prepared cupcake pan and bake until the bread has risen and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove the bread from the pan. Frost with cream cheese icing, if desired. Well wrapped, this bread will keep for several days at room temperature (if unfrosted) or for several days in the fridge (if frosted). These muffins can be frozen. Makes 12 muffins.

Editor’s note: I took the main recipe from the venerable “Joy of Cooking” cookbook and added some stuff I found on www.thejoyofbaking.com. Both excellent resources.

 

(image credit: Cassidy)

 

Frosting: Beat the butter and cream cheese until very smooth with no lumps. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until fully incorporated and smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract. Spread over the top of the cooled zucchini muffins. Garnish with toasted coconut, if desired.

(Editor’s note: I only use the frosting if I’m making muffins from the mix. But at parties, it’s fun to watch the internal struggle of the Healthy Nazi Mom when she realizes the muffin is actually nutritious.)

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Teaching Kids To Love Reading

Teaching Kids To Love Reading.

I was the kid who got in trouble for hiding under my blanket with a flashlight and reading until a ridiculous hour. So I was shocked when our kiddos did not take to reading as enthusiastically as I did.

Our eight-year-old Zoe, for instance… I took her to our cool little neighborhood library to sign up for their summer reading program. She paused at the door, staring at me with a suspicious squint.

Zoe: “Why are we here?”

Me: “We’re signing up for the summer reading program! They have these great prizes, like-”

Zoe: “I was told there would be doughnuts.”

Me: “I will get you a doughnut after we sign up.”

Zoe: “How many doughnuts?”

Me: “What?”

Zoe: (patiently) “How many doughnuts do I get to eat per book?”

This is where my cunning culinary bribe fell through. I couldn’t feed this kid enough baked goods to get her through a single multi-chapter book. Plus, I would be the size of a planet by the end of summer because there’s no way I can hold out if she’s stuffing chocolate crullers down her throat.

Nothing was working until I changed my approach.

So, here’s what I’ve learned this summer: every child has their own way. It’s my job to find the path that gets each of my Littles enthusiastic about books. Here are some different thoughts on amazing books and how to invest your little people.

 

Teaching Kids To Love Reading

  1. What are they interested in? So, my 8-year-old Zoe is crazed about Minecraft. I immediately ordered 3-4 books about Minecraft on Amazon.com. I didn’t pay attention: the fonts in the books varied, they were oddly styled and hard to read. They just made her more frustrated. So we started with some of the “New World” instructions on her iPad. We read about diamond armor and the Ender Dragon. Then, we graduated into Minecraft technique posts. I read a paragraph, she read a paragraph. We were reading together… and yeah, now she’s into the Friendly Creeper Diaries.
  2. You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You: It’s actually the name of a book series, but it was an “Oh, duh!” moment for me. We always read together when Zoe was little, but now that she’s in second grade, I’d just intended to check off the books she’d read on her homework list. What is wrong with me? This is an age where she actually wants to hang with me. And it’s not even just her reading to me- it’s reading back and forth, asking questions about the story and laughing at silly things.
  3. Make It Fun: Once again, this one took me by surprise. What do you mean, reading isn’t fun? So we came up with some ideas. This summer, we’re reading in our trampoline tent dome (Editor’s note: you can find an easy DIY video for this epic little creation here.) We acted out all the dialogue in different accents. (Zoe is very proud of her Cockney accent.) We’ve listened to audiobooks together to get her excited, then re-read the book together. We’ve created her own books- writing out different stories with her clever illustrations. There are easy ready-made books here to use to create your own classics.

 

Here’s one of my favorite graphic novel kits. One of my favorite experiences with the twin’s 7th-grade class was creating their own graphic novels. It’s not particularly expensive and the fun of watching these kids collaborate and create together is one of my most tender memories. They created a super-hero with autism, who could move back and forth in time to solve crimes because, “For kids with autism,” said their classmate Jerry, “it’s hard for us to understand time anyway.”

The Best Books For Infants and Toddlers: Great Starts

Best Books For Children Ages 5-9

Best Books For Pre-Teens – It’s Not Too Late!

 

What has worked with your kiddos? What made them finally want to learn to love reading? Share! Discuss! We all need new tips and tricks.