Better For You (and Santa): Back to Nature Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I received this product for free from Moms Meet (, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agree to use this product and post my honest opinion on my blog. The opinions posted are my own.

As a kid, I always got a kick out of leaving out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk out for Santa.  It is a fun tradition, and one that I am sure Santa enjoys!


This year, we will be leaving out a plate of Back to Nature Chocolate Chunk Cookies.  The ingredient list is nice and simple: unbleached wheat flour, semisweet chocolate, cane sugar, safflower oil, brown rice syrup, baking soda and sea salt.


Note that there are no hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup. There are also no “may contain nuts” disclaimers on the box, which this family greatly appreciates!


These cookies have a hearty and crunchy texture.  I really like the semi-sweet chocolate chunks.  They add just the right amount of sweetness and are a step-up from regular chocolate chips.

Back to Nature Chocolate Chunk Cookies are available to purchase at
almost all major retailers, including Ralphs, Whole Foods Market, and Sprouts Farmers Market. To find a store near you visit:  They retail for $3.49-3.99 a box.


Hopefully there will still be some cookies to leave out for Santa come Christmas Eve!

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Math Made Fun: Math Lab for Kids Book Review

For our December advent countdown, I have been trying to do different and fun activities each day with the kids.  This has not been 100% successful, as sometimes we are too busy or I just did not have enough time to plan.  Thankfully, k and n are pretty understanding.

One of the activities I did have time to plan for came from the newly published book, Math Lab for Kids, by Rebecca Rapoport and J.A. Yoder.  

I was fortunate to win five books from Quarto Knows, and this was of my choices.  The subtitle appealed to me: “Fun, Hand-On Activities For Learning With Shapes, Puzzles, and Games”.  When I showed it to my kids, they were immediately drawn to it.  k is more of my math girl and n is more of my science/engineering boy, but they both were excited to do the activities.

The book is divided into nine chapters:

  1. Geometry: Learn About Shapes
  2. Topology: Mind-Bending Shapes
  3. Color Maps Like a Mathematician
  4. Stitching Curves
  5. Fantastic Fractals
  6. Terrific Tangrams
  7. Toothpick Puzzles
  8. The Game of Nim
  9. Graph Theory

Each chapter has three to eight “labs” or activities associated with it.  For our advent activity, I chose the first chapter, which includes “Prisms and pyramids and Platonic solids, oh my!”


The hands-on labs include easy to follow directions on how to make various geometric shapes with just toothpicks and gumdrops.  I really appreciated how easy it was for me to gather the materials.  I already had toothpicks at home, so I just had to pick up a bag of gumdrops during my holiday shopping!


The kids were excited to get to work.



After n made some of the shapes, he wanted to take a more creative route and created this masterpiece called “A Man Walking His Dogs”.



This is k looking through her dodecahedron.  That night, she took the book to bed with her because she wanted to look through the rest of the chapters!

The recommended grade levels for this book are 2-5, and I would say that is about right. This book would be good for both kids who are interested in math as well as those who think math is boring, as it presents the subject in a fun way that makes it appealing to everyone.

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Stop Trying to Be the Perfect Mom: Gospel Centered Mom Book Review

Before I had kids, I had an idealistic view of the mother I wanted to be for my yet to be born children.  Fast forward almost eleven years and it seems that my shortcomings as a mom become more and more evident every day!  My patience wears thin when the kids are arguing, the house is a mess and I am not able to check everything off of my to-do list.

Reading this book, Gospel Centered Mom, by Brooke McGlothlin, was a breath of fresh air.  The author is so candid and authentic regarding her own perceived shortcomings as a mom.  Her stories about her boys are relate-able and funny (although I am sure they were not funny at the time!)

This is not a book about parenting techniques that will help you to have better behaved children.  Instead, the book explains how parenting is an opportunity for us to live out the Gospel on an everyday basis.  For example, the first chapter, entitled “Why Enough Always Feels Out of Reach”, explains that the failures of our kids and as parents show us our need to rely on God.  Another chapter, “Release the Stress of Believing Everything is Your Responsibility” spoke directly to me, as I often care more about my own image more than His plan.  I also appreciated the practicality of her list of “Daily Disciplines for the Gospel-Centered Mom”.

Gospel Centered Mom is a book full of Biblically-based truths that are helpful to store in your heart when the inevitable parenting challenges arise.  There are also discussion questions at the end of the book that would help facilitate a group discussion between moms.  I would highly recommend this book to any mom who struggles with trying to be perfect!

FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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National Geographic Kids, “Hey, Baby!” Review

I received this product for free from Moms Meet (, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agree to use this product and post my honest opinion on my blog. The opinions posted are my own

Our son n really loves to learn about animals.  Wild Kratts has been his favorite show for a while now.  When we play Twenty Questions and it is his turn to come up with an answer, we do not even have to ask him whether it is an animal because it inevitably is.  Most of the time, none of us can guess his animal because it is something like the Yeti Crab!


Hey, Baby! is a new National Geographic Kids book described as “A Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Stories From Nature’s Nursery”.  The book is organized in sections: “Mountains and Plains Babies”, “River and Rain Forest Babies”, “Jungle and Savanna Babies”, “Desert and Cost Babies,” “Forest and Stream Babies”, “Tropics and Peaks Babies”, “Ice and Snow Babies”, and “Ocean and Sea Babies”.

The photographs are high quality, just as we have come to expect from National Geographic publications.  And, what is it about baby animals that make them so adorable?  This book really showcases the magnificence of so many of the animals that populate our planet.  It would be a wonderful resource for any animal lover in your life, child or adult!

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A Perfectly Sharpened Pencil. Every Time. + Giveaway!

When you have two school-aged children at home, it seems that pencils constantly need to be sharpened.  We have tried the small hand-held sharpeners, as well as an electric sharpener, but none have worked as well as this beauty:


After testing out this pencil sharpener for a few weeks, I can say that the pencil sharpeners from Classroom Friendly Supplies are quiet, stylish and functional.


This pencil sharpener is easy to operate.  There is something fun and satisfying about sharpening a pencil by hand…so much so that my kids now fight over whose turn it is to sharpen the next pencil–no joke!


Look at those points–I do not see how pencils can get any sharper!  Thank you, Classroom Friendly Supplies for supplying this pencil sharpener for review.  These pencil sharpeners would be a great Christmas present for parents, teachers and homeschoolers!

Now, you have the opportunity to win a Classroom Friendly Supplies Pencil Sharpener for yourself!  Good luck!

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Thanksgiving In Napa

I do not think that I wrote about this here before, but D’s dad passed away in July of this year.  So, this was our first year celebrating Thanksgiving without him.


This picture from 2008 is one of my favorite Thanksgiving pictures with k and her grandpa.


We met up in Napa with D’s mom, sister and brother and his family after our camping trip.  We visited grandpa’s site and placed flowers on it (still waiting for the headstone).


It might seem strange to take a family picture in a cemetery.  However, it is a beautiful place, especially with the fall foliage and it seemed appropriate.





There was a beautiful sunset that night.

We ate dinner at the Marriott.


Isn’t this a pretty fall salad?


Mahi Mahi


Porkchop was an A+!

The kids shared an adult salmon entree and a kids’ grilled cheese.  It might not have been traditional Thanksgiving food, but it was a nice dinner!


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Pre-Thanksgiving Trip to California Central Coast: Elephant Seals + Moonstone Beach

When we returned to the Hearst Castle Visitors Center, we watched the “Building The Dream” movie that is included with the tour admission price.  It was shown on a huge screen and was very well done.


After the movie we went to Sebastian’s for lunch which is located just across PCH.  Had to have the kids take a picture in front of this funny sign!



We ordered one cheeseburger and one tri-tip sandwich and fries.  This ended up being enough food for all us since D had a headache at this point and was not that hungry.


After lunch we went back to our campsite and rested for a bit.  Feeling refreshed, D was ready to go to the Elephant Seal Rookery.



Sunbathing seals!  It is always so neat to see animals in their natural habitat.



Next we went to Moonstone Beach.


These small colorful rocks were everywhere!







Next we went back to Cambria and poked around some of the cute little shops.



This is what happens when I have asked the kids to pose one too many times for pictures!


Dinner was at Main Street Grill in Cambria.  This place has the same owners as Firestone Grill in San Luis Obispo, which we had enjoyed before.  Although the food is good, with large portions, beware that it is cash only and that they charge 25 cents for bottled water.


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Pre-Thanksgiving Visit to Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is one of those places that everyone who lives in California needs to visit once in their lifetime.  I had been multiple times, but never with D or the kids.  D’s family says he went he was a kid, but he did not remember it.


Can you see the castle on the hill?


You can buy tickets online in advance but I found their reservation fee outrageous so we waited until the day of our tour to buy tickets.  We arrived early and bought tickets for the first Grand Rooms tour of the day at 9:00 am with no problem. There is a bus that transports you up the hill to the castle while you listen to narration by Alex Trebek.


Our tour began in front of one of the guesthouses.  There were tourists in our group from multiple countries, including Australia!


Unfortunately, the famed Neptune Pool was being renovated–doh!  Apparently it was leaking 5,000 gallons of water everyday.  The tour guide said it was scheduled to be done by the end of the year, but I am pretty sure it will take longer than that!


La Casa Grande!  It was interesting to learn about the corroboration between William Randolph Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan (a Cal grad!).


It was nice that they had already started decorating for Christmas.



Our tour guide was an amazing fount of knowledge.



The intricate detail that can be found everywhere is so amazing.



After the tour, we were free to wander the grounds.





When you are ready to leave, you go down to the indoor pool and catch a bus at what the tour guide called the “fanciest bus stop in America”.




Walking on gold!



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Our Pre-Thanksgiving Trip to Central California Coast: Cambria and San Simeon State Beach


After lunch we made a quick stop for Doc Burnstein’s ice cream at Mojo’s Village Bean in Cambria.

Then we went across the street so I could pick up a mini olallieberry pie at Linn’s.




We enjoyed this post-dinner.

Next we drove to the San Simeon State Park campground.  After setting up camp we took a short and easy walk to the beach area.





It was pretty empty, with just a few other visitors.



There were a lot of interesting rocks to look at.






And when there’s rocks near water, rock-throwing is soon to follow.






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Our Pre-Thanksgiving Trip to California Central Coast: Pismo Beach & Morro Bay

The kids and I had an entire week off for Thanksgiving.  We left for our mini-vacay on Tuesday in an attempt to avoid the holiday traffic.


Our first stop was the Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove.



I did not have my camera that has a good zoom lens, so this is the closest I could get.  Can you see the orange monarchs?  These butterflies were not as scary as our last encounter, mostly because they were high up in the trees and we were not in an enclosed area.  It is kind of amazing how they all congregate in such a concentrated area.



I made them take a picture with the sun in their eyes.



The mobile monarch gift shop!

Our next stop was just about five minutes north off of PCH, Dinosaur Caves Park.



I was kind of puzzled by the fact that there were more seals than dinosaurs in the Dinosaur Caves Park.


Don’t ask me what this strange squatting was about.


The park has beautiful views!







OK, so there were dinosaur eggs to play in.


We stopped to eat our sandwiches that we packed from home at Morro Bay.


It was unseasonable warm, like mid-80’s.  I guess it was in the 90’s back at home.  A lot of people were getting food to go from a restaurant that had Crabby Patties on the menu-haha.


We saw some otters that were just chillin’.  Again, a zoom lens would have been handy here.  After lunch we continued our drive to Cambria and San Simeon.

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