Posts by Josalyn McAllister

The Best Spooky (but not too spooky) Reads for Halloween

The Shining by Stephen King. I avoided reading this one for years because I was too scared. This book, while being absolutely, impressively, amazing, it not as scary as I thought it would be. It is definitely worth reading if you haven’t picked it up before.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Creepy true crime told by a master of historical narrative? Yes, please. This book is as fascinating as it is horrifying.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. ‘What the heck just happened?’ is what you will ask yourself halfway through this book. With one of the best twists I’ve ever read, and can’t look away-page turning suspense, you will stay up way past your bedtime reading this book. Please, please read it before you watch the movie! If you want to read something even more creepy try Flynn’s Sharp Objects and if you want to give yourself nightmares, try her book Dark Places.

Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier. Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. duMaurier has a knack for turning setting into a character. I absolutely love this book and I have to tell you that neither the Hitchcock movie or the Netflix version did it any justice. Jamaica Inn would also be a great read for October but read Rebecca first.

The Prestige by Christopher Priest. Forget about the talent of Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Throw it all out the window. The book is totally different than the movie and it is just as good.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. One of my favorite books of all time. The queen of mystery doesn’t always deliver a super creepy atmosphere but in this book she does. It is excellent. You should really read it before you read any other mysteries in print. It wins.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This book isn’t super creepy but it is mysterious and magical and full of sensory detail perfect for Halloween. I loved reading this book.

What I’m reading this October:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The archtype of true crime. Truman Capote is an evocative writer and Harper Lee helped him with this work extensively. Looking forward to it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I’ve never read Jackson before so I also have We Have Always Lived in the Castle on my list. Which one is better?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I can’t believe I’ve never read this one before.

Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. I’ve heard so many good things about this book.

Skip

Dracula by Bram Stoker. I was banging my head against a wall reading this book, it was so repetitive and the girl in it is so 1897. (yes, yes that’s when it was written but it is still annoying.) Just watch the movie.

Birthday Service

My birthday used to suck. My husband is in finance and works long hours mid September through mid December each year, during budget season, right through my birthday. He tries, but mostly my birthday was just me trying to convince my kids to be extra nice to me all day, and letting myself eat all the junk food. I ended the day depressed and lonely (and vaguely nauseated).

About nine years ago I knew my birthday was going to be extra awful. We had just moved to a new place, I had recently had a baby so my hormones were all out of whack and I had some other hard things I was dealing with personally.

A couple weeks before my birthday I read about this idea on the internet. You celebrate by doing the number of acts of kindness as your age. It was so genius. I knew from previous experience that nothing makes me happier than serving others. A whole day of that sounded blissful. Real, concrete experience that would prove that my existence mattered to the world outside my toddlers was just what I needed.

Incidentally, my husband tried much harder on my birthday that year too and made me this party. He must have intuited how depressed I was. But I think the real reason I look so happy is because of all the service I did that day.

My favorite thing from that year was ordering pizza for a family at church who were dealing with some pretty scary health issues. I sent it completely anonymously and was shocked to receive a thank you note a few days later. They had done some fancy voodoo magic to find out who I was. I’m pretty sure the pizza place acted illegally. Anyways, a mutual friend told me later that they had been there when it was delivered and that the mom in the family burst into tears when the delivery person explained what was going on.

After that I was hooked. My favorite part each year is the reaction of the people I make my co-conspirators. It brightens their day almost more than the people receiving the service. I used to pay down layaways at Walmart. The workers were always so confused at first when I explained what I wanted to do, but they quickly got excited once they understood and had fun finding the perfect candidate. Unfortunately, Walmart discontinued their layaway program but I’ve found lots of other great ways to serve.

This year was extra fun because my parents came out from the other side of the country to join me and my kids had the day off school so it was a big party. I usually don’t count the individual number of people that I serve, just the different acts of service, but my mom was taking notes this time and that’s how she counted.

I’ve gotten old now so I’ve given up on doing a number that matches my age but if you count it like my mom does it’s not that hard to do.

I am absolutely terrible at remembering to take pictures so sorry about that.

  1. I always start the day waking up early to make a pumpkin pancake breakfast for my family
  2. Goodreads book recommendations.

3. FamilySearch.org indexing project. This involves looking at PDF images of old documents (like birth marriage and death records) and transcribing them into a searchable database so people can find their family history. It’s an especially good project if you’re good at reading hard handwriting or if you speak a different language.

4. Kiva Loan. Microloans. You can search by the kind of industry, the type of people it benefits or geographic area. I always like to focus on supporting refugees. There’s also a feature that keeps track of which countries you’ve loaned to, it’s a kind of “gotta catch ’em all” fun thing.

5. I always do my kids chores for them. My mom beat me to it this year.

6. I bought a present for my husband.

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition Card Game - image 1 of 10

7. Made nametags for NICU babies. My kids had a lot of fun with this project. Made with love. I really wish I had thought to take a picture of them before I mailed them in.

8. We made cards for my husband’s grandmother who is in hospice.

9. I put together General Conference kits for the women at church that I’ve been assigned to watch out for. (Here’s an explanation of how that works) General Conference is our church’s worldwide meeting that happens twice a year. It’s full of inspiring, uplifting messages. I always look forward to it. The kits had fun snacks and otherwise festive stuff inside.

10. We made bird feeders

11. Took brownies to all the neighbors on our cul-de-sac. (tried to be anonymous but people figured it out.)

12. Made dinners for three families who I thought might need it. (Enchilada assembly line party!) I got a very sweet reaction from one of the young moms.

13. Paid for the car behind us in line at the drive-thru. We went to Culvers.

14. Took pictures of headstones. You can do this for Find-A-Grave or BillionGraves

15. Put cash in our favorite library books along with a note praising the reader for their excellent choice in books. This is my kids absolute favorite activity.

16. Put together a birthday box for a needy kid through Box of Balloons. This was so much fun. You put together all the makings of a birthday party, including a present and decorations and cupcakes. There’s a sheet that tells a little bit about the kid so you can theme it appropriately and get the right gift. This is the first year I’ve done this one but we’ll definitely do it every year. Another one I wish I had taken a picture of before I sent it off.

Birthdays for Children

17. We went to the park and hid little playdoughs all over the place. We put little notes on them so people would know they were to take. We hid thirty of them and then watched little kids find them, it was so fun to watch. Especially when those kids decided to share with others.

18. Donated items needed for homeless families just getting into a home through a church service project.

19. Made a fleece tie blanket to donate to the homeless shelter.

20. Left a large tip when we went to dinner. I love doing that too. I always feel like we need to runaway really fast before the server sees it. lol.

I was a little sad I didn’t get to all the things on my list this year but now that I’m writing it all out I can see how much I did and it feels great.

If you hate your birthday I highly recommend this coping method.

Favorite Halloween Books for Kids

My Halloween box is full of picture books. These are a few of my favorites that are aging well along with my kids.

Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise by Kate DiCamillo and Chris VanDusen.

The delightful misadventures of a trick or treating pig.

Good Night Goon and The Runaway Mummy by Michael Rex.

If you haven’t read Michael Rex’s parodies of beloved children’s books yet, you need to. They’re so much fun. My kids laugh their way through them. There’s another one called Going On A Goon Hunt that I haven’t read but I’m sure is just as wonderful.

Angelina’s Halloween by Katherine Holabird

This is Angelina before she was turned into a poorly animated, obnoxious kids show. The illustrations are stunning, but Angelina is being mean to little cousin Henry in this one, as she often is. Luckily they have a loving moment at the end and everything ends well.

Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley

This is such a cleverly put together book. Cut outs on each page reveal part of the page behind it, causing it to reveal and conceal the monster piece by piece. My kids also absolutely loved telling the monster to “Go Away!” when they were younger (and still do I think).

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams and Megan Lloyd

I love this brave old lady so much. This book has so many good messages in one little package. That courage is not the absence of fear, but facing it; not to jump to conclusions based on first impressions and that thinking outside the box can solve a lot of problems. Love this one.

What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss

You find this one a lot inside of other Dr. Seuss books like The Sneetches, but we were lucky enough to find a stand alone copy. Another great message about facing fear and that things aren’t always what they seem.

Honorable Mention:

Little People’s Halloween is Here: a lift the flap book about Halloween surprises

Berenstain Bear’s Go On A Ghost Walk: another book that addresses kids’ fears

It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown look and find: love the illustrations in this book

From Hazel’s Kitchen: White Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Cookies

I have had a half dozen people ask me why this recipe didn’t make it into the back of Guilt is Midnight Blue. So, by popular demand here is my recipe. These cookies are truly melt-in-your mouth, chewy, flavor explosions. The smell of them baking will have all the children in the neighborhood knocking at your backdoor. They are heaven with a glass of milk.

Hazel would never use anything except Ghirardelli white chocolate chips, however I cheat occasionally and just get the cheap white baking chips. They are admittedly, not as good.

White Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Cookies

1/2 c. butter

1/2 c. butter flavored shortening

1 c. granulated sugar

1 c. brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

2 c. flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

2 c. oatmeal

1 bag white chocolate chips

1 c. chopped pecans

6 oz. dried cranberries

preheat the oven to 350

Cream together butter, shortening and both types of sugar. They should be super light and fluffy. Add the eggs and the vanilla, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour, baking powder and baking soda, then mix on low until incorporated. Add oatmeal and mix together. Add white chocolate chips, cranberries and pecans and mix until evenly distributed.

I line cookie sheets with parchment before scooping the cookies.

Bake at 350 for 9 minutes.

From Hazel’s Kitchen: Swig Style Apple Cinnamon Cookies

If there’s something Hazel and I have in common it’s our righteous indignation on behalf of apples. What happened to apple season people? Everyone just wants to got straight to pumpkin and skips apple. The proper way to do things is to celebrate apple season in September and move on to pumpkin starting in October. So here’s a great recipe to help you enjoy the last couple weeks of apple season.

These were a hit at a church potluck recently.

Apple Cinnamon Frosted Cookies

Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe’s The Best Swig Sugar Cookies

1 c. butter (2 sticks)

3/4 c. vegetable oil

1 1/4 c. sugar

1/2 c. powdered sugar

3 oz. freeze dried apples

2 eggs

2 Tb apple cider concentrate or 3 Tb apple butter

2 Tb. sour cream

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1/2 tsp. salt

5 1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350

Process the freeze dried apples in a food processor until fine (like unto the powdered sugar)

In a stand mixer, beat the butter and oil together with the sugars and the freeze dried apple powder. Beat until light and fluffy. With the stand mixer on low, add the eggs in one at a time. Then add in the apple cider concentrate or apple butter and sour cream.

Stop the mixer. Add in two cups of the flour, the baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. Mix on low setting, adding in the rest of the flour a little bit at a time.

Use a cookie scoop to scoop the cookie onto your cookie sheet.

Mix together 1/4 granulated sugar and 3 TB cinnamon in a small bowl. Spray the bottom of a small cup in cooking spray. Dip the cup into the cinnamon sugar. Press each cookie down to about 1/2 inch thick with the cup, twist slightly before lifting.

Bake at 350 for 9 minutes.

Apple Frosting

3/4 c. butter

2 TB sour cream

2 TB apple cider concentrate or 3 TB apple butter

6 c. powdered sugar

1 TB half & half (or milk of whatever kind you have on hand)

In a stand mixer, beat butter, sour cream and apple cider concentrate or apple butter. Add in the powdered sugar slowly. Add half & half. You might need a little more than a tablespoon until you get a frosting consistency you like.

Frost the cookies once they have completely cooled. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon.

From Hazel’s Kitchen: S’mores Truffles

Each summer Hazel puts these seasonal delights back on the Books and Chocolate menu. I hope you enjoy them!

S’mores Truffles

1/2 c. whipping cream

1/3 c. sugar

6 Tb. butter

1 c. dark chocolate chips

1/2 c. marshmallow cream

graham cracker crumbs

Put chocolate chips into a heatproof bowl. Mix cream, sugar and butter together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Gently fold in the marshmallow cream until it is marbled, not completely incorporated.

Cover the mixture and let sit in the fridge overnight. The next day, roll into truffle sized balls before coating in graham cracker crumbs.

That’s it! So easy and such a crowd-pleaser. Rolling them just takes a little time and patience and makes a mess. Hazel recommends a good audio book while you work. Enjoy!!

Why My Kids Do Their Chores

Disclaimer: This can be a controversial and stressful topic for lots of parents. Remember, the number one key to good parenting is to be true to yourself. However, yourself is not a yelling, frazzled monster. I promise, it’s not. These are ideas that have worked for me and my four children. Take what works for you and inspires you and leave the rest. Which is what you should do with every parenting advice thing you run into – on the internet or in person or from well-meaning parents and in-laws.

Why I Ask My Kids To Do Chores

When I was a younger mother and my kids were little, I overheard one of the best parenting advice gems I’ve ever heard. A mom of older teenagers (who is a licensed therapist working with adolescents who have eating disorders) was defending her choice to make her kids do chores. Her kids were busy and involved with everything you could think of and another parent said “How can you make them do chores when they’re already so frazzled and stressed and busy?” She simply shrugged, smiled and said “you love what you serve.”

these are my kiddos last fall

Even though I wasn’t directly involved in the conversation, this phrase impacted me and I will always remember it. Did I want my kids to love and sacrifice for their sporting events, their musical abilities, their school work? Of course, but I wanted them to love their family the most.

Since then, I’ve read mountains of evidence supporting the benefits of chores. A study at Berkley concluded: “Assisting the family appears to provide adolescents with the assurance that they are fulfilling their role as a good son or daughter, which, in turn, is associated with feelings of happiness and positivity, a sense of identity, and connection to the family.”

“Chores instilled in children the importance of contributing to their families and gave them a sense of empathy as adults. Those who had done chores as young children were more likely to be well-adjusted, have better relationships with friends and family and be more successful in their careers.” This is from another study at the University of Mississippi.

The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds points out “Responsibilities can make children and adolescents feel special.”

A study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found “The frequency of chores in kindergarten was positively associated with a child’s perception of social, academic, and life satisfaction competencies in the third grade.”

I could go on.

Needless to say, the research had repeatedly shown that kids who do chores are happier and more competent at life.

How To Be Successful With A Chore System

Consistency

Have you ever noticed that kids will watch the exact same TV show or movie about a thousand times and never get bored of it? How about their diet? Do they eat the same exact lunch or breakfast everyday? Perhaps even cut in precisely the same manner with the exact same brands of peanut butter and jelly?

Any parent has already noticed that kids don’t have the same need for variety that adults do. In fact kids seem to thrive in consistent, predictable, routine environments. VeryWell Family cites a CDC study saying “Consistency in terms of structure and routine provides limits and boundaries for children. These help them to organize and integrate information into their brain and gain an understanding of how the world works.”

Why then, do we insist on switching up their chores every day or week? My kids have the same exact chores for a whole year. This allows them to

  • Know exactly what is expected of them each day without having to guess, think or be uncertain about it
  • Become good enough at the chore to take pride in their work
  • Feel that they are making valuable contributions to the family as opposed to just doing something that a parent asked them to do

If you only take one thing away from this blog post this should be it.

Power

My kids choose their own chores.

At the beginning of each summer, we have a draft. The youngest goes first, each kid picks a chore until they all have their predetermined number of chores. The younger kids have less chores than the older kids.

My 11 year old daughter has chosen take out the recycling every year for the last three years. She loves that chore. Where as my 8 year old prefers to mop. I’ve generally found that this works out well and there is no fighting because the system is so ridiculously straightforward.

I believe in protecting my kids’ abilities to make choices as much as possible. Kids love feeling a sense of power over their own lives and this is a way to use that to your advantage as you ask them to help out around the house.

Carrot and Stick

If you think about trying to make habits for yourself, you’ll find that if you use a reward system it’s quite motivating. The same is true for your children. Because their brains are constantly changing, habits need to be constantly reinforced as they grow up.

Reward systems will look different for every family, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to do this without any kind of reward. In the past my kids have responded to anything from stickers to earning screen time minutes to money. You’ll know best what motivates your kids. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, in fact I would recommend that it not be.

I do not enforce consequences if my kids do not do their chores, with the exception of their room. If it’s been more than one day that they’ve done a poor job a “monster” will come in and kidnap their stuff. It will be held until the monster feels that they are taking better care of their things and he will give it back. I hardly ever have to do this now, it was more common when my kids were younger.

A Few Cautions

Lower Your Expectations

Your kids are just learning new skills! There’s no way that they are going to be able to do these chores as good as you can. One of the benefits of having the kids do chores for a whole year is that you can work with them and teach them at the beginning of the year and then supervise less. After a year of practice your kids will be much better at their tasks!

Remember that having the kids do work for you is not the main goal of chores, it’s all the mental benefits I outlined earlier.

Do Not Criticize

Have you ever tried to help someone out, maybe at your in-laws house, and been criticized for how you were doing it? How motivated were you to repeat your efforts?

Be positive with your children. Find a way to compliment them each day. Something they improved on, their effort, their ability to remember without being asked, or that the counters are sparkling. It doesn’t matter. Positive feedback is the single most powerful and underutilized force on Earth.

Stress Less

Days will get skipped because the schedule is wonky. Maybe your kids are having an off day and are feeling unmotivated. It happens to us all. Avoid the temptation to make a federal case out of it. If that happens, they forego their reward. That’s it. You don’t need to make them feel bad or make sure they know they did something wrong. It’s not a big deal.

Pay Off

My older two kids, 13 and 11, do their chores now without a word from me. In fact, they’ll often have their chores done before I wake up. (not a morning person 🙂 They also know how to do laundry, dishes, clean a bathroom and sweep floors.

this is what my house looked like the other day when I came downstairs

This year my oldest chose a chore because “that’s what bothers me the most when it isn’t clean.” I was so proud.

And this year, for the first time, I have kids doing a load of dishes a day with enough competency that I don’t have to redo it. I absolutely hate doing the dishes. Having a sink full of dishes magically cleaned and put away is such a luxury and worth all the effort I’ve put in over the years to implement this system.

FAQ

How old did I start my kids doing chores?

My kids get their first chore lists on their second birthday. This is the perfect time to start chores because the kids are so excited to do them. They love to help. Take advantage of the enthusiasm and give lots of positive feedback about how much they are helping you!

How do you make it fair?

As far as I’m concerned the draft makes it fair. Younger kids go first. All the kids get to choose what they want to do. Younger kids have less chores than older kids.

What about chore charts?

I make a list in a word document, add clipart and print it out on cardstock. Then I’ll get it laminated and the kids can use dry erase markers on it throughout the year. Cheap, durable, easy.

What if the kids don’t do it?

When you’re first starting out, I would make a big deal about the thing being the kids’ responsibility. My kids do their chores right after school, but if the trash is full at a different time I’ll call my daughter to come and take it out because it’s her responsibility. Or I’ll tell my son, we’re having people over so make sure that you do an extra good job on the bathroom you take care of.

Also if you’re just starting out I would put chores in your chore draft that bother you if they’re not done so that you’re regularly reminding your kids to do them. (Remind, don’t nag. Just ask them once then move on with your life. You can ask them again in an hour.)

Give out rewards calmly but ostentatiously.

Also see ‘stress less’ above.

What chores did my little kids do?

When my oldest was three we got this cordless vacuum so she could do the front room. I’ll tell you that was the hit toy at my house every single play date. All the three and four year olds wanted to do was vacuum my house.

The little kids like to vacuum, sort laundry, put away the plastic kid dishes out of the dishwasher, wash windows (I would spray cleaner on a paper towel and then hand it to them), and pick up/put away any room in the house. I also let a couple of them fold clean towels. I’d give them a damp rag and let them wash the walls or floors.

I would like to reiterate that when my kids were little, their efforts were not giving me any less work. They did a terrible job. It was for their benefit, not mine.

There are a lot of age appropriate chore lists available on Pinterest as well.

Bounty Book Lists

I unashamedly pay my kids to read books that I want them to read. These are books that are challenging for them or that I really love myself and want them to read for my own selfish pleasure. 🙂 I thought I would share them with you. Links to the Word document are below the image so you can edit them to suit your needs. Enjoy!

This first one was for my older two girls when they were in 6th and 4th grade.

Cover Reveal and Teaser

I am excited to reveal the cover for my next book: Guilt is Midnight Blue.

Hazel Dean has an ability to see other’s emotions in color. She mostly uses it to help people find the perfect book in her shop, Books and Chocolate. When one of her customers turns up dead, others blame an old feud, but she can tell that the accused is innocent. Hazel risks conflict with her husband, the DA and her father figure, the police captain, to find out what really happened. Hazel drives, hikes and talks all over her small Appalachian town in an attempt to bring peace to the victim’s family and prevent her community from being torn apart by old grudges.

We’re looking at a release date sometime in May. I’m waiting for beta reader feedback right now and then I’ll have one more chance to change anything before it is published. So stressful, but so exciting! I can’t wait.

Book Cover Design

When Eburnean Books told me they wanted to publish Love Over Easy, I asked them if it was alright if I hire the cover designer on my own. I had a friend of a friend that did that kind of thing. She was an author herself and I thought she would be able to easily understand what I wanted and do a good job.

After entangling myself into a contract, I quickly realized that her organization was a cut and paste one. They would take a stock photo, stick some text on it and call it good. I had some pretty specific elements I wanted on my cover and they had a really hard time accommodating me. Finally they threw up their hands and said, find your own picture, by the way, could I pay them right now anyways because they had done three mock ups for me.

I wish I could post the mock-ups, they were really homemade and terrible. Eventually we were able to settle on the cover you see before you.

I like it, but I don’t love it.

This time I allowed the publisher to do the cover for me. Their designers name is Paige Johnson. I sent a few examples of covers that I liked in the same genre to the publisher. A week later I had five beautiful and amazing covers to choose from. I loved all of them and I’ve had the hardest time choosing. I narrowed it down to two and am having my newsletter subscribers vote between the two next week. If you’re not a subscriber sign up today so you can get your vote in!

Cover reveal coming soon!! I’m so excited!

I’m sure there’s a profound lesson in all this. Mostly I just realized I have no idea what I’m doing and it’s better to let more experienced people make decisions for me! Also, if you are going to self-publish your book be really careful about filling out online forms for cover designs. A lot of them are contracts.