Posts by Josalyn McAllister

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.

My Mom is Here!

My mom is visiting this week and I couldn’t be happier. She and I live about 2100 miles apart and her visits are rare but so treasured for our whole family. We share a love of food and history and gardening. She’s going to help me with a few garden projects while she’s here. We went out for ice cream this afternoon with the kids and between the great weather, delicious ice cream (Brusters) and good company it was just about perfect.

I try and hold on to the memory of these moments. Sometimes life doesn’t seem as shiny and full of everyday joy as it does today. I know that if I lived next door to my mom I probably wouldn’t enjoy her company nearly as much. It’s the scarcity, the fleeting nature of things that makes them so valuable and enjoyable.

I think of that every year when the cherry blossoms in my front yard bloom. They’re still a few weeks away this year, but here’s a photo from last year. They are so beautiful, they smell amazing, and they last about a week. Every year when their petals rain down and cover the ground I wonder if I would love them as much if they lasted any longer. I don’t think I would.

Have you noticed this is your life? What’s something you’ve noticed is more beautiful because it is precious and fleeting?

Introducing My Next Book: Guilt is Midnight Blue

I’m thrilled to report that I have finished the beta reader draft of my next book! After three drafts, it’s ready for a few people to read through it with a critical eye and offer some constructive feedback. After that I’ll give it another edit and then it will be ready for the world!

Hazel Dean’s ability to see other’s emotions in color was underutilized except for helping customers 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 can’t rest until she finds out what really happened, to bring peace to the man’s family and to prevent her quiet Appalachian town from being torn apart by old grudges.

If you like a good cozy mystery you will love my new novel, Guilt is Midnight Blue. The setting is a beautiful tourist town in the North Georgia mountains, the characters are wonderfully flawed and the mystery is full of twists and turns.

Is it terrible to say that I like this book a lot better than my first one? I can’t wait for its release. Watch out for a cover reveal coming soon!

Our Quarantine-Friendly Valentines Day Tradition

The other day my husband was wrapping up a meeting and the person leading it tried to schedule the next one. He looked at his calendar and said. “Oh, two weeks would be February 14th, does anyone actually do anything for Valentines Day?” And my husband was like “yes, I do, I am unavailable on Valentine’s Day.” He got off the call and told me about it with incredulity. “Do people not celebrate Valentine’s Day?” he asked. “it’s one of my favorite holidays.”

Now, I am a huge fan of all holidays and we celebrate basically everything, but we stumbled on this little tradition a few years back that we really enjoy. I should probably say that usually my husband follow strict diets January-February and Valentine’s Day is our first cheat day, so that probably is a piece of why it’s so fun to us. 🙂

On the other hand, we don’t want to go too crazy so we usually eat spa-type food for dinner that night that we make ourselves. Usually spring rolls because we can make them together and they’re a little bit special and delicious. Look up rainbow spring rolls on Pinterest to find a recipe. We feed our kids something easy and put them to bed early. Now that they’re getting older they have a slumber party together and watch a show until it’s late enough to fall asleep. They do not watch romantic things. They hate romantic things. And kissing. They hate kissing.

The Chocolate Box Tradition

You’ll need a box of chocolates. Years ago I would get a cheap Russell Stover-type one from the grocery store. Now I go to a nice local chocolate shop and get some fancy chocolates.

I open up the chocolates ahead of time and hide a tiny piece of paper with an activity written on it under each one. Here is a free printable for you, but you can really just write your own things down on paper. Choose things that you and your spouse love to do together. One of our favorite things is watching Valentines Day episodes of our favorite sitcoms. We also lean in to the spa night theme with pedicures, facials and massages.

We make strawberry and mint infused water, light all the candles we own and turn on my Valentine’s Day playlist. No phones allowed. A lot of times we don’t get through all the chocolates so we save the rest of the box to do another night. It’s such a great night, we end up feeling indulged and connected really connected with each other. And it so easy to throw together.

Please let me know if you try it!

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. I read this for my old lady book club. The plot took some bizarre turns. It jumped a shark for me. There are better Moriarty books for you to read. (there’s some profanity and innuendo in this book but no sex scenes)

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. This book was fascinating for the extreme culture shock. I admit I saw the movie first and liked it better. This book isn’t the romance I was expecting. It’s more about the lifestyles of people who have more money than I can possibly imagine. (there is profanity and some sexual content in this one)

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Flynn is one of my favorite thriller authors. Her unreliable narrators are among the best. The narrator travels back to her hometown as a reporter to investigate a couple murders, forcing her to confront her own childhood demons. Creepiness ensues. (there is profanity and a few sex scenes in this book)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Finally picked up this ubiquitous YA novel. My husband read it a while back and said it wasn’t that great. For the first few chapters I thought he had sorely misjudged it but then the plot took a turn for the worse. Disappointing. All the more so because it started out good. (this book was clean except for some biblical swearing.)

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. I kind of liked this book? I wanted there to be some kind of lesson learned at the end and there just wasn’t. A girl is transported forward in time five years for like an hour, then goes back to her normal life. What she experiences in the future affects how she lives her life for the next five years. Interesting. I liked that the main character is Jewish and the sweet friendship portrayed between her and her lifelong best friend. (sex scenes and profanity)

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. You should definitely listen to this as an audiobook. It is narrated by the author and wherever possible he includes sound clips from the interviews he did and from primary sources (like radio and TV news). It’s definitely a downer. It covers police brutality, child molestation, sexual assault, Cuban spies and suicide. But it is really fascinating. Worth listening to if you, just read something light afterwards. (this book is free of profanity except in quotes and the studies don’t get too graphic in their sexual content. Still, I wouldn’t hand it to a teenager unless you’re ready to have some pretty serious conversations.)

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. So much better than Nine Perfect Strangers. I could not put this book down. Her story centers around the politics of elementary school parents. A beautiful portrayal of the power (for good or evil) of female friendships. (there is profanity and sexual content in this book)

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. If you want to change or understand your habits you should read this book. It took the mystery out of why I can’t seem to say no to a sweet treat at around 3pm. All the research is there but it’s conveyed in an approachable way. It’s complete with a practical guide on how to kick a bad habit at the end of the book.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. This is not even close to being as heavy as Me Before You, so if that one was too much for you don’t discount this sweet book. Another great book about the power of female relationships. It will also warm the heart of any book lover’s soul. This is a story about the horseback mobile libraries that traversed the Appalachians in the 1930s. This is a five star book for me. I highly recommend it. (biblical swearing and sexual innuendo but no content)

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. This might have the best twist ending I’ve ever read. No, that can’t be when Agatha Christy exists but its up there for sure. The author made some great strategic choices about storytelling to give the twist its maximum impact. For anyone who likes thrillers. (there is a lot of profane language in this book. There is also a sex scene. not for kids.)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I really loved this book. It didn’t hurt that I listened to it and it was read by Tom Hanks. I’m pretty sure he could read anything and it would become fascinating. (see below). I think this book is worth reading. It’s literary, there’s not a lot of action. It’s definitely character driven and the characters are flawed. Some of my friends did not enjoy this book. Probably the same ones that didn’t like The Poisonwood Bible. (there are some isolated swear words. I counted three. no sex. I would recommend this to precocious teenagers 14+)

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This is a book club read. So much to talk about! This is another interesting portrayal of suburban life with its pros and cons. Very interesting. (there is swearing and sexually active teenagers portrayed in this book.)

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah. This is my favorite Kristin Hannah book so far, and I really really loved The Great Alone. Set during the siege of Leningrad during WW2 and also in modern day Washington state. I highly recommend this book but it will make you cry. (there is some isolated profanity and a couple of non-graphic sex scenes.)

The Crimson Inkwell by Kenneth A Baldwin. I think the only other gaslamp fantasy (historical fiction + fantasy) novel I’ve read is The Night Circus. This one is a lot more character-focused as opposed to setting-focused. A female writer (with a male pen name) gets caught up in magic to further her career, becoming unwittingly addicted to it. Careful, it ends on a cliff-hanger. (there’s no swearing or sexual content in this book. I gave it to my twelve year old who enjoyed it.)

The Silver Currant by Kenneth A. Baldwin. I liked this book even better than the first one in the series. It introduced an intriguing magic system and had a wonderful twist ending. (there’s no swearing or sexual content in this book. I gave it to my twelve year old who enjoyed it.)

If y’all could only pick one of the above books to read I would pick Winter Garden if you want to cry and The Giver of Stars if you don’t. Happy Reading!

Running Playlists from Guy and Violet

I was recently laid up in bed for a few days with an ankle injury. It was sooo boring. I watched a lot of The Great British Baking Show and Somebody Feed Phil. I read The Silver Currant by Kenneth A. Baldwin. I stared out the window and wished I could plant the two hundred daffodils I split last week. I wished I could go for a run. So I made some running playlists inspired by my two favorite characters.

Running is a big part of Guy and Violet’s relationship as they are both training for some long races. Although they often run together, they have plenty of solo runs as well and need some sweet tunes to get them through.

It was fun to put together these playlists because Guy and Violet’s story takes place in 2007, so the music on their playlists is a throwback.

Violet likes popular singles, although she has a weakness for whiny boy music. (that’s what my college roommate used to call Yellowcard and Dashboard Confessional). She also loves a good diva. Her playlist is two hours long, just enough time to get her to the finish line for the half marathon she was training for.

Guy uses running to help him cope with his grief. His playlist is melancholy and a little angry at times. He likes classic rock and old school favorites. Guy finished his half marathon in about an hour and forty minutes, but I gave you two hours of music anyways.

I hope you enjoy the playlists, either for running or cleaning your house or whatever your pleasure.

Violet’s Running Playlist on Amazon Prime Music

Violet’s Running Playlist on Spotify

Guy’s Running Playlist on Amazon Prime Music

Guy’s Running Playlist on Spotify