Silver Lining

April 27, 2017

soft and chewy cowboy cookies

To me, there are a few things that make the perfect cookie. First, it has to be soft and chewy, not hard and crispy. Second, it has to be a fairly easy recipe and be made with ingredients I usually have on hand so it only takes a few minutes to make a batch after a long day, when a friend is in need, or when I want to do something fun with my toddler. And third, they have to freeze well so we can pull a few out when we have guests over.

My favorite go-to is this recipe for soft and chewy cowboy cookies. They are just so yummy and soft. The oats set them apart from a regular 'ole chocolate chip, and the M&Ms add both color and deliciousness.

This has been a very long week over at our house, and to be honest, it helps knowing I have a batch in the freezer that I can sneak when the kids are in bed and I want a 5-minute break. 

So without further ado, I give you the easy, soft, chewy, delicious, cowboy cookies we love so much around here.


SOFT AND CHEWY COWBOY COOKIES

*recipe adapted from my cousins, Matt and Michelle Ratto. An earlier version was shared on my blog a few years ago here.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup shortening
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups M&Ms (or any combination of chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, etc.)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
1/4 cup slivered almonds (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the shortening, butter, and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended. Stir in the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Add oats, nuts, M&Ms (or chocolate chips) and coconut and mix until combined. Scoop cookie mixture onto greased cookie sheet (can line with nonstick mat or parchment paper). Bake for 10-13 minutes until the edges are barely light brown and the middle still looks a little under done. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

TIPS FOR AWESOME COOKIES:

+ I always add a little extra flour to give it extra fluffiness. If you're at a high altitude, also throw in 1/2 teaspoon of water.

+ Millions of lives have been ruined by people overbaking their cookies. Don't do it. Take them out a tiny bit before they look done. I promise it will make for the perfect soft cookie and lots of happy friends. Check those babies every minute after about 5 minutes!

+ If a little bit more than the prescribed amount of M&Ms happens to make it into your dough..... well, there would be no way of knowing ;)

+ I always use my small ice cream scoop to make perfect rounded cookie dough balls.

+ Recipe makes three dozen cookies. 

+ These cookies are also great as massive cookies! Make 6 large cookies, slightly flattened, per cookie sheet.
Enjoy!

April 24, 2017

best toys for one year olds (that they'll play with for years to come)


Now that the twins are nine months and mobile, I'm suddenly realizing they're in the older baby category and fast approaching their first birthday. I've started thinking about a gift or two each twin might like to celebrate the fact that we kept them alive for a year (let's be honest, parents are the real MVPs of first birthdays, am I right?).

For birthdays, we follow the minimalist present system:

Something you want
Something you need
Something to wear
Something to read

I think I already failed in the "something to wear" category. Last fall, I saw some darling 4th of July outfits on major clearance and bought them for the twins to wear around their birthday this summer. But of course I didn't take into account that one twin is still in her 6-month clothes and the other is growing into his 18-month clothes. So probably neither of their outfits will fit.

I'm determined to do better in the present category. For the past few weeks, I've been paying extra attention to the type of toys the twins like to play with, and the toys we got for my oldest when she was one that she still likes to play with two years later. I've been watching cool toys at friends' houses and the library too, and I've read a few present reviews and gift guides.

Here's a list of best toys for one-year-olds that they'll still play with when they're two and three. This list ranges from $20-$50, making it great for your child's "big toy" gift of the year.

Bead Maze
When we go to the library, there's always a kid playing with this toy. When we come home, one of my kids is always playing with this toy. When we have friends over, they always play with this toy. Plus it's fun, educational, and helps develop fine motor skills.

Drum + Instrument Kit
This one is a major hit whenever we have friends over. The main feature is a drum complete with a shoulder strap, but inside are rattles, shakers, and cymbals. All kid-friendly, all shaped like different letters of the alphabet, and all designed to make sure you go a little bit insane from the noise by nap time.

Magna-Tiles
I've read review after review after review about the cheaper off-brands of Magna Tiles, and no other brand comes close these cool magnetic tiles. We don't have these yet (it's on the birthday list for all three of my children, hint hint grandparents), but a friend has them at their house. We had two 8-month-olds, a 1 year old, a 2 year old, and a 5 year old all playing with them together (fight free!) for a long time.

Pop-Up Tunnel
We got this one for Christmas last year, and whenever we bring it out the kids go crazy over it. It folds up to store really easily, and it's big enough to be fun without being so large that it doesn't fit inside a living room on a rainy day.

Sit or Stand Learning Walker
All three of my children still play with this toy every single day. And when I say play with, what I mean is fight over. (ha) Clearly we're still learning how to share, but between the detachable play panel, the two wheel settings when learning how to walk, and the way it can zoom around the house at top speed, this toy has been used every day for two years and is still going strong.

Ride-In Car
I have never ever met a child who doesn't love these things. One year olds are too young for a tricycle, but they're just the perfect age to scoot around Flintstone-style in one of these all day long. My older child still fits in and loves these as well. It's on a major sale right now too!

Little People Farm
We love the Little People brand, and this fun farmhouse is a great place to start. Tons of imaginary play ideas, and it's not too advanced or gender-specific. Comes with a farmer and six different animals! We used to have one at our local library, and it was literally always being played with.

Honorable mention: popper vacuum
All kids love these. It's the most coveted toy at my child's church nursery. Lots of toys on this list make noise, but for some reason I just can't stand the noise of these popper toys at my house. But if you have more patience than I do, this one is so great at soon as your little one starts walking.


P.S. If you're stuck in the "something to read" category, here's a list of favorite rhyming board books.

What would you add?
What are the toys your one-year-old plays with every day?

April 20, 2017

The Memories Captured Project: leading lines and where to find them in your neighborhood

Welcome to the Memories Captured Project, a series designed to help parents take beautiful pictures of their children. See more in the series here.

Today's post was lots of fun to write, and it applies not just to parents, but to everyone who wants to take better pictures. The subject? Leading lines.

Leading lines are lines within a picture that naturally draw the viewer's eye to the subject. Leading lines are one of the major compositional tools photographers use.

Take for example this little snapshot of my toddler at a picnic area:
Here are all the leading lines found in the photo:
Do you see how many elements of the table and seats draw your eye to the subject?

Leading lines can be either found in nature or found from the architecture of your setting, and are emphasized by strategic placement of your subject.

Here are a few pictures I snapped of my toddler in our neighborhood last week. They were snapped in the hour before bedtime, with my crazy toddler and my twins in the stroller, just around our house. But hey, if I can find leading lines without even trying, imagine how much easier it will be to find great leading lines when you have no other distractions and are purposefully focused on your goal.

Another example:
This is a little snapshot I took of my youngest daughter crawling last week. Do you see any leading lines?
Even the grains and grooves in the hardwood floor help draw the eye upward toward the subject.

The great news is that leading lines are everywhere. Everywhere! In the middle of nature, in the middle of a city, inside your own home.

Here are a few good places to find leading lines in your own neighborhood.

+ roads
+ sidewalks
+ pathways and walkways
+ stairs
+ playgrounds
+ fences
+ anything with multiple iterations in a row
+ shadows, clouds, or light bursts

A great place to start within your own home is your couch. If you take a picture of your child sitting on a couch from a straight-on angle, there's not many strong leading lines. But if you scoot your child to the side of the couch, and then take the picture from the opposite side, you'll find leading lines going straight to your subject. Then head outside and crouch down to take a picture of the sidewalk. See all the lines drawing your eye down the sidewalk to infinity and beyond?

Two examples of leading lines in rural settings:


The good thing is that, once you're thinking about leading lines, they are absolutely everywhere, and easy to find. It's a fun and easy way to really improve your composition and make your photographs more visually appealing.

And now I want to go out again, sans kids, for a fun leading lines shoot. Anyone want to come?

Does this help introduce leading lines?
I'd love to see your favorite leading lines pictures!

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