Embracing Motherhood Chicken Soup Recipe

Healing Chicken Soup Recipe

This is just your basic chicken soup recipe, but when each component is carefully prepared from the roasting of the chicken, to the making of the stock, to the preparation and addition of other ingredients like the soaked barley, it is truly a masterpiece. I like to make some sort of soup every other week or so (especially during the cold months) because it makes a great “go to” lunch, dinner, breakfast, or snack. Whenever I am too busy to prepare a meal or feel hungry and tempted to eat a pile of cookies or go to McDonalds, I just put my soup on the stove and minutes later I have a nice, delicious, healthy, and nourishing meal.

Ingredients

  • Roasted Chicken (Cut into bite sized pieces. Usually when I make a roasted chicken, we are able to make one meal out of just eating the meat and what’s left over gets put into the soup.)
  • 4 Quarts of Chicken Stock (Check out how I make my simple bone broth here.)
  • 2 c. Soaked Barley (You could also use soaked rice or soaked beans, but barley is the healthiest choice.)
  • 2 c. Chopped Carrots
  • 2. c. Chopped Celery
  • 4 T. Real Salt (I buy my Real Salt in bulk here, you can buy a shaker here, or a refill pouch here.)
  • Optional: 1 c. Chopped Leeks, 1 c. Chopped Bok Choy, or whatever else is leftover in your fridge that could be chopped up and sounds like it would be good in soup (broccoli, potatoes, zucchini, green beans, etc.)!

Directions

  1. Bake the chicken. Check out my roasted chicken recipe here, but basically, you’re going to season your chicken (I use garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and throw a stick of butter in the cavity) and bake at 350° F for 1.5 hours.
    roast chicken

    Roast Chicken

  2. Cut it up. Let the chicken cool, cut it off the bone, and leave to soak in it’s own juices.
  3. Make your bone broth. Read more about making bone broth here, but basically, you’re going to low boil your bones, skin, etc. with cold filtered water and a dash of apple cider vinegar (to draw out the minerals) for 24-36 hours (or at least overnight). Then, drain the broth and use it for your stock.
    straining the broth

    Straining the Bone Broth

  4. Low boil and add the chicken. Bring the chicken broth to a low boil. As it’s heating up, add the chicken. If it looks like there is too much broth, drain some off and either freeze it or save it for later. (I like setting some broth aside and adding it later to make my soup last longer!)
  5. Add the veggies. Depending on how big of a pot you’re making and how long you think it will last, keep that in mind when you cook your veggies. Carrots and celery tend to take longer to cook, so I like to add them first. If I’m adding bok choy, leeks, and parsley, I’ll wait to add them to the end and not cook them for very long so that they don’t get soggy.
    Chicken Soup with Carrots, Celery, Bok Choy, and Leeks

    Chicken Soup with Carrots, Celery, Bok Choy, and Leeks

  6. Add your starch. You can add your pre-soaked barley, some rice, or even beans too (garbanzo and white beans are my favorites). Sometimes, I like to hold off on the starch and just leave the meat and veggies, and sometimes, I like to cook a pot of rice and pour my soup over it. Yum!
    chicken soup over rice

    Chicken Soup Over Rice

  7. Salt to taste. Yes, you can over salt your soup, and I have done it many times! Start out with some, then add a little more and a little more until it tastes just right.
  8. Enjoy! When everything is just right, get out your bowls and enjoy some soup! It’s also really good to serve some piping hot sourdough muffins with this meal.
    Chicken Soup with Carrots, Celery, Bok Choy, and Leeks

    Chicken Soup with Carrots, Celery, Bok Choy, and Leeks

In Conclusion

Chicken soup make with organic, pasture raised chickens using properly prepared broth and grains is just about one of the healthiest meals you can eat. I love making a pot whether it’s summer or winter for a nourishing go to meal that can last my family through the week. Read more of my soup recipes here or my chicken recipes here.

How to Make the Best Roasted Chicken

How to Make the Best Roasted Chicken

This is a very basic recipe for roasted chicken, but sometimes the best meals stem from simplicity. I like to make a roasted chicken about once a week. My kids love eating it cut up into bite size chunks when it’s fresh out of the oven, and my husband always gets first dibs on the legs! After I pick all of the meat off, I’ll boil the bones to make chicken stock and the extra chicken will either go into a pot of soup, or I’ll use it for some other meal.

Ingredients

  • One Whole Chicken (Organic and pastured is best, look for a local farmer, or check it our here)
  • 1 Stick of Butter (Pastured butter like Kerrygold is the best.)
  • 1 t. Real Salt (I buy my Real Salt in bulk here. You can buy a shaker here, or a refill pouch here.)
  • 1 t. Pepper (Buy it here.)
  • 1 t. Ground Oregano (I buy mine here or you can buy it here.)
  • 1 t. Ground Basil (I buy mine here or you can buy it here.)
  • 1 t. Garlic Powder (I buy mine here or you can buy it here or here.)
  • 1 t. Onion Powder (I buy mine here or you can buy it here.)

Directions

  1. Thaw the chicken. If the chicken is frozen, try to remember to put it in the fridge for a day or two until it thaws out. If you’re in a pinch, fill the sink up with warm water and let it soak for an hour. (Don’t try to cook the chicken frozen.)
  2. Get the oven ready. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  3. Prepare the chicken. Once the chicken is thawed, pull out the giblets and give them to your cat/dog, rinse with cold water, pat dry with a paper towel, and place in a roasting pan. (I like using a glass pan).
  4. Season. Sprinkle the seasonings generously all over the chicken, especially inside the cavity. I actually never measure my seasonings, I just try to coat the chicken evenly.
  5. Butter. Put the stick of butter inside the cavity of the chicken. (You could also rub some of the butter into the skin of the chicken. Just do it before you add the seasonings.) *Butter is not to be feared as we have so previously and erroneously thought. Read more here.)

    raw chicken with seasonings stuffed with butter in glass pan ready to be cooked

    Seasoned Whole Chicken Ready to be Cooked

  6. Bake. Bake at 350˚F for 1½ hours.

    roast chicken

    Roasted Chicken

  7. Let cool. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before cutting. (This gives the juices a chance to settle in.) If you notice that the juice is really pink or that the chicken is still pink, cook for another 20 minutes and check again. If you’re the type who likes to check the internal temperature, it should read 165˚F.
  8. Cut into pieces. Peal the skin back and cut horizontal lines in the breast followed by vertical lines. Then cut down at an angle until you get big chunks of breast meat falling off the bone.

    pre-cut chicken breast on a cooked roasted chicken in a glass pan

    Pre-Cut Chicken Breast from a Roasted Chicken

  9. Soak the meat in the juice. Let these chunks of meat soak in the juice of the chicken. Cut the rest of the meat off the bones as much as possible. (To remove the chicken legs, find where the two bones connect and gently saw through the cartilage.) Leave the legs and wings intact if it suits your fancy. Let all of the meat soak in the juice, sprinkle with a fresh bit of salt, and serve! *My chicken legs never make it past my husband; they’re his favorite! 🙂

    roasted chicken breast meat cut up and soaking in juices legs cut off

    Roasted Chicken Meat Cut and Ready to Serve

  10. Save the scraps. Save the bones, skin, and all other remnants to make a healing chicken broth and/or use the chicken (and all of the juice of course) to make some delicious chicken soup!

Variations:

You can use any combination of the following variations. Try a few things out. See what you like and don’t like. Get creative and try something new!

  • Cut a lemon in half, gently squeeze both halves into the cavity of the chicken, and place both halves in there as well.
  • Peel some garlic cloves (about 4-6 nice sized ones) and place them in the cavity of the chicken.
  • Use rosemary, salt, and pepper only.
  • Chop up some big chunks of onion and place them around the chicken.
  • Cut up some potatoes (or leave them whole) and place them around the chicken.
  • Cut up some carrots and celery into big chunks and place them around the chicken.
Embracing Motherhood How to Make Bone Broth

How to Make a Nourishing Chicken Bone Broth

Making a good chicken bone broth (or chicken stock as it is also called) is one of the simplest and most nourishing things you can make. You can use it immediately to make some chicken soup, put it in a Ziploc bag and freeze it to use later, freeze it in ice cube trays to have little bursts of “bullion” to use whenever you need it, or you can simply sip a nice hot mug of it instead of coffee or as a snack/meal replacement.

Health Benefits of Chicken Broth

I love making soup of any kind because it provides a nice complete meal that can feed my family at a moment’s notice for the week, but I especially like making any kind of soup with chicken bone broth because it is pretty much the most healing and most nutritious food there is.

Chicken bone broth is easy to both digest and metabolize (two things that are very different yet people think are the same…I’ll be exploring this in more depth at a later time). This makes it perfect the perfect food when you are trying to heal from any chronic illness or are sick with the flu or the common cold.

During digestion, the gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid that attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, which helps to support proper digestion. In her book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon also states that chicken soup,

“Has a natural ingredient which feeds, repairs and calms the mucous lining in the small intestine. This inner lining is the beginning or ending of the nervous system. It is easily pulled away from the intestine through too many laxatives, too many additives…and parasites.”

Chicken broth also contains valuable minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulfur chondroitin, glucosamine, and a variety of trace minerals that are in a form your body can easily absorb. When your body is healing, you NEED these nutrients from nutrient dense food to heal.

Another cool thing about bone broth is that because of the anti-inflammatory acids such as arginine, it helps to inhibit infection caused by cold and flu viruses. In her article, Broth is Beautiful, Sally Fallon explains,

“Science validates what our grandmothers knew. Rich homemade chicken broths help cure colds. Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily—not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons–stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.”

My Recipe

Ok, so are you ready to make some broth? For such a simple meal, there sure are a lot of different recipes for bone broth. With four young children underfoot, I like to cook food that’s as nutritious as possible as simply as possible. This is why I don’t add anything (except apple cider vinegar, which helps to draw out the minerals) to my bone broth. You can surely get creative and add whatever you’d like, but if you’re looking for simple, you’ve come to the right place!

Ingredients

  • One Whole Roasted Chicken (Preferably organic and pastured, the stock will not gel properly with a battery-raised chicken.)
  • One Large Pot
  • Cold Filtered Water
  • 1 T Apple Cider Vinegar (This pulls the minerals, especially calcium, out of the chicken bones.)
  • Optional: Carrot tops and pieces, celery stalks and leaves, onion skins and onion, parsley, and salt (I usually don’t add any of these ingredients except the salt, and I wait to add that at then end so that I can salt it to my taste preference. If you’re going to add parsley, wait until the very end.)
  • Advanced: Chicken feet (Provides a more gelatinous broth.)

Directions

  1. Roast your chicken. You can read more about my roasted chicken here, but basically, I stuff mine with a stick of butter and season with salt, pepper, and onion powder and bake at 350° F for 1.5 hours.

    roast chicken

    Roast Chicken

  2. Pick off the meat. I like to cut my breasts into cubes before cutting off the bone. Then I methodically pick off all usable pieces of meat, cut into bite size pieces, leave all pieces to soak (Don’t you dare waste the drippings!) in the remaining chicken juice, cover, and store in the refrigerator until the next day.

    Pick the Meat Off the Bones

    Pick the Meat Off the Bones

  3. Save all skin, bones, and other parts. I do typically discard the giblets (unless my cats want to eat them), but other than that, every last little scrap goes into my pot including the carcass, bones, skin, and any other little tidbits. I also like to leave just a titch of meat on the bones for extra flavor.

    Save ALL of Your Chicken Scraps

    Save ALL of Your Chicken Scraps

  4. Cover with water. After filling the pot with your chicken scraps, fill to just about the brim with cold filtered water.

    Chicken Bits Covered with Water

    Chicken Bits Covered with Water

  5. Apple cider vinegar. You have to be careful that you don’t add too much or you will really taste it. You might want to start with just a teaspoon and adjust to taste. Even though 2 tablespoons would be most effective, I usually only add about a teaspoon because that’s the flavor I like.
  6. Slow boil. Bring the water to a slow boil and skim any scum that comes to the top. (These are impurities.)
  7. Cover and simmer. Cover and reduce to a low rolling boil. (On my stove, this usually hovers around a 2 or 3.) Ideally, you’ll want it to simmer for a good 24-36 hours for the maximum benefit, but at the very least, just let it simmer overnight.

    bone broth cooling

    Bone Broth Cooling

  8. Cool and strain. Turn off the burner, let it cool, then strain into a separate bowl through a colander. You’ll notice that the bones will be soft and break apart easily. Do not feed them to any animals, it will tear up their insides.

    straining the broth

    Straining the Broth

  9. Enjoy! Time to put your broth to use.
    • Chicken Soup: Add some chicken, celery, carrots, and soaked barely to make a simple chicken soup.

      Chicken Soup Bowl

      Chicken Soup

    • Egg Drop Soup: Bring it to a boil, add some Bragg Liquid Aminos, Sriracha, and eggs to make an egg drop soup to die for.

      egg drop soup

      Egg Drop Soup

    • Store in the Freezer: Store your stock in Ziploc bags in the freezer. (Just be sure to lay them flat instead of plopping them on a rack where they will freeze while seeping through the cracks and then rip open when you try to take it out later….um, personal experience!)
    • Freeze into Cubes: Freeze in ice cube trays to save for smaller size portions to use instead of those MSG laden “bullion cubes”.
    • Sip It: Pour into a mug to sip on. Sometimes, I like adding some Bragg Liquid Aminos and Sriracha for a spicy oriental flavor!

      Bone Broth in a Mug

      Bone Broth in a Mug

In Conclusion

If there is one food that you could add to your family’s meal plan that would make the most difference, I would say that bone broth is in the top ten for sure! If you’re not much of a cook, don’t worry! You can hardly get this recipe wrong! If you are, there are certainly a lot of variations you could try to make this a gourmet dish. As we enter another cold winter season full of viruses, I’m sure that I’ll be finding ways to incorporate this bone broth into our diets on a regular basis.

See more ideas for what to make with this broth in my soup section.

4 Ingredient Slime Putty

silly putty colors

Slime Putty Colors

We are always looking for quick and easy art projects, and this one fit the bill! Ruby actually found this recipe on YouTube Kids, and we just so happened so have all of the ingredients to make it laying around! This recipe was an instant hit with the kids, and after playing with the first batch, they wanted to make a variety of colors. This was quick and easy to make and the kids have really enjoyed playing with it…which is a win, win, win!

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Dump out the glue into the bowl. Tip those bottles upside down and get out as much glue as you can!

    elliot adding glue to make slime putty

    Elliot Dumping Out Glue

  2. Mix in the food coloring. Start with a few drops, stir, and then add more as needed to achieve your desired color.

    elliot adding food coloring to make slime putty

    Adding the Food Coloring

  3. Make the borax mixture. Fill up a cup with warm/hot water and mix in about a teaspoon of borax. Let it sit/stir it until it dissolves.

    mixing borax and water for making slime putty

    Mixing Borax and Water

  4. Add the borax mixture to the glue. *This part is really tricky and very easy to mess up! If you add too much of the borax mixture, it will turn to a hard blob, if you don’t add enough, it will stick to your hands.
    adding borax mixture to glue to make slime putty

    Adding Borax Mixture to Glue

    You want to add just a little bit, stir, stir, stir, add a bit more, stir some more, mix with your fingers (about 2 minutes), then only add more if it’s still sticky. Trust me, add less than you think you’ll need and you’ll be just fine.

    mixing slime putty mixture by hand

    Mix it By Hand

  5. Final Slime Putty: The consistency should be soft and stretchy, but not sticky. (Although, if you do what Elliot is doing below, pieces WILL get stuck in your hair, and watch out, because this stuff can get stuck in carpet and on clothes too if you’re not careful!)

    Elliot Wearing His Slime Putty on His Head

    Elliot Wearing His Slime Putty

  6. Play with your goo! Stretch it, pull it, roll it, and have fun! Store it in a ziploc bag when you are done so that it won’t dry out.
    Elliot Rolling Out Slime Putty with a Rolling Pin

    Elliot Rolling Out Slime Putty

    *Now that you’ve got your Borax out, you might want to whip up a batch of some homemade laundry detergent!

13 Tips for Creating Your Own Website with Blog

13 Steps for Creating Your Own Website

While there are a lot of companies out there that can create a website for you (like my sister Andrea at Curly Host), there are many benefits of creating your website yourself…especially if you don’t have much of a budget. Yes, it is quite a bit of work at first, but by creating your own website, you’ll be able to test out a variety of ideas, customize everything to your specific needs, and manage updates according to your schedule.

I’m not claiming to be the guru of all areas of web development here, but I have learned A LOT about what to do (and what not to do) when it comes to creating my own website. I started out just wanting a platform to blog about motherhood with a specific vision for my organization, and now I’m actually making some money with Amazon Associates and with my Embracing Motherhood Shop.

So without further adieu, here are my 13 steps for starting your own website.

1. Brainstorm Ideas

Grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just start creating a mind map of all words that you would use to describe your website. (You could also use a mind mapping application like this.) Don’t worry about organizing your ideas at this point, just free associate the first words that pop into your brain when you think of your website.

For me, my initial brainstorming web included words like: pregnancy, birth, natural birth, healthy food, nutrition, recipes, food science, fitness, teaching, parenting, lesson ideas, homeschool, young children, stay at home mom, and so on.

2. Find Your Niche

Once you have a broad idea of where you’d like to go, find some other websites or blogs out there that are covering the topics that you are hoping to explore. I enjoyed finding several mothering, nutrition, and education websites and following them on social media to get their latest content. I would read their latest blogs, peruse their sites, notice things that I liked and didn’t, and thought about how I would try to define myself in my own way.

You will be constantly honing your writing style and finding your voice as you write. It is not something that will happen overnight. If you look at some of the earlier blogs I’ve written (mainly about health and nutrition), you’ll notice that my voice and style are different than they are now. Once I started getting an audience, getting feedback from others, and seeing my content live, I was able to see what things were working better than others. I learned how to create a certain flow that people could skim and scan through by adding quotes, headlines, lists, numbers, bolded and italicized text, and images so that a reader could get the general idea without reading every word.

3. Come Up With a Name

Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas and done your research, it’s time to start thinking about a name. Same as the original brainstorming session, get a piece of paper and a pencil and just start writing down every possible name you can think of, no matter how crazy or silly, just get it out there. I think it’s a good idea for your name to be a pretty obvious representation of what you want to write about, but you can just go ahead and make up a new word too. Basically, you’re looking for something short, simple, easy to share with someone verbally, and something that has a nice ring to it.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few favorite names, start doing a Google search to see what comes up. After I had my heart set on Embracing Motherhood, I discovered that the domain name embracingmotherhood.com was only available if I wanted to spend $4,888 so I did what you really shouldn’t do, I used a hyphen…embracing-motherhood.com.

LeanDomainSearch is a great way to brainstorm ideas with available domain names. Once you have a name you think you’d like, run it through Domainr to see if it’s available. Also check out social media platforms like FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter to see if your name is already being used. *Check out some more great tips for coming up with a name here and here.

4. Purchase Your Domain and Hosting

Now, because my sister is helping me out, she helped me buy my domain name and does my hosting for me. She uses a company called BlueHost. This company is great, and I would recommend going with the plus package that gives you unlimited storage and will run you $5.95/mo. When you sign up for hosting, it will walk you through registering your domain name as well (for free). For an extra $2.99/mo. you can get Site Backup Pro that automatically creates a daily backup copy of your entire site. If you’re creating a lot of content, this is a good idea.

5. Design a Logo

This might be something that you want to save for later, but I enjoyed getting mine done early on. My sister Andrea knows a freelance artist who helped me design my logo, but there are many different logo makers online. This one is pretty good and will cost you from $20-$100 and this one is pretty great too and will only cost you $39. (Beware, many sites that claim “free logo design” will actually make you pay for the high-res image.)

As you pick a logo, keep your color scheme in mind. Because I was wearing a purple shirt in the profile picture I chose, I ended up using purple for my main color. Then I used green as my accent and went with a rainbow pattern of colors because I like rainbows! I hope to keep working on my design in the future, but right now I’m more focused on content. 🙂

6. WordPress

I recommend going with WordPress.org over WordPress.com. Once you secure your domain and hosting, you can download WordPress and get started. They have some free themes ready to go, but after checking out many many different themes, my sister highly recommended going with Enfold for $59. This is what I use, and I love it! Everything is drag and drop and there is a great online support forum. (Just log in with your WordPress info and search for your question or write a new one. I have used this many times, and always gotten excellent support.)

If you go with WordPress.com, it is free and a one stop shop for your basic blog, but only if you plan on hosting less than 3 GB of data ($99/year for unlimited data) and you’re not allowed to connect to affiliate’s programs like Amazon Associates and have very little options in terms of design.

There are two ways you can get familiar with WordPress. You can just dive in (like I did), and look online when you have questions (just do a very specific Google search). Or, you can check out this WordPress for Beginners Blog or watch this great tutorial series to learn everything you’ll need to know before or while you’re playing around with your own site.

*You can also check out Squarespace (7 pages for $12/month), Webflow (20 pages for $20/month), Weebly ($8/mo. for unlimited pages or free with limited services), or a free blogging platform like Tumblr or Blogger.

7. Customizing

Once you get your theme, you’ll want to customize it to work for you. This part can seem really overwhelming and is probably where you’ll need to do the most amount of learning/research, so you might want to skip this step and come back to this later.

  1. Hide Your Site: As you’re building your site, you might want to hide it from search engines. To do this, go to the “Settings” option on the left toolbar, select “Reading”, and the click on the box that says, “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”. You might also want to install a plug-in like this that will give a “Coming Soon” message.
  2. Theme Options: On the left toolbar, you’ll see a gear shaped icon with the name of your site. You will want to go here first and click on every option to set things up and get familiar with what you can do. When I was learning about WordPress, I spent a lot of time here changing one thing at a time, looking at things live (on the top toolbar, click on your site name with the home icon, and click “Visit Site”), and tweaking it until I liked what I had. This is where you’ll add your logo, set up your social media icons.
  3. Widgets: On the left toolbar, under “Appearance”, you’ll find “Widgets” (along with themes, menu, etc.). Widgets are a great way to customize the look of your blog. For my sidebar widget, I have a search tool, my picture, my affiliate’s disclosure, a subscribe widget, popular posts, and recent posts. In my footer widgets, I have four columns for my social media profiles.
  4. Plug-ins: Whenever you want to add something specific to your site, there’s a plug-in for that. Just like with everything else, you’ll want to play around with different plug-ins to see what you like/don’t like. *Now, don’t get crazy with the plug-ins, sometimes they can be the reason your site starts acting crazy, and you’ll have to deactivate them one at a time to figure out the problem. Here are the plug-ins I love:
    1. Askimet: Stops spam
    2. Broken Link Checker: Tells you on your dashboard page where all of your broken links are
    3. Pinterest Pin It Button: I always pin my own articles and have gotten a lot of hits this way.
    4. Print Friendly and PDF: Provides a button that allows users to easily print your blogs.
    5. Stop Spammers Spam Control: Prevents spammers from leaving comments
    6. Woocommerce: What I used to build my Embracing Motherhood Shop

7. Organizing

If you’re like me, you’ll want to have a framework of organization for your content before getting started. It’s a bit time consuming to do this on the front end, and so you may just want to write 20-30 blogs or build your content before you worry about organization, but then you’ll have to go back to each blog to add categories, etc. So, here’s what I recommend, but as with everything, you have to do what works for you.

  1. Create Pages: You’ll first of all want a home page (some people like their blog to be their home page, but not me, it feels too random). Then create pages for all of your main ideas and link them to your home page. (Mine are: Home, All Blogs, Parenting, Teaching, Mom Talk, Health, How To, Guest Bloggers, Etsy, and Shop) Start by using the “Advanced Layout Editor” to create a “Page Template”. Basically, everything needs to be in a layout box, then you can put a “Text Box” (under “Content Elements”) inside of a layout box to create a header. Then, you can add a “Magazine” or “Blog Post” layout to put under that and it will automatically put all blogs with a matching category there. Watch this tutorial to learn more about creating pages.
  2. Create Categories: These are how you’ll organize your blogs. Under “Posts” on the left toolbar, select “Categories” and just create categories for all of your main ideas. You can also create subcategories by selecting a “Parent”, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this at first. Now, when you write your blogs, just select which category they belong in and you can sort them to the appropriate pages.
  3. Create a Menu: Now that you have your main pages, you can organize them into a menu. Under “Appearance”on the left toolbar, choose “Menu”. There, you can add what pages will be on your main menu.
  4. Write Some Content: Once you have a general layout, you can start writing some posts! It may take awhile to find your voice and your writing style, but don’t worry about that at first, just start getting some content out there so you can see how everything works together.

8. Adding Images

When I first started writing a blog, I was so sad that I couldn’t just do a Google image search and use whatever photos I wanted. 🙁 How easy would that be??? But thanks to Creative Commons, there are lots of free works available to use.

  1. Use Your Own Pictures: It can be so tempting to buy stock photos, but using pictures that you have taken gives your blog a much more personal touch, and it won’t cost you any money!
  2. Attribution: When you use someone else’s photo, even if it’s “Creative Commons”, you should give attribution according to the specifications of the image. If I use an image within my blog, I’ll put the attribution right under the photo saying something like: Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Pearson Scott Foresman, 2008. I’ll also link my photo to the original source. You can also credit the image source at the end of your blog. Here’s a good article with more information about giving image credits.
  3. Canva: Canva is a very simple photo editing program that allows you to custom design images with text. This is what I use to create my featured images for my blogs (845 x 321 pixels are the dimensions you want for a featured blog image with sidebar). I like it because there are suggested dimensions for a variety of social media and other outlets many basic templates available, simple tools for adding text, and basic tools for modifying your image. You can even search for a particular image and purchase it for $1.
  4. Photo Pin: Here, you can search millions of Creative Commons photos and easily add them to your blog posts. A photo attribution link is provided for each image.
  5. Flickr: Start by clicking on “Explore” and then search for the type of image you’re looking for. Look at the image description to see if it is “Creative Commons” or free to use, if so, attribute the image according to the author’s request.
  6. Wikimedia Commons: This is my favorite place to go for free photos when I need them…usually to place within my blog. Just search for what you’re looking for and make sure to attribute according to each photo’s request.
  7. Pixabay: This is a great place to search for free photos, and they don’t require any attribution!
  8. Shutterstock: If you are willing to pay for some really high quality images (usually $1-2), this is a HUGE resource.
  9. Pexels: Great stock photos and videos for free use.
  10. Vimeo: You can find free stock videos here.

9. Search Engine Optimization

You probably won’t be concerned with this at first, but if you can keep these tips in mind as you create content, then you won’t have to go back and rewrite everything. :).

  1. Write Good Content: This is kind of a no brainer, but if your writing is good, easy to follow, and useful, you’ll have a higher chance of people reading it, sharing it, and linking to it. The more popular a blog post is, the more likely it is to show up on a search engine.
  2. Make Your Topic Clear: Clever titles (and click bait titles) aren’t as useful as clear titles that emphasize the main idea of your blog post. Then, make sure to state the main idea of your post in the first sentence and repeat key words throughout.
  3. Alt-Text: When you upload photos, make sure they have an accurate name that describes the image (this can’t be added later), then set the alt text so that it spells out any text used in the picture as well as gives an accurate description of what the photo is. This helps webcrawlers to find your content in search engines more easily.
  4. Categories: If you group similar content based on content, category names are a great organization tool that recommends similar articles in your website.
  5. Tags: As you create tags for your posts, think of what people will type into their search engines. Also, include your categories.
  6. Link Building: The more people who link to your site, the higher search engine ranking you’ll get.
  7. Networking: By having guest bloggers, doing guest posts for other websites, and teaming up with others selling similar or complementary products/services you can increase your traffic as well.

*Read more about search engine optimization here.

10. Social Media

Social media is a great way to get your content out there and advertise your website.

  1. FaceBook: This is a great place to network and share your content.
  2. Twitter: Another great platform to share your content.
  3. Instagram: A visual platform to share your pictures associated with your website.
  4. Google Plus: Helps your content to show up in Google searches more often.
  5. Pinterest: A great way to get your content shared in a visual format.
  6. YouTube: Think about starting a YouTube channel to share your content.

11. Amazon Associates

If you are going to be linking to products that people can buy on Amazon, you’ll want to start an Amazon Associate’s account. Watch the tutorial here to learn about the program in more detail, but basically, you can earn a percentage (which starts out low, but gets higher when more items are purchased) when people click on your links and buy your recommended items. The really cool thing about this program is that if people search for and buy other items once they’ve entered Amazon via your site (even items you haven’t recommended), you’ll still earn a percentage. This is called a “third party sale”. *On a side note: the cost of the product remains the same as if the customer would just do a regular Amazon search.

Amazon approves accounts on a case by case basis, and you’ll need to get a certain amount of clicks on your links in order to remain in the program. You also have to make sure you clearly disclose your affiliation or they could terminate your account. (Check out my disclaimer here. I also have a disclaimer link on every blog.)

12. WooCommerce

Woocommerce is the best way to set up a shopping platform. It’s free, easy to set up, and easy to use. Once you install the plugin, it will walk you through the install. I recommend creating your own shop page so you can customize it, but if you don’t, it will automatically create one for you. Once everything is installed, all you have to do is set up your products. If you have any questions along the way, check out Woocommerce Docs.

Setting up shipping was the hardest thing for me. I tried setting up a variety of shipping options, and in the end just decided to include the cost of shipping in my product and offer free shipping on everything.

Another option if you’re looking to have all of the work done for you (calculating shipping, printing shipping labels, sending customers tracking information, etc.), you might want to consider opening an Etsy shop and linking to it on your website. The benefit of using Etsy is that it can provide a platform for you to share your product, but the downside is that it doesn’t offer as many options if you plan on growing. Check out my Etsy shop here, and feel free to copy my shipping policies, etc.

13. Nitty Gritty Stuff

  1. Cite Your Sources: This isn’t English 101 requiring MLA format, but be courteous and find a way to link to the sources that you can use. You can link to the name of the author and/or title of their work, link to some key words in your text, or have a link called “source” in parentheses at the end of the information you’re paraphrasing. If you’re citing something word for word, make sure you put it in quotes and thoroughly cite the source.
  2. Grammar Police: Think about what tense you want to write in (past, present, or future) and stick with it. Find a pattern for personal pronouns (“you” is informal, “one” is really formal, or you can stick with your experiences and just say “I” or “we”). When referring to gender pronouns, you can try to make the plural form work, alternate between he/she, or take turns with each gender.
  3. Policies and Disclaimers: You might not want to worry about this until later, but it’s good to cover your butt and have these thing covered. Check out my terms of use, disclaimer, privacy policy, comment policy, and more in my About Me section.
  4. Make Yourself Present: Find a good picture of yourself to post and have a place for a personal bio. People like to know who is creating the content.

In Conclusion

I’m not going to lie, having my sister as a web developer has definitely given me an edge as I’ve created my own website, but I hope that by offering these tips, I can help to give you that edge too. I certainly don’t know everything and have a long ways to go before I reach my final goals, but I hope that by sharing my experiences with creating a website, I can help others out there who were once starting out just like me. If you’ve got a budget, I highly recommend getting ahold of my sister Andrea at Curly Host, and she will not only set you up, but teach you how to manage your own cite along the way.

FREE 2016-2017 School Year Calendar Embracing Motherhood

FREE 2016-2017 School Year Calendar

If you’re looking for a “year at a glance” calendar for the 2016-2017 school year that you can display in one location, look no further!

When I was a teacher, I loved printing one of these out for every subject area, and using pens and different colored highlighters to see my year at a glance. This was really helpful for keeping me on track during the year to make sure I covered all of the necessary curriculum.

Now, as a parent with two children about to be in school, I love having this “year at a glance” calendar so that I can keep track of all major upcoming events in one central location.

Download the Year Long Calendar

2016-2017 Year Long Calendar PDF

Unfortunately, I can’t upload the Publisher file where I created it (in case you wanted to edit it), but if you email me, I can send it to you!

Desk Pad Calendar

In addition to having my year at a glance calendar, I also like using this desk pad calendar because it allows me to write down a lot of details, and it’s big enough for the kids to see it and read it. I like hanging mine on the wall right in the kitchen.

I like writing homework assignments, when library books are due, gym days, and any other important school information on this calendar.

In Conclusion

Staying organized on paper is pretty much the only way my brain can function. I love using OneNote for just about everything so that I stay organized on my phone, but there’s nothing like paper accountability that’s visible and right in your face!

The Importance of Learning the ABCs

Learning the ABCs is something so intrinsic to childhood that as adults, we might hardly recognize the importance, but learning the ABCs is more than just singing a song, it’s understanding that each letter has a name, each letter makes a sound, and that these sounds come together to make words. Having a strong understanding of this concept at a young age will make learning how to read seem to happen “as if by chance” (which is how Finnish children typically learn to read).

What Does It Mean to Learn the ABCs?

  1. Letter Names: Learning the names of the 26 letters is pretty basic and straightforward. When children learn what each letter is called, it paves the way for learning the sounds that the letters make.
  2. Letter Sounds: Learning the sounds that the letters make is a bit more complex…probably due to the fact that our 26 letters actually make 44 different sounds. Knowing the different sounds that the letters make is called phonemic awareness.
  3. Letters Come Together to Make Words: Before children start putting letters together to make words, they need to understand that words represent something…a person, action, thing, idea, etc. Then, they learn that the letters “c”, “a”, and “t” can be sounded out as /c/-/a/-/t/ to make the word “cat” and this is the gateway to reading. This is what is known as phonics.
  4. Writing Letters: I often hear of children learning how to write their letters at the same time they are learning letter names and sounds, and I believe that these are two very different skills that should not be taught simultaneously (unless the window for learning has been missed, and there are no other options). Learning how to write letters requires an advanced level of fine motor skills that children do not typically possess until about 4 or 5 years of age, but learning the letter names and sounds is something that can begin as young as 6-8 months of age.

*Check out my Embracing Motherhood Shop to see all of the resources I have made to help you teach your child the ABCs! Also, check out this blog about my favorite additional ABC resources.

How Children Really Learn How to Read

There is a misconception in the United States (and other countries too) that children are not ready to learn how to read until they begin formal schooling. The U.S. Department of Education actually supports the notion that Louisa C. Moats coined in 1999 that,

“Teaching reading is rocket science.”

They go on to explain that,

“Becoming a reader is not a natural process, but requires direct and explicit instruction.”

This type of rhetoric perpetuates the stereotype that only qualified professionals are equipped to teach children such a complicated skill as reading. And while yes, teaching the letter names, sounds, and simple phonics does require a wee bit of direct and explicit instruction, it mostly occurs naturally when a learning environment is created that encourages the teaching of these skills.

If you look at the way they do things over in Finland (which boasts some of the highest reading scores in the world), you’ll see that children there are immersed in reading skills from a very young age and learn how to read “as if by chance”. (Read more about the differences in the U.S. and Finland’s educational system here in my blog: 15 Reasons Why Schools in Finland are Performing Better Than Schools in the United States).

In my blog, How Children Really Learn to Read..in 10 Steps, I explore the true progression that occurs when a child learns how to read based on what I’ve learned during my seven years as an elementary classroom educator and ESL teaching coach, throughout the acquisition of my Master’s degree centered around language acquisition, and from raising our four children who have all learned their ABCs from a very young age and then went on to read “as if by chance”.

Basically, learning how to read is about acquiring a battery of skills that starts at birth. It begins with feeling safe and loved and having all basic needs met, then it progresses into vocabulary development in a language rich environment that includes lots of songs, nursery rhymes, and repetitive reading, after that children need a solid foundation in letter names, sounds, an understanding that words have meaning, and explicit guidance to see how letters come together to form words. It then all culminates with a massive amount of word memorization that occurs almost effortlessly when a love of reading is nurtured and allowed to grow.

Brain Development

In my article, “How Children’s Brains are Wired for Learning“, I explain in depth how children’s brains are wired to learn A LOT from a VERY young age. If you look at graphics like this one and this one that show the number of neurons and synaptic connections in between neurons, you’ll see that there is an EXPLOSION of connections beginning at about 6 months, culminating at an unprecedented height between the ages of 2-3, and then dwindling beginning at the age 4 when synaptic pruning occurs. During this process, the connections that are used become reinforced and the connections that are not used go away.

What does this have to do with the ABCs? When children begin learning about the ABCs at a very young age (like 6-8 months), the brain learns that this is something VERY IMPORTANT, something that needs to be reinforced, and something that will be used to help lay the foundation for all further connections that will be made in the brain.

Understanding the letter names and sounds from a young age is absolutely crucial to being able to sound out new words and add them to the memory bank of words. When this knowledge is solidified at a very young age, it makes learning how to read happen “as if by chance”.

Research Supports Early Learning of the ABCs

In every bit of research I have ever studied about early literacy, there is insurmountable evidence that a strong foundation in phonemic awareness produces amazing results. Take a look at this meta analysis of 71 intervention control groups in studies reporting post test and follow up data looking at the long term effects of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and reading comprehension interventions. What they found is that,

“Comprehension and phonemic awareness interventions showed good maintenance of effect that transferred to nontargeted skills, whereas phonics and fluency interventions…tended not to.”

This reinforces the fact that learning phonemic awareness (the letter sounds) in conjunction with comprehension (so not just isolated phonemic awareness drills, but phonemic awareness in the context of learning say, vocabulary) is extremely important and WAY MORE so than phonics and fluency.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) research has studied 10,000 children over the past 15 years and found that the one of the main reasons why children struggle with reading comes down to their inability to do one simple thing, and that is to connect letter names to letter sounds. The research shows that children need to be explicitly taught the letter names, the letter sounds, and how to decode words, and that these are not skills that children will just “figure out” on their own with exposure.

The bottom line is that it is MUCH easier for children to learn things correctly the first time around. According to the research in “Learning to Read: A Call from Research to Action” by G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D 85-90% of all reading disabilities can be corrected if early intervention occurs (like in kindergarten). But unfortunately, many kids don’t become identified as having a reading disability or being behind in reading until they are 9 years old and by then, their brains aren’t as ready to accept new pathways of learning, and only 25% will be able to reach average reading levels with interventions.

The biggest disservice we are doing for children is that we are waiting WAY too long to teach them reading skills in the first place. If we can start to build the foundation for reading as parents when our children are young, then we won’t have to wait until it might be too late.

Observations with My Own Children

When our first daughter was born, being an educator, I naturally had great plans to stimulate her mind and help her grow, but after using portions of Your Baby Can Read and teaching her letter names and letter sounds I have been continuously BLOWN AWAY by all that she can do. When she knew all of her letters at 15 months, I was astounded, when she was reading words (that she memorized) well before the age of 2, I was blown away, and when she was full on able to read at the age of 4. Now, at the ripe old age of 6, she absolutely loves reading chapter books. (See more videos of all of our children learning how to read here.)

With all four of our children, we have taught them the letter names and letter sounds from a very young age (starting at about 8 months). At the same time, we have used repetitive reading and my own videos teaching vocabulary and the concept that words have meaning. After we taught my three older ones (now ages 3, 5, and 6) how to decode simple three letter words and continued reading to them regularly, we noticed that they all started to read (each in their own good time) “as if by chance”.

These observations have fascinated me and motivated me to document their reading progression in these blogs and to create my own “Teach Your Child to Read” program (a work in progress…check it out at my Embracing Motherhood Shop) so that any interested parent can purchase a kit that will replicate the great success I’ve seen with our own children.

In Conclusion

By teaching children the ABCs from a young age, not only will they enjoy it and be entertained by the challenge, but they will move into the next phase of learning how to read with such strength, confidence, and ease without any of the challenges that come from not knowing the letter names, sounds, or how they work together.