christmas tree decorating! + a video!


i’m probably the happiest lady in all of new york city this week because we pulled out all our christmas decorations and got that tree up (well, two trees… we’ve been keeping up with tradition having the littles decorate their own smaller tree in their nursery).  we went the artificial tree route this year since we put them up earlier than we normally do (probably the best perk to having a baby due in a few weeks!) and even though i know i’ll miss that fresh pine smell from a real tree, there is no way i can complain about anything right now.

whenever you begin decorating for the holidays, we wish you a wonderful time decorating! we filmed a few snippets of our time putting up our trees this week below if you’d like to watch. the kids faces hanging all those ornaments can’t be topped. lots of clapping and jumping up and down. don’t have a clue where they get it from. ;)

happy tree decorating, friends!

ps. our christmas tree last year here and this old video from josh’s and my first christmas together is fun, too. we were so young!

toddler eats: sweet potato pumpkin rolls!

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i’m so excited about this recipe kelsey nixon is sharing today and just in time for thanksgiving next week! any kind of homemade roll is a major must on my thanksgiving plate and bonus points if it has pumpkin! i also love how this recipe incorporates a little gratitude scroll craft as well! very cute. we’re looking forward to making these next week with the kiddos.  and i’m especially looking forward to eating a big plate of these rolls all by myself, too!  ;)
kelsey says:
With Thanksgiving just a week away, it’s a great time to start planning out your menu and ways in which you can incorporate your littles into the big feast. Making an effort to include your kids in your Thanksgiving celebrations will help to create traditions and lasting memories for your family. So whether you step into the kitchen with your kids or enlist their help for crafts or table decorations, think of something that they can look forward to when it comes to contributing to the big day.
My Oliver is on a cooking kick these days and loves to be in the kitchen “helping me” cook (which most often results in an epic mess!). I love that we both enjoy being in the kitchen together and wanted to include him in a little bit of meal prep this year. Inspired by his favorite color (orange) and the cute way in which he says”punkin” I decided to come up with a Sweet Potato Pumpkin Roll that we can make together to serve to family and friends on Thanksgiving. To make the most of being thankful this time of year I also wanted to throw in a gratitude element that would really make these rolls special. This recipe doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, has a fairly simple process, and is nearly foolproof. Even if you’ve never made bread before, you can handle this recipe.
The first step is to bloom or activate the yeast with a little bit of sugar and warm water. Make sure to be patient and give the mixture 5 minutes to kick into gear- it should look a little bubbly. Then you’ll simply add the rest of your wet ingredients including the rest of the sugar, eggs, melted butter, salt, and sweet potato puree. The sweet potatoes in these rolls make them so tender. The easiest way to get this secret ingredient into your rolls is to use a sweet potato baby food puree – I do this all the time! If you’re more of a purist, you can absolutely cook, drain, and blend fresh sweet potatoes to get 1/2 cup puree. Oliver got a kick out of emptying the jars into the dough and you’d never guess that baby food of all things was included in this recipe! Finally, mix in the flour until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of your mixing bowl. Trust your gut here and add a little more flour (slowly) if your dough seems too wet. I usually end up adding between 4 and 4 1/2 cups.
Turn your dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and bounces back when you indent your finger into the surface. Transfer the dough to a greased mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Allow your dough to rise until doubled in size – I usually give it about 45 minutes to an hour. Just enough time to clean up the mess I’ve already made in the kitchen and pull everything else together to finish the rolls.
Punch the dough down and let it rest for about 2 minutes before portioning it into 16-20 balls. Make sure to keep the dough covered with a kitchen towel at all times to prevent it from drying out. I love using a bench scraper for portioning – it’s one of my favorite tools in the kitchen for a variety of reasons! Roll each piece of dough into an even ball and transfer to a greased baking sheet.
Using a paring knife, cut 4-6 slits around the dough ball to resemble a pumpkin. Using your pinky or another slender circular object (I used my digital thermometer casing), pierce a small hole in the center of the dough balls. Cover with the kitchen towel again and preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. While the oven preheats your rolls will rise again. A double rise will ensure a tender roll that isn’t dense. I usually give the second rise about 20 minutes or so.
An extra step that we took is to write what we’re thankful for this year on strips of parchment paper with these markers  Then we rolled them up and stuck them in the center of the pumpkin rolls before baking. At the dinner table it’s a blast to tear open your roll and try and guess who’s gratitude scroll you got! It’s so fun to see your kids get excited about what they’re grateful for. It’s not a necessary step to the recipe, but it really makes these rolls special for Thanksgiving!
Once your rolls are shaped (and stuffed if you’re doing the gratitude scrolls), brush them with an egg wash before placing them in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Once out of the oven, allow the rolls to cool slightly then finishing by sticking a small pecan slice into the top of each roll to resemble a stem.
We love these rolls so much we’re planning to make them a tradition at our Thanksgiving table for years to come. Do you have any recipes that you make with your kids each Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear them!
Sweet Potato Pumpkin Rolls
Yield: 1 1/2 dozen rolls
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sweet potato puree*
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4-5 cups all purpose flour
  • Chopped pecans, for stems
Dissolve yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and warm water in a mixing bowl. Allow yeast to bloom for 5 minutes until activated.
Add the remaining sugar, eggs, butter, sweet potato puree, and salt. Mix to combine. Mix in flour slowly, adding just enough for the dough to begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl and no longer stick.
Transfer to countertop dusted with flour and knew for a 3-4 minutes just until smooth and the dough bounces back after indenting your finger into the dough. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to an hour (or longer).
Punch dough down and let dough rest for 2 minutes before portioning into 16-20 dough piece. Roll into balls and transfer to greased baking sheet. Using a paring knife, cut 4-6 slits on the edges of each ball, keeping the center in tact. Using your pinky or a small slender circular object, pierce a hole in the center of each dough ball to resemble shape of a pumpkin. (Place gratitude scrolls in hole, if using)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cover shaped rolls and allow to rise again for at least 20 minutes. Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Finish by placing pecan pieces in each hole to resemble stem.
*I like to use organic sweet potato puree baby food. This is my favorite brand
thank you kelsey for sharing this fun recipe with us! see kelsey’s post with clever ideas for toddler lunches HERE and all about cooking with apples HERE.
all photos by kylie whiting.

my beauty must-haves!

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when it comes to beauty, hair and make up products, i don’t use a lot of them. i wish i had some sort of fancy skin care routine because it’ll probably save me a whole lot of wrinkles and issues in a few years, but i’m also kind of lazy and can’t handle more than five or ten minutes in front of the mirror each morning with my routine.  to this day, even after several hours of make up and hair classes we were required to take during my dancing days at juilliard, i still struggle with simple stuff like eye liner. so i just don’t bother. ha! i swear, if you just stick on a little lipstick each day, you’ll feel and look put together even if you don’t have a touch of eye make up on! it’s my biggest secret. (or maybe i’m not fooling anybody but at least *i* feel put together…) but lipstick is a whole other blog post, because i could go on and on there…

sometimes when i’m asked about what hair and make up products i use each day in emails or comments, i feel like i’m tricking you! because i don’t know what i’m doing, so why would you ask me! but hey, it’s fun to pretend every once in a while like you’re an expert, so i thought i’d share what i do love and use in my everyday. there aren’t many, just five.  and here they are!

1. YSL concealer stick  this is hands down the best concealer stick i’ve found.  after washing and moisturizing my face in the morning (i’m a cetaphil and aveeno girl for my face soap and moisturizer- nothing too fancy) i just dab a few dots of this stick under my eyes and blend it in with my finger.  i was born with some very sleepy/purple-ish bags under my eyes and this stick helps conceal them better than anything else i’ve tried over the years.  they have a few different shades, i use shade #2.

2. brow powder (and this brow brush) over the past few years, i’ve grown out my eye brows and fill them in a bit with some brow powder. i love the look of a fuller brow, and have loved this powder. i apply it with a brow brush.

3. sacha juan intensive hair oil  maybe it’s because i’m a serial-hairstyle-changer, but i can’t keep one style or hair color for very long because it’s just too fun to change it up!  so this hair oil has been saving my life since i put my hair through a lot.  i use about a nickel sized amount and rub it into my ends every evening before i head to bed, whether it’s wet or dry.  it doesn’t make it greasy, it just absorbs through the night.

4. dry shampoo  this is my other hair product that i can’t get enough of.  my hair is on the oilier side naturally, and while it’d be cool to go like 7 days without washing my hair like some girls, that just isn’t in the cards for my head of hair.  but, i sometimes get away with 3 days thanks to this stuff.  it’s a powder base, so i sprinkle a bit into my bangs or roots on day 2 and day 3 and i’m done! it also lasts forever. i’ve been using the same canister since april and i’m still running strong.

5. shellac manicures  my last big beauty product is definitely my biggest splurge, but as someone who usually picks at and bites her nails, it’s been a life saver.  shellac gel manicures.  i don’t want to go back to a regular polish manicure, since it takes so much time and usually chips within the next day or two.  a shellac gel manicure will last me two solid weeks without chipping or cracking when i get one.  and since there are nail salons on every other block here in the city, i’ve been able to find them on the cheaper end, so it’s not too terrible. it’s also become my me time, heading to the salon every few weeks for my manicure, so i really enjoy the entire process more than most might.

do you have any beauty products you can’t live without?

our favorite holiday traditions!

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growing up, my house was filled with family traditions throughout the year. everything from eskimo and butterfly kisses after family prayers each night to making homemade pasta together every first sunday of the month.  but nothing can really compare to the traditions we shared together around the holidays.  i think it’s partly why i love this time of year so much… because of the childhood memories my family made and cultivated every year as i grew up with my four younger siblings.  there were a few christmas seasons in there where my family didn’t have a lot financially, and i’m sure my parents felt that extra pressure consumerism tends to put on everyone during the holiday season in particular,  but all the experiences and traditions and love we shared within my family always trumped anything under a christmas tree. i’m really thankful for the emphasis my parents placed on the season, and the memories that make this time of year an extra special one for me.

a few of my favorite holiday traditions my family shared growing up range from simpler things like watching home alone together on thanksgiving after napping off our turkey dinner in the late afternoon, to listening to the trans-siberian orchestra’s christmas album (their rendition of the nutcracker suite in particular) while decorating our house for the holidays…it always guaranteed a crazy dance party in the living room! there were also things like how my mom would always make an ice cream roll cake on christmas eve and we’d sing happy birthday to baby Jesus. i know that one weirds some people out (my husband included) but it was a fun family tradition and we meant it with the most respect.

the nutcracker ballet was also a huge part of my family’s holiday traditions throughout the years since my sister and i performed in it every single year since we were little girls up until we both moved to new york city to continue on to professional dancing tracks (there were a few years actually where all four of us sisters were dancing in it!)  i will probably have the nutcracker choreography engrained into my mind permanently for the rest of my life, and will never forget the countless hours around the holidays we spent rehearsing and performing. there was always such anticipation and excitement built up around that time in our home since our entire family was involved.  i really owe it to my parents for all the hours they’d spend driving us to and from rehearsals, sitting at the rehearsals, and then all the performances they had to endure. i think my mom will be sick of the nutcracker for the rest of her life. ;)

i don’t think my dad intended for this to become tradition, but one year when i was a teenager, my sisters and i were realizing we didn’t have christmas gifts for everyone in our family just yet (my mom in particular — she is really hard to shop for), and it was already the sunday before christmas. since christmas eve was on a monday that year, my dad loaded all us kids into the car that evening (sunday night) around 11pm and we drove down to wal-mart and sat in the parking lot together blasting christmas music and talking until the clock hit midnight! once it was midnight and technically no longer sunday (we try not to shop on the sabbath), we raced into wal-mart and everyone split up to try to grab last minute christmas gifts for each other while trying not to see each other in the store! it was so much fun! and a fun tradition for us kids to keep up with our dad every sunday night the week before christmas to shop at 12AM monday morning together for last minute gifts.

those are just a few of the fun traditions that have stuck with me from my childhood and teenage years.  it will be fun over the next several years to see what traditions we are able to create and cultivate with eleanor and samson and this new little baby on the way.  we’ve tried out a few the last few years, and hope to add more with time.

a few favorite holiday traditions we’ve enjoyed so far:

—view all the holiday lights! in addition to putting up our own lights, it’s fun to get out and see all the lights around the neighborhood or in your city! i think the lights at the national zoo in DC are still my favorite.

—read david sedarias’ holidays on ice together. better yet, get the audio recording and listen to him read the essays. so good.

—make a tradition of cooking the same dish or dessert together as an entire family in the kitchen.  josh likes to make his famous ginger cookies each year and it’s always fun to be a part of that in the kitchen! we make a triple batch and deliver and share them with friends.

—get and decorate a tree together (and a tiny tree for the kiddos!) a couple years back, eleanor picked out her first christmas tree for the nursery, and we’ve kept up the tradition every year since.

—get together with friends for a dessert party, or ugly sweater party, or some kind of holiday themed party.  we’ve enjoyed hosting pie nights or dessert nights in the past with friends. depends on baby’s arrival this year, but we hope to do one again this year!  last year, our friends hosted an ugly sweater party and asked friends to bring a talent to share.  we made up a little pas de deux to perform. it was a lot of fun! just finding an excuse to get together with good friends and be silly and eat yummy treats is always a good time in my book.  the holidays are a perfect excuse to stop putting off hosting and just have a party already!

—wear matching christmas PJ’s for the entire family to sleep in on christmas eve!  my mom actually sent our family some fun striped ones last year (you can see them HERE) and i live for these kinds of dorky family moments where we are all matching and coordinated and festive! a special thank you to josh once more for being willing to put those on. ;)

—complete 25 christmas challenges! my mom actually sent us a package several years ago when were newly weds with 25 of her favorite christmas stories as well as 25 christmas challenges.  she asked us to read one story and complete one challenge each day.  i share the list HERE if you’d like to join in and participate this year.  it is a great way to get into the holiday spirit and serve.

—learn a holiday song or tune together and go caroling! since E and S are small, we spend a lot of time listening to all the christmas classics when we’re at home and learning the staples, like rudolph the red nosed reindeer or jingle bells! this year we hope to go caroling (maybe just to our neighbors in our apartment building) and bring along all their tiny pretend instruments so we can rock out while performing.

—make a little christmas film!  i still never know what i’m doing when we’re making little family videos together, but we always have so much fun creating them! we’ve made a few around the holidays together. you can see our first one we made decorating our tree in our tiny harlem studio apartment HERE and last year’s with the kiddos HERE.

—decorate gingerbread houses! we actually kickstarted the holidays last week making these with friends!

—serve together.  i’m not quite sure how to implement this one with our little ones just yet (if you have any ideas, please share!) but serving together in a soup kitchen or shelter is a wonderful way to spend time during the holidays (and throughout the year, frankly.)  we recently helped serve breakfast at the meatloaf kitchen here in nyc with a few readers (thank you again for coming!) and hope to do it more often with many of you! nothing beats the way you feel serving others.  i think i got more out of that morning than i gave back.

—enjoy the weather! if there is snow, get outside ASAP and build a snowman! we have tried to do this every year there has been snow! it’s just too fun.

—help support a good cause.  we like to choose a charity to give to as a family. last year was extra meaningful since our kids (eleanor at least) were able to be a part of that process by helping pick out animals from the heifer international catalog to donate. (for example, giving the gift of sheep or chickens helps a family in need help themselves.)

—watch a special christmas movie.  just like home alone was part of my family’s movie tradition growing up, we’ve been enjoying how the grinch stole christmas and it’s a wonderful life at our home for the past 7 years together (although i might be the only person on this earth who doesn’t totally love sitting down and watching it’s a wonderful life every single year. a great movie, of course, but you know….)

—enjoy a nativity viewing or christmas devotional.  our church puts on a special christmas program each year, and it’s always a really beautiful evening of music and a devotional that can’t be beat.

—see the nutcracker! even after over a decade of performing in it, i don’t get sick of it. and josh has been a great sport of going with me almost every year to see it! i took eleanor to see the radio city christmas spectacular last year and this year we saw it again with josh and samson. that show is also a really great one if you’re here in the city.  you can’t beat the rockettes doing their classic toy soldier number. you just can’t!

—visit santa claus (with or without kids!) even before the little ones came along, we haven’t missed a year of visiting santa together dating back to our days of dating in the city… cause you’re never too old to sit on santa’s lap, right? (also, cause i just think they photos are the cutest, see eleanor’s first visit HERE and samson’s first HERE.)


i would love to hear some of the traditions you loved around the holiday season growing up! or some of the traditions you and your own children have begun! i’d love to add more to our list for the coming years….

is it too early to say… happy holidays and merry christmas?!?!?!?!


photo by katherine and luke from last christmas eve.  see the rest of the images HERE, if you’d like.

i made eleanor cry. (by josh)

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IMG_0414I took this picture two nights ago while lying in Eleanor’s tiny toddler bed putting her to sleep. Sometimes on the nights I put them to bed,  before they doze off, I take some extra time to whisper in their ears and tell them how great they each are.

Before I took this photo, I was telling my daughter how much I love her, how grateful I am that she is my daughter, that she makes me SO happy, that’s she is a good girl and smart and funny, that I wouldn’t want anyone else in the world to replace her, how I wouldn’t change anything about her, and some other stuff I was really feeling I wanted and needed to tell her…then we said a little prayer where I thanked God for her, and I realized she hadn’t whispered anything or moved for a while.

I thought she had fallen asleep, but then I heard her bring her hand up to her face and move it back and forth. I assumed she was trying to get her hair out her face, so I tried to help put her hair behind her ear. When I felt something wet, I got worried and cracked open the window curtain only to see her eyes wet. “Eleanor, are you OK?” No answer. “Eleanor, were you crying?” She nodded. “Were you crying because you were happy or sad?” “Happy,” she whispered back.

I closed the curtain, lay back down, pulled my daughter close, and held her tight until she fell asleep. I quickly snapped this photo because I wanted to remember how I felt sharing my love for her and how she felt hearing me do so.

I was so surprised that she would or could respond this way. She is only 3 and 9 months old.  And I’ve been telling her how much I love her, praising important qualities and encouraging her to state affirmations since before she could talk, for probably 2 years at least, knowing that it will affect how she views herself. I do the same with Samson. But I have to think that it hit her deeper this time. We even talked about it a little bit the next morning because I wanted to see how she felt. She smiled…

There are plenty of moments during the day and week when I give them feedback and coaching and do time-outs and do-overs and whatnot so I make a conscious effort to make sure they hear and feel plenty of good things about themselves throughout the day too. These moments are full of love and hugs and kisses and are special. But this was a very extra special moment, so special I thought to keep it to myself. Instead, I hope that writing this down and sharing this will help me remember to always love them and lift them up and that my children are treasures. And hopefully some day they will know that I have always known how great they are.

The photo is just black, but it is one of my favorites.