Starting Kindergarten and A Teacher’s Gift


Starting the new school year with a simple teacher's gift. -- Often Charming

When Lark was a baby, I remember feeling like she’d be a baby forever. Those early days were tough, and it was hard to imagine a time ahead when she’d be an independent little person, about to start elementary school. But here we are.

What is this I’m feeling? Sadness that my baby is not a baby anymore?  A bit of that. Anxiety about the year ahead? Sure, that too. A little irrational, unnecessary panic that this milestone is now upon us? I admit it.

This transition is made (mercifully) easier on us because we’ve decided to let Lark attend the private kindergarten at her current school, where she has been in pre-k for the past year. Yes, we’re paying tuition, but it’s worth it to me because not only will her class be half the size it would be in public school (12 students vs 24), I know she’ll be challenged with more advanced curriculum that includes music, art, and Spanish.

And I can send my baby down the hall to her new classroom, instead of putting her on a bus, which I’m not sure my heart can take just yet.

I appreciate how lucky we are to have an opportunity to choose between public and private school. Like all kid-related things, every parent has to make decisions based on what’s best for their family. Whatever you choose, make the most of it by being involved as much as you can be. Let your child’s teacher know you care about their job, and the relationship they will have with your child this year. One way you can do this is with a simple, inexpensive gift to start the year off.

I was at Target several weeks ago, poking around the dollar bins (love those) when I spotted this sign. It immediately made me think of Lark’s new kindergarten teacher. She empowers her students to become independent little thinkers, and it seemed just right for the start of a new school year.

A fun sign for the new teacher's classroom. -- Often Charming

I thought it might be fun to put together a little package of things she could use in her classroom. Luckily, there were lots of other Dr. Seuss items to go along with it, including a second sign and some fun decorative trim for a bulletin board. Since Lark’s class is small, I was able to get enough matching pencils for her teacher to give one to each child. I even found a cute little Cat in the Hat bag to put it all in. Each item was just $1!

Classroom supplies and an insulated tumbler make a simple and sweet teacher's gift. -- Often Charming

I made a quick little gift tag to go with it, using my Cricut Explore and some regular adhesive vinyl. I already had some black tags to put the letters on, but you could easily cut one out of black paper if you needed to. Me being who I am, I wanted the lettering on the tag to support my Dr. Seuss theme, because 1) that’s awesome and 2) it was easy and FREE. So, I downloaded some Dr. Seuss-y font and went to town. A little red and white twine to tie the tag on and we’re there.

I knew I wanted to add an inexpensive water bottle, but I was having a hard time finding one this late in the summer. I had planned on personalizing it using my Cricut. Happily, I found an insulated tumbler a few days ago that fit the bill: just $5 and already sporting a sentiment perfect for the teacher and the occasion.

An insulated tumbler filled with fun teas is a thoughtful addition to this teacher's gift. -- Often Charming

I put some mint and hibiscus teas in with the cup, too. As it’s over 100 degrees here every day, I thought they’d make her cup more fun than plain water.

Wake up and be awesome, indeed. A good plan for the start of any school year.  I hope yours is awesome, too.


Heather Signature


Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful.

Mr. Bear’s Birthday Party

Find something to celebrate with your kids, just for fun. -- Often Charming

Birthdays are a big deal when you’re five years old. Really. The nicest thing you can say to someone is that they’re invited to your birthday party, and, in turn, the meanest thing you can say is that they can’t come.

Shortly after Lark’s last birthday party, she asked me when Mr. Bear’s birthday was. (Mr. Bear is her very special lovey and basically the Most Important Bear in the whole world.) I explained to her that it is in August, because that was when he moved into the crib with her.

“How old is he?” she asked.

“He’ll be five, like you.” I said.

“Can we have a party for him? A bear party?” she asked.

Naturally, being Lark’s best buddy and general Head Bear in the house, it only seemed right to have a party for him. The 5th birthday is a milestone, after all. So we did.

Well, truthfully, it was just a bit of a fancy playdate. We invited three of our close friends (who happen to be immediate neighbors) over to play and eat snacks. The parents toasted Mr. B’s health with some wine, as well.

Julia Child famously said, “A party without cake is just a meeting.” I’ve always loved that idea. So of course, even a birthday party for a bear has to have cake. Cupcakes, in this case. I didn’t make them myself, but Lark and I did make some special cupcake toppers for them, using my Cricut and some of our favorite pictures of her with the birthday bear.

Make your own cupcake toppers with photos of the guest of honor. -- Often Charming

We also made a little banner for him. And some tiny party hats, for the bears that attended. But that’s absolutely it, I swear.

What's a party without hats? -- Often Charming

I rate the banner and hats a close second in the Silliest-Things-I-Have-Ever-Made-for-Anyone race. The winner is a pair of bright pink, 80’s-style leg warmers that I knit for a german shepherd’s Halloween costume.

But that’s another story.

I hope you find an excuse to celebrate something today.


Heather's Signature -- Often Charming



Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful.

Summer Love: Pickled Veg

Summer is the perfect time for trying new things with vegetables. Pickled veggies add crunch and brightness to everything they’re paired with, and they’re quick and easy to make. I also love that you can make them ahead and then just pull them out whenever you want to add a little zip to your meal.

Delicious pickled veggies are summer superstars -- Often Charming

My favorite ways for making pickled veg come out of Cooking Light magazine. This one uses cucumbers and bell peppers to top off a cheesesteak burger (which was pretty good, by the way). We had so many pickled veggies leftover, though, I started sticking them on top of all kinds of things: grilled fish, salad, hot dogs, my pastrami sandwich…you name it, they make friends with most dishes. Our favorite taco place even puts pickled veg on several of their tacos. Yum! Get creative with them!

I adapted the recipe a little, swapping out the green pepper for an orange one and adding more dill than originally called for, but you can adjust it to suit your tastes. I love dill in a big way, so there can never be too much for me.

Quick and Easy Pickled Veggies -- Often Charming

Pickled Peppers, Onions, and Cucumber (adapted from Cooking Light, June 2015)

1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c water
2 tsp sugar
3/4 c thinly sliced red bell pepper
3/4 c thinly sliced yellow bell pepper
3/4 c thinly sliced orange bell pepper
1/2 c thinly sliced English cucumber (I like English, but you could use regular cucumber)
1/2 c thinly sliced onion (I like Texas sweet onions or Vidalia, but you can use whatever you have)
3 – 4 tbsp fresh chopped dill (or more, to your taste — I used most of the package! I REALLY like dill)

Place your veggies into a large dish. I try to let them lay pretty flat, so they are all immersed in the vinegar mixture. I like to use a big casserole dish, but you can use a bowl if you need to. Bring the vinegar, water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour over the veggies. Stir to combine it all and let the veggies soak in the deliciousness for at least 30 minutes. I have wandered off and left it soaking even longer, and nothing bad happened. Drain the veggies and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. (You could probably store them even longer, your call on that.)

Put those puppies on everything. Go for it!

Pickled veggies add crunch and zip to an everyday sandwich. -- Often Charming

Turkey sandwich on wheat with arugula, colby jack cheese and pickled veg? Yes, please.

Hot dog with fresh tomatoes and pickled veggies, yum! -- Often Charming

Hot dog? Of course! (I promise, there really is a hot dog under all that veg. And fresh tomatoes, too.) And yes, those are tater tots on my plate, next to the Pickled Veg Dog. I live with a five-year-old, you know.


My other go-to method is for pickled red onions, adapted from Cooking Light’s recipe for their Pacific Northwest Burger. That recipe puts pickled radishes on top of soy-chile glazed, grilled salmon filets with some greens and ginger mayo, and it is my absolute favorite way to make salmon. (Go make that ASAP if you like salmon, oh my goodness.) This is no dry cat burger salmon patty. No no no. So good. So, so, so good.

I made it with the radishes a few times, and they’re good, but I swapped them out for red onions one day and I’ve never gone back. The pickled red onions are gorgeous on sandwiches, hot dogs, and any kind of fish you want to make. Keeping it simple for summer, you know?

Pickled Red Onions (adapted from Cooking Light, July 2013)

1/2 c water
1/4 c rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 c sliced red onion

Slice the onion thick or thin, depending on your preference. I do some of both. Put the onions into a bowl and set aside. Bring all other ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour over the onions, let sit 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain liquid, store onions in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Making pickled red onions is easy and definitely worth doing. They are a delicious addition to so many things! -- Often Charming

We had salmon last night and I threw some on top for a little extra flavor and crunch.

Hoisin Ginger Salmon with Pickled Red Onions -- Often Charming

Don’t they turn a gorgeous color?

They are such an easy way to add something special to a simple weeknight meal. Give them a go. We all need a few more veggies in our diets, don’t we?


Heather's Signature -- Often Charming


Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful.

Super Lazy (Easy!) Giant Comfy Cowl

This big, fluffy cowl is quick and easy project for a beginning knitter. -- Often Charming

This is a great project for a beginning knitter, or those like me who sometimes just want to make something awesome without trying too hard. Knit with a super bulky yarn on US size 11 needles, this cowl knits up fast and fluffy.

Here’s what you need:

Here's what you need to make the Super Lazy Easy Giant Comfy Cowl:

  • 1-2 skeins super bulky yarn (I used Lion Brand Homespun Thick & Quick in Coral Stripes). One skein was enough for me, at 160 yds/skein
  • 1 pair US 11 (8mm) knitting needles
  • scissors
  • large-eye blunt needle, to weave in ends

Here’s what you do:

Cast on 13 stitches. Knit every stitch until cowl is the desired length. Cast off and weave in ends. Stitch the two ends of your long rectangle together using the large-eye needle to make an infinity-style scarf.

I used almost my whole 160 yd skein, making my long rectangle about 90″. This is pretty darn long. I could’ve made it a bit shorter and it still would’ve been a very generous cowl. It’s totally up to you! Stop knitting when you’re happy with the way yours wraps around you. Once I stitched my ends together to form my loop, I just looped it around my neck twice and ta-da: a giant, fluffy cowl!

It’s like a snuggly, knitted hug from me to you. Happy knitting!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming


Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful.

Add Style to Your Home With Orchids

Easy-care orchids add style and an element of the unexpected to your home.  --  Often Charming

I recently gave a friend a tiny potted orchid to brighten her craft room, partly because she has admired my own orchids but also because she has always sworn she can’t keep a plant alive and I know she can totally handle this one.  Orchids are really very easy houseplants, however exotic and intimidating they might seem. Find them a spot they like, water and feed once per week–easy! Most orchids like bright, indirect light. I have one on a windowsill facing east that gets a bit of bright morning sun and indirect light the rest of the day, which has been just right for it.

Plants add great texture and interest to your decor, and orchids are a fun way to add a little something unusual, too. There are thousands of varieties, offering flowers in many different colors, sizes and shapes. They are low-maintenance but look super fancy, and you can get them inexpensively if you know where to go. (Hello, IKEA! Their orchids are a steal! You can also try your local grocery store, but they are usually a bit more expensive than IKEA.)

Phalaenopsis orchids make great easy-care houseplants and beautiful gifts. -- Often Charming

All of the orchids in my house are phalaenopsis, but I’ve heard that dendrobiums make good, easy-care houseplants, too. I love mine because they produce great blooms that last several months without much effort from me. That’s my kind of houseplant.

An orchid from IKEA dressing up the bar cart in our dining room. -- Often Charming

An orchid from IKEA dressing up the bar cart in our dining room.

Orchids are a bit unusual in that they don’t grow in typical potting soil. Their roots need air to circulate around them.  Orchid potting medium gives them the nutrients they require while letting the roots breathe and anchor the plant as needed. You can buy special orchid pots which give them even more ventilation around the roots, but I haven’t found it necessary. Give them a container with good drainage and water only when they get dry (about once a week), and you should have very happy orchids.

The plant in my craft room really needed a bigger pot, so one day I grabbed a reusable plastic drink cup we’d gotten as a giveaway, cut some slits in it with a little knife and punched holes in the bottom. I put the orchid in it with a bit of new orchid potting medium and skipped a trip to my local garden center for a new container. Yay, upcycling!

Hide a plastic pot inside a prettier one. Just lift it out to water and no one will know! -- Often CharmingHide that plastic cup inside a prettier pot. -- Often Charming(Ok, so I did hide the ugly plastic cup inside a cute pink pot afterward. I just lift the cup out to water the plant and no one is the wiser.)

Now, like all living things, orchids need to rest. They will go into a sort of a dormant period, during which they don’t bloom. This is normal. They still need to be watered, and they may grow new leaves, but they aren’t going to do a whole lot. Many people worry that there is something wrong when this happens. Just be patient, and when they are ready, they will surprise you with a whole new show of flowers.

Because they are so easy to care for, not to mention gorgeous (and often inexpensive), orchids make great gifts. Tie some pretty ribbon around the pot and give it to your recipient with an orchid food spray (I like this one from Miracle-Gro, which is easy to find) and some basic care instructions. Charming and unique!

There are tons of resources online for growing orchids at home, if you’d like to read more about them. Here’s a good one to start with. You can even download some great growing guides for free that will answer a lot of the questions you may have.

I’m an absolute beginner with orchids, but I’ve had great success with them. You can, too.


Heather's Signature -- Often Charming


Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful.

1 2