A guide on how you know if your child is ready for piano lessons | simplykierste.com

How do you know if your child is ready for piano lessons?

I don't remember a time that I haven't played the piano. My parents--neither of them with any kind of musical background--started me with piano lessons when I was four years old, and it's been an enormous (and wonderful) part of my life ever since. It taught me at a very young age how to work hard to learn something new, dedication, responsibility, and getting over some of my fears.  I performed and played all through high school, and then into college on a piano scholarship.  I taught piano lessons for many years--all through college and up until my last baby was born two years ago.  The ability to play the piano has given me many opportunities--to play, perform, serve in my church and community, and to teach. It helped support us through college and graduate school, and then helped with the extras when we were finished with school.  But even more than that, it has filled my life with immeasurable joy, and our home has always been filled with the sound of music. How grateful I am that my parents gave me this gift!

Why do I tell you all of this?  You may be wondering what the real-life benefits of piano lessons are, and I could probably go on for much longer if you needed me to! If you have been considering lessons for your child, you may be asking "how do you know if your child is ready for piano lessons"?, and I'm here to give you a little guidance. I get this question a lot from people in my real life, and I thought I would pass on that information here.

A guide on how you know if your child is ready for piano lessons | simplykierste.com

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Toasted Coconut Hot Chocolate | simplykierste.com

Toasted Coconut Hot Chocolate

We are a hot chocolate family. We drink it on a pretty regular basis through the winter, and at least once a week, my kids come bursting through the door from school asking me if I made it for them. While we do use hot chocolate mix sometimes, and definitely for single-serving convenience, I make homemade hot chocolate the majority of the time.  It just takes a few minutes, and it is so worth it!  It's also fun to experiment with different flavors, and this week I tried a Toasted Coconut flavor that is TO-DIE-FOR good.

Toasted Coconut Hot Chocolate | simplykierste.com

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7 things that will help you keep your house clean in about an hour a day | simplykierste.com

7 things that will keep your house clean in about an hour a day!

Oh, how I love having a clean home.  But life is crazy busy, and there are always a million things to do all of the time, and it can be tricky to keep up on housework. Whether you work out of the home or in the home, to-do lists and responsibilities can be a mile long, and you might feel like you just don't have time to do what needs to be done.

Years ago, I developed a method that really worked for me, and I've been able to maintain it through six kids, working, staying home, and now working/blogging from home. I've found that I can just maintain a clean house, the daily chores just don't take as long, so I can fit a lot more in. There are seven things that I do on a daily basis, and those things can help you keep a clean house in just about an hour a day!

I don't always do everything in one straight hour--most of the time it's some in the morning and some in the evening--but the great thing about these things is that they can be done any time of the day or night, based on your personal circumstances.  Except making your bed...it really makes the most sense to do that in the morning. :)

Let me show you...

7 things that will help you keep your house clean in about an hour a day | simplykierste.com

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top 2015 projects | simply kierste

7 favorite bloggers share their TOP POSTS of 2015!

What a year! 2015 was very different than I expected it to be. I thought we would be in our house by now, but due to unforeseen circumstances well outside of our control, instead we are still very cozy in our little temporary apartment.  So much has happened to our family over the last twelve months, and while things have been really hard at times, I've come into 2016 feeling very grateful for all of the things that we do have. And...come summer of this year, Old Salt Farm will finally be built!

2015 was also a very different year for me when it came to blogging.  Because I wasn't in a home that we could decorate in any way, and because all of our things were (and still are) in storage, so many projects and ideas have been placed on the back burner, and I'm REALLY looking forward to tackling them in 2016.  I've missed that part of me--and I'll be so glad to have it back. That said, I was able to to try new projects this year that I might not have otherwise, and I learned to be more creative with the things I had around me.  I'm glad for that, and I'm so excited to present not only my top posts of 2015, but also the top posts of six other fabulous bloggers!

Favorite Bloggers' Top Posts of 2015 | simplykierste.com

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10 fun & easy New Year's Eve party ideas | simplykierste.com

10 fun & easy New Year’s Eve ideas

Does New Year's Eve sneak up on anyone else? It comes so quickly after Christmas, that it seems we don't ever quite get out of party mode!  It's such a fun night, filled with friends, family, food, and at our house, football. But...here's the deal.  Because it is so close to Christmas, I'm all about simple, simple, simple.  I like cute & fun ideas that are easy to execute and implement. I was on the hunt this week for New Year's Eve ideas, and found several things that I loved, and thought I would pass them along to you!

10 fun & easy New Year's Eve party ideas | simplykierste.com

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Christmas Thank you Letters for Kids | simplykierste.com

Christmas thank you stationery for kids {free printable}

Hello everyone!  I hope you had a wonderfully merry Christmas with your family and friends! We've had such a lovely holiday, and received such thoughtful gifts from family and friends. On our list this week is sending thank you letters, and I created some adorable Christmas thank you stationery for my kids to use. They love having a fun template, and I wanted to share it with all of you too!

Christmas Thank you Letters for Kids | simplykierste.com

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Pecan Sticky Bun Bites | simplykierste.com

Pecan Sticky Bun Bites

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Pillsbury. The opinions and text are all mine.

One of the best parts of Christmas Day at our house is the food.  It's all about finger foods, snacks, small appetizers & treats, and little bites that everyone can come and help themselves to during the day. Whether we're playing games, chatting with family and friends, or enjoying new gifts, the kitchen is usually the hub, and I love having plenty of food for everyone to enjoy. Everyone gets to choose their favorites, and then I like to add something new! This year I made Pecan Sticky Bun Bites, and not only are they super easy to make, they are so yummy, and perfect for Christmas!

Pecan Sticky Bun Bites | simplykierste.com

I love using Pillsbury Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls, because it makes it SO quick and easy! I used kitchen scissors to cut the unbaked rolls into quarters, then slid them on a paper straw cut in half. You can use lollipop sticks too!  Once they're baked, I dip them in caramel and roll them in nuts.  That's it!   I've done a few trial runs this week, and I can barely get them finished and on a plate before they are completely devoured.

Pecan Sticky Bun Bites | simplykierste.com

Pecan Sticky Bun Bites | simplykierste.com

Pecan Sticky Bun Bites
Recipe Type: Breakfast, Dessert
Author: Simply Kierste
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 32
Ingredients
  • 1 can Pillsbury Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls
  • Wrapped caramels
  • 1-2 T. heavy cream or half and half
  • Chopped Pecans
  • Paper straws or lollipop sticks
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with foil, and spray with cooking spray.
  2. Open the can of cinnamon rolls, and use kitchen scissors to to cut each one into quarters. Slide one piece on each paper straw (cut in half) or lollipop stick, then lay them down on the cookie sheet.
  3. Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let cool completely.
  4. While they're baking, unwrap your caramels and place in a glass bowl. Add about a tablespoon of heavy cream for every 30 or so caramels, and then melt in the microwave for about a minute. Stir, then continue for 10-15 seconds at a time until you can stir the caramel smooth. (You can also use the Caramel Bites, and follow package directions to melt them.)
  5. When the cinnamon rolls are cool, dip them in the caramel, then roll them in the chopped pecans.

I bought the Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls at Walmart, along with all of my other supplies, which made it so easy to get everything I needed.  Love that!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Pillsbury. The opinions and text are all mine.

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Minted Holiday Cards & Giveaway | simplykierste.com

Minted Holiday Cards + $250 Giveaway!

This post contains affiliate links.

Tis' the season for spreading cheer by sending holiday cards to your friends and family! Minted has so many adorable choices for any kind of card you want to send--card size, number of photos, layout, colors, and more. I love that their cards are all designed by independent artists, and they have some of the most unique cards around.

Are you looking for super cute Christmas or holiday cards?  LOVE LOVE! And it's not too late to order cards to arrive by Christmas Eve (order by 3pm PT on 12/17)!  There's also a sale for 15% holiday cards through December 21st, just use the code WINTER15.

Minted Holiday Cards & Giveaway | simplykierste.com

Sometimes the hustle and bustle of Christmastime makes it easier to send cards for New Years instead, and Minted has you covered! (I've even sent Valentines' Day cards before! :) )

Minted New Years Cards | simplykierste.com

One of my favorite Minted products is their personalized gift wrap. It is SO cute! I love love the thought of having your very own wrapping paper with your family's name on it.

Minted Personalized Gift Wrap | simplykierste.com

You can also check out their Gift Guide and Wrapping Looks  for even more great ideas!

GUESS WHAT?? I've got a fabulous Minted giveaway for you today!  Not just one, but TWO lucky readers are going to win a $125 Minted gift card!!  Wahoo!!  All you need to do is click on the link below to enter.  Giveaway ends December 21st, 2015 at 11:59pm EST.  GOOD LUCK!!!

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE!!!

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Easy Reindeer Cookies | simplykierste.com

Reindeer Cookies

Betty Crocker® sugar cookie mix is perfect for the cookies for our tree decorating day, because it's already such a busy day, and I can really use all the time savers I can get. It's one of my best shortcuts, and my kids love them! I love them not only because they're yummy (I get asked for the recipe every time I take them somewhere!), but they save me SO much time.  In just a few minutes I can whip up a batch of dough, and within 15 minutes, there's a sheet of warm cookies coming out of the oven.  Frosting and decorating is next, and then the eating! Yum!

I also use the Betty Crocker® peanut butter cookie mix to make the most darling reindeer cookies ever! They are super easy to make, and a huge, huge hit with kids.

Easy Reindeer Cookies | simplykierste.com

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christmas lights scavenger hunt for kids & families | free printable | simplykierste.com

Go on a Christmas lights scavenger hunt with your family!

Just down the street from us, there is a house that has the best musical Christmas lights show around.  So much so, in fact, that my little kids, who rarely can sit still for anything longer than 10 minutes, sit in rapture watching the lights dance to the music as it streams through the speakers into our car.  They beg to stay "just a little bit longer", and that little bit soon turns into an hour. There is just so magical about Christmas lights, and taking a night to drive around and look at them is one of our favorite Christmas traditions.

We cozy up in our pajamas, take along bags of popcorn, turn up the Christmas music, and head off to see homes and neighborhoods transformed into lighted wonderlands. Something that's really fun to do is a Christmas Lights Scavenger Hunt, and I created a super cute printable to take along with you!

christmas lights scavenger hunt | free printable | simplykierste.com

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Outdoor Gifts at Gander Mountain + a GIVEAWAY!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Gander Mountain. All opinions are 100% mine.

Our family loves being outdoors, in every season, and all weather.  We live in upstate New York, where the winter snow is plentiful, and we enjoy cross country skiing, tubing, sledding, and pretty much any snow activity.  Summers mean lots of camping, canoeing, kayaking, and adventuring. Hiking is a favorite activity from spring through summer and into fall, and exploring our area on foot is something we all enjoy.

That means that we love finding great deals at Christmastime on outdoor equipment, and this year snowshoes are on my list, plus backyard games, a tent that will fit all of us (okay, we have one, I just want a bigger one!), and a dutch oven.  Actually, my wish list is longer than that. :)  The rest of my family has their list too, and I have just the place to find what I need!

Gander Mountain is the place to go to find awesome deals, and with their new Best Price Plus program, they guarantee that their in-store shoppers are receiving the very best prices this season, PLUS a discount of 10 perfect of the difference!  If you find a lower price on an identical in-stock item at another local retailer, Gander Mountain will match the price either at the time of purchase, or within 30 days of you making the purchase in-store. You just can't beat that in my book!

In addtion, Gander Mountain has so many great Holiday Deals throughout the month of December. Outdoor gear and necessities, as well as special offers on financing and gift cards are all a part of their December plan to help you save money and find the perfect outdoor gifts!

And guess what...one lucky reader will win a $50 gift card to Gander Mountain!!!

Just follow the directions in the box below! Giveaway runs through December 15th, 11:59 EST. Make sure to read terms before entering.  GOOD LUCK!!

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Easy Wood Christmas Sign | simplykierste.com

Easy wood Christmas sign

You might be surprised to hear this, but one of the hardest parts of being in this little apartment and not having any of our things is not the cramped quarters (which I've actually come to appreciate in many ways), but rather not being able to build and create and make stuff!!  With no tools here, and no home to decorate, my list is getting longer and longer by the day. It's what I love to do, so when I get any small opportunity to make something, no matter how simple, I'm a happy happy girl!

I decided I needed a little something to go above the chalkboard window in the family room to add a pop of color and a little bit of Christmas to the whole space, especially after my cute husband took on the big, bad, storage unit and tried to find our ornaments and decor, but couldn't.  I created a simple but adorable wood Christmas sign that's perfect above a doorway, window, or shelf, and I absolutely love it!

Easy Wood Christmas Sign | simplykierste.com

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Just popping by to wish you a Merry Christmas | free printable tag | simplykierste.com

Just popping by to wish you a Merry Christmas! (Popcorn gift idea)

Did December sneak up on anyone else?  All of a sudden, Christmas is less than four weeks away, and I don't know how it happened!  There just seem to be years that are busier than others, for me, this is most definitely one of them. My book manuscript is due in a few weeks, and we are starting to really get into house stuff, so I kind of feel like this month is going to be a blur!

I love giving gifts to the people in my life, but since time is always a factor (especially this year), I'm all about fun & easy & cute ideas that I can put together quickly.  This popcorn gift idea fits the bill, and is something that can be given to friends, neighbors, teachers, your hairstylist, postal carrier...anyone!

Just popping by to wish you a Merry Christmas | free printable tag | simplykierste.com

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Gift Wrapping with Scotch Holiday Tape | simplykierste.com

Wrapping it up with Scotch Holiday Tape!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of 3M. All opinions are 100% mine.

Tis' the season for gifts and wrapping! Giving gifts is an integral and magical part of the holiday season, and it's so fun for me to make or find the perfect gift for the people in my life.  Whether it's for my family, teachers, neighbors, or friends, I love making packages look festive, and Scotch consistently comes through for me!  This time of year I head to Staples and stock up on my favorite tapes:  Scotch Magic TapeScotch Double Sided Tape and Scotch Expressions Tape.

Scotch Magic Tape is perfect for holding wrapping paper in place--it's strong and clear and stays just where I need it to be. I use Double Sided Tape to adhere printables or tags onto packages or gifts, and they're both my go-to products during the holiday season.  I've started wrapping up Christmas books for our annual Christmas book advent, and both of these tapes help me wrap them up just right!

So cute, right?  Thank goodness for Staples and Scotch Holiday Tape!

I also love love Scotch Expressions Tape--washi tapes that come in all kinds of great colors, and even glitter, which is perfect for the holidays! There's always a great selection at Staples, and they're in a main showcase making them super easy to find.

Washi tape can be used for so many things around the holidays, and one of my favorite ways to use it is to cutesify (that's a word, right??!!) a plain paper treat bag. I used the green stripes,  solid green, and silver to create a darling Christmas tree on this bag:

It completely changes the look of the bag, and it just took a few pieces of tape! Simple, so easy, and SUPER cute! Now it's perfect for gift-giving, after I add a few treats!

To keep track of all of my washi tape rolls, I adore the Expressions Multi Roll Dispenser. It's refillable and portable, making it super easy to store and use!

Make YOUR holidays magical with Scotch tape, and find everything you need at Staples! To find a store near you,look up your area with their Store Locator.

Happy wrapping!

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what I wish I knew with baby #1 | simplykierste.com

What I wish I knew with baby # 1…truths, tips, and ideas

Looking back over the years since I've had my first baby, there have been countless lessons learned, wisdom gained, and knowledge acquired--and I'm still learning.  There have so many times I've muttered to myself "I wish I knew that the first time!", and with some things, wondered why in the world no one ever filled me in beforehand!

So...I'm going to do that for you.  Six babies later, I'm sharing not only some of the truths I've learned, but also tips on some baby basics and advice for new moms, and maybe--hopefully-- you'll glean a little something that will help you on your motherhood journey. And while you're in the thick of it, you'll know that someone else has been there, and understands.

what I wish I knew with baby #1 | simplykierste.com

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Free Christmas Card Templates | simplykierste.com

Free Christmas card templates…plus easy tutorial!

I love receiving Christmas cards, and so does my whole family.  My kids pore over the letters and pictures, reading them over and over again throughout the season.  I also have a Christmas Memories Book, and I keep all of the cards we receive each year.  It's so fun to look back over the years and see how our friends and family have grown and changed.

I also look forward to sending cards, and it's a tradition that our family loves to to together.  Our Christmas card assembly line has been happening for quite a few years now, and it's just one of the things that we love to go together.

Today I'm sharing a few fun Christmas card templates...all you have to do is add your photo, and it's EASY and FREE to do!

Free Christmas Card Templates | simplykierste.com

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Our untraditional family rules | simplykierste.com

Our untraditional family rules

When my oldest was around five years old, we started a little list of unofficial "family rules".  My husband is a pretty funny guy who likes to nickname everything and everyone, and he started make up silly rules based on incidents that happened in our family. Over the years we've added to it, but they now have to go through a serious vetting process in order to make it on the list. Since then they've become more official than unofficial, and we refer to them all the time.

I love having these silly rules, because it usually evokes a more positive response than it might otherwise, and more often times than not, I get a tiny smile.  Most of the time, I don't even need to finish my sentence, and all I have to say is "What's rule #1?"

We take following rules seriously at our house, because it keeps order, lessens the chaos, and teaches a lot of life lessons. We do have regular rules that govern how our house runs, like when to make your bed and pick up your clothes and do your homework.  But when it comes to behavior, these five rules pretty much cover all the bases!

Our untraditional family rules | simplykierste.com

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Easy DIY Thanksgiving Plates | simplykierste.com

Easy DIY Thanksgiving Plates

I've always wanted to have a set of dishes for each holiday, especially Christmas and Thanksgiving. Over the years I would see ones I liked, but the price never agreed with my budget. Finally last Christmas I made a set of polka dot Christmas plates that I adore, and this year I decided to go ahead and make a set for Thanksgiving. It was one of the easiest projects EVER, and turned out so darling-- I can't wait to use them!

Easy DIY Thanksgiving Plates | simplykierste.com

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