Instagram Roundup

A recap of everything happening over on the @kristenhowerton Instagram page this week....

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I posted an essay prompt a few days ago, that we used for one of our kids who broke a rule. Here is one that will be waiting for a certain kid when s/he comes home from school, because I found a personal video game device hidden in their bed. (A big no-no in our house.) A lot of you had questions about these writing prompts. I really just make them up as I go. I usually type them up on my phone in notes and then print it and hand it over. I know some English teachers are cringing at using writing as a consequence, and believe me -a a former professor and a writer, I want my kids to love writing. These prompts are always presented as a way OUT of a consequence. For example, "you can be grounded or you can earn your way out with an essay." The writing is ALWAYS more effective than being grounded and the kids ALWAYS pick to write, so it works for us. And their answers are usually pretty amazing. I think it's a great way to get kids thinking critically about their own behavior. #meanmom
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The annual family photo book for people too busy to make them

Over the past couple of months I've been having Shortcake create yearly photo albums of our family. It's something I've been wanting to do for years . . . but the piles and piles of digital photos on various computers makes the task daunting. I take way too many photos and I'm terrible about deleting and organizing them, and going through to find the yearly highlights seemed overwhelming.

Shortcake had a genius idea: most people already have a highlight reel on social media. This was certainly true for me. And most people just don't have the time to transfer those photos into an album.

Shortcake does all the heavy-lifting. You can designate a social account and they will pull the photos, get rid of irrelevant photos (like that photo of your Chipotle burrito or that meme you posted about drinking wine that doesn't make sense in a family photo album.) They use your own captions (or not, your choice) and lay it out into a well-designed photo album.

The albums are really nice - they have all kinds of layouts and designs you can choose from. They also have different cover styles.

Here is a photo of our 2010 book.  SO MANY FEELS. And simultaneously feeling like I don't miss that stage and OMG I MISS THAT STAGE.

My kids absolutely LOVE these albums. I've been terrible about printing photos over the years so this is such a nice way to have tangible memories to look at. They pull these out all the time.

Shortcake is a great way to get your own family photos in order, but it's an easy and thoughtful gift idea too. If you have a friend or relative who is active on social media, you could surprise them with an album that they didn't have to work on. 

To learn more about the process, or to order a book for yourself, check out

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#TBT: My favorite 80's Christmas movies from childhood

On Thursdays, I post from the vault. This is from December 2014.

Christmas movies: they just don’t make ‘em like they used to. (Or my taste was worse back then. Or I’m a sucker for 80’s nostalgia. Could be that).

My family looooved Christmas movies, and these were some of the movies on heavy rotation in my house during the holiday season.

A Christmas Story

This is the classic childhood Christmas movie, right? Poor Ralphie just wanted a BB gun, but the adults in his life were convinced he would shoot his eye out. This movie was such an accurate portrayal of childhood angst and family drama that it just got funnier the older I got. And who could forget the TRIPLE DOG DARE tongue on the flagpole, and the sexy leg lamp?

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This John Hughes-penned film based on the Griswold famliy is an 80's classic. Who could forget Clark's blinding Christmas lights, his war with the neighbors, and the cigar that launched Santa into the night sky. This is one of the few movies I remember causing my dad to laugh until he cried.

A Very Brady Christmas

I grew up watching the Brady Bunch, so I remember being so excited for this reunion, where all the Brady kids came back together as adults. However, this movie got awkward fast as it focused on the adult issues of the middle-aged family (Peter is sleeping with his boss! Jan is having marital issues! Sam left Alice for another woman!). This Christmas special was a bit of a downer for kids like myself who loved this big, loving family and then suddenly got to watch them as very human adults with real-life problems bigger than getting hit in the nose with a football. Womp womp womp.

Ernest Saves Christmas

Oh, Jim Verney. He was a comic genius to my 10-year-old brain. In the third Ernest movie, he tries to find a replacement for an aging Santa Claus, resulting in lots of wacky hi-jinks I would probably detest this movie as an adult, but we watched it over and over again. KnowWhatIMean?

One Magic Christmas

This is an obscure one, but probably the most-watched VHS tape in my house each holiday season. This made-for-tv Disney movie focused on a mom who was visited by an angel (Harry Dean Stanton, no less) to teach her the true meaning of Christmas. So cheesetastic.


Last but certainly not least, my favorite holiday movie ever has to be Scrooged. This comedic take on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was chock full of popular 80's actors. The last scene, which breaks into a musical version of "Put A Little Love In Your Heart", is one that got my family dancing every time.

What are some of your favorite holiday movies from childhood?

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Wednesday's Child: Amani

Every Wednesday I feature a child recently highlighted by a local Wednesday's Child newscast to share the stories of children from around the country who are waiting for a family. My hope is that this can broaden exposure for the children highlighted, but also serve as a reminder that these children represent thousands of children currently in the foster-care system. Perhaps their stories will inspire you to consider opening your home to a child needing a family. For more information and to learn about other waiting children, visit AdoptUsKids.

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Giving the gift of sight

This post was sponsored by VSP Direct

I love giving gifts, but I can also get a little stuck with trying to choose the right thing for each person in my family. I want my gifts to be thoughtful but also practical. I want it to be something that delights, but also something that will be used. And I also want it to be something that lets the receiver know I've given thought to who they are and what they need.

I never would have thought of giving someone insurance, until I heard of VSP Direct's program. It allows you to give a gift of vision coverage for a year. VSP is the nation's only not-for-profit vision care company, offering affordable individual vision plans that start as low as $17 a month. You can give a loved one coverage that includes a comprehensive eye exam, glasses and/or contacts, and low out-of- pocket costs. It's definitely a gift that keeps giving all year long.

I knew my nephew's boyfriend Andre was struggling with dealing with his own vision needs. His glasses are ancient and his contacts are wearing out. He's fresh out of college and hustling to make it as an actor, and I knew that this would make a big impact on him. I decided to tell him early, because he was already pushing his contacts past their limits. Here's our conversation when I revealed his gift:

Individual Vision Plans from VSP are available in every state, and make an affordable gift that will truly make a positive impact on someone’s life. To learn more, visit

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