for families, recipe

    THE BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies

    This is another recipe from my personal book, the best chocolate chip cookies! I gotta admit though that I wanted to be selfish and not share this, but that seems silly to hold onto a golden ticket and not share. Another nostalgia moment for me with these too because growing up my dad was the baker. He made the cookies and the pies when the time came and we gladly partook by eating them.

    We have tested this recipe with different brands of ingredients throughout the years and I’ve got to tell you- it makes a difference. Now, for you chefs out there you’re probably saying DUH! But alas, I am not a chef and had to learn this through years of testing. My mind is happy to have found the exact right recipe (to me) but my belly might be angry at the “eating” part of the testing! HA.

    Without further ado, I am sharing below, complete with pictures and how my kids like to take part in the making (and eating!) of these. I also mentioned the exact brands of butter and shortening I like to use personally.

    the best chocolate chip cookies


    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I prefer to use light brown)
    • 1/3 cup butter or margarine softened (My preferred is Blue Bonnet or Imperial stick butter)– 10-15 seconds in microwave is good, you don’t want it too melted
    • 1 egg
    • 1/3 cup shortening
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 1/2 cups flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • Chocolate chips to your liking ( I use about 8 oz)

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees

    the best chocolate chip cookies

    Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. I like to mix all but the flour first and then add the flour one cup at a time. Your arm is gonna hurt from mixing but it’s worth it. Add the chocolate chips last.

    I like to use a spoon to put a heaping scoop onto a cookie sheet, I don’t shape them into balls or use a scoop because I want them to be uneven and do what they may. Place them about 1.5-2 inches apart to give them room to spread out. Bake at 375 degrees for about 7 or 8 minutes.

    prep/cook time: 15-20 minutes Makes about 2.5 dozen cookies

    the best chocolate chip cookies
    the best chocolate chip cookies

    If you have a family friendly or fun recipe to submit, please feel free to email us at or contact us here

    florida photographers, get to know feature

    The Family Journeys- get to know us

    “As a family photographer herself, Amanda McMahon wanted to reach a niche that catered to all families. Having seen hundreds of blogs that help the bridal/wedding communities and realizing there wasn’t quite as many resources for families, Amanda had a light bulb moment.”

    About The beginning and hopes of The FJ

    When I first had the idea to start yet another venture, I’ll admit that I, myself, thought I might be a little crazy. I tend to be the type that bites of more than I can chew in many instances, so I had to take a little time to think about how this was going to work and what exactly I wanted from it. I thought about it for a few months and came up with some ideas, plans, blog post ideas and started reaching out for advice and content from anyone I could think of. The reactions I received were all very positive and the advice I received from everyone is invaluable. The stars were aligning.

    The family journeys

    I hope that The Family Journeys becomes a wonderful and valuable resource for families of all kinds and a place where family photographers like myself, can go and submit their work and have it featured. I want you to be able to feel proud to have your work included on this blog and for you as a photographer to be able to gain access to more families looking for photographers wherever they may be!

    Likewise, for families- I want this to be a place that is all encompassing. Whether is be looking for a family friendly recipe, ideas about homeschooling your kids, or finding fun activities to do as a family, I hope this is a place you can bookmark and come to frequently.

    About Amanda- Founder/Editor

    photo by Winship photography

    I have been a photographer for almost 11 years now. I started photographing predominately weddings and just recently in the last 2 years have made the switch to Lifestyle and Family Photography. My favorite part of photographing families is watching the dynamics of whatever family is in front of my lens. Seeing how they play, laugh, discuss, and deal with issues that can sometimes arise during their session is what makes my love for this type of photography grow more and more.

    Let’s get to the good stuff- I met my husband when we were 15 years old (actually, it was in middle school but it was middle school and no one remembers much then). We started dating and were engaged at 19 and married right after we turned 21. We have been married for 13 years this year and in 2012, our first son Luke joined the party. Followed by that was our second son, Ben, who joined in 2015. I am surrounded by boys because we also have a dog and a hamster- both males!

    photo by Amanda McMahon Photography

    These are a few of my favorite things:

    • Donuts (except when I am doing Keto, but they are my cheat!)
    • Starbucks (call it snobish, but I do love it. I try to limit to 1x a week)
    • trying new restaurants
    • Disney (my favorite movie is UP, but I love all things Disney)
    • Target and HomeGoods ( #basic)
    • traveling (I would pick travel over material things any day)
    • the pool (I live in Florida, but I am not as big of a beach fan to be honest)

    I am looking forward to getting to know all of you here! Be sure to leave comments and be supportive. That’s what this community is all about! -Peace, Love, Kindness- Contact with any questions!


    family session, maternity, mommy and me, Oregon Photographers

    Family of 6 to-be

    “This family of 6 session was done in the last week of winter and although a bit windy, it was actually quite nice outside! This family was so wonderful, happy, and ready to play. The dad was amazing at getting his son laughing, and the sweet girls were great at giving some love to their mom and growing baby sister. I’m all about capturing love and happiness and this family made it easy!”- Rebecca from Becca Jean Photography

    family of 6
    family of 6

    family of 6
    family of 6

    Photographer: Becca Jean Photography, Portland OR
    See more from Becca here on Instagram

    If you’re interested in submitting a session, please head over to the
    Submit page

    essential oils, for families, guest writer

    Using Essential Oils for kids

    Written by featured writer, Young Living Distributor, and friend of The Family Journeys, Meagan Lane

    The only time I had ever touched an essential oil was during early pregnancy with my second baby. Peppermint for the blinding nausea and headaches.  I’m not sure if I would have made it without it. I kept seeing things everywhere like “NO DO NOT USE IF PREGNANT.” But there’s a lot of that on the internet and I didn’t ingest it. Anyhow, I didn’t know why it worked, but it did and I kept that little bottle of peppermint with me everywhere I went.  

    After Austin was born I was diagnosed with Post- partum Anxiety… the “can’t leave the house or let anyone touch my baby” kind of anxiety. Enter essential oils! A friend Introduced me to Young Living and all of the plant based goodness that came with the products they have. Not only did I jump in using oils for myself and my anxiety, but I also started using them with my kids – yes, even the baby.

    What are Essential Oils?

    What exactly are essential oils? Essential oils are the most basic elements and food sources of a plant, distilled down to the oil-soluble chemicals in them. Basically, you have all the natural chemicals available to YOU that help a plant with infection control, humidity control, hormonal effects, etc. This was the medicine that people used before modern traditional pharmaceuticals!

    The chemistry gets a little complex here, but I’ll let you do a little reading for yourself. I suggest picking up the Oil + Glass book which is a great resource for diving a little deeper as a beginner. You can find the book on Amazon HERE.

    Versatility and Safety

    The versatility of Essential oils lends them to being a great tool for wellness support, treating skin conditions, soothing muscles, calming babies…you get it. Everyone I encounter has a different story as to why they decided to use essential oils and I love every single one of them. It’s always amazing to me to hear about the things that essential oils can do.

    Let me pause and discuss safety. Always research everything you use on a young child and dilute the oils appropriately for their age group. Also make sure you are using pure, therapeutic grade oils always! Be careful and mindful when wearing oils on yourself around babies. Oils are treated like medicine in my house. They are put up away from little hands and my oldest isn’t allowed to handle them unsupervised.

    How to use Essential Oils

    Parent tip: When starting with oils, use one at a time always diluted to avoid overloading their system. Slowly start to add in oils as they adjust.

    That said, I have personally found that, when used consistently, Essential
    Oils can be magical with my littles. Generally, they can be used in three ways:

    1. Aromatically (through a diffuser)
    2. Topically (In a roller bottle diluted or applied directly to skin)
    3. Ingested as a supplement (in capsules, in food/drink, or within other supplements).

    With my kids, we diffuse oils in their bedrooms and in our main living space. Big Kid’s favorite is his sleepytime blend of Lavender and Cedarwood, or his special Sleepyize KidScents blend. Baby brother gets lavender and coconut oil on the bottom of his feet at night. We also use our oils for coughs, skin irritations, after-school bad attitudes, and Daddy’s loud snoring (no, really…look up Valor for apnea support). For those of you with young children, the book Gentle Babies by Debra Raybern is a great resource (get it on Amazon HERE).

    Immune Support

    I have been most impressed by the immune support of some of the oils we use. The Thieves blend offers anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. My big kid gets Thieves blended with some other oils proactively on the bottom of his feet before school every morning. Along with diffusing and cleaning with Thieves, we have luckily been shielded from some of the worse germs to invade our schools this cold season. I should knock on wood, but Little Brother just turned 8 months old and we have been sickness free with him his whole time earthside so far!!

    Using Essential Oils for kids
    Other fun applications of essential oils we’ve tried:
    • Mix coconut oil and shea butter with 15-20  drops of the Gentle Baby blend for a creamy natural moisturizer for the littles.
    • Homemade play-do infused with your favorite Essential oils
    • Use Lemon to remove gum or sticky things or add to lavender during high pollen count days.
    • Calm a hyper child with a little Frankincense on the back of their neck.
    • Apply Copaiba neat onto gums of babies during teething (SUCH a lifesaver these days!)

    I love hearing how oils have helped the families I’ve worked with! Essential oils aren’t a cure-all, but meant to provide an extra tool in the effort to keep our homes healthy. There are so many natural options you have on hand when using oils. Besides, we are the gatekeepers to our homes – why wouldn’t we stock up on the good stuff?

    Please feel free to comment with questions!

    Interested in learning more about oils, how to use them, or to purchase-Contact Meagan on Instagram or email here:

    Interested in guest writing for The Family Journeys? Contact us and let’s collaborate!

    maternity, ohio photographers

    light and airy maternity session from Ohio

    This semi light and airy maternity session is adorable. I love this book they use with little mans name and these two beautiful faces getting ready to be first time parents. What a gorgeous setting.

    light and airy maternity

    “A couple expecting their first child. I love that this couple could easily make each other smile and light up without myself even telling them to “smile”- Photographer Dallas Castle

    light and airy maternity
    light and airy maternity

    Photographer: Dallas Castle/Dallas Castle Photography-Kenton, Ohio

    Find more from Dallas on Facebook and Instagram

    To submit a family, maternity, lifestyle, birth, or fresh 48 session, please contact us!

    advice, gift ideas, kids birthdays

    Gift ideas for kids ages 1-14

    gifts for kids ages 1-14

    You all know this question, “what does (your kids name) want for his/her birthday?.”

    We’ve all heard it or said it and I was intrigued, so I compiled a list of some things from myself and other parents on how to best answer that question.

    Now of course, all kids are different and like different things so it’s clear this isn’t going to work for everyone. However, I feel like it’s got something for everyone- thus why I am sharing it.

    As a parent myself to two crazy boys who are hyper, fighting and then getting along and then back to fighting, want to play together and then don’t, share wonderfully and then will argue about how two of the exact same things are different somehow…..I digress.

    Gift cards…..good or bad?

    As a parent myself, I find that even at young ages, specifically 4+ gift cards are always a good thing. Growing up, I never got them and still rarely do because they seem impersonal (as my mom would say). But, as a parent, I find it useful and the kids find it fun to be able to pick something out themselves. Seems like a win-win to me.

    If gift cards are a no for you, not a problem because there are plenty of other options. My newly turned four year old just had a birthday and one thing we told several people was puzzles. A great independent activity that also challenges them is always a great thing for me. I love gifts that are multi purpose and really allow the kids to learn and grow but also appeal in a fun and playful way.

    Melissa and Doug toys are some of my favorites as well as Learning resources for these very reasons. For the older kids, we’ve got Legos which are always a hit, things like movie tickets, or cash money for them to spend on whatever crazy things kids want these days (concert tickets, a specific kind of shoes, the purchase of an app/game on their phone or device).

    1-3 years old

    This Farmers Market bucket set from Learning Resources helped both my kids and ended up being great in a play kitchen as food for that as well! This would be perfect for a 1-3 year old.
    This latch board from Melissa and Doug is amazing for fine motor skills. That lock on number five is quite tricky for little fingers but watching them master this is the ultimate joy.

    Another favorite for the toddlers is these Lift -A- Flap books from Usborne. They are colorful, interactive, and creative and pretty sturdy for those little hands.

    4-8 year olds

    I personally have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t go through a lego phase at some point or another and these lego city collections are pretty cool and really allow them to focus on reading directions and following steps. Plus, you get something pretty cool at the end, too.
    All sorts of fun things you can make with these magnetic tiles. A bit more expensive than other gifts, but there’s literally no breaking these things- my kids have tried

    This is the time where I feel most kids like to get into board games! Make it a family game night- loser has to do the dishes 😉

    8-14 year olds

    This is a wider category because if you’re like me and have a kid who acts older than he is- then you may have to up some of these things. Either way, gift cards, movie tickets and the like are perfect for kids these age and also teaches them about money and how far is does and doesn’t go!

    this game is hilarious. I don’t care how old you are!
    Plenty of options when it comes to slime kits and all kids love it, I swear. You can (almost) never go wrong with slime!
    There’s always something good playing or coming soon and this gives them a chance to hang out with a friend, or maybe they will ask you…..probably not though 😉

    Of course, you can go to any website and enter in filters to come up with ideas for the age groups, but I feel like these would work well for any spectrum of the age grouping and development rates as well. These are affordable ideas that you don’t have to think too much about and have both creative and challenging aspects to them (ok, maybe not the movie tickets, but you get the idea). If you have something to add, we would love to hear it in the comments!

    alaska photographers, baby, mommy and me

    Golden mommy and me session

    These sessions are incredibly sweet and I am excited to share this one with such magical light.

    “Mommy and Me sessions hold such a special place in my heart. Often, more times than not, new mothers don’t get the opportunity to be in photographs with their new baby.  They are either the ones taking the photographs or they just don’t feel comfortable enough yet to be in front of the camera.  My job as a photographer is to document all of life’s precious moments and make my mamas feel their very best.”-Shannon/photographer

    golden mommy and me session
    golden mommy and me session
    golden mommy and me session

    ” When my client hired me to photograph her and her baby I felt very honored.  I curated this entire session from the outfits, to hair, and even applied her makeup for her.  The beautiful mother had her cream dress already which was perfect for the vision I had for this session. For the baby girl we chose a dress from my own collection of clothes that clients can use.  This session was an absolute dream.  The sun was a perfect golden hue that kissed the clients hair creating a whimsical feel.  The backdrop of fiery pink azaleas contrasted the cream dresses beautifully.  The images embodies my vision for this session completely.” -Shannon/photographer

    golden mommy and me session
    golden mommy and me session

    Photographer: Shannon Brown Photography, North Pole, Alaska

    Find her on facebook

    To submit a family, maternity, lifestyle, birth, or fresh 48 session, please contact us!

    family session, Louisiana photographers, maternity

    Wooded Louisiana Maternity Session

    I adore this dramatic and darker Wooded Louisiana Maternity Session by Borges Photo so much. The excitement and love is felt in every photo and that’s the best way to capture the true feeling of this time in one’s life.

    “My sister was such a beauty pregnant, you would never know it was over 100 degrees outside in the middle of the summer! Louisiana summers are no joke, but she rocked it. We had a blast with this maternity/family session!”

    Wooded Louisiana Maternity Session
    Wooded Louisiana Maternity Session
    Wooded Louisiana Maternity Session

    Photographer: Samantha Borges of Borges Photo
    See more from Borges Photo on Instagram

    To submit a family, maternity, lifestyle, birth, or fresh 48 session, please contact us!


    Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup for everyone

    Crack Chicken Noodle Soup

    By Millie Brinkley, author of Eats by the Beach


    • 1-2 tablespoons bacon grease or 3 strips of bacon, cooked crisp and removed from pot.  Keep the drippings.
    • 3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped into bite-size pieces
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
    • 2 stalks celery, chopped
    • 2 medium carrots, sliced
    • 1 cup chicken broth or dry white wine
    • 1 (10.5 oz.) can condensed chicken soup
    • 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
    • 1 cup whole milk
    • 1 (1 oz.) packet Ranch dressing mix
    • 1 tablespoon chicken bouillon base
    • 1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
    • 8 oz. Thin Spaghetti or Angel Hair – uncooked (I like to break them into little pieces)
    • 1 1/2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
    Creamy chicken noodle soup


    In a large Dutch oven, melt the bacon fat.  Add chopped chicken and saute over medium heat until cooked all the way through.  Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic.  Continue to saute the vegetables and chicken until the onions are translucent.
    Add the broth or white wine to the pot and bring to a boil.  Stir in the condensed soup, chicken stock, milk, cream cheese, ranch dressing mix, and chicken base.  Stir well.
    Turn down heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes.
    add noodles and cheese and simmer until noodles are fully cooked.

    Go and try this recipe and tell us what you think in the comments! A huge thank you to Millie for sharing this with us! Go see more amazing grub on her blog Eats by the Beach

    family session, north carolina photographers

    Field of dreams family session-Asheville NC

    This Field of dreams family session is filling my heart right now. The love and the light and the location, I couldn’t ask for more. Such a dream of a session!

    Field of dreams family session

    “Family sessions with small kids can be stressful for parents. Somewhere between the tickles and the fig newtons and the group hugs, they always hit their stride and become their true selves in front of the camera. This family was no different. Their photos are filled with beauty, nature and love just like them. ” – Coley K Photography

    Field of dreams family session
    Field of dreams family session

    Photographer: Coley K Photography-Asheville, North Carolina

    You can find more about Coley on here: Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook

    To submit a family, maternity, lifestyle, birth, or fresh 48 session, please contact us!