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5 Ways To Reduce Holiday Stress

Are those bells ringing in your ears a sign of holiday cheer or a sign of too much stress? Don’t let this Holiday Season slip by in a blur of over scheduling. Commit to making changes — one step at a time and you’ll discover the gift of a more enjoyable year-end celebration. As you juggle the complexities of work, home and family, here are 5 simple steps that may help you become as jolly as ol’ St. Nick.

5. Develop an list of everything you would like to do THIS Holiday Season, then prioritize in order to get the most amount of joy from the limited amount of time you have to spend with family, friends and coworkers. Remember, this year’s priorities may look different than those of holidays past!

4. Express gratitude. What a great time of year to thank all of those people who make your life worth living! Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the season steal away your opportunity to be thankful for the people, experiences and events (both good and bad) that made this year unique and memorable. If you’re sending greeting cards, why not add a personalized message about why you are thankful for having
the recipient in your life.

3. Learn to say NO — put YOU first sometimes. It’s ok to say no! I repeat: it is ok to say NO! Schedule some “alone time” during the holidays so you can reduce the temptation to take on too many responsibilities that may cause a meltdown at the worst possible moment.

2. Choose your battles wisely. As the end of the year quickly approaches, you may be pulled in too many directions and it may be impossible for you to attend every get together. Holidays are often full of over taxed emotions so, rather than succumbing to a confrontation, try to approach each situation as an opportunity to accommodate the most important needs of those involved. Express your opinions about the little things that are causing extra stress instead of hiding those emotions that may cause your temper to reach the boiling point.

1. Life really is about the journey. Savor the moments! That is a difficult concept for those of us who are always striving toward a particular goal. Savoring the moment means allowing yourself enough time to celebrate each activity before rushing on to the next event.
BONUS Stress Reducer: The Rat Race Relaxer Book provides 52 stress busting tips — one for every week of the year — that will challenge you and your friends to get what you want in return for running the rat race!

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Adapted from the book Rat Race Relaxer: Your Potential & The Maze of Life by JoAnna Carey.  JoAnna Carey, aka “The Rat Race Relaxer,” is available for radio, TV and print interviews. She’s an energetic, young entrepreneur who merges her life experience and business success to perform enjoyable, influential presentations. She is the producer and host of her own weekly television
program titled The Rat Race Relaxer™ Show and the author of Rat Race Relaxer: Your Potential & The Maze of Life. Contact Carey’D Away Enterprises, LLC; http://www.RatRaceRelaxer.com.

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Hot Holiday Drink Recipes

After a night out caroling with friends and/or relatives, invite everyone back to your house to help trim your Christmas tree and serve up the following drinks and snacks.

Hot Mulled Wine

1 bottle red wine
12 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
Rind of 1 lemon
Rind of 1 orange
2 tablespoons sugar

Add all ingredients to a pot and steep gently over a medium heat until hot. Avoid boiling the mixture. Serve in sturdy mugs. NOTE: This is good to make in a crock pot, too. Makes the house smell nice, also.

Kahlua Nog

1 cup Kahlua
1 pint dark rum
1 quart egg nog
1 pint chocolate ice cream
1 pint coffee-flavored ice cream

Mix rum, Kahlua and egg nog in a large pitcher. Right before serving, pour 1/2 of the mixture into a chilled large punch bowl. Add scoops of the ice creams. Then add the remaining liquid mixture.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 drops peppermint oil
Sweetened whipped cream for garnish
Candy Canes

In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and chocolate and cook until the mixture just begins to steam. Add the peppermint oil. Divide the hot chocolate into mugs and top with sweetened whip cream. Add a candy cane to each cup. NOTE: Kids love this yummy drink.

Get-togethers like this call for food that can be prepared ahead of time and put out on a buffet table when everyone arrives. Make ahead a crock pot of beef stew or chicken noodle soup. Prepare a tray of fresh vegetables with dips and another tray of sliced cheeses, sausages, and other cold cuts then put out different types of breads and buns so everyone can make their own sandwiches. And since it’s the holidays, be sure to keep it simple. Put out plates of home made sweet breads such as banana bread, pumpkin bread and brownies. Plates of homemade Christmas cookies added to this and you have your desserts.

The point is to enjoy yourself with as little hassle as possible. And if anyone offers to bring something, suggest a colorful pasta salad, or a bread bowl full of dip with bread cubes around it.

About the Author: Lois Mead is an Editor for The 1001Recipes2Send.com Recipes Database. Become a member to receive the weekly newsletter alert: http://www.1001Recipes2Send.com Download FREE eBooks at: http://www.1001Recipes2Send.com/Free

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Happy Holidays with Teens

There is no doubt that children “make” the holidays. There is nothing like the smile on a child’s face, as they see all the Christmas lights lit up as you drive around your town – or the look of awe on their face Christmas morning, when they wake up to presents under the tree. But as our children move into the teen years, the Christmas season loses some of its awe and wonder…..if we let it!

It is true that we cannot turn back the clock, and we cannot stop our kids from outgrowing some of our holiday traditions. Let’s face it, it would look pretty funny seeing your 16 year-old sitting on Santa’s lap in the local mall. But with some planning, we can still make the Holiday Season special.

Every year, from the time my children were toddlers, in November I get out all my Advent materials, old Christmas calendars, and “idea” books for the Christmas season. I take a day and pour through them and pick out the activities that will suit my family for the coming holiday season. While you can keep some old traditions, you will find you need to give some up and add new ones that your teens will find enjoyable.

Below are some ideas to help you get started.

Deck the Halls
While your teens may not be as excited about getting the house decorated for the holidays as they used to be, this family tradition can still be a time to make memories and share a common bond.

Turn on the Christmas Music and decorate the house and tree together.
Even though they might not seem interested, insist that they be there for this one. This will set the mood for the whole holiday season. Do your best to find a time that everyone can be there and help with the “Hanging of the Greens”.

If you have a tradition of using an Advent Wreath and/or an Advent Calendar, I suggest you keep using it.
Even though they may seem a bit old, especially for the calendar, you’d be surprised how Teens will still enjoy it. In our family, I have a homemade Advent Calendar with pouches on each date to hold a special question regarding Christmas. The first one down to the breakfast table in the morning gets to read the message in the calendar for the day. You’d be surprised how my teens still compete to be the first one at the table!

Have your own Decoration Contest.
Have each teen decorate their room for the holidays, and then take a vote to see whose is the most creative.

Have your teens change the answering machine message to a holiday message of their choice.

Holiday Events
Teens may be too busy, or not very interested, in attending holiday events with the family. Here are some things that will likely strike their fancy – and remember to include their friends.

Christmas Shopping Trip to the Mall.
What teenager doesn’t like the mall? Take a car-load of teens to the mall for a Christmas Shopping Extravaganza. Be prepared for some silliness, and for letting them go off on their own for a while. Meet together in the food court for dinner before heading home.

Church Christmas Parties.
Again, encourage your teen to bring friends to these events.
Local Christmas Pageants/Programs. Support community Christmas programs. You will find many things of interest, but remember, your time with teenagers is limited. Choose the events that will be most enjoyable to everyone.

Gifts
Coming up with exciting gifts for teenagers that don’t break the bank can be a real problem.

Set a budget and stick with it. Explain to your teens just what you will be spending and ask for lists that stay within the pre-set budget. They might only want one item that uses the whole amount of money set aside for them, but they will like it much more than a lot of little things that they don’t want.

Brain-storm with them for ideas for presents for their friends. This expense can eat up a lot of their own funds, so encourage them to be creative and bargain shoppers.

Open one present each on Christmas Eve.

Misc.
As we move into the Holiday Season, let us remember the TRUE reason for Christmas, and let’s make sure our teens remember it also. It is not the gifts, or the lights, or tree. It’s not even family getting together or sharing our abundance with those less fortunate. While these have become an important part of our holiday tradition in America, we need to make sure we remember WHY we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, God’s precious gift to us. According to John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave us His son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Jesus is the real reason for the Season; let’s make sure we and our families honor Him this holiday season.

Set up a manger scene in the front yard.
Start a collection of manger scenes that can be given to your teenagers when they become adults, and move out on their own.

Attend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day church services together.
Listen to Christmas Carols and Christmas Hymns together in the house and in the car.
Make sure to read the Christmas Story in the Book of Luke.

Patricia Chadwick is a a freelance writer and has been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years. She is currently a columnitst in several online publications as well as editor of two email newsletters. Parents & Teens is a twice monthly newsletter geared to help parents connect with their teens. Subscribe at www.parentsandteens.com or by sending a blank email to: subscribe-parent-teen@xc.org. History’s Women is weekly online magazine highlighting the extraordinary achievements of women. Subscribe at www.historyswomen.com/subscribe.html or by sending a blank email to: subscribe-h-w@xc.org.

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Choosing Christmas Gifts For Your Child

The other day a friend and I were enjoying a cup of tea when she picked up a brochure from my kitchen table put out by a major toy manufacturer and started to leaf through it. “Look at this” she said, “underneath every toy there are two boxes to check, either “want it or got it”, what could be more intimidating?” Every year you look at the over abundance of toys stuffed into toy boxes, in closets, on bookshelves and anywhere else you can find room to store them and wonder, “what more can my child possibly need?”

It’s true that today’s children have more toys than ever before but we only have ourselves to blame. Must we give in to every ad telling us our child will be deprived if they don’t have the newest and the best? I know this year I am rethinking what my children will receive from my husband and myself and these are the steps that I’m following:

1. I am going to go through all the children’s toys and separate them into these categories:
· Broken or missing pieces
· Has been outgrown but is still in good condition to donate to a charity
· Keep in the storage space for my grandchildren (!)
· Still popular and stimulating

I will also keep a large garbage bag by my side and be merciless at what I throw out. My children have so much that they have never asked me where anything is after I’ve thrown it away.

2. Every time my daughters see something on television that they would like, instead of shouting “I want that!” they say “Can I put that on my list?” My girls are five and two-and-a-half and believe me, they can’t remember what goes on the list and what doesn’t, it’s just not as annoying for me to listen to them greedily want everything they see. I also get a sense of what they would really like by how often they talk about it, though the Poo-Chi Emily wanted so desperately last Christmas is collecting dust on her dresser.

3. If they receive duplicate gifts on their birthdays they put them away and donate them to the Christmas bureau. Hopefully this will make them aware that there are children who don’t have a lot and teaches them what giving is all about.

4. My husband and I focus on items the kids can use to express their creativity with or learn something from. Paints, books and craft items are simple but popular. Last Christmas my five-year- old’s favorite gift was a bag of brightly colored feathers; I’m not kidding! That bag of feathers cost only two dollars but decorated every project she made throughout the whole year.

5. You can make items like microscopes and globes fun! Last year my mother-in-law bought my daughter a globe and it’s one of her favorite things. She loves to look for different countries where friends and family live. Emily also finds it fun to learn about the different customs and lifestyles of children around the world.

6. If relatives ask what they can buy for the children I usually suggest gift certificates to the local toy, craft or children’s clothing store. I like to give the kids an opportunity to pick something for themselves and don’t veto it even though it might be a package of shiny purple fake fingernails.

7. I try to put some gifts aside to be played with at a later date. Tearing open packages and playing a little with everything takes away the newness. Videos and games are perfect items to keep in the closet for a rainy day.

8. I also try to balance the types of items I buy and throw in a few surprises. Every parent knows their own child’s interests. Sometimes the surprises go over well, sometimes they don’t but it’s always worth the gamble. Stores that specialize in educational toys are my favorite because I know that everything they sell will benefit my children in some way. They also carry items that are not always found in regular toy departments, making them unique and ideal for those surprises.

9. I also like to put together kits for the kids geared towards their own interests. It’s exciting to pick a theme and center little gifts on it; packaging it in an inexpensive container or bag. It’s kind of like a little treasure chest when they open it!

10. Because I start my Christmas shopping so early I tend to go overboard. If I feel I’ve bought too much I either give it away or return it to the store.

My family has cut back too; we no longer participate in a children’s gift exchange, preferring to spend the time together enjoying each other’s company instead. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

Heidi Hoff is a freelance writer and publisher of Preschool Planet, an ezine for parents and care givers of preschool aged children. She is also the author of the ebook: “The Play Date Handbook”. For more information please visit www.preschoolplanet.com

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Beating the Holiday Stress, Stepmom Style

The holidays are fast approaching. I can hear the chaos and calamity right behind me now, can you? My instinct is to find a deep, deep hole to hide in until the festivities have passed, but if memory serves, someone always finds me, and I have to come out anyway. Maybe I’ll do better this year….

The holidays are traditionally a time of presents and parties, decorations and dinners, but in a stepfamily where the only constant is change, they can also be times of tempers and traumas, anger and annoyances. The stress can be paralyzing. You can adopt any strategy you want for the holidays, but the one that will bring you the most calm may be one of compromise and ingenuity. Try to keep a cool head and a warm heart, and remember that January will indeed come, and put all of this another year away!

Try these coping strategies, to help you beat the stress in dealing with those around you:

Accept the fact that you won’t please everyone.

Some parent,grandparent, in-law, or child will be upset by your plans. With so many people in your life, there is probably no way around it. If you try to please everyone, you will only compound the stress that the holidays naturally bring. Give your plan your best shot, and then follow through. It’s one holiday, not your entire world.

Make all the plans that you can as early as possible, just to make the subsequent plans as easy on yourself as you can.

Just knowing *what* is supposed to happen *when* can alleviate some of the stress associated with the holidays. Don’t put off this discussion with your stepchildren’s other family. Start the dialog now, and you’ll have a better chance of accommodating more wishes than if you wait too long.

If one particular date or event is special to you, speak up now.

No one can plan around something they don’t know about, so be up front with any specific requests you have. When you ask for a certain date, offer something in return. Compromise, remember?

Set the example of calm.

If you start no other family tradition, start one of making the holidays a time of peace and joy, not bickering and greed. Kids pick up on what you feel. If you feel relaxed, unhurried and calm, so will they. If you are stressed, ill, and selfish, they will be, too. If they see you compromise and adjust with grace and generosity, they will learn how to do the same. If they see you argue and complain if you don’t get your way all the time, they will learn that, too. It’s your choice.
Your level of calm may be stressed severely as plans that you thought were fairly safe get canceled or changed.

Be prepared for that, by having some alternate plans if your original plan dissolves. Holding on too tightly to your plans will only put more pressure on an already difficult time. Make the best plan you can, and then consider it tentative until it actually happens. There are so many factors that can change it. Allow yourself to handle those factors, without letting them spoil your holiday.

Discover what kind of personality and style your family — the family of your husband and all of your children — has, and do your best to honor it.

You have to work around everyone else, but make the holiday season uniquely yours by choosing to celebrate in the way that best fits your family. What has worked in the past in your other family, may not work now. That’s okay. Build something better. Build your own traditions in the time you have. Don’t fight the confusion and complications that your family brings to the holidays. Instead, adapt to it, and work around it. You won’t be disappointed.
Take a breath, and remember to save some of your energy for *you.* When you add the stress that a stepmom feels every day into the anxious mix of holidays and family ties, you can create a blend of frustration and anxiety harder to get rid of than leftover fruitcake.

Take the time now, today, to get prepared with these tips to help yourself:

Accept imperfection.

Even if you were a member of a traditional family, your holiday season wouldn’t be perfect. Remember that when you feel the urge to blame all your problems and inconveniences on your marital status. Granted, the complications are doubled or tripled, the strategic planning may resemble a lunar landing, and even with the best of plans, things will go wrong. It’s okay. It’s normal. Your family will survive.

Let everyone else accept the imperfection, too.

Don’t stress yourself even more by trying to solve everyone else’s problems. If a parent or in-law is unhappy with some plans you’ve made, you can’t help that. If you have to miss a function, offer your regrets, and then do what you have to do. Focus on what *can* happen, not on what *can’t.*

Reduce your work load.

If you’re feeling a lot of stress because of all the extra work you have to do, choose not to do it, now. Buy instead of bake. Decorate half as much. Buy gift cards. Don’t worry about impressing anyone. Strive for peace and serenity. Add a chore to your day only if it will bring you more happiness or satisfaction in some way. Don’t feel obligated to meet anyone’s standards except your own, and those are always negotiable.

Lower your expectations.

When we think about the holidays, we see Norman Rockwell pictures in our heads and anticipate complete banishment of the Grinch. In our reality, sometimes the pictures are more Norman Bates and the Grinch moves in to stay. Expect some confusion. Expect some tension. Expect some disappointments. But also expect some surprises. Expect some harmony. Expect some joy. Expect some amazing gifts of your family and the spirit it holds. Then let the holiday unfold as it will, and enjoy the season you’re given. Expect to survive the holidays with grace and humility. That’s what will happen.

Decide what you want from the holidays.

Decide what memories you want to have when it’s all over. Try to keep those objectives in mind, as you work through the hustle and bustle. When the holidays arrive next year, you’ll look back on this year and remember just a few things clearly. What do you want those few things to be? Keep your focus there. Let everything else go.

Don’t forget to laugh.

There may be days when you want to cry, kick, and scream. We’ve all had them. But hidden amid the chaos will be some moments of pure joy that the holidays always bring. Find them. Enjoy them. Laugh and smile every time you get the chance. Put those moments on your list of memories. Take the time to stop the work and enjoy the wonder of the season.
The holidays will pass, and soon we’ll resume our routines and continue to grow our families the best we can. The holidays are important for all families, but you have opportunities all year long to bond and blend — you don’t have to do it all at once. You don’t have to create the perfect holiday for your family. Instead, work on building your family for the holidays and beyond.

Karon Goodman is a mom, stepmom and writer from Alabama. Her book, “The Stepmom’s Guide to Simplifying Your Life,” http://www.equipress.com/stepmomintro.htm will be released next spring. Visit Karon’s monthly newsletter, The Stepparenting Journey, now online http://www.mindspring.com/~billgoodman/newsletter.html

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Ham Ball Recipe

These are so easy and delicious! They are a favourite at our family Christmas Eve parties, but are good for anytime.

Meatballs:

1 pound ground cooked ham
1 pound ground pork
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt

Sauce:

1 1/2 cups brown sugar (packed)
3/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Combine meats, bread crumbs, milk, eggs, and salt and mix thoroughly. Shape into aprox. 1 inch balls and place in a shallow baking dish. Mix sauce ingredients and pour over meatballs. Baked uncovered at 325 degrees for 40 minutes, basting often with the sauce.

You can serve as they come out of the oven, or to keep them hot, use a chafing dish.

Enjoy!

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Be Happier in the New Year

Is this going to be your year? As we leave another year behind and turn to a fresh new year, many of us make resolutions with the best of intentions. All too often, within a month or two, those resolutions have been broken. I had a friend who said she resolved not to make any resolutions. This way, she wouldn’t break any of them!

One thing we can all really try to do is have a positive outlook. Some experts think that happiness is a choice and is not something that is really influenced by external forces. If we decide to have appositive outlook and be happy, we can then live a happier life. So, rather than make resolutions to do specific things, why not try to resolve to be happier? Here are some ways to be more positive.

Say “Thank You”

Gratitude can help you look at the positive things and the people in your life who you are thankful for. Write a heartfelt thank you note to someone you appreciate. It will make both of you feel good.

Look for the good

In many situations, there is some good to be found. Try to look on the brighter side. As long as our troubles are not life and death, they can more than likely be overcome and will someday be just a memory. I had a coworker once who helped me see this. There was a lot of stress, deadlines, and frustrations with our job, so it was not a good situation. When things would get bad, she would say “Well, it’s not blood or air.” This helped us both relax and put things in perspective. The good in the situation was we could share our frustrations and we had each other to turn to for support and understanding.

Don’t count on someone else to make you happy

We are all responsible for our own happiness, so take ownership of it! That is not to say that we can’t find happiness from being with other people. Being with others and enjoying their company is good for us and one of the pleasures in life for many. But, we should not count on others to make us happy because that has to come from within ourselves. If you aren’t happy within yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to be able to make you happy.

Put on some music to dance and sing

Singing and dancing can be a mood booster! Put on some of your favorite music and sing and dance loud.

Breathe in the fresh air

Get outside! Some experts say that just being outside can help with your mood and help your outlook on life.

Play

Got kids? Play with them! If you don’t have kids of your own, spend some time with relatives or friend’s children. Kids often have a great attitude and their positive attitudes can be infectious.
Got pets? Play with them! Pets can help boost happiness and reduce stress.

Smile and laugh

We’ve all heard the sayings that “smiles are contagious” and “laughter is the best medicine”. Look at yourself in the mirror and smile – just do it – even if it makes you feel silly (that’s kind of the point). Watch a funny movie or share a joke. Do whatever it is that you know will make you smile and laugh. Sometimes this takes effort, especially when you don’t feel like doing anything.

Feeling down?

I don’t just mean the occasional blues. If you are feeling like you just can’t be happy, you could be depressed. If that is the case, please talk to someone or seek professional help. You owe it to yourself, to those you love, and to those who love you.

All the best for a really happy new year!

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Easy Holiday Dip Recipes

For busy people who need to bring a dish for the next holiday party.

The Christmas season is often a busy one and the odds are pretty good that there will be some partying going on in your life this time of year. Whether you are the host, or asked to bring something along with you, these recipes will be a hit – and they are easy to prepare too!

Hot Cheesy Dip

Ingredients
• 1 package cream cheese
• 1 cup asiago & artichoke dip
• 1 clove garlic, crushed
• ¼ cup parmesan cheese
• ¼ cup mozzarella or cheddar cheese
• ¼ cup cheddar cheese
• ¼ cup salsa (optional)

Directions
Blend everything together in a food processor. Cook for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve with nacho chips, bagel crisps, pita bread, or bread.

Crab Dip

Ingredients
• 1 brick cream cheese
• ½ cup sour cream
• ¼ cup miracle whip
• 1 cup artificial crab
• Topped with seafood sauce, diced tomato, green onion, 1 cup grated mozarella cheese

Directions
Mix all together in food processor. Spread dip on a plate and top with seafood sauce. Add finely-grated mozzarella, diced tomato, and onion. Serve chilled with crackers.

Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Ingredients
• 1 package cream cheese
• 1 jar (7 ounces) roasted red peppers
• ½ tspn white or red pepper
• 1 clove garlic, crushed

Directions
Mix all together in a food processor. Serve chilled with crackers and sliced vegetables.

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Holiday Mocktail Recipes

What if your party includes children, people who just prefer to not drink alcohol, and designated drivers?

With holiday celebrations come festive drinks and cocktails, usually involving alcohol. Why not offer them something other than just soda or juice! Almost any juice will mix nicely with ginger ale or lemon-lime soda. Serve it in a nice glass with a garnish and all of a sudden it makes the ordinary festive! There are loads of mocktail recipes out there, too. Here are some simple festive drinks, especially favorite recipes for parties.

Shirley Temple

I remember as a child feeling very special when we would go out for dinner. On a special occasion, I was allowed to order a Shirley Temple! This classic drink is festive and fun for kids and adults alike!
Ingredients
• 3 oz. orange juice
• 6 oz. ginger ale
• 2/3 oz. grenadine (or for a less sweet taste, cranberry juice)
• Ice

Directions
1. In a tall glass with ice, combine the ingredients and stir gently to mix.
2. Garnish with a maraschino cherry or orange slice.

Roy Rogers

For the cola lover, this is the counterpart to the Shirley Temple.
Ingredients
• 6 oz. cola
• 2/3 oz. grenadine
• Ice

Directions
1. In a tall glass with ice, combine the ingredients and stir gently to mix.
2. Garnish with a maraschino cherry or orange slice.

Cranberry Punch

Ingredients
• 64 oz. cranberry juice or cranberry cocktail
• 1 can frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed
• 32 oz. chilled sparkling water, ginger ale, or lemon-lime soda

Directions
1. In a large punch bowl, mix the cranberry juice and the lemonade concentrate.
2. Add the sparkling water or soda just before serving. Toss in some cranberries and orange slices to make it look more festive. If you use frozen cranberries, it will also help to keep the punch cold without using ice that will dilute the flavors.

Virgin Caesar

Ingredients
• 8 oz. Clamato
• 3 shakes Worcestershire sauce
• Hot sauce to taste
• Salt and pepper (optional)

Directions
1. Rim a tall glass with celery salt (wet the rim of the glass with water or lime juice and dip the rim in a saucer with celery salt to coat the rim)
2. Fill the glass with ice
3. Add Worcestershire sauce into glass (about three shakes).
4. Add hot sauce.
5. Add Clamato juice.
6. Top with salt and pepper
7. Garnish with celery stalk, asparagus spear, or a pickled bean

We hope your festive parties will be the most memorable this year with these recipes! Enjoy!

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Involving the Kids in the New Year Celebration

A lot of New Years Eve activities are adult oriented. But what if you want to spend the evening celebrating with kids? You can help the kids ring in the New Year with these fun activities.

1. Make their own Times Square Ball. Simply get a large paper grocery bag and paint it silver,gold or whatever colors they desire and then add stickers ,streamers,etc. fill with candy,confetti,toys,etc and tie with a ribbon. Hang with ribbons that are attached in each corner of the bottom of the bag through holes that you have punched when midnight strikes let them pull the ribbon and all the candy and confetti will come pouring out.

2. If kids can’t make it until midnight before falling asleep find a country with a time zone that has midnight arrive at a better time for them. visit this website:
http://www.timeanddate.com/counters/newyear.html

3. Make a float for New Years Day. Use a cardboard box or decorate a wagon with streamers, crepe paper, balloons and poster boards.Then they can have their very own parade .

4. Make hats by rolling up paper to form a cone and then stapling or taping it and decorating it.

5. Give them gift poppers that you have made. Take a toilet tissue roll and cover it in silver or gold wrapping paper by rolling it on the tube then twist one end of the paper and tie with lots of curly ribbon then the end that is left open simply fill with small candies, treasures and confetti and then twist that end and tie the same as the other end. Take a push pin and poke tiny holes around each end of the ribbon so when the kids pull it it pops off easier and out come the goodies inside!

Start the New Year off with activities for the whole family and vow to do more and be closer as a family this year and every year to come!

Angela Billings is a stay at home wife and mother who publishes an online newsletter Home and Family Ezine. http://www.homeandfamilyezine.com

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Bucking the Boxing Day Trend

Alternatives to the Boxing Day shopping trend

Do you go shopping on Boxing Day? Battle the crowds for a deal? Talk shopping strategies with your family over Christmas dinner? Camp out overnight to be the first in line for a bargain? Or perhaps you work on Boxing Day.

Not me. For as long as I can remember, I have been “anti-boxing day” in the sense that I refuse to step into any kind of store on Boxing Day. I figure there is nothing I need that badly that can’t wait another day! When I was a retail store owner, I also had my own store closed so my staff and I did not have to work the day after Christmas. I know some store owners that used to have their Christmas dinner early in the day then head down to get their store ready for a big sale on boxing day! No thanks.

So, if you want to join me in bucking the Boxing Day shopping trend, here are a few suggestions for other ways to spend the day.

Other Ways to Spend Boxing Day

  • Go for a walk – enjoy the company of family and friends as you go for a quiet walk in a local park or wherever you choose.
  • Play with your kids – Odds are your kids received some Christmas gift that they would enjoy sharing with you! Play with Lego, play a board game, put together a puzzle. Your kids will remember the time you spent with them and have fond memories of Boxing Day for years to come.
  • Go tobogganing, skiing, or skating – if you live in a snowy place, grab your woolies and hit the slopes or head to the rink!
  • Visit friends and family – to me, this is what the holidays are all about; cherish your time together.
  • Visit a neighbour – do you have a neighbour who may not have any family around for the holidays? They would probably enjoy a visit.
  • Visit a senior’s home – sing a song, play some cards, read a book! Many seniors would love to have someone visit with them.
  • Watch a movie – pop some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy!
  • Read a book – curl up with a good book and relax.
  • Bake – enjoy a day where you do not have anything else scheduled and bake some cookies or other goodies with your kids (or someone else’s!).
  • Make turkey soup – make it a family event with everyone helping.
  • Volunteer at your local food bank or soup kitchen – giving back to the community helps those who may not have as much; an added bonus is that it feels good!
  • Host a party – if you went somewhere for Christmas dinner, why not invite people to join you for a get together on Boxing Day.

Essentially, I encourage everyone to do anything other than shop on Boxing Day. If enough of us were to do this, maybe all those retailers who have their employees working on Boxing Day will instead give their employees two days off in a row at Christmas time to make their own memories!

How do you spend Boxing Day? If you could do anything, what would it be? Tell us in the comments below!

turkey1

Once a Month Cooking – The Turkey Plan

Turkey is a far more versatile meat than most of us think. Many people relegate it to holidays and “leftovers”, but why not make it part of your everyday fare? Turkey is delicious, low in fat (unless drowned in gravy!) and can be substituted for chicken in most dishes. It is a little bit coarser in texture than chicken, but this can be overcome by boiling turkey, which I accidentally discovered after boiling a very meaty carcass and then using the meat for sandwiches. You really can’t tell the difference!

Turkey is also extremely economical if bought in bulk when the prices are the lowest, usually around the end of the fall and in the spring (Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter). It is also much faster to debone than chickens and you get so much more meat! I have definitely turned into a turkey convert- I prefer it to chicken anyday!

I have divided the Turkey plan into two plans because they illustrate two very different ways to approach cooking such a large bird. Many of the recipes in this plan I have used, the second plan will be more experimental. Perhaps I need a third plan to demonstrate boiled turkey! Enjoy, and please let me know how these recipes turn out for you.

Strategy #1: Traditional Method- Roast a large whole turkey and serve for dinner. I have provided recipes for stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy too. All should freeze well, and you’ll be eating like kings long after Turkey Day!

Divide leftovers into the following: Sliced breast meat for dinner slices and diced white meat for meals where turkey is the “star” of the meal: stir fries, turkey ala king, curries, etc.

Dark meat, chopped for dishes where the meat is not necessarily the focus: casseroles, one dish meals, stews, potpies, soups, etc.

Bones, skin, gizzards- used for turkey stock and broth

Master Recipes:

Roasted Turkey
Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Homemade Stuffing

Secondary Recipes:

Turkey ala King
Turkey Pot Pie
Curry Turkey
Turkey Enchiladas with Homemade Red Chili Sauce
Mexican Turkey Lasagna
Turkey Lasagna Roll Ups
Turkey Divan
Dinner Slices
Turkey Fried Rice
Turkey Turnovers
Turkey Tetrazinni

Quick and Easy (make these on the fly with frozen diced turkey):

Turkey Salad in Pitas
Turkey Stir Fry
Turkey Club Sandwich
Main dish salad with roasted turkey
Turkey Quesadillas
Turkey tacos/burritos

Other Ideas

Turkey Jokes

Roasted Turkey

Roasting a turkey is pretty easy. I have provided some basic instructions here, you can find more detailed info on the Butterball recipe site.

  • 1 turkey
  • 1 roasting pan
  • oil
  • pastry brush
  • meat thermometer (optional)
  • aluminum foil
  1. Wash turkey, cleaning out cavities and reserving “gizzard” (heart, liver, neck etc) for another use. Pat dry. Preheat oven to .
  2. Put turkey into roasting pan and brush skin with vegetable oil (use a pastry brush). Put turkey, uncovered, into oven and roast for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until skin is browned. Cover with foil or top of roasting pan and cook for another 3-4 hours, depending on size of turkey.
  3. Check meat for doneness by inserting a large two-pronged fork into the thigh. If it is done, the juices should run clear. They will be pink if not done.
  4. Carve the turkey however you like and serve. Enjoy!
  5. Note: when everyone is sitting around holding their bellies, I sneak back into the kitchen and cut what is left of the turkey off of the bone. I separate the meat into breast slices for dinners, white meat that is too small for dinner slices, and dark meat. You can throw all of the bones and other turkey leftover into a stock pot or crock pot, cover with water, add some salt, pepper and thyme and let it simmer for 3-4 hours on the stove, or longer in a crockpot. When done, strain and reserve the stock, and cut remaining meat from bones. It is AMAZING how much meat you can get even from a well-picked turkey. You can pressure can the stock, or you can freeze it or just refrigerate and make some more delicious meals with it. See below for more ideas.

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Easy Pan Gravy

(from Better Homes and Gardens Step by Step Cookbook)

  • Hot drippings from a roast or turkey
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • milk OR water OR broth
  • salt and pepper
  • dash of dried thyme, crushed
  • Few drops of Kitchen Bouquet (optional)
  1. After removing roast/turkey to a platter, pour the meat juices and fat into a two-cup measure.
  2. Skim off the fat, reserving three to four tablespoons. Return fat to the pan (I use a large saucepan).
  3. Stir in flour. Cook and stir over low heat until bubbly. Remove pan from heat.
  4. Add enough milk, broth, or water to reserved meat juices to make 2 cups. Add liquid all at once to the fat-flour mixture (called a roux); blend well. Add some salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add thyme and Kitchen Bouquet.
  5. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook two minutes more. Makes two cups.

Kim’s note: when I make this, I strain the meat juices so the gravy is not lumpy. You need to double this recipe if you make a 15 pound turkey, I wound up with3 cups of meat juices so I added milk to make it four and doubled the whole thing. The thyme is a wonderful touch! It tasted sooo good! Rosemary would be great too, but you would have to remove the leaves before serving (use fresh sprig- yum!) This gravy freezes well too. I freeze it in two cup portions and always have leftovers, there are 5 of us. If your gravy separates when reheating, just mix well and heat thoroughly, it will look and taste fine.

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Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes freeze very well, so make a bunch! Cook once, eat several times! There is nothing like home-cooked food waiting to be eaten in the freezer!

  • 10-20 medium sized russet potatoes (depends on how much you want to make and how big your stock pot is)
  • one very large stock pot
  • water to cover potatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • milk or broth to flavor
  1. Peel and cube potatoes. Put into a large stock pot and cover with water. If you like, you can also add peeled garlic for a different taste.
  2. Boil potatoes for 20-30 minutes, strain, reserving water and a few potatoes for potato soup, or as a sourdough starter (or the base for a vegetable broth).
  3. Mash potatoes with egg beater or masher, add salt and pepper, butter and milk (if desired). For low fat potatoes, add chicken or turkey broth that has been defatted. Mix until the consistency is fluffy but not soupy.
  4. To freeze: pack potatoes into 2 cup freezer containers and freeze. 2 cups seems to be about right for our family of five, you may need to adjust this according to the number of people you will be serving.
  5. To serve: Thaw potatoes overnight in refrigerator or in microwave (this is my method! I always forget!). Put them in the oven, in a covered casserole and cook at 350 for 30-40 minutes. I usually put in turkey dinner slices and gravy and the same time for an easy, delicious meal.

Note: You can do a lot of things with leftover mashed potatoes. They are great for thickening soups and sauces, as well as adding moistness to bread dough (they are a main ingredient in potato refrigerator dough, an old Betty Crocker recipe), even cake! They are also great as pancakes and mixed with flour for dumplings. Let your imagination run wild!

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Homemade Stuffing

Here are methods and recipes for two kinds of stuffings- dry and moist, from the Time-life Cookbook Series, “The Good Cook”. You can freeze stuffing- it will come out very moist, but still taste wonderful. Enjoy!

Method 1- Dry Stuffing (bread is cut in cubes, made into croutons and seasoned) make croutons from firm, unsliced bread that is about two days old (or use el cheapo bread and leave it out). Choose ingredients that will compliment poultry: chopped celery, onion and mixed herbs (parsley thyme, rosemary, sage -just like the song!). Use what you like!

Browning the croutons-cut the bread in to chunks and fry in butter over low heat, adding more butter as it is absorbed, until the bread is browned. Or spread the chunks in a buttered pan and bake, turning occassionally, for half an hour in a moderate oven (low heat).

Mix stuffing- Place the croutons with the other ingredients in a bowl. The best way to mix this kind of stuffing is with your (clean!) hands: this method combines all of the elements while producing a light, airy mixture.

Basic Stuffing

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2-3 slices of bacon
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups small cubes of trimmed firm-textured bread
  • 3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley (or half of that amount using dried parsley)
  • crumbled dried thyme and rosemary (or fresh if you can get it!)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk or chicken/turkey stock
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a large skillet, fry the bacon in half of the butter until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon, add the chopped onion to the pan, and saute or moderate heat until the pieces of the onion turn soft and golden. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon.
  2. Add the remaining butter to the skillet. When it melts, add the bread cubes and toss over moderate heat until they have taken up the fat and turned a light golden color.
  3. Crumble the bacon into a mixing bowl. Add the sauteed onion, bread cubes, parsley, and a generous pinch each of thyme and rosemary. Toss with fork or hands until well mixed.
  4. In another bowl, beat the egg with the milk or stock. Pour this over the bread mixture, tossing with a fork to distribute evenly. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. You can now use the stuffing to fill the turkey cavity. If you do not wish to cook it in the bird (some food safety organizations warn about samonella problems), you can cook in a covered casserole in the oven or microwave, to make sure the flavors blend and the egg cooks fully.

Method 2: Wet Stuffing– you make this from fresh bread crumbs, seasonings, butter and onion. There are so many flavor combinations!

Preparing ingredients- Parboil onion for about ten minutes. Chop it coarsely. Finely chop fresh sage leaves or if not available, crumble 1/2 teaspoon of dried sage.

Moistening and mixing-In a bowl, combine the onion and sage with fresh, coarse bread crumbs, chopped parsley and chopped, cooked giblets (if you want), salt, pepper, butter and an egg yolk. Add liquid- stock, water, etc, to moisten. Mix all ingredients together gently but thoroughly.

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Sage and Onion stuffing

  • 4 large onions
  • 10 fresh sage leaves or 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • 2 cups of fresh bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  1. Peel onions and out them in the boiling water. Let simmer for 5 minutes or longer. Just before they are taken out, put in the sage leaves and boil for a minute or two.
  2. Drain, then chop the onions and sage very finely, add the bread crumbs, seasoning and butter, and work the whole together with the yolk of an egg.
  3. You can now use the stuffing to fill the turkey cavity. If you do not wish to cook it in the bird (some food safety organizations warn about samonella problems), you can cook in a covered casserole in the oven or microwave, to make sure the flavors blend and the egg cooks fully.

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Crock Pot Stuffing

from “ThanksgivingRecipes.com”, very nice web site, check it out!

This is an easy way to make “extra” stuffing for a large crowd, saving stove space because it cooks in a crock pot. Very tasty and moist!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup parsley sprigs
  • 1 (12 ounce) package mushrooms, sliced
  • 12 – 13 cups slightly dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon ground poultry seasoning
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cups chicken broth or turkey broth
  • 2 eggs, well beaten

Directions:

  1. Melt butter or margarine in a skillet. Sauté onion, celery, mushroom, and parsley.
  2. Pour sautéed vegetables over bread cubes in a very large mixing bowl. Add all seasonings and toss together. Pour in enough broth to moisten. Add beaten eggs, and mix together well.
  3. Pack stuffing lightly into crock pot, and cover. Set to High for 45 minutes; then reduce to Low to cook for 4 to 8 hours.

Makes 8 servings

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Turkey ala King

  • 1/2 cup margarine or butter
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped
  • 1 can (4 oz) mushroom stems and pieces, drained and liquid reserved or 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper 
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups cut-up cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1 jar (2 oz) diced pimientos drained (optional)

Noodles, hot cooked rice or toasted bread triangles to serve it on

Heat margarine in 3 quart saucepan over medium high heat. Cook bell pepper and mushrooms in the margarine 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until bubbly; remove from heat.

Stir in milk, broth, and reserved mushroom liquid. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in chicken and pimientos. Heat until hot. Serve over rice, noodles, biscuits, potatoes, whatever you like.

Kim’s note: We love this dish and it freezes well. Just be sure to reheat it thoroughly in an oven before serving, the white sauce tends to separate, just stir it and it will be fine. We love fresh mushrooms in this, and you can omit the pimiento, we don’t use it.

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Turkey Pot Pie

  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas and carrots
  • 1/3 cup margarine or butter
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken/ turkey broth
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups cut up chicken or turkey
  • pastry of your choice- homemade, frozen, or you can use biscuit dough (I do not put crust on the bottom, only the top)
  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Rinse frozen peas and carrots in cold water to separate; drain.
  3. Heat margarine in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat until melted. Stir in flour, onion, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is bubbly; remove from heat. Stir in broth and milk. Heat to boiling stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Stir in chicken and vegetables.
  4. Prepare pastry ( I freeze this ahead and then thaw ahead when I make this or make a big batch the same day and freeze.) Roll two thirds of pastry into a 13-inch square. Ease into an ungreased square pan, 9x9x2 inches. Pour chicken mixture into pastry lined pan. Roll remaining pastry into an 11-inch square. Cut out designs with a cookie cutter. Place square over filling. Turn edges under and flute. Bake about 35 minutes or until golden. 6 servings

Kim’s adaptations: If I am serving this in a large pan, I omit the bottom layer. I put the filling in the pan then the crust and freeze it. When I want to serve it, I thaw it out and cook for 35 minutes or more. It turns out great. You can also make individual pot pies in those extra large muffin tins- they are the perfect size (be sure to have a top and bottom crust and line the muffin tin with foil so it is easier to get the pot pies out). The best way to freeze individual pot pies is to freeze the entire muffin tin and then take out the pies, it is so much easier! Less mess! You can also use this recipe to make beef pot pies, just use shredded beef and beef stock in place of the chicken or turkey.

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Turkey Curry

I adapted this easy recipe from my mother. She always made this for me and it is one of my favorites. I hope you like it too! Don’t let the ingredient list scare you- the beauty of this dish is that it is made entirely in the microwave! Easy!

Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • paprika to taste
  • 1 cup canned evaporated milk

The rest:

  • 4 cups cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1 egg well beaten
  • 1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
  • cooked hot rice (or reheated from freezer)
  • optional: chutney and “side boys”: raisins, chapatis and other traditional Indian side dishes
  1. Melt butter in casserole dish in your microwave. Add onion, flour, curry, salt, ginger, and paprika. Cook for 4 minutes on high, stirring occassionally.
  2. Gradually blend in milk, cook 3 minutes to thicken, stirring occassionally.
  3. Add chicken or turkey, blend a little sauce into the egg (so it does not cook) and add the egg into the curry sauce. Mix well. Heat but do not boil or the sauce will curdle. Stir in worcestershire sauce.
  4. Serve over rice with “side boys”/side dishes. We like coconut, peanuts and raisins.

Note: this should freeze fine. If sauce separates after reheating, just stir and make sure it is heated all of the way through. If you do not want to use the egg since it is not fully cooked, you can use egg white or those egg beaters at the store to avoid any samonella problems. I have never had a problem with this recipe. I have not tried to eliminate the egg, but you could do that if you wanted to. Don’t forget- rice freezes beautifully! Make a big batch and freeze in meal portions.

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Turkey Enchiladas with Homemade Red Chili Sauce

My recipe is a bit of departure from the traditional corn enchiladas. I wanted something that was easy to make, freezes very well (keep the sauce in separate container), and absolutely delicious! Here was what I came up with:

  • 2 cups of chopped turkey
  • 1 package of flour tortillas
  • 2 cups of homemade red chili sauce (recipe follows)
  • cheddar cheese
  • optional toppings:
  • diced fresh tomatoes
  • shredded lettuce
  • sliced olives
  1. I do not use a tradional method for making enchiladas, but the effect is the same and we all love this dish. Here goes:
  2. Put two cups of chopped turkey, shredded beef or pork in a mixing bowl and add 1/2 cup red chili sauce and 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese. (You can freeze the filling and tortillas separately and assemble later or you can assemble and freeze.)
  3. Place 1/4 cup of this mixture on to a tortilla and roll up, placing seam side down in a pyrex dish. Do this until all of the mixture is used up, this should yield 8 enchiladas. (I use a pyrex casserole dish with a plastic cover that can go from freezer to oven by just taking off the lid and adding foil.) Freeze enchiladas and sauce separately so that the enchiladas do not get soggy. Freeze extra cheese (about 1/2-1 cup) in a small ziploc baggie (you can tape this onto the pyrex dish).
  4. To serve: Preheat oven to 350. Defrost red chili sauce. Using a pasty brush, “paint” the enchiladas, completely covering them with all of the sauce. Top with cheese and bake until thoroughly heated, about 30 minutes. When done, top with tomatoes, lettuce and olives.

Note: I serve this with refried beans, homemade or store bought. I put them in a casserole and put a little of the red chili sauce and cheddar cheese on them. This dish winds up tasting like the authentic Mexican restaurants that I grew up around! Que magnifico!

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Homemade Red Chili Sauce

(from Recipes for Life from the Fitonics Kitchen by Marilyn Diamond)

  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 2/3 up olive oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 4 tsp cumin
  • 1/2-2/3 cup chili powder ( I use 2/3 and it’s great, if too spicy, reduce. I buy big canisters of chili powder at Sam’s, you want the regular red chili powder, not the hot stuff!)
  • 8 cups of water or beef broth
  • 4 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp or less of sea salt or regular salt
  • 2 tsp oregano

1. Mix flour and oil in sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until smooth

2. Add cumin and chili powder, stir, add water or beef broth

3. Add remaining ingredients

4. Simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until sauce is thick enough to

coat the back of your mixing spoon.

Kim’s note: Original recipe served 8-10, this is quadrupled. It makes about 8 cups, I freeze it in 2 cup portions. This is an extremely versatile sauce. You can change spices and spiciness to your taste. It can be used in many recipes. I made enchiladas, mexican lasagna and a mexican “spaghetti sauce” by mixing it half and half with my no cook spaghetti sauce (tomato sauce plan)-delicious! Eventually I will write a Mexican plan, figured no one would want to wait that long for the recipe! LOL I would like to try this in the crockpot. If any one does, let me know how it turns out!

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Mexican Turkey Lasagna

This recipe has a few “non-scratch” ingredients, but it is so delicious that I had to include it! You can substitute your own homemade salsa if you make it. I am looking for a good salsa recipe to can next year, will post what I find!

  • 1 (16-ounce) jar mild salsa
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar medium salsa
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (10-ounce)package dry lasagne (6 noodles)
  • 2 cups nonfat cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
  • 4 cups diced cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup shredded MontereyJack cheese

1.Pour both jars of salsa into a large non-aluminum saucepan. Add pepper, chili powder, cumin, and garlic. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce is reduced to 4 cups, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions and drain well. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Combine noodles, the cottage cheese, eggs, parsley, and chiles; mix well and set aside.

3.Arrange half the cooled lasagna noodles in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Spread half the cottage cheese mixture over the pasta then half the cooked chicken, then half the salsa mixture

4. Sprinkle half the shredded cheeses on top. Repeat the layering steps, ending with the shredded cheeses. Bake, covered, until bubblv and heated through, about 45-50 minutes. Let stand uncovered for 10 minutes before cutting.

You can freeze this fully assembled and reheat by cooking for 1 hour at 350 (thaw it in the microwave or overnight first). This is magnificent!

serves 8-12 from “Making Waves in the Kitchen” Indian River, FL

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Turkey Lasagna Rolls

  • 11 lasagna noodles, uncooked
  • 1 pound ground turkey (why not try cooked, chopped?)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1(26-ounce) jar commercial spaghetti sauce with mushrooms and ripe olives
  • 1/4 cup Chablis or other dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups r1cotta cheese
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions; drain. Cut in half crosswise, and set aside.
  2. Cook turkey, onion, and garlic in a large skillet until turkev is browned, stirring to crumble meat. Drain. Add spaghetti sauce, wine, parsley, and salt, stirring well.
  3. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Combine ricotta cheese and next 5 ingredients, stirring well. Spread ricotta mixture evenly over lasagna noodles. Roll up jellyroll fashion, starting at narrow end. Place lasagna rolls, seam side down, in lightly greased 13-x9-x2-inch baking dish. Pour meat sauce over rolls, and sprink1e with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

TO STORE: Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Cover tightly, and freeze up to 2 weeks.

TO SERVE: Thaw in refrigerator. Bake, covered, at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

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Turkey Divan

  • 1/4 cup margarine or butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp. Dry white wine
  • 1/2/ cup whipping (heavy) cream
  • 1 1/2 pounds broccoli or 2 packages (10 oz each) frozen broccoli spears, cooked and drained
  • 6 large slices of turkey breast (about 3/4 pound)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat margarine in a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat until melted. Stir in flour and nutmeg. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly; remove from heat.
  2. Stir in broth. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup cheese and the wine.
  3. Beat whipping cream in chilled bowl until stiff. Fold cheese mixture into whipped cream.
  4. Place hot broccoli in ungreased rectangular baking dish, 12x 7 1/2×2 inches. Top with turkey. Pour cheese sauce over turkey. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese. Set oven control to broil. Broil with top 3 to 5 inches from heat until cheese is bubbly and light brown.

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Dinner Slices

This is so easy that I almost did not put it in the plan! Just slice the leftover turkey breast into serving-sized pieces, lay on a cookie sheet, and freeze. When frozen, put into a ziploc baggie in meal sized amounts. Freeze leftover gravy and mashed potatoes separately and you have an instant Thanksgiving style dinner without the work!

To serve: Thaw in fridge or microwave. Heat over to 350 and put slices in a casserole with lid. Pour gravy over top and reheat for 30 minutes or so. I have even put the mashed potatoes in with the turkey and gravy. Serve with steamed veggies and salad. Yum!

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Turkey Fried Rice

  • 3/4 cup diced cooked turkey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 can (8 oz) water chestnuts, drained and sliced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chopped green onion (with tops)
  • Dash of white pepper
  1. Mix turkey, cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
  2. Heat wok until hot (or use large, deep fry pan). Add 1 tbsp. oil; rotate wok to coat sides. Add eggs; cook and stir until eggs are thickened throughout but still moist. Remove eggs from wok.
  3. Add 2 tbsp. oil, rotate wok again. Add turkey, water chestnuts, mushrooms and 1/2 tsp. salt; stir fry one minute. Stir in soy sauce. Add chicken mixture, eggs, green onion, and white pepper, stir-fry 30 seconds.

Kim’s note: This should freeze fine, though I have not tried it. Rice does very well in the freezer, eggs tend to get tough unless mixed like this. Let me know how it turns out for you!

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Turkey Turnovers

  • 1/2 cups leftover cooked turkey meat (white and/or dark), chopped
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp. finely cut fresh chives
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped onion
  • 1 tbsp. chopped green pepper
  • 1/2 cup leftover turkey gravy
  • 2 tbsp. dry sherry
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream

For the pastry:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water
  1. Mix the turkey, parsley, chives, onion and green pepper with the turkey gravy. Add the sherry and season well to taste. Preheat the oven to 375′ F.
  2. For the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour and rub the mixture with your fingertips until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Add just enough ice water (the least possible amount) to work the ingredients quickly into a firm dough.
  3. On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough very thin, about 1/8 inch thick, and cut it into 4-inch squares. Put 1 tablespoon of the turkey filling on each square. Fold the dough over the filling into a triangle. Brush the edges with a little water and seal them securely.
  4. Beat the egg yolk with the cream and use it to brush the tops of the turnovers. Bake them on an ungreased baking sheet for about 15 minutes or until they are golden brown.
  5. To serve, pile the freshly baked turnovers on a hot folded napkin on a warmed serving plate and serve immediately.

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Turkey Tetrazzini-Style

  • 1 cup thin strips of leftover cooked turkey
  • 1/2 cup chopped, cooked spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup sliced, sauteed fresh mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp. bread crumbs, mixed with softened butter
  • 4 to 5 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • Cream sauce:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 or 3 thin onion slices
  • 3 sprigs parsley
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1 whole clove
  • 2tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • salt and pepper
  • grated nutmeg
  1. Make cream sauce by first scalding the cream containing the onion, parsley, bay leaf and clove and then straining it.
  2. Melt the butter in a small pan, stir in the flour and let this roux cook briefly before, stirring in the flavored cream.
  3. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, then season the sauce to taste with salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Stir in the turkey, spaghetti and mushrooms.
  4. Mix well and turn the mixture into a buttered baking dish or six individual baking dishes. Sprinkle with the buttered bread crumbs mixed with the Parmesan cheese and bake in a preheated moderate oven at 375 degrees 10 to 15 minutes or until the crumbs are brown. Serve at once, while still bubbling.

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Quick and Easy

(make these on the fly with frozen diced turkey):

There are hundreds of ways to use turkey, here are just a few ideas. I have included some links to more ideas and recipes on the internet. When doing research for this plan, I found enough recipes to fill an entire cookbook! I decided to stay with recipes I have tried or know how to do, but there are so many other options! Be creative!

Turkey Salad in Pitas

Defrost turkey (I freeze chopped turkey in 2 cup portions) and mix with mayonaisse or ranch (we like to use insanity sauce-see the chicken plan). Line pitas with lettuce and tomato, then add turkey salad. Add bacon if desired. Yum!

Turkey Stir Fry

Chop up turkey and stir-fry in peanut oil with your favorite chopped vegetables. Try some Chinese veggies, such as bok choy or bamboo shoots, or use some old favorites, such as carrots, broccoli, onion, and celery.

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Turkey Club Sandwich

Defrost some dinner slices or shredded turkey. Put turkey on toasted bread with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and bacon. Add sprouts or cheese if desired.

Main dish salad with roasted turkey

Easy and good! Make a nice salad with different kinds of lettuces, some chopped broccoli and cauliflower, if desired. Top with tomatoes, turkey and cheese. I like to put ranch dressing or insanity sauce on top, you can use whatever dressing you like. Add bacon bits if you like.

Turkey Quesadillas

Put diced turkey and cheese into a tortilla and fold. You can freeze them, fry them or bake them. You can add green chilies or jalapenos, they are good just about any which way!

Turkey tacos/burritos

Chop and use in place of ground beef on tostadas, in tacos, and burritos.

Other Ideas:

Use in empanadas, hot pockets, chili, as a pizza topping, on top of baked potatoes, on nachos, as a bbq, in casseroles, quiche crepes with white sauce, with pasta, in pilaf, etc. The possibilities are endless!

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The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven…
The turkey shot out of the oven
And rocketed into the air,
It knocked every plate off the table
And partly demolished a chair.
It ricocheted into a corner
And burst with a deafening boom,
Then splattered all over the kitchen,
Completely obscuring the room.
It stuck to the walls and the windows,
It totally coated the floor,
There was turkey attached to the ceiling,
Where there’d never been turkey before.
It blanketed every appliance,
It smeared every saucer and bowl,
There wasn’t a way I could stop it,
That turkey was out of control.
I scraped and I scrubbed with displeasure,
And thought with chagrin as I mopped,
That I’d never again stuff a turkey
With popcorn that hadn’t been popped.

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Twas the Night….
Twas the night before Christmas and in my sleep.
Strange dreams in my mind, began to creep
Turkey leftovers beckoned — The dark meat and white,
But I fought the temptation with all of my might.
Tossing and turning with anticipation……
The thought of a snack became infatuation…..
So to the kitchen I did race, Flung open the door,
And gazed at the fridge full of goodies galore.
I gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes,
Pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes.
I felt myself swelling so plump and so round,
Till all of a sudden, I rose off the ground!
I crashed through the ceiling. Floating into the sky….
With a mouthful l of pudding and a handful of pie,
But I managed to yell as I soared past the trees.
HAPPY EATING TO ALL!
PASS THE CRANBERRIES PLEASE!

 

Kim Tilley is the mother of three boys, ages 9,6 and 2. She is also a tightwad at heart. Her interests include cooking, crafts, gardening, computers, and saving money! When not typing away at the computer, she entertains herself by chasing kids and finding ways to create something out of nothing! Visit Kim’s website at
http://frugal-moms.com

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Holiday Leftover Ideas

The holidays are a time for friends, family, and good, old-fashioned home cooking. Who can resist the tempting smells coming from the kitchen, at this most favorite time of year? Holiday dinners were among my favorite, most memorable meals as a child. Our family shared our holiday meals with different relatives each year. Where ever we were, and whoever we were with, we always knew to expect good food and enjoyable family gatherings that we would remember for months to come.

When I was a child, it was always a tradition in our family to have turkey for Thanksgiving and ham for Christmas. We would also always enjoy mounds of creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams with lots of butter, brown sugar, and melted marshmallows, and I could always count on sampling my dad’s famous fruit salad. Homemade cranberry sauce was also always a special holiday treat.

Now that I’m married, we have even more family to share our holiday meals with. With so much family, though, we rarely get to host dinner at our house. It’s always nice to go to someone else’s house to eat, but then we don’t get any of the leftovers! We usually end up taking advantage of the holiday sales at the supermarket though, and then we can have our own little feast. I’ve had a lot of fun over the years devising ways to use up the leftovers from our own holiday meals — and I’d like to share some of my favorite recipes with you.

Turkey and Rice Soup

2 1/2 cups turkey, cooked and diced
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 6-ounce box long-grained rice
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 cup carrots, grated
In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients with 6 cups of water. Simmer covered, until rice is cooked, approximately 30 minutes. Great with fresh bread.

Turkey Spaghetti

8 oz. spaghetti or other pasta
1 can cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup
3/4 c. grated mild cheddar cheese
2 c. leftover cooked, diced turkey
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional – diced celery and/or diced onion to your taste
Prepare soup as directed. Prepare spaghetti as directed,then drain. Combine spaghetti, soup and remaining ingredients. Stir until cheese melts. Serve and enjoy!

Mashed Potatoes and Ham Bake

2 cups mashed potatoes
2 tablespoons mustard
2 cups ham, cubed
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, mix mashed potatoes and mustard. Spread potato mixture in the bottom of a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Arrange ham on top of potatoes. In a small bowl, mix cottage cheese and cheddar cheese. Spread over ham. Bake until mixture is heated through, about 30 minutes.

Chopped Ham Sandwiches

2 lb. leftover ham, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 c. ketchup
1/4 c. vinegar
1 c. water
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Fry ham in a skillet and sprinkle flour over it. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 1 hour and serve on toast or hamburger buns. Makes 15 to 20 sandwiches.

Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom who is the author of the Creative Homemaking Recipe of the Week Club Cookbook, a cookbook containing more than 250 quick easy dinner ideas. For recipes, tips to organize your home, home decorating, crafts, frugal living, and family fun, visit Creative Homemaking at http://www.creativehomemaking.com and in the Home and Garden section of Suite 101 http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/creative_homemaking

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Easy Does It Christmas Food

Since both my husband and I have family to see at Christmas time, we spend time with his family at our house on Christmas Eve and my family at their house on Christmas day. Since my mom always makes a big beautiful dinner and we have so much going on at the time, I usually make a snack buffet table for the Christmas Eve celebration at our house.

It is very simple and helps keep my stress level down. I can make all of it ahead of time and just set the table up later. I don’t get fancy with the table decorations, but do include a pretty poinsettia tablecloth and pretty holiday paper plates and napkins. It’s now a tradition that everyone looks forward to because it’s easy and provides delicious snacks all day long. The best part is that by using paper plates, there are no dishes or pots and pans to wash! The only clean up involved is putting away any leftovers, that is, if there is any!

Here are a few tips to plan your own snack buffet. When you have time, take out a piece of paper and start writing down some possibilities.

Write down any recipes that come to mind as you read the following:

  • Trays of things to dip is always popular. I like to put out a veggie platter with ranch dip (I use the packet of `Uncle Dans’ found in the grocery store to make the dip) and an assortment of crackers with my popular recipe `clam dip’.
  • A tray of sandwich makings. I load a tray with deli meats and cheeses, and other sandwich makings such as onion, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, and mustard. You might try a tray of club sandwich makings or Reuben sandwich makings. You can also experiment with different breads such as party rye or sourdough.
  • Cookies and Candies. Each year I make two or three of our family’s favorite recipes which are included below. What’s your family’s favorite cookie and candy recipes?
  • Beverages. The Irish Cream recipe below served over ice is wonderful and a special treat. We also buy pop and beer and this seems to make everyone happy. You might have a favorite punch, eggnog or hot buttered rum recipe you’d like to serve.
  • Crunchy things. I always have the Chex mix out. Don’t forget that you can have family members or other guests contribute! This will give you more variety and less work! Just tell them to bring a snack type item.

Recipes

Clam Dip

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (6-ounce) can minced clams, save juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
salt to taste

Combine cream cheese and clams. Stir in just enough clam juice to make a nice consistency for dipping. Add remaining ingredients and thoroughly combine. Serve or cover and chill. Serve with crackers or chips.

Toffee Treats

1/4 Box Saltine Crackers
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Butter or Margarine
1 large bag Chocolate Chips
Chopped Walnuts-Opt.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Grease with butter. Cover with saltine crackers. Bring 1 cup sugar and 1 cup butter to a boil & continue to boil for 2 1/2 minutes. Pour over crackers & spread fast. Bake 5-7 minutes. Spread a large bag of chocolate chips over, like icing. Top with chopped walnuts if desired.

Irish Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 2/3 c. Whiskey
1 tsp. instant coffee
2 Tbsp. chocolate syrup
1 tsp Vanilla

Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix on high for 30 seconds. Refrigerate. Shake well before serving over ice. Should keep for at least 2 months.

Peanut Butter Bon Bons

1 – 1 Lb Box Powdered Sugar
2 Cubes Margarine (1 cup)
1 Cup Peanut Butter
Chocolate Chips or Chocolate Almond Bark

Mix all ingredients except chocolate or almond bark. Shape into round balls. Chill. Insert toothpick & dip into melted chocolate. Chill until set.

I know the recipes aren’t for the health conscious, but it’s only once a year. Here’s to hoping you have an ‘easy does it’ Christmas celebration this year.
About the Author: Monica Resinger publishes an e-mail newsletter Mon-Fri for homemakers that poses fun questions to readers about organizing, crafting, gardening, frugal living and other homemaking subjects; readers can respond to the questions and receive the resulting, very informative ‘tip sheet’. If you’d like to join the fun, send a blank e-mail to: HomemakersJournal-subscribe@yahoogroups.com to subscribe.

christmas-family

Mom & Dad’s Holiday Survival Guide – Top 7 Tips

1. Take physical safety precautions:
Young children are at-risk of eating poisonous holiday plants (mistletoe, poinsettias, and holly berries). Keep your local poison center’s number near the phone. Small table decorations and ornaments can be harmful if swallowed. Try to keep small objects, including hard candies and nuts, out of reach. If a child eats too much, read the medication label before treating upset stomachs. Fire proof your home. Natural and artificial trees can catch fire and while roaring fireplaces may look festive they can be dangerous if proper safety measures are not in place.

2. Take mental safety precautions:
Your sanity is as important as your family’s physical safety. Expect some amount of stress and plan ahead as much as possible to keep it to a minimum. Organize your shopping list and spread your shopping activities out over a few weeks. Have the holiday dinner at someone else’s house if having it at yours is too much stress. See the tips listed below for more ways to have a sane season.

3. Involve your children in the preparation of the festivities:
Have your children help you with the all of the various aspect of preparing for the holidays. Brainstorm menu items from a stack of holiday recipes. Make holiday decorations together from ideas gathered in family magazines or special holiday craft books. Some craft ideas make excellent gift ideas. Start a holiday memory box. Save all of the cards, bits of wrapping paper, special pictures, and other odd assortments to review later in the year. Get excited about looking in the mailbox for Christmas cards and let the children help decide the best location for them. Make up a list of people to send your holiday greeting. If your really ambitious make them up by hand.

4. Create special traditions and rituals:
Traditions and rituals are patterns of behaviors that have symbolic or spiritual meaning. They build firm foundations and reduce children’s holiday hyperactivity by creating a sense of family identity. Dinner menus, religious observances, advent calendars, gift wrapping parties, ornament collecting, sing-a-longs and special holiday stories are just a few ways that parents can develop more intimate relationships with their children.

5. Reduce your expectations:
If you expect to have no problems, perfect children, or accident proof holidays you will be in for a major disappointment. Remember that children are often over-stimulated by the sights, sounds, and incredible number of television commercials about the holidays. Think positively, optimistically, and rationally.

6. Seek social support for the holiday blues:
Depression or a case of the “blahs” is a common problem for people during the winter months. This is especially true for families who have experienced a separation or death of a loved one. The holidays remind us of family and friends and may beget a feeling of sadness. Children of divorce may suffer as a result of having to divide the holidays between mom’s house and dad’s house. Watch for signs of stress in children, such as headaches, restlessness, and sudden angry outbursts. To help deal with the winter blues, seek out positive social support. Volunteer to help others in even worst situations than you. Put aside custody battles and work together for the sake of the children not the other parent. Or if necessary, seek out professional counseling.

7. Give yourself a gift:
The greatest gift you can give yourself is the gift of taking care of yourself. You have to take care of yourself before you can start taking care of everyone else. Delegate some of the shopping and preparations to other family members and take frequent breaks to regain lost energy. Do something for someone else that doesn’t involve writing a check. It’s amazing how doing a selfless act can renew your inner strength. Call a few nonprofit organizations in the phone book to see how you can help. Valuing yourself and help others less fortunate is also a good model for your children of what the holidays are really about!

Ron Huxley is a Licensed Marriage, Family & Child Counselor and owner of ParentingToolbox.com

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A Tasty Holiday Tradition

Every year, right after Thanksgiving, I fill my grocery cart with delectable goodies that will fill my kitchen with wonderful smells. It’s the time of year when I bake, and bake, and bake some more.

Every Christmas for the past 8 years I have made several types of homemade goodies, wrapped them carefully and sent them on their merry way. Some go to relatives, others to neighbours and some to friends.

Start with cookie tins that you saved from last year. What? You didn’t save them? Never fear, most discount department stores carry these items and they are reasonably priced. You can also get them at thrift stores and from garage sales throughout the year.

What you will need:
Cookie tins, varied sizes and shapes are fine
Color plastic wrap (red, green, yellow or clear)
Tissue paper (white is fine, or use green or red if you chose clear plastic wrap)
Satin ribbon or bows

After making each recipe and your kitchen is stacked full of goodies (completely cooled of course), then start wrapping bundles of treats. Using the color plastic wrap, place 2-3 treats in the center and gather the ends at the top. Finish it by securing each bundle with a ribbon. Line each cookie tin with tissue paper, flare out the edges for a decorative look. Then carefully place the goodies into the cookie tins, fold the edges of the tissue paper carefully over the top of the treats and secure with cookie tin lid. Adorn the top with a colorful bow.

The Recipes

Irresistible Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup all vegetable shortening
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 tbsp milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place sheets of foil on countertop for cooling cookies.

Combine shortening, peanut butter, brown sugar, milk and vanilla in large bowl. Beat with electric mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add egg. Beat just until blended. Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add to creamed mixture at low speed. Mix just until blended. Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheet. Flatten slightly in crisscross pattern with tines of fork. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until set and just beginning to brown. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet. Remove cookies to foil to cool completely.

Super Easy Chocolate Fudge Brownies

1 2/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
2 tbsp water
2 bars (4 oz) unsweetened baking chocolate, broken up
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Microwave sugar, butter and water in large, microwave-safe bowl on high (100%) power for 4-5 minutes or until mixture bubbles, stirring once. (Or heat sugar, butter and water in medium saucepan just to boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.) Add baking bars; stir until melted. Stir in eggs once at a time until incorporated. Stir in vanilla. Add flour, baking soda and salt; stir well. Stir in nuts. Pour into greased 13×9 inch baking pan. Bake in preheated 350 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky. Cool in pan. Cut into squares.

Foolproof Dark Chocolate Fudge

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
dash salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

In heavy saucepan over low heat, melt chips with sweetened condensed milk and salt. Remove from heat; stir in walnuts and vanilla. Spread evenly into aluminum foil lined 8 or 9 inch square pan. Chill 2 hours or until firm. Turn fudge onto cutting board; peel off foil and cut into squares. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

3/4 cup butter flavored shortening
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (optional)*

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Place sheets of foil on countertop for cooling cookies. Combine butter flavored shortening, brown sugar, milk, and vanilla in large bowl. Beat with mixer at medium speed until well blended. Beat egg into creamed mixture. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Mix into creamed mixture just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and pecan pieces. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of dough 3 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake one baking sheet at a time for 8 to 10 minutes for chewy cookies, or 11 to 3 minutes for crisp cookies.

DO NOT OVERBAKE. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet. Remove cookies to foil to cool completely. * If nuts are omitted, ad an additional 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips.

Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies

3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 egg yolk

NOTE: This makes a LOT of cookies! You can cut this dough in half, use one half, and freeze the other for another time.

Shape rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls. Place 1 inch apart on cookie sheets. Press thumb into centers of cookies, making deep indentations. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and with 1/3 cup red raspberry preserves* fill indentations. Bake 5 minutes; immediately remove and cool cookies on racks.

*You can vary this recipe by using different flavored preserves. I have used blackberry, strawberry, mixed berry and boysenberry all with excellent results.

Mom’s Peanut Brittle

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1 cup shelled raw peanuts
2 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp baking soda

HINT: Have all the ingredients for this recipe measured out and ready. This recipe requires that react quickly and you do not have time to be measuring in between.

Grease large cookie sheet. In a heavy 2 quart saucepan over medium heat, heat to boiling sugar, corn syrup, salt and water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peanuts. Set candy thermometer in place and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until temperature reaches 300 degrees F or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads. Remove from heat; immediately stir in butter or margarine and baking soda; pour at once onto cookie sheet. With 2 forks, lift and pull peanut mixture into rectangle about 14″ by 12″; cool. With hands, snap candy into small pieces.

Amanda Formaro is the mother of four children. She and her husband live in southeastern Wisconsin. She is the owner of The Family Corner.com website at http://www.thefamilycorner.com mailto:WebMom@thefamilycorner.com

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Gifts for Coffee Lovers

Do you have a friend or relative who is hard to shop for but loves coffee? Give them a gift basket full of goodies that will keep them happy for months. If they don’t like coffee, substitute tea or hot chocolate. Here are some inexpensive ideas and recipes for a Coffee Lover’s Gift Basket.

The Basket

Find these at yard sales or thrift shops (or recycle your own). You can spray paint them and/or spruce them up with ribbons, paint pens, fabric paints, or rubber stamps.

Customized Mugs

You can now get mugs at craft stores that are designed so you can insert cross stitched or printed decorations underneath the outside plastic covering. The result is a customized mug that looks laminated. You can also paint old mugs with Delta Ceramcoat paints. Delta also makes easy rub-on designs if you want something nice, but are not artistic. Paint pens are another option. Go wild!

Coffees

I’ve tried the cheap, homemade mixes and I don’t like any of them. They all call for instant coffee granules and come out tasting terrible. Instead, I like to buy small samples of various kinds of coffee. Put 2 or 3 in each basket. Or, put in regular coffee and add a nice creamer. You can also substitute hot chocolate for coffee. If you are dividing up loose coffee or creamer, make it look festive by putting in a decorated brown bag or wrap in colored plastic wrap, tie off with ribbon and set inside the coffee mug. Those cheap Ziploc plastic food containers work well too.

Flavored Coffee Stirs

Make some delicious, flavored coffee stirs (recipe below) to go in your basket. If you don’t have the time to make them, why not use those old-fashioned stick candies that you see in gift shops? They come in a variety of flavors, including butter rum, berry, and other interesting flavors. Just remember that some flavors don’t go too well with coffee- such as blueberry or green apple. However, these flavors would go great with tea. Peppermint sticks would go great with hot chocolate.

Coffeehouse Spoons

6 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces
4 ounces milk chocolate pieces (or white, mint, etc. chocolate) flavorings of your choice (extracts, such as rum, almond, mint, etc, or spices such as cinnamon)
20 plastic spoons

1. Place a piece of waxed paper on a cookie sheet large enough to hold 20 to 24 of your plastic spoons. Place semisweet chocolate pieces in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until the chocolate begins to melt.

2. Immediately remove from heat; stir until smooth. Dip spoons into chocolate, tapping the handle of the spoon against the side of the pan to remove excess chocolate. Place spoons on waxed paper; refrigerate for 30 minutes or until chocolate is set.

3. Place milk chocolate (or chocolate of your choice) in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until chocolate begins to melt.

4. Immediately remove from heat; stir until smooth. Place the melted chocolate in a small, heavy self-sealing bag. Using scissors, make a small cut in the corner of the bag; drizzle on or both sides of the covered spoons, making a decorative pattern. (Small dots, zigzag lines, circles, etc.) Note: The above 2 steps can be reversed if you like! Get 6 ozs. of white chocolate to cover the spoons and 4 ozs. of chocolate of your choice to use to decorate the spoons. Also, don’t rule out various flavored chips- raspberry, butterscotch, etc.

5. Refrigerate spoons for 30 minutes to allow chocolate to set. Wrap each spoon separately in clear or colored plastic wrap. Use ribbon to tie off plastic wrap. Store in a cool dry place until ready to give as gifts.

6. Place chocolate covered spoons in a new coffee mug and give along with other homemade goodies.

Biscotti

To cap off a wonderful gift basket, make some biscotti in various flavors! You can really make it look fancy by dipping part of the biscotti slices in melted chocolate, just like the coffee houses do. You can make wonder flavors that blend well with the flavor of the coffee. Whatever you do, these Italian dunking sticks are a wonderful treat!

Note: You’ll notice that most of the steps are the same, making it very easy to make batches of various flavored biscotti all at the same time.

Cappucino Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
2 teaspoons hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 egg white
Vegetable cooking spray

1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine coffee granules and hot water in a small bowl. Stir in vanilla and next 2 ingredients, and add to flour mixture, stirring until well blended.

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 7 or 8 times. Shape dough into a 16-inch long roll. Place roll on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and flatten roll to 1-inch thickness.

3. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the roll from the baking sheet to a wire rack, and let cool for 10 minutes. Cut the roll diagonally into 30 (1/2-inch) slices. Place, cut sides down on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 more minutes.

4. Turn cookies over and bake an additional 10 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in the center but will harden as they cool). Remove cookies from the baking sheet and let cool completely. Yields 2 ½ dozen.

Note: Biscotti looks beautiful fanned out in baskets or wrapped in plastic wrap and tied off with ribbon.

Almond Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
½ cup slivered almonds, chopped and toasted
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 egg white
Vegetable cooking spray

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine vanilla and next 3 ingredients; add to flour mixture, stirring until well blended (dough will be dry).

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 7 or 8 times. Shape dough into a 16-inch long roll. Place roll on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and flatten roll to 1-inch thickness.

3. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the roll from the baking sheet to a wire rack, and let cool for 10 minutes. Cut the roll diagonally into 30 (1/2-inch) slices. Place, cut sides down on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 more minutes.

4. Turn cookies over and bake an additional 10 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in the center but will harden as they cool). Remove cookies from the baking sheet and let cool completely. Yields 2 ½ dozen.

Gingered White Chocolate Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons minced crystallised ginger (found in spice section of grocery store)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 (4 oz) bar premium white chocolate, finely chopped (about ¾ cup- you could also use white almond bark)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 egg white
Vegetable cooking spray

1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the vanilla and next 2 ingredients, and add to the flour mixture. Stir until well blended (dough will be dry).

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 7 or 8 times. Shape dough into a 16-inch long roll. Place roll on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and flatten roll to 1-inch thickness.

3. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the roll from the baking sheet to a wire rack, and let cool for 10 minutes. Cut the roll diagonally into 24 (1/2-inch) slices. Place, cut sides down on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 more minutes.

4. Turn cookies over and bake an additional 10 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in the center but will harden as they cool). Remove cookies from the baking sheet and let cool completely. Yields 2 dozen.

Chocolate Chip Biscotti

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup semisweet chocolate mini morsels
1/3 cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg white Vegetable cooking spray

1. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine water and next 3 ingredients; add to flour mixture, stirring until well blended (dough will be dry)

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 7 or 8 times. Shape dough into a 16-inch long roll. Place roll on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and flatten roll to 1-inch thickness.

3. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove the roll from the baking sheet to a wire rack, and let cool for 10 minutes. Cut the roll diagonally into 24 (1/2-inch) slices. Place, cut sides down on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 more minutes.

4. Turn cookies over and bake an additional 10 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in the center but will harden as they cool). Remove cookies from the baking sheet and let cool completely. Yields 2 dozen.

Kim Tilley is the mother of three boys, ages 9,6 and 2. She is also a tightwad at heart. Her interests include cooking, crafts, gardening, computers, and saving money! When not typing away at the computer, she entertains herself by chasing kids and finding ways to create something out of nothing! Visit Kim’s website at http://frugal-moms.com

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Christmas Dinner for Your Baby!

 

Who says baby has to eat the same old jar baby foods for Christmas. After all, Christmas is that one special time a year when we all splurge on our dinner tables and stuff our mouths with unbelievable amounts of food. Most of which are not considered the best for your health.

So this year we are breaking the rules for baby too. Instead of buying “Christmas in a jar” baby foods, use these baby food recipes to give your baby a first Christmas dinner he will gobble up!

These recipes are intended for babies older than 6 months. For younger babies who are just starting solid foods, use your expressed milk or formula instead of water to make the food taste more familiar.

Turkey and Cranberry Puree
1 slice of cooked turkey
Cranberry sauce (canned)
Water

Place turkey in a blender or food processor. Blend with water ( 1 tbsp at a time) so it is a smooth liquid.

Cranberry sauce will thicken the Turkey and water blend. Blend in cranberry sauce to your desired consistency. You may need more than 1/4 cup to make it thicker than a puree if you are feeding an older baby.

Baked Acorn Squash
2 small acorn squash
2 tbsp apple juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Cut each squash into halves a scoop out the seeds. Divide the juice and cinnamon among the 4 halves and cover with aluminum foil. Place in a baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour or until tender.

Remove the foil and let the squash cool. Scrape the insides of the squash and puree in a blender or processor. Freeze any you don’t use right away.

Mouth Watering Pureed Potatoes
1 potato
expressed breastmilk, or formula or water

Cut the potato into four pieces and boil for 15 minutes or until completely soft. Place soft potato into blender or processor. Add one tbsp of fluid at a time until you have a smooth puree of potatoes.

Pureed Baked Sweet Potatoes
1 small sweet potato
water

Slice sweet potato into 1 inch think slices. Over boiling water steam for 10 minutes or until soft. You should be able to stick a fork easily through the center of one slice.

Add warm sweet potato to blender or processor along with one tbsp of water. Add one tbsp at a time until you have a smooth puree of sweet potatoes.

How’s that for a meal?

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Poinsettia Selection and Care

The poinsettia is the official holiday plant. Many of us either buy one, or are given one as a gift, during the holiday season. Here are some guidelines to help you choose and care for this popular plant.

SELECTION

  • Plants should have an abundance of foliage that fills the stems all the way to the soil line. The foliage should be a rich green color.
  • Bracts (the colored part of the plant) should have color all the way to the edges. Avoid plants that have too much green on the edges of the bracts.
  • Plants should be balanced and full when looked at from every angle. The entire plant should be in proportion to the container it is growing in. As a standard gauge, the plant should be 2 ½ times taller than the diameter of the container.
  • The stems should be stiff, and showing no signs of wilting, breaking or drooping.
  • Plants that are on display for purchase should be in an area where they are not crowding one another, as air circulation is critical.
  • The soil should be moist, not waterlogged. If the plant is wilted and the soil is waterlogged, chances are the plant is suffering from a virus and should be avoided.
  • If the paper or plastic sleeve was removed during display, ask the garden center to replace it before taking the plant home. Chilling winds and temperatures below 50 degrees F can cause plant damage.

CARE

  • Place the plant in a bright, sunny window, but protect it from the hot afternoon sun by using a shade or sheer curtain.
  • The room temperature should be between 68 – 70 degrees F.
  • Water the plant when the soil feels dry to the touch. Use the finger test-stick your finger into the soil about 2 inches down. Rub the soil between your fingers; if it feels dry it is time to water. If it feels moist, wait another day and retest.
  • Fertilize the plant after the blooming season only. The flowers are the yellow centers of the bracts.
  • Keep the plant away from drafts or excessive heat.
  • Poinsettias are very sensitive to cold, so don’t expose them to temperatures below 50 degrees F.
  • When watering, allow the water to drain out of the container completely. Do not allow the plant to sit in standing water, as the roots will rot.

Enjoy the beauty of the poinsettia this holiday season.
Georgiana Marshen The Yearound Gardener- a site dedicated to greenhouse growing and everything gardening. http://www.yearoundgardener.com

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12 Days of Holiday Organizing

Countdown to A Successful Celebration

It’s that time of year again: the holidays are almost upon us. We know it arrives at the same time every year, and yet it sneaks up on us year after year. However, your holiday preparations don’t have to be stressful if you create a holiday countdown, a checklist if you will, to halt the holiday madness:

Day 12 – BE PREPARED Create a budget for your gift purchases and stick with it. This will determine who is on your gift list, and how what you will purchase. Then make a detailed gift list and keep it with you in your purse, briefcase, or planner for quick reference. Write down a few ideas for presents, based on the preferences of those on the list and hints they have given you throughout the year.

Day 11 – SLOW DOWN Utilize slow times to run your errands so that you won’t burn out. Shop for groceries in early mornings or late evenings (not during lunch hour or after work), visit the malls during your lunchbreak while others are at work or in the classroom, and try to avoid standing in line if at all possible. Take bottled water and a snack for quick energy.

Day 10 – TAKE STOCK Start stocking the freezer for quick meals. Just double a recipe every day this week and you’ll have instant leftovers. You’ll thank yourself in the busy days to come.

Day 9 – LIMIT INTERRUPTIONS Learn how to screen incoming interruptions to eliminate stress at work and at home. Use voicemail, caller i.d., and email filters to avoid chaos creators.

Day 8 – HELPING HANDS Hire a babysitter or mother’s helper to watch the kids while you shop, wrap gifts, or visit your favorite day spa.

Day 7 – DELEGATE Delegate simple decorating and gift-wrapping tasks to others. Small children love to help by adding bows or gift tags to presents, while visiting grandparents can polish silver or press linens.

Day 6 – MULTI-TASKING Multi-task whenever possible so that you can play and work at the same time. Watch tv while polishing silver, or listen to classical music while ironing table linens. Try to avoid isolating yourself from the rest of the fun while you’re working on your to do’s.

Day 5 – GAME PLAN? Create a game plan for your holiday meal. Cook rolls, stuffing, desserts, and meats in smaller portions for easy heat&serve dinners on the big day. Focus your efforts on family time not kitchen duty.

Day 4 – CHECK IT OUT Take an inventory of the linen closet so that there are no surprises as you serve the turkey. Is your best tablecloth stained, or did Uncle Bert’s cigar burn a hole in one of your damask napkins? Maybe it’s time to assemble paper and plastic ware for the big day instead. (Sometimes it’s better to lower your expectations of a perfect tablescape than to spend all your time washing dishes in the kitchen. I doubt anyone will call the Entertainment Police!)

Day 3 – OPEN HEART, OPEN HOME Consider having an open house rather than trying to squeeze in several parties. Invite everyone to visit one home at staggered times for some good cheer. This can work on the “big day”, too, especially if all the in-laws live in town. It sure beats driving around all day from house to house to see those you love!

Day 2 – SPEEDY DELIVERY Order take-out or pull a prepared meal from the freezer for a stress-free meal today. Let the oven rest for tomorrow’s big feast.

Day 1 – THE MAIN EVENT Start the morning with easy preparations in the kitchen, leaving other items for the last minute. Chop vegetables, mix dips, then assemble snack trays for munching. Put the turkey in the oven, set the table, and bake pies. Leave candles, music, and last minute preparations for later. Leave the house to take a stroll around the block, enjoy a bubblebath, or listen to some relaxing music before your family or friends arrive. Enjoy yourself– you’ve earned it!

And the day AFTER Christmas, make next year’s “to do” so that you won’t have to work so hard again! Shop yearround for gifts, decorations, and cards for those you love. Keep a running list of things you need, should not do again, and tips for making things easier on you and your household. Getting organized for the holidays is truly a process, not a product, but with some effective planning you can enjoy the journey. Happy Holidays!

Debbie Williams is an author, speaker and organizing strategist who offers tools and training to help you put your life in order. Learn more at http://www.organizedtimes.com

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White Chocolate Chip Cranberry Shortbread

This recipe is quickly becoming a family favourite for Christmas. If you like shortbread, I bet you will add this delicious variation to your annual Christmas baking!

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1   1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (chopped)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter in a mixer. Add icing sugar and cornstarch and beat until fluffy.  Slowly add flour. When blended, add the vanilla, white chocolate, and cranberries and mix until just blended.  Form into about 1 inch balls, and then flatten them to about 1/2 inch thick on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes (until the bottom of the cookie is just lightly browned). Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a rack or paper towel.

 

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Right-Now Holiday Sanity Savers

Getting through the holidays with your sanity intact doesn’t have to be Mission Impossible. But it will take you being willing to do things a little differently than last year. Isn’t that the definition of insanity anyway — to keep doing the same old thing the same old way and expect a different result?

So if you’d like a different result this year — being calm, cool, and collected on Dec. 25 — here’s some tips and ideas to help you.

1. Let It Ride
Didn’t you ever truly wish that a person would give you exactly the same thing that they gave you the year before? I have. I’m not suggesting the boring Dad-tie routine. But it follows that other people who gush about a gift you’ve given might like a repeat. Don’t think you have to be totally new and creative each year. If you’ve hit on something great, let it ride.

2. Double Up
There are likely people on your list that don’t know each other and that you don’t know that well. Pick one thing that will cover a group of people –service people, hostess gifts, neighbors, teachers, etc. — and purchase several of them. Fancy cooking oils, candles, books, stationary, picture frames, etc. can all be used in a variety of gift giving. You’ll have confidence knowing that you have a gift that works without having to spend hours looking.

3. Pajama Shop
Instead of fighting the crowds and parking hassles, order gifts from catalogs, by telephone, or online and have them sent directly to your recipient. You can either send early and specify that it’s not to be opened until Christmas, or wait until closer to the date for delivery. Most companies even offer gift wrapping if you choose it, and a generous return policy. Shop when it’s completely convenient to you — over your morning coffee, in the bubble-bath, or sitting up at midnight in your PJs. Now that would make anybody a happier, calmer, saner Santa.

4. Keep It Earth Friendly
Don’t we all have enough stuff? Think “consumable” this year, things that will be used up instead of stashed in a closet or end up in the Spring garage sale. Bath and body items are great for many people. Teenagers love event or movie tickets and seniors on a fixed income enjoy the chance to splurge on a massage or a new restaurant. Ask any single working mom if she’d rather have a new sweater or a housecleaning service. Each year we give lots of gift certificates so we find our own holiday fun in buying a special ornament for that person as well.

5. Ditch the big fat obnoxious stuff
With all those gifts coming and going, and as holiday trimmings invade your already crowded space, stress from overcrowding will set in. So before you bring in the tree or start shopping, make a clean sweep through at least the public parts of the house. It’s a good time to be ruthless –if you don’t love it or use it, store it. Don’t panic — you don’t have to give it all away. Just box up it up and shove it into the garage or under the bed. In Jan or Feb, go back through it and maybe you’ll decide to donate because you like the more uncluttered feel of your space.

The bottom line is that holiday stress is often caused by you being your own worst enemy. If you need help, delegate. If you’re a procrastinator, beat it by starting early. Make some room for the holidays in your space, in your schedule, in your heart.

Kathy Gates is a Professional Life Coach in Scottsdale AZ. I help people deal with the stress of every day living in a more organized and efficient manner. Get more information at my website Real Life Coach, http://www.reallifecoach.com/ and sign up for the newsletter.

christmas18

Easy Christmas Home Style

  • Fill your largest vase or pitcher with branches of red berries for instant impact. Be sure to keep them where children can’t reach them, or any berries that fall.
  • Gather cones, and pile them into baskets-interspersed with a few that you have sprayed gold.
  • Secure a branch into a pot with Polyfilla, or other quick drying cement. Spray white, gold, silver, green, red or whatever color you choose. Add baubles, ribbons, iced cookies or painted salt dough shapes for an inexpensive tree that children would love to make for themselves.
  • Choose a shelf or sideboard and only display there cards and decorations in a certain combination of colours, e.g. red and green, gold and silver. This is very quick and easy to do, yet always looks stylish.
  • Inexpensive bead chains can be looped around curtains as pretty Christmas tie backs.
  • Save little boxes, matchbox size and over, and wrap them with oddments of gift wrap. Use as decorations or display on the tree. If you want to completely change your tree’s colour scheme, this can be a very economical way to do it, as all you need to buy is a couple of sheets of gift wrap and some parcel ribbon.
  • Display candles in front of a mirror to enjoy twice the beauty.
  • Wreaths aren’t just for front doors. Add a really pretty one to a plain wall, or wind tinsel around a frame, fix on some baubles and hang it somewhere that doesn’t usually get decorated like a bathroom or garage.
  • If you don’t have a fireplace and mantlepiece to decorate, make a dresser, table or sideboard into a focal point. Swag it with real or artificial greenery and bows, pile on baskets of fruit, nuts and sweets mixed with candles and your favorite cards.
  • Tie large wire edged ribbon bows to the backs of Christmas day dining chairs. Trail a little ivy or use fake greenery if there are children around.
  • Floating candles in a glass bowl makes a pretty centrepiece, especially if you match them to the rest of your table color scheme.
  • Scatter wrapped chocolate coins across your table for added glitz. They can be eaten up at the end of the meal.
  • Shiny red apples can be wired on to swags and wreaths, or just piled into baskets with cones, nuts and greenery. Or try using an apple corer to take out just enough of the apple to enable you to push in a candle for an unusual temporary candle holder.
  • Why not decorate the children’s bedrooms, as well as the main rooms in the house? If you have a spare set of lights, they look magical draped around a window, display table or even the tops of wardrobes. Add some paper chains, they have made themselves, and a miniature artificial or twig tree.

About the author: Colleen Moulding is a freelance writer from England where she has had many features on parenting, childcare, travel, the Internet and lots more published in national magazines and newspapers. She has also published a variety of women’s and children’s fiction. Her work frequently appears at many sites on the Internet and at her own site for women and children All That Women Want.com a magazine, web guide and resource for women everywhere. http://www.allthatwomenwant.com Why not drop by? It was made for you! Subscribe to the free monthly e-zine containing articles, ideas, tips, site reviews and lots more by sending a blank e-mail to: allthatwomenwant-subscribe@egroups.com

merry-christmas-1464769464zbh

The Better Christmas Letter

We have approached the time of year that sends many of us to our computers to wax poetic about the joys and tribulations of our family happenings. Yes, it’s time to write the Holiday Form Letter once again.

As my beloved sister can attest, I have never been a big fan of the Holiday Form Letter. I have always felt a bit insulted by it’s lack of a personal touch. After all, should my sister have the same things to say to me and an old college chum that she rarely speaks to? Of course not!

But, I must admit, that when I became a Mother, on top of being a career girl, that the Holiday Form Letter found it’s way into my life, as well. I had to go easier on my sister, once I clearly understood that her teaching schedule, mixed with her duties as a minister’s wife and Mother of 4, left her very little time to sit down and pen personal letters to each and every person on her holiday list.

Still, I was bothered by the idea of the Holiday Form Letter. Yes, I wrote and sent them. I received and read them. But did I enjoy them? No, not really. We should all strive to write a BETTER Holiday Letter! Keep these few simple tips in mind as your write your holiday greetings this year, and, I promise, your recipients will be thankful!

TARGET YOUR AUDIENCE

Have a large set of friends and family? How about trying a different letter for each group! That way, you can share only the information that you know would be relevant to your particular audience.

ADD A PERSONAL TOUCH

Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners, says that we should always sign each letter with our own hand. A short personal note and your signature can make a world of difference to the reader. It shows that you have them in mind, instead of just methodically sending off a standard holiday greeting to them.

KEEP IT HAPPY!

Only good news should accompany the holidays! If you have sad news, then a personal letter or phone call is much more appropriate.

CONSIDERATION IS KEY

Everyone may not have had as good of a year as you have. Maybe their kids didn’t make the honor roll, maybe they didn’t get a new car, or a new job. So, even though it’s wonderful to share all of your good news, be sure that you avoid boasting!

CONTACT INFORMATION

Often, envelopes get lost in the hubbub of the season. Make sure that you include contact information, including your current address, phone, and email address, so that your reader has an easy way of getting in touch with you.

A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

Short on time? Send a recent family picture with a short note. Seeing you and your family happy and healthy will surely send a message of cheer! I love to receive new pictures of my far away (and not so far away) family and friends.

BE YOURSELF

Let your letter express your personality. I’ve always thought that letters written in third party were a bit weird! I like to know who I’m speaking with or who’s writing what I’m reading!

Remember, we are sending the Holiday Letter for our readers enjoyment. Read through your letter from the eyes of your audience. Is this a letter that you would enjoy reading at the holidays? If so, you’ve done yourself, and your friends and family, justice. Happy Holidays!

© 2000 Mari Peckham About the Author: Mari Peckham is the President of Peckham Enterprises and webmistress of PowerPromoPlus, your online advertising solution at: http://www.powerpromoplus.com To subscribe to her online advertising tips, tools and techniques ezine, Advertise_Online, send any email to: mailto:advertise_online-subscribe@egroups.com or visit: http://www.powerpromoplus.com/advertise_online.htm

cartao-de-natal

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

‘Tis the season! At your home, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care…. the nativity scene is on the fireplace mantle…. but someone at the supermarket wishes you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. You grumble and wonder why the heck can’t people just say Merry Christmas! Political correctness has gone too far!

We live in a multi-cultural society. People celebrate many, many things this time of year, not just Christmas. Some people embrace more than one holiday or celebration. Others, while only celebrating one, are curious and like to learn about others beliefs and traditions.

Many employees are required by their employer to use a specific greeting with their customers. Cut them some slack! Imagine working (and more often than not for minimum wage) and having people grumble at you all day just for wishing them a happy whatever! When did a simple greeting become such a political statement or a religious battleground?

If someone wishes me well with any kind of greeting, I say thank you and wish them the same. I am not offended any time someone offers me a kind word. If that offends you, I really think it says more about you than the person who offered you the greeting.

Try it! Even if you don’t like or believe in what they wished you, smile, thank them, and wish them the same. You will surely put a smile on their face and instil some “goodwill toward men”. Isn’t that all a part of what the season is about?

So, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Festivus, Happy Kwanzaa, and a Wonderful Solstice – or even just a nice day! Peace and love to you and  yours.

Scroll down and tell us what you think!

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Learn to Make an Apple Wreath

Do you remember the last time you were in someone’s home that had an apple pie baking in the oven? Ahhh, the aromas of a fresh baked pie — it is simply irresistible! Well, now you can recreate this delicious scent in your own home, or in the homes of your loved ones, by making scented apple wreaths.

Scented apple wreaths are not hard to make, and the results are wonderful! Hang one of these on your wall and you will surely impress all of your guests.

What you will need:
Juice of approximately 10 lemons
2 teaspoons salt
8 – 10 large firm apples
8 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon cloves
8″ – 10″ sturdy, heavy gauge wire
1 – 1 1/2 yards of a 1″ ribbon

How to make your apple wreath:
1) Place lemon juice in a large bowl, and stir in salt.
2) Peel, core, and slice apples horizontally into 1/4″ thick circles. Soak slices in lemon juice bowl for approximately 6-10 minutes, making sure each side of the slices has a chance to absorb some of the lemon juice.
3) Meanwhile, mix spices in a bowl and blend well.
4) Remove the slices from the bowl and place them on paper towels. Pat tops of apple slices with paper towels.
5) Dust apples slices with spice mixture. Turn slices over and repeat on opposite side.
6) Place apples slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 150-200 degrees F for 6 hours or until completely dried. Apple slices should be slightly pliable.
7) Thread the full slices onto the wire OR fold each apple slice in half, and then into quarters and thread the apples slices onto the wire. Continue to pack on the folded apples until the wire is completely filled.
8) When the wire is completely covered, use pliers to bend ends into hooks so that they can connect and close. Carefully shape wire into desired shape. I recommend either a circle or heart shape.
9) Using your ribbon, create a hanger for your wreath.
10) Hang on your wall, or package as a gift for someone special.

 

Brandie is married and a mother of three children. If you like this article, then be sure to check out Brandie’s FREE ezines dedicated to the family: The Family First Newsletter and the Daily Holiday Recipe at: http://members.aol.com/BMValen/index.html

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Staying in the Holiday Spirit

The end of the year holiday time can be exiting and joyous, or saddening and lonely. How you experience the holidays is completely up to you. Really! Whether you feel sad or happy, lonely or connected, is completely up to you.

Your thoughts, your activities, and the kind of situations you put yourself into, generate your feelings. In other words, you do not have to experience sad or unhappy holiday feelings, unless you want to. If you want to change or heighten how you feel, simply do more or less of the thing that is generating your feelings.

What makes you feel most sad during the holidays? What makes you feel most disconnected, and out of touch with the spirit of the holidays?

Right now, make a quick list of the activities, or lack thereof, that are making you sad or unhappy about the holidays. Do something different about 2 of these, right now.

Here are some ideas of attitude altering activities to help you stay in (or get into) the holiday spirit:

  • Doesn’t feel like holidays at your house? Put up lights! Decorate in a holiday motif. Play holiday music and light candles.
  • Don’t have plans for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.? Volunteer, helping those in need. Call up friends, and see what they are doing. Create a small get together.
  • Aren’t looking forward to seeing family? Take interest in each person, as you speak to them, in a much deeper way than ever before. You will change the energy of the interaction and enjoy them, for a change.
  • Exhausted from cooking and running around? Take an hour, 1/2 hour or even 15 minutes all to yourself. Don’t do chores, errands, clean up, etc. Don’t do anything you have to do, even if you feel guilty. Do what ever YOU like.
  • Don’t have plans for New Years? Make some now–whether a show, a play, a get together with friends. Or, designate New Years eve as the time to look back over the past year and dream up the next year.
  • Feel down or disconnected? Do something for someone else– volunteer, donate money, contribute or serve in some way. Get involved in group activities.
  • Feel a lack of spiritual connection to the holidays? Go back to your roots in some way–go to church, light candles, pray, do a gratitude list, meditate, etc.
  • Not having fun? Play and be creative. Even if you don’t feel like it, even if you think it’s silly, even if you don’t have time or don’t want to bother–do something childlike. Even better, play with a child. You will find it deeply satisfying.
  • Wishing you were in a relationship? Or, wishing your relationship was better? Do a grand scale gratitude list for what you do have, and what is working in your life. It won’t fix the relationship situation, but it will fix your attitude.

Put yourself in the holiday spirit now and have a great holiday!

Your Relationship Coach, Rinatta Paries www.WhatItTakes.com
This article was originally published by Coach Rinatta Paries in The Relationship Coach Newsletter, a weekly e-zine for people who want fulfilling relationship. For singles, the newsletter will help you attract your Mr. or Ms. Right. If you’re in a relationship, you will learn to create more closeness and intimacy with your mate. To subscribe, go to http://www.WhatItTakes.com

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The Christmas Dress – A Christmas Story

From the time I was a very little girl, I had always loved to watch my big sister, Loretta, when she was sewing. So, one Sunday afternoon while she worked on the red velveteen jumper that was going to be my Christmas outfit, I didn’t want to miss a single thing.

Because it was Sunday and Loretta did not have to go to work at the electric company, she was dressed casually in a white sweater and a pair of periwinkle blue slacks that matched her eyes. Loretta was an assistant bookkeeper at the electric cooperative that supplied electricity to our farm and to many of the rural areas in our county. I could still smell the perfume that she had worn when we went to church that morning. The bottle said it was called Lily of the Valley.

As Loretta spread the fabric on the kitchen table, I stood as close to her as possible, practically breathing down her neck.

When you live on a farm and the next-door neighbors are elderly and no other neighbors live on your mile-long stretch of road with children for you play with, and in fact, no other children live within several miles, what else is there to do on a Sunday afternoon in December except pester your big sister?

“What’s this stuff for again?” I asked, taking a sheet of waxy paper out of an envelope.

“That’s tracing paper,” Loretta said. “I use it to make lines so I know where the seams should go.”

I picked up the tracing wheel. “And that’s what this is for, right?”

In a way, the tracing wheel reminded me of the spurs worn by all the cowboys in my favorite Westerns on television. I would have given almost anything to be a cowboy. My sister glanced at me.

She was busy pinning the pattern to the fabric. “Yes. That’s the tracing wheel.”

I watched for a moment. “Can I help? Pleeeeease?”

Loretta smiled. “Sure. See how I’ve got the pins put in on this side? You can do the same on the other side.”

I happily started pinning the pattern onto the fabric. The pins were the kind with little colored balls of plastic on the end: blue, green, white, yellow and red. Pinning the pattern was easy. Push the pin through the sheer pattern paper and the fabric, and then angle it to come out on top again. Push the pin through the fabric and angle it upwards. Push the pin, angle it up. Everything went along just fine-for about the first six pins, anyway-until I bumped the pin container and knocked it onto the floor. I never knew pins would scatter so far when they fell from the kitchen table and hit linoleum. My sister looked at me, looked at the pins on the floor-and sighed. After what seemed like a long time, we managed to retrieve all of the pins.

“I’ll just finish this part,” Loretta said. “It’ll go faster that way.”

Then it was time to cut out the pattern. As my sister expertly wielded the scissors, I couldn’t help but think it looked like tremendous fun.

“Can I do that?”

She paused. “Ummmm-why don’t you find the white tracing paper for me. That would be a big help.”

I considered her suggestion. “How come it has to be white?”

“Because it will show up better on this red fabric.”

“But wouldn’t blue be all right?” I thought the blue paper was very pretty.

“No, the white is fine.”

“Yellow?” I asked. Loretta shook her head.

“Pink?”

“Just get out the white. That’ll be the best.”

I pulled the white tracing paper out of the envelope, and then, as Loretta continued to work, I kept right on asking questions: What happens if you don’t pin the pattern? (It won’t stay in place when you cut the fabric.) What’s that funny scissors for? (A pinking shears; it keeps the material from unraveling around the edges.) What are you going to do with the scraps? (Cover the buttons.) And on and on.

Finally Loretta was ready to sew the jumper. She moved into the living room to set up the sewing machine, and as she started to sew, I stood right by her elbow. Since this was going to be my dress, it seemed to me that I ought to keep an eye on the entire operation. And if I was going to keep an eye on things, then I had to ask more questions. Didn’t I? When Loretta had finished the first seam, she pulled the fabric back and discovered that her finger was sewn to the dress. I was horrified.

My mother was disgusted. “I’ve been sitting here in the living room all afternoon, listening to you,” Mom scolded. “It’s no wonder your poor sister ended up sewing her finger to the dress. Your incessant talking is enough to drive anybody crazy.”

Loretta finished snipping the thread. “No, no, it’s nothing. See? Just a little bit of skin.”

As I watched her pull the thread from her finger, my stomach did a small flip-flop.

“Maybe you’d better clean that up and put a bandage on it,” Mom said.

A little while later, with a bandage securely wrapped around her finger, Loretta began to work on my dress again.

“How come.?” I said-and then I remembered that I shouldn’t talk. Loretta paused and looked over at me.

“How come what?” I shook my head.

“Nothing.” I watched Loretta sew for a few minutes, and then another question popped into my head.

“What happens if.”

Loretta reached for the scissors and glanced over at me. “What happens if what?”

I shrugged. “Nothing.”

Somehow I managed to make it through another five minutes without asking any questions.

After a while, Loretta looked over at me again. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“You’re so quiet, I thought maybe something was wrong.” Loretta looked at me closely. “You’re not mad at me, are you?”

I felt my eyes widen. “Mad at you? Why would I be mad at you?”

She shrugged. “You’re never this quiet.”

And without warning, tears filled my eyes. “I’m s-s-sorry I made you sew your finger. I didn’t m-m-mean to.”

Loretta shook her head. “You didn’t make me sew my finger.”

“Yes, I did. Mom said.”

“No, you didn’t. I always thought it would happen someday. And today just happened to be the day.”

For as long as I could remember, Loretta had been making clothes. Sometimes she sewed outfits for me, sometimes for herself, and sometimes for Mom. She even had a couple of skirts she kept in a trunk upstairs that she had made when she was in high school. Loretta reached for the scissors again.

“So, come on. Ask some more questions.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not normal when you’re this quiet. And besides, how are you ever going to learn about anything if you don’t ask questions?”

In the end, Loretta finished the red velveteen jumper without further mishap. I wore the dress for the Christmas programs at school and at Sunday school, and for Christmas day, too, and for school when Christmas vacation was over. But every time I put the dress on, I thought about Loretta’s finger pierced with red thread. And about how she had said that it wasn’t my fault when I knew, deep in my heart, that it was. Maybe that’s why I loved her so much. Not because she sewed clothes for me. And not because she wasn’t angry when I spilled pins all over the floor or chattered non-stop when she was trying to concentrate. But because, no matter what, I knew that my big sister always had time for me.

(From the book: Christmas in Dairyland – True Stories from a Wisconsin Farm; August 2003; trade paperback)
LeAnn R. Ralph is the author of the book: Christmas in Dairyland (True Stories from a Wisconsin Farm) (trade paperback; August 2003). Share the view from Rural Route 2 and celebrate Christmas during a simpler time. Click here to read sample chapters and other Rural Route 2 stories – http://ruralroute2.com

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Simple Stress Free Holiday Gift Baskets

The holidays seem to always add extra stress to life. As much as we try to enjoy ourselves it is impossible to avoid feeling stressed. Planning ahead of time and preparing gifts in advance always seem to be the answer, but there is always that last minute crisis to address. It may be an unexpected holiday party you must attend, an unexpected gift received that must be reciprocated, or my favorite is the unexpected visit that must be made to a family or friend that was not anticipated. I prepare myself for the holiday by purchasing a variety of specialty products early in December. First I make a list of all those who we intend to exchange with, including those who we intend to visit during the season. Basically I will buy a variety of products that can be used in a gift basket or a gift bag.

When planning either gift, you must keep in mind height and width. For example as a center you might use a bottle of wine, oil, vinegar, or even a box of spaghetti. The reason for this is to create a focal point to build around. When creating a gift basket, it is necessary to have a center item (or items) to create the pyramid-like structure. When using a gift bag, the balance of weight is very important. For example you might fill the bag with a bottle of oil and vinegar to keep the bag balanced.

The theme should be decided when purchasing the items. One year we created a gift basket with olive oil, linguine, heads of garlic, fresh chili peppers, baby eggplant and zucchini, and a wedge of parmigiano cheese. Basically the idea was to give all the ingredients necessary to create a dish of pasta. Another year the theme was coffee, tea and dessert. The items included a can of espresso, a few boxes of tea, various types of cookies, fine chocolate bars and even sugar cubes. Other items to include could be Colombian coffee, non dairy creamer like Coffee mate, Parmilat milk, sugar substitute, honey, jam, small toast crackers, fresh bread and fruit.

The theme and items really depend on the person or family receiving the gift. Of course the basic fruit basket of apples, oranges, bananas, and grapes is always appreciated by even the most difficult of critics. Chestnuts, walnuts, dried figs, apricots and chocolates can be included to make the basic fruit more interesting. Keep in mind the variety of colors of the fruit and accessories to please the eye. Try to use clear cellophane to wrap the basket so that the colors will show. When the basket is ready to wrap up, place it in the middle of a sheet of cellophane. Before cutting measure leaving about 10 inches extra for the top of the basket. Tie the top first and then fold he sides under the basket so the tape will not show.

Basically, the basket or bag can be as simple, or creative, as you like. Usually, it will depend on how much time I have to prepare. The idea is to keep the items on hand to help you throughout the holiday. The holidays should be a time of enjoyment, not stress. These inexpensive ideas are a win- win situation, the recipient will be happy to see all the thought that went into their special present, and the leftovers will be in your pantry for your family to enjoy!

 

©2000 – Roseanne Cantisani
About the author: Roseanne Cantisani is a freelance writer and editor of dateable.com/simplydelicious, a web site dedicated to simple, healthy cooking. You can find articles, recipes, kitchen and cooking products, and a forum for any cooking or entertaining questions. If you like this article please sign up for the simply delicious newsletter at http://dateable.com/simplydelicious/ or send an email to the gourmet@dateable.com

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You Know It’s Christmas When…

  1. Your children miraculously start to be very well behaved.
  2. You start to hate the sound of Little Drummer Boy with a vengeance!
  3. The turkey has been in the oven 5 hours now and it’s STILL not cooked.
  4. Summer holiday adverts start to appear in TV.
  5. You start taking bets obsessively with all and sundry as to whether it’s going to snow on Christmas day. You even consider praying for it.
  6. You have just finished the 14 batch of mince pies
  7. You get your children’s presents from behind the wardrobe to find the paper has been torn off the corner of every one of them.
  8. You couldn’t eat another single mouthful of Christmas pudding if they paid you.
  9. Every meal between Christmas and New year contains turkey… turkey fritters, turkey curry, turkey stew, turkey sandwiches.
  10. You find although you have used 5 packs of Christmas cards….. you still need just one more card.
  11. You have been given 3 pairs of slippers which you know you will just never wear.
  12. At 11.59pm on Christmas day you sigh and sink exhausted into your favourite armchair and exclaim “Never again!”

Gail Miller, from the UK, is a freelance writer & author of Wild Child ~ A Mother, A Son & ADHD http://home.freeuk.net/theadhdgazette/wild She also writes and publishes The ADD / ADHD Gazette – ADDGazette-subscribe@onelist.com and Affiliates UK – affiliatesuk-subscribe@onelist.com

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The Joy of the Season

The Christmas holiday season should be a time of great joy. A time when we remember all those things which make our lives rich and full. A time to reflect, and be thankful for what we have. A time to share love and fellowship with family and friends. A time to remember those less fortunate. A time of faith. A time of wonder.

But is this really what the season brings? For many, this is a season of stress and burden, even sadness and despair. Perhaps it’s time we took a step back and gave some thought as to what the holidays really mean to us and what holds true meaning and what does not.

When I think of what makes this a joyful season for me, the simple things come to mind… a cozy fire, warm wishes from friends far away, the excitement and laughter of children, gestures of goodwill, selfless acts of kindness, watching It’s A Wonderful Life for the ten-thousandth time, the scent of pine, Christmas carols and colored lights, the feeling of hope and the love of my family. These are but a few of the many things about the season which have meaning for me.

My guess is, I’m not alone. I suspect most of us find the joy of the season in these kinds of simple pleasures, rather than in what we find under the tree or in the obligations we think we need to fulfill. So why, then, do we subject ourselves to those things which cause us stress and grief?

The commercialization of Christmas most certainly is one of the problems. Being subjected to the constant barrage of ads for toys and trinkets has detracted from the real meaning of the season. Excessive gift buying, credit card debt, crowded stores, long lines at the post office, … all have become a normal part of our holiday routine. But is this really what it’s all about? Is this really where the joy of the season is found?

I’m not suggesting giving isn’t part of the spirit and joy of Christmas – it is. However, it’s not necessarily the giving of gifts, but rather the giving of ourselves.

“We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

Donating toys, food, and money to charities, rather than buying so much for our own families. Spending Christmas eve reading stories to the elderly at a local retirement home, rather than hosting a party for friends. Helping serve Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter, rather than cooking a huge meal for ourselves. This is giving in the true spirit of Christmas and are ways of finding the joy of the season.

The point is simply this… perhaps in all the hype we’ve lost sight of what Christmas is all about. We’re so busy running around doing those things which we feel are expected of us, that we rob ourselves of the joy of the season. Maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s time to recapture the simple pleasures this time of year has to offer. It may be as easy as embracing those things which have real meaning and moving away from those things which do not.

The joy of the season is still alive and well, it always has been. Maybe we’ve just been too distracted to notice.

Passing Thoughts by T.W. Winslow is a syndicated weekly column. To get Passing Thoughts by email and to see other free, quality newsletters offered by TADD Publishing Group, see http://www.taddgroup.com For reprint info or to contact the author write taddgroup@aol.com

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Help! I Can’t Afford Chrismas!

The less money you have to spend on Christmas, the earlier you have to get started. Bargains go quickly, as we all know.

First, make sure you get to any car boot/garage/yard/tag sales in your area, looking out for baskets that you can package gifts in, pretty china, toys in excellent condition with all the pieces present, inexpensive hand made crafts, and second hand books that look brand new.

Also keep an eye open for children’s videos and puzzles (count the pieces), board games (check the contents), and potted houseplant cuttings that you can grow, on and put into a pretty pot.

Don’t worry too much about toys for small children being boxed – they won’t mind if it’s wrapped in gift paper, as long as all the parts are there.

Baskets can be washed in warm water and dried outside or in the airing cupboard, then filled with items especially chosen for the person you’re giving to.

For example, for a friend who loves sewing, make up a patchwork basket, containing a template for the shapes, ready cut squares or hexagons of fabric, threads, needles, pincushion or scissors.

Two mugs, special tea bags, mini pots of honey and marmalade make a breakfast basket. Similarly, mugs, sachets of hot chocolate, and a lavender sachet to aid peaceful sleep make a goodnight basket. Crumple tissue paper into the basket first, then arrange the items nicely, before covering with cellophane, and tying with crinkly ribbon and gift bows.

A variation on this theme is a gardener’s flower pot. Half fill a flowerpot with crumpled paper or straw. Arrange packets of seeds, inexpensive hand trowel/fork, plant labels/ties, notebook, green string and budget gardening book or magazine.

Haunt the cut price shops for presents that may just need some creative pairing, with another inexpensive item to make a lovely gift.

Consider pairing:

Scented candle and bubble bath
Recipe book and mixing bowl or cooking utensils
Joke book and whoopee cushion
Video, cola, and popcorn
Pack of cards and six pack of lager/beer
Paperback book and box of chocolates
Houseplant and plant care guide
Calendar and diary
Hair scrunchies and hairbrush or shampoo
Disposable camera or film and photo album
Once you start thinking along these lines you’ll probably come up with many more ideas of your own.

Use the skills you have to make presents. If you can cook, make cakes, cookies or fudge. If you can sew, make frilled cushion covers to match your friend’s room scheme from remnants of fabric. If you can arrange flowers, fix a piece of florist’s foam to a piece of bark or shallow bowl, and make a Christmas arrangement with berries, cones and foliage that you can pick up for free.

Grandparents are usually more than happy to receive framed photographs of their precious grandchildren – the collage type are often particularly welcome. Or what about printing out an inspirational piece of poetry or prose such as Desiderata in an antique type font? Paint it with a solution of tea to “age” it a little and frame it for an unusual gift.

Help to pack out your own children’s stockings by making a whole videotape of their favorite television programs, icing cookies with their initials, and making up little craft boxes containing paper, glue, sticky shapes, oddments of wool for hair and felt cut into shapes for eyes, mouths, noses etc.

Finally, if you have no cash at all, write or print out some gift vouchers offering your time for babysitting, housework, gardening, decorating, car washing – whatever you can manage. You will be surprised at how well they will be received.

And remember none of your friends or family would want you to go without essentials, or get into debt, just to give them a present. It’s very easy to lose sight of this fact as we are seduced by all the advertising hype.

Copyright  Colleen Moulding
About the author: Colleen Moulding is a freelance writer from England where she has had many features on parenting, childcare, travel, the Internet and lots more published in national magazines and newspapers. She has also published a variety of women’s and children’s fiction. Her work frequently appears at many sites on the Internet and at her own site for women and children All That Women Want.com a magazine, web guide and resource for women everywhere. http://www.allthatwomenwant.com Why not drop by? It was made for you! Subscribe to the free monthly e-zine containing articles, ideas, tips, site reviews and lots more by sending a blank e-mail to: allthatwomenwant-subscribe@egroups.com

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Holiday Tips For Step-families: Let Go Of The “Brady Bunch” Fantasy!

When Bill and I first formed our step-family, I had many fantasies about how our family would behave like the “Brady Bunch” over the holidays– a happy, harmonious unit. Then reality struck, and we couldn’t even agree on how to decorate the Christmas tree! Ultimately, we created a “his” side-with multi-colored, blinking lights and tinsel-and a “hers” side-with hand-painted eggs and popcorn strings.

Seven years later, I can tell you that trying to create a “Brady Bunch” holiday sets stepfamilies up for failure. Instead, I suggest you follow these tips:

  • Examine and try to let go of your “Brady Bunch” fantasies.
  • Continue “old” holiday traditions with your biological kids while creating new ones for the step-family.
  • If the kids don’t buy into your fantasy holiday, try to see the world from their point of view.
  • Practice the fine art of silence when your step-family is stressed by the holidays. You don’t have to share all your negative feelings.
  • Don’t compete with your children’s “other” parents by showering kids with expensive gifts.
  • Stepmoms, reach out to your step-kids’ mother. Buy her a gift. Tell her you appreciate her children.
  • Don’t fight with ex-spouses about how much time you will spend with children over the holidays. It only hurts the children.
  • Invite your ex-spouses over for a holiday party. Brace for surprises.
  • Join a stepparent support group to share the many feelings about “family” that come up during the holiday season. 

     


    Lisa Cohn is co-author of “One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories And Advice For Stepfamilies,” a 2004 Gold National Parenting Publications Award winner. For more information, visit www.stepfamilyadvice.com

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Holiday Season Safety

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is urging people to look for and eliminate potential dangers from holiday lights and decorations.

Each year, about 8,700 people are treated for falls, cuts and shocks related to holiday decorations. In addition, Christmas trees are involved in about 400 fires annually, resulting in 20 deaths, 70 injuries and an average of more than $15 million in property loss and damage. CPSC conducts surveillance of holiday lights and decorations, and this year prevented the import of 320,398 units of holiday lights that did not meet safety standards.

CPSC suggests following these tips to make your holiday a safe one.

Trees:
* Artificial trees should be “Fire Resistant.” If the tree catches fire, it will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.

* A live tree should be fresh and green: needles are hard to pull from branches and do not break. The bottom of the trunk should be sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, it should not lose many needles.

* Place your tree away from traffic, fireplaces and radiators. Heated rooms rapidly dry out live trees; be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Do not block doorways.

Lights:
* Only use lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory.

* Check for broken sockets, frayed wires or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets.

* Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.

* Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity and cause electrocution.

* Turn off lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

* Check labels to be sure lights have been certified for outdoor use.

* Fasten outdoor lights securely to protect from wind damage. Use only insulated staples or run strings of lights through hooks. Do not use nails or tacks.

* For added protection, plug outdoor decorations into ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.

Decorations:
* Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals.

* Never use lighted candles on a tree or near evergreens. Use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.

* In homes with small children, avoid sharp or breakable decorations. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of reach and avoid those that resemble candy or food.

* Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass “angel hair.” Follow directions carefully while decorating with artificial snow sprays.

Fireplaces:
* Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames. They cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep away from children.

* Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

Get a free brochure with more holiday decorating safety tips at CPSC’s web site http://www.cpsc.gov.

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Little-known Tips for Easy Holiday Baking

Are you wondering if you have the time to bake homemade Christmas cookies this year? Every year at about this time we all start to get a little panicked that the holidays are coming up fast and we’re not really ready yet. Here are a few little-known tips and tricks, for almost every type of cookie, to help you get the most out of the time you spend baking.

Cutout Cookies

Don’t struggle with dough sticking to your rolling pin. Instead, roll out your dough between two sheets of waxed paper. This will eliminate the sticking problem.
Do your cutout cookies always seem to turn out dry, tough, and tasteless? The trick with the waxed paper will help with this. Assuming that you started with a good recipe, the problem is that you are overworking your dough and working too much flour into it. Using the waxed paper will help you to manipulate the dough less, and the dough won’t pick up any extra flour.

Refrigerator (Icebox) Cookies and Pinwheels

Ever notice how your roll of icebox or pinwheel cookies gets flat on one side from sitting on the refrigerator shelf? Keep them nice and round by standing them upright in a tall drinking glass
while they’re chilling.
Do your cookies flatten further when you try to slice them? Try rotating the log 1/4 turn after each slice.
Having trouble with the cookies crumbling as you try to slice them? Start with a log that has been frozen for several hours. Then use a very a very sharp to slice through.

Cookie Press Cookies (Spritz)

Having trouble getting your cookies to form properly? When your dough doesn’t seem to stick properly, put your baking sheet in the freezer for an hour or two, while keeping the dough at room temperature. Then when you press out your cookies onto the frozen sheet, the dough will stick to it just like your tongue sticks to a frozen metal pole when you lick it (assuming you’ve ever been silly enough to try this).
Don’t forget you can pick up your mistakes and put them back into the press.

Bar Cookies

When making bar cookies, create a liner for your baking pan by turning the pan upside-down and covering it with aluminium foil, making sure to form the corners and leaving an overhang of an inch or two. Then, remove the foil, turn the pan right side up, turn the foil over and place it inside the pan. It will make a perfect liner for your pan. If required by your recipe, grease the liner. Then continue baking your bar cookies as directed. Once baked, you can lift out the entire batch of bars and place it on a cooling rack to cool completely. You can then immediately re-use your baking pan for another batch without having to wait for the previous batch to cool, and you won’t have to wash the pan.

All Cookies

Eliminate the need to grease your baking sheets and wash them later by lining them with parchment paper. Parchment paper can be re-used several times and gives excellent results.
Do your cookies seem to brown too much, or cook too fast? Buy a dependable oven thermometer and check your oven temperature. Your oven’s internal thermometer may not be accurate. Or, perhaps you are using a non-stick baking sheet or pan. The dark color of the non-stick coating can make your baked goods brown too fast. Try a shiny metal pan instead or lower your oven temperature by 25 degrees.

Are your cookies not browned enough, or take too long to cook? Again, verify the oven temperature. Or, perhaps you’re using an insulated baking sheet or pan. Insulated bakeware can prevent your cookies from reaching the desired temperature in the right amount of time. Try using a non-insulated pan, or raise your oven temperature by 25 degrees.

A pinch of know-how combined with a dash of preparation can make for successful, easy, and stress-free cookie baking every Christmas!

Check out some great recipes!

About the Author
Mimi Cummins is co-author of the book “Christmas Cookies are for Giving: Recipes, Stories, and Tips for Making Heartwarming Gifts.” This book, “enthusiastically recommended” by Midwest Book Review, is full of baking tips and hints, including nearly 50 recipes each with a full-color photo.

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Holiday Soul Snacks

Soul Snacks are spontaneous time-outs: creative ways you can nurture your spirit in 15 minutes or less. Here’s a week’s worth, specially designed to help you balance the busy-ness this holiday season.

Day One
What are your favorite holiday memories? Pose the question tonight at the dinner table. Use your family’s answers to plan this year’s celebration. You may be surprised at the special memories that have nothing to do with gifts or elaborate events.

Day Two
Last minute shopping still to do? The Flylady, who is committed to helping us all simplify and de-clutter, offers these lists of creative, clutter-free holiday gifts: http://www.flylady.net/pages/ClutterFreeGiftsW.asp

Day Three
Bundle up and head outside. Make snow angels or build a snow fort with your kids. When it’s time to warm up, build a cozy fire and roast marshmallows in your living room.

Day Four
What’s your favorite homemade holiday treat? Write down the recipe, and share it with your friends. Encourage them to do the same.

Day Five
Challenge each member of your family to fill a box or bag full of items to give away. Decide as a family where to make a donation.

Day Six
Get out and enjoy the crisp winter air today, all by yourself. Listen to the crunch of snow underfoot. And treat yourself to a steaming mug of hot chocolate (with marshmallows) when you return.

Day Seven
What was the favorite book you read this year? With whom would you most like to share its message? Purchase a copy for them and drop it off…anonymously. Taking just a bit of time each day to nurture yourself will ensure you enjoy every last fa-la-la during this magical season. Happy holidays!

Susie Michelle Cortright Susie Michelle Cortright is the creator of the Soul Snacks booklet series: http://www.momscape.com/soulsnacks and the founder of the award-winning website Momscape.com Visit today to get her free course-by-email, “6 Days to Less Stress”: http://www.momscape.com

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Frugal and Creative Christmas Gift Wrapping

Opening all those packages under the tree is one of the most enjoyable parts of a holiday celebration–a part that everyone enjoys, from youngsters to oldsters! And, even the most frugal gift can be transformed into something special by using your imagination and a little creativity!

If you dislike all the waste of paper wrapping–why not spend a little time making fabric gift bags? There are tons of Christmas fabrics available and a simple gift bag can be sewn up very quickly. Basically, cut a rectangle of fabric twice as long as you need it to be and a little bit wider than the object you are wrapping, fold in half, and sew up the sides. Turn right side out, insert gift and gather the top together and tie with matching ribbon or raffia. You might want to cut the top edges using pinking shears to make it more attractive.

Instead of just ribbon and bows this year, make some package toppers out of items found around the house, and outside the house, too. Candycanes, cinnamon sticks, yarn, pinecones – and whatever else you can imagine!

Another great topper idea is to cut a Christmas tree, bell or star shape out of posterboard. Glue on dried pasta of any shape, covering all the cutout, then spray paint it shiny gold. Or cut out a wreath shape, cover with small buttons and spray gold. Add a ribbon bow. Now you have very elegant package decorations!

Use brown craft paper, a recycled paper grocery bag, or newsprint and stamp the outside with holiday ink stamps (or make your own potato stamps!). Kids can also just draw on the paper with crayons.

Almost anything will look pretty when spray painted gold or silver–pine cones, acorns, branches, old plastic flowers and leaves. Place atop a package wrapped in brown paper (recycled grocery bag) for a very pretty effect.

And, remember, your hot glue gun is your best friend when wrapping packages!

Another use for last year’s Christmas cards: Cut the front off a card, glue to the top of a wrapped package and “frame” it with flat ribbon! Try to match the card theme to the recipient, such as an outdoor scene with deer and birds for a young man; a card with a jolly Santa on it for a child, etc.

Children of all ages love a package with candy on top! Glue on round candies in a tree or wreath shape. Or spell out the child’s name in candy pieces. Candy canes look very festive on packages, too.

Custom-looking gift tags can easily be made by cutting out a rectangle of wrapping paper and folding it in half. Write the “to and from” inside and glue to package.

Wrapping packages can be a fun part of your holidays, if you just let your imagination lead the way!

Cyndi Roberts is the editor of the “1 Frugal Friend 2 Another” bi-weekly newsletter and founder of the website of the same name. Visit http://www.cynroberts.com to find creative tips, articles, and a free e-cooking book. Subscribe to the newsletter and receive the free e-course “Taming the Monster Grocery Bill”.
Additional content added by maternitycorner.com

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Christmas Traditions and their Origins

Father Christmas

Call him what you will, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, St. Nicholas – children all over the world will be waiting for his visit on December 25th. Trying to get off to sleep, yet listening for the sleigh bells as Rudolph and his friends pull Santa’s sleigh swiftly through the night sky. There are many stories about the origins of Santa Claus. One is that the real St. Nicholas was a Christian leader in a place called Myra – the country we now know as Turkey.

The story goes that St. Nicholas wanted to give money to the poor without them knowing who had done it, so he climbed on to the roof of a house and dropped a purse of money down the chimney. A little girl had earlier placed a stocking near the fire to dry and the purse full of money fell into it.

From then on children have hung stockings by the fire in the hope that St. Nicholas will fill them, and somehow he always seems to manage it!

Christmas Day

The celebrating of the birth of Jesus on 25th December is quite a strange custom as although the date of His birth is not known for sure, it is clear from the scriptures that it was not in December. Shepherds did not spend the chilly December nights on the hills in that part of the world, they took their sheep inside to shelter overnight and out again in the morning.

The 25th December was a date picked by the Catholic church to appease the pagans who they were trying to convert, but who were none to keen to give up their traditional holidays and festivals. Saturnalia was one of the popular Roman pagan festivals of celebration, drunkeness and making merry which ran from the 17th to the 24th of December. Gifts were exchanged on the 23rd and 24th. On the 25th December they would celebrate “The Birth of The Unconquerable Sun.”

It was decided that this would be a day for celebrating the birth of Jesus instead. Many of the pagan traditions such as decorating the house with trees and greenery were banned at this time, but they have crept back into our Christmas traditions.

Yuletide and Yule Logs

The tradition of burning a yule log on the fire for twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany comes from the custom of offering a sacrifice on each of the twelve days to the Scandinavian pagan fertility god Jul or Jule.

The Christmas Tree

Bringing an evergreen tree into the house is another pagan tradition relating to the worship of evergreen plants as symbols of fertility, life and reproduction. The pagans decorated their trees with fruit, and placed other foods underneath it as offerings to the tree.

Boxing Day

The day after Christmas Day is known as Boxing Day. This has it’s origins not as some people think in the giving of presents, Christmas Boxes on that day, but from a custom dating back to the Middle Ages, when churches would open their “alms” boxes and share out the donated money among the poor of the parish.

Christmas Cards

A combination of the Penny Post postal service in 1840 and the industrialization of the printing industry led to the popularity of sending Christmas cards. Later, when cards in unsealed envelopes could be posted for half a penny the craze really caught on. Incidentally these very decorative documents of social history can still be found here in the UK for between 50p and £1, and the messages make fascinating reading.

About the author: Colleen Moulding is a freelance writer from England where she has had many features on parenting, childcare, travel, the Internet and lots more published in national magazines and newspapers. She has also published a variety of women’s and children’s fiction. Her work frequently appears at many sites on the Internet and at her own site for women and children All That Women Want.com a magazine, web guide and resource for women everywhere. http://www.allthatwomenwant.com 

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Give Away: A New Holiday Tradition

As the holidays approach this year and gift-giving (and shopping) begins, I can recognize one true fact:
My kids don’t NEED anything.

That being said, I still want them to learn about the blessings of giving and receiving. I also want them to learn about personal limits. I especially want them to learn that not everyone has it so good. Moreover, that leads into learning that they have a responsibility to others.

If you are interested in teaching your kids similar values, here’s a simple exercise that can get them thinking along these lines.

Go through their room and belongings – together – and create a giveaway box. ‘Oh, I do that regularly’, you may say. Great! But this time, do it intentionally, and with your child. Maximize the teaching benefits such a time provides:

  • Your child will probably be getting new stuff for the holidays. Fill a box with the toys, clothes and such that no longer fit, are used up, or are broken. Talk to your child about sharing the wealth!
  • Fix what you can and donate it. By doing this WITH your child, they learn about thrift, value and recycling. It’s a wasteful society that says something only has value when it’s new. In addition, it’s satisfying to make something be useful again.
  • Follow through on your donations…together! Let your child research charities that are gathering toys for the holidays. Let your child figure out the details of getting that box of clothes to the right group whom can put it to use.
  • Kids are hungry for leadership roles; let them organize a neighborhood clothes or toy drive for the needy in your area. (Remember to lend your adult supervision to all of their efforts!)
  • Talk about the toys they got last year at the holidays. Are they still playing with them? Why or why not? This is another great way to get your kids thinking about the value of their possessions.
  • Talk about how many hours it took to work last year to have the kind of holiday your family enjoyed. Ask your child if they would be willing to work that long for someone else’s enjoyment.
  • Create ways for your children to give to others. Once they’re thinking about helping, it’s natural for kids to come up with simple solutions to the problems they see. Some of those gently-worn clothes could be sold at the local consignment shop and the money used to buy a Christmas dinner for a family that wouldn’t otherwise have one.
  • Those no-longer needed books and puzzles can be cleaned up and given to the local homeless shelter. And on and on!
  • After the clean-up work is done, have your kids create their wishlists for this upcoming holiday season. Talk about a family budget and what is reasonable for ‘stuff’. Consider encouraging everyone to forfeit one item on their list and then use that money to improve another family’s holiday season.

By doing this regular ‘chore’ as a family project, you can share your values with your precious children and start a holiday tradition that can have tremendous meaning for your family for years to come!

Colleen Langenfeld delivers deals, tips and creative resources to working moms who want the most out of their homes, families and careers at http://www.paintedgold.com . Sign up for our free newsletter and get an online Creativity Toolkit as our gift to you!

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Christmas Cookie Decorating 101

Many bakers ask for tips and instructions on decorating cookies. Well that’s a tall order because there are as many ways to decorate cookies as there are cookies! Here are a few guidelines for novices and experienced bakers alike to help you generate your own ideas for cooking decorating.

DECORATING COOKIES BEFORE BAKING

Cookies can be decorated before baking with materials that withstand the heat of baking. Some things that you can place on your cookies before baking are:
-colored sugars or natural sugars such as pearl sugar
-jimmies, non-pareils, silver and gold dragées, and other sprinkles
-raisins and dried fruits such as cranberries
-nuts
These items can be placed on top of almost any cookie to dress it up a bit and give it a more festive appearance.

Paint a masterpiece

You can also paint your cookies before baking them. Make an edible food paint out of an egg yolk mixed with a few drops of food coloring and paint the cookies with a clean paintbrush. The paint will dry while baking and give the cookie a colorful, glazed appearance. This is a fun activity for kids!

A bit of trompe l’oeil

The folks at Better Homes and Gardens have a creative recipe for Colored Cream Dough which is a dough of frosting consistency that can be piped onto cookies with a pastry bag fitted with a writing or star tip, and then baked. The result is a cookie that looks like it has been frosted but the frosting is baked on and hard.

DECORATING COOKIES AFTER BAKING

Decorating cookies after baking them requires that you apply some kind of liquid-based substance that will adhere to the baked cookie, or that will act as a glue to attach other items. Usually, this takes the form of frosting, icing, or melted chocolate.

Frosting vs. Icing

There is a big difference between frosting and icing. Frosting is thick and holds shapes like rosettes and shells like those you see piped around the edges of a birthday cake. It remains soft to the touch and has a creamy texture, and most people think it tastes better because of the creamy buttery flavor. Icing, on the other hand, is a thinner, more liquid substance, and as it dries it thins out, becomes very smooth across the surface of your cookie, and hardens. This is the icing to use for the most beautiful, professional results.

Working with frosting
You can use frosting in two ways. One way is to simply use a knife or rubber spatula to spread the frosting across the whole surface of your cookie. The other way is to place the frosting in a pastry or decorating bag fitted with a small tip and piping out thin lines or rosettes of icing onto the cookie. Either way, once the frosting has been applied to the cookie you can then further embellish it by using colored sugars, non-pareils, or any of the decorating items mentioned in the Decorating Before Baking section above.
Christmas-Cookies.com has a delicious recipe for Buttercream Frosting. See detailed
instructions on piping frosting from Better Homes and Gardens

Working with icing
Icing is a little more difficult to work with but its smooth surface produces the most beautiful results! Icing should always be piped onto a cookie because it will run off the edges if spread with a knife. Once iced you can apply silver dragées, or other sprinkles just as mentioned with the frosting above, before it hardens. Christmas-Cookies.com has an excellent recipe for Royal Icing There is also a great recipe for Powdered Sugar Icing that dries less hard than Royal Icing and has a shiny surface.

Melted chocolate

Just about any cookie can be embellished simply by dipping it in chocolate or drizzling chocolate over it. You can even dress up the everyday chocolate chip cookie for gift-giving or serving at parties. Melting chocolate is a simple process, but a few rules must be followed in order to make it a success. For Easter, try using white chocolate tinted in pastel shades with food coloring. Use the gel, paste or powdered kind of food color, because the liquid drops may make the chocolate seize up.

What you need:
You can either use chocolate chips or baking chocolate (the kind that comes in 1-ounce squares) and the same process applies whether you use dark chocolate or white chocolate. A small amount of shortening should be added at the ratio of 2 tablespoons shortening for 1 cup of chocolate chips or chopped up baking chocolate.

Double boiler
Place chocolate and shortening in the top half of a double boiler or in a metal bowl that has been placed on top of a saucepan filled with hot water. The water must be very hot, but not boiling, because the steam generated by boiling water could get moisture into the melting chocolate which makes it curdle. Allow the chocolate to melt over the hot water and stir it occasionally until it has achieved a liquid consistency.

Microwave
Place your chocolate and shortening in a microwave safe bowl and microwave it on medium power for 1 minute. Stir. Continue microwaving 20 seconds, stir again. Keep doing this until the chocolate is almost melted. Remove it from the microwave and stir it until completely melted.

Dipping
Dip one end of your cookie, or half the cookie, or even the whole cookie into the melted chocolate. Set the cookie on a wire rack to let the chocolate harden. If you wish, you can sprinkle chopped nuts, coconut, or
non-pareils over the melted chocolate before it hardens.

Drizzling
Scrape melted chocolate into a ziplock baggie. With a sharp scissors, snip off a very small corner of the baggie. Drizzle top of cookies with zig-zags of melted chocolate. Cool until chocolate is set.

Using these simple techniques will help you produce a variety of beautiful-looking cookies at Christmastime and throughout the year .

About the Author
Mimi Cummins is co-author of the book “Christmas Cookies are for Giving: Recipes, Stories, and Tips for Making Heartwarming Gifts.” This book, “enthusiastically recommended” by Midwest Book Review, is full of baking tips and hints, including nearly 50 recipes each with a full-color photo.

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How to Entice Kids to Share During the Holidays

So many people gripe about the commercialisation of Christmas (or Hanukkah, or whatever one celebrates at the end of the year)… Why not just let the public tinsel and muzak roll off your back? …Right that’s not so easy to do with kids in the house! Nothing we do is going to keep businesses from dangling those carrots in front of prospective customers… And for most people, presents are a big part of the holidays.

But many of us seek more balance, especially when we notice that getting is looked forward to much more than giving in our households.

What if we make sharing part of the fun? It’s a way for children to learn that there is meaning beyond the getting part of gift exchanging. That deeper togetherness engendered enjoyment, in fact, is bound to stick in the mind long after the panoply of toys has faded in memory.
There are so many ways of putting “we” into end-of-the-year celebrations…

Putting on a party at home

A party is a fine way to share with others and kids, of course, can help with planning it and making it go smoothly. Look for ways of making the gathering truly cohesive… Have a singalong, go carolling. Play a group game. Have a quilting party (kids can help with that too). Invite each person to talk about his or her favorite holiday memories while sitting around a bonfire at the beach or in the snow?
Here’s an idea… Make a child a wallflower spotter! Kids usually like to be used as “runners” and intelligence gatherers… A parent could set things up so that even a shy child could be an effective icebreaker just by passing an invitation from mom for a guest to join her in the kitchen.

Helping out at someone else’s party

If your family is invited to a big wingding, offer to arrive early to set up or stay late to clean up. Yep, kids too! The Befores and Afters can be billed as (and be) mini-parties in themselves where sharing in the work is great fun. (Put the toddlers to sleep in a mini slumber party, if need be, while the dishes get done.)

Letting other people help out at your party

How is this sharing? …There are all sorts of people who enjoy conviviality but don’t enjoy (maybe even absolutely dread) the responsibility of putting a party on themselves. Maybe such a person rues that fact that his apartment is too tiny or that her home is so messy and there isn’t time to deal with the clutter. Or maybe they just feel inadequate to plan and manage things in a gathering… but love to help. Giving them a way to participate in the planning, and/or the setup, monitoring, maybe game-leading, cleanup could be a huge blessing to these folks. (Not to mention a help to you hey, you could actually enjoy your party for a change!; and the companionship with the helper/s.) If it were me being asked by a friend, I’d be delighted and would certainly feel specially singled out rather than used. (Yep, I’m one of those who’s a natural-born brainstorm-er and major domo but who stresses out unpleasantly when the whole thing is up to me.)

Giving your kids insight into this and letting them in on the privilege of sharing in the work is good exercise for their own planning and interacting abilities.

Focus your party on sharing with others

Some for instances…
Ask your guests to bring food for the local food bank.
If you have a gift exchange, have everyone bring two gifts one to go to Toys for Tots.
If you have a children’s toy exchange, have each child bring two in good shape toys of their own that they’re tired of. They’ll take one “new” (used) toy home… the others will be gifts for
less fortunate children of the community.
Or have your party’s main activity be making gifts/food to donate to those in need.

Taking a party with you somewhere else

Parties can be portable and there are plenty of other places where we can have fun… feting others in need of it too, and not as likely to get much of it. Nursing homes, homeless shelters, the homes of shut-ins. How about taking the makings of a party to the police station, or to a children’s hospital ward?

I recall a very happy experience of this kind of pleasure as a young Girl Scout… Our troop made decorations, baked cupcakes, and wrapped little presents for the inhabitants of a rest home in our town and took a Christmas party there. We sang carols, ate cupcakes and drank punch, and got to open surprise presents ourselves, as I recall… But we also got another gift: the chance to make friends with “old people” who were otherwise hidden away from our ken. And then, of course, there was the gift of knowing we’d made a difference to them you could see it in their eyes.

The exchange of presents can be on many layers…

For me, trying to formulate an especially meaningful gift greatly enhances my pleasure in giving because I know it has more impact at the receiving end. Older kids can understand this too and can be encouraged to take layers of meaning into consideration when they choose gifts for others. Putting more thought into a gift is putting more of yourself into the giving of it.
It’s a game! let’s see, how to add another layer to Aunt Jan’s present… A real surprise? A family symbol? Humor? Something that will last for years? There are many possibilities and even toddlers might come up with great (if perhaps odd) ideas (and the charming oddity would be one of the layers, of course!).

A family gift exchange that includes the children as givers and receivers

Family gift exchanges that I hear about usually mean “the adults draw names” and the kids get presents from everybody. I’m sure that’s fine with the kids! but I think the children should draw names too. Letting them rake in gifts from all and sundry without participating as givers takes something away from them… They don’t get to be a “special buddy” to their allotted loved one that’s the fun part of this giving arrangement, that this one gift can really be given some attention. And it’s a great way for a child to learn the nuances of gift giving (i.e., sharing themselves with the recipients).

And the gifts given to children might allow them to share with pleasure…

A group game. A promise of a popcorn and movie slumber party. Chocolate chips and walnuts to take to Granna’s house for a cookie baking session. A pinata. Stationery. A kit for making crafts as gifts. Vegetable seeds for a garden, the output of which is to be shared with a homeless shelter. A prepaid calling card to be used for calls to Grandpa.
What a nice tradition, if at least one of a child’s presents is sure to be a sharing gift.

Sharing with the critters around us…

Whether as the focal point of a party or just in a family setting, remembering the wild things during the holidays can be a delight. I know, they don’t know it’s Hannukah or Christmas… But isn’t the point of the holiday to focus on our blessings? Surely one of them is that there are so many wonderful creatures we share this world with.
Children love to put out food and decorations for the birds, squirrels, etc.! Have a blast making edible garlands and ornaments for an outdoor tree (or apartment balcony). And perhaps you won’t forget to fill a stocking for the dog or cat?

Finally, why do we decorate our homes and property with lights and other gaiety?

It gives us pleasure every time we come home, but it gives to the whole neighborhood as well. (Surely you’ve made sure your kids don’t think that you put up all those house decorations in competition with the neighbors.

One of the most wonderful holiday treats of my past was the years I lived on a country road where there were no lights… except during the month leading up to New Year’s. Then, a family with several acres along the twisty road wound little white lights around trees all along it driving past their house at night was like entering fairyland! I never met these benefactors, but I blessed them each time I went by, my spirits lifted.

Sharing does give back to the giver…

but sometimes kids (we all) need nudging to see the opportunities for the sowing and reaping thereof. Incorporating a few into the end of the year festivities is a great way to make the holidays more meaningful for everyone.

Sherry Gordon is the author of The Sharing Season: Ideas for a Frugal, Meaningful Holiday http://www.thesharingseason.com. (10% of the profits go to the American Red Cross.) She lives and writes in the Idaho backcountry and is the developer of the websites www.ThinkJointVenture.com, www.AffiliatePrimer.com, and
www.AlternativePetHealth.com.

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9 Common Holiday Dangers and How To Avoid Disaster

As we all know many accidents happen in the home all year round, but at this time of year when there are often more people than usual in the house and we are more likely to be distracted by a friend dropping in or a phone call from a distant relative, it is more important than ever to take the extra care to ensure a safe and happy Christmas for our families and friends.

Christmas Trees

These soon become a fire hazard once they are drying out. Keep your tree in one of the specially designed containers that you can keep topped up with water, and be sure to place it well away from your heat source and from major traffic routes through your house. Cutting a couple of inches of the bottom of the trunk just before you take it indoors will help it take up water and stay fresh longer.

Candles

As pretty as they are, candles cause many house fires at this time of year. Keep candles well away from fresh or artificial Christmas trees and from hanging or draping decorations, curtains, table cloths, toys and most importantly, children. Never light real candles on a Christmas tree.

Cigarettes

Cigarettes frequently start house fires. If you or your guests are going to be smoking make sure that there are plenty of deep and solid ashtrays around. After a party or family gathering have a thorough search behind furniture, down the sides and between the cushions of sofas and in waste baskets for any carelessly discarded cigarette ends that could be smouldering there and start a fire later Make sure that the contents of ashtrays are completely safe before emptying. Do not allow your guests to smoke in bed.

Fragranced Oil Burners

Another item that has become very popular recently, but can be dangerous if not used sensibly. Make sure that they are topped up with water, not left unattended and in a place where they cannot be knocked over by children or pets. They can also get very hot at the base, I know someone who left one on top of their television and it melted the casing.

Electrical Safety

At this time of year especially it is very easy to overload your electrical system. Try not to use extension leads and adaptor plugs, ideally each appliance should be plugged into it’s own socket. Check for frayed or damaged wires on your seasonal electrical items. Outside lights look lovely but can be a hazard to your visitors if they have not been installed correctly. Have them checked by a qualified electrician if you are not 100% sure of their safety.

Smoke Alarms

Test all your smoke alarms before the holidays and buy in spare batteries. It has been well documented that smoke alarms really do save lives so if you know someone who doesn’t have alarms in their home, especially housebound or elderly relatives, wouldn’t that be a fabulous gift from you to them, especially if you could arrange for installation too.

Heating

Keep portable heaters at least three feet away from any combustible items such as furniture, curtains etc. and well away from doorways and traffic routes. Be aware that the casings of some of these heaters can get hot to the touch and would burn a child or elderly person if they fell against it.

Poisons

Be very careful about plants and berries that children may put into their mouths, especially if they have fallen from the plant. Also be vigilant about leaving alcohol where young children could copy adults and drink it. Remember that perfumes and aftershaves are poisons too but could look very appealing to children.

Cooking

While the kitchen is at it’s busiest pay extra attention to safety issues. Do not wear loose clothing around the stove, especially loose or wide sleeves. Use oven mitts to move hot food and keep work surfaces clear so that you always have a space to put hot dishes down safely. Keep knives well away from children and be especially careful that they cannot get to kettles and kettle leads. Turn cooking pot handles away and try to use only the back burners while there are children around.

Unfortunately it only takes a moment’s carelessness to turn a happy family gathering into a tragedy, but if we are all aware of the dangers we should be able to have a very happy and a very safe Christmas too.
Happy Christmas to you all!

© Colleen Moulding
For lots of ideas for Christmas food, decorating, carols, games, printable wish lists, table name cards and a Santa letter to print out for your children see Christmas – All Wrapped Up! Colleen’s new ebook available from her popular web site http://www.allthatwomenwant.com an online magazine, web directory and free monthly ezine for women everywhere.

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Fathers and Holidays

This year, it’s going to be different. Like many fathers, I’ve felt a bit disconnected from the holiday season. It’s not that I don’t buy my presents and help with decorations. And it’s not that I don’t spend some wonderful time with my kids. It’s something deeper than that.

My eight-year-old daughter ran up to me the other day with great excitement and anticipation. “This Christmas is going to be the best ever!’ she shouted. I marvelled at her excitement, and I wished I could match her enthusiasm. She’d already found the spirit of the holidays, while I was mired in “things that I must to do.” The list was long. This holiday season, I’d be buying presents, coordinating family visits, updating lists and writing cards, doing decorations outside the house and in, volunteering, running a business, etc. etc.

There are times when it all seems like too much.

Fathers (and males in general) have a tendency to focus on goals. Rather than looking at the “big picture” of the holidays, we break things down into “what tasks need to be accomplished.” When one task is done, we move on to the next. And while this style does get some things accomplished, it reduces our capacity to capture the “spirit” of the holidays. The result is that many fathers have a sense of being on the periphery” of their families during the holidays. The tasks are done, but the spirit isn’t captured.

This scenario mirrors what happens to many fathers in their families-they feel outside of the “emotional core” of the family, and aren’t able to experience the depth of warmth, closeness, and love they want. They don’t have the skills of “emotional intelligence” that women have been learning from a very early age. And this dilemma is further complicated by the fact that fathers are working longer hours than ever before. According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 1,978 hours per year, or a full nine weeks more that the average Western European. Thirty-eight percent of fathers reported that they usually worked fifty or more hours per week.

It’s easy to see why fathers can have a difficult time capturing the spirit of the holidays.

And while this may be a challenging dilemma for fathers, there are a number of things that fathers can do to enrich their experience this holiday season:

  • Shift your thinking away from a “things to do” mentality to a “what does the family need this holiday” mentality. See things with a wider lens. Give this approach a week and see what happens.
  • Volunteer to help someone in need this holiday. Take the kids and spend time enriching the life of someone who needs it. There’s no greater way to capture the spirit of the holidays than being of service to others. And your kids will experience something they’ll never forget.
  • Do something this holiday that you haven’t done before. Bake some holiday cookies or create your own cards to send out. Expanding your creative skills can help you to “receive” the spirit of the holidays.
  • Simply choose to have more joy, openness, and spirit this holiday. After all, most of it is choice! And, your kids are watching you very closely!

I crept up behind my daughter and tackled her, pinning her down onto the couch. “We’re going to have an amazing Christmas this year, you’re right!’ I told her. “What do you want your Christmas to be like?” She sat up and began to tell me all the things she wanted to do for Christmas, and about all the presents she wanted. I sat there with her and listened, forgetting all of the work and the errands that had been on my mind most of the day. She could sense that I was right there with her as she spoke.

And as I sat there listening to her, I felt like a spark of the holiday spirit was already on its way.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is a relationship coach. He is the author of “25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers” http://www.markbrandenburg.com/father.htm For a FREE ecourse for fathers, articles, and a FREE bi-weekly newsletter, “Dads, Don’t Fix Your Kids,” go to http://www.markbrandenburg.com.

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Frugal Holiday Fun with Kids!

With the holidays just around the corner, why not try out some new crafts with the children? You might just start a new tradition at the same time!

SCENTED CINNAMON CUTOUTS
Place these anywhere, they are like potpourri.

10 tbsp. hot applesauce
5 oz. cinnamon
You can use other spices too (ginger, allspice, etc.), or combine them. Mix together, if dry add more sauce. If wet, add more spice. Makes a great non-sticky dough. Very workable. Sprinkle work area with spice and rolling pin. Roll dough 1/4″ thick.

Cut into desired shapes. Holiday shapes, houses, ginger people, apples, bears, hearts, etc.

For Ornaments:
Use a straw to poke a little hole on top. Place cut outs on a screen. Let dry 6 to 7 days.
Or dry in warm oven for 3 or 4 hours. Almost feels like driftwood. Paint if you wish.

Be creative.
Example: Ginger people.
Use white dimentional paint, looks like icing. Glue ribbon to them, hang them up in a favorite spot.
Glue magnets on back. Personalize ornaments. Use mini cutters, make gift tags.

SNOW ICE CREAM

1 egg, beaten slightly
1/2 c. sugar
Pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. milk
Mix well. Stir in enough clean fresh snow to make it about the consistency of homemade ice cream.
Makes about 4 quarts.

MARSHMALLOW SNOWMAN

Cut strip of fruit leather for scarf. Gently push a pretzel stick through 2 marshmallows.
Wrap scarf around end of pretzel. Add another marshmallow for head. Use another pretzel to attach gumdrop hat. Make face with cloves and rolled fruit leather.
Make arms with pretzels and mini-marshmallows.

You can also just stack the marshmallows and use edible pens to draw the snowman’s features and decorations.

DECORATOR BAGS

1 plain brown bag
Sponge
Acrylic paint(s)
Hole puncher
Twine or curling ribbon
Take a plain brown bag and a sponge cut into any shape. Using acrylic paints, decorate bag. Get creative!

Allow to dry and then turn down a couple of inches at the top and use a hole puncher and punch two holes about 2″ apart. Use either packing twine or curling ribbon through the holes and tie a bow.  Makes a really cute country bag that is fun and inexpensive and easy to do.

You can also use a stencil and stencil a design on the bag. This is fun for children since they can
design it themselves! Can be used to give cookies or candies or gifts other than food items.

MY FIRST TERRARIUM

Large (32 oz.) plastic drink bottles, empty
2 or 3 sm. plants
Artificial flowers or bugs
Sticks
Small stones
Potting soil
Soak the bottle in very warm water for a few minutes. Then empty it, pull off the colored bottom part and peel off the label. Clean the glue out of the bottom part.
Put a layer of small rocks in the bottom part. Put potting soil over the rocks and then put in your plants. Be sure to press the roots of the plants down. Add more soil around your plants to fill the planter.

Arrange pretty stones, tiny sticks, or tiny toy animals around the plants. Use a sharp knife to cut the top off the clear part of the bottle (about 4″ from the cap). Turn the clear part upside down. Slip the cut edges into the planter to make a dome top.
You can glue an artificial flower or bug to the dome for decoration.
Note: If you can’t find a drink bottle that has the colored reinforced bottom, just use a regular one and use your sharp knife to cut off the bottom. Spray paint it and follow the rest of the directions above.

CHRISTMAS SPONGE ART WRAPPING PAPER

White paper
Scissors
Dry sponge
Ballpoint pen
Water colors (red & green)
Draw a yuletide motif on white paper. Then cut out and place on a dry sponge (one with tiny holes in the sponge are the best). Then trace the pattern with your ballpoint pen and cut out the shape. (Parents will need to help with these steps).

Then, dip in paint, squeeze excess paint out and blot onto either plain white or solid colored wrapping paper. You can stamp each sponge several times before re-dipping in the paint. This even dresses up plain newspaper wrapping! Great for any time of the year!

SALT DOUGH ORNAMENTS

2 c. flour
1 c. salt
1 c. water
Mix all thoroughly. Add 1 tablespoon of water if dough is dry. Knead 5 minutes. Shape. Poke a small paper clip in back of ornaments. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Smooth rough edges with wet knife before baking. Bake at 250 degrees for 2 hours.
Paint with acrylic paints or Testor’s paints (model paint). Coat with clear shellac.

IDEAS: Braid dough and make into wreath. Decorate with ribbon and dried flowers.
Make into holiday ornaments; snowman, santa, etc. Use utensils, garlic press, fork, knives, toothpicks to make designs.
Cyndi Roberts is the editor of the “1 Frugal Friend 2 Another” bi-weekly newsletter and founder of the website of the same name. Visit http://www.cynroberts.com to find creative tips, articles, and a free e-cooking book. Subscribe to the newsletter and receive the free e-course “Taming the Monster Grocery Bill”.

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Making Baby’s First Christmas a Safe Christmas

Baby’s first Christmas is undeniably a special occasion. There’s something about a baby in the home that makes this family-oriented holiday magical again for jaded adults. But keeping baby safe over the holidays may require a little extra vigilance. As family protector and guardian, your family relies on you to keep everyone safe. Here are some holiday safety tips to make your job easier.

If your baby is a newborn, you’ve probably already provided adequately for his or her safety. As long as you’re putting him to sleep on his back, and protecting him from the elements while travelling, there’s little else you need to do that you’re not already doing. But if your infant is approaching her first birthday – and especially if she’s an early bloomer who is already toddling – you’ll need to take a few extra precautions this season.

Danger in plain sight: Holiday greenery

For starters, keep live holiday plants either out of the home or out of reach. Mistletoe and holly berries are toxic, and toddlers are notoriously curious about anything new, especially anything visually attractive. Holly leaves are certainly festive, but they’re also armed with sharp spikes that can injure an infant’s tender skin. If you want to “deck the halls” be sure to keep these glossy evergreens well out of reach. Likewise, although mistletoe has ancient roots in mid-winter celebrations, its berries may be fatal if consumed. Don’t risk it.

Contrary to popular belief, commercially available poinsettias are not toxic. Any toxicity has long since been bred out of the hybrids found on modern store shelves. Nevertheless, their genetic forebears are somewhat toxic, hence the persistent misconception that these showy Christmas favorites pose a danger to curious infants and hungry pets. If your child is caught with a mouthful of poinsettia, don’t panic. Simply wash out the mouth and remove the offending plant to an out-of-reach location.

Other toxic plants that seem to appear around the holidays include amaryllis, Jerusalem cherry and ornamental pepper plants. Avoid them or keep them well out of reach. It may be tempting to decorate with common yew, which is an ubiquitous evergreen shrub in the suburban landscape, but the red berries (and especially the leaves) are highly toxic. Although yew somewhat resembles pine, the two are unrelated. Which brings us to the ever-popular Christmas tree.

O Tannenbaum

Christmas trees sold in the United States generally include the firs, pines and spruces. Although none are inherently toxic, needles may choke a baby, or puncture delicate tissues. Take special care if your mobile infant is apt to put anything in his mouth. With its lights and shiny ornaments, a decorated Christmas tree is likely to prove irresistible to your toddler. Trees should be kept out of baby’s reach. Otherwise, be ready to keep a hawk’s eye on baby’s every move from the moment the tree goes up. An accessible tree poses a real danger. Curious infants are apt to grab hold of low branches, possibly bringing the entire tree down on their tender heads. And delicate glass ornaments may shatter easily, posing an obvious risk of laceration.

For our son’s first Christmas, we solved this dilemma by investing in a small live spruce. It perched on a table top – well out of reach, and high enough to fill the window. After the holidays we promptly planted it in our son’s honor. It will be fascinating to see how much it – and he – will have grown in 20 years. If a live tree is impractical for your yard or budget, you may want to consider scaling back the size of this year’s tree. I recommend buying a smaller one that will fit on a tabletop.

The alternative is to secure the tree with anchored guy wires. Keep your tree fresh by removing one to two inches from the bottom of the trunk immediately before placing it in water. Don’t forget to replenish water as needed. A fresh tree is less of a fire hazard than a parched tree. If you opt for an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled as “fire resistant”. Although not fireproof, a tree labeled resistant is safer than an unlabeled tree. Never use electric lights on a metal tree. Don’t laugh. They’re occasionally back in vogue, and new consumers of these retro “trees” may be unfamiliar with the tacky revolving light wheel used as an alternative light source.

Toys

Be sure to screen everything that comes down the chimney. Some of Santa’s toys may include small, sharp or breakable parts, and should be shown the door. Read labels and buy age-appropriate toys only. Avoid leaving plastic shopping bags or wrappings lying around. They may pose a suffocation risk.

Other dangers

Holiday decorating and parties may also harbor risks. If alcoholic beverages are to be served around baby, keep a sharp eye on curious hands and mouths. Alcohol is technically toxic to humans in general, but especially so (and in minute amounts) when inadvertently consumed by toddlers.

Babies should not be exposed to cigarette smoke. But if other guests at a party do smoke, be sure baby doesn’t swallow discarded cigarettes. Nicotine is also toxic, especially to infants.

If you take baby out on holiday visits, be sure to dress him or her appropriately. It’s often below freezing in much of the country at some time during the holidays, so avoid the risk of frostbite when taking baby outdoors.

Electric decorations, and especially lights, pose potential shock hazards. Check for frayed wires, poor connections or empty light sockets. Avoid overloading outlets, or using inadequate extension cords. Virtually any decoration may pose a choking hazard. Keep an eye out for small, loose pieces that may fall within baby’s reach. Obviously lighted candles should only be used where an infant can’t possibly get to them, and should never be allowed to burn unattended.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

by Dale Keifer

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Holiday Safety Checklist

Only weeks ago we were at the mall desperately seeking Halloween costumes when what to our astounded eyes appeared? No, not Santa and eight tiny reindeer, but it could have been. Actually, it was several department stores already garnished in their holiday wares! Yikes, we hadn’t even chosen an outfit for two nights away much less begun thinking about the holidays. So quick, take down the witch and the goblins and pull out your tinsel and mistletoe! But first, lets take a few moments before the hustle and bustle begins and turn our attention to toys, Santa and yummy treats. Often parents and caregivers give little thought to the dangers that lurk around the Christmas tree, in candy dishes and luggage of visiting family and friends. This year when preparing your home for the holidays or when welcoming travelling visitors be sure to:

Decorate your Christmas tree appropriately for your child’s age. Children who are still “mouthing” items may put ornaments in their mouths. Put glass bulbs, lights, tinsel and ornaments that are delicate or have removable parts out of reach. Remember that popcorn is a choking hazard for children under age 5. You could place the tree on top of a table (no table cloth) or put a safety fence around it. Designate a responsible adult to unplug all lights before bed time or leaving the house (blow out all candles (menorah) also). Last year the day after Christmas we read about at least six fires believed to be related to the Christmas tree or other flammable/electrical decorations. The homes were destroyed, but more tragically many lives were lost.

Resolve that some decorations may have to wait until next year. Depending on your child’s age you may have to keep your favorite decorations boxed this year or up high where they can’t reach them. Lori has one of those Santa’s that holds a light and plays various holiday tunes. Her son, who last year was one year old, could not keep his chubby little fingers off it, so rather than constantly harp about it, she opted to put it away. We’ll see how it goes this year.

Have visitors put luggage and purses up high where they can’t be reached. Often, grandparents carry medication in luggage; ask them to store it with your other medications (locked and out of reach).

Hard candies and nuts which are often set out for visitors are also choking hazards for children under age 5.

Holiday meal preparation needs special attention too. Designate one adult to keep all children out of the kitchen. With heavy dishes and hot pots of water, knives and turkeys being moved around, this is not the place for a little one to be visiting. Many children suffer permanent scars from being burned with scalding water. Empty alcohol from abandoned glasses so little ones won’t be tempted to drink from them.

Nobody knows how advanced our children are as we do. They are by far the most intelligent creatures ever birthed. Regardless of your feelings about your child’s intelligence and abilities, it’s best to stick with toys that are age appropriate for your child or any child you’re buying for. Check out the age recommendations on the packaging to be sure your child falls in that range. That number is determined based on several factors, one of which is safety. Many times we are tempted to buy things that are beyond our child’s age, because those toys appear to be more fun (let’s face it, the kid will have more fun playing with the box and wrapping than the actual gift), however, a majority of toys for children over three come with lots of little pieces that are a danger to infants and toddlers.

Now is a good time to check your batteries in your smoke detectors and to also check the status of your fire extinguisher (do you actually know what to do with it if a fire occurs?)

A little forethought, mixed with a dash of paranoia will keep you in good stead this holiday season. Now ask yourself, in regards to preparing a safe home for your children during the holidays, have you been naughty or nice?

Visit The Paranoid Sisters at www.paranoidsisters.com. Send questions or comments to sisters@paranoidsisters.com.

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10 Ways to Keep Your Expectations From Making You Crazy This Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time! Everyone is full of good cheer, the milk of human kindness and 20 pounds of candy. All gifts are given with love, are exactly the right size, are exactly the right color, or exactly the right thing for exactly the price you could afford. Right?

Well, if YOUR Christmas seems to fall short every year, here are some ways to keep your sanity and enjoy the unexpected joys that the season brings.

1. News Flash! You are not perfect! Nor is your family! Give up the myth that they should be!

2. Don’t make the season complicated! Simplify! While elaborate decorations may appeal to your decorating ego, putting them up takes time and energy that may be best spent elsewhere
this Christmas.

3. Everything doesn’t have to be homemade. Pies, cakes and cookies are perfectly acceptable if they are bought at a bakery. And your children just might celebrate if you decide not to make that knitted scarf this year!

4. Relax. Take time out from the hustle and bustle to just sit with a cup of tea or cocoa and read. Or take a long hot bath. If you take some time for yourself, you will be better able to cope with the holiday chaos.

5. Let other people pitch in. You are not the only one who can do Christmas! Ask someone to do tasks you usually do, such as make the eggnog or cookies. And then LET THEM DO IT – even if they don’t do it just the way you want! Don’t constantly look over their shoulder.

6. Don’t make the season an ordeal for your children by expecting perfect behavior. Children can easily be overloaded with the food, sights, expectations and social whirlwind of the season. Again, simplify for their sake — and yours!

7. If you can afford to hire a cleaning service before company comes for Christmas, do it! Give it to yourself as a Christmas present! You will enjoy the season more because you won’t be worn out from scrubbing that tile with a toothbrush!

8. If you can’t afford to pay cash for a gift, wait until next year to buy it. Save for the gift in the meantime. The short term thrill of buying the gift will be more than overpowered by the struggle to pay it off months into the new year.

9. Get out of the house and walk when you begin to feel stress. It will help you calm down and keep off those extra pounds. And it will give your family a break from you!

10. Don’t do guilt – to yourself and others. Don’t use your expectations of the season as a weapon against your friends and family. Enjoy what comes this season. It may not be what you expected – it may be better!

And remember – love doesn’t come wrapped in paper, or tied with a bow. You can’t get it for $19.95 if you call now or for two easy payments of only… you name the price. But love is but in the corners of a small child’s smile, the twinkle of a father’s eye or the drape of an arm across your shoulder. If you are expecting something else, you just might fail to recognise it! How crazy!

 

Pamela Cole Harris is an editor and writer with 35 years experience. Visit her website, http://www.homeandgardenmakeover.com, for her unique view of home decorating and remodeling (and a free monthly newsletter!). Or for original content unique to your website, written especially for your keywords and your audience, visit http://www.pamelacoleharris.com

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Tree Decorations the Kids Can Make

In so many homes Christmas decorating is taken entirely away from the children. Some parents may set up a small tree hidden away in the childs room or basement and allow the child to decorate it. I find this very sad. What kind of memory does this leave the child with-one of feeling that their contribution to the festivities does not matter or that their ornaments are not “good enough” in turn making them feel bad about themselves or maybe one that lets them believe that store bought decorations are better than homemade ones which in turn just drives home the commercialisation of Christmas.

In my home we have an Angel on top of the tree that my son made and colored in kindergarten and other decorations he has made and this year we will add more from him and my 2 year old daughter. We do have store-bought lights and some ball ornaments but we also plan to string cranberries and popcorn and make more decorations. Our tree may not look perfect to those who are set on perfection but our tree is perfect in the fact that it is decorated with love as a family.

Here are some ideas if you and your children would like to make some decorations (and memories) for your tree.

Salt Dough Ornaments

2 cups All -Purpose Flour
1 Cup Salt
1 Cup cold Water
Mix together slowly until you get the mixture the consistency you want it (like a cookie dough) You may need to add more water/flour as needed.
Then roll out thin, like a cookie dough and cut shapes with cookie cutters and paint .Be sure to make a hole for hanging by using a straw before letting them harden.
Let them air dry. You may need to turn them over occasionally.

Paper Chain Garland

Simply cut strips of red and green construction paper and fold in a circle and tape or staple and then add another strip through that loop and keep going until you have the length you prefer.

Sandpaper Ornaments

Cut sandpaper into a holiday shape and then let your children rub cinnamon sticks over the sandpaper shape. Punch a hole for adding ribbon to hang on the tree.

Cinnamon Sticks

This is really simple. Just tie ribbon around cinnamon sticks and tie on your tree branches.

Felt Gingerbread People

Another simple one is make a gingerbread man template and make outlines on brown felt and cut them out and let the kids decorate with paints, glitter, markers, buttons, rick rack,etc.

Angela Billings is a stay at home wife and mother who publishes an online newsletter Home and Family Weekly. http://www.homeandfamilyweekly.com

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Got Kids? Holiday Decor with Safety in Mind

Do you wonder how you’re going to safely decorate for the upcoming holidays with preschoolers in your home? Here are some kid-friendly ideas to help you create a festive home during this special season.

– Put away the glass baubles and expensive Nativity sets. There will be time to enjoy those again later, when your precious little ones are older. For now, focus on materials that are child-tough; wood and fabric are good choices. There are some beautiful wooden Nativities available. Or fill a wicker basket with holiday-colored wooden balls.

– Stuffed fabric shapes can also fit beautifully into a holiday decor yet stand up to busy little hands. Think stars, balls, candy canes, and bells. Add bits of ribbon for interest, sewing on securely. An artificial tabletop tree with only fabric balls can be a great distraction (with supervision) from other more fragile decor.

– You can still indulge in those lovely swags, wreaths and stained glass beauties. Just think ‘up’ and put  those more fragile items high above your children’s reach.

– Dress up existing baskets with holiday liners and bows.

– Create a holiday zoo. Use stuffed animals, clothed in festive finery and holiday bows or hats. A wooden train will complete the look. Check all items for small pieces that might come off and cause choking.

– Set up a lovely holiday ‘tea party’ on a coffee or end table. Use an ornate plastic tea set that you won’t mind picking up again and again!

– A darling collection of holiday-dressed bears perched on colorful miniature chairs makes a happy barrier to packages beneath the tree. It’s not foolproof, of course, but the bears may slow curious toddlers and give you more time to reach those little hands before they can reach the packages!

Holiday decorating with little ones in the house doesn’t have to mean forgoing a festive home OR saying ‘no, don’t touch’ all the time. With some simple adjustments your home can be a joyful and lovely place to teach your small children the extraordinary meaning of this enduring season.

Colleen Langenfeld offers helpful ideas to busy working moms. Use the resources at http://www.paintedgold.com to make your life as a mom feel easier, healthier, and better!

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Make Christmas Gift Wrap With Kids

Christmas is coming! We all know what that means….a busy time for families & lots of presents to wrap. If you are looking for a fun craft idea for your children – why not make Christmas gift wrap with them? They will have fun making it, and then can wrap their gifts for friends and family in it! Some of these craft ideas are suited for younger children, and others will appeal to older children.

It is best to use either white or brown craft paper, this can be found at just about any large craft store. When making gift wrap paper with kids, be sure to protect the surface they are working on with newspaper or even an old plastic tablecloth. Have the kids wear an old t-shirt over their clothes, or “art clothes” they always do projects in.

Each of these crafts can also be adapted to make holiday cards, another fun craft idea. You can buy blank cards at the craft store. During the holidays you can also find blank cards not only in white and ivory, but very often in red and green.

Potato Stamps – this is a great craft for younger or older children. You will need several (clean) potatoes of a good size, a sharp knife (parent should be using), a ballpoint pen, craft paint in different colors and brown or white craft paper. Younger children will need help deciding on a design, such as an ornament or a star to make patterns with on their paper. Cut the potato in half and then draw the outline with the ballpoint pen. Then (parent) cut out using the knife. Test stamper on your newsprint or a piece of paper, if you like the design then give it to the child to stamp all over the paper.
Older children will have fun making more complicated designs with potato stamps. If you make a star potato stamp and then a triangle potato stamp you can make Christmas trees with stars on the top of them. Or if you cut a long diamond shape and a small circle, by stamping the diamonds in a circle, you can make poinsettia flowers. Cutting a wider diamond and wider circles, stamping the diamonds in a circle, you can make a Christmas wreath design. Or make stamping letters, such as “H – O” to make Santa’s famous “HO HO HO” as gift wrap! Again, most children should be helped with the knife because we all know just how slippery a potato can be!

Commercial Stamps – there are lots of these at holiday times, and they aren’t too expensive. You can find stamps at the art store that can be dunked in paint. There are also stamps that come with their own holder full of ink. These can be a fun craft for younger or even older children. Remember to read labels, as some inks are toxic, and young children should not be using them, as they are still putting so many things in their mouths. (If a craft does not say “non-toxic, it probably is toxic, so be safe!)

Stickers – this is a great craft for young children. Pick out a package of Christmas stickers. Then help your child create a design on the paper with them. This is an easy craft for young children to do, and even older children can have fun with this.

Painted – paint Christmas themes pictures on your paper. Big and bold designs! Try using coloured paper to start too.

Candy Cane Paint Wrap – this is an easy painting gift wrap for most children. Young children can do this with a little supervision. You will make red and white candy canes on gift wrap paper. Use a pencil to first make suggestion marks for where candy canes should go. Candy canes can be painted with one short red stripe and then a short white stripe, like this all the way to the top. Continue until paper is full of candy canes.

Repeat a Holiday Message – this is a great craft to do use crayons or markers. Fun for children who are just learning their letters and to write. Have your child think of a holiday message, such as:
I Believe In Santa, Merry Christmas, Jesus Is The Reason For The Season, Peace, Love & Joy. Repeat the holiday greeting all over the paper using different color markers or crayons each time the child writes it.

Abigail Beal © 2004 Abigail Beal a.k.a. “the Gift-wrap Goddess” is the author of 2 ezines: GiftWrapGoddessWraps and CreativeCraftsTeachers. To subscribe:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CreativeCraftsTeachers/
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GiftWrapGoddessWraps/