Christmas Countdown C -13

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Keeping Kids Happy during the Holidays

Shaunna Privratsky

The radio plays continuous Christmas music.  The stores suddenly sprout six extra rows of decorations and triple their ads.  Tension builds into a frenzy of buying.   For many of us, the holidays herald feelings of dread.  Did you know that kids can get stressed out by the holidays, too?

Children of all ages anticipate special occasions.  Some have built up the fantasy of a “perfect” Christmas so much that they are in for a big disappointment when the day finally arrives.  As parents, we can do a lot to help kids have a great holiday season full of memorable moments.

Stop the stress with some of these simple strategies.  First of all, sit down and make a list, preferably with your child.  List all the activities your family does and maybe some new ideas, also.  Now look at each item and ask these questions.

1.  Are there some traditions your family has outgrown or no longer appreciates?  We used to visit Santa’s village every year, but last year both children decided they were too old.  We still went and enjoyed a horse-drawn hayride, though.

2.  Are you too meticulous in your decorating?  Kids love to get in on decorating, so put on some cheerful holiday music and let them help. 

3.  Can you spend less on gifts?  Before you step foot in a mall, decide on a reasonable budget.  Make kids a part of it by having them choose one to five things they really want, and then surprise them. 

4.  Can you skip some events or obligations?  If driving six hours to Aunt Millie’s house every year brings groans of dismay and relentless squabbling in the car, why not invite her to your house?

5.  Could you assemble store-bought bakery goods instead of baking? You can get the whole family involved in making fancy cookie trays, even if you don’t bake them yourselves.  An easy idea is to arrange assorted cookies or treats on a fancy paper plate, wrap in cellophane and tie with a festive ribbon.  Attach tags with “Assembled with love” or other cute sayings.

6. How do you keep boredom at bay?  Children usually get a long break from school.  The trouble comes when too many hours of free time overwhelm them.  They quickly tire of all their new toys and gifts and you are faced with grumpy kids.  One idea is to put them to work.  Instead of waiting until January, have them help un-decorate the house.  Offer incentives and rewards.  You can also schedule fun activities, but don’t overdo it. 

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7.  Have you heard the saying that visiting relatives are like fish?  Nice when they’re fresh, but they start to stink after too many days.  Try to schedule shorter holiday visits and provide some familiar toys and games to keep kids occupied.  Renting movies is an inexpensive activity that all ages will enjoy.

8. Give the gift of time.  Most children would rather spend some fun time with their family than get heaps of over-priced presents.  Schedule some “down” time and just have fun with your kids.

9.  Help kids focus on the spirit of giving, instead of getting.  When they start to experience the joy of helping others, they will truly understand the reason for the season.

A lot of stress is caused by unrealistic expectations.  Remembering past holidays through the rose-tinted glasses of memory can leave your family feeling flat or disappointed when events don’t measure up.  Relax!  Plan doable activities that everyone can participate in and even if a few things go wrong, your attitude is 90% of the battle.  Years later, it is the “disasters” that we  recall with a chuckle or a groan, not the uneventful days.

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Kids aren’t the only ones that get stressed out over the holidays.  Are you filled with excitement, brimming with plans, or do you stay awake at night, worried about money, menus and meddling family members?  Avoid these common holiday problems by planning ahead and you’ll be ringing in the New Year with smiles instead of frowns.

1. Bulging Budgets – Gift lists a mile long, rising gas and grocery prices, party supplies, postage, decorations; everything costs more at Christmastime.  Keep your budget in check by reining in spending and planning ahead.  Try to spread out your gift buying over several paychecks, to ease the strain on your wallet.  Pare down your gift list to just the kids, or draw names for extended family members.

2. No room at the Inn – All the relatives want to visit, but you have nowhere to put them!  Instead of turning them away, pick up some inexpensive air mattresses.  These make incredibly comfortable beds, especially on top of flat surfaces like a futon or Klick-Klack sofa.  They even make old-fashioned sleeper sofas actually comfortable!  Deflated, the air beds take up a tiny amount of space until the next visit.  Spruce up your decor with fresh pillows, seasonal decorations and scented candles.  The Dollar Store is filled with clever and useful items that only look expensive.

3. Don’t go cold turkey!  Have you ever forgotten to unthaw the turkey?  Start three days before by placing the bird in the refrigerator.  Use an oven bag with a tablespoon of flour, in a drip-free pan for fool-proof cooking.  Bake for 3 1/2 hours at 325 degrees, then let sit for 1/2 hour before carving.  Some grocery stores even offer unthawed birds, but at a premium price.  You could also serve several smaller Cornish game hens, which cook up in a fraction of the time, provides plenty of legs for the kids and has less clean up afterwards.   

4.  Multiple Menus.  What if one of your guests is a vegetarian or needs a no-salt diet?  The best thing is to plan ahead.  Ask the person to provide menus or bring some of their own food.  You can be accommodating, but don’t become a slave to someone else’s lifestyle.  Another solution would be to eat out, where there are plenty of options for the pickiest eaters.

5. Don’t get caught in the breakdown lane – Keep your ride rolling with regular oil changes and maintenance.  Jiffy Lube offers free computer checks if your red Service Engine Soon light comes on, and also checks your tire pressure for free.  The proper inflation is printed on the inside jamb of the driver’s door.  Inflating tires slightly higher helps with traction in heavy snow, and also improves gas mileage.   

If you do need service, try to call around for the best rates or even bring in coupons.  Most stations will price match or work with you on a payment plan.

6. Don’t go postal – Do your shipping as early as possible.  Each day you delay makes the prices go up and the lines get longer.  Online shoppers have an advantage: free shipping on holiday gifts at most online retailers.  You can ship the item right to the recipient, cutting out the costly middleman.

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7. The weather outside is frightful – holiday traveling can be as perilous as Santa’s sleigh in a blizzard.  Invest in trip insurance so if Nature messes up your plan, you can get a refund or rebook without costly fees. It is better to be safe than sorry; so allow plenty of time for travel and arrive alive.  Also, it pays to have a Plan B, because we all know how fast our plans can go awry.

8. Meddling Relatives – The holidays often bring the whole family together, along with old grudges, nosy questions and uncomfortable topics of conversation.  Instead of being the Grinch, use these clever coping strategies for getting out of uncomfortable moments:

a. Say, “Thank you for your input” to criticism. 

b. Or, “That’s a difficult subject I would rather not discuss.”

c. Stick to “safe” topics; the weather, the food, sports.

d. Practice avoidance.  “Oh, I forgot something in the car.”  Or step outside for a breath of fresh air.  Or you can always hide in the bathroom until the dessert course.

Not all of these ideas will apply to you and your family.  The key is to prioritize your list and only do the things that add to your happiness.  So this year, take a deep breath and vow to eliminate stress.  Give yourself permission for a smaller to-do list.  The holiday season is not about how much you get done, but about the warmth of the spirit and the love of family and friends.  Make this your family’s happiest holiday ever!

Shaunna Privratsky is a full time author. She lives in North Dakota with her family and is happily looking forward to a new year. Visit The Discount Diva at http://shaunna67.tripod.com/id21.html

Christmas Countdown C -14

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Holiday Open Office

Twice, I have had jobs that were very intense during the holiday season.  The number of hours I needed to spend at work made it impossible for me to either attend or host any holiday parties  This was very painful for me since I love both Christmas and entertaining.  I finally realized the long hours spent at work did not mean I could not celebrate the holidays.   If I had to spend the holiday season at work, then I would hold the party at work.  Instead of hosting an open house, hold an open office! 

I designed a celebration that would not cause me any additional stress.  My goal was to enhance my holiday joy and the joy of my co-workers.  I began by decorating my office for the holidays, including a small tabletop tree complete with lights.  I set up a narrow four foot table and covered it with a paper tablecloth.  I bought more than one tablecloth in case so I had replacements when one was stained or torn.  I brought in my holiday platters, baskets and bowls for my serving dishes and added green and red paper napkins, cups and plates.

During the holidays, so much of the food brought in to share at work is very sweet and high calorie.  We tend not to eat well during the last few weeks of December.  I decided to offer more substantial food.  The buffet featured chips, salsa, dip, crackers, a variety of cheeses, cookies, and sparkling cider. As you see, I did include a few sweet items to round the selection out.

I bought most of the items for the small buffet, making only one or two things myself.  I bought enough food to last 3-4 days, holding back a few fresh items for each day so the food did not look picked over by the last day.  I was able to set everything up in 10-15 minutes and it took about the same amount of time to clean everything up before I went home. 

I turned on Christmas music, opened the door wide and invited anyone who wandered by to enjoy the buffet.  While the open office will never win first prize in a Holiday Party competition, it helps reduce stress and increase joy during a busy time of year at work.

Suggested Buffet Items:

Cheese Platter

• Brie

• Herbed Brie

• Cheddar

• Gouda

• Smoked Edam

• Cheese Ball

Crackers

• Wheat

• Rye

• Club

• Pepper

Assorted Nuts

Tortilla Chips

Dips

• Salsa

• Guacamole

• Dill Dip*

• Spinach Dip

• Shrimp Dip

• Crab Dip

Cake Platter

(I purchase specialty loaf cakes at an import store)

• Amaretto

• Rum

• Pumpkin/Cranberry Bread

• Banana Bread

Small Plate of Chocolate Seashells

Platter of Assorted Cookies

Sparkling Cider

Dill Dip

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 2 teaspoons dill
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion

Mix. Chill. Serve in bread bowl with the pieces of bread taken out of the bowl.

Classic Christmas Podcast: The Simple Joy of Holiday Baking Part 2

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Christmas & baking go together like hands in gloves. There are so many delicious things you can bake for your family or friends that it can be hard to know where to begin. Of course, time can be so short during the busy holiday season that it might be difficult to find the time to do any baking at all. You could always buy your Holiday goodies but that can be very expensive. What’s a Mother to do?

Jean Ann & Simple Joy to the rescue. This week, Jean Ann offers you tips, ideas & recipes to help simplify your Holiday baking. Continue your Holiday baking tradition or begin a new tradition in your family when you make Holiday baking a Simple Joy!

Christmas Countdown C -21

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Baking

I LOVE to bake, especially at Christmas. At one time, I made myself a little crazy trying to get all my Christmas baking done. I baked dozens of cookies, giving them out to friends, whether they wanted them or not!

Now I am more relaxed about my baking. I still make dozens of cookies but most of them are for my family AND I have found easier ways to bake, like my fabulous cake mix cookies!

However, I do make some cookies from scratch & when I do, I make sure I keep my stress level low by following a few simple steps:

  1. Make a List: I make one list of the types of cookies I want to make. Then I make a list of the ingredients I need to create these cookies. Then I check the grocery ads to see who has the best prices on the things I need.
  2. Make a Check: Inventory your pantry to make sure you have the things you think you have! You might think you have plenty of sugar only to find out you already used that extra bag of sugar that was hidden in the back of the pantry;
  3. Make Certain: Be sure your seldom used ingredients are fresh. If you only use nutmeg for your Christmas baking, you may need to buy some fresh nutmeg. Same for things like baking soda & baking powder. Your baking may not turn out the way you hope if these two items are not fresh.
  4. Make a Trip: Head to the store to get what you need. Making one trip to get everything insures you have what you need when the baking mood strikes.

Holiday baking is a great family tradition. I learned to love baking when I would help my mom make cookies every year. And when I became a mom, I taught Katy my simple tips for great cookie making. A simple joy that is enjoyed generation to generation, year to year!

Holiday Decor that Lasts from Thanksgiving to Christmas

I love decorating my home for various holidays & seasons throughout the year. Sometimes, this can be difficult when time is short. How wonderful is it then when BHG comes up with decorations that take you through Thanksgiving & on into Christmas. Not only does this save time but it also saves money. Afraid you might get bored with the decorations? Just add a few seasonal touches to perk things right up!

Holiday Decor that Lasts from Thanksgiving to Christmas

42 Quick and Easy Holiday Decorating Ideas

42 Quick and Easy Holiday Decorating Ideas

Way back when I was a kid, people put up their tree, some lights outside, a few decorative pieces around the house & that was about it for the decorations. Now, we like to add Holiday cheer to every room in our house. Even if it is just a bi, we still enjoy adding SOMETHING. Unfortunately, this can be expensive, sometimes VERY expensive.

Wait, not so fast! You can still display decorations all over the house without the expense when you take a page from Midwest Living… or simply visit their site! Midwest Living has a large list of easy & inexpensive ways to decorate your home this Christmas! These little trees are just one example. So cute & colorful & easy to make, you may add them to every room in your house! Hmmm, not a bad idea!

Easy Holiday Decorating

76 Heartwarming and Festive Christmas Decorating Ideas

76 Heartwarming and Festive Christmas Decorating Ideas

There are almost as many different ways to decorate your home for Christmas as there are ornaments for your tree. You are no longer forced to stick with the tried & true. Instead, you can go with a decorating scheme that suits your tastes, style & home.

You don’t even have to stick to just one style! You can go contemporary in  the living room, elegant in the dining room, country in the kitchen, eclectic in the family room & rustic in the bedroom! Why stick with just one style when so many of them are available & so much fun!

You also don’t have to spend a fortune to spread the Christmas cheer throughout your home. You can make many of your decorations. You can buy $ store decorations & transform them into something more fabulous. You can even shop thrift stores & repurpose your finds into beautiful displays!

Country Living has created a display of 76, YES, 76 decorating ideas! If this doesn’t get your Christmas creative juices flowing, you need to have a little egg nog & watch Charlie Brown again!

Christmas Decorating Ideas