Christmas Countdown C -1

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Avoid Holiday Let-down

Shaunna Privratsky

The last of the cookies are eaten, the decorations are sagging, and it is time to face the New Year. Whether your holidays were joyous, mediocre, or less than merry, most of us experience a letdown once the carols stop. Instead of singing the winter blues, try these easy steps to wrap up the holidays in style.

  1. Take out less trash. Instead of tossing the pretty wrapping paper, have the kids shred it as each present is opened. Save the colorful strips in a plastic bag for festive packing all through the year.
  2. Reuse bows, gift bags, sturdy boxes and ribbon. Every year, everyone at our house waits to see who gets the green fabric box with the purple satin ribbon. It’s been in use for ten holiday seasons.
  3. Be a savvy Santa. Shop the after Christmas sales for terrific bargains on next year’s gifts.
  4. Pick up discounted holiday themed paper goods. Napkins, paper towels, plates, table linens and tissue can be had for less than half price.
  5. Un-trim the tree when the guests are still around to help. Group items that go together and clearly label the boxes. For example: tree trimmings, kitchen decor, downstairs manger, sled collection. It’s a present to yourself next year when you dig out the decorations once again.
  6. Replace your old lights with the new, safer LED lights. They burn brighter on 80% less energy and are cool to the touch. Grab them on sale and you’ll be light years ahead of the game next year.
  7. Sweep in the New Year with a clean home. Enlist the help of your kids, who are probably home on Christmas break. After a few days with nothing to do, they will be happy to help.
  8. Recycle your tree. Most cities pick up your discarded tree and chip it into mulch for city parks. They also offer free mulch to city residents in the spring and fall. So even after you pick up the last needle from the carpet, your tree will get a second shot at beautifying the landscape.
  9. Take a look at your bottom line. If the holiday bills are pouring in, sit down and form a plan of action to pay them off as quickly as possible. To avoid the same debt cycle next year, start saving now. A little money put aside each month in a Christmas account will add up to easy holiday budgeting next year.
  10. Whittle your waistline. Whether you indulged a little too much in Grandma’s fudge or overdid it on the rich holiday fare, it is the perfect time to eat healthier and lose any extra pounds. Maintaining a healthy weight will save you money by keeping you out of the hospital or doctor’s office.
  11. Plan your summer vacation. It is not too early to start thinking ahead to sultry summer heat and tempting travel packages. By researching early, you could lock in ultra cheap deals on airfare, lodging and your dream destination. It will also give you something to look forward to in the dreary winter months.
  12. Refresh your home’s decor. Do a mini makeover in the guest bathroom by cashing in some of your gift cards. Add a splash of warm color to your neutral living room with pillows and cozy throws. Change out the outdated fluorescent fixture in the kitchen for a bright new look.
  13. Shovel someone else’s sidewalk. Maybe your next-door neighbor fell on the ice and broke her ankle. Or you notice that the Erickson’s down the block didn’t winter in Arizona this year and are having trouble keeping up with the snow. Helping out fosters good feelings. When you need a hand someday, your neighbors will be there.  
  14. Donate your holiday magazines. Christmas magazines typically have tons of craft and decorating projects, perfect for your child’s teacher. Or give them to a nearby nursing home. Arrange to regularly drop off your magazines in the New Year, to keep clutter at bay and let others enjoy them.
  15. Make a list of this year’s favorite holiday memories. Was it baking cookies with the kids?  Shopping the after Christmas sales with your son?  Wrestling the real tree into the van in –13 degrees below zero weather?  This will give you a head start on next year’s holiday season.

If what you are feeling goes beyond the holiday let-down blues, you may be suffering from a deeper form of depression.

 

Anyone who has ever experienced it knows how devastating a bout of depression can be. The symptoms range anywhere from intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, despair, sleeplessness, fatigue, physical aches and pains, to suicidal thoughts and urges. It can last for days, weeks, months, or even years. The quality of life can degrade to the point of wondering if it is even worth it to go on.

 

There is hope. We no longer have to endure depression. There are many drugs available to help in the fight against depression. Visit with your doctor to determine if drugs are a good option for you.

 

Besides pills, there are some positive changes you can use to improve your outlook on life. These tiny steps can lead you out of the pit of despair and bring you back into the light. Best of all, they are completely free.

 

Live for today. We can’t change the past, so dwelling on mistakes or bad choices will only drag us down. Likewise, we can’t predict exactly what will happen in the future, so we shouldn’t waste time and energy worrying about “what ifs.” 

 

When you wake up each morning, think of one thing you are thankful for in that moment. It could be the beautiful sunrise, the sounds of your children waking up, the smell of coffee enticing you to the kitchen, or just the fact that you have a whole day to be the best you can be.

 

Every day, focus on at least one positive thing to look forward to. Maybe it is the day you meet your husband for lunch, or your favorite author’s new book is released. You can create special moments, too. Pick up a rare indulgence like a frothy milkshake or go in for a totally new haircut. When we train our minds to look for good things, we find them. 

 

Exercise your way to those happy endorphins. Even if you just walk around the block, do some sit-ups during commercial breaks or dedicate an hour to the gym, your spirits will rise and you will feel better about yourself. Make it a routine and think of it as your physical therapy.

 

If something is really bothering you, limit the amount of time you dwell on it to ten minutes a day. Writing down your fears and worries can release you from fretting about it. Remind yourself to put it aside after your time is up.

 

Music is a powerful mood lifter. Play anything you like; upbeat tempos, fast beats or easy sing-a-longs can lift you out of the doldrums and put the spring back in your step. Even playing a radio or CD player quietly throughout the day can make you feel happier.

 

Pets are a great way to lift your spirits. Playing, petting and cuddling will calm you down and make you more optimistic. Even just attending to your pet’s basic needs can give you a feeling of worthiness and take your focus off of your sadness.

 

Smile as you go about your day. When you look for ways to show kindness to others, you feel generous and your spirit is blessed. You just may be the person who helps someone else who is having a bad day.

 

Speaking of bad days; we all experience them. No one can be upbeat and positive all of the time. When a bad spell hits, keep yourself busy doing projects or specific tasks like reorganizing your desk or filing papers. Your feelings of accomplishment can balance out the negative and come up rosy.

 

Before you go to sleep at night, think of three positive things that happened that day. Let yourself be grateful for them. When we concentrate on gratitude, we appreciate what we have been given, instead of always looking at life like a glass half empty. Tomorrow is a clean slate. It is like the ultimate do-over: each day is a new beginning to how you want to live your life. The happiest people are not the ones with the most money, but the ones who are content with what they have.

 

Depression is brought on by many circumstances, most of which cannot be changed. Yet how we choose to react can mean the difference between despair and a more hopeful outlook. By actively participating in how we handle sadness, we can create a positive outlook on life and dig out of depression, once and for all.      

Keeping these hints in mind will make wrapping up the holidays a celebration instead of a letdown. Stay merry in the New Year by looking ahead and cherishing your priceless memories of a happy holiday season, from start to finish.

Shaunna Privratsky is a fulltime 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 -2

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Butter Rum Cake

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Sauce:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon rum extract

Cream butter until light. Gradually beat in sugar, creaming until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture alternating with milk, beat thoroughly after each addition.

Turn into greased bundt pan. Bake in 350 oven for 70 minutes or until cake springs back when tested. Place cake in pan on rack to cook.  Pierce cake with fork. Pour hot sauce over cake. Cool thoroughly before removing cake from pan.

To prepare sauce: Heat sugar, butter and water in pan until butter melts, do not boil. Add rum extract.

Christmas Countdown C -3

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Jean’s Beans Chili

I began making this dish for my friends who are vegetarians.  However, many of my meat loving guests also enjoy my special chili.  It is made with 4 kinds of beans and plenty of spices to make it thick and flavorful.

  • 1 large can chili beans
  • 1 large can pinto beans
  • 1 large can kidney beans
  • 1 large can black beans
  • 1 cup frozen chopped onions
  • 1 cup frozen chopped green pepper
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 small can of tomatoes with chilies
  • 1 large can of tomato sauce
  • 1 box vegetable broth
  • garlic salt
  • chili powder
  • hot sauce
  • salt and pepper

 

Pour chili beans into large crock pot.  Drain and rinse other beans. Add to crock pot.  Mix.  Add onions and green peppers.  Add tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Season to taste.  Top pot with broth, making chili stirrable but not “soupy.”  Simmer on low 4-6 hours adding broth as needed.

Christmas Countdown C -4

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Orange & Spice Doughnuts

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 tablespoons shortening, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange rind
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 3 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • sugar

Cream sugar and shortening. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Blend in orange rind, juice and pumpkin.

Sift together dry ingredients. Gradually add to pumpkin mixture, stirring until blended. cover and chill 2 hours.

Roll 1/3 of dough at a time to about 1/3 inch thickness on floured pastry cloth. Cut with floured doughnut cutter. Let stand 15 minutes.

Fry in deep hot fat, 375 degrees, until nicely browned on both sides, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Roll in sugar or frost as desired.

Christmas Countdown C -5

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Party Pizzas

1 loaf party rye bread

1 jar pizza sauce

shredded mozzarella cheese

Pre-heat oven 350 degrees. Place rye bread on ungreased cookie sheet. Bread may be place close together. Drop spoonful of pizza sauce on each slice of bread and spread around bread. Sprinkle top of pizzas with cheese. Place in oven for 5-10 minutes until sauce bubbles and cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Showstopping Christmas Cake Recipes

Showstopping Christmas Cake Recipes

My Tuesday evening Bible study had their Christmas party last night. We had a wonderful time! It was a potluck. Now, when I host a potluck, I never assign dishes to anyone, nor do I have anyone sign up to bring something, carefully listing the items they intend to share. I know how life often gets in the way. You sign up to bring one thing & then something comes up suddenly & you don’t have time to make your favorite dish, the one you SWORE you were going to bring! Nope. None of that for MY potlucks. Instead, I just tell everyone to bring whatever they want & if we end up with all desserts, YAY! I have never had an event where we end up with only salads, nor have I had an event where we end up with only desserts (BOO!)

Last night worked out great. We had an excellent mixture of food from casseroles to appetizers to veggies & salads. And we had CAKE! (You knew there was a reason I was telling you this, didn’t you?) Jan brought 2 cakes and they were FABULOUS! One was angel food topped with a frosting made with Cool Whip & pineapple. The second was the one I had. It was yellow cake frosted with a delicious topping made from Cool Whip, pudding & egg nog. Yum! And guess who was lucky enough to bring the rest of the cake home with her! 🙂

Jan shared her easy recipes for both cakes with us last night. Today, I am share cake recipes from Southern Living. Every celebration deserves a cake! Enjoy!

Christmas Cakes

12 Easy Make-Ahead Ideas for Christmas

12 Easy Make-Ahead Ideas for Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, as the song says. Christmas also goes by in a blur. Time seems to speed up, leaving us gasping & wondering how we are going to get it ALL done! Betty Crocker to the rescue with a selection of recipes you can make ahead. Being able to prepare dishes ahead of time calms me. I feel a bit more in control of the situation, whether or not I really am. So take a breath & take moment to decide which of these delicious recipes might give you more time to celebrate Christmas! Enjoy!

Make Ahead

Christmas Countdown C -6

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Baked Spaghetti

My cousin, Mary would always prepare this dish for family gatherings. It is simple, filling and may be prepared ahead of time. I am able to expand this recipe as needed, enabling me to make more than one pan of spaghetti at a time. 

  • 12 oz pasta
  • 1 lb ground meat
  • 1 small onion, chopped (or ½ cup frozen chopped onions)
  • 2 small cans tomato sauce
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 cubes beef bouillon
  • seasoning as listed 

Preheat oven to 350. Brown ground meat. Drain and set aside.

Boil 1 ½ quarts water in a large stock pot. Add bouillon cubes and allow to dissolve. Add 1 tablespoon oil to boiling water. Add pasta. Stir to prevent sticking. Cook pasta until just tender.  DO NOT DRAIN.

Add tomato sauce and paste. Season with 1 tablespoon crushed garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, 1 tablespoon basil and salt and pepper. Blend thoroughly.

Add meat. Mix. Pour mixture into large flat baking dish. It will look sloppy. Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Bake one hour or until firm. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Cut into squares.

Christmas Countdown C -7

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Happy Holiday  Hosting

Shaunna Privratsky

Holiday parties are festive, fun and bring together friends and families. But hosting one can become a nightmare. From the decorations to the last goodbye, there are so many things that can go awry; it is enough to make you pull a Scrooge and order takeout the entire holiday season.

Put down that phone!  Here are some easy hints on getting organized, picking the right menu and easy entertaining.

  1. The first step is to make lists. Start a holiday notebook. Write down guest lists, a menu, shopping lists for food, decorations and other party necessities. Being organized is half the battle.
  2. Simple = stress-free. Keep it simple with a few well-planned dishes instead of tons of unusual or fussy foods.
  3. Keep your guests in mind when planning the menu. Ask about food allergies and preferences like vegetarian diets, low-cholesterol, or sugar-free diets.
  4. Bite-size is best for easy appetizers. If serving a dipping sauce, provide individual serving containers to avoid “double-dipping.” 
  5. Ready at room temperature. If you don’t want to be constantly running back to the kitchen to heat things up, serve at least half of the food at room temperature or rent food warmers.
  6. Preparation is key. Do as much as possible ahead of time. Decorate, set the tables, add extra seating, cook ahead as many dishes as you can and your night will go much smoother.
  7. Be generous. It is better to have too much food and beverages than not enough. You can always send leftovers with guests or freeze them for an impromptu gathering another time.
  8. Stick with the season. Fruits and vegetables in season are cheaper and fresher, so use them in your dishes and even decor for a festive look.
  9. The decor sets the theme of your party, but don’t be overwhelmed. Simple ideas are votive candles tucked in pine branches nipped from a wreath or tree, a bowl of pinecones, or even elegant candles on a simple white or clear plate. Add extra bling with a gold doily or a bowl of bright Christmas ornaments.   
  10. Invite them right. Be specific about appropriate dress, the extent of food and beverages and the duration of the party. Setting these guidelines makes it easier for people to plan to have a wonderful time at your get together.
  11. Buffet style is best. It gives guests the freedom to help themselves and there is little for you to do, other than to replenish the food. Bring full platters instead of just adding items to a half-empty plate.
  12. Make sure there is plenty to drink, whether it is alcoholic or not. Provide at least a few beverage choices for guests and plenty of glasses. Most liquor stores offer free ice with a purchase, so don’t forget to stock up.
  13.   Music puts people at ease and helps the conversation flow. Depending on the crowd, soft jazz or classical music competes less than other types of music. This will set the tone for the evening, so choose your music in advance.
  14. Fill your home with the scents of the season. Make a large pot of apple cider on the stove, complete with cinnamon sticks. Have mugs and a ladle ready.
  15. Add a drop of peppermint oil to a burning candle. The minty smell will permeate the place and add a touch of spice.
  16. Warm up a batch of gingerbread and add it to the buffet treats.
  17. Keep track of everything in your holiday notebook. Note what worked, what didn’t and ideas on doing things easier next time. Yes, I said next time.

Oh, no!  Company is on the way and you haven’t had a chance to decorate. You search frantically for some snowman napkins or some leftover garland, but you come up empty. Before you start flinging Christmas-themed tissues around the room, take a deep breath and read these tips. Don’t worry – it is never too late to decorate.

Here are ten simple ways to get your home in the holiday spirit in a hurry. I’ve also included a bonus tip for each idea if you have a little more time. Most, if not all, can be accomplished with the things you have around your house.

1. Cut a few pine branches from the tree and place in a large vase, an old tin bucket or a big pitcher. Take the lower or hidden branches to avoid bare spots. Place in the center of the table.

Bonus tip:  Wrap the container with a cheerful ribbon.

2. Gather five to seven candles, preferably all in the same color for more impact. Red, ivory, white, gold or silver are festive holiday colors. Arrange on a fancy platter or large plate.

Bonus tip: Sprinkle Christmas potpourri or pinecones around the edge of the plate. Another option is a layer of sugar, to simulate snow.

3. Fill a large glass vase or clear jar with tiny Christmas balls. Pick a single color or mix and match.

Bonus tip: Place one ball by each plate with a personalized tag. Let them take it home as a parting gift.

4. Take a tall, cylindrical vase and put candy canes all around it. Hook the short end over the edge and let the long side dangle.

Bonus tip:  Put about a half pound of sugar into two bowls. Add a few drops of red food coloring to one bowl and stir until the sugar turns red. Now layer the white and red sugar in the vase to form stripes.

5. Place three matching presents in the center of the table. You can use the presents from under the tree, or wrap some empty boxes if you have time.

Bonus tip: Use matching tags as place settings. 

6. Take one of your large pictures down and wrap it in fancy paper. Re-hang.

Bonus tip:  Put a fancy ribbon over mirrors and doorways.

7. Turn the lights off and eat by candlelight and Christmas lights. For some extra dazzle, take a clear string of lights and wrap it around the centerpiece on the table. Make sure you unplug it when you’re finished.

Bonus tip:  Replace a few light bulbs in your lamps with colored bulbs. Red lends a cheery glow, while blue or green is very mellow.

8. Scatter a few holiday rugs around. Doorways, the foot of the stairs, in front of the sink, in the guest bedroom and bathrooms are all great places for a cheerful rug.

Bonus tip:  Pick up deeply discounted rugs and welcome mats during the after Christmas sales so you’ll be ready for next season’s festivities.

9. Put out a bowl of pinecones. Spray with non-stick spray, and then sprinkle with sugar. It will look like snow.

Bonus tip:  Simmer a small pot of apple juice or two cups of water and a cut up apple on the stove. Add a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Your home will smell like an apple pie baking.

10. Set up a manger scene in an unexpected place like the dining room table, on the television stand or the coffee table. It will remind you and your guests of the true reason for the season.

Bonus tip:  Have the youngest child tell the Christmas story.

The next time you are crunched for time, just try some of these quick ideas. Even when you’re in crisis mode, it is never too late to decorate. Hey, isn’t that your doorbell?

Now that your guests have arrived, where do you put them?  Most of us don’t have enough space to designate a whole room for guests. Yet, even if you have many uses for the “spare” room, you want an inviting space for your visitors. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have the best for your guests.

First of all, there should be a sleeping area. Look for furniture that does double duty. For example, futons combine seating and sleeping into one package. Forget the old lumpy mattresses of the past. Today’s futon has graduated into many sophisticated styles and comfort levels.

A similar type sofa is the Klick-klack bed. It is available in a range of colors and fabrics to fit any décor and budget. The lines are sleek, the concept is simple: you select the position you want and click it into place.

A sofa-sleeper has all the practicality of comfortable seating, as well as a pull out bed. These come in all sizes, including twin, to fit any size room. The mattresses are sturdy and ensure a good night’s sleep for your guests.

Air mattresses can transform any open area into an extra bedroom. Most have built in air pumps that automatically inflate and deflate the mattress to the desired firmness. Add sheets, blankets and pillows and it is off to dreamland. One drawback is that it might be more difficult for some people to get up from such a low bed. The solution: the stores have air mattresses with built in feet, to raise the bed to normal height.          

To make your guest feel at home, provide a space for their belongings, whether it is a spare dresser, some closet space with lots of empty hangers, or a table they can tuck their suitcases under.

A lamp near the bed is a plus, so that they don’t have to have the main light on at all times. Make sure there are shades or curtains for privacy and to block out light. If you provide a television, put the remote in plain sight, with a copy of the current TV guide.

Now that you have provided the basics, here are some simple ways to add some flair to your guest room. Even if the room is not primarily for guests, a cohesive décor will give it that welcoming feel. Find a theme for the room, whether it is a soothing color scheme, an extension of your home’s décor, or based on a collection.

This could be the space you could have some fun with color. Try creating a focal point by painting one wall a vibrant color. Place the largest piece of furniture, probably the bed, futon or sofa-sleeper, against this wall. Flank it with nightstands or small tables. A simple wooden chair will do as well.

Add some artwork. You could make a collage of several similarly framed photos, or create your own masterpiece with a piece of canvas and some paint. You can frame it quite inexpensively at craft stores like Michael’s.    

Perhaps your guest room doubles as a storage area. To make it more inviting, organize your storage into shelves, cabinets or built-ins. To hide the clutter and add instant glam, hang some curtains or a coordinating sheet from the ceiling. I screwed two bike hooks into the ceiling, put two drapery panels onto a closet rod, and hung it in front of our pantry shelves.

Maybe your “spare” room is your hobby area. Organize it all into a nice cabinet, desk or dresser. Your space will be nice and neat for the next time your guests arrive, or when you want to start a new project.

A few finishing touches will add that special touch. A vase of fresh flowers, a small basket of trial size toiletries, even a bowl of fresh fruit all say: I’m glad you came. Try these decorating tips on for size. Remember: only the best for your guests.

With these tips, holiday hosting can be a wonderful experience. All it takes is organization, a plan and the desire to spread cheer. Here’s to your next hassle-free holiday party!