A unique gift idea…. Family Adventures

Last year my husband and I were at a loss as to what to get our youngest son and his wife.  They are very handy and very busy with two kids, jobs, and home projects.  After watching their busy lives all year we came up with a unique gift idea.  

A family adventure album.  We bought a cute little scrapbook and filled that pages with gift certificates to all sorts of places.  The pages were filled with family fun (and date night) ideas.  Once we decided on the plan for the book, we went shopping… on-line and to the gift card aisle.  Yep, it was a book of pre-purchased family adventures.  Everything from a trip to the zoo, movie tickets,  to ice cream nights (gift certificate for Dairy Queen), beach days (complete with gift certs to subway for lunches). On the trips that would take them a distance to get to, we added in gas cards.  After all the point of this gift was not to add financial strain of accomplishing these adventures, but to make these things easy and obtainable for this kids (and gran kids) to do. This book was filled with all sorts of adventures from bowling to mini-golf to go kart racing.  

To come up with ideas we scoured the internet to check out our local city and find fun interesting places to go.  We also googled”date night” ideas to ensure they could enjoy time together without the kids.  If you are thinking of giving a gift such as this, don’t forget the handmade gift certificates that include babysitting.  It was a fun gift to make and a great way to get to know the city we live in.  

I hope you think of a gift like this (or any variation of it) when you are planning your next celebration.  

A twist on this concept is “Your year in review”.  Make a scrapbook for your loved ones of their past year.  This is a great idea for the little ones in your life.  You can give it to them on each birthday as a memory of what they have accomplished in the past year.  On the last page of the album make a list of that child’s goals for next year.  This makes an amazing keepsake and helps each child accomplish things each year.  Have fun!  Happy gift giving!

Have you heard of the “White Elephant”?

This time of year we all usually have lots of holiday parties to attend for our places of employment, friends and family.  More than likely you have come to know the “White Elephant” gift exchange.  It is also referred to as the “Yankee Swap” or “Dirty Santa”.  There are tons of versions of this game / gift swap, but here are the simple rules:

  1. Each player brings one wrapped gift to contribute to a common pool – 
    The organizer should provide information on what type of gift people should bring. There can be a theme for the gifts, a monetary limit for the amount or no rules at all.  
  2. Players draw numbers to determine what order they will go in.  
    This can be done by drawing numbers from a hat, order of arrival to the event, or the order can be set by the organizer prior to the event.
  3. Players sit in a circle or line where they can see the gift pile.  
    Everyone should sit in the order in which they will take their turns.
  4. The first player selects a gift from the pool and opens it.  No hiding your gift!  Everyone needs the opportunity to see it.  
  5. The following players can choose to either pick an unwrapped gift from the pool or steal a previous player’s gift. Anyone who gets their gift stolen in this way can do the same – choose a new gift or steal from someone else.  A present can only be stolen once per turn, which means players who have a gift stolen from them have to wait to get it back. This rule doesn’t apply at the end of the game. 
  6. After all players have had a turn, the first player gets a chance to swap the gift he or she is holding for any other opened gift. Anyone whose gift is stolen may steal from someone else (as long as that person hasn’t been stolen from yet). When someone declines to steal a gift, the game comes to an end. NOTE: For this last “extra” turn, the swap rule from step 5 doesn’t apply. Players can keep swapping until someone decides to stand pat, or there are no other eligible people to steal from.

Sound like fun?  It is!  But let’s take a look at what makes a good White Elephant gift? It can meet one or all of the following criteria:  Funny, Weird, or nice.  

For the organizer, here are some tips: 

  1. Communicate – Make sure all guests attending are aware of the gift giving game and make sure they know to wrap their gift prior to arrival
  2. Set limits – Help your guests out by providing a monetary limit such as $5 or $10.  This keeps the game light and fun for all.  
  3. Allow for enough time for the game.  – It’s no fun to be rushed at the end, that’s when the game gets good!

So where did this game originate?  Well, I checked out Wikepedia and here is the answer: The term white elephant refers to an extravagant, but impractical, gift that cannot be easily disposed. The phrase is said to come from the historic practice of the King of Siam (now Thailand) giving rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, so that they might be ruined by the animals’ upkeep costs. While the first use of this term remains a matter of contention among historians,[4] one theory suggests that Ezra Cornell brought the term into the popular lexicon through his frequent social gatherings as early as 1828.[5]  

Explanation provided by http://www.secretsanta.com is as follows:
The game derives its name from the term white elephant as defined by something of dubious or limited value or an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others. Thus, in its basic form the game calls for people to bring “gag” gifts or gifts they received that they have no use for.

I hope you all enjoy your holiday celebrations with co-workers, family and friends!  Happy gift giving!

Do you make every penny count?

As you know by know I am a HUGE advocate for paying it forward AND for making every penny count.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a woman who likes to shop and loves a bargain so I’m always on the hunt.  I wanted to take a minute and chat about reward programs, opportunities to save and opportunities to pay it forward.

In today’s day and age there are a million ways to cut costs and the majority of us could use a leg up in this area.  Here is a list of reward programs that I have found helpful.

  1. Digital Coupons – many grocery stores and pharmacy stores have a reward program or on-line membership (free of charge) and linked to those programs is a digital coupon option.  If you make it a habit of logging onto those sites once a week and digitally “clip” the coupons to your account, you have an opportunity for potential savings you may have missed.  Here is an example.  I frequently shop at Publix and Walgreens for various items.  Once a week I jump on-line and click on as many coupons as the program allows.  I may or may not use them all, but if they are in my account (linked to my phone number) all I have to do at check out is enter in my phone number and any applicable coupons are applied instantly.
  2. Ebates – If you have not signed up yet, you are missing out!  If you do any on-line shopping this is a great program to be a part of.  It costs nothing to join and you are rewarded with cash back when you shop.  There are tons of stores linked to the program and there is even an option for in-store shopping if you choose to link your credit cards.  To date, I have received over $130 back for shopping I was already planning on doing.
  3. Piggy Bank – This is another app.  As you are browsing on line, if you have signed up for the piggy bank on your phone or computer, it will pop up and let you know if coupons are available or cash back is available.

This brings me to paying it forward.  How many times have had loose change rolling around the bottom of our purses or the floor of our cars?  How many times have you found a couple of bucks in the washer or dryer?  These are all signs that we are not as careful with our money as we think.  Sure, we are penny pinchers when it comes to larger purchases or even something that may be $5 vs $1.  But what about all the unused change?  My point here is that the next time someone at the check out counter asks if you want to “round-up” for a charity, say yes.  Think of all the times you have foolishly spent money and here is an opportunity glaring you in the face to share forty cents with someone in need.

Are you an Amazon shopper?  I am for sure!  I am convinced they have everything!  I am proud to say I am now an Amazon Smile shopper.  What’s the difference?  Well if you log into http://www.amazon.com you are shopping at amazon without the opportunity to help the charity of your choice with proceeds from your purchase.  If you shop at http://www.smile.amazon.com you can create a profile and select the charity of your choice to help.  As you shop you will notice various items are  “Eligible for AmazonSmile donation”.  If you choose these items, The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases. How great is that?  Same shopping, and you are helping the cause of your choice.

There you have it a little saving and a little donating.  Keeping balance in every aspect of our lives is so very important.  A good level headed perspective is what keeps us all moving in a positive direction.  As I have said before.  It is a great place to be when your feet are firmly planted on the ground and your head is happily in the clouds.

3 ways to cook corn on the cob for your next get together.

Corn on the cob is a great staple for cookout! Here are three easy ways to cook the perfect corn on the cob for your next cookout. #Cornonthecob #cookout #cookingisfun

1. Boil it up: Boiling is the classic way to prepare sweet corn. You can either use a wide, flat pan and lay the corn on its side, or use a taller stockpot to boil a big batch at once. Either way, fill the pan with enough water to cover the corn and bring it to a boil. Shuck off the outer husk and silk from the corn. Dissolve a tablespoon of salt in the water and add the corn. If your corn is very fresh, cook it for three to five minutes. For corn that’s a few days old, go for six to eight minutes once.

2. Microwave it: In our house, we use this method a lot when having corn as a side dish for dinner. Shuck the corn and wrap it in damp/moist paper towels. Cook on high for three minutes. Carefully remove from the microwave (it will be hot), coat with butter and seasoning and wrap it in aluminum foil. It will continue to steam in the aluminum foil and absorb the butter and seasoning as it cooks.

3. On the grill: Roasting on the grill gives the corn a smoky flavor that is absolutely delicious. Peel back the husks, but leave them attached at the stem. Remove all the silk and then brush the corn with olive oil (butter can sometimes burn). Add salt and peper to your preference. Cover the corn back up with the husks and secure them closed with a piece of string or aluminum foil. Roast the ears of corn over a medium-hot grill, turning occasionally, until the outer husks are charred and toasted. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Let the corn cool enough to handle, then strip off the husks and eat.

Apple Pie Stacks – A Recipe Promised

I made these cookies for the first time this year and they were amazing!  Personally, I think they would be great any time of the year.  They were a huge hit with my family and adorable to boot!  I will admit, they were a bit messy to set-up, but fun and very worth it.  My husband requested I make these over a year ago and I finally did!  I highly suggest you give this recipe a shot if you are up for a cookie challenge.  (And I know you love a challenge if you are any friend of mine).

Ingredients:

1/4 cup butter

4 apples, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch cubes

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoons cornstarch

4 sheets pie crust pastries (I used frozen pie crusts)

1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

Icing: (Optional)

¾ Cup Confectioners’ Sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons milk

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add apples; toss until coated with butter. Stir in brown sugar, white sugar, lemon juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, salt, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves; cook and stir until apples have softened and sugars have melted, about 5 minutes. Bring to a boil.
  3. Combine water and cornstarch in a bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into the apple mixture; cook and stir until apple mixture is thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; cool completely, about 20 minutes.
  4. Dust work surface lightly with flour (This portion of flour not included in ingredients). Roll out 1 sheet of pie crust on a work surface with a rolling pin; Use a round cookie cutter and create circles for cookie base. Cover each base the cooled apple mixture. Roll out a second sheet of pie crust with a rolling pin; slice into thin strips with a sharp knife (or pizza roller works well too). Weave pie crust strips together over apple mixture to create a lattice top.  NOTE: Alternative method is to make one large pie flat and cover with apple mixture and lattice then cut circles all the way thru with floured round cookie cutter or drinking glass. Press cookie cutter through dough to create 12 round pies. Transfer to a pre-greased baking sheet or one covered with parchment paper.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven until crust is cooked through a golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, about 10 minutes. Be sure not to over-cook.
  6. Repeat with remaining pie crusts and apple mixture; place on a second baking sheet. Bake in the oven until crust is cooked through a golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  7. Combine confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a mixing bowl; add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir in milk slowly until desired consistency is reached; drizzle over cooled pies.

Let cool to set-up and as always, have a happy day!

Enjoy shopping during the holidays

It’s officially December and holiday shopping is in full swing! If you are anything like me than you have the very best intentions for early Christmas shopping in the hopes of having this task checked off your Holiday “To-Do” list.  Though I do have the best of intentions, I always find myself, year after year, still shopping during December for my entire family.  There is just something about shopping for others during the holiday season that is just more fun.  The deals and sales are fun to find.  The glitter and sparkle of the holiday decorations in the stores and the hustle and bustle is fun to be a part of.  So, here I am yet again embracing the month of December as my holiday shopping month.  I thought I would take a look at a few ways to keep myself organized and hopefully not end up overwhelmed the day or two before Christmas.  Here are my top five helpful tips to help make the most of your holiday shopping by having fun, saving some cash, and not becoming crunched for time.

1.       Make a list of everyone you need to shop for.  Figure out who you will be celebrating with all month long and add them to your list.

2.       Put dates next to your names on your list.  Will there be a secret Santa for your company holiday party that you need to have a gift for by the 17th?   Is there a neighborhood Christmas party that you need to have an extra bottle of wine on hand to give the host?  Checking your calendar while you make your list will help alleviate the “OMG” moments of realizing you forgot a friend or relative on your list

3.       Plan for extras.  Leave a few blank spaces on your list labeled male, female, girl, and boy.  These will allow you to have a few general gifts on hand in case someone shows up unexpectedly.  Scented candles, lotion, pocket, scarves, blankets, and trendy toys are always great for these slots on your list.  (Just remember to make them things that will last or are useable by members of your own family in case you end up with the extra gifts under your tree at the close of the holiday season.)

4.       Set a budget and make it realistic.  This may seem like a tall order, but if you generally have an idea for gifts for the people on your list, write down a monetary value next to their names and help yourself come to a total once your move thru your list top to bottom. 

5.       Plan your shopping days.  Set aside time to actually go shopping and not be rushed.  Are you more comfortable shopping a few hours a week in the evening or would you more enjoy a full Saturday shopping extravaganza?  This is YOUR time to enjoy the gift giving experience.  Finding great items that you know will put a smile on a loved one’s face.  In your scheduling, remember to schedule some treats for yourself.  A great cup of coffee and a biscotti mid-day, or maybe a nice dinner during the week after you wrap up your shopping.  Spoil yourself a little and ensure that you keep the happy festive holiday mood throughout the month.  

There are a few other things I like to do to get and stay in the Holiday Spirit all month long.   Here are a few of those little things that make me smile almost daily. 

1.       Playing Christmas Music.  No, I’m not 24/7 holiday music kind of lady, but the days that
I’m shopping or maybe late in the evening, It’s so peaceful and calming to listen to. 

2.       Plan to watch your favorite holiday movie and if you can’t then record them for when you can.  My favorites are a Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and of course Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

3.       Dress comfortably, but festive.  When I’m shopping, I like to keep in style, but comfort is important.   I love to wear high heels, but on a full day of shopping, flats and a comfy sweater is perfect.  Also, I change my purse to a backpack purse or cross body purse.  There is nothing more annoying that having a bunch of bags to carry and trying to keep your purse on your shoulder as you pick them up and set them down. 

4.       Do a little decorating all season and if you enjoy wrapping gifts, don’t wait till the last minute.  Turn on some Christmas music and do a few a week or on the weekend.  It will make your tree look complete, help you to feel a sense of accomplishment and start to make little minds wonder what is in their box.

I hope this helps you to enjoy your holiday preparations this season.  The most important moments are those with family, friends, and enjoying the peace that is in our hearts.  Have a happy day!

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