Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Our Favorite Hot Cocoa Mix

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Hot Cocoa Mix

4 cups nonfat dry milk powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup non-dairy coffee creamer
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 (4 ounce) package instant chocolate fudge pudding

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. If a finer consistency is desired, you can pour the mix into a blender or food processor and run it through that. Store in an airtight container. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup (depending on your cocoa preference) of the mix to an 8 ounce mug of boiling water.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions. Mix in walnuts, if desired.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Using sharp knife, cut around edge of loaves. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

A Shift Towards Holiday Traditions

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

With the economy in crisis, I have been getting a lot of questions on how families can celebrate the holidays when they don’t have the money to have the Christmas that they have been dreaming of. It can be stressful as a parent to not be able to have the holiday that you envision for your children, but a change in perception for the holidays can go a long way. You see, regardless of the economic turmoil, the holidays will never change for our family because our focus has turned to traditions rather than gifts.

When you make the switch to focusing on family traditions, there is a lot less stress in your life worrying about the gifts under the tree. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about? For me, it is all about family, about creating memories for my children that they will never forget, and it is about the love that they feel from us as parents.

Here are some of the ways we have made traditions more important than presents:

Special Holiday Meals

For me, the holidays are when I get to spend oodles of time in the kitchen with my children. We do special holiday meals that the kids can really look forward to and enjoy participating in.  We go to lots of holiday gatherings and do our own holiday food traditions where we center our time around activities in the kitchen rather than time spent in the stores. My hope is that my children will remember getting to be a part of this time spent preparing food together, just as I remember spending time in my grandmother’s kitchen making her Christmas cookies.

In our family, each Friday night in December, we make a homemade pizza and bundle our children up for an evening of looking at the holiday lights in the neighborhoods. We blast the Christmas carols on the radio and bring along popcorn for them to snack on while they enjoy all the beauty of the Christmas lights. To make it more fun, we let them pick their favorite pajamas to wear and they think this is hilarious to get to wear their pajamas in the car.

On Christmas morning, I make cocoa and gingerbread waffles for the kids. As a special treat, I shape the tubes of store-bought cinnamon rolls into a Christmas tree shape and tint the icing green for the tree. We eat this together after we open the presents and the kids look forward to it each year.

While these traditions might not sound like much, our children look forward to them each year and we get just as excited as them for these special meals.

Caring for Others

Instead of focusing on ourselves, we try to do things for others around the holidays. We are gathering items for a donation to our shelter and we plan to bring the children there to help be a part of the giving. We are trying to teach them just how good giving feels and how fortunate we are to have what we have. Growing up, we used to donate our time to serve Thanksgiving dinner to those less fortunate and I have never forgotten this. The gratefulness in these people’s eyes and the rush of euphoria I felt when I could do something for someone else has always stuck with me. I want my children to experience this just like I did and realize how much better it is to give than to receive.

We also do boxes of treats for people who have been good to our family or cared for us in some way- our teachers & staff, our extended family, and even service workers.

I highly recommend, if you have little children, taking the time to visit your fire station with a box full of goodies. First of all, seeing the faces of the firefighters light up when they see all of your treats is a treat in itself. More importantly though, is the light in your children’s eyes when they take them around to show them the fire engines. This is one of the best days of playing Santa I have every year.

Filling the Stockings with Love

On the first day of December, I try to set out a basket and small slips of paper. Each person in the family is supposed to write something about someone else in the family that they appreciate about them and stick it in each other’s stockings. On Christmas morning, we have something fun to look forward to opening, which centers on family rather than gifts. If you have smaller children, have them draw pictures for each family member and jot down the sweet things they say about their family members. It is truly a highlight of my Christmas morning and brings us all closer together.

Countdown to Christmas

Each year, I collect Little Golden books all year long for a countdown to Christmas for the children. I wrap them in newspaper with ribbon and we open one for each day of December. The books are bought at the thrift store for a quarter each and we read them each day until Christmas. Similarly, you could do a countdown to Christmas with a small treat or candy, an Advent calendar countdown, or another small token to let the kids know when Christmas is coming.

We also do a Christmas jar of fun activities for each day of December. We fill it with fun and free activities- making a snowman, watching a holiday show on television, making a holiday ornament- anything that is inexpensive and fun for us to do together as a family.

These are just suggestions for ways to make the holiday more special and more focused on your family rather than a store-bought Christmas tied up with an expensive bow.  Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to document these memories in some way so you can share them with your children. I started a holiday journal for the children and tucked in a copy of their sweet letters to Santa, their favorite holiday recipes, our holiday photo each year, and jotted down their favorite memories from the year.

My goal is to only leave my children a legacy of holiday memories, not a legacy of stuff under the tree.

Gingerbread Waffles

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter, plus some to butter the iron
  • Syrup, whipped cream or fresh fruits for topping, to pass at table

Preheat waffles iron. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until fluffy, then beat in pumpkin, milk, molasses and melted butter. Stir the wet into dry until just moist. Do not overstir the waffle batter. Brush the iron with a little melted butter and cook 4 waffles, 4 sections each. Serve with toppings of choice.

Becoming a (Gift) Wrap Superstar

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

There have been times in my life where I have relied on a gigantic roll of pretty wrapping paper and sticky bows to complete my wrapping, but those days are long gone now. I find wrapping gifts to be a fun and inexpensive challenge! There are so many unique ways that you can wrap your gifts and none of them have to cost a lot to accomplish.

Here are some budget-friendly ways to wrap those gifts and make you look like a total wrap superstar:

  • I love to hunt for wallpaper when I do my thrift shopping because it is such a beautiful (and durable) way to wrap your gifts. Hunt for patterns that can double for your holiday wrapping and for all of those other special occasions. I can usually find huge rolls of wallpaper for a dollar or less and it lasts me forever. You can make each gift unique by switching the colors and styles of your bows and use this paper for years to come.
  • Wallpaper borders are also a wonderful way to wrap your gifts, particularly for the small jewelry boxes or for recovering small gift tins. This size is perfect and is much easier to handle when wrapping these tiny packages.
  • Maps can be a really unique way to wrap those gifts. When visiting in different cities and areas, be sure to pick up some maps from the visitor’s bureau and save them for wrapping your presents. To make gifts more personal, save maps from your special trips or places that you would like to remember. Likewise, you can save maps from the recipient’s local area and wrap them in that. Maps can also be printed for free from places like Google Maps or MapQuest.
  • Save your paper grocery bags and use these to wrap your gifts. You can leave the packages plain or use rubberstamps and stamp up the paper with the holiday theme.  I find loads of great stamps from local yard sales and you can also find these cute stamps in the dollar section of craft stores.  Tie the gift with jute twine or with some raffia to make the gift look complete.
  • Newspaper is a great way to wrap gifts and can also be tailored to the recipient. For example, I love to wrap children’s gifts in the comics section of the paper.  This is a fun and frugal way to wrap their gifts and, let’s face it; kids do not care about the expensive gift wrap anyway. Likewise, you can use different sections of the paper to go along with that person’s particular interests.  For my favorite finance guy, I love to wrap the gifts in the Business section and add a Monopoly Money gift tag. Similarly, a foodie might enjoy a gift wrapped in the Food section and a whisk tied to her gift. Go nuts with the themes- it makes your gifts completely unique and more interesting to open.
  • If you have children, have them get in on the decorating fun. Let them decorate computer paper or large sheets of construction paper to wrap your gifts in. Have them help make a cute gift tag to go along with the gift. These are fun for grandparents and make them feel even more special when they receive a gift like this. Sometimes little things like this show more of the involvement from the entire family, then just the adult handing them a gift. Consider it your child’s contribution and bask in the grandparent’s glowing compliments!
  • A deck of cards are great for making cute gift tags. Is your dad the prankster in the family? Give him the Joker card! Does your mom think she is the queen of the castle? Give her the Queen card!  Take a hole punch and loop the tag through some ribbon to attach it. These are much more fun than a premade tag and can be fashioned to your family member’s personalities.
  • Save the greeting cards that you receive and make new gift tags out of them. I save cards that I receive that have interesting pictures on them for these kinds of occasions. You can hole punch them and loop them through with ribbon or mount them to cardstock and add an extra layer with stamps around it.
  • Gift tags can also just be handmade with a pair of jagged scissors and cardstock. Use different stamps and colored markers to make your messages.  These are much cheaper than buying those sticky gift tags and make your gifts stand out a little bit from the rest.
  • Gifts can also be wrapped in fabric that you might have lying around or can be purchased from the thrift store for mere quarters.  You can easily make a no-sew bag using hot glue and the fabric. Leave the top of the bag open and tie it up with a little bit of ribbon. This would be a great way to wrap items that tend to be more difficult to wrap because of their odd shapes.
  • Don’t forget that your gift itself can also be used to wrap your present. For example, a pretty scarf can be used to wrap a new pair of gloves or an apron can used to wrap a new dishtowel set.  Look at your gifts as wrapping elements and see how you can use them.
  • Add a special element to finish off your gift that you have found when doing your thrift shopping or when you visit the dollar store. For Christmas, I love to find mini-ornaments to use to decorate my gifts. For other occasions, you can tie something little that goes along with the theme of the party. Be creative and it can add another dimension to your gift. Binkies and rattles, for example, can be a cute on the outside of the gift, and can double as an additional present.

There are so many great and fun ways that you can wrap your gifts and once you learn to become more creative with your wrapping, the possibilities are endless!

Honey Butter

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Source: Recipezaar.com

This is great smeared all over everything! It has been a wonderful addition to my recipe collection!

Honey Butter

3/4       cup   honey
3/4     cup powdered sugar
3/4     cup butter or margarine, softened
1     teaspoon cinnamon

Blend all ingredients together and store in the refrigerator.

Pine Cone Cheese Ball

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

This is a recipe for the holidays. I have provided make-ahead instructions and instructions for serving day.

Pine Cone Cheese Ball

1 package cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Do-Ahead: Mix cream cheese, shredded cheese, and Dijon mustard in a food processor until blended. Shape into a ball and store in your freezer.

Thanksgiving Day: The day before- remove from freezer and allow it to thaw. Shape cheese into a pine cone shape. Stick almond slivers into the cone-shaped cheese in rows, until the ball is completely covered. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with crackers.

Cranberry Spread

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

This is a recipe for the holidays. I have provided make-ahead instructions and instructions for serving day. The dried cranberries are available in the Fit & Active brand.

Cranberry Spread

16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 c. orange juice

Do-Ahead: Mix all of the ingredients together and mold into a ball or leave loose as a spread. Wrap in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil, and store in a freezer bag. Make sure to label your bag so that you can find it again.

Thanksgiving Day: Let the spread thaw in the refrigerator 1-2 days before Thanksgiving. Place dip in a bowl (or on a platter if it has been molded into a ball) and serve with gingersnaps or crackers.

Every Post You Need for the Holiday Season

Thursday, December 7th, 2006


Since I have over two hundred posts, I thought I would pull together a list of posts that might help you during this holiday season.

Shipping:

Say No to Hand Cramps (when doing your holiday cards!)

Getting the Cheapest Shipping

Shopping:

Saving More on Christmas Shopping

Simon Mall Kidgits Program (since you have to be at the mall anyway!)

Sam’s Club Click N Pull (something worth checking out when you are battling long lines at the wholesale club)

Avoiding Holiday Debt

Thirteen Easy Ways to Save Your Family Money

Frugal Gift Ideas:

Restaurants.com Gift Certificates

Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget

Weeding Through Your Child’s Artwork Creatively (use some of those art projects for gifts this year!)

Frugal Teacher Gifts

Frugal College Student Gifts

Simplifying Gift Giving

Giving the Gift of Magazines Frugally

Babes in Toyland

Recipes:

Homemade Microwave Popcorn & Caramel Corn

Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Aldi Fall/Winter Menu Planner

Traditions:

Schedule of Christmas Television Programs

Creating Holiday Traditions

Me Time

The Christmas Jar

The Christmas Jar

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

Creating memories for Christmas can be an amazing experience for your child. Buying presents is easy, but creating a memory that will last a lifetime is more difficult and more rewarding for parents.

This year we are creating a Christmas Jar and we are filling it with twenty-five activities to do with them starting on December 1st. Each day we will draw an activity and complete it. Not only will the activity be fun, but it will also be a great way to mark down the days until Christmas.

Find any Mason jar and decorate it any way that you would like. On pieces of wrapping paper, create an activity to do each day and tuck it inside of the jar. On December 1st, begin the ritual of drawing from the jar and completing the activity for the day.

Here is a list of ideas to be included in your jar. You can change the activities as your child ages and as their interests change. The important thing is to be creative and have fun making memories with your children. They will remember these activities more than the latest gizmo you tucked under the tree for them. This may even be something that they do with their own children someday! Holiday Activities for Your Christmas Jar

  1. Watch a Christmas movie or holiday show on television. Get a complete list of Christmas shows and record them to watch together.
  2. Go see the Christmas lights in the neighborhoods in your pajamas.
  3. Drink a mug of hot cocoa under your Christmas tree.
  4. Read the true story of Christmas.
  5. Open one gift early.
  6. Bake cookies and take a plate to the firefighters. See if you can get a tour of the fire station and the engines!
  7. Write a letter to Santa to leave on Christmas Eve.
  8. Make a snowman.
  9. Make a snow angel.
  10. Pop popcorn and play a board game together, while listening to holiday music.
  11. Go to the dollar theatre and see a movie. Sneak in a snack.
  12. Go to the library and pick out books about Christmas. Read them together.
  13. Give the kids a bath while Christmas carols blare into the bathroom. See who can sing the loudest.
  14. Get or make stocking stuffers for Dad.
  15. Write a note to each member in the family to tell them how special they are and what you love about them. Leave them in their stockings.
  16. Draw a holiday picture and send it to a relative (of the child’s choice).
  17. Take a tour of lights in another neighborhood. Pop popcorn to take with you and blast Christmas carols in the car.
  18. Make an ornament together for the tree. Try to incorporate a picture of your child and have them choose the decorating. Write the year on the back and try to add one of these each year.
  19. Bake cookies for yourselves.
  20. Visit Santa at the mall (even if you already did this once).
  21. Start a holiday memory book. Quote your child and ask them what their favorite thing they had done (so far) was for the holidays. Record what they asked for from Santa. Take a picture of them for that year with their Santa gift.
  22. Print out a Holiday Coloring Page and color it.
  23. Make Christmas Crackers to put in each stocking. Take tissue paper and cover each toilet paper roll with it. Take ribbon and tie to close one end of the roll. Fill it with candies and confetti (if you wish). Tie the other end with ribbon and place these in each family member’s stocking. These can be opened on Christmas morning. To make them extra special, have your child write a note to each family member and tuck them inside. It will be a special surprise for everyone!
  24. Go to the library and pick out a movie to watch together as a family. Make homemade pizza and curl up together on the couch.
  25. Put together a box of items to donate and take your child with you to donate them. Ask them if they would like to contribute something that they have outgrown.

I hope that these ideas are a good start towards your Christmas Jar. Remember that these are the types of things that your child will remember and nothing in your jar necessarily has to cost you any money at all. Your child will long remember these times together and you will have created a memorable Christmas for the entire family. Happy Holidays!

Summer Vacation Survival Tips

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

The summer season is here and along with it comes summer vacation for the school-aged kids. Moms are now responsible for coming up with the ideas and curriculum for their children and I am the first to admit that by the summer my creative juices have just about run out. How can you make summer another time of fun and enjoyment rather than boredom? And just how do you do this on a budget? There are lots of great things that you can do this summer and ways to keep organized when doing it. Here are a few of MomAdvice’s suggestions for summer survival:

Mini-Vacations

Rather than taking one long vacation in the summer, break your vacations into smaller and more affordable activities. Some suggestions are hitting area zoos, amusement parks, local festivals, and museums. By taking smaller vacations, you have a few things to look forward to rather than just one event. Check out some books from your local library on activities that you can do within your own state and then research on how to get the best price. Talk about your vacation plans with friends and see if they know of any places that are cheap to stay at or where you can get coupons for money off of tickets. Ask your library as well if they offer any season passes that you can take advantage of. One of our local libraries had a pass to the art museum which library patrons could check out for the day gaining them free admittance into the local museums and galleries. We checked these out and saved thirty dollars every time we hit one of these places. Call in advance though because you may be competing with another family for the same day.

If you are planning a vacation to another state or even within your own state, visit the state’s visitor’s bureau website to get a packet of information and coupons for the state. For example, we were planning a trip to Cedar Point in Ohio so I requested a packet of information to be sent to me by the visitor’s bureau. Within this packet of information was a gold mine of coupons for the amusement park including buy one get one free admissions which saved us over twenty-five dollars.

Stocking Up

With the summer season comes a whole new set of things that you will need to be stocked up on. With children home from school, you are now the one who is to come up with the creative lunches and snacks for the kids. Try and keep the fridge well-stocked with lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grain breads, meats, and cheeses so that you can quickly make sandwiches and can avoid spending money at the drive-thru. Having items on hand that children can make themselves will also take some pressure off of you for providing the meal.

A great way to save time on cleaning up after your meals is by taking advantage of the pleasant weather and dining outside. Our family does a lot of eating outside on our patio furniture which makes for easy clean-up. When it is just my son and I though, we eat outside on a plastic mat “picnic-style”. We love to do this and the mat only requires a quick shake and clean-up is a breeze.

We also purchased a small cooler lunchbox for our day trips out which is a great investment for the family. We take this everywhere and fill it with the day’s lunch or snacks while we are out. Filling this with healthy snacks and food will save you money as well as saving you from a less than healthy trip to the drive-thru when you are out on one of your day trips or just running errands. This cooler can also be used when grocery shopping for keeping your ice cream and meats at cool temperatures.

Another great purchase for your car is a seat organizer where you can stick books and toys in for the kids as well as diapers, wet wipes, and maps to get to your destination. Don’t forget to pack a towel for brushing off after those trips to the beach as well.

A kiddie pool and sandbox can be a great investment for the summer as well for the younger kids. My son spends hours playing in his sandbox and kiddy pool and the investment was small compared to the hours of enjoyment he can get from these. If a family member is looking for a gift this summer for a birthday or just because, suggest buying one of these items so that you don’t have to pay for these yourself. We asked for these items for our son’s birthday and also used our anniversary money to put towards a family zoo pass for the summer.

Don’t forget to stock up on all of those fun summer toys for the kids to play with outside. You can stock up on a lot of your fun summer items over at the local Dollar Store. We purchase sidewalk chalk, sandbox tools and toys, bubbles, and water guns. They offer a wide variety of fun summer toys that won’t break the bank. You can also make a couple of these yourself with these recipes.

Super Sidewalk Paint

¼ cup cornstarch
¼ cup cold water
6-8 drops of food coloring

Directions: Mix cornstarch and cold water together in a small plastic bowl. Add food coloring and stir. Repeat this process to creat different colors of Super Sidewalk Paint. Super Sidewalk Paint can easily be washed away with water

Treasure Stones

1 cup flour
1 cup used coffee grinds
½ cup salt
¼ cup sand
¾ cup water

Directions: Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Slowly add water and knead until the mixture is the consistency of bread dough. Break off a piece of dough and roll it into the size of a baseball. Make a hole in the center of the ball big enough to hide treasures in. Fill the hole with treasures and seal with some extra dough. Let your treasure stone air dry for two or three days or until hard or bake in the oven on a cookie sheet at 150 degrees for fifteen to twenty minutes. If you would like to tin your Treasure Stone, add one tablespoon of powder tempera paint to tint.

Water Balloon Yo-Yo

1 small balloon
1 large rubber band

Directions: Cut the rubber band in half. Tie a loop securely on one end of the rubber band. It should be big enough to fit around your finger. Use a garden hose or water faucet to fill the balloon ¼ of the way with water. Blow air into the balloon until it is the size of a tennis ball. Tie the balloon shut. Securely tie the rubber band around theknot on the balloon. Place the rubber band loop around your middle finger and gently throw the balloon toward the ground. When the balloon springs back toward your hand, try to grab it.

Rainy days during the summer can be particularly difficult for children and parents alike. A great way to make these days go by quicker is by keeping lots of craft supplies on hand. You can also print out free printable coloring pages and crafts through dltk-kids.com. We keep lots of construction paper, play dough, crayons, and coloring books on hand for fun and creative activities during the day.

Keep in mind that your library can be a wonderful summer resource for your family. Obviously, the library offers lot of great summer reading to help you get through those rainy days, but try to look past just the literature and ask your children’s librarian what types of summer reading and activities they offer. I still remember as a child that the library offered a great summer reading program that worked in conjunction with our local Pizza Hut where we received stars for meeting reading goals that could be used towards food at the restaurant. This motivated me so much as a child that I read many more books then I had anticipated. Setting reading goals during the summer can be very rewarding for children. Make sure to ask your child’s teacher for a reading list of books that they should be reading in preparation for the next grade. If your child is not reading yet, be sure to take advantage of this time to read to them. It truly is amazing the power literature has on our minds and speech development.

Don’t Over Schedule

For some reason many parents tend to go overboard on the summer classes and activities. I remember as a child how much I enjoyed just running around through the sprinklers, getting ice cream, or taking a trip to the park. I do not remember as clearly the classes that I took or the activities that my parents had paid for. It is so important to allow our kids to be kids! Kids really do remember the little outings that you do with them and often these outings and time spent with them have a greater impact then four weeks of camp will.

Remember that this is their summer vacation. I know that I do not enjoy having every single minute of my vacation booked with things to do; likewise children enjoy having some downtime. Try to keep this in mind when signing them up for various summer programs. Maybe allowing your child to pick one or two activities during the summer will be more manageable for both you (the driver) and your child.

Making Memories

Most importantly, enjoy your summer to its fullest… Whether it is long lazy days of lounging by the kiddie pool or a fun-filled summer chock full of day trips and activities- try to make it a summer to remember. I am filling my son’s memory book up this summer of all the wonderful things we have gotten to do. I always think that I will remember each and every moment with him- the smells of the hot dogs on the grill, the sand between our toes as we play for hours in his sandbox, or his sweet face full of fascination at the tiny bugs crawling on his swing set, but all too quickly it is gone. Put your pen to paper this summer and lovingly write those memories down so someday you and your child can reminisce over the beauty of that hot summer of his youth and all that you shared together during those wonderful months.