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Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

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When it comes to Easter baskets, kids are easy to shop for. Grab some jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, gather a few small toys, add the artificial grass and voila, you have created the magic of the Easter Bunny.

And then they become teens, and the Easter basket dilemma begins.

First off, don’t think for a second that teenagers are too old to wake up to an Easter basket on Easter morning. It’s more important than ever for parents to keep the magic alive as long as possible – and Easter morning is just one of those occasions to do just that.

However, teens are notoriously hard to shop for. They have specific tastes in style and gifts, and many times their tastes can be more expensive than the average Easter basket item.

With the help of other parents of teens, I have gathered more than 100 things to place in your teenager’s Easter basket – most of them completely affordable. If I’ve missed any, be sure to leave them in the comments.

(P.S. To see 50 more things, click here)

Alternatives to Traditional Baskets
– Fill an upside-down umbrella
– Use a portable shower caddy
– Fill a lunch box
– Use a reusable shopping bag
– Create an Origami box

Handmade Coupons
– Get out of chore
– Date night with Mom or Dad
– Day at the beach
– Teen’s choice for family outing

It’s All About the Money
– Eggs filled with coins
– $5 gift card to local business
– Gift certificate for mani/pedi
– Gas card

Toys for the Kid in All of Us
– Stuffed animals
– Nerf guns
– Bubbles
– Wind-up toys
– Family game
– Lego set
– Playing cards
– Hula hoop
– Jump rope

Get Ready for Summertime
– Beach towel
– Swim trunks or bathing suit
– Pool toys
– Sunglasses
– Swim goggles
– Flip flops
– Sunblock
– Baseball cap or floppy hat
– Snorkeling gear
– Beach umbrella

Subtle Hints for Upcoming Vacation
– Disney coffee (or hot chocolate) mug
– Pine cone (for hiking or camping)
– Seashells
– Pineapple (for Hawaii)
– Croissant (for Paris)
– Calendar or photo book of destination

Plan for Rainy Weather
– Umbrella
– Rain boots
– Rain jacket

Tasty treats
– Candy, of course
– Cheese sticks
– Beef jerky
– Trail mix
– Old-fashioned soda
– Handi-snacks
– Granola bars
– Cereal
– Hot chocolate

Bath Time is Fun Time
– Bath toys
– Bubble bath
– Bath salts
– Washcloths
– Bath towel
– New robe
– Hair brush
– Bath sponge
– Pumice stone

Practical, But Cool
– Cute socks
– A new outfit
– Underwear
– Key chains
– Deodorant
– Flavored tooth floss
– New toothbrush
– Colored shoelaces
– New pajamas
– Travel mug
– Water bottle
– Fingerless gloves

For the Creative Teen
– Colored pencils
– Colored chalk
– Scented markers
– Coloring book
– Water color paints
– Gel pens
– Polaroid camera
– Sketch book

For the Studious
– A new book ;-)
– Cool pens
– Colored paper clips
– Cute office supplies, like this cat shaped Post-it dispenser
Refrigerator magnets
– Mad libs
– Erasers
– Flash drives

Things to Do
– Movie passes
– Sports equipment (basketball, bucket of baseballs, etc)
– DVD of their favorite movie
– New video game

For the Teen With the Green Thumb
– Flower seeds
– Gardening gloves
– Gardening tools
– Potting materials
– Collection of succulents
– Hummingbird feeder

For the Music Lover
– iTunes gift card
– ‘Retro’ mixed cassette tapes
– Concert tickets

For the Girly Girl
– Nail polish
– Lip gloss
Metallic temporary tattoos (I want these!)
– Mini lotions
– Hair accessories
– Jewelry
– EOS chapstick (shaped like an egg!)
– Body spray or perfume
– Henna kit

What else?

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For many, December is the season for the Christmas Blues – the time of year that becomes the most dreaded instead of the most joyous despite how many songs have the word “merry” in them. That feeling of dread only grows if you’re broke, if you are missing a loved one, if you find yourself suddenly single… If one more person says “merry” to you, you’ll shove that merry up their….mistletoe.

I can’t promise you guaranteed happiness over the holidays. I won’t insult you by making light of your situation by telling you to fake it till you make it. The holidays can be the hardest time of year, mostly because everyone expects you to be happy – or at least pretend to be happy so everyone around you can be comfortable. Let me be the one to give you permission to cross anyone’s name off your gift-giving list if they try to pressure you into feigned happiness.

And then let me give you a few tips on how to get out of your slump on your own terms:

1. Give to others who can’t pay you back. The holiday season is supposed to be about giving and goodwill towards others. Some still abide by this. But for the most part, I think many of this has been lost. It doesn’t even have to be big. Buy a box of hand-warmers and pass them out to the homeless. Go a step further and give them a blanket too. Donate your time at a soup kitchen. Take a few hearts off the Secret Santa tree. Go to the Volunteer Center and see where they can use your help. If you personally know of a family who is struggling, lighten their burden with a bag of groceries, help with cleaning, or offer them free babysitting. Small things add up to big things, and smiles are contagious. Trust me, the love you give results in a warmed heart, and soon it becomes easy to forget who’s getting the better deal out of your generosity.

2. Refuse to overspend. Set a realistic budget, and then stick to it. Vow to keep the credit cards sheathed, and just use the cash you have. Don’t have much? Get creative. Check out Pinterest for a few ultra cute ideas. Give the gift of service instead of a wrapped gift. Bake your present. Write a poem and frame it. Write a nice letter. But don’t give so much in December that you’re hurting in January. No one wants that for you.

3. Exercise! I know, I know. It’s cold outside. The mornings and nights are too dark. That holiday pie is weighing you down. There’s too much to do. And did I mention it’s cold outside? Yes. Whine about all your excuses. Get it all out there. And then put on your walking shoes and take a walk around the neighborhood. Grab a few friends and do it every day. Do whatever you can to get your body moving. It’s hard at first, really hard. But if you stick to it, soon it will become your favorite part of your day. And then, you’ll feel restless if you don’t exercise. And then….you may even feel (cringe) happy.

4. Get your Vitamin D. The days are shorter, meaning that it’s dark when you go into the office, and dark when you leave. But Vitamin D is the happy vitamin, and so important to keep you out of the doldrums. My first suggestion to you is to make sure you take at least 20 minutes in your day to sit outside in the sunshine (when it’s not raining or cloudy). But my second suggestion is to make sure you’re taking a Vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter months. The recommended dosage is 600 IU for anyone under 70 years old, and 800 IU for anyone 71 and older.

5. Keep organized. It’s easy to feel like there’s no time in your day if you’re not sure how you’re spending it. But if you create a schedule and try to keep to it, you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in a day. Same goes for how much money you’ll find when you stick to a budget, and how much sanity you’ll have left if you keep your house clean. Do your best this month to keep all areas of your life contained, and you may even develop a new habit for the new year.

6. Don’t over-budget your time. Be realistic, you can only do so much in one day. So don’t create some crazy schedule that will only make you feel like a failure when it collapses in your lap. Instead, put a star next to two or three things you have to get done today. Then, if you finish those and still have time, you can get a jump-start on a few things on tomorrow’s list as well.

7. Allow yourself time to be sad. Let’s face it, sadness happens – and that’s okay. It’s a necessary emotion that everyone must feel sometime or another. Own it. Spend a day in it. Truly feel it. Don’t mask it with electronics, or hide it behind a smile. You are sad. And the only way to get past being sad is to give yourself permission to be sad.

8. Ask for help. If you can’t get past the sadness, there is no shame in seeking out a professional’s assistance in lifting you out of that deep hole of depression. If that’s too scary for you, talk with a trusted friend and let them make that call for you. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be so incredibly sad that everything tastes bland, every day is on repeat, life has no purpose, and the sunshine just can’t reach you. And I know that when it gets to the point, the hardest thing to do is ask for help. Be brave, and ask for it anyway. It’s the best gift you can give to yourself, as well as to those who love you.

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When it comes to Christmas, the catalogs and store shelves are filled with fun ideas for the younger crowd. But what about when kids get older? Toys are generally not as exciting, and the gift options become fewer and more expensive. This doesn’t exactly make it easy for Santa’s helpers to know what to put in a teen’s stocking…

In our house, stockings are just as exciting as the bigger gifts – even in the teenage years. But what the kids don’t realize is that I struggle with what to fill them with every year! So this year I enlisted the help of a few Facebook friends, and together we came up with this list of items that teens and tweens might love.

P.S. Feel free to add to this list in the comments!

Stocking stuffer ideas for tweens & teens:
– Silly socks
– nail polish or lip gloss
– candy, gum, mints, etc.
– retro toy from Cost Plus
– magazine
– book
– DVD
– earrings, bangles, etc.
– pen and journal
– lotions and bath soaps
– travel games
– card games
– cell phone accessories
– earbuds

Gift card ideas
– gas
– coffee
– smoothies
– fast food
– movies
– restaurant
– clothing

IOU ideas
– night out sans siblings
– night with later curfew
– night off from chores
– activity of their choice

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Yesterday, I made it very clear that all I wanted to do for Mother’s Day (in between going to church in the morning and serving at church at night) was to sit by the pool with a book in one hand and a margarita in the other.

I totally got my wish. And it was fabulous.

I also treated my mom to chocolate covered strawberries and to lunch at our favorite little cafe. My kids spoiled me with some new jewelry and a heavenly chocolate mousse that has become somewhat of a tradition. My stepson gave me a sweet origami flower he made (you stepmoms probably understand how huge it is to receive any kind of gift from your stepchild!  I almost cried!). And I replenished the chocolate covered strawberries we’d been snacking on all day with new ones because they were just so dang good.

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By the end of the day, I was full of chocolate, kissed with a sunburn, and happy as a clam.

This morning I woke up totally dehydrated and feeling like I wanted to die. Seems I kind of forgot about drinking water yesterday.

It was almost noon when I started to feel somewhat human again. Before then, I was haunted by images of chocolate covered strawberries, and I swore I would never eat one again, so help me God. Instead, I sipped on my coconut water in a furtive effort to rehydrate with the nasty tasting liquid. One can later, and I think I’m going to survive.

And I’m dreaming, once again, of chocolate covered strawberries….

P.S. The above strawberries are super easy to make. Melt some chocolate chips (the darker, the better, IMO) for 1 minute in the microwave, stir, then for 30 seconds more. Dip washed (and dried!) strawberries in the chocolate and then rest on a covered baking sheet (parchment or wax paper works best. We were out of both, and foil worked just fine too). Melt white chocolate according to the package – careful not to overheat because it gets gross. Dip your spoon in, let a bit drizzle down, and then whip it back and forth over the strawberries (I whip my spoon back and forth!) to create the desired effect. Refrigerate strawberries until chocolate hardens, about 15-30 minutes or so.

In the meantime, find various other items to stick in the leftover chocolate – bananas, peanut butter, your finger… The kids and I hate to see good chocolate go to waste, so this is probably our favorite part. 🙂

Hope your Mother’s Day was fantastic….and that you remembered to drink plenty of water!

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When you think of Easter baskets, you probably think of young toddlers running out to see what the Easter Bunny has left for them. You may have visions of tiny toys and plastic eggs filled with jellybeans. There’s magic in those grass filled baskets, and it’s not wasted on toddlers who will marvel at every single surprise they discover Easter morning.

But what about the teenagers?

When I was growing up, my mom made it a point to never take away the magic we felt at holidays when we were younger. Well into our adult years, we received a stocking full of small gifts at Christmas, a bunch of pink and red covered chocolate treats at Valentine’s Day, and an Easter basket full of trinkets and goodies at Easter. And now in my own house, I am continuing the tradition.

Thing is, however, it is much more difficult to find fun things to give teens at Easter when the majority of seasonal treats are geared towards kids under the age of 10. This year is even harder as we work to steer clear of all things sugary – i.e. anything that is traditional to give at Easter.

So with a little help from other parents and some searching on my own, I have put together my own list of things, edible and not, a teenager might want to discover in their basket Easter morning.

Happy Easter!

1. CDs
2. DVDs
3. Gift cards to their favorite store
4. Nostalgic kid toys (wind-up cars, Lego men, yoyos)
5. Pez dispenser
6. Gum
7. Themed baskets (nail spa, music list, hair, etc)
8. Movie tickets
9. Family coupons (for a later curfew, get out of chores free, etc)
10. Gas card
11. Nail polish
12. Lip gloss
13. Magazine (cars, beauty, or whatever their interest)
14. Poster of their favorite actor/band
15. iTunes gift card
16. Sunglasses
17. Perfume or cologne
18. Toothbrush
19. Water bottle
20. Travel coffee mug
21. Book
22. Phone accessories
23. Ear buds
24. Comic book
25. Disposable camera
26. Hair accessories
27. Flip flops
28. Beach towel
29. Sketch pad
30. Journal
31. Socks
32. Gel pens
33. Smelly pens
34. Glitter glue
35. Sharpies
36. Kite
37. Small package of cookies
38. Snapple
39. Crackers
40. Subway gift card
41. Keychain
42. Hat
43. Chapstick
44. Lotion
45. Flower seeds
46. Video game
47. Jewelry
48. Wallet
49. Purse
50. Dollar coins

What else?

Does the Easter Bunny still visit your teenager? What kind of treats do they give your teen?

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This article will print on Friday, December 28, 2012 in the Press Democrat.

You know what I love about the new year? It’s a chance to start over, to create something huge, to make a difference in at least one life, even if that life is merely yours — especially if that life is yours.

It’s a fresh start, a clean slate, a time when we can say all those cupcakes we indulged in don’t count because it’s the first day of a new year and better eating habits start today!

The beginning of a new year can mean anything, because there is no baggage tied to it. OK, maybe there is, but for one day you can pretend that nothing stands in your way as you plan out the next 12 months and promise that this is the year to make something happen.

The world is your oyster, and you, my friend, are the pearl.

This might be the year that you write that book you’ve been holding inside you. It could mean that you save that huge sum of money meant for the down payment on a computer, or a car, or even a new house. Perhaps this is the year that you get your grown kids out of your house, or maybe the year that you conceive your first child. This is the year that you can do something so impactful that it changes your life forever. And you know what? I hope you do.

But it takes more than hope to make things happen. You can hope for the things you want as hard as you can, but nothing is going to happen unless you put the work in. Trust me, I’ve been hoping for rock hard abs and buns of steel for years, and well…  A popular saying puts it bluntly by defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If you expect change, you are going to have to change your ways. But how?

First off, no one is perfect. Got that? Now memorize it. You’ve had a lifetime to engrave all your bad habits into your way of life. Erasing those engravings is not going to be an overnight process. It’s going to take a lot of time and dedication to exchange your bad habits for good ones. It may even be a struggle you have to deal with for the rest of your life. But it’s not impossible.

The first step is to become an expert in the goal you have set. Writing a book? Research everything you can about your subject through other books that fall in the same category and through people who have experienced what your characters are going through. Learning a new language? Watch movies, read books, and subscribe to a newspaper that is in the language you are studying. Preparing for your first marathon? Surround yourself with people who have the same goal and can give you tips on how to succeed. Whatever your dream, immerse yourself in it fully, allowing it to become your biggest interest so that failing is not an option.

Next, set reachable, incremental goals for yourself. Let’s say you want to lose 50 pounds in 2013. OK, that can definitely be achieved in 12 months’ time. But if you look at that weight as a whole 50 pounds, it becomes a daunting task. Instead, break that number up into steps, like 5 pounds a month, adjusting as time goes on, if necessary, and you’ll feel like “Yes, I can.”

The third step is to create a plan. You’ve set a goal, now how do you plan to achieve it? Most resolutions fail in the first month of a new year because there was never a plan that spelled out how to achieve it.

If you’re writing a book, set aside a specific time every day to sit down and write. If you’re trying to lose weight, start out slow with diet and exercise, increasing your efforts as your stamina and nutritional needs change. If you’re trying to save money, decide on a specific amount from each paycheck and set it aside as soon as you get paid.

When the going gets hard, remind yourself why you set this goal in the first place. Write it down so you can read your reasons whenever you feel it’s an impossible dream to accomplish. Create a cover for the book you’re writing, or set up a “dream board” that includes an image of the object you’re saving money for. Use these objects to visualize the end result of all your hard work so that you can feel what it’s like to actually achieve your goal.

Finally, believe in yourself. You can do this. You deserve this.

Let’s make 2013 the year to realize our dreams!

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IOU Santa

About this time every year, I can be found juggling a half-done gift list, trying to figure out how I can finish shopping for everyone on that list from the dwindling funds in my bank account. Regardless of how carefully I plan financially for this time of year, it always seems like it’s never enough.

With Christmas less than two weeks away, this is about the point when I start hyperventilating.

The one thing I have sworn not to do is dread the holidays. I’ve come close, this year probably being the hardest as I face the reality of paying off the bills from our recent wedding while simultaneously preparing for the most expensive holiday of the year.

It just seems like such a waste to be overcome with feelings of negativity when buying presents for others. It defeats the purpose behind the holidays when you get someone a gift out of obligation and dread instead of because you were thinking of them when you happened across the perfect gift.

So this past month I’ve been racking my brain for creative ideas, trying to find items that cost a lot less money but still tell the recipient just how much they mean to me.

One of my favorite ideas was inspired by one of my co-workers. She is digging deep into her treasure trove of recipes and putting together a mini cookbook for her brother. In exchange, her brother promised to build her raised garden beds in her backyard in the spring, utilizing his construction skills to save her time and money with his talents. I love this idea of gifting presents of service, because it can translate to just about anything and is easy for friends to give to one another. Single parents would probably love the gift of free babysitting. Those who know their way around cars can give free oil changes or headlight and windshield wiper replacements. And I don’t know anyone who would turn away a free day of cleaning or the promise of a fully cooked dinner.

People who are ruled by their right brain have a bit of an advantage in this department of creative gift giving. Regardless of how cool all of the season’s expensive gadgets and toys are, nothing holds as much meaning as the gift that was made specifically for the person it’s given to.

If you’re a writer, compose a poem and place it in a pretty frame. Artists can give presents of their artwork. Create collages that have a personal touch, filled with everything from photos to 3-D items like pieces from nature (think fall leaves, a pine cone or acorn), buttons, or fabric. Put together a collection of recipes, like my co-worker did, binding them with a decorative cover.

If you know how to sew, make something everyone can use like potholders or decorative throw pillows. You can even collect a few interesting beads and put together eclectic earrings or a unique bracelet that no one else can buy in a store.

For kids, be clear that just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean they’re bound to get everything on their list. It’s actually better if they don’t. First off, most kids will receive gifts from their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members. Let that take some of the pressure off you. But beyond that, it’s better to set the precedent while they’re young that on Christmas morning they’ll receive only a few of the items they asked for instead of all of them. It’s likely that once all the presents are opened, they’ll be so focused on what they have that they’ll forget about what they didn’t get.

And of course, it’s also important to teach kids the art of giving. It’s never too early to help kids give gifts to other family members, allowing them to feel what it’s like when the other person opens a gift they picked out just for them.

Other gift ideas can be theme related. Give a “Cozy Night In” by stitching an edge on a pretty piece of fleece to create a blanket, and include a favorite book. Offer the gift of a favorite memory by framing a photo of you and the recipient, and then include a note about what why this day was so special. Send the kids on a treasure hunt for their gift by giving them a map that leads to different clues that lead to their present. Or, if a bunch of your friends or family members are in the same financial bind you are, host a gift exchange party where everyone brings one unmarked gift to trade.

Some inexpensive gifts I found:

Life of pi purseLife of Pi Coin Purse:  Cost Plus is doing this massive marketing promotion for the movie of Life of Pi, which I don’t really mind because I just read the book (and LOVED it), and plan on seeing the movie before it leaves theaters.  Plus, it fits into their worldly theme with all of the Indian saris, clothing, jewelry, and other such items.  My favorite is this mirrored coin purse in orange (it comes in fuchsia too) for only $12.99.  I almost bought myself one, before I remembered that I was buying gifts for other people and not for me.  But who knows, maybe Santa will buy this for me…  Also, Cost Plus has deals of the day going on every day, so you’ll want to sign up for their email list or check their site regularly to find some great gifts for a lot less.  www.worldmarket.com

MrsMeyers_OrangeClove_ScentedCandle_webLMrs. Meyers Holiday Candle Tin:  Candles are always a nice touch for stocking stuffers or a gift for a friend.  This particular candle is in a fresh pine scent, or (my favorite) an orange clove scent.  When lit, it fills the room with that fragrance and sets a lovely mood.  The soy-based candle not only smells delicious, it comes in a reusable can.  Plus, it’s part of the Mrs. Meyers line of all natural products, which is always a good thing.  It runs for about $3.99, and can be found at Target or Whole Foods.  More info at www.mrsmeyers.com.

flashlightsFinger flashlights:  I came across these in a pricey catalog, and was instantly enthralled with them.  But I couldn’t fathom spending as much money as they were asking on these tiny gadgets.  So I did a little sleuthing and found a box of them over at Amazon.com for less than $8.  The kids will love having light wars with each other, sneaking in a little bit of midnight reading, and just being cool with a bunch of flashlights strapped to their fingers.

hand tattooHand tattoos:  A picture is worth a thousand words.  And these are pictures ON YOUR HAND!  These are awesome!  They come in either 2 sets of 8 animal or monster tattoos each (!), and can be found at UncommonGoods.com for only $12

Oriental Trading Company:  This website was a godsend when it came to planning a wedding.  And for parents with young kids, it can be a godsend for you too.  They have so many arts & crafts ideas, as well as perfect little gifts for the stocking, it’s ridiculous.  Peruse their website and you’ll see what I mean.  www.orientaltrading.com.

st jude bearGive back to charity:  There are countless charities that need our help all year long, but especially at Christmas when giving is in the front of people’s minds.  One of these charities is through Kmart, who is collecting funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital through December 29.  They’re making it easy to donate by giving an option at checkout to add $1, $5, or $10 to your bill at checkout, funds that will go directly to St. Jude’s.  Further giving can be accomplished by purchasing a St. Jude bear ornament for $5 each, of which Kmart will donate $1 for each ornament sold.  kmart.com

What are some of your gift shortcuts when times are tight?

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