Sunday, August 30, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
I live where our climate allows grilling outdoors all year, barring unexpected cold snaps or heavy rain.
Thus, our family staple for gatherings is the beloved Mixed Grill.
Yes, for Christmas, heat up the Weber or other grill on the patio, and put on it whatever your crowd favors.
For four people, for example, it is fun to grill 4 sausages (2 chicken jalapeno and 2 bratwurst), plenty of steak, and salmon, allowing everyone to sample some of each.
Many stores sell sausages that are not pre-packaged, so you can buy several kinds, like 2 bratwurst and 2 chicken peach habanero, for example.
Marinate in soy sauce and olive oil some zucchini sliced lengthwise and put that on the grill too.
If you are inspired put some mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and slices of onion on skewers and add those too.
A delicious side dish is cooked asparagus, set in oil and vinegar or any salad dressing you like, and served at room temperature.
Guests can bring anything they want, from side dishes to chicken wings (which don't take too long to cook).
Bravo to the hearty chef. At my house, this is my dear husband doing the grilling.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I love Christmas parties, open houses, drop-ins, you name it! Especially in the small town where I live, it's a rare treat to dress up and be festive.
One of my girlfriends always throws the best Christmas Open House. Why? Because she begins with a personal touch by delivering her creative handmade invitation door-to-door. One Christmas her invite was a ribbon-tied scroll with the opening words, "Hear Ye, Hear Ye."
Each Christmas her home is filled with oodles of food in fancy dishes - creative presentation - and a wide circle of friends. I always meet somebody new because she has such an inclusive guest list.
Finally, she prepares a small commemorative token to gift her guests. She places her gifts in a basket by the door. I particularly remember the basket of silver glass ornaments with the date artistically etched in gold and a red ribbon looped through the top hook so it could hang it on our tree. Her takeaway treat is not only a generous gesture but a marvelous way to remember her family year to year. I can't wait to see what she comes up with this year.
How do you throw the best bash? Leave your comment here to share with the world.
Brenda Nixon, http://www.brendanixon.com/
Co-Author, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
The female security guard came over and asked me to step on the mat with the little feet drawn in white and spread my arms. I told her I was sure it was my belt but she had to wand me anyway. Sure enough as she passed it over the buckle it went off.
“You’ll have to remove your belt,” she said.
“I can’t,” I told her. “If I do, my pants are going to slide down.”
Without the least bit of compassion she said, “It’s that or we have to go into one of the private rooms.”
Bob is standing by the Cinnabon case tapping his foot. Now I know if I don’t hurry here, he’s going to buy a Cinnabon and send his sugar numbers sky high. So I removed my belt and hung onto my pants.
“Arms out,” she said.
“My pants will fall,” I said.
She folded her arms and stared me down. I put my arms out and prayed. The wand passed quickly out to the tips of my fingers, down and up one leg and started down and up the other as I held my breath hoping to make middle big enough to hold the pants up until she finished. Just as she started up the second leg, I had to exhale. I could feel my pants begin to slide—embarrassment was only a moment away. Just as they were about to let go, she caught the wand in a belt loop and yelled, “Gotcha!”
I truly think she enjoyed the challenge.
You can avoid an emergency going through security by following a few simple steps:
The most important thing to remember right now is the 311. Simply stated it’s only 3 oz each of liquids and gels that can all fit into a 1 qt. see-through plastic Ziploc bag per person. Prepare this ahead of time and remember the 311 rule only applies to your carry-on.
As you are waiting your turn in line at security, begin emptying your pockets. Bring along a little bag to toss it in and then it can go in your carry-on to go through the machine. Stuff your belt into the bag as well. Don’t where a shirt with metal buttons.
Remove your jacket, or sweater, or over-blouse—anything that looks like a jacket. Either stuff it in your carry-on or hold it until you get a bin.
Your 311 bag needs to be taken out and placed in the bin along with your other items: jacket, shoes, purse, etc. Video cameras need to come out of their case.
Computers need to be taken completely out of their bag and placed in a separate bin.
And don’t plan to carry on those remote control cars to play with up and down the aisles. They will slow you down in security.
Also be aware that water guns are still considered weapons and will probably be confiscated at the security gate—don’t ask me how know.
Lastly, don’t wrap your Christmas gifts before you go even if they are in your checked luggage. You may find TSA has unwrapped them to check them out. It’s best to send gifts on ahead by USPS or UPS or FEDEX or reindeer. I don’t think Santa has all the security checks we do.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Per her advice, five years ago I began traveling with just one carry on suitcase which I carefully measured in the store before I bought it, so it fits the carry on luggage rules. My suitcase is 22 inches tall, but check your airline rules for size since rules vary.
Boy, what a blessing to skip the whole waiting at the luggage claim carrousel time.
And of course, the airline won't be losing any checked luggage of yours.
Don't pack it too heavy, so you can lift it to the storage bins above your seat.
I love this idea and hope you do too.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
If you’re flying, shop around and book early. Possibly look at flying into a nearby, less busy airport. Or fly at off-peak times, early morning or late night.
Arrive early. You will encounter hassles. Not running late on top of that helps minimize stress.
Pack light. Ship gifts ahead. Ask your host if they’ll have basic essentials (shampoo, toothpaste) so you don’t have to lug around all those extras. You can live with using someone else’s brand for a few days!
Prepare ahead: have necessary phone numbers, itineraries, e-ticket printout.
Take quiet toys/games/books to keep kids entertained.
Smile and be pleasant. Remember, airline personnel can be stressed. They’re working up to the last minute—or perhaps even during the holiday. Keep your cool and you’ll get better service.
Driving presents more options (you can take more stuff), but that’s not necessarily a good thing. You can have a tendency to take too much! Make a list before you pack and stick to it.
Wrap gifts when you arrive at the destination or, at the very least, wait to put on bows.
Again, have plenty to keep the kids entertained (DVDs, books, games). But take advantage of the time you’re together, too. You can listen to a family-friendly book on DVD. Our family loved Where the Red Fern Grows, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh.
Lower your expectations. It will take you 20% longer to get there than you think. (Gently remind Dad of this fact, too.) Know that your car will be trashed by the time you arrive. You’ll have to make unexpected stops, but that’s really OK. Your parents probably had to stop and let you go potty when you were small!
Take advantage of the togetherness. Talk—have real discussions with your kids. Reward them for good behavior or kindness to one another.
The Wilson family drives everywhere (Branson, MO, the beach at Gulf Shores, AL, South Padre Island, TX, my hometown of Evergreen, CO). We’re conditioned, but we also make the trip itself a time of purpose, instead of simply the means of getting us to the real fun. Of course we have our moments—arguments, getting sick in the car, almost running out of gas—but these simply serve as the backdrop for some of our favorite family stories.
Now we want to hear from you. Won’t you share some of your favorite family travel experiences or tips for making travel a bit easier?
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Holiday Travel can be fun, chaotic, memorable, a drag, stressful, or all these! When you travel with kids, it's all those and more; throw-up on the window, the rotten egg under the seat, fungus-covered "I don't know what that is," mismatched toys and hairbands, stale French Fries, and mountains of wadded-up candy wrappers.
When my girls were young we lived several states away from family. Holiday travel became a fine work of art in our home. Here are some ideas that helped us and might make your holiday car travel easier:
- Check out books and games from your local public library for the drive.
- Take frequent (every 3 hrs) breaks to let the kids run off steam.
- Consider driving over-night while the kids are asleep (hopefully).
- Play car games as a family.
- Sing silly songs together (One trip our family of four, along with my sister-in-law, changed the lyrics of a familiar children's song. Today, we still laugh about it!)
- Rotate seating. Allow each kid have a turn sitting in the front passenger seat.
Enjoy your holidaze in the car with your kids!
Brenda Nixon, http://www.brendanixon.com/
Co-Author, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The earlier you book your flight, the more options you have on prices, lay overs and airports.
Whether you're using booking sites, bid or auction sites, check them all out online. During peak travel season, casting the net as wide as possible will help you understand all of your options.
3. Check alternate airports
This is pretty standard, but at this time of year it can really make a difference. At no time can the alternate airport gambit pay off better than during the holiday crush. You can score on almost every front -- parking, rental cars, traffic to and from, nearby hotels -- and save on both time and money, and might even have a more pleasant experience.
4. Travel light to save hassle and money
Packing light is always a good idea at peak travel times, but this year it could save you money, as many airlines have decreased luggage weight allowances and charge per bag. Pack a bag small enough to carry on, and you even save the baggage claim hassle.
As a rule, airports are least congested at times when normal human beings would rather be at home or even asleep. Delays are far less likely for morning flights, and airports usually unclog as the afternoon and evening peak passes.
6. Bring diversions.
9. Don't Wrap
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Travel at Christmas. We'll give you ideas this week for making your holiday travel a bit less hectic. Karen, one of the Word Quilters, is a traveling guru, and I'm sure she'll have great tips. Throughout the year, I travel several times a month with my husband but our family never traveled much at holiday times. Since grandparents lived within a few miles of us, our holiday travel meant a ten minute ride over the hill and through the woods to grandma's house. But if you travel frequently, I have a tip that works well.
I don't pack my clothes or hair dryer or makeup, but I keep a small carry on bag packed and ready with all other overnight essentials--several doses of a nightly medication, shampoo, toothbrush and paste, shower cap, hair spray, hairbrush, etc. I also keep a list of last minute things that I don't want to spend extra to duplicate and keep in the bag. On an index card tucked into the bag is my last minute list of clothing and things to add such as my hairdryer, cell phone charger and other extras. By keeping my bag semi-packed, I avoid a lot of repetitious work and thinking throughout the year.
I've noticed an aside bonus too, we help our four elderly parents and on occasion I've gotten calls in the late evening and went to attend to their needs not knowing if I would need to spend the night at their house or even make a trip to the hospital. Within minutes, I could be out the door with everything I might need for several day's stay.
Another tip, always do what the truckers do each morning--they pre-inspect their trucks. Walk around your vehicle and watch for water and oil leaks and low tires. If in doubt, use a tire gauge to measure air pressure. Low air in front tires can cause a blow out and possibly an accident.
If you are traveling with children over the holidays, check out the printables, games and such, for kids at Family Fun. These are even coordinated by states. And for Mom and Dad a travel itinerary and car trip list is available for printing.
Do you have travel tips you could share with us? Please do. You might save a parent's sanity or even help a family be safer through the holidays.
Photo: from left Leslie Wilson, Judy Bowyer, and Cathy Messecar at A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts book debut in Abilene, September 2008
Saturday, August 15, 2009
The Japanese are especially careful about their gift wrap since gift giving is a big part of their culture even when it's not Christmas. By the way, they celebrate Christmas with a trip to KFC. Its become such a tradition that lines form around the block on Christmas day. But I digress.
In Japan you will also see gifts given in a piece of cloth, wrapped and tied neatly. This gift wrap is called furoshiki. (Click here to see some examples.)
Whether it is paper or cloth, the wrapping of the gift is as important and significant as the gift itself. Should you find yourself in the fortunate position of receiving a gift from someone who is Japanese, be sure to unwrap it with care and respect.
All of this reminds me that Mary wrapped God's gift to us, Jesus, in swaddling cloths. A precious gift wrapped with loving hands.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Raffia can be found in most stores that sell stationery and gift wrap. Some raffia is made from rayon, so I look for the raffia made from the palm trees.
You can buy raffia in its natural beige color, or dyed in many colors. Also, by typing in “recycled gift wrap” in an online search you will find many appealing wrapping papers made from 100% recycled paper. Greenraising.com is one company I found which sells some pretty Christmas wrap at a good price.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
The Scavenger Hunt
My husband and I devised a series of clues (a riddle, a rhyme or a photo) to guide the gift recipient to the location of the next clue. We usually did this for a larger, or pricier, item, such as a bike. One year, in particular, we sent our youngest son Reese all over the house, searching in closets and cabinets, under rugs and furniture, even lifting the toilet lid, to find the next clue. The final clue included a string that he followed to the garage, where his new bike awaited him. He appreciated—and needed—the gift, but he liked getting to it just as much!
Our daughter Molly is particularly fond of this wrapping method. It was either Molly or Reese who complained that “whoever invented gift bags took half the fun out of Christmas.” While the percentage might be exaggerated, the sentiment isn’t. Kids enjoy the frenzy that accompanies pulling off bows, tearing off ribbons, and ripping wrapping paper. They like watching the pile of trash grow around them—a signal that it’s been a big haul. To that end, I wrap a box within a box (repeated!) until the outside gigantic box beckons my curious daughter for days. She loves the thrill of opening the smaller and smaller boxes until she reaches her prize!
When it comes to wrapping gifts for other friends and family, get the kids involved:
Label items—so there’s no confusion later on
Gather plenty gift wrapping tools (scissors, tape, labels, pens, bows or ribbon, glue gun)
Heat up some cider, turn on Christmas tunes and sing while you wrap
You may either wrap individually one item start to finish or set up an assembly line, where one person cuts the paper to the correct size, another wraps and tapes it in place, another adds bows and ribbons, and another writes and puts on the tag.
My sisters-in-law, Kendall and Claudia, have creativity oozing out of their pores. Some of their innovative, clever, and beautiful ideas for wrapping (and adornments) include:
Burlap, dishtowels, leftover wallpaper, the “funny” pages (Sunday comics), plain brown or white paper stamped with Christmas stamps or drawn on by the kids
Instead of plain ribbon, they’ve used raffia, silk flowers, pine cones, tiny ornaments, even craft scraps (fuzzy balls or googly eyes)
For gift tags, they’ve used the previous year’s Christmas cards or cut recycled paper bags with decorative edge scissors.
These are just a few things that have worked for the Wilson household. How do you do it in your family? Share your ideas for fun or time-saving gift-wrapping tips.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
One way I use my my creative energy and save a buck is through wrapping gifts in unusual ways. First, it doesn't have to be paper (what a waste of trees anyway); try wrapping a gift in a clean, new hand towel and tie with brightly colored cord. Artistically place your recipient's gifts in a beautiful basket. She might like the basket so much, she uses it to store soaps or misc items. For kids gifts, I might wrap a box with the newspaper's comic strip page.
My daughter "makes" personalized wrapping paper by stamping birthday or seasonal images onto butcher paper. You can also look for recycled paper if you're eco-conscious.
Or don't wrap it at all. A couple of Christmases, I placed notes with clues around the house so my daughters had to scout out their hidden gift.
How do you get creative with your gift-wrapping? Share your tip with me here; I'd love your feedback.
Brenda Nixon, www.BrendaNixon.com
Co-Author, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
We have 4 children, so from the time they were babies, each child inherited a gift wrapping color, which matches their stocking color as well.
Hannah - Hannah is green. So all her gifts are wrapped in paper that is mainly green.
Sydney - Sydney is red.
Colin - Colin is blue.
Riley - Riley is gold.
I purchase my wrapping paper at the end of the season on clearance prices, and store it in the attic. And keep in mind that the color coated paper does not need to be solid colors. It can be a pattern, just mainly that color. Then you don't have to label any gifts, each child knows their color. I also stack each child's gifts under the tree in a pile all theirs, so they know where to choose their gifts form one at a time to open them on Christmas morning.
As for extended family events, choose one color or type of paper for each extended family gathering so when you pack the car, its easy to see which gifts go where.
Monday, August 10, 2009
The first tip is to print free gift tags from these sites. Use stiff card stock in a natural or light color. Many choices of designs.
To "wrap" up this Christmas, I've watched for satchels and totes markdowns. These can hold sizable gifts and then the recipient will also have a usable tote. Or how about purchasing the eco-friendly store bags and gift your presents inside, encouraging the recipients to keep them in their cars and remember to carry them into stores to use for purchases.
For that special person on your list who needs a break, stuff the inside of one of those totes you find: include a box of chamomile tea, a mug, and a small tin of cookies or a bag of homemade goodies and a paper back book. Write a note giving them permission to take an afternoon off and lollygag.
I can't wait to see what my clever friends have come up with for our relaxing or gift wrapping week...do you have any ideas to share. Let's hear them...thank, readers.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
For my husband and I the answer is yes. We use mainly one credit card from a national department store, which can be used anywhere, and buy all our groceries with it, pay for vacations and gas for the cars using it, and pay off the credit card balance in full each month.
The card has no annual fee, and strangely enough, a couple times a year the store / credit card company sends us a gift card to use at their store. The gift card costs us nothing, and we have the pleasure of going to the store and buying things at no expense to us.
We often use the cards, which are usually for $20 to $100 of merchandise, to get Christmas gifts for family and friends, at no cost to us. This is a good idea only if you pay off the balance in full each month; credit card interest rates can make a balance turn into a nightmarishly large amount owed. For us, this reward system works nicely.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
First, think like Santa. Make a list and check it twice. If you work from a list (and a budget), you’re less likely to succumb to impulse buys. If you don’t have in mind a specific item for that hard-to-buy for aunt, at least list a category (kitchen item, book, etc.)
Second, comparison shop. Check online sources and weekly circulars for the best deal, incentives or coupons. Again, if you have a specific item in mind, comparison shopping is a breeze.
If you really want a particular item that’s beyond your budget, ask another family member to split the cost with you. Much better to surprise that special someone with a pricier gift she really wants than several smaller items that she doesn’t need.
I hope this helps you as you plan for Christmas shopping. Now what money-saving ideas do you have to share?
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
In neighborhood stores you can use coupons, scout out clearance items, and watch for manager sales. Car pool with friends to save gas.
I used to think driving to the store once a week was the best way to save on my budget. My rationale was, If I'm in the store only once, then I'm not tempted to buy unnecessary items, plus I save gas by staying home. While this practice may help some folks, I've since changed my ways. I frequent the stores several days weekly. Why? Because when I pop in, I might find a "just marked-down" item or a one-day only unadvertised sale. Of course, I always take along my coupons and hope that I have one to match the clearance item. And I do not buy just because it's a good deal -- there must be a need for or an eventual use for the item.
Most of the stores I frequent either offer double-coupon value or they match any competitor's ad. By simply showing a manager the advertised price of their competitor, I can get it at that location for the competitor's price -- and that saves me gas and time.
When stores mail me a $10 off coupon good toward any $10 or more purchase -- you guessed it. I can't wait to ferret out a $10 item and then by presenting the coupon, get it free! Recently, I received one of those coupons from a local retailer. "I'm going to see what I can get," I cheerfully announced to my husband.
"You'll end up spending more money. That's what they count on," he warned.
"No, it's like a challenge or a game to me. I bet I get something we need for free or at a garage sale price.
I slowly browsed around the store and found adorable garden ornaments reduced by 30%. Since I wanted a couple more cutsie garden decorations, I grabbed a $15-priced plaster blue bird. With the sale price plus my coupon, I paid only $ .50 and that's what I call a deal! Because of it's beauty and future use, I felt it was a reasonable purchase. Now, I could've put it back for a Christmas gift but, a bare spot in my garden needed it more.
Watch for end-of-season markdowns. Now is the time to buy your graduation cards, announcements, or deco for next year. In the fall, buy summer items on clearance. After Christmas, get the following season's wrapping paper, gifts, and cards.
With today's dwindling economy wise families must create ways to be frugal. It can be fun and challenging. Make a game of it; see who in your family can ferret out the best deal.
Wishing you and your family a bountiful Christmas!
Co-Author, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
This week the Word Quilters will share a few money saving tips for this holiday season.
My hint is simple, but it's something I do every year about this time. I think of all the dishes, cookies, and trimmings that I might serve over the holidays, I check my pantry for any canned goods I need to use up or recycle, and then I make up a tentative menu for Thanksgiving through the New Year's gathering.
When I go to the grocery store, I pick up one or two items for my freezer or pantry that will be needed for the holidays. By mid-November, my pantry is stocked and I don't have to be concerned about spending extra money for staples during the six weeks leading up to New Years Day. Those quick trips to the store can be for fresh items, and then I'm not so tempted to buy all the display baking stuff. I've inventoried and know I'm ready for the holidays.