Inexpensive, stiff-bristled paint brushes--in a variety of widths--are a great addition to the cleaning tote. Use them to dust the tops of books, whisk dirt from baseboards and corners, clean dust from blinds, and remove crumbs from upholstery.
Recently, I eavesdropped on an online discussion about teaching children to give.
The original writer was a concerned, conscientious parent of a preschooler. This father shared his plan to teach his daughter about holiday giving. They would, he wrote, sort through the child's toys and set aside several toys "to give to needy children."
An admirable effort, I thought--until he set forth the rest. He hoped to locate a charitable agency that would permit his daughter to hand her toys directly to the child who would receive them. This way, he felt, his child would learn what giving meant in a direct and unambiguous manner.
I stared at the computer terminal and asked "What is wrong with this picture?"
Over the next few days, I argued with myself. "How can you criticize a parent who wants to teach a young child to give?" I asked. "So many parents don't teach that lesson!" Still, I couldn't help thinking about what this "lesson" would mean to the other child involved--and what it said about children, charity, and giving.
As others chimed in the discussion, I eagerly read their replies. Most praised the proposed plan--including the direct hand-off. One woman after mine own heart did remind this father to choose donated toys carefully, making sure they were complete, in good condition, and wouldn't pose a safety hazard to another child.
But nobody said what I wanted to say.Giving with Grace
Seems to me that this father's method, however laudable, falls short in a very important way. Giving is not about toys, things, or possessions. Giving, or at least, the kind of giving I want to teach my children to do, is about grace.
"Grace", in Christian terms, is the ultimate gift. It is something given freely, not earned. It has no ulterior motive. It is selfless. It cannot be bought or bargained for by the recipient. Grace is a force more powerful and more loving than any feeble human emotion, need or want.
Grace lies at the heart of every true gift. If grace is present, the humblest gift warms and ennobles, creates and expresses love. Without grace, even the costliest gift is cold and heartless.
But you can't give with grace if you're thinking of yourself first! Or if your gift comes with strings attached, or sends a mixed message to the recipient. There's no grace in the coerced gift, the I-don't-want-to-but-it's-expected gift, the gift that is designed to nudge the recipient in some vital way
When we ask our children to give, do we teach them to give with grace? Or is it merely, as it seems to be for this family, a learning experience purchased with old toys--without the slightest thought for the comfort, the embarrassment, the feelings of the other child to the transaction?
How do we teach our children to give? To give in the spirit of grace, to reflect the love which has been poured out so generously upon us?Give year-round
First, we need to bring giving into our lives all year long. During the holiday season, it is easy to share our good fortune. Food drives, bell ringers, charity functions help us remember the needs of others.
People are hungry the other 364 days of the year! Do our children see us model charity and giving from January through November? If not, what message are we sending them: that hunger and pain and misery only exist at Christmas? That we should only respond to this need only at Christmas time?Make giving real
Second, we need to make giving real to our children. Best strategy: get them involved.
One effective method for school-aged children is the popular Angel Tree ministry or similar outreach efforts sponsored by many churches and charitable organizations. A family sponsors a child of designated age and sex, buying gifts and clothing for delivery by the charity.
When my children were younger, our family sponsored youngsters of the same ages. My children did the shopping for our "angels". It makes giving very, very real when a child chooses to buy his angel the radio-controlled car he hopes to find under his own tree! Do take a picture of the wrapped "angel" gifts and the young givers. Your children will not forget that shopping trip.
Now that my children are older, our family focuses on the age group that languishes on the tree: teenagers. Everybody loves to buy toys for a three-year-old, but needy teens need love, too--and hats and scarves and hand-held video games. Explain to your children why you have chosen those last few forlorn tags. They will understand the love you express when you make sure that even no-longer-cuddly children have a holiday gift, too.Give in secret
Third, make sure your right hand doesn't know what your left hand is doing. Jesus, a great teacher, exposed the fallacy of the ostentatious giver, whose abundant charity depends upon whether anyone is watching.
Give in secret, and tell your children why: it is no gift when we expect gratitude, appreciation, or attach strings to our offerings. We give, instead, to relieve need; to share the abundance with which we've been blessed; and to reflect to others the good that we find in the world. Giving with grace is reward enough!
A few Christmases ago, I roped my eldest child, then 14, into a left hand/right hand deal. I was coordinating a church food box program for 120 families and a toy drive for homeless children. My giving time and my giving dollars were stretched as far as they could go.
Then I met a family that challenged me to give more. There were eight children all told, and two single mothers living on the edge. I felt burdened to see to it that they received more than the standard turkey dinner provided by our food box program.
My daughter and I put our heads together. Could we shop very carefully with our Advent money, and somehow find a way to bring Christmas to this family?
We could, and we did. We checked the sale flyers and found a sale on the types of toys we wanted. A neighbor (of limited means, himself) heard of our challenge, and contributed $20 on the spot. We tightened the belt on our grocery budget, and found a way to send gifts for all and some much-needed cash to this family.
But we never met them. We never burdened them with our need for praise, for thanks, for appreciation. We packed everything into a box and saw to it that it was delivered along with their food basket.
My child and I remember that Christmas as one of our most joyous. Our gift was not thanks or gratitude or "aren't-you-wonderful!" Our gift was knowing that somewhere in our city, eight children were enjoying new toys, and two burdened mothers had their loads lifted, just a bit, when they didn't expect it. In a word, grace--but we were the recipients of the blessing.Allow your children to sacrifice
Finally, give your children the chance to experience sacrifice in order to give. Even a small sacrifice on their part will reinforce a lesson on giving more than any other factor.
Our family's Advent traditions focus on sacrifice. Each of us chooses an Advent discipline: some act or duty that will save money in our household. Even a three-year-old can be "light monitor"; turning off the household lights when no one is in the room. My eldest, the year she was eight, chose to make my lunch each day (and her offerings both saved money and helped me lose weight!).
Parents choose a discipline, too, like giving up lunches out. The entire family can agree to give up dessert or forego movie rentals in Advent as a family discipline.
In the center of our Advent wreath, we keep a little jar. Each night at dinner, we light the Advent candles and report in on our discipline. Has the light monitor turned off the lights? A quarter goes in the jar. Did Mommy eat her peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich instead of a restaurant lunch? That's another $4. As Advent progresses, the jar fills with the tangible results of our sacrifices. This fund pays for our holiday giving.
To make the lesson real, let the children take the whole jar--pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and all--to the store to pay for the "angel" gifts. Each coin stands for one small act of sacrifice, one little selfless step to help others. Salesmen will cringe when they see you coming, but your children will see the direct connection between their little sacrifices and their ability to give.
And they'll do it without having to hand an old toy to another child.Celebrate
Today's guest editor, Cub Reporter Perry Bear, takes on a ticklish parenting dilemma.
How do you teach children to give during a holiday focused on receiving? Today's essay focuses on how to model and teach giving during the season.
Perry has a suggestion, too, which is not so bad for a little teddy bear!From Our Guest Editor
It's me, Perry Bear Ewer. I'm Miss Cynthia's teddy bear; you may also know me from my Web site for kids, Perry Bear's Fun Page
It can be very hard for children to think about others during the holiday season. Everywhere they go, people ask, "And what do you want for Christmas?"
We have to help children learn to give, not just receive. Miss Cynthia has some ideas in the essay below.
I have an idea, too. Unless you're Santa Claus, just change the holiday question! Not, "What do you want for Christmas?", but "What are you giving this year for Christmas?"
The answers will surprise you!
Your bear friend,
Perry Bear Ewer
Help children make a Child's Gift List, including both the gifts they hope to receive, and those they plan to give.
Schedule a one-on-one Christmas shopping trip with each child.To Read Today
Attention, parents! Read Cynthia Ewer's most requested essay on kids and giving:
Celebrate the season with White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies in a Jar.
This pretty gift-in-a-jar is so good, you may want to keep it! White chocolate chips and macadamia nuts make it pretty, while free printable gift tags make it easy to create:
Cutting costs at Christmas doesn't mean celebrating like Scrooge. It's not about what you buy--it's about what you do!
Putting "celebration" at the center of the season--and taking the focus off of gifts and giving--can be the key to happy holidays that don't break the bank.
Better, when it comes to kids and Christmas, cheap is good! Simple, inexpensive family activities can be as meaningful as pricey Nutcracker tickets--and no need for scratchy dresses or dress-up suits.
Try these no-cost, low-cost ways to celebrate the holiday season with kids:
Warm the hearts of good little boys and girls with a packet of Snowman Soup!
Take a single-serving package of hot chocolate mix, chocolate candy kiss, marshmallows and candy cane, package in a mug or holiday-themed goody bag, then add a free printable gift tag or bag topper for a cheery winter gift.
Easy enough for children to make, Snowman Soup is perfect for stocking stuffers, office gifts, Secret Santa presents or 12 Days of Christmas gifts.
Add a Winter Warmer Jiffy Pop® Popcorn Topper for an easy, cheery winter gift basket.Ingredients
Place mini-marshmallows in small zipper storage bag, or wrap in plastic wrap.
Tuck hot chocolate packet into treat bag. Add marshmallows, chocolate kiss candies, and candy cane.
Seal bag or close with twist tie. Holiday hint: glitzy chenille stems make pretty, decorative bag closures. Curl stem ends around a finger or a wooden spoon to create a curly closure!
Add a printable gift tag or bag topper, or attach hand-written tag using the Snowman Soup poem below.Snowman Soup
Was told you've been real good this year.
Always glad to hear it!
With freezing weather drawing near,
You'll need to warm the spirit.
So here's a little Snowman Soup
Complete with stirring stick.
Add hot water, sip it slow.
It's sure to do the trick!
"Tradition" is a powerful force that sometimes pulls an unsuspecting family along in its wake. Do your holiday traditions serve your family, your values and your spiritual beliefs--or are you running a tired and joyless circle each holiday season in the name of tradition?
To cut stress during the season, don't wait to give your family's holiday traditions a stiff scrutiny.
Give some thought to your family's holiday traditions well before the season is full upon you. Try these ideas to simplify your family's traditions--and deepen the season's joys!
Be objective! Re-run last December through your mental computer, and try to discern which activities were most enjoyed, most meaningful--and which might be scheduled for revision or elimination.
The goal: to simplify the season by doing less and enjoying it more.Cut back
You may find that some traditions have been outgrown and should get the old heave-ho.
Sure, young married couples can manage to visit both sets of parents on Christmas Day, but that tradition becomes a burden once the second child enters the family. Time to end it when little ones are frazzled and cross at too many long dinners in scratchy dress-up clothing.Scale down
Simplify those traditions that make the cut. Take the gingerbread house. You always make an elaborate gingerbread house the Saturday after Thanksgiving--but last year, the teenagers were bored with the whole thing, and you're working full-time now, and it's just so much work and half the time the house falls apart and the icing drips off . . . .
Why not trade that gingerbread house for a quick session of icing dairy case sugar cookies with those very teenagers? You've kept the fun, but freed yourself from the chore.Refresh the list
Best of all, promote some pleasurable family activities to the status of tradition. How do you create a tradition? Simple: you do it every year, you do it all together, and you all enjoy it.
Beware, though! Don't fall into the Women's Magazine Tradition Trap!
You know what I mean, right? You pick up a women's magazine, and it tells about the aw-gee tradition that some other family has, and you get tear-in-eye and want to inflict same on your own little brood--whether its right for your family or not.
No, think back to what your family enjoyed last December. Did you all giggle at the wonderful movie, A Christmas Story? Create a new tradition by scheduling a Video Night, loading up on the Orville Redenbacher's, and cuddling down together to watch.
Keep things simple--and there's no need to spend money to create a cherished tradition. Drive out to see the lights in the most decorated neighborhood in town. Volunteer as a family at the Food Bank. Invite neighbors for punch and cookies.
If you do it every year, you do it all together, and you all enjoy it, its a tradition!Celebrate
Santa's coming ... will there be room to store new toys?
Adding Santa's bounty to overstuffed kids' rooms is a recipe for January clutter disaster--and don't even try to tell this Nana to scale back on presents for the grandchildren. Bah, humbug!
About this time of year, it's a good idea to contemplate the toy situation in your child's room.
It's a fact of modern life. Children's playthings have exploded in number, size, and complexity, while children's storage options have remained static.
Just try storing a Happy Meal collection in the average toy box! Even the best-organized kid's rooms can easily drown in today's toy avalanche.
And nowhere is the clutter more apparent than at Christmas. Time for a sneaky/secret/flat-out toy reduction!To Do Today
Declutter children's toys
For very young children, it's relatively simple. Corral and store several "big" items like Fisher-Price play sets, and cull the rest. Come a winter's rainy day, you'll be able to pull out the stored toys, their magic refreshed by a stay in the attic. Replace them with other toys. You'll cut clutter in the kids' rooms, and give yourself a welcome "new toy!" break from time to time.
Older children require more care and thought. Depending on your household's customs, you can ask for toys for a charity toy drive (being sure they're safe, complete and in good condition) or point out that Santa can't leave new toys if there's no room to put them away.
Get the children involved in the solution, and you're ahead of the game.
Whatever you do, think ahead. You'll need to clear the decks in the children's play areas before Grandma/Santa arrives, later this month!To Read Today
Need more help organizing children's rooms?
We Whisk You a Merry Kissmas? This easy-to-make stocking stuffer is simple and sweet: a perfect gift for Secret Santa exchanges or office gifts.
Make our Merry Kissmas Whisks with free printable gift tags to speed the job.
Who knows why? How did it happen? Women--wives and mothers--have come to bear the brunt of holiday preparation.
It's enough to make Barry Manilow sing! Women plan the meals, list the gifts and shop until we drop. We cook, we clean, we decorate--and we wrap and wrap and wrap.
Our hands cramp from addressing Christmas cards. We go short on sleep to run the sewing machine late into the night. We rise before dawn to anoint the holiday bird and entrust it to the oven.
Too often, we stew and mutter in our devastated kitchens as we clean up after yet another holiday meal to the sounds of football festivity in the next room.
There's something primitive and atavistic about this state of affairs. You'll find it in even the most modern, share-the-work, dual-career families. Whatever the arrangement of day-to-day life, in too many families the approaching holidays fall squarely on Mom's shoulders.
And that's too bad. Holiday preparation, when done in an unhurried manner, can be as much fun as the feast! Children and husbands need a sense of Christmas inclusion as much as Mom needs some helping hands.
Too often, Dad feels like nothing more than a bill-paying machine, shelling out big bucks for gifts, food, and decor over which he has little say. Young children need a sense of giving to accompany the gifts they receive. Teenagers may not show it on their "cool" exteriors, but will burst inside with pride when Tom Turkey is accompanied by a stuffing from their hands this year.
Open the door. Open the door to a family Christmas. Bring husbands, children, teenagers into the planning process, into the work, into the chores. Set a planning meeting for the entire family, and delegate, delegate, delegate.
No, those purple-iced cookies made with store-bought dough won't be as elegant as Mom's creations, but you'll never see happier bakers than the children who made them.
Give teens "adult" chores: baking desserts, writing Christmas cards, buying gifts for family members. They won't disappoint you.
Let husbands do more than stock the bar or haul the boxes, and they'll feel brought into the mainstream from out on the margins.
Plan a family cleaning day to vanquish those cleaning chores, and celebrate with the pizza man and a good holiday video.
Many hands make light work, and light hearts! Make this Christmas a family affair!Reality Check
Last night, good Dr. Steve and I participated in one of our favorite holiday traditions: watching the wonderful Christmas movie, A Christmas Story.
As we laughed along with Ralphie and his friends, we made the same comments we make every year.
"That kid looks just like my Dad, when he was little!" said Dr. Steve. In singsong, I chanted "Mommy's little piggy!" right along with Ralphie's mom.
Just as we have for the last 17 years, we turned to one another at the end and said, "That is the best Christmas movie ever made!"
Earlier in our marriage? Meshing two sets of holiday traditions wasn't as simple as watching movies together. His way, her way needed to become our way.
How did we simplify and harmonize two sets of holiday traditions?
From the start, it wasn't a simple--or quick--process to come up with a set of traditions that were truly ours. Working around our respective expectations, and the viewpoints of our children and parents, the celebration careened back and forth between traditions during our early years.
For me? Having children had softened my "No Early Christmas!" stance, but I'd held firm to "No Christmas until after my birthday, December 7th!" Until I married Dr. Steve, that is, and was converted to "Decorate the house on Thanksgiving weekend!"
In turn, Dr. Steve gave up certain of his own family traditions, involving multiple cocktail parties at multiple country clubs, all requiring neckties and pantyhose (ugh). Two teenaged step-children brought that one to a screeching real-world halt after a single, dressed-up year.
Now, twenty-four years into marriage, we've passed through the fire and into a nice, comfortable frying pan. Like the linens and the cooking pans, our traditions are finally ours.
Jumbled and homely, they're products of negotiation, transition, and just plain getting older.
We've mixed old favorites, like opening a gift of something warm to wear on Christmas Eve, with new creations, like the "Travel Tree" displaying ornaments and souvenirs from our trips around the world.
Our traditions are simpler. They're less stilted and more fun.
And not one of them has come from a women's magazine. How? Check out today's essay and Simplify Holiday Traditions!
Then use our printable Holiday Tradition Tracker to record the meaningful and the fun activities you share with family this year. They're traditions in the making!To Do Today
Complete all gift shopping and craft gifts. Wrap and mail send-away gifts by December 6.To Read Today
Simplifying holiday traditions? You'll do less and enjoy it more!
Bursting with the tastes of the season, Candy Cane Cookies are my eldest child's all-time favorite recipe!
Melting, tender cookies shaped and colored like candy canes, Candy Cane Cookies are flavored with sparkles of crushed peppermint candy.
We're in the home stretch! It's Celebrate! Week at the Christmas Countdown, a time to tidy up our preparations and shift gears into full holiday mode.
Take stock today! Find and tie up those loose ends.
This week, we'll complete and mail Christmas cards, finalize gift-buying and gift-making, and plan any holiday parties.
We'll finish holiday decorating, inside and out. We'll focus on family, bringing all family members into the holiday preparations. We'll consider the children, and find ways to teach children about giving, not just about getting.
Most of all, we'll rejoice. While the holiday season means many things to many families, for all, it's a season of joy and celebration.
You're nearly ready ... to celebrate an organized Christmas!To Do This Week
Begin a family Advent observance. Use an Advent wreath, calendar or daily family activity to underscore your spiritual values, and research new traditions to bring meaning to the season.
Write and address final one-fifth of Christmas Card List this week. Mail all cards by December 10.
Complete the final one-fourth of your Gifts To Make list this week. If the gifts have not been completed, put them away for next year. Add any needed replacements to the Master gift List.
Purchase gifts for the final one-fifth of the Master Gift List, together with any gift substitutes for uncompleted "to make" gifts. Wrap gifts as they are purchased.
Keep a running total of gift expenditures and watch the budget!
Buy fresh trees, wreaths and garlands, and complete holiday decorating.To Read Today
Mom, let go those holiday burdens and bring the family on-board. Families that work together, celebrate together:
As you prepare for Christmas, don't forget Santa's reindeer! Share some seasonal magic--and create a new holiday tradition--with Magic Reindeer Food.
A sweet stocking stuffer, Magic Reindeer Food is sprinkled on the lawn to attract Santa's sleigh. It's a fun, fast tradition, and perfect for classroom gifts or Secret Santa exchanges. Make it in multiples with free printable gift tags including the Magic Reindeer Food poem.
December arrives this week and with it, the fullness of the holiday season. This week in the House and Holidays Plan, decorations shine bright as we prepare a welcome home for the holiday season.
As we remove decorations from storage, we’ll focus on the storage space they call home the other eleven months of the year.
In holiday prep, the season moves toward full swing with the coming of Advent. It’s time to plan holiday traditions, complete gift shopping, mail send-away gifts and work on holiday decorating.
Decor is central to Week Fourteen at the Holiday Grand Plan: it's Decorations Week!
The holiday season is here, so we'll bring it home this week, organizing holiday decorations and decor storage. Are gift packages ready for mailing?
Ready? Let's get organized with Decorations Week at the Holiday Grand Plan!
Count down the days to Christmas with this easy printable craft: a cupcake pan Advent calendar!
Using a 24-count mini-cupcake pan as a base, colorful magnets printed on inkjet magnet sheets hide a treat for each December day before Christmas.
Best, free printable magnet designs make it easy to create this holiday craft project. Choose your favorite design to create a quick family tradition!
Our photo tutorial will have you crafting your cupcake pan advent calendar in record time. Print, cut and celebrate!Make a Cupcake Pan Advent Calendar
Earlier this fall, I spotted a clever and creative Halloween countdown calendar made from a cupcake pan by blogger Kristine at USMC Life. (Don't miss her new Christmas Advent Calendar for more inspiration!)
Much as I loved this project, I wondered. Could we make it simpler by harnessing printer power? Enter printable magnet sheets: they make it easy to create a pretty holiday decoration ... fast!Materials and Supplies
To craft your cupcake pan advent calendar, you'll need:
We'll use inkjet magnet sheets to create 24 magnets for our advent calendar. Find these at the Amazon.com link above; for this project, I used the house brand available at Staples office supply stores.
Inkjet magnet sheets are thicker than paper or cardstock, so you'll want to read instructions carefully to use them with your inkjet printer.
A 24-cup mini cupcake pan serves as the base of our calendar. A clutter-fighting bonus: since we won't be altering the pan to create our advent calendar, it's fine to use the same pan that bakes treats year-round. Just return it to the cabinet when the season is over ... until next year!Instructions
To begin, print your favorite magnet set from the printable advent calendars at the bottom of the page. Each calendar will take two inkjet magnet sheets, with 12 images per sheet.
To make your own calendar printable, use desktop publishing software to create an image set. Depending on your particular pan, you'll need magnets that are between 2 1/4-inch to 2 3/8-inch square. (Our printables, printed at full size, are designed to be 2.4 inches square.)
Gather tiny treats to fill 24 cups. Our calendar uses holiday-colored Rolos-brand chocolate candies; other candies that fit include individually wrapped Lifesavers-brand candies. Consider alternate treats such as rolled up Scripture verses, tiny ornaments to decorate a tabletop tree, or Lego-brand toys needed to create a holiday-themed construction.
Cut apart the magnet sheets. A personal paper trimmer makes it easy to create sharp, straight cuts ... but a pair of scissors works, too!
Arrange the trimmed magnets on the pan, mixing and matching patterns for a pretty design.
An optional touch creates a polished look: use a scrapbooker's corner rounder punch to create rounded corners on your advent calendar magnets.
Your cupcake pan advent calendar is ready to display!
How will you display your advent calendar? Some cupcake pans include a hole for hanging; if so, thread a pretty ribbon through the opening to create a hanger.
We wanted to use our pan in the kitchen after the season, so we've mounted it on a simple picture frame stand.
Have fun!Printable Advent Calendars Christmas Gifts & Crafts
It's coming, it's really coming ... it's here? Oh, NO! The Saturday after Thanksgiving can be a time of flagging motivation. How is it that, despite cooking for three solid days, the leftovers give out less than 48 hours after the Thanksgiving feast?
In spite of all the preparations, no one feels really prepared for the Christmas season to come--and after the Thanksgiving holiday, it's no longer possible to avoid the obvious. Here it comes!
It's natural enough when you think about it, but nobody expects to be a bit depressed at this point of the season. But for many of us, there's no "good enough" when it comes to the holiday season. No matter where we are, plans, prep or purchases, this is the week we feel the strain.
Have you made a Christmas planner, gotten organized for gifts and giving, and done more holiday prep than ever before--but still, you feel anxious?
Time to relax--with a catch-up weekend!
Here's the good news. First, you're not alone. Second, what you're feeling is normal. Third, it's going to go away. Judging from years of experience, lots of us enter a holiday slump right about now, but it's short-lived.
Think of it as being on a big, big toboggan at the top of the hill. The hill is the holiday season. This year, we've loaded all the things we're going to need onto the toboggan with us, and we're going to be thankful for all that work when we reach the bottom of the hill.
But right now? It's as if we're trembling on the brink, not really sure we're ready to careen our way to the bottom. "Have I done enough? Am I ready? Will everything go right?" runs through our mental Muzak.
Go ahead, shove off! It's the indecision that's causing the strain. Once we surrender to the season, start the ride down the hill, we'll settle back and enjoy it.
Ready? Reach for some holiday motivation. This weekend, do the things that jumpstart your holiday feeling. Play the special carols music. Bake the family cookie recipe. Take in a live performance at church.
Once you shove off, you're going to enjoy the ride. Time to celebrate!To Do Today
It's Catch-Up Weekend! Big cyber-sigh!
Whether it's gifts or decorating, cards or cooking, catch up on what needs doing to create an organized Christmas.
But be good to yourself! Lighten up the load and lighten your hearts, because we're almost there.Today's Recipe
There's a reason this Banana-Nut Bread recipe has been loved for generations: taste! Not to mention that it does a great job of repurposing ripe bananas!
Bake in small loaves for holiday giving, storing the Banana Nut Bread in the freezer until ready to use. To freeze, wrap each loaf in plastic wrap, then place wrapped loaves in a freezer food storage bag.
Banana Nut Bread will stay fresh in the freezer for 4 to 6 weeks.
Have you been Elf-ed? Join the fun with this Christmas version of the Halloween BOO game.
Sometimes called "You've Been Jingled", "You've Been Elf-ed!" is easy to play.
Sometime before Christmas, one neighbor starts the game, secretly leaving a basket of treats together with an Elf sign and Elf poem explaining how to play the game.
Ring the doorbell and run! It's the best part of You've Been Elf-ed!
In turn, each recipient is asked to post the sign to alert would-be Elves that they've been Elf-ed, and to pass the game along to two more friends or neighbors.
As the days pass, Elf signs pop up all over. Who's been Elf-ed? It's all part of the fun to see holiday cheer spread from door to door.
To start the game, we've made it easy with free printable Elf-ed poems and Elf signs.
Will you join the Christmas fun? Look out ... You've Been Elf-ed!Printable Elf Poems and Signs Christmas Gifts & CraftsYou've Been ElfedCelebrate
Who says holiday traditions have to be "sweet"? Thinking about Christmas trees, I can't help but laugh at my childhood memories.
An Episcopalian home, our family kept a "good Advent". While we observed special Advent customs and decorations, no Christmas tree entered our home until December 24, the first day of the liturgical Christmas season. The tree then stayed up until Twelfth Night, and we'd make a little family party as we took it down on January 5th.
"Awwww!", I hear you say. Well, there was just one tiny little problem: our family lived in hot, dry Las Vegas, Nevada. Buying a once-fresh tree on December 24 was an ever-changing adventure!
Most years, we ended up "stealing" a tree. Oh, we'd try to pay, but by Christmas Eve, most tree lot operators had simply closed their doors and gone home. If anyone was around, they were usually grateful to have one less tree to dispose of on December 26. Jackpot!
This situation gave a very "Las Vegas" element to our Christmas tree selection. It was always a gamble!
Some years, we'd bring home the tallest, freshest, most noble--and most expensive--tree on the lot. Seems that nobody else could afford it, so the lot's beauty would be left standing majestically, waiting just for us.
More often, though, we had our choice of the "Charlie Brown" trees. We'd sort through squashed stacks of dried and browning trees, looking for one with enough life left to bring inside. "This one's okay," I'd call, "if you put it in a corner and add a LOT of tinsel."
My sister would disagree. "It's UGLY, you creep!" She'd hold up her candidate, and I'd scoff back. Ah, the magic that is Christmas, sibling rivalry and all.
Finally, my father would make an executive decision. If he was sick enough of the squabbling, he'd make that decision with less than all available data. I.e., he'd pick the first tree that wasn't an outright fire hazard, and we'd add another memory to the family scrapbook.
Then, of course, who could decorate a Christmas tree without the Great Tinsel Fight?
All eldest children and most Type A personalities fall into the category shared by my mother and myself: One Strand At A Time Tinsel Hangers. Second-borns, Type Bs and most fathers fall into the second category: This Is Boring So Just Ball It Up and Toss It On The Tree Tinsel Hangers.
There was no middle ground. After all the ornaments and lights were hung, the 23-cent packages of tinsel would come out, one per person. "One strand at a time!" Mom would say, and she and I would begin to coat the tree with shining silver, one strand at a time.
Rebellion brewed early in the other camp. Dad opted out, retiring to a chair to sip eggnog and supervise the proceedings. When harassed enough, Mom would appeal to him: "John, make Junior stop tossing the tinsel!" "Junior," Dad would drawl in my brother's direction, "stop tossing the tinsel."
My sister was sneakier. She'd do her tossing on the opposite side of the tree from Mom. Ergo, Big Sister Cynthia would step in. "Mom! Barbara's tossing tinsel!" Amid the fussing, the tattling, and the laughing, we'd cover the tree with shining strands.
And each year, that poor Charlie Brown tree looked beautiful. No matter what the "before", the "after" always won our hearts, squashed and all.
These days, family allergies dictate artificial greens in the Ewer household--and the mother in me sighs.
My poor deprived children will never know that most special holiday tradition: stealing a dry, squashed tree on Christmas Eve.To Do Today
Capture the holiday magic for years to come: record those memories!
Keeping a record of holiday high points means you'll never again lose the fun and good feelings. Record each year's special moments on a printable holiday memories journal form.
Continue interior and exterior decorating.Today's Recipe
Did this week's spice check reveal tins of cinnamon whose time has come? Recycle stale cinnamon into Cinnamon Ornaments!
No-bake Christmas ornaments made from cinnamon give off a spicy Christmas smell. Round up the children, and make a batch for your tree!
Buy your cinnamon in bulk at a warehouse store and save:
Mix applesauce and cinnamon to form a stiff dough. Roll to quarter-inch thickness, and cut with cookie cutters. Use a soda straw to make a hole in the ornaments.
Place on a rack to dry (an extra window screen works well). Let dry for one to three days, until completely dry.
You may decorate these ornaments with royal icing, but they're not edible. Enjoy the wonderful fragrance!To Print Today
If the local newscast (egged on by local retail merchants) tells me one more time exactly how many "shopping days" are left until Christmas, I'll scream!
For busy home managers, there are never enough days to shop for/buy/craft/bake gifts for family and friends--and this year of all years, disposable income is in short supply for many of us.
Solution: Christmas Cheats. These spending short-cuts save time, money, energy and aggravation during the holiday season. With clever solutions for gift-giving, they're the frugal way to celebrate like Santa but spend like Scrooge.
Ready to outwit that old Christmas shopping demon? Try these strategies to get the most delight from your holiday spending dollar:Back to Basics
Some basic principles underlie the concept of a Christmas Cheat. First and foremost:"special" means more than "expensive." Better a tiny, beloved jewel than a big, costly item that'll end up in the recipient's next yard sale.
[Rule of thumb: avoid all gift items displayed on red-covered tables that block every aisle at the department store. Nine times out of ten, you're looking at Yard Sale Inventory, come July.]
Second concept: consider time, not just money. The classic Christmas Cheat is both inexpensive and quick to produce. You'll have to get over the idea of hand-embroidered guest towels, plastic-canvas tree ornaments, and crocheted anything. Ditto hand-iced and decorated cookies, elaborate multi-step fruitcakes, and anything requiring a pastry tube.
The obvious corollary: think multiple! What you do for a Christmas Cheat, do a lot!
Last point: presentation is everything. This does not mean investing a fortune in overpriced holiday-colored this and holiday-decorated that, or sweet little baskets that cost more than the gift inside. Even simple drop cookies have more impact presented nestled in a foil-covered candy box than a zipper food storage bag!Cheat Central: Catalogs
How do we put these principles to work? For inspiration and guidance, go to the source, the fountainhead, the wellspring of the Christmas Cheat: mail order catalogs. Preferably from Gumps, Neiman Marcus, or tiny over-priced boutiques.
No, we're not going to buy from these fine commercial entities! As Cheaters, we're here to rip off ideas, plain and simple.
Take a perfect Christmas Cheat: pint-sized canning jars filled with colorful layers of dried beans. The lid's been embellished with a simple cut circle of Christmas fabric and tied with a bow. A gift tag lists the recipe for "15-bean soup"--and the catalog price--$5.95 plus shipping, handling and sales tax.
So we'll make our own! You'll need a case of half-pint jelly canning jars (and do get the decorated jelly jars), a half-yard of Christmas fabric, two rounds of inexpensive Christmas ribbon from the craft store, and 10 to 15 bags of dried beans. Choose the beans by the color, including yellow and green split-peas, white kidney beans, red kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans--as wide a selection as you can obtain at the super-market. Add a jar of beef bouillon cubes to the shopping cart, and you're ready to Cheat.
Open the jars, and fill them in layers: a half-inch of green split peas, a half-inch of red kidneys, and so on. Choose the most colorful beans for the bottom layers, as they'll show the most. Toss any leftovers in a zipper storage bag for your family's 15 bean soup! Toss two foil-wrapped bouillon cubes on top of each jar of beans.
Lay the inner lid on top of the jar. Cut 12 6-inch circles from the Christmas fabric and place one fabric circle over each jar. Screw the outer lid over the fabric
Now to apply Cheat Concept Three: presentation is everything! Go to your computer, and use any word processor to make small gift tags. Include a basic recipe for bean soup, but be sure to name it after yourself! Add a nice little graphic and use your fanciest font. (Or print out our own Confetti Bean Soup Gift Tag to save even more time!)
Punch a hole in the corner of the tag, and tie to the jars with a ribbon. Voila! Christmas Cheat: twelve gifts you can give anyone, teachers to neighbors, with a minimal investment of money, time and effort. A classic!
The same catalog that led to the Bean Soup Cheat also featured--for $12.95!!!--quart canning jars containing oatmeal and chocolate chip cookie ingredients. Also prettily layered. Also topped with holiday fabric and clever gift tag. Also a perfect candidate for the Christmas Cheat!
Find more recipes and printable gift tags for gifts in a jar here.Banish Baking Blues
Are you baking this year? Don't fall for the iced sugar cookie routine! Unless you schedule cookie-baking as a child-centered activity, frosted sugar cookies violate principle two: they take too much time. Ditto the more-is-merrier idea--baking tons of different kinds of cookies. Long hours on weary feet, and have you priced nuts this year? Yikes!
Perusing our catalogs, though, we can identify two Christmas Cheats for baked gifts. First recommendation: biscotti. Now, I thought everyone knew that biscuit are twice-baked Italian cookies, made for dipping in coffee or chocolate. Wrong
So I will tell you: these easy-to-make, cheap to bake goodies are hot, hot, hot. Biscotti have an espresso/cool quality that makes them suitable candidates for a Cheat. Pair them with a bag of good coffee beans, and you've created the ultimate--and desirable--Christmas cheat.
Check any recent Christmas cookie magazine for recipes.? You'll make dough, shape it in a single big flattened log shape, and bake it once. Then you'll cool your log of dough, cut it into 1/2-inch slices, and bake again until the slices are dry and crisp, but not hard.
Applying "Presentation is Everything", you'll stand eight or nine biscotti on end in an inexpensive coffee mug and wrap with plastic wrap or cellophane. Stop there for a modest gift, or add a half-pound of gourmet coffee beans for a heftier treat. Result: a city-chic Christmas Cheat!
Here's Baking Cheat Number Two: dip things in melted chocolate chips. Christmas cookie magazines are full of dipped goodies this year, but I'll share the secret.
Use 1/2 cup of white chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate or milk chocolate chips. Place them in a Pyrex measuring cup or small batter bowl. Add one teaspoon solid shortening, no substitutions! Microwave for 30 seconds on high, stir, and repeat the cycle until the mixture is melted and smooth. Dip away! Short, sweet, and you'll look like Cordon Bleu material.
Dip one end of biscotti in melted white chocolate chips for a fancy touch. Pedestrian oatmeal cookies turn Gourmet Snob Cookies when they've stuck their toes in some melted chocolate. Add some dried apricots half-dipped in white chocolate, line both cookies and apricots up in rows on a foil-covered piece of shirt cardboard, and top with plastic wrap. If Presentation is Everything, this cookie plate is mega-everything--and quick, and cheap!Get the Goods on Gift Wrap
A confession here: I hate gift wrap. It's expensive and it's wasteful and it takes too much time and it's just thrown away and if I could do without it, I would. But I can't. So here are some hints for getting your time and money's worth out of gift wrap
First, keep it simple. Why buy a box, fancy printed tissue for the inside of the box, fancy printed paper for the outside of the box, a cardboard mailing carton, and separate gift cards?
Check into the U.S. Postal Service's new innovation: decorated mailing containers. Buy white tissue paper, wrap it around the gift, plunk the gift in the decorated mailing box: an instant Christmas Cheat!
When you do have to buy paper and tissue, stick with solid colors. A thick package of white tissue will cushion birthday, wedding, and baby gifts all year long, but you can't get away with that Cheat if your tissue says "Merry Christmas!"
Ditto wrapping paper. Solid red can be used throughout the year with different-colored ribbons. Mickey Mouse in a Santa hat just doesn't have the same universal appeal.? Slickest Cheat I found this year: nicely printed gift boxes, 3- and 4-for-a-dollar. Wrapping couldn't be easier!
With bows, you're on your own. At most, I wrap glossy gold ribbon (also multi-occasion; red ribbon is just too saved-from-Christmas for me) once or twice around the box. But I acknowledge that others may be of a different bow persuasion--so do your best to get the most dash from your ribbon purchases!Stretch-Tite(tm) Saves the Day
Here is my number one packaging Cheat: Stretch-Tite brand plastic wrap. It's hard to find, and costs about $4 a roll, but Stretch-Tite is the best single food wrap going. (It's also designed for the microwave, but that's another article.)
Use Stretch-Tite to wrap stacks of cookies. Stretch it over baskets. Tape it to food plates. It has an elastic quality that looks almost professional, doesn't tear, and won't wrinkle or shift. Pedestrian cookie plates will look professionally shrink-wrapped. Bonzer stuff!
Look for Stretch-Tite at warehouse stores like Sam's Club and Costco, or ask your grocery store manager to add it to the plastic wrap and bags section.
Packaging Cheat number two: "foil" gift wrap works for baked goods as well as holiday gifts.
Buy several rolls and use the foil to wrap hunks of cardboard for cookie trays.
Tuck pieces of fudge or Aunt Bill's Brown Candy in small squares of foil gift wrap, and they'll keep nicely, yet add a gala Christmas flair to gifts and candy dishes.
Who said you had to buy metal tins and fancy "goodie" boxes for your baked goods?Gifts and Giving
Christmas magazines and catalogs are fabulous resources for seasonal decorating, gift ideas, and Christmas recipes—but en masse, they can become too much of a good thing.
When the piles avalanche from every side table, finding an article or a recipe that caught your eye a few weeks ago can be an impossible job.
How do you keep all that good information without being crushed by stacks or drowning in paper? Answer: a set of tear files.Try a Tear File!
Tear files are just that: a collection of torn-out pages from magazines and catalogs, organized according to subject. Properly cultivated, they’re a quick and central repository of all things Christmas.
Storage options for your tear files make it easy to retrieve saved snippets. Small numbers of torn pages can be stored in clear plastic page protectors in the Christmas Notebook, filed by category behind dividers.
For larger collections of torn articles, set up hanging file folders in a small desktop holder, or invest in an accordion file. Label files according to category to make it easy to tear, drop and store.
Label tear files according to your interests. Here are some suggestions for tear file categories:
To feed your tear files . . . just tear! Did this month’s magazine show the perfect floral swag for the dining room doorway? Tear the article, staple the pages together and dump it in the Floral Creations file until you’re ready for a trip to the crafts store.
Spot a perfect gift for a special nephew--but you've already purchased his Christmas gift this year? Rip! Into Gift Ideas it goes, where it will jog next year's memory.
After you've torn the catalogs or magazines? Toss them!
Store tear files in the Christmas planning activity center for easy—and clutter-free—seasonal reference ... for an organized Christmas!Get Organized
We are thankful! Today, America gathers for family, feasting and football. It's the purest of our holidays: a day set aside to be grateful.
Gratitude is an attitude. Psychologists have proved that Pollyanna was right: counting your blessings creates a blessed heart. Those who are grateful weather life's minor storms more easily.
So be thankful, America!
And our Canadian friends, and readers from throughout the world? You can be thankful, too--no assignments today on the Christmas Countdown!To Do Today
Check in with family members at Thanksgiving celebrations. Ask for gift suggestions, and arrange to share or contribute to holiday meals.
Give thanks on Thanksgiving Day!
Nothing says "Christmas!" like a beautifully decorated home. Fragrant greens, twinkling lights, holiday centerpieces all set the stage for a merry holiday season.
But at what cost?
If you believe catalog vendors, department stores and florists, be prepared to lay down a bundle to create that holiday home. Each year sees a set of new colors, new images, new trends, all designed to part you from your holiday dollars.
Take heart! There's no need to break the bank to decorate your house for the holidays. Simple strategies and a dash of creativity can go a long, long way when it comes to decorating. Try these ideas for the festive--yet frugal--home.Use what you have
Before you dash out to the craft store or trim-a-tree shop, pay a visit to the attic or storage room. Memories fade from year to year, so refresh yours with a quick inventory of the holiday decorations you already have on hand. Keep them firmly in mind as you read Christmas magazines or check out the Festival of Trees displays. Can you update your decor with a few simple additions?Think local
Wherever you live, look to the natural world for a source of inexpensive decorations. I've piled gold-tipped pine cones into bowls in Georgia, threaded dried apple slices into wreaths in Apple Country, and even wound twinkle lights into spray-painted tumbleweeds in arid Nevada.
Look around you for inspiration, and bring Mother Nature inside for the holidays. Her price is right!Fly your own colors
Each year, designers and stylists promote a new, hot color scheme for holiday decorating, hoping to spur improved sales through color obsolescence. One year, holiday colors will trend bright, primary and inspired by the 1960s. The next, "retro" schemes are back, with rich reds and dense, dark green taking center stage.
The best defense against the annual hot-color changeover is to claim a personal decorating strategy: choose a color, a texture and a metallic and stick to it for life.
For your personal color, choose any color except green--green is a Christmas neutral. For texture, think plaid, or satin, or velvet, or calico; a personal choice of the finish you want to display. Metallic? Silver or gold: pick one.
How does it work? Say you've chosen the color deep red, the texture velvet, and gold as your metallic. So long as a new decor item contains at least two of your three personal choices, it'll work.
Bright-blue velvet ornaments will fit in as long as last year's red ornaments are also velvet-textured. If calico is your texture choice, color is up for grabs, so long as every new item sports a calico texture. Or, vary the textures, so long as the colors stay in the same deep-red family, and all metallic tones are the same.
Forming a personal decorating strategy is a smart move. Shopping the after-Christmas sales is much easier when you know to grab every red velvet anything on that sales table.Display collections and souvenirs
Rout out all those teapots! Unpack Auntie's salt-and-pepper shaker collection! Holiday decorating dovetails nicely with displaying collections. Group grandmother's demitasse cups and saucers around a teapot on a tray, and add holly branches for an instant centerpiece.
Don't ignore the mundane! I got big, wide smiles from my poker-playing husband when I decorated a tiny tree with playing cards and bow-clad bottles of airline drinks. Mini-pretzels threaded on a ribbon completed the Doctor's Playroom Tree, and it was amply admired by every male who passed through the house.
Those who travel do well to think "Christmas!" when it comes to souvenirs. Souvenir Christmas ornaments are widely available, pack well, and make a wonderful decorating splash.
If you have collected enough ornaments, consider creating a travel tree: a small tree displaying souvenirs, postcards and ornaments. It's a great conversation piece at holiday parties.Think theme--and spread the word
Choosing a personal theme for Christmas decor not only makes decorating meaningful and fun, but gives others a head-start on gift-giving. Building a stock of holiday decor around a theme is easy when you spread the word!
My mother, Texas-born, decorates her home in a Southwestern motif. Finding a Christmas gift for Mom is as easy as buying a string of chili-pepper lights or tiny bottle of Tabasco.
(And for Mother's Day, who can forget the garage-sale find of a lighted Lone Star Beer sign? Don't laugh--she loves it!)
Whether it's angels or Santa or gingerbread or your home town football team, choosing a theme can simplify decorating decisions. Tell the world, and you'll find your decor given to you!It's bazaar
Don't neglect local craft fairs or holiday bazaars as a source of inexpensive Christmas decorations. Most items are reasonably priced, and generally, the proceeds go to a good cause. Support your local crafters and save!Look to the kitchen
Food and decor intersect at Christmas time--and never more happily than when the whole family gets in on the fun. Build a gingerbread house with the children. No matter how crooked the walls or droopy the roof, you?ll have created a centerpiece--and memories.
Use a soda straw to punch holes in cookies; string a ribbon through the holes and hang your creations on the tree. Even such simple touches as a bowl of nuts on the table serves the holiday decor scheme
Holiday decorating. It can be beautiful, lively and fun--and frugal. Practice these frugal decor strategies . . . and save money on holiday decorating!Decorate
There's something special about a holiday house!
This weekend sees a long standing Ewer family Thanksgiving tradition: on Black Friday, my husband and I will scour the storage room, drag out the boxes, and begin decorating for Christmas.
Lighted garlands, fresh poinsettias, bright bows will change the entire feeling of our home. "It's such a merry, cheery holiday house, Sweetie!" Dr. Steve is sure to remark.
Yes, my dear husband loves the holiday season. So much so that he'll spend 30 minutes poring over the professionally-installed holiday lighting on a neighbor's home and laying plans for the coming weekend.
Will he do our neighbors one better? Only the Home Depot knows for sure!
Best of all, his enthusiasm--and the spell of a holiday house--will rub off on me. Each evening, I'll circle the house, plugging in lights and flipping switches. I'll pause by the "travel tree", a small artificial tree holding all the ornaments and keepsakes we've collected on trips around the world.
I'll smile at "The Wise Santa", and remember the wonderful afternoon when my 16-year-old daughter and I constructed him from batting and fabric and tiny toys.
Are you enjoying the holidays yet? It's the day before Thanksgiving, and time to switch out of stress mode and into a state of childlike appreciation.
And if you're not there yet? Borrow a child! He or she will show you the way, marveling over each new manifestation of the coming holidays.
Where to begin? Right here at home. Let your home spark every sense with holiday feeling as we move closer ... to an organized Christmas!To Do Today
Begin to plan holiday decorations using a Room-by-Room Decor Planner.
Prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, baking desserts and preparing salads and side dishes ahead.
If you're a Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales warrior, fine-tune your shopping strategy using a printable Holiday Sales Planner. Now that retailers have spread "Black Friday" events all over the calendar, it pays to be organized!Today's Recipe
What? You need a recipe, today of all days? Get back in that kitchen!To Print Today