Gift-Giving Ideas for the 2016 Holiday Season

We’ve all been stuck with the challenge of finding the perfect gift for at least one person on our list!  We want to be original and thoughtful without the (extreme) sticker shock.  Here are some fresh budget-friendly gift ideas (2016 edition!) that will make your friends and family jump for joy!
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For the traveler– You may not be able to give them a trip to Dubai but in the world of box deliveries, Try The World specializes in experiencing food from around the globe without leaving the comforts of your own kitchen.  Chefs expertly craft every box to tailor it to a part of the world to ensure you are enjoying an authentic meal.  Can we say YUM?!
Retail value: $29-39 per box
Photo credit: trytheworld.com
try-the-world

For the thrill-seeker–  Escape Room Games are original experiences to find the clues, solve the puzzle, and escape the room with your team.  It’s fun for the family or even for date nights!  Even better?  You can find Groupon deals for local escape room venues in your area!
Retail value: $28 and up

For the tech-lover The Amazon Echo Dot is the latest voice-controlled gadgets to help streamline everyday life with voice commands.  The device is compatible to stream Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, or iHeartRadio and to control other wirelessly controlled lights, fans, and sprinklers.  It also works as an alarm clock!   This is the perfect gift to make tasks easier for the busiest person you know!
Retail value: $49.99 amazon.com

For the teen or tween– Think of the Skewb Ultimate as the classic Rubki’s Cube on steroids!   The updated twist includes a 12-sided, 12-color spatial challenge based closely to the classic puzzle’s concept.  skewbGet them away from their screens and give their minds a bend as they twist the sides to mix up the shades and solve by getting one solid color to take up every side.
Retail value: $20, mcachicagostore.org

For the book lover- Even in the digital age, the classic book lover enjoys flipping the pages of a good book.  Book of the Month Club offers the five hand-picked best books voted notable journalists and bloggers each month.  The reader selects one book each month and the book is delivered in a custom-edition hardcover print.   Imagine their excitement of opening up that package even after the holidays are over!  Retail value: Subscriptions are $44.97 and up

For the sentimental– If you know somebody who loves decorating their home with photos, this canvas print is the perfect gift that will circle all of the things that they love most. canvas-art This personalized canvas art brings the best memories into a beautiful art piece.
Retail value: Canvas prints vary $27.95 and up, http://www.personalizationmall.com/canvasart

 

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Too Much Thanksgiving Food? Simple and Tasty Recipes for Leftovers From Your Feast

It’s hard to believe anybody has leftovers at Thanksgiving with all the tasty foods but it’s true.  If you are looking for creative twists to the usual feast of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie for the days after Thanksgiving, here are a few of my favorites.  If guests are still in town, you can enjoy them for days after the big meal.  The best part is that they are easy to make and crowd-pleasing.  Enjoy!

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Leftover Turkey

Turkey and Corn Enchiladas
Ingredients
2 cups shredded roasted turkey or chicken
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1½ cups grated pepper Jack cheese (6 ounces)
Kosher salt and black pepper
8 small flour tortillas
1 cup store-bought enchilada sauce
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
1. Heat oven to 400° F. In a large bowl, combine the turkey, corn, 1 cup of the cheese, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
2. Spoon the mixture onto the tortillas and roll. Place seam-side down in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
3. Top with the sauce and remaining ½ cup of cheese. Bake until heated through and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve

Turkey Reubens
Ingredients
8 slices rye bread
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Russian dressing
8 slices roasted turkey or chicken
1 cup sauerkraut
8 slices Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups potato chips
½ cup sliced pickles

Directions
1. Spread 4 slices of bread with the mustard and 4 slices with the Russian dressing.
2. Dividing evenly, top the mustard-spread slices with the turkey, sauerkraut, and cheese, then the remaining bread.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
4. Add the sandwiches and cook, pressing occasionally with the back of a spatula until the bread is golden brown and crisp and the cheese is melted, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Serve with the potato chips and pickles.

Leftover Stuffing
Cheesy Breakfast Stuffing Cakes
Ingredients
For the Stuffing Cakes
2 cups leftover stuffing
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup freshly grated mozzarella, cheddar, or similar melty cheese

To Cook and Serve
2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
5 large eggs
Salt and pepper
Optional toppings: cooked bacon; Canadian bacon or ham; leftover gravy; hollandaise sauce; sautéed spinach or mushrooms; chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, parsley, or chives

Directions
1. Place the stuffing in a large bowl, gently breaking up any large clumps. Add the egg and stir to combine, making sure that all of the stuffing is evenly moistened. Stir in the cheese.
2. Portion 1/3 cup of the stuffing mixture into your hands and shape into a patty that is about 3 inches wide and 1/2-inch thick. Repeat for remaining mixture. You will have about 5 patties total.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Gently fry the cakes on each side until the patties are lightly crisp on the outside and warmed through, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer the cakes to a paper towel-lined plate and cover with foil to keep warm while you prepare the eggs.
4. With a paper towel, lightly and carefully wipe the skillet clean, then heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in the skillet. Fry the eggs until the yolk is nearly set, about 2 minutes per egg. Top the cakes with any desired add-ons (bacon, sautéed spinach, gravy, etc.), a fried egg, salt and pepper. Enjoy immediately.

Leftover Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Pie Holiday Breakfast Casserole
Ingredients
2 cups rolled oats
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup maple syrup, or to taste
2.5 cups leftover chopped pumpkin pie (or other flavor) approx 3-4 slices, divided

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Chop 3-4 slices of leftover pie to make 2.5 cups of chopped pie.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Now add the wet ingredients and stir well. Adjust sweetener to taste. Fold in 2 cups chopped pie gently. Crumble remaining 1/2 cup of pie on top for a “streusel”
3. Pour into a greased casserole dish and bake at 375F for 30 minutes or so.
4. Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup and almond milk. Add a dollop of whipped cream to garnish if desired.

Holiday Guest Frenzy? A Little Hosting Prep Work Will Make You Shine

As we march towards the holiday season, you may be strategically (and possibly frantically) planning for out-of-town friends and family to invade your home.  While their anticipated visit may be a very welcomed event, many of us aren’t fortunate enough to own a guesthouse on the property.  This is where you insert this guide to make the visit as comfortable and inviting as possible for your guests and for you- as the host- to feel like you aren’t tirelessly worried about the details.  You can sit back and enjoy the company!

bedroom

 Pre-planning is key

Ask your guests what essentials they may need to make them feel at home.  Will they need bedding accommodations such as an air mattress or pack-and-play for young children?  What are their favorite breakfast and snack foods?  Are there any allergies such as pets or dust?  This will help you to elaborate a plan to set up the room.  If you don’t have a requested item on hand, ask local friends or family to borrow items. If your visitors need extra bedding for little ones, make sure that they are set up and ready to crash in the moment they arrive.  Often times, traveling makes for cranky kids so it will be less hassle than setting it up upon arrival.  A thorough cleaning and dusting with clean sheets and towels is always helpful especially if there are allergies.  Don’t forget that great guests are always appreciative of a well-stocked pantry, too.  A little pre-planning goes a long way and will eliminate the unnecessary runaround after they walk through the door.

 Make it travel-sized

As they always say, attention is in the details.  We’ve all traveled somewhere and realized we’ve forgotten something at home.  Fill a basket in the bathroom with travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, and shower essentials as well as razors, a toothbrush (unused, of course), toothpaste, and bottled water.  Provide reading material and mints on the nightstand.  These are all welcoming cues for your guests.

 But what about the kids?

For those hosts who may not have children, let’s face it. You have to think like one who does!  Kids have accidents and you have to prepare your home for the unknown.  Assess your home to make sure that sharp items such as scissors and knives are unreachable to tiny hands.  Just in case, make sure to re-stock your first aid kit with band-aids and other essentials.  Put away breakable or valuable items that might accidentally meet the fate of a flying toy.  Set out a spare set of linens to be placed on-call for those unexpected middle-of-the-night mishaps.

If you don’t have a TV/DVR in the guest room, relocate one that you can live without (or borrow one!) during the stay.  This will be a lifesaver for those times when the adults want to talk and the kids need their own space and activity.  Don’t forget to check out Redbox for the latest kid-friendly movie!
book

 Fun for all

The best part of visits is making it fun for everybody!  Don’t feel required to make every meal- suggest trying out the newest restaurant in town or ordering take-out.  Set aside a game night that includes everybody. Tie in holiday-themed activities such as baking cookies, strolling down neighborhood streets lit up in holiday lights, or even decorating your own house.  After all, time and laughs together are what you’ll remember long after they pull out of your driveway.

 And a little space is always good, too

Depending on the length of the visit, it’s always nice to have a little separation.  Be sure to research local events or shopping venues with information and brochures that you can provide your guests (especially with kids!) if they need to get out of the house.  This will give you a breather on prepping meals, do some spot cleaning, or just recharging your batteries until their return.

 Speaking of spot cleaning……

As with most hospitable hosts, you were probably raised better than to ask your guests to lift a finger.  But dirty laundry does tend to pile up and clutter seems to get pushed aside.  Keep a laundry basket or bin in a specified place such as a closet or laundry room to collect used towels or linens.  This is a better method than doing a scavenger hunt throughout the house before starting a load.  Let them know there are disinfectant wipes under the bathroom sink and disposable cups, plates, and utensils in the cupboard.  These little hints will hopefully keep bathrooms and kitchens (somewhat) tidy throughout the visit.

Six Easy Steps to Keep More Money in Your Wallet

You’ve heard it before….. Avoid high-dollar coffee shops and make your own lattes.  Pack your own lunches.  Clip coupons.  Try store brand products to see how they compare to national brands.  We all need fresh ideas on how to get the most bang for our buck these days.  At times, we all need a new way of doing life and re-thinking our habits towards financial freedom.
wallet

  1. A well stock pantry- What does this mean?  It means that you have always have ingredients on hand to make your seasonings such as taco and chili as well as mix your own cleaning products (more environmentally safe, too!) for pennies on the dollars.  The best part is it only take minutes to make.  Google some recipes that will help you save even more at the register.
  2. Secondhand shop- Whether you are shopping for kids’ clothes or a kitchen table, there are plenty of options to find gently used items without the hefty new price tag.  Think eBay, consignment stores, and even the Goodwill.  Local community “buy and sell” sites and garage sales are great forums to find exactly what you are looking for and always a resourceful way to make money for things you no longer need.
  3. Become a good neighbor- Back in the day, people didn’t hesitate to call up a neighbor to ask for a cup of sugar or maybe two eggs if they were shorthanded.  By no means, make this a habit but if you are looking for something that you will only need to temporarily use (such as a ladder or a Halloween costume), reach out to neighbors to see if they have one on hand available for borrowing and gladly return the favor if they ever need anything.  It prevents you from purchasing something you will only use once and creating unnecessary clutter in your closets.
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  4. Consolidate trips and carpool- We live in an age where are always on the go and have a laundry list of to-dos.  However, lessen your trips to the pumps by picking one or two days out of the week to run errands opposed to jumping in your car everyday.  Make a carpool buddy that will help get the kids to and from school and soccer practices.  Best of all, it saves you time and is environmentally friendly, too!
  5. Negotiate rates with your credit card company or complete a balance transfer-  If you’re paying more on credit card interest than you would like, it’s vital to know that you do have some power as long as you’ve been making monthly payments on time. Call your credit card issuer to negotiate your current interest rate and explain your request.  Research transferring your balance to a low to no interest rate and stop using your credit card.  Create a manageable payment plan and stick to it!
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  6. Develop a plan- If you are ready to make a dive into saving money, become serious about creating a plan for  “One Month of No Spending”.  Ruth Soukup discusses this plan in her book, “31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero”.  Her family saved over $1,000 a month using this approach!  Cheers to saving!

Easy Life Crockpot Recipes: Mozzarella Meatballs and Spaghetti

Whether it’s busy afternoons at the ballpark or late nights at work, the crockpot can make feeding your family so much easier.  With a little prep time, you can be ready to eat within minutes of walking through the door.
Try out this simple and yummy meal right in your crockpot!  The best part is that it will please your pickiest eater!  Enjoy!
meatballs

Crockpot Mozzarella Meatballs and Spaghetti
Cut low moisture mozzarella cheese into 3/4 inch cubes cubes. Store in refrigerator while preparing the meat.

In a large mixing bowl combine:
1 pound ground beef
1 pound hot Italian sausage
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup parsley (optional)

Roll meat mixture into size of a golf ball. Place mozzarella cube into the center.  Pull the edges of the meatball and roll to cover cover the cheese cube.
Arrange meatballs in slow cooker and cover in tomato sauce.
Cook on high for 2 to 2.5 hours.
Serve over spaghetti

Happy and Simple Life: Tips to Give Your Life a Fresh Perspective

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If you’ve been following my blog or social media posts lately, you may have noticed a common theme: How to live a more simple, happy life. This has included time-saving tips for busy school mornings, how to keep your home clean without feeling you spend your weekend scrubbing the floors, and fun projects to make your house the place you want to be every single day.It seems like our newsfeed is filled with heartbreaking stories and bad news. The purpose of my blogs and posts are to have more “feel good, be happy, and live simply” approach.

Here are FIVE great tips to make the most of each day:

1.Get dressed everyday– Sounds crazy, right? But getting up every single day and getting dressed gives you a sense of purpose opposed to staying in sweatpants all day. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom, work from home, or retired, this will give you the motivation to go to the library or meet friends for coffee. The upside benefit? Studies have proven that when you get in clothes that require buttoning and zippers that you tend to pay more attention to what you are eating than wearing yoga pants. Win-win.

2.Don’t cancel on plans– Have you ever made plans with friends to do something fun but dreaded the “going out” part? However, once you got there, you were happy that you didn’t cancel. Make plans with friends and put it on the calendar. No matter how tired you are, don’t cancel! Relationships are a cornerstone to our life. Make sure you nurture them accordingly!

3.Try something new– Find something that interests and inspires you. Some people enjoy a “bucket list” of local restaurants while others have one for travels. You might enjoy building a roadmap to every state park in Arizona! Whatever you decide, use these interests to fuel you through stressful or difficult times.

4.Show appreciation– Think about the influences in your life who have helped you along the way. Whether it be a friend, stepparent, or teacher, send them a note of appreciation. It could even be buying a coffee for an army service man or service woman in the line behind you. It’s guaranteed to bring a smile to their face.

5. Volunteer- It’s been often said that rarely when a person volunteers or serves a charity or organization that they regret it. There is something good for the soul to give back. Consider serving your time in at a place that you hold near and dear.

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5 Great Tips to Make School Mornings Run Better

 

alarm clockThe lazy days of summer are almost over and soon enough, alarms will sound off to get kids out of bed and off to school.  We all want less stress and no drama in our lives especially with school mornings.  The key is having a routine that everyone can contribute to in order to get out the door.

1.) Do the prep work the night before- Save all the stress for what to wear for the night before school.  Choose and lay out clothes down to socks, shoes, and accessories.  No more frantically running around to find things.  Bonus: Check the weather forecast for the week!  This will prevent you from sending the kids out to the bus stop without a raincoat or jacket!
clothes

2.) Give the kids responsibility tasks- Give the kids a checklist for tasks to be accomplished the night before to eliminate morning headaches.  This could include making sure papers and agenda are signed, snacks, water bottles, and lunch money are packed, and backpacks are ready and next to the door.  Even younger children can participate in this and feel free to add tasks as the kids get older.  Not only will this save time scurrying around to find things but it will be a teachable moment of responsibility.

3.) Save it for the weekend- I know.  The thought of chores on the weekend is exhausting.  But take a quick assessment of your inventory on Sunday afternoon.  Make sure plenty of laundry has been washed and pantries for lunches and snacks are stocked.  This will be a huge time-saver for busy mornings when you realize there are no clean socks or you have run out of peanut butter on Wednesday.

4.) Meal plan- Some kids are making a mad dash out of the door so make sure that they have something that will sustain them until lunchtime.  There are so many quick options such granola or energy bars (Cliff bars are a favorite!) and trail mixes.  For those who enjoy breakfast out of bowl, set a timer (ie: 10 minutes) to eat so nobody loses track of time watching TV or playing on the iPad.  Look into breakfast recipes in the slow cooker, too.
cereal picture
5.) Hire a trustworthy older kid- Odds are if you are a working parent, you’ve needed to leave before your child’s bus has arrived.  If you need to leave a few minutes before your child’s departure, consider talking to a responsible older child (and their parents) who rides the same bus to see if they would be interested in taking your child under their wing at the bus stop.  Make sure the parents of the older child can keep a watchful eye on them as well.  It’s a good buddy system and gives them an opportunity to earn an extra $10 every week.

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