Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Music Blog

Today's focus for the last Friday Music Blog of 2010 is songs and titles and artists with the word "new". Any genre is eligible and as long as "new" appears somewhere in your selection it should work. The Friday Music Blog has been a consistent favorite since I launched "Chief 187 Chatter" and I will definitely be continuing the FMB in 2011!

With this, my 80th blog and nearly 6,600 Pageviews (13 shy as I type this), I am at once sad to see 2010 go, and mighty thrilled to start 2011 and see where this blog will go. I am dedicated to weekday posts, have many topics already listed in my paper notebook, and bursting enthusiasm to take this project as far as I can go! It is such an honor to have you all along with me on this "journey" as I call it. Because, the truth is, I would write no matter what. Having you read my work, leave your comments, and help me figure things out, that's just the most amazing aspect ever! So, once again, because I don't think it can be stated too much, thank you ALL for being here with me, reading, commenting, supporting, encouraging, and checking back. I am humbled, honored, overwhelmed, and thrilled by the reaction this blog has had in its short life - I launched on September 13, 2010. Now, sixteen weeks later, I have much to show that I am so proud and the collective urging of you all to keep me going into 2011. I'll be there and I'll be counting on you to be, too!

Looking forward to reading your responses to today's topic today and all weekend long.

Have a Safe, Happy, Healthy, Fun, and Love-Filled New Year!

I'll see you on Monday!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Can't Help It...

Try as I might, I cannot seem to get to the end of the year without feeling melancholy. I spend so much time, energy, and planning on the Christmas holidays that by the time the end of December arrives I am sad to see the festivities wind down. There are no more wrapped presents under the tree, leftovers fill my refrigerator with no more grand feasts planned, and all the fun and revelry that took place with dearly loved extended family is over as they have all returned to their respective homes out of state. I am left with a floor covered in toys; disarray abounds as everything is intermingled, no rhyme or reason, pieces here and there. I have seemingly hundreds of empty boxes and gift bags, bows, and tissue paper strewn in my basement needing attention. I feel the dread that our majestic Christmas tree filled with precious memory-laden ornaments will have to be disrobed and stowed soon, out of site for another eleven months. The house becomes darkened as the lights are put away. We are left with cold, drab winter. I try to cap my holidays with a New Year's Eve party and this year is no exception, but I still find it very difficult to get over the post-Christmas mood slump that I always fall prey.
This year I noticed my eldest child is also suffering from the same condition. The last couple of nights he is unable to get to sleep even though he is enormously tired from the day's bustling activities. He is weepy and restless but when questioned has no idea what is wrong with himself. I know. He is a very sensitive, compassionate, and emotional child. His beloved grandparents, both sets, and his great-grandfather, uncle and favorite cousin were around him for several days to take part in Christmas Cheer. They all left within 24 hours of one another. They are gone and most we have no immediate plans to see for a long long time. My son is, quite simply, sad. And I try to lift his spirits pointing out all of the fun-filled events taking place over the next few months - birthday parties, Pine Wood Derby, dinner parties, school functions, and family fun at home, but it just doesn't compare to the magical time we spent for a few glorious days over Christmas.
I need to follow my own advice. I need to find a way to break out of this melancholy state and embrace the wonders that await around every corner. Yes, the tree needs to come down, but that makes extra space in the room and makes for more movement. The decorations are gone, but now there is room to build the new Lego sets Santa Claus left. That may seem like a kid plus, but I am a Lego fanatic and have my hands in building each set with my children! I get to give my children a few remaining gifts on New Year's Day, a tradition I started years ago to spread the wonder out a bit longer. These gifts are neither huge nor expensive, but little things that excite my children. I do enjoy ringing in the New Year with dear friends in what has now become a tradition of our families getting together each December 31st. And, although I don't relish school starting, I do like routine. And, I do like have my home in non-Christmas order to celebrate my first big date in January for observing, my husband's and my Wedding Anniversary on January 9th! That does cheer me and spur me on when de-mantling the tree becomes tedious.
Usually the amount of cookies and holiday foods I feast upon during the holidays leaves me feeling hopelessly out of whack and tipping the scales. This season I embraced my exercise routine and tried to practice moderation at the table. I must say, it has done a lot to improve my mood, provided incentive to keep going, and encouraged me that my wardrobe still fits! This is another positive as I begin a new year - I am already involved in a sensible exercise lifestyle and healthy eating pattern. I am not starting a point zero. Usually I tune out the "Healthy You in the New Year" programming, magazine articles, etc. because I cannot face it, but now I am living it for months! In fact, my focus for this blog in 2011 is a Healthy, Happy, Fun-Loving approach to Life!
This blog, my dedication to self, and your support and encouragement will be the ingredients I need to get through my sadness, embrace the future, and look forward to each day! I feel better already! And, as for my son, I'll listen, hug him, and try to teach by example how to keep moving even when it seems too sad or hard. We'll get through this - together.

Wishing you all a Happy, Healthy, Safe, and Love-Filled New Year!

Join me tomorrow for the Friday Music Blog New Year's Edition, over the weekend for catching up on all of my blogs from 2010, and on Monday to start a whole new week and year of "Chief 187 Chatter"!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Life Lessons

As the end of the year approaches I find myself waxing nostalgic, reviewing my life, and trying to understand the information I've gleaned over the last year. This is no small task with the amount of company we've been (happily) entertaining, the three children underfoot, and a house sorely needing attention after the Christmas revelry. But, whether there is time or other priorities working against my introspection, I persevere as this is now a tradition and one I hold dear.
Before my in-laws said good-bye last night I asked my husband's ninety year old grandfather the secret to the long and happy marriage he shared with his bride of over sixty-five years (she passed last October). I asked him how it seemed so easy for him to stay in love and live peacefully with his mate for all of those years. His answer was given without any deliberation and with the wisdom of the aged. He responded, "We both worked hard. There was no time for anything else." At first I misinterpreted his statement, thinking he meant marriage is hard work, but when I reran his words in my mind I understood the simplistic statement. By working hard at their respective jobs - he running his own lucrative and successful business, she raising the children and keeping the books for said business - there was no time to live any other way. They loved each other and then they lived life. How brilliant! Today there are so many distractions. The 'conveniences' that are supposed to free up our time simply give us more time to be idle and therefore more time to create drama, tension, distraction, and bring chaos into our lives. When he and his bride were working and raising a family there was no internet, cable/satellite television, video game systems, or microwave ovens. Dinners were thought out and prepared lovingly at home, books were read to children, a few modest toys were around the house and well-played with because those were the only toys around, and 'free time' was spent doing chores like sewing, crafting, or learning something new. Children were not plopped in front of televisions for hours on end, movies were not given as gifts to be watched at home, they were treats that required going to a theater! I am not saying then was better and now is terrible. On the contrary, I adore living in our modern world where medicine has advanced, children have more of a voice, and microwave ovens help me prepare spectacular dinners quickly. But it does make sense the way Grandpa and Grandma lived their married lives. They were not so easily wooed away from each other like can happen today. The world wasn't entirely global, it was community-based. The neighbor was a friend, the teacher might come for lunch one day, Church was the 'social networking site', and once you said "I do" to your spouse you pretty much meant forever. There is a lot to be said for that world. If we could take the best of that era and assimilate it into our current world we all might be a happier lot.
During the end of summer when my mother-in-law was visiting I was going through a particularly frustrating time in my life. We are not only mother/daughter-in-law, but we are also dear friends. She noticed me struggling with my life and offered the following advice:  "Sometimes, Honey, you just have to let things go. Don't hold on to them." Brilliant! Simple, yes, but brilliant! I was holding on to pain, hurt, frustration, and stress and it was doing nothing positive for me. I was angry but it didn't serve me or change my circumstance. Hearing this advice from a woman I respect, love, and admire helped to put my situation into focus and forced me to look at it from a fresh perspective. Those words were the catalyst for me starting this blog. I will be forever thankful.
I mentioned this lesson recently in a blog. It is a lesson I am trying to teach my oldest son. He would like to not go to school in the morning and fights me about getting ready. I explained to him that his going to school each day and each year will not change for many many years so he needs to learn to change his attitude because school isn't going away. This lesson applies to anything in life. People cannot be changed by us, and sometimes circumstances cannot be changed either. When these facts are what you are dealing with the only thing that can be changed is your reaction to them. You must change since the other person/fact will not. When I applied this lesson to my own life I found that dealing with certain members of my family became much more pleasant and easier! I cannot change them, but I can change how I deal with them. Fantastic! Again, a new perspective changes your entire outlook on life.
These lessons, simple to understand, are harder to implement. Changing the way we do things, recognizing the truths in our world, and letting go of anger, disappointments, and hurts are all difficult and may take a lifetime to do. But the more we make ourselves, our own happiness and well-being, a priority, the happier our lives become. These lessons are valuable and are fantastic to put in our arsenal as we begin another new year. Let's make this the year for personal growth, healthy living, and a dedication to putting more FUN into our lives. Join me!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gearing Up for New Year's

The holidays do not end on December 26th. There is an entire week more of celebratory events that culminates in the ushering in of a New Year. This is an ideal week to entertain, visit with friends, make play dates for your children who are probably off of school, and to plan a fun way to ring in the New Year. Not nearly as formal in tone as Christmas, New Year's is like the rock star of winter celebrations. A mix of revelry, sparkly dress code, and no-holds-bar fun, New Year's has the potential to be the highlight of the holiday season. End your season with a bang and host, attend, or observe New Year's Eve with a bang this year!
Having people in is a great way to spend New Year's Eve. A simple menu of appetizers, with your guests each bringing one of their own favorites, is a fun way to do this party. Dips, finger foods, hot and cold assortments, a cheese platter, and punch are great spread ideas, leave little stress for the host when it comes to timing a meal accordingly. And don't forget to put out the last of the Christmas cookies for dessert. Once the New Year begins you'll want those out of your house and diet! Have on hand New Year's Eve hats and tiaras found in party or discount stores as well as noise makers(enough for everyone). Make and play a playlist of your most upbeat and fun songs as the background music, reminisce about 2010 and you all prepare to put it in your past, and then look forward to the optimism a New Year brings. If you are marking the occasion with children, plan to countdown to the New Year on whatever hour is reasonable - if midnight is too late (for ALL of you) try 9p, or even 7p! What matters is making the event memorable and fun for everyone in attendance. It's midnight somewhere in the world so countdown when it is convenient! And, I recommend NOT serving alcohol at your party - this is Amateur Night on the roads. People drink and drive and many get injured or killed behind the wheel. Stay sober, stay safe, and send your guests home to enjoy a New Year.
There are many ways to celebrate New Year's Eve that don't include alcohol. Many towns and cities around the country offer a First Night event. According to Teresa Plowright who writes at About.com Guide:


"First Night" events celebrate New Year's Eve with family-friendly non-alcohol-imbibing festivities-- and as if that weren't good enough, they're low-cost, too.
The idea dates back as far as 1976: Boston pioneered a First Night Celebration as "an alternative way of ushering in the New Year." In Boston, and many cities since, the focus is on community and on performing arts. Here's Boston's Mission Statement:
First Night's mission is to broaden and deepen the public's appreciation of the visual and performing arts through an innovative, diverse and high quality New Year's Eve program which offers the community a shared cultural experience that is accessible and affordable to all.
What this translates into is low-cost, high-quality fun. My memory of a First Night in Vancouver, BC is of friendly crowds (beer-bottle-free), plenty of kids in strollers, and excellent short performances of drumming, dance, and more, at multiple venues within walking distance, and at minimal admission cost.
Nowadays, hundreds of cities worldwide celebrate First Night, and in many cases the celebration is a day-long event.

If ringing in the New Year means drinking champagne, dressing up, or staying in with your mate, then by all means get out your Champagne flutes! As long as driving is not a part of your itinerary, enjoy! A lot of hotels hold fun, fancy, and expensive parties that include a room to "sleep it off" after the New Year has begun. Or you can simply stay home to toast one another at midnight and head to bed - what a  better way to ring in the New Year?
Whatever way you choose to observe New Year's this year, please be safe, have fun, make your resolutions for good health, better living, stronger loving, and make a pact to make Chief 187 Chatter a part of your daily rituals. There is so much I'm eager to share with you all and am anxious to get started!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Now What?

Christmas 2010 is in the books. The gifts have all been unwrapped, the dinner served, the surprises discovered. For someone like me it is a combination of sweet relief and a sad realization that time moves incredibly fast. As prepared as I am working around the calendar to make Christmas for my family fun and memorable, I, too, feel we didn't get to "do it all". There were movies we didn't get to watch together, games we ran out of time to play, and a few things I forgot to put in the stocking, but overall I know the effect was magical and brilliant! So where do I (and you) go from here? I will offer some more holiday tips and concentrate on the next festive event which takes place at week's end. I am also working on a slew of entirely new topics (not holiday related) to share with you all. Still, each month there will be one or two blogs to keep you on a sane timeline to make the next Christmas all the more manageable, reasonable, and special.
For those of you who tried my suggestion of starting a gift journal and those of you who thought it was a great idea but didn't start one, I highly recommend you keep it out/get one and start a new entry - "Gifts for 2011". Even if you feel you are tapped out financially, try to find a few extra dollars earmarked for shopping in the next few days. The deals are incredible the week after Christmas, especially on Christmas items - wrapping paper/bows/gift tages, decorations, napkins, tins, and pre-wrapped gifts. This is the time to stock up on these items that make great gifts for the next year. There is no need to ever pay full retail for these gifts! You'll find that putting some money out now saves you a ton when next Christmas rolls around. You'll have a stockpile of great holiday gifts and they will all be long paid for by next December. Of course, that's the key. It is not a good idea to put yourself in debt to "save money". If you can't pay for these items with cash or on credit by the end of the first month, don't shop. If you can set aside the money and pay the amount off promptly accruing no debt, then it makes all the sense in the world to shop now. Take some times, hit the stores, pick up items at 50%, 60%, 75% or up to 90% off retail prices. Make sure the items are things you either want or need or would be ideal gifts for specific people in mind, be they family members you exchange gifts, friends, or people like your children's teacher next year, your babysitter, your postal delivery person, etc. Buying Christmas candles, ornaments, linens, and the like at these discounted prices, as well as useful gifts that are pre-packaged and novel, supplement your gift coffers come 2011. Stores such as Wal*Mart, Target, KMart, Hallmark, florists, Nurseries/Garden stores, and nearly every other store will offer deep discounts on these types of merchandise to move it out in preparation for new inventory arriving any day. Take advantage! Even high end stores, department stores, and boutiques will have sales of some sort. After Christmas shopping is the most rewarding for making your dollars go the furtherest!
Next, make sure you document your purchases as next December is a long way off. And, besides, some of these gifts may make great birthday or anniversary gifts, so write down what you bought, for who you think the item would be perfect and what occasion, and then store it in a safe place (i.e. a Rubber Maid plastic box, a drawer, or a shelf in a closet designated for gifts).  I am fortunate to have a large basement, several large plastic boxes, and space to store a large quantity of gifts throughout the year. You'll have to decide how much you are able to stow comfortably.
Keep your gift journal with you throughout this month and every month of the year. It is a handy reference to check when you find a unique item, a cool sale item, etc. and want to pinpoint who it would be great for and who you need a gift for as well.
My last piece of advice for the days directly after Christmas are to sit down, watch a movie, sleep on the couch, play in the snow, drink hot chocolate with marshmallows, and enjoy the family around you. All too soon normalcy will reign and you'll wonder why you didn't take advantage of the slower pace. I hope you all enjoyed a peaceful, fun-filled, and happy Christmas.
My daughter and me on Christmas Eve

Join me tomorrow and each day this week as we prepare to say good bye to 2010 and we welcome 2011 enthusiastically!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday Music Blog

Welcome in on Christmas Eve! As it falls on a Friday this year it is Friday Music Blog day! Today's focus is songs that have "Christmas" in the title. The topic is wide open and can also include songs that feature "Christmas" in the lyrics as well as the title. Let's face it, any song you'd like to include today is fine by me!!

I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every  one of you (AGAIN) for all of your support over these last 3+ months. This was a scary prospect to take my blogging to my own site and choose the topics that were important to me and put them out there for public consumption. You have shown me such friendship, kindness, loyalty, and grace by reading, commenting, and following me. I am honored, blessed, overwhelmed with emotion, and, as I state often, so encouraged to continue. I also want to thank those of you who could truly care less about all of the Christmas hoopla and my weeks of discussing every aspect of Christmas for staying with me. Although there may be more of these types of blogs, the constant barrage is over. I will be getting back to the type of blogging I started when I began. My mind wanders so the topics will be diverse, introspective, universal at times, and all over the place. We have a lot to do in the months (years?) to come. I hope you all stay with me as I treasure your company.

Wishing you all the most Merry Christmas and a hope for great wonder, merriment, positive memory making, family, friends, good health, great joy, safety, romance, and a whole lot of love!

Join me throughout the weekend and definitely on Monday as I end 2010 with 5 more entirely new blogs. I hope you can make it!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Embrace The Season

Christmas is upon us. I mean it, it's really here! With two days to go until the big day, there is no where to hide and no more time to procrastinate. Whether you love this time of year like I do or can't wait until all the hoopla is over, Christmas is arriving. Fundamentally it is a wonderful day that tries to bring out goodness in people. My hope and wish is that you all simply embrace the season.
My eldest child is struggling attending school. He's actually a good student who is mastering the third grade beautifully, but he is frustrated by how hard he has to work to do well and how much work there is to do! Many mornings when I'd give the signal that it was time to get ready to catch the school bus he'd get into an angry mood. We'd discuss the whys and what fors and it always came back to he wanting to stop going to school because "I hate it!". I explained to him many times that school is mandatory, all the adults he knew had been in his shoes (and survived) and that he'd have to learn to deal with it. I continued to enlighten him by telling him his circumstances (i.e. going to school for the next many years) was NOT going to change so the only thing that could change was his attitude towards school. My son is a very good child, a sensitive lad with a big heart, a compassionate nature, and a slight stubborn streak. We're still working on this concept for him. With Santa's impending visit ("you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why"), the teacher's relaxed policy on homework since Tuesday (there isn't any the rest of 2010!) and the fun activities planned at school (he's wearing pajamas to school today and watching The Polar Express while eating snacks) he's been better about leaving in the morning!
My suggestion to all of you is to embrace the season like I tell my son to embrace his life at school. Christmas is here with it's commercialism, consumerism, and cynicism, but it also comes with its spiritualness, family time, and optimism. Even if the family you have, circumstances you are experiencing, and people you face are not ideal, try to capture the Christmas spirit and add to the positives at Christmas, not the stresses and negativity. First, wear something Christmassy! Bring out the goofy Christmas tie that blinks lights or plays a tune or simply is quietly festive. Wear a Santa hat to and from work on your commute! Put on a jingle bell and announce your holiday presence everywhere! Own a Christmas pin and earrings and a bracelet? Wear them all together! Only own a green sweater or red blouse? Put it on! Red lipstick is a must, too! Or Christmas socks. Or getting Mom or Grandma a Christmas corsage. Don't worry about looking/feeling silly. This is the time of year to make a child happy, spread some cheer, and forget the miseries of life, if only for a few days. Smile, say "Merry Christmas", be nice to the bagger at the grocery store who is always grumpy. When you treat others with kindness it begets kindness. And if you cannot be kind at Christmas, when can you?!
So I ask you all to embrace the season with me. Try not to worry about the gifts, the food, or the personality conflicts, just try to remember the important things in your life. As I tell my son, you cannot change how others act, you can only change yourself.
I thank you all for being with me during my first Christmas Season at the helm of my very own blog. I am most proud and delighted with my work and am so pleased and encouraged by your seamless support. I have much to be thankful for this Christmas, much to learn in the New Year, and a renewed vigor to continue on this path of writing, good health, shared joy, and peace.

A very Merry Christmas to all of YOU and a wish for good health, great happiness, and supreme joy as you celebrate the holiday!

I hope to see you back here tomorrow for the Friday Music Blog and all next week for more new content!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Games - Christmas Edition

First, I want to thank all of my loyal and wonderful readers for their comments. I read them all, even if they are on older posts, and I appreciate each and every word you type. Whether we agree, disagree, or are somewhere in the middle, I am honored by your taking the time to leave your opinions.

Today's topic is near and dear to my heart this time of year - playing games at Christmas. To keep the activity moving, to keep little fights from occurring, and to entertain everyone I set up simple, fun, and Christmas-themed games for my guests. They are for all ages and usually result in a bit of competition and a whole lot of laughter! Adding the incentive of small prizes gets most people instantly on board. Games are especially wonderful when the group is gathered but either it is not opening present time or opening present time is long past.

My first game is a tradition in my family. I read the poem "A Visit From Saint Nicholas" by Clement C. Moore. I own it in many books, but you can always download it off the internet. I, as hostess, read the poem slower than usual because each time I say the word "the" in the poem, the guests at my dinner table have to pass a wrapped gift to the right. When I read the word "a" in the poem, the guests have to pass the wrapped gift to the left. This works with as few as 3-4 people and as many as 20+ if you use a few wrapped gifts. Either randomly select a person to start holding the gift as you commence reading the poem, or allow the youngest/oldest/etc. to start. While I'm reading I over enunciate the words "the" and "a" so my guests know it is time to pass the gift. I also pause to make sure they are doing it properly! You'd be amazed how many people try to hold on to an unknown little surprise! When I read the last line, "and to all a good night", whoever is holding the gift after the word "a" is uttered and the gift is passed for the last time to the left gets to open and keep the prize. I try to find inexpensive yet nice gifts that would be appropriate for young or old and boy or girl. I've wrapped a small box of candy, a flashlight, a book, the poem "A Visit From Saint Nicholas" so my guest can own a copy and play the game at their house, or a deck of cards or other game that anyone would enjoy. Dollar Stores are wonderful places to pick up a few "one size fits all" gifts that can be used as prizes (or stocking stuffers if the games don't all get played).

Another game we play is "Name That Christmas Carol". I read a line from a Christmas song/carol and the 'contestants' have to tell me which song it comes from. I don't sing the lines, I state them which renders the quiz harder than you might imagine. The person with the most correct answers wins a prize. Along the way, once the song is guessed properly, have the group sing the song as much as they can. Instant caroling to add to your festivities! Offering a prize at the end helps keep interest and full participation from your entire group.

For all ages Christmas Bingo is a lot of fun. This game is easiest to play with a store-bought version. Check your local Wal*Mart in the Christmas section where they sell pre-packaged stocking stuffers. You shouldn't have to pay more than $2. After Christmas, if there are any left, pick them up 1/2 price or more off! Stock up for next year! Don't forget to offer prizes for the winner(s) of this game.

Christmas Trivia is quickly becoming my sons' favorite Christmas game. They watch specials, read Christmas classics, and listen to Christmas music all season long with me and now they see that is all paying off. They are becoming experts at the Christmas Trivia games we pick up on sale after season. I ask myriad questions and whoever gets the most answers correct wins ... you guessed it... a prize! My eldest is planning to take home the prize for this game this year! He's been 'studying' all season!

Lastly, I try to include a Christmas Cracker at everyone's place setting either on Christmas Eve or Christmas NIght. These are available widely in stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall's, HomeGoods, and probably many department stores. A box of 6 or 8 is usually how these wrapped cylinders are sold (they look like fancy large Tootsie Rolls). Inside is a paper crown, riddle, joke, or fortune, and some prize/toy which is released once you pull your Cracker apart resulting in a loud 'crack' and an explosion of contents! This is a British tradition that I added to our table twenty years ago. The first Crackers I did for years were homemade. I used the toilet paper cardboards, filled them with treasures - candies, Matchbox cars, jewelry, etc. - wrapped them in gift paper and tied the ends with ribbon. When opened mine didn't 'crack', but they were personalized to the recipient. Those were my favorite, but over time I ran out of ideas and time for my family and now rely on the store-bought Crackers. They are a great way to end a meal. As with all of my holiday purchases, I recommend picking these up in after Christmas sales as they can be quite pricey. I buy many when I see them and hold onto them year after year as nothing inside spoils - I buy the ones without food.

Whatever you play, sing, and enjoy at your Christmas celebration, be sure to try and have a wonderful time. These are the times we remember - wouldn't it be great to have fond memories? Resolve to do your best to be stress-free and not engage in arguments. You know you're right, don't worry if Uncle Bob or Grandma Goosey does.

Tomorrow we "Embrace the Season". Looking forward to hearing from you all and seeing you back here tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gifts - Regifting

It's only four days to go until Christmas and I know some of you haven't finished your shopping. Heck, I bet some of you haven't started it! And then some of you may have one or two more things on your list but find you have no more time to shop - I'm here to help. Today's topic is regifting. I'm not sure where this term originated, some say it first appeared in a Seinfeld episode, but the concept has been around forever. Regifting is taking a gift given to you and gifting it to someone else. There are rules to regifting that must be adhered to do the process successfully. The following information should get you on the right track to successful regifting and perhaps even finish your Christmas shopping in your own home. Regifting is budget-friendly, clears unwanted clutter in your home, and can be beneficial to the gift giver and recipient both.
The first must of regifting is giving a gift that is unopened with tags in place or plastic-wrap, etc. A new item is what you'd get at the store so a new item must be for regifting. The only exception to this rule is telling the recipient that the gift is opened, used, or the like. "Mom, I know the DVD has been opened, but Bob and I only watched it once and we'll never watch it again. We know you love this movie and want you to enjoy it from here on out." This is a perfectly acceptable scenario. Perhaps including more - microwave popcorn, a box of candy, and a bottle of wine - would be nice accompaniments, but they are not necessary. Handing off an article of clothing you know would fit a friend or relative is fine, as long as the garment is unworn and is in style. Common sense rules here as does the Golden Rule - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
The second must of regifting is making sure the item being passed on is not expired, whether food, scented items or the like, nobody wants spoiled or past due 'gifts'. If these items are old, smell badly, or are faded (i.e. candles) then simply toss them. These are not items for regifting. However, a fresh tin of cookies, a newly purchased bottle of wine or box of candy, or a recently copyrighted box of designer candles are all lovely things to pass on to others if they do not suit your diet, taste, or lifestyle. Again, simply make sure the person/people you are passing them on to do not have dietary restrictions, a no drinking policy, or small children or pets who shouldn't be near candles! In other words, know your recipient and regift accordingly.
Many times we are gifted items that just aren't our taste, do not fit our lifestyle, or simply don't mesh with our likes. If the gift we've received is in excellent condition, is not too old, and would be better suited to someone else in our lives, passing the gift along is a terrific idea. From electronic gadgets, decorative pillows, scarves, holiday jewelry, homemade foods, and trinkets to clothing, video games, and movies, regifting is not only budget-friendly but a green way to observe Christmas by not going out in your car, shopping, getting bags to carry your loot home, etc. These items already exist so put them back into circulation and find the perfect home for them! But please be aware it is never okay to pass on personalized gifts you've received. Again, common sense dictates, but I bet there have been people who tried to regift a personalized photo album, needlepoint, or sweatshirt. If the personalization is there, you must keep it or get rid of it, you cannot regift the item in good conscience.
Lastly, do your best to make the gift extra special. Add a lovely note to the recipient about why you thought he/she would like the item. Make the item part of a gift basket and add other items you think he/she would enjoy in the theme you've created. Put batteries into gadgets/toys to make sure the item is in fine working order and ready to use right out of the packaging. Just make sure the gift is one you're proud to give and they'd be happy to receive.
As with all gift-giving, it really is the thought that matters. When regifting you must make an extra effort to think, check and recheck, and present well and with great thought. This Christmas season, look around your home and see what you might give to a person/family who might need, appreciate, and enjoy it more than you. The gift is doing NOTHING positive in your home if it just sits there collecting dust. Just remember, regift with sincere thought and love and the gift will be received that way!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Foods - Take 2 Ideas

By now your Christmas menu is probably set; if it's not, see my blog "Holiday Foods - Meals/Menus" for ideas in the archive section on the right sideboard of this blog. Usually holiday menus result in enormous amounts of leftovers which is delightful - cook once, eat for days! But a totally different flavor is often welcomed after the tastes of the initial meal. These are suggestions for some easy and delicious ways to change up your leftover turkey, beef, or ham and some other party foods as well.
Most people who enjoy turkey dinner also adore the turkey sandwich that follows sometime after, the next day or, for some, that very night. Sandwiches are a terrific way to use up turkey, but there are other ways. One of the favorites in our house is to do a complete flavor change and prepare the leftover turkey into tacos! Simply purchase a taco dinner kit, follow the directions skipping the "cooking the meat" section, and season your turkey meat with the spice packet as you heat through. Serve with lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, guacamole, salsa, and sour cream for a new treat post-turkey dinner.
Another turkey recipe we rely on is Turkey Pot Pie. With a ton of turkey and gravy left over, this meal is a cinch to prepare, uses up a lot of leftovers, and is comfort food at its best. Start with pie dough for a double crust - I use Pillsbury prepared pie doughs. You can make your own, but I find Pillsbury to be scrumptious, fast, and reasonable. Next, layer in your turkey meat, leftover veggies or frozen mixed vegetables, and enough gravy to make everything wet and stay moist throughout the cooking. Cover with the second pie dough, seal the edges, cut a couple of air holes, and bake at the temperature the box recommends. Within the hour or so you'll have a piping hot, delicious, and heart-warming meal. Serve with leftover Jello-mold, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes, and you have just about cleaned out the refrigerator. We never make just one of these - make sure to have the correct amount of pie dough on hand. If you don't have enough gravy, pick some up at the store or substitute cream of chicken soup.
Leftover ham is a fortuitous meat to have when a group is staying with you and demands delicious breakfasts. In addition to "ham and eggs" on a plate, ham can be prepared into a breakfast casserole. There are myriad recipes to choose on the internet and in cookbooks that are easy, feed a small or large army, can be prepared ahead of time, and yield a highly satisfying end product. This breakfast tends to be highly caloric with eggs, cheese, and bread in the mix, but serving many means you can take a small portion and supplement with a fresh fruit salad. Ham is also delicious and packs a protein punch mixed in to the children's Mac & Cheese.
Dealing with leftover pot roast, london broil, or tenderloin? Don't forget the sublime happiness that comes with a steak sandwich. But, a designer salad is a great idea as well. Layer your favorite salad greens on a large platter, add your leftover beef, sliced thinly and in bite-sized pieces on top, scatter with your favorite vegetables and salad add-ins, include a tasty cheese like a tangy bleu or salty feta, and lightly dress with extra virgin olive oil and a great vinegar (red wine or balsamic). This is a great way to begin to lighten your plate as we head into the New Year and everyone's thoughts tend to go to diet and exercise. Salad as main course with only a small bit of bold flavors (the cheese in this case) is a great way to reign in your holiday splurging and start getting back to normal eating. In the coming year, make a resolution to live happier and healthier, you can only benefit from that! I'm doing it and would love you all to join me!

Stay with me all this week as we tie up any loose ends leading up to Christmas... which is now only FIVE (5) days away!!! We'll look at last minute gift ideas, games to play during the holidays, how to get into and stay in the holiday mood, and, of course, end Christmas Eve with a Friday Music Blog! I hope you can join me each and every day, share your comments with me, and glean some useful information from these blogs.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Music Blog

Today's topic, still nodding to the Christmas season, is songs with "Star" in the title. Again, the songs need not be about Christmas although they are welcome selections. Any song with "star" in the title is eligible. Break out your iTunes account to research, rifle through your CD collection, sort your cassettes, thumb through your LPs, and hack through your 8-tracks to find any and all songs that have "star" in the title. As a bonus, list and include any and all artists, bands, or performers with "star" in their name!

For 14 weeks I've been at this gig! I'm loving the work I do here, the time spent reading your comments, and seeing the page-views climb - we're well over 6,100 at last count! Not bad for 3 months work!! From my frequented Amazon link that provides me a modest income to your supportive words, loyal readership, and constant friendship, I am overwhelmed by your kindness and generosity of spirit.

Please join me next week - Christmas Week - and the week after as we continue the holiday blitzkrieg! Once 2011 dawns I will return to the original content of this blog - my personal musings, observations, and struggles that help me learn and grow. There will be food segments, movie segments, gift segments, and, of course, Friday Music Blogs, as well as other offerings that spring into my mind. I hope that you all continue to make me and this blog, Chief 187 Chatter, a part of your daily ritual. I have a strong resolve to continue and count on you all to be there!

Continued joy and happiness I wish to you all during this Merry Christmas Season!

Next week, last minute ideas for gifts, food, and merriment!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gifts - Luxurious Stocking Stuffers

There are myriad ways to stuff a Christmas stocking as several previous blogs I've posted and the responses with suggestions prove. From homemade and free items to dollar store specials, trading cards to lip balms, and mittens to socks, there are countless combinations to filling a stocking. But when the special person in your life needs the royal treatment and money is absolutely no object, there are fantastical ways to fill a (giant) Christmas stocking. That is the focus today.

Luxurious Christmas Stocking Stuffers

-Keys to a new (luxury/sports/SUV) car with appropriate elegant key chain
-Fur, leather, or suede anything (coat, gloves, boots/shoes, etc.)
-Tickets for vacation - cruise, European, Caribbean, etc.
-Lead Crystal Champagne flutes & good bottle of bubbly for New Year's Eve/Anniversary/Tuesday
-Silk/Satin/Flannel sheets
-Weekend at a hotel/spa (like Hershey)
-Deed to a new house/2nd home/vacation spot
-New furniture
-New electronics -- Kindle, iPad, digital camera, GPS, MP3, etc.
-Tickets to the playoffs, the Superbowl, the Daytona 500, Game 4 of the World Series, U.S. Open Tennis (or golf), Lakers v. Nets game, etc.
-Tickets to a Broadway show/concert/performance
-Sterling Silver place setting or china setting from your registry
-Wedding or other invitation engraved on Sterling Silver platter or try
-Expensive collectible ornament
-Wallet, keychain, or other accessory from luxury designer (Coach, Louis Vuitton, etc.)
-New cutlery
-Gift cards with a lot of zeros at the end of the digit
-Jewelry -- engagement ring, emerald and diamond necklace, charm bracelet, pearl earrings, onyx cufflinks, signet ring, gold locket with pictures already fitted, tennis bracelet, Rolex, Movado, and anything and everything else that he/she may desire in this category.

I must admit, the only thing I've ever received from this list in my stocking is the last item, jewelry. After opening a stunning piece of jewelry from my husband hours before, I innocently reached into the toe of my Christmas stocking and pulled out a jewelry box revealing a precious gift. I do believe in Santa and finding THAT nestled at the bottom of my stocking made me feel like a giddy child again! Santa has done that to me several times (not every year, but several that I can remember) and the feeling was incredible! But that's my passion. Do the research necessary to find your special someone's passion and help Santa stuff that person's stocking with a luxurious gift.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holiday Foods - Meals/Menus

Christmas is next week! For those of you in charge of hosting one, two, or all of the big meals it is a lofty job to plan a menu. After years of hosting and learning how to be creative with my endeavors I offer the following ideas to serve on your holiday table.

First, I entertain a lot over the holidays so not every meal here is slated to be for "the Big Day". They are merely meals that would be festive and feed a large crowd. Recipes can be found in books like The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, online at any site from foodnetwork.com to allrecipes.com, or from your own stash of family recipes. I'm suggesting the meals/menus, you need to execute.

Main Course - Meats

- London Broil that has been marinated overnight and grilled to medium
- Pot Roast seared on stovetop to get beautiful browned sides to seal in the juices and roasted for hours in the oven to render the meat tender; roasted with potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery
- Tenderloin, again, seared to get good color and seal in the juices, then finished in the oven
-Ham, small ones can be cooked (reheated) in a crockpot or any can be cooked in the oven; follow directions
-Turkey roasted to a golden brown in the oven, stuffed

Main Course - Other

-Italian Bake -- pasta, sauce made with Italian sausage (hot or sweet or both), ricotta, mozzarella and baked until hot, bubbly, and golden on top
-Pizza -- your favorite dough or crust (I use Boboli prepared crusts), pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and your favorite toppings. Quick, easy, tailor-made to please all attending, and cheaper than delivery!

Menus

London Broil served with rice pilaf, a green vegetable, a tossed salad, and some kind of bread or roll
The secret here is to buy or make a tasty marinade that will flavor and tenderize the meat and provide a delicious dipping sauce upon completion to serve over the meat, the rice, and dip the bread. Slice the meat against the grain and as thinly as possible after you let it rest to redistribute its juices. The rice can be homemade or from a mix. Choose a green vegetable all will like and steam it in the microwave. Kids don't like greens? Make a "mock Hollandaise sauce" by mixing Miracle Whip (or mayo) and yellow mustard together to taste and have the kids dip their veggies. Use a bagged salad and some Pillsbury or other rolls and dinner is finished! Easy clean up with this one, too.

Pot Roast can be daunting for novices, but it is a very easy dinner that makes while you do other things (clean, shop, etc.). Ask your butcher to recommend a cut and a poundage so you are set for the number of guests. Searing the meat before you roast is the secret for success. Once you've done that make sure to brown your onions to caramelize them before adding the liquid needed to keep your roast moist. Add carrots, potatoes, and celery chunked to the same size so they cook evenly. Hours later, when the roast is finished, let it rest, put your vegetables in a large bowl, make a gravy from your pan drippings, and your meal is almost finished. This meat also gets cut against the grain but don't worry if it just falls apart when it sees a knife! This meat should be very tender. Serve with a green if desired but no salad is necessary. Bread or rolls is a must to sop up the gravy, or, better yet, to make 'gravy bread'.

Tenderloin is elegant, expensive, and so delicious. This meal is worthy of Christmas Night! Follow your butcher's instructions or your best recipe. Serve with twice baked potatoes, asparagus or other favorite green, a Christmas salad (something with a lot of red and green), and fine rolls/bread. A horseradish sauce to accompany is divine.

Ham is scrumptious with cheesy potato casserole, greens like broccoli or string beans, cole slaw, and biscuits. Put mustard on the table for people like me who will take her sliced turkey, split her biscuit, slather one side with mustard, and throw the ham on to make a perfect ham biscuit sandwich!

Turkey -- see Thanksgiving menus. It's perfect for the holidays, is comfort food, is elegant and easy, and will always be a staple at Christmas. Serve with all the usual sides - mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn and peas, stuffing, gravy, and rolls.

Italian Bake -- wonderful for Christmas Eve or any night when you wanted to prepare the meal ahead of time. Assemble this and cover to store in refrigerator up to two nights. Uncover and bake with aluminum foil for the bulk of the time and uncovered the last 15-30 minutes to brown the cheese. Serve with a tossed salad and baguette and dinner is finished! Very easy, very delicious, and very filling!

Pizza is a fun way to serve many different tastes, vegetarians and meat eaters, and is 'fun food'. Serve with a huge antipasta - Romaine lettuce, tuna, anchovies, garbanzo beans, ham, salami, provolone, parmesan, olives, pickled vegetables, and anything else you'd like.

For dessert there are always the Christmas cookies on a platter, pies for the turkey dinner, a chocolate layer cake for after the pot roast, a trifle for after the tenderloin, a coconut cake for after the ham, ice cream parfaits for after the Italian bake, and Christmas candies, too.

Whatever your menu, I hope these suggestions come in handy. Wishing you and yours a delectable Christmas week! Let me know if you tried any of these meals and how they came out!

Tomorrow, another look at stuffing the Christmas Stocking... in a most grand way!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gifts - Even More Stocking Stuffers

With a nod and thanks to Jules, my dear friend and loyal reader, I am continuing this thread until my ideas are exhausted. Jules and I seem to share a lot of good tips and both love to have a stash of ideas. Jules, I'm reading all of your suggestions, use many of them, and am incorporating the others! Thank you for making this blog a part of your daily routine!!

As I did yesterday, these suggestions are no longer categorized. Plug them in with the recipient who'd get the most joy from the item(s).

Stocking Stuffers

-A piece of Christmas china -- Spode, Lenox, or some no name brand that's full of holiday cheer and ideally can be added to each year
-seed packets, gardening tools, gardening gloves -- for the novice gardener throw in a "how-to" book
-Super glue, gorilla glue, Elmer's glue, glue sticks for hot glue guns, or paper glue sticks
-duct tape, electrical tape, Scotch tape, masking tape
-scrapbook supplies -- stickers, tools, papers, cut outs
-stickers -- for kids, adults, teachers, teens; get alphabet ones, favorite characters, pets, etc.
-balls -- ALL KINDS -- golf, tennis, basketballs, soccer, footballs, ping pong, super balls, Nerf balls, Magic 8 Balls
- lip balm -- with SPF, with aloe, with color -- keep those lips kissable and healthy all winter long -- from Chapstick and Carmex to Blistex and from Bonne Bell and Bath & Body Works to Burt's Bees, there is something out there for EVERYONE!
-sun screen -- get a high SPF as there is nothing attractive or sexy about skin cancer! "Tanned" skin is unhealthy skin.
-visors -- add this to the sunscreen!
-tie tacks, lapel stays, tie bars -- help the men in your life accessorize handsomely; bring back men wearing ties and dressing up!
-ties -- get one, two, or several to stuff his stocking, but give him tickets to somewhere cool for him to wear the ties. One seasonal tie (Christmas themed) is okay, but stick to classic, gorgeous silk ties.
-kitchen gadgets -- cool ones that work; grab your expired coupons and run to Bed Bath & Beyond! They take ALL of the expired coupons, always use them in multiples, and always give you the most expensive items discounted. They have a large array of great kitchen gadgets/tools and carry the great brand OXO.
-nail polish and remover -- a classic red, a pretty pink, or a metallic for New Year's Eve, even a green, blue, yellow, or purple for the adventuresome type. Add the remover as a bonus!
-bath poof, bubble bath, shower gel, back brush -- treat them to these items that make an ordinary shower or bath into an at-home spa treatment
-back scratcher -- not sure this is a good one? Then you must not own one. The back scratcher is one of the best inventions EVER! Get one that has a long enough handle to get the center of the back and is strong enough to survive (no thin plastic toys).
-certificate for a mani-, pedi-, spa treatment -- for the man or woman in your life who is overworked and under-pampered; this gift shows you REALLY love and appreciate them.
-homemade coupon for back/body massage -- this ought to warm up the cold nights of winter!
-trading cards -- Baseball, Pokemon, or any other sports or game cards the kids/teen/adults are in to.
-Zippo lighters -- I do not condone smoking AT ALL, but for times when a lighter is needed the Zippo is the ultimate. Purchase one that matches the recipient's personality (there are so many to choose) and add the fluid and flints, too.
-really nice chopsticks -- small works of art and usually reasonable and renders take home Chinese or Sushi even BETTER!
-jacks, Tiddly Winks, pick-up sticks, Old Maid, Crazy 8s, War, etc. -- classic and inexpensive children's games
-View Master slides -- even with computers and video games, children still enjoy their own View Master to escape from the ordinary.
-seashells -- bonus points if they are from the beach and not a store! From Santa's summer beach retreat, perhaps?
-food mixes - soups, dips, brownies -- anything dried and needing wet ingredients to bring a scrumptious concoction to life with very little effort
-really good stapler and staples
-really good scissors with a sharpener as a bonus

Tomorrow, more holiday recipes. I am, however, not finished with Stocking Stuffers. Thursday's list will be all about how to stuff the over-the-top, the sky's the limit, no hold's bar, luxurious Christmas Stocking.

Start printing these blogs about stocking stuffers and get ye to the market before Christmas is here!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gifts - More Stocking Stuffers

This is an ever-growing list. Upon posting the blog about Stocking Stuffers last week I immediately began a new list of items I had left off. My notebook is overflowing with ideas! For those of you who have yet to start, those looking for more ideas, and those of you who were unimpressed with the first go around, here is today's offering. Remember, Christmas is now less than twelve days away and Santa can always use a bit of help stuffing those stockings!

This list will be compiled without categories - plug in the items where you think the recipient would enjoy! Also, please remember that a stocking stuffer can just as easily become the sole gift for a friend, neighbor, teacher, or special someone in your life. Most of these items can fit the bill for any occasion while others are just really good to fill the stocking. You decide!

Christmas Stocking Stuffers

-Animal crackers in the circus box with the string (can be hung on a Christmas tree, too)
-Holiday-themed dish towels and oven mitts (or every day styles)
-hand lotions/hand sanitizers
-"smell-um goods" like cologne, perfume, after shave
-FREE Hallmark pocket calendars (add important dates for the recipient for a truly lovely gift)
-personal grooming products if you know the person's favorite brands
-cotton balls/Q-Tips (especially if they are lavishly made or pretty)
-Silver cleaner/jewelry cleaner (the better the quality the better the gift)
-hair accessories
-baseball caps
-bandanas
-crayons, markers, colored pencils (Crayola is still among the best)
-decorative sprinkles for cookies/cupcakes
-honey, especially locally harvested or flavored
-tea bags, hot cocoa packets, or coffee
-for couples only -- sexy underwear/lingerie
-toothbrush and toothpaste, especially the newer spin technology
-a horoscope book to start the new year
-a magazine subscription tucked/wrapped in to the current issue
-pocket-sized tissue pack, especially with designs
-dried pasta in neat shapes/jar of gourmet sauce
-a box of breadsticks
-flavored oils
-shopping list pads, coupon book with current coupons
-turtlenecks/tee shirts
-flip flops/slippers
-SOCKS!!! dress socks, sports socks, trouser socks, funky socks, slipper socks
-reusable bags - this is a gift that keeps on giving as many grocery stores and Target give a nickel back per bag!
-keychains - millions of styles to fit the recipient; add a house key, car key, trunk key, etc.
-Lego separator - an inexpensive tool Lego sells to separate the blocks without losing your nails! My son is getting one this Christmas and I'm going to get a manicure!!
-salt and pepper shakers -- add salt and pepper in bulk to fill and refill
-mugs, thermal travel cups
-ice cube tray with cool shapes (stars, hearts, sports balls, etc.), swizzle sticks, shaker
-New Year's Eve paraphernalia -- hats, crowns, noise makers, serpentine, bubbles, Champagne!
-Heart items for Valentine's Day -- it's only 6 weeks away once the holidays are over!
-Snowmen items for winter decorating/collecting
-jump rope, exercise DVD or bands -- help them to stay on track to good health in the New Year
-ear buds/iPod speakers/noise canceling earphones
-stationary, notecards, stamps, pens

I have a lot more! I'll post tomorrow part 2 of this week's list. You are limited only by your imagination and, in some cases, your budget. But along with some store-bought items, remember to add freebies, homemade things, coupons, and the like. And, starting at the end of this holiday season, start collecting year-round so when the end of December returns, you have mountains of goods to stuff everyone's Christmas stockings!

Thank you for stopping by. See you tomorrow!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Music Blog

Welcome back in to the Friday Music Blog! Today's focus is songs with "Angel" in the title. Although Christmas songs, carols, and hymns are a great place to begin, the topic is wide open. Choose songs from any genre, just kindly include the artist/performer and, when necessary, the album. This should yield a long list of selections so let's get to work! I'm anxious to read what choices are made. Looking forward to a comprehensive list!

Ho Ho Hope you had a great week and are acquiring a ton of facts, ideas, tips, and recipes to sail through this Christmas/Holiday Season joyously. For those of you wishing for the holidays to be behind us and "normal blogs" to return, that time is quickly approaching. For those of you soaking up the holiday help, there are still a couple of more weeks left! Either way I appreciate and value you being here, reading, leaving your comments, and supporting me.

Please check back throughout the weekend to see how the FMB responses grow, to check and recheck the "Stocking Stuffer" blog for suggestions, - heck, just print the thing out and hit the stores! - as well as the "Gift" blogs, refer to the "Holiday Recipe" blogs, and even peruse my older blogs about "The Healing Power of Touch", "The Art of the Kiss", and even "Forgiveness".

A friendly reminder to those who shop Amazon or those who haven't but do not want to face the crowds at the mall, the deals are crazy good this week! Simply use the link at the right hand sidebar of my blog to get into Amazon (it's one extra step for you) and every purchase you make and that gets shipped helps me out immensely.

Join me next week as I offer even more holiday topics, gift ideas, stocking stuffer suggestions, recipes, and tips. Thank you again for your readership, loyalty, support, and kindness!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Getting It All Done

With all that "needs" to get done this time of year - clean the house, decorate, shop, entertain, wrap presents, attend school/church functions - it's a wonder more people don't go into system overload and simply cancel the month of December! But that is not possible nor truly desired. By prioritizing what actually matters to you and your family this season, December can get back to being a rather blissful month.
Planning does alleviate the stress of a month that is typically packed with fun events, obligations and extra chores. If you are a procrastinator or a bit unorganized, there is still hope! By making a quick list of things that are vital to you and yours to enjoy you are on the right track to conquering the stress that can accompany this festive season. If you are hosting this year but do not enjoy cooking, call everyone who is attending and assign them a dish to bring. This takes the onus off of you to create the entire spread and the guests have the option of making their requested course or going to the grocer's to pick it up pre-made. You, too, could go to the grocer's and order a turkey or ham dinner and all of the trimmings to serve to your guests. Simply pick the meal up the day before the holiday and your work, sans heating up, is complete! This is a costlier option, but your time and sanity is worth the extra bit of money you'd end up spending.
Is decorating the evergreen in your home putting you in a bad mood? Quickly call in the friends and family you actually adore and invite them over for pizza and beer, your treat, as long as they promise not to leave until your boughs are decked. Have the lights and boxes out and ready to go and you get lost in the kitchen putting pizza on paper plates and pouring beers into pilsners while they get frustrated with the lights that don't all work and the ornament that refuses to hang properly. Before they leave your tree should be complete and all you have to do is take out the trash and recyclables and stow the Christmas tree boxes for the end of the month... when you'll invite a crew of different friends and family to disassemble this masterpiece while you order Chinese take-out!
Hate to shop but have a list longer than Santa's? Decide on one gift that everyone on the list could enjoy - flashlight, food, game, book - and buy it in multiples. If the store offers gift-wrapping and you detest that chore, pay the extra amount and you are not only finished shopping, but your gifts are beautifully presented as well. If you still have a ton to buy, refer to my "gift" blogs, including this week's "stocking stuffer" guide. At least you aren't going to the stores empty-handed!
Are you sifting through five invitations for the same Saturday night in December? And Sunday there are six more? Take a deep breath and close your eyes. Open them again and be ruthless. Which events are the ones you selfishly want to attend? For the rest, pick up the phone or whip off an email stating you cannot make it but thank you for thinking of you. If it is an "obligatory" event - office party, school concert, church function - consider going as you'll probably truly enjoy yourself and be glad you went. But, if you are putting your foot down, just bow out gracefully, even if it entails a lie, "my child (parent, I) is sick and I cannot take him/her out right now" Yes, it is awful to lie, but, let's face it, this is December, kids are often sick and get sick at the last moment. This one is okay... according to me, anyway.
December and Christmas ought to be filled with people and events you want in your life. As a whole, we get too involved with things that are not contingent to our happiness. Sometimes "getting it all done" is impossible. Getting what you want to and need to get done becomes tolerable when you decide with your family what will make December and Christmas memorable and fun.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday Foods - Cookies

For many, Christmas cookies are in integral part of the Christmas season and celebration. People make several different varieties and batches of traditional favorites, new recipes, and seasonal delights. From the ever popular chocolate chip cookies to the beautiful and creative Christmas cut-outs, cookies are a delicious and much anticipated part of any Christmas table. This year, let's put our collective Christmas cookie recipes out there to broaden our repertoire and fill our cookie plates.
Before we begin the recipe swap, remember that cookies are not just a supplement to a dessert buffet or a snack; they are tasty, attractive, and important enough to be the sole offering for dessert. In our home cookies are the only dessert offered on Christmas Eve and several nights leading up to Christmas. Pies are reserved for Christmas night, and, in my home, perhaps a cake for my father's Christmas birthday (although he much prefers a fantastic cheese danish! Okay, Dad, this year I'll try to accommodate you!)
What is your cookie creation you are most proud? Is it a long family favorite? Something new you got from a magazine last year? Is the process to make the cookies laborious or quite simple? Do you "bake from scratch" or take help from a tube of dough and "doctor it up"? Do you make one or two kinds or whip up no less than seven different batches of Christmas cookies? If you are not the baker, but you are a champion consumer of Christmas cookies, what are your favorites? Do any of you rely on store bought items to make or round out your  Christmas cookie platters? Do you add Christmas candies, i.e. fudge, toffee, etc., to add to your cookie plate? Whereas many of us have the tried and true recipes that work, it would be lovely to be able to have some new ones that are proven to choose. So, please leave a comment listing one of your favorite cookie/candy recipes or ideas that help you entertain for the sweet part of your meal. Be it slice and bake cookies, microwave fudge, Rice Krispie Treats, or homemade pecan sandies, put a tidbit down for us to share.
My staples are the following:

Nestles' Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies
The recipe can be found on the bag of semi-sweet morsels that Nestles' sells. It is the original recipe developed by Ruth Wakefield who owned an inn, The Toll House Inn. Upon starting a batch of chocolate cookies she had often made for her guests, Mrs. Wakefield discovered she was out of baker's chocolate. She found and substituted in Nestles' semi-sweet chocolate, breaking the pieces into her bowl figuring it would melt and turn her dough into chocolate. Instead, the chocolate held its shape yielding the ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie! This is a standby for me year round, but my children (and my big brothers) request these cookies during the Christmas holidays annually. I follow the recipe and make these from scratch - totally worth it!

Sugar Cut-Out Cookies
There are myriad recipes for the simple yet tasty sugar cookie. I have never used the same one consistently and now, due to time constraints, most often use one of the offerings at the grocery store. I have used the tube doughs which instruct adding flour to stiffen the dough for rolling out and punching out the dough with cutters, and a boxed mix that is also simple and yields delightful cookie dough. To me, the sugar cookie is made to decorate so I try not to take too much time in the making of the dough/cookie. I am much happier having the cookies cut out and baked so my children and I can get to the decorating. We use frosting, sprinkles, and our imaginations to make these ornament-worthy cookies. We do all of the traditional shapes for Christmas (bells, Santas, trees, and stars) but this year we are adding some new characters my boys received for their birthdays this summer - Star Wars characters! We will add Yoda, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Storm Troopers to our mix of Christmas regulars. It's cool, it goes with the Star Wars garland that hangs in the kitchen!

One Bowl Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge
This recipe keeps my husband loyal to me and my cookie plate all season long! As simple as it is, this fudge packs amazing taste and texture and is thankfully easy to make more as we tend to run out of it a lot!

2 packages (8 squares each) Semi-Sweet Chocolate
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup peanut butter

Microwave chocolate and milk in large microwavable bowl on HIGH 2 to 3 minutes or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring halfway through heating time. Stir until chocolate is completely melted.
Stir in vanilla. Spread in greased 8-inch square pan. Drop 1/2 cup peanut butter  by teaspoonfuls on top of fudge. Swirl with knife to marbleize. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares.
Makes 4 dozen


Chocolate-dipped Pretzel Rods
This year I tried an entirely new recipe in the hopes that I could not only add this to my Christmas cookie offerings, but also dress the items up for gift-giving. I luckily stumbled on to an easy and lip-smackingly pleasing concoction.

1 package chocolate melts (sold at craft stores and Wal*Mart)
1 container tall pretzel rods
Various containers sprinkles, crushed candy canes, and/or cookies

Line large baking sheets with waxed paper. Set out bowls of sprinkles, candies, and/or crushed cookie bits. Microwave chocolate disks according to package. Dip pretzel rod in melted chocolate using a spoon to help coat the majority of the rod but being careful to leave the top plain to use as a handle. Once thoroughly coated let the excess drip off into the chocolate bowl so as not to waste the chocolate. Using a spoon, shake the sprinkles, candies, and/or crushed cookie pieces onto chocolate sides of the pretzel rod. Once covered to your liking gently place the rods on the waxed paper to dry. Continue until you run out of chocolate. If chocolate gets hardened before you are finished simply put back into the microwave for a few seconds. Once the chocolate-dipped pretzel rods have air dried, package in cellophane bags for gift-giving or stack in a tin or box that is air tight for storage. I do not know how long these last time-wise before they "go bad" as they haven't lasted that long here - they keep getting eaten! I am giving these as bus driver and teacher gifts, as part of gift baskets, and in stockings. They will also be part of my Christmas cookie platter.

In addition to the confections I make in my own kitchen, I always supplement with cookies from my friends (thank you Gretchen!) and store-bought treasures like Reeses' peanut butter trees, Lindt truffles, and red and green M&Ms.

I look forward to reading your recipes, ideas, and stories. Until then...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gifts - Stocking Stuffers

When it comes to stocking stuffers I have no qualms calling myself an expert. My research, as I call it, is extensive, spans decades, and quite possibly may culminate in  a doctoral thesis if institutions of higher learning allow people to earn one for this discipline. I am a self-proclaimed authority on how to stuff someone's Christmas stocking. The possibilities are vast and this list will be broken down and even revisited. I do believe I can always learn something new, even in this department. If you have ideas, suggestions, and success stories you'd like to share/impart, please do so. If you are looking for some good ideas, for young, old, and anyone in between, please follow along. You may just want to print the entire blog before you go out to shop!
I want to begin by explaining that the most reasonable way to overstuff a Christmas stocking is to begin acquiring items all year long. Whereas it is too late to do that now (Christmas is eighteen days away), it is a good idea to keep that in mind starting December 26th! There is still much to do, and still stay well within a budget, to stuff Christmas stockings.
For Anyone:
Candy, especially chocolates - foil wrapped Santas, reindeer, Angels, and snowman look festive, but large bars of the recipients' favorite candy bars are also nice treats; don't forget gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins, this recalls the gifts given in stockings drying by the fire by the true St. Nicholas in 3rd Century Myra
Gum, mints - Whether you choose a single pack or go for a value-sized amount, nothing is better than fresh breath
Nuts - healthy snacks that are sometimes overlooked; throw in a working Nutcracker if the nuts aren't shelled!
Lottery tickets - one or several, the $1 scratch off kind are a fun little bit of excitement Christmas morning to see if you won something
Mittens, gloves - for anyone living in colder climes, these items are necessities and, if bright, warm, and new, make getting "bundled up" more tolerable
Small picture frames - bonus points if you add a picture
Other gourmet foods - jellies, mustards, cookies, chocolate covered anything, cereal in small boxes, hot sauce, Rice Krispie treats, fudge, summer sausage, etc.
Best selling novel - paperback versions should be rather reasonable, especially if it was a best seller from a previous year
Christmas ornaments - find something that fits the person's personality, hobby, vocation, etc. Or just pick the cutest Santa/Snowman/Angel out there
An orange in the toe - or clementine or grapefruit; this is a traditional addition to the stocking
A box of thank you notecards - everyone should write thank you notes. Everyone.

For Babies:
Baby Tylenol and Baby Motrin - store brands are fine, but one of each for the upcoming cold and flu season; no parent wants to be out in the middle of the night when a baby spikes a fever!
Rattles - with lights, color, etc. Just make sure the sound is not annoying to baby or parents
Bibs - try to get thirsty, easy to wash, large versions that really protect clothing
Mirrors - for the crib; safety mirrors set in crib toys, etc. are fascinating to babies
Socks - there are such adorable versions out there, just make sure to get the correct size

For Children:
Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars - in our family we look for real models of cool cars and these great items, still well made, are often on sale this time of year for less than a dollar ($.77 just this week where I shop)! They are also neat 'fantasy' models
Silly Bandz - whatever the brand name of these ridiculous colorful and shaped rubber band bracelets, they are now priced far less than a year ago. I bought four packages for $1 Although banned in many schools, some children still enjoy wearing them during the weekends/free time. They are harmless and an interesting novelty
Lego Minifigures - introduced this year in a single non-see-through package, these items (about $1.99) are mysteries; you get one of 12 different designs and you don't know what you get until you open them. If other kids in the neighborhood get them, let the trading begin if duplicates occur!
Barbie/American Girl/ Build-a-Bear outfits - if the young lady or man in your life has one of these (are all of these) toys, than a new outfit is most certainly appreciated; the same holds true for accessories for these toys
Magic tricks - depending on age, get your child a single or several magic tricks and bring out a new side to his/her personality
classic books - Little Golden books, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, AA Milne, EB White, Beatrix Potter, etc.

For Teens:
iTunes gift cards - let's face it, I want one, why wouldn't a teen enjoy this kind of music/media buying power?!
Diary/journal - encourage him/her to write his/her innermost thoughts; a lot less expensive than therapy!
Pens/pencils - students ALWAYS need these supplies, just try to make some of them fun with novelty looks
Tee shirt - from their favorite store at the mall
Wallet - with some cash or a  gift card inside; teens want to be independent and want their own buying power
Their own set of keys to the family car - you're on your own with this one!
Popular teen novel - go online, ask the town librarian, ask your kid's friends privately to find out what would be well recieved

For Young Adults (College-aged or Newly on One's Own):
A roll, or several, of quarters to do laundry at the laundry mat - priceless
Handkerchiefs - embroidered with an initial or design; the sign of a true lady or gentleman
Gift cards - restaurant gift cards are a nice way to "treat" the person who may not have much money to go out
Grooming kits - manicure sets, travel-sized necessities
Big tins of popcorn, pretzels, etc. - staples to keep these people going long after the tree is taken down
A classic board game - a great way to entertain and start their own collections
A proper deck of cards (2 in one container) - for Bridge, Hearts, or Poker (or every game in between)
Poker chips - if they don't own them, now they do!

For Parents - with young kids at home all the way through to "empty nesters":
Homemade gift certificates for babysitting - parents want to get out, they just cannot always afford to, baby-sitting service is invaluable!
Movie gift cards - force them to get out and see the latest blockbuster or Academy Award nominated film
Restaurant gift cards- even a small denomination is a great way to honor mom and dad and get them to treat themselves to a night out
Pictures of you, their kid - and your siblings if you have any; in frames or without if they have hundreds lying around
Gas gift cards - especially if you always borrow the car and leave the tank empty
Netflix subscription - for the parents who haven't seen a movie in months (years) b/c of raising the kids
Refrigerator magnets - strong ones that hold construction paper masterpieces, the monthly school calendar, or anything else requiring attention; bonus points if the magnets are from cool places that have been visited by you or them
Holiday pins, earrings, and other jewelry - moms may like having these items to spice up their holiday wardrobe allowing them to leave the Christmas sweater in the dresser.
Some item with pictures - ornament, mug, tee shirt, notepad; these items can be made with personal pictures from places like Snapfish and WalMart

For Grandparents:
Flashlight with batteries - lightweight but bright, for when they have to navigate to the restroom while visiting you or any other travels they may be going
Pictures of the grandkids - any way, on anything, as many as can be gathered
A digital camera - if they've never updated or if theirs is older technology; get a sleek, lightweight, and higher mega pixel version; yes, it's expensive, but they're worth it! Go in on it with mom and dad and your siblings. If  it's just you, give what you can comfortably afford
A coupon for a day out with you - time with you is the best gift
A coupon for a meal(s) with you - you cook and spend some quality time


I have many more suggestions so I'll continue this topic another day. Look for bargains at your local Dollar Store, craft stores like Michael's or AC Moore, and discount stores like WalMart and Target. Scour your favorite stores at the mall (or their favorite stores) and look at the sale racks for merchandise at deep discounts. Don't forget craft shows, school and church bazaars, or the consignment shops. Army surplus stores are also great places to look. You are limited by your imagination and budget.  A little planning, a pile of ideas, and a desire to stuff those Christmas stockings to the top is all you need to succeed. Good luck! More ideas to follow in the days to come...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Cards

They arrived this weekend and our sitting on the desk waiting to be attended. There are over 100 of them and our smiling faces are anxious to make their destination. "They" are our annual picture Christmas cards. Each year we take a picture, this year several, and upload it to the photo store which in turn sends us our faces with a Christmas greeting. Some say this custom is out-dated and expensive, but this is yet another tradition that I hold dear and would not think about ending.
As is evident I embrace technology, live a rather candid life online, and prefer email and Facebook far more than the phone when it comes to daily communication. However, I feel sending an actual card in an envelope with a Christmas stamp affixed to it is a beautiful way to wish our friends and family a Merry Christmas and/or a Happy Holiday Season. I am enthralled each and every time I go to my mailbox in December and find a new batch of Christmas cards waiting for me to open. I am delighted when some of those cards include a quick note in a written hand and entertained when a Christmas letter is enclosed. When my list consisted of less than 30 people I used to hand write my greetings with a note, different for each person. A couple of times, after the birth of my first two children, I attempted, with positive results, a one page Christmas letter. In recent years I'm sad to report that our mailings have simply been the photo card with the stamped closing and no personalized touch. This year, with my renewed vigor in writing I hope to craft another Christmas letter that will be funny, informative, and not nauseating!
Life has become so fast-paced, impersonal, and hurried. Although it is a novelty to received a "virtual Christmas card" or a quick email greeting for the holidays, I still ache to see my Christmas card basket fill up as December draws to a close. I want to see my friends' kids in their holiday finery, read about their vacations, and know that, if even for just a few moments, they thought about me and my family and found us worthy of the greeting.
So, a poll. Do you send Christmas cards? Do you do the boxed cards, pick out individual cards at the card store, or do photo cards? Do you include a hand written note? A Christmas letter? Do you enjoy receiving Christmas cards this time of year or do you think this tradition is corny and wasteful? Let me know what you think. In the meantime, I'm getting to work on my Christmas letter!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Music Blog

Another Friday another music blog. I think the only thing we like better than food is music! Well, maybe not the only thing, but you know what I mean!

Today's topic revolves around the holiday season we are nestled - Christmas! What are your favorite Christmas songs, including the artist's version, that you must listen each season? Which ones make you smile, tear-up, feel romantic, make you laugh, feel like a child, and/or make you feel giddy? Which songs make you feel like you must own the music, must listen to the music constantly, or must share the music? If you feel one or several of these things when you listen to Christmas music, please list the songs (and the artisit's version!).

This week marks the end of Week 12. I am compiling myriad topics in my notebook to explore in the days, weeks, and months to come. Just as an aside, I do all of my writing (composing) at the computer some time between 4:30a-6:00a. I do not have these blogs "pre-written" and then upload one each morning at this hour. I am writing "off the cuff" utilizing only some notes from my notebook once in a while. Although there is nothing wrong with doing that, I just wanted you all to know that these blogs tend to flow forth, even at this ungodly hour!

As I am each and every week, I am so very thankful that you are here reading my work. I take pride in these blogs, personal as they are, and am honored you read them. I adore receiving your comments, and am once again encouraged to continue on this journey set into motion. I am wholly excited to enjoy this holiday season and then begin an entirely new year, especially if I have all of you with me!

Best to you and wishing you all a continued happy holiday season!

Please join me throughout the weekend to check the progress of this Friday Music Blog and then join me on Monday for another week of entirely new blogs. There will be a lot more about gifts, the holidays, FOOD, and, of course, another FMB to cap the week. Until then... looking forward to reading your favorite Christmas songs!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Parties

'Tis the Season! One of the great joys of the holiday season is throwing or attending Christmas parties. Be it a brunch, cocktail party, tree-trimming event, or formal dinner, people tend to entertain more this time of year than the rest of the year combined. It is a festive atmosphere, the house looks dressed to the nines, and people want to connect having time off and a reason to celebrate. If you have never, time to host your own party! At the very least, attend one!
Too often I hear people state that they are miserable they have to attend their work Christmas party. What a shame. It used to be a terrific gesture on the part of the bosses to cease work for the afternoon or to block off an evening and celebrate. Think back to any version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Fezziwig's Christmas Party is always a wondrous scene. In today's economy Christmas work parties have been scaled back, but many are still having some special event - drinks instead of lunch, workers only instead of family included - to mark the end of the year and the joy of the season. This is an event not to be missed! Get involved. If there is a gift exchange, participate! Stick to your budget, buy the best your money can afford, and proudly place it for the exchange. Perhaps your business is hosting a toy drive wherein the people buy a toy that fits the personality of someone at your place of work and that person gets to open the toy. Once it is revealed then it goes to Toys For Tots. This is creative and still charitable!
Friends having a party? Attend and get excited about it! Dress in your Christmas finery - leave the black in your closet, whip out something bright, cheerful, and colorful. Bring a hostess gift, perhaps a great new Christmas album, homemade comfection or appetizer, or new Christmas ornament; something for the kids in the house, a Christmas coloring book and crayons, a new game, or tall chocolate Santa, and a great mood. This is Christmas so act like it! Your friends have cleaned, decorated, and opened their home, so show up ready to have a great time!
Never hosted before? Well, this is your year! Issue an invitation to as many people you can comfortably stuff... I mean fit into your home. Deck your halls, don your 'gay apparel' and just have fun. No one cares if you are a gourmet cook, if your house passes the "white glove test" or if your tree isn't Martha Stewart perfect, they just are thrilled to have somewhere fun to go over the holidays. Offer a potluck if you are a terrible cook. Offer your space and the drinks and have everyone invited bring something - no one will mind! Play games of Christmas trivia, Name That Christmas Carol, and Christmas Bingo. Have prizes (raid your best Dollar Store for this). Tell everyone in advance to bring one wrapped gift for an exchange. Set an appropriate dollar amount. Once everyone is gathered give each person a number (say 1-8 if you have 8 people total). Number one gets to choose a wrapped gift and open it. Number two can either pick a wrapped gift from the pile that is left or steal Number one's gift. This goes on all the way through to Number 8. This game is loads of fun and keeps the guests laughing the entire time! Make sure you make a "no gag gifts" rule so everyone winds up with a good gift.
Christmas can be a joyous, festive, and relaxing time if we allow it to be. I know, first hand, how sad, depressing, stressful, and frustrating it can be, but by countering those emotions and stresses with events meant to uplift you the holiday season can be rather enjoyable. Collecting toys, money, and food for charity can be the focus of your party and that helps everyone feel useful during the holidays and takes the focus off of our own personal problems. Spreading holiday cheer and "walking the walk" also helps alleviate stress and sadness. Isolating magnifies problems, but socializing actually has so many positive benefits that 'partying' is good for you! Keep alcohol at bay (a natural depressant that does NOT make you feel better) and concentrate on the best part of the Christmas season.
My husband and I host a lot of engagements over the holidays. We are starting this weekend. I can't wait to get this holiday started, see my friends, and welcome the Christmas season into my home. I hope if you throw a party and/ or attend one, you'll simply enjoy yourself!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday Food - Appetizers

It's December 1st! Wishing all of you who celebrate a very Happy Chanukah! Wishing others a joyous Advent season! Today's focus is food. With the many parties, get-togethers, and holiday functions, food plays a central role in the celebrations we enjoy. For those comfortable in the kitchen this makes the holidays all the more wonderful. But for others being asked to "bring your favorite appetizer" makes them break out into a cold sweat.  Whether you are hosting or being hosted and need to bring something with you, here are a few suggestions that are easy, easier, and easiest! Enjoy!

Many years ago Hallmark used to give out free booklets filled with planning calendar and stickers for the holiday season, gift ideas, and recipes during their Holiday Open House weekend in November. Being a Christmas fanatic I would get my copy, pour over it, and put it away at the end of the season so I'd have it many years later. The recipe I am sharing is from one of those Hallmark Holiday Planners and dates to 1992.

Artichoke Spread

3 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup parmesan cheese
2 T Dijon mustard
1 t paprika

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients. Spoon mixture into buttered ovenproof serving dish. Bake for 20-25 minutes until browned and bubbly. Serve with crusty french bread slices.


I used this recipe countless times and had rousing success each time I served it. It is not a low calorie, figure friendly spread, but it is rich and sinful and a little goes a long way. There are probably ways to lighten it up - perhaps substitute Greek yogurt for the mayo - but for sharing, this is a crowd pleaser! Serve the bread, your favorite crackers, and even fresh raw veggies.

Cocktail Wieners

1 pkg. Lil' Smokies cocktail franks
1 pkg. refrigerated crescent rolls such as Pillsbury

Preheat oven to temperature given on the crescent roll package. Unwrap the crescent rolls and using a sharp knife cut smaller triangles of dough to fit around individual frank; the base of the triangle place the frank and roll the dough around frank up to the point. It should be wrapped enough to have dough around all of the frank except the two ends peaking out. Place wrapped frank on a nonstick cookie sheet. Repeat for all the franks in the package. Bake at recommended temperature on the package of crescent rolls (375 degrees I believe) until the franks are sizzling and the dough turns golden brown, approximately 12 minutes. I highly recommend doing at least two packages of each as this is such a popular appetizer they will be gone before you know it! Serve with your favorite condiments - mustards, ketchup, etc.


Too difficult for those of you who can't or won't step foot in your kitchen? Fine! Try the following help from the grocery store:

Hummus

Search the grocers for a tub of hummus in a favor that is pleasing to you. Hummus is chick peas (garbanzo beans) mashed up with olive oil and seasonings. It is healthy and delicious and comes in a wide variety of flavors. Pick up a couple and keep on hand this holiday season. The items to serve with this are pita chips, also available at your grocer or simple to make at home, and raw veggies. Put out a bowl of olives to accompany and you have yourself a mini Mediterranean feast!

Chex Mix

Do not overlook this wonderful snack mix that has been popular for generations. Although recipes for this are plentiful, the store bought versions are scrumptious, easy, and perpetually on sale this time of year. Treat yourself, your host, and/or your guests to this party staple. There are so many varieties at the store - from spicy to chocolate, from sweet to original - that you can serve it all season and never tire of it!

Holiday Punch

If, like me, you prefer to have an alcohol-free holiday, this punch is ideal! It is festive, delicious, and so pretty. The children will love it and so will the adults. Even if wine, beer, and spirits are a part of your celebrations, it is important to offer an alcohol free choice for those designated drivers. This punch delivers and packs a vitamin C punch keeping colds at bay!

1 64 fluid ounce bottle cran-raspberry juice, such as Ocean Spray brand (I use the Light version)
1 2 liter bottle ginger ale (I use diet)
orange juice (I use Tropicana No Pulp, Calcium + Vitamin D)
1 container rainbow sherbet
1 pkg. frozen raspberries

In a large punch bowl (dig yours out, borrow one, or break down and buy one, they aren't too expensive and something you'll use again and again) fill 2/3rds of the way up with the chilled cran-raspberry juice.  Next add chilled ginger ale to add sparkle - not the whole amount, just about 10-12 ounces, reserving the rest to continue adding as the punch needs replenishing. Add a splash of orange juice, enough to chance the color of the punch to look a bit like sunset. Scoop balls of sherbet into the bowl gently so the sherbet floats. Lastly, add the frozen raspberries to garnish, floating freely among the mixture. Make sure a ladle fits into the punch bowl without overflowing the punch! The amounts are all approximate - you must eyeball each batch. As the cups are filled start making more as this is a well-received concoction and empty cups will be looking to refill shortly!
For you adventurous types, use an old jell-o mold (for jell-o salads), fill with cran-raspberry juice and some frozen raspberries and set in the freezer until firm. Before making the punch, run a bit of warm water on the bottom side of the mold out of the freezer and loosen the frozen juice.  Have the punch bowl right near the sink because once the juice unleashes from the mold you need to get it directly into the punch bowl. This "ice ring" made from the juice in your punch keeps the punch cold and doesn't dilute it like a real ice ring would. The juice simply melts into the punch making... more punch! Keep several bottles of the juice, ginger ale, and containers of sherbet and frozen berries around because you will make this Christmas punch a lot! Of course a sparkling wine can be used in place of the ginger ale,  or Sprite or 7 Up can be used in lieu of the ginger ale, it is all a matter of your taste buds.

Have some tried and true recipes to share to make appetizer entertaining fast, simple and delicious? Please add them to the comments. It you try any of these recipes this season, please let me know if you and your guests/friends liked them.

Wishing you a festive December!! Join me tomorrow for more to make your season merry and bright!