Christmas Countdown C -1

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Avoid Holiday Let-down

Shaunna Privratsky

The last of the cookies are eaten, the decorations are sagging, and it is time to face the New Year. Whether your holidays were joyous, mediocre, or less than merry, most of us experience a letdown once the carols stop. Instead of singing the winter blues, try these easy steps to wrap up the holidays in style.

  1. Take out less trash. Instead of tossing the pretty wrapping paper, have the kids shred it as each present is opened. Save the colorful strips in a plastic bag for festive packing all through the year.
  2. Reuse bows, gift bags, sturdy boxes and ribbon. Every year, everyone at our house waits to see who gets the green fabric box with the purple satin ribbon. It’s been in use for ten holiday seasons.
  3. Be a savvy Santa. Shop the after Christmas sales for terrific bargains on next year’s gifts.
  4. Pick up discounted holiday themed paper goods. Napkins, paper towels, plates, table linens and tissue can be had for less than half price.
  5. Un-trim the tree when the guests are still around to help. Group items that go together and clearly label the boxes. For example: tree trimmings, kitchen decor, downstairs manger, sled collection. It’s a present to yourself next year when you dig out the decorations once again.
  6. Replace your old lights with the new, safer LED lights. They burn brighter on 80% less energy and are cool to the touch. Grab them on sale and you’ll be light years ahead of the game next year.
  7. Sweep in the New Year with a clean home. Enlist the help of your kids, who are probably home on Christmas break. After a few days with nothing to do, they will be happy to help.
  8. Recycle your tree. Most cities pick up your discarded tree and chip it into mulch for city parks. They also offer free mulch to city residents in the spring and fall. So even after you pick up the last needle from the carpet, your tree will get a second shot at beautifying the landscape.
  9. Take a look at your bottom line. If the holiday bills are pouring in, sit down and form a plan of action to pay them off as quickly as possible. To avoid the same debt cycle next year, start saving now. A little money put aside each month in a Christmas account will add up to easy holiday budgeting next year.
  10. Whittle your waistline. Whether you indulged a little too much in Grandma’s fudge or overdid it on the rich holiday fare, it is the perfect time to eat healthier and lose any extra pounds. Maintaining a healthy weight will save you money by keeping you out of the hospital or doctor’s office.
  11. Plan your summer vacation. It is not too early to start thinking ahead to sultry summer heat and tempting travel packages. By researching early, you could lock in ultra cheap deals on airfare, lodging and your dream destination. It will also give you something to look forward to in the dreary winter months.
  12. Refresh your home’s decor. Do a mini makeover in the guest bathroom by cashing in some of your gift cards. Add a splash of warm color to your neutral living room with pillows and cozy throws. Change out the outdated fluorescent fixture in the kitchen for a bright new look.
  13. Shovel someone else’s sidewalk. Maybe your next-door neighbor fell on the ice and broke her ankle. Or you notice that the Erickson’s down the block didn’t winter in Arizona this year and are having trouble keeping up with the snow. Helping out fosters good feelings. When you need a hand someday, your neighbors will be there.  
  14. Donate your holiday magazines. Christmas magazines typically have tons of craft and decorating projects, perfect for your child’s teacher. Or give them to a nearby nursing home. Arrange to regularly drop off your magazines in the New Year, to keep clutter at bay and let others enjoy them.
  15. Make a list of this year’s favorite holiday memories. Was it baking cookies with the kids?  Shopping the after Christmas sales with your son?  Wrestling the real tree into the van in –13 degrees below zero weather?  This will give you a head start on next year’s holiday season.

If what you are feeling goes beyond the holiday let-down blues, you may be suffering from a deeper form of depression.

 

Anyone who has ever experienced it knows how devastating a bout of depression can be. The symptoms range anywhere from intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, despair, sleeplessness, fatigue, physical aches and pains, to suicidal thoughts and urges. It can last for days, weeks, months, or even years. The quality of life can degrade to the point of wondering if it is even worth it to go on.

 

There is hope. We no longer have to endure depression. There are many drugs available to help in the fight against depression. Visit with your doctor to determine if drugs are a good option for you.

 

Besides pills, there are some positive changes you can use to improve your outlook on life. These tiny steps can lead you out of the pit of despair and bring you back into the light. Best of all, they are completely free.

 

Live for today. We can’t change the past, so dwelling on mistakes or bad choices will only drag us down. Likewise, we can’t predict exactly what will happen in the future, so we shouldn’t waste time and energy worrying about “what ifs.” 

 

When you wake up each morning, think of one thing you are thankful for in that moment. It could be the beautiful sunrise, the sounds of your children waking up, the smell of coffee enticing you to the kitchen, or just the fact that you have a whole day to be the best you can be.

 

Every day, focus on at least one positive thing to look forward to. Maybe it is the day you meet your husband for lunch, or your favorite author’s new book is released. You can create special moments, too. Pick up a rare indulgence like a frothy milkshake or go in for a totally new haircut. When we train our minds to look for good things, we find them. 

 

Exercise your way to those happy endorphins. Even if you just walk around the block, do some sit-ups during commercial breaks or dedicate an hour to the gym, your spirits will rise and you will feel better about yourself. Make it a routine and think of it as your physical therapy.

 

If something is really bothering you, limit the amount of time you dwell on it to ten minutes a day. Writing down your fears and worries can release you from fretting about it. Remind yourself to put it aside after your time is up.

 

Music is a powerful mood lifter. Play anything you like; upbeat tempos, fast beats or easy sing-a-longs can lift you out of the doldrums and put the spring back in your step. Even playing a radio or CD player quietly throughout the day can make you feel happier.

 

Pets are a great way to lift your spirits. Playing, petting and cuddling will calm you down and make you more optimistic. Even just attending to your pet’s basic needs can give you a feeling of worthiness and take your focus off of your sadness.

 

Smile as you go about your day. When you look for ways to show kindness to others, you feel generous and your spirit is blessed. You just may be the person who helps someone else who is having a bad day.

 

Speaking of bad days; we all experience them. No one can be upbeat and positive all of the time. When a bad spell hits, keep yourself busy doing projects or specific tasks like reorganizing your desk or filing papers. Your feelings of accomplishment can balance out the negative and come up rosy.

 

Before you go to sleep at night, think of three positive things that happened that day. Let yourself be grateful for them. When we concentrate on gratitude, we appreciate what we have been given, instead of always looking at life like a glass half empty. Tomorrow is a clean slate. It is like the ultimate do-over: each day is a new beginning to how you want to live your life. The happiest people are not the ones with the most money, but the ones who are content with what they have.

 

Depression is brought on by many circumstances, most of which cannot be changed. Yet how we choose to react can mean the difference between despair and a more hopeful outlook. By actively participating in how we handle sadness, we can create a positive outlook on life and dig out of depression, once and for all.      

Keeping these hints in mind will make wrapping up the holidays a celebration instead of a letdown. Stay merry in the New Year by looking ahead and cherishing your priceless memories of a happy holiday season, from start to finish.

Shaunna Privratsky is a fulltime author. She lives in North Dakota with her family and is happily looking forward to a new year. Visit The Discount Diva at http://shaunna67.tripod.com/id21.html

Christmas Countdown C -2

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Butter Rum Cake

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Sauce:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon rum extract

Cream butter until light. Gradually beat in sugar, creaming until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture alternating with milk, beat thoroughly after each addition.

Turn into greased bundt pan. Bake in 350 oven for 70 minutes or until cake springs back when tested. Place cake in pan on rack to cook.  Pierce cake with fork. Pour hot sauce over cake. Cool thoroughly before removing cake from pan.

To prepare sauce: Heat sugar, butter and water in pan until butter melts, do not boil. Add rum extract.

Christmas Countdown C -3

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Jean’s Beans Chili

I began making this dish for my friends who are vegetarians.  However, many of my meat loving guests also enjoy my special chili.  It is made with 4 kinds of beans and plenty of spices to make it thick and flavorful.

  • 1 large can chili beans
  • 1 large can pinto beans
  • 1 large can kidney beans
  • 1 large can black beans
  • 1 cup frozen chopped onions
  • 1 cup frozen chopped green pepper
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 small can of tomatoes with chilies
  • 1 large can of tomato sauce
  • 1 box vegetable broth
  • garlic salt
  • chili powder
  • hot sauce
  • salt and pepper

 

Pour chili beans into large crock pot.  Drain and rinse other beans. Add to crock pot.  Mix.  Add onions and green peppers.  Add tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Season to taste.  Top pot with broth, making chili stirrable but not “soupy.”  Simmer on low 4-6 hours adding broth as needed.

Christmas Countdown C -4

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Orange & Spice Doughnuts

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 tablespoons shortening, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange rind
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 3 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • sugar

Cream sugar and shortening. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Blend in orange rind, juice and pumpkin.

Sift together dry ingredients. Gradually add to pumpkin mixture, stirring until blended. cover and chill 2 hours.

Roll 1/3 of dough at a time to about 1/3 inch thickness on floured pastry cloth. Cut with floured doughnut cutter. Let stand 15 minutes.

Fry in deep hot fat, 375 degrees, until nicely browned on both sides, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Roll in sugar or frost as desired.

Christmas Countdown C -5

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Party Pizzas

1 loaf party rye bread

1 jar pizza sauce

shredded mozzarella cheese

Pre-heat oven 350 degrees. Place rye bread on ungreased cookie sheet. Bread may be place close together. Drop spoonful of pizza sauce on each slice of bread and spread around bread. Sprinkle top of pizzas with cheese. Place in oven for 5-10 minutes until sauce bubbles and cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Showstopping Christmas Cake Recipes

Showstopping Christmas Cake Recipes

My Tuesday evening Bible study had their Christmas party last night. We had a wonderful time! It was a potluck. Now, when I host a potluck, I never assign dishes to anyone, nor do I have anyone sign up to bring something, carefully listing the items they intend to share. I know how life often gets in the way. You sign up to bring one thing & then something comes up suddenly & you don’t have time to make your favorite dish, the one you SWORE you were going to bring! Nope. None of that for MY potlucks. Instead, I just tell everyone to bring whatever they want & if we end up with all desserts, YAY! I have never had an event where we end up with only salads, nor have I had an event where we end up with only desserts (BOO!)

Last night worked out great. We had an excellent mixture of food from casseroles to appetizers to veggies & salads. And we had CAKE! (You knew there was a reason I was telling you this, didn’t you?) Jan brought 2 cakes and they were FABULOUS! One was angel food topped with a frosting made with Cool Whip & pineapple. The second was the one I had. It was yellow cake frosted with a delicious topping made from Cool Whip, pudding & egg nog. Yum! And guess who was lucky enough to bring the rest of the cake home with her! 🙂

Jan shared her easy recipes for both cakes with us last night. Today, I am share cake recipes from Southern Living. Every celebration deserves a cake! Enjoy!

Christmas Cakes

12 Easy Make-Ahead Ideas for Christmas

12 Easy Make-Ahead Ideas for Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, as the song says. Christmas also goes by in a blur. Time seems to speed up, leaving us gasping & wondering how we are going to get it ALL done! Betty Crocker to the rescue with a selection of recipes you can make ahead. Being able to prepare dishes ahead of time calms me. I feel a bit more in control of the situation, whether or not I really am. So take a breath & take moment to decide which of these delicious recipes might give you more time to celebrate Christmas! Enjoy!

Make Ahead

Christmas Countdown C -6

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Baked Spaghetti

My cousin, Mary would always prepare this dish for family gatherings. It is simple, filling and may be prepared ahead of time. I am able to expand this recipe as needed, enabling me to make more than one pan of spaghetti at a time. 

  • 12 oz pasta
  • 1 lb ground meat
  • 1 small onion, chopped (or ½ cup frozen chopped onions)
  • 2 small cans tomato sauce
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 cubes beef bouillon
  • seasoning as listed 

Preheat oven to 350. Brown ground meat. Drain and set aside.

Boil 1 ½ quarts water in a large stock pot. Add bouillon cubes and allow to dissolve. Add 1 tablespoon oil to boiling water. Add pasta. Stir to prevent sticking. Cook pasta until just tender.  DO NOT DRAIN.

Add tomato sauce and paste. Season with 1 tablespoon crushed garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, 1 tablespoon basil and salt and pepper. Blend thoroughly.

Add meat. Mix. Pour mixture into large flat baking dish. It will look sloppy. Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Bake one hour or until firm. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Cut into squares.

Christmas Countdown C -10

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The Simple Joy of Holiday Entertaining

Entertaining in your home is an important part of the Holidays. Spending time with family and friends over great food is an incredible way to increase the joy of the season.

Unfortunately, most women I know groan when you mention Holiday entertaining. They are already tremendously stressed over the basic Holiday tasks that have been added to her enormous to-do list that she doesn’t know how she is ever going to get everything done. Who wants to add a party on top of that?

Well, if you do things the Simple Joy way, Holiday entertaining doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, it can be very easy. The primary thing you must remember is:

Attend Your Own Party!

You should never invite friends over to show off.  Entertaining during the holidays is about relationships not about bragging rights.  Creating an atmosphere where guests are able to relax and enjoy themselves, you are able to move effortlessly through your guests with no stress, no fuss, no worry.

How is this possible? To begin the transformation, follow these three extremely easy steps…

Simplify, Sweetie!

To enjoy your holiday party, you must reduce the stress.  The easiest way to reduce your stress is to simplify your event.  Mommy was right, Sweetie, “Never bite off more than you can chew!”  To maintain a manageable level, follow these “simple” steps:

Simple Event

Plan a holiday event that fits well into the time you have to prepare.  There never seems to be enough time during the holidays and nothing brings on stress faster than a shortage of time.  Determine what you are able to handle and go with that.  Be honest with yourself.  Now is not the time to be Super Woman.

Simple Plans

Work smarter, not harder.  Once you decide the type of event you wish to hold, sit down with pen and paper to determine what needs to be done to prepare.  Spend your time creating your list, not running around aimlessly.  Save your energy for your party.

Simple Menu

Spending hours in the kitchen with a hot stove is simply wilting.  Plan a menu that offers dishes your guests will enjoy but will not wear you out.  You want to be with your guests at the center of the fun.  Choose dishes that can be prepared in advance or require little last minute work.  Or, follow the my Simple Joy example:  purchase pre-made dishes that only need baking or microwaving.  Remember, your guests came to see you, not your food.

Delegate, Darling!

You have chosen your event, developed a plan of action and selected your menu.  Now you need to decide who is going to do all the work.  What do you mean you thought you had to do the work?  No, no, no, darling, not when you take my advice:

Decide What Needs to Be Done

You have a plan of action.  Take the time NOW to expand on that plan.  Determine step by step exactly what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.  Break things down into very small parts if you need to.  Once you are satisfied with your list, copy it to a fresh piece of paper and keep it with you always… or at least until your party is over.

Determine What You Want to Do

With completed list in hand, study it very carefully.  What things do you want to do?  If you make great desserts, then you may want to save this activity for yourself.  If you REALLY like to clean your house, this may be the activity for you.  Pick and choose now before others get a crack at the list.

Delegate the Rest

Yes, you are actually going to ask other people to do things to help you get ready for your party.  Gee, what a novel idea!  Who are these people?  Friends, family and hired help.  You may hire a company to clean your house or cater the party.  Assign tasks to family members.  When friends and guests offer their help, accept!  Remember, your job is to attend the party.  Let others help.

Pamper, Pet!

The day of your party arrives.  Everything is going smoothly.  Now is the time for you to pamper yourself.  Take time for you so you have energy for your guests.  Here are just a few things you might do for yourself, Pet.

Take a Nap

Can’t have you nodding off in the middle of a conversation.  Don’t want any lines under your eyes.  Prevent this by taking a little nap before you get ready.  Even if you only have a short time, lie down for a few minutes.  Relax.    Smile and let all your care and tension drift away.  Prepare your mind to turn your energy from you to your guests.  Now, take a deep breath.  Let it out.  Open your eyes.  It’s time for your bath.

Take a Bath

The Queen never rushes through a shower when she prepares for a party.  Time to pull out all the Royal stops.  What better way than with a warm relaxing bubble bath.  Fill the tub with scented bath salts, light the candles, and turn on music to relax.  Then slide deep into the tub.  Lean back and let the last of your cares float away, Pet.  Not too long, though, you still need to get dressed.

Take a Breath

You’re ready.  The food is waiting.  The music is playing.  The house is perfect.  The doorbell rings.  Wait!  Not just yet.  Take a deep breath.  Now smile.  No, a big warm smile and go greet your guests.  The #1 guest (YOU) is in the house!

Christmas Countdown C-12

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Have Yourself a  Low-stress Little Christmas!

During the Holidays, many of us are guilty of procrastinating. We put things off until the last possible moment, filling ourselves with anxiety as we scramble to get everything done. Each year, we promise ourselves we will be better organized THIS year and each year it’s the same. Holiday tasks come rushing at us leaving us standing frozen like a deer in the headlights.

Why do we do this to ourselves year after year? I believe most of us have good intentions of doing better every year but unfortunately, we become overwhelmed by everything we have to get done for the Holidays. Our to-do list seems endless and  makes it impossible to know just where to begin. We flit from one task to another, never quite completing anything. Or, we become immobile, unable to motivate ourselves to take on even the simplest task. How can we overcome these feelings and begin to enjoy the Holidays once again?

You should begin by saying the following words over and over again, “Work smarter, not harder!” Take the time to sit down and develop a strategy for the Holiday season. Do not do another thing on your list until you begin to follow the 6 steps listed below:

1.   Distinguish between “have to” and “want to:”  It is difficult to motivate yourself when you feel there is so much you “have to” get done for the Holidays. How many of these things are really “have to’s” and how many are “want to’s?” A number of years ago, when our daughter was in grade school, I was overwhelmed by everything I felt I had to get done before Christmas arrived. I couldn’t get motivated to do anything. Then I had an idea. I sat down and made 2 lists. On one, I put everything that really had to be done by Christmas morning. I tried to be realistic and only list things that, if not done, would truly spoil Christmas. On the second list, I put everything else, the tasks I only wanted to get done. When I was finished, I only had ONE item on my “have to” list. I needed to buy our daughter’s presents. She was still young enough that I knew Christmas would be spoiled if I didn’t have her presents ready by Christmas morning. Everything else on my list was something I only wanted to do. I didn’t have to put up the Christmas tree. I didn’t have to send out Christmas cards. Well, there were a lot of things I didn’t have to do. Once I gained that perspective, the process became easier. I felt the pressure being lifted from me and I got to work. I organized my “want to” list and one by one, I whittled each task away. By the time Christmas morning arrived, I had completed every item on both lists without the stress. Take the time to create 2 lists. Be brutal. You may have more than 1 item on your “have to” list but it should still be a small enough list that you can tackle it easily. Then, organize your second list and get to work.

2.   The calendar is your friend: This time of year, we see the calendar as our enemy. Each day it reminds us how little time there is left to prepare for Christmas. Do not see the calendar as your enemy, make it your friend. Once you have prepared your 2 lists and then organized your longer “want to” list, grab your calendar and begin to plan. Write in all the scheduled events, like the kids’ school programs, the church Christmas event, holiday parties, etc. Next, study your list and schedule a deadline for certain events: mailing Christmas cards, mailing packages, decorating the house, shopping, etc. Make sure you write tasks in pencil. No need to add to your stress level by setting arbitrary deadlines in pen. Pace yourself by spreading out tasks throughout the month.

3.   Let the list be your guide: I am a great maker of lists. It is too easy for tasks to fall through  the cracks during the non-holiday part of the year. This time of the year, it can be overwhelming. Therefore, I make a list. In fact, I make multiple lists. I have a master list of everything I want to get done for the holidays. I have a daily list of the 5 and only 5 things I need to do for that day. I have my Christmas shopping list with everyone and their gift ideas listed. I have a grocery list for everyday items and the various lists for any entertaining I am doing. These lists go everywhere with me. I never know when I might see a gift I can purchase or have a chance to pop into a grocery store to pick up a few things. I have the lists clipped together so I can easily refer to them. I do not let the lists intimidate or overwhelm me. They allow me to calmly plan things in the quiet and comfort of my home. They help me stay on top of things. Most important, they give me a sense of control. When you plan ahead and make your lists, you control the Holidays, they do not control you.

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4.   Give yourself the gift of “no:” One of the reasons we become overwhelmed at Christmas is the added burden of Holiday tasks piled on top of our already full to-do list. Unfortunately, everyone else around us has a lot to do and some of these people are looking for unwary individuals upon whom they can thrust one (or more) of their tasks. They may not mean to burden you but they do burden you just the same. You must learn to say “no” to these request. At the very least, you need to get something in return for doing the task. For example, if your husband asks you to pick up a gift for someone in the office, you need to have him take one of your tasks. Explain in a calm tone that you are also very busy during the Holidays and, in order to do one of his tasks, you need him to take one of yours. Everyone only has 24 hours in a day. This means we are only able to do so much in the course of a day. To have time to do his task, you need something removed from your list. For both of you, time is valuable. Be respectful of each other’s time. Keep in mind, there are other times when you must just say “no.”  Take a moment to consider whether or not you really have the time to do the requested task. If not, say so. You do not owe anyone an explanation. If you are unable to do one task, you might offer to do another but only if you have the time. You owe this gift to yourself and you deserve it.

5.   Allow others to help: We often think everything must be done by us. However, there are all sorts of people able and willing (or at least easily swayed) to do tasks for us. Some of these people are family and friends. Some of these people can be hired, like a cleaning service to come in and give your home a thorough cleaning for the Holidays. Nowhere does it say Mom must do everything. If no one offers to help, then ask. Women often feel men should know they need help. Men believe women will ask if they need help. We are both making assumptions. Mr. D. always tells me to speak up if I need help. Getting your family to help you also gives them a better respect for all you do to prepare for Christmas.

6.   Take care of yourself: This is the most important thing of all. Most women I know develop terrible colds or other ailments right after the new year begins. I believe this is often caused by the lack of care we give ourselves in December. Take simple basic steps to care for yourself during the holidays. Drink lots of water. Eat more balanced meals. Cookies and fudge just done’t cut it. Get plenty of rest. At least once a week, I climb into bed with a good book about 8:00. I may read for hours or fall asleep before 9:00. I find my body needs the rest. In addition, get some exercise every day. I like to go for a walk or ride my bike. This gives me time to plan my day, or the next day if I go out in the evening. It also clears my head. I also like to pray while I walk, helping me maintain perspective on the season.

Christmas is a fabulous time of the year, too fabulous for us to be wishing it over. Take a few simple steps to get a handle on the holidays and you can truly have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.