Saturday, December 27, 2008

Save-It Saturday: Recycling the Christmas Tree

Ok, I will save the which tree, real or fake, is better for the environment debate for next year, but for this year, I will discuss ways to dispose of a live (real) tree. Since the trees are organic in nature, they will break down on their own in a landfill anyway, but there are more environmentally-friendly ways to dispose of them. Before doing any of the following things though, you first need to remove ALL decorations (this means each and every strand of tinsel) and should remove any plastic bags, wires, nails, etc as well.

- Probably the most economical way to recycle your tree is to have it mulched or chipped. Where I live, this is a free service offered by many towns. The resulting mulch is then free for residents to use in their gardens and plant beds. It is important to note, if you plan to use the mulch in your plant beds, let it decompose first. Otherwise, as it decomposes the plants and the mulch will be competing for the nitrogen in the soil. They can also be used in a compost pile, but they do take a while to compost.

- See if your city or town offers tree recycling. Chances are they will do the same as above, but use the mulch or chippings in city parks and trails.

- Look into donating the tree to a wildlife refuge or using it in your own yard as a place for small animals and birds to take cover from predators and harsh weather. You can either simply toss it on its side or put the entire thing outside in a stand, allowing it to be used as it would have been naturally used. You can then mulch or chip it in the spring.

- Drop it into a pond or lake (check local laws first) that is stocked with fish. The fish will use the tree for cover as well and a safe place to locate food.

- Use the wood to build a bird house.

- Cut the branches off and then cut into logs for a campfire. It is not recommended to use unseasoned pine logs in a fireplace though because a resin can build up and start a chimney fire. Of course you can season the pine logs by allowing them to sit outside for at least one year to dry out the sap. Then they are safe for burning in a fireplace. The needles and branches can be allowed to dry out for use as kindling and tinder for campfires as well.

However you choose to dispose of your tree, please be sure it is safe and that it does not violate any local laws. Any of the above ways are great for keeping the trees out of the landfills. While they will eventually decompose, they do take a long time and take up valuable landfill space.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Family Friday: Time Capsule and an assignment

As another year comes to a close, I look back at how much has happened in the past 12months and how much my kids have grown. For our household, we experienced quite a bit in 2008. Grandma came to visit us from Washington state (to NY), not just once, but twice this year. We traveled to Florida for a family vacation and to visit old friends of ours from when we lived there. I got very sick and spent some time in the hospital prior to giving birth 6 weeks early to our beautiful son, and then had to stay in the hospital several days more after delivery. Our son stayed in the NICU for almost 3 weeks and we were so happy when our entire family was home together. Our last big event in 2008 (I hope) was our recent move. We did not move too far, but far enough that the kids had to say goodbye to some acquaintances that they probably will not see again. These were just family events from the past year and do not include the historic presidential campaigns and election, the major flucuations of gas prices, or the financial crisis we have witnessed in the housing and stock markets.

I am sure we are not the only family that experiences such major changes each year and I know millions of others experienced the other events along with us. How neat it would be to look back on past years and see the changes experienced not just in the world, but also in your home. This year, we are planning to put together a family time capsule as part of our New Year's Eve celebration. We wil include a family picture taken at Christmas, several pictures from throughout the year (depicting the major events of the year), news clippings, and any special pictures or crafts made by family members. Additionally, each person (who can write) will write a little about themselves and their personal events of the past year. They will include favorites (foods, colors, etc) friends, future goals, etc. We will then pack the time capsule away with our Chirstmas decorations to be reviewed next New Year's Eve. I am hoping to do this every year and slowly add to the time capsule collection so that we can review not only the prior year, but also 5 years prior or 10 years prior, etc. Another option would be to create a year-end scrapbook together.

Now onto the assignment: Another thing I am planning on New Year's is to set some goals as a family for 2009. Next week's Family Friday will be to discuss the goals we have set. Your assignment is to think about what goals you would like to set for your family and either discuss them with your family to agree on them (they ARE family goals, not OUR goals for the family) or set up a time to do so. Be sure to include goals that span a variety of areas in your family life. For us, we will have spiritual goals (can include setting up regular family scripture reading or prayer, regular church attendance, etc), time goals (committing to spending a certain amount of time to certain activities), economic goals, health goals (can include increasing eating healthy foods, decreasing eating unhealthy foods, increasing exercise, decreasing idle time) and recreation goals (can include vacation plans or extracurricular activities).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to take this time to wish all of you a wonderful Christmas. If you do not celebrate Christmas, that's ok too, I still hope you have a great day!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: A Healthy Christmas

Why wait until the new year to start eating healthy? Here are some healthy recipes for Christmas cookies and Christmas Day breakfast.

Santa eats a lot of cookies on Christmas Eve. Why not offer him a slightly healthier cookie this year, that still tastes yummy? Add a glass of fat-free milk and he is ready to go.

Glazed Cranberry-Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies (recipe created and owned by Danielle Garcia, please contact me if you want to reprint this)
yield: 28 cookies

1 c. wheat flour
1 c. all purpose flour
3 c. quick cooking oats
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c pureed or canned pumpkin
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. egg substitute (or 1 egg and 2 egg whites)
1/2 c. fat-free milk
1 1/2 tsp maple extract (you could use vanilla in a pinch)
1 1/2 c cranberries, chopped (can use fresh or dried)
2/3 c. walnuts, chopped

Glaze ingredients
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 Tbsp fat-free milk

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2) Sift together flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt; set aside. Cream together pureed pumpkin, butter, and sugar. Stir in egg substitute, milk and maple extract. Gradually stir in flour mixture, until well-blended. (Note- this can all be done with a mixer, up to this point, from here proceed by hand.) Stir in cranberries and nuts.
3) Drop dough by tablespoon onto prepared cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Let sit for 1-2 minutes and then remove to wire cooling rack.
4) Combine glaze ingredients. Place into a Ziploc-style bag. Snip a small corner off and drizzle glaze onto cookies.

For breakfast Christmas morning, try Cooking Light's Overnight Caramel French Toast served with sliced banana on top. It is great because you can prepare it tonight and pop it in the oven while opening gifts and it will be ready when you are done (well 50 minutes later).

Another breakfast option is:
Hot Brown Rice Breakfast Cereal(recipe created and owned by Danielle Garcia, please contact me if you want to reprint this)
serves 6

3 c. cooked brown rice ( a great way to use up leftover brown rice)
3 c. fat-free milk
1/4 c. dried blueberries (other dried fruit may be substituted)
1/4 c. toasted almonds (or other nut), chopped
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tbsp. honey
1/4 c. egg substitute
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp butter

1) Combine rice, milk, dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon and honey in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low; simmer for 20 minutes.

2) Whisk together 1 Tbsp. of the rice mixture and the egg substitute. Continue doing this, 1 Tbsp at a time, until you have added 6 Tbsp. Stir the egg mixture, the vanilla, and butter into the hot rice mixture and cook over low heat for another 1-2 minutes.

Whatever you choose to eat, enjoy and have a wonderful Christmas season!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Try It Tuesday: Fresh pomegranates

Ok, I have had fresh pomegranates before, but I have a new way of getting the seeds out that is soooooo much easier and quicker. I recently saw on Martha Stewart's show that you can quarter a pomegranate and hold it over a bowl, seed side down. Then take the back of a wooden spoon and just whack the back of the pomegranate repeatedly. It is sort of fun and a good way to relieve a bit of stress, but the best part is it removes just about every seed in a matter of moments. After seeing it done on Martha, I just had to try it. I picked up a pomegranate this week and tried it. It worked fabulously and I had a bowl full of gorgeous crimson seeds in about 5 minutes, instead of an hour. One word of caution: be sure to hold it deep in the bowl and/or do not wear a good shirt and do not do it near anything you do not want little reddish-purple stains on. You do not lose a lot of juice, but you are likely to get some spattering as you hit the back of the fruit.

Do I recommend this method for removing pomegranate seeds? Absolutley!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Money Monday: Start Planning For Christmas Now

Ok, not this Christmas, next Christmas. Do you have people on your list that you have realized you bought an extra gift, or two, for? What do you do with the extra gifts? I am sure some of you return them, some will use the gift for another person, a few will hold onto it for the recipient's birthdayor other event, but many will just go ahead and give the extra gifts to the intended recipient anyway. The best thing (at least for your pocketbook) is to simply stash it away for next year (or their birthday at least). Then, before you start your holiday shopping next year, be sure to check your stash and cross off those people whom you already have gifts for.

Another way to build up that "stash" is to shop clearance sales and the day after Christmas is the best time to start. You will also find that many stores have toys deeply (often to 75% off) discounted in mid-January. Do your birthday shopping for the year and get a head start on your holiday shopping for next year by shopping these great sales.

Now that gifts are taken care of, let's move to decorations. The day after Christmas is also a great time to pick these up for a steal on the price. You can also get lots of red and silver decor and candies and such to use for Valentine's Day. Craft stores actually start taking deep discounts before the holiday. This week's Michael's ad says their Christmas items are already 70% (maybe 75%, the ad is in the van) off. I may not have time to pwhip up any Christmas decorations for this year, but I have a heck of a head start for next year and they were a fraction of the price.

Don't forget the holiday dresses and outfits either. These will go on clearance over the next few weeks as well. The only drawback here is that you have to try and guess what size someone will be in 12 months. The benefit is, if you are wrong, you can always gift the item or sell it on eBay or Craigslist.

I do not recommend buying food a year ahead of time, but be sure to check the deals anyway. I have often found refrigerated cookie dough with holiday themes for less than $1 (combine with a coupon and they are free or close to it), soon after Christmas ends. I buy and bake them up for the kids or even for a New Year's get together. No one ever minds the holiday theme. While on the topic of food, be sure to check your grocers for deals on meat and baked goods soon before closing time on Christmas Eve (if you can). Many will mark down meat and baked goods in preparation of being closed for 24 hours. We bought a fresh turkey at Sam's Club several Christmas Eve's ago for 19 cents a pound, an hour before the store closed.

You do not need to do all these things to save money, but the more you do, the more money you can save. Plus, it lessens the amount of stuff you need to get next year, allowing you more time to spend doing other things that are more enjoyable.

Regarding Simply Sundays

I have made a decision to no longer regularly post on Sundays. I believe Sundays should be a day of rest, but I feel stressed when I have not posted for the day, so I am releasing that "weight" by saying I will still post on sundays, but only when it is convenient. All other days will remain the same. Stay tuned for Money Monday later this evening and the promised giveaway that I am late on posting. Thank you for understanding.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Save-It Saurday: Environmentally Friendly Gifts and Gift wrapping

I had the idea for this posting a while back, when there was still plenty of time to do your holiday shopping. I apologize to those of you who are already done with your shopping, but for those who are not and for those who are starting to plan ahead for next year, here are a bunch of envirnmentally-friendly gift ideas.

- Make a donation in the recipient's name to an organization they support (double bonus if it is also an organization that supports the environment)

- Give the gift of time. Give gift certificates that are redeemable for services such as snow shoveling, gardening, lawn care, house cleaning, etc

- Put together food baskets using organic fruits and veggies, chocolate made from fair-trade cocoa, and locally grown and produced jams and honey. Put it all in a re-usable shopping bag.

- Just about any item that is re-usable that would replace something that the recipient currently is using a disposable version of. Re-usable coffee filters, cloth diapers, and cloth napkins are just a few ideas.

- Solar chargers are now available for things like i-pods, laptops and cell phones. They initially are charged by plugging into the wall, but then they charge themselves from solar power and in turn charge your device.

- A potted plant

- Bamboo items. Bamboo is a quick growing plant that can be cut and re-grown over and over again.

- A membership to the local science museum, art museum, etc.

- A bus or subway pass to promote mass transit

- Make something useful from things you would have otherwise thrown away. See my earlier posts on re-using shopping bags to make plarn for knitting a throw rug or a market bag.

Now for environmentally-friendly gift wrap ideas

- Decorate paper bags with stamps and/or markers and use them as wrapping paper

- Use old newspapers (the comic section works great) and magazines to wrap gifts

- Re-use gift wrap from gifts you have received (if it is wrinkled, try sprinkling it with water and then ironing it)

- Wrap gifts in something else that can be part of the gift, such as dish towels for a college student or woman, baby blankets for a baby, pretty fabric for a crafter/sewer, re-usable shopping bags for anyone who shops, etc

- Check your local Goodwill, similar-type, store for baskets. You have a re-usable item and no gift wrap. You can plan ahead for next year by checking yard sales for baskets during the summer as well.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Family Friday: A wrapping party

One of my sister's was often staying up all night on Christmas Eve trying to get all her gifts wrapped in time. She was then often so tired the next day, she was unable to really enjoy the children's reactions. In an effort to alleviate her wrapping dilemma, I started organizing a "wrapping party" a few nights before Christmas. My sisters, my mother and some long-time family friends, and I, all get together at one house (with no kids, except infants) and spend the evening wrapping and laughing and just enjoying each others company. We share gift wrap, giving us all a great variety of wrapped gifts and when we finish wrapping our own gifts, we help those who have more to wrap. In the past, we have all brought snacks to share as well and we have discussed, but never actually done yet, having a cookie swap as well. Our wrapping party has become a nice way to get our gifts wrapped without worrying about spying eyes, a way to get a little adult interaction, and more importantly, a way to grow closer with our "extended"-immediate family (family that was considered immediate before we grew up). It also helps relieve a little of the holiday stress, knowing that much of our wrapping is done, allowing us to better enjoy the time with our spouses and children.

Do any of you do something similar?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This Week Thursday (My 100th Post!)

Well first, this is an exciting post because it my 100th post for this blog! In honor of the hundredth posting, I will be having a giveaway that will start sometime between now and Sunday, so be sure to check back soon. Now onto things I have found this week:

On The Web:
-Jenny at the Picky Palate shares some yummy looking cookie recipes for your cookie platters. The look as though they are very tasty and they are not the same old ones you find on everyone else's platters.

-Maria, at A Girl Anachronism, shares a quote from Vickie Swindling, that talks about poverty being a state of mind more than one of finance. It will make you think.

-Sydney, at While I Wait, shares her tips for keeping our skin healthy and moisturized throughout the harsh winter weather.

-La Mammina shows how to make cute photo tea bags which would make a wonderful holiday gift.

-ChefDruck Musings is giving away a Friends Forever Girls Doll. (ends 12/27)

-Frugal Mommy of 2 Girls always has lots of great giveaways going on. My current favorite is for Mabel Handbags. This giveaway ends 12/23 at 9:00PM EST

-Bargain Briana has a $50 gift certificate and 2 free mini Dessert certificates for Carraba's Italian Grill. She also has a yummy recipe on the giveaway posting for Carraba's Mini Cannoli Dessert. Giveaway ends 12/21 around 11PM PST.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Cranberries

One of my favorite foods this time of year is cranberries. I love cranberry juice, cranberry sauce, dried cranberries, cranberry bread, cranberry cookies, etc, etc, etc. I often buy several bags of cranberries towards the end of the season to freeze for year-round use as well. Not only do cranberries taste yummy, they are good for you too.

Cranberries help protect our bodies in a myriad of ways. They contain flavonoids called proanthocyanidins. Ok, so what does that mean, you ask? Well, flavonoids, in general, are antioxidants which means they help keep our cells from mutating, and therefore help prevent cancer. They also help keep our LDL (bad) cholesterol levels low, helping to prevent heart disease. Proanthocyanidins, help inhibit bacteria from adhering to the body, which is why cranberry juice is often credited for preventing urinary tract infections. It has also been shown to prevent plaque formation on teeth and mouthwashes containing proanhocyanidins have been shown to reduce periodontal disease. Cranberry juice can also help prevent H.pylori bacteria from adhering in the stomach, reducing the risk and severity of peptic ulcers.

So now we know why they are good for us, here are some tips for storing and using them. As I said earlier, I buy extra bags to use throughout the year. Often you can find bags of fresh cranberries on sale for about $1, or even less as the season ends (usually the end of December). I even found some on clearnace last year for 25 cents a bag at Wal-Mart. Just be sure to buy bags with very few brown or soft berries. If you are planning to store the berries, just throw the entire bag in the freezer. They will be likely be good right up until next year's cranberry season. As for using cranberries, homemade cranberry sauce is so simple and the canned stuff just does not compare. One simple recipe is to dissolve 1 cup of white sugar in 1 cup of orange juice, over medium heat. Add 12 ounces of cranberries and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries begin to burst open. It will seem a bit runny, but it will thicken as it sits. I also like to toss dried cranberries into my salad or you could even use fresh cranberries to make a cranberry salad dressing. I also use dried cranberries in trail mixes and sprinkle them on top of my cereal. Cranberries also go well with meat dishes, especially poultry, and I will sometimes throw a bunch into my casseroles, if I think they will go well with the other flavors. There are lots of drink recipes too that use cranberry juice as a main ingredient. For some ideas, go to and type in cranberry drink or cranberry punch in the search box for a whole list of them.

While many people find cranberries too tart to be eaten raw, there are so many other ways to ingest them, that to not eat them is a shame. They help our bodies from our heads to our, well, I will put it nicely and say bladder. We can drink them or eat them in dishes that range from salads to entrees to desserts. Their season is beginning to come to an end though, so I recommend getting out there and picking some up for yourselves before they are gone until next fall. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Try-It Tuesday: Pomegranate 7-Up

I absolutely LOVE pomegranates and have been thrilled to see an increase in pomegranate-flavored foods. Unfortunately, many of them do not measure up and I end up disappointed. That was so not the case with the limited time only Pomegranate 7-Up. I tried to find a link so I could share the "official" information with you, but was unable to locate one through I did find another blog though that quotes what looks like "official" information about Pomegranate 7-Up: Junk Food Blog. Here is the information from the bottle itself: caffeine-free, 100% natural flavors (note ingredient list does NOT contain pomegranate though: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors (but WHICH natural flavors?), potassium citrate, potassium benzoate, red 40 and blue 1), Contains NO juice, 100 calories per 1 cup. I also saw a diet version in the store.

As for taste, this is pretty good, not overwhelmingly pomegranate-y, but still has pomegranate flavor. It is also not too sweet nor bitter or sour. The color is a beautiful red, similar to the seeds of a real pomegranate. I am not a big 7-Up fan, but find that this is a delightful balance of flavors. I will be sad to see it go at the end of January:0(

I have heard some people cannot find this in their local stores. I have been finding this in 2L bottles at our local Wegmans stores (western NY) on sale 3/$3.

As for my recommendation, I say try it, especially if you like the pomegranate flavor.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Money Monday: Inexpensive, Quick Gifts You Can Make

Can you believe Christmas is only 10 days away (Hannukah starts in 6 days!)? Around this time, peple start scrambling to finish off their gift lists, often paying whatever the asking price is for whatever items are still on the shelves. They end up with meaningless, over priced gifts and feeling unfufilled. Today I will share a couple of ideas for gifts that can be made at home for relatively low cost (especially if you make them in batches) and fairly quickly. They are also gifts that can pretty much suit anyone on your list. You can give the gifts by themselves or pair them up with other gifts, adding until you reach your budget. You will end up with great gifts that have been made with love and that the recipient is bound to enjoy.

Chocolate-Covered Stirring Spoons: Get a bag of chocolate chips. You can use semi-sweet, dark chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch, raspberry, any kid you want. Pour 1 cup of the chips into a microwaveable bowl or cup (the deeper the better). Melt the chips in the microwave for 30 seconds and then stir. Continue doing this in 30 second increments until the chips have completely melted, being sure to stir each time. Chips tend to hold their shape, even when they are completely melted, so stirring them is essential to avoid burning them. Be certain not to overcook the chips and do not let any water get into the chocolate either. Once the chips have completely melted, stir 1 teaspoon of shortening into the melted chips, just until blended. Take a heavy duty plastic spoon and dip it into the melted chocolate, coating the entire bowl and the lower portion of the handle. Sprinkle with some colored sanding sugar or add a few mini-marshmallows or crushed candy canes or anything else you may want to add, or leave it plain, and set the spoon on wax paper to set the chocolate. After about 15 minutes you can drizzle other melted chocolate or re-dip half the spoon into a contrasting chocolate color or simply leave as is and place in the freezer to finish setting. After about 1 hour, wrap the bowl of the spoon in cellophane and tie with a ribbon. You can give the spoons away as a "bouquet" or add them to a coffee mug (the dollar stores often have decent mugs). To make the gift go even further, add a small package of coffee or hot chocolate. This is a great way to use those samples you may have received throughout the year.

Fish in a Bag Soap: This is an idea I saw on the Martha Stewart show lat week and I absolutely loved it. You can watch the video directions here. The only additional thoughts I have is to maybe add a scent and/or color (probably blue would work best) to the soap (or leave it as is). Also, the fish can be found at many craft shows, but I have also seen them at the dollar stores in the toy section. You could give this soap as is or add it to a soap dish for a more adult gift or pair it with a nylon bath scrubby or fun washcloth for a child. Add more bath supplies if desired.

Gift Certificates for Time: I did this one year when I was in college and simply could not afford to give gifts. Unfortunately, no one ever "cashed" in their certificates, so I kid felt like I gave nothing, but they all appreciated the thought. Looking back, I could have encouraged them to actually use their certificates throughout the year. Anyway, decide what you can do for the recipient and give them a homemade gift certificate good for that service. You could print the certificate from the computer (design it yourself or use a free template site like gifttango or Free Printables, buy cardstock and hand design it yourself or even buy blank certificates from an office supply store. As for what to "give", here are just a few ideas: babysitting services, car wash, dog walking/pet sitting, gardening, housework, yard work, a home-cooked meal or dessert, etc. I know one lady who gave "memberships" to her "food of the month" club. Each month she gave each person a gift of whatever was in season in her garden. During the colder months, the gifts were herbs from her kitchen herb garden. It was a great way for her to use her surplus and to give her gift all year long. You could also do a "cookie-of-the-month" club and deliver a dozen cookies each month.

I hope you will be able to use some of these ideas to cover your gift list and stay on budget. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My deepest apologies

I offer my deepest apologies for going MIA over the past month+. I was frazzled by the move and settling in and kind of mentally shut down for a bit. I missed you all terribly and hope you are still here with me. I will be getting back on track with a regular posting tomorrow and also have a few product reviews and giveaways coming up this week as well. I appreciate your patience and understanding with me.