Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Holiday Giving Guide

The holidays are coming. In another week, they are officially here.

Que panic.

We have just over a month to find the perfect gifts, wrap, bake, decorate and party plan. Add in time for holiday movies and family gatherings, and the next few weeks can feel like more of a stress-fest than a holiday season.

I’ve found that as my kids have gotten older, their wish list grows smaller but much more expensive. I have also seen plenty of begged for gifts entertain for a short few weeks (or even days). I cringe at the money wasted and the clutter that builds up. Every spring there is one or two items I am donating to the Goodwill that make me shake my head.

I’ve seen and tried a few different approaches to Christmas and holiday giving. Some of them really can cut down on the chaos, save you time and wasted money, and make the holidays more enjoyable.

My favorites are listed below...


As much as I love buying and giving, I’ve seen how fabulous giving an experience can be. Last year our big gift to the kids was a family vacation. We drove to Disney World and spent a week in the pools and the parks. By mid-winter the trip was much needed, and definitely money well spent.

There was no extra Christmas clutter, and the kids had something to look forward to well after the tree came down.

Last year, my sister told all my kids she was giving experiences for their birthdays instead of gifts. It was their pick, and my kids love contemplating where they want their aunt to take them. So far she has taken my ten year old to a trampoline park, my 6 year old miniature golfing and to the movies, and my twelve year old to the mall for nails and lunch.

With clever packaging, giving an experience can be just as exciting as a gift.

Some great ideas include: Movie tickets, sporting events such as baseball games or NFL games, concerts, plays or a gift card to a local bowling alley or arcade.

For more great experiences check out TickPick.


These guidelines really make the kids think. I like to have my kids list a few under each category, which makes the gifts still a surprise because they don’t know what they are getting. But by giving guidelines, it gives the gifts a purpose and cuts back on the unnecessary spending.  The kids are more appreciative and the greed train comes to a stop when they know there are firm limits.

I admit I struggle limiting myself to four gifts for each child, because I always had a big Christmas.  But I can stick to a few gifts that fall under each category, and when you add in relatives' gifts there is always more than enough.


Our current method of wish list making is limited to 15 items, with the five “most desired” receiving a star. It’s all too tempting for kids to look through a magazine or online and get the “I wants!” But if they are forced to star five favorites, and they know only fifteen items make the cut, they really start to think.

We usually have the five most desired under the tree Christmas morning, with needed items such as warm clothes, new shoes and pajamas mixed in.  The items we don't buy I can use as ideas for family and friends who are giving to my children.

Most importantly, teach your kids that the holidays are about GIVING. My kids love to do their shopping for their siblings probably more than anything else in the month of December. They shop, wrap and hide the gifts until Christmas Eve, and you’d think they were hiding buried treasure.

We also always participate in gift giving for needy kids and donating food for hungry families in our area. If you involve your kids in helping others, they’ll quickly find there is much more joy in giving than receiving.  By making the holidays more about the season and less about the gifts, the stress lessens and the weeks are much more enjoyable.

Share your gift giving ideas or guidelines below – I’d love to hear them!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cake Mix Crumb Cake

I made this crumb cake for my son's 10th birthday treat for school.  He likes to stray from the standard cupcake or cookie, and I'm now certain he gets a small kick out of watching me scurry to make a dessert that screams "homemade."

These tiny gems scream that very word.  Only they are easy, fast and only require prepared yellow cake mix, and ingredients for the crumb topping.

That's it.

This was my favorite crumb cake, because it wasn't too heavy and it had crumbs the size of boulders. Add in easy to make, and it was win-win.

You need:

1 box yellow cake mix, prepared
Dark brown sugar
2 sticks melted butter
Vanilla extract
Powered Sugar

Grease and flour 9x13 baking pan or dish.

Prepare cake mix.

Pour into dish.

Prepare crumb topping, recipe below.  Set aside.

Bake according to directions, but remove 1/2 way through baking and add crumb topping.

Place back in oven and bake until center of cake is cooked through (when inserted tooth pick comes out clean and free of batter)

Allow cake to cool at least 20 minutes before cutting. Dust generously with powdered sugar.

Crumb Topping:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Confectioners sugar for dusting
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon and salt. Mix with the brown sugar. Set this to the side.

Melt butter and pour on top of the dry mixture. Add the vanilla. Stir with a fork until the mixture comes together to form small crumbs (if you clump it in your hand, it should easily form crumbs).


Saturday, October 31, 2015

10 Ideas for Leftover Halloween Candy

Happy Halloween!

This time tomorrow morning, you will have an over-abundance of candy in your kitchen. You will have plucked out the treats you like, tossed the ones with ripped wrappers (and all those annoying tootsie rolls) and you'll be left with a bowl of sugar for the kids to consume over the next several weeks.


To help use up that candy, and spread consumption over a period of time, here are ten ways to use up that Halloween swag:

1. Freeze it.
2. Bake with it. Try these Candy Cookie Bars.
3. Make an advent calendar for November. Check out Alpha Mom for a great "how to"
4. Donate it. Our old community had a dentists' office that would buy your candy for $1/lb and ship it to servicemen and women around the world. Check out Operation Shoebox if you're looking for a place to send donations.
5. Save it for your next pinata.
6. Use it for Gingerbread Houses in December.
7. Let your kids make a sandwich sized bag of the candy they want the most, and bring the rest to work.
8. Save the solid chocolate bars and use them to dip pretzels. Roll in holiday sprinkles and package them for great Christmas treats.
9. Let them choose one piece a day for their lunch. This will gradually lighten the candy load.
10. Toss it. Not my favorite idea, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Have a wonderful, safe Halloween!