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christmas tips

  • Manage Your Time During the Holidays

    We live in a crazy busy world, don't we? Holy smokes, it seems the pace of life, if you let it, picks up steam with every turn! Then, add in Christmas and it's a recipe for overload and overwhelm.

    I've got some simple tips today to help. I've been spending time talking with my health coach about time management to always leave room for exercise, and some of the things I'm learning there will definitely help around the holidays also. Here we go.

    smartphone1.  Turn off the notifications on your phone. Technology is pretty amazing in all the ways it can save us time and help us run our lives more efficiently. But, the notifications for your Facebook, your email, and then text messages, well, they can literally keep you from getting anything done! Decide the best times to check your email and facebook that fit into YOUR schedule, and then turn off the notifications in your settings. I promise you, you'll be able to catch up with anything you want to.

    2.  Speaking of smart phones, make sure you ARE utilizing the time management apps. Keep a calendar and set reminders. Check in the morning, and you'll be surprised at how few things fall through the cracks! This is INVALUABLE around the holidays!

    keep-calm-and-shop-on3.  Order gifts online. The world of e-commerce is here to stay, and we will all save not just time but money when shopping online. Ever wonder why you walk in the store to just get a couple things and you walk out with a couple bags? Yeah, me too! Avoid distractions by shopping online. It's quick, safe and smart.

    And since we are already on the topic of shopping online, do yourself a favor and hop on over to our website and check out the top sellers this week. We've got some sweet deals going on.

    Til next time,



    Photo credit:  Smartphone, Online ordering

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | More With Less

    shoestring-budgetToday we're going to talk about the "B" word. Before our family created and began living by a budget, I had the idea that doing so would be restrictive, boring, that it would steal all my joy and I'd never be able to do anything or go anywhere.

    I couldn't have been more wrong. I like how John Maxwell put it:

    "A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went."

    Well said, Mr. Maxwell, well said.

    It may sound old fashioned, but the idea of boundaries and self-imposed restrictions is one of the best ways to get focused on personal goals and encourage vigilance in seeing them into reality. It is responsible, and instead of chasing all our fun away, it ends up enhancing our lives over and over and over again.

    overspendingApplying this principle to our Christmas spending works the same way. I know lots of people who live by a budget all year long, but when it comes to Christmas, all bets are off. It doesn't have to be that way in order to bless those we love. And, it doesn't have to mean going without as much as planning for what we want.

    So, to complement our household budget (help here if you need it), we consider what we typically spend at Christmas time. We include the gifts we purchase, the decorations, the food, the parties, and add it all up. Divide by 12 and then see if we can find a place for that amount in our monthly budget. Then, when Christmas season rolls around, we can let go of any repressed guilt for "spending so much"! And, that feels good.

    This is one old fashioned idea that deserves to find its place again in every day life.


    Photo courtesy:  Shoestring, Shopper

  • Alternative Christmas Tree

    2009 Christmas TreeIt is true that I love my big and wide and real Christmas trees for the holidays. In fact I kind of love bringing the outdoors in all year long, and I bet many of you are like that too. If I could find a way to live outside all year long and stay warm, dry and comfortable, I'd be all over that. Okay, maybe not, but we are one of those families that does leave the window cracked open in the winter for the fresh air, so there's that. :)

    Today's post highlights just that...bringing the outdoors in and using a bit of creativity to do it. We just spent the afternoon putting our vegetable garden to bed for the winter, so now the garage is full of gardening paraphernalia. The tomato cages caught my eye as we were stacking them in the corner, and my imagination began twirling . . . hmm,  what could I do to transform those wiry things into something useful, pretty, festive. And, apparently I'm not the only one to have those thoughts.

    I love love LOVE this idea for decorating the deck and even the big window flower boxes we've got outside our living room window.  We had a stray cat last winter that decided to use those window boxes as her litter box, ugh! So we've got plans to put something in there this year, and this is just perfect! Simply invert those tomato cages, wrap with some weather-proof garland and lights, and wow, what a fabulous view both from the inside and out!

    But, that's not all! Bring 'em inside, put one in the corner of the bathroom, another in the kitchen, scatter them around the easy and so creative! And, honestly, what could be better than a tree in every single room? Nothing, I dare say, absolutely nothing.


    Photo credit:


  • Grinch Kabobs!

    Grinch KabobsI can think of nothing more effective in chasing away the Grinch-like attitudes around the holidays than bright, cheery food. And, if that food can be healthy, all the better, right? These Grinch Kabobs will make even the most grumpy, Christmas-spiritless person smile or at least get a little healthier while remaining in their grouchy world. :)

    Pretty easy stuff here today....all you need to make these are:

    • Strawberries
    • Green grapes
    • Bananas
    • Mini marshmallows
    • Wooden skewers

    The only real instructions you need are to make sure you immerse the banana slices in some kind of citrus. Pineapple juice works just as well as lemon juice and tastes better I think.

    These would make really fun little treats for the kids after school, for those last minute treats for the school party that you find out about the night before, or for any other holiday gathering for that matter. They'd also be fabulous on the Christmas Dinner table either as dessert or as a sweet appetizer. Very versatile. Very easy. Very good.

    Take that Mr. Grinch.


    Photo courtesy:

  • Santa Cake

    santa cakeAs much as we talk around here about keeping things simple and quick, sometimes spending a bit more time is just really nice, and ever so appreciated. A couple of years back when the two girls were just finishing up school and starting out (read: no money), they made a suggestion for Christmas gifts. The suggestion was that we exchange hand-made gifts that year, and the "rule" was that all the supplies to make said gifts could total no more than $10 each. It was challenging, but I gotta say that it was one of the best, most meaningful Christmases for us. There was more anticipation when opening the gifts that year maybe because we DID spend more time and had more personally invested! Lotsa smiles 'round the tree that year.

    So it is with today's Christmas dessert idea, one that will take a bit more time but be totally worth it.  Just to look at this Santa Cake makes me smile, and I'm guessing it does that for you too.  You can pass the tedium of slicing the heads, err hats, off of the strawberries with Christmas music, no? :)  And, yes there is a cake underneath all that cuteness, but I'm going to assume that we all know how to make a basic cake mix and frost it. :) Here's the deats for this adorable Santa Cake:

    • 1 lb large strawberries
    • 1 package cream cheese
    • 4 Tablespoons powdered sugar (or sugar substitute - to taste)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1. Cut the strawberries in half, creating the hat from the top.
    2. Mix the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla together until creamy.
    3. Using a piping bag (or Ziploc with the corner snipped off), fill the bottom half of the strawberries.
    4. Top with the hats and decorate!



  • Bite-Sized Caramel Apples

    The other day I stopped in to chat with a sweet lady I work with and decided, last minute, to pick us both up a kid sized soft serve treat from the local fast food place.  As we were dipping our spoons into these mini sized cups of yummyness, we both agreed that these little guys are just the right size for those times when you want just a bite or two of something sweet.

    mini carmel applesToday's post brings you another junior-sized idea that is just as sweet and just as popular ~ bite sized caramel apples! As much as I love the caramel apples that decorate the produce section at the grocery store, sometimes it's just too-much-sweet. Plus, have you ever bit into one of those store-bought versions and found part of the apple to be, well, less than appetizing? Me too. So, this pint-sized version I think is the perfect solution.

    I am partial to the Honeycrisp apple ~ a bit pricey, but completely worth it. They are tart and sweet at the same time, the flesh is firm and when wrapped in the gooey bliss known as caramel, well, you are in for a real treat. Pretty healthy too, right?

    Just scoop out round apple bites with a melon baller tool and insert a candy stick through one side without going clear through. Prepare a plate by lining it with waxed paper and coating with Pam. Then, just melt a bag of caramels along with a couple tablespoons of water stirring constantly until smooth. Dip your apple bites into the melted caramel and, if you want, roll 'em in peanuts!

    So, the next time your child tells you at 9pm that they need treats for the whole class the next morning, relax and pull out this recipe. Forgo the peanuts just in case of an allergy, but what a fast, easy, yummy fix, yes? I bet they'd be a hit also for an after school snack.


    Photo courtesy

  • Luminaries for Christmas

    luminaries 2 Is there anything better than a Christmas craft that the kids help with, or in today's case, do completely on their own?! There is a distinctive charm in a hand-made decoration that the kids have excitedly put together themselves. They will love the fact that the very object they use to make hand puppets from or carry their little toys in is the star of the show. And of course, since we're utilizing paper lunch bags, what's not to love about the price tag, right?

    Luminaries . . . such a classic Christmas decoration. The delicate light that shines through the paper gives off a warm, soft glow, doesn't it? Historically, there have been some very elaborate luminary displays:

    Jemez State Monument, New Mexico

    mission church luminary

     Typical display in Albuquerque, New Mexico

    albuquerque nm luminary

     Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix, Arizona

    desert botanical garden luminary

    And, we can create simple, less elaborate displays in our own homes! Here's what you'll need:

    • Brown (or white) paper lunch bags
    • Red paper lunch bags
    • Pinking shears
    • Star-shaped hole punch
    • Sand
    • LED candles or glass votives

    Super simple to make:

    1. Cut the red paper bags in half using pinking shears.
    2. Punch star-shaped holes with your hole punch about an inch from the top of the red bag.
    3. Trim the top of the brown or white paper bags with the pinking shears, and set inside of the red bag.
    4. Fill with sand about half way up the red bag, and wedge your LED candle or glass votive into the sand. That's it!


    Photo courtesy:  Mantle, Jemez State Monument, Albuquerque, Phoenix


  • Building a Christmas Notebook: Calendar

    True confession time....I have never been very good at scheduling. I once told my project manager that my creative brain takes in and processes information differently, and can't be confined to a schedule. She smiled, told me she understood and handed me my due dates! Interestingly, the work got done despite my brain. There's something about putting down a due date on the calendar that gets and keeps the ball rolling.

    Today we will get started on creating our Christmas Calendar, the last post in our series on building a Christmas notebook.  If you're just joining us, you can still catch up! We've gathered our supplies, created our ideas section, and started our lists. The final general category that we'll add to our notebook is our master calendar.

    First, you'll need calendar pages. You can just use a regular 12 month calendar, or print individual month pages from the web. I've got different calendars for different projects (yes, I've reformed!) . . . . I keep track of my biking mileage on one, on another is my blogging plans, etc. For our Christmas calendar, we'll need to not only incorporate our Christmas plans, but also all of the other special celebrations we treasure.

    So first, add all those birthday parties, anniversary celebrations and non-Christmas events and obligations. Next, calculate the amount of time it will take to create the handmade gifts you've chosen, and any decorations and/or food gifts that you're making. Enter start dates and due dates to keep yourself on schedule. Next, refer to your activities section and enter those programs and concerts and parades that you traditionally attend and those you want to be sure to include.

    After all these pieces have been added to your calendar, its time to get down to the nitty gritty of the Christmas season. When will you decorate the tree? By what date will the Christmas cards be mailed? Enter those end dates as well as the dates you'll need to start those projects in order to meet your own deadline. Remember, all of these "deadlines" are meant to REDUCE STRESS by giving everything a time and place to be done. This is not punishment, I promise!

    If you have friends and family that you mail packages to, enter the dates that you will mail them so that they arrive on time. If you have holiday photos taken, schedule that and enter the dates. You get the idea. Once all of these items are added into our calendars, we then see where we can fit in our own party, open house or maybe a cookie exchange. Or simply enjoy the blank space on the calendar and wait for invitations.:)

    All of the general sections we've created in our notebooks serve as the foundation. The goal in all of this is simply to gather information into a master plan, all in one place.  Depending on our individual traditions, we'll undoubtedly add other sections too. Breaking down bigger sections into smaller ones can also be very helpful. But when the notebook begins to take shape, you'll stand back and behold what a beautiful thing it is, so coordinated and rhythmic.

    Here's to a low-stress, joyful and memorable Christmas season!


    Photo credit:

    Christmas Day Calendar


  • Building a Christmas Notebook: Lists

    Makin' a list, checkin' it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice . . . I've been humming this the last couple of days as I thought about the list section of our Christmas notebooks. Does anyone else live their everyday lives by lists?  Some of the best-organized people do. When I have a huge project or an insane amount of work to get done in a short amount of time, lists are definitely my friend. And, yes, I have been known to put things ON my list just so I can check them off! Anybody relate?!

    We are in the middle of a series of posts about how to put together a Christmas Notebook, that one place where all things Christmas reside to make your holiday season less stressful and rushed. We've already picked up our supplies, and have started our books with an Ideas tab at the front. If you missed the last post that gave tips for saving and implementing all of your genius ideas, you can find it here. Today, let's work on our lists.

    Who do you want to give a Christmas gift to? What about Christmas cards and all those addresses? And, events, what events are traditional for you and what others would you include if you were better organized? There are dozens of possibilities for lists, all determined by your own traditions and tastes! Here are the ones that I am starting with:

    • Christmas card addresses -- even though you have these addresses in a separate address book or perhaps even stored online somewhere, take the time to gather those addresses for this notebook. Keep track of who sends you a card each year; these are your primary relationships! Don't leave it up to your memory as to who you sent a card to last year or who sent you one.
    • Gift recipients -- of course your family members and some close friends will be on this list, but also remember the service people that grace your lives every day. Some ideas that come to mind are the postman/UPS/FedEx drivers, the newspaper delivery person, cleaning help, garbage collector . . . anyone who makes your life a little easier throughout the year. The gift doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate; it's the sentiment and the thought that count the most.
    • Events -- Christmas programs, plays, concerts, parades, parties and open houses (yours, too!). As you are notified of these dates, you'll add them to your calendar (which we'll get to later). If you host an annual Christmas open house and have a different theme each year, keep track of that here. When your calendar gets too busy to include certain events you hear about during the holiday season, jot them down in this section to plan to attend next year. You get the idea.
    • Recipes -- Oh the treasured recipes that are passed down through the generations! Keep a list of them here, and what cookbook or recipe file you store them in. Keep track of what you made last year that was a big hit, new recipes you want to try, and those secret family heirloom delectables!
    • Decorating -- Throughout the year some of your family members will get married, couples will have babies or adopt, puppies and kittens will become family members, and they are all going to need a stocking. We've got your covered on this one! With ready-made stockings to personalize and kits that you put together yourself, these stockings will become treasured heirlooms! So, when life events take place that add new members to your circle, jot their names down in this section. Also, if you put out lawn decorations or have a light display, are there pieces that need replacing or updating? Keep track of what you need for the following season, and then hit up some of the post-season sales. It's a great way to save a lot of money!

    What other lists can you think of to include in our Christmas notebooks?


    Photo courtesy

  • Building a Christmas Notebook: Ideas

    Welcome back to the blog after a long Memorial Day holiday weekend!  We’re in the middle of getting our Christmas notebooks created, and I hope you had a chance to pick up your supplies.  If you missed the last post with the list, you can find it here. Today’s post is all about the first section of our notebook, Ideas.

    I learned an old writer’s trick several years ago from a colleague. We were lunching, and right in the middle of a sentence, he stopped, pulled out a small notepad and began writing furiously. When he finished, he explained that when ideas strike he has to write them down before they are gone. Even though I’d heard of this before, this was the first time I'd actually observed someone do it!

    Ideas have a way of coming to us when we least expect them. So, like my friend, we are going to capture every last one in our small accessory-sized notepad. Throw it in your purse, tuck it in the back pocket of your jeans, keep it on your nightstand (middle of the night ideas are some of the best!), and even carry it with you when you exercise. Sounds strange? I’m an avid cyclist, and I can’t tell you the number of times an idea has struck me while out on the trails. The idea is that wherever we are, we’ll have this little notepad to record our ideas. Then, when you get back to your desk, transfer the pages from your notepad into your Christmas notebook. They can either be placed in the pocket or glued to a sheet of paper for storing in your Ideas section.

    A great place to continue gathering Christmas ideas is Pinterest. If you aren’t already following Merry Stockings on Pinterest, you can click here to be taken to our page. Pinterest is a crafter’s dream, isn’t it?! I can get lost there for hours, and come away with a treasure box full of ideas.

    Another good resource for Christmas ideas is the Merry Stocking’s catalog that will be out shortly. If you’d like to receive one in the mail, just visit here and sign up; we’ll be glad to send you one just as soon as they’re ready. If you’ve received a catalog in the past, the new copy will be sent to you automatically.

    Next time we’ll talk about the various lists we need to make, add to and congregate into our Christmas notebooks.

    Merry planning!


    Photo courtesty

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