• Ugly Christmas Sweater Projects

    We've all seen it. You can't deny it. That sweater that someone in your family thought was adorable, and the minute you opened the box they insisted you put it on. You politely smile, give your great great grandma a kiss and thank her for her incredible thoughtfulness.

    And, when you get home you want to put it in the Good Will pile, but your significant other won't let you. After all, what will your great, great grandma think next year at the family Christmas party when you don't wear it?

    Or maybe someone gave it to you as a prank, or there was a contest to see who could find the most hideous Christmas sweater alive. Whatever the case is, most of us have one of these somewhere in the dark, dark depths of the closet.

    I've got a fantastic gift idea for these little treasures . . . that is, if you won't be hurting anyone's feelings by re-cycling these sweaters that you love to hate.

    Ta da  . . . can you believe how cute these are?! When you isolate part of the pattern, it's not so bad is it?

    Make them to fit containers that hold evergreens or other plants, and of course they are so adorable slipped over a glass jar, a tin can or even a coffee mug. What a fantastic gift for your espresso loving friends. You can get all the instructions here!

    And, I promise not to tell from whence it came!

    Photo courtesy:  Ugly Christmas Sweater, Cozies

  • Put Your Passion To Work

    We are in the middle of the dog days of summer here in Minnesota! The last several days we've been hovering in the 90's with high dew points, making outdoor recreation a wee bit uncomfortable. We don't like to complain tho, especially this year with our May 2 snow storm still fresh in our minds!  I'm happy to report that those dog days were chased away last night, even if just for a day or two, welcoming in a gorgeous summer day filled with sunshine, low humidity and a gentle breeze. Yes!

    So, I hopped on my bike and rode down to the river on the Greenway trail that Minneapolis is famous for. These trails utilize an old railroad bed; the terrain is relatively flat, and being off the busy highways is a big plus for riders and walkers alike. There are a lot of people who use these trails to commute to work on their bike, and even more use them for daily exercise.  Add to that the bike rentals that the city has installed in populated recreational areas, and you've got a city that is simply on fire with people improving their life and health through exercise!

    What if there was a way that we could get even more mileage out of these activities that we love so much?  This already happens on a big scale with non profits sponsoring rides and races to help with fundraising and awareness. But, what if us little guys could do the same for our favorite Christmas charities? I read about a woman who did just that.

    Jessica Burns, an avid runner, has always loved the Operation Christmas Child organization, and has supported them for years by packing shoe boxes full of fun toys and art supplies for needy children.  A friend asked her to run in a marathon, and Jessica knew she would need some pretty powerful motivation to get her through the grueling 5 months of training plus the race itself. She decided that combining her two passions would be all she needed, and is inviting friends, family and local businesses to pledge their support with the hopes of raising $5000 to benefit Operation Christmas Child!

    Jessica is just one person. If she can do this, why can't we?

    Photo courtesy: Dog Days, Shoe Boxes

  • Supplementing Your Christmas Charity Change Can

    We've been talking all week about creative ways to use the money in your loose change bucket for charity and to even supplement your monthly budget. Up until now you may be skeptical, thinking that your spare change doesn't amount to much at all. Let's say you use your debit or credit cards to pay for just about everything. In that case, you won't really have much, if anything, in your bucket to draw from.

    Also, as was the case for my husband and I, even if you do have a nice well to draw from, some of that change gets used for other things that come up. So, how can we methodically go about making sure that our loose change buckets are getting their due, and will have enough to make a difference? I thought you'd never ask!

    Our economy will always rise and fall, but there are quite a few things we can do, habits we can form, changes we can make to save money. The best part? These ideas can be implemented even if you operate your spending electronically. Here's some ideas for building up your Christmas Charity Change Can:

    • Most grocery receipts list how much you saved. Add up these amounts at the end of each week and transfer the total into your Christmas fund.
    • Coupons: whatever you save, deposit the same amount into your bucket.
    • Do you smoke? (I hope not!) If you do, smoke 1 less cigarette each day. This will save you the equivalent of 1 1/2 packs each month. Deposit that amount in your change can.
    • Do you eat fast food fries? Order one size smaller than you normally do, and save the difference.
    • Stop for coffee every morning on the way to work? On Friday, order a tall instead of a grande size. And, you guessed it, save the difference.

    As is so often the case, it's the little things that add up over time and can make a pretty significant difference. When the time comes to empty the Christmas can, you'll be happily surprised at what these small efforts can do!


    Photo courtesy

  • What Else Can I Do With Spare Change?

    Yesterday we talked about creative ways to use our spare change for charitable causes, especially around the holidays. Today, we'll take this idea one step farther and offer some really practical things you can do with it to supplement your budget.

    The powers that be tell us that the economic climate in our country is improving. That may be the case, but we are still keeping our belt buckled pretty snugly and are much more aware and careful of how much we spend and on what. Budgets are wonderful planning tools to help us get to where we want to go financially, and even the most carefully laid out plan can be thrown by the small, incidental purchases. That unexpected lunch out to celebrate a promotion, those times when the only thing that looks appealing for dinner is NOT in your fridge, that Monday morning double espresso . . . you get the idea. Financial experts tell us that for any budget to be sustainable, it must have a bit of wiggle room.

    Enter your spare change! Here are a few creative ways to utilize it to help guard again busting the budget:

    • Your out-for-coffee budget for the following month.
    • Dinner out when cooking is the last thing on your mind.
    • A spa day!
    • A bottle of wine.

    Sometimes our Christmas budgets are the same way. We're always looking for ways to stretch our dollars because we love buying and making and giving gifts! Your spare change (remember, we don't usually even miss this money) can go toward some of these potentially budget busting items:

    • New ornaments or decorations
    • Stocking stuffers
    • Baking supplies
    • Postage for gifts for out-of-town friends and family
    • Holiday party!

    Save now and by the time late November and December roll around, you'll have a really nice chunk of change to help out.

    Photo courtesy

  • Got Some Spare Change?

    A few days ago my husband and I were driving downtown to an outdoor concert, and were scrounging for quarters to feed the parking meter. We both have our individual stashes of loose change, his much more extensive than mine because he's a coin collector. I have a little metal container that I picked up at the dollar store. It's intended use is to chill wine, but I've always used it as my change bin. At the end of the day, I empty my pockets and dump my change in there.

    I know a lot of other people do this too, and some are much more intentional about how they use this spare change. But for us, it’s always been more about keeping all that change out of our pockets and having it pretty much in one place. It’s always surprising how quickly it all adds up!

    We found what we needed for our trip downtown, but I started thinking about how the nickels and dimes and quarters that we save like this is money that we don't really miss and even sometimes forget it's there. It's nice to have these little stashes around the house for times like this, but here’s an even better idea. What if we took that change and did something intentional, something charitable with it?

    There are so many possibilities! Here are just a few to get started:

    • Provide all the ingredients for a holiday meal to give to a family in need.
    • Pay someone's light bill.
    • Pay for the coffee/food order for the car behind you in the drive thru line.
    • Buy a Christmas stocking for a needy child and fill it with goodies.

    Saving to give! I think I like that!

    P. S. Speaking of Christmas stockings, make sure to check out our website and see all the new items we have this year. And, since we’re talking about saving money, we’ve got a discount code for you to use all summer long! You’ll save 10% off your online order when you use this reference code: 2013SUMMER.

  • Magazine Subscriptions for Christmas

    “The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind.
    It is a moral illumination.” -Elizabeth Hardwick

    The gift of reading . . . there aren't many types of gifts that rank higher in my book than that. The more we read, the more we want to read, and before we know it, it has become something we thrive on. With all of the electronic devices now available that give us access to just about any kind of information we might want or need, some of the more traditional publishing methods (like magazines) have taken a serious hit. I think, tho, that there are some classic magazines that still make excellent gifts, and can end up being very personal.

    I bought this archived copy of Life magazine for my husband one year for his birthday, published on his birthday. When it arrived in protective plastic, it had that musty, book-ish smell that you often experience when in a used book store. Heaven! Sure, he could have found this publication online, but there is something about holding the physical copy, released on your birthday, in your hands. He absolutely loved it.

    One year for Christmas, I decided to get a Newsweek subscription for my elderly father. I knew he enjoyed keeping up with the national news, and I thought it'd be one of those gifts that keeps on giving. Turned out I was right; we had some very interesting conversations over the course of the following year. He wasn't always in agreement with the perspective presented, but what I loved so much was that my dad was reading, exercising those brain muscles which have now been proven to help with diminishing cognitive abilities. He appreciated this gift so much that I renewed it for him the next.

    Here are a few advantages and tips for giving magazine subscriptions as Christmas gifts:

    • Subscribe early. It typically takes 8-10 weeks before the first copy is received.
    • Choose a publication that is centered around a personal interest for the recipient.
    • You'll save on shipping costs if your loved one doesn't live close by.
    • Many publications offer a 2 for 1 deal toward the end of the year, which means you can give the same magazine to another person OR send a copy to yourself too!
    • If you do wait to subscribe later in the year, just pick up a current copy from the news stand and wrap it up with a note. Perfect!

    Happy subscribing!


  • Wrap It Up The Green Way

    Today as I was doing some straightening up around the house, I came across a paper grocery bag FULL of other neatly folded paper grocery bags. Probably like you, we have the synthetic bags that the grocery stores sell to save on paper bag usage, but often we forget to put them back in the car after use. So, every once in awhile we find ourselves with a bag of bags. :)

    Usually we put them out in the recycling bin or, as my husband did today, take them to the local food shelf. You should see the faces of the volunteers light up when we walk in with a bag of bags, it's precious!

    While he was gone doing that, I wondered how these bags could be re-purposed for Christmas. We've used the comics from the newspaper to wrap some gifts, so why not a paper bag? I remember as a kid we used to cut open our grocery bags and make book covers for our school textbooks. I was definitely a doodler, and so my book covers were usually pretty interesting by the end of the year. My mother never seemed to mind picking up a second set of markers for me (cheaper than replacing a defaced book I guess!).

    A girlfriend mentioned to me today how fun it can be to get her hand stamps out and decorate paper bags with different designs. Great idea I think. Just think of the bag as an empty canvas, and have fun being creative! Being a writer myself, I  think it would be really fun  to write a little something on the canvas about the person to whom the gift is going. Whether you're stamping them, doodling on them, or writing on them, this is a great activity for parents and kids alike. What a great quiet activity for those rainy and stormy summertime afternoons, yes?

    When I was little and my mom was teaching me how to wrap presents, she would say that the wrapping is a part of the gift. While running to the store and purchasing the latest trendy wrapping paper can be fun (yes, I do it too), consider how much more of a gift we'd be giving if the wrapping was hand created . . . unique, personalized, and best of all free.


    Photo courtesy


  • Christmas? But It's Summer!

    It's June 10 today. We are officially only 15 days away from the furthest point on the calendar from Christmas!  As I sit here at my desk and write to you today, I'm staring out the window at some gorgeous (and long awaited!) sunshine, near 80* temperatures, and I've gotta say, Christmas is about as far away in my thinking as it is on the calendar.

    But, I've got a little analogy for you today if you, like me, are tempted to set your Christmas planning aside in favor of, well, more seasonal activities.

    I was out riding my bike early this morning , a very summery thing to do, and I thought back to last month, my first month back in the saddle after a very long Minnesota winter.  I decided to ride 100 miles in May, and if you're a cyclist you know that isn't a very large goal. But, it was cold here, we even had snow early in the month, and starting out slow but consistent seemed like the right thing to do. You can do the math too if you want, but here it is:  riding every day to reach 100 miles in the month is just a tad over 3 miles a day...about a 15 minute easy ride.

    Most days in May that I rode, I was chomping at the bit to do more, but knowing myself too well, I paced my miles.  I've done it differently in the past, jumping in too hard and too fast and ending up injured or burnt out. So, that was the plan, 3-4 miles a day to reach 100 for the month. And, I'm happy to report that I met my goal with a few miles to spare. And I got stronger, too.

    So in June I stepped it up to 200 miles. You see, my ultimate goal for the entire summer is a big one . . . 1000 total miles. That isn't going to happen overnight, and it works best when the work is spread out and I build my endurance over time. The last thing I want to do is get to August and September and have to ride 50 miles a day to meet my goal. Talk about stress and burn out.

    So, the moral of the story is that when your plans are large and expansive, start early. Start when nobody else is starting . . .  ESPECIALLY when nobody else is starting, and it will pay off.  I didn't see anyone else out there on our snowy May day riding, and thankfully I didn't have to be out there that long with only 3-4 miles to do. :)

    We have BIG plans for Christmas 2013. We know we can't wait until December to start dreaming and planning and creating or else we'll end up stressed and burnt out. So, go out and enjoy the sunshine if it's showing it's beautiful face where you are. Take in the best this season has to offer. But, remember this proven principle:

    Do the work others aren't willing to do, and you'll get the things others will never have.

    Merry Christmas planning!

     Photo courtesy

  • Care Packages Are for Everyone

    Every once in awhile when I was in college, I would get that little pink slip in my mailbox informing me that I had a package. It was really fun, it felt like my birthday or Christmas, but it was simply a care package, usually from my mom or sister, stocked full of yummy foods, cosmetics, handy little things they knew I liked.  I still specifically remember my sister's chewy peanut butter cookies. Sooo good!

    I got to thinking about sending care packages for Christmas, and I think all of our thoughts go immediately to the military men and women who find themselves far from home during the holidays. I think it's such a moving and touching idea, and such a great way to show support for all that these individuals are sacrificing.

    There are other groups of people, though, that are also great candidates for a Christmas care package. My husband is running in his first ever 5k tomorrow morning for Walker Methodist Home, a nursing home where his mom lives. He's been training for several weeks using the C25K program, and he is chomping at the bit to get this race underway. I was thinking the other day how many nursing home residents aren't as fortunate as my mother-in-law is, living so close to family and friends who see her often. Care packages for this population would be a wonderful idea also.

    Another idea would be for grown children who are not able to travel back home for the holidays. I know my sons still enjoy getting their box of Christmas goodies. Other family members who are living or traveling abroad would also be so grateful for a little taste of home in their mailbox.

    Of course, we don't have to wait for Christmas to send a care package. Father's Day is just around the corner, so how about a little something sweet for good ol' dad?

    Do you send care packages? Who else can you think of that would just love one?




    Photo courtesy:  College Girl, Military, Hands, Father's Day Package


  • Festive Christmas Pizza

    Pizza pizza, everybody loves it! It's a $30 billion industry in America with more than 61,000 pizza parlors across the country. Italian food is America's favorite ethnic food,  and it's the pizza pie that takes the cake.  All manner of flavors and combinations are possible; Tacos, BBQ chicken, Philly cheese steak, and Thai Peanut to name just a few that are spicing up the cheese and sausage pizza world.

    And, if Valentine's Day can make a heart shaped pizza, Christmas possibilities are only limited by your imagination. To make these fun Christmas "cookie" pizzas, all you need is some simple dinner roll dough available at your grocery store, some pizza sauce and your favorite toppings.

    How about this, a spinach (or better yet basil!) Christmas Tree Pizza. The yellow and red ornaments are made from bell pepper, and the white lights are feta. Adorable and tasty! These fun and festive pizzas will be a hit at both your December dinner table and the Christmas open house. Make sure to add this to the recipe section of your Christmas notebook.

    When I was a kid I liked plain jane style pizza....just cheese or cheese and sausage. My parents were always trying to sneak veggies into my diet. So, if you want to get your kids to eat more veggies, here's a trick: puree the veggies and add them to the sauce. The kids (and I suspect the grownups too) will never know they're eating a healthy dinner.

    And, don't forget dessert pizza. How about this Chocolate Holiday Pizza with maraschino cherries and green grapes, and some white "icicle" icing. Switch this one up and make it into a wreath shape. :)

    No need to order out pizza on busy days. Just keep the ingredients on hand, and get the kids in on the prep.

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