Monday, December 31, 2012

Things Your Toddler Can Do to Help Around the House

Parents may have great intentions of getting their children involved in chores around the house, but life can frequently get in the way of even the best of intentions.  Here are a few simple things you can quickly teach your children to do around the house to foster their involvement.
  1. Set the table. Getting the plates, cups and silverware out is a great way to not only get your child to help out around the house, but also to be invested in family meals at an early age.  You can utilize one of the lower cabinets in your kitchen for the plates and cups that you use for normal everyday meals so that your child will be able to have easy access to them at mealtime.
  2. Clear the table. Taking the dirty dishes to the sink area is a very simple task, and one that is important to get your child in the habit of doing.  As he gets used to this, you can teach him how to scrape off all the leftover food into the trash before placing it next to the sink.
  3.  Wipe off the counters and table. Wiping the counters is typically a favorite of a child’s first “jobs” because it is simple and fun.  For some reason, kids love the idea of cleaning off the gunk and making the table shiny – almost as much parents like to have clean tables and counters.
  4. Put clothes in the washing machine. Laundry time is often a chore for moms and dads.  You can help your child begin to learn to do her own laundry by getting her to help out early on.  It should be very simple to have your child put the clothes in the washing machine if, as you sort them, you put the first load on the floor next to the washing machine.  If you have a top loading machine that she cannot reach, you can get a small stool for her to stand on, but if you have a front loading machine it is that much easier.
  5. Sort socks. This is a great way to help your child develop matching skills, which is a very important beginning math skill to acquire.  Lay all the socks out on the floor and let him find the “pairs.” You may need to help with some of the socks that look “similar,” but if corrected in a gentle way he will pick up on this quickly.  You can even encourage him to look for the socks with holes in them.
  6. Feed the pets. If you child gets a great amount of joy from her pets, she should learn from an early age that the pets need to have their needs met.  The most basic of these needs is food and water.  Keep your pet food in an accessible place to make it easier for your child to feed the pet.  To ensure the animal gets the right amount, keep a serving cup that holds just the right amount near the food.  You can develop a chart that your child can check off when the animal is fed to help her understand that the animal needs to be given food at certain times during the day.
  7. Put his toys away. This should be a no brainer, but it is often far easier to pick up a child’s toys at the end of the day than to coax him to do it.  However, it is worth the trouble to teach the valuable life lesson that if our things are important to us, we need to take care of them.
  8. Take garbage out of the car. It is so much easier to keep a car clean when it is child-free because you simply take everything into the house at the end of a car ride.  But add children to the mix, and sometimes multiple children, along with all their garbage, toys, backpacks, and who knows what else and you will have a much harder time keeping the car clean.  Building the habit of keeping the car clean with children is not easy, but it can be done.  Try keeping a few small canvas shopping bags in the car.  Then every time you have a lot of stuff to bring in you can have your child put it all in the canvas bag and carry it in herself.
  9. Get the mail. Kids love mail, even if it is not all for them. With younger kids you can do this task together.  To ensure that your important mail always gets to you, have a designated spot that your child can reach and teach him to place the mail there.
  10. Pull weeds. Finding tasks for your toddler to do in the yard can be hard, but pulling weeds is one that little hands are capable of doing.  If you get him a pair of small gardening gloves to protect his hands and teach him what the weeds look like, you will find that pulling weeds may be one of his favorite things to do with mom or dad outside.
Your child’s mastery of each task will come over time. While it can be tempting to focus on perfect execution, instead focus on the important lessons you’re instilling in your child as you encourage him to take an active role in helping out around the house.

Provided by Anne Laurie
First published on  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Encourage Healthy Eating Habits in Kids

With the childhood obesity crisis making the news just about every week, it’s important for parents and nannies to encourage healthy eating habits in kids. The habits they learn now will influence how they eat throughout their lifetime. Here are some tips that will help you keep your child’s diet on the right track and give him the knowledge and skills he needs to make life long healthy eating choices.

Introduce a variety of foods at a young age. It’s easy for toddlers to get stuck in a chicken nugget (or other favorite food) rut. While you shouldn’t try and force your child to eat a particular food, you can limit the amount you offer of an unhealthy but favorite food choice, and instead offer a wide variety of other healthy options. By giving your child lots of choices and letting him decide which foods he’ll have and how much he’ll eat, you’ll avoid the power struggles this age is known for.

Keep lots of healthy snacks on hand. Kids of all ages snack several times throughout the day. This intermittent eating is actually a healthy way to consume the daily calories they need, however, children can get into nutritional trouble when snack time is seen as an excuse to have sugary foods. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with lots of healthy choices, such as fruit, bite sized vegetables, low fat yogurt, nuts and cheese. A quick online search will turn up literally hundreds of healthy snack ideas. Having these types of snacks available will help kids make tasty, nutritious choices.

Don’t try to keep your child completely away from sweets. Sweets are not bad when eaten with awareness and in moderation. Helping your child make good choices about sweets is an important part of preparing him to maintain a healthy diet outside of your home. Let’s face it, when your child gets older he will have to make food choices at school, at friends’ homes, and in many other situations. By not making sweets taboo, you make it much more likely that he’ll eat them in smart moderation when they’re offered.

Avoid high sugar processed foods, soda and energy drinks. The American Heart Association found children as young as 1 to 3 years typically consume around 12 teaspoons of sugar per day. By the time a child is 4 to 8 years old, he consumes an average of 21 teaspoons of sugar per day. This problem only gets worse with age, with children who are in the 14 to 18 year age range averaging about 34.3 teaspoons every day. Those amounts are more than 3 times the recommended amount for a healthy diet. Avoiding a lot of processed foods and sugary drinks is one of the easiest ways to curb your child’s sugar consumption. There are plenty of foods like fruit and milk that contain natural sugar to satisfy your child’s sweet tooth.

Don’t make fast food a habit. Going through the drive through on the way home from ballet class or a soccer game is a quick and easy way to solve the question, “What’s For Dinner?” However, fast food is filled with fat, sugar, preservatives and lots of calories. It’s one of the leading contributors to obesity, heart disease and many other health complications. Do meal planning and grocery shopping in advance when your days or nights are going to allow you little time to make a healthy dinner. With a little planning and advance preparation, healthy can also be quick.

Get kids involved in cooking. Kids love to help out in the kitchen. When they’re involved in meal planning and cooking, they’re more likely to eat healthy options without a lot of pushing back. Learning to cook at a young age will also help them develop the skills they’ll need as young adults, when they’ll need to prepare healthy choices for themselves. Even the youngest child can help pour ingredients, stir and mix. Cooking together is also a great way to connect as a family.

Grow a garden. Gardening is a wonderful family activity. Allowing your child to participate in the food cycle from the very beginning gives him a real understanding of where the food on the table comes from. This helps him learn to appreciate fresh and organic choices and turn away from highly processed foods. It also helps him to understand the importance of protecting the environment, gives him first-hand experience with sustainability issues, and connects him to the earth in a meaningful way.

Kids today need help making smart choices about food. With some help from their parents and caregivers, they can learn how to choose foods that will best nourish their bodies and entice their taste buds.

Provided by Allen Miller
First published on Part-time Nanny

Saturday, December 29, 2012

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Shingles and Chicken Pox

Shingles is a very painful skin rash that appears in a band or a patch of red bumps on your skin.  You can only get shingles if you have already had chicken pox.  The same virus that causes chicken pox stays in your body and can cause you to get shingles at any time.  To learn more about shingles, check out these 10 things that you may not have known about the rash.
  1. Shingles affects your nerve endings.  If you got chicken pox as a child, the virus will never really leave your body.  The virus attaches itself to your nerve roots and remains dormant until something affects your immune system.  If your immune system is weakened, Shingles can occur.
  2. Often shingles will only appear on one side of your body.  The Herpes Zoster virus (chicken pox) travels down the nerve to the spine and lies dormant.  Because that nerve only serves one side of your body, it is likely that the shingles will only appear on one side.
  3. You can get shingles at almost any age.  If a person has had chicken pox at one point in their life and they have an immune system that is compromised, they can get shingles.  Despite popular belief, children are not immune and it’s not just something that people over 50 get.  Shingles will often occur during chemotherapy treatments because of the compromised immune system, or during any other severe illness.
  4. Stress can bring on shingles.  While many things can compromise your immune system, it doesn’t have to be anything very dramatic.  Have you been under a lot of stress with work and family?  Who hasn’t, right?  Even stress like that can cause shingles, despite there being no other factors.
  5. Shingles isn’t that contagious.  Shingles is not contagious in most people.  It is possible to infect someone with the Herpes Zoster virus and give them chicken pox if they have never had them or have never received a vaccine for them.  However, this can only happen if that person comes in contact with the fluid from the blisters.  For the most part, you get shingles because you had chicken pox as a kid.
  6. The red bumps will turn into blisters if left untreated.  Shingles starts out as a band or patch of blisters that are red and itchy.  As the illness progresses, blisters will develop in the rash.  The blisters will then dry up and scab over before they will go away.  Some people will scar from the blisters and sores that form, which is why it’s important not to pick at the scabs.  You can soak the infected area to speed up the healing.
  7. Shingles is not related to Herpes simplex 1 or 2.  The Herpes Zoster virus causes both chicken pox and shingles.  Herpes simplex 1 causes cold sores, which are blisters around the mouth.  Herpes simplex 2 is the kind that causes genital herpes. 
  8. If you are over 50 you can get a vaccine for shingles.  The shingles vaccine helps prevent shingles in only about 50% of recipients, according to WebMD, and may decrease the pain and duration related to shingles if the virus is contracted after someone has been vaccinated.
  9. Your skin may feel like it’s been burned.  One of the first symptoms of shingles that you should watch for is a burning feeling on your skin.  The skin won’t look like it’s been burned.  The burn feels more like a chemical burn than sunburn because the skin is not hot.
  10. Treat the itching with calamine lotion.  There is considerable itchiness with the shingles rash, and it is typically treated with over the counter medicines like calamine lotion.  Other anti-itch medicines like cortisones can also help the itch.  Other home treatments can include cold compresses and ibuprofen for the pain.
If left untreated, shingles can be one of the most painful things to endure, but there is hope if you can recognize it early and seek treatment right away.  If you start on an antibiotic and antiviral medication from your doctor as soon as you realize you may have it, you could avoid getting the blisters altogether.  Instead of treating it for four or more weeks with possible scarring, you could cut that down to only a couple of weeks.  The trick is to seek medical attention early.  Shingles can also cause numbness in fingers, but that will most likely go away over time.

Provided by Sara Dawkins
First published on  

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Fun Idea for a New Year's Eve Party!

Throw a Glow in the Dark Party

There’s something about running around in the dark that thrills kids of all ages.  For your child’s next party, why not throw a glow in the dark party?  Don’t think you have to wait for your child’s next birthday to take advantage of this idea – this can also be the perfect activity for a fun sleepover. In fact, glow in the dark parties are so much fun that you just might find yourself enjoying the party as much as the kids are!

You can typically find glow in the dark ink online and in some craft stores.  To add a fun twist to party invitations and get the kids excited about the prospect of the glow in the dark party, print some of the information regularly and then let your guests know that to find out more details about the party they’ll have to read the rest of the invitation in a dark place.  You can also order glow in the dark invitations pre-made if you don’t have time to make them yourself.

Blow up balloons and insert a glow stick inside before tying them off.  This will make the entire balloon glow.  You can also take this idea one step further by using helium balloons and lining the sidewalk that leads to your house with the glowing, floating balloons.  To make sure the balloons stay in place, tie a string to each balloon and then tie the string to the ground using a golf tee.  Fluorescent paint will glow under black light, so you can paint some inexpensive thrift store finds to use as decorations on your food table.  Fill the house with other glow in the dark items.  String twinkle lights back and forth across the room so it’s not too dark.  Buy fluorescent streamers that will glow under a black light as you string them around the room.   Hang paper lanterns over the food table and insert glow sticks in them.

Buy some inexpensive T-shirts or tote bags and paint them with glow in the dark paint, which is available at most craft stores.  These paints look good in the light or in the dark.

Next, try your hand at making glow in the dark slime!  Mix together 2 cups of water and ½ cup of Borax and shake to combine.  In a separate container mix together equal parts white school glue and water.  Add a few drops of glow in the dark paint and some neon food coloring to the glue and water mixture.  Then add a few drops of Borax solution at a time to the glue solution and stir.  Keep adding and mixing until you have glow in the dark slime. There will be a little water left over in the slime, which you can dump out before playing with the slime.  To make the slime thicker, add more Borax into the water at the beginning.

For drinks you can serve anything that has tonic water in it, because tonic water glows under black lights.   Another option is to make cups that glow.  You can make these by taking a large plastic disposable cup and putting a glow stick in it.  Straws that are twisted into a circle are a good option because they will stay in the cup without pushing up on the other cup.  Then, nestle a clear cup into the bigger cup and you’re done.  Fill with the clear cup with your beverage of choice and it will glow from within.

Glow in the dark Jell-O is always a big hit.  You can substitute half of the water that the recipe calls for with tonic water so that the Jell-O will glow under the black light. Everyone will get a kick out of eating glowing food.

Neon colors will typically glow under a black light, so you can serve neon frosted cupcakes for dessert.  Any other food that you would normally serve at a party will look extra spooky eaten in the dark.

Play flashlight tag.  The rules are the same as a regular game of tag, with one exception: everyone has a flashlight and chases each other in a thrilling game of tag in the dark.

You can also set up a glow in the dark treasure hunt where you hide glow in the dark objects during the day and then once the sun goes down everyone can go out and see if they can find all of the items.

Play with glow in the dark bubbles.  You can make bubble solution using tonic water and dish soap, or you can actually buy glow in the dark bubbles.

Use glow in the dark chalk to make a hopscotch board in the driveway.  Everything old becomes new and different when it’s played in the dark.  Make sure to use something that glows in the dark for a marker or you will be spending a lot of time hunting for the rock you threw in the dark.

Favor Bags
This part is easy; just include anything that glows in the dark!  There are so many toys that glow in the dark now that it’s not difficult to find a lot of fun, glow in the dark party favors.

Glow in the dark parties are fun and quick to throw together.  Next time you are looking for a party theme that is a little new and unusual try doing a glow in the dark party.

Provided by Debbie Denard
First Published on

Thursday, December 27, 2012

10 Unusual Ways to Use Epsom Salts at Home

Provided by Maria Wells

Did you know that Epsom salts were named for the salty spring where they came from in Surrey, England?  When people think of Epsom salts, the first thing that comes to mind is probably soaking stiff muscles in the bathtub, but there are many more uses for Epsom salts than just that.  Check out these 10 unusual ways you can use Epsom salts at home.
  1. Stinky feet- You can mix ½ cup of Epsom salts with warm water and soak your feet for about 10 minutes to help alleviate the smell of stinky feet. In addition, you will probably feel more relaxed, and the skin on your feet may even be smoother.
  2. Garden- Sprinkle Epsom salts in your flower bed, vegetable garden and even over your houseplants to increase the levels of magnesium, which plants need to thrive.  You can even keep your lawn green by adding 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts to a gallon of water and watering your yard with it.
  3. Crafts- Epsom salts come in a variety of different grain sizes, and you can use that to create a snowy, frosty look on glass ornaments for the Christmas tree, Styrofoam balls for a winter wreath, or on some evergreens for a snowy look.  Just cover the surface with glue, sprinkle it with Epsom salts and allow it to dry.
  4. Balance magnesium levels- When the human body feels stress it loses magnesium, according to Dr. Leo Galland MD.  Dr. Galland also has said that most people don’t get enough magnesium in their diet, but by soaking in Epsom salts your body can absorb the magnesium through the skin, helping to balance your body’s levels of magnesium.
  5. Helps migraine headaches- Soaking in an Epsom salt bath can reduce inflammation and ease pain, both of which will help with migraine headaches.  The magnesium that your body will absorb is also known to help your body produce serotonin, which is a mood elevator and should help you feel better.
  6. Can prevent blood clots- Dr. Galland also points out that magnesium is imperative for heart health and that a lack of magnesium in the body can cause blood clots and heart attacks.  Soaking in Epsom salts increases circulation, as well as boosts the body’s level of magnesium.  Magnesium helps improve the elasticity of the arteries which is also key to good heart health.
  7. Body scrub- Mix a handful of Epsom salts with a tablespoon of bath oil or olive oil and scrub your skin to exfoliate the dead skin.  Just rinse the salt off when you are done and you will be left with smoother and softer skin.
  8. Remove hairspray build up- To brighten up dull hair you can use Epsom salts.  Mix 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of lemon juice and 1 cup of Epsom salts.  Cover this mixture and leave it in overnight.  The next day pour it over your hair and leave it on for 20 minutes before shampooing as usual.  Buildup will have been removed and you will be left with cleaner and shinier hair.
  9. Keep slugs away- Sprinkle Epsom salt near your doors or windows and the slugs will stay away.  There’s something about salt that slugs hate, but normal salt is harmful to plants and shrubs so you are better off using Epsom salts.
  10. Add volume to your hair- In a small saucepan, warm together 1 part Epsom salts to 1 part conditioner.  Work the warm mixture into your hair and leave it on for 20 minutes before rinsing thoroughly.  Style your hair as you normally would and enjoy more volume.
Now that you know many more ways to use Epsom salts, you may want to pick up a bag the next time you are at the store.  Epsom salts are very inexpensive and are useful to have around the house for any of the aforementioned occasions.

First published on

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Baking

It is that time of year, baking those favorite treats for the holidays. How can you make it a fun and healthy time during such a busy season? Here are a couple of ideas to make recipes healthy and to include the kids in the project.

  • Substitute applesauce for half of the margarine in most recipes to decrease the fat intake and to keep the moisture in the baked goods. Use 1/2 cup of applesauce for 1/2 cup margarine.
  • Give yourself permission to use packaged frosting to decorate the cupcakes and cookies on your menu. Packaged frosting can be colored with food coloring and is ready made decreasing one thing on your to do list.
  • Give up on perfect and let the kids join in on the decorating fun. Yes, kids are messy but they will be making memories.
  • Use low fat cream cheese or sour cream in your favorite dips. It decreases the calorie intake and with the seasoning your guest will never know.
  • Five calorie drink packs with a diet lemon flavored soda make a quick punch. Mix one package to one eight ounce soda and pour over ice. Add a lemon or lime wedge, a slice of orange or strawberry and you have a festive low calorie holiday beverage.
  • Buy pre- cut veggies and cheese squares for your trays. It might cost a few pennies more in cash but saves time and stress during a busy season. It also makes an easy way to put together a last minute food tray for unexpected guests.
Holiday time can be stressful but with a few quick tips, you can sit back and enjoy the season without the guilt of too many calories or not enough time. Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ways to Make Ice Cream without an Ice Cream Maker

Ice cream… that cold, rich and creamy dessert that never seems to go out of style. You can use it to top off your warm piece of apple pie, put a dollop on top of your peach crisp, or just enjoy a scoop or two on its own.  As the weather gets cold people sometimes shy away from ice cream as their dessert of choice, but often winter is the best time to make homemade ice cream because it’s already cold out.  Check out these five ways to make ice cream without an ice cream maker.
  1. Snow scream- Bring in a big bowl of clean snow, about 8 cups.  You can use shaved ice if you don’t have access to snow.  Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk over the snow and 1 teaspoon of vanilla and stir it together.  Serve immediately.  You’ll be surprised at how yummy this tastes.
  2. Coffee can ice cream- Mix up your favorite ice cream base recipe and pour it into a 3lb coffee can.  Put the 3lb coffee can into a 5 lb. coffee can and put ice and salt around the smaller can.  Put the lid on and have the kids roll the can back and forth.  At the beginning you will be able to feel the ice cream sloshing around in there, but then the can will get really cold and you won’t feel any sloshing except the ice that’s melting.  This part should take about 30 minutes or so, depending on how warm it is in your house.  Open the lid to the smaller can to make sure the ice cream is frozen to a soft serve consistency, and if it is you can remove it and transfer it to the freezer to harden or you can eat it right away.
  3. Straight to the freezer cream- Find a recipe that is custard based.  The higher the fat content and the richer the base, the better this method will work.  After your custard base is ready, pour it into a stainless steel bowl and cool it over an ice bath.  Set the bowl of cooled custard base in the freezer for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes has passed, take a whisk and vigorously stir the ice cream.  Return the base to the freezer for 30 more minutes and then repeat the stirring process.  This can also be done with a hand mixer, which will require less effort from you and turn out a better product in the end.  Keep freezing and stirring in 30 minute increments until the ice cream is pretty well frozen.  Transfer to a suitable container with a lid and freeze until ready to eat.  The sooner you eat this type of ice cream, the better the texture will be.
  4. Crushed ice cube cream- Whisk together 8 egg yolks, 1 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt for 5 minutes, or until its pale yellow and falls off of the whisk in ribbons.  In a medium sauce pan heat up 12 ounces of evaporated milk (1 can) until it just comes up to a simmer.  Remove the milk from the heat and slowly add it to the egg mixture with one hand while whisking vigorously with the other hand.  Add the mixture slowly or you will make scrambled eggs instead of custard.  Return the warm mixture to the sauce pan and heat until it reaches 180 degrees or coats the back of a spoon.  Make sure to whisk constantly while heating.  Don’t overheat or, again, you will have scrambled eggs.  Now pour warm custard into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, making sure that the wrap touches the surface of the custard so it doesn’t form a skin.  Cool the custard completely.  Once the custard is cool, whisk 1 cup of heavy cream in until it’s doubled in volume.  Fold the whipped cream into the custard until the mixture has no lumps.  Pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze (this will take about 4 hours).  To make the ice cream, add 1 cup of heavy cream to a food processor and the ice cubes that you made and blend until the ice cream is smooth and creamy.  Eat immediately.  
  5. Whipped cream style- Take 2 cups of heavy whipping cream and beat to stiff peaks.  Stir your favorite mix-ins together with a can of sweetened condensed milk.  Now, fold the stiff peaks into the milk mixture and pour the mixture into a freezer safe container with a lid.  Once frozen, this will be rich and creamy, just like ice cream.
Despite popular belief, ice cream isn’t a dessert reserved for just the summertime. Give some of these different methods a try and see which one you like best, then fix yourself a bowl and eat it by the fire to keep warm.

Provided by Tina Marconi
first published on

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How to Create a Gift Cupboard

How to Create a Gift Cupboard for Stress-free Gift Giving

Provided by Sarah Tucker

It’s time for the kids to go to another birthday party and, unfortunately, you haven’t bought a gift yet.  There’s barely enough time to get to the party as it is and now you have to figure out how to make time for a stop at the store and figure out something to buy for the birthday child.  Everyone is in a rush and stressed out.  Does this situation sound familiar? All of this stress can be avoided by having a gift cupboard; here’s how to create one.

Find a spot to store everything
This may sound like the most difficult part, and it might be, but here are some suggestions:  you can use a small linen closet, a hope chest at the end of your bed, a couple of boxes on the top shelf in your closet, under bed storage, or buy either a new or used cupboard.  If you buy a used cupboard you can clean it up and paint it or stain it to match your home and it will blend right in.

Buying the gifts
Getting the gifts to put in the gift cupboard is a gradual process.  You’ll want to get into the habit of checking the clearance area everywhere you go and watching the sale ads.  After Christmas sales are also a really good time to pick up some good buys at a fraction of the normal cost.

You should be on the lookout for games and toys that fall into the price range that you would normally spend for a birthday party.  Maybe you find a bunch of board games on clearance, or several popular action figures.  Make sure to pick up a mix of both boy gifts and girl gifts to give yourself a good variety.  A few unisex gifts wouldn’t hurt, just in case you run out of one or the other.

This gift cupboard doesn’t have to be just for children’s birthday parties – it can be for adults too.  When you go someplace for dinner and you’d like to take a hostess gift, it needs to be in your gift cupboard so you don’t have to stress about it.  Put a few bottles of wine in different varieties in there, some wine charms, coasters and other small gifts that you think your friends would like.  It’s also smart to include some small gifts that you can exchange with friends and acquaintances on the spur of the moment.  These come in especially handy during the holiday season.  A friend may unexpectedly drop by with a small gift, and it’s nice to have something to give them in return.  Another good idea is to keep a few gift cards on hand for various places around town.

Stocking the gift wrap
While it’s not mandatory to keep your gift wrapping stuff in this cupboard, it might be a good idea to do so since you will be using them in conjunction with these items.

Include gift bags in various sizes and colors, white tissue paper (will work with any color bag), rolls of gift wrap for different occasions, wine bottle sleeves, bubble wrap, Styrofoam peanuts and plenty of tape.  A few small boxes might be a good idea too so that the odd shaped items can go into a box for wrapping.
Accessories to go on a wrapped present or gift bag are what make people gasp in surprise and tell you how lovely the gift wrapping is.  This part takes no talent or craftiness, so don’t panic if you are not crafty. 

Include plenty of ribbon, both regular and curling.  Buy a few pine picks for the holidays.  These can easily be added to the top of a gift with some tape.  Wrap the ribbon around the gift and tie a simple bow.  Tuck a pick or some sort of gift dangle into the bow and you are done.  You will look like a rock star and it was all stress free because of your gift cupboard.

Someday, when you have some time on your hands between appointments or just a free day to go shopping, you can take your time and stand and read through some greeting cards.  Choose a variety of cards, such as thank you, sympathy, male birthday, female birthday, congratulations, etc.  Keep these cards in your gift cupboard and you won’t have to worry if you remember someone’s birthday at the last minute or you hear about someone having a death in the family.  You will be able to go to the gift cupboard and grab a card and send it on the same day without rushing to the store.

Next time you are out shopping and you see a sale, keep in mind that this is how the gift cupboard starts.  You can pick up two gifts instead of just one and stash the other one away for another child some other time.  Happy gifting!

First published on 

Friday, December 14, 2012

How to Budget for Christmas

How to Budget for Christmas and Avoid Going into Debt

Provided by Maureen Denard

 With the weather starting to cool off, thoughts naturally begin to gravitate to the upcoming holiday fun and festivities.  However, going into debt for that fun and being stuck paying off your Christmas bills isn’t likely to make your New Year’s very bright.  Everyone has heard the adage that it’s better to give than to receive, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune in the process. Instead, do your giving in a sensible way and don’t go overboard.  Check out these ideas for creating a Christmas budget that will still allow you to celebrate the season richly.

Create a spreadsheet.  Using Excel or some other spreadsheet program, create a spreadsheet with the headings: Gift Recipients, Budget, Actual, Gift Ideas and Leftover.  These are the basics, but feel free to customize this spreadsheet for your specific needs.

Make a list of gift recipients.  Determine the list of people who you are going to give gifts to this year.  Try to keep the list confined to just those people that are closest to you, like your immediate family and closest friends.  If money is tight this year you may want to agree to not exchange gifts with your friends or neighbors this year.

Establish a budget for all of your expenses.  These expenses will include gifts, holiday cards, decorations, holiday food and other miscellaneous holiday expenses.  If you are travelling for Christmas then you’ll also need to include expenses for travel, lodging and food.

Divide up the budget into categories.  Next to each gift recipient you will need to put a budgeted amount that you want to spend on that person.  For holiday cards you will need to determine how much you will spend on a photographer, cards and postage.  Each of these items can be a sub category under ‘cards’.  Decorations can be divided up into a budget for a tree if your family buys a real one each year, lights, ornaments and other decorations for the house.  The holidays usually mean big meals shared with additional people, so be sure to budget extra money for groceries for the month of December.  Will you do any baking or eating out with friends?  Make sure to have a line item for these things as well.  It’s also a good idea to designate an amount for unexpected expenses that pop up along the way, like wrapping paper, tape and shipping expenses.

Create a gift list.  You will want to keep this list with you to make sure that you do not go over budget, so you might as well use it for your gift ideas as well.  The column you created for gift ideas is where you will add items as they come to you.

Figure out how you will set aside money.  Some people put a certain amount of money aside in savings all year long in anticipation of Christmas.  Others start closer to Christmas and watch their pennies in other ways.  Maybe you don’t eat out as often or you skip picking up that latte in the morning so that you can put money away for Christmas expenses.  Staying on a budget will allow you to adjust certain categories so that you will have the money you need for Christmas.

Don’t use credit.  Use only cash, check or debit card when doing your shopping so that you are not tempted to go over your budget.  Set aside a certain amount of cash in an envelope for each category and make sure that you keep your receipts in that envelope so that you can track your purchases.  Having the receipts may also come in handy if you need to return or exchange anything.

Avoid unnecessary expenses.  Try to skip the things that you don’t really need.  If you’re out shopping and a vente peppermint mocha sounds good, resist the urge and stick to your budget.  Try to find items on sale or use a coupon whenever possible to reduce your overall expenditure.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.  If you go a little over for one person don’t flip out.  Just try to save a little money somewhere else so you can still come out even at the end of the month.  Watch adding too many extra line items to the budget.  You can easily blow the budget by tacking on too many little extras.
There are many things to see and do for free during the Christmas season, so don’t miss out on the season’s festivities just because you are on a budget.  Keep in mind what’s important during this holiday season and don’t let stressing out over money overshadow your enjoyment.

First published on Find a Nanny

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Craft Ideas for Broken Crayons

5 Crafts You Can Do Using Broken Crayons

Provided by Paul Taylor

Young children often love to color, but since they are still developing their hand-eye coordination they sometimes end up pressing down too hard on their crayons, accidentally breaking them.  Most parents hate to throw the broken pieces away, and instead end up tossing them into a bucket so the kids can still use them.  However, after a while it may seem like your collection of broken crayons is a little bit too big.  When that’s the case, check out these crafts you can do with them.
  1. Marbled crayon shapes- Purchase a silicon ice cube tray at the dollar store or other discount center.  These silicon trays come in a range of shapes, so allow the kids to pick their favorite one.  Once the silicon trays are used for this project you should not use them for ice cubes again.  Have the kids tear off the paper from all of the broken crayons.  The crayons should be broken into 1 inch pieces.  Place the silicon ice cube tray onto a foil lined cookie sheet.  Place the broken bits of crayons into the ice cube tray.  Try not to mix more than 3 colors together in each cube space or the result could end up being a muddy brown mess.  When the tray is full put it into the oven at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes.  If the crayons are not completely melted after 10 minutes, put them back in and check on them every couple of minutes until they’ve melted entirely.  Once melted, remove the sheet from the oven and allow the crayons to cool and harden completely before removing from the ice cube tray.
  2. Fall leaves or flowers- Create crayon shavings using a basic pencil sharpener.  Keep the shavings in cupcake papers to avoid mixing up the colors and creating a mess.  You will need a lot of shavings for this project.  Tear off a sheet of waxed paper about 36 inches long.  Fold it in half.  Open it back up and have the kids put piles of crayon shavings all over the waxed paper.  Keeping the piles the same color will allow them to show through in the final project and not mix together.  Fold the waxed paper back over the shavings.  Top the waxed paper with foil and then iron with a warm iron.  Keep checking until the crayons are completely melted.  Allow the waxed paper to cook for a few minutes and then let the kids cut out leaves and flower shapes to use as window art.
  3. Dressed up pillar candles- Unwrap all of the broken crayons and put them into a clean, tall, thin metal can – eggnog cans work well for this.  Bring a pot full of water to a boil.  Once boiling, remove the pot from the heat and add the can full of crayons to the water to melt them.  Be patient and do not stir as the colors will blend and turn to a muddy color.  In the meantime, lay out some newspaper.  Next, hold onto the wick of a white pillar candle and dip it into the melted crayons.  When you remove it the pillar will be very colorful.  Hold the pillar over the can to allow any excess to drip off, then set it aside on the newspaper until the wax sets while you dip other candles.
  4. Sandy pics- Pick up some sheets of sand paper at the dollar store or use some you have around the house.  Have the kids color pictures on the sandpaper using the broken crayons and tell them to push hard.  Place the finished sandpaper artwork onto foil-lined cookie sheets and place them in the oven at 225 degrees F, allowing the wax to melt into the crevices of the sand paper.  It should only take about 5 minutes so keep an eye on it.
  5. Melted crayon artwork- You will need a blank canvas of any size, some broken crayons still in their papers, some hot glue and an embossing gun.  Hot glue good-sized crayon pieces still in their paper to the canvas.  To get the longest area to melt it’s best to glue them to the top quarter of the canvas.  Once the crayons are hot glued on you can turn on an embossing gun and start melting the crayons.  Stand the canvas up and lean it slightly back so that the melted wax stays on the canvas.  As you work you will figure out how best to hold the gun and how to manipulate the melting wax.  The embossing gun doesn’t get hot enough to melt the hot glue so the crayons do not fall off, they just melt and the colors run down the canvas.  Bright colors work best for this, but any colors you like will work.
The next time your child breaks a crayon, don’t sweat it.  Just toss it in the bucket until you have enough crayons to make a crayon craft.

First published on Babysitting Jobs

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Story Pie Press delivers Good News in time for the holidays!

Story Pie Press is a publishing house with a mission we can all support. Their motto is “heart-filled and good for the soul…“baking” stories that will have a positive impact on the lives of our readers, the organizations and charities we support, and the world around us.” Thirty percent of the proceeds of Good News Nelson will be donated to support The Humane Society of the United States. 

 Good News Nelson
Good News Nelson
Written by: Jodi Moore
Illustrated by: Brendan Flannelly-King
Published by: Story Pie Press, December 4, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-9842178-3-0
Price: $14.99
Ages: 4-9
Rating:  5 stars
Reviewed by: Roxanne Werner

Synopsis: Paperboy Nelson only delivers the news to his neighbors; good or bad, it is not his to control. But cranky old Mrs. Snodberry’s reaction to a story about abandoned cats makes Nelson wonder if he can do something to change it.

Good News Nelson combines the talents of Jodi Moore, author of When A Dragon Moves In, and illustrator Brendan Flannelly-King. Together they create an uplifting story without any sugary after taste.
Packaged in an oversized hardcover edition, the jacket design echoes the newspaper theme. The black and white back cover sports a bold headline and story column layout. Inside Flannelly-King’s illustrations provide a muted backdrop for the developing story.

Paperboy Nelson finds it is not enough to deliver or read the news. It is not even enough to care about it. Bad news doesn’t turn into good news without people taking action.

Crotchety Mrs. Snodberry’s pessimism is the perfect foil to Nelson’s youthful enthusiasm. With a tip of the hat to Dicken’s Scrooge, her “bahs” are the spur to Nelson taking action.

But what can one person do--especially one small boy? Young readers will find Nelson’s story inspiring and empowering, taking away a message of hope. Even the largest problems can be tackled with a series of small steps and people working together. The plan Nelson devises to help save one hundred abandoned kittens is practical. He comes up with an idea and carries it out by himself. Although adults become involved, Nelson is the pebble that starts an avalanche of goodwill.

Readers will root for one small boy who refuses to give up and let bad news rule the day.

 Jodi Moore, Brendan Flannelly-King and Story Pie Press have combined their talents to deliver a headline worthy story.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Teaching Your Kids about Stranger Danger

10 Things to Keep in Mind When Teaching Your Kids about Stranger Danger
provided by Olivia Lewis

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center estimates that roughly 2,000 children are reported missing every day. Luckily, the vast majority of missing children are found and their cases are resolved within hours; of those who aren’t immediately found, up to 49% are later found to have been abducted by a non-custodial parent or relative. 27% are kidnapped by an acquaintance, leaving only 24% at the hands of complete strangers. While the term “Stranger Danger” has a catchy ring to it, it’s actually a bit misleading because less than ¼ of all abducted children are taken by a stranger. This makes it extremely important to teach children about more than just stranger avoidance.
  1. Most People Are Strangers – Realistically, the majority of the people that your child encounters throughout the course of his day are strangers. Instilling a fear of all strangers will only cause him to regard anyone he doesn’t know with fear, which could make it difficult for him to approach a stranger for help if he’s in need.
  2. Avoid Absolutes – Saying things like “all strangers are bad,” or “never talk to anyone you don’t know, ever” only make it difficult for your child to navigate social encounters and unravel the mysteries of the world around him.
  3. “Good” Strangers – Pointing out that kids can always turn to people in police or firefighters’ uniforms, teachers and other official authority figures can help him to understand the difference between strangers that wish him harm and those that can offer him assistance when he needs it.
  4. No Gifts, Treats or Surprises – Let your child know that he shouldn’t accept any treats, presents or surprises from anyone that tells him that those gifts should be kept a secret. Making a policy of not accepting gifts from people he doesn’t know well is a wise idea.
  5. Talk About “Tricky” People – Because most kids are abducted or sexually abused by people that they know it’s much more important for kids to learn about “tricky” people than “stranger danger.” A tricky person is anyone who asks him to keep a secret from his parents, to lie about where he’s been, or to go somewhere with them without talking to a parent first.
  6. The Rules Apply to Big Kids, Too – Make sure that your child knows not to go anywhere with a tricky person, even if that person is an older kid. It’s easy for children taught about Stranger Danger to view adults as scary and other kids as always safe, but this isn’t always the case.
  7. Encourage Kids to Ask Questions – In order to ensure that your child has a grasp of the concepts you’re teaching, have him ask you any questions that he wants. Let him know that he won’t be in any trouble, no matter what he asks. Your child needs to know that he can always trust you when he needs to talk about strangers, tricky people and trouble; presenting an opportunity to ask no-holds-barred questions on the subject can begin to build that trust.
  8. Be Honest – It’s important to answer your child’s questions with age-appropriate honesty. Try not to evade questions, tell white lies, or otherwise subvert the truth when it comes to this very serious issue. Keep in mind that his questions are only an indication that he’s listening to what he’s being told, and is trying his best to process it.
  9. Keep the Conversation Age-Appropriate – While it’s important to be honest and up-front with your child on the subject of abuse, Stranger Danger and abductions, you should also remember just how vivid your child’s imagination is. The child whose mind can turn a shadow on the wall into a lurking monster might not need all the gory details about a local abduction case.
  10. Maintain an Ongoing Dialogue – It’s important to teach small children how to safely and responsibly handle situations with strangers and tricky people, but it’s also just as important to continue the conversation as your child ages. When he’s older, the focus may shift more to avoiding online predators and exploitation, but the basic concept is still the same and shouldn’t be abandoned after the first discussion.
Striking a balance between instructing kids on responsible behavior and outright fear-mongering is a challenge, but it’s one that you must face as a parent. While it’s of vital importance to educate your children regarding the best way to avoid abduction or abuse, it’s also important not to create anxiety and overwhelming fear of all strangers in his mind.

First published at Nanny News Network


Monday, December 10, 2012

Last Minute Gift: Book Review for Love, Amelia

Love, Amalia

Author: Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 1-4424-2402-9

Chapter book-pages 127

If you are looking for a last minute gift for your chapter readers at home, Love, Amalia is a great choice. This heartwarming chapter book for upper elementary and middle school readers is filled with the emotions that kids this age go through when dealing with friendship, love, loss, and family.

Amalia has a wonderful grandmother whom she loves along with a best friend.Together they cook and talk and laugh. Then everything changes when her best friend moves away. The wisdom that her grandmother shares serves to prepare her for other life changing events to come and through writing notes and cards and journals the love and importance of words is shared.

Love, Amalia is one of those books that lasts well after the pages are done. There are discussion questions for the reader to think about and a recipe for one of grandmothers favorite  desserts.

Visit for more information on the author. 

The book is available at

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: The Story of Hanukkah Howie

The Story of Hanukkah Howie
Publisher:   Peanut Butter Publishing
ISBN 978-1-59849-108-1
Retail $18
Reviewed by David Broughton 

The Story of Hanukkah Howie was written by Jan Dalrymple and brilliantly illustrated by her husband Bob. When I received the book for review, I was instantly amazed by its high quality. From the cover to the last page, it's first class, all the way, made to last for generations. The story teaches many lessons, in a subtle way, the main theme being acceptance, both of others, and one's own uniqueness. Howie has a peculiar problem, discovered early in his life, his hair spikes up for eight days a year, always during Hanukkah, (also called the Festival of Lights.) His hair mimics the Menorah, a candleholder used in the celebration, but he fails to notice this fact until later. Exact use of the Menorah (Hanukkiya) varies, but that's not the point of this sweet little book. For years as he grows up, Howie tries to hide what his hair does, but finally comes to accept it … I'll leave how this comes about for you to enjoy when you get the book.

One might think The Story of Hanukkah Howie is only for children being raised in the Hebrew faith, but that's not how I see it. The lesson of acceptance, both of other people and their traditions, and of one's self, are important for all children, and many adults to learn. I had the book checked by friends that are of the Hebrew faith, and by clergy of both Christian and Hebrew doctrines, all gave their approval of the book and the lessons it teaches. If there's one flaw in the way this book is presented, it's that the cover doesn't feature Howie, the main character. Is that a flaw? Well, maybe, maybe not, that's only one reviewer's viewpoint. Kudos to Jan and Bob Dalrymple, The Story of Hanukkah Howie is a well-written, brilliantly illustrated book that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Win Free Books For Tots and Teens!

From the 1st to 7th December 2012 people can enter this awesome give-away and be in with a chance of winning a selection of fantastic children's titles. The contest is international and all people have to do to enter is click through the rafflecopter. The more they click, the more entry votes they have and the better their chances of winning.

Authors Jo Linsdell, Kate Mueller, Ngaire Elder, Virginia Jennings, Janie Emaus and VS Grenier have come together to offer some pre-Christmas fun and give readers the chance of winning a copy of their books. An excellent prize that can be downloaded directly to your kindle device. No waiting for the postman to deliver!

All you need to do to enter the give-away and be in with a chance of winning these fantastic prizes is to click through the various items listed on the rafflecopter widget e.g. retweet about give-away. The more you click, the better your chances of winning.

The winner will be announced at the end of the give-away.

Want to learn more about his give-away? Click here

Jo Linsdell, the organizer of the give-way, had this to say "I was trying to think up ways I could promote my book in the lead up to the holidays and give a little something back to all the people that support my work. I figured it would be more fun to include other authors in the children's genre and do it as a group project than to go it alone and so asked some of my colleagues if they wanted to join me. The result is a fabulous prize of titles suitable for tots to teens". 

The winner of the give-away will receive a copy of each of the titles giving them an instant library of children's books for their kindle... and just in time for the holidays.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About The Authors & Their Books:

The Mystical Mountains of Terra by Ngaire Elder
A race against time. Good versus evil. The Sceptre of Malvado is at risk of falling into the wrong hands, and Soldier’s fate depends on its recovery. Can Cecilia and Soldier find the sceptre before the total eclipse of the sun, or will someone else beat them to it?
Another gripping adventure for Cecilia Spark, with lots of thrills and spills along the way.

Illustrated by Peter Maddocks. The second book in the new children’s series, The Adventures of Cecilia Spark.
Suitable for 5–8-year-old boys and girls.

Author Bio:
I was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland. I spent most of my childhood playing outside with my brother and my imaginary friends and feasting on my grannies’ homecooking.
I can remember the magpie that followed me around my garden one summer, and the day my grandpa found the wild bunnies that I had captured and hidden in my bedroom.
After leaving school, I went to college and university (part-time) and embarked on a career in the health and safety sector, qualifying in 1993.
I met my husband through my work and have 4 children.
Now, I spend my time looking after my family, taking care of our collection of animals (2 dogs, 1 cat, 2 horses, 2 pigs, 3 ferrets and a budgie), nurturing the kitchen garden, learning Spanish, speaking Spanish and writing.
I currently live in Spain.
Out and About at the Zoo by Jo Linsdell
Rhyming text and colourful pictures accompany this fun day out discovering different animals at the zoo.

Author bio:
Jo Linsdell is a best selling author, award-winning blogger and freelance writer. A recognised thought leader in the world of book marketing she is also the founder and organiser of the annual online event Promo Day.
Originally from the UK she moved to Rome, Italy in 2001 where she lives with her Italian husband and their two young children.
She is currently working on another children's picture story book called Fairy May that is scheduled for release on 1st February 2013 and The Writers and Authors Guide to Social Media that will follow shortly after.
The Alien Mind by Virginia Jennings
In The Alien Mind, Young Rivinaig shares her adventures and trials that began on that fateful day when a group of aliens called the Aruk abducted her and several other children. Another group of aliens called the Aunantet rescue the children and raise them as their own. Their new families teach them how to harness the full capacities of their brains, enabling them to defy the laws of physics and develop special mental abilities.
The past returns to haunt them as the Aruk plot revenge and make a bid to regain their control; the fate of the entire galaxy depends on whether the children can maintain their freedom.

Author bio:
Virginia Jennings lives in South Carolina with her husband, three kids, and two cats. She graduated from High School at 16 and was published by the time she turned 18. She is the author of two science fiction books and has plans in the works for two fantasy books as well. Her ideal evening is spent watching Star Trek or Eureka with her family over dinner. She enjoys playing putt putt and watching the latest sci-fi or action adventure movie. She does most of her best writing in the car as her characters prefer to talk to her while she is driving. Finding time to write down what they tell her- now that is where the real challenge is! When she is not hanging out with her family or writing she also runs the 'Where Writers And Authors Meet' writers group online.

Bella's Birthday Surprise by Kate Mueller
Bella is turning one and excited about her first party.  She is in for a big surprise when she opens her last present and finds something very special inside.

Author bio:
From poems to short stories, I have always enjoyed putting my thoughts down on paper. After graduating from Purdue University, my husband and I settled down near our Indiana childhood homes. We now have two beautiful daughters, Bella and Sofia. We have cherished countless hours curled up reading together. It was from this experience that I knew I wanted to leave something for my daughters and future generations. A book was the perfect choice.

Mercury in Retro Love by Janie Emaus
A story about crushes, conflicts and astrological confusion.
Finally, after years of making love predictions for her friends, fifteen-year-old astrologer, Emma Seigel, sees a boyfriend in her future. But there’s one big problem. Mercury is heading for Retrograde in four weeks, and she sure knows what that means. It’s like an astrological PMS. A disastrous time to start a new relationship.
Using her school newspaper column, Emmastrology, she sets a plan in motion and within a week lands hottie Evan Randolph as her boyfriend. She’s a Taurus. He’s a Capricorn. Both earth signs. What could be more perfect? But is he as perfect as her prediction claims him to be? The stars are telling her it’s right. But her heart says it’s all wrong.
Everyday her feelings are growing stronger for someone else, a Leo, so totally not the sign for her. And to make matters even worse, Emma’s actions, caused by her unflinching belief in astrology, get her in trouble with her best friends in the whole world.
Time is running out. Can Emma straighten up this mess she’s in before Mercury goes Retrograde again?

A Young Adult Novel

Author Bio:
I write fiction and non-fiction for adults and children. I am both serious and fantastical.
As a little girl I would read newspaper articles out loud to my family and friends, incorporating them into the stories. By the time I was in junior high, I was creating plots and characters of my own. And I have been a prolific writer ever since, writing everything from poetry to educational videos.
I have written several books for Parachute Press, the book packager for the Goosebumps and Fear Street series. I have been also a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times Kids’ Reading Room Page. My stories for adults have appeared in True Confessions, Woman’s World, Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and The Book Breeze.
I also write a weekly column for the popular website In The Powder Room and blog for The Huffington Post.

Babysitting SugarPaw by VS Grenier
2012 Mom's Choice Silver Award-winner!
2011 League of Utah Writers Silver Quill Winner!
A little bear named SugarPaw hopes to get rid of his babysitter, bonnie Whiskers, by getting her into trouble after making changes to his rules chart. As the story unfolds, SugarPaw learns about honesty and friendship. Babysitting SugarPaw, with its child-centered plot on gettng to know others, is the perfect book for littel ones scared of being left alone with a babysitter for the first time. This book will delight three-to-eight-year-old-readers, especially those who like to create mischief.
Illustrator: Keven Scott Collier

Author Bio:
VS Grenier is an award-winning children's author, founder & owner of Stories for Children Publishing, LLC, award-winning editor-in-chief of Stories for Children Magazine and chief editor for Halo Publishing, Int, and also, the host of the blog talk radio shows on The World of Ink Network: Stories for Children, The Writing Mama, What is Success and Families Matter. A California girl at heart and former fashion buyer, Grenier lives in Southern Utah with her supportive husband, their three children and the family's miniature schnauzer Taz.


*Stories for Children Publishing, LLC. (SFC) and its divisions do not receive any compensation for product reviews beyond a sample and/or limited access to a paid website. SFC donates all books sent for review to a charitable organization. SFC may do a contest or giveaway of samples we receive.