Holidays & Entertaining

Holiday Traditions in Blended Families: Easter Edition

Written on April 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm , by

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

It’s time to break the silence on one of the more problematic issues facing blended families today: what to do about the Easter Bunny.

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, my stepkids adjusted far more easily to all holiday celebrations other than Easter in our new family situation. I place the blame squarely on that nebulous bunny.

When I was a kid, the Easter Bunny brought the baskets and hid the eggs that my sister and I then found, but even then I knew it didn’t happen the same way at everyone’s house.

The Easter Bunny has no standards. He has neither sidekicks nor clearly delineated responsibilities. In the realm of mythical childhood mascots, every other one of them has a well-defined job description. At least with Santa, you can connect the goodness and giving part of his gig to the deeper spiritual nature of the holiday. The validity of connecting a bunny to an empty tomb is a stretch. Even if we connect him to the prolific…proliferation…of bunnies in order to symbolize the rebirth and fertility of spring, in no tradition anywhere does a rabbit lay chicken eggs.

Trying to understand the Easter Bunny is like reading a technical manual that has been badly translated from Arabic to French to Chinese to English. Some words are there on the page, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense.

My husband wasn’t terribly helpful when it came to sharing Easter traditions. “That was their mom’s holiday,” he said. “I did Christmas.” So that first year, we guessed. The Easter baskets were ready when they woke up in the morning. They contained bubbles, chalk, Frisbees, balsa airplanes, two Hula Hoops and enough candy to send a small village into a stupor.

13-year-old girl: What’s all this?

Me: Easter baskets. From the Easter Bunny.

13-y-o: Why did the “Easter Bunny” come so early? He usually doesn’t come until after church and he only brings candy. [Insert sarcastic teen voice.] Mom would get us all in the car to go to church waaay early, and suddenly remember that she forgot something in the house. She’d go back inside for like fifteen minutes, and then when we got home from church the “Easter Bunny” would have miraculously delivered the Easter baskets.

Me: Easter is all about the miracles.

Where things really broke down was the egg hunt. If you’re not raised with the belief that the Easter Bunny hides the eggs, nothing will convince you otherwise. Not even the 4-year-old was buying it.

The only egg hunts they had done were at churches or parks in large groups. These kids are super competitive to begin with, so we hid some easy, some hard, and let them stagger the start youngest to oldest. That only made the oldest notice all her siblings occupied in the back and immediately move to the front yard to find every single egg there in about ninety seconds.

They were sorely disappointed that only real eggs were hidden. Apparently there were supposed to be plastic eggs filled with candy and money.

Easter remains the holiday that I never get right. I’ve stopped trying, and instead look for ways to amuse myself.

I have to give the Easter Bunny due credit: He saved me one time by stepping in for the Tooth Fairy. After the Tooth Fairy forgot to show up several nights in a row, the Easter Bunny covered the duties and wrote a note of apology, which was unquestioningly and gleefully accepted by the loser of the tooth (the Easter Bunny being more generous than the Tooth Fairy).

I was interrupted during story time the other day by the 18-year-old barging into her brother’s room to ask me to pass along to the Easter Bunny the fact that she doesn’t like the large robin’s eggs candy, only the small ones.

I decided it’s time for the Tooth Fairy to repay the debt to the Easter Bunny by taking over duties this Easter.

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

 

2 Must-Watch Videos for “Frozen”-Obsessed Kids

Written on February 24, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Disney’s Frozen—a haunting but happily-ending tale of sisters Elsa and Anna, one of whom possesses icy powers that have seemingly condemned the city of Arandel to a Forever Winter— has been the Big Thing in my house since the weekend it opened. We’ve seen it in 2D, 3D and, most recently, the Singalong version. (As if this were somehow inadequate, my kids, 9 and 6, ask regularly about getting the DVD, which isn’t even out until March 18.)

To get her daily Frozen fix, my daughter is loving Alex Boye’s tribal-inspired cover starring 11-year-old Lexi Walker, who seems poised to become a huge star. Her other current fave is ThePianoGuys’ amazing mash-up of music from Frozen with Vivaldi’s “Winter.“ Their obvious passion and the spectacularly icy setting make this a slam dunk. Watch and enjoy.

Tell me in the comments if your kid loves these as much as mine!

 

Everything You Need for the Perfect Valentine’s Day Toast

Written on February 14, 2014 at 8:24 am , by

By Danielle Blundell

It’s not too late to do a little something special for Valentine’s Day, whether you’re celebrating with a significant other or a group of girlfriends. Here at Family Circle, we know what it’s like to play the role of hectic hostess, so we turned to our friends at POM for these two simple cocktail recipes that look effortlessly festive and taste delicious. Better yet, they’re even healthy—just one small container of POM POMS Fresh Arils has plenty of fiber, potassium and vitamins C and K. For more info and a store near you, visit pomwonderful.com. Enjoy!

POM Sparkle

Sparkling wine
POM POMS Fresh Arils

Fill wineglasses or champagne flutes with sparkling wine about 3/4 of the way. Garnish by spooning arils into glasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POM Smash

1 tablespoon POM POMS Fresh Arils
1/2 oz lime juice
1 oz POM Hula
one-fourth of a passion fruit
1 1/2 oz dry gin
Soda water
Lime (for garnish)
Mint (for garnish)

Muddle arils with lime juice. Combine ingredients in a shaker and pour into a Collins glass over crushed ice with a splash of soda water. Garnish with lime and mint. A drink to remind us all of the “wonderful” things to come.

The Case for Snail Mail Holiday Cards

Written on January 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm , by

Like many, I spent a good part of last weekend de-Christmas-ing my house. One task was to take down all the holiday cards that arrived throughout December, which I tape around the “window” in the wall between my kitchen and living room. I know some people say cards aren’t necessary in this day and age—”That’s what Facebook is for!”—but I definitely beg to differ. A snapshot on my Facebook newsfeed is here and gone in an instant. A paper card lasts the whole season and becomes part of our holiday decor. My kids (9 and 6) get excited when the envelopes start to arrive, and it quickly becomes a nightly ritual to ooh and aah over the photos. As for our own family card, we spent more than an hour looking at options on Tinyprints and Shutterfly, my hands-down favorite sites for high-quality cards and invites. (Tinyprints had the winner this year, but it was a tough call!) According to Hallmark, 85% of consumers surveyed said they send Christmas cards, letters or photos. I hope that number continues to hold up in our increasingly digitized world. To me, it’s a tradition worth preserving.

Do you send holiday cards in December, or is it not worth the effort or expense? Do you enjoy receiving them? Tell us in the comments. 

Merry Christmas from Family Circle

Written on December 25, 2013 at 12:00 am , by

Categories: Holidays & Entertaining | Tags:
No Comments

Holiday Cocktails: Spiced Hot Toddy

Written on December 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm , by

A Spiced Hot Toddy is a festive drink perfect for holiday gatherings. It’s simple too! See how to make this classic drink in four easy steps.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

Wild Turkey Spice Bourbon
2 teaspoons of Honey
1 Orange
Hot water

For garnish
Cinnamon sticks
Cloves
Orange peel

David Stark’s Holiday Decorating Ideas

Written on December 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm , by

If you’re looking for last-minute Christmas decorating ideas, New York event planner David Stark has some creative ways to spruce up your home. We talked to the designer and author of The Art of the Party at the Target Holiday House Party where he shared three DIY ideas for holiday decorating, entertaining and gifting (listed below). We were wowed by what he can do with a roll of painters tap! For more of Stark’s decorating ideas, check out our “Design File” Pinterest Board.

And, by the way, Target throws one heck of a holiday party!  See highlights from the evening here:


 

Idea 1: Bookshelf. Organize your objects or your books in the shape of a holiday tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idea 2: You can make all the holiday décor you need with a roll of painters tape. You can draw on the wall, write messages like “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah,” and even draw the mantle you wish you had but don’t. And when you’re done, pull it right off and it’s not going to mess up your wall at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idea 3: Use materials that might have been intended for something else. For example, a blanket. Just because it’s called a blanket doesn’t mean you can’t use it as a table cloth. Blankets and sheets make great dining table cloths. Don’t sweat having to run out and find the perfect table cloth for your holiday dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying Your Kid a Bike for Christmas? Read This First

Written on December 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by

Photo Courtesy of Giant Bicycles

From Tickle-Me-Elmo to the PlayStation, Christmas gift crazes come and go. But there’s one holiday present that consistently tops the list of every tween or teen at some point: a shiny new bike. So how do you select the best bicycle for your kid? We asked Tabetha Kay, event coordinator at Giant Bicycles and a mom of two, for some tips. 

1) Focus on Fit.
While most kids typically begin the selection process by picking the color, graphics and handlebar streamers they want, fit has to be the number one priority. Selecting the right size bike overall (frame, wheel size and touch points) is critical to ensure that  your kid will be comfortable, confident and safe. You want her to have the best ride experience possible to develop the skills she’ll need to enjoy a lifetime of fitness and fun. Since almost all youth bikes are fitted by wheel size—not by frame size—simply knowing your child’s height will allow the retailer to recommend the correct size. Most brands offer a youth bike (by wheel size) fit chart.

2) Consider the environment.
Where will your kid be pedaling? Assuming your child will be riding on his own, make sure the style or type of bike matches what he likes to do best. For example, a general-purpose bike for riding around the neighborhood should have a stable, upright and centered riding position. You’ll also want general-purpose street tires that grip the pavement and gravel well but also provide stable handling. If your kid will be going on off-road adventures, it’s important that the bike have appropriate off-road tires, good brakes and easier gearing for the up-and-down terrain. If your kid’s a beginner, look for a starter bike that allows your child to stop and go easily and is comfortable overall. At that stage you want to build confidence.

3) Pay more for quality.
Kids can be rough on things. Having a bicycle that will withstand this level of use (dare we say abuse?) and not need repairs all the time will ensure a positive experience for both of you. And it’ll be easier on the pocketbook in the long run, especially when you’re able to pass the bike on to siblings.

4) Build a relationship.
There are countless places to buy youth bicycles. The most important factor to consider in choosing where to purchase is customer service. Find a good retailer that can guide you through the proper selection process and give you information about cycling as a healthy family activity. I’d recommend someplace small and local over a big-box store, where post-purchase service may be lacking.

 

Do you have a tip to share about picking the perfect bike for your kid this season? Post a comment below and tell us!

Holiday Traditions in Blended Families

Written on December 18, 2013 at 10:00 am , by

Written by JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

There are two kinds of traditions: intentional and accidental. I believe that every family should have both. Accidental ones take care of themselves; you really don’t have to worry about them. Anybody who performs just one tipsy, alternate rendition of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas discovers soon enough that they’ve signed up for life.

However, intentional traditions in a blended family can be a minefield. When you start your own family from scratch, you get to set the traditions from the beginning. When you step into someone else’s family, your ideas may or may not fly. Everyone arrives with their own set of beliefs and agenda about how to properly celebrate a holiday. (Have you seen Marney’s Thanksgiving Letter?)  Kids, especially teens, tend to keep these rules secret…right up to the point when someone unknowingly breaks one of them.

I grew up with rich holiday traditions, particularly for Christmas. All through December we made cookies, went to church, sang carols, opened Advent calendars and were visited by the elves. Yes, long before the Elf on the Shelf, the elves hung out at my house. They brought little gifts when they caught us being good. When we were acting out, my mother would say, “The elves are watching!” and look around the room. For the longest time, I thought the elves were a pair of German beer steins.

I introduced the elves to my stepkids just after the first Thanksgiving we had together as a family. They accepted them without question. Other attempts to share my traditions have had different results.

Getting them interested in baking Christmas cookies has been like trying to spark an interest in cleaning grout. It is significant to note that four-fifths of these kids also don’t like peanut butter or pie; you can never entirely let your guard down around kids like that. They much prefer store-bought sweets laden with chemicals. When I bake, I end up with a pile of amazing cookies that, once again, only my husband and I will eat, creating the need for what I call January Pants.

When I was a child, we opened one gift on Christmas Eve just before bed: the “toe” of the stocking, i.e., the biggest of the little presents. Never in a hundred years would I have dreamed that a kid would resist this concept, but I had two who did. That whole not liking peanut butter and pie thing should have tipped me off. Of course, this first year, I had five identical gifts chosen. I improvised on the spot for three different gifts, so as to keep the peace and not reveal that particular surprise early for the two who were opting out.

Sometimes you make traditions by taking them away first. My husband made Yorkshire pudding for Christmas dinner every year but none of the kids would touch it. After three years, he gave up. The next year, the kids all asked, “Where’s the Yorkshire pudding?” One year of it being gone made it everyone’s favorite dish.

My favorite traditions are happy accidents. One Christmas Eve when we couldn’t agree on church, we drove around the neighborhood looking at all the decorations. Suddenly we saw, very clearly, a family obliviously eating dinner in their dining room while a Santa was trying with some difficulty to get in their sliding glass back door. Now we have a Christmas Eve tradition of trying to catch Santa breaking into someone’s house.

If you can let go of needing holidays to play out in a specific way, you’ll open yourself up to a lot of light and laughter.

 

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

 

How to Have a Holiday Feast on a Small Budget

Written on December 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by

Written by Crystal Paine, founder of Moneysavingmom.com

Planning and preparing a delicious holiday spread doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are six tips to help you keep more cash in your wallet this holiday season.

1. Split Up the Cooking Responsibilities

Divvy up the holiday meal duties so that no one has to purchase and prepare all the food by themselves. Not only does this make for a lot less work, but it can also add more variety to your menu.

2. Use What You Have

Look in your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer to see what’s already on hand that might be the beginnings of a holiday dish. Type the items you find into the ingredient search feature on AllRecipes.com and it will generate a list of recipe ideas for you.

3. Simplify Your Menu

Do you really need 15 different dishes on your holiday buffet? Consider simplifying and just sticking with your absolute favorites. You’ll save lots of time and effort, not to mention money!

4. Plan Your Menu Based on What’s on Sale

Start looking at supermarket flyers a few weeks before Christmas. Grocery stores typically rotate their best sales each week, so if you can start stocking up in advance, you’ll pay a lot less for the items you need to make your holiday dinner.

5. Search for Coupons Online

Before you head to the store, check the coupon database on MoneySavingMom.com to see if there’s anything available for products you’re planning to purchase. Type in any item (such as “butter”) or brand (such as Land ‘O Lakes) and it will generate a list of printable coupons. For a couple minutes of your time, you’ll save at least a few dollars, if not more. That’s totally worth a little effort!

6. Make Food Ahead of Time

The freezer is a budget cook’s best friend, especially during the holiday season. Instead of purchasing expensive pre-made or prepackaged food in order to save time, cook as much ahead of time as you can. A few of my favorite make-ahead dishes are Sweet Potato Casserole, Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes, Make Ahead Butterhorn Rolls and Freezer-Friendly Slab Apple Pie. You can see more of my favorite Holiday Freezer Cooking recipes here.

Follow these tips and your money will go a lot further this holiday season, leaving you with more to put toward your savings goals, pay off debt, give to your favorite charity or even use on a strategic splurge!

 

Crystal Paine is a wife, mom of three and founder of MoneySavingMom.com, one of the most popular personal finance blogs on the Web. Her second book, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode, will be published in January 2014.

 

A CSA Changed Our Family’s Eating Habits…for Good

Written on December 17, 2013 at 11:49 am , by

Written by Catherine Holecko, family fitness expert at About.com

This past Thanksgiving, our menu featured root vegetables and winter squash from the last farm share box we received this season. It was the perfect way to complete our meal and I was—yes—grateful to have those fresh ingredients sitting in my pantry, ready to go.

It’s all thanks to our participating in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, in which members pay farmers in advance in exchange for a share of the harvest. A few years ago, my husband received an email at work. His employer was partnering with a local farm’s CSA program. The company would be a drop-off site for weekly deliveries from the farm. Employees could become CSA members and receive a box of fresh produce weekly during the season. We signed up right away. For about $25 per week, we get a delivery of fresh, seasonal produce every Thursday from June through October. So we’re eating local and we’re helping support a farm family in our community.

Each week’s box is different but provides us with all the vegetables we need for a week—and more. We usually freeze or preserve some, or save them for the following week. (Or a few weeks, if Thanksgiving is coming!)

For our family, participating in the CSA has meant learning a whole new way of eating: We cook and eat what we get in the box, even if we’ve never prepared it—or seen it!—before. I discovered I love roasted Brussels sprouts. My kids became kale chip converts; they devour an enormous bunch of kale in one sitting, once its leaves have been misted with olive oil and baked in the oven. We all realized that knobby, twisted, slightly hairy farm carrots have 10 times more flavor than bagged baby carrots.

I can’t stand to waste food, so I push myself to come up with new ways to serve (or preserve) our farm goodies, using recipes that appeal to our whole family. Luckily, our produce box comes with a weekly newsletter that’s full of recipes and serving suggestions, so we have a helping hand when it comes to unfamiliar foods (kohlrabi, anyone?).

Happily, my kids have never been especially picky eaters, but like just about everyone, they could always use more veggies in their diet. The surprise factor of the weekly farm box—you never know what will be inside!—has a lot of power, and so does seeing familiar foods in unfamiliar ways (like carrots, string beans and potatoes that all come in a festive shade of purple).

Our farm also hosts an annual open house/potluck party, so members can meet the farmers and see the where their produce is grown, picked and packed. Attending this event proved to be a huge motivator for my tweens. All I have to say is “Try this. It’s from our farm,” and they’re willing to taste almost anything.

Catherine Holecko is the family fitness expert at About.com. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, son and husband.

3 Ways to Shop Smart During the Holidays

Written on December 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm , by

Written by Marlena Sarunac 

Marlena Sarunac, savvy shopper and marketing director for PoachIt, shares her secrets to saving money online.   

How have you been shopping for the holidays this year? Did you wake up early and endlessly circle parking lots to end up fighting the in-store crowds on Thanksgiving? Surely you know that you can get the best discounts and promotions for all the goodies in your kids’ stockings right from home in your favorite snowflake-print pajamas!

Welcome to holiday shopping in 2013. About 90% of consumers plan to sip on some eggnog while shopping online this holiday, finding deals on the perfect gifts one click at a time.

With six fewer shopping days this season, prices are falling like snow and retailers are getting more competitive than ever! Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals started earlier this year and were extended beyond weeklong savings events led by merchants like Amazon. Cyber Monday had steeper discounts on more items, with over a third of all listed merchandise marked down. And don’t even get me started on the coupon codes—I’ve never seen such aggressive deals, and I’ve been studying the coupon code world for quite a while. So, fellow savvy shoppers, here are a few thoughts to consider as you cross items off your shopping list.

Finding the Best Bargains: Ultimately, there will be deals right at your fingertips every day of the year—not just on Black Friday or Cyber Monday—so Christmas really can come early for the smart shopper. Not quite ready to buy or save up for a special occasion? No problem. Signing up for price-tracking sites like PoachIt will allow you to access valid coupon codes and track items at over 3,000+ online retailers. PoachIt tests and displays only working coupon codes and will let you know when the stuff you want goes on sale.

Free Smart Shipping: If a retailer has a minimum order requirement for free shipping, buy that extra blouse! You can always return it in-store, saving yourself a few extra bucks on shipping costs. But pay attention to the terms and conditions. For example, Amazon recently increased its free shipping threshold to $35, meaning if you don’t have Amazon Prime, you may need to fill your shopping cart with a few extra items. If you’re shopping for apparel, hunt for the same item at another merchant that has better shipping deals. For example, Saks Fifth Avenue is offering free shipping and returns now through December 22 with the coupon code HOLIDAY.

For Teens, Don’t Take It Personal: It used to be easy—the hottest toy of the year was always met with squeals of delight as shreds of wrapping paper fell by your child’s wayside. Getting that same reaction from teens? Not so much. Keeping up with trends these days with a generation so defined by its own ever-changing style can be daunting, so my recommendation is to stay away from anything too dependent on personal taste, like clothing and music. So how do you find the right gift? Think about their interests! Sometimes the right tools to really pursue a hobby are best. Does your teen enjoy cooking, sports, art or gaming? You can easily find amazing gifts that are meaningful and practical. If all else fails, upgrade their smartphone or get an iPad, as these have been the two biggest winners over the holiday shopping season.

From all of us at PoachIt, we hope to bring you cheer with every click!

 

A veteran of MasterCard, Marlena Sarunac  joined PoachIt after traveling the world for a year. She now lives in New York City, where she enjoys finding the best places to shop both online and off, and takes pride in making tasteful purchase decisions that won’t break a young New Yorker’s budget.