Written on December 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm , by Danielle Hester
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.
Written on December 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by Family Circle
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!
Written on December 18, 2013 at 10:00 am , by Family Circle
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.
Written on December 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by Family Circle
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.
Written on December 17, 2013 at 11:49 am , by Family Circle
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.
Written on December 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm , by Family Circle
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.
Written on December 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm , by Family Circle
Written by Giada De Laurentiis
One thing I love about the cooler winter months is that it’s the perfect time for baking. There’s nothing better than trying new recipes and filling the house with the sweet-smelling scents of cookies and other goodies baking in the oven. Given the nature of the season, this is also the perfect time to give back, so why not toss in a couple extra batches of your favorite baked dish and host a bake sale!
In a recent issue of Giada Digital Weekly, I discuss how to throw a successful and fun bake sale this holiday season. Whether you’re supporting a religious organization, children’s school or local charity, a bake sale is a great way to raise money. Plus, your kids will love helping you test sample your baked treats! I know Jade did!
Below I’ve included a sneak peak for Family Circle readers of my three keys to hosting a memorable bake sale. I’ve also included two amazing recipes: Lemon Angel Food Cupcake with Lemon Curd and Mascarpone Frosting, and Apricot Oat Bars. I love these two recipes for bake sales because they are unique, easy to make and perfect for the holiday season. I hope you enjoy them—be sure to let me know how it goes!
Hosting a Bake Sale
1. It’s all about the variety. Store-bought cupcakes and three different versions of chocolate chip cookies won’t have customers flocking to your table. But a spread boasting a variety of different shapes, colors and flavors? That will do the trick! Go beyond cookies and have a pretty mix of sliced quick breads, bar cookies, cakes and pies.
2. Presentation, presentation, presentation. A creative display with cake stands and pretty platters will help make your tasty treats even more irresistible. Cover your table with a colorful cloth and get your kids involved by asking them to make some hand-lettered signs.
3. Be descriptive with your signage. More and more families have concerns about food allergies and other dietary restrictions, so be as descriptive as you can when creating signage for the sale. Ask everyone to write a full list of the ingredients they used in their baked good on an index card, and keep these handy so you can answer questions about potential allergens quickly and confidently.
Giada’s Lemon Angel Food Cupcake with Lemon Curd and Mascarpone Frosting
- 3 egg yolks, at room temperature
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, from 2 large lemons
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 (1-pound) box angel food cake mix
- 1 cup water
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 6 tablespoons mascarpone, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons milk, chilled
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Silver or pastel dragees, Jordon almonds or yellow sanding sugar to decorate
For the curd: Whisk together the yolks, lemon zest, juice, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan. Cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon or spatula, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter, one piece at a time, stirring until the consistency of the curd is smooth. Transfer the curd to a heat-proof bowl and cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate the curd until firm and chilled, about 1 hour.
For the cupcakes: Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°. Line 2 muffin pans with cupcake liners. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the cake mix, water, lemon zest and juice. Beat the mixture on low speed for 30 seconds to incorporate the ingredients, then increase the speed to medium for 1 minute until the mixture is light and fluffy. Use a scoop or spoon to fill the liners 3/4 full with the batter. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the cupcakes are golden brown and the cracks on top feel dry. Cool the cupcakes completely before filling and frosting, about 30 minutes.
For the frosting: Whisk together the powdered sugar, mascarpone, milk, and vanilla until smooth and shiny.
To fill the cupcakes, use a small spoon to push a shallow hole in the center of each cupcake. Fill the center with 1 teaspoon of the lemon curd. Drizzle the cupcake with some of the frosting to cover the top. Sprinkle with the decoration of your choice. Allow the cupcakes to set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Yield: 24 cupcakes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Inactive time: 20 minutes
Apricot Oat Bars
- Vegetable oil cooking spray
- 1 (13-ounce) jar apricot jam or preserves (about 1 1/4 cups)
- 8 dried apricots, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1/3 cup)
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1 packed cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 3/4 cup old-fashion oats
- 1 cup (4 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 9 x 13 x 2-inch metal baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with vegetable oil cooking spray. Set aside.
For the filling: In a small bowl, mix together the jam and apricots. Set aside.
For the crust: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Stir in the oats and walnuts. Add the butter, egg and vanilla and stir until incorporated.
Using a fork or clean fingers, lightly press half of the crust mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Using a spatula, spread the filling over the crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the pan. Cover the filling with the remaining crust mixture and gently press to flatten. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until light golden. Cool for 1 hour. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Yield: 24 bars
Prep time: 12 minutes
Cook time: 30 to 35 minutes
Inactive time: 1 hour
Written on December 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by Family Circle
Written by Rachel Macy Stafford
From a very young age, my older daughter, Natalie, has been a gift giver. Like most children’s, her offerings consisted of items that adults wouldn’t ordinarily classify as gifts. Broken seashells, traumatized frogs, dying weeds and misshapen rocks were often presented in small, dirt-laden hands beneath a wide smile. In the past two years Natalie’s gift-giving practices have moved up a notch. Gifts are no longer found in nature; they are found in our home.
Yes, it’s re-gifting at its best—wrapping barely used items and presenting them with great love.
Although highly practical and earth-friendly, this gift-giving practice brought to mind words like “tacky” and “cheap.” But for some reason, I had enough sense to stand aside and let my child give as her heart dictated.
Last Christmas Eve, Natalie spent hours wrapping barely used bottles of lotion, tiny hotel shampoos and gently used books. She then declared she wanted to distribute the colorful packages to homeless people in the downtown area. Her very first recipient was a frail, elderly woman with sad eyes who clutched her life’s possessions in a ripped trash bag. It wasn’t until I watched this woman’s face completely transform at the mere sight of my pint-size gift-bearer that I got over myself.
Shortly thereafter, Natalie thought it would be nice to create a care package for a family in India with whom we’d connected through Operation Christmas Child. On top of the new pajamas, packaged toothbrushes and pristine white socks, she placed two hairbrushes that she and her little sister had used for almost a month. Natalie was adamant that the brushes must be included. It wasn’t until we received a thank-you note with this picture that I vowed I would never cringe at her gift-giving practices again.
In fact, when the mood strikes and a present is needed, I thoroughly enjoy watching Natalie search the bottom of her messy closet for the ideal gift. I am now quite certain there is something miraculous in the way my daughter gives—in the way all children give.
Children remind us on a daily basis that our most precious gift is when we stop in the midst of our busy lives and give a piece of ourselves—our undivided attention, a lingering embrace, a word of encouragement, snuggles in bed, one-on-one time or a helping hand. This season, consider giving like children do. Rather than spending hours at the mall shopping for the “perfect” gift, remember that what your loved ones want most this year is you.
If I had to give a name to such heartfelt gift giving, I would call it “hands-free”—letting go in order to give the gift that really matters. And you can’t put a price on it.
Just ask a child.
Join Rachel on her journey to let go of distraction, perfection and societal pressure to grasp what really matters by visiting www.handsfreemama.com or “The Hands Free Revolution” on Facebook. Rachel’s book, Hands Free Mama, is currently available for pre-order and hits shelves on January 7.
Written on December 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm , by Danielle Hester
Air travel during the holiday season can be stressful—long lines at check-in, delayed flights, overcrowded planes … just thinking about it puts a damper on my holiday spirit.
But the video above reminds me just how much the holiday season brings out the best in everyone, even airlines.
The airline sets up virtual kiosks at Hamilton and Toronto international airports for two Calgary-bound flights. Passengers scan their boarding pass, prompting a video of a WestJet Santa asking what passengers want for the holidays. Unbeknownst to passengers, there are more than 150 volunteers recording their requests who then run out to buy, wrap and deliver all the presents to the airport upon the flight’s arrival. Passengers are surprised when wrapped boxes with name tags fall out of the luggage carousel.
It gets better. According to the airline, once the “Christmas Miracle” video hits 200,000 views, the company will give out free flights to the Ronald McDonald Charities for families in need. The viral video has already surpassed this goal.
It’s wonderful to see Christmas wishes come true, big and small.
Written on December 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm , by Family Circle
Written by Glennon Doyle Melton
All I want for Christmas is for my kids to be happy, but too often I forget that the kind of happiness I can buy them at the mall doesn’t last. That kind is superficial and fleeting, and we shouldn’t teach our kids to rely on it. Because if our kids learn that joy comes from things they can write on a list, things they don’t already have, any sort of things, they will become the kind of adults who believe that joy is elusive—outside of themselves, something that only materially blessed people have—which we know is simply not true. Joy is within the grasp of each and every one of us. Joy is looking around at what we already have and counting it all as miraculous. The only lasting joy is gratitude.
This year, I’m going to spend some energy teaching my kids about lasting joy. A good holiday season is not about making lists of stuff we wish we had. It’s about making lists of what we already have and love. We just started a Holiday Gratitude Journal with our kids. Every night we sit together and write down three things each of us is grateful for. That’s my kind of list! I share more about how our family learned to make room for gratitude in the December issue of Family Circle.
Written on November 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm , by Family Circle
Written by Jm Randolph
My husband was out of town for nearly half of 2012. I refer to that time as my Metamorphosis, only instead of waking up as a cockroach, I woke up the sole adult in a house with five stepkids. At Thanksgiving we took our first family holiday road trip: 700 miles to my mother’s house in Indianapolis, where my husband would meet us from Chicago.
I’ve driven across the country alone more than once. For five years as a touring stagehand, I lived in hotel rooms and out of suitcases; I know how to pack and move…myself, that is. Family road trips are a different beast, and my husband was gone.
My husband makes things happen; he’s like Atz Kilcher, MacGyver and Chuck Norris all rolled into one. I’m Lucille Ball, Oscar Madison and Peg Bundy, without the comedy.
As a stepparent, I constantly second-guess my abilities. My first week on the job, I let a 6-year-old go on an apple-picking trip on a 39-degree day without even realizing she wasn’t wearing a long-sleeve shirt, let alone a coat, until she came home with a note from her teacher.
So I prepped for this trip like a mother.
I laid out the minivan by feel: first-aid kit, water, tissues, hand sanitizer, trash bags, chocolate, flashlight, multi-tool and the next six CDs to go in the changer were all within arm’s reach. Each kid’s station was similarly stocked. We had enough food to last us a week in case we got stranded in a blizzard.
Bringing along Jack and Casey, our puggles, was not part of the plan.
Jack spontaneously developed kennel cough the night before his vaccination appointment. He couldn’t be vaccinated while sick, which completely changed the timing for boarding. All of a sudden I had to find a place to board the dogs in Indiana. They were road-tripping with us.
I let this news slip to one kid. Word spread, and this conversation happened five times:
Kid: The dogs are coming over 700 miles in the car with us?
Kid: Our dogs? The badly behaved ones that bark and eat everything in sight and throw up?
Kid: Are you crazy?
I definitely didn’t tell my mother. She found out from someone’s Facebook status and called me right away for reassurance that they had a place to stay. My mother’s hospitality is legendary and she easily accommodates all of us on a moment’s notice, but the puggles were not invited. They could be counted on to terrorize her cats and elderly toy poodle; if left in the garage unattended they would create a Slip ’N Slide with her Turtle Wax and eat the tread off her tires.
By 5:15 a.m. the day of departure, all eight of us were packed into the minivan. By 5:16, the dogs began crying and did not stop for the next four hours. They jockeyed for position, attempting to both be on the same lap at the same time. When that didn’t work out, they were content to displace the owner of said lap, Kid No. 4. Before this trip, she was the puggles’ biggest fan. Now she was ready to leave them at the next rest stop. I looked back and saw Nos. 4 and 5 mushed up together while Jack and Casey stretched out comfortably across two-thirds of the seat eating the last of someone’s sandwich. I’m pretty sure Casey was asking for more mayo.
We made decent time, considering, but it wasn’t enough. I was panicking when I called my sister.
Me: The boarding place closes in 15 minutes and I’m still an hour outside of town and Mom’s going to—
Beth: Come to my house. Don’t tell Mom!
Some things never change.
Even though two kids had to stay with Beth to watch our dogs (who never settled down all night and also tried to kill my sister’s dog), it worked out. We got Jack and Casey boarded the next day, and Beth and I demonstrated gratitude in action for my kids: the lesson that siblings are always there for each other and they’ll go to any lengths to keep secrets from parents.
JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.
Written on November 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm , by Jonna Gallo
A few weeks ago, I spent a memorable morning at the Mott Haven Academy Charter School in the South Bronx. Created in partnership with the New York Foundling, a well-respected social service agency, Haven Academy has a unique mission: to provide a comprehensive array of school-based services (medical care, dental checkups, counseling, you name it) to children in the child welfare system. The hope is that the school—the first of its kind in the nation—will become a nationwide model geared toward helping kids in foster care thrive despite their difficult family circumstances. I was unfamiliar with the school but fell instantly in love with its passionate principal and the cheerful, competent teachers I met in its immaculate halls and classrooms.
What brought me there specifically was a celebration of Food Day, a national movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food (think fewer sugary drinks, super-salty packaged foods and fatty meats, more fruits, vegetables and whole grains).
Two celebrity chefs, Food Network star Sunny Anderson and cookbook author Katie Lee, came to cook with nearly two dozen eager fourth-graders. (My oldest is in fourth grade, so these kids particularly touched my heart.) Katie offered up how-to’s for a flavorful bean-rich taco wrap, while Sunny shared a fantastic fruit concoction that I have made twice since. (Pineapple and coconut? Um, YES please.) Check out the recipes below and give them a try, preferably with a kid you love.
Meantime, with Thanksgiving right around the corner and plenty of reasons to be grateful, I just want to say that I’m honored to have met so many kind, concerned people at New York Foundling and Haven Academy working together to provide a brighter future for struggling kids. What a blessing.
Katie Lee’s Taco Wraps (serves 6)
You will need:
‧ 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
‧ 1 tsp olive oil
‧ 1 tbsp taco seasoning
‧ 6 whole wheat tortillas
‧ 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
‧ 1 cup baby spinach leaves or lettuce
1. In a small bowl, mash beans with olive oil and taco seasoning.
2. Spread a few tablespoons of beans on the center of each tortilla.
3. Top with cheese, spinach and a couple tablespoons of salsa.
4. Starting at the bottom, roll the sides of the tortilla over the filling. Fold edges in.
5. Wrap in a piece of wax paper and cut in half.
Sunny Anderson’s Cucumber and Orange Salad with Creamy Pineapple Dressing (serves 4 to 6)
You will need:
For the dressing
‧ ½ cup canned crushed pineapple, undrained
‧ ¼ cup sour cream
‧ 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
‧ 2 tsp sugar
‧ Kosher salt
For the salad
‧ 2 oranges
‧ 2 English cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise twice to quarter, then sliced ½ inch thick
‧ ½ cup finely chopped red onion
‧ 2 tbsp sweetened coconut flakes for garnish (optional)
1. Make the dressing. In a large bowl, combine pineapple, sour cream, apple cider vinegar and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves and is not gritty. Taste and season with a tiny pinch of salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (optional).
2. Prepare the oranges. Slice off the top and bottom of each orange to create a flat surface on both ends. With orange resting on one cut end, use a knife to cut between the flesh and the pith (white covering beneath peel), angling the knife to expose the flesh from top to bottom. Hold orange in one hand over a large bowl and carefully remove segments by sliding the knife between the flesh and the membrane that separates each segment. Repeat with second orange.
3. Toss the salad with dressing. Add cucumber, red onion and dressing to bowl with oranges. Gently toss, then serve chilled or at room temperature with a sprinkle of coconut (optional).
P.S. Don’t miss Sunny Anderson’s homemade Tomato Soup in the February 2014 issue of Family Circle, on sale January 7th!