Friday, October 31, 2014

Free e-books Friday: Christmas and Holiday Season

Since the weather outside is supposed to be frightful, I thought I'd share some free e-book readings to get you in the mood for the next set of holidays:

Need more ideas? I'm also excited to be part of the launch team for The Queen of Free's newest e-book -Keep the Happy in Your Holidays: 21 Ways to Save Time, Money, and Your Sanity This Christmas Season. (It's not free today, but a mere $1.99 at Amazon.)

While I've worked hard the last few years to NOT have additional lingering debt after the Christmas gift-giving season, I'm always on the lookout for new ideas to save money without sacrificing our traditions. Check it out!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nut-free, gluten-free, homemade-free? Options for School Parties

Gluten-free, Nut-free, Homemade-free? Options for Halloween Parties at School
The e-mail request on the surface seemed simple enough. The room mother still needed treats for the goodie bag for the class Halloween party.

And then I got to the end of the message.
Also, please make sure none of the treats include peanuts (SEVERE peanut allergy) and 2 kids are gluten free!
Wow. That moment gave me pause. Because while I've learned to adjust to my child's friends' food allergies in real life (play dates, parties, etc.), I had no idea what to do in a classroom setting. And it was even made worse by a school rule that said no homemade treats.

At one of our local stores, I scoured product after product for ideas that might satisfy both requirements. I learned quickly that there is no labeling standard for nut-free or gluten-free products. I even asked a store employee, who asked two other employees for ideas. They just looked at me sadly.

If you're in the position of searching for last-minute party bag treats as I was, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Gluten-free candiesA list of many gluten-free and gluten-friendly candies. So apparently not all candy is off the list.
  • Non-food items: Personally, I'm opposed to spider rings, stickers, plastic toys and any other item that can clutter up my home. But think about pencils, glow sticks for trick or treating, Play Dough or other ideas.
  • Carmel apples
  • Mandarin orange fruit cups decorated with a jack-o-lantern face on the top.
  • Rice Krispy Treats
  • Popcorn balls
  • Clementines decorated as a jack-o-lantern
  • Grape "Eyeballs"

Have other ideas for gluten-free, nut-free celebrations? Please share them below!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Skinnygirl Cocktails: Mix Up Your Celebrations

Drinking beverages of any caloric kind tend to leave me with guilt the moment they hit my lips. The caloric count. The carbohydrate count. Not to mention alcohol and what it might do to lower my guard against other foods going in my mouth.

That's why I was excited to check out Bethenny Frankel's latest book, Skinnygirl Cocktails: 100 Fun & Flirty Guilt-Free Recipes.

I'm loving the everyday and not so everyday ideas for celebrating with your friends.

Here are a couple of ideas for toasting with your friends, particularly as we celebrate the upcoming holidays:

For Halloween parties

white cranberry martini | Skinnygirl cocktails
White Crampire Blood Martini

Serves 2-3
16 ounces Skinnygirl White Cranberry Cosmo
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1/2 cup frozen backberries
black licorice twists for garnish

Combine the Cosmo, vodka and blackberries in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain into chilled martini glasses. Garnish with black licorice.

For Christmas parties

holiday peppermint martini | Skinnygirl Cocktails Peppermint Martini

5 ounces Skinnygirl Bare Naked Vodka or other vodka
splash of peppermint schnapps
splash of club soda
Mini candy cane, finely crushed, plus 1 short peppermint stick for garnish

Combine the vodka and peppermint schnapps with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake well. Rim a martini glass with water and the crushed candy. Strain the drink into the glass and garnish with the peppermint stick.

Recipes copyright © 2014 by Bethenny Frankel.  From the book SKINNYGIRL COCKTAILS by Bethenny Frankel, published by Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Photos © 2014 by Lucy Schaeffer. Printed by permission. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Seed sale - Seed Savers Exchange

Need an excuse to stock up for next spring? Seed Savers Exchange has a number of 2014 season heirloom seeds and organic seeds at 50 percent off. While it's a somewhat small selection, it's a way to stock up on tomato, cucumber, flower and other seeds at a reasonable price. Seed starting is just around the corner!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

20 Free E-books to Try: Slow Cooking, Paleo, Clean Eating and More

Free E-books available on Amazon today. Check them out and post what you think!

  1. 50 Christmas Slow Cooker Recipes: Delicious and delectable Dishes for this holiday season
  2. 35 Recipes For Slow Cooker Soup, Slow Cooker Stew and Slow Cooker Chili (The Slow Cooker Meals And Slow Cooker Recipes Collection Book 2)
  3. Your Favorite Foods - Paleo Style Part 1 and Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes: 2 Book Combo (Caveman Cookbooks)
  4. Slow Cooking Heaven: Farmhouse Kitchen Recipes - Top Recipes From The Slow Cooking, Healthy Eating Cookbook 
  5. Slow Cooker Comfort Foods 
  6. Clean Food Diet: Avoid processed foods and eat clean with few simple lifestyle changes(free nutrition recipes)(natural food recipes) (Special Diet Cookbooks & Vegetarian Recipes Collection Book 4) 
  7. 40 Top Paleo Recipes - Quick and Easy Paleo Diet Recipes For Weight Loss & Optimum Health (Paleolithic Diet Cookbook) 
  8. Clean Eating: The Clean Eating Ultimate Cookbook And Diet Guide! - Low Fat, Paleo, And Low Carb Recipes For Maximum Weight Loss And To Boost Your Metabolism ... Diet, Flexible Diet, IIFYM, Get In Shape)
  9. Organic Eating On A Budget: How To Buy Affordable Organic Foods To Achieve A Healthier Diet And Lifestyle 
  10. Clean Meals For Kids and Slow Cooker Recipes: 2 Book Combo (Clean Eats) 
  11. Indian Food Recipes and On-The-Go Recipes: 2 Book Combo (Clean Eats) 
  12. The Art of Paleo Breakfast: How to Make Delicious Paleo Breakfasts in your own Home
  13. Smoothie Recipes for Weight Loss - 30 Delicious Detox, Cleanse and Green Smoothie Diet Book 
  14. Healthy Diet: Detox as a Way of Life (Healthy Food Cookbook Book 4)
  15. Superfood Smoothie Recipes: Delicious and Healthy Superfood Smoothie Recipes (Superfoods, Superfood Smoothies, Superfood Smoothie Recipe Book, Superfood Smoothie,Superfood Smoothie Recipes Book 2) 
  16. 43 Paleo Smoothie Recipes - Simple & Easy Paleo Smoothie Recipes (Paleo Recipes Book 17)
  17. Healthy Smoothie Recipes: Green Smoothie Recipes, made with Antioxidant Foods including Complete Nutritional Information 
  18. Ultimate Healthy Snack List including Healthy Snacks for Adults & Healthy Snacks for Kids: Discover over 130 Healthy Snacks Recipes 
  19. 31 Perfect Fitness Smoothies 
  20. Natural Beauty: Ancient Natural Beauty Secrets! - Organic Superfoods, Essential Oils, Natural Remedies, Homeade Beauty Recipes, Skin Care Secrets, And ... Alkaline Foods, Ten Years Younger)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Helping Haiti: Lessons in Love, Jewelry and Making a Difference

Helping Haiti: Our Junior Girl Scouts' jewelry badge project earned enough to sponsor two students for a year in Haiti.Never underestimate some cast-off jewelry and a bunch of fourth-grade girls.

This is the story of how trash became treasure and a life-changing moment for some girls in Indiana and in Haiti.

What started as a simple project for our Junior Girl Scout Jeweler Badge became an act of love and a major fundraising effort for scholarships for children at our mission church in Haiti.

Yes, our girls learned about creating unique designs from unwanted necklaces, but they learned more. They learned about how seemingly small efforts can build together and make a difference.

Our assignment? Design a necklace for yourself and one other person (meeting two of our badge requirements, one to make a piece of jewelry, and the other to make one to share.)

I was floored when one girl asked if we could sell them for Haiti. And even more so when the rest of the troop agreed.

upcycled necklaces for our Junior Girl Scout Jewelry BadgeWhat began as a simple scrapbook paper and Modge-Podge project became a whirlwind of activity. Nearly 200 necklaces were created for a sale to benefit our Hearts for Haiti program, which in part provides scholarships for children to attend school.

The girls started with a dream: Raise money for Haiti.

And then it grew.

Inspired by their idea and business lessons from another jewelry company that helps out disenfranchised women in Africa, the troop set pricing, learned about marketing (as in, no we don't need a website for a one-time sale, but there are better ways to spread the word), and set a business goal.

They dreamt big.
Hearts for Haiti fundraiser

It was a reach, but we hoped to sell enough necklaces to raise enough for three scholarships for students in Haiti. Our eye-opening moment: A year's tuition was a mere $300 compared to American standards. 

jewelry fundraiser for hearts for haiti scholarships

We didn't quite make the full three scholarships, but we were inspired. And inspired others. Tens and twenties were dropped in the donation jar and as the church service times passed, our goal reached higher....

Four services later, these girls raised more than $700 - allowing for two students to attend school worry-free for a year. We're proud. But we're even prouder of the kids in their class, when the results were announced at school, who want to something too.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Disconnected. What Being Offline Reminded Me

Life without blogging, or social media, or even cell phone service. Yes it can be done!

Imagine how we lived without it. But recent moments have reminded me just how truly dependent we have become on those technologies.

I took an unplanned pause from blogging recently due to a major, unplanned project at work (read: ebola crisis communications). I told my kids that "Mommy has homework to learn about a yucky disease." My unscheduled moments were spent learning everything I could about the disease and developing a communications plan that was a flu epidemic plan on steroids. And I hadn't even touched the employee no-show issues before I left for fall break. So far, we'd been blessed to not have a case in the Midwest.

Disconnected: What being offline reminded meWhile blogging admittedly takes time to do, what I didn't anticipate was the drop in my "social" social media use, too. Instead of checking out my friends' latest escapades and connecting with them online, I refocused my attention to the social media use of work. And I learned it's tough disconnecting completely once you've trained your brain that way. On Fall Break, I sent the disaster coordinator and media manager a text about the second ebola patient, to which I was reprimanded to go back to vacation. And here, I thought a 48-hour media blackout on my part was completely remarkable.

It's taken me some time to re-adjust to a life without relying on the Internet and my smart phone. On day 3, we got a group text on an update on a crisis. Immediately I responded with "What do I need to monitor." And I am so glad I was re-reminded to unplug and go back on vacation.

It wasn't until day 5 until I could get on Facebook - to post some of my kids' pictures - without having the gut reaction of "There's activity on the work page; I need to check it" as I react multiple times a day. I am blessed to work with colleagues who are more than capable of filling in on customer service and other concerns in my absence, and I need to trust them.

My moment of realization, though, was on our return trip home. My husband, a loyal Royals fan for decades, was tracking Game 4 on his ESPN app while I drove. KC was one out away from the World Series. And Sprint service cut out. For a long 30-minute drive, my husband sadly stared at the red X at the top of the bars and waited. No text updates from his parents. No way to call them. Nothing but wonder.

And that's when it hit me. Just a few short years ago, we would have caught the scores on the radio when they came on, or saw the headlines later. Or, like my 6-year-old does each morning, ask another person "Did we win? What was the score?"

We don't always have to be recording the moment, or getting an app to track the moment. Sometimes, we can just connect with the moment. Just us. In person. Enjoying it all with our senses.