Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Creative (and Easy) DIY Holiday Decorating Tips

 It’s officially the holiday season, and I’ve been itching for new ways to decorate my house for all of the upcoming seasonal festivities. And while I love my Santa Claus collection and beautiful (fake) tree, I’m looking for a fresh, classic holiday spread this season. So I turned to my favorite inspiration spot, Pinterest (if you haven’t checked it out, do it! But I warn you, it’s addicting) in search of quick, easy DIY décor projects, and as always, I was pleasantly surprised at the hundreds of chic suggestions. After sifting through pages upon pages of Christmas crafts, here are a few of my favorites that I’m definitely decking the halls with this season:

  • Have Fun with Ornaments

Ornaments are as essential to Christmas as eggs are to Easter. They are gorgeous, ornate, and come in all shapes, sizes, and shades of sparkle. So why only stick these gems on the tree? I love the idea of hanging holiday-hued ornaments from the chandelier above my dining room table: a sophisticated addition that’ll spruce up my boring light fixture. I think the contrast between fresh garland and the pop of red is breathtaking.  Plus, this craft is super easy: tie seasonal ribbon to various-sized ornaments and hang from random spots on the chandelier. The trick is to make sure the ornaments hang at different heights. For mantles, shelves, or other tabletop décor, try stacking embellished ornaments and pinecones in vases for an elegant centerpiece.
  • Use Your Containers Wisely

Who knew your everyday containers could be so Christmas-cute? I’m obsessed with the idea of covering old tissue boxes with seasonal goodies like wrapping paper, bows, peppermints, garland, and other embellishments! All you need are your preferred embellishments, some hot glue, and lots of cute ribbon! Also, your hurricane dishes, vases, and containers would be so cute filled with Christmas bows, ornaments (of course!), peppermints, and seasonal scented candles! The key to using the containers you have around the house: be creative and stick to one color scheme.
  • Try a Little Wordplay

I’m a sucker for monograms, so I was instantly drawn to these scrapbook paper letters! This craft is beyond doable:  buy large wooden letters and paper at the craft store, trace the letters onto the paper and cut out the shapes, and then decoupage the papers onto the wooden letters. For a little bit of holiday glitz, add glitter to the decoupage paste or accent with rhinestones.  And how cute are these initialed gifts? Wrap a few gifts in neautral paper, tie with a ribbon, and add an initial to the top of the package. Easy, simple, and such a chic under-the-tree décor idea!

About the Author: Molly Borter is a little obsessed when it comes to the holiday season and is always searching for fabulous décor and entertaining ideas. When she’s not going Christmas crazy, she works as an affordable fashion writer and enjoys following the latest in aviator sunglasses and knee socks, spending time with her family, and keeping up with seasonal styles.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Summer Savings in the Winter

So, we have the tree up and it's halfway decorated. I'm still reticent to pack away the short sleeved shirts and pull out any thing with a long sleeve. Anything. Period. Instead, I just crank the heat all the way up to 80 degrees and wear short sleeved shirts all day. I can't stand the cold! Anyone who knows me knows that I can't stand the winter, either...long cold months that seem to never end are not my cup of tea - or, rather, cup of coffee. (Those who know me also know that I'm the coffee drinker.)

Fab Summer Clothing with Cheap Tags

Hey, this is the time of year to find short sleeved shirts on clearance in stores - and especially online! Like the ones that I was just checking out earlier today on the Aeropostale online clearance rack. Just wait until that summer weather is completely...and I mean, completely gone, and the prices will drop down in the single digits. When those first snowflakes fall in front of the merchandisers around the area, watch them start scurrying around the stores, marking the summer tickets down.

Fab Anytime Clothing with Cheap Tags

Believe it or not, there were some cool jeans marked from over $50 to nearly $15 in the online clearance department at Aeropostale, too. So, it's all in where you look and when you look if you're seeking deals.

Of course - and unfortunately - we all have to leave the house once in a while during the winter. Oh, how I wish I could just stay inside! However, we can't. Especially if we are the mom of the house. (And, to be quite honest, no matter how cold it gets, this mom of seven needs to get out!) So, with that said, a quick glance around, and I find out that Aeropostale has slashed the price tags on even their adorable winter stuff, too! Some of the New Arrivals can even be found online for half off!

Just thought I'd let you know! Don't you love a good deal?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Foodie shortcuts - 4 quick and simple recipes for families this Christmas

It's that time of year for family gatherings and foods to celebrate the holidays. You would like to serve your family and friends a healthy meal, but do not want to spend much time in the kitchen. You want to spend more time celebrating the holidays with your family and loved ones. It can be done. Here are some Christmas foodie shortcuts that contain four quick and simple recipes for families this Christmas. Get all family members into the kitchen, including your kids, to help out and reduce your stress level.

For a snack, make some:

Holiday Stuffed Celery Sticks

    * Buy a bunch of celery hearts or celery. Cut off the bottom 1" portion of the celery bunch, so you can easily separate the stalks. Clean thoroughly with cold water and cut into 2" pieces. *

    * Divide the celery stalks into two portions. One portion will go onto the serving tray. The other portion needs to be set aside for filling purposes.

    * Prepare a large serving tray by placing a large cup in the center part. Place one portion of the celery chunks onto one-half of the tray. For more variety, place some peeled baby carrots on the tray. Let the kids place the veggies on the tray, it's simple and easy.

    * For the filling, let a package of cream cheese sit at room temperature for an hour. This allows the cheese to soften enough to work with properly.

    * Make a filling called Herbed Cream Cheese. This recipe calls for:

Placing one package of softened cream cheese into a small mixing bowl.

Chop up some fresh parsley, basil, rosemary and thyme.

Add the herbs to the creamed cheese.

Mix the herbs into the cream cheese until evenly distributed.

Divide the mixture in half.

Place half the herbed cheese mixture into the serving cup on the large vegetable serving tray.

Use the other half to fill the center of the celery sticks.

Have the kids help fill up the celery sticks. It's easy and fun.

Or, for ease, simply mix the creamed cheese with some dried Italian seasoning.

    * For variety, have the kids fill up some celery sticks with peanut butter. Placing some raisins on top adds extra taste and fun.

Starter Recipe:

Have a tasty and nutritious bowl of minestrone soup as your starter dish. For a quick and simple recipe, buy a bag of cut fresh veggies. Find a bag from your grocery store that contains broccoli, carrots, onions and cauliflower.

    * Fill a Dutch oven with 4 cups of water.

    * Place the pan on a stove burner over medium heat.

    * Add the veggies to the water.

    * Add two 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes.

    * Add 2 tbsp Italian seasoning.

    * Add one 15-oz. can kidney beans.

    * Bring the water to boil and stir thoroughly.

    * Reduce heat and cook for about 20 minutes, until veggies are tender.

    * Serve with crackers or bread for a simple and quick starter dish.

Main Course Recipe:

Casseroles are great main courses that do not require much time in the kitchen, giving you more time to enjoy the festivities.

Let's make a Turkey Veggie Casserole

    * Mix in a large mixing bowl:

3 cups cooked turkey, diced

1 cup carrot, peeled and sliced

1 cup broccoli, cut into pieces

1 medium onion, sliced

1 8-ounce mushroom gravy

1 cup water

1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning

    * Preheat oven to 350.

    * Prepare a stoneware or glass casserole dish by lightly spraying with oil. Place the ingredients into the casserole dish. Cover. Cook for 30 minutes, until you can poke the veggies easily with a fork or knife.

    * Serve warm with a roll.

Dessert Recipe:

Peach Smiles

Kids love peach smiles because they are fun. Adults love them because they are healthy.

    * For this simple and quick dessert recipe, you will need some raisins and canned peaches. Get some canned cling peaches that are cut in half. Buy the peaches that are canned in their own juice to cut down on sugar.

    * Have the kids place a peach in the center of a small serving plate. Then, as a demonstration, place a raisin where the eyes, nose and smiling mouth would be. Squirt on some whipped cream for the hair. Give everyone a spoon and let them enjoy!

    * Not only will you be serving nutritious food that your family can enjoy, you will be spending less time in the kitchen preparing it.

Contributed by Claire from

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Winter of Warmth...

It's cold up here in Lockport, New York! Chilly-freeze cold! And, we haven't even made it to the real cold weather yet...

Which brings me to daydream about warm summer days and places like epcot resort hotels that seem like they're millions of miles away. Then, I'm led to surfing websites with pretty pools and sunny, blue skies like the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin...

Ahh! It looks so relaxing and welcoming right now. Restaurants and lounges that remind you that you're in a completely different world away from home. Like a Java Bar stock full of a variety of coffees, cappuccinos and lattes and a Splash Grill that caters burgers, pizza and sandwiches right next to the outdoor lap pool. Or better yet, I could take a stroll to the Fresh Mediterranean Market for foods that gained inspiration from different spots around the world, cooked right in font of me...

Taking the kids to the Garden Grove will be the highlight of the trip, where we would snap pictures of their playful interaction with Disney characters. I can imagine my two-year-old resisting hugs from Mickey or Pluto because he's "scared", similar to how he acted at Chuck E Cheese's this summer.

And then I wake up and look out the window, once again realizing that a winter of warmth for me will be sitting inside, as close to the fireplace as I can get, coffee in hand.

Money-Saving Driving Habits that Can Save on Gas

Gas prices are so high that moms almost feel as if they are pouring their money into the tank. Traveling to soccer practice, dance lessons, field trips, and dental appointments can keep moms hopping, and the fuel necessary for these errands can quickly strain the family cash flow. However, you will be delighted to know that certain actions and driving habits can reduce the family’s gasoline consumption. If all drivers in the family were to practice the following tips, the money spent on fuel could be reduced by as much as 30%. This, in turn reduces harmful emissions that seriously impact the environment.

Before You Get Behind the Wheel

Few people realize just how much money can be saved with proper car maintenance and planning. Taking a few minutes of time with the following checklist could make a tank of gas go a lot farther:

• Unload any unnecessary weight from the car or truck before running errands. This means that the trunk should not become a storage vehicle for sporting equipment, golf clubs, or bikes.

• Plan your route meticulously, taking into consideration the shortest distance, the number of stop signs or red lights, traffic congestion, and detours.

• Keep the car’s mechanical components in excellent condition by frequently checking filters, spark plugs, sensors, and tire pressure.

• Remove items from the vehicle, such as luggage or bike racks, that change its aerodynamics.

As You Control the Vehicle

The driver may have as much impact on mileage as the type and condition of the automobile. Use these suggestions to raise the number of miles that you get from each tank of fuel:

• Keep all starts and stops smooth and easy.

• Stay at a constant speed, using the cruise control when on the interstate or in open traffic.

• Always keep the pace around fifty miles per hour for optimum fuel efficiency.

• Use the air conditioner only when comfort makes it imperative.

• Rather than idling for long periods of time as you wait in line, turn off the engine to conserve fuel.

• Always use overdrive your car is equipped with it, unless the terrain is particularly hilly.

• Do not ride the bumper of the car in front of you; this makes you start and stop every time the other driver does and causes the car to guzzle gasoline.

Moms can have a great impact on the family budget by finding ways to save when purchasing fuel. Carpooling, public transport, walking, and biking may be options for some family activities. It may also be useful to check the internet for the cheapest fuel prices that are closest to home. It never makes sense to drive a long distance to fill up with fuel that is cheaper by just a few pennies per gallon. Instead, do the research without driving, and use the information wisely. By saving on fuel now, the family may eventually be able to afford a more cost effective vehicle which will do some of the saving for you.

Jane Simpson writes for an auto loan calculator site and loves learning new money-saving tricks. She tries to follow the advice in this post to cut her spending and enjoys the challenge of getting more miles out of each gallon of fuel.

Friday, November 25, 2011

How to Coupon Without Being Extreme

Imagine walking out of the grocery store with an overflowing cart for just a few dollars. There are people accomplishing this every day. Extreme couponers specialize in maximizing savings. Their methods are so amazing that TLC actually has a show dedicated to this lifestyle. Here are some tips on how the passionate couponers do it, and how you can use coupons without being extreme.

Get Organized

The coupons won’t do you any good if you don’t have them with you. Take some time every Sunday to sit down and clip the coupons you think you’ll use. Put them in a little binder. Shoppers in the extreme shows use 3-ring binders, but you can choose a more stylish option. Select awesome coupon organizers online that are attractive and easy to use. Every time you head to the store, take your coupon organizer along.

Clip Only What You Will Buy

There are extreme couponers who will clip any coupon that will save them money, even if they don't need the product. This is great if they are buying for a food pantry. However, it can prove to be a waste of money and storage space for the average family. Only take the coupons you believe you will use. Buying items just because they are cheap is wasteful.

Store Ads

One of the keys to couponing successfully is to stack the savings. Use your coupons on items that are on sale. Enjoy greater savings by frequenting stores that will double or even triple your coupons. Find the best deals by comparing ads against the coupons you have collected. If you don’t have a coupon for a sale item, visit the manufacturer’s website to see if they are offering printable coupons.

Finding Coupons

TLC shows people dumpster diving for discarded coupons and spending hours scouring the Internet for savings. This is a time-intensive undertaking, one that is a little too extreme for most people. There’s no need to dig through the neighbor's trash. You can find coupons in the Sunday paper and even on the shelves at the store. When you start looking, you will notice that coupons are actually everywhere. Look in magazines and in the mail. Visit the websites of your favorite manufacturers and sites that are designed specifically for coupons. Finally, work out a swap with friends so you can each get more of the coupons you are interested in.

Buy in Bulk

Extreme couponers buy in bulk. They take advantage of the deals when they are available. While this is a great strategy, it should be done with care. You don’t want to stockpile so many paper towels that you lose living space in the house. Take care when buying perishable items. The coupons don’t present any kind of savings if the food winds up going bad.

You can save money by using coupons. Expect to spend a little time clipping and organizing them each week. You will also spend a little more time on grocery shopping as you find the best deals and select the coupons you will use. However, you don’t have to make couponing a full-time job. With these easy tips, you can use coupons to save money without going overboard.

Need a resource for online coupons in the UK? Check out the leader in online coupons Coupon Croc. It comes highly recommended by Tom Blanchard a couponer for over 20 years.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Searching For Freelancing Jobs Online

As a freelancer (and a mom of seven), I say that we freelancers "hustle" for jobs. Of course, many of us have our own client bases, and are quite overwhelmed with work, with plenty to spare for colleagues. Some of us maintain a steady stream of work, but every so often, there are..unexpected...breaks in the work.

Oh, yes, and it comes right around the holidays, doesn't it?!? Or, well, it did for me, anyways. It was short-lived, the break in work - exactly a week, because I immediately hopped onto the old places that I haven't frequented in over a year...

Elance, craigslist, Career Builder...okay, I went a little nuts trying to find some work for about 72 hours and then I decided to take a break for the weekend. And, on Monday (well, it would have been on Friday, but I figured if I hadn't heard from anyone by the early afternoon, I could give it up until Monday), there was work. A breath of fresh air and a major step away from feeling like I'm in an ocean full of freelancing fish who are swimming around trying to find some work, essentially taking what they can get.

There's a huge world of freelancers - you're competing against people from all over the world, who can speak various languages or might hold master's and Ph.D.'s. They all have their own areas of expertise in the world, whether it is business management and finances, e-commerce and marketing, social sciences, human resources, social media, HTML, or Travel Nursing. I mean, everyone's an "expert" about something, right? So, you better either be the expert of something, have a super-expensive degree or just really be able to consistently compose brilliant work

Anyways, I feel blessed at the moment because I actually have some work, while I know that there are many freelancers who are desperately seeking something - anything - to do right now. And, for those of you who are the ones desperately seeking something to do...forget about craiglist. You'll rarely get answers back and some ads are spam. Freelancer has consistently cheap "employers", while Elance and Guru have the occasional intelligent employers who know that they are going to get what they pay for, right off the bat - and are willing to pay freelancers the money that they deserve for all of their hard work and hours committed to the research and writing.

I highly recommend people to NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK, no matter what industry you work in. You never know who you will meet, what connections they might have, and what opportunities may come from networking. Socializing on the networking sites on the web, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, can all be extremely helpful tools for finding and keeping work, too.

Does anyone else out there have any experiencing with seeking and finding freelance work? What has worked for you? What hasn't?

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's Thanksgiving Day! This morning, I will be preparing the big bird and all of the yummy yummies that we'll be eating...for the next week. LOL

Yes, we'll be eating turkey today. Turkey sandwiches tomorrow. Turkey salad the next day. Turkey soup the next...LOL Just kidding. But, we did get a big bird!

I have so much to be thankful for that I'm not even going to make a list this year. Let's just say that I stay thankful.

What are you thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Seven Super-Simple and Very Speedy Sweet Santa Treats

Who has time to bake? Who has the privilege of not baking? These super-simple recipes make holiday baking about as quick and simple as it can be.

This collection of seven Santa favorites focuses on speedy, simple preparation and sweet results. Designed for maximum impact with minimal effort, these recipes will not help you work your way onto a Bravo reality show, but they do have just enough “wow factor” to satisfy Christmas-spirited kids, pacify nit-picking mothers-in-law, and inspire the one affirmation you want most—a hearty “Ho, ho, ho!” from the big man himself.

The women who pioneered these recipes openly confess, “All measures are approximate, because I have made these things so often my instinct and intuition substitute for measuring cups and spoons.” In fact, the women say these formulae and procedures are not recipes any more; they have become reflexes. They also admit they rely on commercial chefs’ stock-in trade: presentation is everything. If it looks delicious, it is delicious.

Two easy “mousse” pies—These pie recipes are so easy and so deceptive it really feels like cheating, but they have proven absolutely 100% failure proof, making the unsuspecting believe you are a pastry genius. The originators of this recipe base believe “the difference between pudding and ‘mousse’ comes from whipping cream, egg whites, vanilla, and attitude.” In fact, they stress attitude. They prepare regular old instant chocolate pudding with whipped egg whites, two teaspoons of vanilla, and heavy whipping cream, aggressively whipping it until it peaks, and then styling it into pre-made Oreo-cookie or graham cracker pie crusts. The secret to Santa satisfaction: applying the whipped cream with a pastry bag, delicately fashioning little whipped cream flowers around the pies’ edges and at their centers.

Super-easy “sweet potato” pie—From the same “keepin’-it-real housewives” who brought you the mousse pies, a variation on the basic formula with a distinctly seasonal flavor. Pour one can of pre-cooked yams and the syrup into a mixing bowl, adding a cup of brown sugar, two teaspoons of vanilla and a generous dose of pumpkin pie spice. Use a potato masher to pre-mix the ingredients; then, add whipped whites from two eggs. Slowly mix-in heavy whipping cream, beating the mix until it achieves the consistency of mousse. Style into a pre-made graham cracker pie crust and garnish with homemade whipped cream florets. Lightly sprinkle with nutmeg—more for looks than flavor.

• Fruit-filled crepes—Lighten-up and sweeten standard Bisquick pancake recipe with egg-whites whipped until they peak like meringue, confectioner’s sugar to sweeten the mix, extra milk to thin the batter, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla to add flavor; add a teaspoon of baking powder to maximize the “puff.” Cook as usual, and then roll-wrap each crepe around a generous portion of your favorite pie filling; an ice cream scoop works well for proper and uniform portioning. Garnish with your signature homemade whipped cream and appropriately colored sprinkles.

• The Tole House Holiday Upgrade—These simple adjustments to the time-honored Nestle tole house recipe take the drudgework out of preparing cookies in volume—as in cookie exchanges, contributions to the middle school bake sale, or baking for a crowd. You probably know the tole house cookie recipe by heart; for the holidays, go ahead and add the nuts. If you’re feeling really festive, add red and green M&Ms. Mix-in a little chocolate syrup to make the batter extra moist, and then bake the mix according to the “bar style” instructions on the Nestle chocolate chip wrapper, using a well-greased 10x15 Pyrex baking dish so that the bar is slightly thinner than the Nestle instructions suggest. When the cookies have cooled, carefully cut them into 1” x 1” squares, and decorate each square with red-dyed cream cheese frosting—the standard pastry-bag floret we know and love. Add sprinkles as needed. Wrap and deliver.

• Pumpkin bread—Every family has its favorite recipes for the standard assortment of sweet breads—banana, zucchini, and pumpkin. If you have them, of course, remember them and use them. This pumpkin bread recipe, however, may lay the foundation for a family’s new traditions, because it is wonderfully simple and blissfully inexpensive. In one bowl, mix pumpkin pie filling, raisins or currants, oil, sugar, molasses, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the basic baking ingredients--flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Combine the contents of your two bowls and mix thoroughly; then, pour the mix into a properly greased loaf pan, and bake for an hour. This version of the recipe deserves passage from young mothers to young daughters. For details on this recipe, and for more super-simple versions of old favorites, look here.

• Double-layer pumpkin cheesecake— The appeal in this recipe originates in its clever deception: It looks as if it must require sophisticated skills, because the pie is, after all, layered. “How do you do that?” people wonder. You prepare the basic cheesecake recipe, using one cup of your standard mix as the bottom layer. Then, you mix the rest with pumpkin pie filling, and the usual flavorings, spreading the mixture on top of the cheesecake foundation. Voila. For full ingredients and instructions, look here.

• Grandma’s by-far-the-best carrot-cake cupcakes—As the best, most honest food writers attest, the real appeal in carrot cake is the cream-cheese frosting. Grandma hid her special secret in an obvious place: She added maple syrup to her standard cream cheese frosting, and applied “the taste of Christmas” to her carrot cupcakes in little flowers, so that the sweetness would not overwhelm the cake’s more subtle flavor. Her other secret was more carefully hidden. Grandma understood that, unless she kept her cakes moist, they would crumble to pieces as they came out of the cupcake pans. Therefore, she included a full 1 1/3 cups of canola oil in her batter, and she grated the carrots as fine as possible to distribute their natural moisture. The formula was perfect. For more great recipes like this one, look here.

One very important footnote: Santa enjoys practically any sweet treat when you serve it with his favorite “anti-freeze” egg nog…wink, wink.

Event planner Sylvia Carlton loves to embellish her themes with desserts from fabulous designers like Heather Barranco of Dreamcakes, a standout artist in the niche New York specialty cakes business.

Photo credits: choco cream pie by janineomg/flickr; Sweet Potato Pie by TheHungryDudes/flickr; Chocolate Chip Bars by Heather Kennedy/flickr; The Grand Central Baking Book Pumpkin Bread by Mike McCune/flickr; Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake by Gausshawn/allrecipes; Carrot cupcakes by joyosity/flickr

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Life Insurance for Your Parents...

I know it's a difficult topic to discuss with and death. Even further, talking about life insurance with any loved one can certainly be an extremely touchy subject to broach. However, if we never discuss the difficult subjects, who will?

I know that I've touched on the subject of life insurance before...because I've often wondered what would happen to my children if something were to happen to me. But, thinking beyond that, what would happen to your mother or father if the other were to...let's say "not be around anymore"? Better yet, although grim, who would pay for the expenses of the burial alone?

Ah, yes...there will be the burial fees and the ceremony to pay for...and that can add up just like a wedding can. So, I know that you've heard of AARP, but you're probably not really familiar, because we haven't made it that far in life yet to really have to consider it. But, our parents have. So, maybe we should be taking a look into it. Seniors life insurance may not be something that we want to talk about...but can we afford not to?

Do you know the bills or outstanding debt that your parents will leave as their legacy? How about the mortgage payment? Okay, and maybe they don't have any debt, but they may want to leave behind something special for their children - you! - and their grandchildren - your children! - when they move onto that better place in the Heavens...

So, let me ask you...can you afford not to bring up the subject of life insurance to your parents?

Have You Experienced Identity Theft?

I haven't personally experienced identity theft, and to be quite honest, I'm not sure if anyone would want to steal my identity. :) Hey, if you steal my identity, you're going to have to take everything else that comes with it! You're going to have to come to my house and take care of seven children 24-7, deal with sleepless nights and hectic days...

On a serious note - because identity theft is serious to those who have suffered through the ordeal - IdentityHawk offers a comprehensive identity theft protection service to anyone who wants to ensure that their credit...and, ultimately, their lives, are protected. Think about how easily our information can be obtained, no matter how careful we are. Everything revolves around online and automatic payments to our creditors...we are quick to provide our credit card information to online stores and over-the-phone vendors. How do we know that our personal information is safe?

Identity theft protection is just a few steps away with IndentityHawk. Not only do they evaluate and present you with an identity health score, they will also point out all of the different aspects of your life that offer opportunities to snakes who steal identities for a living. What I learned from their website is that identity theft is just the first step to identity fraud...and, call me dumb, but I thought they were the same thing! No...identity theft occurs when someone actually steals the information...the act of using that information is the "fraud".

After reading their website, I've realized that we all could take a hit at any time. But it doesn't have to be that way, when there are companies like IdentityHawk.

Here's the best part...they offer a 30-day trial to get you started on you way to security.

Have you ever dealt with identity theft or fraud? How did you handle it? Have you ever worked with a company like IdentityHawk? Let me know your thoughts...

Gourmet Gift Basket Review & Military Donation Opp! Spread the Cheer This Season!

It is always an extreme pleasure working with! This year, for the holidays, I'm featuring an exciting gift basket! It's's Christmas Gift Basket Classic.

My first thought when I saw it was, "Ooooh! A beautiful basket to add to my collection!" Because, yes, I am a Basket Queen! Forget what's inside! I have baskets on my mantle, baskets on my television, baskets on my dresser, baskets in my kitchen. Count 'em...I have no idea how many baskets I have around the house! So, the basket itself is a quality basket, and it's one of the bigger ones that I currently have now.

Inside the're going to find the perfect combination for anyone who loves Christmas!

Let's start with the almighty Chocolate Covered Cherries, the Dark Chocolate Bar, Dipping Pretzels, Cheese Biscuits, Almond Pecan-dy Crunch, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and much more! This is definitely one of those Christmas baskets that anyone will enjoy.

It's a perfect centerpiece for Christmas dinner or a present for someone who's difficult to buy for. Additionally, at only $59.99, it's priced at a steal, considering all of the gourmet stuff that it has inside of the packaging! We're going to save it for Christmas day...that's if the children let me get away with it!

Attention Bloggers: Military Donations for Christmas!

There are still, unfortunately, many military members oversees this upcoming holiday. is presenting the opportunity to bloggers to help spread the holiday cheer this year. All you have to do is:

1) Choose one of the Christmas gift baskets from here.

2) The topic of your post should discuss the Christmas gift selection that offers.

3) Write up a review of the gift basket of your choice from the link above and explain how you think it would be a great gift choice. Be sure to include the proper links in your post. For each blog post that is written about their Christmas Gifts selection, they will donate two care packages to military personnel.

4) Schedule the post for publishing between November 21st and December 14th and leave me a comment with the URL and I will pass the URL's onto the rep. Please be sure to post and leave me a message by Dec 14th to ensure the delivery of the gift baskets is on time for the soldiers to receive by Christmas!

It costs you nothing to donate something this year! Just a little time to write a blog post and you can pat yourself on the back for doing your good deed for Christmas! So, spread the word to other bloggers and start blogging! Just don't forget to leave a comment with the URL to ensure that the baskets make it to the soldiers!

Thanks, for the opportunity to review yet another one of your spectacular baskets this Christmas! I was provided a gift basket to review, no compensation was paid for this post. All opinions are mine.

Call Santa...or God

Just a quick note this morning, as the children head off to school. Two of my older children who know better than to argue and fight in the morning were...of course, arguing. No, my children are not very far from that.

So, I put out that same warning I've been using a lot lately: "Should I call Santa?"

And, my 4 year old piped up to put his two cents in: "Yeah, call Santa....or God."

Monday, November 21, 2011

20% to $75% off At One Step Ahead

Ah, yes! The Christmas shopping season is creeping up on us! Forget Black Friday! Sales are popping up early everywhere this year!

Like the 3 Day Sale, starting today, at One Step Ahead. If you click on the banner to the right, you can also take advantage of $10 off your first order, too. 

Happy Shopping!

Ten Easy Ways to Decorate Your Home for Christmas

Tangled lights, clumsy cold fingers, and wobbling ladders are a dangerous way to decorate your home. Avoid the stress by decorating from the ground up with bright colors, natural products, and creative uses for those old strings of lights.

Ice Luminaries

This is a fun and inexpensive project the whole family can do together. Use different sized containers, food coloring, fall leaves, or evergreen boughs to create unique, environmentally-friendly ice blocks that can be lit with either candles or C9 LED lights. You can find instructions here

Porch Christmas Tree
If you have an artificial tree you aren't using indoors, set it on a porch. Decorate it with simple, colorful ornaments from a dollar store and light it up! Or, if you want less clean up, decorate it with shredded paper tinsel and strings of popcorn and berries that the squirrels and birds will haul away for you.

Tall Topiaries
A simple metal framework wrapped in lights, creates visual lift without having to take lights to the roof. Just make sure the base is weighted enough to keep them upright in the wind.

Bird Bath Bundles
Pile festive balls, evergreen trimmings and ribbon into an artful decoration for you unused summer birdbath. Run lights out to it to create a bright spot in the middle of your yard with very little fuss.

Wreaths on Windows
If you can access your outside frames from the inside, hanging wreathes over your windows will add a classy holiday touch to your exterior without having to climb a ladder. You can even buy pre-lit and decorated wreathes at for quick and easy decorations year after year.

Garlanded Entrances
With only a stepstool or sturdy chair, you can hang swaged and lit evergreen garlands over the entrance to your home that will give your guests a warm greeting. Look for over-sized Christmas balls or bows to accent the corners, too. (pic url=

Evergreen Window Boxes
Use holiday picks arranged in blocks of foam to fill seasonally empty porch railing planters and window boxes with festive cheer.

Ribbon-Wrapped Porch Columns
If you happen to have white porch columns, you can create an easy candy-cane look by wrapping the supports with a wide red ribbon. Even if your columns aren’t white, you can still wrap them in ribbon, garland or lights for easy holiday cheer.

Indoor Lighted Window Décor
Place simple electric candles in every window for a traditional warm look, or create a more animated scene by hanging lighted Christmas characters like the ones found at

Yard Decorations
Create a storybook scene in your own front yard with statues and lawn ornaments. You can choose from resin nativity scenes, classic characters made of lighted plastic, or wicker reindeer from the import store. Whichever you choose, they’re bound to make a statement.

With a little imagination and creativity, it is possible to create a unique look for your home’s exterior that will take your breath away without taking your feet off the ground.

Santa's Quarters is author Annie Sullivan's favorite place to shop for her office decorations. They have an online store with large selections of commercial grade wreaths, toppers, ball ornaments and artificial trees. 

Photo credits: Ice Luminary by rengber/flickr; wreathadd by Aunt Owwee/flickr; Happy Furry Friday from Charleydog by byrdiegyrl/flickr

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christmas Clothing for Children: The Tea Collection

OMG! Have you ever heard of the Tea Collection? Today, I discovered this little online store for children's clothing. If you're looking for some adorable, sugar-and-spice clothing for your kids for the holidays...I have found the place! And, your kids will be cuter than the other children at the Christmas table with their little Tea get-ups!

What I like the most is the wardrobe sets. Check it out! Color-coordinated, mix-and-match sets for your girl:

Or your boy:

Pajamas, sweaters, hoodies, outerwear, shoes, name it! And, everything is super-cute!

They also have a great "Read, Play, Create" section with books, games and little people dish sets to choose from. 

I didn't even put the images of the cutest outfits that they have on their site, because I wanted to leave it up to you to head on over and check them out!

I Love Deals!

You will also get 15% off a $100 order and free shipping for order over $150 all of the time, so if you were to decide that you wanted to order one of the mix-and-match, already assembled wardrobes of theirs, you can put the little code on the top right hand side of their homepage (FIESTAFUN) and get that 15% off!

Happy shopping!

6 Best Organic Toys for Older Toddlers

Buying gifts for the older toddlers and young school aged children in the family is exciting. They are old enough to truly enjoy their gifts, and get so excited over them. I love seeing their little eyes widen as they unwrap packages.

Older toddlers can be rough on toys though, so I always try to buy very sturdy things that can stand up to a young child’s play. I also give organic toys as gifts. I do that for several reasons. One, in case a child has allergies like I do to the dyes and chemicals in plastics and other materials used in making mass-production commercial toys, but also because they’re just generally healthier and better for the planet.

The Dangers of Common Chemicals

I carry that theme into my own life as well. In fact, my quest for natural products stemmed from my desire to find a natural remedy for hay fever. Once I learned about the dangers of many of the common chemicals used in over-the-counter medicines, I couldn’t help but be interested in the other dangers that lurked on store shelves of every kind.

As a writer, you might say I’m naturally inquisitive anyway. I also have a work-related tendency toward investigative research. Soon my husband and girls were on board, and now the whole family is actively interested in a more organic lifestyle; even my parents who live next door. It’s never too late to start living healthier.

A quote from Buddha says “to keep the body in good health is a duty; otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” I try to keep that in my mind as I think about the things I buy and use, and especially in those things I give to others.

My favorite gifts to give older toddlers are these:

·         Balance boards
·         Paints
·         Crafts
·         Puzzles
·         Kitchens for little girls
·         Memory and counting toys

Of all of the above gifts, my favorites are the ones that are not only fun, but also have some form of educational benefits. I love the memory and counting types of toys, but building blocks are great because they teach young children to use their motor skills and be creative all at the same time.

I like the balancing boards because they give youngsters exercise while developing their balance. Paints and crafts are fun, and let children be creative and develop their artistic sides. There’s a lot to be said for just fun though. Whatever I get, I look for natural dyes, and organic materials. Luckily those types of toys are much easier to find now than there were even a few years ago.

Pitfalls of Toxic Toys

Many people are discovering the dangers of the chemicals present in the products both from the actual materials and from the processing used to turn them into various items. The dangers aren’t just from the toys when they’re new either. Non-organic plastics and wood toys coated with finishes and paints release harmful toxins for years.

By giving gifts that are safer and healthier, I feel like I’m helping the next generation avoid having to deal with some of the problems I’ve had to deal with. I’m glad that there are allergic rhinitis natural remedies that I can take for my problems, but I’d rather not have to deal with them at all.

Some allergy problems can’t be avoided, like pollen and dust, they just have to be dealt with. However, a lot of health issues, and allergies are a result of the things we surround ourselves with every day. I prefer to get rid of those things, and deal with allergies and illness as little as possible.

About the Author:

Melissa Cameron is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two children in Austin, Texas. Her parents live next door, and her large extended family gives her plenty of material for her career as a freelance writer. She spends her working hours researching better ways of living, and dealing with health issues like finding the best natural remedy for hay fever, along with parenting and budget-conscious shopping. Another of her passions is local history, and the great state of Texas provides many storylines with which to delight her readers.

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