Sunday, December 21, 2014

Help me get in the Christmas spirit

"Help me get in the Christmas spirit," I cried out on Facebook the other day.

It was a week before Christmas, and I just wasn't feeling the season this year.

Looking back, it's easy to see why. Our family hasn't all been well since October (and if you count our injury-laden year, May). While we were blessed the worst was my husband's week of bedrest due to bronchitis, illness of any level will take its toll.

My children were out of sorts and out of schedule. My daughter had just gotten a detention for missing five assignments that week. My son's birthday was looming, and I, finally getting my turn at being sick, was so disheartened looking at the house and all that was needed to be done before Christmas.

Instead of relishing all things about Advent and the Christmas season, as I normally do each year, I was feeling more and more like this:

"Help me get in the Christmas spirit," I asked my friends. And there, I learned I wasn't alone, but I got a few worldly tips to help perk me up.
  • Seek the Three Kings... Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Johnny Walker.
  • Watch your favorite Christmas movie? Do something nice for someone else? These things always put me in a Christmasy mood.
  • Give. Giving always puts me in the spirit. Even if it's giving smiles, or leaving 50c taped to the vending machine. It's the Christmas spirit.
  • Bake cookies and see friends:)

"Help me get in the Christmas spirit," I asked my blogging community. And here I got the best advice of all.

...not all Christmases are created equal. I'm sure you know that. Christmas is a conglomeration of emotions and memories. Sometimes, circumstances get in the way of our enjoyment of the season. 
Sometimes, we rely too heavily on old memories for that feeling of Christmas. Memories are wonderful, and sometimes, not so wonderful, but we can't rely on them to boost our spirit. I think the one thing that boosts my Christmas spirit (which was really sagging this year and not like me either but justified because of circumstances) is praise and thanksgiving. And doing something for someone else.  
Thinking outward rather inward takes the focus off of us. And praise puts our focus on Jesus. To think He bowed down to earth and came in human form to give us grace, peace, love, forgiveness, salvation, and an eternal home with Him is an awesome thought. I pray the Lord will give you a special touch of His presence to arouse your Christmas spirit. Be blessed!
Wishing you all a return to the Christmas spirit this week as well!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Unexpected Blessings and Leaning on the Lord

I will never begin to understand God's timing.

I will likely never understand why we went through three years of unemployment and then several years of underemployment. Why we built up debt just trying to stay afloat.

I will likely never understand the rocky last year and a half we have had, dealing with injuries, illness and depression.
Unexpected Blessings and Leaning on the Lord. Six years of worry may slowly be coming to a close.

But in a small way, we've been blessed.

In recent months, I've slowly began to realize that I need to lean on the Lord. Hard. If Catholic school is a priority for our children's education, we will make it so. If medical bills are a priority, we will make it so. But the combination of the two was deadly. And I leaned. And leaned. I asked God to just show us how.

It's a question I've asked again and again the last six years. I've stumbled, I've fallen. I've hoped.

I even joined on the book launch team for Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After, in the small hopes of finding that nugget of inspiration that could get us through the coming months.

And somewhere between my readings and prayers, something happened. Something moved.

My husband got his first job interview in more than two years. We'll hopeful that it's the right opportunity, as it would mean better hours and a much shorter commute as winter approaches.

And I got blessed with an unexpected raise. I'm shocked. And grateful. And having to look at our budget (which was still all in my head) in a whole new light.

We could do this.

We could pay our debts off.

We could be free.

I'm hopefully optimistic.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Making marshmallows: An easy but messy afternoon project

Making marshmallows is a project I never would have considered doing with my kids. But after being introduced to local artisan marshmallow company 240Sweet a few years ago, and having taken a class, it's been on the "well, maybe..." list for some time.

My daughter decided, though, she wanted to make marshmallows for a Christmas gift this year. We did a trial run to see how it worked. After locating this marshmallow recipe, we decided to take a trial run.

To make marshmallows, you'll need:
  • powdered sugar
  • white sugar
  • corn syrup
  • unflavored gelatin 
  • vanilla extract
  • salt
  • candy thermometer
  • mixer
  • 9x12 pan
  • parchment paper
  • spray

Keep in mind, you'll have about 20 minutes or so of watching hot sugar on a stove, followed by roughly 10 minutes of mixing. The syrup will change from a thin, yellowish color syrup to a white gooey mess that, once thick,  you'll pour into a 9x12 pan lined with parchment paper.

How to make marshmallows

But the toughest part about making marshmallows?

The wait.

Yes, you have to wait 11-12 hours for the marshmallows to set up and dry out. So in our case, we made them in the afternoon to enjoy the next day. 

Then you flip them out, cut them with a pizza cutter, and dust with powdered sugar.

Unfortunately, the recipe says the marshmallows are good for two weeks. But, really, who keeps those around that long?

Make your own marshmallows | DIY recipe

Get the recipe to make your own marshmallows.
And, learn how to make a marshmallow-making kit for science lovers here.

Amazon 12 Days of Deals (updated for Dec. 12)

(updated 12/13/14)

Amazon's 12 Days of Deals has begun! Check out a sampling of what's out there for some last-minute gift ideas. Keep in mind that some of the older daily deals may actually extend through the holidays.

Deals for Dec. 13

It's all about the artist. Whether you're into two-dimensional art, a budding cartoonist or thinking about school orchestra, deals are to be had today (and some extend through the holidays.)
Just a few of the gift ideas:

Deals for Dec. 12 

Sports and Fitness is the theme today. Just a sampling of today's deals:

   Amazon 12 days of deals Dec. 12 | Sports and Fitness | Jillian Michaels extreme 90-day weight loss system, 15 DVD set

Dec. 11 deals:

What deals have you found this holiday season? Share your finds below!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rebates on Christmas shopping with Ibotta

Earn rebates on Christmas shopping with Ibotta - $10 rebate on many $100 online purchases + extra $10 rebate if you accumulate $10 in rebates in December!I confess: I'm in love with Ibotta. This app has helped me accumulate rebates on things I usually purchase (like milk, bread or eggs) as well as other grocery items the last several months. Now that Christmas is coming, I'm able to cash out those rebates for gift cards or a PayPal or Venmo deposit.

But if you're still shopping for Christmas gifts, now is the time to check out this app.

This month, Ibotta not only has rebates on online purchases, but it also has a deal for people who earn $10 in rebates, and our team earns $10 in rebates. So, if you did an online purchase, say $100 at, you'd get the $10 rebate that's already offered, but you'd also make progress toward YOU receiving another $10 in rebates.

What can you do to earn $10 in rebates?

Holiday shoppers can earn it with:

  • $10 back on $100 purchase at
  • $10 back on $100 purchase from
  • $10 back on $100 purchase from
  • $10 back on $100 purchase from
  • $15 back on $100 purchase from White House Black Market
  • $10 back on $75 purchase from
  • $10 back on $100 purchase from
  • $15 back on $50 purchase from
  • $5 back on $100 from
  • $5 back on $100 purchase from
  • $5 back on $50 purchase from
  • $5 back on $50 purchase from
  • $5 back on $50 purchase from

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Introducing Fresh Artistry

Indianapolis dining service Fresh Artistry | food delivery service in Indianapolis that provides prepped and ready to cook mealsAs a working parent, I love convenience at dinner. But more importantly I want to feed my family freshly prepared food.

That's why I was excited to preview the Fresh Artistry service and the new family plan that is launching in Indianapolis in December.

We settled on an Amish Chicken with Peach Preserves and Chipotle, nestled over Smashed Potatoes and served with green beans. We were greeted at our door with a boxed meal, packed in recyclable insulated liners, with fresh produce and proteins ready to prepare. There was no guessing, no wondering if your measuring spoons were clean or if you had a spice in question.

Did the food look good? Absolutely. Was it tasty? Yes. But the most impressive part? It was ready to go and directions written in a way my 9 year old could make - and plate - a "fancy meal" for our family. I'll share with you the chef's thoughts in her words:

My First Fancy Meal 

If your kid ( or kids ) want to become famous chefs this is the meal to teach them. Believe me I am a kid. This recipe is orange marmalade and chipotle chicken breast, mashed potatoes,  and green beans. It is really hard to cook the chicken, because with the temp pressure. Another reason the chicken is hard to cook is that you have to make sure each side has the right amount of sauce, but making all that food was fun.

Fresh Artistry's family delivery service costs $29.99 per meal (or $89.97/3 meals) and feeds two adults and up to three children. Two-plate meals for smaller households are $19.99 per meal ($59.97/3). Delivery is free.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Gift Idea for a Girl Scout Troop: Custom Ornaments

As a Girl Scout leader, I'm always on the lookout for interesting ways to inspire the girls in our troop. I want them to believe that with time and effort, they can accomplish much. And, being that we are a church-based troop, I want them to always remember that faith is not separate from their actions.

I typically have not done Christmas gifts for my girls, though I've seen it discussed a lot on the leader Facebook groups I participate in. But I got a little divine inspiration recently from Pinterest. I stumbled on an image in my feed of an old prayer card with the Virgin Mary with Girl Scouts. The back simply stated the Girl Scout promise. I looked but didn't have much luck finding online - with the exception of finding a set of 100 in bulk. That, and if the other fourth-graders are anything like mine, no matter what the intention, the card would likely be lost in a corner someplace.

A trip to Michaels inspired me. There was a 1/2 off sale on porcelain ornaments. A little Modge-Podge, a printout of the image (scaled to about 3 inches square), and I had a unique gift that hopefully the girls will remember and keep in their homes as they grow up. All for roughly $1 per girl.

Christmas Ornament for Your Girl Scout Troop | Customized with an image from an old prayer card of the Virgin Mary and Girl Scouts

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day in Our Home

St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) is becoming a dear part of our Advent and Christmas season.

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day Dec. 6 with our Children | Advent ideas | Christmas and FaithSt. Nicholas, one of my daughter's adopted saints, is best known as his contemporary, Americanized alter-ego, Santa Claus, but this bishop from centuries past and saint has a deep story of loving and giving - to the point of saving lives.

I first learned about St. Nicholas Day from my kindergartener in Catholic school. There, they set out their shoes before rest time and received a treat. I dug a little more into the real story, and realized this was a fun way to sneak a bit of faith back into the all-too-commercialized Christmas spending season.

Each Dec. 5, our children set out their slippers in front of our tree. They wake this morning to a simple gift in their slippers, typically a candy and a small religious-themed gift like a prayer card or book.

I'm a bit saddened that some of their friends don't enjoy this Advent tradition in their home. It's an easy way to reinforce the reason for the season, without it getting lost in the busy gift-giving shuffle of Christmas gift exchanges.

My children are again looking forward to setting out their slippers before they go to bed on Dec. 5.

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day in our homeThis year, they are getting some chocolate coins with St. Nicholas's image printed on them. (You can find the pattern here.) I purchased the chocolate on Halloween clearance, but you can easily find chocolate gold coins in the Hanukkah section as well.

As far as an activity, I'm torn between putting this project in their shoe (size determining it, I'm sure), or into their stocking. I stumbled on this great project online for children to build and create their own wooden rosary holder.

Build your own rosary holder and other great ideas for stocking stuffers or St. Nicholas Day gifts Illuminated Ink creates these kits, which the kids assembly, paint and decorate. I thought it was perfect for my little guy who wants to build things as well as my artist in residence. He'll be getting a kit for St. Michael the Archangel, the protector and a saint he is drawn to, and my daughter will be getting Our Lady of Guadalupe. Other saints offered include Our Lady of Fatima, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Saint Joseph, and there's even a 10 pack if you need multiple gifts. The kits run about $10 each on Amazon, including shipping costs.

Book gifts

We've also given book gifts in our past. Some you might consider include:


How do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day in your home? Share your ideas below.

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