Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Homemade Holiday Gifts

When I think of homemade holiday gifts the first thing that pops into my head is COOKIES. When I was growing up, my best friend's mom would make hundreds of cookies and give them out to all their friends and family. That is no exaggeration either; they really made hundreds. They had one room in their house during the holiday season that was just for the cookies. She had them piled up high from candy cane cookies to traditional chocolate chip. Along with the cookies were all different tins and containers to choose from. That room was heaven for us kids and of course we always provided our taste-testing expertise! I definitely had my fair share of cookies over the holiday season.  

Homemade holiday gifts are always a great way to show your extra love. Not to mention you can save a lot of money too. There is something about a handmade Christmas gift that makes you feel extra special. If you are giving a homemade gift you feel a great accomplishment of doing something by yourself and if you are receiving a homemade gift you feel extra warm on the inside because you feel special that you were thought of while the gift was being made. When I was growing up I always felt good when I would give my family a homemade ornament from school. The look on my family's faces when they received the gift was also a feel-good moment. They were always so excited to see my masterpiece.  
There are a lot of handmade Christmas gift ideas out there that can bring a smile to anyone's face. The key to making it special is to think of what you would like to receive as a homemade gift. Most likely if you think it is special so will the person who receives your wonderful gift. It can be anywhere from cookies to a handcrafted ornament.  What it really comes down to is the idea of being thought of. There are a lot of easy homemade gift ideas that can save you money too. You just need a little imagination and maybe a little help from the Internet to get the juices flowing. Here are my top 10  Christmas homemade gift ideas that are pretty easy and cost very little to make. I normally get all my supplies and ideas from local craft stores or even dollar stores. I like to wander through the aisles and see what kind of craft ideas I can come up with to make a great homemade Christmas gift. They also have crafts displayed that you can make yourself or use to get ideas.

Nothing beats a homemade gift for the holiday.

  1. Cookie In A Jar 
  2. Candle Jars
  3. Best Christmas Fudge
  4. Fabric Covered Boxes
  5. Personalized T-Shirt From a Child
  6. Homemade Memory Box
  7. Ornaments of all kinds -- You can make them from dough, paper, popsicle sticks, buttons, etc.... The most important part though is to add a picture to it. That is always a crowd-pleaser and you can't go wrong with it.
  8. Homemade coupon book offering services to friends or family, such as, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry for a week or shoveling snow.
  9. Memory Book  -- This is a great gift for a family member who doesn't live close to you. You can make your own memory book at half the cost of buying one through a photo company. It just takes a little more time and some creativity. You don't even need a book. You can buy some scrapbooking pages and instead of buying an expensive book punch holes in the paper and tie all the pages together with ribbon. It is very cute and inexpensive.
  10. Homemade Wooden Signs -- I make these every year and they are a great Christmas present. I get the wood from a local hardware store where I can pick through the odds and ends. You can get them very cheap and they come in all different sizes. You may even get lucky and look around your house and come across some old wood that was left over from a do it yourself project. Paint or stain the wood whatever color you like. Next search around for good sayings to put on the wood. Once you have figured out what you want to say go to your computer and make a sign.  I use my printshop program but you can use any kind of program that has lettering.  Pick the font and size you want and print out. Before printing though make sure you check the "Print reversed for iron on transfer box." This will  print it backwards. What you want to do next is take the paper and put it on the board so the ink side is on the board and you are looking at the back of the paper  Make sure it is lined up correctly and then rub the lettering onto the board with a pen.  It will leave a light shade of lettering for you so you can just paint over it. This is much easier then stenciling and comes out nicer.

Homemade gifts that they will cherish forever.
Happy holiday shopping and may you be able to save a few dollars over the Christmas season.

Marci Psalmonds
Contributing Writer

Monday, December 10, 2012

Saving Your Change - Dollars and "Sense"

pennies worth
A penny saved is a
penny earned!
Did you ever wonder just how much you could save if you started saving all those loose coins from the washing machine? I am always pulling out quarters or dimes and nickles from the bottom of my machine. Some years ago I started putting them in a can just because I didn't want to carry all that weight around in my wallet. I believe in a penny saved is a penny earned! I still have that can and it weighs about ten pounds now. I have yet to count it all.....I like surprises!!
In days gone by, pennies actually could buy something.  I am old enough to remember "penny candy" from the local grocery stores.  They had bins full of little bits of sweetness for sale for just a pennies worth or two!  Of course, it was displayed right at the eye levels of many of the eight year old customers! Unfortunately, those treats have long disappeared from the shelves due to current health and safety requirements of the grocers. But it could still pay off to save those pennies and other coins if you want to treat yourself to something else down the road. 
change counters
Turn your pennis worth into cash!

Some people think that saving their change is a complete waste of time. But it can actually be a great way to save some extra cash, and I think you might be surprised just how fast it can add up to some real money! I will concede that it is harder nowadays to save your change as so many of our purchases are made with debit and credit cards....thus no change! However, the banks have gotten in the game and started a similar program through your online banking programs. They will round up your payments and then put your "change" in a savings for you. 

A Treasurer Chest of Savings!

You might set up a "Mom's Savings Jar" and have everyone in the family drop in their loose change every chance they get. It could be used as a vacation fund or family night out fund, so the whole family might benefit from the little extra effort. Another great idea would be to let the family pick a favorite charitable organization to donate it to when it gets full. This can be a very rewarding experience for the kids and mom and dad. It could be donated to a childrens' Christmas Fund during the holidays. If you start your savings jar in January and keep "donating" to it all year, by the time December rolls around you will be amazed at just how much you might have in your stash! 

You could use your change for the kids' lunch money each week or extra gas money, if needed. We all know how the higher prices of gasoline have hit our pocket books lately! It might ease the pain just a little to know you have a little extra to count on. 


One thing that I have found is that it is harder to get the paper type coin rollers these days. We used to be able to just ask the bank for extra rollers, but so many now use plastic wrappers that are rolled by change countersOh, but for the good ole days!!! However, you can find the coin wrappers at some of the dollar store chains and at some banks. It is really kind of fun to sit in the middle of the floor with a pile of coins as you roll them and anticipate just how much you will end up with. Of course some banks and super markets have change counters where you can pour your change in and watch it be counted. Some make it a little contest where you guess how much you think you have, and you win a prize for coming within a certain range.

This is actually a good way to teach kids how to save money.  They can start filling their piggy banks for something they might want to buy for themselves down the road.There are also websites set up to help you track your savings such as www.savingyourchange.com. They make it a type of game and offer information on saving and investing if you are so inclined.

And don't forget that if you need to save money on prescription medications, download the free FamilyWize discount prescription card and save an average of 30 percent at the pharmacy. Over $400 million has been saved nationwide. That's a lot of savings!

So save that change and make it count. In these tough economic times turn your loose change into cash and make every penny count!

Cindy Foley
Contributing Writer

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor

The most memorable day in United States History - Pearl Harbor Day - December 7, 1941

Japanese aircraft during the bombing of Pearl Harbor
December 7, 1941

On December 7, 2012, we will remember one of the most significant days in the history of the United States of America. On this day 71 years ago,  the US became a participant in the European Conflict later to be known as World War II. Our involvement began as a result of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the home of the Pacific Fleet in Oahu, Hawaii.

We honor those killed in the attack that hit just before 8:00 AM on December 7, 1941, that is now known as Pearl Harbor Day. This attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy was intended to neutralize the US Pacific Fleet so that Japan could advance its military into Southeast Asia without threat from the US. 

World War II
Pearl Harbor attack.

Surprise Attack - December 7, 1941! 

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took the US by complete surprise.  The United States military commanders felt that if Japan were to attempt an attack on US soil, it would come in the form of submarine warfare.  They didn’t believe that Japan had the firepower in their Air Force to accomplish such a feat. The US commanders had placed battleships and other vessels along with aircraft close together around the Oahu military installation, thinking it was enough protection to ward off such an attack. They didn’t believe that Japan’s air power was strong enough to sustain a prolonged attack overseas.  Looking back, it is easy to see just how wrong our military was at that time. 

Japan’s air force had no trouble reaching the US port in Hawaii. Just seven minutes after the attack President Franklin D. Roosevelt was notified of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He immediately ordered a formal investigation into the surprise hit, and then he addressed the shocked nation the following day. This began the United States war with Japan.

In May of 1940, President Roosevelt had ordered the American Fleet out of San Diego, California, to go to the Hawaiian Territory which then placed US naval power closer to the British interest.  FDR felt that this was a “vital” move to help our European allies, while serving as a naturally protected safe haven for our fleet. 


The intensity of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan crippled the Pacific Fleet before anyone really knew what had happened, leaving the US with inoperable anti-aircraft guns. The attack destroyed 188 US planes and put the US Pacific Fleet almost out of commission. Along with the loss of our air power and ships, the attack on Pearl Harbor left 2,403 Americans dead.  Of the 360 planes launched by the Japanese only 29 were lost and only 64 Japanese soldiers perished in the attack. In one well planned air strike on our military installation in Hawaii, the United States became an active participant in what was to become World War II.  On December 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan. The attack itself was said to have "awoken a sleeping giant."  Japan was an ally of Germany in the European Theater and, therefore, provided the incentive for the US to get involved in this conflict. 

USS Arizona - Memorial
at Pearl Harbor, HI.
The USS Arizona, one of the ships sunk on that dreadful morning, is known as “ground zero” for the US involvement in World War II. The remains of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors killed aboard that ship still lie at the bottom of the ocean on the island of Oahu. This memorial is visited by more than one million people annually who wish to pay their respects to the sailors who gave their lives serving our country as well as those who fought for us in World War II.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in world history."  This is a day to think about all those who have gone before us and the sacrifices they made, and think of what happened in our past.  We will never forget them. Hopefully, we can learn from those dark days and honor their sacrifices and live our lives with a more peaceful vision of our future.

Cindy Foley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Quin-what? Quinoa!

gluten free
Quinoa seeds image from mensfitness.com
If you've never heard of quinoa before now, you’re probably thoroughly confused at the moment. If you already know about this energy-boosting complete protein, you’re probably a fan of all it has to offer. The list isn't a short one, either; quinoa has bragging rights to numerous healthy qualities. Do you know all about quinoa nutrition?

Lesson One: Rewind! What is quinoa?

Quinoa is a seed, technically, but is eaten and prepared as a whole grain. Quinoa is from the same family of vegetables as spinach and beats. It grows in mountain air 10,000 feet above sea level and poor soil, so quinoa stalks come from a tough plant. Through even extreme weather, quinoa stalks grow up to about six feet and can produce an entire cup of seeds. Equivalent to about the size of a sesame seed, a quinoa seed can be found in a variety of colors but store-bought quinoa is typically white. Specifically, quinoa can be purchased at natural food stores and occasionally the well-stocked organic section of your local grocer.

Lesson Two: Why should I even care about quinoa?

To start, vegetarians capitalize on it as a complete protein; it’s packed with all of the amino acids necessary to meet nutritional protein levels. Quinoa is also a friend to celiac patients and others who abide by a strict gluten free diet. And the list goes on. Nearly everyone can appreciate the fact that its high levels of Riboflavin boost energy levels and metabolism, and that it contains nearly twice as much fiber as most grains. To top it off, quinoa is a good source of iron, calcium, manganese, copper, lysine, and magnesium.

Lesson Three: You've got my attention! But how can I prepare and eat this super-food?

Luckily for you, quinoa is known for its versatility. It can be incorporated into so many different types of meals and snacks. There are quinoa salads, quinoa soups, curried quinoa— the possibilities are practically endless. It can easily become a staple in your kitchen. However you incorporate it into your diet, the first step to cooking quinoa is always the same.

Quinoa is covered with a bitter, natural coating called saponin. This taste will ruin even your best quinoa recipe if not thoroughly rinsed off. Fortunately, quinoa bought within the United States has usually already been rinsed and dried before it’s on grocery store shelves. To be sure, always rinse off quinoa before cooking or let it soak for five minutes in cold water. After the rinse, you can dive into either of these fine recipes with quinoa for your first venture into all that is quinoa.

Winter Fruit Salad from

Ingredients (for 6 servings):

1 1/3 cups quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cups water
2 kumquats - seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Bosc pear - peeled, cored and chopped
1 cucumber - peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup trimmed and coarsely chopped watercress

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the quinoa and water and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat stirring often, until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and cool completely.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the kumquats, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Steep for 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, pear and cucumber. Add the dressing and toss well. Add the watercress and toss again and serve.

Vegetable Quinoa Winter Soup from

Ingredients (for 8-10 cups): 

1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup red quinoa, uncooked
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
Quinoa soup image from eatchicchicago.com
1 zucchini, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups diced tomatoes,  juice included

1 can aduki beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp curry powder
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped

1 tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
pinch of saffron threads

  1. Heat oil in large soup pot. Add onion and saute over medium heat until soft. Add carrots, zucchini, and garlic. Saute for another 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add vegetable broth, tomatoes, quinoa, beans, and spices. Bring to a boil and then simmer for  20 minutes.
  3. Add spinach, stir, and cover. Simmer for another 30 minutes. As with all soups, the longer you let the soup simmer and set, the more flavor the soup will develop.
Amanda Gilmore
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Television - How Much is Too Much?

I would like you to take a moment to think about how many hours of television you watch on a daily basis. One hour a day? Five hours a day? Chances are, you are watching too much television.

The issue with watching too much TV is that you begin to develop a sedentary lifestyle. According to Dictionary.com, sedentary is “characterized by or requiring a sitting posture,” or “accustomed to sit or rest a great deal or to take little exercise.” Essentially, we have a bad habit of sitting on our butts too much and being lazy.

life expectancy
Watching too much television encourages a
sedentary lifestyle.
You may be asking yourself “what is so bad about being sedentary?” I too enjoy a night cuddled up on the couch watching the newest episode of Sons of Anarchy, but in doing so I am exposing myself to the negative effects of watching television. A recent study, conducted in Australia, has shown that individuals who are over the age of 25 shave 22 minutes off of their life expectancy for each hour spent watching TV.

Headed by Dr. Lennert Veerman, he and his colleagues reported their findings in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study was based on an average of six hours of TV viewing per day, compared to a person who watches no television. Using data from the National Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, the research team generated life expectancy tables based on the viewing habits of the average Australian.

The research claims that sedentary behavior is as bad for your health as smoking and obesity, due to the dangers created by prolonged inactivity. Watching too much television puts you at risk of developing the same health complications as the aforementioned. A previous FamilyWize blog, Is Sitting Bad for Your Health?, reveals more about sitting and life expectancy.

sedentary lifestyle
Some effects of watching television are
eating unhealthy snacks!
Think about it. When you are settling down for the night and tuning into Dancing with the Stars, you usually grab a snack and a drink. This would be fine, but most of us aren't going to slice up an apple and wash it down with a bottle of water. Instead, we scoop a bowl of our favorite ice cream, or opt for that desirable bag of sour cream and onion chips from the cupboard. We pair it with a soft drink or perhaps a nice, cold beer. These items are full of calories and contain high contents of fat. This process becomes subconsciously habitual and the long-term negative effects set in. Diabetes. Heart disease. Cancer.

So next time you are ready to sit down and indulge in a calorie-laden junk food fest, think about the possible unhealthy side effects. The affects of watching too much television and living a sedentary lifestyle may not be immediate, but that does not make them any less real. The choice is ours. Do we want that extra hour of TV, or 22 minutes to truly live?

Sedentary behavior
Get Active! Use TV to play WII or exercise.
Healthy Alternatives - Get Active!

Go for a walk/run
Do some yoga
Take a bike ride
Go for a swim
Use Wii, or Xbox

Food for thought - Healthy Snacks

Fruit smoothies
Cheese with a glass of wine (just one, don’t get carried away!)
Nutty yogurt
Celery with sunflower seed butter
Peanut butter on a banana
Homemade trail mix

Derek Slichter
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Volunteering for Holidays

If you take the time to think about words like “giving,” “volunteering,” and “charity,” a slew of quotes and phrases may come to mind. It is better to give than to receive. A season of giving… You may even remember a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.” This is a good reminder for us all – every little bit does make a difference. No matter if we are speaking in terms of charitable donations or hours volunteered at local charities and support organizations.

Volunteering for the holidays can be a heartwarming activity by yourself or in the company of friends or family. First, think about this question – What is volunteerism? What does volunteerism mean to you? Perhaps visions of volunteering at a soup kitchen come to mind. Maybe you see yourself helping to organize a charity gala or other big benefit.

Places to Volunteer Your Time and Talents

If you are wondering how you can get started or where you should volunteer your time, you are not alone. Many of us want to do something, but we don't know where to start.

Some great places to volunteer, especially around the holidays, include:
  • Animal shelters
  • Food banks
  • Homeless shelters
  • Hospitals and medical centers 
  • Orphanages
  • Senior citizens centers and nursing homes
  • Soup kitchens
  • Toys for Tots and similar programs
Additionally, some meaningful community service efforts may be another way for you to get involved in the well being of your community and  areas. Consider cleaning up parks, roads, and public areas, serving as a mentor, or even giving your time through a program for underprivileged children.

If you are still looking for ideas in your local area, check to see if you can find a volunteer network to connect you with a cause or a group in need. Volunteer Match and Great Nonprofits are online services that can help you find a charity or important cause where you can volunteer your time and assistance in your area.

A great way to find volunteer opportunities is through the United Way. Give, Advocate, Volunteer. With its network of over a thousand community based United Ways, they are able to coordinate individuals, communities and businesses to work together to make stronger communities and a stronger world. If time is your concern, remember that you can also volunteer online through the United Way.

community service
Volunteer with the Red Cross.
Helping Our Neighbors in Need

Just a month ago we suffered through one of the greatest storms on the upper East Coast due to the high winds and heavy rains of Hurricane Sandy. Many families were without power for days, if not a week or more. The American Red Cross and the Humane Society NY and NJ work to gather supplies to help disaster victims, families, individuals and pets, make it through these tough days until their power is restored and their homes are repaired. These organizations need volunteers, supplies and water.

community service
Pets make great
volunteers for the elderly.
Another way to contribute time is to help an elderly neighbor clear away debris from the storm, or assist with other small tasks that may be too difficult for an older person to handle. Make the time to visit shut-ins and the elderly in local nursing homes and hospice care units to bring a smile to those who may be lonely or depressed.

If your family has a dog and you have some free time on your hands, you might also consider training your pet as a therapy dog. These well-trained, friendly canines bring joy to young children and senior citizens alike.

It’s Never Too Late to Lend a Helping Hand

My first memories of volunteering date back to high school at Bethlehem Catholic, where we had to satisfy 20 hours of community service to graduate (or perhaps it was every year – the memories are just a bit fuzzy). My friend and I coached a little league soccer team and I also tutored younger kids to help them in school. I am sure I volunteered at other points, doing other things, but these are the most memorable occasions.

If you have a hospital near you, you might also be able to serve as a medical volunteer. Food and clothing drives can also be meaningful ways to volunteer time and energy.

Even if you only have a little time to dedicate, your actions speak louder than words. Giving an hour or two of your time once or twice around the holidays to help those less fortunate… the emotional rewards are greater than any holiday gift you can buy.

By Kathryn M. D’Imperio
Contributing Writer

Monday, December 3, 2012

Protecting Family-National Toy Safety Month

New Toy
Always inspect your child's new toy for any dangerous parts.

December is National Safe Toys Month, which is perfect timing since some of you may be wondering what kind of Christmas presents to get a special little person in your life this year. 

Whether it's your own child, a grandchild, niece, nephew, or just a family friend you may want to check into what is age appropriate for that child. Most toys have recommended ages listed right on the box to help you decide what is age appropriate. It's important to pay attention to this information because a toy can cause harm to a child if it isn't intended for their age. 

With thousands of new toys coming out every year we can get a bit overwhelmed with what toys are appropriate for each age group. The best way to find out about a new toy is to read reviews to help you understand what it is and if it fits your child's age. This can be time consuming; and, if you are like me, time is what you are lacking the most during the holiday season! But in the long run it will be well worth it.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that consumers should be aware of lead hazards in some toys. Imported toys as well as toys made in the US can contain lead hazards. For instance, the use of lead in plastics is regulated in the US, but it is not completely banned. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issues recalls on children's toys that are unsafe. 

Choosing Toys With Safety In Mind

Kidshealth.org lists some tips to keep in mind when shopping for safe toys for kids. 
  • Stuffed or fabric toys should be washable and flame-resistant.
  • Look for the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) seal on electrical toys. This seal will tell you if it has been tested for safety.
  • Look for toys without sharp edges and small parts. 
  • Painted toys should say lead-free on them.  
  • Make sure toys are labeled non-toxic.
Safety Solutions For Old and New Toys
  • Always check used toys to see if there are any hazards.  A toy may end up with a sharp edge due to a child breaking it or a splintered edge if it is a wooden toy.
  • Read all of the instructions and explain them to children. This can be tedious but after running a preschool/daycare, I've seen children turn things like a hoola hoop into a lasso to round up his friends and a shovel instantly turned into a sword. Making sure kids understand how the toy should be used could avoid injury later.
  • Keep toy shelving safe. Make sure your child can reach their toys safely and that the shelves are sturdy so they don't collapse when a child is reaching for a toy.
  • Keep their toy chest safe. Make sure there are no sharp edges. The lid should be light and have a hinge that catches so it can't slam down on their fingers. There should also be some kind of ventilation since a lot of kids love to play hide and seek and this is always a favorite spot for them.
I owned and ran a preschool/childcare over the past twenty years and I have seen a lot of toys come and go.  I decided to make a list of toys that I have noticed are played with the most and are the safest. One of my favorite toys for kids are the Little People products by Fischer-Price. They are safer for little ones because they are chunky with no small parts and they really keep a child's interest. 

new toy
Toys without small pieces and sharp
edges are safer for small children.
BabyCenter.com lists the types of toys that are appropriate by age group. They also give numerous tips for picking out the safest toys for your child. For example, they advise to avoid toys that contain small magnets. The CPSC named magnets as the number one hazard for children in households. If a child swallows two small magnets, or a magnet and a small piece of metal, the two objects can attach to each other and cause a blockage in the intestine, or cause twisting or pinching of the intestinal wall.

Picking a toy shouldn't be that difficult but in this day and age it has become a tough thing to do. Since 1970 there have been 1,500 hazardous toys that have been removed from store selves. Manufactures, distributors, and retailers have a legal responsibility to make sure they aren't selling dangerous toys. Although toys are inspected thoroughly there are still some toys that slip through the cracks. We may not know it poses a safety issue until someone gets hurt and there is a recall. The number one way to make sure a toy is safe is inspect it yourself.  Keep your child safe this Christmas and the whole year by always inspecting old and new toys. 

Marci Psalmonds
Contributing Writer