Posts Tagged ‘ Christmas ’

Your Worst Christmas Gifts Ever

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Didn’t get what you wanted this year for Christmas? You’re probably not alone. We recently asked our Facebook followers to share the worst present they’ve ever received, and nearly 600 people commented! Here are some of our favorite responses.

Downright Hilarious Gifts:

“One year I told my parents all I ever get is crap for Christmas so the next year they bought me a rubber turd and wrapped it in a really nice jewelry box.” -Sydnie

“White fake fur coat with a western/horse theme shaved into it.” -Lacey

“My husband once got a dickie, which is a mock turtleneck with no shirt, from his aunt.” -Anna

“Seven of the same turtleneck sweater in different colors – one for every day of the week.” -Rayshelle

“A toilet from Home Depot … seriously!” -Lisa

“Vibrating slippers …” -Lezia

“A velour jogging suit from my MIL … I neither jog nor wear velour!” -Susan

“A ceramic cow dressed in a bathrobe and slippers with hair curlers. There was no way to mask the horror when I unrapped that as a 13 year old.” -Laurie

“My husband gave me an adorable leather skirt and vest but I was 50 years old. Not something I would wear.” -Debbie

“Long patent leather trench coat … Matrix style.” -Lisa

Saddest Presents of the Bunch:

“One slipper sock from my mother-in-law. No, not a pair of slipper socks, a single sock!” -Soni

“A regifted jacket with rusty screws in the pocket.” -Jamie

“An old purse that I thought was new until I opened the inside pocket and saw that they forgot to pull their tampons and chapstick out.” -Jessica

“A 100 dollar gift card that was never activated.” -Jill

“Airplane nuts.” -Nicole

“A pair of boots. They were both for left feet.” -Carrie

“An umbrella that was a free gift when a larger gift was purchased.” -Brittany

“Toilet paper from a friend.” -Andrea

“Benefiber. Yes, that’s what my husband got me!” -Danielle

“A last-minute gift of a bag of Doritos from my husband.” -Aleasha

For more laughs, check out our Baby Bloopers blog, and be sure to sign up for our 100 Days newsletter for everything you’ll need during the winter holiday season.

TELL US: What is the worst Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

Stamped Snowman Card
Stamped Snowman Card
Stamped Snowman Card

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Traditional Christmas Cake, French-Style

Friday, December 20th, 2013

To me, French is the most beautiful language. It floats like a cloud and feels romantic. It’s the language of love. In high school, I worked my butt off to become proficient, taking honors-level classes, joining French club, and even becoming a teacher’s aid. I had dreams of keeping it in my daily life and raising bilingual children. Unfortunately, like a flower, language is delicate and must be tended everyday in order to flourish. When I got to college, my schedule doubled and I didn’t hold a single conversation en français.

Enter the French Institute Alliance Français (FIAF), a non-profit organization in New York City that promotes cross-cultural dialogue for children and adults alike. One of the largest and most respected centers of French-American activities in the U.S., FIAF offers art and education workshops for families.

Last Saturday, I tagged along to FIAF’s holiday bûche de Noël cooking class, where kiddos spoke elementary-level French to their moms and dads—c’est manifique!—while slathering layers of sponge cake with rich chocolate icing (and tons of red and green candies). Taught by Sylvie Berger, a chef raised in Paris, the class fully immersed children in the French language and was sprinkled with bits of English.

The bûche de Noël (“Christmas log,” or “Yule Log”) is a rolled sponge cake filled with buttercream and traditionally decorated with meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly, and wood-grain scored frosting. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Celtic celebrations of the winter solstice, but French pastry chefs popularized the confection in the 19th century and each bakery became known for its unique and elaborate embellishments. Today, few French people celebrate Christmas without one of these cakes.

Though messy, making the baby bûche was a blast! Take a look at my mini how-to video (click the play button), then make your own Christmas cake using one of the recipes below.

 

BAKE A BÛCHE!

 

Want more? Check out these recipes for easy holiday treats!

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Save Time and Money on Holiday Travel

Friday, December 20th, 2013

With Christmas on its way and New Year’s soon after, we bet there’s one thing you’re in for this season: travel. We had the chance to learn some expert tips from Bob Diener, president of GetARoom.com. Whether you’re flying or driving in the weeks to come, these strategies will help make your journey hassle-free now and for the future.

1. When in doubt, over-plan.

Making stops along the way might be necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to stock up on supplies beforehand. “Shop for food in advance at your local store. You can get much better prices than trying to pick things up at a convenient store,” Diener says. His trick to avoid paying $3 for water? Pack empty sports bottles to fill up at airports or rest stops.

 2. Search for unconventional options.

Don’t be afraid to look outside the traditional hotel. “People gravitate toward big name chains, but those have more demand and higher prices,” Diener says. You can book vacation rentals for almost the same as a hotel with the bonus of having a kitchen and extra space. Though independent hotels may not seem as glamorous, reading customer reviews can help you find one just as nice as the usual.

3. Take advantage of surprise offers.

Flash sales also exist on travel sites and can offer rates 10 to 60 percent lower. The trick is booking within the sale window, anywhere from 2 to 24 hours. “Most people take a week to make plans, but flash sales require you to make a decision right away because the rate is so good,” Diener says. GetARoom.com also has unpublished rates from 30,000 participating hotels; just give them a call to find deals 20 to 60 percent less than what’s listed.

4. Be on the lookout for free stuff.

It’s important to consider amenities in your overall cost. Hotels or resort packages that include breakfast or internet can go a long way in saving . One low-cost way to keep kids entertained: Find a place to stay with a pool. “After a rough day of activities, you can take them there for hours,” Diener says.

5. Keep things sane with technology.

Yes, adding movies to your tablets prior to leaving guarantees entertainment. But it’s also good to download apps that will make your journey smoother. Diener uses the app of his preferred airport to keep track of delays and store boarding passes. His other favorite, Kayak, allows users to search multiple vendors at once to find deals on-the-go. Plus, you’ll need a weather app to know when rain or snow might dampen your day, or give you a white Christmas.

Top Tips for Better Family Roadtrips
Top Tips for Better Family Roadtrips
Top Tips for Better Family Roadtrips

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Mario Lopez: “As long as the family is together, that’s the only tradition I really care about.”

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

With the holiday season in full swing, Parents caught up with Mario Lopez to ask about his family’s traditions. The X Factor host and proud papa of Gia, 3, and baby Dominic, 3 months, emphasized that while he loves the food and fun, nothing is more important to him than family.

How do you go about blending Mexican and American traditions?

ML: Being Mexican, I just don’t know any other way. It’s what I grew up with. My wife is 100 percent Italian; Mexican and Italian happen to be my two favorite cultures, two favorite types of food. With holiday traditions, food is very important. We prepare and serve our food together. Lately, we’ve been loving fresh avocados from Mexico, which is just a staple in a lot of the holiday dishes because they’re so versatile. I give them to my kids. I think it’s an underrated fruit, a healthy fat.

Aside from tasty treats, are there any holiday activities that have become a seasonal staple?

ML: Well, lately our tradition has been to have a very beach-y Christmas. We’ve done that the past couple years with my sister and her kids. My family and I will go down to Mexico right around Puerto Vallarta for Christmas on the beach.

Your son Dominic is only 3 months old. How will it be to travel with him?

ML: We’ve already traveled, believe it or not. He’s already gone to Chicago and he’s got a passport. He’s ready to g0 and the passport photo is the funniest thing. My daughter traveled at around 2-and-a-half months. We took her to Mexico last year, too. She’s 3 years old and her passport is all stamped up.

What present are you most excited to give Gia this holiday, just to see her reaction?

ML: The last thing she needs is another present. When we go to the beach I want her to boogie board with me. I think she’s big enough that we can take on the waves, so that will be fun.

What is the most special thing about a first Christmas as a bigger family? 

ML: I’m all about just having the family around. As long as the family is all together, that’s the only tradition I really care about. We make it all about the kids. We go to mass at midnight and sometimes the kids are a little too tired and my wife will stay with them and I’ll still go with my mom and grandmother.

Is Gia excited about Santa? 

ML: She is excited about Santa Claus. We also do the Elf on the Shelf. Right now, she’s just all about The Sound of Music. She’s been singing the songs. I can’t believe she knows all the songs and she’s only 3. She’s been singing left and right. It’s like Sound of Music overload. She’s got my energy, that’s for sure.

Working with young singers on the X Factor, does that affect how you think about your kids and their talents in the future?

ML: I’m just going to be supportive and try to guide them whatever way that they’re passionate. Just try to raise good, respectful, polite children and let their mother worry about what they want to get into.

Raising a baby boy can be different from a little girl. What is the biggest or most surprising difference so far?

ML: He’s only 3 months, so he’s just been sleeping or eating. He’s maybe been awake 10 percent of his life. He’s a good little baby. Fortunately he sleeps a lot. He even eats while he’s sleeping. My little girl, it’s hard for me to maybe be as firm as I should be disciplining her because she just melts my heart, but I don’t think I’ll have that problem with a boy.

For ideas and recipes to make your own holiday fun, visit our 100 Days of Holidays page.

How to Make Chocolate Mint Candy Cane Bars
How to Make Chocolate Mint Candy Cane Bars
How to Make Chocolate Mint Candy Cane Bars

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My Best Holiday Tradition

Monday, December 16th, 2013

When I said, in a Parents.com post on holiday traditions, that my favorite is taking a one-on-one holiday date with each of my kids, some people complained that my kids need more than one day a year of my attention. But of course, those two get my attention all day, every day. Here’s what makes a holiday time-out so special:
* They get me all to themselves with no sibling, no daddy, and no friends around. You’d think this would happen more often than it does, but I, like most mommies, have to work to be completely alone with any member of my family (the exception being my firstborn’s babyhood…we had plenty of alone time together!) Being with one kid usually means doing homework, walking to a playdate, shopping, or any number of mundane things, as opposed to just enjoying each other.
* I don’t cheat and do anything I “have” to do. That includes running by a bank or post office, etc., because then it wouldn’t feel like a date, right? 
* They get to skip school! At least as long as they are in preschool or elementary school. I try to keep our holiday date off of Saturday or Sunday, when we’re already off-duty. I take a vacation day from work, I excuse them from school, and we both take a break from responsibilities. On a weekday! It feels a little scandalous.
* I follow each kid’s lead. Joe is a nut about penguins, so this year’s date was to the Central Park Zoo where we spent maybe 45 minutes in the penguin room. After, I started to make an argument for seeing other animals (to make that entrance fee worth it!), but Joe wanted to eat a hot dog and then go look at Christmas decorations. So that’s what we did.
* Each kid gets something special, and I don’t fret about making  things even. Grace is now in middle school so, for the first time, I chickened out about taking her out all day. Her special mama date was a sleepover at the Conrad Hotel in lower Manhattan. (It’s not as pricey as it looks, at least by Manhattan-hotel standards, and it’s kid-friendly.) In the morning Grace ordered room-service breakfast, which to her represents the pinnacle of luxury. The fact that I didn’t have to fix breakfast, make the bed, or launder the towels was my own pinnacle of luxury. Joe didn’t get a hotel stay, and Grace didn’t get to miss an entire day of school, but they accept that they can have things that are different and equally special.
* Obviously, we do holiday things. When the kids were preschoolers I took them to St Patrick’s Cathedral a few years in a row, where they have a beautiful nativity scene with a crib that stays empty until Christmas. It felt more meaningful to discuss what Christmas is, mama-to-child, outside of church service (and outside of some lecture about asking for too many gifts, lol). Now that they get it, we more often view the Rockefeller Center Tree, or join activities like the cookie-decorating that the Conrad Hotel puts on. (Happening this Saturday, December 21st, from 3pm to 5pm, if you happen to be in NYC!)
Maybe I am just getting old, but it feels like the world is spinning so fast these days that taking a time-out with these little people is the best tradition I’ve ever come up with. I hope you all get a real rest and respite with loved ones in the next few weeks, before we’re on to new-year resolutions and a busy 2014. Happy Holidays!
We’ve put together a helpful email full of our best holiday projects, recipes, and more! To get your copy click here.

Tabletop Tree
Tabletop Tree
Tabletop Tree

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Check Out This Cheeky Elf on the Shelf Alternative

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

The Elf on the Shelf has quickly become a beloved Christmas tradition, but it might already be time for something new. For those feeling elf fatigue, another little creature could offer a fun alternative to the ubiquitous holiday spy.
Author L. van King pokes fun at elf mania with the cheeky parody The Dwarf in the Drawer. The Dwarf in the Drawer doesn’t do much, which might be refreshing for some parents who have run out of creative places to perch their sneaky elves. This lovable drawer-dweller is more of a sloth than his enemy, preferring to snooze among socks and watch Colbert rather than report back to the big guy up North. As he laments,
For most of the year, things at home were real peachy.
Then in came that usurper, acting all preachy.
Who died and made that elf king?
That creep who made Christmas a terrible thing? 
Based on the sheer number of Pinterest pins alone, The Elf on the Shelf is a huge hit, but the little guy isn’t for everyone.  Maybe you and your family have overdosed on good holiday cheer, and can commiserate with this grumpy counterpart. Here’s to new (and slightly sassy) holiday traditions!
Are you an Elf on the Shelf enthusiast, or are you more of a Dwarf in the Drawer dissenter? Tell us in the comments!
Find the best toys and games for your little ones here.
Image courtesy of Macmillan Publishers

Circle Christmas Tree
Circle Christmas Tree
Circle Christmas Tree

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Spread Cheer, Get Some in Return!

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

With the food riches of Thanksgiving behind us, Christmas is looming just around the corner (about three weeks to be exact). Though many get caught up trying to find the perfect gifts for family and friends, it’s easy to forget that presents don’t always need to come in shiny packages. 

Today’s #GivingTuesday, a national movement that started just last year. The goal: create a national day of giving where people can pay it forward. Whether that means donating to a favorite charity or volunteering at your local shelter, being charitable is all about finding the causes that matter to you.

One toy company is taking that mentality and spreading the joy throughout December. Tegu, known for its award-winning magnetic blocks, recently introduced a new member to the family: the Tegu Elf. And he’s on a mission to give back this holiday season.

From now until December 20, he will be tracking the hashtag #TeguElf across social media–Tegu’s Facebook wall, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Once he finds a person in need, he’ll send a special present your way, anything from free Tegu products to a restaurant gift card.

To get the elf’s attention, just send out a message with the hashtag and the thing you’d like most this Christmas. Don’t forget to look outside your immediate family, too. The elf is on the lookout for charities to donate to as well.

In the weeks to come, be sure to track his movements and announcements on Tegu’s Facebook page. Each day, he offers something new (such as free cubes placed in every fifth order on the site). In the meantime, if you have your own plans to give back today, share a picture explaining your good deeds using the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #UNselfie.

The time it takes you to do something for others will feel so much better than battling a sea of frenzied shoppers.

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Family Favorites for Feeding America

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Just like many others, my family’s holiday season is all about tradition. Though Thanksgiving is a couple days away, I already know we’ll be having my aunt’s garlic “smashed” potatoes and my gram’s pimento-stuffed celery (even though she’s the only one who likes it). We keep these recipes in the rotation because they’re near and dear to us. But this year, sharing them with others gives bigger benefits to those in need.

Go to Dish Up the Love to submit your favorite recipe and $1 will be donated to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks leading the fight against hunger. Each dollar provides nine meals for families who need them.

Partnering with the program is Top Chef alum and mom Antonia Lofaso, whose first book The Busy Mom’s Cookbook was recently released in paperback. A single parent, Antonia relishes her time at home with her daughter, Xea, making memories through food.

“For me the holidays are about making memories with family and friends around the kitchen table and giving back. Dish Up the Love celebrates these special holiday moments,” Antonia says. “I shared the recipe for my grandma’s lasagna because it’s served at all Lofaso family holidays. At Thanksgiving, we have turkey, but there’s always lasagna and tons of other Italian food.”

Grandma’s Lasagna

Serves: 6 to 8
Total time: 85 minutes

SAUCE INGREDIENTS
• ¼ cup olive oil
• ¼ cup chopped garlic (about 8 cloves)
• 3 (16-ounce) cans of peeled, whole plum tomatoes
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon sugar

LASAGNA INGREDIENTS
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 1 ½ pounds ground turkey
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning, or 4 teaspoons fresh marjoram or oregano
• 1 (9-ounce) package of no-boil, oven-ready lasagna noodles
• Sauce (from above)
• ½ cup shredded or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
• 2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
• 4 cups shredded whole-milk, mozzarella cheese
• 3 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 6 to 8 slices each
• 12 medium to large fresh basil leaves

DIRECTIONS

1. For the sauce, head the olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and just as it starts to brown around the edges, throw in the canned tomatoes. You don’t want the garlic to burn, so have the cans open and ready to go beforehand.

2. Add the salt and sugar and whisk it all together. Let the sauce simmer on medium-low for 40 minutes while you prep the other ingredients. If any foam rises to the top of the sauce, skim it off. That’s the acid from the tomatoes, and your sauce will taste better without it. Using a hand blender or counter top blender, blend on medium until smooth.

3. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a 10-inch sauté pan heat the olive oil on medium-high. Add the ground turkey and the salt. Cook the turkey for about 5 minutes, until it’s browned throughout. Just as it’s finishing the cooking process, stir in the Italian seasoning. Drain any excess fat or liquid from the pan.

4. Cover the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with 3 sheets of pasta. Ladle 1 cup of sauce over the noodles. You don’t want the sauce to soak through, so you don’t need to overdo it. Layer on half of the meat, followed by half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and half of the ricotta cheese. Sprinkle on one-third of the mozzarella and arrange one-third of the fresh tomatoes on top of it. Top with one-third of the basil.

5. Repeat the process for the next layer: 3 sheets of pasta, a cup of sauce, the rest of the meat, the rest of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the remaining ricotta, a third of the mozzarella, a third of the fresh tomatoes, and another third of the basil. The last layer is your presentation layer, so make it pretty. Add three more sheets of pasta.

6. Top the noodles with the last of the sauce, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes, rotating halfway through. The top should be a crispy golden brown when the lasagna is done, and the pasta sauce around the sides of the dish should be thick, not runny. Let the lasagna stand for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. If you cut into it while it is still piping hot, it will fall apart.

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For more information and to share your favorite family recipe, visit worldkitchen.com/dishupthelove. After submitting a recipe, you’ll be entered for weekly sweepstakes to win Pyrex, Baker’s Secret, and CorningWare products.

Get more kid-friendly recipes from Antonia Lofaso.

Recipe and image reprinted from The Busy Mom’s Cookbook with permission from Avery, an imprint of Penguin Group.

Image of Antonia and Xea by Alex Martinez.

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