Have a Blast on July 4th — Safely!

fireworks

It’s that time of year when our nation celebrates Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

For many, that means picnics, baseball, pool parties and almost always, some type of fireworks. Whether you will be attending a fireworks show, or having a not so private fireworks display at your home, safety should be your number one concern.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB), with information obtained from the National Council on Fireworks Safety http://www.fireworksafety.com/, provides the following tips to ensure your July 4th remains fun and free of any harm or hospital visits:

Follow these safety tips when using fireworks:

  • Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.
  • Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don’t realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees – hot enough to melt some metals.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
  • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
  • Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.
  • Use fireworks outdoors and only as intended. Don’t try to alter them or combine them.  Use common sense. Spectators should keep a safe distance from the shooter and the shooter should wear safety glasses.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a “designated shooter.”
  • Know your fireworks. Read the caution label before igniting.

And note these special safety tips, if using sparklers:

  • Always remain standing while using sparklers.
  • Never hold a child in your arms while using sparklers.
  • Never hold, or light, more than one sparkler at a time.
  • Never throw sparklers.
  • Sparkler wire and stick remain hot long after the flame has gone out. Be sure to drop spent sparklers in a bucket of water.
  • Teach children not to wave sparklers, or run, while holding sparklers.
  • Only persons over the age of 12 should be allowed to handle sparklers of any type.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

10 Ways to Say “Thank You” on Mother’s Day

moms day flowers

“Look, Ma—Successful Adult!”:  Ten Thank-Yous Your Mother Should Hear

Nothing makes mothers happier than to know that they’ve raised fulfilled, healthy, successful, and self-aware kids. On Mother’s Day, let your mom know exactly what she did to turn you into the adult you are today and how her influence still shapes your life. Be specific! From Todd Patkin, here are ten suggestions to get you started.

• First and foremost, thank you for always telling me how proud you were of me and pointing out all of the ways in which I was (and am!) special. Because of you, I know how important it is to love yourself.

• Thank you for insisting that I always be on time. I may have dragged my feet a lot as a kid, but now I know that punctuality shows respect for other people.

• Thank you for showing me how to conduct a civil disagreement with others. While I don’t enjoy confrontation, I am comfortable sharing and defending my views.

• Thank you for being a stickler about completing chores. I may never love to vacuum and do laundry, but I know how to keep myself and my house clean.

• Thank you for teaching me that people do judge a book by its cover. I may not always be a walking fashion plate, but I do take pride in my appearance. And I know to iron my shirt and pants before important occasions!

• Thank you for forcing me to eat asparagus and Brussels sprouts when all I wanted was chicken fingers and potato chips. Now I’m a healthy eater who loves the produce aisle!

• Thank you for encouraging me to keep trying and practicing after I was cut from the soccer team. You taught me how to be determined and resilient, and that persistence usually pays off. (I made the team the following year!)

• Thank you for teaching me how to be polite and courteous to everyone I meet. I have gotten to know so many interesting people because I simply smiled and said hello!

• Thank you for reading bedtime stories to me for years. You introduced me to so many new ideas, and you helped to make me a creative and imaginative person.

• Thank you for drilling me on my spelling words before my quiz each week. You taught me how valuable it is to put your best effort into whatever job you happen to be doing. You were right when you told me that careful preparation usually helps you to get results you can be proud of!

 

 

About the Author: Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In, Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People, and The Sunny Days Secret: A Guide for Finding Happiness (coming 2014), grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.

About the Books: Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.findinghappinessthebook.com.

Guide to Gift Card Giving

gift cards

With the holiday season right around the corner, many shoppers are looking for the best gift options for family and friends. Gift cards may seem like a simple solution, but Better Business Bureau is warning that some gift cards could carry high fees making them far from a good deal.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act <http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Fact-Sheet-Reforms-to-Protect-American-Credit-Card-Holders>, which took effect in 2010, established standards that give consumers additional protections when using gift cards. The standards prohibit retailers from:

* setting expiration dates less than five years after the card is purchased; and

* charging dormancy, inactivity, and service fees unless the card has not been used for at least 12 months. If fees are charged after this period, the details of such fees must be clearly disclosed on the card.

These standards apply to store gift cards and general use prepaid cards, which are often branded by payment networks such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

But there are some details the CARD Act doesn’t cover. For example, issuers can still charge fees every time the card is used, the balance is checked, a replacement card is requested or when customer service is called.

BBB recommends the follow tips before buying a gift card:

* Research before you buy. Buy from a known and trusted source. Research businesses at bbb.org to see a company’s BBB Business Review. Avoid online auction sites, because the cards sold there could be counterfeit or obtained fraudulently.

* Read the fine print. Fully understand how the card works, if there are any fees associated with buying or using the card and if any fees will be deducted from the card after it is purchased.

* Inspect the card before buying. Verify that protective stickers have not been removed and the PIN Number on the back of the card is not exposed. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.

* Provide receipt with gift card. Give the recipient of the gift card the original receipt in case the card is lost, stolen or there is a discrepancy with the balance.

12 Schemes of the Holidays

running santa

Gifts and appeals may seem like true love, but the Better Business Bureau says be aware of the top 12 schemes of the holidays:

12. Trip Troubles: Before visiting relatives, evade overly enticing travel deals. Watch out for unexpected hotel and flight “confirmation” or “cancellation” notices—which trick consumers into clicking unsafe links to “stop” unreal reservations.

11. Getaway Goons: When shopping or vacationing, don’t become a target for theft. Guard belongings, be observant and pack lightly. Avoid broadcasting travel plans or empty homes on social networks—as it may entice burglars.

10. Cheating Charities: Be skeptical of seasonal charitable solicitors who use high pressure tactics, won’t answer basic donation questions or can’t provide proof of charity affiliation. Don’t trust solicitations with invoices for past due payments.

9. Good-For-Nothing Gift Cards: Avoid purchasing from disreputable third parties and examine gift cards closely for terms, restrictions, fees and expiration dates. Use cards early as they may become non-redeemable if retailers go out of business.

8. Gotta-Have Goodies and Gadgets: Dodge deceptive deals and “free” offers on desirable toys, jewelry and electronics in audacious auctions, classified ad sites, social media posts, pop-up ads, online coupons, sweepstakes and surveys.

7. Cruel Credit Catches: During the big spending season, discard ads and offers for high-interest credit cards, costly layaway programs and payday loan traps.

6. Jester Jobs: Laugh off limited-time job offers for high-paying mystery shopping gigs and online work-at-home tasks. “Employers” may steal data from applications, fail to send start-up materials or induce paycheck money transfer schemes.

5. Suspicious Santa Sites: Steer away if “Santa” requests unnecessary personal data, doesn’t abide by advertising laws or fails to disclose contact details and privacy policies.

4. Dodgy Domains: Dangers may be hiding in holiday-themed articles, music, screensavers and other downloads. Before surfing the Web, social media sites or emails, update anti-virus protection and check firewalls. Avoid shopping or banking online on unsecured Wi-Fi networks at public places, like airports and hotels.

3. Hacking Holiday E-Cards: Do not click links or attachments in e-cards and other holiday greetings from unfamiliar senders. Ensure spam filters are set.

2. Bogus Bank Emails: Disregard sudden emails or text messages about bank account issues. Instead, contact banks or financial institutions directly to verify.

1. Deceiving Deliveries: Don’t accept notices about delivery delays or confirmations on unordered packages; phishers and smishers often pose as well-known retailers or shipping companies to gain false credibility.

12 Last-Minute Holiday Gift Ideas

shopping

?What does it take to qualify as a last-minute gift? With a few quick searches, you’ll find suggestions ranging from knitted scarves to diamond stud earrings. Unless you have an abundance of cash or lightning-fast knitting fingers, such suggestions don’t offer much help.

If you’re looking for legit last-minute holiday gift ideas — not just product placement — try a few of these options. Not only do they make for affordable presents, but you can procrastinate to your heart’s content and still come out on top this holiday season.

1. Baked Goods
There’s nothing more universal than the appeal of sweet treats during the holidays. They’re easy and inexpensive to make, plus you can pick up holiday containers at the dollar store for affordable presentation. Seasonal recipes abound, so hit up AllRecipes.com for ideas or take the classic approach with frosted sugar cookies.

2. Gift Cards
What was once considered an impersonal gift is now the most requested item on holiday wish lists for six consecutive years, according to the National Retail Federation. Even better, the proliferation of online gift cards makes it easy to email your gift or share it via social media. Sites like GiftCardGranny.com offer discount digital gift cards to popular retailers and restaurants, enabling you to save on this holiday favorite.

3. Discounted Decor
With only a few days left until Christmas, retailers are eager to rid their shelves of holiday decor. Now’s the time to find festive home goods for less, including decorative trees, wreaths, servingware and more. Select these gifts thoughtfully as most seasonal items are non-returnable.

4. Champagne
Booze represents a gift that’s nearly always accepted with open arms. However, handing over a bow attached to a bottle of vodka leaves something to be desired. Go beyond the college ideals of anything with alcohol being acceptable, and add a touch of class with champagne. As it turns out, December happens to be one of the best months to purchase the bubbly drink so you can likely find a good deal.

5. Monthly Clubs
Once limited to wine connoisseurs, monthly clubs are rapidly expanding to other popular products. Is there a beer lover in your family? Get him or her a 2-month club membership to The Beer of the Month Club for less than $100. Is your best friend addicted to beauty products? Birchbox offers customizable monthly samples of the best beauty products on the market, starting at $30 for a 3-month membership.

6. Warehouse Club Membership
Monthly clubs provide fun gifts throughout the year, but another option is to gift someone a membership to stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club. A gift membership at Costco is only $55, and provides year-round access to extra deals and discounts. Plus, if the gift is well received, all you have to do is renew it next year and your shopping is covered.

7. Online Orders
As a last-minute shopper you don’t always have the luxury to use online options. This year, LastSleighDays.com is trying to help with this problem. The site features Christmas shipping deadlines from all of the most popular stores, as well as promo codes free shipping and extra discounts.

8. Flowers
Whether you’re talking about moms or girlfriends, “you never buy me flowers” is a common complaint. Show them you took the not-so-subtle suggestion and pick up a fresh bouquet. Most major grocery stores have a full floral department where you can buy arrangements through Christmas Eve.

9. Daily Deals
Groupon and LivingSocial deals aren’t just for impulsive self-gifting. In fact, they make for amazing gifts when considered thoughtfully. With packages ranging from golf lessons to weekend getaways to mani-pedi sessions, you can easily find a deal suited for someone on your list. Make the presentation special by purchasing a small item related to the experience, like a travel-size bottle of lotion or package of golf balls.

10. Magazine Subscriptions
A magazine subscription is the perfect solution to the last-minute gift-buying challenge. In addition to being quick and relatively inexpensive, the recipient will remember your thoughtfulness every time a new issue arrives. With topics ranging from pet ownership to expert cooking advice, you can find a magazine dedicated to a topic of interest for anyone on your list.

11. Donations
Let’s be honest: Despite the good intentions and worthwhile contributions a charitable gift makes, a piece of paper with a donation amount doesn’t stir much excitement. If you’re going to take this route, consider giving to a charity that provides something more tangible. Organizations such as ChildFund International allow you to contribute toward items that have real-world applications including banana plants for a family in Uganda, or blankets for children is Mozambique.

12. Games & Apps
Are you tech savvy? Do you know all the best apps and games to get for the iPad? While it’s second-nature to you, Grandma might need a little assistance. Instead of giving an iTunes gift card and letting her figure it out, take the extra time to load up her new tablet or smartphone with apps she’ll actually use. Just beware, you’re likely signing up to be on-call tech support for the remainder of the year.

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Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

Kate Larson’s Under the Mistletoe Snickerdoodle Shortbread Cookies

Snickerdoodle Shortbread with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Under the Mistletoe Snickerdoodle Shortbread Cookies with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting were Kate Larson’s entry in the 2012 Holiday Cookie Contest sponsored by Fayette Woman Magazine and the Peachtree City Farmers Market.  “These cookies take their name from a holiday tradition because, like a good holiday smooch, they are sweet and homey, but with a little spice.”  says Kate.

Snickerdoodle Shortbread with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Snickerdoodle Shortbread with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Under the MistletoeSnickerdoodle Shortbread CookiesWith Vanilla Buttercream
Cookie ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 1/2 sticks butter, salted

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. all spice

1/2 tsp. cinnamon (in batter)

Preheat oven to 350.
Cream butter and sugar with a mixer at medium speed.Add baking powder, salt, vanilla, allspice and cinnamon. Mix until combined.
With mixer on low, add 1 cup flour, then egg, then second cup of flour. Mix well to combine.
Place dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets; a small ice cream scoop works great.
Sprinkle cinnamon on dough
Bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until edges just turn golden. Allow time to cool before frosting.

Kate Larson

Kate Larson

Classic Buttercream Frosting

“Mine is a little different but is a family secret.”

1 cup butter, softened

3 1/2 cups 10x sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

3-4 Tbsp. milk or heavy cream

FROSTING:Combine butter and vanilla. Beat on medium about 1 minute.Turn mixer to low and add 10x sugar slowly, 1/2 cup at a time. Add 1 Tbsp. milk or cream as mixture thickens.Once mixture is mostly combined, increase to high speed until stiff.

 

Under the Mistletoe Snickerdoodle Shortbread Cookies
Snickerdoodle Shortbread Cookies with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Author:
Recipe type: Christmas Cookie
Ingredients
  • Cookie ingredients:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1½ sticks butter, salted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • ¼ tsp. all spice
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon (in batter)
  • Classic Buttercream Frosting:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3½ cups 10x sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3-4 Tbsp. milk or heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer at medium speed.Add baking powder, salt, vanilla, allspice and cinnamon. Mix until combined.
  3. With mixer on low, add 1 cup flour, then egg, then second cup of flour. Mix well to combine.
  4. Place dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets; a small ice cream scoop works great.
  5. Sprinkle cinnamon on dough
  6. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until edges just turn golden. Allow time to cool before frosting.
  7. FROSTING:Combine butter and vanilla. Beat on medium about 1 minute.Turn mixer to low and add 10x sugar slowly, ½ cup at a time. Add 1 Tbsp. milk or cream as mixture thickens.Once mixture is mostly combined, increase to high speed until stiff.

 

Driving Safely While Shopping During the Holiday Season

safe parking

The holiday season is a time when busy people can become careless and vulnerable to theft and other holiday crime. The following tips from law enforcement can help you be more careful, prepared and aware during the holiday season.

• Avoid driving alone or at night.

• Keep all car doors locked and windows closed while in or out of your car. Set your alarm or use an anti-theft device.

• If you must shop at night, park in a well-lighted area.

• Avoid parking next to vans, trucks with camper shells, or cars with tinted windows.

• Park as close as you can to your destination and take notice of where you parked.

• Never leave your car unoccupied with the motor running or with children inside.

• Do not leave packages or valuables on the seat of your car. This creates a temptation for thieves. If you must leave something in the car, lock it in the trunk or put it out of sight.

• Be sure to locate your keys prior to going to your car.

• Keep a secure hold on your purse, handbag and parcels. Do not put them down or on top of the car in order to open the door.

• When approaching and leaving your vehicle be aware of your surroundings.

• Do not approach your car alone if there are suspicious people in the area.

• Ask mall or store security for an escort before leaving your shopping location.

• Make sure a family member of friend knows where you are and when you expect to be home.

• If approached or attacked, let it go! Nothing is more important than your life! And if possible, never ever get in a car with someone who wishes to do harm. Your chances of staying safe are much higher if you don’t. This is the time to not be afraid to make a scene. Scream, yell “fire,” do anything you can to get attention to yourself so you can try and get away from the person who is holding you against your will.

Although these tips may sound a little scary, they are a simple reminder for all of us to just be aware of our surroundings to ensure our safety, not just during the holiday season, but all year round.

DIY Ornaments – Spool Ornament

spool ornament1A

Spool Ornament

by Virginia Bittinger

This spool ornament is a lovely way to display your child’s artwork. To make it, you will need:

  • Paper
  • Markers
  • Wooden Spool
  • Glue
  • Wooden Beads
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Twine
  • Yarn

Cut a piece of paper to fit around a wooden spool. You can use plain paper, a page from a book, or in this case, sheet music.

 

On the piece of paper you cut out, allow your child to draw a picture and then glue it onto the spool.

 

Paint two wooden beads and then thread a bead, the spool, and another bead onto twine.

Tie a knot to secure beads and add a twine or yarn bow.

DIY Ornaments – A Tree for a Tree

bottle brush ornament1A

A Tree for a Tree

To make this tree ornament, you will need:

  • Bottle Brush Tree
  • Glue
  • Small Wooden Flower Pot
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Beads

Have your child paint the inside and outside of a small wooden flower pot that can be purchased at the craft store.

Once the paint dries, glue a bottle brush tree into the flower pot.

 

Glue beads onto the tree to resemble ornaments. The easiest way to do this is to use a toothpick to apply a little glue to the tree and then press the bead into the glue.

Tie bakers twine to the top of the tree for hanging.

8 Tips for Surviving Holiday Travel with Your Kids

baby in car

Traffic, TSA, and Tantrums, Oh My!: Eight Tips for Surviving Holiday Travel with Your Kids

If you’ve ever traveled with kids (especially over the holidays), you know it’s an adventure. More accurately, it’s a slapstick, Murphy’s-Law, Griswold-family type of adventure. There are poorly timed poops. Lost pacifiers. Traffic jams and road construction. A beyond-awkward screening at airport security as you’re pulled into secondary and patted down while you try to comfort a screaming baby. Having every nook and cranny of your carry-on luggage searched—and subsequently rearranged—so you can’t find anything. The overhead speakers announcing that your departing flight is boarding while you’re in a completely different terminal.

And the list goes on. There are as many potential travel mishaps as there are families with kids. But take a deep breath: According to Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, holiday travel doesn’t have to be complicated.

“The better organized you are, the easier it gets,” says Ivana, who is a featured blogger at Modern Mom, founder of Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, and coauthor of the upcoming book A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year. “Yes, I know that this sort of ‘be prepared’ advice sounds simplistic, but that’s the beauty of it—it is! With the right information and a willingness to think ahead, you can save yourself a Santa’s sackful of stress.”

Ivana speaks from experience. While she’s a modern-day princess, she comes from modest means and met her Prince Charming while on scholarship at Pepperdine. What’s more, she has worked with children for over twenty years, has a master’s degree in education, and is a digital strategy consultant. But Ivana’s most valuable source of education by far, she says, is her experience as a mother of two.

“I’m an American who married an Italian, so my family flies fairly frequently,” she shares. “Over time, I’ve learned a lot of travel-disaster lessons in the School of Hard Knocks—and I’ve also developed some crisis-averting strategies that have turned out to be real lifesavers.”

Whether you are traveling near or far, these eight survival tips from Ivana will help make your family trip the wonderful adventure it should be.

Plan ahead. And plan some more. In other words, make a list and check it twice. Write down everything you’ll need while you’re away from home, and do so as far in advance as possible (then put the list in your suitcase so you can use it as a guideline when you’re repacking to come home). Give yourself plenty of time to consider your travel schedule and think through all possible scenarios (e.g., Will there be naptimes and mealtimes? If so, how many?) and what you’ll need to handle these situations.

“For example, if you are going to be mid-flight during naptime, make sure you have sleep essentials like lovies, and also pack a distraction like a portable DVD player in case sleep doesn’t happen and you have a cranky kid on your hands,” Ivana suggests. “It’s also a good idea to check any connecting destinations for restaurants or kid-friendly areas so that you can refuel and kids can burn off energy in between flights.”

Travel light(ish). Yes, this is definitely easier said than done—but it’s not impossible. Ivana advises packing everything you can a day or two before your departure, perhaps while the kids are asleep so that you can focus. Use the list you made earlier and don’t second-guess yourself. Remember, there are probably plenty of stores at your destination if you forget something.

“Speaking of stores at your destination, consider whether there are items you can borrow or buy once you get to your destination,” Ivana suggests. “Or you might even call ahead and ask Mom to pick up a few things like extra diapers and formula so you won’t have to travel like a Sherpa.

“I’ve found that one suitcase works for both of my kids,” she continues. “I recommend consolidating as much of your luggage as possible. Especially if you’ll be traveling with a stroller, carrier, or car seat, you don’t want to be weighed down by anything extra. (Speaking of consolidation, the new Ride On Carry On—a device that converts your carry-on suitcase into a stroller—solves a lot of traveling mommy woes!) And if you’re checking most of your bags, don’t forget a carry-on with extra outfits for the kids and maybe even an extra shirt for you in case of spills or spit-up!”

Organize your Mary Poppins purse. All moms have mastered the art of traveling with a seemingly bottomless bag. The trick is to do so without contracting “I’m lost in my handbag” syndrome! First, find a bag with plenty of separate pockets and compartments so that you’ll be able to store documents, snacks, baby gear, handiwipes, etc. as opposed to simply throwing them into your bag and hoping for the best. Make sure the things you’ll need most often and/or quickly (such as pacifiers, bottles, and snacks) are most easily accessible.

“I always pay special attention to travel documents,” Ivana says. “You’ll have to whip them out while checking in and going through security, so think about storing them in a separate, brightly colored wallet or folder if there isn’t a convenient compartment in your bag. And when I’m traveling by plane, I make sure to pack a carry-on ziplock bag with medications my kids might need, such as infant fever reducer, throat soothers, and gas and allergy relief. There’s nothing worse than being trapped on an airplane with a fussy child who’s feeling bad.”

Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. You may be thinking, Duh! Every amateur knows that!, but the advice bears repeating. It always takes longer to get out of the house than you think it will. Traffic jams tend to pop up at the most inconvenient times. Airport lines can be mind-numbingly long. And you never know when a tantrum or dirty diaper will erupt.

“Thinking back on my family’s many trips, I don’t believe there has been even one that went without a hitch,” Ivana recalls. “And that’s normal! Make sure your time margins are as wide as possible. Leave a half-hour or more earlier than you think you need to. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the middle of a meltdown.”

Ace airport security. “The thought of navigating airport security can strike fear into the heart of even the bravest mothers,” comments Ivana. “While you can’t bypass TSA completely, you can make the process as painless as possible. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind.”

  • When possible, use the “Green Circle” lanes, where you will be allowed extra time and assistance to get through the lines.
  • Know the latest TSA regulations and pack your carry-ons accordingly. The following tips are based on November 2012 guidelines:
  • Gels, aerosols, and liquids should fit into one quart-sized ziplock per passenger. Maximum container size is 3.4 ounces.
  • Liquids like medicine, baby formula/food, breast milk, or juice do not have to be in baggies, and can be higher than the 3.4 oz. regulation amount. You do have to notify the TSA officer that you are carrying these extra-fluid items.
  • Dress for a Magic Mike night out. Before you get all hot and bothered, what Ivana means is that your family should wear easy-to-slip-on-and-off shoes, jackets, and belts (children under twelve can leave their shoes on). Be sure your little ones aren’t wearing anything metal that could set off beepers. And be prepared—if you are carrying your baby in a sling, you may get an extra pat-down, even if no alarm goes off.
  • If they are old enough, prepare your children beforehand as to what they can expect when they go through security. Explain to them why they need to stay close and follow instructions, and not to be afraid if the beeper sounds.

Fill their bellies. What’s worse than a tired baby? A hungry one! Make sure you have plenty of snacks (e.g., infant formula and finger foods) for your little ones to enjoy for the duration of your travel. If you’re flying, have a baby bottle ready for take-off and landing. Swallowing will help your baby’s ears adjust to pressure changes. For older children, a low-sugar lollipop works great.

“Don’t forget to fuel yourself, either,” reminds Ivana. “You won’t be doing anyone, especially your kids, any good by bottoming out your blood sugar. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and eating snacks when the kids do. A stop at the airport coffee shop won’t hurt, either!”

Make time fly with entertainment. Whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile, chances are you’ll have a lot of downtime to fill. Buy a new toy for the trip, and bring books, an iPad, pacifiers, a pony—whatever it takes to keep your children from reaching octave levels that break the sound barrier.

“Having a few ‘new’ things will keep kids occupied longer,” explains Ivana. “Be wary of bringing anything that makes too much noise (think of the other passengers and yourself!). Music is a great soother, so perhaps some kid-friendly headphones would make a great investment. And don’t forget comfort items like a favorite teddy, sleep pillow, or soft blanket.”

Map out your road trip. Just because you may be traveling America’s roads in the trusty family vehicle, that doesn’t mean you should neglect planning. Traveling by car with pint-sized passengers can be just as stressful as flying the friendly skies. Many of the same rules apply: Be sure to have plenty of snacks and toys on hand to keep your children occupied, and make sure you can get to them easily. Also, consider a DVD player and headphones to keep parent sanity intact (and to cut down on the “Are we there yet?”s).

“Look at your route ahead of time and plan stops at locations that will allow little ones to burn off energy, like a park,” Ivana suggests. “In a pinch, a fast-food restaurant with a play area or even a rest stop with an open grassy area will do. Also, be sure to have lots of extras on hand—I’m talking about diapers, and also pacis and wipes. You never know when something might get dropped under the seat, or when sticky hands or spills might make an appearance.”

“Remember, holiday travel with children doesn’t have to mean that the end of your sanity is in sight,” concludes Ivana. “Making it there and back in one piece is simpler than you think if you plan, prepare, and know what to expect. So travel safely—and don’t forget to enjoy this special season.”

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About Princess Ivana:
Ivana is the author of the upcoming book A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year, which was cowritten with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith. Their blog, Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, is a blend of humor, practical advice, and lifestyle tips on the essentials. Ivana is also a featured blogger on Modern Mom.

DIY Ornaments – Clay Star

clay star1A

Clay Star

by Virginia Bittinger

To make this polymer clay star that doubles as an ornament or as a beautiful gift tag, you will need:

  • Polymer Clay
  • Rubber Stamp
  • Cookie Cutter
  • Drinking Straw
  • White Paint
  • Mod Podge
  • Glitter

 

Press out the clay to approximately a half inch thick. Tip: If you are using oven-bake clay, make this ornament on a cookie sheet so it will be ready to stick in the oven. Press a large rubber stamp into the clay.

Use a cookie cutter to cut out the star and remove excess clay.

 

Use a straw to make a hole in the clay so you have a way to hang the ornament.

Bake according to the directions on your package of polymer clay. When your clay has been baked and allowed to cool, give it a coat of white paint.

Once the paint is dry, use a paint brush to add a coat of Mod Podge and sprinkle with glitter.

While the Mod Podge is still wet, wipe your finger across the ornament. This will allow the glitter to remain only in the recessed areas left by the stamp.

Add ribbon or twine through the hole and your sparkling ornament is ready to hang. If you use it as gift tag, simply use a permanent marker to write the name of the lucky recipient on the back.

 

Staying Off the Naughty (Spending) List

empty wallet

Staying Off the Naughty (Spending) List: Ten Ways to Manage Your Finances and Avoid Post-Holiday Regrets
The holidays are filled with temptation to go overboard with spending.
Financial expert Eric Tyson offers advice on how to manage your holiday spending.

The holidays are upon us, bringing all those personal and family images and sensations we cherish. But for many of us, there are a few not-so-joyous holiday sights (a purse overflowing with credit card receipts) and sounds (the ca-ching! of the cash registers marking our escalating debt). These negatives can easily outweigh all that we love about the holiday season, especially during this less-than-prosperous economic period.

“Overall, the Great Recession brought about a renewed dedication to saving,” says Tyson, author of Personal Finance For Dummies®, 7th Edition. “Before the recession, our national personal savings rate was close to zero, and now it’s around 3 percent. But it is very important that you not let your holiday spending zap all of the saving progress you made during the year.

“Whether it’s a dedication to the gift-giving tradition, a sense of obligation, or a feeling that the holidays entitle us to have a little more fun than usual, too many of us seem to turn a blind eye to the budget-busting reality of all that spending over just a couple of months,” adds Tyson. “Don’t let excessive holiday spending cause any unnecessary financial stress for you and your family.”

What if you could have a wonderful, memorable holiday and avoid the financial hangover afterwards? Tyson provides great tips on how to keep your holiday spending in check.

Find an alternative to gift-giving during the holidays. Many people feel they have to give gifts during the holidays, either because it’s a family tradition or because they know their friends and relatives have gotten gifts for them. There are plenty of great ways to trade in this tradition for another one that is even more meaningful, and chances are your family and friends will be happy to save gift-buying dough as well.

“Instead of exchanging gifts, your family members might want to pool their money and spend it on a holiday outing,” says Tyson. “If you have kids, you’ll probably want to get them a little something, but set strict spending limits. Instead of piling up the toys, let each child choose an outing or event that he or she gets to spend with you one-on-one. Kids will look back on the valuable time you’ve spent together a lot more fondly than they will any toy or video game they use a couple of times and then toss aside.”

If you must buy gifts, cut your expenses elsewhere as necessary. Perhaps you’d rather dine out or go to the movies less, or maybe you can forego that new pair of shoes you’ve been wanting for yourself in order to afford gifts for the grandparents. “It doesn’t matter where you make cuts, just that you make them,” says Tyson. “Keeping your other spending under control while you’re out there doing your shopping can be a challenge, but just keep repeating to yourself the importance of not over-spending. That way when it comes time to actually pass out those presents you’ve purchased, you can do it without grimacing as you think about the damage they did to your bank account.”

Set a budget and keep tabs on what you are spending. While you’re doing your holiday shopping, your new best friends should be your checkbook register, credit card statements, and all of your receipts. It’s easy to get into a spending rhythm when shopping for yourself or others, and that’s why you need to physically write down every purchase you make and make sure you don’t go over your budget. “When you start to add up everything you’re spending, you may be shocked at what all those expenses from this store and that store add up to be,” says Tyson. “And don’t forget about all those ‘necessary’ holiday extras. Most people don’t budget their shopping and don’t realize that by the time you buy all the presents, plus wrapping paper, cards, decorations, etc., it’s added up to a ridiculous amount. Having a budget that you know you must stick to will help keep your impulse spending from getting out of hand and will help you hone in on the most reasonably priced holiday items.”

Plan what you are going to buy, and don’t get any extras! Particularly during the holidays, companies pull out their most appealing packaging in hopes of snagging the eyes of shoppers. That’s why along with your budget, you’re going to want to take an exact list of what you want to buy for your gift recipients. Don’t go shopping for someone’s gift until you know exactly what you are going to buy.

“It’s very easy to go in with no plan, see something you like, and get it simply because you have no idea what else to get for a hard-to-buy-for relative despite the gift’s significant price tag,” says Tyson. “Another temptation that the list will help you squelch is the desire to buy those little knickknacks here and there that you think will make nice small additions to the gifts you’ve purchased. Very rarely are things like this necessary, and if you’ve got your list in hand, it will be easier for you to pass them by without hesitation.”

Use the season to set a good example for your kids. Your kids learn about money from you. And if they see you spending left and right during the holiday season, the lesson they come away with isn’t going to be a good one. During the holidays, it’s very easy for the “gimmee gimmee gimmee” materialistic attitude to get out of control. After all, kids are bombarded with constant advertisements for toys, clothes, and the latest gadgets you can be guaranteed they’ll want (or at least think they do!).

“There’s plenty you can do to help kids appreciate the true meaning of the holidays,” says Tyson. “Have them give some of their money to a local charity, participate in a program in which they buy and wrap gifts for underprivileged kids, or volunteer at a soup kitchen. It can be an eye-opening experience for kids to see that not everyone has enough money to have an enjoyable holiday.”

Watch out for deals that seem too good to be true. Retailers run all sorts of specials to induce consumers to buy now, and the holidays offer these companies easy prey in the form of deal-seeking, cash-strapped consumers. For example, furniture stores frequently offer that if you buy now, you don’t have to pay a thing for a year, and you might even get free delivery. This sort of “push” marketing can make it harder for you to say no.

“This is just one example of how stores coax in shoppers,” says Tyson. “Always remember that free financing for, say, a year is not a huge cost to the dealer, but it is a cost, and if you forgo it, you should be able to negotiate a lower purchase price. Retailers find that buyers are less likely to negotiate the price if they are getting a short-term financing break. Read the fine print on any deal you are considering taking before you go to the store to make the purchase. It can be even harder to say no once you get to the store, so you’ll want to know what you are in for before you get there.”

Leave the plastic at home. Many of us can explain away spending so much on gifts because we simply charge everything and reason that we can pay it off gradually after the holidays. This is a great way to create a never-ending cycle of consumer debt for yourself. It only creates unnecessary financial stress for you after the holidays.

“Use your budget to figure out how you can purchase the gifts you want to purchase without putting them on your credit card,” says Tyson. “If you are so cash-strapped that you think it will be difficult to avoid charging gifts, then you may want to sit down with other friends and family and propose a limit on how much gifts can cost this year—or propose no adult gift exchanges at all. Far from being disappointed, it’s likely they’ll view this reprieve from gift-buying as a gift in its own right.”

Invest in your kids’ financial futures. It may not seem as exciting to your kids as a new iPod, but a contribution to their financial well-being will be appreciated long after such expensive “toys” are obsolete. “Have the grandparents contribute to a college tuition fund or savings account rather than buy them more stuff they don’t need,” suggests Tyson. “Or make one of your gifts to your kids a stock fund portfolio that can start accruing now. Also, make them aware of the budgets and tools you are using to keep your spending in check. The holidays are a great time for them to truly learn that money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Give the gift of time to your kids. Often, parents buy gifts for their kids with the best of intentions. Either you don’t want to deprive them of the toys and gadgets all of their friends have, or you want to give them the things you didn’t have as a kid.

“Both of these tendencies are perfectly understandable, but I’ve found that parents who buy too much for their kids often have difficulty changing the habit,” says Tyson. “The holiday season offers great opportunities for you to show your kids how much you love and care for them. For example, you can make time with them each week to watch a holiday film or TV show, go on a walk to see your neighbors’ holiday lights and decorations, or emphasize that giving back message again and take them caroling at a local retirement home. All of these activities cost next to nothing, and they will be fun for the kids and for you!”

Remember that meaningful gifts don’t necessarily have a big price tag. “Sure, it might be nice to give your mom a brand new TV, but there are other things out there that will be even more meaningful and enjoyable for her—like a photo album with candid shots of the grandkids or something they’ve made for her themselves,” says Tyson. “If you are looking to give a gift that truly means something and that will keep its value for years to come, you are better off looking for nonmaterial gifts to give than for something your gift recipients could get themselves at the local big box store.”

“Money can easily become the focus of the holidays when it should be the last thing you are thinking about,” says Tyson. “By keeping your spending under control, you can have a great holiday and avoid the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that occurs when you start getting those credit card bills in the mail. If you prepare properly, you can achieve a happy balance of spending and saving during the holiday season. That’s a great gift in and of itself, for both you and the people you love.”

 

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About the Author:
Eric Tyson is an internationally acclaimed and best-selling personal finance book author, syndicated columnist, and speaker. He has worked with and taught people from all financial situations, so he knows the financial concerns and questions of real folks just like you. Despite being handicapped by an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BS in economics and biology from Yale University, Eric remains a master of “keeping it simple.”

Eric’s website is www.erictyson.com.

About the Book:
Personal Finance For Dummies®, 7th Edition (Wiley, 2012, ISBN: 978-1-1181178-5-9, $22.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling (877) 762-2974.