Christmas

Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Advent!

We’ve all been doing it.  Pouring over Pinterest hour after hour prepping ourselves for this very month(ish) of holiday wonderment.

We’re all putting our Elves on our Shelves next to glazed donut cheerios.
We’ve all seen three million different ways to decorate cone forms as tabletop christmas trees.
Everybody and their mother’s got the family initial in an evergreen wreath on their front door.

But move over, burlap stocking DIY.  There’s one showstopper we’ve ALL got on our list.  That my friend, is the glorious DIY Advent Calendar!  Remember when those things were just fancy packages for candy and trinkets?  Oh Pinterest!  You laugh at such an antiquated notion!  Now instead of treats, each pocket is supposed to be filled with holiday themed activities.  24 of them for each December day before Christmas.

If you’re like me, at first you lit up at the idea of packing every magical December day with a fresh new memory for the spouse and children you love so dearly!  Hot cocoa and popcorn and Charlie Brown Christmas one night.  Tickets to “The Nutcracker” the next!  Holiday light viewing another night!!  A Christmas tree slumber party the next?!!!

Then reality sets in.  You don’t even know how you’re going to get your Christmas shopping in, let alone make time for the graham cracker snowman craft you’ve had pinned on your “Kiddos” board for the last three months.  Not to mention, like, the boring normal life stuff.  Work, laundry, exercise…  Oddly, the stuff that makes you busy and behind schedule in September is still there in December, no matter how much holiday magic you’d rather cram in instead.

So, call me a realist.  I know I can’t actually do everything I pin.  But at the same time, I now have this amazing Advent Calendar ready to hang, and nothing to put inside it!  (Giving my kids chocolate for breakfast every morning just doesn’t thrill me.  What can I say?)

Today, however, I had an epiphany.  My house isn’t ready to decorate yet.  I forgot to get out my Elf on a Shelf yesterday.  We’ve yet to officially ENTER the holiday season at this house, and frankly, the to-do list, albeit most enjoyable, can be a bit overwhelming when I think about my other responsibilities.  Exactly what all is even on my holiday to-do list?

Hm…  Well, for sure I’ll want to

  1. Put up the tree
  2. Light the tree
  3. Decorate the tree
  4. Take pictures of the kids next to the tree
  5. Hang the stockings
  6. Put out our nativity
  7. Read Elf on a shelf
  8. Make something pretty for my dining table.
  9. Decorate our windows.
  10. Wrap gifts
  11. Buy or make cards
  12. Sign and send cards
  13. Christmas baking

    AND THEN there’s the scheduled Christmas activities through various groups we’re involved in…

  14. Christmas Kids (and Parents) Night Out
  15. Christmas Groove Concert
  16. Pre-K Christmas Program
  17. Church Christmas Pageant
  18. Oh!  And Church Christmas Pageant Dress Rehearsal!
  19. School Christmas Party
  20. Work Christmas Party (Which for us, happens to be kid friendly!  Yay!)
  21. Christmas Eve Church services

    Hm… Well, those are interesting numbers.  At some point, we’d probably also like to

  22. Go for a drive to look at lights.
  23. Watch a Christmas movie with the kids
  24. Read a Christmas story book
  25. Make a craft or present with the kids
  26. Play in the snow
  27. Volunteer or donate to a worthy cause
  28. OR stay in our pajamas all day…

What do you know! There’s nothing on this list that my three year old (or even 1 year old) can’t participate in on some level!  And that’s way more than 24 items… all of which we’re intending to do ANYWAY!  Advent activity countdown, or no!

So, get smart people!  You CAN have it all… okay maybe not it all, but if you approach the classical Pinteresty advent activity thing as an organizational tool, rather than just another way to overextend yourself this holiday, it can actually REMOVE holiday stress from your month rather than compound it!

Sure, it’s a simple notion, just write everything on slips of paper and stick it in your advent countdown device thingy of choice.  Sync it with your calendar, and keep a few simple substitutes on hand in case you need to switch out a big plan for a simpler plan one day  (Heck!  Maybe that’s where the candy comes in!).  But then your Christmas to-do list is organized, broken down day by day, and done in a slow and steady way that involves your kids!  What could be better?

Did I miss anything on my list?  What are some of your absolute HAVE-TOs during the holidays?

 

Categories: Activities, children, Christmas, DIY | 1 Comment

Pulling Off a Traditional Holiday Meal in 30 Minutes or Less! (Smartypants Style)

Many feel the crunch that is often unique to this time of
year. This crunch, I believe, comes from trying to become super-human and do
everything within only a human-sized allotment of time. A few friends of the
4smartypants have already been discussing how they might best use their savvy
to accomplish this great fete. Among those we have talked with, much of the
conversation and brainstorming has been focused on trying to attend some type
of religious service in the evening but also wanting to host a traditional
holiday meal immediately following the service. In this post I will share with
you how a smartypants would go about meeting this challenge.

When hosting a dinner party, I always recommend planning
ahead. This includes setting the table and having all essentials ready to go
long before menu prep. I also recommend pre-making some hors devours like
cheese plates, crackers, cold-cuts, veggie plates, etc. Plates like this can be
covered with plastic wrap and stored in the fridge until guests arrive. Beverages
can be prepped by keeping cold beverages in the fridge, ice ready in the
freezer and appropriate cups and glasses arranged nicely on a counter. Desserts
can also be bought or baked ahead of time and covered until it is time to serve them.

Now that everything is looking pretty and ready to receive
guests, all that’s left is the prep work for the dinner. I recommend the
following menu for its traditional qualities but also because it can be
prepared in 30 minutes or less. (Bonus!).

What to make ahead of time…

Salad or soup. Many families serve a traditional oyster stew
on Christmas Eve. This harkens back to a time before iodized salt when families
couldn’t afford to serve foods with iodine on a regular basis. An oyster stew
on Christmas Eve was a real treat and is now celebrated with this tradition. If
this is your plan, I recommend purchasing and then re-heating this starter. If
salad is more your speed, I recommend my salad below. I’ve made it for years
and have always gotten really good feedback.

Cranberry Pecan Salad

Ingredients:

½ C Pecans

½ C Dried Cranberries

2 Tbsp Butter (or substitute)

1 Tbsp Sugar

1 Head Romaine Lettuce

¼ C Parmesan (grated)

Honey Mustard Salad Dressing (to taste)

Method:

In a sauté pan, toss pecans with butter (or substitute), and
sugar over medium heat. Set aside.

Prep then toss romaine lettuce with parmesan, cranberries
and salad dressing.

Sprinkle salad with pecans

The salad above can be prepped ahead of time minus the
dressing which can be added just before serving. For your main course I
recommend honey glazed ham, sweet potato pie and sautéed green beans or green
bean casserole. Don’t worry! This menu still fits into the time frame.

Honey Glazed Ham

Ingredients:

Sliced, pre-cooked Ham

2 Tbsp Honey

2 tsp Brown Sugar

Method:

Partially separate ham slices and heat through in the
microwave (times will vary pending on amount).

Drizzle honey over ham then sprinkle with brown sugar.

Place ham neatly in casserole dish or roasting pan and heat
in oven at 170 degrees.

Place on serving platter and you’re done!

Sweet Potato Pie:

Ingredients:

1 Tube Crescent Rolls

1-15oz. Can Sweet Potatoes

6-8 Tbsp (about 1 stick) Butter (or substitute)

½ C Brown Sugar

1 tsp Cinnamon

½ tsp Ground Nutmeg

½ tsp Vanilla Extract

3 C (about ½ bag) Mini Marshmallows

Salt to taste

Method:

Arrange 2/3 crescent roll dough in the bottom and around the sides of a
greased pie pan.

Bake crescent roll dough (now pie dough) for 12 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Cook sweet potatoes in microwave for 2 minutes.

Mix sweet potatoes, butter (or substitute), brown sugar,
nutmeg, and vanilla with hand mixer or food processor.

Add salt to taste.

When crescent roll dough has baked 12 minutes, remove and
add sweet potato mixture.

Twist the remaining 1/3 of the crescent roll dough and place
 on outside edges to make the “crust”.

Add marshmallows to the top of the pie.

Bake pie for an additional 12 minutes.

Green Beans or Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:

4 Cups (or 1 bag frozen) Green Beans

1-2 Slices of Bacon cooked and crumbled into bits

2 Tbsp Butter (or substitute)

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

¼ Cup White Onion, diced

Salt & Pepper to taste

½ C French Fried Onions

(For Casserole method add one can cream of mushroom soup)

Method:

Place beans in microwaveable bowl with 1/4 C water, cover and
steam for 2 minutes.

Sauté onion in oil and butter until caramelized.

Drain beans and add to the sauté pan.

(For casserole method, add condensed soup at this time and
stir until heated through).

Mix in bacon and toss.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer beans into a serving dish and sprinkle French fried
onions over the top.

HINT: A smartypants cook would read through the above
recipes and have all ingredients pre-measured and prepped ahead of time.

So above are some recipes and quick prep tips to help you
pull off your last-minute meal in style. How does a smartypants go about
pulling this off in 30 minutes or less? And how does one cook this meal while guests arriving? Below is a step-by-step guide to pulling this meal off, from the time the savvy host/hostess arrives home to the time everyone is sitting for the meal.

Step 1:

Wash hands and put on music

Step 2:

Preheat oven

Step 3:

Set out hors devours

Step 4:

Open wine

Step 5:

Put crescent roll dough in pan and bake for 12 minutes

Step 6:

Begin green beans

Step 7:

Begin sweet potatoes

Step 8:

Heat ham

Step 9:

Finish sweet potatoes

Step 10:

Finish green beans

Step 11:

Prep salad

Step 12:

Plate all main course items

Step 13:

Change oven temp to 170 degrees and keep all things warm
until ready to serve

Step 14:

Serve starter course

Step 15:

Serve main course (don’t forget your trivets!)

Step 16:

Serve coffee and desserts

All steps should be interrupted as each guest arrives so
that the host can serve each guest their drink of choice. Guests will enjoy
visiting while the good smells of the meal begin to fill the home.

In this post I have given you a fail-safe menu and
entertaining plan in hopes to take some of the hustle out of your bustling
about. All that’s left to do is to kick back and show off your smartypants!

Categories: Christmas, Entertaining, Food, Home, Party Planning, Social Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Useful Stocking Stuffers! (Because your kid doesn’t need more cheap crap from Dollar Tree.)

Good morning, SmartyPants! Hope your December is going well! Can you believe Christmas is less than a week away?

I’m excited, because this is the first Christmas my older son might actually remember! Up until now, we’ve kept things simple and cheap for our household. Mostly, we just let each other get one big thing that we’ve been wanting for a while and call it Christmas, then buy something fun for the kiddo to open on Christmas day. Our son’s been too young up to this point to have any expectations, or, frankly, to really even get that excited about opening presents at all! This year will be the very first year we’ve hung stockings in our home!

BUT, our budget hasn’t really changed, so I’ve been struggling with how and what to fill FOUR brand new stockings with! I don’t want to just go out to the dollar store and buy a bunch of cheap candy and trinkets. I don’t want tiny broken pieces all over my home, and I certainly don’t want my kid having a sugar meltdown on Christmas day.

I’ve started a running list of things I can put in our stockings. In the interest of my budget, most of them are just NICER versions of things we already consume. Like the fancy Cars 2 body wash instead of the usual generic soap. Get it? I’ll let you take a peek at my brainstorming. Some of my ideas are better than others…

For the Baby:

This stuff is really for the caregivers, but if you still want to involve your infant in the stocking tradition, you could do this:

  • Teethers
  • Oragel
  • Baby Tylenol
  • Gas drops
  • Bottle nipples
  • Feeder bottle
  • Blue Jean or “Designer” disposable diapers
  • A new cloth diaper
  • Burp rags or bibs
  • A nicer thermometer
  • Clothing items
  • Teething biscuits or finger foods
  • A fancier baby lotion or wash. (like California Baby)
  • Crib sheets
  • Pacifiers
For the Toddler or Preschooler
  • Obviously, small toys and candy.
  • Toiletries that are branded with their favorite characters. Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bandaids, wipes…
  • Individually wrapped snacks
  • Gummy Vitamins
  • Character underpants and socks
  • Sippy cups
  • Hats
  • Gloves
  • “Magic Towels” (Its like a compressed wash cloth that expands when put in water. They’re fun.)
  • Fun pillow cases. (I have a drooler in my house. Pillows and pillowcases cannot be laundered often enough!)
  • Sunglasses
For the Grown Ups (and older children)
  • Various high end toiletries. Shaving Gels, Moisturizers, Lip Balms, toothbrushes, hair products, body poufs.
  • High end or scented cleaning products. (I’ve recently fallen in love with Mrs. Meyers dish soap!)
  • Air fresheners
  • Hand warmers
  • Hats, scarves, gloves, socks… Warm stuff!
  • Earphones! We lose these so often! We can never seem to have enough in our home!
  • Actually, any of those things you find yourself losing all the time. Think scissors, pens and pencils, screwdrivers, tweezers, etc.
  • Small kitchen tools.
  • Smartphone cases and chargers. (To make this cheap, check closeout stores like Big Lots and Five Below.)
  • Paperback books
  • New moms will appreciate washable nursing pads, Lanolin, or an extra cover up or two!
  • Extra video game controllers. (To make THIS cheaper, buy pre-owned from Game Stop.)
  • Guitar pics
  • Gum or breathmints
  • Simple sewing tools
Anything that is both practical and beautiful would make a lovely stocking stuffer, no matter the age! Any product they enjoy using but consider a splurge (like the salon brand shampoo instead of the usual stuff) makes a wonderful stocking stuffer. Anything you’ve been curious to try out, but are usually too stingy to buy (like the “Boogey Wipes” for your toddler’s runny nose). Anything they already have but would enjoy having duplicates (like their favorite reusable water bottle). Anything they often forget to upgrade or replace (like windshield wipers, water filters, contact lens cases).
And FYI: Santa won’t mind if drop a few nicer but practical things in your own stocking, too! Hope I’ve helped get the wheels a’turning! I’m sure you’ve already got tons of ideas I haven’t even considered, yet! Care to share???
Categories: Christmas | Leave a comment

The Twelve, 1/2 don’ts of Christmas. Teacher gifting 101. The ideal guide for parents.

‘Tis the time of year, once again, for parents across the
nation to rack their brains and try to come up with something original to give
to their children’s teachers. The 4smartypants have used a little savvy to help
our readers take some of the guessing out of this dreaded phenomenon this Christmas.
We have interviewed teachers and have come up with a list of do’s and don’ts
for this holiday. Think of the following as teacher gifting 101. A little gift
from us here at 4smartypants to you! Read and be merry!

On the first day of
Christmas,

my student gave to me,

A coffee mug that I
hate.

On the second day of
Christmas,

my student gave to me,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the third day of
Christmas,

my student gave to me,

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the fourth day of
Christmas,

my student gave to me,

Four sets of Tempera
paint

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the fifth day of
Christmas,

my student gave to me,

Five dancing Santa’s!

Four sets of Tempera
paint,

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the sixth day of
Christmas,

my student gave to me,

Six Target gift cards.

Five dancing Santa’s,

Four sets of Tempera
paint,

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the seventh day of
Christmas,

my student gave to me,

Seven jars of candy.

Six Target gift
cards,

Five dancing Santa’s,

Four sets of Tempera
paint,

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the eighth day of
Christmas,

my student gave to me,

Eight boxes of
crayons.

Seven jars of candy,

Six Target gift
cards,

Five dancing Santa’s,

Four sets of Tempera
paint,

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the ninth day of
Christmas,

my student gave to
me,

Nine hideous crafts.

Eight boxes of
crayons,

Seven jars of candy,

Six Target gift
cards,

Five dancing Santa’s

Four sets of Tempera
paint,

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the tenth day of
Christmas,

My student gave to
me,

Ten packs of
construction paper,

Nine hideous crafts,

Eight boxes of
crayons,

Seven jars of candy,

Six Target gift
cards,

Five dancing Santa’s,

Four sets of Tempera
paint,

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the eleventh day
of Christmas,

my student gave to me,

Eleven pairs of
reindeer earrings!

Ten packs of
construction paper,

Nine hideous crafts,

Eight boxes of
crayons,

Seven jars of candy,

Six Target gift
cards,

Five dancing Santa’s,

Four sets of Tempera
paint,

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

On the twelfth day of
Christmas,

my student gave to me,

Twelve restaurant
gift cards!

Eleven pairs of
reindeer earrings,

Ten packs of
construction paper,

Nine hideous crafts,

Eight boxes of
crayons,

Seven jars of candy,

Six Target gift
cards,

Five dancing Santa’s,

Four sets of Tempera
paint,

Three homemade
ornaments,

Two movie tickets,

And a coffee mug that
I hate.

Obviously, we’re having a little fun with the list we were
given by the teachers we interviewed. Hopefully you figured out on your own
that the even numbered items including the movie tickets, Tempera paint, Target
gift cards, boxes of crayons, construction paper and restaurant gift cards are
the gifting “do’s”. This leaves the odd-numbered items including the coffee
mug, homemade ornaments, dancing Santa’s, jars of candy, hideous crafts and reindeer
earrings as the gifting “don’ts”.

We know that Christmas can be costly. We also know that one
cannot resist the holiday craft. We just hope that you remember that teachers
are people too and that means they deserve a thoughtful little something this
time of year. Some of our suggestions are a little more costly than others.
Resist the temptation to use expense and an excuse to give from the “don’ts
list”. Instead, we recommend you collaborate with the parents of the other
students in your child’s class and give a nice joint gift, say dinner for two
at a local restaurant. While it truly is the thought that counts, we are sure
that following our recommendations will be even that much more appreciated by
those who teach your kids every day.

NOTE: Did we leave something off of our list? Please comment
back and share your own savvy with our readers. We’d love to hear from you!

Categories: children, Christmas, Crafts, Family, Gifts, Parenting | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Host a Christmas Tree Tour!

Not looking forward to hosting “just another Christmas party”
this year? Do you and your friends or neighbors tend to duplicate parties by
inviting the same guests? Have I got a solution for you! Consider hosting a
Christmas tree tour. What is a Christmas tree tour? Well, it’s kind of like a
progressive dinner only without all the prep. Intrigued? Here’s what you do…

First, recruit some coconspirators. You’ll need to have at
least three and really no more than six separate hosts willing to join in on
the fun. They’ll need to commit to hosting the entire set of guests for a
cocktail-style party for at least 45 minutes but no more than two hours. Homes
should also be within a reasonable distance from one another and should have
ample parking. Don’t just grab anyone willing to take the job! Have some prerequisites!
Each host should be bursting with holiday cheer and ready to share the
merriment with all who grace their doorstep. Scrooge’s need not apply!

Once you’ve partnered up with some joyful hosts, you’ll need
to collaborate on a guest list. An event like this is a great opportunity for
inviting new friends into the mix. If you are inviting guests that the other hosts
may not know, no worries! This is the perfect time of the year to add new
friends to the holiday Christmas card mailing list! Just be sure to point out
any key information, like food or pet allergies for instance, so that the other
hosts can plan accordingly. You will also need to decide whether or not
children will be invited. The decision needs to be unanimous for continuity in
the evening’s events. Once the guest list is set, work together on choosing an
invitation and decide how they will be distributed. NOTE: Invitations should
include addresses and phone numbers for each house in the order they will be
visited.

After inviting others to join in your merriment, you’ll need
to strategize the evening’s events. Decide whose house the festivities will
begin at. This home should be easy to find. I recommend hosting the first
portion of the evening if you are the one coming up with the idea. The first
host will be responsible for welcoming everyone as a group and then explaining
how the evening will transpire. Maps and addresses should be handed out as
party guests leave for the next location. All hosts will need to decide on an
approximate time limit for each home. Obviously guests will be hosted longer at
the first home and the last home. I recommend an additional 15 minutes to allow
guests to arrive at their leisure and mingle before moving on to the next home.
Similarly, the last host of the evening will need to understand that guests
should feel comfortable to leave the evening’s festivities at their leisure. When
deciding the order of whose homes will be visited next, be sure to communicate
the understanding that the hosts will need to plan enough time to properly
receive their guests for their leg of the tour. For instance, the host for the
second home should leave the first home at least 10-15 minutes before all other
guests and so on.

When planning the details of the evening, you’ll need to
decide whether or not to make this a competition. Such details will need to be
explained when addressing the guests in the first home. If you do decide to
make this a competition, make the prize silly instead of serious. Allow time at
the last home for guests to vote and for prizes to be awarded.

Once all of the details are taken care of, allow hosts to
decide on their own theme. Some homes may want to host a modern cocktail party
while others may opt for Christmas caroling by the piano. Drink and menu plans should
be decided on by each individual host. I recommend that hosts be encouraged to
plan their individual receptions in a way that reflects the tree in their home.

Now that all of the planning complete, it’s time to
celebrate this Christmas season with friends and neighbors in a whole new way!

Categories: Activities, Christmas, Entertaining, Food, Home Decor, Party Planning, Social Life, Whimsey | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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