Pieces of a Mom's 25 Days of Christmas

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Beginning tomorrow, December 1, I will be kicking off my 25 Days of Christmas.

Each day I will feature a Christmas or holiday-related item, product, recipe (can be a cookie, cocktail, entree, side dish, etc.), trick, tip, or tidbit that will hopefully make your life a little bit easier (and fun!) this holiday season.

So, don't forget to check back in the morning for my very first day of Christmas. {Hint: it's a home decor item that is must-have at the holidays.}

Tips for Telecommuters: Managing the Fine Line Between Home and Office

This fall, I quickly learned that the lines between work and home often blur when you work from home. One second I was writing an article, and the next I was refilling a cup of apple juice. I'd often return to my desk to discover that I couldn't remember where I'd left off. To say it was counterproductive is quite an understatement.

Whether your work at home situation is permanent or temporary, there are some steps to take to ensure that you achieve maximum productivity while minimizing distractions.

1. Maintain your space
Whether you have a dedicated home office or you'll be working from your dining room table, keep your setup contained to that area only. Do not spill over into the kitchen, family room, or worse yet, the bedroom. Working in every room will give your family the impression that you are constantly available.

2. Create some rules and set expectations
Let your family know when you can be interrupted, if necessary. For example, when taking phone calls, close the door to send the message that you are not available. When not on a call, keep the door ajar just a crack so that everyone knows you are accessible in a crisis. Make sure you let your family know what constitutes a crisis. You'd be surprised how much it differs between everyone. ;-)

3. Get help
If you've got little ones home during the day, consider hiring some help for a few hours a day. The extra money for a sitter will be worth the uninterrupted time you get to work in peace.

4. Gentle reminders
Because I made the transition from stay-at-home mom to work-at-home mom, my family often forgets that I am working. Requests for trips to the store, dry cleaning, post office can no longer be fit in just anywhere in my day. If you have a typical 9 to 5 day, schedule errands for before or after work. If you have an atypical day, as I often do, block out time in the middle of the day to run errands.

5. Manage social media
As a social media professional, it's easy for me to become distracted by the personal aspect of social media outlets. It's difficult not be distracted by a friend's recently posted vacation album on Facebook when I should be working for a client. However, it's best to save personal FB time for the evenings. Otherwise, one simple comment may quickly turn into an hour browsing albums and commenting on each photo.

6. Get out!`
Working from home can be lonely and isolating. Rather than take a lunch break, I opt for a trip to Starbucks instead. It gets me out of the house and breaks up the monotony. Plus, I am bound to run into someone I know who is up for a quick chat. This is just as important for productivity as any of the above measures.

And of course, behind every organized woman is a great planner. I love the momAgenda line of planners.

Do you work from home? What tricks have you implemented to keep your focus?


Tuesday's Tasty Treat: Pretzel Crisps, Dark Chocolate & Peppermint

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

As soon as my sister told me about these, I was on a mission to find them.

Pure bliss. I don't know how I ever survived the holiday season without these. They leave peppermint bark in a cloud of dust!
Snack Factory Pretzel Crisps, Dark Chocolate & Peppermint.

I bought mine at CVS. They are also available at Wegmans.


Elf on the Shelf is in the house!!!!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011
Our Elf on the Shelf arrived bright and early on Thanksgiving morning. The girls were so excited!

I thought they would have forgotten about her once February rolled around, but they've been reminiscing about her all year long.

She's affectionately known as "Jolly Holly", and she's usually up to no good. She leaves candy wrappers on the island. She's known for making grand messes and failing to clean up. ooops!

She loves hanging with the stuffed animals, especially the Webkinz.

And this morning, we found her trying to finish one of Emma's homework assignments!

Do you have an Elf on the Shelf?


Turkey Trot Kindergarten Party

Friday, November 25, 2011
Do you recall the holiday parties from your elementary school days? I can remember only one. It was my 5th grade Christmas party. I don't know why I can't remember ANY holiday parties other than this one.  Maybe they just weren't as fun as my 5th grade Christmas party.

My 5th grade teacher was so cool. She drove a red Triumph TR-7. It was a sports car that I thought was uber cool, which added to my teacher's overall ultra coolness. But anyway, I think I can still vividly remember the party because my teacher made such a positive impression on me. Plus, we made a really awesome tree ornament out of pretzels and crushed hard candy. I loved that ornament.

So, when I volunteered, way back in September, to organize Harper's Turkey Trot party for kindergarten, I knew I wanted the kids to think it was super fun. I wanted the craft to be something that was long remembered after the party had ended, and I wanted to play a game that would be fun for everyone, children and parents alike.

I knew the exact craft that I wanted to do with the class. It's one that I've been doing every year with my girls since their very first Thanksgivings; a hand print turkey. I thought it would be perfect for the children to give parents, grandparents, godparents or a special aunt or uncle as a keepsake.

I prepared the construction paper with the personalization ahead of time so that the only thing we had to in the classroom was paint the hands and stamp them onto the paper. The children then glued googly eyes onto the turkey, drew legs, a beak, and a gobbler. Lastly, I bought some foam stickers so the children could add a final touch to the hand print.
I was worried about the whole painting the hands and clean up factor involved. I thought that maybe the craft was a bit overzealous, but Harper's teacher told me that she loved it and thought it was a fabulous idea. She was even going to do it with her twin sons!

After the craft, it was time for our feast. We had mini corn muffins, pumpkin bread, cranberry nut bread, mini bagels and cream cheese, munchkins, and cupcakes. I love how the little kids just love the simple things. They were so happy to sit with their friends and enjoy some treats.

Lastly, after stressing about which game we'd play, I finally decided on the Pin the Gobbler on the Turkey!!! I drew the turkey on a piece of poster board and cut out red gobblers from construction paper. I labeled each gobbler with the child's number so that we knew who came the closest.

It was Harper's turn...

What a fun and special way to spend the morning with my baby girl and her kindergarten friends.

Did you attend a Thanksgiving classroom party for your child? What was the highlight of the party?


Shop "Small Business Saturday"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011
There's Black Friday.

There's Cyber Monday.

And now there's Small Business Saturday. What? You've never heard of it?

Well, it is a fairly new concept. Small Business Saturday was first honored last year on Saturday, November 27, 2010 as a day to support your local, small businesses.

I fully embrace Small Business Saturday. It's those very same businesses that feed our communities. They make our small towns successful. They put money back into the community and ensure that it continues to thrive.

I live amidst a number of wonderful small towns which boast a plethora of fabulous boutique shops. There's a jewelry store which I ADORE (click here to check it out). There's a store which carries a ton of Vera Bradley, and Lola's, an upscale clothing boutique will be on my hit list for Saturday.

And let's not forget that restaurants qualify as small businesses. Stop by a local restaurant for lunch, dinner, or a drink when you are out and about shopping. This place is one of my faves for an inexpensive and delicious meal. Plus, it is super kid-friendly.

Here's my added incentive. When my sister and I went to see a taping of the Nate Berkus Show a few weeks ago, each of us received 4-$25 gift cards to use on Small Business Saturday. Do I need to say that I am so excited for Saturday???


What I'm Crushing On This Week: Gap "I Want Candy" Collection for Girls

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm breaking the piggy banks for this one.

Have you seen it? It's the "I Want Candy" holiday collection from Gap. The cutest, and I mean CUTEST, collection of girl's clothes that I've seen in a long time.

Here are a few (ok, maybe a little more than a few) of my faves.

Rosette Dress $78

Accessorize with:
                               Rosette Shoulder Bag $26.95           Tulle Flower Ballet Flat $29.95

Drop-waist Ballerina Dress $29.95

Accessorize with
Sparkly sequin cardigan $39.95 or sequin pocket cardigan $34.95

Mix up colors with this adorable outfit:
Rosette ballet flats $29.95, Embellished Tee $26.95, Ruffle front cardigan $34.95, Ombre layered ruffle skirt $34.95.

And how about accessorizing the little ones' outdoor wear? These accessories are so cute that I am tempted to buy one for myself! I especially love the flower scarf (first from left).
Scarves range from $12.95 to $16.95

There are so many fabulous pieces on this collection. To view it in its entirety, click here.

I am so hoping for a big Gap sale on Black Friday!!!! Please, please, please!


Thanksgiving...Not a Feast for Everyone

Sunday, November 20, 2011
Thanksgiving conjures up memories of a table full of food, plates filled to the brim with turkey and all the trimmings. Let's not forget the pies and freshly whipped cream to follow.

But beyond the laughter at the table, there is silence in many homes in our community on Thanksgiving day. For those affected by poverty and hunger, Thanksgiving is a day filled with emptiness and loss. It's hardly a day worthy of giving thanks for those who suffer from hunger.

I take food for granted. When I have a hunger pang, I satisfy it. I am among the lucky ones, I know that. I send my children to school each day with full bellies and lunchboxes filled with nutritious meals and snacks. But the child sitting next to mine in the cafeteria may not be so fortunate. Yes, there are children at my daughters' school who suffer from poverty and hunger.

It's heartbreaking to know that a classmate of my daughters' may have arrived to school hungry. I can't fathom it. Yet thousands of our neighbors go hungry every day. It's a sobering fact.

Thankfully, there is help for the hungry. Many communities have food banks, pantries, churches and other civic organizations which collect donations in the form of both food and money to alleviate hunger. There are varying distribution channels, but the end result is the same: providing food to those who are in desperate need.

In January, the ability to make a contribution will get even easier and will include an added incentive. Deborah Smith, the founder of Jersey Bites, will roll out 3SquareDeals. In cooperation with restaurants, food professionals, nutritionists, and cooking event organizers, Smith's 3SquareDeals will offer discounts to customers. For example, through 3SquareDeals, one will have the ability to purchase a $20 gift certificate to a particular restaurant at a discounted price, say $10. A portion of each sale will, in turn, be given to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

"Since the birth of Jersey Bites, I have always felt it was our duty to not only talk about the sexy side of food and dining out, but to also talk about the serious side of food; its safety, its purity, and its scarcity. I believe we as "foodies" or "food enthusiasts" or whatever you like to call yourself, should have a heightened awareness regarding those who cannot share our passion, or even the comfort of staples in the fridge.", Deborah Smith elaborates. Smith's efforts are to be commended.

Please consider, this holiday season, making a donation to or volunteering at a food bank or pantry. The hand you lend will be one that feeds a hungry mouth.

Also, take a moment to reflect on how prosperous you are to have food on your table, in your refrigerator, and in your pantry. Not everyone is so blessed.

Vacation Diary: Day 5, Breakfast, The Beach, and Dolphins

Thursday, November 17, 2011
It's an annual tradition to go out for breakfast on Tuesday morning during our vacation. Our choice spot is R.C. Otters Island Eats. We love it, and it also happens to be a fave of the locals. That sure says something!

The place looks like it was plucked straight out of Key West.

This was a common sight during this vacation. But Emma turned the camera on me and managed to get a shot of me from the other side.

The remnants of my breakfast. I love having breakfast here. I usually order the granola with fresh berries, but this year I tried the French toast. I didn't regret that I strayed from my ordinary.

After breakfast, we went to the beach for a change. We usually spend most of our time at the various pools at the resort since we live at the beach. But each year, we carve out a few hours to spend lounging by the Gulf of Mexico.

In search of seashells...

A family photo.

That afternoon, we went on a dolphin cruise. Captiva Cruises offers several different types of cruises, but our favorite is definitely the dolphin cruise. At 4:00 pm the boat takes off for an hour long jaunt along Pine Island Sound in search of dolphins. There is something magical about seeing these graceful creatures in their natural habitat.


Starbucks BOGO!!!

'Tis the season! Starbucks is rewarding its loyal customers again with a BOGO!!

Starting today, November 17, Starbucks is offering a buy one, get one free on the holiday drinks between the hours of 2 and 5 pm. You know you're craving a peppermint mocha.

Who doesn't love a good BOGO?? Block out some time to stop by today.

Wordless Wednesday: It's a Bug's Life

Wednesday, November 16, 2011
We spotted this bug while vacationing in Captiva Island, FL. Not sure what it is, but I had to snap a photo of it. I loved the colors. Photo was taken with my iPhone using the Instagram app.


Vacation Diary: Day 4

Monday, November 14, 2011
Another picture perfect day. I seriously feel so lucky that we've had such splendid weather.

The girls and I took the trolley to Starbucks in the morning for a treat.

They ordered smoothies, and I had an iced white mocha. As we sat there enjoying our drinks and taking in the beautiful scenery, we spotted this bug in a bush behind our table. Ick! Harper wanted to take it home with us. Can you imagine??

After Starbucks, we headed straight for the pool (of course!). We practically had the pool all to ourselves.

There never seems to be enough time spent at the pools.

Can you guess what we did after a day of swimming? Yep, took a walk to the beach to see the sunset.

Another stunning sunset...

I'm starting to get used to this life!

Vacation Diary: Day 3

Sunday, November 13, 2011
I realize I am WAY behind here. It's hard to keep the pace when I'm on vacation. I just want to kick back and relax the ENTIRE time.

Anyway, on to day 3, Sunday.

We awoke to another GORGEOUS day. The sun was shining. The air was warm. I thanked my lucky stars for yet another beautiful day.

The Hubs took a walk to the main pool area and surprised us with a private cabana rental. The cabanas are poolside and include wifi (yay!), a TV, a dedicated waiter/waitress, a mini fridge, some snacks, and plenty of room inside and directly outside of the cabana to lounge very comfortable (which we did).

Our home for the day...
We quickly (and easily) settled in for the day. It was awesome. It was like having a mini-family room directly next to the pool.

The girls swam and then we ordered lunch.

The day continued like this...swimming, eating, drinking mojitos (well, the Hubs and I did the drinking). A fresh shipment of strawberries and blueberries made for some very yummy mojitos. :-)

We stayed until the bitter end. We weren't leaving that cabana until the pool closed at 6 pm!

I snapped a shot of a sailboat as it floated gracefully by the pool...

That night, we spent a lazy evening at home. Isn't that the way vacations should be?