Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women Book Review

I received a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women courtesy of Susan Heim, one of the coauthors and Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing. This book is part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series with which I'm sure many of you are already familiar.  These true stories are inspirational and uplifting.  If one of your resolutions for the upcoming year is to strengthen your relationship with God, then I would highly recommend this book.  Resolving to read one story a day would be a good way to start the New Year. 

Each of the 101 stories begins with a scripture verse and is followed by a prayer.  The stories are only 1-2 pages and are a quick read.  The one thing that each of these stories reminded me as I read was that we are not alone.  They provided me with little reminders of how God influences our daily lives. 

I was provided a free copy of this book in the hopes that I would write about it.  I was not compensated in any other way for this review.

PA Dutch Cold Weather Foods & New Year Traditions

My grandparents are PA Dutch. No they are not Amish (only a small portion of the PA Dutch are Amish or Mennonite) nor are they actually Dutch. Their ancestors came over from Germany and settled in PA before the 1800s. Many believe the term "Dutch" came about because the German word for German was "deutsch".

My grandmother is an amazing cook. Ever heard of shoefly pie, pickled red beet eggs (I loved the purplish color of these hard boiled eggs), funnel cake, fastnachts, or chow chow? These are some of the more well known Dutch specialties.

On New Year's, my grandparents would invite the family over for the traditional Dutch meal of pork and sauerkraut or pig's stomach. Yep, you read that right. Your nose probably wrinkled as you read that but remember that people eat foie gras and caviar and they are seen as delicacies. The Scottish eat haggis, which I understand is an acquired taste.  The pig stomach, as it is prepared by the Dutch is actually just stuffed with sausage, parsley, potatoes, onion, and seasonings.  It is really quite delicious.  Personally, I just like to eat the stuffing that my grandmother makes and prefer to steer clear of the pig's stomach. In some ways it reminds me of the skin of a chicken, yet I can't get over the unappealing thought of what it is that I am eating.

The PA Dutch see eating pork as a way to ensure good luck for the new year. Some say their beliefs are tied to the fact that pigs root forward.  By eating pork, you are going to move forward in the new year. They avoided chicken or other fowl on New Year's Day.  Fowl, such as chicken, scratch backwards. You don't want to move backward in the new year repeating past mistakes.

What's my family having for our New Year's Day meal? This year we're having ham using my mother's traditional recipe. 


My Mother's Baked Ham Recipe
Ingredients:
  • ham
  • brown sugar
  • ginger ale
  • pineapple slices

Directions:
Place the ham in a roasting pan. Poke several holes in the ham. Pour enough ginger ale over it to fill the bottom of the pan.  Layer the brown sugar over the top of the ham and place the pineapples on top. Pour a small amount of ginger ale over the top of the ham.  Cover it and bake according to the instructions on the ham. When checking on the ham, pour the "juice" over it. The brown sugar will fall into the "juice" just stir it occasionally.

I love leftover ham sandwiches with honey mustard to complement the sweetness of the ham.  The perfect accompaniment to ham is potato filling.  My grandmother has always made potato filling at the holidays rather than mashed potatoes.  Ever since my husband and I have started hosting holiday dinners, we now do the same.  We have never had someone not like this dish.

PA Dutch Potato Filling (recipe from Teri'sKitchen.com)

Ingredients:
  • 5 pounds Idaho potatoes
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1-1/2 cup diced onion
  • 3/4 cup fresh parsley (or dried parsley flakes)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter or margarine
  • 3 cups cubed bread
  • 1-2 cups milk, or enough to moisten bread cubes
  • Salt, pepper and celery salt
Directions:
Cook potatoes with salt until tender. Sauté celery and onions with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in 2 tablespoons oil until tender and slightly browned. Push to one side of the pan; add 1/2 stick of the butter and soak parsley in butter, then mix with celery and onions. 

Drain potatoes; put in large enough container to hold all ingredients. Add the remaining 1-1/2 sticks butter, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1-1/4 teaspoons celery salt. Mix with electric beater. Add eggs and mix thoroughly. Add celery and onion mixture and mix. 

In the same pan used for the celery and onion mixture, soak bread cubes in enough milk to moisten thoroughly and heat. Add to potatoes and mix. If mixture is too thick, add milk. Add dry bread cubes if too thin. Also use more or less of seasoning to taste. 

Put in greased baking dish (or dishes), dot top with butter, and bake at 400° for 1 hour until golden brown.


Another one of my favorite cold weather PA Dutch recipes is chicken corn noodle soup.  It is delicious and even better than plain old chicken noodle.  No, we are not serving this on New Year's but I did pull some out of the freezer today to thaw in the fridge. I plan to heat it up for lunch tomorrow. 

PA Dutch Chicken Corn Noodle Soup (adapted from recipe on Recipezaar)

Ingredients:
  • 1 whole chicken (remove giblets)
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 3-4 large carrots sliced
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder (I use this instead of using more onion since my husband doesn't like onions)
  • 3 celery stalks chopped
  •  fresh parsley chopped
  • 12 ounces frozen sweet corn (the sweeter the better)
  • 2/3 package broad egg noodles
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
*My recipe calls for more seasoning that the original recipe since PA Dutch recipes often are more conservative with the amounts of seasonings they call for. You may want to adapt the measurements based on the tastes of your family.

Directions:

  1. Rinse chicken and place in large pot and cover almost completely with water.
  2. Add some salt and poultry seasoning.
  3. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until chicken is cooked.
  4. Remove chicken and set aside to cool. 
  5. Strain broth into a bowl and then return to pot.
  6. Add celery, carrots, onion and onion powder to the broth and cook until vegetables are almost cooked through.
  7. After chicken has cooled, remove the meat from the chicken. Place meat back into pot.
  8. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  9. Add egg noodles, corn, parsley, pepper, and salt if desired.
  10. Bring back to boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  11. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 15 minutes. 
  12. Add additional seasoning and water (to reach desired consistency) if needed.  

I hope you enjoy these recipes.  Have a safe and happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Freebies For You and Me



Prenexa (a prescription prenatal vitamin) is offering a free pregnancy journal.  These journals are really nice.  It also includes pregnancy tips, a place for you to jot information or thoughts, and a place to store memorabilia.

Whole Foods is offering free coffee on January 1st in participating stores.


Sign up for the Betty Crocker newsletter and receive a coupon for a free sample of YoPlus yogurt.  Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.  This offer is good until 7/26/10.

There are several offers for free energy drinks: Slam, Spark, and Lift Off.


Get a free sample of Science Diet Simple Essentials Treats. Available only in the U.S. and while supplies last. Allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.

If you sign up as a member of MyPunchbowl (free) and are one of the first 10,000 to do so you will get upgraded to a premium account (a $29.95 value for a 1-year subscription).  To see if you were upgraded just click on My Account and Account Profile to see if you got the Premium subscription.

 I love GAP and they have a coupon for 20% your entire purchase (including sale merchandise) and it doesn't expire until January 31st.  Yippee!!! I know this really isn't a freebie but it is a free coupon :)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Uses For Old Christmas Cards

I love Christmas cards. They often serve as a connection to family and friends who you get in contact with once a year. There is something profoundly touching about opening your mailbox and finding cards from friends and family who have remembered you with a simple card signed with their name, a newsletter detailing family news for the year, or a picture card with smiling faces of children.

I know, there are those of you sitting there reading this chanting "tree killer" in your mind. Yes, I hate the thought of how many trees I have harmed with my addiction to sending Christmas cards or the joy I receive from getting them in the mail. I try to be "green" in other ways and I try to recycle my cards so that there is some attempt at balancing the impractical with the practical. This year I got my family's picture cards for free so I promised myself I was only going to send 50. I had to cut a lot of people off of our Christmas card list. Since we've been married, I send cards to everyone in our address book. The guilt weighed heavily on my mind when on Christmas Eve we received several cards from people whom we had omitted this year.

Every year I tell myself I will send e-cards next year, but I never do. I just can't bring myself to not send our family and friends something tangible to hold that is from our family and hopefully will bring a smile to their face as they hold it in their hands.


Don't Pitch Them, Use Them: 
Uses for old Christmas cards



Lacing cards
These are perfect for little ones.  All you need to do is punch holes in the outer part of the card and give your young ones shoelaces or ribbons (with scotched taped ends to help them thread it through the holes).  You will have quiet for at least 20 minutes.


Magnets
I picked up inexpensive clear plastic square photo frame magnets last year for a jewelry party I was hosting.  Cut squares from your Christmas cards and put them in the frames.  They look festive but elegant hanging on the fridge.  They can also double as coasters.

      Coasters
      See above.


      Confetti
      If you do Christmas crackers, you can fill them with confetti (punched from old Christmas cards) or use confetti for New Year's.


      Fans
      My grandmother crochets.  She made fans for our church using old church bulletins, cardboard/card stock, and yarn.  If you use old Christmas cards (since they are heavier than plain paper), you would not need to use card stock.   Punch holes in the outer part of the cards, all the way around just like with the lacing cards.  Crochet around the cards using the holes to anchor the yarn to the cards. 



      Scrapbooks
      Using decorative punches or just cutting out words or pictures, you can use them to decorate the pages of your scrapbooks.  This will actually cut down on the costs of supplies if you are an avid scrapbooker but also help preserve memories of cards family and friends have sent.



      Decoupage
      All you need to do is cut out pictures and paste them onto wood, glass, or metal with a decoupage medium, and then cover them with a couple coats of the decoupage medium.  When dry, apply an acrylic sealant and you will have a beautiful craft that will look more labor intensive than it really was.



      Gift tags
      This is one of my favorite uses for Christmas cards. I have a decorative tag punch that I use for scrapbooking that I use to make these.  You could also print out a tag template that you find online and trace a tag shape and cut it out.  Then, punch a hole in the top and add a ribbon. You could also make bookmarks out of cards also.


      Ornaments
      Pics from picture cards can be used for a children's tree (just cut out the pics in a circle, star, or some other shape, punch a hole at the top for a ribbon, and you have an instant ornament). Little ones will love seeing the faces of family and friends on their tree.  Small, inexpensive artificial trees (like those you could set on a table) could also be set aside for little ones to decorate.  You can also cut out illustrations on cards or even the words and make them into ornaments.  This is a good idea if you have young children since in their excitement they sometimes are not very gentle with fragile ornaments. You can also have your little ones make cheap foam picture frame ornaments and then put the pics inside those (like pictured here).

      Messages
      The front back of most cards usually lay empty.  After the holiday, separate the front of the cards, turn them over, and place by your telephone.  Use the blank card to write phone messages. You can also use them to write messages and put them inside gifts.


      Word Magnets
      Cut up words and adhere magnets to the back for kids to make sentences out of them.  They can have some "fridge fun".

      Mini Cards
      Cut up pictures from the cards to use to make scrapbook cards for next year by gluing them onto a plain piece of folded card stock.  Decorative punches can help if you are not very good with cutting out pictures.  They can help make your cards look professional.  You can add ribbon, scrapbook paper, and whatever else you have lying around to decorate the cards.

      Collages and Placemats
      You can also cut out pictures and give them to the kids to make fun Christmas scenes.They can glue the pictures onto a piece of card stock.  If you have them use letter size card stock, you can have them laminted and you'll have fun placemats.

      Time For a Break, Ladies

      As I sit at the computer, one daughter is balanced on each leg, one chewing my hand that is wrapped around her waist as drool cascades down my wrist and the other is trying to climb me and help me type. I am calling a Mommy Break. Here is a cute video called "The Twelve Days of Christmas Break" by Jen Singer. Enjoy.

      Chicken Soup For The Soul: All In The Family Giveaway

      I just finished reading Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family from the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. This book was co-authored by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Amy Newmark, and Susan M. Heim. Susan Heim is a fellow blogger. Her blog is entitled Susan Heim on Parenting. As the mother of four boys (two twin preschoolers and two teenagers), she uses her own insights into parenthood when writing. Her site is very uplifting and informative so I urge fellow moms to visit to see what she has to say.

      Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family is the perfect holiday read, since for many of us, this is often one of the few times we get to spend time with our family. The illustration on the front cover is a spoof of Norman Rockwell's classic "Freedom From Want" painting. Not everyone is smiling nor are they wearing their "Sunday best". One young man is texting at the table (cell phones were unheard of in Rockwell's day and age). This illustration embodies what you will find within the pages of this book.

      Most of us would not consider our families "normal", not if we were going by the standards set by the Cleavers, the iconic TV family from the early 1960s. Many of us have wacky relatives and family baggage. Sitting down to a meal together is often not a quiet nor a harmonious affair. No amount of planning can account for those family gatherings that go awry.

      This book has chapters on in-laws, eccentrics, forgiveness, memories, and even family secrets. Some are hilarious like "Family Antics in Fancy Places" and some will move you to tears such as "On Esther Time", one of my favorite stories. These stories are written by the people who experienced them. You will see yourself and your family members in many of these stories. One thing this book will remind you of is that there is nothing like family and the lessons that they can teach us.

      Win your very own copy of
      Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family

      To win your own copy, all you have to do is one (or more) of the following
      and leave a comment for each:


      *Share a story or anecdote about your "dysfunctional" family

      *Become a follower of The Practical Mom Guide and if you are already a follower just leave a comment stating that you already follow

      *Subscribe to The Practical Mom Guide

      *Tweet (maximum once daily) about this giveaway (don't forget to leave a link)

      *Add The Practical Mom Guide to your blogroll

      *Become a fan of The Practical Mom Guide on Facebook

      This giveaway will end on January 6, 2010. I will announce the winner on January 6th here at The Practical Mom Guide. Please make sure that you leave an email address or some way of contacting you (if your email or blog is not on your blog profile) in the instance that you are the winner. If I am unable to contact the winner within 24 hours, another winner will be chosen.

      Good luck and thanks for participating!

      *Contest only open to U.S. residents.

      Thursday, December 24, 2009

      Merry Christmas From My Family to Your's



      Happy Holidays, Everyone.  Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, I know this time of year still causes us to pause and reflect on all of the things that are important to us.  I got my Christmas present early.  My grandmother finally came home from the hospital today after being in and out of hospitals since Thanksgiving Day.

      My poor,wonderful husband is nursing a cold and is curled up in bed trying to rest. Or is he trying to get out of wrapping duty? Nah. My daughters in their new Christmas PJs are snug in their beds, after leaving cookies for Santa and healthy carrots for the reindeer.  After all they need to keep up their energy.  We didn't forget the milk either, nor the extra cookies for Prep and Landing. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas has been read and our daughters have unwrapped their new ornaments for this year and they now adorn our twinkling tree.

      I am off to start wrapping presents, and yes, I do mean start.  Not a present has been wrapped yet.  I love to wrap though so it isn't a chore.  Joy's Depot of Toys is closed for another year.  I can enjoy Santa's glass of milk and some cookies and carrots (I have to be somewhat healthy) while I wrap.  I'm sure Santa won't mind.  He knows a mommy's work is never done and that we have to keep up our energy to.  Have a wonderful holiday!

      Wednesday, December 23, 2009

      Just Like a Man

      My husband's Christmas holiday project: finish our basement. Last year while my husband was off from work for the holidays for about a week and a half. He installed hardwood floors in his office and our living room. It took that whole time to get our house back into order since we also painted. My husband swore he would hire someone next time. Like childbirth, you forget how difficult something is after a short time has passed. My husband is so excited about this project. He loves projects that he can delve into. I wonder what he will be saying a week from now?

      The goal for today: buy the drywall and move it into the basement. Today, good friends of ours came over. My friend's hubby, S, helped my hubby rent a truck and buy 60 sheets of drywall. Only 10 sheets made it downstairs. They are extremely heavy and after carrying two sheets down at a time (5 trips), they were ready to call it quits. While the men did this, us women, oohed and awwed over my friend's sleeping newborn. She is only 10 days old. Even though my youngest was her size only 5 months ago (actually she was even smaller), I can't remember her being that tiny. It's so funny how such a short passage of time distorts your memories.

      When the men finished their "job", our little ones exchanged gifts. Our fiends also have a 4 year old. Our daughter worships their son and calls him her buddy. S commented that he didn't even know what they got our little ones. My husband laughed and looked at him, saying he didn't know what we got his kids either. His wife joked that that was okay since it was their money we had spent. Just like a man! But we love them anyway and we know how lucky we are.

      Freebies For You and Me

      Taco Bell is offering a coupon for a FREE Fresco Taco. Yum!  They are giving away one million tacos.  That is a lot of tacos.

      According to the site:
      Coupons valid for 7 days from download or until 1 million free taco coupons are redeemed (including online and print coupons), whichever occurs first. Notice will be posted at http://static.tacobell.com/drivethrudiet/coupon.html if 1 million coupons are redeemed prior to the expiration date and any unredeemed coupons will be void. Free tacos are subject to availability; no substitutions. Not valid with any other offer. Limit one free taco per person.

       Your best bet is to use your coupon ASAP.


      Costco is offering two free samples of Huggies Pull-Ups Training Pants.  It will take 4-6 weeks to receive your sample.  This offer is only open to U.S. residents.  You must be 18 years of age or older to receive this sample.
      Thanks Confessions of a Thrifty Mamma



      Kashi Granola Bar Freebie

      Become a Kashi Connect member and recieve a free sample of their all natural Kashi TLC Trail Mix Chewy Granola Bar.  Your sample will arrive in 4-6 weeks.  This offer is good only for U.S. residents and will expire on December 31st (or when supplies run out). 

      Freebies for You and Me


      If you become a fan of International Delight on Facebook, the first 100,000 fans will receive a coupon for a free pint of any flavor of International Delight.  Just click on the Holiday Giveaway tab.  This morning there were only 81,000 fans so there is still time.






      ValueMags.com is offering a free 12-month subscription to Working Mother magazine.  No strings attached.  This could also make a good gift for someone you know.  Thanks, Freebies4Mom

      Tuesday, December 22, 2009

      Surviving Out of Town Guests

      1) Have a plan but be flexible.
      Explain where everything is when your guests arrive.  Give them time to freshen up and relax.  Don't plan every single detail of your guests stay.  It's good to have some ideas of things to do while your guests are visiting but let them help set the agenda.  They may have their own agenda when visiting or they may just want to relax and visit with you.

      2)Have extras.
      Have extra keys to give your guests in case they plan on going out.  Don't make them rummage around in a flower pot or have to dig around inside your grill for that spare key you keep hidden.  We keep a fully stocked guest bathroom with extra toiletries and towels for guests.  Check after your guests leave and replenish anything that needs replacing.  Keep a fresh set of sheets around reserved for the guest room, especially in the case of last minute guests.

      3)Know what your guests like.
      If they have hobbies or interests like games or crosswords, have some extra things around for them to do.  Also, I try to stock my pantry with items that they like such as tea or favorite foods.  Knowing food preferences can come in handy when you are planning to cook.  If they are movie buffs, have an extra movie or two around.

      4)Remain calm, don't stress yourself out.
      Enjoy your guests presence. They will pick up on negative vibes if your are stressing out and it will make everyone tense. You don't want an awkward situation.  Focus on the positive side of having friends and family close by that you don't normally get to see.

      5)Accept help when it's offered.
      This is often the hardest thing for women to do.  People love to pitch in and help.  Be gracious and accept.  No, they may not do things the way you normally do but this is the holidays and its important that your kids see you acting as a team.

      6)Preparation is key.
      Have everything out and organized for when your guests arrive.  Some preparation beforehand will save you a huge headache later on.

      7)Communicate.  Be clear and open.
      If there are certain things that you can not live with such as disrupting your children's schedules or smoking, etc. be clear from the beginning, but remember to be respectful of your guests when conveying your wishes.  Your home is going to be their home away from home.

      $5 Amazon Magazine Steals (I Mean Deals)

      At this rate I will be getting enough magazines to rival any doctor's offices' collection.

      Here are this week's $5 1-year magazine subscriptions on Amazon:
      Southern Living
      This Old House
      Sunset
      Health
      Golf Magazine
      Coastal Living
      Essence

      For $10 you can get a 1-year subscription to the following magazines:
      Entertainment Weekly
      In Style

      These magazines are also $10 or less after a $5 credit applied at checkout:
      Food Network
      Fitness
      ReadyMade
      Esquire (2-years)
      Harper's

      And of course, many other magazines that were discounted previously such as Family Fun, Parents, Seventeen, Maxim, Better Homes & Gardens, and more are all still $10 and less with the $5 credit.

      Monday, December 21, 2009

      It's Going to Be a White Christmas After All

      This weekend we got about 5 inches of snow. Unless, we get a massive heat wave, it looks like it's going to be a White Christmas. Yeah! I was relieved that we didn't get the 6-12 inches they were originally calling for on the weekend before Christmas.

      We were waiting and waiting for the snow to start on Saturday and my husband, looking out the window said, "forget about it, let's go see Santa". Who could resist? It was our 2-year old's first visit to the big guy. My husband did laps with her while I waited in line (it wasn't to bad since most people were home anticipating the snow). We were making bets on which one would wail first, the restless 2 year old or the teething 5 month old. It turned out neither of them did. We got an adorable picture of the two of them for a whopping $29.99 (at least we got the USB device to so now we can email the pics to family).

      There had been a woman in front of us with her daughter and husband. She was really nice while we were speaking to her waiting for Santa but we sure got a kick out of her theatrics when her daughter was sitting on Santa's lap. She was jumping around and clicking her own photos while Santa's elves were trying to take pics in between giving her "your being naughty" looks. Then she grabbed a candy cane from the gigantic sack by Santa's seat to bribe her daughter and another one after her daughter got off of Santa's lap. Then, almost as an afterthought, she turned back to grab 4-5 more "for mommy and daddy". I hope she'd been good the rest of the year or Santa's crossing her off of his list.

      Please Send a Birthday Card to This Ill Child

      A little girl named Natalie is losing her battle with an incurable brain tumor. She will turn 5 years old on New Year's Eve. Please send a card to her for her birthday and keep her and her family in your prayers. Her hospice nurses are saying she may not make it to Christmas. For her address and more on her battle you can read Our Little Angel. I started crying when I read about this brave little girl. It is not fair that they are suffering so much during this holiday season. My heart goes out to them.

      Yoplait Prize Pack Giveaway


      Ever since she was a year old, my daughter has drank a smoothie every morning for breakfast. In our house a smoothie consists of 4 oz. of yogurt and 4 oz. of milk. I've tried adding fresh fruit and my daughter refuses to drink it. I have tried every fruit imaginable and tried blending the smoothie in a blender and even pureeing the fruit before I add it but she seems to know what I have done each and every time. I have settled for her version of a "smoothie". Since she loves fruit by itself, I can't complain.

      I have eaten the Yoplait Original yogurt for years. Recently, I received a coupon (inside a Yoplait Less Sugar, More Fun prize pack) to try the Yoplait Kids yogurt . My daughter chose the Strawberry Vanilla and Strawberry six pack. She loved it. She has actually started asking for yogurt to eat by itself instead of eating it in a smoothie. Of course, she is a huge Dora fan so it helps that Dora (along with her friend Boots) is on the containers.

      The Yoplait Kids yogurt has 25% less sugar than the leading kids yogurt. It has 13 grams rather than 18 grams of sugar per 4 oz. It also helps that it has a "spoon hugging texture". At first, I was confused by what that meant. Yoplait yogurt is firmer (you don't need to stir it) so when kids get a spoonful it doesn't run off the spoon like other yogurts that are more watery. It sticks to the spoon. Yoplait Kids also has no chunks of fruit which can be a choking hazard for little ones first being introduced to yogurt. There are no artificial sweeteners or flavors added which is a relief to me as a mom. I try to avoid artificial ingredients in my daughter's foods.

      In recent years, studies have been conducted to study whether children and adults are getting enough vitamin D. One study found that many children lack vitamin D in their systems. Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium and strengthen our bones. It is supplied to our bodies through our diet in fish and eggs (there are very few foods where it is naturally occurring), fortified foods, and sun exposure. Low levels of vitamin D could cause increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and even diabetes, according to recent studies. It is recommended that children consume 3 servings of milk, cheese, and/or yogurt daily.

      Adding Yoplait Kids yogurt to their daily diet, is one way to help children attain the recommended allowance of calcium and Vitamin D that their bodies need, not to mention that it tastes "yummy" (at least according to my daughter). In my daughter's words, "yummy, yummy, in my tummy".

      Yoplait Kids yogurt come in strawberry, strawberry vanilla, strawberry banana, and peach. Yoplait also has yogurt drinks for kids. They are not only for breakfast, but also make a perfect afternoon snack. Don't forget to clip the Box Top off the cardboard holder to send into your local school.

      Yoplait Less Sugar, More Fun Prize Pack Giveaway

      The prize pack contains: a free coupon for a six pack of Yoplait Kids yogurt, an insulated travel cooler to carry your favorite snack, a spoon that changes color in warm water, a fuzzy tangle puzzle, and a reusable placemat with fun activities to keep your kids entertained

      To win your own Yoplait Less Sugar, More Fun Prize Pack,
      all you have to do is one (or more) of the following and leave a comment for each:

      *Leave a comment about your child's favorite afternoon snack
      *Become a follower of The Practical Mom Guide (if you are already a follower just leave a comment stating that you already follow)
      *Subscribe to The Practical Mom Guide
      *Tweet (maximum of once daily) about this giveaway (don't forget to leave a link)
      *Add The Practical Mom Guide to your blogroll
      *Become a fan on Facebook

      The contest ends January 1, 2010 at midnight. I will announce the winner on January 2nd here at The Practical Mom Guide. Please make sure that you leave an email address or some way of contacting you (if your email or blog is not on your blogger profile) in the instance that you are the winner. If I am unable to contact the winner within 24 hours, another winner will be chosen.

      Good luck and thanks for participating!

      Yoplait sent me the free coupon and prize pack through the MyBlogSpark program hoping that I might write about it. This is my first spark!

      Saturday, December 19, 2009

      Wen Cleansing Conditioner Product Review


      Recently, I had the opportunity to review Wen Cleansing Conditioner by Chaz Dean. Chaz Dean is a well known hair stylist in Hollywood with an impressive clientele including Jennie Garth and Melissa Gilbert.

      Many of you may be familiar with the infomercials espousing this product. I am always a little apprehensive about "as seen on tv" products because in my personal experience they rarely live up to the hype. Wen has proved me wrong.

      BK (aka. Before Kids) I had been known to spend upwards of $30-50 for shampoo and conditioners at my salon. A lot of the time, I was disappointed and stopped using them or I saw no difference in how my hair was before I started using the expensive products and after. The problem with my hair is that it is very fine. With some of the more expensive products, I found that my hair looked really good for about a week or two after I started using them but then my hair seemed dried out or it seemed to be weighted down by the products and looked limp and lifeless. About a year ago, I had started using a moisturizing shampoo that can be found at grocery and retail stores and I had been content ever since (as had my wallet).

      I had received a 12 ounce bottle of the Wen Sweet Almond Mint Cleansing Conditioner and have been using it for almost two weeks now and I love it. I have been using it in place of my normal shampoo. The conditioner acts as a shampoo, conditioner, detangler, and leave-in conditioner. After rinsing your hair with water, all you need to do is rub 16-24 pumps into your hair from the roots to the tips, leave it on for several minutes (they recommend 3-5 minutes), and then after combing it through your hair, rinse. You can also put a dime-sized amount in your hair as a leave-in conditioner, if you so choose.

      While 16-24 pumps seemed a bit excessive, I only needed to depress the pumping mechanism two full times to get an adequate amount of conditioner to massage into my hair. If you were not depressing the pump fully, I can see needing to apply that many pumps. Also, keep in mind I have fine, medium length hair.

      First, I love the scent. There is something about the scent of mint first thing in the morning that is rejuvenating. The glycerin and sweet almond oil act as conditioners while the rosemary strengthens hair. I have to say that I love how my hair looks and feels. I love that this line contains natural ingredients. When I was pregnant, I had way to much time on my hands since I was off of work on medical leave. I had done a lot of research on chemicals that you should avoid in personal care products, especially while pregnant. Some of these chemicals included parabens, sodium laurel sulfate, and diazolidinyl urea. The Wen line does not have any of these chemicals in their products nor does the line contain detergents which will strip your hair and scalp of natural oils. Since the conditioner acts as four products in one, it will also save you time and money in the long run. How can you go wrong?

      My hair has a healthy shine and it seems thicker. It also seems to have more swing and body and is not weighted down by any residue left behind from the conditioner. I am not the only one pleased with this product. Based on a survey, 90% of participants over a 3 week period, who used the Wen Cleansing Conditioner, said that their hair was shinier, less frizzy, and had more body.

      Other products in this line include Styling Creme, Re Moist Intensive Hair Repair Mask, Texture Balm, and the Wide Tooth Shower Comb.

      I want to thank The Product Review Place and Wen. Wen provided me with a free sample of the Wen Cleansing Conditioner to review. This review is based on my own unbiased assessment of the product.

      Thursday, December 17, 2009

      All Things Christmas

      Back in early November I had posted some good sources for free letters from Santa. I had also included the website Northpole.com which is the perfect Christmas Eve site. It has stories, ElfChat, e-cards, educational worksheets, recipes, crafts,and the ever popular NORAD (so kids can track Santa). A friend of mine also told me to check out the Portable North Pole. At this site, you can have a personalized message from Santa delivered to your kids. It is pretty neat. Imagine your child's face when they get a personalized video message from Santa (you can even download their picture).

      Misconceptions About Mommyhood: Part I

      Do you ever think back to the little scenarios that played through your head when you were pregnant? Whether they were concerns you had or things you imagined doing with your children, when you look at your life now, how do they compare? Eventually we all have our own realizations with which we must come to terms.

      1) There is no pitter-patter of little feet. It is more like a herd of rampaging elephants or rhinos.

      2)After having children all of your bad habits will fall by the wayside in your quest of being the perfect mother. Yeah, right, maybe in the little world that exists in the far recesses of your mind or the lalaland that you visit while dreaming. Nope, I still eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast (on occasion, like this morning...does it count that they were homemade?), don't exercise as much as I should, and am still a procrastinator.

      3)You will not eat the food off of your little ones plate at least not until they are much older. First, because they will mash it in their little hands and then put it in their mouths and proceed to spit it back out onto their plate. Yech!

      4)Yes, you to will have your backyard become a plastic jungle. No backyard mommy oasis exists here.



      A picture of our plastic jungle

      Wednesday, December 16, 2009

      A Shy, Little Munchkin

      What a busy day! It is amazing what holds little ones' attention. This morning we hosted my daughter's playgroup at our house. It was our annual Christmas playgroup. We ate goodies that I had baked such as cookies and cupcakes. My daughter had helped bake by putting the cupcake liners into the muffin tin. She had no interest in any other part of the baking. I also had healthy fare such as raisins, grapes, strawberries, string cheese, and a mix of goldfish crackers and pretzels (yes, I consider goldfish crackers healthy). With a plate full of food, my daughter was only interested in the strawberries and licking the sprinkles off of her cupcake.

      My daughter had been so excited for her friends to arrive. When she heard the doorbell she was off and waiting anxiously for her friends to come in to play. Once they were inside though her enthusiasm waned and she became a shy, little munchkin. She had more fun observing and taking it all in. I had a craft for the little ones. Many of the other kids played instead of doing the craft. Not my daughter. My daughter feverishly was working on putting together her foam penguin and snowman photo frame ornament even before the others sat down. She loves crafts. That is one thing that can hold her attention.

      When the little ones exchanged their Secret Santa presents, she was more interested in watching the little boy whose name she had got open his gift (she had painstakingly decorated the wrapping paper with stickers yesterday). After he had opened his present, she slowly and meticulously opened her gift. If she unwraps all of her Christmas presents at that pace, Christmas morning is going to last a long, long time.

      Em had got princess markers and coloring sheets. Even before her guests had left, she had ripped open the box to get to the markers so she could color rather than handing out the goodies for the other little ones. She said good-bye to everyone from her booster seat as she continued coloring. Eventually before the last child had left, she ventured down among her friends.

      In the afternoon we had the MOMS club Christmas party. Again, Em was so excited when we pulled into the church parking lot. She started exclaiming, "friends, Mommy, friends!" She launched herself from her car seat as I unlatched her seat belt. As soon as she was out of the car and greeted her one little friend, she became my shy, quiet little munchkin again. She played by herself for the most part in the middle of the chaos. With so many children, toddlers and elementary age, packed into the basement of the church, you would have expected squabbles and tears but there were none. The kids played so well together and apart. The noise level was deafening, as you can imagine. Some did crafts and some played with miscellaneous toys.

      I had so much fun today just observing my little munchkin in her little Christmas shirt with her glasses sliding down her nose. I can't wait to see the little woman that she will become. Will she still be a shy, little munchkin or will she come out of her shell and be precocious? I can't wait to find out.

      Amazon Magazine Deals

      Each week Amazon has new deals. This week O, The Oprah Magazine is only $5 for a one year subscription. This deal expires Saturday at midnight, so act fast. The following magazines are all $5 and under with the $5 discount:

      Maxim
      Disney Family Fun
      Parents
      Fast Company
      Horse Illustrated
      Inc.
      Spin
      Pregnancy

      Note: The discount is applied when you place an item in your cart and checkout.

      Tuesday, December 15, 2009

      Tess's Tree Book Review

      Recently I had the opportunity to review the children's book Tess's Tree. I came across the book when I was researching educational game sites for children. It was written by Jess M. Brallier and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, two friends. Jess Brallier, a publisher and author, was inspired to write Tess's Tree by a friend's daughter and his own losses. He has written over two dozen books including Who was Albert Einstein and Presidential Wit and Wisdom: Maxims, Mottoes, Soundbites, Speeches, and Asides: Memorable Quotes From America's Presidents. Peter Reynolds is an illustrator (he illustrated the Judy Moody books), author (of The Dot and Ish), the owner of the Blue Bunny bookshop in Dedham Square, Massachusetts, and founder of Fablevision.

      Do you know how it feels to have something you loved taken away? That is how Tess feels when her beloved tree is cut down after being damaged in a storm. She acts out, as those of us know who have little ones, by reacting like any other child. She lashes out with screaming, kicking, throwing her toys, and tears. Then, after shedding her tears, she decides to have a funeral to honor the life of her tree. To find out how special Tess's tree was to her and to others, you need to finish reading this lovely book.

      It brought back how my sister and I used to climb the tree at my grandparents house. They used to watch us during the summers while my parents worked. The branches were low enough to the ground that we could climb it easily. We would be content to sit on the lower branches. Only once or twice was I ever adventurous enough to climb to the top. The tree sat outside my grandparent's kitchen window so if they wanted to check on us, all they had to do was peek outside the kitchen curtains. That tree still sits there.

      Jess M. Brallier and Peter H. Reynolds talk about Tess's Tree on YouTube. Hear them talk about how the story came about and what the lesson is that we can all learn from this tale.

      The book is beautifully illustrated. There is a clip of Peter Reynolds drawing Tess. In the clip he explains how he uses ink, watercolor, and whatever beverage he has handy to create his illustrations. He truly brought the words of Tess's story to life.

      This book will resonate with any generation. We have all encountered loss at some point in our lives. Tess's coming to terms with the loss of her tree is inspiring and serves as a reminder that while saddened at our loss, life goes on. Our memories of what we have lost will remain as will the lessons we have learned. Your heart will feel full after reading this story.

      You can read the online version at Funbrain or Fablevision. You can also purchase your own copy at your local bookstore or at an online bookseller such as Amazon. A literature guide (this appeals to the teacher in me) is also available for teachers who are interested in incorporating this story into their curriculum. Books can also be ordered from Peter Reynold's bookstore, The Blue Bunny and can be autographed by emailing Janet@dedhambluebunny.com with information about how you would like the book signed.

      A special thank you to Jess M. Brallier, Peter H. Reynolds, and HarperCollinsPublishers for providing me with a copy of Tess's Tree for this review.

      Free 20 Song Starbucks Sampler

      Become a fan of iTunes on Facebook and get a free 20 song Starbucks Sampler download. Artists include Moby, Sting, and more.

      Monday, December 14, 2009

      Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Part IV

      Charitable Giving

      This is the time of year where charitable organizations seem to be going into overdrive trying to meet the needs of the people they serve. I urge everyone to step up this holiday season to give back to their communities. There are many ways to give back this holiday season. Don't have a lot of spare cash? You can give back without breaking the bank.

      1)Remember that charitable donations can be used as tax deductions.

      2)You can give the gift of your time rather than a monetary donation.

      3)No time to shop and to lazy to write a check? Give a few dollars at the grocery store checkout. Many organizations team up with grocery stores or other chain retailers so customers can donate at the checkout.

      4)Ask for people to give gifts or donations to your favorite charity.

      5)When you find great deals in the stores, buy extra and give to local shelters or put bargain toys in the Toys for Tots boxes. If you are a freebie junkie and like to sign up for freebies online, donate your freebies to families in need. If you earn free gift cards or checks from online survey sites or sites that reward you for shopping online, pass on your good fortune to those in need.

      6)Clean out your pantry and give to a local food bank. I always buy extra of everything around the holidays (since everything is on sale). Donate extra cans to local shelters. You can always get together with some friends or neighbors and do a food drive amongst yourselves and then have a volunteer deliver the food to a local shelter. If you are having a holiday party, have everyone bring a can of food to donate. A list of local food banks in your area can be found at feedingamerica.org.

      7)Clean out toy clutter. Have your children choose several toys that they no longer play with and donate them to a local program that serves children (ie. churches, day cares, or after-school programs). NOTE: Before giving away toys, make sure they have not been recalled by checking the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission's website.

      8)No extra cash to spare? Consider donating your unused computer cycles to worthy scientific research such as fighting cancer or climate prediction. All you have to do is install a computer program on your PC. Urge others to do the same. Check out PCWorld or DistributedComputing.com for more information. I was first introduced to this idea in the fictional book Storm Cycle by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen.

      9)Give your extra change to the Salvation Army. The familiar holiday bell ringers with the red kettle are a familiar holiday sight. Now instead of just taking spare change, some also take credit cards. No more excuses at the door, folks.

      10)"Gifts That Give" are gaining in popularity such as Kohl's Cares For Kids merchandise. I bought three of the books (from the If You Give a Cat a Cupcake series) and the stuffed moose that they are selling this holiday season for Christmas presents. They were only $5 each and 100% of the net profits go towards children's health and education programs across the country. Since 2000, they have raised over $126 million dollars, a staggering amount. Note: Kohl's coupons can not be used on this merchandise.

      11)If you are interested in giving to your local community but don't know where to begin you can start by finding local organizations close to you by visiting JustGive.org and entering your zip code. You can also check out your local newspaper during the holiday season. Our local newspaper published a booklet of local nonprofit organizations and what donations they could use for the holidays, a wish list of sorts.

      My husband and I plan on starting a fund next year where we put away about $75 a month. After Thanksgiving, we plan to decide as a family where the money will go. This way our daughters learn about saving and about giving back. It is our way of giving back, especially since we know what is like to be on the receiving end of the compassion and generosity of strangers. Back in 2008 our then 4-month old had to have heart surgery. The day we found out about her heart defect, we were on our way to the nearest children's hospital. Our liaison at the hospital put us in touch with the Ronald McDonald House. The Ronald McDonald House has had a special place in our hearts ever since.

      Our favorite charities:
      Ronald McDonald House
      Toys for Tots
      Children's Miracle Network (our nearest children's hospital benefits from their generosity)

      Have a giving and blessed holiday!

      Guide to Holiday Gift Giving: Part III


      If you are looking for some last minute Christmas gifts, here are some of my favorite Christmas gifts for this season:

      1) Kodak, Shutterfly, or SeeHere allow you to create books, puzzles, ornaments, stickers, and other photo gifts.





      2) Gift baskets are always a good standby. Keep in mind to stick with a theme. Beware that these can add up pretty quickly. It is best to fill a gift basket with items with smaller price tags.

      3) Crafts, Wine, and Coffee Clubs that send a new selection each month are a unique gift. Kids Craft of the Month offers a 6 month and a 12 month membership where children will receive two new crafts each month along with stickers, tattoos, small toys, jokes, games, or some type of activity. Caribou Coffee offers a Coffee of the Month Club.

      4)Magazine subscriptions (Amazon often has great deals or you can checkout Magazines.com) can be a welcome gift.

      5)Teething Bling by SmartMom (I hate not being able to wear jewelry with my teething infant so this solves that problem.) are perfect for mothers of young ones.




      6)The Discovery Expedition Entertainment Projector is perfect for my hubby since his Christmas break from work is going to be spent on finishing our basement.




      7)Avon's Cashtastic Earmuffs look and feel like cashmere.



      8)Avon's version of Jennifer Groover's Butler Bag is designed for a fashionista.



      9)In case of emergencies (especially those that are nature related), it is ideal to have on hand LL Bean's Emergency Weather Radio.








      10)The Crawford Headband from ModCloth that will make you look like a chic flapper (totally impractical for day to day but I love vintage inspired items). This would dress up any outfit on New Year's Eve.




      11)SwitchFlops and Ballet Flats by Lindsay Phillips are designed for shoe lovers that want to have versatile pieces in their wardrobe. The sandals have interchangeable straps and the ballet flats have snazzy snaps so they can go with any outfit. No need to have 4 different pairs of shoes.









      12) Parents of infants will fall in love with the Fisher Price Ocean Wonders Take Along Soothing Projector.

      Friday, December 11, 2009

      Christmas Traditions: The Twelve Days Before Christmas

      This year with a 5 month old and a 2 year old, we have been a little slow getting the house decorated. On Thanksgiving Day, both of my very spry 80-something grandparents were hospitalized for separate medical conditions. The tree is up but undecorated, the old wooden sled that normally sits next to the front door decorated with a swag and bow still sits in the garage somewhere, and boxes of Christmas decorations sit on a shelf in the spare bedroom, untouched. We are slowly pulling things out but it is hard since my hubby works long hours.

      I have been thinking a lot about family traditions. I want my daughters to enjoy this time of year and to realize that it is about family and not just presents. Since we are a little behind this year, I made my checklist of things to do before December 25th. Boy, do we have a lot to cram in before the big day arrives. It is pretty fitting that I have 12 things on our list and there are at least twelve days before Christmas (I have a few extra days built in...)

      1) Help choose and decorate the Christmas tree. (We got the first part done.)

      2) Make faux gingerbread houses using graham crackers, icing, and candy and also yummy marshmellow snowmen.

      3) Watch Frosty, Rudolph, A Charlie Brown Christmas, or the new favorite, Prep and Landing.

      4) Go caroling.

      5) Mail Christmas cards. (I have the seals for my daughter to put on the envelopes. I have a feeling people will be wondering why the seals are not on the flaps but on odd places on the back of the envelopes.)

      6) Help wrap gifts. (I bought solid wrapping paper so my daughter can go to town with stickers and markers.)

      7) Help decide where charity money is going and deliver it to its destination.

      8) Bake Xmas cookies for Xmas Day.

      9) Drive around and look at Xmas Lights.

      10) Write a letter to Santa and mail it.

      11) Finish Christmas crafts (paper chains for the stairway and something to hang on the refrigerator door).

      12) Christmas Eve: Read Twas the Night Before Christmas and open a gift(s) from Mommy & Daddy (new pjs for Xmas morning and the girls' yearly ornament for the tree). Set out the cookies we baked for Santa and treats for the reindeer.

      Wednesday, December 9, 2009

      $100 Dollars

      Okay, I know a post entitled $100 dollars is eye catching. No, I am not giving away $100. My 2 year old, who has no concept of money was having an interesting conversation with my husband the other morning. She was crawling up on the couch as my husband lay there.

      Their conversation went like this:

      Em: I need a $100. (She looks at her father as her glasses slide down her nose.)

      Bob: You need a $100. (He uses a shocked, questioning tone.)

      Em: I have no money. (My husband gives her the "you're two" look.)

      Bob: Why do you need money?

      Em: Dadda took Mamma's money. (At this point my daughter starts using hand gestures.)

      Bob: Is that what Mamma says? (He looks at me pointedly. Hey, wait a minute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

      Em: I want $100 dollars! (At this point my daughter has climbed onto my husband's stomach, as though she needs to make her point more clearly, and starts bouncing up and down.)

      Bob: What do you need $100 for?

      Em: Puppy. (Huh?)

      Bob: A puppy?

      Em: A puppy so cute.

      This is the point where my daughter loses interest in the conversation and climbs onto the floor and dwaddles off.

      Where did that come from? I have no idea where my daughter got the concept of $100 nor the idea that we would pay $100 for a dog. We're support your local SPCA people. I really hope she is not expecting Santa to bring a puppy. Oh, boy. Tonight we are writing our list to Santa. Please, please, if there is a Santa Claus, please don't let my daughter want a puppy for Christmas.

      Freebies For You and Me

      GMA and Snapfish are teaming up to give away free spiral bound flip books.(valued at $4.99). You do need to pay shipping of $1.99. The code is GMAFREE. This code expires on December 13th.

      Become a fan of Stacy's Pita Chips on Facebook and sign up to receive a coupon for a free bag of chips (up to a $3.99 value). When I checked this morning, they were only up to 56,000 fans. They are offering this goody to the first 65,000 fans so there is still time to sign up.

      Free Sample of Benefiber Orange from Walmart.com. Once you fill out the online form, it will arrive in up to four weeks.

      Tuesday, December 8, 2009

      Guide to Holiday Gift Giving: Part II

      DIY Inspired Gift Giving

      Keep in mind that it is about the quality rather than the quantity of gift giving. It's the thought and the love that is put in to a gift and not about the money spent. Some of my most treasured gifts have been those that have been handmade because those gifts are the ones that come with a story attached. It is these gifts that have evoked emotions in me and therefore when I think of them, see them, or use them, they make me feel something. Usually they make me feel cherished because someone cared enough about me to take the time to craft something just for me.

      1) If your a savvy sewer, knitter, or crocheter you can create quilts, pillows, dolls, needlepoint,
      scarves, and hats.
      2) You don't have to be skilled in the kitchen to create cookie mixes, soup mixes, jarred jams,
      butters, breads, and oils. Put them in pretty tins or jars that can be picked up cheaply at
      dollar stores.
      3) Create your own homemade soaps or lotions.
      4) Research your family tree or compile an oral history of your grandparents or great-grandparents lives. I compiled my grandparents' stories about their lives and had them bound at Staples. In the back I added PA Dutch recipes since my grandparents are Dutch.

      5) Write something for someone (write and illustrate a book or frame a poem for your loved
      ones).
      6) Write a song and record it or burn it onto a CD or burn a CD with a friend or relative's
      favorite music.
      7) Offer to be someone's personal servant for a day (especially if your handy around the house
      or an organizer junky).
      8) IOUs or coupon books can be personalized by you.
      9) Use a photo album with magnetic pages to organize clipped recipes or recipe cards and
      present it as a gift.
      10) Create a scrapbook with premade pages (made by you) to which the recipient only needs to
      add pics.

      11) Do something fun (a family outing or vacation).