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6 ways to keep the kids occupied during winter break... Winter break can be very enjoyable for the first few days… but once the kids start to get bored, things can go downhill fast. Here are some ideas to keep your kids occupied during their time off:

Go Sledding:
If you live in a climate that gets snow, bundle the family up for a day of sledding. Many towns have hills in parks that are free to use for sledding. If you want a bigger adventure, head to a ski resort and enjoy their large hills. You will have to pay admission, but you will be in for a much bigger thrill ride.

Handmade thank you cards:
You can keep your child busy for an afternoon AND teach them some manners by encouraging them to create handmade thank you cards for the gifts they received over the holiday season.


Have an indoor picnic: Pretend it’s summer for a day and throw an indoor picnic. Throw a blanket on the living room floor and serve sandwiches and other picnic foods. For an extra dose of fun, turn the heat up and have your kids put on their summer shorts and tank tops!

Throw a family slumber party:
One night after dinner, have the whole family change into their pj’s, throw some blankets on the floor, pop some popcorn, and watch movies till you fall asleep.


Field Trip:
Take the kids to a museum during their break for a lesson in art, science, or history.


Clean house:
If your children received an abundance of holiday gifts, this is the perfect time to clean out their rooms and donate the toys and clothes they’ve outgrown to charity.

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and a Happy New Year!

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Everyone loves getting Christmas gifts that come from the heart. What shows this better than gifts made by hand? While this may make some people panic at the thought of trying to make something arts and crafts, it really isn't that hard to make a nice gift for someone.

An excellent gift for a new bride in the family would be a cookbook of all the family favorites. Add some stories and maybe old photos of family gatherings to go along with the recipes. Put together some dry mixes of some of the recipes to get her started. Wrap it in a nice apron, maybe even one that belonged to a relative.

For kids, a great gift that can be added to is a Dress Up Kit.
Get an old suitcase or two and fill it with old clothes that you don't wear anymore. Include hats and shoes. Now and then, add more items to the box. Ask other relatives to contribute to it as well. If you have pictures of family members wearing the clothes, print them out and decoupage them on the outside of the suitcase and then coat with a clear finish.


Do you have a flower garden during the year? Save the petals, dry them and make your own potpourri.
You could buy cinnamon sticks to add another scent and texture. Put it in small containers or mesh bags.
Everyone likes to snuggle up with a soft blanket on a cold evening. You can make a blanket and never sew or crochet a stitch. Purchase a piece of fleece the size that you want your blanket (the clerks at the store can help you figure out the right amount). Simply cut fringe in about two inches from all the edges about an inch apart. You can either let the fringes hang loose, or tie knots to make a pattern around.

Homemade cookies, fresh from the oven, are a great treat. A lot of people just don't have the time to make them. You can make a frozen cookie kit. Mix up a batch of their favorite cookies. Roll them out into balls and flatten them slightly. Flash freeze them by putting them on wax paper on a cookie sheet until they are solid. Remove them from the sheets and place them in a freezer bag. Bake for two to three minutes more than the normal time or until golden brown. They can be baked in small batches, even in the toaster over, or all at the same time.

Another nice handmade gift could be writing a poem for a family member.
Poems don't even have to rhyme. Print it out in a nice font or in calligraphy if you know how, and put it in a nice frame. It's a gift someone will treasure for years to come. You can have kids help write one for different family members. An easy poem type project is to take someone’s first name, write it along the left margin and then think of a word associated with that person for each letter. For example, Sue could be Sweet, Upbeat and Energetic or Bob could be Brave, Outgoing and Baseball.


No matter what your homemade Christmas gift, be sure to include lots of love in the making and it will sure to be a hit with it's recipient.

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Late December, back in 63...

then...

My Dad, me and my sister Shirley
(I am the tiny one in the middle)

Fast forward 45 years...

and now....

J-bug, me and Shell-bug.

They planned a very special birthday party for me,
with homemade cards and cupcakes.

J-bug sang "Happy Birthday" to me at least 15 or 20 times.

Shell-bug keep telling me what an awesome mom I am,
and that I still look great even if I am getting old.
(kids...you gotta love em)

It's been a great 45 years and I am looking
forward to even more awesome years yet to come!

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Some people tend to think of the winter as a lazier time of year, but that is usually not the case. When you combine work, your children's sports and other activities, along with slow winter driving, you are probably getting home during the week later than ever. When you get home late, getting dinner on the table as quickly and easily as possible becomes a priority.

1. Many pasta dishes are very quick and easy. Spaghetti doesn’t take long at all; start boiling your pasta water as you cook your hamburger. When the meat is done cooking, simply drain it, add a jar of sauce to the pan, and let it simmer while your noodles cook. Meanwhile, throw a loaf of garlic bread into the oven and you’ve got a hearty meal in less than 30 minutes.

2.
Put a spin on soup and sandwich night by serving your own baked subs. Buy your favorite deli meats and cheese, along with some sub buns. Assemble the meat and cheese on the buns and bake them in a 350 degree oven till warmed through. Then, take them out of the oven and add your choice of condiments sandwich veggies. Serve with a big bowl of soup and you’ve got a very satisfying winter meal.

3.
Breakfast Suppers are quick to cook and can be an interesting change of pace. To save time, buy some frozen hash browns and serve those along with some bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast. You can buy pre-cooked bacon to further speed up the process.

4.
The above dishes could be cooked in less than 30 minutes, but if you happen to have about an hour to get dinner on the table, grab a cooking bag and get ready for a great family meal. You can make a great roast chicken by simply adding the chicken, baby carrots and potatoes to the cooking bag.

For extra flavor, add a few cloves of garlic, an onion chopped into quarters, and a few pieces of celery. Consult the chart that comes with the cooking bags for the exact degree and time needed to cook the size of chicken you have.


The winter is a great time to enjoy your favorite comfort foods. Thankfully, many of them can be on the table in under an hour!

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A dozen multiple choice trivia questions about Christmas holiday traditions and history.


1. Which Christmas tree fact is NOT true?

A. Artificial Christmas trees have outsold real ones every year since 1991.
B. Nova Scotia leads the world in exporting Christmas trees.
C. Franklin Pierce was the first president to decorate an official White House Christmas tree.
D. The Christmas tree was chosen to represent this holy holiday because it's shape points the way to heaven.

2. Can you name the popular Christmas song that was actually written for Thanksgiving?

A. Jingle Bells
B. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
C. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
D. Away in the Manger

3. Electric Christmas tree lights were first used in what year?

A. 1865
B. 1895
C. 1905
D. 1932

4. Good King Wenceslas was king of what country?

A. Bohemia
B. England
C. Germany
D. Morocco

5. In 8971, the New York Sun newspaper wrote a famous response to a little girl's question: "Yes, _______, there is a Santa Claus." Can you name that girl?

A. Mary
B. Charlotte
C. Vidalia
D. Virginia

6. Can you name Scrooge's dead business partner from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol?"

A. Jacob Marley
B. Tiny Tim
C. Bob Cratchett
D. Old William

7. One of the pagan traditions that Christians have incorporated into their Christmas celebration includes hanging mistletoe. Which of these is NOT a former pagan belief?

A. Ancient Europeans believed that the mistletoe plant held magical powers to bestow life and fertility as well as protect against disease.
B. French girls used to slip branches of mistletoe beneath their pillows to dream of their future husbands.
C. The Celts believed mistetoe brought about peace and goodwill.
D. Northern Europeans associated mistletoe with the Norse goddess of love, Freya and developed the custom of kissing underneath mistletoe branches.

8. While today the Christmas tree is an enduring symbol of the season, it wasn't always a holiday tradition. Which historical fact is NOT true?

A. According to legend, Martin Luther, the founder of German protestantism, while walking through the forest on Christmas Eve was so moved by the starlit fir trees he brought one indoors and decorated it with candles to remind his children of God's creation.
B. In 1841, Prince Albert of Germany gave his wife, Queen Victoria of England, a gift of a Christmas tree. This was reputedly the first Christmas tree in England, but the custom quickly spread.
C. German immigrants brought the Christmas tree to Europe, the United States and Canada, where it soon became a popular tradition.
D. On a bet, 11-year-old P.T. Barnum started hawking trees in Connecticut in 1821, telling his marks they were all the rage. Soon the fashion spread throughout the country and it became tradition, thus establishing his maxim "There is a sucker born every minute."

9. Many people are familiar with the term "The Twelve Days of Christmas," but not everyone knows where it originated. Can you pick out the right explanation?

A. The Twelve Days of Christmas represents the number of days Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem.
B. The Twelve Days of Christmas represents the length of time that the three wise men from the East traveled to reach Baby Jesus after his birth.
C. The Twelve Days of Christmas represents the number of reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh.
D. The Twelve Days of Christmas represents the length of time required to celebrate Good King Wenceslas' birthday.

10. Who hasn't wondered what "wassail" is and why people would request it at Christmas. Let's see if you can guess…

A. Wassail comes from the Old Norse "Ves Heill" and means "to be of good health," so when neighbors would visit on Christmas Eve they would drink to each other's health.
B. Wassail comes from the Old German "Ves Heill" and means "to avoid Hell," so loved ones would share this sentiment with each other on Christmas Eve in preparation for the birth of Christ.
C. Wassail comes from the Old Celtic "Ves Heill" and means "drink up" so is naturally associated with all party occasions.
D. Wassail comes from the Old English "Ves Heill" and means drink of the angels and eventually became associated with Christmas.

11. Everyone loves to receive them, but dreads performing the annual holiday ritual of sending Christmas cards. So who do we NOT have to thank/blame?

A. Medieval Europeans who exchanged wood prints of religious themes for Christmas.
B. English illustrator John Calcott Horsley who created the first modern Christmas card in 1843 that depicted a family celebration with the caption "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You."
C. German-American printer Louis Prang who made advances in color lithography allowing him to mass produce colorful Christmas cards in 1875.
D. Desmond Hallmark who had a surplus of cards left over from Arbor Day depicting a fir tree and decided to unload them by the box by simply printing Merry Christmas across the trees in red ink.

12. Remember that fuscia sweater Aunt Edna knitted for your Christmas present last year? Don't blame Aunt Edna, she's not the one who started the Christmas gift giving tradition, so who is?

A. Those three wise men who visited the stable where Jesus was born.
B. The ancient Romans who exchanged gifts to bring good fortune for the new year.
C. Mark Antony who was always looking for new ways to please Cleopatra.
D. The ancient Greeks who sought to placate the gods on Mount Olympus.


Answers:

1. D. The Christmas tree was chosen to represent this holy holiday because it's shape points the way to heaven.
QQ: OK, so maybe it's true, but the QuizQueen can't prove that fact, as reasonable as it sounds, because it wasn't in any of the literature she dug up for this quiz.

2. A. Jingle Bells
QQ: The song was composed in 1857 by James Pierpont, and was originally called One Horse Open Sleigh. When you think about the words make a lot more sense that way…

3. B. 1895
QQ: American Ralph E. Morris had the bright idea that electric Christmas lights would be safer than using candles.

4.A. Bohemia.
QQ: Who knows why those Bohemians always get such a bad rep? Although, history has it that Wenceslas, who lived in the 10th century, was only a Duke, not a King at all.

5. D. Virginia
QQ: Virginia O'Hanlon to be exact! Shame on you, if you missed it.

6. A. Jacob Marley
QQ: The first of four spirits to appear to Scrooge that fateful Christmas Eve was that of Jacob Marley, his old business partner.

7. B. French girls used to slip branches of mistletoe beneath their pillows to dream of their future husbands.
QQ: That was a tough one, wasn't it? The QuizQueen is soooo clever…

8. D. On a bet, 11-year-old P.T. Barnum started hawking trees in Connecticut in 1821, telling his marks they were all the rage. Soon the fashion spread throughout the country and it became tradition, thus establishing his maxim "There is a sucker born every minute."
QQ: Good 'ole P.T. Barnum did try to sell just about everything, and may in fact have sold Christmas trees, but I doubt he sold them at that age!

9. B. The Twelve Days of Christmas represents the length of time that the three wise men from the East traveled to reach Baby Jesus after his birth.
QQ: And you thought you didn't learn anything practical in Sunday school?

10. A. Wassail comes from the Old Norse "Ves Heill" and means "to be of good health," so when neighbors would visit on Christmas Eve they would drink to each other's health.
QQ: Sometimes The QuizQueen can be very, very silly.

11. D. Desmond Hallmark who had a surplus of cards left over from Arbor Day depicting a fir tree and decided to unload them by the box by simply printing Merry Christmas across the trees in red ink.
QQ: While all except poor Desmond can be held responsible, The QuizQueen truly blames Louis!

12. B. The ancient Romans who exchanged gifts to bring good fortune for the new year.
QQ: Of course, Aunt Edna is to blame for choosing that color. You can't blame the Romans for that.
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President Johnson's 1967 White House Christmas...Image via WikipediaChristmas is a time for decorating your home and your neighborhood and bringing a sense of joy and warmth to your family and others. From tinsel to trees, ribbons to wreaths, and ornaments to gingerbread men, the holiday season is full of colorful Christmas related décor.

There are some interesting facts about some common Christmas decorations you may not know.

For example, the shiny ribbons of silver we put on our tree called Tinsel originated from Germany in the early 1600s. The first real tinsel was actually made from real silver and cut into very thin strips. Machines were used to cut the sheets of silver, and then the resulting strips were hung on the tree. Of course, the newer version does not turn colors due to rust or tarnish, is much lighter, and much less expensive.


You may enjoy buying a new, fresh live Christmas tree each year, but some people prefer to buy the artificial version. These "fake Christmas trees" also came from Germany. They used to be constructed of metal wires with goose or other birds' feathers attaches to represent the branches. At one point, these trees were made of brushes, much like toilet brushes, until finally in the 1950s, artificial trees started to be manufactured that looked much more realistic. These were manufactured in America and have remained a popular décor item to this day.

During the snowy winter months, you probably see snowmen all over the neighborhood. It may be surprising to learn that the first snowman known as Arktos came from Greek legend. Ever since then, the snowman has become the thing of legend. Some of the most popular nicknames for snowmen include Jack Frost and Frosty the Snowman. People love to build these frozen men in their front yards and top them off with a hat, scarf, carrot nose, and eyes made of coal. They are a comforting and friendly sight throughout the Christmas season.

In the 1830s, an Englishman by the name of John Calcott Horsley began sending beautiful photos and cards as a way to express holiday cheer for others. This is when the Christmas card was born. Today, it is one of the most common ways to celebrate the holiday and to share your love for others during the season.

Most of the Christmas decorations we use today have a long and storied history that many people may not know about. It is amazing to see where these traditions came from and how much they have evolved over the years since they first began.

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