Monthly Archives: December 2009

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Clip: The Bumble

True story: my sister and I cried when we watched this scene. Every year, when Rudolph aired on TV. We still loved Rudolph but The Bumble terrified us.

My son thinks that is really funny.

Were you afraid of The Bumble?

How to Make the Holiday Bright for Your Unemployed Friend

One out of ten people are unemployed in our country right now (I’m looking for a job, myself!).  With the holidays right around the corner, are you wondering what to give to your unemployed friends on a tight budget?  Here are some ideas to lift their spirits this Christmas.

  • Get them out of the house and moving! Job-seekers spend a lot of time on the computer (looking for jobs, of course!).  Why not invite them for a winter walk?  Then be prepared for a lot of listening.  Some people find it easier to talk about their problems when walking.  You’ll be doing their mood a lot of good by getting them walking briskly (which will increase their endorphins) and by listening to their problems (which will reduce their stress level).
  • Propose fun and free things to do together. Check out museum exhibits, free concerts, and tree lightings, all of which are abundant around the holidays.  Skip the mall, which may remind them of how little they have to spend.  Go for a drive and look at Christmas lights.  Volunteer.  Or spend an afternoon together making Christmas cookies or watching old movies.
  • Give the gift of networking. Bring your friend to a holiday event with you and introduce them to people.
  • Offer to read their resume. If you have worked together, and it’s appropriate, consider writing a recommendation for them on LinkedIn.
  • Agree to exchange modest gifts this year. If you usually exchange gifts, or it’s a relative, set a budget, e.g. not to exceed $10, and honor that.
  • Help them with a useful gift. Take their picture of your friend and help them upload it to their LinkedIn and Facebook profiles.  Help them design and purchase a set of business contact cards on VistaPrint. Give them a month-at-a-glance calendar to help them keep track of their job interviews.

A Merry ADHD Christmas

If you, or someone you love, has ADHD, you know that this neurological difference presents daily challenges.  This challenge may be exacerbated with other conditions that may co-exist with ADHD, such as mood and anxiety disorders.  Here are some tips for accommodating the special need of ADHD during the holidays.

Understanding the Impact of ADHD on People During the Holidays

Even brilliant people with ADHD may have trouble maintaining attention to everyday tasks, organizing their homes and work spaces, managing finances, handling impulsivity, arriving on time for appointments, and remembering things.  They may also have social challenges, such as interrupting too frequently, and sensory sensitivities (such as being more sensitive than is typical to noise or fabrics).  They may also have trouble sleeping and may fatigue easily.

Imagine how the holidays can affect someone with ADHD.  There are tons of details to remember, and all kinds of schedule disruptions and special events to attend.  Budgeting, shopping for, wrapping, and hiding gifts can be enormously challenging for someone who is impulsive, highly distractible, and who tends to forget details (such as where the car is parked).  There are twinkly lights and decorations everywhere, which can be highly distracting.  And let’s not even talk about the sheets of burned cookies! 🙂

While everyone has these symptoms at some point, especially during the hectic holidays or other stressful times, people with ADHD have these symptoms for 6 months or longer, in some cases, for their entire lives.  The severity of the symptoms is another diagnostic criteria.  You can be forgetful and not have ADHD.  But if you have several of these symptoms to a chronic degree, and they interfere with daily living activities, such as keeping a job or maintaining relationships, then you may have ADHD.  A neurologist can tell you more.  These “survival tips” may be useful for you, even if you don’t have ADHD.

Practical Tips for Surviving the Holidays

How can you help your friend or relative with ADHD  enjoy the season without disaster?  It’s important to remain positive and remind your friend, child, or relative about how successfully they have handled situations in the past, and that neurotypical people often struggle with similar challenges.

These tips may help, as well as help anyone else you may know who is undergoing any kind of stress during the holidays.

Even during vacation periods, try to maintain schedules. Going to bed and waking up at the same time can help manage restful sleep and emotional equilibrium.  Stick to the same rules, and make sure they are clearly understood.

Get plenty of exercise.

Make sure they are listening to you. The best way is to be close to someone with ADHD and ask them if they can pay attention for a moment.  Connect first, then tell them.  You might have to say  it again, but you will have better luck getting them to focus on you if you tell them you have something to say before you say it.

Write it down. Is it important that they be somewhere?  Don’t just tell them and expect them to remember. Make sure they write it down in their planner, or on their digital calendar, and watch them do it! Send email and text reminders.  If necessary, write it down for them, e.g. a post-it note on their bathroom mirror or front door.

Fudge on the time. If you need them to be there at 8:30 a.m., tell them they have to be there at 8:00 a.m.  Trust me, you should never tell a person with ADHD the actual starting time of a movie, play, or airplane departure because they will almost always be late for everything.  You don’t like it and they don’t like it, but it is a fact of life for people with ADHD.  Always give them about a half-hour cushion, at least, if it’s important.

Break down the tasks for them. People with ADHD often operate well with lists, calendars, schedules, and other forms of structure.  Help them break down a task, by talking through the steps together, whether it’s shopping for toys or making cookies.

Don’t let them take on too much and set reasonable expectations. People with ADHD often over-estimate their ability to handle a multitude of tasks, and take on too much, not finishing much of anything.  If you simplify your expectations for the holidays, and help them focus on just a few tasks at a time, and celebrate the milestones and completion.  For example, agree in advance that the adults will get just one present.  It is fine to use Christmas bags and tissue instead of wrapping presents with bows.  You can decorate a tree with lights, tinsel, and just a few decorations.  You can still enjoy a family Christmas dinner with a turkey breast and instant mashed potatoes and a store-bought pumpkin pie!

Stash back-ups. For example, an keep umbrella or extra pair of glasses in the car.  Stow extra hats and gloves in the car trunk, as well as the closet.  Then when your ADHD relative forgets or loses an important item, they won’t be cold!

Help them relax. What relaxes people can be different, but in general, slow down and don’t try to do too much.  Take plenty of breaks, and stay hydrated.  Relax together at a a coffee shop and regroup.  Hand fidgets can be helpful: they help you relax and focus.

Alert them when they need it. Are they spacing out?  Sometimes gum helps, or ice cold water or lemonade, a quick walk, or a little chocolate or caffeine.  If they’re really tired, however, just call it a day.

Get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Studies show that people with ADHD become more high-functioning when they see green outside — so take a stroll around the Christmas tree lot or outdoor garden center.  Take brisk winter walks.

Let someone else do it, at least during the holidays. Take the linens and towels to a laundry and let them wash and fold them for you or your ADHD relative.

ADHD Friendly Presents

  • A month-at-a-glance calendar with blocks big enough to write in plenty of notes and appointments.  If the calendar or planner is for a woman, make sure it will fit in her purse.
  • A mini-recorder (maybe for a keychain) so the person can record where he parked the car.
  • A fun fidget for their purse, backpack or keychain: check out Tangle.
  • A GPS system to keep them from getting lost in the car.
  • Watches with easy-to-read faces are a good gift. You can’t have too many watches.
  • A digital camera for recording events.  People with ADHD tend to be visual learners.
  • Those lavender scented heavy pads for shoulders.
  • Massagers.
  • Timers to remind them to take the cookies out of the oven, or to take a break.
  • A relaxing music CD, such as classical music or instrumental jazz.
  • ADHD self-help books.
  • Nice pens and notepads for making lists.  Post-it notes.
  • Bubbles are relaxing for children, because it requires slow breathing.
  • A tiny zen rock garden.
  • An artificial plant (you don’t have to remember to water them).
  • Key organizer (to mount by the front door)
  • Desk organizers
  • Closet organizers
  • Cosmetic bags and jewelry organizers
  • Ornaments organizers
  • Checkbook organizer and budgeting tools.
  • Write on/wipe off calendars and white boards
  • First aid kits, car emergency kits

What to Give a Single Mom for Christmas

As one of the nation’s 10+million single mothers, I always look forward to Christmas, but not without a sense of wistfulness.  Half of my Christmases are spent without my child (not this one, however! Yay!), because I have split custody.  I have spent a few Christmases alone.  It can be relaxing, but it can also feel very lonely.

merry christmas sign

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Just as there is usually no one around to take care of the single mom of young children when she is sick, there is usually no one around to fill her stocking or buy her a special present at Christmas.  Believe it or not, I make a modest stocking for myself, partially for my son’s benefit, so he won’t think Santa Claus forgot Mommy, and partly to make myself feel better.

Do you have a single mom as a friend or relative?  Here are some ways to help a single mom feel jolly at Christmas time.

  • Send her a Christmas card with a kind message inside. There really is no single better way to remember the single mom during the holidays.  I’ve been divorced twice, and lost two whole families, and of course, I miss connecting with them during the holidays.  Christmas can feel really lonely, but Christmas cards from friends and family help immensely.
  • Call and check in to wish her a Merry Christmas on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (even if you only leave a voice mail message).  You don’t have to include her in your family celebrations (that would probably feel awkward to her), but a quick call could mean a lot to her, especially if she doesn’t have her kids that year.
  • Invite her to your holiday parties. If you are having a big holiday party with lots of people, be sure to invite her.  Single moms get left out of events a lot, because they are often socially isolated after the divorce.
  • Offer the gift of time. Single moms are often on a very tight budget.  As a Christmas present, why not offer a few hours of free babysitting one evening so she can shop for and wrap toys for her child?  I had to spend $60 on a sitter one night just so I could buy my son some toys for Christmas one year. The sitter cost me more than the presents!
  • Spoil her a little. Single moms are used to putting themselves last.  Some great pampering ideas for single moms include a Bath and Body Works gift set, a restaurant gift card, a gift certificate to a hair salon, gym membership, or a manicure/pedicure.
  • Take her photo, with her children, if possible, and give it to her in a pretty frame or in a key chain, as a keepsake.  Single moms get left out of pictures a lot because they are usually the one holding the camera.  She will love this present most of all.

Holiday Riddles for Kids

What do snowmen eat for breakfast?  Frosted Flakes.

What do you get if Santa goes down the chimney while the fire is lit? Crisp Kringle.

What do monkeys sing at Christmas?  Jungle bells…jungle bells…

How do sheep in Mexico say Merry Christmas?  Fleece Navidad!

Who delivers presents to good little baby sharks at Christmas? Santa Jaws!

What goes OH, OH, OH?  Santa walking backwards!

What did the Gingerbread Man put on his bed?  A cookie sheet!

What happens if you are naughty before Christmas? Yule be sorry!

What happened when Santa parked his sleigh in a no-parking zone? He was mistle-towed.

How to Enjoy the Holidays without Gaining (Much) Weight

Holiday parties and dinners present all kinds of options.  I think all foods are fine in moderation.  The trick is moderation!  Here are some tips for enjoying food in moderation, if, like me, you tend to over-indulge and pack on pounds…

Don’t skip meals on the day of the party. You know what a beast stored hunger is. You’ll be far better off if you eat a good breakfast and lunch and stay hydrated before dinner or cocktail parties.  If you usually eat cereal or toast for breakfast, maybe try oatmeal that day, or eggs and canadian bacon, for more staying power throughout the day.

Eat before you go out. If you can manage to grab a snack before you go out, you’ll be less likely to eat too much at the party (or before shopping!).  Eat something substantial, like greek yogurt with honey, and a small handful of almonds.  That will line your tummy, too, in case you eat something spicy or drink alcohol.

Keep a camera handy. Why? If you get attacks of shyness at social gatherings (like I do), you can always take pictures of people, or holiday decorations, or the food.  That way, you won’t eat or drink just to keep busy or to feel less conspicuous if no one is talking to you. Taking pictures keeps you busy and can be a great ice-breaker.

Look out for the holiday blues. Everyone I know gets depressed a little bit at some point during the holidays. It’s really common.  Before you snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry, or just bored, lonely, disappointed, tired or even thirsty.  If you’re hungry, eat. Otherwise, have a cup of peppermint tea (hot beverages are great for curbing appetite and peppermint has been shown to lessen depression). Another blues-buster is to take a walk outside to rev up your mood (and your metabolism).

Skip (or reduce) the alcohol. It’s true for many people that alcohol tends to lower their inhibitions, which can lead to eating more. One healthy, non-alcoholic drink option that looks and tastes festive is to order cranberry spritzers (cranberry juice and club soda with lime).

You can also order white wine spritzers, or ask the bartender to make a drink with half the alcohol.

If you choose to drink, alternate imbibing cocktails or glasses of bubbly champagne (100 calories) with glasses of water, mineral water, or seltzer.  (This will also help prevent a hangover!)

Try the lower fat versions in recipes. In some cases, the low-fat options are really good. I like light versions of sour cream, mayonnaise and salad dressing and use them in my recipes for veggie dip, etc.

A great way to cut fat in mashed potatoes is to mash them with buttermilk.  It’s delicious! But pass on the homemade gravy — too much fat.  Try canned gravy or jarred gravy instead; we’re talking a 300 calorie-plus difference!

I love stuffing with lots of onion and celery.  Try replacing all or some of the butter in stuffing recipes with canned, fat-free chicken stock or vegetable stock.  Also, don’t cook it inside the turkey.  It will absorb fat and calories from the bird.

Dress hot vegetables like green beans, broccoli or brussel sprouts with olive oil and herbs to avoid the less healthy fat in butter.

Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. Just don’t go there.  I know, it’s delicious but if I told you how many calories, you wouldn’t believe me.  Try this version of sweet potato casserole instead, which has only 3 g of fat and at least half the calories.

It’s amazing the calories you can save just by choosing pumpkin pie over pecan pie.  And that spray whipped cream only has 30 calories a serving!  If you ate just the top of your pie, along with the canned whipped cream, you’d save all kinds of calories by skipping the fat-laden crust. I do that, sometimes.

Lean meats and fish are good bets on the buffet table. Just a little cheese has a lot of calories. But, shrimp has few calories (as long as it isn’t fried), as does smoked salmon. Beef tenderloin is a luscious 165 calories a serving.

Olives, raw veggies, and mushrooms have practically no calories at all.

I was surprised at how many calories are in fruit cake. It seems so benign! But 1/4 of a Claxton fruit cake will set you back 390 calories and it has a lot of fat. If you indulge in fruit cake, take just a nibble.

Did you know a lot of those holiday coffee drinks are packed with calories and fat? As much as or more than candy bars!  Make your own coffee at home and add purchased flavored creamers (30 calories per serving) like White Chocolate Peppermint or Pumpkin and top with canned whipped cream (another 30 calories) and you’ll save money and more than 500 calories in some instances!

The holidays are about having fun, and food is part of that. If weight loss is personal goal, I hope some of these options work well for you.

Cool Yule Video: Nutcracker Ballet Pas de Deux (Videos)

Here are not one, but two, choreographed versions of the pas de deux in The Nutcracker.

The first video (1968) portrays a classic version featuring the phenomenal Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev as the Nutcracker Prince and the very great Merle Park as Clara. At the time, they were both dancing for the Royal Ballet of London. Her performance in The Nutcracker earned her international acclaim and assured her a place among history’s greatest ballerinas.

What I appreciate about this flawless performance, in addition to its beautiful choreography (by Nureyev) and emotional quality, is the athleticism and laser precision of the dancers. 

The second video (1977) is Mikhail Baryshnikov’s version for American Ballet Theatre in which he performs with Gelsey Kirkland. It created a sensation when it was presented at the Kennedy Center in 1977. This highly artistic and deeply psychological interpretation adds all kinds of novel elements.  For one, he puts Clara in the pas de deux, whereas in other versions she is merely a spectator of this dance.  Then he also adds Herr Drosselmeyer into the dance, which adds all kinds of layers of meaning and a novel dimension, really creating a pas de trois!

With its fluid choreography and drama, and the wispy costume and flowing coiffure of the delicate Ms. Kirkland, the intensely emotional, dream-like performance is full of mystery and beauty, conjuring up all kinds of musings about love, coming of age, strength and vulnerability, and even desire and sensuality.  (The pas de deux begins at 3:43 in this video.)

Success Tips for Holiday Cookie Baking

I’ve discovered a few tricks and gadgets that are making my holiday cookie baking much more successful this year.

Parchment paper. Most of my cookie recipes call for an ungreased cookie sheet.  This year, I’m lining my cookie sheet with parchment paper. I just discovered how much easier it is making my cookie-baking.  A sheet of parchment paper can be reused, batch after batch.  When the cookies are done, you slip the paper, cookies and all, onto wire racks to cool (minimum 2 minutes).  I am finding that the cookies bake more evenly, don’t break when I try to lift them from the paper, and I don’t have to clean the pan between batches.  At Safeway, look for the display of parchment paper that offers a 75-cents-off coupon.

Cookie scoop and silicon turner. My sister swore by using this handled cookie scoop for cookie dough.  (It looks like a small ice cream scoop.)  At first, I wondered, why not just use spoons?  But when I saw a Betty Crocker set of a cookie scoop plus cookie turner at Wal-Mart for about $3, I decided to try it.  The scoop does a couple of things.   It does make it a lot easier to scoop and produce evenly sized cookies.  It is also easier to use every scrap of dough in the mixing bowl, so there is less waste (and more cookies!).  I feel as if the scoop does not overly work the dough (the way scraping with two spoons might), which results in a lighter cookie texture.  I am also a big fan of the thin, flexible turner that came in the set.  It really does work better than the other turners I have for lifting cookies.

Cookie mixes. I usually make cookies to give as gifts, using recipes I have relied on year after year, and using the best ingredients, such as real vanilla and unsalted butter.  This year, I find I just don’t have the time to bake from scratch.  I still wanted to make cookies, however, so I bought several bags of Betty Crocker cookie dough mix in various flavors.  They are on sale at Safeway for about $1.25 a bag (each bag makes 2-3 dozen cookies).  I am having good success with all of them, and they save a great deal of time, and there aren’t as many utensils and bowls to clean.  It’s a good compromise, if you are also pressed for time.

You can elaborate on the cookie mixes using these recipes from Betty Crocker, available online at http://www.bettycrocker.com.  To save time, I may skip rolling out dough and making cut-out cookies this year and bake the jam-filled thumbprint cookies with the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix, instead.

Cook Book. While we’re talking Betty Crocker, I should also mention that I think the latest Betty Crocker cook book is a winner, especially for less experienced cooks, like myself.  The cookbook is unique in that it provides photographs of how your cookies should look when done.  It shows what a cookie looks like if you use too much butter or flour, and how it should look when it is just right.

A few more cookie-baking tips…

Use fresh ingredients. For the best flavor, use fresh ingredients for everything. Don’t use last year’s shortening, oil, baking soda, baking powder, flour, candy or nuts.  If you are in doubt, toss it.  The exception is vanilla extract, which lasts indefinitely.  Even spices lose their life after too long on the shelf (about one to four years, depending on the type).  Also, some might swear by them, but I don’t have good experience with cooking sprays and I don’t like what they do to my pans.

Refrigerate the dough after you mix it. This will help prevent cookie spread (cookies baking too flat and thin).

Let your cookie sheets cool between batches. If you put cookies on warm sheets, they may spread while baking.

Toast nuts before adding to the dough. Toasted nuts have the best flavor.  You can toast pecans, walnuts, and almonds in about 7 minutes or less in a 400 degree oven.

Using an expensive spice? Like cardamon or star anise?  Try an Indian spice store.  You may find good deals on spices.

What do you use to bake great cookies?  Have you found the perfect cookie sheet?  Do you have a great recipe?  Feel free to add them in the comments!

Recipe: Low-Fat Sweet Potato Casserole

I found this in First Magazine several years ago.  Try this instead of the marshmallow version to save calories and fat grams.

  • 3 medium sized sweet potatoes (about 1-1/2 lb.), pared and cut into chunks
  • 2 large baking apples (about 1 lb.), cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp. margarine, melted. (It calls for margarine but I suppose you could use butter.)

Preheat oven to 400.  Spray a 8″ or 9″ baking dish with vegetable cooking spray.  Add potatoes and apples.  Sprinkle first with cinnamon, then with sugar; toss lightly.  Add bay leaf, oj, and margarine.  Cover dish with foil and bake about 1 houror until potatoes and apples are fork-tender.  Remove bay leaf and serve.  Makes 8 servings, 209 calories, 3 g fat.

Stocking Stuffer Ideas

christmas stocking

Here are some ideas for stocking stuffers that work well for people of all ages.

  • Candy coins, chocolates, and Christmas candy
  • A sparkly toothbrush
  • A magazine, rolled up tight
  • Mascara, lip stick, or nail polish for girls or women
  • Lip balm
  • Carabiner clips
  • Sample size fragrance or cologne; or bubble bath
  • USB flash drives
  • Small combs or pocket-size hair brushes
  • Pocket kleenex
  • Keychains, especially those with lights
  • Notebook or small journal or diary
  • Inexepensive small toys (slinky, yoyo, balloon balls, etc.)
  • Small pins, earrings, or necklaces for girls and women
  • Movie tickets, Starbucks card, McDonald’s card, or other gift card
  • A special pair of socks
  • Tiny hand puzzles, bouncy balls, or fidgets
  • A pack of chewing gum, or Life Savers
  • Pocket album with photographs or small framed photograph
  • Cards, card games, or other small games
  • Silly Putty
  • Small stuffed animal, like a beanie baby