Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: Year in Review

The FeauxCajun Kitchen has survived another year in the blogosphere!  And it’s thanks to our awesome readers like you…yes you, with the eyeballs.  THANK YOU for reading!  I know this is just a small-time, part-time, just-for-fun blog, definitely not on par with the Pioneer Women & Bloggesses of the world, but I really appreciate those of you who find your way to this site, however you end up moseying over here.  The idea that ANYONE reads this blog still blows my mind some days. :)

It’s been a crazy year around these parts, since a good portion of my year was pre-occupado with the Hubs’ & I’s new business venture, but we survived our first season with only a *few* extra gray hairs to show for it.


  • I had a goal of getting 100 new subscribers in 2013…and ended up with 163 new readers!  So thank you, all you new followers!  Y’all are AMAZING!
  • This fall, my pumpkin pancake recipe went “viral” on Pinterest, getting repinned over 5,000 times… (I don’t actually know what the cut off for “viral” is…but 5,000+ seems like it would count.  I mean, if I had a virus and I got 5,000 people sick, I’m pretty sure I’d be hearing from the CDC or something.)   This is part of the reason so many new awesome people found this blog!
  • My most frequent guest poster Primo’s recipe for Crawchos was selected by CajunCrawfish.com as one of their 5 Unique Crawfish Recipes to be listed on their website!
  • We got some sweet props from 417 Magazine in October, and were listed as one of the 417-Area’s Top 5 Local Blogs!


Top Posts of 2013:

#10: The Galloway Greenway Smoothie

#9: Abita Root Beer Caramelized Onions

#8: How to Have Ab-Normal Finances

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#7: Andouille & Potato Soup

#6: Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding

#5: The Loozy-Anna Dawg

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#4: A List of Louisiana Festivals

#3: Clean Eating on a Budget

#2: The 2013 Fashion Challenge


and the #1 most popular post of 2013 was…

The “Cotton Anniversary” Gift – Homemade Ticket Stub Pillow!


So again, thank you for being you, and I’ll keep being me, and I’ll keep on writing so long as you crazy kids keep reading!  God bless & happy New Year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Jumping Back on the Fitness Bandwagon

I know, I know… isn’t it just so trite to say right after the holidays?  Resolution time is just around the corner, so everyone looks down & realizes they can’t see their abs…or their toes.

For me, this wake-up actually started a couple months ago, after we closed The Scoop for the season.  I took a breath, stretched, and started thinking, “ow…why do I hurt?  Where did all my muscle tone go?  Why am I so tired?”  Then I hopped on a scale & discovered I was 25 lbs heavier than I had been a year ago.  I won’t lie…for a brief period of time I was hoping I had gotten pregnant & not realized it & it was allllllll just “baby weight”.  Isn’t that sad?

What happened?  Well…we bought a business, while still having full time jobs.  Our already somewhat full schedules were now jam packed…which squeezed out a lot of the time we had for exercise…and time for cooking healthy meals at home was often replaced by needing to be at the business, so we were eating out more frequently.  Oh, and let’s not forget stress-eating our own delicious product.  I mean… there’s a giant freezer,  RIGHT THERE, with 15 kinds of ice cream in it.  Could you resist?

Photo Jul 02, 6 04 14 PM Deliciously evil.

So, here I am, frantically chasing down the “wagon” and trying to hop back on.  I’ve already lost about 5 lbs in the last month,   And I’d like to share some of the tools I’m using along my journey.  I’m a little bit of a tech-nut, so these are the things that help keep me motivated.

1.  "Zombies...Run!"  This app is available on iPhone & Android devices.  It runs about $2-3 and has so far been worth every penny.  It turns exercise into a game, and if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic shows like “The Walking Dead”, it’s supremely enjoyable.  The premise:  you’re a “runner” for Abel Township, a small community of survivors surrounded by zombies.  Each run is a 30-60 minute mission (depending on what length you choose) where you have to go pick up supplies, rescue survivors, or spy on other townships for information.  The radio operator for Abel communicates with you to give your directives, and in between his communiques, your music playlist advances (which you create—see my playlist here).  During the mission, you get notifications that you’ve picked up supplies (USB keys, first aid kits, bottles of water, even sports bras & baseball bats), and at the end of each mission you earn more supplies… and you can build your own “base” in the game with these supplies (very Sim City-esque). 

Screenshot_2013-09-18-17-41-45  image

A few screenshots…

There are currently 2 seasons on the app, so about 60 missions altogether, plus new free “radio” missions being added all the time.  The app can work via GPS or accelerometer, so you can still use it at the gym if it’s too cold to run outside (though, actual running on trails or around town during missions does add a lot to the “mission” feel).

This app keeps me going back to the gym… so I can build my base, and advance the storyline.

2.  FitBit.  Admittedly, I just got the FitBit for Christmas, so it’s still new to me, but I’m loving having all this data at my fingertips.  It tracks steps, floors climbed, calories, miles walked… you earn badges for hitting different achievements (5,000 steps in a day, 10,000 steps, etc.) and the dashboard is fantastic.  You can link with friends who have FitBits & motivate each other (and challenge each other, since you can see their steps in comparison to yours), you can track food (and make a meal plan for yourself based on how much you want to lose & how fast), activities (like workouts at the gym to keep your calories burned accurate), even how well you sleep.  There are communities, forums, and online challenges on the website as well. 


If you can’t afford a FitBit, there are other similar systems out there for a little less, but I feel like having the more mainstream version (especially one that other friends are using & I can see their activity) will help keep me motivated…sorta like virtual gym buddies.  I got a FitBit One, which is the  “clip on” style rather than the bracelet style, because they’re starting to get more cost effective (about $50-60), and you can find them used on Ebay, because so many FitBit fans are upgrading to the bracelet style Flex & Force models.

You get to name your FitBit…and yes, I’m a giant nerd.

3. Virtual Treks & Challenges.  In 2013, I completed the 100 Missouri Miles challenge, to spend at least 100 miles on Missouri’s trails & waterways.  People who successfully completed the challenge are sent a medal from the Governor…and my office had our own internal challenge so that all employees who completed it get a $25 gift card. I am nothing if not a sucker for small rewards. :D 

Now, I’m starting on the Trans-American Virtual Trek, which runs from Virginia to Oregon.  You enter the number of miles you walk/run/bike/hike each day, and it shows you where you would be along the trail. 

image It’s like an interactive Oregon Trail, only no one dies of dysentery!!!


4. Get a Big Cup.  If you’re like me, you’re probably not drinking enough water. In fact, stats show that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.  We drink coffee, tea, soda…just about everything BUT water.  It’s one of those things that SHOULD be so easy to do, and yet we ignore it… which causes all kinds of issues, from weight gain to headaches to joint pain to fatigue.  Don’t want to walk back & forth to the kitchen all day for cups of water?  Then get one big cup, that holds 24-32 oz of water, and drink 2 of them over the course of the day.  I use a plastic fountain drink cup from the nearby gas station (yes, I realize their name is awful…yet funny.)

Photo Dec 27, 10 04 11 AMDrinking through a straw gives me the illusion of drinking a fountain soda.  Can’t stand plain water?  Keep a stockpile of fresh limes or lemons at your work & squeeze the juice into your water.  You could probably use the Vitamin C, too.  If you get the FitBit & download the smartphone app, there’s a quick button for easily tracking your water intake, too.


5. Reward Yourself.  Build your own reward system for meeting goals.  Sure, apps can give you virtual badges & such, but more tangible rewards can help keep motivation up… even if it’s as simple as “I can’t play any Candy Crush until I hit 5,000 steps”. How about making a reward jar?  Put $5 in every time you go to the gym, and at the end of the month, have a mini-shopping spree, or get a spa treatment!  Try to avoid food rewards though, as this reinforces an emotional connection with indulgent foods.  I’m not saying you can’t have a cupcake; just don’t make it an “I deserve this” treat.  Put it in with your regular calories for the day, adjust your other meals accordingly, and do the extra work (if needed) to burn those calories off.

Or, for some people, negative reinforcement works better.  No worries—there’s an app for that.  Check out Gym-Pact.com.  You make a monetary commitment to go to the gym a certain # of times per week, download the app (so you can “check in” while you’re at the gym), and if you meet your goal, you actually GET a little money (it’s becoming more popular, so I think these days it’s only 50 cents/workout…there’s also occasional freebies like music downloads or coupons for online shopping)….but if you don’t meet your goal, you have to PAY into the system (minimum of $5/week).  Oh, and if you’re not a gym fan, you can sync other apps to GymPact (like RunKeeper, if you prefer to run outdoors), and so long as your activity is at least 30 minutes & 1 mile long, that will count as a workout.

(FYI…Zombies…Run! will sync to RunKeeper as well, if you’re already using that app…but RunKeeper doesn’t acknowledge accelerometer steps so it won’t sync properly when you run in the gym as opposed to outside with the GPS.)

6. Log Your Food.  Whether you use the FitBit program, SparkPeople, What I Ate, MyFitnessPal… doesn’t matter.  Use whatever works easiest for you.  But DO track it.  You will find that you make better choices when you have to write it down somewhere.  If you cook at home a lot, you can use SparkRecipes to enter ingredients & divide by portions to determine exact nutritional info for each serving (that’s the program I use to develop my NutriFacts for recipes I post here).

If you hate typing in a database, or get frustrated by trying to figure out calories for homemade food, try this:  take a photo of everything you eat during the day.  And at the end of the day, make a photo collage of those items (I have a free app called “HD Photo Grid” that generates the collage for you automatically after you select the pics) and then post the collage on your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter or blog.  This gives you accountability without tracking actual calories…and by making one collage, you’re less likely to annoy your friends with food pics 5x a day.

7. 30 Day Challenges.  We see them every day on Pinterest… and maybe we pin them, but we don’t actually DO them.  Just once…DO one.  I’m currently on Day 12 of the Plank Challenge….and my husband is doing it too (he is actually in better core shape than me, so he jumped ahead & is already up to Day 21, but we won’t hold that against him :D).  The idea that I will eventually be able to plank for 5 minutes?  Seems a little intimidating, but you know what?  11 days ago, just doing a 20 second plank was somewhat of a challenge.  Adding 15 seconds each day…it’s easier than it seems. 

Print out the graphic that shows the daily breakdown, and tape it up wherever you plan on doing it (for me, it’s on my bathroom mirror).  Keep a pen handy so you can cross off each day as you complete it. 


Homemade Lotion Bars & Peppermint Body Scrub

This year, my family decided to have a white elephant gift exchange for the adults.  I wanted to put together a “pampering” gift set to bring, but my sis- & mom-in-law have both gone uber-organic & all natural with their food, beauty products & household cleaning.  So rather than spend hours on the EWG Database trying to find products that get a grade they would approve of (and pay who knows how much, which would limit the number of things I could include in the gift), I decided to just go homemade.

Photo Dec 21, 4 03 43 PM

There’s some comfy PJ pants on the bottom, and some of my homemade cocoa mix in the mug… homemade peanut clusters & peppermint bark in the star tin (not really “organic”, but what’s pampering with out a “little” indulgence?)  And the other items:


Peppermint body scrub in the small jar, and solid lotion bars in the tall jar.

Peppermint Sugar Scrub:

2 cups granulated white sugar

1/4 cup olive oil, almond oil, or melted coconut oil (your choice)

Peppermint extract or essential oil (3-4 drops)


Mix the three ingredients until well combined & place into a clean, sterile jar.


Photo Dec 21, 2 57 07 PM

Lotion Bars: (makes four 2’'”x2” bars)

2  Tbsp organic beeswax (I got this from our local natural market in the bulk section)

2 Tbsp Coconut oil (I used Lou-Ana because I already had it in my pantry, but you can get organic for a couple bucks more)

2 Tbsp sweet almond oil (also found this at our natural food store)

10 drops Vitamin E (Wal-Mart)

12 drops essential oil (I used vanilla, but pick whatever scent you like.  Here’s a good guide for blending scents if you’d like to use multiple oils) – found this at Hobby Lobby in the soap/candle making section, and used a coupon to get it half-price

Decorative ingredients (I used dried lavender sprinkled on top, but I’ve seen some with whole coffee beans that look really pretty) – Optional

Glass jar (something you can dedicate to this project—it will be really tough to clean it out afterward. I used a well-cleaned pickle jar).

Mold (I used a metal mini tart pan; you could also pour them into mini-muffin wrappers)

Photo Dec 21, 1 34 33 PM


Add 2-3 inches of water to a small pot that the jar will fit into, and heat water over medium heat.  Add all of the ingredients except the essential oil, and stir periodically.  The beeswax will take the longest to melt.  Don’t let the water boil, you don’t want to scald the mixture.

Photo Dec 21, 1 44 22 PM

Photo Dec 21, 1 44 26 PM

When the beeswax is fully melted, add the essential oils.  You can add more than 12 drops if you want a stronger scent.  Test it by dropping a drop of the mixture onto a plate, let it set, and then run your fingers across it & rub into your skin.  When you like the scent & feel of it, you can transfer into the molds.  Silicone molds can be found at craft stores; I used a metal tart pan that has removable bottom plates, so I could easily pop them out.

Photo Dec 21, 2 01 25 PM

(This was the first batch I made—I originally tried making five bars but they didn’t fill the pan well, so I scraped the mix out of two, re-melted, and then poured it into another shell.)

Once the bar starts to harden, you can add the decorative ingredients:

Photo Dec 21, 2 17 18 PM

Place in the fridge for about 15 minutes to fully set up.  Then you can pop them out of the pan!

Photo Dec 21, 2 52 10 PM

I shredded some brown packing paper in our paper shredder to help decorate the jar, and then placed the bars inside (with small squares of wax paper between to keep them from sticking together.)

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Of course…I had to hold back a couple bars for myself!  I love the smell and the feel of the lotion. It dissolves well & just melts into your skin.  I definitely want to try a few other scents in the future—maybe even infusing my own essential oils!

And the best part?  It was SUPER cheap to make!  Organic hard lotion bars can go for $4-5 per bar, for less than 1 oz of product!  This cost me a whopping 35 CENTS per bar.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Homemade Fire Starters!


I have to thank my friends & coworkers Em & Babsy for this idea, in that they inspired this project by both having wood-burning stoves in their homes.  I was contemplating gifts to give to my coworkers earlier this year, while sipping coffee in the break room with these two lovely ladies as they chatted about their stoves, and it hit me.

Well…it was also spawned by the fact that a few days prior to this conversation, I’d been out with friends trying to build a fire so we could roast hot dogs & marshmallows, and our fire would never take off. Someone mentioned how great it would be if we had some fire starters…

You know what’s super easy to make? Fire Starters.  You know what takes almost NO financial commitment to make because they’re made from cr@p you already have at your house?  Yup, fire starters.  And when you have a lot of coworkers to make gifts for, cheap is handy.

Photo Dec 22, 4 00 36 PM

What You Need:

Cardboard Tubes:  TP Rolls, Paper Towel Rolls, Wrapping Paper Tubes… it all works.

Lint/Used Dryer Sheets

Shredded Paper (if you have it.  If you don’t, you can just use the lint.)

Wax Paper




If you’re using larger tubes, go ahead & cut them down to about the same length as the TP Rolls.

Use the dryer sheets to make yourself a sort of “recycled crap burrito”:

Photo Dec 22, 12 56 39 PM

Stuff inside of the tube.  (if you run out of dryer sheets, no biggee, just start stuffing it directly into the tubes)

Photo Dec 22, 1 11 54 PM

Wrap in the wax paper, twist like a Toostie Roll, and tape the ends.  You can then bundle them up with some raffia or rustic cord & add a cute label!

Note: If you happen to have any old candles that you’ve been trying to use up, you can also pour some of that wax into the tubes as well.  It’ll give a nice scent to the fire for a while!

Photo Dec 22, 1 28 54 PM

(“Warm Wishes for 2014” seemed appropriately cheesy.)

Merry Christmas Y’all!!!

Feaux’s Zombies…Run! Playlist


So…you’ve decided to join the zombie horde?  Awesome.  Here’s the playlist I generated for my Zombie Runs.  None of these songs are necessary “essential”, but I used a few general ideas when creating my playlist:

  • most of the songs are high energy
  • most are at least somewhat dark, or at least motivational 
  • …and some are slower, but just have the right lyrics.

(These are shuffled at random in the app, and you can’t “skip” songs once you’re in your run, so keep your playlist tight.  If you do a couple runs and realize some of the music in your list isn’t working for you, go ahead & delete it.)

1. Our Lady Peace - Right Behind You (perfect for running away from zoms, amiright?)

2. Cage the Elephant – Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked

3. Skillet – Alien Youth

4. Incubus – Anna Molly

5. Skillet – Awake & Alive

6. Beckah Shae – Uncorruptible (FYI, this is probably my favorite song on the playlist)

7. Ramin Djawadi – Blade’s Back  (Pretty much any song from the Blade movies will work…sure, it’s mixing genres, but hey…your health is on the line.)

8. Girl Talk – Bodies Hit The Floor

9. Paris Texas – Bombs Away (Danny Saber mix) [yes, this is from Blade too]

10. Breaking Benjamin – Breakdown

11. Clutch – Careful with that Mic

12. Skillet – Comatose

13. P. Diddy & Jimmy Paige – Come With Me (yes, from Godzilla… just… trust me.)

14. Disturbed – Down with the Sickness

15. RZA – Fatal

16. Breaking Benjamin – Follow

17. Rev Theory – Hell Yeah

18. Halestorm – I Miss the Misery

19. Breaking Benjamin – I Will Not Bow

20. Toby Mac – Ignition

21. Flyleaf – I’m So Sick

22. Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name

23. Sixx AM – Lies of the Beautiful People

24. Crystal Method & Yelawolf – Make Some Noise

25. Clutch – Mob Goes Wild

26. Nickelback – Saturday Night’s Alright

27. Prodigy & Tom Morello – One Man Army

28. Eve 6 – Open Road Song (when this song comes on, it gives me the feeling that I’m running to a playlist that I created before the zombie invasion, back when “Runner 5” used to run for fun.)

29. Kool Keith – Party in the Morgue (Yup, more Blade Soundtrack)

30. Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks

31. Eve 6 – Rescue

32. AwolNation – Sail

33. Overseer – Skylight

34. Jonathan Coulton – Still Alive (the song from Portal 2)

35. Black Lab – This Blood

36. Timbaland ft. The Hives– Throw it On Me

37. Eminem ft Nate Dogg - ‘Till I Collapse

38. Crystal Method – Weapons of Mad Distortion

39. David Guetta ft Sia – Titanium

40. Group 1 Crew – Movin’

41. Lo Fidelity Allstars – Battleflag

42. Toby Mac – Burn for You

43. Shinedown – Sound of Madness

44. Avenged Sevenfold – Afterlife

45. Trapt – Headstrong

46. Slipknot – Psychosocial

47. Shinedown – Dead Memories

48. Seether – Remedy

49. Bulletproof / Release Me remix (from the More from Pitch Perfect soundtrack)

50. and of course… this song. :)  Happy Running Folks!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Microwave Spiced/Candied Pecans

Hey kids!  Back today with more quick sweet treats for the holidays!  Spiced nuts are a must in our house this time of year.  Having a bowl of these in the kitchen is perfect when that inevitable sweet tooth comes calling—just grab a couple and you’re good!  Better for you than a cookie or that marshmallow fudge the neighbor’s brought by!

In year’s previous I’ve always made my spiced pecans in the oven, but this year my husband tipped me off to a microwave version, and I gotta say, it’s pretty fantastic!


Note: we like our pecans with a little kick, but if you’re more of a sweets-only fan, you can omit the cumin & cayenne.



1/4 cup light butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp clove

1 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne

2 Tbsp water

3 cups pecan halves

1/4 cup granulated sugar (for coating the pecans afterward)



Melt the butter in a 4 qt glass casserole dish, then add the sugar, water & spices, mix & microwave for 1 minute.  Stir in the nuts & mix to coat well.


Microwave the nuts for 4-5 more minutes, stopping to stir them once every minute, until most of the syrup is coated onto the nuts.  Then pour out onto a sheet of wax paper & let cool.

Once cooled, place the nuts into a large plastic bag with the sugar, and shake the bag to coat them well.  The sugar helps to keep the pecans from sticking to each other.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Candy: Peanut Clusters & Peppermint Bark!

Happy holidays, friends!  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Feliz Navidad, and all that jazz.  This is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year.  Hot cocoa, candy canes, some fluffy white stuff outside, evergreens covered with twinkle lights inside, Christmas movies on every channel, and neighbors who say “electric bill be d@mned” and cover their houses with LED bulbs synchronized to Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  It’s MAGICAL, I tell ya!

It’s also crazy hectic.  How many Christmas parties did you attend this year?  No less than four here, with even more invites that we just couldn’t make it to.  And you’re usually expected to bring some sort of tasty treat for the hosts/other guests, right?  Which of course, you have TONS of extra time to make, right?

Well, before you break down & bring sugar cookies* from the supermarket, I’d like to suggest a couple quick & easy alternatives.

(PS—we do not condone store-bought sugar cookies.  Try this family recipe here, instead.)

These treats arose because, with The Scoop closed for the season, we happen to have about 6 packages of almond bark & melting chocolate, which we use during the season to make our specialty cones:

IMG_3612 DSC00028

(Yes, that’s bacon.  Don’t judge.)

We also had a large can of peanuts leftover… Peanuts…chocolate?  You see where I’m going.  Right?  …no?  Okay, I’ll show you.


Yes, PEANUT CLUSTERS!  Seriously, these could not be easier.

Ingredients: (Makes about 15 clusters)

3 squares melting chocolate

1 dash vanilla extract

Peanuts (about 1 1/2 cups)



First, place a metal cookie sheet in the freezer or fridge.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl for 60-90 seconds in the microwave.  Stir with a spatula & add in the vanilla, then add the peanuts, and toss until well coated.  Add peanuts about 1/2 cup at a time, till you have a good chocolate : peanut ratio (if you add too many peanuts, the clusters won’t stick well to each other & the peanuts might not get completely covered.

Pull the cookie sheet out of the fridge & cover it with wax paper; then drop the peanut mixture onto the wax paper in spoonfuls.  When you’ve used up all of your mix, place the cookie sheet back in the fridge until set. (It shouldn’t take more than about 15 minutes.)

As a fun variation of this (if you have some extra time), you can mix some peanut butter & peanuts together, drop spoonfuls of that mix onto a waxed cookie sheet & freeze for about 30 minutes, then coat those in the melting chocolate.  It’s like a Reese’s PB cup!


Not much for peanuts?  How about peppermint?

Photo Dec 21, 2 27 48 PM

Ingredients: (makes approximately 8x12 sheet of bark)

3 squares white almond bark

3 squares melting chocolate

1/2 tsp peppermint extract

2 candy canes, crushed (a plastic baggie + meat mallet work well)



Cookie sheet => fridge or freezer, then cover with wax paper

Melt white chocolate first (60-90 secs in the microwave) and add 1/4 tsp of peppermint extract.  When that’s well combined, pour the white chocolate onto your wax papered cookie sheet and spread out as evenly as possible.  Place in fridge to harden.

Now melt your milk chocolate in the microwave, and add the peppermint extract to it.  Mix well, and then pour on top of the white chocolate.


Spread evenly over the top, and then immediately sprinkle your peppermint crumbles over the top.  Press into the chocolate if necessary so they stick well.


Place back in the fridge for about 15 minutes, and then break apart into pieces.  It doesn’t have to be pretty—think Peanut Brittle.  You can cover the top of the bark with another sheet of wax paper if you don’t want to put your hands all over food that may eventually go in someone else’s mouth.



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Giving Ideas

Last year I posted about ways to shop local for Christmas (still a great idea, BTW).  This year, I’d like to focus in on gifts OUTSIDE the family.

In the mass pandemonium that stretches between Thanksgiving and December 25th, it’s really easy to get caught up in the material side of Christmas.  Is my nephew going to freak out if this isn’t the EXACT Ninjago spinner-thingamabob he wanted?  Is my dad going to be bummed because I can’t find that limited edition sweater w/built in hand warmer thing he’s been hinting for?  Will my sister-in-law go online after Christmas & try to figure out exactly how much I spent & get irritated because it wasn’t the exact amount she spent on me?  Am I going to be “That Aunt” if I get my nieces & nephews learning toys instead of the random shiny crap they pointed to in the Big Toy Catalog of Magical Awesomeness?


Pssht…I’m TOTALLY okay with being “THAT Aunt”.

Sometimes I worry about my family falling into the trap of a Very Material Christmas.  I mean…you get together at Thanksgiving, hand someone a list & say, “these are the things I want”. They hand you a list too.  You go spend $50 on things from their list, they spend $50 on things from your list, and then a few weeks later, you get together and exchange your boxes.  There are times I think, “why do we bother?  Why not go spend $50 of your own cash and get the stupid crap you want?”  Is the only mystery and magic left in Christmas spent wondering WHICH of the things on your list they will choose to get you?

That’s why I think it’s important to focus on Christmas as a Season of Giving.  Not just to your family, but to your community. Instill in yourself, and in your kids (God bless their sweet, sticky little souls) a mentality of generosity and blessing.  If you have an income, a loving family, good friends, a roof over your head, and enough food in the pantry to keep your family from starving, you are BLESSED.  If you’re reading this, you likely live in a developed country, with rights and freedoms, and possibly free health care (looking at you, Canada).  You are SO blessed.  And when you think about those things, does it really matter what your Crazy Uncle Bernie gets you for Christmas, or if your neighbor’s decorations outshine yours?

So here are just a few suggestions for how you can give back this Holiday Season:

  • Start a food/coat drive at your work:  It doesn’t take much effort.  Bring in a big box, place it a common area of your office, and send an email to your coworkers.  If you work at a retail shop, ask your boss if you can solicit from customers & allow them to donate too.  Some local charities will even provide you with a barrel & signage to use for your drive.  Keep it open for a couple weeks, and send a reminder or two via mass email so people remember to donate.  You can also allow people to give cash donations—and ask your management if the company will match the cash donations.  A lot of companies will be more than happy to, and the initiative you’re taking to organize the drive will reflect well on you in the eyes of your boss, which doesn’t hurt.

  • Adopt a Family for Christmas: Many local charities organize Adopt-A-Family programs around the holidays. They have families of all sizes who don’t have enough to spare for Christmas gifts.  This is another good one to get your coworkers involved with.  Just do a search for “Adopt a Family” and your town’s name.  Your church might also know of some families who are in need of a little extra love around the holidays.  My coworkers & I have been Adopting A Family for Christmas for several  years now, and it’s always so rewarding to see the look on their faces when we show up to drop off the gifts (I won’t lie…someone usually cries, then I cry, there are hugs involved…).  They are eternally grateful, and you will touch their lives forever.
  • Give Blood:  Most major towns will have blood centers that help supply area clinics & hospitals.  Your gift of a pint of blood, which takes about 1/2 – 1 hour from start to finish (there’s a bit of paperwork), can help save a life. And many blood centers also have Reward Systems in place for their donors: our Community Blood Center of the Ozarks gives you points when you donate that can be cashed in for gift cards after as few as 2-3 visits.  And they are currently giving out bonus points for donations given during the holiday season.  I have O- blood, which makes me a “universal donor”, and since only 8% of people have O-, their supply of that blood type is often running low. Here’s a link to find your closest blood bank.  Another bonus:  many employers offer to pay for a few hours of community service per year; my employer will pay for up to 4 hours each year.  Which makes the excuse of “well, I just don’t have time” completely moot.
  • Find a Charity & Set Up a Monthly Donation:  There are so many amazing charities out there that I can’t possibly list them all.  But I will talk about one of my personal favorites:  ModestNeeds.Org.  This is a group that helps people with small, specific financial needs, like car repairs, or rent that’s past due because the patron was out of work with an injury.  The average financial need of the applicant is about $750—which is a big chunk of change for one person, but if, say, 15 people donate $50 to it, it can be met in a matter of days.  And you can search for applications that are in your state/town if you want to make sure your donation stays local.   Applications are thoroughly researched and checked out before going onto the website to avoid fraud.  And—they recently participated in an Impact Study showing that in “94.7% of all cases over the last decade, our seemingly small grants not only resolved the household’s short-term financial crisis; it gave that household the ‘breathing room’ they needed to permanently resolve whatever other financial issues they were facing both in the long-term, and without any additional help from anybody else!”  And right now, they have a really generous offer from a benefactor who is willing to MATCH, dollar-for dollar, the next 2,000 people who sign up to be new monthly donors…whether that person is giving $15 or $150 per month.  Which means your gift goes TWICE as far…it’s like a Groupon for Good.

  • Give to a local Women’s Shelter:  When abused women decide to leave a bad situation, it’s often an immediate flight from their home…meaning there’s a lot of things they don’t bring with them.  One of those things is bathroom supplies: shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, etc.   Whenever I travel for work, I collect all the toiletries that the hotel provides, bring them home, and when I get a gallon bag full, I take them to one of the local shelters.  It costs me absolutely nothing, but it helps so many.  If you don’t travel a lot, you can pick up a few extra supplies next time you’re at the store, or even buy some of the travel size bottles.  Many shelters have a website that lists the items they need people to donate.  It’s an easy way to help someone in your own community, even if you’re just donating things from your own house rather than money.

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  • Volunteer:  Be a Bell Ringer. Serve at a Soup Kitchen.  Help put together food baskets at your local pantry.  Go visit your local nursing home and ask about patrons staying there who don’t have family that come & visit often, and introduce yourself.  If you live in a snowy area, ask your church leaders if there are some elderly folks or single moms who could use a hand clearing their sidewalks, driveways, & cars.  If you’re handy with tools, find a program that helps the elderly & single moms with odd jobs around the house and car maintenance.  Get your kids involved:  when you teach them that their time can bring joy to another person, you’re teaching them a lesson that can alter their life forever. And like I mentioned before—ask your employer if they will pay for a few hours of community service, which allows you to take an hour or two from work, if your after-work hours are crammed full of holiday shopping and the like.
  • Be a neighbor:  When I was growing up, I knew all of my neighbors.  I sold them Girl Scout cookies, harassed them with Marching Band Fundraisers, babysat their kids, helped weed their yards.  Today? I know ONE of my neighbors. And that’s a shame.  So this year I’m trying to make an effort to go by & bring each of them a small plate of Christmas treats.  If you’re not familiar with your neighbors, maybe it’s time you dropped by with a plate of cookies too.  Or helped them put up their Christmas decorations.  You never know when you’re going to need help finding your dog (or God forbid, your kid), getting unstuck from a ditch, getting a dead tree out of your yard, or need a jumpstart.  And maybe you make a new friend.