Still the Perfect Homemade Holiday Gift

It was just about this time last year that I started scrambling for Christmas gift ideas for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues. I have criteria when it comes to homemade gifts. The gift has to be made by me and easily mass produced. I prefer that it be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. And above all, it needs to be affordable.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Faithful readers will recall that I made Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract, as pictured above.

What you, my dear readers were not aware of is that life being what it is, I didn’t get around to actually delivering my awesome little homemade gifts in time for Christmas. Thankfully, I have very understanding friends. No one seemed to mind.

Car Dealer Spills the Beans on Treating Leather Interiors

Dear Mary: I recently purchased a newer vehicle. The dealer tried to sell me a package where they treat the leather seats. Because of the cost, I opted not to purchase the package. 

21684652_m

My question is, do you know the type of treatment that car dealers use to treat leather seats? Is it even necessary to do this? The car is an expensive purchase for me and I need to know how to take good care of the interior to make it last.

Thank you for your very enjoyable column.  I read it from top to bottom and always learn or find something I can use daily. Jan G.

Caring is Sharing But Hands Off My French Fries

If you have ever polished off an entire bag of those little tiny crunchy cookies in peace, you do not have small children. Or made a quick detour through you-know-which-drive-thru-I’m-talking-about to indulge in your very own large size hot French fries, for sure you’re miles away from the nearest kid.

111914image

Because I can promise you—and I know this from personal experience—kids can smell a treat from miles away and they want in on it. I don’t know where kids get this sixth sense. It must be inborn.

Lucky for you, children haven’t figured out the value of fun and useful time- and money-saving tips, so consider this your lucky day. You can have these treats all to yourself.

PAY WITH CASH AT AMAZON. I use cash to purchase Amazon gift card at my supermarket. Then I use it to do my online shopping. This way, my identity is safe, I am not shopping on credit and I can’t over shop because the gift card is limiting to the exact amount that remains on it after each purchase. This guarantees I’m creating no new debt. That means happy and safer shopping. Lysa D.

16 Gifts College Students Want

Stressed out because you just don’t know what to give that 20-something or college student on your holiday gift list? Well, stress no more. I’ve got you covered with 16 great gift ideas that are sure to please and fit your budget, too.   

111814image5

A college student gift doesn’t have to be complicated, whether it’s for Christmas, birthday, or a special occasion. It just needs to be relevant and thoughtful. Some of the best gift ideas are surprisingly affordable.

The key to selecting a gift for college-age folks is to pick something that 1) they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves 2) fits their current stage of life and needs and 3) ranks high in cool factor.

Any one of these gifts will send a message loud and clear that you cared enough to put some time and thought into selecting a really great and useful gift.

Winter Comfort and Joy Depends on the Right Clothes

I have to admit to being somewhat agnostic when it comes to winter weather. Living in southern California, it’s something I hear about but do not experience.

111714image1

I am aware that it gets cold in some areas of the world. I’ve heard the term “polar vortex” and know the principle behind the windchill factor. But honestly, I just don’t care one way or the other. Well, I didn’t care until a couple of weeks ago.

I traveled to Colorado on business, booked into a nice hotel and settled in to get ready for a meeting the following morning. I woke to snow and temps in the low 30s F. There I was in open-toed shoes and a light sweater trying to break through some kind of frozen material disguised as ice and snow on the car’s windshield.

Normally, I would have chalked it up to poor planning and forgotten about it. But this was different. As I stood there in the snow, chipping away at the windshield feeling more foolish than cold, I kinda’ panicked. In just a matter of months, my husband and I, our business and all that we own will pack it up and move to Colorado! 

Free Gift Cards for the Holidays: Join Swagbucks

This is a guest post by Abigail Perry, a freelance writer whose work has appeared on MSN Money, Wise Bread, Insurance.com and CitiBank’s Women & Co. blog. In her spare time she blogs at I Pick Up Pennies.

Some of the presents I’m giving this Christmas won’t cost me a cent: Amazon will deliver them and Swagbucks is buying.

111414image

This online rewards program gives users points (“Swag Bucks,” or SBs) for various tasks, from online searches to watching movie trailers. Those points can be traded in for e-gift cards.

Amazon, Target, Starbucks and Walmart are the most popular rewards, but more than 150 popular merchants are available.

Don’t want gift cards? Redeem your points for cold, hard cash via PayPal.

Incidentally, those gift cards aren’t necessarily just for giving. My husband and I cash in for Amazon cards that we use for everyday needs like toiletries, paper products and pet food.

You can win anywhere from six to as many as 59 points at a clip just by using the Swagbucks search engine instead of Google’s. Since joining the program there’s never been a day when I didn’t win at least one search. Even getting the lowest award once a day would earn you 180 SBs in a month, or 2,160 per year. That’s enough for almost $25 worth of Amazon credit.

Online Shopping Safety Tips

As convenient as Internet shopping can be (stores never close, no parking problems, no cranky salespeople), there are as many hazards. There are many good buys online, it’s easy to assume that everything is a good buy.  The simplicity of online shopping can blind us to potential pitfalls.

20611178_m

The way to become a savvy online shopper is to know how to avoid these hazards:

Hidden costs. The quoted price may not be the full price. It may not include applicable sales tax (varies by state and merchant) or the costs of shipping and handling. “Handling” can include just about anything that merchant wants to charge for the box, packing materials, tape and labor to put all of that together. The cost of shipping can vary greatly depending on the carrier and speed of delivery.

Unscrupulous merchants. There are millions of online merchants online including some with no scruples. The way to avoid this hazard is to know your merchant. Stick with merchants you recognize because they have brick and mortar stores. Read the reviews others have posted regarding their experiences with that merchant.

The Secret in the Frosting

I don’t like surprises. I’m sure that says something about my propensity to be a control freak. I prefer to think it’s because I love the anticipation. To me, that’s half the fun. 

But a secret? Oh, yes! I love a good secret. Like this one about how to make whipped cream frosting that actually holds up, tastes fresh and looks gorgeous for a couple of days. You want to know the secret, too, don’t you. I didn’t pinky promise to not tell, so just keep reading and you’ll find it in today’s first great reader tip.

Cake with icing and cherries

photo credit: justgrandeko.blogspot.com

SECRET INGREDIENT. Using real whipping cream to ice a cake can be a hassle when it runs and separates. The way to stop this is to blend one teaspoon of dry instant vanilla pudding mix per one cup of cream before whipping, then whip it to a firm consistency and add sugar to taste. This mixture can be piped or spread on any cake and sets up to last for days in the fridge.

My family favorite is to use two round white cake layers. Pipe or spread a ring of cream on the edge of the bottom layer then spoon cherry pie filling in the center. The ring of cream helps the filling to stay in the center of the cake. Top with the second layer. Put a ring of cream rosettes or small spoons of cream closely together around the top edge and use more cherry filling to fill the top center. The sides can be piped or spread with the cream.  This can also be made a day ahead and looks just as beautiful. Kerri