What Teachers Really Want for Christmas

I’ve never been a school teacher, but I’ve been a parent. I wish I’d known years ago what I know now about what teachers really want for Christmas. I would have skipped the “Teachers Have Class!” coffee mugs and gone more for the classroom supplies.

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Recently, I contacted teachers I know, asking them how they really feel about gift of thanks from parents and students—at Christmas and other times of the year, too. Each one of them hesitated. I could tell they didn’t want to come across as ungrateful.

Make no mistake—teachers are very grateful for the thoughts behind all of the stuff they get during the year, but particularly at Christmas. But the stuff itself? Not so much. In fact, most gifts become a problem for that teacher. What would you do with 27 random coffee mugs or 16 bottles of cologne or aftershave of dubious origin? 

This year you can make sure that the gifts you give to teachers will be exactly what they really want. So listen up and take notes. There may be a quiz.

General guidelines

Don’t spend a lot on a teacher gift. Keep it reasonable. Parents who go overboard make teachers feel uneasy and awkward.

If you can’t afford a gift, don’t worry. Show your appreciation by volunteering in the classroom. Teachers don’t generally keep score. But they do remember and appreciate classroom volunteers.

Traditions, Like Anchors in Our Lives

It seems like I’ve unpacked and hung this decor, these lights and holiday baubles a thousand times.

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I’m glad the people in my family don’t enjoy the process because I love taking this annual trip through years of memories alone. Besides, I know how everything should be. It must be the same as last year and the year before and the year before that. Any other way just wouldn’t be right. If I tried to pull a fast one, I’d hear about it.

There is not one thing in all of these boxes that doesn’t symbolize an event, a season of life or a small boy’s best work.

As each ornament finds its place on the tree, I relive the years through the memories of past holiday seasons. There’s something about chubby faces framed by Mason jar lids and macaroni angels that bring tears to wash my soul.

I am immersed in the wonder that I’ve been given another year to know my boys and husband. I recall the seasons through which we’ve traveled. Clearly now, I see how things did work together. Those situations we questioned did happen for a reason, trials did bring triumphs and little boys did become good men.

How to Roast a Cheap Cut of Beef

No matter how inexpensive a chuck or round roast, if it turns out so tough and flavorless it’s passed to the dog, that purchase was no bargain.

photo credit: thebittenword.com

photo credit: thebittenword.com

Finally, thanks to very extensive research and experimentation by Christopher Kimball, as reported in Cooks Illustrated magazine, we can confidently purchase those cheaper cuts of beef and expect perfect results every time.

These days, with beef prices hitting all-time highs, buying the cheaper cuts of beef is one way to make our food dollars stretch as far as possible. Just know that what follows is for those of us with more time than money.

When looking for inexpensive cuts keep these three words in mind: chuck, sirloin and round.  The chuck is fattier and more tender, the round is lean and relatively tough.  The sirloin falls somewhere between the two.

Clever Uses for Fresh Cranberries

The fresh cranberry season, October through December, is now in full swing. Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries each year. For sure, cranberries are delicious, but there are so many other ways to use them.

photo credit: FindingHomeOnline.com

photo credit: FindingHomeOnline.com

Centerpiece. Start with some Styrofoam balls, any size. Cut a bunch of wood toothpicks in half. Stick a pick into the ball so that about 1/2-inch is sticking out. Push a cranberry onto the toothpick until it touches the foam ball. Repeat untilthe ball is covered, placing the cranberries close enough so the white ball does not show through. Set your cranberry balls on candle holders of various heights or pile them into a large bowl.

Glitter. In a medium bowl stir together 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon pasteurized egg white (or one raw egg white) until blended, but not whipped. Coat raw cranberries with this mixture. Spread granulated sugar on a baking sheet and roll the cranberries in it until they are covered. Dry at room temperature for 2 hours. Use as garnish for desserts. Sugared cranberries almost sparkle, they are so pretty.

Garland. Wash cranberries. Thread a large sewing needle with waxed dental floss. Secure the first cranberry on the floss by putting the needle through the cranberry twice, then making a knot in the floss. Continue threading the cranberries until the desired length is achieved to decorate the mantel, Christmas tree or banister.

Oh, Christmas Tree!

As tempting as a pricey, artificial pre-lit Christmas tree may be, few things about the holidays are as satisfying as a fresh, real Christmas tree.

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Photo: FindingHomeOnline.com

Fresh test. Gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal and will occur over the life of a tree.

Keep it fresh. The best secret for keeping your tree fresh is water, water, water. Once you get your tree home you want to cut 1/4-inch off the end and immediately put it into water.

Be sure to store your tree in a cool, shaded place out of the sun such as a covered porch or garage until you are ready to bring it into the house.

Never allow your tree to run out of water. If a fresh tree is properly cared for and watered, it should stay fresh through New Year’s Day.

Best Toys for Kids Ages 3 to 7

I saw the most amazing thing recently. A little girl I’m guessing to be about 2-years-old, reached for her daddy’s iPhone, turned it on, input the password then sat back to watch something that required no effort on her part. It was seriously cute for about 20 seconds, until I realized that wasn’t the first time she’d done that.

I watched that little child go from being actively engaged with her parents and her surroundings to being a totally passive observer. Which brings me to the subject of toys.

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The best toys–and the ones we should be vigorously introducing to children from a very young age–are toys that promote creativity and stimulate mental development, while at the same time are fun to play with.

The Guide to Proper Regifting

The act of regifting—passing on as new, a gift someone else gave you—is controversial but only because of  those who do a noticeably bad job of it. After all, if every act of regifting were carried out flawlessly no one would have the occasion to find it distasteful because no one would know. And that brings me to the Rules of Regifting:

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Rule 1. Never admit to regifting. If your friends know you’re a regifter, you’ll find yourself in the unpleasant situation of explaining why regifting is different from not caring. Worse, they will be suspicious of the gifts you give them. It’s best to keep regifting completely to yourself.

Rule 2. Designate a location. Keep regifts in a convenient, albeit secret, place in a special box or cupboard with extra wrapping paper and ribbon. Some people shop for gifts in department stores. Never underestimate the utility of a gift stash that allows you to shop at home.

Of Shame and Fruitcake

I have no pride and, according to many, no taste. I love fruitcake. Sickeningly sweet, loaded with pecans, cherries, pineapple and white raisins, heavy as a brick and about four weeks old. Yum.

For some reason, fruitcake has acquired a somewhat dubious reputation. It’s been horribly maligned and the laughing stock of the season, which as a fruitcake connoisseur, I find completely offensive.

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Critics are legion. YouTube is packed with videos of people poking fun at fruitcake in creative ways. A town in Colorado has a yearly fruitcake flinging event.

Johnny Carson famously joked that there’s actually only one fruitcake in the world, which gets passed from household to household. Other comedians glommed onto the idea in such a big way, hating fruitcake has become a widely-accepted holiday tradition.