“Stress-free” Cookies

Being that time of year, many of us are wrapping up some last minute presents. We want to present all the people that make our lives easier with something special. Not all of us can provide the gifts we really want to give so sometimes cookie making is the easiest (and most frugal) way to show our appreciation, but even THAT can get stressful as it takes quite a bit of time to bake. So I have compiled a little list of some of my favorite cookies that are also pretty low maintenance. Most of them require to be baked in baking dishes (making them more like bars versus the traditional cookie) so you aren’t sitting in the kitchen switching out cookie sheets.

In our family, we call this “Crack.”  Later, we found that it might actually be somewhat the name for these treasures! We call them “Crack” because you can’t just eat just one. Once you start eating these, they are gone. They are also crowd pleasers, super easy to make, and can be somewhat varied to the liking of your recipient.

“Crack” Cookiessaltine-toffee-cannabis-cookies-weedist

  • 1 sleeve of Sunshine Krispy Crackers
  • 1.5 sticks of melted butter
  • 1/2 bag (6 oz) each of chocolate chips and peanut butter chips
  • Choose your topping: 1 cup of chopped walnuts or any other type of nut; sprinkles; chopped candy or mini M&Ms
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Line a cookie sheet (15×10.5) with foil.
  3. Lay down crackers on pan so they are touching. (You should use 1 full sleeve- breaking last few crackers to completely fill cookie sheet).
  4. Pour melted butter over crackers.
  5. Brown at 400 degrees for approximately 10 min.
  6. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and peanut butter chips on top of crackers.
  7. Return to oven for 1-2 minutes to melt chips.
  8. Spread melted chips over crackers.
  9. Top with desired topping.
  10. Refrigerate for approximately 1 hour.
  11. Break into pieces.

Magic Cookie Bars (EAGLE Brand recipe)

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  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 (14 oz) can Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 and 1/3 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I am not a big nut fan in my desserts so I opt for holiday M&Ms)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for glass dishes).
  2. Coat a 13×9 inch baking dish with nonstick cookie spray.
  3. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter, then press into bottom of prepared pan.
  4. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture.
  5. Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut, and other topping.
  6. Press down firmly with a fork.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
  8. Cool, then cut into bars.
  9. Serve at room temperature.

Pretzel Bites

  • Bag of small square pretzelsPictures 527.jpg
  • Bag of festive M&Ms
  • Bag of rolls
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Place as many pretzels as you desire on tray.
  4. Place a rolo on top of each pretzel.
  5. Bake for 3-5 minutes (just enough to slightly melt the role).
  6. Take out of the oven and place an M&M on each roll, pressing down.
  7. Let cool (or stick in fridge for faster results).

I hope you are not like me and just getting to the baking, but if you are, I hope these “cookie” ideas help. They are quick and easy and require one time at the oven which is a plus when you have a busy life and can’t be back and forth every 8-11 minutes. I have eaten and loved each of these and have given all as gifts as well as to potlucks and they are always a hit!!

ENJOY!

LAST minute gift ideas

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Yes, it is that crazy time of year that we all think we have plenty of time to get the perfect gift or to pick it up later and then….. BAM, it’s the last week before your kids are out of school. We quickly write down our lists of the family and friends we like to express our love for and for many of us, we add on the teachers that spend a lot of time with our kids. What do teachers really want? I’m happy to give you valuable, first hand, teacher experience to help you!

Teachers LOVE gifts from the heart and things that will help with their classroom saving them time and money. School supplies, by this time of year, are getting low. You probably think, “I bought 500 sharpened pencils, how could they possibly need more?!” Let me explain. Kids love to erase. Once the eraser is gone, the pencil is no good to them (or really the teacher for that matter).  “Then buy them extra erasers.” Simple, but not practical. Erasers, when not attached to the pencil are just easily lost as their pencil counterparts.

Gift cards are a simple and very much appreciated gift. As a teacher, I treasured gift cards. As a parent, I despise giving them because you feel like you have to give a certain amount to make it worthy of gift giving but that adds up. (Amazon, Walmart and Target are always good choices (and maybe even a little splurge like a favorite coffee place!)

Are school supplies and gift cards not quite your cup of tea? Maybe those are great ideas, but you want a little something more to gift with it? Here are some gifts to present to a teacher that will definitely be appreciated (if not treasured):

  • Framed poem or special quote.
  • Organizational bins (check these out for less than $20 and shipped super quick with Amazon Prime or these which can even be decorated and quickly labeled with some scrapbook letters if you feel crafty!!)
  • Ornaments. I have a few from former students and I think of them every time I place it on my tree. It’s an excellent reminder of them!
  • Edible gifts. This is something I always enjoyed (but maybe not everyone) because I would be able to enjoy it without causing more clutter in my house.
  • Plants. Yes, a nice plant that they can either place in their classroom for a little green cheer or take home.
  • If you are so lucky to be crafty, use that to your advantage and give a teacher something homemade.

 

 

**Full disclosure regarding content on my blog. I share the items I personally love and want to share with others. I would NOT suggest or promote something I have not used myself and that I do NOT believe in.  I am an affiliate with Amazon, so for those items I am making a small amount if you decide to purchase through my site. Much of what I will make, I will be donating to different causes- Wounded Warriors, Fischer House, and other pop-ups throughout the year like Epilepsy research and St. Jude’s Hospital. I plan to use this blog to help give back while also helping my family.

Holiday Spirit

Today I felt truly in the holiday spirit. It’s been a little tough with my husband gone and we have had our Christmas tree up since Halloween to celebrate a little Christmas before he left, but that is all we had. We usually hang lights outside with moving reindeer, hang garland and lights over the doorways inside, hang our stockings along the railing, and place all kinds of trinkets around the house. Until yesterday, we still just had a tree. I knew I was going to keep it a little more low key this year, but I was struggling and needed to do something a little more.

Last night, I quickly pulled things out in anticipation of some company. I got out the Advent calendar, my kids stockings and placed them on some unused stocking hangers, Santa’s key and bell, and our trusted elf. It started to feel a little more like Christmas.  It’s been nice, and calming.

Then, today– I was in full crafting Christmas mode. I made my daughter’s teachers’ Christmas gifts and changed my seasonal chalkboard. I felt accomplished!

So let’s first start with the Christmas gift. I am pretty proud of myself with it. It wasn’t my original thought for a gift, but I saw a similar one in my friend’s house and thought it was perfect. I decided to make a holiday card holder. Let me tell you, it was one of the easiest things I’ve made. All it took was a wooden plaque from Michaels, along with some gold glittery scrapbook letters, snowflake stickers, gold ribbon, and small cloths pins. If it wasn’t for the ridiculous line, I could have been in and out of Michaels in 10 minutes! Loving my finished project!!!

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My second project today was doing my seasonal chalkboard. I made it last winter with a LITTLE help from my husband. He has all the tools and he taught me how to use them and I cut, stained, and screwed it all together!  Every holiday/season, I google seasonal chalkboard ideas and this is this year’s:

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I am not an overly artistic person but I will say, the chalkboard pen is a MUST! This was my first time using it and drawing the pictures and writing the letters were SO. MUCH. EASIER! Plus, not chalk dust which is a HUGE perk! I am still working on my lettering as I have taught early childhood for so many years and the fancy stuff is over my head, but I’m slowly learning.

My house now feels a little more like Christmas and while we aren’t completely decked out like most years, my kids and I are happy with what we have.

A weekend surrounded by good

Did you ever notice that Thanksgiving weekend starts with a wonderful day of family and giving thanks, ends with Giving Tuesday, and stuck in the middle is a barrage of steals, deals, and overspending?!  Sort of sounds like typical American culture.

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Giving Tuesday was inaugurated in 2012. It is supposed to be the kick start to the charitable giving of the holiday season. It is very likely your favorite charity or nonprofit is having some sort of Giving Tuesday campaign. With that, there are a number of groups that will match your donations.

According to Huffington Post, these are the top contenders to match your donations:

American Civil Liberties Union

The ACLU, which fights to uphold the individual rights protected by the Constitution, will match donations up to $500,000 total.

American Red Cross

The emergency-relief group will match donations up to $50,000.

Best Friends Animal Society

The nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary, which works to promote pet adoption, will match all donations it receives Tuesday.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook

The Gates Foundation, which focuses on reducing poverty and expanding access to health care, has teamed up with the social media giant to match funds raised via Facebook’s fundraising tool. The groups will match up to $1,000 per fundraiser.

Feeding America

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins pledged $3 million to match donations made to Feeding America this Tuesday, with a goal of providing 100 million meals via food banks, shelters and other community groups.

Heifer International

Heifer International seeks to curb global poverty by distributing animals to families and giving people agricultural training to become economically self-sufficient. The charity is matching donations made this Tuesday up to $855,000 total.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation

This organization, devoted to researching Parkinson’s disease, will match all donations it receives Tuesday (up to $1 million total).

UNICEF USA

The American branch of the worldwide anti-poverty group is matching all gifts up to $5,000.

Your employer ― maybe

Many corporations offer to match their employees’ charitable donations up to a certain amount per year. Use this search tool to see if your company will match your gifts.”

 

So if you over indulged this weekend on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, maybe consider finding an extra $5 (or more) and give to your favorite charity or non-profit. Find a child who might need a therapy dog or a Go Fund Me page to help support a local family. Take your thankful hearts we all had on Thursday and find something near and dear to your heart. Every penny makes a difference.

Make it smart

If you are like me, you don’t want to waste your money on upgrading all your perfectly functional electronics.  Smart TVs have been out for a while now, but when my husband and I moved a few years ago and started our lives together, they weren’t even a thought. We bought a pretty nice, decent size TV (2 of them) and were very happy.  Fast forward some years and Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime video have all taken over. People are cutting their cable and using other means to watch TV… except us.

I love my cable shows. I may watch more TV than the average person. I don’t watch anything in real time and we live off of our DVR– something I couldn’t live without since I tend to fall asleep with 10 minutes left in any show. (So watching stuff ‘On Demand’ is torture because I have to rewatch the whole show and still manage to miss the last 10 minutes. Yes, this happened last week as I was trying to catch up on Designated Survivor and I watched the pilot about 5 times before actually seeing it all the way through.)

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But then Netflix and all these other avenues of watching TV have come out with their own series (my newest obsession- The Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life— I was obsessed with this show when it was actually on and have rewatched the whole series SO. MANY. TIMES.) It was time to be able to watch these shows on more than my 13 inch computer screen. Last year, Black Friday, I went through this whole explanation as to why we need an Amazon Fire Stick. Clearly, I didn’t need a whole speech and didn’t need to plan my rebuttals because he simply said to just get it. It was about $25 when we bought it, so pretty cheap. It has been the BEST purchase. The amount of kids shows and movies that we can get to take a break from the same stuff we watch all the time. The old series of shows (Parenthood — one I caught up on with the help of Netflix, and SO MANY MORE) that you can watch. The exclusive series that are on. I was able to watch the Olypmics through the NBC Olympic app. I can download Amazon Prime movies and watch right on my TV without hooking up anything else but the stick that is already in my TV. I can upload pictures and have a slide show. The possibilities are endless!

All the Amazon Fire Stick does is turn your ‘not very smart TV’ into a smart TV that can connect to the internet. It is still on sale this weekend!!!! Now is the time to get it. I don’t usually say that something is so good that you have to go get it, but this is definitely a winner in my book!

 

 

**Full disclosure regarding content on my blog. I share the items I personally love and want to share with others. I would NOT suggest or promote something I have not used myself and that I do NOT believe in.  I am an affiliate with Amazon, so for those items I am making a small amount if you decide to purchase through my site. Much of what I will make, I will be donating to different causes- Wounded Warriors, Fischer House, and other pop-ups throughout the year like Epilepsy research and St. Jude’s Hospital. I plan to use this blog to help give back while also helping my family while my husband is deployed.

My favorite things…

Happy election day all! Yes, I realize it’s a huge oxymoron for sure. Between the lead up to today and now the long lines (which is a good thing because that means people are actually taking the time to voice their opinion in a constructive way), we need something a little more uplifting. Because this election has the whole nation on edge, let’s think about something happier- hot cocoa, holiday lights, Christmas trees, cookie exchanges, family and friend get togethers.  Today, we leave all the stress and animosity of election day behind to talk about some of my favorite things!
Are you headed to a cookie exchange this season? Maybe 2 or 3? I know I have at least one on my calendar. My FAVORITE cookie for a cookie exchange is Magic Cookie Bars983028I butter the pan instead of using a crisco spray, but otherwise, I follow the recipe. I love these cookies for exchanges because they are a bar vs a traditional cookie so you can easily make 2 dozen in one pan, 4 dozen in two pans. They are super easy. Almost zero clean up! I hve also made my own graham crackers in the past but the blog I found them on is no longer working so I haven’t done that in a while. (The recipe I found was ridiculously easy to follow and make and I am so bummed I can’t find it.)

I always head to my in-laws on Christmas day and every since I dated my husband, I came with a dessert. I always brought a bowl of Reindeer Chow. It can certainly get a little messy making it and it cannot be done in a rush, so make sure you have a bit of time to do it correctly, otherwise it is super easy to make and always a huge hit. I also would bring along a cheesecake. chocolate_raspberry_cheesecake_1My father-in-law and nephew especially like this cheesecake and request it every year. There have been a few years I couldn’t quite get to it and to make it travel 4.5 hours to their house wasn’t always ideal but they can rest assure that they will get it this Christmas. While the Keebler Ready Crust no longer has it on their website, I was able to find it on this blog. It’s the perfect combination of tart and sweet and super easy to make.

A fun holiday tradition we have is to head to look at holiday lights. One of our favorite places to head is Meadowlark Botanical GardensMeadowlark Garden Winter Walk of LightsIt has always been a low key event when we go with not a ton of other people. You get a nice stroll through the park and finish up at the fire. It’s great for little ones to point out different animals and plants, but the adults can also enjoy the hard-work and intricacy of the lights throughout. It’s a great event to get you out of the house and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg $13 for adults and $7 for kids (2 and under are free) and you can save $2 off online ticket purchase on Mondays through Thursdays through December 8 (excluding Thanksgiving). There are over 500,000 lights on display during a .6 mile walk (so not too long so even the littlest ones can get through it). You can pick up hot chocolate before the walk and then shop at the Snowflake Shoppe at the end of your trip.

Are you headed to an event with a grab bag? I have LOVED any and all of Beautycounter’s Holiday Sets, but my three favorite that can be good for any and everyone are the Naughty to Nice Gift SetThe Jet Set, and the Shimmer & Shine Gift Set. I love these because ANYONE can use them! The Naughty to Nice Gift Set is a small spa experience. It combines the Charcoal Cleansing Bar with the Purifying Charcoal Mask, giving a luxurious at home spa regiment. The Jet Set is perfect for that friend or family member who is always on the go. It is a travel set of the shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, and charcoal bar in a travel pouch. Perfect for a carry on or gym bag! The Shimmer & Shine Gift Set combines travel sizes of the famous Sugar Scrub and Body Butter with a luxurious shimmer body oil. 12276954_1017875141597900_933821065_nAll of these are packaged and delivered in a limited edition red gift box so only a bow is needed to hand these out! If you don’t know Beautycounter, they are a company on a mission to get safer products in the hands of everyone. The US has ban only 11 ingredients in the skincare industry and no laws have been passed since 1938. Beautycounter has a rigorous and thorough screening system in place to get the SAFEST ingredients in their skincare and makeup products. They are not all natural or organic but their products all score a 1 or 2 on the EWG website (which is a non-profit organization that rates products on a 1-10 scale based on their ingredients. If you have not been on there, highly recommend!)

Do you have a kid that has everything?? I have the gift for you!! A subscription to any of the Kiwi Crate is exactly what you need. kiwi-crate-june_zpsbe7ddecdMy daughter has received either a 3 or 6 month subscription of the Koala Crate for her birthday or Christmas and she looks forward to getting them each month. They are filled with 3-4 activities that center around a theme (oceans, colors, farms, etc). It keeps her busy for a few hours and it’s something we do together and we either keep the stuff around for a short period of time or it’s now something she can play with for a long time– for example, she has made a stuffed snake, a stuffed cloud, a tote bag, weather sock and chart, or a wooden car that we have kept around, but items like a glow in the dark moon, 3-D tree, and other crafty things that we adored for a little bit but then after a quick picture of it, found it’s way to the garbage.

Have a friend that has everything?! Have you heard of StitchFix?? o-stitchfix-facebookI am OBSESSED with it.As a busy mom of two small kiddos, I find myself picking up most of my clothes at Target (which is not a bad thing at all— I love my Target clothes), but I tend to buy the same style and I am not a good shopper for myself. StitchFix is a personal stylist who sends you 5 pieces (clothing and accessories based on your preferences) and you have three days to try on and send back what you don’t want and buy the things you want to keep. I do it about 1-2 times a year as I tend to try to buy everything in my box and it runs me about $200, which is WAY more than I would ever spend BUT it’s the clothes I get the most compliments on. What I love most is that you can link a Pinterest board to your account and write notes to your stylist to get the best match. I usually state I want machine washable items that are great for a day with the kids but don’t make me feel mommy. They have provided me with things I have LOVED that if I saw it in the store, I would never have bought for myself. It’s definitely a fun treat.  I love getting a gift card from there.

My very last favorite thing is to take the month of December and make it Random Act of Kindness month. Many families around the country have those pesky little Elves on the Shelves. We are one of them. The first year, luckily my daughter was too young to realize what was happening because I could not keep up with moving it around and coming up with creative things for the elf to do. It took 2 years for me to rethink the whole idea and now our Elf comes down from Santa and gives my kiddos an act of kindness to do each day.  To start you off, here are some ideas thanks to this amazing blog:

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100 ACTS OF KINDNESS FOR KIDS

  1. Put change in a vending machine.
  2. Hold the door open for someone.
  3. Do a chore for someone without them knowing.
  4. Tell a joke.
  5. Return someone’s cart at the store.
  6. Give candy to your bank teller.
  7. Leave a letter in a library book.
  8. Feed the birds.
  9. Leave happy notes around town.
  10. Put a small bin in your car to collect recycling.
  11. Call your grandparents and ask them about their childhood.
  12. Pick up litter.
  13. Let someone go ahead of you in line.
  14. Compliment a friend.
  15. Wash someone’s car.
  16. Write a thank you note for your mail carrier.
  17. Plant something.
  18. Bake dessert for a neighbor
  19. Walk dogs at the animal shelter.
  20. Check in on an elderly neighbor.
  21. Set up a lemonade stand and donate the profits.
  22. Send a card to a service member.
  23. Bury treasure at the playground.
  24. Set the table for dinner.
  25. Leave bubbles on someone’s doorstep.
  26. Put money on a stranger’s layaway bill.
  27. Tell someone why they are special to you.
  28. Donate outgrown clothes.
  29. Buy a coffee for a stranger.
  30. Pass out stickers to kids waiting in line.
  31. Talk to someone new at school.
  32. Write chalk messages on the sidewalk.
  33. Weed or shovel for a neighbor.
  34. Donate food to the food pantry.
  35. Bring flowers to your teacher.
  36. Tell a manager how good your service was.
  37. Tape change to a parking meter.
  38. Donate socks and supplies to the homeless shelter.
  39. Give a lottery ticket to a stranger.
  40. Call a friend you haven’t seen in a while to say hello.
  41. Tape money for the ice cream truck to a friend’s front door.
  42. Take treats to the fire station.
  43. Read a book to someone.
  44. Leave heads up pennies on the sidewalk.
  45. Donate a book to a doctor’s office waiting room.
  46. Tell someone how much you love them.
  47. Say hello to everyone you see.
  48. Make someone else’s bed.
  49. Hold the door open for someone.
  50. Wave at kids on school buses.
  51. Sing songs at a nursing home.
  52. Invite someone to play on the playground.
  53. Tell the principal how great your teacher is.
  54. Donate a toy to Toys for Tots.
  55. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth.
  56. Say thank you when you see service members.
  57. Fill a kindness jar with candy for another family.
  58. Make a thank you sign for sanitation workers.
  59. Make a busy bag for a family with young children.
  60. Bring cookies to the custodian.
  61. Help make dinner.
  62. Donate new pajamas for foster kids.
  63. Make a get well card for someone.
  64. Bring your neighbors’ garbage cans up for them.
  65. Take care of someone’s pet while they’re away.
  66. Leave a popcorn surprise on a DVD rental machine.
  67. Share a special toy with a friend.
  68. Clean up your room without being asked.
  69. Tape a video message for faraway friends.
  70. Leave kindness stones at the park.
  71. Give a candy bar to the bus driver.
  72. Send dessert to another family at a restaurant.
  73. Give spare change to the food pantry.
  74. Buy extra school supplies for a teacher.
  75. Make muffins for your pharmacist.
  76. Teach someone something new.
  77. Reuse paper when you are drawing.
  78. Pay for someone’s toll.
  79. Give someone a hug coupon.
  80. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
  81. Write a note for someone’s lunch.
  82. Collect money or items for your favorite charity.
  83. Donate coloring books and crayons to the children’s hospital.
  84. Write a poem for a friend.
  85. Ask for donations instead of birthday gifts.
  86. Help someone unload groceries at the store.
  87. Make a candy gram for the police department.
  88. Collect books for the library.
  89. Adopt an animal online.
  90. Decorate tissue boxes and hand sanitizer for nursing stations.
  91. Make a homemade gift for someone.
  92. Clean up your toys without being asked.
  93. Deliver water bottles to the homeless shelter.
  94. Create activity bags for families of deployed soldiers.
  95. Give high fives to a friend.
  96. Make a thank you card for your librarian.
  97. Dry the slides at the park with a towel after it rains.
  98. Make play dough for a preschool class.
  99. Send a postcard to a friend.
  100. Smile at everybody. It’s contagious.

I hope this helped to take you away from the craziness today and enjoy some great things to come!! May we all find a little unity and peace over the next few months, regardless of the outcome today. Happy Tuesday!