Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Best (cheap) Holiday Cards Ever!

The Headlines:


I get excited for holiday cards.  

I like them to look good, original and, well, not cheap.

Yet, I want them to be cheap.




I know, I know… no one likes the word cheap.  Especially in marketing.  I don't like the word cheap… but sometimes "less expensive" just doesn't bring it home like CHEAP does?  You know what I mean?     Hopefully you do or you may be extremely put off in the very first paragraph if this blog!

Back to business… now that Thanksgiving dinner is almost over (or is over, depending upon when you read this)… it will be time to switch into High Holiday Alert!  Which, at least for me, includes Holiday cards.  Holiday cards are my thing.  I wrote about it last year… I just like doing them.  I like getting them too.  Each year there are a few families that I anticipate getting.  You know who you are!  Because they're good, i.e: fun to look at, themed, heartfelt.  I feel like it's a families way (outside of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) to kind of connect to people that matter to them during this special time of year - near and far.  It's traditional, it's kind, it's expensive.  Between the stamps, the photographer (if you hired one), the cards… it can cost a lot to keep that tradition going.  There are cheaper options.  But, being One Picky Chick - I want my cards to look like I got them from a designer graphic artist who custom made them, for me.  Well, now I have one.

Vistaprint.  

I've been using them for the last few years and here's why.  They let you create your own cards (from scratch) paying NO EXTRA MONEY.  I am NOT a graphic designer but here's the deal: they are.  Their call center staff is in Jamaica and the (mostly) Jamaican ladies I speak to on the phone can do what I can't.  My Christmas cards this year are crazy.  I have a picture on front like normal.  But on the inside I placed 10, yes ten, tiny pictures around the message… plus I wanted to add a smaller picture on the back with some extra text.  They did it all… NO EXTRA CHARGE!  I thought they for sure were going to add an extra charge for TEN extra pictures on the inside of the card.  Oh no… I got 10 cards with my own message, 60% off!  I think they were $6.  Of course there was a coupon… they always have coupons.  And I only order 10 so I can see it for myself before I order another 200.  I want to get it right.

Here's a postcard we made 2 plus years ago when we first moved into the house we live in now.  The picture supposed to look crazy because we just moved and it said "Sorry for the chaos…" on the outside "but we moved!" on the inside... in quirky writing.


It's nothing super special but it was original and cheap.  And I'm using it because I didn't want to put my 2014 Holiday cards on my blog this year.

So, if you're game here's how you can custom make your own cards for, well, I'm just gonna say it… cheap.  Start by clicking HERE.  It will take you to a link which will give you a $10 off coupon plus you'll probably be able to find another percentage off if you search their website for a promo code.  Then get yourself to "Holiday Photo Cards,"  then "Shop Photo Cards" and then "Browse all Photo Cards."  Until you see the first box that says "Upload a Complete Design" only you don't have to upload a complete design… just the picture you want to start with.  But be prepared with a bit of a plan.     what does that mean?  Think about it.

5 Tips for Holiday cards:

  1. What picture do you want to use?  Change it up a bit.  You shot on the desert last year, this year try the beach.
  2. Have a particular idea and theme.  Quirky or traditional?  Thoughtful or funny?
  3. Say something that means something.  That can be short and sweet or  a small paragraph about your hopes and dreams!
  4. Try non-traditional colors. At the beach - turquoise might be nice.  Red and green get old! 
  5. Do what you want.  It's your card.  Make yourself (and your family) happy!
Anyways, while you're on Vistaprint and you've uploaded your photo, fiddle around with your words and colors for a bit and then at one point just call them on the 866 number they have for you on the top right hand corner.  Those ladies can then can help launch your card from ho-hom to badda bing badda bang!

TIP: some graphic artists are more talented than others.  If you're not getting what you want from one, hang up and dial another… she may be better.

I can promise you your cards will come out great… I get compliments every year and I'm convinced that's due, in part, to Vistaprint.  Plus it might be because I start thinking about them in mid-May.  But whose counting?





Thursday, November 20, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving - The ---- has Hit the Fan!

The Headlines:


I am going crazy.

The holidays are in full swing.

And the S--- has hit the fan!




I just came back from my friend's house.  We had a nice dinner and our kids played very sweetly together.  It was about 3 hours of good friend time.  Of which I had no time for.


If you're a mom of 1, 2 or 6 children you probably know what I'm talking about.  This time of year there are a lot of balls in the air.  You must
  1. Plan parties 
  2. Go to parties 
  3. Plan dinners 
  4. Plan to look at holiday lights
  5. Holiday decorate
  6. Put laundry away - do dishes (over and over) 
  7. Bake cookies
  8. Christmas shop 
  9. Go see Santa
  10. Plan holiday cards 
  11. Take pictures for holiday cards 
  12. Mail holiday cards
  13. Internet shop
  14. Hide stuff 
  15. Wrap stuff 
  16. Travel somewhere 
  17. Exercise (because of all the parties) 
  18. Still do all your everyday "mommy" stuff
  19. Not to mention - fill in the blank - everyone has their things.  Do you have rental properties?  Internet problems?  Phone problems?  Remodeling problems?  Friend Birthdays?  A part time job?  A husband who travels all the time?  Car trouble?  
  20. The list goes on… depending on the person you are. 
Yep, this year at this time… in my house, the S--- has hit the fan!  I need to re-gain control fast because today, tomorrow and the next month I will be running and gunning.  I did not want to take 3 hours and spend some time with a great friend, but I did… and you know what?  I feel better.  Instead of getting my "stuff" handled… I just talked about it all.  That probably did me way more good than the 3 hours I could have spent at home attempting to get it all done.

It reminded me that we get so wrapped up in the craziness of this time of year sometimes we forget to enjoy this time of year.  We, I, concentrate so much on what we need to do… we forget about why we're doing it in the first place.  The message is not new… we hear it a million times, especially in December - but still… we ALL forget - until something reminds us to stop.

This was my reminder last year.  I watched it again today.  You should too... it's quick.



That's my son.  Singing "Jesus Loves Me"… repeating one of the phrases over and over and then ending with the cutest smooch face/pursed lips ever!  Nothing like the words of a child to make you stop in your tracks. You know what they say:

Sometimes the best present is presence.

Actually, that's not exactly how "they" say it but it's how I phrased it for my purpose today.  See, last Thanksgiving my son had just started pre-school for the very first time.  He was in the 2's class.  And at his preschool they sing a lot of songs that center around Jesus because it's a Christian school.  So very early on he started coming home and singing.  It was delightful.  One of the best sounds I'd ever heard.  Because he was mine.  Your best sound comes from your own child!

Since we couldn't have some of our family here for Thanksgiving… I thought, maybe I should send my son to them - with this cute song - a song that would surely should remind everyone to stop in their tracks and enjoy the day, the season, the time.  We will never get it back.

This year, my son sings "Jesus Loves Me" perfectly - exactly the way he's supposed to… and a little part of me, wishes he didn't.

So yes, the S--- has hit the fan over here.  Just like it has in houses all over America.  But as I deal with the craziness during this next month (plus) I will find the moments to stop, enjoy my friend - my son - my daughter - my husband's ---presence.  Because I will remember "Jesus Loves Me" is the greatest gift of all.





Monday, November 17, 2014

Salted Caramel Dessert

The Headlines:


To me, caramel and Thanksgiving go hand in hand.

You will too after you try this deconstructed cheesecake!





I will be honest.  The Thanksgiving menu in my house is quite a big deal.  I spend a decent amount of  time trying figure out what I'll be serving on that special day.  Unless I cancel it.

HUH? Yea, sometimes I cancel the traditional dinner and do something a lot easier.  For different reasons… BP (the husband) wants to play golf and can't help me much, we go out of town for the weekend and I don't want leftovers or well, let's face it - it's a lot of work during a busy time of year.  I pick and choose my moments!

But enough about me… back to you.  If you're serving a big, traditional spread this year - this dessert is your moment.  The perfect exclamation point to a dynamic dinner!  Presenting...

Salted Caramel Cheesecake
As always, not too hard to make (there is a tricky part with the caramel) and the pay off is huge.  The other reason I love this dessert is that you can make it a day ahead of time… so it frees you up to do the other dishes on Thanksgiving day.  For the record, that's the case with a lot of ramekin desserts, which is why I do them often.

Here's what you'll need:

Cheesecake
8 ounces of cream cheese - softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

Caramel
12 tblspns light corn syrup
1 cup plus 4 tblspns sugar
6 tblspns unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 tspn salt 
coarse salt (or just use regular)

Here's what you do:
Heat oven to 325.  In a large bowl, beat cc and sugar until smooth.  Then add eggs, followed by sour cream.  Pour into 6 small ramekins.  Place the ramekins into a pan and pour water into the pan so that it comes up to the halfway mark on the ramekin.  


Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are firm and the center is still jiggly.  Turn off the oven and leave in for 1 hour.  Once out transfer to a rack to cool completely

While those are baking you have to make a decision, do you make the caramel or do you buy it in the store and pretend you did?  I say the answer is up to you.  Though I will also say the recipe that follows is great.  But a tad tricky.  Be careful, as good caramel can go to burnt caramel in seconds.  In a medium sauce pan heat the corn syrup.  Stir in the sugar and cook over medium heat.  Keep stirring.  A dark amber color will start to emerge.  This is the dicey part… too long and it will burn.


Take it off the heat and stir in the butter, followed by the cream. 


Transfer the caramel to a heatproof bowl and let cool.  Stir in 1 tspn of salt.  

Once cooler, pour the caramel on top of the cheesecakes.  You should have lots leftover to sprinkle on the plate the ramekin will sit on to make it look more festive (or save it for ice cream later that weekend).  Clearly I didn't sprinkle for that for the picture below but I should have…  

Anyways, refrigerate the cheesecakes at least 3 hours before serving.  I actually made these the day before and just placed some saran wrap over the top.  Sprinkle with coarse salt just before presenting.  If you don't have the coarse salt, any will work but it's better if it's coarse. 


Also, since there's no crust in this dish I would add a small graham cracker or 2 on that plate with that drizzled caramel.  Therefore, it sort of becomes a "deconstructed cheesecake" if you will.

  
Mmmmmm yum.  Guests will love it.  So will you!  Goes so well with a traditional turkey spread.  Here's to a Happy, caramel-y Thanksgiving dinner and dessert.  That is, if you don't cancel it.   Heeee heeee.






Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Best Snack Bar EVER!

The Headlines:


It's the holiday season.

Lots of food to buy.

That means Costco. 

Here's why that makes you lucky.




I don't know about you but my family and I are big Costco shoppers.  We head to that gi-normous warehouse store probably about once a week, Trader Joe's is another big food supplier in our hood and then the normal grocery store falls in at third.  When the holidays hit, i.e.: more parties, more dinners, more food… we may even go (to Costco) twice in one week.  I usually bring the kids and here's why…


the major yum food they have at their snack bar.  I am dead serious.  Every single time we go we, without fail, I get these. 

Why?  They make me happy.  They make the kids happy.  And that is a great bargaining tool.  "You're good in Costco, you get a slushy."  Or "here's a slushy on the front end of the trip - sit down in the cart and let me shop while you chug it, slowly, please!"  

Berry Costo Smoothie
A coffee slushy for the MRS. - berry ones for the children -  and let me tell you the latte freeze is full of serious caffeine.   So if you need a pick me up - bingo.  They can even drizzle chocolate sauce if you want it to be more of a mocha.  I used to always have them do that but one day they forgot to put it in and I discovered I liked it better that way.  I usually don't even finish it - I put it in the freezer for another day.  They're not theee most healthy things for the kids but they're also not the worst and they're a treat.  Not to mention they are $1.45.  Uh-huh.  You heard me right.  One dollar and 45 cents.  Crazy cheap.  And if you're on a budget mommies… I'll tell ya you can not get FRAP-A-anthing for that price!  Sometimes, I'll even ask the nice Costco snack bar people to split the drink for the kids.  If they just ate a big lunch or something.  They do, always as nice as pie those Costco people.

Now, some of you may be going "no-duh" to this post and to you, I salute.  But I am writing this because plenty of you have no idea these little drinkable gushes of gold exist.  Plenty Mom friends are stunned by such a rare and special find.  Heck, my father in law, one serious frapa-star-cino drinker… may well be sworn off the stuff since he discovered the Costco Latte Freeze.  I'm pretty sure his Costco Snack Bar is on a first name basis with him by now.

Then, there's the other incredible food gem at Costco.


People, I am NOT kidding.  Best pizza under $10 you'll ever have.  Because yep, a whole pie - and these puppies are big.  Is only a cool 10 bucks.  For a huge slice, it's less than 2 bucks.  But cost aside…  the everything pizza is major major yum.  I know Italians are turning over in their graves, cars, beds, seats - wherever - hearing something like that but I kid you not,  it's a darn good pizza.  Oddly enough though I am not crazy about their normal pepperoni pizza.  It's not half as good as the everything one.  I know, weird.  Get a closer look.

Everything Costco Pizza
Seriously, awesome.  And no - once again - no one is paying me to say this.  Bummer I know.

Then there's this new item they just added recently and BP (the husband) happens to love it.  I can not speak to it as I have yet to really try it.


It's a BBQ sandwich with coleslaw on it.  It's costLY for Costco coming in at just under 5 dollars.  But BP says it's worth the dough.  I'm not swearing by it yet… but I will stand behind those slushies and everything pizza.  I'll stand behind them, beside them, with them for a holiday picture… heck I'll go anywhere with those treats.  And trust me, you should too!

Here's the epilogue to this blog post:  they now take credit/ATM cards at their snack bar.  Ahhhhhhlllllllllleluia.  Something they have never done.  Until now.  So I, the Mom-who-never-ever-has-cash-on-hand, always-had-to-have-an-emergency-$3-stashed-to-support-my (our)-snack-bar-addiction, can relax.  I can get the food I want with the card in my wallet.  It's a whole new world.  My family may eat an everything pizza once every week now.  Or at least, we could if we wanted to…

So have a good time shopping at your Coscto this season… and don't forget the snack bar.  See ya there!


Monday, November 10, 2014

What's Your Tag Line?

The Headlines:


It's time to update my look (of my blog).

Now I need a "tag line..."

So what is it?

Better yet, what's yours?



I happen to love this blog.  It's fun.  I get to write - about whatever I want… it challenges me, gives me a creative outlet and in a weird way, I feel it kind of keeps me in the game a bit.  No, I don't get paid anything to do what I do.  No I don't have millions of followers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, You Tube.  No, no, no.  But yes, I like it.   Every once in a while, I hear that others do too.  For me, that's enough.

I've decided it's now time to update the look of the blog I love so much!  Settling on a look wasn't that hard.  It was, in fact, simple.  You buy a pre-made template and, in theory, easily throw it on my blogger background.  I have yet to do that however… the hold up?  My tag line.  With the purchase of the template, the designer adds your "tag line" to the header (the top) of the front page and then sends it to you.  Now, the question becomes:  what IS my line?


I have asked other bloggers, friends, thought about it myself while walking (that's a good time for me to think) and have yet to decide definitively.  Here are some ideas (each of which I really like):

One Picky Chick
Because you've only got one life

One Picky Chick
Picky about things… Pickier about life

One Picky Chick
PurposeFULL Picky Living

One Picky Chick
Perfectly Imperfect Living

I need to decide on which one suits me, or rather, my blog best.  That's not an easy thing to do.  Think about it - what's your tag line?  It's like defining your life in a few words.  Not even a full paragraph but words!  Perhaps when you find this "tag line..." you provide yourself a clarity you didn't even know you were lacking.  Still, finding it is hard.

Part of the reason this task is so difficult for me is because I started this blog with one intent but it sort of morphed into another.  It began as a way to chronicle decorating/remodeling, cooking and party ideas.  But something happened along the way and I just started writing about life in general.  No spectacular creation needed.  Not every time anyways.  It showed me:  I may be picky about what I do and the things I try -  but I now know I'm choosier about the life I lead.  As well I should be.  As well we ALL should be.  We all have just one shot to make this time our own.  One try to "write" our story.  One time to get it right.  So I intend to pick and choose the best ways for me and my family.  I hope others will do the same.  Whether or not they literally do the same as me doesn't matter.  For instance, I happen to think, in a rush, the "warm cookie dessert" is one of the easiest/yummiest/most impressive desserts ever (you can find it here).  After you try it, you may not agree… but perhaps it will inspire you to find yours!  When you do, it will make your life that much sweeter.  And isn't that the goal?  The sweeter, the better.

SO that is why I'm One Picky Chick.  Now, to put it all in a "tag line" - for me - is next to impossible.  Probably because I'm... picky.  But guess what?  I wouldn't change a thing.

Tell me what you think. Which above "tag line" do you like?  Give me your new ideas…? Or tell me your own personal "tag line!"  Apparently in this new age of social media we live in - we all need one.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Get Your Give On!

The Headlines:


Now's the time to teach a lesson.

We will take our blessings and give to a cause that matters to us.

Here's how we're doing it.


  


It's this time of year we all tend to have a lot of friends and family over.  Everyone feels more festive.  People come and go… us personally, we have a Halloween party, lots of different in-house dinner dates.  Thanksgiving.  We have a fairly decent size Christmas Eve Party.  That kind of stuff.  It's a good opportunity to… well, ask people for money.  Not for us.  For a cause.

I thought it was time we taught our kids a small life lesson about giving back.  Sure we give money to our church, my daughter raises money for the Girl Scouts with cookie sales, maybe a school fundraiser here or there but it's time to do a grass roots effort that they are, mostly, in charge of - from start to finish.  One they can see through and understand fully.

So the first thing to figure out was… our cause.  We decided on Alzheimer's Disease.  Specifically, the research to find ways to prevent it.  Because we all feel - memory matters.  Our family has been touched by it on both sides.  And while no ailment is easy this one is difficult for different reasons.  The body is working so the person is technically there.  But they are not.  They may appear okay but just below the surface they're slowly and steadily dying inside.  It is heart breaking for the person.   But painful for the people around them.

Our kids were in complete agreement.  We got a big glass jar with a lid on it and stuck it right by our front door so it would remind us to ask when someone enters or leaves our home.


I wrote out what, exactly, we were doing… where the money would go and how people could volunteer or get more information.

Only, my kids forgot to tell anyone at our Halloween Party about it.  Not one soul… oops.  Remember, I told you earlier this week Halloween was chaos.  But they did contribute money themselves.  The two of them dove into they their own "spending money" jars/piggy banks and put in their contributions to the cause.


They weren't stingy either - they made me proud.  Now, if they can only remember to tell everyone who comes over to give us their extra change so we can pass it on.  Yes, I see the irony in that last sentence.  Specifically, we're going to donate the money raised over the next several months to the Alzhemier's Prevention Initiative.  It's an international collaborative effort to postpone, reduce or prevent the onset of the disease.  They're associated with Banner Alzheimer's Institute and the Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium.  If you're interested in more information go to www.endalznow.org There, you can sign up for newsletters or volunteer opportunities.  Another source is here.

So if you take anything away from this post, I would say, "get YOUR give on" this season. Decide what matters to you and your children and teach them a lesson that may - arguably - matter more than the ones they learn in school.

Wish us luck…  I'm not sure the dollars will be too high but I'm also not sure that means as much right now.   See, the lesson will come through the effort.  The money, while important, is secondary.  Isn't it always the journey that matters more than the destination?   Here's to our safe travels.  And, hopefully, yours too!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hi - Thanksgiving? Time to Bring it!

The Headlines:


Goodbye Halloween.

Hello Thanksgiving.

Goodbye Boring.

Hello Smashing!




Can I just say - thank God I made it?  Wow that Halloween was chaotic!  It's so fun to plan class parties and house parties but it sure is a lot of work, huh?  Not to mention, with Halloween it's the added craziness of having a party for 25 people at which you can only stay for a short while before you have the pressure of getting out the door to the main event - Trick or Treating!  That's my downfall.  I have neighbors who have golf carts lined up, chalk full of waters, glow sticks and Fireball the night before they go out!   Me?  I throw everyone out the door when I realize it's getting too late.  Yes, I'm picky but sometimes it gets away from me… I've only been doing this Halloween party thing for 2 years now!  Next year, will be better….?  Right.
The Firefighter & Spider Queen
So Tis' the season to move from one holiday to another!  Halloween's over.  Thanksgiving's around the corner.  There are things to be done.  Starting with taking down the black and white decor and replacing it with more gourds and pumpkins.  Man I hate that.  See, that was the reason I used to only decorate for Fall.  Since I have embraced Halloween decor - now it turns one season into two - which means more work for me!

Sometimes being picky is exhausting.  Wait, sometimes?

Anyways…  after the removal of all things Halloween the next big agenda item is deciding on the menu you'll be serving for the big bird day.  That is, if you have the big bird day at your house.  I always do.  If you don't… bravo.  You have room in your brain to move on to other things… unlike me who instead spends her time thinking about - what to serve.  Geez, when I put it that way it makes me sound pathetic, huh?  So, if you're pathetic like me (I am soooooo kidding) I'd like to give you an idea for a great side to go with your turkey.  I bring you these…

Goat Cheese Smashed Potatoes   
Goat Cheese Smashed Potatoes and they are delish!  Smashing really.  Here's the thing, they are mashed potatoes with a twist.  I HATE BORING!  Mashed potatoes people - by themselves - are boring.  We've had them one million times.  Change it up a bit.  Traditions are awesome but so is living with variety - especially when it comes to food!  These go marvelously with turkey and stuffing and they just take your dinner up a notch.  As it should be.  Your Aunt Betty, who makes the same potatoes every single year will thank you, I promise.  

Of course, as always, it's easy.  Takes hardly any hands on time.

Here's what you need:
3 lbs peeled potatoes cut into chunks
2 cups milk
10-12 oz of goat cheese (depending upon your taste)
5 or 6 green onions, chopped 
salt & pepper

Here's what you do:
In a large sauce pan put potatoes, 2 tspns of salt and enough water to cover the potatoes.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium low until really tender.  About 20 minutes.  Drain and return to pan.  Add milk and cheese. 

Mash with masher, mix in additional salt, pepper and onions to taste.   Serves 8, give or take.  Like I said, it goes wonderfully well with a Thanksgiving dinner.  Your guests will be pleasantly surprised.

Now excuse me while I go think about some other very important things.  Like stuffing.