Top 10+ 1 Christmas Traditions

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Can you believe December is almost here? It might be the lack of lines during black friday shopping or the lack of snow in Michigan, but it just doesnt feel like its time to string the lights and hang the mistle toe.

That all changed this morning though when the kids and I started to haul the endless totes of decorations up from the basement. Once I put my favorite Christmas albumn on Christmas Number 1’s and watched the kids eyes dance with excitment as they carefully unwrapped the nativity sceen  I felt the childlike wonder in my own heart as I took in the scene of my kids diving into our family traditions we love so much.

I believe it is so very important to be intentional with the limited time you have with your family and create lasting traditions.Traditions are a lot like heirlooms that are handed down and they strengthen our sense of belonging to a particular “clan” and become priceless when those who once were near have passed on.

Here are my families Top 10 Christmas traditions to help spread a little Christmas cheer!

1.) Elf on the Shelf.  On the evening of Thanksgiving this little guy makes his grand appearance and the kids wake very early while I am preparing to go Black Friday shopping to see what mischeive he has created. Each night the elf appears in a different part of our house doing some crazy activity and each day my kids share with the elf secret ideas for gifts. The best part about the elf is that he watches over the house and the kids know he reports all of their behavior to Santa so they are on their best behavior for almost 25 days straight.

2.) Black Friday Shopping.  I have arose as early as 3am and one year I never went to bed to take advantage of the door busters. It is always a good time with family and friends and we never take it too seriously or camp out with the crazies. Rather we just enjoy endless shopping at our own speed without kids. This opportunity is something that only happens once a year and I enjoy it.

3.) Nativity setup. My kids know that the very first thing that we put out before anything else gets hung or decorated is our very old and special Nativity. It is a good reminder for my family as to the meaning of Christmas and it has a prominent place in our home. Now that my kids are in their tween years they get to set it up on their own. I take a picture of them standing near it every year when they have it how they want it.

4.) A tree in each bedroom. I have bought the kids each a small pre-lit tree for their room that they get to decorate on their own. The ornaments are ones they have made or that we have bought and are mostly their favorite characters. I have one even in my room and it is typically ordaned with Starbucks cups or hallmark ornaments that I have collected.

5.) 1 Family Ornament must be obtained at our local Christmas store, Bronners. I drag my husband and kids every year to bronners for a singular objective…Find the perfect ornament we can put our name and date on for our tree. We have done this every year since we were married and I have told greg he will be pushing me down the huge store when I am 80 because I love it so much.

6.) Santa at Bronners. While we are at the worlds largest Christmas store we send the kids to see santa to share all their Christmas wishes and we get a picture of the moment. What is great about Bronners is that they allow you to take your own pictures and they do not charge you to see Santa and get the pic.

7.) Christmas Tree selection. Dragging home the christmas tree is always the Saturday night after Thanksgiving and the tree must be a “Real” tree. No fakes ever! We have gone to lots, home depot, and farms over the years and have enjoyed going different places to select our tree, but the tradition is that daddy is the one who has the last say and is the one who picks the spot. The kids always touch the branches and smell the trees to be sure that they approve. I look for the holes and sparce areas while Gregory is always concerned if the tree is too tall.

8.) Christmas cookie baking before tree decorating. A simple rule in our house is that cookies must abound before we take on the chore of adorning the tree. It is a lot of work and the kids love frosting the cookies and such while daddy is wrestling with the tree and stringing the lights. It gives the kids something to do while we are prepping the tree for all the millions of ornaments new and old.

9.) Placement of the Star. The tree decorating is the job of kids and well mostly mom. Once its perfect we put away all the boxes and call for dad. We watch as he carefully asends the ladder and puts the star in place. It is the final step in making our Christmas decorating complete.

10.) Christmas Eve PJS, cookies and a note for Santa, and feed the reindeer. Since the kids were born we  dress them in holiday pjs, write a note to santa, leave a plate of cookies out for santa, and make reindeer food and sprinkle it out on our front lawn.

Reindeer Recipe we use:

In a small ziploc bag, mix:

  • 1/4 cup oatmeal.
  • 1/4 cup sugar.
  • sprinkle of red or green sugar crystals (for cake decorating).

As the kids get older I wonder how soon this tradition will end, but this is one I am sure they will remember when they are grown and have little ones of their own.

This year I am adding a number 11 as I know our santa traditions and Elf on the shelf moments will be coming most likely to a close..maybe…its never too late to add new traditions to replace those that are no longer possible.

11.) Read the Christmas story before gifts. I have to admit this tradition has not always happened, but now that the kids are older they will read the story to us and no present will be opened until the story is done and we take the time to remember why Jesus was born.

What traditions do you hold dear and carry out each and every year?

 

Top 4 tips for saving time and money during the holidays

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If you are like me, the next six weeks is packed with details, lists, shopping, and responsibilities. Keeping it all straight is always a challenge and staying on top of it all is truly an accomplishment.

Here are my Top 4 tips to saving time and money during the Holidays

1.) Create notes that are interactive and cloud-based

When it comes to jotting down notes and having it when you need it, is essential. Evernote is an indispensable tool that is available on all your devices. The glory of this program lies in its flexibility and accessibility. You can take notes, record audio, add images, and add hyperlinks. One of the ways that Evernote saves me time is that I type up the kids Christmas lists and link the items to the sites with the best price. I then share the link to kids Christmas list with family members. They do not have to download Evernote to view it and when they purchase the item they can mark the item purchased.

Evernote is cloud-based storage service that lets you store and access all of your data from any device. You can create folders called notebooks, search by keywords or organize with filters. The paid version gives you the full cloud-based features.

2.) Keep everyone on the same calendar

I use Siri on my iPhone in conjunction with the calendar provided on my IPhone to keep myself organized. I dictate event creation to Siri as well as ask her what is on my itinerary every morning. I keep my iPhone calendar as my main calendar and all family activities are shared via ICloud between my spouse and I, so we stay up to date.

3.) Don’t waste time searching for receipts

Use shoeboxed to keep track of all of your holiday shopping expenses.  Like other receipt-organizing apps, shoeboxed allows you to “scan” a receipt by taking a picture of it with your phone. It’s standout/must have feature is how it pulls email receipts from your Gmail or Yahoo account and arranges them into one convenient dashboard, sorted chronologically. So many stores send e-receipts and this program helps you collect them all in one place. This app also separates out each category of the item you purchase so you can track types of things like for kids, work, household, taxes, etc. I especially appreciate the monthly spending summaries that shoeboxed emails as well as its “return alerts,” which reminded me to hurry up if I have a return to process. Available for iOS  and droid.

4.)  Save money without wasting time or gas

Part of managing the holidays is saving money whenever possible. I do not like to collect coupons, store catalogs or conducting multiple searches to find the best prices. RedLaser is an app I use to scan product barcodes to while I am out shopping to be sure I am getting the best price. For example, if you’re at Target shopping for a WII U, and you scan the box, RedLaser will compare the price with other retail stores and tell you if you are getting the best price. I then click on the store with the cheaper price, show the cashier and get the best price without driving around.

These are my top 4 ways to save time and money during the Holidays. What tools and applications do you prefer?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apple Watch is a time saver

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Many of my friends and colleagues were not surprised when I purchased my watch this fall. I was not even the first in my network to adorn Apples latest gadget. I was trying to decide what the ROI would be over and above my Pebble 33mm Plastic-Black Silicone that then cost $99 versus Apple’s sport watch in black that cost $349. (By the way Apple watches are $100 off at Best Buy and Target for Black Friday)

In the last three months, I have found that the price is worth the volume of work that I can complete and the freedom I can enjoy while I am away from my desk.

Here Are 10 reasons Apple is worth the time:

  • I can leave my phone on my desk and walk around the house without it in my hand or pocket, but still answer and reply to calls and messages from my watch.
  • With Siri you do not have to type in texts and the diction is spot on.
  • Control your music with your voice, not typing in the song you want and reaching for your phone while you are driving or out and about where your phone may be in a purse or bag. You simply hold down the main button and talk. This also applies to Map and Phone calls.
  • Apple pay is quick and easy to use at Starbucks. Need I say more? The scan connects better than the phone app and I am not handing my phone to an attendant through a drive thru.
  • I do not have to wear a different gadget to track my steps and log my distance and the activity of my choice is also easy to track on the watch.
  • I can view my email discretely and the alerts are not obnoxious but a vibration that is only noticed by the one wearing the watch.
  • I never have to turn off my phone, but I can set it aside when I need to without worrying about missing an important message. (Except when I am in an airplane…)
  • I can use the main features of most of my favorite apps and there is a native version for the watch.
  • My directTV remote is an app on my watch and it responds better than the providers.

Cnet gave the watch a 3 1/2 out of 5 stars because of battery life only lasts a day. I have yet to go only a day with my watch and I have it on 24/7.

Do you need an Apple watch? No, right now your phone handles most of what a watch does. Cnet makes a good point, though “It’s meant to be a small assistant, to help you look at your phone less. It’s helped me stay more connected, but I still use my phone more than I should”. I want to be present in the moments that count and with this watch I feel that I am.

 

 

What Size TV Is On Your List?

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In my quest to be prepared for Black Friday I have scoured the leaked ads of all the major stores and I have read the reviews on cnet, wired, amazon, reviewed, and  reddit. Early in my research,  I quickly came to the notion that size is not the only thing to consider when choosing what TV to acquire for Christmas.

In this post, I will cover the top 5 things to consider when choosing the best TV for you and a few brands and models I am considering.

  1. Do you want Your TV to be SMART? What makes a TV SMART anyway? If you already own a component (WII U, Ruku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire stick, Google Chrome, etc..) that already allows your TV to connect to subscriptions like NetFlix, HULU, Amazon, and Sling, than save yourself some money and get a dumb TV. A SMART TV simply means you do not need another device connected to your TV to access subscriptions mentioned above. The only caveat to a SMART TV is that certain TVS have their own apps downloaded that you can not access with the components that are mentioned above.
  2. Is 1080 ok or do I need to get the 4k, which after all is the latest and greatest? A 4k also known as UHD (Ultra High Definition) TV’s, have four times as many pixels as standard 1080p resolution. It sounds really good, but when you stand side by side with each that are the same size you will be hard-pressed to see the difference. The only thing that you will notice is that your wallet is lighter if you go for the new 4k.  Another thing to consider is if you are interested in also acquiring an Apple TV, do not go with a 4k as the 4th generation APPLE TV is only compatible with 708 and 1080.
  3. What type of TV provides the best picture? Hands down an OLED TV is the best, but the high price does not give you the biggest bang for your buck. The TV everyone will gravitate to sounds like the LED LCD.
  4. LED does not mean a better picture, but Bigger screen does mean better picture.  37? 42? 50? 65?90? What size is best for you? Depending on your space your picture will improve as you move up the scale. Geffory Morrsion recommends that “when you sit 9 feet from your TV it should fill 40% of your field of vision”. This means a TV that is between 65-68 inches is ideal.
  5. The more HDMI ports the merrier!! In case you need extra ports check out this hub: OREI HD-104 1×4 

There are other features like curved TVS, 3D, and front project TVs, but due to the price and scarcity they likely will have the same lifespan as the Plasma.

So based on my research I am looking for a 1080 largest screen possible (doesn’t have to be smart) LED LCD TV with many HDMI ports. Below are the top Black Friday TV promotions I have found thus far.

  1. Walmart 55-inch 1080p LED TCL Roku TV model $348
  2. SAMS Vizio 55-inch TV SMART with 3 HDMI ports $448
  3. Target Samsung 60-inch 1080p 120Hz LED HDTV $697.99
  4. Walmart Vizio 70-inch TV $898

What TV has caught your eye?

 

 

 

 

Why Apple TV is on my Christmas list

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I am an early adopter of most of the latest and greatest technology. I love connecting with friends, finding people who have the same interests, making my life efficient, and being more effective. I also like devices that end up saving me money. This is the lens that I review all technology through, including the 4th generation Apple TV. I have done a bit of homework and in this blog I would like to share my perspective on how Apple TV will save me money.

When you subscribe to a cable or satellite subscription you are likely paying at least $99 per month and more likely if you have a DVR you are paying another $50+. Add in your subscription to Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc., because I have found many of my family and friends are also paying for these services to get better programming than what is on TV. So I ask, why do we still subscribe to cable? I have found that many families like to watch live sports, news, and the latest Disney programming. When you weigh out what we really consume from cable we estimate that we are paying a lot to watch the mouse.  I find that our mobile devices in the house are the ones using Hulu or late night TV watching when the kids are finally in bed. When you add in the cost of Apple TV at 32GB version costing $149 and a 64GB model going for $199, I wonder how different is it from our smart tv capability or WII U or blue ray options to connect to online services. What do you really get for your money and will it save you anything or add another way to access the same content you can now?

I am happy to say YES, it can save you a lot of money and with that extra cash you could even upgrade your TV and throw a party. Sound to good to be true? Check this out:  For the cost of the DVD or Blu-ray of your favorite season, you can order a Season Pass to a currently airing program. (It’s not just the old seasons and is available the night it is airing.)

Here is what I found on Apple’s Website regarding available programming:

“You get full HD episodes of your favorite shows without commercials the day after they air on cable. Even better, you own the episodes so you can watch them any time from any Apple device.

Many networks like ABC, PBS, ESPN, and Smithsonian have Apple TV apps. They offer many of their programs for streaming through these apps which allow you to watch full episodes and clips from your favorite programs without a cable or satellite subscription.

Apple TV makes it simple to subscribe to and watch free content on the Internet through hundreds of thousands of Podcasts. These free, On Demand program’s offer content the cable networks can’t afford to offer.

Finally, the Apple TV is capable of receiving AirPlay streaming content from other Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook). If you can find it on the web and play it with those devices, you can stream it to your big screen TV and watch it using Apple TV.

Apple continues to negotiate with other networks so expect to see even more content available in the future”(Jack R. Apple Website).

To put a fine point on this, I wanted to be sure I could watch everything from Detroit Tigers to March Madness to Superbowl. In my research, I found that if you just launch the NCAA March Madness Live app then launch AirPlay from Control Center and whatever’s on your iPhone or iPad will be mirrored to your TV.

HERE COMES THE BEST TIP: SLING.COM 

The cheapest option is to get an antenna. Sunday Night Football is carried by NBC and Thursday Night Football is on CBS. Therefore, a TV antenna will provide you with a means to watch the game regardless of which teams are playing for free. But what if you want to watch Monday Night Football Online on ESPN and your local team isn’t playing you can subscribe to Sling.com for $20 per month.

Sling.com also includes LIVE!! Disney channel, HGTV, ESPN, and 23 others. The cost is $20 versus the $100+ you are currently paying for a cable or satellite subscription.

WHAT ABOUT LOCAL NEWS?

“ABC News on Apple TV offers immediate access to live, multi-streaming video and on-demand content, entertainment news, live hourly updates, original programming and video highlights from “Good Morning America,” “World News with Diane Sawyer,” “Nightline,” “20/20,” and “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” (ENBERG, N., 2014). Read more about content on ABC here.
24/7 access to live and on-demand video with four separate live video streams to choose from.

Video news updates on the hour and four to five live reports per day to cover breaking news.

Not only will you have access and could consider canceling your cable or satellite service, but your remote becomes a friend and channel surfing has a smart assistant called SIRI.

Siri can also do follow-up questions,” Walt Mossberg wrote in his review for The Verge. “I asked for movie mysteries, and it showed me a ton. Then I said ‘only the good ones,’ and it edited the list down based on critics’ ratings.”

Siri has a few other tricks: She can search seasons of a TV series by episode, pause or fast-forward playback, and replay a part of the episode if you missed some dialogue if you ask her, “What did they say?”. Siri can not search the App Store, but she will  work with Apple Music early next year, like your she does with your iPhone today.

I know another question is what games can I play or what apps will I be able to utilize from my TV? In my experience, just like with the early months after the apple watch release, it will be a hot second and you will have more apps available than you can vet through. “Because Apple TV is a platform that’s new to developers, the current selection of apps is limited and some first efforts seem…not as well-conceived as they might have been,” Paczkowski writes. “But’s that going to change—and quickly. As developers get their hands on this thing and spend some real time coming to understand it, I suspect we’re going to see some great stuff coming down the pipeline.”

So why wait any longer?  You can order up your viewing content when you want, save money, and you have Siri by your side. The options are only going to get better with each new software update.

Draw Readers To Your Blog

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If you want to retain your audience, your blog must be kept fresh and interesting. Reading the repeated ideas of a hot topic becomes less appealing. It is easy to fall into the trap of rewriting the same type of content over and over, or drilling too deep into the same tips or advice.

Your blog needs to be something that people are inspired by and that provides thought leadership. But with lifes busy pace often we all are struggling to find time to manage everything and our creative juices and light bulb moments are not always captured.

So here’s a few tips to help you generate more content ideas for your blog.

  • Keep your blog to one topic, written with your target audience in mind, and make sure it is concise and clearly written.
  • Educate yourself before you write so that you report on information that is accurate
  • Use tools to help you curate your content

Content Lifecycle plugins and widgets help to keep your content fresh. Not all data regardless of format can be created equal in shelf life (Jones, 2011). There are tools and widgets available in wordpress that can help you manage your blog to ensure that your content is not becoming stale. (Jive, codex, tutsplus to name a few).

  • Educate yourself on topics that have a following

Google’s keyword planner tool, Quicksprout, or BuzzSumo are great tools for generating ideas for content topics that have a following. Here is how it works, if you’re interested in a topic use these tools to search longtail keywords. These tools will tell you how many people are searching for particular topics, so you’ll know what the demand for your idea.

  • Write about topics that coorelate with current events, major holidays, and other celebrated moments.

People are interested in learning more about the specialities of the day or the current events that capture our attention. Write about these events to drive traffic to your site.

 What do you think of these blogging tips?  Are there others that I missed?  

Please share below in the comments! 

References;

Jones, C. (2011). Clout the art and science of influential web content. Berkley California: New Riders.

Pizza Throwdown Fundraiser, Thursday, November 12th, 6-8 pm (Koen and Ashtyn’s School)

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Mark Your Calendars! 2nd Annual Greater Genesee County Pizza Throwdown on Thursday, November 12th from 6-8 pm

What is that? All you can Eat Pizza (from 10 different vendors) for $10 Fundraiser for the school that Koen and Ashtyn attend.

While you are there: Vote for the best pizza in Genesee County!  Check out silent auction items that include vacations, sport tickets, and other items from local businesses and eat desserts that are on sale.

Tickets are sold at the door and are $10 adults/$5.00 seniors, students and children/$25.00 family.

Proceeds benefit the scholarship fund of Faithway Christian School.

Want more information about the school? Check out FaithWay