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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wrapping presents – A whistle stop tour of how to do it neatly -- Guest Post

I know Darlena has posted before about not being able to wrap presents neatly; I never used to be able to either, but I've learned by observing others, and I once wrapped a round cake tin into a perfectly square package without using a box or any cardboard reinforcers, so I've been on both sides of the fence.

Sidenote: I know that a post like this would be infinitely better with photographs, however, what I have in gift wrapping abilities, I definitely lack in getting technology to talk to each other, so although I took some photos, I have no idea how to get them on to the computer (yes, in this day and age!), and therefore I'll just need to paint that verbal picture. Also, for all of these, I'll leave adding ribbon, bows, tags or other embellishments for after, but think about what you want to go with what – if you have a busy paper pattern, for example, you'll probably want a plain gift tag, and no ribbon.

The biggest tip I can give regarding wrapping is to use enough resources – enough paper, enough room to spread out, enough equipment, enough concentration, enough tape, enough time. Most people that I've seen do a bad job of wrapping presents don't allow themselves nearly enough of these resources.

I have found that by far the easiest place to wrap presents is on a dining table/large desk. Clear it off properly first, don't just bunch the clutter up – but if that really isn't possible, the floor is easier than the bed, in my experience.

What equipment will you need? Obviously, paper. Get plenty of it. More than you think you will need, by about half. Paper is often reduced in January, so you can stock up ready for next year – but make sure you have somewhere to store it where the ends don't get damaged, because otherwise you'll lose any savings in cutting off the damaged pieces. A 12''/30cm ruler is essential, as is a pencil. Tape, obviously, and scissors to cut it if you don't have a dispenser; although with tape, I find that more pieces, shorter in length, works a lot better than trying to get one long piece to behave itself. There's no reason to have a piece of tape longer than about 2'', in my experience. For wrapping certain items, elastic bands (later covered with ribbon) are also invaluable.

My secret weapon for cutting the paper, though? A letter opener! Or use the blade of a long pair of scissors if you don't have one.

Make sure you allow enough time, too. 20-30 minutes per parcel, and if you're wrapping both a box and its lid, count them twice. Break the wrapping up into a few chunks if you can, or at least take regular breaks.

If you can, depending on who else is around in the house and what you need to keep secret, try and separate your wrapping by the type of parcel – oblong or square box; soft items (scarf, jumper, etc); bottles; small, awkwardly shaped items (costume jewellery, chocolate coins); round boxes; boxes with lids that you're wrapping separately; etc, because you'll need a different strategy for each.

For oblong or square boxes, orient the box so that the design on the wrapping paper is the correct way up when the box is the correct way up too. Use your ruler to measure the width of the parcel (in the direction of the roll of the paper), and then divide that in half.

To figure out the width of paper to cut, line up the edge of the box with the edge of the paper, roll the entire parcel over and mark where it gets to with your pencil. Then add on the half value you calculated earlier, and mark that again. Move the present out of the way and extend the line a little – make sure to use your ruler to keep it straight, at right angles to the top and bottom edges.

Turn the paper over (so the pattern is now face up), pull extra out and fold it back on itself. When you see the second mark you made, fold the paper down and use the edge of your ruler to make a smooth crease. Use your letter opener or the blade of your long scissors to cut along the crease between the two layers.

Move the roll of paper out of the way, and repeat the process for the other direction, but you don't need to add on the half measurement.

Widthways, bring the paper about ¼ of the way across the present and, if possible, tape the paper to the present. Roll the present tightly in the paper, making the corners crisp, and tape down starting in the middle and working outwards. This should also be about ¼ of the way across the present.

For the edges, there should be just enough paper to cover the length of the box, with no excess. Orient the present the correct way, press the paper at the edges down, making sharp creases down the sides. Fold the sides in and the bottom (which should be a perfect triangle by now) up, and make sure to fold both sides before you tape either – this is the key to getting them to look neat, and adjust them if you need to.

For soft parcels, the process is similar, but because they don't really have a 'depth' the way oblong parcels do, you will need to add extra paper on to the height when measuring from the bottom to the top of the paper – an extra 5cm/2'' should be enough. Just make sure that when you fold the triangles up, you leave a small gap (1cm) between the present and the fold. I don't really know why this matters, but it really makes a difference if the fold isn't right next to the present for soft items!

For bottles, the easiest way to do it is if you're sending two: pull out a long length of paper, lay the bottles across the long edge neck to neck, with a large gap between them. Roll up across the height of the paper (or part of it), fold in and affix the ends, and then carefully twist the bottles away from each other, and bring them down next to each other so the twisted paper makes a handle. Then just tape the two bottles together for stability and the job's a good'un.

For just one bottle, and for small awkwardly shaped items, the technique is the same, but use different sizes of paper. Cut two squares that are each big enough to wrap the gift, and lay them on top of each other at an angle. You could use three layers, but that may be bordering on wasteful. Put the item in the centre and gather the paper up around it; secure with an elastic band. To make this easier, wrap the elastic band around your finger a few times, and then slide over the edges of the paper, rather than trying to loop it over multiple times, which is likely to tear the paper. Then poof out the top bits until it looks nice – make sure they top pieces are not too short. This technique looks especially good if you use tissue paper for the inside layer and wrapping paper for the outside.

If you have something long and thin like a pen box that would be fiddly to wrap up as an oblong, or you have any kind of tube, the best way to do it is as a Christmas cracker. Wrap the length of it as you ordinarily would, but leave plenty of room at the ends (the exact measurements will depend on the size of the parcel). Secure with elastic bands as above.

For a round item (a tin of biscuits, that cake tin I mentioned), cut a very large square of paper, put the item in the centre and bring diagonally opposite corners in and tape; there should still be room between the item and the paper at this stage. Once the corners of the paper have all been brought in, repeat with the corners of the new shape, to give a square parcel.

To wrap up a box with a lid, it depends on if you only want the outside wrapped up (do it like an oblong box but only include enough paper for the three sides you want to cover, and the same with the lid), or if you want to wrap up the insides too. In that case, the technique I recommend is the one shared by Jen at I Heart Organising in this post on drawer dividers: http://www.iheartorganizing.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/diy-cereal-box-drawer-dividers.html

This would also work to wrap up boxes with lids that do not have right angle corners, I think – just use multiple strips, and overlap them.

Good luck!


...

Katie Grosvenor is a writer and guest contributor to parentwin.com



Budgeting Blues: How to Save Money Now - S Post



Inside every budget are opportunities to save money right now. The budget area that offers the greatest flexibility for savings is food. If you have plans to make a big purchase and want to find ways to save money, cutting back on groceries is one way to find hidden cash quickly. Here are some tips that help address your need to save money now. 

Short-Term Money Goals

Every month, in addition to income, your budget reflects expenditures. These include items such as your car payment, car insurance, groceries, and money spent on eating out for lunch and dinner. Let's say that your goal is to cut short-term expense. So let's look at a few tricks that help you save money on groceries.  

Groceries and Food Costs




Image via Flickr by Jaro Larnos


Groceries: How and where you shop for groceries impacts the price that you pay for food. Be willing to shop around when you buy groceries. Check out dollar stores. They sell name-brand groceries that you know and trust. They can sell items cheaper because they buy entire lots that are in damaged crates. Just the crate is damaged, not the food or other items. So dollar stores offer outstanding value on most food items. You can still shop at your favorite store for items that are on sale. 

Coupons: Coupons save customers billions of dollars each year. Get your share of that savings. The best and easiest source for coupons near you are Valpak coupons. Those are an entire envelope stuffed full of savings. Use them. There is an expression: "Crumbs make bread." What that means is that little savings add up to dollars. Twenty-five cents off here and 35 cents off there add up to cold hard cash that stays in your bank account. Coupons work. 

Eat Less Expensive Foods


Image via Flickr by SammyJayJay

Cheaper foods are just as delicious as more expensive food. When you buy groceries, the packaging drives up the cost of the food. Learn to cook food yourself and stop paying for packaging. Boxed foods have inflated prices because of the packaging. Instead of using a box of starch for dinner, learn to cook different types of rice. Vegetables like potatoes are easy to cook. Even mashed potatoes take very little effort to make from scratch. 

Choose foods that we consider "Paleo." You don't have to follow the Paleo diet, but that diet does target foods that are often less expensive. Dried beans, lentils, and grains such as barley are inexpensive and healthy. Learn to follow the produce and fruit season. By buying vegetables and fruits that are in season, you save money. When something is scarce, the price goes up. When vegetables are at the peak of production, their prices drop. How and when you buy food is important. 

Pack Your Lunch

A PBJ is not as glamorous as a burger and fries, but it costs a lot less. If you spend $10 on lunch every weekday, then you spend $50 each week. That adds up to $2,600 a year just for lunches. You'd like to have $2,600 in your savings account just about now, right?

You don't have to eat PBJs everyday to save money. Coffee is another treat that adds up quickly. How much do you spend on your $4 mocha habit? Twenty dollars a week if you have one Monday through Friday. That adds up to $1,040 a year. Those little things add up quickly, especially if you have a significant other. Make sure that you sit down as a couple and agree to make a few lifestyle changes. Be open to trying new foods and different brands. 


Buying groceries is one of the biggest areas where people can save the most money. Changing how you shop for groceries takes practice. You get tired, or you don't want to cook. Learn to use your freezer. It is just as easy to make a second lasagna as it is to make the first. Set yourself up for success by planning ahead. As an added plus, you can apply what you learn here to other areas of your budget too. 





Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Toys are an Important Part of Childhood - S post

Birthdays and holidays are just not complete without toys. What child has opened a package of clothing, mumbled an insincere thank you, and dug around for the next package, hoping to find some fantastic toy they can enjoy in a make-believe fantasy. You might also find that most adults also enjoy delving into the fun-filled world of a child.
                                
Military essentials are always a fun part of any child's collection of toys. Army tanks, dart guns, and camouflage equipment, such as helmets and jackets are necessary parts of any war game. Toy camo binoculars can help them spot the enemy and prepare their plan of defense. Figurines of Army men ready to do battle against the enemy are set up in strategic fashion to be victorious. Toy Army knives can be worn on their belt to help them feel prepared to meet their foes.

Children can use their imagination to assemble and build their own equipment and defense modes and then destroy them, only to begin again. Whole army sets can provide hours of fun for a child who likes to pit their expertise against an imagined scenario. Additional soldiers are always necessary, as some get lost or destroyed in all the excitement.

Want a nice indoor activity? How about a World War II deck of playing cards? This encourages the child to develop strategic plans and develop memory games for times when outdoor play is not an option.

With easy to complete online orders, you can create many different army sets for your child to enjoy. Maybe you feel your little one needs to get away from the screens that their eyes stare at for hours on end. Retro toys are making a comeback, such as a B-2 bomber toy set and plastic army men. Young boys love to use their imagination to play Army games with their friends and siblings. This gets them off the couch and out enjoying nature.

If you remember the fun days you enjoyed as a young child outside running around with your best buddy, you can now help your child feel the same joy as you did. You can select toy guns that make no noise or ones that vibrate or provide clicking sounds. Your child can set up towns or campsites and build towers that they can knock down. You can provide them with animals, people, or robots. You and your child can use your imaginations to come up with anything you want. Coloring and cartoon books are also good options.Free shipping may be offered on some online orders over a certain amount.


Now that your interest has been piqued, you can go online and find some of the many products at https://www.toyessentials.net/eShop/, it can help keep your child enjoying his playtime for years to come. 





Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In which Facebook tells me my kids will kill a dog

Facebook.

Lovely Facebook.

I realize most people use the social media platform to show the world their ideal selves, throw up their highlight reel. I use mine more like a blooper reel, to  be honest, and for the most part, that serves me well.

I don't care if people know my house is sometimes messy, or if my kids sometimes misbehave. I make mistakes, and I post about those. I fail in the kitchen, in the home, in trying to be fashionable, in writing, in life. And I post about it. Because I'm a real person and I just don't have the energy to put my best foot forward. Sometimes I don't even have a best foot, it's true.

That said, just because I share things that aren't all roses and sunshine all the time, doesn't mean Facebook friends know me any better than they know anyone else. They certainly don't know me better than I do.

That said, I got a dog a few weeks ago.



Before I got this puppy, I had done a lot of research online, finding the right match for our family. I'd been looking since October. I also have had and trained a few dogs in my lifetime, though none so small (he's a Chorkie, and will top out at 8-10 pounds) and none while I had a family.

Facebook, though, didn't know that. Facebook only knew that I posted a picture of the little guy along with the status: "Going to see this little guy tomorrow. If all goes well, we'll be getting a puppy."

This was enough to set the social medium on fire, apparently.

Amid the squeals of omgcutepuppy, there were a few concerned yet respectful comments inquiring as to whether I knew what I was getting into with a puppy. Understandable. As much as I share on social media, I hadn't found reason ever to go into my history with dogs, or even (aside from one comment months before) to indicate that I was researching puppy options for the family. I put those fears to rest with a brief explanation. Then I got this comment:

"How long are you home everyday? Aren't you gone quiet a bit with grad school? And doing other stuff. A small dog that is going to top out at ten pounds most can't really go more then two hours with out bringing them outside when they are itty bitty puppies. With two kids who can go from fine to freak out in two seconds a small puppy could easily get hurt,or a broken bone or worst case dead are you prepared for them to fight over a puppy and how to handle that? Also asking which is better to house or crate train makes me think you have not really 100% thought this through and you're just thinking omgPUPPY. And while they may look cute I also don't think a yorkie corgi mix is really a good mix for your family. You could end up with a nightmare nuerotic dog real quick. Please look more up on both breeds and search around for puppy classes and if you really do plan on impulse buying a puppy and get it to puppy classes ASAP. And I hope you're not paying a ridic amount for basically a mutt."
So much wrong with this comment. Not that I have to defend my life or my choices, but I'm not gone hardly at all. I'm home basically always. I thought crate training meant training the dog to go to the bathroom inside. Crate training and house training were the same to me. So, yes, got me on misuse of terminology. Not a Corgi mix. Not an impulse buy. And for someone so concerned about the apparently downtrodden and horrid life this dog is about to have, that last line calling him a mutt and not wanting me to spend money (ie: ensure I make a commitment to this decision) stands out as odd.

Now.

How about we deal with this: "With two kids who can go from fine to freak out in two seconds a small puppy could easily get hurt,or a broken bone or worst case dead are you prepared for them to fight over a puppy and how to handle that?"

I'm sorry, but no matter how well you think you know me, Facebook, it is totally inappropriate to imply my children would kill a dog. They are six. They're not going to tear it apart like a stuffed animal because they can't control themselves.

This was my reply at the time.
"Thanks. I'm home all day. My kids won't break the pup's bones either. I've bought and trained dogs before, as well. Though they were 25-40 American Eskimos. My kids also won't fucking kill the dog."
I figured that would be it. Thank you for your slightly inappropriate concern, here's why it's not valid, have a good day. Nope. More puppy drama ensued (puppy drama, Facebook. Are we serious?)

I was unfriended and then a status was made about how my home isn't stable and said ex-friend wasn't going to stand by while I let a puppy into this house.

Oh.





You're right, Facebook. This is clearly a dog fearing for his life, daily.

I made a few statuses about it myself, because when you're fighting on Facebook over a dog, you can't let such an important topic drop, amirite?

The first status just let Facebook know that while I appreciated its concern, I simply didn't tell the medium everything, and rest-assured, I pretty much had a handle on my life at all times, as wacky as my statuses may sometimes seem.

Thankfully, most of my friends have good senses of humor, and I got these types of responses:



"Good lord is this over the fucking DOG? Buy the dog, fuck anyone who thinks you're under qualified or over paying. Can you take a dump without everyone commenting on the size/shape/color?"

"Hang on, I have lots of relevant advice for you. I would hate for you to make a decision for your family without my super important input you didn't ask for."

"AS EXPERTS ON YOUR LIFE AND LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE DOG BREED OR CROSS BREED IN EXISTENCE, LET ME TELL YOU WHY I THINK YOU'RE A TERRIBLE PERSON FOR BUYING A PUPPY."

We continue to have fun with it. I let everyone know I also have a fish they didn't know about and everyone clutches pearls in jest. Someone asks me if we're breaking up.

"Well, I guess that depends on whether you think my kids are big enough assholes that they'd straight kill a dog.
If yes, we may have to go our separate ways. But don't worry. I'll pick up the check. Right after I impulse buy a puppy that I never researched until right now when I posted about it."
And I'm just putting this comment here because it makes me laugh:

"like how have your kids ever come across as aggressive puppy tossing cage fighters? Sure they have their twin moments, but even that seemed like when they were younger like all kids. They don't come across as unruly maniacs who would grab a dog by one end and pull it in half. They seem p level headed from how you discuss them."

Aggressive puppy tossing cage fighters. I die.

Okay, so we all have our fun, the other status that I can't see because I was unfriended is going on, and it's all about how I seriously should NOT get a dog because it spells doom and I'd just be the worst pet owner.





Yup. Totally the worst. This poor creature.

Anyway, I could have let it drop. But, I mean, how often do you get to participate in puppy drama? I'm guessing it's once in a lifetime. So I made one more status. Your typical, searching-for-validation-even-though-it-couldn't-be-farther-from-necessary post.

"I mean, like, there's a difference between brutal honesty and alleging someone's six year old, fairly competent (if emotional) kids will kill a dog, amirite? I think I'm right on this one. Just saying."

I got almost 200 comments validating me when I didn't need to be validated, because I play Facebook. I like validation. I like statuses. I like comments. I like conversations. I also appreciated the level of pure ridiculousness we had reached.

I mean, I'm busy a lot of the time. But when I'm not, you can find me on Facebook, fighting for my right to own a dog.

...

So, in conclusion, when you go to comment on someone's status about something you know all the stuffs about, take heed. Maybe the person also knows what they are doing. Maybe their kids actually won't kill a dog.

Always remember, Facebook, you're not my mom.




Friday, December 12, 2014

Recipe - Bacon Cheddar Meatloaf


Every time I buy bacon, I never know what to do with it. We love it, but just can't eat a whole pound or whatever they give you. This time, I used the extra in a meatloaf, and it came out great! (Okay, it doesn't look so great, but trust me. And maybe leave it in 10 minutes less than I did.)




10 slices bacon
1/3 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 (8 ounce) package shredded Cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Place bacon in a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on paper towels. When cool, crumble into a large bowl.

Mix ketchup and mustard in a bowl.

Thoroughly combine 1/4 the ketchup mixture, ground chuck, Cheddar cheese, eggs, bread crumbs, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and black pepper with crumbled bacon in bowl; pat the mixture into a 5x9-inch loaf pan. 

Spread remaining ketchup mixture evenly over top of meatloaf.

Bake in the preheated oven until the meatloaf is no longer pink inside, about an hour.



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