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Recycling Christmas Cards

Popcorn tins make great storage containers for treasured Christmas cards

Popcorn tins make great storage containers for treasured Christmas cards

By Karen Hendricks

Sending and receiving Christmas cards is one of my favorite things about the holiday season. From glossy, glittery greeting cards to customized family photos, and even a few handmade cards created with stamps and inks, I cherish them all. And for many years, I’ve collected each holiday season’s cards and saved them in giant tins and baskets. But the collection is getting a bit unwieldy at this point…

So thanks to two projects, my son and I have found new ways to reuse these beautiful cards.

Last year in school, my son learned how to make a Christmas card ball, using principles of math and geometry–how cool! He has become slightly obsessed with creating these gorgeous decorations, so he made them as gifts for just about every family member between last year and this year, and he received plenty of hugs in appreciation. Aren’t handmade gifts a million times more valuable than store-bought ones?

Each ball requires 20 circular images cut from Christmas cards, so you can imagine the number of cards he recycled! You can make a circular template, about two inches in diameter, or use scrapbook tools such as a circle cutter.

Here are two of his creations:

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Even though it’s January, he’s still creating… so I took inspiration and joined him the other day. I was anxious to try a new “toy” I recently purchased–the Creative Memories Tag Maker. It’s a “punch” that creates a perfectly-shaped gift tag–how handy! I used portions of the Christmas cards, my son’s scraps, to create colorful gift tags. I feel like I have a head start on next year’s Christmas preparations, now that I have gift tags made. (I don’t usually work this far in advance!)

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Sorting through the cards brought back many fond memories of family and friends as we admired illustrations, set aside personal photos for safekeeping, and read the messages and signatures. Between my son and I, we discovered new life for quite a few old Christmas cards.

For information on the Creative Memories Tag Maker, click here.

For a YouTube video explaining how to make Christmas card balls, click here. Please note: the video instruct you to use glue sticks but we used staples instead.

How do you display, enjoy or reuse Christmas cards? Feel free to share your ideas, below by clicking “comment.”

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Taking a Leap of Faith into 2013

By Karen Hendricks

Famous cliff jumpers: Thelma & Louise

Famous cliff jumpers: Thelma & Louise

“The fiscal cliff” is the hot topic in the news today, and it makes me think about the expression “jumping off a cliff.” Blogging is a bit like jumping off a cliff or taking a leap of faith. You dream up a concept, create a website (blog), post your opinions and topics for the world to see, hope you’re adding some good to the world, and making connections to readers and a community. Many thanks to YOU, our readers, for finding us, subscribing to our posts and sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! We appreciate your support as we launched in 2012.

Jumping off a cliff, taking a leap of faith, or in our case, “jumping off the merry-go-round,” takes some courage. But it’s been an extremely rewarding experience on many levels. Personally, this was the first Christmas season that I spent 100% with my family (ok, honestly, I did a tiny bit of work… but only about 5% of the time!). Past holiday seasons, I spent the majority of my time working, but wishing I could devote more time to my family. I truly feel for parents who don’t have a choice but to work through the holiday season–medical and emergency personnel come to mind. For me, making the decision to leave a full time, 60-70 hour-per-week job in 2012 and concentrate on my own business during a more manageable 30-40 hour-per-week workload… was the best decision for both my family and myself, personally and professionally.

I have immensely enjoyed getting to know other bloggers and parents through Off the Merry-Go-Round. I invite you to comment or email us (OfftheMGR at gmail.com) with your ideas for future topics in 2013. Let us know about parenting issues you struggle with, phases or stages your kids are going through or career issues. Likewise, send us your tips, comments and words of wisdom! Tell us how you solved a parenting problem, share your best penny-pinching tips or share a fabulous craft idea or recipe. We’ll compile and share your ideas in future upcoming posts.

Our bloggers–Jennifer, Jen, Mary Ann, Ruth and myself–have been brainstorming and developing future blog topics for 2013. They are a joy to work with! Here are some of the topics you can look forward to (in the news business, this is called a “tease!”):

  • Training for a 5K
  • How to Journal
  • Life: It’s the Little Things that Matter
  • Small Changes You Can Make to Help Improve and Save Our Environment
  • A Craft Project for an Icy Day
  • Adoption Issues
  • The College Search Process
  • Living with Lyme Disease
  • Tips for Family Fun on Skis
  • Pinterest “Picks”
  • How to Lose the Boob Tube
  • A Fabulous Recipe for Homemade Soft Pretzels
  • And so much more!

Happy New Year! We look forward to sharing 2013 with you. If you’ve enjoyed “Off the Merry-Go-Round” thus far, please share this website with your network of friends and widen our community! Many thanks! 🙂

Think Outside the (Lunch) Box

By Karen Hendricks

One of my top priorities as a mom is to play the role of “Nutrition Nazi.”  I try my best to infuse nutrients into our meals and ban empty calories.  Equally important as the nutritional value of meals:  The family value of gathering everyone together for meals.  That gets extremely difficult through the middle and high school years, I’m finding, but it’s a priority we try to maintain.  Now that I am “off the merry-go-round” and working from home, I feel like I have a better handle on meal time routines, although most moms with growing families will agree that it’s a constant struggle to keep enough food in the house!

One of the biggest challenges is packing school day lunches.  Although lunches provided in school cafeterias are becoming healthier, my kids prefer to pack because waiting in lines takes too much time and they don’t always like the selections.  This is fine with me!

I like to think of every lunch box as an extension of our family meal times, upholding those same nutritional values and reminding my children that their family loves them.  (Please note:  I would never embarrass my middle or high schoolers with “love notes” in their lunch boxes, although I was known to add a few random notes and jokes through their elementary years!)

I think the challenges include:

  • Finding the time to pack lunches.
  • Making sure they’re nutritious.
  • Not succumbing to easy, but expensive and empty-calorie, pre-packaged lunch items found at the grocery store.
  • Ensuring that lunches can be devoured quickly, since schools are constantly cutting the amount of time allotted for lunch periods.
  • Making sure that everything fits within your child’s lunchbox!

Our entire family helps with the packing of lunches in some way. Here are some tips that have helped us streamline the process, and I hope they help you as well:

Prepare a Lunch Menu.  When my kids were learning keyboarding (4th-5th grades), I set up a simple spreadsheet on our home computer which we still use today.  The rows going down list food groups (Meats/Sandwiches/Grains, Fruit/Veg, Dairy, Snacks, Drinks) with rows under each heading for the kids to customize each week’s menu with our grocery shopping (for example, ham or tuna salad sandwiches, yogurts or string cheese).  The columns are set up per the days of the week, with a column for each child to check off their selections.  It’s great typing practice for the kids, plus they learn organizational skills and the menu is a great help to the chief lunch packer (my wonderful husband).  When my children were younger, they could also see how a nutritious lunch was built using the various food groups.  Now it’s second-nature for them to include at least one item from each food group.  One of the kids typically prepares the lunch menu on Sunday, printing it out and stationing it on our countertop (you could also post it on a bulletin board or refrigerator).  Every night before bedtime or during evening snack time, all the kids make their “picks” for the next day’s lunch.

Banana Keeper! Made by Tupperware and sold in a set of 2, these happy yellow containers keep our bananas from being bruised and squished. Pure genius!

Invest in Reusable Containers.  There are some great products made specifically for lunch boxes today!  Plastic sandwich containers not only keep sandwiches from being squished, but they also negate the need for plastic bags which are costly and not environmentally-friendly.  Our family also uses stainless steel water bottles (found inexpensively at Target and other stores) and small plastic containers with lids for fruits and other snacks (grapes, pretzels, etc.).  Sometimes it’s a challenge to fit all the containers within a lunchbox—it can be like a puzzle—but you develop a knack for it.

Pre-Package Lunch “Staples.”  My kids all pitch in around the house with tasks like dishwashing, unpacking grocery bags, etc.  So when the stainless steel water bottles get washed, they also get refilled with cold water and stashed in the fridge, so they’re chilled and ready to be popped into lunchboxes.  When groceries are being unpacked and there’s an item like grapes, one of the kids washes the grapes right then and there, and prepares 7-8 small plastic containers full of grapes, so they’re ready for school mornings.  This is a great time-saver!

Prepping grapes for the lunchboxes

Include a Touch of Home.  If you have a leftover, homemade biscuit, why not use it for a chicken salad sandwich?  Have a leftover cup of homemade soup?  It takes some effort, but pack it in a microwaveable container or warm it the next morning to pack into a thermos.  The same idea applies to leftover fajitas, a bowl of chili or homemade pizza.  Be creative and think outside the sandwich box.  Sometimes, these are the most popular, sought-after lunch items in our house!  Of course, fighting over them is a subject for another blog… Hey, at least they are eating well!

You Say Tomato…

By Karen Hendricks

It’s always a sad day when the last summer tomato is picked from the garden.  There are several foods that simply “taste” like summer:  watermelon, hamburgers straight from the grill, corn-on-the-cob, s’mores, fresh peaches and tomatoes straight from the garden.  As much as I love crisp fall days, part of me is always sad to see summer fade away.

When I worked full-time, my garden was either non-existent or neglected.  Luckily, if I was able to plant tomatoes, they didn’t mind the neglect and still produced lots of beautiful red fruit.  (Yes, tomatoes are actually classified as fruit!)

Being “off the merry-go-round” this summer, working from home, certainly helped my garden flourish.  What a wonderful way to supplement my family’s meals, with not only fresh tomatoes, but salad greens, radishes, onion, green beans and–also picked today–acorn squash.  (Although my husband gave me a funny look when I mentioned “acorn squash.”  Note to self:  make sure to include brown sugar and apples when baking the acorn squash.)

So today, I peeled, seeded and chopped up the final collection of Italian plum tomatoes from the garden and placed them in ziploc bags and small containers suitable for freezing.  I enjoy pulling these “tastes of summer” out of my freezer through the year, adding a burst of fresh flavor to numerous dishes:

  • Homemade spaghetti sauce, or as an enhancement to jarred/canned spaghetti sauce
  • Steaming pots of chili
  • Homemade tomato soup
  • Virtually any type of canned soup
  • Mexican dishes such as tacos

Along with a fresh taste of summertime, tomatoes pack a nutritious punch.  According to the USDA website, just half a cup of tomatoes provide 15% of the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A, 20% of daily recommended allowance of Vitamin C, and small amounts of iron and fiber.  Tomatoes have been the subject of recent men’s health reports linking the antioxident lycopene to protection against colon cancer.  So make sure the men in your life enjoy tomatoes!

One of my family’s favorite recipes calling for fresh tomatoes is Tomato and Wild Rice Soup.  Maybe the word “wild” adds to its appeal, for my kids (ha ha). Anyway, it’s from the cookbook The Six O’Clock Scramble:  Quick, Healthy and Delicious Dinner Recipes for Busy Families by Aviva Goldfarb.  Every time I feel stuck in a rut or can’t figure out what to make for dinner, this book saves me.  My kids have all picked out recipes from time-to-time and numerous friends have borrowed it for inspiration as well.  We have loved every recipe we’ve tried and have used them multiple times.

So if you still have fresh tomatoes, I encourage you to take the chill off these early fall days with a delicious pot of soup.  Or, substitute a can of crushed tomatoes for the fresh ones.  I think home-cooked, nutritious meals are one of the best gifts we can give to our growing and active families.  And soup?  It’s like a warm hug…

Tomato and Wild Rice Soup

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3/4 c. wild rice
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 3 pounds fresh tomatoes (6-8 tomatoes), chopped, or a can of crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 32 oz. chicken or vegetable broth

Wild rice is the key to this flavorful, hearty soup

In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, carrots and celery.  Cook them until they are softened, 6-8 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Bring it to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the rice and vegetables are tender.  Remove the bay leaves before serving.  If the soup is too thick, add more broth or water to thin it.

Makes 8 servings.  Nutritional analysis per serving:  Calories 150, Total Fat 4.5g, 7%, Saturated Fat 0.5g, 3%, Cholesterol 0mg, 0%, Sodium 420mg, 18%, Total Carbohydrate 26g, 9%, Dietary Fiber 5g, 20%, Protein 5g, Sugar 9g.

May we also recommend… the following links:

The Six O’Clock Scramble website including a link for a free trial to their subscription newsletter.

Soup-er Easy Black Bean and Corn Soup – a free recipe from the Six O’Clock Scramble website.  My family endorses this recipe as well!

Homemade Tomato Paste – this link will take you to my friend Jennifer’s website, Fiesta Kitchens.  She is an amazing cook and photographer (a powerful combination)!  And this is a surefire way to use the last of summer’s tomatoes.

Fun Facts About Vegetables – for the kids who love facts as much as my son!

Enjoy!

Congrats!

By Karen Hendricks

Welcome and congrats for “jumping off the merry-go-round.” Enjoy this blog as a source of community and inspiration for all moms who have scaled back their professional careers in favor of more enriching family time.

Our Mission: To provide a place of community & inspiration for moms who have left corporate or full-time careers in order to spend more time with their children and families. Re-prioritizing, we are seeking more meaningful, enriched family lives.

We look forward to sharing tips, ideas and conversations about:

  • Daily family life, staying organized
  • Family fun, activities, games
  • Parenting – the agony and the joy
  • Recipes, healthy tips from the kitchen
  • Balancing work with family life
  • Penny-pinching tips
  • Family photography, scrapbooking
  • Travel, day trips, vacations
  • Arts & crafts projects

We are open to your suggestions and topic ideas!  Email us at:  OffTheMGR (at) gmail.com