Easy Sweet Potato Casserole

Easy Sweet Potato Casserole has become a family favorite of ours. My family begs me to make this dish every Thanksgiving. So today, I’m sharing these easy fall dish that is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Easy Sweet potato casserole

When I was a child, both my grandmother and my mother always made candied yams for Thanksgiving. Candied yams is a traditional thanksgiving dish. First, they used canned yams. I don’t mean to offend if you use canned vegetables. I actually love to can food. But the yams always seemed mushy and soggy. Candied yams then top them with marshmallows, cherries, even pineapple. It was never a favorite of mine. I just didn’t care for the combination. So for years, when people passed them to me, I passed them right along.

Fast forward to my twenties. I can recall watching a morning program where Martha Stewart was a guest and was sharing her version of sweet potato casserole. Oh my, this dish looked divine and I’ll never forget what she said. She said it tasted like sweet potato pie without the crust. Now that I had to try. (I dare say, it is better because of the praline topping). So that day I headed to the store for my first try of sweet potato casserole. It was a huge hit at Thanksgiving. To this day, my family will pass over the pies to have the sweet potato casserole. I often get asked to bring it to Fall parties. Trust me, it’s delicious! What really makes this superb is the praline topping.

Making Sweet Potato Casserole

Over the years, I’ve tweaked Martha’s recipe based on my own experience. I’ve also been influenced by other versions. You will need a nice deep casserole dish. I personally love baking it in stoneware because it is so easy to go from oven to table. I also highly recommend using raw, fresh sweet potatoes. You can cook them any way you like (bake or boil). However, I have found that boiling them makes them much easier to mash because they are very tender. Baking also takes much more cook time.

Now, if you want to save yourself some time in the kitchen or want to save some real estate on your stove on Thanksgiving Day, you can always cook the potatoes the day before and store in the fridge. Then you can take them out when you are ready for them and create your casserole. I’ve been asked if you can prep the whole casserole the day before. Yes, you can. However, you’ll need to make sure you put it in a metal pan instead of glass or stoneware. Putting an ice-cold dish in a piping hot oven can cause the glass to shatter. Also, you may need to increase the cook time to an hour if your casserole is refrigerator cold.

Sweet Potato Casserole

One of my favorite kitchen tools I’ve ever come across is this brown sugar keeper. If you haven’t discovered this, you don’t know what you are missing. It contains a terra-cotta disk that keeps your brown sugar soft and fresh. And it isn’t just for brown sugar! They also sell little terra-cotta discs that keep lots of things soft and fresh. Things like cookies, baked goods, marshmallows, baker’s coconut and granulated sugar. Anything that you want to keep soft. Best of all you can use them forever. Just wash them with soap water whenever you want to put it in a different food container.

Brown sugar

How To Make Sweet Potato Casserole

You will need about 3-4 lbs of sweet potatoes. It is up to you if you want to peel before or after boiling. I prefer to peel after so they aren’t too waterlogged. Once peeled, transfer the potatoes to a large bowl. Mash your sweet potato with a potato masher. I typically don’t mind lumps in mashed potatoes, but for this recipe, I recommend working out as much of the lumps as you can. In a separate small bowl, beat your eggs, then add them to your potato mixture. Then you will add your pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, milk, sugar, salt, pumpkin pie spice, butter, and mix well. You will then pour the mixture into an ungreased casserole dish.

In a separate bowl, you will create a sugary praline topping. You will mix brown sugar, butter, flour, and pecans until it resembles a coarse mixture. The sprinkle atop the potato filling. You’ll bake it in the oven uncovered for about 45 mins. If you love this recipe, you should try another Fall favorite of mine Slowcooker Pumpkin Spice Latte. I make it every Thanksgiving as well! Your friends will ask you for that recipe also.

Easy sweet potato casserole

Easy Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato casserole is a lot like sweet potato pie without the crust. This delicious sweet potato dish with praline topping is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 45 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 8

Equipment

  • Deep casserole dish
  • potato masher

Ingredients
  

  • 4 Large Sweet potatoes peeled, cut into large chunks
  • ½ Cup Milk
  • 2 Large Eggs Slightly beaten
  • ½ Cup Brown Sugar packed
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • ½ Stick Unsalted butter (4 tablespoons), melted
  • 2 Tsp Vanilla extract
  • 1 Tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice

For the Topping

  • ½ Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ Cup Brown Sugar Packed
  • ½ Stick Unsalted Butter melted
  • ¼ Tsp Kosher Salt
  • ¾ Cup Pecans Chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon ground

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350°
  • In a large stockpot, add peeled, cubed sweet potatoes with a pinch of salt into boiling water. Bring boil to high heat and then reduce heat and cook until potatoes are very tender (about 20 mins).
  • Drain potatoes in colander and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  • Smash potatoes using a potato masher.
  • In a small bowl, slightly beat eggs then add to the potato mash.
  • Add milk, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, salt, melted butter, vanilla into the bowl with potato and egg mixture. Stir ingredients well until fully combined.
  • Transfer to an ungreased baking dish. Spread the mixture out so that it is even across the dish.
  • In a small bowl combine the ingredients for the topping – brown sugar, pecans, all-purpose flour, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Mix until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Sprinkle topping over the pumpkin mixture.
  • Place into the oven uncovered. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.
Keyword casserole, casserole recipes, chocolate dessert, fall, praline, side dish, sweet potato, thanksgiving

Storing and Leftovers

If you have any leftovers you can store them in an air tight container for three to four days. Leftovers are easily warmed up in the microwave or in the oven.

Friends, thank you so much for joining me today. I know that 2020 has been an exceptionally hard year. But I encourage you to make the best of it. FaceTime or Zoom with family and friends. Write some gratitude lists as a family. Focus on what is going right instead of all the things that wrong this year. There are always reasons to be grateful. Until next time friends. Have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving.

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Thanksgiving Word Search for Kids

Download your free Thanksgiving Word Search for kids. This is a fun word recognition activity for elementary school aged children.

thanksgiving word search

Hey friends, Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Thanksgiving has always been a special time. First, my mom’s birthday almost always falls on the week of Thanksgiving, so it’s always super special. Secondly, as a child, I used to love to hear my grandfather’s stories about our own Apache heritage. We are prepping for Thanksgiving this week. I imagine this year, Thanksgiving will look different for many families. I’ve heard some cities are locking down again. If you are in one of those cities, I’m sorry. It’s very tough to be apart from families especially this time of year, especially after all we’ve done already this year. We are staying home and cooking for a few immediate family members.

Today, I’ve created something fun for your older elementary school kids. I’ve created a free Thanksgiving word search for kids. Who knows, maybe it will keep them busy long enough to butter rolls! I personally used to love word search games particularly as a kid. Who am I kidding? I still really love them. I always felt like it helped me with my dyslexia because it forced me to concentrate.

Benefits of Word Searches

Sometimes word searches can get a bad rap. They seem like they are just busywork, but the truth is, they have lots of benefits. Here are some of the perks to incorporating word searches into your child’s playtime or school time.

  • Word recognition – Word recognition is very easy for adults that have been reading for years and are familiar with recognizing words by just a glance. While such things are obvious to adults, it’s not to you our little ones. For the emergent reader, word searches require them to truly hone in on the letters that make up the word.
  • We visualize words as a picture – Word searches have a unique effect on our brain. When we search for a word in a word search, we continually picture the word in our mind, thus reinforcing the spelling and structure of the word. This, of course, improves memory.
  • Focus on letter combinations. It’s in our nature to look for parts of the word that are unique like ie, uo, ea, tr, etc. We tend to hunt for letter combinations in word searches. For example, in the word Thanksgiving we tend to look for the letter combination ‘TH’ and ‘NG.’
  • Spelling – This might seem obvious and that’s because it is. Word searches encourage spelling. When you word search, you will have to examine the maze of letters to find the letters that make up the word and you have to spell it in order to know if you have found the word correctly.
  • Improves Vocabulary – I like using word searches to help reinforce vocabulary words. You can make the word search for just about any subject. Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, etc.

My Word Search

I’ve created this word search with 25 different Thanksgiving-themed words. Have your child search for the words horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. To add an extra level of difficulty, the words can also appear forwards or backward. I’ve created the word search in a .pdf document. You will need Adobe Acrobat or some other pdf viewing software to view it. You can download Adobe Acrobat Reader for free.

I love coming up with some of these fun games. I created a Halloween I Spy as well and I plan on making a fun Christmas version as well in the next coming weeks. Also, be sure to check out Snowy Village Christmas Game Bundle available in my shop here on the blog or in my ETSY shop.

Click on the button below to download your copy.

Thank you for reading and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog before you leave.

How to Play Dirty Santa

Are you bored with traditional white elephant gift exchanges? Here is a new take an old favorite. Today I’m sharing a new way to spice up holidays gift exchanges with how to play Dirty Santa.

how to play dirty Santa
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All of us are familiar with white elephant gift exchanges. If you have ever been part of an office gift exchange chances are you have done white elephant. As much as we all love gift-giving, most of us haven’t won the lottery recently. A white elephant type of exchange is a great way to involve lots of people in gift exchanging with everyone making a modest contribution and therefore not breaking the bank.

In fact, that’s part of why I decided to share this in a blog post this year. COVID-19 has hit lots of people financially this year. In years past, some of my extended family drew names for a gift exchange instead of buying everyone a gift. But I found that it ended up being lack-luster. For example, lots of people just bought $25 gift cards and that’s exactly what it felt like. A group of people passing the same $25 around. Boring!!

Why not turn it into a fun game instead. Today, I’m going to share with you a fun way to turn humdrum white elephant gift exchanges into something more fun. Dirty Santa, White Elephant and Yankee Swap are all very similar in nature. First, I’m going to give you the basic rules. Then I am going to give you some fun variations to mix it up.

How to Play Dirty Santa

Rule 1: Decide on a Dollar Amount

This is totally up to the people involved, but you will need to decide on a dollar amount. It’s hard to find decent presents under $10 or $15, but if you are giving to office co-workers, that might be the perfect amount. If you are giving to close family members, you might consider a higher dollar amount like $50 or even $100. Just make sure there is no pressure and everyone is in agreement. You also want to discuss whether or not gag gifts will be allowed. This should be absolutely clear to everyone. I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of people who were upset when they bought a thoughtful gift and got a ridiculous gag gift like a bar of soap! So just make sure everyone agrees on whether to include comical gifts or not.

Rule 2: Make Wrapping a Big Deal

To add a little extra flavor to the experience, go all out on wrapping. Go festive with big bows or festive elements. If you have a very small item, perhaps you wrap it in a large box or an unusual container. I’ve heard of some people that get silly and wrap the gift multiple times so the recipient has to unwrap it again and again. There are lots of ways to make the wrapping entertaining to onlookers.

Rule 3: Place Gifts

You will need to place gifts in full view of all the guests so they can select from the pile. Any surface will do so long as it’s clean and everyone can access it when it is their turn to pick a gift.

Rule 3: Draw Numbers

Count the number of participants and write the numbers on little slips of paper. For example, for fifteen participants you’d write numbers one through fifteen. Fold the papers to obscure the number, then place the papers in a container. Then every person will draw a number from the container.

Rule 4: Gift Picking and Stealing

Starting with whoever drew number one, that person will pick any gift from the pile. They will open it in front of everyone. Then the gift picking will move to the number two person. That person can either pick a new gift to unwrap from the table or they can steal the unwrapped gift. If they select a new gift to unwrap, they cannot steal. The playing moves down the line chronologically and every player can steal any one of the previously unwrapped gifts or pick a new gift from the pile.

Some people like to make a rule that a particular gift cannot be stolen more than two or three times. This rule is totally optional, but it totally stops coveted gifts from making too many rounds. If a player’s gift is stolen, they then get to pick another gift to unwrap or they too can steal one of the opened gifts. They just can’t steal their own back. This continues until all players have gifts. At the end of the gift picking, the person who was number one can choose to steal any of the gifts!

Variations of Dirty Santa

Scavenger Hunt

This particularly fun in an office setting. Everyone must start at the entrance of the building or home you are in. Instead of drawing names, hide all the presents, and have people search for them. Participants can swap once with each other once all the gifts are found, but that’s it.

Musical Chairs

Have all guests sit or stand in a circle. Have some holiday tunes ready. A gift is entered into the circle as music plays and continues being passed around until the music stops. Whoever is holding the gift when the music stops, gets the gift and leaves the circle. This process continues until everyone has received a gift. The last person in the circle can either steal any of the opened gifts or take the remaining unopened gift.

A Themed Gift

You can play this using the same rules as classic Dirty Santa or White Elephant, but the gifts purchased have a theme. Maybe its a DVD, a holiday ornament, homemade gifts, or regifts. Use your imagination!

Karaoke Edition

Have everyone include a tag on their gift that has a Christmas Carol title on it. You can do this with or without a karaoke machine. Guests get in line and take turns selecting gifts from the gift table. However, they must sing the carol written on the gift they select before they can open it.

Christmas Break Out Games

Make sure everyone is okay with this before purchasing gifts. But you can turn the gifts into prizes and instead allow guests to win them in simple Christmas games or minute-to-win-it games. In fact, I’ve created some printable Christmas party games that you can purchase below. You can also set aside a few gifts for consolation prizes and set a rule that guests can play the games all they want, but can only win one gift.

Gift Ideas

For a full list of gift ideas, you can check out my blog post

However, here is a small list of ideas. If you are playing with both men and women, you’ll want to aim for unisex gifts. These are gifts that can be used or appeal to both. Here are some quick ideas all under $25.

So now you know how to play Dirty Santa also known as White elephant and hopefully I’ve given you some additional ideas on how to switch things up. Full confession – I normally dislike gag gifts. If you’ve received and loved a gag gift, let me know in the comments. Happy Holidays!

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Preppy Baby Boy Names

Ivy League schools. New England coastlines. Sailing. Nantucket. Martha’s Vineyard. Plaid. These are just some of the things I think about when I think about preppy kids. If that’s your vibe, I’ve got some cute preppy baby boy names that have Ivy League written all over them.

Preppy baby boy names
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Oh, the joy of naming a baby. I don’t know about you, but I found it hard to name my kiddos. Also, I never realized that I only had girl names picked out, so naturally, I had only boys! I actually fretted quite a bit when I was choosing the names for my boys. Admittedly, I also never expected to get pushback from family members and friends on names I was considering. I have a friend who was even pressured into giving her son a family name. It happens friend and the best advice I can give is to just brush it off and do your thing.

One of the lists I made when choosing a name was preppy baby boy names. I admit I love this style of names so I thought I’d share the list I compiled with you. I’ve also tried to give you some basic meanings when available. When I hear preppy names I kind of think about Ivy League universities and New England coastlines. I think upper-class and clout.

Before you scroll down the list, I know that you’ve got lots to do before baby arrives. That’s why I’ve created the Baby Registry Checklist to help get you started on your registry shopping list. You may also want to check out my post 10 Things You Don’t Need On Your Baby Registry.

preppy baby boy names

Preppy Baby Boy Names

  • Alexander – though most well known for the Greek emperor Alexander the Great, Alexander is popular in many European countries
  • Anders – A Norse / Scandanavian version of Andrew, it was also the name of a notable physicist
  • August – A shortened version of Augustine, August graced three Polish Kings and also Augustus an emperor of Rome
  • Anderson – A more formal take on the name Andrew
  • Asher – A biblical name, Asher is the son of Jacob and also means happy and blessed in Hebrew
  • Aston – A rare name, it means East Town in Old English
  • Ashton – An Old English version of “Ash Tree Town”
  • Basil – Originally a Greek name, Saint Basil the Great was an early doctor of the church
  • Bastian – A suffix shortening of the name Sebastian meaning “venerable”
  • Beau – pronounced “Bo,” it means “beautiful” in French and has become a unisex name
  • Bernard – A Germanic name meaning “brave” or “bear”
  • Blake – An Old English name meaning “black” or “pale”
  • Blaine – Originally a Scottish surname meaning “yellow”
  • Brett – An Old English name to describe a Briton.
  • Brooks – Originally the English surname “Brook” it was used literally to describe someone who lived near a brook.
  • Bryce (or Brice) – A French name that also graced a saint
  • Camden – An Old English name that was originally used to describe a place like a valley.
  • Carlton – This is actually a variant of Charlton, meaning “settlement of free men”
  • Casey – Originally an Irish surname, It was also the name of hero Casey Jones, (1863-1900) who gave his life to save train passengers
  • Cecil – An ancient Roman name
  • Chauncey – A Norman surname of unknown meaning
  • Charles – A classic name, it is actually a derivation of the Germanic, Karl
  • Chase – English surname meaning ” huntsman”
  • Chett – A short form of Chester
  • Chip – Often a nickname for Charles or Christopher, this name is also occasionally used on it’s own.
  • Clarke – An English surname that was used to describe a cleric or scribe
  • Colin – Believe it or not, this is actually a shortened form of Nicolas.
  • Davis – A derivative of Davis
  • Desmond – An Irish surname describing the region from which they came
  • Drake – Old English surname meaning dragon or serpent
  • Drew – Shortened form of Andrew
  • Easton – English surname
  • Edmond – French form of Edmund. The famous bearer is Edmon Halley for whom Halley’s comment is named.
  • Ellis – A surname that derived from Elijah
  • Ferris – British surname
  • Forrest – English surname for someone who lived near the forest. Saw a resurgence with the movie Forrest Gump
  • Franklin – An English surname meaning “freeman” it was notably the name of American Statesman Benjamin Franklin president Frankling Roosevelt
  • Francois – The French form of Frank
  • George – Also considered an aristocratic name because many kings have donned the name
  • Graham – A Scottish surname that eventually developed into a Scottish given name
  • Granville – An English surname named after a place in Normandy
  • Hamilton – Originally an English surname meaning “crooked”
  • Harris – A name that derived from Harry
  • Harrison – A name meaning son of Harry
  • Horatio – most commonly associated with British Admiral Horatio Nelson who defeated Napolean at the Battle of Trafalgar
  • Hugh – Popular among French nobility
  • Hyde – An English surname used to describe someone who lived on about 100 acres
  • Jack – a derivation of John. In the middle ages, it was slang for “man” in the same way we use “guy” today which is why it is common in fairy tales
  • James – Originally a Hebrew name and used in England from the 13th century
  • Keaton – An English surname
  • Miles – Originally derived from Milo, it is a Germanic name with uncertain origins.
  • Montgomery – An English surname named after a mountain
  • Nicholas – a Greek name meaning “victory for the people”
  • Parker – An English surname meaning “keeper of the park”
  • Patton – English name deriving from Patrick
  • Pierce – a medieval form of Peter
  • Prescott – An English surname meaning “priest’s cottage”
  • Price – Welsh surname from Rhys
  • Quincy – English surname
  • Reid / Reed – Old English surname meaning “red”
  • Rhodes – Old English name meaning “cleared lands”
  • Royce – Medieval name meaning “rose”
  • Rupert – German form of Robert
  • Sebastian – Greek name meaning “venerable”
  • Spencer – Middle English for pantry or “dispenser of provisions”
  • Sutton – English surname meaning “south town”
  • Sumner – Middle English surname for someone who had to summon witnesses to court
  • Tanner – English occupational surname
  • Tate – Derived from the English name Tata
  • Trey – name meaning “three”
  • Warren – a Norman name meaning “animal enclosure”
  • William – A Germanic name meaning “helmet” it has graced many Kings in history
  • Winston – An Old English place name

Other Baby Names

By the way, if you enjoyed this name round up, you should see some of my other posts such as Strong Baby Boy Names, Biblical Baby Boy Names and Biblical Baby Girl Names. I’d love it if you subscribed to my blog for future posts and don’t forget to PIN this post for later.

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Authentic Mexican Champurrado

It is sweater weather! Today on My Beautiful Mess, I’m sharing a family favorite. Authentic Mexican Champurrado is a thick, earthy, Mexican hot chocolate, perfect for those crisp, Autumn nights.

Fall is my favorite season. I love all things Fall. The bonfires and chilly nights, pumpkins and falling leaves. It’s heaven. I am definitely a pumpkin spice girl and if you haven’t checked out my Pumpkin latte recipe, you don’t know what you are missing! It’s the best ever and uses fresh pumpkin instead of artificial flavors. But I don’t just enjoy pumpkin lattes in the fall. I also love hot apple cider and hot chocolate. Since I’m Latina, I also love Mexican versions of this chocolatey drink.

Mexican hot chocolates have a unique flavor to them. Instead of strait chocolate, sugar and milk, they are made with aromatic spices. Like many Mexican desserts, they are also less sweet than American varieties. Traditional Mexican hot chocolate has bittersweet chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, cayenne pepper and/or chili powder. The pepper and chili powder added is only a small amount. In fact, you’d probably never know those spices are in there. Today, I’m sharing another special hot chocolate variety. Authentic Mexican Champurrado.

A Quick History Trip

Hot chocolate actually originated in Mexico, and Central and South America. Cocoa beans are indigenous to this area. The Aztecs and Mayans made hot chocolate before the European old world. The Spanish explorers would eventually bring it back to Europe. Because sugarcane was native to Asia, the original versions of this drink were very bitter and an acquired taste as the chocolate was drunk in its pure form.

When Spanish colonists began drinking it they added sugar, sweetening it to the yummy drink we know today. But back then in the sixteenth century, cocoa beans were such a commodity that only the rich and aristocrats could afford it. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a life without chocolate!

Making Authentic Mexican Champurrado

Mexican Champurrado is a warm hot chocolate drink, but it has a slightly different spice palette than traditional Mexican hot chocolate. Instead of chili powders, the drink is made with vanilla, star anise, cinnamon, and piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar). But the biggest difference is that corn masa is added to thicken the drink. This changes the texture quite a bit from traditional hot chocolate drinks. First, it is fairly thick and the texture will be different because of the grain that is in it. When I was a child it reminded me of a chocolate cream of wheat. If it is too thick, you can add some more milk to thin the consistency. As you bring it to a boil, the starches in the masa will break down and act as a thickener. You will need to stir and whisk constantly with a molinillo to avoid any lumps. It should not be grainy or gritty. If it is, you haven’t boiled it long enough.

For the chocolate, you can use Abuelita Mexican Hot Chocolate tablets. Incidentally, if you want to make traditional Mexican hot chocolate, just use these tablets with milk as I find they are the perfect blend of cocoa, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon which gives it that authentic flavor. Also, you will see that the recipe calls for simmering whole spices in water and then using that fragrant water to add to your chocolate mixture. I highly recommend using this method over ground spices. You will know your water is reading when the water is brown and fragrant. Strain the cinnamon, cloves and star anise out and add the spiced water to your Champurrado mix.

Tools

If you plan on making this often, I recommend buying a molinillo. A molinillo is a wooden Mexican whisk. It helps to froth the milk manually and breakdown the chocolate while blending the spices. The one in my kitchen is well-loved as it has been passed down to me. To use the molinillo, place the whisk head in the hot chocolate pan and roll the handle in the palms of your hands. Other than that all you really need is a large saucepan and of course your favorite mugs for serving. If you don’t have a molinillo you can use a regular whisk, it just won’t froth the milk as well as the molinillo. I find using a whisk doesn’t really alter the taste in any noticeable way.

Serving Champurrado

Champuraddo is very popular on Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) which is the same week as our American Halloween and during Las Posadas during December. We often enjoy it fireside. I love serving authentic Mexican Champurrado with some Mexican desserts like homemade churros or conchas (pan dulce).

Just like American hot chocolate, you can serve it with whipped cream or marshmallows and a cinnamon stick, but it isn’t necessary. I personally think everything is better with whipped cream. If you want, you can also add alcohol or liqueur to it and turn it into an adult hot chocolate. Champurrado does not store well, so drink it up while it is fresh and piping hot.

Authentic Mexican Champurrado

This Mexican style hot chocolate is thick and earthy with aromatic spices like cinnamon, vanilla, star anise, cloves, and piloncillo
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Dessert, Drinks
Cuisine latin, Mexican
Servings 4

Equipment

  • Saucepan
  • Molinillo
  • Strainer

Ingredients
  

  • Cups Whole Milk
  • 2 Cups Water
  • 1 Star Anise
  • ¼ tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Whole Clove
  • 1 Tbsp Piloncillo crushed, to taste
  • ¾ Cup Pinole, coarse ground masa flour
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 2 Abuelita Mexican Hot Chocolate Drink Tablets

Instructions
 

  • In a small saucepan, add water and cinnamon stick, clove, and star anise. If you are using a vanilla pod instead of vanilla extract, add it to the water with the other spices. Boil the water and spices until the water is fragrant (about 10 mins). Then allow it to steep for an additional 2-3 minutes. Strain and reserve spiced water.
  • In another saucepan over medium heat add milk. Add the Mexican chocolate drink tablets and the pinole. Using a molinillo, roll the handle in the palms of your hand to froth the milk and dissolve the pinole and chocolate tablets. If you don't have a molinillo, you can use a whisk. Continue until fully dissolved and chocolate mixture is thickened (about 10 minutes).
  • Remove from heat. Add piloncillo. Let rest until sugar is dissolved (about 5 minutes)
  • Add the fragrant water. Stir well and serve.
Keyword atole, champurrado, chocolate, hot chocolate, mexican hot chocolate, milk

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Family Halloween Scavenger Hunt

Coronavirus has changed the way holidays look. So today I’m sharing a fun Halloween activity that you can do and still socially distance. Download your free printable family Halloween scavenger hunt.

Happy Halloween friends! We have had our first serious cold front here in Texas where I live and it is awesome! I love sweater weather so much. Most of the time our Halloween in Texas is pretty warm still so I’m excited about this cold weather. Lots of people are altering how they do holidays this year. COVID has just totally turned our world upside down. Since we live one of the largest cities in the U.S. , we are seeing some escalation again.

If you want to do something fun that doesn’t require you to be exposed to a bunch of strangers, I think scavenger hunts are really fun. If you have a neighborhood that goes out all for Halloween, then take things outside for more fun. Otherwise, you can do this in your own yard or house. I’ve created a fun family Halloween scavenger hunt that you can print out and do at home. But first, let’s talk about some fun things you can do this Halloween (or should we call it Corona-ween) and still maintain distance from others.

Social Distancing Halloween Activities

Close But Apart Trick-or-Treating

Originally, I heard some people talking on social media about just leaving a bowl of candy on the porch for people to help themselves. This sounds like a great idea, but I know lots of people who have done this before pre-Corona for one reason or another and had horrible experiences. Some people, when left to their own devices, pour the whole bowl into their Halloween sacks. You see this kind of footage taped by RING cameras all the time. I’ve even seen parents doing it! Ugh! It’s sad that people do this, but people do!

So instead, set up a small table, bench or some other surface on your driveway or lawn. Then you can stand on your porch or near your door and monitor and great people like you normally would but at a safe distance. You can even put the candy in Ziplocks or treat baggies so everyone gets their fair share.

Also before you leave, don’t forget to download my fun Halloween I Spy game. You can do this cute activity inside while they eat their candy. Happy Halloween friends! Be safe. Before you leave, don’t forget to subscribe for future posts and subscriber-only goodies.

Family Halloween Scavenger Hunt

Candy Egg Hunt

If you’ve got some extra Easter eggs kicking around a closet, pull them out and fill them with candy just like you would do at Easter. Scatter them in your yard and let your kids find them. You could also have a glow in the dark version by covering the eggs in glow-in-the-dark paint. Additionally, you could also just put lots of glowsticks near the hidden egg areas.

Halloween Photo Backdrop

You can create a Halloween photo backdrop on your garage or the side of your house and allow others to come and take pictures against it. This way you can join in with all the Halloween fun, but you aren’t having to hand out anything. No contact! Of course, you can always leave a bowl of treats out next to it if you want.

Halloween Car Parade

You can organize it with your neighborhood, but everyone can give their cars a spooky makeover. Then a designated driver from each family can join in the caravan while the rest of the family gathers on the driveway or lawn to watch the haunted motorcade go by.

Skeleton Scavenger Hunt

This is a slightly different take on the printable scavenger hunt idea. This would probably be more fun with older kids or adults. Buy several of the full skeleton decorations found in stores. Disassemble the bones if needed. Scatter them over your house and or yard. Either individually or in teams, have participants find all the bones to complete their skeleton.

Family Halloween Scavenger Hunt

That brings us to my fun family Halloween scavenger hunt. Now, if you have a fun neighborhood that goes all out for Halloween, I say, take the scavenger outside and see what you can find. Additionally, you could always do a car version of the scavenger where you drive around neighborhood streets and try to spot these things.

But I think the easiest thing is to do the scavenger hunt in your house or at least around your property. One fun way to do it is to print out a scavenger hunt and give a copy to every participant. Select a place to be the finish line. To make it fun, have the participants start in different areas. First one to the finish line with all the items found, wins.

I hope you have a safe and happy Halloween. I’d love it if we became friends and you subscribed to my blog. I promise I don’t email too often and I send fun free stuff once a month. Thanks for reading!

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10 Mistakes You’re Making As A New Blogger

We’ve all been there. You are learning the craft and art of blogging. On my second anniversary as a blogger, I’m sharing 10 mistakes you’re making as a new blogger. These are some of my own lessons that I’ve had to learn along the way.

10 mistakes you're making as a new blogger
This post contains affiliate links. Should you make a purchase through one of the links I provide, I may receive a small percentage at no cost to you.

I can’t believe that this October marks two years of writing on this blog. There are lots of reasons to celebrate this year. This is the first year that I am not just in the black but made a nice profit. My subscribers tripled doubled from last year and I feel like I’ve found my groove. It has taken immense commitment, hours of writing, editing, and promoting, and some 173,499 words, but I finally feel like my blog is successful. Today, in honor of my blog-aversary, I’ve decided to share 10 mistakes you are making as a new blogger.

10 Mistakes You Are Making as a New Blogger

You Are Relying on Friends and Family to Help Drive Traffic

I get it. I did the same thing. You are so excited to launch your new blog. You may even have friends and family who have encouraged you to start it. In the beginning, those friends may even give you a couple of shares. But I can tell you that your friends and family will not drive your traffic or your sales. My friends and family rarely share my posts. Only a handful actually subscribe to my blog and I can only think of one friend who has purchased something through my blog. Many friends and family read my blog when I post links, but few actually commit and subscribe. If you go into blogging expecting that you’re friends and family will share every post and buy every product, you’ll be disappointed maybe even resentful. I have thousands of subscribers and nearly all are strangers.

Your friends and family will likely not be your audience. I will also tell you, don’t take this personally. It doesn’t mean they don’t love your work or support you. It’s just the way it is. You will need to increase your traffic organically through hardcore sharing on social media platforms. It will come with lots of content creation, potentially paid ads on platforms, building your email list, and scheduling your promotion at peak times.

Not Building Your E-mail List From Day One

When I first became a blogger, I really underestimated how important it was to build your email list. With all the writing and behind-the-scenes work you do, building an email list often gets put on the back burner by beginner bloggers. Think of your email subscribers as repeat customers! They are your captive audience. Your fans. Treat them like it. These are readers who want to hear from you so reach out to them regularly but don’t flood their inbox with emails. I’ve unsubscribed to people who send me emails every couple of days. It’s spammy and it’s a turn-off. You need to find a balance between reminding them you are still here and not annoying them with spammy correspondence. You also want to entice them with reasons to return to your site.

Some bloggers avoid email lists in the beginning because it can cost money. I know money is tight with all budding bloggers, but investing in your email list is something that is necessary if you want to grow and succeed. These days, there are FREE options to get started like Mail Chimp.

Make sure you offer your loyal readers something other readers don’t get and remind them they are only receiving it because they are loyal subscribers. It can be anything. Printables, advice, ebooks, special blog posts, resources, anything at all, but make them feel valued. You need to ask your readers to subscribe every chance you have. Which leads me to my next topic.

You Assume Your Readers Know What to Do

This was by far my biggest mistake in the beginning. I’m going to be honest with you. I feel totally awkward asking for things. I feel weird and self-conscious asking people to buy things. So in the beginning, I didn’t want to come off needy and desperate. In the beginning I got almost no shares, no comments, and no subscribers and it really boiled down to one simple thing. I assumed that my readers knew I wanted them to do those things. They don’t!

That is where a “call to action” comes in. A call to action is a prompt for your readers to take action. You need to tell your readers to subscribe to your blog at some point within every blog post. You also need to encourage them to pin the post for later and encourage them to share it on social media. If you have a shop linked to your blog, make sure you promote your products in every relevant blog post. Also, guide them to past blog posts for more information. Keep them on your site for as long as possible.

You can’t be modest or shy. You need to directly ask your readers to engage, stay, subscribe, and buy. The same goes for your posts on social media. At the end of every post, invite your readers to engage. You can do this by asking a question, ask for their opinion, advice, or ask them to share or like the post. You can ask them to follow a link but always request that they take action after reading.

Not Offering Quality Content

Okay, let’s talk about content. I have seen lots of beginner blogs and one thing that I see often in young writers is the lack of quality in content. Many new bloggers treat their blog like a diary. Now don’t be offended by this. Hear me out. Your blog posts should offer readers something in exchange for reading. You need to solve a problem, teach them something, give them a resource and you need to do it better than your competition. Ask yourself what your readers will gain from your post. Why should they read your post and why should they read it when there are other posts like yours out there? What makes yours different?

“But shouldn’t I be making a personal connection with my readers?”

Absolutely! You can absolutely give updates on your life, anecdotes, funny stories, relatable moments, etc. You absolutely need to be personal, candid, and vulnerable. But these should be nestled into your posts. Diaries and journals are for you. Blogs are for your readers. Entertain them. Educate them. But offer them something they didn’t have before reading your post. Additionally, you need to present quality photos (original when you can) and incentives and teasers for returning.

10 mistakes you're making as a new blogger
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

You’re Not Monetizing Every Post

Blogs make money with passive income. Passive income just means it’s money you earn with little effort. Affiliates are a form of passive income. As soon as you launch your blog you need to have multiple affiliate networks that will monetize links. Every time people purchase something through a link, you earn cents on the dollar. Even as a relatively new blogger, there are affiliate networks that will accept you. Amazon, Share a Sale and Viglink will accept fairly new bloggers. With Amazon you will need to make some sales within the first six months or so of starting your affiliate account or you will be dropped. You need to sign up for as many as you can and then you need to monetize every post you create.

You can also monetize your posts by creating printables, ebooks, courses, and other digital products. These are awesome money makers because you create them once and then sell them over and over again. You also never need to worry about carrying physical stock and maintaining an inventory. You can also promote them in countless ways in your posts. But you always need to monetize to fully maximize your income potential.

You’re Not Scheduling Your Posts

This was another big mistake of mine. The first few months I blogged, I didn’t want to spend any money on a scheduler like Tailwind. With all the startup costs of a new blog, I totally understand the need to be choosy about expenditures. I’ll be the first one to tell that you need to be picky about expenses and premium services, premium plug-ins, etc. Let me tell you, it is absolutely worth it to invest in a scheduler like Tailwind.

Let me be honest. Writing is not going to be your main time burglar. The majority of your time will not be spent writing and editing. It will be promoting your posts! In fact, many six-figure bloggers will advise you should spend 20% of your time creating your post and 80% of your time promoting it. Pinterest is going to be your main driver of traffic and scheduling pins at peak times is going to maximize your exposure. Trying to do this manually is such a big headache.

With Tailwind you can also set your posts to pin regularly in a perpetual loop, thus saving you tons of time. You can set it to pin certain posts during a time period or your evergreen posts all year long. With Tailwind, in about a year, I went from 10,000 monthly viewers to 240,000.

The Focus isn’t on Evergreen Content

Seasonal posts are so fun to write and it is easy to get inspired into writing them, but the problem with seasonal posts is that they typically only drive traffic at a certain time of year. That’s why your main focus needs to be on evergreen content. Evergreen content is, simply put, non-seasonal posts. These posts can drive consistent traffic all year round.

I love seasonal posts, but it’s important to know that they probably won’t drive much traffic during most of the year. My Christmas posts, although super fun to put together, literally drive no traffic except for at Christmastime. You’re also going to have to promote again them every season. Obviously, this doesn’t mean can’t write them. It just means that your focus should be on things that bring traffic all year round.

Photos courtesy of Unsplash

Not Taking Time to Learn

Many blogs fail in the first few years. There are lots of reasons for this, but one overlooked reason is that some bloggers don’t invest enough into learning about the profession and industry. Blogging is a serious business. You don’t have to invest in an expensive blog course, although I think they do save you a lot of time and foot work. I think lots of new fledgling bloggers, cram with all the basics of starting a blog and then sit back and focus on content creation. I will tell you, you need to dedicate yourself to constant learning.

You will also find that like in any industry, the blogging world constantly evolves. Just about the time you have algorithms figured out, social media platforms will change them. For example, I finally felt like I had learned Pinterest algorithms. Then Pinterest announced, it would prioritize fresh pins and stale pins may not drive as much traffic. It is their way of keeping Pinterest feeds fresh for users. However, for bloggers like me, this means that I had to recreate fresh pins for all my old content. We are talking about 200 pins! Then Google also refreshed their search engine optimization (SEO). It’s not the first time this has happened in my two years of blogging. Both Facebook and Instagram have also changed their algorithms as well. There is a constant learning curve and you need to be willing to invest regular time into learning, improving, and evolving.

I dedicate about an hour a week for continuing education. Back when I was an insurance adjuster, I had to have CE to keep my state license. But the truth is, if you want to be good at what you do, if you want growth and improvement, you will have to invest time to learning continually. This isn’t something you learn once in the beginning and just stop. Prioritize time for goal-making, learning, and reading up on the blogging industry every week. It doesn’t have to be hours, but you do need to prioritize it, so it becomes a consistent habit.

You Don’t Refresh Old Posts

It is amazing to me how much I have evolved since I first began this blog over two years ago. I look at some of my early posts and they are almost embarrassing. The photography, the writing, the editing. Yikes. Those early posts weren’t monetized. The SEO was really poor. What’s the old saying? “You don’t know what you don’t know.” After two years of blogging, I can look back at those early posts and see all my mistakes and shortcomings. It happens to everyone. The key is to go back and refresh old posts.

Update the SEO. Play around with better blog post titles. Update photos and graphics. Create fresh pins for Pinterest. Add new information. Link to other, newer related posts. Add freebies like printables and digital downloads. Check for dead or missing links. Link or promote products in your shop. Updating these things will help broaden your exposure, audience, and revenue. My advice is to try to set aside an hour or so a week to refreshing old posts.

You May Not Be Protecting Yourself

When I think that I had a blog for six months before putting in a privacy statement and disclosures, I could kick myself. These days people will sue over anything and everything. When something bad happens, they look for someone to blame. When someone’s identity is stolen, people will blame companies with access to their credit card information. If a product injures someone, people will look to blame the manufacture, the company that sold it, and the one who recommended or endorsed it. Liabilities are everywhere and the blogging world is no exception to it.

Even seemingly harmless posts, like where I shared about my son’s speech delay, need a disclosure that I’m not a medical doctor and that my advice in my post shouldn’t replace medical advice or treatment from a medical professional. I swear you’ve got to put a lot of disclosures in your blog and on your posts. If you’ve received a free product to review, you need to disclose it. The same goes for any links with which you may earn a commission.

There are lots of services online that allow you to tailor a privacy policy for your specific blog needs for a fee. It is absolutely worth doing this to protect your blog legally and protect you from personal liability.

You Blog Is a Work in Progress

In case I didn’t mention it, I’m super excited for you. Blogging is hard work, but it’s also a very fun, rewarding job. Like any career, it takes a while to learn the ropes and it’s a never-ending journey. So don’t be hard on yourself if you have been making any of these mistakes. I’ve made every single one them, which is why I decided to share this with you today.

Before you leave, don’t forget to subscribe and PIN this post for later or share it with a friend who is also new to blogging. You may even be interested in reading some of my other blog-related posts such as What I’ve Learned in 4 Months of Blogging, My 100th Blog Post, and The Ugly Side of Blogging. In the comments below, I’d love for you to share your blog links. Tell me a little about your blog and why you started writing.

Thanks for reading, friend.

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15 Comforting Scriptures for Miscarriage

I know the pain of miscarriage, but the holy scriptures offer us comfort in our time of grief, confusion, and disappointment. Here are 15 comforting scriptures for miscarriage.

15 comforting scriptures for miscarriage

Nothing prepares you for losing a baby. I was totally unprepared for miscarriage when my husband and I decided to start trying for a baby. I spent so much time daydreaming of tiny toes and tender moments. I never considered that my pregnancy could end tragically. Pregnancy is, after all, such a natural process for a woman.

I did have my own fears though. You see, years before in my twenties, I had an ovarian tumor. The tumor caused me to have emergency surgery and I ended up losing one of my ovaries. As I aged into my middle thirties, I prepared myself for what I thought was inevitable. I anticipated that it would be very hard to get pregnant. I anticipated months of trying without any luck.

So when I got pregnant during the first month of trying, my husband and I were overjoyed. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so excited in my life. We started making plans immediately. I was in such disbelief, that I went to urgent care to confirm my pregnancy because my OBGYN couldn’t see me until week ten. The pregnancy bolted my faith. I felt so close to the Lord who was creating life inside me. It was the first time I really saw the ministry and God’s glory in motherhood.

Tragedy and Grief

I was so excited when we finally went to the doctor. I was going to hear my child’s heartbeat and see them in a sonogram. My husband stood by my side as the doctor searched across my belly. She pointed out the amniotic sac then grew quiet. My heart sank as I realized that something was wrong. There was no sound. No flutter.

She told me she thought maybe I had my period date wrong. The fetus is harder for the sonogram to detect when it’s younger than eight weeks. In fact, many times it can’t be detected until eight weeks. So she made us wait and come back in two weeks. Those two weeks were unimaginably hard. I sobbed into my husband’s chest as he awkwardly tried to comfort me. We both knew what this meant. At some point, our baby had stopped growing. Stopped living. I had to watch my pregnancy symptoms slowly fade. My breasts no longer hurt. The nausea went away completely.

We went back in two weeks and the doctor was able to confirm the heartbeat was gone. I held it together as the doctor explained that I could either have a D&C or miscarry naturally. I opted to miscarry naturally, It took an entire month before the cramping and bleeding started. I wept bitterly on my bed when I realized what was happening. After two days of contractions, the miscarriage was over, but my grief was just beginning.

Deeper In Grief

My husband and I decided to immediately get back on the horse and to our surprise, we got pregnant again the first month we started trying. Except for this time I experienced no joy. Only fear. My parents and husband assured me another miscarriage wasn’t likely and that I should enjoy the pregnancy. But several weeks into my first trimester I miscarried again.

Oh, friend. Those were dark days. The grief. The disappointment. Fear. It was the perfect opportunity for the enemy to attack me and that is exactly what he did. I heard some horrible thoughts in those moments. I was tempted to believe it was my fault. That something was inherently wrong with me. Even that I was unworthy of being a mother. Satan is, after all, the accuser (Rev 12:10), and he will absolutely try to kick you when you are down. He will lie to you. It is in his nature (John 8:44).

When I began to sink into deep depression, grief, and confusion, I turned to God’s holy word and it comforted me. So today, I’m sharing those verses with you today. Not long after my second miscarriage, I got pregnant with my oldest son, my rainbow baby. I’ll save that experience for another time. I still think of my two babies Gabriel and Daphne and I always will. Even though they are not with us, they are a part of my family and a part of my heart. If you are struggling with grief from miscarriage, please let me know in the comments and I’ll add you to my prayer list. You aren’t alone, mama. I know how you feel. Half of my children are in heaven. I hope these 15 comforting scriptures for miscarriage being help assuage your grief.

15 Comforting Scriptures for Miscarriage

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.

Psalm 71:20-23

He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.

isaiah 25:8

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

john 16:22
1 corinthians 15:26

You have recorded my troubles. You have kept a list of my tears. Aren’t they in your records?

Psalm 56:8

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

2 corinthians 7:10

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.

Lamentations 3:31-33
15 comforting scriptures for miscarriage

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

1 Peter 5:10

For You created my inmost being; You knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

psalm 139:13-14
15 comforting scriptures for miscarriage

Therefore we do not lose heart. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

revelation 21:4

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

john 14:27

Before, I close, let me say that I understand your pain. Your baby will not be forgotten. As with all grief, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor is there any appropriate time frame to grieve. Regardless of what week you lost your baby, give yourself full permission to grieve. Also, don’t let anyone minimize your pain if you lost your child in early pregnancy. Let your sorrow wash over you while allowing the scriptures to comfort you. Meaningful grieving is the path to acceptance and healing.

Until then my thoughts and prayers are with you. If you’d like me to pray for you, you can leave a prayer request in the comments or you can message me privately if you prefer.

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Halloween I Spy Printable

Are your kids bored this week? Download my free Halloween I Spy Printable for a for spooky Halloween activity that’s fun for all ages.

Halloween I Spy Printable

Hey Friends! We are in October and here in my house we are wondering how things will be different in 2020. This year, lots of things have looked differently. This year, we did all of our birthday parties on Zoom and we even had drive by parties. My husband and I have had to get pretty creative on how we can keep the kids entertained.

Personally, I’ve been creating lots of printables to keep my kids busy. Things that are low cost and certainly things that kill their boredom while social distancing. You see, I know many people have returned to relatively normal lives, but since we help my elderly parents, we are still strictly quarantining. I keep telling myself one day this will be all over!

So, I decided to create a fun Halloween I spy printable to add to our homeschooling activities. My kids love I spy games and they are so fun to do. But they are more than just fun, they are actually educational. So why are I spy games good for kids, you ask.

The Benefits of I Spy Games

It Builds Memory Skills

Memory games and I Spy games help your child fine-tune their photographic memory. When children search for the image in the maze of other pictures, they must use their visual memory to find the picture. Using I Spy activities really strengthens your child’s memory. This is essential for growing children. It can be really frustrating when children disobey us. But as a mom of two, I’ve learned that many times my kids don’t mean to disobey, they simply forget. Little ones still have budding brains and it has become really apparent to me as I’ve homeschooled that children really need memory training.

It Improves Focus

Children have to focus when they do an I spy game. Nearly all young children struggle with concentration and focus. That’s why training their minds to focus through games is so helpful. To them it is just play or a fun activity, but ultimately you are trying to get them used to focusing so it can carry over into school work and other life skills.

They Can Improve Counting Skills

Some I spy games, like the Halloween I Spy printable I’ve created for you, asks children to find the picture multiple times. This forces children to keep count. When you complete the I spy printable, have your child make tally marks as they find the picture.

It Enhances Visual Discrimination

I can recall when I started to teach my children colors. We did lots of color sorts. I’d give my child math counters of different colors and they would have to sort it into the coordinating colored bowl. Why? Because sorting helps your child not only decide what color it is, it helps them figure out what color it is not. The same is true for I spy. As your child sorts through the jumbled pictures, your child will have to hone in on the discrepancies, differences, and similarities between the pictures and ultimately decide if the picture is the same they are searching for or not. Your child will have to use visual discrimination to determine the differences.

How to Use The Halloween I Spy Printable

The printable is a US letter-sized document. I’ve made it into a PDF document you can download. You’ll need Adobe Acrobat or some other PDF viewing software. You can download Adobe Acrobat Reader for free here.

I’ve purposely made the pictures black and white. First, so that the images are harder to find. Secondly, so that your child can color them in when they find them. He or she can also put an “x” over the image if they’d rather not color. If it’s easier for your child they can also put little tally marks in the answer key if they want.

Thanks for reading today. I hope that you and your family have a safe and Halloween. Be sure to subscribe to the blog before you leave for giveaways, free printables and subscriber-only goodies!

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12 Things You Can Do Right Now to Make Christmas Less Stressful

The Holidays don’t have to be chaotic. Do yourself a favor. Here are 12 things you can do right now to make Christmas less stressful.

12 things you can do right now to make Christmas less stressful

The holidays can immediately bring to mind cozy thoughts of flickering candles, the glow of Christmas trees and time with family. But for many the thought of the holidays can also bring thoughts of stress, anxiety, and busyness. It can be very stressful for lots of reasons. For some, seeing family is stressful because of family conflicts. For others, money woes and the pressure of gift-giving is overwhelming when you are struggling to make ends meet. Lots of people struggle with the feeling that there is so much to do in such a little time. Whatever the reason, here are 12 things you can do right now to make Christmas less stressful.

Make a Budget

Money is always tight around the holidays. Once I started working as a teenager, I started to buy my own Christmas gifts for family and friends. To this very day, I make a budget and I can’t tell you how much it helps. Deciding upfront how much I am willing to spend sets the tone for how and where I will shop. On my Etsy shop and in my blog shop here, I have a printable Christmas Planner that contains a budget worksheet and covers all holiday expenses – travel, decorations, food, entertainment, gift-giving, Christmas portraits, postage, etc. Sometimes we only think about the gift-giving expenses and we fail to account for other expenses. Doing that means that our overspending creeps up and puts a lot of unnecessary financial pressure on us.

Seeing the numbers on paper, helps you to visualize where your money is going and where you can cut. For example, in tough years, I cut back on extra gifts to neighbors, teachers, and hostess gifts. I began to also see that money was trickling out of our pockets for food and entertainment. So we came up with cheaper alternatives to still enjoy festive events.

The other purpose for creating a budget is so that you will see how much money you will need. Very few of us have the cash flow to drop thousands of dollars all at once at Christmas time. It is far less stressful if you begin saving now a little out of every paycheck now. Even if it is only a small amount, it will add up over the next three months. There are lots of things you can buy now, so you have less expenses in December. As a special gift for you today, I’ve created this gift-giving budget printable. Just list out all the people you are giving gifts to and budget an amount. Then update it with your actual expenditures.

Do a Gift Wrap Inventory

I have a confession. I love gift wrap. Like actual gift wrap. I hate using gift bags. I love wrapping presents in beautiful wrapping paper with big bows and gifts tags and tie-on-ornaments. That said, it means I have quite a big collection of wrapping paper, boxes, ribbon, and other things. I also have a closet where I keep it all organized. I know most people aren’t as neurotic as me. Normal people have three or four rolls of scotch tape kicking around various drawers, a few half-used rolls of wrapping paper laying in closets, and several sheets of gift labels with only three stickers left. I get it. However, I think lots of people underestimate how expensive wrapping materials are. I’m always shocked that wrapping paper can be around $5-7. A three-pack of Scotch tape is $4-5. Gift bags can be $3-6 each. It all adds up. Because many of us have these things tucked away in closets or scattered around the house, it’s easy to forget what we already have. We may also get ready to wrap at Christmastime and realize that the wrapping paper roll we had is crumpled and mostly unusable. That’s why one of the first things I do, is pull out all my gift wrap supplies and do an inventory. This way I use what I have and don’t overbuy. How many times have you bought something because you were unsure if you had it at home and didn’t want to make a trip back for it? Yup! I’ve done it too. In our uncertainty, we buy it out of convenience, but overspending is never convenient!

By the way, I made some FREE fun printable gift tags last year. You can print them out on your printer, hole punch and run some ribbon through them. You can use them year after year. I also have some FREE printable gift tags for teachers that you can attach to soaps and lotions. If you don’t have a gift wrap organizer, consider investing in one. They keep your wrapping supplies in good condition and make sure everything is in one place.

Create Your Christmas Card List

One thing you can do right now is update your address book for Christmas cards. Start reaching out to friends and family to see if addresses are still correct. Personally, I send handmade Christmas cards. In fact, this year marks twenty years of sending out homemade cards. It is a labor of love when you consider I send out about a hundred, plus I make some to sell in my Etsy shop. I start making them in September!

Perhaps you are lucky to just get ones from the store addressed and mailed. That’s okay! No matter what you send in the mail, it is special. That said, gathering addresses now makes things easier later. That way your ready to pop them in the mail as soon as you have them. If you want until December, you will find you will be waiting to hear back from people because they are busy too! Now is a great time to start gathering those things to make card-sending seamless later. You can also buy your postage now too. You don’t even have to run to the post office. USPS allows you to purchase your stamps online and they will send them to you in your mail. Sam’s Club also offers bulk USA forever stamps.

If you really want to get a head start on Christmas cards and you don’t plan on sending out a family photo card, you can even purchase digital Christmas cards. You download them, print them out either at home on your printer or send them to a print shop like FedEx, Staples, Office Max, etc and have them printed. I have several of them in my Etsy shop and they are completely editable. You can buy some envelopes and address them now so they are ready to go!

Christmas planner
My printable planner has a helpful Christmas card list to help get your organized

Gather Shipping Supplies

If you will be mailing packages out, now is a great time to get set up for easy shipping. If you have the space, consider saving boxes over the next few months so you don’t have to purchase them. I start saving small Amazon boxes in September for Christmas packages. This is also a good time to get tape, save paper or bubble wrap and other shipping supplies you may need.

Also, just so you know, you can also print out your own shipping labels from USPS. I invested in a small scale years ago. I plug in my package measurements and weight and print out shipping labels online without ever having to go to the post office. You can even schedule a porch pick-up so you aren’t running packages to the post office. Easy peasy!

Set Up a Christmas Planner

If you have followed this blog for any amount of time, you know how much I love planners! Sorry, not sorry, friends. I used to be a very unorganized person, but during my twenties, I had an appointment based job. This really forced me to use a planner and organize my time better. Now, I couldn’t live without one! I created a Christmas Planner to help me stay organized during the holidays. I offer it here on the blog and on my Etsy shop. It comes with 34 printables to track gifts, inventory supplies and decorations, and menu planning. It also contains a party planning worksheet, budget worksheet, expense tracker, online order tracker, Black Friday wishlist, undated calendars, travel itinerary, and more!

Best of all, I’ve included a seven-week Christmas countdown that tells you exactly what you need to do that week to stay on task and keep things running smoothly. I know you’ll love it. I personally use it to plan everything for the holidays. All the printables are undated so you can buy once and use it year after year.

I also recommend creating an envelope, pocket or folder to save all your receipts for both expense tracking and for returns. I do this every year and it makes it so much easier to have everything in one place.

Declutter

In Christmas of 2015, I was totally stressed out, One thing I had overlooked in preparing for Christmas was the space we would need. That year my oldest son was born and his birth brought in mountains of baby toys, books, clothes, and other things. It was his first Christmas so friends and family showered us with presents. Something I was very grateful for, but was overwhelmed by. It stressed me out to put things away only to find cramped closets and toy bins. Now I make decluttering part of my Christmas preparation. In September, I declutter closets and bedrooms. In October, I clean out the freezer and pantry to make room for all the holiday foods. Doing this ahead of time allows me to keep the house cleaner during the holidays because I have a place for everything. It also ensures I’m not overwhelmed after Christmas with all the new gifts.

Freezer Meals

The holidays always usher in busy evenings. There are school holiday programs, events and activities, get-togethers, and potlucks. That’s why one thing I do is prepare some freezer meals. Freezer meals are meals that you make ahead of time and pop in the oven when you are ready for it. It’s a much cheaper alternative to eating out when you are pressed for time. Casseroles are a great thing that typically warm up really well.

These are so easy to warm up even a husband can do it!

Take a look at some of these great posts for ideas:

If you don’t want to prep full meals another alternative it to chop and prep veggies and pre-marinate meats for cooking later.

Freeze Cookie Dough

Speaking of freezing, if you want you can also make various cookie doughs to freeze ahead of time. Sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies and chocolate chip cookies are just a few cookie doughs that can be frozen for months ahead of time. I normally make a few batches of cookie dough in October or early November and freeze it to make holiday baking easier in December. It is a big time-saver at Christmastime. Here is one of my favorite lists of make-ahead, freezable cookie doughs.

Christmas cookies

Shop for Holiday Outfits

Once, we near October, most stores begin to bring out holiday and stylish semi-formal attire. It doesn’t hurt to begin planning out the outfits you will need. Consider if you will be needing new clothes for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Will you be buying the kids or family matching pajamas? Consider if you will need outfits for holiday parties or for a holiday family photo shoot. Start browsing online for ideas, set a budget and if possible, go ahead and purchase the clothes to scratch this big time burglar ahead of time.

Book a Photographer

Now is also the time to start searching for a family photographer if you are doing family portraits this years. You may not be ready to book yet, and that’s okay, but it doesn’t hurt to start viewing portfolios and getting quotes. Some photographers get booked quickly, so it’s best to start looking into it early if you want to have the opportunity to pick a specific date. At the very least, even if you aren’t ready to firm up a date, you can get a quote so you can budget accordingly, but getting the leg work done early is a big help when the holidays hit.

Get a Head Start on Homemade Gifts

Homemade gifts are really nice to way a personal touch to the holidays. Even simple inexpensive items can become special when they become part of a fun gift basket. There are all kinds of things you can make and give for Christmas. In the past, I’ve made soaps, bath bombs, lemon and vanilla extract, coasters, and all kinds of other things. Homemade isn’t always cheaper. So make sure you you figure out how much gifts will cost before you commit to doing them. Here are a few fabulous lists of homemade gifts.

Start Shopping Now

It may surprise some people to learn that I start shopping as soon as October starts. It is so much easier on both your pocket book and stress levels if you spread out your Christmas buying over a few months. That’s why I start shopping for things now. As soon as October hits I take my Christmas list and divide into fifths, then I get started buying for everyone.

The holidays don’t have to be stressful. I think the most important thing is to pace yourself and start early so you give yourself plenty of time to complete all the necessary things.

Thanks so much for reading. In the comments below, I’d love to hear what you do to get organized for the holidays. I give away lots of things around the holidays and so before you leave, be sure to subscribe below.

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