Archive for the ‘Rachael’ Category

Betty’s Bookshelf: Our Favorite Story Books

Thursday, February 20th, 2014


Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved stories. She loved the stories about sheep, the one with dinosaurs, the one with monkeys and especially the one with a family of bears whose home is burglarized and vandalized by a sneaky, sleepy golden-haired girl. This smart little girl and her mom loved to read together, so they went to the library where they got lots and lots of fantastic books and they read happily ever after.

Reading with kids lays a foundation for a lifetime of learning. Story time is a great time to snuggle and bond and the stories can spark important conversations. My daughter Betty and I are excited to share some of our favorite books so you can enjoy them with the special kids in your life.


Little Blue Truck – This short story follows a kind and friendly Little Blue Truck who depends on his neighbors when he gets stuck in a bit of trouble. Reading this is a great way to start conversation about the importance of friendship and community.


All of Baby, Nose to Toes – A rhythmic rhyming story about loving every part of your sweet baby. Who loves this book? Me! I do!


Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep: A Yarn About Wool – As a knitter, I was thrilled when we received this book as a baby shower gift from Elizabeth’s godmother, Emily. When Farmer Brown shears his sheep, they feel too cold so they decide to take matters into their own hooves with very funny results. In the process, we learn how wool becomes yarn. I don’t think this book is in print anymore, but there are used copies online and it is available in some libraries.


Eating the Alphabet – Beautifully illustrated images of fruits and veggies adorn the pages of this basic ABC book. This one is great for practicing the alphabet and generating interest in trying new fruits and veggies. We sometimes use the colorful pages of this book for a game of I-Spy.


Caps for Sale – Elizabeth’s Auntie Christina loved this Reading Rainbow book as a girl. A fun tale of a peddler who runs into some mischievous monkeys, this story is a great one for acting out and doing voices. Children catch on quick and are delighted to help “read” the monkeys’ lines.


Dinosaur Roar – If you’re pregnant and we’re friends, SPOILER ALERT, you will get a copy of this book as a shower gift. This was Elizabeth’s first favorite.  As a 3 month old she was spellbound by the pictures and the way I did the voices. As a one-year old she anticipated her favorite pages and now, at two and a half she’s “reading” the story to me. This one will be a favorite for years to come and when she outgrows it, I’ll tuck it away for my grandbabies.


Sheep in a Jeep – My cousin Austin gave this book to Elizabeth. He is a Jeeper, which means he loves climbing hills, crawling over rocks and slinging mud in his red jeep – just like the sheep in this fun rhyme. The story provides opportunities for parents and kids to talk about teamwork, cause and effect and helpfulness.

The Perfect Nest – Jack the cat has a master plan to get the perfect egg for the perfect omelette by building a perfect nest to attract a chicken. His plan works a little too well and hijinx ensue. There are great opportunities to do fun voices and accents when reading this story aloud and kids will enjoy the beautiful, bright illustrations.

What are some of your favorite children’s books? Do you have any from childhood that you saved for your own kids? Please tell us about the best books in your kids’ library so we can add them to our library wish list.

Birthday Freebie Scavenger Hunt

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014


I love bargains. It is so fun to find a great deal and know you got the best price possible. I credit this love, at least in part, to my Aunt Cathy who is the ultimate shopper. She finds amazing deals at pennies on the dollar. We love to play “Guess The Price”, which is our made-up game where one displays an item purchased at a discount and the other tries to guess the price. The better the bargain, the more we squeal and applaud. I’ve seen her pay as little as 2% of the original value. Whenever I find a great deal, I like to call her to get her bargain shopper seal of approval. If Aunt Cathy is impressed by a buy, I know I truly scored.

My favorite day for bargains is my birthday. Every year I go on a little scavenger hunt to find all the birthday freebies I can. It requires some advance planning and a little strategy but if you are willing to do a few things in advance you can score some sweet freebies for your birthday too.

* Step 1: Create a “junk” email account. I use my Yahoo mail for this because you can set up filters and the search feature works pretty well.
* Step 2: Go to your favorite retailers’ websites and see if there’s an e-club, newsletter or mailing list you can join. Hit up sites like to learn about more deals and sign up for your e-mail coupons before your birthday.
* Step 3: Create filters in your email account so that all emails from retailers go into a sub-folder. This way you can check periodically to see what deals are out there but your inbox won’t be overrun with spam.
* Step 4: A week before your birthday (but after the 1st of your birthday month) search your Retailers folder for your birthday offers. Often you’ll have to print out a coupon to redeem an offer.
* Step 5: Strategize your plan of attack. Some offers have to be used on your birthday. Other offers don’t expire for a week or two. Once I have everything printed out, I like to sort by expiration date and value. Free product trumps free food. No strings attached deals beat buy-one-get-one coupons.


Here’s a little glimpse at the offers I received this year. I haven’t redeemed all of them yet and I will probably skip a few for the sake of healthy nutrition, but it’s nice to have options. And free breakfast.

* Denny’s – Free Grand Slam (Birthday Only, no pre-registration required)
* Danny’s Family Car Wash – – Free Car Wash (Birthday Only)
* Jersey Mike’s Subs – – Free sandwich and 22 oz soda (Birthday Only)
* ULTA Beauty – Free CK One mascara, black – $18 value
* World Market – Certificate for $10 off (no minimum purchase)
* First Watch – Free entrée (no purchase necessary)
* IHOP – Free Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity Breakfast (no purchase necessary)
* Cinnabon – Free MochaLatta Chill (no purchase necessary)
* Buca di Beppo – Free Brownie Sundae (no purchase necessary)
* Einstein Bros Bagels – Free Breakfast Sandwich when you buy any drink
* Cold Stone Creamery – Buy-One-Get-One Creation
* Dairy Queen – Buy-One-Get-One Medium Blizzard
* Zoe’s Kitchen – Buy-One-Get-One Entrée
* Sweet Tomatoes – 20% off your entire check
* Payless Shoes – 25% off your purchase, no exclusions

Hopefully my technique helps you find a few bargains of your own for your birthday this year. If you try it, please let us know what sweet deals you scored for your big day.

Family Traditions: Our Olympic Dinner Table

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

My family is not a big sports family. We watched the Super Bowl because everybody watches the Super Bowl and we like the commercials, but it is the only time of the year football is on at our place. We don’t know what the Suns are up to – ever. I only know it isn’t baseball season because it’s too cold to play in the Midwest right now and they call baseball players the “boys of summer.” The only sport we get worked up over is Roller Derby. In fact, my one and only sports tee is supporting the Arizona Derby Dames Bombshells. Then, along come the Olympics and things change. From the torch lighting to the closing ceremonies we watch and love every minute. We enjoy the stories, the feats of strength, the drive of the athletes – it’s better than the movies and happening in (almost) real time.

A few Olympiad back, during the Beijing games we decided to order out Chinese and watch the opening ceremonies while enjoying our egg rolls and a fun tradition was born. For the London games, we dined on Jacob’s amazing bangers & mash and this year we will be enjoying a few Russian dishes to commemorate the games in Sochi.

When Jacob and I started researching Russian recipes we realized that there wasn’t much uncharted territory. My family is Hungarian – my great grandmother was born there – and like many immigrant families, the food is one of our last links to our past, and something we cherish. Pierogies, stuffed cabbages and hearty soups are standard fare for Hungarians, Poles, and Russians, so most of what the Internet had to offer felt kind of like old news. In the end, to our pleasant surprise, our favorite compilation of Russian recipes was from, a site we use often for “everyday” recipes. Here’s our Olympic menu:


* Pirozhki – For an appetizer and general snacking we’re going with pirozhki, which looks like a perogi but this is more of a bun and appears to be hand-food instead of fork food.


* Borscht – Borscht is a hearty beet and vegetable soup which could easily be made hearty enough to be a stand-alone dish. We decided to do it as a soup course because, despite its quirky-sounding name none of us have ever tried it and we are offering smaller servings so we can try more recipes.
* Chicken Kiev – I am so looking forward to this. Chicken Kiev is a thin cutlet of boneless chicken breast wrapped around a piece of savory, flavored butter and fried. Some of you may have seen an item in your grocer’s freezer called Chicken Kiev that comes individually packaged for baking at home. Beware the processed and formed chicken loaf. You are now fairly warned – I’ve fallen for it in the past and it is not proper food.


* Ukrainian Apple Cake – For desert I am going to try my hand at a particularly tasty-looking apple cake. I think this is going to be a big hit.

Whether your favorite winter sport is biathlon, bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, luge, skating, skiing or snowboarding, I hope you enjoy this year’s Olympic Games and maybe try something new, too. Go Team USA!


Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Last Thursday my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter had a little cough so I told the sitter to give me a call if she didn’t feel well. She did fine all day, but seemed a little feverish when I picked her up. Friday she stayed home with her Grandma, and I went to work as usual. I’ve never seen anything like what happened next. My healthy girl went from having a “little cough” on Thursday to being admitted to the hospital with IV’s and oxygen tubes in less than 48 hours. Pneumonia. For three days my husband and I watched her every breath as her heart rate spiked and her belly rose and fell, struggling against the fluid in her lungs. We watched her sweat and chill as she fought a fever, and we begged her to take sips of water and juice to fend off dehydration. She was so tiny in that great big hospital bed and I was the most afraid I have ever been.

You read books or hear stories about women whose babies were just fine and then they get meningitis or pneumonia and 12 hours later the child is dead. An acquaintance of mine posted to Facebook a few weeks ago that her best friend’s child was sick and they were in the hospital. A few days later the child was gone without warning. They told me my daughter was going to be OK. They said she wasn’t in danger and I needed to take care of myself. I’m not sure anyone understood that I was too afraid to hear them. I was too afraid to go to the doctor myself, though I had pneumonia also. I was too afraid to go home and sleep even when my husband was by her side. I was too afraid to think of what could happen when I was gone. I knew being there couldn’t stop it, but I knew I would be by her side if she needed me.

She’s fine now. She bounced back like a champ. I, however, spent a week in the bed with double pneumonia. I’m just starting to feel human again, though the doc says it’ll be about a month before I’m back to normal. At least my girl is feeling healthy again. We are incredibly grateful for the amazing care we received at the hospital. I know there is a special place in heaven for pediatric nurses. To our family and friends who checked on us, prayed for us, helped do our work while we were away, or visited the hospital to watch a little Star Wars with Elizabeth, Thank You. We love you and we appreciate you.

Environmental Sustainability Lifestyle Apps

Friday, January 24th, 2014

A few weeks ago I promised a roundup and review of environmental sustainability lifestyle apps designed to help us live greener, more eco-conscious lives. I combed the App Store, looking at apps for both iPad and iPhone and I was quite surprised that there weren’t more options. The following seven apps stood out to me, for better or for worse. Hopefully you will find a few of these useful as you go through your own environmental sustainability journey.

iPhone only
This was the most fun of all the apps I reviewed. There are a few distinctive features about the GoodGuide app that makes it stand out. First, every product in their database is reviewed on the criteria of health, environmental impact and social impact and assigned a blended score which is displayed on a red yellow or green background. This serves as a guide for how the product measures against comparable items. After the score, the next most valuable feature is the ability to filter on the issues that matter most to you. I chose nutrition, scientifically proven health hazards, animal welfare certifications and fair trade. Maybe organic, energy efficiency and pollution matter more to you — the filter is completely customizable. If a product you are considering has violations in any of the criteria you select, it is flagged and you are provided with info on why it failed the check. The GoodGuide app allows you to save lists of products to trust and brands to avoid for future reference. It has a barcode scanner, which you know means I ran around my house scanning everything in sight. Finally, I recently read an article about GoodGuide partnering with Target to rate some of their products and I’m looking forward to seeing that happen. This app is a freebie, but it would be worthwhile even as a paid app. It is intuitive, well designed and informative. I highly recommend giving it a try.

iPhone only
This app is fun and educational. Creating good habits and doing simple things to green your life earns you digital pins and badges. You can keep your achievements to yourself, share them with the Joule Bug community or brag a little bit on your social media channels. I liked the interactivity and ease of use and found the advice to be sound and practical. My favorite video games are ones where you collect stuff to earn upgrades so it is no surprise I enjoyed the badge quest aspect. I’m working on an iPhone 4S and had a few crashes, but it wasn’t unbearable and I suspect the newer hardware probably supports the app better. I’ll be looking forward to bug fixes, though. The down side of this app — nobody on your Facebook feed cares if you “recycled on-the-go” or if you “planned a meat-free meal” but the tantalizing offer of bonus points may tempt you to overshare. If you have a hard time self-editing these sorts of social media posts, proceed with caution.

iPhone only
Any sustainable habit you want to improve is in your hands with the ripple app. This free app is sponsored by Ocean Conservancy, the group that puts out the sustainable fish list every year. Using Rippl, you can set a new sustainability goal and receive reminders on your phone to help you stick with it. There are dozens of goals to choose from so you can choose according to your personal priorities. I chose “Carry A Reusable Mug” and I’m doing OK but there is much opportunity for improvement. On the days I forgot my mug it was a real bummer having to check the “NO” box. Worse yet, the app holds you accountable because you can’t clear the little red notification icon until you ‘fess up about how you did that day. Of the apps I tested, I think this one is the most likely to inspire real, lasting change.

Powered by this app helps you know what to do with all sorts of items at the end of their useful life. The app is based on your geographic location so it knows the rules for your local recycling program and even when and where the next local Household Hazardous Waste (think batteries, paint, chemicals, and tires) collection takes place. Earth911 advises on recycling everything from notebook paper to construction materials, electronics and auto parts. You won’t use this app every day, but when you need it you’ll be glad it is there. The lists are comprehensive and the links are super-useful. This would be an especially helpful app for someone like Jenny who is just starting an in-home recycle program.

RR_DirtyDozen_012414Dirty Dozen
The Environmental Working Group puts out Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists every year to inform consumers which produce items have the most or least pesticide exposure. I think the information is really valuable but consumer guides are available at their website. There’s not much here apart from the lists, so I didn’t find the app necessary. Still, it works properly and there’s certainly no harm in using it if an app is more convenient for you.

RR_TrashNothing_012414Trash Nothing!
Trash Nothing! is a freecycling matching service. The terms of service state that users cannot sell or trade items and should only take things that are for personal use, not for resale. The idea is to have a free exchange of usable goods. Listings are organized into groups that serve a specific geographic area. Users can either list what they have to offer, or they can list things they need and hope someone has the item to spare. The group that serves my area isn’t very active and it seems like the “wanted” posts outnumber the “available” posts. Trash Nothing is a strong concept, but I didn’t see a compelling reason to use this in lieu of other forums like word-of-mouth, Facebook or Craig’s List. For me, this is one to skip, but results may vary depending on the activity level of your local freecycling community.

RR_GreenTips_012414Green Tips
This app was pretty much the worst ever. It is a festival of advertisements with the occasional generic green living tip from their “Home” category thrown in. After you see a couple tips you get another advertisement. If you want to see tips from more categories you have to buy them at $0.99 each. You can also buy rights to an an ad-free version if you don’t want to be assailed by pop-ups constantly, but by the time you unlock everything and nix the ads to make this it usable, you’ve spent $4 on this “free” app and you get nothing you couldn’t accomplish with a Google search.

Do you have any favorite “green” apps? Did I list your favorite here? Or maybe I missed it? Join the conversation in the comments below. The Wilderness Girls love hearing from you!

Upcycled Toys

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Living a more eco-conscious life means looking for opportunities to use what you have more often and buy new stuff less often. Upcycling, or “making stuff” as our grandparents called it, is a great way to use what you might otherwise discard and create a new, better thing from the materials. In my view, to count as a successful upcycle, an item needs to use something that would otherwise be waste and the end product should be different and better/cuter/more useful than the components it is made from.

I scoured Pinterest for cool upcycled toy projects and found mixed results. Some projects were super basic – give your kid a big box and tell her it is a rocket ship. Give her an empty oatmeal canister to use as a drum. That’s cool, but it’s not upcycling. Kids need to play with empty boxes, build forts out of bed sheets, and ward off foes and fiery dragons with nothing more than their courage, a cereal box shield and a wrapping paper-roll-turned-broadsword. Imaginative, unscripted play is vital to the development of a child’s imagination. So, while I 100% support reusing things, for this collection I disqualified pins I don’t see as true upcycles.

FINAL_RR_Upcycled Toys_011514

Sumo Bowling Pins — These little guys, made by Leslie at Pink Stripey Socks rock my world. I’m searching fervently for the little aquapod bottles so I can make a set for my daughter. I realize it is technically cheating to buy a product just to upcycle the packaging but these guys are so cute that I can’t resist. I mean look at them! Can you blame me?

DIY TV Toy — This crafty upcycle has amazing DIY instructions to turn a tissue box into a toy TV with customized “channels” for your kiddo to change or create. Playing with this toy is a great way to switch off the electronics and use imagination instead.

DIY I-Spy Bottle — I saw my first I-Spy bottle about a year ago and I thought it was such fun. It was the kind you buy from the store with the little beads and wee plastic tchotchskies inside. Where was this invention when I was a kid on car trips? This version uses stuff you find around the house and in the dreaded junk drawer. It’s made with found materials and if you buy your rice in bulk, this toy will cost just pennies to make.

Super Hero Bracelets — These power cuffs a la Wonder Woman are made from spent toilet tissue rolls, glitter and Mod Podge. The tutorial is high quality and includes some pro-tips from the creator’s experience. Just last week my two-year-old appeared from her room dressed in a Yo Gabba Gabba tee-shirt paired with her Hello Kitty tutu and Darth Vader mask. My husband was never more proud. This is a child in desperate need of Bracelets of Victory to complete her look.

Recycle Sort Game — This is maybe the easiest to make of all of the toys and games I found. I love it for being a practical, customizable teaching tool. Want your kids to understand what goes in the trash and what goes in the recycle bin? Make a game of it – literally.

Do you have some favorite upcycled toy ideas? How about fond memories of playing with a sweet cardboard box? We got a brand new avocado green dishwasher in ’81 and I probably got 100 hours of fun out of that carton. The Wilderness Girls love hearing your thoughts so please share them in the comments below.

Creating Routines for Success

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

I started thinking about my New Year’s Resolution several weeks ago. I have a lot of stuff to do in a day and sometimes it feels like the day gets away from me and I haven’t done anything. I’m chronically late for appointments and work, my bedroom is a disaster zone (Jenny’s post yesterday has me inspired, so more on this to come), I never know what to wear in the morning, I forget to pack my lunch as if I’m not going to get hungry mid-day and I’m always, always, always halfway through an art or craft, blog post or sewing project. It’s exhausting. It’s disappointing. It is time to stop the madness. What I need is a nice set of routines: morning, evening and Sunday night.

I found my first bit of inspiration in the blog post Bookend Your Day: The Power of Morning and Evening Routines by Brett and Kate McKay. The authors offer an analogy that makes great sense to me. “Imagine a string with a series of beads on it. The beads represent your goals, relationships, and priorities. Tip the string this way or that way, and the beads easily slide off and onto the floor. But tie a knot on each end of the string, and the beads stay put. Those knots are your morning and evening routines. They keep the priorities of your life from falling apart and thus help you progress and become a better [person].”

In planning for these new routines, I turned to a piece I read and shared to Facebook recently, How Barack Obama Gets Things Done by Sean Blanda. As busy as I think I am, the President is a zillion times busier and he makes stuff happen. His healthy habits for productivity include:

1. Get a head start on your day the night before (that way you’re already ahead when you wake up).
2. Limit decision fatigue (he doesn’t ever decide what he eats or wears).
3. Shut out your critics (I must figure out how to silence the critic within).
4. Exercise (if the Pres can make 45 minutes in the AM for cardio, maybe I can too).
5. Your personal time is sacred (his moments are gym time, family dinner, and quiet time at night).

I don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and be a changed woman. Imagining I’ll move from chaos to order with the flip of a calendar page is the sure path to disastrous failure. Instead, I’m going to start with small changes and work from there. In 2014 I resolve to be to work on time, put together (including makeup), and happily sipping from a reusable mug coffee that I made myself and prepped the night before. Piece by piece I will build upon my successes and create morning and evening routines for myself that will nurture my success and keep my priorities a priority.

Do you make resolutions? Do you have any for 2014? The Wilderness Girls would love to hear about them, so please share. Happy New Year!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink, Resolve

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014


A few years ago I looked in my kitchen pantry and found New Year’s Resolution inspiration. Our pantry was chock full of plastic bags even though I took reusable bags to the store every time. I did take them to the grocery store every time but the problem was that I forgot them every single other place I went. Headed to Target? No bag. The drugstore? Nope. The mall? Not a chance.

My very first environmental resolution was born. From then on I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to set an environmental goal for myself every year in addition to my other resolutions. If you are making resolutions this year, consider adding a green resolution. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

Bring your own bags, every store, every time – Reusables aren’t just for the grocery store. Put some extras in your purse or trunk for use anywhere you would usually get a bag. Just don’t forget to keep ‘em clean!

Use a travel mug for coffee refills – Most of the big coffee shops welcome reusable mugs and many give discounts. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts offers a “refill” price of 99 cents for any size reusable mug and if you dine in that refill price is for a bottomless cup.

Don’t idle your engine – In modern cars, the break-even point between idling and the gas required to restart is only ten seconds. Any time you are parked and waiting for something, kill the engine to save money, gas and carbon emissions.

Try a new fair trade product – Coffee and chocolate are the easiest switches because, well, they’re delicious and easy to find high quality product in fair trade versions. Your favorite coffee shop brew is probably already fairly traded but if you’re not sure just ask when you order your next (reusable) cuppa joe.

Pass by the drive thru – Reducing your fast food trips by as little as one per week can make an impact. Fast food is easy and cheap in the short term but when we rely on it too heavily the costs to health, environment and social justice start to add up quickly.

My green resolution this year is to try out some new eco-conscious iPhone apps that will give me more info to make good decisions and remind me to make better choices. What kinds of changes are you looking to make? Do you have any favorite apps or tips for making more conscious choices? Please share them in the comments below.

Happy Boxing Day! Wait…What’s Boxing Day?

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

It is December 26th and my calendar says Boxing Day.

What in the world is Boxing Day and what is it doing on my calendar?

Boxing Day isn’t a holiday we celebrate in the US, but I had some ideas of what it might be about from TV. First, I remembered the old M*A*S*H episode where Colonel Potter made the officers and enlisted men swap roles for a day because that was the tradition of some British officers that happened to be staying with them at Christmas. (There are a lot of valuable life lessons to be learned from the Fighting 4077th, but that’s another post for another time.) Digging back a little further into the memory banks, I vaguely recalled something about taking boxes and giving alms to the poor on that day. This was promising. A day dedicated to forcing “The Man” to break a sweat for a change and taking time to care for people in need? Now this is my kind of holiday!

Enthusiastically I started to gather my thoughts for this post. I wanted to be sure to get everything about this day just right. Some internet research and a peep at Wikipedia soon revealed that I am not the only one who doesn’t fully understand Boxing Day. In fact, some of the people who observe Boxing Day can’t really say why it is a holiday. There are several origin myths but it is unequivocally NOT about making The Man do manual labor — in fact it is a bank holiday, so generally speaking, The Man probably has paid time off. And the part about making up care packages for those in need? burst my bubble by confirming that the holiday isn’t for boxing up all the stuff in the house you don’t need after a busy holiday season, either. In the countries where Boxing Day is celebrated it is mostly an extension of Christmas where people watch sports (Soccer! Not even boxing!?!) and go shopping at the after-Christmas sales.

Initially I was bummed by these discoveries, but then I realized that I’m the Mom and I can make up whatever traditions I want. That’s the awesome thing about parenting — Jacob and I are now the Family Tradition Masters. If we say Boxing Day is for serving others and giving forward from the bounty of the holidays then that’s that.

I hope each of you and your families are having a happy, healthy and blessed Christmas season. Did you forge any new traditions as you celebrated this year? Do you have any favorites you would like to share? The Wilderness Girls would love to hear all about the unique traditions your family shares. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some donations to gather.

Holiday Stress Busters

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

This week I have eleven meetings at work, a potluck/gift exchange, a holiday party, a volunteer event, a doctor’s appointment and a knitting project that has to be done before Santa takes off from the North Pole on Christmas Eve. I have a great idea for a New Year’s Day blog post — you guys are gonna love it — but it isn’t going to write itself. I also need to go to the post office before it’s too late to ship my godson’s gift to Ohio and I only have a couple weeks left to submit the last of the medical receipts before I forfeit the last hundred bucks in my 2013 healthcare spending account. I think my driver’s side front tire has a slow leak and I really need a wheel alignment which is NOT the way anyone wants to spend their dollars in December.

My to-do list, while long, isn’t unique. I’d bet good money that yours looks similar. We all have more stuff to do than time to do it and when we add in Christmas festivities, no matter how fun they might be, it adds a layer of complexity to our already hectic lives. To help keep things in balance I gathered a little list of common sense stress busters that will help during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Schedule some down time. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting aside some time to do nothing. If someone invites you to do something during your scheduled down time it is OK to say no. Christmas is supposed to be fun, but if you’re running at full speed from Halloween to Valentine ’s Day, you are probably not having that much fun.

Take it easy on the cookies and booze. Have a drink, have a cookie…heck, have 2 of each. Just don’t have six of either. Overindulging may feel harmless at the time but suffering a hangover or the dreaded cookie belly will only add to your stress level later.

Check out the neighborhood Christmas lights. I do this pretty regularly with my daughter. After dinner, we pile into the car and rock out to Christmas tunes while we scout the neighborhood for new light displays. When I’m feeling super-festive I pull some cookies from my Christmas cookie exchange out of the freezer and brew up a pot of hot cocoa. It takes time that I could be spending crossing off “to-do’s” but I find that it centers me and it creates memories for her. The to-do’s can wait till after her bed time and we are both better for it.

Get a pedicure. Sitting with your feet in warm bubbly water after a long day of shopping and chores is a real treat. Some spots will even treat you to a massage and hot towel. If you are short on time or cash, a manicure is about half the investment of either and it still makes you feel and look great.

Do a good deed. It is so true that service to others warms the heart. You don’t have to do something grandiose and, in my view, it is better if you do your good deeds in secret. The kind deed that nobody else knows you did is the most rewarding. Drop a gift at the Angel Tree. Shovel the neighbor’s snow when you’re doing yours. Feed someone’s parking meter. Whatever you pick — small or large — you will find that your mood lifts just as you uplifted someone else.

Check out what’s on Netflix. Indulge yourself with a little brain candy TV once in a while. Of course a two day Dexter marathon is not going to be helpful but if you’re thinking about checking out one or two episodes of the most recent Sons of Anarchy it really can’t hurt. Just be sure that your Netflix session doesn’t become an all-night Netflix bender.

Get some sleep. Schedule yourself some time to sleep. It does no good to run ragged from now till Christmas day to end up collapsing after the meal and sleeping through the evening festivities. I know you have clandestine operations to execute once the kids are in bed but set some reasonable guidelines about when you’re going to turn in and try to stick to them. Your body needs rest to keep you going strong till the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Just let go. This is probably my most important piece of advice. If you have an idea or project that you just can’t make time for, forget it. Let go. Say no. If you planned to decorate the yard like Clark W Griswold but couldn’t find the time, let it go. Taking that plate of cookies to the neighbor is still a kind thing to do on Dec 27th after the Christmas ruckus dies down. It’s OK. Focus your first efforts on doing the things you really want or need to do. Invest yourself in what you can do well and fully.

Don’t allow social media to set your standard. People post the best, prettiest, most ‘perfect’ parts of their lives but they conveniently leave out the parts where they’re fussing over parking spots at the mall, burning the Christmas cookies and freaking out over their Visa balance. Resist the urge to compare yourself to what you see on others’ social media pages. It is far too easy to get carried away by the picture perfect parties and exaggerated shelf-elf shenanigans and forget that whatever you do to celebrate the season is enough. If you’re enjoying yourself you can be sure you’re doing Christmas right.