Friday, November 30, 2012

How To Keep Your Kids From Driving You Nuts Before Christmas

So I thought about calling this "how to enjoy the holiday season with your kids," but I have two kids so I KNOW how much fun you're having this time of year. But I also know how kids get wound up, overtired, and impatient for the big day...while you're still running around trying to prepare. It's a recipe for nuttiness. Here are a few things that save my sanity every December.

1. Get (or make) an Advent calendar

In Western Christian churches, Advent is the season before Christmas during which we think about not only the birth of Christ—his First Coming—but also prepare for the Second Coming. This season includes many traditions observed slightly differently between denominations, but if you are not a churchgoer, you can still count down the days of Advent with candles or a calendar. The simplest of calendars feature little doors or windows that a child can open every day, revealing a picture or message. More elaborate calendars include candies or toys behind the doors. You can even make your own calendar (see the craft links below for some ideas).

Having a little surprise to look forward to every day makes the waiting more bearable for some kids. Bonus: you won't have to tell them every day how many days are left until Christmas!

2. Put them to work

Some of the things you're doing to prepare for the holidays have to be a secret. (Shh!) But many of the other tasks are not only faster but also more enjoyable with help. Are you sending Christmas or New Year cards? Have your kids apply the address labels or stamps. Why not let them "sign" some of them, too? (Can you imagine how delighted the grandparents will be when they receive that darling signature?) Baking holiday cookies is a whole lot messier with mini assistants, but you'll make memories with them that will last forever. They'll feel pretty happy when they help deliver those cookies to the neighbors and can tell them, "I helped!"

Older kids can decorate the tree with handmade ornaments; create hand crafted gifts AND the wrapping paper; and make easy snacks to share with their classes and friends. There are many sites that provide Christmas craft ideas, including Martha Stewart, Instructables, and Parents. Check out this Pinterest board for more Christmas crafts for kids.

3. End each day with play

Play dough, that is. When my kids were little, I made this dough all the time. I found it particularly helpful when I needed kids to unwind at the end of long days. The recipe is from Vicki Lansky's Feed Me I'm Yours, and can be made easily from ingredients in your cupboard. Store in an airtight container and pull it out whenever you need a break and kids need a quiet distraction. Here's the recipe:

Play Dough

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 Tbsp. cream of tartar
1 cup water
food coloring (optional)

Cook over medium heat, stirring for about 4-5 minutes. This is how it will look at the start:

It will start to clump as it heats, and you'll think, "Oh, no, it's ruined!" Keep stirring. This is how it will look when it's done:

When it forms a ball in the pan, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it. You can knead in some glitter (it's the holidays! Be festive!). Sometimes I knead in a few drops of lavender essential oil because my kids love the scent, and I find it soothing. Wait, did I just admit that I play with play dough? Guilty.

Roll out the dough and use cookie cutters to cut into holiday shapes, then seal in baggies to share with your kids' friends. Because everyone could use a few minutes of calm at the end of the day...especially right before Christmas.

What do you do to keep this season fun and cut back on the nuttiness? I'd love to know your secrets!



Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where did the potions go?

The other day I responded to a comment that Stefanie shared when she entered our recent giveaway. I figured today I'd answer another question from the giveaway comments. Kate D. asked the following question:

Did you stop making the little roll on tubes of fragrances? I loved those.


Yes, it's true. During the site redesign, I decided to discontinue a few of our less-popular products. But clearly I underestimated the devotion of the customers who enjoy the Purse Potions! Kate D., you weren't the only one who asked where they were! For those of you who missed them, I've added them back to the site for the holidays. Once they're gone, they'll be gone forever, so make sure you stock up!

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Kate. Do YOU have a favorite GCDSpa product that you couldn't live without? Please let me know!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cyber Monday Savings

You know how I told you about the weekend sale? And it was supposed to end tonight (Sunday)? I forgot about Cyber Monday

Please feel free to use this coupon to take 15% off your order at GCDSpa.com through midnight on Monday, November 26. This will be our only sale this holiday season. 

Thank you for your interest!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Complete Flavor List

My favorite part of a blog giveaway—well, in addition to sharing goodies with one special person—is definitely the entry comments that you share. Some of our past giveaway posts have prompted comments about favorite holiday memories. Other times entrants have talked about their gardens, or reading stories with their kids or grandkids. I've enjoyed every one.

This recent giveaway was different because I was looking for feedback about the new site.  Many of you left very kind words, and I thank you for that. I hope that you really do find our site enjoyable to visit and easier to navigate.

Several of you spent a bit longer looking around, and you offered some suggestions along with the encouragement. It meant a lot that you would be so helpful, and today I want to address one of those comments. Stefanie, you were the very first person to enter, and part of your comment reads:

I still find shopping for lip balm a little confusing. The seasonal options link from the homepage and the other flavors are under the lip balm section. I wish they were all listed together for convenience. 

I apologize for the confusion with the location of different flavors! Apart from the navigation, we do post links to seasonal items on the home page, too. Our standard jar flavors can always be ordered from this page and our tubes from this page.

The "Flavor of the Month" link on the left side of the home page will take you directly to the currently available flavors in tubes, including the new Flavor of the Month. This includes more than just seasonal flavors, though, so I've changed the product photo to reflect that. We recently changed how we offer lip balm tubes, and that change is described here.

I'm always looking for better ways to organize all of the different kinds of balm we create, and I know the site still needs work. If there's anything else that you think would help, please let me know!

In the next part of your comment, you added:

It would also be helpful for me to have a complete flavor description list. There are always flavors available for sale that I cannot find described on the flavor list. 

I couldn't agree more! I was not able to complete the list before I launched the site last month, but I've been adding to it and I think it's pretty close. You can see our current standard flavors as well as the seasonal, Limited Edition, and special order flavors on this page. (Wow! Who knew there would be more than 7 dozen flavors!!) As we add more Limited Editions or Flavors of the Month, I'll make sure to keep this updated so you always know what you're getting!

Finally, you concluded your comment with:

I hope I don't sound like a nag

Absolutely not! I'm sure that you aren't the only person who is confused or frustrated by a particular part of my site, and by sharing that, you're helping those other people, too. I want your visit to be fun and easy, and I do my best to make changes based on your suggestions. Please don't ever hesitate to contact me if you have a question or suggestion.

Is there anything that's been bothering you about the new site? Anything that seems unclear or just plain wrong? Please leave a comment and I may address it in a future post!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Candy Cane Gift Set Winner

We have a winner! 

Out of 72 entries submitted by noon EST today, the number selected by Random.org was 13. (Unlucky number? Not this time!) Number 13 was the comment below, left by Mary Parker! Congratulations, Mary! Your gift set will be on its way just after Thanksgiving!



Thank you all for participating! I appreciate your feedback about our new site, and was so pleased to see that most of you like the changes.

I am especially appreciative of the comments that pointed out some areas that still need work, and I promise I'll have posts in the coming days (and probably weeks) that will address the issues you've mentioned. It means a lot to me that you would take the time to provide such thoughtful feedback; comments like these really help me to make the site work better for everyone, which is so important to me (and the whole reason for my redesign, really) so I thank you for sharing.

Pampering Gift Sets in Handmade Bags
Our New Site Celebration continues with a weekend holiday sale! We would love it if you'd visit the site and use this holiday coupon to take 15% off any purchase through midnight EST on November 25. That's four full days to find fun gifts like these new gift sets in handmade fabric bags (at right). Simply enter the coupon code: HOLIDAYTHX into the promo field at checkout.

Holiday Schedule

We'll be taking holiday orders through December 15 for Priority shipping through the 18th.

Please note that we've decided not to take any rush orders for the rest of this year. We always try to get items shipped within 2-3 days, and that's especially important during the holidays. To make sure that we don't disappoint anyone, we'll be handling each order as it comes in and giving everyone the same VIP treatment.

Express shipping is still available and it will shorten the time your order spends in transit, but please plan ahead for the 2 to 3 days it will take for us to prepare your order.

If you're planning a January event, please contact me as soon as possible for scheduling. As always, please let me know if you have any questions—and thank you for your understanding!

I hope you enjoy your holiday weekend! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Baby Shower Signature Mocktails

A recent trend in events is to choose a Signature Cocktail to accent the theme. This is great for weddings or bridal showers, but what about baby shower drinks? Most planners drop alcoholic beverages from the baby shower menu out of sympathy for the mom-to-be, but consider featuring a Signature Mocktail that everyone can enjoy. See our recipes below for Babylove, Lullaby, and Apple of My Eye mocktails, and take a look at our matching lip balm favors in these inspired baby theme flavors!


Babylove

1 1/2 oz coconut milk
3/4 oz cream
2 oz pineapple juice
3/4 oz banana syrup
1 banana

Shake over crushed ice, then strain into a collins glass. Fill with crushed ice, slice banana onto the top and serve.





Apple of My Eye

2 oz apple juice
1/3 oz black currant syrup
1 oz whipping cream

Blend with crushed ice and serve in an old-fashioned glass, sprinkled with nutmeg or cinnamon. Don't forget the straws!




Lullaby

12 oz orange juice
4 oz sweet and sour mix
4 scoops vanilla ice cream
crushed ice

Blend all ingredients until slushy. Pour into margarita glasses and serve with orange slices.



Lullaby, Babylove, and Apple of My Eye are some of our most popular baby shower flavors. Order them with standard labels (shown here), with personalized labels, personalized tags, or with tags and labels.  


What do you serve for baby shower drinks? Please share in the comments!

For more cocktail and mocktail ideas, please visit drinksmixer.com

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spicy Potato Soup

When you have a CSA share, your week's menu is inspired dictated by what's in season. From late May right into October, you know you'll need to finish up most of last week's farm produce before you pick up another load. Most of the time that challenge is a pleasure; after months of cold weather, bags full of greens and summer squashes and mountains of cucumbers and carrots are welcome. As the summer winds down, though, I find myself losing steam.

I'm pretty sure that feeling is what inspired this easy soup last fall. Some of the last weeks of our CSA share include pounds of potatoes—red, blue, and white along with the sweet potatoes. After baking, boiling, and roasting them, the soup seemed logical. The spices add the perfect warmth for these cooler autumn nights. Here's what you'll need:

2 sweet potatoes
4 medium white (red, blue, etc.) potatoes (approximate...you'll want about twice as many standard potatoes as sweet)
1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1 vegetable bouillon cube (of course you can also use chicken, beef, etc., or simply season to taste)

Peel all of your potatoes, cut into large chunks, and add to a soup pot. Add enough water to cover and boil until tender. While potatoes are cooking, add vegetable oil to a small pan and sauté the onion, garlic, and spices. Heat gently, stirring constantly until the onions are soft and the mixture starts to resemble a paste.

Once potatoes are soft, use an immersion blender and process potatoes in their cooking water until the mixture is smooth. Add onion garlic mixture and blend, then add the bouillon cube or other seasonings. (If you don't have an immersion blender, use a standard blender to puree the mixture in batches, adding the onion mixture until it's smooth, then return the blended potatoes to the soup pot.)

Simmer on low heat for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, then serve with bread (naan or parathas are my favorites). The creaminess of this soup reminds me of a cheesy potato soup I used to enjoy, but this one is friendly to vegans and the lactose-intolerant (plus it contains sweet potatoes, which are high in Vitamins C and A as well as potassium)!

What's your favorite kind of soup to eat in the autumn?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lovely Lavender

Lavender "sink set"
Okay, it’s confession time: I used to think that lavender was a real "granny" fragrance. I associated the piney floral scent with sachets my Gram had in drawers of linens. It seemed….well, old-fashioned, maybe even outdated. But recently my impression of the herb as belonging to a bygone era has been replaced by an appreciation for its “tried and true” qualities. Judging by the popularity of lavender, I’m not the only one who's had a change of heart!

Lavender is truly an amazing plant. It’s relatively easy to grow, hardy and happy in many climates, and it blossoms for months on end in a range of colors. While it has been used in the bath for centuries, it is equally at home in the kitchen. Europeans especially have long used lavender for its distinctive flavor: Herbes de Provence containing lavender buds or leaves is used to season fish, meat and stews. (Did you know that the whole plant has that amazing scent? Even lavender stems and leaves are fragrant!)

Lavender’s flowery flavor is also surprisingly delightful in sweet drinks, pastries, and even ice cream. (Lavender lemonade is really delicious, too!)

Lavender sachet
Lavender also has a long history as a medicinal plant. The essential oil can be applied to burns and sunburn as well as minor cuts and scrapes. Lavender has also been used to relieve headaches and muscle cramping, and is said to have a sedative effect.

Our range of lavender products includes items to fragrance, moisturize, and even to deodorize! Did you know that our lavender sachets and glassine favors contain English Lavender grown in France? The buds have such a great scent all on their own that they don't require any additional fragrance. These favors are great to toss after a wedding, to keep and use in the bath, or to tuck into a drawer or pillowcase. Please note that they aren't culinary buds (you can usually find culinary lavender at your local co-op or health food store).

We'd love to know what you think of our lavender products. Please leave a comment!

Friday, November 09, 2012

New Site Celebration Giveaway

*PLEASE NOTE: This giveaway is closed to new entries as of 12 noon EST November 21. Thank you for participating.*

If you've visited our site recently, you may have noticed a few changes. Okay, there are a lot of changes!

I'm so excited to share our new site with you! We've worked to improve navigation and search so it's easier than ever to find just what you're looking for. We've added new pictures and descriptions to help you make choices, along with more of your favorite designs and products!

We'll be celebrating the new site all month, and the first part of our celebration is a giveaway. It's not too early for a holiday gift, is it? I didn't think so!

The winner of this Candy Cane Pedicure Gift Set will receive a 6-ounce jar of our Candy Cane Foot scrub, 10 ounces of our Candy Cane foot soak with wooden scoop, a pair of holiday socks for those minty toes, a handful of holiday lip balms, and chocolate peppermint goodies to snack on while you're pampering. Everything is wrapped up in our handmade peppermint bag with candy striped ribbon and a holiday tag.

This gift set would retail for over $50, but this is a one-of-a-kind and only available through this giveaway! To enter, simply visit our new site at GCDSpa. Then come back here and leave a comment below sharing something you saw at the site. What do you think? Do you like the new colors and navigation? Is there a product you've never noticed there before? Or maybe we're still missing something you're looking for. Share your thoughts with us! Make sure to leave a name or email address in your comments so we know who you are. Please note, this giveaway is only for residents of the U.S. 18 and older.

Would you like additional entries? There are two other ways to enter:

1. Join our mailing list. If you're already on the list, you can just say that in your comment.

2. Subscribe to this blog. You can subscribe by email or subscribe in a reader (you may choose your favorite). Already subscribed? Just leave a comment saying so!

Make sure to leave a comment for each separate entry along with your name or email--up to three entries per person!

That's it! Enter before noon EST on Wednesday, November 21st, when we will randomly select one entry from these comments. (We'll also begin the next part of our celebration with ways to save through the Thanksgiving holiday, so stay tuned!) We will contact the winner directly via email, and after we've notified them we will make an announcement here on the blog and on Facebook. If we cannot contact the winner in two days, another winner will be selected. Please contact me with any questions.

Thank you so much for your interest! Good luck!

(This giveaway is not affiliated with Facebook, nor is entry dependent on "liking" or any other action at Facebook.)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Have Cookies, Will Travel: Cookie Decorators Who Ship in the U.S.

I have become obsessed with decorated cookies, and I enjoy indulging that obsession regularly on Facebook. If you're a friend there, you've no doubt seen my posts from Hayley Cakes and Cookies,  SweetAmbs (see photo below), and Arty McGoo, among many others. I love their creativity and cookie artistry and I love sharing their work.

Decorated Cookies by SweetAmbs

It occurred to me that if you're planning a party, you might want to buy decorated cookies from one of these cookiers, but I really had to dig to find out which of them will ship to customers. So I went through my favorites, did a bit of searching online, and put together a list with more than two dozen options from across the country. As of today (well, and last week when I started researching), all of the cookie decorators listed below will ship within the U.S. (There's even one who specializes in tree nut, peanut, soy and sesame free cookies...see the very bottom.)

Please note that since I have not sampled their work, I am not recommending any particular business here, just sharing a list of options. For your convenience, I'm providing the cookiers' websites and Facebook pages (when available) so you can learn more about them and their work before ordering. To make things even easier, I've made a Cookiers Who Ship in the U.S. Interest List at Facebook. Click the link and subscribe to start getting Facebook updates directly from all of these cookie artists!

I'd love to keep adding to this list, too, so if you are a cookier who ships—or you have an excellent cookie decorator in your town who ships within the U.S. —please leave a comment so we can all check them out!

Happy Party Planning!

Cookie Decorators Who Ship in the U.S.

Amusing Treats | Amusing Treats on Facebook

The Baked EquationThe Baked Equation on Facebook

Bear Towne Cookies (Facebook page only)

Casey's ConfectionsCasey's Confections on Facebook

Cookies Are My CanvasCookies Are My Canvas on Facebook

The Cookie CountessThe Cookie Countess on Facebook

Cookies with CharacterCookies with Character on Facebook

Custom Cookies by JillCustom Cookies by Jill on Facebook

Eat SweetEat Sweet on Facebook

Eleni's New YorkEleni's New York on Facebook

Felix the CookFelix the Cook on Facebook

Firefly ConfectionsFirefly Confections on Facebook

Flour Box BakeryFlour Box Bakery on Facebook

Flourish SweetsFlourish Sweets on Facebook

Hayley Cakes and CookiesHayley Cakes and Cookies on Facebook

The Hungry HippopotamusThe Hungry Hippopotamus on Facebook

Love at First BiteLove at First Bite on Facebook

Not Betty Cookies

Oh, Sugar EventsOh, Sugar Events on Facebook

Rolling Pin ProductionsRolling Pin Productions on Facebook

Sugar & FlourSugar & Flour on Facebook

Sugar Blossom Bake ShopSugar Blossom Bake Shop on Facebook

Sugar Cookie CreationsSugar Cookie Creations on Facebook

Sugar Rush Cookies

SweetAmbsSweetAmbs on Facebook

Sweet Creations CookiesSweet Creations Cookies on Facebook

The Cookie Cutters

Bonus: Need tree nut, peanut, soy and sesame free cookies? Try That's a Nice Cookie



Monday, November 05, 2012

How to Disagree

I will be very glad when this election is over because I don't think most of us have learned how to disagree agreeably. If you saw 60 Minutes yesterdayor watched clips onlineyou may wonder if the Senate has also lost this ability. Moderate senators (such as my state's Olympia Snowe) are leaving because nothing is getting done. (When "getting along" is considered party betrayal, how could they get anything done?)

For the past few months I've noticed even more animosity between people than usual. Innocent comments become political, and nastiness invariably follows. What happened to "agreeing to disagree" without tearing people apart? Is it possible to accept different opinions or beliefs as simply different instead of better or worse, right or wrong? When did "getting along" stop mattering?

I love the quote (above) by Bernard Meltzer, host of the radio advice show "What's Your Problem?" One of his favorite sayings was, "The good people in this world far outnumber the bad." I hope we can remember this when the dust settles tomorrow.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

How To Create An Interest List On Facebook

If you don't use Facebook—or you aren't bothered by the recent Facebook changes that make it more difficult to keep up with your favorite pages and people—you may want to ignore today's post.

A few weeks ago, Facebook business pages started asking me to add them to my interest lists. Since I had just learned what an interest list was, I worried that simply telling my own friends to "add me to your list" wouldn't be very helpful. That's why I created this tutorial album on Facebook to show how to create your own interest list. I'm posting the details below in case you need some help, too.

If you're wondering why you should bother to create interest lists, I think there are a few really good reasons. Interest lists save you time by allowing you to group related pages and friends, making them easily scannable if you're looking for a particular post or type of information. Interest lists also show you all of the posts from the pages and people on the list. So interest lists let YOU decide what's important or interesting—not Facebook (which is sorta how I think all of this is supposed to work). If you want to know how to set up a list, please follow these steps.

Your Facebook wall might look a little like this picture below. See the green arrow? That's where your Interests live. Click on the word Interests.


Once you've clicked the Interests link, you'll get to this screen. Here you see my lists (clearly I need more, right?). If you want to set up a new one, click the "+Add Interests" link in the upper right.


Once you've clicked the +Add Interests link, you'll get to this screen. This is where you can click on the "+ Create List" link and start to build your list.




After clicking "+ Create List" a window will open (sorta like this one below). You can choose from pages, subscriptions, and friends, or search through a list of categories to add new things to your list. Click the next button (see the arrow) when you're finished.



The final step is naming your list and deciding who else can see it. Save it and then go back to your wall and see your new list added under the "Interests" on the left side (check out the first screen picture above for a reminder of where to find them).

When you click one of your interest lists, all of the posts from all of the pages or people on that list will appear on your wall. It's a custom feed of everything they've posted.

It's super easy to add new pages to the lists, too. When you "like" a new page (or if you want to add a page you've already liked), hover over the "like" button on their page (see the green arrow below) and choose "Add to interest lists" from the dropdown that appears. Then simply select the list you want to add them to.

As someone who maintains a business page, I find Interest lists really helpful. For example, if I want to share a Muppet post, I just go to the Interest list for all of my Muppety options. I use a "Sweeties" list  for the cake and cookie pages I follow so I can quickly select confection inspiration. You could create lists to keep up with news from your kids' schools, your high school friends, business associates or trade organizations—you see how helpful they could be. And remember, you will get ALL of the posts from the pages you follow when you add them to lists, not just the posts that Facebook lets you see or the ones that page owners pay to show you. (At least right now that's how they work.)

Of course, this is why page owners are asking to be added to lists: it's the only way we can be sure that you'll see all the shoe cakes, lip balms, and Muppet Awesomeness that we choose to share. (If you like shoe cakes, lip balms, and Muppets, I hope you'll consider adding us to one of your lists, too.)

So that's how (and why) I set up lists. I'd love to hear about any tips or tricks that you've discovered, too.

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