7 Holiday Traditions to Rethink This Year

November 19, 2014 by  
Filed under NEWS

holiday traditions Each year we look forward to certain family traditions, like baking Granny’s gingerbread cookies or watching It’s a Wonderful Lifewith the kids. But not every holiday tradition is quite so fun. How about braving the airport? Or cooking for a crowd of 50? No thanks. If you no longer enjoy some of your annual traditions, or simply can’t afford them right now, it’s okay to change how you celebrate. It’s your holiday, after all. Here are seven holiday traditions that may be costing you more than they’re worth.

1. Annual Christmas Bash

If you’d rather not spend two precious weeks in December planning and prepping for your annual Christmas open house, then don’t. Forget the cheese ball, sherbet punch and mini gherkins, and just get together with a few close pals at a local restaurant. Split the check, and enjoy a simple, stress-free evening with your nearest and dearest. Let someone else handle the cooking and cleaning up.

2. Competitive Lights Display

Don’t let your Christmas-crazy neighbors guilt you into a lights display worthy of Rockefeller Center. If your family enjoys looking at lights, pack a thermos of hot chocolate and drive around town to admire the best of the over-the-top yards. It’s free, and you don’t have to freeze your tail off. Parent of the year!

3. Last-Minute Stockings

Stocking stuffers are a cute idea, but who really cares? They’re usually full of junk you don’t need, and dwarfed by all the stuff you actually wanted. Instead of wasting $20 on lip balm and silly putty, why not use that cash to buy a few small gifts for Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree? That’s a much more gratifying family tradition.

4. Black Friday Shopping

We like a good deal as much as the next person, but if your family is just shopping “for sport,” take a team timeout. Decide what you want to buy before you rush out after Thanksgiving lunch. And don’t grab stuff just because it’s on sale. You’ll end up overspending rather than saving. If you have that much energy to burn, try a family game of flag football. It’s much less dangerous (well, maybe).

5. Family Portrait Christmas Cards

Skip the hassle of scheduling a photographer, buying matching red-and-white outfits and ordering hundreds of glossy prints. Cards are a meaningful gesture, but don’t make them more difficult or more expensive than they have to be. To save, buy in bulk. Or have the kids help you craft some sweet cards with stamps and glitter. How fun is that?

6. Price-Inflated Plane Tickets

Instead of heading home for the holidays, why not visit your family in January or February when the prices have come down? You could even start a new tradition, like meeting your folks in a fun city between your two towns. Imagine a calm, post-holiday vacation for half the price and half the crowd. Now that’s peace on earth.

7. A (Sort of) Freshly Cut Tree

If you dread the drama of picking the perfect, overpriced tree from your local Boy Scouts, just use the garage-sale special in your attic — you know it’s there. A tree is just a tree. It’s how you decorate it (and who you decorate it with) that counts. And who knows? Fake may even begin to grow on you. As you budget for the holidays, don’t break the bank in the name of tradition. Decide which customs are important to you, and then see how they fit into your overall budget. If you want to make a few cuts, that’s okay. Usually, it’s the least expensive traditions that create the best memories. —Used with permission from daveramsey.com

Holiday Inn: Preparing for Overnight Guests

November 19, 2014 by  
Filed under NEWS

Make your overnight guests feel at home

Do you have overnight guests coming for the Holidays? Pretend for a moment that you’re the guest. What makes you feel welcome and comfortable? What makes a room feel cozy and inviting? Just a few extra touches here and there can make your guests feel at home. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.


  • Vacuum the bedroom they will be sleeping in, and scrub the bathroom they will be using.
  • Remove any clutter from the flat surfaces, including the knickknacks.
  • Make sure the bed is made with fresh, clean sheets — and extra blankets, in case a guest becomes a little chilly.
  • Clean out the dresser drawers and closet, in case they’d like to unpack their suitcase and get comfy. (Have several wooden hangers available.)
  • Leave a little basket with snacks and water bottles, or a tray with a pitcher of water and a water glass. (Add several slices of lemon to the pitcher for a special touch.)
  • Put a box of tissue and a decorative bowl to contain keys, jewelry, pocket change on the night stand.
  • Remove personal items from the bathroom, and make sure there is extra toilet paper and plenty of fluffy towels available.
  • Put a waste bin and a laundry hamper in the closet for dirty clothes.
  • Provide ample lighting with lamps on end tables by the bed and small lights throughout the house, so guests can find their way around at night.
  • Plug in a night light. (For a festive touch, drape a strand of white Christmas lights over the window or a piece of furniture.)

$25 or Less

  • Leave a basket in the bathroom counter with sample bottles of shampoo, hairspray, mouthwash, shower gels, disposable razors, toothbrushes, hair clips, soap, and a hair dryer.
  • Put a decorative holiday pillow on the bed for a festive touch.
  • Get a simple tray for the bed. Stack with books and magazines.
  • Purchase a fluffy white towel and washcloth set, and leave it on your guest’s bed.
  • Make sure your room has a reading light or table lamp.
  • If there is room, put a chair in the corner for your guest’s comfort.
  • A clock is a must have!
  • Buy hypo-allergenic pillow and mattress covers. Your allergy-prone guests will thank you.
  • Put fresh flowers in a vase.
  • Add a spritz of linen spray on the bed sheets to make the room smell inviting.

$50 or Less

  • Buy new linens. Purchase cotton sheets with a high thread count for a luxurious feel.
  • Story an ironing board and iron in the closet.
  • Put a luggage rack or small ottoman at the end of the bed for your guest’s luggage.
  • Hang a fluffy XL robe in the bathroom.
  • Purchase new hypoallergenic pillows. (Your allergy-prone guests will thank you.)
  • Buy a spa basket filled with bubble bath, scented lotions, a loofa sponge, and more.


  • A down blanket or comforter.
  • New curtains.
  • A new mattress. (If you wouldn’t want to sleep on the guest bed, it’s time to splurge.)
  • A television and DVD player.

Select what works in your own holiday inn. Then remember your guests are not coming to inspect your home; they are coming to spend time with you and to celebrate the holidays.

No Room in the Inn?

Even if your “guest room” is occupied by a child or by your office furniture, you still can create a space that is warm and welcoming. Here’s how:

  • Arrange one of your children’s rooms as a temporary guest room. Your child can bunk with another sibling or on a pallet in your room.
  • If you have a sleeper sofa, turn your den into a guest haven.
  • If good friends are away for the holidays, inquire about having your guests stay in their home.
  • If you don’t have a sleeper sofa, air mattresses are comfortable and can turn almost any room into an instant bedroom.

Sources: HomeLife Magazine, RealSimple.com and SouthernLiving.com 

Photo Credit: DollarPhotoClub.com

Top 10 Holiday Family Movies

November 12, 2014 by  
Filed under NEWS

Celebrate the season with a cozy family movie night. From old school classics to recent releases, here are 10 holiday movies that will put your family in the holiday spirit.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas

A perennial fave that addresses the material and spiritual aspects of the holiday season. Cartoonist Charles Schulz first brought his soulful Peanuts comic strip to life in this divine television special, a clever skewering of Christmas commercialization and a heartfelt celebration of holiday holiness, all set to Vince Guaraldi’s iconic jazz piano.

Run time: 30 min. Not rated. Recommended for ages 3 and up.


2. Original Christmas Classics

This is a “must have” collection, including seven holiday faves like the classic stop-motion animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (narrated by Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman), Mr. Magoo’s Christmas SpecialFrosty the Snowman (narrated by Jimmy Durante), Frosty ReturnsSanta Claus Is Comin’ to TownThe Little Drummer Boy and Cricket on the Hearth. Your kids are sure to love them all!

Run time: 275 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 3 and up.


3. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasEvery Who down in Who-ville likes Christmas a lot, but the Grinch who lived just north of Who-ville did NOT! So the cuddly as a cactus Grinch (with termites in his smile and garlic in his soul) tries to wipe out Christmas for the cheerful Who-villians, only to discover: Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more! Narrated by Boris Karloff and animated by cartoon legend Chuck Jones!

Run time: 26 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 4 and up.

4. The Muppet Christmas Carol

Jim Henson’s lovable menagerie puts its own spin on the classic Charles Dickens tale. Michael Caine is a straight-faced Scrooge amid the slapstick charm of the renowned puppets. Even better casting: Kermit as Bob Cratchit—and his nephew Robin as Tiny Tim. God bless them, everyone!

Run time: 85 minutes. Rated G. Recommended for ages 5 and up.

5. The Santa Clause (1994)

The Santa ClauseScott Calvin is a divorced father whose strained relationship with his son, Charlie, begins to mend only after a bizarre twist of fate transforms him into the new Santa. When the current Mr. Clause falls off the roof on Christmas Eve, Scott dons Santa’s suit, and he and his son are whisked off to the North Pole. There he finds out about the Clause, a contract stating that whoever puts on the Santa suit must also take on all the responsibilities that go with the position. Scott isn’t too thrilled about his sudden career change. Charlie, however, is overjoyed.

Run time: 97 minutes. Rated PG. Recommended for ages 5 and up.

6. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street

Is that bearded fella really Santa Claus? Macy’s hires Kris Kringle to be its department store St. Nick, but his commitment to the job (as well as insistence on being the genuine article) has all the kids in awe and sets off a media firestorm that ends up in a court of law. It’s a classic that continues to appeal to kids generation after generation.

Run time: 96 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 6 and up.

7. The Polar Express (2004)

The Polar Express

Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book about a train headed for Santa’s workshop becomes a computer-generated spectacle in this holiday film. This heart-warming film is filled with adventure, including lots of roller coaster thrills. The Express roars, speeds, and skids on its perilous journey to the North Pole. Sometimes out of control, sometimes racing against dangers and obstacles in its path, it’s filled with suspense almost from beginning to end.

Run time: 100 minutes. Rated G. Recommended for ages 6 and up.

8. Home Alone (1990)

Home Alone

Macaulay Culkin holds down the fort against bumbling burglars while his family accidentally flies to Paris without him in this massive hit that’s every kid’s fantasy—and nightmare. While his Rube Goldberg booby traps and Edvard Munch–inspired visage deliver the laughs, it’s the warmer moments with negligent parents (as well as a mysterious shut-in neighbor) that give heart to this comic evergreen.

Run time: 103 minutes. Rated PG. Recommended for ages 7 and up.

9. White Christmas

White Christmas

This 1954 musical is yet another true holiday classic. Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. The quartet resolve to entertain former military troopers with a memorable and heartwarming holiday show. Featuring the Irving Berlin song “White Christmas.” The ending is pure magic.

Run time: 120 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 8 and up.


10. It’s a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful LifeThis beloved classic (offered in black and white and color in this set) is still popular more 60 years after its release.  The reigning king of Christmas movies, Frank Capra’s poignant fable stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man with big ambitions (and a bigger heart) who defers his dream of leaving small-town Bedford Falls, but makes personal sacrifices that create a staggering ripple effect of inspirational goodwill on earth—a great message for young viewers watching at home. He even helps an angel get his wings.

Run time: 130 minutes. Not rated. Recommended for ages 9 and up.

What holiday movie would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments below!

Teaching Kids To Be Thankful

November 5, 2014 by  

Teaching Kids Gratitude

Guest post by Michelle DeRamus, Ph.D., Phenix City Children’s

Teaching Kids…

To Brush their Teeth

To Ride a Bike

To Be Thankful?

I usually refrain from listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. But, this year, I found myself already turning the radio station to the familiar jingles and carols early in November. Perhaps I am swept up in my husband’s enthusiastic anticipation of buying our 2-year old daughter, Emily, all of the new and shiny presents that her small heart could desire and seeing her face light up as she unwraps each package. Maybe I am just ready to decorate our Christmas tree and to enjoy our upcoming celebrations with cherished family and friends. However, despite this impending excitement and joy, I am making it a priority to slow down and enjoy Thanksgiving first.

This holiday, which occurs almost strategically before all of the gift-giving associated with Christmas, is centered upon gratitude.

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives (both tangible and intangible). It is also an acknowledgement of the goodness inherent in our lives, which is at least partially attributed to sources greater than ourselves. Gratitude often serves as an outward link to people, nature, or a higher power.

When I was a child, my parents modeled gratitude all year long. I learned to say thank you for small everyday things, such as getting a cookie after dinner. I was also encouraged to budget my allowance so that I would have enough left over to help families in need, especially around the holidays. Through these tangible actions, I learned to enjoy helping others, partly because of the good feeling that came every time I did something charitable. I later learned that this wasn’t just a childish feeling of goodwill. In fact, in positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and repeatedly associated with greater happiness.

What are the Benefits?

Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, explains that being thankful has psychological, social, and even physical effects. Grateful people have higher levels of positive emotions, are more forgiving, more outgoing, feel less lonely, have less frequent periods of depression, feel more alert and alive, sleep longer, and have stronger immune systems, according to Emmons’ research.

How Do I Teach Gratitude to My Children?

Teaching gratitude to children can be as easy as keeping a gratitude journal, where you sit down together and write out a list of the things you are thankful for each week. Younger children may list items such as a stuffed animal or favorite book, but older children should be encouraged to think beyond their corner of the world. Encourage them to consider what they love about their school, their community, their country, and the world as a whole. Over the holidays especially, it is customary to go around the table and count your blessings verbally, or to pray together before eating. Other families may express gratitude by baking homemade treats for the neighbors or as thank you gifts for teachers at school.

The key to teaching gratitude is modeling the behavior. Rather than dropping your high school student off at the local soup kitchen to get community service hours for a sports team, go in with him/her and volunteer. I enjoy taking my daughter shopping to buy Christmas presents for another little girl, about her age. I let her pick out the items and then carefully explain that we are going to give them away. By helping me to pick the gifts that she would enjoy, Emily is engaged in the giving process.

Younger children will also learn gratitude from handing out gifts to older relatives, helping to put the bows and ribbons on presents or simply expressing to Grandma when receiving a scratchy wool scarf for the fifth Christmas in a row. In our office this season, we are working to put up a “Wall of Thankfulness.” When patients come in, they are given a piece of construction paper and a crayon. We ask them to draw pictures of all of the things and people that they are thankful for and then add them to a collective board of drawings for other patients to see.

When families come for psychology sessions, they often feel overwhelmed with the negative situation they are experiencing, which could include behavior problems, troubles at school or other issues. Rather than focus on the missing elements, or negatives, I encourage them to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation. Even in the most challenging of circumstances, it is possible to peel back the layers of bitterness, anger, regret and anxiety and to find things to be thankful for.

By fostering gratitude in children at an early age, a thankful attitude is ingrained in them throughout the entire year- long after the turkey has been eaten. Such attitudes of gratefulness are paramount to society, as grateful children grow up to become grateful adults.

Teach your kids gratitude now; they will thank you later.

Dr. DeRamus is a child psychologist who specializes in autism. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama and currently works at Phenix City Children’s.


Amin, A. (n.d.). The 31 benefits of gratitude you didn’t know about: How gratitude can change your life.

Emmons, R. (2010, November 16). Why gratitude is good.

Harvard Health Publications. (2011, November). In praise of gratitude.

Miller, M. (2013, August 27). The mental health benefits of gratitude.

Photo Credit: Graphicleftovers.com

Volunteering With Kids

November 5, 2014 by  

By Kelly Palmatier, CompassionateKids.com

Volunteering with ChildrenVolunteering with children is a great way to help them learn about giving back. Children learn valuable skills while “on the job.” Homeschooled students, who may have more time available for volunteering, could also enjoy the additional socialization opportunities presented through volunteering. Another benefit of volunteering is children learn about the concerns of the organization and what need it fills in the community. Consequently, the children also have an opportunity to remember what they have to be thankful for.

Work Together

It’s important to work side-by-side with your child, since leading by example has been shown to be the most effective form of teaching. Children who see their parents volunteering are much more likely to believe in the value of working to help others.

Naturally, working side-by-side with your child will allow you to assist him/her when necessary, ensuring the child’s presence is a help, not a hindrance to the organization’s staff and other volunteers.

An additional benefit of working with your child as a volunteer is the bonding that occurs when people work together as a team. Also, when people are focused on a task, it sometimes fosters deep conversations that may not have occurred with more direct eye contact.

Consider the Right Opportunity

When choosing a volunteer opportunity, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Your Child’s Interests
  • Your Interests
  • Your Child’s Abilities
  • Your Abilities
  • Location, Frequency, & Duration
  • Staff Attitude

Your Child’s Interests

If your child is clearly interested in a subject, it may be possible to use that interest as a springboard into volunteering: Children who construct a lot of forts or buildings with blocks may enjoy helping out a construction organization such as Habitat for Humanity; children who love animals my enjoy helping animal organizations such as the Humane Society.

Your Interests

It’s also important to consider your own interests. Children look to their parents to help them discern how to respond to new stimuli. If you are bored while volunteering, your child will associate boredom with volunteering. Alternately, if you are passionate about your actions, your child will respond to that passion.

Your Child’s Abilities

Volunteering with ChildrenIf your child is very young, it can be challenging to choose a volunteer opportunity that he/she can actually help with. Fortunately, there are opportunities available that even very young children can do with a little parental guidance.

I started volunteering with my children when they were three and six years old. My older child could follow basic directions well with a small amount of supervision. However, my three-year-old was an energetic little boy with a young child’s motor skills and attention span.

We were able to successfully volunteer at a local food pantry, where his sorting and counting skills worked quite well with close supervision and direction from me. I gave simple tasks such as taking two boxes of macaroni & cheese from a shelf and putting them in each grocery bag. He was able to complete these tasks easily, while I added all the remaining groceries.

Your Abilities

Just as your child will learn from your passion for volunteering, he/she will benefit from seeing you work well in your element. For example, if you are especially skilled at home renovations, you may find a community restoration project to work on. This would allow you to share your skills while demonstrating the relevance volunteering has to many different careers and interests.

Location, Frequency, & Duration

Of course, it’s important to consider the basic logistics of any volunteer opportunity. If the opportunity is close by, a commitment to help out on a weekly basis may be fine. If it’s farther away, you may need to commit to helping on a monthly basis instead. It’s fine to increase your volunteering later, after you’ve tried it out and you know it works well for you, but be careful not to over-commit initially. Remember your child is already learning work ethics from this experience. You’ll want to ensure you arrive in a timely manner when you’re expected, only canceling or rescheduling when you truly have valid reasons and can give plenty of notice.

Consider, too, the duration of each volunteer session. Older children may be fine with a few hours or more. However, younger children may need sessions to be kept short.

We found our one-hour volunteer session at the food pantry each week worked well during the first 30 to 45 minutes of fast-paced grocery bag-filling. However, the remaining 15 to 30 minutes of shelf-restocking were slow-paced enough that the three-year-old had trouble staying focused. It was an invitation for chaos. We handled it by simply leaving earlier until he was a little older and better-able to handle a full hour of volunteer work at a time.

Staff Attitude

The last item to consider is the attitude of other volunteers and the organization’s staff. Most people will appreciate your instilling a volunteer ethic in children at a young age, but you may find a few “sour apples” who focus more on the decibel level or other potential distractions. (In fact, many organizations may prohibit children under a certain age.)

To some extent, the mission you’re on is more important than any individuals who may not appreciate your child’s input. However, be sure to consider the effect others’ attitudes have on your child. If a child feels like a hindrance, volunteering will end up seeming like a chore rather than a joy.

Resources for Finding Volunteer Opportunities

There are many ways you can learn about volunteer opportunities, including the following:

  • Check with Keep America Beautiful or other local organizations for community clean-up days.
  • Consider raising vegetables or starting a canned food drive for your local food pantry.
  • Check with local nursing homes for “toddler days.”
  • Take on home baking projects for fundraising bake sales or meal delivery services.
  • Ask your local Chamber of Commerce for information about local organizations that may have volunteer opportunities.
  • Call non-profit organizations you like and ask what you can do. They may have needs/volunteer opportunities that you haven’t even thought of.
  • Check for opportunities listed in national volunteer website databases such as VolunteerMatch.org (has a designation for kid-friendly opportunities) or Idealist.org (has designations for teen opportunities and under-age-12 opportunities).

As with most parental/educational pursuits, there are many factors to consider regarding volunteering with children, but a little effort can provide a lifetime of benefit for both the kids involved and for society.

Source: CompassionateKids.com

Election Day Trivia For Kids (and Grown-ups)!

November 4, 2014 by  
Filed under NEWS

Election Trivia: how many do you know?

The first Tuesday in November is Election Day. How well do you know the voting process? Take this Election Trivia quiz and see how well you did!

Election TriviaElection Trivia Questions:

  1. How old do you need to be to legally vote in the United States?
  2. Which amendment gives African Americans the right to vote?
  3. True or False: It is not important that each citizen of age vote in a democratic election.
  4. What are the two main political parties in the United States today?
  5. What is another word that means having the right to vote?
  6. The first political party in the United States was called the ____ Party?
  7. Americans can vote by mail by submitting ____ ballots.
  8. What is the name of the group of people that determine who will be president?
  9. The term of a U.S. senator is ___ years.
  10. To serve as President of the United States, a candidate must be at least ___ years old

Election Trivia Answers:

(1) 18 (2) 15th (3) False (4) Democrats and Republicans (5) suffrage (6) Federalist (7) absentee (8) The Electoral College (9) six (10) 35

Christmas Countdown: 6-week organizing guide

November 3, 2014 by  
Filed under NEWS

Christmas CountdownGetting ready for the Holidays can be stressful. Here is a Christmas Countdown to help you simplify the job. By breaking down your preparations into small, easy-to-take steps over a six week period, you can enjoy a stressfree Christmas season.

Seven-Eight Weeks Before (early Nov.)

  • Begin your Holiday Card List – How many cards do you need and do you have updated addresses.
  • Ask older, tech-savvy kids to set up online wish lists.
  • Buy Holiday cards, stamps, and gift wrapping supplies.
  • Schedule carpet cleaning, window washing, or other professional cleaning services.
  • Start a Master Holiday shopping list and begin shopping in earnest.

Six Weeks Before

  • Establish a Holiday budget.
  • Start addressing your holiday cards.
  • Sort though your holiday decorations. Replace burned-out bulbs.
  • Shop for out-of-town friends and family.
  • Pick up a few “just-in-case” gifts (scented candles, bottles of wine, etc).

Five Weeks Before

  • Continue shopping and wrap gifts as you buy them.
  • Continue addressing your holiday cards.
  • Take stock of your pantry and baking staples. Add flour, spices, and sugar to your grocery list, as needed.
  • Plan your holiday menus.

Four Weeks Before (Directly after Thanksgiving)

  • Shop Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Finish online shopping.
  • Send any Holiday outfits and coats to the Dry Cleaners.
  • Start a stocking stuffers list.
  • Schedule family hair appointments.
  • Start decorating your house.
  • Finish addressing Holiday cards.

Three Weeks Before (1st week of December)

  • Mail cards and any packages/ presents to out-of-town friends and family.
  • Buy and trim your tree this week.
  • Decorate inside of house and hang outside decorations.
  • Finalize menues. Order a turkey or ham.
  • Stock up on non-perishables.

Two Weeks Before (2nd week of December)

  • Shop for nonperishable items and freezer items.
  • Buy fresh wreaths and garland.
  • Make sure your bar is well-stocked. Don’t forget mixers and garnishes.
  • Take platters and serving dishes out of storage and clean them, as needed.

One Week Before (3rd week of December)

  • Deep clean your house.
  • Buy batteries for toys.
  • Shop for fresh ingredients.
  • Prepare make-ahead dishes as far in advance as possible.

Sources: RealSimple.com, Flylady.net, christmas.organizedhome.com, womansday.com

10 Alternative Treats for Halloween

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under NEWS

10 Alternative Treats for Halloween

For families with food allergies, Halloween treats can be tricky. Most food allergies come from milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. And many candies have the first six on that ingredient list. The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages you to offer non-food treats for trick-or-treaters. Here are 10 suggestions for alternative Halloween treats.

(Note: Make sure to read the label or call the manufacturer to make sure the ingredients haven’t changed!)

1. Assorted Halloween Pencils

Halloween Pencils

Add these wooden Halloween Pencils to party goody bags, hand them out to trick-or-treaters or use them to reward good classroom behavior. Source: Oriental Trading Company

2. Dum Dums Original Pops

Dum Dums

Dum Dums Original Pops packaged at Spangler Candy do not contain peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, or gluten. They have been manufactured on dedicated equipment. There is a trace amount of soy oil, but it has been refined, bleached, and deodorized and all of the proteins have been removed. Source: Spangler Candy

3. Glow Sticks

glow sticks

These Play Glow Plastic Ax and Trident Glow Sticks are a fun way to light up the night for Halloween. Also an ideal resale product for festival vendors. Case includes 36 – Play Glow® plastic 10″ glow sticks assorted among green, pink, blue, and yellow. Ages 3+. Source: The Dollar Tree

4. Spooky Stickers

Halloween stickers

Stick with Halloween! These cute Halloween stickers feature ghosts, pumpkins, bats and spiders. Peel and stick or snip and share. Buy several roles so you don’t run out! Source: Amazon.com 

5. Halloween Temporary Tattoos

From pumpkins and Frankensteins to vampires and werewolves, kids will have a great time wearing these on Halloween. We suggest the the Halloween Assortment Pack (Model Number: ASST-HALLOWEEN-200) for a huge selection to give out to trick-or-treaters. Source: TattooSales.com

6. Junior Mints

junior mints

Junior Mints by Tootsie Roll Industries have been around since 1949. All Tootsie Roll products are gluten-free, peanut-free and nut-product free. While milk, corn and soy are used in Junior Mints, they don’t contain wheat, barley, rye, oats, triticale, spelt or any of their components — either as ingredients or as part of the manufacturing process. Source: CandyWarehouse.com

7. Nerds: Wonka Grape & Strawberry Candy

Nerds Candy

Nerds candy are tiny, tangy and crunchy Halloween staple! The main ingredients are dextrose, sugar and malic acid. Even better, Nerds are peanut-free. The tiny candies also contain less than two percent of corn syrup, carnauba wax, and artificial flavors and colors.  Source: Walmart.com

8. Natural Gummy Bears

If your child is allergic to artificial dyes and food colorings, try these individual serving sizes of all natural gummy bears. Made by Surf Sweets, these tasty treats are manufactured in a facility that does not process any of the eight major allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, fish, or shellfish/crustaceans). Source: NaturalCandyStore.com

9. Ring Pops

ring pops

Ring pops are both a sweet fashion statement and a sweet treat. These jewel-like suckers are free of all eight major allergens. Great for active kids that are on the go! A classic Halloween treat.  Source: SamsClub.com

10. Smarties Candy Rolls

Smarties Candy Rolls

Smarties candies are an easy option when you need a bunch. These assorted tangy candy rolls are a favorite at birthday parties, Halloween candy baskets, and for rewards in the classroom. Smarties candies do not contain eggs, milk, peanuts, nut oil, sesame seeds, fish, shellfish, mollusks, soy, sulphites, tree nuts, wheat, seeds or gluten. Source: SpanglerCandy.com

Reprinted with permission from Muscogee Moms, LLC

Review: Day Out at Paradise Pumpkin Patch

October 15, 2014 by  
Filed under NEWS

A Day Out at Paradise Pumpkin Patch

Review & Photos by Kara McVay

Some pumpkin patches are designed primarily for fall photos with children carefully pointing to their choice of gourd so as not to dirty their smocked or monogrammed finery.  The opposite of that is Paradise Pumpkin Patch.  About 14 miles from downtown Eufaula, Alabama, Paradise Pumpkin Patch is full of all kinds of imaginative farm fun.  Sure, they have the typical corn maze and hay rides that you’d expect for your fall entertainment but that is only the beginning.

We visited Paradise Pumpkin Patch on a Saturday afternoon.  It’s a large farm in a very rural area, but we had no trouble finding it.  My kids were excited as soon as we parked since we were right next to the corn maze and a pasture full of cows, buffalo, A ZEBRA, watusi, and I’m not even sure what else.  A friendly camel named Charlie stuck his neck through the fence to greet people.  I was paranoid about him spitting at us, like they do in every video I’ve ever seen involving a camel, but he was just happy to let kids pet him and even happier to let people feed him.  They sold styrofoam cups of animal food for $1. We paid our $12.50 per person entry fee (kids under 2 are free) plus $5 for a pony ride.  It seemed a little pricey at the time, but we soon realized that it was well worth the cost.

Around a small barn were even more animals to feed.  The kangaroo was a little snooty, but the llamas and donkeys were nice.  A fake cow was equipped with some rubber udders and kids took turns “milking” water out of it.  Next was a little maze of hay bales where a choice of many tractor-shaped tricycles was available for racing.  My kids skipped that one as they were intrigued by kids furiously working some old-fashioned hand water pumps nearby.  The pumps were attached to ramps where you placed a rubber duck and then pumped water to race it down to the other side.  My husband and I appreciated the bench placed next to this attraction because our children raced ducks for a ridiculously long time.

Paradise Pumpkin Patch

When duck racing finally got old, we moved on to a corral full of ride-on bouncy balls and hobby horses.  The excitement of this was quickly eclipsed by 3 huge bounce houses/slides nearby.  There were no lines at the time and so we got to know the bliss of having inflatables almost all to ourselves. A covered wagon pulled by mules circled around this area too, but the draw of loud bangs followed by cheers led us straight to the “corn cannon”.  No actual corn was involved, rather corn-sized chunks of PVC were loaded into a tube and shot out using an air compressor.  Each person is given a ticket worth 3 turns at this cannon. The goal is to hit a bulls-eye on a large hay bale several yards away.  Winners got either a free pumpkin or hot dog. My 2 year old didn’t like the noise close up so her dad took her to the nearby playground while my son enjoyed using up all 4 of our tickets.

I would definitely advise people to keep a close eye on their young ones here.  Big tractors pulling wagons full of people to and from the pumpkin patch and the parking lot seemed to be everywhere.  One of these tractors pulled the “cow train”.  The cow- themed cars do have seatbelts, but I questioned my parenting judgment when I saw that thing zip out of sight with my 2 year old in tow.  She enjoyed it, but it went faster than I had expected.

One of the most surprisingly popular attractions at Paradise Pumpkin Patch were two gigantic wooden bins full of corn (dried, not creamed).  Kids of all ages had a blast swimming,  jumping and rolling around in corn.  Again, we were thankful for well-placed benches because I think we must have spent at least half an hour watching our children revel in the joys of corn.

Paradise Pumpkin Patch

It was starting to get late and I was determined to find a zip line that I had seen signs for.  A path into the woods brought us an enormous tunnel slide at the bottom of which was a low zip line with a rope swing attached.  An attendant walked alongside the rope so that even my 2-year old was able to enjoy it.  She loved the slide even more.  She must have walked up the massive hill 15 times to slide down.  After this we were all exhausted. I looked at my watch and realized that we had been at Paradise Pumpkin Patch for almost 5 hours!

A snack bar and gift shop sell food options like hot dogs, pretzels and cotton candy.  If we had known that we were going to spend all day at the farm, we probably would have packed some snacks and water of our own as well.  We were glad that we had worn comfortable shoes and clothes that we didn’t mind getting dirty.  We left Paradise Pumpkin Patch worn out from tons of fun.  We were so worn out in fact, that after 5 hours, we never even got around to picking out a pumpkin!

Paradise Pumpkin Patch

Hours: Saturdays and Sundays from 9am- 6pm
weekdays only available for field trips by reservation
Cost: $12.50 per person, kids under 2 free, $10 for seniors 65+

910 County Road 79 S, Eufaula, AL 36027
Phone: (334)687-6820

Overcoming the Odds: Hearing-Impaired Mom Helps Others Achieve

October 8, 2014 by  
Filed under NEWS

Overcoming the odds to help others achieve

By Kristin Barker, CSU Continuing Education

Columbus State University, Continuing Education fitness instructor, Cathy Nail, has always enjoyed music and movement. As a child, activities like dance and exercise seemed very natural to Cathy, and thankfully, her parents encouraged her in both of these areas. She studied piano and dance throughout her youth and was a cheerleader from middle school through college.

Life hasn’t always been easy for Cathy.

She is hearing impaired which requires her to compensate in many ways. Phones are a particular challenge. She finds it difficult to find the right volume during a phone conversation, but thankfully technology is advancing and there are now devices and apps that send conversations directly to a hearing aid.

Cathy also expressed that it can be very difficult to follow a conversation when many people are talking at the same time. When someone is hearing impaired, they must actively work to hear by staying focused and directly involved in the conversation. This can be difficult when there are competing noises or conversations going on.

Teaching in a group can also be challenging.

Cathy always explains that she is hearing impaired during the initial class session and invites her students to “speak loudly” if she doesn’t initially hear them. She believes that people naturally want to avoid individuals with handicaps because they aren’t sure what to say, so Cathy makes every effort to create a comfortable environment for her students.

“Sometimes I believe my hearing impairment makes me a better communicator because I have to maintain eye contact and truly focus on the person I’m speaking with.”

Cathy Nail's Fitness Class

Cathy Nail began teaching fitness classes after her two children were born back-to-back. “I wanted to get back to my ‘normal’ activity level.” Cathy says, “I was so discouraged when doing even one sit-up proved to be a challenge.”

A very good friend who was also a new mother began taking exercise classes. Cathy decided to join her, and she loved it! She loved it so much that she became certified to teach. Cathy has been nationally certified by the American Council on Exercise (ACE®) for over 27 years and also has certifications in Body Pump®, Body Attack®, Pilates, Yoga, Reebok Step® and cycling.

Cathy also recently completed a mind-body specialty certification through ACE because, as Cathy states, “I believe the integration of a healthy body and mind serves to enhance a positive lifestyle.”


The best kind of fitness program for you depends on your goals, so what is the BEST type of workout according to Cathy?

  • If you want to increase balance, flexibility, and strength without bulking up, Yoga and Pilates are both great workout options for you. Cathy likes to balance resistance training with fluid (Yoga/Pilates) training.
  • If you want to tone and gain cardio benefits, one of Cathy’s favorite workouts uses a variety of hand weights and a step to deliver a comprehensive routine that offers resistance training and cardio without high impact.


“The most important concept to embrace is to try many different things,” Cathy advises. “You won’t know what you enjoy until you give it a try.”

Never be shy about trying something new. Olympic athletes didn’t begin with the skills they have during competition. Some people love swimming and others get a thrill from cycling. Your favorite activity might be something that you never dreamed you would love!

Cathy Nail Seeing her students smile, laugh, and complete a movement they didn’t believe they could perform gives Cathy the most satisfaction.

“This is the BEST feeling. I find some individuals are intimidated by exercise and believe they have to keep up with the instructor or compete with others in the class. This is simply not true! None of us are exactly the same. I simply invite people to do their best.”

Cathy loves to encourage others. This is one of the reasons that she likes to teach classes with Continuing Education.

“I love the people, the facility, and the staff at CSU’s Continuing Education program,” says Cathy. “It has always been a rewarding experience, and I’ve met some wonderful people along the way. As an older adult, it has become increasingly important to me to be healthy and to share what I know with others.”

With Cathy, it doesn’t matter where you are, there is always an opportunity to start something new, and she knows that CSU’s Continuing Education gives people a chance to do this. Continuing Education offers a variety of opportunities for people of all ages and abilities, and we will keep on offering wonderful people like Cathy a place to teach and learn all about health and fitness. According to Cathy, this is what life is about!

Find out more about Columbus State University’s health and fitness classes online.

Kristin Barker has been the Marketing Manager for Columbus State University, Continuing Education since 2004. Kristin is also a mother, grandmother, designer, teacher and blogger. Kristin also enjoys performing in theatre and has appeared in several productions at the Springer Opera House.

Photos by Kristin Barker. Used with Permission.

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