PLAYguide: Holidays

8 Tips for Holiday Sanity

By Kerrie McLoughlin

Remember when you didn’t have to worry about being in three or four places at once during the holidays? The dilemma of where to go seemed to be so easily worked out by our parents and extended family. Now that we are grown-ups, by the time the new year rolls around most of us seem to end up totally frazzled from celebrating the holidays several times with many sets of relatives.

Adding your own kids to the mix can make situations even more crazy, leaving them – and you – feeling like the rope in a game of Human Tug-of-War. Below are some fixes that can hopefully help you and your family enjoy more holiday cheer this year.

  1. Combine family events. Instead of running to your parents’ house and then to see each of your siblings separately, consider having just one shin-dig at one location when most everyone can attend. To make life even easier, forego the sit-down dinner and choose to go the potluck route. Some people choose to throw a small party at their house every year on the second Friday in December, for example, and have things for the kids to do, like building a gingerbread house or painting ornaments.
  2. Consider an Open House. Choose a location (like your uncle’s house), a date, and a convenient time frame when family members can come and go as they please without the pressure of being on time for a meal. Serve finger foods and other easy fare to make it easy on the hostess.
  3. Attend the far-away celebrations only every other year or when you can afford it. Sometimes people marry someone from another state or move out of town due to a job change or other circumstance. This can leave many families feeling pulled in too many directions when the holidays roll around. It can be difficult to decide how to come together, so work out the details in advance.
  4. Negotiate annually. All families are different so it can be practically impossible to please everybody every year. One year your cousin may need to leave early to spend the rest of the day with her husband’s family. Another year it may just work out best to hold the event on a completely different day of the month. Which brings me to …
  5. Help your extended family realize that, for example, Christmas can be even nicer when spent on a day other than December 25th. You could get together with your grandparents a couple of weeks before or after Christmas Day for a much more relaxed mood. You would get to take your time opening gifts while enjoying each other’s company. What a time to treasure and look forward to every year!
  6. Do drop in. Elaine St. James, author of Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays, only visits her sister and her family to raise a toast but not to eat. She takes no food for the meal, no gifts, and says to her family, “We’re bringing ourselves and our best wishes for the season.”
  7. Just stay home. Some make the choice to celebrate Christmas Day at their own home every year. The decision may not popular, and you might have to defend it every year, but it could be the most relaxing and fun day of your entire year. Just imagine yourself hanging out in comfy sweatpants all day long while you play with your kids and their new toys, games and other gifts.
  8. If tensions get high between family members, think of others who may not have any family, or even a home. Consider serving food at a homeless shelter sometime around the holiday or being a bell-ringer for The Salvation Army for a couple of hours. Elaine St. James has another great idea: Make a paper bag lunch with a sandwich, cookies, fruit and juice drink and pass it out to the homeless in your area. These are great opportunities to take your kids along and teach them the true meaning of the holidays.

To ensure no feelings are hurt, make sure your family knows they are always welcome to spend holidays at your home (with some notice, of course!) With a little understanding and communication, everyone in your family can have a peaceful holiday season.

Kerrie McLoughlin is just a regular mom who writes about parenting 5 kids at

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5 Healthy Holiday Snack Ideas

Sometimes it’s hard to fill your kids up with the fruits and veggies they need. It’s a lot easier when they don’t even know they’re eating something that’s good for them! Try out these healthy and insanely easy-to-make snack recipes from Produce for Kids:

Fruit Cornucopias

Fruit Cornucopias

  1. Fruit Cornucopias

    The Cornucopia is a symbol of plenty during the holiday season; so let’s fill this one up with plenty of sweet fruits, like mandarin oranges! The best part– this recipe is so easy, even younger kids can help you prepare (and eat) them!

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

  2. Thanksgiving Turkey Fruit Tray

    Thanksgiving Turkey Fruit Tray

  3. Thanksgiving Turkey Fruit Tray

    Spice up your typical ol’ fruit platter by giving it a fun Thanksgiving spin! This recipe is simple enough for kids to help you assemble. At the very end, you’ll have a colorful turkey tray with everything from kiwi to apples to carrots. Great for parties!

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

  4. Holiday Avocado Toast

    Holiday Avocado Toast

  5. Holiday Avocado Toast

    A great day starts with a great breakfast! With 7g of fiber, this holiday-themed avocado toast will keep your family fuller longer. You can surprise your kids with a fun and festive design, or let them create their own yummy toast-art using pomegranate arils.

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

  6. Snowman Fruit Kebobs

    Snowman Fruit Kebobs

  7. Snowman Fruit Kebobs

    These snowman kebobs are a great on-the-go way to fill up on fruit. (The problem is, they’re so cute that you won’t want to eat them!) All you need are skewers– and maybe a little assistant to help decorate each snowman! The snow underneath makes for even more good food to nibble on.

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

  8. Christmas Tree Veggie Platter

    Christmas Tree Veggie Platter

  9. Christmas Tree Veggie Platter

    Who would have thought a vegetable platter could become a party decoration? Wow your guests with this broccoli Christmas tree, decked out in bright cherry tomato ornaments. Bonus: the trunk is edible, too!

    Read the Full Recipe Here.

About Produce for Kids
Produce for Kids® believes in creating a healthier generation through cause marketing campaigns that provide easy, fun and inspiring recipes. Produce for Kids has been helping families and children by giving back since 2002. Through produce and grocery retail partner programs, Produce for Kids has donated more than $6 million charities that benefit children and families nationwide.

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Sensitive Santa For Children With ASD


Special Holiday Event for Families of Children with Autism

 It is all about perspective. We view our environment and experiences through a custom lens, one that has been formed throughout our lives and is constantly evolving. This “lens” is also affected by our natural biology. The brain has an amazing ability to take in stimuli from the environment around us, determine what it is and how it affects us, and make an appropriate response accordingly. We receive and process information through our senses of vision, hearing, taste, touch, proprioception, and movement.

What happens if our brain does not receive and process sensory information like the majority of other people do? For example, what happens when someone is extremely sensitive to stimuli? Or when our brain requires quite a bit of stimulus to even register? The answer is quite simple: it can be difficult to participate in the daily and seasonal experiences that are, although we may not recognize it, dripping with sensory input.

For example, let us go back in time to our childhood, when we were waiting in line to visit Santa at the mall for the annual Christmas photo and chance to share the top contenders of our Christmas lists. We remember the cheerful and bright Christmas decorations, hung from every banister, window front, artificial Christmas tree, and open wall space. We can hear the Christmas tunes emanating from each storefront we pass by. We can literally feel our anticipation of finally getting to the front of the line. It didn’t matter how long it took, when it was our turn to hop up on jolly Santa’s lap, we couldn’t get there any faster as we grinned from ear to ear, all while a photographer snapped photo after photo of this joyous moment.

Many children find this experience to be overwhelming, over-stimulating, and utterly abrasive. As of 2014, one in sixty eight children have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a disorder characterized by difficulty with communication and socialization (“Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder”, 2014). Seventy percent of these children experience difficulty with sensory processing (Adamson, O’Hare, & Graham, 2006). With the prevalence of autism quickly increasing, the number of children who struggle to process sensory information also grows. These children deserve the opportunity to enjoy precious life moments “on their own terms” and in ways that are sensory-friendly.

One experience that was created to be sensory-friendly is an event called “Sensitive Santa”. It is for families of children with Autism and was hosted locally last year on December 10th and 12th at Jim Beech Recreation Center in Ocoee. The event was extremely successful and a time of joy and bonding for the families that attended.

Each family had the chance to sign up for a private session with Santa upon arrival. It was designed to eliminate long lines and avoid overwhelming crowds to ensure an evening of heartfelt, stress free fun.

The environment was also modified to cater to the sensory needs of the children attending. The fluorescent lights were turned off and replaced with two lamps that provided a subtle and non-intrusive glow in the room. The bright colors on the walls were covered with soft and fluffy batting and white Christmas lights hung behind it. Instead of adopting a mall’s setup, which only leaves room for a child to sit on Santa’s lap, we brought in a couch, a chair, and a therapy ball that the child could sit on. There was a photographer present, but he was gentle and encouraging and did not use a flash with his camera. Parents were contacted to determine if their child would prefer having Christmas music or silence in the room. Each parent filled out a registration form prior to the event that provided helpful information for the child’s special interaction with Santa. Before each family entered the room for their appointment with Santa, Santa was briefed on the child’s name, age, and special interests. Each family had ten minutes to spend alone with Santa.

This event was put on by Tessa Lee, a student in the Master’s of Occupational Therapy Program at Adventist University of Health Sciences. The Sensitive Santa event is part of her Capstone project for the program.

This year’s Sensitive Santa event information:

December 8th from 4:30pm-7:30pm
Florida Hospital for Children Outpatient Rehab
615 E. Princeton St, Suite 104
Orlando, FL 32803
Please contact Tessa Lee at: to request a registration form.
(Florida Hospital for Children is not sponsoring this event.)



































Adamson, A., O’Hare, A., & Graham, C. (2006). Impairments in sensory modulation in children with autism spectrum disorder. The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69(8), 357-364. Retrieved from

Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years- autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2010. (2014). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Retrieved from


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2014 Local Holiday Gift Guide

Are you in the need for some last minute gifts to finish off your Christmas shopping? Check out our picks of great gifts for everyone on your Nice list. The best part is you’ll also be supporting local businesses by buying from these independent retailers in Central Florida.

Perfect for the Boy Who Has Everything in Your Life…

Ogodisk 1

Cost: Ogodisk-Mezo $39.50, Ogo Ballooza $13.95, Ogo Soft Ball $2.95
Where To Buy: Tugboat & the Bird, 318 N Park Ave, Winter Park, 407-647-5437,
Because: The Ogodisk and accessories are fun gifts for ages 4+. Bounce, toss and catch the balls off the Ogodisk hand trampoline and make up your own games to play along!

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Perfect for the Video Game Lover in Your Life…


Cost: Large $29.00, Hand Held $14.50
Where To Buy: Tugboat & the Bird, 318 N Park Ave, Winter Park, 407-647-5437,
Because: Here’s one video game your kids don’t already have. This classic electronic game makes you think fast. Follow along the flashing lights and sounds and repeat what Simon does! Available in a hand held version for on-the-go fun. Ages 7+.

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Perfect for the Snow Lover in Your Life…

Snow Time Anytime
Snowtime Anytime Snowballs

Cost: $22.00 for a pack of 15 snowballs, $34.00 for 30 snowballs
Where To Buy: Tugboat & the Bird, 318 N Park Ave, Winter Park, 407-647-5437,
Because: No snow? No problem! These plush snowballs provide endless fun any time of the year. Soft and light, these are perfect for indoor snowball fights. They can be used for decorating during winter too! Machine washable. Ages 3+.

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Perfect for the Toddler in Your Life…

Joovy Pink Tricycoo Tricycle

Cost: $129.99
Where To Buy: MacroBaby, 1361 Florida Mall Ave, Orlando, 877-240-5379,
Because: Your child does not need to steer, pedal or balance on their own. They simply enjoy the fun and independence of their first tricycle while you guide them with the parent push handle (removable). When engaged, the parent push handle overrides the steering on the Tricycoo. It has 4-positions and is adjustable from 32.5 to 38 inches high. Your back will thank you. (Minimum age: 1.5 Years; maximum weight: 44 lbs.)

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Perfect for the Organizer in Your Life…
Zip Top Organizing Utility Tote

Zip Top Org Tote

Cost: $35
Where To Buy: Thirty-One Gifts, Ashley Haley 321-231-6221
Because: This versatile tote is great for any stylish lady. The Zip Top Org Tote has five exterior pockets, two mesh side pockets and a zip top closure.

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Perfect for the Animal Lover in Your Life…
Clouded leopard with logo

Adopt an Animal

Cost: Starting at $45
Where To Buy: Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, 3755 U.S. 17, Sanford, 407-323-4450
Because: Are you looking for a special and unique gift for the animal lover in your life? The Central Florida Zoo’s Adopt an Animal program is just the thing! This is an opportunity to help cover the cost of providing excellent health and nutritional care to all the Zoo’s animals. You get to choose an animal from the adoption list. It comes with a soft plush toy. For more information please visit Three adoption levels are available with prices starting as low $45!

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Perfect for the Children in Your Life…
Original Sprout-Pigtails&Crewcuts

Original Sprout
Cost: Prices Vary
Where To Buy: Pigtails & Crewcuts, The Marketplace at Dr. Phillips, 7536 Dr Phillips Blvd #300, Orlando, 407-351-1017,
Because: The Free & Clean formulas in Pigtail & Crewcuts’ natural products contain soothing organic botanicals and are ultra-gentle making them the perfect choice for baby’s (and everyone’s) sensitive skin. The bestselling Hair & Body Baby Wash, along with the Scrumptious Baby Cream, and Natural Hair Gel moisturize, nourish and protect children’s hair and skin without harsh chemicals, hormone disruptors or other common offenders.

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Perfect for the Teenager in your life …
Flash Tattoos

Flash Tattoos
Cost: $22
Where To Buy: The Pink Chalet, 8031 Turkey Lake Rd #400, Orlando,
Because: Flash Tattoos are innovative jewelry-inspired temporary tattoos for serious (and not so serious) fashionistas. Flash Tattoos are perfect for the beach, the pool, parties, festivals, concerts—anywhere you and your skin might be seen having fun. Just apply, glimmer and go!

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Perfect for the Foodie in Your Life…

Food Lover’s Gift Basket
Cost: Prices Vary
Where To Buy: The Sacred Olive, 125 W. Plant St., Winter Garden, 407-656-6457,
Because: The Sacred Olive, a quaint store nestled in the heart of Downtown Winter Garden, is the perfect place to find a unique gift for all of your loved ones. With over 50 varieties of olive oil and vinegar pairing blends, you are sure to find a gift for any sophisticated palate. They also carry a variety of products such as pure olive oil soap, olive wood, sea salts, olives, gourmet spice blends and pasta that make great accessories to beautiful custom made baskets.

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Perfect for the Artist in Your Life…

Crochet Jewelry by Eliz Bijoux
Cost: Necklaces $48.99, bracelets $28.99, earrings $16.99
Where To Buy: Emporium at the Orange County Regional History Center, 65 East Central Boulevard, Orlando, 407-836-8596,
Because: The Orange County Regional History Center (OCRHC) carries custom crocheted jewelry by Eliz Bijoux. The buyers for the OCRHC found Eliz and his mother’s crochet jewelry at the Orlando gift show. His mom does all the crocheting by hand, and Eliz adds all the bead work.

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Perfect for the Health Nut in Your Life…

Farm Fresh Raw Honey
Cost: 2 oz. Baby Bear $2; 8 oz. Small Bear $5; 12 oz. Medium Bear $7.50; 24 oz. Large Bear $12; Buy any three of same size Honey Bears and get the 4th one free
Where To Buy: Showcase of Citrus, 510 Hwy. 27, Clermont, 352-394-4377,
Because: Honey is collected at the Showcase of Citrus from different areas within the 2500 acre ranch, under the watchful eye of our beekeepers, and placed in barrels and bottled at Showcase of Citrus Farm Store. They have four farm fresh varieties; Orange Blossom, Saw Palmetto, Wild Flower and Gallberry.

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Perfect for the Scientist in Your Life…
Screenshot 2014-12-04 19.53.06

Circuit Scribe

Cost: $49
Where To Buy: Mad Science Laboratory, Oviedo Mall, 386-898-4570,
Because: This new wire-free circuitry kit allows for all sorts of “Maker” fun using a high-tech conductive ink! Best for ages 13+.

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Perfect for the Sculptor in Your Life…
Screenshot 2014-12-11 06.38.40
Kinetic Sand
Cost: $19.99 ($17.99 for members)
Where To Buy: Orlando Science Center, 777 E Princeton St, Orlando, 407-514-2000,
Because: Kinetic Sand is easy-to-shape sand that molds into simple desktop designs. Playing with Kinetic Sand is a magical and mesmerizing experience, giving a moment of relaxation for both young and old. Kinetic Sand is based on 98% pure sand. The secret to the movement is the patented technology hidden within the binder.

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Perfect for the Christian in Your Life…
two bracelets

Scriptural Bracelets
Cost: $17.95
Where To Buy: Silver Shekel
Because: These nickel-free and lead-free bracelets are stylish, attractive, and a wonderful expression of your faith! The bracelets are stretchable and will fit any wrist size, plus will not harm those with sensitive skin. Many other scripture verses available!

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Perfect for the Love in Your Life…

Ladies Steal Her Heart Collection
Cost: Collection starts at $60
Where To Buy: Precious Fine Jewelers, Jewelry & Watch Repairs, Oviedo Mall, 407-977-8000
Because: Steal Her Heart Collection is perfect for any occasion. Choose from a simple heart ring to a gorgeous diamond heart necklace. Steal her heart like she stole yours.

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Perfect for the Team Mom in Your Life…
Customized Bling Team Shirt
Cost: Starting at $10
Where To Buy: Team Moms Rock, 407-963-2390,
Because: Customize any Team Moms Rock shirt!

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5 Healthier Holiday Desserts


Thanksgiving is synonymous with family, friends and an overload of food. So, when it comes to dessert this holiday, skip the pie and substitute with these 5 healthier alternatives. Jenna Fernandes, CEO of, the only FREE “Open Table” of family and pet care services, offers lighter desserts that are sure to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth without any guilt this Thanksgiving.

From holiday staples to fall favorites with creative twists, here are five great recipes to try with your family:

1. The Caramel Apple Bar:
This is an activity the whole family can participate in making. Start an assembly line by cutting apples into slices and inserting a candy stick for easier decorating. Once the prep is complete, dip the apples in chocolate or caramel and arrange the family’s favorite toppings such as sprinkles, coconut or crushed candy pieces to top this sweet treat. By Personal Creations.


2. Turkey Muffin:
Another great dessert to get kids creative with this fun treat for Thanksgiving. First, bake your favorite pumpkin muffin recipe and prep the decorating ingredients. Create the turkey feathers with sliced red and green apples, cut a small beak from a thin slice of carrot and finish off with squeezable icing for eyes. This simple recipe will turn this dessert into an art project.


3. Yogurt-dipped strawberries:
Yogurt-dipped strawberries are a favorite, guilt free dessert that includes healthy Greek yogurt and strawberries. Greek yogurt is high in protein and offers a thicker consistency perfect for dipping. Dip the strawberries in Greek yogurt, set on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and allow them to set in the freezer for one hour before enjoying with friends and family.


4. Baked Apples:
Apples are always a fall favorite and this baked apple recipe will become an instant hit on any family dinner table or dessert party tray this season. After preheating the oven to 350 degrees, slice apples and place in a baking dish. Finish off with a dusting of brown sugar and cinnamon for added fall flavor and bake for 15 minutes.


5. “Cocoa-Nut” Bananas:
This healthy treat is a perfect alternative to the traditional fall flavors. Start with slicing bananas down the middle. Roll each slice in cocoa powder and shake off the excess. Finish these healthy treats by rolling the slices in unsweetened coconut flakes and arrange on a fun tray.


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10 Family Activities for Valentine's Day


Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about romantic love. Show your kids how much you love them by doing some of these fun V-Day activities.

Words by  Tiffany Doerr Guerzon

1. Slip a Valentine card under each kid’s pillow and tell them to check underneath for a fun surprise when they wake up.

2. For breakfast, cut out toast with a heart shaped cookie cutter. Spread the heart shape with cream cheese and top with strawberry or raspberry jam. Then, use the rest of the bread by placing the piece of toast with the heart cut out on a plate and filling the center with red berries. Wet the rims of wine glasses or plastic cups then dip into pink or red sugar. Fill the cups with sparkling apple juice.

3. Draw a large, open heart on the bathroom mirror at kid-height with a dry erase marker. Write “I love” with an arrow pointing to the heart shape. When your child looks in the mirror to brush their teeth, his or her face will be in the heart!

4. Glam up lunch boxes by using your heart cookie cutter to shape sandwiches. Include a treat of valentine candy and—of course—a love note.

5. Draw a trail of hearts on the driveway or sidewalk in red and pink chalk. Kids can follow the path by hopping from one to the next on the way to the car or bus stop.

6. Visit a local nursing home and hand out flowers or valentines to the residents.

7. Cook up a valentine-themed dinner. Serve heart-shaped individual pizzas, or top pizza with heart-shaped pepperoni. (Cut pepperoni pieces into hearts with a mini cookie cutter.) Many pizza companies offer heart shaped pizza for takeout or delivery on V-Day as well. Serve with pink milk or sparkling juice.

8. During dinner, have each family member say why they love the person sitting next to them. Go around the table one way, and then do it again in the opposite direction.

9. After dinner, cuddle up in PJs to watch a Valentine’s Day show such as a Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That: Hurray! It’s Valentine’s Day, Winnie the Pooh, A Valentine for You, WordWorld: My Fuzzy Valentine, or Madly Madagascar.

10. Last but not least, don’t forget story time! Try one of these love-themed books: Queen of Hearts by Mary Englebreit, Love, Splat by Rob Scotten, Snowy Valentine by David Peterson, I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt or Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day is Cool by James Dean.

Spread the love by trying one or more of these ideas this February 14th. By replacing candy and gifts with time spent together, you will surely brighten your kids’ days and make fun family memories.

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Creative Halloween Treats

With Halloween right around the corner, here are some spooktacular recipes to help supply your little ghouls and goblins with nutritious dairy foods dressed up as tasty treats.

Recipes and photos by: The Florida Dairy Farmers 

Dirt Cups featuring Brownie Brittle

For the chocolate pudding
·         3/4 cups white sugar
·         2 cups milk (whole or low-fat)
·         1/4 cup cornstarch
·         1/4 teaspoon salt
·         4 tablespoons cocoa powder
·         2 tablespoons butter
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, milk, cornstarch, salt and cocoa powder. Bring to a boil while stirring, cook until mixture thickens and coats the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Cover and set aside for assembly.
For the creamy vanilla pudding:
·         2 cups milk (whole or low fat)
·         1 cup sugar
·         1/4 teaspoon salt
·         1/4 cup cornstarch
·         1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         2 tablespoons butter
Optional: 2 drops yellow food coloring and 1 drop red
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, milk, cornstarch, and salt. Bring to a boil while stirring, cook until mixture thickens and coats the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. If orange color is desired for Halloween pudding add the coloring.
To assemble:
Crush Brownie Brittle (one, 4-ounce package) by pounding with a mallet or heavy pan.
In a clear cup place 1 TBS crushed brittle on bottom, alternate with layers of orange and chocolate puddings, having final (top) layer ending with crushed brittle. Decorate with gummy worms and whole brittle piece


Halloween Ghost Shakes
·         2 cups reduced fat milk
·         1 cup vanilla frozen yogurt
·         2 tablespoons chocolate chips, melted
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Directions: In a microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate ships at 50 percent power for 40 seconds, stir and repeat at 10 second intervals until melted. Using a clean paintbrush, paint ghost face on the inside of a clear cup. Allow to set (5 minutes) In a blender, combine the milk, frozen yogurt and vanilla. Pour into prepared cups.
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The MOTHER of all Mother's Day Gift Guides

That’s right, we said it. If you put minimal effort into the other gift-giving opportunities throughout the year, you better get the Mother’s Day present right. Go big. Think fabulous. And make it count.

Feeling the pressure? We’ve got your back. Here is the MOTHER of all Mother’s Day Gift Guides.

Start Slideshow >>

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A Modern Family Feast


Spice up Grandma’s favorite recipes, and reinvent your holiday weekend to suit your own family culture.

Written by Jenny Fauser
Décor and tips by Jane Layne Events
Wardrobe styling by Tammara Kohler
Photography by Cristy Nielsen
On Location at The Vue

Holiday fare can be — to say the least — overwhelming to prepare. Throw in a sprinkling of friends, a dash of sugar-crazed kids, and a pinch of surprise in-law visits, and you’ve got a recipe for major meltdowns (by you, not the kids). Don’t martyr yourself this holiday. Quit forcing old traditions that throw your family back to the 1950s (‘scuse me, we’ll pass on aprons and zoot suits), and instead create kick-ass memories that will leave you liking (not resenting) your family this year. Assuming not everyone enjoys the stereotypical roles society can offer, let’s give a quick refresher … this is the 21st century, you got married because you liked your spouse, and most likely, pre-kids you two were one heck of a hosting team. Start there. Stay a team throughout the process, and we promise a favorable outcome.

Changing your outlook will change your outcome. View your party as an opportunity to eat the foods you don’t normally make or try yummy new recipes you’ve been dying to munch. Once you’ve each thrown out your menu ideas, visualize it together, going so far as laying out the serving dishes. This will give you both an idea if you’ve planned enough food to feed an army, or if it’s the perfect amount. As the date nears, divide and conquer those crappy household chores and daunting tasks with your spouse. If hubby’s the cook in the family, let him create the grocery list. If wife’s schedule is flexible, let her do the major shopping while the other half stops by the specialty shops to get that favorite bottle of wine.

When the day-of arrives and you’re faced with a mountain of mess through your home, bring in the second line of defense. Instead of turning into the nagging scrooge to get them to pick up their stuff, challenge them to a game of capture the critters. See if Sophie and Hunter can pick up more toys before you can. Winner gets the first slice of pie.

To say that preparing a lovely meal that your guests will drool over and compliment you on for years to come is “stressful” is by far an understatement. As you cut, chop, saute and simmer,
secretly you yearn to be your kids, freely playing without a care in the world. Instead of daydreaming of tossing the meal in the garbage and serving McDonald’s, turn your dinner party into a family affair by enlisting mini Martha Stewart and infant Emeril as sous-chefs. You’ll enjoy the company and pat yourself on the back for being an amazing cook and educator.

When last-minute mayhem approaches and the tiny boppers become restless and are into everything, alleviate the chaos by engaging them in a game of television bingo. Draw up some 5-by-5 game boards (= 25 squares), and write different TV show staples (i.e., laugh track, Cheerios commercial, Baby Bop says she loves her yellow blankie) in each box. Use chips or raisins to mark boxes as each player spies the things in his box until someone gets bingo. (Don’t forget the free space.) This should get them outta your hair until you can get the table set and those fingerprints wiped off the fridge, just in time before your guests arrive.

Forget stuffy affairs; throw in your family’s wacky traditions (or, hey, create one if you haven’t yet). Perhaps it’s that screeching Thanksgiving Day song or composing your bodies to write out the current year for the Christmas card photo. Despite guests’ raised eyebrows and eye rolls from the kids, those ridiculous family-isms are secretly met with joy and are remembered for years to come.

Booting outdated traditions means tossing unmerited expectations out the door. The key to success here is to get the entire family involved. At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, resentment can be avoided when mutual respect and communication are practiced. Keep an eye out for your spouse, jump in if there’s a hole, if you need help — ask, and have fun. Stay focused as a team. Make it your goal that everyone has a good time … everyone.


Kid-friendly tips:

• Put a spin on traditional turkey-day dishes to create kid-friendly versions. Serving sweet potato fries, turkey burger sandwiches, and sprinkling pinches of brown sugar and cinnamon on the fresh veggies will make for smiling faces.

• The children’s table décor should mimic the adults’, sans the frill. Replacing wax candles with LED ones, and fancy vase fillers with a variety of candies, pretzels and cereal will be a sweet treat for all.

• Don’t make the kids’ table just about the uncomfortable chairs that are left in the house. Make them WANT to sit for a while, with chalkboard place mats and a piece of chalk tied with a ribbon.


BOWL OF THANKS Before dinner, have each guest anonymously write what he or she is grateful for on a decorative piece of paper and place it in a stylish bowl. During dinner, each person reads one aloud and guesses whose “thanks” it was.

LEFTOVERS Keep your plastic storage containers from disappearing by sending guests home with a gift. Pack up extra edible goodies in stylish take-home boxes adorned with personal messages.

SEATING CARDS While you’re preparing the food, have the kids make seating cards out of mini-pumpkins. They can decorate them with gems, write a guest’s name on each one, and set them on top of the place settings at the table.




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Jenny's In Halloween Heaven

Jenny Fauser, managing editor, as a pop-star princess, styled by Tammara Kohler. Daughters Saylah (3) as a fairy and Audrey (20 months) as an angel in Tutu Couture while trick-or-treating in their Winter Garden neighborhood. Photo by Brittany Miller

Jenny Fauser, managing editor, as a pop-star princess, styled by Tammara Kohler. Daughters Saylah (3) as a fairy and Audrey (20 months) as an angel in Tutu Couture while trick-or-treating in their Winter Garden neighborhood. Photo by Brittany Miller

I’m not sure if it’s the candy or the spooky decorations, the parties or the theme park events that make fall so fun, but wrap it all up, hand me a candy apple, and I am in Halloween HEAVEN.

Written by Jenny Fauser

Here are a few of my favorite things, and some cool new tricks I found, to make my hyper angels howl with delight this trick-or-treat season.

Non-eerie Events
SeaWorld’s Spooktacular
is BY FAR my favorite theme park event for our spooky season. From silly Halloween-themed shows to gobs and gobs of candy for your goblins, SeaWorld offers a day of frivolity and carefree trick-or-treating. PLAYGROUND tip: Go before Halloween and beat the crazy October 31 crowd. Event begins October 3, continuing on select days throughout the month, and is included with park admission.

Looking for more Hallow-themed events? Why not take your precious pixie for a night at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party? Take your tyke trick-or-treating throughout the park on select dates September 4 through November 1. Be sure to stick around for Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween parade and the bewitching “Happy HalloWishes” fireworks spectacular. For more info, visit the Magic Kingdom page on

Trick-or-treat in the wildest neighborhood in town during the Central Florida Zoo’s ZOO Boo Bash October 17, 18, 24, 25 and 31 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Come in costume or get your face painted while visiting zoo residents. Hop on a haunted hayride, visit the pumpkin patch and trick-or-treat around the zoo. There will be no boohooing at this safe, fun and not-too-scary event.

Celebrate the spookiest time of year at the Orlando Science Center on October 31 from 12 – 4 p.m. The 6th Annual Spooktacular Science Extravaganza features a terrifyingly fun day of activities, including face painting, live shows, crafts and, of course, some tasty treats. Come in costume to trick-or-treat and participate in Gross Out Science activities, like dry ice and liquid nitrogen experiments, brew a batch of gooey slime or create slimy mucus. There will also be crafts and fun for the littlest pumpkins.

Saylah (3) as a fairy  Photo by Brittany Miller

Saylah (3) as a fairy
Photo by Brittany Miller


Feeling Fall
Please don’t hate me, but I’m not a native Floridian. Now that I think about it, probably most of you out there aren’t, either. But being from “up north” (really the Midwest), I find myself craving some fall feelings this time of year. If you’re like me, you can get your fall fix at Celebration’s Fall Festival. Filled with falling leaves every Friday and Saturday through October, this autumn-like atmosphere leaves me feeling groovy and ready for a cup of hot apple cider.

The Place to Patch
I am one who “patches” every year with my girls. I’ve searched high and low for the most fall-ish rows of pumpkins out there. A little pumpkin patch in Sanlando (I love that name-Sanlando) is the most pumpkin-patchy place I’ve found since living in Florida. Offering rows and rows of pumpkins on hay bales, story time for the kids (upon group RSVP) and fun farm animal decorations, the patch at the Sanlando United Methodist Church is a real treat. Pick your pumpkins October 2 – 31.

Time for the Treats
Did you know you can take your goblins, princesses and pirates to Disney’s Marketplace to trick-or-treat? From east to west, north to south, practically every town has its own version of a fall event. On the west side, downtown Winter Garden has a killer Halloween event where your kiddo can beg for loot as local retailers dole out the goods. Get more details on Halloweenfest at If you’re looking for a daytime candy exploration, dress up your darling and take her trick-or-treating down Park Avenue in Winter Park during their 6th Annual Family Fall Festival.

The Central Florida Candy Crawl

  • Halloween at Cranes Roost: Saturday, October 31, 5 – 9 p.m. This community-oriented event features costume contests for all ages, inflatable games, live entertainment and booths chock full of candy and trinkets. It would be a fright to be late, as the trick-or-treating starts at 5 p.m. sharp.
  • Downtown Avalon Park Spooktacular: Saturday, October 31, 5 – 9 p.m. Carve out some time for the costume parade, bobbin’ for apples, a pumpkin carving contest and, of course, trick-or-treating. The Haunted House will be chilling children of all ages October 30 and 31, 6 – 10 p.m.
  • My Gym Halloween Party: Friday, October 30, 5 – 8 p.m. Dress up the munchkins in “safe for climbing” costumes and head over to My Gym in Lake Mary for a thrilling time playing Halloween games, trick-or-treating and rompin’ around at the gym. Seek out more info at

Go Green This Halloween
Now, did you really think we’d do a “green” issue and NOT point out some really cool eco-friendly ways to celebrate? Mmmwaa haa haa haa. Come closer, dearie; let us share some suggestions that won’t leave you pale with fright.

Believe it or not, there’s actually an organization that has gained lots of national recognition, called Green Halloween. Visit it at for great tips on green treats and cool Green Halloween events in Florida. You can get your little Picasso to submit a design for this year’s Chico Bag, to be used (and reused) for trick or treating.

Here’s a nifty gadget for your rough-housing ranger. This shake flashlight found at Giaim will guide your reckless warriors to sweets as they bop down the streets on October 31. This light is lit by shaking, uses no batteries and is shatterproof.

My favorite new thing I learned while researching Halloween this year was the concept of reverse trick or treating. That’s when you go door to door with your kiddo and collect for Unicef or recycled cell phones. Trust me, the people who benefit from this cool concept are the ones who get the real treat this Halloween.

Non-Dorky Ways to Decorate
Don’t scare your guests away with tacky decorations this October. No need to flood your yard with every inflatable spider or Styrofoam tombstone that you can get your claws on. offers these suggestions to spook up your interior. First, cover the sofas, chairs, dining room table and all other large furniture items with old white sheets. This will give your party space an abandoned look. Second, gather fall leaves, tumbleweed and dead flowers from outdoors and place them across tables and buffets. It will look like the windows opened and leaves have blown into the abandoned house from outside.

And remember, don’t let your little lovely eat her candy before you’ve thoroughly checked it, never enter houses of strangers, always use a flashlight and watch out for black cats!

Jenny Fauser, managing editor, as a pop-star princess, styled by Tammara Kohler. Daughters Saylah (3) as a fairy and Audrey (20 months) as an angel in Tutu Couture while trick-or-treating in their Winter Garden neighborhood. Photo by Brittany Miller

Jenny Fauser, managing editor, as a pop-star princess, styled by Tammara Kohler. Daughters Saylah (3) as a fairy and Audrey (20 months) as an angel in Tutu Couture while trick-or-treating in their Winter Garden neighborhood.
Photo by Brittany Miller


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