Thursday, December 31, 2015

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It's almost time -- for the new year to grace us. It's a time for fresh starts and new goals. Remember 2015, with it's "Hotline Bling", "The Dress" and "Pizza Rat"? We do. Remember Adele's comeback? We do. Remember Shia LeBeouf screaming  "Just do it!!!!!!"? We sure do. Well, maybe there's some truth to LeBeouf's seemingly insane green screen rant. Don't let your dreams be dreams people -- 2016 is your year. Make it a good one! :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Traditions

XmasTraditions

Christmas traditions. We all have them, whether it's decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving, or opening just one present on Christmas eve night. Some people like to start their holiday early; busting out the X-Mas decorations when it hasn't even been Thanksgiving yet. Of course, that's when department stores start pushing the holiday. And then of course you have Black Friday. If you want to risk life and limb to get a good deal on a huge Samsung LCD super-extreme-HD 9,000,000 pixel TV then hey, go for it! Granted, there are have been some deals worth going for. Then ya gotta keep your eye out for those Cyber Monday deals on Amazon and the like. Even now, various websites still have exclusive savings and discounts to watch for.

But back to traditions.

For most, there will be plenty of time spent with family. And then opening presents, and having a nice meal. In my family, we celebrate Christmas Eve night with one side of the family. It's a large family, so we stick to a gift exchange, and have some home cooked food in potluck format. This is followed by Christmas morning with immediate family, which includes opening presents, and then going to my grandparents' after to celebrate, exchange more gifts, and enjoy Grandma's awesome cooking.

Of course, there are many items that represent Christmas in a traditional way. You have stockings which are hung (classically on a mantle above a fire place) and stuffed with small gifts like candy and other trinkets to be dug through on Christmas Day.

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The Christmas tree, which can be real or fake depending on what your family prefers. The tree is usually strung with lights, tinsel or garland, and ornaments. The ornaments can range from little santa figurines to colored/sparkly bulbs, even to candy canes. The tree is also generally topped with a star, an angel, or Santa Claus!

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When we were kids, many of us also remember leaving out some milk and cookies for Santa, which has been a long enjoyed practice over the years. Even leaving some food for his reindeer can be fun too! I legitimately was convinced Santa had come the night before because when I woke up Christmas morning, what would be left but some crumbs on the plate, the glass of milk gone, and possibly a hand written note saying "Thank you!". That St. Nick, what a nice guy.

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Many of us have our beloved Christmas traditions. Many of those traditions started when we were young and are still carried on. As we get older, though, we realize these traditions aren't so much about getting presents and chowing down on some delicious food. They're more of a representation of the joy felt around the holidays; seeing the smile on a loved ones face as they open your thoughtful, personal gift to them; or staying up late watching a Christmas movie with someone close. No matter your traditions, we hope your Christmas is filled with happiness, warmth, and love.

Holiday Recipe: Cinnamon Rolls


from minimalistbaker.com

I don't think I've met a single person that doesn't like cinnamon rolls. For many, it's an essential Christmas Morning treat! We found a very simple recipe from minamalistbaker so you can make some of these bad boys on your own! They're even vegan if that's how you roll!

Ingredients:
1 packet instant yeast
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup Earth balance (vegan butter), divided
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp sugar, divided

Dairy Free Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 Tbsp non-dairy butter (such as Earth Balance), softened
2- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (1/2 lb.)
4 ounces softened "Tofutti" dairy-free cream cheese, softened
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract



from minimalistbaker.com You need to get going on these, they look too good to pass up!


from minimalistbaker.com

1. In large saucepan, heat the almond milk and 3 Tbsp Earth Balance until warm and melted.
2. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle on yeast. Let activate for 10 minutes, then add 1 Tbsp sugar, then salt and stir.
3. Add in flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring as you go. The dough will be sticky. When it is too thick to stir, transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for about one minute until it forms a loose ball. Rinse your mixing bowl out, coat it with canola or grapeseed oil, and add your dough ball back in. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. Brush with 3 Tbsp melted Earth Balance and top with 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 - 1Tbsp cinnamon.
5. Starting at one end, tightly roll up the dough and situate seam side down. Then with a serrated knife or a string of floss, cut the dough into 1.5 - 2 inch sections and position in a well-buttered 8x8 square or comparable sized round pan (should have about 10 rolls). Brush with remaining 2 Tbsp Earth Balance (melted) and cover with plastic wrap. Set to let rise again while preheating oven to 350 degrees F.
6. Bake rolls for 25-30 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes and then serve immediately.


from minimalistbaker.com

These instructions can also be found at minimalistbaker.com, which is a great blog for "delicious recipes that require 10 ingredients or less, one bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare"!

You can also find the cream cheese frosting instructions here. Thank you to Dana for a wonderful recipe!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Movie Roundup



There are tons of Christmas movies out there. From the old classics to the new comedies. One of my friends has a family tradition of watching A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight, at least until they fall asleep. And I mean, think about all those Lifetime movies... The made for TV ones that really tug at the ol' heartstrings. Some are good, and others are debatable. We've compiled a top 10 list of what we think are some of the must-see movies this holiday season to help you out! We'll save a long explanation for each because most are familiar with them :)

1. Miracle on 34th Street

from foxmovies.com

2. A Christmas Story

from picsfair.com

3. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

from youtube.com

4. Elf


from Amazon.com

5. A Christmas Carol

from christianfilmdatabase.com

6. Home Alone II: Lost in New York

from imdb.com

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Animated Version)
from schmoesknow.com

8. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

from brightboldandbeautiful.com

9. Home Alone


from portland5.com

10. It's a Wonderful Life

from mvfilmsociety.com

Hopefully you'll be able to catch a couple of these movies this holiday! Honorable mentions: Scrooged (because Bill Murray [A Very Murray Christmas on Netflix - not recommended]), The Nightmare Before Christmas (It's actually meant to be a Halloween movie), A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, Christmas with the Kranks, The Santa Claus, and White Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Decorating your Apartment on a Budget


Maybe you’re fresh out of school and settling into your first apartment, or perhaps you’re sick of staring at the same picture hanging above your bed and need to switch things up. It’s easy to blow the bank on designer furniture and apartment decor, but fortunately there several ways to create your own cool space without spending too much.

Our first tip: thrift stores, resale or consignment shops are your friend. You don’t have to use hand-me-downs from your parents or friends, but you can search used goods stores for whatever you’re looking for. On top of saving money from buying designer name brands, you’re likely to find some really unique stuff that you won’t get at big box or chain stores. This is the best (and cheapest) way to add a personal touch to your living space.

Take advantage of online sales; they’re a good way to get that pricey item you’ve had your eye on without totally emptying your pocket. Keep checking prices and look for deals regularly from online retailers. This might cost you more, but it’s a good way to get a particular piece that you want. Lots of online stores run pretty cheap too, depending on your style or needs.

Browse online apartment websites for inspiration. Many times, all you need is some creativity from online sites for you to use what you already have in a more effective way, or get ideas that you wouldn’t normally think of. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/ is a great resource that tours real people’s home spaces as well as offering decorating and lifestyle tips for any type of homeowner, renter, budget or living space.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Surviving Finals Week: A Guide for College Students

Finals week is nearly upon us, and with it all of the stress-induced anxiety associated with end of the semester exams and projects. It’s easy to let these worries distract you from studying or preparing properly, but luckily we’re here with some A+ tips for college students to survive finals week. Grab some coffee (we know you have some nearby) and get ready!


Avoid cramming
While this might be easier said than done, cramming is not really an effective way to prepare for a test. In fact, it makes it harder to retain the information you’re taking in. Make sure to study in intervals, taking short breaks every hour or so to maximize your time. This is also a good way to develop time management skills; don’t leave everything for the night before.

Say no to all-nighters
A sentence that any college student loves to hear but, alas, is rarely able to listen to. Everyone pulls all-nighters, but they are simply more harmful than beneficial. You need sleep in order to function at your best, and if you don’t get any it makes studying and test taking harder, which is just counter-productive. Study hard, but take the time to rest well to ensure a sharp mind for test day.

Organize yourself
Being prepared is half the battle. Always have a game plan before you start studying, or it’s easy to get off track or distracted. Keep a planner, organize your notes, and make sure you know what you need to complete or study going into your work session. These steps make it infinitely easier to stay on track and make the most of your time.

Relax post finals
So you’ve done it. You’ve taken all of your final exams and turned in every last project (hopefully with confidence). Be sure to take the time to unwind when you’re all finished; blowing off steam after a stressful week is just as important as being prepared for it. Besides- you’ve earned it!


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Fun Winter Ideas

So now that we've been getting some snow for a good old Iowa winter, what is there to do? Sure, you played in the snow when you were little, but the fact is, it can still be a good time! Try out some of these fun winter ideas if you get sick of being cooped up inside.

snowstuff1