Live Christmas Tree Tips

Live Christmas Tree Tips

Every year between 25-30 million people take the plunge and purchase a live Christmas tree for their festive décor. If that sounds like a lot of trees, consider that there are currently 350 million Christmas trees growing in the United States. Crazy, right? So, let’s take a look at how to properly care for your live Christmas tree; you’ll get your money’s worth by enjoying its beauty all month long.

  • Start with the buying process. Choose a reputable nursery or tree farm. If you see needles scattered around the floor, try a different store. The Farmer’s Almanac reports that the most popular types of Christmas trees sold are Scotch pine, Douglas fir, white pine, and balsam fir. Ask a store associate if you have questions about which kind is right for you.
  • Before you start decorating, take a few inches off the trunk with a saw, and after the tree is secured in a tree stand, let the watering begin! A freshly cut tree can down nearly a gallon of water in the first 24 hours. We’ve all seen Christmas Vacation; don’t let the tree dry out! A watered tree is a beautiful tree, so treat it like an extra pet this month.
  • For safety reasons, keep your tree away from any sources of heat. A tree might look breathtaking next to a fireplace, but it’s just not worth the risk. The same rule applies to heaters and direct sunlight. Sunlight won’t be a safety concern, but trees kept at a lower temperature are less likely to dry out and drop needles—your vacuum will thank you!
  •  Avoid adding anything to the water you give your tree. Additives and old wives’ tales like honey or aspirin can be tempting to add, but they aren’t necessary and won’t prolong the life of your tree. Instead, you simply need to feel the needles on your tree for dryness to determine if you should add more water.
  • Lastly, when the season is over and you’re ready to dispose of your tree, you can get crafty or simply recycle it. Holmes Lake offers an annual Christmas tree drop-off in January where discarded trees are turned into mulch. You can also consider cutting the tree for your own firewood, using the trunk as a perch for birds to feed, or using the branches as DIY mulch.

Warm up your yard with a fire pit

DIY fire pit ideas to enjoy all year long.Here in the Midwest where we know what the winter brings, it can be tempting to hibernate inside until the first signs of spring. But you can resist that urge and still get a breath of fresh air by incorporating a fire pit into your outdoor decorations. If DIY is your style, we’ve got some simple and functional ideas that will turn your fire pit into a gathering place all year long.

Consult the Experts

For straightforward and thorough instructions, Popular Mechanics can’t be beat. They’ve put together a great guide to building large and safe fire pit that will be roasting marshmallows in no time.

Large DIY fire pit from Popular Mechanics

Circle of Love

This design has enough seating for your entire family and then some. After all, there’s no point in having a fire pit if you can’t share it with some great friends. Just imagine the lively conversation that will happen around this fire pit

Large seating around fire pit

Keep the Circle Going

Not only does this fire pit look incredibly safe, but also it’s going to save you mowing time in the summer. We love the contrast between the circle of bricks against the green grass, and the white picket fence in the background isn’t a bad touch either.

Brick circle fire pit in lawn

Make it Your Own

How ever you decide to incorporate a fire pit, don’t forget to put your own personal touch on it. Feast your eyes on this bit of vintage metal that completely takes this fire pit to the next level. Do some salvage and searching until you find just the right piece to add, and then simply enjoy!

Iron decoration around fire pit


Burn off a few calories by taking your fire pit underground. It adds a level of safety, but also just looks incredible.

In-ground fire pit

Let your creativity run wild as you install your very own fire pit. Just don’t forget to enjoy some s’mores and hot chocolate while sitting around it when you’re done.


Thanksgiving Fun at the Kids’ Table

Thanksgiving Fun at the Kids' Table

Most of us have memories at the kids’ table during Thanksgiving and holidays. It can seem like an exclusion from all the adult festivities, but with these fun and creative ideas, the kids’ table doesn’t have to be a banishment. Incorporate some of these concepts into your Thanksgiving table for little ones, and even your adult guests will want to join in the fun.

Elbows Off the Table, Crayons On

If the best part of eating at Macaroni Grill was getting to color on the table, then this idea is for you. A large roll of white paper (or orange to keep it festive) is all you need to add creativity to Thanksgiving. Cover your own kids’ table in paper, provide plenty of crayons, and let the kids’ imaginations go wild. Show them how to turn their handprint into Thanksgiving turkeys for extra fun.

Corn Husk Friends

If you’re a Little House on the Prairie fan, you might remember this concept. Use corn cobs or corn husks to create pilgrim dolls, and watch your Thanksgiving table decorations double as interactive play for all the kiddos. Martha Stewart outlines how here.

Corn Husk Dolls

Timeless Pilgrim Decorations

Martha also gets credit for this simple yet oh-so-appealing table decoration. You don’t even need to be a master crafter to pull off this look. It’s a simple “less is more” design that still incorporates a nice history lesson into your Thanksgiving meal. Throw in some Thanksgiving trivia questions to get the conversation flowing. Use this link for directions and free printables.

Pilgrim Centerpiece

Activity Book

Double the use of your tablecloth crayons by giving each child a Thanksgiving coloring and activity book. The book is free to download and print and can keep kids of all ages occupied for hours … or at least until the pie is served.

Thanksgiving coloring pages

Centerpiece with a Surprise

We can’t get enough of this paper bag turkey centerpiece. But the best part is the surprise snack inside. You can show off your creativity and impeccable taste in snacking, but the best part is how easy this craft is to pull off.

Paper Bag Turkey

A Healthy Dessert

We know, we know, it’s not quite pie (We really encourage you to serve that, too.) but you just can’t go wrong with these cute and healthy fruit cornucopias. Plus, we all know the easiest way to get kids to eat healthy is to make it eye appealing. This healthy after-dinner snack only comes with one catch—make enough for the adults, too, because these are just too difficult to pass up.

fruit cornucopias

Focus on Thankfulness with these 5 Tips

5 Tips to Focus on ThankfulnessThanksgiving is upon us! The season of food, family, and football is fast approaching, and our to-do lists are growing to prove it. While we don’t recommend that you ignore that to-do list completely, there is a healthy balance of planning for the holidays and enjoying them at the say time. So instead of rushing through Thanksgiving and feeling accomplished when every chore on your list is checked off, take a moment to slow down and really consider how to be grateful this Thanksgiving.

1. Volunteer.

We don’t all have the extra cash to donate to our favorite causes, especially around the holidays. But your time is just valuable as your wallet. There are no shortages of programs to which to give a few hours of your time, and you might find that once you start volunteering, it becomes a welcomed habit in your life. Animal shelters, retirement homes, hospitals, food banks—they all rely on the helping hands of volunteers. But if you do find yourself with some extra funds, use them! Keep money handy in your wallet for every time you pass a bell ringer. Hand out gift cards to the homeless. Or when a checkout clerk asks the standard, “Would you like to donate a dollar to…” proudly say, “Yes!” Whatever it is you have to give, a little goes a long way when we all give together.

2. Be Mindful of Being Thankful.

When the Thanksgiving meal is over and the turkey coma is just starting to set in, don’t rush from the table to the couch just yet. Give everyone a chance to first say something they are thankful for. Acknowledging what makes us grateful is the perfect way to make sure we don’t forget it. You can also use the coming year to prepare for your next Thanksgiving by keeping track of the thankfulness you feel every day. Keep a jar of colorful notes for yourself, reminding you and the whole family what you’re thankful for. Next Thanksgiving, open the jar and relive each special moment by reading it out loud.

3. Plan Ahead.

Whether you’re an organized go-getter or a procrastinator who needs a little nudge, this journal is for you. It’s a planner that’s geared towards you reaching success and helps breakdown those giant goals into feasible pieces that you can conquer at your own pace. Start one now, and you’ll be surprised how good you feel at the start of 2017 when you can measure your progress instead of lamenting over which New Year’s resolutions are right for you.

4. Put Yourself First.

We know, it doesn’t seem like the usual order of operations. But to truly be thankful, mindful, and give back to others, you must take care of yourself first. It doesn’t have to be expensive either, unless you’ve saved a little extra cash and can’t get that thought of a spa day out of your mind. An exercise class, book club, evening walk, or just taking time to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee each day all fall into the category of self-care. If you can’t decide, our favorite starting point is a little extra sleep. Nothing says you value yourself like granting your body some extra shut eye.

5. Love the Ones You’re With.

One of the best parts of the holidays? Being with friends and family, of course. Often the holiday season is one of the only times all year we can get the whole family together. So, enjoy it! According to The Huffington Post, surrounding ourselves with the ones we love is one of the 7 Habits of Grateful People. Use this time to make sure friends and family know just how much they mean to you because:

 “Thankful people know they didn’t get to where they are by themselves — and they make it a habit to spend time with those people who matter most.” And it might just be a habit you want to continue all year long.

Make-ahead recipes for your Thanksgiving feast

According to, in 2011 the United States was expected to produce nearly 750 million pounds of cranberries. Which, seems like a lot, unless you’re the first person to say “please pass the cranberry sauce” at Thanksgiving dinner. Couple that with the 235 million turkeys we eat annually (a fifth of which are consumed on Thanksgiving), and you’ve almost got a Thanksgiving feast.

But if your palate is craving a little bit more, browse through these ideas. The best part is that all of these recipes can be prepared ahead of time, leaving you more family and football time.


Speaking of all of those cranberries, maybe you’d like something a little more appealing than the gelatin out of a can. Real Simple shares this recipe that can be made up to four days in advance. Get ready for real texture and real flavor (and plenty of real, delicious cranberries) that almost look too pretty to eat.


Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes almost always seem to find their way to our Thanksgiving table. But why not make this healthy and tasty spud into finger food? The sweet potatoes can be cut and prepped in advance, leaving you with one job: toss them in the oven. Eat them plain or with your favorite dipping sauce, and you’ve just invited a traditional side dish into 2016.

sweet potato wedges

Mashed potatoes

If you’ve ever tried to make mashed potatoes ahead of time, you were probably more than a little disappointed. Luckily, The Kitchn offers some helpful tips and a recipe for potatoes that actually tastes better when it is made in advance and stored in the fridge. For starters, they urge the right type of potato (russet) and equipment (don’t use anything you have to plug in). Finish off the perfection by using whole milk, and slowly warm it up on Thanksgiving Day.

mashed potatoes

Apple pie

If there’s anything as American as Thanksgiving, it’s apple pie. But a homemade apple pie is both tedious and time consuming. The Food Network encourages preparing this deep dish apple pie recipe in advance. Not only does this classic dessert look mouthwatering, The Food Network advises storing it in the fridge (preferably the night before the big feast) until you’re ready to bake.

apple pie


Lastly, the centerpiece of every Thanksgiving meal is, of course, the turkey. But there’s even a way to save you holiday stress and prepare this staple early. Two words: smoked turkey. This requires a couple of days of prep. First, you’ll want to dry brine the turkey two days before your feast, but don’t worry, the recipe explains how. Then, the day before, let the turkey enjoy the warmth of a smoker. Store the smoked meat in the refrigerator until you’re ready to heat and serve.

smoked turkey

We can’t promise that preparing your Thanksgiving meal in advance will save you from all of the holiday stress, but it does give you plenty of extra time to enjoy every minute of the day and be thankful.


7 Organization Tips for an Open House

Open House OrganizationGetting a home ready for an open house is a big project and requires proper preparation in order for it to be a successful event. Marketing, deep cleaning, enhancing the ambiance, and repairs are among the many items on the open house to-do list.

Organizing the home and staging the home are crucial to an open house. Follow these handy organization tips that can increase the value of your home in the eye of homebuyers.

Photo by mobilerazzdotcom at Morguefile.comRemove Everything From Countertops

Especially in the kitchen and bathrooms. These places are often the make-or-break point for many buyers. This is also a great time to get rid of paper clutter once and for all!

Tidy Up Shelves

Put away and tidy up books, straighten pictures and ornaments, and remove clutter to leave shelves open and pleasing to the eye. Visit Pinterest for some great shelf decorating ideas.


Keep Closets and Cabinets Clean

The temptation to stuff everything in closets or bathroom cabinets is real. The problem is, homebuyers like to look there too. Make sure to use baskets, bins, and other organizers to make things less cluttered.

Move Pets and Pet Stuff Out of the House

Get this done a day or two before the event. Having a neighbor or friend take care of your pet makes cleaning easy and rids the home of potential allergens for some buyers. Allowing a couple days between the pets’ removal and the open house would also help eliminate any lingering pet odor.

Spruce Up the Yard

The front of the house is the first thing prospective buyers see when arriving to a home showing. Curb appeal is essential for assessing home value. Mow the lawn, trim hedges, weed the garden, and put toys and equipment in the garage or a storage unit.

Move Vehicles Out of the Garage

I recommend leaving as much open space in the garage as possible because it makes it appear larger. Homebuyers want to know how much space would be available to fit their own stuff. Find a place in the neighborhood where it would be okay to keep the cars parked during the open house.

Push Furniture Against the Walls

This opens up the room and looks tidy. Try moving around excess furniture to lesser used areas, perhaps the basement, if an area is too crowded.

Remember: less is more. Organizing for an open house is typically not the same as how you would organize the place for everyday living. The idea is to keep items away and out of sight and open up the space to a model home status.





Decorating for Fall

Saying goodbye to summer doesn’t have to be so sad. Especially when fall, and decorating for fall, is as fun as these ideas. From the front porch to inside the home, these creative tips will have you forgetting all about those delightful dog days of summer.

The Mantle

For starters, get your fireplace in the mood for autumn. After all, you’ll be spending an awful lot of time here (hopefully with hot chocolate) when the weather turns colder. If choosing colors isn’t your thing, consider this easy monochrome look. The white pumpkins really stand out, especially with those little pops of color.

fall leaf mantle

No worries if you don’t have a fireplace. You can still decorate like you do. A shelf looks just as lovely as a mantel. And a little chalkboard paint can go a long way if you’re really dreaming of that fireplace look.

Chalkboard paint fireplace with shelf

The Porch

If you’re just itching to get your front door and porch in the autumn mood, we’ve got you covered. Think beyond the standard jack-o-lantern and door wreath. Instead, swap out the wreath for something a little more…juicy. This apple display will do the trick, and you can even let the apple theme flow indoors as well.

apple door

Leaves make a great door decoration, plus there’s no raking required. Leaf garland is stunning, especially when contrasted with a more rustic look. And strategically placed mums are an absolute must for fall–we just love how this look comes together:

fall door

The Pumpkins

Lastly we couldn’t forget pumpkins, but we love the idea of branching out with the pumpkin creativity. These white pumpkins with glitter letters (yes, glitter!) are just too fun to pass up. Use the monogram of your last name, or let each kid pick a glitter color and represent the whole family.

White pumpkin with glitter monogram

And because we love being resourceful, that chalkboard paint for your fireplace project doubles as an essential item in this pumpkin project. Coat a pumpkin in the paint and then change up your design whenever the mood strikes. Check out the full set of instructions here.

chalkboard paint pumpkins

Easy Ways to Tackle Fall Cleaning

fall cleaningThere are certainly more exciting things to do in the Fall than clean. Pumpkin patches, holidays, sipping warm apple cider and doing absolutely nothing. But your home and your sanity will thank you this winter if you do some simple Fall cleaning now. A little bit of effort will ensure a more relaxing winter season later on.

Work on the outside:

  • Re-painting your house numbers will give your home new life, and all in under 15 minutes. Take a cup of coffee with you and enjoy the beautiful fall weather.
  • Your garage will need a little upkeep after Summer festivities. Sweep out dust and debris, and stash away all of those summer toys. Get a head start on Winter by creating your own impromptu mud room right in the garage with a new door mat. Also check your Winter essentials (like the snow blower and shovels) so you aren’t scrambling when the first snow falls.
  • Start of your seasonal porch decorating by first giving it a good sweep. A hose or pressure washer will make cobwebs and leftover dirt practically disappear. Then grab some pumpkins, and put that clean porch to good use.
  • If you’re experienced and have the right tools, make sure your yard is ready for snow by trimming tree branches and bushes. It’s a great way to make your yard look sharp, but it’s also preparing your landscaping for a heavy dose of snow. You can also outsource this task to a professional to save some time.

Cleaning indoors:

  • Once you’re ready to move the cleaning inside, start with a clean vacuum. Replace old filters, and make sure the canister is clean. Trust us, you’ll be using it a lot.
  • Make dust bunnies your enemy. Dust all of those places you’ve been ignoring while you were having fun this Summer. Check light fixtures, ceiling fans, and window treatments for any dust hiding out. Use a dust cloth or your trusty vacuum to make dust disappear.
  • It’s been a few months since the coat closest was put to use. Take a peek at what’s been hiding in there and sort through your winter outerwear while you’re at it. Take note of any items you’re missing (hates, gloves, etc.) and make a trip to a thrift store with any items you no longer need.
  • Find all of the stray crumbs under cushions and furniture and get rid of it! Pests will start looking for a warm meal once the temperatures start to drop, and you don’t want your house to entice them inside.
  • Don’t worry, you’re almost done. Finish up your Fall cleaning by going through the pantry and cupboards. Toss anything that expired, and if you find you have way too much of some items, consider donating them and brightening someone else’s autumn with the gift of a full stomach.


It’s pumpkin season—fun, food, frills

pumpkin patchIt’s officially fall, and what better way to celebrate than to enjoy all that pumpkins have to offer. From visiting a pumpkin patch, to delicious treats, and even some decorating—there’s really no limit to what you can with a great pumpkin. We have a few ideas to get you started ringing in autumn.

Pumpkin Patches

Vala’s Pumpkin Patch

Even if you don’t have small children, a pumpkin patch visit is practically a fall necessity. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from around Nebraska, and for every budget.  Vala’s Pumpkin Patch is large and filled with live shows, a corn maze, shopping, and of course, plenty of pumpkins. Visit on a Monday thru Thursday for discounted ticket prices, otherwise pricing ranges from $13.99 to $17.99.

Roca Berry Farm

Roca Berry farm is a short and beautiful drive only 15 minutes from Lincoln. They even offer season passes for $23.99. If you love Halloween, you might want to splurge for the Sinister Circus Psychopath Haunted Manor tickets. They run $19.99, and it is sure to be memorable experience.

Nielsen Kids U-Pick Pumpkin Patch

If you love pumpkins and you also love the honor system, then Nielsen Kids U-Pick Pumpkin Patch is definitely for you. You’ll enjoy the complete lack of sticker shock, and the acres of pumpkins and gourds in every variety and color. You’ll have to drive to Minden to get there, but a short road trip through Nebraska in the fall? It doesn’t get much better than that.


pumpkin tiramisu Photographer: Alison Miksch

So you’ve stocked up on pumpkins, now what? If you’re the ambitious type, use a pie pumpkin for your recipes. But we love the ease of opening up a can of pumpkin, too. Whichever way you choose to enjoy the savory flavor, this Pumpkin-Espresso Tiramisu is probably a must!


pumpkin vase

Lining your front porch with jack-o-lanterns is a time-honored tradition. But don’t just stop there. There are plenty of creative—and simple—ways to decorate with pumpkins this season. Try starting out with this elegant and festive flower arrangement. You can browse Reader’s Digest for the rest of their crafty ideas.


5 ways to keep your superparent game strong through the school year

superhero kidsWe all start off as heroes at the beginning of the school year. Those school forms are signed and returned on time. Perfectly coordinated outfits are strategically laid out the night before. Showers, fresh haircuts, homework schedules—they’re on par for the perfect school year.

And then … there’s week two. We stumble a bit. But not to fear, there are simple steps you can take to keep your game strong from now all the way through that last day of school.

The Clothes

You can avoid those early morning outfit arguments by laying out clothes the night before, but do we really have time for that five nights a week? Try the zip lock back method. When you’re folding laundry, pair and fold matching outfits in bags that can be conveniently stored in the closet or dresser. Kids can pick the colors and outfit that suits their mood each morning, matching accessories and all. Those favorite (and probably well worn) T-shirts can be hung in the closet within reach, and we all know that the “favorite” shirt really goes with anything anyway. And as far as laundry goes, relax. Try one load a day. The real trick to stress relief is making sure just that one load gets folded and put away each day. Even better if you can get the kids to help.

Cold Lunch

Want to make your lunch packing extra economical? Use leftovers! Every real pizza lover loves cold pizza, so don’t toss those extra take-out pieces before you stock pile a few days of lunches. You can also spend just a few (key word: few) minutes each night throwing a few premade items into lunchbox. Juice boxes, fruit cups, and those magic Uncrustables, are perfect for making your morning a breeze—even before your coffee. Invest in a well-sealed, leak-proof water bottle, and keep the kiddos hydrated all school day long.

The Forms

Oh, the dreaded forms. They come home crumpled in the bottom of backpacks covered in crumbs, but it’s okay! Just take five minutes each day after you arrive home, and empty out each backpack. Create an easy filing system with baskets or shelves to organize each child’s papers.

The Perfect Planner

Some of us are old school fans of putting the pen to paper to help us keep organized. A Franklin planner (though a little pricier than others) will let you customize the perfect planner for your needs. Just pick the pages you want, the size, and relish in your organization. For the more tech-minded, an endless number of apps will solve all of your scheduling needs, particularly if you want to sync up with other phones in your family. Shared Google calendars are handy for multiple parents to juggle activities.

Weekly Meeting

Lastly, set aside just a few minutes each week to dish out the scheduling details with your family. Plan rides, which meetings to attend and by whom, and don’t forget to ask each kid the best part of their week and any concerns they have. Essentially, being that super parent is less about the hectic craziness, and more about just a few minutes each day staying on top of things.

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