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Gift A Feast

New Year's resolutions
By Gypsy Achong

New Year's ResolutionsHow many New Year's Resolutions have you made? How many have you kept?

If you're like me, the answers are, "Too many to count," and "Not very many."

That's why, a few years ago, I decided to change the way I think about New Year's Resolutions. Instead of declaring that I will lose 15 pounds or cut sugar/gluten/alcohol from my diet, I make resolutions that will lead me to eat smarter and exercise more. Instead of vowing to work no more than 40 hours a week, I make resolutions that lead me to spend more time with family and friends. Here are some suggested New Year's Resolutions to consider for 2016.

Find a form of exercise you look forward to doing

If you dread going to the gym, find another way to break a sweat. Take a Bollywood dance class, or try your hand at Taiko drumming. Train for a century ride on your bicycle, or sign up for a triathlon prep class. Join an adult sports league or outrigger canoe club. Host a wii fit tennis tournament or dance party. The key is to try anything and everything that looks like it might be fun. When you find something you truly enjoy, you'll be more likely to find a way to work it into your regular schedule.

Try a new fruit, vegetable, grain, flavor, recipe, or cooking technique every week

Eating healthy requires eating a wide variety of foods, and I find that the bigger my culinary repertoire, the less likely I am to fall back on carb-heavy go-to dishes. As a result of experimentation with grains, I have discovered that my kids like quinoa at least as much as I do, and farro is delicious in almost any hearty stew. Omnivore Salt has become our family's new favorite condiment, and my husband will eat any vegetable I sprinkle it on. And when I use the Zoodler, my kids go gadzooks for zucchini.

Make a Play Schedule

If you truly want to work less and play more, schedule playtime on your calendar and treat it as you would a work meeting or deadline. A friend who loves to cook and spend time outdoors resolved to host 15 picnics in 2015. The final picnic is scheduled for the afternoon of New Year's Eve. Another friend signed up for a 6-week solo performance workshop and loved it so much she ended up writing and performing three one-woman shows before sold-out audiences. Yet another friend launched a weekly Happy Hour club, in which she sends out a group email each Wednesday with the name and address of a bar in the City. Anyone who wants to join her is invited to show up at that bar between 5 and 7 pm. No RSVPs are allowed, and the later you arrive, the more likely it is that the Happy Hour Club has disbanded or moved to a better bar.

Whatever you resolve to do, may all your New Year's Resolutions come true.

 

Employee gift ideas
By Gypsy Achong

Employee giftsBeing thanked makes the heart sing!

There is nothing like the feeling you get when you hear the words “thank you.”  Thanksgiving reminds us to consider, appreciate and thank our employees, co-workers, friends and family. Hearing “thank you” makes us feel valued. As a bonus, when we sincerely express our gratitude, we feel joy!

Owning and running a business can be a great adventure. One of the keys to success is nurturing your dedicated employees. A great time to show your team how much you appreciate their hard work is during the winter holidays.

Being specific with your thanks makes a big difference. Instead of saying “Thank you,” try saying “Thank you for your hard work on our new ad designs. The changes you suggested really make them shine.”  Saying “thank you” this way not only expresses your gratitude, but let’s your folks know you notice and appreciate the things they contribute as individuals.  

Beyond saying “thank you,” gifts of appreciation can make a big impact on the important people in our lives. Start with a simple handwritten note and consider adding more personalized gifts. At a staff meeting the boss presents a thoughtfully chosen bottle of wine to each of his workers. The brand new hire gets Vinho Verde (green wine), the seasoned veteran receives Rose Champagne, and the assistant director is presented with a bottle of “La Mano Derecha,” an Argentinian Cabernet. How thoughtful to be called “The Right Hand” man through a gift of wine.  

Blurb, a San Francisco based self-publishing group gives their employees the gift of time.  In recent years employees received a paid day off with a little cash to do whatever their heart desired. It’s an easy way to make your employees feel special.

Celebrate by taking your team “around the world” with a luncheon or potluck. Have an international theme. Try serving tapas for Spain, tamales for Mexico, croissants for France, etc. Decorate your breakroom around the theme. 

Consider awarding personalized treats to your staff members. As a foodie, a sweet treat or savory array makes me feel truly appreciated.  Our gifts are unique and beautiful, as well as delicious. Find the perfect “thank you” gift here! And thanks to you for the time you spent reading! 

5 easy ways to create a fun room for kids
By Gypsy Achong

5 easy ways to create a fun room for kidsDesigning a room for kids is always the perfect opportunity to let your creativity shine. When it comes to this area of the home, the sky is the limit since you can get away with using bold colors, mix-matched patterns and multiple textures all in the same space. As you begin to develop your decorating scheme, remember to keep in mind the kid’s interests and age range. Then, use these ideas for inspiration that will ensure your kid’s room is a fun space that provides amazing opportunities to grow and explore.

Start with A Theme

Every kid has a special obsession that is guaranteed to generate smiles and intense focus. Spend some time talking to your kid about the things and activities they enjoy, then try to incorporate elements of their personality into the overall design plan. For example, an animal enthusiast will enjoy having a display case to celebrate their cherished pet, and a budding ballerina will love having her personal barre and mirror decorating the walls.

Get Creative with Paint

Every room design should begin with a fresh coat of paint that will tie the whole theme together. Remember that kids love bright, bold colors that set the mood for fun. As you choose your paint, have a little fun too by experimenting with special types to create a chalkboard or white board space where the kids can express themselves.

Add Kid-Friendly Furniture

Miniature couches, kid-sized coffee tables and soft, fluffy rugs all provide kids with a touch of comfort in their play space. Kids’ beds also come in a variety of styles that can suit any décor. Bunk beds with slides, princess canopies and bookshelf cutouts are all options from which to choose depending upon your kid’s preferences.

Create a Hideaway

Sometimes, kids need a space where they can get away and relax on their own. Make sure to carve out an area where you can put a tent or hang some curtains to create the illusion of privacy. Then, stock that space with oversized pillows, stuffed toys and blankets so that your kid always has a special place when they want to retreat. 

Make Organization Easy

With the right organizational system, even clean up time can be fun. Label all shelves with pictures and the names of items so that children know where they belong. Add a basketball hoop over their laundry basket or trash bin, and include a timer for making cleaning a game. Identify potential clutter hazards early on so that organization can be worked into your décor. Stuffed animals can be stored in wall nets or lined up neatly along shelves. Art supplies can be attached with magnets to a magnetic whiteboard hung behind the desk.

Once you have created the perfect room, spend some time watching your child explore and play. While you may need to adjust the décor occasionally as your kid grows, they should have hours of enjoyment in a space tailored to their preferences. From lounging in their hideaway to active role playing, the ideal kid’s space should inspire creativity and be comfortable for plenty of exploration. 

Jessica Kane is a professional writer who has an interest in interior design and home decor. She currently writes for Designer Drapery Hardware, a leading vendor of all types of drapery hardware such as rods, finials, and brackets.

Healthy school lunch tips
By Gypsy Achong

Play With Your Food

Healthy School Lunches TipsThe best way to get kids to eat healthy food is to make it fun. Just ask Beau Coffron, aka Lunchbox Dad, a San Francisco father of two who makes themed bento lunches for his kids that are equal parts healthy and whimsical. Despite the fact that he holds down a full-time job, he finds time to make these amazing, artistic meals. It's absolutely inspiring, but a bit more effort than I'm willing to put forth on a daily basis. 

On those days when the lunch muse takes a personal day, I rely on two main Mom tricks to ensure my kids are getting - and eating - a healthy lunch at school.

Trick #1: Get Bento

When the food itself is artistic, plain plastic containers are fine. But if you're not cutting your sandwiches into dinosaur shapes or carving cheese into letters that spell your child's name, it helps to have a lunchbox that puts the "fun" in functional.  We love Yumbox bento lunch boxes, which feature pre-portioned, illustrated trays and a single, leak-proof lid that seals all the food compartments individually. That means no lost lids, no baggies, and no mess.

We also like this Panda Face bento box, the Munch Box, and these adorable Tiffin Tins. 

My kids love it when they open their bento box to find salami, cheese, crackers, and olives. I like to sneak in more vegetables by adding "fries" cut from carrots, jicama, cucumbers, and zucchini.

You'll find most of these ingredients in our gourmet salami and cheese gift, A Feast of Appetizers, featuring Fra'Mani salami, Seascape cheese from Central Coast Creamery, raw Lucques olives from Good Faith Farm, and Olive Oil and Sel Gris Flat Bread from Rustic Bakery.

Trick #2: Soup's On

Soups are an easy way to incorporate vegetables and protein into your child's lunch without loading them down with carbs. Now that school is back in session, I've been making bigger batches for dinner so I'll have leftovers to pack into their lunches. 

The abundance of fresh, ripe tomatoes and other produce in the local Farmers Market has inspired many batches of gazpacho this summer, which my kids hated until they got to help make it. Now, they beg for cold tomato soup on a weekly basis, and they'll be taking it to school until the tomatoes run out.

As the weather turns colder, I'll make more Caldo Verde - a favorite in our household - as well as Heirloom Bean Soup from Oren's Kitchen, which you can find in our gourmet soup gift, A Winter Feast, when it's in season. This hearty soup - almost a stew - is packed with California Cannelini and Flageolet beans, wheat berries and herbes de Provence.

Whether we're trying to keep the soup hot or cold, our trusty Hydroflasks are always up to the task. They work even better than old school thermoses, and there's no glass to break when they are inevitably knocked off the lunchroom table or dropped from a great height in a science experiment.

I hope these tips make lunch-making a bit easier for you and your family, and I hope you will share your own healthy lunch tips in the comments section. I look forward to learning from you!

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Four ideas to get involved at your kids’ school
By Gypsy Achong

Four ways to get involved at your kids' schoolKids are back to school and our guest blogger, Amy Stewart Deaker, pulled together a blog with four ideas for getting involved at your kids' school. Happy volunteering!

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By now, the “First Day of School” Facebook photos have come to a halt.  Grinning kids, happily showing off their new backpacks, and the panicked, tearful faces of the littlest ones are no longer filling up our news feeds.  It’s too bad, really.  I love the beginning of the school year, and the fact that this summer was the Worst Ever due to a month of illness (What the hell?  Who gets pneumonia in the summer? )  and living in the house during a kitchen remodel (I have new found respect for Lunchables, is all I’m saying…) meant that I was ready to get the kids out of the house and let someone else entertain babysit educate them!  Helping my 2nd grader pick out the perfect pencil box and replacing the nasty science experiments that my 3rd grader called a “lunch box” with sparkling new containers is totally fun.  Did I buy myself a new lunchbox and pencil case as well?  Cough, cough…maybe.

If your school is like most, you probably have a Parent-Teacher Association of some description (PTA, PTO, PTSA, etc.) and that association is likely (persistently, repeatedly, relentlessly, often annoyingly) reaching out to you, during these first months, in hopes of securing your involvement at your kids’ school.  This year, I happen to be the PTA Vice President of Membership and Donations for our elementary school, and I am now quite familiar with the frozen, deer-in-headlights, parents give me as I approach them.  “Umm…Umm…Sorry!  I was totally just about to mail in my membership form! “  Good lord lady, I was only walking over to see if your kid wanted a playdate!  And I could only snort with laughter as, in the midst of a long-overdue gossip session with one of my dear friends, she sheepishly passed her PTA check over to me. 

That said, your parent association does, very much appreciate when you get involved at your kids’ school.  As a somewhat public face for the PTA, I often have parents coming up to me, apologizing that they cannot be more involved at the school due to work or family obligations.  My response is always the same, “We all just do what we can.”  No one – seriously NO ONE – expects a working parent to be present in the classroom on a regular basis, or even at all.  Those of us who are stay-at-home parents are endlessly grateful to the working parents for providing our kids with role models.  The fact that I had a career, prior to having children, always surprises my kids and, given their wary responses, I suspect that they don’t entirely believe I’m telling the truth. So, thank you, working parents, for showing my kids that one can successfully be a mom AND be something else.

But for those of you with a little flexibility, here are four ideas to get involved at your kids’ school no matter how much time/energy you have! 

If you can make a weekly commitment of an hour or more:

Many teachers, especially those in the younger grades, appreciate assistance in the classroom.  Can you work an hour every Wednesday?  You might be working with kids, helping them with reading, assisting with crafts, or you might be doing mind-numbingly easy work like stapling homework.  But you know what?  It’s totally worth it because you get to SPY on your kid!  They will forget you are there after the first few minutes and you can learn so much about your child in their “native habitat.”  For example, I have learned that my son falls out of his chair about every five minutes.  I’m not sure what to do with this knowledge, but there you go.

Help out in the office.  School office staff will have an extensive “to do” list that you might be able to assist with.  Laminating, running copies, sorting fliers, changing school message signboards, and decorating bulletin boards are all chores that the staff might be happy to pass on to you.

If you can give an hour or two a month on a regular basis:

Depending on your school, you may have parent-led docent programs, providing art, science, music, physical education or gardening lessons to the classrooms.  Being in a class, on a regular basis, is a fantastic way to get to know your child’s classmates (and to recruit them as spies on your child). 

Help at lunch (those yogurt tubes don’t open themselves!) or at recess.  Playgrounds are frequently understaffed.  Your school might appreciate another set of eyes out there to intervene during conflicts and/or to initiate games.

If your school has a yearbook or newsletter, consider writing for, editing or taking photographs for these publications.

If you can give a chunk of time once per school year:

Do you have a talent?  Are you a closet ukulele player?  Come into the classroom for 15 minutes and teach the kids some songs.    Do you know a few magic tricks?  Wow the kids with them and them teach them some easy magic! How about origami?  The beauty of performing for (or for that matter, doing anything for) little kids, is that you are always going to be better at it than they are. God bless those easily impressed little souls.  They will treat you like a rockstar!

Consider volunteering for one of the major school events or fundraisers.  If you volunteer for your school auction or walk-a-thon, you will be truly appreciated.   More importantly, if someone asks you to volunteer for something else, you can self-righteously, yet sympathetically, say, “Oh, I would love to, but I like to save my efforts for the Holiday Bake Sale!”   No one can argue with that! 

If you are rolling your eyes at me and laugh/crying because you have no time or energy; you work your butt off during the day and any free time you have is going to be spent with your family so shut up about all this volunteering:

Join your PTA/PTO/Whatever-You-Call-It-At-Your-School.  Membership fees are usually nominal and, generally, joining does not require you to do a thing.  You are not going to be forced to attend evening meetings, if you do not want to go.  You will not be pressured into volunteering or chairing a board, or anything.  Just join.  It opens doors for you by allowing you to vote at meetings (if you choose to attend) and to see the minutes of meetings (if you don’t attend).  Your school often gets a cut of the membership fee, so you’re helping out right there, even if that’s all you do for the year.

Speaking of money, write a check!  We’re all in a struggle with not enough time or not enough money in our lives.  If you are in the former group, don’t feel weird or guilty about buying the school’s love!  I am so thankful that there are parents with disposable income out there.  When we need to come up with an end-of-year gift for our teachers, or need someone to donate prizes to an event, it is fantastic to know that there are people we can go to for cash.  We all know that teachers spend too much of their own money on school supplies – how about emailing your teacher and asking what s/he needs?  If you see colored pencils on sale at Target, pick up an extra pack for the classroom!  At my school, teachers often appreciate donations of tissue paper boxes during cold and flu season.   Financial donations to the school don’t have to be spectacularly expensive donations of new playground equipment; a ream of copier paper is often the more urgent need.

Whatever your level of involvement at your school, the fact that you get your kid there in the mornings, with only a moderate amount of impatient teeth grinding, (“Your shoes are exactly where you took them off last night!”) means that you are already a success.  Go you!  Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do much more than that.  We are all in this together and we all do what we can! 

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