Convincing Your Kids to Chip in around the Holidays

kids-help-holidaysIt’s tempting to use the holidays as a carrot to elicit positive behaviors from kids such as helping more with tidying and cleaning around the house. But there are helpful and not-so-helpful ways of going about it. Here are a few tips and tricks for getting more help from your kids while avoiding unintended drama or consequences:

Emphasize the nice part of the nice-naughty dichotomy. ‘Are there old toys we might declutter and donate to make space for the new?‘ Or, ‘For every room you dust, you can earn a dollar to donate to our local food bank’ (adding points to your ‘nice’ column just in time for the holidays).

Game-ify. For example: ‘Whoever finishes cleaning their room first gets to lick the cookie-icing spoon or hang a favorite decoration.’ OR ‘Whoever clears the table after dinner gets to open and enjoy today’s treat from our holiday countdown calendar.’

Chores before beloved holiday traditions. ‘If we get the house cleaned this morning, we can [fill in a favorite holiday activity] this afternoon.’

Deploy ‘outside agents’ with extreme care. Understand there’s an inherent creepiness in having one’s behavior watched and judged in every moment, either by an omniscient gift giver from the North or even an active spy in your home (e.g., Elf on a Shelf). While some kids will delight in the spy’s mischievous antics, others may be secretly terrified or stressed out by its presence. But making sure the spy seems super benevolent can backfire, too. Should you decide to invite in the spy into your home, know that kids will discuss and compare their antics amongst themselves at school, adding pressure for you to be creative on a daily basis at an already-hectic time of year. You can relieve some of the pressure by borrowing ideas from others or creating a unique version of the concept to do away with the comparisons altogether.

Create opportunities for redemption. Let kids know that the great holiday gift giver is an eminently forgiving soul and that helping more around the house is a great way to redeem past mistakes they might be fretting about in secret (and all the better if the help is unsolicited!). You can also avoid ‘rebound’ bad and unhelpful behaviors by resolving to extend positive incentives for nice behavior throughout the entire New Year.

Wellness Strategies for Navigating the Holidays

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The holidays are all about Peace and Joy…until they’re not. If you find your anxiety levels rising as the holidays approach, check out these 25 Ways to Fight Holiday Stress from Health.com. Here, we add a few of our own ideas for coping with four common holiday-stress triggers:

Scenario 1: Gift-Shoppers’ Nightmare. You’re on your fifth loop of a way-overheated department store, searching for that perfect something to give a person you either don’t know very well or who doesn’t need another material possession in their life. Think outside the gift box! Is there an experience you can create? A service you might provide? Some personal talent you can share? Maybe there’s a charity or cause to which you can donate in their name.

Scenario 2: Dinner Disaster. You have a glossy-food-magazine vision of perfection for your holiday feast. Now you’re thirty minutes out from mealtime and things are spinning out of control in the kitchen. Ask. For. Help. Most people would rather contribute and feel useful than stand around sipping cocktails while you struggle. Graciously accepting help creates a wonderful opportunity to connect authentically with your guests and will be far more memorable than your picture-perfect meal.

Scenario 3: Dieters’ Paradox. You’re walking into a lavish party. You’ve read all the articles and tips about how to ‘stick to your diet’ and ‘beat the holiday weight gain.’ But, oh, so much temptation! In floods the guilt, so even if  you do blow it (as you very possibly will), you don’t enjoy it at all. Accept that, no matter how disciplined you are throughout the year, there’s a very good chance you’ll indulge at least once or twice during the holiday season. Give yourself permission to truly enjoy and find solace in NEDA’s Declaration of Independence from a Weight-Obsessed World.

Scenario 4: Cranky Relative Syndrome. You’re staring down 4–6 hours in which you’ll be captive audience to Uncle Frank’s inebriated political rants. Or maybe you’re just the one person in your family with a radically differing lifestyle or viewpoint, and, for one reason or another, you don’t have an option of simply refusing to attend. First, take a moment to appreciate that you have people with whom to celebrate the holidays (many don’t). Then, arrive well prepared with a list of noncontroversial subjects and talking points to which you can redirect conversation. Or bring and encourage plenty of distracting activities such as card, board, and parlor games; a nostalgic singalong; a look through old family photo albums and yearbooks; or maybe just a long walk in nature after the meal.

Before and after the holidays, set aside at least a few hours to indulge in real self-care. That might involve exercise, physical pampering, hiring a professional team to clean your house, or maybe just a perfectly solitary afternoon with a cup of tea and a great book. Happy holidays!

Invisible Things to Clean Before Houseguests Arrive

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Holiday season = houseguest season. Here’s a zone-by-zone checklist of all the invisible things you’ll want to clean so you can feel perfectly comfortable telling your guests to: “Make yourself at home!”

BATHROOMS

There’s one level of clean that’s good enough for your family. But, with guests coming, you need to go deeper than usual: attacking soap-scum buildup, neglected toilet tanks, partially clogged drains, and any signs of mold or mildew growth—all of which contribute to odors your guests are much more likely to notice than you are.

KITCHEN

Deep clean, defrost, and organize your fridge, making extra space for all the leftovers your entertaining will yield. Assuming at least one or two guests will offer to help with the washing up after meals, make sure your dishwasher is sparkling and that the insides of drawers and cupboards are spacious, well organized, and free of crumbs and other debris. Inspect ovens for burnt-on bits that could set off your smoke alarm at the worst possible times. And wow your overnight guests with great morning brews by deep cleaning and decalcifying your coffee maker.

BEDROOMS

Offering clean sheets to houseguests is a no-brainer, but, consider also cleaning heavy linens and even rugs, which may be harboring odors you don’t notice simply because you’re so used to them. Another nice touch is to declutter and clear closet and drawer space for guests to stow their possessions, thereby avoiding that unanticipated yard-sale effect that can wreck your perfect holiday décor.

LAUNDRY AREA

If you’ve got guests staying for more than a day or two, you’ll want to offer access to your laundry facilities. Sanitize your washer—newer machines have built-in cycles for this or just run an empty load with bleach followed by another water-only load to rinse thoroughly—and clean lint vents to ensure your dryer operates at max efficiency.

ALL OVER

Inviting people into your home creates many opportunities for germ transfer. Before and after entertaining guests, do everyone a favor and sanitize or disinfect all the things people touch frequently, including doorknobs, appliance handles, drawer and cabinet hardware, light switches and plates, TV clickers, and all kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

If you don’t think you’ll have time for all that cleaning, MaidPro’s got you covered! Our standard 49-Point Checklist tackles nearly everything above except for the decluttering, drain- and appliance deep-cleaning.

Summer Home Prep: Outdoor Fun

MaidPro Summer Fun

We’ve already focused on getting the inside of your home ready for a cool, carefree season, but summer is about enjoying the sun and those warm, breezy nights! Here is a checklist of ideas for creating memorable outdoor living and entertaining experiences all summer long:

Start with repair work. Inspect for and fix any winter wear and tear that could pose hazards of physical injury, such as splintering or rotting wood, loose or raised nails, cracks in cement, broken flagstones, and so forth. While you’re at it, inspect for—and be sure to clean out and seal—any places that might make ideal nesting spots for wasps, hornets, or other stinging pests.

Get out the hose. Take advantage of lingering cooler days or early evenings for the more physically demanding work of sweeping, pulling weeds, and hosing down, scrubbing, or power-washing patios, decks, balconies, and outdoor furniture. If power-washing, be super careful to read and heed all safety instructions.

Freshen the furniture. Especially if patio furniture winters outside, inspect carefully for signs of rust, rot, structural weakness, loose nails and screws, and address accordingly. Consider re-painting, re-staining, and/or treating for future resistance to rust. Check and treat all cushions, pillows, umbrellas, and other textiles for mold and mildew.

Gear up your grilling game. If you have a gas grill, now is the time to fill propane tanks, clean, and inspect all gas lines and connections, and clean or replace lava stones. There two basic schools of thought on how to best clean grill grates, which we covered in this post a few years back.

Decorate! The most enjoyable outdoor summer spaces borrow ideas from home decorating. For example, there is a whole world of amazing ideas just for decorating fences and outer walls. For inspiration with plants and flower pots, check out Southern Living’s 121 container gardening ideas. Consider also using containers to grow fresh veggies and herbs that you can harvest literally when our cooking on your grill. Talk about fresh!

When it comes to placing flowering plants in or around patios, decks, and balconies, do some research first into what blooms and scents are most attractive to biting bugs and stinging creatures such as bees as well as to more welcome visitors such as butterflies and humming birds.

Bear in mind as you decorate that mosquitoes breed rapidly in standing water, so, at all costs, avoid placing open containers that will collect rainwater. Other fun and practical elements to consider when decorating outdoor spaces for summer include: strings of white or colorful twinkling lights; paper lanterns; kerosene or solar-powered torches; a heating element such as a fire pit, propane heater, or chiminea for chilly nights; and lots of colorful pillows, cushions and even a blanket throw or two for max lounging comfort.

Spring Cleaning Tips: Turning over Closets

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With spring busting out all over, the last thing you might want to be doing is turning over your wardrobe from winter to spring/summer. Use these eight steps to get the job done fast yet effectively:

Purge, purge, purge. Start by taking everything out and inspecting each item as you do. Haven’t worn it at least once or twice in the past season? Is it getting a little shabby? Does it fail to fit well and flatter your figure? Is it cheap, trendy, and unlikely to be in-style next season? If you answer yes to any of the above, consider donating or tossing.

Physically clean storage spaces. Thoroughly vacuum closets and drawers; dust and be prepared to re-line shelves and drawers if needed. While you’re at it, discard broken and bent hangers, empty dry-cleaning bags, shoe boxes, retail tags, and any other detritus that might have collected in clothing storage spaces over the past season.

Launder or dry clean all garments before storing. Even if it looks and smells clean, if it has been worn, you can be sure it’s harboring some form of human dander that will become food for dust mites, mold, and mildew.

Choose plastic. Cardboard and corrugated boxes are prone to bugginess and may also absorb moisture and odors. Invest in sturdy plastic containers that seal well as these will last virtually a lifetime. Protect wools with cedar chips or planks, but be aware that cedar may stain certain fabrics, so wrap accordingly.

Package with care. Fold neatly, wrapping delicate items in tissue paper, and stuffing boots and handbags to ensure they hold their shape and come out of storage ready to wear next year.

Pack with your next seasonal turnover in mind. For example, group heavier sweaters, winter outerwear, and so forth and place into the least accessible locations. Next, group long-sleeved shirts, lighter sweaters and slacks, and any other transitional clothing to be easily accessible and ready to pull out either for unseasonable or transitional weather days.

If possible, choose dark, dry places to store your containers. Even clothing packed in tightly-sealed plastic can take on permanent musty odors if stored in humid spaces such as basements. For high-value items, consider storing professionally; many dry cleaners will store for free or at very low cost.

Use the turnover of seasons as an opportunity to rethink how you organize your wardrobe. By color? Type of garment? Whole outfits? What has not worked well in the past? Might there be a different system that better suits your personality and lifestyle? While you’re at it, check out different folding techniques that can help you to better optimize your use of space, make it easier to put away laundry, and to see everything you have available when you are trying to to put together that perfect outfit.

7 Ideas for a Happy, Healthy Valentine’s Day

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This year for Valentine’s Day, instead of focusing on heart-shaped things and material symbols of love, why not plan a day that makes your heart truly sing? Make it all about nurturing the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of your own heart, the ones you love, and even the hearts of pets and people you don’t know. The great thing about such an approach to Valentine’s is that it matters not if you are partnered, single, surrounded by friends and family, or feeling alone in the world just now. Here are a few ideas for making this February 14 a happy, healthy Valentine’s Day:

Renew vows for healthier, happier living. Perhaps you made a New Year’s resolution—to quit unhealthy habits, lose weight, exercise more, eat less sugar and refined carbs—that you have already let go. It’s never too late to get back on track, so make February 14 the day you forgive yourself for transgressions and renew the vows you made to honor and care for own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Cook at home. One of the heart-healthiest things you can do for yourself and your family is to cook real foods from scratch at home where you control menu choices, ingredients, flavors, and portion sizes. If you’re not the greatest cook or need to lighten up your repertoire, make a Valentine’s date for yourself—and maybe a mate—for a heart-healthy cooking class. If you’re already handy in the kitchen, spend quality time with loved ones finding and experimenting with new heart-healthy recipes and finding different ways to add flavor to food with healthy spices and seasonings rather than excess fats and sodium.

Get active. Research shows that a moderate-intensity walk or hike can yield the same heart-healthy benefits as high-intensity running. It’s also a great way to escape distracting devices, chores, and other cares, and share quality time and conversation with the ones you love. If it’s too cold to go outside, find ways to get active inside: climbing stairs, dancing, or practicing yoga with an app or online video.

Go outside. Wintertime depression is closely tied to a lack of Vitamin D, which your body manufactures from exposure to natural sunlight. If your winter climate is cold, you might be especially susceptible to the February blues. Hiking, sledding, skating, skiing, and even ice fishing are all great ways to get outside, boost vitamin D stores, and tend to your heart happiness on Valentine’s Day.

Give compliments. How often have you thought of nice things to say to people, but, for some reason, just never said them? Resolve to spend Valentine’s Day looking for reasons to appreciate people in your life and then following through and verbalizing the compliments—or, if you are really shy, writing them. While you are at it, be sure to find a few compliments for yourself.

Do anonymous acts of kindness. While, for many, Valentine’s means grand romance, it can be a hugely painful day for anyone suffering loss, grief, or loneliness. The act of making others happy—without taking credit—always rebounds to the giver, so resolve to spend at least part of your Valentine’s Day doing random, anonymous acts of kindness for those who really need it.

Practice gratitude. One of the best ways to relieve stress, to make your heart sing, and improve heart health is to spend a few moments of each day in a state of pure appreciation and gratitude for all you have—be it your partner, family, friends, acquaintances, knowledge, talent, passions, possessions, and life itself. If you don’t do this regularly already, let Valentine’s be the day you start a new habit of daily gratitude and appreciation.

Tips for Keeping Kids Occupied During Holiday Gatherings

MaidPro Holiday

If you have ever hosted a large holiday gathering featuring kids as guests, you’ll know they tend to feed off each other’s energies and create chaos. Here are some ideas for helping the kids at your holiday gathering to channel their energies in positive—and occasionally quiet—directions:

Crafts. Have a few age-appropriate, easy table craft projects set up before kids arrive. The key is to make sure the crafts can be done independently or with help only from elder children in the group. Pick crafts with practical applications, such as holiday decorations or this TP-roll winter bird feeder.

Science experiments. It’s a fair bet that not every kid in your group will have an interest in doing crafts. Where crafts fail, science experiments often succeed! For inspiration, check out these recipes for play snow, dissolving candy cane experiment, making frozen bubbles, or this collection of 20+ winter science experiments for kids.

Hunts. Kids need to move, so plan at least a few activities that promote big positive motion. You might organize a candy cane or similar type of hunt. If entertaining during the day, you can send kids outside to collect pinecones, acorns, evergreen branches, and other seasonal items you might use to decorate your home for winter. Offer an incentive prize to the kid who collects the most, but have plenty of consolation prizes to avoid drama and meltdowns!

Group exercise. There’s also a very good chance the kids at your holiday party will consume more sugar than they are accustomed to doing. Soon after you serve dessert, suggest a group walk outside. Or, crank up a contemporary playlist for a 20-30 minute dance party to help the kids—and any willing adults—at your gathering to burn extra energy just as their glucose levels are spiking.

Talent show. Most kids these days participate in a host of extracurricular pursuits—music, dance, martial arts, singing, sports, and so forth—and love to show off their accomplishments. Provide a quite space far removed from the adult party (playroom, basement, etc.) and encourage the kids to collaborate on developing a talent show to put on for the adults. Let parents know in advance in case they need to bring instruments or other items, and provide props such as costumes, microphones, and music clips, and encourage the kids to spend sufficient time planning and rehearsing their show.

Recruit kids into service. Kids love to play in adult roles, such as waiters and waitresses. Use this to your advantage, recruiting them to make place cards and seating arrangements, escort people to their seats, take beverage orders, pass hors d’oeuvres plates, and to help set and clear your table.

Games. Most kids are quite capable of making their own fun in groups. When fights break out—as they are wont to do—organized games are a great way to quickly restore peace and harmony. Provide a distinctive holiday item that the kids can take turns hiding in creative places for others to find while taking ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ directions from people in the know. Or set up a game of indoor snowball toss.

The possibilities are endless. All you need is a little creativity, research, and planning to keep kid-driven chaos to a minimum at your next holiday gathering.

DIY Scents to Make Your Home Like the Holidays

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Ever wonder why particular aromas have the power to instantly evoke cherished childhood memories? It’s because your sense of smell is the only one of the five with a direct connection to your mood, memory, behavior, and emotion. With the incredible power of smell in mind, here are six easy and inexpensive techniques to fill your home with evocative holiday and winter scent combinations.

Simmer pots. A scented simmer pot consists of nothing more than water, fruits/fruit rinds, fresh herbs, and spices, simmering gently on a back burner, in a crock pot, or atop a wood-burning stove. It’s likely you already have most of the ingredients for a yummy smelling simmer pot or can easily find them at your local grocer’s. Think: cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise, fresh ginger root, vanilla beans; baking extracts such as vanilla, almond, or peppermint; and fruits such lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, apples, and cranberries. The possible scent combinations are endless. Be inspired by this simple winter recipe.

Potpourri. The word translates as ‘rotten pot,’ following a 17th century French custom of collecting and layering fragrant herbs and plants over the course of spring and summer, allowing them to ferment and mold, then mixing in aromatic spices in the fall and winter to scent rooms. Contemporary potpourris favor drying over fermenting and molding of plant materials – something you can accomplish quite easily in your oven on low heat with a baking sheet and parchment paper. Check out these winter spice and aromatic winter potpourri recipes.

DIY scented candles. You could spend upwards of thirty bucks on one great-smelling holiday candle. Or you can spend a great deal less making dozens of winter-scent combos to either burn in your own home or give as holiday and hostess gifts. DIY scented candles are a great way to use up mason or jelly jars and other beautiful containers you might have lying around the house or can pick up for next to nothing at yard sales and thrift shops. If melting wax seems like too much work, try this simple technique for making scented olive-oil candles.

Essential-oil combos. Used for thousands of years in spiritual, cosmetic and natural health practices, essential oils are thought to represent the purest essences of plants. They also happen to smell wonderful. Only a few drops will go a long way to scenting a room and there are countless combinations of essential oils you can assemble to evoke happy holiday and winter feelings. Do read up on safety precautions when using essential oils, as some can be unfriendly to pets, children, and the elderly. Some simple ways to diffuse winter and holiday essential oil combinations are with a DIY reed diffuser, creating your own EO-based room air spritzers, or using essential oils to make classic winter decorations such as cinnamon-scented pinecones.

Scented fire starters. If you have a traditional fireplace or outdoor fire pit, consider creating your own scented fire starters to layer comforting, traditional winter scents over the smell of burning wood. You can create dry sachets, plant and herb bundles, or these aromatic wax fire starters. Note: scented fire starters are not for use in gas fireplaces or enclosed wood-burning stoves.

 

‘Green’ Cleaning Myths Debunked

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established little by way of guidelines for what constitutes green cleaning solutions or practices. So – into the void – has flown a steady stream of misinformation and bogus so-called ‘green’ cleaning solutions. Here are four common green-cleaning myths and explanations for why they don’t hold water:

Myth No. 1: Cleaning with water alone is a safe and effective way to clean and protect surfaces. Dirt is complicated – a mix of particles, dead bugs, skin cells, germs, and oils, to name just a few. Since water and oil don’t mix, oily solids get left behind, darkening and scratching surfaces and making them appear dull. The water itself can also leave mineral deposits, increasing complexity of the dirt and making it even tougher to clean over time.

Myth No. 2: You need a mop and large bucket of soapy water to get a floor really clean. Well designed cleaners use solvents (to loosen and dissolve oily soils), builders (to bond with minerals in the water) and surfactants (to bond with oily soils and suspend them in the water). While a high-quality cleaner can suspend massive amounts of dirt in just millimeters of water, poorly designed cleaners do not keep dirt suspended, so it falls back onto the floor where the mop just pushes it around. Your mop is crucial too. If you want a floor to be truly clean, you need a highly absorbent mop to remove dirty water.

Myth No. 3: Cleaning with water and vinegar is an effective and environmentally friendly cleaner. Vinegar is just a mild acid. There are no surfactants, solvents, builders or oxidizing agents needed to remove complex soils. The result is not that much different from cleaning with water alone and it can make your surface a breeding ground for germs, which is definitely not green and potentially dangerous for your family.
Myth No. 4: Green cleaners are less likely than household or commercial cleaners to leave harmful residues on surfaces. A poorly formulated cleaner purported to be ‘green’ may not have the correct surfactancy or cleaning chemistry, which means both its chemicals and germ-containing soils can fall out of solution and onto the surfaces you are cleaning. A well-formulated cleaner will keep its chemicals in solution and soils in suspension, leaving less residue and unhealthy soils on the surfaces of your home.
The EPA defines green cleaners as those made with environmentally-friendly ingredients to preserve human health and environmental quality. There is also Design for the Environment (DfE), an EPA partner program that screens product ingredients and awards them a DfE logo if they pose “the least concern among chemicals in their class.” If you care about green cleaning, your best courses of action are to: Look for products with the DfE logo that are also effective – meaning you can use less to get better results. Also, look for manufacturers that: ship in concentrates to reduce fuel use, reduce packaging, cut water use and pollution, and select renewable/sustainable ingredient sources whenever possible.
Finally, you can use cleaning companies (such as MaidPro) that do the following: group clients geographically to cut fuel use; use reusable bottles, buckets and bags; use phone/email versus paper; use efficient washing machines and washable, reusable microfiber rags that capture dirt, dust and allergens; use CRI Green label vacuums to protect indoor air quality; buy supplies in concentrated forms; pick environmentally friendly suppliers; train employees to use the correct amounts of cleaning chemicals and make responsible use of disinfectants on critical surfaces to protect client health.
Remember, if it’s not clean, it’s not green!

Easy as 1, 2, 3: Three Cheap Gift Ideas That Won’t Make You Look Cheap

Since no one has agreed to put a moratorium on gift giving this year, you’re on the hook for some half-decent gifts to family and friends. But how are you supposed to give nice presents that don’t embarrass anyone but keep you on budget? Here are three suggestions.

Magazines are magical

Who doesn’t love magazines? They make wonderful gifts because you’re guaranteed to find one for each person on your list. You can get Garden & Gun for your literary friend from the South; American Bungalow for your pal who loves the Arts & Crafts movement; or American Iron for your Harley-riding uncle. The best part is that it’s a personalized gift and shows you spent some time thinking about what they like and want. Plus it’s the gift that keeps on giving: They’ll get it not once, but up to a dozen times a year. And each time they receive it, they’ll think fondly of you as they relax and read. The average magazine subscription is only about $12 – which feels like a steal for all those stories and pictures.

Night out on the town

With your best friend in mind, get a cheap calendar at a dollar store and mark down one night a month that you and she (or he) will hit the town. For extra credit you can even write down an idea for the evening like “movie night,” “curry night” or “disco night.” Wrap up the calendar with a bow and voila, you now have a $2 gift that your friend will consider priceless. An alternative is to give the gift of free babysitting so she and her hubby can have a date night. Yes, you’ll have more fun with the first idea, but the second one will make your friend love you forever. Total price: $2.

If you want to add some bang to the night-out buck, consider dropping in a gift certificate to a local restaurant like Olive Garden or maybe some movie tickets picked up at Fandango.com.

Space is supreme

For your spouse, consider the gift of space. If you have a spare bedroom, garage or even walk-in closet, give your spouse the gift of his or her own private room. It could be a workout room, exercise room, yoga or artist studio. Just figure out what your spouse would love and then start picking up a few items here and there to make the room look the part. It’s going to be impossible to clean up the space and prep it as a surprise, so instead, opt for a card explaining your gift and how you’ll start work on cleaning and setting up right after the holidays – just be sure you follow through! Total price: $20 plus labor.

A great way to get this gift going is to add in a gift certificate from a cleaning service like MaidPro.com.

This season doesn’t have to drain your wallet. With a few ideas, a couple of smart buys and a smile, you’re sure to make everyone on your list happy.