Just Say Yes!

Tackling a new challenge makes life more fun. Make this the year you green-light the new stuff. Go on—shake things up!

1. Dare yourself more. Bust out of your comfort zone by doing something bold: Do one of those crazy obstacle-course mud runs that are all the rage. Or take part in an underwear run, a polar bear swim, an urban Iditarod where teams drive shopping carts instead of dogsleds—you get the idea. By doing so, you’ll discover you’re braver and perhaps tougher than you thought. At the very least, you’ll get a thrill.

2. Freshen up ordinary tasks. Drive a different route home from the grocery store and see what you discover. Brush your teeth using your nondominant hand, for kicks. Use fragrance to excite your senses around the house with scented candles, potpourri, and in your cleaning and laundry supplies.  

3. Reinvent date night. Whether it’s with your sweetie or with friends, who says an evening out has to equal dinner and a movie? Think outside the box. Go disco bowling this Saturday night, or sign up for a pottery class or whatever sparks your combined interests.  

4. Inject new life into your day-to-day habits. Once a week, make a point to try a fruit or vegetable you’ve never had, maybe something exotic like a mangosteen or pepino or an item you’ve been afraid of (persimmons or rutabagas, anyone?). Take a new class at your gym like burlesque dancing or one of those fusion yoga/body conditioning/tai chi classes. Or use a body lotion with an unusual-for-you scent. You’ll infuse your life with a dose of freshness.  

5. Accept unusual invitations. If you get an offer to play paintball or to go bird-watching or orienteering (if you don’t know what it is, look it up), quash your knee-jerk instinct to say “No, thank you” and give it a try. Who knows? You might enjoy yourself, and even if you don’t, you’ll have great stories to share with your BFFs.  

Resolutions Made Easy

If the thought of making New Year’s resolutions elicits a been-there-done-that attitude, take heart: This could be the year you stick with your plan—if you make all the right moves. These ideas will boost your chances of success.

Embrace the power of one. Life’s too hectic to make several changes at once. Pick one specific goal then figure out how to tackle it. Rather than resolving to simply lose weight or exercise more often, quantify the results you desire (the number of pounds you want to drop, how far you want to be able to run, or how many push-ups you want to be able to do). Then set a timeline for meeting it.

Help you help you. Be realistic. If you hate the gym, set up a circuit workout at home. Determined to write that novel? Make your workspace inviting and inspiring. Can’t get your chores under control? Stock household goods that make life more streamlined (like an all-in-one laundry detergent, stain-booster, and fabric softener).

Go public. Research suggests you’re more likely to stay accountable and succeed if you broadcast your goals to others. Post your progress on your favorite social network or create an online pinboard and invite your friends to motivate you.

Monitor yourself. There are tons of apps that will track your progress, whether your resolution is about fitness, spending less money, walking the dog more, or just about anything else. No question, viewing your progress is super satisfying.

Have a reward! No, this isn’t about giving you license to cheat. It’s about motivating yourself to stay the course. Smart: Pick a perk that’s in sync with your goal, like a massage for all those new muscles, or new workout clothes in fun bright colors. Yes, you deserve it!

Incoming Holiday Guests! 5 Ways to Prep the House


Sweet dreams



Holiday travel can be exhausting. Spread some cheer by providing a warm, comfortable place for weary travelers to rest their heads. Launder the bedsheets and guest towels so they’re fresh, soft, and warmly scented. Does the comforter need refreshing? After washing, slip a scented fabric softener sheet into the dryer with it. 



Comfort test



Before everyone arrives, spend a night in your own guestroom. There’s no better way to gauge whether the room is too hot or too cold, evaluate the comfort level of the mattress (just right or way too lumpy?), and get the general feel of the room. Take note of how sunny it is in the morning. If it’s blindingly bright at 6 a.m., you may want to invest in blinds or curtains. If you can hear the kids shouting through the walls at oh dark thirty, you may need to institute a quiet rule while guests are in residence. Go the extra mile and leave an alarm clock, magazines, and a few bottles of water on the bedside table.



Hospitality 101



You’ve scrubbed the floors, dusted every room, and vacuumed up the pine needles on the carpet, but anticipating the items that guests might appreciate while they’re away from home is the sign of a truly thoughtful host. Have backup toiletries, like toothbrushes, toothpaste, sample-size shampoos, and liquid soap, available for visitors who may have forgotten to pack something. Keep cozy throws for snuggling in living areas and bedrooms, and leave an index card with your Wi-Fi code for guests. Bonus points for having puzzles or coloring books for kids.



Holiday Central: the kitchen



What are the holidays without delicious treats and goodies? Supplement the cookies and sweets with graze-friendly snacks your guests can help themselves to. Homemade baked goods are easy to self-serve (a buttery pound cake or crumb cake can be breakfast, a snack, or dessert). A large wedge of cheese everyone can slice and enjoy is smart; include fruit, crackers, and a basket of snack-size chips and pretzels for kids, as well as coffee, teas, and an assortment of bottled water and sodas.



Party time



Plan for a fun activity that gets everyone together. Let your family’s interests be the guide: Cook a large meal together, pull out a favorite board game (or a new one to level the playing field), schedule an outing to a local museum or park, or go sledding if the weather allows.


Sanity-Saving Cleaning Strategies for the Holidays


Manage expectations.



It simply may not be possible to keep your house as clean and tidy as you’d like, so set priorities and ask for help—especially if you’re expecting a crowd. Let everyone know you want their coats hung in the closet and their shoes and backpacks tucked away in the appropriate spots. If you hate clutter, deposit all of your cards and mail in a designated bin, and ask one of the kids to help keep newspapers and magazines neatly stacked and toys in their place. And, remember, if all else fails, hit the dimmer switch and light some candles.




Oh the holidays!



The time of year that’s filled with love and joy. Not to mention cooking, cleaning, and more than a few loads of laundry. But before you come down with a case of Bah Humbug, follow these timesaving tips for keeping housework under control.



Clean as you cook.



No one wants to face a mountain of unwashed dishes after a big family dinner or party, so wash, dry, and store anything you use for kitchen prep as you go along. When chopping or peeling, it helps to work from left to right or right to left consistently so that any scraps stay together in one area, making disposal easier. Another trick: Place a pot of simmering water on the back burner of your stove and use it to soak gooey utensils—and make cleanup a breeze.




Stick to a schedule.



Set a daily time limit—say 30 minutes—and tackle as many tasks as you can. In the kitchen, put dirty dishes in the dishwasher and wipe down the sink, countertops and any spills on the floor. Fluff the pillows on the living room couch, sweep up any crumbs with a handheld vacuum, and run a dust cloth over wood surfaces. Then head into the bathroom and wipe down the sink, countertops, and mirror, and give the toilet bowl a quick brush. When the timer goes off, you’re done (until tomorrow at least).




Lighten your laundry load.



The extra laundry houseguests generate won’t feel so overwhelming if you have a plan. Presort clothing (get the kids to help), and put delicates in a lingerie bag instead of laundering them separately. Wash socks in a mesh laundry bag, too; they’ll stay together, thus eliminating the pesky chore of finding singletons once you start folding. To save more time, use premeasured detergent pods, which combine detergent, stain remover, and brightener all in one no-mess, no-guess package.



Give stains the slip.



If you’re serving red wine (of course you are!), soft drinks, or mulled cider at a holiday get-together, there’s bound to be a spill. This goes double if you have a light-colored rug or couch. Instead of smiling while you inwardly seethe, do a quick smartphone search for step-by-step cleaning tips on how to remove anything, from cranberry sauce to chocolate, fast.


Share the Joy: Fun Family Photos

Another holiday season brings mailboxes full of cards, packed with updates and photos from family and friends. As you’re planning your year-end update, take a few pointers from our crazy family to yours.

Do your research. Before picture day, peruse photo-driven blogs or photography Websites. You’re likely to find a concept or post that you really like and can execute yourself. A little planning can go a long way.

Pick a prop. You don’t have to be at a party or in a photo booth to work this trend. Find something that screams fun—and captures your family—and incorporate it into the photo. Matching winter hats, wrapped boxes or strands of lights are a few good options.

Get moving. Try an action shot and play with poses and positioning. Shoot the family making snow angels, riding a sled, or doing a jingle bell jog in matching sweaters. 

Make a scene. Literally. You don’t have to live in a snowy climate to create a winter wonderland—think paper snowflakes, hats and gloves. And don’t forget the beloved tacky sweater.

Ham it up. Let individual personalities shine through in the photos. Don’t discard the outtakes—you might find they’re the most fun to share.

Create a collage. Getting the extended family together for a photo can be tough, but don’t despair. Rather than one shot, splice together pictures from the whole year to fashion a family tree. Others can catch up on what you’ve been up to for the past 12 months.