Archive for August, 2011

August 22nd, 2011

That Dummy That Lived – An American Fairy Tale

by L. Frank Baum, circa 1901.

In all Fairyland there is no more mischievous a person than Tanko-Mankie the Yellow Ryl. He flew through the city one afternoon—quite invisible to moral eyes, but seeing everything himself—and noticed a figure of a wax lady standing behind the big plate glass window of Mr. Floman’s department store.

The wax lady was beautifully dressed, and extended in her stiff left hand was a card bearing the words:


This Stylish Costume

(Imported from Paris)

Former Price, $20,


The Dummy That Lived by L. Frank Baum, brought to you by Operation Letter To SantaThis impressive announcement had drawn before the window a crowd of women shoppers, who stood looking at the wax lady with critical eyes.

Tanko-Mankie laughed to himself the low, gurgling little laugh that always means mischief. Then he flew close to the wax figure and breathed twice upon its forehead.

From that instant the dummy began to live, but so dazed and astonished was she at the unexpected sensation that she continued to stand stupidly staring at the women outside and holding out the placard as before.

The ryl laughed again and flew away. Anyone but Tanko-Mankie would have remained to help the wax lady out of the troubles that were sure to overtake her; but this naughty elf thought it rare fun to turn the inexperienced lady loose in a cold and heartless world and leave her to shift for herself.

Fortunately it was almost six o’clock when the dummy first realized that she was alive, and before she had collected her new thoughts and decided what to do a man came around and drew down all the window shades, shutting off the view from the curious shoppers.

Then the clerks and cashiers and floorwalkers and cash girls went home and the store was closed for the night, although the sweepers and scrubbers remained to clean the floors for the following day.

The window inhabited by the wax lady was boxed in, like a little room, one small door being left at the side for the window-trimmer to creep in and out of. So the scrubbers never noticed that the dummy, when left to herself, dropped the placard to the floor and sat down upon a pile of silks to wonder who she was, where she was, and how she happened to be alive.

For you must consider, dear reader, that in spite of her size and her rich costume, in spite of her pink cheeks and fluffy yellow hair, this lady was very young—no older, in reality, than a baby born but half an hour. All she knew of the world was contained in the glimpse she had secured of the busy street facing her window; all she knew of people lay in the actions of the group of women which had stood before her on the other side of the window pane and criticised the fit of her dress or remarked upon its stylish appearance.

So she had little enough to think about, and her thoughts moved somewhat slowly; yet one thing she really decided upon, and that was not to remain in the window and be insolently stared at by a lot of women who were not nearly so handsome or well dressed as herself.

By the time she reached this important conclusion, it was after midnight; but dim lights were burning in the big, deserted store, so she crept through the door of her window and walked down the long aisles, pausing now and then to look with much curiosity at the wealth of finery confronting her on every side.

When she came to the glass cases filled with trimmed hats she remembered having seen upon the heads of the women in the street similar creations. So she selected one that suited her fancy and placed it carefully upon her yellow locks. I won’t attempt to explain what instinct it was that made her glance into a near-by mirror to see if the hat was straight, but this she certainly did.  It didn’t correspond with her dress very well, but the poor thing was too young to have much taste in matching colors.

When she reached the glove counter she remembered that gloves were also worn by the women she had seen. She took a pair from the case and tried to fit them upon her stiff, wax-coated fingers; but the gloves were too small and ripped in the seams. Then she tried another pair, and several others, as well; but hours passed before she finally succeeded in getting her hands covered with a pair of pea-green kids.

Next she selected a parasol from a large and varied assortment in the rear of the store. Not that she had any idea what it was used for; but other ladies carried such things, so she also would have one.

When she again examined herself critically in the mirror she decided her outfit was now complete, and to her inexperienced eyes there was no perceptible difference between her and the women who had stood outside the window. Whereupon she tried to leave the store, but found every door fast locked.

The wax lady was in no hurry. She inherited patience from her previous existence. Just to be alive and to wear beautiful clothes was sufficient enjoyment for her at present. So she sat down upon a stool and waited quietly until daylight.

When the janitor unlocked the door in the morning the wax lady swept past him and walked with stiff but stately strides down the street.  The poor fellow was so completely whuckered at seeing the well-known wax lady leave her window and march away from the store that he fell over in a heap and only saved himself from fainting by striking his funny bone against the doorstep. When he recovered his wits she had turned the corner and disappeared.

The wax lady’s immature mind had reasoned that, since she had come to life, her evident duty was to mix with the world and do whatever other folks did. She could not realize how different she was from people of flesh and blood; nor did she know she was the first dummy that had ever lived, or that she owed her unique experience to Tanko-Mankie’s love of mischief. So ignorance gave her a confidence in herself that she was not justly entitled to.

It was yet early in the day, and the few people she met were hurrying along the streets. Many of them turned into restaurants and eating houses, and following their example the wax lady also entered one and sat upon a stool before a lunch counter.

“Coffee ‘n’ rolls!” said a shop girl on the next stool.

“Coffee ‘n’ rolls!” repeated the dummy, and soon the waiter placed them before her. Of course she had no appetite, as her constitution, being mostly wood, did not require food; but she watched the shop girl, and saw her put the coffee to her mouth and drink it.  Therefore the wax lady did the same, and the next instant was surprised to feel the hot liquid trickling out between her wooden ribs. The coffee also blistered her wax lips, and so disagreeable was the experience that she arose and left the restaurant, paying no attention to the demands of the waiter for “20 cents, mum.” Not that she intended to defraud him, but the poor creature had no idea what he meant by “20 cents, mum.”

As she came out she met the window trimmer at Floman’s store. The man was rather near-sighted, but seeing something familiar in the lady’s features he politely raised his hat. The wax lady also raised her hat, thinking it the proper thing to do, and the man hurried away with a horrified face.

Then a woman touched her arm and said:

“Beg pardon, ma’am; but there’s a price-mark hanging on your dress behind.”

“Yes, I know,” replied the wax lady, stiffly; “it was originally $20, but it’s been reduced to $19.98.”

The woman looked surprised at such indifference and walked on. Some carriages were standing at the edge of the sidewalk, and seeing the dummy hesitate a driver approached her and touched his cap.

“Cab, ma’am?” he asked.

“No,” said she, misunderstanding him; “I’m wax.”

“Oh!” he exclaimed, and looked after her wonderingly.

“Here’s yer mornin’ paper!” yelled a newsboy.

“Mine, did you say?” she asked.

“Sure! Chronicle, ‘Quirer, R’public ‘n’ ‘Spatch! Wot’ll ye ‘ave?”

“What are they for?” inquired the wax lady, simply.

“W’y, ter read, o’ course. All the news, you know.”

She shook her head and glanced at a paper.

“It looks all speckled and mixed up,” she said. “I’m afraid I can’t read.”

“Ever ben to school?” asked the boy, becoming interested.

“No; what’s school?” she inquired.

The boy gave her an indignant look.

“Say!” he cried, “ye’r just a dummy, that’s wot ye are!” and ran away to seek a more promising customer.

“I wonder that he means,” thought the poor lady. “Am I really different in some way from all the others? I look like them, certainly; and I try to act like them; yet that boy called me a dummy and seemed to think I acted queerly.”

This idea worried her a little, but she walked on to the corner, where she noticed a street car stop to let some people on. The wax lady, still determined to do as others did, also boarded the car and sat down quietly in a corner.

After riding a few blocks the conductor approached her and said:

“Fare, please!”

“What’s that?” she inquired, innocently.

“Your fare!” said the man, impatiently.

She stared at him stupidly, trying to think what he meant.

“Come, come!” growled the conductor, “either pay up or get off!”

Still she did not understand, and he grabbed her rudely by the arm and lifted her to her feet. But when his hand came in contact with the hard wood of which her arm was made the fellow was filled with surprise. He stooped down and peered into her face, and, seeing it was wax instead of flesh, he gave a yell of fear and jumped from the car, running as if he had seen a ghost.

At this the other passengers also yelled and sprang from the car, fearing a collision; and the motorman, knowing something was wrong, followed suit. The wax lady, seeing the others run, jumped from the car last of all, and stepped in front of another car coming at full speed from the opposite direction.

She heard cries of fear and of warning on all sides, but before she understood her danger she was knocked down and dragged for half a block.

When the car was brought to a stop a policeman reached down and pulled her from under the wheels. Her dress was badly torn and soiled. Her left ear was entirely gone, and the left side of her head was caved in; but she quickly scrambled to her feet and asked for her hat. This a gentleman had already picked up, and when the policeman handed it to her and noticed the great hole in her head and the hollow place it disclosed, the poor fellow trembled so frightfully that his knees actually knocked together.

“Why—why, ma’am, you’re killed!” he gasped.

“What does it mean to be killed?” asked the wax lady.

The policeman shuddered and wiped the perspiration from his forehead.

“You’re it!” he answered, with a groan.

The crowd that had collected were looking upon the lady wonderingly, and a middle-aged gentleman now exclaimed:

“Why, she’s wax!”

“Wax!” echoed the policeman.

“Certainly. She’s one of those dummies they put in the windows,” declared the middle-aged man.

The people who had collected shouted: “You’re right!” “That’s what she is!” “She’s a dummy!”

“Are you?” inquired the policeman, sternly.

The wax lady did not reply. She began to fear she was getting into trouble, and the staring crowd seemed to embarrass her.

Suddenly a bootblack attempted to solve the problem by saying: “You guys is all wrong! Can a dummy talk? Can a dummy walk? Can a dummy live?”

“Hush!” murmured the policeman. “Look here!” and he pointed to the hold in the lady’s head. The newsboy looked, turned pale and whistled to keep himself from shivering.

A second policeman now arrived, and after a brief conference it was decided to take the strange creature to headquarters. So they called a hurry-up wagon, and the damaged wax lady was helped inside and driven to the police station. There the policeman locked her in a cell and hastened to tell Inspector Mugg their wonderful story.

Inspector Mugg had just eaten a poor breakfast, and was not in a pleasant mood; so he roared and stormed at the unlucky policemen, saying they were themselves dummies to bring such a fairy tale to a man of sense. He also hinted that they had been guilty of intemperance.

The policemen tried to explain, but Inspector Mugg would not listen; and while they were still disputing in rushed Mr. Floman, the owner of the department store.

“I want a dozen detectives, at once, inspector!” he cried.

“What for?” demanded Mugg.

“One of the wax ladies has escaped from my store and eloped with a $19.98 costume, a $4.23 hat, a $2.19 parasol and a 76-cent pair of gloves, and I want her arrested!”

While he paused for breath the inspector glared at him in amazement.

“Is everybody going crazy at the same time?” he inquired, sarcastically. “How could a wax dummy run away?”

“I don’t know; but she did. When my janitor opened the door this morning he saw her run out.”

“Why didn’t he stop her?” asked Mugg.

“He was too frightened. But she’s stolen my property, your honor, and I want her arrested!” declared the storekeeper.

The inspector thought for a moment.

“You wouldn’t be able to prosecute her,” he said, “for there’s no law against dummies stealing.”

Mr. Floman sighed bitterly.

“Am I to lose that $19.98 costume and the $4.25 hat and—“

“By no means,” interrupted Inspector Mugg. “The police of this city are ever prompt to act in defense of our worthy citizens. We have already arrested the wax lady, and she is locked up in cell No. 16.  You may go there and recover your property, if you wish, but before you prosecute her for stealing you’d better hunt up a law that applies to dummies.”

“All I want,” said Mr. Floman, “is that $19.98 costume and—“

“Come along!” interrupted the policeman. “I’ll take you to the cell.”

But when they entered No. 16 they found only a lifeless dummy lying prone upon the floor. Its wax was cracked and blistered, its head was badly damaged, and the bargain costume was dusty, soiled and much bedraggled. For the mischief-loving Tanko-Mankie had flown by and breathed once more upon the poor wax lady, and in that instant her brief life ended.

“It’s just as I thought,” said Inspector Mugg, leaning back in his chair contentedly. “I knew all the time the thing was a fake. It seems sometimes as though the whole world would go crazy if there wasn’t some level-headed man around to bring ‘em to their senses.  Dummies are wood an’ wax, an’ that’s all there is of ‘em.”

“That may be the rule,” whispered the policeman to himself, “but this one were a dummy as lived!”

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August 19th, 2011

End of Summer Activities

End of Summer Activities for Kids from Operation Letter to SantaSummer is not quite over, being that it is only mid-August, but the school year begins soon, effectively spelling the end of long lazy summer days for most kids. Try these nine family activities for an exciting end to your summer.

1. Make a memory book. Have everyone in the family get together and make a memory book or scrapbook. Collect photos from your summer or other scraps and artwork that would fit into a book of memories. This will give you a lasting memento of the good times you had over the summer.

2. Have a splashing good time. The summer usually means a good time around water. Throw a pool party or play around in the sprinklers. Have a water balloon fight with your family. Involve water while you still can, before the cold days of winter arrive.

3. Make summertime recipes. Pick out your favorite summertime recipes and make food and drinks with your family. Start with drinks like iced tea and lemonade, or pick another family favorite that you associate with summer. Then, make summer treats or throw a barbeque.

4. Throw a summer party. Get together with your family and throw an end of the summer bash for all of your friends. Your family can plan the party together, cook the food and make decorations. Take lots of photos of your party so you can remember the good time you had.

5. Go to the zoo. Summer is a great time to enjoy the zoo during your free time. Go to the zoo with your family one last time before school takes away much of that free time. It’s also a great way to learn about many different kinds of animals.

6. Play video games. Video games can be fun for the whole family. Some game consoles even have games that’ll get the whole family active. Choose a sports game, a family board game or a racing game and compete against your family for an exciting time together.

7. Go to the beach. The end of the summer might be one of your last opportunities to hit the beach this year. Wear sunscreen to protect your skin. Bring plenty of towels and beach toys. Build a sand castle with your kids. Bury one of your family members in the sand.

8. Get ready for school. Enjoy getting ready for the school year with your family. Find the fun in shopping for clothing and school supplies. Get the whole family involved. Allow your kids to make some of the clothing decisions and to pick out some of their favorite school supplies.

9. Relax at home. Enjoy some quiet time at home before the craziness of the school year starts. Order takeout and talk around the dinner table. Rent some family friendly movies to enjoy while you beat the heat together.

Pick one of these, or come up with your own end of summer activity ideas. The most important thing is that you take the time to enjoy your family. The end of summer can be an exciting time for your family to bond and experience priceless memories.

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August 18th, 2011

When Kids Don’t Want To Play Outside

Mom, It’s Too Hot!

Hula-Hoop and other fun outdoor activity tips from Operation Letter To SantaKids… gotta love ’em. But sometimes they can make you want to pull your hair out, as every mom knows. In the winter, it’s too cold to go outside. In the summer, it’s too hot. What’s a mom to do? Actually, you can encourage your kids to get outside and enjoy some simple summer exercises by making them fun and a family fitness event.

The joy of summer fitness activities is that you really don’t need a lot of equipment, planning, or preparation. You can always go for a long walk on the beach, a hike in the woods, or a few laps around the block.

Or take a swim. If you don’t have a pool in your backyard, take a trip to the lake or beach if there’s one nearby. Or drop by a community pool. While it’s not as private as your own home, you can have a lot of fun and still get in some good exercise swimming laps, racing the kids from end to end or side to side, or just jumping around in the water doing your own thing.

Other water exercises are great for summer. You can stay cool while getting in some family fitness time. Consider water skiing and build up those leg muscles, water volleyball, or underwater scavenging contests where everyone takes turns swimming to the bottom of the pool to find a “lost” object.

Dust off the bicycles and take a long ride around town, or strap a picnic lunch on the back and head over to the park for an afternoon playing on the swings and merry-go-round. Don’t forget the monkey bars, which are great for building the muscles in your arms and developing strength, or the slide which is just plain fun!

Dig out your old hula hoop and teach the kids to use it. Remember how much fun you had swinging and swaying to keep that thing from hitting the floor? That’s a tremendous way to exercise your whole body! And the kids will love it, too. They’ll not only have a blast laughing at your antics, but of course, they’ll want to prove they can do it better so the whole family will get a great workout.

Frisbee is a fun way to spend an afternoon as well. If the kids aren’t home, or aren’t interested, get the dog involved. They love chasing the disc, and many of them are better than humans at catching it.

Like to skate? In-line skating is good exercise for everyone in the family. Skates are relatively inexpensive, you can even find them at yard sales at times, and some communities offer rentals places, so check around. If your town has a bike trail or greenbelt, chances are you can find other skaters enjoying the ride and getting some good exercise in the process.

Whatever you like to do, summer is a great time to be outdoors, playing with the kids, and having fun—all in the name of family fitness! Sure, you’ll sweat, but why pay a gym for that privilege when you can sweat for free in your own backyard or neighborhood?

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August 17th, 2011

Rolling In The Grass – Remember When?

Rolling in the Grass - Outdoor family fun from Operation Letters To SantaThere was a time not too long ago when families didn’t have to go out and buy equipment to become fit. Time was spent rolling in the grass, playing in the yard, or jumping around on the floor instead of watching television or getting hooked on computer games. While it may seem those times are past, it’s not too late to remember when family fitness was naturally fun and look for some ways to make it that way again.

  • Put on some old play clothes that you don’t mind getting grass stained and spend some outside family fitness time with the kids. Play in the yard. Grab a football and toss it around, or get out the mitts and baseball and play a game of catch. Volleyball, badminton, or tennis are excellent ways to enjoy the outdoors, and the workout you get will rival anything you’ll find in the gym.
  • Teach your kids how to do a somersault. Somersaults are simple for even very young children. In case you’ve forgotten how, you simply have your child stand on a flat section of grass and lean over slightly with arms outstretched. He or she then places their hands on the ground, and tucking the head in close to the chest to prevent injury, they just “roll” forward landing in a sitting position. Children can also turn a somersault from a sitting position once they get used to “flipping” over. It’s very similar, just remind them to not let their heads touch the floor to avoid injury.
  • Another great outdoor activity is turning cartwheels. Little girls, especially love this (but boys do, too!). Cartwheels are a basic gymnastics move and many children are able to do these at an early age as well, though they do require a little more coordination that somersaults. Turning cartwheels is great for strengthening the upper body and developing skills needed for later gymnastic efforts including handsprings or walk-offs. Allow plenty of room for turning a cartwheel. While a front to back cartwheel is common, side-to-side cartwheels are more popular so you can start with those. The method for doing cartwheels is lowering first one hand, then the other, then lowering one foot and then the other. Think of the spokes of a bicycle. You’ll become that wheel with your arms and legs the spokes. For the best results, keep your arms, legs, and back straight and strong as you turn. Cartwheels may take some practice, but even if children can’t turn them fully, they’ll have fun and get lots of exercise playing in the grass and rolling around on the ground.

There are hundreds of ways to play outdoors with the kids and get in a great workout at the same time. Just remember all the fun you used to have as a child and give your own children a taste of the same simple pleasures. You’ll be building family ties, strengthening the bond with your children, and helping them to develop healthy living habits at the same time. Nothing could be better than that!

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August 16th, 2011

Summer Reading Activities for Kids

Summer Reading Activities for Kids by Operation Letters To SantaIt is so important to keep our children’s brains engaged over the summer months, so they don’t lose their place in academics. Studies have shown that children fall three months behind in the learning progress they’ve made when they don’t do anything in the summer to keep up. Staying academically active in the summer doesn’t have to be dry and boring, though. There are many creative ways to keep the wheels in your child’s brains rolling!

  1. Have a themed dinner night for family and friends. Pick a theme, like maybe the 1950s or even carnivals, and have everyone dress up according to your theme. Find coordinating foods for your theme to serve to everyone. And most importantly, have lots of books on hand about your theme. After dinner, everyone can take turns reading all of the books together.
  2. A great way to bring new life to old books is to have a book swap party. Invite some friends to gather up old books they no longer want and bring them over. As everyone comes in, take their books and set them all up on a table so they are easy to browse. Have your guests gather and mingle in the living room, but, set the books up in the dining room. Once everyone has arrived, file into the dining room so that everyone can choose some new books to take home.
  3. Children can get together with a small group of friends and write a storybook. They can do so in a round robin way, where each child writes some and then passes it to the next for their turn. Or they can collaborate as they go along. When they are finished writing the story, they can work on some illustrations. They might even have fun finding pictures in magazines to use for the illustrations. They can put it all together with some cardboard pieces for the book cover. They will probably need your help with that part, as it will be hard to cut. When it is all done, they can take turns keeping the book each weekend to show grandparents and whoever else they would like to show it off to.
  4. And of course, don’t forget your public library’s summer reading program. It is a great initiative to keep your kids interested in books. They can choose their own books to read for the programs and that is a big deal. It is not only fun for the child, but, it really helps to keep their desire to read going strong. The child who is always told exactly what to read sees it as nothing more than a chore. The library’s programs usually all have prizes for certain numbers of books read – and then main prizes at the end of the program. And a lot of the programs have a kick-off party and a party for when it’s over, too.

So many kids fall behind, just from the gaps that happen over the accumulated summers. It can be really hard to catch up when school starts back up in the fall and by the time the child reaches middle school, they may be several grades behind in reading alone. We don’t have to make kids’ summers all work and no play, but, keeping their brains in operation is imperative for them to keep up in school.

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August 15th, 2011

Back To School Coloring Pages and Printables

Back to School coloring page and activity links from Operation Letter to SantaIt is time to head back to school and there are thousands of web sites with free coloring books and printable coloring sheets to print and color in. Here are just a few to help your children look forward to going back to school.

Back to School Coloring Printables

Letters and Numbers Coloring Pages

  • Alphabet Coloring Printables: Alphabet coloring pages are one of the first art and learning activities for preschoolers. Alphabet coloring pages and bubble letter printable sheets are a wonderful resource for artists and teachers. Designers, crafters and homeschoolers use letter outlines, monograms and alphabet letters for arts projects.
  • Alphabet Worksheets: Learn to recognize, read, and write letters of the alphabet. Dozens of free worksheets for learning the ABCs. Includes uppercase (capital) and lowercase letters.

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August 12th, 2011

Fun Rice Krispies Summer Treats

Tangy Watermelon Rice Krispies TreatsJust paid a visit to the Kellogg’s® Rice Krispies® website to see what kind of fun summer treats suggestions they have and found some wonderful recipes. These are not only lovely to look at but look like a LOT of fun for parents and kids to have in the kitchen.

Here are some recipes that keep summer days from melting away and that will build some great family memories at the same time!

This is also a very fun recipe page with some original recipes from the Rice Krispies® Making Memories Challenge.

Do you have some fun family summer treats? We would love for you to share them with us!

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August 11th, 2011

Tips For Cooking With a Crock Pot

Crock pot cooking tips from Operation Letter to Santa and Santa's blogA slow cooker or crock pot is a useful tool for any busy household. All that is required of you is to add your ingredients to the crock pot and be ready to eat a delicious home cooked meal when you and your family all gather around the dinner table. Slow cookers come in many sizes to accommodate both single people or larger family units. Before you begin to lick your lips, here are some basic tips about how and what to cook in your slow cooker.

First, there are slow cooker cookbooks on the market, and most crock pots come with a recipe booklet included in the box.Here are some links to some great slow cooker cookbooks on

A crock pot can turn some of our favorite stove top and oven recipes into slow cooker sensations. Dishes you may never thought of cooking in a crock pot cooker can be prepared without you even being there. You can even bake banana bread with an optional insert!

What you must remember when cooking anything in a slow cooker is the liquid component. There must be some type of liquid in the bottom of the cooker to begin the cooking process. Without it, your meal will stick to the bottom and burn. There doesn’t need to be a lot of it, just enough to cover the bottom in most cases. The juices within the meat will mingle with the other liquid during cooking to create more of a stock.

When using a crock pot it should be at least half full for maximum cooking potential. Keep in mind that the more food you add to the cooker, the slower it will cook. The temperature will cook the food evenly without overcooking if the heat settings are adjusted accordingly. If you aren’t careful and don’t adjust the crock pot heat settings, you may find that an eight hour setting cooked your dinner in two and spent the other six drying it out.

Meats are the most common food cooked in a slow cooker. People use a crock pot to cook main dishes for dinner since this is the meal we struggle with preparing most on a busy schedule. Any meat used needs to be thoroughly drained before adding it to the cooker. Since meat takes longer to cook, they need to make up the bottom layer. This will also help keep the meat moist since it will cook into the liquid underneath.

For safety, cook meats at least three hours so that an internal temperature that is high enough for proper cooking can be reached. This is not usually a problem since many use the crock pot at its lowest setting (six to ten hours depending on the brand of cooker). Just a word of advice, whole chickens should not be used in a slow cooker. The internal temperature needed to safely cook that much chicken properly can’t be reached in time for eating at such low temperature settings.

If you plan to cook vegetables in your slow cooker, here are some tips. Tough fibrous veggies like carrots and potatoes can be tossed in at the beginning with the meat. It takes longer for the fibers to be broken down and the vegetables to be cooked all the way through. More delicate vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms should be added half an hour before the meal is done.

Slow cooking makes dinner a cinch when you are on the run. Just be sure to experiment with various dishes the first time to get an idea of how long your slow cooker takes to create the particular meal. Layering foods correctly and testing heat settings will ensure your meal will be delicious every time.

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August 9th, 2011

End of Summer Parties

How to Throw an Excellent End of Summer Party for Friends and Family

How to Throw a Great End of Summer Party for Family and FriendsWhen the summer comes to an end, it means that returning to work and school is right around the corner. Sometimes the transition back to work can feel like you’re leaving fun behind. Instead, celebrate the end of summer by throwing a huge party for all of the people that mean the most to you.

It’s popular to throw parties around major holidays, but you can turn the end of summer into your own holiday. With some careful planning, you can create a great time that all of your friends and family will remember forever.

Time to Barbeque

The summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors. There are many activities that can get everyone moving and socializing. Consider throwing a barbeque for a casual event that everyone will like.

Find a great place for your barbeque, and then fire up the grill for some hamburgers and hotdogs in the sun. If you have a large backyard, you can have your party at home. The beach or local parks are also perfect locations for your summer bash.

Pile On the Snacks

The fun can begin long before the party does. Involve your children and friends in creating delicious appetizers and snacks for your party. Have everyone’s favorite sweet and salty snacks on hand for a party that lasts all day. Your children may enjoy adding some fancy summer themed decorations to your snacks and treats.

Remember to include healthy snack choices. Provide some delicious, healthy alternatives for anyone who has been working toward fitness goals during the summer. You can start by preparing a fruit salad. Buy a full watermelon and hollow it out like a bowl. Cut up your favorite fruits and fill your watermelon bowl with the fruit.

This “bowl” method is also an excellent idea when it comes to serving bread with dip. Hollow out a loaf and serve your dip directly from the loaf of bread.

Special Activities

People will enjoy just mingling at your get-together, but playing specific activities can make your time together even more memorable. If there are plenty of children at the party, create games that excite and involve the children. That way, everyone is sure to have a good time.

Keep the summer theme in mind as you plan your activities. Water balloon fights are always a summer favorite. You can also prepare some sports themed games, relays and races.

If you have a lot of time to plan, you can even create a scavenger hunt. Have your family help you to come up with some great clues to include in the game. Provide prizes for the winners that also have a summer theme.


You’ll also want to spend time thinking about the decorations for your party. Decide on a specific theme for your party or stick with a general summer theme.

You can make your decorations at home or purchase them from a party supply store. You can also involve the children of the neighborhood in an arts and crafts project that keeps their mind active and their bodies out of trouble during the summer season.

At the end of your party, thank your guests for coming by providing them with a small gift. If you take time to plan and draw on the creative resources of your neighbors and friends, your end of summer bash will certainly be a day you’ll all remember for a long time to come.

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August 5th, 2011

Back-to-School: Prepping Your Kids for the Change

Back to School Tips from Operation Letters to SantaEvery child loves summer vacation. They’re free from schoolwork. They can wake up as late as they want to. And, they are free to hang out with their friends on weekdays. Summer vacation is truly the most exciting part of every child’s year.

Every summer vacation, though, must come to an end. You can avoid an abrupt ending and a house full of cranky children if you start the back-to-school preparation process a few weeks before class starts.

Utilize the tips below to minimize the sting of going back to school on your children.

1. Adjust their sleep schedule. Wean your kids into a school-ready sleeping schedule by making them fall asleep an hour earlier each week. Continue cutting back their bedtime until their sleeping patterns match those they’ll maintain throughout the school year.

2. Assign homework. It’s true that kids dislike homework. But it’s important to keep their minds sharp. On the Internet, you can find many places that offer free downloadable worksheets for children of all ages to complete outside of school. Websites like,, and provide a wide variety of options. Keep it lighthearted. Try to assign fun homework assignments and be lenient in deadlines. After all, it is summer vacation and your kids deserve to spend some of their time relaxing. One assignment per subject that is due at the end of the week is plenty.

3. Tighten curfews. If you’re like most parents, you likely extend your children’s curfews throughout the summer. A few weeks before classes begin, be stricter about the time your children need to be home and which days they can go out with their friends.  Allow your children to keep their summer curfew active on Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday through Thursday, implement a “school-ready” curfew. This will mentally prepare your children for the new set of rules that will be in effect during the school year.

4. Make the change exciting. To your children, August is just the beginning of another boring school year. However, as a parent, you can’t help but marvel at the speed your babies are maturing! Help them see what you see by reminding them of all of the opportunities that will soon be available to them in the new school year.

Be firm about your decisions when preparing your kids for the change of going back to school. Most children are resistant when you first begin to implement these changes. However, after about a week or so, most children begin to accept the new routines.

Remember to take your children’s feelings and desires into account when designing your routine for getting ready to return to school. Kids have unique needs, and it’s important to let them know that their opinions are valuable. Be willing to give in a little and you’ll often receive a great deal of cooperation in return.

By implementing these changes, you’ll prepare your children well for going back to school. When school begins, it will be less of a shock to your children and the transition to a new daily routine will be an easier one for all.

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August 5th, 2011

Creating Summer Meals With a Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker tips from Operation Letter to SantaIn today’s world, families are always busy. Whether it is your schedule or your children’s, a good home-cooked meal can be hard to come by. Enter the slow cooker. It provides families with another way to prepare delicious meals for their household. The best part is that you don’t even have to be there while it’s cooking. And let’s face it, during the summer it is HOT! You probably do not want to be standing over a hot stove right now!

Slow cooker is another way to say “crock pot.” Most of us are used to hearing the latter, but the terms are interchangeable meaning the same thing. Now, if you are considering using a slow cooker (and I suggest that you do), there are a few things you should know before you start to enhance your chances of creating a successful meal. Yes, even a slow cooker meal can be horrible if some basic tips are not adhered to. No one wants to come home with a hearty appetite and find a pot full of mush. Yuck!

So let’s start with the purchasing of a slow cooker. You can crock pots in various sizes.  From as small as one quart to as large as five quarts, you’re sure to find one that fits your needs. If you come across a larger one, that’s even better. Depending on your family size or the amount of people you’ll be preparing meals for with it, you may find the larger the slow cooker the better it will work.

Slow cookers also come with removable inner pots that allow for easier serving at the dinner table. A removable inner core allows everyone to sit and relax as they spoon their food onto the plate instead of standing at the stove. Some even come equipped with a non-stick inner pot, making clean up less messy.

Temperature settings vary among slow cookers. Many offer a range of temperature settings to meet the needs of the cook. Some have as little at two setting (high and low) and others include five settings that vary from high (two hours) to really slow cooking (ten hours). There may also be a warm setting in case the food has finished cooking but any accompanying side dishes still need to be prepared. This setting is also great for times when everyone isn’t ready to eat their meal just yet.

Be careful with your heat settings, however. As with ovens, temperatures and settings on the dial are a rough estimate. Don’t be like me who, at the expense of my meal, overcooked a roast the first time.  Even though I had it set to the eight hour setting to cook throughout the day, my slow cooker has a high temperature and cooks boneless meats quickly. I could have put it in the cooker when I got home and still had a delicious meal in less than two hours.

Just goes to show, you live and you learn. To avoid such a food crisis, test your slow cooker on the weekend when you are at home. Start a meal in the late morning hours, using the lowest setting and see how long it actually takes for the meal to cook. You may need to make adjustments to cooking times when you are away based on what you discover.

A slow cooker can be an extremely useful tool for busy families and even single people alike. With the suggestions above you’ll get used to preparing meals with your slow cooker while you’re not around in no time.

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August 3rd, 2011

Fun and Frugal Family Summer Fun

Cool and Frugal Family Summer Fun! from Operation Letter to SantaWhen the summer months arrive, so does the heat. The scorching summer sun can sometimes put a damper on your excitement and anticipation. Despite the heat, you can still make the most of your time during the summer and have a rocking good time with these fun and frugal family activities.

Indoor Activities

Thankfully, summer fun means more than basking in the sun and withering in the heat. Beat the heat with these indoor activities:

1. Go shopping. Head to a local mall or nearby shopping center. You can get your exercise in the air-conditioning and skip the sunburn. Even if your wallet is empty, you can enjoy a walk with friends, window shop, and dream. BTW, this is actually a good time to pick up on summer sales and begin your Christmas shopping!

2. Plan fun activities at home. Spending family time at home can be a lot of fun with some creative thinking. Plan special activities that you can do at home, such as games and crafts. Make it a family night, or invite your friends for a memorable evening playing games and laughing together.

3. Go out for cool drinks. Coffee shops provide a relaxing atmosphere for a casual date or visit with a friend. Grab an iced coffee or flavored drink and spend the afternoon reminiscing about old times.

4. Go to the library or a museum. Chances are good that there is a hidden gem in your hometown. Get a library card and travel the world through books. Or visit a local art gallery or museum to enrich your understanding of your local culture.

5. Go Bowling–for free! Click here to see if your local bowling center is participating in this special summer program offering 2 free games a day with the purchase of a discounted family summertime pass.

Outdoor Activities

While you can always beat the heat indoors, the sunshine and outdoor fun are what you’ve looked forward to all year long. If you take the proper precautions, your time will be pleasant and you’ll avoid the miserable feeling that comes from being ill prepared for the summer heat.

Is there a favorite park or beach in your town, or close by? Plan outdoor activities like picnics, family reunions, or just wander around with your camera on the local nature trails and take some great pictures.

Enjoy yourself in hot weather by taking these precautions:

1. Drink plenty of fluids. Keep drinking plenty of water throughout the day, especially during exercise. If you’re feeling thirsty, it means that your body is already partially dehydrated. Keep water or other clear fluids with you at all times while you’re outside.

2. Go swimming. Swimming is great exercise, and it’s easier to stay cool in the swimming pool. Remember that you still need to keep yourself fully hydrated while swimming. You can often exercise for longer periods of time and stay out later in the swimming pool than you can during other summer activities in the sun.

3. Play in the water. Set up a homemade water park in your yard. It is super simple and super inexpensive. All you need is a hose, a great sprinkler, a slip and slide and a few water toys like water guns. Have fun with it!

4. Take frequent breaks. Give yourself a break at every opportunity. Instead of pushing through the heat when you feel short of breath, stop and take a breather. Pace yourself and listen to your body’s signals. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, get inside and cool off as quickly as possible. Find shade wherever you can.

5. Dress appropriately. Wear light, breathable clothing when you’re outdoors in the heat. Wear a hat or visor to protect your head and face. Apply a strong sunscreen to protect your skin against sunburn. A little common sense can go a long way in protecting your body against heat exhaustion.

Whether you choose to spend your time indoors or outdoors, you can have a blast this summer despite the scorching heat. All you need is a little common sense and a desire to make the most of your time to create summer memories that will last a lifetime.

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