Saturday, December 23, 2017

Last Minute Additions to My Candlelight Holiday Table

 Less than 24 hours to the grand candlelight Christmas Eve dinner! 

The table is set.
The menu is planned.
The ingredients bought.
The guests excited.

I blogged on Tuesday about creating a holiday table on a budget.  My son, Daniel, and I gave ourselves a budget of $50 to replace all of my old, worn out Christmas decorations.  That price had to include new dinner plates, smaller dessert-type plates, and all the decorations.  Our grand total was just $36!  I thought I was done.  But, I was not.  I spent another $7 this week and you'll soon see why. 

 I had a couple of last minute blessings that I just had to share with you!  


Remember me telling you that I bought paper napkins, having come to the realization that there was little hope of finding eight matching cloth napkins at a second hand store before December 24th?
I blogged about it in my post on creating an elegant holiday table on a budget.   This is where I say, "Oh, me of little faith!"  Yep!  My husband and I walked into Mission Mart last night and found eight matching cloth napkins in pristine condition.   The price?  $2.00!  And, oh my, do they look good!


The chandelier was just not complete.  I could just feel it.  But, I couldn't figure out what it needed.  Then, while walking through Kroger, I spied a box of marked down ornaments in the general clearance section.  There were at least 30 ornaments in the box.  But, what caught my eye were these lovely silver and gold teardrop ones.  I could just picture them hanging from the center of the chandelier.  The price?  $5.00 for the entire box!   There are plenty of ornaments to add some more bling to the small tree in the corner of the dining room next year!  


More unexpected blessings!  I love everything about the herb, rosemary!  My good friend, Tracey stopped by today and brought this amazing rosemary topiary.  My sister-in-law Suzanne brought me the the colorful Christmas cactus.  Once again, they perfectly balance out the larger cut crystal compote dish in the center of the table.  

Our new grand total for the "Christmas Evening Candlelight Dinner Decorating Project":  $43!  
We came in nicely under our allotted $50 budget!  

Daniel and I pre-set the table today.

We await, with joyous expectation, our special celebration of the birth of Christ.  May you all have a wonderful Christmas weekend, filled with unexpected blessings!  


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Creating An Elegant Holiday Table for Under $50!

After nearly 30 years of marriage, my stash of Christmas decorating supplies has seen better days.  That is truly putting it kindly. So, my son, Daniel, and I decided to update our look. We challenged ourselves to set an elegant table for a special candlelight Christmas Eve dinner and to do it on a tight budget. 

Our color scheme: white, gold, and silver with a splash of black and blue.

 Our wish list:  dessert plates
                         dinner plates
                         a table runner
                         all the decorations

Our budget:  $50.00!  

Come along on our journey to see how we did it!

STORE #1:  Mission Mart

I LOVE the Mission Mart! All the proceeds stay in our local area and support our local ministry, helping the poor on the South Side. They have a shelter for homeless women and children, a summer camp, a culinary school, a soup kitchen, and a multitude of programs for young people. Whew!

So, when they had the Mission Mart had their annual holiday open house, Daniel and I headed over for hot apple cider, cookies, and half priced Christmas items.

The Mission Mart "haul":  

  • A set of 10 antique Currier and Ives small plates in perfect condition - $5.00
  • A set of  2 Currier and Ives servers (matching the small plates) - $2.00 
  •  6 gold candle holders - $3.00
  • White and gold poinsettia swag - $2.00
  • A set of 3 large, white and gold ornaments (brand new in the box) - $3.00
  • 1 string of lights - $1.00
  • A set of 7 plastic snowflakes with white and light blue accents - $3.50
  • A bag of assorted metal bells, beads, and ornaments - $1.25
TOTAL                                                                                                                           $20.75


My love affair with Dollar Tree continues.  See this post for my review of items you don't want to miss buying at your local Dollar Tree.  When we visited to gather materials for our Christmas table decorating challenge, Dollar Tree did not disappoint.  

Given my self-imposed strict budget, I fully expected to need to use paper or plastic plates for this challenge. But, no! Lo and behold, right as I entered the store I spied a rack of actual white glass plates with gold rims for a buck each! I bought eight of them. The shiny gold table runner was also an excellent find.  

My only concession in this process was the paper napkins. I really wanted cloth napkins. But, even given my propensity for "praying in" items that I need, I just couldn't believe that I would find eight matching cloth napkins at a second hand store before December 25th. So, I bought paper. Sigh!

The Dollar Store "haul"

  • A table runner - $ 1.00
  • A set of 8 white plates with gold trim - $ 8.00
  • 1 package of black napkins -  $ 1.00
TOTAL:                                                                                             $10.00


These were the supplies for the DIY napkin rings.  See this post for a tutorial. 

  • Sparkly silver washi tape - $ 2.00
  • 1 1/2 inch decorative ribbon - $ 1.25
 TOTAL:                                                                                         $ 3.25



We found surprisingly little that we were interested in purchasing.  However, we did two rolls  of sparkly gold ribbon garland  for $1.00 each. 

TOTAL:                                                                                          $2.00

The GRAND Total:       $36.00! 

Let's see how we put it all together!

We used every single item we bought except the string of Christmas lights.  Since they were colored lights and not just plain white lights, I just couldn't find a way to incorporate them into the theme.  But, I'm keeping them.  Who knows, maybe next year I will be struck with sudden inspiration. 

The Diningroom before our Yuletide transformation:  

And now... After! 



1.  Incorporate vintage Items.  

I just love to own things with a story behind them!  People joke that it takes hours to see my house the first time you are invited over, because you have to hear the story behind each item as you make your way through every room. 

If you have some vintage holiday aprons from Aunt Ginny, display them on hooks in the kitchen.  How about embroidered Christmas doilies, quilts, or table runners from Grandma?   Think outside the box.  I had a friend who used a vintage red and green quilt as a tablecloth and it was stunning.  If you have something you LOVE, figure out how to use it! 

Here I put some black tinsel in the bottom of a cut glass compote dish (for contrast) and then added antique ornaments.  I picked ornaments within our chosen color palette.  I also tied a bow around the base and hung smaller ornaments at intervals around the perimeter of the bowl.  

2.  Look on-line for ideas.  

Pintrest proved to be quite helpful in this process.  We looked at a ton of themes, colors, and patterns before narrowing down exactly what we wanted to do. You can even track your ideas on your own Pintrest board. 

3.  Buy Used.  

I've long been a proponent of "you don't need to spend a million bucks to look like you do."  Second-hand stores nearly always put Christmas items on sale for half price sometime during the Christmas season.  Christmas in July is also a popular sale for these stores.  While you are doing the decorating (or putting everything back away after Christmas) it helps to make a written list of items that you really feel you'd like to add to next year's decorating and keep it where you can find it.  That way you can shop with a purpose, instead of just browsing.  See this post for my top 10 tips for thrift store shopping. 

 4.  Don't be afraid to mix and match.  

Pick one or two items or arrangements as a focal point and then plan your theme around those things.  As long as the "theme" remains consistent, it's all good.  Patterns, materials, and shapes can all be varied to add interest and dimension. I always pause about every 30 minutes while decorating and stand back.  I view the room from all sorts of angles.  Sometimes you see things that are sticking out at a weird angle or don't look quite right when you do this. 

5.  Love what you have.  

I bought the small tree in the corner on clearance from Big Lots last year for  $3.40.  It may have been about 95% off of the original price, but if I am honest, I will say that it looked a little (well, actually a LOT) like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree before the ornaments and garland went on, but the finished product made a nice little accent piece.  Just don't lean too hard on it or that baby will hit the floor with a thud!  We had to weight the bottom with heavy books to stabilize it!  It may not make the "cut" for next year's display if I can find a replacement at a thrift store that is a little more aesthetically pleasing and with better balance. 
This may be the precise reason that the little tree in the corner may be donated to some deserving thrift store.  It functions as a tree.  But, if I have to wrestle it into shape each year, I know that I won't use it.  

If you keep what you like, you will use it again and again.  If you hate it, you will resent getting it out of storage every year.  Get rid of the items that don't give you joy!   

 6. Embrace the season of life that you are in.  

When my children were small, I determined to enjoy every single season of life with them.  If you are in a season of raising babies or caring for aging relatives, you don't have to go all out on decorating.  It's okay.  I hereby absolve you of all guilt.  Pick a couple of really important traditions and do your best to keep them.  (Here's my post on free or nearly free Christmas traditions).  If you don't have three days to do the decorating, don't plan to recreate the entire nativity on your front lawn.  Plan something that looks elegant and yet takes little time.  You can always add more in consecutive years. 

I'd love to see photos or hear about your Holiday decorating.  Leave comments and pictures below.

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Have a blessed, peace-filled, Christ-centered holiday season!


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Create Easy and Elegant Napkin Rings

A friend of my high school pal, Eva Clancy, recently posted a tutorial on her FB page about DIY Christmas napkin rings. I took the concept shown on the video, streamlined it, and made it even easier. Today I'll share my version of DIY Christmas napkin rings.

Let's begin with a supply list:

  • Empty toilet paper rolls - each roll makes 2 napkin rings- FREE
  • A spool of 1 1/2 inch ribbon - I got mine on clearance from Hobby Lobby - $1.20
  • Silver Washi tape - Office Depot - $2.00

That's it! Seriously! You won't believe how elegantly they turn out!

STEP 1:  Cut the Toilet Paper Tubes in half 

I just measured the entire length with a ruler, made a pencil mark across the middle, and then cut through it with scissors. Easy peasy!

STEP 2:  Measure and Glue on the Ribbon

  • Be sure you purchased ribbon that was 1 1/2  inches wide. It's a standard width and you should have no problem finding it. 
  • Wrap it around the tube, leaving just a little overlap.  
  • Cut one length of ribbon and check to be sure that it will fit properly.  
  • Then, before  applying glue, use the ribbon that you just cut as a template, cutting as many pieces as you need for your supply of toilet paper rolls.
  • Wrap it around the middle of the tube and glue. 
  • It if doesn't cover the edges, no worries.  That's where the Washi tape comes in.  

STEP 3:  Cover the Bare Edges with Washi Tape

If you've never used Washi tape, you'll love it! Most stores have a huge display of various widths, sizes, and colors. The Washi tape should overlap your ribbon evenly on both sides. You will probably need a dab of glue at the edge of the washi tape (where it overlaps) to make it secure.

That's it!   

The finished product is a very elegant napkin ring. It's super easy for the kids to help you. You can make varying colors to match your holiday decor, dishes, and napkins. If you have two very similar patterns of ribbon, which compliment one another, that would allow you to add yet more dimension to the finished table setting.

If you give this project a try I'd love to see photos of your finished napkin rings. Leave comments and photos below!

Christmas Eve Candlelight Dinner on A Budget

Read this post and this post see how I incorporated them into a dazzling holiday table arrangement for our Christmas Eve candlelight dinner. We used only items bought from local second hand stores and Dollar Tree. 

My son, Daniel, and I gave ourselves a $50 budget to buy ornaments, decorations, napkins, a table runner, dessert plates, and dinner plates. You won't believe what we found and how little we paid!

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Do all to the glory of God, 


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Ten Free (or nearly Free) Christmas Family Traditions

When my husband and I made the decision that I would not be a full-time member of the workforce while raising our children, I looked him in the eye and said, "Our children may not be raised with a lot of money, but they will be raised with a lot of FUN!"  This is especially true during the holidays.  Over the years,we sought out free or nearly free events and opportunities for family holiday fun.

I did not fully realize the importance of these yearly activities until a few years ago when my then teenage sons began asking, "Mom we will be doing all of our regular holiday events, won't we?"  My "mama heart" was filled with happiness as I realized that they actually wanted to hang out with me and that these traditions were important to them!

There are a plethora of fun Yuletide options in our local area.  Here are ten ideas for free or nearly free family holiday traditions.  Some are particular to Central Illinois.  But, you can take my ideas and "run with them" and seek out similar events in your area.

Local Businesses:   Holiday Open Houses

This activity actually begins before Thanksgiving.  These open houses generally start in late October and continue through the first week of December.  We try to attend a few open houses at local businesses every year.  It's a wonderful thing to support local, small businesses.   Featuring hot apple cider or hot chocolate and gooey confections, businesses also often throw in discounts of ten to twenty percent during the open house.  This definitely gets us the spirit of the season, as well as igniting our creative gift-giving juices.

Gingerbread House Making

We have participated in gingerbread house making events through our local library and also created them from scratch at home.  The houses in which the pieces were pre-formed and the icing prepared by someone who had a better grasp on how to make the cement-like liquid sugar concoction, turned out more sturdy than the ones we constructed at home. However, both experiences were a whole lot of fun!  I highly recommend this family-team-building activity. Sometimes there is a small fee for these events.  The highest we have seen it is about $5 per person making a house. 

Serve a Meal at your Local Homeless Shelter

One Thanksgiving we arose bright and early in the morning and headed to the South Side Mission.  We found ourselves in a room filled to overflowing with others who wished to make the holiday brighter for someone in need.  We sang some carols, ate some cookies, and awaited our parcel of meals and delivery route.  I will never forget the fact that we were the only people most of these mainly elderly folks would see all day.  We took the time to step in and say "hello", pray with them, and wish them a blessed holiday season.  We were back home in time to attend our own family festivities. 

  Festival of Lights 

Central Illinois has a yearly Festival of Lights.  After the annual parade, the floats are transported to a local park and set up on display.  For a nominal fee ($10 per carload) you can drive slowly through this very large, dazzling display.  It's definitely worth the ten spot!

Historic Home Walks

We LOVE historic homes!  Around Christmas, for about $10 a person you can usually tour 4-6 historic homes in your city.  But, we generally do "one better".  We volunteer to dress in costume and become a part of the event.  The historical society sponsoring the event generally has a special evening for volunteers to tour the participating homes for free.  So, we get to see the homes AND be a part of the action.

Here are some photos of our family taking part in a tour.  The time period being depicted was 1945, just after servicemen and women returned from World War II.  

Tree Trimming and House Decorating

I added this as a category because the annual house and tree trimming are definitely an "event" in the Ware house.  We make homemade hot cocoa, gather in the livingroom for the official "unboxing" of all the Yuletide decor, and have an outrageously fun time trying to "out decorate" one another.   I think it's important to note that even things like getting the house ready for the holidays can become yet another holiday tradition, which fosters togetherness and an atmosphere of joy and abundance in your home.  As an added bonus, the older the boys got, the more coffee Larry and I got to consume while "overseeing" the decorating.  😀
 BONUS IDEA!  Get a pickle ornament!  These are inexpensive and great fun.  The pickle ornament tradition originated in Germany.  The pickle ornament was the last one hung on the tree.  The first child to find the pickle ornament received a special gift.  In our house, whoever finds the pickle first gets a large Hersey's candy bar.  Since I very rarely buy sweets, this is, indeed, a special prize in the Ware house.  

Santa Claus Parade

Central Illinois features a yearly Christmas parade that boasts the moniker of being the "longest running holiday parade in the country"!  It's always the day after Thanksgiving.  So, bundle up and bring the kids!  The bands, floats, and frivolity are sure to get you excited about the holiday season and provide an uplifting experience for the entire family.  Plus, your kids will go home with enough free candy to keep them wired for weeks.  As an added bonus, you can ask them nicely to share of their bounty and you, too, will have some chocolate to sustain you through the busy upcoming weeks of Yuletide preparations.  

Municipal Tree Lighting Ceremonies

The Friday after Thanksgiving is not only Black Friday, it's also the evening on which many cities have their official holiday lighting ceremony.  It's the same in our city.  After the lighting of the trees and the singing of carols, about twenty downtown businesses open their doors to the public.  Santa and Mrs. Claus are seated and taking down lists of toys from good girls and boys.  Each business features a different kind of musical entertainment and lots of free hot drinks and calorie-laden goodies.  You dress warmly and briskly make your way from one venue to the next.  It's all free and we have done it since our boys were small.  They look forward to it all year long.  

Christmas Candlelight Walks

The local park district opens up both their nature center and botanical gardens for free candlelight walks on weekends in December each year.  We try to attend both events.  This was especially a favorite activity when our boys were younger.  Little ones just seem to love seeing the twinkling lights among the trees.

Some neighborhoods really put on a great light show, too.  For many years, a neighborhood in our town did their own lighted luminary display.  The neighborhood association paid for the luminaries and each home lined the area in front of their home with them.  For two weeks preceding Christmas, cars lined up to slowly drive through the neighborhood to view the path of lights.  This is a great idea for those of you with little ones.  A relaxing evening of "oohs and ahhhs." 

Christmas Pageants and Christmas Concerts

Many schools, civic, and religious organizations offer free or nearly free concerts and plays throughout the holiday season.  Many of these programs are very professionally performed and set the Spirit of the season free in our hearts.

That's our family's list of traditions.  As you can see, you don't need to spend a lot of money to create meaningful memories for your family.

What did I miss?  Do you have a yearly tradition that is just too good to not share?  I'd love to hear about it.  Leave your comments below and let's dialogue!

Do all to the glory of God,