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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!  

CLOTH NAPKINS!!  



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!

TEARDROP ORNAMENTS 
 

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!  

ROSEMARY AND CHRISTMAS CACTUS!

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!  

Hope






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



STORE #2:  DOLLAR TREE


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

STORE #3 and #4 :  OFFICE DEPOT AND HOBBY LOBBY


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


STORE #5:  SALVATION ARMY

 BLACK FRIDAY SALE - 1/2 OFF! 


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! 

 





TIPS:

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!

Hope 

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!

Don't Miss Any of Our Posts! 

Follow us:  


On Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/underthemedian/ 

Receive posts via e-mail by filling in the "follow by e-mail" link on the main page.  

On Youtube  at:https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCalhGzHdjoEn18XraUxsFHg 

On Twitter at: https://twitter.com/Underthemedian 

On Instagram at:  https://www.instagram.com/underthemedian/



Do all to the glory of God, 

Hope

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,

Hope



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Super Savvy Christmas Gifts from Walgreens?!

 My recent Walgreens haul was so fantastic that it qualified for inclusion in my Super Savvy Shopper Savings Series! 

Before we get started, let me give you links to part 1 and part 2 of this series "Dollar Tree Deals" and "Let's Go Krogering."


When one ponders which stores offers gifts at great prices, Walgreens doesn't immediately spring to mind.  However, I recently hit a motherload of gifts in the clearance section of my local Walgreens.

Check out these colorful scarves!
 
They were marked down 90%!  Originally priced at just under $6.00, they were discounted to $.60 each!   I cleaned the shelf! The grand total for the scarves was $7.80!

But, wait!  There's more!

Elegant "Together We Give Opportunity" coffee mugs!

Originally priced at $12.00, they were discounted to $1.20 each. Although the price was very attractive, I soon discovered that this was a cup with a cause!  I love that a portion of the profits goes to support financial independence for needy women overseas.  The organization is called WE and can be found at https://www.we.org/.  There is a code on a tag attached to each mug.  You can go to the website and type in the code to see the impact of your purchase.  Once again, I depleted their inventory.

I even got an additional discount by using the points I had accumulated on my Walgreens store loyalty card.  Honestly, I was so pumped by the bargains that I didn't even consider that I might have enough points to take some money off of my total.  The store clerk, who was as excited by my deals as I was, asked me, "Do you want me to check the total on your loyalty card?  Maybe you have enough points to discount your total even further?"  I love it when a total stranger is clearly "into" my savvy shopper ways.  Sure enough, I was able to take $5 off of my total!

The scarves and mugs all went into my "gift stash" to be used for Christmas gifts.  Here is an example of a gift basket that I put together for under $5.00, using items that I found at incredible prices.

Here is a breakdown of the items and their cost:

Three dark green Christmas napkins:          $ .75 ($.25 each - Bergner's clearance)
"Together We Give Opportunity" mug:       $1.20 (Walgreens Clearance)
Oolong Organic Tea:                                    $1.00 (Big Lots Clearance shelf)
Pampered Chef wooden spoon:                   $1.20 (Clearance)
Cool colorful scarf:                                      $ .60 (Walgreens Clearance)
___________________________________________________________
TOTAL:                                                       $4.75

Note:  I had the basket, the candy, and the black feather on hand already. I purchase baskets throughout the year from second-hand stores or garage sales.  I try to always keep a few in my "gift stash" area.  Nice gift bags are also something to look for throughout the year.  Although remember that Dollar Tree has them in stock year-round for a dollar each in various sizes.  


Since then, I have stopped by Walgreens two more times and taken note that although they are not a "gift shop", they do have some interesting items at fantastic clearance prices.  It is certainly worth a stop while you are in the neighborhood.  After all, there is a Walgreens on every corner, isn't there?  😉

How about you?  Have you ever shopped your Walgreens for gifts?  I'd love to hear your experiences.  Comment below.

Remember,

Do all to the glory of God,

Hope 


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Gift-giving: "Under the Median" for the Holidays



Ah, the holidays, a time of joy, celebration, and lots of food!  It can also be a challenging time for families who live Under the Median.

It is at times like this that I remember my blog is dedicated to bringing encouragement to folks who work hard and yet bring home a paycheck that necessitates counting each nickel and dime.  So, with that in mind, I'm going to give you my best tips for having a joyous holiday season, but not breaking the bank.

Start Early


Around the end of October, I make a list of friends, co-workers, and family members to whom I will be giving gifts.  Then, I make a list of all the items I have in my "gift stash", gift items that I have stockpiled throughout the year.  Most of these items were bought at steep discounts and clearance prices.  Then, I match up gifts to each person on the list.  Generally, I have just a few "slots" left to fill.  Here's how I keep my Christmas budget within reasonable boundaries, pay cash for every item,  and bless both friends and family!


Christmas begins on.... December 26th.    


I begin buying for the following Christmas on December 26th.   The day after Christmas, prices on Yuletide themed products drop by 50%!  Wait another few days and you'll score bargains at prices 75 - 90% off. 

 Purchase red, green, or plaid napkins and handtowels at a fraction of retail.  Set them aside. Then next Christmas line a pretty basket (which you collected throughout the year at garage sales or second-hand shops) with a couple of the napkins, a holiday mug or some hot cocoa mix or herbal teas.



In a similar fashion, a handtowel can be used to line a basket.  Add fancy soaps and a loofah for a "bath" themed basket.

 Walgreens puts Yardley soaps on sale regularly.  I like both the lavender and oatmeal soaps.  They feel like luxury soap without the luxury price.  Big Lots also regularly stocks Yardley soaps.

Just in case you missed the photo at the top of this blog post,

These are my teacher gifts for this year.  I paired organic herbal teas on clearance for $1.00 a box with a Pampered Chef mini-wooden spoon purchased for just $1.25 each.  I tied each with a festive ribbon.  

One more suggestion!  A handtowel can be used to wrap a bottle of lotion or foaming handsoap.  Tie it up with a pretty ribbon and it's the perfect gift for the holidays.


 

Shop second hand.


As economy-weary consumers tighten both their pocket-books and budgets, I have noticed an increased proliferation of second-hand book and thrift shops.  For those who live under the median these merchants can be a Godsend when it comes to not only purchasing items which we need, but also for giving gifts.   Yes, second hand stores have come of age!  Goodwill is increasingly stocking brand new merchandise: everything from socks to dishes to clothing to bedding at bargain prices.  While you are there, look for pretty baskets, glass containers, gift wrap, ribbons, and bows.  If you have an antique-lover in the family, you will never find better prices than at second-hand shops. 

Make it from scratch!


When my husband turned 50, I made four different flavors of homemade muffins, stacked them on a tray and took them to his workplace.  I placed a cute sign next to it that said, "Larry is 50 today!  Please enjoy a homemade muffin to help him celebrate!"  I added smaller signs indicating the different kinds of muffins:  chocolate, spice, bran, and lemon.  When I mentioned this to my neighbor she looked at me in amazement.  "You mean you made them all from scratch??!!  No mixes??!!"  I couldn't figure out her consternation.  She continued, "When someone has a birthday where I work they bring in sweets to share.  I have never seen anyone bring in something homemade."  Turns out her birthday was the following week.  I baked her two dozen made-from-scratch muffins to take with her to work.  Yep!  She was right.  She was instantly popular and her co-workers were similarly amazed.


Now to those of us who routinely make everything we eat from scratch, the idea of a homemade muffin, cake, pie, pastry, or tart being out-of-the-ordinary is equally astounding.  But, it turns out that my neighbor is on to something.  In this age of processed, microwaved, boxed food, the act of giving something as a gift that you baked yourself is really appreciated.  So, don't be afraid to break out those baking pans!  Have fun and let the kids help!!  Friends, neighbors, and relatives really like it when your children create the gift tags.  Homemade items always elicit a cheery, uplifting feeling and reminds people that you cared enough to give of your time, effort, and ingredients to bless them at Christmas.

This same principle can be applied to the act of making crafts for others.  Pintrest is an amazing vehicle for ideas for transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.  My hat is off to those who are gifted in the areas of painting, sewing, crafting, and woodworking.  You are all awesome and I hope that I am on your gift-giving list!  

It's the little things that count.  


Remember, bigger is not always better.  Yes, it feels awkward when someone gives me a gift that clearly cost more than the gift which I gave them.  But, I do not live in their home.  I am not their personal financial planner.  I don't walk in their shoes.  I LOVE to give.  Nothing pleases me more than to make someone's day brighter and give them joy.  But, I also know the necessity of living within my means.  I have a theory that God takes special joy in meeting the needs of those who are willing to live frugally and pray for Him to endow them with unique ideas for blessing others.  I can recall countless stories of how I have found just the perfect gift for someone at a price that I could afford.  Finally, remember, the purpose of gift-giving during the Yuletide season is to pay homage to the Christ child, the tiny baby, who would change the world and our lives forever.  When we put gifts into proper perspective, it really IS the thought that counts.

Time for your ideas!  Have you found a way to "knock it out of the park" with amazing gifts that don't cost an arm and a leg?  Comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  

Remember,

Do all to the glory of God,

Hope


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I'm Feeling Very "Squashed"



Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is fall and that means a plenitude of winter squash.  They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but they are all delicious!

I was standing in my kitchen recently with my son's girlfriend, Melanie.  We decided that we must use some of the lovely squash for supper that night.  Inspiration hit us both at the same time!  What about a smooth, velvety sauce that would be the perfect accompaniment for any number of dishes?  Yes!  We were "off and running", creating as we went!     The resulting family-approved recipe uses squash, tastes great, is incredibly versatile, and freezes well! 

🍂 Winter Squash Sauce  🍂

Hubbard, butternut, or acorn squash all work equally well in this recipe.  I used hubbard.  I love it's deep orange color.  Plus, it's full of amazing nutrients and knock-your-socks-off taste!  Just one cup contains 120% of your daily dose of vitamin A and 30% of vitamin C.  Additionally, studies have shown that it has both antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties.   I made this recipe vegan.  But, you can easily use chicken broth, use milk and saute the vegetables in butter or oil if you wish. 

Begin by cutting off the top and using a spoon to scoop out the seeds.  Place the cut off top back on the squash. Cover the whole squash with aluminum foil and place it on a roasting pan.   Cook for 1 hour at 400 degrees.  When it's done, a knife will easily slide into the flesh.  

When it is done, it should look like this!

The easiest way to remove the flesh is to use a small knife and carefully cut away the skin of the squash.  The "meat" of the squash is left and is all usable.  Cut it into chunks and set aside. 

While the squash is roasting, dice one large onion, four cloves of garlic and 2 cups of red pepper.  Saute these in a pan on medium heat.  I sauteed them in a little water, since I'm not a fan of adding extra calories or fat by using either butter or oil. 

When the vegetable mixture is opaque - after about 10 minutes - add the chunks of squash, 3 cups of water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth (homemade is preferable), and seasoning:  1 Tblsp. garlic powder, 2 tsp. onion powder, 2 Tblsp. of no salt seasoning.  I like a mixture of garlic/herb and Kirkland Organic No Salt Seasoning.  Here's a link to the Kirkland brand.  You can find it at Costco, too.  

Cook this mixture for 15 minutes over medium heat, breaking up the chunks of squash as you stir the mixture.  It doesn't need to be smooth.  You are going to throw it all in the food processor 

Place the mixture into a food processor 4 cups at a time.  Process until smooth.  When it is all processed to a smooth consistency.  Add a little almond milk to the mixture if needed, to get it to flow smoothly through the processor.  Place the now smooth sauce back into the pan.  Add milk or plant-based milk 1 cup at a time until it reaches the consistency of pasta sauce.  I used almond milk.  

Add salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.

This tasty sauce is incredibly versatile and freezes well.

It can be used as a topping over a hot baked potato, pasta, rice, or another grain.


 Here it is served over pasta with a side of cheesy bread and a salad.  Doesn't it look like mac and cheese?!




The vegan version has no cholesterol, little fat, and a boatload of nutrients!  It's guilt free, good-for-you goodness! 

Here is the sauce served over millet.  This mixture would also make a great filling for tortillas!



Click on this link to upload the recipe.
Enjoy!

Do all to the glory of God,

Hope









Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How We Bought a House with Nickels and Dimes



I recently entered a writing contest at Six Figures Under and was excited learn that I had won honorable mention for my article on Nickels and Dimes.  In it, I share our journey of saving for a new home.  In the process, I learned important lessons for conquering "great-big -audacious-nearly-impossible" goals.

Thanks to Stephanie from Six Figures Under and welcome to the Six Figures Under readers who are checking out my blog.  Stick around, peruse my posts, and let's get the discussion going on how to thrive, survive, and find joy while living Under the Median.  

To my faithful readers, head on over to Six Figures Under and enjoy this week's post:

https://www.sixfiguresunder.com/nickels-dimes-matter/


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Let's Go Krogering!



Time for part two of the Super Savvy Shopper Savings Series.  If you missed part 1, you'll find it here.

This week we'll focus on Kroger.  If you don't have a Kroger in your area, these tips can be applied to any major grocery store.  I'll tell you how to prep and store all the bargains, too. 

1.  Dairy, Meat, and Produce Markdowns 

These are marked with large orange and yellow stickers.  They are manager specials, overstocks, or items which are close to their expiration dates.  Generally the discounts are 50 - 75 percent!  Check greens from all angles to see if they look especially wilted.  I have found, in general, that discounted produce is still fresh for at least 4 or 5 days.

Discounted dairy can be frozen or eaten within a week.  Cream cheese and sour cream get a weird texture if you freeze them.  So avoid this mistake.  Milk can be frozen if you open it first and pour out about an inch or two from the top.  Recap and freeze.  Thaw and shake it before use.

Meat needs to be cooked and frozen right away or repackaged and frozen immediately.  The packaging from the grocery store is not really designed to be placed directly in the freezer.  The thin plastic, especially on meat, allows too much contact with air and risks freezer burn.  I find it convenient to repackage meat into smaller portions.  Hamburger can be made into patties and frozen flat with waxed paper in between the individual patties.  Place frozen patties into freezer bags.  For chicken breasts, place each breast in a small quart freezer bag and then freeze.  In this way meat can be thawed in the exact portion you need for your recipe.

Before freezing precooked hamburger, brown your beef in a pan, remove as much fat as possible, blot with a paper towel then run the cooked meat under hot water for five minutes and blot again with paper towels.  You can remove up to 50 percent of the fat in this manner. 

 2.  Look for the general merchandise clearance section. 

Nearly every large grocery store has a separate area for items that are close to their expiration date, are lightly damaged, or are discontinued.  Sometimes these are in a cart toward the back of the store or on a separate shelving unit. You can often find high priced and specialty foods in this cart marked WAY down!  Often gluten free, organic, or vegan foods are in this area.  It's worth a look each time you go to the store.  I try to keep some of our monthly grocery money in reserve, just in case I find bargains amongst the markdowns. 

3.  Look for price reduced fruits and vegetables.

Most major stores have an endcap of sightly imperfect produce.  These are generally of the same quality as what is on the regular shelves.  Sometimes they are sightly too small or too large to be considered "A" quality produce.  At times there are items which are getting toward the end of their viability for being sold.  So, do take the time to look them over carefully, especially fruit, which can be bruised.  

A few weeks ago I found bananas at a major grocery store marked at 50 cents a bunch!  I bought ten bunches.  Yep!  I froze most of them.  Just take them out of the peel and freeze in freezer bags.  Thaw for use in smoothies or recipes.  You can substitute banana for oil in most recipes. 

4.  Ask what time they do markdowns 

 Oh, this is such helpful knowledge!  I generally ask someone who works in the department to be certain that I get a correct response.  Sometimes the person who actually works in that department can give you great insider tips too.  For instance, I know that our local Kroger does their markdowns at noon each day.  We often stop by on our way home from church on Sundays to see if we can snag some half price organic greens for our salads.  If I don't see any of the delightful orange and green tags, I take a moment to check the expiration dates.  I discovered that if I find an item that expires with the next 48 hours and ask a salesperson they will go ahead and mark it down for me. 

5.  Use that sales flyer!

Use the sales flyer to your advantage.  Look for loss leader items - those are the products on the front or the back of the flyer with big photos.  They are generally offered by the store at a loss, to get you in their store.  Once you are there, they figure that you will be lured into spending more time and more money on items that you didn't intend to buy in the first place.  But, don't you do it!  You stick to that budget and that written grocery list!

 Plan out strategies for combining store and manufacturer coupons.  Last week I was in Krogers and saw one of those free-standing coupon kiosks emblazened with the words, "Try it on us."  Well that got my attention.  Whatever was printed on that coupon was apparently being offered to me for free.  Indeed, the coupon was for a free cream cheese (up to $2.69 in value).  Coincidentally, the store flyer offered to take $4.00 off of my bill if I bought 4 cream cheeses.  Quickly, I grabbed 4 coupons.  I was able to combine the manufacture coupons with the $4.00 store credit.  This meant that the store PAID me $4.00 to try the cream cheese.

One more strategy:  if the store if out of stock of an item that is advertised at a really great price, take the time to stop by the customer service desk and ask for a rain check.  Some rain checks require you to specify how many of the item you want at the sale price.  There may be a maximum.  In this case, I generally ask for the maximum.   If you go into the store with your rain check and purchase fewer units at the sale price,  it's not a problem.  But, you can never purchase more at the sale price than you have written on the rain check.  Finally, look carefully, some rain checks have an expiration date.  

6.  Use your store loyalty card. 

 If you are like me, you resist using anything that allows "big brother" to know exactly what, when, and how you are shopping.  Although store loyalty cards do, indeed, do exactly that, they also give the store and manufactures an opportunity to send you big money coupons occasionally on items that you already purchase.

Additionally, you can also often use purchase points for money off per gallon of gasoline that you purchase at the gas station associated with the store.  This works ONLY if you are purchasing items that you need, will use, and are offered at a great price.  If you are spending hundreds of dollars more on your grocery will each month just to get a few dollars off of gasoline, then stop it - now!

On the bright side, I unexpectedly received coupons in the mail from Kroger last week. I got peanut butter, organic vegetables, and several other items at greatly reduced prices or for free!   Overall, the store loyalty cards give me more bang for my buck and I will continue to use them, unless or until their methods of gathering information on my shopping habits becomes too intrusive. 

I hope you found this helpful.  Did I miss anything?  Do you have any super tips to add to my list?  Comment below.  I'd love to hear from you. 

Remember, 

Do all to the glory of God, 

Hope