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Frugal Christmas Gifts – Perfect for Grandparents!

With how scattered we tend to be, it isn’t the easiest thing to get everyone together for a family photo.  But there is probably nothing more your grandparents would like than a photo of all of their grandkids together.

But holy cow!  Have you seen how pricey those photo packages at the mall can be?  And then you have to get everyone dressed up, hair combed, shoes tied, dresses fluffed – it’s a pain in the butt, and the smiles you get aren’t going to be happy ones.

Thank goodness for your digital camera!  Pretty much everyone has one these days, and it doesn’t have to be a fancy one to get a good photo.  And dressing up?  Forget about it!  While I’m sure Grandmom loves to see the kids in their holiday finery, she loves seeing them on a day to day basis even more.  Put them all in jeans and a t-shirt from Grandpop’s favorite sports team.  Le tthem be comfortable and happy, and save the money on the fancy holiday clothes they are only going to wear once.If you want, include Grandmom or Grandpop in the photo.  That way, they can always look at the picture and see how happy their Grandchildren are to be around them, surrounded by the happiness that will make the fond memories of Grandmom they’ll have all of their lives.

You can find reasonably priced frames in virtually any store, from a mall department store to WalMart, so your whole gift can cost less than $25 when it’s finished.  It’s a great way to capture the happy faces the grandparents look forward to seeing, except there’s no clean up after they leave!

Frugal Christmas – What to Get Grandmom?

You know Grandmom.  She’s the one person on your Christmas list you have no idea what to get.  She has everything, if she doesn’t have it, she doesn’t want it, and she’d probably rather see you spend the money on the grandkids than on her.  But you have to get her something – it’s Christmas!

Gone are the days of the Grandmoms who sat home, watching her stories, crocheting slippers.  Grandmoms now come from a generation of working women, and many of them work still.  They are more likely to be out and about, active in more organizations or hobbies, and not the type of sit at home, wait until family comes kind of grandmom.

I love the jar gifts for Grandmoms.  I know, you’re thinking they’re played out, no one uses them, and you don’t want to give an old idea new life.  But guess what?  On the days Grandmom heads out in the morning to play tennis, stops to have a coffee with her friends at Starbucks, puts an hour or two of time in with some volunteer work, and stops at the grocery store to pick stuff up for a weekend sleepover with the grandkids, she doesn’t feel like making a big dinner from scratch.  But as active and healthy as she is, you want to keep in mind that she is a senior citizen, and frozen foods loaded with fats and sodium aren’t good for her.

How awesome would it be for her to come home, dump out the jar of ingredients into a big pot, throw in some cubed meat or diced chicken she picked up at the grocery store, and let it simmer on the stove while she checks her email and catches up on Facebook?  Dinner in an hour, and she’s beaten your score on Bejeweled Blitz and harvested 800 crops on her Farmville farm while it cooked!

And when she has the kids over this weekend, it will be fun for Grandmom and the grandkids to whip up a batch of muffins or cookies, using the jar gift you gave her.  She doesn’t have to scramble to find the ingredients in the pantry, and she doesn’t have to buy a whole bag of brown sugar, which she won’t need again until it is petrified way beyond viability.  She and the kids just dump the ingredients into a mixing bowl, add some eggs or oil, and in a matter of minutes, Grandmom is the superstar of the weekend with fresh, hot, homemade cookies.  We’ll let Grandpop put the dishes in the dishwasher!

Food is always a great gift for an active senior – the easier, the better.  And if you can make it healthy by assembling it yourself, you’ve got an inexpensive winner of a holiday gift!

Frugal Christmas – A Gift For Your Favorite Traveler

We’ve got rules now, people!  No longer can I pack up half of my bathroom – the soap, shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, moisturizer and makeup – and pack it all into my carry on luggage to head off on vacation.  Everything has to be small – under three ounces – and it all has to fit in ONE zip top baggie.

If you’ve ever traveled – even just going away for a weekend once a year – you know that the smaller sizes of toiletries don’t last very long.  So if you have a traveler on your holiday gift list, this is the perfect gift for them!

You may collect the soaps and lotions that they give you for free at your hotel when you travel.  We did for a long time to send to my brother-in-law when he was in Iraq.  At one point, I ended up with some spares that weren’t really enough to send.  Wondering what I could do with the few extras I had, I decided to make a small gift for some friends I knew that would be headed to Disney World!  It was an almost entirely free gift, except for the Dollar Store makeup pouch I used as my “basket”, but you can recreate it very inexpensively even if you don’t have access to hotel freebies.

Head to your drug store, Target, or WalMart, and you are likely to find a small section where they sell small size toiletry items.  You’ll find toothpaste, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, shaving cream – pretty much anything you would need to take with you on vacation.  Many of these items are under $1.00 in price.  Theme your colors or your packaging to your traveler’s destination.  If you know they are going to Disney World, for example, pick up a red or black makeup pouch or a black Chinese take away container with some red tissue paper.  Is a tropical destination in the offing?  How about snagging some Garnier Fructis products, which are in lime green bottles, and nesting them in a small plastic basket in bright orange.

You can easily assemble a gift that is under $10 – even cheaper if you use your hotel freebies!  It’s useful, looks beautiful, and you can easily adapt it to an adult, a teenager, a child, or even a baby!

Go Mickey Go Mickey Fisher Price Dance Star Mickey

Go Mickey Go Mickey, Come on press the button, Get up off of your tail

One of the hot toys for kids this Christmas 2010 – Fisher Price Dance Star Mickey at Target Cherry Hill, NJ. In the picture is Granuaile, who knows all about Mickey “Just press the button” fashionable on a Saturday morning wearing her cheerleader outfit. Also pictured is  Anna “Don’t take my picture” in her Walt Disney Worl’d Mom’s Panel pink jacket.

Christmas Gifts For Teachers – Inexpensive and Useful

I have two daughters, and each daughter has two teachers (a teacher and an aide).  Each year, on a tight Christmas budget, I try to come up with something different but useful to give as a holiday gift for the teachers.

Since I have a 19 year old in addition to my 9 and 5 year olds, I know the drill when it comes to teacher gifts.  There are a lot of great gift ideas in the aisles of Target and WalMart that are inexpensive, lovely to look at, and things you think a teacher would use.  But in my mind, I think if I buy that awesome coffee set, the teacher will already have 9 other coffee mugs and she doesn’t drink coffee.  If I buy the bath set, she’ll have a house that only has a shower and skin allergies.  If I buy the candles, she’ll get 14 other candles that she’ll end up selling at a yard sale in the spring anyway.

I try to find something different.

This is going to be the first post among the Christmas gift ideas that will help you put together a nice, memorable gift – but memorable because it’s something a teacher can use!

This year, it’s Pasta Night baskets!  While browsing the aisles of my local Michael’s craft store, I found these items in their dollar clearance section.  The gift I’m making includes four pasta bowls, a bag of tri-color pasta, coasters, four placemats, and a set of paper napkin rings.  The items are going to be put into a colander that I found in the Dollar Store.  Viola!  Pasta Night gift basket for $12 per teacher!

Our Michael’s had a variety of four of five different patterns – we purchased the set above for the teacher, and the set below for the aides:

It provides a quick meal on a busy night during the holidays for the teacher, as well as a colorful gift for your child to give.  If you want to upsize, you can add some Italian seasonings, a garlic press, and a jar of good pasta sauce.  You can do the gift for under $10 if you eliminate the paper napkin rings, coasters, and the colander.

What a great holiday gift!

2008 Christmas party planning – step 1

This year it will be a simple affair, as shown in the picture attached. Jim and the kids will do all the work and I will mingle around all day, and end the night with a foot massage, back rub, a hot cup of tea, a pumpkin scone and a nice night of undisturbed sleep in a new pair of warm Christmas flannel PJ’s

Step 1 – start seeing if we are going to have a Christmas party. This involves Jim asking me if we are going to have a 2008 Christmas party around December 1st, after I’ve been asking him since July 1st.

Step 2 – We are having a 2008 Christmas Party!!!!

Step 3 – I ask Jim what to do and he tells me “Um, go read your Christmas party blog entries from the previous years”

I am on Step 3 now….unless reading about the earlier parties reminds me of how much work they are and we just order Dominoes

Blue Diamond Natural Oven Roasted Almonds

My mother in law is an excellent judge of character.  She chose my father in law – a warm, caring man who is so great with his grandchildren; she chose me to marry her son – and we all know he got the better end of that bargain (just kidding!!); and she has befriended an almond grower who sends her a beautiful selection of Blue Diamond almonds for Christmas.  This year, his very generous gift arrived during one of our December visits, and she turned over to us a container of these Blue Diamond Natural Oven Roasted Almonds.  Oh my goodness.  I am so in love.

I have not been able to find them in the store since I had them in mid-December, but thanks to my mother in law again, I found them this week.  Our local Walgreens is now carrying them, and then when I went to the Acme today, they had them there as well.  I picked up two flavors today – the ones I had at my mother in law’s house, which were brown sugar cinnamon; and one I had never tried – vanilla bean. 

Each of the plastic containers holds 8 ounces of almonds, and you can tell how much you are eating because they have labeled the side of the container so you can see how much an ounce is.  Thank you.  Now I know I’ve pigged out seriously today.  Really, though, that’s very handy in helping judge portion size.  They tell you an ounce is about 24 almonds, but to see it is much easier than remembering to stop when you’ve hit 24.  Because you won’t.

The Cinnamon Brown Sugar ones smell delicious.  When you open the jar, you will immediately be reminded of the nuts you find at carnivals and theme parks that they sell warm in little paper cones, coated with sugar and goodness.  There is 160 calories in a one ounce serving, 6 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat (okay, a little on the high side, but most nuts are), and, the best part, only 3 grams of sugar!!  But the sugary taste is there, with the cinnamon, and you can microwave them for just a few seconds and feel like you are eating a treat that should be off limits.  Delicious.

Because I had coupons for $1 off, I figured I would try the vanilla bean flavor.  The vanilla smell is not as strong as the cinnamon smell from the other nuts, and the flavor is much more delicate, but it is there and it is good.  The nutrition values are identical on the vanilla, and the kids seemed to like these better as the jar is nearly empty.  These really are a nice way to curb a craving for something sweet and not worry about dumping or breaking your diet.

I’m so grateful to my mother in law for a lot of things.  She has been good to us in so many ways over the years, and we appreciate everything she does for us.  But introducing us to these nuts ranks right up there at the top of the nice things she’s done.  Almost as high on the list as setting me up with my husband.  And on a bad day, the nuts might be a little higher 😉

Wrapping Up Christmas Party 2007

Another year, another party.  I made some old, familiar mistakes this year – plus a bunch of new ones!  But I think overall, our crowd of around 60 people seemed to enjoy themselves.  No one was any wiser for the things I forgot or ran out of time to do.  As usual, we have our list of must do’s and don’t do’s, and I’ll share the list with you. 

To begin with, I just felt really behind the entire weekend.  We planned the party for Sunday, figuring Jim would be home Friday and Saturday to help me get stuff done.  We also spent a week the week before the party in Orlando, so I had a mountain of stuff to catch up anyway. 

By the morning of the party, I had done a lot of the leg work.  We were not having ANYTHING catered, which we usually do.  I had roasted two turkeys, and I had made potato salad.  I cooked the sausage and fried the kielbasa.  I made spinach dip and hoagie dip.  I store bought roast beef, and needed to simmer that in gravy, and simmer the sliced turkey in gravy to put it on the buffet.  I had SOOOOO much trouble with my hard boiled eggs that my 3 dozen deviled eggs turned into just over a dozen.  Brighid – bless her to the bottom of her little heart – had done A LOT of the actual housework – wiping down the bathrooms, running the vacuum, etc.   To complicate matters, the party was scheduled for 2 o’clock, and at 12:45, I ran upstairs to get a fast shower.  By the time I was out of the shower, we already had company!

So here’s the basic lowdown on how things went, what I did wrong, what we did right…

Table 1 – Drinks

We said a couple of years ago that we needed to add another long table and put it in the Florida room with drinks on it.  That would free up the kitchen counter for things and eliminate the need to manuever around the dessert table in the kitchen to get a drink.  Well, this year, we asked my mom to bring her table, and it worked out GREAT.  The sodas, the ice, the liquor, the wine – everything was out in the Florida room on the table out there.  We had two tubs with sodas and beer in them, and we had way too much wine.  We also had a pretty stocked bar and mixers, so anything anyone wanted was there.  We need to get ourselves a table and make this change permanent.

Table 2 – Chafing Dishes and hot foods

We made the decision this year to try to keep everything in chafing dishes, to avoid things like the crockpots being too far on the back of the table for people to reach or what to do with the lids to the crockpots.  In the end, though, I put the meatballs and sausage in a crockpot.  They just taste better cooked together, and the crockpot does a great job helping  the flavors blend together.  The other crockpots had hot roast turkey and gravy, hot roast beef and gravy, green bean casserole (Megan’s recipe), broccoli casserole, and kielbasa and sauerkraut.  At the end of the night, there was virtually NO kielbasa and sauerkraut left – the few odd pieces of kielbasa.  We had some turkey left, more than I thought we would have, and based on the fact that my aunt with a ton of kids cancelled last minute due to pink eye, I figured we’d have stuff left over.  I had made two trays of roast beef, figuring it would be popular and I could easily freeze the leftovers, but I had a full tray left.  About half of the green bean casserole was eaten and 1/4 of the broccoli casserole.  They looked similar in the chafing dishes, so people may have thought they were the same thing, and I don’t know if it’s worth doing veggies at this type of party.  And of course, the meatballs and sausage – most of which was eaten.

Also on this table was potato salad.  I made 10 pounds, and we went through about 6 at the party.  My mom liked it, and since it’s her recipe, that’s all the compliment it needed. 

Table 3 – Snack Type Foods

This table was the biggest disappointment.  I threw away a ton of hoagie dip and spinach dip – both of which have been very popular in previous years.  I got rid of all of the deviled eggs, but I only made a dozen eggs, but only about 16 deviled eggs made it out to the table.  I threw away pretty much the whole cheese tray – I think only Granuaile and I ate anything from the cheese platter.  The pickles and olives were picked on, but I did still have quite a few left over.  The pickles I thought would be least popular – and the ones I threw on at the last minute because I had a spot left over in the divided tray – were the dill spears.  I only had 1 of those left.  I also threw away a whole tray of crackers.  I don’t know why more of this stuff didn’t get eaten.  I know early on, a lot of people were watching football downstairs, and the chips and dip tray was emptied, but no one really came up to get other snacks.

The one exception in popularity from this table was the shrimp.  I made 6 pounds of shrimp and cocktail sauce, and had not one shrimp left. 

Table 4 – Desserts

Would you believe I forgot to put out the bulk of the desserts?  How does anyone forget dessert?  I baked a pumpkin pie, a coconut custard pie, and an apple pie – all Mrs. Smith.  I sliced them and put them out, but they were a last minute addition.  I made a cupcake wreath, but the only one who ate a cupcake was Eilis.  We bought cookies from Wegman’s and made our own cookie tray – people really ate the cookies, but we over bought and had a whole tray left over.  Aunt Barbara and Uncle Buddy brought a 5 fruit pie, and it looked amazing.  Harry and his wife were the only ones who tried it, but both loved it, and then my mom and Bob had it on Christmas Eve and said it was really good.  I also made fruit salad, two bowls.  One was eaten, the other was not, and the dip was gone.  But I had cheesecake, eclairs and cream puffs in the freezer that never made it to the table.  I can’t believe I forgot them!

The other things I forgot – the provolone cheese for the meatball sandwiches; the horseradish for the roast beef; the cranberry sauce for the turkey; and the spicy mustard for the kielbasa.  Evidently, I’m just not good with condiments and accompaniments.

We still had people at the house until after 10 o’clock, and the kids really seemed to have a great time.  I will NEVER do this party this close to Christmas again – it was way too much to get ready so close to having to get all of the Christmas stuff ready.  I also needed more time between the party and the trip to Florida.  Either that, or I need to prepare more ahead of time and freeze it or call in the caterer.

We managed to get everything cleaned up and ourselves in bed by 1 AM – better than I thought we would do! 

Overall, it was a great day.  Jim says every year that this is really for the kids, and they appreciated it.  Granuaile was asking to go to bed when the last guest left, and Eilis was asking for playdates with all of the kids that came.  They had a good time.

Next year – earlier, catered, and with strings tied to my fingers to remember the provolone cheese and other accompaniments!

The Proper Way to Hang Christmas Lights

So, growing up, it seemed to me the men-folk were the ones who did all the fancy ‘lectrical stuff around Christmas time.  It was the strong, handsome men hanging lights in the windows and stringing the Christmas tree.

Then I married Lazy *** Jim.  Our first year together, he helped out, not a lot, but enough that I thought he did a good job.  He did do all of the lights on the tree, but I did the lights in the windows and such around the house.  Gradually, over the years, it became my job to also string the lights on the tree.  Having never done it, and not sure how to do it, each year it seems that I do it a different way.  It never looks evenly lit all the way around, and I am always pissed off that I had to do it without Jim.  The women are supposed to hang the balls and string the garland.  Lights are not in my chromosomes. 

Last year, for the first time, I watched the White House Christmas.  Damn, those people sure know how to decorate!!   Not only does the whole joint look fabulous, they have truckloads of volunteers to do it all.  All Mrs. Bush has to do is wander in, hair perfectly coiffed, suit pressed and lovely, smiling a big ol’ Texas smile, and admire how great her house and her trees look.  Although lacking the hundreds of volunteers, I decided last year to light my tree the White House way.  They wrap each branch with the lights, each individual branch, each insignificant on it’s own little branch.  It always looks so bright, so beautiful, and so evenly lit.  Of course, wrapping each branch is not an easy task, and when you undertake it, you realize why they White House has hundreds of generous souls wrapping and wrapping and wrapping.  After three branches, my hands ache, my back hurts, I hate Christmas, and at the earliest possible convenience, I intend to stab my husband to death with one of these insignifcant little branches.

So, the problem with wrapping the lights around each branch is that you eventually have to UNWRAP each branch.  Yep, after the hours that went in to wrapping the branches, we try to figure out how to unstring the lights in less than 20 seconds.  And hours later, we are left with tangled bunches of lights, sap over everything, poked eyes, scratched cheeks, and cracked fingers.

Next year, Jim says, instead of wrapping the branches, just put the lights in patches.  I say get off your Lazy *** and do it yourself.