Gift Ideas: Adult Easter Basket

I don’t know how you were raised, but in my household, Easter baskets were primarily filled with candy and maybe a few springtime fun items (bubbles, sidewalk chalk) and 1-2 “big ticket” items (and by big ticket, I mean $10-$20 MAX). Nowadays, I see kids getting bikes or scooters for Easter gifts (if that’s how you roll, more power to you).

Anyway, a few years ago, my sisters and I started a tradition of putting together an Easter basket for my mom and step-dad. My mom does all sorts of fun Easter things for the kids in our family (and for us), so we figured this is a fun way to treat her in return. We all go in together to compose the basket, so it only comes out to about $15-$20/person, but you could easily simplify the list of items you include to keep it on the more “cost effective” end depending on your target spend.

Here’s what we included this year:

  • Healthy snacks – both my mom and step-dad are or have recently been watching their figures, and in general, want to eat healthier, so we included a variety of “better for you” treats, including:
    • Nut packs: we picked up individual packs of cashews, pistachios and almonds (funny story: we each bought one of these packs and coincidentally ALL bought the same brand…aren’t we cute…)
    • FiberNow Cinnamon Coffee Cakes: these little delights are great for when you need a fiber boost and come in at only 90 calories, which isn’t bad when you’re looking for a sweet fix; I get this off-brand from Aldi and they also do a really nice chocolate brownie and lemon bar
    • Whisks Parmesan Cheese Crisps: my sister got these as salad toppers for one of our family gatherings and my mom absolutely RAVED about them, so we figured it’d be fun to include
    • Skinny pop: there are lots of flavors of this or the Boom Chicka Pop or the Simply Nature Sea Salted Popcorn (Aldi) that you can choose from; they even have poppable bags now!
  • Fun drinks – my mom used to always include a 20 oz. bottle of pop in our Easter baskets since this was a “treat” we didn’t typically get; since neither are pop drinkers, we included:
    • Mini wine bottles: my mom is a sweet white drinker and my step-dad is more into dry reds, so we got the mini 4-packs from Target in each flavor; this also helps them with portion control to not overdrink their calories – much easier to open one of these for a glass than open a bottle and feel like you should drink the whole thing in one evening.
    • Moose Munch Coffee: this is my mom’s FAVORITE coffee, but is definitely on the more expensive side (best bet is to buy from Harry & David), so we try to get this for her every year
    • Major Dickason’s K-Cups: these are my step-dad’s preferred k-cups, but he tends not to buy them because they’re a little more pricey, so again, a nice little treat (plus then they both get some of their favorite coffee to enjoy)
  • Big ticket items – usually we try to come up with some “thing” that either they can both enjoy, or a bigger ticket non-food item for both of them. This year, we were light on ideas, but included the following:
    • EnerGel Pens: my husband actually bought these on impulse as they are my mom’s favorite (they weren’t in the original plan)
    • 3-wick Bath & Body Works Candle: you can’t really see it in the picture, but it’s there! We get one of these EVERY YEAR for my mom because she loves them. And, technically it IS for both of them since it makes their house smell nice.
    • Mini hand lotion from Bath & Body Works: this was an impulse add – I had a coupon for a free item, so why not get a little bottle of creamy lotion in her favorite summer scent?!

And that’s it! What I recommend for you is to do some brainstorming within the above categories to build your own Adult Easter basket:

  • What snacks / candy does the recipient love? (think about including both salty AND sweet)
  • What drinks could I include?
  • What other $10-$15 gifts could I throw in? (Note, gift cards are always an easy idea for this and stores may even have cute Easter themed-cards too!)

And, finally, I snagged the basket, which is MASSIVE, from Target for only $5 (they have TONS of options right now).

The final countdown is on – you have 1 week until Easter, so you better get your baskets ready. Happy basket building!

Gift Ideas: Vodka Soaked Chocolate Covered Strawberries and BONUS: Chocolate Covered Strawberry Martinis

As you may know, Christmas 2018 was a handcrafted Christmas. Some of the gifts I made were more family-friendly (like the homemade board game) and others were more geared toward the adults (like the Awkward Cat Calendar). As such, there were a few instances where I needed (well, wanted) a small gift for either the adults or kids in the family.

For my brother and his wife, they live across the world and are only home every 3 years. This can make gift giving tricky because I can’t do any of my obvious DIY gifts for the home since it’d be really hard for them to take back with them. So, I opted for a “disposal” gift – vodka soaked chocolate covered strawberries. First, who DOESN’T love chocolate covered strawberries, and more importantly, who doesn’t love a little booze in their dessert? I know I do.

This was a really simple recipe. Here’s what you need:

  • Chocolate flavored vodka – I used Van Gogh Dutch chocolate infused vodka; any kind will do, but this was oddly one of only 2 brands available in a chocolate vodka at my local grocery store (pic below)
  • Strawberries
  • Melting chocolate – lots of people will tell you to get the special wafers that are meant for melting; they aren’t wrong, but I prefer the taste of milk or dark chocolate, so I tend to get regular chocolate chips or chocolate squares, melt it and then cut it with a TINY bit of coconut oil to thin it up so it’s easier to dip
  • Coconut oil (optional, see note above)
  • Wax paper
  • A cute tin or tupperware for storing the strawberries

These are DEAD EASY to make:

  1. Soak the strawberries in the vodka overnight. I put them in a glass container laid out side by side (so the strawberries didn’t get any soft spots) and poured about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch of vodka into the dish.
  2. Remove the strawberries from the vodka and dry thoroughly. Don’t SQUEEZE them (you don’t want to lose the infusion), but you do need them to be dry to the touch if you’re going to get the chocolate to stick.
  3. Melt your chocolate and cut with a tiny bit of coconut oil (if using) to thin to a nice, dippable consistency. I have a little chocolate melting pot, but you can use a double boiler or pot of boiling water with another pot with the chocolate in it sitting down in the water. Try to avoid just microwaving the chocolate if you can – it’s really easy to burn. Also, microwaved chocolate tends to cool more quickly, making the last strawberries that you dip a little ugly…
  4. Dip strawberries in the chocolate and place onto wax paper to dry. Put into the fridge to speed up the cooling process.
  5. Arrange in a decorative tin or “treet” yourself!

TIP: Save the strawberry infused chocolate vodka! A few days later I made really yummy dairy free chocolate covered strawberry martinis that I adapted from this recipe. Instead, I used the following:

  • Chocolate syrup – to line the glass; just get crazy and drizzle it all in there
  • Strawberry infused chocolate vodka (from above) – I used 1.5 oz. per drink
  • Pinnacle Whipped Vodka – I used 1.5 oz. per drink
  • Sweet Creme coconut creamer – I used 1.5 oz. per drink
  • Ice
  • Blended strawberries

Put the vodka, cream and ice into a shaker and mix well. Pour into a chocolate syrup lined martini glass and top with a glob of pureed strawberries. Stir them in just a little bit and serve!

3D Unicorn Cake

I’m guessing it’s the sheer ridiculousness of the title that drew you into this post, right? I cannot claim any of the magic that you’re about to see as my own – only (most of) the words are from me. The rest is the great and fabulous talent of a very good friend of mine, heretofore referred to as HC. (Yes, there’s a story. No, I’m not going to tell it. Count your blessings.)

HC has a niece who was turning 5 this year. For whatever reason (what DOES go on in the minds of children?), her niece requested a black unicorn cake with a fairy perched on the tip of the horn. Ummmmm. Okay. Let’s break that down.

  1. A unicorn cake, in its own right, is hard enough on its own, especially if we’re talking 3D. You have to make multiple layers to give it dimension and then, of course, you have to figure out a way to mount the horn and add detail on a…vertical surface.
  2. A black cake is also incredibly tough. Black isn’t a color that’s easy to make with frosting and fondant can be a pain in the butt.
  3. A fairy perched on anything other than the cake is just absolute madness and also…a fairy…with a unicorn? I guess they are both mythical…

Anyway, despite having all the odds stacked against her, she created this gloriousness:

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Here’s how she did it.

Materials:

  • 3 boxes of cake mix (any kind or flavor will do)
  • Wilton mini cake pans (6″ and 8″)
  • Wilton frosting recipe ingredients (enough for 4 batches)
  • Fondant (she used both white and black fondant)
  • Cake board (10″ should be good)
  • Gel frosting dye (she used the Wilton neon dyes)
  • Wilton Color Mist (it’s a spray can – pic below)
  • Frosting bags and tips
  • Dowel rods (food-safe)
  • Straws
  • Fondant smoother
  • Pizza cutter (to cut fondant)
  • Fondant glue
  • Flower foam (optional – this may or may not work for you)
  • Fairy, if desired

Instructions:

  • Take a deep breath. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Party day -2: Roll out the fondant for your appendages (so, in this instance, the white fondant).
    • Eyes / lashes: roll into thin, worm-like shapes. Mold together into eye curves with lashes toward the ends and let dry.
    • Ears: Cut the shapes out of white fondant and pinch from the back to make an ear shape. Option to put onto a stick to dry (this will make it easier to put into the cake).
    • Horn:  Roll out a long worm-like piece of fondant and wrap around a straw, leaving the top a bit unfinished so you can wrap around the fairy’s foot when you assemble. Let dry. Option to stand up in the flower foam to dry. (Note, this could cause the fondant to slide down the straw; you may be better off letting it dry on its side and accepting that one side may be slightly flattened.)
  • Party day -1: Make the cakes and let them cool.
    • HC made a total of 6 of each size in a couple of flavors that’d pair well together. Feel free to get super creative and dye the mix for the layers (so the inside will be as magical as the outside).
  • Party day: Make the frosting and stack the cakes, layering with frosting in between.
    • *TIP: Use a cake board so it’s easy to move the cakes once they’re together.
    • Create two cake stacks with dowel rods through the middle to help them keep their shape: one stack of 6″ cakes and the other of 8″ cakes. As you can see from the pics below, the 8″ cakes are stacked up to 6 and the 6″ cakes are stacked up to 5.
  • Paint your accent pieces (eyes / lashes, ears, horn) and let dry.
  • Roll out the fondant for the main cake body.
    • Cover the sides of the cake stacks in frosting to adhere to the fondant.
    • Drape the black fondant over the cakes, covering each cake stack separately.
    • Start smoothing the lower part of the fondant sides with getting it to stick as your primary objective. Smooth up. Focus on having one good side (the front).
    • Use the fondant smoother to smooth into place and the pizza cutter to trim the excess fondant away.
  • Apply fondant accents (eyes / lashes and ears). You will want to use a combination of fondant glue and frosting to get the eyes / lashes to stick since they are attaching to a vertical surface. You may need to use toothpicks or straws to keep the ears standing up. Insert the horn into the cake.
  • Apply piped frosting accents. To create a multi-color effect, put stripes of frosting down each side of the bag, twist off the top and then slide it all down toward the tip. Be sure to use the frosting to cover any imperfections / the insertion point for the horn / any support for the ears.
  • Depending on when you assemble and when your party starts, you can store in the freezer to keep the frosting from sliding until you’re ready to present it. Putting the frosting and/or cakes in the freezer to flash-freeze as you make the cake is also a good idea. Your hand heat will warm the frosting which could cause your various designs to lose their shape.

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  • IF YOU MUST transport, arrange a trustworthy passenger to hold it and don’t plan on going far.

I would say “that’s it” but….well…that was a lot. Good luck. Leave a comment below if you decide to attempt this crazy feat and god speed!

Gift Ideas: For the Host(ess)

I’m actually giving this gift at a party I’m going to tonight, so banking on the fact that the host of the party isn’t reading this post before he receives this (hi Adam!).

The hubs and I were invited to an X-mas Xtravaganza this year. We’ve never been to the home of this couple, so I wanted to take along a little host(ess) gift for them. Since we’ve never been there and I have absolutely no idea about the style / design aesthetic of their house, I decided to go low risk with a small gift basket with the following:

  • Hand-designed mugs. You can see a few other options for designing these in my post Gift Ideas: Couple Christmas Kits (coming Christmas 2018). For this basket, I decided to go with their first name initials, using the dot technique. I chose yellow, as I found out that’s their accent color in their kitchen (and mugs go in the kitchen….).
    • Materials:
      • Mugs – I got these at the Dollar Tree. Be sure to get oven safe ones.
      • Oil-based paint marker – Joann Fabrics sells these in packs or by themselves and has a wide variety of colors.
      • Letter stencil – I have a big book of pre-cut letters (which you’ll see I use in many of my crafts – it was a great purchase) which I used here, but you could also use letter stickers for this one. If you have a paper letter, you’ll also want a glue stick to attach it to the mug.
    • Instructions:
      • Choose what side you want the letter to go on / which way you want the handle facing. I chose to have the handles opposite each other, as it makes for cuter presentation when the two mugs are together.
      • Attach the letter in the center of the mug. Then, make a bunch of small dots around the edge of the letter so you have a good outline (but not completely solid). Then, get crazy with dots out and around the letter. I usually try to make a generally circular shape around the letter with good dot coverage and then add a few random floaters fanned out slightly from there.
      • Remove the letter stencil and let dry overnight. Then, bake at 250°F for 2 hours on a baking sheet. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

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  • Fireside Coffee Mix. This has been a holiday favorite of mine for over 10 years. My high school art teacher first shared it with me (I cannot for the life of me remember why) and I’ll pull it out every few years to make for myself or as a gift.
    • Materials:
      • Jar – I got this one from the Dollar Tree. There are tons of varieties you can get; a mason jar works great too.
      • Ribbon + tag – I made my tag out of Christmas craft paper I have (not pictured).
      • Ingredients for the mix- powdered coffee creamer, instant coffee, hot cocoa packets, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon
    • Instructions:
      • Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together:
        • 4 packs hot cocoa mix
        • 1 cup powdered creamer
        • 3/4 cup sugar
        • 1/2 cup instant coffee
        • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
        • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
      • Transfer to the jar.
      • Cut the ribbon long enough to wrap around the mouth of the jar, with some extra to make a bow. TIP – I ALWAYS underestimate how much ribbon it takes to make a bow. You can always cut excess, but you can’t add more, so give yourself some length to work with. Then add the tag, tie the ribbon and that’s it!
  • Kahlua. This is a great addition to any cup of coffee and will be especially tasty with the cinnamon-y, chocolate-y goodness of the Fireside Coffee.
  • Chocolates. Lindor Lindt truffles make for pretty presentation in a mug or floating in a basket. And, they come in a variety of colors / flavors, so they can be a perfect, addition to many types of gift baskets, especially the color baskets (like this one). I chose gold (caramel and milk chocolate), as it would align with the yellow kitchen accent color. Then, I added teal and royal blue (milk chocolate and sea salt and dark chocolate, respectively) as the hostess’ favorite color is blue.
  • Cute basket. Since this was a home warming gift, I wanted to get a small basket that they might actually use in their house. I chose this sisal rope + navy basket because navy is pretty neutral (and again, blue is her favorite color) and the natural element of the sisal seemed like maybe it could work for them. We’ll find out!

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Gift Ideas: White Elephant

Happy (American) Thanksgiving all! My husband’s family likes to do a white elephant exchange on Thanksgiving, so while this post may seem bizarrely timed to some of you, it’s actually about something I made for today!

White elephant gift exchanges have recently expanded in terms of meaning. From my childhood, they usually meant something you were gifted or have (generally unused) that you don’t want and choose to re-gift (I have seen gently used videos or games exchanged before, though). However, nowadays, sometimes it means a small gift (usually $10-15) that you choose to either be silly or serious. Basically, it’s become a free for all.

For our family exchange this year, I decided to do one traditional option (two items I had been gifted and didn’t want) and one creative option – a gift I “made” that would be neutral enough for almost anyone.

If you’ve read my Happy Birthday: Poem Candy Board post, this concept will be familiar for you. Essentially, you create a short message and replace some words with candy. For this one, I went a little wild and bought a bunch of candy that I thought could work and wrote the message after the fact. It actually helped me to think outside the usual candy I could come up with. Plus, I wanted all bagged candy for how I planned to put it together, so I just went to the Dollar Tree and bought what I thought would work. I was working with a $10 limit, but I did go over by $2 (oops!). You could totally stick to $10, but I just wanted to get them all!

Materials:

  • Bagged candy with words that can replace parts of your message
  • A message that works for your theme (birthday, family, Christmas, congratulations, thank you, whatever)
  • Ribbon 
  • Index cards – I used green ones, as you can see in some of the photos
  • Permanent marker
  • Hole punch

Instructions:

  • Write your message and identify what candy you need OR hit the store and buy candy that could work and live dangerously.
  • Plot your candy in order and determine what parts of your message need to be written on cards; create the message cards using a marker and index cards. Punch a hole at the top of each card.

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  • Use the permanent marker to cross out any parts of the candy name that don’t work for your message.

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  • Starting with the middle of the message, string your candy and message cards onto the ribbon working from the middle to the beginning and then from the middle to the end (especially if you have thick ribbon like I did, this part can be tough, so working outward from the middle is more efficient).
  • Tie off the ends of the ribbon so you don’t lose any candy and that’s it!

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Note, I chose to string mine on a ribbon because I didn’t want a massive gift, which is what it would have been if I’d used a tri-fold board or foam/poster board. I wanted it to fit nicely in a gift bag, but still be in the right order, hence the ribbon and bagged candy approach. Here’s my message:

  • What’s one RIESEN you’re thankful this year?
  • Is it for the (sour patch) KIDS in your family? They’re the future.
  • Or, more generally for YORKin (like…your kin).
  • Hopefully you get to see them both NOW AND LATER
  • as we enter the season of silver and (Hershey’s) GOLD.
  • Maybe you’ll see them at (Milky Way) MIDNIGHT mass.
  • Be sure to hit them DUBBLE (bubble) time
  • with lots of (Hershey’s) HUGS and (Hershey’s) KISSES.
  • And remind them to be (Mr.) GOOD(bar)
  • if they want Santa to bring a BUNCHA (crunch)
  • Christmas (Maple Nut) GOODIES.

Thanksgiving Crafts for All

I love my mom, but one thing she is not is crafty. She can come up with crazy, fun ideas, but actually executing them is not her strong suit. The good news – she is incredibly self-aware on this point. So, that leaves the (Thanksgiving) crafts to me – hooray!

Every year at our Thanksgiving dinner, we take time to say what we’re grateful / thankful for. Sometimes, we get a little wild and do this through crafting. If you’re looking for a fun Thanksgiving craft good for most ages, I’ve got a couple of ideas to share:

  • Thankful Turkey Board – this was a bit of a twist on our normal ‘This year I’m thankful for…’. Rather than saying WHAT we were thankful for, we each drew two names of people at our celebration and wrote down something that we’re thankful for about that person. This was easy because it was all family, but this might be a little tougher if you’ve got a mixed group of family and friends or you have folks who bring a friend/date that no one has met before. The names were written on pre-cut ‘feathers’ and we wrote the thankful messages there too. Then, we read them off one by one and one person added the feathers to the turkey board. It was a really nice activity and left us with a cool final product!
    • Materials:
      • Foam board (Dollar Tree)
      • Wrapping paper (optional) – I covered my foam board with wrapping paper to give it a little somethin’ extra, but this definitely isn’t required
      • Red, orange, yellow, and brown paper to cut the feathers out (feel free to veer from the norm of traditional Thanksgiving colors)
      • Markers for writing the names / messages on the feathers
      • Scrap newspaper, padding, foam, or batting (something to stuff your turkey body)
      • Brown paper – you could use a brown paper bag, wrapping paper, or similar
      • Googly eyes or white paper to make the eyes
      • Pre-cut color letters (optional)
    • Instructions:
      • If you’re going to wrap your board with wrapping paper, do this first.
      • Then, build your turkey body. I cut out the general shape and then started by gluing around the edge of one half of the turkey. Then, I stuffed its body and glued around the other half. NOTE: before you start stuffing/gluing him, be sure to add your eyes (either googly eyes or white circles with a draw-on black dot for the pupil), beak (yellow-ish triangle with a rounded tip) and waddle (I drew this on with a red marker). These parts are MUCH hard to add after your turkey is on the board and fluffy.
      • Next, cut out a zillion feathers. Okay, okay, you don’t need a zillion. Last year we had 17 people at Thanksgiving and I needed two per person (each person drew 2 names), so I cut out 34 (plus a few extra just in case). I took my craft paper and folded it hamburger style and then drew a feather with the base at the folded edge and the side at one end of the paper. Then, I folded it accordion style so I could cut 10-12 feathers at once (5-6 folds x 2 since the paper is folded in half). You could also just draw one, cut it out and then use it as a stencil to draw and cut the rest, but this will take longer. (See below pics illustrating my method.)
      • Finally, write each person’s name on two feathers and add the letters to the top of your board. Firstly, you don’t have to add ANYTHING to the top, but I figured my mom would keep this and would want to remember when it was from, so I added the year. Secondly, as you can probably tell, only Thanksgiving is done in pre-cut letters. I hand-wrote 2017 on the board.
      • At your Thanksgiving celebration, have everyone draw two feathers and complete the activity before dinner. At the end of dinner (or whenever, really), have each person read theirs one by one and use a glue stick to paste them up on the board in a feathery way.

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  • Individual Thankful Turkeys – we’ll see how this goes tomorrow, but this year, we are making individual turkeys that have what we’re thankful for on them. This is a good craft if you have family/friends that are a little bit older / can handle some crafting (not great for young kids). All my nieces/nephews who will be at the dinner are 9+, so hopefully it works out!
    • Materials:
      • Used toilet paper rolls – I started collecting these about a month before, just to be safe. You need one per person attending + one extra for an example turkey.
      • Red, brown, yellow, orange, tan paper (or whatever color variation you want for your feathers)
      • Glue – liquid glue will work a bit better for this one
      • Pens/markers to write on the feathers and the TP rolls
      • Googly eyes – I got a big pack at the Dollar Tree for $1, but you could also just draw eyes onto your turkey
    • Prep Instructions:
      • Similar to the above, make your feathers. I had 5 colors of paper, so I made 5 feathers for each person. We have a slightly lighter crew this year (only 14), so I made a total of ~80 (5 p/p, plus the example + some spares)
      • For this craft, you also need to make enough beaks and waddles for each person. For both, I used the same feather / folding approach. I drew one waddle and folded my paper a bunch and then cut it out (so I could get several waddles in one shot). The beaks were super easy as I just cut squares that can be folded in half to create a triangle beak + triangle that can be glued to the body.
      • Then, write at the bottom of each TP roll. You, of course, don’t have to write at the bottom, but I wanted it to be obvious what the turkeys were for, so I wrote ‘I’m thankful for…’ and then each person will write their thankful items on the feathers.
      • Finally, cut slits into the side of the TP roll directly across from one another; when the craft is put together, the fan of feathers will be slid into these slits to keep the feathers in place / upright.
      • That’s it for prepping the materials for this craft. Below are the instructions for actually DOING it, which you’ll need for your dinner guests and to assemble your sample turkey. At your dinner, provide your crafters with the materials (beaks, waddles, feathers, eyes, markers/pens, glue), the sample turkey and instructions.
    • Assembly Instructions:
      • Start by writing on your feathers. I chose 5 generic things one might be thankful for (think Family Feud top 5 answers on the board…).
      • Next, glue the bottom of the feathers together in a fan.
      • Then, glue on the eyes, beak and waddle. Fold the beak square in half and glue one triangle to the body with the other as the 3D beak. Glue the beak FIRST and then add the waddle. Remember, the top of the waddle goes on top of the beak, not below.
      • Finally, slide your feather fan into the slits on either side of the TP roll and examine your handiwork. It should look something like this…

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For other Thanksgiving related reading:

Thanksgiving Food Fun

Whether you’re going somewhere for Thanksgiving or hosting the big event yourself, there are TONS of ideas out there for how to get creative with your food to increase the level of festivity. That said, nothing…and I mean NOTHING, should replace the focus on the core classic foods you have at your annual feast (in my opinion). But, if you’re looking for a way to spice up a side dish or have fun with dessert, below are a few ideas.

If you are hosting this year, be sure to check out my Thanksgiving Crafts (for Hosting) and if you’re not, be sure to peruse Thanksgiving Crafts for All.

  • Turkey trays. This is 100% not how it sounds (it is not trays of turkey). It’s a great idea if you want to have raw fruits or veggies as an appetizer for your meal. My MIL often asks me to bring a side like this for our celebration at her house and, because I just can’t do anything normally, I’ve gotten creative for the past two years with layout. Last year, was a veggie turkey. This year was a fruit turkey.
    • Veggie turkey: veggie dip (I like to buy a ranch packet and sour cream and mix it up myself, but pre-made dip is equally great), a mini cucumber for the head with a pepper for the waddle, carrot for the lips and mini chocolate chips for the eyes + peppers, cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli for the feathers / accents (feel free to use whatever veggies are most to your liking for the feathers – it doesn’t really matter as long as there is color variety)
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    • Fruit turkey: Pear for the fruit body + a little chocolate frosting for the eyes (see Turkey brownie bites below for why I had chocolate frosting); grapes, mandarins, pears and kiwi for the feathers (you could use whatever fruit you want / whatever is in season – it was slightly slim pickins’ at the grocery)
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  • Turkey brownie bites. If you’re tasked with bringing a dessert to your Thanksgiving dinner, why not spice it up (not literally) with some turkey-themed brownie bites! Below are the instructions:
    • Materials:
      • Boxed brownie mix (feel free to also make from scratch)
      • Chocolate frosting
      • Mini-cupcake tin liners (and a mini cupcake tin)
      • Candy corn OR peanut M&Ms (make sure you get the regular or fall colors – DO NOT get Christmas or your turkeys will look odd) – side note, my husband was not a fan of the candy corn option, hence the M&M replacement, but candy corn would make better feathers
      • Reese’s pieces
      • White chocolate M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces
    • Instructions:
      • Bake the brownies as directed in the mini-cupcake tin. Remove from oven and let cool until just warm.
      • Insert the tips of the candy corn or peanut M&Ms around one edge (just about half of the circle) so that a little over half of the candy is sticking up; these are your turkey feathers, so if you use M&Ms, vary the colors.
      • Add a dollop of chocolate frosting right in the middle and then insert an orange Reese’s pieces right into the middle of the frosting ball as the beak (put it in sideways so you can only see half of it sticking out).
      • Finally, add two white chocolate candy pieces as the eyes and put a small dot of chocolate frosting right in the middle.
      • Voila!

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Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! I hope you have a wonderful time with your family, friends or with whomever you spend the holiday!

If you’re like me and love to get down with some Black Friday shopping, check out my Shopping Team Shirts post too!

Happy Birthday: Poem Candy Board

The ladies in my family have a tradition of celebrating big birthdays. You may have read Take A Trip: Royal Caribbean Bahamas Cruise, which was in celebration of my sister’s 40th, but that’s just one example. For the males in our immediate family (aka husbands), we like to do (age) days of celebration. So far we’ve done 30, 40 and 60 for the various husbands. We tend to send something (gift, poem, pics, jokes, thoughtful things) every other day for the number of days that equals the age. For my step-dad’s 60th, I made the above board as one of my assigned days (we rotate in an order and pre-plan gifts so we don’t duplicate).

You can do one of these for various celebrations or occasions – it starts by thinking about what you want to say and then filling in the blanks with candy/snack names that can replace common words. Sometimes you need to fudge it a little. Here is what I did; the bold words are the candy/snacks.

To: Sid King Size Zero Bar (his last name is King)

Dang, it’s almost the Date of your birth! 60 – what doesn’t Kale you makes you stronger! Remember to be Kind to the ones you’ve been raisins – they might be a Lifesaver one day if you go Nuts! And eat lots of Fiber so you don’t have Unreal poops! Happy 60th birthday and many s’more.

 

Materials:

  • Dang Coconut Chips (Whole Foods)
  • RXBar Chocolate Chip (Whole Foods or Walmart)
  • King Size Zero Bar (Zero is his favorite, you could pick any kind if you happen to want to use the word ‘King’)
  • Kale Chips (Walmart)
  • Kind Bar (Walmart)
  • Raisins (Dollar Tree)
  • Lifesavers (Dollar Tree)
  • Peanuts (Dollar Tree)
  • FiberOne Brownie (Walmart)
  • Unreal chocolate bar (Whole Foods)

Take a Trip: Royal Caribbean Bahamas Weekend Cruise

This cruise was a celebration/gift for my sister’s 40th birthday. It was a girls’ trip and included my mom, two sisters and my niece (the adult daughter of the 40-year-old).  This trip was bound to be good no matter what because I love these 4 ladies; they’re probably my favorite people to be with. However, our choice of a cruise with Royal Caribbean to these destinations really made it over-the-top awesome.

If you check out my Large Group Getaway Planning: Make It Work, you can learn all about how I tackle working with a number of parameters for booking a trip with lots of parties involved. For this trip, I was working with the following:

  • Must be during summer (3 teachers in our bunch); ideally between July 22 – August 2 for various reasons
  • 3 or 4 nights max (both of my sisters have kids, so being away for too long can be tough on the hubs who also have to work)
  • Must be Royal (obvs – we’ve been Royal snobs since our first cruise in 2003)
  • Must go somewhere tropical

That left us with a few choices and ultimately we landed on the Mariner of the Seas out of Miami to Cococay, Royal’s private island, and Nassau, Bahamas. As a bonus, we learned that the Mariner was undergoing refurbishment and that we’d be sailing on the upgraded boat only a few months after it was removed from dry docks. It was AWESOME. More on that later.

For this trip, we were trying to keep costs low because we all had other vacations over the summer that we had to budget for, so we pooled miles to get airline tickets. Thankfully, we were able to get all 5 at no cost. That said, our airline experience with American Airlines was absolutely horrendous and at one point, my sister and I were in different cities, hours apart, on the phone crying together because we didn’t think we were all going to be able to make the cruise. Yes, you’re probably thinking, “why didn’t you fly the night before, everyone knows that.” Suffice it to say, we couldn’t for various reasons, but we also had a 6am flight booked and had it not been cancelled for mechanical problems, we would have been fine.

That rant over, let’s get on to the fun planning. We decided to do shore excursions at both ports, in part because it was only a 3-night cruise and we wanted to make the absolute most of it. So, I did some research in My Cruise Planner and pulled all the shore excursions available at each location (all of those that we’d be interested, at least) and created an itinerary of options with pricing, descriptions and reminders of other things we’d have going on that day (one day my sister got a massage, we had a dinner reservation in the Main Dining Room each night, which I HIGHLY recommend, and there were specified times that the boat docked and departed each day). Check out what I created here.

You can also book your spa treatments, beverage or internet packages, or other onboard activities all through My Cruise Planner up to three days before sailing. Sometimes there are even sales and you can get things for a discounted price.

I took the itinerary and printed out copies for each of my traveling companions so we could review the options together, make a decision and I could book. I also found and printed a map of Cococay, which was helpful for us to see where different excursions would be in relation to other parts of the island. Finally, I printed out everyone’s pre-cruise paperwork, including the Set Sail pass and luggage tags. In order to access these, you must login on the website and enter your personal details, upload a headshot and provide credit card details for your onboard Seapass.

To keep it organized by person, and to have a little fun, I took some super cute Kate Spade folders I received as a gift, along with coordinating Kate Spade highlighters and binder clips (who knew there were such things!) and put together little planning packs for each person.

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When I next saw my companions, I distributed the packs, we went through the itinerary and selected our excursions so I was able to book everything for us. We also decided to plan a few other things, like taking a shared big suitcase so we only had to check one bag, dividing up shared toiletries since we only had two rooms and how to bring the max of 4 bottles per wine (2 per stateroom). We were ready to go.

When we finally made it to the ship just in time (after a CRAZY morning), it was beautiful. Lots of pics below to give you a good idea. There were several things we liked about the Mariner of the Seas:

  • Promenade – this was a three-story open area in the middle of the ship, so you could walk across it down the middle from front to back. They had lots of activities here including shows and a balloon drop. Lining the Promenade were bars, restaurants, a coffee shop, Ben & Jerry’s, a late night cafe and onboard shopping. There was also a beautiful grand staircase, which was great for pictures in our formal wear (pictured further down).
  • Activities – So many cool things to do – we didn’t even have time to do them all; this ship had everything:
    • Basketball court
    • Racing water slides
    • Flowrider Surfing or Boogie boarding
    • Rock climbing wall
    • Mini golf
    • Adult and regular pools and hot tubs galore
    • Hammock area
    • Skypad Virtual Reality coolness
    • Lilypad-like climbing things
    • And so much more!
  • Shows – in addition to the short, party-like shows in the Promenade, there were also great shows in the main theater, including comedians, singing and dancing, and there was even an ice skating rink! We didn’t see an on-ice show, but we did visit the rink for a very hilarious adult game show.
  • The ship’s opulence – this was probably one of our favorite parts – the whole thing feels so extravagant and expensive and deluxe. In our normal life, we don’t enjoy a lot of luxury, so this is how we treat ourselves. Below are pics of one of the main staircases and our table in the Main Dining Room. As mentioned above, when you book your cruise, I encourage you to reserve a dining time. You can always do my time dining where you call and make a reservation on the day (not guaranteed) or eat at the Windjammer (always open) or one of the other restaurants (all of which incur an additional cost), but why not eat as much as you want of a 3-course meal with amazing servers?! It really is a no-brainer. Plus it’s fun to get all dressed up and go (but you don’t have to dress up anymore).

We also THOROUGHLY enjoyed our shore excursions. We picked the following:

  • Beach Bungalows at Cococay – this was a great choice as well; since we had a group of 5, this was a perfect option as it was a flat rate up to 6 people; it included lunch, water, the covered couch, two sun loungers and two floating mats; we took a short shuttle to the secluded part of the island where these were located, but it was still close enough for us to walk/swim over to the floating bar for some drinks. Cococay is undergoing massive renovations to become A Perfect Day at Cococay, so these are probably some of the last pics where it will look like this on the way in
  • Pearl Island with lunch – this excursion was great; the people who ran it was super nice and friendly (the bartender totally hooked us up), we had a delicious lunch, the scenery was gorgeous and they even had fun in-water activities like kayak, paddleboard, and a trampoline; a few of us had been to Nassau before, so we wanted to check out something away from the city and this was about a 30 minute boat ride away, which also provided a scenic tour of the area from the water; after we returned to Nassau, we still had some time to hit the famous Straw Market for souvenirs before heading back to the ship

Finally, the rooms, though small, were still pretty okay. Our room attendant was very nice and made us fun little towel animals! My sister had a great idea to bring the following items which definitely came in handy:

  • Magnets – the walls are metal, so you can hang up the daily Cruise Compass that they provide with activities and times for the day
  • Highlighter – there are so many activities to choose from, so use this to identify what you want to do from the Cruise Compass
  • Hanging air freshener – just a simple one that you might put in your car; it helps keep the bathroom smelling fresh in such a small space after a few days onboard

We were very sad to end our vacation when we got back to Miami. We had about 5 hours to kill before our flight, so we decided to hit the Bayside Marketplace, which is about a 10-minute ride from the cruise port terminal. We shared some delicious appetizers and cold drinks at Segafredo, sat in the sun and played cards. Even though our cruise had ended, we were able to extend our vacation a little bit longer with this before we headed to MIA to go home.

Gift Ideas: 40th Anniversary

If you’ve seen my 33rd Anniversary post, you know I like color-themed baskets, especially for anniversaries. This basket celebrates the 40th anniversary, for which the traditional gift is a ruby. I was gifting family friends for a surprise anniversary party, so I figured a color basket would be the perfect gift that’s not too over the top but also still thoughtful. Here’s what I put in mine:

  • Apple pie candle – a candle is a staple for every color basket for me – you can find them in pretty much any color / flavor and at a number of price points (the Dollar Tree even has candles!). This one was $3.33 at Walmart.
  • Red duct tape – this is another staple for me, especially when the basket is for a couple; it’s also one of those things available in almost every color. This roll was $3.48 at Walmart.
  • Skittles – there are boxed candies out there for pretty much every color too; I like to get a chocolate and non-chocolate option unless I know specific flavors the recipients like. These were $0.98 at Walmart.
  • Lindt Milk Chocolate – sometimes it’s fun to get (semi-)fancy chocolate; the milk chocolate is the red bag (blue is dark, white is white, and there’s probably a few other options with flavors). This was a more expensive buy at $3.78 from Walmart.
  • Big Red Gum – must do for a red theme – the theme is in the name! I think this came in around $1.98 for the three pack at Walmart.
  • Red mini spiral notebooks – these are a fun addition that is neutral enough that anyone will like it! These were only $0.27 each!!
  • Red pens – to go with the notebooks; these were $2.48 at Walmart.
  • Red sticky notes – again, pretty neutral (who DOESN’T like sticky notes??) and available in a variety of colors; also, very cheap, coming in at $1.27.
  • Trail mix – I got lucky and found a trail mix in the checkout line of the grocery that had red packaging; I thought it’d be a nice, small addition (and they were super cheap at $0.47/bag at Aldi!)
  • Red mini cups – these were an impulse, fun add-in. I got them at Walmart for $1.99 and then sadly found them at the Dollar Tree for $1 😦
  • Red plush heart – again, this was an impulse buy, but at only $1 from the Dollar Tree, I couldn’t say no.
  • Basket – also a Dollar Tree buy; I highly encourage you to buy all your ‘fillers’ first so you can find the right size basket. I probably could have gone with a slightly larger one. I was also able to pick up the red cellophone basket bag. This was totally a bonus buy – I have never seen colored bags like this at the Dollar Tree, so I totally got lucky.
  • Apples (not pictured): we are going apple picking on the day I plan to gift this basket, so I’m planning to get a few, nice Red Delicious apples to add in as well!

As you put together your basket, you may want to accent with red tissue paper. Since all of my fillers were truly red, the basket was red enough without any help. I finished it off by making a card to explain the gift and put it in a red envelope (of course).

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