Gift Ideas: A Year of Dates

As part of Handcrafted Christmas 2018, for the hubs, I decided to do a Year of Dates. I saw this idea on Pinterest from a number of pinners done a number of different ways. Everyone has their own preference to creating, so ultimately you do too, but I’ll include a number of different ideas / options / opinions below to give you an idea of all the variables you get to make decisions on.

This is a great idea for couples who don’t typically go out a lot together. We are generally homebodies and would much prefer a night in working on projects or hanging out than getting organized to go out. However, that sometimes means we don’t always make it a point to spend quality time together, so for this upcoming year, I decided to give us an excuse to do that.

Materials:

  • White and navy cardstock (or whatever colors you want)
  • Paper cutter
  • Various stickers and markers
  • 12 envelopes
  • Any supplements for various dates (print-outs, actual tickets, treats, etc.)
  • Box to hold finished dates

Variables: As mentioned, there are lots of different ways you can execute this gift. Below are a few callouts to the variable decisions you can make about how to do it.

  • Book vs. box – I saw lots of pinners who used a binder with page sleeves and letter size paper (or A4) for each date; I used a box with cards in envelopes because I got a few actual gifts to supplement some of the months
  • Pre-purchase vs. Post-purchase – some pinners recommended purchasing all the materials and tickets for every date in advance so the gift would be fully pre-paid and there’d be no excuse NOT to go do it; I opted not to do this for a few reasons:
    • We may change our minds on what a certain date is or where, so I didn’t want to be locked in
    • I want to use Groupon for some of the months and most Groupons only offer the promotional price for 120 days, so this wouldn’t work for anything after April
    • That’s a lot of money to spend at once vs. spread out over a year; especially if you’re already budget conscious at Christmas (who isn’t??), you may also want to opt to buy a few things only and save the rest as deferred payments.
  • General date ideas vs. specific activities & dates – for a few of the months, I picked a specific activity and corresponding date that we’d go. I didn’t do this for every month because, depending on the time of year, we may have a packed calendar and may need to work around other commitments. I didn’t want to buy tickets or spend money on something only to have to reschedule or miss out on something with one of our families. Also, my husband is not the type to be dictated to. He WILL, but it’s not his favorite, so I wanted to create some control/choice in the gift for him.

Okay, let’s get into the how to and the date ideas.

Instructions:

  • Brainstorm a list of dates that match your budget and location. Pair each date idea with an appropriate month. Determine the idea for each month BEFORE you start creating the date cards.
  • Identify an image, drawing or sticker you can use for each date idea (pre-plan your cards). I ended up using a lot of stickers, but I also hand-drew a few cards. It doesn’t matter if you are a great drawer – this is for your other half, so hopefully they’ll be understanding of your drawing abilities.
  • Create date cards. I had a couple of sessions when I sat down to do this. For me, it definitely wasn’t something I could just do in one go, both for time and creativity reasons. I used a variety of markers, stickers and drawings to illustrate each card and date idea.

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  • Purchase and organize any supplements.
    • I purchased some boxed candy to go along with May and July, both of which are “movie months.” I also created a supplemental doc to go with June which you can see here. We are going on an all-family cruise in June and our date will be to pick and enjoy an excursion together.
  • Label box and stack cards inside.

Here are some date ideas I used along with a bunch I didn’t. Keep in mind that you will have other ideas that are specific local activities unique to your area. There are a few on my list that are unique to where we live, so while you may not be able to do them, I’ve left them here to get you thinking about what you could add from your neighborhood.

Happy dating!

  • January – we’ll be going to see our city’s basketball team play; I got us super good seats (we aren’t doing so hot this season, so they weren’t terribly priced)
  • February – Tea for Two at my favorite tea room
  • March – Ice skating
  • April – Mitchell’s Ice Cream Factory tour (and ice cream!)
  • May – Dinner and a movie – we really want to see Avengers 4 when it comes out, so I picked May because it comes out May 4
  • June – Excursion on our family cruise
  • July – Drive-in movie
  • August – Picnic
  • September – Mini golf and ice cream
  • October – Glassblowing
  • November – Paint night
  • December – Couples’ massage
  • Other ideas:
    • Horseback riding
    • Beach day
    • Laser tag
    • Ziplining
    • Paintball
    • Bike ride
    • Amusement park or water park
    • Other sports game (soccer, baseball, football, hockey, etc.)
    • Concert
    • Play / musical
    • Comedy show
    • Murder Mystery Dinner Theater
    • Bowling
    • Kayaking / canoeing / paddle boarding
    • Hike
    • Escape room
    • Go kart riding
    • Museums

 

Brown Paper Packages: Festively Accented

The countdown to Christmas has officially begun! This year, I am feeling particularly festive and on top of the holiday (90% of my gifts are purchased, wrapped and under my fully decorated tree in my decorated house).

But, every year, I try to do something fun and themed with my gift wrapping. In the past, I’ve done the classic mix and match of cute Christmas printed wrapping paper, but starting about 3 years ago, I switched over to a brown paper base. There is a two-part reasoning behind this: 1, I like how clean and classic brown paper looks – it goes with virtually any color scheme of decor (except maybe like glittery / white / silver modern) because you can accent it any way you’d like and 2, I found this giant, and I mean GIANT, role of plain brown paper in the attic of the house we used to rent before we bought our home. In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have just taken it with us, but, well, we did. Sorry, Dave.

Anyhow, it’s so massive, it’s lasted me through many years of Christmas and projects thus far. You can see it used in the first post in this series, Brown Paper Packages: Tied Up With String, or in other posts, like How to Host a Murder: 1880s Western or Thanksgiving Crafts for Hosting.

Last year, I went with brown paper wrapping accented with red and green glittery pompoms. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of my wrapping (what is wrong with me?!), but I got the pompoms at the Dollar Tree. I took two approaches to using the pompoms last year:

  1. I would put a few together for a cute bunch in the middle or corner of a present and write “To” and “From” in permanent marker near it. (I would usually do a mix of red and green and big, medium, and small.)
  2. I’d first draw some sort of picture that would be meaningful or related to the receiver and incorporate the pompom within it. For example, I did Santa playing basketball with a pompom as the ball for my nephew who plays basketball and a kitty with a Santa hat with the pompom as the ball at the tip of the hat for my niece who loves kitties, like me. You get the idea. And, like with #1, I’d just write the “To” and “From” in permanent marker (I also did the drawing in permanent marker).

They were cute. Sorry I can’t show you them.

This year, I saw some cute Christmas picks at the Dollar Tree and grabbed them just because. Then, when thinking about how to accent my brown paper packages, I decided, why not add a 3D element to my gifts and use the individual pieces of the pick?! So, I got a few more picks and a little bag of acorns so I’d have a good selection to work with and plenty for all of my gifts.

I also decided to do something a little differently for the “To” and “From” labels. As per the above, I’d done permanent marker and last year I did stamping. I always used to love gift tags and selecting which tag to give to which person, so I decided to look for some of these. What I found instead of the classic sticker gift tags were these cute little gift tag books with glitter that are on a sticky pad that pops them off the gift. I got a couple of packs of these to go with my Christmas picks and acorns (all of this from the Dollar Tree; the little book gift tags came in packs of 18 for only $1!). Then, using some classic white glue to secure my pick elements to the gifts, I went to work!

The final result was this:

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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:

Black Friday Shopping Team Shirts

Every year, my two sisters, my husband and I are crazy enough to go out just before midnight on Thanksgiving for Black Friday shopping! Usually, my niece and her husband join us, but they won’t be this year.

Last year, we all got cute, matching Christmas shirts for a few bucks from Walmart and wore them while shopping. For whatever reason, we love matching as a group, but it also did prove useful for finding each other in a crowd because we were all wearing bright green t-shirts.

This year, we decided to go a little harder for Black Friday shopping and get custom shirts with our BF roles on the back (The Driver, The Planner, The Line Holder, The Wanderer). And, because I’m me, I thought “why not make them?!” so I did. Here’s how:

Materials:

  • T-shirts – I bought ours from Joann Fabrics. I got long sleeved t-shirts for $5 a piece in a bright green again. Last year, we all wore long-sleeved shirts under the tees, so we decided to just go for long sleeves this year. Plus, the weather is showing as ~28 F, so it’s going to be cold.
  • T-shirt transfers – depending on what color shirt you buy, you will need to get either white/light or dark transfers. You can get them in packs of 5 or 10 from Joann Fabrics.
  • Computer + printer (make sure it’s an inkjet or that you get laser specific transfers)
  • Iron
  • Wooden cutting board
  • Pillowcase

Instructions:

  1. Design your shirts. We wanted something on the front and the back, so I knew I’d need at least 1.5 transfers per person. We went through a few iterations of design before settling on the ornament. TIP: when you’re doing a t-shirt transfer, anything that you don’t cut out and don’t have printing on will be white. So, if you want to do words, you need to cut out each letter individually or there will be a white background between the letters. Not a big deal for white tees, but on colored shirts, it looks a bit odd. That’s why I used a background image with the writing on top – I wanted somewhat simple shapes to cut out for the front since we were doing lettering on the back. We tried a Christmas stocking and a Christmas tree before landing on the ornament. The shape was just perfect for the words we wanted. You can use fancy programs (illustrator) for this, but I just used good ole Microsoft word with images and text boxes. For the back letters, which we made white to stand out on the green, I just created text that had a black outline with no fill. This actually made printing a lot cheaper because it required less ink since the transfer is white!
  2. Wash your shirts. I like to do this before putting on the transfer. That way, once the final product is done, I don’t feel like I need to wash it before I wear it. It’s already clean!
  3. Print and cut out your transfers. When I’m printing a huge amount of color like this, I’ll print one transfer at a time. That way, if your ink starts to go and you need to change it, you don’t have a bunch that are a waste because the color is funky. To cut out the ornaments and letters, I used a combination of scissors and an exacto. For the most part, I used the scissors. The exacto came in handy for the small inner parts on letters like P, A, and D.
  4. Prep your ironing materials. Ultimately, follow the instructions in your transfer pack, but mine called for a pillowcase over a wood cutting board and an iron pre-heated to the cotton setting. Be sure to iron the article of clothing first, especially where you’re going to put the transfer on. Then, iron the pillowcase on the cutting board. Then insert the cutting board with pillowcase between the layers of your project (front and back of the shirt, for example) and place it where your image is going to go. IMPORTANT: Be sure to try on the shirt and determine where you want the image to go based on how it lays on your body. I made this mistake once and the shirt looked so weird because the lettering was too low.
  5. Apply the transfers. Remove the backing from the cut-out transfers and place the image on your shirt (or whatever you’re using). It’s okay if the edges curl up a bit – you will then take the parchment paper that came in the transfer pack and place it over the image, being sure to smooth the transfer down completely. Then, iron over the whole transfer image for anywhere from 30-120 seconds, depending on size. You can check to see how well it’s binding at any point and continue ironing if needed. Be careful, the clothing will be HOT.
  6. Repeat for all shirts or the other side. If you’re doing a two-sided shirt, I recommend doing one side of all the shirts first and then going back and doing the other side. This will allow the image to cool before you press it into your ironing surface to do the other side. TIP: if you’re doing free letters on the back, like I did (free meaning they are individually cut/placed), I highly recommend using a straight edge to keep them all in line.

Here’s what you could end up with:

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers. If you’re looking for some last minute craft or food ideas, check out:

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!

Large Group Getaway Planning: Make It Work

I recently took a new approach to planning a large group getaway that I found very helpful due to the very narrow set of parameters with which I had to work. The group size is 21 – all my adult siblings and their families. My brother and his family come home from overseas every three years and this year, my mom had her heart set on a cruise (let’s be serious, we ALL were super down). More about my ladies’ cruise this past summer later…that’s what started cruising fever.

Here were my parameters. Regardless of the approach you take, defining these are the essential first step:

  • What/Where: Cruise somewhere warm on Royal Caribbean; we’ve tried a few other lines and didn’t love them quite as much. Royal is very opulent, but also accessible and not stuffy.
    • WHERE: Must depart from a port that we can drive to within a semi-reasonable amount of time (ie, not CA or WA since we are midwest). This left the East Coast tip to tail. Texas would be doable, but a bit of a stretch.
    • This could be what city/beach/area/country you want to go do AND what types of activities/vacation you want to have (hiking, biking, beach, shopping, sightseeing, wilderness, you name it). Also, don’t forget to consider travel TO the location (how long / how much / types of travel available).
  • When: Must occur between June 16th and July 6th (and be complete no later than then)
  • How Much: Must be comparably priced per person to the summer cruise we took (21 costs a lot more than 5)

To start, I got down to business researching. Using a number of filters on the RC site, I left Cruising To blank, but hand-picked Cruising from (my preferred departure ports) and the Departing time. From there, I got a number of results. I sorted by price lowest to highest and then created the document you can find here (we priced everything at an interior room – a balcony is a nice touch but the ocean view isn’t really worth it. I’ve personally found that I never really spend enough time in my room to justify the additional cost), stopping at my max budget per person.

I color coded the same cruises on different weeks all in the same color and used different colors for each unique itinerary. Each line contained the order of ports, price and ship name. I also included links to the ships, as the amenities onboard are important to us (but not deal breakers). If you’re looking for a certain ship, you can look at sailings on that vessel only. I wouldn’t recommend this, as it’s fun to try them all!

To make our final decision, we considered the following:

  • Destinations – we hit The Bahamas and Cococay on our recent cruise, my sister just got back from Bermuda, and we ruled out New England for its cooler temps. This left a combination of Key West, Havana and Cozumel.
  • Depart & return dates – we picked a cruise with Wednesday and Monday, which means air travel may likely be cheaper and less busy than a Friday, Saturday or Sunday; driving traffic too!
  • Boat – this really played into our decision; even though Mariner was our top choice in this category (it was what we just went on and it was AWESOME!), we felt the ship we chose, Majesty of the Seas, still had enough to do for both kids and adults.

From there, the decision was made and we’ve been working with a Royal Caribbean group specialist (available for room bookings of 8+ – they also allow for lots of nice perks with booking this way) ever since!

As we start to build anticipation over the next 9 months, we’re planning a few different things, like must-packs for a cruise list & assignments, themed dinner attire on a few nights, and some sort of coordinated item. We’re thinking lanyards, as it’s a nice thing to have to carry your Seapass card. As we make decisions, I’ll come back and update you here. Pics will be included as they become available. And I’m trying something new with the linked document above, so leave me a comment if you aren’t able to access it. Thanks!

 

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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Gift Ideas: Mommy’s Night Out Basket

Really, this could be a ladies’ / girls’ / guys’ night out basket, but the general idea is supplies you’d need / want for going out or to a party. I made this for my sister-in-law who has a young son (and now, a year later, another one on the way), as I know how much she enjoys the rare occasions to get out of the house and have a little fun.

As with most of my baskets, I started by picking my theme, creating a long list of materials to pick up and then hitting The Dollar Tree to find as much as possible. Of course, there are always things I can’t find there, but it’s a good way to get a deal on a number of things so I have more room in my budget for bigger ticket items or to build an even bigger basket of stuff!

For this basket, I included the following:

  • Her favorite drink to pregame with (Crown and Coke – mini bottles of each)
    • I tend to use old school glass bottles for baskets I make, where possible; I think it gives a more sophisticated look (it’s probably all in my head)
  • Water
  • Aleve / Tylenol
  • Band-aids (hello blisters!)
  • 5-hour energy (to go all night!)
  • Chapstick
  • Gum
  • Ponytails
  • Dunkin’ Donuts gift card (for coffee/breakfast the morning after OR a super late night drunk snack – open 24 hours)
  • And of course, the “basket” which was really just a small tub from the DT

I kept this basket pretty small, but other ideas you could include are:

  • Mini / regular flask
  • Foldable shoes (I tried finding these for her but couldn’t find a pair I liked)
  • Uber / Lyft gift card
  • Condoms (depending how you roll…)
  • Glow sticks
  • Mixed CD or playlist
  • Any other essentials you / your friends always need on a good night out!

Happy basket building!