Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Preparing for the Holidays: 6 Tips for Hosting and Entertaining



It seems like the summer was just ending and it was back-to-school time, but here we are entering the holiday season already.  If you’re planning to host friends and family for this year’s big holiday gatherings, you don’t need to panic. There are several hacks and DIY tricks you can use to make your holiday get-togethers more enjoyable than stressful. We share six of the best tips for holiday hosting and entertaining here, to help you get planning in plenty of time.

1. Opt for Buffet-Style Meals

There are so many benefits to hosting buffet-style meals! First, buffet-style gives you a good excuse to ask friends and family to contribute a dish to share. Buffet-style also saves you tons of table room because you can place all of the dishes on your countertops and other flat surfaces and leave the table open for decorative centerpieces, place cards, and full plates. Buffet-style also helps your guests choose which foods to eat, so you won’t have to worry about pleasing picky eaters or accidentally putting turkey on your vegetarian cousin’s plate.

2. Add Layers to Serving Stations

Whether you use your counters, carts, or end tables as serving stations, you can quickly and easily add more space by layering. Buy or make cake stands and place food on top while also placing food around the base. You’ll practically double the capacity of your serving stations in no time flat.

3. Keep It Simple

There is nothing worse than having grandiose expectations for your holiday gathering and then feeling disappointment when the turkey is dry or when you have to spend so much time preparing, cooking, and decorating that you are too exhausted or busy to enjoy the main event.
Keep it simple this year by planning a non-fancy menu that includes tried-and-true dishes. Don’t attempt an extremely difficult dish that you had not previously tried to make. It’s also a good idea to consider slow cooking meat so that you have time to prepare side dishes, desserts, and drinks.

Give yourself a break and prioritize. You may not care as much about having the picture-perfect table as you do having mouth-watering food. Choose where to put your energy and give yourself permission to cut some corners or let some things slide this year so you can have a less stressful holiday season.

4. Make the Work Fun

Get everyone involved and share the work to make hosting and entertaining easier for you. Consider inviting friends and family over ahead of the big meal for a decorating party or baking party. Or, host a cookie swap before the holiday so you can ensure a variety of delectable desserts without spending time making all of them yourself.

5. Set up a DIY Holiday Photo Shoot

Don’t forget the entertainment part of your holiday while you are busy preparing for hosting and eating. Since your guests most likely will want to take photos to commemorate the holiday, make it fun by providing props and a photo backdrop. You could make your own, or you could purchase ready-made prop kits.

6. Quick and Easy Decorations

Don’t stress over decorating for your holiday gathering. Instead, make entertaining easy with beautiful, yet quick and easy decorations. For example, grab a couple of glass bowls or mason jars, fill them with water, toss in a couple of floating candles, and make it pop with cranberries. Cranberries float and are perfect for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Dress up a mantel with the hues of the season by adding votive candles and berry garlands or wreaths. Stick to one color palette and group items in threes or by height to make the mantel pleasing to the eye. Add larger candles on stands or in elevated candle holders to add height to your masterpiece.

Make arrangements and centerpieces out of materials that are readily available during the season. For Thanksgiving, use leaves, pumpkins, and pine cones. You also could incorporate other gourds, tree branches, and apples. For DIY Christmas decorations, use greens, branches you trim off your Christmas tree, cranberries, wrapped packages, and ornaments to add pops of color. Candles are a smart addition to provide lighting in dark corners or to set a peaceful mood during the meal.

Hosting and entertaining this holiday season will be a little stressful. But, with the right attitude and hacks, you can spend more time enjoying your family and friends and less time making things perfect and stressing over the food and decorations.
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Guest article by Dolly Santos. She is an information junkie who loves researching and learning about new topics. At Dollymath.com she compiles thoughtful educational articles based on her conscientious analysis of available information.


Image via Pixabay by Unsplash

Friday, November 11, 2016

Essential Vacation-Planning Hacks for Frugal-Minded Travelers



Traveling is fun. But planning and paying for it? Not so much. While there’s much joy to be gained from spreading your wings, most people can’t afford to simply book flights and hotels without a care in the world about their bank balance. For the frugal-minded, these vacation-planning hacks will make it possible to have the amazing experiences you long for without breaking the bank. Here are tips for planning your next trip:

Rent a House or Condo Instead of Booking a Hotel 

Hotels can be expensive, and coupled with flights often make up a large portion of the total cost of a vacation. Being smart about booking accommodations can save you hundreds – even thousands – of dollars on your next trip. Check out options on HomeAway or Airbnb to find out if you can book a home, condo, or apartment for less than you’d spend on an expensive hotel.

Get an All-Inclusive Vacation Package

If you do go the hotel route, you can still save money by booking an all-inclusive package. These packages include your accommodations as well as meals, snacks, beverages, and other services and amenities specific to your destination or resort.

If you’re on a tight budget, these packages are ideal because you know precisely how much you’re spending. Otherwise, you’re charging meals, adventures, and other costs throughout your stay that can lead to sticker shock when you get your final bill. Make sure you know precisely what is included in your package to avoid unwelcome surprise charges.

Get Affordable Care for Your Pets

If you have pets, you need to make arrangements for their care while you’re away, unless you’re taking Fido on the road with you. If your pets are staying behind, you’ll need to set up dog boarding services. For shorter trips, you could use a dog walker who can visit a few times each day to give your pup some love and exercise (and food), depending on your pets’ individual needs.

Pack Light

If you’ll be flying, be sure to plan out what you pack just as carefully as you’ve planned the trip itself. Weigh your bags down with too much and you could face extra fees at the airport or if you’re driving you may run out of trunk space. And be sure to choose luggage that is easy to maneuver so that you don’t injure yourself as you’re getting it to your destination.

Swap Homes for a Free (or Cheap) Stay

For the ultimate in savings, consider swapping your home with other travelers who are visiting your local area during the same time that you’re visiting theirs. Of course, this trick works best for people who live in areas that attract tourists or travelers, at least on occasion. Check out sites like Home Exchange to discover the possibilities.

Consider Camping (or Glamping)

For the outdoors-lovers and the adventurous type, camping is always an option that can result in substantial savings on your next vacation.

If traditional camping isn’t your style, glamping is a trend that offers the best of both worlds: the opportunity to spend a few days in the great outdoors without sacrificing all the luxuries of modern life. Whether you’re camping or glamping, you can visit a variety of destinations such as national parks, lakes, mountains, and more on a budget.

Planning a vacation is often so stressful that the experience itself loses its magic. You might feel like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation when you return because you’re stressing out about how you’ll pay off all those bills, catch up on work, or re-acclimate to your daily routine. Using savvy vacation-planning hacks takes the stress out of vacation planning, so that you can relax and enjoy your time away for the true escape you deserve.


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Guest article by Dolly Santos. She is an information junkie who loves researching and learning about new topics. At Dollymath.com she compiles thoughtful educational articles based on her conscientious analysis of available information.


Image via Pixabay by romaneau

Thursday, September 22, 2016

4 Ways to Make Your Family’s Home More Sustainable



Sustainability is an often-discussed topic as consumers and organizations alike learn more about the damage humans are inflicting on the Earth.

Every individual can work to create a more sustainable lifestyle, which in turn improves global sustainability. If you simply walk into a local store, you may realize just how difficult becoming fully sustainable can be. However, every little change you make counts and making your home an eco-friendly and sustainable place is a wonderful first step. Here are a few ways you can make your family’s home both more sustainable and cost effective.

1. Plant a Garden

A garden is one of the most beneficial things you can add to your home. Not only does gardening improve your family’s eco-friendliness and reduce grocery bills, but gardening has also been proven as extremely therapeutic. For children, gardening introduces responsibility while teaching them to be sustainable and responsible adults.

If your children are young, you may want to put them in charge of caring for bee-friendly flowers as they require less maintenance than crop plants. Making your garden a safe-haven for bees is a necessity for a sizeable crop as they are needed to pollinate your plants. You may also want to set up a bee waterer and keep a little bee food on hand by mixing sugar and water. Bees that seem to be struggling to fly are likely in need of a sugar boost. Use a spoon to offer the syrup and let it drink its fill.

Growing an organic garden is best but can be challenging when faced with pests. Instead of reaching for the extraordinarily harmful weed and pest killer, try some natural alternatives.

2. Purchase a Compost Bin

Compost bins are a remarkably inexpensive way for you to decrease your home’s waste, thereby reducing garbage incineration and reducing landfills. In combination with a family or community garden, composting can save you plenty of money in garbage bags and grocery bills.

The most eco-friendly options are metal bins with removable inner buckets, avoiding plastic liners. Just be sure to keep it out of reach of kids and pets.

3. Utilize Energy Star Appliances

Energy Star appliances benefit your family in a number of ways, the most obvious being a reduction in your energy use. Energy Star appliances use much less energy than the average (non-energy efficient) appliance, reducing the average energy bill to less than half of what it might have been before. Essentially these appliances use fewer resources to work better and cost less.

As an additional incentive, homes with Energy Star appliances get tax breaks, saving you more money. If you decide to replace something in your home with an Energy Star alternative, avoid sending it to a landfill. Donate your appliance.

4. Spend Some Time on Your Pool

When looking to make changes to improve sustainability you might overlook your pool, thinking there simply isn’t a way to make it eco-friendly. But that’s not the case. In fact, one great way to make your pool more sustainable is to update old equipment. There are many types of filters, pool covers, and other equipment available today that are for more eco-friendly than older models. For example, you might get rid of your pool heater and use a solar pool cover instead. That way you can consume less energy and use the sun’s rays to heat your pool.

There are, of course, a number of small ways you can make your home better for the planet. However gardening, composting, and even buying a new fridge can be a great way to start. Being environmentally responsible will teach your kids to do the same as they age, triggering change and a potential reversal of the damage we have done. If you can’t afford to become fully sustainable, don’t worry. Every little change helps.

Dolly Santos is an information junkie. She loves researching and learning about new topics. At Dollymath.com, she compiles thoughtful educational articles based on her conscientious analysis of available information.


Image via Pixabay by jf-gabnor


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mother's Day Hershey Bars



I know this is a few weeks early, but I am pretending to be ahead of the game this year. Here is a very simple and adorable gift for that special mother in your life. Who wouldn't want a little chocolate to sweeten their day?

Here is a link to printable I used:

http://lovelylittlesnippets.blogspot.com/2011/05/mothers-day-idea.html

Monday, December 15, 2014

Vintage Doily Christmas Ornaments




You may call me a Grinch, but there are days I get fed up with all the Holiday hullabaloo.

At this time of year, it feels like the whole world has gone a little insane with the "gimmes". Stores are lit up with new shiny products, packages of toys, decorations, food, and even more ornaments than someone could ever count.

Don't get me wrong, I love the festive spirit of the season. However, there are days I cringe at all the commercialism and waste. I relish the personal and special connection family's have with Christmas- not all the bobbles and gadgets exclusive to each shopping season!

This year I decided to make a few new ornaments for our personal tree and to give as gifts. It is a tradition in our family to add a new ornament each year so this year I wanted to make something special. I wanted to take vintage and discarded elements to create something new with some jewelry making supplies I received from House of Gems.

It was easy to order from House of Gems with fast delivery and wonderful customer support. I was amazed at the assortment of wholesale beads and jewelry making supplies available on their site. As bead crafts tumbled through my head, I was able to order ALL the supplies I needed in one location. I definitely enjoyed my package and would recommend purchasing beading supplies from House of Gems.


I created these homespun ornaments with a few snips of the scissors and a couple of drops of glue. They turned out beautiful and this method allows for several creative embellishments while having a universal theme on your tree. The doilies tie everything together and make the tree cohesive.

To make your own vintage doily Christmas ornaments you will need:


  • 1 unit of 5 mm Freshwater pearls
  • small doilies- I found several handmade ones that were priced fairly cheap at a local consignment store or you can raid Grandma's yellowing stash
  • vintage or solid color ornaments- I used ones from a garage sale
  • hot glue sticks
  • hot glue gun
  • soft touch beading wire
  • embellishments: ribbon, wholesale beads, holly, garland, etc.
  • scissors
  • ornament hooks
Follow these steps to craft your ornament made with jewelry making supplies:
  • Measure your doily and trim the middle for a better fit. I placed it on top of the ornament and decided to cut it in half for the desired fit.
 
 

  • Carefully, attach the pearls to the doily with the soft touch beading wire. I chose this, because I was afraid to hot glue pearls. Do what you feel is the best!

  • Remove the top of the ornament and glue the doily around your ornament.

  • Replace the top and add embellishments.

  • Hang and enjoy!




Happy Holidays from us here at Plain Graces!





*Disclosure- This post was sponsored by House Of Gems. They compensated me with free product to create a craft of my choice. All opinions of the product are mine.