Tuesday, December 31, 2013

90's Memories CD

This morning, I shared all my $5 Christmas gifts that I gave to my siblings. Before I run off to prepare for our family New Year's Eve party, I wanted to share the list of songs on the CD I made for my brother-in-law Rick.

Rick started dating my sister Bekah before my youngest sister was even born. Both he and Bekah went to UCF in Orlando for college, so my parents would meet them half way to drop off my little sister and me. Bekah and Rick would take us to Disney and do all kinds of other fun things. Obviously, we spent a ton of time with them driving around in Rick's car. Most of these songs were constantly on the radio during those Disney/College years. The others are just songs that we enjoyed singing together.

Mexican Radio by Wall of Voodoo
Oh Where is My Hairbrush? by Veggie Tales
Ooh Ahh Just a Little Bit by Gina G
All That She Wants by Ace of Base
I would do Anything for Love by Meatloaf
The Sign by Ace of Base
Start the Commotion by Wise Guys
Let's Give Them Something to Talk About by Bonnie Raitt
Intergalactic by Beastie Boys
Linger by the Cranberries
Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller Band
I'm the Only One by Melissa Etheridge
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Deep Blue Something
Tub Thumping by Chumbawamba
Lithium by Nirvana
Love Shack by B-52s
Let's Go Crazy by Prince (no link because Prince apparently does not like youtube)

$5 Sibling Christmas Gifts

I have a huge shopping list when it comes to Christmas. In my side of the family alone, I have two parents, seven siblings and spouses, and eight children. That's a lot of gifts before you even consider J's parents, sister, brother, and sister-in-law. Normally, the older siblings in my family don't give each other gifts because it gets expensive quickly, but that is not much fun. This year, my sister Kimberlee had the idea of exchanging $5 gifts. Each couple would give a gift to all the other siblings and spouses, so we would be limiting the gift exchange to $30 for all of us. Her suggestion was to either make the gifts or buy them second hand. J and I had so much fun coming up with ideas that we decided to extend the circle of $5 gifts to his three siblings. I have to say that the gifts were all well received and it definitely made for an interesting time opening everything up on Christmas. Here is what we gave:

We gave Kimberlee various thrift store linens. The two on the left and the one farthest to the right are vintage handkerchiefs and remaining is a bread basket cloth

My sister Bekah is very practical, so I hand painted four wooden spoons for her. I picked up a package of 6 for $6 at TJ Maxx. The picture above are actually the spoons that I painted for Maria and Abby, my sisters-in-law on J's side. I forgot to take a picture of Bekah's, but will grab one for y'all sometime this week.

I put together a list of songs for my brother-in-law Rick with the help of my little sister Natalia. J put them on to a CD for me, which I titled "Our Childhood while Riding in the Car with Rick." Rick's music tastes in the 90's really shaped what Natalia and I love.

J found two leather holsters from a military surplus store in Ohio. We gave one to both James and Adam (brother-in-law and brother). I wasn't sure if they owned the correct guns for the holsters, but they both really liked their gifts.

My brother's girlfriend Margo was a bit tricky. She is extremely neat and her house does not have a lot of clutter lying about. However, she is great about putting together meals for our whole family so I found a rectangular wicker basket at Salvation Army for $1. The basket was good quality, but not the prettiest in color so I spray painted it gold. It is the perfect size for holding silverware or napkins when she has guests. I also gave her homemade coffee sugar scrub.

Along with the painted wooden spoons, we gave Abby and Maria homemade coffee sugar scrub as well. The jars above are the ones I mailed up to Ohio. Unfortunately, I totally forgot to label the jars in any way beyond names of recipients so I had to call J's mother on Christmas Eve and tell her what was in the jars. That way, she could tell the girls what they had just opened rather than them being very very confused about the brown sludge that I apparently thought constituted as a Christmas gift.

And finally, J's brother Isaac received some awesome vintage Star Wars books from our local used book store and a coordinating pez dispenser.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing how I accomplished a lot of these gifts. I learned that having such a limited budget meant that I had to get really creative and also think seriously about what kinds of gifts all my siblings would enjoy. It was a lot of fun!

Enjoy this post? We also have a DIY monogrammed jewelry dish and DIY monogrammed beaded gloves!

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Eve Tablescape Ideas

This morning I wrote about my low key plans for my New Year's Even with Mr. 3, but for those of you planning a big shin dig at your house or inviting a few friends over, here's some decorating inspiration for your parties at home!
Image Source: Style Me Pretty
Besides absolutely loving the mix of green, gold, and white and the sequin table runner (naturally),  I think that adding the gold noise maker across the plate is a great touch for a sit down dinner!  Check out the local party stores for their supply.  Adding the menu card is another classy move, but you may not have time to type one up and print one out.  Grab a pack of pretty note cards and a gold pen and write a quick note to each of your guests.  It can be as simple as "Happy New Year" on the front and "Best Wishes in 2014!".  If you are really pressed for time, buy flat note cards, a fun stamp, and a gold or silver ink pad.  Stamping is a quick way to achieve this look and by buying flat note cards that fit the plate, you won't have to waste time cutting paper.

Image Source: Whimsy
I think this is super fun and not too terribly difficult to execute.  Head to the craft store and buy a yard or two of tulle (depending on how big you want the the bow and how many chairs you have).  Tulle doesn't unravel, doesn't need to be ironed, and can be cut apart with a basic pair of scissors.  For the clocks, there are tons of free printables that math teachers use to teach elementary students how to tell time.  You can print out some of these on pretty paper and use a glitter pen to draw on the hands and over the numbers.
Image Source: Etsy
Love, love, love, LOVE a sequined tablecloth.  One of these is definitely on my wish list of things to own in life.  I'm also a big fan of gold flatware.  While you may not want to pick up settings for 12 tonight, I've spotted serving sets at Home Goods for less than $20 which is a great way to add a little glam to your table/party.  Metallics always go together, so don't be afraid to use your regular silver flatware with gold serving pieces.
Image Source:  Ruffled Blog
Super fun and unexpected dessert table!  Use what you have and then add in a few bunches of balloons for a twist.  There are also plenty of party garlands at the party stores, so feel free to string one across any buffet table you have.

Image Source: Lauren Conrad
Easy and quick DIY project.  Head to the craft store and pick up a pack of tea lights and a couple of different (but coordinating) rolls of washi tape.  Wrap the washi tape around the tea light and place in groups of 3 (any less and it looks dinky).

Image Source: Craft Gawker
You can also use the washi tape to label party cups and wine glasses.  Grab a metallic marker for a bit of extra glam.
Image Source: The Sweetest Occasion
Swizzle sticks!!!!! Great party touch and should be available at party stores or craft stores.

Image Source: 100 Layer Cake
Sugar rimmed champagne glasses are so pretty and easy to do.  The craft store, Target, Williams-Sonoma, or Sur la Table should have rimming sugars available.  Make sure to run a lime or lemon wedge around the glass before dipping in sugar to get it to stick.  Also, feel free to add a swizzle stick for even more fun!

Image Source:  achadosdedecoracao.blogspot.com.br

Finally, for the love of your hostess sanity, set up a bar station.  If you don't have a bar cart, find a folding table and cover it with a tablecloth.  For barware, use what you've got - it doesn't matter if it matches, but try to arrange it neatly and group like items together.  The last thing you want to do is spend your party time playing bartender on the biggest drinking night of the year.

What's your favorite look?  Got any great party tips?  Share with us in the comments section below!  If you are still trying to decide what to wear, check out our suggestions here and here.  Don't forget to follow me on instagram for a look at my NYE date night planning!

New Year's Eve Date Night

Mr. 3 and I have spent the last month traveling around the great states of Virginia and North Carolina visiting family and friends.  We are wore out.  We are also trying to mind our pennies and DC is hideously expensive for most things and New Year's Eve parties are no exception (and not particularly fun from what I've heard...looooong lines and lots of people pushing one another around).

So, we've decided to spend half of what it would cost for us to go out to dinner at the fancy pants restaurants and probably about a third of what it costs to go to the NYE parties on a nice dinner at home (where it's warm and we don't have to deal with drunk people or getting a taxi).

Super Cute Sparkler Printables
Image Source: Best Day Ever
Appetizer - Baked Brie with Apple Butter (using homemade apple butter from the Methodist Church)
Meat - Steak - 1 New York Strip and Lobster - 2 one lb. lobsters
Side - Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter
Wine - Kunde Cabernet Sauvignon (Mr. 3's best friend gave it to us as a gift and we've been saving it for 2 years!)
Champagne - Veuve Clicquot Brut NV (I bought a split - which amounts to about two glasses)
Dessert - TBD (I have to check out the Whole Foods bakery case, but it will probably be one small individual sized dessert.)

I'm still trying to beat the winter weight gain, but this is one of the days I said I wasn't going to worry about what I ate.  We will probably spread out the food from about 3-9 PM.  We bought a decent sized steak, but I'll be splitting that with Mr. 3.  Lobster has 129 calories per cup and I don't use butter.  The asparagus is a Cooking Light recipe (but totally doesn't taste like one!).  Although I've got the baked brie and dessert in the mix, I probably will only eat a light breakfast (egg over toast, banana, and coffee) and this meal spread out over the course of 6 hours will make up the rest of my calories for the day.

The Look
I plan on lighting all the candles we have in the apartment and turning on our Christmas tree.  I'm going to bust out our candlesticks and tapered candles for dinner.  I may also try to find a small arrangement of white tulips (favorite flower!) or other flowers for the table.  I know Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have reasonable prices for their flowers and I can probably expect to spend about $10-$15.

Image Source: Colin Cowie Weddings

Finally, I'm going to use our nicer table linens and our fancier barware for serving food (once day I plan on getting a sequined tablecloth, which I've decided is a must for every hostess).  I also plan on dressing up a bit with sparkly accessories...but definitely going for the relaxed glamour look we blogged about a few weeks ago.

What are y'all planning for New Year's Eve?  Big night out or low key night in?  Leave us a note in the comments section to let us know what your plans are!  Follow me on instagram so you can check out all the prep work and final results!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Melinda and I just want to wish all our wonderful readers a Merry Christmas. We hope y'all are enjoying your favorite traditions and staying warm! Tomorrow, we will take a break from posting to spend time with our families, but we will resume the regular blog schedule on Monday. Get excited - we will be revealing DIY Christmas gifts now that they have been opened! Even better, Melinda will give us a run down of how well her winter weight strategies worked.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve!

I hope everyone is got all their shopping done yesterday and is able to enjoy their time with families today! I've been enjoying some egg nog and catching up with my North Carolina girl friends (which I really needed time to do!).   I'm writing this post in the car on our way to lunch with Mr. 3's parents.  We have a few stops (no major shopping left!) to make after lunch and then it's on to church service with my parents.  We have an unusual tradition that's developed over the years and we will head over to town for a Mexican dinner post-Christmas service (salsa and guac = festive colors and super super yummy in my tummy).

If you are also headed to church tonight, be sure to check out our what to wear article.  We've also got a few recipes to try if you need some ideas for Christmas brunch.  If you are doing some last minute shopping, here's our guide on stocking stuffers which also make great last minute gifts.  Stay safe and enjoy your time with your families!  Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Eggnog Latte Party

I hosted an eggnog latte party last friday for my sisters and mom. The theme was eggnog lattes, which is really just nespresso and eggnog. I decided to keep it simple as far as preparations went, but I also used my fine china to make it special. The night before, I did all my baking (chose recipes that could sit overnight) and set out the dishes. The only tasks I had for the day of the party was putting out the napkins and setting out the food. My little sister Natalia helped make the lattes once everyone arrived. Keeping the party simple definitely made it more fun for me, and it was a perfect party for five people.

I had just unpacked the china in time for the party. Fortunately, there were only five of us so I did not need my table leaves (they are still being painted). I borrowed the beautiful cloth napkins from my sister Kimberlee; mine are not in great shape. I stopped ironing them back in February and they have lots of mustard and tomato sauce stains. Note to self: don't buy white napkins again. 

I baked two desserts to accompany our eggnog lattes. I chose the recipes based on which festive ingredients were already in my kitchen. The top dessert is a pumpkin spice bundt cake which I had to slice to fit on my china platter. I don't currently own a cake plate, but my solution totally fits in with my holiday theme of using what I already own. The cake was absolutely delicious. I altered the recipe slightly by replacing allspice with powdered ginger (because I already owned it) and added a lot more cinnamon. The other dessert is a lemon tart. My family is really big on lemon, and this recipe did not disappoint. Winter is citrus season in Florida and my local farm just picked some of their lemons. These are not your ordinary grocery store lemons, however. They are the size of oranges and I got almost 1/2 of a cup of juice from one. And because I like to brag about how awesome it is to live in Florida, I will share the price: 25 cents per lemon. As you may have noticed, the top of my tart is not perfect. I could not find my crust shield so I improvised with tin foil. When I was pulling the tart out of the oven, part of the tin foil dipped into the tart and broke through the surface. Oops. Also the tart is sitting on a cheese platter. Use what you have! 

My centerpiece is actually at one end of the table. It was perfect because everyone had access to both desserts and we didn't have to lean around the globes to chat. The mercury glass globes have christmas lights inside and glow beautifully. The set was a wedding gift from two of J's aunts. The candlesticks were a Christmas gift from J last year. I just love them! 

As you can see, I have not made any visible progress on my thrift store chairs. I have, however, purchased the fabric and paint along with designing a stencil for what I will paint on the seats. Now I just need to choose my plum paint and start working. I will definitely get to them in 2014. 

Don't mind the messy bookshelf. We use it to store all kinds of things since we don't have much closet space in the apartment. J keeps organizing it, and I keep putting things back in the wrong spot. I do the same with the pantry. Good thing he loves me!

Melinda hosted a Christmas brunch for 21 people! We plan on continuing the theme of "how to host" so if you have any party ideas, let us know!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Prepping for Christmas 2014!

Y'all don't kill me now, but a good way to get started on saving money for Christmas 2014, is to start saving today!  One of the expenses that everyone has, but most people forget to add into their Christmas budgets is the cost of decorations and gift wrap.  You can easily cut your costs for next year with a bit of careful planning over the next 2-3 weeks.

First up, decor!  I have had my eye on a few decorations, but just couldn't swing them with the cost of buying all the ornaments for our first Christmas tree.  Shop the after Christmas sales at your favorite places, where stores like Target have traditionally marked their goods down by 50% beginning the day after Christmas.  If the thought of getting out in the crowds on December 26th terrifies you, go later in the day.  Chances are there will be a decent selection and the early bird, marathon shoppers are usually tired and head home around dinner time.  However, the steepest discounts usually begin in mid-January.  Typically, I start looking at Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma during that time frame, because I can find things 50-75% off.  If you are looking to upgrade your current tree skirt or stockings, this is a great time to buy and save some money for next year.  I know I really want a few mercury glass trees to set out as a centerpiece for next year.

Next up, gift wrap!  Paper companies make a ton of money during the holiday season and I find it ridiculous to pay their high price tags.  That said, I absolutely love high-end gift wrap and I refuse to buy cheap paper, ribbon, and gift tags (stick on bows are different - a stick on bow is a stick on bow no matter how you price it, so go cheap on those).  Don't judge!...everyone has their own "thang"...and mine happens to be paper snobbery.  However, I should mention, that to me, high-end paper means thick and rich looking (i.e. foil, metallics, beautiful prints), but not necessarily any ol' roll that comes from an expensive store (ahem, Papyrus).  The weeks after Christmas are the best time to buy my high-end paper (although, Home Goods has lots of high quality rolls for the $4-5 mark if you should need to purchase it in season).  I also tend to gravitate towards wired or satin ribbon as I think they make the best bows.

For sources, check out Target and Walmart (they often have paper labeled as "premium" and its original price is usually 50-100% higher), but also department stores like Belk and Dillards and unconventional places like the drug store (people rarely think to look at drug stores, but they usually carry Hallmark's beautiful papers and gift wrap!).  Discount stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall's, and Home Goods are usually stripped out of holiday items in general and I rarely see them offer additional discounts or after Christmas sales.

The biggest way to save money, is not to spend it.  If you have already invested in high quality gift wrap for this season - reuse it.  My mother will often give me back my ribbon, so I'm able to fold it nicely and store it in a ziplock bag for next year.  If your paper is in good condition, re-roll it around an empty tube  (My mother has been doing this for years...I have one favorite roll that's pink with angels on it.  My mother used it when I was little for all my gifts and reused and reused, so that it became "MY present paper".  Now there is barely any left, but I still sometimes get a small present wrapped in my angel paper which is a very great family tradition.).  In my case, I also reuse the good quality gift boxes, so a  lot of this paper will already be pre-cut for next year!  Department stores usually have the best boxes, so if you just bought a cheap multi-pack, feel free to pitch those and keep the others (Nordstrom, Sephora, and Anthropolgie carry the best ones!).  The cheap ones rarely keep their shape and the glue that holds them together gets very weak, especially if you store them in your hot summer attic.  If you have nice gift bags that are still in good condition, remove the gift tag label and fold the bag nicely.  Buy tie-on gift tags so you can reuse the bags next year!  The only thing I pitch in its entirety is tissue paper.  If it's been used in a high quality shirt box and can easily be compacted down with the box, then that's probably ok.  However, if you've used it to stuff bags or it's gotten too wrinkly in the shirt box, PITCH IT.

Storage items are also on sale post-Christmas, so if you bought a new wreath, look for a wreath box to protect it!  Or get a plastic box meant for storing wrapping paper.  These things are rarely part of the promotional sales that are offered during the Christmas season, which means they are almost always full price until after Christmas, so it's a good time to stock up! You can also use one of your reused gift boxes to store any stick-on bows you buy to keep them organized and prevent them from getting squashed.

Lastly, I would highly recommend that you buy your Christmas cards for next year now.  At 50-75% off, you can definitely buy the most beautiful foiled lined envelopes, letterpressed or engraved cards to send out to your loved ones and business contacts next year.

This year, I will need to grab gift tags, gift bags, tissue paper, and Christmas cards.  I'm also interested in getting a few more pre-made decorative boxes because they are super sturdy, which came in handy when I shipped my wonderful aunties their gifts to Florida and Arizona.  If I see a beautiful roll or three of ribbon I will probably pick up those too (they came in handy for decorating my magnolia wreath!).  Don't buy more than you need or can store, but make sure to take advantage of the discounts so you can avoid paying full price next year!

Any good shops I missed to check out their markdowns post Christmas?  Let us know!

How to Host: A Christmas Brunch!

Briana and I are starting another series called "How to Host" and we will be sharing our favorite party tips, recipes, and decor elements.  I'm starting off with a post on my Christmas brunch that Mr. 3 and I hosted for our friends last weekend.  We've had cocktail parties in the past at Christmas time, but (1) they are a lot of work during a really busy season, and (2) they often wind up being super expensive when you get all the booze thrown in.  I've hosted cookie swaps before, but I always wind up left with too many calories and a general state of feeling pre-diabetic.  I've also thrown afternoon dessert parties and those have wound up being ladies only (all the men wind up bailing in favor of manly things like football, beer, and video gaming).

This year, I came up with the idea to host a Christmas brunch on a Sunday morning.  We set the time for 11 AM and invited about 30 people. I figured that more people would be able to attend, because D.C. folk generally don't have too much to do on Sunday mornings.  I also thought that people would enjoy brunch to (1) soak up the booze from all the corporate parties the night before, (2) brunch = real meal, (3) people would be able to have their entire afternoon and evening to themselves, and (4) it's a different idea for a party.  Despite all these positives, I had really only expected 10-12 people to RSVP, but we wound up having 21 guests.  Whoopsies - clearly Mr. 3 and I are more popular than we thought.  Luckily, brunch is a very forgiving meal to serve the masses (Although, I did have last minute panic the day before that we would run out of food and bought some frozen appetizers I could throw in the oven.).  Here is a breakdown of how the party got put together:

The Decor

We did not have a lot of Christmas decorations to begin with, so I knew I was going to spend a little bit of money on making the brunch and our apartment Christmas-y.  To make things fun and festive, I used Christmas themed paper plates (appetizer and dinner sized), napkins, and cups from Target.  I also found a cheap Ralph Lauren tablecloth at Home Goods for $17 to cover our dining table which we used for our buffet and I bought one pretty candy dish from Home Goods for $13 to hold Lindt Truffles (which I will be keeping out through Valentine's Day).

Festive Napkins & Peek at My $17 Tablecloth

For decorations, we had our Christmas tree (our very first full sized!), 4 small poinsettias, and I reused some decorations from our wedding including a magnolia wreath we hung on the church doors (which I dressed up with a fluffy bow that I made using a roll of gift wrap ribbon I got on sale last year) and mercury glass hurricanes (which we originally used as vases at our reception).

Bow Topper

I put Christmas-themed paper buffet napkins in the guest bathroom that I found last year at Home Goods for $1.99. I also reused some gold and white paper coasters from a previous party to set around the living room and I didn't buy any new servingware for the party.

If you don't count the amount we spent on our Christmas tree (which we would have put up anyways and the ornaments will be reused for many, many years), we spent about $65 on decorations and paper products.

The Food

In planning the party, I looked for recipes that could be prepared the night before or had very little prep in the morning.  I also decided that instead of making double or triple batches of the same items, the best way to feed the crowd would be to make one dish each of bunches of different foods.  For drinks, I served orange juice and coffee from my Nespresso machine.  I also had a self-serve champagne station for people who wanted to doctor up their OJ and turn it into a mimosa.  Here's how I fed a total of 23 people:

Crab and Mushroom Strata (1 pan - super popular dish)
Raspberry Baked French Toast (1 pan)
Slow Cooker Shrimp and Grits (2 batches - biggest hit of the party)
Citrus Fruit Salad (1 batch - surprise hit with everyone!)
Powdered Donuts (1 bag = 20 donuts)
Whole Foods 365 Gingersnaps (1 box)
Safeway Cream Puffs (1 box)
Pimento Cheese Dip (1 container) & Water Crackers (1 box)
Trader Joe's Chambert & Cranberry Fillo Rolls (2 boxes - 16 pieces total - really popular with everyone!)
Trader Joe's Party Pups (2 boxes - 28 pieces total - really popular with everyone!)
Simply Orange Juice (2 large jugs)
Trader Joe's Sparkling Wine (6 bottles)
Trader Joe's Chocolate Biscotti (1 container)
Lindt Peppermint Truffles (1 small bags - 24 pieces)
Rolled Wafers (2 kinds - hazelnut and dark chocolate)
Other items: salt, pepper, half and half, maple syrup, and sugar

I made the crab and mushroom strata, the french toast, and the citrus fruit salad (minus the dressing) the night before.  I assembled the slow cooker shrimp and grits at about 7 AM when I woke up.  Mr. 3 and I worked on the fruit salad dressing and cooking the shrimp before our guests arrived.  Everything else was mostly assembly/unwrapping day of.

Sounds simple, right?  It probably would have been if we hadn't also needed to finish decorating our new apartment (i.e. hanging things on our bare walls and unpacking the last few boxes) as well as decorating for Christmas and cleaning up the Christmas wrapping paper explosion that happened in our living room.  It all came together about 25 mins. after the party started at 11, but luckily most people didn't start showing up until 11:30...so only about 4 people know the real truth....and by real truth, I mean me in my party clothes with a bathrobe on top (my apron is in a space saver bag in my cedar chest with a bunch of other linens) and frantically putting tags on my party favors (homemade bourbon fudge sauce and skillet toffee).

The Set Up

I made a two separate bar/drink areas  - one for coffee in the kitchen below the cabinet with all the coffee cups and next to the sink so that I could easily refill the water tank on the Nespresso and the other area was set up for OJ and champagne across the room from buffet table. I served the appetizers (party pups, fillo rolls, and pimento cheese) on our coffee table in the living room.  I kept our favors by the door to make sure to hand them out to guests as they left.

Since it was cold that day we were able to set the champagne on the patio so we didn't have a whole bunch of containers lying about and I stacked my tiered cake stand with baked goods to save on table space.

Tips & Tricks to Take Away

1. By making the drinks self-serve, I eliminated the need to hover over everyone (after the initial Nespresso demonstration).

2. By assembling the majority of the main dishes the night before, I didn't have tons of dirty pans lying about waiting to be washed, which kept my cleaning to a minimum before people arrived.  Also, once I was done baking everything and I put it out for people, I was done!  I certainly got to socialize quite a bit at this party rather than hanging out in the kitchen all morning.

3. Mix up your homemade and store bought products - no one expects for everything to be 100% homemade, but nobody wants to attend a party platter party either.

4. Use what you have for decor and servingware.  If you find gaps, hit up Home Goods, TJ Maxx, Marshall's, Target, or World Market.  They have the best prices and the most diversified selections.

5. Use paper products. You would need 3 dishwashers and piles of china to keep up with hosting 20 something people.  Paper products will also help your event feel more Christmas-y.

6. Spread out your food.  People tend to congregate where the food is, so by putting the food in different areas you can ensure more mingling!

7. Diversify your food.  I was afraid we wouldn't have enough food, but I was also concerned we would have too many leftovers if things weren't popular.  We didn't run out of anything (whew...my Southern hostess heart started beating again) and we didn't have too many leftovers.  I think there was about 1/4 of a pan of each of the homemade items, half of each of the dessert items, and none of the appetizers were left (People were picking at the leftovers right before they left  and one guest said she couldn't bear to leave them behind they were so good...so I count that as not running out.).  Plus, if one dish doesn't turn out so good, your guests will probably quickly forget because there were so many other wonderful dishes.

8. If you are setting up chairs for people to sit in, try to place them where people can set their food and drinks down easily (put a stack of reuseable paper coasters down nearby).  Also, try to make sure that no seat is off by itself or awkwardly placed.

Practicing my "Relaxed Glamour" look in front of  my reused wedding wreath and mimosa station
Top & Flats - Banana Republic and Leggings - J.Crew

Once the party was over (everyone left around 2:30 PM), I put a few things in the fridge and started the dishwasher...then we took a nap and enjoyed the rest of our afternoon.  Which was a big plus over staying up until 3 AM like we probably would have for a cocktail party.  All of our guests had a great time and people are still telling me thanks for the invite.  I even got a handwritten note in the mail today!  If you are still looking to host a party this year, think about hosting a brunch on New Year's Day or maybe even the weekend after (it would be a great chance for you to invite people who were too busy during November and December to get together).

Anyone else had any luck with hosting a brunch?  Share any good tips you might have!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

DIY Giant Glitter Monogram

This morning, I showed you how I mongramed my blank wall using giant glittery letters. These letters were originally for my wedding and are now part of my low budget Christmas decor. Now here is that tutorial I promised.

One part of the monogram at my wedding reception

It is ridiculously simple. You need paper maché letters, mod podge, glitter, and a ton of space. I bought these 23.5 inch paper maché letters from Joann's - that will be $30 for a three letter monogram, but there are smaller options that are cheaper. I used Martha Stewart fine glitter that I bought at Michael's with a 50% off coupon. Always use those coupons!

You can see why I needed the 23.5" letters!
The most important part of this project is that you have plenty of space. You need a glittering zone and a drying zone. I had a whole table set up for glittering projects because I can't help myself when it comes to glitter and the wedding was a perfect excuse to let loose.

In your glittering zone, you want to brush on mod podge in segments on the top of the letter and then sprinkle/dump the glitter on top. Don't put glitter over all your mod podge - you want to leave a bit of mod podge bare so that you can continue mod podging without getting your brush covered in the glitter you just dumped. Move your letter to the drying area with paper underneath.

drying zone, sides are bare on the R

Once the top of the letter is dry, you want to take a stiff paint brush and brush off the excess glitter. Save this glitter for the other parts of the letter, because there will be a lot that comes off! Move your letter back to your glittering area for mod podging and glittering the sides. No need to do the back of the letter if it will not be seen. Repeat the drying and brushing process.

do you like the china mod podge dish?

 As you can see in the picture above, the glitter does not stick perfectly the first time around. Go ahead and slap some mod podge and glitter over those bare spots. After the second round of mod podge, glitter, and brushing I did not have any more empty spots.

See! Super easy! See how I used these same exact letters in my Christmas decor!

Christmas Glitter Monogram

This week, I have been sharing how I decorated my apartment for Christmas spending only $10 by using what I already own. Even though J says it makes the apartment feel like a sorority house, I love repurposing glittery monogram letters to make my giant blank wall a bit more festive. 

Please ignore the box behind the couch. It contains a mirror that I decided not to hang. I would put it in my storage unit, but the box won't fit in my car. Thus, I have learned to ignore the box.

 J worked hard to hang my letters straight and even. There was a bunch of tiny shifts before I was happy. He is so patient. We hung the letters by putting tiny nails under each letter to support the weight. The R has two inside the top loop, as does the B. The J was a bit trickier - it has a nail under the top bar on each side of the vertical part, but it also needed a nail on the right side right above the curve because the letter kept wanting to tip. We just eyeballed the whole thing, so it is probably not perfect. However, it is better than the first picture represents. My photography skills are seriously lacking.

Remember my decorating theme of using what I already own? You must be wondering why on earth I own three giant glitter letters. Well, I used them for my wedding. The B and the J went up in my church's Christmas wreaths for the ceremony and the R was at the reception behind the bridal table. Come back for the tutorial on how I made these giant glitter letters! It is super easy and surprisingly relaxing.

Enjoy this post? You can read about how I repurposed my DIY monogrammed wreath and styled my desk for Christmas. You can also read the tutorial for these giant glitter letters.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thrift Store Chair

J and I went into Habitat the other day because I wanted to show him a $5 set of demitasse cups, but sadly they were gone! However, I was very quickly cheered up when I spotted this $35 chair.

Merry Christmas to me - J bought it as an early gift! It is a gift for me obviously, because J would never choose a pink chair for his own enjoyment, but it is also a gift for him because the chair requires no work at all. No need for sand paper or staple guns, this chair was ready to go after a quick vacuum. So excited! Once I clear up the wrapping paper disaster, I will share a picture of the whole sitting area. The chair is so charming with my couch!

Check out our other thrift store finds and read about my obsession with Habitat for Humanity!

Stocking Stuffers

I love stockings.  I think they are such a great tradition and give people the opportunity to buy fun gifts.  However, stocking stuffers can wind up being quite expensive and it's easy to get carried away buying a few $10, $15, or $25 items.  Next thing you know and you've bought the equivalent of another really nice $50 or $75 gift!

I think $25 - $30 is an appropriate amount to spend on filling a stocking, but you can also do it for far less (example: a box of oatmeal cream pies costs $1.92 and will fill up an entire stocking).  I would try to avoid gag gifts or things that just aren't going to be useful or enjoyed.  Money is still money even if you are only spending $5...if it's not going to get used, then it's been wasted.  My strategy for stocking stuffers is to buy one item that is in the $10-$15 range and then fill the stocking up with food items.  Men seem to universally like summer sausage and beef jerky.  My dad loves Werther's Originals and Lifesavers candies.  For women, herbal teas, coffee, and chocolates are always a good choice.  My mom loves chocolate oranges and they fit perfectly in most stockings.  I find a lot of these items at Trader Joe's, Home Goods, Marshall's, and TJ Maxx (you can often find high end food brands at these discount stores).  For people who are on a diet or have health concerns, think about buying small, useful gifts like hair clips, cute socks, or a pack of pretty pens.  For children, I would suggest crayons, markers, stickers, or coloring books. Chances are Santa or you have gotten plenty for the little ones already, so go with items that they can use but are still fun and exciting (I don't know any child who doesn't like a set of new crayons or a pack of stickers). 

If you have to buy for the entire family, I think the best resource for stocking stuffers is Amazon.  They have lots of cool "add-on" items that you can get for a really low price if you are ordering $25 or more from Amazon.  You can also save money by buying gifts in multi-packs.  

Here are a  few of my favorite things that are all $20 or less so that you can finish filling up your stockings with the items I've mentioned above:

Premium Nail Art Quality Manicure Crystal Glass Nail Files Set of 5 by Cheeky
Image Source: Amazon
Briana gave me a glass nail file as a part of my bridesmaids gift and I will never go back to your average emery board.  Split up the multi-pack to save money (put them in with gifts you are giving to other girlfriends or if you have multiple women in your family divvy them up in the stockings) or give the whole lot to one person.  I know Briana likes to stash hers all over the place so she doesn't have to hunt one down when she needs it.

Party Starter Brush Set
Image Source: Sephora
These makeup brushes are by far the most fun and fab I've seen.  These would work for women of all ages from your teenager to your fantastic granny.

Mediterranean Essential Mini Tin
Image Source: Illume
I love the pretty design on this mini candle.  It's made from natural beeswax and essential oils and has 25 hours of burn time.  The whole website is filled with beautiful and reasonably priced home fragrance gifts, so check out Illume for more ideas.  They are also offering free matches and a sample with any purchase, free shipping for orders over $100, and 20% off of any order of $40+ (use code GIFTS13).

Metrokane Rabbit Aerating Pourer
Image Source: World Market
Perfect gift for a wine drinker - an aerator that you can put into a wine bottle rather than having to pour a bottle of wine into a decanter.  We use ours all the time.  It's much easier to clean than our decanter.

Sphere Ice Molds
$10.95 for a set of 2
Image Source: Sur la Table
These ice molds make a great stocking stuffers for men.  Mr. 3 has two different types of ice molds for his fancy pants triple old fashioned glasses, but he may be getting these as a future gift.  I love the way they have put orange peels and mint in the spheres - fun and yummy!

Kuhn Rikon Plaid Pairing Knife
$11.95 each
Image Source: Sur la Table
These knives are another great option for men stocking stuffers.  Mr. 3 and I bought a three pack of Kuhn Rikon paring knives and we absolutely love them.  We liked them so much we bought my Dad a set as well and we are adding to his collection this Christmas with a small serrated knife and a small santokus because he raved about them after last year.  I love the plaid and think they are extra fun while still being manly...but you could certainly give them to women as well (I know I would love a cute green one!).

Bow Key Clip
Image Source: Banana Republic
Super cute leather key ring with a bit of glam gold and a great price for durable leather (Banana Republic has been consistently running a sale every day this Christmas season, so you should be able to save money on this one).  Especially great if you are lucky enough to be getting a new car for Christmas!

Cookie Stamps
$7.98 for a set of 2
Image Source: World Market
Cute gift for anyone who likes to bake and give out cookies. These are made from ceramic and say "Homemade" and "Made with Love."

What do you think?  Splurge or save on stocking stuffers?  Let us know if you agree or if you've spotted anything else small and awesome!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Melinda's Homemade Gifts

If you follow me on instagram (and you should!), you may have seen some pictures from the Christmas brunch I hosted this past Sunday and the treats I made for my guests.  We have some really close friends that we give small gifts to (like Mr. 3's best friend and his wife) and also some really good friends that I would love to give gifts to, but we just can't afford to do it (I'm a big gift giver...I love the whole practice of shopping, searching, and wrapping up gifts in beautiful packaging).  Since we were hosting the brunch, I decided that what we could afford to do was pass out homemade gifts as a favor for the party.  

I really enjoy trying new recipes so I found a recipe for making homemade toffee in a cast iron skillet  (the skillet is amazingly easy to clean out and heats the toffee evenly).  I have had one failed attempt at making candy before (didn't use a thermometer...which is when I learned the lesson that one can't "eyeball" the cooking temperature of candy), so I was a bit apprehensive about how it would all turn out.  Over the summer, Briana and I also found a Southern Living recipe for different types of fudge sauces that looked relatively simple.  I started by tracking down the supplies for both recipes and wound up buying the ingredients from Walmart and Safeway.  The packaging supplies came from Amazon and Michael's.

Both recipes were super easy to follow, but the biggest issue was that it's not like throwing a cake in the oven, with these treats you can't leave the stove because they require constant stirring. Check out the links above to find the recipes, but I wanted to give the cost break down for each treat.  I made two batches of toffee (which made about 15 treat bags) one with nuts and one without and two batches of bourbon hot fudge sauce (which made 10 jars).

Skillet Toffee Cost Breakdown
Butter - $5.92 for 2 lbs.
Sugar - $3.18 for a small bag (which I also used in the fudge sauce)
Pecans - $0 (Mr. 3's mom gave me a few small bags at Christmas for snacks.  I toasted them with some cinnamon by tossing them in a small cast iron skillet and putting them on low heat.  Make sure to stir frequently so they don't burn.)
Ghiradelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips - $5.92 for two bags
Vanilla Extract - $0 (already had)
Salt - $0 (already had)
Total: $15.02 or about $1 a bag

If you don't have the nuts or vanilla extract, I would imagine your total would be closer to $25.

Here's my really off center pre-packaging shot!

Bourbon Fudge Sauce Cost Breakdown
Unsweetened Ghiradelli Chocolate Baking Squares - $10.06 for 16 oz.
Butter - $1.46 for two sticks
Sugar - $0 (used left over from skillet toffee)
Bourbon - $0 (already had)
Vanilla Extract - $0 (already had)
Salt - $0 (already had)
Total: $11.52 or about $1.15 each

If you don't have bourbon on hand, run to the liquor store and buy a mini-bottle from behind the cash register.  That should cost between $2-4.  You only need a little, so one bottle should do it.

As for packaging costs, I bought most of my items from Amazon.  I used these jars for the fudge sauce:

Ball Jar Crystal Jelly Jars with Lids and Bands, Quilted
$7.19 for 12 jars
Image Source: Amazon

I liked them because they are quilted, a good size, and a great price.  Make sure to wash them before you use them, they had a funny smell when I opened them up.  I also bought cellophane bags to put the toffee into for $2.99.  I also bought some silver bag twisties for 99 cents to tie off the bags.  Finally, I bought a set of gift tags from Michael's for $1.49 and I ordered this red baker's twine to add a festive touch to both treats.  I hand wrote "Merry Christmas!" on all the toffee and I also labeled the fudge sauce and wrote reheating instructions on the back of the tag.

Bakers Twine by Hemptique
Image Source: Amazon
Packaging Cost Breakdown:
Cellophane Bags - $2.99
Jelly Jars - $7.19
Baker's Twine - $4.49
Tags - $1.49 
Twisties - $0.99
Green Pen - $0 (already had)
Total Packaging Cost: $17.15

Here is a picture of how the toffee turned out.  I think it looked super cute!  I don't have a picture of the fudge sauce as I spent the first 15 mins. of my brunch party tying on the tags and didn't get a chance to snag a picture of the finished product.  Whoopsies.

Final Product!
 Total Cost Breakdown for my Homemade Gifts: $43.69

I gave a bag of toffee and jar of fudge sauce to every couple and single person which was about 19 people total.  I also gave an extra bag of toffee to my unmarried friends who don't live with their significant other and I had one bag of toffee left that I slipped into a friend's present that I shipped out this morning.  I also have two leftover jelly jars and a good sized roll of baker's twine...which may come in handy for Valentine's Day presents for Mr. 3.  Timewise, not counting shopping, I spent about 3.5 hours making and packaging the gifts, mostly because I didn't have pans big enough to do both batches of toffee at the same time.

Overall, I really like how the gifts turned out and it wasn't expensive or too difficult to make.  Our guests also seemed really excited to get treats to go too!  Are you making any gifts this Christmas?  What treats are easy to make and fun to give out?  Let us know in the comments section!

DIY Monogrammed Wreath

My Christmas decor theme this year is using what I already own. Fortunately, I still have a lot of my wedding decor and even better, the reception colors go with my apartment colors. Since it was a December wedding and Michael's always has 40-50% off coupons, I went a bit crazy with the glitter last year. When I got done decorating the apartment, I asked J if it looked like Christmas and he said sure, if Christmas looks like purple and silver glitter.

I made this wreath last year to hang at my reception. Thank goodness J's parents had admired it earlier and caught the clean up crew before they tossed the wreath. Otherwise, I would have a very bare wall between my kitchen and bedroom door. This project was very fast and easy to do. It was actually a last minute decision 10 days before the wedding. Even J got in on the fun!

You need a monogram (ours is from Initial Outfitters, but you can find all sorts of options online), a wreath (ours is grapevine from Michael's that my sister had lying around), spray paint for the wreath, some ribbon, mod podge, and your favorite shades of fine glitter. Y'all know how to spray paint, so I am just going to explain how to glitter the monogram.

First you have to decide which letter needs to be at the front of each intersection. I decided to make the R totally in the front, but you could intertwine your letters, too. You can see in the top picture, when I say the R is in the front, that means the R color is going to be the one you see every time the letters overlap. Before I started glittering, I sketched out the shape of my R at all of these tricky spots so I didn't have to think about it while flinging mod podge. You can see the pencil lines where the R and the J touch at the top. If I wanted to put the J on top, I would have sketched the J curves instead of the R. 

Mom and I used broken tea cups to hold our mod podge, but any container will do. You just don't want to contaminate your mod podge bottle with glitter, so it is always a good idea to pour some out for dipping purposes. Just mod podge where you want that color glitter to go. I worked in phases, as you can see above. Use whatever system works for you. It really isn't that difficult, it is just glue and glitter. Once your top letter is dry, you can start on your other letters. This is the time to fix your previous glittering mistakes. I love that I can glitter over glitter and you can't hardly tell that I covered something up.

Ooh, sparkly! Now, all you have to do is take your ribbon and attach the monogram to the wreath. This project too an evening, including drying time. And if you get tired of the colors, you can always reglitter a few years later!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Beating Winter Weight Gain Update

Just wanted to give y'all a quick update after writing my Beating Winter Weight Gain article.  I've successfully survived two Thanksgiving weekends with family (the first in NC for real Thanksgiving and the second during the following weekend in southwest VA...all we do is eat), one business holiday luncheon, tons of meals out while on the road and during my Christmas shopping, and my own Christmas brunch that I hosted yesterday (which you may have seen Instagram pictures on that, but more details to come later in the week).  I haven't gained any weight...hurray!  Now it's time for the home stretch....a week traveling to southwest VA, NC, and back followed by New Year's Eve.

How's everyone else doing?  Any luck or tips or tricks they have picked up?  Let me know!

Update: I maintained my weight through out the season! Read about which of my original ideas worked for me and which ones I abandoned here.

Low Budget Christmas Decor

This is my first year decorating for Christmas. Last year, J and I were only in our Las Vegas apartment for about 9 days of December and none of my stuff had arrived yet, so I did not even bother. And this year, we are living the lives of new entrepreneurs, which means I didn't want to spend much on Christmas decor. This is the beginning of how I spent about $10 total on Christmas decorations.

First of all, we decided to go without a tree. I had no desire to give up any floor space in our teeny tiny apartment, or any table or counter space. Instead, I took inventory of all the general decorative stuff I have and themed my Christmas decorations accordingly. 

Mom had bought me a bunch of purple pieces last year and Josiah's grandma gave me two monogrammed julep cups for my bridal shower. Since I also had a ton of purple and silver glittery stuff from the wedding (more on that later), Apartment Rosmarin is having a very purple Christmas. One of my few purchases are those two red silk flowers. I needed to add a bit of contrast to the desk top, and also fill it out some so that the electronics on the far right were more hidden. I bought the flowers during a 60% off store sale along with an additional 25% off coupon. I just clipped off the leaves and cut all the stems so that I could arrange the blooms and leaves together. That flower on the right keeps giving me trouble, but I have more or less taped it into place. Use what you have, right?

I will be back throughout the week sharing the rest of my Christmas decorations!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Central Florida Local Gifts

Melinda shared her favorite D.C. stores for edible gifts this morning, and I totally back up her claim that Artisan Confections is delicious. She bought quite a few for my mom, sister, and me to say thanks for all the wedding prep. Probably one of the best gifts I have ever received - yum!

I live in rural Florida, so we don't have access to fancy chocolatiers and olive oil experts. However, we do have our own charming foods that are perfect for holiday gift giving. First of all, it is currently citrus and strawberry season where I live. Also, I have been wearing shorts most days this past week or so. It's ok to be jealous.

Every few days I pick up freshly picked strawberries at my local farm for $2.50 a pound. And since these strawberries are not traveling very far, they are picked when they are fully ripe. This means full flavor and they are red all the way to the center. However, you also have to eat them within a few days of purchasing. The best way to turn these delicious strawberries into a gift is to dip them in chocolate and take them as a hostess gift to your next party. Make sure they were picked that morning so your hostess has a day or so to enjoy them!

Dundee Groves Florida basket
If you are looking for something that will travel better, I suggest citrus. Indian River grapefruit are by far the best, but any ruby reds are an amazing treat. I just bought some for 25 cents each! And you can throw them in the back of your car for any out of state road trips. You don't need to worry about them going bad any time soon as long as you keep them dry.

If you are looking for something sweeter, you should try Dundee Groves. They have really yummy citrus candies. The Florida basket is quite charming! You can also order the Citrus Delicacy if you only want the candies made from citrus juice. Dundee Groves will ship for those who are not as lucky to live near by.

Another great gift no matter where you live is local honey. The flavor of honey varies greatly depending on what plants the bees frequent. My favorite honey is Saw Palmetto. I buy mine in two pound bottles for $8 from my local farm. It has a deeper, not so sweet flavor. It is so different from the generic kind you get at the grocery store that it makes a wonderful gift that travels well. J and I brought a bottle up for his parents when we went to Ohio. As you can see in the picture below, we really enjoy our honey.

What kind of gifts do you find where you live? Are they fancy like Melinda's D.C. chocolate and olive oil? Or perhaps more agriculturally based like what my rural Florida provides?