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Posts Tagged ‘frugality’

Some of you might be saying, “The holidays?  Already?  Isn’t it too early for that?”   I’ll admit that I don’t like hearing Christmas carols in the grocery store in October or walking past rows of Christmas trees before the leaves have even fallen from the trees outside, but if you are thinking about planning holiday events and parties – now is the time to begin.

 And this is one of my favourites. 

 What is a “New-To-You Gift Swap?”

It is similar to the standard office party/large group gift exchange, where everyone brings a gift to the event, and everyone takes a different gift home.  The big difference is that the gift you bring is something you already own. 

What types of items do people bring to a new-to-you exchange?

It could be that beautiful Christmas ornament that you just never put out, or that scarf you were given that you never wear because it doesn’t match your coat, or that game you thought you’d love but your family never plays.  It’s something that you don’t use anymore, but you think someone else might love.  This leads to a whole lot of variety, and a whole lot of fun.  One year one of the party-goers in my group of friends wrapped up a tacky Christmas sweater as her contribution to the exchange.  What a laugh we had when that gift was opened!  It was quickly followed with a photo shoot of the recipient modeling the “beautiful” sweater.  It was such fun that it has become a tradition and there always seems to be a festive sweater hidden in the pile each year (and with the popularity of “ugly sweater” parties, it has actually become a very useful gift!)  J   Of course, if you only want pretty things or useful things at your party, you can just say so in your invite.   

Why bother?  Why not just buy something new?

In my group of friends, the gift exchange started as a way to share the joy of gift giving with each other, without having to add another item to our long “to buy” lists.  For those of us concerned about the environment, it is a way to reuse and recycle and lesson the “consumer” aspect of the holiday season.  But most of all – it’s fun!  The selection of gifts is always varied and it’s exciting to see what items will appear in the gift exchange each year. 

How do you decide who gets what gift?

This is the fun part!  We play a game commonly called a “Yankee Swap” around here.  (I have no idea how it got that name.)  You can find the rules here.  It’s the swapping and exchanging part of this gift-giving game that makes it so enjoyable – and it’s always interesting to see which gifts are the most popular and most often swapped.  There are other ways you could hand out gifts, of course.  But adding a game aspect adds to the excitement. 

What would I write in an invitation?

On top of the usual “what, where, when” here are some things you might include:

You are invited to a “New-to-You Gift Swap” – a gift exchange party without the stress of buying a gift!

As part of this evening of fun and giving, each person will give a gift, and go home with a different gift.  The only rule is – the gift must be something you already own.  Maybe it’s something you have, but never use.  Or something you love, but don’t need anymore. It doesn’t matter what the item is, as long as it is something that can be used by someone else.  The variety of gifts is half the fun!  Don’t forget to wrap it up!

Take it a step further

Are you loving the swap idea?  Here are a few ideas to take it a notch further:

  • Have a tacky swap party.  If laughs are more important than the gift, have everyone search their houses for the tackiest thing they can find and wrap that up!  This might be a great accompaniment to one of those “ugly sweater” parties!
  • With a really close group of friends you could go in the other direction and have everyone bring something they own that they really love.  This is the true spirit of giving, isn’t it?  Giving things that are important to us to those we love!
  • If you really want to make this an earth-friendly party, you could also encourage reusable wrapping for your exchange gifts.

Time to Party!

Does anyone else host these types of parties or plan to hold one this year?  Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

 I was inspired to write this post after “meeting” Amy from  Joy to the Earth.  Her plan for a more joy-filled, less commercial Christmas really resonated with me.  It reminds me of the story of the Grinch – where Christmas came to Whoville even without the presents, the decorations, the roast beast.  That’s the holiday I am celebrating this year – the one that makes us sing for joy no matter what is lying beneath the tree!  Happy party planning!

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A Costume Party

Last night Hubby and I attended a Settlers of Catan costume party and tournament.  (We’re geeks, I know, but proud of it!)  We really enjoy the game, and I like to dress up, so it was a perfect evening!  I have always wanted to own a medieval gown (and an elven cloak, but that’s a story for another day) and this was the perfect excuse to make one.

Hubby decided to be the “robber” from the game.  The robber is a grey playing piece  in the new version of the game and black in the old, so we compromised and put him in a grey tunic with a black cape.  I was lucky enough to find this fabric on sale for $1 a yard, so even with the cost of the pattern, this was one frugal costume! (and I think it turned out pretty well)

I decided I wanted to go as a settler of Catan, and so was in need of a medieval dress.  I found a really soft cotton/linen blend in the sale bin at the fabric store which turned out to be perfect.  I love this dress!  It was so comfortable to wear, although people did keep stepping on the train at the back.  I wonder how medieval women did it?  I know they didn’t wash their clothes very often, and you would think the bottom of that train would get pretty dirty pretty quickly.  For a night though, it was fun!

One of my favourite details is the laced-up back.  I am actually considering creating some of my other dresses this way.  It’s so much more fun than a zipper! 🙂   If you want to know more about how I made the costumes, you can check out this post

It was really fun to see some of the other costumes at the party.  There were some strong-looking knights, a few trees, many robbers (with so many thieves in the room it’s a wonder the trophy wasn’t stolen!) and even a sheaf of wheat!  The prize for the cutest costume definitely went to the newborn dressed up as a sheep.

It’s fun to be someone else for an evening.  If you could dress up as anyone, or own clothing from any time period, who, or what, would it be?

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The nights are getting cooler, the leaves are starting to turn, and my garden is starting to look a lot more brown than green.

It is time for the fall harvest.

After another two frosty evenings in a row, some plants in the garden are finished for good.

I went out in the garden and harvested all of our tomatoes.

Red – Northern Delight and a few Beefsteak, destined for salsa, bruschetta, and BLT sandwiches (where the “B” stands for Basil – yum!)  I already canned the bulk of them as salsa and stewed tomatoes. 

Green – not even enough to make green tomato mincemeat!  I might try to half (or quarter!) the recipe and at least make a small batch for winter desserts.

I also harvested all of the Mystery Keeper tomatoes, which will keep us in garden-fresh tomatoes for at least the first few months of winter.

The green and yellow beans are finished, but I did manage to have a snack of fresh green peas while I was poking around the garden.  This is my absolute favourite way to eat peas, in fact, they rarely make it into the house (there’s local eating for you!)

Our soldier beans are not quite dry yet (and with the wet season we have had, many have rotted away), but I did collect a small bag of the first of the season.  These will be made into baked beans (Hubby’s favourite!) throughout the winter, as well as substituted for other varieties of beans in burritos, nachos, soups and stews. 

And what would a garden harvest be without a zucchini or two?  We almost missed out on these with our cucumber beetle attack, but one plant survived and I have been able to harvest enough for fresh eating on pizza, in omelettes, and stuffed, and have frozen some of the bigger specimens, pre-grated, ready to keep us in muffins (and more muffins!) for the next few months.   I also discovered a wonderful recipe for zucchini waffles which I made yesterday and loved!  Kind of like a waffle version of zucchini bread.  I added orange juice along with the milk in mine for extra flavour. 

I pulled out the pepper plants which are no longer producing, and harvested jalapenos for salsa and jalapeno cheese sauce.  I like to cut them in half, seed them, and then freeze them for later.

The carrots, squash, lettuce, spinach, chard, and potatoes are still growing nicely.  The onions are curing on our deck, although I must admit I have already started cooking with some of them, I just couldn’t resist!

Most of the herbs are still flourishing, except for the basil which I pulled out by the roots yesterday and incorporated every leaf  into making pesto, which I also freeze for later, some in ice cube trays and some in small glass jars.  I of course saved a few plants to go with the delicious tomatoes all over my counter, but their season is almost done. 

I must admit I have a certain satisfaction in knowing that our freezer and store room are starting to fill up with the food that will take us through the winter.  Food that started as just a tiny seed in the ground only a few months ago.  Growing your own food is a wonderful thing! 

What are you harvesting from your garden?

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I love necklaces.  I could live without earrings, I usually forget to wear the rings I own, and I have yet to find a bracelet that sits nicely on my small wrists, but an outfit seems incomplete without a necklace.

And I own many of them.

For the longest time they were folded, rolled, and stacked several necklaces deep in one of four little jewellery boxes that I own.  It kept them out of sight, but often made it impossible to grab the right one in a hurry.  What I really needed was a hanging necklace organizer.

And so I made myself one.  Gathering inspiration from here, here and here, I headed to the thrift store and found a framed print that would work perfectly. 

I removed the glass and since the print was glued to sturdy cardboard, decided to reuse it as the backing for the organizer.

I covered the entire thing in Mod Podge and stuck down the fabric.

I then folded in the corners, using a little of the Mod Podge to make them stick, and then folded down the sides over the back, to keep the fabric in place.

 

After putting it back into the frame, I was ready to add hangers. 

To create the hangers, I hot-glued small plain buttons to the surface, and then covered them with larger, prettier, buttons from my stash.  (Due to the shallowness of the frame, I couldn’t use nails or push pins without having them poke too far through, but I think the buttons were a fun solution!)

Then I hung it on the wall and filled it with necklaces!  Isn’t it pretty?

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Garden Planning

This is the view outside my back door today.

Although it still looks a little wintery, it is  a huge change from the view only a week or so ago.

I take great encouragement from the fact that I can actually see the deck boards. 

Spring is coming.

Which means that garden planting is only a few months away, and seed starting is only a few weeks away.

It’s time to pull out the seed catalogues!

I must admit that this is one of my favourite parts about gardening, this winter dreaming when I get to imagine all of the wonderful things I will grow this year.  (and in my dreams there are no weeds, deer or blight!)

So, if you are a newbie gardener, or just curious, here is how we go about planning our garden.

1.  Find a good seed company.  You can buy standard vegetable seeds at many hardware stores, but with a seed company you are going to get to choose from a wider variety of stock, hopefully have heirloom and organic seed to choose from, and if you find a local seed company, you will find plants that will do well in your area.   The number of seed companies out there can sometimes be overwhelming, if you aren’t sure where to begin, ask a fellow gardener where they purchase their seeds.  Mapple farm is our number one choice, because they are local and only sell what they grow, so we know that the plants will do well in our weather and short growing season.     

2.  If you aren’t planning on growing fields of veggies, find someone to share seeds with.  You can only fit so many plants in a certain area, and although it can be tempting to plant all of the seeds in the packet, it truly is a recipe for disaster.  Which means that you often have lots of seeds leftover.  Last year we discovered the solution to this problem when we began seed sharing with some of our garden-growing family.  We each buy half of the seeds we will grow, and then divvy up the seeds between us.  It keeps costs down, lets us grow a greater variety of plants, and there are less seeds to try and keep for next year (and hope they still sprout.)

3.  Thumb your way through the seed catalogues and dream, dream, dream!  This is the point in the process when I decide I’m going to grow 5 varieties of tomatoes, 2 kinds of turnip, and an heirloom perennial onion.

4.  Come back to reality and determine how many plants you can grow in the space that you have.  Plants need room.  If they don’t have enough room they can crowd each other out, or become diseased (ask me how I know.)  On the other hand, you don’t need to stress out and do a sheet of calculations to determine what will fit.  Use the planting guidelines in the seed catalogues to figure out about how much room each plant will take, and then only order what you can reasonably fit in your garden.   This is the point in the process where I cut tomato varieties down to 3 and cut out the turnips altogether.  But I keep the onions, because you have to grow something fun and funky in your garden!

5.  Order your seed and then check the mailbox every day patiently await their arrival.

And while you wait you can imagine your summer garden, full of beautiful plants and tasty things to eat.

Have you started your garden plan?  What will you be growing this year?

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I love my freezer.  It is the storage centre for much of our garden produce.  It is the holding place for homemade chicken stock and a wide variety of soups and sauces which I like to make in bulk.  It is the place that my green tomato mincemeat and peach jam call home. 

It can also be a bit of a puzzle.

And I love puzzles, but when it comes to trying to decide by smell and frozen texture which jar is tomato sauce and which jar is tomato soup,  it is not one of my favourites.  (especially when I guess wrong….)

This could be solved, of course, if I labelled the jars before I stored them in the freezer.  But the labels I have around the house seem to stick, and not come off, even after repeated washings (which only adds to the puzzle when a jar that is definitely not chicken stock has a label on it which reads “chicken stock, 2 cups).   

I am sure someone makes beautiful freezer labels that are easily removed during washing, but I never think to look for them until it is too late, and the jars are sitting on the counter ready to go into the freezer. 

I know what you’re thinking – stop writing this blog post right now and go and get yourself some labels!  Which I may still do, but hubby has devised the perfect solution in the meantime:

Yep.  That’s a scrap piece of paper and an elastic, and it has changed my world.  Smart man, my hubby!  🙂

Does anyone else have this label problem?  How do you organize your freezer?

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I am truly blessed with wonderful family.  With my own family members living a few provinces away I feel lucky to have been welcomed into hubby’s family with open arms.  His parents, brother and sister-in-law are all wonderful people who I am happy to be related to.  When we get together we always have a great time.

This week-end my mother-in-law showed me how to make an evergreen wreath.  Growing up as a city girl I find I am still surprised to discover that people actually do these things I used to think only happened in the movies (like walk into a forest and cut down a Christmas tree with an axe, or visit the same forest to gather evergreen boughs for wreaths and garlands.) 

With snow softly falling outside we gathered at the dining room table with a big bucket of evergreen boughs. 

It smelled like Christmas already and we hadn’t even started yet!

We then cut the boughs into smaller “hands” which we piled in groups of 3 or 4. 

We then used green florists wire to attach the “hands” to the wire frame, alternating attaching them to the front and back.  (Maybe next year I will write a tutorial on this.  It was super fun and easy, if you have access to fresh greenery you really should give it a try!)

Ta da!

I have to admit I did have a few “oh dear” moments when my wreath seemed more like a wild square then a wreath, but with a little trimming I was quite happy with the result.

I tucked a little cedar in for variety. 

I usually just trim my wreaths with a simple bow and hang it on the door, but my mother-in-law had bags and bags of ribbons and flowers and pinecones that she had saved over the years.  It was too much fun to pass up! 

With the wreath now gracing our front door I feel like the holiday season has truly begun.   And with snow on the ground and more softly falling, it certainly does feel like Christmas is coming.

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