Nov 252012
 

A Secret Santa gift circle is a great way to stay in-budget for the holidays.

For anyone who’s not familiar, a gift circle (often called a Secret Santa) is where everyone involved writes their names on slips of paper, and then each person draws a name randomly and buys a present only for that person.  So, each person in the circle gets one present.  Because you’re only spending money on one present, you can afford to spend a little more than usual on it.  It’s helpful to set a maximum or target spending amount so that people gives gifts that are roughly equal in value- depending on the culture and spending power of the group, a max limit of anywhere from $5 to $100 could be appropriate.

My husband’s family used to do the traditional gift-giving scenario for Christmas: everyone bought gifts for everyone.  It was fun to give and get lots of presents, but it was also expensive! One year someone broached the idea of doing a Secret Santa gift circle instead, where we would each write our name on a piece of paper, put the names into a hat, and then draw names to determine who would buy for who.  We set the limit per gift at $40.  Originally we drew names at Thanksgiving, though for shopping convenience we’ve now moved the name-picking date closer to Labor Day.    Holiday shopping is so much less stressful now- we have fewer people to shop for, and a set spending limit for the gift circle (it’s now $50 per gift).  It’s super fun to show up at our family gathering with our secret gifts, waiting to surprise our gift recipient.

You can suggest a gift circle in lieu of gift exchanges at your work place, for each side of your family, and for groups of friends.

Are you a part of any gift circles for the holidays?  If not, do you plan to start one this year?

Oct 162012
 


[Expired] Just in time for those school bake sales and holiday potlucks, Circle of Friends Cookbook 25 Brownie & Bar Recipes is free right now on Amazon.  I’ve downloaded other Gooseberry Patch Circle of Friends cookbooks and they were quite good.  This one is an Amazon Kindle ebook, but even if you don’t own a Kindle you can still enjoy it by downloading it for free to your computer (PC or Mac), iPhone, or iPad. The instructions for doing so are included under the “Buy Now With 1 Click” button. PLEASE BE AWARE that the price is currently $0.00 but that could change at any time, so always check the price before clicking Buy Now.

Hurry, these promotions don’t last long.  Let me know what you thought of this book!

Oct 152012
 


[Expired] Store This! Simple Home Storage Systems & House Organization Solutions by Colette Leigh is free right now on Amazon.  It’s an Amazon Kindle ebook, but even if you don’t own a Kindle you can still enjoy it by downloading it for free to your computer (PC or Mac), iPhone, or iPad. The instructions for doing so are included under the “Buy Now With 1 Click” button. PLEASE BE AWARE that the price is currently $0.00 but that could change at any time, so always check the price before clicking Buy Now.

Hurry, these promotions don’t last long.  Let me know what you thought of this book!

Oct 122012
 

[Expired] Cardstore is offering up yet another free greeting card!  The promo code is CCM2336.  If you have the card shipped to yourself then shipping is free, too.  Cardstore has adorable personalized photo cards like the one above, but if you’re like me and too lazy to actually sift through your photos and find one to use, then you can pick from their large selection of standard greeting cards that do not require a photo.  If I don’t have a particular occasion coming up that I need a card for then I just order a standard birthday card and save it for when the need arises.

Tip: You do not need enter any credit card information- just enter the promo code when asked and you’ll be good to go.

I found this offer on Freebie Shark, a reputable freebie listing site.

Oct 122012
 

Airborne is offering free sample packs- just click here to “Like” the product on Facebook, then fill out the short survey.  Hurry, these offers expire quickly!

Daily Citron Time Test: It took me 59 seconds to “Like” their Facebook page, authorize the app to access my profile (but I modified the settings so that “Only Me” can see posts it makes on my behalf) and fill out the short survey.

I found this offer on Freebie Shark, a reputable freebie listing site.

Oct 072012
 

salt and pepper shaker

Good Enough Can Be Good Enough

Menu planning, by it’s very nature, formalizes the meal planning process.  Rather than meals being thrown together last minute in a haphazard way, they are pondered, compared to each other, chosen, and written down days in advance.   Because you have to go through this process for each meal, it is easy to assume that the meal, in order to deserve that amount of thought and planning, must be a really good one.  Without meal planning, hot dogs chosen last-minute because you didn’t know what else to make for dinner might seem perfectly acceptable to you, but when you’re doing that fancy thing called meal planning, suddenly hot dogs might seem undeserving- shouldn’t you be making Polish sausage paninis from Martha Stewart magazine?  Should you be trying that new recipe for roast chicken with Dijon mustard sauce?

Well, my answer is, “No!” Stick with the same food you usually cook.  Let go of the urge to make your planned meals fancier, or more sophisticated, or more inventive than they need to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for trying new recipes, and I love making gourmet food.  But realistically, how many of us have the time and energy to be making fancy new dishes every week?  If you’re trying to make your meal plan too good, you might end up getting frustrated that you can’t live up to your high expectations, and give up the meal planning process altogether.   And that would be a shame, because the benefits to meal planning are huge (so huge, in fact, let’s review them for a sec):

Benefits of Meal Planning

  1. Less late afternoon stress because you’ll know in advance what’s for dinner
  2. Save time because you’ll only need to take one trip to the grocery store at the beginning of the week, instead of heading to the store mid-week for last minute ingredient runs.
  3. Save money because you’ll have a meal planned for each breakfast, lunch and dinner, which means you won’t need to do any last minute restaurant/take-out food (unless you want to and you can actually afford it)
  4. Save money because you can see what’s on sale at the grocery store and plan your meals around that

Try to make this meal planning process easy on yourself, so that you stick with in.  Resist the temptation to make  your meal plan perfect.  Don’t worry about whether you’ve planned a different breakfast each morning, whether your lunches are scrumptious versus just good, and whether  your dinner choices are good enough to be featured in a magazine.  In fact, as long as you’re serving well-rounded meals (check out the U.S.D.A.’s MyPlate feature, which illustrates the elements of a healthy meal) go ahead and plan some very easy, very simple dinners, just to cut yourself some slack.  For instance, one of my easiest dinners is fish sticks, because you just have to preheat the oven and throw them in.  That’s why I serve them every other week- they’re easy, simple, and yummy, too.  They’re not gourmet, not scrumptious, not fancy, but they’re good enough.

Weekly Meal Plan for the Week of October 8th

Dinner Plan

Monday: Fish sticks (from Costco), butternut squash, and a green salad.
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! I’ll fill white corn tortillas with seasoned ground turkey, refried beans, shredded lettuce, grated cheese, and cilantro.
Wednesday: Spaghetti squash, with pasta sauce and Italian sausage.  Served with a green salad and pickled beets on the side.
Thursday: Burritos, using the same filling as Taco Tuesday.
Friday: Pizza Night, with salad on the side. Made with this easy homemade dough recipe.
Saturday: Burger Night.  I try to keep the freezer stocked with various patties: beef, chicken, veggie, salmon.  This week I’ll probably use the beef patties, and serve the burgers with roasted acorn squash and a green salad.
Sunday: International Night. I’ll make Chicken Mole again, from the Joy of Cooking recipe, and serve it with white rice and leftover acorn squash from Saturday.

Breakfasts

  • Pumpkin Flax Granola with yogurt or milk
  • Apple Cinnamon Chex with milk
  • Sunday only: Homemade cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs

We eat fruit with every breakfast- this week honeydew melon and navel oranges

Lunches

  • Homemade frozen burritos
  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
  • Cheese sandwiches
  • Quesadillas

We also eat fruit with every lunch- the same fruit options as for breakfast, plus celery sticks

What’s YOUR menu plan this week?