Saturday, November 26, 2011

From Assembly Line to One Of A Kind

Your personal touch can make anything a one of a kind.  

My homemade flower arrangement

A short Story:
My mom was in the hospital recently (if you're wondering where I've been lately).  She had emergency surgery after a sudden onset of symptoms.  I'm happy to report all is well.  The point I'm getting at is that my dad wanted to send her some flowers.  But instead of spending big bucks, I purchased a bundle of flowers wrapped in plastic ($10-15) and arranged them myself in a spare vase.

For an eye popping kick, I added delicate wood limbs from a spindly little tree hiding in the corner of my parent's yard.

Yep, this is the pitiful it almost blends into the fence.  But what a difference when added to a flower arrangement don't ya think?

I also purchased some of those Christmas scented pine cones and hid several in the arrangement.  Let's just say my mom's hospital room smelled quite delicious:)

One of a Kind Gift Idea:

With the Christmas season upon us, most stores carry an array of gift baskets ranging from candy & beverages to bath soaps & lotions. 

It is super easy make them beautiful and unique.  Simply add extra items (homemade, home cooked or store bought) and then re-wrap in cellophane with a beautiful ribbon, flowers, greenery, etc.  Your imagination is your only limit. 

photo source
Some Ideas: using gifts boxes available at the local retailer. 
  • Take them out of those hideous boxes.  People toss  beautiful baskets all the time (tag sale/garage sale). 
  • Hot Sauce: arrange in a Condiment Caddy or basket; provide a roast recipe, or beter yet, bake the roast!
  • Hot Chocolate: add personalized photo mugs (look for free online offers); replace cocoa with your own gourmet blend.
  • Smores: add more chocolate, include smore party invitation, swap out mugs from hot chocolate box.
  • Snowman/Penguin: attach winter gloves or woolly hat 
Useful Tips:
  • you don't have to use everything in a store-bought gift basket.  Add and take away until you get a perfect combination and a one of a kind piece.
  • If you have a small item that needs to be spruced up, add it to a gift basket. Instead of giving makeup in a plain box, I bought a gift basket that looked like a Christmas sleigh, filled it with makeup and candy and wrapped it in cellophane with a cute bow.
  • take advantage of black friday & after Christmas sales to stock up on clearance items to re-package for birthday, hostess, or housewarming gifts.
Be on the lookout for a future post where I will use this same strategy to offer easy ideas on how to transform a pre-packaged dinner into a "practically homemade" meal that is sure to please.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seminary Attendance Sheet (CSTAR Friendly)

I searched high and low for a seminary attendance roll sheet that would work well for us LDS seminary teachers.  I found some cute ones but needed something that would make it less of a chore come time to enter attendance into CSTAR.  Thus, here is my creation:

Why all the different colors?  It's actually not for looks at all...some of my students had problems keeping to their own attendance line which made for a huge mess (shading every other line 1 color did not help).  My answer is to assign students their own uniquely colored line.

You will find places to quickly add up total scripture reads, absents(A) and tardies (T).

If you list students in alphabetical order, it will be a breeze to transfer into CSTAR.

Finally, it's an Excel spreadsheet so you can change it to meet your needs.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Ten Commandments (Team Activity)

Here's a fun family activity.  I actually did it this morning in seminary and proved to be a huge success so I thought I'd pass it on.

The goal is to remember the 10 commandments in order (fairly quickly) and is based off an article I read here.

So here it is:

  1. Divide into 2-3 teams providing each with a sheet of paper and pen. 
  2. Have teams number their paper from 1 to 10 three times (for three sets of questions). 
  3. Tell them this is a race and the fastest team will get a prize (I used seminary bucks which will be used at the end of the year for an auction but pieces of candy will work nicely too)
  4. You will ask each question separately meaning the fastest group for each question gets a prize.  You can swap the first two questions for whatever you'd like (i.e. sports teams, car models, universities, book names)
    • Question 1: Name 10 movie stars (living or dead)
    • Question 2: Name 10 music groups, bands, or musicians
    • Question 3: Name the 10 commandments (they don't even have to be in order or verbatim)
Results: If your class is like mine, no one will get all 10 commandments correct which is a point in and of itself (does it say something about us as Christians or society as a whole that we can easily answer the other questions but not the 10 commandments...only 10!?). 

Next, I console them with the fact that most folks can't even guess half correctly.  I also offer other interesting and down right hilarious poll results from the above article (i.e. some people think the right to bear arms is one of the 10:))

Give everyone a copy of this handout
Print Instructions: click link above --
press download button at bottom of screen--
click "open" as PDF doc---
PDF doc will open in a new window--

 Recite the mnemonics aloud together several times to get it into the brain.  You may want to use these use these flashcards.

Next, go over the explanation of  each mnemonic (which is written to the side of each) as well as its accompanying commandment.

Now have people pair up and practice or teach each other (it's easier to remember it if you teach it).  Suggest that they should learn the mnemonic phrase first before learning the accompanying commandment (encourage it by offering candy/prizes to those who can recite all 10...most of my class learned them quickly).

Grand Prize: Offer a significant prize (like a large bag of candy) to the first person who can recite all ten commandments verbatim and in order.

Praise and Kudos:  Now you are one of a very small minority who literally has God's law written on your heart.

Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as
the apple of thine eye.  Bind them upon thy fingers,
write them upon the table of thine heart.
                                                                                                   Proverbs 7:2-3

Friday, November 4, 2011

Who Else Wants Cheap Groceries?

You DO NOT have to clip coupons to get cheap groceries.  Having said that, I extreme coupon (time permitting) and will save an average of 70%...but it takes at least 10 hrs/week of preparation.  Even if you don't have the time or gumption to coupon, you can still save up to 50% with minimal planning and without couponing. And let's face it, costs are rising so every bit helps.

Don't underestimate the value of planning:

The more you are willing to pre-plan the more you will save.  I like to think that my savings are directly proportional to the time spent planning beforehand. 

Where to begin:

1.  Know what's on sale and where the best deals are.    Sale Ads come in the mail or in your newspaper and are the key to finding the best deals.  Quite often, several stores will have the same exact item on sale but their prices are drastically different.
    This week's Avocado Sales ~ $0.44 difference!
2.  Know the Weekly Sale Cycle: The old saying "a day late and a dollar short" applies.  It does you no good to shop a sale that ended yesterday.  In my area, grocery store ads run from Wednesday to Tuesday.  Most other national retail store ads run from Sunday to Saturday (Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Office supply, Best Buy, etc). 

3.  Shop from a list.  This will keep you from making spontaneous purchases which add up quickly.  In my 'pre-savvy' shopping days, I'd use this strategy when money was tight (and also keep a running tally while shopping so I wouldn't go over my budget).  I was amazed at how much money I saved.  Conscientious shopping pays huge dividends!

Now it's time to shop---there are 3 ways to do it:
  1. Go to multiple stores to get the best deal at each. This will yield the highest savings.
  2. Choose the one store that has the best deals.  You won't save as much but every little bit helps, right?
  3. Shop at one store that offers price matching (i.e. Wal-mart).  Enjoy the savings of all the stores without having to drive to them all.  The one hitch? It takes a little more time because the cashier must manually change the price but, hey, rushing doesn't lend itself to savings anyways. Furthermore, most cashiers are quite competent at using the register and can price match fairly quickly.  Lastly, it's worth the savings to take a little extra time.

Other Tips:
  • It's worth saying again...Planning = Savings
  • Plan your meals by what's on sale
  • Stock up when prices are low.  Most items will reach their rock-bottom price every 12 weeks.  Buy as much as you can afford to get you through till the next sale cycle (12 weeks) or, for perishable goods, as long as they will last (if it rots before you can use it, you've lost the savings).  Buy on price rather than brand when possible.  I agree that some name brands are worth holding out for (and yes, they go on sale too), but brand snobbery as a rule will yield less savings overall.

 Finally, You can save on everything you consume.  I've acquired all my copy paper FREE for 2 years running.  Last month I bought  10,000 sheets of copy paper   for $, that's not a typo; I mean 2 pennies!

6 reams left over from 2 yrs ago                           10,000 sheets

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Meat & Potato Pie

Not only is this quick and easy ~ it's pretty too! 
(your family may think you spent hours)

They say nothing spells love like a home cooked meal.  I say, presentation exudes love.  I basically took meat and a potato and arranged or decorated them to please the eye.  

Yea, I could have nuked a potato and slapped meat on the plate.  It would have tasted the same.  Yet I like to think my extra effort says "hey family; I love you; come sit, relax, and enjoy this beautiful meal I made especially for you".

  • 4 med-large pork chops (or meat of choice, approx 1 lb)
  • 3 med potatoes
  • (optional ) 1/2 lb. vegetables of choice i.e. sliced mushrooms, onions
  • (optional) 1 cup or can of cooked brown gravy
  • olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

Useful effecient kitchen tools
make all the difference!

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sear meat in a pan on high heat and then cube (you do not need to cook meat through, it will finish in the oven)
  3. Thinly slice potatoes into rounds (I use food slicer for nice even slices)
  4. Mix gravy, meat and vegetable in a bowl then pour into your baking dish (I used an 11" round baking stone).  Top the dish with potato slices laying in a concentric circle and overlapping each slice by about 2/3).
  5. Brush top of potato with olive oil.  Then spice with salt, pepper, and garlic to taste.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown.
  7. Serve and enjoy!
Alternative Prep Options:
  • you don't have to cook it in gravy, instead you can spoon gravy over your dish at the table (this is what I do because I don't eat gravy). 
  • You may also leave veggies out of the dish completely and serve on the side; I've done both and it works great either way.  This recipe is super easy to work with and very forgiving.
veg & gravy served separetely

Side Veggie options:
  • Whole Kernel Corn (I like frozen) cooked in a skillet with butter, seasoning salt and garlic until slightly caramelized
  • Canned Green Beans with spaghetti sauce poured over the top (nuked)