Monday, November 17, 2014

Holiday shopping tips!

I've already started on my holiday shopping. While I save the decorations for after Thanksgiving (thankyouverymuch) I do like to get a jump on my holiday gifts and crafts. Especially the crafts...towards the 25th I start to feel like one of Santa's elves in my workshop.

There's a local sample sale, that I will not disclose, that is THE BEST for Christmas shopping. The email goes out in early November and it really kicks off the holiday season for me. Standing in that garage shivering on a Saturday morning inspires me to start my shopping and then it snowballs from there. BOOM.

I generally don't do a lot of frantic shopping on Black Friday or Christmas Eve, even though I must confess that I kind of love being in the fray of panicked shoppers. I've been lucky because my family has streamlined Christmas. My family does a Secret Santa swap so where I used to buy 6 different gifts I am now only responsible for one. Financially this is a great thing. Buuuuuut lately I've been making Christmas goodie bags for my family because I LOVE BUYING PRESENTS.

My immediate family, you might recall, celebrates Chrismoose so that we can have a peaceful holiday time with Mr. G. The only problem with Chrismoose is that there are fewer shopping days! We have simplified by only getting 5 gifts for everyone. (Something you want. Something you need. Something to wear and something to read. You math majors may have realized that's only 4. We've also add, "Something else because Julie wants to buy you more presents." as a category.)  On top of that we do our Chrismoose Stocking Scavenger Hunt Every Year.

I get my friends little gifts and try to bake for the neighbors. At work we have a White Elephant Swap and I generally get something at the sample sale for that.

So what are my holiday shopping tips?

1. Go easy on yourself. Buy out of state family and friends gifts online and ship directly to them. Make sure to include a note saying who it is from. I never remember to do this.

2. Buy experiences rather than stuff! I like to buy gift certificates but I don't like to buy generic ones. I try to get things I know the recipient will like on Living Social or I try to buy from a restaurant, spa or outing near them. Print it off, pop it into a card and you are good to go. As Cameron Diaz says in Charlie's Angels, "Tickets? I LOVE TICKETS!"

3. Etsy. Just, yeah. Etsy. Guys, want to be a hero? Buy it all on Etsy.

4. Keep a pin board on Pinterest of reminders. I have a secret board where I store ideas. If you mention to me in May that you secretly love hot pepper jelly don't be surprised to get a jar of it for Christmas. I also pin books, clothes and doodads that I run into that I think might be good gifts. I recently gave my Sister in Law a Steve Zissou broach I pinned last January. (Thus following rules 1, 3 and 4.)

5. Use Ebates! I had forgotten all about my ebates account until recently and I am so glad that I remembered. You can get cash back on your online purchases if you just click through their website. Every once in a while they'll send you a check. Unlike some similar services Ebates has cash back on almost every website. Sometimes they have bonuses on certain purchases. Sometimes they even have coupons for what you are buying. I recently made a purchase from the Starbucks store and scored 15% off, free shipping and cash back. We made $14 on an purchase and we've even started buying stuff online at our local Home Depot to get the cash back. Just choose the free ship to store option and you can swing into customer service and get what you need. If you're already shopping online you should be using ebates.

6. Buy used or better yet, regift!! I keep a stock pile of things that are in perfect condition for emergency gifts. I shop super clearances, thrift stores, yard sales and hoard things that people give me. Don't go overboard here or you'll defeat the purpose. I'm still sad I missed scooping up the holographic Jesus painting I saw at a recent yard sale. It would have been an amazing white elephant gift.

7. Food/Coffee/Chore gifts can make life easier. Want to get me a gift I'll love and use? Get me a Starbucks gift card. Or better yet take me to Starbucks and buy me a drink! OR even better just give me the free one that comes with your Buy One Get One deal. I'll love you forever.

Don't give people those, "Good for One Leaf Raking" cards that some blogs suggest. Your loved one is too polite to ever cash them. Instead just set up a thing and do it. Change the oil, rake the leaves, paint a room. If you're a good listener you'll know what needs to be done. As the Sweet Potato Queens say, the six little words that everyone wants to hear are, "Oh no! Let ME do that."

8. I used to love wrapping presents. I still do if I have time to do a good job. But if I don' gift bags forever. Buy the most generic gift bags you can, I prefer the brown paper ones, jazz em up with all the ribbon you've been stockpiling and ta da! You are d-u-n done with your wrapping. I've decided that wrapping paper is a literal rip off AND it makes so much waste. It's not very green. As a nod to greenness instead of wrapping we recycle gift bags until they are unusable. (Though I've been known to staple a gift bag for B or G.) I've even sewn cloth bags for use every year. The boys have a bad habit of writing the recipients names REALLY HUGE on a gift bag. That could ruin it forever...or you can just make sure to use it for that person again the next year. I was worried that shifting to reusable bags would make Christmas less fun...who doesn't love tearing into a gift like a grizzly....but I am happy to report that opening presents is still great even without the giant trashbag of paper at the end.

9. If someone is hard to shop for and/or a jerk don't get them a gift. Santa wouldn't do it and neither should you. If you MUST get them a gift don't stress yourself out about it.

10. Don't expect anything and practice gratitude. Tis better to give than receive. Gift giving is not an investment. A few years ago we all got wrapped up in the wrong things and all got each other $25 gift cards to different stores. No. NO. That's not fun. We are not running errands for each other here. This is not, "Buy me the red sweatpants at Sears. Size medium," time. Try to remember that it's the thought that counts and if you can't muster any good thoughts read over #9 again!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


This photo is titled: Waiting

I posted a shmancy black and white version on Instagram.

You are probably waiting for an update. Waiting to see photos of the bathroom and laundry room.

The bathroom is 99% done. All it needs is one outlet switched and we're in business. It looks a LOT better, just in time for holiday party season. The downstairs bathroom? Looks worse...if that is even possible. Actually I haven't cracked the door open on it in a few weeks so I am just assuming. Perhaps the elves have popped in and it is lovely now. Why are the elves cobblers? I need HGTV elves!

The laundry room is....a struggle. I have a vision and that vision is not coming to fruition. Our new pantry is an F-. We decided to get a chest freezer which derailed the counter plan. It's a mess. I can even, but I won't.

Soon I hope you'll get to see all of the fun work we've been doing but until'll have to keep waiting.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I'm not good at menu posting! Here's what we've eaten lately:

Greek salad and baked potatoes
Baked salmon with new potatoes, zucchini, squash and onions.
Grilled dry rubbed chicken with butternut squash and roasted brussels sprouts.
Turkey sausage and vegetable soup with more Greek salad for lunches.

This week:
Vegan white bean soup with cornbread.
No filler salmon patties with roasted corn and steamed broccoli.
Gluten free spaghetti with clam sauce
Dijion and rosemary beef stew- crockpot

These two weeks are designed around using some stuff from my dying garden. I've got carrots, jalapenos and green tomatoes. My herbs are looking very fluffy and I'd like to give them a good hair cut before we get a frost. I don't like eating mammals but we're trying to give Gavin some crockpot recipes for college so he will be cooking that!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Maple Hill Lodge- a review

Recently I had the pleasure of taking a school group that I sponsor to camp at Maple Hill Lodge in Umstead Park in Raleigh, NC.

They only rent the facility to groups so it was my first chance to check it out and I was very excited. Finally a camping trip that couldn't be ruined by the weather! The place is booked pretty solid on the weekends during prime camping season so I was also really happy that we were camping on a Wednesday.

It rained torrentially all morning but then the sun started peeking out right as we all arrived.

The lodge itself is immaculate despite how old it is. The park has campers clean the space to perfection after every visit and then maintains the site itself. It's a big open room with screened windows and a fireplace so it's even good for winter camping. While it's not the same as wilderness tent camping it was still a really fun time. The bathrooms had flush toilets and running water and were located a short distance from the cabin for middle of the night stumbling convenience.

The outside fire pit was huge and our group enjoyed making sure the fire kept going all night. (Some of them did not sleep at all.) The inside fire warmed the space well even though overnight temps got to be in the low 50s. Our weather was perfect and the leaves around the campsite were gorgeous.

At $38 a night this place is a bargain for any sized group.

The only drawback to staying here is the proximity to the airport. All night long the peaceful sounds of leaves rustling, fire crackling and crickets chirping would be interrupted by the godawful racket of an airplane flying low over head. Except for a few hours in the middle of the night you don't get much peace and quiet. Then at about's like a jet a minute taking off. Not exactly a natural paradise.

If you have a sense of humor or if you sleep really hard Maple Hill Lodge is still a great place to visit with your group if you want a taste of the outdoors without any stress.

Be Our Guest

I told my friend Erin that we couldn't have a party because we didn't have a bathroom. She immediately worried that we were using a bucket (I'm sad that this seemed like a possibility) but we were just doing what we do best...making do with an ugly situation.

The reality is that I may have been a little hasty when decided to demo the guest bath on fall break....but it was terrible before. We took out the vanity, and most of the wall with it, so it's not like it was ready to receive party guests. Unless it was a very spooky Halloween party.

So I did what any normal person would do....and made it worse.

Tile demo was surprisingly simple. I used my rock hammer and made sure to take a Safety Selfie.

That's me trying to look mean and tough. Then I harnessed all of my limited rage and destroyed tile until my arm fell off. The difficult part was scooping in into a bucket to haul it out to the dumpster.

And here is how it looks now.

Ah. Much better. 

 After we did this we were like, "Wait! We should do the upstairs bathroom at the same time." It's a bad idea at the moment but it is an easier way to get ONE bathroom looking guest ready. The upstairs bathroom is MUCH closer to being functional. B already put in the new vanity and burned the moldy old one. Now we just need to paint and replace a couple of things.


I made some pillows out of tea towels that I bought for $1.

I think they turned out pretty well and so does Pumpkin.