Savvy Search Our Blog

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Advent Workshop—The Big Plan

This is the plan I have used for years. It is a casual evening. I provide a soup bar buffet. Guests mingle, eat, and craft.

Each craft station has a sign with step-by-step instructions and a finished sample. They are all simple, easy, do-it-yourself crafts. Each year I vary the crafts to keep things fresh. I also try to incorporate one service project.

Some of the children get together to practice a short skit. They read their lines from index cards. It is not fancy. Then we sing carols and have a wreath lighting demonstration.

I hang out in the wreath section to help people make wreaths. My kids make crafts and play with their friends. My husband hovers near the food.

Schedule of Events:
5:30 Arrival of Guests
5:40 Welcome, Prayer, and Explanation of Activities
5:45 Craft Centers and Buffet Open
6:45 Children’s Skit and Carols
7:00 Wreath Lighting Demonstration
7:15 Closing Remarks
7:30 Cleanup

Craft Centers:
Wreath Making
Jesse Tree Ornaments
Prayer Chains
Christmas Cards for Meals on Wheels
Christmas Story Bracelets

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Planning for a Christ-centered Christmas

Everyone's focus has shifted from Halloween to Thanksgiving (My second favorite holiday of the year).  I, however, am knee-deep in planning for Christmas (Stay with me.  I have a great reason).  November 28th is the first Sunday in Advent.  It is a special day in our house.  Each year we celebrate by hosting an Advent wreath making workshop.  This is a fun event that really emphasizes the heart of Christmas—Christ.  It helps keep us centered.  We use our wreaths throughout the season to countdown the coming of Christ, not Santa.  If you are not planning to host or attend a workshop, you may still enjoy this tradition at home with your family.

The Advent wreath has become a popular way to count down the days of Advent.  Many people don’t know that we have Martin Luther to thank.  He recommended its use as a way to educate children of his day. He certainly didn’t invent the wreath itself, because that goes back to ancient Roman times, and probably even earlier. People used wreaths as an Advent decoration long before Luther, but Luther used the wreath as a Christian-education device and thus popularized it. The Advent wreath in its present form started in Germany as a Lutheran family custom. Since Advent wreaths were originally used in the home, most of the ones you find for sale are small. They didn’t become popular in churches until the middle of the twentieth century. Now they are nearly universal. (You didn’t know you were going to get a history lesson today, did you?)
An Advent wreath is made from greens to symbolize continuous life and contains four candles— three purple and one rose. Often a fifth candle (white) is added to the center of the wreath for lighting on Christmas Eve, in celebration of the birth of Jesus.

First Candle Color: Purple Theme: Hope First Sunday in Advent
Second Candle Color: Purple Theme: Love Second Sunday in Advent
Third Candle Color: Purple or pink Theme: Joy Third Sunday in Advent
Fourth Candle Color: Purple Theme: Peace Fourth Sunday in Advent
Optional Center Candle Color: White Theme: Christmas Christmas Day

How to Make a Fresh Advent Wreath

You will need:
  • 4 taper candles (1 pink and 3 violet) 
  • 1 white pillar candle
  • Wreath frame with 4 candle holders
  • Florist wire and wire cutters (Available at the Dollar Store for $1-score!)
  • Clippers (for the tree boughs)
  • Fresh boughs (pine, fir, cedar, spruce, boxwood, and holly---anything available in your region during the holiday season). This is a great time to prepare the bushes in your yard for Christmas light decorating. 
Step 1:
With the clippers, snip the boughs into 6-10 inch fronds.  Group an assortment of sizes or tree varieties into small bunches of 4-6 fronds.  Wire the cut ends of the bunch with florist wire.  Repeat. 

Step 2:
Affix one end of the florist wire to the wire wreath frame.  Take one bunch and affix the bunch to the frame. 

Step 3:
Add the next bunch of greenery in the same direction as the first and connect it with the same wire. Repeat this process until all of the bunches have been added to your wreath, save a few.  Take a step back from your creation, then fill in any gaps on the wreath with the extra bunches.

As you get to the “end” of the wreath, you may need to pull up your first bunch and tuck the final bunch under it for a seamless look. 

Add additional holly berries or pinecones for decoration.

Step 4:
Place the wreath flat on the table where you’d like it displayed.  Insert the four taper candles into the holders.  Place the white pillar candle in the center of the ring. 

Note: Lit candles and fresh wreaths could be a fire hazard if not treated properly.  Remember to keep the wreath moist so it stays fresh.  And never leave the candles unattended.  Replace them before they burn to the level of the wreath.  
There are many available devotional booklets to use daily with the Advent wreath.  One good online booklet may be found here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My sons' birthday treats

My youngest turned 5 yesterday.  He has over 20 kids in his class, so I told him he had to limit his party to only 5 friends.  I then explained that we would take cupcakes to his class for everyone to enjoy.  He picked Toy Story 3 as his theme.  Here are the cupcakes we made (Stay tuned to the blog; this weekend we are transforming our house in Pizza Planet):

 The claaaaaaw!
(I got the cupcake idea from Disney's site)

My oldest son had his 7th birthday party this past weekend.  My 7 year wanted a race car themed party (at the bowling alley).  We took tire cupcakes (see post below) to his class, and then I made a race car cake for his party!

 I came up with this from scratch...literally.  Here is what the first cake looked like.  But here is a Savvy Mess to Savvy Success:  I used the scrap cake to make the wheels!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall = birthdays, birthdays and more birthdays...

In my family, and my extended family, fall equals the beginning of birthday madness.  My kids both have fall birthdays.  Today I spent the morning baking cupcakes for my son's classroom.  The theme he picked for this year's birthday is "race cars."  I know exactly what cake I'm making for the party (stay tuned, the party is still a couple weeks away) but was drawing a blank on how to incorporated cupcakes into the theme...because lets face it ladies, cupcakes are much easier to bake, decorate and transport to  school.  My VERY creative friend helped me come up with the below idea.  I'm giving her a HUGE shout out ---AIMEE--because not only were these her idea but she lives in China (and still could help) and is not a mom!  But, I am granting her honorary mom status, if not just for this post!  Thanks Aimee...YOU ROCK!  I hope my execution is at least partly in-line with your vision!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's almost that time of year...

...when the kids are hopped up on candy and are strolling the neighborhoods for more candy...HALLOWEEN!  It's now time to plan your Halloween party.  We will help you plan carefully so you don't turn into a monster. 

Here are some things to consider in the planning stages...

Consider the ages of the kids--one child's thrilling haunted house is another's chilling nightmare. If you will be hosting a mix of ages, be sure to set up the scariest events out of sight of the main party. A mad scientist's lab, for example, can be set up in a spare room so that younger kids can pass on the pleasure of watching others touch "brains" (cold spaghetti).

Plan more events than you think you need (and plan for bad weather, too). In addition to major games such as Zombie Tag and Slime Pit, prepare easy backups: bobbing for apples, painting glow-in-the-dark murals, or marching in a costume parade.

If your party is in lieu of trick-or-treating, you can be more liberal with the sweets, but you still want to get something in your guests' stomachs besides candy. pizza mummies, sandwiches and tomato soup--all easy and irresistible--are standouts.

Don't go overboard--mood lighting, creepy music and a few well-placed, homemade decorations (clothespin bats, spiders and webs) will amply set the scene. Pass on anything with a flame, and keep in mind that kids are clumsy in their costumes--anything fragile or sharp should be well out of the way.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A hunting we will go!

It is time to start packing if you are planning to attend this year’s World’s Longest Yard Sale. It now extends from Hudson, Michigan to Gadsden, Alabama. It is August 5th - 8th.  This is a party decorator’s Mecca. See One man’s junk is a party decorator’s treasure for additional information. 

This trip is along back country roads. This means no public rest stops or fast food places. There are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Bathrooms: Unless you adapt well to port-a-potties, keep the drinking to a minimum (Especially caffeinated beverages—sorry Shelley I promise you will survive without your Coke Zero). Fire stations and churches are great places to find clean bathrooms. Make sure to seek out a bathroom before leaving each small town. You never know how far it is to the next one. 

Tell me, again, why I’m doing this with a potty training 2 year old? Oh well, at least he’s a boy and peeing on a tree is still an option. With my luck he will come home and pee on my furniture like the dog. 

I am having a flash back to the year my then nine year old got out of the car to pee on a tree in front of people, leaving the car door open. The three year old got out after him and started playing with the merchandise. I was blissfully unaware until a particularly uppity woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me. Are those your children?” For a brief second I considered saying, “No” and walking away. Instead I said “Pull your pants up and get back in that car!”—a phrase I never thought I would have to say.

2. Life in the Slow Lane: Traffic moves VERY slowly, 10 mph through small towns. You won’t be able to get anywhere in a hurry. Slow down and enjoy the scenery. It is also a great time to meet some interesting people.

3. Food: There are very few fast food places. The local diners will have a long wait to get seated. Pack a cooler of sandwiches and munchies. When you happen upon a great food vender selling funnel cakes or frozen bananas, enjoy the treat. You will walk/sweat off any extra calories. Make sure to hydrate extra well when you stop for the evening, even if you are not thirsty.

4. Cell phones: Cell reception is very spotty. Keep that in mind. If you need to check in at home, make your calls before leaving the town center.

5. GPS: Satellite reception is also spotty. Do not rely on your GPS as your only navigator. Bring a map. You may download one here.

6. More Tips: Make sure to check out our Savvy Tips page for much more advice, including a packing checklist.

I am so excited. I LOVE this trip and look forward to it all year, cuz that’s how I roll. Happy hunting!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back to School Parties

BTo all of our readers, HELLO!  I am so sorry for the lack of posts, but I want to share with you why.  We all are swamped with summer camps, vacations, and now getting ready for school to start.  I have to share with you why there was such a huge hiatus...

My family just spent 10 days in the fabulous Egypt!  We had such a great time!  The history in Egypt is amazing.  To think that these structures were built over 4,000 years ago is so hard to wrap your head around.  While DH and I listened intently to the guide, ours boys drew in the sand and asked every 5 minutes "when do we get to ride the camels?"  I'm hoping one day soon that it will sink in where they were and what they actually got to witness, but don't worry...I'm not holding my breath LOL.  I'm sure it will always be the trip where they rode camels and saw real mummies!

Well, now that we are back to the normal grind of swimming pools, play dates, back-to-school shopping (Jo, did you get your penny paper?) and getting ready for school to start, I'm here to see how you are doing!

The end of July/beginning of August (depending on when your school starts) is a mixed blessing for most school children. The carefree days of summer are coming to end, but the thought of a new school year is exciting.

Make the end of summer vacation more fun for your child with a back-to-school celebration.

Why have a back-to-school party?
There are many reasons!  If your summer is anything like ours, our summer vacations overlap with our friends.  For example, during our 10 day trip to Egypt, our best friends left for their vacation.  Now we are back, and they are gone for another week.  Having a back-to-school party allows for all of us to get together and exchange vacation stories (i.e.  "Joey was spit on by a camel.  How was your time on the beach?").  It also helps the kids get in the mind set of school, while reconnecting with friends they may not have seen much over the summer.  In our case, we are switching schools this year.  This was a pure academic decision, so some of my boys' friends are still at the old school.  This way, they can also connect with friends that they won't see on the first day of school!

Today we will talk about invitation ideas:

Here are some creative ideas:
  • Report card style
    Make a invitation that resembles an old report card. Use any previous school report cards as a reference or create your own design. Fill in school subject with party information, replacing the adjacent grades if necessary. These party invitation ideas should look like a report card with slight modifications when finished.
  • Mini chalkboard. Get mini chalkboards and chalk as invitations.  On the edge of the board, write “Back To School Party” with a permanent marker.  Type up party details on a piece of paper and insert it in with the chalkboard.  With chalk, write “You’re Invited!” in the center of the board.
  • Homework assignment style (your first assignment of the school year is to come to this party and have a great time)
  • large red apple, yellow school bus, or #2 pencil cutouts
  • buy inexpensive notebooks or note pads and write invitation on cover or front page
  • tape or tie a fun pencil to invitation 
Stay tuned for more ideas!  Enjoy the rest of your summer and keep us updated on any great back-to-school sales you come across!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer time, and the livin' is easy

Quick side note...we have a family blog, and for the first year I blogged, all my titles were either song names, or lyrics.  I guess I'm in the mind set...

I can't believe that next week will be the 2nd full week of July.  Where is the summer going?  Oh wait, now I remember: family visitors, summer camp, and next week family vacation.  This is Jo's and my first summer blogging, and heard about the "summer effect" and WOW time does get away from us, doesn't it?

So, now that 4th of July is over, what else do you have planned?  My family (Shelley) lives overseas, and we just had one of my very best friends and her husband visit sans kids.  It was SO much fun.  I was very thankful my kids were in day camp, and that our babysitter wasn't on holiday yet.  This is one reason I have been slightly absent from the blog.  Thank goodness I have Jo as a sister to pick up my slack (I'm guessing this sentence will come and bite me back one day...don't worry Jo, it's probably the lack of sleeping that is impairing my judgment LOL).

During the past 10 days we did A LOT of BBQing.  I know that we may be beating a dead horse, but it is the summer, and in between all our vacations and outings, I believe you are also BBQing.  I'm going to share with you some of our favorites that we stuffed ourselves with over the past 10 days (and yes, Mags, my diet suffered considerably.  How much did you gain?).  Don't forget to go back and visit where we talked about my FAVORITE rib recipe and of course, what BBQ is complete without margaritas?

Besides the aforementioned, we had burgers, steaks, shredded pork sandwiches, and tried some new beverage recipes.

The great thing about having this new blog and great friends, is that I get to try new recipes and have people who are completely honest to let me know if we should share it with you all!  We tried the below burgers and they were FAN.TAS.TIC!


Raspberry-Chipotle BBQ Burgers

1/2 cup raspberry jam
1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
1/2 cup of crushed tomatoes (canned)
1 T chipotle sauce (See link to your left)
2 T white vinegar
2 lbs ground meat (beef, pork or turkey)
1/4 cup minced garlic (save your arm, and buy the jarred stuff)
1 t chipotle pepper or 1 T chipotle sauce
1 t cumin
1 t coriander
2 t kosher salt
2 red onions, sliced

1.  For sauce, in a saucepan, combine raspberry jam, barbecue sauce, crushed tomaotes, chipotle sauce and white vinegar.  Cook over medium to low heat until reduced by half.  In a large bowl, combine your meat of choice with garlic chipotle pepper, cumin, coriander and salt.  Shape into patties.

2.  Grill burgers to desired doneness (I like medium...Jo likes burnt).  Turn only once (flipping your burgers more than that causes tough patties).  Serve burgers on buns with sauce and onions.


Another confession, I only grill rib-eye steak and I always marinade!  Try this marinade next time you grill, and I promise you won't be disappointed...

In a zip lock bag, combine 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/4 cup red wine, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 t coarse-ground pepper, 1/2 t of salt, 1/2 t of Dijon mustard and a dash of lemon pepper.  Depending on how many steaks you grill you may need to double or more.  Seal the bag, and shake to combine.  Add your steaks and refrigerate at least an hour.  I always place our steaks in the fridge in the morning, for dinner time.

Savvy Tip:  If you have leftovers, slice the steak, and heat up on the stove with bell peppers and onions (use the frozen bags) and have fajitas the next day for lunch or dinner (or breakfast LOL)!

Shredded Pork 


7 pound pork shoulder roast trimmed of any excess skin and fat (I use a pork tenderloin so I don't have to trim it) 
3 T chili powder
1 1/2 t salt
1 t freshly ground pepper 
1 large onion, sliced
4 minced garlic cloves
3 cups (separated) of your favorite BBQ sauce

1.  In a small bowl, combine chili powder, salt, and freshly ground pepper.  Rub mixture all over pork roast until thoroughly coated.  Place sliced onion and minced garlic cloves in bottom of a slow cooker, then add roast and 1 cup barbecue sauce.  Pour water over roast until covered, about 4 cups.

2.  Cover slow cooker and cook pork on high until very tender and meat falls off bone, about 6 hours.  Carefully remove pork from slow cooker and reserve on a platter. Strain cooking liquid into sink, reserve onion; return pork and onion to slow cooker; shred meat with a fork and add 2 more cups of barbeque sauce.  Cook on high until heated, about 8 minutes.
Savvy Tips:  Use disposable crock pot liner.  Use pork tenderloin.  Liberally sprinkle all sides of meat with chili powder, salt, and pepper.  Use jarred garlic.  I like sweet barbecue sauce, so when I don't make my own, I try and find one with brown sugar in it.


Before you all think all I drink is margaritas (sometimes I drink strawberry margaritas), I'm going to share this super refreshing raspberry tea recipe!

5 cups water
6 raspberry tea bags
1 6oz can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
Ice cubes
Limes slice (optional)
fresh raspberries (optional)

1.  In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Add tea bags.  Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.  Remove and discard tea bags.  Cool tea.  Transfer to a pitcher.  Cover and chill for a couple hours.

2.  Stir limeade concentrate into teas.  Fill glasses with ice, and garnish with fresh fruit.

Savvy Tip:  Up until last month, I RELIGIOUSLY used my Mr. Coffee Iced-Tea maker.  This is a MUST if you miss the great sweet tea of the south (which my DH and I do).  Putting it away one day, I drop and cracked the plastic pitcher.  So, if you don't have the maker, follow the above directions.  If you are fortunate to own the iced-tea maker, or are now inspired to purchase one (see the link to the left), just add the raspberry tea bags to the maker, and it brews your tea in minutes.  (Jo, my b-day is coming up, want to get me a replacement pitcher? LOL...or maybe Mikey can!)

Stay tuned, as we are going to post about my favorite party of the year, my family's Christmas in July party, back-to-school and more!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sunday Mom

I am excited to announce that has launched the Fall Children’s Worship Program. We like to bring all the fun, excitement, and attention to detail from our parties to church each week. You can also find free, printable Bible puzzles, Bible stories, and other ideas for teaching children about the love of God. Now that you have come down from your 4th of July junk food high and you have a little time between packing the kids for camp and swimming lessons, take a minute to check it out. Be careful not to squeal with excitement—you’ll wake the baby and that will mean the end of “me time”.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

4th of July decorations...

Make sure you check out you local Targets and Walmarts.  They usually have the $1 bins near the front and right now they are full of patriotic items...go out and buy some for today's World Cup Match against Ghana, and then you can reuse them for you 4th of July BBQs!  Let us know what you find!

Savvy Ideas to decorate with what you have (or easily get):
  • You know you all have them...unused vases.  Fill them with all the super yummy summer fruits, that also, conveniently, are patriotic colors:  blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Guests can scoop the berries out and add whipped cream or Cool Whip (for those who are allergic to dairy) for a truly red, white, and blue treat!
  • Use different-shaped vases to hold dips and chips as well. These make great centerpieces as well as unique serving dishes.
  • Mix and match red, white, and blue solid paper products and plastic ware.
  • Roll butcher paper out onto your party table. Scatter red, white, and blue crayons across the table for the kids to color with while eating.
  • Sprinkle red, white, and blue confetti and candies around the table.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All American Barbeque Menu

This is the menu for my 4th of July BBQ.  It is a lot of food. The key to a good BBQ is good food and I aim to please. It is enough to keep people fed from lunch time through midnight. It even accommodates our vegetarian friends.

I would like to say that there is some magic formula for deciding on a menu. The truth is that Shelley and I LOVE to eat. And now three cheers for denial: hip, hip, hooray. Thanks to all the clothing manufacturer’s new size charts an 8 is now a 6 and a 10 is now an 8. So even though my waist is bigger, the label still says 8 and that is all that matters. (Seriously, I am trying to decide whether to use my real size or my internet profile size in the preceding sentence and I might just break out in hives before I post this.) Anyway, I selfishly plan every menu around what I want to eat. Then, I add my friend’s favorites—the corn and herb butter is for Bubba, my son requested the cookies and the Mac and Cheese is for my Darling Husband who insists on eating it for every occasion, even Christmas Dinner.

To minimize the hassle of shopping and to spread out the expense, I prepare my menu early and break up the shopping trips. OK, the truth is that I have a 2 year old and trips to the grocery store are no longer my friend. I have to get in and get out fast. This week I purchased things from the local warehouse club—plates, napkins, citronella candles, soda, bottled water, etc. Next week I will hit the grocery store to purchase the non-perishables. The week of the 4th I will get the rest.

I make extra sure to maintain proper holding temperatures throughout the day. Do not make food and leave it out at room temperature all day. Hot foods should be held above 140 degrees and cold food should be held below 41 degrees.
Hot Dogs

Corn on the Cob with herb butter
Baked Beans
Macaroni and Cheese
Louisiana Garlic Bread

Potato Salad
Broccoli Salad
Fruit Salad

Chips and Salsa
Veggie Tray and Dip

Sweet Tea

Pie Alamode
Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happing eating!

Games to play during your BBQ

Water Relay
This is especially fun on those hot summer days!

Items needed:
Bucket of water-1 per team
Large sponges-1per team
Empty 1 gallon plastic milk jug 1 per team
  • Split players into two or more teams.
  • Set the buckets of water on one side of the course with the sponges in the bucket. 
  • Place the milk jug at the opposite end of the course.
  • The players then squeezes the water into the jug and then runs back to pass the sponge to the next player. This continues until the first jug is full. 
The object is to be the first team to fill the milk jug with water using only the sponge. Players take turns soaking the sponge with water and then running to the milk jug.

Savvy Tip: Adding a little food coloring in the jug will help the racers see the water line.

Old Fashioned Sack Race
These are great fun. My sons actually had one of these during their field day this year, and was a huge hit with kids, parents and teachers.

Items needed:
Burlap sacks
Savvy Tip:  If you have a feed supply store near by, burlap sacks can be purchased inexpensively.
If all else fails, old pillow cases will work.

Each player steps into his/her sack with both feet.
Pull the sack high enough to hold the edges.

Savvy Tip:  Give your guests a heads up that there will be a sack race. Have the sacks out and ready and let them practice hopping.
Identify the start and finish lines.
Blow the whistle and go!

Three Legged Race

Items needed:
Old stockings

Savvy Tip:  We use old stockings because they are soft and have some give to them. Pair up into partners and stand side by side.

Tie one persons left leg to the other players right, or vise versa. Practice walking together.  Once you get the hang of walking try hopping or running.

Blow the whistle and go!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.

Nothing sets the mood at a party better than music. Here are some songs that would be great to download to your mp3 player for the 4th of July. Burn them to a CD and add a custom label that says “Smith Family 4th of July Party 2010” and you have an instant party favor.

What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong
God Bless America, LeAnn Rimes
Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
I hope you Dance, Lee Ann Womack
God Bless the USA, Lee Greenwood
I’m Already There, Lonestar
Have You Forgotten, Darrel Worley
Rocky IV:Living in America, The Studio Sound Ensemble
ROCK in the USA, John Mellencamp
Rockin’ in the Free World, Bon Jovi
Surfin’ USA, Beach Boys
My Country ‘tis of Thee, Aretha Franklin
Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue, 4Troops
United We Stand, Elton John
Georgia on My Mind, Ray Charles
American Pie, Don McLean
We are the Champions, Queen
Where the Stars and Stripes and The Eagle Fly, Aaron Tippin
Citizen Soldier, 3 Doors Down
Proud to be an American, Lee Greenwood

Monday, June 14, 2010

Savvy Outdoor Entertaining tips!

I thought I would just give some quick tips...

If you are short on serving bowls try hollowing out half a watermelon.

Don't attempt to serve food that has to be prepared at the last minute. It's less stressful and more convenient to have most everything prepared beforehand.

Choose foods that won't spoil fast, especially if you are blessed with a warm day.  Foods with mayonnaise will spoil if not kept at a proper temperature.  If you have a potato salad or macaroni salad with mayonnaise, keep it in an ice bowl bath.

As much as possible have food that guests can serve themselves. Also, keep in mind, people do a lot of standing during BBQs (ample seating or not).  Try and limit the amount of foods that require a fork and knife.  Make everything small and manageable.

Have plates stacked at the start of the buffet area and then cutlery and napkins at the end.

Use citronella candles to keep insects away and have some insect lotion or spray available for guests to use.

Provide garbage cans/bags.  This will save yourself some cleanup work after your guests have gone home.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Free Bullseye BBQ Sauce at Safeway

Stock up now for your 4th of July BBQ on this great deal. Safeway’s “Buy 8, Save $4 Promo” runs through June 15th. The following printable coupons make the sauce totally free! To get the $0.99 price on the BBQ sauce, you have to purchase at least 8 bottles of these Bullseye BBQ Sauces in the 17.5-18 oz sizes. This coupon for $1 off makes it free:  Bullseye BBQ Sauce, Carolina, Texas, Memphis, Kansas City – (

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How do you celebrate the 4th?

I’m back from our summer vacation to Disney World. We had a great time and I want to go back. I returned to 200+ email messages, phone messages, bills, a mountain of laundry, swimming lessons, piano lessons, Cub Scout Day Camp, Vacation Bible School, the summer reading list and Accelerated Reader tests, and somewhere under the couch pillows is an unconscious teenage boy in his boxer shorts who only comes out to eat, usually at night, leaving me with empty cupboards in the morning, which means a trip to the grocery store. . . ahhhhhh. I’m ready for some fun.

Thankfully, it’s time to send out invitations for the 4th of July. I used Evite and sent mine out Sunday. Take a look at “A party is only as good as its guests” (4/11/10) for help making the guest list.

Before sending out the invites, you will need to decide on what kind of party to have. For July 4th I recommend a BBQ. The weather is great and summer has just started. The kids are still happy to be outdoors rolling in the grass, listening to the songs of the crickets, and catching fireflies. It will still be a few more weeks before the mosquitoes and sunburns chase them inside and you are listening to the latest hit songs: “I’m hot” and “What do we have to eat?” Make time to enjoy it now. This time of year life is at a slower pace and what could be better than food, friends, and fun. We make a whole day of it. We all meet downtown for the parade and then return to my house for a BBQ lunch. Then, we head off to watch the fireworks and return to our house for some of our own backyard fireworks (which are legal here). Some other ideas:

• Picnic in the park (where everyone brings their own food)*
• Pot Luck dinner inside where it’s cool. (unless you are a total germaphobe like me)* See post on pot luck tips
• A group trip to your local amusement park/laser show.*
• Make and enter a float in the local parade, followed by a trip for ice cream*
• Neighborhood Chili-Cook Off contest/ block party
• Pool Party
• Old fashioned 4th where families compete in potato sack relays and other games (make sure to include a pie baking contest)
• A homemade carnival with games and prizes
* These are great choices if you hate to cook.

If this is your first 4th of July party, don’t try to put together an entire day. It takes a lot of food and games to keep people busy for that long. Shoot for 2-3 hours. Early evening is a cooler time of day for an outside party and you can all end the evening by going to the fireworks.

When picking the time and day, don’t just assume that the 4th is celebrated on the 4th in your community. This year the 4th falls on a Sunday. In the south we spend this day at church. Our parades and fireworks shows will be on Saturday, so that is when I am having my party. On many military bases, the big fireworks shows are on Thursday so that soldiers may travel to see family over the four day weekend. If you live overseas your local American expat community is a great place to reach out to other Americans. If there isn’t already an event planned, plan your own-- everyone is looking for some piece of America on July 4th.

You don’t need to have everything worked out just yet, but you do need to know:

• Date
• Start Time
• End Time
• Location
• Attire: should they dress for inside, outside, pool, relay races, mud wrestling, etc.
• What to bring: just yourself, a pot luck dish, a picnic lunch, dessert, a board game to share, etc.
• RSVP information

Take it one step at a time. We will be here to walk you through it. Good Luck!

Monday, May 31, 2010

I want my baby back, baby back, baby back....The BEST rib recipe ever...

I know that everyone says this, but I promise you, once you try this recipe, you will never go back...
I just had this for our Memorial Day BBQ with black beans and macaroni and cheese... YUM-O!


2-6 lbs of BABY BACK ribs (you can use any cut, but I think the baby back are the only way to go)
salt and pepper

SAUCE (you can use your own recipe, or your favorite bottle, but I SWEAR once you try this tangy recipe, you will be hooked.  I have been told on many of occasion, these are the best ribs they ever had):

1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup maple syrup (get the real stuff, not pancake syrup)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
2-3 teaspoons of adobo sauce from canned chipotle peppers (freeze what you don't use)...I use the can shown on left.


Season your ribs with salt and pepper.  Place seasoned ribs in a shallow baking dish.  Pour 1 - 2 inches of water in the bottom of the baking dish.  Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for 2 hours.

While your ribs bake, prepared your BBQ sauce by combining all the ingredients, and stirring well.  I always double my sauce when I cook 4 or more pounds, but I like my ribs SAUCY!

Once your ribs are done baking, baste both sides with 1/3 of your sauce.  Now it's time to move to the grill.  Place the ribs on the grill, low heat, for 5 minutes (lid closed).  Open the lid, apply 1/3 more of your sauce, close lid and cook 5 more minutes.  Repeat once more, and now your ribs are done...

Savvy Tip:  Give everyone an extra bowl (salad size) for the bones.  This way the have plenty of room on their plates for side.  We call it a Bone Bowl!

Do you have a favorite rib (or other BBQ) recipe?  Share in the comments.  Did you try our ribs?  Let us know what you think!

Happy Memorial Day and remember: 
Freedom isn't free. Thank you to all the men and women of our armed forces. Because of you, my family and I are free. As everyone celebrates and BBQs today, please remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so you can be who you are! Happy Memorial to all and thank you to all of you whose family members fight for my freedom everyday!  A very special thank you to my DH who is an Air Force Veteran and to my BIL who continues to fight for our freedom everyday.  We love you and thank you!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lucky're having a pot luck BBQ!

Now what?  Just follow these savvy rules:
  1. First and seriously the most important...Plan your menu.   You can decide on what you will do and delegate what you feel is missing or ask for specific dishes.  I love, love, LOVE to cook, but am a seriously horrible baker (I know it's because of the need for precision).  I always ask my invited guests if they have a specific dish in mind or if they would like a suggestion. BUT in some cases, I ask (and beg if I have to) people to bring something specific.  I will always need deserts so, Maggie is asked to bring her "crack cookies" (seriously the BEST chocolate chip cookies you will ever taste...I might just call and see if I can post it here LOL) and Vanessa is asked to bring either the peanut butter brownies, or coconut cream pie.   This always is helpful to make sure you don't have all salads, and not enough desserts.   One way is to split the menu into sections so you can ensure you have enough (If a guest can't decide what they will bring, ask them to at least provide you with a category for planning purposes.):

    -main dishes (optional...for our BBQs, we provide the different meats for grilling)

  2. Give your guests who claim to be unable  to cook the opportunity to contribute drinks or equipment to the party so that they are still pitching in but don't feel that they have to cook. Tell them it's perfectly fine to bring store-bought food as well. While homemade is nice, it's better to make your guests feel welcomed despite their lack of culinary talent.

  3. Savvy Tip:  Make labels with your guests' names on them.  This way, as they place their dish on the table you can label the bottom of each dish (if not already done).  This way if a dish is left behind after the party, you know who to return it to.

  4. Ask guests to label food with allergenic ingredients in the case of dishes with nuts, dairy, eggs, gluten, etc. If you have any guests who are highly allergic to nuts or other food such as shellfish or eggs, ask all your guests to label their dish with the ingredients. We have kids with allergies, but my DH and I don't.  We want to be able to enjoy Jo's macaroni and cheese, even if the kids can't have it.  You can also use small place cards in front of each dish to identify the name of the dish and who made it so people can ask that person for a recipe or can pay their compliments.

  5. This may sound like common sense but worth stating; keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold to minimize the risk of spoilage or food poisoning. Many potluck organizers will equip their party table with many large bowls of ice to place salads containing mayonnaise. A power outlet outdoors for the plugging in of buffet servers or crock pot slow cookers is a good idea as well to keep food safe and flavorful.

  6. Put different types of dishes on different tables (or on different sides of the table) with plenty of serving spoons.  If at all possible, make sure the drinks are on a different table (or at least at the end of the table).   This way if people want to merely top up their drink, they don't have to wait in line with those serving themselves.   Another Savvy Tip:  avoid the temptation to have the table up against a wall/side of the house.  Pull the table out enough to have people on both sides.  This limits the size of the line.  This is where plenty of serving spoons is essential.  If you only have one spoon per dish, it won't matter that you have a line on both sides of the table; people will still have to wait for the spoon.  Recap:  Have a line on each side of the table and make sure each dish has 2 serving spoons. 

    Another Allergy Tip:  If you do have dishes with allergens in them, you may want to keep these separate from the other dishes.  Nothing irks me more than the cross contamination of serving spoons.  My kids can't have the Macaroni and Cheese, and that's fine.  BUT if you use the Mac-n-Cheese spoon to then serve the potato salad, they now can't have the potato salad either.
  7. Clear clutter several times throughout the party to minimize the mess. Ask a friend or co-host to help you periodically with refilling needed items and clearing trash. Savvy Tip:  Place one or two (or more) garbage cans in the food area, many guests will help clean up during the party as well.

    Thursday, May 27, 2010

    The unofficial start to summer is upon us...

    With Memorial Day weekend just a few days away, I'm using this as a way to start a discussion regarding BBQing...I'm going to start out with some tips:

    Before you hold your next barbecue party, take a look at our savvy tips to make sure you're the perfect barbecue host:
    • Burning citronella candles is a great way to keep the bugs at bay and stop them biting your guests – especially if you’re serving any sweet food or drinks. You can buy garden torches which can be filled with citronella oil to repel insects - and these torches look great and give your garden a cosy glow.
              •  Make sure you know how many guests are coming to your barbecue and ensure there’s a comfortable seat for everyone.
              • When you plan your seating make sure you are seated near to the kitchen. This means you won’t be barging past your guests when going to and from the house.
              • If you’re having an afternoon barbecue, make sure there’s plenty of shade.
              • Keep jugs of iced water handy – particularly if you’re barbecuing on a hot day. If you stick with the beer or wine your guests will soon be dehydrated (and you may be too tipsy to tend the barbecue). So pour some water - it’s the healthy choice!
              • Many agree that there’s nothing worse than a warm beer. If you don’t want to keep trekking to the fridge you can fill a couple of buckets with iced water to put drinks in – great if the fridge is full and you don’t own a cool box!
              • Avoid an embarrassing barbecue faux pas by checking with your guests if they have any special dietary requirements. Imagine having nothing but lettuce for a vegetarian to munch on when there are so many delicious alternatives that everyone can enjoy. 

              A friend of mine just sent me the following email...ladies, just keep this in mind :):
              To refresh your memory on the BBQ etiquette of this sublime outdoor cooking activity. When a man volunteers to do the BBQ the following chain of events are put into motion:
              1. The woman buys the food.
              2. The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.
              3. The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill - beer in hand.
              4. The woman remains outside the compulsory three metre exclusion zone where the exuberance of testosterone and other manly bonding activities can take place without the interference of the woman.
              5. Here comes the important part:
              7. More routine...
              8. The woman goes inside to organise the plates and cutlery.
              9. The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is looking great. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he flips the meat.
              10. Important again:
              12. More routine...
              13. The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table.
              14. After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes.
              15. And most important of all:
              16. Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts. The man asks the woman how she enjoyed ' her night off .'

                Thursday, May 20, 2010

                Food for your class party

                When planning snacks for a class party, the first thing I like to know is whether there are any allergies in the classroom.  Both Jo and I are families that have children ridden with severe allergies, so we do take this issue very seriously.  Plus, you would hate to have a parent send in peanut butter and celery if there's a child with a nut allergy!

                Here are the other things you'll want to think about as you plan the food:
                • It's always good to have some kind of healthy snack such as a tray of cut fruit. But don't go overboard on the healthy snacks unless that's the only thing you're serving. Given a choice between cookies and veggies, which do you think kids will pick?

                • Baby carrots, and sometimes sliced cucumbers are popular snacks for young kids, especially when served with ranch dip and/or hummus.  If you bring both dips, than the dairy allergy kids have a choice as well.

                • Try to plan snacks that carry out the theme (if you have a theme). For example, creepy spider cupcakes for Halloween; Valentine's cookies for Valentine's Day; marshmallow chicks and bunnies for a springtime party, etc.

                • Food is usually the easiest donation to get from parents. Every class seems to have one mom who enjoys making seasonal cupcakes or cookies.  Try the mortar board cupcake recipe below.
                • Salty snacks are also popular party food. Potato chips usually win out over pretzels in my children's parties.

                • Don't serve too many choices. Otherwise, children will load up their plates, and then you'll see a ton of food dumped into the trash can at the end of the party.

                  Monday, May 17, 2010

                  Class Room Party Ideas

                  Classroom Party Games for Children Ages 4 - 6:
                  • London Bridge – Pick two children to join hands at head-level, creating a “bridge” between them. Have the rest of the children walk in a circle that leads them under the “bridge” while everyone sings, “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady. Take a key and lock her up, lock her up, lock her up, take a key and lock her up, my fair lady.” When they get to the “lock her up” part, the two children forming the “bridge” should bring their arms down and around whoever is passing under at that moment. Each person they capture sits out until there are just two people left; these last two people become the bridge for the next round.
                  • Favor Pass – Wrap an assortment of small school party favors (one for each child). Have the kids sit in a circle and pass the favors around while music plays. Every time the music is stopped and restarted, the rotation changes from clockwise to counterclockwise, or vice versa. After a few rounds, let each child open and keep the favor he or she is holding.
                  • Classroom Memory – Play a memory game where you put school-related items (e.g. pencil, calculator, ruler, eraser, chalk, etc.) on a desktop. Let the children look for 30 seconds, then take everything off the desk. See how many of the items they can remember, making a list on the blackboard as they call items out.
                  • Classroom Obstacle Course – Build an obstacle course using objects in the classroom as the obstacles. For instance, children can crawl under desks and chairs, step on a paper “stepping stone” path, jump over a tape-drawn line, crawl under a piece of string tied between two chairs or desks, or stop to draw a smiley face on the chalkboard. Use your imagination; the possibilities are endless!
                  • Musical Chairs – Play the traditional version where there’s one fewer chair than there are children during each round, or play the kiddy version. In this version, which works best for very young children, there is one chair for every child playing, but one of the chairs is decorated with colorful construction paper, streamers and/or balloons. Whichever child lands in this chair when the music stops will be the winner for that round. You can make sure that everyone wins a round by stopping the music when a child who hasn’t won yet is near the chair.
                  • Hot Potato – Just like musical chairs, this can be played competitively, where the last one in the game wins, or it can be played non-competitively, where the child holding the “potato” at the end of each round wins that round. You can play this game with music or with a blind-folded caller who yells “hold it!” randomly to end each round. And, of course, almost any object can be used as the “potato.”
                  • Teacher Says – Have your child’s teacher join in the fun for a few rounds of this “follow the leader” game. The children should do what their teacher says as long as she says the words, “Teacher says” first. If she gives a command like “Sit in your chairs” or “Clap your hands” without saying, “Teacher says” first, anyone who follows her orders is out of the game.
                  School Party Games for Children Ages 7 - 10:
                  • First to Laugh – Pick one child to tell jokes in front of the class. You can provide a list or let the child tell his or her own favorites. The first child to giggle is picked to be the next entertainer.
                  • School House Jeopardy – Come up with clues relating to school or subjects the kids have been studying, and write them on index cards. For instance, you could have a “School Supplies” category, a “Games You Play in Gym Class” category, and a “Vocabulary Words” category. Write values on the back of the index cards (i.e. $100, $200, and so on). Tape the index cards to the chalk board in columns with the values face up and the category names written above each column. Divide the kids into groups of 5 or 6, and assign team leaders. Let the birthday child’s group pick a category and value first. If they answer the clue correctly, they get a point and can pick a clue for the next group to try to answer. If they don’t know the answer, they can pass to the next group. You can either give a small prize to each of the members of the group with the most points at the end of the game or let the winning group select the next activity.
                  • Guess What – Write the names of objects from the classroom on blank labels or strips of white duct tape (1 for each child in the class). Stick one on each child’s back so no one can see the object they’ve been assigned. Have each child ask other students questions with yes or no answers to figure out the object written on his or her label. If desired, give the children small prizes when they guess their assigned objects.
                  • Telephone – Have the children sit in a circle on the floor. Whisper a silly phrase, like “You can bet that teacher’s pet must go to the vet,” into the ear of one of the children. That child then whispers the phrase into the ear of the child next to him or her, and so on. When the last person in the circle has heard the phrase, have him or her say it out loud, and then tell the children what the original phrase was. Everyone will get a laugh at how much the phrase changed from beginning to end. Play multiple rounds and let the children take turns making up their own silly phrases to pass around.
                  • Classroom Scavenger Hunt – Divide the class into two or three teams. Give each team a list of objects found around the classroom. Try to only assign objects that there are multiples of, like pencils, rulers, and certain books. The first team to gather all of the items on their list wins.
                  More Classroom Party Activities
                  • Look for silly jokes on the Internet, print them on strips of paper, and let the kids take turns drawing jokes and reading them in front of the class.
                  • Give the kids brainteasers & riddles to try on each other.
                  • Have a sing-along to some of the children’s favorite songs.
                  • Have the children make modern art out of odds and ends like buttons, scraps of cloth, chunks of Styrofoam, and cardboard boxes. Or, give every child a paper plate along with odds and ends, glue, and markers, and have them design their ultimate birthday cake.

                  Friday, May 14, 2010

                  Cupcakes for your end of the year party

                  Mortar board cupcakes...

                  • 1 box cake mix (Water, vegetable oil and eggs called for on cake mix box)
                  • 1 box Fruit by the Foot chewy fruit snack rolls (any flavor) or shoestring licorice 
                  • 1 container vanilla frosting
                  • Food coloring 
                  • 60 square shortbread cookies
                  • 60 candy-coated chocolate or fruit-flavored candies


                  1. Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pans). Place miniature paper baking cups in 24 mini muffin cups. Make cake batter as directed on box. Fill cups 2/3 full of batter. Refrigerate remaining batter.
                  2. Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean; cool. Repeat with remaining batter. (Leave paper baking cups on cupcakes so mortarboards are quicker and easier to make and more portable to serve.)
                  3. To make tassels: Cut sixty 2 1/2-inch lengths from fruit snack rolls. Cut each into several strips up to 1/2 inch from 1 end. Roll uncut end between fingertips to make tassels. Or cut several pieces of shoestring licorice into 2 1/2-inch lengths.
                  4. Tint frosting with food color to match paper baking cups. Frost bottoms of cookies. Place 1 candy on center of each. For each mortarboard, place small dollop of frosting on bottom of cupcake; top with cookie. Press uncut end of fruit snack or 3 or 4 pieces of licorice into frosted cookie next to candy. Store loosely covered.
                  Savvy Tip:  Buy paper baking cups in your school colors, and dye the frosting with food coloring to match!

                    Thursday, May 13, 2010

                    Backpack sacavenger game...

                    For some mischievous school themed fun, have the kids bring their backpacks to the party. Sit in a circle and have the kids dump out their backpacks in front of them.

                    Give fruit rollup prizes for the child who has:
                    • the oldest paper (don’t be surprised if there is at least one from September)
                    • the smallest pencil nub
                    • homework with the best grade on it
                    • homework that was not turned in forgotten about
                    • the most stuff
                    • the least stuff
                    • the heaviest backpack
                    • and other items...(Anybody have an old PB&J sandwich in there?)
                    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...