Friday, November 30, 2012

Giving can be Fun

by Ann

After a week of reflecting upon what we are thankful for, it seems appropriate to follow up with a post on the significance of giving back to our communities.  The day I am writing this (November 27) marks the inaugural “Giving Tuesday,” an initiative established by a NY group to follow up Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday to support those in need.
Providing service hours and funds has been a part of my life since I was a girl scout.   In my adult years I have done things for others ranging from tutoring junior high students in reading through a church community outreach program to being an active member of a women’s service organization that spends its efforts to raise funds to support local charities that serve women and families in need.
In Arizona we have a way to provide significant contributions to the non-profits of our choice without actually impacting our wallets by donating through the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit.  (Up until this year it was known as the Working Poor Tax Credit – I far prefer the new designation!)  My bet is that other states have similar opportunities.
Dollar for dollar tax credits are available at the rate of $200 for singles and $400 dollars for married couples who donate to eligible agencies.  This can be done in addition to the school ECA (Extra Curricular Activities) donations of the same dollar amounts!  The credit applies directly towards reducing tax liability, and if donors don’t owe that much, the credit can be forwarded for up to five years.
If you are an Arizona resident, I urge you to check out a website which will make you a believer that you should donate: . On the second paragraph there is a link to all qualifying charitable organizations; twelve full pages of groups in need throughout the state.  I feel confident that you will find so many familiar organizations that it will be hard to decide where your money would be best utilized.  Once chosen, go to the organization’s website and most likely there will be a link to make your donation.  Receipts are issued, and then when it’s tax time, a simple “Form 321” is used for your credit!  If by chance you don’t have a favorite charity, The Save the Family Foundation ( and Child Crisis Center ( are two non-profits that the service organization I am part of endorse as entities that provide critical services.  If you are not a resident of Arizona, I urge you to look for similar opportunities in your state.
The theme of our blog’s Friday posts is “fun,” and I strongly believe that doing things that benefit those in need is an enjoyable, rewarding way to have and bring joy to others.  I am taking part in “Giving Tuesday” by making my tax credit donation, but know that any day can be “Giving Day,” and hope that you can join in on the fun! 
Happy Giving!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

November 29, 2012

by Heather

I'd love to tell you that I have a plan before I get started with the Christmas decorating, but I really don't. I look at last year's photos to remember what I did, but I like to change it up a bit from year to year after getting inspiration from magazines, blogs, holiday catalogs, and file folders of favorite Christmas pictures. I like the nostalgia of using ornaments that I've had for years which precludes the notion of having a completely different color scheme or theme each year. If I had to name my Christmas interior design style, I'd say that it's morphed into "rustic elegance," at least in some of the rooms.  Each room in the house gets decorated, and, because I work full-time outside the home (this is my excuse and I'm sticking to it), this process can take up to a week (okay, maybe two weeks) to accomplish.

I rotate accessories seasonally so I needed to pack up "Autumn" before gathering the stored topiaries and mercury glass items and lugging in the Xmas boxes from the garage (remember, we live in the desert and most of our houses don't have basements or attics). I clump similar items together in a staging area(s) so I can easily see what I have, and start creating from there. 

Because it kind of freaks me out to have bare tabletops (sorry to all of you minimalists out there), I get started on them first. The 10' Christmas tree is the last item to be put requires 2+ people and invariably causes a problem of some sort. The tree is beautiful but so old that it sheds needles like a dried-up real fir, requires painstakingly wrapped lights around each of its branches and is definitely developing a drunken list to one side. Now that I've written this, perhaps I'm deluding myself about its beauty -- you be the judge when you see it, maybe next Monday.

Front Dining Room

The small dining room in the front of the house is the Christmas tree room.  With a bay window and ceiling open to the second floor, I knew when the house was being built that this room would be the perfect location for the tree. The marble-topped table from Tom's grandparents gets moved to make room for the tree, and the bust that's usually in my dressing room (great for necklace storage) makes its way downstairs and gets crowned with a garland of silver. Items are layered in different heights by using holiday books as a base. Is it a little too much that I change out the books for the holiday, too?

Front Dining Room

 The drop-leaf table hosts mercury glass trees, vases, and candlesticks, and my mother's silver tea set is placed on a vintage wedding-present tray and embellished with holly and rosemary from the garden. Two sparkling deer stand guard under the silver boughs and preserved boxwood wreaths surrounding the candles. Did you know that something is considered vintage if it's between 40 and 99 years old? 
So we're not old; we're vintage :)

Family Room

This family room table has a rustic vibe, with cherub statuary and urn filled with crawling English ivy, a matched pair of vintage-looking angel wings, two spiral evergreens, olive tree topiaries tied with black and white striped ribbon from the French Bee, and small wooden lanterns from

 Dining Area off the Kitchen/Family Room

I was happy to find a place for my new sleigh on the dining room table. I filled it with gold mercury glass and clear amber glass ornaments, flanked it with two stags and real antlers (barely visible here), and surrounded it with shimmering garland, evergreen boughs, and shining strings of golden globes and candles to provide additional warm light.

I'm still at work on the fireplace mantel and other areas in the house and outside, and I'll continue to move things around until the partying is over -- sometime after New Year's -- at which time I'll stop, take it all down, and get ready for the Winter decorating -- which in the desert lasts for about a month.  How is your holiday decorating coming along?  Are you done yet, or are you more like me and still working at it??

Join me on Monday for additional Christmas decorating pictures along with holiday fashion!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Coupon Challenge...

by Ann
Challenging games are fun.  I find bargain hunting / couponing to be a contest between myself and the previous deals I’ve garnered.  Can I save even more this week than I did last?  The challenges include getting great values, and buying only what I truly want and need.  I must admit I am not always the victor when it comes to the second part of that task.  I confess to having stockpiles of supplies that I couldn’t resist because they were too cheap (or free!) to pass up.  Any time I hear of a school club or organization doing a food or personal hygiene products drive I am glad to contribute!

I look forward to Sunday mornings for many reasons.  The pace is more relaxed than any other day of the week; no work pressures, and Jazzercise class doesn’t get going until 9:35.  That gives me plenty of time to glance through the Sunday paper with a focus on the coupons and ads.  (Maybe in my next life I will focus on the news and skim through the ads – but I’m happy with my current system for now!)

I kiddingly say that CVS pharmacy is my “favorite store.”  The statement is a stretch, but don’t tell Mindy, the wonderful Sunday morning clerk at my CVS that I enjoy shopping for clothes more than for deals on toothpaste!  We didn’t even have CVS stores in Arizona until four or five years ago, so I didn’t know what I was missing until they arrived on our scene with vengeance.  Now there are two within three miles of my home. 
See the graphic below for what I would consider a pretty typical week's trip to "my favorite store":
I spent $ 5.59 and saved $ 31.35!

The CVS Sunday advertisement supplement is the first thing I dig out of the paper.  CVS does a wonderful job matching many of the week’s sale items to those things that are in the clip-able manufacturer’s coupon inserts, so I need to have in mind what is on sale when I look at the coupons.

The first thing I look for in the CVS ad is what is included as weekly “Extrabucks Rewards.”   Each week there are several items that are typically (but not always) on sale, and if you meet the minimum purchase requirements receive “Extrabucks” on the receipt that can be used as cash for most store purchases within the next month.  Sometimes the value of the Extrabucks is the full price of the item.  The key to making this work is being sure to use those extrabucks before they expire.
On holiday weekends the ads are amazing!  Last week there were a couple of pages of products that would end up being totally free to coupon crazy people like me.  On the Sunday before Thanksgiving I got “extracare bucks” for so many items that the receipt was almost twice as tall as I am (see photo).  I have to admit that I then went back to CVS for their new ad sales ON Thanksgiving to use those extrabucks (the stores should have been closed, but since they weren’t, and the deals were so good..).  I spent $ 1.96 and saved $ 35.46!
Me with the CVS receipt from the Sunday before Thanksgiving
with all of the "extra bucks" from the free things I got!

Here is a picture of the TOTALLY free things I got on this one trip.
The only item that would be classified as a "weird something I would not otherwise buy" was the
box of Scooby-Doo fruit snacks, but I never know when I might be frantic for a fruit snack!

Additionally, CVS register receipts often include store coupons that can be used for subsequent purchases. If I can find an item that I can combine a sale price, a store coupon from a previous shopping trip, a manufacturer’s coupon, and get “CVS Extrabucks Rewards” I feel like I hit the lottery!  All four rarely coincide, but three is not a stretch with careful planning. Looking at this example, it would not be unrealistic to hope that the selling price for Softsoap would be right around $2.00, thus two free, or nearly free products!

Those of you who are Walgreens fans could argue that your drugstore has similar deals, but I would contend that the policies at CVS far exceed those of your store’s.  Walgreens does not allow for combining manufacturer and their “register rewards,” has only a two-week window to redeem rewards as opposed to CVS’s four weeks, and will not allow multiple rewards to be redeemed on one item.
I went through the many-step process to make the scan of the receipt below a downloadable graphic so I could brag about my savings at CVS so far this year -- $1126.02!  You may be thinking, "ok, so how much has she spent?" and I can honestly reply that each week's total is between $2 - $40 depending upon how many extrabucks I have to spend from the previous week.  And no, I don't go EVERY week, but it's a sad week when the ad isn't good enough to get me in gear!
No, I never aspire to be on the Extreme Couponing reality show, nor have I even seen it.   I just feel like I have “won the game” when I get such great deals, and encourage anyone with time and energy to play the game to enjoy the sport with me (just don’t snap up all of the free deals before I hit the store)!
Happy Shopping!  I'd love to hear from you if you have additional tips
that I could share with our readers!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Raspberry Chipotle Brie
By Sheila
November 27, 2012
That’s right; I traded days with Ann this week.  I occasionally have a taste sensation to share, and she is also a self-proclaimed frugalista, so we were glad to switch topics for a change. 
This Brie is a great appetizer, very simple to prepare and looks pretty too.  I first had it at a restaurant in Tucson, and loved it so much that I came home and re-created it. I also added the apples, because I love that flavor combination.  I made it a few weeks ago for Book Club and it was a big hit.  Heather even asked for my recipe to make it for Thanksgiving.  Try it, you’ll like it!

Raspberry Chipotle Brie

1 wedge Brie (or a rectangle from Trader Joe’s, which I especially like)
1 baguette, sliced ¼ inch thick
¼ cup sliced or slivered almonds
Honey, for drizzling over all
1/3 cup Raspberry Chipotle Sauce*
1 apple, sliced (optional)
Carr Whole Wheat Crackers (optional) 


Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Place parchment paper on large cookie sheet.  Put Brie on cookie sheet and add sliced baguette.  Drizzle honey lightly over all.  Sprinkle almonds over Brie and baguette.  Place in oven for about 8 minutes, or until Brie is warmed through and just starting to get runny and baguette is toasted. Transfer to a serving platter.  Serve the warmed Raspberry Chipotle sauce on the side (I do this for just 30 seconds in the microwave).  As an option, you can also serve this with the sliced apples and/or the Carr’s Crackers, both of which go really well with the Brie.  It also looks pretty and colorful for the holidays.  Enjoy!

*I like the Fischer & Wieser brand that Costco sells.



Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas Fashion, Memories, and Mayhem

This Week's Schedule of Posts:
Monday: Fashion - Heather
Tuesday: Food - Sheila
Wednesday: Frugality - Ann
Thursday: Furnishings - Heather
Friday: Fun - Ann

November 26, 2012

by Heather

Polka dot sequined sweater: J Crew; black and white striped shirt: J Crew; bracelets: Ann Taylor, Chicos

As you can see, I'm praying for a miracle, hoping that a sweet Christmas angel will sweep into my home and take care of the detritus behind me. And that mess is fairly indicative of the state of the rest of the house, which brings me to the first question:

When is a woman too old to put up Christmas decorations all over the house?

Is it the same age she stops dyeing her hair (something I'm not ready to do yet)? Or gives up the fight against creeping post-menopausal spread (may have already done that)?  Does anyone else out there have this question?  Don't get me wrong -- I love Christmas and all of the sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday, but at this exact time of the year, when I've just taken down the autumn decor and still have leaves (and they're not even real ones) scattered on the floor, and the living room is piled high with Christmas items ready to be worked into vignettes, I feel a little tired and a bit overwhelmed.  Is this a sign that I've reached the age when it's time to start simplifying?  Or do I just need to drink the tea that is sitting beside me getting cold while I'm lamenting this situation?  I read the blogs of the women who already have their decorations up (before Thanksgiving), and I wonder how they do it!

Two years ago, I didn't go all out as I usually do -- Tom was recovering from a Halloween day motorcycle crash that landed him in the hospital for almost a month and a wheelchair for four months.  He couldn't climb the stairs to the master bedroom and his wheelchair wouldn't fit through the corners to the downstairs guest room, so the guest bedroom got moved out to the family room.  His recuperation was most important and caring for a semi-invalid put a limit to what I could accomplish.

But it was still Christmas, because family and friends came over and brought with them their love and support while they pitched in to make the house handicap-friendly and helped with Tom's traditional Christmas Eve seafood chowder while he supervised from his wheelchair and bed.  I know that we're two of the lucky ones -- we have a wonderful family and very dear friends, and Tom recovered from his injuries.  My thoughts and prayers go out to those of you who are dealing with far worse than what we had that Christmas.

I've had several cups of tea now, my energy is returning and I'm ready to tackle the decorating once again. I know it's not what Christmas is really all about, but I do love the warmth and magic that comes from the sight of twinkling white lights, the sheen of silver and gold, and the scent of cinnamon and pine, so I'm thinking, "At least one more year..."

Black straight leg jeans: Chicos; nude and black shoes: Dillards last year

Earrings; Chicos

Are you buying the idea that I'm wearing high heels and sparkling earrings to do this work?  I'm channeling the housewives of the 1950s who always dressed in pearls to wash their floors.  Actually, hubby said that the cast-off exercise clothes and clogs (Dansko -- fabulous if you're going to spend a lot of time on your feet) were probably not suitable for the fashion segment of the blog.  He did offer to take a picture of me bending over while digging into boxes -- bringing to mind the saying that "spandex is not a right; it's a privilege."

Last year's decor -- what will I change; what will I keep the same? Decisions, decisions.

From the guest bedroom looking out to sunshine and mountains

Actually, once changed back into the comfie clothes, I'm part way through unpacking the storage cartons, and having a great time. It's a little like Santa has already been to my house -- I'm finding items I forgot I owned or bought at the end of last season and haven't used yet, but the best part is pulling out things that remind me of the person who gave it to me.  There's the dear little silver reindeer dish from Ann that she filled with her homemade caramels (hope she makes those again this year, and while I'm on this subject, I hope Cathy makes her Scottish shortbread, too). I unearthed the sweet silver nutcracker salt and pepper shakers from Sheila for our 25th wedding anniversary (Tom and I married on Boxing Day, December 26th, and will be celebrating 41 years this year).

Here is one of my favorites from last year.  It's a set of measuring cups from Anthropologie.

Of course, I've been shopping this year, too, and here are some of my new finds that will need to be worked into the mix.  I shop all places -- Target, Nordstrom, Z Gallerie, Anthropologie, Tuesday Morning, the Decor Store, and local shops Willows Home and Garden, On the Veranda, Rustic Stuff, Scottsdale Marketplace (38 showrooms under one roof), and the French Bee.

Question:  Should I spray the entire antler(s) gold or spray just a band of gold on each one?

It will all come together in good time.  I just need to relax and let it happen, and stop writing and get back to work.  Wishing you a wonderful start to the holiday season! Join me again on Thursday when I will hopefully have pictures of this year's Christmas decor.

P.S. Three more questions:
1. Is less really more?
2. If it's organized, can it still be called "hoarding?"
3. Am I fooling myself in pursuing the retirement dream of living in an RV?  Which actually brings me to a fourth question, "How many trailers can an RV pull?"