How to Have a Great White Elephant

White Elephant Gift Exchange

I LOVE PRESENTS! (No shame.) So naturally I would jump at another opportunity to exchange presents – a White Elephant Gift Exchange!

White Elephant Gift Exchange

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I love gifting presents, I love receiving presents, I love helping people pick out presents for other people. Gifts are definitely my love language.


 

 

I was very excited when my family decided to do a White Elephant gift exchange a couple of years ago. Except… I put so much effort into my gift, and also made bonus gifts for extra prizes. I spent time wrapping them creatively so nobody would be able to tell its contents!

And it was a total flop!

So we’ve made some changes and here’s how you can have a successful White Elephant Gift Exchange!

Here’s how a White Elephant Gift Exchange works:

  1. Count how many participants you have, write down that many numbers (1 – ?) on individual pieces of paper. Fold them up and throw them in a hat (or other festive holding device).
  2. Go around the room and have each person pick out one number from the hat/FHD.
  3. The number your guests select determines the order in which they will pick gifts. Start with number one, they get to pick any gift from the pile. Gift-picker #1 should unwrap the gift and show it to the group.
  4. Gift-picker #2 can either choose a present from the pile, or steal Gift-picker #1’s gift.
  5. Gift-picker #3 can choose a present from the pile, or they can steal #1 or #2’s gift.
  6. Keep repeating this process until every one has a gift.

White Elephant Gift Exchange – Fun Variations

  1. Put a star or two on a couple of the numbers in the drawing, when guests pick their numbers, whoever has a star gets two gifts. Their gifts can still be “stolen” but they will end up with two gifts at the end. **You must put that many extra gifts into the gift exchange to make this work!!
  2. Set a “theme” for the gift exchange other than dollar amount. (We like to do $20 booze gifts at my house!) The idea/hope is that it is a silly gift exchange… but people still end up with something that have a use for and don’t throw away the next day.
  3. To really shake things up, go around a second or third time. More stealing gifts could be more fun. Judge your group – something they’d enjoy?
Need more gift ideas? You might like this post:

What to Get My Mom for Christmas This Year 

 


How to Be More Productive in Your Work

How to Be More Productive in Your Work

How to Be More Productive in Your Work Day – Get More Done!

How to Be More Productive in Your Work: are you feeling like there is never enough time to complete all of the tasks in your day? At the end of the day, do you feel like you were running non-stop all day, but didn’t accomplish a single thing? Maybe you own your own business, but feel that your business owns YOU! Or, you’d like to be more productive at your side hustle? Below are 5 easy steps (but tough-lovin’) will help you to be more productive in your work day. It will require some self-honesty and evaluation, but obviously you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t down for that!

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1. Set Appointments

I read an excellent book a couple of years ago, I am searching my Kindle to find it but I can’t. The title was something like “Women Make the Best Salesmen.” The author basically designed her life from being in an unfortunate situation to owning car dealerships by using her skills to develop her business. Once I find/remember the title/author I will absolutely share it – it’s a great read for men and women.


 

 

Anyway, one of the points the author made was making appointments throughout her day. It was beneficial two-fold. On one side, your day is scheduled for you, you can better prepare for every thing, and it makes the unplanned surprises easier to manage. And on the flip-side, the person/people you make an appointment with feel that the time shared is valuable.

I set my appointments on the weekend for the coming week, usually Sunday mornings. I also add to it as the week progresses. I have grown to using my phone calendar more, but I love a paper planner. I put notes in my phone to remind myself to fill in my paper planner.

How to Be More Productive in Your Work: One of the key components of this is setting appointments with yourself.

Yes, you can do that. For example, I set an appointment with myself and the coffee shop every Saturday afternoon from 12p – 2p while my daughter sleeps and my husband is home with her. It’s where I’m writing this post right now!

2. Schedule Mindfully

To continue with the appointment theme, be mindful when scheduling your appointments. One of the perks of “being your own boss” is making your own schedule. But you need to be mindful of this if you’re going to be productive. Don’t schedule your self-care appointments in the middle of a busy work day. For example, don’t schedule your hair cut on a Monday morning when you KNOW you’ll have a ton of editing to do on Monday. Not only will it throw your productivity off, it also won’t be the recharging self-care routine that you need to perform optimally!

To fix this: plan your self-care/doctor appointments/errand running for a particular day every week. The routine will help you to get the most out of your schedule, and you won’t feel as haphazard at the end of the day. (Bonus, others that work for/with you will benefit from your routine and scheduling. If you are all over the place, your team will be too, it’s the plain truth.)

3. Start Earlier

Am I the only one that cringes when someone says you need to wake up earlier to be more productive? (Even though I love the idea of being an early riser, honestly!!!) I’ve read many studies that say waking up earlier make you more productive, but I’d like to take this one step further.

How to Be More Productive in Your Work: You’ve got to find the enjoyment in the task at hand. When scheduling your projects/posts/appointments/etc., don’t wait until the last minute. (I know, okay MOM!)


 

 

But I mean well, here’s my example: I make my own Christmas cards every year. I used to get so stressed out because it would be two weeks before Christmas and I was scrambling to cut, paste, fold, address, stamp, and get my cards out. My husband asked me one year why I didn’t just buy Christmas cards in a box. I told him because I’m crafty and I enjoy doing it! He response (after witnessing my madness) was that I sure didn’t act or seem like I was enjoying any bit of it!

So now, I start my Christmas cards in October, and have them done before Thanksgiving. Some people call me crazy because “who is thinking about Christmas before it’s even Halloween?!” BUT, this isn’t about everyone else. This is about me enjoying something and getting the full benefit of it. So that is what I do. Keep that in mind when you are planning future projects.

4. Take Advantage of Wait Times

If you want to be more productive in your work day, you’ve got to LOOK for time. I always have a running list of 5-minute projects in my phone. Order a shower curtain, check my grocery store coupon apps, draft post ideas, make a packing list for a family vacation, etc. All of these things I can do from almost anywhere with the help of my trusty iPhone. If I’m early to an appointment, if I’m waiting in the airport, waiting for food I ordered (as long as I’m by myself!), etc., I work on my 5-minute projects.

5. Don’t “schedule” time off

This seems annoying, but listen to my explanation. Rarely ever during my self-scheduled time off do I feel relaxed. I would always (at some point) feel guilty for not “working.” It’s really annoying, I start to get anxiety that I’m forgetting something.

To avoid this I just stopped scheduling time off. I still have time off, I just don’t pressure myself to NOT work. If it’s a lazy Sunday and I have a good idea for a blog post, I draft it, or write it, or at least jot it down in my “blog post ideas” notebook. If that is what I FEEL moved to do, then I just do it! Your mind is the powerful, and you work a LOT on progressing, you can’t just shut it off! Let your brain work its magic!!!

I know these 5 things will help you to be more productive in your work. And if you know the book I’m talking about, please let me know!!


Nell’s Buttercream Recipe

the best buttercream recipe is great for cupcakes, too!

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In case I never told you, I’m a semi-retired pastry chef.

 

 

I have a lot of quick tips and tricks up my sleeve to share with you, including my buttercream recipe.

Do you have any idea how many pounds of buttercream I used to make per week? An insane amount. I don’t even want to tell you.

One thing that used to gross me out a bit is the amount of shortening that goes into frosting. It is just a little unnerving. You won’t find anything except butter in here!

Follow my technique for the best-textured buttercream around, right here! 

This recipe will work great for cakes or cupcakes. You can add in food coloring too, at the very end, if you wish.

best buttercream recipe

Print Recipe
Nell's Buttercream Recipe
Easy-peasy buttercream frosting. You'll wonder why you ever bought that stuff in the can.
Cuisine Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
8" cake worth
Ingredients
Cuisine Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
8" cake worth
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Beat the softened butter with a hand mixer or stand mixer.
  2. Slowly mix in the powdered sugar, and I mean slowly! On low speed. You do not want a powdered sugar explosion in your kitchen!
  3. Once the sugar and butter is combined, add in the vanilla and salt. Mix for another few minutes before frosting your cake!
  4. You can store the buttercream at room temperature for a day or two, but I usually don't like to make it too far in advance.
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The BEST Buttercream Technique

Wishing for the most dreamiest, creamiest, light, but still thick buttercream? Want a buttercream frosting that goes on your cake or cupcakes (or spoon) perfectly? A no-bubble buttercream?! You have found the best buttercream technique!

the best buttercream technique

You have found the best Buttercream Technique right here!

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If you’re looking for a buttercream recipe, click here for mine… it’s delicious!  Otherwise continue reading for the very best buttercream technique (you can even use your own buttercream recipe!)

best buttercream technique
What you’ll need:

To get the best buttercream, we’ll need a few simple tools.

  1. A sturdy bowl for mixing, it is imperative that this bowl BARELY fits all of your frosting. This means you may want to make your frosting first, then transfer it to a smaller bowl.
  2. A hand mixer. You might be able to get away with your 5qt. Kitchenaid mixer if you have a LOT of frosting. But likely this is a job for a hand mixer. I have/like this one:
    Make sure you’re using the paddle attachments, not the whisk!
  3. Last but not least, your frosting!

To get the most desirable buttercream, put your frosting in the mixing bowl. Completely submerge your mixing paddles in the buttercream. *This is a VERY important step!*


Begin to mix your buttercream. You’ll notice that it looks like air bubbles popping in the top. It will take a few minutes but you’ll be able to tell the top of the buttercream begins to look smooth and swirly and just perfect.

You’re ready to frost!

It is important to use your buttercream right after mixing it. If you come back to your frosting later, you’ll likely need to remix it.

Enjoy your frosting!

Chemical-Free Fruit & Veggie Wash – Ultra Easy, Ultra Cheap!

Ultra Easy, Ultra Cheap Chemical-Free Fruit & Veggie Wash

I have the world’s best and easiest method for cleaning my produce – ultra easy, ultra cheap chemical-free Fruit and Veggie Wash!

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So, my mom always told me to wash my produce before I eat it. Which is good solid advice. But I didn’t really feel like “water” can clean my produce well enough to get rid of all the cooties. (Have you seen what people do at the grocery store?!)

I don’t like the idea of using a “chemical” produce wash because that just seems counter intuitive. I looked at “healthy” veggie washes at the fancy grocery stores, but realized I would be paying top dollar for a mixture I could put together myself.

Ultra Easy Ultra Cheap Chemical-Free Fruit and Veggie Wash

So, I started using vinegar! Just the cheap white distilled vinegar, like this one:

Ultra Easy Ultra Cheap Chemical-Free Fruit and Veggie Wash

I have that one continuously on order from Amazon Prime.

So I came up with Ultra Easy, Ultra Cheap Chemical-Free Fruit and Veggie Wash!

I have a few methods for produce washing, it works for any produce including herbs and lettuces, berries, apples, you name it!

For larger produce items:

Like apples, citrus, potatoes, etc. I like to fill a large bowl with 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. I then soak the produce in the vinegar water solution for a couple minutes, rinse with cool water, and allow to dry.

For Lettuces & Herbs:

Same process as above, but after rinsing with water, I will run them through the salad spinner a couple of times to get as much moisture off as possible. Also note, I don’t wash my leafy greens (especially kale) until right before they’ll be eaten.

If you need a salad spinner recommendation, here’s the one I use:

Ultra Easy Ultra Cheap Chemical-Free Fruit and Veggie Wash

And I love it. I’ll dry my leafy greens, pour out the water, and use the bowl as a big salad bowl = easy + less dishes to wash = happy mom. I even wrote about it here in my “What to Get Mom for Christmas” post!

For Berries:

You’ve got to be a little more delicate here. Berries are very fragile. I like to do a similar method by putting them in a bowl with 1 part vinegar, 3 parts water, but I’ll only wash a small amount at a time so they don’t get crushed (amount I do is equal to the clamshell container you purchase your berries in, typically). Gently rinse the berries and spread them out to dry.

Uniquely shaped produce:

Like pineapples, watermelons, and such. I don’t have a bowl big enough for a gianganto watermelon, so for these items, just use a spray bottle with the same 1:3 ratio, and spritz it down. (I usually let my daughter do this, she loves to spritz things.) Let the item sit for a few minutes, then rinse and dry!

For additional “cleansing properties” I will add a couple of drops of lemon essential oil to my ultra easy, ultra cheap chemical-free fruit and veggie wash! It makes it slightly less cheap and easy, but only by a hair! I like this lemon essential oil by doTerra: 

Ultra Easy Ultra Cheap Chemical-Free Fruit and Veggie Wash

ultra easy ultra cheap chemical free fruit and veggie wash

The Secret Ingredient Pie Crust

You will not believe the Secret Ingredient Pie Crust! Best pie crust I have ever had. The ‘secret ingredient’ isn’t anything obscure, chances are, you have it in your fridge right now!

Secret Ingredient Pie Crust, the best and last pie crust recipe you'll ever need!


I found a recipe quite some years ago that incorporated CREAM CHEESE into  pie crust recipe. I thought to myself… well obviously this must be delicious. Name one thing that cream cheese doesn’t make better….

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I tried the recipe and of course it was delicious. I’ve tweaked it over the years to make it my own, and it has become a solid staple in my kitchen/freezer at all times. The fact that it has so few ingredients, it is so quick and easy to make, AND it is perfect for sweet OR savory dishes (chicken pot pie, anyone?).

I make at least 4 of these at a time (it’s so easy), and I pat them out into round disks, wrap them in plastic wrap, and throw them in the freezer. (Best to let defrost in the fridge… found this out through trial and error.)

The easiest way to make this crust is by using a food processor. You don’t need anything fancy; I use this one that I got for a wedding shower gift 5 years ago, and it works great! I love it. There’s also plenty of room in the bowl part, which I like.

What I’m trying to say is that you do not need to have the world’s most expensive food processor in your pantry. But I AM saying that having a food processor that you like will make this pie crust making task SO easy!

Secret Ingredient Pie Crust, the best and last pie crust recipe you'll ever need

My mom hates making pie crust, she says it is such a pain in the neck. (If you know my mom, then you know that’s not exactly the phrasing she used.) I think making this pie crust is easier than the store-bought kind times a million. Has anyone ever been able to unroll that pie crust without it cracking and breaking and falling apart?!

There is no comparison when it comes to flavor and texture. This crust is hands down the best (and last!) pie crust recipe you’ll ever need.

 

Print Recipe
Secret Ingredient Pie Crust
Perfect for sweet or savory, novice or pastry chef, this is the best and last pie crust recipe you'll ever need.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
cruse
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
cruse
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Using a food processor, blend softened butter, cream cheese, and salt.
  2. When the cream cheese and butter are properly mixed (you will not see any white chunks of cream cheese, the color will be uniform), add in flour all at once.
  3. With the lid on and secured, pulse the food processor until the mixture resembles a ball of dough. It is important not to over-do this. Because pastry dough is delicate, you don't want to over work the proteins in the flour... this will make your crust tough.
  4. When the dough starts to form a sticky ball, add in your cold water a teaspoon or two at a time. You will notice the dough is less sticky. The cold water is firming that butter and cream cheese back up!
  5. This recipe yields one crust (double it if you want a crust on the top of your pie as well!). Scoop the dough out of the food processor, roll into a ball, then pat down into a disc about 5" across. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least a half hour, or freeze for months!
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