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How to Host a Frugal Thanksgiving for Guests with Food Allergies

Guest post by Sonja from

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be stressful and costly. Add guests with food allergies, and you could find yourself over-stressed and over-budget. But if you stick to a plan, follow these tips and stay true to your budget, Thanksgiving dinner can be memorable, fun and frugal.

1. Have Your Allergic Guests Bring Their Favorite Dish

People with food allergies will be relieved if you ask them to bring a dish. Most will either pack snacks or eat meals before a dinner away, just in case they are unable to eat what’s being offered.

It’s difficult to be a gracious guest when food limitations are so severe. Having a stand-by dish they can trust because they made it will ease your guests’ minds.

2. Do Research

Ask what allergies your guests have. Be specific. If they’re gracious, they’ll probably tell you to not make a fuss, and just go about your meal planning. But you may want to tweak a dish just for them.

For example, if they suffer from a gluten allergy, you can cook the stuffing out of the turkey, so as to prevent cross contamination. Or you can use cornstarch to thicken the gravy rather than traditional flour.

Some changes are so small, but your guests will be touched that you made the effort. I know I’m always overwhelmed with the hospitality my in-laws have shown my family when we’ve stayed with them and they had gluten-free cereals and noodles for my toddlers. I never expect it but it absolutely moves me to tears to think of their thoughtfulness. (By the way, some gluten-free dishes are so inexpensive and easy, you may find you like them, too.)

3. Don’t Be Offended

If your allergic guests stay away from your grandmother’s famous broccoli cheese casserole (drool!), please don’t be offended. They are probably more upset about it than you are.

4. Keep Ingredient Labels on Hand

People with food allergies obsessively read the labels. A little MSG in a salad dressing will make my husband sick for the rest of the evening.

Your allergic guests may never ask to see the ingredient list to a casserole (I wonder about the etiquette rules for that), but you can casually comment that you have the ingredient list for that casserole if she’d like to look it over to see if she can have it.

5. Don’t Stress

Chances are, your guests are more anxious than you are. With my family’s food allergies, I plan at least a week in advance before we go to a function. I try to balance bringing snacks, versus feeding people ahead of time, so our food allergy doesn’t become center stage at an event.

It’s humbling to have such a restrictive diet (we can’t have eggs, dairy, gluten, or most meats) but we’ve learned that family gathering around food is more about family and less about food.

Sonja Stewart writes about ways to stay within the grocery budget while on a gluten-free diet. Her blog, shares recipes and shopping tips for those living with food allergies. She lives in Astoria, OR with her husband and homeschools her two young children.

Do you have an idea for a guest post? I am always looking for high-quality,original (i.e. not published anywhere else online) content with tips and ideas December212012® readers can use. If you would like to submit a guest post, please follow the Guest Posting Guidelines.

photo by

Do-It-Yourself: Flower Tees

shares a fun tutorial for . Not only would this be an fairly quick project to tackle, but I’m thinking it would also be inexpensive — and would make a great gift for little girls!

Do you have a fun and frugal DIY idea to share? I’d love to hear about it! Read the submission guidelines and submit it here.

How to Get More Done in Less Time as a Blogger (Part 1)


As part of the Time Management series, I wanted to share some productivity tips for bloggers, as many of you asked about this. All of these won’t work for you, but hopefully you can find two or three to implement and save yourself time and effort!

1) Create a Computer Time Budget

Just as I found it helpful to have a time budget for my daily activities, so I’ve found it so helpful to have a time budget for my daily computer times, instead of just saying, “I’m going to spend four hours on computer and blogging work each day.”

I currently have my computer time broken down into the following specific blocks:

45 minutes on substantive writing
1.5 hours posting time-sensitive deal posts
30 minutes on email
15 minutes on Facebook/Twitter
15 minutes on a writing project
45 minutes extra — placing online orders, reading blog posts, extra projects

I don’t always follow these time blocks perfectly. Sometimes something comes up which requires I spend extra time working on a technical issue. Or occasionally I’ll have a conference call scheduled. So I’ll shift some things around in order to accommodate these extra things.

But having my computer time all budgeted out, instead of just getting on and doing whatever seemed most pressing, has helped me to get a lot more done in a lot less time. In fact, some days, I’m able to get everything done on my list — with time to spare!

2) Do One Thing At a Time

I know, I know! Multi-tasking can be a very efficient way to do many things. However, when it comes to most computer work, if you want to get concentrated work done in an efficient manner, you need to shut out all the noise and just focus on one thing at a time.

If it’s your time to email, work on emailing. Go through your emails in order of priority and don’t stop until your time is up. If it’s your time to write blog posts, only work on drafting blog posts until your time is up.

If you’re used to trying to post or email while you have a bunch of applications open and constantly dinging at you, you’ll likely be surprised at just how much work you can get done in a distraction-free 20-30-minute concentrated block of time.

And once you get in the habit of doing one thing at a time, you’ll learn where your fizzle out point is when you need to stop and take a break or stop for the day in order to come back to it refreshed and energized. Personally, I’ve found that I do best by working in 20-30 minute blocks and then rewarding myself with a short 5-minute break to check email or Facebook. If I’m working on an in-depth project which requires a lot of brain power, I’ll often set the timer for 20 minutes and work on it and then set the timer for 15 minutes and worth on cleaning up or doing laundry.

3) Tame the Email Monster

A) Eliminate Unnecessary Emails

-Go into your Twitter account and change your settings so that you don’t get notified when someone follows you.

-Go into your Facebook settings and change your notifications so that you don’t get emailed when anyone does anything but replies to one of your posts or sends you a private message.

-Unsubscribe from all email lists which you don’t actively read the emails and benefit from.

-Turn off notifications when someone subscribes or unsubscribes from your YouTube or email newsletter service.

-Set up a very comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions page which answers a large number of questions people routinely email you about. Put this in very conspicuous places on your site including smack-dab in the middle of your Contact page. While plenty of people will disregard this, I promise that it will at least cut down on some of your email load.

-Have a search button in a very obvious place on the sidebar of your blog. This encourages people to search for that post or recipe themselves of emailing in to ask you for the link.

B) Don’t Feel Obligated to Answer All Your Emails

State on your Contact page that you aren’t able to answer much of your email. This frees you up from feeling obligated to answer every email which comes in.

C) Keep Your Inbox Cleaned Out

I shoot for having less than 10 emails in my inbox at all times. If they are in my inbox, it means they need to be dealt with within the next 24 hours.

When I check my email, I . I either respond, if I have a minute and only a sentence or two is required in response, I archive them if no response is necessary, or I file them in my “To Answer” file in Gmail if a response is necessary but I don’t have time to respond at the moment. Once a week, usually on Saturdays, I try clean out the entire “To Answer” file so that it’s completely empty.

This system works well for me as it helps me to not be bogged down with a lot of emails not requiring an immediate response in my inbox. And it ensures — most of the time, at least! — that nothing highly important gets overlooked or lost in a sea of emails.

By the way, if you’re going to take the time to answer a question in more than a paragraph or two, consider turning it into a post. Then, you kill two birds with one stone — you answered an email and you wrote a post!

Related: Amy shares more .

D) Set Up Canned Responses

I love Gmail’s and I highly recommend using it. You can set up responses for emails you often receive and with a click of a button insert them straight into an email.

For instance, I often receive emails asking for my address or how to start a blog. I have a canned response all set up for these questions, so I just click the appropriate Canned Response and it automatically inserts it and in a couple of seconds, the email is pretty much answered.

E) Enable Send and Archive

This is another cool tool in Gmail. You can change your “Send” button to “”. Instead of having to push send and then go and delete the message, you can do it with one click, saving yourself a couple seconds per email. When you are responding to dozens of emails each day, those little seconds add up! See how to .

I’ll be posting Part 2 on Wednesday. Stay tuned!

**Update: This giveaway is now closed.**

Win a free Windows Phone 7!

Would you like to try out a Windows Phone 7 for free? These phones were just released and Microsoft is giving one away to a reader here this month!

To enter, just leave a comment on this post sometime between today and November 29, 2010. Tell us your favorite tip for getting more done in less time as a blogger or in any other facet of your life.

After November 29, 2010, I’ll choose and notify the winner. See the official rules of this giveaway here.

This giveaway is brought to you by the new Windows Phone 7. Less MIA. More PTA: Learn about and see it in person at .

photos from

Super Savings Saturday: Ground Chuck & Annie’s Mac & Cheese stock-up

I stopped by Dillon’s to pick up some of the Annie’s Mac & Cheese which was on $0.49 when you bought 10. The children love this stuff, so I always stock up with enough to last us for at least six to eight weeks when it goes on sale.

I also found strawberries marked down to only $0.99 per package, so I snatched up some of those to freeze for smoothies. And then I picked up a few other deals and freebies.

My total was around $21 at Dillons.

Later on in the week, I swung by the health food store to see if there were any great mark-downs. I was extremely excited to find organic, hormone-free ground chuck marked down from around $6 per package to only $1.99 per package! I also found raspberries marked down to $0.99 (which I’ll also be freezing) and a bag of organic apples for only $0.99 a few other items. My total there was around $21, too.

And then I bought farm-fresh eggs from my brother.

So our grocery expenditures ending up totaling around $46 this week.

____________

Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

Time Management 101: Make a Personalized Plan (Part 2)

Once you have some basic routines in place for your daily living, it’s time to put it altogether and devise a Daily Plan and/or Weekly Plan and then branch out to planning for all areas you’ve determined to be your priorities.

1) Daily/Weekly Plan

Now, I know some of you are rolling your eyes saying, “Oh brother. Here we go again. I bet she’s one of those fanatics trying to put me on a strict schedule for each day. That will never work for me.”

Be encouraged: I am not suggesting you need to have a very regimented, down-to-the-minute schedule which you never deter from in order to manage your time well.

Yes, seriously.

Wanna know a secret? We don’t follow a strict schedule! Instead, we have a plan in place for all areas we’ve determined are our priorities and we stick with a flexible routine.

That’s what I love about the Time Budget. Always before, I’d make these elaborate schedules and then I’d never follow them longer than a week or two because I’d get so flustered because I’d crammed them so full that the whole day was thrown off whack with just one or two little interruptions.

With a Time Budget and margin planned in the day, I’ve felt the freedom to shift things around, as needed. So, if the children are playing together really well in the morning, I might just let them play 30 minutes while I finish up a cleaning project. And then we’ll just skip or condense the cleaning/playtime in the afternoon. 

I think it is really helpful to go ahead and make out a specific routine for your day or week using the time budget and priorities, but use it more as a guide, not as a hard and fast must-follow-to-a-tee slave master. It’s there to give you gentle direction and oversight, not to make your life miserable!

You can. However, that’s just the written schedule. We never follow it perfectly.

In fact, if you want to have a more accurate idea of what a day at our usually house looks like, it’d be more like this:

::Get up, read Bible, journal, pray

::Check email, clean out email inbox, blogging work

::Exercise, start a load of laundry

::Get children up (if they aren’t already up!), oversee their before-breakfast chores

::Get children started on breakfast (we eat oatmeal pretty much every morning), shower, dressed, make bed, clean up room

::Quick clean up of kitchen (while the children play or finish their morning chores) and make main dish for dinner (this usually involves about one minute of pulling out chicken or fish from the freezer and marinating it)

::Baths, dressed, chores (if the children didn’t finish their morning chores yet)

::Bible Time (We’re going through Teach Me About God, a Bible story coloring book and Hymns for a Kid’s Heart right now), Art (I eat a bowl of oatmeal sometime in here!)

::Kaitlynn and Silas usually go play nearby and I finish with Kathrynne (this is a unit study curriculum which encompasses almost all subjects, though it’s a little weak in some which is why we supplement).

::Kathrynne then works on her math lesson while I oversee and switch the laundry and finish any kitchen cleaning.

::Children watch a DVD or play while I do some blogging work

::Lunchtime and read a chapter from our current chapter book read-aloud

::Finish cleaning chores for the day

::Read to Kaitlynn and put her down for her afternoon nap (she sometimes just lays in her bed and looks at books for 45 minutes to an hour) or listens to a story CD. Recently, though, she’s been taking a good 1.5 hour nap most afternoons — probably because she’s been getting up earlier!

::Sing, rock and read with Silas and put him down for his nap.

::Return phone calls, extra projects or cleaning

::Clean out inbox, blogging (Kathrynne watches her school DVDs or plays.)

::Everyone help with folding and putting away laundry (I try to do at least one load from start to finish each day.)

::The children play together while I read, finish cleaning or extra projects.

::Finish dinner prep, set table and finish afternoon chores (if they weren’t finished earlier), clean up house

::Read together (if time)

::Dinner, family time, read Bible together

::Children ready for bed/to bed (Jesse usually gets the children ready for bed and puts them to bed and sends me to put my feet up and read or blog! Yes, I know, I’m very spoiled!)

::Time with Jesse

::Bedtime

This loose schedule is only for Monday through Thursday, as we only follow the morning routine on Fridays and then leave the rest of the day open for extra projects, errands, hospitality, getting together with friends and/or field trips. We pick one “big” fun thing per Friday to do and then also usually tackle some extra loose ends.Saturdays are much more relaxed at our house. Jesse usually takes the children out for a few hours while I have my Weekly Planning Retreat and then we just spend extra time hanging out together as a family, sometimes going out shopping or on a fun outing, sometimes just hanging out at home working on projects. We go to Jesse’s family’s house on Saturday evenings for dinner and our weekly “Family Night” (when everyone congregates to eat, catch up, play the Wii and laugh until our sides ache!).

Sundays are extremely laid back — well, apart from the last-minute rushing around to attempt to get to church on time! (One of these days we’re going to master getting three children out the door and everyone looking presentable at an early morning hour. We’re still getting the hang of that… and it seems like every time we’ve almost mastered it, we add another child to the mix. :))

We usually hang around church until we’re the last ones there and then we head to Cracker Barrel or head home for a very simple lunch and afternoon naps. We spend Sunday evenings at my family’s house (usually all the extended family comes over and we eat, talk, laugh some more and just catch up on the past week). The only project I do try to accomplish on Sundays is a quick clean-up of the house and organizing my coupons (which I do while we’re at my family’s house).

And that’s that — at least for now! Our schedule is always evolving and changing as our lives change, our children’s needs change and as new responsibilities come along and old ones are set aside.

I share these details with you just to give you an example of how our family operates (and because so many of you begged to see our daily schedule).It goes without saying, but I’m still going to say it: please, please, please do not try to copy our schedule or feel like you have to do something similar to what we are doing.

What works for our family will not work for you. Find what works for your family — be that a full-fledged schedule, a simple routine, a different schedule for each day of the week, a different schedule for each week of the month, something in between or something totally different — and do that.

The key is to make a plan and loosely follow the plan. Because a plan doesn’t work unless you do!

2) Homemaking Plan

In addition to a Daily/Weekly Plan, I’ve found it very helpful to have a Homemaking Plan. You can see . There are also .

I don’t always get to everything every week, but by getting to most things most weeks and keeping our home pretty streamlined of clutter, things stay in fairly good shape around here most of the time. (Now, if you drop by, I can’t promise there won’t be crumbs or fingerprints or toys on the floor, but our home usually can be “company-ready” in about 45 minutes. And I’m happy with that for now!)

You can see my that I print and use each day here. I normally print these on Saturday for the following week and keep them in my home management binder. I try to keep it simple and only assign five to eight things (or less) on the to-do section and one to two projects/ministries per day. Whatever doesn’t get accomplished in a given day, either gets bumped to the following day, or I decide to just cross it off the list.

I try to never have more than eight items on my daily to-do list, otherwise, I find that it can be discouraging and overwhelming from the get-go. I’d rather just have three items on the list and actually get them all finished, than 30 items and overwhelm myself and finish none.

3) Blogging Plan

During my Weekly Planning Retreat on Saturdays, I map out the blogging projects and posts for the upcoming week on Google calendar and prep anything that I can. I also prioritize things by posts and projects which must be done and those which I hope to get to, but aren’t quite as imperative to write/finish.

To be honest, up until about six months ago, I mostly just blogged by the seat of my pants — without clear plan or purpose. Setting goals for my blogging posts and projects each week and then revisiting them on Saturdays has helped me to be much more intentional in my blogging. And hopefully, this has also allowed me to do a better job at the actual act of blogging. In addition, it’s helped me to actually follow through on my promises (most of the time, at least!).

4) Other Plans

Ministry Plans: On Saturdays, I also map out plans for ministry opportunities for the following week — picking out at least one to three different ways that I feel God wants me to serve or reach out to someone in our church or community. I don’t always get to all of it, but having it planned, helps me to be more purposeful in exercising hospitality, serving and meeting needs.

Homeschooling Plans: Our homeschooling curriculum doesn’t require much extra planning and preparation right now, but there are times when I spend at least a small chunk of time on Saturday planning out the projects, printing worksheets and getting things all ready so that come Monday, we’re not scrambling.

Menu Plans: Since we’re eating really simply right now, I just make sure that we have the ingredients on hand to have oatmeal for breakfast every morning, and simple lunches and dinners every day. I pick one meal off the list for dinner each night and write it on my the night before.

Plan XYZ: For me, I’ve found that if I have a good Daily Plan, Homemaking Plan, Menu Plan, Blogging Plan, Ministry Plan and Homeschooling Plan, life flows along fairly smoothly and doesn’t usually feel too stressful or chaotic (though there are definitely those moments!). This is what is working for me at this season of our lives. I encourage you to examine what areas in your life could be benefited by regular planning and to set aside a small time block each week to plan. At first, it might be rough going, but over time, you’ll likely really start to reap the fruit!

It’s well been said that 10 minutes of planning can save you 20 minutes in execution. And it can also save your sanity and lower your stress levels, too!

On Monday, I’ll be sharing some time-saving tips for email, blogging and the computer in general, since many of you have requested this.

Helpful Resources:

This 125-page ebook walks you through how to create a personalized household notebook. It includes:

  • worksheets to help you think through your jobs at home
  • calendars that cover all the bases: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.
  • planning sheets for the holidays, your budget, your mealtimes — your life
  • .

Motivated Moms Chore Planner

This chore planner tells you exactly what you need to do each day to keep your home organized and running smoothly. There are a few different options to choose from and you can purchase the chore planner for November and December 2010 to try out for only $1 right now.