Planning For Vacation

Tomorrow I leave on a vacation to Ocean City, Maryland. This is the first vacation to somewhere new, that I’m doing all the planning for by myself. Our other vacations have been to places we’ve been before, like Cape Cod- I’ve been going there every year for about 15 years, so planning that trip wasn’t particularly stressful. I hope this one goes just as smoothly. 
I found the perfect hotel, reasonably priced, right on the beach and about two blocks past the end of the boardwalk (hopefully that’ll make it a bit less crowded). It’s across the street from an amusement park and a couple of seafood restaurants. Seems like an ideal location but I’ll keep my fingers crossed! 
I did some research and planned an outing to Assateague Island for a day. I went there with my family when I was 15, on the way back from Virginia Beach, but we never saw any of the wild horses. I hope this time we have better luck. 
I also want to check out the Fenwick Island Lighthouse and the nearby Mason-Dixon Line marker. On the way home from vacation, I want to swing by Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to check out a few unique stores. 
Other than that I want to leave the plan open to hanging on the beach, strolling the boardwalk, and visiting any attractions we might happen upon. 

To prepare for this fun and relaxing vacation, I’ve made like a million lists, googled activities and restaurant reviews, and made or purchased some supplies. 
I went to my local Christmas Tree Shop and purchased a large green tote bag with a zippered top for $3.99. I figured that would make an excellent and cheap beach bag but it seemed to be missing something. My monogram! Rather than hand embroidering something so large (it would take forever!), I decided to design it out of a festive fabric. I found some green, yellow and orange citrus printed fabric that was perfect for the job. I traced my monogram on the fabric, cut out the letters, ironed them, sewed them on, and voilà! 

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I tied a strip of the fabric to the zipper to bring it all together and complete the look. 
Since the fabric was something I already had on hand, the total project cost was only $3.99 plus tax! Quite a good deal for a totally customized bag!

Another great find was a beach cabana/sun hut from the Christmas Tree Shop. For $16.99 you get a space big enough for two beach chairs, three adults just sitting on beach towels, or four or five small children. It creates a breeze-free area to enjoy a picnic on the sand, and a place to take a break from the sun. 

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We probably won’t spend all day on the beach, but at that price, it’s worth grabbing just in case. I saw ones at other stores that had a front flap that zipped up to create a changing area for an extra $20 or so, but we’ll be only a short walk from our hotel room so I can’t imagine we’d actually use it. 

I’m also making sure we have all the basics. Sunblock. I got two kinds- 50 spf lotion and 30 spf spray. Plus an aloe cream for the inevitable sunburn. Two bathing suits per person. No one wants to wear a wet bathing suit if they don’t dry before the next swim, and you never know if you might tear it or something. Two beach towels- same reason. Water proof containers and pouches for cell phones, keys, etc. At least two pairs of flip flops per person for the beach. I have the worst luck and it seems I always break a pair, so this time I’m bringing a brand new, super durable pair, and a couple others, plus some brand new sandals. A first aid kit just in case. Sleepwear that is appropriate in case someone needs to get something from the car or go to the hotel office, etc. Everyone’s regular medicines, and extra just in case. I plan to bring a few extra migraine pills because I’d rather take an extra pill than miss out on enjoying my vacation.
In my opinion, you should plan as if everyone is going to need a lot of everything. Not one band aid in case someone gets a cut, but several because you might get the misfortune of several scrapes. Not just a couple tums in case you get a sour stomach, but a bottle of them in case it lasts for days or you’re not the only one. 
I know that most things you could just run out to a store for, but if you plan that way, you could end up spending a lot of your vacation time shopping for supplies, and you’ll most likely end up spending more money than you would have if you’d planned ahead. 

Anyway, I’m super excited! I have most of my packing done and just have to pack the car and make a quick trip to the store. I’m going to try to get myself to bed early so I can hopefully head out by 5:00am tomorrow morning. I’ll try to make time to post some pictures and an update about my trip so you can share in the fun! 

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Thinking About Painting A Room?

Painting can be a great way to change the look of a room. It can also be a lot of work between moving or covering furniture, taping up moldings and ceilings, and giving up a weekend to get it done. And there’s always the fear that you might not like the look once it’s done. Sure, you can get a paint chip and hold it up to your moldings and furniture to see how it looks, but it can still be hard to imagine the whole room being that color.

Before you buy the paint, try painting a picture of the room! There are tons of photo painting apps out there that will allow you to “paint the room” before actually painting the room. I use an app called Color Effects. Although this app has a few ads (and has crashed occasionally, though never while I was in a project), it’s free and allows you to mix colors almost indefinitely. This app doesn’t just let you paint the walls, it also retains the effect of the lighting in the room so you can see how it would look with the sun shining through the window. This is extra helpful if you’re afraid to try a darker/deeper color. Once you see that the room is still getting the same amount of light regardless of wall color, you might feel a bit more brave about giving it a go.

You can also use this app if you are thinking of buying a new sofa and want to see how the color would look with your paint/decor, if you’re unsure if you should paint a piece of furniture or cabinets, or even how a new rug or curtains would go with the room.

My mother is considering painting her living room (okay, I brought it up and convinced her to do it. She agreed though!), but she has a hard time imagining the change. I had her send me a picture and I painted it the color she liked. Here’s the before and after:

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I’m going to work on convincing her to get new lamps, switch plates, etc. to go with the new color.

Remember, don’t worry too much about picking a “safe” color- go bold and vibrant and you’ll never get bored of it!

Furniture Placement

Often when visiting a friends house, walking past a neighbor’s, or glancing through a magazine, I see homes with poorly placed furniture. I try not to be critical but I always wonder why they don’t reorganize to utilize the space. A common issue I’ve noticed is furniture blocking doors, windows, entryways, stairs, etc.

A neighbor of mine has two couches, set on an angle so one blocks access to all but a foot of their sliding glass patio door. Yes, they can still get in and out through the patio door, but it’s a tight squeeze and looks unappealing. It’s also very unnecessary for a household of two (personal opinion).

Instead of squeezing in furniture that doesn’t fit, accommodate extra guests with small armchairs. For my neighbors’, a chair could fit easily on either side of the sliding glass doors. The chairs would only accommodate two guests as compared to the couch holding three people, but the increase in space and accessibility would be so worth it. Also consider the idea that even if they kept their current seating for six, what if seven people were present? Or eight? They’d still have a seating shortage. Make up for the shortage with comfortable ottomans (make sure they can handle being sat on), poufs, or even dining chairs. If you’re having a party, not everyone will be sitting at the same time anyway!

If the only reasonable spot to place your couch (you probably want it to face your fireplace or tv) is in a place that would block a door, window, stairway, entryway, etc. try to place it about 6 feet in front. The gap will allow you to walk behind it to access the space, and it will look less cluttered since it will not overlap. If you choose to place the couch in a diagonal across a corner, pull it out far enough to create a walking path behind it, and fill in the corner with a plant, floor lamp, etc. so the space doesn’t go to waste.

Another common issue is furniture or beds in front of windows. Windows are intended to open up a room by adding light and fresh air. They can’t do their job if they are being blocked.

When it comes to beds, it’s okay to put them in front of a window as long as the frame of the window is entirely above the bed, when all pillows are in place. If the bed blocks part of the window, it looks sloppy and inaccessible. Beds are one of the few pieces of furniture that can work in front of a window since it won’t be a problem to climb on top to let in some fresh air.

Dressers, small tables, and bookcases should also follow the rule of fitting entirely under the frame of the window, including any items placed on top. The difference in placing this kind of furniture in front of a window is that you can’t generally (safely and comfortably) climb on top to open the window. Make sure the depth of the furniture allows you easy access to the window. Even if you do not plan to open the window, the room flows best when it looks open and accessible.

If you have stairs, it’s nice to utilize the space along the side of the stairway. Furniture should not rise above the bottom of the framing on the stair tread. If the furniture overlaps you will be able to see the back of it when you are standing on the stairs.

Never block entryways. You should be able to enter or exit a room without squeezing around furniture. Make sure the furniture does not overlap the molding. If a room has a wide entryway, it is okay to place a decorative piece on either end of the threshold as long as by doing so the entryway does not become hard to maneuver (for example: a six foot wide entryway could handle a one foot wide decorative piece on each side, leaving a four foot wide walking path, which is more than adequate).

Overlapping with furniture always makes a home look sloppy, cluttered and inaccessible. If you already have too much furniture in a room, and don’t want to get rid of the piece, try repurposing it for a different room, or redoing it to make it fit properly.

Walk through each room of your home and see how easily you can maneuver around furniture and whether or not you can access your windows. You may be able to switch the placement of a tall and short piece of furniture to fit properly, or slide a piece farther out to get around it. It can be a lot of fun to reorganize a room and and you may just love the new set up!

Catered vs DIY Super Bowl Snacks

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Are you hosting a Super Bowl party this Sunday? Before you get overwhelmed by the idea of feeding a group of people for three hours or more, decide what your party really needs.

If you don’t think you’ll have a lot of time to cook, or you’re hosting a very large number of guests, you may want to opt for catered food. Your local grocery store usually has a catering department (look for it by the deli counter). They will have a variety of different snack platters such as wings, deli meat, vegetables, cheeses, etc. You can also call your favorite restaurant and place an order with them (many places have separate catering menus). Catering will be a more expensive option, but it is a great way to keep you out of the kitchen and cheering for your team!

If you’d prefer to do it yourself, you still have two different options. You can make all your snacks from scratch-the most affordable option, or you can buy frozen or canned ingredients and just pop them in the oven-also pretty affordable and a big time saver.

For example, my menu will include:
-Frozen meatballs which can easily be warmed up in the oven and served with a marinara sauce from a jar.
-Chicken drumsticks which will sit in different kinds of marinade until the guests arrive and then be cooked in the oven.
-Chips and a variety of store bought dips.
-Stuffed mushrooms which will be prepped before the game and can be popped in the oven when needed.
-Frozen pizza rolls which can be microwaved in about a minute.
-Canned chili which can also be microwaved or warmed in a saucepan on the stove top.
-Cookies and/or cupcakes which will be baked from scratch the day or morning before.

I think the easiest plan is to buy the items that are time consuming or difficult to make, and then make the items that are easier or can be prepared ahead of time. This gives you the best balance of time and cost.

Don’t forget to consider the amount of food each person will consume during the event. Are your guests big eaters? Is anyone on a diet? Try to figure out how much to make of each menu item before you go to the store or place a catering order. Also, when you make snacks at home, cook them in waves so they don’t get cold and so you don’t have too much go to waste if your guests get full.

With tasty and easy snacks, your party will be a win no matter which team you’re cheering for!

Decorating Your Child’s Room

As soon as your child could string a sentence together, you started to hear all their opinions on different things. And it’s great that your child is such an individual but their taste doesn’t always match yours. This can become especially obvious in regards to how their bedroom looks.

A child’s bedroom is the one place in the world that’s truly theirs. (Sure, it’s under your roof, but you probably don’t live in their bedroom with them.) Your child wants it to be set up and decorated with things they like. Things that make them happy. And even younger children want a “cool” room for when they have friends over.

Instead of avoiding redecorating, jump in! As a child’s taste will change as they explore the world and discover new things, it’s important to keep the cost low and to be aware of big changes that may not work permanently. Try to avoid things such as:
-black and white zebra striped painted walls(or another similar paint job)-this will be difficult to paint over when they tire of the look
-building in anything that is age related (like a dinosaur shaped built in bookcase)

Ask your child to collaborate with you on the project. Make sure you have a few options of decor, colors, furniture, bedding, etc. that you approve of/can afford for each part of the room. This way your child can be the decision maker.

First thing you’ll want to do is find out your child’s favorite color. You probably know their favorite color, but it’s good to double check with them in case it has recently changed.

The next thing to decide on is what color you will paint the walls. Try to stick to a neutral such as white, light gray, beige, etc. Make sure the neutral you choose is one that will work well with their favorite color. If you choose beige and their favorite color is yellow, the room may look bland or washed out.
Your child may want their walls to be their favorite color but there are several reasons why that isn’t always the best idea:
-repainting the walls when your child’s taste changes involves a decent amount of work- moving everything out of the room or into the center of the room, covering anything that remains, removing switch plates and outlet covers, taping everything up, spending a day or more painting, waiting for the room to dry and air out, and finally putting everything back. (Wow! I made that sound like a lot of work!)
-if their walls are their favorite color and so is the bedding, curtains, pillows, lamps, throw rugs, toy box, etc. it can be too overwhelming. Pops of color are a lot more pleasing to the eyes. Also, by the time they pick a new color those other items may be getting worn out anyway, may be able to be modified, or might even match the next design.

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Once you’ve chosen your wall paint, it’s time to accessorize! Pick items in different shades of their favorite color or multi-colored items that incorporate that color. (I once had a bedspread that was purple with pink and yellow flowers. Pink was my favorite color at the time, but when that switched to yellow, the bedspread still worked. Plus it kept the room colorful instead of being all yellow.) You can usually find cute complete bedding sets for around $30. If you are afraid that cheaper bedding might not be warm enough, buy a neutral colored blanket to go with it. You can reuse the blanket for all future bedding sets.

A cheap and fun idea is to redo some of the items they already have in the room.
A white dresser (or any other paintable dresser) can be redone in the shortest amount of time. Empty the drawers and remove them. Tape them out so that it creates a border or frame on the face of the drawer. Let your child paint the border in themselves! Their friends will be so impressed that they did that themselves!

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For the lamps, you can simply switch out the shade to match the new room.
For throws and rugs- try to buy them on the cheap (they get worn out anyway). I know Walmart sells fleece throws in different colors and patterns for $5 or less.
For wall decor, check out my post Easy Wall Decor Project https://thehelpfulhousewife.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/easy-wall-decor-project/
This is a simple and affordable way to spruce up the walls with coordinating decor- your children can even do it themselves!

Don’t forget to check your local discount stores and the clearance sections of other stores! You can find some great deals and because these places often sell last year’s styles, you may find something you couldn’t find other places.

I hope these ideas have inspired you to go ahead and actually redecorate that room! If you have any questions or need more ideas, please let me know! Thanks for reading!

*Pictures in THIS post are not my own. I found them on Pinterest.

Easy Wall Decor Project

Winter is my indoor season. I just hate the cold so much! Unless you ski or snowboard (which I don’t), there’s not a ton of fun outdoor activities. Which means I spend a lot of time hanging around the house. And the more time I spend in here, the more I realize my decorating is rather blah. So I’ve decided to make my least favorite season a productive one and do some pre-spring cleaning/organizing/redecorating. I know as soon as the weather turns warm and sunny I’m not going to want to be stuck inside getting this stuff done. Plus, if I’m going to be stuck in here for a couple more months, at least I can be stuck in a well-decorated, clean, and organized house.
Of course I should have started by getting the house perfectly clean, but it’s close enough and I got too excited about a new decorating project. I don’t know what to call it, but we can go with scrapbook paper wall decor for now.

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This can also be a great project for the kids to decorate their rooms, and it’s quick and easy enough that they won’t get bored halfway through.
I ran out to the craft store early yesterday afternoon and got all my supplies. I spent $11 but that included a lot of extras for future projects, plus some clearance items that were too cute to pass up.

Here’s a list of what you will need:

-3 sheets of scrapbook paper of a similar color but different patterns (I got these on sale for 36 cents each)
-3 picture frames of the same size and style (I got these for $1 each at the Dollar Tree)
-paint for the frame if you couldn’t find the exact ones you wanted
-newspaper (to protect your workspace)
-scissors
-spray adhesive or glue stick (you can skip this if you can’t find any around the house)

Step One:
Take the backing and glass out of the frames.

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Step Two:
Paint the frames. While waiting for them to dry proceed to Step Three.

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Step Three:
Use the backing from the frame to trace out the scrapbook paper. Cut the paper along the lines you traced.
Step Four:
Decide which direction you want the paper to set at. Be mindful if the print can only go one way.
Step Five:
Rub glue stick or spray the adhesive on the picture frame backing. Line up your paper and stick it on. Make sure you smooth out any bubbles or wrinkles.

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Step Six:
When your frames are dry, put the glass back in the frame (or skip it like I did- it’s not necessary and I hate the glare when the lights are on), and put the backing back in.

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Step Seven:
Hang and enjoy your creation!

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I would love to hear about your experience if you tried this project! I had a lot of fun making mine and I really like how it adds to the house.

Preparing Your Home For Thanksgiving: The Second Stage

If you’ve managed to get the majority of your cleaning and organizing done then you’re ready to start making your house look festive.

Each holiday has different decorating needs. For the Fourth of July you’d be celebrating in the backyard, for Christmas you’d be in the living room, and for Thanksgiving you’ll be in the kitchen/dining room.

It’s important to be aware of the space you’ll be entertaining in when buying or crafting decorations.
Now I did say that for Thanksgiving the main celebration will be in the kitchen/dining room, but your guests, especially overnight guests, will be spending time in other areas also. If you don’t have the time to do complete house decorating, try to focus on the dining area, and make sure the other areas are neat and clean (you can refer to The First Stage if you need help). For anyone who is able to find time to expand their decorated areas, we can also focus on the living room, hallways/stairways, entryways and front porch. I excluded the bathroom and guest room(s) as these are private areas and they should be left as accessible as possible for your guests’ comfort.

There is no need to do every decoration I’m going to mention. You can pick and choose which things work for you. I just want to cover as much as possible so there are many options, and ideas for things that you couldn’t figure out what to do with.
For the dining area, we’ll save the table decor for last as you may wish to set that up at last minute.

For the walls (and this could be used in any room) you can hang leaf garland from corner to corner. The Dollar Tree has a 5 foot strand of leaf garland for $1. You can also replace any pictures with harvest themed pictures or decor.

For a practically free wall decoration, you can make your own customized word art. I made a simple FALL letter decoration using only cardboard, a black sharpie, and masking tape. I cut out four squares of cardboard, framed them out with the masking tape and then wrote a letter on each square with the sharpie. Pick whatever word you’d like to fit your space accordingly and cut out a square for each letter. You could even use colored tape and a colored sharpie for a more festive design.

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For the the kitchen, you could use the same leaf garland to string under your countertops. Tack or tape it tightly so it doesn’t block the cabinet doors. You can find seasonal towels and potholders in most any store (including the Dollar Tree) to add a little pop of festive flair. Remember not to crowd your countertops with too many decorations or you won’t have room to cook!

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For the living room you can also hang garland at the top of the walls (I like garland a lot because it is so easy to decorate with), and switch out pictures for more seasonally themed pictures or decorations. If you don’t want to buy new pictures, you can google whatever image(s) you would like to use and print them off. You can find affordable frames at several discount stores to complete the look. If you are looking to cover a larger area where a big painting was hung, you can print off several simple images of a similar style, frame them, and stagger them across the space.

You can put small ceramic turkeys, pumpkins, gourds, etc. on the side tables and any shelving (try to clear a spot on the shelf first so the decoration isn’t crowded).

For the coffee table, it’s best to pick one larger piece so there is still room to set a mug or magazine. A giant pine cone with glittered tips (glitter glue 3 packs are $1 at the Dollar Tree and include red, gold, and silver in convenient squeeze bottles) would make an elegant centerpiece and could also be used at the dining table. This could be an easy project for kids of all ages!

If you have a mantle, there are beautiful pine cone and leaf candle sets sold especially for this purpose. You could also make your own piece with a clear vase filled with leaves, pine cones, and small foam gourds, flanked by candles and pumpkins.

For hallways, the best bet is to keep them neat and consider getting or making small wreaths for each door. This will give your guests a bit of holiday cheer as they walk from room to room, without needing to clutter your hallway.

For stair ways, you could place a pumpkin on each stair (or every other if that works better for you) and even paint a letter on each to spell out your own greeting. Make sure that you leave enough space for guests to pass through and they can still reach the railing as they go up and down the stairs. Garlands could be woven through the spindles for an extra touch.

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For the entryway it might be nice to have a welcome sign to let your guests know how happy you are that they have arrived. Since this area will probably only be viewed by your guests upon arriving and leaving, this is a great spot to allow younger children to decorate as they wish. It’s a great opportunity for them to show off their talent to the family, and to let them know that they are an important part of the holiday.

When decorating your front porch, keep in mind that this is the first area your guests will see and so will your neighbors. A few pumpkins, some mums and a wreath will stay neat without much attention. Natural decorations are great because they are weatherproof, and don’t require storage after the holiday. Just toss them in with the compost!

Finally it’s time to decorate the dining table! Try to wait as long as possible to do this unless you have a special table you use only for these occasions. I say this because you don’t want your decor to get messy.

First things first- pick out a tablecloth. If you already have a tablecloth, check for any stains you may have missed when you used it last. Even if it’s been a long time, you still might have some luck with a good stain remover. If you don’t have a tablecloth, then you’ll probably want to get one. Don’t be too worried even if your local stores have swapped out their Thanksgiving merchandise for Christmas. You should still be able to find a tablecloth that would work wonderfully. Look for something like a solid red (you can use it for Christmas too!). You’re going to cover it with dishes and decor so it’s actually very nice to have a simple base to work with. Keep in mind who your guests will be. If younger children will be present, you may want to choose a flannel backed vinyl tablecloth over a fabric one. It’s easy to wipe spills away without having to stop the party before a stain sets in.

Next you should decide whether you’d like to use placemats. I think using placemats is a great way to frame out each person’s spot at the table. I bought felt leaf cut out placemats because they are affordable if you are buying a lot and cheap enough to replace if they get stained ($1 each at my favorite store!). Of course you could buy fabric placemats instead, but they can get stained and a lot of the styles are an image that will get covered up by the dishes. A patterned or shaped placemat would work best.

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Now we should work on the centerpiece (or pieces if you have a long table). You should decide whether you want a single piece or a multi-piece arrangement.

Flowers are a great way to brighten up your table. You could pick up a few bouquets at the florist or your local grocery store. They usually carry seasonal bouquets. If you have mums that are still going strong, you could cut a few stems and make your own bouquet.

Another option is a small group of candlesticks to create a simple and elegant look. LED candlesticks are a safe choice in case they get knocked over.

You could also use the giant glittered pine cone I mentioned for the coffee table. If you can’t find one in your yard or local park, a craft store should have them. (Normally I would suggest checking a place like Walmart, but stores like that have a limited craft department so you may not have much luck.)

A tastefully decorated pumpkin (jack o’ lanterns are so last month!) is another easy way to spruce up the table. Painted pumpkins are easy to do and super affordable! I made one with a style I found on Pinterest. If you haven’t checked out Pinterest yet, you should definitely make a point to give it a look. It’s a great way to get decorating ideas by just searching for things like “Thanksgiving decor”, “autumn wreaths”, etc. Pick out one or two paint colors, and use masking or painter’s tape to mark out your design. You can use spray paint if you’re pinched for time. Actually, you might want to use spray paint either way, because it’s a lot easier to work with. I used regular paint and it took about an hour, as I needed to do several coats and it took forever to dry. You can get a can of spray paint for about $1. There’s no need to invest in a good quality paint as the pumpkin won’t last forever. You can make several pumpkins at a time to decorate lots of places. If you don’t have the time to design each one, just choose a solid color and spray them all at once. White and gold are great choices for solid pumpkins.

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Another easy idea is to get a clear vase (or vases depending on the length of your table) and fill it with pine cones, leaves (I suggest fabric leaves because even though real leaves are free, they crush and crumble if you put anything on top of them), small foam gourds, acorns, etc.

If you would like to use napkin rings, you can easily make a set yourself. Cut a thin strip of burlap, about 1/2 inch wide and approximately 10 inches long, and hot glue an acorn to the center of each strip. When you roll up the napkins you can tie the burlap strips underneath.

Another option is to pick out a festive colored ribbon to tie around each napkin.

If you plan to arrange the seating, you’ll be wanting place cards. If you already have place card holders then you’ll be ready to make the place cards. If not, you can make your own.

Pine cones are an easy, natural holder. Once you make the place cards, you can easily use a dab of hot glue to attach the cards to the top. If the pine cones do not stand up straight, break off a few of the bottom points till it becomes level.

You can also skip the holders and make place cards that stand up on their own, by using unruled index cards (or the backside of regular ones), and folding them in half. Make sure you flatten the crease well so they don’t slide down and flatten out.

Decorate your place cards with a simple border. Use a ruler to make a frame with your choice of colored marker. If you are an artsy person you may wish to add a small drawing to each card. Write out each person’s name with your neatest handwriting. Index cards are cheap so you can always redo them.

I made a rough draft of one just to give you an idea of the design. I plan to use color on my real ones since they do look really plain now.

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Now set the table and you’re all ready to serve the feast!