The Ultimate Budget Holiday Decor….Mason Jar Candles

mason candle 7I just love the holidays don’t you? It was always my mom’s favorite as well. Maybe that’s why I feel the way I do. Christmas Eve with mom, dad and the three of us girls. Familiar decor, delicious food, an obscene amount of gifts and lots and lots of happy laughter. It was a small gathering of mostly just the 5 of us, and never, ever fancy. Just us.  And I loved it. Every minute of it.

As a little girl, I would fantasize about someday hosting these gatherings myself. The sounds, smells and sights….I couldn’t wait to make them all my own. I imagined the sight of glowing candles, the smell of spicy cinnamon and autumn fruits, all with the backdrop of Bing Cosby’s “White Christmas” or Nat King Cole’s “Oh Holy Night” (my favorite) surrounding us.

It was and is all about the atmosphere. Ambiance. I’m sure you’ll agree that this time of year has a feeling to it, and I think décor takes center stage in creating that.

But who has a ton of extra cash to drop on décor?  Certainly not me. Of course, for the most part, I find that “do it yourself” is the way to go. I look to others for inspiration, and it’s always just a mouse click away! (more…)

Perfect Houseplants for Low Light Rooms

snake plant 2

Several years ago, our family moved out of our old, small house, into our new, slightly less small house. Why bother, you ask? Simple…we wanted to get the girls into a better school district, and I can say with confidence that we’ve never regretted it.

Okay, so if I HAD to name one regret, it would be that we couldn’t find a house that delivered on the natural light that our old house gave us.

Actually, our “new” place isn’t really new at all. Just new to us. It was built in 1967, and from what I can tell, people in 1967 loved the feeling of living in a CAVE. I keep telling my husband that the windows in this place were put there only as an after thought. You know, like they totally forgot them, but at the last minute decided to put a few in here and there only because building codes required them to do so!

So at the time that we bought this house, I really thought that I could brighten up the place and have it looking much more….alive?  Simple, I thought. We just had to pull up that dingy carpet, take down the deep brown paneling from the walls, paint those dark, outdated kitchen cabinets, and we’d be in business. And it worked! To a degree. While the changes we’ve made did bring our abode into the current century, there is still nothing that we could do to get in more natural light. Other than, of course, taking on the major expense of adding windows. Not in this girl’s budget.

Which brings me to the subject of this post.  It’s all about the lack of light, and when you lack light, it’s kind of hard to get plants to grow. (more…)

How to Create 4 Hair Products for $1

Conditioner multi usesI’m not gonna lie. The subject of this post was born out of necessity. By that I mean, stretching our pennies and finding areas to cut back has become just that, a necessity.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a slight twinge of guilt when I spend hard earned cash on vanity related things. Makeup, anti-aging creams, and most of all, hair products. It’s hard to resist, right?

Everywhere we turn we see the advertisers dangling their carrots of follicular promise.  Extreme thickening, penetrating conditioning and, my favorite, fiber amplifying! How can a girl resist? My hair sure could use some extreme thickening! My split ends are crying out for penetrating conditioner, and thank goodness someone finally recognizes how desperately my fibers need amplifying!!

Okay, so I’m getting a bit carried away. But I’m such a sucker for this stuff. However, I can’t think of too many of these products that actually made an astounding difference in my fine, color abused hair. And what exactly is in this stuff that would make it so special, anyway?

Well, I couldn’t come up with anything. But what I did eventually come up with are ways to make all of those different products that I held so dear, but at a fraction of the cost. A tiny fraction, in fact. (more…)

Zuppa Toscana

zuppa toscana recipeDuring one of our annual staycation “travels”, we found ourselves asking the glorious question of…”where should we go to eat?”.  I use the word “glorious” because I absolutely love eating out. And really, what’s not to love? No cooking, no clean up, and most of the entrees are something that I wouldn’t typically make at home.

It has been my experience that most men and children don’t always “get” the wonders of eating out. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions as to why, but to many of my dear readers out there…..you know exactly why! I watched my mom do it, and now I’m also faced with the unenviable task of asking that age old question….”what’s for dinner?” Boredom can soon lead to feelings of drudgery.  And from that develops a kind of euphoric reaction to the thought of going out for dinner. If cost wasn’t such a factor, I’d do it wayyy more often.

So as we’re driving aimlessly looking for a place to satisfy all four of us, my darling first born jumps out of her seat and exclaims “OLIVE GARDEN!”.  We don’t have many close to where we live, and she’s been asking to go there literally for years.  I don’t know why we’ve never given in to that request, but we’re going to break that seal today. (more…)

Alfredo Sauce (reduced fat)

ALFREDO SAUCEHere at Almost the Real Thing, you’ll probably notice quite a few pasta recipes. It’s one component to our main dishes that is always a crowd pleaser. With good reason.

The thing I love most about pasta dishes is, of course, the huge selection of sauces that can be served with it. You can make them as healthy or decadent as you’d like.

One of those that falls squarely into the “decadent” category would be Alfredo Sauce. (more…)

Amazing DIY Jellyfish Costume

jellyfish costumeAs Halloween was fast approaching, my youngest daughter and I were in desperate need of costume inspiration. I honestly don’t know what search phrase I had used, but somehow came across google images of homemade jellyfish costumes. I took a quick look, said to myself “how cute”, and moved on.

A short time later I casually showed my daughter the images, and to my surprise, she flipped! After that, there was no question as to what she wanted to be for Halloween. A jellyfish it will be.”

There were quite a variety of methods to create this costume. Some quite short & simple, others listed an extensive number of necessary supplies and instruction. Their end result looked amazing, but I felt I didn’t quite have the patience or skill set to pull that off. Most of all, I wanted to do this at minimal cost. (more…)

Alfredo Chicken Lasagna Roll Ups

Alfredo Chicken LasagnaThere are only a handful of foods that my entire family can agree on. On the top of that approval list resides my dear friend, pasta. So versatile. Since this is such a repeat staple in my rotation, I sometimes find it hard to keep it interesting, yet simple enough to please everybody.

Enter Alfredo Chicken Lasagna Roll Ups. I admit, although the recipe looked pretty tasty, I didn’t have high hopes for it. Seemed like just a lot of everyday flavors combined into one dish. Yawn.

But wow.  The hubby declared it “delicious”!  While in most homes I’m sure that’s a rather stock remark. In mine, it translates into the ever elusive Home…Run!

I should also mention that, like most of the meals I prepare, I cannot take credit for their creation. This little gem was picked up from Table for Seven.

I’ve re-created the sauce HERE, so be sure to give this one a go. You won’t be sorry!

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Simple Crockpot Taco Soup

TACO SOUP 2Let me start by saying that recipes like these are a saving grace for those days where prep work and standing over a stove are just not in the cards.

I’m a huge proponent of meal planning. That practice was a real life saver during my full-time working days. I would sit down and guess at what my week would be like. Based on that I would pick which days I could spend more time on a meal, and which days I would not. So in the “not” category, This Simple Crockpot Taco Soup was often my go-to choice.

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Inspring Fashion Blogs for Great Mommy Style

Mom Fashion BlogIf there was one word to describe my fashion style, I guess you would call it “classic”.  I’m not what you’d call a risk taker.  Despite that, I do try to stay somewhat current, and by that I don’t mean the latest style of sweatpants.

If you’ve read my About Me page, you’ll see that I recently went from full time work outside the home status to full time stay at home mom. With that, I’ve always promised myself I wouldn’t get sucked into that forceful vortex of “why bother”.  No one is going to see me, right?  Well, on some days that might be true, but for me, I don’t feel myself if I don’t at least try. (more…)

The Conflicted Stay at Home Mom

Work Mom SAHMSigh. I’m just going to come out and say it. I’m not a “work outside the home” mom anymore. I confess that I thought I’d shout that from the rooftops when that fantasy finally became reality. No longer would I have to play that role anymore. The exhausted, guilt ridden and sometimes downright overwhelmed yet “modern” woman. Holding a full time job while also being a wife, mother and caretaker, I thought I’d had it all. But having it all, unfortunately, also meant doing it all. (more…)