White Elephant Gift Exchange (With Printables!)

The holiday is quickly approaching and that means festivities are abound! One of my personal favorite parts of the holiday season is to attend and host Holiday/Christmas parties and be surrounded by family and friends. One fun way to increase the laughs and interaction from all those at your holiday shindig is to host a White Elephant Gift Exchange.

Not sure what that entails? In the case you have never participated in a White Elephant Gift Exchange, I have drawn a little list together of how to host one and even provided some graphics for easy planning! Here is how the exchange works:

A White Elephant Gift Exchange is basically a surprise package in every way. First of all, every guest/participant should bring a wrapped, unlabeled gift along with them to the party. The gifts may have a monetary limit to them (my friends and I have decided on a maximum spending of $20 for each of our gifts) and be of any theme possible. The wackier the gift, the more entertaining the reactions and exchange!

Once the exchange time is arrived, arrange all the wrapped gifts in one area to allow them all to be visible. Some may be very small and other very large. Be sure every participant is able to see them all.

Then have guests choose a number from a hat/basket/whatever. This number represents their position in the exchange and is completely random. (Check below for a printable which has pre-designed numbers already available.)

When all your guests have a number, the exchange may begin. Number One is first up to select a gift from the pile. After he or she chooses their wrapped gift, he/she opens it in front of the group. Number One then returned to their seat with their new gift and waits for the exchange to continue.

Now it is Number Two’s turn. Number Two can choose one of two options: select an unwrapped gift from the pile OR steal the gift which has now been unwrapped. Some gifts may be more desirable than others, so Number Two has to make the decision. If Number Two decided to open a new gift, then he/she does so in front of the group and returns to their seat just as Number One did prior.

However, if Number Two decides to steal Number One’s gift, then Number One can select a new gift from the pile. It is a dog-eat-dog world after all.

After Number Two’s turn (or Number One’s new choice is unwrapped), Number Three has the same decision to make: unwrap a new gift or steal one of the gifts previously unwrapped. With the complete randomness of gift selection, prepare for laughable moments!

This process continues through all the numbers. Following the last number’s selection of opening or stealing, Number One gets one more option to keep their current gift, open a gift (if there are any more), or steal one final time. Upon Number One’s final choice, the exchange ends and all gifts are now the property of their current owner. Merry Christmas to you!

Each gift can only be stolen THREE times before it must remain in the possession of the True Master. True Master = Permanent Owner This means the third thief gets to keep that stolen gift for the remainder of the exchange with no more threat of loss.

White Elephant Printable

For anyone wishing to host a White Elephant Gift Exchange, I designed this little printable. Please feel free to print this, frame it, and use at your party. The PDF also includes a page of 1-40 numbers for your easy convenience. Cut them out, throw them in a hat, and you’re ready to party!

Click here to download the White Elephant Exchange rules and number sheet.

The best part about this gift exchange is that you can tweak it to fit your needs. Decide on the cost of the gift and have guests bring the gift wrapped and unmarked to the party. You can even set a theme for the gifts: handmade, coffee table books, movie, gag, etc. There are so many way to have fun with a White Elephant Gift Exchange! I’ve collected some great gifts over the years including a sushi recipe book, yoga ball, and neon-colored duct tape.

I would love to hear about your experience of having a White Elephant Gift Exchange! Did you get anything exciting?

Have fun, friends!

Calculating Drinks For Your Wedding Or Party

Whether you are hosting a party or planning your do-it-yourself wedding, it is a universal no-no to run short on food or drinks. As G and I busily plan the remaining two weeks before our wedding, many of our thoughts are geared towards the plates and glasses of our guests. For a couple catering their entire wedding themselves — yep, you just read that correctly — it is one of our worst fears to think any guest may be shuffling around in his or her seat with no option of seconds.

Today I’m going to strictly discuss how to calculate drink numbers in order to buy the right amount of beverages for your party. Luckily I have a bit of experience in this arena due to my past work experience in the wedding industry. And also because I used to sell wine cases to large parties while at the Winery. So I definitely have wine down pat… Calculating beverages is both a science and art as you can never estimate the exact amount of drinks being drank at your event, but you can get close.

If you’re like me, then you don’t have an extra fridge sitting around to pack with wine, beer, mixers, soda pop, water, and all other possible beverages your guests might fancy. And if you’re like me, you also have a strict budget to purchase all those said beverages under. Don’t panic though! We’re going to get through this together.

Before jumping straight into a bunch of formulas, you need to ask yourself a few important questions:

  • What kind of beverages do you want to serve at your wedding/party?
  • How many adults and children will be attending?
  • How long will your wedding/party run?
  • Will the party be indoors or outside? What is the weather going to be like? (i.e. cool and breezy, hot and muggy, etc.)
  • Will you have a bartender serving drinks or will it be self-serve?

Also: are you planning to serve a variety of alcoholic beverages at your event or non-alcoholic only? This question is something you should decide before moving forward with other decisions.

Let’s discuss non-alcoholic beverages first. If you are opting to choose non-alcoholic beverages only, a good rule of thumb is to have 4 gallons of drink per every 25 guests. Luckily, most brands of water, tea, lemonade, and punch come in gallon sizes.  Keep in mind hotter temperatures or more active events will require this number to increase because you will want your guests to stay hydrated.

For easier calculating, use 4 gallons of water converted to 512 ounces of water, meaning you can get 32 16oz servings.

A 2-liter bottle of soda typically offers five 16oz servings. (Conveniently, this is the average size of red solo cups.) And a 1-gallon container  of other non-alcoholic drinks will yield eight 16oz servings. I estimate one drink per person per hour of my events, in addition to one extra “safety” drink to give a little wiggle-room. In other words, if your wedding/party is four hours long, plan for each guest to have five servings of non-alcoholic beverages.

If you are serving alcoholic beverages at your event as well, then you can expect to cut the above numbers for non-alcoholic beverages in half. Meaning 2 gallons of water, lemonade, punch, and tea for every 25 guests, and a half drink per person per hour. For events involving dancing or other activities, I would increase your water count. Also, buying water by the gallon/jug is a lot more budget-friendly than bottles of water. Bottles tend to be left half-empty by guests and forgotten. I know I’m guilty of forgetting where I left my bottle and grabbing a new one rather than track it down.

Now onto alcoholic beverages. You will want to estimate one and a half drinks per person per hour of your event. Meaning for a 4 hour wedding/party, plan for 6 alcoholic beverages per guest. Thankfully alcohol tends to come in standard sizes be it beer, wine, or spirits so calculating is a bit easier than with non-alcoholic drinks. Here is the break down on sizing and servings:

  • Beer: one bottle of beer offers 1 serving (who knew!)
  • Wine: one 750ml bottle of wine serves 6 glasses. A case of wine is 12 bottles meaning you can get 72 glasses of wine per case.
  • Spirits: one 750ml bottle of spirits serves 17 drinks.

If you are offering a full bar, calculate one alcoholic drink per guest per hour. (This is still in addition to your non-alcoholic beverages.) For a hot day or a food menu offering salty foods, I always bump my estimate up by 25% as well. I also would highly recommend staffing a bartender in the case of a full bar for obvious reasons.

Another key piece to think about is the mix of beverages in terms of the mix of your guests. If you are having kids at the event, stock up on juices, soda pop, and water. If you opt for spirits at the bar, you might want to go with one or two signature alcoholic beverages to manage your budget a bit more.

 

DISCLAIMER: All amounts in this post are estimates. This does not mean each person will have the stated amount of drinks; some will have more and some will have less. YOU know your guests best and may need to tweak estimates to fit your wedding/party better. Are your attendees big beer drinkers? Will the majority of your attendees drink one glass of wine and then sip water the rest of the night? You know those answers better than me. The hope is if you can figure out an average, then you should have plenty to go around. 


Personally, G and I did not follow any of these “rules of thumb” when we planned our own wedding bar, but that is because we have a lot of outliers which throw wrenches in these calculations. We have chosen to have a beer and wine only wedding. Our guest list is 200 guests and our wedding reception will last for 4 hours. G’s family, which is about 25% of our guest list, do not drink alcohol. The remainder of our guest list of my family and our friends are not heavy drinkers by any means. We anticipate those who may drink to have 1 drink during our cocktail hour, 1 during dinner, and 1 after dinner. (We also know a few of our guests are bringing their own drinks apart from our beer and wine choices so there’s that too.)

With that thought in mind, here are our calculations for our wedding:

Alcoholic beverages:
200 guests – 25% non-drinkers = 150 guests may drink
150 guests may drink * 3 drinks = 450 drinks

We have opted to host a self-serve bar with two beer bottle options (simply Bud Light and Miller Lite) and five 5-liter  boxed wine choices. (Franzia is incredibly pleasing to my girls which made this decision simple and inexpensive.) We purchased twelve 24-pack boxes of beer for a total of 288 bottles and the five boxes of Franzia which account for 33 bottles of wine making for 198 glasses. In beer and wine, we have approximately 486 drinks available for our guests who choose to indulge.

Non-Alcoholic beverages (alongside alcohol):
200 guests * 1/2 drink * 4 hours = 400 16oz drinks

Knowing an outdoors June wedding in Michigan will most likely be hot and muggy, we purchased ten 2.5 gallon spring waters with spigots which accounts for 25 gallons of water. We also have 5 gallons of iced tea and 20 2-liters of soda. So with these counts, we will have approximately 240 16oz glasses of water and tea, and 100 glasses of soda pop for a total of 340 16oz drinks in addition to our alcoholic beverages.

1/2 drink per guest per hour * 4 hours = 2 16oz drinks
30 gallons =  3840 ounces = 240 16oz drinks
1 2-liter = 5 16oz drinks / 20 2-liters = 100 16oz drinks


My last nugget of advice if you are calculating beverage numbers at your wedding or party is to round up your estimates. Like I said at the start of this post, it is a hosting fail if you run out of food or drinks for your guests. Consider that the more variety in your beverage offerings, the more you should increase your estimates because you can never be sure what will be most popular.

Happy planning, friends,

Savory Sundays: Crack Potatoes

I realized most of my recipes involved chicken and all of them were an entree, so today I’m bringing a great side dish option to your table: Crack Potatoes. True to their name, these glorified cheesy hash browns are extremely addicting and typically have no leftovers. This is my usual dish to bring to cookouts, potlucks, and sporting events knowing I won’t be bringing any home. (Which is a great excuse to use a disposable foil tray!) With the first warm-weather holiday rolling around next weekend, I’ll be drawing this little diggy up for Memorial Day celebrations and thought you might need a little inspiration for something new to bring with you…

Crack Potatoes

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

My most-asked-for go-to at any get-together with friends and family.

Have a cookout coming up for Memorial Weekend or needing a dish to pass as you watch the Cubs at a friend’s house? Whip together this easy recipe and bring the instructions with you because everyone will be asking to take it home with them!

Ingredients

  • 30oz bag of hash browns, shredded
  • (2) 16oz sour cream
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 6oz bacon, crumbled
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 package ranch mix

Directions

  1. Combine sour cream, cheese, onion, bacon, and ranch mix
  2. Mix with hash browns
  3. Add mixture to greased 9×13 pan, evening out along all sides
  4. Cook 45-60 minutes at 400 degrees
  5. Serve immediately (also good as leftovers, if you have any)


I usually buy a small pouch of real bacon crumbles rather than frying my own. You can also use an additional ranch mix packet for that extra PUNCH of flavor.

Enjoy, friends!

How To Build An Awe-Inspiring Charcuterie Spread On Budget

When it comes to hosting a great dinner party, there are staples to the night that I cannot skip: excellent food, great (quantities of) wine, and the perfect blend of friends. My secret weapon for any gathering is one thing: a perfectly curated charcuterie board. Not only does it appease guests’ pre-dinner appetites but it’s also chic, classy, and fun to put together!

So today I’m going to share a few of my secrets on how to make a crowd-pleasing charcuterie board and how to do so on a limited budget.

In case you’re unfamiliar, charcuterie (pronounced shar-kood-eree) are meat and cheese boards that typically include a variety of other foods that can be paired for palate-pleasing combinations. The ingredients all complement the meats and cheeses present, and guests can have a fun do-it-yourself appetizer. Plus, charcuterie can be created any time of the year utilizing a lot of different seasonal foods to continue making a unique and special selection.

Choose a variety

Meats and cheeses are the key components to any charcuterie. However, any good spread needs a solid amount of choice, and I recommend going with a mixture of textures to please the palate. This means finding meats and cheeses which offer a variety of softness, hardness, chewiness, dryness, etc.

For meats, I generally go with aged meats rather than sliced deli meat because they’re full of flavor and tend to pair easier. Look for a few different options such as prosciutto, cured ham, pâté, or salamis. I typically shop at Aldi for my meat and cheese needs because their selection is amazing! One of my go-tos is the Specially Selected Prosciutto Panino which offers a soft mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto. I could eat this by itself but it makes an awesome pairing partner to a variety of other ingredients in a spread too.

Now let’s talk cheese — my favorite part of the charcuterie. I typically select at least four cheeses: a mild, medium, and sharp cheese along with a goat milk cheese. I absolutely love goat cheese and having a bit in your charcuterie offers a non-dairy option. It’s a win-win for any group! For my mild cheese, I typically find a smooth Brie and it seems to always be a favorite among my guests. I go for a Gouda or cheddar as my medium-bodied cheese. As long as it pairs well with both white and red wine (and beer sometimes) then I’m happy. And finally, I love to bring a blue cheese out as my sharp cheese as it pairs so well with bolder meats and heavy red wines. One of my ride-or-dies is Kenny’s Farmhouse Bleu Gouda (ohmigoodness, I’m salivating just thinking about this cheese.) When feeling especially adventurous I’ll also throw together a wedge or two of hand-crafted specialty cheese such as the Roasted Garlic with Tomato and Basil Cheese by Specially Selected.

Sweet, spice, and everything nice

Salty is good up to a point. Since many of your meat options are cured, they will be very salty. So it is good practice to balance things out with milder flavors. Serve up a sweet complement such as fresh or dried fruit, jams, or mustards. Working at a winery for so many years, my charcuterie boards are lacking if I do not have some bunches of grapes decorating them. I also love adding a bit of softness to the board through Southern Grove Dried Apricots.

Two other additions every single one of my charcuterie spreads include which have guests raving? The first is adding strawberry preserves (preferably homemade) to the top of my Brie and warming it enough to make it just the slightest bit gooey. The second — and the highest praise-worthy inclusion — is goat cheese with apricot preserves. Either create a base of apricot preserves topped with crumbled goat cheese or a bowl of layering the two ingredients, but your guests are going to go crazy for this flavor explosion!

Get creative with your add-ons

Depending on whether your charcuterie is the main event or simply a pre-dinner snack, you’ll want to alter the amount of meat and cheese you buy. (Though overbuying wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.) My rule of thumb is three ounces per person as an appetizer and doubled portions if your board is the food focus. Charcuterie is a rich foodie project and will be overly satisfying.

Feel free to go basic or wild in your varieties of meat, cheeses, condiments, garnishments, and add-ins though. Along with the salty and sweet options, I love to add some savory notes to my boards. Olives are a great choice, and nuts come in so many varieties and add a nice crunch. Go with pistachios, cashews, or a trail mix. And bread! Bread is a must. Serve a couple of different breads such as a strong sourdough alongside a simple ciabatta or an assortment of crackers and you’ll be good to go.

Do not feel obligated to stick with “traditional charcuterie” options though. Sometimes I’ll add a little seasonal twist and weave pumpkin seeds across my board. Last Halloween I had a glorious charcuterie arrayed around a centerpiece of Sour Patch Straws. (Which were surprisingly good with a bit of dry Riesling…)

Budget-friendly tip: Typically a spread like those I have pictured throughout this post cost around $50 at Aldi and filled the bellies of 30+ people during my wine club events. Find your key elements (meat and cheeses), choose an assortment of crackers of breads, and then find a few tasty add-ins.

The only piece of charcuterie you should rely to remain the same each and every time is the great company it brings to your table. One of my favorite parts about hosting a get-together featuring a charcuterie board is we all inevitably end up discussing our favorite flavor profiles. And in turn drink a lot of good wine. Simple evenings like those are usually the most relaxing and memorable.

And that is it, friends. Get out there and try your own charcuterie spreads! I would love to hear what your favorite charcuterie items are — what have you tried that really packed a flavor punch? Please share your ideas with me!

Happy snacking,

 

Pity Party for One, Please

So today I threw myself a pity-party. I sat down on my bed, looked into the mirror, and sighed heavily. I sighed at the lifelessness of my hair, the tightness of my clothes, the lack of luster in my skin. I sighed at how mundane things seem to be right now. I sighed at the feeling of being under appreciated.

Then, when I was done noting all my faults, counting all the regrets, casting all the worthless wishes, I took a deep breath… and I realized I had just caught myself feeling like a victim.

Now you would think that after all my writing about responsibility and accountability, I would know when I was feeling victimized by someone or something, right? I would know that feeling victimized meant a lesson was right around the corner and I would willing embrace it, right? Well, let me level with you guys: about 99.9% of the time that I recognize the truth, I’m very unenthusiastic to find out what I’m meant to learn from the experience.

This is not one of the rare 0.01% situations. I am actually feeling very overloaded, overtired, and very resentful. Something is off and I know what it is…

Admittedly, it is natural for me to create a persona for myself that fully embodies a “good person.” I like to readily be available for anyone at anytime for whatever is needed. With this desire also comes a lot of baggage though; I tend to feel unappreciated more often than others around me. This is because I do not receive the sort of gratification from some people in my life who I openly give myself. I expect more, because I personally supply more. The giving and taking are unevenly balanced.

The problem is, if I keep trying to please everyone, I start to find myself becoming unhappy with myself. Rather than taking care of myself and doing things for me, I am only focusing on others. This creates those feelings of under appreciation because I am giving my all to everyone else while sometimes others aren’t doing the same for me.

I’m coming to find there is a name for my type of personality: an Over-Giver. And the issue with Over-Givers is that on top of eventually becoming overloaded, overtired, and resentful, we also go through stages of feeling burdened, irritable, grumpy, and vengeful.

Unfortunately, I have yet to master the awareness of when these “symptoms” of over-giving creep into my life. Also unfortunate, but when they show up, they tend to hijack my good mood.

So, instead of throwing myself a pity-party this evening, I am holding an intervention. I am making an active decision to recognize the cause and effect relationship between my self-deprecating feelings and the part I personally play in creating them. I want to connect the dots for future recognition (as I am sure I will feel this way again) and quicker recovery to my “normal” self.

My “normal” self tends to live in a set mood of gratitude. I am thankful for what God has given me in my life and I feel extremely blessed. This makes me a lot more pleasant for others to be around me, and for me to be around myself.

To reach that level of bliss, though, there seems to be a number of things I need in my life:

  • healthy dose of responsible self-care
  • distinguishing what is a priority in my life
  • asking for support when necessary
  • reevaluating stressful situations
  • forgiving myself
  • apologizing to those I hurt in my wake

Looking at my life these past few weeks, I can see where I’m lacking in these fundamental parts of my life:

  • I am not being healthy in my self-care. Yes, I workout every day. Yes, I focus on eating well. Yet I am still not happy with my results. I have been so incredibly hard on myself during the past six weeks of my fitness journey that it is no wonder my stress level has spiked. I need to take a step back, reevaluate my intentions, and regroup. Why am I working so hard? It’s not to increase my health, but rather to feel comfortable in my own skin. Or more vainly put, to look good. I do not enjoy my workouts or how hard I work because I am not seeing immediate results! It’s time to get my head back in the game (sorry for the HSM reference) and re-energize my fitness plans with tangible and reachable goals.
  • What is it that I want to prioritize in my life? Community involvement and volunteer work, making time for family and those friends I highly value, working on a better me, and spending time with God. Anything else can take a back seat for now.
  • Have I mentioned how hard I’ve been on myself lately? This is something I think I need help with overcoming, and it’s about time I reached out for assistance from some people in my life. This is not particularly easy for me because I hate to admit any type of weakness in myself. However, sometimes I get trapped in my own head and only the advice and direction from others can help me. It is time though.
  • I’m at war in my head over something I’ve fought before: letting go of a long-term friendship. It is a very one-sided friendship, and one that everyone in my life has advised me to give up, but it’s hard for me to do…
  • … but I know what truly is best for me and that is to let this friendship go. So I am mentally preparing myself for the stages of grief in an effort to forgive myself.
  • Yet, in all honesty, the most important and hardest necessity when I fall off the wagon of “blissful Ashley” is to apologize to anyone I may have offended or upset with my behavior or lack of communication. For those who know me well, they know I say “I’m sorry” a lot. This is because apologizing for me is more than just asking for forgiveness, it is my confirmation that I have taken responsibility for my actions. As an Over-Giver, this is my way of relieving others from believing they are at fault for my behavior towards them.

With these thoughts, I drive back the initial idea that every ebb in my personality is creating a deeper impression of the lesson I am to learn from each experience. My nature of being an Over-Giver is not one I can easily change, which means my falls cannot easily diminish either, but when I become more attuned to the “symptoms” I can attempt to neutralize myself more quickly.

I don’t think I’ll ever by free from defaulting to feelings of self-pity and irritability when I overload myself, but maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is to acknowledge those times when I start to throw myself a pity party and pop the balloons before they block my sight of the exit.