Sunday, December 9, 2012

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We are finished!  The next two weeks can be spent enjoying time with friends and family and experiencing the season the way it is intended.  Snuggle up on the couch, watch your favorite movies, make gingerbread houses with your kids (if the relaxing is too dull for you), drive around looking at Christmas lights.  Just enjoy!

Have a delightful season, a wonderful Christmas, and a blessed and healthy new year!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Week 15 Joy To the World

December 2nd-8th

I hope you have enjoyed the ease of your holidays and are truly seeing the benefits of starting your preparation so early.  See, you're not as crazy as some people wanted you to think you are.  The rest of our weeks are mainly focused on maintenance.  I wish I could say there would be no more cooking, baking, shopping, or cleaning to do, but we all live in the real world.  As you engage in all of those things, I hope you are doing so without the overwhelming feeling of stress that normally accompanies them this time of year.  If you are, then your planning has been a success!  Take a few hours and go get a mani/pedi.  You deserve it!

This week, all you have to do is...

Mail your packages and the rest of your cards, which are all packed, addressed, and ready to go.  This is a great time to ship them online through the U.S. Post Office . You can pay for and print your labels at home and avoid the long lines.  Even better, as long as you ship at least one package Priority Mail, you can shedule a pick up and ALL of your packages will be collected from your front door.

Wrap and label any other gifts

Prepare teacher/school gifts.  You will be thrilled when you don't have to rush to wrap them all the night before they need to be delivered.

Enjoy your week!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week 14 Deck the Halls!

November 25th - December 1st

It's finally here!  The Christmas season is officially upon us, despite what most major retailers want us to believe. This month you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor!  As events and celebrations commence you can relax knowing the bulk (if not all) of your preparation is done.  Bask in the glory of your preparedness as you watch friends, family, and co-workers exhibit signs of stress and fatigue (in all humility, of course).  Rejoice, because this week you get to...

Decorate your house and yard

Prepare all packages for mailing

Mail overseas cards

Plan a fun family night- break out your favorite holiday movie and some of those delicious cookies that are stashed in your freezer and enjoy!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week 13

November 18th-24th

Thanksgiving week is here!  We've prepped, shopped, cooked, baked, and now we're ready for the holiday ahead.  No doubt there is much to do in preparation for Thanksgiving day.  Don't save it all for Wednesday night or Thursday morning.  Let's use the next few days to make the holiday enjoyable, not just for your guests, but for yourself.

Get everything out for Thanksgiving- table linens, centerpiece items, etc.

Prepare what can be ahead of time.  Even chopping some onions ahead of time can help your meal preparation go faster.  Consider trying these make ahead mashed potatoes to help cut down on your food preparation on Thursday. Also, be realistic, is it necessary to bake cornbread from scratch for your dressing?  While your grandmother might notice, your other guests probably will not. :-)

Check your ingredients and jot down anything you are missing.  Don't forget to consider breakfast Thanksgiving day and the day after.  Make sure you've got some cereal or frozen waffles on hand to make it easier on you. Try to avoid shopping Wednesday evening at all cost!

Clean & stock your bathrooms and first aid kit- especially if you've got kids coming over.  It's always handy to have extra band aids on hand if the little ones will be running around.

Wednesday- Use a freezer meal, buy a bagged salad at the store

Deadline week- if your homemade gifts/crafts are not finished, put them away until next year and plan on purchasing gifts.  Let yourself off the hook and be realistic.

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Week 12

November 11th-17th

We are coming into the home stretch.  With only 11 short days until Thanksgiving, we will soon find ourselves tying up those loose ends and seeing the payoff for all of our hard work.  Let's finish strong!

Make a batch of holiday goodies- This will be the last one.  If there's a special holiday treat you haven't made, but have been wanting to, this is your chance to do it.  After this week, your holiday baking will be complete!

Make 1 freezer meal- This will also be your final freezer meal.  Make a note on your calendar to use one of your freezer meals next Wednesday.

But at least one gift- Next Friday launches the official holiday shopping season. Purchase as many gifts as you can this week to beat the crowds.

Wrap and label gifts

Finish any home made crafts or gifts

Make place cards for Thanksgiving

Clean all serving dishes

Check and clean linens

Work on centerpiece if necessary

Make a 3x5 card for each dish- what goes in it, when it can be filled, & silverware needed.  Tape them to the appropriate dish. This is especially helpful if you will have extra hands in your kitchen.  It's difficult to finish last minute meal preparations with countless questions from guests willing to help but unsure of what to do.  This one step will make delegating much easier!

Finalize your Thankgiving shopping list- don't just work off your recipes.  Remember to add things like coffee creamer, butter, and other "extras".  Also, plan ahead for your Thanksgiving breakfast.  Buy some bagels or muffins to make your morning simple.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Week 11

November 4th-10th

I joked the other day about the fact that I went to bed on Halloween and woke up on Christmas.  But this is indeed how I feel.  On November 1st, I ventured out to my favorite box store to see what kinds of discounts I could find on their Halloween clearance and was disappointed to find that most of the Halloween goodies had already been replaced by wreaths, trees, wrapping paper, and other assorted Christmas items.  Around here we recognize and rejoice in the fact that there is a holiday between Halloween and Christmas and it will not get swept away in the Christmas frenzy.  We've already been preparing for Christmas so we do not need to feel part of the sudden rush to get ready in less than 2 months. We get to enjoy Thanksgiving!  Let's get to it...

Make one batch of holiday goodies-unless you are confident that you have enough.  If you're on the fence, make an extra batch.  You can always give more away.  But it's better to have too much than not least in my book.

Make one freezer meal- we are about to wrap this process up and start enjoying these meals.  If you've run out of ideas, make a pot of soup or grab a ready-made meal from Costco that you can stash in your freezer.

Purchase at least 1 gift- Hopefully you are making some headway on this.  If you've gotten behind, now is the time to hit it hard before the December rush.  Make November your chance to catch up and get ahead if possible.

Wrap & label any gifts you have purchased

Review and revise your Thanksgiving menu

Plan your table setting and centerpiece

Reserve or purchase any items that need to be borrowed or replaced

Purchase, clean, or iron holiday clothing

Finish addressing your Christmas cards

Send out your invites for Thanksgiving if you haven't already

Make appointments for your flu vaccinations- if your family regularly gets flu vaccines, get them taken care of as soon as possible to help avoid illness during the holiday season.  Also, stock up on vitamins as well as cold medicines and other over the counter medications.  Make sure you have tissues on hand too!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Week 10

October 28th - November 3rd

Happy Halloween!  This week we enjoy the first of our holiday celebrations.  And enjoy it we will!  But, in the midst of our trick-or-treating, let's find time to maintain our progress.  November is a few short days away.

Make a batch of holiday goodies

Make one freezer meal

Buy at least one gift

Wrap and label packages

Work on holiday crafts/gifts

Polish any silver- include candle holders.  Clean glassware.  Inspect napkins, place mats, and/or tablecloths.  Launder or take them to the cleaners. 

Purchase any last minute linens

Remove Halloween decor- after Wednesday, of course!

Put up Thanksgiving decor

Do not shampoo carpet- While it is natural to want to clean your carpet prior to welcoming guests, remember that over the next few weeks there will be added foot traffic in your home, and most likely a spill or two.  Consider spot cleaning obvious stains and have the carpet shampooed when the holidays are over.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Week 9

October 21st-27th

Is it me, or does it feel like October just arrived?  And yet, here we are headed into our final full week of the month.  I have to admit that I'm saddened by the fact that this time of year is passing as quickly as it is.  We are indeed on a fast moving train headed into the holidays.  Thankfully, because we've chosen to plan ahead, that train isn't moving recklessly into the holidays.  If you've been able to keep up, you should feel like you've got a pretty good handle on your preparations.  You could potentially have six batches of goodies already prepared and in your freezer and six freezer meals ready to pop in the oven at a moment's notice.  You should also have made a noticeable dent in your gift purchasing.  Hopefully this is the case, but if not, that's okay!  Any progress is good progress.  This week we'll give ourselves a chance to catch up.  Let's do this!

Make a batch of holiday goodies- Consider how many goodies you have.  If you're not one to give away a lot of treats, you may be finished with this portion of your planning. Or, if you've decided to give away more than you feel you have, double up this week.

Make a freezer meal-This is one area  I encourage you to continue working on.  Those meals will never go to waste, regardless of how many you have.  Consider the days after Christmas.  Do you really want to make a meal on the 26th, just as you've started recovering from your holiday celebration?  What about New Years Eve?  Or, in the worst case scenario, if you have extra freezer meals through the month of January, will you regret it?  The answer is no.  Since you're already in that mode, keep going.

Buy canned food- If you no longer need any canned items for your holiday menus, consider buying at least one or two cans of food.  Local food drives will be starting any day now in preparation for Thanksgiving.  Pick up a couple next time you're at the grocery store so you're not forced to donate that year old can of garbanzo beans no one in your family (or anyone else's) will eat.

Purchase at least 1 Christmas gift- Naturally, I suggest you take advantage of sales and coupons and get as many as your budget allows.  But, again, one is better than nothing.  If you don't have a chance to go shopping this week, set aside the money you would like to spend on a gift so that in the weeks to come you can catch up without hurting your wallet.

Work on any homemade gifts or crafts- I admit, I have fallen terribly behind on this task.  This week is my week to catch up.  If I can't I'll have to consider scrapping those projects in lieu of a purchased gift and try again next year.  That's okay!

Start addressing your Christmas cards

Send invites for Thanksgiving- Evites work great for this!  It may seem premature, but a lot of people are still finalizing their plans.  Having all the info on hand will make their decision process easier.  Not to mention, an early R.S.V.P for you means you can prepare in advance for your guests.

Buy extra batteries- Be sure to check your gifts. How many parents have been there Christmas morning when your child opens a new gift and wants to play with it only to find that batteries are required and you forgot to get them?  It is a sad, sad place to be.  They don't last as long, but your local dollar store is a great place to stock up.  You can buy your copper-tops later on when you're not spending so much extra money on food and gifts.

Order or purchase your turkey- I'll admit, I've never ordered a turkey.  I'm not even sure how one goes about this.  One day, I'd like to figure that out.  But for now, check your grocery store adds.  Turkeys are beginning to go on sale.  Don't wait until the week before when prices hit rock bottom because so does the selection and you'll end up with a 24lb turkey to feed your family of 6.  Spend an extra $0.10 or $0.20 a pound to get what you want while it's available.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Halloween Treats

Here's the treat I promised.  Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies

1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated peanut butter cookies 
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup orange decorator sugar crystals
14 twisted butter-flavor pretzel sticks, broken in half
  • 1 Heat oven to 350°F. Spray cookie sheets with cooking spray. In medium bowl, stir cookie dough, egg yolk and flour until well mixed.
  • 2 Pour sugar crystals into small bowl. Shape dough into 28 (1-inch) balls; roll in sugar crystals. Insert 1 pretzel piece into each ball for pumpkin stem. Using toothpick or tip of teaspoon, make lines around sides for pumpkin ridges. Place balls 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
  • 3 Bake 9 to 11 minutes or just until set in center when touched with fingertip. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 10 minutes.

Week 8

October 14th-20th

We have hit the halfway mark.  If you're like me, you are instantly wondering how the last eight weeks have gone so quickly.  In just the blink of an eye we will be in the midst of the holiday season.  My hope is that you are continuing to make progress, regardless of how much, and that you are feeling more prepared and less anxious about the impending season.  Without hesitation, let's get busy this week!

Make one batch of holiday goodies

Make one freezer meal

Buy at least one holiday gift- Because we are getting closer to the season, now is an important time to begin knocking out as many gift purchases as possible.  The goal is to have your shopping complete (for the most part) and wrapped before Thanksgiving.  That may be setting the bar pretty high, but imagine the joy of accomplishing that feat!  If that seems out of reach, set a date for early December and do your best to meet that goal.

Buy at least one item from your long-term shopping list in preparation of your holiday meals. 

Wrap and label packages

Review your Halloween costume plans- make any necessary changes and finish your costume preparation.

Make a Halloween treat- this might seem trite, but it's your chance to scour those recipe books and magazines that you are always thumbing through.  There is probably at least one treat about which you've said, "I wish I would have made this" or "I bet my kids would love that".  Now is your chance.  I will post an idea if you're looking for one! :-)

Check your progress and adjust- This is considered the halfway point.  Take a look at where you are in your preparations.  Have you fallen behind on your baking or freezer meals?  This week, you may want to double up.  You don't have to get caught up on everything in one week.  Just adjust your plan to accommodate your needs.

Have fun!  The weather is cooling off and it's beginning to feel more like the holiday season.  Don't be afraid to light a fun holiday candle and throw on some Christmas music while you do your preparation.  You know you want to...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Week 7

As I write this, the air is filled with the smell of my grandmother's fruitcake which is baking and I am looking around at the orange, black, and purple decorations that have descended upon our home.  This is my favorite time of year!  I love the Fall season when the air changes, the sun goes down a little earlier, and all the smells and flavors of baked goodness fill my home.   I love the change that it represents.  The relief from an unyielding and scorching summer heat.  The anticipation of the holiday magic that is to come.  Somehow, with the change in season, I feel my energy renewed.  It's with this rejuvenation that we forge ahead.

Here are your plans for the week:

Make a batch of holiday goodies.

Make one freezer meal.

Buy 2 canned/nonperishable items from your shopping list.  Or more if you feel so inclined.  Now is the BEST time to stock up on canned broth, pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and pie filling for all of your upcoming recipes.  It will be in high demand as the weeks progress.  It may be a few cents more since the crazy good sales haven't started yet, but it will be readily available and you won't have to fight hordes of panicked shoppers to get what you need.  Totally worth a few extra pennies!

Buy at least one Christmas gift.

Wrap & label your packages.

Work on any holiday crafts/gifts.

Finish Halloween costume preparation. Now that costumes and pumpkins have filled the stores, everyone has Halloween on the brain.  Finish getting or making any remaining parts of your costumes this week to avoid the rush.

Review your previous lists and finish anything you may have missed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Freezer Fave!

I happened upon this little gem a year ago and I'm so glad I did!  This is one of my favorite freeze ahead meals to make for several reasons.  First of all, it's ridiculously fast and easy.  Many of the ingredients are already frozen when you assemble it.  Secondly, it's comfort food.  No two ways about it.  But the great thing is, and this is the third reason I love it, it is easy to substitute low or no fat ingredients without sacrificing taste.  Comfort food without the guilt.  Winner! 

Give it a try.  You won't be sorry!

Chicken Potato Casserole

10 oz can fat free condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup fat free sour cream
1/4 cup milk
2 cups cooked, cubed chicken
1 1/2cups low fat shredded cheddar cheese
3 1/2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes (your favorite style), thawed*
1 1/2 cups frozen peppers and onions, thawed*
1 1/2 cups crushed potato chips (optional)**


In medium bowl, combine soup, sour cream, milk, chicken, and 3/4 cup of cheese.  Spread this mixture in a greased 2 quart baking dish.

Sprinkle hash browns and peppers and onions over the top of the casserole and press down lightly.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese and potato chips.

Bake casserole, uncovered at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until bubbly.  Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.  Serves 8.

To freeze: Assemble casserole as directed, except DO NOT thaw potatoes, peppers, or onions, and do not sprinkle with potato chips.  Wrap casserole in freezer wrap or heavy duty foil and freeze.  To thaw and bake, let thaw overnight in refrigerator.  Uncover and bake as directed.  Then top with crushed potato chips and bake 5-10 minutes longer.

*You can also substitute the hash browns, peppers, and onions with potatoes O'Brien which makes this even easier.

**I have never made this with the potato chips and haven't missed them. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Week 6

September 30th-October 6th

Welcome October!  Here we are, on the brink of the holiday season.  This is the time of year when others finally start to jump on the holiday planning bandwagon.  Stores are filling shelves with everything from Halloween candy to Christmas decor and people start to complain that the holidays are coming too quickly.  Thankfully, we have a month of preparation already under our belt and it feels good!

Here is our plan of attack for this week:

Make a batch of holiday goodies.

Make a freezer meal.

Buy 2 canned items- one for your menu and one to donate

Buy at least one Christmas gift.

Wrap and label your packages if possible

Work on any homemade gifts

Check your smoke detector batteries. This household chore often gets overlooked until the incessant and annoying beeping starts in the middle of the night.  Be sure they are working and you have extra batteries on hand.  Frequent use of your oven, live Christmas trees, and excessive use of lighting all increase the likelihood of fire.  Now is a good time to check.

Clean out old toys & clothes to donate or sell. Don't put this chore entirely on yourself.  If your kids are old enough, remind them that Christmas is coming and there needs to be room for new toys.  Encourage them to get rid of anything they don't usually play with.  If that doesn't work, you can always take a trash bag into their room while they're at school.  Just an option. :-)

Make a list of toys/books that your kids would like and will fit in their rooms.  We all appreciate generosity shown to our children, especially that of overzealous grandparents.  But let's face it, do you really want your daughter to receive a Barbie dream house the size of a Buick?  Do you have space for it? If you know your son is obsessed with Legos. Is it worth a family member's money to buy him a bucket of Lincoln Logs that will sit in his closet?  You know your kids hobbies and favorites.  You also know how often those things change.  Be considerate and keep your family in the loop.  Be sure to make the list extensive so they feel like they still have a choice in the matter and can control their spending.  Include clothing/shoe sizes as well since those can change from month to month.  I wish every member of my family would do this too!  It would make shopping for nieces and nephews so much easier! 
*if you are expecting some larger gifts, now is the time to make room for them.

Decorate for Halloween

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Week 5

September 23rd-29th

It's official! There are less than 100 days until Christmas. In fact on Tuesday, we will be exactly three months from the big day. Feels like June was just yesterday, doesn't it? You know as well as I do that the next three months will go by even faster than the last three. Doesn't it feel good to know that you've gotten some things out of the way? It should, regardless of how many or how few. Keep up the great work!

Our "to do" list should be looking pretty familiar.  Here it is for the week:

Make a batch of holiday goodies

Make one extra meal for the freezer

Buy 2 canned food items- one to keep, one to give.

Buy at least one Christmas gift. Remember that you don't even have to leave the house to do this. Check your favorite online retailer. Many are still clearing out inventory at significantly reduced prices because the Fall inventory has arrived. Order one and your done! Or better yet, order a couple, save on shipping, and cross a few people off your list.

Wrap and label your packages

Work on any homemade gifts

Plan for and purchase Halloween costumes if you haven't already. Beg, borrow, or steal them. It's not necessary to spend a fortune. Your children will wear them for a few hours to collect candy. You're not shopping for their wedding attire. Check your local thrift stores and ebay for deals on gently used costumes or call your friends and see if they want to swap.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Freezer Meal

I can't encourage you to make a freeze-ahead meal every week without sharing some of the tried and true recipes that I've been collecting and using over the past couple of years.  Let's face it, you can only have so many chicken casseroles and pasta dishes before it's time for a change.  Here is one of my favorites and it is SO easy! 

 Chicken Stew

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (you can use breasts, but they tend to dry out when cooked in the crockpot)
2 Tbl olive oil
1 large onion, quartered
4 cups fat free chicken broth
8 oz sliced mushrooms
2 carrots, peeled & sliced
1 cup frozen peas

Salt and pepper thighs to taste; brown in oil over medium heat, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Add onions to pan; saute until soft.  Stir in broth and simmer, scraping any browned bits from pan.  Add mixture to slow cooker.  Add mushrooms and carrots.  Cook on low 8 hours.  Stir in peas last 15 mins of cooking.

There you go! Ten minutes of prep.  Double the recipe and you've got an easy weeknight meal too that's not only simple, but much lower in fat than a creamy, cheesy, casserole.  Enjoy!

Week 4

September 16th-22nd

We are 1/4 of the way through our plan and hopefully you are seeing some progress and enjoying that sense of relief each time you can cross something off your "to-do" list. 

Let's not waste any precious time this week!  Here we go-

*Make a batch of holiday goodies

*Make a freezer meal

*Buy 2 canned items- one for you if necessary (check your long-term shopping list) and one to donate

*Buy at least one Christmas gift- the Holiday Grand Plan suggests purchasing 1/8 of your gifts, but if that's not feasible, just pick up one or two.   My husband and I have a tradition of doing our "Santa" shopping together in one date night extravaganza.  So I use this opportunity to knock out gifts for our extended family.  Whatever works for you, make sure you keep track on a master gift list so you don't forget what you have.

*Wrap and label your packages- if you don't have any wrapping paper on hand, there are a few places you can order from online.  Try Current or (believe it or not) eBay. I'm also pretty sure I saw some at our local Costco the other day.  Over-zealous retailers are a Christmas planner's best friend! But, before you look to buy more,  check your stash.  Chances are you have some left over.  It may not be what you want under your own tree this year, but it will work for those gifts you have to mail or bring to the office.

*Work 1 hour on homemade gifts

*List any linens that need replacing.  Is there anything worse than getting ready to set your Thanksgiving table only to pull out your tablecloth and remember that your 42 year old brother spilled hot wax on it while playing with the centerpiece candles last year?  That never happened... Check your napkins, tablecloths, place mats, guest towels, and bed sheets (if you're expecting overnight company).

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week 3

September 9th-15th

Three weeks in.   Can you believe how fast time flies?  Let's recap to see just how much we've accomplished. 

Three weeks in and we've already made our Christmas card list, planned our holiday meals, started a gift list, created a long term shopping list, stocked up on our baking supplies, made a freezer meal, and ordered our Christmas cards.  That is amazing progress!  Let's be honest, if you've managed to accomplish any of those, that is amazing progress!  Don't be discouraged, just keep going.

Here's our "to do" list for this week and it will begin to look very familiar over the next several weeks:

Make 1 batch of holiday goodies- most cookies freeze really well.  Another option is to make the batter and freeze it in ice cube trays and then bake them off when you're ready.  Thank you, Pinterest!

Make 1 freezer meal- or buy one at your local grocery store or warehouse store.  Just be sure to earmark it for the future so it doesn't become dinner this week.  It will help you to keep a freezer inventory so you don't forget what you have on hand.

Buy supplies for homemade gifts- this may include canning jars, gift bags, ribbon, etc.  If you don't plan on making any gifts this year, congratulations.  You're done!

Buy camera batteries, blank video discs, extra memory cards for holiday picture taking and programs.  Store them and make a note in your holiday planner as to where they are so that you can find them later!

Go back to weeks 1 or 2 and tackle any unfinished items if you have time

Friday, September 7, 2012

Thirty Minutes

Took the opportunity to get some advanced meal preparation done and wanted you to see how much you can accomplish in a short amount of time.  I don't know how long it takes you to prepare dinner, but I consider it a tremendous success if dinner is done in 30 minutes, especially with three children underfoot.

Here's what I was able to do in 30 minutes today.  No, it's not gourmet.  But it's a family favorite and it's delicious...

Three large trays of baked ziti are prepared.  One will go in the oven for dinner this evening.  Two will go in the freezer for dinner in December.  No extra work, apart from having to use and clean a larger pot.  The 30 minutes that I would have spent making dinner tonight anyway, allowed me to make an extra dinner (and probably a leftover lunch or two) for our family and one for my full-time working mom and dad.  Now to decide what's on the menu for next week!

*Notice the tin pans? I don't have time to wash dishes during the holidays either. ;-)  Check out your local dollar store.  You won't regret it!

What A Day!

It feels so good to get things done!  Can I get an, "Amen"?  Just wanted to share my success story in hopes that it will encourage and spur you on.

I headed out to Target yesterday, my home away from home, for none other than toilet paper (why do we go through so much toilet paper?  Sorry. Back to the story...) and happened to run into a friend who informed me that the dollar spot was having a 50% off sale.  Thank you, Summer! I don't know about you, but I have a serious weakness for Target's dollar spot.  A SERIOUS weakness.  An "I see a 12 step program in my future" kind of a weakness.  So, to hear that most of the section was on sale was more than my sad self could control.  I soon found myself throwing all things kid-friendly into my basket.  Bubbles, glow sticks (which are a blast in the tub with the bathroom light off, by the way), stickers, the list goes on and on.  Let's just put it this way, throw in the crayons I got a few weeks ago for $0.25 a box, and I filled three rather large Christmas stockings for $10.  I went home, filled in my Stocking Stuffer list, threw everything in a box and no longer have to think about stockings until I fill them Christmas Eve.  Check!

While, I was there, I also happened upon some gift bags on clearance.  A pack of three for $0.98.  Of course, I grabbed two.  But with a little ribbon, these will be great for wrapping gifts to send with my kiddos to school.

My bonus for the day was a $40 item that was on clearance for $8.98.  One more Christmas gift taken care of, for a smokin' deal!

These are the benefits of thinking about Christmas early!  Keep your eyes out for sales and clearance and share your success stories!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Are You Nuts?

The same question has been posed to me more than once in the last few weeks "Why do you do this?" It's not the first time this topic has come up.  I believe there is a common misconception that I have some elf-like fondness of Christmas and long to think about it all year long.  The truth of the matter is, yes, I love Christmas.   Shouldn't we all?  I question anyone who does not look forward to Christmas.  There is something magical and inherently joyful in the season.  Or at least there should be.  If not, something has gone terribly wrong.

This is the exact place I found myself in several years ago when I came to the realization that I was the one responsible for making Christmas magical for my family.   I accepted this responsibility with ease and felt equal to the task.  But as the whirlwind of the holiday season enveloped me and I was carried off with the spending, baking, cleaning, shopping, parties, and food preparation, I realized that my attempt to make Christmas magical had made me miserable.  I gladly kissed the holidays goodbye and mourned the loss of Christmas past, realizing I would never again enjoy it  as I once did.

As my children continued to grow, I decided I wanted nothing more than for them to experience the holidays the way I had.  More importantly,  I wanted to experience the holidays WITH them.  But the pace of the holiday season is not conducive to cuddling on the couch watching movies, baking goodies with, or making holiday crafts with your kids.  I realized that when my children are adults, they won't remember what they got for Christmas, but they'll remember what we did together for Christmas.  I also became increasingly aware that the meaning of Christmas was quickly getting lost in the busyness of the season and this was too important to ignore.  I knew I wanted something to change, but I didn't know how to do it.

Then, I was introduced to the Holiday Grand Plan at Organized Christmas and I knew I had found the answer to my problem.  It's a simple solution really...START EARLY!  This basic concept changed my life and the holidays in our home.

It's not a plan I follow because I have too much time on my hands and not enough to do.  Quite the contrary.  When your schedule is jam packed in August, it will only get worse as the holidays approach.  Taking a few minutes each week to plan ahead alleviates the stress and allows you to spend time doing what you love to do instead of what you have to do.  It gives you the rare opportunity to focus on the important instead of dealing with the urgent. 

There's no need to take a day off of work to get any of this done ahead of time.  It's just a matter of reprogramming yourself to think about the holidays earlier.  Let's face it, in any given week, I am at the grocery store twice and Target at least once.  If, every time I went the the grocery store between August and November, I purchased one thing for our Thanksgiving meal, by the 3rd week of November, I'd have everything I needed and then some with almost no noticeable effect on our budget.   If, every time I go to Target I pick up one thing I need for the holidays, even if it's only a pack of batteries for our camera, it's one less thing I have to run to the store for hours before my son's Christmas program.  I make dinner at least six nights a week.  If on one of those nights I double the recipe and put half in the freezer, by December I have two weeks worth of dinners prepared and ready to go in the oven for those insanely busy nights.  Plus I can rest assured knowing my family is not surviving on fast food throughout the holiday season.  It's not about cramming extra activities into your already busy schedule. It's about being intentional in your planning and taking advantage of what you're already doing. 

No, our tree is not up.  But the new decorations are ready for it when it is.  Our stockings are not hung.  But I've started to fill them.  I'm not snacking on Christmas cookies.  But I have some in the freezer.  Our cards have not been sent.  But they have been ordered. 

Call me crazy.  It won't be the first time, nor the last I dare say.  But the tables will turn on the naysayers come December!  As far as I'm concerned, crazy isn't buying a gift in August.  Crazy is fighting angry crowds and spending too much in December to do the same thing.  Christmas comes the same time every year.  There's no reason for it to sneak up on you.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Week 2

September 2nd-8th

If you're like me, you cannot believe September has already arrived.  If you ARE me, you're wondering why temperatures are still soaring well above the three digit mark while, in other parts of the country, people are beginning to pull their jackets out and see the first signs of Fall.  But that's okay.  Just a few more weeks and we'll begin to feel a difference.  Although, jackets are still a long way off!

While I'm in a state of shock over the brevity of the first four months of the year, I am even more aware of the fact that Christmas is a mere four months aways, 113 days to be exact.   Those days will go much faster than we would like.  But, if we stay on track, we will have nothing to worry about.  So let's get started!

This week...

Buy extra baking supplies- flour, sugar, and butter will be necessary in so many holiday goodies (which we'll start preparing next week).  Make sure you have enough to get started.  If you're local, Fry's has butter on sale this week 2/$5.  But, I have found that Costco still has the best deal.  4 lbs of butter for $8.  Remember, butter freezes beautifully so don't hesitate to buy a bunch and stick it in your freezer for later!  Also, don't forget the less prominent, but oh so important ingredients- baking soda, baking powder, salt.  Check your spices too!  Be sure you have any nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, or anything else you might need for those family favorites (cloves, in my case.  I always forget the cloves).  If you have them, check their dates.  Chances are you don't use them frequently and they could be several years old.  It might be time to toss them.

Make one freezer meal- it'll be baked ziti at our house because it's a family favorite and easy to throw together.  Truth be told, I'm making it this week because I found Italian sausage on sale yesterday and decided to take advantage. :)

Develop ideas for gifts/decor- think about that spot in your house that always seems bare and decide about what you might like to see there.  I've heard rumors that craft stores are already filling their shelves with holiday decor, which honestly seems a bit premature, but it sure is helpful for us!  When thinking about possible gifts.  Be creative! You have time to create something special or search for the best deal.  Think outside the box!  I was roaming around a craft store the other day and realized just how many things  they had that my children would love, not to mention adorable home decor items for friends and family.  Why not shop there and take advantage of their weekly 40% off coupons? 

Order your Christmas cards- I know this sounds a bit premature, but it will be one less thing you have to think about.  Too much trouble to schedule a holiday family picture?  Don't. Consider pulling one from your summer vacation and having it printed onto a card.  One of the best cards we received last year was a collage photo.  It was a 4x6 collage of pictures from our friend's entire year in a glance.  They simply slipped it into a standard card and it was probably a fraction of the cost of having a holiday card printed.

Happy planning!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday Weigh In

We are half way through our first week.  It's time to check in and see what kind of progress we've made.  This is "list week" so it requires more brain power than anything  will and we all know that sometimes that's the hardest thing to muster.  If you find you just can't get to all of your lists, just start with one or two.  For me, it was tackling our menus.  Christmas and Thanksgiving menus are set, with room for minor changes here and there (and by that I mean discovering that my brother has an intolerance for yet another entire food group).  Tomorrow and the next day, I've got to get to my gift lists.  But those generally flow a little faster.

If you are planning to join me in preparing your freezer meals for the busy holiday season,  I suggest you concentrate on that list.  Preparation begins next week.  Find some favorite family recipes that you know you can freeze for a couple months or weeks and make a list of the ingredients needed to make them.  Feel free to plan one of these into your weekly menu now to avoid extra cooking.  All you have to do is double your recipe one night.  Then, eat one portion, freeze the other. While you're out and about, stop by your local dollar store and stock up on some tin foil, tin pans, and plastic containers to avoid emptying your every day supply.

Over the next few days, I'll be sharing some of my family's favorites.  Hopefully that will give you some good ideas and help to jumpstart your food prep.

If you've yet to begin your list making, it's not too late.  One list a day for the next few days and you'll be well on your way.  Don't focus on what you haven't done.  Focus on what you can still do.  Remember, any progress will make your holidays easier!  Happy list making!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Week 1

August 26th - September 1st

It's that time! Here we go.  This is probably the single most important week of preparation for the holidays.  It's list week.  For those of you following the Holiday Grand plan, you can find a more detailed task list here.  But if you are just looking to get your feet wet and get a little ahead of the game, these lists will be all you need to get started. 

If possible, find 20 minutes or so of alone time this week.  For some of us that will only be found in the early morning hours or late at night.  Being alone will allow you to focus your attention on the task at hand without distraction and you'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish.  So, grab a pen, some paper, and let's roll!

Make the following lists:
  • Gifts to be given
  • Christmas card recipients
  • Trips planned or company expected
  • Parties/Entertaining
  • Menus for Thanksgiving/Christmas
  • Goodies for sharing/gifts
  • Favorite meals to freeze
  • Baking you plan to do

If possible, start a running list of things you need to shop for:
canned food
perishables per holiday
decorations, etc

Congratulations!  You are ahead of the game and already well on your way to making the holidays stress-free.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gear Up Week

Our Countdown to Christmas starts on Sunday so here are a few tips to help get you prepared. And just in case you were wondering, these are exactly the things I am working on the next few days. Better late than never!

Prep your holiday planning notebook. Whether it's a 3 ring binder or a simple spiral notebook, get it ready to go. My suggestion? Grab a simple 3 ring binder (before the back to school supplies are gone), get some divider tabs, and a pack of paper, grab a zipper pouch so you can keep your pens handy, and you're ready to go.

Print monthly calenders. You can get them directly from Organized Christmas or look online for a template that works for you. Remember, this is YOUR plan. Use what will make this the easiest for you. Whatever style you choose, make sure you have one for August-January. As soon as you can, jot down any family birthdays, events, vacations, holidays, or business trips that might derail your progress. If you have family birthdays in the coming months, don't postpone your holiday preparations until after they are done. The key is to plan simultaneously, a little at a time, to avoid the feeling of insanity come December.

Create some deadlines on your calendar. These can certainly change over the next few months, but keeping these goals in mind will help you focus on accomplishing them. Consider when you need to mail packages (especially if you are sending some overseas), have your photos taken, send your greeting cards, departure dates (if you're traveling), arrival dates (if you're expecting guests), party dates, school functions, church functions, office functions, etc. You may not know the specifics yet, but pencil them in the best you can. If you know your kid's school has a program the last week before break, jot it down. You can fill in specifics later. At least you'll know what you are working around as more and more activities vie for time on your calendar.

Designate the following necessary sections in your planner:
  • Calendars
  • To Do Lists
  • Gifts
  • Food
You may find it easier to break down your planning into smaller sections, but these are the key components and are more than adequate.

Start pulling recipes for freezer meals and your favorite holiday goodies. You'll need these sooner than you think! Get a new cookbook in the past year with some holiday recipes you're dying to try? Copy or clip them and get them in the binder now.

Stock up on butter, flour, sugar, cans of pumpkin, and other baking supplies. Sprinkles are a valuable commodity in November and December. Buy what you need over the next few weeks so you're not scrambling to find those illusive silver nonpareils when the rest of the world is too!

Last but DEFINITELY not least, ask your family for input. They may look at you like you're crazy, as my own husband did last night. "You're asking me to think about December in August?" Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I am. But let's be honest. Ultimately, you're doing all of this for them. Find out if there's anything they are particularly looking forward too or perhaps something they could do without. It may just end up making life a little easier for you. If your husband's favorite Christmas cookies are the one's his nana used to make. Find that recipe! If you're kids hate Christmas caroling to the neighbors, maybe you can find another way to "bless" your neighbors this holiday season.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Your Mark...Get Set...

The Holiday Grand Plan starts on Sunday.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  This Sunday, August 26th, launches the start of the holiday planning season in our home.  It's hard to imagine it has already arrived, especially in light of the fact that we have had record breaking high temperatures here lately.  I don't think my brain has had a chance to switch gears.  But, ready or not, here it comes!  Hope you'll join in on the fun!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Jump Start

It's August!  Can you believe it?  I'm not a huge fan of summers around here, but I can't help but ask, "where did my summer go?".  In just one week, our kids head back to school and the daily grind begins again for many mothers.  In this last week of school supply shopping and readjusting sleep schedules, Christmas is the last thing on the minds of most people.  But, we are not most people!

The Holiday Grand Plan begins on August 26th and there is much we can do to prepare for it (or any other holiday plan you might choose to follow) in the coming weeks.   Here are a few ideas to help jump start your holiday preparations:

  • Take advantage of back to school sales- Stock up now on tape, glue, sticks, & pens for all that wrapping and labeling you will need to do.  Grab a few stacks of sticky notes to label your gifts, since you'll be wrapping them well ahead of time.
  • If you haven't created your holiday planner, now is a great time to get a smokin' deal on a three ring binder and printer paper.  Grab them now and I'll tell you what to do with them later! :)
  • Stock up on crayons, markers, pencils, and assorted goodies for stocking stuffers.
  • Buy disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer while they are on sale.  Be prepared to wipe out germs that make your family sick during the holiday season!
  • If you like to give gifts "in a jar", now is the time to purchase your canning jars.  They are readily available and may not be closer to Christmas.
  • Find great deals on gifts by taking advantage of sales on socks, underwear, and back to school clothes.
  • Summer clearance means great deals on Christmas gifts!  Look for special discounts on outdoor toys and home decor items as stores clear out their inventory in time.
  • If you already have a holiday planner from last year, pull it out and glance through it.  Clear out any old catalogs or lists you no longer need.  Reprint your planning pages so that you are ready to roll!  If you are new to this and haven't used a holiday planner before, I'll introduce you to some and help you make the best choice in the next few weeks.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Santa's Birthday Debrief

Okay,  I have to come clean.  We didn't celebrate Santa's birthday on July 25th like I had planned.  Due to a scheduling conflict with an activity at our church, we had to bump our birthday bash up a day so that we could fully enjoy it.  And what a day it was!

We were blessed to have in attendance, my oldest son's best buddy which made the day even more fun!  The kids awoke to find a gift and letter from Ralphie, our Elf on the Shelf, wishing them a Happy Santa's Birthday.  A special breakfast of "reindeer donuts" and fruit followed.  We decorated a small Christmas tree, which would later house our homemade ornaments, listened to Christmas music, and got to watch Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas.  Once our special guest arrived we dove in to our ornament making.  I must interject how thankful I am that Pinterest has entered my world in the past year.  It has been a lifesaver!  (If you need an invite, leave me a comment w/ your email address and I'll send one to you a.s.a.p. Pinterest will change your life) 

We tackled two ornaments this year, one out of cinnamon dough, which went better than I expected.  The other was a Santa face made out of a handprint.  Most mother's of small children will go to great lengths to capture their child's growth by making anything and everything out of hand, foot, and fingerprints.  I am one such mother.

Lunch consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches in the shape of holiday bells.  We had a rousing game of Pin the Red Nose on Rudolph, enjoyed our delicious Santa cake, watched Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and played our new game, which included elf bowling- definitely our favorite!  It was a busy day, but full of memory making.  I can't wait until next year!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Santa's Birthday

It's almost here!  Recently, I was given the privilege of writing a guest post about it on one of my favorite blogs.  Stop by Christmas Rapping to check it out!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Christmas In July

I woke up this morning with a slight Christmas in July hangover and a mild sadness that the weekend is already over.

Friday night was a blast!  My mom and I plopped ourselves on the couch at 9 pm, ate our fill (and some other people's) of our favorite Christmas snack and our family's traditional Christmas butter cookies, and loaded up on coffee to make it through the kick off of Christmas in July. Somehow we managed to power through until 3:45 before Mom seized the opportunity to turn in.  I braved another hour to catch one of my favorite artisans, Jim Shore, before falling asleep. 

I am using the term "sleep" loosely here as I only managed to drift off a few times only to be awaken by various noises and clocks ringing throughout the house (note to self:  next year, bring ear plugs and do not attempt to sleep on the couch).  It's been over 9 years since I've lived in my parent's house and apparently by body is no longer able to ignore these lovely sounds in the middle of the night.  I woke up at 6:00 am and immediately headed to the grocery store to pick up breakfast for my birthday boy.  I entered the house just before 7:00 am and was greeted by three grinning kiddos asking for donuts.

I did my best to catch as much of the programming on Saturday as I could, in between cleaning and decorating for my oldest's birthday and completely rearranging his room.  Because of the busyness of the day, my afternoon nap was shortened to about 35 minutes. Not at all what I had envisioned!  Somehow, by the grace of God,  I managed to host a party, during which I maintained the ability to engage in comprehensible conversation, and finally fell into bed after 9:00 pm. 

Sunday brought more preparations for our own Santa's birthday celebration (coming up this week) and the opportunity to catch some more Christmas in July programming while I worked from home for a bit.

Despite the fact that the weekend was busy,  I'm sure I gained 15 lbs, and I could probably sleep until Thursday...It was totally worth it! Oh the fun things that will be arriving at my house this week!

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch.  Here in Arizona it is, quite literally, the most horrible time of the year.  Today we are expecting a high of 110 degrees.   What that means, on a practical level, is that it's too hot to go anywhere.  The kids will be couped up again and I will be frantically trying to keep them busy so that they will not annoy one another and make me crazy.  Oh how I love summer!

But there is a bright side.  This weekend, we get to beat the heat. It's Christmas in July on QVC!  What Christmas in July means on QVC is a weekend of Christmas programming highlighting Christmas decor items, gourmet food, ornaments, and gifts.  It's a chance to get a jump start on your holiday planning and shopping at great deals you won't see the rest of the year.  But, for my mom and I, it's also a chance to light those delicious holiday candles, sit around in our pajamas, sip coffee, eat those Christmas goodies we froze last December and think nothing but Christmas.  It's a way to escape the heat and monotony of the summer and it naturally launches us into our Fall holiday preparation.

This year we will be starting around 9:00 pm (MST) and pulling an all-nighter for the first time in hopes that we won't miss out on the "good stuff" like we did last year and, quite frankly, because all of the programming we really want to see is on in the middle of the night.

Care to join us?  Whip up your favorite Christmas appetizer this afternoon and snuggle in for Christmas in July tonight.  If you're on the east coast, it begins at midnight and will last through Sunday.  Check out the program guide to see what shows you might want to catch.  Hope you find some great gifts and get some fun ideas.  Most of all, I wish you a very merry Christmas in July!

Monday, July 9, 2012

We're Back!

It's that time of year again!  We've enjoyed 6 full months of Christmas-free living.  Well...maybe YOU have.  My brain never actually strays from planning and thinking about the holidays.  But, it has been a nice break.  Now, it's time to hit the ground running.  And what a way to get started!

One of my favorite blogs and the inspriation for Countdown to Christmas is having it's first ever giveaway. 

Please head over to Christmas Rapping and join in the fun!  While you're there, like or follow the blog.  You'll be so glad you did!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Post Holiday Debrief

Happy New Year!  It's hard to believe that 2012 is already here.  When we started this project back in August, it seemed like we had all the time in the world.  Yet, lo and behold, the holiday season came and went in what probably still seemed like a whirlwind.

You may be surprised to find that there is one final step in our Christmas planning.  It is, by far, the most important because it will determine the success or failure of next year's holidays.  It's time to debrief.  Organized Christmas offers a printable debriefing worksheet that you can get here.  But there is no need for an official form.  Grab a piece of paper from your holiday planner, find a quiet place (this will only take a couple of minutes), and answer the following questions:

  • What did you enjoy the most about this holiday season?
  • What worked for you and helped to make the season less stressful and more meaningful?
  • Did you do anything differently that you would like to incorporate into your holiday traditions?  (new recipes, opportunities to give,  fun activities...or the lack thereof?)
  • What was the worst aspect of the holidays?  How can you avoid that in the future?
  • How well did your household function this year?  Was it calm and organized or crazy and out of control?  What areas need improvement next year?
  • Were you satisfied with your family's level of giving and/or spiritual observances?  How could next year's holidays more closely reflect your family's values?
  • Overall, how did your holidays go?  Be honest!  Did you experience the "magic" and wonder of the season?  If not, what changes can you make to recapture it next year?
I hope you were able to answer those questions as honestly as possible.  Realizing that you didn't enjoy everything about the holidays or that some things fell by the wayside does not constitute failure (to those of us who are perfectionists).  But it does help us to make necessary changes to make each year better.  Hopefully your Christmas will evolve over time into the special occasion you want it to be.  It will always be busy.  It will always bring stress.  But the more you anticipate and plan in advance, the more you'll get to truly experience the joy and spirit of the season.

May God richly bless you in 2012.  See you soon!