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!