Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Putting Dinner on the Table - It's a Family Affair

When I was in high school I had a friend who needed to go home after school and get dinner started for the family.  Quite frankly, as a 15 year old kid I was quite aghast that her mother would put that kind of responsibility on her teenage daughter.  Now as a working mother of older children I totally get where she was coming from.

I think most people would agree that family dinners are important.  Whatever your family looks like, sitting down together at the end of the day to eat is a nice way to reconnect and relax a little bit.  The problem is how do you actually get dinner on the table without it being stressful and anything but relaxing?  One of my solutions is to make getting dinner on the table a family affair.

My experience has been that if I set forth the expectation that I need help getting dinner on the table I'll get the help.  I've found that relying on my husband and kids has helped us to be more successful with our family dinners.  Here are some tips that I use.

1.  Communicate the plan to the family.  My husband generally does a pretty good job of reading my mind with the exception of meal planning.  I've found that writing down exactly what I expect him and the kids to make (including sides and bread) eliminates any second guessing.
2.  Do what you can ahead of time.  This evening's meal was spaghetti and meatballs.  I threw the meatballs together before I left for work this morning (time for some freezer cooking!) and pulled the main ingredients out of the pantry.  All that was left for my husband to do was boil the noodles, bake the meatballs and make the salad. 
3.  Set a timeline.  Getting a complete meal on the table at the same time takes some experience.  I like to set a specific time for dinner to be on the table and then let them know when key pieces of the dinner need to be made.  This evening I planned on eating at 6pm which meant the meatballs needed to be on by 5:20.  Unfortunately I forgot to write instructions about the biscuits so those weren't done until we were halfway through eating. 
4.  Be a little flexible.  I gave instructions that we were to have glazed carrots with our meal.  When I got home I found corn on the table instead.  My husband prefers corn and since he made dinner he chose the vegetable.  While I was looking forward to the carrots it was a small price to pay for not having to cook the dinner.
5.  Be appreciative - even when the meal doesn't turn out as expected.  Back when my husband first started helping with dinner we had some disasters.  Just for the record, dill weed is not a good substitute for Italian seasoning.  However, I've tried to never get upset or be demeaning about these less than desirable meals.  I've always tried to show my appreciation for the effort he and the kids put forth. 

That's what works for our family, what tips do you have to help get dinner on the table?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

De-Stressing the Holiday Season

You will hear me say this over and over, but one of my biggest challenges in life is lack of time. I’m going to take a wild guess that I’m not the only one struggling with this issue. Whether you work outside the home or not, the vast majority of us are challenged by the number of items that must get squeezed into a 24 hour period. The holidays just add an extra layer of stress on all of us. After all, we must create wonderful childhood memories for our family consisting of: yummy tasting cookies, beautifully decorated trees, exquisitely wrapped presents and a feast fit for a king all while wearing this year’s latest fashions, perfect make-up and not a hair out of place. Yeah – right!

Previous years have brought a lot of stress and screaming to the WWIN household trying to get the “perfect Christmas” while failing miserably. Over the years I’ve come to realize that I either need to a) adjust my idea of the perfect Christmas or b) get help.

Since I don’t have it in me to adjust my idea of the perfect Christmas I’ve had to settle for getting help. Every year the help I seek changes a little bit but the point is, YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL YOURSELF. Yes, I did yell that because all of us (including me) need to hear it again.

My first piece of advice to you is to decide what is truly important to you and throw out the rest of the noise. Christmas cards? Gone! Outside lights? Gone! Gingerbread houses? Staying! You get the idea.

Here are some ideas to help you “outsource” your holiday stress and hopefully find some balance within the season.

Christmas Baking – Come on, do you really need to make 12 different types of cookies? If you enjoy it and it doesn’t stress you out then go for it! However, if you are making those cookies because you think you “have to” and it’s stressing you out then stop. This year I am planning on making three different cookies. I will be baking my molasses cookies (known affectionately at our house as the “pain in the butt cookies”), carrot cookies and pecan fingers. These are all special recipes my husband and kids enjoy so I’m not going to skimp there. If I need chocolate chip cookies in a pinch I’ll turn to Tollhouse.
  • Outsource ideas
    • Check with your local bakery for unfrosted cut-out cookies. A number of years ago I moved to pre-made cut out cookie dough followed by a move a couple of years later to pre-cut cut out cookie dough. Last year I switched to the pre-baked cut out cookies and it was wonderful! As a family we enjoy decorating the cookies, the baking of them were a necessary means to the end. By purchasing pre-baked cookies we still get to decorate the cookies without the hassle of baking them.
    • Host a cookie exchange. It’s a lot easier to make twelve dozen of one cookie than one dozen of twelve. I’m sure that you have friends and family who feel the same way. Gather some of your friends, family or co-workers together to exchange cookies. Each person signs up for a particular cookie, bakes the agreed upon quantity and then exchanges with the group. This allows you to have the different options you desire without the stress of the baking

 Wrapping Presents – Who doesn’t love a beautifully wrapped present? My family can always tell how stressful the weeks/months leading up to Christmas were by my wrapping. During a good year each extended family unit gets their own wrapping theme. I buy coordinating wrap and bows so that each present is beautifully wrapped. Other years they were haphazardly wrapped in whatever paper I had or were put in bags.

  • Outsource ideas
    • Look for a charity who is offering gift wrapping. Most malls offer gift wrapping for charities like Habitat for Humanity. Take all your gifts there to get them wrapped. One year I took all my presents to our local mall where the Senior Citizen Center was holding a fund raiser. For a donation to the center I got all my presents wrapped. The donation really wasn’t much more than I would have spent on wrapping paper and bows (I like pretty paper and bows). Of course the family could tell that was a stressful year for me since there were no bows and fairly plain paper but my presents were wrapped and I felt good about my donation.
    • Hire a teenage to wrap your gifts. I’m sure most of us know a teenager who would love to make a few extra bucks. Hire them to wrap your presents for you.

 Entertaining – I love love love to entertain. There is nothing better in my opinion than throwing a party. Unless it’s not having to make any food for the party! There are a couple of things you can do to tone down the food prep for a party. The first thing is to schedule the party at a time when everyone should have eaten. I’m having my department party at 6:30 on a Friday. By then everyone will have grabbed a bite to eat so all I’ll need to provide is some appetizers. The second thing is to not over buy. I spent $300 on food at last year’s party, only half of which was eaten. That was a lot of wasted money and time on my part. At the end of each party make note of what is left over and document how much you should make next year. 
  • Outsource ideas 
    • Cater your party. I’m sure whenever you hear the word “cater” you think of fancy, expensive food. In some cases that may be true but catering an event can be as simple as going to the grocery store and buy pre-made trays. A cheese and sausage tray may not sound that hard to put together but when you pile the veggie tray, stuffed mushroom caps, hot crab dip, etc on top of it you have a lot of work! Buying everything pre-made is a little more expensive but isn’t enjoying your party stress free worth it?

 Christmas Shopping – Ugh! Nothing stresses me out more than Christmas presents. There are a multitude of reasons why I would like to stop exchanging with extended family but since that isn’t going to happen I needed to come up with a way to simplify my gift giving. One of my favorite ideas is to get a number of people the same gift. This may seem cheesy, but if it’s thoughtful and appreciated who cares? Last year I decided to buy play tickets for my MIL, SIL, two nieces and my daughter. I was able to get five presents bought in one stop and we had a fabulous time! We enjoyed a nice dinner before the show, everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. Guess what I’m doing this year? You got it, another play. This year we are seeing Mary Poppins. White House ornaments and magazine subscriptions are another one of my favorite go tos. 
  • Outsource idea
    • Stop shopping the stores and buy everything online. There are so many online discounts and free shipping that it probably won’t cost you more than going to the store. Even if you aren’t getting as awesome deals as you would at the store think of the gas money and time you are saving.

Miscellaneous Traditions – One of our favorite holiday traditions is to decorate gingerbread houses with my nieces and nephew. The first couple of years my sister-in-law was gung ho about baking the houses herself. After a couple of stressful years we graduated to pre-cooked but needed to be assembled gingerbread houses which were still a little bit stressful. We have since gone to the fully assembled gingerbread houses that just need decorations – much less stressful! 
  • Outsource idea
    • The memories your children are going to carry with them into adulthood aren’t the fact that your gingerbread house could compete with Martha Stewart or that your projects were 100% from scratch. Whatever your project is, think about how to get it done with the least amount of work and stress. Whether it’s buying pre-assembled gingerbread houses, pre-baked cut outs or craft kits the kids will really only remember the happy times you spent doing something with them. The memories will be happiest if they don’t involve yelling and screaming. 
I realize that these suggestions aren’t for everyone. What I’m trying to do is get you to think outside of the box. Think about what’s important to you and find a way to get it done, even if that means hiring someone else to do it. If it’s not important to you then let it go. The holidays should be a time to spend with your family, not get wrapped up in all the commercial trappings.

I’ll be linking this up over a We are THAT Family.


Weekly Goals

I’ve gotten into a little bit of a funk lately. Last week I was on vacation, typically that means a huge list of items to accomplish. Not this time, unfortunately there was very little accomplished besides getting some Christmas shopping done (and wrapped) and one of our trees put up. I did very little else around the house (including blogging!)

While I am doing pretty good on the Christmas front, to keep the momentum going I need to get out of this funk and get some stuff done. This week’s goal list is a little different in that it’s more a to-do list of projects. I’m not going to worry about my reading or improving myself; I just need to get things done. It feels a little like I’m going into crisis mode without really having the deadline of Christmas here. I really just want to get the items done so I can actually enjoy the season instead of stressing about it.

Here is what I hope to accomplish this week:
  • Decorate the house (this does require that I take down the fall decorations, I’ve already gotten a little grief about having carved pumpkins on my porch with a lighted Christmas tree inside my hose)
  • Finish shopping (there will be a few stragglers to pick up for the husband and kids but the extended family and the majority of the kids will be done)
  • Finish wrapping the gifts
  • Bake cookies (I’m cutting back this year, I really don’t need all that temptation in the house)
  • Finish and order the Mixbook photo albums for the kids.
  • Write the posts for the holiday recipes.
If I can get this list accomplished I’ll be feeling pretty good. What’s on your goal list for the week?

I’ll be linking this up over at Money Saving Mom


Monday, November 28, 2011

Weekly Menu

The first round of holidays is over, guess it’s time to get back to some kind of schedule. I was on vacation last week so our schedule was very laid back. Unfortunately I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped. Somewhere along the line I got bit by the lazy bug and didn’t make too much progress on my list. I guess every now and then we need some down time and I can say it sure felt good!

Here is our menu for the week
  • Haddock (stuffed and baked), rice pilaf, salad, corn, bread
  • Fend for yourself (I need to stop and buy a dryer after work – I’ll update you later)
  • $1 fish tacos for the mom and dad, dinner with grandma for the kids
  • Create your own fish taco buffet
  • Spaghetti and meatballs, strawberry salad, glazed carrots, garlic bread
  • Take out
  • Dinner out with friends

 My goal with the New Year is to try a couple of new recipes every month. The stuffed haddock recipe up above was a new one last month and was quite a hit with me and the kids. My husband prefers plain baked haddock so I made two separate dishes.

What’s on your menu for the week?

I'll be linking this up at I'm an Organizing Junkie


Monday, November 21, 2011

Menu Planning

Last week we did a great job following the menu plan, it always helps whem we have an easy week!  This is going to be another easy week.

 We had our party on Saturday and it was a hit.  The food we had catered in was phenomenal (and not that expensive), my cake was delicious (even though it didn't quite look like the picture - I'll post more later) and the kids loved Just Dance 3 (we hosted a House Party this weekend).  Definitely a successful party.

Between leftovers from the party and Thanksgiving this is going to be an exra easy week in the menu planning department.  Here is the plan
  • Leftovers x2
  • $1 fish taco night at one of our favorite restaurants
  • Chicken taco buffet (I throw the "fixings" on the table and the family makes whatever they want.  We have quesadillas, soft shell and hard shell tacos as well as taco salad.)
  • Thanksgiving dinner - We actually have two dinners to attend.  In addition to supplying the turkey at one of the dinners, I'll also be taking sides to each of the dinners.  I'm planning on making Granny's Cranberry Relish as well as the Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes.  The best part is I can make these in advance and enjoy (from the sidelines) the 5K that my daughter and her cousins are doing Thanksgiving morning.
  • Pizza
  • TBD - my husband is working this weekend so it will be just the kids and I.  I'll probably do some kind of soup or something.
I hope everyone has a really wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoys the time with family and/or friends.  If you are one of the crazies who do Black Friday (yes - I'm kind of one of you) have fun, hopefully you'll get some fantastic sales.

What's on your menu this week?  If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner I'd love to hear what you are serving.

I'll be linking this up at I'm an Organizing Junkie, Life as Mom and Money Saving Mom

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes

With Thanksgiving right around the corner I thought I'd share some of our family staples with you.  My sister-in-law received this recipe from a co-worker a few years ago and it instantly became a hit with my husband's family.  I made it for my family at one point and it became a hit there also.  Every year I'm asked to bring the sweet potatoes and the cranberries to my family's Thanksgiving gathering.

Unfortunately I don't have a picture but when I make it next week I'll definitely add pictures for your reference. 

Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes
  • 6 medium sweet potatoes (3 lbs)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 can (5 oz) evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup butter (melted)
  • 2 eggs - lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

  • 2 cups Rice Crispy cereal (crushed)
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Peel and cook potatoes, drain and mash.  Add remaining ingredients.  Pour into greased 8 x 8 baking dish (the dish can be flexible, my sister-in-law uses a souffle dish while I use an oven proof serving bowl)

Combine toppings until crumbly, spread over top of potatoes.  Bake uncovered at 375 for 30 - 35 minutes or until slightly browned

Peel and Cook

Drain and Mash

Add Remaining Ingredients

Pour Into a Greased Baking Dish - Don't Forget to Leave Room for the Good Stuff!

Crush Rice Crispies - I Use a Glass in the Container I'm Mixing in

Add Remaining Ingredients

Spread Over Top of Sweet Potatoes and Bake


Combine toppings until crumbly, spread over top of potatoes.  Bake uncovered at 375 for 30 - 35 minutes or until slightly browned.

Note:  The potato mixture can be made ahead and frozen as long as the topping is frozen separately, do not add to the potatoes until they are thawed and any excess moisture is drained off the top.

I hope your family enjoys this dish as much as mine does!

I'll be linking this up over at Good Cheap Eats, Fabulicious Food

You may also like:

Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget
Cutting Back on Christmas Spending

Taming the Mail Beast

Based on the conversations I've had with co-workers, I'm not the only one with a mail issue.  The issue being the everyone will bring it in but I'm the only one to deal with it.  Of course, I don't deal with it every day so it turns into a beast.  Kind of like the sock monster that used to lurk in my laundry room.

Just like the sock monster, banishing the mail beast has been on my radar for quite a while.  Unfortunately it's been lower on the list so I haven't done anything about it, until now.

This is what our mail beast looked like.  Confession, I might have tidied it up before taking the picture.

On a typical day you could find junk mail, magazines, coupons, bills that needed to be paid (we do most of our bill paying electronically but there is always the stray bill that needs a check), bank statements, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, when my husband was working all weekend, I spent a Saturday doing nothing but organization.  I decided to go to Wal-Mart and browse for solutions to some of my problems.  In the office section I found a neat solution to the mail beast.  It wasn't quite the solution that I was imaging, in my head I had a full command center with a white board and calendar but after thinking about it this was a good start.

Here is what I ended up purchasing.

I hung this organizer on the inside of our pantry door using Command Hooks.  The brushed nickel Command Hooks match our door handles as well as the hooks on the organizer.  Aesthetically pleasing organizing tools make me happy!

Now when the family brings the mail in it goes right into the top pocket.  I go through the mail a few times a week, discard the junk and decide what to do with the rest.  Anything that needs action will go in the front pockets.  Right now one of the pockets is holding our expired passports (reminding us to get them renewed) and a check that needs to be deposited.  There's also a key holder that my son is using for his car keys.

I wish I could say this was the perfect solution or that I eliminated the need for a solution by going through and dealing the mail every day but that isn't the case.  This option does allow our kitchen counter to remain neat and tidy while giving us a convenient place to hold mail until I can sort through it.  I will be keeping my eye open for additional tools (like a calendar to hang from two of those hooks) to kick it up a notch but it's at least better than it was.

What do you do with your mail?

I'll be linking this up over at I'm an Organizing Junkie, Organizing with Sandy and A Bowl Full of Lemons

You might also enjoy:

Organizing the Spices
Laundry Habits
Bathroom Organization

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

Let’s face it; there are a lot of expectations around Thanksgiving Dinner. Quite often those expectations carry a pretty hefty price tag. In an annual report put out by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner will be about 13% higher than last year. They claim the average cost to feed 10 people will be almost $50 which honestly feels a little light to me.

The thought of hosting Thanksgiving can be a little overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. There are a number of things that can be done to spread the cost. Don’t use (or let others) the excuse that you can’t change things because “that’s the way it’s always been done”. It’s a fact, life changes.

I understand that telling family and friends that putting on the dinner may be a hardship is not pleasant or something anyone wants to do. However, wouldn’t it be better to get some help rather than stressing about it? If you are attending a dinner where you know this may be a hardship, go ahead and offer some assistance. Just make sure that you are delivering the message in a non-insulting way. Saying “you host every year, let me help out by providing the turkey” comes across much better than “I know you don’t have any money so I’ll buy the turkey for you”. Same result but the delivery is a little more tactful.

Here are some ideas on how to cut back on expenses; I’m going to save the most controversial one for last.
  • Commit to providing the meat but have everyone else contribute a dish. So what if no one makes the mashed potatoes like you do. If the potatoes turn out lumpy you’ll have something to talk about for the next 20 years (been there done that!)
  • Let someone else provide the turkey. One of your guests may get a free turkey from work or else would prefer to supply the meat versus cooking a dish.
  • Leave non-essential items out. How many items do you put on the table that barely gets eaten? If no one really likes cranberry relish than leave it off the table. If Uncle Ron is the only guest eating the pecan pie don’t provide it. Of course something like pecan pie can be controversial so you may want to give Uncle Ron the heads up so he can be prepared. Who knows, he may offer to supply the pies!
  • Make less food. How many years do you have so many leftovers you can barely eat them all? Cutting back on the amount of food you make will help shrink the budget.
  • Plan in advance. I know we’re awfully close to Thanksgiving and there isn’t time this year to prepare ahead but I would guess that everyone has almost the same items year to year. Make your sweet potato casserole in September and freeze it. If you have the freezer space you could pretty much buy or make one item a week leading up to the holiday spreading out the cost over several months as well as cutting down drastically the work to put on such a big dinner.
  • Open up a Thanksgiving Club. Ok, I made this one up but if you really put on a big spread and it costs you hundreds of dollars think about opening up a savings account just for Thanksgiving. $5 a paycheck doesn’t sound like a lot of money but if you get paid 26 times per year you could have $130 to spend for Thanksgiving.
  • Don’t serve turkey. I’m a diehard turkey for Thanksgiving fan but if all these options don’t work then you need may need to take drastic measures. Consider making something liked stuffed chicken breasts instead of the turkey. Price your different meat options and go with whatever will have the least amount of impact on your pocket book.
How do you save money at Thanksgiving?

I’ll be linking this up over at Life as Mom , Crystal and Company and We Are THAT Family

You might also like:

Spending Less at Christmas
Saving for Christmas

Monday, November 14, 2011

Weekly Goals

These weeks sure do fly by, don't they?  I am amazed that we are already half way through November.  The holidays will be upon us before you know it and then we'll be in 2012!

I didn't get everything done on my list last week but I did make pretty good progress, especially on my personal list!  I did especially well on enjoying myself :)  We had an absolute wonderful time at our girls weekend last week.  We shopped for bargains, ate a fabulous meal, laughed ourselves silly and finished with a 90 minute deep tissue massage.  What's not to enjoy?  I'll be sharing more later this coming week because I want to give some kudos to our hotel and the restaurant for providing such fantastic service.

Here's how I did on my goals for last week:


  • Read "The Four Hour Work Week" - I did start but didn't get a chance to finish
  • Finish "Desiree"
  • Finalize St. Louis weekend
  • Enjoy my girls weekend in Chicago
  • Start exercising I'm giving myself credit for this since we had to talk over a mile to a parade we attended last week (and then another mile back) plus all the walking I did while shopping.  It may not have been conventional exercise but I burned some calories!


  • Organize boy's bathroom drawers - started but didn't get a chance to finish
  • Take picture and submit guest post
  • Meet w/M
  • Write organization posts for future weeks

 This coming week is going to be pretty hectic so I have quite a few more tasks.  My daughter's birthday is this week so we'll be having both a slumber party and family party (coinciding with our Just Dance 3 House Party!).  Of course anytime there's a party in the house there's a lot of work.  I'm going to confess though that I'm outsourcing quite a bit of the work so it won't be as overwhelming as in previous years
  • Get 3/4 of the way through "The Four Hour Work Week"
  • Exercise three times
  • Finalize St Louis trip - I can no longer procrastinate, this has to get done so the kids can ask off work.
  • Organize boy's bathroom cabinet
  • Clean off desk in family
  • Finalize catering menu for Belle's family party (you can read about my party philosophy here.  This year I'm having a cleaning service come in the day before)
  • Bake Belle's cake (this is what I'm aiming for)
With everything I need to do to get ready for the party plus the stress I'll be under at work getting ready for a week vacation I'm not going to plan on doing anything other than my daily posts.
That's my goals for the week.  Wait until next week, I'll be on vacation and getting ready for Christmas so my list will be awful!  However, it will be so nice to get it done in early and have the stress free Christmas I'm striving for.
What are your goals for the week?
I'll be linking this up over at Money Saving Mom
You might also like:







Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekly Menu Planning

Even though last week was a pretty easy week in regards to menu planning, it was a bust following the plan.  Last Sunday I did make the Baked Stuffed Haddock which was absolutely divine!  My son and I loved it even though my husband didn't (my daughter wasn't home that evening).  In the future I'll just bake plain haddock for my husband and this recipe for my son and I.  Tuesday we did the $1 fish tacos as planned, but that was pretty much it for following the menu.  I came home a little early from work one day to make the spaghetti and was told no one was really in the mood for it.  At that point I told them they were on their own, mama wasn't going to worry about feeding them!

Grocery shopping was a little weird this week.  A group of women that I work with went to Chicago this weekend to shop and have a spa day.  Saturday night my husband picked me up at the drop off point and wanted to grocery shop immediately.  I hadn't had time to do an inventory, make a list or even think about the menu.  The only good thing was that since last week was a bust I didn't need to buy much which really helped keep us under budget.  Since we were way over budget last week that was a good thing!

Here is the plan for the week:
  • Spaghetti & Meatballs, strawberry salad, carrots, bread
  • Potato Soup, bread, applesauce
  • Dinner out - we're having a family party next weekend for Belle's birthday.  Both my kids birthdays are around holidays and I've found that I can cater their birthday parties for not that much more than making them myself.  The time and energy that I save is worth every penny!  She wanted some input into her menu this year so we'll be going to the restaurant we want to use so she can pick out the menu.
  • Chicken and stuffing, applesauce, corn, cranberry relish, bread
  • Pizza - slumber birthday party so there will also be lots of snacks and junk food
  • Chili
  • Family party

It's going to be a crazy week here at the WWIN household.  I took Friday off to make the birthday cake, this is what I'm planning.  This is my first attempt at this type of cake so I'm hoping it turns out well.  I'll be sharing next week how I did.

What's your plan for the week?  Feel free to share a link to your post in comments

I'll be linking this up at I'm an Organizing Junkie

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cutting Back on Christmas Spending

The approaching Christmas season is enough to strike fear in the hearts of anyone struggling with money.  There is such an air of expectation among the children.  What parent wants Santa to let them down by not getting them exactly what they want.  Who doesn't want to buy their mother/father/sister/niece the "perfect" gift that will make them squeal with delight?  Unfortunately all this costs money.

In my husband's family we exchange presents with everyone.  "Everyone" currently includes: Mom and dad, two sisters, two brothers-in-law, four nieces & nephews, an uncle and the uncle's significant other.  That's twelve people just on his side of the family.  The present push starts on Thanksgiving when we all need to come with a list of what we want so the Black Friday shoppers can get prepared.  Christmas morning the living room is a maze of stacked presents.  Presents are taken over to my in-laws on Christmas eve so everything can be arranged prior to us arriving.  We are given assigned seats and our presents are stacked around our seat.  It's not unusual for the piles to be 2-3 feet high and only a small path to our seats.

The kids absolutely love it.  As an adult, it strikes fear in my heart.  Fear of the money it takes to buy the presents, fear of the time it takes to shop and wrap all those presents as well as fear of what to do with all the stuff once it's opened.  When our kids were young there were a couple of years that we needed to make two trips to get all of the stuff home.

This may sound like I'm complaining but I'm really not (except for maybe those years it took us two trips to make it home).  What I am saying is that it may be a little excessive.  With all the hustle and bustle to get ready for Christmas I feel like the reason for Christmas gets forgotten.  I think it's still possible to have a nice Christmas without all the materialistic trappings. 

Here are some ideas on cutting down on the work and/or financial strain of gift giving.

  1. Stop exchanging.  This hasn't necessarily gone over very well when I've brought this up in the past (hence the fact that we are still exchanging) but I do think it's a valid point.  If you or someone in your family is truly struggling with finances this would lift the gift giving burden immensely.  No one wants to admit to financial struggles so I would encourage anyone who isn't struggling to be the one to suggest the change.  Think of what a relief it would be for your struggling family member to have someone else make the suggestion to change the status quo. We've done this with my family and it has actually made the get together more enjoyable.
  2. Limit gift giving to children under 18
  3. Exchange names and only buy for the one person each of you have drawn
  4. Have a white elephant exchange.  Go through your house and give away something old or hideous (just make sure it wasn't the sweater you sister-in-law gave you the year before).  Everyone gets to purge an item from their house and open a gift.  There will be no emotional attachment to the gift you receive so it will be easy for you to give it away.
  5. Host a gift grab.  Everyone brings one gift (with a $ limit).  Everyone draws a number.  When it's your turn you can either "steal" a present from someone else or grab one of the unopened presents
  6. Have a homemade Christmas.  Limit all gift giving to homemade gifts. 
  7. Have a themed Christmas.  One year a friend of mine had a "Wisconsin" Christmas.  Everything purchased had to be made in or representative of Wisconsin. 
  8. Instead of exchanging gifts put the money towards a get away weekend.  Book a condo/house with the extended family for a weekend at the beach, skiing, etc.
  9. Go on a family excursion.  To cut down on the amount of "stuff" and make my shopping a little easier I've started giving theater tickets to our local performing arts center.  I'm not saving money but I am making my shopping a little easier and not adding to the amount of "stuff" my sister-in-law needs to take home.  Last year we had so much fun that my nieces begged me to do it again this year.  The best part is I get the tickets at a discount through my employer.
If Christmas is overwhelming for you I would encourage you to sit down, make a list of what is overwhelming and brainstorm how you can solve it.  We should be enjoying Christmas and celebrating what it's really about, not getting stressed and crabby.

How have you cut down on gift giving?

I'll be linking this up over at Life as Mom


Monday, November 7, 2011

Weekly Goals - w/o 11-7

Last week was not a phenomenal week in terms of hitting all my goals.  It was very hectic and I'm still not feeling 100%.  Yes, they are excuses but sometimes life happens and the trick is to make sure when we fall off the horse we get right back into the saddle.  Here are my goals from last week and how I did against them.


•Read "The Four Hour Work Week" - I couldn't find my Kindle this week so I didn't get a chance to read this book.  The good news is that I did find it (in the pile of mail - go figure) so I'll be reading it this week.
Start Desiree and get half way through
•Exercise three times for 30 minutes - Have I told you before how much I hate exercising?  While I shouldn't make excuses, this was an incredibly busy week for me.  My husband was out of town, my daughter had a band concert and I had a work dinner.  It was very difficult to find the time to exercise.  Of course if it was higher on my priority list I probably would have :(
Dig out my BodyMedia band and start wearing it
•Finalize St. Louis weekend - I didn't have much time to think about this one at all.

Is it any surprise that goals for me didn't get accomplished?  On the flip side I did manage to get a hair cut, color my hair and enjoy a massage for my birthday so it was a little bit about me last week.

Follow up on house cleaner leads
Look for shoe storage options for coat closet
Finish spice organization (I still haven't made up my mind about the storage method so I'll need to make a decision!)
•Buy shelf for second basement storage closet - I'm going to put this off for a couple of weeks

I did a terrific job this week on the house.  On Friday I met with a couple of young ladies who have started their own cleaning service, they'll be doing their first cleaning in a couple of weeks.  I also completed the following projects:  Organized my spices, developed a solution for the mail pile, tamed the shoe beast in the front closet and bought supplies to organize the boys bathroom.  Quite honestly, the thought of these girls having free reign over my house has gotten my organization desire in full gear!


•Submit guest post - I have the post written but I didn't get a chance to take a picture to submit with it. 
•Follow up on interview opportunity - I did follow up but we're still e-mailing back and forth
Catch up on visiting other blogs (with being under the weather the last couple of weeks I haven't done a very good job of visiting other blogs that link to the same site as I do. I've got quite a few to go back and visit!)
•Meet with M. to discuss new blog (if we're going to meet our January 1 launch date we need to get cracking!) - didn't get anything done on this one at all.  I really need to get cracking.

This is another pretty busy week so I'm going to cut myself some slack and not go overboard.  Here are the goals for this week

  • Read "The Four Hour Work Week"
  • Finish "Desiree"
  • Finalize St. Louis weekend
  • Enjoy my girls weekend in Chicago
  • Start exercising

  • Organize boy's bathroom drawers

  • Take picture and submit guest post
  • Meet w/M
  • Write organization posts for future weeks

That's it for my goal list.  What's on your list?

I'll be linking this up over at Money Saving Mom

You might also like:

Organizing the Spices
Menu Plan
October Financial Check-Up

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Organizing the Spices

My spice organization has been on my mind for quite a while.  While I've been keeping my pantry pretty organized since the pantry challenge earlier this year, it seems like my spices had a mind of their own and would jump out at me while getting other items from the pantry.  I'm a fairly patient person but even I get tired of picking up spices off the floor.

Here is a before pictures of my spices.  Note - this is AFTER I've already gotten rid of some in my first solution

I personally don't use all these spices (my husband buys a lot of spices for his own use) and do believe there is an opportunity to purge at a later date, however this solution involved finding room for all of our current spice selection.

As I mentioned before, my solution was two-fold.  The first thing that I decided to do was to make use of the spice rack that we have on our kitchen counter.  I bought it a few years ago when we re-did our kitchen, I'm embarrassed to admit that quite a few of the spices still had their original sealed top.  Non-functional items don't really have a place in my kitchen (with the exception of the Eiffel Tower and a plant) so I decided to make better use of this spice rack.

The first thing that I did was to dump out the spices I didn't need, wash the containers and re-fill them with spices I use fairly regularly or buy multiple containers of because I can never find what I'm looking for.  Seriously, how many jars of nutmeg does one girl need?  I then used a label maker to label the containers with my new spices.  The labeling doesn't have the same visual appeal that the original labels have but they are definitely more functional.

Here is what my spice rack currently looks like.  Sorry for the poor quality of the picture, I couldn't position it so that the flash wasn't hitting it.

I then needed to do something with the jumble of spices that were left.  My goal was to add space to my existing pantry and organize the spices in a way that they wouldn't fall all over and be easy to find.  Without a clear vision in my head as to what the solution would look like I headed over to Wal-Mart and found this.

This is a five shelf storage rack that I found in the kitchen section of Wal-Mart for about $17, bonus points for the fact that it matched my existing shelving.  There were two different ways to hang it, I chose the vertical option.  I was able to hang it myself in about a half hour with a screw driver and level so the assembly was quite easy.  If I can offer a suggestion, make sure the second piece you hang is the correct piece otherwise you will need to re-do your work which creates unnecessary waste :(

The three middle shelves are being used for spices, the bottom shelf is baking supplies while the top shelf is sandwich and freezer bags.  You can't quite see it but on the last spice shelf I took a long narrow basket that I had bought at the Dollar Store (same type I used in my bathroom organizing here) and added my seasoning packets.  This allows me to keep the packets together and easily see what I have.

By adding this extra space I was able to spread out my other pantry supplies making it easier to see what I have.  This should also make it easier to keep the pantry organized.

I'll be linking this up over at I'm an Organizing Junkie, Organizing with SandyA Bowlful of Lemons and Organizing Homelife

You might also like:

Keeping the Kitchen Semi-Company Ready
Freezer Cooking Wrap-Up

Menu Planning w/o 11-6

Last week was a very sad week for the WWIN household. While the trick-or-treaters were running around our neighborhood we sent our son out to our favorite gyro place for some take-out.  My son called me, quite upset, to tell me that the restaurant had closed for good.  This was a small, family run restaurant which I was very sad to see go.  Unfortunately in a time of constrained budgets and rising costs small businesses are typically hit the hardest. 

I'm happy to say that we were able to follow the plan pretty well last week, with a few minor adjustments.  We skipped Little Caesars for a night out at Outback.  Since we don't typically go out on weekends my husband works, I was just planning on picking up pizza but he surprised me by making plans with our friends to go out.

The dinner with my parents was good, especially since my mom brought the desert.  One of my favorite pies is the French Silk pie from Perkins, my mom picked one up for me as a birthday treat.  Aren't moms wonderful?

This coming week we have a holiday parade my daughter is marching in plus I'll be out of town on Friday and Saturday so this is going to be a fairly easy week too.  When I'm not home the family typically fends for themselves or my husband sends the kids out for take-out.  I don't even bother trying to plan since they'll just do what they want which is fine with me!

Here is the plan for this week
  • Bake Stuffed Haddock, rice pilaf, roasted potatoes, salad, bread - This is a new recipe for us.  We don't usually eat a lot of haddock but I thought this sounded good and my husband said he was interested in trying some fish for a change.  I'll let you know how it goes over.
  • Chicken & Stuffing, applesauce, carrots, cranberry relish, bread
  • Spaghetti & Meatballs, strawberry salad, carrots, bread
  • Creamy Wild Rice & Beer Bread (from Tastefully Simple), salad
  • Dinner out - we'll do either half price hamburgers or $1 fish tacos.  We haven't decided yet.
  • Fend for yourself night  (x2) - their options will be take-out, pizza (from the freezer) or mac & cheese.  I, meanwhile, will be feasting at some yet to be determined restaurant.  The dinner will probably include a couple of bottles of wine and desert - I can't wait :)
That's it for us, what's on your plan for the week? Feel free to leave a link to your post in the comments.

I'll be linking this up over at Good Cheap Eats, Money Saving Mom and I'm an Organizing Junkie

You might also like:

This Month's Birthday Cake Plan
October Financial Check-up
Weekly Goals

Friday, November 4, 2011

Organization Plans for this Weekend

This has been a crazy week for us.  Between my husband being out of town, a band concert, a work dinner and guests coming over for dinner I haven't had a chance to do anything this week in the way of organizing, cleaning or writing!  Now that my husband is back in town (or will be shortly) we'll be going out for dinner tonight with the kids and tomorrow night with friends to celebrate my birthday.  Since I bought myself some new clothes and treated myself to a massage there aren't any presents to be had but it will be nice being together as a family.

Once again it is my husband's weekend to work so that means I have lots of free time on my hands.  The last time he worked I way over did it so I'm going to take it a little easier this time and tackle a few projects that I've been wanting to do but just haven't gotten to.

As you may or may not know from reading my posts I've decided to hire a cleaning service to come clean my house every three weeks.  I interviewed two college girls today who have started their own house cleaning business.  They are coming for the first time in two weeks - I am so excited!  The downside to having strangers in your house cleaning is that I feel like I'm going to be judged and found lacking in my organizational skills.  Hence the mad dash this weekend :) 

These are all fairly non-time consuming.  They just required some planning, shopping and a little bit of elbow grease.  Here is what I'm going to do this weekend.

Organize the boys cabinet.  If you remember I did the girls bathroom a few months ago and am pleased to say that we've been doing a good job of keeping of keeping it organized.  Let's hope the boys have the same success. 

I also want to add a shoe bag in our front closet.  It seems no matter how often I straighten those shoes they get to be a mess.  My husband and I have talked about a couple of different options and believe this to be the best one for us.  The plan is to buy some command hooks and use a shoe bag that my mom has.  If it works well I may look for a nicer bag but this will at least let me know if this is a good plan. 

The corner cabinet in my kitchen is an absolute mess.  There are a lot of items that aren't regularly used and the plastic containers are in disarray.  I plan to take out the items that aren't used regularly and store them in my "non-essential kitchen item" area.  I will also be going through my plastic containers, keeping the ones that have matching lids while ditching the ones that don't.  I'll also be looking for some kind of holder for the lids.
Here's the before picture.

Next is the girls bathtub.  All I can say is that we have a ton of stuff in there that is non-essential.  Somehow all kinds of items end up there that don't need to be.  After thinking about a solution I've decided to get a shower tote for both me and my daughter that we can each put our essentials in and then carry them in and out of the shower.  I think this will help keep the shower cleaner (less stuff for water to accumulate around) and stop the almost daily deluge of products falling off the shelf.

Last on my to-be accomplished this weekend is the completion of my spices.  As I mentioned in a previous post I've moved a lot of my spices over to the on-the-counter spice rack and re-labels them appropriately.  However I do still have quite a few spiced in the pantry that need a better organization system.  I'll be finished that up this weekend too.  Here is my before picture.

Whew!  I'm tired just thinking about everything I need to do.  As I said though, these are all pretty easy and shouldn't take up to much time.

Well - I'm off to color my hair before dinner tonight.  I don't want to look my age and these gray roots are giving it away!

What will you be organizing this week?  Feel free to leave a link in the comments.

I'll be linking this up over at I'm an Organizing Junkie, Organize with Sandy and A Bowl Full of Lemons

You might also like:

Linen Closet

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

This Month's Birthday Cake

My daughter absolutely loves cake decorating shows.  I don't watch a ton of TV but we do enjoy sitting down together and looking at some of the really cool cakes that are made on those shows.  Last year for her birthday I splurged and bought a fancy cake from a local baker.  The cake set me back quite bit but it was worth it when I saw her face, she was so excited

This year I want her to have the same experience but I don't want to spent the same amount of money.  I've decided to try my hand at decorating her cake.  Unlike my friend Annie (who made that wonderful water park cake), I don't typically make my kids birthday cakes.  However, I'm a capable woman so I decided to give it a go this year. 

The first thing I did was go to the Wilton cake decorating site to get some ideas.  This is the cake that I've decided to make:

Nature Designs with a Hint of the Orient Cake

The cake is listed as somewhat easy to make and the reviews are all positive.  I will need to spend some money on fondant and molds but since these are pretty basic I should be able to use it in the future. 

My plan is to make two different flavors for the different layers and use her favorite colors instead of the colors in the picture.  I'm taking the day off before her family party so I'll have all day to get it done without her being around.

I'll be sharing step by step how I did it once I completed it.  I'm very excited!  I'm really looking forward to the cake and have all kinds of ideas for future cakes.

Guess what else - I found out yesterday that we were selected to host one of the Just Dance 3 parties through House Party.  We're going to use the house party as a birthday party, my daughter is very excited.  Between the cake and the Just Dance, this will be a birthday to remember :)

What kind of cakes do you make?  Feel free to share a link to any of your cake posts in comments.

I'll be linking this up over at We are THAT Family and A Bowl Full of Lemons