Saturday, December 31, 2011

Buffalo Chicken & Bacon Pizza


I love Tastefully Simple Products and use them quite frequently in my cooking.  This is one of my favorite recipes to make for lunch on the weekends, but I do have to admit that sometimes it doesn't make it to the pizza!  I make the cream cheese mixture, add the cheese and just eat it with chips.  It makes an excellent "hearty" dip!

Buffalo Chicken & Bacon Pizza

Ingredients


1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. hot sauce or to taste
Bold Buffalo Blue Cheese Dip Mix (item #743501)
8 oz. softened cream cheese
12 inch pre-baked thin pizza crust
6-8 oz. shredded Colby Jack cheese
2-3 Tbsp. blue cheese crumbles
2-3 Tbsp. cooked, crumbled bacon

Directions

Sauté diced chicken in butter until no longer pink; add hot sauce. Simmer 3-4 minutes to blend flavors; cool in juices. Drain chicken. Combine next 2 ingredients; stir to blend. Spread cream cheese mixture on pizza crust (you may have some left over to enjoy with chips); top with chicken, cheese and bacon. Bake according to directions on pizza crust packaging. Makes 6-8 servings.
 
Did you know that you don't have to host or go to a party to get product?  If you are looking for product and don't know where to get it at just go to the Tastefully Simple website and "Shop Our Products".  Orders may be placed with a credit or debit card through a secured system.
 
Affiliate Link
 
You might also like:
 
Pork Carnitas
Thick and Meaty Chili
Chicken & Stuffing Casserole

Pork Carnitas


Pork Carnitas is one of my favorite meals.  In addition to being very yummy it's actually a fairly healthy meal if you aren't loading it with a lot of cheese and sour cream.  Most of the time I get my fix from the cafeteria at work where they serve them once a month or Chipotle Grill who makes the BEST carnitas.  After taking my husband to Chipotle Grill I got him hooked on the carnitas and he's excited - OK, maybe excited is to strong of a word, but he's looking forward to trying them at home.

I've spent some time perusing the Internet for the "perfect" rice recipe and I think I finally found it at Chef in You.

Pork Carnitas
Pulled pork (I buy left over pork ends, throw them in a crock pot with some pork rub and cook for several hours)
Cilantro Lime Rice
Black Beans (plain black beans from a can)
Salsa (we're using fresh pica de gallo)
Cheese
Sour cream and/or guacamole if desired

In a bowl add the rice, beans and pulled pork.  Top with salsa, cheese sour cream and guacamole.  How easy is that?  If not everyone in your family likes carnitas, the pork is yummy in a bun (this is how my kids will be eating the meal).

You could also substitute the pork for chicken, steak or vegetables.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Getting Your Financial House in Order in 2012

I'm taking a little different approach to goal setting this year.  This year I'm compiling all those things "I've been meaning to do" and will be getting them done in 2012.  Earlier this week I wrote about 12 decorating/organizing projects for the year.  Today I'm letting you know the 12 steps I'm going to take to get our financial house in order during 2012.

For those of you who read me regularly you know I've shared our financials goals and have been updating our progress monthly.  There are a number of other items that I've been "meaning" to do in regards to our finances and haven't found the time to get around to them.

Earlier this month I was reading Money Magazine, they had an article entitled "Money Management for the Time Pressed".  While I didn't think all of the suggestions pertained to our situation, I did think that a significant number of them should be reviewed.  Here are some of the items from the article as well as other items I've added.  I plan to tackle these throughout the year and will share my progress with you monthly as well as write in more detail what I've learned.

1.  Set a Budget

We are not a family who tracks every single penny.  I know, I know - according to Dave Ramsey and others we should.  If we did I probably wouldn't have to ask "where does all our money go", however that's not the way we roll.  I do recognize certain "black holes" of money that could be plugged (can anyone say take out) as well as some changes I can make to our money management.  This will be the first area I tackle in 2012.

2.  Target Savings

I've shared with you the success that I've had with our Christmas account.  My plan is to replicate that success with a decorating account and a vacation account.  We didn't quite hit our target this year for debt repayment, mostly due to the fact that I needed to buy our airlines tickets and pay for the balance of the cruise.  I'll be looking at all of our savings areas to see what enhancements can be made

3.  Review Our Tax Situation

Preliminary review of our taxes show that we will be paying in again this year.  Instead of increasing our withholdings, I plan to do some research to see what we can do to decrease the amount of taxes we pay.  Planning ahead will allow us to take full advantage of deductions and credits that we may not be currently maximizing.

4.  Review Our Retirement Plan

I think a lot of us put our retirement plan on auto pilot and don't really think about it.  The financial company who manages our 401K has a plan that allows for this auto pilot, but I do think that we need to periodically look at the full portfolio to determine if changes need to be made. 

5.  Review Our Credit Score

We recently refinanced our mortgage so I am aware of what credit score was as of December.  However, it's important to review your score at least once a year correcting any mistakes or inconsistencies.  We found that one of the accounts we paid off didn't show a zero balance, easily correctable but emphasizes how easily mistakes happen.

6.  Shrink Our Bills

How many of us don't pay attention to our cable, Internet or phone rates?  With electronic billing it's very easy for the rates to creep up while we don't even notice.  The best way to make sure that you are getting the lowest rates is to periodically shop to see what the competition is offering. 

7.  Review Household Energy Efficiencies

While we can't necessarily shop our utilities, we can make sure that we are taking simple steps to maximize our household efficiencies.  I'm pretty sure that we have many areas in our house that could be improved with fairly little effort.

8.  Prepare for Medical Incapacitation

When my mom had her medical condition early this year I talked about the importance of preparing your finances in case you are unable to communicate.  Guess what, I haven't done a lot of what I wanted to do.  This is an area that I need to get in order so that if something happens to me it's one less stress for my husband.

9.  Prepare a Will and a Living Will

I've told enough people about my wishes were something to happen to me that hopefully there would't be any arguments about what to do, but we shouldn't leave some things to chance.  In the last couple of years I have seen many young people die unexpectedly.  Having a will and end of life wishes clearly outlined can save a lot of heartache for those left behind.  This is an area that my husband and I haven't given a lot of focus, we will be rectifying that this year.

10.  Cut the Clutter

While I've taken steps to control my paperwork there is still much more to do.  My filing system needs to be improved and I'm sure that there are papers to be purged.

11.  Disaster Preparedness

Do you have all your important documents together if you need to get out quickly?  What about if your house burns down or is blown away in a tornado?  Making sure that you have copies of key documents is important and another thing we haven't been very good at doing.

12.  Career Readiness

Does your family rely on your income?  How easy would it be for you to find another job?  Is your resume updated?  None of us plan to be without a job but many of us find ourselves unexpectedly in that situation.  What's your plan and how long can you survive?  I'll be reviewing my personal readiness and identifying gaps that I can work to improve.

How about it, you want to come along for the ride?  When I post my monthly topics feel free to link up any related posts.

I'll be linking this up at Life as Mom

You might also like:

2012 Decoration/Organizing List

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Taking Down the Decorations

Doesn't it seem like we were just putting up the holiday decorations?  How can it already be time to take them down?  I find putting up the decorations much more exciting than taking them down, don't you?

I'm one of those people who like to put my decorations up the week of Thanksgiving and try to have my decorations down by January 1st.  Once the New Year hits I'm no longer in the holiday spirit and am ready to get my house back to normal.  Since I'm going back to work before New Year's Eve I've already started taking down my decorations.

As I've stated many, many times I don't have big blocks of time to get things done.  That's why I take my decorations down the same way that I put them up, a little bit at a time.  I've found that for me this makes the job less overwhelming and exhausting than trying to get it done all at once.

This year I've been working to get my Christmas items organized.  In the past, my issues have been:
  • All holiday decorations were thrown in the closet (summer, fall, Christmas) with the most recent holiday on top.  What that meant was that I needed to empty the entire closet to get to the Christmas items.  Conversely, I needed to take out the Christmas items when it came time to get the fall items.  A lot of work for some decorations.
  • All decorations were in a couple large bins which were to heavy for me to get out.  This meant that I needed to wait until one of the men in my life could unload the closet for me versus being able to take care of it myself.  The alternative is that I would do it myself and then throw my back out, not a good alternative
  • Since the decorations were in several bins and I took a few days to get everything up, my family room was in disarray until I was finished.  Having a room in that kind of disarray stresses me out.
  • The kid's ornaments were mixed in with the "family" ornaments.  This isn't a huge deal until the day one of them moves out and wants their Christmas ornaments.  My son isn't in a huge hurry to move out but he is 21 so it's always a possibility.
Now that we know what my problems were, here is what I did to rectify the situation.

1.  Buy a shelf specifically for Christmas totes

Instead of piling all the large seasonal totes on top of each I have bought shelving units specifically for the holidays.  We have many more Christmas decorations than any other season so I have assigned the back of the closet for our Christmas items.  There is enough space next to the shelving units for our Christmas trees as well.

2.  Use smaller totes

During my purging this past year I was able to empty out a number of smaller totes.  I am using these smaller totes to break up my decorations by area.  For example, one tote is holding all the decorations for the piano while another tote is holding all the decorations for the desk.  By keeping all items together I will be able to easily pull out a specific area that I want to decorate without pulling out all the decorations.  Note - make sure you label your totes so you know what is in each of them.

These totes also do double duty.  For example, when I pull out the piano decorations I store the "every day" piano items back in the totes.  That way when I go to put the decorations away I know where my every day knick knacks are and that they have been stored safely.

I have also given a tote to each kid so that their specific ornaments can be set aside.  When they want them I will easily be able to give them their ornaments.  Of course there will be some tears and my tree will look bare, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

3.  Use the walls to hang items

Historically I have thrown gently set my wreaths on the top of the pile.  Of course, this leads to the possibility of the wreath getting some abuse and not holding up very well.  This year I have taken advantage of my blank walls.  I pounded nails into the exposed 2 x 4's of our closet and have hung up my wreaths and garland.  This also gives me a safe spot to hang up my every day wreath during the holiday season.

I would have to say that of all the "aha" moments I've had over this last year of organizing, using wall space has been my best.  Adding shelves, racks and hanging areas has given me so much more room and helped in my organizing quest.

4.  Purge

Did you really think I could get through an organizing session without purging?  Many of us tend to keep our decorations from year to year, even if we aren't using them.  Unless there is some sentimental attachment to a decoration, get rid of it.  Holding on to items we don't need is, in my opinion, the biggest cause of clutter.  I honestly can't believe some of the items I've gotten rid of this year that I've been holding onto for years.

5.  Fix problems now so that you don't have to deal with them next year

The family room tree as well as my porch tree have lights that aren't working.  Taking care of them now will be in a pain, but it will save me frustration next year when putting up the trees.  I noticed when I first put up the family room tree that a strand wasn't working and I just didn't have time to deal with it.  Next Christmas I will be VERY pleased with myself that I took care of the situation now so that I don't have to deal with it then.

Here are some pictures of my organizing.  Keep in mind I'm not completely done putting away decorations so I don't have everything labeled but this is pretty close to what it will look like when completed.  The garland on the right is hanging on a nail from the top of the closet.  Pretty nifty, isn't it?



Do you have your holiday items down yet?

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Starting the New Year Off Right: Clean and Organized

Guest post by Lisa at Blog Content Guild

Just when the holidays are coming to a close and we're coming down from the whirlwind of preparing meals, buying gifts and figuring the logistics of hosting two sides of the family under one roof, it's time to figure out how to pack everything up. If you take the time to pack well in January, next time you have to get the decorations out in late November, you'll be ready to go.

Start with carefully placing each item in a clearly labeled box. It may seem tempting to just dump your lights in one tangled ball into a box and throw some ornaments on top, but in about 10 months you'll be thanking yourself. You might even consider investing in some inexpensive see-through plastic tubs to help you see exactly what you’re grabbing.

Now, if your attic inevitably turns into a sty when left to its own devices like mine does, this might be the perfect time to do some cleaning up. Before you delete this page from your browser and pull the cord from your computer, hear me out! What better time to start a new, clean system than the beginning of a year? You're going to be going into your attic or basement a lot to put up your old decorations and you'll want to have a clear path. If you’re struggling to even see the ground, you know you're in need of some cleaning.

Nate Berkus recommends recruiting your kids for help with a messy post-holiday house. You’ll find that the job goes a lot faster when you have more people working. Throw on a little Christmas music, and you might just have a brand new family tradition!

Just because your family tore your house apart at the end of the year doesn't mean you have to carry that over to the new one. Bite your lip, enlist some help and get moving on getting the house ready for another year.

Lisa is a guest blogger on the subjects of home décor, interior design and Brooklyn storage.

50% off Select Mixbook Items

If you are trying to decide what to do with all those photos you took at Christmas, Mixbook is running a one day sale where you can get 50% off select items.  Use code EXTRASALE50 to receive your 50% off. 

I've been waiting for a sale like this.  My niece spent the evening with us earlier this week and we took a bunch of pictures that I put together in a book for her and my daughter.  I'll be giving her this as a birthday present in February.

Note:  Not every item is 50% off but a significant number are.

The link above is my affiliate link.

2012 Decorating/Organizing Projects

Decorating and organizing the house always seems to be a never ending project list. As soon as one item is crossed off the list another three appear.

We have a number of items that I've been "meaning" to get to for the last couple of years. These aren't major projects but they require time and money, neither of which are in such abundant supply around our house we don't know what to do with.

I've decided that I'm going to start 2012 with a list of projects that I'm going to get accomplished. This is a combination of organizational projects that I haven't gotten to as well as some decorating projects that I keep putting off.

To accomplish this list I need to do two things. The first is to budget some money. I've decided to create a "decorating" savings account, similar to our Christmas club. My plan is to use an account that will be "out of sight" but I can easily move it back to an account linked to a debit card so it will be fairly easy to use when I get ready to start a project.

The second thing that I need to accomplish this list is some dedicated time to the projects. This is much harder for me than finding the money. Some of these items I've already spent some time looking for the "right" pieces without much success. My plan is that since I'll be giving monthly updates (similar to my monthly financial updates) so that I'll be motivated to make the time.

So, now that I have a plan, here is the list of decorating/organizing projects I intend to accomplish this year.

Living Room
 Our living room is sorely in need of an update. It's not the pattern on the couch and love seat that is the problem, it's the wear and tear that they are seeing. I've priced new cushions and they are VERY expensive so I am making them myself. I'm almost done with the sewing, a few days of really kicking it should get me there.

The biggest problem for me is the window treatments. These are the treatments that we purchased when we first bought the house. They are outdated and need to be replaced.

Paint is badly needed in this living room as well. We still have the original white from when we built 18 years ago. The paint has held up incredibly well (primer and three coats will do that for you) but it's white and I prefer something a little warmer.

At some point we need to replace the TV and entertainment center but that is lowest on the priority list.


Wall Connecting the Kitchen and Living Room

We haven't had a working house phone in over two years but we still have a phone on the wall.  Even worse, it's a green phone one a burgundy wall.  Unfortunately it's not as easy as "just taking it off the wall" since there's a big cream colored phone jack behind it.  I have a short term and a long term plan for the wall.

The short term plan is to take the phone down and replace it with a decorative metal sign.  I've been looking but I haven't found just the right thing yet.  The long term plan will be for my husband to remove the phone jack, patch the whole and paint the wall.  You may seem the long term plan on the 2013 or 2014 list :)


Update:  You an read about the finished project here


Desk area in family room

We haven't used the desk area in our family room for anything other than junk collecting for years.  My plan is to get rid of it and replace it with a bookcase that we can store mementos from our vacations.  I will then bring up the living room chair that has been hanging out down there and replace it with two black leather chairs and a table.  This should really warm the room up and make the space more usable.

Belle's make-up area

This fall Belle decided she didn't want a dresser in her room any longer and thought a make-up table would be a better use of the space.  The dresser wasn't working that well so we agreed to her plan.  However, finding a make-up table hasn't been as easy as we thought it would be.  Finding the perfect solution needs to be higher on the priority list.

Update:  You can read about the finished project here

Belle's Closet

This has been on the list a lot longer than the make-up table but has become more critical since she no longer has a dresser.  The closet in her room is pretty small, I'd like to get a wooden semi-customized organization system in there that contains drawers, shelves and an area for hanging clothes.


Master Bedroom Wall

When I re-decorated our bedroom a few years ago I wasn't able to find anything I liked for one of the walls.  This isn't a huge deal, but I'd like to find some kind of picture to warm up the wall.  I've been debating between a framed print or family pictures. 

Update:  You can read about the finished project here

Master Bedroom Closet

Somehow I ended up with the short end of the closet stick.  For the last 18 years I have had over a foot less of closet space than my husband.  When we organized the laundry we bought him two racks to hang up his clothes so I've decided that I'm taking back the closet.  The plan is to purge items as well as to get a better hanging system that what is in there.  We have a lot of wasted space that I think can be better utilized.

Utensil Drawer

My utensil drawer is a mess and needs some attention.  I think that I may look for a hanging system for some of the larger, less used pieces to get them out of the drawer.

Corner kitchen cabinet

No matter how many times I organize this space it always looks messy.  For some reason everyone (including me sometimes) just throws items in there haphazardly.  This cabinet is one of the most used in our kitchen and the one voted "most likely to kill someone" since it's not unusual for the contents to fall out on our heads.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do differently but I need to come up with something.

Bathroom light fixture

A couple of years ago I was watching House Hunters, the couple was touring a house that was a little outdated.  The bathroom had the same light fixture that was in our house, both the couple and the realtor commented on how out of date the fixture was.  That was an eye opener for me but I still haven't done anything about it. 

De-clutter Movie Room Credenza

When we finished the basement we bought a beautiful credenza that I absolutely love.  Right now it's stuffed to the gills with VHS movies that never get watched.  This really isn't an eyesore but I do think that the space could be used much better than it currently is being used.

Yet to Be Determined

I'm going to leave the last one open.  At this time I don't have any other pressing issues I want to tackle but I'm sure that something will come up throughout the year that will be worthy of getting added to this list.  Don't get me wrong, there are still a lot of areas that I want to improve the organization of and will provide me with plenty of fodder for posts, but those are fairly small projects.  I wanted this list to be the larger projects that just keep getting put off.

Everything month I'll be writing about the progress I'm making on the list so be sure and check back.

Do you have any decorating/organization goals for 2012?  Feel free to share a link in comments.

You might also like:

Closet Organization
Taming the Mail Beast
Organizing the Spices

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Menu - Week of December 25th

After stuffing ourselves over the last couple of days are we really going to talk about food?  Yesterday I made a big turkey dinner for my side of the family.  Today we didn't have fancy meals, pretty much a snack buffet that we grazed at all day.  I'm on a sugar overload right now.

Okay - back to business.  The last couple of weeks we have completely fallen off the cooking band wagon.  If any of the bank employees are perusing my recent account activity they are going to be quite appalled by all the food places we've eaten at recently.  It's pretty much been a take-out life for us!  Based on the amount of money we've spent that is going to need to change!  I just don't know that this is the week to start :)

After the hustle of the last couple weeks (and copious amounts of cooking and baking) I'm cutting myself a little slack this week and pulling everything from the freezer.  Here's my plan

Dinner out - I told you this may not be the week I start!  One of my nieces is spending the night so we'll be doing something for dinner, just don't know what yet.
Potato soup and beer bread (Tastefully Simple)
Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad, corn, bread
Chicken taco buffet
Lasagna, garlic bread, salad, glazed carrots
Leftovers
New Years Eve party

If you are a regular reader, you know that we tend to have the same things over and over.  One of my 2012 goals is to try more new recipes.  Since the hubby isn't big on change he isn't going to be to excited by this but I'd like to add some variety to the menu.

I thought I'd share one of my presents with you.  Every year for Christmas my mom gets me fun something for the kitchen.  Since she knows my penchant for dropping spoons in whatever I'm cooking she got my these nifty Rachael Ray spoons that hook onto your cookware.  I'm looking forward to using them (and not having to fish them out of the pot!)




What's on  your menu for the week?

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

Affiliate links

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!


Before the festivities start, I'd like to take a moment to thank all of you for coming back to read me day after day.  This first year of serious blogging has been a learning experience and I'm thankful for each and every one of you.

Whatever your plans are for the coming days, I wish you nothing but the best.  Enjoy the time with your loved ones, don't stress about what's not done.  These days are way to fleeting to not live them to the fullest.

From our house to yours - Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Unplanned Desk Organization

I find that there are some areas of the house that "just are.....".  For whatever reason they haven't gotten any attention recently (or in years).  They sit there, quietly taken for granted and unseen by the homeowners while collecting dust.

We've had several areas like this over the years that we've been picking away at, slowly but surely.  When the area is done we always sit back and say "wow, why didn't someone tell us how awful it looked before!".  This is because in our quietly taking for granted state we don't realize just how awful it really is.

I don't think that many of us plan to have these areas, they just happen.  Maybe we're unsure what to do, maybe we don't have the time, money or energy to deal with them.  Whatever the reason, they are certainly there.

In some of my earlier posts I've talked about my Christmas decoration envy and how I was letting it go.  Yeah - that didn't quite happen.  The problem, I believe, is that I was way to ahead of the game.  Let myself get through a Christmas without some last minute frenzy?  Maybe one of these years I'll let that happen, just not this year.  Of course, nothing is ever easy so it turned into a semi-organizing project.

This is what our desk looks like on a typical day.


Since we've gotten laptops this desk really doesn't get used anymore.  A few facts
  • I don't know what papers are hiding in the cabinets and drawers
  • That purse hiding in the opening hasn't been used in eons
  • The computer hasn't been used in years (like 3+)
  • I have the kid's artwork on top collecting dust.  My son just turned 21 and there are items from his elementary school days up there.
  • The dust collector in the back is a ship that my father in law made back when my husband still lived at home.  It's seen better days.
As I was thinking about my lack of decorations and what I could do I realized this was a prime spot to decorate.  Of course, there needed to be some organization first.  I'm not going to pretend I'm completely done here, this organization is a "just enough to get by" kind of organization.
  • First thing I did was to get the computer off the desk.  We have it's predecessor stuck back also, I really need to find a place to get rid of those things.
  • Next I went through the cubby holes getting rid of items that we didn't need.  I had five disposable cameras up there, it will be fun to see what comes back!
  • Packed up the kids "treasures".  I will bring a couple back once the holidays are done but not to this level.
  • Thoroughly dusted (which actually meant bringing out the vacuum cleaner to get up behind the desk)
  • Shopped for the garland (it was my husband's fault, he sent me back to Hobby Lobby to exchange a wreath.  Otherwise I'm sure I wouldn't have been tempted :)
  • Re-organized the cords
This isn't perfect and now that my eyes have been opened I have all kinds of ideas for this part of the family room.  Of course it requires money so it will be going on my 2012 financial goals list.

Here is what the desk looks like now.



What have you been organizing this holiday season?

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

Friday, December 16, 2011

Organizing ANOTHER Closet

It seems like no matter how much organizing you've done there's always so much more to do!  Sometimes I even forget what I've done.  One of the areas that I still need to do is some of my kitchen cabinets.  While digging in one of them while Christmas baking I decided to do a "mini-organizing" in one of my little used cabinets.  You know the one that you shove the stuff that you only use a couple of times a year, behind the Kitchen Aid mixer.  The one that you get frustrated with because it's difficult to get everything out.  Yeah - you've got one!

Earlier this week my husband asked me when I organized the kitchen cabinet.  After I told him that I didn't, we argued (light-heartedly) back and forth whether I did or not.  I would know after all if I had organized something, wouldn't I?  Turns out I wouldn't.  I had totally forgot that I had done it but my ever watchful husband who notices everything, noticed that I had added some new items to my kitchen stash in the basement.  I created a shelf downstairs for those items that are used a few times a year so that I don't have to deal with them the other three hundred forty some days of the year.  This is either a sign that this organizing is becoming second nature or that I'm losing my mind.  You can choose.

This post isn't really about that cabinet, I just thought it was a funny story.  I'm going to talk some more about my closets.  When we finished our family room a few years ago we had three storage closets built.  No, it wasn't because I needed the space (which I did), it was because our builder was a bonehead and put utilities in pretty much every corner of the basement.  Oh well, we did need the storage space so I'm not going to complain to much.

I don't have a before picture because I just wanted to get it done but here is my final product.  The picture is a little dark because when I turned on the closet light it added quite a bit of glare.



This closet was mostly used to build a leaning tower of luggage for luggage storage.  We also store our screen doors, folding tables, my yoga mat and a lot of junk in here.  Can you believe I found the original box from my Kitchen Aid Mixer as well as a Rock Band box?  I ended up with a big bag of trash and a significant number of boxes for the recycling bin.  Doesn't look like it's big enough to hold all the stuff I'm describing, does it?  That's why it was so stressful for me!!  Try finding the piece of luggage you want when it's in a jumbled mess.

Here are my steps:
  • The first thing I did was pick up my heavy duty storage shelf at Lowe's that I've used in my other closets.
  • Pulled all items out of the closet
  • Swept & vacuumed area (we want to start with a clean area, don't we?)
  • Sorted items, discarding those items no longer needed
  • Stacked my luggage within same brands.  Can you believe that the smaller bags actually fit inside the larger bags like a Russian Doll?  I know - amazing isn't it?
  • Neatly put everything back
The bonus was that I actually had two free shelves that I could put my fall decorations on.  The top two shelves (the top shelf isn't visible) contain my fall decorations.  When I finish my Christmas closet I may choose to do something different with my fall decor (because right now there's more in a different area) but for now it's a great place for them.

What have you accomplished this week/month as far as organizing?

I'll be linking this up to I'm an Organizing Junkie and Organizing with Sandy

You might also like:

Organizing Someone Else's Space
Organizing the Coat Closet
Organizing the Spices

Baking as Cost Effectively as Possible

Ah, the season of stressful Christmas cooking baking is upon us.  That time of year when we are forced have the pleasure to bake unending batches of cookies and candies.  That time of year when we can go broke buying ingredients for our baking needs.

Let's face it, baking is expensive!  Have you checked out pecan prices this year?   If not you are going to be in a for a rude awakening when you go to make your candied pecans.  Some of us (yes, that would be me) don't think about ingredients until right before (or sometimes during) the baking day which makes the cost even more astronomical.  Do you know what a convenience store charges for sugar and an orange?  Ugh!

In my opinion, there are a few ways to cut down on the expense of baking.

1.  Cut back on the amount and varieties that you make. 

If you are one of those who really enjoy this time of year this may not be something you want to do.  However, if you find the baking season a little stressful cut back.  As I mentioned in the baking post in my "De-Stressing the Holidays series", we only made our family favorites this year.  I also cut down significantly on the number of batches I made of our favorite cookies.  Trust me, there is still plenty and I won't be throwing any away in January.

If money is really a concern, you may want to craft your list based on the cost of the ingredients.  If you skip the candied pecans you may be able to add two different types of cookies.  It's all about what's important to you and your family.

2.  Plan ahead.

This doesn't sound like fun, does it?  Planning ahead is really key if you want to pay the least amount for baking.  Planning ahead (and I'm talking months) allows you to keep your eyes open for sales.  Most baking items store well and can be kept for several months.  To assist you in your planning ahead I would recommend you do the following.
  • Make the list of goodies you plan on baking and the quantities needed.
  • Create a shopping list of items (and quantities) you need.
  • If possible, add the regular price of the item to your list.  This will help you when you are out shopping to know if it's a good deal or not.
  • Keep an eye out for coupons and specials, picking up and setting aside items when at a good price.
  • Buy one item a week over the course of several months to create your baking stock pile without breaking the bank.
3.  Share the pain.

Cooking together is not only more fun it can also be more cost effective.  We've done many multi-generational baking days over the years.  One thing that I've found is that sometimes one of us may have the expensive items needed already in our pantry.  We typically make the shopping list and then go through on own pantries committing to certain items.  For any items not on the list we'll all chip in money for one of us to pick up the rest of the ingredients.

By cooking as a group, if you choose to, you can usually have a larger variety of cookies in smaller quantities.  Multiple hands make the baking of different cookies easier.  An added bonus is the memories that you will have of spending the day together.

Do you have any other recommendations for saving money baking?

You may also like:

Popcorn Balls
Carrot Cookies
Sweet & Salty Snowmen
Christmas Tree Cheese Display

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 Christmas Tour

I'll be publishing the decorating piece of the "De-Stressing the Holidays" later today, in the meantime I thought I'd share with you some of my Christmas decorating.

As you can see, we're at a time in our life where I go fairly easy on the decorating.  In a few years I may beef it up a notch but for right now this is what works for us and makes my Christmas fairly stress free.

I'm going to apologize for the picture quality as they aren't the best.  I've been having problems with my camera and didn't realize how poorly these turned out until I uploaded them.  When I get home this evening I'll try it again and hopefully the pictures will be better.

Welcome to our house.  Outside I keep things pretty simple with an artificial tree and garland.  I do buy a real wreath and boughs for the planter every year.  I add bows to the light fixtures to tie my burgundy theme in across the front of the whole house.  The wreath on the front door is made of sticks and berries that I re-use from year to year.



In our living room I keep things pretty simple too.  The Nativity is kept on the piano along with a lantern and fake amaryllis.  I have a live poinsettia as well as some snowmen scattered throughout the room.

This is our dining area where we keep our "company" tree.  Before finishing our basement we would put up a large tree in the living room.  However, it took away quite a bit of seating and made the living room cramped for parties.  By moving our "family" tree downstairs and buying a skinnier tree I was able to move it to a less crowded area and buys decorations that match our decor.  The burgundy/red theme carries pretty much all the way through our main floor.


Come on downstairs and I'll show you what I have going on down here.  This is our family tree where we hang all the ornaments we've received over the years and the kids made when they were small.  I've actually gone a little light on the ornaments this year due to time constraints.  This is where we celebrate Christmas on Christmas morning.


This is our nod to "The Christmas Story", one of our favorite holiday movies.  A few years ago for Christmas I splurged and bought my husband this lamp for one of his presents.  We keep it up all year long downstairs in the family room, but on Christmas Eve I bring it upstairs right before we go to church.  I move the couch out of the front window and replace it with the leg lamp.  I then turn down the lights so that the leg lamp is shown in all of it's glory before being returned to it's regular place downstairs when we get home.  We have a lot of fun with it and we get a ton of comments from people seeing it for the first time.  There are also some Santa's and snowmen scattered throughout the room also.


How do you decorate for the holidays?  Feel free to share a link to your decorating post in the comments.

I'll be linking this up over at The Nester

You might also like:

12 Things Your Christmas Tree Says About You
Sweet & Salty Snowmen
De-Stressing the Holidays: Christmas Baking
De-Stressing the Holidays: Shopping Wisely

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

12 Funny Things Your Christmas Tree Says About You


I received this link in my Taste of Home e-mail but this information was originally published in Reader’s Digest (one of the few magazines I subscribe to) in 2009. I thought it this was cute and worth sharing.
  • White lights: You ask houseguests to remove their shoes.
  • Multicolored lights: You’re an extrovert.
  • Blinking Lights: You have attention deficit disorder.
  • Homemade Ornaments:  You have lots of children.
  • Strung Popcorn: You have too much time on your hands.
  • Red balls only: You wish you lived in a department store.
  • Yellow star on top: You’re traditional.
  • Glowing Santa on top: You shop at Kitsch ‘R’ Us.
  • Cutoff top: You didn’t measure the tree.
  • Vague evergreen smell: You bought a healthy tree.
  • Strong evergreen smell: You sprayed your tree with Pine-Sol.
  • Just plain smelly: There’s a dead bird in your tree.
The above picture is our upstairs tree. Sorry the picture isn't the best, my SD card is broken so I had to take the picture with my Blackberry.  We'll need to get a new card before the holidays, I'm just hoping I'll be able to pull the pictures on the broken card off!   Just for the record, here is how we rank from the above:
  • I do have white lights (that's our company tree at the top of the post) and I do ask people to take their shoes off.
  • Do you really think I'd even attempt popcorn and cranberries?  There were years early on when I did debate doing it but I've since grown older and wiser :)
  • My tree doesn't smell at all since I have (gasp!) artificial trees.  We've had an artificial tree ever since we built our house 18 years ago because I didn't want to deal with needles in the brand new carpet.  A few years ago we moved to pre-lit trees because I honestly thought that I would have a stroke putting lights on the tree.  Getting pre-lit trees was a HUGE stress reliever for me.
  • I do have red and gold balls on our "company" tree because as a time saver I bought a "Tree in a Box" from a.........Department Store!
  • We don't have any tree toppers on the top of our tree since it looks like our Angel almost caught fire one year (she's horribly singed)
  • Yes - I do have a significant amount of homemade ornaments on our "family" tree but I wouldn't classify two kids as a lot.
Does this accurately depict you? 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sweet & Salty Snowmen Recipe


Aren’t these absolutely adorable? I wish I could take credit for coming up with these but I can’t. As a bonus for attending the Taste of Home Cooking School this year I receive regular e-mails from them with recipes. I think Taste of Home offers some fantastic recipes, a lot of which are easy – just my style!


These look super easy to make and are something that I think both younger children and older children would have fun doing. I may try these during a sleepover I want to have with my oldest niece at our house.

I found this recipe at Taste of Home but will go ahead and add the instructions below.


Sweet & Salty Snowmen Recipe

• 8 Servings

• Prep/Total Time: 25 min.


Ingredients

• 8 pretzel rods

• 6 ounces white baking chocolate, melted

• Assorted candies: M&M's miniature baking bits, miniature chocolate chips, small gumdrops, jelly rings, Fruit by the Foot fruit rolls

Directions

• Dip pretzel rods two-thirds of the way into melted white chocolate, or drizzle chocolate over pretzels with a spoon. Attach baking bits for buttons and noses and chocolate chips for eyes.

• For hats, dip the bottom of a small gumdrop into chocolate and press onto a jelly ring; attach to the top of each pretzel.

• Carefully stand snowmen by placing them upright in a tall glass or pressing the bottom of the pretzel rods into a 2-in.-thick piece of Styrofoam. For scarves, cut fruit rolls into thin strips; tie around snowmen. Yield: 8 snowmen.

Enjoy!

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Menu Planning Week of 12/11

Let me start by saying I totally blew the menu last week.  Last Sunday I got home late from shopping so I brought home rotisserie chicken instead of baking the chicken I had thawed in the fridge.  Then, because we needed to use up said chicken I had my husband bake it so that he and the kids had something to eat during the week.  We skipped the meatloaf and lasagna so it was pretty much a fend for yourself/take out week.

However, this is a new week to start fresh!  We don't really have a lot going on so it should be fairly easy to stick to the menu.  Here's what I'm planning for the week.

Taco Bar
Fend for yourself
Chili with homemade bread - my husband is also taking this to work for a chili dinner
Meatloaf, salad, mashed potatoes, corn, applesauce
Fish (baked Mike, stuffed for the kids and I), rice pilaf, salad, glazed carrots
Dinner Out
Baked Ham dinner to celebrate Michael's birthday

The ham dinner is for Michael's 21st birthday, can you believe my baby is turning 21?  I'm always amazed when I think about how these years have flown by.  It feels like yesterday when we were bringing him home from the hospital.

What's on your menu for the week?

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

Thick and Meaty Chili


I'm just going to start by saying that as writen this recipe is pretty spicy, because that's how my guy likes his chili!  You can easily tone down the recipe by using mild beans and seasonings instead.  The flavor will still be there, just a milder form.

The basic recipe was given to me as a newlywed from my mom, we've adapted it over the years to suit our tastes a little better since my parents pretty much like their chili to taste like ketchup (just teasing you mom!). 

This is an excellent recipe when having people over since it's better if made the day before.  Put it in a crockpot to warm up a couples of hours before the party and voila!  Dinner is served.  I've served it at a lot of parties to rave reviews.
  • 4 lbs of assorted meat (according to Alton Brown it's best to use three different flavors.  Typically I use turkey, beef and hot Italian sausage but you could use lamb, buffalo, venison, etc)
  • 50 oz hot chili beans (undrained)
  • 30 oz kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 30 oz red beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 large onion
  • Other vegetables if desired (celery, peppers, etc)
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • 8 medium tomatoes (if available otherwise use additional tomato sauce)
  • 15 oz tomato sauce (more or less depending on how saucy you like your chili)
  • 3 packets hot chili seasoning

  • 1/4 cup sugar 
In a large pot, brown thawed meat (all meats can be browned together as long as they are thawed otherwise I brown separately).  Drain, rinse and set aside.  In same pan, sautee onions, garlic and any other vegetables in a small amount of olive oil. 

To the vegetable mixture, add back in meat, beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili seasoning & sugar.  Let simmer on the stove for 1 - 2 hours, stirring frequently.  Can be served immediately but is typically better the next day.

Serve with fresh homemade bread or if you are feeling extra fancy a sourdough bread bowl.

Optional toppings:

Cheese
Sour Cream
Saltines

Enjoy!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gift Wrapping

I have a sister in law who loves the process of wrapping presents. In fact, I believe that she personally keeps 3M in business with her use of Scotch Tape. Her “trademark” wrapping includes making sure that all seams are completely taped shut. Pocket knives are a must on Christmas morning when opening her presents. Since she loves wrapping so much she thinks nothing of sitting for hours upon hours wrapping her presents.

I, on the other hand, hate wrapping presents. On the flip side I really do like my gifts to be beautifully presented. Quite the conundrum isn’t it? Over the years I have handled gift wrapping in a multitude of ways. I have….
  • Outsourced the wrapping to charities
  • Begged and pleaded accepted my parents offer to assist with wrapping on Christmas Eve. Of course this entailed staying up until almost midnight to finish and copious amounts of hot chocolate and cookies
  • Nagged politely asked my husband for help
  • Spent a fortune in gift bags, eliminating the need to wrap anything
  • Spent hours wrapping with coordinated wrapping paper and matching bows. All the while whining and complaining about the monumental task I was faced with.
 It should come as no surprise given my eclectic method of getting my gifts wrapped that there are numerous comments Christmas morning at my in laws as to the stressfulness of my Christmas season. They can tell whether I was “together” or not by how my presents are wrapped.

At work I tell people that if they are faced with a situation they don’t like they have two options. 1) They can change the situation or 2) they can change their attitude. This year I have decided to change my attitude as well as change the situation. Here is what I’ve done.
  • Bought my wrapping paper, ribbons and bows early (like while shopping for my Halloween candy) so I was prepared when I wanted to start wrapping.
  • Wrap my presents as I buy them instead of waiting until I’m done shopping. I waited until I had a few gifts and then held a wrapping party for myself.
  • Let go of the anger and frustration from not getting help. My husband doesn’t like wrapping so why force the issue? I do know that if I get to the point where I really need the help he will pitch in. However, I need to be content that the wrapping quality will not be on par with what I would do.
  • Take advantage of downtime in front of the TV. The other day we watched The Prestige on TV. Instead of lying on the couch, I pulled out my wrapping supplies. Wrapping presents while keeping my mind occupied with the movie helped it go much faster.
 In addition to the changes I implemented, I have developed some sure fire ways to make wrapping easier. Here is a little bit of my wrapping wisdom.
  • Before starting, make sure you have enough of the appropriate supplies conveniently stored. I personally like to use a shoebox to store the following items:
    • Writing utensils
    • Tape
    • Scissors
    • Name tags
In a handled shopping bag I store my ribbons and bow. Wrapping paper is stored in a special wrapping paper zipped bag I bought a number of years ago. All these supplies are kept together in a convenient location.
  • Buy quality paper and tape. I’m not saying you need to buy top of the line, but cheap paper tends to rip easily. Having to tape up tears in the paper is frustrating and wasteful. Plus, if your tape is difficult to tear or doesn’t want to stick that isn’t saving you time or money.
  • Don’t buy pretty paper that has glitter on it. In case you didn’t know, tape does not like to stick to glitter plus glitter likes to get all over and resists vacuuming. While the paper may be gorgeous, not having tape stick can make the process of using it to wrap presents rather stressful.
  • Don’t wrap odd size packages as is. If an item is oddly shaped or not in a box, I put it in a different box to wrap. I have found that shoe boxes, check boxes and shirt boxes tend to be the best shape to wrap. Added bonus is that if you put your package in another box the shape is disguised and less likely to be guess.
 At the end of the day, my best advice is to do what works best for you. If that means outsourcing your wrapping or using brown paper grocery bags stapled at the top, then so be it. Whatever you have to do to take the stress out is what you need to do.

How do you handle gift wrapping in your house?

You might also like:

Shopping Wisely
De-Stressing the Season
Carrot Cookie Recipe
Popcorn Balls

Friday, December 9, 2011

Organizing Someone Else's Space

A few months ago I shared my organization details of the girls' bathroom. The boys' bathroom was in desperate need of the same organization. My biggest issue was that company primarily uses the boys' bathroom so if anyone happened to open the drawers and/or cabinets my dirty secret would be exposed to the world!

One of my problems was that the boys were a little adverse to having their space organized. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" was their attitude. Of course, "broke" is in the eye of the beholder so they were going to get organized whether they wanted to or not.

They did have somewhat of a system that somewhat worked for them. My husband got the right side, our son got the left side. Underneath was a free for all. I don't have any before pictures so use your imagination.

I waited until both boys where gone and then I got to work. The first thing I did was throw away! I'm sure most of you can attest to the fact that items have a way of multiplying and hiding in the recesses of a cabinet. So I got brutal in my "pitching out" mode. A little to brutal in fact, but I'll save that for later.

The second thing I did was group like items together. My son had about seven (no - I'm not exaggerating) body sprays spread throughout the cabinet and drawers. Grouping them all together allowed him to see what he really had so that he could use them up and we weren't unnecessarily buying body spray.

Of course I also needed to clean the inside of the drawers and cabinets thoroughly.  Isn't is crazy how grimy bathroom stuff can get?  The next step was to find baskets to store their product in. I have found these baskets to be the best for me. I typically buy this size for underneath the counter and smaller, more narrow ones for the drawers.



Here is a sample of my finished work.

My son's "smell" drawer - as you can see body spray and deodorant are NOT on the shopping list any time soon.


My husband's miscellaneous drawer - remember the mirror in the middle for later.

So, after a couple of hours of hard work I went to bed to dream with visions of future organizational projects dancing in my head.  When out my slumber there arose some a clamor, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.  There to my sleepy eyes did appear, a really crabby husband  holding a bag!  Sorry - It is Christmas you know :)

Yes, my husband woke me from a sound sleep yelling asking me where all his stuff went.  He was most concerned at that time about his toothbrush.  You see, for a family of four there were six toothbrushes in that bathroom.  Since mine and Belle's are both downstairs the math would tell you that there were three toothbrushes for each of the boys.  It turns our that my guess as to which ones they were currently using were wrong.  Yup, you guess it.  I threw away both of my husband's toothbrushes (his home one and his travel one).  Needless to say he wasn't a happy camper.  Fortunately I had a spare that he could use so I didn't have to sleep on the couch that night.  He also didn't appreciate the fact that I threw away his toothbrush holder (come one - it's from the early days of our marriage and doesn't match the bathroom.)  We pulled the holder as well as his favorite mirror (from the above picture) from the garbage.  I have offered to buy him a new mirror but for some reason he's attached to that one.  After a thorough cleaning all was right with the world!  Here is the new toothbrush solution, which we keep underneath the cabinet.  I figured as long as the company didn't see it he could keep his 20 year old tooth brush holder.




There was a few more tweaks that we made since he didn't like the way that I organized.  Moral of the story, sometimes we do need to go ahead and organize.  However, the best way to accomplish this is if you can get everyone on board to help organize their space the best way for them.

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

You might also like:

Carrot Cookie Recipe
Coat Closet Organization
Getting Through the Holidays Without Stressing Out

Affiliate links are in the above post.

Popcorn Balls



Popcorn balls have been a tradition in my husband's family for as long as he can remember.  Over the years I have heard stories recounted of the "making of the popcorn balls" at Grandma's house.  However, as much as everyone loves popcorn balls no one wants to make them.

I think the making of popcorn balls has gotten a bad wrap over the years.  Yes, it is a little putzy but overall I think it's relatively easy.  The hardest part is shaping the balls with hot popcorn.

Usually my husband and I make popcorn making a family affair.  I make the syrup and he forms the balls with the hot popcorn :)  Here is the recipe we use, I originally took this recipe off of http://www.ehow.com/.

Popcorn Balls

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 c. butter

1 tsp. vanilla

3 qts. popped corn

1/3 c. white corn syrup

1 c. sugar
Food coloring (optional)


Pop corn and keep warm in roasting pan in slow oven, 300 degrees. Stir and cook sugar, syrup, water, butter and salt until sugar is dissolved. Cook without stirring until it reaches 270 degrees on a candy thermometer or brittle ball forms in cold water. Add vanilla and food coloring (if desired) Immediately pour syrup over corn and mix well. Let popcorn cool slightly, until you can handle.  Grease your hands with butter and form popcorn into balls.  This must be done before syrup cools and crystallizes, 5 minutes or less.

Wrap popcorn balls in waxed paper, twisting ends to seal.

Makes 12 medium sized balls.

One little time saving hint - I buy pre-popped corn.  Our grocery stores sells a huge bag of plain, non-buttered popcorn for about $5.  This makes the whole process so much easier!

Most of the time I just make plain white popcorn balls but you can also add M&M's to the popcorn mixture to add a little oomph to your popcorn balls.

Christmas Baking

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas baking. Baking is one of my skills and quite possibly the reason my husband married me. I love to do it but I tend to go into overdrive, stressing myself out and wasting supplies.  Christmas baking is expensive enough without wasting your goods!

Over the years I have:
  • Bitten off more than I could chew resulting in throwing out unfinished batter and/or unfrosted cookies
  • Allowed my perfectionism to make me miss opportunities to have my younger children help
  • Exhausted myself to the point of not being able to enjoy the holiday celebrations.
 This year I have decided to limit what I bake to just our favorite cookies and cut back on the batch size.  While difficult for me to do, I felt this was necessary to not only help in the de-stressing of Christmas but to also cut back on Christmas spending.  Here is what I am planning on having this year for treats.
  • Molasses cookies - I’ll share the recipe later
  • Carrot Cookies
  • Chocolate chip cookies. I know I had said earlier that my original plan was to skip these but we had some company coming so I decided to whip up a batch and stick them aside for Christmas
  • Popcorn balls
  • Frosted cut out cookies – One of our local grocery stores sell baked, unfrosted cut out cookies. I buy a few dozen for us to frost.
 As I’ve gotten older I’ve mellowed out some as far as my perfectionism goes. This has allowed me to accept help and make my baking experience more enjoyable.

This year my mother and I planned on spending a day together baking. Unfortunately there was only one Saturday that worked for the both of us and that Saturday happened to coincide with the only time my cleaning ladies could come over. I actually almost didn’t bake with my mom so that I could have my kitchen cleaned!

As I was biting my nails, agonizing what to do I gave myself the proverbial kick in the pants. Earlier this year my mom’s heart stopped beating. By the Grace of God and the remarkable coordinating of events by her guardian angel, she came through the ordeal relatively unscathed. We’ve been told that 19 out of 20 people who arrive at the ER in her condition either die or have brain damage. The only lingering effect of her ordeal is an implanted defibrillator. Was I really going to miss the change to spend a day baking with my mom just so my kitchen would be clean? Absolutely not! We had a very nice day baking together and I just lived with having to clean my own kitchen. :)

In addition to letting my mother in the kitchen, I’ve started insisting that the recipient of my baking skills help with the baking process. My husband is more than happy to roll popcorn balls & help dip molasses cookies when he knows he’ll be getting to sample the goodies!

Last but not least, why go through the trouble of having children if we’re not going to take advantage of the cheap labor? When it comes to frosting cookies it’s all hands on deck. Even my son is not exempt from cookie frosting. The trick is to make sure that the cookies I frost are set aside for company while the everyone else’s cookies are for the house

How do you handle Christmas baking in your house?

I'll be linking this up at Life as Mom

You might also like:
Shopping Wisely
Saving for Christmas
Christmas Tree Cheese Display


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shopping Wisely

As I stated in my post yesterday, this year my goal was to make Christmas less stressful for me. Since I decided last Christmas that things needed to change, I had all year to think about how to successfully implement the changes. If you are just getting started this year don’t worry, just like Ebenezer Scrooge you too have the power to change the “Christmas Yet to Come” by changing today.

The very first thing I did to combat the financial stress is to set up a Christmas club. This has been a tremendous help and has allowed us to breathe easier and not use our “extra” December paycheck on Christmas presents. If you have not already set up a Christmas club I would really encourage you to do so for 2012. Even $10 - $20 per paycheck would give you a nice little cushion for presents.

The second thing that I did was to start my Christmas list in the summer. A number of bloggers usually write about “Christmas in July” or some other Christmas theme in the middle of summer. While I didn’t necessarily start buying in the summer, I did use this reminder to pull out my list and start thinking about what I would like to get people. By thinking about my Christmas list I’m able to pick up items for my family during craft shows and my “girl’s shopping weekends”.

In the spirit of full disclosure I’m going to be honest with you; my budget for Christmas gifts is fairly large. I expect to spend anywhere between $1,500 & $2,000 on Christmas presents for my kids and extended family. This works for us given the fact that we are a two income family, our kids are older and we have been blessed with the ability to live below our income - it certainly wasn't always this way.   I enjoy giving and don't expect other family members to spend equivalent amounts on me.  I also try to find ways to decrease our actual spend by getting gifts for free or on sale. Your budget needs to reflect your financial situation as well as your desire to give.  Here is a glimpse into some of what we are giving as presents this year and how I’ve gone about buying them.

Gifts I Was Able to Get for Free
  • White House Ornaments – (3) paid for with credit card rewards
  • Necklace from The Mercy House store – paid for with credit card rewards
  • Sports Illustrated Subscription – paid for with Swagbucks
  • M Magazine subscription – (2) paid for with Swagbucks
  • Gift cards to Hobby Lobby – paid for with a US Cellular phone rebate
  • Two pairs of jeans and two shirts – paid for with Kohl’s cash
  • Autographed sports picture – paid for with ING bonus cash
  • Pink perfume from VS – paid for with a $10 “certificate” I received when I bought some “unmentionables” for myself a few weeks ago. I made sure to shop their perfume when it was 50% off and basically just paid some tax.
  • Martini mix and chocolate covered cinnamon apples (from a Dove Chocolate party)
  • Tastefully Simple (hostess gifts from a Tastefully Simple party)
  • Stocking stuffers with my free $10 certificates from JC Penney’s & Kohl’s
 That’s about $500 worth of gifts that I was able to get for free. A word of caution, don’t rack up debt or buy something just to get free items. All the credits and rewards I used were from items we truly needed and we paid the credit card statement at the end of the month.

Another piece of advice, this was my first year using Swagbucks. If you are planning on using Swagbucks I would encourage you to do the $5 Amazon card as soon as you have enough points. The is the biggest bang for your Swagbucks but there is a limit of five per month so make sure you have plenty of time to rack them up. From now on I’ll be trading in my Swagbucks all year long and then using my Amazon gift cards next year.
 
Discounted Gifts
  • Play tickets – 6 (including one for myself) bought using my employer’s discount. My employer supports a local performing arts center so we are usually offered discounts on certain plays. See if your employers offers similar discounts
  •  National Geographic for Kids using a discount site (sorry - I can’t remember which site I used)
  • Mixbook items using certificate from Groupon
 For the rest of my shopping I looked for sales and used coupons. Be sure and take advantage of sites such as Retail Me Not for discount codes. I have been pleasantly surprised by savings I’m able to generate from there. You can also sign up for sites like Ebates where you can earn rebates if you do a lot of Internet shopping.

Using Your Shopping Time Wisely

Time is not my friend. Plus due to some back issues I really can’t shop for more than a couple hours at a time, at least if I want to be able to walk the next day. Using my shopping time wisely is imperative. Here are some of the various ways that I’ve gotten my items picked up with relatively little effort.
  • The Internet is your friend. Some stores (like Wal-mart) allow you to shop online and have the products available to pick up in the store with no additional shipping charges. I often buy gift cards over the Internet since a number of stores will ship them for free saving me a trip out. If the site does charge for shipping, consider re-loading an existing card. I buy my father-in-law a movie theater gift card every year. This year I took an old card that I had received, reloaded it with my desired amount (which I also received a discount on) and am giving that to him. He won’t know that I didn’t get it fresh from the theater, I saved myself a trip out and I didn’t have to pay any shipping. Get creative with your Internet shopping. 
  • Be purposeful in your shopping. I have done four mini shopping trips this year. The first trip was during Thanksgiving week when I had some time to myself. I decided to browse some stores (something I rarely do) by myself and pick up a few gift certificates. It was very relaxing and I found some awesome deals at Hobby Lobby! I also went out on Black Friday with my daughter, took a vacation day to shop with my husband (we went out for lunch and had a blast) and took my son to pick out his own clothes as a gift. Having a list of what I needed as well as planning my routes to save gas & time has helped me to quickly and efficiently finish my shopping. 
  • Ask others to pick up gifts if they are going to a specific store. My daughter and nieces take their dance lessons at the same place. I rarely need to go to the dance studio anymore but my sister-in-law is there twice a week. I ordered a special dance bag for my daughter, gave my sister-in-law the money and she’s picking it up for me. It’s not any additional work for her but saves me from making a special trip out.
Those are some of my secrets.  Do you have any shopping tips to share?

You might also like:

Getting Through the Holidays Without Stressing Out
Specific Tips for De-Stressing the Holiday Season
Saving for Christmas

 The above links are affiliate links.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Getting Through the Holidays Without Stressing Out

I received a comment yesterday that made me pause. After reading my weekly goals, Livin' in Duckville wanted to know if I slept the week I was accomplishing said goals. As my blog name implies, I am not a super hero and I don’t want to give the impression that I am one or make anyone feel bad if they don’t accomplish the things I accomplish.

In fact, I was at my SIL’s house last night for a Lia Sophia party and I left feeling a little bad about my home decorating skills and what I put up for Christmas decorations. Her house could easily be in a magazine the decorations are so beautiful. BUT – I am not my sister in law! She works two and a half days a week, I work 5+. She prefers to put money into her house, we prefer to drive newer cars and take trips. She prefers her house to look elegant; I prefer things look homey and lived in. It’s all about priorities and what’s important to YOU.

This year I set out to make Christmas completely non-stressful for myself. I don’t want to slide into Christmas exhausted and crabby. Other years I would be putting up decorations a few days before Christmas, feverishly wrapping presents until midnight on Christmas Eve and killing myself to make cookies that sometimes would be thrown out by the end of January. That’s not even taking into account the financial stress I put myself under to make sure everyone had “the perfect gift”

After last year I questioned myself, is this really what Christmas is all about? Do I want to go through life so tired, exhausted and stressed that I just can’t wait for the holidays to be over? Now that I’m in my 40’s (early 40’s just to be clear) I’ve developed a little bit of wisdom. This wisdom tells me that life is too short to not enjoy. I’m the only one putting all this pressure on myself and I’m the only one who can stop it. It’s up to me to only do what is important to me and my family, determine the most efficient way to do it and not beat myself up if something doesn’t get done.

With that in mind, last year I sat myself down and asked myself what my fundamental issues were (same thing I do with my organization projects). Here is what I determined.
  • Even though we know Christmas comes at the same time every year we are always financially unprepared for it. I’m always thankful that December is a three paycheck month.
  • The decorating of the house gets done when I have time for it, not when I schedule time for it and sometimes its right before Christmas.
  • My disorganized closets make decorating painful in that my Christmas decorations are at the bottom of the heap and everything needs to be pulled out. Adds to the time it takes to decorate.
  • I typically wait until I have all my presents bought to do my wrapping. Then I get mad when my husband a) doesn’t want to help me wrap b) doesn’t do a “good enough” job.
  • When shopping I try to make sure that I spend exactly the same amount on everyone, to the point of buying something stupid for someone because I’m $10 off.
  • Shop and shop and shop for the perfect gift. Sometimes a gift card says it all.
 I’m going to address what I have done to improve each of these issues over the next few days. I’ll start tomorrow by addressing how I managed to finish most of my shopping by the beginning of December without stressing myself out financially.
Stop back tomorrow to find out some of my shopping tricks.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Tree Cheese Display

I love throwing a party and I really like making sure the presentation is nice.  Unfortunately I feel like I fall short on this area sometimes.  I want to be like Martha Stewart but for some reason I'm not......

I've recently starting using Pininterest.  I haven't spent a lot of time on it yet but there have been a couple of cool things that I found.  One of my first finds that I re-pinned is this cheese display.

Easy Christmas food

What a great idea and so easy!  The original idea and directions for re-creating are located at Cabot Cheese.  I'll be doing this at one of my holiday parties this Christmas!

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Weekly Goals

Monday - the day of reckoning.  I typically work feverishly the weekend before so that when Monday comes I can actually cross items off my list.  Is that really the way this goal thing is suppose to work?  I guess if it motivates me to accomplish stuff its successful so I can't argue. 

Here is what I said I would accomplish this week.

Decorate the house - accomplished the majority of this.  I still want to add a strand of lights to a planter out front and I need to put a few more ornaments on our family room tree.  Otherwise I'm doing well :) 

Finish shopping - pretty much done.  I still have a few gift certificates to pick up and I'll probably go out with my husband to pick him up another item or two but otherwise I'm done!!
Finish wrapping the gifts - everything that I have is wrapped.  The gift certificates that I'm going to pick up (or have hubby pick up) still need to be wrapped as well as a pair of shoes I ordered for Michael.  I'm on a roll with Christmas presents!
Bake cookies - I completed two different cookies and made the batter for a third.  I'm going to need to finish up this coming weekend.
Finish and order the Mixbook photo albums for the kids - total fall down!  This will probably be a late present
Write the posts for the holiday recipes - total fall down.  Blogging has been taking a little bit of a backseat.  I have so many ideas I want to share, getting them down is difficult.  Hopefully I'll be able to get some of my Christmas ideas written this year.  Of course it would help if I had a working camera to show you the projects!

I did also buy the new Nora Roberts book for my Kindle (guilty pleasure) that I read this past week and I do have a spotless house.  Of course I can't take credit for the house, my cleaning ladies rock!  I should have hired them years ago.

Now, for this week.  This is a crazy week and I'm not going to stress myself out.  My SIL is having a Lia Sophia party one night and I have a work dinner the next night.  That coupled with my effort to get to the gym leaves me with little down time.  I do have a few things that I need to finalize so I'm going to concentrate on those.
  • Finalize menu with caterer for work party
  • Finish family room tree
  • Finish front porch
  • Exercise 4x
  • Finish and order Mixbook for kids
  • Finish molasses cookies
  • Write Christmas posts
  • Finish "The Four Hour Work Week" 
I'm going to be honest, I really have been having trouble getting through this book.  It has a lot of interesting ideas but for some reason it's going slow.  The problem may be that I'm just so drained after work that trying to soak in more business information is difficult.  I'm going to try to remember to bring my Kindle to work and maybe read a little bit at lunch.

That's on my plate for the week.  What's on yours?

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