Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Judicious January

I wrote yesterday how this year I plan to SIMPLIFY in a lot of areas. One area is MONEY and another is FOOD. So when I came across this post on Money Saving Mom, I knew I was up for the challenge.

After the excess of Christmas, it feels natural to try to scale back a bit in January. Just the other night I was thinking that I would try to spend a lot less on groceries in January and try to use up some of the items I had stocked up on prior to Christmas "just in case". So this challenge came along at just the right time. I need to be held accountable when I take something on and it will be nice to track spending (particularly grocery) etc. here on the blog to refer to. As well, I over spent just a WEE bit on Christmas this year, so the money I save from the household budget will be devoted to making up for my excess in December!

So here's my goals for what I will call Judicious January!

1) Reduce grocery budget by $150 to $350 for the month. Keep receipts and USE CASH to track this!
2) Use pantry, freezer and leftover food when planning meals - thus eliminating a lot of food clutter that would otherwise go to waste
3) Incorporate one meatless/vegetarian meal per week (not so bad for shedding the holiday excess around the hips too!)

Other goals for Judicous January not specifically related to the Eat From the Pantry Challenge are:

4) Reduce fast food consumption (usually midless drive-thru-in-the-car eating) to no more than once per week. Good for my budget, hips and health!
5) Take outgrown kids clothing, baby swing and playpen into local consignment store. Not only will this get these items out of my house, I'll gain space and a little cash and someone else can purchase some quality items for a lot less. Extra money will also be applied towards Christmas bills.
6) No purchases of craft items! I have ordered one item I need for the business, but that's it!
7) Additionally, restrict impulse purchases such as magazines, treats etc.

I'm taking my cue this month not only from the Eat From the Pantry Challenge, but also from no-spend months by Rachel and Lisa. If they can reduce spending and save a little cash, I think I can too!

I will be blogging about this experience at the end of each week in January to keep myself on track and keep you updated if you are interested! Let the saving begin!

One Little Word

Ali Edwards is one of my favorite scrapbookers. I remember finding her work on TwoPeas way back in the day when I started pursuing scrapbooking (as we now know it) as a hobby. She was a Garden Girl then and she was one of my main sources of inspiration then, and she remains so today. If you read her blog you may know that besides sharing incredibly meaningful project ideas she shares a lot of herself with her readers. Back in 2007 she shared that she was going to have a one-word mantra or slogan for the year (I think it was PLAY). She explained the significance of the word and throughout the year shared how the word had impacted her work and life (by the way, this year her word is STORY).

I have been thinking about this concept for a while and the word that seems to come to me time and time again is SIMPLIFY.

Why SIMPLIFY? I know that I am not the only one who has a busy life - in fact I am quite lucky in that right now I am not working full time outside of the home as so many other moms are. But we have some major decisions and life changes coming this year:
I will be returning to work in the fall of 2010 but am unsure which position I will take. We are discussing taking on a nanny once I do go back. This would necessitate purchasing a home that would work for that kind of living situation. Selling our current home would mean that we need to do some cosmetic fix-ups earlier than we anitcipated. All these things feel overwhelming to me so I need to come up with some strategies and plans to help us sort it all out.

I think I am craving simplicity like I crave chocolate - at first the craving is intense but after just a little piece, the craving is abated for a while. I think if I can begin to simplify in a few small areas (and do it one area at a time) I might feel less overwhelmed.

So over the next few weeks I will be organize and share with you my plans to simplify in the following areas:


I may also think of other areas in need of simplification, and if I do I'll add them to this list. I will also share some of the blogs, websites and resources I am using to help me in this goal.

Can you think of one little word that you might like to embrace for 2010? I would love to hear about it. We can join each other on the journey.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Aftermath

It's a back-to-normal kind of day around here.

We had a wonderful Christmas day with family - opening presents with Grandparents in the morning and a lovely dinner with extended family at my cousin's house on Christmas night. Grayson and Sam were totally spoiled and received many wonderful gifts, including a rocking horse, play mailbox and little people garage (Sam) and a roundhouse, Bounce Back Racer and building sets (Grayson). Santa was very good to me - he brought me a Cricut Expression, a watch, spa gift certificates and a breadmaker (looks like I am going to be a fat, pampered happy crafter who is always on time this year!) Shane's gifts included a new watch, tools, super special Scotchedy-Scotch-Scotch and lots of books and videos.

We had lots of fun on Boxing day playing with our new toys and visitng ZooLites in the evening. And yesterday was a lazy do-whatever-you want kind of day where we didn't even get out of our pyjamas!  But I have found that when you have little ones, everyone does better when the regular routines are followed, so today we are trying to ge back to regular meals, baths and nap/bedtimes.

The week after Christmas is always a week of reflection for me...on what has happened in the past year and on what is to come. I will share a few thoughts on this later in the week, but for now ( to keep me organized) here is the last meal plan of 2009.

Monday: Homemade Chicken Fingers (chicken sliced into strips, tossed with Shake and Bake and baked in the oven) Oven Fries and Coleslaw

Tuesday: Leftover buffet! (we still have leftovers from Christmas as well as in the freezer)

Wednesday: Macaroni & Cheese, Veggies & Dip

Thursday: New Year's Eve - we are going to Shane's business partner's house for a party. The kids are coming along and will have a little sleep there until we are ready to go home (hope this works out!) It's also our 7th wedding anniversary! So no cooking for me, but I'll bring a long an appetizer like bruschetta

Friday: Happy New Year! I am having the whole family over for supper. I'll do a big Roast Beef, Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, Yorkshire Pudding, Carrots, Peas, Soft Rolls, Salad, Skor Bar Trifle for Dessert

Saturday: My MIL's birthday. We are taking her out for supper to her favorite place - Red Lobster! Wow...two nights this week I haven't had to cook!

Sunday: Easy Chicken Enchiladas,  Green Salad

And as always...for inspiration and great ideas, make sure to have a look at the HUNDREDS of other meal plans on http://www.orgjunkie.com/!

Lastly, I am debating whether or not to buy a couple of cookbooks - The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook and Family Feasts for $75 a Week. I follow the blogs of both these women so I know there are some recipes on the blogs that are the same as in their books. It might be nice to have all the recipes in one place for easy reference, but I seem to collect cookbooks and they get left on the shelf. In my effort to SIMPLIFY (more on this later this week) I am wondering if it worth purchasing them. Anyone have these? Should they be a must-have? Let me know what you think about cookbooks!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Preparations (long)

I am such a procrastinator! I had all my plans for the holidays ready to go by mid-November thanks to my Christmas Planner. I had my December Daily album organized and materials were gathered and prepared. Most of the gifts had been purchased. I thought I wouldn't have much to do except enjoy. Boy, was I wrong.

As I was making the last batch of cookies at 11:00 tonight (note: I started writing this post late on December 23rd but I think it will actually post on Decebmer 24th!) I realized that being organized only works if you are NOT a procrastinator! Sigh...better luck to me next year! Anyway, I think I am ready and all will be well!

But, in an effort not to forget all the wonderful little things that have happened over the past few weeks, here's what we have been up to!

* I think the 12 Days of Christmas posts on Sharing Memories Scrapbooking went well. I truly appreciate the comments from good friends and supporters! It did take up a lot of time getting the project tutorials and posts ready. Next year I will start in October for that type of project!

* Shane and I had a WONDERFUL time at the holiday party at the Banff Springs! The food and party was amazing, our room was lovely, the scenery was breathtaking. It made for such a relaxing break before Christmas! This was the view from our window when we woke up on Sunday morning

* I tried several new recipes this year from Kraft's Holiday How To Centre:

Chocolate Fudge

Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies (that's what I was baking tonight!)

and Cranberry-Almond Biscotti

They all turned out great after some minor issues. I always thought I was a good baker (and not such a good cook) but man did I ever have troubles this year - even with good old Rice Krispie squares! Yikes! But Grayson loved helping and we finally have lots of treats to share and enjoy over the holidays.

* We enjoyed Grayson's holiday concert and craft night. He and his classmates sang some wonderfully joyful tunes and we had snacks and built mini gingerbread houses.

I'm so glad I got a few pictures of this dear little house before Grayson dropped it on the ground and broke it to pieces. He was heartbroken so we made another one the next day.

I am so pleased at the wonderful Pre-school he is going to. They did so many fun activites and crafts in preparation for the holidays.
They wrote and sent letters to Santa, and how great it was when Grayson got his letter FROM Santa in the mail! They have been doing lots of Christmas themed activities that still incoporate learning outcomes like listening and learning about the 5 senses with Gingerbread men.

And he has brought home some wonderful keepsake ornaments and decorations.

Now he has been off from school since last Friday and is already getting a little restless. I have some crafts ready to go for next week when he is bored out of his mind! OH...and our Advent Calendar and George our very own Elf have been very fun daily activities that help keep us focused! Only one day left on the calendar now!

* We all got our Holiday haircuts (well, except for Shane who has no hair!) All went well and we are pleased with the results in time for the holidays. Grayson got a #3 on the sides and #4 on the top and gel for the first time. So grown-up!

I had 2.5 inches taken off all around and Sam had his FIRST HAIRCUT! (just a little trim as I couldn't bear to part with all his blond curls!)

* We took the boys to visit Santa on Monday which went very well. We went to Northland Village Shoppes where the REAL Santa comes to visit, not just one of his helpers. Grayson was quite fine and told Santa what he wanted. Sam didn't cry, but he wasn't too thrilled either.

* I have of course been decorating and cleaning. The tree has all kid-friendly ornaments this year, which is good because Sam has tried to destroy several already! I HAD to clean up my scrap area because it is in the rec room and that's where we decided to put up the tree this year so we have more room to open gifts and relax on Christmas day. It took me three days of tidying and organizing to make it presentable! (no photos...I have to add those to my must-take list!)

* We were sick AGAIN...Shane with a wicked sore throat and me with a cold (just a generic one...not a sinus cold thank goodness)

* I am taking the time to go through and print the rest of my Project 365 photos. I have to admit that I fell off the photo-a-day wagon in mid-August, but I still have most of the days covered. I plan on using a few of my favorite/seasonal photos of the boys for the days I didn't take a photo. Overall I am pretty pleased with myself for mostly keeping up and it is a stunning account of an entire year in our life! So worth while. If you didn't do Project 365 for 2009, you can do something similar for next year - check out Becky Higgins Project Life.

* And we've been trying to relax a bit and have some fun in the midst of all the craziness. Shane took Grayson to see The Princess and the Frog on Saturday, and we plan to make our big family gingerbread house tomorrow. We also are going to take a drive to see some Christmas lights and maybe take in ZooLites at the Calgary Zoo on Boxing Day night. And I am bound and determined to get out and do some sledding with Grayson over the holidays.

* So besides the Gingerbread house, tomorrow I will finish wrapping up the gifts, tidy up a little and get ready for a wonderful and relaxing Christmas Day. We'll hang the stockings and I will go to Christmas Mass with dad after the boys are in bed. Then I'm sure I will have visions of sugarplums and other nice things all night long!

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and that you make lots of memories to enjoy for years to come! So from my family to yours...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Menu Plan for Christmas Week

Such a busy week ahead with all the last minute prep! Here's my plan:

Taking the boys to visit Santa at the mall, so we will have dinner out afterwards and pick up our last minute shopping

Salmon (marinated and baked with bottled orange ginger sauce), Rice and Broccoli

Chicken Cacciatore over Spaghetti

Thursday - Christmas Eve
When I was young we often had traditional French Canadian Tourtiere for Christmas Eve dinner...unfortunately my family doesn't like it! And many friends have culinary traditions of their own - Italian meatles meals and Ukranian Perogies etc. But we'll just have a favorite of the boys instead - Meatballs in Applesauce with Rice and Broccoli and some yummy Christmas baking for dessert.
Friday - Merry Christmas!
We are having Christmas breakfast at home: Ham Steaks, Scrambled Eggs, Fresh Fruit Plate, Land of Nod Cinnamon Buns, Coffee, Tea and Champagne & Orange Juice!

Baking and nibbly appertizers will probably set out during the day and then we are going to my cousin's for family dinner and I just have to bring along the salad - Mixed Greens and Pear

At home relaxing - probably having family over in the evening. A pot of simmering Hamburger Soup, a Mixed Green Salad and some Buns will work nicely for whoever drops by.

We'll need a break after all the Christmas feasting so we'll have Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup.

Check out all the menu plans and recipes on http://www.orgjunkie.com/!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Muffin Tin & Menu Monday

Grayson is a picky eater. Lately we have been having BATTLES about trying to get him to eat is meals. After wracking my brain about how to get this kid to eat, I remembered back to when I tried serving him his lunch in a muffin tin how he was so delighted that he ate it all up! So, with nothing to lose, I tried it again today.

Nothing fancy...cheese and ham cubes, some pretzels and crackers, strawberries and a banana muffin. HE ATE IT ALL. I was so thrilled! Spurred on by my success, I revisited the muffin tin monday ideas found here and plan to incorporate some of them next Monday!

Muffin tin lunches aside, here is the rest of the menu plan for this week:

Monday: Grilled Steaks (grilled Hot Dogs for the boys) Baked Potatoes, Broccoli

Tuesday: Chili, Buns, Veggies & Dip

Wednesday: Perogies and Famers Sausage, Mixed Green Salad

Thursday: Chicken Cacciatore over Pasta, Mixed Green Salad

Friday: Pizza night, but I'm saving my wine consumption for tomorrow night!

Saturday: Oh I can't wait for Saturday! Shane and I are heading up to the famous Banff Springs Hotel for an overnight Christmas party! The dinner menu is as follows:
Appetizer: Seared Prawns on Asparagus Salad with Micro Greens and Herbed Sabayon
Soup: Butternut & Apple Bisque with a Gingerbread-spiced Crème Fraiche
Entree: Alberta Beef Tenderloin served with a Merlot Reduction Sauce, Dauphinoise Potato and Seasonal Vegetables
Dessert: Valrhona Dark Chocolate Praline Mousse served with Zinfandel Cardamom Marinated Peaches
Oh. My. Gosh. I think I have died and gone to heaven...even before eating this incredible menu! YUM!

I guess I better leave some supper for the boys and Grammy who is looking after them...probably something easy to heat up like lasagna/pasta casserole.

Sunday: Oh the food doesn't stop. Our overnight party includes brunch the next morning too. And the Banff Springs Brunch buffet is one of the best in - dare I say it? - THE WORLD! Our plan is to sleep in just a little, go for a bit of a walk and then PIG OUT on all the super delectable buffet items!

Sigh...fter all that rich food we better have something light for supper on Sunday - leftovers or soup and buns.

Now off to get the shopping done - haven't been able to get out for a few days because of the snow!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tags - a - plenty

Today's post over at Sharing Memories Scrapbooking showcases our Christmas tags. I love these little tags so I made LOTS of them...for a craft sale this weekend, for online sales, for my crop customers and for myself!

I made three different sets - solid:

Christmas Greetings:

And Christmas Words:

I love 'em all! Jump on over to today's post to check out how to use them and purchase them! And, get a few more ideas for how to use tags around the house!

I happened to come across a few more great and super creative ideas for using tags too:
Scrapbooks etc. - their designers share 16 tags that you can make from scratch!
Christmas Projects.com has a whole page of tag ideas.
And today Martha has a lovely idea for a typewritten tag (it's not really a tag, it's more of a label, but punch a hole in it and call it a tag baby!)

Make some tags today!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Cards

Just a couple of quick shares today...

Since I featured some tip and tricks for keeping your cardmaking simple over at Sharing Memories Scrapbooking today, I thought I would share a few places around the web that inspire me for card making!

Jennifer Maguire always has the best technique tutorials. The post I linked to shares Thank You cards, not Christmas cards, but I love how she made a lot of cards using similar styles and materials.
Christmas Cards All Year Round  - I have a soft spot in my heart for this blog as I was on their design team earlier this year. If you keep up with making your cards "all year round", you'll have lots of cards ready for NEXT Christmas!
Split Coast Stampers - a mainstay in the world on consultants who sell card making supplies, this HUGE site has so many card designs, you'll wonder where to start!
Carla Creates - my Calgary Crops colleague always has new designs posted on her great blog!

Hope that gives you some additional inspiration for getting those Christmas cards done!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 1st

To me December 1st has always marked the beginning of the Christmas season. We put up our tree on the weekend closest to December 1st and I always try to get my Christmas cards send out around now. This year it means three new things for our festive celebrations:

1) A new Advent Calendar and tradition.

Since Grayson is old enough now to grasp the idea behind the calendar, I decided to make one that we could use for a few years. I came up with this one after seeing versions of it online and at craft shows. (*You can get How-To instructions over at Sharing Memories Scrapbooking as part of our 12 Days of Christmas feature!) Each day I plan to have him remove the daily magnet (where treats will be waiting of course!) and then we will spend a little bit of time with this book:

I picked it up at Chapters a few weeks ago and I am excited that each day has a bible verse, story, activity and prayer. I think it will be a good introduction to the real meaning of Advent for Grayson. And I hope our little daily ritual will be a restful moment in what are sure to be busy days ahead.

2) We have a new visitor in our house until Christmas...the Elf on the Shelf!

I wrote about him awhile back, and even though he arrived at our house in November, he somehow got out of his box, flew up the stairs and settled himself where he can keep an eye on us to report back to Santa. Apparently each night he flies back to the North Pole, reports to Santa on how naughty or nice we have all been and then flies back to our house and finds a new spot to sit in for the next day! He can't talk, but he sure is a good listener. We named him George. Oh, and we can't touch him otherwise his magic powers might dissappear! Cool, huh?

Grayson spotted George first thing this morning, so I think this will be a very fun little game each day. Hopefully it will also help when G.'s behaviour gets a little challenging...I hope to just be able to say "Grayson, George is watching"!

3) Inspired by the fab Ali Edwards, it's time to start filling up my December Daily Album. This is my first year doing it and although I love the idea of documenting the days leadinng up to Christmas, I have to say that with two craft shows and my 12 Days project on the website, I am not going to beat myself up if I don't get a page done each day! I plan to write on my blog or use the journal function of my new Cozi calendar to record things I don't want to forget, take a few pictures each day and then use the page plan and date circles I designed back in November to put the pages together quickly. I have precut my 8 x 8 pages and the strips of patterned paper that I plan to add as embellishments. My album is covered, but the title isn't done, but that can be done after a bit of the initial December craziness has died down. I have it all packed in a handy little case along with some adhesive so I can put a page together whenever I find myself with a free minute. HAH!

Besides being inspired by Ali, here are a few of my favorite December Daily albums from around the web:

Molly Irwin - her work is so beautiful. It feels peaceful.
Lisa Kisch - so fun, bright and cheery!
Lisa Day - one of my favorite scrappers is doing a Christmas Memories album that I love!
Cathy Zielske - has some amazing digital templates for recording Holiday Memories - easy peezy!

Hope they inspire you too!

Well, I'm off and running. Check back throughout the next 24 days to see if I keep up with my self-imposed crazy schedule!