Oh the Holidays!

The holidays are here!  While some of us are giddy with excitement, others are gritting their teeth and hoping they can get through the stress. I recently did a guest spot on Fox News Colorado Springs and I wanted to share the link with you all!

I have listed a few of the tips below and added a few others.

Houseguests:

Just the word itself makes some of us cringe. But houseguests don’t have to mean stress. Helping your guests help themselves is the biggest stress reliever in this area. Leave out extra towels and toiletries so they don’t have to ask you for them. Show them around the kitchen and pantry. And if you have work or other commitments while they are visiting, make sure they know your schedule. It also helps to have a few things for them to do. Get a few movies, make a list of local attractions, or tell them where the good restaurants are. Most guests are happy to entertain themselves for a while if they know where to go.

Food:

If you are cooking large meals for the holidays, a little planning goes a long way. A few weeks out from your holiday meal, develop your menu so you can see everything you need. Anticipate the number of serving dishes you will need and if you need to buy or borrow anything, do this well ahead of time. Two weeks before the cooking day, buy all of the dry goods and non-perishables. This not only gets some of the shopping done, but it spreads out the spending so you don’t get hit with one giant grocery bill. The perishable items can be bought the week of the holiday. If your dinner guests are local, consider a potluck to cut down on the cooking and cleaning you will have to do. If you think you might be sending leftovers home, buy a few inexpensive Tupperware pieces or aluminum dishes to fill so that guests don’t have to worry about returning your dishes.

Gift Giving:

Holiday shopping can be fun, but when you have too much on your list, it can be expensive and time consuming. Consider doing a Secret Santa with extended family so that everyone has to buy only one gift for the group. This cuts down on spending, but has the added advantage of making sure everyone gets a truly special gift because everyone has more time and energy for the one present they have to buy. If you have a group of friends, forgo gift giving and instead, go out to dinner together or do another fun activity. Create ‘wishlists’ on Amazon or another internet site. These can be emailed to friends and family and it’s easy to create multiple lists for different family members. This is a great method for letting out-of-town relatives know what the kids would like. If you order gifts online, look for free shipping offers or coupons.

Travel:

If you are traveling during the holidays, make sure to allow plenty of time for any delays you may come across. If you are driving somewhere, pack plenty of snacks and activities to cut down on the stops you have to make. If you are flying, bring entertainment for the plane and make sure to take advantage of the outlets at the airport to charge any mobile devices you might use on the plane. If you are boarding animals while you are away, book early and prepare their vet records and necessities now. Since travel is so much more expensive during the holidays, find creative ways to cut down on costs. Look for restaurants with ‘kids eat free’ nights while you’re on the road. Book hotels that offer free breakfasts. Some airlines offer a discounted checked bag fee if you pay for baggage online at check-in.

With a little planning, you can focus less time on running around and more time on enjoying the holidays!

Thanksgiving Dinner Preparations!

It’s almost time for Thanksgiving here and I’m ready! I love food….not so much cooking….but the promise of Thanksgiving dinner makes me cook. With 2 kids running around, I need to make sure I’m well prepared for Thanksgiving because there’s just not a ton of extra time around here! Also, we live in a VERY small community with no grocery store, so there’s no running to the store for a forgotten item. I have to make sure I have everything I need ahead of time. Here are some of my tips and timelines for a stress-free Turkey Day!

3 Weeks Before (If you’re counting, we’re already heading into 2 weeks before, so do these things NOW!):

Finalize the menu. – This is a pretty easy one for me because we have all of the ‘old reliable’ recipes that we make every year. Sometimes I’ll throw in a new dish or appetizer, but for the most part, the menu stays the same from year to year. Last year I started making Holiday Binders to hold all of my info for each major holiday. For my Thanksgiving Binder, I had a section where I put all of our go-to recipes. That way, I never have to search for the recipes, they are all kept together:

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-Finalize the Guest List – We are doing a small Thanksgiving dinner this year, so it’s much easier, but there were 13 of us at our house a couple of years ago, so it’s always good to pin down what you’re getting yourself into!

-Do an inventory on Chairs, Tables, Dishes, Glassware, etc. – Do you need a kid’s table, an extra crock pot, more wine glasses? If so, try to buy or borrow these things a few weeks out. It’s too stressful to be worrying about buying chairs 2 days before Thanksgiving…..but you don’t want Aunt Kim sitting on the floor. I’m a big fan of the dollar store for extra glasses, plate charges and small serving dishes. Ikea is another great spot for some kitchen and serving basics.

-Grocery shop for non-perishables. – I don’t like to go over budget on groceries, but it’s hard not to when it comes to large holiday meals. The way I stay under budget is to start purchasing a couple weeks before. That way I can go a little light on that week’s regular purchases to make room for Turkey day fixings. I have already bought any non-perishables, such as cream of chicken soup and canned pumpkin.

2 Weeks Before

-Clean out and organize the fridge and freezer. I continue to use up what we have for meals and I also rearrange, toss anything that’s past its prime, and clean the shelves.

-Grocery shop for frozen items – 2 weeks out is when I buy things like frozen broccoli for a casserole I make, the rolls we serve and of course….the turkey! I don’t want a turkey sitting in my freezer for weeks, but if you wait to long, you might not be able to find the perfect size you need. Keep in mind that if you special order a turkey or ham, you may have to place the order much earlier than this.

-Evaluate Decorations. – I don’t have too many Thanksgiving decorations, but I have a few things I put up. By this time, many decorations are on sale, so if you need a little something extra, it’s a great time to pick it up.

-Do any Hosting or Hostee (that’s an official term) Tasks – If you are hosting, you can do things like make placecards, set out linens for overnight guests, or attached wine glass charms. If you’re going somewhere, you could write a thank you note, buy a small gift, or set out your dishes and recipe if you’re bringing something. Doing this ahead of time will make sure you don’t forget any small details.

Week of Thanksgiving

-Buy all perishable foods – Get everything else you will need to make your dinner.

-Thaw the turkey. Remember, it takes about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. The first year I hosted Thanksgiving, I COMPLETELY forgot to thaw the turkey. One day before and I had an 18 pound block of turkey ice in my freezer. Somehow, we made it work. Last year, I threw away the wrapper of the turkey when I started defrosting it….then I forgot how much it weighed. This was our solution:

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How to properly weigh a turkey

-Set out the serving dishes you will use for each recipe and put a sticky note with the name of the recipe.

-Do one more fridge clean out so you’ll have room to put leftovers (my real favorite part of Thanksgiving!).

-Make cooking a joyful experience. Pour a glass of wine, put on some great music and remember that things will never be perfect, so go with the flow! When I was little, our sheepdog ate our entire turkey that was sitting on the counter. It happens!

-If you have kids, either give them some crafts or involve them in the cooking. Either way, they will be occupied!

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-Be Thankful! -Remember, the message of the holiday is not just to eat a bunch of food. It is about reflecting on the things in our lives that we are truly grateful for.

Of course, there are countless other ways to organize for a large holiday meal. I have just found the above tips to be helpful for our family. What other ways to you keep yourself prepared for big holidays?

~Erin

Halloween Party Wrap Up 2013

Last Saturday we hosted our 2nd Annual Halloween Party! I REALLY love Halloween so I’m finally glad to have a Halloween Party tradition. If you ask anyone who knows me, they would tell you I’m kind of into ridiculously obsessed with anything themed. So Halloween is right up there on my list of favorite times of the year. I don’t ever like spending exorbitant amounts of money on decorations so I do a lot dollar store shopping, re-using and crafting. This year I hit up The Dollar Tree, Walmart and Hobby Lobby (with coupons of course!) for all of my decorations.  Here are a few of my favorites:

I went a little nuts with Halloween colored fake flowers this year. They were just calling my name and I knew I could find a lot of uses for them:

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I found the glittered skull in the above pic for $2.00 and it graced my kitchen window ledge for the month of October.

We also put up the paper bats and the yarn spiderweb that we had last year.

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I found little black birds at the dollar store so those were also perched throughout the house.

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For our Halloween party, we put out our giant creepy talking Halloween guy.

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This was a gift from my father in law. My husband tried to give it back and we actually shipped it all the way back to Atlanta from our house in Colorado. Then I called his dad and asked if he could ship it back because I wanted it so bad! So this is a well traveled creepy dude.

I also put up signs on all of the doors I didn’t want anyone to open!

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For party food, I had all of these visions of my wonderfully spooky appetizers and treats. But, my Pinterest eyes were bigger than my Pinterest stomach and I just made fajitas! I did make Mummy Dogs (hot dogs wrapped in crescent roll dough) for the kids though.

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And a friend brought some of the best queso I’ve ever eaten.

My neighbor brought adorable Frankenstein pudding cups with cookie crumble topping and another friend brought Oreo Pops and cupcakes.

Desserts

Last year I tried crafts for the kids, but this year I smartened up and just taped poster board to the wall and let them color away!

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For the adults, I had my second annual trivia contest, which seems to be a hit!

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I had so much fun at this party and may or may not have had too many glasses of Halloween Sangria.

There are about a million ideas I wanted to try for decorating, food, crafts, etc that I didn’t get to this year. But many of them are on my Halloween Pinterest Board. I can’t wait until next year! And if you want a recap of last year’s party, click here for the 2012 Halloween Party Wrap Up!

~Erin

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July everyone! We are celebrating without fireworks this year because it’s been so dry. Some places in Colorado are still having them, but nowhere near us!

So we’re celebrating with a little food, a trip to our local 4th of July celebration, and some fingerpainting for the kiddos.

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Handprint and fingerprint flags

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 In the name of organizing,I actually did the fingerpainting craft on the 2nd and made the fruit on the 3rd. If I spread out the activities, I find I’m actually able to enjoy actual holidays a little more!

I have a few more 4th of July inspirations over on my Pinterest Board here.

Happy 4th of July!!! (to those of you not in the U.S., just have a wonderful day!)

~Erin

Holiday Organizing and Getting Creative with Dishes

We have a hutch/cabinet in our dining room that has been home to our ‘not-often-used’ dishes as well as some of our holiday decorations. It has served its’ purpose well, but between my husband and I, one of us hates it….I won’t say which one of us. :) So we have decided to add this item to the whirlwind of Craigslist and see what happens. Here is what it looked like with everything on it.

DR Hutch Post (1)The shelves held the dishes we really only use for Christmas and Thanksgiving and the cabinet and drawer held small decorations for the minor holidays. It also held extra place mats, napkins and tablecloths too. I actually reorganized the cabinet and drawer in a post here. So all of these items went real estate shopping for new places to live in my house.

My first challenge was the serving dishes. They are big, bulky and breakable….hardly the kind of thing you can toss in a closet. I managed to put the trays in the back of a deep cabinet in the kitchen. But the pitcher, salt and pepper set, serving bowl? Where in the world???? Then my husband had a brilliant idea! We have a space above our cabinets where we put our holiday garlands and decorations, but the rest of the year it sits empty, pining away for some decorative accent. My husband said “just put the dishes up there.” Awesome, right? Now they are prominently displayed in the kitchen.

DR Hutch Post (3)Not only do they take up an empty space that was just crying out for a little love, but they also allow us to somehow enjoy the dishes all year long. The best part is that when we have to put the garlands up, it’s the same time of year we actually serve food on these dishes, so they have to come down anyways!

Now the next challenge….all those pesky little holiday decorations. Except for Christmas and Halloween, I usually only put a few holiday accents around the house. However, I like to have a little something for each holiday. Enter the ‘under the bed organizer’! I decided to put all of these little doo-dads underneath the guest bed in a large, flat bin. It’s totally perfect. They are out of the way, but easily accessible. Another win!

DR Hutch Post (1)I also put the extra tablecloths, napkins, etc in a smaller organizer under the bed.

DR Hutch Post (2)The lessons here?

-Sometimes items you want to keep and don’t use often can become part of your decor. That way they aren’t taking up valuable storage space.

-Under the bed or guest room storage is a great place for smaller seasonal items. Sidenote….I also just moved my wrapping paper under the guest bed as well!

-It’s a good idea to re-evaluate the larger items in your house at least once a year. A couple months ago, we created another doorway through a wall into our dining room so that is why we decided to get rid of a large piece of furniture in that room…there just wasn’t the wall space anymore. I think we are also just a Craigslist post away from parting with a never used futon. It’s good to periodically survey your home for items, large and small, that are no longer needed.

-Think outside the box when it comes to organizing!

~Erin

 

New Year already????

I can’t believe it’s already January 3, 2013! Where does the time go?!

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It seems like life is so busy and you cram so much in and then you realize years have passed. Like almost everyone else, I have a list of New Year’s resolutions. Many of them I realize are too much for me to focus on and they quickly go by the wayside. Others haunt me throughout the year as I never quite reach my goals made hastily on December 31st.

This year I still have resolutions. I still want to completely organize my house. I still want to start exercising on a regular basis. I still want to train my dog to turn off lights and get me a snack from the pantry (yes that is a real goal). However, I’m going to take it easy on myself this year. I know that being a working wife, mom, friend, home owner, pet owner, life haver (I know that’s not a real word) takes up most of my time, so any resolution I have is going to come in small steps. So while I am going to set goals and work hard this year, I’m also going to take it easy and not beat myself up. Here are just a couple goals and how I am going to make them attainable.

-Live Presently. – This is the most important goal I am setting for myself this year. I spend so much time making lists for what needs to get done in the future, I think about what needs to be done before tomorrow or next week or before we go on vacation. It’s very seldom that I sit and actually enjoy the moment. Here’s an example, I love taking pictures and videos of our kids. I think it’s fun and important and a great way to share memories with the family. However, sometimes I miss out on what happens because I’m looking through a camera lens. Before Christmas, my kids were putting ornaments on the tree at my in-laws house and I was taking the obligatory million and a half photos. Then I realized I hadn’t put a single ornament on with them and didn’t actually SEE the kids do anything. So as much as I love taking pictures, I’m going to put the camera down a little bit, and put the lists down a little bit and try to snuggle into my pillow for an extra minute in the morning instead of jumping up to cross things off my to-dos (that will TOTALLY happen).

We were in Florida for New Years and on New Year’s day, my husband and I took the kids to a little teeny beach right at sunset. I felt almost naked as I left the condo without the camera. But I watched the kids touch the sand and look at the waves and I will have that memory forever. I don’t have a picture to show you, but let me tell you, it was worth it :)

Just so I don’t deprive you of photos though, here’s a couple others from Florida:

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-Organize my organizing – In 2013 I want to get some new organizing books (more to come on this one!) and increase my blog readership. I plan on doing  a LOT of posts on this in the near future, so I won’t bore you with the details now.

-Exercise – I know this is almost everyone’s resolution and historically, it has not known to be one that I stick with. But maybe, just maybe 2013 is my year.

Happy New Year everyone!

~Erin

Santa’s Little Helper – Christmas Folder

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas or any other holiday you may celebrate! We had a great Christmas at my in-laws house and the kids handled all of the chaos pretty well!

My new goal of having a folder for every major holiday continues. This year, I have already made one for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Now it’s time for the Santa’s Little Helper Christmas Folder! Now this one isn’t completely put together yet. This has been an incredibly busy holiday season so I plan on doing the final touches once all of the holidays are over. However, I’ve been gathering some great ideas from blogs, Pinterest, magazines, etc and will have a great reference for next year.

There are a couple differences between the Christmas folder and the other ones. For the Halloween folder, I included party ideas since we started hosting a Halloween party this year. We don’t have a Christmas party, so I don’t have a section for that. In the other two folders, I also have sections for Kid’s Craft and Adult Crafts. I definitely have a Kid’s Craft section in the Christmas folder. However, instead of the other craft section, I have a bunch of miscellaneous topics, such as ornaments, advent calendars, gift wrap etc. There are so many different Christmas ideas, I needed to separate them into more categories.

I did keep the decorating sections and have split them into inside and outside decorations. I have split up the food into the following categories: desserts, appetizers, entrees.

Here are a few pictures of the book in progress. I created the section title pages in powerpoint.

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And you can find my Christmas Pinterest ideas here. Here are just a few of the ideas I found on there so be sure to check out the Pinterest album for all of the links!

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I’m so glad I started these books. They help me to organize thoughts and ideas and also help me remember things that worked great. I also store them with their respective decorations so they don’t take up valuable shelf space year round and they are always with the ridiculous amounts of stuff for each holiday. I can’t wait to use them again next year!

And I can’t go without sharing one of my absolute favorite pictures from this Christmas season:

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My Sweetest Boys

Happy Holidays!

~Erin

Easy Christmas Listing!

I’m well on my way to Christmas Spirit Town over here. Decorations are out (and strewn ALL over the floor, dining room table, kitchen, etc), Christmas cards are mailed (is that ridiculous?), and Christmas lists are in full swing. Here are a couple ways I organize my lists:

-I always start a file for Christmas present ideas in my computer around August (if my husband is reading this: “don’t search for the list!”). That way, as I think of things I can jot them down so I won’t forget them. I start the list for ideas for my whole family as well as myself.

I have three columns in the list: 1 column for me, the hubby and the kiddos, 1 column for my side of the family and 1 column for my husband’s side of the family. I list everyone’s name and then leave space underneath the name for gift ideas.

-When November comes, I evaluate the list and add, delete, rearrange as needed. Then I highlight everything on the lists ( I highlight in green to show my ever-permeating Christmas spirit). :) As I purchase gifts off of the list, I un-highlight them. That way I can see with a quick glance what I still need to buy.

-Here is my absolutely favorite list tool which I started using this year…..Amazon Wish Lists!!!!!

If you haven’t already seen this, it is worth a look-see!

If you are logged in on Amazon, you can see the ‘Wish List’ drop down box on the the far right near the top. If you click it, it will take you to the ‘Wish List’ page, where you can add or edit lists. If you just hover over ‘wish list’, a drop down box will appear with your current lists and several other options.

Things I love about the Wish List feature:

1) You can create multiple lists for different people or occasions. I have created one for myself and one for each of the kids.  You can then email the lists right from Amazon or copy and paste the links in a regular email to send to friends and family.

2) The lists work like any store registry so you should be able to avoid getting duplicate gifts! You can view all items on the original list, but it defaults to showing items that haven’t been purchased by someone looking at the list. This is great because I emailed the kid’s Amazon wish lists to both sides of the family. Usually I carefully split the lists I give to different family members to avoid duplicates, but this solves that problem!

3) As the list ‘owner’, you can look to see what was purchased by someone. However, someone at Amazon took their thinking pill and decided to ‘hide’ what was purchased unless you click a button to ‘reveal the gift’. This is great because if I’m looking at my own list, I don’t necessarily want to know if something was purchased or not. I can go to ‘purchased’ and ‘reveal the gifts’ if I want to be sneaky, but I wouldn’t do that…..would I?

4) You can add items to lists from any website, even if they are not sold on Amazon! You have to install the Wish List add on to your computer, but then you can add away. I’m thinking Etsy products are goin’ on the Amazon list!

Please note that these are strictly my opinions and not an advertisement for Amazon in any way. However, I have found the Wish List feature to be easy, useful and my new go-to web tool for birthdays and Christmas.

How do you keep your holiday lists organized?

~Erin

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving at our house. We stayed at home and it was just the 4 of us. It was calm and relaxing and full of fun and food. I wanted to give a little wrap up of the holiday and list some things that made it easier, as holidays have a tendency to be stressful.

First we had our Thanksgiving crafts, which we did over the last week and a half. There was, of course, the Cardboard Turkey Game:

We also did a leaf wreath, which we made out of aspen leaves from the yard and a paper plate with the center cut out.

Then I printed an acorn coloring page that I downloaded and Evan colored it and added some stickers.

I always take pictures of the kid’s crafts. That way I have them all on my computer in case something happens to the actual crafts. It’s also great because I am able to print or scrapbook the photos of items I don’t keep. Is it horrible that the turkey box is already on it’s way to turkey box heaven in the recycle bin? At least I have great photos and now I’m not stuck keeping a bunch of things I don’t need to keep.

The evening before Thanksgiving, I did as much prep as possible. I seasoned the turkey, peeled the potatoes, and made a casserole. I also set out the dishes, utensils and dry ingredients I would need for all of the other dishes along with a copy of each recipe. The prepping was great because it meant I didn’t have to do ANYTHING on Thanksgiving day until after noon when I put the turkey in the oven. Awesome.

We ate a light lunch, including a Turkey themed PBJ for Evan (inspired by Pinterest here):


Mine wasn’t picture perfect like all the ones I saw on Pinterest, but Evan loved it, so who cares? :)

It was actually a very relaxing day. And even though it was just the 4 of us at our house celebrating, we still made enough food to last until New Years.  :)

And of course I put together my Thanksgiving folder to help keep all of my Thanksgiving inspiration in one place. I made a folder for Halloween (which you can see here) and I loved it so much, I decided to do one for every major holiday.

So I started by making title pages for each category, such as Thanksgiving dinner, appetizers, crafts, decorations, etc.

I found inspiration on blogs, Pinterest, websites, magazines and our already established traditions. I printed photos of crafts I wanted to try, coloring pages for the kids,

recipes that looked good, and decorations I thought were pretty.

I also included the recipes that I have used for years on Thanksgiving. That way, I don’t have to dig them out of another cookbook because they are all in the Turkey Trot Folder!

Another thing I did was print a page with directions for cooking the turkey. I realized that I did not want to spend another year trying to read the directions while trying to avoid touching the raw turkey wrapper they are printed on. (Sidenote….My Thanksgiving tip is to take off the wrapper around the turkey while it is completely in the sink. On Wednesday night, I cut a small slit in the wrapper and expected to gently pull it off as I held it over the sink. You know how you try to gently open a bag of chips and then the bag explodes and chips go everywhere? Well, that happened to me. Except it wasn’t chip crumbs…it was raw turkey juice….everywhere.)

Anyways! So now I have a great resource for all my Thanksgiving projects. I plan on adding to it every year as I find new inspiration and try new recipes. You can find many of the ideas I put in the folder on my Thanksgiving Pinterest Board. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Now on to Christmas!

~Erin