The Christmas Calmdown–Christmas Planner

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It’s Ainsley’s turn to host The Christmas Calmdown; this post is also appearing on her blog, Pattycake Manners.  Be sure to visit her and say hi!  And don’t forget to grab a nifty Christmas Calmdown button to let the whole of Blogdom know that this December, you’re going to be calm, cool, and in control!!!

Wow! I can hardly believe that it has been a whole month since the
launch of our Christmas Calmdown feature!! For those of you who may have missed the first instalment, the Christmas Calmdown is the collaborative effort of myself, and my dear cousin Kim, over at  Nesty.  Each month, for the next year, on or around the 25th, we will take turns posting a goal for anyone wishing to follow along, with the end result being a more organized holiday season for all. You can click here to read the introductory post! And now onto February's Christmas Calmdown Goal!

Ask the mastermind behind any successful event, and they will tell you that it all starts with a plan. A good plan. A plan full of details, and a plan that covers every aspect. A good plan takes time to build, and involves a lot of thought on the part of the person doing the planning.

Today, the event in question is Christmas 2011, and you, my dears, are the people doing the planning! In this post, I'm going to talk you through creating your own Christmas Planner, and then we'll go over just what you should put in there!  I won't re-hash how crazy the holidays get - we've been there, done that - but there's no reason we can't learn from our mistakes, and make  Christmas 2011 a calm and peaceful one. You should know by now
that I am a list maker. Lists make hectic days smoother, and who
doesn't like when things run smoothly? Especially around the holidays! What I'm proposing is that you start making some of those Christmas Lists now, in order to ensure a much smoother December for yourselves, and for your family.

But it's one thing to make the lists. It's another to have them all
neatly contained in some sort of paper keeper, so that they are all
right at your finger tips when inspiration strikes, and again when youare trying to recall that brilliant idea you had last week. Enter...the Christmas Planner.

Your planner can really be anything that can keep your notes and ideas in one place. Here are a few versions to consider.

There is a growing trend towards Home Keeping Journals - a notebook of some sort where organized home managers keep banking info, menu plans, housekeeping schedules, calenders, etc. You might be familiar with FlyLady's Control Journal, or Tsh's Home Management Notebook over at Simple Mom? If you are already going this route, good for you! In my opinion, you are ahead of the game. Your Christmas Planner can be as simple as adding another divider and some more loose leaf to your existing Home Keeping Journal.

There are numerous Christmas Planners on the market, geared toward doing just what we're doing - getting organized for the holidays. A few years ago, my sister-in-law gave me this cute little number for my birthday. It is filled with various sections, and had pages to carry through a number of years. I used every bit of it, and it was fun to look back at my notes from previous years. If time is short, and crafting is not your thing, but you still want something cute and festive, this may be the way to go for you.
Feb 20 2010 002
Or your Christmas Journal can be as simple as a small notebook that you keep tucked in the cupboard, used solely for jotting down all things Christmas.

But my favorite way to keep holiday ideas in order is with a hand
decorated binder - one that is pretty to have on the kitchen counter or beside my favorite chair, and one that is completely devoted to Christmas planning. Here is the step-by step of what I did to create it.

* this tutorial was originally published in December 2010*

First, I found an old 1 inch binder left over from my college days. I
then gathered up some pretty fabric from Stampin' Up!, my glue gun, and some cardstock.

I covered the binder with fabric and glued down the edges.
October 31 2010 002
I then covered the inside covers with the coordinating cardstock.
October 31 2010 003
Then I decided to embellish the outside cover with a funky flower
using more of the fabric, my Big Shot die cutter, and a big ole'
button. Lovely!!
October 31 2010 005
Once you have decided on what kind of planner you will use, it's time to decide just what is going to go in between the covers. I would suggest using some sort of divider to keep things organized, and a pocket of some sort might be handy for receipts and loose notes. Here are a few things that I keep in my Christmas Planner. Feel free to use them as a launching pad for your own Planner, or toss them and fill your Planner with the things YOU need to keep track of. It's all about making things easier!

1. Notes from last year - While things are still fresh in your mind,
make notes of things that worked and things that didn't work for you during Christmas 2010. My list already includes things like "Buy more fairy lights" and "Make scrapbook cards ahead of time". These are the kinds of things that jump up and get me during the first week of December, and have me shaking my head, asking why I didn't do them in October!
2. Gift Ideas - A no brainer, but one we often lose track of because
we are sure we will remember that book that so-and-so mentioned back in August. Make a list of all the folks you are planning to buy for, and do a quick brainstorm. Did one Aunt love the scarf you made the other Aunt last year? Have your grandfather's swim trunks seen better days ( I can hear all you MacDonald's snickering from here!) Jot down those ideas when you think of them, and then you can plan to shop throughout the year.
3. Decorating Ideas - Again, pretty self-explanatory, but it's always helpful to have everything in one place when the time comes to carry out the task, or when Michaels has a killer sale going on.
4. Christmas Card List - If you are a card sender, keep a master list
of all the people you plan to send Christmas greetings to. It can save so much time and energy if you can quickly calculate how many cards and stamps you need to buy by just looking at your list. Jot down names, as well as addresses, as it can also be a time saver not having to go through your address book. Try to update your list through the year as people move, or have babies!
5. Budget - Oh, you knew it was coming. We all know that the holidays can be a drain on the pocketbook, but with a little planning, we might be able to make it a little less painful. If you can, figure out what you are willing to spend on the holidays, and plan to spread it out over the year. Things like stamps, stocking stuffers, many largergifts items, craft supplies, cards, wrapping supplies, cards, even baking supplies can be purchased throughout the year and tucked away.  Much better, I think, to spend a bit every month, than to enter the New Year dealing with Christmas debt.
6. Calendar - Nothing crazy, but a loose weekly calendar for the
couple of months leading up to December can be helpful. For those of us who make many of our gifts, setting goals and timelines for handmade projects can keep us on track and take the pressure off in the end.
7. Mailing Schedule - As someone who mails the majority of her gifts, I can tell you that this is an important one. Make a list of all the parcels you will be needing to send, and when you want them in the mail by. Postal services of course give guidelines for this, but I like to set my own personal dates. For me, it is a huge relief to know that my gifts are done and on their way, so they are a top priority for me. Decide what needs to go, and by when it must be mailed, and plan to pick up any mailing supplies you might need in early November.
8. Kids Ideas - Ideas that pop up throughout the year for crafts and activities to keep the little ones busy throughout the holiday season.  I also like to jot down supplies for these projects that I accumulate during the year so I don't end up over-buying.
9. Cooking and Baking - Again, just a place to make notes of things
you'd like to try, things that may make good neighbour gifts, and a
master pantry list is always helpful. Making notes early and planning ahead can save money. If you are planning to give a gift in a mason jar, it's cheaper to buy them during canning season than to wait until mid-December!
10. The Fun Stuff - We all know we want lots of nights to relax around the holidays, but it often doesn't happen because we forget to "plan" to relax! For the last few years, I have allotted so many nights in December to doing truly Christmas-ey things. I schedule movie nights, gingerbread house day, even a day to start my Christmas puzzle. It may sound a bit rigid, but if these things are not on the list, they often get pushed to the side and forgotten. Putting them on the list makes them a priority and I don't end up feeling like I missed out on some of my favourite things!

Like I said, these are the lists that work for me. Everyone's planner
will be different. The important thing, in the spirit of the Christmas
Calmdown, is to make notes throughout the year, and to keep them organized in one place. We would love for you to join us in this year-long project!! We'll be back again in March with our next goal, so have your planner ready to share! You'll be invited to leave a link in your comment showing us what you've done, and we'll be pop by to check them out! And be sure to grab a button from my sidebar if you plan on participating in the Christmas Calmdown! The more the merrier!

And a little note from Kim...

Hi Everyone! Welcome back to the Christmas Calmdown! I’m really excited about our first official Calmdown challenge and can’t wait to make my own adorable planner. Ainsley is an incredible paper-crafter; her scrapbooks, cards, and projects always have that certain something that makes you stop and go “Wow!” I can already think of a dozen different ways to use this planner design with a simple change of colour and theme; household planner, shower guestbook (add some scrapbook pages for an elegant souvenir of a special day), memory book
for school or university (so cute in campus colours!), coupon
organizer (just add page protectors), or personalized scrapbook! The possibilities are endless, but of course, the first one I’m going to make is my 2011 Christmas Planner! See you next month!

Happy Thursday! Live Writer Advice, Anyone?

Hi Everyone!  This is a “test post” as I am trying out Windows Live Writer.  Does anyone have any thoughts or feelings about this program they’d like to share?  I have been looking for something that would allow me to cut and paste from word processing programs with a bit more ease, and Writer comes highly recommended.  But….I don’t like change!!!

One issue I’ve noticed thus far is that apparently a temporary post appears in my followers feeds when I’m working on a post in Writer.  I’ve noticed this happening with blogs I follow and now I know what causes it.  I know it’s happening because I imported my theme, but I’m concerned because I’m used to working on my posts in advance for a few days and don’t want to clog up your readers and feeds with temp posts.  Any thoughts?

Sorry about this “advice” post, but hey, you’re the best bloggers I know!  Tomorrow I’ll return to my regular programming with The Christmas Calmdown!

Getting Organized - Simple Ways to Calm Problem Areas

Do you have any guilty secrets in your home?

No, not skeletons in your closets, silly!  I'm referring to those areas so terrifically terrible that you fear someone will discover them.  Or those places that, despite you best efforts, you never seem to be able to tame.  Or maybe it's simply a place once blissfully organized that, over time, has disintrigated into a messy, confusing place that you just can't stand to be.

We all have them, at least once in a while.  I find that the winter months are particuliarly hard times to keep my house neat.  I blame it on the extra layers we have to wear that never seem to find their way into the closet, on the snow that comes in on our dogs, and on the lack of sunlight to give me the motivation and energy to clean clean clean!  I also find there's a bit of a let down between the holiday season and spring cleaning; there's really nothing to prepare for in January and February so it's easy to let things slide a bit.  Indeed, I remarked to my husband the other day that the house seemed easier to keep tidy two months ago when every inch of it was "be-decked" and there were two Christmas trees taking up space!

In my home there are a few places in particuliar that drive me nuts, and this week I concocted a plan to tackle them.  After all, Nesty is about leading a better life through simplified living; nothing derails simplified living faster than disorder and mess.  I'll be sharing my progress with you. Some are my own ideas, while others are inspired by magazines and blog posts.  With so many great resources out there, there's really no excuse for not getting it all together!

My first project was the kitchen "junk drawer".  I'd been inspired by the latest issue of Real Simple magazine, which included an article called "Streamline Your Supplies."  The article detailed what essentials you need in order to organize your medicine cabinet, utensil drawer, tool kit, desk drawer, and cleaning cabinet.  I decided to tackle the desk drawer; with my kitchen "junk drawer" standing in a for desk drawer.  I realized that, scattered throughout the house, I had all the items I needed for a neat and tidy startionery center except mechanical pencils and stamps (which are on my to-buy list). 

Sometimes when you get an idea from a blog or magazine, it's easy to think that you don't have all the nifty stuff they're suggesting.  What you have to remember is that they're just that, suggestions.  Around your home you probably have equivalents to what they're suggesting.  Here's what Real Simple's experts suggested, along with my two cents or substitutions:
  • Forever Stamps (In Canada I believe we call them fixed rate stamps; but basically they are stamps that don't lose their value even if rates change)
  • Personal Stationery (I don't have personalized stationary, so I used a set of notes and envelopes my mom sent in a care package.  You can find adorable note card sets at stationery and office supply shops, as well as department and dollar stores).
  • Permanent markers in black and silver for regular and dark papers (check and check!) plus a highlighter (I like pink)
  • Correction Tape
  • Sticky notes, large and small (I only had large so small go on the list; they're great for leaving notes in cookbooks!)
  • Mechanical Pencils
  • Titanium Scissors (I have a lot of non-titanium scissors so a pair of those went in the drawer.  FYI, apparently titianium scissors stay sharp a really long time)
  • Paper clips
  • A weighted tape dispenser (a real time saver when wrapping gifts, but you could use a roll of tape if that's what you have.  Weighted dispensers are surprisingly economical, however)
  • A classic stapler
  • A box of your favorite pens (I often buy pens by the box but I have so many pens right now that I really couldn't justify purchasing another box.  I do have my own favorite, a Papermate retractable, medium tip, blue ink, rubberized barrel, in pink because for some reason pink pens don't seem to wander off.  I wonder why?)
I added a Moleskine accordion file notebook to hold reciepts and important stuff, as well as a box of self-adhesive security envelopes

Here is a picture of my lovely new stationery drawer.  Thanks, Real Simple!!

I realised as I was editing this picture that my paperclips and tape dispenser are making a run for it.  In the interest of proving that I can keep it real, I did not re-take the photo! 

Now of course all the "stuff" that was in the junk drawer had to go somewhere!  I'll be detailing my progress over the next few weeks.  Next week I'll be sharing how I tamed a really bad problem area in my home - my cosmetics drawer.  Oh, the horror!!!!

I'll see you on Friday for the Christmas Calmdown!

A Very Sweet Thank You!!!

It's still snowing!

We've had a lot of snow this year!  Since the snow began in the Fall, over 29 feet has fallen on our little town.  Despite the occasional rain and warm days, a lot of that snow remains;  some yards have drifts over 17 feet high and their homes are invisible from the street.  In particuliar, Sunday seems to be the "snow day" of choice as we have had heavy snow fall every Sunday for the past month!

The snow is very beautiful, and this week we got to see our little valley town in all its Alpine glory when three days of sweet, welcome sun graced us (with cold temperatures, yes, but we'll take any sun we can get right now!).  The evergreens that cover the mountain inclines were encrusted with glittering snow, and the peaks and precipes were gleaming and glorious with their pure white frosting.  Every evening as the sun descended, the mountains would glow golden and bright for a few moments before a sleepy darkness descended.

It would be an absolute winter wonderland, if but for one thing.


When snow falls three to seven feet at a time, shovelling is no joke.  You'll remember that I had to shovel my way into the house a few weeks ago after an evening out.  Our dogs (well, the two little ones) need pathways dug so that they can tend to their necessities without becoming lost in the drifts.  Even our rugged Jeep has been pushed to its limits; indeed I heard of a Hummer that became hung up a few weeks ago.  So when one must face this mass armed with a shovel, even the hardiest, winter loving souls quake, at least momentarily.  In moments like these, there is a sight and sounds that makes the heart sing...

A neighbor with a snow blower!

We've been really blessed.  We live on a street with a number of long time Kitimat residents, all of whom own snowblowers.  We had to do very little shovelling the last few storms other than our steps and dog paths , and for this we are very grateful!  So this week, I decided to show my neighbors just how appreciative we are with some tasty treats from my kitchen.

We had been planning to make chocolate truffles for quite some time.  Originally I had planned to make them for Christmas, but the holiday came and went without the chocolates materializing.  January brought with it a resolve to eat better, so we decided to wait until Valentine's day to make our favorite sweet.  I had also seen Sugar Cookie Truffles on a few blogs (such as From the Kitchen of Mrs. Betty Rocker and Ptit Chef.  I loved the look of them and thought they would make a great sweet to serve at an upcoming shower I'm hosting.  I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to test run the recipe in advance.  Finally, I made a batch of Soft Sugar Cookies, both to use in the truffle recipe and to give to the neighbors. 

The cookies and sugar cookie truffles turned out perfect.  Thecookie truffle recipe calls for frozen Pillsbury sugar cookie dough; our local grocery doesn't carry this so I used my own soft sugar cookies and the finished product was delicious, kind of like cheesecake in a delightful, white chocolate covered ball.  I sprinkled the truffles with multicoloured round jimmies, and they looked adorable.  For the shower, I think I will purchase yellow melting wafers and drizzle the truffles with yellow as this is one of the wedding colours.  The cookie recipe is one of those that I've made a million times; it's my go-to recipe for cookie swaps because it always turns out perfect.  The chocolate truffles, on the other hand, were a little more challenging.

I used a recipe from a source that is generally very reliable, so I'm willing to concede that I may have made an error (the wrong kind, or not enough, chocolate perhaps?)  When I finished making the chocolate I let it set in the refridgerator for the suggested time, but when I took it out it was nowhere near set; in fact I could tell that left in its present form it wasn't going to set at all.  I did a little online research and the general consensus was that I should re-heat the mixture in a double boiler and then add more chocolate.  I did this and added more chocolate (in a different form) and let it set for several hours.  This did work although the truffles were softer than I would have liked.  Instead of coating them in cocoa powder I dipped them in dark chocolate coating and drizzled white chocolate over them.  They looked great but did need to be kept in the refridgerator in order not to melt. 

Since I wasn't completely pleased with the chocolate truffles (delicious as they were) I gave the neighbors the cookies and cookie truffles.  They were a big hit!  I'm still a big fan of chocolate truffles, though, and I want to make them again.  I can't find the reliable recipe I used to use, so I'm asking you, friends, to suggest your favorite truffle recipe, as well as any tips you have for getting them to set up to truffle-y perfection.

I'll be back on Wednesday with a post on how I'm tackling organizational problem areas in my home.  Friday it's time for another edition of the Christmas Calmdown; can you believe it's been a month?!!  See you then!!!

Ah, summer.  The perfect time to relax on the patio and enjoy a lovely Sunday brunch al fresco....

It just seems like yesterday.  How quickly it can all change...

Ah, winter.  The perfect time to huddle indoors under a blanket, sipping soup, while wishing the birds luck finding the entrance to that feeder!

Have a great week!

Sorry for missing Monday!  The snow pictured above knocked out our power for 9 hours, and prevented us from traveling to town, where I was planning to buy the supplies for this week's posts!  Thanks for understanding!  Kim

Jelly Rolls and Candy Bars and Layer Cakes, Oh My!!!

Those of you who don't quilt probably thought this was a post about desserts!  Not today (although after typing that title I am a bit hungry)!

The quilters in my readership no doubt knew right away what I would be posting about.  Don't get all excited, I'm not a quilter...yet.  At this point my knowledge of quilting is quite limited, however, a lack of knowledge has never stopped me from pursuing a new hobby in the past!  I enjoy sewing, and I've been admiring quilted projects for quite some time, so I've decided to give it a try.

Luckily, I have a great distance education teacher (my cousin Ainsley from Pattycake Manners.)  Ainsley is a truly talented quilter, and pictures of her creations were a big part of what motivated me to want to try quilting.  She's been terrific, advising me on supplies and teaching me the proper terminology.  On her advice, I am the proud owner of a "begin to quilt kit", which contains all the basics I need to get started (a rotary cutter, mat, pins, thimbles, needles, and safety pins)!  I also got lucky and inherited a large cutting mat from a friend who is doing a pre-move purge.  

Now all I need is a "jelly-roll;"  a roll of coordinating pre-cut strips of quilting fabric which I will use to create my first project.  I'm heading to town this weekend and I really hope I can find one there, because I'm like a kid with new toys waiting to try out my new quilting kit! I really don't want to wait for an online order (although I must admit some of those pre-cuts are mighty pretty...especially the Moda and Michael Miller designs!).

I'll be sure to let you know when I get started!  In the meantime, how many of you quilt?  What online resources would you recommend to a beginner?

Have a great weekend!

Time For a Talk...

It's not you, it's me.

I should have done something about this a long time ago, but I thought we could work.

Please don't take it personally, we've had some really great times together, but I'm just not feeling it any more.

I think I need a change.

Dear Winter Jacket....

I think we need to see other people.

Ha!  Had you going there for a minute, didn't I?  Nothing to fear, my friends, just feeling a little stale on the fashion front.  By now we are deeply entrenched in Winter, and with all due respect to the groundhogs of North America, I don't really think we will have an early Spring.  But one thing is for certain...

I will have to spend a lot more time with my winter jacket.

If you live in an area that either doesn't get Winter or doesn't get a cold Winter, you may wonder what the big deal is.  That is probably because you can indulge in the cute, lightweight, "winter" jackets that can be picked up for a song at mass retailers.  Those of us who spend October to May with the risk of snow, cold, and (ugh) freezing rain need to invest a little more in something substantial.  We will spend a lot of time in this garment.  So much so that the decision making process when purchasing it can rival that of buying a car.  When the decision is finally made, if we're lucky, we'll have found something that we absolutely love.  

For a time...

The first day we get to wear our new winter jacket  is soundtracked with "Winter Wonderland" and "White Christmas" (the Bing version).  Each step we take will have imaginary fluffy white bunnies and darling fawns prancing along beside us, and those steps will be prancing because our feet will be warm and dry in cozy winter boots. The air will  smell of candy-canes and hot cocoa.  Life is goooooood!

This little illusion will last, if we're lucky, until just after Christmas.  After that, a Northern gal's view of the world in that jacket...well, it changes....

The soundtrack is gone, replaced instead by the sound of snowplows and squealing brakes.  Forget walking, if you're lucky you'll be able to slip and slide to the car while clinging to the side of your house on account of the inch of ice that's coating everything.  As far as prancing goes?  Well, the damn coat and boots weigh a ton, and seem to be getting heavier, so prancing's out.  All self respecting animals are snug in their dens.  And the don't want to know what the air smells like!

And the jacket....who picked this thing out, anyway?  

Ah, the pity party!  There's really no pleasing us.  A trip to town reveals that the winter jackets have all been packed away and it's all bathing suits, shorts, and flip flops (for those lucky enough to be heading south for a sun vacay).  Online, only the weird colours are left (even if they had our size).  Then we realize that we really don't want to buy a new winter coat anyway because we're sick of winter coats in general.  We want to buy the cute little sundress and sandals that we might be able to wear for, like, two weeks in August.  

Now me, I'm lucky (-ish).  I have other outerwear.  It's just too cold and / or damp and my winter jacket wins out every time because, like it or not, it's warm.  Getting ready to go out, I'll look longingly at my pretty red wool yet unlined military styled coat, my high heeled boots, my cute puffy vest.  And then I'll stick my nose outside, shiver, and reach for my winter jacket.

This is a self-indulgent little rant.  I'm very lucky to be able to afford nice, warm, and yes, actually stylish winter outerwear.  Lots of people can't.  So that's why, when I'm finished with my jacket this year, I'll be giving it to the local thrift store so someone can have a nice, warm, actually stylish winter jacket for a really cheap price.  I hope they enjoy the shiny satin fabric.  I hope they like the fact that it's warm and actually quite light weight.  I hope the snuggly faux fur on the generous detachable hood (I hate a small hood) makes them feel cozy and a bit glamorous.  And I hope they have as much fun and as many adventures in it as I have.

Do you have a garment that you have a love / hate relationship with?  If so, I'd love to hear about it!

Have a great week!