It’s a Good Time to Wrap Up…

…all the presents you’ve collected so far.  I tend to get overhwelmed with the growing pile.  We limited it to 2 gifts for each of our kids.  But a lot of kids x 2 = a lot of gifts. Plus I shopped for 8 of my 14 nieces and nephews (I love the rest too, but we draw names to reduce the burden), 3 white elephant exchanges, great-grandma’s, teacher gifts…

Photo on 12-15-14 at 9.51 AM #3

 Awkward Wrapping Selfie–

That floor to ceiling curtain behind me is made of $5 sheets thumbtacked to the ceiling, to hide studs, pipes and insulation while we save up for phase 2 of our master bedroom remodel.

Sometimes I forget what I bought, even though I write it down.  And I get this feeling that I didn’t buy enough and am tempted to over buy.  So as I wrap, I change the color of the gift in my Christmas Plan.  Blue is purchased and wrapped; Green is here but not wrapped yet; Red is ordered but hasn’t arrived yet; Orange is still needing to be stitched up; yellow is going in the stocking; black is still just an idea that I probably won’t act on–but might get to put in the stocking.

Christmas planning sheet

This is about the time I start to feel totally inadequate.  Here are the things I tell myself:

1.  Kids do not compare prices on gifts to see who you spent more on, but they do notice if one brother opens 3 gifts, and they opened 2.  So group things together if needed to make the number of packages the same.

2.  Christmas isn’t about gifts.  It’s about Jesus.  We can’t buy the perfect gift–that was Jesus.

3.  Focus the celebration on time together as a family.

4.  Nothing has to be perfect.  What makes the day “perfect” for the kids won’t be the same thing that makes it perfect for me.  Freaking out about the things that are ONLY important to me (like a clean house, and way too many DIY projects….) will only make this time of year less perfect for them.

5.  It’s ok not to have a 12 day of Christmas list, an advent calendar, an elf on a shelf, or chocolate fondu.  The best gift we can give our families is a happy Mama who is PRESENT with them. (cough, cough….electronic free..except maybe for a picture or two..or a Hallmark channel movie…maybe.)

Which is one reason I love the Nester’s post here. Although, seriously, her no effort style would take a lot of effort for me to pull off….I love it.  I’m wondering how I can copy the look of her messy kitchen sink. I keep thinking if I look at it long enough I will absorb the mindset and be able to throw stuff on the wall and make it look good too.  There’s some kind of force behind it.  She’s a Jedi I’m sure.

Psst… If you were slightly interested in the natural household and personal products I talked about here, you should put in a request for more information.  I’ll call you and we can chat about it.  The one time membership fee is only $1 through December 22nd.  It’s the perfect time to give it a try.


Cyber Monday

There are two things I want to tell you about before I get busy on my entry floor (resealing the grout….)


1.  There are now gift meal plan subscriptions available at Grocery Shrink Plus.  The gift subscriptions do not renew, so you choose exactly the length of time you want and pay only once.  Plans start at $5 and will work into all budgets.  These would make great teacher gifts, white elephant, secret santa etc.  If you are familiar with the meal plans go here to access the gift page directly.


2.  Shoot Fly Shoot is having 50% off all their classes today. If you want to use your DSLR camera or photoshop better, these are the classes for you.  I personally purchased the classes and watched them and can vouch for how great they are.  (And yes, I paid full price :(.) My link.

A little Christmas sewing


Here’s what I’ve discovered about handmade Christmas.  It’s not stressful if the projects are small enough, fast enough, and easy enough (and the supplies are easy and cheap to get-stash is all the beter.) It is not my season in life to draft my own patterns or make up a new way.  All of these were made from scraps in my dwindling stash from free patterns.  No new money spent.



In progress:  A pretend campfire from this book (I borrowed from the library.)



Finished:  A tiger/fox/racoon–whatever.  Super soft from minkey, felt and knit terry with polar fleece scarf.)  From this free pattern.  I changed the eye placement but otherwise kept it the same.IMG_0072.JPG

A hard to photograph infinity scarf.  Would you believe it’s adorable?  One seam, boom. I used this fabric, because I had a scrap left that begged to be a scarf.  I didn’t hem any edges, just stitched it into a loop with a French seam.  Nice and light and drapey.  Someone’s going to be very happy.

Yes, my bedroom walls are mustard yellow. I’m pretending I love it temporarily.

Now off to finish a Christmas movie while I stitch.


How to Get Christmas Cash…Fast

Get Christmas Cash Fast

There’s only a few areas of my life that I have together…and none of them come to mind right now.   So if you don’t have any money saved up for Christmas yet, don’t worry.  It’s going to be ok.

You have most of November and December to save as much from your normal income as possible.  When you make up your budget for these months, funnel as much cash to Christmas as you can.

If you’re like us….that won’t be enough.  How much cash do you need?  If you missed my post yesterday, there was a video to help you figure out how much cash you actually need.  Do that first and you’ll have a concrete goal.

Let’s pretend you need $600, and subtract the amount of money you can save from November and December’s income.  Just for an example, it’s $200.  That leaves us with $400 left to get.

Ideas to generate cash:

1.  Donate Plasma:  Most clinics pay $20 for the first visit and $40 for the second in the same week, for a monthly income of $240.  Do that two months and you’d have $80 extra :). (Health restrictions apply.) And a bonus….it saves lives.

Women cleaning a window 3

2.  Emergency clean houses:  Going rate  $1o-15 an hour.  Work 26-40 hours doing this over the next 2 months and voila.

3.  Cook two meals when you are cooking for your family and offer a delivery service for working Moms. Going rate:  $20-30 for the meal (of course this all depends on the number of servings and the cost of ingredients.)  Net profit about $15.  26 meals over 2 months and you’re done :)

4.  Sell some stuff on Craigslist, Fabric destashers, or consignment stores.

5.  Combine ideas.  You don’t have to work 40 hours cleaning, what if you only worked 10, sold some stuff, and donated a little plasma?  Figure out what works into your schedule.

When offering services on Facebook, be specific about what you are offering and what your terms are: “I’m cleaning houses to help busy families get ready for their holiday gatherings.  I charge $10 an hour and can clean an average house in 4 hours. Send me a message and we’ll schedule it.”  That makes others feel more comfortable to hire you than if you say, “I’m willing to work and need cash if anyone has anything that needs done.”

When you need cash fast, how do you earn it? I’m always looking for new ideas :)


How I Make My Christmas Budget

Christmas Budget That Works

The number one cause of Christmas Spending Disasters is a failure to plan.  If you haven’t already made a plan it’s not too late. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about what you can do right now if you don’t have any Christmas cash yet. But today, watch the video to see how to get it on paper.


5 Things to Do Right Now to DeStress Christmas

photo by MeiTeng

photo by MeiTeng

I know Halloween just ended and Thanksgiving isn’t here yet, but it’s time to plan for Christmas.  You don’t have to get out the tree yet or starting playing carols (But if you do, I won’t judge.)

Do these 5 things this week to make this holiday season easier to navigate.

1.  Make your Christmas Budget:  How much are you spending on gifts, cards, postage, decorations and food? It has to be cash….no borrowing allowed.

2.  Make your Christmas List:  This is just a list of names and a dollar amount you are going to spend on them. All those dollar amounts must add up to what you budgeted for gifts.

3.  Brainstorm Gift Ideas: This is a broad list of everything you can think of.  There will be time to narrow it down later.

4.  Make Your Christmas Card List: If you have one from last year, just take a few minutes to update the addresses and see if there needs to be any additions or deletions.  Knowing how many cards you plan to send will help you tweak your budget in step 1.

5.  Put it on the Calendar: When are your gatherings, school concerts, church events, family traditions?  Also put in when you should be done Shopping, when to wrap gifts, when to mail out Christmas Cards, when to bake cookies.  Put it on the calendar that is simplest for you. We use Google calendar in our home and have it sync with all our phones and lap tops.   I still love real paper calendars too.  When it comes to scheduling less is more.  If I get too scheduled up, all my family gets for Christmas is a stressed-out mama. Nobody wants that.

If you’d like more detailed ideas and printable planning pages, I wrote an ebook with all those things a few years ago.  You can get it here.

Take Note


It’s time to do yourself a little favor.  Take a quiet moment while the memories are still fresh and write some Christmas notes for yourself for next year. This isn’t the time to make huge plans (Which is so tempting when the execution of those plans is still 12 months away.)

 13 questions Christmas 2

Just write some notes about things that went over really well this year or maybe didn’t go so well.  Here’s a list of 13 things to think about:

  • What was the most stolen white elephant gift?
  • Were there any things you were going to try but didn’t have time for?
  • Did you run out of tape?  How many rolls should you have on hand?
  • Did you have enough wrapping paper?  How much is enough?
  • Were the kids overwhelmed with too many gifts?  How many would have been right?
  • How did you feel about what you purchased for the stockings?
  • Did a relative make a really yummy dish that you should remember to ask her to bring agin?
  • Did you run across a neat story to read, or a song to learn?
  • Did you try something new this year that needs to become a tradition?
  • What date did you wish you were all done shopping and wrapping?
  • When you should start any hand made items to avoid last minute stress?
  • Were you tempted to buy a bunch of extra gifts since you had so many great ideas?  File those ideas for next year.
  • Did you notice some great sales?!  For example, I found legos on Amazon on cyber Monday for 50-60% off retail. And Target had jammies 40% off the week before Christmas.  Chances are the same types of sales will happen again next year and I want to remember to look for it.

Whatever you write just be sure to put enough details down that it will still be helpful to you 12 months from now.


The newest Christmas fad is to keep it simple.  Simple. Simple. Simple.  (Said while poking my forehead with my finger.)

A basic tree, some yummy food.  Done.  No need to go crazy and dec the whole house, unless someone is paying you a huge sum of money to do it.  Drink some nog, do a puzzle.  Breathe.  Smile. Relax.


This year the flu wiped me out the week before Christmas.  I had planned to finish my sewing and shopping that week since school would be out and my choir program would be finished.  But instead I enjoyed some forced R&R and fretted about it. You see, we only bought our kids a pair of jammies and 2 other gifts.  Only some kids had no jammies.  And some kids had only 1 gift.  But the funny things is, on Christmas morning no one noticed (My Mom did help me make sure everyone had new jammies–I think they may have noticed that.) But the kids that opened one gift instead of two–didn’t say a word. They were too busy playing with their one fun gift.  I worried for nothing.  And the jammies were a HUGE hit.

Gift Ideas from 2013 screenshot

Here’s a little screenshot of how I like to keep notes. If you click on it, I think you can see it bigger and maybe read some of the text.

How you take your notes is up to you, as long as it’s a place that you are sure to look next year.  I’ve been making a Christmas plan on my computer since 2003.  It started in excel and has morphed into a powerpoint file (since that’s the way I think best.)  Now that I’ve worked out a system I like, I just “save as” the old file with the new year on it, then quickly go and delete out the old info and plop in the new.  This year as I was getting ready for Christmas late August or so, I found my notes from last year to help me with this year.  I completely forgot I had done it.  When I saw it, I jumped up and screamed “I’m a genius!” What a blessing to have a springboard to make the holiday easier.  It’s like writing a love letter to future you :).

How about you?  Do you write notes to yourself for next year?  What questions would you add to the list?

Christmas Eve 2013


Round Robin Ping Pong

There was some concern on my part whether I would/should be able to go Christmas Eve.  We were planning to travel up to the farm (about an hour away) to spend the day in the new church basement with Darren’s sisters and parents and their children (16 in all–including ours–how fun is that?!)  It’s my favorite day of the year.


I got up and started helping the children get ready, and made a growing pile by the door of things to load into the car.  All the while I found myself snapping at the children for acting like children.  My bad attitude was catching.  Pretty soon everyone was grumping at each other.  I was worried about wanting to go, but thinking I shouldn’t go.  And I had a headache.  A big one.



So I sat myself down and said, “Self.  This is the year of the happy Mama.  Whether you go or don’t go, your ONE JOB is to be happy.”  I took a couple of tablets for my headache.  I took one large pill to make sure I wouldn’t cough or sneeze for 12 hours, hopefully keeping this virus from spreading around.  Then I made a plan to go.  I made a pact not to touch food or serving dishes.  I would help clean up, but let my daughters help lay out the food.  I wouldn’t sit near great-grandma who just celebrated her 90th birthday. I wouldn’t hold the babies.  I would wash my hands. A lot.

When we arrived, my plan worked very well.  Mostly I sat back and watched the group while still feeling part of things.  Resting and noticing things. Things like DH’s Mama, who never snapped at a person, looked stressed or gave one hint at being weary the whole day.  EVEN though she made a ham, a turkey and a brisket for our crowd.  And gifts of jam and homemade pear bread.  Plus plenty of other things.


She happily licked the beaters from the whipped cream getting white fluff all over her face and just grinned.  She held each of her grandchildren on her lap to open their gifts from age 10 months to age 14 and posed for the pictures.  She played the piano for everyone to sing.  She cheerfully said goodbye to her youngest daughter, who left the party far too early for her inlaw’s gathering, and never  said a cross word about it.







And even though she doesn’t read blogs or look at Pinterest, she got the memo:  Christmas 2013, The Year of the Happy Mama.  And she pulled if off flawlessly.


The card table tents haunted my fevered dreams the week before Christmas.  The brown and pink was finished with a door and windows and little curtains.  The purple one wasn’t close. But my mother came over when I was too sick to get up, and cut a hole in it for the door.  I wrapped it up with a promise to finish it later. By the end of the afternoon, the kids had pulled the pink door all the way to the top of the table and held it down with a heavy toy.  They actually preferred the more simple tent without a door!

The entire day was amazing: singing trios with DH’s sisters; two white elephant gift exchanges, watching the kids play games and laser tag; glorious food, round-robin ping pong. But my mother-in-law’s happiness is my favorite memory from the day.





The Easiest Eggnog in the World

Eggnog Pinterest 1

And tasty too.

You can also make it dairy free, or sugar free or both.

It costs about half of commercial eggnog.

We’ve voted. And persuaded the neighbor kids to weigh in.  It tastes better than the stuff at the store.

The Easiest Eggnog in the World

The Easiest Eggnog in the World


  • 8 cups milk (whole milk tastes more real, but you can use skim or unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 pkg 3.5 oz of instant vanilla pudding mix (regular or sugar free)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp rum extract (opt. I have never used this, but I make my vanilla in it's really good.)
  • 1 tsp nutmeg (We tried 1/2 tsp at first but it didn't have enough nutmeg flavor for us.
  • 1/3 cup sugar (Original recipe calls for 1/2 cup and this was too sweet for us. You might be able to leave it out all together. I used stevia in the raw for my almond milk version and loved it.)


  1. Pour 4 cups of milk into the blender and start it whirring on low.
  2. While it's going, pour in the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Then slowly add the other 4 cups of milk.
  3. Serve right away and refrigerate the leftovers.
  4. I made a whole half gallon of almond milk eggnog and then poured it right back into the carton using a funnel. I thought it would last awhile.....but with only about 40 calories a cup, I haven't restrained myself much....


Giving Too Much

Is there such a thing?  . . . Maybe.

Christmas gifts
Giving is an important part of the Christmas season.  It reminds us of God’s gift to us in His son.  It’s a celebration of a birthday that forever changed the world.  It helps us express our love and gratitude to those who have impacted our lives.  I don’t want to get rid of it.

But giving too much to our children can make them unhappy.

For example, have you ever watched a 1 or 2 year old on his birthday? He opens one gift, and his eyes get wide.  He wants it out of the box and to play, right now.  But there are more gifts to open.  Someone takes it from his hands and gives him another unopened package. It won’t be long before there are tears.  He just wants to play!

christmas 024

Fast forward a few years.  Now the boy is 9.  There’s a huge stack of presents under the tree, all for him.  He thinks in his mind, “It will take forever to open all of these.” I can’t wait!  But it doesn’t take forever.  Soon he’s sitting in a pile of wrapping paper and opened gifts and feels a strange feeling.  Disappointment…loss.  Aren’t there any more?

I noticed watching my own children that they appreciate more what they are given when they aren’t given too much.

 If you’ve kept things small from the beginning, it’s much easier than to take it down a few hundred notches when the kid’s already have big expectations. But what if you are already there?  The kids are expecting pirate loads of loot, and you are ready to simplify.  What are some things you can do to make it as painless as possible?

Here’s a little brainstorm list I made one day of things that might help.  It’s not meant for one family to do everything on the list.  That would be overwhelming!  But there might be something here that sparks an idea you know your kids will really respond to:

  1. If you have older kids (age 5 or older) Gently tell them in advance that you are only buying X number of gifts this year. The earlier you tell them the better (it’s easier to take news like this when D day is far away.) And tell them why–you want to save money for their future, your home is too crowded with stuff, you want to spend more time being together than shopping…..What are your reasons?  Children younger than 4 won’t need an explanation.
  2. Get their input on ways that you can get the season back to what it should be.  Let them express their feelings about simplifying.

Christ is born

  1. Switch focus:  From gifts to Jesus.  Spend time in childlike worship– Start with a colorful story then add two of the following: coloring page, simple craft, game, music, or  snack that reinforce the lesson. Make it fun and keep them a active. Then do gifts after. Or spend time during December preparing a gift the children can offer to Jesus for His birthday.  It should be something that uses their talents like singing a song, playing an instrument, writing a poem, or making a piece of art.  Then present the gifts in a small worship time on Christmas day.
  2. Switch focus: From receiving to giving.  Help the children buy gifts for each other or others in need.  In our family we buy 2 or 3 gifts for our kids. Then they each buy one for each other, with their own money, that they earned all year by doing extra chores. I love it because I get one on one time with each one, and they learn what things really cost and that it takes hard work to get money. They can also choose an angel from the tree at church and buy a gift for a child their age in our community who otherwise would have nothing.
  3. Switch focus to service:  Volunteer as a family at a local shelter, soup kitchen, or community services center where children can  give relief to those in need.
  4. Switch focus to global need: Sponsor a child through World Vision. Or participate in the Operation Christmas Child program.
  5. Prolong the gift opening, with a game like a treasure hunt:  Use scriptures as clues to where you hid the next clue, and the next clue and eventually where they can find their gift. Or make them do something athletic to get the next clue, such as run up and down the stairs 5 times, or do 3 push-ups :).  The sillier the better.

Have you found a way to keep things simple at your home?  We’d love to hear about what works for you.