October 29, 2014

Planning Ahead For the Holidays

 Ok, so I am not that ahead of the game compared to some, but this year I decided that I was going to do my best to plan ahead for Christmas to give my nerves and wallet a little less stress.  It will be the first year that we will be celebrating Christmas in our own home, so I know I want to make it the most special holiday yet.  We will be traveling ahead of time up North to see our families, but Christmas Eve and day will be spent in our home with our little family. I am SO excited to see our children walk down our staircase and open their gifts in our own home. We have always traveled during the holiday, so this will be a new tradition.  I have the best memories of Christmas growing up in my home, so I know I want to make it a special time for my children as well.

So, in order to be a happy, pleasant, sane mother on Christmas day, I know I need to do a lot of planning ahead of time so the actual day and time leading up to it is not a total blur of chaos, stress and general last minute work. I thought I'd compile some tips and tricks I've decided to implement this holiday season!

1. Create a Pinterest board dedicated to each holiday season. I like to make a new Christmas board each year and file cute decorating, wrapping, baking and gift ideas.  It is a great place to gather inspiration and specific gifts that you can reference when you're ready to start shopping.  This way you save that last minute panic as to what to buy Aunt Edna and Cousin Bart.

2. Keep a list of presents, per person, in your phone. I've been keeping a list of ideas of gifts I want to buy for my family in my phone for awhile now. Since I almost always have my phone with me I can reference it if I am out shopping and then erase each item as it's purchased. If I don't write it down, I'll never remember it!

3. Start shopping early. This year my goal is to try and be done most of our shopping by Thanksgiving. About a month ago I decided to start buying my boys one gift every week or two. Most of them have been smaller things and stocking stuffers, but I already have a good head start and more importantly I am actually buying them things I know they'll like rather than last minute things just to fill the space under the tree.

4. Start wrapping! I know this may seem crazy, but I actually decided how I am going to wrap my gifts this year and I bought the paper to begin. I am scared my kids will find my stockpile, so I am guessing if they are wrapped in brown kraft paper (that I plan to do something fun with!) they won't know they are Christmas gifts. However if they saw Target and toy store bags, they'd rip them open in a hot second.  I love wrapping gifts, but HATE wrapping everything last minute. It totally takes the fun out of the creative process and just feels totally overwhelming. Try your best to wrap each gift as it's purchased (or within that week) and you won't be running to CVS for ugly wrap on Christmas Eve (TOTALLY been there!).

5. Keep an envelope dedicated to Christmas receipts. This is new for me this year, but considering I am purchasing things ahead of time, I want to make sure I have all my receipts incase I need to return or exchange something.  Also be sure to check the stores return policy and make sure you have enough time to buy it now and return it in two months or longer.

6. Get creative with finding money! Let's face it, Christmas is one expensive time of year. It's meant to be filled with joy and celebration, but spending all that cash is also very stressful.  This is one of the major reasons why I began early this year. Second, look at those credit card points. We have a ton of points we haven't used, so we decided to get a pretty lofty Target card this year. This way I can buy most of the kids pricier toys (like Legos) there and picture frames for all the photos we pass out. We are also fortunate that they sell wine at our Target, so picking up some bottles for friends and neighbors will be great too. Finally, clean out that closet!  I recently sold a few items that have been sitting in my closet, unworn, to make some extra dough designated for holiday purchases.

7. Make a list for family members for ideas for you and or your kids. I know that our family always appreciates getting lists of ideas as to what to buy us and the kids. Of course, it is always fun to get surprises, but it's also nice not to get anything that will simply be wasted or not used.

8. Remember not to focus on just "things". Many of us are so fortunate to have more than we could possibly ever need. Think about getting the people you love a massage, manicure, bottle of wine, a few bottles of great olive oil and fresh pasta or a set of great chutneys and spreads. I know that with all the clutter we can create in our lives, sometimes it's nice getting gifts that can be experienced and then not take up any space in our homes when they are done!

So, I hope you can find some of this information helpful and know that I am NOT perfect and I am certainly not always on top of my game, but I am dedicated to doing my best this year to not rush around that a madwoman the week before Christmas. Truly, the thing I enjoy most is seeing all of my family and friends and sharing a meal or drink and certainly lots of laughs. I'll be back throughout the next 8 weeks to give you lots of gift, decorating, cooking and wrapping ideas, so keep an eye out!

October 27, 2014

Weekend Recap

I hope everyone had a great weekend.  We were very busy and had lots of fun activities. The boys' grandmother came into town with their handmade costumes just in time for a Halloween bash at our club. The outfits were a hit! Saturday we went to our local theme park and spent the entire day riding rides, looking at our favorite dinosaur exhibit and enjoying all the Halloween fun. We were thankful for such gorgeous weather, family and fun!

October 24, 2014

Cooking With Coconut Flour: Coconut Butter Macaroons

When my husband announced a few weeks ago that he was cutting all starch out of his diet, I remember thinking, they make all sorts of different flours now, like almond, which he can't eat, but wouldn't it be great if they made something like coconut flour? I had NO idea that it existed and when I stumbled upon it this week at Trader Joe's, I literally said outloud, "Oh My God! Cocounut flour? Amazing!" then quickly threw it in my cart. I couldn't wait to get home and begin experimenting with it.  It is a similar consistency to other flours, but does need to be refrigerated and has a distinct smell. 

There were a few recipes on the back of the package, one being a delicious sounding Coconut Butter Macaroon recipe. The list of ingredients was simple, all that I had on hand, so I set out yesterday to try out the new recipe! I was nervous about how they would turn out, but in the end, they came out great! I halved the recipe because I was nervous about how they would taste, but next time will definitely make the regular amount. 

To make about 2 dozen cookies you'll need:

-1/2 cup of butter
-1 cup o
-1 cup sugar (I used coconut sugar, but you can use any kind you like!)
-4 eggs
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-1/2 cup sifted coconut flour
-2 cups shredded sweetened coconut (also sold at TJ's)

Preheat your oven to 375.

Start by mixing together the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. My butter was very soft, so I just mixed it with my hands. You can certainly use a mixed too.  Then stir in the flour and coconut.

Drop rounded tablespoons of the mixture onto a baking pan.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes. I took mine out right at 12 minutes. They are quite dense and some of the butter melts off during cooking, but they are ready when they are brown around the edges.

Place immediately on a wire rack to cool.