Surviving the Holidays Through Organization

It’s that time of year where we tend to overspend, not organize enough, and get ourselves into a time and money crunch.  It doesn’t have to be that way. Setting a budget this time of year can be tough, especially when all of those extra expenses tend to creep up. However, a little organization can stretch that budget like you wouldn’t believe.  Here are some quick tips to get you started on making it through the rest of the year with a little less stress.

-Set a budget now. Stop reading this post immediately if you haven’t already set a budget, figure out your budget, and then come back and read the rest of the post. I’m saying this with a smile on my face.  Trust me, setting a budget now and sticking to it will save you stress when all of those expenses start adding up.  Food, gifts, extra heating expense, etc. should each have line items. Once the budget is set stick to it by determining if the extra expense is absolutely necessary at this time.

-Grocery shopping organization can save you quite a few dollars this time of year.  If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving meal consider having guests bring a side or dessert to split up the cost or plan your meal now and purchase items as the go on sale.  The same is true for holiday baking, purchase staples such as flour and sugar when they go on sale. Planning ahead of time and having a list handy will speed up your trip to the grocery store and help you save money by purchasing non-perishables early.

-Maximize your gift budget by checking out apps for your favorite stores and looking into rebate programs for online shopping. Having a gift list ahead of time can allow you to find the best deal.  It’s always useful to purchase one or two extra smaller dollar amount gifts to have on hand so you aren’t rushing out for a last minute gift for that coworker you forgot.

-Begin planning your holiday baking before Thanksgiving. This gives you time to host a baking party or even convince a friend to come over and help you bake. It will also help you to make a list of ingredients that you need so that you don’t need to make an extra trip to the grocery store and can have most of them on hand when you need them.

-Have a couple of casseroles in the freezer. While it’s easy and convenient to just order pizza, it’s healthier and cheaper to make an extra casserole or two for the freezer so that you don’t have to worry about dinner on those busy nights. My personal fail safe is having ingredients for chili on hand and simply throwing it in the slow cooker in the morning when I know I’m going to be busy that day.

 

 

 

Hosting a Fall Party

Fall Party Ideas (2)

As Christians we often struggle with this time of the year.  Some celebrate the U.S. version of Halloween while others feel convicted to not partake in any form. However, no matter how you feel about Halloween there are still plenty of options available for getting together in October and even in November. Here are a few ideas that not only won’t break the bank, but are easy to organize.

Chili or Soup Night-have each person bring a variety of chili or a soup for sampling. If you have a few that don’t cook ask them to bring cheese, sour cream, corn chips, etc. This makes it easier on you and them. Make sure that you have plenty of counter space, bowls, and spoons for this. If doing samples small cups may be a better option. You can even come up with a fun prize for the best chili or provide the chili yourself and have others bring sides and desserts.

Pumpkin Carving/Decorating-invite people over that are wanting to carve or decorate a pumpkin or even make some sort of centerpiece. There are endless options for this, ask each person to bring a pumpkin and something to decorate with such as paint, decals, glitter, etc. While the decorating is going on roast pumpkin seeds for a snack after the clean up is over.

Show a Classic Movie-this could range from Charlie Brown to Vincent Price depending on who is invited. Have each person bring a snack or make up some of your own.  My favorite treat when I was a kid was a mixture of popcorn, candy corn, raisins, nuts, and M&M’s. Or purchase a variety of candy bars and have people chose what they want. No matter what, popcorn is a must!

Treat Exchange-who says that you can only do a cookie exchange in December? Grab a group of friends and invite them to bring some of their favorite fall treats and exchange them. You can even make a large batch of snack mix together. Make sure that everyone brings a container and you may want to have some extra on hand just in case. Set a theme for the treats for an extra unique experience such as pumpkin spice, spooky, apple, or fall fest.

These are just a few ideas to get you started on your way to celebrating during the fall season. Any of these would also be great for an invite opportunity.  Inviting someone to church is good, inviting someone into your life is great!

 

 

Baking with Apples

I’ll admit that I’m new at baking with apples. I haven’t had a lot of experience so right now the possibilities are endless on what I want to do with the 18 pounds of apples I bought the other day. I’m a fan of going to an orchard and buying apples and as luck would have it Gays Mills, WI is under three hours away from where I live. After a day filled with orchard hopping and eating way too many delicious apple sweets I thought about what I want to make with these.

I’m definitely going to want to make either apple pie filling or apple hand pies for the freezer.  There’s nothing like warm apple pie on a crisp fall day. I’m also thinking on making a couple of loaves of bread and testing out some dips. Luckily I have plenty of taste testers for my experiments!

If you’re looking for something new for Thanksgiving or even a new side dish give this one a try. It’s one of my favorite recipes that uses apples.

Slow Cooker Acorn Squash

1 whole Acorn Squash

2 T butter

1 tsp cinnamon

2 T brown sugar

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 small apple, diced

One small package dried cranberries

2 T chopped walnuts

splash of apple juice or cider

Instructions:

Prepare Acorn squash by removing outer green skin. Cut in half and remove seeds so that the squash has a hollow in the middle.  Add apple juice or cider to the bottom of the slow cooker so that it just covers the bottom.  This will help keep the squash from drying out. Place squash in juice and place 1 T butter in each half of squash in the hollow. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and place in hollow. Top with apples, cranberries, and nuts.

Cook on low 6-8 hours until squash is tender.  Stir together just before serving.  I’ve served it straight out of the slow cooker and in a dish.

For a healthier version leave out the sugar and reduce butter and add in more juice or cider.

For a crowd: squash is filling and most people take a smaller amount. One squash in this recipe feeds 3-4 people.  The recipe works best if all of the squash is on the bottom of the slow cooker and has the ingredients baked in the hollow, but I’ve also cubed the squash and placed on the bottom and layered the ingredients over the top. If you cube the squash you’ll want to keep an eye on it and may need to add more juice or cider. I’ve placed 3 squash in a slow cooker with the squash cubed.

 

My Freezer Meal Planning Part 1

It’s planning time again!  Even though I have a freezer stuffed with soup right now I’m looking ahead to my next round that I’ll be prepping in December.  Why do I plan this far in advance?  The biggest reason is that I have a hard time deciding what to make.  I have tons of great recipes, but to decide on only 13-15 (that’s how much my freezer can hold) is challenging for me.  Especially because I have a tendency to pick recipes with chicken and have that be the only meat option.  So right now I’m going through all of my recipes and picking some favorites and throwing in a few new ones as I always do.  Seriously, it can take me 3-4 weeks to make up my mind on what to make.  I don’t sit down and do it all at once 🙂

I also plan this far in advance because I know that food always goes on mega sales in November.  Having my shopping list ready to hit sale items helps me save on cost.  I haven’t spent over $150 yet on a round of prep so I feel that this method works for me to save money.  Not saving a ton of time at this stage, but I find this part of the process relaxing so I use it to chill out from the day.  I’m kind of a nerd like that.

I have a lot of people that ask me about my process and why I plan so early, so there it is!

Update: With any planning session there is usually something that comes up that causes a slight delay.  This time I had all of the recipes pulled and was making out my list when I realized that I didn’t have healthy recipes. I usually try to make most of mine healthy.  Back to planning I go (this time with eating before planning)!

Getting Started with Organizing

I have a natural talent for organizing, it’s okay if you glare at the screen as you’re reading this.  What I’ve realized from helping those that don’t have natural talent is that the most frequent barrier to organizing is where to begin.  So here are some basic steps to get you started on your organizing journey.

  1. Start small.  This is extremely important to remember when you are just beginning.  Pick a small area such as a medicine cabinet, a shoe rack, a drawer, etc.
  2. Set aside a sorting area.  Since you are starting small this shouldn’t be an issue. Counter space, a clear area on the floor, the bed, any space that has a larger cleared area will work.
  3. Brace yourself for a mess.  It will get worse before it gets better.  Take a deep breath and gather yourself.
  4. Have a trash can handy. I guarantee you will end up throwing something away, it’s easiest just to have one within reach.
  5. Take every single item out of the area that you are trying to organize and place the items in the sorting area.
  6. Throw away anything broken, that has missing pieces, that is expired, or that you will never use but you can’t donate.  Place items to be donated in clearly marked bags so that they are designated from trash and easy to toss in the car when you are ready to take them somewhere.
  7. Sort items according to likeness, pairs, or items you want handy at all times.
  8. Will the items fit in the organizing tools that you have purchased?  If not rethink if you need everything or if there is another location that the items might possibly fit.
  9. Place items neatly in bins or drawer organizers according to how you need to access them.
  10. Place the rest of the items neatly in the cabinet, rack, cupboard, etc.

Have a hard time determining how to neatly place items in an area?  Here is an example:

under kitchen sink

Items I use the most are placed at the front of the bin along with smaller items so that I can see everything at a glance. Dish items are grouped together and cleaning products are grouped together.  Shorter items are also in the back so that the bin fits underneath the disposal.