Saturday, November 27, 2010

Entertaining on a Budget

This time of year, lots of us host parties for families and friends.  I’m sure this can really add up sometimes.  I’ve seen a zillion shows teaching you how to set a table with a fancy centerpiece and special themes etc.  I can’t imagine hosting a dinner party like that, nor am I sure I would want to be at one!

Having a party at our house pretty well always means pot luck.  As long as I can remember our group of friends has been doing it this way, and having a great time while we’re at it.  Nobody comes to my house in a cocktail dress, or wears their high heels while they’re here.  That would definitely cause a safety hazard trying to move around all the people, kids, and toys! Excuse me while I pause to laugh at the mental image of this!!  Usually the person hosting provides the meat dish, though not always.  Those visiting bring salads, veggies, munchies or desserts.  Some people bring some of each!  In fact, if you’ve had a busy day, you and your whole family could probably attend without bringing anything and we’d STILL have too much food.  It’s an ongoing joke that this group of friends has never been together and been hungry!

We have some hilarious memories from past get togethers.  Once we cooked a huge fancy supper for all the pastors and staff of our church, as well as their spouses.  Everyone made a different dish to contribute.  We arranged babysitters, and drove them all to a friend’s acreage to dine in front of the fire.  One guy dressed up as the most hilarious looking  waiter, with his pants hitched up to his armpits, a wig on his head and his back bowed, proceeded to serve everyone in a bad Italian accent.  We had the only kid in the group then, our son.  He was about eight months old and spent the entire night on Shawn’s shoulders.  We ate pizza in the kitchen and laughed ourselves silly that night.  One person forgot their camera and had some hilarious pictures to show for it…the toilet bowl (clean, I swear!), Shawn’s fleet net…  I still laugh at those pictures.

We’ve had pot luck fondues.  Everyone came and brought a unique fondue.  I have actually needed the three fondue pots I got from our wedding all at the same time!! We’ve even had unplanned potlucks! We call that “whatcha got”, and it usually happens like this: Its 5 pm, and suddenly a friend realizes they need Shawn’s help with something, say butchering a deer for example.  We bring whatever we had started cooking for supper to the friends house. With they were cooking and what we brought, there will be enough for all families.

Yes, when we’re hosting a party, we do tend to cook complicated dishes.  And that probably costs us more than our average weekday meal, but we love it.  I mean I love to throw a party!  We’re getting ready to host what is usually our biggest party of the year, Grey Cup.  We throw out an invite for everyone to come over, soak in the hot tub and watch it in HD on the big screen.  Shawn smokes ribs and burgers ( yes, we smoke the burgers).  Last year we fed 32 people, including kids.  We shipped the kids to the basement toy room, and crammed into the upstairs living room.  It’s 12X14 and we packed three couches in there for the event.  Yup, it was snuggley, and we had to open every door and window, but it was a blast!!  Shawn sets up a TV by the hot tub, and one at the BBQ station, so no one misses a minute of the game. It was NOT a happy house when the Riders lost!  This year, we’re expecting a houseful again, and I’m sure it will be loud in here!  We hired babysitters to play with the kids.

I’d like to think my house is welcoming.  I put a lot of effort into cooking fun things.  It takes us three days to make all the home made rubs, spices and sauces plus smoke the ribs.  But I think, I hope, what people look forward to most is relaxing here. I’m just glad you came.  You don’t have to worry !  Yes, you can eat in the living room.  Spilled something on the carpet? Who cares, it’s old and stained already, and I have a carpet cleaner.  Drop something on the couch? Bah! Its leather, it’ll wipe off! Dropped it on the floor? Uh, the dog will eat it!  Break my glassware? It’s cheap, I got it at IKEA and I have a cupboard full!  I have extra crocs and housecoats for your trip to the hot tub, and someone always forgets their socks somewhere!  I have never given, or expected a hostess gift at a party with our friends, but I also never worry about having to impress or outdo my friends either.

I don’t know if any of you reading feel pressure to throw a Martha Stewart-like party, but I’d encourage you to just relax and enjoy your friends.  They didn’t come to judge you, or your house.  Sit down and stop fussing! They came to be with you!

A few snaps from last year’s Smokin’ Grey Cup BBQ

DSC_0209                               20 lbs of moose and deer burger went into the smoker

Nov036                    Ribs, tenderloin, backstrap and burgers all cooked and ready to dig into!

Nov047                                               Some, though not all, of our guests!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Who’s on Your Christmas List?

How do you decide who to buy for, and how do you set the budget?

Surprisingly enough, this has never been a fight for my husband and I.  We’ve never thought that “well we bought for your sister, and spent this much, so we have to spend that on my sister!”.  Our family groups are so spread out, and not interconnected, and there are SEVEN of them! Yup! Seven different ”sides” of the family.

Each of those seven groups has such different traditions, and expectations that we just do for each family what suits that group.  Our siblings are so varied, in ages, where they live and just how they are related to us that it makes sense just to decide on a person by person basis.

Each parent and their spouse gets a photobook, and so do all the grandparents. Even those that are related to us through marriage, because we are just as close to them and love them the same anyway.  Latching onto the photobook idea has simplified this for me!  

We buy for my sisters, who live on the opposite side of the country from me.  There is a large age difference between us, as they are from my dad’s second marriage, but I’ve never thought of them as my “half” sisters.  These wonderful ladies are still teenagers, and a lot of the years Shawn and I have bought for them, they were still kids.

I stopped buying for my step-brothers when we all became adults.  Now that all three of us have kids, we do buy for each other’s kids, which is more fun anyway!

Shawn’s siblings took a bit more time to work out.  Once his brother had kids, we stopped buying for each other as adults and just bought presents for the kiddos.  However, his sister , while an adult, was single some of those Christmases.  So we bought for her, even though we didn’t buy for his brother.  See? person by person basis, hee hee!

In my father-in-law’s family, everyone over 18 ( every one now except our kids) goes into a name draw.  We used to set a spending limit, but once all the cousins and spouses were in the draw it got really hard to know what to get each other.  Two years in a row, I drew the wife of Shawn’s cousin.  I had only met him once, and her not at all then!  A few years ago, we settled on the idea of buying calendars.  Everyone needs a calendar!  Plus, it made it even simpler to mail when some of the cousins lived in Egypt and Europe!  So this year, Shawn’s aunt is on our list.

We don’t really exchange gifts with our friends anymore.  There are just a couple families that our kids give small gifts to their kids.  These are practically cousins to our kids.  We tend to just get together and have a nice evening instead.

And that’s about it for our list. 

Did I miss anyone??  Shawn and I limit what we get for each other, but we each help the kids pick out something small for the other.  Then of course, there are the things we, and Santa, buy for the kids.

It’s taken us a few years to simplify it down to this, but Christmas is so much less stress for us!  I actually enjoy getting everything wrapped and ready to mail.

Who is on your list?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful Thursday: Christmas Music

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Lately I’ve been thinking back to when my husband and I first moved here and started attending church.  That Christmas there was a lady named Jill playing the piano at church during the worship service.  She took a moment to share with the congregation why she loved the music at this special time of year. “ It’s the only time of year when we get to hear songs about our saviour played everywhere in public!”.  And you know, she was right.  All other times of the year, songs about Jesus are not played over public radio stations, or in most stores.

Now, instead of getting tired of the many Christmas songs out there in malls and stores, I hum along and think how great it is that people are hearing at least some Christ centered music whether they consciously think  about that or not.  I really love the rich tones and beautiful lyrics of Christmas carols!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beating the Budget Busters: Christmas:Stockings

Ok, so we all know Christmas is a huge budget buster, and there is just no way I can cover it in one post.  The first thing on my mind is stocking stuffers.

I want to keep it to around $20 per pretty red sock to fill each kid’s stocking.  When I first started trying to come up with a number this sounded absurd to me.  How can I need  that much?!? It seemed too high.  But unless I am going to fill it with junk that will break right away anyway, there is just no way around it.

Some of the items I’ve been picking up include hair brushes, elastics and clips for the girls( around $13 for all of them).  Paint and brushes to divide up among all three( $15 all together), their favourite kids tooth paste ( $3), and hot wheels( color changers ones, which are $4 each) are also in my stash.  A refill for Colleena’s easy bake oven was almost $7 all by itself!  I have a Lego magazine subscription for Baden, which I got for free ( you can check it out at too) and will roll up the first one and stick it in his stocking too.  Some dress up items, like a mini parasol and pretty purse are also in hiding for the girls.

In years past, I have also made a stop at value village.  Those little bags full of items matched up together make great stuffers!  I’ve gotten a whole bag of model horses, which are over $10 each for $1.99.  Also, the bags of gaudy jewellery make great stuffers as dress up items for the girls.  Farm animals, Barbie furniture, and tub toys are all items that get lumped together and sold for a couple bucks.

Other things I have considered are new tubs of play-do to refill their supply, markers and stickers, coloring books and papers.

I always top off the stocking with a few candies, a candy cane, and of course, a Christmas orange.I think I have enough stuff hidden away for the girls, and might have to get just another thing or two for Baden, but I am almost done the stockings!!

What are your stocking stuffer ideas?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thankful Thursday

thankful thursday_thumb[2] This Thursday I am thankful for Thankful Thursdays.  Stopping to think each week of something that I am thankful for makes me see good in every week or month no matter what challenges or setbacks we’ve had.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How Many Christmas Presents?

Over the last couple of years, while Shawn and I have been trying to simplify our Christmas list, we have steadily cut down on who we buy for, what we spend, and how many things we buy for someone.  I love giving gifts, so it’s hard for me, but in reality we just can’t afford to buy for everyone we’d like to.

We agreed that each kid would get one gift from us, one from siblings ( the girls go together to pick out one thing for their brother etc) and one from Santa.  The thing is, it’s hard to stick to this!  Yes, it’s all they need, since they have a million things already.  Besides they have a lot of grandparents and great-grandparents as well as aunts and uncles who they also get gifts from.

It’s me who has a hard time sticking to this.  The problem is, with just one planned item, I feel like it has to be THE perfect present, the one thing they have really been wanting all year.  I put a lot of pressure on myself to get the best gift, since I am only buying the one thing.  Also, there is inevitably some cute thing I see, after I have already purchased what was going to be the only present, some great price or some toy that wasn’t released until December.

In reality, we end up buying the kids one “big” present, that thing they have been wanting, and a couple of other smaller items.  Santa does the same.  While we insist they are only allowed to ask Santa for one thing in their letter, they get a couple little things from him too, as well as their stockings.  Things like the board game that goes to all of them are also wrapped and under the tree.

At our house, Christmas is about Christ, and not the commercial stuff, and cutting down on the number of things we give is part of keeping our focus in the right place.  But it is also our pleasure to give our kids good things that they would like.  I love seeing their faces when they realize they got the thing they were hoping for.

How many presents do you plan on?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gift Traditions

Every Family has Christmas gift traditions.  Do you open one on Christmas Eve, and the rest in the morning, or all of them on the eve?  Do you fill stockings?  Do you have a tradition of drawing names among the adults, or of making homemade items?  We all celebrate Christmas gifts with traditions that can be unique to our family.

One tradition I loved growing up was from an Aunt of mine.  Every year she gave me a nice set of pyjamas and some perfume or shampoo that was way more pricey than I would  normally use.  Each year I looked forward to her present and always opened it on Christmas Eve so I could wear the new pjs….except I had to rethink that once I got into my teens and she sent me a bra and panties set.  Not what a 14 year old wants to open in front of her brothers and male cousins!  Okay, but that memory makes me laugh now!

We’ve started some tradition gifts of our own too.  Each year since having kids, we’ve given them a board game for Christmas.  I can’t say enough good things about them.  So good for kids, fun for us, and a great activity for family nights.  It’s getting a little harder now that our kids are further spread out in age and abilities.  Baden loves chess.  Lily is not interested in anything except throwing the pieces around.  Colleena is somewhere in between, loving games like Candy Land, Guess Who, and Life on the Farm.  Othello has been a good compromise between the older two, since it’s strategy is like chess and appeals to Baden, but it’s simplicity attracts Colleena too.

Over the last few months, both Baden and Colleena have been interested in “mystery solving”.  We’re reading them Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.  I got out my old “Clue” the other night, and we played it with the kids.  Colleena had to be on a “team” since her reading, at 4, is limited and she couldn’t read all the words on the clue sheet each player gets.  They both loved it so much, however, that it sparked an idea for my Christmas list.  This year, their annual board game will be Clue Junior.  I’m looking forward to hours playing it and solving the mystery of the missing carnival prizes.

Do you have a tradition gift that you give your kids each year?  What are your favourite children’s board games?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Movie Clubs: Worth It?

About six months ago, we joined the Disney Movie Club.  Even I am not sure what possessed me to do it, since I am usually leery of movie/music/book clubs.  Maybe they had some great promo, I don’t know.

Whatever caught my attention, I thought it through.  Our family buys lots of Disney movies.  I like the classics most, and every once in a while, I like the new ones too.  When we signed up, we got  7 movies, for  a total of 13 dollars ( shipping, discounts etc).  I ordered all classics, like Mary Poppins, Fox and the Hound, Aristocats, Sword in the Stone, and others.  I ordered a couple of live action ones too, from the Narnia series, since that is a set I’d like to collect as a family.  After the initial order, you have to agree to buy four more movies in the next two years.  I did not anticipate a problem, since we seem to buy more than that anyway.

Six months down the road, we have ordered our four mandatory movies, and then some.  We got to pre-order Beauty and the Beast, and now we get to buy movies at an even steeper discount.

I think my favourite thing is being able to buy classics that you don’t always find stocked at the store, like the original Winnie the Pooh series.

This year, as most years, each kid gets a movie they’ve been wanting for Christmas.  I got great deals on three movies for the kids : Beauty and the Beast; Winnie the Pooh: the Search for Christopher Robin; and a Bug’s Life.

For our family, it was definitely worth it.  Look into it, you might like it too!  And hey, if you want to sign up as my friend, I’ll get a free movie too!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kids Allowance

Reflecting today on kids and money.  I definitely think it’s our job as parents to teach our children proper attitude towards and handling of money.  As Christians we need to teach them that God provides for us, and we are to be wise with money without loving it. 

I didn’t learn great money lessons as a kid, so I have been reading, and talking with friends about ways to teach our kids about money.  One of the ways we have decided on as a family is an allowance.  At our house, it starts in grade one, and kiddo gets 50 cents a week per year of age.  For our son, that’s three dollars a week.  Kids get an allowance to learn how to save and spend money, not because they did chores.  That would make chores optional.  Chores at our house are done because you are part of the family and are not optional.  We chose that amount because it’s enough that he can choose to buy a treat with it, or save it instead.  We don’t want him to have so much money that he can just get everything he wants all the time.  That wouldn’t teach him about saving and waiting and looking for a good price on something.

It works out to about $12 a month, and we pay him monthly.  We started with weekly, but we’d forget to have the $3 in change each Sunday.  So instead, we transfer the $12 from our account to his on the first Sunday of the month.  Putting it in an account also means that change is not being lost all over the house.  The thing he most wants to buy is new games for his DS, and used ones are $20-25, so it takes him two months to save up for one.  I think that works well, it means he has to wait, but not so long that it discourages him.

I was proud of him when he got the DS in the first place.  He sold some of his old toys that he didn’t play with anymore, and saved some allowance, and was able to buy a used DS for himself. 

Another nice side effect has been awareness of what things cost.  When he was being too rough with an item, I asked him what he thought it might cost.  The answer was $40.  “Now, if you break that, and had to pay to replace it, how long would it take you to earn $40?”.  He’s good with math, and knew in a moment “4 months mommy”.  Without saying another word, he stopped beating on the item.

We decided not to give an allowance to our 4 year old yet.  There were several reasons.  First, she has nothing she’d like to save up for, so the concept would be lost on her.  She also loses a lot of the change anyway.  Plus, it’s nice for our son to have some lines that give him more privileges that come with being older.  We’ve told her that Baden is in charge of having money left for special treats, but mommy and daddy are still in charge of having money for her treats.  If we walked to the store for a treat as a family, we would tell our son to bring money from his piggy bank, but we would give our daughter money from our wallet when we got there.  She’d still get to pick her own treat, and if any is left over, it can go in her piggy bank when we get home.  She can look forward to this extra privilege when she starts grade one, and they can both look forward to a “raise” when their birthday rolls around.

There are also optional jobs that the kids can do to earn extra spending money.  We’ve chosen two things so far, one is moving a load of laundry ( from washer to dryer, or from dryer to basket).  I picked this one, because I have front load washers they can reach easily, and because I hate bending down to dig out that last sock which is always stuck in the back of the washer machine.  The second job is pairing up socks.  As I fold laundry, I toss all socks in a little basket, and when it gets too full, I offer the kids the chance to pair them up.  Apparently this is good for their math and thinking skills, but really I just like the help.  They earn 25c for either job, and I pay them immediately out of a change jar we have around, so I don’t forget.  They are very excited to get a quarter because they know that’s the coin they need for the candy machines, hee hee hee!

One thing I would like to work on a bit more is the idea of tithing.  I want our kids to learn that as an expression of gratitude and an acknowledgment that everything we have really comes from God, we give 10% to the church.  Shawn and I already do this, and we let our kids see this.  I would like to make a focus on each child taking their 10% to give to the collection during Sunday school.

So that’s where we are with kids and money.  I want to teach them better, so they don’t have to repeat the mistakes with debts that Shawn and I made.

How do you deal with kids and money?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thankful Thursday – The Craft Closet

thankful thursday_thumb[2]
This Thursday, I am thankful for my stash of craft supplies.  Lots of times, I hate having to organize them, and I was tempted to chuck a lot of them when we moved.  There are more times than I can count that having this mix of stuff has saved me time and money.  If I want to do a craft with the kids, or make a gift for someone, and even sometimes fix something, I usually have that odd crafty bit that we need.  I have unusual stuff, and stuff everyone’s got.  I have stamps, material, sewing supplies, knitting and crochet supplies, cross stitching stuff, wallpaper sample books, scrapbooking papers markers and cutting tools.  I have fabric markers and paint, I have beads that you string and beads that you melt.  I have letter sealing wax and enough tissue paper to choke an elephant. I have jars of buttons! I have glue and a glue gun, tapes and pins.  I have a zillion stickers, and that’s just my stuff!  My kids have pipe cleaners, googly eyes, clay, bells, wire, stamps, paint, feathers, pompoms, and buckets more.  Ha-ha, and that’s just what’s in the house.  Shawn’s workshop is a treasure trove of woodworking supplies, metal working and all kinds of creative building materials.

So from now on, instead of bemoaning the room full of craft stuff, I am going to remember all the great crafts, activities and gifts I have been able to make because I have this assorted collection of things!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Moving on Already

As I take down the Halloween decorations, and wrap up the awesome time we all had, I have to admit I am already preparing for Christmas in my mind.  I have been an early shopper for years, for several reasons.  First, I have to mail gifts to both coasts and the mail is cheaper and faster if you mail it the last week of November.  Seriously, the difference between Nov 30 and Dec 1 is surprising.  Also, I make a lot of gifts by hand, and that takes time and preparation.  Besides, in our area of the country, November feels like winter and time to think about winter holidays.  Shopping over a longer period of time helps me to spread the costs over several pay periods and lessen the impact on the budget.

So before I embark into all the many things I do for Christmas, I wanted to take a DSC_0098minute and celebrate the success of our Halloween this year.  I set out to have a free Halloween, and did it!  The kids loved their costumes this year.

Lily was a “little house on the prairie” girl.  So cute!  This outfit, straight out of the dress up bin, got her lots of OOOs and Ahhhhs.  She loved trick or treating, totally understanding the concept quickly.  At each house she said “ treeeet  treeet?”  and “peeze peeze?” Very sweet!!


Colleena was Snowwhite, also straight out of the dress up bin.  She loves the Disney Princesses, because, of course, she herself is a princess!  She was a real trouper trick or treating, going as far as her big brother who was driven to get the biggest haul ever.  The dress fit right over her winter coat. Ahhh, Halloween!


Baden’s costume was a bit more work.  We’d originally planned to use an old umbrella for wings, but we
could not get the fabric dyed right, or cut right, or to sit nicely on his shoulders.  It was a total failure.  We had to take a night to regroup and re-think the whole plan.  Shawn was thinking of things we had around the house, and came up with garden landscape fabric, or weed-stop. 
The light material did not weigh down the wings, or need help to support it.  We hot glued two layers together, creating a neat effect of having ribbing in the wings. Then we just safety pinned them to his coat.  The light shined through just a tiny bit and the material looked gauzy.  They turned out great!  Baden was able to wear them to the indoor carnival, then add layers underneath and be perfectly warm for trick or treating.  He was so happy with this costume, and was proud he was the only bat.DSC_0939

At the start of the Halloween season, I was feeling disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to decorate as much as I usually do ( over the top).  I was out for a walk with the kids when I saw some cute little ghosties made from stuffed white socks.  What a great use for those mismatched socks.  Except, none of mine are white, because white socks do not cross the threshold of this house!  However, I do have a closet FULL of material left over from projects, bought at sales and stock piled over the years.  I even have some from when my mother in law cleaned out her stash!  Surely, I could find something!  I found a large piece of white-ish material, and cut out a bunch of circles, and stuffed them with the clipping bits from in between the circles.  I let the kids draw faces on them all, and hung them up around my house.  So cute! And free!  It was a great craft to do as a family.  Now, I will simply untie them, throw out the stuffing and stick them back in my decorations box for next year.  The kids love seeing things they have made proudly displayed around my house, and it was a great free craft.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quick Update on Some Good Deals

I LOVE Christmas, celebrating our Saviour’s birth, being with family and friends.  It’s one of my favourite times of the year, but let’s be honest, it’s also the mother of all budget busters.  I’m already on a mission to beat this budget buster!

Just wanted to toss out a quick post to let you know that shutterfly   ( ) is having a 50% off sale on 7X9 photo books until tomorrow.  These make awesome Christmas presents, and I also have 3 10% off coupons that you can use.  Let me know if you want one!

Click on this link to see the album I made for Shawn for Christmas.  When I joined shutterfly, I got to make an 8X8 hardcover album for free.  This is his Christmas present this year.

Also, check out Vista Print ( ) right now photo calendars are free!

Both sites have other great deals and offers! 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cost Break-Down : Chocolate Milk

Ok, the idea for this one came from a friend of mine who said she often buys the 4L jugs of chocolate milk for her family as a treat, since it can’t cost that much more than adding the syrup to it at home.  Honestly, I like the taste of the pre-made stuff better, so I bought a jug in my last grocery run, and set out to compare.

The first problem I ran into was that the Nesquick bottle does not actually say how much you are supposed to use!  I guess they figure you should add as much as you like.  To create a standard, this is what I did.  According to Nestle ( who uses the Canadian Food Guide to base this on) a serving of milk is one cup, and a serving of Nesquick, according to the nutrition label is one tablespoon.  To make sure this is close to what one might actually use, I mixed a glass to taste.  It was about what I had normally been putting in when I mixed it for my kids, really saturated, but none left in the bottom of the cup either.

So, if one cup is a serving of milk, there are 16 cups, or servings in a jug of milk.  16 times one tablespoon, or 15ml, is approximately 240 ml.  That’s about half the jug of the 500ml bottle of Nesquick, which costs $4.97

Here’s the breakdown:  If you took one jug of 2% milk ($3.97) and added enough syrup ($2.50) it would cost you $6.47!  Buying the 4L jug of chocolate milk is $4.89!  So I guess I’ll be buying the pre-made jugs more often.

Also, if I send chocolate milk in the school lunches, instead of buying it through the milk program, the difference is: $0.75 at school, $0.40 using syrup and milk, or $0.31 for the pre-made.

I gotta admit, this one surprised me!

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