Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How To Throw An Easy Gingerbread House Decorating Party...

Last year for the first time I decided to throw a Gingerbread house decorating party. I'd seen some fantastic ones online, but needed to do something I could put together quickly, as Liam was still only 2 months old and didn't have a lot of spare time on my hands. Here's what I did, it's so simple you can throw one yourself!

I found some basic gingerbread house "plans" online, used my regular old faithful gingerbread recipe and cut out the shapes for the walls and roof. Everyone got there own to assemble. This year I grabbed a cutting kit and am going to pre-assemble the houses. I'm actually really excited to see how they turn out.  

I used wrapping paper over a $2 plastic tablecloth so that I could just strip it all off and throw it away after they were done. I'm am all about easy clean up! 

On the table I had squeezy bottles filled with red, green, white and yellow icing. There were containers of red & green m&ms, chocolate freckles, crushed candy canes, while mini candy canes, musk sticks, mini and large marshmallows, chocolate and caramel chips. 

I also made up a few dozen sugar cookies for the kids to decorate since we were hosting a neighbourhood Christmas party the next day. Less work for me and more fun for the kids. 

Everyone had their own way of approaching their house. Some assembled first, some decorated individual pieces, and some did a mix of both. It was so fun letting them just explore their creativity. 

We had Christmas music on in the background, watched a Christmas movie and talked up the excitement for the season big time. 

We even had a second round with some other kids. They helped me finish of decorating gingerbread cookies as well. Such a great bunch of kids, all of them! 

I can't wait to do it again this year, hopefully I will remember to get some pictures of it all set up before the chaos begins. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Make A List, Christmas Planning Tip # 6...

Christmas Bucket List

It is such a horrible feeling to get to the end of the festive season only to remember all the things you had wanted to do (or worse, had promised to do). It moves so fast that some of the smaller, yet still meaningful things, can be forgotten. There is really only one way around it.

Christmas Planning Tip # 6

Make a list, a bucket list of sorts, of all the Christmas activities you want to do. I usually just write mine down in my diary, but sometimes it pays to have a reminder right in front of your face, so making a pretty one and printing it out works too. Here's a look at what's on mine.

Write letters to Santa and post them, do them early and you can even get a response. Check with your postal service to find the address to mail it too and the deadline.

Photos with Santa and looking at the Myer Christmas windows in the city.

Myer Christmas parade pantomime in the city.

The Christmas light express - we make Spanish hot chocolates and caramel popcorn, put the kids in their Christmas pajamas and cruise the local Christmas light displays while listening to Christmas music.

Christmas movie nights. We have a stack of Christmas movies that we watch each year, once a week we do a movie night. We all wear our Christmas pajamas, snuggle up on the couch (with the a/c on) eat popcorn and get into the spirit. Since we have so many movies to get through we also put some on in the background during the day, it makes dishes or housework even more fun when you have the grinch or jingle all the way on in the background.

Christmas craft days. Each year in the post Christmas sales I grab up cheap supplies for the following year. I find a couple of crafts for the kids to do on Pinterest and add them to the list. I don't tell the kids what they are until the day though! It stops them from hounding me and plus I like to keep it a surprise.

Christmas carols, some years we get to attend other years we just watch on television.

Buy and deliver groceries to the local church for their Christmas hampers for those in need.

Delivery Christmas gifts to the local neighbourhood friends.

Gingerbread house and sugar cookie decorating party.

Christmas Party. It doesn't have to be a huge production or perfect, it's about spending time with friends.

Read Christmas stories. We have some gorgeous books including one we bought for Mia's first Christmas which makes it even more special. It's even sweeter now as Mia and Ryan both love to read to each other and the little ones too.

Make reindeer food. With extra glitter so they know where to land of course!

Bake cookies for Santa. They have to be fresh for Christmas Eve. We hear he likes double chocolate chip.

Do you make a Christmas bucket list? It doesn't have to be crazy over the top, at Christmas the simple things are often the best. 

Missed out on my earlier Christmas planning tips? Catch up here, here, here, here and here!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fresh and Clean, Christmas Planning Tip #5...

Let's face it whether you are hosting Christmas festivities at your place or not, it is the one time of year where you are more likely to have extra visitors, house gets or people just dropping by. The last thing you want is to have to worry about is the state of your house. We all know that feeling of dread when you hear a knock on your door and your place resembles a bomb site, which if you have kids will likely be often.

Christmas Planning Tip #5

First things first. You have got to work on what your priorities are. I like to do this by looking at what I don't mind being missed. For me that's thing like dusting, windows and glass doors (except for the front of the house) and ironing. Those things are low on my list of priorities, I'm not saying they don't need to get done, I just do them when I get a chance after other things are handled or the night before people are coming over! 

From there you need to work out what is most important. For me it's made beds, laundry, main living area floors and the kitchen. The whole house feels chaotic to me if the beds are unmade, there are piles of dirty laundry and the kitchen is a mess. And since I have a 1 year old and a two year old who both love to put everything they find in their mouths, the main living area floors is a no brainer.

Now before I continue I should tell you my top tip, there is no point cleaning around clutter, You've got to clear it out. I find it easy, I don't have an attachment to stuff. I have a few sentimental items I love, but everything else is just stuff. If it's not serving a purpose or it doesn't make me / us happy, why should it be taking up space and inevitably need to be cleaned. Put simply with four kids and a husband who travels with work, I just don't have time for that! 

Now I set up a plan. Before bed I make sure the kitchen is clean, toys all put away and any random things back where they live. Mornings go better starting with a clean slate. Every morning the kids get up, have breakfast, get dressed then make their beds. Connor even tries to! I just go along after him fixing it up. I have coffee, start a load of washing, pack lunches if the kids have school, then get dressed and make my bed. Mia and Ryan take turns unloading the dishwasher. Then I load it straight up with all the breakfast dishes. Give the benches a wipe and then the kitchen is done. Our kitchen opens straight out onto our dining and lounge rooms, right in the centre of our home and if it's messy it just flows through. 

Next I hang out the washing, scoop up all the toys that have been taken out from Mia and Ryan's room by Connor and return them, check the kids toilet and squirt in a little toilet bleach, wipe the floor with a disinfectant wipe (because boys), wipe the bathroom counter and sweep or vacuum the floor. I mop our floors after lunch when both little guys are napping so it actually has time to dry without little footprints. In between I spot clean with a microfibres cloth and hot water. Simple but effective. Now the house is clean enough in case of surprise visitors. 

It may seem like a lot but the reality is it doesn't take long at all! I save all my deeper cleaning like scrubbing the bathrooms, walls, skirting boards etc for Connors kindy days. I wait till Liam's nap time and put some music on and go as fast as I can. But over Christmas there isn't always time for a proper cleaning. If I'm really slammed I will even spray the showers with power foam after the kids get out and just go back and rinse it later. Does the job when you are in a pinch. Between that and by following my daily routine I never have to feel that dread of hearing a knock on the door and being so embarrassed and apologetic about the state of my house.

I hope the tips help you too! Any awesome quick and easy housekeeping tips you want to share, please leave me a comment.

Have you read the earlier posts in my Christmas Planning series? Make sure you catch up on my tips for gift buying, wrapping, Christmas card sending and food planning. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Everyone Eats At Christmas, Christmas Planning Tip #4...

Welcome back. How is your Christmas planning going? Here's hoping that my first three planning tips about gift buying, wrapping and card sending have helped you to stay on track and get things ticked off. Today we are talking food.

Not everyone hosts Christmas at their place, you may just have to be taking a dish or two to whereever you are celebrating, but most people still eat at least one meal at their own home on Christmas day. And with supermarkets being just as busy as department stores, it pays to have it all planned out.

Christmas Planning Tip # 4

Plan out your meals for Christmas. I plan all my meals each week, but you really need to be on top of it during the festive season.

I start by working out all the celebrations that we will be attending where we need to take a dish or plate of food. Kindy parties, class parties, family christmas lunch, neighbourhood party, friends parties. Then I add in events we are having at our own home, Christmas Tree day, gingerbread house and sugar cookie decorating party, Christmas Eve dinner, breakfast and dinner on Christmas Day. Next I add in the extras we do as our little family, weekly movie nights, Christmas Eve breakfast, and Christmas lights viewing treats. Once I have all the events nailed down, I decide on what I am taking or serving at each. For example:

Movie nights: popcorn, m&m's, peppermint hot chocolate, Christmas mix, gingerbread cookies.
Christmas tree day: turkey, baked ham, mashed potato, green beans, sweet potato casserole. Pumpkin & pecan pies (I make double here and freeze one of each for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).
Class parties: strawberry Christmas trees and candy cane brownies, gingerbread reindeers and stars
Kindy party: honey bread men
Gingerbread house decorating party: houses x X number of children which I make, sugar cookies, squeezie bottles of icing, topping eg m&ms, choc chips, sprinkles, candy canes, mini marshmallows, juice / cordial, fruit, sandwich platter
Neighbourhood party: sugar cookies, Christmas tree cheese plate, watermelon
Friend party: barbecue, potato salad, tossed salad, Christmas tree cheese plate, fruit plate, cupcakes
Christmas Eve breakfast: Alfie our elf likes to bring donuts. 
Christmas Eve dinner: turkey, baked ham, mashed potato, green beans, sweet potato casserole, dinner rolls. Pumpkin pie. 
Christmas lights drive: Spanish hot chocolate all round and caramel popcorn for the kids. 
Christmas breakfast: bacon and eggs with mushrooms and spinach. 
Family Christmas lunch: pumpkin, spinach, walnut and feta salad and bacon ranch pasta salad (I make double and save half for dinner with the other side of the family).
Family Christmas dinner: ham & turkey platter, potato salad, pasta salad, dinner rolls. Pavlova and pecan pie. 

Now I have them decided I list out the ingredients. Then each week from November I add a handful of those ingredients to my regular shopping list, obviously leaving the fresh fruit and vegetables till the week of Christmas. I buy the turkeys early and freeze them. As much as I can I build into my regular shopping trips and budget. If you space it out it's really manageable! 

This week I added the pecans, walnuts, mini marshmallows, candy canes and cordial without it making any impact on spending. 

Next week I will be picking up a turkey, frozen pie cases and extra dried herbs and spices. 

By planning it all out, it really takes the pressure off. Try it and see how much of a difference it makes to you. And when you combine it with regular meal planning you will save not only time but money, which makes it a win / win situation! 

Have you started planning out your festive menus yet? What are some of your favourite dishes?

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