Saturday, December 31, 2011

52 Weeks of Organizing: Goodbye, 2011, Hello 2012!

The year has come to a close and although I wasn't linking up to Laura's parties each week, I was whittling away at my long list of things to do...

Since my last link up, I've organized several areas in my home, the biggest being my studio. I've also developed a serious objection to clutter... Any clutter... My once beloved piles drive me crazy! Don't get me wrong, I still have piles (too many piles) but the sight of them makes me cringe. In the past two weeks, while attempting to clean something I was supposed too, I got 100% side tracked by clutter. It derailed the entire morning and delayed getting done what I was supposed to be doing, but I now have a spotless fridge, immaculate computer station on the main floor and a clutter free fridge top (and sides).

I threw out fridge magnets... I have a habit of collecting them. Even thought I'd done away with all the other "collections", I couldn't part with my magnets (including broken ones), but when I started cleaning before Christmas, I just couldn't help myself. I think my husband thought I'd been abducted by aliens. The more I cleaned, the more I... LIKED it! Seriously, who gets addicted to cleaning out clutter!?!?

I even went so far as to create an Organizing Survival Kit for my contribution to our yearly, family gift exchange. In addition to the copy of "Clutter Rehab", I added post it notes, a baking dish organizer, and over the door organizer, a shoe organizer, Command hooks and a few other little organizing tidbits I gleaned from Laura's book. It certainly inspired me to become my own junkie, so I hope it will inspire my sister-in-law (who exclaimed "OOOO! Organizing stuff, I LOVE IT!" and proceed to tell me what a clutter bug my brother and nephews are!

I also managed to organize our Christmas decorations, the Halloween supplies, my seasonal craft stuff, my son's bedroom (and dresser - AGAIN), the pantry, the fridge, the pot cupboard, my fabric, yarn, ribbon and half of my notions. I also went through TroubleMaker's toys again and his books plus we purged our own fiction and non fiction libraries. I got rid of books, VHS movies, excess notions and fabric pieces, toys and even am waiting to give away a bunch of furniture we don't need! I don't want to wait til summer for a garage sale, so the local Freecycle has been my very best friend.

It's been an amazing year for me - organizing wise - when I started out last January, I remember thinking this was going to be a chore - and at first, it was. Then one day, I suddenly realized that I was just "doing" much of this automatically - so much so, that I quit writing about it altogether because it just needed to be done and it was getting done... Kind of like magic.

Games Area (After)                        Games Area (Before)

I've learned a few things about myself and my family (my husband is a clutter bug too but he's better at keep it organized) and our habits are all too quickly becoming our son's habits! He hates parting with anything - but is the first to point out my foibles when it comes to how a system I've selected for organizing something does't quite measure up!

For 2012, I hope to keep up the work... I also hope to incorporate more organization into my life - especially in my kitchen. I haven't completed my spice cupboard overall, but with the "back to work blues" looming, I know I need to tackle it so I can spend more time with my son and less time riffling through the spice cupboard when I'm cooking!

Thank you, Laura, for hosting this unique and amazing challenge! Thank you to all the inspiring people who've shared their journeys, visited my blog and help keep me inspired! I'll be adding some photos later tomorrow so check back to see some concrete results of changed habits!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 1: Christmas Magic

December 2007, I was 28 weeks pregnant with TroubleMaker... How do I remember that? I don't think there is a moment since we decided to have a child that I don't remember when it comes to my pregnancy, his birth and the first three and half years of his life.

What is Christmas Magic? Well, for me, the magic is my son. Christmas, as a child, was a wondrous and amazing time. I remember the anticipation, the excitement and the traditions my parents built for us kids. What I never expected was how becoming a parent would exceed every single moment of Christmas magic I remembered. Seeing his face, his joy and his excitement (and oh, is he excited) is my magic.

Today, while zipping around trying to get everything I think I should be doing done, my husband brought up NORAD's Santa Tracker - it's been running all day. This is his family tradition. As the son of an air force corporal, knowing Santa's exact position was expected growing up on the base... For me, Christmas was my Mom's pate, my Dad's meat pies and my Grandmother's buns.

I don't know all the traditions we'll build for our son, but today, it was gingerbread houses, making reindeer food and a long, lovely walk through the historic neighbourhood's looking at Christmas lights, followed by hot chocolate and his Gran reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas"

What ever your traditions - simple or complex, I wish you all a heartfelt Merry Christmas and I hope the magic finds you too!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 2: Have yourself an Appy Lil' Christmas!

I will apologize now for my cheesy title... I just couldn't resist!

What would Christmas be without more good food? I love appetizers and often (well, before TroubleMaker) my husband and I would often make a meal out of a bottle of red wine and a couple of appetizers... Growing up, my mom had a couple of tried and true appetizers that always made an appearance at Christmas time (or New Year's). One was a cheese log - and although I do remember liking it, it just wouldn't get eaten around here - the other was Salmon Pate. I don't recall where or when my Mom got the recipe but I loved it! It is light, tasty and a great way to get my husband and son to eat fish!

It whips together in a flash and it is actually made of stuff most of us (who cook) have on hand anyway! I've made it for Christmas, New Year's, showers (baby and wedding) and it always gets rave reviews and recipe requests. From start to finish, it only takes 20 minutes to put together and although you are supposed to chill it, it is just as good fresh out of the bowl as it is chilled.

Salmon Pate

7-3/4 oz Salmon
8 oz cream cheese
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp horse radish
1 tbsp onion, minced
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp liquid smoke

Mix all ingredients well. Chill and serve.


My awesome husband, who often does the shopping, found boneless and skinless salmon. This was the most ingenious find EVER! No longer am I (grossly) deboning and deskinning the canned salmon and then washing my hands repeatedly in lemon juice so the cat will quit following me around!



The Finished Product!

It is so good! And not fishy, in case you were wondering. I always forget just how much I love this pate until I make it and then I think "I should make this all year!" It's like lox but without the slimy fish! ;) Not that good lox is slimy, but it's super kid friendly and tastes great with crackers (Melba toast is the perfect partner) or a rice cracker but is nice with celery sticks or carrots too.

The other appetizer I tried tonight was a new one for me. I had some fresh spinach I wanted to use. We love spinach dips but I didn't have all the ingredients on hand that I need for the one I make so I got Googling! I like simple and this recipe fit the bill!

Baked Spinach Parmesan Dip from My Recipes! It was a hit! My husband loved it - TroubleMaker wasn't as convinced but he was so busy easy the Salmon Pate, that it didn't matter to me! Fish or spinach - both are good for him.


It was quick and easy to put together and I just used my fresh spinach - I just washed it and coarsely chopped it. Delicious! 

Need a few other ideas? I've got a few more that I use often for us and when I entertain and everyone always loves them! I hope you enjoy them too and can use them to spread a little cheer! Come back tomorrow for our last day and a little Christmas magic!

More yummy appetizers!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 3: Pretty Little Packages!

Have you always wanted your presents to be ones of envy - not necessarily because of what was inside, but because of the beautiful wrapping! I always envy store displays with bounds of curl ribbon and bouncing bows but have the Yowly One around but a permanent ban on everything curly.

The hot "bow" item this year are toys affixed to the package. In theory, I think this is an okay idea, but knowing my own son's propensity for stopping at the box, I'm not sure we'd ever open the actual present if I put a toy on the outside! I like the idea of putting little Christmas touches on the packages - baubles or ornaments that can be saved and hung on the tree for the next holiday season.

First, I took a simple piece of ribbon, tied it to the present and tied on a floral stem of holiday berries. It adds some interest by breaking up the linear line of the package. It also is likely more economical than store bought ribbon or bows - if you hit a big box craft store at the moment, all the Christmas floral stems are 70% off - stock up now and use them next year as present toppers!

Sometimes you get an odd shaped package - this one was perfectly square so wrapping it was challenging because just how much paper did I need? Well, I had too much! So I used a roll of tulle I had left over from a wedding project and tied a length around the present. Not only is it "cat" friendly, but it hides the not so lovely wrapping job! Attach a pretty ornament and you've got a gift that gives again next year.

I love bows - that is no secret so I love wrapping up a present and topping it with a beautiful bow! I love looping some ribbon around a box and topping it with my perfect bow. I also like the simplicity of the gold bow on my glass boxes - just take a meter or so of ribbon and wrap it over itself, tie with another short length of ribbon and in seconds, you have a nice bow that adds a lovely touch to any package!

Sometimes, we don't have all the lovely ribbon or embellishments, so why not a pinwheel bow on a child's gift? If you had a scrapbook brad, a hole punch and stick, you could turn your bow into another great toy for the kids! Here is a great instruction for making a pinwheel bow from MelangerieNYC!

Candy canes, pine cones from a tree or a few cookies wrapped with cling wrap and a length of ribbon all make interesting and thoughtful gift toppers. Look around your house and what do you see that might liven up those presents?

Thanks for stopping by today - only two more days until Christmas Eve! Tomorrow, I'll share a couple of tried and true holiday appetizer recipes and then on Christmas eve, I'll share a little Christmas Magic for the kids!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Countdown Day 4: A little outdoor decor!

In the day of the inflatable Christmas lawn ornament, I'd like to open your mind to a bit of an alternative... These lawn ornaments were again inspired by my husband's time spent in Arizona over Christmas.

The second year in our house, we decided to make a couple of wood silhouettes for ornamentation in our front flower beds. We got several sheets of oriented strand-board from my former place of work and I got to work with our jigsaw, drill and staple gun! I laid the sheet out on our two saw horses and used a set square to draw out the design. I then cut it out with the jigsaw. In order to mount the lights, I drilled holes, spaced relatively evenly along the perimeter of the tree shape. I picked up some outdoor paint (and I actually got this green at a miss tint price because the clerk couldn't get the shade right) and painted it with three coats.  I used LED Christmas lights and put the bulb through the predrilled hole and used our staple gun to staple the cord in place. I cut out a support piece for the back and affixed it to the tree with three large hinges. We've since added grooves to the support and we thread twine through and tie them down on garden stakes... Between the wind and the neigbour's cats, we've had to restring both the tree and the snowman twice (to replace broken bulbs)!

I made the snowman in a similar fashion, but measured out the circles of his body with a pencil tied to a string. His hat is a foam sheet cut out and cemented to a piece of cardboard! After six years, his hat is a little weathered but it keeps the snow off his head!

With a simple string of incandescent bulbs along our house, our simple little bungalow comes alive with a little bit Christmas cheer!

Thanks for stopping by today - hope to see you tomorrow for Day Three!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Countdown: Day 5 Baked Delights!

I love to bake... Some of my best childhood memories surround baking and the homemade cookies that were in my lunch kit daily. Christmas meant cookies at our house - and homemade chocolates. When I was six, my mom worked part time in a craft store so cake decorating, chocolate making and Christmas crafts were part of the fantastic memory building every child needs! Some might say I go a little overboard... Considering I didn't actually start making cookies until I met my husband (I decided cookies were far too much effort for such a small reward), I have gotten rather efficient at making them! Over the years, I've narrowed down my Christmas baking to a few key things... Whipped shortbread, Pippakarka and Ginger Sparklers are the top "must haves" in our house... Although I'm quite certain that my husband would not protest if I only made ginger sparklers... I don't know when I first made them for him - I think it was after we moved to our house (maybe that first Christmas here) but he ate himself silly on them. They are his favourite cookie (after my chocolate chocolate chip cookie) but because I only make them at Christmas, they get scooped up quickly! Pippakarka is Swedish for gingerbread - it is a traditional recipe from my maternal grandmother. Although it really isn't anyone's favourite, it just doesn't seem like Christmas to me if I don't make a batch! The whipped shortbread was a recipe I got from a dear friend. My husband likes shortbread but prefers a buttery one instead of the lighter, cookier version I grew up making. I'm excited to share these with you - I hope you and your family enjoy them just as much as we do!

Whipped Shortbread
1 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

Add all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixed until well blended. Continue to beat for five minutes. Roll into small balls and depress with 1/2 a maraschino cherry or depress slightly with fork tines and sprinkle with coloured sugar. Bake at 375 degrees Farhenheit for 10 minutes or until golden.

1 cup white or brown sugar
1 cup margarine
1 cup Roger's Golden Syrup
2 eggs
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 cups flour

Mix well and cover. Let stand over night. Roll on lightly floured surface and cut with cutters or glass. Bake at 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 10 minutes or less.

Ginger Sparklers
3/4 cup margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

Beat first four ingredients until light and fluffy. Blend in remaining ingredients. Shape into small balls and roll in granulated sugar. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.

Thank you for stopping in today - we'll see you again tomorrow for Day 4!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Countdown: Day 6 - Mantle or entryway decor!

I do not have a mantle and neither do I have a formal entrance way but I do have a cedar chest that I like to dress up and although this year, I've got TroubleMaker's Countdown calendar housed there, I'm thinking today's feature might look very nice sitting at the foot of the unit... For this quick and easy craft, you'll need a few things... Ribbon, craft glass blocks, some sparkly netting and lights. Please note, if you are using lights inside the glass block, please ensure that you use LED's. I started off planning to do this for a demo with the incandescent mini lights pictured but I changed my mind as I started to work!

I started with removing the netting from the package. The studio is now covered with sparkles so be prepared for a mess... I cut it in half and stuffed it inside the glass bock.

I then made a simple bow - I took a length of ribbon (about 1 metre) and looped it round and round. I then took another piece and tied it around the centre. I fanned it out and fluffed the loops and viola! Easy, easy bow! I hot glued it to the block. I made two but I decided it was a lot of block and no colour. To add some interest and colour, I decided to put a couple of large balls in a cylinder and layered in a few jingle bells.

Thanks for stopping by today - we're on the homestretch now! Come back tomorrow for some yummy baked treats!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Countdown: Day 7 - Simple and pretty decorating!

Welcome! Today I'm excited to be sharing with you a simple, elegant decorating idea that you can put together in an afternoon and for under $20 - less if you've got a stash of Christmas and craft stuff like me. In years previous, I've decorated our main floor as well as our family area in the garden level, however, because we are building the photo studio on the main floor, I no longer had space for the second tree and with TroubleMaker's toys being relocated to his new "play area", I could no longer decorate the banister (as seen below).

I was okay with the idea of not decorating anything on the main floor but as Christmas is approaching and knowing we will be spending lots of time in the kitchen, I had a change of heart. It's now a week until Christmas day and I have no desire to venture anywhere near a store so what could I do that would be quick, simple and tasteful? Why not at a little greenery and some visual interest in what tends to be the focal point of my kitchen? Sounds great!

The pine garland I had on hand (as I stockpiled a few of them a couple years ago) but I know they are on sale at our local big box craft store for around $4. The ornaments are ones I also had on hand - some were purchased to be used as decor (50 balls for $9.99) and the others were purchased to replace some of the really old ones we have on our tree (again, 50 ornaments for $18.99) but for this craft, you could borrow a couple from your tree! The ribbon - on hand again, but seriously, after a little shopping around this year. You cannot beat Costco for ribbon... Fifty yards for $8! I just about fell over when I saw it... I also had to stop myself from buying one of every style they had! A few floral picks (or, if you'd rather and have a pine tree handy, some pine cones) and you're set!

We screwed a few eyelet screws into the cabinetry and away we went! I wanted something simple and visually appealing. The colours work well with the warm pine and cherry woods used in our cabinetry. I would love to use "fresh" cedar boughs however, we had to hack our cedars back in the fall so I didn't have the heart to butcher them anymore for a little craft like this! The ornaments are shiny without being too bright and I hung them high enough that neither my husband or I will bonk our heads on them! It also breaks up the horrible white blind that hangs over our kitchen sink (it is on the 'Must go in 2012' list).

I am thinking of adding a bit more upstairs but I promised my lovely husband I wasn't going to go "overboard"... So how about adding a little bit of Christmas to your kitchen? What kind of space do you have and could you add just a touch of festive to it? Thanks for stopping by and come back tomorrow as we get into the last six days of our countdown!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Countdown: Day 8 - The Perfect Bow!

I love ribbon. I love making bows with ribbon. To me, decorating with bows are simple and easy and oh so elegant! Below is a helpful guide so you too can decorate with bows! Add them to your tree, banister, wreaths, presents!

Wired ribbon (I used 12’ (about 3 metres) of ribbon to make the bow illustrated)
Florists wire (24 gauge) on paddle
Wire snips

Cutting your bow
1.Decide how big/full you want your bow

2.Snip this length, allowing ½ to 1” extra for overlap

3.Cut three of this length (illustration used 20” for this)

4.Cut two more – one inch (1”) shorter (2 @ 19”)

5.Cut one more – one inch (1”) shorter than the previous (18”)

6.Cut nosing – 4 to 7” (depends on how you wrap it)

7.Cut tails – decide on how much hang you want on one side, cut 2x (leave one long piece)

Putting it all together

1.Pick up first long loop, overlap and fold loop in half to mark centre point. Pinch centre point in with overlap (accordion the pinch).

2.Using florists wire, wrap 2x around pinch, pulling very snug to secure (DO NOT CUT WIRE)

3.Repeat step #1 with next 20” piece, place immediately below first wrapped loop and wrap 1x snuggly with wire

4.Repeat with final 20” piece and place below second wrapped loop and wrap 1x snuggly. Wrap all three loops once or twice and pull tight. DO NOT CUT WIRE

5.Pick up first medium loop (19” piece) and repeat step one. Lay this pinch atop the foundation bow layer. Wrap wire around 1x.

6.Repeat with second medium loop and wrap 2x around, pulling snugly.

7.Pick up small loop piece (18” piece) and repeat step one. Lay this pinch atop the middle layer. Wrap 2x to secure.

8.Pick up tails and fold in half. Place below all loop and secure.

9.Cut about 8” of wire from florist wire paddle and set paddle aside.

10. Take nosing and loop around middle of bow. Leave it loose and overlap at back of bow.

Using wire, loop around and secure nosing. Form a loop in the wire and secure to itself (for the hanger)

11. Fluff up the bow and viola! The perfect bow!

With a little practice, you'll be whipping up bows like a pro - and the best part, no special machine or special ribbon needed! Enjoy and happy crafting! Don't forget to come back tomorrow for Day 7!

All images used with permission. All images copyright Blackstone Images

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Countdown: Day 9 - Quick and Easy Gift Ideas!

'Twas a week before Christmas and all through the shops, people were running and searching for props; the perfect gift for a mom or a dad, all were searching, searching like mad!

Today, I've got a guest post! Chris Lee works as an online researcher alongside his undergrad study, and has written this festive on behalf of Vistaprint. Take it away, Chris!
So, Christmas is nearly upon us. If (like me) you haven’t started your Christmas shopping yet, hopefully this post will give you a few ideas!

The Classics:
Wine and/or chocolate. I was tempted to call this section “fallback options” because these can seem like last resort gifts, but, as with any gift, if you put in the thought and match the gift to the personality and tastes of the recipient, they will be well received and appreciated. Try to figure out what cuisine the recipient enjoys eating and use the taste guide to select an appropriate wine, for example.

Gizmos and gadgets:
Ideal for a teenage audience, but also applicable elsewhere. Most gadget sites will have a “gift finder” or similar service which will allow you to enter variables such as recipients age, desired budget, whether or not to include mature gifts, etc. This can be a great way to find gifts you may otherwise not have considered, although try not to get too distracted and end up buying a selection of fun-but-useless gadgets for yourself!

Home-made gifts:
An old favourite. There’s perhaps nothing better than receiving a hand-crafted gift from a friend or relative. Knowing that they spent time planning and making a unique gift for you is a truly delightful feeling. This is especially fun for children, as they will take great pride in the items they make. Though this category can include almost anything, a few popular suggestions are home-made chocolates, mulled wine, photo frames, storage containers, and ornaments.

Personalised gifts:
Similar to the above, except someone else makes them for you! These days the internet is brimming with sites allowing you to make personalised mugs, calendars, t-shirts, mouse mats, etc. The personal touch on these traditional gifts will be popular whatever the occasion, but Christmas is the perfect time. Seeing a precious memory captured and printed onto an everyday item will lift the spirits of the recipient every time they see the gift.

Thanks for sharing, Chris! One thing I'd like you to know is we've actually been Vistaprint Canada customers for the past three years. We do an annual calendar of TroubleMaker (the pictures are from calendar's past) and the past three, we've ordered from Vistaprint! I was so happy when I was approached to host this post because I can honestly say Vistaprint products and customer service are fantastic!

Need another idea? How about tapping in to that "home made gift" idea? Have 10 minutes, a sewing machine and some fabric? Why not whip up one of these cozy, fuzzy pillow cases! I'll have more pictures and a bit of a tutorial later in the week! Thanks for stopping by and thank you Chris and Vistaprint for sharing some great Christmas gift ideas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Countdown: Day 10 - Luminaries!

I love luminaries. I hadn't really had much "experience" with them before meeting my husband, but I came to appreciate their simple beauty quickly once he started telling me about the Christmas he spent with his parents in Yuma, Arizona. His parents had sold up here in Canada and were wintering in Arizona. Arizona, I've been told, doesn't have snow like we do. For me, this would seem contrary to Christmas, however non-snow places have adapted! One of the things my husband reminisces about the luminaries is how they lit up the park where his parents lived. Luminary comes from the French and refers to a celestial body of light. It seems fitting to think of the little paper bags illuminated with flickering lights!

I have a cat. How is my cat related to luminaries? Well, technically, she isn't but she taught us long, long ago that we could not have candles anywhere in the house. With her penchant to knock things over, I knew we could never have "real" luminaries in our house... But, my friends, I have finally figured out a practical use for those silly "flameless" candles! I picked up a package of 10 flameless candles a few weeks ago for about $8! Add a bag of plain paper craft bags, a piece of scrapbook paper, rice and a fancy paper punch and I was in business! The bags I bought were a little tall, so I cut about 2" off the top. I used a craft knife to cut out the shapes from the scrapbook paper and I punched out six snowflakes with my craft punch (bought on sale for 40% less AND an additional 20% off coupon). I adhered the cutouts with double sided tape, opened the bag and poured in about a 1/2 cup of rice (for weight). Dropped in my candle and voila!

I made six of them and TroubleMaker made one. They light the stairwell to our main floor and look so pretty! I am very pleased with how well they turned out and just how incredibly simple and elegant they are. I love the idea of doing a bunch for outside but given I live in a North-Central Alberta, I'm not sure my little paper luminaries would withstand the typical Alberta winter. Until such a time that we can winter in the Southern United States, I think our stairwell is just the perfect home!

Thank you for sharing Day 10 with me - tomorrow, I'm excited to be hosting my first guest post! Please come back and get some ideas for personal and simple Christmas gifts! Tis the season for Link Parties so I'm sharing!
Chic on a Shoestring Decorating


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