Holiday Gift Giving!

Welcome to my "Countdown to Christmas" series where each week I share about what we are doing in our home to prepare for this most wonderful time of the year. Last week we discussed some tips on how to be prepared for the holiday season so we can be more intentional and have time to enjoy the festivities without added stress. This week I wanted to share with you the practical ways that we stay within our budget and still bring joy to our family, friends, and people less fortunate than us.

One of the things that brings us great joy is giving at Christmas time. We start our holiday season by setting a budget for Christmas.  The budget includes Christmas decorations, cards, stamps, mailing packages, our holiday party, wrapping supplies, and of course, GIFTS! We come up with a lump sum and then disperse that throughout the categories and work hard to stay within the boundaries we have set for ourselves.  This means, more often than not, I am not able to do all that I want to do on our holiday list. Example: When we were first married, I mailed out over 100 Christmas cards to family and friends. ( I have lots of relatives). Here we are, 19 years later, and I mail out 30 cards. This year to keep the budget cost even less, rather than ordering the photo cards that I normally make up, I am just going to order copies of our family picture and include it with our annual newsletter.

(FYI: This is the first year my husband and I have worked together as a team planning the holiday budget and gifts.  Usually I just take the bull by the horns and get er' done. So, please know that this is not done perfectly in our home.  We are still learning how to communicate in all areas but especially with the budget. In previous years when I did this solo, I went through these same steps though.)

This Christmas season I am doing a mixture of homemade and store bought gifts to help stay within budget.  We also set limits on the number of gifts that we give. Our children each receive 3 gifts under the tree and rather than filling a stocking full of gifts, each child receives a piece of candy in their stocking as well as a clue that leads them on a scavenger hunt around the house (one of our favorite traditions). In previous years there was an item at each clue for them to unwrap but that has become expensive.  So this year, they will just have clues that will lead them to a gift at the end of the hunt. We will still be keeping with our tradition of a scavenger hunt but we will be simplifying it a bit to meet our budget needs. :)

If things are looking meager budget wise for you, do not be afraid to tweak things.  Just because you have to stick to a budget doesn't mean you cannot give gifts. It just means you might have to think outside of the box a little bit.

Here are my gift giving steps that I use to help me stay within budget and still spread Christmas cheer.

Step 1 is to make sure you know how much money you are working with. Don't skip the budgeting part as that is vital for a stress free holiday season.  If money is tight you can still give a gift. Remember, the best things in life are free. :) Here is a great list of 100 FREE gift ideas.

Step 2:  Make a list!

I am a list maker at heart and would be quite lost without my paper and pen or my phone with a note app. Having a list helps keep me organized and gives me a game plan.  It also helps me from overspending. Throughout the year when I hear of a loved one speak of something they would like, I pop it onto my list. Some friends and family share their amazon wish lists with me, which is a wonderful way to purchase items you know your loved ones will enjoy. I keep a simple Google spreadsheet with a list of those I have to buy for, ideas, and a running total of what I am spending. It makes it really easy to just glance and see who I have left to buy for and what the remaining balance is for my holiday spending.

I absolutely love Google because it is so organized and easy.  I actually make a new spreadsheet, title it Christmas 2018 and within that spreadsheet I have different sheets.  I have a sheet for my Christmas card list, a sheet for our party with ideas for games as well as the menu and guest list, a sheet for friend gifts, a sheet for family gifts, a sheet for Advent and a sheet for our Christmas movie calendar.  It's great to have everything all in one spot so if I am out shopping I can just peek at my app on my phone and see what I still need to pick up for the Christmas party or what the name of that game was that my brother in law wanted for Christmas. :)

Step 3: Keep it SIMPLE.

No one needs to be drowning in gifts.  Children are more content with a few well chosen items vs. being overwhelmed with too many things.

I remember a Christmas years ago when my oldest son was about two years old... old enough to enjoy the wonder of Christmas morning.  He was the only child, only grandchild and only great grandchild at that time so he was lavished upon when it came to the holidays. We gave him his stocking Christmas morning and it was bursting at the seams with gifts.  In fact, we couldn't fit them all in the stocking, therefore we gave him an additional gift bag filled with stocking stuffers. He looked at all the wrapped gifts in astonished excitement. He picked the first gift out of the stocking and unwrapped a superhero toothbrush.  He was so overjoyed that he held onto that toothbrush and thanked us profusely. He then asked to not open the rest of his stocking, he was content with that simple toothbrush. We realized then and there that we may have overdone it.

In our culture it is easy to get caught up in the materialism of the holiday thinking we need to buy more and more.  However, by doing that, a) we get into debt b) we teach others that stuff = happiness c) we become stressed and sacrifice our joy. It is okay to slow it all down and make it more simple for yourself and others this year.  If you need encouragement in this area then read this post from Joyful Choices.

Step 4: Give to those in the community and those who are in need.

One of the things I absolutely love about this time of year is giving to those who least expect it. It is a practice that we try to do throughout the year but Christmas is a great time to bring a smile to someone's face.  Some ideas that we've come up with over the years are:

Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan's Purse

Sponsoring a child from a third world country.

Serving at the homeless shelter.

Visiting at the nursing home... hugs are free and these precious people want nothing more than to be thought of.

Ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.

Delivering cookies to those who serve us (police, postman, oil man...).

Buying $5 gift cards to Dunkin Donuts and handing them out to whoever pumps our gas or the clerk who bags our groceries.

Buying a bouquet of flowers and handing them to a stranger.

Finding a local family who is in need and bringing them a meal or a plate of goodies.

Shoveling for an elderly person in the neighborhood.

Buying a meal for the soldier who is standing in line behind us.

Helping a mom who needs a break.

Buying the coffee for the person behind us at the drive through.

These moments of giving do not have to end at Christmas time. As a family, we are trying to be more active in seeking out ways we can serve others throughout the year.  It brings us so much joy and we meet the most wonderful people in the process.

Step 5: Giving creative gifts.

One of my favorite gifts to give are experience gifts.  These can be as simple or extravagant as you want. Maybe you have an Aunt who LOVES craft fairs.  You could take her out for a day of craft fair hopping and maybe purchase her an ornament or take her out to lunch as her gift. Spending time with people doesn't cost money and I find it is often the best gift we can give!

I have found that one gift that my parents enjoy year after year is our family calendar. Each year, for the past decade or so, we've been giving my parents and my husband's parents a calendar of our favorite family photos/memories that happened the past year.  We try to keep it in line with the seasons so pumpkin pictures will be in October, Christmas pictures in December, and each child's birthday month features a variety of pictures of them. It is simple and yet so appreciated therefore it has become part of our Christmas tradition.

Another simple gift we give to relatives is a yearly newsletter that rhymes and include a family photo.  I used to think it was cheesy but each year my aunts and uncles expresses to me how much they look forward to that letter arriving around Christmas.  So, we continue writing it and putting it out there. I save a copy of the newsletter and a picture in a special box, with the hopes of one day compiling a binder of all of our yearly letters and photos so we can enjoy them together as a family as part of our reminiscing.  So, don't negate the simplicity of a gift, often times the simple gifts are those that are most remembered.

Need more gift giving inspiration, Real Simple has some creative and fun ideas on the holiday gift exchange.

I would love to hear about what you do for gifts at Christmas time?  Do you shop early, do you wait till Black Friday and pull an all nighter, do you make homemade gifts? Maybe rather than giving a physical gift you donate money to charity in the recipient's name.  Whatever you do, however you choose to give, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Oh, and don't forget as you pick up your gifts to wrap em'! You will save yourself copious amounts of time in the long run. I enjoy listening to Bing Crosby while I wrap. If you have a smaller family, you could choose a unique wrapping paper per person. My sister has two sons, one son has penguin wrapping paper every year and the other has polar bear wrapping paper.  Makes it easy when present time comes around to know whose is whose. :) Plus, it starts a fun family tradition that is simple and useful.

Make sure to come back next Saturday when we will be discussing music, movies, and books of the season.  

Dreaming of a white Christmas,



Countdown to Christmas Tips!

Welcome to my "Countdown to Christmas" series where each week I would like to share about what we are doing in our home to prepare for this most wonderful time of the year. I  find that the older I get, the more simplified I want things to become and most importantly, the more I want to reflect Christ to those around me. This is especially important to me at Christmas time.

I do not know about you, but for me, the holidays used to be overwhelming.  There was SO MUCH TO DO and it seemed like everyone around me was in a frenetic hurry.  I did not feel the joy of the season, in fact, it felt very opposite. People were grumpy in the stores. My friends talked about how exhausted they were by all that needed to be done and how they hadn't been able to get their shopping accomplished yet. Stress was palpable in my own home as I rushed about trying to gather up gifts, bake goodies, put on a memorable party, and also address Christmas cards, wrap gifts, and run to the post office in my free time. By the time the big day arrived I was a mix of emotions because I felt like I hadn't taken the time to enjoy the season leading up to Christmas day.  I had lost sight of what is truly important about Christmas and my joy was greatly diminished.

Things are different now.  Christmas is more drawn out in our household due to the fact that it is my favorite time of year and  I LOVE to celebrate it for as long as realistically possible without driving my family nutty. Also, I like to take extra time to prepare so the days are enjoyable and not rushed.  By planning our holiday season I am able to get things done early and have more down time with my family as we reflect on this beautiful time of year.


Here are a few simple things we do in our home to help the holiday be one of joy and not stress.

1. Budget

Sit down with your significant other and plan how much you want to spend on gifts this year.  Start setting that money aside, the earlier the better. Keep things reasonable so you don't have to work overtime to pay for Christmas.

2. Have a gift list.

I keep a simple Google spreadsheet with a list of those I have to buy for and ideas.   Having a list helps keep you organized and gives you a game plan. It also helps from overspending.

3. Take advantage of online shopping!

It saves so much time to just click and buy.  The packages are either shipped directly to my house or the recipient... boom.  Done!

4. Pick up a few gender neutral gifts to have on hand for Secret Santa's or hostess gifts.

5. If you do Advent, make sure you plan little items/activities for your calendar.

6. Traditions!

Sit down with your family and decide together what traditions you want to celebrate this year.  There are some traditions that we celebrate each year because it wouldn't feel like Christmas without them. Other traditions come and go and sometimes, we ditch an old tradition and start a new one. Allow yourself the freedom to let go of things that are no longer important to you or not working for your family anymore. The fact is, regardless whether a tradition is special or not, they take up your time, so make sure you are spending your time on that which truly matters to you and yours.

7. Choose the spot where you want your Christmas tree!

Some people have their tree in the same spot each year.  I am a special creature who enjoys rearranging furniture often (pray for my husband) therefore, our tree is rarely in the same place from year to year. To save stress, we choose our spot for our tree ahead of time so we can rearrange accordingly if needed.

8. Stock up on supplies early.

Wrapping paper, tape, gift bags, tissue paper and tags are necessities for  gift giving. If you are like me, you want the cutest paper possible and ya'll know the paper that is available on Christmas Eve is just plain ol' ugly.  So, buy early for the best selection and make sure you get plenty of tape!

9. Wrap as you buy!

It saves so much time if you wrap as you pick up gifts.   This is another area where the spreadsheet comes in handy.  I put a little note next to the recipient's name stating where I hid the gift. :)  If a person has more than one gift I note that. Example: My children each receive three gifts under the tree.  On my spreadsheet I label them gift #1, gift #2, and gift #3. When I wrap their gift I write which gift # it is on the tag and also discreetly on the back of the box (in case the tag falls off) that way I don't have to shake it and guess which present it is.

10. Plan your Christmas party date ahead of time and send out invites that way your family and friends can have your party on the calendar before the influx hits. I also like to plan the menu and games so I can buy supplies early.

11. Pick your menu for Christmas day.

 Pinterest and allrecipes have awesome ideas.  My goal is to keep it simple because I want to bask in the glory of the day. Keep your eyes out for my upcoming post on my favorite holiday recipes that keep me out of the kitchen but still creates a decadent feast.

12. Bake up some holiday cheer ahead of time and freeze it.  It makes life easier in the long run. We do almost all of our cookie baking ahead of time.

13. Stamps!

14. Mail out your holiday cards and packages early. The lines just get longer as Christmas day gets closer.

15. If you are going to DIY then get your craft on NOW. Do not save it for last minute.  Don't be the one who is crying over your sewing machine at 2am on Christmas Eve. (Been there, done that).  You can find my post on the DIY hobby horse here.


16. Clean your home!

Zone cleaning has been a life saver for me.  It makes it so my home is usually guest ready within minutes.   It is easy to entertain when you clean a little bit each day.

17. Decorate!

Enjoy this magical season for as long as possible! As you are setting out your favorite decorations if there are things you no longer love then donate them or throw them away. No need to hang onto what no longer fills you with joy.

18. Take time for you!

Plan some down time for yourself in the midst of all the planning, cooking, cleaning, and wrapping. It is okay to say "no" to others in order to carve out some time for yourself.  Take a bubble bath, ask your spouse to wrap the gifts you bought today, plan on going out to lunch with a friend before your holiday grocery shopping. :)

What are some ways you kick stress to the curb during the holiday season?

Each week I will be adding to our Countdown to Christmas by expanding on some of the above ideas. Please come back next Saturday to hear more about gift giving and how we plan, organize, wrap, etc.

So excited to be here with you,


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Laundry with a Family of 8

Hello friends,
So today, I wanted to let you in on how we stay on top of laundry with a family of eight.

I enjoy keeping my home but laundry is not one of my favorite things to do.  Folding is tedious to me and having too many stacks of laundry that are folded and awaiting to be taken care of really stresses me out.  So, I wash, dry, fold and put away a load or two a day.

For me, I connect laundry with a trigger.  In the morning when I come downstairs the first thing I do is start a load of laundry.  Just waking up and heading towards the stairs reminds me to start the laundry.  It has become habit/routine.  So, I grab a bag of dirty clothes (we have this awesome laundry organizer) and pop it in the wash. While I am getting ready for the morning it is washing happily.  Then I switch the load over to the dryer before we eat breakfast, start the second load if needed, and while the children are completing their chores, I fold it and put it on the appointed beds.

I fold laundry immediately out of the dryer so:
a) no wrinkles
b) I don't procrastinate and put it off until there is a mountain of clean laundry taunting me.

Now, I wish I had a beautifully organized laundry room to show you but reality is that we live in a wonderful farm house with cute nooks and crannies.  The laundry area is one of these nooks.


Yes, the photo above really is where the magic happens in folding laundry for eight people.  It is affectionately called the "laundry hall".  To the right there is a sliding door to a narrow closet space that has a hamper for dirty towels and shelves for cleaning/laundry supplies.  There is also our upright freezer in this hallway.  To the left you see a string with Ziploc baggies hanging from it.  Yes, I am the weirdo who washes and reuses Ziploc baggies that haven't had anything greasy or meat in them.

I love the laundry baskets that collapse in on themselves so you can fold them up and store them easily.  The one in the picture has dividers so I can put each person's laundry in a section.  I have several of these laundry baskets and they are wonderful.  Now, one day when we expand the laundry area, each person will have their own sturdy basket with their name on it and I will just fold, put it in their hamper, and they will be responsible for carting it upstairs and taking care of it and then returning the basket back to it's place in the laundry room.  However, for now, I fold them and bring the large divided basket upstairs, place piles on each person's bed, and then it is up to them to take care of them before lights out.

As far as sorting dirty laundry, I have the laundry organizer that I linked above and it has 4 bags. One bag is for delicates (mostly my laundry) and the other 3 are for everyone else's laundry.  I also have a large hamper for towels and bedding. I do not sort laundry.  GASP! I know... I know.  I can feel the judgement from across the screen but seriously, it's all good.  I use a detergent that is safe for all colors and we just go with it. It is so freeing... I dare you to try it!  It also helps that we do not own many white clothes due to the fact that we are a clumsy lot and they inevitably become unwhite (or dingy gray due to our hard water). 

Once a week I wash towels and any necessary bedding/throw blankets that need to be laundered. 

So, that is my routine and how we keep on top of the laundry monster in our home.  I'd love to hear your tips and tricks on how you tackle your dirty clothes.

Want to save a few bucks and make your own laundry detergent?  You can snag my recipe here that I have been using for almost 15 years. It is WONDERFUL and costs a few cents a load.  

Posted by Dawna

Homemade Laundry Detergent and Household Cleaners

Household cleaners are expensive and many are toxic. Over the last few years I have found many recipes for homemade cleaners and I have yet to make one that I dislike.  Here is what I use in our home on a regular basis.

Homemade Laundry Detergent (powdered)
2 cups grated soap (I use Fels Naptha)
1 cup Borax
1 cup washing soda
1 cup Oxy Clean (optional)
Mix well and store in a sealed container. Use 1 Tbsp per load.
Cost = 2 cents/load 

Fabric Softener
1/2 cup white vinegar

Add vinegar to your rinse cycle or just pour it into a Downy ball so you don't have to worry about zipping down to the washing machine in time to catch the rinse cycle. This works amazingly well and once the clothes are dry the vinegar smell is gone.  I promise you won't smell like a baby gherkin. :)

Homemade Soft Scrub
* 1/2 cup baking soda
* 2-3 Tablespoons Dish Liquid
* 1 Tablespoon white vinegar

Mix baking soda and dish liquid in a medium sized bowl. Mixture should resemble a thick frosting. Add more dish liquid as needed. Next, add the vinegar… warning, this will foam a lot at first! Stir the mixture well until it stops foaming a lot. Store in an airtight container.  An old dish soap container works well. Use to scrub counter tops, soap scum from the bathroom, the stove top, or anywhere you would normally use Soft Scrub.

Homemade Window Cleaner                                                                                                               
 *1 cup Water
 *1/4 cup white vinegar
 *2 to 3 drops Dawn dish soap
 *Spray bottle

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with pour spout  and pour into a spray bottle. Enjoy!
Works well when washing windows to use newspaper rather than paper towels... no lint left on the window and it is streak free.

Homemade Furniture Polish
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 to 4 drops lemon essential oil (optional)

Add all ingredients to a spray bottle and mix well.  I have good luck with finding spray bottles at the Dollar Store or in the travel aisle at Walmart.  When using the polish you can spray it on a lint free rag (cloth baby diapers are awesome for rags) or if you want more shine, you can spray it directly on the furniture and buff it with your rag.  

Store your furniture polish in a cool, dark place and mix it well before using.  

Do you have a favorite cleaning product that you would like to share with me, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. Happy cleaning!