This time of year is always so busy. There are presents to buy and wrap, cards to write, the house to decorate and prepare for guests, parties and Santa, plus, plus, plus! It is hard to find the time to get it all done.

That is why I am taking a little extra time this holiday to slow down and breathe. Starting today I am going to let a few things go and focus on what is truly important. It is time for family and friends. It is time to reach out to those in need in my community. It is time to be kind to myself.

So, I am going to let go of the notion that I can get it all done. And here are a few ways that I think we all can do that;

  • Trim the calendar. Those extra appointments can wait until after the holidays. What else do you have planned for the dark days of January anyway? Schedule in me days, family days, and a moment for those most dear. Winter solstice is just days away. Celebrate that with a gift of peace and quiet at home.
  • Finish decorating. Be honest with yourself. The house looks great. Whatever you haven’t done already maybe just doesn’t need to get done. Leave the crumbs for the spiders in the corners and the dust for the cleaning lady once the holidays are done. That doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s the gift of sanity to yourself.
  • Green greetings. If your Christmas cards are out already, congratulate yourself. If that is still on your to-do list cross it off. Go green with e-cards this year. Or send out a mass-mailer to everyone in your address book wishing holiday greetings. Or let the whole concept go. You’ll be wishing merry Christmas to everyone you see anyway. You can make phone calls in the new year to anyone that is farther afield. And perhaps now is the time to let go of old friends that never respond anyway. You are only human. You don’t need to do it all.
  • Call it a wrap. Do you have enough wrapping paper to wrap all the presents? Think about alternates. Buy from stores that wrap for you, like Mastermind Toys, Scholar’s Choice, Curiousities, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Chapters Indigo, and many more. Take advantage of the service and save yourself some time later.
  • Enough is enough. I don’t care how much money you have in the bank, do you really need to go buy even more presents? Sometimes overkill in the present department just doesn’t pay. Younger children can get overwhelmed by it all. Older kids come to expect it and lack the gratitude for what they get. Your bank account certainly doesn’t appreciate it, and it cuts into your spending budget after the holidays when you might need it most.
  • Give back instead. Have you been helped by an organization, company or someone special this year? They are the people that we need to remember at Christmastime. Why not volunteer at said organization (ie, the food bank always appreciates a helping hand)? How about making a special homemade gift for a company that has given to you (ie. a couple of dozen cookies will disappear in a lunch room anytime, guaranteed)? Surprise a certain special someone with the gift of time. You could do tea, shovel a driveway, or help an elderly neighbour shop to give back for all those smiles you have received all year.

As for me, I am going to give myself the gift of time. It is high time for me to spend a little more quality time with my family. So you might not see me around these parts so much, but know that I appreciate all my friends, family, customers and co-workers now and throughout the year. Peace to you all over the holidays!

Christmas gifts.

Christmas gifts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you feel like your wallet is hemorrhaging over the holidays? Has the clock magically spun out of control, leaving you wondering how it is only two weeks til Christmas? Do you need some help reeling it all back under control?

For starters, here’s a few ways you can save a few dollars over the holidays;

  • Put your Christmas lights on a timer. Not only will it save you running outside in the freezing cold to flip the lights on and off, but it will reduce the number of hours they are left on if you forget. A timer ensures holiday cheer in a measured amount. A dollar saved is a dollar earned.
  • Shop Online. This will save you time and money. You won’t have to endlessly circle the mall parking lot looking for a parking spot (price of gas is sitting around $1.24 today). You won’t be tempted by items you don’t need (just a quick trip into the drug store could set you back $100 in a heartbeat). Most companies throw in free shipping if you spend over a certain amount (free is great, especially at Christmas!).
  • Remember the reason for the season. It is about spending time with those you love. Perhaps you can pare back the monetary gifts this year, and focus on the gift of time instead. Make a snowman with the kids. Visit a sick or elderly relative in hospital. Set a family date to volunteer at the food bank or a shelter this year. Years from now it will be the moments spent together that will be remembered, not the numbers of presents under the tree.
  • Make it a Homemade Christmas. Can you bake? Hand out Christmas cookies to the neighbours (who doesn’t love shortbread?). Do you knit? Knit mittens for everyone on your list (great for kids who always lose theirs). Are you handy in the workshop? Carve wooden ornaments for the person who has everything. Whatever skills you have, put them to work to offer homemade gifts that mean so much more and cost a far cry less!
  • Tame the teacher gifts. Your children’s teachers don’t need 20-some-odd “#1 teacher” ornaments every year. Offer a homemade gift to them as well. I bet they would love your homemade strawberry jam. Or make a donation to the food bank on their behalf. Many school have breakfast programs that you could contribute to as well. Of course a box of kleenex might be all they really want to keep one gift from being given this year – the gift of a cold!
  • Break out the Crock pot. Crock pots are the master of time savers. You add your ingredients in the morning and return home to a home-cooked meal at the end of the day. When you are trying to accomplish a million and two tasks in the last few weeks before the holidays, this frees up the time you need.
    • Here’s a recipe you can try out while you are at it from food.com

Drunken Garlic Crock Pot Roast

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 lbs boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 24 garlic cloves, minced (about 4 tbsp.)
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 8 ounces lager beer
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar (cut back for a less sweet taste)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • cornstarch (dissolved in water, for gravy)

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoons of the oil and brown roast on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper; remove to a platter and keep warm.
  2. Add the remaining tbsp of oil to the pan and add the onions, cook until they just start to wilt then add the garlic, them cook until the onions are tender, a few minutes more.
  3. Add the bouillon cubes to the hot water and stir to dissolve; add that to the skillet along with the beer, brown sugar, mustard, and vinegar; stir to mix well.
  4. Pour mixture into the bottom of the crock pot.
  5. Place roast on top of liquid, cutting into pieces if it doesn’t lay flat.
  6. Set the crock pot on low and cook for 7-8 hours.
  7. Remove meat from crock pot and pour liquid into a pan on the stove; heat to a boil, and mix a slurry out of the cornstarch and water; thicken pan liquid with slurry to make a gravy.
  8. Serve gravy over meat or with potatoes or noodles.

Merry Christmas! Don’t forget to slow down and breath once in a while!
Related articles

So how are you holding up under the holiday pressure? Is it getting to you yet? Can you tick off indoor and outdoor holiday decorating yet? How about that shopping? Maybe you’ve got a leg up on party prep?

Hmm, I suspect you need a glass of inspiration to get you going (from whattodrink.com)…

FROSTY NOGGIN 

Tis the season for Eggnog!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz Rum
  • 3/4 oz Creme de Cacao
  • 3 oz Eggnog
  • 3 cups Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Whipped Cream
  • Green Creme de Menthe

Directions:

Blend ingredients until smooth. Pour into parfait glass.  Top with whipped cream, decorated with a few drops of green crème de menthe. Garnish with a rolled cookie.

NOW,

Time to go down to work. Check back in the archives of this blog for some decorating ideas. I’ve got some here and here. That should get you started at least and maybe you will be able to convince someone to help you if you promise them their own glass of Frosty Noggin.

So how about that shopping? You are in luck as there is another Christmas craft sale that runs all weekend at the Western Fair Progress Building (900 King St E). The 34th Annual Christmas Craft Festival runs from December 5th – 8th. Admission is $6, but if you visit their website, they have a $1 off coupon for you to print off. Hours are as follows.

Thurs. Dec 5, – 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Fri. Dec 6, – 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Sat. Dec. 7, – 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 8, – 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

You will find plenty of Christmas decorations and gift giving ideas. It is London’s largest Craft Show and Sale with over 150 artisans participating over the four-days. No excuse not to grab a few gifts (or all of them) at this sale!

I can even help you out with some of your party prep. Will you be carving a gigantic turkey, ham or roast beast of some sort this Christmas? If so, you will need to have a carving knife on hand. In case you didn’t know, a sharp knife makes that job easier. No monster muscles required when your blade is sharp, as it will slide through whatever you have to slice like butter. If you are inept when it comes to that, head down to Covent Garden Market on Saturday, December 7th between 8 am and 1 pm. Sharp my Knife is there every 1st Saturday of the month to sharpen knives and scissors.

In case you’ve got too many to carry, they also offer a mobile service where they come to your home and sharpen everything from knives, lawn mowers, garden tools, axes (think about that for your Christmas tree hunt!), chainsaws, food processor blades, paper shredders and more.

All I can do is give you ideas. The rest is up to you. So get out there and make the season bright! And if you get enough done, maybe you can join in on the Salvation Army Santa Shuffle Fun Run and Elf Walk at The Raceway at the Western Fair District on December 7th. It raises money for families in need during Christmas and throughout the year. Registration opens at 8:30 am, race begins at 10 am, and overall fun and good tidings will last until noon.

Have a great weekend!

There are 3 weeks til Christmas. Have you started to decorate your home for the holidays yet? Come on Ebenezer, it is time to get into the Christmas spirit! It’s time to get motivated and decorate.

Last week I offered 12 easy decor ideas for items to decorate your home with. They are relatively simple ideas that you could do with the kids or alone, and have accomplished in no time flat. Perhaps you are still looking for some inspiration though. Could you use a few more ideas? Why not try one of these holiday home decorations to dazzle your decor with;

12 Ways to Dazzle your Home for the Holidays

  1. Capture the spirit of the season in words

    Say it with words – Write on a mirror with erasable markers, add wooden letters to spell out a holiday greeting on the wall, add a frosty message to windows, etc.

  2. Colour your world – Bathe your space in a festive monotone. Add all silver decorations to your Christmas tree, paint the town red around your living room, go green in your kitchen, etc.
  3. Recycle greetings – If you keep old Christmas cards, why not use them to decorate your space this Christmas. Create a beautiful Christmas collage, add them to picture frames for a Christmas change-up, use them for wrapping paper, etc.
  4. Light up your life – Lights make everything cheery. Don’t stop at the tree. Add lights to the greenery on your mantlepiece, toss some into a glass vase with Christmas ornaments, decorate your table centrepiece with some glittery orbs, etc.
  5. Sweeten the decor, not your waistline

    Sweeten the pot – Christmas is synonymous with sweets. Add candy canes to candy dishes, colourful mints to a vase with a candle, craft a wreath out of bright bonbons, etc.

  6. Wrap it in ribbons – They’re not just for presents anymore. Add festive ribbons to urns with evergreens, dangle ornaments from the chandelier via ribbon, wrap ribbons around standing lamps to make them shine in a whole new light, etc.
  7. Name game – Get creative with table place names. Let your guests know where to sit at table via homemade ornaments like cheery personalized snowmen, glittery glass ornaments engraved with names, artful angels in the likeness of the recipient, etc.
  8. Stocking stuffers – Everyone gets a stocking, but what about adding some as part of your decor? Fill them with pine cones to hang by the fire to help spark a blaze, use them as a garland on your banister, hang an oversized stocking on your door in greeting, etc.
  9. Simple Christmas decor with stunning plants

    Plant some love – The Christmas tree isn’t the only greenery you can add to the house over the holidays. Blooming Christmas cacti add a bright addition to your decor, magnificent amaryllis is a show-stopper for any room, poinsettias come in a range of sizes and colours to add to your seasonal setting, etc.

  10. Don’t go nuts – Allergies aside, many holiday traditions find inshell nuts plentiful this time of year. Take them out of the nut bowl this year. Add them to platters with candles in the middle, glue them into homemade wreaths, mix them into vases with other festive pieces like holly, red dogwood, pinecones, etc.
  11. Scents of the season – The scents associated with Christmas can transport anyone. More than just the Christmas tree can add a festive aroma though. Add a few drops of pine essential oil to pine cone wreaths, stud oranges with cloves to release both the healing scent of clove and citrus, twist some cinnamon sticks into your garlands, etc.
  12. Put a bow on it – Every present needs a bow, but where else can you add them to your home? Why not add bows to picture frames, tie one on your mailbox, add them to the back of your dining room chairs, etc.

What other ideas can you add to the list? Don’t forget to share!

Snow arrived before December this year and appears to be sticking around London, Ontario for the long haul. That’s okay because it adds a seasonal touch to all the Christmas decorations that are around. Of course for many, it isn’t truly time for the Christmas countdown until a few things happen. Do you know what I’m talking about? Read on to see what festive events are taking place this weekend in London!

Festive Events In Your Neighbourhood

Lighting of the Lights in Victoria Park

It isn’t officially Christmas without the Lighting of the Lights in Victoria Park. Every year the city decorates Victoria Park with thousands of lights, ornaments, figurines and more. On Friday, November 29th, the fun begins at 6:15 pm. There will be carolers, a variety of entertainment, skating at the rink and more. At approximately 6:45 pm the Mayor and City Counsellors will lead everyone in Christmas carols, then count down to flip the switch for the lights. 3, 2, 1… and the park will be transformed into a Winter Wonderland. The lights will be on every night from 5:30 pm – 11 pm until January 1st, 2014. For an extra special sight, why not go to the 12th floor of City Hall (300 Dufferin Ave) to view the lights from the City Hall Promenade Deck. The viewing hours are as follows;

Friday, November 29 to Monday, December 2, inclusive 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Tuesday, December 3 CLOSED
Wednesday, December 4 to Sunday, December 8, inclusive 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Monday, December 9 & Tuesday, December 10 CLOSED
Wednesday, December 11 to Monday, December 16, inclusive 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Tuesday, December 17 CLOSED
Wednesday, December 18 to Tuesday, December 24, inclusive 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Wednesday, December 25 CLOSED (CHRISTMAS DAY)
Thursday, December 26 CLOSED (BOXING DAY)
Friday, December 27 to Monday, December 30, inclusive 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Tuesday, December 31 CLOSED (NEW YEAR’S EVE)
Wednesday, January 1 CLOSED (NEW YEAR’S DAY)
CP Holiday Train

With the lights all aglow it is full steam ahead for the Canadian Pacific Holiday train to pull into town! This is the 15th year that the Holiday Train has hit the rails, and on December 1st at 8:30 pm it will pull into London. Make sure to arrive to the Richmond St railway crossing between Oxford and Central at least 15 minutes early to see the train arrive. Donations will be accepted for the London Food Bank. Seeing the train lit up isn’t the only perk though. The train also features a boxcar full of entertainment in tow. On the London stage, we will get to see The Brothers Dube and The Claytones on our stop of the train.

Do you think they will blow the whistle before they draw out of sight? Choo, chooooo…

Celebrate Christmas with a trip to Eldon House

And lastly, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to Eldon House for their Traditional Victorian Christmas. London’s oldest residence will be decorated in the traditional festive way from November 30th, 2013 – January 1st, 2014. Hours are 12 pm – 5 pm. Admission by donation.

If a tour through the house to see holiday decorations of the past isn’t enough, then register for their special Christmas Tea on December 1st. Sittings are at 1:30 pm and 3 pm at a cost of $10 for adults and $5 for children. Enjoy tea and treats in the beauty of a Victorian Christmas, but make sure to call for a reservation, as seating is limited!

How do you get into the festive spirit at Christmas?

Welcome to In Your Neighbourhood!

Allow me to introduce myself. The name is Jim. You want to know more? Well, check out my "About Me" page! Don't forget to take a peek at my "Local London Listings" while you are here too! I update it regularly. Enjoy your visit and drop me a line to let me know you were in the neighbourhood!

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