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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!

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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!
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One week til Christmas
And I’m going crazy.
There’s shopping and wrapping
And I completely forgot a present for Aunt Daisy.

I’ve sent Christmas greetings
To all and sundry,
But was just reminded that the babysitter
still needs her bonus before Monday

So it’s back to the mall
To fight for a da#@ parking place
Just to find that the last gift card
Was sold to the previous guy who came through all-crazed.

Argh! Is this a time of holiday cheer?
More like orchestrated chaos,
Softened by one too many rum and eggnogs,
Or maybe that last Christmas beer.

Well, the tree is still sparkling
Despite the near-disaster when it hit the floor.
Can I just tell you, there won’t be any catnip
In the cat’s stocking anymore…

But I still have my health,
Despite a brush with the Norwalk virus.
That’s the last time I get coerced to go carolling
At a nursing home full of miasmas

Now my children are home
Making plans for the big day
Did I hear them just remark
“Shall we open stockings first or the new Wii Play?”

Well, peekers or not , I love them
And my wife is pretty special too
Plus, my in-laws are on the way (already!)
So I better refresh my eggnog, while I’m  making this fish stew.

Without time left for baking
I’m now off to the grocery store
So dinner is in the crockpot
And you are welcome to the recipe to save time for your own chores.

Merry Christmas, one and all!
May the last week before the holidays
Find you healthy, (probably not so) wealthy, but
Full of good cheer in your decked halls.

*CROCK POT FISH STEW (from Food.com)

Ingredients:

  • 2 small potatoes (quartered and thinly sliced)
  • 1 large carrot (quartered and sliced)
  • 1/4 head cabbage (cut to bite size)
  • 1/2 large onion (coarsely diced)
  • 2 large fish fillets (cut to bite size)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered coriander
  • 1 (15 1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes (with sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups chicken stock or 2 cups bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Directions:

Place potatoes on the bottom of crock pot. Add carrot, cabbage, onion, fish, garlic, basil, thyme, cayenne, coriander, tomatoes, tomato paste, and stock.

Cover and cook on low for 7 – 8 hours. One-half hour prior to serving stir in corn starch until reach desired consistency.

Serve over rice and garnish with fresh parsley.

 

As I noted last week, Christmas time is all about the senses. The real estate market is no different, especially during this time of year. While some people are loath to list their house around Christmastime, it is actually a time when your house just might shine its brightest. Think of the effort that goes into decorating for the holidays and the rest of the prep that goes with it. You are already transforming your home to be its best for friends, family and neighbours, so why not bedazzle potential new homeowners now too?

STAGING YOUR HOUSE DURING THE HOLIDAYS

Sight:

The first thing a potential homeowner ever notices about a home is its looks and Christmastime is the same. Take the time to tastefully decorate your home during the holidays to make it shine its brightest. The same rules apply as per other times of the year though; don’t go overboard with decorations. You want people to see the beauty of your home and not just overpowering holiday glitz. Perhaps one or two presents under the tree would suggest gentle giving (leave the rest of the mountain of gifts for Christmas morning). Think natural items, like simple evergreen wreathes, a bowl of cranberries set off with holly leaves, or a small fire lit in your hearth. Your favourite Billy Bass Christmas fish could be left in your decor box for your next home. Just a suggestion.

Orange Pomanders add a wonderful scent

Smell:

Christmas has so many wonderful smells associated with it that it is easy to take advantage of attractive smells to tickle any potential home buyer’s fancy. A pot of cinnamon sticks simmering on the stove emits a wonderful festive scent. Beautiful orange pomanders give a decorative touch, as well as delicious aroma. A real Christmas tree adds its own holiday scent that will permeate every room of your house too! As always, don’t forget to empty the cat litter before the Open House.

Christmas Albums add a nice touch

Sound:

What is Christmas without a carol or two? If you have people coming to look at your home over the holidays, put some traditional Christmas carols on the stereo. There’s nothing wrong with more modern crooners too, as Michael Bublé, Josh Groban and The Canadian Tenors all have Christmas albums worth listening too. It just might remind people of their childhood and then look around your house even more so with eyes of home.

Give the gift of taste during your Open House

Taste:

A little bribery never hurt anyone. If you have an open house planned, why not take time to do some holiday baking before people arrive. Not only will you fill the house with the tempting scent of delicious cookies, but you can leave a plate out for guests as they wander around imagining themselves at home. If you fear the smell of burnt baked goods might turn people off with your less than stellar baking skills, hit your local bakery to stock up with some yummy treats instead!

Festive hand towels add a nice “touch”

Touch:

A little festive touch goes a long way for a house for sale during the holidays too. Think about putting out soft hand towels with a holiday motif on them. Take the holiday motif into other items that guests to your home might come across  as well, like thick door mats, plush carpets, or luxurious curtains that warm up the room.

 

Merry 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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