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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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Are you tired of looking at your chipped counters? Are the kitchen cabinets older than you are? When was the last time those shower doors have come completely clean? Did your kids just learn that toilet handles don’t always need to be jiggled when they had a sleepover at their friend’s house last week? Does this sound familiar – You can’t make toast, run the microwave, and run the ceiling fan all at the same time. Do you have to seat people in the kitchen, dining room AND living room when they come over for family dinners? Do they have to enter the house through the back door, because chancing the front porch just isn’t worth it anymore?

Time for Home Renovations?

Do these problems sound familiar? Have you had enough? Is it time for a few home renovations at your house?

HOLD ON!

Before you grab that sledge-hammer to knock down walls in the dining room, the chisel to knock off loose tiles in the bathroom, or the pry bar to push the porch off the house, take some time to make a plan. And then take some more time to discuss it with a few more people. Namely, your spouse, your financial advisor, a contractor, a designer, an electrician, a plumber, a drywaller, a real estate agent, your house insurance company, and the municipality in which you live (think permits, bylaws, etc).

Home Renovations = STRESS

Now, are you still ready to undertake a home renovation project? Good for you! Did you go and see your therapist for some quick tips on how to handle the stress that comes along with home renos too? You should, as a change in living conditions (ie, trying to live in the middle of a renovation project) comes in at #28 on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. That is out of 43. And you have to keep in mind that no matter how easy-going a person you are, a home renovation project is bound to put some stress on your finances, on your amount of free time, on your eating habits, possibly on your sleeping habits, and more than likely on the number of arguments with your spouse. Those rank at #16, #36, #40, #38, #19, which add up to a moderate risk of becoming ill in the near future.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t tackle a home renovation project though. It can add value to your home from a resale perspective. It brings you pride in ownership afterwards from a job well done. It improves your living conditions once the dust has settled and been erased from memory.

A written design provides a blueprint for smooth renovations

If the pluses outweigh the temporary drawbacks of taking on a home renovation project, then make a plan and get started. Make sure you get at least three written estimates from contractors for the work to be done, check references for those contractors, write up a contract before the work starts, have a lawyer look over the contract before signing anything for major work to be done, obtain any necessary permits, look into whether you are eligible for any potential tax credits, check warranties and guarantees for the work to be done, and think about anything else that you may come up against.

And my best advice to you if you can afford it; move out while renovations are going on to improve the chances that you will survive the mess that goes with a project of any magnitude. Your sleep, comfort, and sanity make it a worthwhile consideration. Good luck!

When illness or injury strikes, it can sometimes take one unawares. So often doctor appointments, hospital visits and a myriad of other tests and procedures take over your life. This can be completely overwhelming and worse. While illness might take centre stage in your life, the rest of your normal activities do not always disappear. Bills still need to be paid, lawns cut or driveways shovelled, and laundry is a never-ending task to attend to. Even when appetites disappear as a side effect of treatments, meals still need to be made and eaten. That goes for whomever is ill, as well as their immediate caregivers.

So how does one cope during a time of stress and at the same time maintain all the necessary tasks required of a normal existence? First off, it takes patience and a whole lot of understanding. Almost as important is reaching out and accepting help when you need it most. Running a household is a challenge at the best of times, but can be that much more difficult when your home life is under duress. Here are some tips on how best to cope with an illness and still function in a day-to-day life.

Coping With Illness in your Everyday Life

  • Accept help however it is offered. If someone offers to cut the grass, let them. When someone shovels your driveway, be grateful and know that whomever has helped out is trying to do whatever they can for you because they care. Know that the casserole dropped off on your doorstep is the least that said person can do and appreciate every mouthful that sustains you. Accept any help that you can get and put that gift of time to better use by convalescing when you are offered.
  • Ask for help when you need it. This can sometimes be difficult when you are used to being an independent and self-sufficient individual, but just might be the best gift you can give yourself during a difficult time. Ask someone to take out your garbage. Request that someone pick up your medications for you. Suggest that a break for the primary caregiver might be the best help you offer all day. Knowing when you can’t do it all isn’t a sign of weakness, rather it’s a badge of strength.
  • Let go of the little things. We don’t all need to be Sally homemakers with spotless houses. When you are ill, the most important thing is to focus on getting better. Nobody will judge you for a few crumbs in the corners or a little dust on the mantel. If it really bothers you, then ask a friend or family member to help out or hire a company to keep up with your housework while you can’t. When you are better, you can resume those regular tasks. They aren’t going anywhere.
  • Automate whatever tasks you can. You might like to see all your bills and personally pay them at the bank, but when your time is compromised, this might prove to be difficult. One of the easiest ways to ensure that your household bills continue to be paid on time is to register your bills and have them paid automatically. Registering bills online is a quick and easy solution nowadays that will ensure peace of mind and a warm house to come home to at the end of the day.
  • Embrace the important things. Even while crisis dominates a life, there are still ways to maintain a little normality in life. Fit in a coffee date with friends when you can(especially important for caregivers to prevent burnout). Put out a vase of your favourite flowers to enjoy. Go through photo albums with family, just to spend time with them. At the end of the day, no one cares about how many loads of laundry you’ve done. It’s the moments spent with friends and family doing what you love that really matter.
  • Fit in time for you. We all have hobbies we love, roles we take on and things that we just need to do. That isn’t a bad thing and shouldn’t cause feelings of negativity. It’s important to still read a book when you can. Attending a support group might recharge your personal batteries to help you keep going. Allowing yourself to break down and cry or scream in anger just might help you to ease some of the tensions that are natural and often build when faced with illness. Do what you need to do when you can, so that you can be there for those that need you when they do most.

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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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