It’s not even November yet and I’m already starting to get in the holiday spirit. I’m not much of a cook (I cook for my family of course but I don’t make up my own recipes and I’m definitely not a food blogger or one of these people who post all their amazing meals on Instagram), however I love to bake.

I’ve been making my own bread for the last year or so – I don’t know if it works out much cheaper than buying ready made bread but it definitely tastes a lot better (unless I’m buying fancy artisnal bread which I can’t afford to do every day) and I like knowing exactly what goes into it.

I also have a bit of a sweet tooth and love baking cakes and cookies – in fact I really have to limit myself because otherwise I end up eating too much of what I bake and my waistline doesn’t need any more expanding!

Anyway I’ve been looking for some holiday baking ideas both for us to enjoy at home and to give away as gifts – I like to encourage the kids to help me make gifts wherever possible as I think giving a handmade thoughtful gift is so much nicer than just buying something for the sake of it.

I’ve been watching some videos on Youtube of Nigella Lawson – I loved watching her on The Taste and now I’m catching up on all of her old British shows.

Her special Christmas shows are my absolute favorites and are making me feel like getting ready for the holidays even though it’s only October. And this girl sure knows how to treat herself and her family! Check out this one for chocolate pistachio fudge – I’m drooling just thinking about it!

I’ve already made a couple of the recipes from her website – the red velvet cupcakes and caramel croissant pudding. they were both absolutely to die for! Our wedding anniversary is coming up next month and I’ve been dropping some hints to hubbie that a couple of her cookbooks wouldn’t go amiss and he can only benefit from them too! I think I have a bit of a cookbook addiction – I love the ones with lots of pictures and could look at them for hours.

Yum yum yum! think I’d better start looking at diet plans in preparation for January :(

file8341238515000There’s something strange that happens when you have your second child – all of a sudden you have no time – ever! This is true whether you’re working, a stay at home mom, working part-time, whatever! All my friends have noticed the same phenomenon. Having your first child is a big leap and obviously takes up a lot of time but for some reason, the jump from one to two children makes everything so much harder!

I’ve heard going from two to three children is even more of a challenge but I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it, haha :p

Anyway, we’re in the enviable position of being able to live off my husband’s salary, meaning I can stay at home with the children (although one is now at school for most of the day). I’m extremely grateful for this but soon after I had my second child I realised that if I didn’t start to plan my time better, things were going to get out of control fast.

I’m not one of those people who’s always creating schedules and to-do lists – I prefer spontaneity and the freedom to go out to the zoo if it’s a nice day or let the kids stay up late for a movie night. HOWEVER, things have got so much simpler since I introduced a rhythm to our days.

I first read about a daily family rhythm when I read a book about Waldorf education. This type of educational philosophy focuses on letting children play (with open-ended toys and natural materials), a lot of outdoor time, activities based on the seasons and letting the kids help with cooking and baking. I don’t agree with everything that a  Waldorf school, for example, would have in place, but a lot of what I read made sense to me.

Now, Waldorf schools are not strictly timetabled, rather they follow a rhythm based around the start and end times of the day and events like circle time and meals. Once I started implementing this type of system, my kids knew what to expect each day and things got much smoother.

For example my kids know that we have breakfast at 8, drop my eldest off at school and then have an hour of outside play. I’m flexible about what we do up until lunchtime but we’ll always reconnect at midday for a healthy lunch. I then put my youngest straight down for a nap (she’s expecting it so no complaints) while I enjoy a coffee and a bit of alone time. After she wakes up it’s time to pick up her brother from school and then we all go back home and enjoy a snack. we have a set bedtime but dinner can vary depending on what time my husband gets back. The kids are free to do what they like until an hour before bed when we start the wind down ritual with a bath.

Following this pattern every day makes it so much easier for me to plan our days but we still have a lot of flexibility.

If you don’t have any sort of routine for your day or set mealtimes or bedtimes, I’d definitely recommend trying out a rhythm like this and seeing how it works for your for a few weeks.

The other thing that has saved me countless hours of time is meal planning and cooking ahead. I know, I know, meal planning is super boring – I put it off for ages, but as soon as I actually got over myself and had a go, I could have kicked myself for not starting years ago.

I plan meals a week ahead and I’m not super strict about it – I will swap the meals around depending on what we fancy that night. I also plan in a “no-cook” night where we either eat leftovers or order in.

I stick to the same simple meals that are healthy but I know my family love. We like spagetti, chicken enchiladas, beef casserole, fried chicken with vegetables and other quick simple meals – I save the fancy stuff for the holidays or when we have a rare guest.

As well as meal planning, once a month I set aside a whole day for cooking and freezing meals. These work great for when somebody’s sick, I’m too tired to cook, we’ve got back to late etc. I do like to cook from fresh as much as possible but it’s a real lifesaver having a freezer full of healthy meals and as I said, it has saved me SO much time. Sometimes I keep these meals for our “no cook” days and sometimes we just eat them when we’re in the mood.

Well that’s about all I have for now. Like I said, I’m not one for to-do lists and schedules. But if you do have any other amazing tips, please let me in on your secrets!

DSCF1401It seems like time goes faster every year, especially when you have kids. It’s already September, which is prime time to start getting ready for the holiday season! I know, I know, it may seem early. But trust me when I say the more preparation you have, the less stress you’ll end up experiencing later.

Actually in an ideal situation, planning for the Holidays should start in January – this is what I do and planning a year in advance can save you a lot of money and stress later. I’ve seen so many people get  themselves into a tizzy about affording all the food and gifts and a couple of friends have mine have even gotten into serious debt, which is completely unnecessary.

We all know when Thanksgiving is right? Christmas is the same time every year, correct? These things don’t come as a surprise to us and yet some people act like they had no idea it was coming! Getting some extra cash for Christmas can be tricky when it’s just a few months away but if you plan a year in advance, you have 12 months to put some money aside. This is what I do – I set a budget every year for the holiday season (setting a budget also helps stop you going overboard on gifts!) and then divide the total by 12 so I know what I need to save each month. By the time we get to Thanksgiving, I already have a nice chunk of cash ready and I don’t worry about spending it!

Shopping in January is also an excellent way to save yourself a lot of money. You can buy gifts, decorations and seasonal food at bargain basement prices after New Year and so it’s a great time to stock up for the following year. Of course fresh food won’t last a year! But anything that will go in the deep freeze can be bought in January and used later in the year (I’ve gotten some great deals on joints of meat in January!)

of course the best way to save is to avoid over spending in the first place! It’s easy to go over the top, especially if you live in a neighborhood where everyone seems to compete with each other to have the best dressed house, but there are lots of ways you can decorate on a budget.

I’ve found getting the kids involved with making decorations is not only a great way to save money but also is a lot of fun for them and me too. We like doing things like dyeing popcorn and stringing it into garlands and making paper chains. I also get them to help out with some more complex projects like the ones on the Martha Stewart website.

If you plan in advance, saving for the holidays doesn’t have to be stressful, in fact it can be quite fun! If you love Christmas as much as me, it’s almost like a little reminder of the holiday season every month!