Monday, 28 December 2015

Proud Mom

I know I write a lot about my boys' sports. Sports are a big part of our family life at this point in our lives, and I'm just so proud of my little athletes.

My oldest, who loves playing sports for the sheer love of playing sports.
Football, rugby, track and cross country at school. Baseball in a spring and summer rec league. Soccer year-round on a rep team. This kid is never happier than when he's playing a sport that he loves - any sport - winning or losing, in a competitive arena or just pick up ball with a couple of buddies in the park. He gets so much joy out of just playing. And it's so joyful to watch.

My middle child, so cripplingly shy that it took five years of playing soccer before he was finally brave enough to tell his rep coach that he wanted to try for goalkeeper. Less than a year of hard training later, he led his team to second place in their division and by the end of the season was being recruited by opposing teams' coaches, then beat out all the existing keepers for the number one goalkeeper spot on one of the top teams in the top division and is now being trained by the provincial development head coach. He lives for those training sessions. It's amazing to watch how much he thrives under tough training and pressure.

I'm just so proud of my little athletes. There's nothing I love more than watching my boys play the game they love.


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Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is almost here, and we are ready. For a family so focussed on traditions and making memories and family time, this time of year is extra special.

Our Christmas begins one November weekend when we pull out and hang the outdoor lights, bake our first few batches of shortbread and gingerbread, and curl up with mugs of hot chocolate and platters of Christmas cookies to watch the Toronto Santa Claus parade on tv.

The next weekend we bundle up and head out to watch the local Santa Claus parade under the stars and twinkling lights of our town's Main Street Christmas decorations.

Then it's the Town tree lighting ceremony and celebration with carolling, Christmas crafts, a visit from Santa and storytime with Mrs. Claus.

We pick out and decorate our own Christmas tree (a real one - nothing looks or smells better than the real thing!) and make a whole afternoon of it with Christmas music and Santa hats and more Christmas baking. We decorate the house from top to bottom in glitter and gold - sparkly gold ornaments dripping from every mirror and spilling from bowls on every table - and the kids each decorate their own small tree for their bedrooms.

We set up Santa's village and Christmas train and leave them on all season, twinkling lights and tinkling tunes as the colourful, toy-laden train trundles round and round the glittery snow-covered workshop full of elves.

We count down to Christmas every morning with a chocolate from our advent calendars and watch Christmas movies every night before bed. We write letters to Santa and check the mailbox every day for his response. We visit him at the mall to pass on wish lists and take photos. We make Christmas crafts and cards for the kids to give as gifts and one special ornament each.

We bake and bake and bake and bake - shortbread, gingerbread, candy cane cookies and chocolate mint bars and fruitcake. We build and decorate an epic gingerbread house, more icing and candy than actual cookie.

We hang the stockings on the fireplace mantel - the most beautiful, hand-made stockings embroidered for the boys by my grandma - and wait with delicious anticipation as the colourful packages pile up under the tree.

We enjoy every minute of this magical season. It really is the most wonderful time of the year!

All the best to you and yours for a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday season!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Budget-Friendly Gift Ideas

Christmas can be a very expensive time of year. Some of us save all year to go overboard with gift-giving at the holidays; others set limits and guidelines on gift exchanges to keep costs within reason.
We are very much a going overboard kind of family, but with so many extra people to buy for now that all three boys are in school and sports – seven teachers, two  principals and six coaches, school Secret Santas and team toy drives and office donation pools, plus all the usual family and friends – I’ve been putting some thought into budget-friendly gifting options.
A cute cookie jar filled with homemade shortbread.
An oversized mug stuffed with an assortment of flavoured hot chocolates.
A mixing bowl filled with all the ingredients for gingerbread cookies, a cookie cutter and a handwritten copy of your favourite gingerbread recipe.
A framed print of a favourite local landmark or nature photo, if you have any skill with a camera.
A handmade scarf or hat, if you can knit or crochet.
A handmade cutting board or picture frame if you’re any good at woodworking.
A personalized beaded necklace or bracelet if you’re at all crafty.
Dig through the bargain movie bin – there are always a few awesome finds in there – and pair with a tin of homemade popcorn, or a good book and a package of flavoured coffee tucked into an oversized mug.
How about the gift of time? I don’t know any parent who wouldn’t be grateful for a few hours of free child care and a little time to themselves.
Do you have any great budget-friendly gift ideas to add to the list?

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Friday, 18 December 2015

Fingerprint Christmas Tree Ornament

Fingerprint Christmas tree ornament, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas craftsEvery year the boys and I make a special Christmas tree ornament that we wrap up and give to my husband to open Christmas morning.

This year's special Christmas craft: Fingerprint Christmas tree ornaments!

This craft was easy and fun and the kids were so happy with how they turned out.

Start with any plain Christmas ornament - we used both shiny and matte finishes and didn't find that it made any difference.

Dip fingertip in green acrylic craft paint and carefully press onto the ornament in a pyramid pattern - one print on top, two below, three below that, four across the bottom.

Clean finger, then dip in brown acrylic craft paint and press on the ornament below the bottom of last row of green fingerprints for the trunk of the tree.

Once the paint dries, decorate the fingerprint tree with glitter, sequins, gems and tinsel.

Fingerprint Christmas tree ornament, crafts, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
String with Christmas ribbon and hang from the tree!










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http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2013/12/festive-food-candy-crafts.html

Monday, 14 December 2015

Button Christmas Tree Craft

Button Christmas Tree Craft, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas crafts, Christmas ornamentThis adorable Christmas tree made from buttons is an easy craft for kids and makes a cute ornament to hang on the tree.

Gather buttons in various sizes and shapes (we had to hit the dollar store, since we don't have any spare buttons floating around).

Stack the buttons in the order that you want to make your Christmas tree shape - a few small ones at the bottom, then the largest through the smallest to create the conical tree shape. Don't forget to add a special sparkly or star-shaped bead for the star on top.

When you are happy with the order of the buttons (sizes, shapes and colours) use floral wire, fishing line or thick embroidery thread to string through from the top bead through each bead to the bottom, then back through a second hole in each button and back out the top. Be sure to leave several inches' extra length on each end.

Twist or tie off the ends to form a loop and hang on the Christmas tree!


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http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2012/12/thumbprint-christmas-ornaments.html

Friday, 11 December 2015

What Christmas Means to Me

I've spent so much time talking about the financial aspects of Christmas - Christmas shopping, Christmas spending, Christmas giving; planning and budgeting, couponing and flyer shopping and saving, gift-giving and giving back - that I thought I'd take a moment to talk about what Christmas really means to me.

Christmas is about family.
Christmas is about children.
Christmas is about sharing moments and making memories and creating traditions.
Christmas is about magic.

Twinkling lights, glittery gold balls, drooping green garland and big red bows, Christmas carols and crackling fires, the smells of pine needles and gingerbread and hot cocoa, letters to Santa and hanging stockings and trimming the tree, baking batches of rich, buttery shortbread and decorating gingerbread houses and curling up to watch Christmas movies with steaming mugs of hot chocolate, the Santa Claus parade and the town tree lighting and skating under the twinkling light displays, the anticipation of Christmas Eve and the excitement of Christmas morning and the overwhelming warmth magic love joy of the holidays.

I asked my kids what their favourite things are about Christmas:

The Santa Claus parade.
Decorating the tree.
Baking Christmas cookies.
Watching Christmas movies.
Picking out gifts to give their brothers.
Dinner at Grandma and Grandpa's.

(Melt.)

Nowhere on the list was getting toys or gifts. Christmas is just as much about magic and tradition and making memories for my boys as it is for me - which tells me that no matter how much I may spoil my kids at this time of year, I must be doing something right.

What is your favourite Christmas memory or tradition?

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Monday, 7 December 2015

It's ok to spoil sometimes

We're forever talking about saving rather than spending, spending smart rather than indulgently, indulging sparingly rather than frivolously. But it's Christmas, and as unpopular as this opinion may be among this audience, I like to spoil my kids at Christmas. Like, over-the-top spoil them. And I don't feel even a little bit bad about that.

Although some people buy presents for their children any old time all year round, I don't. My kids don't get toys and treats every time we leave the house. They don't get gifts as bribes for good behaviour or rewards for having to come to work with Mommy or sit through a dentist appointment. I don't buy them something every time we walk through a toy store - or even any time. My kids know that they get gifts for birthdays and Christmas, and if there's something they'd like they have to put it on their wish lists for one of those occasions. (Or save up to buy it themselves.)

That's because I am trying to teach my kids lessons about the value of money and the difference between wants and needs as well as the reality that in the grown-up world, instant gratification is not always possible or practical. I am teaching them about saving, spending, prioritizing and making choices. I am doing this because I think these are important lessons for children to learn in order to grow up with an understanding of how to live with and manage money.

But I also believe that Christmas is a time to spoil my kids rotten. Of course Christmas isn't all about gifts - it's about warmth and love, celebrating faith if you're Christian and family if you're not, giving back to those in need and sharing with the ones we love. It's a magical time of year for children and adults alike, but the reality is that part of that magic is writing letters to Santa and sharing wish lists on his lap, hanging stockings and setting out cookies and milk, decorating the house and tree and waiting with eager anticipation for that magical morning and presents under the tree. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

I buy my kids as much for Christmas as I can afford. I get the boys, if not every single item on their wish lists, certainly most of them. Not because I think I have to and not because the kids expect it but because I want to. Because it makes my babies happy. Because I love watching their faces and hearing their squeals when they open their gifts Christmas morning. Because I work very hard for my money and this is what I want to do with what's left over after I take care of all our needs.

And because, though we are practical and frugal throughout the rest of the year, Christmas is a time when it's ok to spoil our kids.

Friday, 4 December 2015

How Much Space Do You Need?

I am very much about living with less - small space living, clutter-free surfaces, minimalist decorating, storage and organization solutions and purging purging purging. I've lived in larger homes and smaller spaces in almost every configuration imaginable. And though we are a family of five with three active growing boys (and all of their stuff) we have all the space we want and need in our tiny little fifteen hundred square foot townhome.

People are often surprised when they hear how small our home is for the size of our family. Part of the reason we are able to live so comfortably in a space this size, of course, is because I am so obsessive about organization and so diligent about purging and keeping our space clutter-free. But we are completely comfortable here. We have never felt like we need more room, like we are on top of one another or like we don't have enough storage space.

Which leads to my question: how much space do you need?

It's not a rhetorical question. It's not a commentary on conspicuous consumption. It's not a discussion on understanding wants versus needs. I'm genuinely curious.

Thanks to my increased income now that all three kids are in school we will be able to fit quite a few more extras into our budget over the next few years, including a kitchen renovation that's been on our wish list since moving in. I was standing in the kitchen the other day planning and plotting, visualizing our new counters and cupboards and shelving, mentally moving this here and that there. I opened up all the cupboards and drawers, fantasizing about Ikea-esque storage solutions. I can't wait to kit my kitchen out with the latest space-saving solutions.

But although our kitchen is tiny by most standards, we don't actually need any more space. We have enough counter space, we have enough cupboard space. We don't have dishes or glassware or small appliances crammed into backs of cupboards or piled up on top of one another. We don't have to pull anything out to get at anything else. While much of that might be due to my obsession with organization we actually don't need any more space. 

I've been watching those home improvement and real estate shows lately. Without exception, everyone is looking for more - more space, more rooms, more cupboards, more storage. Why? I have a big, active family and my kids have a lot of stuff - but we have more than enough space in our tiny little townhome.

What do people need all that extra space for?

Originally published as "How Much Space Do You Need?" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

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Friday, 27 November 2015

Christmas Giving

Christmas is the time of year when our shopping and spending extend a little more to include those less fortunate. Though many of us try to give year-round, whether it be through volunteering our time or donating used clothes and toys to a shelter or sending money to international charitable organizations, it’s often this time of year when we feel the need to give a little more. There’s something even more heart-wrenching about a hungry or homeless child at this time of feasting and family and gift-giving.
In our family, we try to teach our kids about giving back all year round. We try to impress upon them just how privileged they are to have all that they do – a family who loves them, a lovely home and neighbourhood to live in, a good school with caring teachers, lots of toys and clothes and good food to eat, extras like sports and field trips and vacations. We teach them that not all children have these things – not only the extras, but even the very basics.
We donate monthly to a children’s charity. Twice a year we cull the kids’ clothes and toys for good quality items they’ve outgrown or are willing to part with and donate them to a local women’s shelter. I volunteer my time toward a couple of non-profit community organizations, since at this point in our lives we are a little richer in time than ready cash.
At Christmas, we put together baskets to be donated to families in need – kitchen and household goods, clothes, toiletries, some food items. My sons’ soccer teams do an enormous toy drive which the boys are very involved in – we feel it’s important that the players understand just how privileged they are to get to play sports at all, and particularly for an elite team with private coaches and turf time and all the other perks that go along with it. The boys use their own money that they earn through allowances to buy gifts to go under the school tree, which are then donated to underprivileged kids.
We do our best with what we have to give what we can to those less fortunate, and we try to teach our kids how important it is to do the same.
How do you give back, at Christmas or year-round?

Originally published as "Christmas Giving" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

Monday, 23 November 2015

Christmas Shopping, Christmas Saving

Christmas is fast approaching and with Black Friday around the corner it’s time to start thinking about shopping for holiday gifts. No matter how minimal or extravagant your family’s Christmas is, if you have children they’re likely starting to plan out Christmas wish lists. Though it can be a very expensive time of year, it is possible for parents to finish holiday shopping without blowing the holiday budget.
We start our wish lists with a trip to the toy store in November. I take photos of every item the kids show an interest in, then we write out lists based on those photos when we get home. The kids pare down the lists, then add to them again over the next few weeks as holiday shopping catalogues arrive in the mail and they get new ideas. The lists are finalized by the first week of December, when they deliver their letters to Santa to his elves at our local Santa Claus parade.
I use those lists both for our Christmas shopping and for gift ideas for grandparents, aunts and uncles. Once I’ve created a more or less balanced list for each kid out of their wish lists, I start stalking store websites, flyers, online ads and catalogues for weekly deals and discounts and coupons and sales on any of those items. There are a lot of sales leading up to Christmas – Black Friday deep discounts, flash sales on big-ticket hot new items, “spend get off” store offers, item-specific discounts. By price matching and coupon clipping and paying close attention to sales and discounted pricing, I have always been able to get every item on my list for at least twenty percent off. Overall, I have never paid more than sixty-five percent of my planned Christmas shopping budget based on original wish list pricing – not a bad savings at a very expensive time of year!
Christmas can be very expensive. Our family tends to go a little unnecessarily over the top with celebrations and presents, but even if your gift-giving is a little less extravagant it’s still a time of year that can stretch the budget to its limit. By planning in advance, creating and sticking to a list, and paying close attention to any and all sales and discounts, it’s possible to ease that Christmas budget stress a bit and leave a little left over.

Originally published as "Christmas Shopping, Christmas Saving" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

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Friday, 20 November 2015

Christmas Votive Holder Craft

An inexpensive glass bowl from the dollar store, glitter pens and glitter glue and glitter powder and sequins and sparkles and a kid's artistic flair - a lovely little votive candle holder for the holidays! Make sure that no glitter or glue or decorations get on the inside of the glass since it will be used to hold a flame - and of course remember adults only around candles.

Christmas votive holder craft, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas crafts, glitter

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http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2012/12/thumbprint-christmas-ornaments.html

http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2013/12/festive-food-candy-crafts.html

Monday, 16 November 2015

Snowflake & Pinecone Christmas Ornament Crafts

We've already begun our Christmas crafting!
These homemade Christmas tree ornaments were super easy to make and are all about the glitter and bling.


Pipe Cleaner Snowflakes


Twist white pipe cleaners from the dollar store into snowflake shapes. 
Decorate with glitter glue, sequins and sparkly gems.
Use a tree hook or fishing line to hang from the Christmas tree.

Pinecone Ornaments

Collect fallen pinecones from the under the neighbourhood trees.
Coat in glue and sprinkle with glitter powder. Allow to dry.
Decorate with glitter glue, sequins and sparkly gems.
Tie fishing line around the top to hang from the Christmas tree.


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http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2013/12/festive-food-candy-crafts.html

Monday, 9 November 2015

Crafts for Christmas

I know it's only November. I know. But Halloween is over, which means Christmas is the next big thing to look forward to. The kids have already started making their wish lists. I've started digging out the Christmas decorations and begun mentally blinging out our living room. We even watched our first Christmas movie of the season this weekend. So you'll just have to bear with me. I don't care that it's only November - it's time to start thinking about Christmas. Christmas decorating, Christmas baking, Christmas gifting and entertaining and celebrating. And, of course, Christmas crafting!

Here are some of my favourite finds so far for Christmas crafting this year.

http://www.christmasidol.com/christmas-craft-ideas/
Sport Sock Snowman Craft
Photo: christmasidol.com
http://beafunmum.com/2012/09/christmas-craft-jar-tealights/
Christmas Tealight Holder Craft
Photo & Instructions: beafunmum.com
http://www.christmasidol.com/christmas-craft-ideas/
Button Christmas Tree Craft
Photo: christmasidol.com
 http://www.christmastrndinfo.tk/christmas-craft-ideas/
Paintbrush Santa Craft
Photo: christmastrndinfo.tk
 http://www.trcabc.com/blogs/teacher-resources/tagged/christmas-crafts
Orange Slice Ornament Craft
Photo: trcabc.com

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Friday, 6 November 2015

Halloween 2015

Halloween pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns

This year was probably our family's simplest Halloween yet.

The kids picked out, prepped and designed their own jack-o-lanterns. (The adults carved, of course!)
We set the pumpkins on the front porch, draped the entire front garden, stairs and porch in stretchy synthetic spiderweb and turned on the smoke machine. Voila - a spooky Halloween welcome for trick-or-treaters.


I made my traditional Halloween dinner "jack-o-lantern" stuffed peppers - orange peppers hollowed out and carved like a pumpkin stuffed with cottage cheese, diced tomatoes and onions with basil, and sprinkled with cheese and baked. Delish - and a family favourite for Halloween.

Halloween stuffed peppers, jack-o-lantern, Halloween dinner, Halloween treats


http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2014/10/minecraft-creeper-costume.html
And this year's costumes were all homemade or reused - no crazy crafting and planning for Mommy this year!


My oldest wanted to be Creeper again (which was awesome, since I spent about a zillion hours planning and creating that costume for him last year!) It needed some freshening up and a few small repairs after last year's trick-or-treating rainstorm, but it was a fairly quick fix - and once again was the most impressive costume in the neighbourhood. Literally every family we passed commented on how amazing it was.
(Full Creeper costume instructions here.)



Halloween costumes, ninja costume, Ninja Turtle costume, Creeper costume, kids costumes, trick-or-treatingMy younger son wanted to be a ninja, so we started with our dress-up chest, which is filled to overflowing with costumes and masks, weapons and accessories. Sure enough, we found a ninja mask, swords and ninja stars. He paired the mask with black track pants and a black hoodie and we covered the ensemble with a black kimono-style bathrobe. I sewed loops to the back of the robe to hold the swords and looped a belt high around his waist to hold the weapons. Easy - and free - ninja costume!


And Baby boy just dug through the dress-up chest and the closet of hanging costumes to pick his Ninja Turtle costume - with over a decade's worth of his brother's costumes to pick from, he was is heaven. And I was pretty excited the costume could get a second use!

It rained again, of course. After a warm week and a dry, sunny day the drizzling started just as we stepped outside to go trick-or-treating. Of course. But the kids had fun despite the rain. Happy Halloween!


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http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2012/10/happy-halloween.html

Monday, 2 November 2015

It's Expensive Being Poor

Debt sucks. And in an ideal world, debt is avoidable. But ours is not always an ideal world, and sometimes debt happens. Life happens, accidents happen, emergencies happen, unexpected expenses happen. And sometimes that means debt happens.

I know, I know. If you live within your means and you don't spend more than you make, you won't go into debt. If you plan ahead and set enough aside you'll have enough saved up to cover any emergencies. If you're responsible and smart and have a good plan and stick to it, you'll never find yourself falling behind financially.

But you know what? Accidents and emergencies and unexpected events are just that - unexpected. And sometimes those unexpected life events are just catastrophic enough to completely obliterate the best-laid plans.

A serious illness that keeps you from working will eat through an emergency fund in a few short months. A layoff during a recession could mean long-term unemployment or replacing a comfortable salaried position with a minimum-wage job. Divorce, a death in the family, any unexpected major life change can drastically affect your financial position.

In my case, I went from a double-income couple with two cars, a home, and a lifetime of earning potential ahead of us to a divorced single mom of two infants returning to the workforce at the bottom of the totem pole in the blink of an eye. Though I was a homeowner at twenty-one, before I was thirty I was struggling just to pay rent. As a single parent it was next to impossible to cover rent, daycare, bills and groceries for my little family.

Do you have any idea how much full-time daycare for a one- and a two-year-old costs? Coupled with rent and household bills - not manageable on a single income. I ate through my share of what was left after the divorce in the first few months on my own and started to use credit to bridge the gap every month. That gap got bigger every month, and so did my debt.

And that's how it happens. When you are poor and you have debt, the cycle of becoming ever poorer and more indebted becomes almost impossible to break.

It's expensive being poor.

If your income is barely covering your expenses, home ownership is not an option. Saving up a downpayment is an impossibility - and even if it weren't, you wouldn't be eligible for a mortgage anyway. So you're stuck paying rent - paying off someone else's mortgage, paying to increase someone else's equity in the home you're living in and caring for, paying out an enormous percentage of your income every month toward someone else's asset while your own net worth remains exactly the same. If you're already poor enough that your credit is already a problem, you may even have a hard time finding a rental. Or, living paycheque-to-paycheque, may find saving up first and last month's rent a hardship. You might have to seek out non-traditional - and more expensive - rental living options.

If you have bad credit or are over-credited, you won't be eligible to lease or finance a new car. You can either scrimp and save until you have enough to buy an old used car - which you will subsequently spend a small fortune on in frequent small repairs just to keep it on the road - or take public transit, sucking up the subsequent cost of extra hours of daycare expenses while you sit on the bus every day.

If you are barely making ends meet you can't save by buying in bulk - you don't have the extra five dollars to spend on the club-sized toilet paper pack at the grocery store, nevermind the fees for an annual membership at a big box wholesale club store. You can't buy seasonal items at half-off just after the holidays - you only just have enough to cover what you need to until the next payday. You can't take advantage of sales - you look for discounts on the things you need when you need them, but buying them whenever they happen to be on sale is simply not an option - the money isn't there.

Everything ends up costing more when you're poor, when you have bad credit or no credit, when you have to pay cash and pay up front and pay-as-you-go and when that debt you maybe couldn't help but accrue just balloons bigger and bigger every month while your payments disappear into the black hole of interest.

I was lucky. I landed an amazing job with flexible hours that helped me just manage to just get by without declaring bankruptcy until my kids started school full-time. I worked hard and did without and sacrificed like crazy to get out from under my debilitating debt and move forward. But it was hard - and it could just as easily have turned out very differently if opportunity and timing hadn't worked out so well.

Being poor is expensive. And the poorer you are, often the poorer you become. It's a vicious cycle of increased debt and expensive credit-free options and no matter how hard you work and how much you make, never quite having enough to dig yourself out of that hole and make ends meet.

(Originally published as It's Expensive Being Poor on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com)

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Monday, 26 October 2015

Simple Celebrations


Celebrating big events and major milestones with friends and family is one of the great joys in life – a chance to get together with the people we love, a chance to spoil them, a chance to indulge ourselves, a chance to step outside our normal everyday for a special occasion. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas; birthdays, baby showers, graduation parties, weddings. There are so many occasions to celebrate and splurge – and it’s also very easy to go overboard with those celebrations.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping a celebration simple. Good food, good friends, good conversation; that’s all you need. Custom cakes and themed decor are fun, but not necessary (look who’s talking!) and coordinated flowers and centrepieces and take-home gifts for guests are extras it’s easy to get carried away with.
Weddings are one of the worst offenders as far as over planning and over spending and unnecessary extravagance. Expensive banquet halls, food and drink for hundreds of guests, couture bridal gowns and coordinated bridesmaid dresses and tuxes, custom caked and sculpted centrepieces and designer decorated tablescapes, bombonniere and flowers and photographers and DJ’s.
A wedding is a wonderful occasion to celebrate, but often much of the meaning is lost as the bride and groom and their families get mired down in details for months and even years leading up to the big day – and then they’re left neck-deep in bills.
When did weddings become such a circus?
My brother and sister-in-law got married this weekend, and it was one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to. It was also one of the simplest.
Invitations were emailed to the forty guests less than a month in advance. The bride and her two bridesmaids bought their beautiful lace dresses off the rack in a single afternoon at a bridal shop. The only flowers were the rose petals their daughter carried in a basket. The ceremony was held in a gazebo in a downtown park, the gorgeous fall foliage the only decor. The reception was at a swanky west end restaurant, a comfortable cocktail hour around the posh bar, a delicious dinner served at long banquet-style tables, the tables pushed against the walls after dinner for dancing and drinks. The bride’s cousin sang their first dance song and the rest of the evening’s music came from their iPod.
It was simple, and it was beautiful.
We went simple for our own wedding, too – a few dozen of our nearest and dearest in the private party room of our favourite posh bistro on the historic main street of the town we grew up in, a simple ceremony at the front of the room before dinner, a few calla lilies and custom cupcakes with hand-made chocolates for our few little spurges. Lots of good food and good drink and good times with good friends and family.
It was simple compared to the extravagance we so often see with weddings, but it was beautiful and it was perfect.
The big events in life should be marked by celebrations, but those celebrations don’t have to be extravagant to be special. Sometimes it’s the simple celebrations that we enjoy and remember the most – and those celebrations are certainly easier on our wallets.
Do you have a story to share of celebration expenses gone crazy? Do you have any cost-saving tips for party planning?

Originally published as "Simple Celebrations" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

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Monday, 19 October 2015

Creative Costumes: Homemade Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner. Giant gourds are piled up outside every market, farmers' fields are filled with families picking out the perfect pumpkin, pop-up shops are open on every corner filled floor to ceiling with ghosts and ghouls and goblins and gravestones and creepy cobweb decorations and stores are filled with costumes for sale. 

Kids can find almost any costume imaginable - cute, cuddly, scary, unique, favourite characters from movies and tv - all designed down to the last detail, ready-to-buy and ready-to-wear. But store-bought costumes can often be expensive - and, since, so often they end up only being worn once, wasteful.

Why not make your child's Halloween costume at home? 

With three children to dress up for Halloween we have gone through many, many costumes over the years. We have gone both the store-bought and the homemade route, depending on what the boys wanted to be and what we could find, and I have to say that some of our very favourite family Halloween costumes of all time are the ones we made ourselves.

We've store-bought pumpkin costumes, dinosaurs, a ladybug and a fireman; Star Wars characters, Transformers, Ninja Turtles and the Mario Brothers. All adorable. 

http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2014/10/homemade-halloween.htmlWe couldn't find a coordinating Mario Brothers costume for my youngest, so the year our older two boys dressed up as Mario and Luigi I made a Mario Brothers mushroom costume out of dollar store items. Inverted plastic serving bowls covered in felt and sewn to the hood of my youngest's snowsuit: a five dollar Mario mushroom costume!

One year the boys wanted to dress up as pirates. I cut outgrown black pants into ragged, jagged edges between the ankle and the knee and chopped an old black and white t-shirt into striped sashes. They wore plain black or red t-shirts and open white button-downs with rolled-up sleeves. Pirate hats and bandanas, eye patches and earrings and medallions and beads from our dress-up chest and eye pencil "scars" across their cheeks and foreheads: homemade pirates using everything we already had at home.

Another year they dressed as ninjas. Plain black trackpants and hoodies under a little black bathrobe. Plain black masks and gloves. Ninja swords crossed on the back and tied with a high-waisted belt: homemade ninjas using everything we already had at home. 

Creeper costume, Minecraft, Halloween, homemade costumeAnd my favourite homemade costume by far was the Minecraft Creeper costume I made for my eldest last year. I wrapped cardboard boxes in plastic dollar store tablecloths and glued on a few dozen paint chips in various shades of green to mimic that pixelated video game look. (Creeper Costume photos and instructions.)

Consider making your child's costume at home this Halloween. Be creative! Think crafty, raid your closets and crawlspaces, explore your local dollar store. Use your imagination - sometimes the most amazing costumes are the ones we make ourselves.

Do you have ideas for awesome, inexpensive homemade costumes? Please share!

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http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2014/09/minecraft-party.html

Friday, 16 October 2015

Creative Halloween Pumpkin Crafts

Halloween is right around the corner. Here are some fantastic ideas for some creative Halloween pumpkin crafts to decorate your home for the holiday. Happy Halloween crafting!

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Monday, 12 October 2015

Giving Thanks

For most of the year, much of what I write is devoted to family finance and matters of money: spending, saving, paying down debt and frugal living. We talk about what to spend our money on and how to save on what we spend, we talk about saving for the future, we talk about paying off loans, we talk about wants and needs and choices and priorities as we all try to make sense of our money matters and keep our finances in order.
This weekend, let’s not worry about money or think about what we want but instead focus on what we have and give thanks.
I am thankful for a warm, cozy home and good food on my table and a family to share it with. I'm thankful for this amazing community I live in, for good friends and neighbours and always feeling safe and loved. I'm thankful for my husband and children who make me fall more in love with them every single day.
No matter how many things I have or don’t have, how many things I think I want or need, I have everything in my family. I am lucky, and I am thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you – I hope you have as much to be thankful for this holiday as I do.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Thanksgiving Crafts and Decor

It's time for Thanksgiving crafting! Time to fill the home with autumn colours and decor and keep your kids' hands busy making fun fall crafts. Here are some of my favourite finds for this year.

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Turkey crafts