Saturday, December 7, 2013

Keeping a List and Checking It Twice – Part 2: Housekeeping and decorating

Keeping a List and Checking It Twice – Part 2: Housekeeping and decorating
In my last guest entry on the blog, I filled you all in on the fact that I will soon be hosting what I have dubbed the Pearson Family Christmas Spectacular and we talked through some of the meal prep I’ve been doing.  Today, I’ll fill you in on my efforts to prepare the house.

Now, my home isn’t big and it’s kind of old.  But, it’s charming and well suited for our family of two plus a dog.  As much as I love our home and love to invite people to visit, I am actually a little concerned about how I am going to comfortably host the Pearson Family Christmas Spectacular.  Here are my concerns:
  1. Cleanliness.  As in, it won’t be clean when they arrive, won’t be kept clean when they are here, and it will be even less clean when they depart.
  2. Christmas decorations.  I’m worried the house won’t look festive enough.
  3. Accommodations.  Do we have a bed for everyone?  No, we don’t.

Just writing these down are making me stress a little bit.  Good thing that I thought about this a few months ago and came up with my task list.  Annnd, already completed some of them.  Woo-hooo!  Here’s what I’ve done, so far:

Hired a cleaning lady.  I actually had/have some weird guilt associated with this decision; but, I think it will disappear when I realize that the house will be clean before, during, and after the Pearson Family Christmas Spectacular.  To find this cleaning service, I contacted a good friend whose family lives in my area and asked who her mother uses.  Minutes later, I had the phone number of a trusted cleaning lady referred by someone I know.  I hired the lady to do a deep clean before the Pearsons arrive and then after they leave.  I think I can handle whatever happens while they are here.  Having a professional take over this job is definitely the right choice.  The guilt is already dissipating…

Started decorating.  My husband and I are usually pretty late to the Christmas decorating game; but not this year.  The garland went up on the mantle before Thanksgiving, the light went up promptly this past Sunday, and the wreaths are already on the door.  We’ll still cut down our tree together next weekend – some traditions are worth keeping no matter what.

Bought beds at fall sales.  Okay, we still don’t have a bed for everyone but all adults will have a bed and not an air mattress.  I am proud of us, however, because we planned ahead and bought beds and mattresses this fall at the Labor Day and Columbus Day sales.  The guest rooms aren’t perfect and the furniture doesn’t quite match; but, at least our guests will be able to lie down.   

There’s still so much to do.  Flowers, table cloths, stockings, air mattress for the kiddos…Thank God that I have my plan to get it all done.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Keeping a List and Checking It Twice (Part 1)

I am excited to share the first of a four part series revolving around Christmas prep! 

I would like to introduce our guest blogger who will share her tricks and tips for the upcoming holiday.   Meet Elizabeth who is currently planning to host a number of out of town guests over Christmas and New Years.   Elizabeth works full time, takes care of her sweet new puppy Lucy, and hosts numerous dinner parties.  Let's call her a younger Martha Stewart.  

Keeping a List and Checking It Twice
You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why – the in-laws are coming to town!

It’s true, friends.  I have a mere 19 days until my husband’s family arrives at our home in Arlington, VA for 11 days.  Now, I am a lucky girl because I genuinely adore my husband’s family; but, the thought of hosting, feeding, and entertaining nine adults and two children under five is daunting.  My technique to ensure a low-stress and high-fun holiday this year?  Planning.  Serious serious planning. 

Now, I love to-do lists a lot, but I knew a list wasn’t going to cut it this year.   I needed to be able to organize my thoughts by category and then sort/list the to-do items within each category.  I also wanted to tie those tasks to a calendar to ensure I didn’t procrastinate and end up having to feed my family Chinese food for Christmas dinner a la A Christmas Story.  Fa-Ra-Ra, anyone?

So my plan of attack looks something like this.  I have four categories:
  •  Meals/food
  • Housekeeping and decorating
  • Entertainment
  •  Gifts

Within each category lives a serious to-do list with each task given a date (or range of dates) to complete.  I did an epic data-dump/brainstorming session to try and get every possible little item down on paper (actually, it’s a Google Drive document).  Getting out of my head and into my planning document was liberating because the stress of trying to remember what I need to do gets overwhelming.  As I think of more things, I just plop them into the document.  Easy.

Over the next week or so, I’ll talk about each category and share what I’m working on and give some tips that have helped me.  Hopefully, they’ll help you, too.

Let's start with meal and food prep. 

There are three things that anyone hosting the Pearsons should know:

  1. They travel in large groups.
  2. They have crazy awesome metabolisms.  So, basically, they eat twice their weight at every meal and are still as thin as supermodels
  3. Their energy is boundless.

Let’s call this trifecta the ”Pearson Effect.”  I have witnessed the Pearson Effect many times, but one particular instance will be burned in my memory forever, mostly because it involved watching an outsider experiencing it for the first time.  Picture it.  Quaint Italian villa in Umbria.  The entire Pearson clan is invited to spend two weeks as the guest of family friends, who are also staying at the villa.  The family friends, anticipating our arrival, purchase groceries for the first week.  Pearsons arrive.  Pearsons eat the entire supply of groceries within hours.  The family friend can’t understand how she underestimated the volume of food necessary to feed her guests.

I swear this happened.  So, maybe now you can understand the need for me to prepare for their arrival.  

Maybe your family has a similar ability to eat their way through life?  If so, here are some things I’m doing that may help you, too.

Research recipes: Start flagging recipes that look like they’d fit everyone’s palate and dietary restrictions.  I look for those that are freezer friendly or can be easily/quickly assembled, too.
Make a meal chart: It sounds anal retentive, and maybe it is, but it works.  Put down every day, every meal, and account for snacks, too.  This also will help you make your grocery list and keep your budget in check.  I use my trusty Google Drive to make and maintain this chart.
Use coupons or specials: I never really had an interest in coupons until my husband started showing my how much we can save on things like paper towels, dish soap, paper plates, toilet paper, etc.  Watch the newspapers or in-store specials to stock up on these items BEFORE you need them. 
Pre-Cook:  It’s hard to play hostess and chef at the same time.  To avoid that stressful situation, I’m cooking some dishes in advance and freezing them.  The hard work I’m putting in now will pay off when I can spend time enjoying my guests’ company, rather than slaving away for hours in the kitchen.  Check out the lasagna I made and froze last night. 

My last tip is one that I just discovered and it may not be available in your area: online grocery shopping.  Now I love going to the grocery store, especially my beloved Whole Foods (cue angels singing), BUT this service is saving me hours of my life.  It also is keeping me on target with regard to buying the things I actually need.  I research/choose my recipes, create my shopping list online to buy the ingredients, and then schedule pick up.  The nice people at Harris Teeter do the shopping, bag the groceries, and run my card.  All I have to do is pick them up and pay them a mere $5.  Ah-maze-ing.   Really, check it out.   Well, unless you live in North Arlington, VA -- I’m pretty sure I bought out the store this week in preparation for the impending Pearson Effect.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cyber Monday deals!

Wow! My inbox is completely clogged with so many Cyber Monday deals I can barely keep up.  I want to take advantage of these deals but I must control myself!  I am making a point to buy less and spend more time with family and friends this holiday season.  Below are three of my favorite deals from today.

Deal #1:

The Green Elephant Co. 
Cyber Monday Deal: $10 off $40 or more.  Use Code: cyber2013

Adorable children's clothes!  Check out the Etsy website for many more great items.

Deal #2

I found the chevron home prints below on for $6.99.  Yes I love and you can read more about it in an earlier post.  They are perfect to brighten up any room with many different colors to customize.

Deal #3
Cyber Monday Code: "mittens"

I am a shoe in for fun jewelry.  A really cute red teardrop necklace with cloth tie for $9.99.  Normally this necklace sells for $29.99.

What other good deals have you found today? Cheers to Cyber Monday and 23 days until Christmas!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Post Thanksgiving Food Hangover (Israeli Couscous)

After a wonderful long Thanksgiving weekend filled with lots of family, love, and FOOD (more to come) I wanted to make something light for dinner tonight.  I borrowed Barefoot Contessa's  Foolproof cookbook (I pretty much love all of her recipes and watch her show religiously) and decided to try her Israeli Couscous as a side dish.  This recipe was quick, easy, and sooo good! I did something Ina always says not to do.  I did not follow her recipe word for word and made a couple substitutions.

2 cups Israeli couscous (10 to 12 ounces)
2 (7-ounce) cans or jars Italian tuna, drained and flaked  (If you know me well enough I don't do tuna :)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup good olive oil
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 cup pitted, oil-cured black olives, coarsely chopped (3 ounces)
1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, medium-diced (4 ounces) (I forgot to pick up at the store so I used a fresh green pepper)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped scallions (6-8 scallions)
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add the couscous and reduce the heat to very low. Cover the pot and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until the couscous is just tender. (I pull the pot halfway off the heat.) Drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, combine the tuna, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, capers, olives, red peppers, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper in a large bowl. Pour the hot couscous into the mixture and stir well. Cover and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Just before serving, stir in the scallions, basil, juice of the 1/2 lemon, and 1 more teaspoon of salt. Taste for seasonings and serve warm or at room temperature.

I served the Israeli Couscous with baked chicken topped with crab dip.  Make sure you top the couscous with extra basil and green onions.  This side dish was made for less than $7 and leftovers for the next couple of days.

Looking forward to sharing some more recipes from the past few days this upcoming week.  How do you recover from post- Turkey weekend?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving is almost here!

Where does the time go?  The past fall seemed to fly by! Each weekend was filled with a major activity (weddings, vacation to Key West, etc!) There was very little down time. Hence, the pause from blogging.  I was asked to work on a Thanksgiving tablescape for the blog Happily Island After.  Happily Island After had a total of five different styles for Thanksgiving tablescapes found here.  Voting ends midnight tomorrow.

My goal is to get back into blogging.  The holidays are coming and I can't wait to share all the upcoming events.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Healthy fall side dish

I have been busying making lots of fall foods the past couple weeks but not blogging about any of the them! (Don't worry I will catch up with more posts)  Starting the month of October I have been on a quest to eat healthier by focusing on vegetables.   I was inspired by watching Barefoot Contessa on the food network roast vegetables.  I went to the grocery store and picked up tons of in season vegetables.  It's so EASY! Literally, you cut the vegetables, drizzle with olive oil, add seasoning (garlic powder or fresh garlic, onion powder, pepper), and bake for 40 minutes on 425 degrees.  In most recipes they recommend adding salt, however, I am trying to reduce salt intake.  I did not add any additional salt and it was still delicious!

Specifically, I decided to roast brussel sprouts, red onion, and sweet potatoes.  Why this combination?  It just sounded good to me.  I made sure to cut all vegetables similar in size to ensure they roasted evenly.  The prep took me about five minutes! Total cost of dish....$3.23.

The final product.... This is a healthy quick alternative to other side dishes during the weeknights when you are short on time.  A perfect way to take advantage of fall vegetables as well.

What are some of your favorite healthy fall dishes?  I hope everyone enjoys their long (hopefully) Columbus Day weekend.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Etsy Finds...

One of my favorite baby shower gifts I received was a handmade Ravens hat.  Benjamin was able to finally wear it this morning.  You can find this adorable Ravens Poe hat on Etsy.  The Etsy store also has a variety of other children's hats (owls, bunnies, bears, dinosaur, etc) perfect for fall and winter weather.  The store is running a one time special today with everything 15% off using the coupon code GORAVENS.  I encourage you to take a look!  It's never to early to start holiday shopping.