How to save money during the holidays

BY: ALISON

No matter what you’re celebrating – be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza – or any other holiday – during the winter season traditions, celebrations and get togethers can be expensive, especially when gifts are involved. It’s extremely difficult for anyone to set a realistic budget and stick to it, so here are some tips to help you spend within your financial means during the holidays.

#1. Reduce the number of gifts you buy

Make an exhaustive list of all of the people you typically purchase gifts for. Review the list and see if you can shorten it. Ask yourself, is there anyone you don’t see as often, or anyone that you keep on your list simply because they have you on theirs? It might be time to cut them out.

person holding a gift in front of a christmas tree

It can be helpful to think about who are the people that you buy personalized gifts for, and who you buy generic gifts for. Consider not purchasing gifts for the people who fall in the latter category. This doesn’t have to be an awkward moment, a simple conversation or email to say you’re trying to save some money, de-clutter or that you have everything you need already, is usually all it takes for people to get the message. Ask what they think of no longer exchanging gifts, and odds are they will happily agree.

Suggest only getting gifts for the children in your lives. Adults can arrange a Secret Santa or Gift Swap, where each person brings one gift for one adult. Set a price range everyone can agree on, and remember a smaller amount can be even more fun, because then people have to be creative and thoughtful. I’ve also done this with gift themes, like practical gifts, handmade gifts, cooking tools, or re-gifted items only.

Here’s another option: my favourite type of party to host is an exchange party, because one person’s trash is truly another person’s treasure. People bring gently used clothing, shoes, accessories, or household items that they don’t want or need anymore. It all gets placed in the centre of a room and then people can look through and take home any items they like. Anything remaining at the end of the night gets donated to a charity that accepts such items.

christmas cookies

Once you’ve finalized the list of people that you will be giving gifts to, it’s important to set a realistic budget per person and stick to it. It will be very tempting to add little things or to get more expensive presents, but if you’re not strict about not going over budget, your finances could suffer for quite some time after the holiday season. It’s not worth it, and your friends and family don’t want that for you.

#2. Choose less expensive gifts

Some of the best gifts I’ve ever received barely cost anything, check out some of these ideas below.

Write it Out

Write a letter expressing how much someone means to you. Relive favourite memories, share what you admire about them and let them know the difference they’ve made in your life. The recipient will feel very touched and appreciated, and just the surprise of receiving something in the mail is a wonderful gift in and of itself.

Edible Options

The most thoughtful gifts are homemade. If you want to give people edible gifts, cookies, cake, or chocolate truffles made from scratch (or close to it) are great. If you want to give a bit more, wrap the food in in an additional gift, such as a tea towel, baking pan, or a pretty dish, bowl, or gift box. Alternatively, you can assemble meals in glass jars, such as this delicious split pea soup. You can also check out some of BIST’s favourite Chef Janet Craig’s easy recipes, such as these amazing coconut cranberry slices.

For the Crafty Folk

If you’re a knitter, handmade comfy socks, scarves or ornaments make a great gift.  Another idea: my cousin starts growing unique plants up to a year in advance and separates the baby plants into new pots. Then she gives the individual plants away as gifts for the holidays. All you need, other than time, sunlight, and water, is small, inexpensive pots and potting soil.

A bowl of chocolate Santas with oranges

Make an Advent Calendar 

I love receiving and making advent calendars. You can use kraft or wrapping paper to make gift bags, you can reuse small boxes, or sew your own mini stockings (DIY instructions HERE.

I’ve seen people wrap toilet paper rolls in pretty paper. Number the gifts from 1 to 24 and you’ll be able to surprise someone for almost the entire month of December. I like to collect little $1 items for advent calendars throughout the year, such as small toys, craft supplies, stickers or $1 lottery scratch tickets. You can also write down inspirational quotes or suggest a daily activity, such as building a snow man.

#3. Life Hacks on Saving Money while Shopping

If you decide to spend money on gifts, here are some tips for how you can still save money on your purchases:

Make a donation to a cause that your friends and family are passionate about. Make the donation in their name and send a card to let them know.

Buy discounted gift cards, look for deals where you pay less but get a higher valued gift card. Costco offers these on a regular basis, while Cineplex often offers deals closer to the holiday season. Just be sure to read the fine print, because sometimes an expiration date may apply.

Start early – really early 

The following tips work best if you know exactly what you want to give to each of the people on your list:

  • Start researching prices and shopping early in the year so you can track sales and figure out what the best prices are. It also allows you to spread the cost of the holidays across several months. Just don’t purchase edible items too early in advance!
  • Go to chat forums such as www.redflagdeals.com where people share and discuss all sorts of deals and sales.
  • Be sure to compare the prices of the items you’re looking for across different stores. Don’t forget to price compare online, if you’re able to.
  • Create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the best prices and sales that you find throughout the year. Sales are often announced in flyers and on store websites. I love using the flipp app to pull up and compare all of the flyers in one easy place.
  • The best deals are when you can stack promotions. For example, if you have a general coupon that you can use on anything in a store, wait to see if your item gets heavily discounted, and then use your coupon to get a further discount. Check the conditions and keep an eye on the expiration date.
  • Find out which stores near you will price match and learn their conditions. Some companies will even offer you an additional discount when you price match in their store.
  • The most important things to consider when shopping online are exchange rates, shipping costs and times, refund/exchange policy, and applicable duty costs.
  • If you’re shopping for experiences, try deals websites such as groupon.com and wagjag.com but read the fine print as they tend to have short expiration dates and multiple conditions.
  • If you shop online often, consider signing up for an account with ebates.ca which will give you cash back if you shop on certain websites through the ebates link.
  • Some of the best discounts are not advertised. For big ticket items such as TVs, appliances and furniture, stores will sell discontinued models at a very good price. You can ask sales associates if they have any discontinued models or when they are expecting the manufacturers to release new lists.

A pile of boxed gifts

Here’s wishing you a happy, stress-free and cost-efficient holiday!


‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other trauma). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor.

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Understanding my post traumatic brain injury nightmares

BY: ALYSON ROGERS

I have two recurring nightmares. In the first one, I’m on a basketball court and I am 16-years-old again. I’m playing my old point guard position. I am scared and dribbling the ball cautiously because I am not supposed to be here but my coach put me in the game. I’ve never dreamed long enough to find out if I make it through.

My [nightmares] are the manifestations of the trauma in traumatic brain injury - Alyson Rogers

In my second dream, I’m on a rollercoaster at a theme park I visited often as a kid except I’m my 26-year-old self. I know it’s not safe for me to be there and I’m scared of how I will come out at the end of the ride. In this dream as well, I never dream long enough to find out.

It’s taken me years to realize my dreams are reoccurring. I understand now they are related to the part of brain injury I don’t like to talk about: how my brain injury impacts my mental and emotional health, how the act of being injured in itself is traumatic.

After a traumatic event, it’s common to have nightmares about the specific event or the circumstances surrounding the event. My dreams make sense, they are the manifestations of the trauma in traumatic brain injury.

My initial brain injury occurred during a basketball game. In the basketball dream, I’m the same age, playing the same position and in the same gym where I acquired my injury. I have the same coach who encouraged me to play despite having a brain injury.  I know I shouldn’t be on the court and I’m afraid someone is going to hit me with their body or the ball, but part of me is happy to be there.

Despite my brain injury, I sometimes test the waters with new and old activities such as riding a bike, zip-lining and jumping rock to rock while hiking. Sometimes I do things I know I shouldn’t, such as not wearing a helmet while biking or rollerblading. Despite my willingness to test the waters and tempt fate, I would never try to go on a rollercoaster again. This is a former love that would likely cause significant damage to my brain and potentially kill me. It makes sense I have nightmares about being on rollercoasters.

After living with brain injury for ten years, I am still learning new things. This week, I learned I have recurring nightmares from the traumatic event that was my TBI.


Alyson is 26-years-old and acquired her first brain injury ten years ago. She graduated from Ryerson University and is a youth worker at a homeless shelter. In her spare time, Alyson enjoys writing, rollerblading and reading. Follow her on Twitter @arnr33 or on The Mighty.

A new way to enjoy green beans

BY: CHEF JANET CRAIG

Are you looking for a new way to enjoy your greens?

french green beans, freshly blanched

This lovely recipe can be prepared in advance and served as a cold side salad in the vinaigrette or warm in same sauce!

Blanche Beans

Any green vegetable such as asparagus, broccoli, and rapini can be blanched, here’s how:

  • Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water with ice cubes.
  • Depending on the size of the vegetable place, in boiling water one to four minutes. Drain and place immediately in ice water.

French beans covered in sauce, with vinaiger and lemon on the side

Herb Vinaigrette

This lovely dressing can be used as a dunking sauce for fresh bread too. I often double or triple it and leave in the fridge for any salad.

  • 1 tbsp grainy dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tsp each of any fresh herbs – I use basil, dill, tarragon, parsley, mint, chives and cilantro
  • Zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 1 tbsp sherry or tarragon vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3-cup good olive oil

Whisk together shallot, grainy mustard, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, thyme, tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Gradually whisk in oil, I use a hand blender or small food processor to get it creamy.

Pour on top of vegetables and enjoy!


Chef Janet Craig recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly.  You can find out more about her HERE.

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Cook Up Some Happiness

BY: ALISON

Working with our hands to makes things reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, symptoms common to people living with brain injury.

Examples of rewarding and therapeutic activities include, but are not limited to: gardening, crafting, and my favourite, cooking. The entire process of preparing a meal – from the planning and anticipation to the execution, eating and sharing – promotes mindfulness, creativity, and happiness.

Cook up some happinrdd

I love that cooking can be as simple or as complex as you’d like and that there is always something new to learn.  There are many benefits to making your own meals, such as:

  • saving money and time
  • improving mental and physical health
  • avoiding unhealthy ingredients found in processed foods
  • challenging yourself to try new things, acquiring new skills and knowledge
  • raising confidence and sense of independence
  • spending quality time with family and friends when you cook and eat together

Food is a conversational topic that many people are passionate about. You might even consider starting your own blog to journal your culinary experiences, post favourite recipes, and share helpful tips and tricks.

Look for some inspiration!

CookingwithAlison.com is a food blog, written by an ABI survivor, that shares recipes from different cultures that vary in difficulty. You will also find information about different ways to save money on groceries.

Don’t forget this blog’s own recipe column by Chef Janet Craig, Blow Your Mind Recipes, which features easy and nutritious recipes for the ABI Community, featuring delicious recipes such as:

Gluten-free Almond Rice Bars

Egg Foo Yung

Fruit Breakfast Bars

Homemade Ketchup

Cream of Roasted Garlic & Onion Soup

Baked Cocoa Wings

Not convinced?

Psychologists explain that baking feels really good, especially when you share your baked goods with other people, because it is an outlet for creativity, self-expression and communication.

There is evidence that connects creative expression with overall well-being. Whether that expression is through painting, creating music or baking, it can be very effective at helping you cope with stress, because it requires all of your attention, involves all of your senses, and results in being present and mindful.

Psychologists liken the act of baking to art therapy in that it can be used on a type of therapy called behavioural activation. And simply put, we feel good about ourselves when we share our baked goods with others. 

Personally, I love the feeling when I find a new favourite recipe or when I’ve finally perfected a technique. It takes a few batches to get there. Happy cooking and baking!


‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other trauma). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor.

Warm up with delicious, gluten free almond rice bars

BY: CHEF JANET CRAIG

To say the least, it’s been a wet fall in Toronto. Here’s something to warm up to: a delicious, vegan, rice bar that’s low in sugar, gluten and dairy free – enjoy with a warm cup of tea or your favourite hot beverage!
almond rice bars

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup liquid coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
  • 1/2 cup cocoa nibs or dairy-free chocolate chips
  • 4 cups rice cereal
  • Slivered almonds as garnish

Directions:

  1. Line an 9 x 9 inch pan with parchment or wax paper
  2. Place rice cereal and dried fruit in large bowl
  3. Mix together almond butter, coconut oil, rice syrup and vanilla in another glass bowl and heat in a pot until you can stir everything easily together. Let cool for two to three minutes.
  4. Add mixture to cereal and stir well with spatula.
  5. Mix in the chocolate and pat into the pan. Garnish with almonds.
  6. Chill then cut into small bars and enjoy!

Chef Janet Craig’s recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly.

You can find out more about her HERE.

August 2018 Community Meeting Recap: Brain Health with Paul Hyman

BY: JULIA RENAUD

Brain Health

As a brain injury survivor, these two enchanting words instantly grab my attention and get me craving to learn more. Lucky for me, this was the topic of BIST’s August Community Meeting, and guest speaker, Paul Hyman, had my full attention. Paul is a wonderfully accomplished champion for the brain injury community and he comes with a very impressive resume (check out his website if you don’t believe me). Among all of his accomplishments, he is most well known for being the president and founder of Brain Fitness International, an organization that helps those living with a brain injury to maximize their potential and live better lives.

Picture of Paul Hyman
Paul Hyman, Creator and CEO of Brain Fitness International

Paul began the evening with a quick one liner to explain what ‘brain health’ means to him: movement-based, multi-sensory brain stimulation. Put simply, this means that through movement and engaging your senses you are actually helping your brain. To elaborate upon this concept, Paul used the example of a student who was taking a class and, to the professor’s dismay, knitted throughout every lecture rather than taking notes. To the professor’s astonishment, this student ended up far exceeding the professor’s expectations come the completion of the course. Because knitting utilizes both sides of the body, and therefore, both hemispheres of the brain, the student was able to better absorb the information. For this reason, a pipe cleaner (the craft supply) was handed out to each community meeting attendee to fiddle with, using both hands, throughout the presentation. I have been using this pipe cleaner trick for about a week now and, when I do, I feel like I’m better at absorbing and recalling information; so, if it tickles your fancy give it a try!

PipeCleaners
PHOTO VIA RAINBOW CREATIONS

The point that Paul chose to emphasize was that movement stimulates the brain. If you don’t believe me, lift your arms high in the air and shake your hands around. Just by moving, you are improving your capacity to learn, memorize, and recall information. If you’re currently struggling with brain injury and some sticky symptoms, this may be exhausting; but, as Paul says, movement is great for the brain – try it out and see how you feel.

Further to movement being a brain stimulant, a principle that has been known for many years now was also highlighted, ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.’ This speaks to the neuroplasticity of the brain,  how the brain is capable of forming new connections.

Using both body and breath to stimulate the brain is a fantastic way to facilitate recovery and also leaves you feeling great. We went through several activities over the course of the evening, and below I will share some of my favourites. I’ve included some fun names for each exercise to hopefully make them easier to recall.

Activities

Paul used to be a professional trombone player, to which he credits learning the importance of the breath. This first exercise is intended to help you become accustomed to taking slower and deeper breaths. All you need is a tissue! I call this one, the tissue trap:

The Tissue Trap:

  • Take a tissue and hold it up against a wall.
  • Exhale slowly and deeply onto the tissue so that it stays stuck to the wall without you needing to hold it in place. Do this as slowly as possible.
  • For added fun, you can time yourself or challenge others to see who can hold it the longest. (New party trick, maybe?)
  • Vary this exercise by blowing puffs of air instead of a steady stream. If you don’t have a wall handy, use another surface like a book, or hold the tissue between your fingers and watch the tissue fly as you control it using your breath.

This next exercise utilizes both hemispheres of the brain and helps them to work together. It is commonly referred to as eye tracking or lazy 8’s. For a more detailed explanation, click here, otherwise follow the steps below:

Eye Tracking Lazy 8

Eye Tracking/Lazy 8’s:

  • Outstretch your arm in front of you so it’s perpendicular to the floor.
  • Make the thumbs up sign with the hand of your outstretched arm.
  • Move your arm to draw a big, imaginary infinity sign (an 8 on its side, see above). Continue to do this motion.
  • While keeping your head still and facing forward, move your eyes to keep your gaze on your thumb as it moves around.
  • Try this out with your other arm and/or with your fingers interlaced.
  • Vary the direction of your figure 8. For example, instead of going up the middle every time, try going down the middle.

If you prefer, you may like to draw your lazy 8 on a piece of paper or white board. This can be particularly handy if you get dizzy from drawing them in the air.

Brain Gym PACE

PACE is a Brain Gym mnemonic for Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic, which together, form a technique for warming up both your brain and your body to maximize your capacity to learn. Now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe this practice using only words for a while, but lucky for me, and let’s be honest, you too, I stumbled on this handy video that captures PACE in a straightforward way.

pace brain Gympace brain Gym

The BIST community meeting attendees really enjoyed Paul’s presentation as he was an excellent speaker with a very engaging presentation. I’ve been told that he will likely return for more presentations in the future so stay tuned!

In the mean time, don’t forget to check out the BIST calendar or all types of events.

October Community Meeting: Join us for our Halloween Party on October 31st!

November Community Meeting: Essential Oils & & ABI with Rose-Ann Partridge – November 28th, 6 – 8 pm 

 

 

This World Egg Day: Cook up Egg Foo Yung

BY: CHEF JANET CRAIG

Egg Foo Yung is a basic omelet, high in protein and gluten free. You can add leftover chicken, shrimp or ham to it for an extra protein boost!

This recipe is great and the sauce works for any stir fry. For Egg Foo Yung, make the whole recipe and serve over the omelet as a sauce or gravy.

  • Four egg whites beaten, or whole eggs
  • Four tbsp water
  • One tsp sesame seed oil
  • One bunch green onions
  • Two cups bean sprouts
  • Two tsp fresh grated ginger
  • One chopped garlic clove
  • One large stalk of celery chopped
  • Sauce ingredients which you can just shake in a bottle & add 1/2 cup to the recipe.
Left: egg foo yung in pan on stove top next to pot of sauce, right top image: eggs in shell, middle right chop sticks on top of a wooden table, bottom right bean sprouts
EGG FOO YUNG PHOTO: JANET CRAIG

Omelet

1. Beat eggs with water, oil.
2 Spray a stir fry pan  with vegetable spray.
3. Sauté onions, celery, garlic & ginger together until translucent.
4. Add omelet with the beans sprouts and cook like a pancake until firm.

Sauce

  • One cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • One tbsp grated ginger
  • Two cloves of garlic, minced
  • Two tbsp Sherry, or white wine ( vermouth)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • One tbsp honey or Hoisin Sauce
  • Two tbsp cornstarch
  1. Make a ” slurry” of cornstarch and broth by slowly stirring in adding more fluid.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients in a jar which you can shake to keep cornstarch mixed.

 


Chef Janet Craig’s recipes are simple, healthy, delicious and ABI friendly. You can find out more about her HERE.

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