Sunday, December 25, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa Claus is Coming to Town just about 5 days.  Can you believe it?  I am personally facing the weekend with much excitement and sadness as I know at this time next week, Christmas 2011 will officially be a thing of the past.  But enough about that! 

There is much to be done over the next few days but as I watch the frazzled, harried faces of those around me, I am again reminded of why I start planning for Christmas in August.  I have a couple last minute presents to wrap, which I'll finish up today.  Dinners  for the week are all made and just need to be popped in the oven.  With that being said, my plans for the week are as follows:
Take the kids to see Christmas lights
Watch A Christmas Carol and The Nativity Story (my two favorites!)
Breakfast with my BFF
A visit with a friend from out of town
Lunch with my mom for her birthday

It really is the most WONDERFUL time of the year!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Take Action- Finish Up!

It's the first full week of December and we are about to finish our Christmas preparations.  Yes, I said, "Finish!"

Granted, I'm sure there are some last minute details you will still need to finish up.  I've never had a year go by when there wasn't a gift or two I needed in a pinch or wasn't wrapping at least a couple presents up to the last minute.

Here are your goals for this week:

Week of December 4th - December 10th

*Mail your packages and cards

*Finish purchasing your gifts

*Wrap and label any remaining gifts

*Pepare teacher/school and work gifts

As your calendar fills with parties, events, and family functions, you can be proud of all you accomplished over the last several weeks.  You've worked hard ( and probably dealt with your fair share of ridicule) and now it all pays off.  Enjoy the season!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Take Action

It's here!  The Christmas season is officially upon us. I hope your Thanksgiving celebration was a success and that all your planning ahead paid off.  I can honestly say that for the first time in our family's history, dinner was on the table at the designated time.  This most likely was due to some Divine intervention, but I'd like to think that I'm getting at least a little better at this each year.

Since most of your shopping, baking, and wrapping has already been done, I trust that you are finding some time to enjoy the season with your family and relaxing with a good Christmas movie.

This week, there are only a few things work on (besides enjoying the fruits of your early labor).

Here you go!

Week of November 27th - December 3rd

*Decorate your house and yard- tackle one project at a time.  For instance, the Christmas tree.  Bring in only the boxes pertaining to that.  When it's complete remove those boxes and bring in the next set.  Take one room at a time, if possible.  This eliminates "decorating overload", which can be stressful and unnerving to those of us who like to maintain some semblance of order in the home (even if just a little).  Start with the absolute decorating "musts"- those things that your family would miss if they weren't out.  You may find as you progress that you don't feel the need to put everything out.  Sometimes less is more!  Take as much time as you need to decorate to your liking. 

*Wrap your Black Friday purchases- don't forget to label and store them.

*Update your gift shopping list and check to make sure you're on budget.  If not, adjust accordingly.

*Prepare all packages for mailing- and beat the crowd to the post office!

*Try to plan at least one evening to enjoy with the family- watching a Christmas movie,  playing a game, singing Christmas carols.  Be sure to pull out some of the goodies you have in your freezer and enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Take Action

Thanksgiving week is here!  Our freezer meals are made and our Christmas goodies are baked.  Now it's time to take advantage of some of  that advance preparation.  Let's get busy!

Week of November 20th - 26th

* Get everything out for Thanksgiving- prepare what can be done ahead of time.

*Finish any last minute shopping- including fresh produce and bakery products

*Wednesday- use a freezer meal.  If you run out to pick up anything let it be a salad to accompany your meal.  Otherwise...avoid the grocery store at all cost!

*Friday or Saturday- Start decorating for Christmas- Pull out your Christmas tree, if you go the artificial route, and set it up.

*Wrap, label, and store any gifts you picked up on Black Friday.

*Deadline Week- if your homemade gifts are not finished, put them away and purchase something else.  This is life.  Be realistic and let yourself off the hook without regrets.  You gave it your best shot.  There's always next year!

*Eat some Thanksgiving leftovers and pop in a Christmas movie!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Take Action

In case you've lost track, we are on week 12 of our holiday prep and Christmas Countdown.  Thanksgiving is just over a week a way and Christmas is right on it's heals.  I'm so excited about all of the things we've accomplished already and after this week, we'll be ready to hit the cruise control in some areas.  Let's get started so we can be finished!

Week of November 13th-19th

*Make a batch of holiday goodies- if you've been faithfully making a batch a week, your freezer should be bursting but relax.  This is our last one.  Your holiday baking is about to be done!

*Make one freezer meal- once again, this is your last.  You should now have 10 meals you can pull out of your freezer in a pinch.  Decide which one you will be using next Wednesday.  You do NOT need to be cooking another meal the night before Thanksgiving!

*Buy at least one more gift- the operative phrase is "at least".  If you're like me and look forward to Black Friday sales, you could put this off until next week and knock out several.  If not, get one more checked off your list.  Wrap, label, and store it.

If you're not hosting Thanksgiving, you can stop there!  If you are hosting Thanksgiving, you have a few more things on your plate (pun intended).

*Make place cards

*Be sure all serving pieces are clean

*Borrow any additional pieces

*Check, clean, iron linens.

*Prepare centerpiece

*Make 3X5 card for each serving dish- on it, write what goes in it, when it can be filled, and silverware needed to serve it..  Tape it to the dish.  If you have a place to stack those dishes, put them all together.  Otherwise, you can place them back in the cabinet.  But at least you'll know what to pull out and when.  The other benefit to this is that when your kitchen is buzzing with family and friends who are asking to help, you can direct them to a dish and let them do the rest!

*Finalize your Thanksgiving menu & shoppping list- start shopping now before the crowds get out of control and inventory is sparse.  Next week, you can pick  up your bakery goods and fresh produce

The Nightmare Before Christmas

It's official.  I had my first pre-Christmas nightmare.  It was late Christmas Eve and I realized that, not only had I not wrapped even one of my kid's Christmas presents, I had forgotten to buy them.  I remember standing in the living room with my husband at about midnight and discussing whether or not we could hold Christmas off for one more day without the kids figuring it out.  I distinctly recall glancing at the clock and thinking that I could just pull an all-nighter and pull something together.

So, okay, I may be playing it fast and loose with the word "nightmare".  But for someone with my personality (and by "personality" I mean "OCD"), that's darn near terrifying.  I think it's safe to say that my sub-conscious is trying to tell me I'm not as prepared as I would like to be.

Today it is time to bear down and make sure I'm on track with all my planning and preparations.  In other words, I'm making a list and checking it twice. :-)  Truthfully, I'm checking my lists and making a new list, but that doesn't sound quite as poetic.

I hope you are not experiencing that kind of anxiety.  But, if you are starting to feel the pressure of the holidays looming, take a few moments to evaluate where you are in your preparations and focus on the things that are of utmost importance to you.  Shorten your list.  The key isn't to finish everything on it, but to be able to do the things that matter most to you.  Prioritize and take one thing at a time.  Remember:
"Action is the foundational key to all success." -Pablo Picasso

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Take Action

Week of November 6th - 12th

Make a batch of holiday goodies- if you haven't noticed already, it's not necessary to double your batches unless you plan on having  more goodies than you'll know what to do with.  If you feel you already have more than enough, feel free to skip this step.  Only one more week of goodies to make after this and then your holiday baking will be done!

Make a freezer meal- regardless of whether or not you think you have too many, make another.  Remember that there will be holiday gatherings and company lingering after Christmas too.  New Years often sneaks up.  Save a meal for New Years Eve or New Years Day when you don't want to have to cook.  Also, only one more week of this.  You'll  be all done before the biggest cooking day of the year- Thanksgiving!

Buy at least 1 gift- at this point I recommend buying as many as you can afford.  The more you purchase now the less you have to think about later.

Wrap and label your packages

Finish up any crafts or homemade gifts

Review and revise your Thanksgiving menu & update your shopping list-  Or, if you haven't created one yet...make your shopping list!  Many Thanksgiving food products will go on sale this week and next (if they aren't already).  Having your list ready means you can pick them up while taking advantage of sale prices.

Plan your table setting and/or centerpiece- borrow any items that you may need, if possible.
Purchase, clean, or iron your holiday clothing

Get your family schedlued for flu vaccines- if you typically vaccinate against the flu each year, do it now.  Don't let that tiny detail get overlooked in the midst of your major holiday planning.  My family learned the hard way last year and ended up sick from the second week of November straight through New Years.  Learn from our mistake!  If you only accomplish one thing this week, let that be it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is it Really November?

*Insert heavy sigh here*

If someone were to ask me to recall any one particular moment over the last two months, I would be at a loss.  I honestly have no recollection of the last 60+ days.  What I do know is that my husband traveled a lot and I sat down very little.  I've been looking forward to this week since the start of September because I knew it would mean the end of some big commitments and crazy work hours.  Now it's here and it dawned on me, as I replaced Jack-o-lanterns with Turkeys today,  that October is over and Thanksgiving is only three weeks away.  I have a very emotional reaction to that thought, not because I'm stressed, but because I feel as though the season is flying by and I'm missing it.

My Thanksgiving menu and shopping list is made and has been for months.  Thank you Organized Christmas!  And a good portion of my Christmas shopping is already done.  I have Christmas cookies in the freezer and meals ready to pop in the oven when our schedule fills up again.  Christmas cards are here and in the process of being addressed and gifts are already getting wrapped.   Even I have a few things to catch up on, but all in all, I'd say I've set the stage for a wonderfully enjoyable holiday season.  Now I just have to stop moving long enough to enjoy it.

I hope you are feeling a tremendous sense of accomplishment, regardless of whether or not you've finished everything on your holiday "To Do" list.  But my greater hope is that you will find time to enjoy the season before it's over.  We started our preparations early for a reason, so that we could relish in the season and enjoy each moment.  

Monday, October 31, 2011

Take Action

Happy Halloween!  I hope you all have fun plans for this evening, whether you have little ones or not.  Thanks for your patience this week.  Our  Take Action plan for the week got put on hold yesterday so that I could enjoy some much needed family time after my husband had been traveling all week.  Sometimes even Christmas has to wait. :-)

Here's our plan for the week! Can you believe it's almost November?!

Week of October 30th - November 5th

*Make a batch of holiday goodies

*Make 1 freezer meal

*Buy at least one gift- if you can knock out a few more, that would be great!

*Put the finishing touches on any crafts or homemade gifts

*Polish your silver, clean your glassware, and/or candlesticks- anything that will adorn your Thanksgiving .  Make sure your tablecloth, placemats, and napkins are clean.  If you need replacements, pick those up along with any candles, napkin rings, etc.

*Remove your Halloween decor- Doesn't it feel like it just went up? :-(

*Put up your Thanksgiving decor

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Take Action

Week of October 23rd - 29th

*Make a batch of holiday goodies

*Prepare and freeze one meal- your freezer should be filling up as we are nearing the end of our freezer meal preparation.  Only a few more weeks to go!  How easy will your holidays be with all of those dinner options already prepared?

*Purchase at least one Christmas gift. Wrap, label, and store it.

*Finish up any homemade gifts or crafts- if you're not quite finished, keep plugging away.  Be sure you can finish within the next 2-4 weeks.  Otherwise, consider a "Plan B".

*Start addressing your Christmas cards

*Send invitations for Thanksgiving- be sure to finalize details with family and friends if you don't usually send out invites

*Take a holiday clothing inventory- make sure your family has everything they'll need for holiday gatherings.  Consider dress clothes, Christmas pajamas, travel-specific clothing (especially if you're headed to different climate to visit family or for a special event).  Consider using the holiday wardrobe planner from Organized Christmas.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Take Action

Week of October 16th - 22nd

*Make a batch of holiday goodies

*Make one freezer meal

*Buy at least one gift- wrap, label, and store it

*Check your progress and adjust your "To-Do" list accordingly.

*Finish any homemade gifts or crafts- Asses your progress on these as well.  If you're not as far as you need or would like to be, consider scrapping these gift ideas or putting them off for upcoming occasions (maybe even next Christmas).  Let yourself off the hook.

Remember that Halloween is just 2 weeks away!

*Buy a pumpkin

*Review and finalize costume plans

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Books, Books, and More Books

Some of the best things about the holidays are the books and movies you can find about the season.  I have spent years collecting my favorite Christmas DVDs and love sharing them with my kids each year.  But, as a former educator, it's the books about Christmas that I cherish.  Last December, a dear friend shared one of her holiday traditions with me and graciously allowed me to adopt it. 

I have spent the last year collecting various Christmas books so that I could have 24 altogether- one for each night of December, leading right up to Christmas Eve.

Today, during my alone time, I dug up all of the books, placed them in a fairly random order,  and proceeded to wrap them.  It was a 3 hour project, that I'm sure glad to have under my belt.  And I know, come December 1st they will be ready to go!

What to Do?!

I'm almost giddy today!  My wonderful brother-in-law and sister-in-law have offered to take the kids for the day, leaving me all by my lonesome.  Now, I know they are looking forward to spending time with their niece and nephews, but I still consider this a huge favor.

The problem I face, however, is trying to decide what to do with all of my free time.  Part of me wants to go shop it up.  But, why should I spend the whole day out with crowds of people?  My next idea...stay home...alone.  I know the mere thought of that prospect would bore many people to death, but I am SO looking forward to it.  I haven't been able to spend a quiet day alone in my house for 6 years and I plan to take advantage! 

What's on my "To-Do" list today?  Holiday planning!  You can be sure the candle will be lit and Christmas music of some sort (although, I save some particularly special tunes for after Thanksgiving) will be playing.  I'm looking forward to trying a new cookie today which I'm hoping will become a holiday favorite at our house.  I'll also be digging out our Christmas books and wrapping those.  You may even see another post from me today.  Can you imagine?!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fall Break

It's Fall break and it didn't come a moment too soon!  Just because the kids are home doesn't mean your progress has to stop.  Try to accomplish at least one item on your holiday prep list, even if you can't get to them all.  Or, if this week means lots of free time, use the relaxed schedule to do some catching up.  Either way, keep up the great work.  There are just about 10 weeks left until Christmas and something tells me they are going to fly by.  That isn't an invitation to get stressed out.  You are already ahead of the game!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Take Action

October 9th - 15th

Can't believe we are headed smack dab into the middle of October.  It's time for the season to slow down, please.  Let's keep up our momentum.  Here is your list of action items for the week:

*Make one batch of holiday goodies

*Make and freeze one meal

*Buy 2 canned foods- if necessary.  If all of your canned menu items are purchased, consider just buying one for your local food drive.

*Buy one or more gifts- wrap, label, and stash them

*Work on any holiday crafts/gifts- if your kids are on Fall break this week, get them to help!

*Catch up on areas you may have fallen behind on

Friday, October 7, 2011

Don't Break the Bank

Undoubtedly, Christmas is one of the most expensive times of the year.   All though, we know it's coming every December 25th, budgeting for it sometime manages to escape our attention until it's too late.  Here are some tips if you're a few months late and a few dollars short.

Start now. Don't wait until the after Thanksgiving sales to start shopping or saving.  Remember, thinking Christmas earlier in the year saves you stress and money.  Designate an amount to pull out of each pay check between now and Christmas.  If your bank offers a Christmas club account, I highly recommend it.  They will automatically deduct an amount of your choosing and place it in your Christmas club.  This money is not accessible until generally the end of October, so you don't have to worry about it getting spent.  It's probably too late for this to work to your advantage this year, but start one as soon as you can for next year.  If you don't have the luxury of a Christmas club account, hit your ATM on pay day.  Do not wait, or that money will inevitably get spent.  Even if you just pull out $20, you'll feel good knowing that you are saving for the holidays.  Every little bit helps.  Keep it in a safe place until you are ready to do your shopping.

Make one holiday gift purchase each payday.  Start browsing through catalogs and websites and begin making a list of gift ideas for family and friends.  That list will give you direction and you'll be thrilled as you start to see things get crossed off.  Remember, it's not too early to start purchasing gift cards either.  Throw a $20 gift card into your grocery cart next time you're at the supermarket and you can cross one gift off your list.

Utilize online shopping. Take advantage of sales, clearance, and free shipping deals to start your gift shopping, without having to leave your house!

Clean out your closets and have a Fall garage sale.  The cooler morning temperatures are perfect for weekend bargain hunters.  You already know you'll be filling up the house with extra toys and gadgets at Christmastime.  Make room for them now and use the money you make to help offset the cost of the holidays.

Join a site like and trade for gifts.  You can get items like new (or even brand-new in some cases) just by swapping movies, DVDs, books, and video games that you don't want any more. is a great resource for holiday books, movies, and music even if only for your family's own enjoyment.

Consider making some gifts.  The Internet provides a plethora of gift ideas through craft websites and because you're planning ahead, you have time to knock out a few.  Try this French memory board, courtesy of our friends at Organized Christmas, for example.  I made one for my teen aged niece last year and it was a HUGE hit.

Shop Ebay.  Another advantage of giving yourself adequate prep time is the ability to "shop" around until you find the best deal.  Ebay is a fantastic source for anything and everything.  These days, sellers are listing more and more "brand new" items for sale.  Given enough time, you can search for the right deal and bid away.  Someone on my list this year is getting a Kindle cover.  Retailing normally for $40-$50, I was able to find one of the same quality for...(drum roll, please) $7.95.  And what's  more, I didn't have to leave my house or fight angry, last minute shoppers.  It will be on my doorstep in 5-7 business days. :-)

Any other creative saving ideas? I'd love to hear them.  Please share!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Take Action

October 2nd -8th

*Put up your Halloween decorations- if you haven't yet, but are planning to

*Make a batch of holiday goodies- these don't have to be Christmas related, either.  If you have a special Halloween/Fall treat you like to make that you can freeze.  Knock them out now!  Otherwise, cross another Christmas recipe off your list.

*Make one freezer meal- this week it's Sicilian casserole for me.  I posted the recipe several posts ago, but if you're running out of ideas and need something new, I highly recommend this one.  It's delish!

*Buy 2 canned food items- one to save, one to give

*Buy at least one gift- wrap, label, and store it with your others.  You should notice you are making considerable progress with your shopping at this point, even if you've only been purchasing one gift at a time.

*Work on any homemade crafts or gifts- again, these don't have to be strictly Christmas related.  There are two holidays coming first.  Finish whatever you've been working. Although, I don't recommend starting anything new unless it's easy and you can finish it quickly.

*Finish any other items that you may not have completed- I am still working on cleaning out our toys.  That is first on my list to finish this week!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Time for a Confession

I have a confession to make.  As I write this blog I am guiltlessly enjoying a piece of fruit cake that my mother made for me to freeze for the holidays.  We've been tag teaming this year on the baking/cooking.  Each time one of us prepares a meal or a batch of goodies, we double the recipe and wrap the extra batch up for the other.   (I highly recommend this if you have a friend or family member to prep with!)

I realize most of you did not finish reading that paragraph, stopping dead in your tracks at the phrase "fruit cake".  But, yes, I love me some fruit cake.  Not all fruit cake, mind you.  Just my grandmother's fruit cake, which is basically glorified raisin bread.  There is something about the scent and taste of the cinnamon and the cloves that just instantly reminds me of Christmas. 

What favorite food makes it feel like Christmas to you, regardless of the time of year?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Take Action

Week of September 25th - October 1st

*Make a batch of holiday goodies and freeze them

*Make one freezer meal

*Buy at least one more gift- wrap it, label it, check it off your list, and put it in your "gift closet"

*Work on any homeade gifts or crafts

*Clean out old/outgrown toys from your kid's bedrooms and/or playroom- prepare them to donate or sell

*Make a list of toys/books your kids would like that will fit in their rooms and go with other toys they already have- I have yet to do this because one side of our family is not big on gift suggestions and the other side shares my DNA and has already purchased their grandchildren's presents.  But I think it is a brilliant idea!  As a parent, you know what your kids like, what they already have, and what they'll play with.  I would personally welcome a list like this for any child I have to buy for...not to mention a few adults!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Christmas Morning Chaos

One thing I've learned over the past few a mother of young children, Christmas morning is chaotic!  Those images of mom and dad wrapped in bathrobes, nestled into the couch, sipping coffee while youngsters blissfully unwrap packages are pipe dreams.  Christmas morning at our house has always been a marathon of unwrapping gifts with paper flying and kids wanting to tear into presents immediately, while my husband and I try desperately to instill some sense of patience and gratitude into our children and maybe take a few pictures, if we're lucky.

Christmas 2010 was the clincher for me, though.  Not only was the morning loud and crazy, but my husband and I spent the entire time prying open plastic packages, untwisting wire ties from around toys, and installing batteries.  I wore a noticeable path in our carpet going to and from the garage with various tools necessary to free our kid's new toys from their cardboard prisons.  I decided then and there, I'd never do that again!

This year I'm prepared.  I made a very important trip to the dollar store and created my very own Christmas morning tool kit.   It will be ready and waiting Christmas morning (along with about 15 lbs of batteries) to make opening presents a breeze...for me, that is.

The tool kit includes:
Box cutters (one for Mom and one for Dad)
Screwdrivers (a Phillips and a flat head)
Wire cutter
Plastic package opener (which I had to buy from Amazon and didn't cost a dollar, but, I'm convinced will prove to be worth every penny)
Garbage bags

I was able to find a little zipper pouch to fit them all in and my tool kit is ready to go.  Every year, I'll pack it up with the Christmas stuff and I won't ever have to run back and forth to the garage again!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Take Action

Week of September 18th - 24th

*Make 1 batch of holiday goodies and freeze them

*Make 1 freezer meal

*Buy at least one Christmas gift (if not more)- the Holiday Grand Plan suggests you purchase 1/8 of your gifts this week.  But I think one a week, or even every pay period, is a great idea.   That fraction intimidated me at first because it sounded like a lot.  I've purchases a few gifts over the last few weeks and already have 1/4 of my shopping done.  You'll be surprised at how much of a dent you can make!

*Wrap and label your gifts- sounds crazy I know, but you won't regret it.  Many stores are already setting our their Christmas wrapping paper.  I found some at our local dollar store the other day.  Try craft stores as well and don't forget to look online.  Stock up on Post-it notes so you can label who the gift is for before you stash it.  Keep a running list of what you've purchased so that you don't over buy.

*If you plan on making any homemade gifts or holiday crafts, try to spend at least an hour working on those.

*List any miscellaneous items you may need for the holidays- including kitchen/bathroom linens, candles, serving pieces, etc.  Were you short napkin rings last Thanksgiving?  Did one of your goblets break?  Try to reflect back and dig through your cabinets and linen closets if necessary.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pantry Prep

This last week we started our holiday baking and are now beginning to stockpile those non-perishables for our holiday cooking.  Before we get carried away, we need to make sure our pantry can keep up with extreme efficiency.  This weekend, set aside a few minutes to prep your pantry for the holidays.  Don't feel the need to go through small appliances or old Tupperware that may be hiding in there.  Just focus on your food shelves.  Clean out cans, boxes, and bags that have been there a while.  Eat your inventory, plan it into your menu, and make room to begin stocking up on extra non-perishables for the holiday season.

Buy an extra canned good or two each time you do your weekly grocery shopping.  The holidays always bring plenty of opportunity for donating food.  Spending an extra dollar or two now helps spread out the cost and guarantees those less fortunate get something other than that old can of garbanzo beans.

Inventory your baking supplies.  If you are a baker, or at least pretend to be during the holidays, now is the time to prepare for your baking.  You probably already have an idea of some of the things your family enjoys at the holiday.  We all have our "go to goodies"- the things our family can not celebrate without.  At our house it's our butter cookies.  That means we need to have on hand plenty of flour, sugar, and you guessed it...butter!  These things are not cheap when you have to purchase them in bulk all at once.  Look for sales now and take advantage.  Make sure you have extra flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, etc in your pantry.   Butter is expensive but freezes beautifully!  Stock up when it's on sale and stick it in your freezer.  It will be handy when you are ready to begin baking!

If you haven't had a chance to bake your first batch of goodies this week, don't sweat it.  Focus on preparing to bake something next week.  Use your time to organize your storage space and purchase what you need.  Tomorrow, you'll be ready to hit the ground running!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Falling Behind

Happy Monday!  Here's hoping you enjoyed your weekend and are ready to tackle another week of holiday preparation.

I knew, at some point, in our holiday planning I'd have to write this post.  But never expected it to be so soon.  I'll be honest, there have been some pretty big events on my plate lately and some of my Christmas planning has had to go by the wayside.  To those of you feeling like you can't keep up, let me just throw this out there...

It's okay!

There you go.  Let yourself off the hook.  Life happens to all of us and no matter how hard we try, we can't always get everything done the way we want to.  Just the fact that you're thinking in advance about the holiday season will be a huge benefit to you.  If you manage to make it to November 25th with 1/4 of this things on our list done, you are that much closer.  Don't beat yourself up.  Don't throw in the towel.  Do what you can when you can and, in the end, you'll be glad you did!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Take Action

Week of September 12th - 17th

*Make a batch of holiday goodies

*Make one extra meal.  Label it "Holiday Meal" and freeze it.

*Clear out your pantry.  Throw away anything that you haven't and won't use.  Inventory the food you have and plan to use it for upcoming meals.   It's time to stockpile for the holidays and you need some space.   Find 2 boxes that you can label "Holiday Food" and "Food Drive" so the items in them are not used in every day cooking.

*Buy 2 canned food items from your Menu. Be sure to purchase two of each item- one for you and one for the food drive (This is a good rule of thumb as you're shopping throughout the year, as many schools and organizations collect canned foods year round).

*Buy film, camera batteries, blank video tapes.  Store them someplace safe and write yourself a note so you can easily find them when the time comes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Take Action

Week of September 4th- 10th
 *Complete any unfinished lists from last week
  • Gifts to give
  • Christmas card list
  • Travel/Visits
  • Goodies for sharing
  • Menus for Thanksgiving & Christmas (don't forget Christmas Eve and Christmas morning)
  • Favorite meals to freeze
  • Long term shopping list: canned food, perishables per holiday, linens/tableware, decorations.
*Buy extra flour, sugar, and other baking supplies (don't forget plastic containers to store and freeze your goodies)
*Develop ideas for gifts, decor
*Find and designate a space for storing gifts
*Make your first freezer meal

* Order/Purchase Christmas Cards (yes, I said it)- or at least start planning to.  If you send photo cards, dig up that photo or take a new one.  Get this task out of the way a.s.a.p.  You'll be SO glad you did!

Later, Labor Day!

I have to admit, Labor Day put a bit of a cramp in my style.  Leave it to another holiday to throw off my preparation for the biggest one of the year.  But, company is gone, kitchen is clean, and now it's time to get back into the swing of things.  Labor Day marks the unofficial kick-off to Fall, at least in the retail world.  You'll find that stores, as early as today, are stocking shelves with Halloween and even Christmas decor items.  Most stores have already outfitted their racks with Fall clothing as well (pun intended).  We tend to scorn retailers here in the desert for selling sweaters when the forecast calls for a high of 109, but with Christmas shopping in mind, we may be a little more forgiving (And, yes, that is our actual estimated high for today- in case you were wondering).

It's week two of our holiday prep and there are a few things to think about this week.  First thing's first- if you haven't completed any of your lists, be sure to do that a.s.a.p.  You'll need to have them all done to continue on with your planning, as you'll refer to them often throughout the course of the next few weeks.

Next, as you prepare for your grocery shopping this week (or run back to the store for one of your many "last minute" trips after work), buy extra flour, sugar, and any other baking ingredients you might need.  You don't have to stock up for a year, but having an extra bag or two on hand will help tremendously over the coming weeks as we start our holiday baking.  Look for sales on butter and take advantage.  Butter freezes beautifully and can be pulled out and thawed at will whenever you need it.  Hopefully you've made your list of goodies to make/give and know what you'll need for each one  (That's what your long-term shopping list is for).

Think about ideas for gifts and decor.  Make a master list of gift ideas.  The more time you have to think, the more likely you are to choose sincere, meaningful gifts for your family and friends and  find them on sale. 

Start buying a Sunday paper, if you don't already get one.  Look through the adds with Christmas in mind.  Take advantage of sales on toys and clothing.  Save and use those coupons to stores like Michael's and Joann's to pick up holiday decor items at a discount.  You'll save and, when it comes time to decorate your home, you'll have what you need.

Last but not least, find space (however small) to designate as your gift closet.   Your gift closet doesn't have to be an actual closet.  But if it can're my hero!  My gift closet happens to be a box that sits on a shelf in my closet.  It will multiply over the next few months into several boxes, but everyone has to start somewhere.  I haven't broken this news to my husband yet, but as we begin searching for our next house...I'm looking with a gift closet in mind (wink, wink).  Prepare a master list so that you can keep track of what is in the gift "closet".   As you purchase a gift, update your list and place a sticky note on the item with the recipient's name.  Don't assume  you'll remember who it's for.  You have enough to think about!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Freeze Ahead Meals

I've had several requests for recipes for meals that freeze well.  I'm guessing from the number of them that there are a lot of your ran into the same issues I did.  Lots lasagna and enchilada recipes out there.   If you're at a loss, here are some that might help.  These are my "go to" freezer meals.  Happy cooking!

Sicilian Casserole- I can guarantee that there is nothing Sicilian about this dish.  My Sicilian grandmother would be so disappointed in me.  But, I'm not going to lie.  It's DELICIOUS!

Sicilian Casserole
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
3/4 cup water
1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
2 cups elbow macaroni
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, cubed
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sour cream
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, brown ground beef, onion, and garlic in heavy saucepan, stirring to break up ground beef. Add green bell pepper when beef is almost cooked; continue to simmer until beef is done. Drain well. Add tomato paste, tomato sauce, water, and dried Italian seasoning and stir well to blend. Let simmer for 10 minutes to blend flavors.
Meanwhile, cook elbow macaroni as directed on package. While macaroni is cooking, combine cream cheese and milk in medium bowl. Cook in microwave on medium power for 2-3 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking. Remove from microwave and stir with wire whisk until sauce thickens and blends to form a smooth sauce. Drain noodles and add to cream cheese sauce along with sour cream and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese; stir to combine.
In 2 quart casserole dish, place all of cream cheese mixture. Top with all of the ground beef mixture and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until casserole is bubbly.
To freeze, add 1 Tbsp. cornstarch to the cream cheese sauce. Prepare casserole as directed, except instead of baking, chill in refrigerator. Wrap well and freeze up to 3 months. To thaw and reheat, thaw casserole overnight in refrigerator. Bake, covered, for 25-35 minutes, then uncover and bake 5-10 minutes longer until bubbly.
Appalachian Chicken Casserole- This one came from a friend, after my recipe APB.  By far, one of my favorites.  Thanks, Kathleen!

Appalachian Chicken Casserole

3 cups cooked diced chicken or turkey
1 can cream of mushroom (or chicken) soup
1 can cream of celery soup
2 cups chicken broth (reserved from cooked chicken/turkey)
1/2 cup melted butter
1 package stuffing mix, (6 to 8 oz) - herb, cornbread, or chicken flavor
1 cup shredded cheese, Swiss or Cheddar - optional

Combine soups and chicken broth; add diced chicken to the mixture. Add butter to dressing mix. Combine chicken mixture with the dressing mixture. Place in a 2 to 2 1/2-quart casserole and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. (Mother and I usually layer chicken mixture and the dressing mixture, with the chicken on the bottom. Either way works well.) Top with shredded cheese during the last 5 minutes if desired.

I have nothing to say about this next one except....Yummy!
Chicken Potato Casserole

10 oz. can condensed reduced fat and sodium cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1-1/4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
3-1/2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed*
1-1/2 cups frozen peppers and onions, thawed*
1-1/4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1-1/2 cups crushed potato chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine soup, sour cream, milk, chicken and 1-1/4 cups cheese. Spread three-quarters of this mixture in a greased 2-quart baking dish.

Sprinkle hash browns and peppers and onions over the top of the casserole and press down lightly, then top vegetables with remaining soup mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and potato chips.
Bake casserole, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. 8 servings

*To freeze, assemble casserole as directed, except do not thaw potatoes, peppers, or onions and do not sprinkle with potato chips. Wrap casserole in freezer wrap or heavy duty foil and freeze. Reserve potato chips in pantry. To thaw and bake, let thaw overnight in refrigerator. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees F for 60-70 minutes until bubbly. Then top with crushed potato chips and bake 5-10 minutes longer.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Take Action

Week of August 28-September 3

 *Create the following lists-
  • Gifts to give
  • Christmas card list
  • Travel/Visits
  • Goodies for sharing
  • Menus for Thanksgiving & Christmas (don't forget Christmas Eve and Christmas morning)
  • Favorite meals to freeze
  • Long term shopping list: canned food, perishables per holiday, linens/tableware, decorations.
*Create a shopping list for each freezer meal that you can easily add to your regular weekly shopping list.  We'll be preparing one meal each week.

*Purchase the ingredients for your first meal

Freezer Frenzy

The freeze ahead meal was a foreign concept to me when I started utilizing the Holiday Grand Plan.  Sure, I'd prepared meals in advance for company and knew how to freeze leftovers to enjoy on a later date, but I was definitely a newbie when it came to preparing meals months in advance.

I combed through my recipe collection looking for any and all things "freezable" and came up with (drum roll, please) lasagna and chicken enchiladas.  That's all.  But, seeing as this Italian is married to a Mexican, I figured it might suffice as long as I threw in some spaghetti and tacos periodically.  I was wrong and it didn't take long for me to realize it.  Since then, I've scoured the Internet looking for new and "doable" recipes for freezing and have managed to find enough to provide my family with some variety throughout the holiday season without breaking the bank.

It took some time and effort, but I knew after my first year of holiday planning it was going to pay off.  

Why?  You've experienced the holidays before, right?  The holiday season can best be defined as the shortest period of the year in which we cram the most possible into our schedule and spend every last dime we have.  With countless gatherings, recitals, and other events, it's impossible to find the time to cook a meal every night.  That's where your freeze ahead meals come in handy.  Just knowing dinner is ready and can be popped in the oven with zero prep work makes a huge difference.  Take for example the night before Thanksgiving.  You've already been slaving away in the kitchen, baking pies and throwing together whatever you can in advance (not to mention, cleaning like a mad woman).  The idea of having to make another meal and another mess, it's a bit more than anyone should have to handle.  So, what are your options?  Order a pizza? pick up burgers.? Spend a small fortune taking your family out for dinner?  Let's face it, you don't have the time or the money for any of those options.   What a relief to know dinner is made and sitting in your freezer.  Pop it in the oven and rest your weary feet for a while.

That's just one example of when freezer meals come in handy.  There are countless others and you will quickly see how and when they fit best into your schedule.  Our plan will have us preparing 11 meals (that's just over two weeks worth of meals, not counting weekends when you will inevitably have plans to eat elsewhere). 

So, now it's your turn.  Flip through those recipe books and look for anything that can easily be frozen and reheated.  I'll give you two freebies: Lasagna and enchiladas.  You're welcome. ;-)

If you need more variety, check out Delish or Recipe.  You might also try Betty CrockerKraft, or Food Network.  Truth be told, one of my best resources has been Facebook.  Put out an APB to your friends and ask for their favorite recipes.  You'll be surprised how many gems you find!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lists, Lists, and More Lists

The key to holiday organization is list writing.  I am convinced this is why the Holiday Grand Plan begins with "List Week".  Our "not so grand" plan will do the same.  If you're at all like me, this will be your favorite part of your holiday planning.  I have a list fetish.  I will take advantage of any opportunity I get to write and organize a list.  This is largely due to the fact that I am a very visual person.  Once I see something on paper, I stand a much better chance of remembering it.  But that isn't the only benefit.  Writing things down allows me to periodically purge some of the million thoughts rolling around in my head at any given moment.  Let's face it, women multitask.  If we  can manage to do 15 things at once, how many more things can we manage to think about? 

That is why we are starting with lists.  The sheer volume of "things to do" in preparation of the holidays can be overwhelming and can stifle progress simply because there is just too much to think about.  We won't let it stop us!  Find a spot where you can be alone for a few minutes (remember, your closet is viable option).  Throw on some Christmas music if it will help you get "into the mood".  Grab some sheets of notebook paper and your favorite pen.  Let's get started...

Create the following lists:
  • Gifts to give
  • Christmas card list
  • Travel/Visits
  • Goodies for sharing
  • Menus for Thanksgiving & Christmas (don't forget Christmas Eve and Christmas morning)
  • Favorite meals to freeze
  • Long term shopping list: canned food, perishables per holiday, linens/tableware, decorations.
It may seem silly to start preparing your menus and shopping lists this far in advance, but remember, once it's on paper, you no longer have to think about it.   You can also take advantage of upcoming sales, especially on canned goods and other non-perishables.  I've already started stocking my pantry with some key Thanksgiving ingredients.

Don't be afraid to pull out some of those rarely used cookbooks and magazines and plan to make something different that you've always wanted to try.  We have time to be creative, so take advantage!  Jot down as much as you can.  These lists aren't set in stone so change them as you need to. 

Congratulations!  You've got a game plan!  And more importantly, you've just taken your first step in making your holiday season smoother and much more enjoyable.   Now, be honest.  You already feel better, don't you?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why I Heart the Holiday Grand Plan

It's here!  Today marks the official start of the Holiday Grand Plan.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Grand Plan, it is one of several holiday prep guides available from Organized Christmas to help you prepare for the holidays one week at a time.

I mentioned previously that there are several other plans out there.  There may even be some I'm not familiar with, but the Grand Plan has been my plan of choice because it provides several things:

A clean house: With three little ones running rampant, I seldom have time to do anything but surface cleaning (and even that can be a stretch at times).  By tackling one room each week, I can be confident that my house has been deep cleaned and is ready for company by the time Thanksgiving arrives- something that's necessary after 3 months of keeping the house shut tight from extreme Summer temperatures.

Freeze ahead meals:  Regardless of how aware I am of it, the busyness of the holiday season somehow manages to creep up on me.   December arrives and suddenly I feel thrust into this whirlwind of events, parties, and programs (most of which I schedule myself, mind you).  The Holiday Gran Plan forces me to plan ahead by making one freeze ahead meal each week so that when the holidays arrive I have two weeks worth of meals ready to be popped in the oven any night.  It makes it easier on me and our budget because we're not running out to restaurants because we're stressed and short on time.

Goodies galore:  One of my favorite holiday activities is baking.  I love when the house fills up with the smells of the season.  But let's face it.  Who has extra time to spend in the kitchen? I can't even begin to tell you how many years I've been baking at 9:00 pm (or later) on tired feet just so I can have some holiday goodies for my family and friends.  Not only that, but when I started baking in December, I realized I didn't have the goodies I wanted early enough in the month.  I wanted cookies for my kids to munch on while we decorated the tree or a plate to bring my hairdresser for my holiday appointment and they were never ready in time.  Somehow I would manage to make a few dozen, but because it was so late in the season, they were still hanging around well into the new year.   Now I can make more than I ever dreamed possible with what seems like half the effort!

There are countless benefits of starting a holiday plan this far in advance, but these are the are some of the most valuable to me.  I hope you'll find they make your holidays easier too as we tackle them together over the next several weeks!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Summer Stock-Up

To most people, and by most I mean "normal", Christmas is just a fleeting thought.  Or perhaps it won't be a thought at all for at least another 2-3 months. 

But thinking Christmas in the Summer will give you a jump start on your gift purchasing and stretch your budge in ways you never thought!  Can you imagine having all of your gifts purchased (and even wrapped) by December 1st?  What would you do with all of your free time during the holiday season?  Dream about it and let it motivate you get moving!

Summer sales and end of the season clearance can help you save a small fortune if you take advantage of them now.

Stores are still filled with ridiculously cheap school supplies. If you haven't purchased a binder and supplies for your Christmas notebook, that's the first thing on your list!  But before the supplies disappear, stock up on tape and/or glue sticks for wrapping.  Buy an extra pair of scissors for your wrapping kit (more to come on that later). Purchase plenty of inexpensive crayons (which will triple and quadruple in price in the coming months), markers, and paints for stocking stuffers or gifts.  Even a nice pen, when given with a pretty journal makes a fantastic gift for teachers and friends.  Be creative!

Clearance on clothing, shoes, and toys is another advantage to early shopping.  Most stores are beginning to clear out their summer inventory.  While you may not feel the need to stock up on inflatable pools for the coming months, see what else is available.  If you live in a warmer climate you can find jump ropes and sidewalk chalk which can be used all year.  And inflatable beach balls can be fun indoor toys when  you're cooped up from the cold.   We are fortunate in the Southwest to be able to wear short sleeve shirts year round.  If you fall into this category, stock up now.  Also take advantage of sales on socks and underwear.  Although not the most desirable gifts, they are necessary and getting them cheap now will save you later!  Look for amazing deals on jewelry and housewares.  Two things that are "season-neutral" and make lovely gifts. Don't forget to check online sales as well.  Even stores like Toys R Us and The Disney Store clear out oodles of inventory to prepare for the holiday season. Yes, I said "oodles". ;-)

Also, plan on purchasing extra holiday items, 3M hangers, extension cords, candles- anything you'll need during the holidays.  These things quickly add up and can be budget busters during an already expensive time of year.  Plus, getting them now means they will be in stock and readily available.  Beat the rush!

I hope this has gotten your brain in motion, thinking about all of the ways to take advantage of this shopping season.  You'll be glad you did!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Think Christmas

Quite possibly, the hardest thing to do is think about Christmas.  Especially when you're in the midst of back to school activities and still braving triple digit temperatures.  But it is, by far, THE most important thing you can do to prepare.  The sooner you think Christmas, the smarter you'll be about Christmas.  

Your first assignment?  Take advantage of back to school sales and purchase a 3-ring binder, some dividers, and a pack of college-ruled paper.  This will be your "Christmas Planner" and the key to your success.  My A-type personality also recommends some page protectors.  I use one to keep all gift receipts and others to hold onto ideas and recipes I find in catalogues and magazines throughout the year.

Organized Christmas provides specifics for making your own holiday planner.  But if you're a newbie to this "uber-organized" approach to Christmas.  The above items will be sufficient...this year. ;-)

If you can't get all of those things right away.  Grab a piece of computer printer paper, or steal one of your kid's spiral notebooks for an hour.  Just get busy!  You can always transfer info into your planner later on.

Find a few minutes to steal away and think.  I know what you're thinking.  Time to think.  Are you out of your mind?  Perhaps a little.  But, even 10 or 15 minutes now will save you hours later on.  (I won't even begin to describe the conditions under which I am writing this blog post at the moment.  But you should know they include poor lighting, a writing position that would make my chiropractor cringe, and head phones pumping music into my ears solely to drown out the sounds of my children fighting over what Disney dvd to watch.)  Believe me, when Christmas Eve comes and they are giddy with delight, your kids will not remember the time you locked yourself in your own closet for 10 minutes that one day in August.

Think about the following and write your answers down on a separate sheet for each question:

What activities do you want to experience this holiday season? Have you always wanted to host a Christmas party? Have you been promising your kids a day in the snow?  Is your little girl dying to see The Nutcracker? Perhaps you want your family to experience serving a meal at a local homeless shelter.  Whatever it is, write it down.  Believe it or not, many activities and events begin to sell tickets during the summer and will often sell out before you're even close to planning for the holidays. But with them in mind, you're more likely to make them happen.

Who will you need to buy gifts for?  On your list, don't forget teachers/administrators, your hairstylist, yours or your spouse's assitant, bosses, co-workers, etc.  These are the gifts that add up quickly when you throw them into the mix with your family.  They can often be purchased on sale or made for a fraction of the price if you allow yourself time.  Are you beginning to see why we are starting so early?

What foods/goodies must be present on your table during the holiday season?  If your family is at all like mine, holidays don't exist without food and specific food at that.  Jot down the cookies you know your kids can't live without, or that appetizer your husband begs you for 11 months of the year.  Now that you have those down, you are free to thumb through recipe books, magazines, and surf the web for new ideas to incorporate into your holidays.

What is your goal for the holiday season?  The answer to this question should be more than "to survive it"!  Think about last Christmas, if you can get back that far.  What didn't you enjoy about it?  Did you miss out on seeing someone in particular?  Were you over-scheduled?  Sick?  These are the pitfalls we want to try and avoid to the best of our ability, so identifying them is key.  A few years ago, my goal was to enjoy the season more. This meant spending more time at home with my family, watching Christmas movies, listening to Christmas music, and just down-right staring at our Christmas tree.  I call it "basking in the season" and once I realized I wanted it, I was able to make it happen.  What will make Christmas feel like Christmas to you?

That's it for now.  Be prepared for lists galore!  They are coming.  In the meantime...lock yourself in your closet and start dreaming.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Holiday Plans

"Action is the foundational key to all success." -Pablo Picasso

The first step in planning and organizing yourself for the impending holiday season is to get yourself a plan!  I was introduced to the Holiday Grand Plan a few years ago by my cousin's sweet wife and my life has not been the same since.

The Grand Plan is only one of many that are availabe.  Some are 12 weeks.  Some are 6 weeks.  There's even one that has you planning year round!  Each has a slightly different method for organizing and pacing yourself through holiday "to-do" lists.  If you're feeling particularly ambitious, visit Organized Christmas and explore their holiday plans.   But, I warn you.  They can seem daunting and you can easily feel overwhelmed at first glance.  I have thoroughly examined them all and found that the Grand Plan is the most thorough and specific, which works for me.  However, I have incorporated some forms and ideas from the other plans as well that I intend to share with you.  The best thing you can do is find one that works for you and helps you meet your goal- to enjoy the holidays without losing your mind! 

That's what I intend to help you do.

The Holiday Grand Plan is a web-based plan for giving your house a cleaning overhaul and prepping for your holidays in advance.  The purpose is to focus on the holidays earlier in the year so that you can actually enjoy them when they arrive.  Sounds crazy, I know.  But speaking from experience, I can honestly say, THIS WORKS!  Each week you are provided with a list of cleaning tasks and holiday preparations.

The Grand Plan kicks off this year on Sunday, August 28th.  Yes!  Just a few days away!  It takes some getting used to and requires a good amount of prep work to get rolling.  So,for our purposes, I'll be sharing some key elements as well as some ideas that I've had that have worked well in the past.
If your head is already spinning, take a deep breath.  We'll get through this together and it will be worth it!


Welcome to my latest blog!  This has been years in the making and while blogging it, until recently, never entered my mind, it has become a hobby of sorts for me.  I've learned a lot through the successes and failures I've experienced (and there have been a lot of both!) and am so excited to share it.

As a mother of three and child at heart, it has always been my desire to make Christmas in our home as magical as it was for me growing up.  It was a magic I did not expect to disappear.  But somehow as I got older and became responsible for making the holiday happen, it did.  While I may never experience the "awe" of the holiday in the same way I once did, my hope is that while my children are still in our home, they will.

I have to start this off by giving a shout out to my wonderful cousin-in-law, Vania Reckard, for several reasons.

1) She is just as fanatical (er, I mean "passionate") as I am about the holiday season and making it special for her family and I firmly feel this has bonded us on a level that others cannot hope to understand.

2) She is the one who introduced me to the Holiday Grand Plan a few years ago and my life has never been the same!

3) Her blog Christmas Rapping was a constant source of joy for me last year and my inspiration for spreading the holiday spirit to my own friends and family.  I highly recommend it!

Vania, you have forever changed the way we do Christmas in our home and made me feel normal, despite accusations by others (who shall remain nameless- for now) of my possible psychosis.  I can't thank you enough (and my family thanks you too)!