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)!