Inexpensive, stiff-bristled paint brushes--in a variety of widths--are a great addition to the cleaning tote. Use them to dust the tops of books, whisk dirt from baseboards and corners, clean dust from blinds, and remove crumbs from upholstery.
It's a race!
Watching our neighborhood over the past weekend, I had to smile. First one, then three, then an even dozen of our neighbors mounted their entries for the year's holiday light show.
Fads and fashions come and go. Last year, a few "early adopters" outlined their houses with the newest lighting fad, strings of light that race along the trim and roofline--and the year also saw the arrival of giant inflatable snowmen, Santas and reindeer on neighborhood front lawns.
What will be this year's holiday decor must-have?
One family plants red plastic poinsettias over their landscape lights for a unique touch. Another household leaves the job up to professionals--creating so much light outside that one can read a book by them!
Dr. Steve and I, great believers in the art of the understatement, are left behind in the dust, adding only small window candlesticks and a front-door wreath to the blaze of holiday glory.
On this weekend, our neighborhood resembles just that: a neighborhood. Neighbors call from lawn to lawn and lend a hand as lights come out to be tested, hung and lit. Teenagers scramble up and down ladders. Children run about, frisky with cool weather and the festival feeling.
Each evening, groups of family members survey the job from the center of the street. Enough? Too much? Just right? Our normally quiet street comes alive with the holiday feeling.
Amazing, isn't it, what can happen when you put a little light into your life?To Do Today
Inventory holiday decorations
Up into the attic. Down into the basement. Around the corner into the storage shed. What will you find when you unearth your holiday decorations?
If you're like most of us, you're going to find a mess. Bulging boxes, bags and stacks. Tangled strands of lights. Tattered tinsel garlands. Ornaments packed willy-nilly. Fresh new bags from after-Christmas sales containing duplicates of the items you already have. It's as if you left a joke present to yourself from Christmas Past. Surprise!
This year, we'll do better. When we put away Christmas, we'll take time to protect, preserve and organize holiday decor items. We'll tuck special items away with care and thought, breaking the chain of holiday disorganization.
For now? It's enough to know what you have. Today's assignment, to inspect and inventory decorations, will create a record for your Christmas notebook.
Armed with this list, you'll shop the post-holiday clearance sales intelligently, store your decorations efficiently, and be able to retrieve specific decor items without having to tear through six or seven choked boxes.
Ready? Let's get organized ... for no more storage surprises!To Read Today
A lovely holiday home ... on a budget? Get our best frugal strategies for a beautiful home:
A seasonal treat with the taste of Christmas: Blizzard Bites!
A crunchy snack mix with a seasonal zing, Blizzard Bites make a wonderful layered jar gift.
Printable gift tags spark this gift in a jar, making it perfect for teacher gifts or Secret Santa exchanges.
What would happen if one of Santa's elves came to your house to visit?
He'd arrive sometime before the holidays began. Sent by Santa to check on good little girls and boys, he'd roam the house at night, popping up in the most unlikely places come morning.
Sometimes, elf mischief would take place--and he'd be caught red-handed! Finally, on Christmas Eve, he'd report to Santa and hitch a ride back to the North Pole ... until next year.
If you can imagine it, you can do it: meet Santa's Magic Elf!
Sometimes known as the Elf on the Shelf, the Magic Elf tradition is an interactive holiday activity for families or school classes. Free printable letters from Santa, Elf passport and Elf report make it easy to create a new holiday tradition!
It's easy to invite Santa's Magic Elf to visit!Choose a time for the visit
What's the right time for the Elf to arrive? Thanksgiving weekend? Two weeks before Christmas? When the family puts up the Christmas tree?
Choose a date for the Elf's arrival, and prepare for fun!
Whenever he or she arrives, Santa's Magic Elf will need a passport. Print one here: Elf Passport.Print a Letter of Introduction
Your Elf will need a letter of introduction, explaining why he or she is visiting the family. We make it easy with a selection of free printable letters from Santa, or you can create your own letter of introduction.
Santa will need to explain that the Elf has come to report the behavior of good little boys and girls, and that he or she will be returning to the North Pole on Christmas Eve.
Given Elves' well-known propensity to misbehave, a warning about Elf Mischief might be in order.Create an Elf Report
Santa's Elf will need a way to make his report. Give the Elf a small notebook, or print our free Elf Report--it's where Santa's Elf will record his observations for the year (and be a cherished keepsake after the holidays).Introduce the Elf to the Family
Will the Elf arrive in a basket on the doorstep? Will he make a magical trip down the chimney? Will he be found on or under the Christmas tree?
However he gets there, know that Santa's Elf always likes to make a splash when he arrives!Watch Santa's Magic Elf make his report
Each night, the Elf will find a new place to hide; he'll want to make a thorough report to Santa. Since he's here to look for good behavior, he'll have to travel all through the house in the course of his visit.
Elves can go to sleep in some of the most unlikely places! It's often necessary for the children to search the house in the morning to find the sleepy Elf.Watch Out for Elf Mischief
Late at night, Santa's Magic Elf is able get into all sorts of mischief!
Elves have been known to spill sugarbowls (and leave their tracks in the spill), bounce on the sofa (disarranging the cushions), grab the remote for some late night television, check out the refrigerator, hide in pockets or leave small surprises for their young friends.
You'll find loads and loads of ideas for Elf Mischief on the Magical Holiday Home Magic Elves message boards. Our friends know that Elves are much more inclined to get into trouble when they're away from Santa!Help the Elf's subjects write a letter to Santa
Naturally, the Elf is hoping that Santa will receive a good report about him, too. The children may wish to write to Santa, and tell him about the Elf's visit. They may even ask to be visited next year, so be sure the Elf has letters for Santa when it's time to return.Return to the North Pole
Be sure Santa's Magic Elf is packed and ready to go on December 24th. He can wait for Santa in a stocking or near Santa's cookies and milk, but he'd better have his journal and any letters for Santa and be ready to leave.
Santa's in a hurry on Christmas Eve, and can't wait around for a laggard Elf!Printable Magic Elf Letters Christmas Gifts & CraftsMagic Elf TraditionCelebrate
Christmas is coming, holiday cards and letters fill the mailbox--and it's time to write your family's annual Christmas letter.
Want your letter to stand out from the crowd? Looking for ways to spice up the same-old, same-old Christmas greeting?
Try these seven tips for a sparkling holiday letter.Start off on a positive note
It's a trend you can count on! Roughly 95% of holiday letters begin with a sentence like this: "I can't believe the year has come and gone so quickly!" While we all feel this sentiment, it's not the happiest way to begin a holiday letter.
Start holiday letters with a cheerful bang, not a whimper about the passage of time. Try openers like, "One of the blessings of this time of year is the chance it gives me to connect with you, my friends and family." or "We've had a happy, busy year here in the Adams household!"
Even a stock "Holiday greetings from the Young family!" is a better opener than the traditional plaintive cry about the passage of time.Shorter is sweeter
Even the most doting aunties can be daunted by a multi-page, single-spaced Christmas letter that drones on (and on and on) about the minutia of family doings. Keep Christmas letters short and sweet! Hit the year's high points, and save the day-by-day description of your summer vacation for long lunches or personal phone calls.Write in your own voice.
Too often, holiday letters show symptoms of "writer-itis": big words, turgid sentences, piled-up adjectives. Friends and neighbors don't want to hear from Edward Bulwer Lytton, they want to hear from you! Use your own voice, and write as you speak. You'll bring a breath of fresh air--and a happy echo of your own personality--to your letter.Keep your audience in mind
Like pantyhose, holiday letters aren't "one size fits all". Business associates won't be interested by a chatty, family newsletter, while distant cousins don't care about the ins and outs of workplace politics.
Before you start your holiday letters, picture the recipients in your mind and write in a way that will make sense to those who will receive them. Use a free printable Christmas card list to group recipients and organize cards and letters.
If your holiday letter will be sent to far-flung friends or long-ago neighbors, be sure to identify family members by relationship, not just name. Hearing that "Wallace is a happy Rebel this year" can mystify those who don't remember him well. "Oldest son Wallace, now 18, is thriving in his first year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas" gives the reader the details he or she needs to catch up with Wallace's activities.
If your letter will be sent to casual acquaintances or business contacts, keep family stories to a minimum--or send a card instead. Sure, you sit next to that nice fellow at each week's Kiwanis meeting, but will he really be interested in a season's worth of your grandchild's soccer scores?Resist the urge to embellish
It's a holiday-time stereotype: the braggin'-braggin' Christmas letter. While it's only natural to put your best foot forward, keep your perspective as you write. Your true colors and real personality are a lot more interesting to your friends than a puffed-up presentation of the year's events.Be selective about photos
With the rise of digital photography, there's been a corresponding inflation in holiday letter photos. Last year's nominee for the Photo Overkill of the Year award: a holiday letter which contained over 50 tiny tiled photos of the writer's children at Disney World. Not only couldn't I see one thing about the children, I was barely able to identify the different Disney characters in each shot!
Share photos selectively and sparely. One or two great shots that illustrate your text are much better than an over-the-top photo barrage.
Finally, if you will include photos as part of your Christmas letter, use brochure paper so that photos print clearly.Make it personal
A sparkling, informative holiday letter is underdressed if it doesn't contain a personal touch. Add a short handwritten note to your holiday letters for a warm finish.
Alpha computer geeks among us may use word processing software to personalize each letter. However you achieve it, be sure that the recipient can feel your warm--and personal--regard.Celebrate
Welcome to the Rudolph Club: your once-a-month meeting to simplify your holidays and get organized for Christmas!
At Organized Christmas, we know that the holiday season can be fast and furious. Solution? Take a day once each month throughout the year to plan and prepare for a more-organized holiday season.
On the 25th of each month, we'll bring simple assignments and easy tips to try now for a simpler, more joyous season. Over the year, you'll tackle planning and preparations to make the season lighter, brighter and less stressful come December.
November's meeting sets the stage for one final holiday prep chore: writing holiday letters.November Assignment: Cards and Letters
We've already assembled the raw material for holiday letters, by adding notes to a file each month on Rudolph Day, beginning in February.
Ready to edit? Find your assembled materials, and dive in! Whether you'll send cards or Christmas letters, it's time.
Sending a holiday letter this year? Here are some tips for writing holiday letters that are fun and fulfilling to read:
Make plans for next year. Since January, we've met monthly to prepare for the holiday season. Time to reap the rewards of our efforts!
For a more organized holiday season next year, mark your calendar for January 25th. We'll kick off a new year at the Rudolph Club.Frugal Finds for November
Shop Black Friday sales. Black Friday has bloomed ... into a five day shopping extravaganza! With stores now opening on Thanksgiving Day itself, special "advance" promotions and Cyber-Monday deals, the savings now stretch for nearly a week.
Are you a dedicated day-after-Thanksgiving shopper? Get organized to get the jump on Black Friday specials.
To get organized, try our free printable Holiday Sales Planner form. It'll track this year's Black Friday bargains and organize shopping trips. Shop till you drop!
Been to the mailbox lately? If your house is anything like mine, the Christmas catalogs are here!
That's not to mention the holiday issues of my favorite magazines, which seem to dive into my supermarket shopping cart whenever I'm not looking.
Christmas magazines and catalogs are fabulous resources for seasonal decorating, gift ideas, and Christmas recipes—but en masse, they can become too much of a good thing.
When the piles avalanche from every side table, finding an article or a recipe that caught your eye a few weeks ago can be an impossible job.
How do you keep all that good information without being crushed by stacks or drowning in paper? Answer: a set of tear files.To Do Today
Set up tear files for holiday inspiration
The low-tech equivalent of Pinterest, tear files are the place to tuck all those fleeting tips, recipes or decorating ideas that cross your path as you plan for the holidays.
Whether you set aside a group of page protectors in your Christmas planner, or invest in standard file folders, start trapping those good ideas today.
Over the years, holiday tear files become a rich resource of inspiration. Tap them to plan gift-giving, decor and holiday meals this year ... and in the years to come.To Read Today
Thinking ahead to Christmas giving? Share your blessings with Christmas Blessings Mix!
Small bags of snack mix, each ingredient of the Christmas Blessings Mix recipe reminds us of a holiday blessing.
Free printable gift tags make it easy to make multiple gifts for table favors, classroom gifts or Secret Santa exchanges, and share a holiday blessing!
"Oh, to have a perfect Christmas!"
This potent illusion grabs us by the throat sometime in September. It lifts only on the afternoon of December 25, in concert with the 3 p.m. Christmas post-gift letdown.
It's a fancy subscribed to by many well-meaning holiday planners. It sells one heck of a lot of Christmas magazines.
To my dismay, it may even have motivated you to join the Christmas Countdown!
The culprit? The Ghost of Christmas Perfection. This siren song sings as follows: "It is possible to organize a completely stress-free, hassle-free, calm, serene and spiritual holiday season!"
This Web site notwithstanding. Paying heed to the idea of a "perfect Christmas" will clog your planning and cloud your joy--and it's just not possible.
Over the years of my adult life, I've been organized and I've been disorganized. I've been child-free and child-bound, swamped with houseguests or all alone. I will tell you: it is simply not possible to create a perfectly organized holiday season.
There will always be something. Always.
It wouldn't be the holiday season otherwise! Holiday realities are fights with in-laws, returning gifts, burned cookies, collapsed gingerbread houses, pets in the side dishes, stains on the rug, cranky children, broken ornaments, and grouchy late-night sessions at the sewing machine.
Stop and think: this is the material of life! Look back in your memories, and you'll see that every Christmas Imperfect lays its own special claim to your heart.
In my own copybook, nothing could be a better contender than Christmas, 1997: A Tale of Two Turkeys. One turkey, the edible variety, was still frozen rock-hard late on the evening of Christmas Eve. Turkey Number One was scheduled to appear as dinner the following day. What to do?
The second turkey, our household's home manager (take a bow, Cynthia!), got the bright idea of speeding the thawing process by depositing the turkey-sicle in the utility room sink, and running cold water over it. Leaving the bathing bird unattended, Turkey Number Two returned to merrymaking, innocence herself.
Twenty minutes later, the sound of rushing water alerted the household. Turkey Number One had wedged his frozen little heinie in the drain of the sink, blocking it and causing Lake Noel to spread an inch deep over the hardwood floors of kitchen, hall, and dining nook.
The ensuing panic involved eight adults, every towel in the household and gratuitous sound effects from a shorted-out security system. To complete the humiliation, the entire sad-and-soggy episode was witnessed by a full slate of houseguests, including my parents, children, and auntie.
Turkey Number Two had her revenge the next day. I have seldom had such joy carving open the breast of a holiday turkey before or since. Christmas Imperfect--but boy, do I remember it well!
This is not to say that you can't do a lot to promote organization in your holiday planning. You can. Tested organization techniques smooth out many rough places as we travel together toward the height of the season. You can do "more organized." You can do "simpler," "more fulfilling," and "more spiritual."
But you can't do "perfect" because life never is. Who would want it that way, really?Reality Check
Thanksgiving arrives, and we're on the home stretch to the Christmas season: welcome to Decorate Week!
Today, it's time to take stock of all we've achieved, and chart a course for the remainder of the Organized Christmas Countdown.
Where are you with your holiday preparations? Ahead of the game this year? Congratulations!
And everyone else ... including me? No matter what we've managed to accomplish, many of us still feel more than a bit behind. Thanksgiving gives everyone a shove toward reality: the holidays are here, ready or not.
To quell any feeling of "behind", take a look back! Along the Countdown, we've clarified our values, begun gift lists, built a budget and gotten a head start on holiday cards or letters. Gift giving is underway, and the kitchen is stocked and ready for holiday meals ahead.
Are our preparations "perfect"? Of course not! Because, as explained in today's essay, there's no such thing as a perfect Christmas--one thing to keep close in our minds as we complete our preparations for the holiday ahead.
Ready? Set? Decorate ... for an organized Christmas!To Do This Week
Write and address one-fifth of the Christmas Card List this week.
Complete one-fourth of the Gifts To Make list this week.
Begin interior and exterior decorating.To Read Today
So you still think it's possible to have a "perfect" Christmas? Cynthia tells all with a Tale of Two Turkeys:
Make this silly holiday treat with marshmallows, seasonal candies or jelly beans. A selection of free printable gift tags and bag toppers makes it easy to make.
A great gift for Secret Santa or You've Been Elfed traditions!
This week, America is thankful! Celebrated with family and friends, Thanksgiving Day marks the opening of the holiday season. It’s a week for food, family and fun.
In the Houseworks Holiday Plan, we’ll clean, declutter and prepare the entryway for holiday guests. Holiday prep centers on the Thanksgiving celebration: we’ll plan and prepare Thanksgiving dinner, shop for holiday gifts at the Black Friday sales, and begin to decorate for the holiday season.
It’s time to open the door to the holiday season!
Deadline week! Week Thirteen, Dining Room Week, sees us move into the holiday season, and it's time for a reality check.
Thanksgiving Day falls on Thursday for our American friends and ushers in the holiday season, so this week's cleaning and organizing focus is the dining room. Holiday prep chores center on Thanksgiving and turn to planning the celebration ahead.
Ready? Let's get organized with Dining Room Week in the Holiday Grand Plan!
The holidays are here, with wall-to-wall shoppers at the supermarket. Who wants to have to join them?
Instead, assemble a holiday survival kit. Before you shop for the holiday meal, check supplies of these often-forgotten items for your holiday gathering.
Pencil these items into your regular shopping list--and save a last-minute trip. They'll keep the fun in the festivities!
As Get Cooking Week comes to a close, we look ahead to next week's Thanksgiving feast--and the kick-off to the holiday season.
Today's assignments wrap up final Get Cooking chores, preparing for busy December evenings, gathering hospitality supplies, and contemplating ways to simplify baking.
With today's reading assignment, we share the secret for simplifying holiday baking chores: developing a "specialty".
A simple strategy to streamline the holiday cook-a-thon, a baking specialty saves time and stress in the holiday kitchen.
Finally, we finish the week by thinking ahead to upcoming Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales. Ready? Get organized ... for a great holiday season!To Do Today
Feed the freezer
Will you be ready to feed the family fast next month? Stock up on frozen entrees, visit the meal assembly franchise or do a mini-freezer cooking session to put 5 to 10 pre-made entrees into the freezer.
Track holiday meals on a Freezer Inventory Page, and use these meals to save time on busy December evenings.
Prepare for drop-in visitors.
Collect hospitality supplies: cheeses, crackers, frozen desserts. Hide from hungry family members using creative labeling.
Begin tracking Black Friday/Cyber Monday specials
The four-day Thanksgiving weekend--and the first work day after the holiday--have become an important sales event in retail stores and online. Will you shop Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales?
If so, begin tracking prices and planning your shopping now. Organize shopping trips with a Black Friday sales planner to make it easier to score next week's bargains.To Read Today
Beat the baking blues with our guide to easing holiday baking chores with a holiday specialty:
Today's reading assignment covers an old baker's secret: developing a "specialty" to streamline holiday baking chores.
So it's only fair that I share my own specialty: Cynthia Ewer's Tangy Tri-Cities Biscotti!
Seventeen years ago, we were newcomers to Washington State. With so many friends in other parts of the USA, I wanted to share some of the tastes of our new home.
These biscotti feature dried Washington cherries (you can substitute dried cranberries, too!) and local walnuts. Dipped in white chocolate, they're a tasty and elegant accompaniment to that other Washington State tradition, gourmet coffee.
Best, they're easy to make and easy to pack. Stand a few on end in a latte mug, add a small bag of gourmet coffee beans, and you've scored a quick Christmas cheat!
Food and the holidays go hand-in-hand! Holiday cooking magazines are among the first signs of an approaching holiday season.
Sumptuous desserts, winsome cookies, glowing turkeys warm our images of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year.
But oh! My aching feet! Even those of us who lead a Little Debbie life from January to November succumb to holiday baking madness. Cookies. Breads. Pies. Candy. It wouldn't be the holidays without them--but isn't there any way around the baking chores?
Here's a suggestion that can simplify the holiday bake-fest: a baking specialty.
One baked good--cake or cookie or tea bread or candy--that you make each year, in bulk, and give to everyone with a flourish that proclaims it a specialty. Put this time-saving strategy to work for you with these tips.Make it special
First rule: a specialty should be special. Choose a not-too-common recipe. Or take a perfectly common recipe and go deluxe: add extra chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and grated orange zest to plain old chocolate chip cookies.
"Shape" may make a specialty: bake zucchini bread in small ring pans instead of traditional loaves for a distinctive, simple specialty.
If you live far from family and friends, think regional: showcase pecans in the South, maple syrup in the Northeast, apples in orchard country.Make it in bulk
Step two: perfect your recipe and make it in bulk. Make it this year. Make it next year. Get so familiar with your specialty that you can recite the ingredients in your sleep.
Become Queen of your specialty, turning out a good consistent product every time--and in large batches. Go double, triple--as large a quantity as your oven, mixer and stamina can tolerate.Give it a name ... yours!
Third point: christen your specialty, and name it after yourself: "Cynthia Ewer's Sins of the South Cake" is the wickedly-good Southern Comfort butter cake with golden raisins and pecans that I developed while living in Georgia.
Now a resident of Washington state, my current specialty relies on local walnuts, dried cherries, and the Pacific Northwest passion for espresso drinks: Cynthia Ewer's Tangy Tri-Cities Biscotti. Dipped in melted white chocolate and stood on end in a coffee mug, it's a perfect, easy gift!Make it pretty
Fourth rule: presentation is everything. Use a computer or copy machine to make gift tags or labels. Use colorful graphics, an interesting font, or pre-printed label forms to make your specialty gift tags.
Whether or not to divulge one's recipe is a matter of personal choice. I've gone both ways, hugging my Sins of the South recipe tightly to my chest against the pleading of the Southern belles, while freely distributing the Tangy Tri-Cities Biscotti recipe. Take your pick: mystique, or generosity!
Wrap your specialty nicely. Hint: Stretch-tite Plastic Food Wrap gives a near-professional smooth finish when wrapped tightly around baked goods--and for a fraction of a penny. Apply a pretty label or gift tag.
Admire your finished product!Give it (and give it and give it and give it!)
You've baked in bulk, selected an extravagant name and mass-produced your beautifully-wrapped specialty. You are ready!
A caller for the church bake sale? "Oh, of course, I'll be sure to donate some of my specialty!"
A pick-up party on Saturday night? "Thank you for inviting us; I hope your family will like my specialty!"
New neighbors down the street? You've got it: "Welcome! I've brought you my specialty!"
By baking in bulk, you've saved time. By being creative, you've invested your specialty with impressive holiday flair. By producing it at every occasion, you've simplified baking and gift-giving. By repeating your specialty, year after year, you've created a holiday tradition.
It's a win-win-win strategy!Get Cooking
Dreaming of holiday baking? For many of us, kitchen creations are integral to the holiday spirit.
We love the feeling of family connection as we tuck pie crust into grandmother's pie dish, or when we follow a candy recipe written in a great-grandmother's spidery hand.
But when is enough enough? It's too easy to take on more baking than we can handle!
Under the influence of Christmas magazines and over-the-top television cooking shows, grandmother's simple plate of pralines has exploded into six kinds of cookies, four kinds of candies and some powdered cocoa mix for good measure.
Holiday baking should be a pleasure, not a chore. Time to plan holiday baking with an eye to holiday simplicity! Can you shorten, simplify and de-stress the baking list without losing the joy?
You'll spare your teeth. You'll spare your waistline. Most of all, you'll give yourself the truest of all Christmas gifts: time and energy to experience the season without stress. Dare to downsize!To Do Today
Plan holiday baking ... then get realistic
We'll organize holiday baking with a printable baking planner. On it, list all holiday baking you'll do, from Thanksgiving's pies to Santa's plate of cookies.
Made your list? Now think hard about how to cut it down to manageable size!
Double up on drop cookies, and forget the tedious rolled-and-cut out creations. Opt for melt-and-pour candies instead of arm-busting fudge.
Replace elaborate cookie trays with mini-loaves of tea bread, or go whole hog and buy your Christmas goodies from your local baker.
Working from your new, realistic list, locate and check recipes. (And list them, if need be, on yesterday's holiday recipe tracker. No more mad searches for the "rolled and cut sugar cookie recipe that was so good last year" recipe!)
Finally, review each recipe and add needed ingredients to the shopping list.
In the coming days, be alert for supermarket specials on specialty ingredients. Try to buy nonperishable holiday foods this week and next week for all upcoming holiday meals and baking projects.To Read Today
As you put the finishing touches on the Thanksgiving shopping list, check this short list of most-forgotten items. This holiday survival kit will keep you out of the stores during next week's rush!
Rolled sugar cookies are a holiday staple--but often, they're not the tastiest cookie on the tray. Creating a dough that is strong enough for rolling yet delicate and flavorful can be hit-and-miss...but this family-tested Lemon Sugar Cookie recipe passes the test!
Baked in our household for over 30 years, this lemon-flavored sugar cookie is sturdy enough for child decorators, tasty enough for cookie purists.
While these cookies can be frozen, do so before decorating. Frosted cookies tend to bleed and crumble when frozen.
A time-saving tip: if you'll make special Thanksgiving cookies this week, double the batch and cut and bake Christmas shapes in the same baking session. Tucked away in the freezer, the Christmas cookies will be ready to thaw and decorate next month!
During the holiday season, department stores, catalog retailers and online sellers aren't the only businesses anxiously queuing up for a slice of the fourth-quarter pie, i.e. your holiday wallet. Been grocery shopping lately?
What a difference a few days makes! By November, Halloween's candy displays have given way to a maze of buy-me buy-me holiday foodstuffs.
No more straight shots down the aisle. Even in the dog food section, shoppers must dodge flimsy cardboard displays of holiday this-n-that. Formerly well-mannered spices abandon their tidy shelves and tower in unsteady stacks at odd corners. Holiday paper goods, holiday turkey pans, holiday stuffing mix, even holiday toilet tissue force shopping carts into desperate evasive maneuvers.
It's those grocery guys. They want your money. If you shop wisely, you can fund your family's holiday meals for less than you think--and for lots less than the grocery guys want you to spend!
How? By understanding how to play the Grocery Game. You must get inside the heads of those very same grocery guys to save money during the holiday season.
The grocery guys know that you and just about everyone else in our culture are poised to drop a bundle on holiday foods, holiday entertaining, holiday decorating--even color-coordinated holiday garbage can liners--over the next six or seven weeks.
What they really, really want is for you to do all your bundle-dropping in their very own store. The way to get you to do this, they believe, is to give you super bargains, called loss-leaders in the trade, right here, right now, this week.
These specials get you in the door. Once you're there, the savvy grocery guys are going to raise prices from now until December 26th, hoping that you're in the habit of shopping their store.
This is just a generalization. It doesn't account for the Great Turkey War which will break out, according to my calculations, on November 17th at precisely 6:37 a.m., Eastern time.
The Great Turkey War is a little stare-down game played by competing grocery chains. Each will advertise that they'll "meet or beat!" everybody else's price on basic frozen turkey--but nobody commits to amount.
Finally, somebody blinks, and advertises a 59-cents-a-pound bird. Food ads fly fast and furious Thursday through Sunday, and by Monday morning every single supermarket will advertise 59-cents-a-pound frozen turkey. You have to wonder if all the turkeys are confined to the frozen meat bin.
Beat the grocery guys at their own game! Take these steps for maximum savings on holiday foodstuffs:Hold a Freezer Clean-Out
For the next week or so, eat from your freezer and pantry. Pretend you're snowed in and can't make it out for more supplies.
For most of us, this'll mean lots of Last Chance Lasagna. Take whatever frozen hunks of meat you've got, thaw, cut in chunks and toss into the whirling blades of a food processor. Brown what emerges in a bit of oil, add canned spaghetti sauce if you've nothing better, then build the lasagna with noodles and grated cheese. Last Chance Lasagna hides anything!
Another option: Desperation Stir-Fry (same principle, only you cut the frozen whatever into strips and soak in soy sauce, dash of sherry and some sesame oil; stir fry with some minced garlic, and add bags of mystery frozen veggies).
This tactic serves a three-fold purpose. First, it cleans out freezer and pantry so you'll have room to stockpile holiday goodies in the coming weeks.
Second, it creates a genuine sense of gratitude when you serve a real, fresh-cooked meal on Thanksgiving Day. Families primed with a Freezer Clean-Out are much more grateful for that gleaming Thanksgiving turkey!
Third, and most important, food-budget savings leave you open to buy, at just the right time: when holiday fixings are at the lowest price of the year.Track Turkey Prices ... and Timing
A perennial November loss leader? The Thanksgiving turkey! Whether they offer rock-bottom prices on frozen birds, or discount them according to your purchase amount, it's easy to score a deal on the centerpiece for the Thanksgiving feast ... if you're careful.
First, check turkey discounts carefully against the bottom line. If you're required to spend $150 in-store to score a "free" bird, it's not much of a bargain compared to a no-spend offer of 29 cents a pound at the store down the street.
Second, time your purchase carefully. Don't jump at the first offer, but keep a watchful eye out on supermarket advertising in the coming days. The Great Turkey War is a very real phenomenon; grocery chains will gauge competitors' offers carefully, often meeting or beating them by the weekend before Thanksgiving. Stay informed ... to be open to buy when the time is right.
Finally, shop once, buy two or three times. Turkey prices will rise after Thanksgiving, so if a bird will grace your table later in the season, pick up a second or third gobbler now. Tuck the extras into the freezer for remaining holiday meals at the season's lowest prices.Stock Up on Holiday Staples
Tactic Two: buy your holiday goodies now--for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years' and any parties you may be giving.
I've lived in four different communities, large and small, in three different areas of the country over the past 20 years, and I have never seen it fail: Thanksgiving's always cheaper than Christmas.
It's those grocery guys, again. They want you in their store. This week, next week, and right up to Thanksgiving, you'll see specials like you won't see again until next November.
While there will still be advertised specials from now through December 25th, there won't be the shock-your-socks-off prices you'll find prior to Thanksgiving.
Even if you never scout ads and wouldn't consider being a "cherry-picker" (industry term for people who come into the store and purchase only advertised specials) on a regular basis, do it anyway, if only for the next two weeks.
The potential savings are so substantial that any worries about what-will-that-nice-meat-man-think? should evaporate right out of your head.
Here are some items to consider buying now, in quantities sufficient for every holiday meal from now to season's end:
These are holiday staples for my household--your needs may be different, depending on diet preferences, entertaining and family tradition.Get Cooking
Brace yourselves! Holiday cooking season is upon us.
From now until after the New Year, busy kitchens are the norm, like it or not.
What better time for a quick refrigerator declutter? Clearing the decks in the big cold box will make room for holiday dishes--and a clean and gleaming refrigerator will energize the holiday cook in the days ahead.
Spray bottles ready? It's time to clean out the refrigerator.
Finally, we'll organize our favorite holiday recipes, noting page numbers or location for any recipes we'll need next week. No more last-minute games of "hunt the recipe"!To Do Today
Clean out the refrigerator
Right now, today, and absolutely before you shop for the Thanksgiving holiday, tackle the refrigerator, top to bottom. Starting on the top shelf, remove all leftovers, past-the-shelf-date foods, shriveled fruits and drooping vegetables.
Take a hard look at what's left. A jar of pickle spears holding a single leaning pickle? A bottle of barbeque sauce with one scanty inch in the bottom? A down-to-the-last scrape mayonnaise jar? Lay down the law: eat them today, or toss them NOW.
Goal: make room for holiday cooking.
Just like our waistbands, our refrigerators overflow during this time of year. Get a step ahead and declutter that refrigerator before you shop!
Organize Thanksgiving recipes
Now that we've cleared our food storage spaces, it's time to make a quick check of the recipes we'll need next week. When ovens blaze and the dinner hour draws near, it's no time to be thumbing through recipe books with floury hands, searching for that special side dish recipe.
Whether you cull them from cookbooks, the Internet or recipe software programs, make sure you can find the recipes that make Thanksgiving dinner special.
If needed, make a quick list of favorite recipes on a Favorite Holiday Recipes tracker. Note page number, Web address or location of favorite recipes to avoid last-minute searches.
If you'll try new recipes? Note them on the Recipes to Try planner page, and make notes about how they turned out. Next year, you'll thank yourself!To Read Today
Written for the New Year, but just as relevant to the pre-holiday period, get inspired to declutter the refrigerator with this guide from sister site, Organized Home:
What's black and white striped, right down to the white chocolate kiss? Try Zebra Cookies!
A fun variation on Peanut Blossoms, Zebra Cookies showcase a striped Hershey's-brand Hugs chocolate kiss in a chocolate cookie dough. A fun spin on a seasonal favorite!
Blessings are popping up all over for Thanksgiving? Celebrate them with this free printable Thanksgiving topper for Jiffy Pop® popcorn!
Add our free printable template to a package of Jiffy Pop® brand pop-in-pan popcorn for an easy "popcorn topper" craft gift.
Shared with family, friends or co-workers, it's an inexpensive way to share the blessings of the Thanksgiving season.Thanksgiving Gifts & CraftsPopcorn Toppers
The secret to a streamlined kitchen during the holiday season? A well-stocked, organized freezer!
Holding made-ahead entrees, side dishes, cookies and desserts, the freezer is a hard-working Santa's Elf for an organized Christmas.
Christmas cookie trays or gift baskets are easy to assemble from frozen assets, while stockpiled family dinners cut out straight to the "what's for dinner" chase during December's busy nights.
Today's the day to clean out the freezer in anticipation of holiday goodies and freezer meals to come.
A frugal bonus: eating from the freezer this week makes room in the food budget to stock up on low-priced holiday nonperishables.To Do Today
Clean out the freezer
Time to turn to the place where you store your frozen assets! Today, do a quick freezer clean-out, tossing expired foods, mystery packages, and the whiskered remains of last summer's popsicle bars.
Organize the survivors, and group them to make space for holiday baked goods and freezer entrees.
Finally, inventory freezer contents, and record the result on the freezer inventory form. The inventory will remind you of what's stored inside the freezer; add entries as you add holiday foods.
Plan to eat from the freezer this week, making room for holiday meals and holiday goodies. Use food budget savings to stock up on holiday staples.To Read Today
Even the most die-hard non-cooks will find themselves shopping for food this week, as American Thanksgiving approaches.
Watch out, wallet! How do you feed the family a lavish holiday meal without going broke?
Supermarket spending jumps this week--but it doesn't have to break the bank. Get behind the minds of the "Grocery Guys" to play the shopping game and save.
Catch some holiday bargains!
You've seen them everywhere from crafts fairs to bath boutiques: pretty handmade gift soaps. Clear and colorful or rich with natural additives for beautiful skin, they're a welcome holiday gift.
Best of all, they're easy to make using melt-and-pour soap. Heated in the microwave, clear or opaque glycerin soap base is combined with colorants and fragrances, then poured into molds to harden. When cool, soaps pop right out of the molds, ready to use.
Follow these soap-making tips and soap starter projects to help you master this squeaky-clean craft for holiday giving:
Christmas is coming! Do you understand the unwritten rules of gift-giving?
Each of us carries within ourselves a set of rules about gift-giving. Seldom acknowledged and rarely discussed, these rules determine what we give, how much we give, and to whom we give.
Despite living only in our minds and expectations, the unwritten rules of gift-giving govern everything from the office Secret Santa exchange to the family's morning under the Christmas tree.
Problem is, “unwritten” means that gift-giving rules are subject to interpretation—both in our own minds, and in our dealings with others. Even in a single family, it's common to find members with radically different ideas when it comes to "the rules" of gift-giving.
Why is it so important to get a grip on the rules behind holiday giving before we make our Christmas gifts list?
First, if you don’t understand why you gift as you do, it’s easy to enter the land of the absurd: making a midnight raid on the supermarket’s toy aisle when you discover that one child’s stocking holds fewer gifts than his brother’s.
Second, following one version of the unwritten rules can lead to conflict with loved ones., who may hold a different view. Scratch the surface of gift-giving disagreements, and you’re likely to find a rules conflict.
Young adults take on debt to give their own parents gifts the empty nesters neither need nor use. A determined crafter feels let down when a handmade gift—the product of hours of work --is unwrapped to a lukewarm response from the recipient. None of the parties can address the real conflict unless they understand the source: a failure to share the same assumptions about the act of giving.
The place to start? By understanding your own set of gift-giving rules. Bringing “the rules” into focus is the first step to bringing sanity and simplicity back to the season—and being clear about your own underlying gift-giving assumptions can ease conflicts with others.
How do you and your family interpret the following gift-giving rules? There are no right or wrong answers:
It’s a few days before Christmas, and the doorbell rings. A neighbor appears, offering a pretty basket of quick breads. You thank her, and graciously—but your heart sinks because you haven’t prepared gifts for the neighbors this year, much less baked goods.
Gotcha! You’ve just been tripped by reciprocity: the belief that for every gift received, one must be given.
As a general rule, reciprocity has an even-handed fairness to it, but applied to cases, it can be overbearing. A knee-jerk “like for like” exchange doesn’t account for differences in resources, intent or ability. Your neighbor likes to bake, is good at it, and enjoys her gift-giving rounds of the neighborhood. You don’t, but feel compelled to reciprocate anyway. Result: stress!
Know where your comfort limits lie on the issue of reciprocity, and prepare accordingly. If you’re a fervent believer in the principle, set aside a few “just in case” generic gifts before the season to be ready for the inevitable surprise presents.
If you’re more relaxed about the issue, focus on your response, not reciprocity; it’s likely to be the payback the giver will value most. Your neighbor will leave your home glowing when you clap your hands, damn your diet and insist on sampling the breads right then and there, along with a cup of tea and a good chat.Even-Steven
You’re a veteran shopper of outlet malls, and this year, you scored the perfect gift for your fashionista sister: a luxurious natural-fiber sweater marked down to a bargain price. Wrapping the sweater for the family gift box, you pause. Laid out next to the book you’re giving your brother, the sweater’s inequity strikes you—even though you paid the same amount for each gift.
What do you do? Add a gift card to brother’s gift? Set the sweater aside for Sis’s birthday to avoid a comparison? Give the gifts as they are? Welcome to the slippery world of Even-Steven!
The notion that gift exchanges must be of equal value has as many heads as a sack of snakes.
If your version of the rule declares that gifts must be of equal value, how do you decide what “value” is? Full retail price or the actual amount spent? For homemade gifts, do you consider cost of materials or the time spent to create them?
More important, how will you assess your end of the exchange? Will you be disappointed if your sister’s gift to you is more modest, less “valuable” than that perfect sweater?
Be aware: Even-Steven calculations can be a flashpoint for holiday conflict, especially if there are status or financial differences between parties to the exchange.
An affluent auntie can cause resentment with lavish gifts to her nephews, if the children’s parents can’t afford to match or reciprocate her largesse. A well-meaning boss can ruin office morale if she chooses an inappropriate employee gift: a $25 gift certificate to her favorite boutique, where even the toilet water starts at $40. A family member who plays by the law of averages ("I gave a big gift last year, so will scale back this year!") can bump up against a loved one's preferences for year-by-year equality, to hurt feelings all round.
Think carefully about how you assess value when giving. Embracing a more flexible measuring stick is a powerful holiday stress-buster, even when other parties to the exchange may not hold the same view. Divorcing considerations of what you paid, what else you gave, and what you got in return allows you to reach for the true values of connection and gratitude that, ideally, underlie the practice of giving gifts.Once begun, never undone
It was a nice idea, that first year after you moved across the country: sending gift baskets of local specialty foods to the folks in your old neighborhood. The second year, they sent you a box of your favorite sweets. Five years later, the packages are still jetting from coast to coast. What will you send this year?
Examine where you stand on the notion of longevity in gift exchanges. If you feel that once begun, gift exchanges should continue from year to year, think carefully about beginning new ones. Since you value the continuity that the ongoing exchange provides, be sure that the exchanges celebrate your deepest relationships—and the other party shares your view.
If you’re more comfortable with a dynamic view of exchange longevity, send the neighbors a lovely card this year and breathe easier. Chances are, they’ll be relieved that you’ve called a halt to an exchange whose time has come … and gone.Come one, come all
Who is included on your gift list? If you give a gift to one member of a group—family, friends, co-workers—do you believe you must you give equal gifts to all?
For example, Christmas at the in-laws’ house is rich in tradition. There’s oyster stew on Christmas Eve, plum pudding for dessert—and a Christmas morning gift exchange among all five children. And their spouses. And their children.
Coming up with more than 20 gifts each year wracks your brain and wrecks your budget. You’d love to scale back the annual extravaganza, but you know that your husband would object—strenuously. That towering annual pile of presents? It’s a family tradition--and a classic issue of "come one, come all" when it comes to gift-giving.
Family history and tradition will play a part in where you fall on the equality spectrum, and there are no right answers.
For many, the act of giving one-to-one is central to their expression of the holidays. If scaling back the number of gifts or giving selectively feels wrong, consider setting cost limits to reduce the burden of celebrating all those relationships.
Others find that scaling back group gifts by drawing names, white elephant exchanges or an informal “no gifts” agreement enhances their holiday and reduces seasonal stress.
For them, the trick is to negotiate the change in a loving way, and to understand that others may feel more invested in individual gifting than they do.Knowledge is power
When it comes to the unwritten rules of gift-giving, there is only one right answer: the one that is right for you! By taking a long, hard look at the beliefs that underlie your giving decisions, you empower yourself to give consciously, in harmony with your own values. By knowing where you stand on these issues, you'll be able to address any conflicts with others in a loving, measured way.
Unwritten or not, there are rules to giving and receiving gifts. Know where you stand ... to simplify your holidays and celebrate the season!Gifts and Giving
Thanksgiving is coming: hold onto your wallet!
No question, holiday meals can put an unexpected burden on the budget. Solution? Get organized, and shop at home first!
This week at the Christmas Countdown, we'll inventory pantry areas, refrigerator and freezer before we begin shopping for holiday foods.
Knowing exactly what we have and what we need to buy prevents that fuzzy "Oh, just throw in another can of olives!" mentality from setting on us at the grocery story--and keeps us from tossing stale food items months down the road.
A bountiful meal with no waste makes the best use of our food dollars--and time and energy!
Similarly, we'll check the spice rack today, assessing the freshness of seasonal staples. Will we have enough sage for our dressing? Has the pumpkin pie spice lost it's savor? Time to find out, when replacements are offered at the year's lowest prices at the market this week.To Do Today
Inventory the pantry
Will you really need to buy ten cans of chicken broth for holiday meals this year? It's time to check pantry or food storage areas and inventory holiday non-perishables before shopping for Thanksgiving.
Use a pantry inventory form to record supplies of canned goods, baking supplies and holiday staples. You'll know at a glance whether to load up on loss-leaders ... or whether your pantry is full this year.
Check spices for freshness
Fresh, savory seasonings are a must during the holiday season--but in many kitchens, jars and tins of spices languish for years, losing flavor over time.
Check your spice rack for freshness today. Newer products often include a "use by" date as a guideline. Otherwise, open each jar, and use your eyes and nose! A spice that has caked, changed color or lost it's smell should be replaced.
Add any needed replacements to the seasonal shopping list, and stock up when pre-Thanksgiving discounts hit the baking aisle!
For suggested dates and freshness tips, try this link:
A pantry's not a room, it's a state of mind. Get organized for efficient, easy meal planning and brush up your pantry power:
M&M Cookie Mix in a Jar makes a colorful jar gift, and is popular with kids.
Use seasonal-colored M&Ms-brand candies for a holiday touch.
We make it easy with recipe and free printable gift tag. Attach the tag to create a sweet and welcome holiday gift.
Holidays ahead ... and that means the feast is on us! Will you be ready to make memorable holiday meals?
Even experienced cooks can quail at the idea of cooking a holiday meal. Who hasn't run out of butter, curdled the gravy, or found themselves holding back an entire meal while waiting for one last item to finish cooking?
Not this year! The secrets to stress-free holiday meal preparation? Planning--and sharing the work!
Today's the day we break out our printable holiday meal planner forms, and organize those big dinners and festive brunches. Better, we'll consider ways to delegate and simplify holiday meal preparation ... for an organized Christmas.To Do Today
Plan holiday meals
Thanksgiving is a few days away: it's time to sort out holiday menu plans! While we began last week by planning Thanksgiving dinner, today we'll make menu plans for the rest of the season's festive meals.
Why? Because this week and next will see the year's best bargains at the supermarket! Holiday non-perishables such as canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, frozen desserts and freezer rolls will be offered for sale as "loss leaders" in most grocery stores.
Knowing what you'll need for the rest of the season's special meals lets you stock up now ... and save!
To begin, print a free printable holiday menu planner or designate a fresh sheet of paper for each holiday meal that will take place in your home.
Thanksgiving Day? Christmas Eve? Christmas Day? New Years? Give each at-home meal a good hunk of space on the page for menu planning.
Next, use a potluck meal planner to list those meals that you will take away from home.
Christmas brunch at Grandma's? A holiday pot-luck at church? If you'll need to bring a dish, note it down.
Once you've sorted out all the when-and-where issues, it's time to plan the meal itself. What will you serve--or delegate!--at each holiday meal?
Tradition has its advantages: if you always have turkey with cornbread dressing on Christmas Day, you't have to decide on the menu from one year to the next!
Consult cookbooks if needed then list every element of the meal:
Can you delegate any of these items to guests or family members? Mark a big "D" next to the dish, and add a name.
Finally, turn to your list of "away" meals. Have you coordinated your contribution with the host and hostess? If not, call and discuss what you'll bring. A proactive hint: decide what you'd like to prepare, then call and offer.
Positive action frequently means you won't get stuck making individual sweet potato casseroles cooked in hollowed-out orange shells. She who offers first, smiles to the end!To Read Today
New to menu planning? Come up to speed on menu and meal planning with tips from sister site, OrganizedHome.Com:
It's a special holiday candy with a down-home Oklahoma history: Aunt Bill's Brown Candy.
With the texture of fudge and flavor of caramel, this ultra-creamy treat is studded with plump pecans for an unbelievable taste treat. In our family, Aunt Bill's Brown Candy has been a seasonal tradition since the 1930's!
For experienced candy makers only ... but the result is heaven! Also known as Oklahoma Brown Candy or Sooner Brown Candy, but in my house, it wouldn't be Christmas without the Aunt Bill's!