Cooking for the big feast? Save time later in the season by doubling-up on any side dishes that can be frozen for later use. Freezer-friendly recipes like Garlic Mashed Potatoes means you'll cook once, eat twice … and save time and stress!
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!
"Frugal" holiday meals? Something of a conundrum, isn't it? The very nature of holiday meals is to express the value of abundance.
Finances, on the other hand, have definite limits--and never so much as during the holiday season.
Take heart! It's possible to serve bountiful--yet frugal--holiday meals with a bit of care and forethought.
Consider these tips to plan holiday menus without breaking the bank:Know your portions
There's nothing like a giant, gleaming turkey at the head of that Thanksgiving table to warm holiday hearts. The economic downside to that big bird? Waste! Most of us know the shame of tossing several pounds of dried-out drumsticks and crumbled white meat a week after the feast is over.
This year, limit waste by buying only as much turkey as your family truly needs. Do you serve a whole turkey at just one meal? Think one pound per person. Want a few leftovers for sandwiches? Calculate your needs at one and one-half pounds per person. Generous leftovers (enough for another meal or two plus sandwiches) require a figure of two pounds per person. Pass up that 22 pound bird and save money and energy costs.Plan your leftovers
If you're like me, the holiday cook-fest brings on a real distaste for cooking for the next several days. It's tempting to think, "Oh, we'll just eat out of the refrigerator!" until the next day, when the stuffing runs out and the gravy goes dry. Result: husband with hamburger sack in hand. There goes the budget!
As you clean up from the holiday meal, package leftovers in meal-sized portions. Decide when you'll serve them, and store accordingly. While you shouldn't re-freeze turkey that's already been frozen, a fresh bird's leftovers can safely be consigned to the freezer.
Ham, while not appropriate for long-term freezer storage, can be frozen for up to two weeks. The family will give you much less guff if holiday leftovers don't make an repeat appearance for a week or ten days.Stock the pantry
During the next few days, grocery stores will be offering the year's lowest prices on holiday pantry staples--and those discounted cans of cranberry sauce, black olives and pureed pumpkin will be just as welcome at Christmas and New Year's.
To save this month--and next!--shop these sales for all holiday meals to be prepared in your home, right up to the New Year. Be on the lookout for low prices on pantry basics like canned broth, prepared gravy, and side dish ingredients like yams and green beans. In the freezer aisle, double up on frozen pie shells, pies and bread dough. Soda, mixers and sparkling juices at discounted prices make it easy to create festive holiday beverages ... and save!Grocery shop the day after Thanksgiving
Frugal fanatic that I am, I didn't learn this tip until November, 1996. That year, we returned from a trip to Europe at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. The cupboards were bare, bare, bare, so a grocery run was required the morning of Thanksgiving Friday.
Tired, jet-lagged and grumpy, my mood changed when I saw what was in store for the Thanksgiving Friday shopper.
What did I find? Bargains on top of bargains! Fresh turkeys that didn't sell before Thanksgiving? Marked down to an incredible 29 cents a pound. I bought three for the freezer: fresh, no added ingredients birds that usually retailed at around 99 cents a pound.
Other Thanksgiving Friday specials included pans of pre-baked rolls, fresh yams, and a variety of beef and chicken markdowns. Anything that has a sell-by date and hasn't sold by Thanksgiving may show up, discounted, the day after the big feast.
Smart shoppers take note! Shop for the Christmas holiday meal the day after Thanksgiving.Know when to pay for convenience
Some components of a holiday meal are worth paying for in a convenience format. Some convenience foods are true money-savers, while others save sufficient time to justify the higher price.
Unless you live in sweet potato country, canned yams or sweet potatoes are a good buy compared to fresh yams at 69 cents a pound . Pre-baked brown and serve rolls are frequently offered as loss leaders for under $1 a package, so stock the freezer now.
Similarly, pumpkin pie filling mix, when offered on sale, is usually less expensive than buying canned pumpkin and adding evaporated milk and eggs.
In the middle ground, you'll find prepared pie crusts. Whether they're flat and pre-rolled in the deli section or pre-shaped and frozen, prepared pie crusts may be worth the extra money because of the time and effort they save.Start your stuffing now
Frugal shoppers know that some convenience items never make the list, no matter how wowser the sale. Primary among these are canned gravy, dry gravy packets, and packaged stuffing mix.
Why not? Because these items can be assembled free from most family kitchens, not to mention that it's downright immoral to sell stale bread crumbs for four times the price of fresh bread!
Start on your stuffing mix now. It's so simple, it's criminal. Finished a loaf of bread? Toss the heels and/or the last few stale pieces on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven. Turn the oven on for five minutes. Turn it off. Leave the bread there to dry out.
Next day, have some bottom left from the loaf from the automatic bread maker Take out yesterday's bread, toss it in a zipper storage bag, and put today's bread onto the cookie sheet? Do the oven on/oven off routine one more time.
If you forget about it, don't worry--the dried-out bread won't grow stale or mold, and in the oven, it won't get dusty. (Automatic bread machine users should slice or cube leftovers; that way they'll dry easily and will be easy to crush when you're ready to make dressing.)
To make dressing, beat that bread-filled zipper bag with a rolling pin until it looks like the store-bought stuff. Dump it in a big bowl. Add sauteed onions and celery, and season with sage, parsley, salt, pepper--you know your family's preferences. Moisten with chicken broth, milk or water, and stuff that bird.
Simple. And it sure won't cost you any $3.59 per six ounces of bread crumbs, either. The variety of bread leads to an interesting, flavorful stuffing.
For those of the cornbread dressing persuasion, follow the same rules--if, and in my family, that's a big if, you've got any cornbread leftovers from Chili-and-Cornbread night!
Ready, frugal shoppers? Take control of holiday meals ... and save!Get Cooking
Visited the supermarket recently? It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
With Thanksgiving Day coming soon in the USA, there's no better time to organize holiday meals, menus and baking. Welcome to Get Cooking week!
Assignments center on all things food at the Christmas Countdown this week. We'll clean and prepare food storage areas for the days ahead, plan holiday menus, stock the freezer and get organized for holiday baking.
Along the way, we'll learn ways to save on holiday meals and develop a baking specialty to save time in the holiday kitchen.
Tighten your corsets! We're going to Get Cooking ... for the most delicious holiday season ever!To Do This Week
This week in the Christmas Countdown, we'll explore frugal strategies for holiday meals, plan holiday dinners, clean out our freezers and get the goods on those sneaky Grocery Guys. Ready to Get Cooking?
Write and address one-fifth of Christmas Card List this week.
Make one-fourth of Gifts To Make this week.To Read Today
Holiday meals can punch you right in the pocketbook. Save money on Thanksgiving dinner with these tips for frugal feasts:
A batch of Thanksgiving Blessings Mix packaged in small food storage bags makes a pretty Thanksgiving table favor, workplace gift or classroom treat. It's easy to make in multiples with free printable Blessings Mix gift tags and Blessings Mix bag toppers.
America celebrates Thanksgiving next week, gathering family and friends around the dining table. This week in the House and Holidays Plan, we’ll see to it that the celebration takes place in a clean and organized dining area.
Holiday prep focuses on preparing the kitchen for Thanksgiving—and the holiday meals to come. We’ll shop for bargains on freezer and pantry staples. Thinking ahead to December’s busy nights, we’ll stockpile freezer meals for use later in the season.
Finally, this is the week we plan holiday entertaining, so put on a festive mood as we follow the House and Holidays Plan.
Cooler weather makes it easy to check and organize the attic and storage areas during Week Twelve, Attic Week.
We continue to move toward Thanksgiving in holiday prep. Are you working on holiday gifts?
Ready? Let's get organized with Attic Week in the Holiday Grand Plan!
Gift-giving. Seldom do we engage in an activity that invokes so many conflicting values.
On the one hand, we hope our gift will entertain, educate, and amuse.
We dream of seeing our special gift proudly displayed in the home of the recipient.
We hunt and search and shop, trying to find just the right gift to stand for the relationship we're celebrating.
On the other hand, gift-buying brings us up against our limitations. While our emotions urge extravagance, our wallets counsel frugality.
The desire to delight a child with the year's hot toy runs smack up against the knowledge that the toy is question is shoddy, lacking in play value, and composed of 374 tiny plastic parts (most of which will become food for the vacuum cleaner by January 15th).
We squander precious time to produce a hand-crafted decor item, yet suspect it will never see the light of day in the recipient's precisely decorated home. The sheer drudgery of slogging through a lengthy gift list--never enough time, never enough money--takes the emotional component of gift-giving and stands it on end.
There is a strategy that can cut through the gift-giving conflict. A strategy that will ensure each gift is appreciated and enjoyed. A strategy that serves the values of frugality, simplicity, and freedom from consumer mentality. And, not at all incidentally, a strategy that makes gift-buying much, much easier: think consumable!
A consumable gift is one that will be used. Used up, not stashed in a closet for the next yard sale. A consumable gift is something that can be eaten, sent, read, or enjoyed by the recipient. A consumable gift is the gift of an experience, not a thing, a "keepsake", or another piece of clutter.
How does it work? Start with the small fry. Forget the "Mrs. Fields Baking Oven", a pricey piece of kiddy work that purports to bake cookies using a single light bulb. Instead, bundle a few cookie cutters, a rolling pin and a box of sugar cookie mix together with a certificate for "cookie lessons". Child in question learns some baking skills and has a memorable afternoon with Grandma or Auntie. Consumable!
That teen-aged nephew? Sure, you could try to figure out which video games he has, which he doesn't, and which of the store's supply he might like to own (to the tune of $39.95). If you guess wrong? Too bad.
Think consumable. Delight the young man in question with a selection of three or four video gaming magazines, the flashier, the better. He'll pore over them for game cheats, information on new games, and tips for power players. You've simplified gift-buying, saved money, and given a gift you know will be used. Consumable!
Your parents? Forget more decorator junk to add to their overstuffed house. Give them tickets to a play or a certificate for dinner in a restaurant. Give Mom a big supply of note cards, greeting cards and stamps. Give Dad a basket full of car wax, windshield treatment and tire cleaner for his beloved classic Mustang. Consumable!
To think consumable, think "experience". You won't be buying things, so much as buying an activity.
Many consumable gifts are very direct: passes to a movie theater, fast food gift coupons, magazine subscriptions. Others take more imagination: give a group of women friends the same book, and invite them all for a Book Night party in early February. Give a teen-aged daughter a set of hair brushes, some styling aids and two or three hairdo magazines (and be prepared for a locked bathroom door).
The Christmas gift industry knows the appeal of consumable gifts. Where would Swiss Colony be without them? Try, if you can, to pass up the obvious "I'm in despair" choices. Have you ever truly enjoyed the stale and salty offerings of those "gift packs?"
A better, more frugal strategy: use commercial consumables as models for your own gifts. Send special children "cookies of the month" throughout the year. Model a gift basket for a gardening friend on the commercial variety--but spend far less by buying gloves, trowel, herb seeds and a garden bucket and packaging the gift yourself.
Think consumable as you buy your Christmas gifts. Think consumable to fight clutter, to save money, and to bring the holiday spirit back home. . . and get Organized!Gifts and Giving
Is your holiday giving only about "stuff"--or is it a reflection of your heart? To express your deepest holiday values, plan to make a gift of yourself this holiday season!
This week in the Christmas Countdown, we've focused on gifts and giving. 99% of the time, we've seen this effort in terms of "things." Stuff. Boxes and parcels and bags. Stocking stuffers. But have we considered making a true gift: a gift of ourselves?
In the days to come, we'll begin planning the American Thanksgiving holiday. Will we also begin to ponder those things for which we are thankful? Out of gratitude comes grace, and from abundance comes true giving. How will we reflect this gift?To Do Today
Plan family service projects
Challenge yourself and your family to make a difference: to make a true gift of yourselves. Today, plan service projects or volunteer activities.
Service doesn't have to be regimented. Even small efforts can reap big rewards.
Teach someone a new skill. Tackle a service project as a family. Visit an assisted living center, or take part in a church ministry.
Don't just share your stuff this season: share yourself! The real secret? When you give of yourself, you are returned blessings tenfold!
Complete holiday scheduling
Calendar in hand, review holiday season activities and events.
Consider adding a no-event "family night" to the calendar to provide stress relief during the height of the season.
Schedule family service projects, or sign up for church charity efforts.
Reserve baby-sitters for December's nights out.
Keep tabs on the holiday budget
As you shop, record expenditures on your holiday budget. Keeping your budget in the front of your mind helps prevent impulse purchases and over-spending.To Read Today
Simplicity. Frugality. Great holiday gifts. Find a way to serve all these values with clutter-free consumable gifts:
Apricot Nut Bread is a sweet addition to holiday gift baskets. One of Cynthia's specialties!
To make ahead, bake this quick bread recipe in small loaves, then double-wrap with plastic food storage wrap. Place wrapped loaves in a freezer storage bag; they'll stay fresh for up to 2 months:
Judging from my e-mail, what's the single biggest holiday family conundrum? "Whose house for the holidays?" wins, hands down.
It's a universal dilemma for young parents. It's a universal dilemma for their own parents. Where will the "children" spend the holidays?
Shiny new parents of a baby or two yearn to create their own at-home holiday. Their own parents struggle to keep the family together, and preferably at their house.
My own chair sits smack dab in the middle. My children are grown, and I'm a grandmother of a young grandsons.
Yet I remember (far, far too well) the days of traveling 450 miles one-way in a rackety VW bus with babies in tow, to make the required (and resented) attendance at an in-law's home.
Add divorce, remarriage, step- and blended families, and this issue can become a logistical nightmare.
How do you solve the "whose house for the holidays" question ... and keep the cheer in the season?For the Young Parent
If you're the young parent, what do you do? Take a look at where the conflict pinches, and it's likely to be a struggle to grow up. These are your parents, your spouse's parents! It's scary to do what you have to do: calmly tell them that you are ready to establish your own Christmas traditions in your own home.
But that is exactly what you must do. It's a rite of passage, and not an easy one. Take heart, though. No matter how much heat and light gets generated the first time you break away from your parents, a calm determination wins in the end. After the first year, you'll find the going much easier.For the Parent of Adult Children
So you're the older parent? Reading this, you want to jump all over me! After all, it simply won't be Christmas without all your children under your own roof. Why shouldn't you want to hold on to the traditions you've created over many years?
Take a deep breath, Mom and Dad. Your child's desire to begin a family holiday shows that you've done your job well. Keep in mind that these are young parents, and they're going to be a bit protective and defensive about their natural wish to provide for their own babies what you provided for them.
It's a tense time, and you have to be careful. Remember that your children still hold you in great regard. Innocent comments may get mangled in translation and seem far more oppressive and dictatorial than you ever intended.
Add in the in-law situation, and there's even more room for misunderstanding. Not to mention that the children must deal with this issue twice: once with you, once with the spouse's family. Without even trying, the emotional waters can get very, very murky.
The bottom line is to make your children and their families spend time with you because they want to, not because they have to. You're the older party, and have more life-experience under your belt, so it's up to you to craft innovative solutions.
Can you visit your child's home, and share the grandchildren's special Christmas morning? Can you change the time of holiday dinners, gather the family on Christmas Eve, alternate holidays year by year or otherwise help the youngsters with holiday scheduling jams?
Another solution: create your own holiday alternative. My own mother is mistress of this technique, and her children bless her for it.
There's no pressure to drag small children from door to door on Christmas Day, because Mum's special day is her Texas New Year Party.
Held on New Year's Day for a huge flock of family and friends, it's a bonus holiday, and one that solves the generational problem quite neatly.
One inventive grandmother has earned the love of children and children-in-law alike: she gathers all the grandchildren at her home on the evening of Christmas day, and hosts a grand pajama-party sleepover. Tired young parents appreciate the post-holiday break, while the grandkids look forward to their special Christmas party at Grandma's. Grandma gets special time with her grandchildren, and gives the children's parents a much needed holiday break. It's win-win!
Whatever your stage in life, and whatever your solution, take heart. "Whose Home for the Holidays" is a sign that you, your parents and your children all value the special gift of the holiday season.
Keep the season's message in mind as you negotiate ... and make it an organized Christmas!Reality Check
Nearly half-way there: time to do a little status check on the progress of the Christmas Countdown.
I hope that most of us feel a bit more prepared, a bit better organized. We've met together for three weeks, and we've covered a lot of ground.
Still, it's natural to feel a bit of panic today. From here on out, time will fly with a vengeance. Rehearsals, parties, holiday activities will rain down upon us.
During the next three weeks, the Countdown slows the pace to match the season. Because we're doing more in other areas of our life, the Countdown will lighten the load.
Ahead lies Get Cooking Week, appropriately so as America begins to prepare for Thanksgiving Day. Beyond that, we'll Decorate, then prepare to Celebrate ... an organized Christmas.
Get ready to settle into a slower rhythm! Because ready or not, the holidays are nearly here. This year, though, we are riding relaxed and in control, prepared and ready for the best holiday season ever!To Do Today
Prepare for Thanksgiving dinner
Plan Thanksgiving Dinner using the Holiday Menu Planner. Simplify the holiday by delegating to family and friends.
Check serving pieces, and write the contents on a Post-it note. Placed inside the dish on the holiday table, it'll make it easy for others to help!To Read Today
So you want to celebrate Christmas ... without busting the budget? Try these frugal "Christmas cheats: to have a bountiful holiday season without going into debt to do it:
Simple to make, this little Candy Cane Reindeer does holiday duty decorating packages or peeping from a stocking.
With materials available at craft stores or discount houses, Candy Cane Reindeer are ideal for classroom projects, Secret Santa presents or little "just because" gifts!
Wrapping gifts for the holidays? Repeat after me: "This year, I won't be wrapping gifts at midnight on Christmas Eve!"
If there's a single most-underestimated holiday chore, it's gift wrapping.
Supplies lie scattered throughout the house, while space and privacy are hard to come by.
Translation: late-night Christmas Eve wrapping sessions, grumbling your way through the job.
Not this year! To lick the wrapping problem at the outset, set up a wrap and mail activity center: a dedicated space for wrapping gifts and preparing packages for mailing. With workspace, tools and supplies at hand, it’s easy to wrap as you go—and enjoy the task, without grump, grumble or hurry.
Having all gift wrap, tools and supplies in one place speeds gift wrapping and makes mailing easy. Follow these steps to set up a Gift Wrap and Mail Center:Shop At Home, First!
First, find last year’s gift wrap. Did you stock up on half-price wrap, bows and ribbons in last January’s post-holiday sales? Wonderful--but you lose all your Good Consumer Brownie Points if you can’t find the booty! Dig it all out from boxes, closets, drawers or attic.
Time to see what you have--and what you need. Use a Gift Wrap and Mail Checklist to evaluate your existing stockpile. Will you need to refresh stocks of gift wrap, gift bags, ribbons or bows?
Tool check! Make sure you have scissors and pens. Like cellophane tape, these gift wrapping necessities often go astray during wrapping season, so lay in a good supply before you begin.
Include mailing supplies on your list, especially postal-approved parcel sealing tape. Masking tape, twine and cellophane tape can become caught in parcel handling machinery, delaying your gifts and goodies or even damaging them. Don't run the risk to save a few pennies.
Make a "to buy" list and add items to the shopping list. Hint: double up on the cellophane tape. There are never enough rolls of tape on hand for holiday projects!Select The Right Spot
List made, find a place for your wrap and mail activity center. Look for a room of your own with a lock upon the door: a bedroom, office, utility room or large bathroom that will allow you to wrap in peace and privacy.
Good lighting and a comfortable work surface are a must, so consider placing a craft table near a window. Those in small homes can make use of a bed area, if they place a large sheet of poster board or cardboard on the bed before hauling out the supplies.
Access to a computer and printer will help speed the process of mailing gifts. Look for a postal scale to make best use of the mailing tools offered by the United States Postal Service. Using their Click-N-Ship, you'll be able to buy postage, print mailing labels and arrange for carrier pickup from the comfort of home. No more long holiday lines at the Post Office!Scout Out Storage Options
Once you've chosen a location, be creative to find storage for tools and supplies. Stand rolls of gift wrap on end in a large carton, confine bows to grocery sacks, and tuck the box into a corner of a closet.
A paper clip on each end of rolled gift wrap keep the paper from unwinding when stored. Supermarket "chip clips" are a handy way to group sheets of tissue paper; hang clips on a hook to grab the right color tissue anytime!
Under-bed storage works for the wrap and mail center, too, so long as you corral the supplies in a long, low cardboard storage box. Commercial gift wrap organizers are available and are a wise purchase. Long, low molded plastic boxes with storage for bows and gift cards slide easily under beds or on a linen closet shelf. An over-the-door shoe bag will keep scissors, bows, tags and ribbons visible as you work.Remember To Recycle
To cut the cost of gift wrapping and mailing gifts--and give a welcome Christmas gift to Mother Earth--make room to recycle!
As the season progresses, stockpile any catalog or mailing boxes you receive for re-use in the wrap and mail center. Recycling mailing boxes, bubble wrap and plastic peanuts makes environmental sense . . . and saves cents!
A well-stocked Wrap and Mail Center smoothes ragged nerves as the season approaches. Establish yours today . . . to get ready for Christmas!Get Organized
Ask any wife and mother what she needs most during the holiday season, and she'll tell you, "More time!"
Yet this same busy lady will fill her Christmas gift list with elaborate hand-crafted gifts, requiring substantial outlays of cash, time and skill.
Result? She careens into mid-December either (1) working nightly until 1 a.m. to finish the lot or (2) substituting last minute purchases for the unfinished gifts.
How to take charge of out-of-control crafting? Apply the Rule of Four!To Do Today
Apply the "Rule of Four" to simplify handmade gifts
Thinking of adding hand-made gifts to your gift list? Here's a little test: the Rule of Four. Go to the closet or cabinet where you store craft items. How many UFOs (Un-Finished Objects) can you find? How old are they?
Did you find four or more UFOs? Were any of your UFOs more than four years old? That's a big, big reality check, and should tell you to scale back on the crafts this year.
Tempting as it is to lavish time and love on our families, we need to be realistic. If you do craft projects for pleasure, and if you usually finish them, by all means, craft your little heart out.
For the other 99% of us? Think hard before you fall for the siren song of a hand-crafted gift! Be realistic about your time, skill and ability to finish. After all, wouldn't it be wonderful to release yourself from the crafts stranglehold? You can do it ... and get ready for Christmas!
Begin working on handmade gifts
List all Gifts to Make--then step back and evaluate.
Be stern! Make your list and cut it in half--there's less time than you think. List needed materials and add them to the Master Shopping List.
Begin working on "to make" gifts this week. You must make one-fourth of your gifts each week.To Read Today
Hoping for a handmade holiday this year? Keep tabs on time and energy with more tips to organize handmade gifts and crafts:
My grandmother, Mim Miller, was a flat-out wonderful Southern cook. These chewy Texas pralines show why!
A frugal holiday treat, they used little more than a sack of sugar and pecans from the tree--but the distinctive taste makes holiday memories.
Updated with easy microwave instructions: