Thursday, December 17, 2015

Holiday Hacks I Have Used And Loved

Kris Fletcher

Well folks, here we are, with one week to go until Christmas Eve. I don't know about you, but this is about the time I start to panic. No matter how much I have done already to prepare for the big day - and yes, I have done a lot - the To-Do list is still winning.

However - and this is important - it could be worse. Over the years (nay, decades) of being the Spirit of Casa Chaos Christmas,  I've developed some tricks and tools to make things run more smoothly. Because here's the thing. Christmas is the time of year I most desperately want to slow down, to savor the steps and revel in the preparations and enjoy the family and the spirit and the message of the season. A few shortcuts in tasks where it doesn't matter greatly improves my chances of being able to linger over the things that do.

Thus, my Christmas gift to you, in no particular order: My Favorite Holiday Hacks.
  • Start by reading this article by Laura Vanderkam (who I always find brilliant), It's about making a deliberate mindshift from enduring to enjoying, and I found it a very worthy read, especially at this time of year. 
  • Wish lists and Google sheets. My daughters are still at home but my sons are far afield now, so it's often difficult to know what a particular person might appreciate most at gifting time. At Halloween I email all my kids & the husband and ask them for wish lists. We're not talking vague suggestions like, "I could use a new sweater." Nope. Each person is expected to be precise and provide links to either the item they want or a reasonable facsimile. Once the wish list deadline has passed - because yes, there is a deadline - I take all the lists that have been mailed to me and create a Google spreadsheet for each person. Why Google sheets? Because it's the easiest way I know to enable others to access the sheet. Each person's sheet has its own unique link, which can be shared with all who need it. As each giver chooses a gift from that sheet, they can indicate that it has been claimed. This has saved me innumerable texts and emails from boys asking for idea for their father, or my husband asking if I've bought a certain item for the Tsarina. Plus my kids love to leave comments on the sheets, such as one child's comment beside my husband's request for a chain saw: If I get this for him, I won;t be held responsible for the consequences. Right?
  • Make sure you have the right tools for the job. For baking cookies: quality cookie sheets, parchment paper to line them (makes clean up SOOOO much easier), and cookie scoops. For wrapping gifts: a basket or box to hold pens/scissors/ribbons/tags, and a refillable tape dispenser. For all tasks: mood music. 
  • Embrace slow cookers. And freezers. Or, even better - slow cooker freezer meals. The linked article
    gives all the details, but essentially, you plan and assemble a bunch of meals ahead by tossing all the ingredients into zip lock bags and putting them in the freezer. When you're ready to use one, you pull it out the niught before, let it defrost, and then plop it into the slow cooker. That's it. Let me tell you, I LOVE being able to reach into the freezer and pull out everything for a healthy homemade dinner, all in one bag. 
  • This was a new one this year, and I plan on repeating it. At the end of November I planned all the meals until after New Year's. Then I gathered all the recipes I would need for the month and put them in one binder (along with a copy of the plan). Now when it comes time to go to the grocery store, I can simply grab the binder and make my list with ease. Sure, there will be changes, but in meal planning - as in writing - it's easier to revise than to start from scratch.
  •  Pick one delicious, easy recipe to be your specialty each year - the one you bring to every pot luck, party, or whatever where you are expected to bring a dish. You probably won't be seeing the same people at each one, and if you do, well, make sure your dish is yummy and they'll be glad to see it a second time. Doing this saves you time (no more falling down the Pinterest hole), makes it easier to be sure you have the ingredients on hand, and makes it easier to put it together (because after two or three times you have the directions memorized.) This year I'm taking this dip (pictured at the top of the blog) everywhere I go. You're welcome. 
  • Most important, build in time to breathe. Even when you're racing - especially when you're racing - you need to give yourself some down time. It's impossible to slow down and savor the season if every minute is scheduled and life is an endless, constantly-refilling list of activities. Block half an hour out of the schedule and honor it, no matter how far behind you might be. Cue up some Michael Buble. Pour yourself some of your favorite beverage, adult or non. Grab that Superromance you've been meaning to read. Put your feet up and spend a few minutes giving yourself the most important gift of the season - time to simply be. I promise you'll face the rest of your lists energized, relaxed, and ready to roll.
I'd love to hear some of your suggestions for managing the holidays. One commenter will win a copy (CD or digital, winner's choice) of Michael Buble's Christmas album, Winner to be drawn on -  Sunday, December 20, noon(ish) Eastern time.


Mary Preston said...

I am a big believer of wish lists too, & yes, my children send me links. The thing is I shop months before Christmas to allow for delivery, so by the time Christmas comes folks only have a vague idea of what they have asked for. Perfect!!

I love Christmas, but I do not want the stress that others seem to be under.

Colleen C. said...

My mom always makes pigs in a blanket for the parties she goes to or a veggie tray... as for lists... We exchange them to help with shopping... I try to gather ideas before October to give to family, but my one sister is a pain and only ever tells us 3 or 4 ideas, ugh! Happy Holidays! :)

Laney4 said...

I discovered Butterball's boxed turkey breast last year. OMG, it's delish! Our family prefers white meat, and one box says it feeds up to 6 but I swear that with my family of BIG eaters, it feeds 9-12, meaning that I have leftovers to make two turkey pot pies afterwards, plus reheat leftovers with gravy. So, tip #1 is to stay away from the turkey that takes up valuable space in your freezer, as well as stay away from all the grease and fuss. (The downside is that I had to use store-bought gravy and add the dribble of drippings to it.)
Tip #2: boxed dressing. I always buy Stovetop Turkey dressing and make in the microwave. However, I have learned that adding 1/2 a package to 3/4 of a package of crumbled bacon to it makes a world of difference - so much so that people think the dressing is homemade! (I open a package of bacon, cut in half, place on a dinner plate and microwave 10 minutes. Drain, then use two forks to separate the bacon from each other. Continue heating 5-7 more minutes. I freeze it at this point so that I can reheat in the microwave whenever I want some for Caesar salads, omelets, pizza toppings, etc. If you want it crispier for the dressing, heat a further 2-3 minutes. You'll know it's done by watching through the microwave door.) I also add celery pieces to it, which also gives it a homemade taste.

kris said...

Mary, as always, you are beyond wise.

Colleen, LOL! There's always one, isn't there?

Laney, oh, that turkey breast sounds like a must-try! And I've never thought of dressing up Stovetop. That could come in VERY handy!

dstoutholcomb said...

take time to watch your favorite Christmas movie


kris said...

Excellent reminder, Denise. I can't wait for my sons to come home so we can watch Love, Actually together.

bn100 said...

have people help cook

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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