Holiday Countdown: Six Weeks to Sanity: Week 6

Week 6: Finish the Work and Prepare to Celebrate!

  1. Do any deep cleaning or organizing that still needs to be done before the holidays. The rest of the month will just be for light cleaning and finishing touches.
  2. Pack and prepare any gifts for domestic shipping.
  3. Plan a family outing to pick up a tree and bring it home to decorate. You're so organized at this point, you can throw a tree-trimming party!
  4. Begin to prepare any holiday foods that can be made ahead and frozen.
  5. Hand-deliver gifts to teachers, service workers, colleagues, and others to whom you want to show your appreciation.
  6. Finish any remaining shopping and gift wrapping.
  7. Send holiday cards.

Now, enjoy the rest of December! Ski, party, pamper yourself, bake cookies at a leisurely pace, and use frozen meals to take stress off of busy days. Just have fun and give yourself the time and the energy to be filled with the spirit of the season.

Holiday Countdown: Six Weeks to Sanity: Week 5

Week 5: Ship Shape

  1. Go over gift list and make sure everything but the easy pick-ups has been completed. If you were planning on making any gifts that are not yet done or started, make alternate plans and save that idea for another time.
  2. Prepare and freeze final batches of cookie dough and a few more meals.
  3. Plan a holiday card production party: sign, fold, seal, and stamp. Making it a family project will help it move along faster! Plan a great prize for completing the project.
  4. Finish decorating inside the house, make room for the tree!
  5. Order turkey, goose, ham or other specialty foods.
  6. Drop off holiday outfits to the cleaners; make any clothing purchases necessary to make it through the season.
  7. Stock up on bulk presents, for hostess gifts and just in case you forgot anyone. Wine, candles, serving ware, or fine oils and jams make thoughtful and easy gifts.

Holiday Countdown: Six Weeks to Sanity: Week 4

Week 4: Focus on Thanksgiving

  1. Focus on preparing for Thanksgiving. Grocery shop early in the week and make as many dishes ahead of time as possible.
  2. Polish silver, clean serving ware and china, if needed. Label each serving piece with its dish and place serving utensil with it. This will help others help you on the big day.
  3. Use frozen meals on Tuesday and Wednesday to save time.
  4. Relax and enjoy time with family and friends!
  5. Complete any online ordering and catalog shopping for holiday gifts.
  6. Make the best of Thanksgiving sales by shopping for big-ticket gifts.
  7. After Thanksgiving, pack away your autumn decorations and bring out the holidays decor.

Holiday Countdown: Six Weeks to Sanity: Week 3

Week 3: General Preparation
  1. Start planning menus for holiday feasts and collect recipes. Make preparation schedules and grocery lists.
  2. Begin working on the first group of gifts and pick up wrapping and packing supplies as needed. Pack gifts that are ready to ship, print labels and postage.
  3. Ship any gifts going internationally.
  4. Deep clean and organize high traffic areas.
  5. Make and freeze two more batches of cookie dough and a few dinners.
  6. Finalize the holiday card list and print labels or address envelopes. Finish and print letter, if using.

Stress-Free Holiday Shopping

Holidays can be stressful but like with everything else, there is hope! Check out some tips for stress-free shopping times.

Timing is Everything
Those who plan ahead and are always keeping an eye out for great gifts before the holiday shopping season comes say they are less stressed during the holiday season and have more time to enjoy the holiday festivities. But if you aren't that prepared and end up shopping during the holiday season for gifts, it is best to go during times when it is less crowded. Retailers say that they have the fewest customers during the early morning hours and they are the most crowded during weekends and holidays.

Make Lists
Take a cue from Santa and make a list of all those people that you are planning on buying gifts for, and check them off as you get the gifts. Or if you are getting multiple gifts for some (i.e. your kids or spouse) make tally marks so that you can easily see how many gifts you have bought for each person.

Take Stock
Check your gift wrapping supplies and make sure you have what you need to wrap the gifts. If you don't have everything you need, write out a list and pick up the supplies while looking for gifts. This will save you from having to go back to the store just to pick up some tape or more wrapping paper.

Consider Shopping online or by Mail
Many online companies and mail order companies will wrap the gifts, include a card and ship them directly to the receiver. This is an especially great option if you will be getting gifts for family or friends who are far away. Plus you won't even have to leave the house or fight crowds.

Avoid Pressure
If you are in a rush you often feel pressured to make a purchase that you may later regret. Avoid the stress of having to return an unwanted gift later by stepping back and taking a little bit of time to think about the gift. If you need to ask the salesperson to put it on hold and go do something else for a little bit, then come back and if you still want the item than it is probably a good choice.

Kids Coming Along?
Don't have time to shop for the kids gifts without them with you? Consider asking a family member or even getting a babysitter to go with you. They can distract and keep the kids entertained until you've selected the presents and have them safely hidden in the grocery bags.

100% Guarantee
Make sure to only buy from stores that have a refund or exchange policy. Keep receipts for all gift purchases in an envelope so that you will know where they are if you need to take an item back. Ask for gift receipts for items and include the receipt with the gift especially if it is clothing that might not fit.

Avoid Lines
Most stores have multiple cash registers in different parts of the store and will allow you to ring up any items from the store at these registers. If the lines up front are incredibly long. Swing by the photo counter, electronics counter, jewelry counter or other department counters to have your items rung up. This will often save you a lot of time and stress.

Take Breaks
And lastly, shopping can become a much better experience if you squeeze in little coffee and snack breaks to keep your energy levels high at all times.
Adapted from Celebrating Christmas.

A Stress-Free Thanksgiving

If memories of last year's Thanksgiving include stacks of buffet plates, last-minute jaunts to the store for fresh rosemary or that burnt pumpkin pie, you may want to think about trying to destress your holiday this year.
There are plenty of small steps you can take, from making lists to shopping early, that will make things go much smoother. Most importantly, don't forget to take the time to enjoy your family.

1. Arm yourself with a plan: Sit down and make a guest list. From the number of guests, plan your menu. Then you can create a complete shopping list and decide if you're doing all of the cooking or if others will be bringing dishes. Take inventory at least two weeks out of your dinnerware, kitchen tools and gadgets, spices and other staples in your pantry and don't forget to count chairs!

2. Shop early: Grocery stores get more packed the longer you wait, plus you run the risk of some of your needs being sold out. Try to do your shopping early morning or late evening at least one week before the big day.

3. Make-ahead magic: Plenty of side dishes, desserts and breads can be made ahead of time. This frees up your counter space and your to-do list. If you do have to make several dishes on Thanksgiving, try to distribute them evenly between the stove top, the oven and the microwave.

4. Perform a test flight: If you're making a side dish for the first time or using ingredients that you aren't familiar with, try them out beforehand so you'll be prepared for success on Thanksgiving Day. Ditto if you're serving a new wine or using new equipment, like a brand new oven.

5. Manage the little ones: Keeping the kids occupied takes time as well. Having a group of kid-friendly DVDs on hand is a no-brainer, but don't stop there. Kids can help in the kitchen with cookie decorating or in the dining room with setting the table.

6. Shrink the menu: With the size of the feast on most of our tables, it really isn't necessary to load your guests up on dips, snacks or appetizers. A platter of cut fresh vegetables should do the trick.

7. Turkey duty: As the place where all eyes are focused, preparing a perfect Thanksgiving turkey carries a huge amount of stress. The most important thing: don't forget to defrost the bird. In the refrigerator is the best method, but will take longer. You can also submerge the turkey in cold water to speed thawing. Keep the bird basted as it cooks and let it stand for at least 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven to keep it moist.

8. Quick fixes: Purchasing store-bought desserts and adding your own flair is a great time saver. Defrost a frozen pumpkin pie, top with streusel and bake. Or simmer cranberries in orange juice and a little sugar just until they pop and spoon over purchased pound cake.

9. Plan an after-dinner activity: Instead of sitting around and passing around plate after plate of leftovers, plan something for the family to do after dinner. Prepurchase movie tickets for the opening blockbuster and fold them in your napkins. Have your yard staked out for a game of flag football. Your guests will love having the planning done for them.

10. Don't sweat it: The true secret to being a gracious host or hostess (and keeping your own sanity) is to not let small problems ruin the day. If one of your side dishes burns, simply toss it out and enjoy the bounty you do have. If the turkey burns, order take-out. And don't forget to laugh.

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Holiday Countdown: Six Weeks to Sanity: Week 2

Week 2: Planning and Organizing

  1. Create a gift list, estimating prices to make sure you stay on budget. Don’t forget wrapping and shipping add cost to each gift! Divide the list into four categories: (1.) gifts to be shipped, (2.) big-ticket or time-consuming gifts, (3.) gifts to be hand delivered, and (4.) easy gifts to pick-up.
  2. Talk with your family about your holiday card; choose a picture, theme, or style. Order or purchase supplies. If sending a letter, write a first draft and send it around the family for editing and revisions.
  3. Take inventory of your holiday decorations. Does anything need to be replaced or updated?
  4. Clean out closets and less used spaces like guest rooms.
  5. Freeze two extra meals and make a few batches of cookie dough for the freezer.