My fantasy for the month of December? It's a seamlessly organized and enjoyable holiday season where there's plenty of time for everything - and that includes time to sit and enjoy a hot cup of cocoa while surveying all of my hard work. The reality, of course, is that the holiday season is chaotic: chock-full of frenetic shopping trips, party planning and a packed calendar of events. Well it's that time again friends! They have begun playing Christmas movies non-stop on the Hallmark Channel, Hobby Lobby is selling their Christmas goodies at half price and Christmas music is floating in the background at the mall. For me that's a clear indication it's time to get busy - not a moment to waste. And unless you enjoy getting caught with the tinsel around your toes, START NOW! We have exactly 45 days until Christmas and it will fly by faster than Santa and his reindeer. Start cooking, start crafting, start shopping, start cleaning and most importantly START HAVING FUN! Seriously. You MUST plan for some good old fashioned relaxing seasonal fun!
Bake and freeze items ahead of time, and you'll never be short of treats for last-minute guests - OR GIFTS! Lots of baked goods can be prepared and tucked away in the freezer, ready when you need them. For the past month I have been stockpiling my freezer with cookie dough, candy centers, small loaves of quick bread and homemade piecrust - making the end of November and all of December a little bit easier on myself. Here are a few freezing and baking tips:
- Double-wrap baked goods securely and label the outside of the package.
- Firm up delicate cheesecakes in the freezer first, so you won't damage them while wrapping.
- Freeze undecorated cake layers for up to a month. Fill and decorate when completely thawed.
- Place frozen items in cake carrier to defrost, to prevent them absorbing odors in refrigerator, or thaw baked goods at room temperature.
- Freeze pies before baking, except nut pies such as pecan pies can be frozen after they are baked.
- Slice cinnamon rolls and sticky buns and arrange them on a baking sheet. Don't let the dough rise. Freeze until firm, then store in a heavy-duty freezer bag. The night before baking, arrange rolls on a greased baking sheet or pan, cover with greased plastic wrap, and thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. Let rise at room temperature for an hour or so, until ready to bake.
- Check your spices, salt, baking soda and powder. If they are over a year old - buy new! Your baked goods will only be as good as your ingredients.
- Starting ahead of time gives you the chance to stock up gradually on things like flour, sugar, chocolate chips...etc. When it comes time to bake your pantry will be ready and waiting.
Will you create your own holiday gifts and crafts this year? Planning ahead is essential to success; nobody wants to spend December nights rushed and harried at the craft table. Whether you're new to giving hand-crafted gifts or not, starting holiday preparations now will give you plenty of time to start - and finish - handmade holiday gifts and crafts. Also, crafters will find the season's best selection of kits, materials and supplies on sale now. If you wait until December 1 to plan homemade gifts or crafts, the project shelves at the local crafts store just might seem mighty bare. Handmade is the new hot holiday gift so start now to ensure you aren't left out!CHRISTMAS DECORATING
Christmas decorations can go beyond the traditional red and green with beautiful results. Need some inspiration? Try a holiday decorating theme such as vintage, all-white, gold, natural, or even beach-inspired - which our daughter LOVES! Here are a few plan-ahead items to think about.
- Call me crazy, but I have a 'staging' area for Christmas decorating. I sometimes dream of a large home with lots of extra space and storage - but our home is 'quaint' with not much space therefore during the end of November - before Thanksgiving - my garage is turned into a miniature Santa's workshop. Mr.P puts up our Christmas trees checking lights and doing the thing I HATE to do - the fluffing of the trees. He brings all of our Christmas décor down from the attic placing it in the garage, God bless his heart! When my family leaves Thanksgiving day and all the dishes are done I quickly tear down our Fall décor and my sweet husband brings in our Christmas trees. We plug them in and enjoy the pure bliss of 9 Christmas trees lit with no ornaments. Ordinarily we enjoy our trees undecorated for a few days, but not this year. Everyone is scattered to the wind and Thanksgiving day will be the only time I have all of the kids under one roof - until Christmas Eve. Therefore we will be decorating our FAMILY tree together on Thanksgiving evening this year.
- Save time and money by selecting a wreath that can do double duty: Put it up now, in time for Thanksgiving, and leave it up through Christmas. For a live wreath, you can gather leaves, nuts, and twigs from your backyard. For a longer-lasting wreath, stop by your local craft store for faux berries and dried flowers.
- Use the long weekend after Thanksgiving to get your outdoor lights up and your indoor decorations on display. Recruit helpers! Hanging lights can be tricky and tedious. Don't forget to test each strand of lights before you hang it. Also, measure the distance you want to cover with the lights to determine how many strands of lights you'll need. Make decorating the Christmas tree a family affair! Make some wassail, put on your favorite Christmas CD and PLAN FOR FUN!
- Start your Advent calender on December 1, counting down the days until Christmas morning. Designate a specific time each day and let your children take turns marking each day on the calendar. You can purchase a paper Advent calendar that has pictures or quotes behind each day's door.
- CLEAN! It's a good idea to give your home a good cleaning before all of the holiday decorating goes up.
When you shop early you can concentrate on getting the right gift for that special family member or friend, as opposed to feeling overwhelmed with last minute buys. Waiting until the last minute usually means spending more than you can afford and the Ghost of Holiday Past ends up haunting you every month in the New Year in the form of a credit card payment. Here are some tips on developing a budget and shopping early.
- Write down everyone's name on your gift list and determine how much you want to spend on each person. I also jot down a gift or two I think they may like. When I'm out and about if I come across that item on sale I buy early.
- Bring your list when you do hit the stores, as it is easy to shop impulsively during this time of year.
- Shorten your gift list: Is it really necessary to buy everyone on your list a present?
- Consider sending a thoughtful holiday card or e-mail, or even writing a family newsletter to update everyone about the past year.
- Get creative with your gift giving: Handmade gifts, baked goodies and personalized coupons can be some of the most thoughtful gifts.
- Think about your own talents as well as what the person may need. For example: knit a blanket or sweater; bake some cookies; create a photo album of your favorite pictures; make a music tape with their favorite tunes; or give them a coupon for a special dinner at your house, baby-sitting time, or even a house cleaning – the list is endless. GREAT IDEAS for college students!
- Draw names: If you belong to a big family or have lots of friends, suggest this idea so that each person has to buy only one gift.
- Shop early and compare prices: There are great bargains and sales to be found—even during this time of year.
- For future reference, when you see a great gift for a family or friend during the year – buy it! Not only do stores offer special promotions and discount prices throughout the year, but this will also save you time during the holidays and help you spread your spending throughout the year. Just don’t forget to put your gifts in a safe place so you know where to find them when it’s time to give them away!
- Shop online: It’s fast, it’s easy, and you can comparison shop! Don't wait too late though, you want to make sure your presents arrive BEFORE Christmas!
- Donate more than cash: Contact your favorite local charity and see if they take donations in other forms than just cash such as canned goods, clothing, furniture, books, etc.
I'm sure in most families 'fun' just spontaneously happens, but sometimes during the Christmas holidays fun can often times get lost amongst the gifts, baking and decorating. Planning for family fun during the month of December is a good idea. It's what makes Christmas - Christmas! Here are a few of my favorite ideas:
- Plan for one wonderful family night a week and let each child decide on the one holiday thing they don't want to miss - and do it!
- Drive around and look at Christmas lights.
- Go to a Christmas concert.
- Drive to a Christmas tree farm and pick out a tree together as a family.
- Try your voice at caroling and pass out a few of those cookies you baked to friends and neighbors.
- Buy gifts for underprivileged children and pack them together as a family.
- Read one chapter of A Christmas Carol each night before bed.
- Build a simple gingerbread house. Put it on display and eat it on Christmas Eve.
- Watch Elf while wearing your favorite PJ's, drinking hot chocolate and eating popcorn.
What do you want your Christmas to look like this year? Planning ahead can help alleviate some of the stress that accompanies this very exciting but busy time of year. Whatever you do to make Christmas fun and festive, make sure you take a little time for yourself and your family. Stop and take the time to actually enjoy the spirit of the season and all the merrymaking. Sit down with a cup of hot chocolate or eggnog, snuggle by the fire with the one you love, have a few snowball fights, listen to Christmas music while you bake, enjoy special times with friends and cherish family gatherings. But most of all remember the reason for this season and be most grateful in your heart. MERRY EARLY CHRISTMAS!
~THE DOMESTIC CURATOR~