Christmas Countdown C -10

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The Simple Joy of Holiday Entertaining

Entertaining in your home is an important part of the Holidays. Spending time with family and friends over great food is an incredible way to increase the joy of the season.

Unfortunately, most women I know groan when you mention Holiday entertaining. They are already tremendously stressed over the basic Holiday tasks that have been added to her enormous to-do list that she doesn’t know how she is ever going to get everything done. Who wants to add a party on top of that?

Well, if you do things the Simple Joy way, Holiday entertaining doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, it can be very easy. The primary thing you must remember is:

Attend Your Own Party!

You should never invite friends over to show off.  Entertaining during the holidays is about relationships not about bragging rights.  Creating an atmosphere where guests are able to relax and enjoy themselves, you are able to move effortlessly through your guests with no stress, no fuss, no worry.

How is this possible? To begin the transformation, follow these three extremely easy steps…

Simplify, Sweetie!

To enjoy your holiday party, you must reduce the stress.  The easiest way to reduce your stress is to simplify your event.  Mommy was right, Sweetie, “Never bite off more than you can chew!”  To maintain a manageable level, follow these “simple” steps:

Simple Event

Plan a holiday event that fits well into the time you have to prepare.  There never seems to be enough time during the holidays and nothing brings on stress faster than a shortage of time.  Determine what you are able to handle and go with that.  Be honest with yourself.  Now is not the time to be Super Woman.

Simple Plans

Work smarter, not harder.  Once you decide the type of event you wish to hold, sit down with pen and paper to determine what needs to be done to prepare.  Spend your time creating your list, not running around aimlessly.  Save your energy for your party.

Simple Menu

Spending hours in the kitchen with a hot stove is simply wilting.  Plan a menu that offers dishes your guests will enjoy but will not wear you out.  You want to be with your guests at the center of the fun.  Choose dishes that can be prepared in advance or require little last minute work.  Or, follow the my Simple Joy example:  purchase pre-made dishes that only need baking or microwaving.  Remember, your guests came to see you, not your food.

Delegate, Darling!

You have chosen your event, developed a plan of action and selected your menu.  Now you need to decide who is going to do all the work.  What do you mean you thought you had to do the work?  No, no, no, darling, not when you take my advice:

Decide What Needs to Be Done

You have a plan of action.  Take the time NOW to expand on that plan.  Determine step by step exactly what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.  Break things down into very small parts if you need to.  Once you are satisfied with your list, copy it to a fresh piece of paper and keep it with you always… or at least until your party is over.

Determine What You Want to Do

With completed list in hand, study it very carefully.  What things do you want to do?  If you make great desserts, then you may want to save this activity for yourself.  If you REALLY like to clean your house, this may be the activity for you.  Pick and choose now before others get a crack at the list.

Delegate the Rest

Yes, you are actually going to ask other people to do things to help you get ready for your party.  Gee, what a novel idea!  Who are these people?  Friends, family and hired help.  You may hire a company to clean your house or cater the party.  Assign tasks to family members.  When friends and guests offer their help, accept!  Remember, your job is to attend the party.  Let others help.

Pamper, Pet!

The day of your party arrives.  Everything is going smoothly.  Now is the time for you to pamper yourself.  Take time for you so you have energy for your guests.  Here are just a few things you might do for yourself, Pet.

Take a Nap

Can’t have you nodding off in the middle of a conversation.  Don’t want any lines under your eyes.  Prevent this by taking a little nap before you get ready.  Even if you only have a short time, lie down for a few minutes.  Relax.    Smile and let all your care and tension drift away.  Prepare your mind to turn your energy from you to your guests.  Now, take a deep breath.  Let it out.  Open your eyes.  It’s time for your bath.

Take a Bath

The Queen never rushes through a shower when she prepares for a party.  Time to pull out all the Royal stops.  What better way than with a warm relaxing bubble bath.  Fill the tub with scented bath salts, light the candles, and turn on music to relax.  Then slide deep into the tub.  Lean back and let the last of your cares float away, Pet.  Not too long, though, you still need to get dressed.

Take a Breath

You’re ready.  The food is waiting.  The music is playing.  The house is perfect.  The doorbell rings.  Wait!  Not just yet.  Take a deep breath.  Now smile.  No, a big warm smile and go greet your guests.  The #1 guest (YOU) is in the house!

Christmas Countdown C -11

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Almond Eggnog Pound Cake

  • 2 tablespoons soft butter
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 package yellow cake mix
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups eggnog
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoons rum extract

Generously grease a bundt pan or tube pan with soft butter. Press almonds against the buttered sides and bottom; set pan aside.

11 Unique (and Totally Fun!) Holiday Traditions

11 Unique (and Totally Fun!) Holiday Traditions

Christmas is a time for traditions. The things you do with your family through the years make an impression we may not see until our children are grown. Growing up, I made cookies with my mother each year. After she passed, I continued to share our favorite cookies with family & friends each year. When The Child came along, WE began making cookies together. Oh, we made some changes as life got busier. Some years, we only baked the cookies that come in rolls from the store but we baked! Then, one year, I came home late from work to find a huge stack of chocolate chip cookies on the counter. The note on the stack said “DO NOT EAT!” The next day, Katy wrapped dozens of stacks of cookies & handed them out to her friends! A tradition that continues.

Good Housekeeping offers you & your family some new traditions to add to your Christmas season. Whatever you do, the things you do together stay with you & your children all your lives. And THAT’S a Simple Joy money can’t buy! Enjoy!

Holiday Traditions

Christmas Countdown C-12

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Have Yourself a  Low-stress Little Christmas!

During the Holidays, many of us are guilty of procrastinating. We put things off until the last possible moment, filling ourselves with anxiety as we scramble to get everything done. Each year, we promise ourselves we will be better organized THIS year and each year it’s the same. Holiday tasks come rushing at us leaving us standing frozen like a deer in the headlights.

Why do we do this to ourselves year after year? I believe most of us have good intentions of doing better every year but unfortunately, we become overwhelmed by everything we have to get done for the Holidays. Our to-do list seems endless and  makes it impossible to know just where to begin. We flit from one task to another, never quite completing anything. Or, we become immobile, unable to motivate ourselves to take on even the simplest task. How can we overcome these feelings and begin to enjoy the Holidays once again?

You should begin by saying the following words over and over again, “Work smarter, not harder!” Take the time to sit down and develop a strategy for the Holiday season. Do not do another thing on your list until you begin to follow the 6 steps listed below:

1.   Distinguish between “have to” and “want to:”  It is difficult to motivate yourself when you feel there is so much you “have to” get done for the Holidays. How many of these things are really “have to’s” and how many are “want to’s?” A number of years ago, when our daughter was in grade school, I was overwhelmed by everything I felt I had to get done before Christmas arrived. I couldn’t get motivated to do anything. Then I had an idea. I sat down and made 2 lists. On one, I put everything that really had to be done by Christmas morning. I tried to be realistic and only list things that, if not done, would truly spoil Christmas. On the second list, I put everything else, the tasks I only wanted to get done. When I was finished, I only had ONE item on my “have to” list. I needed to buy our daughter’s presents. She was still young enough that I knew Christmas would be spoiled if I didn’t have her presents ready by Christmas morning. Everything else on my list was something I only wanted to do. I didn’t have to put up the Christmas tree. I didn’t have to send out Christmas cards. Well, there were a lot of things I didn’t have to do. Once I gained that perspective, the process became easier. I felt the pressure being lifted from me and I got to work. I organized my “want to” list and one by one, I whittled each task away. By the time Christmas morning arrived, I had completed every item on both lists without the stress. Take the time to create 2 lists. Be brutal. You may have more than 1 item on your “have to” list but it should still be a small enough list that you can tackle it easily. Then, organize your second list and get to work.

2.   The calendar is your friend: This time of year, we see the calendar as our enemy. Each day it reminds us how little time there is left to prepare for Christmas. Do not see the calendar as your enemy, make it your friend. Once you have prepared your 2 lists and then organized your longer “want to” list, grab your calendar and begin to plan. Write in all the scheduled events, like the kids’ school programs, the church Christmas event, holiday parties, etc. Next, study your list and schedule a deadline for certain events: mailing Christmas cards, mailing packages, decorating the house, shopping, etc. Make sure you write tasks in pencil. No need to add to your stress level by setting arbitrary deadlines in pen. Pace yourself by spreading out tasks throughout the month.

3.   Let the list be your guide: I am a great maker of lists. It is too easy for tasks to fall through  the cracks during the non-holiday part of the year. This time of the year, it can be overwhelming. Therefore, I make a list. In fact, I make multiple lists. I have a master list of everything I want to get done for the holidays. I have a daily list of the 5 and only 5 things I need to do for that day. I have my Christmas shopping list with everyone and their gift ideas listed. I have a grocery list for everyday items and the various lists for any entertaining I am doing. These lists go everywhere with me. I never know when I might see a gift I can purchase or have a chance to pop into a grocery store to pick up a few things. I have the lists clipped together so I can easily refer to them. I do not let the lists intimidate or overwhelm me. They allow me to calmly plan things in the quiet and comfort of my home. They help me stay on top of things. Most important, they give me a sense of control. When you plan ahead and make your lists, you control the Holidays, they do not control you.

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4.   Give yourself the gift of “no:” One of the reasons we become overwhelmed at Christmas is the added burden of Holiday tasks piled on top of our already full to-do list. Unfortunately, everyone else around us has a lot to do and some of these people are looking for unwary individuals upon whom they can thrust one (or more) of their tasks. They may not mean to burden you but they do burden you just the same. You must learn to say “no” to these request. At the very least, you need to get something in return for doing the task. For example, if your husband asks you to pick up a gift for someone in the office, you need to have him take one of your tasks. Explain in a calm tone that you are also very busy during the Holidays and, in order to do one of his tasks, you need him to take one of yours. Everyone only has 24 hours in a day. This means we are only able to do so much in the course of a day. To have time to do his task, you need something removed from your list. For both of you, time is valuable. Be respectful of each other’s time. Keep in mind, there are other times when you must just say “no.”  Take a moment to consider whether or not you really have the time to do the requested task. If not, say so. You do not owe anyone an explanation. If you are unable to do one task, you might offer to do another but only if you have the time. You owe this gift to yourself and you deserve it.

5.   Allow others to help: We often think everything must be done by us. However, there are all sorts of people able and willing (or at least easily swayed) to do tasks for us. Some of these people are family and friends. Some of these people can be hired, like a cleaning service to come in and give your home a thorough cleaning for the Holidays. Nowhere does it say Mom must do everything. If no one offers to help, then ask. Women often feel men should know they need help. Men believe women will ask if they need help. We are both making assumptions. Mr. D. always tells me to speak up if I need help. Getting your family to help you also gives them a better respect for all you do to prepare for Christmas.

6.   Take care of yourself: This is the most important thing of all. Most women I know develop terrible colds or other ailments right after the new year begins. I believe this is often caused by the lack of care we give ourselves in December. Take simple basic steps to care for yourself during the holidays. Drink lots of water. Eat more balanced meals. Cookies and fudge just done’t cut it. Get plenty of rest. At least once a week, I climb into bed with a good book about 8:00. I may read for hours or fall asleep before 9:00. I find my body needs the rest. In addition, get some exercise every day. I like to go for a walk or ride my bike. This gives me time to plan my day, or the next day if I go out in the evening. It also clears my head. I also like to pray while I walk, helping me maintain perspective on the season.

Christmas is a fabulous time of the year, too fabulous for us to be wishing it over. Take a few simple steps to get a handle on the holidays and you can truly have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Christmas Countdown C -14

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Holiday Open Office

Twice, I have had jobs that were very intense during the holiday season.  The number of hours I needed to spend at work made it impossible for me to either attend or host any holiday parties  This was very painful for me since I love both Christmas and entertaining.  I finally realized the long hours spent at work did not mean I could not celebrate the holidays.   If I had to spend the holiday season at work, then I would hold the party at work.  Instead of hosting an open house, hold an open office! 

I designed a celebration that would not cause me any additional stress.  My goal was to enhance my holiday joy and the joy of my co-workers.  I began by decorating my office for the holidays, including a small tabletop tree complete with lights.  I set up a narrow four foot table and covered it with a paper tablecloth.  I bought more than one tablecloth in case so I had replacements when one was stained or torn.  I brought in my holiday platters, baskets and bowls for my serving dishes and added green and red paper napkins, cups and plates.

During the holidays, so much of the food brought in to share at work is very sweet and high calorie.  We tend not to eat well during the last few weeks of December.  I decided to offer more substantial food.  The buffet featured chips, salsa, dip, crackers, a variety of cheeses, cookies, and sparkling cider. As you see, I did include a few sweet items to round the selection out.

I bought most of the items for the small buffet, making only one or two things myself.  I bought enough food to last 3-4 days, holding back a few fresh items for each day so the food did not look picked over by the last day.  I was able to set everything up in 10-15 minutes and it took about the same amount of time to clean everything up before I went home. 

I turned on Christmas music, opened the door wide and invited anyone who wandered by to enjoy the buffet.  While the open office will never win first prize in a Holiday Party competition, it helps reduce stress and increase joy during a busy time of year at work.

Suggested Buffet Items:

Cheese Platter

• Brie

• Herbed Brie

• Cheddar

• Gouda

• Smoked Edam

• Cheese Ball

Crackers

• Wheat

• Rye

• Club

• Pepper

Assorted Nuts

Tortilla Chips

Dips

• Salsa

• Guacamole

• Dill Dip*

• Spinach Dip

• Shrimp Dip

• Crab Dip

Cake Platter

(I purchase specialty loaf cakes at an import store)

• Amaretto

• Rum

• Pumpkin/Cranberry Bread

• Banana Bread

Small Plate of Chocolate Seashells

Platter of Assorted Cookies

Sparkling Cider

Dill Dip

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 2 teaspoons dill
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion

Mix. Chill. Serve in bread bowl with the pieces of bread taken out of the bowl.

Christmas Countdown C -15

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Family Service Project

Every child will tell you how much better it is to receive at Christmas! Not that I think kids are greedy. It’s just so exciting to find all the things Santa has brought when Christmas morning dawns. However, not everyone is joyful at Christmas. Many people are lonely without family to celebrate the Holiday season with them. Many families don’t have the resources to give their children gifts at Christmas. Many children spend Christmas in the hospital, some miles away from home.

There are so many things families can do to brighten the Holidays for the lonely or the children that might not otherwise receive a gift. Things that can encourage children & families battling illness this Christmas.

This week-end, do a search in your community for projects that need help. I really think it is important not to simply buy some gifts & drop them off at a distribution center. Kids need to be involved in the work that goes into providing a Merry Christmas to those in need, those who are alone, those away from home. Let the family decide which group they want to help, then find out how you can volunteer. It might be packing food boxes to be delivered before Christmas. It might be going to nursing homes to sing Christmas carols & deliver cards. There are so many ways we can bring the joy of Christmas to those alone in the dark. This year, let’s shine the light of Christ’s love in our communities with those that are searching in the darkness. It’s a gift for the whole family to enjoy.

Christmas Countdown C -16

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Guests

Are you having guests stay over during the Holidays? This can be stressful for both hosts AND guests. I know there are all kinds of articles telling you how to prepare a wonderful guest room so you company is comfy during their stay. However, I would like to share a bit of advice.

As wonderful as it is to have the grandparents or the grandkids visit for Christmas, it can also be exhausting. Schedules & routines are upset. People are around all the time. They may be family but you still feel you must treat them like company. And it is tough for your guests to relax since it isn’t their home.

My suggestion is to make the guest room into a sanctuary for your guests. Let them know you don’t mind if they retreat to their room for some quiet time. If they have a television, snacks, even a coffee maker with the fixings right there for their convenience, it can make for a more relaxing visit.

And if you are the guests, give your hosts some time to relax alone. This isn’t being rude. It’s being very polite by preventing frayed nerves at the end of the day. Have books with you. Bring some snacks. Spend time relaxing away from one another & you will enjoy each others’ company so much more.

Christmas Countdown C-22

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What Would YOU Like to Do?

Every year, I think of things I would like to do for the Holiday season. Walk through Downtown Anaheim & look at the lights. Visit South Coast Plaza & admire the decorations. Take a trip to a large local nursery that decorates dozens of trees. And a few more fun things.

Then I get busy & I forget. Oh, well, there’s next year! Yes, but there is still THIS year! So I’m making one of my famous lists & creating a schedule so I am able to do the things I want to do this Christmas! None of them is elaborate. They are just simple local activities that take an afternoon or evening. And it takes coordinating with Mr. D. When we work together on these things, it works much better.

So, what are the things you would like to do this Christmas? Perhaps you want to have friends over to decorate the tree. Or maybe go caroling. Just simple things that bring so much joy & create memories that last a lifetime. Take time today to create a list of the things you want to do. Then schedule them & share with your family. You may have to push them a bit but you will create Christmas joy for everyone in your family!

40 Christmas Cookie Recipes to Treasure

40 Christmas Cookie Recipes to Treasure

Cookies are a traditional treat for Christmas. Whether you only bake a batch for Santa or prepare dozens for friends & family, it’s always fun to add a new recipe to the mix!  Midwest Living offers us a BIG selection of cookie recipes from which to choose this Christmas! Pick one or two. Let your kids pick a new cookie to make. However you decide, it’s guaranteed to be a Simple Joy!

Christmas Cookies