Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Countdown to an Organized Christmas - Day 7 - Holiday Home Spruce Up

Article and Photo Courtesy of Organized Christmas

There's nothing like the approach of the holiday season to make our hearts turn toward home--and home improvement projects!

Simply thinking about the holidays ahead can sharpen our vision when it comes to the condition of the house. Suddenly, we notice ... everything!

It's only natural to want to celebrate Christmas in the home of our dreams. Problem is, our eyes can be bigger than our calendars (and wallets and time and energies) when it comes to preparing the house for the holidays.

How do we keep the pre-Christmas fix-up list within the realm of reason at this time of year?

Answer: we get grounded by printing out the Holiday Home Spruce-Up exercise. 

Plan holiday home improvement projects ... that are grounded in reality

It's not just "visions of sugarplums" that dance through our heads when we think of the holiday season. Many of us also succumb to Holiday House Fever: an intense desire to begin major home decor projects in the weeks before Christmas.

Anybody who's ever decorated a Christmas tree before a half-painted wall knows the risk: our dreams overpower available time, energies and resources. Result: damp carpets, naked windows, wet paint and lots of stress.

Today's assignment, the Holiday Home Spruce-Up Exercise, is a short course in realistic planning; it will anchor our dreams and help us identify realistic, doable goals for pre-holiday home improvements. When we're finished, we'll have a short checklist of achievable, realistic goals for holiday home improvements.

Print two copies of today's form, grab your holiday notebook and come with me. It's important that you follow instructions exactly!

Start outside the front door with one copy of the Home Spruce-Up Worksheet. Scribbling quickly, write down every item of maintenance, cleaning, or decorating that comes to your mind. "Remove cobwebs from entryway," "buy porch bench," "wash windows--whatever your mind tells you should be done.

Come inside. Move through the public rooms of your home: entryway, living room, dining room, kitchen, family room, guest bath. Don't worry about bedrooms or closets. Just go through the rooms that a guest would see during a party or visit to your home. Write it down, write it all down: "Buy new sofa," "replace burned-out light bulbs,", "clean carpets." Don't spend more than five minutes per room--just hit the high points, fast and furious.

Now for the fun. Sit down with your list. Ready?

One. Cross off all items requiring the purchase of new furniture. Unless you need something available at the Box and Import Store, it's too late to order new furniture! Why strain your budget, your patience and your sanity? Resolve that you'll make do with what's served your family throughout the year.

Two. Cross off all home decor projects requiring more than four hours. No repainting. No sewing of drapes. Yes, you may toss a scarf over the top of your present window treatments, but no sewing, no painting, no sponging or glazing, no new flooring.

Why? Because you haven't time, that's why! Taking on more than an afternoon's worth of home decor projects is heading into the holiday season under a cloud. The effort will make you tense and grouchy and the result won't be improvement enough to justify the time. Save the ambitious plans for the long and empty days of February!

Three. What's left? Mostly cleaning and maintenance items, right? A few "buy-mes?" For these, you are allowed to designate 10% of them as "A" priorities, 20% as "B" priorities, and the remaining 70% as "C" priorities.

Scan your list, and find those one-in-ten "A" items. Missing light bulbs and dirty entryways--those are good "A" items. "Buy new guest room towels," "clean carpets," and "wash windows" come in as "B" items. "Repair holes in window molding," "touch up paint in hallway," and "scrub utility room floor" are worthy members of the "C" category.

Four. Cross all "C" items off the list.

Five. Look at all "B" items. Can you delegate any item to family members, or afford pay an outsider to take care of one or two? Can't delegate or hire it out? Cross it off the list. If it's a "buy-me", can you purchase the item out of your usual weekly budget? If so, it stays--but if it requires a budget adjustment or a credit card, cross it off.

Six. Write the items that remain on a fresh copy of the Seasonal Spruce-Up list. Take a good hard look at your list.

What's left? Three or four most important spruce-up tasks: your personal "A" list, together with a short list of jobs you're going to delegate. A very few new items for your home, none of which will bust the budget.

Seven. Call any paid helpers and schedule the work. Don't wait even one more week--the holiday carpet cleaning crush begins the second week of November!

Eight. Post the new list on the refrigerator, and track delegated jobs. Keep the evidence before your eyes, and you'll help yourself finish the job.

"Cynthia," I hear you say, "this seems so arbitrary!" Exactly right, and so perceptive of you! What we have just done is apply a well-known organizing principle: the 80-20 rule.

Eighty percent of any job can be done using twenty percent of the available effort--and the remaining twenty percent of the work? It's going to gobble up eighty percent of your time and your money. The goal of this procedure is to prune, prune, prune: to get your dream fix-up list closest to that magic 80-20 figure.

Look at your second list. There should be only about twenty percent of the items from the first list.

They're the most important items. They're the most manageable items. They're the items that you can realistically achieve with twenty percent of your energy and resources--yet they're the important eighty percent of the Spruce-Up process.

The 80-20 rule. Learn it. Know it. Use it . . . to get Organized!

Welcome Home ... for the Holidays

Feeling down in the mouth about the condition of the manse? Step back ... to consider what makes a home for the holidays:

The approach of the holidays! There's nothing quite like it to turn our hearts toward home.

Literally. The first week in December could be termed "Housing Dissatisfaction Week." It's a little-known seasonal indicator of the coming of winter--and it afflicts many of us as we plan Christmas celebrations.

Look around. What do you see? Dirty carpets. Furniture that's seen better days. Mismatched china, cluttered kitchens, drab and bedraggled window coverings.

There's nothing like the arrival of the holiday season to bring us face-to-face with the things we find lacking in our home. How will we reconcile our desires with our budget?

In our own defense, it must be pointed out that we are subject to some outside agitation!

In last Sunday's paper, did you notice those glossy ads for furniture? 95% of them feature a holiday dining room: fireplace, groaning board, shining table. The fact that such a palatial spread won't fit in most American homes? Pish-tush! Why distract our glowing furniture fantasy with cold, hard realities?

Before we assess the State of the House, we need to return to one central idea: a holiday home is a welcoming home--and the quality of welcome has nothing to do with the quality of the furniture.

What truly makes a holiday home?

We seek a welcoming home, one that invites holiday guests inside and surrounds them with warmth. A welcoming home, happy center of our family's Christmas celebration. A welcoming home, that greets and enfolds us with light and cheer and good smells at the end of each busy day.

Think back to Christmas Past. Where did you feel most cherished, most delighted, most welcome in the homes of your friends?

Not that breathlessly-expensive designer show house, coldly perfect, where you feared you might track dirt on the spotless white carpet with every step. Not that oh-so-jolly holiday house, where you spent all your time keeping the children from touching, moving or breaking one of the hand-crafted decorations that covered every surface.

You may have admired these homes as works of art--but did you truly feel welcome?

I hope you remembered a home like I remember. It belongs to good friends who embody the very quality of welcome. For the life of me, I can't remember one thing about the carpets, although I admire very much the creative decorating touches that are the product of this woman's hands.

What I remember best is the perfect welcome that this home extends.

Yes, the rooms are small--but so cheery and warm and full of friends that no one notices. Delicious food and drink floats about, creating a sense of abundance.

Who can recall whether the trays were silver or plastic, the ingredients simple or costly?

Yes, there are small children living here, and yes, you can find toys and clothes and Corduroy the bear lounging about in odd places. This is a house where life is, and never more happily than during the holidays

That perfect welcome is the spirit of a holiday home. You can't buy it. You can't decorate it into existence. You can't hire someone to make it for you. You can't clean it, sew it or cook it into being.

The welcoming home springs from a room in the heart, not a room in the house.

As we plan our holiday celebration, we will go knocking at that door of the heart. We'll flirt with the senses, bring light and scent and beauty to the shell that is our home. We'll work for a serene and happy atmosphere, a spirit of calm joy, a sense of friendship grounded in, "You're here! Come in!"

A welcoming holiday home. To have one, we must refurnish our heart, not our house!

Today's Recipe

Cranberry bread

Looking for an easy way to produce a gift basket at the drop of a hat? Turn to the freezer ... and make it quick! 

Quick breads are a natural for holiday giving. A cousin to muffins, these no-knead breads containing fruits or nuts are easy to make and can be baked in loaf pans of varying sizes.

Tightly wrapped in plastic food storage wrap, then stored in zipper food storage bags, loaves of quick bread stay fresh for up to eight weeks in the freezer, ready to give.

By baking ahead and freezing, you can mix and match loaves of quick bread for a simple, welcome gift.

To begin your Quick Bread recipe collection, try this holiday tradition from Christmas Notebook's beloved list mom, Rhonda. It's been a favorite in the Ewer home for more than 15 years:

Tangy cranberries spark up this buttery Cranberry Nut Bread recipe, from Christmas Notebook blogger, Rhonda Coulter.

With the sparkling flavors of cranberries, walnuts and orange, these moist loaves freeze well and can be made in quantity.

Add them to your holiday gift baskets for a welcome taste of Christmas! Paired with Chocolate Coffee Spoons, this recipe makes a perfect, personal Christmas gift. 

Make and freeze these quick breads up to 8 weeks before Christmas for holiday giving.

2 cupsflour, all-purpose
1 cupsugar, granulated
1 teaspooncinnamon
1 1⁄2 teaspoonbaking powder
1⁄2 teaspoonbaking soda
1⁄2 teaspoonsalt
1 cupwalnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cupcranberries, fresh whole
3⁄4 cupsorange juice
1⁄4 cupvegetable oil
1 egg
1 teaspoonorange rind, fresh grated
Stir together in a large bowl: flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, soda and salt.

When well blended, add walnuts and cranberries. Stir to coat nuts and berries.

In a separate bowl, stir orange juice, vegetable oil, egg and orange rind with a fork until well blended.

Pour over the dry ingredients; stir just until dry ingredients are completely blended into wet ingredients.

Pour into greased 9x5 loaf pan or 3 mini-loaf pans (line bottom with wax paper). (I grease the pan by spraying it with Pam, then place the waxed paper on the bottom, and I spray it with Pam also.)

Bake 350 for 60-70 minutes. Check it at should feel firm not soft when gently pushed. Turn out on cake rack. Peel off waxed paper. Turn bread upright and cool on rack.

Makes 1 large loaf or 3 mini-loaves.


Rhonda's Cranberry Bread freezes very well. Wrap in two layers of plastic wrap and place in freezer storage bag to freeze for up to 2 months.

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