Sunday, December 7, 2014

Christmas Countdown to an Organized Christmas - Day 42 - Holidays Ahead

Article and Photo Courtesy of Organized Christmas

We did it! Time to look ahead to the holiday season ... because it's here!

For the past six weeks, we've been preparing for Christmas together. We've assembled a Christmas planner, organized gifts and giving, and conquered holiday chaos in the kitchen. Each day, we've pondered new innovations and old traditions, moving ever closer to our goal: a serene, joyous holiday season.

This is not to say that we're all ready! I'd venture that 98% of us still have more to do. Not only is this no surprise, but it's normal. That's why the Countdown ends where it does. There's still time to complete holiday preparation, and nearly all of us will need it.

At the same time, look how far we've come! If you've been trying, you should be well ahead of the Christmas game.

Better, the notes, forms and records you've assembled will be next year's road map to an even easier season.

By the season's end, we'll be ready to tackle new challenges at home. But first, the Christmas Countdown includes a special Holiday Debriefing, to allow you to record the season's high points, stresses and memories. To be completed after the holidays, using the debriefing exercise to evaluate this year's holiday will help point you toward an even better celebration next year.

So open the door! Even if only metaphorically speaking, hang a wreath on the front door and welcome the holiday season. You've earned it!

To Do Today

Print the 2 forms: 

Review holiday menu plans. Order poultry or special roasts for any holiday meals held in your home.

Create a space for incoming Christmas cards and holiday letters. Prepare for the postman!

Complete interior and exterior decorating. As a last touch, decorate the front door as a symbol that you are ready to celebrate!

To Read Today

When the post-holiday fever quiets, take a few notes to jumpstart next year's preparations:

Hold a Post-Holiday Debriefing

It's over for another year!

Wild and woolly or sane and sedate, we've passed through the holiday season and into a new year. Breath caught, it's time to debrief.

You know debriefing, right? The astronauts do it, spies do it, pilots do it: a measured after-the fact evaluation of the mission or flight.

Smart holiday planners should do it, too--because taking time now to note what worked, what didn't will be a road map to a more organized Christmas next year.

Find a quiet spot sometime within the next week. Play that new educational video for the kiddies, and pour a hot cup of tea. Grab your Christmas notebook and a copy of our debriefing worksheet to record your thoughts.

Then address these questions:

1. What worked this holiday season?

Start with your strengths--it'll give you the motivation to tackle your weaknesses. Large or small, list the things that went right this year.

Was this the first year your family broke away from Christmas-at-Grandma's (complete with cranky kidlets and a 6-hour drive on icy road)--and you loved it, intergenerational flak notwithstanding? Did you buy a new gift wrap organizer that made wrapping a breeze? Was your freezer stocked with easy-prep meals, making the evening crush much calmer?

Whatever worked for you, write it down. It'll remind you of what went right when next year's holiday madness approaches.

2. What was the worst aspect of holiday prep this year? How can you avoid the trap in the future?

Were you wrapping gifts at 3 a.m.? Baking while watching the 11 p.m. news? Were the ornaments buried in a dark attic, or were they all but destroyed by a lousy packing job?

Pick the worst element of your holiday planning, and decide how to lick the problem next year. Write it down for future reference.

3. Were you satisfied with your level of giving? What did you give: time, money, self, talents? Did you include your children in giving?

Perhaps it's having lived with a Rocket Scientist child with an infallible Do-As-I-Say detector, but I don't think it's possible to teach children about giving if it doesn't start with you. All that women's magazine nicey-nice tradition stuff won't dent those little psyches unless you are on board--so were you?

Think about bringing some of that Christmas spirit into the other eleven months of the year. Evaluate your level and kind of giving, and make notes

4. How well did your household run this holiday season? Were you calm and cozy or stressed and strung out? What one improvement could you make in your planning for next year?

Whether it's wardrobe or food prep, shopping or storage, zero in on your holiday systems, and look for ways to improve. Write 'em down.

5. Honesty time. How did your holiday go? Not the children, not the spouse, not the extended family members or the church or the shelter--you.

Yes, you. Did you experience the expectancy, the magic, the sparkle of this season?

Great holiday? Write down the grace notes that got you in the ho-ho-holiday mood and kept you there. Did you play more Christmas music or spend special time with each loved one? Remind yourself--and write it down.

Nobody wants to admit it out loud, but many of us felt a little bit flat at one time or another this year. Spare a thought to the reasons--because they'll point the way to needed changes next year.

Were you worn out from all the brou-ha-ha-ha? Too many parties, with an overload of that jolly old depressant, Demon Alcohol? Groaning under the load of Christmas Tradition--and shouldering that burden alone?

Home managers deserve a holiday, too! If the season got to you this year, figure out one or two things to do differently. Perhaps you'll ask the family for help, or pare down outgrown traditions. Maybe you'll plan to make quiet, reflective time a priority during these hectic weeks. Record your conclusions; they'll guide you next year.

For home managers, the holiday season represents a hefty amount of time, energy and money, and we deserve to treat that expenditure seriously. Yes, we love the holidays. Yes, we enjoy most of the tasks necessary to bring them to birth, but don't let sentiment blind you to the real work involved. Like all work, this too has dignity, and deserves efficiency and respect.

Don't let this holiday season slip into the photo album until you've made a record of the triumphs and the trying times. Slip into something comfortable, put on a pot of tea, and think like an astronaut.

Finished? Take your written record and file it in the Christmas planner. Next year, it'll be the first reminder you see--and will be your guide to a more organized, more joyous holiday season.

Organized Christmas? Five Tips to Get Ready For Next Year

It's the day after Christmas, and every year at this time, the e-mails in my inbox tell the story: "I wish I'd found this site earlier!"

Each year, I hear from scores of readers who came looking for holiday help at the height of the celebration-and faced with the reality of Christmas chaos.

Stumbling over our site, they see that it's possible to be organized--and joyous--during the holidays. They just wish they'd found us earlier!

So say you're starting now, the day after Christmas. What's the secret to a stress-free season? Plan ahead!

Try these five tips to get ready for next year.

With memories of the holidays fresh in our minds, there's no better time to create a simple record of what worked--and what didn't--this holiday season. Answering a few simple questions in writing preserves the actual state of your household's holiday--and gives you the information you need to craft a better plan for next year.

Print a copy of our debriefingworksheet, and take a few minutes to answer the questions it poses. Next year when you begin planning for the holidays, you'll be able to avoid the seasonal potholes and repeat the year's successes. 

Take notes
A few quick notes now can solve many problems next December. While decorations, gift wrap and recipes are still around you from this year's celebration, take inventory to avoid surprises next year.

Whether you'll replace burned-out light strings, replenish gift wrap supplies or recreate that great dessert recipe, a few notes now will set a straight course for next year. Better, post-holiday clearance sales mean you'll save money!

Using our decorations inventory, eyeball your decorations and note any needed replacement decor items. Check gift wrap, ribbons and tags before you tuck the snowman paper into a storage box, and hit the sales to stock up for next year. Tear tried-and-true recipes from seasonal magazines, and tuck them into a page protector for future reference.  

And since a picture is worth a thousand words, circle the house now with a camera, and photograph holiday decorations. Use these photos as a guide for next year--and to remind yourself of what's tucked away in storage.

Note it now, and you'll know it later!

Start a gift list
Just after the celebration, it's easy to remember which gifts were a hit--or a miss. Was a nephew unexpectedly delighted with a copy of the latest "Harry Potter" book? Start a gift list now, and you'll remember to add "Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans" candy to his stocking next year.

A printable Christmas gift list form helps corral all those fleeting, "Oh, wouldn't he love a ...." thoughts, and gives you the jump on next year's gift list. Print one now to hold these last-minute gift possibilities; you'll have a head-start when you start next year's holiday shopping. 

Make a Christmas planner
Notes, checklists and planner forms will help you get organized--but only if you can find them! Solution? A simple three-ring binder creates a Christmas planner, a one-stop planning tool that will track and record holiday prep around the year.

New Years' sales at the office supply store make it easy to set up a simple notebook as your Christmas planner. Click a set of dividers and a handful of page protectors into a good-sized binder. Add filled-in forms and lists, and as you see recipes, craft ideas, or decor inspiration, tear and tuck torn pages into page protectors.

For the ambitious, we've got a complete set of holiday calendars, forms and checklists free for the printing--but even a modest start on assembling a Christmas planner will help anyone have a simpler, more organized celebration next year. 

Choose an organizing plan
Here at, we know there's no "one right way" to get organized for next year's holiday season. Some folks love to "think Christmas" all year round, while others must be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the season late in the autumn. That's why we offer different organizing plans to help everyone achieve the serene and stress-free holiday of their dreams. Which one is right for you?

Rudolph Club: Okay, you want to do a better job, but who wants to be thinking about Christmas for weeks on end? We've got a short and sweet solution: the Rudolph Club. On the 25th of every month, the Rudolph Club meets to assign short, simple tasks to help prepare for the holidays. Over the year, you'll assemble information for holiday letters, set up a gift closet, organize crafts projects and do basic holiday planning a bit at a time. 

By breaking the job down into tiny monthly bites, the Rudolph Club conquers Christmas chaos a bit at a time--and without having to "think Christmas" the whole year through. Visit our site on the 25th of every month to join the Club.

Christmas Countdown: Don't want to be bothered until next year? The Christmas Countdown is the plan for you. Starting on the last Sunday in October, the Countdown breaks down holiday prep into an easy, six-week process that will finish preparations in good time for the season. 

Working with friends, we'll prepare for the holiday season together--so mark your calendar and visit us next October to count down to an organized holiday season!

Holiday Grand Plan Ready for the big guns? Try the Holiday Grand Plan. It's not for the faint of heart, but is designed to help you clean, declutter and organize the entire home in time for the holiday season. 

Working room by room and week by week, you'll declutter, clean and organize your home while planning and preparing for the coming holiday season. With a kick-off date in late summer, the Holiday Grand Plan will see you through to the celebration--and the home--of your dreams.

Ready? It's time to get organized for Christmas ... next year!

Today's Recipe
date nut bread recipe

A final contender for Christmas gift baskets, Date-Nut Bread has a rich and fruity flavor.

Try Date-Nut Bread toasted and spread with cream cheese for a mid-morning snack, or paired with a hearty soup for a warming holiday meal.

Date-Nut Bread

It's a natural for holiday gift-giving: Date Nut Bread!

Moist and fruity, this sweet quick bread makes a wonderful addition to holiday gift baskets. Double-wrapped in plastic food storage wrap, it freezes beautifully.

Toast and top with cream cheese for a Christmas morning treat!

1 1⁄2 cuppitted dates, chopped
1 1⁄2 cupboiling water
1⁄2 cuplight brown sugar
2 tablespoonsbutter, unsalted
1 egg
2 1⁄2 cupsflour, all-purpose
1 teaspoonbaking soda
1⁄2 teaspoonsalt
1 cupwalnuts, chopped

Bring water to boil in small saucepan. Stir in dates. Remove from heat and cool until lukewarm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place brown sugar and butter in mixer bowl; cream until blended. Add egg and beat until smooth. Add date/water mixture, and beat until blended.

In another bowl, combine flour, soda and salt, mixing thoroughly. Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture, stirring just until blended. Do not overbeat; batter should be lumpy. Fold in nuts.

Pour batter into greased loaf pan, or three small mini-loaf pans.

Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 60-75 minutes for large loaf, 45-60 minutes for mini-loaves.

Remove from oven and cool in pan for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.


To freeze, wrap cooled loaves in plastic wrap; place wrapped loaves in food freezer storage bag. Freeze for up to 8 weeks.

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