Some Hints for Calmer, Happier Holidays

imagesMost of the stress of the holidays comes from the pressure of last minute coping and feeling that somehow, there is something more that should be happening. These hints will help you be prepared and have a holier outlook on the holidays.

  1. Start your Christmas list for yourself. What do you want for the holidays? Not just things, but for your family and the holiday time. Focus on these as you choose what you have to get done for the holidays. If what you are doing doesn’t help you fulfill your Christmas list, maybe you can cross it off your to-do list.
  2. 2. Set a holiday budget. Think about what you can really afford to spend on travel, presents, clothing, etc. Divide it by three and shop in October, November and December. It will help you avoid the New Year budget crunch and the crazy expenses of last minute panic buying.
  3.  Think about any holiday travel. Planning ahead will allow you to take advantage of bargains, even with blackout dates. You can also discuss alternative travel methods.
  4. Check the school websites for upcoming events and activities. Always check with your children’s teachers for class policies on treats and gifts – better to know before you spend the money than after.
  5. Choose 3 hiding places to store items bought for the holidays: One for Halloween candy, one for family presents and one for non-family presents. This lets you start before suspicious eyes are following you.
  6. Talk about Halloween Costumes. No one has to decide, but it is easier to think when you are not under pressure.
  7.  Make a snack mix of breakfast cereal, dried fruit, nuts and small pretzels as a great after-school treat. Choose your children’s favorites. Place servings into ziploc bags or sealed containers.
  8.  Try fruit and yogurt dip as an afterschool snack.
  9.  Blend 8oz of milk, or 6oz of juice with ½ a frozen banana or 4 frozen strawberries for a fast, healthy treat.
  10.  Precut vegetables stay crisp in ice water. Try to set a pattern for healthy snacks before holiday temptations set in.
  11.  Make a list of people, other than family, to whom you want to give presents. There will be hints closer to the holidays for easy and inexpensive gifts. Look at your list and begin to assign gifts. There will be sales from now until Christmas
  12.  Check out summer clearances .Many times stores put last season’s holiday items in summer clearance to get rid of old stock before the new holiday merchandise arrives.
  13.  Start a stocking stuffer box. Make-up, small toys and craft items all are cleared out before the holiday themed items can fill the shelves. Many of them make great stocking stuffers or class “friend” gifts.
  14. Post blank calendars for October, November and December in a central location. You can download the pages from your ISD website. Start penciling in dates and events for everyone as they come in to avoid conflicts and confusion.
  15. Block out some days for family time. Everybody cannot do everything. Trying to makes everyone miserable and unhappy.
  16. Write in Church events. The whole reason for the holidays is Jesus. Make sure your family is not too busy to remember that.
  17.  Tell your family every Friday is calendar day. Keep your calendar up to date. Many arguments and stress during the holidays involve rushing, panic and poor communication. When the calendar is full, then nothing can be added unless something else is taken off.
  18. Any ambitious handmade Christmas gift needs to be started now. If you haven’t started before October ends, move it to your list for next year and don’t worry. There are plenty of quick and simple projects there is plenty of time to finish, if you want to share a homemade gift.
  19.  Cross stitch ornaments are simple and quick to do. The Public Library has plenty of patterns for free, or you can download one from the internet.
  20.  Craft store sell cross stitch fabric strips. You can stitch a monogram or a small pattern and sew it on to hand towels or clothing to add a handmade touch.
  21. Look in the closets and check out everyone’s winter clothes. Make sure everything is clean and usable. Texas weather is totally unpredictable and you never know what it might do next without worrying about coats and boots.
  22. Clear out items that don’t work. The holidays take up space. Donate good items or trade them with friends.
  23. Think about holiday outfits. Will any of the clothes on their way out work for Halloween costumes? Does anyone need new outfits for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Make a list now and you can get most of it on sale before you need it.
  24. Start your Christmas list for the family. You have plenty of time to think about what they might want. A great gift to add to your younger children’s lists is an activity during Christmas break; a movie, or food treat of their choice.
  25.  Buy whatever you will be handing out for Trick or Treat and hide it. Candy is not your only choice. Small toys, pretzels, glow sticks, fruit gummies and rice krispie treats are all available as Halloween hand outs.
  26. Set a deadline for choosing Halloween costumes. Anyone who waits too long will be a cowboy, a gypsy, a zombie or a ghost.
  27. Don’t trust your TV or your computer to set the holiday mood. The focus of most shows and movies on commercial TV at Halloween is scary/gory. Neither of these will help you to focus on a happy or holy mood.. Watch shows that you enjoy- but also set your own schedule of DVD’s. You choose the movies and activities that shape your holidays and set the mood you want. Also, commercials will be prodding you to feel that you are behind, or doing less than some artificial “perfect” holiday picture. You will be surprised how much calmer things are when commercials aren’t intruding on your peace of mind.
  28. Look up some fun Halloween crafts and activities.. Enjoy the holidays one at a time. Sometimes crafts from the 50’s and 60’s are fun, because they are inexpensive and require lots of imagination.
  29. Choose some Saints to learn about this month. There are hundreds of Saints, old and young. Learn some of their stories and think about what makes them the same as we are.
  30. Learn a little about All Saints Day. It has been a Holy Day in the church for a very long time. Dressing up and getting candy is very modern.
  31. Don’t put up all your Halloween decorations yet! Waiting until the last two weeks of the month means pumpkins and gourds won’t spoil before the 31st. Let Halloween creep into your house, with the emphasis on Fall. That way, the theme carries into Thanksgiving and you don’t have to do start your decorating all over again.
  32. Buy Halloween cards at the Dollar Store, Dollar Tree, etc. They have very nice cards for a dollar, or two for a dollar.
  33. Cinnamon and ginger help to make the house feel like fall. Whether you light candles or mull cider and bake gingerbread, smells do as much to decorate your home as lots of clutter.
  34. Easy and fun projects for you and/or your children are cinnamon ornaments. Mix cinnamon and applesauce into a stiff dough, pat it out and cut with a cookie cutter. These air dry and will smell good for many weeks.
  35. Choose some books on CD to listen to in the car. All of the Harry Potter books and several other good books for the season are available on CD. It will help everyone to stay quiet in the car and not retreat into their own technology. It is also a good way to calm down just before bedtime.
  36. Keep up with the family calendar. There will be special activities every month at your  church. Don’t forget to add them to your schedule.
  37. Nice, fresh apples are good snacks for the Fall. There are lots of colors and flavors, from sour to sweet. There are also lots of ways to serve them.
  38. Suggest this Sunday as a deadline for choosing a costume. Stores have started putting away unsold stock and promoting the next holiday instead of keeping extra merchandise to clear off after the current one. Sadly, there is a good chance that costumes may begin to disappear way before the end of the month.
  39. Think back to your childhood. What made Halloween special for you? See if it is something you can share with your family this year.
  40. Add some pumpkin to your diet. Pumpkin is good for you and can be made into a lot more than pie.
  41. Don’t panic, go outside for carving Jack-o’-lanterns. Have a picnic dinner, pumpkins, carving tools and tables set up outside for carving. Enjoy the time together as a family and take your pumpkins inside and hose the mess away.
  42. Now is the time to start putting up Halloween decorations!  There are lots of outside decorations that are fun and easy. They are also easy to clean up.
  43. Go through any make-up in the house. See what can be used for Halloween. Throw away anything that has dried up or is out of date. Make a list of what has to be replaced before traveling for the holidays or dressing up for holiday parties.
  44.  If you are sending Halloween cards, this is the week to put them in the mail.
  45. If you are travelling for Thanksgiving or Christmas, check all your suitcases and make sure you have travel-sized supplies.
  46. Make a list of your family’s favorite meals that are quick and easy to make. As you shop from now on start stocking up on the ingredients for these meals.
  47. Put your groceries away grouped in the key ingredients for each meal. You can even tape copies the recipes you plan to use on the inside of your cabinet doors, so you don’t have to find them when you are in a hurry.
  48. If you mix up a meatloaf or a freezable casserole, make two – one to eat and one for later. Even better, save them in disposable pans so you can cook with no clean-up when you have no time.
  49. Buy some non-perishable food for food drives. Many cans and boxes will be on sale. Bring the items home, put one or two things in a lunch bag, staple the top and write “Food Drive” on it. Then, when you get notice the night before to bring something the next day, it is all bagged up and ready to go.
  50. Don’t get into the fast food habit. Stock up on healthy snacks and drinks that you can throw in a cooler in the car. Everyone’s temper is better when they are not hungry and thirsty. Fast food not only costs more, but it is full of salt and low on vitamins. It is a great treat, but a steady diet will hurt your health and your waistline.
  51. Start Christmas shopping now. No kidding, you don’t need to buy now- but if you make your choices and write down that choice next to each person’s name- you can take advantage of all of the holiday sales. Because of the economy, some of the best sales will be the early ones, to encourage shopping.
  52. Shop on line. Many major stores will wrap and ship your purchase. Others will charge nothing for shipping if you pick it up at your local store. Chose the item you want, save the information and see if it goes on sale. If not, the first week of December you can buy it, and it will be wrapped, shipped and you won’t have to leave your desk.
  53. Purchase any last items you might need for Halloween. Don’t be surprised if very little is still on the shelves. Most stores are pushing Christmas decorations by now. Just ignore them. Thanksgiving needs to be enjoyed first before anyone needs to deck any halls.
  54. Dream up a menu for Thanksgiving, if you’re in charge. Plan the dish you will be bringing if you’re not. Make a shopping list for non-perishables and stash them away with post-its on them saying Thanksgiving.
  55. Stock up for the next two months on specialty items. Soup, vegetables, Baking items, all will be cheaper than any other time of year. Think about what you might want to have on hand and take advantage of the best price. That way you won’t have to be running around when you want a quick lunch, dinner or batch of cookies.
  56. An easy and fun Christmas gift for a grandparent or out of town friend is a slide show of pictures from Halloween night; or turn the children loose in their costumes to make a video that you can put on a CD.
  57.  Make soup and sandwiches for a simple supper.
  58. Treats you can share with children at school- Take Cuties, or any other small easy to peel seedless oranges. Use permanent marker to draw on Jack-o’-lantern faces, or apply stickers, or glue on felt faces. All that gets peeled off and the children are left with an easy to eat healthy serving of fruit.
  59. Texas schools also allow fruit gummies in Halloween shapes if they are made with real fruit juice.
  60. An easy, last minute, decoration can be made by taking a large Styrofoam ball, a glow stick and large square of thin white cloth and a 2” piece of strong wire. Use a knife, or an apple corer, and make a hole large enough to insert the glow stick securely in the ball. Drape the fabric over the ball, with the hole for the glow stick parallel to the ground. Bend the wire into a narrow “u” shape and poke it through the top of the fabric to make a hanger. Use a sharpie to draw two ghostly eyes and hang it inside or outside. Halloween night, activate the glow stick and insert it in the hole. The Ghost will spookily glow for several hours.
  61. Choose and purchase your Christmas cards. Think about how many you could hand out personally instead of mail. Also, if you are sending a Christmas gift, pack their card in the package. Having the cards early helps to increase your options.
  62. Don’t overspend on cards. Lots of really cute cards are available. Most people are looking to hear from you, not rating your card. Less expense for cards means more for postage. If there is a special person who needs a special card, buy one pricey pack.
  63. Take a Christmas picture. Don’t worry about a fancy studio picture. Most malls and stores have their decorations up already. Put on some nice clothes, stand in front of some Christmas decorations, and snap a photo. You can print them for a few cents each at Walmart and include a couple in your Christmas cards. Phone cameras are as good as professional cameras used to be and you can photoshop in or out any details you want. Keep things simple and fun.
  64. Plan some meals for vacations. You know what your family likes so plan easy breakfasts, lunches and snacks for when your family is home for vacation. You should get to have a vacation too.
  65. Any item bought early, for a present or a stocking stuffer, make sure to label it carefully or place it in labeled bags or boxes. Not only does this prevent confusion, it will hope you to avoid overbuying as the holiday draws nearer.
  66. Don’t feel you have to wrap things early. Plain cardboard boxes or brown paper bags go almost unnoticed in garages and closets. Bright packages and Christmas wrapping beg for curious investigation.
  67. Make Thanksgiving easier on yourself. See what dishes might be able to be made ahead. Pie dough, cookie dough, and many casseroles can be made ahead and frozen. Baked goods with no icing, like brownies or cupcakes, freeze very well and can be pulled out the night before and iced the day you want to serve them.
  68. See if any other side dishes could be made in the crock pot. You would be surprised how many things are effortless to cook in the Crockpot instead of the oven: Scalloped potatoes. Sweet potatoes, sausage stuffing
  69. Keep fresh fruit or nuts in their shell in a bowl that is easily available. One of the easiest traps for weight gain during the holidays is grabbing something quick because time is short. Make sure something healthy is at your fingertips. (Having to crack the nuts before you can eat them, helps you think about how many you are eating.)
  70. Pack your lunches a week at a time. When you bring your groceries home, portion out snacks, desserts and juice boxes, grouped together for each day. That way, mornings can have less stress. If your child buys their lunch, pack snack containers to have waiting when they come home. The less hunting in the cabinets, the less trouble finding what you want when you go to look for items you “knew” you stored there for holiday use.
  71. Start addressing your Christmas card envelopes. Do 5-10 every day and keep them in a storage box. That way, when you actually send your cards, you only need to worry about what goes on the inside.
  72. Start experimenting with new dishes you want to cook for Thanksgiving. Better to work the kinks out of a recipe before the added pressure of Thanksgiving Day. Most recipes need a little adjusting to suit your family tastes. Try out a small batch and make your life easier.
  73. Try some food that is also a craft to keep your children busy. There will be a fun day for kids and adults to try some easy and tasty special treats for Thanksgiving. The recipes will be posted for those who can’t come. Some of the items we will make are: vegetable turkeys for a salad or veggie tray,
  74. Fruit turkeys for a fun Thanksgiving breakfast,( just like the Oreo turkeys- just use apple slices and peanut butter, Nutella, or cream cheese for the Oreo, banana chips for the candy corn, a dried apricot or plum for the body and a grape or raisin for the head. They need to lie down on the plate instead of standing up.)
  75. Oreo turkeys (check them out on the internet, they are cute and easy), and
  76. Pilgrim hats, a sweet treat to share.(also on the internet)
  77. Get a head start on your baked goods. Pie dough can be rolled out and placed in the pan, covered and kept in the refrigerator for one week or the freezer for one month. Top crusts can be rolled flat and layered between plastic wrap. Roll the wrapped crust into a tube and store. Don’t unroll the crust until it has returned to room temperature.
  78. Lots of cookie dough can be made ahead and stored as rolls, two to three inches in diameter, or frozen in balls ready to drop on the sheet and bake. Any dense, buttery dough, like chocolate chip, peanut butter or oatmeal, works well this way. There are even recipes specially designed for this purpose. Check out Icebox Cookies in any old cookbook or on the internet.
  79. Buy a box of disposable plastic gloves. Make sure they are heavy enough to use while handling a turkey and are the right size to fit your hands. Cleaning, stuffing and greasing a turkey is much more comfortable with clean hands to answer the telephone or open a door. Put on a fresh pair and finish your cooking.
  80. Buy a package of disposable plates. Real silverware is easy to wash and never has the annoying habit of breaking in the middle of a meal, but disposable plates can be a huge help in getting your family fed with less clean up time.
  81. Trying to save time with Fast Food? Try a Roasted Chicken from the Grocery. You can throw a side dish in the crock pot before you leave the house in the morning, pick up the chicken and a salad on the way home and feed a whole family of four for $10.00.
  82. Buy a roll of waxed paper. It makes a great greaseproof liner for breads and snacks in baskets and bowls. Measure ingredients over a sheet and any spills can get returned to the spice jar. Put it under your bowl when you are cooking and mixing and spills can just be rolled up and thrown away.
  83. Waxed paper is also good for crafts. Dried flowers and leaves can be ironed between two sheets of waxed paper and used for cards, decorations, disposable napkin rings and table accents.
  84. Remember those gift lists you made? Start checking the Black Friday sales on line. Most of the stores now honor their prices for on line purchases as well. If you can stay up until 12:30, you can have lots of your shopping done and on the way and sleep late the next morning.
  85. Check out the Dollar Tree and 99 Cent Store. For a few dollars you can pick up crafts, books, coloring books, CD’s and things to keep your children and any visiting children busy. Keep them hidden in a box or bag until they are needed. These are also great places to pick up stocking stuffers. Store them in lunchbags, small boxes or Ziploc bags clearly marked with something to let you know who gets the items in that container. Christmas Eve is not when you want to try to figure out who in the world you bought that for.
  86. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Make a list of jobs that other people can do. That way when someone offers to help, you can check your list. Some great jobs for young people are: making place cards, table decorations, coloring paper placemats for the guests, etc.
  87. A cool craft is homemade shrinky dinks. Any plastic labeled 6 for recycling can be used. Instructions are available on line.
  88. Avoid watching random TV. You and your family will stay much saner if you choose some of your programming and avoid the barrage of commercials that now make up more than 25 minutes of every hour of commercial TV. From now until Christmas, the less you let corporate America run your holidays the better.
  89. Decorate your house for Thanksgiving, not Christmas. Unless it is a time-honored family tradition, try enjoying your holidays one at a time. Fall accents, gourds and fruit with a few cinnamon or spice candles should be all you have out until Thanksgiving dinner is finished. You will be surprised how much more you enjoy Christmas when it hasn’t been stalking you since November.
  90. Choose a comfortable outfit for Thanksgiving. One of the biggest holiday errors is choosing an outfit that makes you miserable for the whole occasion. Get everything together you think you will wear and try it on. Walk around the house, pick something up off the floor, sit down and eat something. If it still feels comfortable, you are set. If not, find something that will.
  91. Don’t overthink your Christmas cards. Don’t struggle for the perfect message, the perfect letter or the perfect picture. People love that you remember them and care. When in doubt, sign the card and give them a call to keep in touch.
  92. When you buy candy for stockings, buy the small bars @ 6 for a dollar. You can get a variety and not be left with candy to tempt you.
  93. Easy teacher gifts: A cute bag with K-cups, tea or cocoa and one sweet treat, tied with a bow. Many break rooms now have single cup brewers and a quiet cup of a warm beverage and a treat are always welcome.
  94. Wrap your treat in a Christmas card. This works very well for small items and is only a few pennies a package. Just staple the edges together to make a little package.
  95. Giant Chocolate chip cookies make fun gifts. Pat out purchased dough in a disposable cake round, bake, cool, use a tube of icing to write a greeting and wrap.
  96. Look for cute ideas for ornaments and gather what you will need to make them. That way, if you find yourself in the mood to make some, you have everything to start.
  97. If you feel you have to add a touch of Christmas before Advent is over, make a place to display Christmas cards when they arrive.
  98. Always remember, the church gives 12 days to celebrate Christmas. Thanksgiving Day can feel like a marathon, but Christmas does not have to squeeze into one perfect day. There is time to visit, plan activities and give each Grandparent their own day. See what you are trying to jam into the 25th and spread it out over the 12 days of Christmas. You can even have a day for everyone’s favorite Christmas tradition. Enjoy each day.
  99. Try putting up half of the decorations you would normally use. Label the other half for next year. After a day or two, if you really miss something, add it. Decorating should make you feel happy, not tired and grouchy. Try a Colonial Christmas and decorate with fruit and flowers. Add one new decoration each day and use the extra time to do all the things you promise yourself you will do every year, but never can get to.
  100. When you prepare dinners after Thanksgiving, cook for two meals and freeze one. Double your favorite recipes and freeze a dinner for a hectic night in December. Buy paper plates to serve it on and use the extra time enjoying your family. Remember, God sent Jesus as a gift. We need to enjoy the celebration.

compiled by Kathy Atwood, St. Francis Willow Park

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