Handling the Holiday Stress Without Turning Into the Grinch

red-2925963_1920

Let’s be honest for a minute. Holiday stress can easily turn visions of sugar plums dancing in your head to nightmares over how it’s all going to get done. Between the shopping, the wrapping, the cooking, the baking, the family gatherings, and that damn Elf on a Shelf® it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. Fear not because I have a very simple “recipe” to help you overcome the stress of the holidays and have a “very merry” instead of a “bah-humbug” holiday season!

PLANNING + ORGANIZING = STRESS FREE HOLIDAYS

I’m someone who doesn’t function in chaos and disorder. Because of that, I organize literally everything in my life. EVERYTHING. I have a slight obsession with storage totes and other organizational supplies and I most definitely have a very tight relationship with my label maker! I also keep binders, lists and notebooks for everything from coupons to recipes and I’m not ashamed to say that I even have a dedicated Christmas notebook. Yep. You read right, a Christmas notebook. I plan out my holiday meals, Christmas baking, gift giving, North Pole Breakfast, table setting ideas, and anything else that might get me through the holiday season. I love having everything I need at my fingertips and it’s so much easier to keep track of what needs to get done. I’m never scrambling around the house looking for a list, recipe, or idea because it’s all in one convenient place. Truly, you can never be too organized or plan too much. Words to live by………..at least in my book! When it comes to the holidays and getting it all done, the more organized you can get yourself the better!

Below, I’ve compiled some of my best tips to keep you organized and as stress free as possible this holiday season. I hope you find some of them helpful and please feel free to add your own holiday tips in the comments section!

  1. Keep a Holiday Notebook/Binder – Organize it by labeling each page with a specific heading such as: Christmas Day Dinner, Gift Giving List, To-Do, Elf on a Shelf® Ideas, Christmas Cookie Baking, Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Card List, Gift Ideas, etc. Use as many (or as few) headings as you need to get yourself organized. Use this notebook to write down all of your ideas, lists, and to-do’s and everything will always be in one handy, convenient place.
  2. Invest in a Label Maker – I have a Brother P-Touch®, they are fairly inexpensive but worth its weight in gold. I use it to label EVERYTHING in my house from snack bins in the pantry to my holiday boxes in the garage. It’s so much easier to read a label on the outside of a box then having to actually go through box after box looking for what you need, especially when it comes to holiday decorations that you only see once a year.
  3. Invest in Storage Bins – I use storage bins to organize everything. I have a bin for my Christmas linens, wrapping supplies, North Pole Breakfast/Elf on a Shelf® accessories, plastic serving platters and containers, etc. I like to buy a whole set of the same bin so that stacking and storing them is easier. I place a label on the outside of the box indicating its contents so that finding what I need is a cinch.
  4. Store Like Bins Together – Keep all of your holiday bins stacked together in one place according to holiday. (fall decorations, Halloween decorations, Christmas decorations, etc) It’s easy to forget what you have if you have bins scattered all throughout your house. Find an area where they can all be neatly stacked together so that you’ll be able to find and access everything more quickly and efficiently.
  5. Keep an Assortment of Food Storage Containers – Whether they are decorative and holiday themed or just basic plastic throwaways, keep an assortment of food storage containers handy. You will need them to neatly package all of your holiday baked goods AND they are great to have on hand for your guests to take home treats and leftovers. Grab a plastic storage bin, put them all inside, and label it “Holiday Food Storage” and everything will be in one convenient place when you need it.
  6. Set Up a “Wrapping Station” – Whether it’s a corner of your basement, a table in your den, or just a bin in the garage it’s so much easier to get all of the gifts wrapped if you have everything you need close at hand. I don’t have a place where I can keep everything out all of the time so instead I store everything in rolling drawer carts in the my garage. I also label each drawer so I can find everything more easily. When it’s time to wrap I just roll them into my den, sit in front of the tree, and get wrapping. To store my wrapping paper, I use tall plastic bins or long under-the-bed boxes. When I am done wrapping I just roll everything back into the garage.
  7. Keep All of the Gifts in One Place – You will surely forget to give that perfect gift that you spent months picking out if everything you purchased is scattered all around the house. Find a spot in your home such as a closet, garage, or attic and keep all of your purchased gifts in that one area so that nothing is forgotten.
  8. Print Out a Blank Calendar – Print out a blank calendar sheet and use it to plan out when you need to accomplish specific tasks for the holiday. For example, mark a day for baking holiday cookies, or cooking the side dishes for Thanksgiving, or for putting up the tree. Having a plan laid out alleviates the stress of wondering how you’ll get it all done and it makes things run much more smoothly. Tape it to the inside of a kitchen cabinet for easy access.
  9. Organize Your Favorite Holiday Recipes – We all have a set of family favorites at the holidays, recipes we make year after year. To make things easier, keep those treasured favorites together in one binder or recipe box labeled, “Holiday Favorites“. When it’s time to plan your menus and cook, you’ll appreciate having all of your holiday recipes in one spot.
  10. Plan Out Holiday Baking (and get your supplies early!!) – Look over your recipes, paying close attention to how long the baked goods will keep, and make a plan for when you should do your holiday baking. As you jot down ideas for what to bake, simultaneously write the ingredients you will need on a separate piece of paper. Doing these two things concurrently saves you the aggravation of having to go back into your cookbooks later to make a shopping list. Also, shop early. EVERYONE bakes at the holidays and you don’t want to be running around at the last minute from store to store trying to find almond paste or sugar when you’re ready to get busy in the kitchen. Having all of you ingredients ready to go will make your baking day run much more smoothly.
  11. Make a Holiday Baking Bin/Drawer – I like to keep all of my holiday baking goodies together in one spot. When it comes time to start my holiday baking I just have to pull out the drawer and all of my cupcake liners, cookie cutters, sprinkles, treat bags, doilies, etc. are there and ready to go!
  12. Host a Cookie Swap – For those that feel overwhelmed by all of the holiday baking host a cookie swap instead of trying to do it all yourself. You’ll only have to bake one or two favorites but you’ll end up with a full tray of varied holiday treats!
  13. Prepare Cookie Trays Ahead of Time – A day or two before the holiday assemble your cookie trays and platters and cover tightly with plastic wrap. When it’s time to serve dessert you won’t be scrambling around pulling out a million cookie tins trying to get everything together. Just remove the plastic wrap and serve.
  14. Label Your Serving Dishes – The last thing you want to do when you’re cooking is to have to hunt around looking for the perfect serving dish. Instead, plan your serving platters, bowls, dishes, etc. ahead of time and label each one with a sticky note indicating what food it will hold. As you’re getting ready to serve everything it’ll be as simple as “grab and go”, you won’t have to stress if you have enough serving pieces because everything will be planned ahead of time.
  15. Set Your Table Ahead of Time – If you have a separate dining area that you use for the holidays, set the table(s) a few days ahead of the holiday. It’ll be one less thing you’re rushing to do in the morning before your guests arrive.
  16. Make Dishes Ahead Of Time – If a dish can be made ahead of time, take advantage. You will feel much less harried on the actual holiday this way. To that end, also do as much food prep work as well. Dice up your onions, carrots, cheese, bread cubes, etc. a few days before the holiday and store them in either Ziploc® bags or airtight plastic containers. They’ll be all ready to go when you are!
  17. Make Ahead Holiday Breakfast – When you have young children Christmas morning is certainly filled with craziness and excitement. I would rather be in the middle of all that excitement then in the kitchen slaving away so I always like to prep our Christmas morning breakfast ahead of time. Some great options are quiche, frittatas, frozen homemade cinnamon rolls, or french toast casseroles. Breakfast will be as simple as warming something up in the oven.
  18. Plan Your Time – When hosting, it’s so important to plan your time on the big day as it ensures that everything runs smoothly. Jot down a “to-do” list and as you complete each task check it off so you don’t forget anything. Also be sure to calculate all of your cooking times beforehand so that the main dish and sides are finished at the same time.
  19. Holiday Menu Checklist – Make a checklist of all the dishes you’re serving and tape it to the inside of your cabinet door. As you put each dish out, cross it off the list. This ensures that you don’t accidentally forget to serve something. There is nothing worse than working hard to cook up delicious food and then forgetting it in the fridge on the big day!
  20. Streamline Your Holiday Cards – Enlist help from other family members to get your holiday cards stuffed, sealed, and stamped. Assign everyone a task and get busy. Also, prepare ahead of time by printing out address labels. It’s so much easier to slap a label on an envelope than it is to write everything out by hand.
  21. Clean and Purge – Prior to the holidays it’s a good idea to go through closets and toy chests and donate or trash toys that are no longer played with or that are old and broken. It can be overwhelming to try to a find a home for all of the new things when you’re dealing with so much old clutter.
  22. Don’t Leave Wrapping Until the Last Minute – It’s so much easier to tackle just a few gifts as opposed to an endless pile. As things get purchased or delivered, wrap them right away and then tuck them away. Also, save yourself time and take advantage of gift bags, they make “wrapping” gifts so much easier.
  23. Boxes, Bags, Bows, and Tags – Save as many of these things as you can as you open gifts throughout the season. Tuck them all away in your wrapping station so that the following year you’ll have plenty of extra wrapping materials on hand.
  24. Clean! Clean! Clean! – The last thing you want to do is add in a ton of holiday decorations to a home that is filled with dust and clutter. It will make everything feel messy and you’ll drive yourself crazy. Prior to bringing out the holiday decorations, clean your home top to bottom. Clean the floors, dust, and put away any clutter. It is far easier to decorate a clean and straightened up home then it is to work around a mess.
  25. Decorate in Stages – Pulling out a hundred bins full of decorations all at once can be overwhelming. So instead, decorate your home in stages. Start with your outside lights and decorations and pull out only those bins. Then pull out the bins for the inside decorations and get that all done before moving to the tree. It’s so much easier to break up the holiday decorating into manageable steps rather than face a towering pile of bins in the middle of your living room.
  26. Keep a Gift Stash – Buy a few, inexpensive gifts to have on hand in case you need a hostess gift or someone unexpected shows up on the holiday. Some great ideas are candles, ornaments, a bottle of wine, a pretty holiday dish, a box of candy, etc. You can even wrap them ahead of time and tag them with a sticky note so you know what is inside. When it’s time to gift something, just remove the sticky note, add a personalized tag and you’re all set!
  27. Keep Plenty of Trash Bags Handy – As my kids or guests open their gifts I always have a few garbage bags scattered around the room so that everyone can dispose of their wrapping paper as they open gifts. It prevents a huge pile of garbage from building up and more importantly, things don’t get lost. It’s easy to lose a small toy part, piece of jewelry, or gift card if everything is a mess.
  28. Elf on a Shelf® – Let’s face it, nothing stresses out a parent more than the fear of forgetting to move the elf! To avoid this catastrophe set a daily alarm reminder on your cell phone. You’ll never have to worry about forgetting to move your little friend again!
  29. Wish Lists – Some people scoff at them but I happen to LOVE them! I have a big family and with both sides of the family buying for my kids a Wish List is really a godsend. It gives everyone a few gift ideas, it prevents my kids from receiving age inappropriate toys, and we never get duplicates. I’ve been using the Amazon Wish List for my kids since they were born and it makes things so much easier for both me and my family. I highly recommend utilizing one, it’s so much easier than fielding a millions calls, emails, and texts from family asking what the kids want for Christmas.
  30. Just Breathe – Set aside some time every day to just breathe. Sit, relax, take in the merriment of the season and let yourself just “be”. It’s so easy to go a mile a minute at the holidays and it’s even easier to forget yourself this time of year. So make sure to take a few minutes every day to just refocus and relax. Make a mug of cocoa, put on some holiday tunes, and cozy up. You’ll be a lot more effective and get a lot more done if you take some time to recharge.

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!!

christmas-2939314_1920

Waxing Nostalgic

The fondest memories are made when gathered around the table

– Unknown

Every one of us has special food memories that we hold dear.  Maybe it’s the smell of your Grandma’s biscuits baking on a Sunday morning.  Or maybe it’s the way your mom’s homemade sauce makes you feel all warm and cozy inside.  Or maybe it’s just seeing a particular food label or product that takes you right back to being a kid. Whatever your memory, food has an uncanny way of stirring up in us so many feelings, emotions, and memories.  When I think back, some of my best food memories center around my grandparents house in Farmingdale. They’ve long since sold it and sadly, my Grandpa is no longer with us, but I’ve always looked back fondly on the years that I spent there as a child.

One of my most favorite memories are of sleepovers at my grandparents house which always meant waking up to the delicious smells of warm bakery goodies for breakfast. My Grandpa was always an early bird so he’d be out and at the local bakery first thing in the morning to pick us up the most incredible raisin biscuits, sugary jelly doughnuts, and my favorite “booby rolls” (as I called them when I was little) which were just soft rolls with the little peaked swirl on top.  There was no better breakfast than these delectable treats that my Grandpa bought home.  We’d gather around the table, Grandpa with his hot cup of coffee in hand and Grandma with curlers in her hair, and we’d just eat and talk and laugh and make memories.

When the weather turned from frosty winter air to warm summer breezes it meant lots of time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and lots of BBQ’s.  We always had your standard fare at our BBQ’s, burgers and hot dogs, but we also had some traditional staples that were made by the family.  My Aunt Lorraine would always make her delicious homemade macaroni salad and someone in my family would always make sure to make homemade Italian potato salad which is a delicious mix of potatoes, hard boiled eggs, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Simple but so good.  Even now, decades later, that Italian potato salad is a staple at all of our family BBQ’s.  We’d spend hours relaxing in the yard, swimming in the pool, eating around the picnic table, and making memories.

Then there were the holidays which were always a very special time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, especially Christmas.  All of my family would come together a few weeks before the holiday and every aunt, uncle, and cousin would work together to make the struffoli, cake balls, and Italian pizzelle cookies. We would spend hours listening to Mitch Miller and Bing Crosby singing the holiday classics while we all rolled dough, mixed ingredients, and made memories.

Because that’s what food is all about, right?  It’s not so much about the food itself.  Food is about the people you’re sharing it with, the love that went into making it, and the way it brings people together.  So many things have changed in my family over the years and even though we might not all get together to bake like we use to, BBQ’s are fewer and more far between, and sleepovers with Grandma and Grandpa have long since ended I still have all of my very special memories.  EVERY time I bite into a pizzelle, make a batch of Italian potato salad, or have a soft buttery “booby roll” it takes me right back to those times on 11 Hallock Street and I smile.  Because, well, memories.  REALLY good memories.

So now that I am a mom it’s really important to me to continue the kitchen traditions of my family so that my children grow up with their special food memories too.  They’ve made homemade pizzas with their Grandpa, we bake traditional Italian Easter Bread every year and eat it on Easter morning for breakfast like I did as a kid, thanks to my mom’s cooking they’ve been able to try my Great Grandma’s delicious Pizza Rustica recipe, and every Christmas we make Italian Pizzelle cookies on the same cast iron griddles that my Grandma used.  Memories.  Tradition.  It’s what coming together in the kitchen and gathering around the table is all about.

So even if though life gets busy, try and make the time to gather around the table, even if it’s just for a bowl of cereal.  Talk.  Connect. Make those memories.  When you’re tired and not in the mood to cook alongside your kids do it anyway because the time that you spend with them showing them how to mix, measure, or chop will be the little things they remember as they grow up.  If my kids so much as hear me open a drawer in the kitchen they run in and beg to cook and bake with me.  I admit, some days I want to (and have) said no, but if I am not in a rush I try to remind myself that these moments are important.  This moments matter.  So I grab the extra bowls and towels, throw some aprons on my little sous chefs, and we get cooking.  The smiles on the their little faces as we work together in the kitchen make it all worth it!  The experiences and times we’ve shared together in the kitchen are my most priceless food memories of all.

13151744_10208165180280578_4768984804089182281_n