Create Your Custom Plan To Be All Done By December One


Holiday Christmas lights - photo by Michael Gill.

Want your house to look like this? Maybe start hanging lights today. Photo by Michael Gill.

Today marks exactly five weeks until December first. If you’d like to have all or most of your holiday tasks done by then, you might like to jot down a little plan so you can get everything done in the coming weeks. I’ve simplified quite a bit in the past few years, and my list looks something like this:

Week 1

  • Finish gift lists and order a few gifts online. (I’ve also bought some presents throughout the year that are stashed away.)
  • Address and stamp my business holiday cards. (My company is sending Thanksgiving cards this year, which I ordered last week.)

Week 2

  • Buy a gift or two, and wrap as I go along. (Our family recycles gift bags – surely one of the best inventions of the last century.)
  • Order family Christmas cards. (I update the address list on my computer throughout the year, and purchased holiday stamps at the post office earlier this month.)

Week 3

  • Buy a gift or two, and wrap as I go along. (Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la…)
  • Address and stamp Christmas cards. I may bribe my youngest to help me with this.

Week 4

  • Finish gift shopping and wrapping. (I’ll join my girlfriends who organize an annual holiday shopping day at the mall on the Friday of this week.)
  • Make a big batch of gingerbread cookie dough and freeze. (One of my hopes in December is to decorate cookies with my family.)

Week 5

  • Decorate the Christmas tree, and put out a few decorations inside and outside. Give away any decorations we no longer need.
  • Make and freeze Cinnamon Crispies for Christmas morning. (I’ll be sharing the recipe next month.)

How about you? Could you create a plan of your own to tackle some holiday tasks in the next five weeks? Have you already gotten a jump on a few things? I’d love to hear your experiences, ideas and comments.


The signature for Eliza Cross

All Done By December One – Your Ideal Holiday Season

Christmas dogs at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: TRF Mr. Hyde

Many of you tell me you’re hoping this year’s holiday season will be different in some way. Perhaps, like me, you’ve struggled in the past to get everything done by December 25 and you long for a simpler, more meaningful celebration of Christmas. Maybe you’re tired of running yourself ragged in December, trying to prepare for what should be a season of joy and peace.

No matter what your motivation is for getting ready for the holidays by December first, I know you put a lot of thought and energy into trying to give your loved ones and friends a special holiday. But I’m thinking about you as I write this, and I have a very important question for you:

What would your ideal holiday season be like?

An important step in creating a plan that works for you is to spend a little time thinking about the Big Picture. Your Holiday Homework is to find a quiet place to curl up with a journal or some paper. Close your eyes for a few minutes, and really think about your vision for the holidays. You may wish to say a prayer and ask for divine guidance.

What sorts of thoughts fill your heart?  Maybe you long for more family time together. Perhaps you want to simplify, and reduce spending and over-consuming (and that embarrassing, too-big pile of presents under the tree). Or maybe you want to think of some creative ways to bring more spirituality into your Christmas celebrations.

Maybe your heart whispers that you need to do less this year. Perhaps it’s time to eliminate some exhausting traditions, or create more time for quiet and reflection. Write that down, too.

If you’re so inclined, feel free to share some of your ideas in the comments section below.

Here’s to doing less, simplifying, relaxing more, letting go, getting things done a little earlier, and having your best holiday season yet.


The signature for Eliza Cross

Halloween Approaches – Have You Bought Your Goblin Soap Dispenser?

Halloween soap dispensers


Have you noticed in recent years that Halloween has morphed into a Giant Retail Extravaganza? Whole sections of stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot now feature rows and rows of Halloween stuff.

Halloween stuff


Dedicated Halloween and costume stores have popped up in abandoned storefronts. Our very own grocery store stocks phony gravestones to turn your front yard into a creepy cemetery. Icicle lights — once a Christmas decoration — now come in orange and purple, and you can also purchase giant lit spider webs, strobe lights, skull light strings, cauldrons and smoke machines for home use.

More Halloween stuff


The lure to buy and festoon our house with all manner of Halloween stuff can be tempting. Those of us (like me) who can be lured by such things must have extra vigilance and resolve.

I have to remind myself that outfitting the house with complex Halloween decorations will require more spending of my hard-earned money, more storage in the garage and basement, more time spent putting up and taking down, and more clutter. This totally goes against my goal to spend more time in my easy chair with my feet up.


So I say to myself, Must we really have a special Halloween-themed door mat?

Halloween door mats


Will our front door seem naked without a special black and purple Halloween wreath?


Halloween wreath


$149 for a phony, life-size witch — really? But where will she sleep when the holiday ends?

Life size Halloween character


Will our Halloween cookies taste better if I use a special seasonal spatula?

Halloween spatulas


Would skull beverage dispensers really make our parties more festive?

Skeleton drink dispensers


How about you? Do you go all out for Halloween, or are you trying to simplify? What’s the most outrageously needless Halloween-themed item you’ve seen in the stores? I’d love to hear what you find.

Also, if you’re looking for more natural, frugal ways to decorate this autumn, you can check out the Happy Simple Halloween board on Pinterest.


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Congratulations to Lisa R., who won the copy of my new cookbook “101 Things To Do With a Pickle!”

Simplify the Holidays by Managing Expectations

Stockings hung at the chimney

Photo: Jeff Turner

One of the first steps to simplifying the holidays is rethinking our expectations. Some of the things I’ve done over the years were borne of my own perfectionist tendencies, and others reflect old habits I’ve repeated over and over.

See if you can relate to any of these statements about the holidays:


1. I need to give a holiday present to anyone who gives me a gift.
2. To avoid embarrassment, I should even keep some spare, pre-wrapped presents on hand for surprise gifters. It would be nice to arrange these gifts in a vintage, hand-carved wooden bowl on a small table by the front door.
3. My gifts should be equal in price and scope to any gifts I receive.
4. Our family’s gifts should be wrapped in pretty paper, adorned with bows, and finished with matching gift tags. If possible, they should have a coordinated look under the Christmas tree. If they match the tree skirt, all the better.
5. I should wrap, pack and ship presents for all of our immediate family.

The Christmas Tree

1. The tree should be fresh and perfect, with no scraggly branches or bald spots.
2. The lights should be strung evenly and fill the entire tree.
3. We must hang every single ornament we own on the tree, and they should be evenly spaced.
4. The smaller ornaments should go near the top, and the larger ornaments should go near the bottom.

Interior Decorations

1. The bathroom towels should be replaced with Christmas towels. Never mind that the red towels leave a faint pink cast on everyone’s hands.
2. Each bathroom should have a special holiday decoration on the counter, and Christmas-themed soap dispensers.
3. The throw pillows should be replaced with festive holiday pillows.
4. The stair railing should be trimmed with pine boughs (preferable fresh-cut) and little white lights.
5. We must put out every single holiday decoration we own, from the Christmas salt-and-pepper shakers to the entire Snow Village.
6. A second Christmas tree — say a kitchen-themed tree hung with cute holiday cookie cutters — is a nice touch.

Exterior DecorationsHappy Clark Griswold

1. The front door mat should be replaced with a special Christmas-themed door mat.
2. A wreath of pretty greens — perhaps some that I gathered in the woods and attached decoratively to a wire frame — should hang on the door and look fresh throughout the holidays. It would be especially nice if I decorated it with an assortment of seasonal fruits, nuts and pinecones.
3. Our exterior lights should be hung evenly, nicely accenting our home’s distinctive architectural details. No unsightly extension cords should be visible. Our display should be about the same scope as the others in the neighborhood — or perhaps a little better.
4. It’s a nice touch to decorate the mailbox for the holidays.
5. We should enlist the children to make special hanging holiday treats for the birds from pinecones, peanut butter and sunflower seeds.

Holiday Food

1. We should bake an assortment of cookies to keep on hand. These should be baked from scratch, rolled out and cut with an assortment of festive cutters that we have collected for generations, and decorated with frosting that somehow manages to be both sturdy and tasty.
2. We should cook special homemade goodies — preferably arranged in festive plates and wrapped in cellophane tied with red-and-white-striped kitchen string — to give the neighbors, mailman, our children’s teachers, and often-overlooked helpers like our manicurist and insurance agent.
3. I should cook a special Christmas breakfast that is comforting, nourishing and memorable. If it includes a holiday-theme — say a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls baked in the shape of a Christmas tree and decorated with red and green candied cherries — all the better.
4. Our holiday dinner should be impressive and feature a selection of our family’s most treasured recipes. Ideally, this should be prepared from local, organic, sustainably raised foods.


1. As a family, we really should have cute matching holiday pajamas. And slippers.
2. The pets need holiday outfits, and they should each have their own needlepoint stockings — personalized with their names, of course.

How about you? We’ll be bombarded with retail messages in the weeks to come, urging us to do more and buy more for the holidays this year. But what if we do a little less this year, and spend the extra time enjoying our families and friends — or putting our feet up?

Is there a task you could let go of this holiday season? Leave a comment below about something you’d like to do differently. I always love hearing your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to simplifying, letting go of perfectionism in favor of the things that really matter, and being All Done By December One,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Plan Ahead for a Happier Holiday Season

Maddie the Christmas dog at Happy Simple Living blog

Our dog, Maddie, is a good sport about dressing up like Santa

October 10? Wait a minute. I’m just getting used to the idea of September being over — how did it get to be October 10th? The weeks pass quickly sometimes, and if it’s already October 10th that means November will be here before we know it. I suppose next you’re going to tell me that December will arrive just as quickly! A quick look at the calendar tells me that Christmas is about eleven weeks away.

A couple years ago I read about a woman who’d had to get everything done for Christmas by December first because her foreign in-laws were coming to stay for a month. The sweet surprise of the early deadline was that, for the first time in memory, she really, really enjoyed the holiday season. With all the shopping and wrapping and decorating done, she was free to enjoy the festivities and partake in the fun and true meaning of the season with her family and friends.

Oh, how this resonated with me — me who has been known to shop for a Barbie Glam Shower Set (that’s right) at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, me who has hemmed my daughter’s velvet Christmas dress at 5:30 a.m. on Christmas morning, me who once mailed combination Christmas/Valentine’s Day cards. What would it take, I wondered, to get everything done early and actually be present during the month of December?

All Done By December One

"Are we going to an Ugly Sweater party?"

“Are we going to an Ugly Sweater party?”

Two years ago, I started an initiative called “All Done By December One.” Many of you participated with me in 2012 and 2013 as we collectively simplified, agreed to do less, let go of perfectionism, and tackled the remaining holiday tasks earlier.

Would you like to do this again with me?

If we start now and do a little bit each day, we can be less frazzled and more present during the holiday season this year. Let’s also be mindful of spending and agree not take on one single dollar of holiday debt. Okay?

If you’re a technology geek like me, you might enjoy downloading a free app called “Lift.”  To let it help you get everything done by December 1, you simply check in every day that you spend at least 10 minutes on holiday tasks. You’ll get a big, green checkmark, kudos from other users, and nice words of affirmation from Lift when you complete the task for multiple consecutive days. It’s surprisingly motivating! You can find our group here: Or when you’re setting your goals, just enter “10 minutes doing holiday” in the search box and you’ll find it. But you definitely don’t need to use the app to participate.

I’ll share some of my own experiences and ideas about getting organized for the holidays in the days to come, and I hope you’ll comment and leave your thoughts and suggestions, too. If you’re “in,” and you’d like to be All Done By December One, you can affirm your participation by leaving a comment below.

Hugs and enjoy the weekend,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Pickle Pastrami Roll-Ups Are an Easy, Yummy Appetizer

Pickle Pastrami Roll-ups from

When I first announced that I was writing the cookbook 101 Things To Do With a Pickle, my dear sister sent me a wonderful recipe she’d gotten from her sister-in-law. These appetizers combine crispy, crunchy, tangy pickles with smooth cream cheese and savory pastrami. The combination is unbeatable, and they couldn’t be easier to make. Just start them a couple hours ahead of when you plan to serve them, so that the rolls can firm up before you slice them.

Pickle Pastrami Roll-Ups

8 slices deli pastrami (these are also good with sliced ham)
8 4-inch whole dill pickles
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
assorted crackers (optional)

Pat the pastrami and pickles dry with paper towels. Spread a thin layer of softened cream cheese on each pastrami slice. Place a pickle at one end and roll tightly like a jelly roll. Secure with toothpicks and refrigerate for 2 hours. Slice the rolls into 1-inch pieces and serve with crackers, if you like. Makes 32 appetizers.

Have you entered to win your very own signed copy of 101 Things To Do With a Pickle yet?


The signature for Eliza Cross