Learn From My Mistakes This Holiday Season

Poinsettias | Happy Simple Living blog

Since you’re reading a happy simple living blog, perhaps you hope to simplify your holiday celebrations and have more fun this year. Me, too! Let’s join hands and vow to have an easier, more joyful, peaceful holiday this year. We can do it.

Be Vigilant in the Coming Days

The decisions we make in the next week or two could greatly affect our collective holiday happiness. Pay special attention to the holiday invitations that start to roll in. We have three December weekends before Christmas – how do you want to spend those precious days and evenings?

I love making lists, so I wrote out a list of people I want to see for holiday celebrations. Just jotting down the names of special friends and family took me all of two minutes, and really helped clarify my thoughts.  As a result, I decided to skip a couple of my organization-sponsored holiday parties so I can spend more time with those I love.

Christmas cat | Happy Simple Living blog

I’m also working on a gift list, and a ‘Holiday To Do’ list. Both of these lists are short and sweet. Yippee!

Guess what? I also made a list for you because I want your holidays to be merry and bright. Let me save you a whole bunch of trouble and spare you from these holiday blunders I’ve made in years past:

Eliza’s List of Things Not To Do This Holiday Season

* Don’t commit to consecutive parties on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights with no down time. Leave some space in your schedule to relax.

* Don’t go to several parties in one night and “make an appearance” at each.

* Don’t run out and spend $50 on more stocking stuffers two days before Christmas.

* Don’t go to the shopping mall during the week before Christmas. In fact, try to avoid the mall completely during December if you can. (Have you noticed that, like the Hotel California, the roads lead freely into the mall — but you can never exit the parking lot when you want to leave?)


* Don’t feel like you need to give a reciprocal gift to everyone who gives you a gift. If you receive a present and are empty-handed, let go and express your grateful, gracious joy in receiving a surprise.

* Don’t stress if your gift is less expensive than a gift given to you (even if someone surprises you with, say, a diamond and aquamarine necklace, and you present them with, say, a wooden dreidel).

Barbie-Shower* Don’t dash into Toys ‘R’ Us at 5:55 p.m. on Christmas Eve for something you had firmly decided against, like, say, the plastic Barbie Shower your daughter wanted but you knew would lose its appeal within 10 minutes. (Little-known fact:  The Barbie Shower was the lamest toy ever manufactured.)

* Don’t buy last-minute gifts because you worry that you didn’t do quite enough. Remember that big, sickening pile of Christmas morning wrapping paper? Stick to your budget.

* Don’t go into debt buying holiday presents. Ever, ever, ever.

* Don’t drink one too many eggnogs at a holiday party, and waste the next day feeling tired and crappy.

* Finally, my dear ones, don’t wear yourself out with so much shopping and cooking and wrapping and running around that you wake up sick on Christmas morning.


Winter sunset | Happy Simple Living blog

How About You?

What do you plan to do this year to have a happier, simpler holiday? Are you cutting back on the shopping and craziness, and spending more time with your loved ones having fun? I’d love to hear your thoughts and strategies for celebrating this season of peace and joy.

Ho ho ho!

The signature for Eliza Cross

Grateful thanks to Jamie McCaffrey for the lovely winter sunset photo, Michael Cote for the wonderful kitty photo, Shimelle Lainel for the pretty present photo,  and H. Matthew Howarth for the festive poinsettia photo.

10 Ways to Enjoy a Happier, Simpler Holiday Season This Year

Beautiful deer in snowy field | Happy Simple Living

Some years ago, a friend’s mother-in-law traveled from her native Sweden to spend Christmas with the family. She was to arrive December 1 and stay for 3 1/2 weeks, so my friend spent November in a frenzy of preparations so that everything would be ready for her mother-in-law’s visit.

But then something extraordinary happened. With the decorations up and packages shipped and shopping done, my friend discovered that — for the first time in a long time — she was able to really enjoy the holiday season without last-minute trips to the mall, overspending, or stress. The family later agreed it was their best December ever.

This story resonated with me, and caused me to re-think my own holiday habits and try some new tactics. My goal is to be “All Done By December One” so we can have fun during the holiday season.

What do you think about these ideas?

1.  Simplify. Do less. Commit to fewer holiday events and obligations.

2.  Let go of traditions that aren’t working, especially those that involve a lot of work.

3.  Make a list of holiday tasks, and save it on your computer for future reference. Get as many holiday tasks and errands done as possible in November.

4.  Agree with friends and families to give fewer gifts. Have fun together instead.

5.  Don’t put out every decoration. Honor a few special pieces in simple arrangements instead. Declutter the holiday bins and give some stuff away.

6.  Make room for the spiritual side of the holiday season. Read a special scripture or story together as a family, or set aside a little extra time to pray and meditate.

7.  Allow for down time. Watch a family holiday movie in your jammies and drink hot chocolate. Play a game. Go for a walk.

8.  Spend more time outside. Enjoy the beauty of winter’s quiet rest.

9.  Don’t incur any holiday debt. Make a budget, and don’t overspend.

10.  Look for opportunities to give to those less fortunate.

If you need ideas, I have a “Happy Simple Holidays” Pinterest board with easy recipes, homemade gifts, and simple, natural decorations. I welcome your suggestions for this board.

If you’re a Type A like me, you might enjoy the process of breaking down holiday tasks into a daily routine. The Coach.me app is free, and if you search for my profile (Eliza Cross) you can join a group of people working on the daily goal of “10 minutes doing holiday-related tasks.”

For a real-life perspective, “One Real Family’s Real Simple Christmas” is a story about my friends the McDonalds, who tried a drastically simplified Christmas with great results.

How about you? Will you be simplifying your holiday celebrations this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts and plans.


The signature for Eliza Cross

Grateful thanks to Jan Tik for the use of her beautiful photo.


Remembering Those We Love and Miss on Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos | Happy Simple Living blog

I used to think that the Latin American holiday of Dia de los Muertos was a bit morbid, with its parades of skeletons and people painting their faces like skulls. However, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of remembering and celebrating the lives of those we love who have departed this earth.

For the past several years on November first, I’ve created a small arrangement of photos, flowers, remembrances and candles to commemorate Dia de los Muertos.

This year, the bookshelf holds photos of Dad, my brother Jorma, and my maternal grandparents, Nanny and Poppy, along with religious icons and mementos like Nanny’s pin and Poppy’s fishing flies. Flowers and roses represent dear ones we lost this year, including our friend Dale’s sweet son Billy Betts, my daughter Gracie’s friend Chris Mullinex, and most recently, our friend Abbie’s beloved father who died just last Wednesday.

The candles will burn all day today, and I find such sweet comfort in celebrating these precious lives.

How about you — are you thinking of someone special on Dia de los Muertos?

May our loved ones rest easy and know that we hold them in our hearts, today and always.

Hugs and happy November,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Pumpkin Quick Bread Recipe is Easy and So Good

Pumpkin Bread

While pumpkins are widely available this week, you may want to buy a pie pumpkin to cook and puree. Pumpkin freezes beautifully and lasts for up to 6 months if it’s tightly wrapped in the freezer, so you can enjoy its comforting taste in many different recipes well into 2016.

101 Things To Do With Pumpkin cookbook As I wrote earlier this month, my newest cookbook is 101 Things To Do With Pumpkin (Gibbs Smith, Publisher; 128 pages, $9.99). Thanks to all of you who submitted comments about your favorite ways to enjoy pumpkin, and congratulations to lucky winners Carolyn and Linda, who each won a signed copy.

This easy pumpkin quick bread recipe is one of my favorites, and it’s so good with a cup of coffee or tea. It’s featured in the cookbook’s “Muffins and Breads” chapter, and I think you’ll love its moist texture and spicy flavor.

Pumpkin Quick Bread

  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin or 1 7/8 cups cooked pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 3 x 7-inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin, sugar, oil, water, applesauce, and eggs until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Stir the flour mixture in the pumpkin mixture just until blended. Divide evenly among the prepared pans.

Bake for about 50 minutes, or until loaves are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Makes 3 loaves.

Here’s how to cook and puree your own pumpkin:

Easy Baked Pumpkin Puree

  • 1 medium pie pumpkin, about 4 pounds
  • 1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Wash the pumpkin and cut out the top and stem with a sharp knife. Lay on a cutting board and carefully cut in half. Scrape out stringy membranes and seeds.  Cut pumpkin in large pieces and arrange skin-side up in a roasting pan. Pour water in the bottom of the pan and cover with foil. Bake 45 to 60 minutes or until pumpkin is soft and easily pierced with a fork. Cool to room temperature.

Scrape the soft pulp from the skin into a food processor or heavy-duty blender, discarding the skin. Pulse until evenly pureed, adding a little water if necessary to make a smooth puree. Alternately, mash the pulp in a large bowl with a potato masher or run it through a food mill. If finished puree is watery, drain in a fine mesh strainer for 5 minutes.  The puree can be used immediately or refrigerated, covered, and used within 3 days; the puree may also be frozen, tightly wrapped or in an airtight container, for up to 6 months. Makes about 8 cups.

Hugs and a happy harvest,

The signature for Eliza Cross

A Letter to My 17-Year-Old Self

Eliza Cross 1975

I’ll be 57 years old this week. As the years pass, I find that I’m more introspective on my birthday — so deeply grateful for another year and all of the experiences and blessings of this life.

I recently found a photo of myself taken about forty years ago. As I studied the pensive young girl in the picture, I longed to reassure and encourage her about the decades ahead.

If I could write myself a letter and send it back in time forty years, here’s what I’d say:


Dear, dear young Eliza,

First of all, your thighs are just perfect. I know that today you think your hips are too wide, but someday you will balance babies on those hips and be grateful for their strength.

You don’t yet trust your intuition, but that little voice inside wants to steer you toward goodness and save you from so many calamities. Try to listen.

Set up automatic savings withdrawals from your paychecks as soon as you can. You are going to need a lot of money.

Your Mama is wise, steadfast, faithful, and compassionate, and she loves you more than anyone. Learn everything you can from her, and call her first when you need solid advice. Hug your mom tight and tell her you love her, every chance you get.

Practice writing every day, and learn everything you can about the craft of writing. That urging you’ve felt since you were a young girl turns out to be important and prescient.

Always have the main sewer line inspected before making an offer on a house. This one tip will save you $7500 and a lot of unpleasantness. Also, before you buy that first fixer-upper home you might want to check and see if the master bedroom is heated.

Spend more time with your brother Jorma. Hug him every chance you get. Watch his skateboard tricks, listen to his music, and tell him you love him. He will be gone so, so soon.

You’ll be given a lot of work responsibility at a young age, and you’ll feel like an insider for the first time. Don’t abuse that bit of middle-manager power by making others feel like they’re on the outside. Profits matter, but people matter more. Be kind.

You have many gifts, but matchmaking is not among them. Do not set up your friends. If you do, there will be a felony record to prove your bad instincts.

Relish every moment you spend sharing a meal with people you love.

Listen carefully when your Dad gets in his teaching mode. Ask him more questions about his art. Save his letters. Be compassionate, and try to see beyond his addiction. Love him as well as you possibly can, and then it won’t be quite so hard when he’s gone.

Never get involved with a man who cheats or lies.

Your sister Catherine is in kindergarten right now, but in time she will become your closest friend and confidante. You’ll share incredible joy and sadness together, and help each other through things only you two can understand. Encourage her, support her, and try to be a good big sister.

Don’t “take a break” after two years of college. You will lose your momentum and get sucked into credit card debt and car payments, and you’ll never be as unencumbered again.

Write and call your grandparents more. Go to family reunions. Spend time with your aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and extended family, every chance you get.

Avoid suntanning beds at all costs. In the 1990s, tanning salons will be all the rage, with ads promoting their “safe UVA rays.” Later you will learn that artificial tanning is a leading cause of skin cancer.

Please slow down. Otherwise, you’ll lose your driver’s license when you’re 22 because of too many speeding tickets.

And don’t buy that Audi 5000. It’s a beautiful car, but it’s a lemon.

You can’t imagine the amazing girlfriends you’re going to have. You’ll share so much life together — weddings, births, illness, funerals, affairs, divorces, vacations, camping trips, picnics, parties, meals, and decades of laughter. Embrace these wonderful women, support their dreams, celebrate their successes, and find ways to let them know you appreciate them.

Recognize your frenemies sooner. A couple of people will seem like friends, but they will secretly cheer when you fail. You’ll sense it, even as you invest your heart and energy trying to win them over. You must let the mean girls go.

Try not to be so hard on your stepdad. Right now he’s the target of much of your teenage emotion, but you’ll eventually grow to love him and call him Pop. He’ll turn out to be a wonderful father and grandpa to your kids. Pop will love you, support you, and help you in so many ways.

Meditate, pray, and practice positive thinking. Spare yourself the unnecessary suffering produced by negative thoughts and worrying.

Your children will surprise you and fill your heart to overflowing. Enjoy the precious time you have with them, because the parenting years pass with breathtaking speed.

I know you are disillusioned with the church right now. Just remember that religious denominations and churches are fallible human institutions. Don’t confuse them with God, who loves you and will wait patiently as you find your way back.

You will take a couple of major relationship swan dives, and experience loss and heartache. Don’t get jaded or cynical. Let your heart be open, and don’t let fear keep you from loving again.

Finally, try to be present. Enjoy the small, sparkling moments. Take it all in…

…because I promise you, your life is going to be amazing.


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. How about you? If you could share some thoughts with your teenage self, what would you say?

Win a Signed Copy of 101 Things To Do With Pumpkin

101 Things To Do With Pumpkin cookbook

My newest cookbook has just been released by Gibbs Smith, and I’m so excited to share it with you. 101 Things To Do With Pumpkin is filled with easy recipes featuring one of autumn’s most wonderful treats (did you guess already?) — the pumpkin.


Pumpkin patch | Happy Simple Living

This book was so much fun to write and test, and in addition to testing six different pies for the Desserts chapter I enjoyed developing new treats like Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls, dinners like Pumpkin Apple Pecan Chicken, and desserts like Decadent Pumpkin Butter Cake

If you’d like to win a signed copy of 101 Things To Do With Pumpkin for yourself or your favorite pumpkin lover, just leave a comment at the end of this post and answer this question:

What’s your favorite way to enjoy pumpkin?

Do you like pumpkin spice lattes or your mom’s just-baked pumpkin pies? Pumpkin risotto or pumpkin cheesecake? Just leave a comment on this post, and you’ll be entered to win one of 2 free copies.

Be sure to include your e-mail address when you post your comment (it won’t show to anyone but me) so I can contact you if you win. The drawing is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada, and the giveaway will end at midnight MST on Monday, October 26.

Hugs and happy autumn!

The signature for Eliza Cross

Thanks to Liz West for the use of her lovely pumpkin patch photo.