Week #5 of All Done By December One – Make a Holiday Food Plan

Holiday food buffet

Photo: regan76

One of the best things about the holidays is all the wonderful food, but the preparation of special meals and extra treats can take a lot of time. Are there food items and menus you can plan or make now so that you’re a few steps ahead when December rolls around? Here are some ideas:

Christmas cookies cooling

Photo: jayneandd

  • The Pioneer Woman wrote a great post on freezer meals. She likes to prep things up to a certain point—cooking and seasoning a batch of ground beef, for instance—so that meal preparation is faster and easier.
  • You can make the dough, roll out and bake sugar or gingerbread cookies in festive shapes and freeze them. Then the only part that’s left to do is the fun part—decorating.
  • Plan the menu for a Christmas meal or party, so you can watch for non-perishable ingredients on sale in the coming weeks.
  • Make ahead something for Christmas morning, like a stollen or Freezer French Toast.
  • Try some of these make-ahead holiday appetizers for Taste of Home.
  • Or how about this elegant, make-ahead Christmas dinner from Fine Cooking?
  • Side dishes are great candidates for early preparation, like these 35 make-ahead side dishes from Better Homes & Gardens.
  • Are you in charge of dessert? Check out these freeze-ahead holiday desserts from Busy Cooks or these six make-ahead chocolate desserts from Real Simple.

Next, think about any food-related holiday gifts you’d like to make. Imagine the calm, serene feeling we’d all have if our food gifts were made and tucked away in the pantry, all prettily packaged and ready to give. It’s completely possible if we simply get started now. Here are some ideas for make-ahead food gifts:

Jars of cranberry preserves

Photo: imcountingufoz

How about you? Do you have any holiday treats or meals you can make in advance? Are you planning to give any food gifts this year? Perhaps you’d like to explore some of these ideas and get a jump on the preparations before Thanksgiving ramps up next week.

By the way, do you have a holiday-themed board on Pinterest? Be sure to share a link in the Comments section below so we can all visit. (Mine’s Happy Simple Holidays with easy Christmas foods, decorating ideas, wrapping, gifts, flowers and do-it-yourself projects.)

December 1 will be here in 13 days – how are your preparations coming along? Next week’s topic will be all about adding more meaning and joy to the season. In the mean time, I hope you’re having fun getting ready for a special holiday.


The signature for Eliza Cross


About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Week #3 of All Done By December One – Consider Cards and Paper

Family portrait

Photo: Chris, Awkward Family Photos

Do you send holiday cards? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Greeting Card Association (and you knew there had to be one), Americans purchase a staggering 1.6 billion holiday card “units,” some of which are boxes of cards, each year.

I’ve always liked Christmas cards, so our household accounts for about 75 of those “units” purchased each year. I love receiving cards, too, and keep them in a basket out on our coffee table during the holiday season. Those that include a family photo are always special, and I even like the form letters including a bit of news. Yet as I consider simplifying and striving to have a more eco-friendly holiday, I’ve been rethinking sending cards.

Some of the alternatives I’ve considered include:

  • Sending an online Christmas card via e-mail.
  • Setting up a family holiday page on my website.
  • Making a holiday video.
  • Sending a postcard instead of a traditional card. No envelope stuffing or licking, and postage is cheaper, too! (First class postage is 46 cents, and post card stamps are 33 cents.)
  • Forgoing cards, and connecting with loved ones on the phone or in person.
holiday cards

Photo: Designs by CnC

How about you? If you’re planning to send traditional Christmas cards this year, you may wish to begin some of the related tasks in the coming week:

  • If you want a special holiday portrait, schedule the appointment to get the photo taken this week. Or gather everyone in their matching red-checked outfits and snap the photo.
  • Alternately, create a collage-style card with photos you already have. Track down the photos this week.
  • Create your mailing list. A computer mailing list program can save you lots of time addressing envelopes, and you can even use Microsoft Excel’s mail merge feature.
  • Make, purchase or order Christmas cards. Or decide on an alternative like an online card and get started.
  • Purchase stamps. The US Postal Service now sells stamps on eBay, or you can order them directly from USPS.com and have them shipped to you.

You may also want to stock up on tape and recycled wrapping paper or reusable gift bags this week while you’re out and about. Don’t forget to check out the Happy Simple Holidays Pinterest board for eco-friendly, no-cost and low-cost wrapping and card ideas. I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and comments about holiday cards, and whether you’re sending them this year.

Here’s to taking more small steps during the next 30 days, and your happiest holidays ever,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. After the holidays, we’ll donate our used greeting cards to St. Jude’s Ranch Recycled Cards Program.


About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

All Done By December One Starts in Two Days

My son showed me that funny video last week, and I had to share it with you because it tickled my funny bone. Plus, it’s a perfect lead-in for a question:

Would you like this holiday season to be filled with more laughter and joy, and less stress and spending? “All Done By December One” kicks off on October 15, and you’ll be amazed at how organized you can get for Christmas in just 10 minutes a day. More than 60 folks have already signed up to tackle some holiday tasks early this year, in order to have some precious time during December to actually enjoy the season. Would you like to join in the fun?

This year, we’ve formed a group on Lift – a simple, surprisingly motivating spot where you can stop by and let the world know that you’ve done your daily 10 minutes. Lift is free, and currently very un-commercial. You can check out the group here:


(While you’re there, check out some of the amazing things people are accomplishing in small increments, from writing books to exercising to expressing gratitude and more.)

If you’re “in,” you can join the Lift group or simply leave a comment below. You can subscribe to free e-mail updates or simply check back at Happy Simple Living during the next six weeks for ideas and encouragement to simplify the holidays, get organized early and make some breathing room during the season for the things that really matter. Here’s to more time for family, friends and animals singing Christmas carols this season!


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. I’ll be posting about other topics during the coming weeks, too, for those who don’t celebrate Christmas.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Do Something Nice Today and Enjoy a Better Tomorrow

Getting the coffee ready

Are you familiar with the FlyLady? Marla Cilley, a.k.a. The FlyLady, has a wonderful system for getting your house organized, and whenever I faithfully follow her program I reap such benefits. By getting in a routine and consistently focusing my attention on one area of our house for just a few minutes every day, our home becomes tidier, less cluttered and more enjoyable.

Perhaps one of the things I love best about the FlyLady’s approach is her gentle, feel-good encouragement. For instance, one of her very first baby steps is to get in the habit of cleaning and shining your sink before you go to bed at night. In her sweet way, she tells you that in the morning when you see that sparkling sink she wants you to feel a hug from her. It’s funny, but when I do take time to clean and polish my sink at night, it always makes me feel happy the next morning.

So recently, I’ve expanded that idea of a morning blessing. I always make the coffee before I go to bed at night (and may I just say right now:  God bless the person who invented the automatic coffee maker). Now I also set out my coffee cup, my homemade healthy sweetener and a spoon on a pretty French floral dish. It’s like a little gift that I give to myself to make the morning ritual nicer, and it always makes me feel happy.

I’ve been exploring other ways to spread some love the day before for a better tomorrow.  For example, sometimes I lay out my clothes, undies, jewelry and shoes for the next day which always helps me feel a step ahead somehow. Recently I had a meeting downtown, and the night before I printed out the directions in a nice large font and taped the paper to the door so that I wouldn’t have to scramble and figure out where I was going at the last minute. I arrived at the meeting twenty minutes early, relaxed, and even found a great parking place!

How about you? Can you do something today to bless yourself tomorrow? I welcome your thoughts and comments, and hope you have a happy Friday, an even better Saturday and a really wonderful weekend.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Save on Laundry Detergent With This Simple Tip

Measure laundry soap carefully at Happy Simple Living

Have you ever wondered why laundry detergent manufacturers provide us with such confusing measuring cups? You don’t think it’s so we’ll inadvertently use more than we need to — and thus buy more, do you? Nahh, surely they wouldn’t want us to waste their product just to make more profits.

(“They might or they might not be trying to trick us into using more detergent, but don’t call me Shirley!”)

One of these days I’m going to make my own laundry detergent, perhaps using this recipe from our friends at DIY Naturals. For now, though, I use the most eco-friendly phosphate-free detergent I can find in recyclable packaging, at the best price. “70 Loads,” the box proclaims.

Still, it comes with this confusing scoop. According to the directions, line #1 is for “medium” loads. Is a medium load a regular load of laundry? “For family size loads, fill scoop to top line.” (Who among us doesn’t wash family size loads of laundry?) But “fill scoop to top line” sounds like you’re supposed to fill the scoop, when  the top line isn’t the top of the scoop, it’s the line marked with a ‘2.’ And then, of course, you have the option to fill the scoop all the way to the top.

It takes some talent to fill the scoop to the ‘1’ line. I had to pour some out, then scoop some back in, then sprinkle a little more out. Writing this post made me wonder – how much detergent does it take fill the scoop to Line 1? In my case, it was about 1/3 cup.

Measure your detergent - Happy Simple Living

Filling the cup to Line #2 took 2/3 of a cup, and filling it to the top was almost a cup. In other words, if you fill the scoop every time you do a load of laundry, you’ll actually only get 23 or 24 loads out of that 70-load box.

You readers are so smart, you probably already pay close attention to exactly how much detergent you use. But if you’ve been a little befuddled as I have, you may want to take a moment to investigate exactly how much detergent you need to do an average load of laundry and carefully measure out just that amount from now on – or even a bit less. Small adjustments can add up over the long run, especially when many of us reduce our detergent usage a bit, load after load. We’ll all save money and help the environment. Shirley, that’s a win/win for everyone!

I also use the Cold cycle for most loads, rinse just once, and hang our laundry on the clothesline whenever possible. How do you manage the laundry operations in your household? Inquiring minds are dying to know.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Got Vases? A Mini Decluttering Challenge

Jelly Jar Daisies at Happy Simple Living blog

I love fresh flowers on the table here at the urban homestead, and more often than not I’ll just pick a few posies and loosely arrange them in a jelly jar to brighten the table.

So the other day as I was trying to find something in the jam-packed laundry room cabinet, I suddenly saw my overflowing vase collection with new, critical eyes. Do we really need quite so many containers to hold flowers, I wondered?

Crowded cabinet at Happy Simple Living blog

To face the question truthfully I removed every vase from the depths of the cabinet and arranged them on the kitchen table, where I was somewhat astonished to discover 25 vessels.

Vase collection at Happy Simple Living blog

Faced with the vases, I was also confronted with the two opposing sides of my domestic personality. The happy simple living side of me is, most of the time, truly content to whittle down possessions, enjoy orderly spaces and keep just a few things that I really love.

But the Martha Stewart side of me loves having many, many choices of domestic goods in every color, size and shape. 25 vases? Sure, in case I want to get creative and make pretty arrangements: a red vase for Christmas and Valentine’s Day, a tiny bud vase for little flowers, a pale green vase for January days that need a dash of spring color, a large vase for those times when men arrive bearing unexpected bouquets (hmm, why is that one so dusty?), a curvy bulb vase in case I want to force hyacinth bulbs (even though I haven’t been thusly motivated in ten years), and so on, and so on….

Vase collection at Happy Simple Living blog

Twenty-five vases is too many, though, so I steeled myself and ignored my inner Martha. To thin the collection, I eliminated the duplicates, waved goodbye to the plain cheapies, and let go of the ones I never use. (I kept one large model for those unexpected bouquets, because hey, a girl’s got to be prepared.)

To some minimalists this might not seem extraordinary, but I did get rid of almost half of the collection. Thirteen vases made the final cut:

Small vase collection at Happy Simple Living blog

It only took fifteen minutes to send a dozen vases to the curb, which is a figure of speech because I actually drove to the box to the ARC drop-off center and handed it over immediately before the clever little voice of She-Who-Likes-To-Have-Infinite-Vase-Choices could dissuade my resolve.

The best part of all? When I put the remaining vases away, our laundry room cabinet had room—glorious, spacious breathing room.

Cleaner cabinet at Happy Simple Living blog

Vases, like candles and baskets, seem to multiply faster than rabbits here at the urban homestead, until they threaten to take over an entire room.

How about you? Could your vase collection use a little weeding out? Would you like to tackle the task this week, perhaps? If you do, be sure to let us know what you keep and how many vases you let go.

Sending you big, overflowing bouquets of happy simple living vibes today,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Have you entered to win a free hardback copy of the new book Good Clean Food?

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of nine books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.