Final Days of All Done By December One – Seeking What Really Matters

Photo: aloshbennett

Photo: aloshbennett

In this final post for our “All Done By December One” series, let’s explore the idea of how to bring more meaning into the Christmas season. Last year, Kelly from The Simplified Family wrote, “My goal is for my family and me to truly feel the magic this year and not the stress.”

Can’t we all relate to those sentiments? No matter how much or little we each accomplished during these past six weeks, we still have four weeks ahead to enjoy the season leading up to Christmas. What steps could we take to reduce stress and add joy? These are some ideas:

What could we subtract in the coming weeks? Perhaps send fewer Christmas cards, or skip the cards? Leave one bin of ornaments in the garage, and enjoy a simpler tree?

How about if we make a pact to resist the temptation to buy stuff to festoon every square inch of our houses? Maybe we can forgo Christmas-themed towels, doormats, hand soap dispensers and the like?

Could we be mindful of opportunities to help someone in need?

Homeless man at Christmas

Photo: Beverly & Pack

Could we schedule something simple and fun? Watch a Christmas movie, bake some cookies, drive downtown to see the lights…

Could we “X” out some time on the December calendar just for ourselves? Take a walk with the camera, get a massage, relax by the fire with a good book…

What if we did something with our loved ones outdoors next month, and enjoyed the beauty of the season?

Sleigh ride

Photo: USFWS Mountain Prairie

Could we call or visit someone who might be a bit lonely, just to say hello and spread a little cheer?

What if we planned a relaxing night at home, by the fire or the Christmas tree, being together? Perhaps we could make something simple for dinner like soup? (I’m thinking this could be a new Christmas tradition…)

Finally, what if we spent a moment considering what we’d like for Christmas? You know how our loved ones ask us, and we say something virtuous like, “Oh, I don’t want you to spend anything on me – just make me a homemade card,” which actually drives our loved ones crazy because then they have to shlep around and find something they hope we’ll like? What if we gave them a concrete idea or two? Our loved ones will rejoice, and isn’t that what we really want?

What will you do in December to make the season special? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section below.

In the coming weeks, I hope you make memories, truly enjoy the season, find some precious time for the things that matter most, and have your best Christmas ever. Happy Thanksgiving, too!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Have you signed up to win a signed copy of my newest book, The Quinoa Quookbook? The drawing is open through this Friday at midnight MST. Details here.

About Eliza Cross

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

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.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

About Eliza Cross

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

Week #4 of All Done By December One – A Party and Entertaining Plan

Christmas party fun

Photo: dpstyles

December is the season of holiday parties, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I spoke with a friend yesterday, and she told me she was thinking about skipping her neighborhood’s annual Christmas party. While the event was a perfectly fine affair, it was always crowded and hot and loud—and not really her cup of tea. When she posed the idea of ditching the party to her husband, guess what he said? “HURRAY!”

While it’s relatively quiet in November, think about the parties you’d really love to attend—and host—during December. What would be truly fun and festive? Most of us have certain events we’re obligated to attend—the company party, for instance—but what about the rest? If you’re routinely attending things you don’t enjoy merely out of habit and tradition, think again. Who would you really like to see this holiday season, and how would you like to celebrate?

It’s easy to get over-booked and tired during the holidays, too, so you may wish to “X” out some evenings on your calendar when you’ll stay home and relax.

My friend and party planner extraordinaire Maury Ankrum has a special gift for entertaining and throwing parties, and she has inspired me to open my doors more often and have people over without worrying that everything has to be perfect. In fact, I’ve discovered that most people prefer a casual gathering in the kitchen with easy food and drinks.

One of my better parties was one in which I invited the women in my neighborhood to come over one Thursday night after work. Everyone wanted to bring something, so I suggested an appetizer or favorite libation. We ate and drink like royalty that night and had a great time in the kitchen, and when everyone left I realized I had three more bottles of wine than I began with!

The key in holiday entertaining—like so many things in our busy lives—is balance and moderation. Consider the month of December with a calendar in hand. If you’d like to host something in your home, plan it now. Those December days and nights are precious and special, so accept invitations as judiciously as you can and leave some space for mellow nights at home.

Are you hosting any holiday gatherings this year? What are your plans? Any tips you’d like to share about keeping things sane and simple? You know we’d all love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway to win 3 scrumptious boxes of John Wm. Macy snacks – just in time for Thanksgiving.

About Eliza Cross

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

Week #2 of All Done By December One – Make a Gift Plan

Opening a gag gift

Photo: VoxEfx

Have you ever felt like the gift-giving part of Christmas was out of balance with how you really wanted to celebrate? Is it possible to have a fun holiday without breaking the bank? In the next week we’ll focus on the gift aspect of the holidays and see if we can get creative while reigning things in a bit. If you’re participating in “All Done By December One,” you may wish to:

  1. Make a master gift list. Write down every single person for whom you want to present a gift. Check your list twice, whittle away what you can, and keep it reasonable.
  2. Set a spending limit for each person, and a total amount you will pay for gifts this year – without taking on even a penny of debt.
  3. Purchase, make or creatively obtain at least one gift for someone on the list this week. Be sure to share what you do in the comments section below!
  4. Find a creative way to wrap or package it using materials you already have on hand. You can view a bunch of fun, frugal wrapping ideas on my Happy Simple Holidays Pinterest board.

 

Recycled wrapping paper

Recycle bags and paper to wrap gifts – photo by Christine Wisnieski

 

If you’re planning to give some holiday gifts this year, one step that might help is to take some of the mystery out of the process. Since 2002, our family has been using Christmas Wish List, a site where we each post a short list of things we truly want or need. Using the site felt a little piggy at first, but we have all benefited from much easier gifting and shopping, and we’ve also enjoyed receiving things we can use. We no longer have to guess about gifts, and our wish lists often contain homemade and used items. Your Christmas List and Smart Christmas List are other online gift list sites you may wish to explore.

This year, our family has set a $25 limit on gifts. So…what can you buy or make for $25 or less?

  • Used books in good condition
  • Copies of old family photos
  • A Mason jar filled with crunchy homemade granola
  • A nice bottle of wine or sparkling cider
  • Fancy soap
  • A favorite movie DVD and a bag of organic popcorn
  • A potted amaryllis bulb
  • A pound of really good coffee
  • Warm gloves
  • A CD with a live performance by a favorite artist
  • A donation to charity: water in honor of your loved one, to fund a clean water project

Let’s be real, though. These ideas are all fine and well for adults, but how can we be thrifty when it comes to older kids and teens who might ask for non-frugal gifts like name-brand clothes and shoes, cosmetics, electronics and gift cards?

Swagbucks gift cards

Photo: bfishadow

One solution I’ve found is to use Swagbucks as my search engine. It returns results from Google and its sponsors, and you win points while you’re searching that can be exchanged for free gift cards and other goodies. Swagbucks has gift cards and codes from many major retailers teens like – iTunes, Old Navy, Target, Amazon, Best Buy, etc. You can also redeem the points for gift codes to buy fave teen presents like Nike shoes, American Eagle clothing and ULTA cosmetics.

It’s free to sign up, and the nice people at Swagbucks have set up a special referral code for Happy Simple Living readers that you can use to get 70 free Swagbucks in addition to the 30 you normally get for signing up. (NOTE: This special code is only valid through this Sunday, October 27.)

Sign up using this link: Swagbucks, click the text that reads “I have a sign up code,” and enter:

HappySimple1

While we’re on the subject, many of you report that you’re cutting back on holiday gift giving in favor of enjoyable experiences. Most of my friends and I have stopped exchanging Christmas presents, and instead we do something fun together – like go to a play, or have a Simple Christmas Cookie Exchange. If you talk with your friends, chances are they’ll happily agree to forgo the presents. Or you could try a White Elephant exchange, or give gag gifts.

See if you can make some progress around the concept of gifts this week. You may wish to check in with the “All Done By December One” group on Lift whenever you successfully spend ten minutes on a holiday task. Be sure to give each other props (thumbs up) while you’re there! Also, we’d all love to hear some of your gift-giving ideas and thoughts in the comments section below.

Connecting with you is an ongoing gift for me, my friends.

Hugs and good luck with your efforts this week,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

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

Week #1 of All Done By December One – Make a Few Lists

Hope

Photo: Nina Matthews Photography

It’s the hap-happiest time of the year–at least, that’s what the song tells us. So why has Christmas evolved into such a stressful season of spending, over-scheduling and weird expectations? My friends, let’s quietly and purposefully reverse that trend. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already taken steps to simplify your holidays. This year, let’s take it one step further by getting the extra tasks done early, so we actually have time to relax and enjoy the season.

If you’re participating in “All Done By December One,” these are some suggested things you might like to tackle during Week #1.

1. Write a list or a few sentences about the experiences that would make this Christmas season feel really special to you. What would put the joy and meaning back into your celebration? You may want to read “Your Best Holidays Ever” for some ideas, or check out my Christmas wish list.

2. Make a budget for gifts and festivities. Keep it realistic, and commit not to take on even one dollar of credit card debt this season.

3. Make a gift list. Whittle it down. Talk to your friends and family, and challenge any tradition that involves mindlessly exchanging gifts. Chances are, everyone will be in favor of having more fun and spending less on stuff. One of this blog’s most-read posts is the story about the McDonald family, who decided to drastically simplify their holidays—with very satisfying results. Check out “One Real Family’s Real Simple Christmas,” and you might be inspired to do the same.

slippers

Ahh…my favorite slippers

4. Think about you. What would you like for Christmas this year? A nice pair of cozy slippers? Chocolate-covered caramels? A new novel to read? Let’s all commit to finagling a little something special for ourselves this season, even if we have to do the buying or making. Agreed?

In the coming week, check in with our group on Lift, if you like, whenever you successfully spend ten minutes on a holiday task. Be sure to give each other props (thumbs up) while you’re there! Also, we’d all love to hear some of your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Good luck with your efforts this week, and remember—baby steps now will pay big dividends later…

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

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