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.

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.

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.

Hugs,

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!”

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.

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:

Gifts

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.

Miscellaneous

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

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.

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:  https://www.lift.do/plans/173111-10-minutes-doing-holiday-related-tasks. 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

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.

Win a Signed Copy of 101 Things To Do With a Pickle

101 Things To Do With a Pickle cookbook by Eliza Cross

My newest cookbook has just been released by Gibbs Smith, and it’s all about things to do with crispy, crunchy pickles. You probably figured that out from looking at the cute cover.

 

Pickling cucumbers

Photo: Chiot’s Run

If you’re harvesting the last of your pickling cucumbers, you’ll find a whole chapter of recipes for homemade pickles, from easy Icebox Dill Pickle Spears to Grandma’s 7-Day Pickles.

Pickle Pastrami Roll-Ups

Pickle Pastrami Roll-Ups – recipe coming soon!

You’ll also find appetizers like Batter-Fried Pickle Spears and Pickle Pastrami Roll-Ups, and salads like Old-Fashioned Potato Salad and Danish Cobb Salad.

The Dinners chapter features easy recipes like Slow Cooker Pickle Pork and Creamy Dill Pickle Chicken. You’ll find offbeat recipes like Dill Pickle Soup and Neon State Fair Pickles, too.

You might not think of sweet pickles as a dessert ingredient, but you’ll be surprised at how delicious they taste in Pickle Cupcakes with Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting and Sweet Pickle Ice Cream (especially favored by pregnant women). I’m not kidding!

If you’d like to win a signed copy of 101 Things To Do With a Pickle for yourself or your favorite pickle-lover, just leave a comment below and answer this question:

What type of pickles do you like best?

The Real Dill pickles

The Real Dill artisan pickles

Do you like your pickles sour or sweet? Are you a fan of garlicky Kosher pickle spears, or do you favor dill pickle slices? Do you like old-fashioned Bread and Butter Pickles, sweet gherkins, or do you prefer tiny French cornichons? Just shout out your answer before midnight MST on Monday, October 13 and you’ll be automatically entered.

Also, if you’ll be in Denver on Friday, October 24, I’d love to meet you at the official launch party for the book. It’ll be held at Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs (home of Denver’s best fried pickles!) at 2148 Larimer Street from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. with free fried pickles for all, an artisan pickle tasting from The Real Dill, pickle shots, pickle dogs, discounted drinks and more. I’d love to see you there!

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.

Iced Coffee Recipe for Autumn

Iced coffee recipe from Happy Simple Living

 

I realize that many people consider iced coffee a summer drink, but to me it always seems a little robust on a blazing hot day. On the other hand, when the light shifts and the temperatures drop a bit, autumn feels like the perfect time to enjoy a cool, creamy java. What do you think? Care to join me for a glass?

If you remember to make extra coffee in the morning, you can refrigerate it for iced coffee. This requires planning ahead, though, which isn’t always my strong suit. If you want to enjoy iced coffee whenever you like, you can instead make a cold-brewed concentrate. I learned this technique from The Pioneer Woman’s blog, and it couldn’t be easier. I start with a 1-quart recycled glass bottle to make the strong brew, but you can use any size container you like and just adjust the quantities.

To begin, add 1/2 cup of finely-ground organic coffee to the bottle. You can use caffeinated or decaf coffee.

 

Add coffee to the bottle

 

Then add about 3 1/2 cups of cold, filtered water and give it a good shake. Let it steep in the refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight.

 

Making iced coffee concentrate

 

The next day, strain out the larger coffee grounds in a fine-mesh strainer:

 

Strain out the coffee grounds

 

Then put a coffee filter inside the strainer…

 

Preparing the filter for iced coffee

 

and strain the coffee mixture once again. This makes the concentrate nice and clear.

 

Strain the coffee through a filter

 

Wash out the bottle, and pour the strained coffee back in. You can store the cold coffee in the refrigerator for two to three weeks.

 

Making iced coffee concentrate

 

To make a perfect iced coffee, fill a glass with ice cubes and pour some of the strong coffee over it. You can drink it just like that if you’re a purist, or add milk and your favorite sweetener (I’m currently partial to organic coconut palm sugar) if you like. Or you can be extra-decadent and stir in a generous spoonful of sweetened condensed milk and top it off with half and half. It’s so, so good…

 

Iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk

 

How about you? Do you enjoy iced coffee, and if so, have you tried making your own? Is it still balmy in your part of the world, or is winter moving in? I always love hearing your thoughts and comments.

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.