Winter Holiday Survival Planning Guide

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100 Days until Christmas!

The kiddos are back in school and for most of us - a couple quiet weeks ahead. A perfect time to block out a couple hours on the calendar, curl up in your favorite spot with a plate of cookies and a pot of tea, and make a plan of attack for surviving the winter holidays!

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Without planning ahead - the holidays can look like this! Lots and lots of fabulous, fun, lovely plans and ideas filling your head - in a big jumble!. Waking you up at night and stressing you out. And often, not happening at all. Or turning your holidays into the most stressful time of the year.

But with some thoughtful planning, you can sail through this busiest time of year and enjoy the festivities.

Many readers are already ahead of me on this - like my brilliantly organized friend Rachel (One Pretty Thing).  She is an organizing inspiration!

ADDED 9/22.  I just put this link in comments in answer to Sarah's comment but I think more of you will find it here.  Diane's Podcast interview with Rachel Klein of One Pretty Thing.

But for those of you for whom the ideas of long range and short range planning - especially at the winter holidays - is a new concept, I hope this little plan to wrestle all those holiday plans into submission will be helpful.

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And here is how to do it! In four easy steps.

P1080254 STEP 1 - Make a list of every activity you want to include in your holiday preparations and celebrations.

Most of us do this anyway! But although making a list of tasks is the beginning of this process - be warned - just making a list will likely never get you to your goal - to accomplish the tasks!

It's value is simply to get the tasks out in front of you so you can begin the planning process.

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STEP 2 - Break each item on your list into tasks that must be done in order to accomplish the goal - completion! Write them in order from the first task to the last. I find it most helpful to visualize myself going through the process of the task at hand.

As an example. I am listing the steps necessary for sending holiday cards to friends and family. I find that this one has more little pieces than almost any other so it works well for illustration. (Baking cookies - lots fewer tasks)

- Make a list of card recipients (This will tell you how many to buy or make)

- Make or purchase cards (we will get to steps in "making" in a minute)

- Address the envelopes (can even be done in September!)

- Write a Holiday letter

- Print your letter or take to a printer

- Purchase stamps ( Doing this early or by mail saves lots of standing in line time)

- Sign and write personal notes on the cards

- Fold letters and insert into cards

- Stuff and seal and stamp pre-addressed envelopes

- Take cards to the PO

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And if you are making your cards - there are more steps to consider.

We have made our own cards for the past 20 years, and while satisfying, it is definitely a lot of work. It is crucial that we start early. (And I use TV time for many of the tasks that require little concentration.)

For illustration purposes, here are the steps we take when making our cards.

- Select a photograph

- Take file to printer ( if you are making 10 cards print them yourself. But if you are making 100 - it is much, much less expensive to have them done at a photo lab like Ritz Camera.

- Mount photos to card stock

- Sign the photo and ID the image

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STEP 3 - EASY! On a monthly calendar, fill in any special activities as a Holiday Train Ride, or dinner with your best friend, family get-togethers, tree decorating, putting up outside lights.

Then, fill in the deadlines for tasks like mailing cards, baking holiday treats, making gifts, wrapping gifts, etc.

You may not want to mail your cards until December 10th, but there is no reason you can't get them out of your hair early! Set an early completion date!

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STEP 4 - Schedule the tasks listed in step 2. This one will take the most time and some mental gymnastics, so if you need to, come back to it another day with a fresh mind and a fresh pot of tea!

While this is the most time consuming step, it is also the most important. It is the tool that gets the job done! It creates your "plan of attack"! And without it, very little on your list will get done.

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To illustrate, I have sacrificed a couple 2011 calendar pages.

As you can see, I have filled in activities such as Tree Decorating, and Tamale making. And some crafty time with my daughter! (Actually these activities will probably not change so I have November 2011 half planned already!)

Then I assigned a day for each of the tasks listed in step 2 for sending holiday cards. ( I marked these with a double star so you can find them!).

I find it is easiest to work backward, beginning with the last task (take to PO) to be done and assign it a spot on the calendar. Then move on to the next to the last task (stuff, stamp and seal envelopes) and find a spot for that. Continue in this way to the first task on your list.

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Making your own cards? Back up a little further on your calendar and designate days to make them. In this case, the tasks are scheduled in October.

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Note that on the November calendar, I also have assigned days for baking cookies and holiday breads - single star.

All that is really needed here is to figure out what goodies you want to bake. Then, referring to your recipes, make a list of ingredients needed, check your pantry and make a shopping list and plan a shopping day.

Most ingredients can be purchased a couple weeks ahead of use, so planning ahead and buying everything needed at one time saves trips to the store for that vanilla you just discovered you used up last week.

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To make this process easier, I have created a spread sheet for each of my favorite holiday recipes showing how much flour, sugar, butter, eggs, etc are needed for each recipe. This is a huge time saver when making up ingredient and shopping lists.

This is probably not a place most of you want to go! For me it is essential for when I make my Valentine cookie trays and am planning and baking 2000 cookies in less than a week. And it sure comes in handy when I am planning my holiday baking!

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You are done! It's time to have a little celebration!

Now, when you awake in the middle of the night thinking about that cake you are supposed to make for the office holiday party, you can relax knowing it is on the calendar and you don't have to think about it until the day you have scheduled for baking it.

And if you think of something you have forgotten to schedule, write it down and plug it in in the morning!

Which brings me to my last point. Be realistic about how much stuff you can reasonably do. The whole idea here is to make your holiday experience more stress free - not to see how much you can cram in to a couple months!

Leave some wiggle room in your calendar for those times when things don't go as planned or something unexpected crops up.

Don't be like me and Diane and fill every possible minute on your calendar with something to do!

And always be flexible so that if you can't get to everything you have scheduled it is OK.

I hope I have presented this clearly, but if I have left you with questions, please ask them in comments or by e-mail.

And now an extra special thank you to Kenneth G. Libbrecht for the spectacular snowflake images used to illustrate this post.  He shares his snowflake photography, and many interesting facts about snowflakes, a guide to snowflake shapes, even videos of snow flakes growing, on his site Snow Crystals.com.  Here is a direct link to his gallery.

You can find his lovely books, cards, and images for sale here.  I own several books and have given many as gifts. 

It is no secret to many of you that I love snowflakes!

Happy 100 Days til Christmas everyone!

What fantastic organisational

What fantastic organisational skills you have, Pam! I've a busier year than usual with the winter baking and making, and a spreadsheet is just what I need. Thank you for such a useful post!

Aww, Pam! You are so, so

Aww, Pam! You are so, so sweet! And wow, you're MY organizational inspiration. I'm honored. And totally inspired now. I have some lists to make!

Oh, my heavens. I have to

Oh, my heavens. I have to make lists for myself to make lists! I will never forget the revelation from your blog about cutting and freezing bits of the cookie ingredients so that holiday baking was not as stressful! Aren't Diane's cards wonderful? I'm going to print these images out and send them this year!!

(don't tell her)

Pam, you're my organizational

Pam, you're my organizational hero!! Thanks for the reminder to start planning early. You must be rubbing off on me because not only am I planning my blog posts ahead now, but I am just finishing up a Christmas stocking project to blog about! Thanks for the helpful tips! You're awesome!

Seriously? You are a goddess.

Seriously? You are a goddess. And that papercut card by Diane is awesome. She is a goddess too! I bow to your organizational skills!

You are a sweetheart, Sarah! 

You are a sweetheart, Sarah!  But goddess - me?  NOT!.  Diane definitely! But I am pretty sure I am a long way away from goddeess! 

Rachel who created and maintains One Pretty Thing - SHE is the organizational goddess.  Do you realize that she is so organized that she even manages to find time to craft, eat and prepare healthy meals (gorws veggies too!), and enjoy family and friends!  I mean just think about it!  She reads so many blogs to prepare her posts she even found out the hard way that google reader has a "legal limit"!  I can't even keep up with my BFF bloggers, as you - being one of them - well know!

Here is a link to Diane's Podcast featuring Rachel.   If you haven't listened to it before, do it now!  Be amazed! 

Me?  Hey!  I am just trying to keep from letting the holidays drive me crazy!   And I hope the ideas in the post help others to do the same. :-)

Hey Pam! I love a good

Hey Pam! I love a good system. Especially during the holidays. Some really great ideas here. Thanks so much for another great post.

Wow, Pam!! You knock my socks

Wow, Pam!! You knock my socks off! I have never been organized like this for Holiday planning. My list making amounts to crossing off names from my address/contacts list as I find something I know they would like.

Having said that, I must admit that I keep a look out for gifts throughout the year. I never really leave shopping to the last minute any more. Nor do I make last minute gifts. Usually now, we mainly shop for our nieces and nephew and perhaps smaller hostess gifts if we go any where during the season.

Great post!!!

I forgot...thank you for the

I forgot...thank you for the link to the snowflake photography site. Amazing doesn't describe it enough. I've always been a bit partial to snowflakes. They are so beautiful. Kenneth's photos just go to show how unique and amazing they can be.

You are so welcome, Robin!  I

You are so welcome, Robin!  I love sharing this link to Kenneth's incredible work.  Believe me - being a photographer i know just how incredible it truly is!!

I shared this link the very first month I was blogging, but I figured maybe I could get away with it again after two years!!  I am so glad to have introduced you two!!:-)

I never tire of looking at his images.

Pam, another wonderful post!

Pam, another wonderful post! I'm still living in the land of last minute gift making lol. This year I plan to make cookies ahead of time. Not at the scale you do though because it is just us. My guys will not eat cookies that have been frozen though. I know it's a mind thing because I have frozen many things (pancakes, cookies, muffins, waffles, etc.) and they taste fine a month or two later.

My daughter has recently joined the Army and once she is able to receive care packages I know she would love to have some home baked goodies. I plan on making some cookies ahead of time and freezing them. Then shipping them out to her wherever she may be at that time.

Oh my goodness. I feel like

Oh my goodness. I feel like I'm already fighting holiday fires with deadlines for Christmas magazine editions upon me. By the time I finish with them it always seems to be too late for the making, baking, shopping for my own family except the spontaneous kind.
Instead of all the planning, I just need a Pam. Know where I can find one around here ;)

I'm in awe, as always of your organizational skills. I usually feel happy to just have two of the same socks clean at the same time :)

Oh Joanie, don't despair! I

Oh Joanie, don't despair!

I understand how things like making money can rob you of your Christmas plans!  But i also learned during my growing up years that leaving it all to happenstance is a recipe for - well at least in the case of my own childhood home experiences - major stress.

That is how i started coming up with this system in the first place.  Working a 9 to 7 job, driving an hour each way to and from work, two kiddos to raise and my whole family traveling from Santa Fe for Christmas!

I rented a freezer for three months, had it delivered on October 1st. and began making one thing and freezing it in the evenings or on the weekends.  By the time my family arrived, every possible holiday treat, home made breads, soups and every meal were ready to thaw and heat so I could just enjoy the visit.

It worked so well - I have been doing it ever since!!!!

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