Get Organized for the Holidays Challenge: The Assignments
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Stay Organized for a Stress-Free Season
Remember, the main goals for any holiday gathering are to get as much done beforehand, do what makes you happy, and make lasting memories.
- Feather your guests’ nest with little touches to make their stay feel like home.
- Decorate your holiday table with creative expressions of the season. Easy-to-fill vessels are a great investment for filling with different things all year long.
- When it comes time to tidy, reward yourself with music, a yummy snack and keep a few things out to remind you of the joys of the season.
- Stop and think before you buy! Your gift recipients will notice when you’ve put thought into each gift, and you’ll feel great about making meaningful purchases.
- Use the stuff you love to help you build traditions: a favorite candle scent, a special set of placemats, a cluster of warm, glowing lights.
- Take advantage of time now to get food cooked or prepped for later!
- There’s still time to make homemade gifts – granola, condiments, sauces and vinaigrettes are great choices.
- Share the load, and make it fun. Let your guests bring some of the meal, get your kids into the kitchen, organize a cookie swap – but whatever you do, don’t let the craziness of the season overshadow the pleasure of spending time with family and friends.
Design a Photo-Worthy Tablescape
TIP YOUR HAT TO THE NATURE
- Enhance plain linen by tying on a sprig of cedar and a simple holiday note with crimson-colored ribbon.
- Create a cozy winter look with branches or other organic materials. Use stumps or wooden vases, create pops of colour with berry branches, and set it all off with clusters of votive candles for a warm, reflective glow.
- Use food as décor. Elevate dinner to a luxurious level with bowls of nuts and vases of clementines.
CHOOSE A THEME
- Mix modern with vintage. Set a lively, conversation-starting table by mixing fresh, modern items with cherished heirloom pieces
- Tell a colour story. Pick a fabulous color -- it can be something traditionally holiday-ish or any shade you love -- and carry it from the tabletop all through the home for a consistent, festive look.
- Keep it kid friendly with a tabletop setup that they can spill on all they like: Use wrapping paper as a low cost, festive runner that you can crumple up and recycle after the meal.
GET CREATIVE WITH NAPKIN FOLDS
Check out our gallery of easy and beautiful napkin folds and try one yourself! We particularly partial to the poinsettia design, but you might decide to experiment with one of the other four ideas!
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Wrap the Perfect Present
We’ve already given you tips on how to buy the perfect gifts. Today, we’re going to give you tips on the best way to wrap and present with gorgeous packages.
PICK A THEME
Grab some accessories from the Dollar Store and use them to accessorize your wrapped wonder. You can pick styles that reflect a sweet theme of wintery snowflakes and seasonal accessories. Or you can decorate it with a theme that speaks to the gift inside (toy trains and track for Thomas goodies within).
Check out these three gift wrapping ideas
WRAP YOUR GIFT LIKE AN EXPERT
We’re not all blessed with the crafty gene. And while it’s probably easier to get the elves at the mall to give your gift a clean (if impersonal) polish, you CAN learn how to wrap well yourself (thank you, Internet!)
Check out these easy steps to wrapping your holiday gifts like an expert.
Leave a lighter footprint this season and find reusable or recycled materials for as a gift wrapping alternative.
1) Fabric remnants: Go to your local fabric store and root around in the remnant bin. You'll find some beautiful squares of fabric, which the recipient can repurpose.
2) Purchase some fair trade gift bags that you can use over and over
3) Using colorful pages ripped from magazines or the Sunday newspaper works really well for wrapping children’s presents. Get the kids to help you find fun magazine pages that their buddies will love. Search for pages that fit a friend’s passion: wine, horses, shoes, candy, etc. You can also cut out letters to create fun words and messages. For a really creative and custom gift add photos, playing cards, aluminum foil, even buttons.
Find Your Decoration Inspiration
Still undecided about the direction of your holiday decoration? Whether you want the natural look or an over-the-top festive display, plan a decor tradition that can evolve with you over the years:
LET NATURE BE YOUR GUIDE
If you still haven’t found your holiday inspiration, let nature be your guide! Go for a walk in the woods, or a stroll in the park. When you find yourself surrounded by the beauty of the season, you might find that a couple of strands of white lights under a light dusting of fresh snow will bring a smile to your face.
CREATE A NEW TREE TRADITION
You don’t have to compete with the Rockefeller Center to impress. Every household develops their own Christmas tree decoration tradition, but these traditions evolve over time. Take something you loved from your childhood and add something that unique to you! Whether you look to design experts for inspiration or try to find a festive alternative to a small space, find a tradition that’s all your own!
SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO JUST GO FOR IT
If you're going to make a statement, sometimes you really need to commit. There is something about that house around the corner -- you know the one -- lights dripping from every surface and a new power supply to run the display - that brings out the child in all of us. It screams, GO LARGE! Let the rest of the year speak to your muted, refiend taste. Use this season as an excuse to channel gloriously tacky, awesomely loud designs.
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Build Memories Together!
One great way to make your holidays meaningful is to involve the kids in the cooking. They can even pick one recipe to personalize, which will make them feel a big part of the celebration, and provide an opportunity for you to give them props at the table. Perhaps it even becomes their “signature” dish that they can experiment with every year.
Another option is to make cooking a game. Kids love to compete, especially with their parents – so see who can peel apples, mash potatoes or snap peas the fastest and suddenly meal prep turns into a good-natured contest.
Don't forget to acknowledge your kids’ efforts at the table. They will feel pride and appreciation, which is great for everyone.
Once they are at the table, please, keep the electronics out of reach! Holidays are about spending time together, so don’t lose the opportunity by utilizing movies, games or videos.
Instead, set up a craft table nearby and stock it with markers, stickers, play dough, pipe cleaners and glue. When little legs seem to be getting restless, send them there to release energy in a positive, meaningful way.
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Give the Gift of Time
You’re not a scrooge if you decline a party invitation in favour of a little quality time with your loved ones.
KEEP IT CLOSE TO HOME
1) Curl up and watch a movie together. Whether it’s a comedy like Elf, or A Charlie Brown Christmas, make sure you turn off your devices and spend an evening snuggled up.
2) If all the visiting and indoor activities are making you feel stir crazy, take the show on the road with an outdoor activity, like ice skating at a local rink. Or simply go for a walk around your neighbourhood and take in the lights.
3) Pop into the local church or community centre and enjoy their annual festivities. With all the distractions of this consumer holiday, it’s wonderful to remember the spirit of community this time of year.
DON'T SHELVE THE ROMANCE
1) Take a few moments during a frenzied family get-together to remind your honey how much you care and offer sexy compliments
2) Hang a mistletoe in your doorway and make a point of meeting under it on a daily basis. Let your minds and hands wander freely as you breathe in the scent of the holidays.
3) Reminisce! Think back to a holiday moment that was filled with joy. Talk about those fond memories and be inspired by the possibility of creating new ones.
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Cook With Confidence
You can find these and other great recipes in Katie Workman’s cookbook The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket. Workman Publishing Company, Copyright © 2012.
FOR THE SURPRISE HOLIDAY VISITOR:
1. Stock your pantry with a jar of Wichcraft’s Balsamic Onion Marmalade, which is an amazing condiment for roasted meats, sandwiches and impromptu crostini. Just spread some goat cheese on a high-quality cracker (keep these around too) and top with a bit of this rich and versatile sweet-savory spread.
2, Keep a jar of Stonewall Kitchen Sour Cherry Jam on hand. It’s amazing on toast, English muffins or swirled into yogurt for breakfast. Serve it with a pork roast or a platter of cheeses for a savory and sophisticated twist or use it to top ice cream or cheesecake for an impromptu dessert.
3. Jarred or canned white beans are easy to whip up into a unique dip. Drain and rinse them, then dump them into the food processor with a bit of olive oil, lemon, cayenne and fresh herbs, and you’ve got a lovely appetizer in minutes. Serve with vegetables or pita chips.
Rest, Relax and Recharge!
We’ve gathered some simple tips to help you rest relax and recharge today, so you’ll be ready to tackle that to-do list tomorrow.
WATCH A MOVIE
The cold weather means it’s the perfect time to cozy up and catch a flick. So pop some popcorn and dust off those beloved holiday classics for a festive movie marathon with your nearest and dearest. Or, if you’re feeling critics’ nods over festive eggnog, head out to see that Oscar frontrunner you’ve heard so much about. After all, Red Carpet season is a mere month away!
Tip: Turn off your phones, laptops and other distracting gadgets before you press play. A constant barrage of messages about holiday menu changes and gift wish lists could mean you’ll never get your mind off the madness.
LISTEN TO FESTIVE MUSIC
We get it. The 12 Days of Christmas blasting on repeat over the mall sound system rarely puts anyone in a jolly mood (and if it does, lucky you!). But there has to be a holiday album or song you love – even if it’s one of the thousands of parodies out there these days. With the latter, be cautious if kids are in earshot: some of the lyrics definitely deserve a Parental Advisory. But if you discover you truly detest all festive tunes, spend the night on iTunes downloading that new non-holiday album you’ve been waiting to hear.
Tip: Grab a mug of your favourite hot beverage and a holiday treat, plop yourself down on your comfiest couch and enjoy!
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Bake a Perfect Cookie
Cookies are one of the most festive and simplest holiday treats you can whip up in an instant. But knowing a little more about the universal ingredients called for in cookie recipes will make a big difference in always getting the results you want.
Today, learn these three basics about the building blocks of cookies: sugars, fats and liquids. Be sure to check out our 25 Days of Cookies for our favourite recipes!
Granulated sugar contains less water, so cookie recipes that call for granulated sugar are likely to result in a crispier texture. Because brown sugar retains more moisture, it will create a moister cookie that stays softer for longer. It will also have a more complex flavour, so be careful of overshadowing other ingredients in cookies such as sugar cookies. Regardless of the sugar you choose, be sure not to skip the creaming process. Taking the time to fully combine your fats and sugars will create air bubbles, ultimately leading to a lighter cookie.
The fat you choose plays an important part in how your cookie will turn out. Cookies made with butter tend to spread, producing that covetable golden brown crispiness. Using less butter, or using shortening or oil instead, will result in a cakier cookie, and crispiness isn’t possible with substitutes such as applesauce. If you want the flavour and properties of butter, but prefer your cookie maintains more of its original shape, chill the cookies on the pan before baking.
Eggs are traditionally used as a liquid binding agent in cookie recipes. Eggs alone will create a cake-like cookie. When you see a recipe calling for a tablespoon of water to be added, it is to mitigate that affect. Egg whites create a less rich, dryer cookie—think macaroons. Remember that egg yolks also add a chewy complexity, so if you’re omitting eggs or using just whites, consider adding a textural ingredient such as coconut, nuts or even potato chips! Have fun with your baking.
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Light Up Your Holidays
Try these suggestions to make your home a twinkling holiday haven.
Did you know that scents are our strongest ties to memory? You can actually create memories for your family just by using the same scent every year – only on the holidays! A few of my favorites:
1.Tocca is a terrific choice if you're tired of the usual holiday scents. Try Brigitte (a sweet papaya/ginger blend) or Colette (a warm sandalwood & vanilla), both of which are perfect for a less-predictable scent that will still lend a holiday feel. Tocca candles are available at Sephora stores and online.
2.For those (like me) who are scent-averse, classic unscented cream pillar candles are a steal at dollar stores and always look stylish.
If you’re looking for ideas outside of the “candle” box, these lighting suggestions are evergreen choices:
1. Mercury glass is always beautiful, but these trees, lit from within, are a sight to behold.
2. Fireplace logs are perfect for those who can't light a real fire. Fill with traditional tea lights or battery-operated versions.
3. Remote-controlled electric candles are a lovely, fire-proof choice.
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Make Your Party Memorable
Don’t fall into the same old routines this year! Get inspired by a few meaningful themes and pretty party table décor that can give your party purpose and panache:
1. Food or beverage tasting parties are a fun twist on the traditional. Consider wine, tea, coffee, or ethnic food themes. Or, host a “Make the Best Cocktail” contest where guests compete to concoct the most delicious or unique libation.
2. Retro holiday parties typically skew on the lighthearted and silly side, but are a great choice for those who encourage the silly sweaters, pigs in blankets, and old-fashioned eggnog.
3.Holiday giving parties are a great way to get your network involved in your favorite charity or cause. Guests can decorate and stuff stockings for kids in need, bring a gently used book or toy for a relief nursery or pack dry goods bags for a local food bank.
PARTY TABLE DÉCOR:
1.These placemats are gorgeous, festive and easy options for setting under buffet table dishes, and are easy to clean and store.
2.Shop for centerpieces in the produce department! Oranges and pomegranates in a bowl, lemons in a clear glass vase, or bundles of cinnamon sticks at each place setting are a beautiful way to set the mood...and perfect for mulled cider the next day.
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Prepare Perfect Presents
Today, pick a few things you’d be willing to make and store for later holiday gifting.
Always a welcome treat at holiday time, nothing beats a homemade cookie. If you don’t want to bake and freeze, consider freezing your dough in balls so you can quickly bake them fresh when you need to.
A break from the norm, these condiments make great gifts because they are items that everyone uses all year long. A homemade version is a special luxury.
- Tomato Sauce
Not only are these thoughtful gifts, but you also provide another holiday hostess with a last-minute dessert option for unexpected guests. Any of these plus a pint of ice cream equals a great ending to a meal.
- Hot fudge sauce
- Caramel sauce
- Butterscotch sauce
Perfect for people who sit at a desk all day, these tasty snacks can be made and jarred ahead of time, or you can mix your seasoning blends now, and - Baked pita chips
- Spiced nuts
- Roasted pumpkin seeds
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Use DIY-Time Wisely
WHEN IT’S WORTH IT TO DIY:
- When you have lots of time but little money and you can come up with a DIY you know will be less expensive than buying (not always the case - think about ingredients/materials, packaging and delivery costs)
- If you have something specific in mind you know the recipient wants (i.e., your famous gingerbread that Aunt Sally scarfs down every year, or a homemade scented candle your friend Sue is always asking about)
- If you're giving to a large group of people you don't know well (i.e., office workers, neighbors, church group)
- If you're giving to someone that's impossible to buy for (it's hard to criticize a handmade gift!)
A FABULOUS DIY IDEA FROM SHERRY:
Frame something that has meaning to you and the gift recipient. Need ideas? Try these:
- A wine label from a special occasion you spent together
- A match book from you and your friend’s favorite restaurant
- A leaf from the path you walk on together
- Tickets from a concert you attended together
WHEN BUYING IS BEST:
- When you know someone won't appreciate a DIY, admit it to yourself, and skip it.
- When buying is actually cheaper than making something yourself.
- When you run out of time. The point of a DIY gift is the love that went into it...doing it under duress isn't fun for anyone!
-Remember, there's a world of crafters and cooks out there, ready to DIFY (Do It For You)! Go to a local craft fair or hit etsy.com for a homemade feel that took moments to purchase.
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Pick Perfect Presents
This year, I’ve decided to broaden my list to include categories rather than specific gifts. Why? Because, this way you can tailor the actual gift to the unique style for the people on your list. Let’s face it, there is rarely ONE item that works for everyone and anyone.
Who doesn’t adore anything cashmere? These days, you can find something at any price point (crewnecks, scarves, eye masks, gloves and more), so go for it!
MONOGRAMS: A monogram shows that you put a little extra thought into someone’s gift, and these days, there are so many style options – from classic to modern. Lockets, throw pillows, funky paperweights and tote bags , are great ideas to get you started.
VESSELS: “I have too many places to put things”, said no one, ever. Think about your recipient’s personality, and then find a beautiful tray, basket or bin that suits their style. They’ll thank you every time they know exactly where to find their stuff.
Concert tickets, manicure gift certificates, ski passes…they are the most memorable gifts, and they’re my favorite to give (and receive).
You could probably check off every person on your list in a bookshop. For starters, consider getting your friends a copy of your favorite book of the year, and in a heartbeat, you’ll be done with an entire category on your list (and it might even come in under budget).
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Build Your Budget
To be realistic, there are people on your list for whom the gift is going to just be whatever it must be (budget notwithstanding), like your kids, spouse and parents. If you are in a rut about what to get these must-shop-for people, visit my blog for great gift ideas.
With that in mind, I have left them off of this budget list and focused on assigning a range for gifts you’ll buy in other categories, like for other family members, friends, service workers, teachers and more.
Remember, my guidelines are simply starting places. Each person’s budget is unique, so adjust the ranges I’ve noted to meet your overall budget parameters. These ranges are offered to help you make appropriate, moderate and stylish gifting choices.
Begin to budget your gift list with these people and price ranges (per person) in mind:
- Friends $20-50
- Siblings $20-30
- Teachers $15-30
- Nieces/Nephews $15-25
- Party hosts $15-20
- Service providers $10-20
- Acquaintances (office, neighbors) $10-15
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Reclaim Your Home
Before you dive into your cleaning routine, give yourself a few treats to keep your momentum up.
1. Make a music playlist to rock out to while you tidy up. Too early to listen to holiday music? Never!
2. Set a reward for yourself (cookies from that bake sale, anyone?), to keep you going.
3. Delay cleaning things you don’t need to clean. For example, instead of putting away those Halloween costumes, why not keep the costumes in an accessible play area for all the visiting kids this season?
4. Set a few cloves, an orange peel and a lemon rind in a small dish in the oven on low heat to make your house smell awesome.
ALL-NATURAL POST-HOSTING PROBLEM SOLVERS:
PROBLEM: Wood Furniture Scratches
SOLUTION: Rub a raw walnut on scratched wood to make nicks and scuffs less visible.
PROBLEM: Clogged Drain
SOLUTION: Pour ½ cup baking soda followed by 1 cup of white vinegar into a clogged drain and let it sit for five minutes. Next, flush the drain with a gallon of boiling water and if that doesn’t fix it, plunge the heck out of it to break up the clog.
PROBLEM: Carpet Dents
SOLUTION: Let an entire ice cube melt on a wool or cotton carpet dent over the course of a few hours. When the ice has melted, gently fluff the dent with a fork until it’s gone. Natural fibers like cotton and wool can handle a smidge of water with no damage.
Adapted from Sherry & John Petersik’s book, Young House Love. Artisan Books, Copyright © 2012.MASTERFILE
Spice Up Your Seasons Greetings
Today is the perfect time to get your holiday cards (or seasonal greeting letters) done. They can take a few weeks to print and ship, so make sure that you check with your favorite vendor to calculate your gotta-get-on-that order deadline.
If you are not sending holiday cards or are looking for a twist on the traditional, here are a few other ideas:
SEASONAL PHOTO FRAME:
Stick some seasonal family photos (stacked behind one another) into a picture frame. Include a note to your recipient with instructions for them to rotate a new photo to the front of the frame at the turn of every season!
HOLIDAY VIDEO SHARE:
Instead of sending a printed card, make a short family video (less than 2 minutes long) where each person shares a little bit about their year and their wishes for their friends and family. Share it privately with a select few, or post it online for a big group of friends. Either way, just have fun with it and be your sweet self.
When you start receiving holiday cards from others – don’t be too quick to recycle them! Instead, try keeping them in your binder (or make a list) to help you remember who to reciprocate with next year.
If you get organized for the upcoming shopping-heavy weekend, you can hone in on the sales that are right for you.
The best deals on this day are in the electronics category, and this year, Canadians can scoop up Black Friday sales at Future Shop, Best Buy, and The Source, among others. If you have items on your list that fit (cameras, tvs, phones, speakers, tablets, etc.), check the sale price (most stores are announcing details Wednesday) and only shop for those items on this day.
Bottom line: don't make BF your BFF for all the gifts on your list. Why? Because you’ll be more likely to shop impulsively. Be patient and selective – you still have more than a month of shopping days left, and it’s more important to buy the “right” thing than to get a mediocre gift that’s a steal.
Sign up for email alerts from your favourite big box stores and don’t forget to browse small business and independent designer websites for one-day specials. If you don’t find perfect holiday gifts, use this online shopping spree day to search for non-seasonal gifts like these:
-Engagements & Weddings
-Emergencies (oh dear, I forgot my co-worker’s birthday is today)!
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Feather the Nest
Sometimes getting a room ready for guests can feel a little intimidating, but it’s easy to make any space visitor-friendly if you follow these easy steps:
Adapted from Sherry & John Petersik’s book, Young House Love. Artisan Books, Copyright © 2012.
-Spend the night in your guest room! You’ll notice what’s missing when you put yourself in the position of your guests. No place to rest a water glass? No light to read by? Fix any little problems before your folks arrive.
-Set up a space for your guests to drop their stuff. If there is no space in the room, clear enough closet and dresser space for them (don’t forget to supply clothes hangers).
-Make sure there’s a window shade, blind or curtain to block morning light.
-Install a hook on the back of the door or closet for hanging towels, jackets or travel kits.
-Place a mirror in the room so that visitors can check their outfit, or tame their wild just-woke-up hair.
-Stock the room with some fun reading material. Local magazines or quirky coffee table books usually do the trick.
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Build Your Holiday Guide Book
Stay uber-organized every year in one simple step: build a holiday season binder (or a holiday season Pinterest board). If you build it this year, you’ll have a jump on the season every year to come (picture your future self, thanking your present self next year).
GET PREPPED FOR SUCCESS
Buy a 3-ringed binder, with pockets and a see-through pencil pouch. You’ll use the pouch for receipts, cut outs, pictures, cards, or anything else that’s too small to file.
1) Get a package of labeled dividers that you can assign names to for recipes, gifts, decoration, receipts, holiday cards, donations, etc.
2) Print recipes from the Internet or tear out recipes from magazines that you hope to try, or that you’ve made before. Or, start a list of recipes you like from cookbooks, with the page numbers and any notes so you can easily look them up next year.
3) Rip out magazine articles that inspire you.
4) Keep year-end charity lists/donations so you can recall where and what you’ve donated.
5) Print and file addresses for your holiday cards, and keep cards you receive so you can reciprocate.
6) File gift ideas, sale announcements and coupons/Groupons, etc.
7) Make a section to list what you’ll be giving people later in the season, and leave an open column for what gifts you receive. This will help you remember all of your thank you notes, and will prevent you from giving the same thing every year (how many bathrobes does your mother-in-law need?), or worse, re-gifting to the wrong person!
At first, it might feel old-school to pull open those stubborn metal rings, but once you snap them back into place with all of your ducks in a row, you’ll feel that fantastic sense of order and accomplishment to have a bit of a reign on the chaos.