Classic Simple Joy Podcast: The Simple Joy of Christmas Entertaining Part 3

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The Holidays are the perfect time to entertain family & friends in your home. Now, before you begin hyperventilating at the thought of preparing for an elaborate event in your home, you need to stop & consider entertaining the Simple Joy way!

Hosting a party in your home doesn’t need to be elaborate, elegant or expensive. It can be as simple as having a few people in for soup & sandwiches while you decorate your Christmas tree! The problem with entertaining these days is the misconception that it must be some over-the-top production guaranteed to WOW your guests. WRONG-WRONG-WRONG!!! Entertaining in your home is all about your guests. It’s about enjoying a wonderful time with people you like & love. AND, it’s all about reducing your stress! Remember, the first rule of entertain the Simple Joy way is ATTEND YOUR OWN PARTY! No one is going to have fun  if you aren’t having fun so you need to be the #1 guest at all your events.

To help you put the JOY back into entertaining this Christmas, Jean Ann Duckworth offers 5 different types of parties that you can host during the Holidays. They are easy to plan, easy to prepare & fun to host!

Listen Now!

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Christmas Countdown C-12

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Have Yourself a  Low-stress Little Christmas!

During the Holidays, many of us are guilty of procrastinating. We put things off until the last possible moment, filling ourselves with anxiety as we scramble to get everything done. Each year, we promise ourselves we will be better organized THIS year and each year it’s the same. Holiday tasks come rushing at us leaving us standing frozen like a deer in the headlights.

Why do we do this to ourselves year after year? I believe most of us have good intentions of doing better every year but unfortunately, we become overwhelmed by everything we have to get done for the Holidays. Our to-do list seems endless and  makes it impossible to know just where to begin. We flit from one task to another, never quite completing anything. Or, we become immobile, unable to motivate ourselves to take on even the simplest task. How can we overcome these feelings and begin to enjoy the Holidays once again?

You should begin by saying the following words over and over again, “Work smarter, not harder!” Take the time to sit down and develop a strategy for the Holiday season. Do not do another thing on your list until you begin to follow the 6 steps listed below:

1.   Distinguish between “have to” and “want to:”  It is difficult to motivate yourself when you feel there is so much you “have to” get done for the Holidays. How many of these things are really “have to’s” and how many are “want to’s?” A number of years ago, when our daughter was in grade school, I was overwhelmed by everything I felt I had to get done before Christmas arrived. I couldn’t get motivated to do anything. Then I had an idea. I sat down and made 2 lists. On one, I put everything that really had to be done by Christmas morning. I tried to be realistic and only list things that, if not done, would truly spoil Christmas. On the second list, I put everything else, the tasks I only wanted to get done. When I was finished, I only had ONE item on my “have to” list. I needed to buy our daughter’s presents. She was still young enough that I knew Christmas would be spoiled if I didn’t have her presents ready by Christmas morning. Everything else on my list was something I only wanted to do. I didn’t have to put up the Christmas tree. I didn’t have to send out Christmas cards. Well, there were a lot of things I didn’t have to do. Once I gained that perspective, the process became easier. I felt the pressure being lifted from me and I got to work. I organized my “want to” list and one by one, I whittled each task away. By the time Christmas morning arrived, I had completed every item on both lists without the stress. Take the time to create 2 lists. Be brutal. You may have more than 1 item on your “have to” list but it should still be a small enough list that you can tackle it easily. Then, organize your second list and get to work.

2.   The calendar is your friend: This time of year, we see the calendar as our enemy. Each day it reminds us how little time there is left to prepare for Christmas. Do not see the calendar as your enemy, make it your friend. Once you have prepared your 2 lists and then organized your longer “want to” list, grab your calendar and begin to plan. Write in all the scheduled events, like the kids’ school programs, the church Christmas event, holiday parties, etc. Next, study your list and schedule a deadline for certain events: mailing Christmas cards, mailing packages, decorating the house, shopping, etc. Make sure you write tasks in pencil. No need to add to your stress level by setting arbitrary deadlines in pen. Pace yourself by spreading out tasks throughout the month.

3.   Let the list be your guide: I am a great maker of lists. It is too easy for tasks to fall through  the cracks during the non-holiday part of the year. This time of the year, it can be overwhelming. Therefore, I make a list. In fact, I make multiple lists. I have a master list of everything I want to get done for the holidays. I have a daily list of the 5 and only 5 things I need to do for that day. I have my Christmas shopping list with everyone and their gift ideas listed. I have a grocery list for everyday items and the various lists for any entertaining I am doing. These lists go everywhere with me. I never know when I might see a gift I can purchase or have a chance to pop into a grocery store to pick up a few things. I have the lists clipped together so I can easily refer to them. I do not let the lists intimidate or overwhelm me. They allow me to calmly plan things in the quiet and comfort of my home. They help me stay on top of things. Most important, they give me a sense of control. When you plan ahead and make your lists, you control the Holidays, they do not control you.

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4.   Give yourself the gift of “no:” One of the reasons we become overwhelmed at Christmas is the added burden of Holiday tasks piled on top of our already full to-do list. Unfortunately, everyone else around us has a lot to do and some of these people are looking for unwary individuals upon whom they can thrust one (or more) of their tasks. They may not mean to burden you but they do burden you just the same. You must learn to say “no” to these request. At the very least, you need to get something in return for doing the task. For example, if your husband asks you to pick up a gift for someone in the office, you need to have him take one of your tasks. Explain in a calm tone that you are also very busy during the Holidays and, in order to do one of his tasks, you need him to take one of yours. Everyone only has 24 hours in a day. This means we are only able to do so much in the course of a day. To have time to do his task, you need something removed from your list. For both of you, time is valuable. Be respectful of each other’s time. Keep in mind, there are other times when you must just say “no.”  Take a moment to consider whether or not you really have the time to do the requested task. If not, say so. You do not owe anyone an explanation. If you are unable to do one task, you might offer to do another but only if you have the time. You owe this gift to yourself and you deserve it.

5.   Allow others to help: We often think everything must be done by us. However, there are all sorts of people able and willing (or at least easily swayed) to do tasks for us. Some of these people are family and friends. Some of these people can be hired, like a cleaning service to come in and give your home a thorough cleaning for the Holidays. Nowhere does it say Mom must do everything. If no one offers to help, then ask. Women often feel men should know they need help. Men believe women will ask if they need help. We are both making assumptions. Mr. D. always tells me to speak up if I need help. Getting your family to help you also gives them a better respect for all you do to prepare for Christmas.

6.   Take care of yourself: This is the most important thing of all. Most women I know develop terrible colds or other ailments right after the new year begins. I believe this is often caused by the lack of care we give ourselves in December. Take simple basic steps to care for yourself during the holidays. Drink lots of water. Eat more balanced meals. Cookies and fudge just done’t cut it. Get plenty of rest. At least once a week, I climb into bed with a good book about 8:00. I may read for hours or fall asleep before 9:00. I find my body needs the rest. In addition, get some exercise every day. I like to go for a walk or ride my bike. This gives me time to plan my day, or the next day if I go out in the evening. It also clears my head. I also like to pray while I walk, helping me maintain perspective on the season.

Christmas is a fabulous time of the year, too fabulous for us to be wishing it over. Take a few simple steps to get a handle on the holidays and you can truly have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Classic Simple Joy Podcast:The Simple Joy of Holiday Entertaining Part 2

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The Holidays are the perfect time to entertain family & friends in your home. Now, before you begin hyperventilating at the thought of preparing for an elaborate event in your home, you need to stop & consider entertaining the Simple Joy way!

Hosting a party in your home doesn’t need to be elaborate, elegant or expensive. It can be as simple as having a few people in for soup & sandwiches while you decorate your Christmas tree! The problem with entertaining these days is the misconception that it must be some over-the-top production guaranteed to WOW your guests. WRONG-WRONG-WRONG!!! Entertaining in your home is all about your guests. It’s about enjoying a wonderful time with people you like & love. AND, it’s all about reducing your stress! Remember, the first rule of entertain the Simple Joy way is ATTEND YOUR OWN PARTY! No one is going to have fun  if you aren’t having fun so you need to be the #1 guest at all your events.

To help you put the JOY back into entertaining this Christmas, Jean Ann Duckworth offers 5 different types of parties that you can host during the Holidays. They are easy to plan, easy to prepare & fun to host!

Listen Now!

Christmas Countdown C -13

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Keeping Kids Happy during the Holidays

Shaunna Privratsky

The radio plays continuous Christmas music.  The stores suddenly sprout six extra rows of decorations and triple their ads.  Tension builds into a frenzy of buying.   For many of us, the holidays herald feelings of dread.  Did you know that kids can get stressed out by the holidays, too?

Children of all ages anticipate special occasions.  Some have built up the fantasy of a “perfect” Christmas so much that they are in for a big disappointment when the day finally arrives.  As parents, we can do a lot to help kids have a great holiday season full of memorable moments.

Stop the stress with some of these simple strategies.  First of all, sit down and make a list, preferably with your child.  List all the activities your family does and maybe some new ideas, also.  Now look at each item and ask these questions.

1.  Are there some traditions your family has outgrown or no longer appreciates?  We used to visit Santa’s village every year, but last year both children decided they were too old.  We still went and enjoyed a horse-drawn hayride, though.

2.  Are you too meticulous in your decorating?  Kids love to get in on decorating, so put on some cheerful holiday music and let them help. 

3.  Can you spend less on gifts?  Before you step foot in a mall, decide on a reasonable budget.  Make kids a part of it by having them choose one to five things they really want, and then surprise them. 

4.  Can you skip some events or obligations?  If driving six hours to Aunt Millie’s house every year brings groans of dismay and relentless squabbling in the car, why not invite her to your house?

5.  Could you assemble store-bought bakery goods instead of baking? You can get the whole family involved in making fancy cookie trays, even if you don’t bake them yourselves.  An easy idea is to arrange assorted cookies or treats on a fancy paper plate, wrap in cellophane and tie with a festive ribbon.  Attach tags with “Assembled with love” or other cute sayings.

6. How do you keep boredom at bay?  Children usually get a long break from school.  The trouble comes when too many hours of free time overwhelm them.  They quickly tire of all their new toys and gifts and you are faced with grumpy kids.  One idea is to put them to work.  Instead of waiting until January, have them help un-decorate the house.  Offer incentives and rewards.  You can also schedule fun activities, but don’t overdo it. 

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7.  Have you heard the saying that visiting relatives are like fish?  Nice when they’re fresh, but they start to stink after too many days.  Try to schedule shorter holiday visits and provide some familiar toys and games to keep kids occupied.  Renting movies is an inexpensive activity that all ages will enjoy.

8. Give the gift of time.  Most children would rather spend some fun time with their family than get heaps of over-priced presents.  Schedule some “down” time and just have fun with your kids.

9.  Help kids focus on the spirit of giving, instead of getting.  When they start to experience the joy of helping others, they will truly understand the reason for the season.

A lot of stress is caused by unrealistic expectations.  Remembering past holidays through the rose-tinted glasses of memory can leave your family feeling flat or disappointed when events don’t measure up.  Relax!  Plan doable activities that everyone can participate in and even if a few things go wrong, your attitude is 90% of the battle.  Years later, it is the “disasters” that we  recall with a chuckle or a groan, not the uneventful days.

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Kids aren’t the only ones that get stressed out over the holidays.  Are you filled with excitement, brimming with plans, or do you stay awake at night, worried about money, menus and meddling family members?  Avoid these common holiday problems by planning ahead and you’ll be ringing in the New Year with smiles instead of frowns.

1. Bulging Budgets – Gift lists a mile long, rising gas and grocery prices, party supplies, postage, decorations; everything costs more at Christmastime.  Keep your budget in check by reining in spending and planning ahead.  Try to spread out your gift buying over several paychecks, to ease the strain on your wallet.  Pare down your gift list to just the kids, or draw names for extended family members.

2. No room at the Inn – All the relatives want to visit, but you have nowhere to put them!  Instead of turning them away, pick up some inexpensive air mattresses.  These make incredibly comfortable beds, especially on top of flat surfaces like a futon or Klick-Klack sofa.  They even make old-fashioned sleeper sofas actually comfortable!  Deflated, the air beds take up a tiny amount of space until the next visit.  Spruce up your decor with fresh pillows, seasonal decorations and scented candles.  The Dollar Store is filled with clever and useful items that only look expensive.

3. Don’t go cold turkey!  Have you ever forgotten to unthaw the turkey?  Start three days before by placing the bird in the refrigerator.  Use an oven bag with a tablespoon of flour, in a drip-free pan for fool-proof cooking.  Bake for 3 1/2 hours at 325 degrees, then let sit for 1/2 hour before carving.  Some grocery stores even offer unthawed birds, but at a premium price.  You could also serve several smaller Cornish game hens, which cook up in a fraction of the time, provides plenty of legs for the kids and has less clean up afterwards.   

4.  Multiple Menus.  What if one of your guests is a vegetarian or needs a no-salt diet?  The best thing is to plan ahead.  Ask the person to provide menus or bring some of their own food.  You can be accommodating, but don’t become a slave to someone else’s lifestyle.  Another solution would be to eat out, where there are plenty of options for the pickiest eaters.

5. Don’t get caught in the breakdown lane – Keep your ride rolling with regular oil changes and maintenance.  Jiffy Lube offers free computer checks if your red Service Engine Soon light comes on, and also checks your tire pressure for free.  The proper inflation is printed on the inside jamb of the driver’s door.  Inflating tires slightly higher helps with traction in heavy snow, and also improves gas mileage.   

If you do need service, try to call around for the best rates or even bring in coupons.  Most stations will price match or work with you on a payment plan.

6. Don’t go postal – Do your shipping as early as possible.  Each day you delay makes the prices go up and the lines get longer.  Online shoppers have an advantage: free shipping on holiday gifts at most online retailers.  You can ship the item right to the recipient, cutting out the costly middleman.

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7. The weather outside is frightful – holiday traveling can be as perilous as Santa’s sleigh in a blizzard.  Invest in trip insurance so if Nature messes up your plan, you can get a refund or rebook without costly fees. It is better to be safe than sorry; so allow plenty of time for travel and arrive alive.  Also, it pays to have a Plan B, because we all know how fast our plans can go awry.

8. Meddling Relatives – The holidays often bring the whole family together, along with old grudges, nosy questions and uncomfortable topics of conversation.  Instead of being the Grinch, use these clever coping strategies for getting out of uncomfortable moments:

a. Say, “Thank you for your input” to criticism. 

b. Or, “That’s a difficult subject I would rather not discuss.”

c. Stick to “safe” topics; the weather, the food, sports.

d. Practice avoidance.  “Oh, I forgot something in the car.”  Or step outside for a breath of fresh air.  Or you can always hide in the bathroom until the dessert course.

Not all of these ideas will apply to you and your family.  The key is to prioritize your list and only do the things that add to your happiness.  So this year, take a deep breath and vow to eliminate stress.  Give yourself permission for a smaller to-do list.  The holiday season is not about how much you get done, but about the warmth of the spirit and the love of family and friends.  Make this your family’s happiest holiday ever!

Shaunna Privratsky is a full time author. She lives in North Dakota with her family and is happily looking forward to a new year. Visit The Discount Diva at http://shaunna67.tripod.com/id21.html

Classic Simple Joy Podcast: The Simple Joy of Holiday Entertaining Part 1

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The Holidays are the perfect time to entertain family & friends in your home. Now, before you begin hyperventilating at the thought of preparing for an elaborate event in your home, you need to stop & consider entertaining the Simple Joy way!

Hosting a party in your home doesn’t need to be elaborate, elegant or expensive. It can be as simple as having a few people in for soup & sandwiches while you decorate your Christmas tree! The problem with entertaining these days is the misconception that it must be some over-the-top production guaranteed to WOW your guests. WRONG-WRONG-WRONG!!! Entertaining in your home is all about your guests. It’s about enjoying a wonderful time with people you like & love. AND, it’s all about reducing your stress! Remember, the first rule of entertain the Simple Joy way is ATTEND YOUR OWN PARTY! No one is going to have fun  if you aren’t having fun so you need to be the #1 guest at all your events.

To help you put the JOY back into entertaining this Christmas, Jean Ann Duckworth offers 5 different types of parties that you can host during the Holidays. They are easy to plan, easy to prepare & fun to host!

Listen Now!

Christmas Countdown C -14

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Holiday Open Office

Twice, I have had jobs that were very intense during the holiday season.  The number of hours I needed to spend at work made it impossible for me to either attend or host any holiday parties  This was very painful for me since I love both Christmas and entertaining.  I finally realized the long hours spent at work did not mean I could not celebrate the holidays.   If I had to spend the holiday season at work, then I would hold the party at work.  Instead of hosting an open house, hold an open office! 

I designed a celebration that would not cause me any additional stress.  My goal was to enhance my holiday joy and the joy of my co-workers.  I began by decorating my office for the holidays, including a small tabletop tree complete with lights.  I set up a narrow four foot table and covered it with a paper tablecloth.  I bought more than one tablecloth in case so I had replacements when one was stained or torn.  I brought in my holiday platters, baskets and bowls for my serving dishes and added green and red paper napkins, cups and plates.

During the holidays, so much of the food brought in to share at work is very sweet and high calorie.  We tend not to eat well during the last few weeks of December.  I decided to offer more substantial food.  The buffet featured chips, salsa, dip, crackers, a variety of cheeses, cookies, and sparkling cider. As you see, I did include a few sweet items to round the selection out.

I bought most of the items for the small buffet, making only one or two things myself.  I bought enough food to last 3-4 days, holding back a few fresh items for each day so the food did not look picked over by the last day.  I was able to set everything up in 10-15 minutes and it took about the same amount of time to clean everything up before I went home. 

I turned on Christmas music, opened the door wide and invited anyone who wandered by to enjoy the buffet.  While the open office will never win first prize in a Holiday Party competition, it helps reduce stress and increase joy during a busy time of year at work.

Suggested Buffet Items:

Cheese Platter

• Brie

• Herbed Brie

• Cheddar

• Gouda

• Smoked Edam

• Cheese Ball

Crackers

• Wheat

• Rye

• Club

• Pepper

Assorted Nuts

Tortilla Chips

Dips

• Salsa

• Guacamole

• Dill Dip*

• Spinach Dip

• Shrimp Dip

• Crab Dip

Cake Platter

(I purchase specialty loaf cakes at an import store)

• Amaretto

• Rum

• Pumpkin/Cranberry Bread

• Banana Bread

Small Plate of Chocolate Seashells

Platter of Assorted Cookies

Sparkling Cider

Dill Dip

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 2 teaspoons dill
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion

Mix. Chill. Serve in bread bowl with the pieces of bread taken out of the bowl.

Christmas Countdown C -15

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Family Service Project

Every child will tell you how much better it is to receive at Christmas! Not that I think kids are greedy. It’s just so exciting to find all the things Santa has brought when Christmas morning dawns. However, not everyone is joyful at Christmas. Many people are lonely without family to celebrate the Holiday season with them. Many families don’t have the resources to give their children gifts at Christmas. Many children spend Christmas in the hospital, some miles away from home.

There are so many things families can do to brighten the Holidays for the lonely or the children that might not otherwise receive a gift. Things that can encourage children & families battling illness this Christmas.

This week-end, do a search in your community for projects that need help. I really think it is important not to simply buy some gifts & drop them off at a distribution center. Kids need to be involved in the work that goes into providing a Merry Christmas to those in need, those who are alone, those away from home. Let the family decide which group they want to help, then find out how you can volunteer. It might be packing food boxes to be delivered before Christmas. It might be going to nursing homes to sing Christmas carols & deliver cards. There are so many ways we can bring the joy of Christmas to those alone in the dark. This year, let’s shine the light of Christ’s love in our communities with those that are searching in the darkness. It’s a gift for the whole family to enjoy.

Christmas Countdown C -16

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Guests

Are you having guests stay over during the Holidays? This can be stressful for both hosts AND guests. I know there are all kinds of articles telling you how to prepare a wonderful guest room so you company is comfy during their stay. However, I would like to share a bit of advice.

As wonderful as it is to have the grandparents or the grandkids visit for Christmas, it can also be exhausting. Schedules & routines are upset. People are around all the time. They may be family but you still feel you must treat them like company. And it is tough for your guests to relax since it isn’t their home.

My suggestion is to make the guest room into a sanctuary for your guests. Let them know you don’t mind if they retreat to their room for some quiet time. If they have a television, snacks, even a coffee maker with the fixings right there for their convenience, it can make for a more relaxing visit.

And if you are the guests, give your hosts some time to relax alone. This isn’t being rude. It’s being very polite by preventing frayed nerves at the end of the day. Have books with you. Bring some snacks. Spend time relaxing away from one another & you will enjoy each others’ company so much more.

Festive Holiday Drinks

Festive Holiday Drinks

Special occasions call for more that a few bottles of wine hastily chosen & a tub of ice filled with beer. Time to move up to the grown up side of the bar! I agree that cocktails can be time consuming to mix when you are hosting a party. You might consider hiring someone to tend bar for you. This frees you up to mingle with guests & gives you the satisfaction of knowing the drinks are well made. A paid bartender should also be able to tell you what to purchase & how much you need to stock your bar for the event.

If hiring a bartender is not in your budget or your event is intimate enough not to warrant the expense, then consider creating just one of these fabulous concoctions from Coastal Living. A punchbowl filled with a special beverage, with more pitchers of the same chilling in the fridge, gets your party a special touch without  causing you emotional or financial stress. Enjoy!

Holiday Cocktails