Monday, April 25, 2011

Ultimate Christmas Countdown Checklist

Here's a great article from Real Simple that gives you a way to stay organized yet prepared for the upcoming holidays.  I just realized that we are about to begin May!  That is almost 1/2 of the year gone by already.  Don't wait until the last minute.  Try to get an early start this year and see if you can't enjoy the holidays more!

Another great place to get help organizing for the holidays is here.  You can get a wonderful start with planning and keeping track of your progress using this Christmas Countdown method.  Please check it out.

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Getting organized is the best way to ensure you’ll have more holiday cheer, less holiday stress. This timeline will help you keep track of the big tasks.

Three to Six Months Before (Before Mid-October)
  • Make a family plan. Are you heading to your in-laws’ house? Hosting everyone at yours? Sit down with family members and decide where you’ll be spending the holidays.
  • Buy plane tickets. If you’ll be flying somewhere, get your plane tickets as soon as possible.
Two Months Before (Mid-October)
  • Put activities on a calendar. As you find out when parties and school pageants are scheduled, write them on a master calendar. Keep it next to the phone, so if someone calls to ask if you’re free for an event, you’ll know the answer immediately.
  • Start baking things you can freeze. Un-iced cookies, bars, and nut breads are good bets to make ahead. All will keep in the freezer if they are well wrapped, and you can have a few extra things on hand for the friend who stops by unexpectedly with a gift. Related: Make-Ahead Holiday Cookies
  • Update your holiday card list. Determine how many cards you need, and make sure you have updated addresses.
  • Shop for cards and wrapping paper. Some stores put holiday goods out by Halloween. You’ll get the best selection if you start early. And if you’re ordering cards online, you’ll want to have plenty of time for them to arrive.
  • Make plans for overnight guests. Think about who will be showing up and spending the night. Do you need to replace some old sheets? Buy more towels? Now’s the time to get your house in shape for visitors.
Six Weeks Before (Beginning of November)
  • Make a master gift list. You may not have every detail filled in, but at least make sure you list everyone you’ll need to buy for, and think about what they’d like. That way you can pick up things as you see them, rather than running to the mall at the last minute. Have your children give you their wish lists.
  • Make a budget. Set a ballpark figure for how much you can spend on gifts—it will help you stay grounded when the shopping gets frenzied. Related: 4-Week Holiday Savings Plan
  • Start shopping in earnest. Yes, you may already be picking things up here and there, but the more you buy ahead, the better—especially if you’ll be mailing gifts. If you have big-ticket items (like electronics) that go on sale the day after Thanksgiving, you may want to brave the crowds on Black Friday—you could save substantially.
One Month Before (Directly After Thanksgiving)
  • Do any online shopping. Order gifts now so you have lots of time to wrap them once they arrive.
  • Wrap gifts as you buy them. Not only will this keep little eyes from finding out what Santa is bringing, it will save you time on Christmas Eve.
  • Take stock of your decorations. Get out your lights, ornaments, wreaths, and lawn ornaments. See if anything is broken and needs to be replaced.
  • Take stock of dishes and glasses. Make sure you have the serving platters and wineglasses you’ll need for parties or special meals, in time to buy more, if necessary.
  • Start addressing holiday cards. It can take a while, depending on how long your list is.
Three Weeks Before (First Week of December)
  • Mail cards. If you’re too busy to get them addressed and mailed during the first week of December, consider putting them off until after the holiday rush. People generally enjoy getting a card a few days late, when things have slowed down and they actually notice the mail.
  • Buy a live tree. This is a good time to get your tree, if you want it to stay fresh and retain its needles through Christmas. Same goes for fresh greenery or garlands. Related: How to Choose a Christmas Tree
  • Decorate! You may be one who decks the halls as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey carcass has been tossed. That’s fine, too, but by the first week of December, it’s time to get the house looking festive.
  • Finalize menus. If you’ll be serving the holiday meal make sure you know what you’ll be cooking and what family members will be bringing. Start a master grocery list.
  • Order a turkey or ham. Or whatever else is the centerpeice of your holiday meal—you don’t want to get caught short.
Two Weeks Before (Second Week of December)
  • Make sure out-of-town presents are mailed. Try to have gifts in the mail by December 10. Related: How to Ship Gifts of All Shapes and Sizes
  • Shop for nonperishable items. Buy alcohol and any canned goods or pantry staples you’ll need.
One Week Before
  • Deep clean your house. You’ll enjoy those decorations even more if the floors are clean and the kitchen is organized. One important task: Clear out your refrigerator. Toss old leftovers to make room for big dishes and ingredients that’ll be piling up closer to the holiday.
  • Buy batteries for children’s toys. If you haven’t stocked up while shopping, make sure you have all the accoutrements necessary for that handheld video game or remote-controlled car.
Three Days Before
  • Shop for fresh ingredients. Hit the store for the last-minute vegetables or fruit you need for meals.
  • Set the table. So you use those gold-rimmed goblets only once a year? Enjoy them! Go ahead and set the table. Make it even easier on the big day by putting a sticky note on each platter that states what dish you plan to serve on it. (That also allows people to help you without asking 12 times.)
Two Days Before
  • Start cooking. You’ve probably socked away some things in the freezer already, but now’s the time to prep main courses and make anything that can sit for a couple of days.
  • Buy fresh flowers. Whether they are for a party or a family meal, fresh flowers should always be purchased two days in advance. Blooms have time to open up, and they’ll still be lush and fragrant.
The Day Before
  • Recharge the batteries on your camera or video recorder. You don’t want to miss the reaction on a little one’s face because the battery ran out during the school pageant the week before.
  • Finish last-minute wrapping. And assemble toys that will be surprises from Santa.
  • Finish cooking, and make a timeline for the next day. Decide when you’ll be feasting, then count backward to determine when to put the turkey (or ham or roast beef) in the oven and what else needs to be cooked.
  • Sit back and relax. Enjoy your family and friends and relish the traditions you share. 
     
     

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Make a 19th-Century-Inspired Ornament

 Here's a really wonderful tutorial for making paper mache ornaments for this holiday season.  I know it's early.  Some would say "too early for Christmas", but I believe that the sooner you begin your preparations, the better the holiday turns out for you.  I love to sit back during November and December and watch everyone else fighting the crowds and buying items that no one really wants just to have something.

I feel the same way about Christmas crafts.  As my current Easter project has proven, sometimes crafting takes way more time than you think.  If making Christmas decorations is your thing, it may pay to start early, even "too early" so you can get it all done.

Below is a great tutorial from Better Homes and Gardens.  Enjoy!
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Modeled after decorations in turn-of-the-19th-century style, these papier-mache ornaments spread good cheer whether they're hung from your tree or positioned around the house.

snowman ornaments
What You Need
  • Cookie sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Celluclay instant papier-mache
  • White glue
  • 3-inch-diameter green plastic-foam ball (body)
  • Resealable plastic bag
  • Thin palette knife
  • Thin wire
  • Acrylic paints: antique white, brown, black, pink, and silver
  • Brush-on water-base clear finish
  • Mica flakes
  • Crafts glue
  • Silver glass glitter
  • Pink tinsel garland
How to Make It
  1. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix a few handfuls of instant papier-mache with warm water, following the manufacturer's instructions. It's best to mix small batches of dry papier-mache and keep the mixture in a resealable plastic bag while you work. Knead the mixture with your hands until it's a smooth, workable consistency. Keep a small bowl of water handy to dip your fingers in as you form the snowman on the cookie sheet.
  3. Apply a thin coat of white glue around the foam ball before coating it with the wet mixture. Note: The mixture adheres better if you use the glue.
  4. Apply a generous layer of the mixture over the entire ball for the body, smoothing out bumps and ridges with your hands. The finished ball should be about 3 1/2 inches in diameter.
  5. Place the wet ball on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Gently press down on the body, creating a flat bottom so the snowman will sit upright.
  6. Complete the paper-mache sculpting as follows: Roll a 1-3/4-inch ball of mixture for the head. Set the ball on the top of the body, gently smoothing the ball into the body at the neck area. Insert a toothpick through the center of the head to secure it to the body.
  7. Roll tiny balls of the mixture for the nose and cheeks. Press the balls onto the face. Use a palette knife to smooth the features and a toothpick to shape the eyebrows, eyes, and mouth.
  8. Shape a small column of the mixture for the hat and attach it to the top of the head. Smooth the edges into the ball. Cut a 3-inch length of wire and fold it in half to create a loop. Twist the ends together. Insert the twisted end into the top of the hat. Smooth the mixture around the base of the loop.
  9. Place the cookie sheet with the snowman bauble in an oven set at a low temperature and bake for at least 2 hours or until hardened. Remove the snowman from the oven and let sit on the sheet until cool. Lightly sand the figure until the surface is smooth.
  10. Paint the head antique white. Paint the cheeks and nose pink. Use antique white and pink to paint stripes around the body and to add words, dotted borders, and stars. Paint the hat and wire loop silver. Use black for the eyebrows, eyes, and mouth. When the paint is dry, create an aged patina by mixing a small amount of brown paint with water; apply this mixture to the figure.
  11. When the paint is completely dry, brush clear finish on the areas that you want to sparkle. Immediately sprinkle mica flakes over the wet finish. Allow to dry and then brush off the excess mica flakes. Apply bands of glue around the snowman's body; immediately sprinkle glass glitter over the glue. Add glass glitter to the hat in the same way. Apply a band of glue around the neck and press a length of tinsel garland into the glue.
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Monday, April 4, 2011

More about electron gizmos for Christmas presents

Kindle 2.0Image via WikipediaToday I will talk about the other gadget we got for Christmas last year.  This time I am the one who recieved it.  I got a Kindle, a electronic book reader from my sister.  I was so pleased.

There are many, many pros to this device.  It is absolutely wonderfully easy to read.  I do not get any eyestrain, no matter where I am when I am reading off the device.  It even seems to me that it is faster to read than paper.  Since receiving this, I have been reading books like crazy.  The cost to download a book is a bit high, but I am a book hoarder and I always am buying books anyway. 

One drawback is that not every book is available for the Kindle.  That's frustrating when you really want to read a book in the middle of the night and cannot download it.  By the way, downloading a book is so simple and easy.  I love that I can get a book anytime I want one.

The Kindle is small and compact.  It is easy to slip into my purse and takes up almost no room.  I can have a book with me at all times.  My sister borrowed it to take a train trip and she loved that she could put all her books on the device and not drag around heavy volumes. 

The one real drawback that I continue to encounter is that the battery life is not very long.  It's like having another cell phone--you need to plug it in to charge regularly if you want it to be available when you want it.  To me, this is a bit of a hassle.  I constantly forget to plug in both my phone and my Kindle.  When I go to use either and they are dead, I am not a happy camper. 

But, I am training myself to remember to plug them in regularly.  I cannot recommend this product more.  I love the ease of use, the ease of reading, the availability of downloading.  I love everything about this device. 

So, if you have a book-lover on your list, you might really consider the Kindle.  To read more about this device, visit my Squidoo page and get all the technical stuff. 

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Buying electronic gizmos for Christmas presents

I'm going to go out on a limb here and talk about the two electronic items we received last year for Christmas.  Maybe a testimonial or a personal story will help you make your decisions about these two items for this year's Christmas list.

The first item was a Garmin Nuvi 265W/WT GPS that I purchased for my sister.  She had recently moved here and was having trouble getting around in such a big city.  She got so frightened, that she simply quit going anywhere because she was afraid she would get lost.  So, unless I was her chauffeur, she stayed home.

At Christmas 2010, I finally bought her the Garmin Nuvi.  I did quite a bit of research online and determined that this model and product was the best fit for my sister who is over 60.  It is mobile in that she can attach it to her windshield while driving and then remove it when she is home.  She is very cautious about safety and she worried that someone would break into her vehicle to steal the device if she couldn't remove it.

When she got the Garmin Nuvi, she was really happy.  The only problem was that it did not come with much of an instruction booklet and she was not comfortable using it.  I went online and downloaded the booklet for her, but she was still cautious.  Finally, I set the device up and showed her how to use it.  We even named the device, Miss Ellie!  I got her a zipper bag to put it in when she was not using it and she was set.

I'd love to say that was it.  I'd love to say that she is now mobile and fearless, but that is not so.  She is more mobile and will go places on her own now, but we have to drive to here destination first and make sure to add it to her Favorites so she can see how to get back home.  So far, this seems to soothe her fears and is working.  She has quite a few places in her favorites and she will go solo to those locations using the Garmin.

The only other problem we have is that Miss Ellie was always trying to get her to get onto the highways (which she absolutely will not do).  I had to do a bit of tweaking to make Miss Ellie stop that and now peace reigns.

We laugh alot because of this device.  Miss Ellie can be heard frequently saying, "Recalculating..." because my sister did not follow her directions.  It's really nice to see my sister mobile again.  I wholeheartedly recommend this device to anyone on your list that is getting older and can't remember things right anymore.  With this device in hand, anyone can get anywhere!

For more information about this product, you can visit my site:  Garmin Nuvi 265W/WT GPS

Tomorrow I'll post about the second gizmo we got last Christmas and tell you what we think about it, too.
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