When I became a mom I fell more in love with everything yummy, sparkly and joyful about the holidays.  One year in particular, I wanted the perfect Martha Stewart Thanksgiving and literally shopped all over town for the uncommon ingredients that were needed for Martha’s special dressing.  That recipe did not make it into my collection of favorite recipes. One secret ingredient should have been called, “Stressful” & “Lesson Learned”! As much as I wanted the perfect Thanksgiving, it was Christmas I always got most excited about!  The trick or treaters often got a glimpse of my big 12’ Christmas tree being assembled when I opened the front door to pass out candy. Our little goblins would stare in astonishment as they asked me, “Is that a Christmas tree?” Yes, I needed a head start so all would be ready BEFORE Thanksgiving (the pilgrims never made it to my table).   At one time I think I counted 14 trees in my house from 12 feet tall to as little as one foot tall. I loved them all. AND, I loved having them all up to enjoy stress-free for almost 2 months!

If your dream is to AVOID THE STRESS that can come from the holidays, maybe you too, can consider the thoughts of early preparation.  Well, you don’t have to have the tree and turkey at the same time. Let’s get your pen and paper ready because now is the time to start so you can actually enjoy the beauty and joy of it all in a deeper less-stressful way.

1-Get the cards started.  If you like sending cards, get them ready now.  At least have your recipient list ready then you can complete the address labels.  The first of November is ideal before you become immersed in the plans of Thanksgiving.  Decide on the personal touch of handwriting or going online and having the family picture ready or using store bought cards.  Then gradually chip away at sealing each one with a kiss when you are just snuggled around the fireplace with the family and watching movies.  Then your stack will be ready to send right after Thanksgiving.

2- Do your mind dump on paper.  Relax with a cup of something sippy and your writing tool then do a mind dump of all the things you usually do or need or want to do during the holidays, starting maybe from mid-October through the New Year’s celebrations. Include it all: family traditions, church or work or community events you need or want to participate in, people you want to give gifts to, food or gifts you want to make, meals you want to serve, parties you plan to host or attend, etc. After you’ve captured it all, take a look and ask yourself:

- How realistic is your list (keeping in mind daily commitments, stage of life you’re in, etc.)?

- What can you cut from the list and still have the kind of holiday season you want to have?

- What can you move around or change now to set yourself up to have the time and energy you need to do the things you actually want to do?

3- Start decluttering.  Cluttered space is distracting and lends itself to feelings of anxiety.  Think of a clean, clutter-free space to get you into the mindset of being more relaxed and at peace…holiday peace☺.

So here are a few things to declutter beginning in October or even the beginning of November:

-Clean out your frig and pantry well before it’s time to do holiday cooking.  Any non-perishables that you won’t use could be donated to a food pantry. Check with Must Ministries or the like.  They will greatly appreciate it.

-Declutter kid’s rooms and find things to discard or donate. This might be a new holiday tradition of choosing gently used toys to donate to a shelter. Get the kids involved. They will better appreciate what they have and the value of giving to others.

-Declutter and refresh the bathrooms that might be used by guests during holiday parties (same with guest room).  A maid service can be a God-send at this time of year. It can save you some embarrassment while giving you more time to enjoy the things you want to do.

-Declutter your master bedroom and make it a refuge for you during the busy holiday season.

-Clean out the coat closet and make space for guest coats. (Can you donate any coats that have been outgrown or replaced to a shelter?)

-Clean out a closet or space for gifts, wrapping paper, etc., as you buy them. If you have the space for it, you could even set up a gift-wrapping station where you have everything you need at hand to wrap gifts.

-MY FAVORITE:  Make room for the trees!!!

4. Cook then freeze.  Think ahead about those traditional meals you want to cook.  If anything can be prepared ahead of time, and frozen you can conveniently pull them out to have ready for your party or those unexpected guests throughout the holidays.  Some of my favorites to freeze for the main entrée are meatloaf and sliced ham. A couple of my favorite side dishes are sweet potato souffle’ and the famous Picaddily Restaurants famous Carrot Souffle’ (20 years ago you had to buy the recipe. One of my favorite deserts that can be frozen is Apple-Cream Cheese Pie.

How fun would it be to start a tradition with the kiddos of baking a bunch of treats and putting them  together in pretty boxes for gift giving? You can even put them in the freezer now until you are ready to give.

5-Make a plan ahead of time. Now might be a great time plan some fun events for yourself and your family.  Do a little research first to see what is happening in your community…special sights, parades, festivals, tree lightings, ice skating, etc.  Marietta square turns into a little Santa Land which even includes an ice skating arena! It’s a fun night with the family. And let’s remember to volunteer to spend time visiting a nursing home to sing or deliver Christmas cards to.  The residents will be so happy to have visitors and your kids will learn an even deeper value of kindness. You will be the one blessed the most by the sweet faces who are often forgotten and who will share some wonderful stories with you if you just take the time to listen.

Whatever you do, make it your goal to make the holidays less stressful.  It is so easy to get caught up in all that we try to accomplish which can easily cause us to lose sight of their true meaning.  By starting early, you are able to enjoy the shopping, laughing, entertaining and loving moments that build forever memories. Enjoy and be evermore grateful.

Taking time with my sweet husband, Bob, is always on my list of priorities!:)