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Sunday, October 31

The Holiday Season Officially Begins!!

Well, it's time, folks.  Today is Halloween, which traditionally marks the start of the season of giving.  Once the "trick or treating" ends, most of us will turn our attention to getting through the next 2 months without either A)going insane, or B)going broke (hahaha).  Never fear...I'm here to help!!  I'm going to explain how to avoid both!! 

GOING INSANE...

Planning a family get-together, especially if it involves a large meal (like Thanksgiving), can be stressful.  I've made our traditional T-day meal pretty much by myself for the last 9 years...for as few as 4-5 people, and once, for as many as 27!!  Yeah, 27 people...I remember that year WELL!!  Anyway, so I do understand how it can be nerve-wracking, to say the least.  So, I was thinking that I would assist you in making it a little simpler.

All it takes is coordination...which you can get from simply breaking down what's to be done.  Remember, a few weeks back, when I said I spend almost an entire week making Thanksgiving dinner?  I really wasn't kidding.  It helps tremendously!!  Here's a list of a few pointers that will help you turn this Thanksgiving into one you can TRULY enjoy:

1)  Clean out your fridge on Wednesday, at the latest, of the week before.  Make sure you have PLENTY OF room, because you will have to be able to store your bird in here, as well as anything else you'll be using for your meal that's cold.  Also, it's a good idea at this time to clean out a couple of old coolers and have them on standby.  You never know if you'll need them.

2) Thaw your Turkey early.  I know, it sounds silly, but you have NO idea how many people have woken up on T-day ready to cook, only to find that the center of their bird is still covered in ice!!  The trick for this is simple...figure on 3 hours PER POUND in your fridge.  That means, if your bird weighs 20 pounds, you need around 60 hours to thaw it.  I find it easiest, especially if I'm also planning on brining, to simply pull my bird from the freezer around Wednesday or Thursday of the week before.  That way, come Monday when I want to start my brine, I'm set...no ice, just a well thawed bird ready to soak up all that goodness.

3)  Do some preliminary prep work.  For instance, if you are going to have deviled eggs, you can go ahead and boil them around Saturday or Sunday.  You don't have to peel them yet, but it gets them out of the way.  Also, go ahead and chop your veggies...onions, celery, etc...and pop them into the freezer in baggies.  If you are making breadcrumbs for dressing, you can make those early, too...simply store in the fridge.  If having macaroni & cheese, cook your noodles on Monday...they'll store just fine in the fridge until needed.  Part of the ease comes from not having to do much more than assemble the dishes...and knocking out your prep work early makes that a BREEZE!!

4)  Choose 1 day during Thanksgiving week to do your baking.  I typically do this on Tuesday...not too soon for things to suffer for it, but not too late that I'm pulling my hair out trying to get it done, either.  I bake my pies, poundcake, and bread all on that day, since they typically all bake at the roughly the same temp.  If they do require different temps, then I bake the highest temp one first, then back down the oven as I proceed.  It's actually cheaper on the power bill, too!!

5)  Assemble all your casseroles the day before.  If they require wet items, do NOT add those...no sense in soggy food.  For instance, I make an asparagus casserole.  It consists of layers of breadcrumbs, asparagus, cheese, and a combination of cream of mushroom soup mixed with asparagus juice.  I assemble the layers, and mix the soup/juice, but I don't add the soup/juice until just before baking it.  How much easier it is to simply add the liquid, then pop it in the oven?  ALOT!!!  This technique works for almost any casserole, too.

Like I said...simply planning ahead will do wonders for helping you smoothly present a Thanksgiving meal fit for a king!!  Now, for our second problem...

GOING BROKE...

Face it...we ALL start with a budget in mind, but how many of us honestly stick to it?  It's WAY too easy to overspend during the holidays, and then we are left with the worry of how to pay for what we need.  So how do we keep from blowing money without seeming like we're stingy?

Well, a great way to start is to plan on MAKING gifts by hand.  I know...homemade socks aren't exactly welcome, right?  I'm not talking about those...I'm talking about gifts from the heart that really don't cost hardly a thing, but give a part of you to the recipient!!  Here's just a few ideas I've done over the years...

1)  For Friends and Neighbors: Buy a flat of quart canning jars (they come with the 2 piece lids...12 in a flat).  Fill them with all the dry ingredients for cookies, such as chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin.  Get a cheap pack of note cards, some ribbon, and a hole punch.  Fill the jars, seal them, and use a ribbon to attach a copy of your favorite cookie recipe! That's 12 gifts for around $1 each!!

2)  Speaking of canning, you can also give homemade jellies, salsas, or preserves as gifts.  Just wrap a pretty ribbon on it, and watch the smiles!! It's a gift from the heart, made with love...and that's what matters the most!!

3)  Coupons.  No, I'm NOT talking about the ones you get from your Sunday paper, silly.  I'm talking about getting some nice note paper and envelopes (or a pack of blank cards), and making coupons of your own.  Offer a night of sitting for a friend with kids...a day of help cleaning for a mom or sister...a day for your husband to just be a guy!!  Again, while there's little cost, it's the thought behind these that makes them welcome additions to any gift list!!

4)  SET LIMITS...and stick to them!!  As much as you'd LOVE to see the smile on the person's face when they open something expensive, reality is you just can't swing it, so look around for something similar that IS within your budget.  If you've seen your daughter eyeing a particular blouse that happens to run $40, check around...you can usually find one similar for far less at places like Kmart and WalMart.  Typically, you'll save $20-$30 costwise, and your daughter will be happy (well, usually).  If it helps, take a quick picture of the blouse to match up the colors or detailing. 

5)  Big ticket items.  We all do it...find ONE special thing that we want to give as the "big" item of the year.  Usually, it's for the kids, but it can also be for a spouse or significant other.  I used to plan at the beginning of each year what the big items would be, then put it on layaway and pay it off...a little each month...until Christmas.  But face it...things have been tight for everyone, and some stores have ended layaway (grrrr).  So how to handle it?  Well, decide what the item would address in the receiver's life, then go with that.  If, for example, you have a hubby like mine who loves fishing, offer a homemade coupon book with 24 days of fishing...days JUST for him!!  Or perhaps just days when he can do whatever he wants...no housechores, etc.  For kids, try coupon books that give them special "kid" days...a day spent playing games, or going to a movie, etc.  These cost little, but the thought that you were planning time for them makes a world of difference!!  And, by spreading it out, it gives a whole year's worth of anticipation!!!

The biggest help will be to simply use your imagination.  You know these people...they are a huge part of your life.  By thinking of what means the most to them, you can easily get through the holidays without going insane or broke.  I hope these ideas help you as much as they do me.  ENJOY!!! 

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