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    Holiday Reflections: What Went Right, What I’d Skip, and Lessons Learned

    The house is blown up, the shoulders are tense, and the clothes are feeling a bit tighter than normal; alas, you have survived the holiday season. And as is my custom each year, when December sings its swan song, I like to spend a little time reflecting on the past few months, noting the things that went well—so I can replicate them in the years ahead, as well as those things that went a bit array. Here’s a list of the things I learned this holiday season.

    • Taking a year off from hosting Thanksgiving was wonderful. I was able to sail into December with less stress, and although I love putting on the feast in years past, after my beloved Grandmother’s passing it hasn’t felt the same without her. My husband received a turkey deep fryer for Christmas so I’m sure we will be back in the spirit by next November.

    • You don’t have to do all the things. I have a running list of holiday activities I like to do. I used to look at this as a check-list of sorts, desperately trying to get through everything. I now use it more as a reference guide. This year we skipped making gingerbread houses and zoo lights, and everyone was just fine. 

    • But, do try one new holiday experience. This December we acquiesced to my daughter’s begging and went ice skating. I was totally dreading it, yet had to be lured off the ice by the end of the night. The new skate aids make it so much easier for little ones to get used to being on the ice, and easier on parents too since you aren’t your children’s main form of stability. Don’t throw out your potato ricer (and if you don’t have one, buy one). Although it took up a ton of drawer space and was only used a few times a year, donating my potato ricer to Goodwill is a big regret since I learned it really results in the smoothest mashed potatoes. I’ll be on the hunt for a new one next Fall. Darn you Marie Kondo!

    • Even if people (like me) don’t love pumpkin pie, they will probably love pumpkin cheesecake (here’s my go-to recipe). Aside from be a crowd pleaser, it’s a great potluck dish to bring to a Thanksgiving Feast since all the work is done ahead.

    • Stock up on lots of eggs and lots of butter. Enough said.

    • Get some exercise and fresh air the morning of Thanksgiving. Last year we went on a family trail run, and this year we took a beach hike. It always starts a day of indulgence off on a healthy and refreshing note.

    • Have something in the bag (or the freezer) if a party goes longer than expected. Sometimes this means just having extra wine and snacks, other times, it means having a couple frozen pizzas or a pantry dinner on hand (my go-to is jarred pesto and pasta).

    • On a similar note, always have quick pantry appetizers and drinks stocked for unexpected visitors. At the start of each season I make a huge batch of party mix and freeze it. It’s always a huge crowd pleaser and defrosts quickly. It is also largely responsible for my clothes feeling a bit tight.

    • As noted in this recent post about making holiday parties fun and festive for all ages, don’t expect children to be wild about holiday socializing. Have games, activities, and even movies available for them. It will make the event more fun for everyone.

    • You know what else kids aren’t wild about? Waiting in lines. Because I can also be a little impatient, I pull my kids out of school for one day each December and hit up big holiday attractions like visiting Santa or the Gingerbread Village during off-peak times.

    • Discuss and agree upon a general timeline for any event your hosting with your guests. I learned this the hard way on Christmas Eve when my guests mentioned they were shooting for a much earlier departure than expected (we live on an Island so departures/arrival times tend to be more challenging). My husband said the kitchen felt like an episode of (amateur) Iron Chef while I tried frantically to get the meal on the table STAT.

    • Alternate nights out/hosting, with quiet nights at home. Give yourself a day between events to reset and recover, otherwise you’ll start to feel like you’re on the polar express to crazy town.

    • I never wish I’d gotten my kid’s more presents after Christmas has wrapped. I need to remind myself that they will be getting plenty of things from other family members, and pull back a bit next year. Read about a good holiday gift giving formula for kids here.

    • Even yours truly who has written multiple articles on minimalist gift giving and stocking stuffers occasionally succumbs to cheap, impulse buys. Alien head slime-egg; what was I thinking? Make sure stocking stuffers purchases are practical and useful, otherwise you’ll end up with a pile of trinkets that need a home, or are quickly headed for the trash.

    • Find something for which to get Fancy. My husband and I have hit an age where weddings and fancy parties are few and far between. And since neither of us have jobs that host fancy holiday parties, we carve out a special holiday date night to get dressed up and hit the town.

    • If you’re buying a real tree to decorate, call ahead and find out when they receive fresh shipments. After visiting our local lot and being disappointed with the selection, the salesman told us a fresh shipment would be arriving the next night. We ended up with a beautiful, freshly cut tree that barely lost a needle all season.

    • Sometimes the things you plan the most for will fall short of your expectations (like Christmas Eve Dinner), and others will unexpectedly delight. We had zero plans and expectations for New Year’s Eve, but opening a nice bottle of champagne, some sparkling cider for the kids (they were beyond thrilled to get to drink out of real champagne flutes!), and watching the NYE Dick Clark special together was lovely. The live music was exceptional, and resulted in lots of dance partying (they are still too little to be self-conscious about this sort of thing)!

    Congrats to all for surviving to the New Year! I hope the next few months ahead are those of rest and introspection, gearing up for a great year ahead. Cheers!

    Photo by Angela Carlyle

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