Lenox Holiday Sugar Bowl Creamer

Happy Monday! Christmas Christmas Christmas

Lenox Holiday Sugar Bowl Creamer

But I waaaaaant thiiiiiiiisssss!

Happy Monday! Now that Thanksgiving has been put to bed (in case you missed it, check out my Holiday Post-Game piece for ideas of what to do with your leftovers), you can expect a lot of Christmas stuff on this blog!

But first, I need a moment of silence. For the hours between 9 and 11 am. This used to be a sacred time: Sarah’s morning nap. But it looks like it’s gone forever–she appears to fall asleep during our post-breakfast nursing, but she pops awake when I put her down. She actually hurled herself out of her crib yesterday when I left her there (we’ve since lowered her mattress), but . . . yeah. Looks like it’s afternoon naps (if any) from here on out.

This was traditionally my blogging time, too, so I’m extra bummed. My days are pretty packed and I’m definitely feeling the stress. But I’ll work it out!


I have a confession: I looooooove china. And I loooooooooooooove Christmas china. I know it makes no sense to have a set of china you only use once a year. But I’ve solved that! Starting tomorrow, we will be using our Christmas china every day in December–breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ve been slowly collecting sets of Lenox’s Holiday china over the years (it mixes with my wedding china, Lenox’s Eternal), and . . . I did notice Macy’s is having some great Cyber Monday deals on Lenox Holiday china. You know, if you want to join in my obsession.

We kicked off our month-long holiday movie marathon with a little flick called The Long Kiss Goodnight, about an amnesiac schoolteacher played by Geena Davis who discovers she’s actually an assassin–with the help of Samuel L. Jackson, before he ran his shtick into the ground. It counts as a Christmas movie because 1) it begins with a Christmas parade 2) it has a ton of fantastic action sequences involving ice and 3) the chemistry between Davis and Jackson is the gift that keeps on giving. I’m posting the scene where sweet “Samantha” transforms herself back into sexy “Charly,” because it amuses me that she wears gloves to dye her hair (as she should!) and that her wardrobe as the edgy, badass Charly is . . . black yoga togs. Hilarious.

I was so sad when I heard Gawker Media was closing down Kitchenette, but was so happy when I heard Wonkette would be taking on Behind Closed Ovens (now titled Off the Menu), a weekly delight filled with stories of horrible restaurant customers, amazing managers, and servers who got their revenge. Read the first column now!

That’s all I got right now . . . but get ready! Oh, and post your favorite holiday movie below.

Holiday Post-Game: Get in It to Win It

FullSizeRender 17

It’s time to polish the silver! And figure out what to do with these cherry tomatoes . . .

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! I hope this post isn’t too late to be at least a little helpful, but our (awesome, crowded) Thanksgiving was followed by an out-of-town visitor, and . . . I was a little tired. It happens!

But as I was cleaning up after Turkey Day, I realized your holiday entertaining post-game is just as important as your pre-prep–in fact, if you do it right, you can cut way down on your prep work next time. And with Christmas right around the corner, you can use your time now to reduce your stress then. Plus I’ve got some ideas for what to do with your leftovers!

Step One: Cleanup

First off: I know the cleanup after Thanksgiving is massive and arduous, so it’s tempting to rush right through it and half-ass it. Don’t do that. Instead of just putting things away, think of it as getting your things ready to use next time. It’s a subtle shift that can really help.

  • Take stock of all your gear. Did it turn out you were missing some items (I’m somehow missing two forks and I’m really bummed about it!)? Try to find them now, or replace them before you forget.
  • When you clean everything, make sure it’s all really clean. Take a moment. Are you putting away your rarely used china? Make sure it’s shined up. Wine glasses? Ditto.
  • Put everything away in a way that will make them easier to use and access in the future. Did you have to scour your house to find stuff? Did your original storage spaces make sense, logistically? I realized the drawer I was using for my cloth napkins was just too small, which means they were crammed in there and got all wrinkled (negating the effort I made to fold them right out of the dryer). Try to store the things you use together in the same general area!

Step Two: Leftovers

Thanksgiving and holiday leftovers are legendary. They can also be kind of overwhelming–what the heck can you do with everything before it gets gross? Here are my suggestions:

You can freeze many of these and have quick meals ready during the busy holiday season!

Step Three: Plan Another Holiday Party

What? Come on, it’s fun. Keep your momentum going, baby!

Goodbye to a Magnificent Bastard: R.I.P. David Canary

David Canary Adam Chandler

Adam Chandler, silver fox. Swoon!

Even as a child, I had no taste for pretty boys–give me your intense, misunderstood miscreants, your dark and complicated antiheroes. Give me Adam Chandler from the dearly departed All My Children, masterfully portrayed by David Canary, who passed away yesterday at age 77 from natural causes.

Adam was introduced as a wealthy businessman who financed Erica Kane’s autobiographical movie (titled Raising Kane, natch) and married her, to boot. Over the 27 years he spent on All My Children, he married (or was known to have married) 10 women (several of them twice or more), introduced a sweet, sensitive twin named Stuart, and fathered or adopted eight children.

He behaved like a total bastard to all of them. And yet you loved him anyway! That was due to the skill and charisma of five-time Daytime Emmy Award-winner Canary, who drew a portrait of a power-hungry man who clawed his way up from poverty to protect his loved ones–and yet ultimately didn’t believe he was worthy of love.

I mean, just look at some of the things he pulled (from Soap Central):

  • Had his brother Stuart locked up in the west wing of the Chandler mansion for years
  • Faked his own death to test wife Erica Kane
  • Illegally divorced Erica; had Stuart stand in for him
  • Cheated on wife Brooke English with their maid, Dixie Cooney, after learning Brooke was infertile and couldn’t produce a male heir (in his defense, Brooke told him the marriage was over and Dixie was hot to trot!)
  • Tried to drive wife Dixie crazy, in order to get custody of their son, Adam Jr. (okay that was bad)
  • Hired a thug to shoot lifelong rival Palmer Cortlandt
  • Blackmailed Erica into marrying him again
  • Kidnapped Erica and took her to Canada
  • Staged his own kidnapping to test wife Gloria Marsh’s loyalty (I see a pattern here . . . )
  • Swapped Jake Martin’s sperm specimen with his own so that wife Liza Colby would have his child
  • Tossed Arlene Vaughn’s lifeless body overboard from the Fidelity after believing that his daughter Hayley had killed her (Arlene sucked)
  • Kidnapped wife Krystal Carey’s baby and planned to sell it on the black market (what, the baby was Tad Martin’s!)

My favorite Adam pairing was of course, levelheaded former wild child/magazine journalist/Erica Kane’s rival Brooke English. Theirs was a sexy, mature romance between intellectual equals that just crackled with chemistry–even when Brooke knew being with Adam was a bad idea (especially when it was a bad idea). The silver lining of the demise of All My Children is that they looked like they were finally gonna make it work!

Here’s a great, hilarious clip of their 2002 affair:

I enjoyed Canary’s portrayal of sweet, sensitive Stuart as well–although that got a little weird in the later years. When Stuart was first introduced, he was clearly meant to be somewhat mentally disabled, and yet they eventually featured him in a romance and marriage with the very adult Marian Colby (mother of Adam’s then-wife Liza Colby–soaps!). So that was kind of Big for me. But whatever.

So goodbye, David Canary, and goodbye, Adam Chandler, you magnificent bastard! The world is a little less entertaining without you.

Thanksgiving Pre-Prep: Your Secret Weapon to Less-Stressful Entertaining

IMG_7580-0Wow, Thanksgiving sort of snuck up on me this year–what the heck?!? I had a brief panic attack late last week, which I tamped down by writing out my menu and then putting together a grocery list. However, while food and cooking are crucial elements of nearly any gathering, I’m going to share my secret weapon (which I’ve learned through a lot of trial and error): pre-prepping your equipment, dinnerware, etc.

I know you might feel rushed and panicky right now, but take a deep breath. You still have a couple days for pre-prep, and while it may take a couple hours up front, it can really save your bacon in the clutch.

It’s happened to everyone: you’re in the middle of cooking or serving a big meal, and suddenly you realize: I don’t know where that casserole pan is, or I don’t have enough platters, or Crap, I’m missing a butter knife. These last-minute snafus can throw a wrench into the works at the worst possible moment, and it can make it difficult for others to help you. Where’s my water pitcher? Uhhh … somewhere? This doesn’t have to happen for you this year!

This is especially important if you don’t entertain often–you may not have all your gear ready to go. But now you will!

Step One: Cooking Gear

First, write down all of the dishes you’re planning to make. Then, assign the bakeware/serveware you’re going to need for each one. Here’s an example:

  • Turkey: roasting pan, meat thermometer, carving board, serrated knife, white platter, large serving fork
  • Stuffing: 9″ x 13″ Pyrex, serving spoon
  • Mashed potatoes: 8 qt pot, potato peeler, hand mixer (find beaters), large white bowl, serving spoon
  • Rolls: basket, nice kitchen towel/cloth napkin to wrap

Your list may vary, of course! Once you’re done, go through your kitchen (or basement, or garage, or wherever your stuff has migrated). Get it all in one place and make sure it’s clean. Realize you’re short on serving spoons or casserole dishes? Make a game plan now: whether it’s to improvise with what you already have, ask to borrow from a guest, etc.

Step Two: The Table

Okay, you’re set to cook! Now make sure you’re not chasing down forks while dinner is cooling on the table. Close your eyes. Envision your table. Pretend you’re eating! And then write it down. My example:

  • Dinner/bread/dessert plates for X number of people
  • Silverware for X number of people
  • Water goblets/wine glasses/coffee cups etc. for X number of people
  • Corkscrew, ice bucket
  • Tablecloth, napkins
  • Butter dish and knife, gravy boat and ladle
  • Water pitcher
  • Chairs (do you have enough? do you have room around the table?)

Again, locate everything, and make sure it’s all clean (lipstick is murder to get off wine glasses, double check). If you have time, I find it’s really nice to lay your tablecloth the night before, after dinner. If, like me, your tablecloth is stored folded, spritz it with water and smooth it out with your hands–no ironing that way, and with everything on the table, no one will notice any stray bumps.

If your tablecloth is dirty, all the better! Wash it, take it fresh out of the dryer, and plop it on the table. Done!

Step Three: Odds and Ends

Take some time to think of anything I’ve missed–you’re bound to have some needs unique to your Thanksgiving. Here’s a few things I do:

  • Make ice the night before–fill those ice trays, you’ll need it
  • Give the bathroom a wipe-down, make sure there’s toilet paper and hand towels
  • Are you going to have some sort of cute arrangement on the table? That is not my forte, but my husband usually buys flowers and makes arrangements, so I get the vases and clippers ready
  • Extra credit: do you have Thanksgiving kitchen towels somewhere, maybe back in the basement, under your Fourth of July gear (. . . crap)? Dig them out, hang them over your oven door. Yeah!

There’s no such thing as a perfect Thanksgiving or a perfect dinner party–stuff’s always going to happen. But if you’re prepared for what you can anticipate, you’ll be ahead of the game.

So what did I miss? What do you do? When can I break out my Christmas china?!?

Why Jessica Jones Is the Hero We Need

Alias Jessica Jones David Mack

Our heroine, by artist David Mack.

When I was 14, I fell in love with the Uncanny X-Men, and especially teenaged hero Kitty Pryde. Kitty was everything I wanted to be: cute, fantastically smart, super powered, and conveniently emancipated from her parents so she could go live with an adoring group of grownup superheroes who thought she was the best and always had her back. But years later, when I read Brian Michael Bendis’s gripping Alias series, it hit me like a punch to the gut: although I had grown up wanting to be Kitty, I was really more like Jessica Jones. And I wish I had met her earlier.

Jessica Jones’s origin story starts out much like any superhero’s: she survives the tragic death of her family and an accident that gifts her with superpowers. Soon she’s dyed her hair bright purple, clapped on some shiny tights, and is poised to become the very! Best! Superhero! She can be!

Unfortunately, that’s not very good. She’s soon captured by Zebediah Killgrave, aka the Purple Man, who completely violates her, keeping her in his thrall via mind control, for eight months. When she finally meets her would-be “adoring group of grownup superheroes” (while being forced to attack them), they beat her so badly they send her to the hospital in a coma. When she wakes up, she realizes that instead of “having her back,” no one really noticed that she was missing. For eight months.

Jessica Jones, despite her early promise, was not destined to be the darling superhero mascot adored by millions. Instead, she was a failure. A loser. A damaged woman who the world does not revolve around–instead, she must make her place, and her peace, herself.

Meeting Jessica Jones started a chain reaction deep in my soul. I, like so many girls, grew up hearing the same mantra: “You can be anything you want! You’re smart! You work hard! You can do anything!” But what if you can’t? What are we taught to do when we fail, when we don’t live up to our potential, when life slaps us so hard it knocks the wind out of us?

Now I am not knocking the loving people who told us this–in the ’70s and ’80s, we were coming off decades of asking women, “Do you really need to go to college?” and “Why would you want to be anything other than a wife and mother?” Our messages to girls are always evolving. But I think everyone would benefit if our next iteration includes the following information:

“You are going to fuck up. You are going to fail. You are going to hurt other people, and yourself. You are going to compromise yourself in ways you later regret to get the things you think you need. And you’re still a worthwhile person. And you’re still deserving of love. And you can use all your fuckups and failures to help someone else.”

Jessica Jones fucked up as a hero and retreated, becoming a disreputable private detective with a love for booze and the occasional man. When I fucked up my life 15 years ago (fizzled comics career, terrible-idea marriage to someone who isolated and emotionally abused me), I fled to the other side of the country. While I did not actually become a detective, I did tirelessly investigate the cases of Can I Get That Dude’s Attention and How Many Shots Can I Have Tonight and Still Function Tomorrow (really, I left no stone unturned).

But what I love the most about Jessica Jones and Alias is, her redemption didn’t come in the form of a training montage (let’s figure out those faulty powers!), a new shiny uniform, and a team of super-cool friends: you can be a special awesome girl superhero after all, Jessica! Instead, her journey is slower, more painful. More mistakes. And as she learns, she creates a new life for herself, on her own terms. Which is what we all really want anyway.

Anyway. Haven’t watched Jessica Jones on Netflix, but as you can see, I’ve got high hopes. Still love you Kitty Pryde!

Quick breakfast pumpkin smoothie

Yes You Have Time for Breakfast: Pumpkin Smoothie

Hey folks! This is a new feature I’ll be doing periodically, introducing quick, tasty, at least semi-healthy breakfasts you can make and enjoy! This one is one of my favorites: the Pumpkin Smoothie. My version combines the Pioneer Woman’s stellar recipe with the Pie and Pastry Bible‘s Great Pumpkin Pie recipe and it. Is. So good. I also sized it so it’s a full pint–a full meal deal!

Breakfast. You know you should eat it. You’ll feel better! Like a real grownup! But wait–you don’t have time? I say balderdash (yes, I really actually used that word). You do have time for breakfast, and I will show you how.

I loooove the Pioneer Woman. I used to fantasize about quitting my job and writing a blog that thousands of people love, too, and then getting to visit Ree Drummond’s ranch and cook with her in her epic kitchen. Well. Baby steps.

Anyway, when I first read her Pumpkin Smoothie recipe, I didn’t have canned pumpkin pie filling on hand–but I had plain canned pumpkin. So I just cooked and flavored it according to my Pie and Pastry Bible‘s Great Pumpkin Pie recipe, and my husband and I loved it. It’s so good.

And quick–I timed myself this morning and it took less than three minutes to make. You just need to freeze your pumpkin ahead of time, and you need a blender. So let’s get to it!

Pumpkin Smoothie

You need:

1 29-oz. can pumpkin (or equivalent homemade pureed pumpkin)
1 cup light-brown sugar, packed
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Quick breakfast pumpkin smoothie

Pumpkin mixture ready for the freezer!

Place your pumpkin in a medium saucepan and add sugar, spices, and salt. Stir and cook over medium heat until dark and shiny, about five minutes. Then divide into six equal portions and freeze. (I’ve plopped it into plastic wrap-lined cupcake tins, but using small plastic containers actually works best–easier to pry out).

Per smoothie:

1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt
Splash vanilla
Healthy dash of cinnamon


Blend, baby, blend!

To make your smoothie, take out as many portions as you need (one per smoothie) and cut each into four to six pieces. Place them in your blender with the remaining ingredients, and blend! Pour into a pint glass and applaud yourself for your life choices.

Quick breakfast pumpkin smoothie

Cheers! You made breakfast! (Warning: decorative cinnamon sprinkle will add at least ten seconds.)

Yum yum yum! This smoothie is packed full of fiber and nutrients from the pumpkin, calcium from the milk and yogurt, and . . . yes, a fair amount of sugar. But it’s delicious and perfect for fall and winter!

What are your quick breakfast go-tos? Post them below!

Happy Tuesday! Oh I Am Tired


Sharing secrets!

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I missed posting yesterday because my husband, kids, and I had an epic weekend: a two-part flight from Portland to Washington, DC for my husband’s sister’s wedding, followed by a 10+ drive to Ipswich, MA to see my husband’s mother and stepfather, followed by a two-part flight from Boston back to Portland.

My groggy thoughts after about six hours of sleep:

  • Delta sucks. It took us an hour to check in and check our luggage in Portland–not because of the lines, but because we were sent to three different places and then watched, helplessly, as two of the three counter people went on a break while the line piled up. One person behind the counter at “Special Services”! Other mishaps: a pilot not showing up and our stroller not making it back to Portland. We were traveling with a mountain of gear: fancy suits and dresses in a hanging bag, Sarah’s playpen (since she slept in three different locations on the trip, we figured it would be best if she at least recognized her bed). Having to hold a wriggly toddler on top of everything was a huge pain in the butt.
  • Sid is the best big brother/son/nephew/grandson ever. Sid lugged bags, entertained his sister, indulged his grandparents, and was the best ringbearer ever this weekend–without complaints.
  • The wedding we went to was awesome. I was a little worried about a formal wedding with hats required–I needed to get a long dress, really? But oh, it was so much fun. I found a video that showed me how to make a cool fascinator, picked up a dress that wasn’t crazy expensive and which I will wear more than once, and I finally pulled out and wore my Grandma Benge’s mink stole. The boys were in suits, Sarah got gussied up in wine-colored lace, and we went to town!
  • It turns out taxes can be romantic: the bride and groom are both tax lawyers and professors, so the ceremony took place at the US Tax Court.
  • Oh, Apple Maps sucks, too–more than Delta. I’m embarrassed to say I got us totally lost in DC more than once and made us late for the wedding. Google Maps or GTFO.
  • I realize that most people already knew that Delta and Apple Maps suck and now I’m extra embarrassed.

On a serious note, the terrorist attacks in Paris last week were heartbreaking and absolutely terrifying. Unfortunately, one of the worst after effects has been the wrongheaded aspersions cast on Muslims as a whole. Australian TV host Waleed Aly broke down how this reaction actually plays right into ISIL’s hands, and how weak they actually are. I found Aly’s video incisive and persuasive, and I hope you can take a moment and see if you agree.

Finally, to end on a feel-good note: I don’t know if I’ve said this decisively on this blog, but I’ve gone on a book-buying fast since this summer, when I got my library card–and I’ve been reading tons more books than normal! Before this weekend, I’d only broken my fast for two books that I knew I wanted to own: Step Aside, Pops by the incomparable Kate Beaton, and Polish Your Poise With Madame Chic, by Jennifer L. Scott.

However, I finished my library book too soon on the trip (Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. JK Rowling) and . . . had to buy a book at the airport. And since the selection at the airport was . . . about what you’d expect, I went to an entirely guilty pleasure: Winter Street, by Elin Hilderbrandt. Imagine a Hallmark Christmas movie with a sprawling, squabbling blended family coming together at a quaint inn on Nantucket amidst multiple life and romantic dramas. That’s basically the whole book. Not a surprise on any page, but it was well done, for what it was, and so Christmassy . . . I put a hold on the sequel at the library. Hey, my tastes were never highbrow to begin with.


Sid! SIIIIDDD! Whatcha doing?!?

Oy! The baby has snapped right back on schedule (lovely Sarah) and is napping, but I’d better wrap things up. More to come tomorrow!


Home Alone

Happy Monday: The Home Alone Edition

Hello fair readers, and happy Monday! I guess I should warn you that this blog is going to get pretty Christmassy now. I mean, I love Thanksgiving! Making a huge family meal is right in my wheelhouse. I’ve got it covered. But it doesn’t hold the magic and mystique that Christmas does: the cookies! The movies! The stockings hung with care! The smell of a fresh-cut tree!

Anyway, I’m even more excited than usual, because we’re going to see Home Alone in the theaters this Wednesday. Fathom Events is showing it nationwide as part of the movie’s 25th anniversary celebration, and this Wednesday is the final showing! Make sure to check and see if Home Alone is playing in your area.

Home Alone is one of those movies I underestimated at first–sure it was funny and action-packed, and Macaulay Culkin was adorable, but was it really going to be a Christmas classic? I was in high school and clearly too jaded for my own good.

However, it’s a must-view every year now, and it’s aged surprisingly well (well, except for the fact that children can’t even walk to the park by themselves anymore without CPS being called–the McCallisters would be thrown in jail and destroyed by the Internet mobs today). For me, this is partly because of the pitch-perfect performance of Catherine O’Hara and the late John Candy’s cameo (sigh). But let’s get real: when I watch that movie today, I want that house. Gahhhh it’s so beautiful.

Home Alone House

Oh so beautiful.

Links! Alllll Home Alone today.

First, let’s take a trip down memory lane with the trailer:

And now we have to watch the Honest Trailer:

Clearly I’ll need more poinsettias this year.

While the Home Alone house is a real house (last offered on the market in 2011, check out the pics), did you know you can build your own replica? Southgate Residential has created its own modernized version of the 1920 residence.

Home Alone Replica House

When I win the lottery . . .

I guess my Home Alone mania runs deep. When I needed to get new bedding last year, I took the parents’ bedroom as inspiration–what, red on red works all year round!

Home Alone Bedroom

I did not, sadly, attempt the very ’80s flowered wallpaper.

I took advantage of the holiday sales at Macy’s last year and got a set of Charter Club Damask sheets in Crimson, and a Damask Coverlet Set, also in Crimson. If you are similarly crazy and/or need new bedding, it’s still available.


red home alone bed

Our own, very stylish, red Home Alone bed. WE SLEPT IN!!!

Finally, catch up on some trivia with 27 Things You Might Not Know About Home Alone.

So . . . do you want that house, too? What are your favorite holiday movies? Post below!

A Pox on Our House: Facing My Issues

She IS snow cute! But maybe I need to chill out.

She IS snow cute! But maybe I need to chill out. Photo by BJ Forsythe.

So, one of the joys of turning one year old is getting your one-year vaccines. Unfortunately, Sarah had a poor reaction to her varicella shot (that’s chicken pox), which means she’s sporting big oozy, scabby blisters on her little face. Boo!

Her doctor and I weren’t sure what the deal was at first, since it looked like she had just one random lesion. But over the last weekend, she got her first fever (and oh boy I took her temperature in a way I hoped we’d never have to er, face, because the ear thermometer we have sucks), and then about six more blisters popped up. Poor baby!

Once her fever broke and the worry of what exactly was happening, health-wise, was over, I realized I was really mostly worried about the appearance of Sarah’s scabs and whether they’re going to leave scars or not. It was strange and sort of icky to realize how invested I am in how she looks.

I mean, it’s partly because I don’t want people to see her and worry that she has something contagious (she doesn’t, as long as the blisters are scabbed over). I also worry that folks will see her marks and think I’m a bad mother–I let something happen to my baby! But yes, a big part of my dismay is that we’re going to a wedding next week, and I want her . . . to be pretty. And two of those three things are about me, not her.

Fortunately, Sarah is little enough that my issues are not directly impacting her. But I want to use this episode to work on myself and my reactions for the future: I mean, all kinds of things could happen. Bad haircuts. Acne. Poor fashion choices. Sarah may have no interest in being pretty. Hopefully I will gain enough wisdom so I can raise her without the belief that it’s vitally important.

Augh, weird blog post! I tend to think of myself as fairly evolved–or at least fairly self-aware of my weaknesses–but body and beauty issues run so deep, and we’re pretty much surrounded by pictures and pressures everywhere, every day.

So what can I do?

Taking the Bite out of Christmas Shopping


Sarah’s making her list and checking it twice.

 Hello! It’s after Halloween and I’m meeting my brother for lunch to start planning the holidays, so it’s totally okay to start writing about Christmas, right? CHRISTMAS.

Actually, I do think it’s a good idea to start planning your Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa shopping early: it sucks to still be running around the week of, shouldering your way through crowded stores and then trying to get everything wrapped. Plus it’s a good way to run through your budget. 

You want to enjoy the holidays with friends and family (and lots of Christmas movies and cookies and cocoa). So why not get your work done early?

This is what I do to save money:

  • Find all the gift cards in the house. Gift cards are a perennially popular gift, but if you’re like me, you’re lazy. I figure if I haven’t spent my lingering gift cards by November, they’re destined to go toward Christmas gifts. Put the cards in your wallet, plan your shopping around those stores, and you have free money to spend! Plus: if your friends bought you cards for these stores, it’s likely they like them, too. Go get them loot!
  • Sell/donate your stuff. My parents were smart: they’d have us clean out our rooms right before the holidays. Beej and I naturally assumed that the more stuff we got rid of, the more gifts Santa would bring us! Now I use this opportunity to gather up all the books I’m done with–novels, cookbooks, graphic novels–and sell them to our local Powell’s bookstore for store credit, which I then use for gifts. In addition to books, Powell’s has all kinds of toys and gifts (especially Powell’s Books for Home and Garden) Don’t worry if you don’t live in Portland–you can sell your books online, too! This could also work for videogames, sports equipment, comics, etc. Look and see what you can live without, and find out what stores near you are buying! Make sure to donate whatever you can’t sell.

So now you’ve got some extra cash and your house is cleaner. My next set of advice is pretty basic and obvious, but it does work.

This is what I do to strategize my holiday shopping:

  • Write out a list of everyone you’re buying a gift for: spouse/partner, kids, family members, friends.
  • Then, write down a list of all the people who’ve done you a service throughout the year: your mail carrier, hairdresser, kids’ teachers, etc. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s thoughtful and appreciated if you can offer a tip or a small gift to the people who help you out all year.
  • Finally, write down a list of people you’ll give token gifts or goodies to: neighbors, work colleagues, etc. These cranberry-orange slice-and-bake cookies are my go-to goodie (easy, freezable, no cookie cutters), but if you don’t bake, you could make homemade cocoa mix or put together a selection of tea bags. Again, not strictly necessary, but nice if you can swing it. Now for the hard part:
  • Write a monetary value next to everyone’s name (pro tip: baking is cheap). This is also a good time to brainstorm which store to shop at for each person.
  • Add it all up. Laugh, cry, stare in shock. Revise your list accordingly.

It’s incredibly scary how quickly everything can add up, and the pressure to spend more than you can afford is intense–it’s the American way. Seeing your budget in black-and-white and giving yourself time to think of thoughtful gifts can really help with this!

Another strategy I use: if I know I’m going to buy a particular gift, I can follow the sales online and try to get the lowest prices. It’s kind of like playing chicken, but it’s another way you can save money on the holidays by planning ahead.

Okay, I’m stepping off my tinsel-festooned soap box. What are your holiday shopping tips?