"Positive. I see this a lot this time of year," he said. "Too much sugar and too much stress. You moms wear yourselves out." I had literally made myself sick with all the anxiety and pressure of Christmas preparations. *The Christmas Notebook* Armed with a prescription for rest and antibiotics, I took the rest of the weekend off, catching up on much-needed sleep. After that, I sat down and made a list. And then another, and another. Lists of presents I had bought, presents I still had to buy, cookies I wanted to make, and places I wanted to visit with the Christmas lights up. Over the years these lists have evolved into a binder where I keep ideas, hopes, plans, and reminders--my Christmas notebook. The first section I open in October or November, when I ask the family what they remember about last Christmas--what traditions they most want to keep, what we did in past years they most enjoyed, and what we should not try again! This helps me maintain my priorities, and keeps me from getting distracted by "great ideas" that are really just clever marketing ploys. Next is gifts and wishes. I keep running lists of what people want for Christmas, gifts I am planning to buy and what I have already bought. I keep track of what gifts have been ordered online and when they will arrive. As my family has grown to include curious children and I become more forgetful each year, I added a list of what gifts were hidden where. At the end of the gifts section, I keep an envelope for receipts. What a relief to know where they are! I also include lists of things I want to bake or craft, the materials I will need, and sometimes special sections like shipping calendars, party planning, or travel plans if our Christmas includes any of those things. As my son has gotten older, I even keep a tally of what batteries his gifts will need. Making a Christmas notebook is easy. Take a small binder or spiral notebook (one that fits in your purse is ideal). Make a list of what you really hope this Christmas will be like. What traditions do you hope to continue or start? What do you remember most about last Christmas that you want to do again? Flip a page or two and write "Christmas Baking" at the top. Jot down the tasty treats you love making. You can add more later. The page after that should be "Pantry Inventory." Add a list of wish lists, gifts ordered and bought, and what you still need. Now it's all in one place! *Ten Tips to Keep You and Your Christmas Organized* After you've gotten your notebook going, try implementing the following tips to further manage your Christmas so you can actually have time to enjoy the season. _1. Set up a Wrapping Station_ Find a nook or cranny with a little bit of privacy and storage space--it might be a walk-in closet, a corner of the basement, or even the laundry room. Gather all of your wrapping materials there: paper, bows, tape, scissors, bags, and ribbon (now is a great time to inventory!). When you bring home gifts, assign someone who likes to wrap to have at it in the wrapping room. Wrapping gifts with small children can help them feel included in the joy of giving. The only trick to this is making sure the supplies don't wander off! _2. Inventory Your Pantry_ Few things are more stressful than finally having time to do some baking and realizing that you don't have enough sugar. Or cream. Or those little crushed red and green candy sprinkles that your youngest loves so much. Make a list of the things you usually bake, or things you would like to bake, and then take an inventory of your pantry. Do you have everything you need? This is a great activity to do with a budding homemaker or mathematician. If there are two cups of brown sugar in a pound, and we want to make three batches of gingerbread, which uses three cups of brown sugar per batch, do we have enough? Look at your fridge and freezer while you're at it. Do you have things for quick dinners on the go? If you're up to it, go ahead and freeze some doubles when you have time. You know they'll come in handy. _3. Plan to Serve_ Most of us want to serve others during the Christmas season, but as schedules fill and stress builds, it's easy to get to the New Year and be disappointed. "I never had time to give some service." Hectic schedules can squash the best of intentions. This year, make plans early to do something that will make this Christmas one to remember. Make a commitment, write it down, and enjoy serving others. You might ask your bishop what you can do for the ward, or sign up to help a local homeless shelter. Families with small children usually find that a promise made to the young ones does not get forgotten! Find out what good causes are happening where you are and make a date to serve. You will enjoy your Christmas all the more knowing you've helped others. _4. Jingle Those Bells_ Singing Christmas carols can actually help you feel less stress. So sing along--even if you aren't the best singer in the choir. Experts say that singing encourages good breathing and releases endorphins, improving your mood. Also a great mood lifter--exercise. Go for a brisk walk, play a game, or do some of those desk yoga exercises. Anything that gets the blood pumping will make you feel better, especially about those delicious and tempting desserts everywhere! _5. Nurture Your Spirit_ Make time for prayer, meditation, and scripture study. It's so easy to say, "I'm too busy--I'll get to it later," but the well-worn tools really are the best when they're used every day. They help you stay on track with your priorities, and keep your patience with long lines or children with the "gimmies." They can even help you take a deep breath and enjoy the holidays. Make the time, even when it seems like there's none. _6. The New Switcheroo_ Not the old switcheroo--this is the new one. Find a friend, ideally with children who are different ages from yours. Store your presents at each other's homes. Not only does this keep the sneaky peekers from getting into trouble, but you and your friend can have a little bash to wrap presents together if you like. And if your children are different ages, her teenagers won't care about the new doll for your little girl. Your preschoolers will likewise be uninterested in video games or clothes her kids are getting. You might even try the stocking switch. Everybody knows Santa will fill the kids' stockings, and most wives enjoy filling a stocking with little surprises for their husband. But who fills mom's stocking? FlyLady Marla Cilley (visit flylady.net) suggests trading stockings with a friend. Set a dollar limit if you need to, and don't peek at your stocking until Christmas morning. It's just fun to receive thoughtful little treats from someone who knows you so well. _7. What Can Be Moved?_ Look at your planning carefully and consider--what could be moved out of December? What would happen if you took the family photo for the Christmas letter in October? Or sent a Happy New Year letter instead? Is the week before Christmas really the best time to have a party? Some things can't be moved, but some things can. See what you can move off your plate by doing it well before the holidays, or even bumping it to later. _8. Simplify Gifts_ Elder Oaks has counseled us, "Remember, don't magnify the work to be done--simplify it." Take a list of your Christmas plans, especially the gifts you plan to give, and ask yourself how you could simplify. Is it time to do a gift exchange with your extended family rather than trying to buy for everyone? Could your children do gifts of service for their siblings or a video of Christmas carols for grandparents rather than buying or making elaborate gifts? _9. Consider a Screen-Free Day_ Take one of those days between when the kids get out of school and Christmas and designate it a "screen-free" day. No television, no computers, no video games. Spend the time talking, playing a board game, or baking. You'll be amazed how much this cuts out of your stress. You may even want to do it again! _10. Reason for the Season_ Along with your regular habits to stay close to the Savior, look for ways to include Him in your celebration of His birth. Some families bake a birthday cake to eat Christmas day. Many do evening devotions of a scripture, a song, and maybe a story or thought. Whatever way you find works best, remembering the birth of Jesus Christ will make Christmas less stressful for you and those you love.
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