A simplified dinner queue + some dinner reflections
For the love of toddlers

Holiday planning


My brain is in holiday mode. I feel like I have many tabs open, from thinking about Thanksgiving cooking and shopping for gifts to what festive things I want to enjoy with my family. In case you're feeling the same, I thought I would share my holiday thoughts and plans. Maybe it'll give you some ideas for your holiday season, or at least you'll know you aren't alone in trying to keep track of all the holiday planning.

Without further ado, here’s everything holiday-related on my mind right now…


Pie Friendsgiving: for the past few years I've bought a couple of store-bought pumpkin pies and a can of whipped cream and have the boys invite friends over for a casual slice of pie after school before the Thanksgiving break. I still need to buy the pies and disposable plates.

Thanksgiving: to our family feast (not hosted by us this year) we're bringing green bean casserole, dressing, a butternut squash galette (Chris), homemade challah bread (Chris), a chocolate pie, apple pie, and pumpkin pie (store-bought because Trader Joe's makes such a good one!). I'm planning to make the dressing on Monday or Tuesday, the green bean casserole and one pie on Wednesday, and the remaining pie on Thursday. Chris will bake challah bread on Wednesday and make his galette sometime in there as well. In addition, I'd love to print off some Thanksgiving activity pages and make packets for the kids which worked well last year. Perhaps with a small reward if they finish it?

Pie + coffee breakfast and Black Friday shopping: One of my favorite mornings of the year is the day after Thanksgiving when I have pie and coffee for breakfast. Ideally in a quiet house while doing some online Christmas shopping. I've already requested that Chris take the kids out that morning for a couple of hours. For Black Friday shopping I have a few things to order that we've already decided we'll buy (some gifts and a few things for the house like Ruggable rugs) but otherwise am not planning on browsing and finding places to spend money. With the rest of my time I'll do some holiday planning and maybe work on our 2023 photo book.


Decorating for Christmas: Maeve "helped" me put up our Christmas tree yesterday while Chris and Dash were out. It was fun to surprise them when they got home! We plan to finish decorating next weekend after Thanksgiving. Chris usually does most of it, which I'm so grateful for. We're feeling festive, playing Christmas music, and had our first Christmas movie viewing last night (Home Alone).

Christmas cards: As I planned in my November goals I designed and ordered a card, printed addresses on labels, and ordered stamps. I just need to buy a pack of envelopes (I buy the  100 pack at Hobby Lobby and wait for a sale or coupon) and then complete the cards. I'd like to have the boys help me with the assembly line, perhaps sweetening the deal with some Christmas cookies.

Teacher gifts: Also ahead on this one! I have all the dish towels and hand soap for the gifts plus the gift bags, tissue paper, and cute holiday cards from Trader Joe's to write a thoughtful note.

Gifts for service professionals and community helpers: I always generously tip our house cleaners and my hair stylist at the holidays. In addition, I usually write a card and include a Trader Joe's treat and sometimes cash for our mail carrier and garbage/recycling truck driver.

Elf Days: I'll take my annual Elf Days on December 4-5 (a Monday and Tuesday). On those days I'll wrap any gifts ready to wrap (which I hope will be quite a few), complete teacher gifts (if needed), and do some holiday baking. This year I'd love to bake for our neighbors and make pimiento cheese, which is a tradition my mom keeps. During my Elf Days I plan to sip on a peppermint mocha, treat myself to lunch at least one day, and keep company with holiday music, shows, or movies.


Christmas gifting: This year we're simplifying our gifting more than ever and it's a welcome change for me. I love the generosity part of gifting but can get overwhelmed with all the decisions, tasks, and stuff. We floated the idea of not exchanging gifts between any adults on both sides of the family and everyone was on board. A good friend and I are switching our usual family gift exchange to a holiday phone call sharing family and personal favorites that might make good gifts, or that we just want the other to know about. For the kids, Chris and I have had some good conversations to plan what we'll be buying and spending. We also set a gifting budget for gifts to each other. I use my Christmas gifts spreadsheet to keep track of all gifts and spending. Chris and I have plans to use a day date to go shopping for stocking stuffer items together.


Taking the kids to shop for each other: No plans on when or how we'll do this but I do like giving the kids a chance to shop or make for each other and for us to encourage practicing giving and not just receiving.


Christmas cookie baking: We look forward to the annual Wharton family Christmas cookie baking every year. For several years I've made the gingerbread dough and usually supply the icing for decorating. Ideally I make the dough ahead of time and freeze it. Maybe I could fit that in on one of my Elf Days.

December book club + favorite things party: One of my favorite events of the year with some of my very favorite people. We always bring food to share and a "favorite thing" gift for a gift swap. I have the items for my favorite thing gift and thought I might make and bring the Winning Hearts and Minds cake. Maybe I could also make that ahead of time and freeze it (they freeze really well). One thing I've realized is that leaving things to the day-of is usually sentencing myself to day-of overwhelm. The more I can get done ahead of time the less harried I feel through the holidays.

Jingle All the Way to School: For the past two years we've hosted neighborhood friends at our house on the morning of the last day of school before the winter break. We have coffee, hot chocolate, and small bites like muffins and Christmas cookies in our garage. Last year I figured out a few things that made hosting even easier and I wrote everything down in a Google doc so that I could reference it this year. High five from past Kelsey!

My birthday: I'm turning 40 on December 22! I love to spend my birthday with ample and leisurely alone time, like taking myself out to breakfast and reading, and always request homemade pizza and brownies for dinner. I've been on the fence about trying to plan anything extra because it's a milestone birthday but with the busyness of the holidays I don't think I feel up for something. Chris and I had our recent trip to Santa Fe to mark by birthday and maybe I'll plan a laid back celebration for my half-birthday this summer?


Christmas Eve: I love hosting Christmas Eve at our house. I remember fondly Christmas Eve dinners at my house growing up and gathering with family for chili and tamales. I'm planning to make chili and serve (store-bought) tamales. I also have a tradition of making a gingerbread cake in the shape of a house using a cake pan my mother-in-law gave me. Every year someone gets the honor of sifting the powder sugar snow over the house before we serve the cake with whipped cream. Also, to have a relaxed Christmas Eve I try to give us a deadline of having all gifts wrapped, etc. by December 21 (before my birthday).


Christmas Day! Ideally on Christmas Day there's nothing to do but enjoy being together, basking in the kids' excitement, and being together as a family. But everyone does need to eat! I've never settled on a favorite sweet breakfast treat. This year I might try a homemade cinnamon coffee cake (made ahead of time), my Christmas quiche (with spinach, sundried tomato, and smoked gouda cheese), and some pre-made breakfast burritos for the kids. Later in the day we usually go to my sister-in-law's for a laid-back larger family gathering.

Cedric's birthday: On December 28th – let me tell you it really sneaks up on you! We've started talking about plans for Cedric's birthday but need to remember to finalize them, both for his actual birthday and for a friend party, probably in early January.

New Year's Eve: No plans! We don't have any traditions around New Year's Eve although my favorites have been low-key days at home working a puzzle with a soup simmering on the stove. In past years we've sometimes had a casual neighbor get-together outside. We'll see what comes up and what we're in the mood for this year.


Enjoying the season: Besides all of above in my head, I'm also thinking about how to be present during this season, which is my favorite. I'm contemplating limiting time on social media and on my phone (by using Focus settings and might also delete apps for the season). I love enjoying great books through the holidays and finding extra time to curl up with one. I have some holiday reads queued up and recently started the Cork O'Connor detective series which I'm enjoying. When I shop at Trader Joe's I'll definitely be buying little treats to surprise the kids (and to enjoy myself as well). We're going to try to watch a family holiday movie most Sunday nights, and in December will start to go on family drives to see Christmas lights. I also like to go out to dinner at least once as a family during the season to be somewhere festive and to treat ourselves.


This was helpful to capture all in one place – thank you for reading! I’d love to hear any of your holiday tips, stresses you need help with, or ideas for slowing down this season.


P.S. Planning Thanksgiving, our 2020 advent calendar, and notes from the 2017 holidays.