Planning. Simplification. Preparation.

My tips for reducing holiday stress and returning it to a time of peace and joy -
And now, preparation.

Remember the ant we extolled when looking at planning?  (Proverbs 30:25 - The ants are not a strong people, But they prepare their food in the summer;)  Well, the way the ant plans for the winter is to be prepared.  Planning alone is an inadequate step.  Lots of folks can get plans on paper.  It's moving them onto the pavement that makes the difference.

Here are some arenas in which preparation can help de-stress your life:

1.  Food.  Being prepared in this area can save not only frustration and time but also money.  You can do just a few things to get started and work your way up into being prepared to host a dinner for 20 at a moment's notice.  I have learned a lot from my friends Cindi and Catherine who are able to do exactly that!  Here are some suggestions -
- keep your pantry stocked (consistently - as in when you use up these ingredients, get them again!!) with items for a quick and easy meal such as spaghetti or baked ravioli casserole or tacos.  This can be a lifesaver when days don't go as planned
- but speaking of planning - plan your meals for the week on Sunday night.  Collect everyone's schedule demands and then work the meal plan around that.  Then make sure you have all the necessary ingredients for your meal plan!!  As in "being prepared" :)
-breakfast items -- make muffins and quick breads ahead of time and freeze them.  Waffles and pancakes, too.  Cook a little bacon each morning or add some fruit and you've got an easy breakfast.  Without resorting to fast food.  Don't whine that you don't have time to cook this.  Refer to previous post on simplifying life.  We all have time.  It's just a matter of how we spend it.  Eliminate unnecessary activities and make preparations to feed your family.  Uh, got a little carried away.  Sorry.  I know emergencies happen and there are times when we all truly do not have time to cook.  That's why being prepared is essential.  Just don't live every day in a state of emergency!!!
- one more food tip --- double recipes every chance you get and stash the extra one in the freezer.  This helps more than just your family --- you can bless someone else at the drop of a hat when their state of emergency arrives....without creating one of your own :)  This goes for cookies, cakes, entrees, etc.  I just got off the phone with my firstborn.  She is 2 weeks away from delivering baby #2 and she told me she has weeks of dinners and breakfasts in her freezer --- as well as plates of cookies for the labor & delivery nurses!!  She astounds me.  Talk about being prepared!!

2.  Gifts - I keep a "gifts box" full of things I can choose from when I need a hostess or teacher gift or a child's birthday gift, etc. Same for gift wrap/bags and birthday cards (and sympathy cards)  I am on the lookout for suitable items for a good deal whenever I am out shopping and having them on hand keeps me from running frantically to the store and paying more than I would like to at the last minute.  It also helps me be more thoughtful because it doesn't require as much energy!

3.  Housekeeping  - I am not a clean freak.  I am not a great housekeeper.  But I never want my family to be embarrassed about our home nor do I want any of us to avoid having folks over because our house is a mess.  So we have a system to keep it presentable.  White glove standard, it is not.  But you don't have to worry about your immunization records if you come over.  We do certain chores on certain days every week to keep things clean.  And we develop EARLY the habit of putting things back where they belong when we are done with them.  Clean freak, I'm not, but clutter freak, perhaps I am!  I've found that a relatively clean and "picked up" home has a more peaceful atmosphere.  And once it is clean, it has a better chance of staying that way.  For some reason, messiness multiplies! Having a system helps us default to the habit even when life gets a little crazy. 

4.  To-do's - I keeps a pad of paper by the phone in our kitchen for an ongoing "to do list".  Things like get stamps, take cookies to Betsy's party, organize basement shelves, and order gift for Granddaddy.  As soon as I think of things, I add them to the list.  Once completed, I mark it off.  (That's a thrill for me!)  When the sheet gets full, I transfer the undone things to another sheet and keep going.  On my fridge, I keep an ongoing grocery list.  Soon as I run out of something or realize I need an ingredient, it goes on the list.  I could never remember it all when it's time to make a list for the grocery store!  And for Christmas, I keep a spreadsheet of gifts and recipients.  Very helpful since I coordinate and purchase the gifts for the grands to give my kids, as well as my own shopping.  I also keep the lists from previous years for reference.  Don't want to duplicate my ideas every year!

Preparation is not about hoarding or excess.  It's not about military precision.  But it is a way of life that can put you in a position to serve others better.  Without sacrificing your sanity (or your testimony!)