What does holly, that untidy traditional greenery you just have to festoon your house with every year, have to do with not tearing your hair out before it's even Thanksgiving? Plenty. You can use H-O-L-L-Y to help you get organized.
1. H: Help
How many times have you tried to do the perfect turkey all by yourself just so your mother-in-law would be impressed? Here's a reality check: (a) If your mother-in-law is any kind of a real woman, she remembers that her mother-in-law put the exact same pressure on her, and (b) if she's the kind of person who complains because the cranberries come from a can, she's the kind of person who complains anyway and would be unhappy if she couldn't try to make you look like an incompetent nitwit, and how a woman like that could raise your wonderful husband is beyond everyone.
If that husband is such a great guy, get him in the kitchen. Sit down and plan what the two of you really want---he might not want a six-course dinner, which is fine, because you don't either. Get the kids involved. By now some of them are at that stage where they want to show off what they can do "all by myself," and you know that even though you hate your daughter's taste in music, she did make killer stuffing last Thanksgiving. And your son makes a great omelet for Christmas morning. Then there's your sister who loves to chat, so put her to work while you listen to her endless monologue.
Electronic help is great too---use a PDA or the family computer to keep a list of recipes and ingredients. There are many great, sometimes free, computer programs available.
2. O: Oh-No
Let's face it. You'll make mistakes. The sugar cookies will burn. You can always "eat" your mistakes and try again---just don't try a new recipe for the first time Christmas Day. In fact, plan for your mistakes. That's right. Most of us spend so much time agonizing over avoiding mistakes we forget that they are going to happen anyway, and not necessarily at our hands. So your best girlfriend Susan brought over deviled ham instead of double chocolate cake...there's a reason we have bakeries, right? Just cheerfully accept the mistake and move on. People can get over a slightly too well-done roast, but they will be downright uncomfortable if you spend the entire dinner moaning about it.
3. L: Love
You know Christmas is the season of love, and you can have as much fun with take-out pizza as you can with an elegant dinner if the company is right. One sure way to recapture love is to bake cookies together. There's nothing like the sight of kids rolling dough and decorating their works of art.
4. L: Let It Be
Sorry for the Paul McCartney overtones, but once you have your plan in place, stick to it---that doesn't mean you can't compromise slightly. Agonizing over turkey versus tofu causes you to lose your appetite, and is as harmful to your cooking as disorganization. Sticking to a decision and keeping your plan, no matter what everyone else thinks, gives you peace of mind.
5. Y: You
Remember that there will be stress around the holidays, but that your mind can choose not to give in. You can choose to refuse another beer because "I'm frazzled" or avoid inviting people you really can't stand just because your mind thinks you have an obligation to be popular and kill yourself feeding 25 people. You can throw snowballs, or, if you live in California, go throw some water on the wildfires...just take your mind off your cooking. You'll rediscover just why it is you're cooking and what you love about Christmas.
So that's your H-O-L-L-Y for a happy holiday. And when all else fails, there's chocolate.
Kristin Johnson is co-author of the "enthusiastically recommended" Midwest Book Review pick, Christmas Cookies Are For Giving: Stories, Recipes and Tips for Making Heartwarming Gifts (ISBN: 0-9723473-9-9). A downloadablemedia kit is available at our Web site, http://www.christmascookiesareforgiving.com, or e-mail the publisher (firstname.lastname@example.org) to receive a printed media kit and sample copy of the book. More articles available at http://www.bakingchristmascookies.com
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