Even Santa Knows, Lists Can Be Naughty or Nice

The List.

I love lists.  Lists can be powerful productivity tools.  Or they can just be words on a page.  I want my lists to work for me.  So I turn my lists into Action Plans with a few simple steps.

Let’s turn that jumbled bunch of ideas into a list and then a useful, manageable Action Plan!

I worked with a client last week.  We were scheduled to work on a couple of projects, but when I arrived, she mentioned that what would really help her to feel organized was to plan for an upcoming brunch she was hosting for family.  She said she always got anxious about hosting big meals, and she really just wanted to enjoy her family this time!  Her goal was to be done and  leisurely sipping a cup of coffee 30 minute before the guests arrived.

Here is what we did:

Write it all down.   ALL OF IT.

Is your brain full?  Of thoughts and ideas and to-do’s, Oh My!

Every once in a while, I sit down and get all the thoughts and ideas and tasks out my head and down on paper.  I used to call this activity a Brain Dump, but that seemed inelegant, so my friend Jen came up with “Cranial Cleansing”.   This is a very useful activity!

Write it all down, don’t bother to edit.  Just get it all out.  And “write it all down” could also be “makes notes on your computer or smart phone or Ipad”.  I use either my Bullet Journal (by hand) or Evernote (technology) for such things!

With my client, we started with the notes she had already jotted down.  We added a lot more items, without editing, just adding them to the list!

The list included:

  • clean the house;
  • iron the napkins;
  • hang the wreath;
  • take the Christmas decoration storage bins downstairs;
  • organize the holiday storage closet;
  • make the breakfast casseroles using her mom’s special recipe;
  • set the table;
  • wash the china and wine glasses;
  • decorate the Christmas tree;
  • make the grocery list;
  • go to the grocery;
  • pick up champagne and other beverages;
  • get the table linen cleaned and pressed;
  • take back returns;
  • put appetizer trays together;
  • print up the Christmas photo and keepsake poem;
  • buy the paper to print up the photo and poem;
  • make or purchase desserts;
  • put together the salad;
  • clean the garage.

Make a Not Today or Not Now List.

A few items on my client’s list, like “Clean the Garage” and “Organize the Holiday Closet”, are good and worthwhile projects but were not necessary to the success of the Holiday Brunch.  So we put them on the “Not Right Now” list, and focused on the work in front of us!

Enlist Aid.  What can be delegated?

Fortunately, this client hires cleaning people a couple times a month, and they were scheduled for the next day.  Also, she and her husband would be home together on Saturday, and he had offered to take care of some of the errands.

Realistic Time Estimates.

This looks like a very long and overwhelming list, I know.  But when you start to break it down, most of these tasks are actually pretty short and to the point.  So we assigned time estimates to them all, so we could be more objective.

Assign a Day, sticking with your strengths.

As we worked on the list, my client mentioned she had a full day of work the next day, so we didn’t put too many tasks on that day (Friday).  Also, she likes to go to the grocery around 8 pm, as it tends to be empty that time of night.  So we worked with those details!

So, after the above steps were applied, our Action Plan looked something like this:

THURSDAY:

  • (Thursday, 10 minutes) hang the wreath
  • (Thursday, 10 minutes) take the Christmas decoration storage bins downstairs
  • (Thursday, 20 minutes) make the grocery list
  • THURSDAY ERRANDS:
    • (Thursday, 10 minutes) drop off table cloth to be pressed
    • (Thursday, 30 minutes) buy the paper to print up the photo and poem

FRIDAY:

  • (Friday, Cleaning team) clean the house
  • (Friday or Saturday, 30 minutes) print up the Christmas photo and keepsake poem
  • FRIDAY ERRAND
    • (Friday evening, 90 minutes with putting away) go to the grocery;

SATURDAY:

  • (Saturday, 45 minutes) make the breakfast casseroles using her mom’s special recipe
  • (Saturday or Sunday, 20 minutes) put appetizer trays together
  • (Any day, picked Saturday, 10 minutes) iron napkins
  • SATURDAY ERRANDS (husband will run):
    • (Saturday, 10 minutes) pick up table cloth; cleaned and pressed
    • (Saturday, 30 minutes) bakery to purchase desserts
    • (Saturday, 30 minutes) pick up champagne and other beverages

SUNDAY:

  • (Sunday morning,  20 minutes) wash the china and wine glasses
  • (Sunday morning, 15 minutes) set the table
  • (Sunday morning, 20 minutes) put together the salad

Not Now List: 

  • take back returns;
  • clean the garage
  • organize the holiday storage closet;

We spent a little time and effort at the beginning, turning jumbled thoughts into a solid, easy to follow and completely manageable action plan!  What was really great was that once we completed this process, which was quick and easy and painless, we had time to tackle some of the items on her list!

How can you apply these steps to a current project?  Give it a try!

(P.S., I texted the client this afternoon to see how the brunch went, I’ll let you know her response next week!)

To:

Receive more ideas and suggestions like these;
Book time with me in person or virtually;
Arrange a presentation for your upcoming event; or
Discover the benefits of Organizational Coaching;

Please contact me.

Call / text 708.790.1940
Online at  http://peaceofmindpo.com
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When The Party Is Over… (A Plan For Your Party Clean-Up)

I was surprised to find that, in 6 years of blogging, I have not written a Post Party Clean-Up article.  So on the tail of a weekend full of parties, let me share my favorite tips for Post Party Clean-Up with you!

I know it’s tempting to leave your clean-up tasks until later or tomorrow, but an hour on clean-up today makes tomorrow so much brighter!  Consider, too, if your event is not at your home, you may need to clean up before you can leave, so it’s best to learn how to clean up-quickly and efficiently.

In addition to your other party prep steps (more on party prep here), make sure

  • the dishwasher is empty, and
  • you have take-home containers on hand to send leftovers home with your guests.

At the end of your event, here is your plan:

1.  Revel for a moment in the end-of-party glow, appreciating the awesome friends and family members that graced your home and / or event.

2.  Drink a very large glass of water, to stay hydrated and fend off any potential early hangover headache (just saying).

3.  If you haven’t eaten, put together a little plate now and grab a bite.  Maybe it’s just me, but I often forget to eat at our events, as I’m busy chatting and taking care of things.

4.  Take 2 minutes to change into something more suitable for an hour of cleaning, if you’re really dressed up.  Just DO NOT GET TOO COMFY!!

Now, roll up your sleeves and get to work!  Food and Floors are the biggest clean-up tasks.

5.  Empty the trash and recycling bins, and start fresh.

6.  Move all food and beverages to the kitchen!  Trash goes in the bin, recycling gets rinsed and goes to the bin, too.  We’ll get to food storage in a minute.

7.  Once the food and beverages are in the kitchen, restore order to the rest of your home:

  • Blow out all candles;
  • wipe down surfaces, clean the wine off the lamp shade (still just me?);
  • put the furniture away (folding chairs and tables), or back where it belongs; and
  • vacuum and run a quick mop if needed.
  • With a team approach, I usually handle the Restoring Order step, while my husband starts the kitchen tasks.
8.  Kitchen Clean-Up, tasks including: 
  • pack up left overs;
  • clean serving dishes;
  • load the dishwasher;
  • wipe down the counters; and
  • make sure everything is turned off before turning in.

9.  Day-After tasks may include:  

  • Empty the coolers;
  • put away the large serving items; and
  • take it easy and eat party left-overs (one of my favorite perks of hosting parties!).

With the next season of parties – First Communion, Mother’s Day, Graduations, etc. – upon us, keep these tips in mind the next time you host an event!

Great Party Part 2: Food Planning and Prep

     I heard from many of you last week when I blogged last week about an upcoming event – thank you! One of you asked what I meant by Food Prep: “How can you possibly have a party without either cooking all day or catering the whole thing?”  Today I’ll shed some light on party planning and food prep.

     Not everyone wants to cook for big events.  It seems like a lot of work, and early food prep seems like extra work and mess, to dirty the kitchen twice.  Also, I have a client that insists on everything being “fresh”, so she has not embraced my make-ahead suggestions, though she struggles to host big events.  Indeed, some foods are best fresh.  But many foods can be assembled a day ahead of an event to make the event go smoother, and still be fresh.  Prep as much as possible a day or two ahead of your event, and leave the final assembly to right before serving. 

I like to cook for parties and events because:

  1. Making some items is cheaper than catering the whole event.  I would rather spend my money on other things.
  2. Home cooking usually tastes better than catered foods.
  3. My family has favorite foods, and I like making those favorites for special events.
  4. Prepping and cooking food a day ahead of an event frees up my time for the event itself, and after years of practice, it’s not really a hassle anymore. 
  5. I like to cook, and it’s enjoyable for me to put a big event together.

Here is next Saturday’s menu:

Appetizers:  These will be completely assembled, so the first person home from church (probably not me) can place them out for guests.

  • Vegetable and dip platter
  • Fruit and dip platter
  • Chip tray with tortilla chips, salsa and guacamole (from Costco, I like theirs better than my homemade ones)
  • A heated chili-cheese dip (3 minutes in the microwave)
  • Deviled eggs (a family favorite)
  • Relish tray
  • Pita chips and hummus (also Costco, I like theirs better)

Beverages:  These, too, will be ready for the first guests, except for the coffee, which will be ready to brew.

  • Iced Tea
  • Beer / Wine / Soda
  • Coffee

Main Course:

  • Fried chicken (catered)
  • Make-ahead mashed potatoes (warmed in the crock pot, click here for recipe)
  • Homemade Macaroni and Cheese (vegetarian, sauce made ahead, macaroni made the morning of the party, warmed in the crock pot)
  • Quinoa and Black Beans (vegetarian, made ahead, served warm or cold, here for the recipe,)
  • Cole slaw (slaw from a bag, assembled with dressing the morning of the event)
  • Bakery bread and butter

Dessert: Strawberry pretzel salad (my mother-in-law is bringing this), cookies (mine) and Ice Cream Cake (catered)

Start with clean counters for good work space, and a clean refrigerator to store your assembled trays and platters.  Also, use cookie sheets to keep each recipe’s ingredients organized (photo).

 Image

Thursday night, when making dinner:

  1. Assemble serving dishes:  egg tray, platters, lidded baking dish for chili-cheese dip
  2. Hard boil eggs, cool and peel
  3. Clean, peel (sons will help with this) and chop veggies
  4. Shred 2 pounds of cheddar cheese (sons and Cuisinart will help)

After Dinner (an hour):  Assemble and refrigerate

  1. Chili Cheese dip
  2. Deviled eggs (son #2 will pipe the filling)
  3. Dill veggie dip (son #2 will help).  The dip tastes better after a day of chilling

Friday night, when making dinner

  1. Brew iced tea
  2. Make cheese sauce for Macaroni, refrigerate
  3. Peel and boil potatoes, make mashed potatoes (special recipe made with sour cream and cream cheese, is really delicious a day or two later!)
  4. Chop Fruit
  5. Assemble Fruit, Vegetable and Relish trays, cover in plastic wrap, place in refrigerator.
  6. Puree Strawberries for fruit dip and refrigerate (Lauren’s Fruit Dip:  8 oz each of Fruit on the bottom strawberry yogurt, cool whip and pureed strawberries.  Mix all together, serve with cut fruit)
  7. Load big white cooler with beer and soda

     So, next time you have a big event coming up, or even a big meal for your family, look at your menu and determine what you can make a day or two before, to free up your time and attention for other things.

Christmas Dinner: Food and Guests Rule

     When I blogged about menu planning a few weeks ago, my message was about saving time and money.   For special occasions, though, we want to make a meal to delight our guests.  For those events, we focus on the guests, the food and the presentation. 

     Menu planning is always a help, making impressive meals easier!  The process is similar, regardless of the focus of your meals. 

  1. Start with cleaning up your kitchen, cleaning out the fridge and clearing some work space!
  2. Consider your guests, family traditions and other logistics.  For example, I need to make sure there are ample veggie options for the vegetarians coming to Christmas dinner, and someone in the family does not onions.  We also have a Christmas Birthday in the house, so we always have birthday cake for dessert!  Logistically, count guests and plan your servings accordingly.   Remember it’s better to have leftovers than not enough.
  3. Make your menu.  Determine if and what anyone else is contributing to the meal.  Let those folks bringing items know what time dinner will be, so they know when to arrive and can determine if their dish needs to come hot or cold to your meal.
  4. Look at your recipes, check what you have on hand and make your grocery list.  Shop at least a few days ahead of time, so you can start your prep, though you may have to run out for forgotten items or last-minute purchases.  Our menu for Christmas, and my grocery items and notes in parentheses, are as follows:
    1. Ham with glaze (my MIL brings the ham, buy cranberry sauce and marmalade for the glaze, I have the rest)
    2. Baked sweet potatoes (MIL will bring)
    3. Baked or mashed potatoes (have)
    4. Biscuits (have)
    5. corn casserole (a family favorite, check sour cream, I have the rest of ingredients)
    6. green bean amandine or Christmas (petite) peas with lemon zest (buy veggie, and almonds or lemon)
    7. A pear, walnut and pomegranate spinach salad I am cobbling together from 2 recipes, choosing my favorite parts of each.  (here is one, Kraft special spinach salad, the other is from FamilyCircle.com) Should be very pretty and colorful on the table.
    8. Turtle brownies for the birthday boy (buy cake mix and caramel, have condensed milk)
    9. Cheese cake with raspberry sauce (have most ingredients, buy graham crackers and frozen raspberries)
  5. I really love cooking a big holiday meal for my family.  But it takes time in the kitchen on those special days, so I do as much as possible ahead so I can still enjoy my guests.  I can do the following a day or 2 before:
    1. Clean out fridge
    2. Make glaze
    3. Scrub potatoes
    4. Shred cheese for biscuits
    5. Sugar walnuts
    6. Bake desserts, make raspberry sauce
    7. Ice / chill wine and beer
    8. Check table linens
  6. One of my favorite tips:
    1. Wash serving dishes and roasting pan ahead of time, leave them on the counter.   
    2. Write item name on a card (or click here to see my porcelain cards) and leave card on corresponding serving dishes;
    3. Place serving dishes on server or table to make sure there is room for everything.
    4. Helpful guests can place the items in the correct dishes with the correct cards.  Let others help you!!
  7. Check the cook times on your items, then move back from your dinner time to determine when items go in the oven to have them all done at the same time.  For example: 
    1. (4 hours prior) Bake Ham
    2. (90 minutes prior) Bake sweet and regular potatoes (or mash them)
    3. (75 minutes prior) Assemble and bake corn casserole
    4. (half hour prior, take out ham to make room) Bake biscuits
    5. (Last half hour) Steam and assemble vegetable, assemble salad, set table

     What are you doing for Christmas Dinner?  And what can you do ahead of time to make things go more smoothly?  Use menu planning to make a great Christmas Dinner for your guests, while allowing you a chance to get out of the kitchen to enjoy them!  Merry Christmas!

How About “Cookie Tuesday”?

     Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday.  May I suggest “Cookie Tuesday”?  It’s time to bake!

     First things first, check your recipes.  Pull out your favorites, and maybe one or two new ones.  (If you are looking for inspiration, you can purchase my friend Chef Kate’s cookbook “It’s Magic” from the Evergreen Park Public Library.) Know your limits, and be realistic.  Don’t try to make 20 different kinds, stick with what you do well,

      Ask yourself whose tradition is it anyway?  Growing up, my mom always rolled out and cookie-cuttered cookies with frosting every year.  My boys and I tried that one year, but they weren’t too interested, so we let it go.  I tried Oreo truffles, too, and while they were delicious, they were a lot of work, so I let those go, too.  Christmas Eve lemon bars are a special tradition with my oldest son, though, so they stay!

      Make Your Plan.  Do you want to bake all at once, or in bits and pieces?  We used to have a big holiday baking event over Thanksgiving weekend.  I have lovely memories of those events, but schedules have gotten more complicated.  Now I bake a few batches on the weekend, and a batch a day during dinner preparation until I’m done.  One batch at a time feels more do-able for me.  Choose for yourself!

      Check your recipes, then your supplies and dishes, too, and make your shopping list.  Buy the real stuff.  Real vanilla, real butter and actual eggs (right VH?).  For flavor and texture and gift giving, yes, it is worth it.  If something is costly to purchase or cumbersome to store, like special pans (Bundt cake, CK?) or expensive spices, borrow, swap or share from friends or family members. 

      Clear your counters.  My kitchen is small and I need to maximize my work space.  My largest counter is clear at all times, and the other ones, too, if I can manage it.   Kitchens are usually for work, not for show, and they have enough personality on their own.  Limit the canisters, decorative jars, clutter, etc. 

      Shop alone.  My kids are helpful, but they give new meaning to “impulse purchases”.  Stick with your baking supplies shopping list.  Now is not the time to stock up for the next month.  Some specialty items are expensive or hard to find, so purchase just what you need.

     For actual baking, enlist aid – my kids are great sous chefs these days.  They can dice and chop and unwrap hundreds of chocolate kisses, so I get their help and we have fun. 

     Prepare your cookies all the way to baking, but pop them in the freezer instead of the oven.  Once frozen, store them in a freezer bag, and bake as needed.  No thawing necessary, just add a minute or two to bake time. This only works if your husband is not aware of this or doesn’t eat raw dough, like mine does!  If you are shipping cookies, pack them as soon as they cool. Freeze the packaged cookies until you are ready to ship them.

     Happy Baking!  and if you have extra cookies lying around, remember the friendly organizer who gave you good tips
(gingerbread is my favorite:)!

Favorite Party Organizing Ideas

     We had a birthday party (for me!) a few weeks ago, and I had some time while tidying up to think about my favorite party organizing tips.  So here they are, my gift to you:

  1. Pantry shop (def.: use up what you have on hand and try not to grocery shop) for a few weeks before your party, to clear up stuff and make room.
  2. Clear the decks:  My counters are always cleared off, but even more so before a party because I tend to need every spare inch of flat space for prep, assembly and serving. 
  3. Make it easy for folks to help you (should they offer), or at least easier on you:  Cake plates, spoons and forks, serving items and ice cream scoopers, plus matches for the birthday candles are always set out on a counter before a birthday party, so you or a helper can grab everything when it comes time for Cake!
  4. Embrace your party food leftovers:  we eat leftovers at least for a couple of days, we love that!  We also spread some around, though, for example:  a class participant suggested keeping a stash of used margarine tubs and take-out containers for distributing party leftovers to party-goers as they leave the party.  She doesn’t mind not getting those containers back.
  5. Clean up when the guests leave.  Yes, right away.  Trust me.  You are still awake and alert, you can load the dishwasher and clean up surfaces tonight, and have clean dishes by the time you wake up.  My wonderful hubby and I have been throwing parties together now for more than 17 years.  He starts the dishes, I collect all food and stuff from around the house, he continues to clean the kitchen, I clean up the floors and put the furniture back where it belongs.   The house is back to normal in an hour.  I would hate to wake up to a still messy house and kitchen the day after a party, that would put a dark cloud on the memories of an otherwise lovely event. 
  6. Revel in your party-clean house.  I buy fresh-cut flowers and light candles for parties, so we enjoy them and the extra shiny party-clean house for many days after. 
  7. Lower your standards the day after:  My birthday party was a lovely evening, very relaxed and fun, and it made me realize yet again how blessed I am by my family and friends.  The next day we got up and got to Mass at our regular time, but after that… well, I admit, we were very tired and did very little for the rest of the day.  We relaxed, watched TV, ate leftovers and generally slugged out.  It was also lovely. 
  8. We can learn from every experience, so I also like to review what worked at a party and what could work better.
    1. I am committed to cutting our paper plate usage for sit-down dinners, right now I can comfortably seat and serve up to 20.  I am tempted to get 4 more sets of dishes and flatware, to give us 24, but we’ll wait and see.
    2. Buy or borrow?  I have a very small 4-cup coffee maker, and as I’m the only coffee drinker here, 360 days a year that is enough.  It becomes a challenge for parties, though.  So three possible solutions – buying a bigger coffee maker for once-in-a-while or a bigger coffee carafe so I can brew little pots all morning and save up, or borrowing one of the first two options.  Now, I just need to figure out how to make weaker coffee so my parents will actually drink it…
    3. Buy or borrow?  I have 4 13×9 inch baking dishes, and until a party last spring, that has always been enough.  I plan to borrow more or use disposable, if I ever need more.  I really only want to store 4 in my cabinet.
    4. Chafing dishes, chocolate fountains, punch bowls – share these large items among family members, and clear up some cabinet space.

      Above all, when you plan your parties and events, remember that getting together to enjoy each others’ company is the whole point of entertaining.   The rest is just details!