StressLess Holidays: Post-Holiday Debriefing — 10 Minutes, 4 Questions

StressLess Holidays: Post-Holiday Debriefing -- 10 Minutes, 4 Questions

Invest 10 minutes to make your next holiday StressLess!

“Did you have a nice holiday?”      “How was your Thanksgiving?”      “Did you have a good Christmas?”

Everywhere you go this time of year, someone is either wishing you a happy holiday or asking how your holiday went. We usually answer the latter with an automatic “Very nice!” or “Great!”, but there is a lot of value in spending a few minutes alone with that question and answering it more deeply.

I know you are busy today. Most of us are simultaneously relaunching our regular workaday lives and trying to gear up for the holiday for which Thanksgiving threatens to become a mere prelude. But could you find a way to take 10 minutes to sit quietly with a pencil and paper (and maybe a cuppa) just to think a little? Here are four questions to help you stress less during the next go-round:

  1. How did you feel during the holiday? Peaceful? Stressed? Happy? Resentful? Joyful? Exhausted? Exhilarated? Frustrated? Relaxed? How about the rest of the people in your orbit?
  2. What didn’t go so well? Food plans too elaborate? Schedule too packed? Not enough pauses for naps, exercise, prayer? Or, Aunt Winifred fought with Aunt Prunella? Not enough chairs to go around? Forgot to pack extra diapers? Nobody liked the new dessert we tried (and need more pecan pie!)? Long travel day left kids exhausted?
  3. What worked great? Make-ahead turkey freed oven for other cooking? Ditching the kids-table and mixing ages got all generations interacting? Post-meal walk suggestion proved popular? Everybody raved about your sweet potatoes?
  4. What can I do to make the next holiday StressLess?
    • When it comes to what others control or what affects the group, think in terms of nudging: Give Aunt Winifred plenty of tasks to help her feel needed, and seat her far away from poor Aunt P. Ask if the mealtime might be adjusted from 2 pm to noon or 1 o’clock to allow littles to get a nap afterward.
    • When it comes to what you control, you can make bigger changes faster: Sacrifice some of the afternoon fun and games to withdraw to a bedroom with your toddler for a rest. Go outside every couple of hours for a ten-minute breather. Give new recipes a test-run before the big meal. Round up some extra folding chairs. Simplify the menu — make more of fewer items.
    • When it comes things that can’t be changed, work on your attitude: Recognize how much you set the tone for the rest of the family, and lead by example. Realize it’s only a meal, it’s only a day, it’s only a weekend, and nobody will die from missing a nap or having to wear a tea towel for a diaper. Count your blessings — everybody has ’em. And, try to forgive Aunt Winifred for being Aunt Winifred.

So, how was your holiday? Share the good, the bad, and the ugly here!

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Thanksgiving for Lazy People — Make-ahead Turkey and Gravy

Let's hear it for make-ahead turkey!

Thanksgiving without turkey stress — it’s a good thing.

In a Facebook discussion about my last post, a friend asked how it is possible for my mom to make the turkey and me to make the gravy at two separate houses. It was revealed that I actually make the gravy at their house before our shared Thanksgiving meal but that Mom makes the turkey ahead of time. Stop the presses! Thanksgiving turkey cooked before the big day? How is it done?

Well, it’s really no big deal. Several years ago, we had a bit of a turkey fiasco on Thanksgiving when Mom and Dad’s oven partly quit — it felt hot when we opened the door to check that turkey 18,000 times, but it wasn’t finishing the silly thing. After delaying the meal for awhile, we finally hacked Mr. Tom into pieces and microwaved him — a rather unsatisfying ending to his short life and a rather unsatisfying result on our plates, too. While we worked, we talked about how it was too bad we couldn’t have made the turkey the day before and realized the oven wasn’t working. (Thankfully, my parents have another oven that had been faithfully baking the sides all morning.) “Why couldn’t we do that next year?” we thought. Our reasoning went like this:

  • We never present the whole bird in all his golden glory at the table anyway — we always carve him in the kitchen and bring out the meat on a platter.
  • We always have plenty of leftover turkey and never mind eating the reheated leftovers the next day, so why not reheat the turkey for the big Thanksgiving meal?
  • And think of the other benefits — the ones besides finding out in advance that one’s oven is kaput:
    • A free oven on Tday for baking sweet potato casserole, stuffing, green bean casserole, and so on!
    • No turkey-carving-what-exploded-in-here mess in the kitchen on the big day! Just think of that for a minute. This is huge!!!
    • Make-ahead turkey = easier gravy: Just pour off and strain the drippings. Once chilled, the risen-to-the-top solid fat is easy to lift off.

Mom and I did this the very next year and we have NEVER looked back. Now, our entire Thanksgiving menu is prepped before the big day except for two items — Mom’s dumplings and my gravy — and if we were eating at my house the gravy would be mostly made ahead as well. If I wanted to, I could drive over to Mom’s and get the drippings ahead of time and do the gravy at my house, but that’s more effort than just taking 15 minutes to make it on the day. With everything else prepped and only the baking of side dishes to be done, Thanksgiving morning is a breeze.

Here’s the how-to:

  1. One or two days before Thanksgiving, cook your turkey with whatever method you prefer — open-roasted, covered-roasted, grilled, stewed, oven bag — whatever. I don’t think deep-fried would work as well made-ahead, however. We roast ours breast-side-down, uncovered because he’s so very big. When I’ve made a smaller version, I often cook him in a covered pot or enameled roaster.
  2. Remove Mr. Tom to a big cutting board — now’s the time to use the one with grooves cut into it to catch drippings, if you have one.
  3. If your roasting pan is stovetop-proof, Put it over two burners turned to medium, add a cup of water, and bring to a simmer. Scrape up the delicious fond stuck to the bottom of the roaster. (If you can’t do that, don’t worry — just scrape up what you can and continue.) Pour off and strain the turkey drippings into a container. Chill that in the fridge. (This step is only if you roasted the bird, natch.) Save all the strained bits.
  4. When the meat is rested and cool enough to handle, carve it and wrap well in foil. You can even arrange it right on an oven-proof serving platter and wrap that in foil. Alternatively, I just read somewhere, and can’t for the life of me remember where, that somebody puts a layer of gravy on the platter under the arranged turkey to act as insurance against drying out during reheating. We haven’t felt like our turkey is dry, but that’s an interesting idea. Just seal it up tight and refrigerate immediately.
  5. Now for the fun part. (Kidding — I don’t like this part, but it is beyond terrific to get it out of the way long before the meal and not have to face it when I am stuffed full of stuffing afterward.): Pick that bird! Pull every little bit of extra meat you can off the carcass. Bag it up and refrigerate it to use within a few days, or label and freeze it as a treasure up your sleeve for another time. Save the skin and extra bits that reveal themselves to not be meat.
  6. At this point, you are looking at a rather naked skeleton. Into the trash? Au contraire, Pierre! It’s time to make stock! Or not, if you don’t want to. You can either freeze the bones and skin until you have time to deal with them after the holiday, or even throw it all away, although I would shed a little tear if I was there with you because stock is dead easy to make and can simmer away while you prep your made-ahead side dishes. Your call, though. If you want to make stock (I’m so proud of you!), put the bones and skin and strained roasting pan bits into your biggest pot. If necessary, use the heel of a heavy chef’s knife or even a washed hammer to break up the skeleton to make it fit down in there properly. Cover everything with cold water and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. A grey scummy foam will form on the surface. Use a spoon to scoop that off and throw it away. Turn the heat down so the liquid just simmers — just a bubble or two or three at a time is breaking the surface — and THAT’S IT. Walk away and go on about your life for anywhere from two hours to overnight. If the heat is set low enough it won’t boil dry because you aren’t boiling it. If you want to, you can add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to the water to help leach minerals from the bones and into the broth, which many people think is very healthful. I do that if I think of it. You can also add onion skins and root ends, celery bits, carrot, a bouquet garni, and so on. When I was newer to stock-making I used to do that and felt very French and homemaker-extraordinaire-ish and everything, but now I make stock almost weekly (usually with rotisserie-chicken-from-Sam’s-Club leftovers) and it’s just water and a splash of vinegar.
  7. On Thanksgiving Day, remove the meat from the fridge a little more than an hour before service. Thirty minutes later, pop it in a 350-400 degree oven (offering a range because I know you have other dishes baking or heating in there, too) for about thirty minutes until it is hot. It doesn’t have to be screaming hot, you know, because most people are going to blanket it with hot gravy or eat it with bites of hot dressing and sweet potatoes. If you are really worried about it being too dry because maybe you overcooked it just a little the day before, then spoon a little water or stock over the meat before you heat it. Don’t drown it, however.

Now, do you want gravy to go with your turkey? You can handle that a couple of ways:

  • To make it completely ahead (amounts below are for 1 quart of gravy):
    1. Remove the hardened layer of fat from chilled turkey drippings and set aside. Melt the congealed fat-free drippings in a saucepan or in the microwave until they are hot.
    2. Melt 1/2 c. of the fat from the top of the turkey drippings in a 2 quart saucepan over medium heat.
    3. Stir in 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour if you are entertaining any GF diners).
    4. Stir, stir, stir until you have a smooth mass. Keep stirring and cooking for about two minutes. This will prevent your gravy from having a raw flour taste.
    5. Leave your roux for just a moment (That’s the fancy French name for a flour/fat mixture cooked together when making a sauce or gravy.) to measure 4 cups of the hot drippings. If you don’t have enough to make that amount, add hot water to equal 4 cups. If you brined your bird, you may want to use half drippings and half water to prevent gravy that is too salty.
    6. Add the hot drippings to the roux, whisking or stirring all the while. Because the drippings are hot, the mixture will thicken almost immediately. If you see a few lumps, no fear. Just keep whisking and it will smooth out. You can do this!
    7. Taste the gravy to see if it needs seasoning. I don’t season mine until now because there are factors that affect the amount it needs — whether the turkey was brined or rubbed with seasoning before cooking matters a lot! Add salt and pepper as desired.
    8. Pour the gravy into a storage container, cover, and chill until shortly before serving time.
    9. To reheat, dump the gravy into a saucepan and heat over low heat, covered, stirring occasionally. You may need to add a little water to get it to the right consistency. Taste it for seasoning again when it is hot throughout. Adjust as needed and serve.
  • To make the gravy shortly before serving, just omit steps 8 and 9. It takes about 15 minutes to make the gravy, so factor that into your Thanksgiving Day timetable. You can make it about 30 minutes early and let it sit in the pot, covered, off heat. Five minutes before service, put it back over low heat and let it heat up a little more. Whisk it again, pour it into your serving container (We use a 1 quart ceramic pitcher instead of a gravy boat because we are feeding a crowd.), and take it to the table.

There you go — make-ahead turkey and gravy.

How do you fix turkey for Thanksgiving? Or, do you fix turkey at all? Maybe you have a different main dish tradition — please share in the comments! And, I pray for all of us a happy and blessed Thanksgiving week. For more about making Thanksgiving Day easier, look here.

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Life for Lazy People — Thanksgiving Prep

Prone -- probably my favorite position

Prone — probably the favorite position of lazily-productive people like me

It is one short week until Thanksgiving, and I hope you haven’t been waiting for me to tell you to start planning. I have been sick this week, and each day I think, “Tomorrow I’ll work on a grocery list and get to the store,” but tomorrow comes and I’m still here in my yoga pants and and fuzzy socks on the sofa, spending way too much time on Facebook and taking naps. But Thanksgiving will come no matter how much I think it might be a good idea to put it off for another week, so I’d best get cracking.

I start planning for a holiday celebration with a little scrutiny of our particular situation. For this Thanksgiving:

–The place: at my parents’ house

–The guests: 20 at last count

–Special needs: three elderly guests with limited mobility (What will work best: pass food at the table, buffet, young people serve older people?)

–The meal: Mom and I divide most of the cooking. We have a pretty standard menu for this holiday:

Turkey — Mom

Gravy — Me

Dumplings — Mom

Cornbread Dressing — Mom

Bread Stuffing/Filling — Me

Cranberry Sauce — Me

Sweet Potato Casserole — Me

Chocolate and Sweet Potato Pies — Mom

Pumpkin Pie and another dessert — Me

In addition, we invite our guests to feel free to bring anything “without which it wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving to you,” which means we often have green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, some kind of yummy salad, and more on the table. Also, some people bring cheese, bologna, crackers and other nibbly things to have later in the day during all of the game-playing and puzzle-putting-together that typically happens.

–Decorating: This is not my area of talent, but our daughter, Alyssa, does a beautiful job. She organizes the kids and has them make place-cards, she sets up a Thankful Tree, and she makes the table beautiful.

Our situation changes little from year to year, which is both comforting and helpful for the ones doing the hosting.

A half-hour spent gathering my thoughts about Thanksgiving saves time in the long run, a hallmark of lazy productivity.

A half-hour spent gathering my thoughts saves time in the long run, a hallmark of lazy productivity.

This week, I need to think of what I can be doing to make next week easier:

  1. Make space in the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry for extra ingredients and finished dishes.
  2. Look over my recipes and make a detailed grocery list.
  3. Make a food prep schedule, taking into consideration how well each dish keeps, oven space, and storage space. Oh, yes, and take into account my energy level and time availability!
  4. Buy all I can at the grocery store this week. Save produce purchasing for next week.

Does your family celebrate Thanksgiving? Do you have special considerations in your planning? How do you feel about the “big meal” holidays — love ’em or loathe ’em?

Other Lazy Productivity posts you might find useful:
Life for Lazy People — an Introduction

Life for Lazy People — Defining the Vocabulary of Lazy Productivity

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Flow: Lose Yourself in Something Now and Then

Flow: For Good Mental Health, Lose Yourself in Something Now and Then

Many people call it flow. Athletes call it being in the zone. I call it a Very Good Thing, a state of grace, a blessing. What is flow? Wikipedia says flow “is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”

Why should we care about flow? I suppose just because it feels so wonderful. When I experience flow, I emerge on the other side feeling refreshed, enthusiastic, and pleased with what I have been doing. I have mental clarity. I feel energized. I am happy.

Want to flow? Here are some tips:

  • I have no data to back it up, but I hypothesize that people experience flow most often when they work on tasks of their own choosing and without close supervision. This is an often ignored perk for homemakers and entrepreneurs.
  • Flow is most likely to happen when a person is already competent with a skill but challenges herself to rise to a slightly higher level of effort with the task at hand. An example is a little project I completed a week or so ago. I have been cooking for almost forty years and I have learned more and more over that time. I love it — reading about it, watching other people do it, doing it myself, and eating the results. On this day, I got the idea to try making potato gnocchi. I had seen a Cooks’ Illustrated recipe for it a few days earlier, and it occurred to me that I had all of the ingredients and the time to tackle it. I dove in and emerged an hour or two later feeling accomplished and quite proud of my little ridged barrels of pasta.
  • Flow seems to occur most naturally when one is doing something creative. Knitting, drawing, playing an instrument, designing a garden space, building a piece of furniture — these kinds of activities, in the hands of a person skilled at them, are great for flow, which brings us to…
  • …you gotta know to flow! Beginners don’t experience flow because they have no competence at what they are doing. Every step is unfamiliar, every moment is filled with uncertainty and possibly angst. So, if creative work is not a part of your life, think of what looks appealing and possible and see if you can take it up. Pottery? Sewing? Folk dancing? Get past the beginner stage, and you’ve got a good chance to start flowing.
Sometimes flow makes a mess.

I got so into the flow of making gnocchi that it didn’t occur me to take photos until the very end!

Tell me: Do you ever experience flow? What gets your creativity going? How do you make time for it?

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Kiss in Front of Your Kids

Why You Should Kiss in Front of Your Kids

Kiss in front of your kids. Smooch. Squeeze each other. No, I’m not taking about anything that causes heavy breathing — I’m talking about:

  • Promoting a sense of security that can never be achieved through words alone. Telling your child, “Mommy and Daddy will never get divorced,” doesn’t come close to what they understand by watching you laugh together, speak affectionately to each other, and touch each other with love.
  • Letting them see what healthy marriages look like — two individuals who are in the never-totally-completed process of becoming one but are reaching for that state every day.
  • Showing them that physical expressions of love, in their proper place, are good and right.
  • Helping them find their place in the family and in the world. You hug and kiss each other, and then you draw your children into the circle of loving. They learn they are not the most important person to you (Their daddy is!), but they are way, way up there. This, too, is good and right.
Couples who play together stay together!

Couples who play together stay together!

How do you do this if it doesn’t come naturally?

  1. Work at becoming playful! Yep, for some of us lightening up is an effort. Be free with tickles, grab your husband when he walks by and dance him once around the room, have a family roughhousing session on the floor. Give smurfets. (I think everyone except us calls these raspberries.)
  2. Give warm greetings and farewells.
  3. If you have to, start small and build: squeeze your husband on the shoulder, sit next to him on the sofa and then snuggle for a few minutes, hold hands when you pray before meals. (If he acts surprised, this is a sign you need to do it much more often!)
Never stop laughing together!

Never stop laughing together!

What about you? Are you and your husband affectionate in front of your kids? I think how easy this is has a lot to do with how we were raised. Were your parent huggers and kissers?

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Parenting for Lazy People: Acknowledge Wants, Parent for Needs

Parenting for Lazy People: Acknowledge Wants, Parent for Needs @

Look past the want to see the need!  photo credit: Lauren Bingham


Every child gives his or her parents multiple opportunities per day to practice wants vs. needs parenting:

I want a popsicle!

I want to take Prunella’s toy!

I want to stay up!

I want to go to the dance!

I want an iPad!

Wise parents hear these wants and send them through their Needs Filter:

I want a popsicle! —————> Needs Filter: dinner in 30 minutes, healthy-food-appetite-training —————> Wise Response: I know your tummy feels empty. You may have a drink of water right now, and then we will have dinner pretty soon. No popsicles so close to dinner time.

I want Prunella’s toy! —————> Needs Filter: You need to learn fair treatment of others, appropriate sharing, ownership, and self-control. —————> Wise Response: You can’t always have what you want as soon as you want it. You need to wait until Prunella is finished with it. Maybe you could ask her, “Prunella, after you have played with your toy for awhile, I would like a turn to play with it.”

I want to stay up! —————> Needs Filter: rest vital; Mommy and Daddy grownup time vital —————> Wise Response: I know you’d like to stay up, but it’s bedtime. Go choose a book for us to read while I help your brother.

I want to go to the dance! —————> Needs Filter: lascivious atmosphere; you need to learn to stand for righteousness —————> Wise Response: I know you want to be with your friends and have fun and I want that for you, too, but sinful things happen at dances in a far more concentrated amount than in many other situations. Let’s talk about that and some alternatives…

I want an iPad! —————> Needs Filter: working for luxuries = good; need discernment re discretionary money and to appreciate belongings —————> Wise Response: If you want an expensive item like that, we can talk together about ways you might go about earning the money for it. Do you want to think first about whether it will be worth it to you to work so hard for it?

Does this kind of thought/filtering and answering take a lot of time? I am sorry to have to break it to you but, yes, it does.

Two truths:

The wise way is rarely the easy way.

Wise parenting = investment parenting

Every little thing you do and say as a parent is an investment in the future — for good or bad. Think about that for a minute. Everything, really and truly. It kind of makes you want to make an appointment to be sterilized right away, doesn’t it? Just kidding. Sort of.

Thankfully all of the work and investment of parenting doesn’t happen in one day, but here’s the thing that’s easy to miss: the work and investment of parenting does happen every day. Every day matters, every decision matters. Every choice gets added to all of the other choices and snowballs into a path of life, a character, a trajectory.

But here’s the really cool thing: even though the wise way is not the “easy way,” in the end it turns out to be far easier than the “easy way.” So, the hard way turns out to be the easy way and the easy way turns out to be the hard way. Crazy, I know. It’s sowing and reaping, suffering and glory, investing and dividends.

It’s acknowledging wants, but parenting for needs.

For more parenting posts, see the Parenting Practice page.

What about you? Do you find it challenging to look past wants and parent for needs? What strategies to you use to parent as wisely as you can? Please share in the comments!


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