Practical Holiday Tips

All the very best for you in 2019

All the very best for you in 2019

Happy New Year: 2019!

As you greet the launch of another year, approach it with confidence, an open heart, and a curious mind. You’ve got this. With all the tough stuff that occurred in 2018, so far we’ve made it with only a few hours to wrap it all up.

For 2019, I wish you an abundance of love, safety, security, optimal health, success, and prosperity. Oh, and of course, a simple, stress-free, practical, and mostly organized home life. I definitely exceeded 3 wishes, but you deserve them all.

Happy New Year!

From The Practical Sort


Travel can be fun. Delays and cancellations not so much. Make the best of bad situations with preparation.

Travel can be fun. Delays and cancellations not so much. Make the best of bad situations with preparation.

When the flight information board throws your plans into a downward spiral, you will be ready.

When the flight information board throws your plans into a downward spiral, you will be ready.

Remember the Boy Scout Motto?  Be Prepared!


Traveling for the holidays?  Whether you are flying to visit family or exploring an exotic destination this holiday season, or any time of year for that matter, expect the unexpected.  Erratic weather, oversold seats, flight delays or cancellations are unpredictable so it is best to be prepared.  That means packing an overnight kit for your carry-on bag.  Zippered reusable plastic linen bags, the kind that sheets or pillowcases are sold in work great. I also like using lightweight, reusable ZizzyBee bags for dry goods. Have kids? Throw some small toys or crafts in to keep them occupied.

Even if your travels remain on land, keep some essentials in your car.  Weather could waylay your plans or you might choose to stay overnight in a quaint village along your journey. You will be ready.

Keep liquid goods well protected by double bagging and try ZizzyBee bags for dry goods such as toys or crafts to occupy children.

Keep liquid goods well protected by double bagging and try ZizzyBee bags for dry goods such as toys or crafts to occupy children.

Opt for wrinkle-free pants and shirt and travel-sizes to keep the bag compact and lightweight. During the flight or on a layover, if a drink spills, you won’t be uncomfortable the remainder of the trip. Simply change in a restroom.

I always keep a small cosmetic pouch in my purse, but if that is not your practice and you cannot live without foundation and mascara, throw those into the travel kit. If you are lucky enough to score a hotel room if your flight is cancelled, most hotels fortunately have blow dryers. That saves you from lugging even a small unit. A comb or hairbrush might be useful. I just use my fingers to fluff my hair.

Remember that any liquids must be 3.4 ounces or less under TSA Regulations. Spray, gel, and roll-on deodorants fall within the 3.4 ounce rule. Powder, stick, and crystal deodorants are allowable in any size. To be on the safe side, ensure your toothpaste is travel-size as gels are likely to get flagged. When packing liquids, keep them in a sealed plastic bag to avoid leakage onto your clothes or ruining paperwork or electronics.  I place the liquids in one bag, then put that bag inside another baggie with a toothbrush, then that larger bag goes inside the zippered linen bag.

Phone charger

Undies/socks

Toothbrush/paste

Deodorant

Medications

Travel-size Shampoo (this can also serve as a body wash)

Shirt

Yoga pants

Snacks

These are the essentials, but there may be other items such as books, E-readers, reading glasses that you cannot live without. Next time you travel you will be prepared for those hiccups.

Happy, safe, and easy travel!


While this starter is not organic, you might be able to locate organic starter or make your own.

While this starter is not organic, you might be able to locate organic starter or make your own.

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Need a quick breakfast or snack idea for holiday guests? How about whipping up a batch or 2 of yogurt. If you have a yogurt maker (and this tip is based upon using a yogurt maker with boxed starter for quick and simple prep), you can begin cranking out the batches now. My yogurt maker which yields 7 jars of lush, creamy yogurt, cost approximately $20, and has gotten lots of use. Most of the organic yogurts in my grocery store average between $1.20 to $2.19, times that by 7. I paid $6.26 for the milk, cream, and yogurt starter yielding at least a $2 savings for each batch. I definitely made more than 10 batches over the last 6 years, so the maker has paid for itself. Before you purchase a yogurt maker, ask around to see if you can borrow one to determine if yogurt making is your thing.

I use a combination of 2 cups organic 1% milk and a pint of organic half and half along with the starter which unfortunately is not organic. Sometimes I make my own starter which is then organic. While I am typically dairy-free, I have not attempted any dairy-free yogurts, although I should. Someday. But don’t let this stop you from experimenting.

Depending upon the ratio of milk to cream, the result will either be thinner or more like sour cream. I do not add sugar consequently for my family members, it is not sweet enough. Therefore my son in particular adds a sprinkle of sugar and jam. I ferment the yogurt for a full 24 hours. The low temps and long ferment allow the bacteria to consume the sugar or lactose in the milk while stimulating more beneficial bacteria creation. This is ideal if you are on a low lactose diet or need to supplement with beneficial bacteria for better digestion or if you have been on a course of antibiotics. Yes, the end result might be a bit too tart for your taste, but go wild with toppings according to your dietary needs.

Add some fruit, jam, granola, nuts, seeds, coconut. By bulking up the servings, you might even be able to divide those 7 jars into at least 2 servings per jar to feed more folks. In fact, you can dump all the jars into an attractive serving bowl surrounded by an assortment of toppings and allow guests to serve themselves with a create-your-own nutritious treat.

Prepping is really simple, the milk and cream get heated to 180F (a digital read thermometer is a must). Shut off the stove once it reaches 180, then let it sit for roughly 30 minutes depending upon the temperature in your kitchen. Once it reaches 108F it is ready for the next step. I pour the starter into the measuring cup I used to ensure 4 cups of combined milk and cream (less to clean). Then I pour the cooked milk into the measuring cup and give it a stir to dissolve the starter into the batter. Using a measuring cup will allow for easier pouring into the jars. Once the milk is in the jars, turn on the yogurt maker and let it do its thing for the next 24 hours.

At the 24 hour mark (it doesn’t have to be exact) shut off the maker, and let the yogurt cool for about 10 minutes before refrigerating. My jars have lasted in the refrigerator for several weeks without going bad. But if you have guests arriving for the holidays, it likely will not sit around for long.

Top the yogurt with a variety of nuts, seeds, coconut, jams and fresh fruit to bulk it up and create an even more delicious treat

Top the yogurt with a variety of nuts, seeds, coconut, jams and fresh fruit to bulk it up and create an even more delicious treat

Your guests will be blown away that your yogurt is homemade and you will be grateful that it really did not take much time yet it hits the spot.



Use a variety of seasonal fresh, organic ingredients if possible for a healthy dish

Use a variety of seasonal fresh, organic ingredients if possible for a healthy dish

A Simple, Tasty Menu Item Serves a Boatload of Guests


Hosting a boatload of guests this holiday season? Running short on prep time between work, extracurricular activities, holiday prep? Oy, how will you ever get it all done? Well here is one trick to simplify your menu.

For meals, select dishes that are super simple, feed lots, and require very little prep time. One of my go-tos is a large roasting pan filled with veggies for roasting. I throw in a variety of seasonal colors, textures, and flavors. For this time of year, I choose carrots, beets, onions, squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, garlic, radishes, fennel, apples, pears, leeks, cranberries, and any other produce that strikes my fancy at the grocery store. I select elongated Japanese sweet potatoes, the longer and thinner, the quicker and less dangerous to cut.

Preheat your oven to 400F. Wash all ingredients. Peel those for which you do not wish the skin to remain on. Obviously the onion, parsnips, carrots, beets, squash, and sweet potatoes fall into this category unless you wish to follow the directions below for the squash.


The garlic skin easily falls away. Chop and add to the rest of the mix. Collect peels in a strainer then compost

The garlic skin easily falls away. Chop and add to the rest of the mix. Collect peels in a strainer then compost

If you wish to roast your garlic separately, you can put the entire bulb or individual cloves into foil with some olive oil and roast them 30-40 minutes skin on. When they are finished, the skins will fall away. Definitely keep an eye on these from about 25 minutes onward because burnt garlic is not so appetizing. You can cut them up or leave them whole and add to the rest of the veggies.

Roughly chop the ingredients or use a chopper to make the process go faster. I hand chop the beets because I do not wish to stain my chopper or spurt beet juice across my counters. This batch I hand cut everything keeping all to uniform in size for even cooking.

If I add cranberries, seeds, or nuts, I add them during the last 10-15 minutes so that they do not burn or get overcooked. You may wish to do the same for any fruit. I do not mind my apples and pears getting soft, so I throw those in with everything else.

I roast my butternut, acorn, or other autumn squash separately and uncut. They are often difficult to dice raw. Wash them, then poke a few holes around the perimeter, coat in oil, and roast for 45-60 minutes. Depending upon size, they may take longer. Once they are fully cooked and somewhat cooled, cut away the skin, scrape away any seeds, dice them and add to your mix. You can roast whole, unpeeled potatoes separately as well, then skin them as they cool.

Roast the squash whole since they are tough to cut raw. You can add the garlic bulb in foil to the same pan for easier clean up. Just remember to set the timer for approx. 30 minutes to pull out the garlic bulb before it burns. Clean out squash seeds after it cools, dice, and add to the mix.

Roast the squash whole since they are tough to cut raw. You can add the garlic bulb in foil to the same pan for easier clean up. Just remember to set the timer for approx. 30 minutes to pull out the garlic bulb before it burns. Clean out squash seeds after it cools, dice, and add to the mix.

Toss your ingredients in a very large mixing bowl with olive, sunflower, or other favorite oil and swish them around with your hands to ensure they are all fully coated. Then dump them into a 9x12 roasting pan which you may choose to line with parchment paper or leaves such as spinach, beet leaves or swiss chard for ease in cleaning afterwards. Add some garlic powder and freshly ground pepper or any other spices you adore to enhance the flavors. Bake for 30-40 minutes, but begin checking for softness of the hard veggies after 30 minutes as ovens cook at different rates. You may also choose to cover the pan with foil to prevent overcooking.

Add your favorite oil, seasonings, and herb to enhance the flavors then place in the oven at 400F for 30-40 minutes. Keep an eye on it so that the veggies don’t burn.

Add your favorite oil, seasonings, and herb to enhance the flavors then place in the oven at 400F for 30-40 minutes. Keep an eye on it so that the veggies don’t burn.


Prepping the ingredients took about 15 minutes and clean up was a breeze. I placed rags under the veggies and cutting boards to catch any ick, and used a small bowl to place cores, root ends, and other debris until I was finished. I also use a strainer in my sink to catch peels. The detritus is them dumped into my compost bin. The utensils and bowls then go into the dishwasher, and the roasting pan is easily scoured as the leaves kept bits from adhering to the bottom and sides of the pan. A quick wipe down in case there were any drips, and voila. Finished.

For the last several weeks, I have been making a version of this changing up the ingredients to suit whatever is in my produce bin, and it usually lasts nearly a full week saving me time as I do not need to make any side dishes for my nightly entrees. It also serves as a snack or lunch when I am on the go.

Collect peels in a strainer then compost

Collect peels in a strainer then compost

Voila. Fast, easy, yummy, colorful, and enough to satisfy your holiday guests.

Voila. Fast, easy, yummy, colorful, and enough to satisfy your holiday guests.

This is a groovy option for serving vegetarians/vegans. Add some pumpkin seeds or roasted cashews to bulk it up with proteins. A few evenings ago I decided to take a different route. I tossed the roasted veggies into my food processor to create a luscious puree. It was amazing although the color might have been a little off putting for some as it was a mocha tone. Had I added beets, it likely would have been bright red but my husband is not a beet eater so I spared him.

I hope that you find roasted veggies to be fast, simple, and tasty for you and your guests.


christmas stamp.jpg

Order your 2018 Holiday Stamps


Get a jump start on your holiday planning. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa stamps are now available at USPS.com

Hanukkah begins the evening of December 2. In a few blinks of the eye, it will be here. This year the US Postal Service collaborated with the Israeli Post to issue a joint stamp.

Kwanzaa starts the day after Christmas on December 26.  Order now or pick up holiday stamps the next time you’re in the vicinity of a post office or grab them with your groceries if your supermarket carries postage stamps. You will be prepared to mail your holiday cards as soon as you finish addressing the envelopes provided you still send out paper greetings.

Click here to order your stamps: USPS.com.

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2018 Hanukkah stamps issued jointly with the Israeli Post.

2018 Hanukkah stamps issued jointly with the Israeli Post.

#Holiday Stamps, #Kwanzaa, #Hanukkah, #Christmas, #USPS





Ship Those Gifts

Did you have a productive Black Friday? 

Snag great deals on Cyber Monday?

Do you still have holes in your gift giving list? 

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Now is the time to make some headway and purchase the remainder of your gifts.  Feel the satisfaction of crossing off to do list items. Begin mailing presents to those who live out of town. 

Don't have time to go from store to store and then the post office battling the traffic and long lines?  Consider ordering gifts online.  Have the retailer gift wrap and ship to save you time and possibly some money.  Look for product discounts and free shipping options to stay within your holiday budget.

Be web savvy.  Stick with sites that use https in their web address.  Ensure that the website belongs to the official brand merchant.  If your credit card company offers virtual account numbers, they are an awesome way to keep your card secure. 

Need additional suggestions for keeping on track during the busy holiday season? Contact ThePracticalSort.com to get sorted right away.

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Want to stay on top of your holiday to do list?  Before the mad rush of the season is in full swing, begin aggregating your mailing list data.  Ensure that addresses are up-to-date.  Have you corrected any name changes due to marriage or divorce?  Added the newest family members since last year's mailing? Or perhaps you need to edit labels to account for those who have passed on.

To speed up the greeting card process, consider creating a spreadsheet with all of the pertinent label information.   Yes, it is more work upfront, but with a few minor edits each year, you will thank yourself that you invested the initial time.  Once all of the name and address information is entered, use a word processor's mail merge to create the labels.  I use Excel for the spreadsheet and Word for the labels, but you can use whatever programs you like.  

I prefer to add a holiday graphic to each label to dress them up as seen on the left.

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Consider using the same spreadsheet to track gift ideas and purchases.  Or you can use The Practical Sort's Gift Tracking Guide click here to access.

 

 


Best Holiday Travel Times

Chances are you have already booked your Thanksgiving holiday flights.  And if you are traveling into or out of PDX, your travel should go relatively smoothly as it ranks #10 on Forbes list of on-time performance airports.

However, if you are planning a road trip, according to AAA 45.5 million other travelers will be on the roads which is a 3.2% increase over last year.  AAA states that these drivers will also pay the highest gasoline prices since 2014. 

Travel & Leisure recommends Portland travelers avoid the roadways Wednesday and Friday 4 pm Thanksgiving week.  Ideal times are typically Thanksgiving and Sunday mornings at 6 am.  Click on the highlighted sources if you wish to view their airport best and worst lists and suggested travel times.

Before you start your car review this checklist:

1.  Check your destination's weather for your trip's duration to ensure you are packing appropriate clothing.

2.  Planing to travel in high elevations and through the mountain passes?  Put tire chains in your car if you do not have studded tires.  Ensure that your tires are inflated to the manufacturer's recommended PSI.

3.  Toss in some extra blankets, water, snacks, first aid kit with flares, gloves, extra socks, hat, dry set of clothes, ice scraper, snow shovel, jumper cables, phone charger, and flashlight.

4.  Let someone know that you are leaving and your expected arrival time.

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5.  Fill up your gas tank.

6.  If you are bringing a covered dish to the dinner, check to make sure that you have serving utensils along with all the items needed to do last minute preparations before plating.

7.  Remember the host/hostess gift? 

8.  Set timers for your home lights and stop the mail and newspapers if you will be away for a more than a day.  Don't forget to toss in your overnight toiletries kit.

Safe travels and enjoy your celebration.

 


Holiday Preparation is Key to a Successful Celebration 


Last week's tip was a reminder to place your order for your Thanksgiving turkey, ham and any fixin's to go along with the meal.  Provided that you have already done so, here are some additional last minute tips to ensure that you are prepared for a special celebration.

1.      Check your rsvps to confirm # of guests expected

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2.       Iron your table cloth and napkins

3.       Purchase a centerpiece

4.      Ensure that your grocery list has all necessary ingredients to avoid last minute trips to the store especially on the holiday or the immediate days prior when the pickings are slim and lines are long

5.      Begin baking

6.      Stock up on beverages to pair well with the entrees and dessert.  Don't forget coffee and tea (caffeinated and decaf).

7.      Count and rinse the china, stainless, and glassware if they have not been used in ages.  Do you have an adequate supply of each?

8.      Do you have enough seating or do you need to borrow some chairs and tables?

9.      Place guest towels in your powder room

10.     If your oven is not large enough, begin cooking items ahead of time that can be refrigerated or frozen then reheated

11.      Prepare guest rooms for overnight visitors

 

Have a fantastic Thanksgiving celebration filled with much warmth and happiness from The Practical Sort.