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Happy holidays

Start planning now to make sure your seasons are filled with cheer

Start planning now to make sure your seasons are filled with cheer

October 26, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

It's not even Halloween, so why am I writing about Christmas?

This year, if you are someone who enjoys the slow build up to Christmas with holiday decor and parties, keep in mind there are only four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas as Thanksgiving falls late this year.

With November starting on a Saturday, Thanksgiving -- held on the fourth Thursday of November -- is Nov. 27.

To maximize your enjoyment and not get stressed from the short turnaround, here are some tips for planning for the Christmas holiday:

o Make a plan. Start with a budget for gifts, decor and treats you want to bake. This can all add up quickly. Then you might want to map out a schedule of when to get things done. For many families, Thanksgiving weekend is the time to put up Christmas decor.

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o If you haven't already started your shopping for the gift-giving season, many stores and retail Web sites are offering sales with significant savings because of the downturn in the economy. Keep your eye out for good bargains and coupons, such as those offered to department store credit card holders. Check with stores to see if they are offering a layaway program. According to Marketwatch.com, Kmart is the only national discount department store that offers layaway. Boscov's at Frederick Towne Mall in Frederick, Md., offers layaway. The Bon Ton has a program in which store charge card holders get billed to make payments on their purchases, but don't have to pay interest until March 2009.

o Get a head start on your cookie baking and store the cookies to keep them fresh until you need them. I do this by putting the cookies in tins, using wax paper to separate the layers. Then I apply masking tape around where the lid meets the can to retain freshness. This works for at least a couple of weeks; willpower tends to cave at that point.

Anther option is to freeze the cookies. Place them in a plastic container or zip bag, getting as much air out of the bag as possible. Then wrap the bag or container with freezer paper, foil or another layer of plastic, said Lynn Little, family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County. The extra layer helps the cookies retain moisture as they have a tendency to dry out in the freezer. If you want to be able to thaw a few cookies at a time, then after baking the cookies and letting them cool, place them on a tray. Put the tray in the freezer to let the cookies freeze individually first. Then put the cookies in the container, using wax or parchment paper to separate the layers of cookies. This makes it easier to remove a few cookies without damaging others in the container.

Chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter and bar cookies should freeze fine for a month or two. Cookies containing nuts might not freeze well for longer than a month or two because the nuts could develop an off flavor, Little said.

A good rule of thumb, Little said, is not to try freezing anything that is not baked first such as cookies that do not require baking.

To thaw, take the cookies out of the wrap so they don't get soggy as they thaw. Arrange them on a plate to let them thaw.

o Prep your holiday greeting cards by addressing the envelopes. Two holiday first-class stamps became available this past Thursday: holiday nutcrackers and a stamp featuring a detail from Sandro Botticelli's "Virgin and Child with the Young John the Baptist" painting. If you prefer sending your holiday greetings via e-mail, peruse the predesigned selections or take time to create your own.

o Do you know if all your Christmas lights are in working order? Check your holiday decorations to see if there's anything you need to pick up or make so when you do have time to decorate you won't have to stop for a run to the store.

Do you have enough tape, wrapping paper and gift-wrapping accessories?

o Are there any home projects, major cleaning or clutter ridding you need to tackle? Get them under control before Thanksgiving week.

o If you're planning a holiday get-together, you might want to get the invitations out early as your friends' and family's time also will quickly get taken up with their own holiday preparations and other parties.

After Thanksgiving weekend, when there is sure to be plenty of family around, there are only three weekends left before Christmas, while the first candle for Hanukkah will be lit at sundown Sunday, Dec. 21, and Kwanzaa is Friday, Dec. 26.

o If there are any holiday shows you want tickets for, make your plans now. The Herald-Mail's Lifestyle section will run a list of upcoming holiday events in early November.

But, remember, try not to overbook yourself. You don't want to get too stressed.

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