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Holiday balance can seem impossible. Instead of visions of sugarplums, we see an avalanche of work deadlines, holiday pageants and cookie trays. We breathlessly dash through the season, and collapse at the end, grateful to have somehow survived.

Let’s step back. We probably can’t recapture the golden memory days (which probably weren’t as golden as we remember, anyway) but we can make some breathing room to more fully enjoy what we have.

Balancing acts at work are often a challenge, but let’s look at the real core of the holidays – enjoying time with family and friends. Even with the best intentions, things can get hectic. There may be school pageants, recitals, bake sales, holiday bazaars, concerts, gifts to buy, visiting relatives, and more. Consider the following five holiday hacks to slalom through the season.

Foodie Top Tips:

  • Be a potluck star. Take pizza. Potluck meals bring memories of casseroles, home baked goods, deviled eggs and cucumber sandwiches. Wonderful, time-intensive goodies. Forget it. Call ahead, stop by the pizza joint and pick up a large pizza. Have them cut it into little squares, or take a knife with you and do it yourself upon arrival. Every kid in the room and all the picky eaters will adore you for saving them from a fate worse than death. Holiday balance plus undying gratitude. It’s a win-win.
  • If bake sale goodies have to be homemade…go for Rice Krispy Treats. One big bowl, a half stick of butter, a bag of marshmallows. Microwave until it looks like Mt. Vesuvius erupting, but in white. Stir. Have big bowl #2 ready, with about 3/4 of a box of rice cereal. Pour the contents of bowl 1 into bowl 2. Stir. Dump into a baking pan and press down. Bonus points: put holiday cake sprinkles on top before you press down. PS: Spray everything liberally with no-stick spray before you start. Total time, about 10 minutes.

Top Tips for Gifts:

  • Embrace your inner geek. Online shopping is available 24/7. Check out pre-wrapped gifts, which can be sent directly to recipients. A food gift that is a real hit can be repeated year after year; you might not even need to re-enter recipients’ addresses. Online e-greeting card services can send lovely animated emails to your whole list, either en masse or on an individual basis with individual messages.
  • Productive, happy kids: Supply kids with blank cards which have envelopes to fit. Provide paints or markers. Let the kids create your holiday and all-occasion cards by decorating them with their original artwork. Every relative and friend will get an original masterpiece. It makes no difference if the design is on both the outside and inside, or front or back, or if it is an abstract done by a two year old. It’s perfect. You save on card expenses, the kids participated in the holiday, and you can even take several cards and envelopes, tie ribbon around them, and have the ideal gift for Grandma.
  • Shop now. Spread present-gathering over months rather than days. Look for sales and save money. If you have a half dozen guys on your list, keep their shirt sizes in mind and stock up when their favorite NFL team T shirts are on sale. Novelty items can make great stocking stuffers; buy several and assign them to lucky recipients later. Did you buy a couple too many? Delegate a box as “central gift.” Tuck away extra miscellaneous presents as an emergency stash for those times during the year when you don’t have time to shop.

And a Bonus:

Get more joy from the recitals, pageants and festive gatherings. Get there early. This one is counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Getting an early start means you are less likely to forget something in the last minute rush. Arriving early to a recital, play or event means you can park close-in and not four snowy, cold, slushy blocks away. There is time to find the washroom. You will get a better seat, or if seats are reserved, you won’t have to bulldoze your way down an isle of seated patrons with winter coats. You can breathe, relax, and read the program to see when your favorite performer will perform. Being early is definitely worth it.

Strive for holiday balance. Focus on those things which really matter. Slow down, streamline, take time and create your own golden holiday memories.