Real Family Gatherings: Part 3
Part 3: Planning Tools and Strategies for Keeping the Joy
Do you feel like you’ve met some new friends and gotten to “visit” in their homes? In this series you have met three very real and very different women, and read about their favorite family gatherings. Now it’s time to reveal their ah-ha! moments and discover helpful tips and strategies for how they do it and maintain joy in the process. Most organizers make it look so easy that we often under-appreciate them because we don’t know how much effort was put forth. Eventually we become the ones that must organize and we say, “HOW IN THE WORLD DID YOU DO THIS?!”
If you feel like you’d like to start from the very beginning, start reading the series about real family gatherings here.
Here is an index of the tips we’ll cover so you can reference them easily later:
- Picking a Date
- Delegate Tasks
- Routine is Your Friend
- Spread it Out Over Time
- Making Lots of Space in a Small Space
- Financing the Gathering
- Resources You can Use
- What would you do differently?
- What did you learn the hard way?
- What was your ah-ha! moment?
Picking a Date
For Kelly and Marcia, the date is the easiest thing because it’s always consistent. Thursday nights for Kelly’s Dinner & Devotions and Christmas Eve for Marcia’s Christmas gathering. Usually there is a lot of back and forth for Marcia’s family about when exactly her family will gather on Christmas Eve because her adult kids have other family celebrations to attend, but this year she set a time that was convenient for her and announced it. Marcia also recommends settling the date and time at least a month in advance so that if there is any push-back about it, all ruffled feathers will be smoothed over by the time the family gathering occurs and everyone can just enjoy themselves.
Amy, on the other hand, has up to SIX Christmases to coordinate around (and those are the ones she is attending, not the other family gatherings her adult children have to consider). She will wait to choose their date until early December to let the dust settle from all the other organized gatherings. For example, Christmas Eve is always with her dad, so that’s a concrete date she can work around. Plus, she has kids working in the medical field. Since their schedules are always changing, it’s safer to plan a date within their two-week schedule block.
One small note on locations: Amy mentioned that certain family gatherings are traditionally at certain homes. However, with aging parents and changing health needs consider how you can help. Can you help with the cleaning schedule? Should you host instead to alleviate mental/emotional stress? Does the location now need to be handicap-accessible? If you’re concerned about your house being too small, keep reading! There are some great tips on that later!
Food is obviously the easiest to delegate! Marcia has noticed that her kids are starting to master the famous hor d’oeuvre recipes, so she has started assigning those and concentrating solely on the main dish or the recipes that are best straight out of the oven. Her kids love helping, too, because they know they will get a tray full of food and cookies to take home for their own family Christmas!
Amy picks the main meat and provides basic drinks (water and lemonade), she’ll delegate the side dishes, and ask everyone to bring their own beverage. They don’t drink a lot of pop/soda/cola in their house so she doesn’t want to be stuck with all the leftover carbonation.
Kelly and her sister will sometimes switch responsibility for the main meal, or Kelly will let everyone know what the main dish is and ask them to bring sides that go with that. Her rule-of-thumb is don’t make anything that uses more than one or two pots! It must be simple and go a long way! By the way, she has tried making it easier on herself (and her wallet) and just made dessert. However, people didn’t come as often. Remember what your family needs are and tailor your gathering to that!
Beyond the food, Marcia summed it up like this, “Mama does it all!” I found similar sentiments with Amy and Kelly. In the last moments, if they feel like they are in a pinch, they’ll holler out for some help; but mostly they do it all.
So my question is how?! You seem to love these gatherings so much, but they seem like so much work! How can you keep yourself from begrudging it?! How do you keep the joy?!
Routine is Your Friend
Routines can be your best friend, especially for Kelly, who gathers her family every Thursday! Early in the week she’ll prepare the devotion (she’ll start to think about it as early as Sunday, using the sermon at church for inspiration). By Thursday she’ll have her grocery shopping done. She sticks to some go-to recipes to keep it easy – tacos, pizza, pasta bake, salad, roast, or chili. With that base, Kelly says she feels like she can “wing it”. That’s just like Marcia, who has her traditional recipes that she uses. Having go-to recipes helps free mental space for the “new” thing you want to try! Finally, Kelly doesn’t worry about cleaning the house until the day of – and just the areas that the family will be in!
Spread it Out Over Time
For the bigger family gatherings, spreading your tasks out across the calendar is key! Learning what Amy and Marcia’s timelines are for their gatherings was so helpful for me. I tend to procrastinate… Let’s take Christmas as an example.
Marcia decorates early – as in the beginning of November early. All of her gift shopping is done by Thanksgiving, and she’ll shop on Black Friday to grab those extra deals and fill in the gaps. Throughout December she’ll divide up her grocery shopping, buying the non-perishables first and the fresh ingredients last. The week of the Christmas gathering is reserved for cleaning, which she gives herself two days to do.
Amy also spreads her timeline out. “All year long, if I see something any time of the year that I think would be perfect, I’ll grab it.” If you’re lucky enough to have an Ollie’s store nearby, that’s a great location to pick-up “just-in-case” gifts throughout the year at closeout prices. There are always giving opportunities that you didn’t plan for, or sometimes there you just feel like a small thoughtful gift would make someone feel special in a time that they need encouragement or to be noticed. All those items accumulate in a stash that only she knows the location of, and in early November she’ll sort through it to see what she has for whom and make a list of what she still needs. Then she knows which sales she needs to pay attention to and not be tempted to overbuy for anyone.
Also at this time of year (November), Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, and Costco will start including winter recipes in their ads, “So I will see what I want to try and then add items to my grocery list as they go on sale.” The week of the event Amy will assign cleaning and meal prep to different days. Marcia agrees that this is key to not being overwhelmed because you know you have already figured out how and when to get it all done. Finally, two days before the event, all the furniture gets rearranged in Amy’s house to accommodate a large group (more on that next). She doesn’t want that hanging over her while she’s trying to prep the meals, so she makes sure it’s done early.
Making Lots of Space in a Small Space
How does Kelly squeeze 14-20 people in her living room? She’ll put the smallest people on the couch to get as many of them on the couch as possible, and couples will often pair up (one on a chair and the other on the floor leaning back on their legs). In fact, per their request, she has even made them folders with worksheets to help them follow along. Because they have folders with worksheets, that gives them a firm surface to write on if they don’t have the coffee table or TV tray in front of them.
Amy will move unnecessary furniture to an enclosed porch that is too cold to use, or a spare room that could temporarily double as a storage locker. Think about it… People can fit entire households into a U-Haul truck with the right amount of careful stacking! She uses the same concept in her house to create more elbow room for large crowds. If you have an agreeable church that you can borrow folding chairs from, you can always move your oversized arm chair out of the way and put 3-4 chairs in it’s spot! She also uses her front porch as a refrigerator in the cold months to avoid maxing out her personal fridge. I do the same thing! My mom uses her attic steps!
Financing the Gathering
Yes… More food… Higher utility bills… Gifts… It can add up. How do these women handle footing the bill?
Kelly admits that it’s hard. That’s why she switched to desserts for a while, but when she saw that wasn’t meeting the need of her family she asked for help. If finances are tight she’ll be honest and ask everyone to pitch in for pizza or help bring food for the meal. “Usually,” she says, “if we’re in a financial slump, someone else in the family is doing ok and pays for the food that week. God works it all out!”
Amy says, “I do what I have to for work, even if I don’t enjoy my job 100%, so I can do all this and create this happiness.” She is a hard worker and frugal for the sake of generosity toward her family and making memories. She also shared this perspective: Today I can. I might not tomorrow; but today I can.
Marcia says affectionately, “My husband. This is how he helps. He lets me do all my stuff, and he works hard to make sure it can all happen.”
Resources You can Use
Some of these tools that Kelly, Amy, and Marcia use come as no-brainers for you, but some were brand new to me!
Tried & True Tools
Here are the tools you probably already know about:
Group texts, group chats on Facebook Messenger (because you can access it with a computer and a real keyboard), and conference calls. These are useful for not only coordinating dates, but for staying connected between family gatherings with updates, prayer needs, and encouragement!
A great idea resource for game, meal, and decoration ideas (but not for comparison)!
Paper and Pen
When you write it down, it relieves some brain space. Marcia lives by her lists. She will start with a meal list, turn that into a grocery list, and then break that up into smaller shopping lists to buy over the next three weeks.
Amy has so many family gatherings that she is helping to coordinate (two weddings, Christmases, reunions, and a few family vacations, just to name a few) that she actually has separate notebooks for each event (tip: use different colored notebooks for each event for easy visual reference). I know someone else who is the administrative assistant for multiple people, and she also uses different notebooks for each person to keep her lists separated.
Kelly uses folders and worksheets to help her family follow along with the devotions that she prepares. Keeping their notes in their individual folders also helps them keep track of the material for the purpose of review.
Now here are the tools that were brand new to me (and some tools I shared with the ladies)!
This is a recipe app that’s available for Apple and Android smartphones that lets you capture recipes from anywhere. Screenshot something from Facebook, share a link from Pinterest, take a picture of your mom’s recipe card, or type the recipe in yourself. You can categorize the recipes anyway you want! It’s such a fast way to find easy access to all the recipes you’ve saved without having to remember if you found it on Pinterest, Facebook (and who posted it originally), or AllRecipes.com. Or did you take a picture from a magazine and it’s somewhere in your phone gallery? And, frankly, I get tired of tapping on Pinterest, and then my board, and then the image, and then scrolling through the entire blog article and dozens of pictures to get to the actual recipe! Plus, with OrganizEat, the screen stays on while your recipe is up so you can view the recipe while cooking! No more messing with your phone with your greasy floury fingers!!!!
Tip: Tag the recipe with key words that you’ll remember so you can search for it later without having to remember where you stored it. For example, did I put my sugar cookie recipe under “Sweet Tooth” or “Holiday Favorites”?
This web site and app is like your shopping-savvy friend that always seems to know where the best deals are. It’s not the prettiest app out there, but if you keep your eye on it, it could save you a bundle of money! The home screen has a list of items that are on sale. They seem like random items to me (certainly not all are relevant to me), but it’s so easy to just scroll through once a day just to see what deal is out there to be had. For example, on the day I’m writing this, Amazon Music Unlimited is advertising 3 months for just 99¢, Macy’s is offering kids puffer jacket and a scarf or hat for just $15.99 (regularly $75), and Star Wars toys at Target are 45% off! You’ll also find deals on laundry detergent, cash back store offers, clothing, and video games. Like I said… Random… But definitely worth keeping an eye on!
E-mail Tasks/Todoist App
It doesn’t really matter what to-do app you have, but I find it extremely helpful to have one – especially one that I can categorize my to-do items. I don’t want to see all my personal to-do’s mixed in with my business to-do’s. That’s way too overwhelming! I also like that I can assign due dates or reminders for my to-do items (because I’m a procrastinator). When I’m scheduling my week out, I keep an eye on how many to-do’s are due that week and keep my social calendar a little lighter on purpose.
Tip: Keep your to-do’s small. Don’t put, “Manage finances” or “Clean house” as a to-do item. Instead break it down into smaller tasks like, “Organize last month’s receipts” or “Clean downstairs bathroom”. You can even have the task scheduled as a repeating task however often you feel you need to do it, so you don’t have to take the brain space to remember that you have to do it.
Google Keep is like using paper and pen on your phone with the power of Google’s search engine. Everyone’s smartphone has a Memo or Note app. However, the advantage of using Google Keep is like using Facebook Messenger – you can access it from a real computer with a real keyboard. It doesn’t matter if you start the note on your phone, you can also pull it up from the Internet browser on your computer! Let me give you an example: If I’m in a hurry and just want to record an idea for my business in a hurry, I can make a quick note on my phone and search for it later when I’m at my computer and ready to work. It doesn’t matter how or where I organized it, Google Keep can find it!
I can get even more organized and add category labels to my notes, and Google Keep will organize all the notes with the same label into one area like a notebook. Think of the endless labels you could create: Family Christmas (with notes about meals, groceries, decoration ideas), Gift Ideas (with notes for everyone in your family, including yourself as you run across something you’d like to have), Honey-Do list… All these notes are shareable with anyone else who has a Google account!
What would you do differently?
Kelly said, “The last few Thursdays have been different because we were celebrating birthdays. I let go of the devotions so we didn’t have to find yet another day in our schedules to gather.”
Amy said (and I promise you I didn’t lead her to say this), “I would hire you as a photographer! I don’t want to spend all the time documenting the event and then miss it. But I worked so hard for it, I do want to remember it!” (psst… I’d be happy to photograph your event!)
Marcia said, “Not everyone can come for Christmas Eve and Christmas this year, so I’ll have the Christmas roast on Christmas Eve (instead of the buffet-style meal), and my husband and I can have the leftovers and peace on Christmas!”
What did you learn the hard way
Kelly admitted to struggling with feelings of failure. “It’s not about me, though. I have to remember that my family comes to my house bearing the baggage of the week. If I don’t receive that immediate affirmation, it’s ok. It’s not about me. It’s about me doing what I feel God has called me to, and he’ll work the details out on his own terms.”
Amy was emphatic, “With life experience I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. If you run out of time to clean the house you way you wanted, or if a recipe doesn’t go the way you expected… That’s ok! Laugh and nuke some frozen veggies! I’ve also learned to do as much prep ahead of time as possible so I can enjoy the moments more.”
Marcia has being doing this for 40 years. She said, “I’ve learned to let go and just let things happen. I’m a do-er by nature, but I’m letting my family do more and more.”
Kelly: God is bigger than what I can see.
Amy: I am making a difference by what I do.
Marcia: This season won’t last for long, but the memories will.
Friends, I have only interviewed three different women and I have learned so much! I hope you have been encouraged and inspired, as well. I would be delighted if you would share about your unique family gatherings or your go-to strategies with me, as well!
This is one of the ways I help put a smile back in the world.
- Posted by hellobabs
- On November 16, 2018
- 0 Comment