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It's essential to BE PREPARED; Countdown Organisation is key if you want to enjoy a stress-free Christmas, so start doing your planning right away.

EVERY Christmas we all swear that next year we'll be organised. The bad news is that it is now next year - but there's still time to make Christmas run as smoothly as possible.

It can all be summed up in one word: lists.

Begin by making your Christmas card list straight away. Look out addresses, highlight all the ones which need to be sent abroad and write them first to ensure you meet the Post Office's "post-by" deadline. Then write the rest in batches - 25 at a time doesn't seem quite so overwhelming.

If you're having any parties, check whether you need to hire glasses, buy dishes or even have the piano tuned.

Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. It's a depressing subject, but tragically there are always housefires making the headlines at this time of year, so change the batteries and test detectors to keep your family safe.

Now's also the time to start a master gift list, including everything from the major purchases right down to tips for the paper boy.

Buy drink and chocolates early - adding a couple of extras to your weekly supermarket shop from the beginning of November does seem to make it less painful financially.

Always remember to tick items off your list if you do this, as it totally defeats the purpose if you end up buying twice over.

Wrap and label gifts as you buy them and try to find a space where they can be stored safely out of sight.

Check all work nights out, parties and get-togethers for all the family over the festive season and reserve any required babysitters as soon as you can, as they will be much in demand over Christmas.

At the beginning of December, write the Christmas menu and start buying all the small freezable or storable parts of Christmas dinner. Order your turkey and plan the other big meals you will be preparing over Christmas.

In an ideal world - and certainly in the one that we all remember fondly from our childhood - we would all like to spend days lovingly maturing rich cakes and puddings and baking endless batches of mince pies and other goodies to keep the family happy at Christmastime.

But for most of us, that will remain an impossible dream - or nightmare, depending on your cookery skills.

The worst thing is putting it all off and then doing a panic buy, which costs a fortune and usually means you'll miss out on something vital.

The key is to try and strike a happy medium. A good balance of home-made and ready-made will still result in a fairly impressive banquet and won't leave the poor cook completely shattered and unable to enjoy the meal.

If you have plenty of time, then it is great fun to make your own Christmas goodies but don't beat yourself up about it if you opt for ready-made ones from the huge range available in all supermarkets.

One good compromise can be to buy a good-quality cake and then marzipan and ice it yourself to give it a personal touch.

Traditional snowpeaks made with royal icing and decorated with Christmas ornaments always look great, or buy some ready-to-roll icing and let the children make some simple models such as snowmen or penguins to create a lovely winter scene.

Most of your guests will be completely fooled into thinking the whole creation is your own.

If you treat yourselves to the best ingredients you can afford, then you won't go far wrong. Do as much preparation as possible before Christmas Day and remember that you can buy practically anything from bread sauce and a huge variety of stuffing to roast potatoes and turkey gravy ready prepared.

Decide what you can do and what you'd prefer to pay for and then plan accordingly.

Up to a month beforehand, the potatoes and parsnips can be prepared, parboiled and frozen on trays before being bagged and returned to the freezer.

Bread sauce can also be made and frozen. And if you are catering for a vegetarian, the nut roast can be made and put in the freezer the week before.

If that all sounds a bit hectic, then do a little here and there because it really is blissful to have as much time to yourself as possible on Christmas Eve and the big day itself.

On Christmas Eve the carrots and brussel sprouts can be prepared and cut up and stored overnight in the fridge in plastic bags. The turkey can be stuffed and ready for roasting.

If you are really organised, you will have your dining table all set and ready before you fall into bed on Christmas Eve.

If you're opting for a classic Christmas pudding you will either have made it months in advance, so it's practically tipsy, or you'll have a good ready-made one to hand.

For something lighter, consider a pavlova, which is surprisingly easy to make the day before, needing only to be topped with whipped cream and fruit before serving.

Good organisation like this will result in a much more relaxed Christmas Day and will even allow you to sit down to a peaceful breakfast.

Now you'll only have the turkey to concentrate on, along with laying out a light starter like smoked salmon, so you shouldn't feel too worn out by the time you are ready to sit at the table.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 7, 2007
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