Back when life was easier and simpler, yes, back in the days when I was a kid, holidays didn’t take much thinking about. It wasn’t a huge ordeal. Everyone lived fairly close by. At least, this was the case with my family in the mountains of Southern West Virginia.
Our world was “small.” No one lived across the country or in another country. Everyone pretty much lived driving distance — maybe a couple of hours from the central gathering place — which was Grandma’s house. Actually, if we’d wanted to, we could have jumped in the car and had dinner together most evenings without too much of a commute.
Today, it’s vastly different for me and my crew and probably many families. Seems we’re scattered everywhere. If we’re driving distance, it’s not quite a hop, skip and jump. And, a couple of my nieces and nephews now live overseas. This kind of situation means planning and staying for the night, a couple of nights or even a week or more if you’re visiting. Then there’s the demands of life that nip away at getting together —growing families, blended families, jobs, kids, social activities. Oh, yeah, and add to that the growing and expanding idea of family. That’s when the kids grow up, move out of the house, get their own jobs, start paying their own bills, making their own decisions, which sometimes don’t coincide with your inclinations, and get married and have yet another family to split their time between and among. Oi oi, it can get complicated! And, believe me, with a blended family of five children, spouses, significant others, in-laws, and grandchildren, I know what it’s all about. I know the demands. And, I know that I’ll not always get “my” way as Queen Mama Ally of the family!
Holidays are notoriously known to be stressful. But, they can become a real bone of contention when the “traditions” are put to the test. Yes, you start challenging them, and some sparks can begin to fly. Finding a way to accommodate all the changes that take place over time means ingenuity and clever new thinking. It can be done. And, so much of the stress can be erased simply by changing your expectations and redefining you traditions.
I’m talking about putting the squeeze on the holidays, as in The Big Squeeze! In 2014, I had hit the wall with trying to orchestrate and be the “camp” planner for holidays, so I started re-thinking what the real reason(s) was/were for “holidays.” It was a big thunk on the head. A revelation. My emblazoned concept of “the holidays” took a 180 degree turn. And, because of this ability to adapt and accommodate, new traditions have been born —The Big Squeeze can happen and here are some ideas that made it so much fun that there was huge demand to have a repeat in 2015~DS
Our first Big Squeeze in 2014 was a hit! It happened because it was virtually impossible to get five children (young and adult ones) and families, or even two of them, together for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. This event was a smashing success! The kids asked to have a 2015 Big Squeeze. Recreating expectations for the holidays now has generated new excitement for our ‘holidays’ because we know that we’re all, well, most all of us, will be together for about 72 hours of magic!
1. First and foremost, shift your mindset and your thinking about holidays. You have to get beyond the idea that a holiday has to happen on the actual traditional date of the holiday. Who says Thanksgiving has to be on the fourth Thursday of November? So much of the ambiance of the holidays is in the spirit of being together and celebrating the intent of that holiday or holidays. And, it can be done on different dates. Does Halloween have to be in October? Can we shift birthdays to new months for the sake of The Big Squeeze? Yes, some of these holidays are religiously deep and entrenched and you can still celebrate on those dates but with new traditions.
2. Select a date for your Big Squeeze well in advance. Get everyone’s consensus. Have them commit. Luckily, we all seem to have the first or second weekends of December open, so one of those two dates are locked in.
3. Plan a long weekend, Friday to Sunday. Some may come in on Thursday evening. Others hopefully will arrive Friday at some time. It all depends on work schedules, travel and each person/family’s life.
4. Decide what you’re going to “squeeze” into those days. For us it was Thanksgiving, Christmas with a Chinese gift exchange, Santa for the little ones and the Fall/December birthdays. Use a cool theme for the Chinese gift exchange. I sent out famous movie quotes, like “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” to each person coming and their gift was their interpretation of this quote. Believe me, no one wanted the Norseman’s bone drinking cup to be worn around one’s neck (yes, complete with a very long straw!) thereby freeing one’s hands for other things!
5. Create an agenda for the weekend. Packing it all in. The Chinese Gift Exchange had a spending limit of $25 bucks. Names were exchanged in advance amongst adults ($100 buck limit) for one nice gift. Santa Claus came for the little ones. Three birthdays were celebrated. There was a big Griswold-like holiday outdoor event we all went to complete with tacky sweaters, Rudolph noses and more. Cocktails started at 5 on those two evenings. There was always an array of finger foods and munchies on a big table spread. Dinner, buffet style, graced two evenings. Yes, it was jammed packed but everyone was ready and knew what to expect.
6. Send out the agenda in advance. Let everyone know so they can get their heads wrapped around the times, demands, know what to pack and more. I included general times for meals, gift exchanges, the “celebration” of Santa, and more. Remember, time is precious and you want to “squeeze” in everything leaving little to chance.
7. Have a master planner for the event. I dub this person “The Big Cheese” for “The Big Squeeze!” With my family, it was me. We were the hosting home(s) and we did the planning and preparation of the menu. Of course, everyone pitches in and helps once they get there, but the advance work is done by the host(s). Since we hosted the event at our home, I did all of the meal planning and pre-work. Yes, it takes some effort and energy, but with advance prep, everything runs smoothly. Buffet style is best. Big pots of soup or stews. Things you can make in advance and warm up are great. Once everyone fills their plates and bowls, then they find their places at the table or tables, including card tables, coffee tables and more!
8. Arrange all lodging. Have welcome gifts. Doesn’t have to be big or extravagant. Just something that says “Thanks for making this happen + coming the distance!” Make a big sign for the front door from poster board: Welcome to The Big Squeeze 2015! Things like this set the tone and mood.
9. Plan some games and family activities. Try to ban cell phones, extensive time on social media and other things that are distracting from the camaraderie of the about 72 hours of family being together—this may be the only time in an entire year it happens.
10. Have plenty of great food, treats, snacks, wine, libations and energy. You’ll be operating on overdrive. Notice that I didn’t say anything about decorating and stressing yourself out about this aspect of The Big Squeeze. It’s all about food, family getting together and making outrageous memories!
- 1 ½ to 2 lbs. beef, cut into bite size cubes (I used London Broil.)
- 3 Tbl. Canola oil
- ¼ cup shallots, diced
- 2 Tbl. Garlic, diced
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1 tsp. coarse ground pepper
- 1 (32 oz.) beef broth
- 1 (12 oz.) organic cream of mushroom soup
- 1 (26 oz.) finely chopped tomatoes
- 2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning mixture
- ½ tsp. red chili flakes, dried
- 1 ½ cups pearl onions, whole, peeled
- 3 cups ‘peewee’ whole potatoes, small marble sizes
- 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
- 1 ½ cups heirloom baby carrots, do not slice
- 2 Tbl. corn starch + 2 Tbl. Water, blended
- 1 cup celery + leaves, sliced
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly torn into pieces
- In a large stock pot over medium high heat, put the oil. Add the shallots and sauté about 3 minutes then add the garlic and cook another couple of minutes. Add the meat, salt and pepper and brown a few minutes then add all the broth. Cover tightly and put in the preheated 425 oven for one hour.
- Remove and add the chopped tomatoes, Italian seasoning, chili flakes, cover and cook another 30 minutes.
- Remove, add the onions, potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, blend, reduce heat to 375 and cook another 30 minutes. Take from the oven, stir in the corn starch/water mixture to slightly thicken the sauce. Add the celery, cover and leave it for about 15-20 minutes on the stove top. When ready to serve add in the fresh basil. (Reheat if needed.)