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We are reaching that magical season. It is a season for giving. It is a season for sharing. It is a season of trashing your kitchen to create that perfect meal for family and friends.

Personally, for me the first week of November has become a week when I start planning for those upcoming holiday get togethers. One thing that has really become a lifesaver for me over the last several years has been my Hostess Journal.

I know what you are thinking, what is this? This is something that you need to create for your own sanity. I got the idea from an old back issue of Domino (RIP) and it is seriously a lifesaver. (If you are a devotee who also cannot stand parting with any issue, it is in the December 2007/January 2008 issue on page 102. Sniff sniff – I miss it so!)

I use just a basic 8x10 journal and I make notes before and after any big get together. The purpose of this to let you record an idea of what you wanted the event to be like and what ended up happening. It is also a great way for you to get yourself organized and avoid running into last minute emergencies. If you like most of us and only host a couple of big events every year, it can be hard to remember what went well and what did not. A Hostess Journal solves all of that and gives you a place to perfect your game plan.

Before the Event
In the before, I write down the number of guests and general theme. Next, I outline a rough menu. This is really an area where you can look at ideas and debate the time and cost of creating it.

Once I have a rough idea of the menu I start a cooking timeline. Here you really want to focus on what you can do the day (or two days before), what can you do the morning of and what has to be done right before. On the right before (since that is where a lot of your cooking and prep time lies) the cooking timeline will help you figure out how to time everything to come out hot and ready at the right time. I like to start with the time I like to eat and work back from there. For example, in the case of Thanksgiving, I would start with dinner at 5:00. The bird needs to set for 30 minutes so it will have to come out of the oven by 4:30. Based on the size of the bird, I can then back it up to when it needs to go in. At that point, you can start planning your sides to make sure that you have time to actually fix everything you want to for the meal within the allotted time.

The next gut check of your plan is to fill in a cooking and serving dish outline. This helps me figure out if I am going to need two things at once so I can potentially rearrange or if I am going to be short a large bowl so I can either improvise or get another. Personally, I like to lay all this out in two columns. One column that breaks down the cooking timeline and the other will keep me straight with the cooking and serving dish required. (This is also another reason why I like using a full 8x10 sized page to write in.)

By the time you actually draw up your timeline and dish needs, you will have narrowed your menu down to what is achievable based on your timeframe and resources.  It is always a time, money and drama saver to understand what is possible given your allotted time.   From here, you can use this to build your shopping list.  If you plan this out far enough in advance, you can shop for your pantry type items well in advance of the holiday rush to make sure you get the best price. 

I also like to use the journal to write down my decoration needs (do I need to iron the linens prior?), music ideas, and any other random thoughts. This will at least get you up and ready to go for the day of your party.

After the Event
I like to sit down the morning after, with a cup of coffee, and go over how the plan actually worked. Did I estimate the right amount of time it would take to peel and cut up that pile of potatoes? Do I need to adjust my expectations on how many sides I needed or how big they need to be to serve the number of people at the meal? Did we run out of anything? Was there one dish that everyone picked at and one that people all took seconds on?

This is also a great time to note anything you needed that you didn’t have! Did you run out of plates, forks, glasses?  Did anyone break anything?  Were your short napkins or storage containers? (Note: I did not anticipate the number of storage containers I would need after last years Thanksgiving!  Something to consider this year - especially if it is your first time.)

The after takes much less time, but it really lets you evaluate and make changes for next time. The first time you do this it will seem time consuming and pain in the you-know-what. But I am telling you, the next time you need to plan a big get together, having your notes from the last time will save you all manner of drama!

I hope this was helpful! Do you currently do something like this? Is this a new idea you think you could use? Please share your thoughts!

I am linking up to Kimba’s DIY day (because let's face it organization is always a DIY task!)


14 frugal friends said ...

Amanda @ Serenity Now said... @ November 2, 2009 at 10:48 PM

I love this idea. :) Perfect for birthday parties, holiday gatherings, you name it! I'll be giving this a try for sure. :) Stopping by from Kimba's party. :)

Moore Minutes said... @ November 2, 2009 at 11:29 PM

GREAT IDEA! Thank you for sharing. I just posted about a birthday party I recently did and this would have been ideal! :)

Karen said... @ November 3, 2009 at 7:16 AM

I do this too! I also keep an entertaining inspiration file. Anytime I see a good recipe for appetizers, cut centerpiece or an invitation I like, it goes in the file. Like you, after the event, I toss out any ideas that didn't work.

Julia @ Hooked on Houses said... @ November 3, 2009 at 7:52 AM

I agree! I started a hostess journal back when I was first married, and I've been using it ever since. I keep records of whether x amount of food was enough (or too much) for x amount of people, which foods were popular and which ones got passed over, etc. It's very helpful!

I also keep a running list of family and friends' favorite foods so I know what to make when they visit.

Great post! :-)

Corrie Howe said... @ November 3, 2009 at 9:23 AM

What a great idea! I love the picture you put with this post.

Jaime said... @ November 9, 2009 at 2:26 PM

Good ideas! I always jot notes, but not in such an organized way. This year I'm going to try it your way. We always host a get-together in December....time to start planning now!

Karen at Nittany Inspirations said... @ November 17, 2009 at 7:17 AM

We have an annual clam bake for the neighbors every year. I keep a Word folder with all kinds of information. I know that 200 littleneck clams were too many and this year we made 150. I also list the guests, what they brought. I created the invitation.

Katinka said... @ December 24, 2009 at 4:01 AM

Awesome idea! stopping by from SITS and wishing you MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Elizabeth D. said... @ December 24, 2009 at 5:23 AM

You know what, this is an awesome idea! In fact, it's a wonderful gift idea for my best friend, who loves to host parties and such!! If only today wasn't the day before Christmas... I'll have to bookmark this for a birthday present!

Elizabeth D. said... @ December 24, 2009 at 5:23 AM

P.S. Happy SITSmas to you!

pink and green mama MaryLea said... @ December 24, 2009 at 10:39 AM

Happy SITSmas, I'm a big list maker, party planner and love a good organization project, thanks for the great suggestions!

Holly Lefevre said... @ December 24, 2009 at 11:39 PM

I always do this when I am having a party. Domino was my FAVE magazine. I was so sad to see it's end come. Their book is great too!
Holly @ 504 Main

Rachel Cotterill said... @ December 27, 2009 at 8:43 AM

I'd never thought of doing that! Will see if I have an appropriate book :)

Karen M. Peterson said... @ December 28, 2009 at 2:51 PM

Such a great idea! I never would have thought of it, but I'm totally going to use it the next time I plan an event of some kind.

Visiting from SITS. I hope you had a great Christmas!

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