by Paige Hobey
The parties. The presents. The chance to see out-of-town friends’ kids one year older in an avalanche of photo cards. The holiday season has lots of upsides, but excess down-time isn’t one of them. Hence, our survival tips. From time-savers to sanity-savers, they’ll help you survive the next few weeks with a little less pre-season stress.
#1. Gift Ideas
To make gift-buying easier, capitalize on your biggest asset: cute kids. Photos can be used to make anything from mugs  to digital frames  with rotating images. For the grandparents? Make a flipbook  out of that video of your toddler’s first steps. For the kids, check out these new personalized sesame street books  that include names and pictures.
#2 Mailing and Receiving Packages
Forget schlepping a dozen packages and your kids to the post office; now the U.S. Postal Service offers a free pick-up service  - have them come to your office. And if you miss a package, scheduling redelivery  is also a snap.
There’s probably someone out there making boxwood wreath centerpieces and crocheted snowflakes by hand. For the rest of us, there are plenty of easier ways to get that holiday vibe. Most garden stores now offer pre-made winter arrangements for outdoor pots and garland with pre-strung lights. And if you really want to save time, you can have your holiday lights  strung for you and your Christmas tree delivered .
#4 Personalized Holiday Cards
We all know there are online card vendors to suit any style or price point, from funky to formal. Consider Mango Ink , Tiny*Prints , or Minted .
#5 Mailing Cards
If you haven’t whipped up a spreadsheet for printing labels, this is your year to make it happen. And if you’re really inspired, you can buy personalized photo stamps  or holiday stamps online.
#6 Food Prep
Yes, kids love making holiday cookies. But they’re just as happy if you’re plopping the pre-made variety on a cookie sheet. Spend some quality time on the icing and sprinkles and feel no guilt. For help with bigger-scale baking, hire a high school student to come over and take a stab at your favorite recipes.
#7 Child Care
Between holiday parties and school vacation days, this month requires some serious planning. Don’t forget to line-up back-up child care. Check out SitterCity  and Care.com  for recommendations.
#8 Party Prep
Looking for low-maintenance hostess gifts? Everyone does wine. How about scented candles or ornaments. Pull one out before each party and you’re ready for action.
Heading to grandma’s? Don’t forget to put your mail on hold .
#10 Getting Kids in the Holiday Spirit
Together, donate old toys to a charitable organization like the Salvation Army . It gets everyone in the spirit and helps streamline before gifts hit the scene.
Paige Hobey is the author of the popular parenting guidebook, The Working Gal's Guide to Babyville  and a contributing writer for Mommy Tracked, Parenting Magazine and Chicago Parent. She lives in Chicago with her husband Charlie and their two children.