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Holiday helpers take stress out of busy season

Mary Pickels
| Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, 8:57 p.m.

Updated 9 hours ago

It may seem like we just demolished the turkey and pumpkin pie last week — actually, we did — but hostesses already are gearing up for the next big holiday preparations.

Like cleaning the house.

And decorating the house.

And filling the house with the scent of baking, and myriad containers with cookies. Lots and lots of cookies.

Luckily, there is help for those too busy, stressed, or flat-out uninterested in the labor involved in decking the halls.

Cookie palooza

No one wants to be caught empty-handed when attending an open house, church coffee hour, office party or cookie exchange.

Shopping for ingredients and baking can be expensive and time-consuming, and storage space in fridges and freezers is often at a premium this time of year.

What to do?

Make a list of your favorite treats, gather a pal or two and head out to a pre-planned cookie extravaganza where the most difficult job will be narrowing down one's choices.

Grandma's Country Oven Bake Shoppe in Penn Township lets you off the hook for holiday baking, while still allowing you to serve “from scratch” holiday favorites on your cookie plates.

Grandma's cookie event, first held last year, turns the popular cookie exchange into a bakeless social hour for customers. Patrons can sample and select 10 dozen favorite cookies, taste test other desserts and enjoy complimentary adult beverages while their take-home boxes are packed.

Visitors can sample and purchase holiday favorites like butter spritz, peanut butter, Russian tea cakes, thumbprints, pecan tassies, pinwheels, chocolate-covered cherry cookies and ginger snaps.

And if 10 dozen cookies is a few dozen too many, split a box with a friend, says Jennifer Matrisch, general manager and daughter of owners Bill and Kathy Young.

“It's just a way of getting our cookies more ‘out there,' ” she says.

Varieties not otherwise available, like a hot chocolate cookie and raspberry coconut macaroon, will be offered at the exchange events, scheduled for 5 and 7 p.m. Dec. 5 and 10.

“A lot of people who came last year have signed up for this year. You don't have to do the work and you get the credit. It's not what everyone will have on their cookie plates,” says Carole Baker, operations manager.

Cost for the 10 dozen cookies and the evening's entertainment is $79.99. Reservations are suggested.

Details: 724-744-9873 or GrandmasCountryOven.com .

Making houses glow

Turning one's home into a winter wonderland of shimmering lights, draping garlands and hanging wreaths just is so time-consuming and takes a considerable amount of planning.

It also can be dangerous.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 14,500 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms nationwide in November and December 2014 for injuries, including falls, lacerations and back strains, resulting from the installation of holiday lights and decorations.

Worried about an over-eager or elderly family member lifting heavy boxes or climbing ladders?

Several Pittsburgh area businesses, including Jolly Holly Lights of Robinson, offer professional installation, removal and storage of lights, garlands and wreaths.

Owner Bob Palermo says he anticipates 125 to 135 clients this year.

Palermo, who also operates Advanced Deck Cleaning and Restoration Systems, says that after 27 years he's now starting to work with original clients' adult children.

He's noticed in recent years that people want to prepare their homes for the holidays earlier in the season.

“For a lot of people, the simpler the better,” Palermo says.

“Everybody has a story. They used to do it for years, but can't get up there (that high) any more. Sometimes it's just people's work hours. Or they don't have ladders that tall,” he says.

Because he provides the decor, clients' styles tend to stay the same for a few years, with a tweak here or there, he says.

“Homeowners will give us color designs and themes. I have a gold house this year. We've never done all gold, and it's beautiful,” Palermo says.

One trend he does not miss is that from a years ago, when icicles outlining a home was a popular look.

“That was my nemesis for years. They break, they blow,” he says.

Depending on the amount of decorations and the time required to install, individual projects can range from $600 to $1,500.

“It's your personal taste,” Palermo says.

Details: jollyhollylights.com

Prepping the homestead

Expecting an onslaught of relatives gathered around the tree this year?

Your turn to host the holiday dinner, or the party to ring in the new year?

All while working, shopping, attending school plays and concerts and trying desperately to find the tree skirt and stockings?

Just thinking about tackling dust bunnies, food spills and window streaks is exhausting, not to mention a holly jolly spirit buzz kill.

Zito Cleaning Services in New Kensington offers “holiday cleaning” among its commercial and residential services.

It also offers gift cards, a helpful present for hosts and hostesses both before and after holidays, says owner Marigrace Zito. They work well for adults with elderly parents, young people moving into their first apartment and expectant mothers, she says.

She and her husband, Tony, the general manager, and their staff know a lot of their regular clients will be contacting them as any holiday season approaches.

Some women panic when they learn a visit from their mother-in-law is looming, Zito says.

And if house guests are coming, people may request anything from window and wall washing to moving heavy furniture in search of hidden dirt, she says.

“I get panicked calls from people saying, ‘I wasn't supposed to be hosting Thanksgiving, but someone got sick,' ” Zito says. “We can do as much or as little as the homeowner wants.”

Some clients want to book their services after a holiday, Zito says, to “erase” any dust and dirt left behind.

In business for about nine years, Zito Cleaning typically covers a 40-mile radius from Pittsburgh.

Prices can range from $65 to $650, Zito says, depending on how much work is done, the size of a house and the number of windows.

“Holiday cleaning is one of our favorites. We like making it nice for people to have a good time,” Zito says.

Details: zitocleaning.com

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

With the holidays fast approaching, baker Sabrina Shaffer is hard at work making pies in the kitchen of Grandma's Country Oven Bake Shoppe, in Penn Twp., on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
With the holidays fast approaching, baker Sabrina Shaffer is hard at work making pies in the kitchen of Grandma's Country Oven Bake Shoppe, in Penn Twp., on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017.
Jolly Holly Lights of Robinson can decorate your home for the holidays and return afterward to remove the lights and wreaths and garlands, saving residents time and effort during this busy season.
Submitted
Jolly Holly Lights of Robinson can decorate your home for the holidays and return afterward to remove the lights and wreaths and garlands, saving residents time and effort during this busy season.
Wish lists may be dropped off at Grandma's Country Oven Bake Shoppe in Penn Township. Those with a return address can expect a response from the North Pole, staff members say.
Mary Pickels | Tribune-Review
Wish lists may be dropped off at Grandma's Country Oven Bake Shoppe in Penn Township. Those with a return address can expect a response from the North Pole, staff members say.
With the holidays fast approaching, owner Cathy 'Grandma' Young, is hard at work in the kitchen of Grandma's Country Oven Bake Shoppe, in Penn Twp., on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
With the holidays fast approaching, owner Cathy 'Grandma' Young, is hard at work in the kitchen of Grandma's Country Oven Bake Shoppe, in Penn Twp., on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017.
With the holidays fast approaching, Bob Bonfili is hard at work in the kitchen of Grandma's Country Oven Bake Shoppe, in Penn Twp., on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. Bonfili scoops blueberry filling into a pie crust before it heads to the oven.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
With the holidays fast approaching, Bob Bonfili is hard at work in the kitchen of Grandma's Country Oven Bake Shoppe, in Penn Twp., on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. Bonfili scoops blueberry filling into a pie crust before it heads to the oven.
Shown above is one example of the professional holiday lighting and decorating Robinson's Jolly Holly Lights can provide for customers.
jollyhollylights.com
Shown above is one example of the professional holiday lighting and decorating Robinson's Jolly Holly Lights can provide for customers.
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