Saturday, December 8, 2018

Tried and True Christmas Cookie Recipes

Photo by severyanka at pixabay
The Christmas tree is glowing warmly with it's colorful lights and the scent of pine fills the air. Cozy blankets are draped over the couches awaiting little ones to curl up in them as night falls and the wind beckons to come inside. These are the days where we don sweaters, wear comfy socks, and have soup for suppah'. While the soup simmers and the tea kettle sings I gather my sweet ones about me and let them help gather ingredients.  Dimpled hands plunk butter and flour onto the counter. Older children grab the eggs and my eager six year old fetches his favorite ingredient... SUGAR! It is cookie baking weather and while Bing croons in the background, we whip up our holiday favorites to hand out to friends and family and hold back enough to enjoy ourselves.  So grab your favorite cuppa and join us for our favorite recipes of the season.

Dawna's Sugar Cookie Recipe
Christmas Cookies by Jill111 @ pixabay

Makes 45 cut cookies or 24 drop cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
2 and 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.  Beat in the egg and the vanilla.  Add baking powder and flour, one cup at a time, mixing after each addition.  Dough will be stiff; blend last bit off flour in by hand.  No need to chill dough.

Divide dough into 2 balls.  On a floured surface roll each ball into a circle, 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8" thick. Cut and bake 6 to 7 minute for cut cookies and 8 to 10 minutes for drop cookies, or until edges are lightly browned. 

Cool and frost if desired.

Dawna's Candy Cane Kiss Cookies

Use the recipe above for sugar cookies but:
Add 1 tsp peppermint extract in addition to the vanilla extract.
Stir in 1/2 cup chopped candy cane Hershey Kisses (about 20) into the dough before baking. (Optional: you will need another 24 whole Candy Cane Hershey Kisses to use as toppers for your cookies once they are finished baking.)

Use drop cookie method to scoop dough into 1 tsp round balls and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or till edges are lightly browned.

Let cookies cool for a few minutes.  While cookies are still slightly warm, press a whole Hershey Kiss  into the center of the cookie and pop them into the freezer for about 15 minutes so the Kiss doesn't melt.  Enjoy!
Cocoa by Terri C via Pixabay

We love a good cinnamon laden, buttery cookie with a warm cup of coffee or tea.  These cookies remind me of my Aunt's house.  She would always bake up a batch of cookies when I came to visit as a child and Snickerdoodles are one of her favorites.   I discovered Mrs. Sigg's recipe years ago and it has become a family favorite. The only changes we make is to substitute butter for the shortening (yes, that makes a full cup of butter for these decadent cookies.)  Also, I use baking powder instead of cream of tartar due to the acidic taste. These cookies come out HUGE and make an impressive addition to any cookie basket. :)

These cookies smell like snow to me.  When the winter weather kicks in you can be assured that I will break out the molasses and ginger and bake a batch of these beautiful classic cookies that remind me of Grammy's house.   The only substitute I make to the recipe is that I use butter instead of margarine because I prefer the taste and texture it gives to my baked goods. 
A very easy but addicting treat made from 3 simple ingredients; rolos, pretzels, and M&Ms.  My little ones LOVE to help make these. When we run out of Rolos we use the extra Candy Cane Kisses and make pretty red and white striped pretzel turtles. ;) The recipe is easily adaptable.  You can use a pecan to top each turtle instead of an M&M, or you could use different mini candybars (Milkyway, Snickers, Almond Joy) instead of Rolos. Enjoy!

Been whipping up this recipe for over a decade.  This is one of my husband's favorite cookies so it is a must that I bake a few batches at Christmas time even though it is a year round cookie in our home. Classics are great and this recipe will not fail you!  Don't tell anyone else but these are awesome for breakfast too. ;)

If you have a friend or family member on your list who is gluten sensitive then look no further than these decadent brownie bites from Chocolate Covered Katie. I began my gluten free journey several years ago and this woman's blog saved my sanity when I needed a chocolate fix. Not only is Katie adorable, but she loves chocolate and makes it healthy! Zip on over and whip up these super simple bars and serve em' up at your next cookie swap. * I substitute almonds for walnuts in the recipe because I almost always have them on hand.*
Breakfast by Pexels at pixabay

King Arthur not only has a good gluten free flour blend, but they really mastered this recipe.  It is hard to tell that this is a gluten free cookie. If you or someone you know has a gluten intolerance, give these a try.  You'll be reaching for seconds in no time.

These are my ultimate favorite chocolate chip cookies, hands down.  I love Ghirardelli's 60% cacoa chocolate premium baking chips.  They are a nice, big chocolate morsel made from premium cacoa for a rich taste.  Grab a big ol' glass of milk to chase these down with and don't forget the napkin because these are awesome warm out of the oven. 

What are your favorite cookies to bake or enjoy this time of year? Please share with me in the comments below.  Thank you for joining me for another Countdown to Christmas Saturday. May your days be Merry and Bright and your cookie jar be plentiful!

With love,

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Celebrating Advent

A welcoming glow greeted me from frosted windowpanes as we pulled into the driveway this evening.  I derive great comfort in seeing light shine forth from darkness - a soft beacon beckoning me to enter into warmth and safety.
In the book of Matthew (chapter 5) we read:

"14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. "

Our world has become so dark - by sharing Christ's love this Advent season we can share the light of our awesome Savior with a hurting and dying world.  Christ is the light, as it is written in the book of John:
" When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”" (John 8:12)
Later on in John chapter 9 Jesus says "5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Jesus no longer walks on this earth, but we do and as Christ followers we carry His Spirit inside of us.  We are the ones to show others His light whether it is in our own home, to our friends and family, or to those we pass by in our comings and goings of every day life. When I say "His light" I don't mean you have to go door to door and covert people to Christianity. What I am talking about is showing His love in our actions and words to those we come in contact with day in and day out. The very definition and nature of God is love. How are we reflecting Him this Christmas season?

As Christmas day gets closer and closer our family anticipates the precious babe in the straw by celebrating Advent with daily readings.  There are many different Advent devotionals.  In our home we enjoy reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible with the little ones in the morning. It is a nice way to begin our day, the readings are short and the illustrations captivate my children. Later in the day, as the sun begins to set, we snuggle up with cocoa or tea and enjoy a chapter in  One Wintry Night by Ruth Graham Bell as a family. The illustrations are gorgeous and the story telling draws us all in.  Another beautiful family advent is  The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. She walks you from Creation to Christ's coming on a breath taking journey that helps you understand the depth of God's love.

 If you are a weary mom in need of encouragement this holiday season this Momma has an awesome advent emailed to your inbox. Billy Graham also has a free  Advent devotional that helps you prepare for Christ's birth.

This time of year it is nice to pause and ponder why Christmas is so special, why He had to come and the joy that He will be coming again.  Our reading time spurs discussion that goes deeper and helps light tiny flames inside the eternal spirits that I have been entrusted with caring for.

   Now, please do know, that all of the little faces around my table are not smiling eagerly up at me as I read devotions to them. The smallest ones have a hard time sitting still so they need to be occupied with coloring pages, Play Doh,  or something quiet to do as they sit  beside me while I read aloud.  Sometimes it takes us longer to get through our reading for the day. We might have to take a break to assist little ones on the potty, or separate squabbling siblings, but we try to read during our "happy hour", that time of day where everyone is most generally in a good mood.  Not during meltdown times.  I find it easier to do a short family devotional reading at the table during breakfast and then if I want to read a longer story (like Ruth Graham Bell's One Wintry Night...) then that is best for snuggling under a blanket on the couch where everyone is comfy and cozy.

   We pair our Advent readings with our Advent calendar.  We have two calendars.  One is a vintage paper calendar with a sleepy town on it and each window in each home opens and has a little picture inside.  It was a gift from my Daddy when I was a young girl and I still treasure it to this day and so do my children.  Our other Advent calendar is a beautiful wooden house from Hobby Lobby and I place a note inside for the children to read each day.  We have six children so cramming six tiny gifts in each cubby is a) expensive and  b) unrealistic. Instead, when the children open the drawer  they have a piece of paper to read aloud that has either:
1. A clue that will lead to a special treat or small gift to share.
2. A Christmas activity that we can do together. (Bake cookies, roll a snowman game, go caroling, get dressed into pj's and drive around looking at Christmas lights, etc.)
3. A way we can give to others this season.
(Visiting at the nursing home, giving a gift card to those who pump our gas or bag our groceries, bringing cookies to the men and women who serve our community, etc.)

  How do you celebrate Advent?  Do you use a calendar or have a favorite devotional that you read from? Please share in the comments below, I'd love to hear from you!

Only 24 days until Christmas! (*Insert squeals of delight*)!

Counting down with you,

This post is one of many from my Countdown to Christmas series. Feel free to click on any of the links below for more tips this holiday season.
How to Throw A Memorable Christmas Party
Countdown to Christmas Movie List
Holiday Gift Giving
Countdown to Christmas Tips

Saturday, November 24, 2018

How to Throw a Memorable Christmas Party

We lived in a small, in town apartment and I desperately wanted to have a Christmas party in our cozy space, but was unsure how many people we could fit.  My husband advised me to invite twice as many people as I thought we could host because many times when you invite people to an event only half are able to attend.  So, I sent out invitations to 20 families. Much to our surprise, 18 invitations came back as a "yes". I was so excited and yet concerned how we would fit everyone, would I have enough food, should I plan activities, how would I get everything ready in time? There was so much to think of.  Here is what has helped me stay organized and remain joy filled while hosting parties, whether for Christmas or at any other time of the year.
Christmas Gift by JESHOOTScom @ pixabay

1.  Choose a date.
We've had Christmas parties in early December, on Christmas Eve, or even into the New Year. Just make sure you choose your date enough in advance to get invitations out and in our neck of the woods we have a "snow date" planned in case of inclement weather. 

Merry Christmas by Raw Pixel at Pixabay

2. Send out invitations.
Whether you are more of a paper person or prefer the immediate results of an email or Facebook event, make sure you get your invitations out early! I suggest at least two weeks in advance. The more heads up you can give people the better.  Don't forget to include if your party is a potluck or important items people might need to bring if it is a sledding party or has some sort of theme. 

3. Keep it SIMPLE.
Stick to tried and true recipes you know, use disposable dinner ware to make it easy on cleanup, keep decorating easy.  I like to put colored glass ornaments inside large clear glass vases as centerpieces and set out mason jars tied with red ribbon and filled with candy canes as a bit of whimsy. A few sprigs of greens tucked in here and there and decorating is done.  As much as possible, err on the side of simplicity.  Having too many options can be overwhelming and will add up to more time and money.

3.Plan ahead!
The key to keeping things joy filled is to plan ahead.  I make up a master list of all I want to accomplish before the party and set a date on each item.  Some things I can only do the day of or hours before the party (make the punch, prepare the salad) and others I can do days in advance (vacuum, dust, buy ingredients, plan games, etc.).  I do a little bit each day leading up to the party so I am not running about frantic the day of the big bash.

4. Budget!
As we have discussed before, set a budget for your food, decorations, party favors, etc. It helps to know what you have to work with before buying items and then becoming stressed because you have spent more than you wanted.

Christmas Girls by Jill111 @ pixabay

5. Get help!
Don't be afraid to grab your bestie and ask for help whipping up cookies the week of the party or ask if someone wants to come early and help you decorate and set out food. It is so much fun to party plan with others.

Don't shoulder the burden all yourself, that will just lead to stress. Potlucks are a beautiful thing and this free planner is awesome for helping to know who is bringing what, or you can delegate and let people know what to bring.  Regardless, don't do it all alone unless you want to get burnt out. 

Sticking to well known and loved recipes makes for less stress. Keeping the main dish to a one pot meal also helps keep things easy which is why I am a big fan of soups. I like to find dishes I can prep ahead of time because the last thing I want to do when guests arrive is to be cooking.  Here are some of our favorites dishes that are easy to make for a crowd.  We ask guests to bring a side dish and/or a dessert to share. We serve everything up buffet style

Seven Layer Dip with tortilla chips.

Bermuda Spinach Salad We ask guests to also bring side dishes to share. 

Chicken Taco Soup  with tortilla chips (guests could bring the chips). The recipe is easily adaptable to feed a crowd.  We have done a soup potluck in the past where everyone brings their favorite soup and that is fun too.
Christmas Table by Terri C at Pixabay

Grandmother's Buttermilk Cornbread ( I make a few pans of this in advance and pop em' in the freezer)

For dessert we put out a big bowl of Reindeer Chow  a.k.a Muddy Buddies, which I make in advance and keep in the freezer.  I also enjoy making my family's favorite Candy Cane Cookies.

In the past for party favors I have passed out out these amazing Peppermint Chocolate Whoopie Pie Pops, except mine are almost always too big to put on a stick so I just dip em' and wrap them in a cute clear Christmas goodie bag.  Each guest receives one. They are a huge hit!

7. Plan Games
Games are a great way to break the ice and can lead to very memorable parties.  Some parties don't need a game at all, people are just content to laugh and share stories.  However, if you notice people staring into their drinks, then it might be time to pull out a game. Some of our favorite games are: (click on the highlighted links below on how to play the games and supplies needed).

Minute to Win It (below are our top 5 that bring the most laughs) These are great to do with parties that have kids and teens.  A more sophisticated crowd may frown upon these
 - Nose Dive (to make it Christmas themed, add a red pom pom as a bonus and it is worth extra points)

Bubble Wrap Ball - we wrapped up inexpensive gifts in saran wrap until it made a huge ball and then set the party goers in a circle and passed the ball around.  SO much FUN!

8. Set the mood with MUSIC.
Don't forget to put on an awesome playlist. Spotify, Google Play, Pandora... whatever you use for tunes, you can set up your play list in advance and just hit "play" before guests arrive. We love Pandora's "Family Christmas Radio" station this time of year. It has a nice mix of old and new favorites. 

9. Welcome guests at the door.
When possible, try to greet guests as they arrive so they have a warm welcome. Thank them for any food/gifts they may bring, offer them a drink, and try to introduce them to at least one other guest. 
Cup by Silviarita at Pixabay

10. RELAX!
Once your guests have arrived, relax and enjoy them.  Let go of all the details, your party has been well planned. The food is ready to go, your home is filled with love and laughter, now go relish in the moment! It is easy as a hostess to become so busy with making sure everyone else is having a good time that you forget to enjoy yourself.  Don't do that this year!  You've done an awesome job preparing for this day, so go bask in it. 

Have some party planning tips or an awesome recipe to share with me? Give me a holla' and post it in the comment section below.  

Please come back and join me next week as our Countdown to Christmas continues.  I will be sharing how we celebrate Advent. Only 31 days till Christmas... WOOT!

Basking in the wonder of this time of year,

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Countdown to Christmas Movie List

Coffee by Free Photos at Pixabay
The weather has shifted.  Old man winter sends cold wind from the North and my children don scarves, hats, mittens, and puffy jackets as they head out into the frosted landscape.  I prepare mugs of cocoa to greet rosy cheeks as The Vince Guaraldi Trio's music dances through the air. The scent of pine mingled with cedar makes me happy as memories of Christmases past overcome me.

The sights, sounds, and smells this time of year echo of tradition and usher in so many fond memories that I love.  Today, as we continue to countdown to Christmas, I wanted to share with you the movies my family looks forward to each holiday season.

In early November we gather up our favorite Christmas movies and determine the order in which we want to watch them.  Then, the Movies of Christmas countdown begins.  Some movies are connected to events.  For example, we always watch Elf after we set up and decorate our Christmas tree. Each Movie of Christmas is paired with a favorite Christmas treat. Sometimes the treat is random and other times, the movie/tradition will determine the type of treat. It has become such a tradition that one cannot happen without the other.  :)  We prep cookies and goodies ahead of time so they are at the ready.
Polar Express by Jill111 at Pixabay
The Movies of Christmas happen weekly in our home, starting on Saturday the week before Thanksgiving.  Here is our line up this year:
1. The Polar Express.
Tom Hanks whisks us away to the North Pole on Christmas Eve as he helps a little boy discover his Christmas spirit again. We pair this incredibly life like and heart touching journey with hot cocoa, whipped cream, candy canes and either Indiana Company's Black and White Drizzle Corn (you have to totally grab a bag, they sell it at Walmart) or brownies with ice cream if the popcorn is sold out. Tip: buy it early and stash it away.  

2.  Home Alone.
This hilarious throwback to my childhood brings nostalgia and laughs as we watch a young Macaulay Caulkin fend off burglars at Christmas time. There is some language and bullying that we discuss with our children, but overall this is a fun family favorite.  We pair this Christmas caper  with take out pizza, "ya filthy animal". :)
3. ELF.
Will Ferrel is an unusually large elf who lives at the North Pole and is on a journey to the United States to search for his true identity. This movie warms our hearts and keeps us laughing the entire night.  Don't be a cotton headed ninny muggins... cozy up with your family over this hilarious Christmas flick.  We pair ELF with cocoa, whipped cream, pretzel turtles, and candy cane kiss cookies. (You can come back on December 15th for the recipe for these awesome goodies.)

4. White Christmas
This classic musical with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye delights all ages.  This movie was one of my grandparent's favorites and I have been enjoying it since I was a child. White Christmas is a wonderful tale of two army buddies becoming a song and dance team who unite with a sister duo to put on a Christmas show in the hopes of saving a failing Vermont inn. It is nothing short of magical.  Even my toddlers love this movie.  They enjoy dancing while the acts are going on on the screen.  We will be pairing this classic film with traditional ginger cookies and egg nog. 

[abominable snowman] by pocolover1957, on Flickr

5. Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman
Christmas wouldn't be quite the same without these traditional programs. These classic tv shows bring all the feels and we enjoy every corny minute! This year we are serving up ice cream floats as we sing Frosty the Snowman and plan on warming up with cocoa as we wonder if Rudolph will be safe from the abominable. 

6. We always end our Christmas Movie Countdown with The Grinch (1966) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). These animated television specials have been around since before I was born and they add to the exciting build up to Christmas. I think we will be decorating sugar cookies to enjoy with this wonderful reminder of what Christmas is all about.

Savor the traditions and special moments of the holiday dear readers because it is often these simple rituals that  our loved ones hold dear and remember for years to come.

"Sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we cannot see." 
- The Polar Express - 

What movies are a "must watch" on your holiday list? Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you!

Waiting with anticipation,

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Holiday Gift Giving

Welcome to my "Countdown to Christmas" series where each week I share about what we are doing in our home to prepare for this most wonderful time of the year. Last week we discussed some tips on how to be prepared for the holiday season so we can be more intentional and have time to enjoy the festivities without added stress. This week I wanted to share with you the practical ways that we stay within our budget and still bring joy to our family, friends, and people less fortunate than us.
One of the things that brings us great joy is giving at Christmas time. We start our holiday season by setting a budget for Christmas.  The budget includes Christmas decorations, cards, stamps, mailing packages, our holiday party, wrapping supplies, and of course, GIFTS!  We come up with a lump sum and then disperse that throughout the categories and work hard to stay within the boundaries we have set for ourselves.  This means, more often than not, I am not able to do all that I want to do on our holiday list.  Example: When we were first married, I mailed out over 100 Christmas cards to family and friends. ( I have lots of relatives).  Here we are, 19 years later, and I mail out 30 cards.  This year to keep the budget cost even less, rather than ordering the photo cards that I normally make up, I am just going to order copies of our family picture and include it with our annual newsletter.

(FYI: This is the first year my husband and I have worked together as a team planning the holiday budget and gifts.  Usually I just take the bull by the horns and get er' done. So, please know that this is not done perfectly in our home.  We are still learning how to communicate in all areas but especially with the budget. In previous years when I did this solo, I went through these same steps though.)

This Christmas season I am doing a mixture of homemade and store bought gifts to help stay within budget.  We also set limits on the number of gifts that we give.  Our children each receive 3 gifts under the tree and rather than filling a stocking full of gifts, each child receives a piece of candy in their stocking as well as a clue that leads them on a scavenger hunt around the house (one of our favorite traditions). In previous years there was an item at each clue for them to unwrap but that has become expensive.  So this year, they will just have clues that will lead them to a  gift at the end of the hunt. We will still be keeping with our tradition of a scavenger hunt but we will be simplifying it a bit to meet our budget needs. :)

If things are looking meager budget wise for you, do not be afraid to tweak things.  Just because you have to stick to a budget doesn't mean you cannot give gifts.  It just means you might have to think outside of the box a little bit.

Here are my gift giving steps that I use to help me stay within budget and still spread Christmas cheer.

 Step 1 is to make sure you know how much money you are working with. Don't skip the budgeting part as that is vital for a stress free holiday season.  If money is tight you can still give a gift.  Remember, the best things in life are free.  :)  Here is a great list of 100 FREE gift ideas.
Jam by Tesa Photography via pixabay

Step 2:  Make a list!
I am a list maker at heart and would be quite lost without my paper and pen or my phone with a note app. Having a list helps keep me organized and gives me a game plan.  It also helps from overspending. Throughout the year when I hear of a loved one speak of something they would like, I pop it onto my list. Some friends and family share their amazon wish lists with me, which is a wonderful way to purchase items you know your loved ones will enjoy. I keep a simple Google spreadsheet with a list of those I have to buy for, ideas, and a running total of what I am spending. It makes it really easy to just glance and see who I have left to buy for and what the remaining balance is for my holiday spending.

I absolutely love Google because it is so organized and easy.  I actually make a new spreadsheet, title it Christmas 2018 and within that spreadsheet I have different sheets.  I have a sheet for my Christmas card list, a sheet for our party with ideas for games as well as the menu and guest list, a sheet for friend gifts, a sheet for family gifts, a sheet for Advent and a sheet for our Christmas movie calendar.  It's great to have everything all in one spot so if I am out shopping I can just peek at my app on my phone and see what I still need to pick up  for the Christmas party or what the name of that game was that my brother in law wanted for Christmas. :)

Step 3: Keep it SIMPLE.
No one needs to be drowning in gifts.  Children are more content with a few well chosen items vs. being overwhelmed with too many things.

 I remember a Christmas years ago when my oldest son was about two years old... old enough to enjoy the wonder of Christmas morning.  He was the only child, only grandchild and only great grandchild at that time so he was lavished upon when it came to the holidays. We gave him his stocking Christmas morning and it was bursting at the seams with gifts.  In fact, we couldn't fit them all in the stocking, therefore we gave him an additional gift bag filled with stocking stuffers.  He looked at all the wrapped gifts in astonished excitement.  He picked the first gift out of the stocking and unwrapped a superhero toothbrush.  He was so overjoyed that he held onto that toothbrush and thanked us profusely.  He then asked to not open the rest of his stocking, he was content with that simple toothbrush.  We realized then and there that we may have overdone it.

Christmas by jill111@ pixabay
In our culture it is easy to get caught up in the materialism of the holiday thinking we need to buy more and more.  However, by doing that, a) we get into debt  b) we teach others that stuff = happiness  c) we become stressed and sacrifice our joy. It is okay to slow it all down and make it more simple for yourself and others this year.  If you need encouragement in this area then read this post from Joyful Choices.

Step 4: Give to those in the community and those who are in need.
One of the things I absolutely love about this time of year is giving to those who least expect it. It is a practice that we try to do throughout the year but Christmas is a great time to bring a smile to someone's face.  Some ideas that we've come up with over the years are:
  Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan's Purse
Sponsoring a child from a third world country.
Serving at the homeless shelter.
Visiting at the nursing home... hugs are free and these precious people want nothing more than to be thought of.
Ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.
Delivering cookies to those who serve us (police, postman, oil man...).
Buying $5 gift cards to Dunkin Donuts and handing them out to whoever pumps our gas or the clerk who bags our groceries.
Buying a bouquet of flowers and handing them to a stranger.
Finding a local family who is in need and bringing them a meal or a plate of goodies.
Shoveling for an elderly person in the neighborhood.
Buying a meal for the soldier who is standing in line behind us.
Helping a mom who needs a break.
Buying the coffee for the person behind us at the drive through.

 These moments of giving do not have to end at Christmas time. As a family, we are trying to be more active in seeking out ways we can serve others throughout the year.  It brings us so much joy and we meet the most wonderful people in the process.
Apparel by 5688709 pixabay

Step 5: Giving creative gifts.
One of my favorite gifts to give are experience gifts.  These can be as simple or extravagant as you want.  Maybe you have an Aunt who LOVES craft fairs.  You could take her out for a day of craft fair hopping and maybe purchase her an ornament or take her out to lunch as her gift. Spending time with people doesn't cost money and I find it is often the best gift we can give!

I have found that one gift that my parents enjoy year after year is our family calendar. Each year, for the past decade or so, we've been giving my parents and my husband's parents a calendar of our favorite family photos/memories that happened the past year.  We try to keep it in line with the seasons so pumpkin pictures will be in October, Christmas pictures in December, and each child's birthday month features a variety of pictures of them. It is simple and yet so appreciated therefore it has become part of our Christmas tradition.

Another simple gift we give to relatives is a yearly newsletter that rhymes and include a family photo.  I used to think it was cheesy but each year my aunts and uncles expresses to me how much they look forward to that letter arriving around Christmas.  So, we continue writing it and putting it out there.  I save a copy of the newsletter and a picture in a special box, with the hopes of one day compiling a binder of all of our yearly letters and photos so we can enjoy them together as a family as part of our reminiscing.  So, don't negate the simplicity of a gift, often times the simple gifts are those that are most remembered.

Need more gift giving inspiration, Real Simple has some creative and fun ideas on the holiday gift exchange.

I would love to hear about what you do for gifts at Christmas time?  Do you shop early, do you wait till Black Friday and pull an all nighter, do you make homemade gifts? Maybe rather than giving a physical gift you donate money to charity in the recipient's name.  Whatever you do, however you choose to give,  I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Oh, and don't forget as you pick up your gifts to wrap em'! You will save yourself copious amounts of time in the long run. I enjoy listening to Bing Crosby while I wrap. If you have a smaller family, you could choose a unique wrapping paper per person. My sister has two sons, one son has penguin wrapping paper every year and the other has polar bear wrapping paper.  Makes it easy when present time comes around to know whose is whose. :) Plus, it starts a fun family tradition that is simple and useful.

Make sure to come back next Saturday when we will be discussing music, movies, and books of the season.

Dreaming of a white Christmas,

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Countdown to Christmas Tips!

Welcome to my "Countdown to Christmas" series where each week I would like to share about what we are doing in our home to prepare for this most wonderful time of the year. I  find that the older I get, the more simplified I want things to become and most importantly, the more I want to reflect Christ to those around me. This is especially important to me at Christmas time.

Joy is simple when you are young; simpli by symphony of love, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  symphony of love 

I do not know about you, but for me, the holidays used to be overwhelming.  There was SO MUCH TO DO and it seemed like everyone around me was in a frenetic hurry.  I did not feel the joy of the season, in fact, it felt very opposite.  People were grumpy in the stores. My friends talked about how exhausted they were by all that needed to be done and how they hadn't been able to get their shopping accomplished yet. Stress was palpable in my own home as I rushed about trying to gather up gifts, bake goodies, put on a memorable party, and also address Christmas cards, wrap gifts, and run to the post office in my free time. By the time the big day arrived I was a mix of emotions because I felt like I hadn't taken the time to enjoy the season leading up to Christmas day.  I had lost sight of what is truly important about Christmas and my joy was greatly diminished.

Things are different now.  Christmas is more drawn out in our household due to the fact that it is my favorite time of year and  I LOVE to celebrate it for as long as realistically possible without driving my family nutty. Also, I like to take extra time to prepare so the days are enjoyable and not rushed.  By planning our holiday season I am able to get things done early and have more down time with my family as we reflect on this beautiful time of year.

Here are a few simple things we do in our home to help the holiday be one of joy and not stress.

1. Budget
Sit down with your significant other and plan how much you want to spend on gifts this year.  Start setting that money aside, the earlier the better.  Keep things reasonable so you don't have to work overtime to pay for Christmas.

2. Have a gift list.
I keep a simple Google spreadsheet with a list of those I have to buy for and ideas.   Having a list helps keep you organized and gives you a game plan.  It also helps from overspending.

3. Take advantage of online shopping!
It saves so much time to just click and buy.  The packages are either shipped directly to my house or the recipient... boom.  Done!

4. Pick up a few gender neutral gifts to have on hand for Secret Santa's or hostess gifts.

5. If you do Advent, make sure you plan little items/activities for your calendar.

6. Traditions!
Sit down with your family and decide together what traditions you want to celebrate this year.  There are some traditions that we celebrate each year because it wouldn't feel like Christmas without them. Other traditions come and go and sometimes, we ditch an old tradition and start a new one. Allow yourself the freedom to let go of things that are no longer important to you or not working for your family anymore. The fact is, regardless whether a tradition is special or not, they take up your time, so make sure you are spending your time on that which truly matters to you and yours.

7. Choose the spot where you want your Christmas tree!
Some people have their tree in the same spot each year.  I am a special creature who enjoys rearranging  furniture often (pray for my husband) therefore, our tree is rarely in the same place from year to year. To save stress, we choose our spot for our tree ahead of time so we can rearrange accordingly if needed.

8. Stock up on supplies early.
Wrapping paper, tape, gift bags, tissue paper and tags are necessities for  gift giving.  If you are like me, you want the cutest paper possible and ya'll know the paper that is available on Christmas Eve is just plain ol' ugly.  So, buy early for the best selection and make sure you get plenty of tape!

Gifts by Yvettefang06040 via pixabay

9. Wrap as you buy!
It saves so much time if you wrap as you pick up gifts.   This is another area where the spreadsheet comes in handy.  I put a little note next to the recipient's name stating where I hid the gift. :)  If a person has more than one gift I note that.  Example: My children each receive three gifts under the tree.  On my spreadsheet I label them gift #1, gift #2, and gift #3. When I wrap their gift I write which gift # it is on the tag and also discreetly on the back of the box (in case the tag falls off) that way I don't have to shake it and guess which present it is.

10. Plan your Christmas party date ahead of time and send out invites that way your family and friends can have your party on the calendar before the influx hits. I also like to plan the menu and games so I can buy supplies early.

11. Pick your menu for Christmas day.
  Pinterest and allrecipes have awesome ideas.  My goal is to keep it simple because I want to bask in the glory of the day. Keep your eyes out for my upcoming post on my favorite holiday recipes that keep me out of the kitchen but still creates a decadent feast.

12. Bake up some holiday cheer ahead of time and freeze it.  It makes life easier in the long run.  We do almost all of our cookie baking ahead of time.

13. Stamps!

14. Mail out your holiday cards and packages early. The lines just get longer as Christmas day gets closer.

15. If you are going to DIY then get your craft on NOW. Do not save it for last minute.  Don't be the one who is crying over your sewing machine at 2am on Christmas Eve. (Been there, done that).  You can find my post on the DIY hobby horse here.

16. Clean your home!
Zone cleaning has been a life saver for me.  It makes it so my home is usually guest ready within minutes.   It is easy to entertain when you clean a little bit each day.

17. Decorate!
Enjoy this magical season for as long as possible! As you are setting out your favorite decorations if there are things you no longer love then donate them or throw them away. No need to hang onto what no longer fills you with joy.

18. Take time for you!
Plan some down time for yourself in the midst of all the planning, cooking, cleaning, and wrapping. It is okay to say "no" to others in order to carve out some time for yourself.  Take a bubble bath, ask your spouse to wrap the gifts you bought today, plan on going out to lunch with a friend before your holiday grocery shopping.   :)

What are some ways you kick stress to the curb during the holiday season?

Each week I will be adding to our Countdown to Christmas by expanding on some of the above ideas. Please come back next Saturday to hear more about gift giving and how we plan, organize, wrap, etc.

So excited to be here with you,

Monday, October 29, 2018

Laundry With a Family of 8

Hello friends,
So today, I wanted to let you in on how we stay on top of laundry with a family of eight.

Pegs by Ryan McGuire

I enjoy keeping my home but laundry is not one of my favorite things to do.  Folding is tedious to me and having too many stacks of laundry that are folded and awaiting to be taken care of really stresses me out.  So, I wash, dry, fold and put away a load or two a day.

For me, I connect laundry with a trigger.  In the morning when I come downstairs the first thing I do is start a load of laundry.  Just waking up and heading towards the stairs reminds me to start the laundry.  It has become habit/routine.  So, I grab a bag of dirty clothes (we have this awesome laundry organizer) and pop it in the wash. While I am getting ready for the morning it is washing happily.  Then I switch the load over to the dryer before we eat breakfast, start the second load if needed, and while the children are completing their chores, I fold it and put it on the appointed beds.

I fold laundry immediately out of the dryer so:
a) no wrinkles
b) I don't procrastinate and put it off until there is a mountain of clean laundry taunting me.

Now, I wish I had a beautifully organized laundry room to show you but reality is that we live in a wonderful farm house with cute nooks and crannies.  The laundry area is one of these nooks.
Yes, the photo above really is where the magic happens in folding laundry for eight people.  It is affectionately called the "laundry hall".  To the right there is a sliding door to a narrow closet space that has a hamper for dirty towels and shelves for cleaning/laundry supplies.  There is also our upright freezer in this hallway.  To the left you see a string with Ziploc baggies hanging from it.  Yes, I am the weirdo who washes and reuses Ziploc baggies that haven't had anything greasy or meat in them.

I love the laundry baskets that collapse in on themselves so you can fold them up and store them easily.  The one in the picture has dividers so I can put each person's laundry in a section.  I have several of these laundry baskets and they are wonderful.  Now, one day when we expand the laundry area, each person will have their own sturdy basket with their name on it and I will just fold, put it in their hamper, and they will be responsible for carting it upstairs and taking care of it and then returning the basket back to it's place in the laundry room.  However, for now, I fold them and bring the large divided basket upstairs, place piles on each person's bed, and then it is up to them to take care of them before lights out.

As far as sorting dirty laundry, I have the laundry organizer that I linked above and it has 4 bags. One bag is for delicates (mostly my laundry) and the other 3 are for everyone else's laundry.  I also have a large hamper for towels and bedding. I do not sort laundry.  GASP! I know... I know.  I can feel the judgement from across the screen but seriously, it's all good.  I use a detergent that is safe for all colors and we just go with it. It is so freeing... I dare you to try it!  It also helps that we do not own many white clothes due to the fact that we are a clumsy lot and they inevitably become unwhite (or dingy gray due to our hard water). 

Once a week I wash towels and any necessary bedding/throw blankets that need to be laundered. 

So, that is my routine and how we keep on top of the laundry monster in our home.  I'd love to hear your tips and tricks on how you tackle your dirty clothes.

Want to save a few bucks and make your own laundry detergent?  You can snag my recipe here that I have been using for almost 15 years. It is WONDERFUL and costs a few cents a load.