Thursday, December 5, 2019

My December Stocking Stuffer Tip

This year I focused on stocking stuffers early. Like October early! My girls have certain items that they consider tradition to get in their stockings, thus I can pick those items up early. I also found a laundry bag for putting in luggage on clearance after school started, so that really got the ball rolling.

It's too late to tell you to start early! 

My December tip for stocking stuffers is this: 

Buy things that take up room, are consumable, and cost very little as extra inexpensive fillers. 

Here's a few ideas to get you started:

Goldfish crackers
Bubble Bath
Bag or can of chips
Bag of candy
Coloring book

I think you get the idea. The items should take up space and be relatively inexpensive. Google is sure to have other ideas, but often they are things like a $10 bracelet. A bracelet doesn't take up space and lots of small, but more expensive items add up really fast. Definitely check out dollar stores, dollar bins and grocery stores for your stocking fillers. 

You might notice the stocking stuffers I have bought are in gift bags. I do this to keep the items separated and organized before Christmas Eve, when I move them to the stockings. I just realized, once they are complete, I could probably tape them up and put under the tree until Christmas Eve, too! 

What do you put in a stocking? Any larger, but inexpensive items as fillers to share? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Mental Load of the Holidays

Holiday celebrations have shifted over time, particularly with more emphasis on commercialism and gift giving. There are ideas everywhere of what Christmas or any holy day this time of year should look like.  As a result, I believe, many of us are carrying an extra mental load of stress and overwhelm. 

Some of us aren't even aware it exists. That can be a problem because we are acting without realizing how hard this time of year can be. We are not consciously deciding what we want this holiday to look like or what changes we can make. We may be following the crowd, the rest of the family, previous traditions, or expectations. 

Note, not everyone feels this mental load. Some are bubbling with excitement and have an attitude that supersedes or brushes off any stress. Some are able to maintain the focus on the real reason they celebrate, and don't get caught up in the extra expectations.

This mental load so many of us carry is the reason I write about about planning ahead for Christmas in November. It's why I suggest you potentially eliminate gift recipients, reduce activities and tasks. I want you to create a season that is meaningful yet less stressful, too. 

If you were sitting right in front of me, I would probably ask you lots of questions to understand your specific situation. And the first one might be, what is the thing that is most stressful for you this time of year? Is there anything at all that could be changed about that to help reduce that stress? 

Sometimes it's not just our actions that lighten the mental load, but the attitude about a situation. Yes, we could eliminate gift recipients, but if that isn't possible, what type of gift could be given that is easier? Cash or a gift card? The same gift for everyone? Our attitude about that type of change could be negative, thinking 'no, that won't work'. But what if it did work? What if your attitude was focused on how relieved you are to not have to focus on each person's gift individually? What if we cared just a little less about being approved of for the gift we have given? What if we know that the thought and generosity counts. 

It really is okay to say no. Kindly, if possible. In fact, you don't have to say no for every year to come, maybe just this year.  Just this year, you opt out of that party that stresses you more than any other. Or just this year, you don't buy for some family members. Try it on, start negotiating other ideas that might be welcome to everyone, such as gift exchanges, buying only for children, or doing an activity together instead of gifts. 

I want you to feel peace, relaxation, love and communion of family and friends, not the stress of getting the right gift or putting up the perfect decorations. 

What can you do this season, this month, this week, or just today to reduce that mental load? What can you change? What can you accept? 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Slow Christmas Decorating

Have you heard of slow decorating? The idea is to put something new out every few days in the days (or weeks) before Christmas. The idea is that the season and preparations unfold and present themselves slowly, so that each new addition gets its own time to shine, to be noticed and appreciated for the gift it is to the home.

Generally, we decorate our tree and put out the other decorations on the same day, often the weekend after Thanksgiving. However, we are traveling until just after Thanksgiving. I think instead of a whirlwind decorating session just after a trip; why not let the decorating come into our home slowly and with appreciation?

For example, that basket above looked like this during the fall months. It's nothing fancy just some greening in a basket, usually on a shelf, with a couple fall sprigs.

But a simple switch of springs and it looks like this! 

Or if that isn't clear, I imagine it might go something like this:

The tree goes up with lights. Maybe add our gold star ornaments a few days later. Maybe the remaining ornaments don't get hung until the girls are home to enjoy the experience.

On another evening I pull out the nativity puzzle and set up the manger with the sheep and oxen. I could set the other pieces out another day.

And on even another day, I put a wreath out on the front door.

Slowly, the season unfolds.

I just like the idea of it!!

I'll let you know how it goes. There is likely a downside to this, but I won't know how it feels until we try.

What is your decorating tradition? Do you have simple decorations or do you go all out? Have you heard of slow decorating?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

More Gifts Wrapped!

Wow! I have completed the bulk of the shopping for my husband and my daughters. Most of it is wrapped, too. I'm so happy to have this much complete prior to Thanksgiving.

Take a look at all the gifts that are wrapped already at this point!

I may be ahead of many people who will be celebrating the holidays in December, don't fret if you haven't wrapped or purchased one gift. You still have time to make a plan! 

Have you made a list of who you are buying for?

Have you asked them for ideas or thought about your own ideas for gifts? 

Do you have all the wrapping items you need? Gift bags, wrapping paper, and tape?

Make a plan and start doing a little bit each day or every other day. December doesn't have to be stressful. I'm cheering for you! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How I Freeze My Christmas Cookies

I did more baking!  Ginger Crinkle Cookies, a double batch specifically. We love these!! I think if we only made one cookie it would be these. The recipe I use can be found here.

I thought you would like to see how I freeze the cookies. It's not hard really. I use plastic containers with lids. For cookies, I simply stack them in the container, wrapped in some parchment paper. For fudge, which is sticker, I place parchment paper between layers of fudge.

And then...the containers get stacked in my freezer. 

Yes, I happen to have an empty freezer. We eat lots of fresh foods. We rarely have a full freezer, unless it is immediately after a weekly grocery shopping trip. 

Freezing cookies for a month or two does not change the taste or consistency. Cookies thaw very quickly, probably twenty minutes or so. Freezing is what allows me to make our baked goods early, and have less to do in December! 

Do you freeze baked goods in preparation for the holidays? Do you have another method for freezing? 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Let The Baking Commence...

I wish I could put sound effects on a blog title! You would hear a record scratching after the word 

I'm making four different types of treats for the holidays this year. And yes, I make most of them in November (or early December) and freeze them until it's time to share or eat. I mentioned previously that I made my baking ingredient shopping list.  I followed my list and picked up all the items, except for the most perishables, during two recent grocery shopping lists.

I decided to make Peanut Butter Fudge first. It is the fastest one and requires none of the perishable items. The recipe I use can be found here.

After I put on the Christmas music, I pulled out all my ingredients, the pans, the spatulas and the measuring cup and spoon. I measured the sugar (so much sugar!).  I opened the can of evaporated milk; poured it onto the sugar. I unwrapped a stick of butter and tossed it in the pot and began to stir it all together. The melting began and I glanced at the recipe to see what was next and realized I didn't get the vanilla out. I've made this recipe before and it goes fast and it helps to have everything out and ready to go. Back to the cupboard for the vanilla.

...cue the record scratching sound

There was no vanilla in my cupboard!! It wasn't on my shopping list either. Thanks to my previous post and a picture I can confirm I never put it on the list. The truth is when I was making my list I took for granted that I actually had vanilla. Because it is not often we run out of vanilla honestly. I simply didn't double check and look where I would find the vanilla.

I turned off the stove to stop the melting. I stopping the Christmas music playing. I put on my coat and drove to the closet store four minutes away for vanilla. Just vanilla.

I am thankful this happened to me! Because I can share it with you. You can learn from my error. Double check your ingredients. Double check your list. Double check your recipes. (Yes, even those Thanksgiving ones!)

It is frustrating to start a recipe, or a project without all the necessary ingredients or items. If I had been making this with my kids as a holiday experience, it would have changed the mood considerably. It isn't the end of the world of course, I still have my peanut butter fudge made!

Are you baking treats for Christmas? Have you ever had to stop a recipe because you were missing an ingredient?

p.s. Please tell me you know what a record scratching sounds like! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Christmas Mission: Baking Ingredients Purchased

I'm plugging away at my holiday preparations! If it seems like I'm doing this early it is because I want to carve out time to relax and enjoy the season in the couple weeks before it arrives. I want to be available to go see Christmas lights, attend a Christmas themed event, or simply just put my feet up and watch a Christmas movie. 

The next task I can nearly cross off my list is the purchase of all the non perishables on my baking ingredient list. 

I put about half the items on my list over the last two weeks of regular grocery shopping. This means no extra trips and just a little extra was added to the weekly grocery budget. 

Yes, I will have to go back for eggs! Those are for pumpkin pie which I will make just before Christmas day. I will make a point to check my baking ingredient list just before my weekly grocery shopping to see if I need any of the items for that week's baking. 

I do want to point out for a less stressful holiday, it can be worth it to buy items already prepared. We don't have to make it all from scratch.  In fact, it is probably far healthier not to make (and then eat) these sugar laden desserts! The holidays come whether we prepare or not. Do what makes you joyful and glad, not that which is stressful. I just happen to like some of the baking and cooking! 

Are you baking any treats for Christmas? Are you making Thanksgiving dinner or a dish to share? Did you make your ingredient list? Have you purchased your ingredients?