Less Stress for the Holiday Season

I love the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Thanksgiving might be my favorite but only because we gather to share our love, our memories, and eat a delicious meal together. So for me, there is definitely less stress, and less to prepare for. The only expectation is the meal which I love cooking!

It is also the beginning of the Christmas season. The weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday, for me, are so very beautiful with all the decorations and lights. I love listening to the Christmas music; many songs awaken lovely memories from my childhood. I also love giving gifts, whether they are made by my own hands with love, or a carefully chosen store bought gift.

But then there are all those folks that I hear complaining about how commercialized Christmas has become. Or they are complaining about all the parties to go to and the food they must prepare to take to these parties. There are also complaints about buying gifts for people that they probably don’t want and they can’t afford to buy. And it breaks my heart to hear them say they can’t wait for Christmas to be over.

Christmas is no different than any other situation in life, YOU GET OUT OF IT EXACTLY WHAT YOU PUT IN IT! So if you go into it with disgust, dislike, and grumpiness…. That is exactly what you are going to get out of it!!

I totally understand how the holidays can also be difficult to get through because we may have lost a loved one, or we might be alone and have no one to celebrate with. Been in both of those situations, I know it is not pleasant and can be heartbreaking and depressing.

So hopefully I have come up with some ideas that might be able to help you get through the upcoming holidays with a little less stress. Maybe this will help you have a little more love in your heart. And maybe you will actually learn to at least like the holidays.

  1. Eat & drink smart and healthy! This is so hard to do with all the baked goodies and homemade candies BUT try to resist making a meal out of unhealthy treats!  Go ahead and have that small slice of pumpkin pie or cake, have one cookie, indulge in that one piece of fudge.  But only allow yourself one treat so choose wisely!  Snack on healthy things like veggies and fruit, nuts, a piece of cheese or some peanut butter for protein.  Drink lots of water, add lemon for a little taste and detox.  Do allow yourself a holiday cocktail, or two, but alternate with water.  Waking up tomorrow with a headache or being hungover will just add to your stress level.
  2. Meal plan! As mentioned above you want to eat healthy but still allow some treats, so plan your day’s menu/diet so that you are continually eating healthy.  Especially before you go to parties!!  Make sure you are planning your family meals according to your schedule, use a crock pot or casserole recipes for busy days and nights.  Make some casseroles, lasagna, anything that you can throw in your freezer.  Later in the week you will be thankful that all you need to do is pull out a casserole to thaw in the fridge while you are at work, and then pop it in the oven when you get home.
  3. Parties! I have heard a lot of people complain and basically whine about all the parties they need to go to!  Really?  Please be thankful that you have friends and family that want to share the holiday with you, no one is promised a tomorrow.  You do not always need to say yes to every party, it is okay to say no so that you can stay home and take care of you and your family or just to rest.  If you really don’t want to go, then don’t.  We all need some alone time, but we also need our friends and families too.  Think of the memories and fun times you might have, think of some friends and families that you can reconnect with.  Visit for as long as you want, eat healthy and drink healthy, be thankful for the friendships and have some fun!!
  4. Can you bring a covered dish? Yes, you can!  You do not need to go overboard and try to be a gourmet chef!  If you like to cook and prepare something fancy, great!  If you don’t, then just take something simple like cheese and crackers, veggies, or check out the appetizers in the frozen section of your grocery store.  There are some pretty good selections to choose from!  I love to cook but there are times when I just do not have the time to prepare something, so this works out well and they are delicious.
  5. Shopping and gift giving. This IS enough to stress everyone out!  You really need to be smart here, don’t just buy a gift for the sake of buying a gift.  If that is your reason for gift giving, just stop!  First, make a list of people that you want to give a gift, then think about them and what they like, jot down some ideas before you shop.  Also, set a dollar amount that you are willing to spend on each gift and stick with your budget.  Keep receipts, jot down names on the receipt/tags just in case you need to return something, and keep them all in an envelope.  I usually suggest not giving clothes but if you are confident in that choice, then go for it!  Also, keep an eye out for sales, use coupons.  If you do not like wrapping your gifts, then bag’em!  That is the easiest and the least stressful way to go.  Keep in mind that a simple gift from the heart is all you really need to give.
  6. Teach your kids about giving and receiving.  This is a challenge for most parents.  We don’t want our kids growing up to be materialistic and greedy; and we want to teach them about giving too.  Set boundaries for what they are asking for, have them organize and clean out what they already have, show them how fortunate they already are for what they have now.  Give your family members limits on what they can spend on your kids. If you have older kids and your budget allows, have your kids donate gifts to the needy, a shelter, or sponsor a family for Christmas. Have them volunteer at a food bank or as a family take a few bags to the food bank. Living in today’s world that is so materialist, I think this is something we all need to do.  Also, teach you kids the value of saying thank you as well as how to gracefully be thankful for a gift that they just unwrapped but don’t like!
  7. Stress-less kids? This is a time that kids are super excited!  Remember when you were a kid at Christmas?  They have a lot of stimuli from all the toy ads on TV, so it might be a good idea to limit their time in front of the TV.  Sit down and chat with them about their wants, desires, expectations and then chat about giving to the less fortunate.  Talk to them about your childhood memories and realize that you are creating and shaping theirs.  Involve them in decisions about new traditions.  Make sure they are eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, limit their treats and make sure they are getting enough rest and sleep.  This can also be a busy time in school with reports and projects needing to be completed before their holiday break so make sure they are getting enough time to complete their school work.  Get them outside for exercise and fresh air!  This is also a time for the little germ carriers to be sick, not fun for the holiday.
  8. Traditions! I love family traditions!  And I love creating new traditions!  Think back to when you were a child and the things that you used to do as a family, create those wonderful warm memories with your kids!! Slow down and enjoy the holiday season, celebrate it lovingly, and involve the kids!  Look online or on Pinterest for some new ideas.  Have fun!
  9. Physical and emotional health.  Make sure you are getting your exercise too!  Get those kids outside and play, walk, hike, whatever you can find to do.  Don’t forget about your gym membership, even if you only have 30 minutes to use the treadmill or lift a few weights, or if you’re lucky enough to have a pool to swim a few laps.  Every little bit helps.  Don’t forget about your mental and emotional health.  For as much enjoyment and beauty as some find in the holiday, there is also disappointment, sadness and loneliness.  Meditate, pray, go to church, talk to friends, talk to a professional if you need to.  There is no shame in that!  Try yoga, sit and read or just sit and look at the tree and drink in the beauty and silence of the room.
  10. Keep your life and the holiday in focus.  Easier said than done, I get it.  But try.  It’s so easy to compare your holiday life to others and be sad that you don’t have what someone else has.  Life isn’t fair, but this is your life and you only have one shot at it so stay focused.  You don’t have to have a lot of friends or a big bank account to enjoy the very beautiful and simple holiday.  Celebrate with the love of the family and friends that you are still blessed to have.  Don’t get caught up in the commercialism, that’s not what the holidays are about.  Remember, what you put into this holiday gig is what you are going to get out of it.

Live and love well my friends!

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Holiday Meal Planner

Can you believe it is almost the end of October?! We will be planning holiday meals in no time!

I like to prepare a much as I can before the meal. You know those holiday Hallmark movies where the family is together in the kitchen on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each of them is preparing something. One person is making the pumpkin pie, another is preparing the turkey to roast, someone is peeling the potatoes. Yea well it doesn’t work like that in my family and I’m betting it doesn’t in yours either.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have some help getting things ready to serve but for one thing, my kitchen isn’t that big AND I do not have enough ovens for multiple things to bake at one time!

So I thought I would come up with a planner, to help me, and to help you. We all lead busy lives and some of you may be awesome at throwing a big sit down holiday dinner in a flash, but I am not. I need to and like to prepare ahead of time, so here goes:

HOLIDAY MEAL PLANNER

2-3 Weeks Before

  • Plan your menu. If you’re thinking of serving new dishes, practice cooking them prior to your dinner so you and your guests won’t be disappointed.
  • If you are going with the traditional turkey, decide if you are purchasing a frozen or fresh bird, place your order if necessary.
  • Inventory your plates, utensils, glassware and serving dishes. Start shopping if you need to replenish!
  • What linens are you planning to use? Make sure you have enough tablecloths, napkins, and placemats. Launder and iron now.
  • Will you need extra tables and chairs? Whether you are renting, borrowing or buying new, start now.
  • Most importantly (other than the turkey!), make yourself lists. Write down EVERYTHING! Your menu, wine/drinks, things to do, things to buy, you will be thankful you did!

One Week Before

  • If you have not done so already, prepare your grocery list. Then rewrite in the location order of your market or in the order as: produce, canned items, bakery, bread, pantry items, and so on.
  • Clean out your kitchen before you grocery shop. Make sure your pantry and fridge are free of any unused leftovers or outdated products. Wipe down the shelves in the fridge.
  • Inventory your spices and herbs, discard out dated or old containers.
  • Clean your house and decorate if you have not already done so. Eliminate clutter and if your family likes to play games, make sure they are ready to go.
  • Make a plan for your cooking preparations. Use a calendar if you like or just make a list.

Sunday Before

  • If you have purchased a frozen bird, and depending on the size, you may need to put in the fridge so it can start to thaw. Never leave the turkey thaw on the counter!
  • The recipe for my Turkey Rub is here.

Monday and Tuesday before

  • Shop for your groceries.
  • Tie up any loose ends from above that you have not yet completed.
  • Make the cranberry sauce. My recipe is here.
  • If you are cutting up and cubing your own stuffing, do that now.
  • I like to chop up any vegetables that I need on Tuesday. Whether it be the onion and celery for the stuffing and turkey, or veggies for my family to snack on as an appetizer.
  • I work full time and usually cannot take off the day before so I like to make my pies and cakes Tuesday evening when I get home from work.  My pumpkin Pie recipe is here. And my Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream recipe is here.

Wednesday Before

  • If you have not done so already, bake your desserts. Store in a cool place or refrigerate.
  • Prepare any appetizers that can be made ahead, cover and refrigerate. My Three Cheese Roasted Red Pepper Dip is here.
  • If your vegetables are not chopped and ready to go, do that now.
  • If you are cooking a fresh turkey, pick it up from the market.
  • Prepare any side dishes ahead that you can. I make my mashed potatoes now, place them in a large casserole dish, dot with butter and cover with foil.
  • If you are making your mashed potatoes tomorrow, peel and cut them now, place them in a bowl of water, cover and refrigerate.
  • Set up any extra table and chairs, set the table, place any table décor out now.
  • If you are planning to use a cooler for bottled water or beer and extra wine bottles, do that now and sit outside in a safe place.
  • If you’re planning on hot chocolate by a fire pit, my recipe is here. Or my Hot Cider Float recipe is here.
  • Inventory your lists and make sure you are on track!
  • Take a hot bath, pour yourself a drink and relax with a good book!

THE BIG DAY!

  • Prepare your stuffing and turkey and get them in the oven.
  • Reheat your sides.
  • Prepare the gravy.
  • Don’t forget ask for help getting things on the table!
  • And you are done! Enjoy your day and your guests and have a wonderful time!

I wish you the Happiest and Loveliest Thanksgiving and Christmas!

PS: And remember, your holiday will not be perfect! Don’t worry if something doesn’t work out as planned, laugh about it! I can’t tell you how many rolls I have burned because I put them in the oven last and forgot to set the timer!!

Snicker Doodle Cookies

I love Snicker Doodle cookies!! I didn’t make them for Christmas, but instead I decided to wait until after the Holidays.

I used my Mom’s recipe, but I wanted to change the cinnamon and sugar part and make some of the cookies with some chai spices.

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The chai spice cookies are the darkest , the cinnamon sugar are the lightest, and then I just combined both the chai mixture and the cinnamon sugar and those cookies are in the middle!

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Mom’s recipe calls for all shortening but I used half butter. They still turned out delicious!

The chai spices I used were:

½ teaspoon of each of cinnamon, allspice, ground cloves, ginger, nutmeg and a pinch of ground black pepper.

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As much as I adore my chai tea latte’s, I think I favored the cookies with the cinnamon sugar. Maybe I just didn’t have the chai spice mixture quite right….

So I combined the cinnamon sugar mixture with the chai spice mixture, and I really loved it!

Here is my Mom’s Snickerdoodle Cookie recipe:

Mix together 1 cup shortening and 1-1/2 cup sugar

Beat in 2 eggs

Sift and then stir in 3 cups flour, 2 tsp cream of tartar, 1 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt

Roll dough in balls the size of walnuts, then roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture.  Place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 8-10 minutes.  These cookies will puff up, then flatten out with crinkled tops.

I hope you enjoy, these always turn out great!  Live well!

Be sure to follow me on Facebook, I sometimes post things that don’t make it to the blog.

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Girls Night for Christmas

I’m had a few girlfriends over for a Christmas get together.  So I needed to finish up with the final touches of decorating.

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My front porch is decorated simply with a crate of firewood and greenery.  It will welcome my friends and family, letting them know they are welcome in my home and will be surrounded with warmth and love.

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I set up a small nativity scene.  This has been in the family, it was my Dad’s and it may have been his parents.  I don’t have all the pieces, but I love it just the same!  My friends and I will know the true meaning of the season and our celebrating.

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I would love to find more pieces, if that’s even possible!  As you can see, I only have 2 Kings and they are ….. twins!

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I have my table set for a holiday meal.  My friends and I won’t be sitting here for our gathering, we will be all in the living room curled up with all my Christmas pillows.

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I’m providing the beverage, one of which is this specialty Christmas drink.  Found a recipe on Pinterest for a martini that I am sure the girls will love, the glasses are lined up and ready!

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When it is time to say good night, they will each be leaving with a small hand made gift.  These plates were so easy to make.  I was inspired by a pin I saw on Pinterest, found the plates at Target and the gold and silver leaf pens at Hobby Lobby.

  
Have a beautiful and wonderful Christmas week!

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Christmas Home Tour 2015

I must be crazy to want to do a Christmas Home Tour this year!  I am so nervous to show you my home but yet I am also excited to share my cozy little place with you!

I have admired so many Christmas home tours on blogs, the homes are gorgeous!  And I love the all the different styles of decorating, rustic, country, traditional, contemporary.  It’s all so beautiful!

I want to warn you that I have been in my home for less than a year.  I still don’t have things the way I want them.  I need to paint, and there are still a few pieces of furniture that I am looking for and I still need curtains.  My house certainly does not look like it is worthy of a home tour, but I love my home and I love decorating for Christmas.  I just want to share my little corner of the world, a little place that warms my heart and welcomes all the family and friends that I have!!

I have been planning my Christmas décor for months!    Let me tell you how I started….

I have lots of family heirlooms that have been carefully packed away.  I have quite a few antiques that I have collected over the years.  And, I just have a lot of STUFF!  So I have been trying to be creative in using so many of the pieces to decorate.

The first thing I did was to start with an empty slate, I emptied all table tops and counters.  Then I set out what I wanted to use from my collections, and unpacked all the Christmas décor I had packed away.

I used old and new together in the décor, but I tried keep all the silver pieces together, and all the gold together.  That said, I do like silver and gold decorations together, and I love a light blue thrown in with it, maybe next year….

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I keep at least one framed photo of my kids, grandkids and my parents on display.  My parents have passed on and I need to keep a picture of them out not only all the time BUT most definitely at Christmas. I have so many wonderful fond memories of my childhood Christmases, even though they are always in my heart, I still want their photo for all to see.

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Some of the Christmas balls are new, some are hand-made mercury glass, and some are from my very first tree when I became a single mom… so many years ago!  Here’s a close up of the handmade mercury glass.

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My Dad used to set up a platform train set when I was very small.  He was very detailed using black thread for telephone wire, he used mirror for ice on a pond, and there were train cars that actually functioned as if it were a real train.  The engine even blew smoke!  But sadly, Dad got rid of everything except a few of the trains.  But one of the things that I really loved were the little bottle brush trees!!  I can’t help myself!!

So I bought a few to set on my craft table.. Warms my heart when I look at them as it reminds me of that train platform so many years ago!

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I thought decorating the kitchen for Christmas would be difficult and I would just go light on the decor, but it turned out to be easier than I thought AND I was able to use some of the heirlooms!

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This cabinet I installed after I moved in, but I still haven’t decided on the type of counter tile I want, so I covered the plywood base with the shiny red cloth.

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Even the sink area has a little sugared faux fruit for decor.

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This corner is where I do all my cooking, and today, baking!  I left a few cookies our for visitors, and a little basket for tangerines and apples.

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I also set out the  makings for hot cocoa, the grandkids will love this!

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So, that’s it for now.  I didn’t get my nativity scene up yet, I’ll share that with you soon.

Merry Christmas friends!

Cinnamon Christmas Ornaments

Looking for something fun to do with the kids this week?  Make these very aromatic ornaments!!!  You can use them on your tree as decorations or tie them onto gifts.  They are very easy to make and need about 2 to 3 days to completely dry.

Here’s the recipe (but DON’T eat them, they are NOT edible!!):

2 cups Cinnamon

1-1/2 Applesauce, NOT chunky

2 tsp ground Nutmeg

2 tsp ground Cloves

4 Tb Elmer’s Glue

Mix all the ingredients well.  When completely mixed, divide the dough in two parts,  roll out one batch between sheets of plastic wrap. Keep the dough around a 1/4″ think, if you make it too thin the ornaments will curl or break.  Using a toothpick or a small straw, put a hole in the top of the ornaments for the ribbon.  Place on cookie racks to dry.  After they are completely dry, you can carefully use a fingernail file to finish off the edges, tie a pretty ribbon in the ornament for hanging.