Christmas Cookie Exchange Tips

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I am gearing up to start my 1st of 2 full days of baking over this next week to satisfy almost 20 dozen cookies for two different cookie exchange parties, one that I have attended for the last 8 years and the other a new tradition to my family that I started last year. As I get myself ready to begin the first batch tomorrow afternoon I decided to share a few of my tips & best practices for cookie exchanges! Hopefully, it helps any newcomers to a cookie exchange or any of you on the fence about starting this fun tradition!

The goal behind a Christmas Cookie Exchange is for each of guest to bake one kind of cookie each and then everyone comes together to celebrate the season and still manage to leave the party & go home with a variety of cookies without the extra effort! Plus it makes a fun and yummy excuse to get together during the holidays and helps you have a variety to fill those last minute cookies trays to take to all your Christmas festivities! The exchange cookie for the other one I attend is my family’s spritz recipe passed down from my great grandma, an absolute Christmas staple in our home and a recipe I will not share but most families have a version of it and if all else fails scope out Pinterest or Google for a suitable alternative! I will bake my Pecan Fingers, staple #2 for this exchange next week! You will find that recipe at the end of this post for your enjoyment. I enjoy these with my morning coffee in the days after the holidays to stretch the season out a little longer.

Here are my top 5 tips for pulling off a successful baking session SPECIFICALLY for a Cookie Exchange

1- Decide on a cookie you are comfortable with and feel capable of achieving without adding too much stress & chaos, the point is to join a cookie exchange to save you stress without sacrificing variety with your cookie baking during an already busy time of year! I like to choose a cookie with a pretty good # yield per batch to eliminate a bunch of ingredient multiplying or tons of batches needing to be separately prepped & baked. Less room for error and an easier process for you!

2- Plan to have a window of time within 2-5 days of the party to do your baking to ensure you are swapping the freshest cookies possible because freshest is bestest! 😍🍪😍🍪😍 depending on the cookie you choose, you may be able (or need to) prep a dough and let it rest, this may help break up the task (if need be) and allow you to have some work done ahead of the actual baking day!

3- Be sure to mark your calendar to attend because the main reason I began hosting one annually was to have a fun & functional holiday excuse to get together for fun & laughs with my girlfriends & family! Attending is far more than half the fun I PROMISE! Games, food and a white elephant gift exchange that guarantees laughs!

4- Once you pick a cookie and decide on a safe and airtight way to separate your cookie by the dozen for exchange (ziplock bags, plastic container, tin, or gift box etc.) Then you are ready to bake & bag! Preheat the oven, Gather ingredients, Wash hands, Don the apron to save your outfit, Turn the Christmas music on & bake away! Again try to pick a low mess & low fuss cookie to prep, bake & decorate!

5- Once cooled prep for bagging & set aside in a safe place away from all kids & husbands until it’s party time! 🎊🎈🎊 When party time arrives kiss the fam goodbye, don’t feel guilty & come have so much fun you never want to miss a year!

 

Pecan Fingers

*Preheat oven to 350*

  • 1/2 # Margarine (softened)
  • 6 Tablespoon Confectioners Sugar
  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Cups Finely Chopped Pecans

Cream together the softened margarine & sugar. Begin to add the flour gradually, once all flour is incorporated add the chopped nuts be sure to mix well. Once all ingredients are blended shape the dough into finger sized and shaped cookies and place on an un-greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 mins. Once the cookies are cooled entirely place them a few at a time in a shallow bowl of powdered sugar and coat each finger. Enjoy with coffee, tea or milk & store any remaining Pecan Fingers in an airtight container.

Pecan Fingers Printable Recipe Card

 

As a BONUS little added tradition, because I am all about traditions new and old  (especially this time of year!) last year just before Christmas and my 1st annual cookie exchange, I told my husband that I wanted to start a Christmas Cookie Jar collection so that I can have a variety to decorate my kitchen for the holidays and double purpose to store all my delicious Christmas cookies from this cookie exchange and other holiday traditions! Someday when my girls have homes I can pass one down to each for them to decorate the kitchen counter too!

Last year one of my gifts was a fun Santa Lumberjack Cookie Jar, this is one of my hopes for this year. But more than a new cookie jar this year, I want YOU to join in on this fun Cookie Exchange Tradition in your own bubble! Be sure to follow my blog page so you don’t miss any future recipe’s, tips, tricks or best practices to dazzling your way through the holiday season this year and for seasons to come!

 

HAPPY BAKING my DAZZLING friends! As always, thanks for reading and I hope it inspires you to start or join a Christmas Cookie Exchange so that you can be a part of a beautiful & fun tradition like this!

~Rebecca

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Staying Ahead of the Holiday Mess Making

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Keeping house because I can’t pay a housekeeper solutions series…

This series was designed to be an ever-growing blog series meant to tackle solutions to everyday housekeeping challenges in different seasons of life specific to the different seasons in nature. To explore other previous House Keeping Challenges I have tackled simply look under my blog categories for “Keeping house cause I can’t pay a housekeeper!” Now for the House Keeping Challenge, I solved for Autumn 2017…

Challenge: Getting a Cleaning Schedule to stay Ahead of the Holiday Mess Making!

Weather Season: Autumn         Parenting Season: Multi Child/Toddler to School Age

Goal: To create a manageable but still thorough cleaning schedule that allows you to celebrate the season in a clean home but manages to leave more time for memory making as your busy family heads into the hustle & bustle of the Holidays!

Adventure’s & Activities Ideas: Achieving the Goal allows you to have more time freed up in your life allowing you to spend this newly found time with your loved ones around all the activities & sports that back to school has resurrected for the year. Autumn brings with it a crispness in the air and an array of trees changing color under a still bright sunny sky and releasing their leaves in the perfect temperature’s to reap great harvests & create lasting memories by taking on adventure’s like apple & pumpkin picking, and wooded hikes. Family football games and big Sunday dinners, movie nights curled up on the couch or with a homemade drive-in movie feel in the backyard complete with bonfires & roasted movie snacks!  Hayrides, Haunted Houses, or fall themed story time at the library for the younger kiddo’s are just some more great ways to spend quality time with your newly freed up time from getting ahead & sticking to a cleaning schedule heading into the beginning of our busiest seasons as women!

 

With that, I introduce to you the……..

 

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I CAN NOT TAKE CREDIT FOR DESIGNING THIS SCHEDULE. I came across this somewhere online and saved the image to my phone a while back for use at a later date because I felt it was well designed and had hoped to implement it, I did not realize at the time that the original source was not credited in the image so if you know where this came from please let me know so I can properly credit the source.

I plan to begin implementing this basic idea for a cleaning schedule into my weeks and months starting in this upcoming month of October. I do currently do many of the “Daily Chores” to begin with as part of my own (and my children’s chores as discussed in Our New Chore System!) but I will be more disciplined in doing so and will incorporate the “Weekly Chores”, “Monthly Chores” & “Yearly Chore’s”. Feel free to rearrange the days that your chores take place on to fit into the flow of your week reasonably. To do this more easily I have re-imagined the image above and created a Fillable Cleaning Schedule to allow you to rearrange the Weekly & Monthly Chores to work best into your week.

What I like the most about this approach is that it is evenly spreading the work across the entire month with a carefully planned approach that breaks it into manageable tasks that should take only about an hour spent in your home cleaning 6 out of the 7 days of the week. If we are honest with each other, we waste more than an hour a day on social media or in front of the TV or some other time drainer in our life. If we focus roughly one hour or even two a day on a scheduled daily task then it becomes much easier to manage while still getting the tasks accomplished. For me when the tasks are done and I have a schedule or plan in place to ensure other repetitive tasks will get handled then it ultimately makes it easier to justify spending an hour playing dolls on the floor with our daughters or going on a family adventure without guilt creeping into my brain.

We as moms need to find our own balance. We must be present in the lives of our children because they are only little for a blink and we are their only mom, the only one who can mold them with the same kind of unconditional love, compassion, and grace besides Christ. We must take this role as homemaker & mother seriously and that means not taking it TOO seriously and remembering to make time for fun, silliness & adventure while remembering to be present when we do put the housework aside. Being present means being able to push the stressors and the chaos of the world out and managing our responsibilities so they don’t manage us and we can enjoy time at the moment with those we love. I hope this schedule helps you to maximize efficiency while trying to clean & maintain the housekeeping of this upcoming busy season so you can be present with your family in this season of Autumn Splendor!

As always, thanks for reading! I hope this helps you dazzle your way to a dazzling house!

~Rebecca

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Our Christmas Kindness Elves

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December 1st, 2017

It is December 1st and at our house, this is a big day! It’s actually a big day for more than one reason but today’s blog topic is only about the MERRY one of those reasons. December 1st is the day my husband and I decided to make a go at a “committed relationship” after just one week of knowing each other and thus began our holiday season love story but that isn’t what this blog is about. Maybe I will write my own Hallmark Holiday Movie about our love story (that would be the MARRY reason lol) but today, I am here to introduce you to the MERRY reason, Joy & Caleb, our Christmas Kindness Elves! They arrive with a little mini Christmas Kindness Brunch on December 1st and this is our 2nd year with them visiting for the month of December.

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Here’s a bit of the backstory…

The Kindness Elves just began visiting our family last Christmas, after I had spent about 4 years debating the idea of beginning some sort of Elf on a Shelf alternative. {*DISCLAIMER* I say alternative because I am not a big fan of the Elf on a Shelf, I was never a big fan of Elf on a Shelf in fact. WHY?!? Keep on reading…} First, the well-known Elf on a Shelf fad didn’t begin to the over the Christmas season until after my first daughter was halfway through her Santa years so it would never have been something I could have pulled off introducing to her without having red flags go up in her mind about Santa altogether. Being a bright kid and being raised by a few skeptics, we had barely managed to keep her on board with the Santa thing, to begin with when she first began to question it. By the way, if your child hasn’t begun to question Santa, just wait for it, it will come (and if you are anything like me it will hurt when you hear it for the first time). For us, it came almost immediately after our oldest began kindergarten and her peers began to become “unbelievers” so………………. I wasn’t trying to throw any other red flags her way when it came to the big guy.

Aside from that fact though, I don’t really love the idea of having an “elf” trick my kids into behaving through the holidays by telling them that this elf goes back to Santa, I mean that’s the whole reason we play the Santa card, I don’t want to double bride them to behave by giving myself another “job” to do during the holidays because let’s face it, I do all the rest of the holiday prep most of the time anyway! Then add to it that half of the appeal (if not, in fact, the ENTIRE appeal to the kids) is that the Elf on a Shelf gets into mischief and makes messes while we sleep! REALLY, my kids do enough of that during the day, now I have to let an elf make messes at night too? I just counted my blessings and laughed at the Facebook feeds of all the funny, creative and sometimes somewhat inappropriate Elf on a Shelf posed pictures that filled my newsfeed while silently enjoying the fact that I had escaped it…

I thought I had escaped the elf thing all together until daughters #2 & #3 were both in school & preschool and then teachers started using them in the classrooms and soon my girls began to question why all their friends had an elf visit and we didn’t……..

…….this went on for a few years until in a moment of weakness I blurted out,

“We don’t have an elf because I told Santa not to send us an elf that is only going to make more messes and get into more mischief than you girls do already! My hands are full with four of you little mess makers, I don’t need anymore!”

….to which I received big shocked, doe eyes on both their faces and then I felt bad. Really bad. It was that moment I knew we needed to have some “Kindness Elves” in our life, to encourage US ALL to remember to be kind through the stressful holiday season.

Introducing the Kindness Elves

Though I would love to take credit for the idea, because I absolutely am infatuated with the idea, I can’t. I stumbled into this idea about 4 years ago and fell in love with the concept.  You can check out where my rendition of it originated from here, at The Kindness Elves Home Website. Now even though I had known about this idea and this website for a while I was only a fan of the idea in theory. For the first few years, I was familiar with the concept I had no intention of introducing my family to it as another tradition, my girls were about 11, 6 & 3 at the time and it just didn’t seem necessary.  However, things with kids have a way of changing and as I explained previously, my girls #2 & #3 became infatuated with the Elf on a Shelf and brought it up regularly for more than one Christmas season and then we added our little girl #4.

So last year in my moment of weakness when I had the revelation that we did all need a kindness reminder infused into our holiday I was in the hurry-up mode. Though the original idea has a ready-made set you can purchase, I opted to find “elves” without ordering the original ones so I could still manage to execute it last year because I was deciding to jump on this idea last year just a few days before December 1st and I just plain and simple didn’t have time. Target to the rescue! They had some very cute fabric doll ornaments last year in their early Christmas inventory and when I saw them, I knew they would be perfect, and thus the idea was set in motion. I took them home and straightened out some paperclips to feed into their plush bodies to allow me some flexibility in the limbs & making them bendable and then I set off on creating our new Holiday tradition…

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Here’s a Peak at How Last Year’s Visits Went…

Last year when they arrived they left a trail of red confetti and a super SWEET Christmas inspired brunch. They continued to appear with confetti the first week UNTIL the elves “got the hint” that it annoyed mom and then they started “to clean up after themselves” and the confetti stopped but the fun surprises and kind ideas they encouraged my kids to do didn’t stop. That kept on coming every morning until Christmas, and my girls loved it! They woke up and ran to find where our elves had moved to every morning and were eager to tackle the ideas and challenges the elves gave us every day amidst our existing chores, tasks, and obligations. Joy & Caleb provided some great ideas about how to infuse our Christmas season with some Christmas Kindness with ideas like baking cookies for a friend, writing kind words for a sibling or peer, giving small gifts, hugs or compliments to people, and evaluating their own blessings by looking for ways to give back some of their blessings to those in need.

What I love the most about this idea is that it encourages positive behavior by getting the kids excited about their own positive behavior so I feel less like I am bribing them to behave for gifts until Christmas AND it is shifting the focus back to the real meaning of the season. I will be highlighting some of my favorite tips and tricks to executing the Christmas Kindness Elves as our season continues but here is a glimpse at our favorites from last season!

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If this is an idea you are interested in there is still time to execute this year, pick any small childlike dolls or elf dolls and introduce them into your holiday whenever it makes sense to your family! Maybe they appear after school on Dec. 1st, maybe the arrive when Christmas Break begins, maybe they only count down the last “12 days of Christmas” or maybe you just plan and plot this season for some ideas and ways to implement it next year! If you decide to give it a try in your family I would love to see pictures of your elves or hear stories about your success in introducing them to your family!

 

P.S. No judgment on ANY Mommas out there who have chosen the Elf on a Shelf tradition, you are great moms going above and beyond for your kids Christmas memories and that makes you a ROCKSTAR!

P.S.S. No judgment on ANY Mommas who have chosen to not incorporate ANY Elf’s, Elves or other magical miniatures into their holiday season, to each their own and I salute your willingness to just tackle the Christmas shopping and wrapping!

As always, thanks for reading, have a Dazzling Holiday Season and a magical memory making Christmastime with your family!

~Rebecca

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