If you ask most children what’s their favorite thing about Christmas, I’ll be you a quarter they’ll answer with “presents” or “cookies”. Not many children under the age of 13 will focus on the reason for the season: family, giving, love, kindness. But that’s ok – as children, we should be thinking of the gifts, the cookies, the tree, and, of course – Santa Clause.
When I was little, my favorite part in preparing for Christmas started long before the tree was discussed or the cookie flavors were decided. No, Christmas time began when the Sear’s catalog would show up for winter and it included the entire section devoted to: TOYS. My brother and I would beg for notebook paper and pens so we could jot down each and every item we hoped for. For years, mine centered around Barbie and what her newest accessory was. When I was 5 or 6, Santa brought me a pink Barbie Beach House and a pink convertible for her to zip around in. Every year after that, I looked for one or two items to add to her play land. I usually wound up with a new Barbie each year, which meant her family was ever growing. It actually turned out to be a good thing since my brother had this habit of snapping their heads off. By the time I hit pre-teens, all but a few of my Barbie’s had undergone “neck surgery” (that’s how I referred to his loss of sanity when he was doing this).
As I got older, the need for toys went away and I began to look at clothes. I think this was a welcome sigh of relief for my mother who I know wasn’t fond of taking me shopping. Until I hit high school, I detested shopping. Nothing fit the way I wanted it to thanks to my abnormal height early on. Anything that did fit wasn’t that cute or trendy, so I never wanted it. And anything that was cute wound up being too small or too short on me. So, for the better party of my elementary and middle school years, I would try on one item and then just choose 2-3 other colors. This saved me the agony of trying each piece on. I know – who was I?!?
Thankfully, I grew out of that stage. Shopping became fun for me. But Christmas shopping – oh boy, that’s a completely different animal. I do believe this is my most favorite time of the year to shop. I, like my mother, start months in advance. See, my mom would start her Christmas shopping as early as summertime. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this was to her advantage so whenever my brother and I acted up, she could tell us that Santa was watching and could remove the gifts. Yah, it scared us enough to straighten up but what’s funny is it was true – she probably already had all our gifts tucked away and could have started returning them if we were horrible enough!
I like to keep my eyes peeled and my ears perked all year round, picking up on little hints for gifts. This usually works pretty well except when you come across those that take care of themselves a little too well. We all know that one person – they say they want something and you’re like, “Woohoo!! I’ll get them that for Christmas.” Not even two weeks later, they wind up grabbing the item themselves and you’re back to square one. My dad is one of those. Or you have the person who can’t make up their mind. One week they want the new Vampire Weekend album and then two weeks later, they don’t like them anymore and have moved onto someone else. That would be my husband and in my opinion that’s harder to shop for. It’s like you HAVE to wait until Christmas Eve to go get their gifts for fear they’ll wind up hating it two days later!
How do I keep all my ideas straight? Well, I can honestly say that I never was this into shopping until about 4-5 years ago and thankfully by that time, I had a smartphone. I live by two apps on my phone: the memo pad and my calendar. Seriously – what did people do before these?? I’ve tried writing on my hand to keep reminders (good until you wash them) and I’ve tried Post-It’s (they don’t stick well on my hands or clothes). I was forever forgetting things and remembering them the week before Christmas or (better yet) after Christmas. Either way, I would be screwed. So once I discovered the memo pad app, I fell in love. Each year, I begin a list of people I know I’ll be shopping for and jot down ideas and I see/hear about them. You know me – always the planner!
I don’t always stick to my list, though. If I’m out shopping and just see something that I think would be perfect, I’ll snag it (or set it aside for when I have money). For example – candles are always a good gift. Yankee Candle is one of my weaknesses, especially when they have one of their awesome BOGO sales going on. It’s like crack – you can’t walk past Yankee Candle without at least coming in to smell the new candles and then once you’re in there, you can’t HELP but grab one or two of their scents (you know, just because). I mean, they smell nice and who doesn’t want to smell nice things in their house? If I could light a candle in every room of my house, I would. It would smell ridiculous since I never buy within the same scent family, but it would look like a gorgeous shrine from afar.
This year, I really went out on a limb and didn’t follow my normal routine. I had all intentions to and I can say for a fact that I did begun my Christmas shopping early. But something inside me knew this year was going to be just a tad bit different. I didn’t get as excited as I usually did about planning Christmas gifts. For the first time in 4 years, I didn’t plan out a cute Christmas card design or photo opp. I didn’t even make my usual list in my app. Some will blame my new hobbies and interests – that I became too consumed with them and lost focus on other things. And yes, that did have an impact. But now looking back, I almost feel as if God knew that I had bigger things to focus on rather than what to buy my brother for Christmas.
So this year, I won’t be spending as much time in the stores shopping. Normally, I would devote two – three weekends to researching and locating the perfect gifts. I would scour all the craft stores for the cutest pieces so I could build my homemade gifts and creations. I would dutifully dredge back and forth around the mall, finding the just-to-good-to-be-true gift for a special someone. And by this time in the season, I would be finished with all of my gift wrapping and long mailed my Christmas cards. All that would be left would be to share my Christmas cookies and make some visits with friends and family before the big day would arrive and I could go home.
No, this year is definitely different. I’m shopping online or during the week, hiding anything I do pick up somewhere in my room so my parents don’t find it (oh how the tables have turned)! My Christmas cards desperately need to be mailed and my cookies, well they aren’t all finished yet. So I’m a bit behind. But I still have two weeks and during that time, I most certainly will get it all out in time to brighten someone’s day. And one perk of shopping from home is I get to nibble on homemade foods as I check off my list! No Starbucks and Auntie Annie’s for this girl – I’m going keeping it simple, seasonal, and still good for you! Save the pounds for the cookies, am I right?!
Breakfast: Cranberry Overnight Oats
- ⅔ cups rolled oatmeal
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 3 tablespoons dried cranberries
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened dried coconut
- 3 tablespoons dried pecans
- ½ cup vanilla Greek yogurt
- ¾ cup unsweetened almond milk
- Place all ingredients in a mason jar and seal. Keep in the fridge overnight or for at least 2 hours.
Chocolate Eggnog Shake
- ½ cup water
- ½ unsweetened almond milk
- 1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology
- ½ tsp. ground allspice
- 1 tsp. pure rum extract
- 1 cup ice
- Place water, almond milk, Shakeology, allspice, extract, and ice in blender; cover. Blend until smooth.
Cinnamon Spiced Sweet Potato Soup with Maple Croutons
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 cup carrots, cut into 1/2-in. pieces
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- pinch of nutmeg
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/4-in. pieces
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth
- 3 cups water
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 slices leftover bread, cut or torn into 1-in. pieces
- 1 T maple syrup
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are starting to brown at the edges 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the spices and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
- Add the sweet potatoes, broth, bay leaves and 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the bread and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Remove from heat, drizzle the maple syrup over the top and toss to coat.
- Discard the bay leaf from the soup. Using an immersion blender or standard blender, puree the soup until smooth. Serve with the maple croutons.
Dinner: Turkey, Swiss, & Cranberry Quesadillas
- 2 Flatout wraps
- 1/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese
- 6 ounces turkey breast
- 1/4 cup cranberry sauce
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1 sweet potato, microwaved and thinly sliced or mashed
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Heat butter in pan and lay one of the wraps on the bottom.
- Place spinach on the bottom, followed by the cheese, turkey, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato.
- Top with other wrap and cook for a few minutes on each side, until wrap is toasted and cheese is melted.
- Remove from pan and let sit for a few minutes. Slice into pieces and enjoy!
Balsamic Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries
- 3 pounds Brussels sprouts
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 cup fresh cranberries
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
- Trim and clean the Brussels sprouts, then cut them in half. Arrange on baking sheet and toss with the olive oil. Roast until brown for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, remove from oven and add cranberries. Return to over for another 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and reduce until slightly thickened.
- Remove the sprouts from the oven. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the roasted sprouts and serve warm.
Dessert: Coconut Oil Fudge
- 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1/2 cup cacao powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder)
- 1/2 cup smooth almond butter
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/8 teaspoon salt (omit if nut butter is salted)
- Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients. Whisk over medium heat until smooth. It doesn’t need to boil!
- As soon as mixture is smooth, pour into loaf pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.