The Rush of the Season…

I love Christmas.  It is probably my second favourite time of year (fall is my first… & I meant to post about fall as well but fall was over before I knew it).  Normally, I love everything about Christmas & usually find completing all Christmas related activities relaxing & quite enjoyable.  I am a bit crazy, I know.  I love to decorate the tree while listening to Christmas music & drinking eggnog.  I even had the “yuletide fireplace” burning this year while I decorated our tree.  I like to bake & make all kinds of Christmas goodies.  Even shopping for presents I enjoy… I am a big proponent of trying to by unique gifts for people & usually do a fairly good job (I think!) of finding “wow” gifts.

Christmas Table Decorations

This year, however, I must admit that Christmas started to get the better of me & I was feeling the stress of getting everything done in time.  It seems this fall / winter (I know it’s not technically winter yet but it doesn’t really feel like fall anymore either) I have been exceptionally busy.  Last year, following our wedding I was off between September & December & at the time I thought I had wasted away a lot of my time, doing arbitrary things, like reading far too much.  I realize now though that I actually accomplished a lot.  By the beginning of December last year I had hand made all of my Christmas cards & gotten them all in the mail.  I had baked four or five different types of Christmas cookies.  I had most of the shopping & wrapping finished & the house decorated.

Tree Ornament

Fast forward to this year.  Christmas – 1, Brandey – 0.  By December 1st this year I had accomplished next to nothing.  The cards were store bought & not addressed or mailed.  I had done no baking & had barely wrapped any of our presents.  The wrapping had yet to be completed because I had barely bought any of the presents.  I had a particularly hard time this year coming up with ideas for people & must admit that I don’t really have any “wow” gifts.  My favourite gift is one for my niece, but it’s something that I’ve done before, so I feel as though the “wow factor” is probably wearing off.  Time had certainly gotten away from me.  Just last week I was lamenting to my hubby about how I had no time & couldn’t see how I was going to get everything done.  Christmas was definitely kicking my butt & instead of being an enjoyable time of year as it usually is for me, I was stressed right out.  I now understand why so many people get stressed out about the holidays. Seeesh.

That said, what a difference a couple weeks can make.  I am back to enjoying
Christmas.  With only two days till Christmas, everything has been checked off the list.  Although store bought, I got all the cards mailed out by the middle of December.  Last Friday night & Saturday morning I managed to get some baking completed (see Whipped Shortbread Post from December 16).  In addition to the shortbread, I also made Buckeyes (a peanut butter & chocolate concoction)  & some gingerbread cookies.  All of the presents are wrapped & bagged for transport to various Christmas gatherings & we have the first family Christmas successfully under our belt.  Honey is home for the holidays now too, which helps immensely in the stress department!  Almost time to sit back, sip a glass of eggnog & watch the lights on the tree sparkle.  Merry Christmas Everyone!

Christmas Lights

Christmas Traditions

Everyone has their Christmas traditions.  There are a few traditions in particular that I remember from growing up, some of which were continued mostly because I insisted it was just part of Christmas at our house!

The longest standing tradition at our house is the family picture on the stairs.  We have done this for years… as long as I can remember I think.  Growing up we were never allowed to go downstairs until my parents were up & said we could.  I am thinking that the stair picture might have started as a result of three little kids sitting there, waiting patiently (or not so patiently!) to be allowed downstairs to see what Santa had brought.  However it started, it’s something we continue to do.  I like it because it captures Christmas, how old we were & who was there.  For a few years, there were just three of us in the picture, as my brother’s were living out west & not home for the holidays.  The last couple of years we have almost filled the staircase as each of us siblings have now added a significant other to the mix & of course, there is everyone’s favourite little person, Lily.  You can be sure that I intend on bringing my tripod along to my parents & setting up this traditional family shot on Christmas morning (this year Christmas eve morning!).

Traditional Family Photo - Christmas 2009

Last year, Colin & I started our own family tradition – cutting down our Christmas tree.  Growing up my family always had a real tree (although never one that we cut down ourselves) & a real tree is just part of Christmas for me.  Two years ago, in our place in Illinois, I had a three foot tall fake Christmas tree.  While it was pretty enough & better than no tree at all, it just wasn’t the same as having a real tree (I discovered balsam fir candles that smell like Christmas  trees as a substitute).  That year, however, there was no point in having a real tree since we were going to be spending most of the holidays in Canada with our families.  Last year, was our first Christmas in our house.  I insisted that we get a real tree.  I think I had actually figured out where the Christmas tree would go even before we bought the house!  Like most men (I think!) Colin was not overly interested in decorating the tree, but he agreed that we could get a real Christmas tree & suggested that we take our nephews to a Christmas tree farm nearby to cut down our own tree.  Thus beginning our Christmas tradition which has actually turned into a whole weekend of fun for the kids in our lives.

Last year, the first weekend in December, we had the nephews, Luke & Jude, come to stay for the weekend with the intention of going to get our tree.  On the Friday night I made a gingerbread house with them, thinking it would occupy at least an hour of our time before bed.  Well, I was wrong about that…. try 20 minutes.  Haha!

Honey was nice enough to take a photo of me helping the boys with their house!

The house turned out well though & the boys got to take it home with them.  Saturday morning we were up early (of course) & off to get the tree.  The Christmas tree farm is about 20 minutes from our house & the boys were super excited about going to cut down a tree.  They have a fake tree (or should I say artifical?) at home so the prospect of having a real tree was an entirely new experience for them.  It turned out to be a snowy, chilly day, perfect for hot chocolate & searching out the best Christmas tree.  The tree search actually took much less time than either Colin or I had expected.  On the way to the tree farm we prepped the boys on the kind of tree to look for… nice shape & fairly tall, essentially the perfect tree!

How About This One?

I think funniest part of the whole experience was that the boys wanted to pick trees that were their height!  It was very cute but Colin & I urged them to pick a taller tree! We ended up getting a nice, tall, slim tree…

The Boys & I with Our 2010 Tree

Since last year was such a success we decided to take all three kids this year, two nephews & one niece.  Crazy you say?  Perhaps.  But it was well worth it.  The boys & Lily had a great time & we were only slightly exhausted by the end of the weekend.  Like last year, I had gingerbread houses to entertain the kids on Friday night.  I had thought that Luke & Jude would decorate one house to take home & that I would help Lily with the other so she could take it home.

Luke & Lily working on their Gingerbread House

But Luke was determined he would be the one to help Lily… how cute is that?  So, Luke & Lily did one house (Luke knowing full well Lily would take it home) & Jude & I completed the other so the boys could take it home.

Jude working on his house

It was slightly more challenging for me to ice two houses (at the same time)  than it had been with one.  The kids were patient however as Auntie B went back & forth between houses.  Lily was her usual funny self, trying to sneak a taste of icing when she thought I wasn’t looking.  Perhaps decorating houses at 7pm was not such a bright idea on my part.  I didn’t really want to have all three kids on a sugar high when it came time to go to bed!

Saturday was tree day & all three of the kids were very excited about going!  This year I did a little more research into the whole tree getting adventure & found the right place for us to go… where we could not only get a tree but where they also had lots of activities for the kid.  There was a bit of a line to get into the place as apparently every family around thought the first Saturday in December was a good time to go get their tree.  While we were standing in line two guys who worked at the tree farm edged past the line to get inside.  Well, clever Lily thought this was a great plan & looked up at me, pointed & said “Auntie B, maybe we could just sneak in over there?”  I just about fell over!  Hilarious!  Once inside we had to decide where to go first.  We checked out the straw bale maze, the zip line (only the boys tried this), the slingshots & the play equipment in the “deep dark forest” as the kids took to calling it.  When there were a few tears over a small fall at the end of the zip-line we decided it was time for a little snack.

Snack time by the campfire

Uncle Colin led us to one of the open campfires where the kids proceeded to goggle up some grapes & gold fishies.  And finally, it was tree time!

Like last year, the actual picking of the tree was a much quicker process than I had anticipated.  I think this year it was quick since the kids were beginning to get tired.  Plus, it was a little muddy & I didn’t really want to stomp around in the mud all afternoon.  Our tree is considerably shorter than last year, perhaps due partly to three pint sized tree pickers, but also because there just weren’t any super tall trees in the area where we were.

Colin, The Boys & Lily with Our 2011 Tree

Luke, Jude & Lily decided on a tree fairly quickly & Uncle Colin & I gave our seal of approval.  Colin had it cut down in no time & we were off to pay & load the tree in the truck.  I thought we would have three sleeping kids in the truck on the way home but they somehow managed to stay awake & be silly!

Lily & Jude with their Snowpants on their Heads!

Sunday, after all the kids had left, we brought the tree in the house & I decorated it, while drinking eggnog & listening to some Christmas tunes.  I am pleased with our tree & it was a great start to the holiday season.  And definitely a tradition we will continue again next year!

The decorated tree

‘Tis the Season… Whipped Shortbread Cookies

Apparently I am a terrible blogger.  I think my last post was sometime near the beginning of November…. maybe even the end of October.  I have just been so darn busy that there hasn’t been any time for getting a post together.  I have lots of ideas, don’t get me wrong.  I have even started two or three posts only to abandon them.  My problem is definitely that I am a perfectionist & I want every post to be “just right”.  But I think it is time to embrace Vanessa’s “who cares” attitude….her exact words included a few choice words, which definitely made me laugh but are probably not appropriate here.  If you use your imagination I am sure you can figure out what I am talking about… everyone has had one of those days where you get a case of the…. well, you know.

So, that’s what I’m doing.  I’m saying, who cares if it’s perfect.  If I wait till I can spend plenty of time on a post & have it be “just right” I may never post again.  Here goes nothing… flying by the seat of my pants… a spontaneous post if you will….

What I am attempting at the moment is definitely multitasking…. here I am in the middle of the Christmas rush, trying to get everything finished in time & I decide to write a post.  Well why not?  Currently I am making cookies, along with dessert, listening to Christmas music, thinking about dinner & considering wrapping…. so why not post as well?

The point I am actually trying to make is that these cookies, while delectable & irresistible, are VERY easy to make.  If you half an hour you can whip up a batch of these shortbread cookies, literally.  I found this recipe online last year (at & it is fantastic.  I had trouble keeping hubby out of them!  Can you say melt in your mouth?!  They are so not good for you but the taste makes up for it… & hey, it’s Christmas!

Whipped Shortbread Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 cup red maraschino cherries, quartered

1/4 cup green maraschino cherries, quartered

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, combine butter, flour & confectioner’s sugar.  With an electric mixer, beat for 10 minutes (it is great if you have a stand mixer of some kind…. you can just set it up & let it go… & do something else, like type a blog, while you wait!) until light & fluffy.  Spoon onto cookie sheets, spacing cookies 2 inches apart.  Place a piece of maraschino cherry onto the middle of each cookie, alternating between red & green (I did this last year… if you want to be fancy & festive… I am skipping it this year… not least because I am not that organized… the cherries make the cookies look nice but totally not necessary for taste!)

Ready to go in the Oven

Bake for 15-17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the bottoms of the cookies are lightly browned.  Remove from oven, & let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes (it’s important not to skip this part – the cookies are so delicate that they will crumble if you don’t wait the 5 minutes), then transfer cookies onto wire rack to cool.  Store in airtight container, separating each layer with wax paper.

And there you have it… finished!  Super easy & super tasty.  Everyone will love them, guaranteed.

Whipped Shortbread Cookies - YUM!