Cookie Day 2011

Ahhh, Cookie Day.  Beloved tradition in this house for five years running now.  Many, many more years if you count all the years we’ve been doing this with our respective families.  This day is something I think I look forward to more than just about anything Christmas-related.

It all starts with an email thread between Brian, Michelle, Andy and I hashing back and forth (and back and forth and back and forth) about what we think we’ll be able to make this year in the time allotted. We discuss recipes tried in that past – what worked and what didn’t, what we liked and what we could forego this season.

We nail down our list, and I get to work.  In the week prior to the Cookie Day itself, I take an inventory of my pantry.  I test the baking powder to make sure it still fizzes and check the expiration dates on staples like flour and sugar. Friday afternoon, I head out from work after lunch and hit the grocery store to get all the ingredients.  Once home from the grocery store, I make the chicken salad that we’ll eat for lunch the following day.

That night, I sit down with the schedules I’ve made in years prior, and I strategize for this year.  Again – what worked and what didn’t?  Where did the oven queue get backed up?  When were the boys left with nothing to do while the girls worked away in the kitchen?  How could we make this year go even more smoothly than last year? It’s the challenge that never ceases to get my brain going.

Because, of course, this is what I do.  It’s a test plan, right?  As a product developer, you get 8-12 hours on a production line.  You’ve got to figure out a) what you want to make, b) what ingredients you need to make it, and c) how you need structure your plan to get both you and your crew seamlessly through the whole operation successfully.

Too much fun. :)

This year, Craig and Susan asked to come down and join the fray. We were all so excited to have them come and join in on something we all take a lot of pride in. I don’t care how old you are, you always want to be able to show your parents something that you’ve carried on in the family and have them be proud of the effort. I mean, essentially, those family traditions you loved as a kid brought such genuine joy that you’ve chosen to share it with your own family. I think that spirit might have gotten a little diluted in the detailed minutia of cookie-making and the stresses that can come with it, but it’s really the foundation that the Cookie Day is built upon, and I just think that is so cool.

Here’s a few pictures Andy managed to snap during the process.  Hope your own Christmas/Holiday traditions bring you similar joy!

The Ingredient Ledge: a.k.a. how I keep from losing people in my pantry.  The nerve center of Cookie Day.

Susan and I – cranking out the sugar cookie dough.

Grandpa was on grandkid duty. Graham paid him in pretzels.

I’m pretty sure I’m too nervous to ever try and make these again. :) But, despite a new flour variety and differences of opinion on method they came out great again this year! Yesssss!!!!

We had an amazing time.  If you’re local – please come by for cookies.  We made too many!!!!

The Thrill of the Hunt

Some of you may not know, but I have developed a fairly serious love affair with resale. My friend Sherryl put me onto it. I was a little skeptical at first, but was hooked the second I started putting down $4-5 for like-new (and sometimes ACTUALLY new) Gymboree and Gap pieces. Less still for department store brands. It’s such a high. (Stop laughing, I’m serious!)

Today, the resale stores in the area were releasing their Halloween costumes. So, naturally, Sherryl and I made a plan of attack.

One store in Plano opened at 8:00 am, one store in McKinney opened at 9:00 am, and the granddaddy pick-of-the-litter store opened at 10:00 am back down in Plano.

I set my alarm for 7:00 am, picked Sherryl up at 7:45, and we arrived at our first stop just shy of opening to this scene.

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Yes, there was a line. Halloween costumes are a big deal, right? (Right?) It was crazy. Women flooded the racks. Someone accidentally pulled my ponytail at one place thinking it was an accessory to a cowgirl costume. Moms crouched in uncrowded corners of the store, sorting through piles of 20+ costumes. They’d hoarded at the actual rack, then did a more detailed appraisal away from the insanity. This pic doesn’t show it, really, but it’s a start. If I’d have taken a picture in the actual fray, I’dve lost a hand or worse.

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(That’s Sherryl at the counter, asking about the return policy!)

This stop was actually my pot o’ gold. I found Graham a spider costume and a lizard costume that are both so cute that he’s going to have to find an excuse to wear both.

Sherryl, on the other hand had no luck until the last store. At that last place though, we were like a well-oiled machine. We split off and I searched for her daughter’s costume while she looked for her son’s. Kendell, another one of our friends showed up to help.

At this store, WE were the crazy people with 20+ costumes in a corner. At one point, I was guarding the growing pile of costumes, and I heard a mom nearby say, “No honey, this is Luke Skywalker, not Anakin… Do you even know who Luke Skywalker is?” That hurt. The mom and I exchanged looks that expressed how old we felt saying/hearing that out loud.

Sherryl found what she was looking for and left with a flamingo for her daughter and ended up with a shark and a dragon for her son. I also found some other great clothes for G (while I was there, right?), including some Halloween shirts. Hope it gets somewhat cool in October!

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Afterward, the dads and kids met up with us at Chick-Fil-A for lunch. We traded war stories and battle wounds from the morning. Awesome time.

(Total aside: Graham went up into the play place all by himself today. Climbed stairs, disappeared into tunnels and reappeared out of nowhere at the bottom of the big slide with a huge smile on his face, in a fit of giggles. Where did my defenseless little baby go?)

So, we survived the crazy moms on costume day at resale. I came away with more than I originally thought I would, including some new everyday shirts and jammies for G. But I can’t resist a good markdown, especially when I imagine this face in those clothes.

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Cookie Day, Etc.

I’m telling you right now, it’s a Christmas miracle that I summoned the energy to write this post. On Saturday, Brian, Michelle, Andy and I honored our third annual Cookie Day by making, well, loads of cookies. What else?

It feels like we make more and more every subsequent year, and let me tell you, we did ourselves proud:

  • Candied pecans
  • Iced sugar cookies
  • Spritz (2 batches)
  • Snowdrops [an almond bark/peanut/marshmallow/cap’n crunch creation – don’t ask]
  • Almond bark pretzels
  • Fudge
  • Peanut butter kiss cookies

I also made eggnog truffles, but – as I waited until today, Sunday, to make them – they don’t actually make the “Cookie Day” cutoff.

Saturday, we worked from 9:00 am sharp to about 3:00 pm. I did fine through the day, but by the time Brian and Michelle packed up their share of the cookies and left, I was so tired I could’ve cried. And, cry, I might have. Just a little. Oh, I don’t know – pregnancy is weird that way.

Saturday night, Andy and I rallied, and we went to a friend’s house for a wine-tasting party. I’m ready to have this baby for many reasons, but one is to remember what it feels like to go to a wine-tasting and know that that piece of the entertainment isn’t a completely lost cause. Of course, we had fabulous food, which is a quick way for a pregnant woman to lick her wounds. I parked myself by the chocolate-dipped strawberries and ate them like they were potato chips. :)

This morning, Andy and I had to get up early for church. Early mornings feel more and more undoable these days. I almost elbowed Andy in the face when he told me I had to get up and get in the shower when the alarm went off at 6:30 am.

But, I’m happy to report that, in light of last week’s stress, I’ve been put on restricted activity by my husband. This, I tried to fight at first, until I realized that I was a complete idiot if I took offense at the fact that Andy wants to stoop down to pick stuff up off the floor for me or run to the kitchen when I need a glass of water. It’s amazing. Simply amazing. How cool is he?

Andy and I snapped a couple shots of the Cookie Day activities. These creations are oh, so yummy in person.

Yummmmmm, spritz!

 

 

Michelle and I, cooking and cleaning

 

You know, I HATE when pregnant women are self-deprectating. It’s seriously so annoying. But, then again, so are double chins. 😛

Now, that's what I call a productive day!

 

Brian, packing up the goods

 

Another successful Cookie Day – guaranteed to never, ever be the same. Junior will surely see to that!

Broken (Lenten) Promises

I’ve never been good at the “giving something up for Lent,” although I ALWAYS try. The only time I actually made it 40 days without something was when I was a sophomore in high school; Mom and I gave up snacking. I think the only reason I kept it up was because I lost weight in the process. That, and it meant I got to eat dessert after dinner every night. Since I knew that Hostess cupcake was a no-no for later, I went ahead and tagged it onto my meal as a sort of dessert clause. A clever loophole, if you will.

When it comes to Lent, I find that people fall into four categories:

  1. I give up something for Lent.
  2. I give up something for Lent, but I can indulge on Sundays.
  3. I don’t give up anything for Lent.
  4. What’s Lent?

Our family fell into the #2 category. In fact, now that I think of it, for a long time it was just me and mom giving up something. That, or we were just the ones that complained about it the loudest. I remember one year Mom gave up swearing for Lent. This spurred a 40-day-long debate between her and my father on how Mom might be missing the point of why we give up something for Lent. “Plus,” he’d say, “what are you going to do? Swear like a sailor on Sundays?” Well, I happily report that Mom gave up her Sunday indulgence that year. Thanks be to God.

This year was my worst year yet, with regard to defaulting on my Lenten fast. I gave up coffee. I told Andy what I’d chosen for this year, and he groaned (LITERALLY groaned), “Oh nooooooooooooo.” No worries, my fast only lasted a 18 hours, until the next morning, when I almost started crying at the concept of not having my morning beverage of choice. My chest felt like it was caving in. I’m not exaggerating here. I started minorly hyperventilating. My sleep-clouded brain actually started to convince me that I was never going to wake up. Never going to be able to function. My work would surely suffer. I’d alienate all of my friends. Clearly Andy would consider leaving me instead of co-habitating with this shell of a human being. All these thoughts started flooding my head, a mere three steps out of my bedroom, as I saw Andy over the counter washing the coffee pot about to make a fresh pot of our morning brew.

At that very moment, Andy looked up and said, “Am I making four cups, or six?”
“Six.”
“That’s what I thought.”

It’s Not Fake, It’s Faux

Christmas and moving don’t go well together. You can work hard at either one, but not both at the same time. On Saturday, Andy and I decided to put unpacking aside and search for the perfect Christmas tree. All my life, it has been a tradition for the entire family to pile into the Toyota minivan and drive about 30 minutes into the country to the local Christmas tree farm.

I never really realized it, but this farm had been the epitome of Christmas tradition for about 20 years. When we arrived at the tree farm each year, the first order of business was getting a measuring pole. This thing was about 10-feet high and made out of wood. It had measurements on one end, with which you could measure the height of your tree, and the other end was fluorescent orange… purpose to be stated later. Off we’d go, tromping through the rows and rows of White pines and Scotch pines. Each tree was of varying height, breadth, and “fullness”. We’d search diligently to find a tree that was the right height and didn’t have any bald spots. Once we found “the” tree, we flipped the pole over and waved the bright orange end in the air. This signaled a farm worker to come over to the spot where we stood. He’d bring his clipboard to calculate the price and tag the tree with our name. At that point, we’d leave him to cut the tree down, bring it up to the converted pole barn (which was the nerve center of the operation), put the tree on a shaker (to shake the dead needles off), drill a hole in the trunk (so we could put it on a stand), and run the tree through a binding machine to tie up all the branches. All the while, Mom would look through the fresh wreaths and garland, while Dad and the kids got popcorn and hot cocoa inside the barn. Good, wholesome Midwestern fun.

I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to recreate this Christmas-y goodness in Texas. I located a Christmas tree farm out in the country, so Andy and I decided to take a Saturday morning and find our little pine prize. After 45 minutes of driving, we arrived at said farm. It looked promising. Christmas trees lined up in rows, Christmas decorations, hot cocoa, Santa Claus… the whole bit. We parked the car and walked out to the trees. Every single tree was anchored upright with its trunk in a bucket of dirt. That, my fellow Texans, is NOT a tree farm. That is a tree lot ON a farm. Not only that, but each tree was upwards of $150. Wha??? What else does it do besides hold ornaments and smell nice? Will it vacuum up its needles every day, then wrap itself up, take itself outside and turn itself into mulch after the holidays? No? Well, no dice.

We left the tree lot, and went to Lowe’s. Things really got depressing from that point on. Sorting through piles of trees wasn’t exactly the experience I was hoping for. Later on, while shopping at Walmart, we saw that they, too, had some live Christmas trees in their nursery section. Walmart chose to suspend the trees by tying a rope around the very top of the tree and suspending the tree from the rafters. I swear it looked like the Christmas tree massacre of 2006. The trees got so depressed they had to put themselves out of their own misery. We saw the trees slowly swinging back and forth and decided to not to get any closer. We called “time of death” on the tree project and went home to try and salvage the rest of the day.

The next day, we decided to go fake, or “faux” as I like to call it. It’s a really nice flame retardant pine that is pre-lit and stands 7.5 feet tall. No, it’s not a real tree, but it holds ornaments and lights and who knows… maybe I’ll stick a pine-scented Glade Plug-in behind it and call it good.