By DEBRA WHITE SMITH
— QUESTION: I am a mother of two pre-school children with the holidays upon us. Can you offer any shortcuts for the kitchen that will help me keep my sanity? I want to enjoy these holidays on a spiritual level, but the last couple of years, the stress of being a mother during the holidays has overtaken me.
ANSWER: I am reminded of the first time my son, Brett, asked for us to make holiday-shaped sugar cookies together. He was about 3 and thought there would be nothing better than making shape cookies with his mom. Since he was my first child and I was an older mother, I celebrated every milestone, no matter how messy. So we went to the grocery store, bought the ingredients, and came home. That may sound like a simple sequence of events, but I’m sure you know that just a trip to the grocery store with a toddler makes a mother feel like she’s been hoeing the back 40 acres all day. Once we arrived home, I pushed a chair up to the counter for my son to stand in, and we began making the cookies.
About the time flour was flying everywhere, and we had sugar-coated fingers, Brett dusted off his hands and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Then, he proceeded to climb down, find his favorite toy, and leave one flustered mamma in his wake.
Vowing to find a shortcut, I finished the sugar cookies. Soon, I stumbled onto a recipe that is fast. Then, I became inventive and created a method for making shape cookies that is stress free.
Simply combine 1 box of your favorite cake mix with 1 cup cooking oil and 1 egg. Mix well. Press the dough into a big square in a cookie sheet with a ledge. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. As soon as you remove the pan from the oven, imprint the solid sheet of baked dough with various cookie cutters. Press the cookie cutters all the way through the hot, baked cookie. Then, let the cookies cool in the dish you baked them in. Once they are thoroughly cooled, pop the shapes out much like making paper dolls. This whole process takes about 30 minutes and kids love them! I have found that dads are usually thrilled to eat the scraps as well.
Here are a few other shortcuts for lowering holiday stress:
• Buy a Christmas tree that already has the lights installed.
• You might enjoy making one stop and purchase gift cards for everyone on your shopping list.
• Also consider ordering gifts online and having them ship directly to the recipients. This cuts out wrapping and hauling presents. Gourmet fruit is a wonderful suggestion for these type gifts.
• Next year, start in September, cook in bulk, and freeze enough for regular family meals in the holiday season. This will free you to enjoy the holiday season without having to worry about daily cooking.
And remember, the holidays are here for you to enjoy, not for you to serve. Decide what you and your family will and will not participate in. Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Keep it meaningful.
You will only have your toddlers with you a few short years. When they ask you to sit down with them and watch a Christmas special on TV or read them a Christmas book, the less bogged down you are in holiday obligations, the more likely you will be able to enjoy such moments.
I am reminded of the song by Gloria Gaither, “We Have this Moment.” Gloria expresses the sentiment that we only have the here and now to make a memory. We can do nothing about the past. We have no control over the future. But we do have today. The best holidays are the ones when each moment is savored and cherished. And savoring and cherishing is a choice that doesn’t happen by accident.