I have tried to take a more realistic approach to the holidays this year by still doing festive things, yet also keeping in mind that we have a new bundle of joy in our family that requires a lot of my attention (not to mention our attention seeking 6 year old!). So, in order to keep with the spirit of the season while also keeping everyone merry and bright, I have tried to relax and to just really enjoy a fewer of the most important things, the things that have become our family's Christmas traditions.
So often I think we put so much pressure on ourselves as parents to create Christmas magic that we force things on our children that in theory seem like fun, but in reality are quite stress inducing. Just this past weekend in very busy downtown Seattle, I overheard a mother say to her approximately 8 year old son, "Now you can have the $20 bill since you sat on Santa's lap." Hmmm...who is that Santa visit really for? The photo op clearly as it appeared that the young boy was not having any fun at all.
We haven't successfully avoided all of the chaos or crowds, yet we did somehow manage to bypass the 45 minute wait to see the gingerbread houses by just looking at them from a different angle thanks to David, but we have kept the chaos to manageable levels.
A few choices we made this year to help simplify our holidays:
For the first time, I made Jack's advent calendar which included handwritten activities for each day rather than using his Christmas box which we have filled in previous years with a small toy each day to count down to Christmas Day. He did surprisingly well with the transition and even appears to like it better, or at least the same as, the gift filled box. He's really taken to counting down the days this year and having the calendar visual that he can also write on has really helped. This has helped move us away from all of the gifting and to really focus on the merriment that activities bring to the season.
We opted for no tree this year since we will be away for part of the holiday and I didn't want to regret coming home to clean up. I have missed pulling out all of the ornaments since they are one of my favorite parts of Christmas, but this choice has helped us to rethink all of our decorations. This year we only brought out the things we really loved and it is so pleasant and clutter free. We created a pretty magical little corner for our beloved handmade stockings and all of our packages and it's one of my favorite spots in the house now. I am excited to gather around it on Christmas morning.
Lastly, I've spent more time making and baking things this year. I've always wanted to carve out more holiday time for cookies, pies, and special treats, so this year I made it a top priority and I really hope it is something my family remembers about the season.
For the first time, I was able to try my hand at homemade egg nog, one of our family's favorite Christmas time treats (even our dog, Sadie, loves it!) and something I have been wanting to try for years. It is surprisingly easy and hands down better than the store bought variety! My only regret is that I didn't double the recipe so we'd have more to enjoy. I hope to make more again soon to get us through the season...
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split in half
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 ounces Bourbon, optional
Add the egg yolks to a small-sized mixing bowl and whisk until they lighten in color. Gradually add the sugar, whisking continuously until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light and fluffy. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the milk, cream, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I scraped the vanilla bean before placing it into the saucepan in order to release the tiny specks of black seeds from the pod. Heat over medium heat until just simmering, taking care not to burn the milk. Remove from heat.
Gradually pour half of the milk and cream mixture into the small mixing bowl with the egg yolk mixture and whisk continuously.
Pour everything back into the saucepan and cook over medium low heat until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 3 minutes.
Place in the refrigerator to cool before serving. We added Bulleit Bourbon to ours, but it is just as yummy without it.
A note about the recipe: If you don't have a vanilla bean or find it a bit too indulgent for your egg nog, I'd recommend adding 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract so that you can still get the vanilla flavor. I think I'll continue to use the vanilla bean although it is pricey and the black specks that mark the use of the bean in a dish are lost amongst the specks of cinnamon and nutmeg in this drink.