Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Family Christmas Bucket, Week 2

We've had a lot of fun celebrating Christmas and advent once again this week. I feel like I've slacked on the photos a little and we had to do some switching around of activities this week, but we are thoroughly enjoying it! I'm a little sad that this is our last full week for the bucket this year. I love this time of year so much!

December 10:
We started off the week right with a night dedicated to eating Christmas cookies and drinking some yummy homemade hot chocolate. Little Lady got to unwrap a special Mickey Mouse plate and mug set to use. We also decided it would be a great night to watch Charlie Brown Christmas since we hadn't seen it yet this year. To top the evening off, we had one of our favorite people here to hang out with us. Katherine! She lived with us this summer, Little Lady fell in love with her, and we always like it when she comes over now.

December 11:
What is the Christmas season without at least one crafting day? I had to search a little to come up with some fun things a not quite two year old could do and enjoy, but I think we were successful. We did three little crafts... a Christmas tree painted using a fork and wine corks, a snowflake (I used painter's tape on the canvas for the snowflake, then just let Little Lady paint her heart out), and a polar bear with "snow" paint (elmer's glue and shaving cream) and pom-poms. We both had a lot of fun creating things, and I look forward to many more Christmas craft days to come.

Finished products... this one was made especially for Daddy!
 December 12:
Today Little Lady got to open another Christmas book... "Bear Stays Up." We figured she would really like this book (and she does) because one of her favorite books is "Bear Snores On," which she got for her first birthday. We've read that book so many times, I have it completely memorized. "Bear Stays Up" is fairly similar, but instead of sleeping, the bear is trying to stay awake for Christmas. It's a cute little story.

Reading the book to one of her babies.
 December 13:
We made another batch of cookies on Thursday, bagged up some of all the cookies we had made, and delivered them to some of our neighbors. We tried to give them to our immediate neighbors first, but several people weren't home, so we had to walk around a bit to get all our cookies delivered. It was pretty cute when Little Lady would hand over a bag of cookies and say, "Merry Christmas Tree," which is what she always says right now when she wishes someone a Merry Christmas.
Sharing some cookie dough with Minnie.

Getting ready to go, and I caught these two stealing some cookies.
December 14:
Friday ended up being a wrap presents and play with puppies day. We switched things around a little because some friends of ours invited us over for dinner to give Little Lady a chance to play with 10 lab puppies just a few weeks old. We knew she would love it, and she did! I think it was like a little slice of heaven for her to be surrounded by all those puppies.

 December 15:
Though it wasn't officially part of the bucket, Saturday was a great day! It was our little Wagner family Christmas! Since we will most likely always be traveling over Christmas and won't typically be in our house on Christmas day, we create our own Christmas and have a celebration with just our family. For presents, we have decided to do one thing you need, one thing to read, one thing to wear, a "Santa"/surprise gift, and stockings. Seeing Little Lady get into things this year was quite the joy for us. She would have to take some time to play with everything that she opened before she moved on to the next gift... even every little thing she pulled out of her stocking. I honestly think it took her almost a half our to finally get everything out of her stocking alone, but I like that about her. I hope she always takes time to enjoy every little thing she gets.
Kitchenette from Nana and Papa
Examining, then playing with each and every thing.

Christmas Breakfast

Our bucket activity for the day was to go out for dinner and drive around to look at Christmas lights. We kind of had a hard time finding really good lights to look at though, so if anyone in NWA knows of good lights to see for future reference, please let us know. We ended up going to the Washington County fair ground. It cost $5 per car to get in, which we didn't realize until we got there, and honestly, there wasn't all that much to see. We also went to a house that Matt knew about that has lights set to music, which was fun, but it was just one house. Little Lady did get excited about some of the lights, and we had a great day just being together all day.

December 16:
Being Sunday, this would have typically been another movie and pizza day. Little Lady did get to unwrap a set of Sesame Street Christmas movies, but for dinner, we had something even better than pizza. It was the annual Potter's House Christmas (click the link to learn more about this amazing ministry), a chance for the entire Potter's House family (about 500 people) to get together, celebrate all that God has done that year, and enjoy some delicious food! I wish I could be more involved in all that Potter's House does, but I just don't feel like it's the right season of life for me. I'm so glad that Matt is able to lead a small group of 1st grade boys! He meets with them every Sunday for a couple hours, they do a Bible lesson together and spend lots of time playing. I love that he gets to love on these little guys... not one of them lives with a daddy, and I know they are in desperate need positive male influences.

Little Lady crashing the stage to sing with the other kids
I hope all who read this are enjoying the Christmas season as much as we are. I hate that some people are going through a really tough time right now and have experienced unspeakable tragedy. Part of me feels bad to be enjoying life so much when others are so sad right now, but at the same time I do not want to take one single day I have with my lovely daughter and wonderful husband for granted. Each day is a gift, and I don't want to forget that.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Cookies

I have gotten several requests this week for some of our favorite Christmas cookie recipes. Those who know Matt and I well know that we love to bake this time of year. Before we had Little Lady, we would take an entire weekend and bake batches and batches of cookies, then give them away to our close friends. We've had to cut back some the last couple years. It's just not feasible to do as many as we used to, but in five years of baking Christmas cookies, here is a collection of some of our favorite recipes.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Crackers
One of our favorite things to do is dip things in white chocolate/almond bark. My mama has been doing these for years, and everyone always loves them.
Toll House Crackers (we always use the oval ones but round Ritz ones would work as well)
Peanut Butter
White Chocolate or Almond Bark

All you do is make little peanut butter sandwiches with the crackers and peanut butter then dip them in melted white chocolate, making sure they are completely covered. If we are really feeling festive we decorate them with sprinkles, but it's not necessary. Easy and delicious!

We also like dipping Oreo's in melted white chocolate.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups brown sugar                              1 Tbsp. hot water
1 cup white sugar                                 2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups shortening                           2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup peanut butter                           2 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs                                                   2 cups chocolate chips
5 cups flour                                           M&M candies (optional)
2 1/4 cups oatmeal

Mix sugars, shortening, peanut butter, eggs, hot water and vanilla. Mix well. Stir together baking powder, salt, flour and oatmeal. Add to first mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Press M&M's on top. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

This recipe is from a cookbook from one of my aunt's church. At Christmastime, we use red and green M&M's and white chocolate chips. Just to be more festive.

Cut-out Sugar Cookies
We have tried lots of sugar cookies in the past and these, from Peppermint Plum, are our favorite ones.

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp. baking soda
5 1/2 cups flour

In mixer, cream butter and sugar, and then add eggs and vanilla. Add sour cream. Combine salt, soda, and flour, and add to mixture. (When we made these we had to chill the dough a little and add quite a bit more flour to get them ready to roll out).

Roll out on floured surface to about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick.

Use a spatula to carefully slide under each cookie and place onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake at 375 for 7-8 minutes.
But don't give in to your temptation to cook "just a little bit longer" or you will get crunchy cookies instead of soft, pillow-like cookies. (However, you do need to make sure they ARE done. We followed this advice a little too closely and had a couple batches that were still mostly raw.)

Grandma Miller's Drop Sugar Cookies
These are my all time favorite sugar cookies from a recipe from my grandma, but they are not the kind that can be rolled and cut out. They are very tasty though and freeze really well.

2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups crisco
- Cream sugar and crisco together
1 1/2 cups buttermilk 
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
- Mix together and add to creamed mixture
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
5 tsp. baking powder
5 cups flour
- Mix together and add to sugar mixture 
- Bake at 350 for 8 minutes (teaspoon sized).

Icing for Sugar Cookies
We use this for both types of sugar cookies. It does have egg whites in it. If you don't like that, just use your favorite icing recipe.

2/3 cup crisco
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. powdered sugar (more or less as needed)

Mix together and frost cookies.

White Chocolate Candy Cane Drops
8 ounces white chocolate baking squares (or white chocolate chips)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup finely crushed peppermint candy canes or peppermint candies

1. Preheat oven to 375. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Chop 4 ounces of the white chocolate (unless using chocolate chips); set aside. In a small saucepan heat and stir the remaining 4 ounces of white chocolate over low heat until smooth. Set aside to let chocolate cool slightly.

2. In a large mixing bowl beat butter for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in melted white chocolate. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with mixer. Stir in any remaining flour, the chopped white chocolate, and crushed candy canes.

3. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. 

Holiday Snowball Cookies
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbs. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups flour
1 2/3 cups Nestle Swirled Holiday Morsels (we haven't been able to find these the last couple years so we have just used white chocolate chips)
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (optional)
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375. 

Beat butter, sugar, vanilla and salt together until creamy. Gradually beat in flour. Stir in morsels and nuts. Shape tablespoons of dough into 1-1 1/2 inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. 

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are set and lightly browned. Remove from oven. Sift powdered sugar over hot cookies on baking sheets. Cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Sprinkle with additional powdered sugar if desired.

A sampling of cookies. The middle ones are the snowballs.

White Chocolate Chip Cranberry Cookies
I just discovered these cookies this year, but I love them! The recipe is from sally's baking addiction. It says you can chill the dough for up to 3 days, but if I had that dough in my refrigerator for 3 days, there would be no cookies left to bake! It's irresistible!
  • 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
Line an ungreased cookie sheet with parchment paper or silpat. Set aside.
In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together on medium speed until fluffy and light in color. Mix in egg and vanilla.  Scrape down the sides as needed.  On low speed, mix in flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt.  Stir in white chocolate chips & dried cranberries. Chill dough (covered) for 30 minutes or up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 350F.  Drop balls of dough (1.5 tablespoons each) onto cookie sheet OR used a standard-sized cookie scoop. Bake for 8-9 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges.  Do NOT cook them longer than 9 minutes.   Remove and let cool for 5-10 minutes on the cookie sheet.  

Transfer to cooling rack.

*Do not drop dough onto warm cookie sheets.  Allow cookie sheets to cool completely between batches.

Hope you enjoy some of these cookies. We definitely consume too much sugar in the Wagner home during the holidays, but it's only for a month and only once a year. Plus it's something we all enjoy doing together! If you have a favorite cookie recipe, please share! We will be baking cookies for many Christmases to come.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Family Christmas Bucket, Week 1

This was our first full week celebrating the Christmas season and advent with some sort of activity from our Christmas bucket you can read more of an explanation of the bucket here. I have thoroughly enjoyed this week. Having one planned activity every day plus our regular weekly things makes life feel busy, but I'm loving it. I feel like we are starting traditions, making memories and getting some good, quality time together. Here's what this week has looked like:

December 3:
We started off the week by making then playing with play dough together. It honestly was rather easy to make. Within a few minutes, we had really soft, smooth play dough to use. For the recipe I used click here: Easy Homemade Playdough Recipe. You do have to cook the play dough for this recipe, but it's not hard. The hardest part was adding the food coloring. We made some white and added glitter to be "snow" so once that was finished I sent Little Lady off to play with it while I added the red and green food coloring. It took a LOT of food coloring to get the vibrant colors I was looking for and my hands were stained for a couple days, but we've already had lots of fun playing with it.

December 4:
On Tuesday we got up and as soon as Daddy left for work, we started making clay ornaments. Here is the recipe we used for the ornaments: Clay Christmas Decorations. This was also a very easy recipe, but I would caution anyone to be careful you do not cook it too long or the dough becomes very crumbly, which makes it more difficult to work with and makes a huge mess. I'm all about messy crafts, but it sure helps when I'm mentally prepared for the mess. I really wasn't thinking today's activity would be a big mess, but I was wrong! I even bought some sequins to use instead of glitter thinking that would also be less messy... once again I was wrong. We did end up having some fun together though and ended up with some really cute ornaments. If we do this one again next year I will be better prepared!
Part of the time she was just doing her own thing.
Part of the mess :)
December 5:
After making Christmas cookies on Saturday, play dough on Monday and ornaments on Tuesday, I was ready for Wednesday's activity. Little Lady opened a box of "Favorite Little Golden Books for Christmas," which consisted of five books... "The Little Christmas Elf," "The Night Before Christmas," "The Poky Little Puppy's First Christmas," "The Animals' Christmas Eve," and "The Christmas Story." We read all five together right away. I'm so thankful for a little girl that loves to read. So far, "The Poky Little Puppy's First Christmas" is Little Lady's favorite, but she also really likes "The Animals' Christmas Eve."

After all our baking and creating, we realized we had a lot of everything! No need to keep it all to ourselves. We made little bags of play dough, cookies and ornaments and delivered them to a few of our little friends. Little Lady actually got really excited about doing this. I love seeing her get excited about her friends and even giving things to them.
December 6:
Sticking with the spirit of giving, today's activity  was to give away a toy. After opening the envelope with today's activity on it, we pulled out a brand new toy Little Lady had never seen before and explained to her that we were going to give it to another little girl that probably needs it more than her. I'm not sure how much she understood, but she accepted it and didn't seem upset by it. We put it in the car and took it to Potter's House for them to use for their Potter's House Christmas. Potter's House is an amazing ministry our church has. Matt and I have both been privileged to be part of this ministry in different capacities the 2 1/2 years we have been living here. You can learn more about Potter's House here: Potter's House. Even if Little Lady didn't comprehend exactly what we were doing that day by giving away a new toy, we hope to instill a spirit of giving and generosity in our kids, and we have to start somewhere. I pray we have children who grow up thinking about other people, not just themselves.
December 7:
Friday evening as soon as Daddy got home from work, we grabbed a bite to eat and headed out to the Fayetteville Square for some festive fun! Our town square is decorated with hundreds of thousands of lights each year. It looks like a Christmas wonderland and includes pony rides, camel rides and carriage rides as well. Little Lady got very excited about the lights, but I think her favorite part was getting to ride a pony. The girl really loves animals. She also thoroughly enjoyed the hot chocolate we shared.

The hot chocolate was way too hot.

December 8:
On the agenda for Saturday was a Christmas parade and to make another (much easier) batch of cookies. We got up and headed to Bentonville for breakfast and the parade. Little Lady loved the parade. I think she spent almost the entire hour waving to all the people passing by. She especially got excited when the horses and puppies passed our way. Of course the parade ended with Santa, which also thrilled Little Lady. (Matt and I aren't sure how she knows to get so excited about Santa, but she does. Maybe I'll write more about Santa sometime.) Admittedly, the parade was a little less exciting than I had hoped. We still had good family time and would not be opposed to going again. After Little Lady and Daddy went grocery shopping and Mommy had a nap, we made another batch of cookies (these are specifically for our activity on Monday, but we aren't saving them all for that). I will easily admit that we eat way too much sugar this time of year, but it's all so yummy and fun to bake... it doesn't count during the Christmas season right?
Waiting for the parade to begin.
Dancing... one of her most recent favorite activities.

And waving
And waving.
December 9:
It's Sunday again, which calls for another pizza and movie night. Little Lady opened up a collection of Veggie Tale Christmas movies today, and that's what we watched tonight. The collection includes six short movies, but we only made it through three of them tonight. We also had some sweet friends over, which called for a good amount of playtime. This meant there might not have been as much attention paid to the movies. That's fine though. We had fun, and I'm sure we will watch them all again.

Hope that's not picture overload for anyone reading this. I'm already looking forward to this next week!