Onward Ho Ho Ho!

Another Thanksgiving is safely behind us, which means that it’s time to forge onward, without a pause for reflection or catching of breath, towards the next big thing.  I’ve realized, since having kids, that the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is really just like a marathon of insanity for parents — particularly moms — that requires a level of preparation and organization only Martha Stewart can probably muster without breaking a sweat.

L. woke up the day after Thanksgiving and said to me, “Mommy, it’s not Thanksgiving anymore, is it?”  When I responded that it wasn’t, he pondered for a moment, then said, “So now it’s Christmas time and Santa is coming.  Right?”  Oh, how painfully astute he is.  It may not be Christmas on the calendar yet, but he knows that once the turkey’s still-warm carcass has been picked over, preparations for the December festivities get into full swing.  I’ve tried to resist it until at least December 1, in years past — but it’s not possible.  The world is set up for thirty days of Christmas.  (How annoying for those who don’t celebrate it.  Sorry, friends.)

The problem with this reality — besides the fact that it means we get swallowed by a giant, jolly ball of mistletoed consumerism before we can digest the pumpkin pie — is that it makes the job of controlling excessive treats much more difficult than it should be.  I believe in Christmas cookies as wholeheartedly as I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus, and I enjoy baking them, eating them, and feeding them to my kids.  I revel in all the food traditions of the holiday, from the Swedish meatballs and smoked fish on the Christmas Eve smorgasbord to the last bit of Yorkshire pudding and the crumbs of the Peppermint Pig at nightfall the next day.  And on top of the cookies — ALL the cookies — there are the Swedish breads, passed from my Uncle Olaf to me in the family tradition, that have to be baked.  In other words, from the day after Thanksgiving until the Night Before Christmas, my kitchen is in holiday overdrive — and I don’t plan to change that anytime soon, thank you very much.

But how to control the treat mayhem when I’m constantly baking and cooking?  I’d leave it all to the last minute, but with a full-time job, plus an annual performance of the Messiah, plus this blog, plus the kids, plus the wrapping and shopping and cards and decorating…sigh.  I’ve got to bake when I can and freeze, freeze, freeze.  Or give, give, give, as the case may be — not all of the breads and cookies and so forth are destined for our family’s consumption.  When you’re a foodie mom on a budget, people get lots of homemade gifts.

So I have to make a plan and stick to it, more or less, and in the midst of all the holiday prep, all the other stuff of, well, LIFE has to get done.  If I balance it all just right, I can mete out small amounts of the treats without overloading the kids on sugar, and hopefully even plan for some extra-nutritious meals and snacks to keep everything in check for all of us (I don’t need five extra holiday pounds!).  Here’s how it’ll happen this year, or at least, as it stands right now:

Thanksgiving Weekend. I had to get the breads all baked early this year, because our church wanted to use some of my Swedish bread for our December communion service.  So, knowing that I didn’t have to cook dinner for much of this weekend, I used the time to bake up sixteen — that’s right, sixteen; the old school recipes from my great-grandmother can’t be cut down — loaves of rye limpa and cardamom braid.  Most of it went into the freezer; some got eaten immediately (a loaf of each disappeared magically, somehow, within 36 hours); and some went to family and to the church.  Although I had time, certainly, to get started on cookies, I restrained myself and channeled that energy instead into homemade applesauce, chicken stock for this week’s healthy dinners, and maple-pecan granola.
Weekend #2. I’m going to try to institute a new rule this year: for every two kinds of cookies or sweets baked in a weekend, I will make one healthy snack or extra meal option for the family.  So as I’m baking up the eggnog cakes and oatmeal raisin cookies, I’ll try a slow cooker oatmeal recipe for the colder mornings.
Weekend #3. Messiah performance weekend.  I’ll be tired, but I’ll still muster up some “mistletoe bars” and spritz cookies for the freezer.  The healthy mission for the week will be a new veggie side for the boys’ lunchboxes; I feel like our rotation has gotten stale lately.
Weekend #4. High gear time — only a week to go until the main event!  My mother’s favorite cookie, Swedish almond balls, are next in line, along with J. and L.’s favorite — my double-chocolate peppermint chunk cookies.  Both of these cookies are more labor-intensive than many of the other recipes I make, so I’ll have to use my time wisely; but I think I’ll still have time to muster up some lunchbox calzones filled with lean protein and lots of dark, leafy greens to keep us all going this week.

Whew.  It’s a lot to get done, but really, it makes me feel so much better to have it laid out like this.  Just like the meal plans (check back tomorrow for December’s menu!), having a goal — even if I don’t quite cross the finish line as planned — keeps me focused and convinces me that it’s possible to do it all in time.  Which means I’ll be more sane, more relaxed, and able to enjoy the lead-up to the holiday with my family.  Assuming, of course, that watching the Charlie Brown Christmas twelve times a day until New Year’s doesn’t send me over the edge.

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