How To Successfully Bake Christmas Cookies With Kids

I’ve been baking cut out cookies with my kids for 32 years.  It’s one of my favorite things to do!

Several years ago I created a suggested plan for baking Christmas cookies with kids of ALL ages. That’s what I’m sharing with you today!

Through many disappointments and trials and errors, I’ve finally learned how to do it well at every stage of mothering and grandmothering.

Let me share my secrets with you!

 

Here’s the recipe I use:

Cut-Out Cookies

1/2 c. Crisco
1 stick butter
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
3-1/2 c. of flour  (I usually add more until the dough isn’t sticky)

(I’m currently looking for a clean Christmas cut out cookie recipe–if you have a proven one send it my way!)

Chill 1 hour.  Roll 1/4″ thick with rolling pin. (I disinfect my kitchen island and roll the dough right on the counter top. Make sure and flour the surface you are rolling on and flour the rolling pin–just rub flour all over it–so the dough doesn’t stick)

Use cookie cutters for shapes.  Bake 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes until shine is off (do not overcook–you don’t want them brown on the edges).

Icing

2 sticks butter (softened–I leave the sticks on the counter for about 30 min)
4-1/2 – 4-3/4 c. powdered sugar (I usually add more until it peaks when you mix it)
1/2 c. milk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla or peppermint (we use peppermint!)

Beat butter to fluffy and add 1/2 of the powdered sugar. Add milk and vanilla and rest of sugar.  Divide into smaller bowls and add food coloring as desired (we usually do red, green, blue, yellow, and white)

Note: Cookies can be frozen either before icing or after icing, if you want to decorate or eat at a later time.

Here’s how to successfully make cut-out cookies with kids of any age:

Preschool Years: 
1) Day 1: You make and chill dough while they are napping.
2) Day 2: You cut out and bake cookies while they are napping.
3) Day 2 or 3: You make icing and ice the cookies
4) Your preschooler can put sprinkles on while the icing is still wet.
5) Enjoy eating, giving away, and sharing the yummy cookies you made!

Grade School Years 
1) You make and chill the dough
2) You roll out the dough and let them use the cookie cutters to cut out the shapes
3) You put them in the oven.
4) Once all the cookies are cool, the kids and you can ice them and decorate with sprinkles.  (this can also be done on the next day if cookies are stored in an airtight container.)
5) Enjoy!

Note: Grade school years is a great time to teach your kids to make cookies from scratch. Since Christmas cookies have five parts to them–1) making the recipe  2) chilling the dough  3) rolling the dough and cutting the cookies  4) baking the cookies  5) decorating the cookies—I find this isn’t the best time to teach them to bake.  The process is too long and they are impatient to get to the cutting out and decorating.  Teach them to follow a recipe some other time with something like Chocolate Chip cookies or Oatmeal Raisin Cookies that you just mix up, bake, and eat!

cookie collageJunior High/High School Years
1) You make and chill the dough (if you have a teen that wants to do that, let them!)
2) You show them how to roll out the dough and cut out the cookies, then let them do it themselves!
3) You help with the baking.
4) Enjoy decorating the cookies with your family!

Even when the dough is already made and chilled, it’s usually about a 3 hour process to roll out the dough, cut out the cookies, bake, and decorate them. That’s why I’m a believer in already having the dough made and chilled no matter the age of the kids! 

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The Power of Perseverance

I saw the little square notice in our local newspaper. It stated basic information about a college scholarship available for Christian students. I didn’t have anyone in college at the time. My older three were young adults, my younger two were freshman and sophomore in high school.

I cut out the notice and tucked it into a file marked “Scholarships.” Three years later during Austin’s senior year, I opened up the file, pulled out that little slip of paper and prompted him to apply.

Several months later he was notified that he had received a $500 scholarship from the private foundation. It wasn’t a lot but it covered his books. We thanked God for that provision! A year later he was notified by the group that it was time to re-apply for this year’s funds. He applied and this time he was denied. No scholarship his sophomore year.

I tucked the denial letter away and marked our calendar for the next year’s application date. As he was finished up his sophomore year I reminded him to reapply. He protested that he’d been denied last year, but I encouraged him to apply anyway.  A few months later he received notification of another $500 scholarship. Again provision for his books!

As his junior year was coming to a close, I once again rang the scholarship bell. “Mom, it’s a lot of work for $500.”  “I know,” I responded, “but every little bit helps.”  He sent in his application.  This time the response was different. He received a $2000 scholarship!  We were all jumping up and down with excitement!

Perseverance paid off.

We live in an “instant” society. Technology teaches kids that if you have a problem, you just “reboot” to fix it.  Appliance companies no longer make washers and dryers to last 20 years…instead 2-3 years is the life of an appliance. It’s all throw-away. Give up. Quit.

As parents, we have to model perseverance and we have to help our kids learn the value of perseverance.

Romans 5:3-4 tells us to, rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.

God uses perseverance to grow us and to grow our kids.

When my daughter Anne and I were writing our book Better Together: Because You’re Not Meant To Mom Alone, Anne shared this story about perseverance in friendship:

I began attending MOPS when Rilyn was six months old. I really didn’t have any “mom” friends and was craving same-season friendship. My mom was going to be speaking at a local MOPS group in a few months and I wanted to attend incognito
for a while. I wanted them to know me for me and not for who my mom was.

I was the only one with an infant at my assigned table and so at times I felt like I didn’t belong. I questioned whether or not I should continue to attend, as I didn’t seem to have much in common with these women because our children were in different stages of life. I decided to stick it out, and as the year continued I learned a lot from these women but never found a connection of friendship.

It took me three years to find my Strawberry Pink girls. Our table just clicked, all eleven of us. We shared tears, laughter, struggles, and encouragement. We rallied around the friend whose husband was deployed, encouraged the friend whose husband was living and working in a different state, and supported the friend whose son was killed in an accident. We prayed for one another, played in each other’s homes, and had girls night outs together. These friends held me up when my dad went through a midlife crisis and left for a few months. I had never experienced friendship like this and was relishing in it.

I’ve learned that connection takes time. In our “instant” society, we are often inclined to believe that great friendship happens just as fast as “Confirm” is pressed on a Facebook friend request. That’s not the way it is in real life. Friendships take time
to find and nurture. Then once we connect, it’s both the highs and lows of life that make us better together.”

Honestly most of us would give up after one year let alone two!  However, Anne’s story illustrates the value of perseverance.  And I love how she was able to see the positive even in the waiting as she kept herself in a place to learn from other moms.

For Austin, he learned gratitude in the persevering. He also learned the value of being responsible with the little things to lay the foundation for possibly being entrusted with something more (which is living out Luke 16:10).

I’ve learned there’s power in perseverance. In marriage. Parenting. Friendships. In my relationship with God. In family relationships. In work and play.

Perseverance strengthens our character and gives us hope that the future will look different someday. Missing out on perseverance causes us (and our kids) to miss out on growth opportunities God wants to use to mature us. That alone motivates me to persevere–and encourage my kids to persevere–when it sometimes seems like it might be easier to quit.

What about you? Where do you need to persevere? Where do you need to keep pursuing? Where do you need to keep waiting and trusting that God is at work? 

Give The Gift of Holiday Freedom

Last year, we didn’t spend Thanksgiving with a single one of our five children. 

Did it feel odd? Yes.

Was it the best for everyone? We think so.

Our oldest daughter and her husband alternate holidays with his family and our family; last year Thanksgiving was with his family. Our oldest son lives in California and coming home for Thanksgiving just wasn’t in the budget. Our middle daughter, her husband, and our granddaughter were already expected at two different Thanksgiving gatherings on his side of the family. Our second youngest spent the holiday with some friends, and our youngest and his fiancé would have been happy to join us, but we decided to give them the freedom of no expectations and the ability to enjoy the day fully with her family. Instead of gathering our immediate family, Mark and I drove a couple hours to spend time with our parents.

I love the holidays but I don’t love them more than my family. I love traditions but I don’t love them more than the people I share those traditions with.

Too often the biggest “gift” given at the holidays is guilt. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is give our family freedom.

So instead of turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and large helpings of obligation on Thanksgiving, we had a family gathering of whoever could come for pizza and games the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Instead of ham, sweet potatoes, and persimmon pudding on Christmas Day, we gathered everyone together on a day that worked best for all after Christmas.

One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to allow change to happen as your kids get older. Their sphere of relationships grows exponentially when they marry and start a new family. These days I’m using phrases like these more often:

“We understand. It’s not the day that’s important. We’ll find another time that works better!”

“Your heart is most important to us. We don’t want to add any additional pressure by piling on expectations. If you can join us, we’ll be thrilled and if you can’t, we understand.”

“I love you. I love you the same no matter what decision you need to make for your sanity and what’s best for your family.”

Want to give a powerful gift this holiday season? Give the gift of freedom. Flexibility. No expectations. Unconditional love.

Your loved ones will thank you!

Preparing For The Empty Nest

Guest Post

Today’s words of encouragement come from Janet Thompson, an international speaker, freelance editor, and award-winning author of nineteen books including her latest Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness releasing TODAY! 

Her books that often address the pain and problems in life include Dear God, He’s Home!, Dear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby?, Dear God They Say It’s Cancer, and Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter.  Janet and her husband Dave’s empty nest is nestled in the rural mountains of Idaho.

I thought it was appropriate to share Janet’s wisdom about mentoring and the empty nest today, when I’m offering a one-evening online course for empty-nest or almost-empty-nest moms tonight.  There are only 10 seats left in tonight’s class so you can still join the fun. Reserve your seat here!

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The end of summer is the season when many moms pack kids up and off to college. Sometimes it’s the first one to leave the nest, other times the last, or maybe there was only one chick in the nest. It doesn’t matter. Any child leaving home is painful for a mom.

My Facebook newsfeed was full of moms posting photos of empty bedrooms and new dorm rooms, tearful goodbyes, and heart-breaking laments of leaving their “babies” with “strangers.” But I also loved reading the comforting comments from their Facebook friends who had “been-there-done-that” and knew just how it feels. The experienced moms encouraged the sad moms that they understand their pain, reminded them they raised their child to be independent of them and dependent on God, they’re just a text or phone call away, it will get easier, and the friend will pray for them.

That’s mentoring! It’s that simple even though the experienced moms probably didn’t realize they were mentoring.

Mentor moms can relate to a season they’ve also been through and share what helped them survive it. Someday the hurting mom will mentor another mom sending her chickadee off too. Many of the mentor moms were reminding the sad moms that now her role is to keep praying for her child to stand firm in his or her faith.

Often other children were in the pictures waiting to drive home from dropping off their sibling at college and hoping the parents would remember they were still home and important too. But someday our children will all leave the nest . . . college, marriage, military, or just ready to live on their own.

You know they’ll all do just fine . . . but what about you? How will you survive the empty nest season?

The empty nest can create a huge void in her heart resembling grief—she doesn’t know who she is anymore. Not only is her nest empty, she feels empty. Purposeless. The house is quiet, smaller meals to prepare, only one or two places to set for dinner, groceries last longer, no homework to help with, or music or sports practices or events to attend.

Some women relish this new season to focus on things they want to do: start a new career, hobby, or service project. For others, depression darkens each day—not feeling needed. Some empty-nest moms resort to drugs, alcohol, affairs, divorce, pornography, shopping . . . trying to dull the pain and fill the void only God can soothe, heal, and fill.

This can be especially difficult for a single mom, who finds herself completely alone at home. Now is a good time to find interests outside the home, join a Bible study or singles group at church, and make friends with other empty nest single moms.

A spiritual mentor can help a struggling empty nest mom see her children as God’s divine gift to nurture into godly young adults. She can pray with her to turn her children over to God to use for His purposes and pray for their daily protection, choices, decisions, future, and personal relationships with others and with Jesus, while mom asks where and how God wants to use her.

Here’s What Helped Me Adjust to Our Empty Nest

When our last of four children left home, the first thing I did was buy a new couch. The old one had endured many food stains and yellow highlighter marks. Instead of fussing while the kids were home, I waited to treat myself to a new couch when our nest was empty.

  • Then I wallpapered and painted their bathroom.
  • I finished seminary, which I had started as they began to leave the nest.
  • I answered a call from the Lord to leave my sales and management career to start the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry, and then wrote resources to help other churches start a mentoring ministry. Woman to Woman Mentoring is now in 20 years old.   
  • I became a speaker and author. Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness is book number 19.
  • I spent more time with my husband and we traveled.
  • I continued cooking healthy meals. Many empty nesters start eating out, which is typically high salt, high fat, high sugar, too large portions, and expensive. Fortunately, my hubby likes leftovers, or you can freeze.

Usually the empty nest doesn’t come as a surprise; but the emotions you feel might so it’s important to have a plan. If you’re not already working, apply for a job you would enjoy. Start developing a hobby, get involved in ministry, serve in the community, consider downsizing for less housework, socialize, and find a mentor like the mentor moms on Facebook who survived and thrived the empty nest.

And get ready, you’re going to feel the same emptiness when the grandkids come to visit and leave. I find it helps to start vacuuming!

Remember: We don’t find identity in our children; we find identity in our Savior.

What about you? Who can benefit from your wisdom, experience, and perspective? Whose wisdom, experience, and perspective do you need? 

*Portions of this post are excerpted from Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness

Save Your Seat for the FREE Parenting Teens Summit!

I’ve always had a passion for helping parents do the best they can! The teen years are particularly difficult, which is why Pam Farrel and I wrote Got Teens? Time Tested Answers for Moms of Teens and Tweens and why Dr. Kathy Koch and I wrote No More Perfect Kids (which applies to younger kids, teens, and even adult kids!)

It seems like culture is changing every day. Teens and pre-teens face tremendous pressure from social media, peers, and even family members.

Parents and grandparents play a significant role in shaping our child’s faith into the future. Imagine learning how to better lead your teen or pre-teen from some of the most informed voices in faith and culture… for FREE.

I’m so excited to announce the FREE 2017 Parenting Teens Summit: Hope hosted by Axis from September 11th through September 30th. 

The Parenting Teens Summit is an online experience designed to help parents of teens thrive. Over 40 different Christian authors and thought leaders are ready to share their unique insight with you.  

I will have a session in addition to other Hearts at Home favorite speakers like Dr. Juli Slattery, Dr. Kathy Koch, Helen Lee, Jerusha Clark, Jim and Lynne Jackson, Karen Ehman, and Lynn Cowell.  Other sessions will be given by Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Paul David Tripp, Craig Gross, Kimm Carr, and Craig Groeschel, among dozens of others!

The Parenting Teen Summit is divided into three different categories:

  • Know Their Culture – Snap what? Selfie? Chance the Rapper? Pop culture, smartphones, media, and entertainment can all help shape your child’s faith if we better understand the digital world around us.
  • Connect the Generations – The Secret Sauce for building a lifelong faith is intergenerational community. The Parenting Teens Summit can help you bridge the generational gap between you and your teen.
  • Develop Their Heart – Teens face huge conversation topics every day at school, with their friends, online, and at work. This category will help you as a parent start important conversations with your teen.

Registration is now open for this FREE Parenting Teens Summit. Save your seat and get ready for September 11th!

(If you’re not a parent of a teen, could you share this with someone you know who is? It’s an incredible opportunity I’d hate for any parent of a teen to miss! Thank you!) 

The Most Complete College Packing Checklist!

FREE PRINTABLE

It was 15 years ago that I packed up my first kid for college. This month will be my last time I’ll do that job.

I’m definitely feeling all the feels with that!

One day I’m excited for the new season ahead. After all, the last kid will be off the Savage payroll! Wahoo!  We can make love in any room of the house at any time of the day! Wahoo! My husband and I can take off and go somewhere on the weekend without worrying about anyone else! Wahoo! I can pursue some of the things I’ve set aside for years because there was a family to raise. Wahoo!

Then other days I have a sadness about me. I’ve enjoyed raising my family. I loved tucking my littles into bed and listening to their heart. I loved those first few minutes after school or sitting at the dinner table hearing about their day. I’ve loved watching my kids grow into beautiful young adults finding their way in this world. I’ve loved nurturing their faith. Oh it’s not been easy, and there were many days I wanted to figure out how I could resign, but still it’s been fulfilling!

If you’re sending one off to college, I’m betting you’re experiencing all the feels, too!

YOU.ARE.NOT.ALONE

Because I’ve done this for a million years (it feels like it!) I have a few tools to help you along the way!

1) Download my brand new FREE College Dorm Packing List! This is an incredibly complete packing list that will help you and your student think through all he/she needs to take to school!

2) Get Amazon Prime or Amazon Prime for Students. This can be a big help when ordering books and dorm items online.

3. Check out some of my previous blog posts about sending kids off to college:

4) Take my online class They All Flew Out Of the Cuckoo’s Nest on Tuesday, September 12, 7:30-9 pm CST! If you’re getting close or embarking on the empty nest, you will definitely want to sign up for this powerful class that I first taught at the April 2017 Hearts at Home conference and received five-star feedback. I’m so glad technology offers a way to bring this to you without leaving your home! Early bird pricing is available until September 1! Register today and invite your empty nest friends to join you!

If you still have littles at home, share this post with a friend or family member who needs it.

And then hold your kiddos a little closer today. Smile when they talk to you. Take a deep breath when they frustrate you. Apologize when you lose it. Say yes when you can and say no when they need it. As my friend Charlene Baumbich put it: Don’t miss your kids…they’ll be gone before you know it!

What Weeding Taught Me About Parenting

I love to weed. 

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

There’s just something about weeding that I find satisfying. Maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s playing in the dirt. Maybe it’s being in the midst of God’s creation. Maybe it’s the beautiful flowers, landscaping, and garden produce I get to enjoy when I keep things weeded.

Weeding provides me an incredible quiet time with the Lord. Talking. Listening. Thinking. Praying.

Last week God really spoke to me during my weeding on three different topics. He used my weeding to help me better understand parenting, taking care of my health, and the condition of my heart. Three diverse topics, but all illustrated well in weeding. So over the next few weeks I’m going to share my discoveries! I’ll start today with parenting.

One of my favorite spots for me to enjoy our flowers and garden plants is sitting on the porch swing on our wrap-around porch. From a distance, the lush green plants seem to be healthy and thriving.

Last week, however, I spent some time fertilizing and trimming up some of the garden plants and I discovered some of my plants weren’t as healthy as a quick glance from a distance made them appear. The heat and humidity had brought powdery mildew to the leaves of my yellow squash and cucumber plants. A closer look revealed that my peony plants had it too! I had to begin to give these plants some individual attention to nurse them back to health.

I chose to simply prune the peony plants down to stubs in the ground as they were covered in the mildew.  I remember my Papaw telling me to just mow over the peony plants every year after they were done blooming and they always came up beautifully the next Spring. The squash and cucumber, however, needed some TLC. I mixed 1 tbsp of baking soda with one gallon of water, poured it into a spray bottle and then treated them daily for 3-4 days and every other day after that until it cleared up.

So what’s that have to do with parenting? 

In our book, No More Perfect Kids, Dr. Kathy Koch and I talk about perfection infection parenting. When the perfection infection invades our parenting we have unrealistic expectations of our kids and we unfairly compare our kids to others. This puts pressure on our kids to perform, breeds disappointment and discontentment, and robs the parent/child relationship of joy.

But there’s good news! There are four antidotes that kick the perfection infection right out of our parenting. One of those is PERCEPTION.

As parents, it’s important to be in tune with our kids. What do they like? What do they dislike? Do they need alone time? Are they creative? Athletic? Musical? What is important to them?

I’ll admit that, with five children, there were times when I simply parented “the herd.” I saw them as a group rather than the individuals that they are. It was like looking at the plants from the porch. They looked okay from a distance, you might say.

The more perceptive I became, the more I was able to see them as unique human beings who have different personalities, temperaments, and skills. When I gave them individual attention, I was better able to see where their “leaves” were wilting, where they were struggling, and where they needed a little TLC.

(PHOTO: What I saw from a distance and then what I saw up close.)

Perception increases when life slows down. It expands when we spend one-on-one time with our kids.

Perception not only helps us see how a child is wired, but it also helps us connect with how he or she is doing emotionally. Kids don’t usually walk up to you and say, “I’m sad today.” Instead, they will lash out at a sibling with words or they will withdraw and be unusually quiet. Perception reads the cues a child is sending.

So my weeding last week reminded me to slow down and look closely at how my loved ones are really doing.  In the same way that I couldn’t see the condition of my plant’s leaves until I looked closely, I can’t see the condition of my kids’ hearts until I give them the individual attention they need and deserve…even as the young adults they are today.

What about you? Where do you need to increase your perception? What are you looking at from a distance that you need to be looking at more closely?