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5 Ways to Slow Down During the Holidays

Self LoveHannah DrakeComment
5 Ways to Slow Down During the Holidays

To say it’s a busy time of year would be an understatement, right? We all know the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and how quickly our calendars can fill up with parties and activities and shopping. The Christmas season always seems to fly by, but this year I want to focus on slowing down and being present. If you’re interested in doing the same, I’ve got some suggestions for you.

GET OUTSIDE INTO NATURE

Growing up in Colorado, it was surprisingly hit or miss for a white Christmas. But no matter if it was sweatshirt weather or parka weather, the mountains were there and they were calling. Getting away from the bustling city streets during this time of year can work wonders on you, I promise. There’s something so peaceful about getting away from the noise and the lights and the busy. You can find a new stillness. You can pause and take in your surroundings. And that’s even if you don’t live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. No matter where you are, there’s got to be a walking trail nearby.

SCHEDULE FREE TIME

This is so, so important. It’s really easy to fill your calendar one event at a time and before you know it, you’ve got something happening every night of the week or you might even be double-booked! Once you have a few major events on the books, block off some quiet time where you can unwind with a holiday movie or just have a quiet night at home with your family. Literally put it on your calendar so if something else comes up, you know you’re “busy” that night. You’ll likely feel less drained when you’re making the holiday rounds, but the key is absolutely JOMO. Instead of the fear of missing out, embrace the joy of missing out!

FOCUS ON MAKING MEMORIES

This year, both sides of my family have decided to forgo gift exchanges in the name of family experiences. It has made things a lot easier for us, both for time and money, since we don’t have to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas shopping for everyone on our list. But it also means getting to plan events with my mom, my stepmom, or my sisters. Our goal is to create memories that will last a life time rather than fill up our homes with more stuff.

Even if that’s not your style (which is totally cool, by the way; I love gifts too), there’s still plenty to do with your family, your significant other, or your friends where you can truly be present and celebrate the season.

VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME

Volunteering will take you outside of your self (and maybe outside of your comfort zone) for a little while and that’s an amazing thing to experience. Find a place in town where you can volunteer a couple of hours during the holidays. Maybe sign up with some friends or your family and make a day out of it. Fill an Operation Christmas Child box to send to a child who probably won’t get anything else this Christmas. (Now you can do it online so you don’t even have to navigate a busy store.) Find a way to give back and consider those who are less fortunate that you this holiday season. It might inspire you to take some time to more fully appreciate the blessings you have at home.

UNPLUG

Let’s start with the obvious: Disconnect from social media. Set your phone down in another room and walk away. Whether you’re just watching your favourite holiday movie or you’re at a holiday party, unplug and be present. Instagram can wait. You don’t need to live-Snap everything you’re doing. And it’s totally okay if you don’t check in on Facebook. My goal for this holiday season is to do more of that. Less sharing my life on social media and more living my life in real time.

But maybe it’s difficult for you to find the stamina to make it through the holiday season that only seems to be getting longer and longer each year. That’s totally okay and you gotta do what you gotta do! Take care of yourself, even if that means turning off the timer for the Christmas lights one evening, watching a regular movie instead of Elf for the 5th time in three weeks, or just getting away from the commercialisation of Christmas. If that’s what you need to do in order to make it to Christmas Morning, do it!

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season

LifeHannah DrakeComment

It’s no secret I love baking, but that love knows no limits during the holiday season. I really enjoy sharing my baking with friends, family, and neighbours. Here’s what I’m including in my gift tins for our neighbours again this year:

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Gingerbread

Gingerbread

I never know what to call this because it’s more cakey than it is bready.

My favourite way to enjoy gingerbread is warm with a side of peppermint ice cream. Peppermint ice cream isn't available here in the UK, which is a shame because it's a Larson family staple at Christmastime!

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Candy Coated Pretzels

Candy Coated Pretzels

If you can boil water, you can make these. I melted a whole bag of Wilton's candy melts in a double boiler, dipped the pretzels, tapped off the excess, and let them dry on parchment paper. I enlisted Luke's help to smash up some candy canes so I could top them off with red sprinkles and bits of peppermint. They turned out delicious! A whole bag of candy melts covered about 80 pretzels.

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies

I've been searching for years for a good sugar cookie recipe that will not only taste good, but keep the shape after being baked. Sally's Baking Addiction, my favourite online source for baking recipes, to the rescue! She'll walk you through the recipe and the technique, explaining why each step is important to producing the perfect cut out sugar cookies. I also used the royal icing recipe she included, piping it from a bottle, not a bag. I'm really happy with how they turned out. They kept their shape, I was able to line and then flood the cookies while icing, and the icing hardened so they were stackable and not sticky.

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Molasses Cookies

Molasses Cookies

I’ve seen—and tried—a number of ginger or molasses cookies, but I liked the way these spread and flatten better than another tasty recipe I’ve tried. After over baking the first 8 cookies by about 1-2 minutes, the rest turned out perfect. They're soft and chewy, but still have a nice "crust" on the outside.

What I'm Baking This Holiday Season - Cardamom Sugar Cookies

Cardamom Sugar Cookies

My sister made these a few years ago, I think for a Christmas cookie exchange party, and I've wanted to make them ever since. I couldn't find any ground cardamom at the shop, so I ended up getting pods and once again enlisted Luke for his smashing skills. He broke open the pods, separated out the seeds, and then ground them. It took about 15 pods per 1 teaspoon and it wasn't ground as finely as store-bought probably would have been, but apparently grinding your own makes for a better flavor. I adjusted the glaze recipe a bit, using about 1 cup of powdered sugar with the same amount of water to make it stiffer and I just drizzled it on top instead of icing them properly.

I'm always looking to branch out, so if you have any holiday favourites, post a link to the recipe in the comments below!

2018 Christmas Bucket List

Self LoveHannah Drake4 Comments

In my opinion, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving. I've never really bought into the commercialised concept of Black Friday, and instead prefer to spend the day decorating for the Christmas season. (Growing up, Black Friday was always dedicated to the CU-Nebraska game, but CU now plays Utah the Saturday after Thanksgiving instead.) We definitely wait to get a tree until around the 1st of December—especially this year with Thanksgiving being so early—but it’s still nice to deck the halls and start watching all those Christmas films. (Okay, fine, I’ve been watching Hallmark Christmas films since Election Day!)

Anyway, I'm once again excited to fully embrace the Christmas season. So once again, I made a "bucket list" of sorts of all the things I want to do this holiday season. This year is exciting because I kind of get the best of both worlds. We'll be back in Colorado for two weeks this month, so we can do some of the Colorado things (like skiing), but we also get some of the England things (like the Christmas market).

SEE THE DECORATIONS IN LONDON

There’s just something magical about the city during the holiday season. The decorations, the energy, the shops. Everything! One of my favourite things about my first Christmas in England was going down to London with Luke to see all the decorations. We had a bunch of free train tickets we had to use before the end of the year, so it was a good excuse. Luke said he’s not interested this year, but I guess that’s his loss!

VISIT THE CHRISTMAS MARKET

I absolutely loved visiting the Christmas Market in the city centre last year. They set it up in November, if I remember correctly, and every weekend it just got more and more crowded. If Luke and I were in town for any reason, we would stop by to share a foot-long sausage, and enjoy some hot cocoa (probably spiked with Amaretto), or a litre of beer. Some of my favourite evenings from last Christmastime were at the market and I'm sure that will be the case again this year.

GET DRESSED UP FOR THE NUTCRACKER

It's a tradition now since we've been both years we've been together. The first year, we dressed to the nines and went out in Denver for the evening. I booked a room at the historic Brown Palace hotel, we shared a prime rib dinner from room service on the edge of our bed since we couldn't get a table at either restaurant, and went out for champagne, oysters, and truffle fries after the show. It's hands down one of my favourite evenings we've ever spent together. Last year, we got slightly less dressed up and went out in Birmingham, getting sushi before the show. After, we both agreed that the Birmingham performance was better than the Denver performance.

This year, we’ve got tickets in Denver again while we’re back in Colorado. We won’t be staying downtown again, but I booked a table at Corridor 44, the same champagne bar we went to two years ago. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And those truffle fries and oysters definitely ain’t broke. As for our outfits this year, you’ll just have to stay tuned to see how fancy we get!

MAKE CREAM CHEESE BREADS (WITH MY MOM)

My mom always makes cream cheese breads as part of our Christmas morning brunch. (She also makes mushroom pie, grits pie, and fruit salad.) They're my favourite part of Christmas and I could easily scarf one--or two--down myself. Last year I managed to carry on her tradition in England, starting on Christmas Eve and finishing early on Christmas morning. Like her, I made extra to give to friends and family, too. This year, since I'll be back in the States, I want to make them with her. I go full-kid when I'm at her house and leave her to the kitchen, but I want this year to be different. I want to learn from the best so I'm able to take her recipes and traditions and bring them to my own family the best I can.

Funny story, one year my sister Rachel and I were both working at a local cheese shop at Christmastime. Rachel was helping a customer do her holiday shopping and mentioned my mom’s Christmas brunch to her. The woman thought it sounded so good that she ended up paying my mom to make her pies (and I think the breads as well, IIRC). They ended up meeting on Christmas Eve in the parking lot of the same shop to make the exchange!

GO CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING & ICE SKATING

When people find out I'm from Colorado, they almost always ask me if I ski. No, I don't downhill ski. Last time I went I was almost too afraid to get off the lift. I've outgrown my last pair of snow pants and I'm simply not interested in spending the kind of money it takes to downhill ski these days. So although there are a lot of great childhood memories around downhill skiing, I'm more interested these days in the childhood memories around cross-country skiing, which is an activity my whole family has been able to continue to do in our old age. We usually only go about once a year, but it's always a blast. This year, we're doing my ULTIMATE Christmas dream and staying in a cabin near where we ski on Christmas Eve Eve. I seriously cannot wait. And while we're at it, I really want to ice skate on an actual pond. I think I've done it once, but I can't be sure. Last Christmas, Luke and I went to the rink that was part of the Christmas Market, but I think doing it outside on a pond this year will be even better.

MAKE HOLIDAY TREATS FOR THE NEIGHBOURS

If you haven't already figured out, I love baking. I just don't always love having cookies and cakes on hand. In the last few years, I've put together boxes with some of my favourite things to make: gingerbread people, sugar cookies, candy-coated pretzels, toffee, gingerbread cake, and more. Last year we picked up some tins at Tiger and packed them full of Christmas goodies for our friends and neighbours and that is absolutely a tradition I want to hold on to. Did you know baking for other people is shown to improve your mood?

SET UP A HOT COCOA STATION

I've been doing this for a while now. I think it started in 2011 when I had a bad day at work in early December. I just decided to pick up some things from Michael's, head home, and put it all together. Even though we weren’t big hot cocoa drinkers, I kept doing it every year. Last year, Luke and I definitely got good use out of it. And this year, I'll definitely be setting it up with some Amaretto. Have you ever tried it?! It's better than Peppermint Schnapps, I promise.

My hot cocoa station has looked more or less the same for the last four years, but this year I’m taking some inspiration from another blogger and setting it up a little differently. Stay tuned to see!

BUY NEW CHRISTMAS PJs

Luke and I started this tradition at our first Christmas together. The last two years, I've gotten us a new pair of PJs and a new pair of socks, put them out under the tree on Christmas Eve, wrapped in a red ribbon. The first year it was tops, bottoms, and socks, but the second year it was just bottoms and socks, which I think is the way to go. We both wear our Christmas PJs and socks all year round, so it's truly the gift that keeps on giving. The best part is, we can very easily continue this tradition with our kids in the future. I mean like right away, we don't have to wait a few years for them to be able to actively participate, like with our annual Nutcracker outing. This year, because we’re both lacking in the loungewear department, we’ll actually get something different (but still jammies-adjacent). Next year, it’ll probably be back to PJ bottoms and socks!

MAKE HOMEMADE EGGNOG

I might be making a mistake here, but I want to give it a shot. We never found any in the grocery stores last year, but we didn't try making any either. I remember finding a recipe and then thinking that's what's in this?! It nearly put me off it altogether, but I'll try it this year and see what happens. Honestly, heating up milk and other dairy-based products is one of my biggest kitchen fears, so this should be fun. Worst case scenario, at least I’ll be back in the States where I can buy some if it doesn’t go well. (And yes, this is a photo of hot cocoa, but I couldn’t find a good eggnog photo from my Christmas archives!)

HOST A CRAFT NIGHT

I'm pretty sure I've been talking about hosting a craft night--Christmas aside--for the entire time I've lived in England. But I'm determined to make it happen this year. I've done it a few times with friends and it's always been so fun. We bring the supplies for our own projects and make whatever we want, which is definitely the best way to do craft night.

What’s on your to-do list this holiday season?


Like I did in the fall, I’m hosting another fun bingo game, this time with one of my blogger BFFs, Blythe from The Honey Print! In the fall, I ended up only counting things I did after deciding it was the best way to play. So for the holiday season, we decided to play by the same rules, this time combining forces to come up with 24 new Christmas-themed squares.

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