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Plan to avoid holiday over-scheduling

By Staff
Michelle Blaylock, Mom's Corner
OK, so what do you get if you mix six kids, two parakeets, four dogs, one husband, one sister, one brother-in-law, one niece, one nephew, two grandparents and me? Well, if you're lucky you get through Christmas with everyone still speaking to one another!
Admittedly, family gatherings can sometimes be a little stressful. I believe in part that comes from each family having their own rules. We have a standing rule that in our family that you can't override a sibling's rule for their own children. We also don't try to change each other's minds about how we raise our kids. So our basic rule is mind your own business. It makes for a happier visit.
Next, I usually try to have a general plan for the visit. For example, on Friday we'll make some simple ornaments and on Saturday we'll make some candy or a gingerbread house, etc. It's easy to try and over-schedule and cram too much in. If I plan a shopping day, then that will be all I plan for that day.
I don't try to plan on shopping then come home to make ornaments and candy, too. Everyone will be way too tired and crabby.
Here are some ideas for simple crafts for the holidays. String garland using crochet thread and beads, or cranberries and dental floss. Pinecones are in abundance right now, so cover them with glue and roll in glitter or cover in peanut butter and birdseed for our bird friends.
Print Christmas pictures off the internet–color, paint, glitter, etc. then cut out for decorations. These can also make great name cards at the dinner table.
As for simple candies there are many to choose from. Here are a couple of my favorites.
Maple Sponge Candy
1 cup maple flavor syrup (I use pancake syrup)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp baking soda
9 x 9 well buttered pan
Mix first three ingredients in a heavy 2 quart sauce pan and cook over medium heat stirring constantly until boiling. Continue boiling stirring occasionally until cooked to temperature of 300 degrees on candy thermometer or until it reaches "hard boil stage."
Remove from heat add baking soda and pour into butter pan. Be prepared candy will foam up when the baking soda is added! Kids love to watch it!
Chocolate Coconut Balls
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 bag coconut
Chocolate almond bark
While Chocolate almond bark
Mix coconut and milk and freeze for about 1/2 hour. Take out of freezer and roll into bite size balls, place on wax paper or parchment paper and refreeze for about 1 hour.
Melt chocolates according to package directions. (I like to melt them in large coffee mugs.) Then take a few coconut balls out at a time and dip them into chocolate. I like to keep mine in the freezer so the chocolate stays crunchy. I take them out right before serving.
I also plan simple meals for the days before the main holiday. This year I'm planning on making a big Crock Pot of stew and one of chili. I'll add fresh rolls, chips and dip, veggies and dip and a dessert for variety.
A family gathering can be a lot a fun. It does take planning and patience, but it can be fun. We also try to plan one night of family fun for the adults to play card games, board games and reminisce.
Someday I'll have to tell you about the time my brother tried to sneak into the house through a second story window wearing cowboy boots. It was funny. . . well, for some of us anyway.
Merry Christmas!