Just Thinking | Julie Stafford

You’re never too old to enjoy the seemingly simple things in life.

Sometimes it might be about food. For example, I find s’mores just as fun and yummo today as they were when I was a Girl Scout a long time ago — possibly even more. There’s the process of having to slow down, the smell of a smoky campfire and gathering for good conversation and laughter. Experimentation has become a factor, too. Instead of Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, we’ve veered toward Kit Kats, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and white chocolate.

Sometimes it’s more about the packaging. You can, for example, buy honey-whipped, raw, in the comb, in flavors, in straws and by the gallon. But there’s just something about having that honey bear bottle in my pantry that makes the world feel right.

There also is great joy tied to traditions. In our house, one of the biggest traditions this time of year is cookie decorating. I think my kids actually have more fun doing it now as teenagers than they did when they were little. The designs tend to get a little more intricate, they’re more creative in how they use sprinkles, and gingerbread men sometimes turn into people we know.

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we’ll likely host several cookie gatherings. The tradition actually started with a recipe my grandmother gleaned from a “Make It Now, Bake It Later” cookbook that benefited an organization working to fight cystic fibrosis. I love having that card in my recipe box, knowing my grandmother walked through each step just as I do.

Plus you can’t beat the taste of a gingerbread man cookie made with real butter and decorated with bright blue overalls and a red-hot candy bellybutton.

Several years ago, while on our annual family Christmas vacation with my kids, nieces and nephews and family friends, I began buying precut frozen cookies and pre-made white whipped frosting and sprinkles. All kids came to our room for the fun. That’s when I realized this tradition wasn’t necessarily about how the cookies or frosting tasted or what they looked like. It was about everyone sitting around a table, laughing, talking, fighting for their turn to use the knife or the tube of blue frosting or the shaker of red sugar sprinkles.

This time of year seems to have become more about how much we buy our kids and how much we spend on our coworkers and friends than it is about enjoying the simple traditions that make the holidays so special.

This is my first official year as a single mom and it’s the first time since they were born that I won’t wake up on Christmas morning with all three of my kids nearby. So traditions are more important than ever. With that in mind, my mantra from here forward is slow down, savor and enjoy. That includes making sure my kitchen gets messy with flour and dough and powdered sugar frosting. And lots and lots of red-hot candy bellybuttons.

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