Cookie traditions (and the best ginger snap recipe ever)

I'm a cookie girl. (Well, and an ice cream girl and chocolate girl. But that's for another time.) Growing up, our family would make my great-grandma's sugar cookies for almost every holiday. I remember the excitement of helping my mom mix the batter, squishing down the cookies with a sugar-coated glass, squeezing frosting out of plastic bags. My brother and I always enjoyed eating the "ugly" ones.

When I got married, I learned my husband came from a cookie family too. His family would have a cookie-baking marathon in December each year, making piles of ginger snaps, spritz, and chocolate chip cookies. When we married, our traditions merged... and I learned to make their cookies the "right" way. It took a few years to learn that I couldn't mess with perfection. Whole wheat flour was not an acceptable substitute! ;)

Last weekend, I was both excited and nervous about attending my first cookie exchange with friends from church. I wanted the cookies to be just right -- and needed to make 140 of them! Here are five of the lessons I learned about marathon cookie-making:

Lesson 1: Use good recipes.
I was confident in the ginger snap recipe that had been passed down for three generations on my husband's side. The chocolate peppermint cookie recipe I found online looked amazing, but I had never tested it. I was feeling a little unsure about that one, but it turned out great!

Here is the ginger snap recipe (I hope I'm not breaking any unspoken rules of secrecy!):

Christmas Ginger Snaps
(Recipe from Great-Grandma Petrykowski, Grandma Metzger, and Mom Prihoda)

Cream: 1 c. sugar, 1 c. shortening (I used butter because I'm healthy that way)

1 egg

2 Tbsp molasses (I used a bit more molasses and less sugar)
2 c. flour
1 tsp ginger (I used extra ginger and less of the other spices)
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Roll into 1" balls, roll in sugar, flatten with fork. Bake at 375* for 10 minutes. (Careful - they burn easily. (But I didn't have any trouble with burning.))

As you can tell, even with the most perfect recipes, I'm not great at sticking to directions. :)

Lesson 2: Make sure you have the ingredients.
I actually planned ahead this time and checked the ingredient lists. I'm glad I did, because apparently when you triple cookie recipes you need an exorbitant amount of butter and eggs. ;)

Lesson 3: Recruit good helpers. Especially if you have kiddos that need attention.
I was so grateful my mom happened to be taking last Friday off, and was willing to help make 140 cookies. I would've gone insane without her. My oldest happens to love helping mommy in the kitchen, but his attention span is only so long!

My sweet helper, making only a little mess.
Lesson 4: Make a few extra for taste-testing. :)
The ginger snaps were chewy, with just the right blend of spices. They're delicious with a cuppa chai tea! The chocolate peppermint ones were so rich and chocolatey, with a nice crunch of peppermint on top. Yum!
Lesson 5: Survey your accomplishment, and leave the dishes for later. 
 After making 140 cookies, I was exhausted. I called the hubs and asked him to pick up take-out, and left the dishes for the next day. :)

All of the work was worth it when I got to spend a few hours with friends from church trading cookies and catching up. Plus, now I have enough cookies to eat and share throughout the Christmas season. Unfortunately, I didn't catch any pictures of that day because we were too busy having fun! (Also, I brought the kiddos because the hubby was at work, and was going crazy chasing them around.)
It makes my heart happy to be forming new traditions with my friends and family. Do you have any cookie traditions? What is your favorite holiday cookie recipe?
{I'm happy to be linking up with Leanne Penny's Cookie Exchange. Leanne is one of my new favorite bloggers -- she has an incredible story of journeying toward healing and peace after awful tragedy. Thanks, Leanne, for hosting!}


Making room this first Sunday of Advent

It's Advent. And I'm anxiously awaiting my Savior. Last week felt like a breakthrough -- I was feeling better after 3 weeks of antibiotics, able to breathe through my nose again. The after-Thanksgiving gratefulness was lingering. And this week I feel crappy again and my mood has plummeted along with my health (oh, and hormones don't help). I need someone to pull me out of this.

This first Sunday of Advent, I think about Mary's complete abandon to God's will, her childlike trust in His goodness. I got to choose to have two babies; my hubby and I chose this crazy responsibility. Well, yes, it was ultimately God's doing -- but we chose it. Mary? She was just told, "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus." There was no asking, no planning. And she trusted. Am I trusting? Her response to the angel after being told she was with child --

"My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name." (Luke 1:47-49)

Her faith has always amazed me; especially now, as I struggle to trust God with my daily tasks. "God, I'm so overwhelmed. God, my house is such a mess. God, why is this so f*ing hard?" (Yes, sometimes I swear in my prayers - gasp.) Sometimes I see the overflowing trash can and I just can't bring myself to deal with it. I ignore it, and then get annoyed when I can't balance anything more on the pile the next time. I do the same thing with my heart -- feeling convicted about something one day, but letting it sit to rot until I just can't handle it anymore.

It's weeks like this that I'm so grateful for how God sees me. Even in my mess, He has called me a new creation. He has called me pure and holy. He has made me His own. Just as He filled Mary's empty womb with His son, He fills my empty spaces with Jesus. It's okay to let my garbage come to light, to take out the trash.

The trusting isn't about trying harder -- it's about emptying myself to make room for Him. This first week of December my plan is to create some empty spaces, and to invite Him in.

My boys checking out the Christmas tree.

"Let every heart prepare Him room..."

Happy Advent, friends.

How are you celebrating Advent? How do you prepare Him room?