The holidays are upon us. The presents are wrapped and under the tree. Little ones eyes twinkle at the sight of what is to come and parents revel in the anticipation of the season.

Once the unwrapping is over and the decorations are strewn all over the house, you might be in store for a lazy day. You might be visiting or hosting relatives or even attending other festive gatherings. Young children have a hard time keeping their emotions in check during this exciting and wondrous time.

As a mother of two littles myself, I have found that keeping them busy is the best way to keep emotional outbursts at bay. Lack of sleep is likely the culprit, but until they give in to the deep holiday rest they need, planned activities are my go to. Two activities that we participate in each year is cookie decorating and salt dough ornament making.

These time honored traditions are two that I grew up enjoying. I revel in the memories I have with my mama making items and look forward to working on these activities each year with my own children. My oldest is five and can now help safely and effectively in measuring ingredients and making dough. My youngest can be a little helper in handing us items we need. Everyone has a job, each as important as the other. Daddy's job is the house taste tester and clean up crew!

Whatever holiday activities you choose to share with your family, make it a tradition -- one every member will look forward to each year. Perfection isn't key here, it's simply spending time with those you love most. Share the spirit of the holidays with others by taking shut ins cookies or handmade cards. My wish for you is to have a safe, happy, healthy and memorable holiday with those that you love.

Christmas Sugar Cookies and Easy Icing

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Yield: 24 medium cookies, 12 large cookies (which is what we usually get!)

Cookies

• 3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, slightly softened to room temperature

• 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar

• 1 large egg

• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional

• 2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

Easy Icing

• 1 and 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

• 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

• 1 teaspoon light corn syrup

• 2 - 2.5 Tablespoons room temperature water

• pinch salt

1. Make sure you have allotted enough time (and enough counter space!) to make these cookies. The cookie dough needs to chill, the cookies need to cool completely, and the icing needs 24 hours to completely harden. If enjoying right away and hardened icing isn't a concern, you'll only need about 4 hours to make these.

2. In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamed and smooth -- about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat on high until fully combine, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Turn the mixer down to low and add about half of the flour mixture, beating until just barely combined. Add the rest of the flour and continue mixing until just combined. If the dough still seems too soft, you can add 1 Tablespoon more flour until it is a better consistency for rolling.

4. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Roll each portion out onto a piece of parchment to about 1/4″ thickness. Stack the pieces (with paper) onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours and up to 2 days. Chilling is mandatory.

5. Once chilled, preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2-3 large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. The amount of batches will depend on how large/small you cut your cookies. Remove one of the dough pieces from the refrigerator and using a cookie cutter, cut in shapes. Transfer the cut cookie dough to the prepared baking sheet. Re-roll the remaining dough and continue cutting until all is used.

6. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until very lightly colored on top and around the edges. Make sure you rotate the baking sheet halfway through bake time. Allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before icing. No need to cover the cookies as the cookies cool.

7. For the icing, whisk the confectioners' sugar, vanilla, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons of water in a medium bowl. It should be quite thick. If it is much too thick, add 1/2 Tablespoon more water. If it is much too thin, add 2 more Tablespoons of confectioners' sugar. If you drizzle a little of the icing with the whisk, the ribbon of icing will hold for a few seconds before melting back into the icing. That is when you know it's the right consistency and is ready to use. If desired, add liquid or gel food coloring. You can pour some icing into different bowls if using multiple colors. If not decorating right away, cover the icing tightly and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

8. Decorate the cooled cookies however you'd like. Squeeze bottles make decorating so easy, especially for little hands. You may enjoy right away or you can wait 24 hours for the icing to set and harden- no need to cover the cookies as the icing sets. Once the icing has set, these cookies are great for gifting or for sending. I find they stay soft for about 5 days at room temperature and up to 10 days in the refrigerator.

Salt Dough Ornaments

• 4 cups Flour

• 1 cup Salt

• 1.5 cups water, more if needed

• Christmas cookie cutters

• Acrylic paint

• Straw

• Glitter

• Clear glue

• Twine

• Clear glue spray or mod podge

1. Preheat your oven to 200°F. Adults will need to do the baking part, but little ones can help prep and decorate!

2. Combine your flour, salt and water and mix well. Knead for 10 minutes. If your dough is too dry, add a little bit more water. If it's too sticky, add a little bit of flour. It will help to place flour down on your surface when kneading and on your hands.

3. Once you're done kneading, roll out the dough to about 1/2 cm thickness. The thinner you make the ornaments, the better they will thoroughly bake and dry through.

4. Using your Christmas cookie cutters, cut out different shapes for your salt dough ornaments. You can also create your own shapes by cutting the dough with a knife. Add your own details with hand prints or finger prints.

5. Using a straw, make a hole in the top of the ornament for where you would like the twine to hang.

6. Bake for 1-2 hours. If your ornaments are not completely dried through when you pull them out put back in for another hour. The baking time will vary greatly depending on the size and thickness of your ornaments. Larger ornaments will take longer whereas smaller ornaments will take less time. You can also let them air dry for a day before baking and this will cut down on the baking time.

7. If you notice puffing when baking, it is likely because the ornaments are too thick. In this case, let them air dry for a few days before baking.

8. Once cool and completely dried, paint with acrylic paint.

9. Now you'll want to seal before adding your glitter. Make sure your ornaments are completely dried through before sealing. Spray with a clear glaze spray or finish with mod podge.

10. Now add clear glue on top of your ornament and shake glitter on top until you fill the ornament with glitter. Kids will love helping with this part!

11. Once you're done, add your gold twine for hanging them on the tree.

12. When the decorations are ready to be stored, wrap in tissue paper.

For more information on or other family topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached at sphill24@utk.edu or 615-444-9584.

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