A Visit to Santa (1963)

While browsing the Internet Archive the other day, I came across a 12-minute film called A Visit to Santa. Usually, I love these old films (Kris and I spent a week this past summer digging through the good ones), but this? This is an abomination. See for yourself:

Are you in the Christmas spirit now, kids? Then sing it together: “Let’s give thanks to the Lord above ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight!”

Five Festive Christmas Cookies to Share with Family and Friends

What’s Christmas without cookies?

A plate of warm Christmas cookies can help you bond with the neighbors, and taking a tray to the office is a sure way to win points with your co-workers. Christmas cookies can also be a fun part of frugal holiday gift-giving.

Every year, Kris and I assemble holiday gift bags to give to our friends. We fill these with candy and cards and candles and books and other small things we’ve gathered year-round. And we always include lots of home-made cookies.

This Sunday, Kris will spend all day in the kitchen with her sister Tiffany and friend Eila. They’ll be on a cookie-baking bonanza. They’ll use some classic recipes, of course, but this year they’ll also be making one of Kris’ new discoveries: the Oreo truffle. She’s already made two batches for friends and co-workers, and they’ve drawn rave reviews.

Because it’s the last weekend before Christmas — and because the video post I’d originally planned for today has run into technical difficulties — Kris has agreed to share five of her favorite Christmas cookie recipes. Yum.

Note: Cookies are inherently bad for your diet. Consume in moderation. Substitute organic, low-fat, or sugar-free ingredients as desired.

 

The first recipe makes a festive cookie:

Minty Chocolate Crinkles

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1-1/4 tsp peppermint extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup peppermint candies
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar

 

Combine oil, cooled chocolate and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Stir in extracts. Add blended flour/salt/baking powder. Chill dough several hours or overnight.

Grind peppermint candies in coffee mill until reduced to a powder. Measure 1/4 cup peppermint candy powder and mix with powdered sugar in a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll teaspoonfuls of dough into balls. Roll in the powdered mixture until well-coated. Place 2″ apart on a greased baking sheet and bake 10 minutes — they will look underbaked. Cool on tray for 2 minutes and remove to a wire rack. Makes 72.

 

The second recipe makes a frugal Christmas cookie:

Molasses Spice Cookies

  • 1-1/2 cups shortening
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp EACH of baking soda, ground ginger, cloves and cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and molasses, blending well. Add dry ingredients and mix slowly to combine. Place spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet, about 2” apart. Bake 8-9 minutes. Makes 48.

 

The next Christmas cookie is a fancy cookie (er, candy):

Nut Brittle

  • 1 cup dry roasted salted peanuts
  • 1 cup pistachios
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp honey

 

Line a rimmed baking sheet with Silpat or buttered parchment paper (do not use wax paper!). In a heavy saucepan, mix all ingredients over medium-high heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it becomes a nice amber color and thickens — about 10 minutes. You will know you are done when you smell the first hint of burnt sugar, so pay attention!

Quickly pour onto the baking sheet and spread to cover. Cool for 4 minutes and then score the brittle with a pizza cutter or sharp knife into about 36 pieces. Once it has cooled completely, snap along scored marks.

Note: Good with other varieties of nuts, but be sure to include some peanuts.

Options: Add 1/2 tsp espresso powder for a coffee brittle (with hazelnuts). Scatter chocolate chips over warm brittle; press in or spread when melted.

 

The fourth recipe features a family-friendly Christmas cookie:

Chocolate Marshmallow Sandwiches

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 24 large marshmallows
  • sugar for rolling

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in corn syrup, egg, and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture. Beat at low speed, scraping down bowl. Refrigerate 15 minutes.

Place 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow dish. Form tablespoons of dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place 3 inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake 10-11 minutes or until set. Cool completely on a wire rack.

On a paper plate, invert one cookie, top with a marshmallow and microwave for 12 seconds (or until marshmallow is hot). Immediately press another cookie, flat side down, to form a sandwich. Makes 24.

 

And the final Christmas cookie recipe makes a fun cookie — the afore-mentioned Oreo truffle. These are pure evil:

Oreo Truffles

  • 18 ounces Oreo cookies
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 14 ounces chocolate candy coating
  • sprinkles, nuts, white chocolate

 

Cover a cookie sheet with waxed paper. Crush cookies in a food processor until fine. Dice cream cheese and add to food processor. Process until no streaks of cream cheese are visible. Transfer to a bowl and chill 45 minutes.

Make small balls using a cookie dough scoop and place on baking sheet. Chill 15 minutes. Melt the chocolate (microwave or double boiler). Dip chilled candy balls into chocolate coating and return to the sheet. Chill until set, then store in the fridge in an airtight container. Makes 30.

 

One of these days, I really will compile a GRS cookbook. (Maybe Trent and I could join forces.) I’d love to share the favorites from our kitchen. (Well, it’s mostly Kris’ kitchen, of course. I’m mainly just there to chop onions and make clam chowder.)

Until then, what are your favorite Christmas cookie (and candy) recipes? Do you have any special traditions that go with the baking — or the sharing? Are any of your Christmas cookies especially frugal? Share your tips below!

(And don’t forget to leave out a plate of cookies for Santa!)

Photo by Ana Branca.

Willamette Valley Weather Rules-of-Thumb

When I got out of bed and came downstairs this morning, the floor was cold. I opened the door to let the cats in, and the air outside was cold. I started run my bath, and the water was cold. “It’s that time of year,” I thought. “As soon as Thanksgiving has passed, as soon as we hit the first of December, the cold sets in.”

I think the same thing every year. In fact, as I soaked in the hot tub, I realized that I have a bunch of “weather rules-of-thumb” that I’ve developed after 40 years of living in and around Portland:

  • The rain sets in about October 15th. Late October and early November are soggy.
  • November can be windy (though this really hasn’t been true over the past decade).
  • The cold sets in around December 1st and lasts into early February. (Though it’s intermittent until early March.)
  • If we’re going to get snow, it’ll usually be during the six weeks running from just after Christmas to the first part of February. (This has been blown away in recent years, though, as we’ve had heavy snowfall before Christmas and random dustings in mid-March.)
  • There’s a high chance of snow during the first week of February.
  • By mid-February, we get some nice days. By early March, we’ve got meteorological spring: It’s warm and wet.
  • Average lost frost is around April 15th — but to be really safe, you shouldn’t plant out your tomatoes until May 1st.
  • The rain lingers until about June 15th. (That gives us an eight month rainy season, if you’re scoring at home.)
  • June is lush and gorgeous.
  • The first hot days come at the end of June, around Kris’ birthday.
  • Late July and early August are hot. The heat lingers until Labor Day.
  • September and early October are warm and dry.
  • The rain sets in again around October 15th — and we do it all over again.

Okay, Oregonians. Which of these do you agree with? Can they be refined? What rules of thumb do you go by when considering the weather in your area?

Do Cats Love Water?

None of our cats drinks water the same way. Simon prefers to drink from the toilet. Max likes to drink from the sink — and from the faucet, if it’s running. Nemo drinks from the “kitty fountain” we bought for the spoiled brats. So does Toto, but apparently she doesn’t know how to do it right. Every time she uses the fountain, she comes away with a wet head.

Despite her wet head, Toto has nothing on this cat, who may be the world’s most inefficient drinker:

That’s Kris’ favorite video lately. She can watch it over and over, laughing the whole time. She shows it to friends and family. I admit it’s funny stuff. But there are other cats who are goofy with water. For example, here’s a cat just hanging around in the bathtub:

Here’s a cat content to lounge in a sink full of water:

Here’s a cat in the shower!

And as a cat, what do you do when you’re done playing in the water? You have your human give you a blow-dry, of course:

Cats are so goofy…

1000 Days of Doubt

I think I’ve figured out one reason writing this book is so tough for me. It’s because I’m wracked by self-doubt.

This self-doubt isn’t new. I’ve been struggling with it for years, and it’s just become more acute since I started Get Rich Slowly. I never set out to be a personal finance expert. In fact, I’m sort of the opposite of an expert. I’m an average guy who’s made a lot of mistakes. Sure, I’ve turned things around and that’s what I blog about, but I struggle with the idea that people expect me to know more than I do (or have more training than I do).

And so every day at Get Rich Slowly, I brace myself for failure. A part of me thinks, “This is the day. Today everyone will realize that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I’m just a regular joe.” I wake up every morning expecting to find tons of negative comments about whatever it is I’ve written. (Or whatever my guest writers have written.)

For over three years — for over a thousand days — I’ve wrestled with daily doubt.

Kris has tried to talk some sense into me. So has Lauren, my wellness coach. “You don’t claim to be anything but a regular guy,” they say. “Nobody expects you to be an expert.”

Lauren tries to trace my thought process. “Did the blog collapse today? Yesterday? At any time over the past three years? Why should today be any different? How can you look at a thousand days of success and still expect to fail?”

I don’t know, but every day I do. I think that today will be the day that I fail.

“And if you do fail today, so what?” she asks.

Anyhow, the thousand days of doubt at the blog is one beast. I understand it. I know that it rears its ugly head every night before I go to bed, and that I tackle it head on every morning when I check to be sure everything’s okay. It’s a daily cycle — one that I know by heart.

But the book…the book takes this doubt and fear of failure to whole new levels. At least with the blog, I get immediate feedback. If I say something stupid, people let me know. If I stumble on something that resonates with readers, I can see it right away. I’m able to make constant course corrections. Not so with the book.

As I write it, my audience for the manuscript is small: Kris, my editor, two tech reviewers, and occasional folk that I let read a chapter for whatever reason. This is a tiny tiny sample size. And they’re looking at work I did days or weeks (or months!) ago. I have no chance to make course corrections.

And so every day I sit down to write the book, I drown in doubt:

  • Does money really bring happiness? What if I have my facts wrong?
  • Should I really be defining S.M.A.R.T. goals, or does everybody know them?
  • Should I include a detailed budget, or is it okay to cover the general idea?
  • Am I giving too much detail about frugality? Not enough?
  • What the hell should I write about banking?

It’s true that I’m proud of a few chapters (happiness, which required a lot of research; debt, which summarizes my philosophy on the subject and contains lots of useful resources; income, which came out much better than I’d planned), but I also loathe a few, as well (frugality, which is so damn big!; banking, which started fine, but which seems incoherent to me now).

Every day, my stomach is tied in knots as I start to write. Will I do this subject justice? Have I included enough useful tips for the readers? There’s so much to cover — what if I leave out the wrong stuff?

In the end, I have to trust my editor. She’s been awesome so far, and she provides an excellent sounding board. She puts up with my neurotic angst (as does Kris, who is earning a million wife points through this whole process). And I have to admit to myself:

I’m doing the best I can considering the circumstances.

What more could I possibly do? If my best isn’t good enough, there’s nothing that can be done, right? So, if I’m doing my best, why worry? But I know that tomorrow I’ll wake again filled with doubt.

Face-Off with a Deadly Predator

True to my word, I’m here to bring you another story of animal intelligence. Lisa sent me a story of animal semi-intelligence yesterday, but this one’s more what I have in mind when I think of the subject. It’s all about a National Geographic photographer coming face-to-face with a deadly predator:

I love stories about inter-species communication, and there’s no doubt that’s what’s occurring here. The best part, though, is when other animals consider humans the stupid ones.

Cats Cats Cats. And More Cats.

So, I suspect most of you have already seen this fun YouTube clip of the ninja cat who seems to move without moving (if you get my drift):

Well, here’s a follow-up that shows the same cat’s ninja secrets:

It’s been a while since I gave an update on my own feline companions. Let’s examine each in turn:

Simon
Simon Loves Kris' Lap

Simon has become a mellow lug. He’s about seven now, and though he still enjoys Outside, he’d almost prefer to stay in most days. He’s quite fond the clothes basket. In fact, Kris has created a basket of clothes just for Simon. She even washes them once they get too furry. Simon loves cereal milk. That cat is spoiled.

Max
Max is Very Serious

Max, however, is convinced that he’s meant to live Outside. He comes in to say “hello”, but then he wants right back out. He even stays out many nights. I’m paranoid that he’s going to get run over. We have a very low traffic street, but Max takes unnecessary risks. He doesn’t look before crossing — which he does often — but just darts across. Max loves human food of all sorts. That cat is spoiled.

Nemo
Nemo

I used to think Nemo was lame. In fact, I still think he’s pretty lame. But I’ve decided that I’m underestimating him. He’s a much better hunter than I give him credit for, that’s for sure. He’s kind of a jerk, too, though. For whatever reason, he’s decided that the best thing in the world is to beat up Max. We came down one morning last week to discover tufts of grey fur floating around the floor. But Nemo’s favorite thing is to curl in Kris’ lap while she watches Edwardian costume dramas. That cat is spoiled.

Toto
Toto and TS

Toto is basically a giant hairball. She licks herself constantly, which she has to do because she’s always shedding. I’m surprised she has any fur left. She spends most of her day on the bed when we let her, which isn’t often because she throws up a hairball once or twice a week. Toto’s favorite thing in the whole world are the three “greenies” cat snacks that Kris gives her before bed every night. Then we turn out the lights and she cuddles up between us, purring like crazy. That cat is spoiled.

And that, my friends, is all the cat news I can spare. Now I need to get back to writing my book!

Is There a Generation Gap in Saving?

I’m old-school: I went to the bank to make a deposit today. (I make most of my deposits in person, inside the branch.) While I waited, I chatted with the teller, whom I know from many previous visits. “I’m writing a book about money,” I told him. “What’s the one thing you wish you could tell people about banking?”

Save!” he said. He told me there’s a huge generation gap between savers and spenders. “The people who save are generally older. They don’t look like they have money, but they do. They’ve got a ton in their savings account and they chase the best CD rates. But the reason they have money is because they didn’t spend it when they were younger. They’ve been able to let it grow.”

“And that’s not what kids today are doing?” I asked.

“No way,” he said. “The young people I see spend all their money. They’re trying to impress their friends. They buy all this new stuff. Their bank balances are always low. They’re not going to have money saved like the older generation does.”

Then he gave me another great example. “There are people who come in here and you can see why they have money. You look at their account history, and the only thing that comes out is the big stuff, like their mortgage or their utilities. There aren’t a lot of $5 or $6 transactions.”

I laughed and said, “I’ll bet most people have tons of little stuff.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’s all little stuff. But it’s that little stuff that kills you. That’s what will make it so you don’t have anything saved when you’re older.”

Before I left, I asked him if he had any tips or tricks I should put in my chapter on banking. We talked about a couple of ideas, and then he came up with something moderately clever (though it applies to just a few people): “If you’re going to overdraw your account,” he said. “Do it all at once.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, let me give you an example. The other day, a lady called me to complain about overdraft fees. She’d been hit with a bunch of them at the same time. But when I looked at her transactions, I couldn’t believe it. She’d gone to the same grocery store four times on the same day, so she was hit with four overdraft fees. If she’d just gone once, she’d still have overdrawn her account — but only once.”

The teller also mentioned that nobody seems to know their bank balance anymore. “They don’t use a check register,” he said, “so they have to call to ask how much they have. But the problem is that what we show you have and what you actually have can be two very different things. It can take up to a week for some transactions to show up. You should track your spending, and not just trust what the ATM says.”

I thanked the teller — who looks like he’s 25, by the way — and left.

I wonder if it’s true that there’s a generation gap in saving. Has the older generation always saved? Or did they start out trying to impress their friends, too? I feel like I’m at a middle point, moving from the “spend to impress” mode of operating to a “who cares what other people think?” way of life. The latter is more liberating and it helps my bank balance.

I’m going to try to find time to interview my neighbor for my book’s banking chapter. I think she’s a manager at a nearby bank. I’d be curious to see what advice she has for people. But really, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of fancy things you can do with a bank account. As long as you’re saving, you’ve shopped around for a good account, and you’re not afraid to ask to have fees waived, I think you’re golden!