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Giving the Gift of Presence

Kathleen Byars | December 23, 2016

Baking Midwestern farm cookies at Christmas are a tradition in our family. My grandmother used to bake huge, soft circular discs and stuff a mixture of fruits, nuts, and dates in between two of them to create a ginormous sugar cookie sandwich. I am told she fed these to her four, strapping sons when they come home from the farm fields at lunch time.

My mother and her sister carried on the tradition; each taking turns every Christmas to bake multiple batches and ship one-half of the batch to the other sister, thus saving her the labor until next year. As a child, I remember my excitement at receiving the special box of cakey sugar cookies in the mail from my Aunt, each ablaze with bright-colored frosting, long before the toxic effects of Yellow 5 and Red 40 food colorings were known.

And I wistfully recall many beautiful holiday afternoons baking and frosting our own batch of cookies with my mom, who is no longer with us.

Six years ago, our family became grain-free and I stopped baking these delightful little memories. While we have found many alternatives to other family recipes, this very special cookie recipe, replete with Crisco shortening and cup after cup of gluten-y flour, has no substitute.

Yet, as I surveyed the landscape of this year’s holiday season, I decided that baking memories is exactly what I – and my boys – needed.vintage-pyrex-bowls I unearthed my grandmother’s wooden pastry board and my mother’s vintage Pyrex mixing bowls. I bought real flour. And food coloring. And, god forbid, Crisco.

I put down my cell phone; crumpled up my to-do list; and closed the door on the room full of unwrapped presents. I gathered my exuberant, bouncing little boys into the kitchen and we made Grandma’s Midwestern Farm Cookies. As the eldest pounded the dough into submission and my littlest rolled out crooked shapes, I told the boys stories about my mom – the grandmother my boys will never know – and how grateful I am to share this family tradition with each of them.

As the first batch of sugary cookies hit the baking rack to cool, and the smell hit my younger son’s senses, he piped up, “I’m pretty sure your mom was a baking genius!” I laughed.

I whipped up a batch of confectioner sugar frosting and asked the boys to each choose two vibrant colors. We ended up with very un-Christmas-y lime green, hot pink, turquoise blue, and deep purple cookies. The boys added sprinkles and our cookie tradition was complete.

We each sampled one and then delivered the rest around town; creating our own special twist on sharing and sending love.soft-sugar-cookies-7

Sifting through my emails this holidays season, I am bombarded with messages offering me a long list of special offers, sales, and last-minute opportunities to purchase holiday presents. While I like a good sale as much as the next gal, what I am really honored to be giving my family this year is my presence, not presents.

I am giving my family the gift of putting down my cell phone, shutting off the computer, and setting an auto-responder on emails. I am not rushing to set next year’s goals or trying to “get a jump on the competition” by working straight through the holiday season. Instead, you’ll find me knee-deep in Legos, curled up next to my husband on the couch with a book, or jumping outside with the boys on our new trampoline. Savoring every single moment.

We spend so much of our lives focused on success and getting ahead. Yet, living a life of deep meaning and personal satisfaction is about balance, prioritizing time, and appreciating the moment. That’s what I’ll be doing for the next week. Giving my family my undivided presence.

While I wish you much success in 2017; right now I wish you the gift of creating moments with your own family or friends this holiday season. May your holiday be beautiful and full of memories!


I believe we all have a bit of trailblazer inside us, don’t you? It’s my passion to help others create change. I’ve always found that disrupting the status quo leads to an amazing life where nothing is impossible.

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