LifeStyle & Health

Episode #124: The Holiday Decor Debate

This week, we are chatting about the best time to put up holiday decor (and if it’s alright to intermingle with Thanksgiving). Elsie gives an Elf-on-the-Shelf pep talk for all the tired moms out there, and we answer a listener’s question about our favorite experience-based gifts to give.

-Ideas for experience-based gifts: memberships, advent calendars, gourmet desserts, fancy wine, handmade coffee mugs, and travel mugs.

Emma: You’re listening to the Beautiful Mess Podcast. Happy Thanksgiving to all our American listeners and to everyone else, happy cozy season. This week we’re chatting about the intermingling of thanksgiving and holiday decor, our favorite experience-based gifts to give, and Elsie’s Elf on the Shelf pep talk for all the tired moms out there.

Elsie: Hell yeah. I’m excited about all these subjects. This is all great content.

Emma: This is A+ content.

Elsie: Yeah. Okay, so how’s your week been Em?

Emma: Good. Really good. I got my tree up in my office. We will probably talk a little about that. But yeah, I want to hear about a year Elf on the Shelf pep talk. Let’s hear this pep talk.

Elsie: I have a three point pep talk prepared.

Emma: Elf on the shelf TED talk.

Elsie: If anyone ever gets booked for an Elf on the Shelf TED talk, it’s going to be this lady. So every year people send me messages that are basically like, ewww but it’s so annoying or eww but it’s so much work. This is my Elf on the Shelf pep talk because I actually love it. I love the elf. We have a lot of little tricks that I think might be helpful if you need a little break or two. Our kids love it. It’s so magical in our house but it is very intense. Is it a lot of effort? Sure. It is. There’s no way around that. So here’s my top three tips. First of all, this is the most important one I think, it does not have to be elaborate. So every year, these people know I love the Elf on the Shelf, people send me these Pinterest memes, where it’s someone who sewed a whole closet of clothing for the elf or the thing where do you freeze that elf in an ice cube or a toy in an ice cube. There’s like an Elsa doll, things like this. I personally think there’s no reason to ever go that hard and that’s my very strong stance. Here’s the thing, it just makes it harder on you. I think that if you keep the bar low, then there’s so much joy to be had in the simplicity of the elf moves, he sitting in the Christmas tree, he’s sitting on the chandelier. The next day he’s sitting in the cake stand on the kitchen island and things like this. So that’s my number one tip if you’re like Emma and you have a little baby, and your time has not come yet, I think I can really help you with that one alone. The second one, so this one actually came from Jeremy, he thought of this one. It’s that sometimes the elf needs to go back to the North Pole for a couple of days. He has a lot of work to do. He has some messages to deliver. He has many other reasons because that’s his home base. Sometimes he needs to just go for a couple of days or if you start really early like us, maybe like a week. So that is a good tip. The other tip in sort of the same vein is our elf frequently takes a nap. So what he does is, we come into the kitchen and we find him laying there next to the butter dish with a cloth napkin blanket on, turned away, clearly sleeping in the sleep posture. He might stay like that for several days and that’s not within our control. We don’t know when he’s gonna wake up. We know that he will. We’re excited for it but we don’t know when it’s gonna happen and that’s a nice little break. My last tip, I think this is like, pretty freaking obvious but just own it if you haven’t owned this one yet own it. So the answer when your kid asks you a question, the answer is always the same. One answer and that is, how would I know? We don’t know. We don’t know. It could be any reason. We don’t know. You don’t have to explain everything that the elf does to your kid. Just say you don’t know every time and you’re off the hook forever. All right, Pep Talk accomplished. Are you planning to participate? Are you going to take on this tradition when maybe Oscar gets a little bit bigger?

Emma: Well, that’s exactly my question. What age do you think Elf on the Shelf should kick in like three, four?

Elsie: I think three is a great age to start. The way it comes with a book and the book has a certificate in it where the child gets to name the elf. I think they need to be old enough to do that. I think three or four is a great age. I think we started when Nova was three. Oh, here’s one more tip. This is a bonus. I personally think and I’ve heard from a lot of parents, I think one elf per household is enough. So if you haven’t already, some people end up with three kids, three elves and that’s a lot more commitment. It’s a lot more. In my opinion, nothing wrong with one elf per household, just to keep it simple. Do you have any more questions?

Emma: Yeah. Sounds like as we’re recording this spoiler, it’s November 17th, sounds like you’ve already started. Right?

Elsie: Yes.

Emma: Is that normal? What’s the normal starting time?

Elsie: We’ve always done it this way. The first year, my mom texted me and said, way too early, big mistake. In our house, the elf basically comes as soon as Halloween is over. It’s every person’s decision. Like I said at the beginning, I’m an enthusiast on this. Our kids love it. It makes me happy. It’s a joyful thing all around, like mostly pros, really no cons. So I think after Thanksgiving is a perfectly great time, which is probably more what most people do. But we had basically like a two week long break from preschool because of a COVID thing. That was when our elf came because we needed a little more joy in our house for a moment and he brought the joy.

Emma: Makes sense. How do you end it? Is it Christmas day in your household or does Candy, the elf, go home, deliver the presence with Santa then hitches a ride on the sleigh back to the North Pole? So he’s not their Christmas.

Elsie: I think that’s what it is, is he leaves on the sleigh. So he’s gone Christmas morning.

Emma: And that works for you? They’re not super sad, I guess they’re kind of distracted by Christmas Day.

Elsie: It is the perfect time for him to go. He’s fulfilled his purpose because one of the purposes of an elf, and I know people have sort of different opinions about this, but one of the purposes of the elf is that he’s checking in to see how the kids are behaving. I know some people think it’s like really, really, really bad to let your kids think that they’re accountable to an elf. I don’t know. Personally like being someone raised with the idea of hell in my life, I personally don’t think it’s that big of a deal. But to each their own and I get it, I get that point of view, I think.

Emma: Everybody can raise their kids how they feel is right, that sounds good to me. So as you’re giving your Elf on the Shelf TED talk, I guess what I was thinking was, so some people, like you get really excited about a dollhouse, and they want to decorate the dollhouse and its kind of like 50% for your kids, 50% for you. Do you know what I mean? It actually brings a lot of joy to you in your life. Me personally, dollhouse sounds great haven’t done that yet but I’m very into my skeletons at Halloween as you know.

Elsie: They’re pretty much like a doll house for you.

Emma: I love to pose them I like to think about what I’m going to do with them each year. I love the idea that they would move around the house so I feel like I’ll probably in a few years when Oscar is big enough to love this Elf on the Shelf thing. I hope he loves it because it sounds fun to me. It sounds basically like Halloween skeletons but like a tiny elf.

Elsie: I really think if you set your bar for yourself properly, there’s no downside. For me there’s no downside because like I said earlier, there are always little ways to give yourself a break if you need it. No big deal. No pressure. On the days when this is a big deal to a lot of people or where people get hung up if the elf forgets to move. Do you know what I mean? Your kid wakes up and he’s in the same place. How would I know? Right?

Emma: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. The elf is being weird.

Elsie: We don’t know. We don’t know the magic of elves. We just know we don’t touch it no matter what at all costs. It’s really cute though. It really is. I’m so happy to raise children in the time of history of Elf on the Shelf. When I was a kid, we didn’t have that. I don’t think it was, I think it was invented maybe in the late 90s or something or the early 2000s after we were past our phase. I don’t know maybe the 2000s but it’s wonderful.

Emma: Yeah, I don’t remember it at all as a kid. I don’t remember other kids having it either. So I don’t feel like it was invented yet. Obviously, we had Santa. I remember that cuz that’s a whole charade to keep up.

Elsie: It’s a genius toy.

Emma: Yeah. Cool.

Elsie: Wonderful. Okay, well, that was fun. Let’s move on to our next segment. So every year, I’m so surprised by the kind of heated comments that we get about how decorating for Christmas, quote-unquote early, which I will point out is relative, how that is skipping over Thanksgiving. Or you’re missing out or you’re taking away from it. So, first of all, I think all longtime listeners of A Beautiful Mess podcast have already heard my rant about how American Thanksgiving is on the wrong day. It’s in the wrong month. It should be in October, like Canadian Thanksgiving, and I feel very strongly about this. If anyone’s in legislature, and they can help. I mean, I’m joking, but I am serious. I really wish it was in October because I think that the right time for Thanksgiving is right before Halloween. Then you know, your fall decor could intermingle. I think, that Christmas, this is my opinion, everyone gets their own. My opinion is that Christmas decor takes a long time to set up and it’s really magical. I want my full two months of twinkle lights.

Emma: Yeah, I am the same. I feel like one month of Christmas decor up in your house is not enough so I want to put it up early, quote-unquote early. Also, like for me, especially this year, but even past years, it takes a while just to set it all up. I kind of like every Saturday or Sunday pulling out another little box from my basement and setting things up. You know what I mean?

Elsie: I love that too.

Emma: It’s not just like a one day, boom, we went from Halloween to Christmas. It doesn’t really work that way for me at my house. So for me, it’s kind of a slow transition of the very spooky Halloween stuff goes away right after Halloween but I leave pumpkins out. That’s kind of fall time, it turns into kind of fall time. Then I’ll start to kind of put Christmasy stuff up with the fall stuff and then eventually I kind of as I bring up more Christmas stuff from the basement, I take down more pumpkins and other things. So it’s like this slow transition. So to me, Thanksgiving is just the in-between, of all of that. It is its own thing but also like I don’t personally have a ton of just like turkey decor, I don’t know.

Elsie: That’s the thing, if Thanksgiving decor is basically the same as Halloween without the spooky, so it’s like the pumpkins, the leaves, the leaf garlands, I do support leaving that up for longer. But for me, I’m going to do it just in my dining room, which is where Thanksgiving takes place so around that area. I can understand if you want it to be like all fall timey still until Thanksgiving. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with if you’re a person who puts lights on the outside of your house, you want to like get your bang out of that buck, whether you’re paying for it, or you’re spending your Saturday up on the ladder. It’s a significant investment for people to do that. I don’t think they should have to feel like they can only have them up for 25 days. We’re very passionate about this topic. Okay, so yeah, I I like to intermingle. So last year, I hosted Thanksgiving. If you can kind of remember, I don’t know if you do, I had fall stuff in the dining room but you could also see Christmas trees because our living area is kind of open. You could see some Christmas and some fall at the same time and for me, that’s fine. I like that.

Emma: It feels like you’re going to a Christmas play and you’re just backstage. You’re seeing a bunch of peaks and things are coming out and that’s Thanksgiving, it’s like the backstage of it.

Elsie: I agree.

Emma: Which I like.

Elsie: Also, I want to add the I love your idea of adding a little bit of Christmas every week. I think that in my new lifestyle without Collin that is much more realistic for me. For me, it’s kind of like room by room. The first thing we did was that little breakfast room with the snowflakes. The reason why I picked that one first was because it was the only living space where the floors weren’t being done. So it was like not going to be dusty and you know, sacred. I did lose my cabinet bows though so that is a big problem.

Emma: I saw that. That was sad. Yeah, that’s a bummer.

Elsie: Yeah, but I’m really sad about it.

Emma: Was that the first thing you were going to do after Halloween? Do you have like, oh, this is the first thing I gotta get rid of the skeletons or whatever it is?

Elsie: I’m just gonna be honest with you. So it’s what November 17th, I still haven’t taken down my skeletons in the pool. I don’t have my shit together very well.  So I’m kind of in your point of view. We’re remodeling this year, so I’m not expecting it to be like a perfectly curated Christmas. I’m more like, the best I can do is great. I still have some pumpkins on the porch because I think I mean, that’s fine, right? It’s not Thanksgiving. I think the intermingling is great. I think that people take too hard of a stance especially since whenever a blogger decorates their house for Christmas early, what does that take away from your life? You know what I’m saying.

Emma: I feel like I’m just happy that that’s our biggest problem. That’s what people are angry about. I’m like, oh, that’s great. That’s great because it could be so much bigger things in the world could be going on. If that’s like the thing that you’re really mad about, like that means nothing bad is really happening in your world so good for you. That’s great.

Elsie: That’s true. Do you decorate your house for Thanksgiving at all or do you just take away some of the Halloween or is there anything you add for Thanksgiving?

Emma: I basically do the transition of take away the spooky and leave all the fall time stuff. I also, my very first thing was I wanted to take down my Halloween mugs because they are spooky. I do like a little mini mug collection. I store them in the basement and there’s really no point in taking all the Halloween ones off the shelf and not putting the Christmas ones up. So I went ahead and did that. I got a ton of Santa mugs sitting on my shelf right now and I have for two or three weeks. Christmas is slowly starting to come in. I had a blog post due, some Instagram campaign stuff due in my living room, and so I did all that. Our living room is extra, our mantel and just the tree that’s by the TV, super Christmasy in there, but the front living room where you first walk in and it’s right by Oscars room, it’s very Autumn. There’s still pumpkins out and stuff. It’s a very transitional thing. Then in my office here, as you can see, I put the tree up and it was basically because I was already down in the basement. So each each trip, I would take stuff down and bring stuff up that’s my method. So I brought the tree up.

Elsie: She’s got the tree but it doesn’t have a skirt. It doesn’t have any ornaments on it. So it’ll probably be a progression.

Emma: I might not even add anything or get anything done with it until after Thanksgiving. I don’t know but I at least had the moment to get this out of the basement so I did and put it up. That’s where I’m at. So that’s sort of like my method. It’s not even just mom thing or pressed for time thing, it’s also just like, I have quite a bit of stuff that accumulates over time. As bloggers, we we tend to do a lot of content and a lot of sponsored content this time of year, which is actually really, really fun. But it just means you have certain portions of your house that are kind of like a little set for a minute or two and you can’t move anything and it needed to be a certain way and you’re waiting for it to get approved so that you can move something around and you don’t need to reshoot so there’s like vignettes of that throughout your house. That’s sort of the nature of it. I don’t really have anything that’s just Thanksgiving decor per se, but I’ll definitely be keeping my dining room very autumn. I guess that’s my vibe. It’s just like autumn stuff. We have a Friendsgiving. It couldn’t happen until, I think December 6. It’s quite a bit after Thanksgiving, but that’s when we’re doing our Friendsgiving and it’s gonna be just a fun meal with some friends, but it’ll probably feel a little Christmassy because that’s just like the time that worked for everyone. So there you go.

Elsie: Intermingle.

Emma: Why not?

Elsie: Is there anything that you specifically think should be saved until after Thanksgiving?

Emma: No.

Elsie: I can go first. Okay, so for me, there’s no decor that I wouldn’t put up early.  I do tend to be like it’s because I’m a blogger because that’s like my excuse. But I remember specifically that when I was like 21-year-old child married Elsie, that I put my Christmas tree up as soon as Halloween was over too. So I’ve always been this way. I would always be this way. It’s not just because of blogging. The thing I think that for me that I want to save until after Thanksgiving is recipes, anything with candy canes, our baking marathon even making the Chex mix for me I think is better to keep that all between Thanksgiving And Christmas like in that month zone. Just so that it’s not like too much, although I will admit that I already made Christmas pie like little hand pies with my kids. That’s because they’re like loving baking right now. Bend a little rule here and there whatever. Marigold asked me this morning when she first woke up, the last thing she said before she went to sleep and the first thing she said when she woke up was, can we make pies today, so we’re definitely gonna make pies tonight little pop tarts.

Emma: That’s cute. Oscar never asks to bake because he can’t talk.

Elsie: Your time is coming. I can’t wait for you to hear what the kids wanted to buy Oscar for Christmas. It’s so cool. I’m letting them pick all their own gifts. And they’re so funny. Emma’s gifts are the funniest though in my opinion. They’re so weird.

Emma: Speaking of gift ideas, and also things you do after Thanksgiving. I did this last year and I’m doing a little of it this year, but very into advent calendars. And of course, you can make your own like Elsie has a beautiful one on the blog. We’ve multiple ones but it’s a really beautiful one I think the post is called Heirloom Advent Calendar. You can kind of fill it with your own things, but you can also buy them and I think you put together a gift guide of Advent Calendars. I saw it on Instagram. I don’t really run the Instagram guys.

Elsie: Okay, so I found some really cute ones. I will link these in the show notes, anything that’s still available. But Jeremy and I went to the world market and we got the 12 days of noodles, which is 12 different Ramens, which is so fun and perfect for our family. Then one of the ones that was so funny was a sex Advent. I think it was the whole 24 days or whatever. It was like, little sex challenges, sort of like a little message like a fortune cookie-sized, a prompt. Then there were other ones. I’ve heard a warning from a lot of people that the 12 days or the advent of wine can be kind of gross, kind of like the sugary unless you like love sugary wine, which many people do, but I wouldn’t want that. So I did skip that one. But I put pretty much every other kind of funny Advent. There was one that was croc charms like Christmas-themed croc charms for your crocs. Anyways, I will put those in the show notes because I do think they’re really funny.

Emma: Yeah, I love an Advent even just a simple one that’s like a tiny piece of chocolate each day. I love it. But we’re doing, Trey and I, are doing the David’s Tea, tea advent. We do the caffeine-free one so that we can have it any time of day because we do usually at night after Oscar goes to sleep that we’ll do it so I’m doing that one. That’s kind of something that doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving. I also think it makes a really good gift. We’re going to talk more about gifts in another segment. But buying that’s what I did for the family last year because our family, we do like gifts for the kiddos, but we don’t always do gifts for each other. It’s just not necessary. But last year, I got everyone an advent calendar. I think that’s kind of a fun thing because you use it up.

Elsie: I want to tell everyone that Advent that you got me for my birthday this year.

Emma: I didn’t know it arrived yet so I wasn’t gonna say anything.

Elsie: It’s so cute. It is a book and then the front of it has like little peep holes, little things to peek under. Why can’t I say it like tabs? It is an advent of cookie recipes and I think it is 24. So it’s all the way up till Christmas. It has a lot, and I love the baking marathon, it’s my favorite thing. We’ve talked about that a lot. I’m sure we’ll talk about it a lot more this month. I’m really excited to make, did you see the reindeer cookies?

Emma: No, it didn’t show all the cookies on the website as I was buying it but I just thought you and your girls might like that one. It could be something that maybe you could use in coming years to so I just thought it would, I don’t know. I was like, I hope these cookies are good. I can’t really see but I think this one will be cute.

Elsie: It’s really cute. And I mean, learning to make a new kind of Christmas cookie every year I think is a great thing if you enjoy baking because there’s endless recipes you can try. Every year I make a list of all the recipes I want to try and you know it’s like some that you do every year and then some new ones. I never get through all of the lists, like it’s impossible. I can’t wait to make the Raider ones. They have like little pretzel horns. So cute.

Emma: Going back to the decor, what about anything new. Do you have anything new you’re doing for the year? Last year, I felt the new thing was the train. You did a little train around your tree. Love that. So what’s the deal this year?

Elsie: I have a really fun one this year. So the little candles, the clip-on candles, they’re plastic, they’re not real candles, but they kind of do look like it. They have a flickering setting and a solid setting. So I added those this year and I’ve already mentioned them, but I’ll put them in the show notes again because they’re really awesome. I really love using them. Then the thing that I’m adding this year, I’ve wanted this my whole adult life and I’ve never just taken the leap to buy one. It’s not expensive. It’s like $50, but it is a rotating Christmas tree base. So your Christmas tree is spinning around whenever you want it to. It’s so nostalgic. I think in the 50s and 60s, they had a light that shined on it too, it would mostly and the light would shine, but I’m just doing the rotating and I think our kids are really gonna like it. I’m really excited about it. So I’ll link in our show notes at abeautifulmesss.com/podcast, the rotating base that I chose. It can fit different trees in it so you don’t have to have any certain tree.

Emma: I love it so much.

Elsie: Yes. What about you? Have you added anything new or are you planning to?

Emma: I am. My goal is to just do some outdoor lights. That’s it. That’s the whole goal. I’m planning to do something very, very simple, that’s not necessarily crazy exciting. But something that I could leave up all year round, because I want to use it throughout this winter. I’m going from no outdoor lights, nothing to something. So for me, it’s very exciting. But as far as like, you know, someone who like goes all out and puts like a Santa’s sled with reindeer on their roof and all of that stuff like I’m not on that level yet. Maybe I’ll get there eventually. But this year, the goal is just some outdoor lights, I need to figure out how many to buy and how are they going to plug in and work like I have no idea.

Elsie: So yeah, that is really cool. I’m excited to see what you come up with. I have wanted to do outdoor lights and I think I’m going to finally do it next year. Because this year, I was like, I’ll do it next year but it’s a big commitment. I’m really excited eventually to do it. It’s so fun driving around with the kids and seeing everyone’s decorations so I do want to participate in that magic at some point.

Emma: I love it.

Elsie: Yeah. So I know your neighborhood is really, really enthusiastic about the holidays. So what kind of decorations do people in your neighborhood do because it’s like a historical neighborhood?

Emma: Yeah, It’s like the neighborhood where the houses are fairly close together. So you can get kind of like a lot of decor in on a walk. Honestly, they go ham for Halloween and then Christmas is like yeah, they do Christmas, but it’s like Halloween is kind of the deal.

Elsie: Okay, so no one’s going so crazy as they are for Halloween.

Emma: Yeah, Halloween is a little more, I think it’s because Halloween is so just funny and irreverent. I think it takes the pressure off and Christmas, the holidays, whatever you celebrate, I think people feel a little more like they don’t want to be silly as much. Although a lot of people are. But I will say, Jackie, who also works at A Beautiful Mess, her Street, at least a couple houses they do those really large inflatables, and I sort of love it. I love driving by it’s like a big scene. I really dig that. But people will do a lot of lights and stuff like that so it’ll be very, very pretty light.

Elsie: Nice. Well, for the pink house, which is really nearby your house, we filmed our holiday special there, which we’re going to talk about in an upcoming episode soon. We decorated it the day after Halloween, and we put snowflakes in every window, at least in every window in the front of the house. So every single window it feels like you’re in a snow globe inside of there and it’s so magical. I really had fun doing that. Whenever people ask me like what’s a budget-friendly decoration? I think that’s the number one best, most magical one at least for me because anyone can have a Christmas tree, but the snow flakes, and especially in our family, it’s like I’m doing it with my six-year-old. It is such a magical tradition to do every year.

Emma: Yeah. It looks great. I walked by your house pretty often and it just looks so cute with all the snowflakes in the windows.

Elsie: Thank you. Yeah, I think everyone should do it, especially if you have a smaller home or a smaller budget or, I mean, I did it in my big home too. It did take, I will be honest, it took like three weeks to get all the snowflakes made for all the windows. It was a little bit worse than one day.

Emma: Makes sense.

Elsie: Let’s talk about food for a little bit. So this week is Thanksgiving. I am staying in Tennessee, and you’re in Missouri this year, so we won’t be together. So let’s talk about the recipes we have on our menu. I want to hear if you have a recipe from the blog, that is like your number one non-negotiable, like every year. I know I have one. Also if you have things that you make the easy way, the sort of thing that you just buy at the grocery store and heat it up. I want to hear all that too because that’s realistic. I’m doing basically my whole Thanksgiving that way this year, and I love it.

Emma: I get that. So I have two recipes from the blog that we can link in the show notes that I’m really into. One is I’m a big green bean casserole person. It’s Trey’s favorite side dish at Thanksgiving. Mom asked me to make it for our Thanksgiving here in Missouri this year.  I made a version, it uses pepper jack cheese, so it’s a little bit spicy. You make it from scratch so there’s like fresh green beans in it. I made it for our very first Friendsgiving we did on the blog in like 2012 I think, maybe even 2011, I think it was 2012 though. I recently updated the photos and added a recipe card and all of that stuff and put it back on our homepage, which we have been doing a little bit more of this year, just because we have a giant archive of content. Sometimes I want to update the photos or make the post better but it’s kind of sad if nobody sees it. It’s just back there years and years buried in the archives. So then we put it back on the homepage, which is really fun. So that one pepper jack green bean casserole, which by the way, if you want to make green bean casserole the easy way, here’s what I do. Just the classic thing with the canned cream of mushroom soup and the french fried onions. But I use fresh green beans and I boil them ahead of time. I think you call it par-boil or para-boil, I don’t really know but you boil them for a little while till they get a little bit soft. Then you add it with the condensed soup and then the onions and bake it.  I would consider it basically like a halfway homemade way to do it. It’s really very easy, but I just don’t love it when green bean casserole is too mushy. So I really like the fresh green beans. They’re still very soft. They’re not crunchy. You didn’t cook them long enough if they’re crunchy but like just a little bit of texture. I don’t like a complete mush. I feel like that’s just eww to me.

Elsie: I know exactly what you’re saying. If I had to put one criticism on the Thanksgiving plate of food, it maybe would be too mushy, too many mushy things.

Emma: Exactly. You want some texture, a little bit. The other recipe is it’s a non-negotiable for me, which is baked macaroni and cheese. I love baked macaroni and cheese. It’s one of my favorite foods of all time. In our tattoo episode, I talked about how like one of my tattoos I was just dreaming about eating baked macaroni and cheese afterward. That’s how I deal with the pain. That’s the level of like, I love big macaroni and cheese. I have quite a few recipes of different versions of baked macaroni and cheese on our blog, so I can link a few of them. The one I made last year was really really good and it’s a baked macaroni cheese kind of classic and then it has stuffing topping. It’s like, kind of like two recipes in one and it’s really good. I’m into that one too and I don’t know a great way to hack like a baked macaroni and cheese as far as like just get a couple of cans of this and throw it together. I have to think on that if I ever come up with one I’ll definitely share it on the blog but I think it is best if you make it from scratch. It’s just worth it, some things it’s like yeah just buy the store-bought, whatever. for me baked macaroni and cheese it’s worth it, make it from scratch. So good.

Elsie: I completely agree. Baked mac and cheese compared to like my kids’ mac and cheese is like there is no comparison.

Emma: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, the box, forget it. I don’t even care.

Elsie: Okay, well, my two favorite blog recipes are different so that’s cool. The first one is stuffing meatballs. I basically am going to talk about it every year until we die, because it’s so good. I’ve convinced a lot of people to add it to their rotation every year and it’s a classic. It’s just really good. I personally love meatballs. One of my favorite Emma memories is that one time when we were a little bit younger, we used to go to New York kind of a lot for work. You know how on a work trip, you really basically get to do one fun thing like you can go to one store, or you can go to one restaurant. So one of the times she went with me to that famous meatball restaurant, and she was a vegetarian at that time so that’s true love. Anyway, I like the stuffing meatballs. They’re so good. Also, I like the one I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s like the cheesecake pumpkin pie where it’s like marble. I’ll link to them both in the show notes but it’s better than a pumpkin pie and better than a cheesecake in my opinion.

Emma: I agree. I love them mixed together. I feel like it’s the best of both worlds. It’s just so pretty because it’s marbled so it’s like a really pretty dessert to serve.

Elsie: I think I’m actually going to make it though in like a muffin tin. Do you think that would be good like little individuals? Because I thought that the marbling and getting it like beautiful as your picture was actually kind of hard. So I’m going to do it in little bits. I think that’ll be cuter for me.

Emma: Yeah, no, I think that’ll work great and tastes great. Obviously, it’ll look different, but like, that’s not a big deal.

Elsie: I think it’ll be good. As far as like the easy peasy, so I just basically bought every single thing at Trader Joe’s that was like, heat this up and it’s done situation.

Emma: Yep. Can I put it in an air fryer?

Elsie: Yes. I planted out so we can use both our little ovens and the crockpot and the air fryer. Hopefully, not the microwave and the stovetop we’ll use. I think it’ll be really fun. It’s our one thing of the year that we do with just our family in Tennessee and we’ve been doing it that way most years since we became parents. I think it’ll be special and fun for the kids too. I’ll hopefully be able to let them help. They said that they well, Marigold said that she only want to make pies, which is funny. No shame in just heating up a bunch of food and putting it on cute plates, because that’s what I’m gonna do. And I’m a professional, I have a cookbook, you know.

Emma: You sure do and you still heat stuff up. No big deal doesn’t matter, real life.

Elsie: I think that making that many things at once is the hardest thing about Thanksgiving.

Emma: I agree. Getting it so everything comes out hot at the same time, iskind of tricky. Yep.

Elsie: I don’t mind eating cold food occasionally but my husband’s like, really wants everything to be like the perfect temperature. We have to do it, I put more into that strategy than other strategies. Anyway, all right. It looks like we have a listener question from Kim in Cincinnati.

Voicemail: Hi, Elsie and Emma. This is Kim from Cincinnati. Love following your blog and listening to your podcasts every week. I have a question. I am getting ready to do some Christmas shopping and I’m very stuck on buying junk for people. How can I provide experiences instead of more plastic? So I’d love to know, what is the best experience-based gifts you’ve given and the best experience-based gifts you received? Would love to know. Thanks. Bye.

Elsie: I love this question. I think that this is a great goal for all of us to have as someone with little kids. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining in any way because it’s amazing how many people want to buy our kids a gift. It is kind of a lot of plastic sometimes and sometimes you can get too much of the same thing and our kids are not super into toys. So that makes it hard too because a lot of toys especially if it’s not something they don’t know what it is, they just don’t really ever play with it, and they just kind of skip over it. We end up donating a lot of Christmas gifts every year. As sad as that is, it’s true. I think giving experience-based gifts is a great idea. I love this idea for our teenage cousins. One of my favorite gifts I ever gave them was sleds and then they got to enjoy it because in Missouri it snows a lot after Christmas so it was like a perfect gift to give at that time. I think I’m going to get my kids to sled this year. I saw some cute ones I’ll link in the show notes. I think this year I am going to get a membership to our local Botanical Gardens called Cheekwood. That’s what I’m going to do for my experience gift for my family this year because they have events all year round. It’s a great place to take pictures. They have the big pumpkin house in the fall.  It’s just something to do, you can take picnics there and things like that. So I think that would be a good, a good thing to do. Get us out of the house and get some fresh air and things like that. What are your favorite experience gifts, Emma?

Emma: Yeah, so I kind of mentioned one already, which is the advent calendars. Sometimes it is a little bit of like an object or it comes in a big paper thing that you kind of have to pop open so there is an element of that. But I just feel like it’s something that’s more consumable, and you use it that year, and you enjoy it and you have like an experience and then it’s over. So advent calendars are fun. Another thing, I love to get this as a gift, and I often give this as a gift to which is food and alcohol.

Elsie: I love that. I mean, I love it when people bring me those little truffles or the popcorn or really any handmade little dessert is so fun that time of year.

Emma: Yeah, or a nice bottle of wine or a bottle of like a certain type of spirits that you like, or whatever, Askinosie chocolate or fancy chocolate, popcorn. Things like that, I think are really nice. Again, maybe it does come in some packaging, and you can look for options that might have less packaging. But for the most part, it’s something that you kind of use up in that sense, it’s more of an experience. A gift that I give a lot, which is an object, but it’s, just hear me out, is I’m really into giving mugs. So I love to give handmade mugs. This is something I’ve done for lots of past years for our staff gifts is I’ll, usually an Etsy seller or someone who does handmade mugs, we’ve worked with a few different people over the years. But I think it’s a fun way to support artists, but also mugs are very useful. It’s more about something that you’re going to reuse over and over. It’s not like a toy that gets used for like one season, maybe that kind of thing. If the person you’re gifting isn’t into handmade mugs, not everyone’s into that. Another good option is a travel mug, a really nice insulated travel mug. Because again, it’s something that whether you’re a coffee or tea drinker, you probably use it every single day, we do. We have like three insulated travel mugs, and we use them every single day. We don’t even really travel much, but it’s just like, I’ll get up or he’ll get up with Oscar because Oscar wakes up so early and the other person gets to sleep in, we switch off and whoever makes coffee, they put the other person’s coffee in one of the insulated mugs so it stays hot for when they finally get around to having it.

Elsie: I like to have mine for school drop off, to take in the car. I think those are great gift ideas. The point of it being something that’s useful, something that’s practical, or something that you’re going to use up, that’s not going to take up space. It’s so sad when someone gives you something, especially for me specifically for my kids, and then they never play with it. Then I end up donating it later or whatever. I think that that’s such a bummer. We should put some more ideas in the show notes for gifts that are experiences because I think that that’s such a good idea.

Emma: Yeah, I love it.

Elsie: Thanks so much for listening. 2021 has been an amazing year for our podcast, and we really feel more connected to you than ever so thank you for that. If you’re enjoying the podcast, please do us a favor and share it on Instagram or share it with a friend. We want to find more people like you. We appreciate you and we’ll be back next week.

Emma: Bye.

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