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Through ups and downs of the year, keep an eye on your favorite things

Kelly Clarkson’s Christmas album, “Wrapped in Red,” is one of my favorite things this time of year.

In particular, her jazzy rendition of “My Favorite Things” is now something that my oldest son and I belt out as we wrap Christmas presents (or fold laundry and pretend we’re wrapping presents).

He’s old enough to know the tingling joy of snowflakes on eyelashes and the soft tickle of whiskers on kittens. He knows the fear of the stinging bee and the biting dog and the storms that rage outside.

Everybody feels sad sometimes, and everybody has favorite things.

It’s been an unpredictable year, to say the least, both inside and outside the house. We’ve had lots of opportunities to work on our emotional muscles as we navigate the ever-changing rhythm of co-parenting, the bustling energy of elementary school and my sons’ growing awareness of the world at large. They seem to be growing by years every month, and I’m doing my best to establish traditions and rituals to help mark and savor the time.

One of those is playing Christmas music and singing along with them so they can learn the holiday canon.

At the moment, “My Favorite Things” is our most festive song, and it inspires us to talk about the things that bring joy to our lives. Every night at dinner, we say our high and low of the day, so they are used to being asked to find the good in a situation. They understand that the proverbial warm woolen mittens are the real gifts in life.

It turns out that “The Sound of Music” was the last project that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein worked on together. Having lived through a scary time in history, they were able to look through a short lens to the past and tell a story of love, hope and moral good.

As joyful as this season is, there’s still plenty of pain and suffering that we’re all trying to work through. It could be a sick family member or a troubled relative. Business might be down or the house falling apart. Hospital bills might hit your mailbox just as you head out to drop off cookies at a friend’s.

But then this song pops in my head.

Crisp apple strudels and silver white winters melting into spring. Perfectly crisp schnitzel with gravy-smothered noodles. My youngest son’s brave smile when we walked into the hospital to rack up those bills for a broken arm. My oldest’s enthusiasm for Christmas carol karaoke.

Big, moving moments, like that day last week when the dad of my Season for Caring family got a check that would cover his rent next month, but also the snowflake moments: a rockin’ new song that pops on the radio or a new granola that tastes like oatmeal raisin cookie dough.

I thought I’d round up some of my other favorite things right now, some big and others small, as a reminder to focus on the gift of gratitude this season.

‘Moana’: I knew this movie was going to make me cry from the moment we meet Moana’s grandmother, who encourages her to venture out into the ocean. The kids were in awe of the animation, and Dwayne Johnson is quite funny. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs are a delight.

Boxed gingerbread sets: I would love nothing more than to bake a real gingerbread house this holiday. My kids can’t wait until I maybe get around to it once holiday break starts, but the $10 kits from the grocery store have been a wonderful way to spend a festive weeknight.

Lil Bub Yule Log: The internet celebrity cat Lil Bub has Yule Log videos on YouTube. (Not just one, in fact. Four extended videos of a cat on a chair by a fire. Or a beach.) With this plus the gingerbread house, available for nibbling on the table, my kindergartener’s holiday season is practically complete.

Season for Caring donations: The generosity you all have shown our Season for Caring families is just incredible. My family has been having additional difficulties, and your financial and emotional support has lifted some of the burdens.

Hiking at Reimers Ranch: Any time we catch a warm, sunny day on a weekend, we try to head outside. Most recently, it was to Reimers Ranch, the county park often overshadowed by its neighbor, Hamilton Pool. We sat with our backs in the sun, overlooking a bend in the Pedernales River, looking closely at the small blades of grass and tiny rocks and seeds and flowers that covered the ground.

Holiday bliss and our favorite things are as unique as we are. It’s up to us to honor them. I hope you and your loved ones can find your own favorite things to sing about this time of year.

Apple Pie Moonshine

Another small joy I was introduced to recently is this apple pie moonshine. Earlier this month, my boyfriend and I went to a holiday party that doubled as a pie contest. The guests were so creative with their interpretation of pie, including a boozy apple pie moonshine. It’s not really moonshine, but it’s a delicious apple drink that you could serve as a punch during one of your upcoming holiday gatherings.

1/2 gallon apple juice

1/2 gallon apple cider

4 cinnamon sticks

1 whole clove

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

3 cups 190 proof grain alcohol (such as Everclear)

2 cups vanilla vodka

Bring the apple juice, apple cider, cinnamon sticks, whole clove, white sugar and brown sugar to a boil in a large pot; reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, remove the clove and cinnamon sticks, and cool completely.

Stir the grain alcohol and vanilla vodka into the cooled mixture. Pour into bottles and refrigerate.

— Adapted from a recipe on

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