With the hustle and bustle of the busy holiday season, it’s easy to forget the most important part: family.

To keep the focus on the true meaning of the season, make the effort to spend more time with family and less time trying to create the “ultimate holiday experience.” You and your family will be glad you did, and you’ll cherish your memories always.

Simple Surroundings

Decorating your home is a wonderful way to spend time with family and friends this time of year.  Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, work together to get your home ready so everyone – especially those eager little helpers – can participate.

Get your tree out of storage or purchase a live one and set it up. Unbox the garland, ornaments, and tinsel so everyone can reach them and help festoon the Christmas evergreen. Unpack the Hanukkah Menorah, candles and dreidels. Press the mantle scarf and table linens. 

An easy way to create a festive mood is to play background music and sing along. A fun mix of children’s songs and adult favorites keeps all ages entertained. Set up a hot cocoa bar. A simple cocoa mix can be made ahead of time for just such occasions. (See recipe at end, which also can be prepared and given as gifts.) Festive mugs, sprinkles and whipped cream take a mug of steamy cocoa to new heights. Serve with a plate of cookies, and let the holiday festivities begin. 

Advent calendars are wonderful ways to count down the days until Christmas. Many retailers offer traditional calendars that can be reused year after year. Another option is to make your own. Tiny socks hung with clothespins from a ribbon offer a fun, simple way to mark the passing of wintry days. Tuck a small token into each sock and watch the children’s excitement as they discover what is inside. Make opening the calendar a part of your evening holiday routine. Gather everyone and spend some thoughtful moments with your spouse and children talking about events of the day. 

Special lighting is a delightful way to mark the season. One way to make it stress-free is to have all the light strands connected to timers (both indoors and out). No one needs to remember to turn off the candelabras in the windows or the luminaries lining the walkway. Choose a time that the décor should turn off and set timers accordingly. Net lights are an easy way to add nighttime sparkle to exterior landscaping. No ladder is needed to drape the bushes with the lights, and almost everyone can help.  Pre-lit topiaries, wreaths and garlands are a classic way to add holiday cheer to curb appeal.

Hanukkah is a joyous time to share the light that resides within each of us. Let little ones help celebrate the season by encouraging them to make handmade dreidels – a spinning top embellished with a Hebrew letter on each of its four sides. Dreidels not only provide an entertaining game for children, but they are also accessories when grouped together on a mantle or collected in a bowl for easy play. 

Coordinate decorations in blue, silver and white set the scene for a memorable Hanukkah celebration. Cobalt blue stemware is a beautiful addition to simple white place settings. Solid-colored linens and silver candelabra add elegance to the table. The menorah should be prominently displayed and easily accessible to family members who will be lighting the candles. Keep extra candles and matches nearby for the nightly blessings and kindling of the Hanukkah Menorah. 


Simple Fare

December would not be complete without family gatherings that center on food. While the thought of entertaining and feeding a crowd can be daunting, many McKinney-area supermarkets offer easy, time-saving solutions.

“If it’s traditional holiday dishes you are looking for, Market Street offers an endless supply of holiday meal packages, proteins and side dishes,” says Chris Wilson, Corporate Chef for Market Street.

Traditional choices include house-roasted herb turkey breast, herb-crusted prime rib, white cheddar sage potatoes and praline sweet potatoes. And, Market Street’s in-house concierges will help customize meal options for you. 

Another simple idea is to use a slow cooker. “Crockpot and one-pot meals are a great way to limit the amount of time spent prepping and cooking during the holidays,” Wilson says. One of his favorite recipes is Turkey Taco Soup. An advantage to whipping up a pot ahead of time is that it can be made, frozen, and reheated when it is time to serve a hot meal. (See recipe at end.)

Sharing the joys of preparing traditional Jewish fare for Hanukkah can be memorable and fun if you include family and guests. Put willing guests to work peeling and grating potatoes. Listen and share your own opinion about proper methodology and proportion of ingredients for latkes, not to mention how your own grandmother did it. Encourage those with clean hands to set the table and light candles. 

Bon Appétit.com has a delightful menu for a classic Hanukkah dinner. Porcini-potato latkes, chickpea latkes, roast prime rib with Madeira sauce, fried sugar snap peas, tossed salad, and a cabernet sauvignon will satisfy everyone’s taste buds. Top the meal off with frozen blackberry parfait for dessert and the celebration is complete. 













A quick change into white or black shirts changes the tone of the photo and can be instantly made into a Christmas card.

Fredshots Photography

Simple Imagery

Whether you’re decorating the Christmas tree or preparing for Hanukkah, be sure to take pictures to reflect back upon later. Capturing the moment is a time-honored holiday tradition.

Whether you spend time behind the viewfinder or hire a professional, the following tips ensure photographic success. Fred Mahusay of Fredshots Photography in McKinney offered the following advice. 

With the mild early winters in North Texas, opt for an outdoor setting. The natural light is much more flattering to your subjects and the location prevents a static-looking, stiff portrait. Time the photo shoot for late afternoon or early evening and avoid direct sunlight that will blind family members. A setting underneath a shade tree or nearby building will do nicely. To overcome dark shadows, turn the camera’s flash on (often referred to as a “fill flash”).

“Let children’s personalities shine and have fun with the photos,” Mahusay says. The end result is a charming, candid expression of who they really are.

If you’re goal is a family portrait, dress everyone in solid-colored tops and pants, preferably in a neutral color. Wild prints and bold colors tend to look dated. Coordinated team jerseys paired with jeans are a fun way to show team spirit. A quick change into white or black shirts changes the tone of the photo and can be instantly made into a Christmas card with the addition of Santa hats.

Booking an appointment with a professional photographer is a simple way to ensure your memories are captured effortlessly. And, photographs make great holiday gifts for loved ones. When your extended family is headed to your home anyway, why not carve out some time during your gathering to have a professional family portrait made?

Fredshots Photography brings the studio to you, whether you choose to have your portraits made in your home or outdoors. Mahusay says convenience and value are important to him and his clients. For more information, visit FredShots.com.

A great way to share your images is through a Christmas or New Year’s cards.  Online sites like Shutterfly.com and Michael’s MiDesign Photo Creations (michaels.com/midesign) are just two of many online options for turning photographs into cards. Simply upload your photo, click on your choices (text, background design, style and size of card) and place an order. Check this item of your “to do” list by the first week of December so your order can be processed, printed, and shipped in plenty of time for Christmas. Enlist family members with nice penmanship to address envelopes. Preprinted return address labels ease the mailing process. 

The end of the year can be chaotic and hectic. No matter how you spend the holidays, take the time to remember what is truly important this season. Family and friends are blessings and should be cherished every day.












Simply Memorable Hot Cocoa Mix


  • 20- to 22-quart size of powdered milk
  • 22-ounce container of powdered Coffeemate creamer
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 4 pounds of Nestlé’s powdered hot cocoa mix

Combine all ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Store in airtight containers. To enjoy the hot cocoa: Fill a mug half full with the mixture. Add hot water and stir. This recipe makes enough to serve a family of four with plenty left over to package as gifts. 

Chris Wilson’s Turkey Taco Soup


  • 6 pounds of lean ground turkey
  • 1.25-ounce packet of your favorite taco seasoning
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 3 tablespoons of beef base
  • 2 cans of ranch-style beans (drained, 15.25-ounce can)
  • 2 cans of pinto beans (drained, 15-ounce can)
  • 2 cans of whole kernel corn (drained, 15.25-ounce can)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes in juice (1 pound, 12 ounce)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes with green chilies (10 ounce)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Your favorite tortilla chips
  • Shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Brown ground turkey in a large stock pot over medium high heat. Drain off excess grease. Add all the remaining ingredients, stir, and simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes. To serve, top with tortilla chips and shredded cheddar cheese. (Makes one large stock pot.)