5. You always have the option of pistachio brittle. One year, after I'd run back and forth from the grocery store so many times it seemed as if it might make much more economic sense to just forget the whole "homemade" spirit of these cookies and instead purchase some practical gifts, like tube socks, I turned to Martha Stewart. There, laid out on the glossy pages of her magazine, was a pistachio brittle recipe. I drove back to the store, muttering, "%$*&^% those cookies!" and stocked up on pistachios, sugar and more butter. When I came home, I ignored the pile of just wrong cookies on the kitchen counter and tried Martha's recipe. Ta-da! Everything worked just as it was supposed to—no muss, no fuss. I was flabbergasted: I could actually choose the easy way to do something and put the hard way behind me.

6. Every year, you get to decide if traditions define you or drive you to drink. In the days since Thanksgiving, the cookie question has hovered between Dan and me. We have been eyeing each other warily—all it would take is one of us to cry "uncle" and the cookies would cease to be a question! But Dan and I both know that our 2-year-old son will love the gooey chaos that descends the minute the Penobscot Bay recipe is pulled out. So we're silently weighing two possibilities: the "experience" we'll get as a family making these cookies, which has the potential to be great, versus Martha's easy peasy pistachio brittle. And though I love the idea of "easy," I have to admit that the one year I made Martha's crunchy green brittle, something was missing, and it wasn't just the frustration. What was gone was something less tangible, something possibly insane about myself: I might actually like the hard route. This morning, my mother sent me an email asking if I wanted to join her in a gift box of jams for each extended family. I wrote, "Well, we've got those cookies to make..." She shot back, "I think you're too tired for those!" I typed carefully, "Ah, Mom, you're so right. But I still feel some dumb hope." So this "hard way" girl is on her way to the supermarket to stock up on butter and flour, molasses and ginger.

Caitlin Shetterly is the author of Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home (Voice)

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