The Broken Economics of Long Distance Moving

Picture of packed boxes in the center of an apartment

Jilted by the Long-Distance Mover

At the end of April, I had a chance to take a leadership role with a state-of-the-art automotive infotainment software development project in the Columbus, Ohio area. I jumped at the chance. As soon as the paperwork was confirmed, Tomoko and I stuffed my Chevy Volt with some pots, pans, blankets, and bare basics for an apartment and took off. We drove North to Dallas and then headed Northeast through the wilderness to the Ohio border. Along the way, we encountered some of the most stupendously filthy restrooms on the planet – and I make that comment coming from a wealth of experience of appallingly primitive restrooms in desolate places.

The Nightmare

While we thoroughly enjoyed that delightful adventure, we decided that once in a lifetime was quite sufficient. Tomoko would fly back to Austin and spend about two months planning to move the ship the other car and the rest of our possessions from Austin to our new apartment in Dublin, Ohio. And so she did. Tomoko researched meticulously, and lined everything up around the expiration of our apartment lease on the 29th of June.

Not that it was easy. Her first calls to the major moving companies (Allied, United, Mayflower, et al) were met with the information that these exalted organizations could not be bothered to do businesses with lowly cockroaches like us. If you were not moving a small palace of at least 30,000 square feet of floor space, they did not want to waste time talking with you.

Having been rebuffed by the majors, she continued to dig and identified an outfit called Fine Line Relocation out of Dallas, that as of May 20th seemed to have at least a few happy customers…as well as a few furious and dissatisfied customers. Fine Line quoted us a flat fee of $1400 for the 1244 mile move and collected a $140 deposit with a scheduled pickup date of 6/28/2016 – the day before our scheduled final walkthrough of our apartment. Tomoko began discarding, organizing, and packing. On 6/26/2016 I flew back to Austin to help. We spent all of 6/27/2016 furiously packing…until around 5PM. At 5PM of the afternoon before the scheduled move, Fine Line called: “By the way, we aren’t coming.” After 15 minutes or so of Tomoko trying politely to get some sort of sensible plan out of the Fine Line dispatcher, I got on the phone. I was less polite. The dispatcher did not like that. She transferred us to her supervisor who tried to explain to us that it was our fault. We should simply understand that the trucking industry is just like that. Stuff happens. A heated discussion ensued with him telling me that he was refunding our $140 deposit immediately (which he did) and had no interest in doing business with idiots like us.

Tomoko standing with two movers in front of our storage unit

Tomoko with Corey Washington and Roosevelt of Two Men and a Truck

Very nice. We were stuck without a mover, with a ticking clock, during the craziest, busiest time of year. We tried all sorts of alternatives. Pods and Upack were booked solid until the end of July. Fortunately, we still had Junk Busters scheduled. The local North Austin franchise of Two Men and a Truck scrambled to get us a crew for a local move on 6/29/2016. The apartment agreed to a one-day delay. We shifted strategy. We had Junk Busters haul away almost all of our heavy furniture items. We kept only our dining table and mattress. The extremely effective crew from Two Men and a Truck moved the remaining stuff and help us repack our existing storage unit to get it all stuffed in.

Honda Fit in the middle of Jollyville Rd behind a tractor trailer

Honda Fit Being Loaded

That got us out of our apartment. The remaining problem was getting our car shipped to Ohio. Tomoko had carefully made a reservation with a company called Ship a Car Direct It all looked very clear and official and was arranged for 6/30/2016. On 6/28/2016, having heard nothing further from Ship a Car Direct she called them. They had no idea who was coming or when but told her “not to worry”. Naturally, that information made her worry more. The next day, the information improved somewhat. We were given the name of a company in Ohio that had a truck driving around Texas picking up cars. The truck finally showed up on 7/1/2016 (one day late). The driver was very friendly and polite. However, we had to get a cashiers check for the shipping fee. No credit cards or personal checks accepted.

The Economics

After the Honda Fit was loaded, I received a follow-up call from Two Men and a Truck. I gave their guys a good review and asked about long distance moving. That question led to me being transferred to their local long-distance moving guy who spent quite a bit of time with me explaining the ins and outs of the industry. It goes something like this:

  1. They definitely do provide long distance moving. They will have a crew come pack your belongings, and drive them across the country for you. The same crew will unpack at the destination – which does wonders for accountability, effectiveness, etc… That same crew will then drive the truck back. There are some variations, but this is the basic deluxe plan.
  2. In order to understand the price, we have to understand that there are two seasons: “Summer” and “Not Summer”.
  3. During the Summer season, the company can keep their trucks 100% busy with local moves. During this season, they book each truck for $150/hour perhaps 8 hours per day.
  4. Having a truck drive long distance to deliver a customer’s shipment to a distant state represents an opportunity loss compared to the business that the truck could have been doing in local moves during the trip.
  5. For a 1244 mile move, they would expect:
    • 1 day to pack
    • 2 days to drive
    • 1 day to unpack
    • 2 days to drive the truck back
  6. That makes 6 days.
  7. The opportunity cost of having the truck unavailable for local moves for 6 days is cost = 6 * 8 * 150 = $7200
  8. Add to that the wear-and-tear and gasoline costs of about $1/mile. The total distance is 1244 * 2 = 2488 miles. On the other hand, the truck would have driven a little locally…so add $2400 for the mileage cost for the truck.
  9. Round it out with 5 days of hotel and meal costs for the crew
  10. and you are at $10k

Indeed, this number was in the ballpark quoted by all more serious movers that we contacted, with some wanting as much as $15k. If you move during “Not Summer” the price comes down a little because the opportunity cost is lower. If you are lucky enough that the mover can find another customer to share the truck, and it is during “Not Summer” you might get down into the range of $5k.

So what was going on with Fine Line‘s $1400 price quote? Basically, they are opportunistically hoping to find a truck driving back empty in the correct general direction. Apparently, the industry rule of thumb is that the driver/owner will be happy to have the $1/mile running cost of the truck. Naturally, these empty trucks are very hard to schedule accurately. Basically, the morning before the move, Fine Line sends someone out to stand next to the nearest freeway exit with a cardboard sign reading “LOOKING FOR EMPTY TRUCK HEADED TOWARD OHIO”. As we discovered, this process is really unpredictable. Also, there is no guarantee that the (randomly selected) truck that picks your stuff up will be the same truck that delivers it. Your stuff may get trans-loaded multiple times. It may spend several weeks sitting in someone’s warehouse, next to the bales of cannabis waiting for the next leg transportation.

Apparently, there are also a lot of games with the estimates. One common trick seems to be the seemingly convenient over-the-phone estimate, during which they low ball the weight estimate. Once the truckers pick up your stuff, they take it somewhere and weigh it and discover – Surprise! – your stuff is three times heavier than they had guessed. At that point, they hold your stuff for ransom and triple the price.

What to Do?

At these prices, shipping heavy furniture makes no economic sense at all. Unless you are fabulously wealthy and have exotic antiques, you can definitely buy an entirely new set of furniture for less than it will cost to ship an existing set. The long-distance guy at Two Men and a Truck was laughing a little telling me about customers who wanted him to ship furniture **TO** North Carolina. North Carolina is the furniture manufacturing center of the universe. Shipping heavy furniture across the country into the heart of furniture manufacturing is really silly.

One of the other interesting things we did is stop at the local Fedex Office store and ask about ground shipping rates. A 20lb box from Austin to Dublin, OH would be about $50, depending on shape and a few other things. In other words, the Fedex Ground rate on that route would be roughly $2.50/pound. On the other hand, the “Not Summer” quote we discussed above was about $7000 for about 2000 lbs of stuff – also in the vicinity of $2.50/pound. Hmmm….

The other thing we have noticed is that there seems to be almost no market for used furniture. In theory, one can advertise furniture on Craigslist. In practice, we have had mixed success getting rid of stuff this way, even when we gave it away free. The problem is worse if you are in a second floor apartment. Almost no one on Craigslist will come get heavy furniture from a second floor apartment. Buying furniture is really easy. Getting rid of it is really difficult.

What about renting? 30 years ago when I was single, I rented furniture for an apartment from CORT Furniture Rental for an apartment for a year. It was great. Painless to acquire. Painless to dispose of. CORT is still around. From my preliminary check, I can minimally equip our apartment with the key heavy furniture pieces from CORT for around $200-$300 per month. This is the direction I am headed in currently.

The really problem here is our current wobbly-as-jello economy in which there seems to be no such thing as a “permanent” job. We are now thinking carefully about how to play this game in which the constant turbulence in the economy forces us to move every year. It looks something like this:

  1. Ruthlessly eliminate the last vestiges of paper-based anything. We just closed our safe deposit box. We will be moving our wills to a cloud-based specialty service soon.
  2. Rent any piece of furniture heavier than 20 lbs. The rental service delivers and installs it. When it is time to move to the next spot, the rental service comes and takes it away.
  3. Buy smaller furniture pieces locally, as cheaply as possible. Walmart has amazing stuff in this category. I just purchased two very nice LED desk lamps for $7 each at Walmart.
  4. Rent a storage locker somewhere and never move it. This becomes your “home”. Ship precious memory stuff to that locker and keep it there. At the start of each temporary assignment, select a few small sentimental items from the museum (your storage locker) and ship them UPS or Fedex to the new apartment to enjoy and give a little warmth to the environment.
  5. Move things like clothing around in 20lb boxes. Ship them by UPS, Fedex, or USPS. The cost is about the same as the moving company would charge and you will have full electronic tracking and better control of delivery.
  6. Ship cars, but be prepared to have a several day window in which they get picked up. Rent cars while permanent cars are being transported.
  7. Make judicious use of the two luggage pieces that most airlines will allow for a reasonable baggage fee.

Overall, the challenge here is to simply have a lot less stuff. That is, we have to get used to having a lot less stuff until the miracle occurs in which we end up with the $4m or so currently needed to be basically financially independent in the United States. Until that time, we have to be on a very agile footing and ready to move at a moment’s notice.

Biscuits for Thanksgiving

In years past, we were part of a large communal Thanksgiving celebration that rotated between the houses of several families each year. For these events, I always enjoyed baking one or even two fruit pies. However, time has progressed. Children have grown up and moved away. Careers have changed. We moved from a large house to a cozy apartment. This year’s Thanksgiving was just three people.

For three people, I decided to do something a little simpler: biscuits.

That is, I have been tinkering with baking powder biscuits for more than ten years. However, I had not made any biscuits since 2009. Time to dig the recipe spreadsheet out of the archive and try again. Here is this year’s version:

Ingredients

  • All purpose flour – 3 cups (300g)
  • Quick cooking oats – 3/4 cup (75g)
  • Baking powder – 3 tablespoons (40g)
  • Baking soda – 1/2 teaspoon (3g)
  • Sugar – 3/4 teaspoon (4g)
  • Salt – 3/4 teaspoon (4g)
  • Unsalted butter – 3/8 cup (75g)
  • Crisco vegetable shortening – 3/8 cup (75g)
  • Low fat buttermilk – 1 cup (225ml)
  • Additional cold water – as needed, about 1/4 to 3/4 cup (50-150ml)

Utensils

  • Cookie sheet – a professional aluminum “half sheet” available from your nearest restaurant supply store works much better than a consumer-grade tin sheet.
  • Mixing bowl – that you can put in the freezer
  • Medium plastic bowl or similar for weighing on the scale
  • Cutting board – that you can put in the freezer
  • Flour sifter
  • Postal scale – I have a nice Japanese one that reads out in grams, much more accurate than U.S. scales that read only in ounces
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Large wooden or plastic spoon for mixing
  • Biscuit cutter 2.5 inch (6cm)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Timer
  • Oven mits
  • Rack for cooling
  • Spatula to move biscuits from hot cookie sheet to rack

Key Points

  1. Use a postal scale to weigh the flour, oats, butter, shortening. The ratio is tricky and using a volume measure for flour is very unreliable. The volume of the flour can vary widely depending on the humidity, whether it has been sifted, and so on.
  2. It is hard to get the amount of liquid just right. How much liquid the dough needs will also vary from day-to-day depending on humidity, temperature, the phase of the moon, and so on.
  3. The goal is similar to that of a pie-crust. We want to make little balls of shortening that are covered in flour and do NOT dissolve into a wet mush. When we put the biscuits in the oven, these should fluff into “flakes” or at least that is the idea.
  4. One method of keeping the little shortening balls intact is to get them very cold just before the final prep of the dough. It also helps to have the working surface really cold. Finally, you want to handle the dough very quickly and briefly. Otherwise, your hands will warm it up, melting these little balls.
  5. For those not used to weighing things on a postal scale, put the plastic bowl on the scale before you turn it on. That way, the scale will calibrate itself to “0” including the weight of the plastic bowl. This technique makes it very easy to measure ingredients and then use the plastic bowl to dump them into the mixing bowl.

Preparation

Starting two hours before meal time:

1 – Weigh flour into sifter.

2 – Measure baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar into sifter.

3 – Sift together.

4 – Mix the oats into the bowl and stir together.

5 – Put some of the mix back into the plastic bowl, put it back onto the scale, turn the scale off and on again to calibrate.

Picture shows bowl on postal scale with some flour mix and vegetable shortening

Weigh Crisco into Some of the Flour

6 – Scoop the vegetable shortening into this mix using a spoon until you have measured 75 grams.

7 – Dump the mix and vegetable shortening into the bowl.

8 – Calibrate the scale again.

9 – Trim one stick of unsalted butter until it weighs 75 grams.

Shows intact and unwrapped stick of butter sitting in flour mix in bowl

Put Butter and Crisco into Flour Mix and Allow to Soften

10 – Unwrap and drop the stick of butter into the bowl with the vegetable shortening and dry ingredients.

11 – Allow the mix to sit on the counter for about 30 minutes until the butter is fully softened.

Continuing 90 minutes before meal time:

Shows crumbly flour mixture

After Cutting in Shortening, Mix Will Look Like This

12 – Use a knife to cut shortening up into smaller chunks. Then use fork to press these against the sides of the bowl, turning and repeating until the mixture has the texture of cornmeal.

13 – Cover with plastic wrap.

shows bowl and cutting board in freezer

Bowl and Cutting Board Into Freezer

14 – Place cutting board and bowl into freezer.

15 – Turn on oven to “bake” and 450°F (230°C) and allow to preheat.

16 – Allow cutting board and mix to chill for 45 to 60 minutes.

17 – Remove bowl from freezer.

18 – Add buttermilk, 1/3 of a cup at a time. Stir lightly to spread moisture. Do not over-mix.

Shows that dough is still too dry to come together

Not Moist Enough After Adding One Cup of Buttermilk

shows dough now sticky enough to form a ball

Moist Enough After Adding a Total of 1/2 Cup of Additional Water

19 – Assess dough. Is there enough moisture that this dough will stick together? You don’t want a cake batter. You want a level of stickiness that just barely picks up the flour mix.

20 – If necessary, carefully add more cold water, 1/4 cup at a time until the dough is just sticky enough.

shows a ball in the bowl

Form a Ball in the Bowl

21 – Form a ball of dough in the bowl. Don’t over-work it. Just squeeze and pat it together until a ball forms.

Shows crumbly dough patted into a rough square on cutting board

Pat Dough Flat

22 – Remove cutting board from freezer. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Pat dough ball into a square about an inch (2.5cm) thick.

23 – Lightly oil the cooking sheet.

24 – Cut biscuits with the biscuit cutter, twisting slightly to separate each one.

shows 13 biscuits touching each other on cookie sheet

Place Biscuits Touching on Cookie Sheet

25 – Place biscuits touching each other on the cookie sheet. Placing them this way will encourage them to expand upward rather than outward.

26 – Press the scraps of dough together, pat back to a smaller square and continue cutting. Don’t worry if there are small gaps in the dough. These actually make the biscuits more interesting.

27 – Take the last tiny scraps of dough and push them into the biscuit cutter to form one last biscuit.

28 – Using your thumb, press a small dimple into the center of each biscuit. This dimple will prevent the biscuit from crowning (forming a domed top).

Finished Biscuits After 15 Minutes in Oven

Finished Biscuits After 15 Minutes in Oven

29 – Place cookie sheet in oven.

30 – Set timer for 15 minutes.

31 – Bake until golden brown on the top. Remove from oven.

32 – Use spatula to transfer biscuits to rack for cooling.

Finished Biscuit with Butter and Jam

Finished Biscuit with Butter and Jam

Critique

The biscuits look and smell great. However, for my taste they are a little dry. I would like them to be a little softer and more like the unspeakably artificial biscuits that you get in a little cardboard tube at the grocery store. I realize that those instant biscuits contain all kinds of frightening chemical ingredients…but I like them. As a next step, I may cut the cooking time slightly. I may also experiment with adding an egg to the dough.

Sources

  • http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/tech/recipes/bread/biscuits-1/Chap1.html
  • Alton Brown “Good Eats” seen on 27 May 2004
  • GQ Magazine August 2004 issue page 66 on 10/9/2005

Chevy Volt Key Fob Battery Replacement

So, recently my 2014 Chevy Volt has begun honking at me at random times. Since this is a relatively new phenomenon, my guess is that the key fob battery is getting low. That is, as the radio gets weaker, the car may be having difficulty deciding whether I am inside or outside of the car. In any case, I use my key fob actively (remotely locking and unlocking) almost every day and it is reasonable to expect that the battery would need replacing after a year and a half.

The owner’s manual does provide instructions on how to replace this battery, but they are brief. The owner’s manual does not provide any diagrams and it is not visually obvious looking at the key fob where the battery compartment is. So… I have posted a few photos here in case anyone else is looking for guidance.

picture of a pack of two batteries

Replacement battery is CR 2032

The battery is a CR 2032, available in a pack of two at Walgreens for $7-8. Going forward, I will put this on my annual calendar and replace batteries in both key fobs once per year.

picture shows key fob with blade extended

First, extend the key blade

First, extend the key blade.

picture shows key fob with cover removed.

Flip key fob over and pop off lower half of case

Flip the key fob over so the buttons are facing down. You can pop the lower half of the rear of the case off by pressing up on one side. Once the case is open, remove the old battery and replace it. The manual cautions that you should be careful not to touch the internal circuits with your finger as static electricity from your body could damage the electronics.

Note that some brands of batteries have a paper sticker on one side. If your new battery comes with such a sticker, be sure to remove the sticker before inserting the battery into the key fob.

Once the battery has been replaced, carefully put the cover back on and squeeze it gently with your fingers to snap it back into the closed position.

Valentine’s Day

vase of pink roses with some blue garnish

Pink Roses

Our son Tye has been working part time as a waiter at a restaurant here in Austin for the last few years while he finishes his computer science degree. That restaurant asked Tye to work on Saturday which was Valentine’s Day. We thought “Great! We’ll come in for dinner!” but he warned us off, explaining that the restaurant would be packed, food preparation would be necessarily slow, and that everyone would be pretty stressed.

Given Tye’s input, we decided to do a nice meal at home instead. The start for the day was some nice pink roses from a local grocery store – much cheaper than a formal bouquet from a florist and very pleasant in a laid-back sort of way.

Dinner – Bacon-Wrapped Fillet Steaks

picture shows a dining table, two plates, two glasses of champagne, a lit candle.

Dinner, Bacon-Wrapped Fillet

Tomoko was in charge of dinner, which was as shown:

  1. Petite bacon-wrapped fillet steaks on a bed of fresh greens
  2. Grilled portabello mushrooms in a sort of pureed pepper bisque
  3. A bottle of New Zealand champagne that we had received as a gift

As usual, we had a small candle on the table for atmosphere.

Start with a Toast

Picture shows Tomoko holding two glasses of Champagne

Toasting with New Zealand Champagne

Of course, drinking Champagne calls for a toast.
Strictly speaking, this beverage should be called “New Zealand Champagne-style Sparkling Wine” or something awkward like that. The Europeans are very touchy about their geographical trademarks.
That having been said, I liked this one better than the real French champagne which I generally find too sour for my taste. Likewise, I don’t like the Italian products either because they tend to be too sweet. The German products produced in the Rhine region around and in Mainz are wonderful – sparkling wine made with Riesling grapes. Unfortunately, the production quantities are quite small and they more or less impossible to get in the United States. This New Zealand product was similar to the German ones: not sour; fruity, but not overpoweringly sweet.

After-Dinner Snacks

Picture shows a cutting board with cheese, salumi, crackers, and Spanish Almonts

Cheese and Salumi

I was in charge of the less healthy after-dinner snacks. You really can’t re-cork a bottle of champagne… we would be needing something to help us finish the bottle. The salumi was from the local grocery store, nice, but not expensive. The cheese was my favorite Dutch Leyden caraway cheese. I also found some very nice Spanish almonds at Costco. Spanish almonds are very tasty, but they are also usually outrageously expensive. These were very nice and moderately priced.

Strawberries and Japanese Television

Bowl of strawberries

Strawberries

We finished the evening eating strawberries (Tomoko’s department again) and watching two episodes of a Japanese television mini-series called “Ghostwriter” on Viki TV – an interesting operation that gets television shows from around the world and crowd-sources the creation of subtitles for them. Recently they have been monetizing the site slightly by showing a few commercials before each episode. However, once it starts they don’t interrupt the actual program. This mini-series has one of my favorite Japanese actresses: Nakatani Miki playing an aging star author (think J.K. Rowling) who is suffering from writer’s block and gets into a complicated relationship with an ambitious young female novelist. It was a lot of fun – a nice way to finish the New Zealand champagne and end the evening.

2013 IBM Uptown Classic 10K Race

Tye and Tomoko at 7AM

Tye and Tomoko at 7AM

Catching up on my reporting. Last Sunday we continued in our family tradition of running the IBM Uptown Classic 10K in Austin. Tye and I ran the 10K race and Tomoko ran the 5K race. Here we see Tye and Tomoko bright and full of energy at 7AM. Since the roads close at 7AM, we always get up early and make sure we arrive at IBM by around 6:50AM. On the way over, Tye – who is definitely NOT an early morning type of guy – told us that he was going to nap in the minivan until the race. However, once we actually got there, he was overcome by the general spirit of the occasion and did not nap after all. At any rate, I am not an early morning person either and slept fitfully the night before. Once we got there, I jogged slowly around the parking lot warming up.

Tye Brings it In in Under an Hour

Tye Brings it In in Under an Hour

Actually, I wasn’t expecting a stellar performance. After the usual winter colds and allergies, in May we went to Annapolis where I proceeded to get really, really sick. That put me out of commission for more than a month, right at the time of year that I would normally be getting back into shape. During the rest of the summer, we had the usual “global warming” weather here in Austin that made it difficult to do anything more ambitious than plod around the lake slowly. That combined with frequent trips to Houston (part of my new professional focus on the oil industry) meant that I was not expecting to set the course on fire.

Tye was likewise not expecting a stellar time either. He dedicated most of his workout time this year to further enhancing his upper body strength. He didn’t do too much cardio work. Nevertheless, he was able to finish the race in 58 minutes.

Dave Brings it In in One Hour 18 Min

Dave Brings it In in One Hour 18 Min

We were actually staggered at the start. I jogged around in circles to loosen up as much as possible. As the start approached, I made my way to the back of the crowd that was lined up. I did not see Tye and Tomoko at that point. Once the starting gun sounded, it took me almost four minutes to shuffle forward to the starting line.

That did not matter because we all had RFID tags snapped into the laces of our running shoes. The starting gun time did not matter at all. It was the “chip time” measured by your foot crossing the starting line going out and the finish line coming in that established your rank.

Tye and Dave Just After the Race

Tye and Dave Just After the Race

Knowing that I was not going to set any world records, I just jogged a solid pace – at least for me. That is not to say I slacked off, I ran as hard as my body could. However, the course is very hilly and I could not manage much more than tortoise pace going up any of the hills. On the downhill segments I stretched out a little. The last two miles I picked up the pace a bit and passed a bunch of people.

As we neared the 5K mark, I almost caught up to Tomoko. She had obviously been closer to the starting line in the crowd. I hear the announcer calling out her name as she crossed her 5K finish line. At that point, I would have gladly stopped running and taken her for a Martini, but I still had another 5K to run.

Modest Snack After the Run

Modest Snack After the Run

Interestingly enough, however, in my age category (200 to 225 years old) I came in 66 out of 66. That is, even though I passed plenty of younger people near the finish line, I was dead last in my age category. In other words, in my senior age category, only extremely intense and competitive men bother to participate. The fat guys who sort of waddle around the course give up by the time they are 40 at the oldest.

After the run, we went back to our apartment (only about 5 minutes from IBM) showered up and then proceeded to the Cathedral of Texas Breakfast Culture (Jim’s Coffee Shop) and had a modest snack. I had the Arugula, Quinoa, and Acai Berry Salad….

Christmas Cookies 2012

Christmas Cookies Ready for Parties

Christmas Cookies Ready for Parties

Baking Christmas cookies was an entertainment highlight of the Christmas season when I was growing up. Once I had children of my own, I made a point of taking the tradition over and making it part of our own family tradition. When the children were smaller, we made cookies together. I keep a binder of recipes that I mark up with notes about results, difficulty, preparation time, ideas for next time and so on. This binder is pretty thick and it has more than twenty years of notes in it.

In recent years, I had done most of the preparation myself. The children tended to be busy with other activities during the Christmas season. We also are fortunate to have a nice community of family friends and have developed a pattern of packaging up our cookies and taking them to holiday parties that we are invited to.

This year our daughter Erika came home for Christmas and decided to take over the Christmas cookie preparation. She is a good cook and did an excellent job. The plate shown above includes:

  1. Austrian Raspberry Shortbread from Smitten Kitchen.
  2. Chocolate Crinkles from Betty Crocker
  3. Cherry Gems from Blue Ribbon Cookies by Maria Polushkin Robbins (Editor)
  4. Sugar Cookies by Lag Liv.
Cookies Go Well with a Christmas Martini

Cookies Go Well with a Christmas Martini

As for the Sugar Cookies, Erika comments that it is slightly easier to cut the cookies if you chill them first. That is, Erika rolls out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. She then puts the dough (still between the sheets of wax paper) into the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. After removing the dough from the freezer, she peels back the top sheet of wax paper and cuts them with a cookie cutter.

By the way, these cookies all go very nicely with a Christmas Martini.