Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to make a Christmas Memory Book


A sample cover for a memory book
 Several years ago now, I came up with a unique gift for my grown children.  I’d been thinking back over Christmas memories  of my childhood, and I felt strongly the need to write them down so my children and grandchildren would know what it had been like.  As I mulled over just how to do this, I came up with the idea of making a Christmas memory book for each of my grown kids and their families.  I thought I would type up some memories, maybe scan or copy some old photos, and include some recipes.

As I thought further, I decided to include not only my own childhood memories, pictures, and recipes, but to include those items from my children’s childhood as well. 

The next step was to actually think hard about my memories and begin writing them down.  It was amazing how much I remembered once I started typing.  I am going to try and share the process of how I made the books with all of you, so that others who might like to make these as a gift will have a starting point.  It seemed like this might be an appropriate and special post to close out my “Christmas in July” for 2013. 

If you want to make one or more memory books for this Christmas, I highly recommend starting to write down your memories today!

To do this the way I did, you will need:
* Looseleaf binder for each memory book -- the type with clear-view pockets on front and back so you can add a decorative front and back cover
* Printer, ink and paper
* Photos, recipes, scanner
* Stickers, rubber stamps, and other embellishments
* Clear page protectors

So here we go with the step by step.

1.  Decide on the scope of your memory book.  Will you use just your own childhood memories, or will you add in the memories from your kids’ growing-up years?  Do you want to add pictures or recipes?  Write down your thoughts and plans for the project.

2.  Decide how you will put the book together.  I chose to use loose-leaf binders because they were easy to decorate and I wanted the kids [and myself]  to be able to add pages into them.  You will want to purchase binders, sheet protectors and such right away so they will be on hand when you are ready for them.  Buying them now probably also means better prices, since such things are on back-to-school sales.

3.  Begin thinking about and writing down your memories.  As you do, you’ll probably find, as I did, that they coalesce rather neatly into categories.  Think about it:  Did you stay home every Christmas or did you go to Grandma’s house?  Maybe your grandparents came to you!  What did you do on Christmas Eve?  On Christmas day?  Do you have special memories relating to getting the Christmas tree, to church services, or to singing Christmas carols?  Did your ethnic family background mean you prepared special foods or observed special customs?

Here are the categories I used:
 * Christmas Eve in the Neighborhood (this included recipes for some of the treats my mom prepared to take to the families in our neighborhood)
* Christmas at Home (which included memories about our tree, special gifts, cards, recipes and so on.
* The Methodist Church Christmas Fair (a huge part of our Christmases as children)
* Trips to Milford (memories of our holiday visits to take gifts to loved ones in another part of the state)
* Christmas on the Farm (memories of how my grandmother decorated, wrapped gifts, etc. plus the dinners and gift exchange we had there)
*  In between this and the more recent memories, I put in lots of scanned photos, cards, snips of ribbon and wrapping paper, etc. from my childhood.
Then I went on to more recent memories of when I was raising my own children:
* Christmas Memories for Another Generation
* Holiday Baking
* How the Third-Grader Saved Christmas
* Christmas Heirlooms
* Christmas on a Shoestring
* Gingerbread Houses
* Christmas Breakfast
* Gifts of Food
And I ended with a Christmas acrostic written by our son in elementary school.

In between are loads of my Christmas recipes -- basically all of my Christmas cookie recipes, plus ones for kitchen gifts, Christmas Eve supper, Christmas breakfast, and Christmas dinner.

I also scanned many, many of the photos from my kids’ childhood Christmases, along with some tags, cards and other things to make it special.
A photo from my book -- Christmas 1951
   So, in writing down your memories and other things like recipes, you will probably want to just sit down at your computer and open up a word processing document to put these things in.  Be sure and save it after you finish each stint of writing.  You don't want to put this much thought and work into something, only to lose part of it.

4.  Decide what recipes you need to include.  I wanted all of my Christmas recipes in one easy-to-find place, so I put them all in.  Type up the recipes one or two per page.  I also scanned some recipe cards, especially ones in the handwriting of loved ones, to include.

5.  Choose the photos you want to scan and any additional items, like vintage cards, tags, wrapping paper and so on.  Scan and save the items.  (The great thing about scanning [as opposed to photocopying, which would certainly be another option] is that the images will be right there on your computer should you want to make another book.) With my scanned photos and other things, I cut them out so I could glue them onto whatever pages I liked throughout the book.  If you are a whiz at scrapbooking, though, you can do it that way, or if you are a pro at graphic design you can design each page right on your computer and print them out without needing to embellish them. 
One of the vintage Christmas tags I scanned
6.  Print and embellish your pages.  You can use your scanned memorabilia for embellishing, or use stickers or even rubber-stamped messages/images in red or green.

7. Slip the pages into page protectors, placing the pages back to back so you can fit two into each page protector. 

8.  Arrange the pages in the binder as you like. 


9.  Design front and back covers and perhaps an edge strip as well (to go along the spine of the binder to show the title) and slip these into place.
A sample back cover
And there is your Christmas memory book!  Since you have the pages in your computer and the memorabilia is scanned and saved, you can make as many copies of your book as you like.  By special request, I ended up making one for my parents and two for my aunts as well as the ones I did for my grown kids.  And of course, I made one for myself as well!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review ~ GOOSEBERRY PATCH CHRISTMAS BOOK 6

Part of my collection of the numbered Gooseberry Patch Christmas books
For today's book review, I'm going to share another in the Gooseberry Patch/Leisure Arts numbered series of Christmas books.    As I'm sure you've noticed, I'm not reviewing these in numerical order; it's more just that I'm sharing reviews of some I particularly love.  However, let me quickly add that I have found great recipes, inspiring photos and fun gift and craft ideas in each and every one of them.

But Gooseberry Patch Christmas Book 6 seems special to me. 

Photo from Amazon.com
It has many ideas I want to try, as well as some projects I have made already.  Let's look over the chapters and the sections within them.

A Circle of Memories is first.  The family memory wreath, the Memory Journal, the framed hand-and-footprint ornaments with a photo on the reverse side, the memory box -- are all projects I would like to do, and there are many more as well.

The second chapter is All Through the House and it has a number of sections within it to enjoy.  In the "Something Special" section is a sweet baby's first stocking, trimmed with alphabet beads.  My daughter made a variation of this pattern when her little girl was a baby, and she is still using it today -- beautiful!  This section also contains an Advent Countdown made in a picture frame with little pockets to put treats or ideas in.  I've made 3 of these and was so pleased with how they turned out!

"Symbols of the Season" gives directions for a sweet set of symbolic ornaments to make.  These would be wonderful to use in one's own family, perhaps in conjunction with family devotions.  They would also make a nice hostess gift (given as an individual ornament) or as a set for a housewarming or wedding gift.

"Create a Card" is full of fun and inspiring ideas to make your own Christmas cards and even tells you how to throw a card-making party -- sounds like so much fun!  "Kids' Christmas Trims" includes a stocking, pillow, tree, and ornaments to make for or with kids.

"Festive Finery for Bed and Bath" contains fun ideas for quick Christmas pillows, a Santa's wreath, festive bathroom decor, and so on.

"Farmhouse Kitchen Breakfast" gives some great recipes as well as trims for your kitchen and table.  The Scrambled Egg Casserole is excellent, and I love the festive little menu board and the Family Recipe Book.  I've also made the Fruit-Filled Breakfast Cups and they are fantastic.

"Winter Wonderland" contains many ideas and crafts I want to try, especially the Tiny Photo Ornaments and the Felted Wool Stocking.

"Jolly Ginger Boys" is a small section telling how to make a gingerbread man basket and it offers helpful tips for successful Christmas cookie baking.

"Holiday Forecast" shows how to make a wonderful "Let it Snow" doorway, and also how to make Electric Snowflakes for outdoor decor.

"Family Fun Tree" gives great directions for ornaments to make with kids and even a garland made with checkers and dominoes for fun. 

"Warm and Cozy" is a longer section sharing many ideas for using fleece in decor and accessories.  There are ornaments, a garland, tree skirt, wreath trims, large floor pillows and a fleece throw.  Lots of inspiration here!

Under the Christmas Tree gives great ideas for all manner of handmade gifts.  "Little Luxuries for the Bath" has recipes for bath salts and fizzies, lip balm, lotion bars, and much more along that line, not to mention a heating pad, embellished towels, and so on.

"Candle Creations" tells you how to make your own aromatherapy candles  or gives ideas for embellishing purchased ones.  There's a "Just for Mom" section and a "Just for Dad" one too.  There's a "Fancy Footwork" section with slippers and socks, and even a little "Family Friends" bit with ideas for your pets.

Perfect Presents from the Pantry is an inspiration for me, because I love giving kitchen gifts at Christmas time.  There are loads of recipes and packaging ideas here -- just wonderful!  There are even ideas for co-worker gifts.  And there's a cute pattern for a Holiday Apron.  The sections here are "Bountiful Baskets", "Merry Mixers" and "Kitchen Classics".

The last chapter is Christmas Cookery, and it delivers just what it promises -- many great recipes, along  with mouth-watering photos.  "The Main Event" shares ideas for a family holiday meal.  The Sausage-Potato Chowder sounds yummy!  "Fabulous Feast for Just a Few" would be great for a small group or just your own immediate family.  "Holiday Jingle Bell Lunch" presents ideas for a fun luncheon with the girls.    Everything from Granny's 5-Cup Salad (which is wonderful!) to Country Cottage Chicken Salad Puffs to Vanilla Coffee to enjoy with dessert.

"Party Pickups" includes finger foods like appetizers and desserts, not to mention some great-sounding punch recipes, snack mixes, and candies.  I can vouch for the 4-Chip Marshmallow Fudge -- it is amazing!

"You Can Never Have Too Many Cookies" proves that point with page after page of cookie recipes of all types.  The Raspberry Ripple Brownies and the Chocolate Chip Twinkles sound especially enticing.

Lastly, we have "Crazy About Casseroles" which could be such a help with holiday potlucks or even just a simple supper on a busy December day.  The Seafood Lasagna and the Mushroom-Spinach Strata are both pictured and look sooooo good.

 Like all Gooseberry books, this one also has loads of hints, tips, memories and inspiring quotes sprinkled on nearly every page!  I wish that I could adequately convey to you how marvelous this book is, but I know my words are just not enough.  Check it out on Gooseberry Patch.com or on Amazon (where you may well be able to find a good used copy) and see for yourself.   And enjoy!

**This post contains affiliate links.**

Monday, July 29, 2013

Another of my Pinterest boards ~ Christmas Decorating Inspiration


A vignette from my Christmas hutch
For today, I would like to invite you all to visit another of my newer Pinterest boards -- Christmas Decorating Inspiration.  On this board I have pins for all sorts of decorating ideas for both indoors and out.  Some of them may not be ideas I'll actually use, but they will be an inspiration or a starting point for decorating ideas.

Maybe some of these will inspire you, too!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Christmas blessing

The front cover of the 1956 Christmas Ideals
Throughout the month of July, as I have been celebrating "Christmas in July" here in my Christmas kitchen, I've been trying to share something of a spiritual nature on the Sundays.  I'm still searching, so far without success, for a devotional I wrote some years ago on the light of Christmas.  Today, I thought I would share a poem with you from an old Christmas issue of Ideals magazine.

My grandmother always seemed to have copies of Ideals around at the holidays.  What a beautiful, inspiring magazine it was, with amazing photos and gorgeous artwork and uplifting prose and verse.

This untitled bit of verse, from the 1956 Christmas Ideals,  is by the well-loved author Edgar A. Guest.   It reads like something one would put in a Christmas card ... a Christmas blessing.  Here it is:

God bless you all
This Christmas Day;
May Bethlehem's star
Still light the way,
And guide thee to
The perfect peace
When every fear 
And doubt shall cease,
And may thy home 
Such glory know
As did the stable
Long ago.

Edgar A. Guest

Isn't that beautiful?  What a lovely thought and prayer for those on our Christmas list!
Back cover of the 1956 Christmas Ideals.  How those bright shiny covers beckoned to me!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A fun stocking stuffer idea -- fabric covered binder clips


J. made these with strawberry prints because I collect strawberries!
While working in the kitchen this morning, I was musing on what to share here today.  I happened to be mixing up a batch of gluten free all purpose flours, and as I closed up the bags of the various components, I thought about what I was using for bag closures.  Some years ago, my friend J. had made some lovely fabric covered binder clips.  They work beautifully for closing up any bag.  I thought they would make nice stocking stuffers and would be useful for almost anyone.  So here is a link to a tutorial: Fabric covered binder clips.  Here is the photo from the tutorial which I think is quite a bit clearer than my own photo:
Photo from How About Orange
You could suit the fabric to the various recipients and use prints that reflect their tastes or interests.  Have fun with this idea!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Lovely printable Christmas tags


Image by Wild@heart
Yesterday I was browsing around on a couple of my Pinterest boards, and on the Scrapbooking & Paper crafts board I found some things I wanted to download.  In the process of checking them out, I found some beautiful Christmas tags and place cards, so thought I would share them here today.

Check out the links for these lovely printables (which are free for personal use only):


Christmas Name Placecards

Merry Christmas Tags

Angel Notecards


Image by Wild@heart
Have fun with these gorgeous printables!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Another cute ornament


Photo by Simply Ciani
I don't know what it is, but I seem to be drawn to little trees under glass as ornaments and decorations this Christmas in July!  Mason jars, too, seem to be a recurring theme this year.  So when I saw these: Mason Jar Ornaments, I had to share the idea with you all.  The "Mason jars" in this case are actually recycled baby food jars (apparently the taller type).

Have fun with this idea!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another treasured family recipe ~ Date and Nut Confections

The cute vintage background is from Free Pretty Things for You.

I've given them a sweeter, nicer name in the recipe title, but in our family these confections were always known as "Dot's Oddballs".  (I am not sure if it was my dad or Dot's husband Howard who gave them this name.  They shared the same quirky sense of humor, so it could have been either one of them,)

In case you can't read the recipe (which is in my grandmother's handwriting), here are the ingredients:

Date & Nut Confections
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped dates
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup margarine (1 stick)
2 cups rice krispies
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
vanilla to taste
coconut for rolling

In a saucepan, melt the margarine.  Add the sugar, dates, and egg.  Cook for 10 minutes only.  Stir in the rice krispies, walnuts, and vanilla.  Cool the mixture; then form into small balls and roll in flaked coconut.  Store in covered container in refrigerator.  

These treats really are very good.  And I imagine one reason the cooks in my family often made them was that you could produce a Christmas cookie quite quickly, without turning on the oven.  Enjoy this Christmas recipe, if you try it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review ~ GOOSEBERRY PATCH CHRISTMAS BOOK 12

Product photo from Amazon.com
I just acquired Gooseberry Patch Christmas Book 12this past fall.  I found a used copy (which was like new) on Amazon for an incredible price.  It came in the mail  just before our Nevada family arrived out here for a visit.  I didn't have time to look through it immediately, but that weekend we all went up to a large cabin we'd rented on a lake up north, and I took the book along.  My two daughters and I (plus my two older granddaughters) all fell in love with this book and saw many projects we wanted to make.

Gooseberry Patch Christmas Book 12 is one of Gooseberry's series of Christmas books produced in collaboration with Leisure Arts.  I have ten of these books and I cherish every one of them.  They are filled with not only the tips, hints, recipes, crafts and more that make all Gooseberry Patch books special, but also with gorgeous, inspiring photographs and step-by-step craft instructions and many full size patterns.  If you haven't seen these beautiful books, I highly recommend building a library of them.

Book 12 contains 14 chapters:

Oh-So-Festive Felt is just what you'd expect: sweet ornaments, decorations, stockings, gifts, and even a tree skirt from wool and felt.  There are some great ideas here.  Two that I want to try are the Ski Pals -- cute little wood and felt figures complete with skis and poles -- and the Sweet Gift Card Holder -- such a fun way to present a gift card.

The Twelve Days of Christmas features projects with the theme from that Christmas song.  There are ornaments, place cards, napkin rings and so on.  Also in this chapter are instructions for six adorable aprons made from vintage tablecloths and fabric.

Woodsy Welcome is a fun chapter filled with ideas inspired by the forest.  There's a woodsy welcome sign, plus wreaths and feeders for the birds.  Birch bark candles and a log tote look easy and fun to make.  And the gorgeous crocheted Woodland Throw is one project I really want to make.

A Skater's Christmas is all about childhood winter memories.  There are knitted ornaments -- mittens, scarves, etc. -- and a simply beautiful Ice Skating Scene covered with a glass dome and ringed by vintage ornaments in icy colors.  Recipes for Spicy Cake Donuts and Hot Caramel Apple Cider would be perfect for warming up hungry skaters.

Sharing the Best Christmas is a chapter filled with handmade gifts.  This past Christmas I made 2 of the Personalized Aprons for my older granddaughters. 


These are made from tea towels and came out so cute!  Some projects here, like the Hankie Blankies, are made from vintage handkerchiefs and linens.  I plan to make two of the blankies this Christmas!  And there are other lovely gifts, like a JOY Banner, a Posy Pendant, a Felt Fob, a Picture Perfect Paperweight, and much more.  Another I really want to try is a Snowbound Tray, made from a picture frame.

Give it with a Festive Flair is all about gift wrapping and presentation, just as you might guess.  It includes tags and cards and even a couple of yummy sounding recipes for kitchen gifts.

Crafty Kid Stuff is a short but sweet chapter filled with decorations and gifts that kids can make.  My daughters and granddaughters lliked the Spool Family and the Fleece Hat and Scarf Set.

Gifts of Goodness from the Kitchen has page after page of kitchen gifts plus creative ways to package them.  My daughter wants to try the Carrot Cake Jam since her hubby loves carrot cake.  The Graham Cracker Fudge and the Snickerdoodle Coffee Mix sound wonderful too -- in fact, every recipe in this chapter sounds great!

Casual Holiday Gathering offers recipes for those comfortable times with family and friends.  The Spinach & Clementine Salad, the Cranberry-Glazed Ham, the Butternut Squash Soup, the Crabby Artichoke Spread are all on my list to try!

A Very Merry Brunch is filled with recipes for just that.  I don't eat wheat so I was delighted to see a couple of brunch recipes I can make rather than traditional egg bakes which often include bread or croutons.  The Mini Spinach & Bacon Quiches are crustless, baked in mini muffin pans.  And the Company Breakfast Casserole includes hash browns!

All the Sweetness of the Season includes desserts and sweets of many sorts.  The Candy Cane Puffs and the Frosted Mocha Brownies would be a hit at any cookie exchange!  There's a red velvet cake, chocolate covered cherry cups and much more.

Oh, Slow Good is a small collection of slow cooker recipes to rely on during those busy December days.  It includes main dish, side dish, and dessert recipes.

The More Cooks, the Merrier suggests involving friends or neighbors in a supper swap.  These recipes would be fun to try under any circumstances, though -- the Caramel Coffee Tassies would be a good cookie swap possibility, and the Sausage & 3-Pepper Penne might be nice for a tree-trimming party.

Delicious Dishes from Your Pantry is the final chapter and shares ideas for last-minute recipes you can make from what's on hand -- there's a little bit of everything here, whether you need cookies for an exchange or bake sale, a snack mix to serve or gift, or a just a main dish for supper.

As you can tell, I love this book.  I heartily recommend it to you!

**This post contains affiliate links.**

Monday, July 22, 2013

My "Vintage Christmas" Pinterest board


Vintage Woman's Day magazine from my collection -- notice the price of 7¢
For today I am featuring another of my Pinterest boards, Vintage Christmas.  I am probably one of the more nostalgic people you will ever meet.  When I look at images of cards, decorations, ornaments, even jewelry, from the 1950s and early 1960s, I am instantly transported to my childhood ... a less complicated, more innocent, seemingly much happier world than that in which my grandchildren are growing up today.

So it's not surprising I would create a Pinterest board for a Vintage Christmas.  The things I've pinned may not all be truly vintage.  I'm sure that some are reproductions and that others are new with a vintage feel to them.  My major criteria for pinning anything to this board is that it reminds me of my childhood Christmases.  If you enjoy nostalgia and if your childhood Christmases were something like mine, you will no doubt find some happy memories on this board.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Christmas devotional poem ~ "What is Christmas?"


I have spent quite awhile searching for another Christmas devotional I wrote some years ago, with the idea of sharing it today.  I know that it is somewhere tucked away, still written on the index cards I originally jotted it down on.  Since I haven't yet located it, I thought I would share instead a Christmas poem from the back of an old church bulletin.  This poem is by Ruth H. Underhill.

WHAT IS CHRISTMAS?
 A home with gleaming windows
Of dancing candle llight,
Glistening stars of silver
High o'er a blanket of shimmering white.

Crimson poinsettias 'mid holly and pine,
Shining balls on a tree,
Happy children's faces
Makes Christmas precious to me.

Candy canes of red and white,
Presents with satin bows,
A friendly chat with a loved one
By an amber log that glows.

A Bible on the mantle
Bright eyes of a girl and a boy
As they hear the Christmas story
Singing Christmas joys.

A tiny Babe in a manger
God's gift from heaven above,
The very reason for Christmas
Perfected through His love.
-- Ruth H. Underhill


Saturday, July 20, 2013

A simply sweet ornament to craft


Photo by Craftberry Bush
Another busy day found me searching for a quick and easy ornament to link to for all of you.  My Christmas kitchen is having to take a bit of a back seat to other endeavors, yet I do want to follow through on posting here every day in July.  So far, so good!

I looked back through some ideas I had saved and found this sweetly simple ornament: Winter Wonderland ornament. There are not detailed instructions, but I think the most difficult part would be getting the tree into the ornament without breaking the glass. Might require a little experimenting... I have made the type with the tiny pine cones (actually hemlock cones) inside, and the easiest way to put those in the ornament is upside down. It would probably be the same with the tree, so you would want to wait until the paint or glue is dry before attempting this. I am going to try one and see how it goes. I'll post about it here when I do!

Edited to add: I've been told that the link above does not work. I think I have fixed it, so if you try going there now, you should get to the correct page.  My friend Les found a link that does work, and as a bonus, it contains detailed instructions for how to make variations on this lovely ornament! Look here: handmade ornament. Have fun with these sweet ideas!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cute Christmas printables featuring Mason jars


Image by Twigg Studios
In search of a quick and fun craft idea to post about today, I found these adorable free printables!  There's a Mason jar holding twigs and berries, an inverted Mason jar serving as a cloche for a tiny Christmas tree -- and then there are gift tags which feature both designs!

Go here to check it out: Christmas Mason Jar Clip Art.  And have fun with these sweet designs!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Another family recipe ~ "Bessie's Mix"


From Life Magazine, June 1952
Kitchen gifts were somewhat of a tradition in my family as I was growing up.  My mother made pans and pans of her maple fudge, but she also made lots of Christmas cookies,  and loaves of cinnamon swirled bread which she topped with a thin white icing plus sliced almonds and a few candied cherries.  Although I don't recall my grandmother giving kitchen gifts in my childhood, in later years she made homemade hot cocoa mix by the jar to give to her married children and grandchildren.  And she, too, made fudge -- I believe it was the traditional five minute fudge only using some butterscotch chips in addition to the chocolate ones.  But one of the favorite, favorite gifts our family received each year was a gift-wrap or contact-paper covered coffee can filled with what we called "Bessie's Mix."  My great-aunt made batches of Chex party mix every year and packaged it in the festively covered cans for gift-giving.

A few years ago, I made Christmas memory books for my married kids and my parents, and ended up making a couple for other relatives as well.  At the time I did a bit of research to try and find the recipe Bessie would have used.  It's somewhat different from the Chex Mix of today.  I seem to
recall that there were short, thin pretzel sticks in it, peanuts, and Cheerios.  I definitely remember fighting with my siblings over the Cheerios.  These seemed to absorb the butter and seasonings better than anything else, and were really tasty.  But I never did find the recipe I thought she had used. 

So I cobbled together a few 1950s recipes I found on line and came up with this:
"BESSIE'S MIX"
2 cups Corn Chex
2 cups Rice Chex
2 cups Wheat Chex
2 cups Cheerios
2 cups thin short pretzel sticks
3/4 cup salted peanuts
1/2 cup melted butter
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
 Preheat oven to 250°. Mix cereals, pretzels and peanuts together in a large bowl.  Combine the melted butter and seasonings; pour over cereal mixture and toss all together to mix very well.  Spread cereal mixture on a baking sheet or in a 13x9-inch pan.  Bake mixture for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Spread mix on paper towels to cool before serving or packaging.

 Transfer mix to Contact˙-paper-covered cans with lids -- like coffee cans or peanut cans.  Give a tin of mix to everyone on your Christmas list.

In preparation for this post, I tried doing a bit more research.  This time I located the original 1952 recipe, the one that goes with the picture above.  Here it is:

Wonderful nibbling
at snack-time!

Try this new PARTY MIX

Add 1/2 c. butter in shallow baking pan. Stir in 1 T. Worcestershire sauce. Add 2 c. Wheat Chex, 2 c. Rice Chex, and 1/2 c. nuts. Sprinkle with 1/4 t. salt and 1/8 t. garlic salt; mix well. Heat 30 mins in 300 degree oven, stirring every 10 minutes. Cool.



Note that it contains no Corn Chex, which hadn't yet been invented in 1952.  But I am pretty sure that the recipe my aunt made did contain corn chex. 

And I also found this recipe: Real Original Chex Party Mix.

Really, there are endless variations of this mix (and families have their own traditional names for it like Scrabble, or Nuts and Bolts) -- but the bottom line is that a tin of mix still makes a wonderful gift to share with a family!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stocking stuffer idea ~ mini clipboards for sticky notes


Photo from Dollar Store Crafts.com
I saw this on Pinterest, and it is such a cute idea: Sticky Note Clipboards.  Basically you use square chipboard coasters, recycled from restaurants, then cover them with scrapbook paper and embellish a binder clip to make the clipboard.  Then you add a pad of sticky notes and there is your adorable sticky note clipboard! 

The original post has a number of comments as to what might be used instead of the restaurant coasters, so if you don't have any coasters on hand you will still be able to make these.

I am definitely going to make some of these for stocking stuffers and little add-ins to gift baskets, etc.  Aren't they cute?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review ~ CHRISTMAS PANTRY

Product photo from Amazon.com
I have so many favorite Gooseberry Patch cookbooks that I had a hard time choosing one to review.  Their numbered Leisure Arts Christmas books are probably my very favorites, as they have fabulous photos and detailed project instructions.  But the cookbooks are fantastic also.  Today I want to introduce you to (or remind you of) Christmas Pantry.

I think I bought my copy in a Cracker Barrel somewhere in the South.  The subtitle is "A Christmas keepsake filled with tasty recipes, delightful holiday ideas & fond remembrances", and that's a very accurate description of this book.  One thing that particularly appeals to me about Christmas Pantry is that, just like a real pantry, it is so well-stocked with ingredients, recipes, and memories for a country Christmas. 

Here's a rundown of the chapters: Frosty Mornings is, of course, all about breakfast. I have made the Raspberry French Toast numerous times; it's great with blueberries too.  The Cheesy Holiday Eggs (made in custard cups) sound fantastic.  Many more yummy breakfast recipes may be found here.

Welcome Friends is all about appetizers.  The Holiday Cheese Ball is a favorite with us.  I've also tried, and liked, the Herb-Marinated Cheese.  You're sure to find a new and different appetizer to welcome friends and family to your home!

Hearty Holiday Fare features main dishes of all types for the holiday meals.  The Italian Beef is a slow cooker recipe for using in sandwich buns and it is fantastic -- would be great after a day of shopping or decorating.  Another that I really want to try is the meatless Roasted Vegetables & Pasta.  Lots of main-dish inspiration here!

As you might guess, Christmas Sideboard is loaded with all manner of side dishes -- everything from soup to salads and veggies to breads.  The Broccoli Noodle Soup is one that I've tried and loved.  The Firecracker Stew is also excellent.  But don't stop there -- this chapter is filled with great recipes.

Dessert Sampler is just that; a sampling of festive desserts from cakes to cookies to pies to fudge.  I have not tried any of the dessert recipes, but the Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake sounds like a good one to begin with!

Christmas in the Country is a collection of fabulous decorating ideas for a country Christmas.  If you are a DIY type, you will find a bunch of ideas here to try.  The Memory Jars look like a wonderful and easy idea.  I have made the spice votive candles as described in the Candle Ornaments, but did not add wire to hang them.

If you like to make your own gifts, you'll find plenty of inspiration in the Handmade Gifts chapter.  There are instructions for everything from bird treats to a keepsake cookbook.

Farmhouse Pantry is filled with kitchen gifts: jar mixes for hot chocolate, soups, and of course cookies.  Lots of great ideas!  I love giving kitchen gifts at Christmas!

Christmas Memories Collection is just what you might expect -- a collection of wonderful memories from all over.  Some of the traditions shared here just might prompt you to start a new tradition in your own family.  It's so heartwarming to read about how others celebrate the season.

Of course, with any Gooseberry Patch book, there is something extra.  In addition to the absolutely gorgeous illustrations, you will find sprinkled throughout the chapters quotes, craft and decorating ideas, and so on.  Every page has a little added treat of some sort.  Here's a fun idea:  "Wire together several jingle bells, then top with a homespun bow and a loop.  Slipped over a doorknob, they'll joyfully greet all your holiday guests!"  Another lovely idea is that of framing something small and sentimental -- a handwritten recipe or a tiny mitten, for example -- as a gift. 

As you can tell, I love this book!  Why not go to Gooseberry Patch or to Amazon and find a copy of Christmas Pantry for yourself?

** Note: This post contains affiliate links.**

Monday, July 15, 2013

Another Pinterest board ~ Crafting for Christmas


Some of the handmade gift tags I've made from recycled Christmas cards
Today I'm featuring another of my Pinterest boards -- Crafting for Christmas.  When I started out on Pinterest, I had just one Christmas board that I pinned everything Christmas-related onto.  Later, I started other boards, including this Crafting for Christmas one.  I had pinned a few things onto it, but I decided to go to my general Christmas board and repin all the Christmas crafts onto this. 

You will find all sorts of ideas here from paper crafting to crochet, from gift tags to quilts.  Probably there are more ornament ideas than anything else.  Happy Browsing!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Christmas devotional ~ "Joy and Peace"


It's Sunday again, so I am sharing another Christmas devotional.  This is one I wrote in 2001 after I was asked to share at our ladies' Christmas fellowship.  I was given the theme of Joy and Peace.  It was a time in our lives and in our nation's history when we sorely needed both joy and peace.  These were the thoughts and Scriptures God brought to my mind as I prepared:

JOY AND PEACE

     The other day, on a radio news program concerning holiday shopping, I heard a very interesting item.  The subject was the decorating of holiday windows at Filene’s in Boston.  Shop windows and how they are decorated have always fascinated me, so I picked up my ears.  The whole broadcast was interesting, but what really stood out to me were the themes of this year’s windows: peace, joy, love, and hope.   The window decorations are based on the art of Mary Engelbreit.  If you are familiar with her work, you will know that her illustrations are bright and cheery, lifting the spirits of all who see them.   The themes of these windows were decided on and planned a year ago, but they could hardly be more timely or appropriate for the 2001 holiday season. Everyone, this Christmas, is hungry for comfort, for hope, and especially for joy and peace.  As I thought about these things, a line from the Christmas carol,”God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” came to mind:  It speaks of “tidings of comfort and joy”.  Oh, how we need that this year!  The good news is that joy and peace are freely available to us.  Tonight we are going to take a closer look at the joy and peace God offers us.

     Let’s look at joy first.  Dictionary definitions of joy leave much to be desired; they speak simply of “happiness” or “delight”.   The joy available to God’s people is something much deeper.  This joy rises above circumstances and focuses on the very character of God. Here’s a definition of spiritual joy:  It is not “an experience that comes from favorable circumstances, but is a sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows that all is well between himself and the Lord.”

       The Bible instructs us to rejoice. If you have your Bibles, please turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:16.  “Rejoice evermore.”   That means always.  One of my favorite Bible study helps is Believer's Bible
Commentary, by William MacDonald.  His comment on this verse is that joy can be the constant experience of the believer because Christ is the source and the subject of our joy, and Christ is in control of the circumstances.

      For another helpful Scripture, let’s turn to Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.” There’s that “always” again! Sounds impossible, you say?  How can we possibly rejoice in the Lord always?  Especially in dark times like those our nation is going through right now?  Yet we are commanded to do so. It’s true that we can’t just decide to be joyful and then begin to feel joyful.  But if we are God’s children, if we have accepted Jesus as our personal Savior, such joy is freely available to us. William MacDonald has an interesting comment on this verse, too.  He says, “The secret...is found in the words in the Lord.  No matter how dark the circumstances of life may be, it is always possible for the Christian to rejoice in the Lord. “

       This joy is produced by the Spirit of God.  Galatians 5:22 and 23  says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance...”  This kind of joy looks beyond the present to our future in Heaven.  It looks to our sovereign God,Who works all things out for our ultimate good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).

      In John 15:11, we see that joy was important to Jesus.  Before He had to leave His disciples to go to the cross, He spent much time teaching them and preparing them for the time He would no longer be on earth with them.  In this verse, He told His disciples, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy  might be full.”  Jesus wants those who love Him to have joy in their lives.  It’s to be a basic part of our Christian lives.   In spite of that, we see a lot of Christians who are not  joyful. But we have every reason to be!

      Let’s look for a minute at some of the many reasons we have to be joyful.
      1.  Our joy does not depend on circumstances, but on the spiritual realities of God’s goodness, His love for us, and His ultimate victory over sin and darkness.
       2.  Our joy is not based on anything we have done or can do,  but on the truth about our relationship with God through what Jesus has done.
       3.  The joy that God gives is not merely an emotion, but is the result of choosing to look beyond our circumstances to what is true about our forgiven, redeemed life in Jesus.

       This is all very interesting, isn’t it?  And it’s all completely true, because it’s in God’s Word.    Psalm 119:160 says:  “Thy Word is true from the beginning: and every one of Thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.”  But what are some practical ways we can experience God’s joy every day, no matter what’s happening in our lives?  Here are some suggestions that have helped me:

 1.  Give thanks in everything.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us:  “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  Whatever may be happening in your life -- good or bad -- you can give thanks to God for His sovereignty, His perfect plan, and His perfect timing.  On September 11, I remember thanking God that all of this was no surprise to Him and being so thankful that He was in control.  Things may look out of control to us, but they are not.  They are in God’s control, and He makes no mistakes.

 2.  Focus on the truth of God’s promises.  When you find precious promises in His Word, mark them with a highlighter.  Memorize the ones that are especially meaningful for you.  Having God’s promises in our hearts and minds will give us much to thank Him for when we are trying to obey the verse we just looked at and give thanks in everything.  Just an example here; one that’s familiar to some of you but not to others. In July 1996, one month after my youngest daughter graduated from high school, her best friend Emily was killed in a car accident.  Emily was from Florida, but had gone to high school here in New England.  She had spent many hours in our home and considered us her New England parents, even signing letters to us “#3” as in daughter number 3.  We loved Emily like our own child.  And yet, when Emily’s mom called to tell me she had been killed instantly, somehow I was able to thank God that He had not allowed Emily to suffer. I was able to focus on God’s promise, found in 2 Corinthians 5:8, that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

 3.  Look up.  Take your eyes off your circumstances and focus on God instead.  Listen to Psalm 121:1 and 2:  “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”  God is in control and He is working all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11).

 4.  With God’s help, obey His command to be joyful always.  As author Jerry Bridges says, “We are not to sit around waiting for our circumstances to make us joyful.  We are commanded to be joyful
always...we should continually be growing in joy.”

      Now let’s look at peace. We are not thinking here of world peace, but personal peace, peace in our hearts.  People often think of peace as the absence of problems, or the feeling we experience when life is going well for us.  Sometimes we try to achieve that feeling for ourselves, in varying ways.  We might choose to try and make ourselves feel better by spending money.  Ever heard that saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping”?  I’ve done that!  Sometimes we try to ignore problems and just hope they will go away.  Sometimes we turn to other sources to help us feel better.  Chocolate, for example, or other “comfort food”.  I heard a very interesting story from my friend Karyl.  She wrote me: “A...friend who lives in NYC, Greenwich Village, said she went to her
favorite neighborhood cafe´a few days after the [terrorist] attacks for a cozy lunch or supper, and just wanted macaroni and cheese so badly.  The waitress told her they were out of two things -- macaroni and cheese and brownies.  She almost cried.”

       But we don’t need to try to make ourselves feel better by these or any other tactics of our own.  God’s peace is  readily available to us, despite our circumstances.  In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I
leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The peace that Jesus spoke of was a combination of hope, trust, and quietness of mind and soul, brought about by a reconciliation with God. Let’s look at this wonderful peace a little more closely.

 1.  Our peace has nothing to do with our circumstances, but comes with knowing we have a right relationship with God.  Romans 5:1 says: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 2.  Our peace has nothing to do with daily challenges or crises, but with the certain knowledge that our times are in God’s hands (Ps.31:15)

 3.  Our peace has nothing to do with the conditions of our life, but with the fact that God is all-sufficient.  Philippians 4:4 says:  “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  We will never have a real need that God is not able to meet.

 4.  Our peace comes with knowing that our heavenly Father is always with us.  He is omnipresent -- He can be everywhere at once -- and He is fully aware of every detail of our lives.  We can never be anyplace where God is not with us.  Hebrews 13:5 reminds us: “...for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

     This peace of God is amazing, isn’t it?  And it’s freely available to us whenever we need it.  But we have to do our part by actively trusting God.  I heard a great illustration once, concerning how little children trust their daddy to catch them when he tosses them into the air or when he says “Jump to Daddy!”  My husband had a classic thing that he did when our kids were little that we still laugh about.  If we were hiking, or on top of a mountain, he would invariably pose the kids on the edge of a precipice to take a picture.  They didn’t enjoy being out there, but they knew it was perfectly safe or he wouldn’t have put them there.  They trusted his judgment.   The point is, if we can trust our earthly fathers -- who are fallible -- that much, then we certainly ought to be able to trust our heavenly Father, who is infallible.

      Let’s look at some practical ways to take hold of the peace that God so freely offers us.

 1.  Before we can know the peace of God in our lives, we first must know Jesus as our Savior.  His death on the cross for our sins is the only bridge between a holy God and sinful human beings.  In Ephesians 2:14 we read, “He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.”

 2.  When a difficult situation comes into your life, don’t fret, worry, or panic.  Instead, make the choice to trust God.  In Luke chapter 8, we find the familiar story of how Jesus and his disciples were crossing the sea of Galilee in a fishing boat.  Jesus was sleeping in the back part of the boat.  A terrible storm came up suddenly, a common experience on that body of water.  The terrified disciples woke Jesus up.  Another account of this story, in Mark 4, tells us what they said:  “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?”  You will remember that Jesus calmed the wind and waves.  And then, in Luke 8:25, He asked the disciples a question: “Where is your faith?”  He would probably ask us the same question when we fail to trust Him.  Next time a scary situation comes up in your life, choose to trust God.  He will give you His peace.

 3.  Pray about your concerns rather than fretting or worrying about them.  Let’s turn to Philippians 4:6 and 7.  “Be careful [or anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  If you will do this -- if you will pray and commit your concerns to God, thanking Him for all He will do, you will experience the peace that passes all understanding.  Pour out all your requests, all that burdens your heart, and leave the outcome in God’s capable hands.  Worry has never accomplished anything, and it certainly does not contribute to peace.  In fact, worry is sin.   Here is a great quote from Believer’s Bible Commentary:  “Worry is sin because it denies the wisdom of God; it says that He doesn’t know what He’s doing.  It denies the love of God; it says He does not care.  And it denies the power of God; it says that He isn’t able to deliver me from whatever is causing me to worry.”

 4.  Stay your mind on God.  Look at Him rather than at the circumstances.  Focus on the truth: that He is with you, that He is in control, that He loves you and is working all things together for your
good and His glory.  Isaiah 26:3 promises:  “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee.”  Very recently I was reminded of this truth as we traveled back from South Carolina.  One thing we enjoyed along the way was the encouraging, often patriotic signs and billboards that have sprouted up since September 11.  On our return trip, we were on somewhat of a tight schedule since we needed to catch a ferry from Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, NJ where we planned to spend the night with friends.  We stopped at a scenic overlook at the end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and inadvertently locked the keys -- both sets! -- in the car.  Yes, we prayed first, we did get help quickly and were eventually able to open a car door, but we lost a half hour, and time was tight.  As we drove tensely along, I spotted one of those ever-present billboards.  But this one was different, and its message was just for us.  Here’s what it said:  “Keep your focus on God.  He can be trusted.”  And He can!  How did the story turn out?  Well, we were late.  But you know what?  The ferry was running late too.  And we easily made it onto the ferry we’d
hoped to take.

      In closing, I’d like to share an illustration that sums up all we’ve talked about.  It’s a story about Paganini, a great violinist. One day he came out on a stage to face an audience.  Just as they ended
their applause, he made the discovery that there was something wrong with his violin.  In fact, it was not his famous and valuable instrument at all.  Here’s what happened, according to the story quoted in the devotional book Streams in the Desert:   “He felt paralyzed for a moment, then turned to the audience and told them there had been some mistake and he did not have his own violin.  He stepped back behind the curtain thinking that it was still where he had left it, but discovered that someone had stolen his and left that old second-hand one in its place.  He remained back of the curtain a moment, then came out before his audience and said:
      ‘Ladies and Gentlemen:  I will show you that the music is not in the instrument, but in the soul.’  And he played as he had never played before; and out of that second-hand instrument, the music poured forth until the audience was enraptured with enthusiasm and the applause almost lifted the ceiling of the building, because the man had revealed to them that music was not in the machine but in his own soul.”  Mrs. Charles Cowman, the author of Streams in the Desert, added this challenge to her readers:
     “It is your mission, tested and tried one, to walk out on the stage of this world and reveal to all earth and Heaven that the music is not in conditions, not in things, not in externals, but the music of life is in your own soul.”

     That’s your mission.  That’s my mission.  We are to go out into our daily lives and show the world that true peace and true joy are not found in circumstances, not in possessions, not in external things of any kind.  True joy and peace comes from within, and its only source is God Himself.  Let’s go out from here tonight and show the world what “tidings of comfort and joy” are really all about.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Christmas books with coordinating crafts ~ fun idea to use with kids or grandkids

From Jolly Old Santa Claus, a favorite from my childhood
Here is a different sort of Christmas activity ... a countdown, if you will.  It would be great fun with kids of any age and also with grandchildren, of course.  Here's the link: Christmas books with coordinating crafts.

I was at a loss for what to share today .... I had some ideas, but they all were going to take more time than I have today.  So I went through one of the folders in my email inbox.  I get lots of blogs via email because it's much easier to keep up with them that way.  If the content interests me, I can go to the blog and read more.  If it doesn't, I delete it with no time wasted.  Often, these days, I will go to the blog and pin the idea.  But back before Pinterest, I put these emails into folders.  When I needed an idea for today I went to my Christmas Crafting folder.  This one looked very interesting so I thought I would share it with all of you.

Basically, the idea is to read a Christmas book every day before Christmas and then do a craft that fits with it.  The Animals' Christmas Eve, for instance, featured a manger ornament.  The Night Before Christmas was sugarplum ornaments.  And so on.  This would be so much fun for the kids!

I know some families do read a Christmas book a day until Christmas, but this idea of linking a craft to it was new to me.

I had a couple of fun variations occur to me.  One was that instead of doing only crafts, one could change it up a bit by making recipes to coordinate with some of the books.  For example, sugar plum candies to go along with The Night Before Christmas, or donkey-shaped cookies for a book about the first Christmas.

My other thought would require some planning, but I thought of giving this to a family as a gift -- books, along with the craft ideas and some or all of the needed materials.  You could give the gift in November and the family would have the fun of doing this activity together.

Another idea might be to give a child one book and a craft "kit" (made up by you) to go with it, and do this every year for the different kids in a family.  An enjoyable way to pass the days before Christmas.

Have fun with this idea!  I'm thinking I just might do this for my faraway grandkids -- if not this year, then some year soon!


Friday, July 12, 2013

A simple Christmas craft -- glittered Christmas light bulbs

Photo by Crafting and Creativity
For quite awhile, I have been saving burned out Christmas light bulbs and candelabra bulbs from our dining room chandelier.  I have had a vague idea of turning them into Christmas decorations by dipping them into paint and maybe adding glitter or some other embellishment.  This week a third bulb burned out in the chandelier, we just bought new ones and so there were three burned out bulbs sitting on my dining table this morning.

I had previously pinned this idea on Pinterest and thought I would share it with all of you: Glittery Christmas Lights.  Her tutorial is clear and simple, and all of the components come from the dollar store.  I have everything on hand I need to make these right now, though I don't really have time today.  Maybe you would like to give these a try, too.  I'm going to!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Recipe Cards ~ a fun stocking stuffer idea

Recipe card above is just a sample of the selection at Graphic Garden.
A fun little stocking stuffer for cooks of all ages is recipe cards.  There are so many great free printable recipe cards out there!  Print them out on card stock, cut them out and tie a  stack of them together with a ribbon, jute, or baker's twine.  You have a sweet stocking stuffer all ready to go!

You need not restrict yourself to Christmas themed recipe cards, though there are tons of them out there.  Graphic Garden has many, many designs available in all different themes.  Check them out here: Free Printable Recipe Cards.  There are all manner of seasonal themes, plus food themes like pie, cake, bread, preserves, tea, and so on.

I found these Free Printable Gingerbread Recipe Cards via Tipnut's Crafty Christmas.  Incidentally, I now find that the Crafty Christmas page has disappeared and the link I shared no longer works.  I've made inquiries and am trying to find out what happened with it.

Tipnut does have a very nice printable recipe card collection and I hope you can access it here: Tipnut's recipe card collection.  There are over 55 different designs linked to.  The cards are made with all sorts of different motifs from retro to modern, flowers to food, and everything in between.  I fell in love with this one: vintage baking girl, which shows a 1950s little girl frosting cookies.

Why not print out a few recipe cards to tuck in the Christmas stocking of your favorite cook?


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Another treasured recipe ~ Date Cake

The gorgeous background is from Free Pretty Things for You
For today I am sharing another family recipe.  This is another of those recipes that was traditional in my family when I was growing up, but I have never tried making it: Grammie Wallace's Date Cake. 


In case you can't read it, here's what it says:

DATE CAKE
1 cup sugar 
1/2 cup butter
2 cups flour
1 cup sour milk
1 teaspoon [baking] soda
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg and salt
1/2 pound dates, cut fine  
Bake in loaf.

Back in the early 1900s or late 1800s (because I really have no idea how old this recipe is), dates and other dried fruits were very festive and often included in holiday treats.  This recipe was one that my great-grandmother had passed on to my grandmother, who was born in 1901.  It could very well have been a recipe from my great-grandmother's family, who were Scottish through and through, emigrating right from Scotland to Vermont. 

For years my grandmother or my mother made this cake as part of our Christmas (and, if I remember right, Thanksgiving) dinners, but not a lot of people ate it.  They always frosted it with a thick white frosting and put a row of walnut halves down the center of the loaf, so it looked quite festive.  To me, as a child, it paled in comparison with the other desserts like pies and candy or even ice cream.  I was completely unconscious of its historical value.

Now, I wish I knew more about it.  I was fortunate to inherit my Great-great Aunt Maude's handwritten cookbook, so I do have the recipe.  Maybe this Christmas I will see if I can adapt it to gluten free so I can taste it, just for old times' sake.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Book Reviews ~ COOKIE SWAP, plus THE WELLESLEY COOKIE EXCHANGE COOKBOOK

Product photo from Amazon.com
I mentioned yesterday that I have always wanted to host a cookie swap.  I'm not sure if I'll actually ever get to do that, but I think it would be so much fun.  If I ever do, I own 2 great books that could be a big help to me.

The newer of the two is Gooseberry Patch's Cookie Swap, one of their smaller softcover cookbooks.  At the front of this jam-packed little book is a section called Cookie Swap Basics.  They give you a timeline to use, starting with choosing a date and time for the party, and sending out invitations, 6 weeks before.  This section is hugely helpful and practical.

Next there is a section called You're Invited, with invitations you can choose from to copy and print.  There are three different styles to choose from, plus a printable recipe card.

Then we come to the Cookie Swap Goodies, with a number of yummy-sounding recipes that would add interest and great taste to any cookie swap you might host or attend.  There are a few candy recipes as well.  Some of the cookies I would love to try are the Jolly Lime Thumbprints and the Sparkling Orange Snowballs.

All throughout this section are tips, ideas, even mini-recipes sprinkled on the various pages.  I thought this idea sounded like fun: "Everyone's a winner!  Give raffle tickets to guests as they arrive and raffle off prizes like cookie cutters, holiday decorations or cookbooks."

All in all a fun little book and one that would be extremely helpful to any cookie swap hostess!  You can find it here: Cookie Swap

The second helpful book in my library is The Wellesley Cookie Exchange Cookbook, by Susan Mahnke Peery.    Mine is a hardcover published in 1986, so if you want that one you would be most likely to find it in a store that sells used books.  There is a paperback available on Amazon; you can find the link here: Wellesley Cookie Exchange Cookbook.  I would recommend getting a used one; they have them for as little as 1¢ with $3.99 shipping.  A bargain!

This cookbook has ten hefty chapters, starting with A Cookie Primer, which gives expert advice on ingredients, equipment, preparation and storage of cookies.

Classic Cookies is a chapter filled with just what you would expect; classic  family favorites like chocolate chip, snickerdoodles and so on.  The Double Gingersnaps are excellent, as are the Peanut Blossoms.  I have made both of these, as well as many of the others in this chapter, countless times.

There's a chapter on Refrigerator Cookies and one on No-Bake and Fried Cookies. 

Heirloom Recipes contains treasured family recipes from many ethnic backgrounds.  I have made the Italian Chocolate Cookies many times and they are fabulous and authentic.

Then there's a chapter titled simply "Chocolate", and one called Bars and Squares.  When my girls were young, they baked and sold squares at a couple of local workplaces to earn money for their American Girl doll clothes and books.  They made the Congo Bars, the Oh Henry Bars, and the Apricot Oatmeal Bars literally dozens of times.

Tea Party Fancies is a fun chapter.  I've made the Mocha Nut Butter Cookies and the Creme de Menthe Bars many times -- yummy!

And of course, there is a chapter  on Christmas Cookies.  The Sacher Torte Cookies are worth the price of the book and are a longtime favorite on my cookie trays.  The Spritz Chocolate Sandwich cookies are outstanding, though they do take a bit of work.

Lastly, there's a chapter called the Cookie Exchange Buffet, with recipes for punches, cakes, desserts and so on.  I don't endorse any punch recipes that contain alcohol, but must note that some are included.  I have made the Yule Log Cake from this chapter many times, and it has always turned out perfectly.  The Clayton Carrot Cake is fantastic also.

If you enjoy baking, I recommend this book to you.  It's a great resource for cookie recipes all year round!


** note: This post contains affiliate links.**

Monday, July 08, 2013

Christmas cookie exchange! -- another of my Pinterest boards

 (Photo by Taste of Home -- these pastel spritz, made with jello, are another favorite here!)
For today, I'm going to share another of my newer Pinterest boards -- Christmas Cookie Exchange!

I get quite a few blogs by email and I have often seen cookie recipes that would be great for Christmas (and often for other times of year as well.  As long as they are not actually Christmas themed or red and green, the smaller, fancier cookies work well for teas, showers, weddings, receptions, birthdays and so on.  So don't restrict yourself to using these recipes for Christmas).

Anyway, I decided to start pinning these recipes to their own special board.  I named it Christmas Cookie Exchange! because I have always wanted to host a cookie exchange.  Maybe someday I will!  More about that tomorrow!  Until then, enjoy my virtual cookie swap.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

A Christmas devotional ~ "The Most Wonderful Time"?

I thought it would be nice, on the Sundays in July, to share some Christmas devotionals I've written over the years.  This is the first one I wrote, probably 20 years ago.  I hope it is a blessing to someone.

The Most Wonderful Time?

I love Christmas! I don't know about you, but ever since I was a child I have loved this special time of year. I guess maybe our childhood memories of the holiday have a lot to do with how we view it as adults. Even if our childhood Christmases were disappointing, we decide our grownup Christmases will be perfect.

My own memories are wonderful! We hadn't yet grasped the full meaning of the Christmas story, but it was a special time anyway. My father built a small wooden stable, and we set up our manger scene every year. My mother baked for days: cookies and candies and holiday breads. Christmas Eve was spent delivering goodies to neighbors and loved ones. We just loved seeing everyone else's decorations and putting up our own.

So it's no wonder, with memories like these, that I still love Christmas and want it to be just as wonderful for my own family. Along about October, I get out my Christmas magazines and craft books and begin planning for the holiday. By the way, that's not early enough! Invariably I run out of time and energy, and sometimes out of money, too. And invariably the Lord brings me back down to earth by reminding me what this is really, actually all about. One of my craft books is "Scrap Savers Christmas Stitchery" by Sandra Lounsbury Foose. In the introduction she offers some very wise words:

"How quickly the Christmas season is upon us... At Christmas time, I always need more Christmas TIME! There's not even a moment to open one of those magazines that promise 'The Very Best Christmas Ever.'

"Then, in the midst of all this busyness, I remember that the miracle and the memories of Christmas are the true gifts of the season. So even if my own preparations aren't complete, Christmas is complete."


Isn't that true? In our quest for the perfect Christmas, we forget that the perfect Christmas has already occurred.

She goes on to say, "As you begin your holiday plans, think about the miracle of that first Christmas, which really was 'The Best Christmas Ever."

And that is so true. That is what we need to be focusing on. That's one reason I always look forward to our Ladies' Christmas Fellowship at church. It never fails to help me get my plans into the right perspective. But we should be doing that anyway. How?

I'm as guilty as anyone else of trying to cram too much into December. Church and school activities, decorating, sewing, baking, shopping, wrapping, sending cards -- it all takes time! How can we choose what and what not to do so that we don't lose sight of what it's really all about?

Here is a Scripture to help us with our choices. "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2) This has long been a favorite verse of mine, and it has helped me with making decisions about other things. The Phillips translation says it this way: "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold." A paraphrase of this verse says: "Don't copy the behaviors and customs of the world."

All believers should be nonconformists to the world's thinking. There are many facets of the way the world looks at Christmas that many not be harmful, but distract us from its real meaning. For example, it's wonderful to decorate your house for the holiday, but not if it keeps you from coming to church. It's fine to get all your craft projects, shopping, and wrapping done early, but not if you neglect your devotions in the process.

Have you noticed that in addition to those articles that promise the very best Christmas ever, there's another kind of article, usually in the same magazine? These have titles like this:

1) "The Holidays -- Heavenly or Hectic?"
2) "In Pursuit of Tranquility"
3) "Fending Off the Holiday Blues"
4) "95 Holiday Survival Tips"
5) "150 Ways to Conquer Christmas Chaos"
And my personal favorite,
6) "'Twas the Night Before Christmas -- and Nothing was Done!"

As I read over one of these articles, I found myself translating its advice into terms that will help me as a Christian to keep a right perspective on Christmas. It was helpful to me, and I hope it will be to you also.  The numbered points came from the article I read, but the paragraph beneath each point is my own thoughts along with scripture verses.

1)The first point: Maintain your focus on what is important to you.

As Christians, our first priority is to please the Lord. So any activities need to be considered in light of His Word. We've already looked at Romans 12:2 and the fact that we shouldn't conform to this world. Another priority at Christmastime -- and all the time -- is to spend time with other believers. Hebrews 10:25 encourages us: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." We are to be out for church services and spending time encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ. In years when Christmas falls on a Sunday, this can be especially challenging. And yet, what better place is there to be on the day we celebrate Christ's birth?

2) Practice calm.

The best way for a believer to remain calm is to depend upon the Lord moment by moment. Spend much time in prayer and in meditating on God's Word. Luke 18:1 reminds us, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint." The word "faint" here means "to lose heart." When do we lose heart? When we don't keep praying about a matter, but try to take things into our own hands and solve the problem with our own efforts. It doesn't work. No wonder we lose heart! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us, "Pray without ceasing." Let's also consider Philippians 4:6-7: "Be careful for nothing: but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." That word "careful" means "anxious". So we are to be anxious for nothing, but to pray and trust the Lord for the outcome.

3) Look beyond the trimmings.

This really should be #1. What is the reason we are celebrating? We are all familiar with John 3:16. Yes, God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to die to save sinners like you and me. Galatians 4:4-5 says, "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." The words of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-11 are a good reminder to us: "Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

4) Evaluate your expectations.

We shouldn't expect our holiday to live up to our childhood memories or to the world's idea of a perfect Christmas. Make sure our activities and choices line up with God's Word. Psalm 32:8 reminds us that God will help us with our choices: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye." Psalm 119:105 tells us, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."

5) Curb the holiday splurge.

Don't spend money you can't afford to spend. Remember Acts 20:35 -- it is more blessed to give than to receive. Even with your children, try to keep the emphasis on what they will be giving -- not what they will be getting. Some practical suggestions that worked for me: Have children make gifts or buy small gifts for everyone on their list. At present-opening time, have each one hand out a present, then everyone watches the recipient open the gift before going on to another.

6) Reach out to someone else.

In particular, reach out to them with friendship and with the Gospel. At this time of year, people are often more receptive to spiritual things. For years, we've baked cookies and made up plates of them for our neighbors, tying them up with a pretty ribbon and adding a lovely Christmas tract. During this season, many of us will put tracts in our Christmas cards or find the opportunity to speak a word of witness to family and friends. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs, "Be ready always to give an answer to every man of the hope that is in you.. ."

7) Be kind to yourself.

The best way to do this is to do the things which please God. An important biblical principle is that obedience is always followed by blessing. John 13:17 encourages us: "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."

8) Create "white" spaces.

The article I was reading defined "white" spaces as "restful, uncrowded margins of time." Doesn't that sound wonderful? For the Christian, these times are best spent communing with the Lord. Take that time at the beginning of every day to read your Bible and pray. Commit your day into His hands, and He will give you strength for all you need to do. "Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass." (Psalm 37:5)

I'd like to close with a thought from my friend Karyl Bannister, from her essay in the December 1989 issue of Cook & Tell. She wrote: "Traditions bring comforting predictability to holiday observances and thus seem to simplify this busy time, to make it somewhat easier to do all the things we think we must do for this grand occasion... But what are we celebrating -- the traditions themselves, or that humblest and most hallowed happening of ages ago, that occasioned the traditions in the first place? Just what is it that we observe, in the midst of the merriment? Are the bits of business that fidget around the edges of this truly momentous event, too busy?" She adds, "As life unfolds its seasons and its lessons, it offers choices at every turn."

May our choices this Christmas season be those that glorify God, point our friends and neighbors to Him, encourage our fellow believers, and bless our own lives with His joy. It truly can be "the most wonderful time of the year"!