Mason Christmas gift jars

Simple Gifts in Mason Jars – great last-minute Christmas gift idea

Mason Christmas gift jars

Today I’m wondering…..do you have any last-minute gifts to give?

Perhaps you’re going to someone’s home for the holidays and need a small token of your appreciation. Maybe you are looking for just the right “something” for your child’s teacher. Or do you have some close friends or church small group members to whom you’d like to present with a little gift of love and appreciation?

Well, you’re in luck, even at the last minute, especially if you have a supply of mason or other decorative jars at your disposal. While last-minute Christmas shopping is less than appealing to most people, and DIY gifts are too time consuming at this point in the season, this simple make-it-yourself gift is an exception.

By the way, if you like jars like some of us do, I highly recommend stocking up on them when you see a good price or sale, find a great deal on Amazon (like these colored mason jars or these fun, whimsical jars), or come across nice jars from products you use and yard or other sales.

I have purchased several different colors of mason jars (mostly pints), from stores like Target and Christmas Tree Shops. I keep nice-looking jelly-jars and other interesting jars from products I buy or receive. Even dollar stores offer either mason or other interesting jars. And if your family and friends know you love and use jars, they may even offer you some they have hanging around.

If this is truly last minute and you don’t have any appropriate jars, head on over to your nearest supermarket or other local store and I’m willing to bet they will carry an assortment of canning jars for you to purchase.

In a pinch, you can also adapt some of these ideas to other cute or pretty containers you may have or find. (For example, here are some colorful, practical, plastic containers and these organza bags are nice too (and not just for a wedding, as suggested).

empty colored mason and other jars

Once you’ve assembled your gift-giving jars or containers, next you need the gift contents.

In this post, I am presenting any and all ideas I can think of that would make a nice and/or useful gift. I would choose items that you love, especially that you know would suit the one to whom you’re giving the gift, and/or items that you have purchased, received or collected for this purpose.

(I will provide several links to ideas on Amazon, but you may find suitable gift items from just about anywhere: dollar stores, online stores, supermarkets, gift stores, drug stores, big chain stores, warehouse/club stores. Ideally, you may wish to be collecting these items as you go along as well; you never know when you will see a great sale or clearance price on items that can become part of a lovely gift. You’ll stretch your precious dollars most when you can prepare in advance.)

The ideas I’m including here are simple, quick and economical. (Yes, you could fill a jar with precious jewels, money and/or a collection of gift cards if that works for you, but most of us need more affordable ideas.)

Assorted goodies to fill gift jars

Ideas for filling your gift jars:

  1. Hot cocoa mix: layered cocoa (I wrote a whole post about this last year), homemade mix (using a recipe such as this), or even store-bought cocoa mix topped with mini-marshmallows and/or crushed candy canes (crush your own or purchase pre-crushed candy canes.)
  2. Assortment of holiday and/or other tea-bags: maybe you have some at your home already or you can buy some to share
  3. Hot chocolate packets: add marshmallows, mini chocolate chips and/or candy canes to mix in
  4. Votive or tealight candles: fill up the jar with different colors and scents and perhaps some match sticks
  5. Small toiletry items, nail polishes, and/or make-up items:you can include such items as small nail files, individual eye-shadows, bath salts/bubbles, travel size shampoo or hand lotions, cute socks (rolled up)
  6. Christmas candy and/or nice chocolates: my absolute favorites are Lindor truffles; any individually wrapped candy or chocolates would be nice
  7. Combination or theme jars: combine some of the above ideas that work together (tealights, bath crystals, and a shower pouf; tea, hot cocoa packs and truffles; Christmas tea, candy and a small ornament)
  8. Homemade trail mix, granola, or snack mix: make up your own mix with dried fruits and nuts or follow a recipe idea (This Pinterest page has many interesting Christmas recipes for both trail and snack mixes, while this looks like a nice recipe for healthy, homemade granola.)
  9. Small arts and craft supplies: beads and jewelry making supplies; stickers or craft supplies for a child; small crayons and/or drawing supplies; assorted mini gel pens, small colored pencils, markers or crayons and tape or glue sticks
  10. Decorative office supplies: colorful and/or decorative paper clips, pens/markers/pencils, mini stapler and staples, small tape dispenser, shaped or designed erasers, sticky notes or flags

Hopefully this list will provide you with a starting point for designing gift jars that are fun, meaningful and low-stress gifts for friends and loved ones.

Now all you need to do is decorate your jars with ribbon, tags or labels (here are some cool chalkboard labels), or simply top with a bow and enjoy giving them away!

mason jars filled with items for quick gifts

layered cocoa gift jars 2

*****

Have you ever given a gift in a jar? Do you have any ideas to add to my list?

 

breakfast, devotions, clutter, hope

Hope and Peace Amidst the Chaos

I sure love Christmas and the holiday season! I keep wanting to write fun posts about “Christmasy” things, but lately I have been drawn to write about the more “serious” side of things, like finding peace in this busy, festive season.

I’ll try to be brief, but in this morning’s quiet time I gleaned some truths I’d love to share. Because I know I’m not the only one who tends towards feelings of overwhelm and stress during this time of year.

breakfast, devotions, clutter, hope

Do these photos look anything like parts of your home this time of year?

It’s hard to keep up, let alone have any sort of balance in our lives. In my first picture, I like how my Bible and “quiet time” materials are in the foreground (as they should be), and if you look carefully, you’ll see that there is “hope” in the background. Putting our focus on what matters will give us a sense of hope.

my cluttered kitchen

I’ve always loved the Christmas holiday and am tempted to “do it all”. (You can read about that here in my very first post ever.)

For today, allow me to just share a little bit of the devotional idea in this morning’s reading.

My husband really knows me, so when I awoke to his “Jesus Calling” devotional lying open on top of my computer, I took the hint that he wanted me to take a look at today’s reading.

I am so glad I did!

Today’s reading began with,

“Do not be weighed down by the clutter in your life”,

which immediately had my full attention in the middle of my holiday “chaos”.

The author then continued with some very practical, yet spiritual advice:

“Instead of trying to do all your chores at once, choose the ones that need to be done today. Let the rest slip into the background of your mind so I can be in the forefront of your awareness.”

(The readings are written from the perspective of God speaking to us.)

What simple, yet profound advice for all!

If you are a Christ-follower this is especially meaningful, but how practical for anyone to focus only on what’s in front of us, giving that our full attention. I need to hear this at Christmas and other times of busyness, but also each day as I endeavor to use my time with intention, and infuse it with meaning.

The author encourages us to keep our focus on Christ, which is always the best advice, but especially meaningful during the season designed to remember his first coming.

If you’ve never read this devotional, I highly recommend it. My husband is enjoying it’s brief, yet meaningful daily readings. Each time I hear it, it has been an encouragement to me as well.

(No wonder it’s rated at about 4.9 on Amazon’s reviews! Click on the image for more information.)

 

I’ll close with the very appropriate scripture passages suggested for today’s reading:

 

“Commit your actions to the Lord,

    and your plans will succeed.” – Proverbs 16:3

***

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously,

and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:33

***

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”

    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” – Psalm 27:8

***

“You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”- Isaiah 26:3

(All scriptures are presented in the New Living Translation.)

 

peace decoration on door

I pray that these thoughts and verses will be an encouragement to you as well. Let’s intentionally use each day and each moment this Christmas to focus on what really matters.

 

Have a wonderful day!

*****

 

Dayspring Fullness of Grace ecard

One Way I Celebrate Thanksgiving All Year Long

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States.

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

 

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For my Canadian friends and family who celebrated Thanksgiving over a month ago, this is the season in which they have been leisurely getting ready for Christmas for weeks already. Meanwhile, we in the US are entering that crazy, festive, between-Thanksgiving-and-Christmas-Day rush and frenzy, attempting to cram all the good celebrations of two big holidays into just under a month…..but I digress.

Regardless of when (or how rushed) you celebrate the special holiday of giving thanks, I think it’s one of the best traditions we honor. We are so abundantly blessed, especially in this part of the world where I’ve been told that about 20% of us enjoy about 80% of the wealth.

But even better than our physical blessings, are the unseen gifts that we are privileged to enjoy every day.

Love, joy, freedom, forgiveness, salvation, comfort, friendship and humor just to name a few, all free but priceless blessings we must not take for granted.

Each November, one of the traditions I’ve kept now for several years came about as a suggestion from a friend on Facebook. The challenge was to post a list of things I was thankful for every day from November 1st until Thanksgiving Day, each day using words starting with each corresponding letter of the alphabet from A to Z. That was fun (and good practice for Scrabble games), and a good practice in being thankful for more than just one day.

A couple of years ago, my sister started a similar practice (also on Facebook), but instead decided to take a special photo each day and post her gratitude visually with an apt description. For a family who loves photography (and especially likes to share it online since we all live far apart), this idea was appealing. So I’ve been doing something along these lines each day in November for the past couple of years.

This year my online Pilates instructor challenged us to record three things each day we are thankful for, and being a quiet rebel and photography lover I decided to post one or more photos on Facebook instead of writing them. I include a list or description of three things I am thankful for. I have to say that my Facebook friends seem to really enjoy this, and I think it inspires them to be thankful, too.

While all these practices are good, what about the rest of the year?

While I like having a special time or holiday set aside each year to give special focus and attention to something or someone good, shouldn’t our hearts overflow with thanksgiving every day of the year???

Several years ago I started what I like to call a gratitude journal.

It was inspired by Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, which I read and studied along with my church women’s small group. It was inspirational to say the least, and has helped me to be thankful every day.

Since then, I have attempted to record at least three things each day in my journal, starting my day off with an attitude of gratitude that seeps into the rest of my day. I don’t always remember or take the time, but overall it is a practice I highly recommend.

Another of my favorite inspirational authors and bloggers, Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom also encourages her readers to follow her example and keep this daily habit. She even created her own gratitude journal which you can purchase, but any journal or notebook will do.

Here’s what mine looks like:

live laugh love journal

Some of the things I record are more serious, while others are just little things that I enjoy in the moment.

enjoy the little things plaque and candle

But overall, it helps me to be more aware of all of the blessings I find around me each and every day.

gratitude list

This is one way I celebrate Thanksgiving all year long.

I hope you will join me.

*****

Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? Do you need help (as I do) to remember to keep a grateful heart? What are you thankful for today?

 

 

 

homemade blueberry pancakes with butter and syrup

How To Make Easy, Healthy, Delicious Homemade Pancakes

 

homemade blueberry pancakes with butter and syrup

Homemade fresh blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup.

Happy Fourth of July, friends!!!

Today I realized that it would have been nice to share a festive, patriotic recipe with you, but truth be told, I didn’t make any special holiday recipes this time (sometimes life just happens), and what I really had planned to share was a recipe for homemade pancakes.

Well, this is the beauty of this homemade pancake recipe. They are they quick and simple to mix up (with basic ingredients you probably have in your pantry), they can be made much more healthy than store-bought pancake mixes (by using part or all whole grain flour and healthy add-ins), and they’re economical. And what’s more, with the addition of an endless variety of ingredients, they can be changed up to suit any special occasion or holiday!

pancakes on griddle

The pancakes in my photos are made with fresh blueberries, but you can leave them plain or include any number of different add-ins to create the pancake of your liking. I’m including a list of many ideas for add-in ingredients for your homemade pancakes, but the variety of options is really endless! I often separate out some of the batter and make two varieties at once, just for fun.

If I were planning ahead for the Fourth of July, I would probably add blueberries and strawberries to my pancakes, and serve them with some nice, white whipped cream. Or leave the pancakes plain and top them with fresh blueberries, strawberries and whipped cream. Or put blueberries in the pancakes and top with strawberries and cream. For Canada Day (July 1st), I would just use red raspberries or strawberries and cream. You get the idea.

I got the original recipe for homemade pancakes from a good friend of mine, who is easily the best baker-mom I know of. She and her now older daughters are always posting photos on Facebook of such delicious recipes and baked goods that I’m often tempted to put down what I’m doing, jump in the car, and drive the roughly three hours to get to her house to “share” in the deliciousness. The recipe was jotted down on whatever note-pad paper we had hanging around at the time when she was at my house. For sentimental reasons, I will probably never throw away that original, food-stained, but cherished, hand-written page.

handwritten homemade pancake recipe

Homemade pancake recipe from my dear friend, Donna.

 

A few helpful notes before we begin (if you’re really hungry, you may skip ahead to the recipe below, but I think it will be worth the read):

  •  Although it seems to be cheating somehow, I usually just add all the ingredients to my mixing bowl in almost any order, and thoroughly mix them together. No need to dirty two bowls and be all fancy about the order of ingredients.
  • In an effort to use healthier oils, I prefer not to use liquid oils such as corn or canola (although you certainly can, and I did for years), but instead, melt a little butter or coconut oil to add for the required oil. ( I did find out the other day, however, that if you wish to use coconut oil, you’ll need to be mindful of the fact that it will start to harden and form little lumps in your batter if it comes in contact with cold ingredients.)
  • I like to make these healthier by using at least half whole wheat flour, and very often add some ground flax meal. We are at the point in our family that pancakes made with plain white flour actually taste a little bland to us, so ramping them up with whole grains is, in my opinion, the way to go!
  • The milk measurement can be adjusted according to your preference for thinner or thicker pancakes. Factors such as the other ingredients you use and even temperature may affect the thickness of your pancakes, so I recommend trying a smaller amount of milk at first, then adding more if you decide your pancakes are too thick.
  • Surprisingly, I don’t think I’ve tried this yet, but I’m sure that alternate milks such as almond could be used. I’ll try that soon and let you know.
  • I prefer to use a griddle to speed up the process of making a large number of pancakes, but of course a good, old-fashioned frying pan is fine. I have a nice quality non-stick griddle, but many folks are opting for cast iron (such as this one). I am told that cast iron is wonderful, but as of yet, haven’t used one regularly myself. With cast iron, you may even be able to cook pancakes on your grill outdoors!
  • You may need to experiment to learn your ideal temperature for cooking your pancakes. Generally, medium heat is best. (See this article for more great pancake-making tips.)
  • I cook my pancakes in butter for best flavor, also eliminating the need for serving additional butter on the pancakes (but you may still add some if you like).
  • I love to use my largest cookie/baking scoop from my set (from one of my favorite direct marketing companies) to scoop out the batter. You can find a similar set on Amazon here (for a top-rated, but expensive set), or here, (for a less expensive, but functional set). I would love to try this pancake batter dispenser.
  • I usually make four times the amount called for in this recipe, since with my two tall older sons and 6’4″ husband, a single batch would not even feed us any more. Also, I love to have leftovers. So I will make life easier for you by including a second ingredient list with measurements for a quadruple batch as well. You’re welcome. 🙂
  • To keep your pancakes warm (while you cook up the rest), place an ovenproof casserole or cookie sheet in your oven set to a low temperature (200-250 degrees F). In warm weather (if you just can’t stand to turn on your oven), you can put the casserole dish in your microwave and close the door, or into a large toaster oven like mine, set on low heat.
  • If you have any left over pancakes (or purposely make extra, as I do), you can keep them in the fridge for a few days, or freeze them for later use. Save your money, and serve your own healthy, tasty pancakes from your freezer on busy or lazy mornings, instead of purchasing inferior store-bought packages!

So, without further ado, here is the recipe for homemade pancakes. I hope you discover as I did, that it’s so much better than using a mix from the store, and almost as easy. It’s definitely worth the extra five minutes or so!

pancake ingredients

What you will need (plus sugar….see next photo).

 

making homemade pancakes (batter)

Adding the brown sugar.

 

making homemade pancake batter

Adding nutritious flax meal to the batter (optional).

 

adding fresh blueberries to homemade pancake batter

Adding some fresh blueberries.

 

Healthy Homemade Pancakes

 

Ingredients (single batch):

1 egg, beaten

1 cup flour (I use at least half whole wheat flour)

1 Tbsp sugar (I prefer brown)

2 Tbsp. oil *

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. baking powder

3/4 to 1 cup milk

(* Plus additional butter or oil in which to cook pancakes.)

 

Ingredients (quadruple or my “normal” sized batch):

4 eggs

4 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup oil*

2 tsp. salt

4 Tbsp. or 1/4 cup baking powder

3 to 4 cups milk

(* Plus additional butter or oil in which to cook pancakes.)

 

“Add-in” ingredient ideas:

  • vanilla or other flavored extract
  • ground flax (or flax meal), for added health benefit
  • fresh or frozen blueberries, strawberries, or other berries or combinations
  • sliced bananas (or mashed ripe banana)
  • fresh, frozen or dried cranberries (or other dried fruit/berries, such as dried cherries)
  • chocolate chips (or other flavored chips)
  • cinnamon and chopped apple or applesauce
  • pumpkin puree (store-bought or homemade) and pumpkin pie spices
  • chopped apple and almond (use a little almond extract and slivered almonds)
  • coffee granules and chocolate (powder or chips), for mocha flavor
  • peanut butter (or peanut butter powder) with banana or chocolate chips

 

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients. Fold in any “add-in” ingredients of choice. Heat griddle or frying pan to medium heat. Add butter (or oil) to melt. Drop desired amount of pancake batter onto hot griddle. Cook until pancakes bubble and edges look a little dry. Flip and continue cooking until golden brown.

Hold pancakes in a warm place. Add more butter as needed to cook the remainder of the batter.

Serve with pure maple syrup or other desired toppings. Enjoy!

making homemade pancakes with bubbles before turning

Pancakes are ready to flip when they are covered with bubbles and the edges seem dry.

 

cooked homemade blueberry pancakes

Hot homemade blueberry pancakes.

 

Optional topping ideas:

  • pure maple syrup or other syrup of choice
  • flavored syrups or jam
  • fresh, cut up strawberries (or other berries) and whipped cream
  • applesauce
  • yogurt
  • peanut butter or almond butter

 

homemade heart-shaped pancake

Freestyle heart-shaped pancake.

 

heart-shaped homemade pancake

Sometimes I finish off the last of the batter by making a giant or heart-shaped pancake (which usually goes to my husband). 🙂

 

homemade blueberry pancakes -2

Yummy!

 

Now that you have the recipe, what are you waiting for?

Enjoy your delicious, homemade pancakes for breakfast, brunch or even a “breakfast-supper”!

*****

Please let me know how you like this recipe. If you are a cast iron griddle user, please share your experience with us, especially for cooking pancakes. Do you have any personal ideas for add-in ingredients or toppings to share?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorial Day cemetery photo

Remember What it Cost – A Memorial Day Weekend Reflection

1280px-Memorial_Day_at_Arlington_National_Cemetery

What do you have planned for this Memorial Day weekend?

It’s easy and normal to fire up the grill, get together with friends and loved ones, and eat some great food. If we’re lucky (like this year), we may even enjoy some warm summer-like weather and many will head to the beach.

But what is Memorial Day really about?

History.com describes Memorial day as, “the official beginning of summer and America’s most solemn occasion”, a somewhat interesting juxtaposition of celebrations.

According to their website, here’s a brief summary of the history of our Memorial Day celebration:

“Memorial Day, an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May, honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, at least, it marks the beginning of summer.”

There is also an informative and contemplative video on the same page, which you may like to view for more details.

So while it’s good and important to spend quality time with friends and family, and healthy to rest and relax, let’s take a little time this weekend to stop and consider the cost of this freedom we enjoy.

Let’s meditate on the price that was paid by the men and women who served and paid with their lives, so that we can enjoy our lives in peace and security.

Let’s remember those whose families are missing loved ones today, so that we can spend the day with those we love.

And let’s thank God for our country, which though imperfect, is still one of the best places on earth to live.

Take in a Memorial Day parade which will help to focus your thoughts on the true meaning of the holiday. Watch one of many video clips which bring honor to those who sacrificed for us. Or just take some quiet time to reflect.

I like this simple cartoon, which really says it all:

While we’re at it, we can be thankful for those who still serve today to help keep our country peaceful. We can pray for the ones who served and returned, but left a piece of themselves in the trenches or on the battlefield.

We can take this one step further (or perhaps I should say, “closer”), and take some time to be thankful to all those around us for all they do to add quality and enjoyment to our days, such as family and close friends. We can show appreciation to those who support and protect us in a myriad of ways, such as our pastors, teachers, doctors & nurses, and all those who wear a uniform that represents any kind of service.

The ultimate sacrifice was made by One who paid the price for my sin and offered his Son for my eternal freedom.

I agree with the sentiment that “freedom isn’t free”.

So as we enjoy this weekend with those we love, let’s take time to stop and remember what it cost.

*****

 

 

 

Coral colored roses 2016-05-07

Why We Should Take Care of Mom on Mother’s Day

Coral colored roses 2016-05-07

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

I know that there are many mixed emotions about this holiday.

Some people don’t care for such days, I think primarily because they either feel it’s “fake” or contrived, or because they feel that mothers should always be appreciated.

I have to agree with the second reason, but to me, just like so many other holidays and traditions (such as Christmas, Easter, and even meal-time prayers), it’s sometimes good to set aside a special day or time to focus on celebrating an important event or blessing someone special.

For this reason, I think that Mother’s Day is a great day to pull out all the stops and really make mom feel special.

Before I continue, let me also point out that some folks dislike Mother’s Day because they have pain associated with such a holiday. It could be the pain of losing a mother, grief over not being able to bear children, or the devastation of losing their own child. There may even be those who have been hurt so badly by a mother that celebrating just doesn’t seem possible.

My heart goes out to these people, and I believe we need to be very sensitive to those around us who are hurting or for whom this holiday causes discomfort.

But for most of us, I believe that Mother’s Day can be a positive celebration to honor the mothers in our lives.

For this Mother’s Day I’d like to list some simple reasons for taking special care of mothers.

Why We Should Take Care of Mom on Mother’s Day:

 

1. It’s the right thing to do. 

The Bible instructs us to honor our parents (Ephesians 6:2). Proverbs 31:28 states,

“Her children stand and bless her.
    Her husband praises her”,

and verse 31 reads, 

Reward her for all she has done.
    Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.”

Even if you’re not a Bible follower, I’m sure you feel the responsibility to give respect and appreciation to the one who brought you into this world.

2. Labor!

Come on, now. If you’ve given birth yourself you know exactly what I mean. (Unless you’re one of the few extremely rare ones who say it didn’t hurt or that you didn’t realize you were in labor….and I am in no way jealous.) If not, have you ever seen a live birth or even a video of one…..or perhaps a fabricated, yet vivid television portrayal of a woman giving birth? Need I say more? (Thankfully, I won’t post pictures!)

Your mother welcomed you into this world at great discomfort to herself and with great travail. The least you can do is buy her some flowers or chocolate and a card!

Seriously though, my perspective on what my own mother did for me changed dramatically, immediately after giving birth to my first child.

3. Mothers sacrifice regularly, often neglecting to care for themselves.

Mothers spend a good deal of their waking hours and energy caring for their children and families. They’re created to nurture, and it often comes at the expense of rest or care for themselves. Mother’s Day is a great time to set a precedent for taking special care of mom, and allowing her to have the rest and enjoyment she deserves.

4. We are teaching our children to respect and honor their parents.

As we read in the above Bible verses that mothers are to be honored (see point #1), it’s our responsibility to teach our children and the next generation to respect and care for their parents. We also need to model this type of godly behavior for our kids.

5. Focusing on mothers reminds us not to be selfish.

Any time we take the focus off of our ourselves and our own concerns in order to celebrate and bless someone else, it reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. It’s healthy to learn to care for and be sensitive to others, and in so doing we will gain a larger perspective than just that which concerns us.

 

You may already be aware of the many reasons to celebrate moms, but I hope this gave you a little more to think about. I pray that you may enjoy either being a mother and/or celebrating the mothers in your life.

If you cannot celebrate Mother’s Day for personal reasons, I totally respect that. If you’re one of the few who has been wronged by a mother, I’m so sorry for that injustice, but suggest that you seek help (if needed), and chose forgiveness. You will only hurt yourself if you continue to hold on to the pain that was bestowed upon you. May God heal and help you.

If you’re one of the ones for whom Mother’s Day reminds you of a personal loss, perhaps you can do something special for yourself and/or find someone else with whom to enjoy the day. Perhaps the pain will lesson as you surround yourself with those you love. May God give you comfort and peace.

Whatever your situation, I pray that you have a blessed Mother’s Day!

*****

How does your family celebrate Mother’s Day? Can you think of some new ways to bless and encourage the mothers in your life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

family Easter dinner

Five Unchanging Qualities of Family Traditions (Easter Musing)

It’s Easter today and I’ve been thinking.

I’ve been thinking about how some of our Easter traditions are changing.

The interesting thing about traditions ….. is that they cannot all indefinitely stay the same.

According to Wikipedia,

“A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.”

And one of Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definitions is:

” the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction”.

I really like my traditions to stay the same, and I love to share them and pass them on to my children.

But therein lies the rub. My “children” are no longer children. My sons are currently sixteen and eighteen years of age; an older teenager and a young adult.

And so although many things can and will stay the same, other things are changing.

dinner rolls and bag of potatoes

When I was a child, my parents hid candy in the house for us to find on Easter morning before church. I loved that tradition, but always had a “dream” of an outdoor Easter egg hunt.

We also poked tiny pin-holes in eggs, blew out the insides (probably saving them to cook later), and colored the eggshells with food coloring in water.

And we ate hot cross buns.

bread-maker bread

When my oldest was about three years old, we were invited to be a part of our very first Easter egg hunt. It was a very special outdoor gathering at a church friend’s farm home. The party consisted of an outdoor picnic and Easter egg hunt in their back yard (my childhood dream!).

searching for eggs at Easter egg hunt

Easter Egg Hunt

So every year on the Saturday before Easter Sunday (except for one during which we were away on vacation), we enjoyed this wonderful time of food, friends, and outdoor egg-hunting fun. Over time, the size of the event grew along with the age of our kids. The egg hunt grew to include the adjacent fields, and eventually, the big kids ended up looking for eggs all the way out in the woods, or decided to help hand out the extra candy and prizes to the little ones.

looking for eggs

 

 

finding eggs

Afterwards, we almost always rushed to our Saturday evening Easter service (another tradition of our church; we have an extra, early service on most holidays, in order to free up Sunday for those who have family to visit or entertain). We would change into our good clothes, enjoy a short but meaningful service, then come home to relax while the boys would compare treats.

dress clothes

 

fun at the egg hunt

Easter Egg Hunt eggs

We have enjoyed this particular tradition until just a couple of years ago.

I don’t think my guys are missing the egg hunt too much at this age, but a part of me still does. I don’t really want to go back to them being younger and relive the past, but it’s another one of those closing chapters in the book of our lives.

So this year, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to let it go.

But with the loss of an enjoyed, familiar tradition, I’m also realizing that I need to create some new traditions. I’ll be thinking about this in the years to come.

This year, I decided to bake a dried cherry almond bread in my bread-maker for an Easter morning treat. I programmed the machine last night before bed, and it was wonderful to awake to the aroma of freshly baking bread this morning. Perhaps homemade cinnamon rolls may make it to the Easter morning menu!

bread from bread-maker

One thing that’s nice is just having a little more breathing space in our Easter weekend. Due to either Easter choir or music ministry, usually my husband or I are involved at all three church services, while the other stays home and cooks the Easter ham dinner with the boys.

Although my sons would claim they are too old and mature for Easter egg hunts, they haven’t complained one bit about the chocolate and candy that I still surprise them with on Easter morning. Even my husband and I get in on the fun (who doesn’t like a little chocolate?), although this year I supplemented our modest amount of treats with a nice, scented candle.

Easter treats

You can see that while some of our family traditions are the same or similar to those of earlier years, others are in the process of changing.

This is a necessary development as people grow, preferences and circumstances change, or perhaps some traditional activities are no longer available.

What is important is the meaning of what we are celebrating, and the fact that we are sharing our old and new traditions with those we love.

family Easter dinner

Now that we’ve concluded that traditions themselves will sometimes change, it’s worth considering what part of our traditions should stay the same.

 

Five Unchanging Qualities of Family Traditions:

 

1. The True Meaning of the Holiday is Central –

The real meaning of the holiday is the most important element in the celebration. For those of us who are Christians, holidays like Christmas and Easter will have a central focus on the celebration of what those holidays mean to our faith. We are not simply passing on meaningless traditions to our children, but sharing elements of our values and beliefs.

2. Family and Loved Ones Are Together –

I think most of us would agree that one of the most important factors of holiday traditions is that we are together with family and loved ones. It may not always be possible to be together physically, but a phone call can keep us connected. Or we may chose to bless someone else who needs a family with whom to celebrate. Sharing time with loved ones gives special meaning and enjoyment to our holidays.

3. We Celebrate Our Family History or Culture –

What would certain holidays be like without the rich and varied traditions of our cultures? We can pass on both significant and fun elements of our family’s culture(s) through holiday traditions. It helps us to be proud of who we are, and understand where we came from.

4. Familiarity and Routines Are Healthy –

Most of us realize that while change can be fun, interesting and help us to grow, familiarity and routine are healthy and less stressful. We find a degree of security in doing something familiar and knowing what to expect.

5. It’s Just Plain Fun! –

This may sound shallow, but a big reason we do an awful lot of our traditional activities is just for good, plain fun! Making memories is the stuff of life, especially in our families. These are the times that draw us close and energize us for the more mundane responsibilities of everyday life. Our memories stay with us even as time passes and things change.

 

It’s interesting to note that I didn’t even make the connection until after I finished writing this post, that my word of the year seems to be “change”…..so thoughts about changing tradtions really shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. 🙂

No matter what changes time and circumstances bring, I plan to continue to celebrate family traditions and enjoy every moment.

*****

What special traditions do you observe at Easter? Do you prefer the familiarity of doing the same thing year after year or enjoy spontaneous changes? What important traditions do you wish to pass on to your children or loved ones?

 

brownies with green decor

Simple Things I Did To Make Saint Patrick’s Day Special

brownies with green decor

My Saint Patrick’s Day brownies

Did you have a happy Saint Patrick’s Day?

We don’t make a big deal about it, but there are a few traditions for Saint Patrick’s Day that we like to keep around our home.

My husband’s family has always had a boiled corned beef dinner with cabbage, potatoes and carrots for this holiday. We have been creating our own tradition of cooking corned beef on this day, partly to celebrate with most of the rest of New England, and mostly because there are some pretty good prices on corned beef and cabbage in the supermarkets right now.

This year we tried one about a week early and I roasted it in the oven. We really liked it, so that may need to be the new “usual” for Saint Patrick’s Day.

So on the real holiday (which just happens to be in the middle of a couple of busy weeks), I still wanted to make the day a little special.

Remember how I told you on Valentine’s Day to feed your men (or any other hungry family members, even if they happen to be female)? I suggested simple ways to make the holiday festive, without spending tons of time or money. But by all means, I suggest feeding them!

Well, that’s what I set about doing in the midst of my busy day.

First of all, I accidentally made a really green smoothie in the morning. (Well, I actually made it on purpose; I just didn’t realize it was green for Saint Patrick’s Day until it was all but gone and cleaned up).

really green smoothie

St. Pat’s Day smoothie

If you’d like some good green smoothie-making tips, I wrote about that in an earlier post.

After a late morning appointment, I met a couple of friends at the little local city museum for a flower show. Boy, was that just what I needed for an hour or two on this almost-spring day! We enjoyed viewing art from local artists as well as beautiful and lovely-scented floral displays, and soaked in the feeling of spring.

I was able to purchase a few small pots of herbs grown by our city high school horticultural department, including this fresh catnip for our kitties.

fresh catnip

Happy cat mess.

Apparently, they really enjoyed their Saint Patrick’s Day present. (I decided to just let them enjoy it in this little part of my kitchen for a day or two, then I’ll clean it up.)

Next, between loads of laundry and practicing songs for Palm Sunday worship team, I made a nice box of brownies. I try to always keep some on hand for such last-minute occasions, and today I was glad to have them. The truth is, I really didn’t plan this day ahead of time, otherwise I would have purchased some nice minty chocolate candies to decorate my brownies. (Or I would have purchased some really festive green sprinkles like these or even these.)

As it was, I had to improvise and use what I had on hand.

As a side note, I have been known for being able to improvise. While assisting in a preschool class at the school I worked in for many years, one of the teachers would often comment on how good I was at “fudging” a craft or visual aide to be used in class for her (and it was a compliment!). I think my family taught me how to make do with what I have, in order to make something special without spending a lot of time or money.

Anyway, I thought I’d just get out my green sprinkles for this holiday, but much to my dismay, I had all the other colors except for green. I did try some green sugar crystals, but they didn’t show up much. Just as I was about to give up in disappointment, I remembered these little spring flower decorations I just purchased. (I got them in Target’s wonderful one-dollar section.)

So I happily and meticulously hand-picked out enough green flowers to drive me crazy decorate my Saint Patrick’s Day brownies.

decorating brownies

green flowers on brownies

I baked them and we enjoyed them with our busy and crazy supper schedule this evening.

I don’t think I’m winning any brownie-decorating prizes for these, but I think everyone enjoyed their Saint Patrick’s Day treat.

St. Pat's Day brownies

Earlier this week I used the same flower-shaped decorations on the rice krispee treats I made for our church community group meeting.

spring Rice Krispees treats

Feels like spring!

And I almost forgot to show you my cute little Saint Patrick’s Day carnation that I purchased on my way out of the flower show today. I really like carnations, because they are inexpensive, have a nice fragrance, and last for a very long time.

green carnation

*****

So what did you do for Saint Patrick’s Day? Are you good at “fudging” it when it comes to using what you have on hand to decorate baked goods? Do you have any fun traditions you’d like to share with us?

 

 

iced coffee and rose

If You Love Them, Let Them Go…..Eat !!! (Valentine’s Day Edition)

iced coffee and rose

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a wife and mother (especially with three tall men making up my family; my husband, a teenager, and a young adult), it is that one of the best ways to show love is to feed them. You know the old saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, it’s usually true!

Now, I’m all for healthy living and eating, and there are times when that trumps such luxuries as Valentine’s Day treats. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to make something healthy. But I’m also a firm believer in making life enjoyable for my family, so sometimes “fun” food wins!

Going out to eat is nice, but can be especially busy on holidays such as Valentine’s Day. Perhaps you are saving money and don’t wish to go out to an expensive restaurant, have young children at home and it’s not always easy to get (or afford) a sitter, or wish to have a special family day together (and save your special “date night” for the evening or another more practical day).

There are creative ways to enjoy eating at home, whether it’s just you and your special someone, or a family holiday together.

Sometimes it’s special to spend hours in the kitchen, crafting an exquisite meal at home complete with fancy side dishes and dessert, but I live in the real world, where most often something simple is desirable…..and did I mention that I’m dealing with men, here? Even my husband admits that men like simple.

 

So here are some simple food ideas to celebrate Valentine’s Day at home with your family without spending your whole day in the kitchen:

1. Order take-out:  It may seem obvious, but ordering take-out food to eat at home is both fun and can be much cheaper than eating in a restaurant.

pizza and wings

2 Pick up a favorite coffee or surprise treat:  Surprise your loved one(s) by stopping at their favorite coffee drive-through or bringing home donuts or ice-cream.

crazy family with Tim Horton's

3. Make-your-own special hot or cold drink:  We love to make cafe-style hot beverages at home using our battery-operated milk frother, and our favorite iced coffee is now homemade, cold-brewed. (More on drink recipes later!)

milk frother

cold-brewed iced coffee

4. Choose foods that are naturally red or pink:  Desserts or salads with strawberries or other red fruits make festive choices. One of my favorite bloggers recently shared a whole list of 29 Fun treat Recipes for Valentine’s Day!

homemade pound cake with strawberries

salad with berries

5. Make something “usual” in an unusual shape:  Kids of all ages love heart-shaped pancakes (using a heart-shaped pancake mold, “winging it” like I have on my own, or even crafting your own tinfoil molds ; there’s even a link with instructions for making heart-shaped bacon!)

2015-09-12 07.19.00

6. Cook or bake one of their favorites (no matter the color or shape):  I even purchased an entire cream cheese cookbook (years ago when they would allow sales people to leave them for us to browse at work), in order to obtain many different cheesecake recipes since it was one of my husband’s favorites.

french bread pizza

7. Decorate desserts or treats with appropriately colored sprinkles or candies:  Appropriately colored sprinkles (red, pink, white) or cinnamon hearts make regular cookies, brownies or whipped-cream look special.

cupcakes with sprinkles

8. Serve food or drinks in appropriately colored or decorated dishes, mugs or paper-ware:  Pull out your red mugs and dishes or pick up some Valentine-themed paper goods.

WOF loved heart mug

As you can see, with a little effort and imagination, you can make the day feel special (and still find time to relax yourself). These ideas can be switched up for other holidays and special occasions as well. One anniversary (long ago, before kids), when funds were extremely tight, I made pizza at home for just the two of us in the shape of a heart. I’ve made heart-shaped pizzas since then for my family on various occasions! Fun!

Did anyone happen to notice that none of these photos were exactly of Valentine’s Day goodies? I guess I need to start taking more photos of my Valentine’s Day treats! Tomorrow I plan to make either strawberry shortcake or homemade pound cake with strawberries, and I’ll be sure to take a photo!

Have fun with those you love this Valentine’s Day!

*****

What kinds of heart-shaped foods have you cooked or baked? Do you have any other practical but fun Valentine’s Day ideas?