Recommendations Celebrations

Avoid Last-Minute Holiday Stress with a Sweet of the Season

Does the word Christmas elicit warm feelings of love and laughter? Or are you instantly reminded of stressful holiday chores and feelings of inadequacy? For many years, I wondered why I couldn’t pull it all off with joy.

I’m still working on it, to be frank. But I have discovered some tricks which have really helped me maintain my sanity. One of my secrets is the Present Box. Another of the best ideas I’ve tried is “a sweet of the season”.

What is a Sweet of the Season

Homemade treats are always popular during the holidays. Whether you get hit up for a last-minute bake sale or receive unexpected visitors, having a pre-decided sweet of the season can save you from bitterness. Simply purchase one set of ingredients and put them together on one day to be prepared the whole season long.

My recipe for Crock Pot Candy is perfect! It makes a ton and saves for a long time. A couple of hours at the beginning of the season and you’ll be prepared for whatever arises.

Another recipe I often use for my sweet of the season is Slice and Bake Butter Shortbread. I double or even triple this recipe, which has been passed down through through generations of my family. The dough can be made into cookie cutter shapes, pressed designs or slice and bake logs, as in the instructions below.

Slice and Bake Butter Shortbread

  • 1 and 1/2 cups butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup of sprinkles
  • plastic wrap
  1. Thoroughly cream butter and sugar.
  2. Add egg, vanilla and/or almond extract.
  3. Add flour and baking powder (sift if you like)
  4. Mix until smooth. Do not chill.
  5. Roll dough into a log approximately 1 and 1/2 inches in diameter.
  6. Spread sprinkles on a cutting board and roll log over them, starting at one edge of the cutting board and rolling to the other edge.
  7. Roll back and forth until the entire log is coated with sprinkles.
  8. Wrap sprinkled dough log in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. This log will easily keep for a couple of weeks, or can be frozen and kept longer.
  • You now have festive, homemade slice and bake cookies ready to be served fresh and warm at a moment’s notice.
  • They can be baked, as needed, in a 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.
  • These cookies are not overly sweet. If you prefer more sweetness, sugar the surface of the cookies before baking or frost them when they come out of the oven.
  • I make this frosting (below) when I make the dough and keep it at the ready alongside my slice and bake log:
  • 3 Cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons milk, approximately (Using an alternative milk might extend the fridge-life of the frosting. Make sure to check the date on the carton)
  1. Mix powdered sugar and softened butter until it forms a powdery paste. Add vanilla and then milk. Stir to a spreadable consistency. Add milk a tiny bit at a time, if you need more, to make the frosting to your desired thickness.
  2. This frosting can be colored but be aware that liquid food coloring will add moisture and you might need less milk.

If you’re too busy and/or not the baker type, by all means, purchase the cookie dough. Whether you buy it or make it, whatever you don’t use can also be frozen for a few months, if it is wrapped well.

Pro-tip: If you make the Slice and Bake Butter Shortbread, consider rolling some in red sprinkles only. That way, anything unused can be frozen and on-hand for Valentine’s Day.

“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

Psalm 32:11

I appreciate any workable ideas that simplify my Christmas chores and give me time to celebrate joy. A sweet of the season has helped me avoid last-minute holiday stress for many years. Have you ever done something similar?

Let’s brainstorm together! What recipe would you use if you were to try this idea? Or what pre-made item would you buy to have on hand?

Celebrations Recommendations

Avoid Last-Minute Holiday Stress with a Present Box

Christmas time! A time for cheer and joyful celebration! Are you feeling festive? Or are you just stressed? If you read my posts about the Illusion and Infusion of Joy (Part 1 here and Part 2 here) then you know of my struggles with holiday time management over the years.

I am certainly still working on simplifying Christmas. But I’ve been at it awhile and I’ve discovered a few tricks that work. One way to avoid last minute holiday stress is with a present box.

What causes last-minute holiday stress?

As much as I’ve tried to finish the holiday chores early and clear time to spend with Jesus, I’ve consistently fallen short. And it is something I really want to get right. Think about it – what good is throwing a party in someone’s honor if you never have time to bring them in? I certainly don’t want to leave Jesus outside, looking in at His birthday celebration. I want quality time with Him.

Have you been able to pull it off? If not, what is it that keeps you preoccupied? For me, it is the unexpected, last-minute things such as:

  • Someone stopping by on short notice
  • Kids coming home with secret Santa assignments,
  • Impromptu invitations requiring hostess gifts, etc.

I realize every family is different. But as prepared as we think we are, we can’t anticipate everything that will come up. A present box is a simplification idea which has helped me avoid last minute stress. Maybe it will spark some ideas for you as well.

What is a Present Box?

Our present box is a plastic storage bin. In it are unused items to re-gift, fun things we’ve found on clearance, extra items from bulk packages we’ve purchased, etc. Throughout the years when one of my children has come to me last-minute and said, “I forgot that today I need to bring a present to so-and-so”, they have been directed to the present box.

We still purchase personal gifts. The present box is not for gifts we anticipate buying. This is for last-minute situations which would otherwise cause panic and stress.

At Christmas time, I bolster the box, so to speak. Sometimes these Christmas additions are handmade. The kids and I have crafted Candy Cane Reindeer, Sock Snow People, Chapstick Angels and other things. This becomes our own ‘last minute shopping spot’.

I don’t see Chapstick Angels anywhere else on the Internet – I think we made this one up. Here are the very simple instructions:

  1. Draw or print a template of an angel with at least a 4-inch wingspan.
  2. Trace your angel onto thick cardstock paper and color or decorate it as you like.
  3. Cut out the angel and include two 1-inch vertical slits, an inch or two apart, between the wings.
  4. Slide the Chapstick through the slits.
  5. We glued soda pop rings to the back of ours and tied ribbon loops so they could be hung.

You may be thinking its too late for a present box this year. You could be right, although you might be surprised what you can pull together with very little effort.

The after-Christmas sales are a great place to start a present box for next year. Or, if you already have one, they are also a wonderful way to restock. A few travel mugs purchased at 75% off are easily paired with a coffee gift card you keep on hand. And many of the gift sets found on clearance shelves can be repackaged into smaller gifts which really add bang for the buck!

Our present box has definitely helped me avoid last minute holiday stress. Now that my kids are grown, it contains more grown-up gifts, but it still functions the same. Do you have a present box? Do you think you could use one? What might you put in yours?

Emotions Reflections

A Sure-Fire Way to Make Me Panic, and a Targeted Miracle

Do you have irrational fears? I do. Fire is a major one.

A Sure-Fire Way to Make Me Panic

Yes, fire is a rational danger but the panic I feel, in relation to it, is not. It stems from a movie I saw when I was too immature to process. Someone was burned at the stake, and to this day I vividly recall the way the actor’s body writhed and his face contorted in pain.

Just the thought of burning is a sure-fire way to make me panic. I have a stash of unused candles because I love the fragrance but fear the fire. I cautiously enjoy our gas fireplace, which is predictable and controllable.

It isn’t just fire, I’ve discovered. Its burns in general. So when my son’s text buzzed in, it brought me to my knees.

The Text which Made Me Panic

It was Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving. I was preparing for bed. My son is 19, the last of our kids living at home. He was at work. I picked up the phone and read.

“I burned my foot really bad”.

My heart sank and my stomach knotted. I felt dizzy. And then another buzz.

“Just letting you know. I’m going to be struggling for the next days or weeks.”

I started to panic. I wanted to throw up. My reaction was irrational, but at least it drove me to my knees. “Oh God, please take away his pain!”

A Sure-Fire Way to Get Burned

As I prayed, I texted back. I told him I was praying and asked what happened. My son works in the kitchen of a restaurant.

He said he was cleaning the fryer. The apparatus has a hose which shoots the hot oil, and he dropped it. The oil sprayed into his shoe. That is a sure-fire way to get burned!

He secured the machine and made sure no one else was injured before attending to himself. By the time he removed his oil-soaked sock, it had held the heat on his skin longer than I cared to surmise. His manager assisted him with burn gel and a bandage. Unbelievably, he had not been sent home from work.

My son uses humor to lighten serious situations. I was certain he was downplaying this one and his managers didn’t know how bad it was. He’s also grown man who didn’t need his mommy to panic.

God’s Miraculous Power is a Sure-Fire Antidote for Panic

I couldn’t sleep. I kept my phone on. He finished most of his shift and drove himself home.

My breathing was shallow, and I was nauseated, but I wanted to see it for myself. I almost passed out. His burn was bubbly and discolored. It was ugly, yes, but my reaction was irrational, and I knew it.

My panic subsided because my son truly did NOT seem to be in terrible pain. I know that was God’s miraculous power at work! We decided to go to the hospital to get it dressed properly.

While the intake nurse was assessing the injury, the receptionist walked back with a file. She took one look and incredulously asked, “How are you not screaming?” He answered that it looked worse than it felt. Praise God!

Only by God’s miraculous power!

When we finally saw the doctor, she said superficial burns often don’t involve enough nerves to be excruciating. But she also said his was not entirely superficial.

How was it superficial at all, given what happened? Only by God’s miraculous power! It should have been worse and even as it was, it should have felt worse.

It was good we went to the ER. The doctor cleaned it up and the nurse bandaged it well. They instructed us in first aid for at-home care.

They offered a note to keep my son home for at least a week. But he went back to work on Saturday. What a miracle!

God’s Sure-Fire Reiteration

Last night, I was using my glue gun on some Christmas decorations. I applied hot glue to one and then dropped it onto my thumb. It stuck. My burn is 1/50th the size of my son’s. It hurts.

A blister.
My small burn.

It is a sure-fire reiteration that God’s miraculous intervention kept my son from unbearable pain. If mine hurts like it does, his surely should have felt much worse!

A Targeted Miracle

God targeted my son with a miracle and reminded me of his power. Maybe some of you, my precious readers, need to be reminded also. It is likely I’m not the only one who will face an irrational fear this holiday season.

Some of you might be brought to your knees in desperation over something. Maybe you have already been. It feels like a position of weakness, but kneeling is the perfect stance from which to approach God and ask for a targeted miracle.

Power over Panic

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to present God as a genie in a bottle who does tricks upon request. Many times, I’ve prayed and God has chosen not to intervene in overtly miraculous ways.

But sometimes He does. I know because I’ve seen Him do it. I saw it just this week.

There is a sure-fire way to make me panic. My son’s accident was a case in point. But panic drove me to prayer, and God has power over panic and all fear.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

We’re all on the verge of a crisis, going through one, or coming out of one. Where are you? God’s power is greater than panic. And we can pray for one another.

What kind of fire are you in right now? What are your irrational fears? How has God targeted you with His miraculous power in recent days? What are your thoughts?


Ireland – It’s Intrigue is Irresistibly Interesting: Wrap-Up

My friends! You have traveled to Ireland and back with me. I am incredibly grateful for your companionship and conversation along the way!

There are 5 things which did not fit into my stories, and I wanted to share them with you in this wrap-up post. These are items of intrigue which stood out; some because they were irresistibly interesting, others because they struck a chord of importance. But I’m including this first one because it simply made me laugh.

1. Toilets

This trip to Ireland was my first journey outside of North America. I am used to signs that say “Restroom”. Most of the time, what we find inside is anything but restful. In Ireland, they call it what it is. The signs say “Toilets”.

A bathroom sign pointing to the left.
This sign made me laugh out loud!

I shared the above photo in my post about Doolin and Bunratty, but I did not expand further into the toilet situation. Has anyone ever left the seat up without your knowledge and you sat, unsuspectingly, on the cold, thin rim of the bowl?

Well, that is how I found the toilets in Ireland. Here is a photo from our incredibly well-appointed bathroom at the Fota Resort hotel.

Notice also that the toilet is hung on the wall, not anchored to the ground. The thin seat and unsure mooring made these Americans kind of squat and lean, more than sit, so as not to fall in or worry about it falling off. They were not comfortable, but the toilets did give us several good chuckles. If you’ve been to Ireland, please tell me you have similar stories!

2. Coffee

Coffee differs from country to country in Europe. My husband went to Paris, many years ago, and has raved about their stiff, dark coffee ever since. We’ve done our best to make coffee at home to rival what he tasted there.

Heading to Ireland, I thought I was going to get a similar experience. But that was an incorrect expectation. We never found a strong cup of coffee there. And believe me, we taste tested everywhere we went!

A cup of coffee with whipped cream
A latte we enjoyed in Cork City Center. Consisting mostly of milk and whipped cream, it was very different from the lattes I make at home.

Irish coffee, even their espresso, is weaker than what we are used to. They add a lot more milk. And if you consent to sweetness, you may want to prepare for a very indulgent treat!

3. Black Currants

My husband receives a daily email with interesting facts. Shortly before we left for Ireland, he read one aloud to me. It was about black currants.

Apparently, they grow profusely in Ireland. At one time, they were outlawed in the US because black currant plants encourage the growth of a fungus which kills pine trees. And pine was necessary for building.

It was determined, relatively recently, that black currant shrubs can safely coincide with pine trees, if there is 1000 feet of separation. They have been allowed back into our soil, but they are not a major factor in our agricultural scene.

A jar of jam.
Black currants taste like a cross between blackberries and blueberries. They pack a flavorful punch for such tiny berries.

Having read this, and being curious, we sought black currant things in Ireland. We tasted different items, but our favorite was the jam. We brought home a large jar for us, and several little ones as gifts. If you ever have the chance, do yourself a favor and try something flavored with black currants.

4. Business Hours

In a previous post, I wrote about the Sunday business hours in Cork City Centre. Most of the shops opened later than expected, and some didn’t open at all. But Sunday wasn’t the only day we noticed the business hours in Ireland.

We walked up to several interesting stores, only to find them closed. This happened at all hours on any given day. As we’re accustomed to doing in the US, we looked for posted business hours. We found none.

The Irish obviously have better habits for work/life balance than Americans. They were happy to serve us when they were open; if they weren’t, it seemed they had something better to do. And they were often doing whatever that was, in the middle of what we would consider ‘normal’ business hours. By not posting their hours, they promised nothing, and it was on us if we were disappointed.

5. Castles and Cathedrals

This last item in my wrap-up is the most important. It is a spiritual picture which God painted for me in awe-inspiring, incredibly grand detail. If you remember only one thing from this series, remember this!

The effort you put into your spiritual well-being is every bit as important as how well you protect yourself physically. Maybe more so.

God, to Mama Lava, to you

God showed me this truth using castles and cathedrals. Through the windows of the Paddywagon, taxi, or train, I couldn’t tell the difference between a castle and a cathedral in the distance. Both were amazing feats of effort and architecture.

Up close, if I noticed any difference, the cathedrals may have been more ornate and spectacular. Both castles and cathedrals in Ireland were astounding. And I heard God challenge me.

Do I, do we, put as much effort into our spiritual strongholds as we do our physical protection?

A castle in the rain
Bunratty castle.

Irish castles were built for physical protection, and they are impressive! I think we also go to great lengths to fortify our safety. We have alarm systems, security guards, laws with enforcement, and locks on our doors and windows.

A stone building with spires and windows.
St. Coleman’s Cathedral

Irish cathedrals were built to invite people into a spiritual haven. And it is mind-blowing what amazing effort was put into the endeavor. Do we have similar practices?

“Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”

Psalm 25:20

Do we take the time to bolster and beautify our spiritual lives? How? Do we fortify and protect ourselves, spiritually, from the elements outside? Do we stand confident and strong, inviting others into the peace we have inside?


And with that, I wrap up this series about Ireland. Thank you, my dear friend, for traveling with me to the end! I hope you enjoyed the irresistibly interesting island of intrigue as you’ve read along. I have been grateful for your company and touched by your grace!

Curious how this Ireland trip came about?
Click here for the introduction post.


Ireland – It’s Intrigue is Irresistibly Interesting: Flight Home

They say all good things must come to an end. I suppose it is true. But what “they” don’t dare tell you, is how messy that end can be!

Anticipating the Flight Home

Ireland was irresistibly interesting and kept us incredibly intrigued for 7 days. We woke up early Saturday morning anticipating the flight home. We checked out of our hotel and were the first in line when the restaurant opened for breakfast.

The taxi came to take us to the airport. It’s hard to describe how I felt. I was excited to be heading home. I looked forward to my own bed and the familiarity of my things. I also lamented (is that too strong a word?) leaving the beauty and adventure of Ireland.

Aer Lingus apparatus at the airport.
I adore the Aer Lingus shamrock logos on all their apparatus. This was the plane that took us from Cork to London.

Airport websites say to arrive three hours ahead of an international flight. So, we did. But Cork’s airport is incredibly convenient and it was more time than we needed.

Rushing for the Flight Home

Too bad we couldn’t bank that time! Because when we landed at Heathrow, we barely had enough. We rushed through the huge, intimidating airport as fast as we could, and arrived at the gate just in time. Our plane was already boarding.

Michael and I did not sit together, as my company had purchased one ticket and we had purchased the other separately. So, I will speak for myself from here on out. I arrived at my seat, out of breath, and overwhelmed.

But this was the flight home. I had no more connections to worry about. Just 10 hours in the air to endure.

The plane doors closed, the engines revved, and the air grew stuffy. I’m not sure why that happens but it seems the fresh air doesn’t start flowing until the plane is in the air. Is that something you’ve experienced also?

Side and wing of a British Airways airplane.
I snapped this quick photo from the passenger loading bridge at Heathrow. This is the plane that took us from London to Phoenix.

Flight Home, Delay #1

We were set for take off. Except we didn’t. Finally, the captain came over the speaker and said we were delayed waiting for a passenger who was injured on the escalator. He would update us once a medical team could assess the situation.

We’d been sitting for almost an hour by the time the captain came on again and told us a medical team was arriving on scene. I had three thoughts:

  1. This airport is too big! Even emergency medical personnel can’t get where they need to be in a respectable amount of time.
  2. That could easily have been us, as we rushed to make our connection.
  3. The injury must not be too bad if tending to it could wait this long.

Eventually, the door opened, and a passenger boarded. There were no visible signs of injury. I guess all my thoughts were correct.

We taxied to the runway and took off. We’d already been sitting for over an hour. We had 10 more to go. I squirmed thinking about it!

Flying Home

Time went backward as I sat in that capsule flying home. It is disorienting enough to enter a plane on one continent and exit it on a whole different one, but going through so many time zones adds another surreal element to it all. After what seemed like forever, and also no time at all, we were approaching Phoenix.

Flight Home, Delay #2

The captain came on again. He said there were thunderstorms over the Phoenix airport, and we’d need to circle above them until they passed. He updated his message a short time later, saying there was no estimate on how long it would take the storms to pass, and we didn’t have enough fuel to circle. We would divert and refuel in Las Vegas..

It was then my legs began to revolt. My mind had obviously told them they were going to stretch and walk soon. When that was not to be the case, they argued hard in achy defiance.

Flight Home, Delay #3

The Las Vegas airport had very little time to prepare for our unplanned visit. It took them quite a while to coordinate and accommodate us. Our delay there took several hours.

Of course, there was no more food and no extra beverages to serve. The kids on board were growing especially restless. I felt for their parents.

All the while, we sat on the plane. We could awkwardly stand by our seats. From where I was, on the aisle, I had more space than many, so I tried to share it and focus on being grateful.

Several British Airways planes.
I took this photo in London. It was dark in Vegas, but this is how I imagined the scene outside as we were waiting to refuel. Minus the passenger boarding bridge as we were not let off the plane.

Flying Home, Again

Eventually we were told to fasten our seatbelts. We were finally cleared for takeoff. We were flying home, again.

The storms had abated in Phoenix, and we were able to land. By the time the airplane doors opened, and we walked off, we had spent more than 15 hours packed like sardines in that cylinder of recycled air.

It felt SO good to be off the plane. I know people travel further and endure longer flights. I think you mentally prepare for what is ahead of you. I had readied myself for 10 hours.

Lesson learned: over-estimate the flight-time expectation. It would be better to find it shorter than expected if all goes right!

Michael and I reunited at the gate where hundreds of poor people were waiting to board our plane and go wherever it was headed next. It was 5+ hours overdue. We went to baggage claim to gather our belongings.

Flight Home, Delay #4

We celebrated when our bags were the first to arrive onto the carousel. Two of our three were, literally, the first two off the conveyer belt. And then we waited for the third.

We waited and waited as one by one, hundreds of our fellow passengers collected their luggage and left. We were the last people left standing in baggage claim and our bag never came. Delayed again! We got in line at the help desk.

Luggage Missed the Flight Home

We enjoyed standing after sitting on the plane and before driving home. We focused on that while we waited. When our turn came, it was discovered that our third bag was still in England. We remembered back to the rush through Heathrow and thanked God because aside from His grace, we would have missed the flight home too.

We completed paperwork and were told the luggage would be delivered to our home in 48 hours. I’m glad I didn’t know then that it would actually take over a week because it would get lost 2 more times before finally arriving at our house.

Disoriented by the Flight Home

It was now well into tomorrow, Ireland time, and we were completely disoriented. Well, I was. My husband was doing better than me.

We exited the terminal into the parking garage in a completely different place than we’d entered 8 days earlier. So much had happened since our departure that we had no idea where to find our car. Thankfully, my husband had the foresight to suggest we take pictures of the floor number, zone letter, and stall sequence.

Driving After the Flight Home

We live 2 1/2 hours from the airport. It was approaching midnight, local time, when we found our car. We needed gas, desperately wanted food, and hoped to find coffee so we could stay awake driving home. We found all of this in “not the best” part of town, but it was a Godsend!

We tag teamed the driving so whoever was feeling awake could be behind the wheel. We praised God when we made it home. Our own bed never felt so nice!

The Blessing of the Flight Home

Thank you so much for enduring our long flight home. And for making yourself at home, here on the Back Porch for this Ireland series. You all have been the most gracious of travel buddies.

Believe it or not, our eventful flight home, and ensuing jet lag, was a blessing. The intrigue of Ireland was irresistibly interesting but traveling often is not possible for us. We ended this trip, all said and done, content with that reality. If the travel bug had bitten us in Ireland, the flight home healed us.

In the month that has followed, there have been a few standouts among the intriguing moments and lessons we learned in Ireland. Those will be the subject of my next post, which will be the series finale. Until then, blessings, my sweet friends!

Curious how this Ireland trip came about?
Click here for the introduction post.


I Give Thanks to God when I Remember YOU!

Picture with Psalm 9:1 printed over it.
I count your friendship as a wonderful deed God has done for me.
Happy Thanksgiving!