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Slow Living – 7 Ways To Elevate Focus Over Frenzy

Happy day, my friends! How are you? I hear the birds chirping outside and I am feeling their excitement. I have found some new inspiration and it fits like an old glove. Are you familiar with slow living? It is a counter trend – counterintuitive, counterproductive, and countercultural.

All my life I have been romanced by busyness. Haven’t we all? And it has been a tease. Enough is never enough. It is time to turn and embrace slow living. I can’t wait to see what God shows me about elevating focus over frenzy. I have already identified 7 things I need to change. Does any of this resonate with you?

What is slow living and how can it elevate focus over frenzy?

In case you’re not familiar with the trend called slow living, let me introduce you to the concept. It is a movement which challenges the idea that busy equals successful or important. It elevates the ability to enjoy focused free time. It protests the frenzied lifestyle, and offers the stressed and depressed masses a healthier, more fulfilling way to live.

“Slow living refers to a lifestyle that encourages a slower approach to aspects of everyday life. It has been defined as movement or action at a relaxed or leisurely pace… However, slow living does not prevent the adoption of certain technologies such as mobile phones, Internet, and access to goods and services.”

Wikipedia

I have spent decades at lightening pace. Am I better for it? Are my husband, kids, or grandkids? I have done many things, worn many hats, and spun many plates, but have I done any of it really well?

Related post: How Many Hats Can You Fit on One Head Without Dropping Any?

I am drawn by this idea of slow living. It’s back-to-basics approach, utilizing the technology we have to free us instead of entangle us, makes sense to me. And I’ve always admired people who are naturally inclined this way.

Electronic calendar displayed on a tablet: Slow Living - 7 Ways to Elevate Focus Over Frenzy
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com
Slow living makes use of technology

Here are 7 endeavors I expect to improve with slow living.

Quiet time

Frenzy says just get it done. Multitask if possible. Busyness is next to godliness, right?

Focus says worship God. Get somewhere and get still. Learn from Him.

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’”

Psalm 46:10

My quiet time has been in dire need of an overhaul. This year, I’m giving it a slow living makeover. I ordered a new Bible, adopted a fresh system of recording praises and prayer requests, and committed to blocking the necessary time to go deep in communication with Jesus. He is my best friend, and I miss Him when I simply go through the motions and fail to really connect.

Related post: Why Would We Pray for Courage Over Comfort?

Meals

Frenzy says fast food! Drive through, take out, grab and go, eat on the run.

Focus says gather ’round. Plan, pick, purchase, and prepare whole foods. Nourish yourself and those around you.

To bring a slow living mentality to my mealtimes, I am going to sit down. I will converse with people or with God while I eat. The meal doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, understated pleasures are often the best.

I read some advice that has worked well for me in the past. It was to think about each bite and visualize what was required to get it on the fork. What did God have to do? Sunshine and rain? What else? What did the farmers, ranchers, or truckers contribute? I want to be more mindful, thankful, and satisfied with even the simplest of meals.

People gathered around a table: Slow Living - 7 Ways To Elevate Focus Over Frenzy
A longer linger to savor flavor and connection

Commuting

Frenzy says take the freeway! Honk and hurry, gotta scurry. It’s all about the destination.

Focus says slow down. Leave early and don’t worry. Enjoy the ride!

Slow living while I commute, means more scenic routes with more open windows and open roads. I want to give away the right-of-way and notice flowers in the median. I’d like to enjoy meaningful conversation, a good audio book, or uplifting music while I drive. The journey should be at least half the fun of going somewhere. I must plan accordingly!

Calendar

Frenzy says fill it up! Schedule to the minute. Keep movin’ and groovin’, makin’ and shakin’.

Focus says guard your time. Give God room. Be choosy, be discerning, and keep your calendar with care.

I want my slow living calendar to have wide berths. I’m tired of one unexpected task making me late for everything else all day. Much of my schedule is dictated by my job, but my free time is up to me. I am going to keep open time, in pen, on my calendar. I will use it to do things I want to do, to catch up on things I need to do, and to be available for what God asks me to do.

Workouts

Frenzy says I’m just too busy. Does running late burn calories?

Focus says your health is a priority. Raise your heartrate, lower your cortisol. Strive for balance – mind, muscle, and mission.

To attain slow living with my workouts, I must be intentional. I will not be cramming exercise into tiny open slots on my calendar. I want to strive for purposeful exercise using full range of motion. I will take time to breathe deeply and to stretch. I need to listen to my body. How many workouts have I hurriedly completed with no time left for a cool down? I feel those catching up with me already!

Mother and daughter stretching in the living room: Slow Living - 7 Ways To Elevate Focus Over Frenzy
Temple maintenance!
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” 1 Corinthians 6:19a

Spoken Words

Frenzy says talk fast. Be heard. Say what’s on your mind.

Focus says listen. Repeat what is said to be sure you understand. Pray about how to respond.

I can practice slow living all day long when it comes to my words because opportunities abound. I believe there is grace and wisdom in being the last to speak, and I want to embrace it. I have been convicted to speak fewer opinionated words and more truthful ones. I need to slow down and discern the difference.

My feelings are like a volcano. When they are triggered, words erupt. I need to keep my emotions in check and hold my tongue.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

James 1:19

Decisions

Frenzy says decide now. Go out on a limb, no time to waste. Grab the deal, make the trade, accept the offer.

Focus says take a deep breath. Don’t be pressured to make a quick decision.

I want to be characterized by slow living in my decision making. When I am faced with a decision, I want to sleep on it, pray about it, and seek wise counsel. I would rather miss an opportunity about which I was unsure, than to be stuck with one I despise because I made it in haste. The decisions I make affect everyone around me. I owe it to myself, and them, to take time to make careful and prayerful decisions.

Related post: Buy Buttons: How Understanding Them will Make and Save You Money

Time pieces of all kinds: Slow Living - 7 Ways to Elevate Focus Over Frenzy
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”. Ecclesiastes 3:1

Well, there they are – 7 ways to embrace slow living and elevate focus over frenzy – in print and already making me feel accountable. Slow living mandates that space be built into each activity to ensure time to embrace, enjoy, and accomplish it well.

There will be a learning curve. I’m certain there will be days when nothing goes as planned. Some days will still be busy. And that is ok. Slow living is a practice, something to pursue.

I believe I can serve God better with this mindset, but I also give Him full editing priviledged over my schedule. My prayer is that He will make me more effective at loving Him, magnifying Him, and lovingly encouraging His people.

What do you think about slow living? Do you feel frenzied or focused in the lifestyle you lead? Are there obvious things in your schedule that you’d like to elevate above the others? Would you care to join me as I settle into slow living?

“Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

Ephesians 5:15-17
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Brownies Fit for a Black-Tie Affair

How are you feeling about the coming New Year? I find myself looking forward to it with more exuberance than usual. I don’t expect much to change with the tick of a clock at midnight, but I anticipate a new beginning – one that I intend to face with more realistic expectations than I did last year. I’d like to set myself up for 2022 according to some advice that I often give.

If you expect very little, you’re unlikely to be disappointed, but perfectly poised to be pleasantly surprised.

Mama Lava

And speaking of pleasant surprises, I have a recipe to share. It is one which upscales box brownies to a level fit for a black-tie affair. And you won’t believe how simple it is!

Fresh from the oven: A brownie fit for a black tie affair
Brownies fit for a black-tie affair, fresh from the oven

How are you going to ring in the New Year? Are you the type who enjoys fancy clothes and exclusive celebrations? Or do you prefer an intimate gathering of friends for your countdown? Maybe you’re like me and you enjoy sleeping through the whole thing so you can enter January 1st well-rested and ready to roll.

Whether the black-tie affair you attend is real, or in your dreams, this brownie recipe will fit right in. But first, let me tell you the short story that goes along with it.

You are already acquainted with my friend, Brooke. If you are not, you can find the humbling tale of how we met here. She introduced me to the incredible quiche recipe which has become a tradition in our house, and is sure to become a favorite in some of yours as well.

Brooke is amazing. She loves extravagantly and entertains with her heart. She does everything top-notch. It is just who she is.

One day, as I was scrolling social media, I came across one of her posts, announcing an event she was preparing to facilitate at a renowned location. She described the menu she had planned, and I saw my name near the bottom. It said “Also, the famous Brownie/York Pattie dessert, thanks to a recipe from my sweet friend, Mama Lava. She gave me the recipe many years ago and it’s a cherished favorite.” (Quote almost verbatim.)

Brownie cut so that mint layer is visible: Brownies fit for a black tie affair!
Brownies fit for a black-tie affair!

You know what? I had all but forgotten that I’d shared the recipe with her. I had tried to put it out of my mind, I think, because I’d been embarrassed about it. I recalled the fiasco.

I had made the brownies for a cookie exchange. (If you’re not familiar with cookie exchanges, I described one in this post.) These brownies are terrific on their own, but they were a terrible choice for the exchange. When they were plated with other goodies, their strong flavor tainted everything and ruined the more subtle flavors of the delicacies around them. I was dismayed that my dessert overpowered the hard work Brooke and our friends had put into their baked goods.

I was blessed to read that God had made a favorite out of what I had considered a failure. I was thankful for the surprise that Brooke had been enjoying my recipe through the years. It felt like reciprocation for her quiche recipe that I appreciate so much. It was just like God to be so merciful with my mess and prove to me that He is good, even when I goof!

Brooke was right about the recipe being fit for her black-tie affair. These brownies are meant to stand out and be noticed. They are sleek and decadent. And while they are impressive, they are also quick and easy to make.

Whether your New Year’s Eve plans are extravagant in actuality, or just in your imagination, these brownies will fit right in! Here is the recipe.

Brownies Fit for a Black-Tie Affair

The Ingredients

York Peppermint Patty bag: A brownie fit for a black tie affair
Bite-sized York Peppermint patties

The Instructions

  1. Preheat oven and make brownie batter according to box instructions.
  2. Pour half of the batter in your pan. (Use whatever size pan is called for on the brownie box. The most common sizes are 8×8 or 9×13-inch pans.)
  3. Unwrap York patties and place on batter, spaced evenly.
  4. Cover with remaining brownie batter.
  5. Bake according to box instructions.
  6. Let cool completely before slicing.
Covering the mints with batter: Brownies fit for a black tie affairBrownies fit for a black tie affair!
Place mints evenly atop first half of brownie batter and cover with second half of batter

The Notes

  • When you cut your cooled brownies, you can slice through the mints to show them off, or you can slice through the brownie and let the mint be a surprise in the center. If you plan the size and preferred presentation of your brownies, you will be able to intentionally place the peppermint patties to accommodate your desired result.
  • You can also use Jr. Mints and make brownie bites.
  • If you prefer a double thick brownie, use two boxes. In the photos, I’ve used only 1.
  • Pro-tip: Did you know that cutting cooled brownies with a plastic knife prevents tearing?
Topped with ice cream and sliced for a peek inside: Brownies fit for a black tie affair
I chose to serve the brownies with the mints hidden, but I sliced mine open so you could get a peek.

I served these after our town’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony a few weeks ago. I topped them with vanilla bean ice cream and a candy cane, but I was wishing I had pink peppermint ice cream. Mint chip works well too. And honestly, ice cream is not required! These brownies are incredibly flavorful on their own. They are decadent and delicious, and nobody will believe how little work you had to put in. I won’t tell if you won’t!

I adore chocolate and mint together. York patties are one of my favorite treats. Adding the brownie around it is just fabulous. This recipe elevates any occasion and, at least for one blissful moment, turns it into a black-tie affair. What event on your calendar could you upscale with a pan of these peppermint brownies?

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9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas

For Christians, Christmas is a sacred season. It is the time we set aside each year to celebrate the birth of our Savior. We believe that Jesus, Son of God and Creator of everything, gave up His throne for 33 years. He left the worship and honor He received in Heaven, choosing instead to be born as a helpless human baby, and raised in a humble Jewish family. He served the people He’d created and they despised Him. Eventually, they tortured and killed Him, all of which He knew would happen before He agreed to come.

And if He hadn’t come, we would not be saved. We would have no alternative to eternity in Hell. Without the events that transpired that first Christmas, we would have no hope, no reason for joy. The birth of baby Jesus changed literally everything! This is why we celebrate. Jesus is the whole reason for the season. In my family, we try to be deliberate, to make certain He is the center of our celebration. We have at least 9 traditions which have characterized our Christian Christmas.

Advent Candle: 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com The season of Advent is often celebrated by the lighting of commemorative candles.

Advent

ad·vent/ˈadˌvent/noun

  1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
    • the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.

The word “Advent” has become as much a secular idea as it is a Christian one. My daughter received an “Advent Calendar”, which has tiny doors in a box shaped like a Christmas tree. Behind each door are skin care samples. It was a nice gift from her friend, but it has nothing to do with the Advent of our Savior.

We have found wonderful tools, over the years, which have helped to direct our focus through the season of Advent. The important thing is to keep the important thing the important thing. The important thing is Jesus!

Moving nativity pieces

When we put out our Nativity set, we put the shepherds a small distance from the stable, as if ‘in the fields’. The wise men are placed further away, and baby Jesus is not in the mix. When the kids wake up on Christmas morning, baby Jesus is in the manger, the shepherds are up close, and the wise men are on the move! This is one way we remember all that happened on that first Christmas Eve. Even though my kids are adults now, they make a big deal about Jesus not appearing in the manger until Christmas morning!

Nativity sans baby Jesus: 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
No baby Jesus because He isn’t born yet. In this Nativity set, Jesus and the manger are one piece, so there is no manger either. My kids would simply not stand for it!

Avoidance of Santa

Santa does not appear in our Christmas. He does not come on Christmas Eve, his likeness is not on our wrapping, and we do not include him at all. We have had discussions about who St. Nick was and the good that he did, but for the most part, we avoid all of that and direct our focus on Jesus.

I’m not saying a Christian cannot include Santa in Christmas. If you do, I’m not trying to shame you. For us, it was simpler not to divide our attention.

My granddaughter spent the night somewhere else this past weekend. When she came home, she told me that Santa could see and hear everything we do. I said, “That sounds like Jesus!” She said, “But the best presents come from Santa, so it is important not to disappoint him.” It broke my heart that, even though we don’t give Santa any room in our traditions, he rose to the level of Jesus, in her regard, in just one evening away. Attributes belonging to the King of Kings are His alone. A heart cannot serve two masters.

No Elf on the Shelf

As with Santa, we steer away from Elf on the Shelf. Elves are part of the Santa tradition, and we have no desire to make that story come alive. A focus on the Advent of Jesus is more productive and makes the season more meaningful.

Sign which says "in Christ alone my hope is found": 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash
Without Christ, we have no Hope and no reason for Joy

Christmas pageants

Whether it is a full stage production or just carols being sung at home, there is always some performance of the Christmas story. It is just who we are as a family. Singing, playing instruments, acting, directing… God gave us many means of expression to use for His glory and opportunities abound at Christmastime.

Christmas Eve services

We have spent many Christmas Eves at church. Sometimes the pageants mentioned above took place the day before Christmas. Other times, we went to worship and learn. And there have also been years where we stayed home and did our own service. This year, we will be home. I look forward to singing and praying together and having my husband share from God’s Word. I was hoping to go caroling as well, but I think there is heavy rain in the forecast. We shall see!

The reading of Luke 2 on Christmas morning

Luke 2:1-21 contains the Christmas story. We usually read to the end of the chapter, which takes us approximately 12 years into Jesus’ life. It is our way of keeping Christ in CHRISTmas, even while we are opening gifts, eating our favorite quiche, and doing the things which might tend to distract us from our true focus on Christmas morning.

Luke 2: 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Luke 2 has been repeated in our Christmas traditions so often, many of us can practically recite it by heart.

Birthday cake for Jesus/Singing Happy Birthday

We bake a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Day. We put candles on it and sing Happy Birthday to Him. I’ll be honest – sometimes we have so many desserts around that baking a cake seems like a crazy idea. But we are celebrating the birth of our Savior and His birthday cake is a tangible reminder. The other sweets can be put in the freezer for another time.

More Away in a Manger and less Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

We love Christmas music! My husband gets tired of it and will not let us play it all year ’round, or we definitely would. Even so, we must be intentional about singing more “Away in a Manger” and “O Come Let Us Adore Him” and less “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Baby”.

O Come Let Us Adore Him Signboard: 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Let us focus our adoration on One who is worthy

I googled Christmas Carols and noticed that half of what came up was called “Christmas Songs” or “Christmas Classics”. Those largely leave Jesus out. The search results which were called “Christmas Carols” were mostly about Jesus. But I thought it was telling that both came up equally when I requested carols. The line has gotten very blurred.


So there we have 9 traditions which have characterized our Christian Christmas. I’d love to hear from you. If you celebrate a Christian Christmas, what traditions help you to keep Jesus in the center? If you do not celebrate a Christian Christmas, I’d enjoy hearing one of your traditions and the meaning behind it.

Thank you so much for being here, for reading, and for celebrating this most wonderful season with me. I adore the gift of your friendship and appreciate you so much! Merry Christmas!

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Six Simple and Fun Christmas Games to Try at your Gatherings This Year

We are in full-swing holiday mode at our house. How about you? Are you having a large family get-together or are you looking forward to a more intimate celebration this season?

In Part 2 of An Illusion of Joy or an Infusion of Joy?, I said I’d get back to you with some ideas to pull everybody in without adding more stress to your schedule. The pressure of the promise has stuck with me and I’m here to make good on it with six simple and fun Christmas games to try at your gatherings this year.

Silly games bring laughter and make for merry memories. With just a small bit of preparation, these games have gone over huge for me. Most of them are available on the internet, but here you have them in one spot, tried and true and highly recommended.

Paper plate overhead draw

What you need: Pens and cheap paper plates (1 of each per participant. They don’t have to be cheap plates, but since they aren’t holding food, they can be!)

How to play: Each person puts the plate on their head. You lead them through drawing something simple. The plate stays on their heads until the end. We most recently did a snowman. It went something like this. I said:
“Your snowman is made of 3 circles.” I paused while they drew 3 circles on the plate, on top of their heads. Then I continued, pausing between each instruction.
“There is a top-hat on his head”.
“He has 3 buttons down the middle circle.”
“He has 2 eyes.”
“He has 2 stick-like arms.”
“He has a carrot nose.”
“He has 3 fingers at the end of his left arm.”
“He has a scarf around his neck.”
“He has 4 fingers at the end of his right arm.”
“He has a crooked smile.”
“There is holly on his hat.”
The jumping around is intentional. It is difficult to re-find a place when you cannot see it. That is the fun. When your instructions are done, everyone gets to take their plate off their head and see their masterpiece. Pass the plates around and have everyone vote on the best, the most impressionistic, the most realistic face, or whatever categories you want to include.

Behind the back paper rip

What you need: One piece of paper per person

How to play: Each person stands holding a piece of paper behind their back. The instructions are simply to keep the paper behind their back and rip it into a Christmas tree. You may want to set a timer for added pressure, but it isn’t necessary. It is harder than it seems. (You may, or may not, want to add the caveat that folding the paper and ripping symmetrically, which makes it significantly easier, is not allowed.) At the end, have everyone show their masterpiece and take votes on best, most unique, smallest, etc.

Christmas Cell-fie

What you need: One copy of the Item List for each participant. (Click the picture below for a ‘copy & paste’ printable version of the Item List. Feel free to change it up to suit your group!)

Person holding a phone with bokeh lights in the background: Some Fun Christmas Games to Try at your Get-Together this Year
(Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com)
What’s in your phone?

How to play: This is a Scavenger hunt each person conducts in their phone. The list assigns points per item and participants tally their score for whatever they can find. Examples might be ‘a contact named Mary’, or ‘a Christmas song ring tone’. Whoever has the most points is the winner. You can decide whether to make it a timed exercise or not, depending on the savvy of the crowd you have. You can also pick a few items and require the winner ‘show and tell’ to prove their win.

Snowball Toss

What you need: A bag or two of marshmallows

How to play: Divide up into pairs and have partners stand across from each other. This is run just like a water balloon toss, but when one partner tosses a marshmallow, the other must catch it in his/her mouth. We have done this many ways:
~ Large marshmallows are worth 2 points and small ones worth 1 point. Partners strategize how they can reach 14 points the quickest. (Go for small and easy, or risk the harder catch for a chance to earn more quickly?) The team with 14 points in the shortest amount of time wins.
~ Set a timer for 30 seconds and the team with the most overall catches in the allotted time is the winner.
~ Start with the partners close to each other for the first toss. Each team who makes the catch takes a step back while those who do not sit down. Each successful catch requires a step back, enlarging the distance between teammates. The last team standing wins.

The Left / Right Game

This is one of my favorites. There are two versions here. The first one is short, sweet and secular. It is good for an office party, or for a gathering where religious content is not allowed. But I prefer the Nativity version, which is the second picture. It is a fantastic way to share the Christmas story with everyone at your gathering. (Click on the pictures below for copy & paste printable versions).

The Short and Secular Left / Right Game story:
The Short and Secular Version of the Left / Right Christmas Game
The Nativity Story for the Left / Right Game: Some Fun Christmas Games to Try at your Get-Together this Year
The Nativity Version of the Left / Right Christmas Game

What you need: At least 1 wrapped gift. I would suggest 1 gift per 5 participants. It does not have to be expensive.

How to play: Everyone sits in a circle, close enough to pass the gifts. You read the story. Every time you say the words “Right” or “Left”, the present(s) get passed to the person to the “Right” or “Left” of whoever is in possession. When the story ends, the person or people holding the gift(s) wins it.

This can be a fun way to do a gift exchange. We had a party where everyone brought a Christmas mug. Everyone carried the one they’d brought to the circle and left with the one they were holding at the end of the story.

Reindeer Ring-Toss

What you need: Antler headbands, rings, Rudolph noses (optional)

This one might take a bit of preparation if you don’t have Reindeer Antlers on hand. I found mine at Party City for $1. If you have a crafty teen in your life, I’m sure they could rig some up for you. Some people can work wonders with pipe cleaners and others can make anything with duct tape!

How to play: I have 2 pairs of reindeer antlers, so we play this game with 2 teams. Each team picks one of their members to be the reindeer, who wears the antlers and stands at least 5 feet from the rest of the team. Their teammates take turns trying to toss rings onto the antlers. The team with the most wins. (The reindeer is ABSOLUTELY allowed to duck and dive to try to catch the rings!)

Each participant can make their own ring by cutting the middle out of the plate they used in game 1 (Paper Plate Overhead Draw). Or the rings can be made in advance with pipe cleaners. I upped the ante this year by purchasing blinking Rudolph noses from the dollar store and using glow sticks as rings. We turned out the lights and played by the Christmas tree.

Reindeer Ring Toss Winners: Some Fun Christmas Games to Try at your Get-Together this Year
Winners!

Our family has been doing Christmas game night for several years now. My husband and I purchase an array of small denomination gift cards as prizes and organize the games. This is our Christmas gift to everyone. It is low stress, and we avoid the mall and the dreaded pressure of shopping for perfect presents all around.

Everybody always shows up, and with 5 adult kids and their significant others, all with jobs and some living hours away, that says something. We enjoy the experience of playing together. In fact, we held this year’s gathering a couple weeks ago because it was the only night on the calendar everyone could make it and no one wanted to be left out. It is one of our favorite nights of the year!

These games I have listed are our favorites. We also play a Christmas version of Bingo, do word games, relays, Family Feud, and others. The competition is surpassed only by laughter and our face muscles are always sore the next day from smiling so hard.

Christmas Bingo: Some Fun Christmas Games to Try at your Get-Together this Year
Christmas Bingo with Red and Green M&M Markers.

My parents recently had a family party and we played games there too. Some of our winnings were translated to a dollar amount, which will be donated to charity in our names. I thought that was a great idea!

What do you think? Will you introduce any of these six simple and fun Christmas games to try at your gatherings this year? Do you have any other favorites you’d like to share?

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When They Say Real Men Really Do Eat Quiche, This is the Recipe They Mean…

The scrumptious and versatile recipe below is called Mama Lava’s Crust-less Quiche. When they say that real men really do eat quiche, I’m pretty sure this is the recipe they mean. It has become a tradition in our family. My husband and grown sons love it. But it didn’t start with me.

The story that goes with this recipe began with my friend, Brooke. And it played out almost 25 years ago. Because of Brooke, and the way she introduced me to this quiche, I learned two delightful lessons about first impressions. This is Part 2 of a Recipe and a Story post. If you missed Part 1, you missed the story! You can catch it here if you like.

This quiche is downright amazing! The smell of it baking will bring everyone to the kitchen. For decades, it has been a favorite in my household. It is our Christmas morning tradition because it can be assembled a few days ahead and simply popped into the oven while we open our stockings and such.

The build-ahead option also makes it a great dish to take to someone who needs meal assistance. All they have to do is preheat the oven and bake it. They get that mouth-watering aroma throughout the house and plenty of hearty, homemade, comfort food to enjoy.

I have been asked for the recipe repeatedly. I have it saved in my computer under the title “Mama Lava’s Crust-less Quiche”, because that is what other people call it. It has been thus named for long enough that I don’t remember the original heading, so we’re sticking with it. You may have heard that real men don’t eat quiche. This is the recipe that changed their minds. I’m sure of it. I hope it becomes a favorite in your house too!

Mama Lava’s Crust-less Quiche

The Ingredients

  • 10 eggs
  • 1/2 cups melted butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 pint cottage cheese (16 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound cheese, grated (whatever kind you like)
  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 ounces kielbasa sausage, sliced

The Instructions

Quiche ready to bake: When they say real men eat quiche, this is the recipe they mean.
This quiche is ready for the oven! But it can also be covered now and placed in the refrigerator for a few days until needed.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until all yolks are broken and mixed well with the whites. Add melted butter and stir.
  3. Add cottage cheese, shredded cheese, mushrooms, spinach, and meat.
  4. Add flour, salt and baking powder, sprinkling evenly over the pile of ingredients. Then mix well.
  5. Spray a 9×13 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spread the quiche mixture evenly in the pan. (Progress can be paused here with dish covered and refrigerated until ready to bake, up to 3 days.)
  6. Bake for 45 minutes or until edges are well browned and center is firmly set.
  7. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.
Baked quiche: When they say real men eat quiche, this is the recipe they mean.
This quiche is ready to cut and serve!

The Notes

  • For convenience, this recipe can be put together up to 3 days in advance of baking.
  • Fresh spinach can be used, but it must be cooked and squeezed dry before adding it to the recipe.
  • If you don’t like cottage cheese, don’t worry! It melts in the oven and leaves no remnant of its lumpy bumpy texture. The mild flavor and creamy goodness are unbeatable when combined with everything else.
  • I have used all kinds of meats. Chopped ham works well! My son prefers cooked and chopped breakfast sausage links. Use whatever you like and have on-hand. I like the turkey kielbasa.
  • If you prefer a veggie quiche, you can totally omit the meat.
  • I have experimented with different vegetables, and they all work if they are cooked until no more water seeps out. Broccoli, shredded carrots, green onions…
  • The exception to the cooked veggies is the mushrooms. For some reason, they are fine to add raw.
  • Be creative! Just keep the meats and/or veggies to about 26 ounces or less so you have enough eggs and cheese to surround your add-ins.
  • I have used whole wheat flour and all-purpose white flour. Both work just fine. I have not experimented with other flours or tried eliminating it, but I’d love to hear how it works for you, if you do!
  • My husband adores crusty, cheesy edges, so I bake ours for a full hour. It gets pretty brown on top, but it is still creamy and delicious in the middle.
  • If you pre-make your quiche and bake it straight from the cold refrigerator, add 10 minutes or so to your baking time.
A serving of spinach, mushroom, and kielbasa crust-less quiche: When they say real men eat quiche, this is the recipe they mean.
Bon Appetit!

For breakfast, I like to serve this quiche with magnificent muffins and/or fresh fruit. For lunch or dinner, it goes nicely with a salad and some crusty bread.

When they say real men really do eat quiche, this must be the recipe they mean. Don’t you think? What will you serve with it?

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How My Cookie Crisis Could Become a Bountiful Blessing from My Family to Yours

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away… Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but this story played out a long time ago. My kids were small, my husband’s job required him to take long trips, and I was desperate thankful for adult interaction. I was beyond excited for the annual cookie exchange in which my friends and I participated every holiday season.

I was downright giddy about the opportunity to get into the car by myself, listen to grownup music on the radio, talk to women in multi-syllable words, and sample cookies of all kinds. I had my recipe with the ingredients required and all that stood between me, and my dream afternoon, was the chore of baking 13 dozen cookies.

My plan was to make the dough and begin baking the day before the event. That way, my cookies would be fresh and delectable, and I could finish up the morning of, if something came up unforeseen. Well, come up unforeseen, something did! I went to preheat my oven and… nothing. No heat. No heat at all.

I may have panicked a little and I might have even cried. If I couldn’t make cookies, I didn’t see how I could attend the cookie exchange. Store bought cookies were unthinkable. The whole purpose of the cookie exchange was to trade homemade delicacies.

Are you familiar with the concept of a cookie exchange? I think they are an amazing idea! They can be organized in several ways, but my friends and I did it the same way each year, taking turns organizing and hosting. Maybe you’d like to put one together? Here is the format we used:

  • Twelve people participated. It was important to have twelve. If you confirmed your spot, you were committed.
  • Each person baked 13 dozen cookies of one recipe (cleared with the organizer in advance to avoid duplicates) and packaged them by the dozen. They could be in bags, tins or covered plates, as long as each package contained 12 cookies.
  • Each person copied, printed or handwrote 11 copies of their recipe.
  • We all met up for one glorious afternoon. The hostess provided a huge table where we each stacked 12 of our cookie packages and our recipes.
  • On a separate table, we each opened and placed our 13th package. Also on this table, the hostess provided plates, napkins and beverages. This is where we got to sample each other’s cookies.
  • After a sweet afternoon of cookies and conversation, we went back to the first table and took one package of each kind of cookie, including our own. We took one of each recipe, excluding our own. This is the exchange by which a cookie exchange gets its name.
  • Where each baker arrived with 12 packages of 1 kind of cookie, they went home with 12 packages of different kinds of cookies.

Personally, my tradition immediately following the cookie exchange, was to pack 12 tins, each with 1 cookie from each package. My kids loved taking these grand assortments to the neighbors and their teachers. It appeared like I’d done much more work than I had, since I gifted an amazing assortment, but only baked a single recipe. All of that was looking impossible this year.

God to the rescue!

Even, no – ESPECIALLY for busy moms, the cookie exchange was a lifeline. It was a simplified and fun way to get a giant check mark on a long holiday to-do list. Not only was I looking forward to it, but I was also committed. My oven breaking had me at my breaking point too. This was a crisis.

But God. That is all I remember about how what transpired next came about. Somehow, I found a recipe. God brought it to mind. Honestly, I don’t remember if I went to the computer or if it is one I had tucked in my recipe binder prior. All I know is that I had never made “Crock Pot Candy” before that day. But boy have I made it many times since!

Crock Pot Candy: How My Cookie Crisis Could Become a Bountiful Blessing, from My Family to Yours
Crock Pot Candy with Sea Salt Topping

God and Crock Pot Candy to the rescue. This recipe did not require an oven. I pulled out my slow cooker, raced to the store for the short list of ingredients, and this blessing came together in a fraction of the time it takes to bake 13 dozen cookies.

You know what else? These were the star of the afternoon. Everyone raved! And it was such a nice touch to have a decadent piece of candy on each plate of cookies.

My own family liked them so much that they have become one of our signature family dishes. My 25 year-old daughter, who was in preschool the first time I made them, called them “Nut Chocolates” and that is what they are to this day, in our house. She and I make them every October because that is her birthday month, and it takes us almost a whole month to eat them all. This recipe makes a bountiful plenty!

Nut Chocolates; How My Cookie Crisis Could Become a Bountiful Blessing, from My Family to Yours
Nut Chocolates for Days!

I have not been to a cookie exchange in years. But that is ok. People love getting a whole bag of “nut chocolates” and I enjoy the simplicity of giving them. If you have an army to feed, or several people to gift, or a birthday month to enjoy, let my cookie crisis become a bountiful blessing, from my family to yours!

What you will need:

  • 1 pound lightly salted, dry roasted almonds
  • 1 pound unsalted, dry roasted almonds
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 12 ounces white chocolate chips
  • 1 pound vanilla bark
  • 9+ feet of waxed paper

Instructions

  1. Pour nuts into large crock pot. Add chips and bark. Cover and turn on low setting.
  2. Now go shower, fold your laundry, or write a blog. Come back in about an hour.
  3. Lay out the waxed paper. (You may have to weigh down the corners if the paper is too curly to lay flat.)
  4. With a large spoon, stir the now-melted chocolate into the nuts until the chocolates are combined and the nuts are well coated.
  5. Spoon the mixture onto waxed paper according to the size you want.
  6. Keep spooning – this is a bountiful recipe.
  7. Keep the crock pot on the low setting until all its contents have been spooned out.
  8. Once everything has been scooped out, unplug your crock pot and walk away again. Go back to your blog, play with your dog, or read a book.
  9. Let the candy cool until the chocolate hardens and it peels easily from the waxed paper.
  10. It will keep fresh in a plastic bag or airtight container for several weeks. But you might not be able to keep it around for that long. My family loves to share it as much as we love to eat it.

Notes:

  • The original recipe calls for peanuts instead of almonds. I’ve done it both ways and, seriously, you can’t go wrong. My family just prefers almonds. I’m sure you could use other nuts too, if you have a different favorite.
  • In the photos I’m posting, you see sea salt sprinkled on top. This is the way my October birthday girl prefers her birthday treat. We have also experimented with toffee, sprinkles, and coconut. They are all amazing! I think the simplicity of the recipe is perfect and I prefer no toppings.
  • I adore dark chocolate. If I am making these according to my taste, I substitute some of the chocolates called for in the recipe and darken it up a bit. If the measurements of nuts and chocolates are the same as the recipe, you can change them out any way you like.
  • I have never had a batch not turn out. These are 99.9% fool proof. The reason I reserve that extra .1% is because you can overcook them. If you forget all about them and leave the ingredients in the crockpot for hours, the chocolate will burn around the edges. (Don’t ask me how I know!) Even still, you can use what is deliciously melted in the middle of the pot.
  • If you make these on a hot day, you may need to refrigerate them to encourage the cooling process. The best way I have found to do this is to cut the waxed paper into cookie-sheet sized rectangles and slide them onto the cookie sheets to place in the refrigerator or freezer (wherever you have room).

There you have it. That is how my cookie crisis could become a bountiful blessing from my family to yours. I hope this recipe comes in handy for you this holiday season and beyond.


Do you bake or home-make gifts? Do you have a preference between white, milk or dark chocolate? Does anyone do cookie exchanges anymore?