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?

Recommendations Vacations

Ireland – It’s an Irresistibly Interesting Island of Intrigue: Paddywagon

Hello, and welcome back to the story of our experience in Ireland, the irresistibly interesting island of intrigue! So as not to waste time, I’ll jump right in. God had humbled me in Cork city centre, and endeared me to it and Himself, as only God can do. And all of this by 6:30am on our first full day. (Click here to read about that.)

We had pre-registered for a day-long Paddywagon bus tour. We didn’t know what to expect, but we’d seen some good reviews. Since our stay, and my work, was in Cork, we thought we’d take this opportunity to get out of the city and see some other things.

Our departure time was 7am, and we arrived at the Paddywagon storefront at 6:45am. It was completely desolate. The sun was beginning to rise, but we were still alone in the city centre.

By 6:55, other tourists began to gather. At 7am sharp, our bus arrived. We had been exploring up and down the block, so we quickly got in line. I left my husband to hold the spot, while I took this photo of the Paddywagon bus. We would not be traveling incognito!

The back of a tour bus
There would be no confusion as to which bus was ours in the line of tour buses at each stop!

I would have taken a better photo, but the driver didn’t put us on in order of the line. He was calling role. Our names were near the top, so I had to scurry back and be “here” when I said I was.

My husband is in imminent need of a hip replacement, and a knee replacement after that, which is another post for another time. But it is important to this story, today, because he can’t walk fast. I entered the Paddywagon in front of him and climbed the stairs to the coach. The long, narrow bus aisle looked, to me, like it might be problematic for him.

I ducked into the first row of seats to let him catch up. He slid in beside me and told me he wasn’t sure he wanted to sit in front. I assured him it wasn’t my intention either, but I figured we could let other people pass and, when there was a break in the boarding, he could lead the way to wherever he felt comfortable.

But as we sat, we looked around. We’d entered from the left side of the bus (from our seat, facing the front). The driver sat on the right (still so strange). We’d taken steps up, and the floor below our bench seat was even with the dashboard. So, from where we sat in that front row, we looked floor to ceiling out a huge front windshield. It was a completely unobstructed view!

We decided to stay, at least until the first stop. It wasn’t a bus where we had assigned seats, or left our belongings on board, so we accepted that someone else would probably grab the spot when we vacated it. But NO! We couldn’t believe the front seat was bypassed by everyone else after every stop. We got to sit there all day!

A tunnel with a grassy bridge over it.
A tunnel/bridge in the Irish countryside which reminded me of the children’s fairy tale “Three Billy Goat’s Gruff”. Do you know it?

Our driver, Aidan, told us about Cork and the sights of interest as we passed them. But as we left the city behind, he announced an unplanned stop. He told us we were going to pause at a gas station because “he needed a cup of coffee”. Well, if you read my previous post, you can imagine what that did to our spirits. The words hit as if notes sung by an angel from Heaven!

Aidan said that this gas station had “quite a nice deli as well”, and we’d stop there for 15 minutes. I think my husband and I both cheered out loud. We told Aidan he was our hero of the hour. God had used him to take care of us and we were so, SO thankful!

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Philippians 4:19, 20

Ireland was an irresistibly interesting island of intrigue, even on fairly empty stomachs, but with large coffees and breakfast burritos digesting, it was even better. We passed miles of green, lush, cattle-laden paradise. Suddenly, Aidan interrupted our thoughts to announce another stop, which was not in the brochure.

And I can’t believe how long this has gotten already! I will pause here. I’m so thankful that you’re taking this journey with me. Please join me next time – I haven’t gotten to my favorite memory of my vacation yet, but it took place on this Paddywagon tour! Until then, my precious friend…

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

Emotions Recommendations

How Anxiety in Your Life Indicates Sure Fire Reasons for Alarm

Do you know what anxiety is? How would you define it? I’ll admit I hadn’t really stopped to examine it until recently.

In this post, I hope to explain how anxiety in your life indicates sure fire reasons for alarm. At the same time, I expect you’ll find it reassuring. I understand that sounds a bit contradictory, but please, read on!

Quick disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. I have no clinical expertise. When I refer to anxiety, I am talking about symptoms common to most of us when we feel anxious.

Anxiety – what is it?

I read a book called Redefining Anxiety, by Dr. John Delony. It was eye-opening for me, and I’d recommend it for anyone. In that book, Dr. Delony described anxiety as an alarm system in the body.

He had a great analogy, I thought. He wondered if I/we/you would hear a fire alarm and spend our time and effort to shut it off? Or would we immediately run to find and fight the fire?

Anxiety is a symptom, not a cause.

How I, and likely you, typically respond to anxiety is to relieve it however we can. We do breathing exercises, turn to coping mechanisms (praying, eating, napping, exercising, etc.), and self-medication. We consider ourselves successful when we’ve quieted the anxiety.

But anxiety is a symptom, not a cause. If it indicates we have stressors burning somewhere inside us, silencing its alert only allows the real issues to rage unchecked. The alarms will soon sound again with increasing urgency.

High-Functioning Anxiety

In a recent feature piece, Dr. Delony introduced another relevant phrase, “High-Functioning Anxiety”. You can access that article here. I think many of us have become accustomed to the deafening ring of this alarm.

High-functioning anxiety, as Dr. Delony presents it, describes the phenomenon where someone is successfully living their life while experiencing consistent symptoms. They can be loving spouses, great parents, responsible employees, and community servants. Their anxiety is not debilitating, yet they struggle to set boundaries, don’t sleep well, worry constantly, and (this one caught my attention) often feel their hearts race.

Although it feels burdensome, anxiety is a gift. It tells us we’re in a precarious place and must take action quick. The last thing we should do is suppress our alarms and go back to business as usual.

Anxiety – what to do about it?

If we fail to address the stress causing our anxiety, the alarms escalate in fervency. To continue the analogy, our lives fill with smoke. We might find ourselves struggling to breathe, impatient, making rash decisions, desperate, or worse.

Identify the cause(s) of your anxiety

Are you anxious today? It may be time for introspection. Can you identify some core problems? How can you put those issues to rest?

A Bible verse on a picture of the sky.
God knows our hearts. Nothing is hidden from Him.

God knows you inside and out. Enlist His help. Ask Him to show you where the fires are and then surrender them to Him. He has the expertise and the tools to put them out.

Anxiety as an opportunity

My friend, let me encourage you to fight your fires. You may find forgiveness, a conversation, apology, or some other thing you can accomplish will put those flames down.

Or you may need to seek trained help to get there. Just don’t put it off any longer. As Dr. Delony says, “You deserve to be well.”

Anxiety in your life indicates sure fire reasons for alarm. If those sirens are sounding, you have a fantastic opportunity! Instead of focusing on our anxiety, let’s address the issues that cause it and stop those alarms for good!

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.”

Psalm 94:18, 19 Thank you, ManetteKay for sending this verse my way.

Helpful Little Hack of the Hour: Chili and Cornbread

Can you believe it is already the last day of August? Where has the time gone? We’ve arrived at the final (for now) helpful little hack of the hour! Let me tell you why I chose chili and cornbread.

This recipe is Simple with a capital S! This is not gourmet chili. But it is hearty, inexpensive, and anyone can make it.

Seriously – even if you’re not a cook, you can do this!

A teal recipe card
I miss recipe cards. Receiving a recipe over text, blog, or email is nice, but it does not preserve the handwriting of the originator.

If you know a student headed to college, send this recipe along. I taught it to my kids when they were in middle school. I made sure they knew where the few ingredients were kept in the fridge and pantry. That way, if ever they needed to (hey, moms get sick too!), they could prepare themselves a comforting meal.

I think I make a pretty good “from scratch” chili. But that doesn’t stop my kids from requesting this variation sometimes. And when they do, I simply agree and let them make it for me! Win/win!

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Galatians 5:13

This is a helpful little hack of the hour for everyone to have on hand. I posted this chili and cornbread recipe to encourage the young adults in my life, and I pray it blesses you too. It is The Recipe in Your Back Pocket. (Click to read.)

Wondering why am I publishing these helpful little hacks of the hour? Read the Introduction and Intent post here.


Helpful Little Hack of the Hour: Split Rings

When I think about practical hacks I want my kids to remember, split rings immediately come to mind. I wrote about them when I began blogging. I hadn’t connected with most of you yet, so I thought it might be one to share again.

If you ever lose charms from your jewelry, or are concerned about your loved ones who might, this helpful hack of the hour about split rings is for you! Click here –>> Change the Ring. This might just make you a hero!

Wondering why am I publishing these helpful little hacks of the hour? Read the Introduction and Intent post here.