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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?

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Vacations

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?

Wrap-up

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.

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Vacations

Ireland – It’s Intrigue is Irresistibly Interesting: the English Market

Hello! Thank you for joining this adventure and reading about some of our favorite, most irresistibly interesting moments in Ireland. I expect the story will speed up from here, as our trip transitioned from pleasure to business, for me.

When we checked out of our hotel in Cork City Centre on Monday morning, the front desk personnel kindly agreed to keep our bags so we could explore a bit more. We especially wanted to visit the English Market while we waited for check-in time at the other hotel, where my company had arranged for our team to stay.

From what I’d read about the English Market online, I expected an indoor cafeteria, of sorts. I thought it would be a good place to grab a cup of coffee, a baguette with sliced cheese, and maybe some fruit. What we found was intriguing, although not what I was expecting.

A market with glass cases.
The English Market offers fresh meal ingredients, more than prepared food for takeout.

The English Market had all the items I was thinking of, but they were not individually sized. It was more like an elevated farmer’s market; a conglomeration of fresh, local grocery vendors. There were loaves of bread, blocks of cheese, freshly caught fish, and organically grown produce, among other things. There was a restaurant upstairs from which patrons could watch the action.

A pile of freshly caught fish.
For sale at the English Market! I’m sorry if this is gruesome, but I had to laugh. It reminded me of when I was a kid and we would play dead – we’d always stick our tongues out. Did you do that?

The English Market was an incredibly interesting place to browse! And since my husband would be hanging around the hotel room while I worked the next few days, we purchased some staples for him to have on hand. We rounded out his grocery supply at the Aldi supermarket a few blocks away.

I could swear I’ve heard of Aldi in the US. But I’ve never had one near me. Does anyone have an Aldi in their town? I could be mistaken.

Cork City Centre is an easy place to “waste” time. We found a wonderful souvenir shop, a toy store, a Hallmark store, and several other things we don’t see much of anymore, where we live in the states. We got lunch and enjoyed it next to the river Lee.



When it was time, we retrieved our luggage from the hotel and hailed a taxi. My company’s Cork office is located on Fota Island. To get there, our taxi driver drove approximately 20 minutes away from the City Centre.

It was hard to leave the English Market and everything we’d adored in the city. I didn’t know it then, but we’d be back, for an unexpected reason, at the end of the week. Stay tuned for that story.

Fota Island was completely different than Cork City Center. I correctly suspected it held new and different items of intrigue to show me about Ireland. Still, my imagination fell far short of God’s artistry! We’ll talk about that next time.

Until then, what is your favorite city you’ve ever visited? Why was it your favorite? Is it somewhere you’ve been only once or a place you’ve felt drawn to time and again? Have you ever been to the English Market or anywhere like it? God bless you, my precious friend!

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

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Vacations

Ireland – It’s Intrigue is Irresistibly Interesting: Doolin and Bunratty

Welcome back, my friends! And if you’re just joining in this Ireland series, we’re currently on a Paddywagon bus tour. You can catch up, beginning here, if you like.

We left the exquisite Cliffs of Moher and drove into the quaint little coastal town of Doolin for lunch. Our driver, Aidan, was born and raised on this irresistibly interesting island of intrigue, so we wholeheartedly trusted his pub choice. We instantly adored the seaside village of Doolin and looked forward to stopping at Bunratty castle after our meal!

Gus O’Connor’s Pub was warm and inviting, a contrast to the stormy weather outside. It had a dim, cozy, old-timey feel. It was bursting with patrons, even before our bus arrived. It is always a good sign when the locals line up to eat somewhere, right?

A man standing in front of a pub
Gus O’Connor’s pub looks intriguing from the front, but inside, it was even more interesting! The original, antiquated space still existed, but there were several nooks that appeared to have been added through the years.

I had been craving fish and chips and this seaside pub seemed like a good place to order it. My husband had the salmon and we enjoyed both of our choices very much! A beautiful latte finished our meal. Oh, my goodness, yum! If you’re ever in Doolin, Ireland, please treat yourself at Gus O’Connor’s Pub.

Two plates of food
Amazing food at Gus O’Connor’s Pub. We noticed the Irish like to mash many of their veggies. My fish and chips came with a pea mash, which was very tasty, reminiscent of split pea soup. Michael’s salmon plate included a carrot mash and a potato mash.
A latte with an Irish biscuit.
A latte with a decorative cocoa finish that reminded me of “hot cross buns”.
A bathroom sign pointing to the left.
This sign was on the wall next to our table, directing patrons to a hallway behind us. It made me laugh out loud!

After lunch we ran through the rain and got back on the Paddywagon bus. On the way to Bunratty castle, Aidan took us by the Burren. Some people went out to explore, but it was dangerously blustery out there, on the slippery rocks, so my husband and I decided to stay on the bus. Here is what Google has to say about the area.

“The Burren is a region of County Clare in the southwest of Ireland. It’s a karst landscape of bedrock incorporating a vast cracked pavement of glacial-era limestone, with cliffs and caves, fossils, rock formations and archaeological sites. On the Atlantic coast, the precipitous Cliffs of Moher are home to thousands of seabirds, including puffins. Nearby Doolin village is a renowned centre for traditional Irish music.”

Google

I must admit something. Maybe I fell prey to Disney’s magic as a small child, but I thought a castle was the home of a king and queen. I assumed they were so numerous on the small and intriguing island of Ireland, because, at one time, it was settled by many Celtic clans, each with its own head, or kingly figure.

So, I was astounded to learn that the castles in Ireland were erected as fortresses of war, not spaces for regal living. They were placed strategically for defense and built for protection. Did you know that? Am I the only one who had castles and palaces intermingled?

Once I learned that, I was even more interested in seeing Bunratty castle. We did not have time to tour inside. If I ever go back, I’d love to do that.

But we did walk all the way around. It was massive! It was raining hard, so we didn’t linger too long. Have you ever been inside? If so, please tell me about it!

A selfie of a couple with Bunratty Castle in the background.
One side of Bunratty Castle. It is amazing to me that, unless the raindrops are on the camera lens, they don’t show up in photos. Peep the Cliffs of Moher beanie on my handsome husband! Also, forgive me – I don’t know if I’ve ever taken a flattering selfie. I need to learn from many of you!
A castle behind a rock wall.
The front of Bunratty Castle, as close as we could get without an entry ticket.
A castle and cloudy sky.
What a visual!
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Psalm 18:2

There was a marketplace across the street from the castle. We quickly browsed a few shops, wondering what to bring home to our kids. We would wonder that all week. The only thing we couldn’t resist was the aroma of coffee from the chocolate shop.

Hands holding a coffee cup and two chocolates.
My husband and I couldn’t be more different in our choice of chocolates, but we share coffee perfectly. He likes his extra hot and I like mine warm. He drinks the first half and then hands it over to me! God knew what He was doing when He put us together, didn’t He?

We boarded our Paddywagon bus for the last time and chatted with Aidan for most of the rainy drive back to Cork. Aidan owned a tour bus company, which he sold when he retired. Paddywagon was short drivers, and he loves showing people around his country, so he went back to work.

We enjoyed his company and learned so much from him. Writing about him has prompted me to pray for him. Will you join me?

It was still pouring when the Paddywagon pulled back into Cork city centre around 6pm. Aidan suggested a dinner spot across the street from where he dropped us off, called Son of a Bun. We decided not to try it, but if I ever return, it is on my list. I mention it so it can be on yours too!

We walked several blocks back to our hotel and got drenched all over again. As I heard many times, you don’t visit Ireland for the great weather! We dried off and cleaned up before heading down to the restaurant in the lobby for a beautiful meal. If you’re thinking we ate a lot, you’re not wrong.

What a day! Ireland was irresistibly interesting in its intrigue. We thoroughly enjoyed Doolin and Bunratty Castle. Thank you so much for revisiting them with me in this post!

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

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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.

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Questions

A Relatable Predicament

A fish with a hook in its mouth
Can anyone relate?