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?


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!

Ireland – It’s Intrigue is Irresistibly Interesting: Cobh

Goodness! My incredible experience in Ireland barely scratched the surface of its intrigue. But if you’ve found it interesting, you’re really going to enjoy Cobh!

After our Fota Wildlife Park adventure on Thursday morning, my colleagues and I met back at the hotel for our final meetings. We said our goodbyes that evening and everyone went their separate ways. My husband and I had one more full day in Ireland on Friday, and we planned to visit Cobh.

A Mission in Cobh

Back in my hotel room, as I started to put things away and plan how to pack for the trip home, I made a distressing discovery. My suitcase was broken! I had received grief about my bag from an airport agent on the way to Ireland, so the last thing I wanted to do was draw more attention to it on the way home.

My husband and I talked about it and decided to buy a new suitcase. It would be fun to have the souvenir to remember our time in Ireland every time we packed to go anywhere! And we thought Cobh would be a likely place for the mission because it is where cruise ships dock when they come to Ireland. Surely, I’m not the only tourist to break my luggage!

History in Cobh

On Friday morning, we took a taxi down to Cobh, a seaside town in the south of County Cork. Our driver told us Cork Harbour, of which Cobh is a part, is one of the largest natural harbors in the world! And he made sure we knew that Cobh is pronounced “Cove”.

A map of Cork, Ireland.
It was a short taxi ride from Fota Island to Cobh, in Cork Harbour.

“With a population of around 13,000 inhabitants, Cobh is on the south side of Great Island in Cork Harbour and home to Ireland’s only dedicated cruise terminal.”


Something incredibly interesting about Cobh is that it was the Titanic’s last port of call before she sank. You can read about that here. There are nods to the Titanic all over town, proving the residents have no intention of forgetting those who were on board.

Architecture in Cobh

One of the most spectacular things I saw in Ireland was Coleman’s Cathedral in Cobh. It was breathtaking! The architecture was truly amazing. I’d try to describe it, but I’d rather just show you!

My husband and I walked all around Cobh, admiring the architecture and looking for a shop which sold luggage. When we didn’t find one, we stopped at the visitor center to inquire. The lady who worked inside was lovely, and very helpful.

The Train in Cobh

Do you remember when we left Cork City on the way to Fota Island? I told you what I didn’t know then, that I’d be back at the end of the week. Well, that was because the dear lady in the Cobh visitor center told us the only real luggage shop was in Cork City Center. I’d read about the one she was suggesting and knew exactly where it was.

I expressed concern about the distance because of the taxi fare. She told us we should take the train. We didn’t even know there was a train! She gave us directions. We thanked her and we thanked God for her.

“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

We found the Cobh train station and purchased our tickets. They cost a fraction of what we’d paid for the taxi to bring us half the distance. We wished we’d known about the rail route earlier! But hey, now we know. And now YOU know!

Map of Cork with Cobh and Cork City highlighted
The train took us from Cobh to Cork City for a fraction of the price of a taxi!

The train ride was scenic, as it took us along the water, across Fota Island, by the Wildlife Park and into Cork City. We disembarked and walked several blocks to the City Center. We had a few hours before the luggage shop closed, so we made the most of our unexpected visit to this city which had captured our hearts.

From Cobh to Cork

Our last day in Ireland had been irresistibly interesting. We explored the intriguing town of Cobh, experienced the scenic train, and unexpectedly visited Cork City Centre. Our hearts were full as we purchased our new suitcase and made our way back to Fota Island Resort.

We didn’t sleep well. We were processing all we’d seen, the things we’d learned, and the people we’d encountered. And we were anxious about the trip home.

Had we known what we’d endure on our upcoming journey, we’d have been even more reluctant to leave the intrigue of Cobh and whole irresistible island of Ireland. Our flight home was eventful, to say the least. That will be the story for next time. I hope you’ll join me!

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


Ireland – It’s Intrigue is Irresistibly Interesting: Wildlife

Well, I hope you were convinced by my last post that Fota Island, in Ireland’s County Cork, is irresistibly interesting. But if you are still unsure, I have another intriguing surprise! Fota Island has a wild side!

Wildlife and Whisky

I have read this slogan more than once, in correlation with Fota Island. I can’t say that I experienced the whisky part. But I did enjoy the wildlife. And on a workday! Does it get any better than that?

Fota Wildlife Park

“Fota Wildlife Park is a 100-acre wildlife park located on Fota Island, near Carrigtwohill, County Cork, Ireland. Opened in 1983, it is an independently funded, not-for-profit charity that is one of the leading tourism, wildlife and conservation attractions in Ireland.”


Our colleagues, who live and work in Cork, arranged a team-building event for us at Fota Wildlife Park. We were divided into 3 groups and given a list of tasks to complete for points. I had the best group, just sayin’.

We did not win. In fact, halfway through, we realized we were so far behind there was no possible path to victory. Not in the challenge anyway. So, we decided to enjoy the wildlife. And in my book, that was a winning decision.

Instead of scanning information boards for trivia answers, we took the time to read and learn. While other teams were running past animals which weren’t on the task map, we stopped to see them. We had real conversations and got to know one another.

The giraffes were so curious! They came so close to us that I had to step back to get them in the frame.

We had the best strategy. It was proven to me afterwards when people from the other two teams asked me to send my photos of the animals to them, because they hadn’t had time to take any.

A red panda.
Isn’t this red panda adorable? Don’t you just want one?

Even with three hours spent mostly not competing, I didn’t see everything. This could be an-all day adventure! The park is unexpectedly large.

A lion in a large enclosure
This lion was behind a glass partition, thankfully, because he was only a couple feet away!

“And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”

Genesis 1:25 (emphasis mine)

Fota Wildlife Park is the kind of place scientists, like myself and my colleagues, love. The animals are given space, and very natural habitats. But the pens aren’t so big that you can’t find or watch the wildlife inside.

If I ever get back to Fota Island, I will plan a whole day at the Wildlife Park. And I will take my husband. I know he would enjoy it.

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”

Isaiah 11:6

I think, maybe, I’m reading into God’s Word and making it say what I want to hear, but… Is it too much of a stretch to think we might be able to cuddle a red panda in the presence of Jesus some day? Just some food for thought.

Do you find the red panda as irresistible as I do? Is the Fota Wildlife Park a place you’d visit if you planned a vacation to Ireland? Have you already been there? Or to any other wildlife park? Which animals intrigue you when you go to the zoo?

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