Sunday, December 31, 2006

December 31 -- A Christmas Card "Kissing Ball"


Yes, I know a kissing ball usually incorporates mistletoe or greens of some sort. However, in our family we hang this colorful decoration made from old Christmas cards in a doorway and we call it a "kissing ball". One of the kids started calling it that, and the name stuck. My husband persists in treating it as if it were mistletoe.

This project is a tiny bit time-consuming in waiting for glue to dry, etc. but it is very easy and a lot of fun to do.

You will need:

Old Christmas cards

A compass or a 3-inch jar lid (for tracing circles)

A pencil or pen

Ruler

Scissors

Mucilage-type glue (the kind with the spreader top)

Paper clips

Glue stick

Glitter

Miniature glass Christmas balls

Tacky glue

Heavy gold (or other) cord for hanging ball

To begin, draw a three-inch circle or two on the back of a Christmas card, and cut these out. These will be your templates. It's a good idea to have more than one, because they get a bit worn down and out of shape if you keep using the same template over and over. You need to also draw an equilateral triangle that just fits inside a 3-inch circle, and cut that out. This triangle will be your template for folding the circles later.

Next, using your circle templates, draw 20 three-inch circles on Christmas card fronts. Try and center the card's picture (or the part of the picture you are using) in the circle. You may be able to get more than one circle per card, depending upon the design. Cut out the circles.

The next part sounds tricky, but it really isn't that difficult. Once you begin, you will understand how it works.

First, make the top of the ball. This takes 5 circles. Using your triangle template, trace a triangle on the back of each circle, with the point uppermost. You will want to make sure that your design is right side up, with the triangle's point at the top. Now, fold along the lines you just made. Crease them well. What you will have is a triangular design framed by half-circle flaps on all three sides.

Now it's time to glue. Take the first two circles and place them side by side with the points of triangles next to each other at the top. Apply the mucilage-type glue to the back of two adjacent side flaps and glue them together. Secure with paper clips which will hold the flaps together until they dry. Continue until all 5 pieces are glued together. Then glue the two remaining side flaps together. You will see that this forms a cap-like piece, or maybe an upside down bowl. Paper-clip the last two glued flaps and set the piece aside to dry.

Next, make the bottom of the ball with 5 more circles. This time, trace your triangle so that the point is at the bottom of your design. Again, be sure the design is right side up, but with the triangle's point at the bottom. Fold and crease as before.

Glue as for top, but this time you glue them side by side with the points of triangles next to each other at the bottom. Paper-clip the flaps together as you glue. Finished bottom piece will resemble a bowl. Set aside to dry.

Now make the middle section, using the remaining 10 circles. This time you will trace 5 triangles with the points up (design right side up) and 5 triangles with the points down (again, with the design right side up). Fold and crease as before.

As you have probably guessed, the positioning and gluing of the middle section is different from the top and bottom. Place a point-up triangle next to a point-down one, and so on, alternating between the two. Glue and clip adjacent flaps as you go. At the end, glue and clip the remaining flap of the last piece to the unglued side flap of the first piece. Set aside to dry.

(Are you thinking this is a lot of work? It's simple work, though, and I promise the finished product will be very pretty.)

When all three pieces are dry, remove all of the paper clips. Don't put them away, though -- you'll need them again.

Now, glue the bottom flaps of your top piece to the top flaps of the middle section, paper-clipping as you go. And then glue the top flaps of the bottom piece to the bottom flaps of the middle section, again paper-clipping as you go along. Set the completed ball aside to dry.

When it's dry, now is the time to add glitter. (Remove all of the paper clips before proceeding with this step.) You can use whatever color glitter you like. I usually use gold or silver, but one time, for an elderly aunt who collected Santas, I used all Santa cards for the ball and used red glitter. Anyway, to add glitter, hold the ball over a disposable pie pan or other throwaway container. Use the glue stick to add glue to each flap of the completed ball, and then sprinkle the gluey surface with glitter. Shake off excess.

Now, for the finishing touch. You've probably noticed that there are openings where the folded circles don't quite meet. You are about to fix that! For each of these openings, dip the hanger end of a miniature Christmas ball in tacky glue. Carefully insert these glued ends into each opening except for the opening at the top of the ball.

Make a loop of cord to use as a hanging loop. Tie the cord ends in a sturdy knot. Dip the knot in tacky glue and carefully insert the knot into the opening at the top of the ball.

Set the ball aside until all the glue is dry.

Hang your new decoration in a hallway, window, or from a ceiling fixture -- and enjoy its festive sparkle!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

December 30 -- Two Victorian-style projects



Here's another Christmas-card project that's quick and easy!

Find a small Victorian motif on an old Christmas card or a scrap of wrapping paper. (I have seen several wrapping papers that are basically a collage of Victorian motifs.)

Glue the motif to posterboard or thin cardboard and let dry.

Carefully cut around the edges of the motif through both paper and the board it is glued to.

Hot-glue a pin back to the back side of the cardboard, centering it near the top.

Coat the front of the motif with mod podge at least three times, letting it dry between coats. If desired, sprinkle glitter on the motif before the last coat of mod podge dries.

For an ornament, you could follow the same steps, only instead of a pin-back, hot-glue a loop of gold cord to the center back of the cardboard near the top.

I made my pin round and ran a thin metallic cord around the outer edge. I was quite pleased with the way it came out, but my son persisted in referring to it as my "panic button" so I didn't wear it too often!

I made my ornaments rectangular or oval, trimmed the edge with decorative cord, and glued a tassel made from tinsel to the bottom center of one ornament. I want to make more of these. The photo shows two of the oval ornaments.

Hope someone else has fun with this idea!

Friday, December 29, 2006

December 29 -- Hot Pizza Dip




With New Year's Eve coming up, I thought it would be the perfect time to share a recipe for an easy hot dip that can be simply heated in the microwave. For New Year's Eve, since it's on Sunday this year, we will simply be having a time of fellowship and food after the evening service. I'm going to bring this dip, along with breadsticks, and a large tray of Christmas cookies from the freezer.

HOT PIZZA DIP

One 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup pizza sauce OR spaghetti sauce
2 Tblsp. chopped green and/or red pepper*
2 Tblsp. thinly sliced green onions*
Breadsticks or tortilla chips for dipping

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and Italian seasoning together. Spread the mixture in an ungreased microwave-safe 9-inch pie plate.

In a bowl, combine the mozzarella and the parmesan. Sprinkle half of this mixture over the cream cheese in the pie plate. Spread the sauce over the top and then sprinkle all of the remaining cheese mixture over the sauce. Top with the chopped peppers and the green onions.

Microwave the dip uncovered on High for 3 to 4 minutes, rotating the plate a half turn several times if your microwave does not have a turntable, until the cheese is almost melted. Let stand for 1 to 2 minutes before serving with breadsticks or tortilla chips.

* You can top this dip with almost anything -- I have used finely chopped pepperoni, peppers or green onions only, a combination of the three -- or I have just simply topped it with a sprinkle of pizza spice. It doesn’t seem to matter what you use -- the dip is going to get gobbled up regardless. I very often bring this to potlucks because people enjoy it so much. I usually make two of these, and there is still never any left to bring home.

(Photo by Taste of Home)
 

Thursday, December 28, 2006

December 28 -- Christmas Card Boxes

Most people have probably seen those little boxes made from Christmas cards. These are the easiest directions I have ever found. Most of the instructions I've seen involve a lot of folding and drawing of complicated lines, etc. These are actually easy!

The boxes can obviously be made from any greeting card, not just Christmas ones. These make great little gift boxes or can be used to hold office or craft supplies like paper clips, tacks, push pins, beads, etc. Christmas ones can be hung on the tree or piled beneath a miniature tree.

Here's what you do:

1. Cut apart a greeting card along the fold, separating the front from the back.

2. Start with the back part of the card. Using a ruler, draw lines from corner to corner on the unprinted side of the card to form an X. The center is where the two lines of the X meet.

3. Fold up each of the four sides of the card to meet the center of the X. Crease the folds well.

4. Open the card back up to reveal the creases you've made. Now, holding the card vertically, carefully cut on the two vertical crease lines at the top and bottom of the card, just to the point where they intersect with the nearest horizontal crease.

5. Fold in the tabs you just created by following step 4. You can now see how this is going to form a box. Tape the tabs inside the box. (You may find that each end of the box -- the part between the tabs -- stands up a bit higher than the rest of the box. If this happens, it is not a problem. You can simply fold the excess down inside, over the tabs, and tape it in place. Or, if you prefer, you can simply trim off the excess card before taping.) You have just made the bottom of the box!

6. Now, repeat steps 2 through 5 with the front part of the card, which will make the top of your box.

7. Obviously, this produces a box top and bottom which are exactly the same size, which sometimes means that the cover doesn't go on too easily. Usually, if you just squeeze the sides of the box gently, the cover will go on just fine.

These directions look far more complicated than the process actually is. I've made loads of these boxes with kids over the years, and it really is easy enough for even a 5-year-old to do. So have fun with these cute little boxes!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Baking Report


Christmas baking report

Well, the floury dust has settled in my kitchen, and I can report on this year's Christmas baking. (I still have some desserts to make for a party next week, and some cookies for a post-Christmas cookie swap, but the actual Christmas baking is, of course, completed.)

I baked mini-loaves of breads and cakes for our neighbors:

* Golden Apricot Cake
* Gift of the Magi Bread
* Fruited Eggnog Bread

Of these, the apricot cake is definitely my favorite, but I'd bake the others again too.

For candy, I made:

* Heavenly Delight (a chocolate-peanut butter layered fudge)
* Four-Chip Fudge
* Cranberry Nut Fudge
* Almond Brittle
* Chocolate-covered Fruitcake

I guess the fruitcake doesn't really belong in the candy category, but it's not a cookie either, so... I made a favorite fruitcake recipe (with no yucky citron -- in fact, with no candied fruit at all) in a jelly-roll pan, cut it in small squares and dipped in melted chocolate confectionery coating. I'd seen chocolate-covered fruitcake bites offered in a Gooseberry Patch catalog and decided to try making my own. These have been well-received by everyone who has tried them!

For cookies, I made:

* Cranberry Pecan Sandies
* Sacher Torte Cookies
* Whipped Shortbread
* Eggnog Logs
* Brown-Sugar Cut-out Cookies
* Macaroon Kisses

Of these, the only new recipe I tried was the Cranberry Pecan Sandies. This recipe came from Simple & Delicious magazine and starts with a cranberry quick-bread mix. With an orange drizzle and a pecan half on top, these cookies looked impressive and tasted delicious too.

In other kitcheny gifts, I also made:

* Mulling spices for cider
* Sunset Orchard Spiced Tea Mix
* Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
* Make-Ahead Bran Muffin Batter

This was also a Christmas when I had an unusual number of kitchen disasters.. but that's another story for another post!

December 27 -- Gift tags from Christmas cards


One of the most obvious and easy ways to use your old Christmas cards is to make gift tags from them. There are a couple of ways to do this.

Sometimes you can use the entire front of a card as a tag, if it has enough blank space to write the to/from information. These are especially nice for family members -- for example, you might have a card front that says "Merry Christmas to a Dear Granddaughter." This is a natural to paste to the top of your granddaughter's Christmas present. These can add a real decorative element to a package wrapped in a solid color like red, green, blue, silver, etc.

The other way is to cut shapes from your old cards to make tags.
You can make simple shapes like rectangles, squares or circles. Current, Inc. sells a set of tag templates which work very nicely and has quite an assortment of shapes. A book of children's Christmas stencils would also work well. Once you have cut your shapes you can punch a hole in each one and add some red or green string to make a hanging tag.

This simple project is a fun way to keep your kids busy during Christmas break -- and I personally find that doing a project like this, even all by myself, is very relaxing and a great stress reliever.

Have fun with this idea!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Our Christmas Tree


Perhaps others might enjoy seeing our beautiful Christmas tree! Mr. T cut it at a local tree farm for only $20! We have been very pleased with it, although at first I despaired at the thought of finding a place to put such a full tree. Mr. T did almost all of the tree trimming himself this year while I was occupied with other pursuits.

In the background you can just see my snowflake/icicle garland above the picture window. To the left of the tree you can glimpse a decorative Christmas stocking made from one of Mr. T's worn-out work socks, patched and embellished by me. There's another to the right of the tree, but it doesn't show. Last year I gave each of our children and their families some of these embellished socks -- a different sort of "family heirloom", for sure!

We also added -- though I don't think it's in this photo -- my lighted Christmas "village" around the base of the tree. All in all, it made for a very lovely tree and we are continuing to enjoy it. We put our tree up late and usually leave it up for a couple of weeks after Christmas.

December 26 -- Some ideas for Christmas cards


Each year I display the cards we receive in our front hallway as they arrive. Once I've sent a card in return, I roll up masking tape and tape the cards around the frame of the doorway to the living room. I also tape them to the adjacent wall of the hallway. They pretty much take up the space available and make a very festive display. I keep them up until a couple of weeks after Christmas.

When the cards come down, they go into a pretty wooden basket. They will reside there until the next year's cards take their place. We like to pull out a card a day and pray for the family or person who sent the card. Ideally, we keep rotating through them. We don't always stick with this, but every year we aim at it!

What do we do with the previous year's cards when the present year's cards replace them? Well, we don't throw them all away! Some are so beautiful that I save them to display at future Christmases. For the others, I have several projects for which I like to use old Christmas cards -- gift tags, little boxes, and even what we call in our family a "kissing ball". In the next few days, I'll be sharing instructions for these projects, so stay tuned!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge -- Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas, everyone!

I hope that you all had as wonderful a day as we did.

We started out with an early-morning walk while our egg brunch casserole baked. After breakfast, we opened a couple of stocking presents, then had our devotions and enjoyed a phone call from special friends in Arizona.

Then we cooked for Christmas dinner, which we took to my parents' home and shared with them. We had a sumptuous meal of turkey breast, chicken pie, mashed potatoes, squash, stuffing, gravy, peas, rolls, and cranberry sauce. Dessert choices included apple pie with ice cream, cake, and cookies. We did all the cleanup there before returning home.

In the evening we went to Jim and Carrie's for an hour or two and enjoyed a nice visit with them and the kiddos.

After our return home we enjoyed a Christmas phone call from our youngest, currently with her husband and baby in the West Indies on a mission building project.

Throughout the day we opened stocking stuffers. We skipped supper and just had a bedtime snack of cheese & crackers and some Christmas tea. A splendid day!

December 25 -- Red satin ribbon


I grew up in the 1950s, and I find myself growing ever more nostalgic for the Christmases of those days gone by. One thing that just seems to say "old-fashioned Christmas" to me is red satin ribbon. It seemed to be used so often in those days to lend a festive holiday touch. I inherited many of my grandmother's Christmas wrappings, so I've been able to use some of her old ribbon.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that this beautiful ribbon is still available, for a reasonable price. (I purchase mine through Home-Sew, a mail-order and online sewing supply catalog.) The one-half inch or three-quarter inch sizes are most versatile. I use them to wrap packages, to tie bows on the handles of gift bags, to trim crafts, tie up bunches of greenery, and for decorating in many other ways. Using luxurious, vintage-looking satin ribbons to decorate my home and gifts is one way of helping to re-create those happy Christmases of my childhood.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Days 2-3


Okay, now the days are blurring together. I did a lot the past 2 days -- made fudge and cookies, prepared many gift bags for neighbors and family, wrapped lots of gifts. Tonight we had our Christmas Eve supper and a small family gift exchange -- we will do another one in February when our youngest daughter and son-in-law are here.

Merry Christmas Eve to all!

December 24 -- An icicle and snowflke garland


I have a gorgeous evergreen garland (which I got for free) with attached pinecones. I have woven a string of white lights into the garland. I keep it above my multi-paned picture window and change its decor with the seasons. For Christmas, I trim it with glittery iridescent snowflakes and icicles, both plastic. The lights glimmering against the snowflakes and icicles give a truly magical effect. The nicest thing is that I can keep these trims in place all winter!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

December 23 -- Mulled Cider Mix


Mulled Cider Mix

It's fun and easy to make little packets of mulling spices for gifts. They produce some very yummy cider and make wonderful small gifts. I often include them in gift baskets for our neighbors or in care packages to faraway family and friends. Here's what you'll need to make these:

* Cinnamon sticks

* Whole cloves

* Allspice berries

* Coffee filters

* Plain white string

Break the cinnamon sticks in 1-inch pieces. For each packet of spices, place 1 tsp. of cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp. of whole cloves and 1 tsp. of allspice berries in the center of a coffee filter. Gather the filter up into a little bundle and tie securely with string.

To package these, I use an idea I found in a Gooseberry Patch book -- Place each bundle of spices in a small brown paper bag. Fold the top of the bag down securely. Make a tag on card stock or half of a file card with these instructions: "Mulled Cider Mix. Place spice bag in large saucepan with 1 quart to 1 gallon of cider. Heat through and enjoy." Then position the tag at the top of the bag and use your sewing machine, threaded with red thread, to sew the tag to the bag, sewing the bag closed in the process. These look so cute and festive!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 4


Today was quite a productive day! Although our cookie decorating/baking couldn't happen due to a sick granddaughter, it was really just as well -- when I turned on my oven this evening (for the first time all day) it was deader than a doornail. The electronic igniter had died -- again. This has happened so many times we could have bought a new stove with the money we've spent on igniters. Fortunately, we had one on hand -- my husband prudently ordered two the last time this happened.

Here's what I accomplished today:

* Made Heavenly Delight (fudge)

* Made Almond Brittle (and destroyed a glass bowl in the process)

* Wrapped up and labeled all of my tea-sized breads and cakes for gift-giving

* Put together 3 gift bags/baskets

* Finished sewing 4 foldable fabric baskets

* Did the last of the Christmas shopping tonight

* Did a lot more planning toward Christmas dinner, breakfast, etc.

Hope others have also enjoyed a productive day!

December 22 -- Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix


Homemade hot chocolate mix was something my grandmother would always stir up for Christmas gifts for her children, grandkids, and their families. I have also found that it makes a wonderful gift. Here's a gift idea for that hard-to-buy for older person : A jar of hot chocolate mix, a container of refrigerator muffin batter, and a box of clementines. We've done this for the past few years for my mother-in-law (the first year we also included a six-cup silicone muffin pan) and she looks forward to it. We have the agreement that I will refill the muffin batter and the hot chocolate as many times as she wants me to.

My hot chocolate mix is one I developed myself by combining my grandmother's recipe with another one and adding in some ideas of my own. I really like the touch of malted milk flavor in this. Here's the recipe:

HOT CHOCOLATE MIX
5 cups instant nonfat dry milk
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups instant chocolate drink powder (like Quik)
1 cup malted milk powder, chocolate flavor
1 cup malted milk powder, malt flavor
1 cup non-dairy powdered creamer
1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and store in an airtight container. Include these directions with mix:
* Place 1/3 cup of mix in a large mug. Fill mug with hot water and stir to dissolve. *

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 5


Today was a very busy day, but I did accomplish quite a bit toward Christmas:

* I baked some Brown Sugar Cut-Out Cookies in preparation for a cookie-decorating time with my granddaughters and some friends tomorrow.

* I completed making and packaging six bags of spices for mulled cider, for neighbor gifts.

* I wrapped quite a number of gifts.

* I sent out lots of Christmas cards and wrote a few more.

* I shopped for a few more components for edible gifts.

Hope everyone else is doing well with their own Christmas challenges!

December 21 -- Old-Timey Tin Icicles


Old-Timey Tin Icicles

Years ago, my sister-in-law told me about an easy, fun tree decoration. You can actually make these all year whenever you finish a roll of foil, wax paper, etc. Basically, they are icicles which you make from the metal cutting strip on the boxes of these wraps. (In case you haven't noticed, this is not a craft small children should help with.)

Here's what you do: When you finish up a roll of foil or whatever, very carefully remove the metal cutting strip from the box. Once you get the end started, it will come off quite easily. Then take a pencil and, again working very carefully, wrap the metal strip around the pencil in a spiral pattern. Once the icicle looks the way you want it to, slip it off the pencil. There is your tin icicle! These metal strips often have holes spaced along them, and you can slip an ornament hook through the topmost hole. If your metal strip has no holes, you can simply bend the top of the icicle a bit to stay on a tree branch.

These icicles look charmingly old-fashioned on your tree, and they catch the glimmer of the tree lights beautifully. Have fun with this idea!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 6


Wow, I am just not ready for Christmas to come so soon.

I didn't get a lot done today, but --

* I did finish the one big gift that it was crucial to complete by the end of today. So I consider that a big accomplishment.

* I put up a couple more decorations and took a pre-decorated tree to my parents' house.

* I wrapped one gift.

* I wrote a bunch more Christmas card.

* I spent a few minutes on a stitchery gift I'm making.

Looking forward to a much more productive day tomorrow!

December 20 -- Christmas Breakfast


Even though Christmas is a few days away, I thought this might be a good time to share our Christmas breakfast traditions with you. If you decide to try this recipe, you will want to be shopping for ingredients soon. So here are my thoughts on

CHRISTMAS BREAKFAST
 
For Christmas breakfast when the kids were growing up, I always liked to have something easy but hearty. I knew they would be having a lot of sweets and excitement that day, not to mention a lack of sleep. So it made sense to me to be sure that breakfast included some good food, especially protein and fruit. I would plan some sort of egg dish -- usually one that could be made the night before and refrigerated, then baked in the morning. Along with this, we would have muffins or coffeecake, and either leftover ambrosia, fruit salad, or the oranges from the stockings. Here is my favorite egg dish.

EGG BRUNCH BAKE
2 cups seasoned croutons
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
Pepper to taste
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Place the croutons and cheese in a lightly greased 9-inch square pan. combine milk, salt, mustard, onion powder and pepper. Pour this over the croutons and cheese in the pan. Sprinkle bacon on top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, bake at 350°, uncovered, for l hour. Recipe may be doubled for a 13X9-inch pan.

Yield: 4 servings

This is my standby breakfast recipe when we have overnight guests. I also served it at 2 pre-wedding brunches to the wedding party. So easy, but delicious!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 7


Today was a fairly productive day, but not as much so as I'd hoped. Here's what I got done:

* Sent out quite a few Christmas cards

* Pretty much finished with Christmas shopping

* Worked on several homemade gift projects

* Made 11 mini loaves of fruited Eggnog Bread for gifts

* Made cookie dough for Brown Sugar Cut-out Cookies

Tomorrow won't be too great -- Wednesdays never are -- but there's one gift I must complete.

December 19 -- Christmas Eve Soup


I've been making this soup for probably 25 years or more. It all started years ago when I decided we needed some simple traditions for our own family -- not just going to Grandma's on the big day, but something especially our own. We decided to have a simple meal on Christmas Eve -- when we started, we invited grandparents and other close family, but now it is down to just us and any available children and grandchildren. The menu I chose that first year was this soup, muffins or biscuits, and, for dessert, ambrosia with Christmas cookies. Over the years, many things have changed -- the past couple of years I've eliminated the ambrosia in favor of ice cream, and last year we had cheese pizza instead of bread -- but this soup is a constant. I thought I would share the recipe a few days early in case anyone else would like to try this for Christmas Eve. So here it is:

CHRISTMAS EVE SOUP
6 cups sliced potatoes
1 cup sliced carrots
6 slices bacon
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup sliced celery
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups milk
2 cups half & half cream
Finely shredded cheddar cheese
Parsley sprigs

Cook potatoes and carrots in boiling water until tender;
drain. Saute bacon until crisp in skillet. Drain on paper towels;
crumble. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat. Saute the onion
and celery in the reserved bacon fat until tender but not brown.
Combine potatoes, carrots, onion mixture, salt, pepper, and cream in a
large kettle or Dutch oven. Simmer for 30 minutes; do not boil.
Garnish with shredded cheddar , parsley sprigs and the crumbled bacon.
Serves 4 to 6.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 8


Scarier and scarier...

Still, I accomplished quite a bit today :

* Sent off a Christmas box to faraway friends

* Sent out 5 or 6 Christmas cards

* Wrote a few cards

* Tied red plaid bows on my dining room chandelier

* Finished decorating the Christmas tree

* Worked on a homemade gift

* Went to a favorite shopping spot and bought a few gifts

* Set up our lighted Christmas village.

Tomorrow, my focus must be on finishing one particular homemade gift.

Menu Plan Monday for December 18


Well, we have eaten out a couple of times and eaten quite a few leftovers in the past week, so today's menu contains a few repeats from last week's. Here goes:

MONDAY : Mexican Meatball Soup, Tortilla Chips (leftover from Sunday)

TUESDAY: Potato Bean Soup. Cornbread

WEDNESDAY: Simple Pierogie Supper, Wheat Italian Bread

THURSDAY: Garlic Lime Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Asparagus Stir-fry Vegetables

FRIDAY: Greek Spinach Pie, Mixed Vegetable Salad

SATURDAY: Fried Eggs with Cheddar & Chives, Breakfast Potatoes, Applesauce

SUNDAY: Christmas Eve Soup, Cheese Pizza, Raw Vegetables, Ice Cream, Christmas Cookies

December 18 -- Christmas Heirlooms


CHRISTMAS HEIRLOOMS

I was extremely fortunate to have some special Christmas things handed
down to me. Oh, they weren’t big, expensive, valuable items. Some
would probably call them “trinkets” or even “junk”. But to me they are
very precious -- part of my heritage.

Many years ago my great-aunt gave me some old glass ornaments that
had belonged to her and her late husband. Even though the ornaments are
faded now and some are chipped, I continue to put them on the tree each
year, along with some antique felt snowmen and elves. There were also
some of those heavy foil reflectors for use with the old-time Christmas lights. I still use the reflectors even though our modern lights are much smaller and they have to be put on just so to make them fit.

The same great-aunt also gave me some wonderful vintage Christmas fabric and a box full of Christmas candles. There were carolers and a lamp post, angels, and other things. I always loved seeing such candles around when I was a child, but it’s hard to imagine actually lighting one of them. (Incidentally, the Vermont Country Store catalogs this year are featuring such candles, so they’re still available if you know where to look.)

My grandmother was a real lover of Christmas, and she kept a good stock of whatever was needed to make the holiday special. She gave me a whole box once of things she was getting rid of -- mostly paper goods -- and in it were some real treasures. I had always marveled that there were actually such things as paper doilies done in Christmas prints. Gram had lots of them -- with holly, poinsettias, and so on. I felt extremely fortunate to find some of those -- several different sizes and prints -- in that box, and for years I used them very sparingly. In the past few years I have found some lovely Christmas paper doilies in the dollar stores and at Target, so they’re still out there.

Gram also gave me a box full of wrapping paper, ribbon, and tags. I have had a wonderful time using these things over the years. I still have some of the ribbon and tags, and included some of the tags and a few snippets of ribbon in the Christmas memory books I’ve made for family members.

What about you? What are your Christmas heirlooms? If you don’t have any, you might like to consider making some special things to hand down to your family.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 9


Oh, this getting down into the single digits is scary! We did get quite a bit done today:

* Got the Christmas tree set up and all the lights and ornaments on. Still have to add more icicles.

* Got our manger scene set up on the bottom shelf of our new hutch. Did a bit more decorating of the new hutch.

* Put up our "kissing ball" in its traditional spot. Added a few more decorations here and there.

* Handed out most of our church family Christmas cards.

* Wrote a few more Christmas cards.

Lots to do tomorrow!

December 17 -- Two nutty confections


At Christmastime, all types of snack mixes are popular as gifts and just to have around the house for family and friends to nibble on. These two nutty treats have been particular favorites with us.

The first is a treat for coffee lovers.

COFFEE WALNUTS
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
 

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and cook to the soft-ball stage.
Remove from heat and toss in: 3 cups broken walnuts.  Spread on wax-paper-lined cookie sheets to dry. The nuts should be fairly separate, not in large clumps.

Next, we have

ORANGE SUGARED PECANS
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
2 cups pecan halves
 

In small heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and evaporated milk. Cook over medium heat to 234° (soft-ball stage), stirring occasionally. Add butter and orange peel; stir to blend. Add pecan halves; stir until all are coated. Spread the pecans on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper. When candy coating is firm, gently break pecans apart. Store in covered containers.

The first nut recipe is from Cook & Tell. The second is from a Taste of the Country cookbook. Both of these nut recipes make wonderful gifts. You can buy tins or jars to put them in, or, for a vintage look, save cans through the year from peanuts, mixed nuts or cashews and cover them with Christmas wrapping paper. That’s the old-timey way!


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 9


We spent almost the entire day Christmas shopping! Since neither of us is a "shop-until-you-drop" person, we're pretty tired of shopping right now. Did we finish it all? No, but we got a lot done and have concrete ideas for everyone else on our list. As we traveled, I got all of our Christmas cards for folks at church written.

Hope everyone else is doing well and that this challenge is encouraging someone else.

December 16 -- My simple Christmas-card system


My simple Christmas-Card system...

So many people struggle with trying to get their Christmas cards sent out. For years I watched my mother labor with a list, checking off cards received, listing cards sent out... and when I started sending my own Christmas cards, I did the same. Then came a couple of very busy years when cards just didn't get sent. Finally I decided to try a different way of handling this... something that would make it a blessing rather that a chore, that would keep the enjoyment in this special way of keeping in touch with friends and family.

I decided that when we received a card from someone, then I would send that person a card. It keeps the task very manageable. Writing only a few cards a day keeps it enjoyable and gives me time to add a little note to the card if I like. This system is almost foolproof. The only thing that keeps it from being ideal is that invariably we receive some cards from people at the very last minute, like the day before or the day after Christmas. I noticed this the first year, so the next year I bought a couple of nice New Year's cards to use for those people. (If you are trying this for the first time, I suggest buying a couple of New Year's cards right now, to have on hand for this inevitable happening.) By now, I have it pretty much figured out who is going to be late with their cards -- in our case, it's only two people -- and I just send their cards now before we receive one from them.

This system works beautifully for us. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it sure beats struggling to get your cards sent out or just giving up on sending cards entirely, as many people have done. Give it a try and see what you think!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 10



Today wasn't the greatest for accomplishing Christmas tasks, but a few small things got done:

* I sent a few Christmas cards.

* I hung a rag garland and a paper-bag gingerbread man over my kitchen sink.

* My hubby and I moved some furniture around in anticipation of a new-to-us hutch we are buying from friends.

* We also moved the hutch tonight. I am going to start by displaying my manger scene on the lower shelf of the top part, and putting my Christmas dishes in the cupboard part. My large set of Christmas dishes is a winter design (not Christmas only) and I could use them all winter if I had a place to put them. Now I do!

* For tonight, I displayed a couple of Gooseberry Patch Christmas cookbooks on the upper shelves.

* I made a fairly comprehensive list of gifts yet to buy, as we hope to spend most of tomorrow Christmas shopping.

* I baked 10 mini Golden Apricot Fruitcakes this afternoon -- more "neighbor gifts".

* I did a tiny bit of work on the cookbook I'm making.

December 15 -- Peanut Butter Balls


One of our family's favorite Christmas candies -- to eat and to give away -- is peanut butter balls. I have tried different recipes over the years and have narrowed it down to 2 recipes that I really like. The first one is my kids' favorite, and I really prefer the flavor of these too. The second one is much easier to make and more professional-looking. You might want to try them both and see which one your family prefers!

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER BALLS
 
1 cup butter or margarine
1 1/4 cups peanut butter
3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 1/2 cups rice krispies cereal
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 of an 8-ounce milk chocolate candy bar
A 2-inch square of paraffin wax, cut up
Melt butter in 2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat. Add peanut
butter; stir until blended. Remove from heat.
Combine confectioners sugar and rice krispies in mixing bowl. Pour hot
peanut butter mixture over all; mix thoroughly, using hands. Shape
mixture into 1-inch balls. Place on wax paper-lined cookie sheet.
Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.
In top of double boiler, combine remaining ingredients. Place over
simmering hot water until melted. Dip chilled peanut butter balls in
chocolate mixture to coat. Return to wax paper-lined cookie sheets.
Chill until set. Store in covered tin in refrigerator. Makes about 6
dozen candies.

Now, I have what I think is the world’s best peanut butter ball recipe,
and it’s not this one. This is the one I always used to make before
finding my favorite. I think, however, that all of my kids prefer the
ones with the rice krispies. Below, though, is what I consider

THE BEST PEANUT BUTTER BALLS

2 c. confectioners sugar
2 Tblsp. butter, room temperature
1 Tblsp. milk
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1 c. chocolate OR vanilla chips
1 Tblsp. crisco
For decoration: colored sugar or candy sprinkles

In a medium bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients, using your hands or a mixer until blended. Mix in peanut butter.
Line a jelly-roll pan or cookie sheet with wax paper. Roll sugar mixture (about 1 heaping teaspoon each) into 3/4” balls. Place these on the lined pan. Chill at least 2 hours until firm.
Melt the chocolate and shortening together on the stovetop or in the microwave (my preference). One at a time, spear the peanut butter balls with a toothpick. Dip in melted chocolate; lift out and let the excess chocolate drip off. Return each dipped ball to the lined pan. Remove toothpick. Before chocolate sets up, sprinkle each ball with colored sugar or candy sprinkles.
Chill candy for 10-15 minutes to firm up chocolate. Remove from pan. Store airtight in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes 40.

These are to my mind the best and easiest peanut butter balls. I sent many of these in college care packages over the years!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 11


Oh, my, this challenge is going way too fast for me! I sure didn't accomplish much today in the way of Christmas preparations, but I did get quite a bit of housework and decluttering done. Here's what little I did:

* Hung a rag garland on my corner cupboard.

* Wrote a few Christmas cards.

* Wrote a Christmas post for later this week.

* Bought a Christmas gift.

* Cut up and soaked some apricots to put into a fruitcake tomorrow.

* Bought more ingredients for Christmas baking.

I'm hoping for a better day tomorrow, but am not expecting a lot because I have a dentist appointment right smack in the middle of my day...

December 14 -- Two Easy Ornaments


Two Easy Ornaments

Here are a couple of fun projects to do with children -- although I must admit I often have had fun making these and other ornaments all by myself! We have such a huge, full tree this year that I may well be making a few extra ornaments to help fill it up. First, we have:

Juice-Can Lid Ornaments

The supplies you will need are simple:

* Lids saved from cans of frozen juice/lemonade/iced tea (Lids should be washed and completely dry)

* Scraps of Christmas wrapping paper

* Pen or pencil

* Decorative holiday cords and trims (Walmart craft department is a great source for these)

* White glue

* Paintbrush

* Clear glitter (optional)

* Ribbon (optional)

* Thin gold cord, hot glue gun/sticks (to make hanging loop)

Place your lid on the wrapping paper and trace around it. Depending upon the pattern of the wrapping paper, you may want to center a motif in the circle you're making. Cut out the circle and glue it to the lid -- the outside of the lid, the side with a nice rim around it. Then use a paintbrush (I like to get the foam type for this) to paint a coat of glue over the picture as well. If you want your ornament to sparkle, this is the time to sprinkle on some glitter. Allow the glue to dry.

Take a piece of decorative cord or trim and glue it around the inside of the lid's rim. If you start at the top or bottom of your motif, you can very easily cover the spot where the ends of the cord meet with a small bow, ribbon rose, or whatever. (As mentioned, Walmart has many different such cords or trims available this time of the year. I have shiny red/gold cord, red/green, blue/silver, etc. I always buy these after Christmas when they are very inexpensive... but the full price is really quite reasonable. Another good source for such cord and trims is Home-Sew or Newark Dressmaker Supply.) Allow the glue to dry.

For the hanging loop, make a loop from the thin gold cord and knot the ends together. Use hot glue to glue the knot to the center top on the back of the juice can lid. Let dry and hang on your Christmas tree!

Second, you could try:

Foam Ball Ornaments

You need:

Foam balls -- either styrofoam or a smooth foam (my pick) -- 2-inch diameter or less

Scraps of Christmas wrapping paper

Mod Podge

Foam paint brush

Glitter (optional)

Straight pins

Glue

Gold (or another color) cord for hanging

Narrow ribbon (optional) in colors that coordinate with your wrapping paper

I saw some balls similar to these years ago at a Christmas shop. I decided to figure out how to make them.

Make a hanging loop with gold or another color of cord. Knot the loop. Dip a straight pin in glue and push the pin through the knot and then into the foam ball.


Next, cut or tear your wrapping paper scraps to a size that will fit around the ball you are using. (Each ball should be made with only one design of wrapping paper.) Coat the ball with Mod Podge. Adhere the wrapping paper to the ball until it looks the way you want it to. Paint the entire ball with a coat of Mod Podge.

Now, you will need to find a way to hang your ornaments until the Mod Podge dries. I used a wooden spoon with the spoon part weighted down on a table and the handle extending out to hang the ornaments from. It might also work to pin them to a clothesline, if you have one in a protected place.

When the Mod Podge is dry, add another coat. Repeat until the ball looks the way you want it to. If you like, sprinkle glitter over the final coat of Mod Podge. You may also like to make a coordinating small bow out of narrow ribbon and glue it to the top of the ball when the Mod Podge dries.

When the ornaments are completely dry, hang them on your Christmas tree!

(I don't know if there are other people out there who love Christmas wrapping paper as much as I do, but we tend to save even our smallest scraps and wrap the stocking presents in them. Some papers I just hate to say goodbye to, they are so pretty. These ornaments provide an opportunity to keep some of your favorite papers indefinitely.)

Have fun with these ideas!










Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 12


As expected, I accomplished very little today toward the challenge. Here's what little I did:

* Wrote a few Christmas cards.

* Put up all of the Christmas cards we've received so far on the walls in the hallway.

* Hung a lovely new wreath which my daughter-in-law and granddaughters made for me.

* Sewed together one fabric basket.

December 13 -- More Festive Fudge!


Here is one more fudge recipe for your enjoyment.

SPECIAL HOLIDAY FUDGE

1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups miniature marshmallows
1/4 cup butter or margarine (1/2 stick)
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. orange extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans

In large heavy saucepan, combine first 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil
over medium high heat. Boil 5 minutes, stirring with a wire whisk.
Remove from heat, stir in chips until melted. Stir in the extracts and
then the nuts and raisins. Replace your whisk with a spoon and beat by
hand until glossy, 30 to 60 seconds. If needed, you may add up to 2
Tblsp. water to make it glossy, but you probably won't need to. Turn
into a buttered 11 x 7” or 9 x 12” pan. Cool completely, then cut in
squares.

This fudge is absolutely wonderful! It really tastes like Christmas!
I found the recipe many years ago in my favorite cooking newsletter,
Cook & Tell , and
have made it nearly every Christmas since then.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 13


Today was a semi-productive day... I wrapped a couple of presents, got a few Christmas cards written, printed out some Christmas address labels and baked nine mini loaves of Gift of the Magi Bread for "neighbor gifts".

December 12 -- Festive Fudge!












At our house, it wouldn't be Christmas without a couple of kinds of fudge. This one is our all-time favorite.

HEAVENLY DELIGHT
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups sugar
7-ounce jar marshmallow fluff
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1 tsp. vanilla

Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges
of the pan. Measure the peanut butter chips into a small bowl, and
measure the chocolate chips into a second small bowl. Set aside.
 

In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, fluff, evaporated milk,
and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the
mixture boils. Boil and stir 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir
in the vanilla.

Immediately pour half of the hot mixture into the peanut butter chips.
Stir until the chips are completely melted and incorporated into the hot mixture. Quickly pour the peanut butter mixture into the prepared pan.

Stir the remaining hot mixture into the chocolate chips until they melt
and are completely blended in. Quickly spread this mixture over the
peanut butter layer.

Cool the fudge completely before removing it from the pan. Lift the
fudge out of the pan by the foil, put it face down on a plastic cutting
board and peel off the foil. Cut the fudge into 1” pieces.

This terrific recipe is from Cook & Tell. Its actual name is
“Double-Decker Peanut Butter Fudge”. But when Esther, my daughters’
college roommate and friend, tasted this, she promptly named it
“Heavenly Delight”. And so it has been, ever since.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 14

Well, today I managed to accomplish a few Christmas tasks amid a busy day of laundry, etc. Here's what I did:

* Made 2 batches of Christmas cookies -- Sacher Torte Cookies and Macaroon Kiss Cookies.

* Got several Christmas cards ready to send out.

* Got quite a few Christmas wrappings and trims out of the attic.

Menu Plan Monday for December 11


Here's my plan for the upcoming week --- as usual, it's subject to change with very little notice!

MONDAY -- Italian Baked Pasta, Green Bean Salad, Ciabatta Bread

TUESDAY -- Baked Fish Chowder, Biscuits

WEDNESDAY --Simple Pierogie Supper, Wheat Italian Bread

THURSDAY -- Macaroni & Cheese, Winter Blend Vegetables, Applesauce

FRIDAY -- Greek Spinach Pie, Mixed Vegetable Salad

SATURDAY -- Southwest Spaghetti Pie, Zucchini-Squash Blend, Coleslaw

SUNDAY -- Mexican Meatball Soup, Cornbread

December 11 -- A lovely decorating idea


Here's one of my favorite decorating ideas -- a candlelit stairway. It's a really lovely way to make your home extra welcoming for guests on a cold winter evening. It's especially nice if (like us) you aren't blessed with having a fireplace in your home. It conveys the same welcome flickering warmth.

Here's what I do: I place a votive candle in a glass holder on every other step of my staircase. I may set each one on a paper doily -- or, in autumn, a leaf; at Valentine's Day, a heart-shaped red doily, etc. It doesn't matter if the votive holders match one another -- I use a whole assortment of clear glass holders -- but they should be glass and not opaque to get the best effect. (Red or green glass holders would also be pretty.) For candles, sometimes I use all white or ivory ones. Other times I alternate red and green. For autumn, I would use fall colors, and for Valentine's I either use red or alternate red and white.

When your guests are due to arrive, quickly light each candle. Fireplace matches work very well for this, since you can light several candles with the same long match.

This is such a simple, easy thing to do, but guests enjoy it so much! I have had many people comment on how pretty and welcoming the lighted staircase looks.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 15


We got a few Christmasy things done today.

* Got the Christmas tree -- who knows when we'll get it up, but at least we have it.

* Made a batch of Christmas cookies -- Cranberry Pecan Sandies -- very nice.

* Made gift bags for Mr. T's Sunday School gifts -- Fudge in a Mug. The kids are excited to try them out.

* Put together a gift for one of our names for tonight's gift exchange -- homemade flapjack mix in a dishtowel bag with a spatula and little bottle of syrup tied on.

* Went Christmas caroling and enjoyed a gift exchange!

December 10 -- Macaroon Kiss Cookies


Here's another of my favorite Christmas cookies. I don't make them every year, but they're on my baking list for this year!


MACAROON KISS COOKIES
1/3 cup butter, softened 1 pkg. (3 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. orange juice
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt 5 cups flaked coconut, divided 9 oz. Hershey milk chocolate kisses, unwrapped (about 54)


Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk, extract, and orange juice; beat well. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture until well blended. Stir in 3 cups coconut. Cover dough and chill it for about 1 hour.


Shape the dough in 1” balls. Roll balls in remaining coconut; place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned on bottom. Remove from oven and press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet, then carefully remove to racks to cool until chocolate is firm. Makes 4 1/2 dozen.


I found this recipe many years ago in an old Early American Life magazine being discarded by the library. These cookies are delicious and very festive-looking.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Day 16


Well, the morning was devoted to finishing up my Sunday School lesson, but after lunch I got quite a few Christmas things done:

* Got all of the scraps and throwaway items out of both freezers to make more room for Christmas goodies. Mr. T. took a trip to the dump.

* Baked my favorite fruitcake recipe in a jelly-roll pan to use for chocolate-covered fruitcake.

* Shopped for components for a couple more gifts.

* Helped Mr. T put together 4 homemade gifts for his Sunday School students.

* Made a homemade gift and stitched up a gift bag to put it in, for tomorrow night's Sunday School gift exchange.

* Designed and printed up some gift tags on the computer.

* Cut the fruitcake in small squares and coated it in melted chocolate. It came out yummy.

And those are pretty much my accomplishments for today!

"Comfort & Joy" -- A Christmas Devotional



This is a devotional which I shared with a group of ladies at a Christmas fellowship in 2001. Although it may seem a bit dated because of its age, I hope that the Lord might use this to encourage someone even now. I must stress that I drew heavily on Elizabeth George's book God's Garden of Grace (a study of the fruit of the Spirit) in putting together the thoughts on joy and peace. I also received much insight from Believer's Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald. This book is one of my most-used study tools.

COMFORT & JOY

The other day, on a news program concerning holiday shopping, I heard a very interesting item. The subject was the decorating of holiday windows at Filene’s in Boston. Shop windows and how they are decorated have always fascinated me, so I picked up my ears. The whole broadcast was interesting, but what really stood out to me were the themes of this year’s windows: peace, joy, love, and hope. The window decorations are based on the art of Mary Engelbreit. If you are
familiar with her work, you will know that her illustrations are bright and cheery, lifting the spirits of all who see them. The themes of these windows were decided on and planned a year ago, but they could hardly be more timely or appropriate for the 2001 holiday season.
Everyone, this Christmas, is hungry for comfort, for hope, and especially for joy and peace. As I thought about these things, a line from the Christmas carol,”God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” came to my mind: It speaks of “tidings of comfort and joy”. Oh, how we need that this year! The good news is that joy and peace are freely available to us. Tonight we are going to take a closer look at the joy and peace God offers us.

Let’s look at joy first. Dictionary definitions of joy leave much to be desired; they speak simply of “happiness” or “delight”. The joy available to God’s people is something much deeper. This joy rises above circumstances and focuses on the very character of God. Here’s a definition of spiritual joy: It is not “an experience that comes from favorable circumstances, but is a sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows that all is well between himself and the Lord.”

The Bible instructs us to rejoice. If you have your Bibles, please turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:16. “Rejoice evermore.” That means always. One of my favorite Bible study helps is Believer's Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald. His comment on this verse is that joy can be the constant experience of the believer because Christ is the source and the subject of our joy, and Christ is in control of the circumstances.

For another helpful Scripture, let’s turn to Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.” There’s that “always” again! Sounds impossible, you say? How can we possibly rejoice in the Lord always? Especially in dark times like those our nation is going through right now? Yet we are commanded to do so. It’s true that we can’t just decide to be joyful and then begin to feel joyful. But if we are God’s children, if we have accepted Jesus as our personal Savior, such joy is freely available to us. William MacDonald has an interesting
comment on this verse, too. He says, “The secret...is found in the words in the Lord. No matter how dark the circumstances of life may be, it is always possible for the Christian to rejoice in the Lord. “

This joy is produced by the Spirit of God. Galatians 5:22 and 23 says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance...” This kind of joy looks beyond the present to our future in Heaven. It looks to our sovereign God, Who works all things out for our ultimate good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).

In John 15:11, we see that joy was important to Jesus. Before He had to leave His disciples to go to the cross, He spent much time teaching them and preparing them for the time He would no longer be on earth with them. In this verse, He told His disciples, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” Jesus wants those who love Him to have joy in their lives. It’s to be a basic part of our Christian lives. In spite
of that, we see a lot of Christians who are not joyful. But we have every reason to be!

Let’s look for a minute at some of the many reasons we have to be joyful.
1. Our joy does not depend on circumstances, but on the spiritual realities of God’s goodness, His love for us, and His ultimate victory over sin and darkness.
2. Our joy is not based on anything we have done but on the truth about our relationship with God through what Jesus has done.
3. The joy that God gives is not merely an emotion, but is the result of choosing to look beyond our circumstances to what is true about our forgiven, redeemed life in Jesus.

This is all very interesting, isn’t it? And it’s all completely true, because it’s in God’s Word. Psalm 119:160 says: “Thy Word is true from the beginning: and every one of Thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.” But what are some practical ways we can experience God’s joy every day, no matter what’s happening in our lives? Here are some suggestions that have helped me:

1. Give thanks in everything. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Whatever may be happening in your life -- good or bad -- you can give thanks to God for His sovereignty, His perfect plan, and His perfect timing. On September 11, I remember thanking God that all of this was no surprise to Him and being so thankful that He was in control. Things may look out of control to us, but they are not. They are in God’s control, and He makes no mistakes.

2. Focus on the truth of God’s promises. When you find precious promises in His Word, mark them with a highlighter. Memorize the ones that are especially meaningful for you. Having God’s promises in our hearts and minds will give us much to thank Him for when we are trying to obey the verse we just looked at and give thanks in everything. Just an example here; one that’s familiar to some of you but not to others. In July 1996, one month after my youngest daughter graduated from high school, her best friend Emily was killed in a car accident. Emily was from Florida, but had gone to high school here in New England. She had spent many hours in our home and considered us her New England parents, even signing letters to us “#3” as in daughter number 3. We loved Emily like our own child. And yet, when Emily’s mom called to tell me she had been killed instantly, somehow I was able to thank God that He had not allowed Emily to suffer. I was able to focus on God’s promise, found in 2 Corinthians 5:8, that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

3. Look up. Take your eyes off your circumstances and focus on God instead. Listen to Psalm 121:1 and 2: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” God is in control and He is working all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11).

4. With God’s help, obey His command to be joyful always. As author Jerry Bridges says, “We are not to sit around waiting for our circumstances to make us joyful. We are commanded to be joyful always...we should continually be growing in joy.”

Now let’s look at peace. We are not thinking here of world peace, but personal peace, peace in our hearts. People often think of peace as the absence of problems, or the feeling we experience when life is going well for us. Sometimes we try to achieve that feeling for ourselves, in varying ways. We might choose to try and make ourselves feel better by spending money. Ever heard that saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping”? I’ve done that! Sometimes we try to ignore problems and just hope they will go away. Sometimes we turn to other sources to help us feel better. Chocolate, for example, or other “comfort food”. I heard a very interesting story from my friend Karyl. She wrote me: “A...friend who lives in NYC, Greenwich Village, said she went to her favorite neighborhood cafe´a few days after the [terrorist] attacks for a cozy lunch or supper, and just wanted macaroni & cheese so badly. The waitress told her they were out of two things -- macaroni & cheese and brownies. She almost cried.”

But we don’t need to try to make ourselves feel better by these or any other tactics of our own. God’s peace is readily available to us, despite our circumstances. In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The peace that Jesus spoke of was a combination of hope, trust, and quietness of mind and soul, brought about by a reconciliation with God. Let’s look at this wonderful peace a little more closely.

1. Our peace has nothing to do with our circumstances, but comes with knowing we have a right relationship with God. Romans 5:1 says: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2. Our peace has nothing to do with daily challenges or crises, but with the certain knowledge that our times are in God’s hands (Ps.31:15)

3. Our peace has nothing to do with the conditions of our life, but with the fact that God is all-sufficient. Philippians 4:4 says: “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” We will never have a real need that God is not able to
meet.

4. Our peace comes with knowing that our heavenly Father is always with us. He is omnipresent -- He can be everywhere at once -- and He is fully aware of every detail of our lives. We can never be anyplace where God is not with us. Hebrews 13:5 reminds us: “...for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

This peace of God is amazing, isn’t it? And it’s freely available to us whenever we need it. But we have to do our part by actively trusting God. I heard a great illustration once, concerning how little children trust their daddy to catch them when he tosses them into the air or when he says “Jump to Daddy!” My husband had a classic thing that he did when our kids were little that we still laugh about. If we were hiking, or on top of a mountain, he would invariably pose the kids on the edge of a precipice to take a picture. They didn’t enjoy being out there, but they knew it was perfectly safe or he wouldn’t have put them there. They trusted his judgment. The point is, if we can trust our earthly fathers -- who are fallible -- that much, then we certainly
ought to be able to trust our heavenly Father, who is infallible.

Let’s look at some practical ways to take hold of the peace that God so freely offers us.

1. Before we can know the peace of God in our lives, we first must know Jesus as our Savior. His death on the cross for our sins is the only bridge between a holy God and sinful human beings. In Ephesians 2:14 we read, “He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.”

2. When a difficult situation comes into your life, don’t fret, worry, or panic. Instead, make the choice to trust God. In Luke chapter 8, we find the familiar story of how Jesus and his disciples were crossing the sea of Galilee in a fishing boat. Jesus was sleeping in the back part of the boat. A terrible storm came up suddenly, a common experience on that body of water. The terrified disciples woke Jesus up. Another account of this story, in Mark 4, tells us what they said: “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?” You will remember that Jesus calmed the wind and waves. And then, in Luke 8:25, He asked the disciples a question: “Where is your faith?” He would probably ask us the same question when we fail to trust Him. Next time a scary situation comes up in your life, choose to trust God. He will give you His peace.

3. Pray about your concerns rather than fretting or worrying about them. Let’s turn to Philippians 4:6 and 7. “Be careful [or anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of
God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” If you will do this -- if you will pray and
commit your concerns to God, thanking Him for all He will do, you will experience the peace that passes all understanding. Pour out all your requests, all that burdens your heart, and leave the outcome in God’s capable hands. Worry has never accomplished anything, and it certainly
does not contribute to peace. In fact, worry is sin. Here is a great quote from Believer’s Bible Commentary: “Worry is sin because it denies the wisdom of God; it says that He doesn’t know what He’s doing. It denies the love of God; it says He does not care. And it denies the power of God; it says that He isn’t able to deliver me from whatever is causing me to worry.”

4. Stay your mind on God. Look at Him rather than at the circumstances. Focus on the truth: that He is with you, that He is in control, that He loves you and is working all things together for your good and His glory. Isaiah 26:3 promises: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee.” Very recently I was reminded of this truth as we traveled back from South Carolina. One thing we enjoyed along the way was the encouraging, often patriotic signs and billboards that have sprouted up since September 11. On our return trip, we were on somewhat of a tight schedule since we needed to catch a ferry from Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, NJ where we planned to spend the night with friends. We stopped at a scenic overlook at the end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and
inadvertently locked the keys -- both sets! -- in the car. Yes, we prayed first, we did get help quickly and were eventually able to open a car door, but we lost a half hour, and time was tight. As we drove tensely along, I spotted one of those ever-present billboards. But this one was different, and its message was just for us. Here’s what it said: “Keep your focus on God. He can be trusted.” And He can! How did the story turn out? Well, we were late. But you know what? The ferry was running late too. And we easily made it onto the ferry we’d hoped to take.

In closing, I’d like to share an illustration that sums up all we’ve talked about. It’s a story about Paganini, a great violinist. One day he came out on a stage to face an audience. Just as they ended their applause, he made the discovery that there was something wrong with his violin. In fact, it was not his famous and valuable instrument at all. Here’s what happened, according to the story quoted in the devotional book Streams in the Desert: “He felt paralyzed for a moment, then turned to the audience and told them there had been some mistake and he did not have his own violin. He stepped back behind the curtain thinking that it was still where he had left it, but discovered that someone had stolen his and left that old second-hand one in its
place. He remained back of the curtain a moment, then came out before his audience and said:
‘Ladies and Gentlemen: I will show you that the music is not in the instrument, but in the soul.’ And he played as he had never played before; and out of that second-hand instrument, the music poured forth until the audience was enraptured with enthusiasm and the applause almost lifted the ceiling of the building, because the man had revealed to them that music was not in the machine but in his own soul.” Mrs. Charles Cowman, the author of Streams in the Desert, added this challenge to her readers: “It is your mission, tested and tried one, to walk out on the stage of this world and reveal to all earth and Heaven that the music is not in conditions, not in things, not in externals, but the music of life is in your own soul.”

That’s your mission. That’s my mission. We are to go out into our daily lives and show the world that true peace and true joy are not found in circumstances, not in possessions, not in external things of any kind. True joy and peace comes from within, and its only source is God Himself. Let’s go out from here tonight and show the world what “tidings of comfort and joy” are really all about.