Archive | December 2012

Christmas Nostalgia

By Karen Hendricks

One of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions can be found above our kitchen sink, in our kitchen window:  a traditional Advent calendar made in Germany.  My wonderful Aunt Cyndy sends us a crisp new one every year and we cherish opening a new set of tiny windows, letting in the light of the Advent season as we prepare for Christmas, year after year.  We appreciate the fine details, the sweet illustrations and smattering of glitter sprinkles across the calendar.  It’s a thoughtful gesture that Aunt Cyndy has maintained for close to 20 years.  Not only has the Advent countdown become a tradition in our family, but in a way, it ties us to our German roots.  Even thought my family has lived in America for 14 generations, it ties us to our past in a nostalgic way.  At Christmas perhaps more than any other time of the year, those ties are to be cherished.  Today we opened the window marked “24,” the final window for 2012.  The windows are letting in as much light as possible.  We are ready for the birth of Jesus Christ, light of the world.  Christmas blessings to all!

Enjoy the JOY of the season and cherish your traditions, whether they are long-standing or brand-new ones you are establishing!


Christmas Cookies–without Eggs and Nuts

By Jen Ashenfelter

It is “that” time of the holiday season. Do or die.  Make or break. Crunch time. Not exactly D Day, but B Day. Yes, I’m talking about Baking Day and filling the cookie jars. If you haven’t spent a few hours baking Christmas cookies yet, you definitely need to make the time, now!  And I have to confess, I just found time this week.  Whew.  Good thing–I needed a cookie fix!

My last post was about having a child with food allergies. Depending on what food the child is allergic or sensitive to, this can present challenges during special holidays. A peanut or tree nut allergy is always a concern but it can be a bit more tricky at Halloween and Easter. Try taking half of a 5 year old’s candy away from him after an hour of trick-or-treating. And then there are the trays of beautiful Christmas cookies–next to a pillowcase full of candy, what child can resist? Nearly every cookie recipe calls for an egg and most are chocked full of nuts. So what does a mother do? She sets out on a quest to find sweet treats and holiday traditions that will leave no family member feeling left out of the eating frenzy.

Luckily, there are two cookie recipes from my childhood that keep the baked Christmas tradition alive: Spiced Shortbreads and Little Raisin Logs. Neither use eggs or nuts and both are delicious. If your child has a dairy allergy, then you might try making them with alternatives to butter and milk chocolate.

Spiced Shortbreadchristmas-cookies-1
Preheat oven to 300.

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 tbsp brown sugar (For regular shortbread, use regular sugar and omit the spices.)

1/2 cup butter

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground cloves

* In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and spices. Using a pastry cutter (or a food processor), cut in butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling. Form the mixture into a ball and knead until smooth.

* To make shortbread rounds, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to 1/2″ thick. Use a cookie cutter (or the top of a small glass) to cut rounds. Place them 1″ apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Knead the remaining dough and repeat until there’s not enough dough left. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with colored sugar immediately after removing from the oven.

If you’ve never made shortbread cookies or, like me, you’re the farthest thing from a Martha Stewart baking champ,  consider yourself warned…a lot more work goes into them compared to making chocolate chip cookies. But to me, it’s worth the effort to make my little guy happy with a special Christmastime treat.

Little Raisin Logs

Preheat oven to 325.

1 cup raisinsraisin log cookies

(1 cup pecans – obviously I omit these but if you don’t have a nut allergy, then you may want to add these in.)

1 cup butter or soft margarine

1/3 cup sugar

2 tsp brandy

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 pkg (6oz) semi-sweet chocolate pieces

3 tbsp shortening

* Finely chop raisins (and pecans). In a large bowl, thoroughly blend butter and sugar. Beat in brandy, vanilla and salt. Stir in raisins, nuts and flour.

* On a lightly floured board, take a small spoonful of dough and roll into a log shape about 1/2″ in diameter and 2 1/2″ long. Bake on an ungreased pan/sheet for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool.

* Meanwhile, melt chocolate and shortening in a bowl over boiling water. (I set one of my metal mixing bowls over a medium saucepan.) Blend thoroughly. When the cookies have cooled, dip one end into the melted chocolate. Place on a wire rack to set. Depending on the size of the logs, makes 4 or 5 dozen.

I also have a few recipes for layered magic bars that don’t use eggs or nuts either. I’m happy to share those recipes too–leave a note asking for the recipe and I’ll gladly post or send you an email. If you decide to try these recipes, I’d love to hear your feedback. And if you have a favorite Christmas cookie recipe that doesn’t use eggs or nuts, please share! Enjoy…

Kicking the Smoking Habit – for Good!

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

During the Great American Smokeout, I offered Part 1 of a 2-Part series on how to quit smoking (No Ifs, Ands, or Butts: It’s Time to Quit Smoking for Good!). Part 1 addressed things to consider before you quit. Due to its addictive nature, quitting smoking is not easy – yet it can be done if you prepare ahead of time, plan carefully, and set yourself up to succeed. Read on for helpful tips to get you started on the road to a healthier, happier you in the New Year!

How to quit smoking

anti-smokingThere are so many smoking cessation methods available that it can be overwhelming to know which to choose. No one method will work for everybody and you may have to try a few to know which will be most successful for you. Consult your doctor before trying any method, and research the method(s) you plan to try. Not all have been evaluated or approved by the FDA, and some have little to no scientific evidence to support them. Some available:

  • Nicotine replacement
  • Tobacco lozenges
  • Electronic cigarettes
  • Nicotine gum and lollipops
  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Hypnosis
  • Acupuncture
  • Herbs and supplements.

Whatever way you choose to quit, even ‘cold turkey,’ consider these four factors as critical to kicking the habit for good:

  • Making the decision to quit
  • Picking a Quit Day and making a plan
  • Dealing with withdrawal, temptations, and “slips”
  • Staying tobacco-free (maintenance).

Quitting success rates

You may wonder about success rates for these products, methods, and programs. Success rates are hard to report because not all programs define success the same way. Does success mean a person is not smoking at the end of the program? After 6 months? 1 year? Does smoking fewer cigarettes count? If a program you’re considering claims a certain success rate, ask about how success is defined and what kind of follow-up is done to determine that rate.

Just as other programs that treat addictions, quit smoking programs often have low success rates. However, they are still worthwhile to gain valuable knowledge and support. Only about 4% to 7% of people are able to quit smoking without medicines or other help. Your success in quitting and staying smoke-free is what really counts, though, and you have control over that!

How to stay committed to quitting and remain smoke-free

Avoid temptation. To quit successfully you will have to stay away from people and places that tempt you to smoke. If you have friends who smoke, you may lose those friendships. Although later on you’ll be able to handle these situations with more confidence, for now you have to decide what is better for your health.

Change your habits. Drink juices or water instead of alcohol or coffee (these are smoking triggers), and choose foods that don’t make you want to smoke. Take a different route to work and a brisk walk instead of a coffee break.

Choose other things for your mouth. Chew sugarless gum, suck on hard candy, munch raw vegetables, chew on coffee stirrers or straws – keep your mouth busy with something other than a cigarette!

Get active with your hands and your body. Keep your hands occupied with activities such as needlework or woodworking. Do anything exercise-related that will reduce your stress naturally and distract you from the urge to smoke! Plan a healthy diet, and find ways to exercise and stay active.

Breathe deeply/Delay. When the urge to smoke strikes, breathe deeply and picture your lungs filling with fresh, clean air. Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting and all the benefits you’ll gain as an ex-smoker. There is no such thing as ‘just one’ cigarette — or even one puff. Tell yourself you must wait at least 10 minutes. Often this simple technique helps you resist the urge to smoke.

Reward yourself. You deserve a reward for all your efforts! Some quitters put money they would have spent on tobacco aside and then buy themselves a weekly treat. Let your family get involved by rewarding you with a celebratory dinner out at the end of each smoke-free week! Or save the money for a larger purchase. You can also reward yourself in ways that don’t cost money such as spending some quiet time to yourself: take a hot bath or visit a free museum.

Have a strong support system/network in place. Before you start to quit, know which family members and friends will be there for you when you find yourself struggling – without judgment or condemnation.

Staying quit is the final and most important stage of the process. Think ahead to times when you may be tempted to smoke, and plan how you will use other ways to cope. Unexpected, strong desires and rationalizations to smoke can arise months or even years after you’ve quit, especially during stressful times.

Recovering from slips

A slip is a one-time mistake that is quickly corrected, whereas a relapse is going back to smoking. You can use a slip to look at what went wrong and renew your commitment to staying smoke-free. Even if you do relapse, stay positive and remember it takes most people several tries before they quit for good. What’s important is figuring out what helped you quit and what worked against you, and then using that information to make a stronger attempt at quitting the next time. Good luck and here’s to your health!

For more information, visit the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society websites at:

The End

Prayers in the Wake of Newtown’s School Shooting

By Karen Hendricks

Today is the first day of school since the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  The impact of this event has sent emotional shockwaves across America and many of us still feel a sense of profound loss and sadness.  So today, I offer a prayer for all parents and children who are fearful of going back to school, fearful of what the future holds, fearful for our society.  This is a “prayer for protection” from one of my favorite books, The Power of a Praying Parent by Stormie Omartian:

Lord, I lift (name of child) up to You and ask that You would put a hedge of protection around her (him).  Protect her (his) spirit, body, mind and emotions from any kind of evil or harm.  I pray specifically for protection from accidents, disease, injury or any other physical, mental or emotional abuse.  I pray that she (he) will make her (his) refuge “in the shadow of your wings” until “these calamities have passed by” (Psalm 57:1).  Hide her (him) from any kind of evil influences that would come against her (him).  Keep her (him) safe from any hidden dangers and let no weapon formed against her (him) be able to prosper.  Thank You, Lord, for Your many promises of protection.  Help her (him) to walk in Your ways and in obedience to Your will so that she (he) never comes out from under the umbrella of that protection. Keep her (him) safe in all she (he) does and wherever she (he) goes.  In Jesus’ name, I pray.  Amen

Art teacher Eric Mueller sets up 27 wooden angel cut-outs in memory of the victims of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.  Photo Credit: Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY

Art teacher Eric Mueller sets up 27 wooden angel cut-outs in memory of the victims of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Photo Credit: Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY


By Mary Ann Filler

Who doesn’t get a bit stressed during the holiday season?  Of course, all of the stress we experience is not bad, but stress is stress.  A chronicle of all of the types of stress we deal with this time of year is not needed; we can easily identify what makes us crazy.  What we really need is a remedy.  USA Today recently published a quiz related to handling holiday stress.  The bottom line was that experts say to calm yourself during the holiday rush by eating well, getting enough sleep and making time for walking or meditation.  (Kelly Bothum, Wilmington News-Journal)

I think all of those suggestions are great, but I think they are overlooking one amazing remedy for stress: HUMOR!  I don’t want to spend my 800 words telling you how beneficial it is to laugh; I would rather attempt to actually make you laugh.  Today’s post will hopefully offer you all some much needed comic relief.

Everyone’s view of what is humorous varies greatly.  There are those that enjoy a “dirty joke” while others have a more simplistic sense of humor.  A good play-on-words might tickle your funny bone, or maybe a real life funny story.  In any event, my hope is that at least one thing in this post will appeal to your sense of humor and that you will enjoy uncontrollable laughter at some point.  There are times when I find something so funny that I laugh uncontrollably.  If I could give you that gift this holiday season, I would!  It’s a real blessing to see the humor in life particularly as it relates to…

(click on any photo below to make it larger)

May your holidays be JOLLY and bright!!!!  AND if you’ve heard any good jokes lately, share them here!!!!

And for more stress relief, click on the previous blog post “The Reason for the Season” by Ruth Topper. Jesus is the ultimate stress-reliever!

The Reason for the Season

By Ruth Topper 

If you are like me, it gets to be the second week in December and holiday panic starts to hit you.  Christmas is just two weeks away and the list of things to do to “get ready” keeps growing.   There is shopping to do, gifts to wrap, a Christmas letter and cards to get in the mail, cookies to bake, and concerts/parties to attend.  With all these things to do it is very easy to lose track of the true meaning of Christmas.

My son Josh (a few years ago) was apparently tickled to be a cow!

My son Josh (a few years ago) was quite the happy cow!

But there is one event that helps me keep the true meaning of Christmas in mind:  Helping to coordinate the annual Christmas Pageant at my church.  About 10 years ago for some now unknown reason I said “yes” when asked if I would like to help coordinate our first pageant.  (Perhaps it was that my home church never had a pageant while I was growing up and I had an inner desire to be part of one!)  My decision may also have been made a little easier knowing that there was a script, music director in place and that two other friends, Julie and Kathleen, were also willing to help.  Thus began my pageant coordinating career.

It never fails to amaze Julie and I how well the pageant “production” turns out!  We leave our Saturday morning practice the day before the big event and just shake our heads, wondering how this is ever going to pull together.  Although the kids have been practicing the music with our wonderful and talented music director, Pete, for more than a month, you just never know exactly what is going to happen when you have 2 year old lambs and 4th graders playing the roles of Elizabeth, Zachariah, Mary, Joseph, the Innkeeper,  the angel Gabriel, etc.

Our original script included children from age 2 through 8th grade.  Volunteers sewed costumes for our shepherds and cast, made sheep, donkey and cow “heads” (so our pre-schoolers would look authentic as our friendly beasts), cut angel wings out of posterboard and decorated Burger King crowns for our Wise Men!  Ten years later we still make use of all of those wonderful costuming props.

Some of my favorite pageant moments over the years have been:

  • Never knowing exactly what those 2 and 3 year old lambs are going to do…
  • Sean, now graduated from high school, playing the bagpipes, several years in a row, for the processional for our 3 kings
  • Our band of 6th to 8th graders playing several of our pageant songs
  • Hearing “Mary” and “Elizabeth” sing the “Cherry Tree Magnificat” based on Luke 1:47-55

    Fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round blogger Karen's daughter Kelly as the angel Gabriel

    Fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round blogger Karen’s daughter Kelly as the angel Gabriel

  • When Pete, our director, asked where the Innkeeper’s Wife was at practice one year and Matt (the Innkeeper) calmly replied that he was single!
  • Learning and loving songs that I had never heard until I got involved with the pageant – “Get Ready”, “Mary Had a Baby” and “Little Lamb”

Every year as the pageant season begins again I question myself as to why I continue to help with it.  My kids are “aging” out of the pageant and I certainly don’t need something else to add to my “to do” list.  However I just think about my favorite pageant moments over the past few years and it draws me back again.   So–if given the opportunity–I would encourage you to attend the Children’s Christmas Pageant at your church or school.  It will certainly bring a smile to your face and help remind you of “the reason for the season.”

How do you keep the true meaning of Christmas alive?  Have you helped organize a similar Christmas pageant, play or musical event?  Feel free to share your experiences below.

The cast is assembled!

The cast is assembled!

My daughter Rachel and a friend sing Elizabeth and Mary's song

My daughter Rachel and a friend sing Elizabeth and Mary’s song

Everything Goes Better with Peanut Butter

By Karen Hendricks

One of my favorite benefits to working from home and setting my own work schedule is the gift of time that I can give to my children.  The trend is for moms to go back to work, if they aren’t already working, when their children are teens because “teens can take care of themselves.”  I understand and appreciate this viewpoint, but personally I think it’s even more important to be around and available to your teens than perhaps when they were preschool or elementary aged.  Teens aren’t as physically draining as toddlers or primary-aged children, but they are definitely mentally draining!  There are so many decisions, issues, forms of peer pressure and other serious topics to talk about with your teens.  I wish all parents and teens had more time together during these critical years.

I especially enjoy being home when my kids come home from school and hearing about their day.  (Those topics could form another blog altogether!)  After-school snacks help to make the conversations flow. One of our favorite (and healthy) snacks is Peanut Butter Apple Dip with sliced apples.  My kids are WILD about anything that contains peanut butter.  (Apologies to those of you with allergies.)

We’ve been making this recipe since my oldest daughter Katie was a toddler and I honestly don’t remember where it came from.  I have passed it along to many friends and family members through the years.  It is so good and so easy that all of my kids know how to make it themselves (which I appreciate too).  My daughter Kelly just made some yesterday.  Not only is it a great dip to have on hand for everyday snacking, but it’s perfect for upcoming holiday celebrations too. 

PB Apple Dip

Peanut Butter Apple Dip

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened

1 c peanut butter

3/4 c packed brown sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 full cup but I dial this back a bit)

1/4 c milk

Mix well with blender and enjoy!  Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups of dip.  Great with apples and graham crackers.

Tell us about your after-school snacks and rituals – just click on “leave a comment.”  We always read and appreciate your insights!