Time to make Christmas goodies!

Most of the year I am quite happy leaving the baking to my daughters, but around this time of year I usually spend a few afternoons in the kitchen making goodies.  Here are some of the ones we tend to make year after year.  To be favorites at our house they have to come together quickly, because I just don’t have the patience for long involved recipes.
Jam Thumbprint Cookies mix up in five minutes flat and are very easy to do with little children.

Quick Christmas Goodies


Candied Almonds are another super-easy recipe.  I like to put these in pretty containers and given them to Sunday School teachers.
Candied Almonds


Mrs. Tigani’s Cookies have been a favorite at our house since our big kids were tiny.  I was surprised to find this video showing how to make them.


Peppermint Bark is another uber-easy recipe.  The only tricky part is finding a good way to break the (rather-hard) mints.  We tried the food processor, but it sounded like it was going to break apart, so we ended up putting the mints in a heavy zip-top bag and hitting the bag with a hammer.
Peppermint Bark



Almond Bark is another easy thing to do with almonds.  (I have a brother in law who is an almond farmer, so we get these babies a dab cheaper than at Winco.  🙂
Almond Bark Haystacks

And here’s a treat from a friend that my daughter insists we NEED to make for ourselves very soon:  Monkey Mocha Smoothies

Monkey Mochas

And finally, here’s a link to a new treat I want to try this year:  Gumdrop Fudge.












What have you found that’s easy and fun to make with little children?  I’d love a link to a recipe in comments if you have one.

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Angels we have heard…

Ways to honor loved ones this Christmas

If you’re like most people, a few people on your Christmas list are extra-hard to shop for, either because they already have so much, or because you want to give them something extra-wonderful, extra-meaningful, extra-special. Compassion International is one of my favorite causes year in and year out, and is a great way to honor a loved one while helping a vulnerable child.

But here are a few other absolutely FABULOUS causes begun by folks I am proud to call friends.  ( I honestly believe I have some of THE most interesting friends in the world!) I hope that you will consider honoring someone on your Christmas list by supporting these causes in their name.  Adoption is only ONE small part of the solution to the orphan crisis.  These folks are on the ground, living in the countries they are serving, providing vital support to families on the edge of calamity, allowing them to KEEP their children.  THAT is what we need more of in this world!

Maybe you’d like to sponsor BringLove.In’s Great Big Dreams to provide families for widows and orphans and to support vulnerable families in Ethiopia.

Bring Love In – Uniting widows and orphans to create new families in Ethiopia .Donate here.

Or perhaps the Charis project to create an (eventually) self-sustaining orphanage in Thailand is more to your interest. (video is NEAT!)

Click here to donate and get a handmade doll tree ornament to give the person you are honoring.

Or maybe you’d like to support my very own sister Sophie, who is currently working in the Wollaitta area of Ethiopia doing medical mission work with the focus of providing medical care with pregnant women.  Keep those mommas alive and there will be fewer orphans in the world!  Exciting stuff!Sophie at work in Ethiopia

You can make a donation on her behalf with her sending agency Equip Ministries.

I would be so honored if you would consider honoring loved ones by supporting one or all of these ministries.  I can personally vouch for the heart and integrity of the folks doing this work in the name of Jesus.  And whether or not you have the means to contribute, I hope you might consider sharing a link (or a tweet or a pin) to this post so that more people can know about the awesome work these folks are doing. Thank you so much!

Christmas table runner

Table runner

I told you that the table runner ideas below inspired me to make a table runner of my own.
In considering both of the ideas, I really liked the overlapping ‘forest’  in the one on the left, but since I was planning on using it on the dining table, I didn’t really like the idea of the trees being upside down to half the people at the table.  The idea on the right does solve that problem, but as cute as it is, it was just a little too symmetrical for me.  I also tend to put candles or some other type of display in the middle of my table, so I wanted to leave that center section plain.


Thinking through it, I decided to make my runner with applique on the ends. I still may add some sparkle on the trees for a little Christmas spirit.

This project was really pretty simple.  The cutouts consist of six green triangles for the trees and 6 brown rectangles for the trunks. I repeated the same three-tree design at both ends.  Before sewing, I ironed the shapes in place with a fusible craft interfacing called Wonder Under.  Basically it is a double-stick interfacing that you iron on in two stages, first onto your shape, then after peeling off a layer of paper and placing the shapes where you need them, ironing again.

This isn’t essential– you can pin the shapes in place– but the interfacing fastens it down nice and securely so you can then easily zig-zag stitch around the edges of the design. The interfacing also adds a nice weight to the design so that it lays nice and flat. I went around the design 3 times to fully cover the edges and prevent fraying.  You could do it with a decorative stitch if you want.

Table Runner

Below is a closer view of the trees.  I was especially happy with the fabric I used for the trunk.  I bought it to make a computer bag several years ago.  I found the fabric at WalMart.  It is designed  to look(kinda) like tooled leather.  I wasn’t sure how well it would last, and in fact suspected that the brown would wear off quickly– it kind of looks like flocking.Table Runner closeup

Well, I’ve had that bag for years, and have dragged it ALL over the place and the fabric is still in perfect condition.  I liked it so much that I just grabbed a couple more yards to make a Christmas gift.  It is only $8 a yard, and just has a really nice design and feel.  There are several designs available, actually.  Anyway, end of WalMart commercial.  But if you’re feeling crafty and looking for something fun to sew with, you might check it out.

I ended up being pleased with my table runner too.  I might still add some bling– stars or maybe some little red birds here and there.  Not sure.  But this is as much energy as I had for it yesterday, and I am really enjoying it on the table already!  This final picture shows the color most truly.  Don’t you think the center tree at least needs a star on top?



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Christmas Crafts

I am ALREADY fantasizing about the blessed beauteousness of three weeks with NOOO school over Christmas.  If you’re a homeschool mom, you’re probably right there with me, right?  Every year over Christmas break I try to make time to do some crafts with the kids. Sometimes they’re things that would make a good gift.  Other times it’s a new Christmas decoration or an ornament for the tree. Here are a few things I have earmarked to try this December.


Isn’t this Peppermint Monogram Wreath adorable?  I’m sure I’d have at least a couple kids volunteer to help me with this project, since it involves candy. They might even like to make a smaller version for their bedrooms.

Peppermint Wreath



These duct tape notebooks would be a good friend-gift, or just a fun thing to make for yourself.

Duct Tape Notebook

These patterns for making snowflake shapes look like a lot of fun. Click on the photo for more ideas.

Snowflake Patterns

I found the photos for this final project on Pinterest, but then when I clicked through, the links turned out not to be good.  But I’m thinking we’ll try this with a fine point paint pen, and some matte-finish ornaments. I’ll be checking the thrift store first, since sometimes you can find ball-ornaments there.

painted ornaments

Planning any crafts this holiday season with your kids?

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Our Christmas

Here are some pictures from our Christmas, in no particular order. You might notice an Ipad in a picture or two, featuring my sister Sophie. She’s currently doing medical mission work in Africa, and was able to Skype in to our celebration. Not as good as having her here, but much better than not seeing her at all. I’m afraid we might have given her motion sickness carrying her all around the room, trying to bring her into the midst of the party. We had a really good past few days. I hope you did too! (As usual, you can click on each photo to see it in a larger size.)

All that’s left is the waiting

Stuffed French Toast Strata (Christmas breakfast recipe)

I’m bringing this recipe forward from 2006 for folks who may not have seen it yet.  We still make it on Christmas Eve morning every year!

Here’s our traditional Christmas breakfast. I love that we can make it the night before and just stick it in the oven in the morning! It can be made egg-free, by adding a little more milk instead of the eggs. If you need it to be gluten free, just cube up a loaf of gluten-free bread instead of french bread.

Stuffed French Toast Strata (Christmas breakfast recipe)

Stuffed French Toast Strata (Christmas breakfast recipe)


  • 1 pound of French bread
  • 8 ounce package cream cheese, cubed
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Cut French bread loaf into cubes (about 12 cups bread cubes). Grease a 13x9 inch baking pan. In the prepared pan place half of the bread cubes. Top with the cream cheese cubes and then the remaining bread cubes.
  2. Whisk together eggs, milk, melted butter, maple syrup and cinnamon until well combined. Pour the egg mixture evenly over bread and cheese cubes. Using a spatula, slightly press layers down to moisten.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours. Remove plastic wrap and bake in a 325 degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until the center appears to be set and the eggs are golden. Let stand for 10 minutes. Makes 6-8 servings.
  4. Note: If you'd like to make this with blueberries, just sprinkle a cup or two of berries on top of the cubed cream cheese and serve with blueberry syrup.
    For more affordable recipes, check out Mary's cookbook Family Feasts for $75 a Week


Here’s a video of me making this recipe for ParentsTV a few years back.  Begin around 2:30 to jump straight to the recipe tutorial.

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Preparing for the big day

I might be scarce over the next few days as I enjoy vacation with my family and do some last minute things. But I wanted to share a few things with you.

First of all, the winner of ‘The Sparkle Box‘ is commenter #22, Robin. Send me your address, and we’ll see if we can get that book to you before Christmas!

Next, I saw this lovely fruit arrangement and am wondering if possibly the girls and I could pull it off for at least one of our family gatherings. Isn’t it great??


Another project that I’ll be trying over the next few days is this lovely gluten free chocolate cake. Think there’s any chance I could sub coconut oil instead of butter so it would work for my dairy-free sisters? I’ll give it a shot.


And finally, I have to share a favorite Christmas song with you. Wonderful, beautiful truth.

“Baby Boy”

If you told me all about your sorrows
I’d tell you about a cure
If you told me you can’t fight the battle
There’s a Baby Boy who won the war
The war was won by a Baby Boy

Alleluia, we can sing it
Alleluia, Heaven’s ringing
Endless hope and relentless joy started with a Baby Boy

Oh, before that silent night
No Savior and no Jesus Christ
The world cried out so desperately
And the Baby Boy was the reply,
Yes, Heaven’s reply was a baby boy

Alleluia, we can sing it
Alleluia, Heaven’s ringing
Endless hope and relentless joy started with a Baby Boy

See, the King is coming down
And He’s here without a crown
The Baby Boy without a bed
Giving life back to the dead
And hear the angels shout it out
As the people come and bow.
Unexpected majesty
Alleluia, what a King

Alleluia, we can sing it
Alleluia, Heaven’s ringing
Endless hope and relentless joy started with a Baby Boy

Alleluia, we can sing it!
Alleluia, yeah, Heaven’s ringing!
Endless hope and relentless joy started with a Baby Boy

Moments to treasure


We’ve had such good, precious moments this weekend.

Sunday morning my heart swelled watching three of our sons help with choruses at church, one on drums and two on guitar. My 14 year old still feels a little awkward up on stage–for all his obsession with the guitar he’s more comfortable behind the scenes. But all three of them truly love music– they’re the type who grab their instruments and play at odd times of the day, just for fun. Music and faith are so important to me– to see that love in the boys too is just the best.

Sunday afternoon all the kids (with grandbabies in tow) came to our house for a meal and a few gifts.  Erika and Israel are spending Christmas with his family this year, so we had the perfect excuse to do some of our celebrating early.

As always, I treasured the time with all our kids here under our roof, older and younger interacting, babies looking around and trying to figure out all the hubbbub. I just couldn’t look at everyone’s faces enough. There are times when some of the adult kids are busy and can’t come to our weekend dinners. I understand that and truly have peace with it. But, when everyone is here, I breathe out and in with an added sense of thanksgiving.


Sunday evening was the Christmas program at church.  Our teens mostly had supporting/ helping roles. Since our youngest two are now 8 and 10, their parts were bigger than they’d ever had been before. They did a great job– knew when to come in and go out, enjoyed working together with their friends.

When the tiny kids came out to sing Away in a Manger, complete with rocking-baby and look-up-in-the sky hand motions, I realized it was probably the first year since 1992 or so that we had no one in the tiny-kiddo class.  Our kids are growing. It gave me a little pang, but mostly I felt content. God must be giving me peace about all this growing and changing.  Years ago I thought I’d never be a mom who felt ‘done’ with babies.  But the grandbabies are filling that ‘baby’ space in my heart these days, and when they’re not around, my gangly 8 year old still crawls into my arms. I really am so very content with this stage.

Monday morning I was at Erika and Israel’s house bright and early to drive them to the airport.  They still had a dab of gathering to do, so of course I scooped up little Ranger for a snuggle. I told them only half jokingly that he was actually the reason I’d agreed to drive them to the airport. 🙂 At one point we were snuggled cheek to cheek, with him facing out on my lap so I wasn’t quite able to see his face. Erika came into the room and laughed. She said he had the most smug little contented smile as he sat with his cheek against mine.

“Babies know when people adore them,” I said with a laugh.  And again, that feeling of blessing, rich and warm, wrapped me like a blanket.

Not every moment is good, or easy. This evening John and I got the youngest 6 together for a game of Phase Ten. Cordiality from 14 year olds (we have 3) sometimes feels like a pie-in-the-sky dream. They didn’t want to play games with mom and dad and little sisters. Many unhappy words were mixed in with the game play, lots of stern reminders. And yet we persevered and jollied them up, John and I– me biting back frustration, and John smiling steadily with iron behind his grin. Somehow by the end there were real grins and real laughter, and even the grumpiest ended up feeling cherished, I think.  And that time too, by God’s grace, was anointed with blessing.

Between all the precious golden bits of my life, there are so many hard ones, times full of worry and concern, stress and anxiety. Some days the hard overwhelms me. But when I remember to hold onto the good times, to remember my Savior, and to really see all He has given us, my heart settles back down, gets back to that place of gratitude where balance is so much easier to find.

Never would I say my life is perfect. But oh, we are so blessed.

PS– Wanna help a widow raise her children with dignity? Check out the awesome new sponsorship program just launched by Bring Love In.