Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Yule Log

Yule Log Prayer

May the fire of this log warm the cold.
May the hungry be fed.
May the weary find rest.
and May all enjoy Heaven's peace.
Author Unknown

At the end of each year, we tend to reflect on the previous year, hoping that we have learned the lessons that we were to learn, reminiscing over the good memories, thanking God that the bad times are over, and anticipating a glorious New Year. 

Many Christmas' ago, I had the privilege of attending The Yule Log Service at The Center in Palos Park, Illinois.  "The highlight of each service is the lighting of the huge log and the opportunity for each participant to throw his or her own twig into the fire, symbolizing a fresh start for the New Year."  We were each given a bundle of small twigs tied with a bow.  One by one, we passed by the great fireplace holding the burning Yule Log.  As we threw our twig into the fire, we were told to reflect and let go of the past, the old, for it is gone. Pray for great joys in the coming, for everything is possible with God in the approaching New Year.

If you are visiting or live in the Chicagoland region, I highly suggest attending one of The Center's many activities, including The Yule Log Service.  You can find more information at The Center.  They have many different activities, including retreats, a petting farm, and various art classes.


My dad always said that how you start the New Year will be how the New Year unfolds.  So, a day or two before the New Year begins, I tidy up my house because I want to have a clean house all year.  Sometimes, it works. 

There's a great site for homekeeping that I'd like to share with you.  It's FlyLady.net.  If you are having trouble getting organized, this website is great!


I tasted candied fruit today, and it melted in my mouth.  For easy to follow instructions, please go to Garden of Eating's website.  Mike at Chicago Mikes Garden brought some to work for me to taste.  Yumm!!!
God Bless You in the Coming New Year - It's Going to be a Great Year!
Aunt Janet

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Do You Have a Hole in Your Shoe?

Walk a mile in your brother’s shoes
before you begin to judge him.

2009 is ending, and, needless to say, I am happy to see it go.  Hardships were fought, lessons were learned, and many tears were shed.  Because we have a merciful and loving God, I  declare that 2010 will be a good year. 

We don't know what a person feels and experiences unless we have walked in their shoes.  God made me experience these life stresses to teach me, and to help others.  I understand.  I can relate to someone who has had the woes I have experienced, and I can imagine those that have had other problems.  I have walked in the same, or similar, shoes.

My husband has a hole in the bottom of his shoe, and he has been complaining about it everytime it rains and snows.  Come to think about it, he has been avoiding going anywhere in this snow because he doesn't want to have cold and wet feet.  A Christmas gift will buy him new shoes.

So many of us are going through life trials and tribulations.  For me, I wish there weren't so many.  My trials may be different than yours, may seem trivial to yours, and you may think that there are better ways to handle my problems.  Sometimes, like my husband, I avoid going certain places or to different areas in my life to avoid further pain and discomfort.  Like many, I handle what God and I can handle today, avoiding letting my feet get cold and wet.

If you have holes in your shoes, know that God will take care of them.  He will provide a way to get new shoes, or get the worn ones fixed.  Yes, He may say "Buy new shoes instead of paying that bill", but He is the one that provides, and He will take care of that bill.  He may give you a friend if the hole you have is in your heart.  He may give you peace if your life has been filled with turmoil.  I do pray that He will send someone who has walked in my shoes to show me the path that is dry and warm, and comfortable enough for my feet.

2010 will be a good year - for you and I!  We end the year throwing out the battered and worn shoes of yesterday.  We start the year believing that God will take care of us, and provide the means and knowledge of the achieving His goals.  I pray for wisdom for you and me in 2010!

Money Savings

Everyone laughs at me, but I collect the bows on presents for later use.  You need to put them in a box loosely, so they don't get flattened.  For bigger bows, I will put used tissue paper in the loops to keep them fluffy.  It's a small way that I save money for the following year.

And don't forget to save your Christmas cards to make gift tags next year.  You can find it at my Christmas Magic post.

Also, now is the time to buy Christmas wrapping paper, bags, and bows.  After-Christmas sales are great!


This potato casserole goes so well with ham.  Everyone seems to love it!

Cracker Barrel's Hash Browns Casserole - Copycat

2 lbs frozen hash browns
1/2 cup margarine or butter, melted
1 (10 1/4 ounce) can cream of chicken or mushroom soup
1 pint sour cream
1/2 cup onion, peeled and chopped
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

 Preheat oven to 350°F and spray an 11 x 14 baking dish with cooking spray.  Mix the above ingredients together, place in prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until brown on top.  Serves 10-12.

Aunt Janet's Famous Sayings

There are experiences and trials in my life that I believe God let me experience to help my family.  My niece and nephew have often heard me say "I believe that God put this in my life so I can help you.  If I never experienced it, I wouldn't know how to help you."
Aunt Janet

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Little Drummer Boy

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum

Me and my drum.
Katherine K. Davis

I feel like the little drummer boy.  I have no gifts to bring.  So, I try to find gifts to give that cost little if nothing.  I want to give, but I have nothing.

Then, I remember, Baby Jesus smiled at the little drummer boy when he gave a gift from his heart - his music.  To all my friends and family, I wish I could give you your heart's desires.  As you know, my finances are in shambles, with no sight of it getting better in the near future.  I have nothing material to give you, and I'm worn out from life's strains.  I give to you my love.  Even if I don't reach out, you are in my thoughts and prayers.  It's the only gift I have to give.  I love each and every one of you.

I want the Christmas spirit!  I see those around me with excited children to Santa, gifts to wrap, and places to go.  You are truly blessed - remember that!  There are those without children, with no gifts to wrap, and no where to go.  Use your blessing!  Cherish your blessing!  Thank God for giving you the opportunity to be woke up early in the morning by eager little feet running through the house!  Thank God for your spouse for putting up with your moods during the holidays, for helping to wrap presents, or for simply being present!  Your spouse is your gift from God.  Thank God that you have a family!

There are those who have never had children and long to be jumped on "Mommy!  Daddy!  Santa was here!"  There are those who wish they had gifts to give.  And there are those without family or friends.  Reach out!  Give the most precious gift of all - your love!

As I child, my favorite Christmas carol was "The Little Drummer Boy".  Little did I know that, through this song, God was preparing me for my life's experiences.  I have no gift to bring but myself.  And He smiled - it was a good gift!

Money Savings

Everyone loves a gift of homemade Christmas cookies!  Make a couple of different kind, arrange them on a Christmas plate from the dollar store, and wrap in plastic wrap and top with a bow.  I am sure the recipient will be so grateful!  (Between you and I, my favorite Christmas gift is my sister's chocolate chip cookies.  She makes the best!)


This is a quick and easy "cookie" recipe to make, and you will find many eager helpers to unwrap the peanut butter cups.  Talking from experience, always get double the amount called for in the recipe.

Peanut Butter Bites

1 (15 oz.) pkg. brownie mix
1/3 c. hot water
1 egg
1/4 c. oil
48 miniature chocolate covered peanut butter cups (so get 96 - hehe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine brownie mix, water, oil and egg. Beat well with a spoon. Fill paperlined mini muffin cups about 1/2 full. Press one peanut butter cup into batter in each cup. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until brownie is set. Cool completely.  (I've made them without the paper linings, but you need to grease the mini muffin pans.  Oh - I sell them if you are interested.  Email me!)

The Little Drummer Boy in Disguise,
Aunt Janet

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best Gift - Family

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:
the presence of a happy family
all wrapped up in each other.
Burton Hillis

I'm so excited - my younger sister is going to celebrate Christmas Eve with our family. That is the best Christmas present ever!

Money Savings

Last year, I gave my nieces homemade bath salts for Christmas.  I experimented mixing different scented oils together, and came up with a couple they really liked.  Scented oils can be found at health food stores, or in the aromatherapy section at your drug store.  Here's the recipe:

1 cup sea or kosher salt
1/2 cup Epson salt
12 drops of scented oil
1/4 cup baking soda
food coloring (optional)

Blend both salts and oil in bowl; add baking soda and mix well.  Pour in bottle or jar, add a homemade label. 

Different fragrances and fragrance combinations I have tried:

Grapefruit and Peppermint - Refreshing and Stimulating
Tangerine and Peppermint - Refreshing and Calming
Grapefruit and Tangerine - Refreshing and Relaxing
Lavender - Calming and Soothing


Chocolate Shortbread

4 oz. (4 squares) unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tsps. vanilla
2 cups sifted cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped - if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease two large baking sheets.

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water, stirring frequently.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.  In large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Beat in the melted chocolate and mix thoroughly.  Sift the flour with the baking powder.  Using a pastry blender, work the flour mixture into the butter mixture until it is thoroughly blended.  Mix the chopped walnuts into the dough by hand.

On a floured work surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch.  Cut out the cookies into desired shapes using biscuit or cookie cutters.  Place the cookies 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookies are light brown.  Remove the cookies from the baking sheet after 2 to 3 minutes, when they are still warm to touch, and cool on wire racks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Magic

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.
Norman Vincent Peale

It was the one of those Decembers when you don't feel like celebrating.  Life was not going according to plan.  I couldn't get myself to decorate.

One day, I walked in the house to Christmas decorations everywhere.  Every room was decorated, and there were no Christmas storage boxes anywhere.  The tree was aglow, my precious decorations hanging from the branches.  Who did this?

It was magic.  The Christmas spirit came in the form of my nieces, and decorated my house.  I wept, knowing that my nieces loved me so much that they wanted to share the joy of Christmas with me in a way that touched deep inside my heart.  (They even took the boxes back to storage - so my house was nice and neat.)

If you are close to someone who isn't in the holiday spirit, bring some of the spirit to them.  You can decorate a miniature tree, bring them a wreath or a small nativity, ...  I know that when this was done for me, it was one of the kindest presents I ever received.  I love you, girls!


This is one of my all time favorite cookies!
Toffee Bars

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 cup flour
6 (1.05 oz. each) milk chocolate bars
2/3 cup crushed nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, sugar, and egg yolk. Add flour gradually, stirring until well blended. Spread dough in slightly greased 15.5" x 10.5" x 1" jelly roll pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until medium brown. After removing from oven, lay chocolate bars on top. Spread when melted. Sprinkle with nuts. Cool, and cut into bars.

Money Savings

Do you have a color printer?  An inexpensive and easy gift is to make note cards.  If you have a publishing or greeting card software, it's super easy to make note cards.  If you have word processing software, it's a little more difficult - the software's help will guide you.  Just search for greeting cards.  If you can't find it under help, Google the name of your software and then "greeting cards" in quotes.  Someone out there would have created a greeting card using your software.

You can choose one design, or you can print out several different kinds with similar designs.  For example, I'll print four of three different kinds of wild flowers note cards.  If the card will only be folded once, I use cardstock so that the colors don't bleed through.  if folded twice, I will use regular paper.  I usually print 10-12 cards and I include envelopes that are the same size as the card.  You can find the all you need at an office store.  Check out OfficeMax's Holiday Deals!  To make the gift more personalized, create return address labels with a small graphic that matches the graphic on your note card.

Then, take the cards and envelopes, wrap them together with raffia or ribbon, place them in a box or bag, and I'm sure they will be a much appreciated gift, because you made it from your heart!

Here is an example of a note card I made using Microsoft Publisher.  The graphic came from Microsoft ClipArt (savory).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bah! Humbug!

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year.
Charles Dickens

With Christmas fast approaching and little money to spend, the feeling of "Bah! Humbug!" came over me.  My inquisitive mind started spinning the wheels.  What did "Bah! Humbug" even mean?

Although this phrase in only found twice in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, it is the one of the most famous quotes of the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge.  Elizabeth Gregory states:
    Ebenezer Scrooge is a bad-tempered miser who values only money, and the story begins on the seventh anniversary of the death of his like-minded business partner, Jacob Marley. It is Christmas Eve, although this matters little to Scrooge, who sees Christmas as “a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer” (chapter one), and thus coins his now famous expression “’Bah! Humbug!’”
But what does it actually mean?  According to Wikipedia, humbug means "hoax or jest."  Dictionary.com states that bah means interjection, and thus Bah Humbug is an exclamation of contempt or annoyance.  In a Christmas Carol, Scrooge's nephew cried in a cheerful voice, "A merry Christmas, uncle!  God save you."  In response, Scrooge says "Bah! Humbug!" 

Ebenezer Scrooge is a penny-pinching miser in the first degree. He cares nothing for the people around him and mankind exists only for the money that can be made through exploitation and intimidation. He particularly detests Christmas... (David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page)  To convey his feelings about Christmas, he says "Bah! Humbug!", exclaiming his strong annoyance.

Luckily, the three spirits of Christmas help Scrooge see the error in his ways and he is transformed! 
    So when Dickens concludes that Scrooge "knew how to keep Christmas well" ... Ebenezer Scrooge kept Christmas well by becoming "as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world."
Well, I didn't feel Bah! Humbug! after all!  And I was amazed at how many sites reference and analyze Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".  I found it very interesting, especially the social impact that the book had when Dickens wrote it, and the reasons why he wrote it.  I encourage you to check it out - Google "A Christmas Carol".


Here is a cookie recipe that is a Christmas family tradition.  When I was young, my siblings and I were in charge of decorating the cookies, and the fun we had!  My sisters have passed on this tradition to their children, with my mom helping, of course!

Christmas Cream Cheese Cookies

4 oz. cream cheese
1-1/2 cups margarine
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
Colored sugar &/or candy sprinkles

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Blend cream cheese and margarine together.  Add sugar and vanilla a little at a time, and beat well.  Add flour slowly to mixture, and beat well.  Use a cookie press to make your choice of shapes, and sprinkle with colored sugar or candy sprinkles.  Bake 8-10 minutes.

Aunt Janet's Famous Sayings

I have acquired a touch of the flu - headache, achy bones, and just being plain tired.  As I was leaving for the doctor, my husband asked me to stop at the store for some groceries.  I have told my nieces and nephews countless times, reverberating their parents' orders, "If you're too sick to go to school (work), you're too sick to go anywhere else."  He decided that we didn't need the groceries today.

Happy Baking!
Aunt Janet

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Gift of Love

If there is no joyous way to give a festive gift,
give love away.

God gave us His Son on the first Christmas - His love wrapped up in swaddling clothes.  Jesus was not born with riches, but instead born in a stable, born for those in poverty to lift them up, us up. 

"Christ found no room in the Holy of Holies that shone with gold, precious stones, pure silk and silver. He is not born in the midst of gold and riches, but in the midst of dung, in a stable where our sins were filthier than the dung. He is born on a dunghill in order to lift up those who come from it: 'From the dunghill he lifts up the poor' (Ps 113:7)" (Jerome, On the Nativity of the Lord, ACCSNT 3:39).

With so many unemployed, with too many financial obligations, this Christmas will be meager for many.  Just today, I heard from three women whose husbands' had lost their job.  I was thinking that I will not have another Christmas again, feeling sorry for myself until I heard their stories.  Two have young children.  Their social ranking does not encourage gift "donations", and their pride probably wouldn't accept it.  Yet, they are in need.

My sister recently shared her motherly advice with me.  I cannot quote her verbatim, but the idea is "It is better to give then receive, for in giving, you feel more contentment, more peace."  It doesn't have to be new or tangible gifts.  Gifts from the heart - helping someone with a project, making homemade gifts, sharing time with someone who is lonely, ... - are the most loved gifts.  For those that have, look around you, see who needs, and be Santa.  No one sees him, but he comes.  The children would just think that the door was locked, the chimney had a bird's nest, or a fire was burning in the fireplace, but Santa didn't forget them.  He just had to leave the gifts at the door.  And for the parents, they will not have to be humbled, but will rejoice that God does really care.  He sends angels!

Money Savings Tip

In the next couple weeks, I will give ideas to save money at Christmas, and give ideas for homemade gifts.

Christmas wrapping is an added expense to Christmas.  One way to save money is to make gift tags out of Christmas cards.  When I was young, my mom would sit with us, and make tags.  We would cut pretty pictures from the cards, in different shapes, ovals, circles, or around the edges.  Then we would cut construction paper to match the cards we just cut, put a punch in both, and tie a bow around them to hold them together.  It was fun, and it saved money.  Every year I save my Christmas cards with the hope of making tags for the following year.

Another idea is to use paper bags.  You can decorate them with glitter and cut-outs made from cookie cutters or traced from a book, or put a fancy bow on them.  You can cut them so you can wrap the gift, or just use it as a gift bag. Use your imagination and create.  If it's pretty, they may even save it to put a gift in next Christmas.


I thought it would be fun to give a cookie recipe in each of my posts before Christmas.  Some of the recipes I have posted before, but many will be new.

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

1 egg

1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
Chocolate Kisses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat above ingredients until well blended. Shape into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and immediately put on chocolate Kiss in center of each cookie. Makes about 18 cookies.
Aunt Janet
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