Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Favorite "Stress-less" Cookie Recipe

Okay, so when my family heard our book was going to have lots of cookie recipes in it they all chimed in and asked if I was sharing mine. Of course that was after they stopped laughing. You see my best chocolate chip cookie recipe is this:

  • Go to the refrigerated section of your grocery store

  • Purchase a tube of Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookie dough

  • Preheat oven according to directions

  • Place chunks of dough on cookie sheets (I spray lightly with oil even though it says not to)

  • Bake for 12-15 minutes

  • Destroy wrapper and receipt from store before family discovers the cookies are not made from scratch.

That last instruction is very important if you want to save yourself years of teasing.

I do on occasion spruce up the recipe by rolling the chunks of dough in chopped macadamia nuts or chopped pecans.

Hey, if they hadn't found the wrapper they never would have known I didn't spend all that time measuring and mixing and baking their favorite cookie.

I'm not the only one who appreciates a good shortcut, am I?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Holiday cooking tips to lessen the load

My approach to lessen the cooking load in December is to use tried and true recipes that my family likes. I often try one new recipe, usually a vegetable, for fun and variety, but staying with the family favorites, once you have a few years’ experience, is my recommendation.

I often make wild rice, and also popular at our family feasts is a vegetable marinated in salad dressing, like cooked asparagus. Here is my favorite wild rice recipe:

Wild Rice

1 cup wild rice
4 cups chicken broth (about 1 and ¾ cans)

Rinse rice with water and drain.
In large sauce pan bring rice and broth to boil.
Reduce heat to simmer; cover and cook, stir occasionally, until rice is cooked, about 45 minutes.
When cooked the rice kernels will be bursting open and tender.
Let cool and serve.
The chicken broth gives it a delicious flavor.
Some folks add soy sauce or butter.

Since my family likes waldorf salad, we enjoy a healthy version of that, with apples, pecans, grapes, celery and a combination of mayonnaise and yogurt.

Stick mainly with recipes that are easy to make and popular with your family for relaxing meals at Christmas time.

Don't forget to divide up the work; if someone offers to bring a dish, say yes. My husband is in charge of cooking the meat, whether it is lamb, roast beef, turkey, etc.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Leslie's Put-It-on-and-Forget-It Cooking Tip

December cooking tip

Get out your crock pot! Wintertime is perfect for putting on soups or stews in the morning and forgetting about them until the smell permeates your entire home. Once fixed, soups can be refrigerated for several days—or even frozen, if needed—allowing anyone to grab a quick bowl, along with a green salad and a piece of toast or some crackers.

Some of our favorites include clam chowder, chicken taco soup, ground beef taco soup, chili, white chili, and pot roast. Yum!

What’s your family’s favorite soup, stew or chowder?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Brenda's Christmas Cooking Tip

What's my cooking tip? Don't!

Take the family out for dinner at a restaurant and relax! The holidays can be like holidaze and often we need to nurture our family-together time. This is a picture of my goofy family having a goofy time while building memories.

Tell me how often you spend time together at a sit-down meal? According to Traits of a Healthy Family, eating together at least three times a week is considered a strength. I hope you can claim that. If not, make it your new year's resolution. . . for the kids' sake.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Christmas Kitchen Tip - The Cookie Swap

By: Trish Berg

Yes, I know. I have swapping on my mind...all the time. As a supper swap mom for almost 6 years now, I know how supper swapping can save moms time, money and add deeper friendships to their lives. I love supper swapping so much I write The Great American Supper Swap so moms everywhere can become supper swap moms.

But swapping is not limited to suppers. Nope. Not at all.

In fact, one of the BEST swap I participate in is a Christmas cookie swap every December.

About 5 girlfriends and I each get together and decide on which type of cookies we will each make for the swap. Then each of us makes 6 dozen of that one type of cookie. You can make them ahead of time and freeze them as well, depending on your schedule.

We then choose a December day to meet for lunch at one of our homes to swap our cookies. We have a delicious lunch together, sit and visit, chat and laugh and eat way too much great food.

Then, when it is time to go home, we each leave with 6 dozen cookies - 6 different varieties - to share with our own families over the holiday time.

Swapping is an amazing way to simplify your life, maximize your labor, and yes, even save money and add deeper friendships to your life.

Over the years, I have swapped baby-sitting with friends, house cleaning, even participated in a clothing swap.

But around the holidays, I simply adore my Christmas Cookie Swap. It is so much simpler to make 6 dozen of the same cookies than 1 dozen each of a different kind of cookie. Grocery shopping for the ingredients is easier, and you can get it done in one afternoon.

And, my kids LOVE the variety of cookies that come home with me, from Snicker Doodles to cut out Christmas trees and nutmeg logs.

So grab a few girlfriends, decide on which type of cookie you each want to make, and GET SWAPPING!!!

To help you get started, here is the BEST cut out cookie recipeyou will ever taste. I am not kidding...

I can't take any credit for these awesome cookies, but I do guarantee they are the BEST Christmas cut out cookies you will ever make or eat. The recipe is my friend, Holly, and it has become a Berg family MUST HAVE every Christmas!

Holly's Christmas Cut Outs

1 c. real butter (USE REAL BUTTER)
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
5 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Powdered sugar

1) In large bowl, cream together butter and sugar and eggs with a wooden spoon (do NOT beat!)2) Add sour cream and vanilla.
3) Add soda and salt.
4) Stir in flour , 1 cup at a time.
5) When you add the last cup of flour, mix with your hands.
6) Roll out on the counter, use powdered sugar instead of flour on that surface and your hands.
7) Use your favorite cut out shapes, and bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden.

Holly uses butter cream frosting from the can, which tastes great, and is much easier. But you can use any icing you like!

Until next week, happy swapping....

Trish Berg

Monday, August 25, 2008

December Kitchen Tips

Don't ask me for homebaked cookies in August. The last thing I want to do is to turn on the oven and add more heat to my South Texas kitchen. But when the first fall leaf plunges to the ground, I'm game for cooking--whatever!

This week, the Word Quilters will give a few of their best kitchen tips for December. My tip is to find some old recipes with simple ingredients. I stole the essence of this idea from the food columnist of The Courier, Conroe, TX where my weekly column appears. Candace Carver suggested buying old cookbooks as gifts because of the simple ingredients.

Her advice immediately resonated with me because so many of the cooking shows on TV or diets in magazines list ingredients that are not in my pantry. The older cookbooks use simple and fewer ingredients. For young cooks or those who love vintage recipes, search out old cookbooks at yard sales and library sales.

I'll share a recipe for "Cold Slaw" from a cookbook put together by the founding members of Almeda, TX. My husband's grandmother Beulah Messecar was only six when her family moved from Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and settled in Almeda. Not all the old recipes sound appetizing like the chocolate cake with saurkraut in it (I have made it. It was very moist) or the "Plum Pudding" with suet, but most sound very yummy.

Velma Hughes' Cold Slaw

1 lg head Cabbage
(finely chopped)
1/3 cup Wesson Oil
3 Tablespoons prepared mustard
1/2 cup \Apple CiderVinegar
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt

Mix mustard, sugar, wessonoil, vinegarand salt. Pour over cabbage. Chill.

Cathy's note: This is tangy, but very good, quick and easy! Enjoy!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Christmas Package Decorations

I didn't realize how plain my gift wrapping had gotten until one year my daughter-in-law joked about there not being any ribbons or decoration on the Christmas gifts. When I thought back to some of the gifts I'd received as a child, I remembered some friends of our family who always had cute little dolls, or holiday greenery, or little toy trains tied onto the packages we unwrapped. Yes, I admit, I was shamed into getting more creative with my Christmas wrappings.

To save money on what can become an expensive endeavor, I hit the dollar stores and places where I know I can get small items to tape or tie to the tops of packages. The best happens when I plan ahead and shop the post-holiday sales. I can find all sorts of things to use for decoration that only cost 10 to 25 cents.

Or try using some floral pics that are out of season. Use some glitter spray to make them look more like the holidays. Who says you have to use red and green colors or only poinsettias for Christmas?

Another inexpensive gift topper is colored netting you can purchase in a fabric store. I cut 6-8" circles, gather them in the middle and tie a bit of curling ribbon around them to fasten. It beats trying to make big bows out of expensive ribbons.

How fancy do you get with your gift wrapping?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Money saving tip

My tip saves money and is kind to the earth since it recycles paper. When I see gift bags on sale, I buy a few. At a dollar store I bought several sizes of gift bags, in solid color green and in gold, for a dollar each.

Since they don’t have holiday themes on them, like Santa Claus or a Christmas tree, I use them during the year for family gifts at birthdays, and then use them at Christmas, often many times.

The bags don’t get torn, or taped, and look brand new each time we use them. I understand that traditional Christmas wrap releases toxic fumes when burned, and can’t be put with the recycling papers, so the festive bags are our wrap of choice.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Something for everyone . . . cheap!

I’m frugal, but not fanatically so. (My husband does thank me for not washing and re-using plastic zipper bags—a common practice for both my mom and grandma.) Many of the things I do naturally are second nature, so I have a hard time thinking of them as tips, money-saving or otherwise. However, after giving this one some thought (then posing the question to my family), we remembered a favorite tradition that is also a money-saving tip.

Our family isn’t that large, but we all get together for Christmas. If we allowed each of our children to pay retail prices for gifts for their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, we’d go broke.

When the kids were preschoolers, Bret and I wanted to teach them about the joy of giving as well as getting presents. That meant we had to allow them to give—to actually spend money to purchase (or make) gifts.

Enter Dollar Tree! This outlet—or any dollar store—offers everything from candles to extension cords, from wicker baskets to hair bows. And the beauty of the “system” is that nothing costs more than $1.00.

My daughter Molly, who must’ve gotten in line twice for the gift-giving gene, likes giving almost as much as getting. She’s very thoughtful and considers the needs and interests of every recipient. As she scanned her list, she spoke out loud, “OK, Uncle Corey. He does construction.” (Actually, at the time, he built roads and bridges, but he’s also quite the handyman.) She scanned shelves and peg displays until her eyes lit on duct tape. “Perfect,” she said, pulling off one roll and adding it to her cart. “He’ll really be able to use this.”

At the time, I laughed a little—under my breath; however, in truth, it turned out to be one of his favorite gifts. Extremely practical, he appreciated her considering his interests and trying to imagine what he might really like.

And the best part for Bret and me? We enabled our children’s generosity without breaking the family bank.

Kids come up with some of the best gift ideas! Share some of your childrens' brilliance with us . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Brenda's Money Saving Tip

I hope you're reading this in August when I'm posting it (and not later in December), because my tip is to stretch your Christmas budget by looking for new or needed items at garage sales! Yep, garage sales are a ripe field for budget-conscious shoppers on the hunt for the perfect gift.

During the summer months, I'm on the hunt for gifts that my family and friends want. Sometimes, I have them give me their "wish" list and I look to fulfil it all summer long. By the time Christmas rolls around, I have my gifts bought and bow tied.

If you want more money saving tips, I suggest The Dollar Stretcher magazine. I've written several articles for them, one is called, "No Cost Ways to Show Your Love," and you can read an online version of this terrific, informative publication.

Share one of your money saving tips here for our readers.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Think Outside the Gift Bag

Since I love helping moms simplify motherhood, saving money is a part of my everyday life. And, as a stay-at-home-mom, I have had to get creative when it comes to Christmas shopping.

I have learned a few lessons over the years.


Kids will remember memories much more than gifts.
-DO you really remember what you received for Christmas when you were 8? Probably not. But you might remember a trip you took with your family. So one year, we cut the clutter of gifts in half, and took the kids on a fantastic train ride in December. We told them the train ride was a part of Christmas, and they were great with that. And now they have a neat memory to share.

Lesson #2 BUY USED

Kids don't need everything new under the tree. My sister-in-law was married last year, and she and her husband are selling a bunch of things they had double of, like a very nice digital camera...for $50. So we are buying that for Hannah for Christmas . Shhhh...don't tell her. Be sure to check out garage sales, used clothing stores, even Goodwill. I once found a beautiful cashmere sweater for Sydney at Goodwill for $3. Yep, that was a find.


My kids love coming downstairs and seeing the gifts all wrapped in piles under the tree Christmas morning. And since we open one gift at a time, one person at a time, we can enjoy each one. So, I wrap everything separately. If I buy several books for my child, I would place each book in a larger box, cover it with tissue paper, and wrap it up. I wrap each shirt, or pair of pants separately. The kids simply love the excitement of opening the gifts.


I know it's too late for this year, but buy all your wrapping paper, ribbons and bows AFTER Christmas has passed. You can find rolls of wrapping paper for under $1, and tons of bargains you can put away for next year.

Lesson #5 SIMPLIFY

Most of all, keep life simple during the holidays. Don't eat out when you go shopping, that wastes money. Eat and then go. Make homemade gifts when you can, like Cookies in a jar, and just relax. Your kids don't want a stressed out mom. They want mom - happy and content. And your attitude reflects through the entire family. Simplify what you can, relax and enjoy the time with your family.

Enjoy the journey-Trish
Psalm 118:24

Monday, August 18, 2008

Secret/Surprise Gift

Wilson Family White Elephant Gift Exchange

Though we don’t have a huge family, we all do get together each Christmas. A couple of years ago, in an effort to cut down on costs, we started drawing names for gifts. Since we get “only” one big gift during the extended family get-together, we also decided to incorporate a white elephant gift exchange. The rules were simple: Nothing over $10; the sillier and more embarrassing the gift, the better.

As though all the crazies came out of the woodwork, we laughed ‘til we cried as we opened such silly items as a stuffed pink flamingo, a wooden sign that read, “This toilet paper roll is not going to change itself” and a redneck briefcase (actually a pair of tighty-whiteys with a wooden handle attached across the top.

The best part: Not having to make happy faces when receiving yet another sweater we didn’t need in a color we didn’t like. The kids really got into it, too—“stealing” what they considered to be the best gifts.

If you’ve never participated in a White Elephant Gift Exchange, the rules are as follows:
1. Set a price limit. Stay within it. (Wow, I’m a poet, and I know it.)
2. Wrap gifts to look nice—not giving the slightest hint as to the hideousness that lies beneath.
3. Have everyone in the exchange draw numbers—up to the number of people total.
4. The person who picks #1 goes first. He or she selects a gift from among all of the white elephants and unwraps it.
5. #2 gets to steal #1’s gift or choose a new gift. If #2 steals #1’s gift, #1 gets to select and unwrap another gift.
6. The game continues like this until all gifts have been selected.
7. Most games limit the number of steals to 3 total. Once a gift has been stolen three times, it’s “frozen” and belongs to the last person who stole it.
8. No under-the-table trades or deals!

I wrote out my favorite White Elephant Gift Exchange Story in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. Check it out, especially all you Elvis fans!!!

Hint: Shop flea markets and garage sales for great white elephant finds!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Five Money Saving Tips for December

You guessed it. This week's theme is saving money in December.

I've noticed that my December grocery bills tend to go up, up,up, and my December 2008 pantry bill will be even higher than last year because of high fuel and delivery costs.

$$$$ Five Tips for Lowering Grocery Bills in December $$$$

  1. $ Plan special party menus, Christmas dinner, and baked gifts by mid-November. Watch Thanksgiving sales for your December needs. One or two items bought on each grocery ticket will be more pleasant than hurried trips to the store and being tempted by all the extra products that squeal, "Take me home." I go after one pound of butter and come home with the whole cow.

  2. $ When cooking in October and November, make extra for the busy month of December. A casserole from the freezer is tastier, most likely healthier, and yummier than a fast food meal. Check our easy December recipes here . Have ingredients on hand to make Leslie's seven can soup or make Brenda's sausage and rice ahead of time and freeze for December.

  3. $ If you have baking ingredients stocked well ahead of December, you might even get in the mood to pre-mix homemade cookie dough or bake a carrot cake and freeze it (frost when thawed). Those luscious goodies in your freezer might keep you from buying a $12.00 store bought pecan pie when you need to take a dessert to Aunt Trudy's.

  4. $ What? You don't think you can use a full 5 pounds of chopped walnuts? Ask a neighbor or close friend if they'd like to split the costs of bulk baking items.

  5. $ Use the china. Use the fancy serving dishes. Use your Christmas dishes the whole month of December. Save on paper goods by enjoying whatever glassware you have. Be it humble or fancy. I remember a church Christmas party where we brought our best dishes and decorated round dining tables, seating six. One woman only had some plastic ware (Melmac or some other brand). I remember one of our elders, Bob, steering his family away from a fancy table and on to the more humble place settings. He was so congenial and friendly, his whole family was, to the woman who brought her best that night. Bob's gone on to be with the Lord, now. I imagine his cup runs over.

Most of the five tips are mere reminders of what we already know. Whether you're on a strict budget or have money to spare, planning ahead makes good sense, because buying and baking ahead gives you more time for people. Whether you serve popcorn and Kool-Aid or caviar and wine, you and your family can fill someone's Christmas cup with goodwill--maybe for a little less than last year.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Gift of Prayer

Want to help someone grow in their faith this Christmas? Covenant to pray for them. And to make the gift even better, encourage them to grow in their prayer life by giving the gift of a prayer journal, a Bible, and a prayer afghan or throw.

Find a blank notebook and cover the outside with a handmade/stitched book cover or find a pretty journal in a card or gift shop. Crochet, knit, quilt, or find a ready-made lap blanket that coordinates in color with the journal. Put these into a basket and add a color-coordinated Bible (or cover one) and a nice pen for journaling. If the recipient is a new Christian, you may want to add a book on prayer to inspire them.

Encourage your recipient to curl up in a comfortable chair with their Bible, journal, and lap throw as if they were a little child coming to the lap of their Father to receive his love, encouragement, and strength. Remind them that you will be praying for them as well.

Do you have a favorite verse on prayer? Mine is Philippians 4:6,7

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gifts to Grow Faith

A nativity set, or creche, is a gift that reminds people to focus on the birth of Christ, during the holiday, and that is also decorative.

One year my family made some simple stables of scraps of wood, cutting and nailing and glueing, till a stable on a wood platform was created. We left the wood plain with just a spritz of gold spray paint, purchased inexpensive nativity figures, and gave these as gifts to relatives and friends.

The three essential figures are Mary, Joseph and the Christ child, and other figures as you desire, like sheep, shepherds, camels, wise men and angels. Children like to add the figures to the scene day by day; first the animals in the stable, next the Holy Family and the baby Jesus. Later they can add the shepherds and their flocks, and then the Wise Men and their camels as they follow the star to Bethlehem.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so . . .

With the frenzy (read: panic) involved in finding the perfect gift, most folks eventually realize that gifts of the heart—homemade items, baked goods, the gift of time—mean more to our loved ones than anything we could ever buy.

My mom came right out and asked for such a gift last year. Following the death of her mom (BTW, Nana lived to 103!), God placed a desire on my mom’s heart to hear each of us speak the story of our salvation. On Christmas Eve, as we gathered around the fire in my aunt and uncle’s log home in Evergreen, Colorado, my mom shared her own personal testimony, of coming to know Christ and following Him through her life. One by one, the people I love most in this world, including my dad, my sister, my husband and children, shared their own stories, sometimes detailing challenges or struggles that made them stronger in their faith journey.

I’ve often heard the phrase “not a dry eye in the house,” but this event went far beyond shedding a few tears. In addition to sharing intimate details about following Christ, we also realized and verbalized our anticipation of an eternity together in heaven.

Not long after that happened, I picked up a copy of 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper and Cec Murphey. One thing that struck me was Don’s ambivalence about returning to life on earth. Though he was thankful to be back with his family, he longed for the peace and lack of pain he had experienced in heaven after he died. That story, coupled with the stories my family shared that day, reminded me that we are strangers in this place, ultimately created for fellowship with Our Father forever.

This can be a valuable exercise within families—to encourage one another in the faith, to imagine what heaven will be like, and to practice sharing our testimony of what God has done in our lives.

Of course, if you have relatives who don’t know the Lord, you want to be sensitive to that. For example, you could always share something less intimidating, such as a blessing from the previous year.

Have your family members shared their testimony with one another? Tell us about it. Psalm 107:2 reminds us to “let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” What better way to nurture our family members in their journey of faith than to encourage one another with the story of our salvation!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Brenda suggests a Grow Your Faith gift

What is one gift you like to give to help grow a friend's faith?

There are so many insightful inspirational books out there that it's difficult for me to answer the question. I've given my good friend, Debra White Smith's, 101 Ways to Romance Your Marriage book to young couples as a wedding gift. Her book includes quotes and contributions from both my husband and me. So, I often autograph a copy and present it as a wedding gift in hopes that the couple will enjoy many, many years together as Paul and I have.

You can help grow your friend's faith with a gift copy of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. Inside there are inspirational stories that will roll their spiritual socks up and down. I hope you go to now and pre-order your copy. After September, when the book is released, you can order a copy, write something special inside the front cover, and gift your friend with it.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a "Goodnight."
Brenda Nixon and Santa.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gifting Hope at Christmastime by Trish Berg

I was so excited to see this topic come up on our Christmas blog. Thanks, Cathy, for the idea.

I think Christmas is the perfect time to share the hope that is all around us. The hope that comes from God. The hope found only in the manger, in the baby that was born to give us eternal life.

But how do you wrap that hope up in a gift?

My first thought was the wonderful gift my mother-in-law bought for us the year we had a miscarriage. I actually share this story in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. It was our first Christmas after the miscarriage, and the pain still felt very raw.

One of the most painful things I found was that losing a baby to miscarriage wasn't a real pain, accepted in the real world. There is no funeral for your baby. No one says goodbye to the baby. The baby is there...and then the baby is gone.

The sun comes up...and the sun goes down...and you are expected to get up and live your life as if nothing happened.

That was difficult to do when I felt like life had been ripped out from inside me.

But I kept a lot of that pain hidden inside. I still do. People don't like you to dwell on pain, so we all tend to stuff it inside and hide it.

But that Christmas, Mike's mom gave us a beautiful ornament of an angel baby to hang on our tree to remind us of our precious baby that is in Heaven.

We hang that ornament every year, and every year we remember our baby. Yes, it makes me sad, a little. But it also makes me hopeful.

Why hope? Well, because I know where my baby is. My baby is in Heaven, safe and sound. And I know that someday, I will get to hold my baby again.

So, I guess I believe you can share that kind of hope by giving a beautiful ornament to remember someone you lost, or to share that hope with someone you know who lost someone.

Maybe a friend lost a father, or a grandfather. Maybe a neighbor lost a spouse. Maybe a friend had a miscarriage.

Pain is pain, and we all need to remember the pain and the person, and this is a wonderful way to do that.

Hope. It sometimes feels far away, like a wind on a mountain you have never felt blow, and yet you feel like you can almost catch that wind in your hands and hold onto it.

That's the hope of Christmas. The hope of Jesus. The hope you can share with someone you love this Christmas.

The more I think about our precious angel ornament, as beautiful as she is, it truly is not the gift that makes the giving so special. It's not in the gift that we see the hope.

It's in th egiver.

My mother-in-law thought about our baby, and reminded us of God's eternal love. That is the true gift of hope.

Trish Berg

Faith Blocks

This week,the Word Quilters will share ideas for gifts that will encourage and give hope.

Christmas is an ideal time to give a gift that will encourage a believer's walk with God. My favorites are plaques with simple scriptures and perpetual desk calendars with inspirational messages. Symbols of the Christian faith are nice, too. One of my favorite such gifts is a resin figurine by Willow Tree called "Peace on Earth" of a woman holding a new lamb. She so reminds me of calm that she has a place on my breakfast table year round.
These can be purchased in stores and online. Rustic Hutch is an online source.

Do you display a favorite holiday inanimate object in your home or car that inspires you?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Remembrance for the Christmas Tree

Our theme this week has been about giving a gift to a close friend. Can in-laws qualify as friends? In my case, it will be necessary. You see, one of my best friends happens to be my sister-in-law, Polly. She is married to my husband's identical twin. (And yes, we have lots of stories about that.) The four of us often travel together. One year we traveled for eighteen days through Europe in an Audi.

Polly's birthday is in early November and each year when we've traveled somewhere together, I try to purchase a Christmas ornament for her as a gift. Her tree is filling up with miniature cruise ships, Hawaiian flowered Santas, Tahitian sea shells, penguins (we braved Antarctica together), little European mementos, etc. Each one is a reminder of the wonderful time we spent together and the unusually strong bond of friendship and love two in-laws can share.

Do you have any special mementos that adorn your tree each year?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Dream Pillow Gift for Friend

I made a “dream pillow” for a friend. It was fun to make and she was delighted with it. You can make a dainty pillow, or, as I did, buy one. I bought a white cotton lace pillow, about twelve inches across, and with a two inch by three inch piece of material, I sewed by hand a pocket on the back of the pillow, leaving one of the four sides unsewn.

Then I took small pieces of paper and wrote words on them, like “joy”, “sweet dreams”, “healing” and favorite Scripture like “love one another as I have loved you”. Create about ten of these good wish papers, and tell your friend to place one in the dream pillow pocket in the evening. Give her some extra blank papers so she can create her own dreams. You don’t need to stick to a white cotton lace pillow; if a heart shaped pink pillow or a yellow floral design suits your friend, pick that for your friend's dream pillow. This can be a very inexpensive gift, if you are a bargain hunter like me, and find a pillow on sale.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Leslie likes theme gifts!

Gift to a close friend--pick a theme

My sister-in-law Kendall and I are best buds, BFFs, besties! We’re married to the Wilson boys, Ron & Carolyn’s only kids. Even though you don’t get to pick your family, I would have chosen Kendall. She’s a true miracle in my life—so dear, so special to me. (Aaack, pass the tissues, please . . . )

Besides being married to smoke-free Marlboro men (just to let you know how studly and rugged they are), we have in common our love of bargains and an updated country decorating style. Years ago, Kendall and I vowed to never pay retail for a Christmas present for one another. We both collect and decorate with antiques, especially rustics, which opens up a whole world of shopping at antique stores, flea markets and garage sales.

The fact that Kendall also collects Coca-Cola items, displaying them in her red and black kitchen, makes shopping for her quite easy. I hardly have to think about what I’ll get her. Instead, I just have to hunt down the treasures. Once I spotted a Coca-Cola metal wall thermometer at a garage sale. Believe it or not, the glass tube was intact! The price? An incredible, outrageous 25 cents! I fought feelings of guilt as I handed over my quarter. Kendall squealed with excitement as she opened it, exclaiming that she already had the perfect spot in mind.

I could no longer keep my find a secret; part of my excitement came in “confessing” to my sister-in-law the incredible bargain I’d found. Coincidentally enough, I spied the same item at an antique mall a few years later. The vendor was asking $52.00! I did a little Snoopy dance, wishing I had someone to high five in my glee!

This idea sounds so simple that I don’t know why more of us don’t do it. Simply spread the word about a particular style or collection and let friends and family theme-shop for us! For example, my mother-in-law collects rose bowls with frogs, salt and pepper shakers. (We all rejoiced when she passed through her Beanie Baby phase!) My mom loves blue and white china and collectibles. Such theme gifts make it easy to buy for the special people in our lives.

Do you have a special theme gift that you like to give or receive? Share it with us and our readers. We might “steal” the idea, but hopefully we live so far away we shouldn’t be in competition with each other for the same item . . .

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gift to My Friend

Today, I was asked to post about a gift I've given to a close friend. Hmm, that's a hard one 'cause (1) I've given many gifts through the years and (2) no one gift sticks out in my mind.

But I'll try to think waaaay back.
Oh yes, when I was in college my close friend, Randy, adored the writings of Kahlil Gibran. So one Christmas I found a copy of Gibran's book, The Prophet, wrote something "friendly" on the the front page and gave it to Randy. He was totally surprised -- which made the gift giving even more fun -- and he loved it. I was broke because you know how poor college students are. But the glee in my friend's face was worth every penny.

Some of you may know my friend Randy . . . but today he's known as Randall Dennis a songwriter, producer, and author in Nashville. Randall has written for several music artists and his book,
Living Worship, is receiving rave reviews. He has received numerous awards including five number-one charting songs, three Gold Record Awards, and two Dove Awards! Way to go, Randy!

Hey, what about you my dear reader. Share one of the best gifts you've given to a friend and why.

by Brenda Nixon

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Snuggle Up Under a Soft Blanket

By Trish Berg

I have been blessed with some of the best friends in the world. Yep, I am a bit biased, I know.

And I have learned a lot over a lifetime of friendships. But some of the best advice has come from my mom and my dad.

You see, my dad always told me that the world was made up of 2 kinds of people: warm fuzzies and cold pricklies. All you have to do is figure out who the warm fuzzies are and hang around them.

The older I get, the more warm fuzzies I surround myself with.

My mom always told me that I should give to the givers. And I have tried to do that as well.

As a Christian, I also know that God calls me to give to others, no matter what their status. And I do try to do that as well.

But as for close friendships, those see-you-without-your-makeup-on-bra-less and love you anyway friends, those are the warm fuzzy givers in my life.

One of my best friends is Teri. My husband grew up with Teri since she lives on the dairy farm next to the farm where he grew up. The farm we live on today with our own four kids.

But Teri and I became even closer about nine years ago when my son, Colin, and her daughter, Jae, were both born around the same time.

Over the years, we have just grown up together, in our friendship, our marriages, and our mothering. I adore Teri, and am so blessed to have her in my life.

So, when Christmas time came around a few years back, I searched and searched for the perfect gift. And I found one I knew she would adore. (And I didn't have to spend a fortune on it either.)

I bought her a beautiful soft blanket/quilt from Lakeside (

Lakeside has many unique gifts, very reasonably priced.

And, because I loved the blanket so much, I bought one for myself as well.

So now Teri and I have these gorgeous snowmen hanging on the back of our couches all year round reminding us of our friendship, all warm and fuzzy.

Though the exact throw I purchased is no longer available, they have a ton of beautiful ones ranging in price from $5.95 to $15.95. And the quality is top notch.
To see all the Lakeside throws and quilts, click here.
So warm up a friend or two this Christmas with a Lakeside throw, and remind them of your warm, fuzzy love all year round.
I just wanted to share with you all that I am fantastic contest this week at my individual blog.
I am giving away a BLUETOOTH JAWBONE HEADSET WORTH $129.99.
All you need to do is post a comment (or two, or ten) to any of my blogs by Sunday night. Every comment posted is a new entry into the drawing.
Tell all your friends, and log onto, then click on blog, or go straight to
I'll see you there!
Enjoy the journey, Trish
Psalm 118:24

Monday, August 4, 2008

How To Wrap a Pie Crust?

Friends are the best! What do you gift your best friend during the holidays?

In elementary school, I had four or five girlfriends, and we still stay in touch. I even had a “slumber party” at my house about 10 years ago. But distance has kept us from having further constant friendship.

After I married, I met a new best girlfriend. Her name is Doris. I can’t say enough good things about her. She knows my weird habits and still loves me. I can confide in her and my words will stay put, they don’t put on travelin’ shoes. She looks out for me, especially lately because she knows that I’m helping to care for four aging parents, my husband’s and mine. She guards my schedule and time. When our friends are planning a wedding shower or baby shower and my name comes up as a hostess, she’ll steer the planning committee to other women. Bless her. Double bless her.

That’s one thing that stands out in my memory of our over-30-year-friendship. We know each other’s schedules and know how to step in and help.

So, thinking about Christmas and gifts for her, the one that stands out in her mind and that she mentions when the subject comes up is the December that I made homemade pie crusts for her. At that time, she was making 400 round trip miles to help care for her in-laws. Her mother was still alive and also needed visits and care. At least all my older generations are nearby.

That holiday season, I could have bought her another cookbook or a jewelry trinket, but I knew she needed help more than anything else. Her family, like most others, enjoys homemade pies, caramel, cherry, pumpkin and more. Early in December, I bought six or so large aluminum pie pans and whipped up my best pie dough recipe, rolled them out, placed dough into the pans, and fluted the edges. I froze them unwrapped for a few hours, and then I wrapped them in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. No bows. No frills. No fancy.

A few days later, I phoned and told Doris I was bringing her an early Christmas present. To this day, she says it was the best ever.

Point the gift of labor at a friend’s need, and you’ll come up with a winner-gift.
What meaningful holiday gift have you given to a friend?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Christmas Pork, Kraut, Dumplings, and Diet Coke

By Karen Robbins

When my kids all come home for Christmas, they expect the one meal I've become famous for: roast pork, sauerkraut and dumplings. It's my Bohemian/Chech background.

Our daughters-in-law have learned to put up with the menu. I think a few might even like it. Leah is a southern gal raised on fried catfish and hush puppies which her mother makes for my son who loves it. Lori is strictly an American-style gal and would just as soon have hamburgers and fries with lots of ketchup. Aya is Japanese and her menu choices tend to lean toward fresh vegetables, raw or pan seared fish, and pressed seaweed.

Bless their hearts though, they are all in love with my sons and put up with the tradtional menu--and a few side items I add to hopefully satiate their appetites as well.

As I searched for a picture of my crown roast of pork, I found one other constant: Diet Coke--prominently displayed in it's original plastic 2 liter bottle right next to the Christmas dinnerware and good silver.

What is your traditional Christmas dinner? And how do you satisfied varied appetites and tastes?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Family Christmas Habit, The Nutcracker Ballet

Over the years our family has attended many local productions of the Nutcracker ballet. This ballet appeals to lots of people, especially children, with its exuberant dances, sword fighting, and armies of nutcrackers fighting mice soldiers. The story centers around the young girl, Clara, whose mysterious uncle gives her a nutcracker as a gift. The nutcracker transforms into a prince who fights the evil mouse king, to protect Clara.

The ballet has colorful and elaborate costumes and lovely dancing, with a Victorian family gathering around the Christmas tree, a Snow Queen, sugar plum fairy, toys coming to life and waltzing flowers among the many roles for dancers.

As you can see from the photo we have been adding wooden nutcrackers as Christmas decorations for 15 years, and our collection includes a lion, a Scottish golfer, a Santa dressed in white, and many other nutcrackers for display on the fireplace mantle.