Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why a New Year’s Resolution With the Word MORE in it Will Probably Not Be Realized

I recently looked up top resolutions for the new year—and saw some interesting lists. They were the typical ones you would expect—lose weight, exercise, get out of debt, eat more healthfully, spend time with family, etc.

But what struck me most was the recurring use of the word MORE.

+Exercise MORE

+Spend MORE time with family

+Get MORE organized

+Pay off MORE bills

+Cook MORE healthy foods

What exactly does a resolution that has the word MORE in it even mean?

MORE than what? By what measuring stick? How will you know when you have achieved it?

Resolutions that contain the word MORE will likely not be realized simply because they are too general, too abstract, too non-checkable—if that were a word.

Any change—be it a New Year’s resolution or a beginning of the school year plan or a new family schedule must be quantitative in order to be met. In other words, there has to be some sort of method by which the resolver can see whether or not the resolution, plan, habit, or schedule has been met.

My husband and I are problem solvers—both of us. Sometimes we butt heads because he has an idea to solve a problem at the same time that I have another, albeit superior, idea. Smile... More often than not, though, the fact that we are both problem solvers has not been a negative but rather an amazing way to propel us to accomplish goals for our family.

In our problem solving, we have had to be extremely specific in what the steps to success were—no use of the words MORE, better, less, fewer etc.

Rather than saying that we would read the Bible or worship with the kids MORE, we said that we would have devotions more often than we didn’t. (This was one of our favorite benchmarks for many good things with our kids through the year--more often than not!)

Rather than saying that Ray would meet with our boys MORE to mentor them, we said that he would meet once a week per boy—or once a month per boy—or whatever the goal was.

Rather than saying that I would read with a new reader MORE, I said that I would read two times a day with the new reader—right after breakfast while the olders cleaned the kitchen and right before I began dinner preparations (with another older!).

The other thing we have found in our quest to be problem solvers is that we can’t solve too many problems all at the same time! In our parenting seminar, Raising Kids With Character,” we encourage parents to choose one or two things from each session that really spoke to them—one or two things that they want to implement or utilize right away in their homes. This keeps parents who have just sat through six hours of parenting lectures from being so overwhelmed that they are unable to implement any of the tips and strategies.

Throughout our thirty-one years of parenting, we have tried to tackle one problem or aspect of our family that needed changed per week (and later one per month or so). We sat down together and decided what one thing we would work on—and exactly how we would work on it (without using those taboo words of MORE, better, etc.!).

Sometimes we want lots of changes immediately! We are so quick to see the areas in our family that need work—and maybe there are many areas that we need to work on (we could always think of many!)….but if we set out to change everything all at one time, we will seldom change anything.

If you have a dozen things you would like to work on this year, consider doing one per month—and really dedicate a month to making that one thing happen…with a plan of attack that is measurable and concrete and doable. Then when that one is realized, add another the following month and so on.

Too many resolutions and too many vague words are both enemies of real change and problem solving. So try to make FEWER resolutions and keep them BETTER! Smile….

Monday, December 24, 2012

Mistletoe--For More Than Just Kissing--a Reminder of Peace

"Then I thought of the mistletoe—hanging above the entrance to a home—right there in the doorway where all family members must pass to enter. And how we can use mistletoe this holiday season to remind us to “disarm ourselves, embrace, and refrain from combat.”

During our “holiday tradition” reading this year, I was reminded of the many characteristics of the mistletoe. I’ve always been a mistletoe fan—if my “mistletoe-ee” is nearby, of course. It hasn’t always been such a good thing—and the plant itself has some extremely negative traits. However, we can use the mistletoe for good by following the tradition of soldiers centuries ago.

The mistletoe is known as a “taker” and not a “giver.” It is a parasite that lives on the very life of another plant, causing the slow destruction of this host. The strange thing, however, is that once the “host plant” dies, the mistletoe dies as well.

Early settlers enjoyed decorating for Christmas with the mistletoe because of its decorative flowers and attractive berries. It grows in late November and stays green throughout the winter—all the way until spring. Back in those days, there were no other green plants available in winter to use as decorations.

Of course, we are all familiar with the common use for mistletoe—as a gathering spot beneath for kissing. Obviously, this can be a very good thing or a very bad thing. For years, our kids thought it was so cute to cart what looked like mistletoe around and hold it above Mom or Dad to illicit kisses between us. That is a good use for it! However, the obvious bad use is the promoting of promiscuity among those who have no business kissing.

The most interesting thing about mistletoe to me this year, and the reason for this post at all, is the custom from centuries ago that caused temporary peace to reign. This custom required enemies who met under a clump of mistletoe to disarm themselves, embrace, and refrain from combat for the remainder of the day.

Immediately upon reading that this year I thought of family members who are at war with one another. I thought of grown kids who are less than friendly with their very own parents. I thought of adult siblings who are not on speaking terms. And on and on. And I thought of our responsibility as Christians to not allow this brokenness to continue.

Then I thought of the mistletoe—hanging above the entrance to a home—right there in the doorway where all family members must pass to enter. And how we can use mistletoe this holiday season to remind us to “disarm ourselves, embrace, and refrain from combat.” We can use the simple mistletoe as our cue to enter with peace in our hearts, kindness on our tongues, and love in our souls. Furthermore, we can teach this to our children—that God calls us to live peaceably with all men, when it is in our power, and that Christmas time is the best time to re-invite that peace into our hearts and spread it to those family members whom we might not have always had peace with.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Holiday Musings

A few years ago I wrote a “Holiday Musings” article for Training for Triumph’s newsletter. It has a lot of the same ideals that you will find in this blog—in season and out of season! However, I want to share it with you this Christmas. I pray that you will be moved and encouraged by it.

                                                       “Holiday Musings”
                                                               by Donna Reish

I love Christmas! I love giving gifts to my children; I love lights and beautiful decorations; I love doing family activities over and over again every year; I love baking goodies and giving them away. I even have a verse to substantiate my desire to give good gifts to my kids at Christmas time: “If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your father, which is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11). I mean, God knows that even we mere mortals love to give good gifts to our kids!

Although all of the things in my “I love” list above are somewhat “unspiritual,” we have found through the years there are some common threads that we try to emphasize/do during the Christmas holiday—some to remember and ponder what Christ has done for us more fully; some to deepen our relationships with each other; some to show Christ’s love to the world. Allow me to give you a list of my holiday musings.

1. Think about, talk about, sing about, and remember the true reason for Christmas as a family throughout the month. 

We have found many things that help us focus on the birth of Christ more and more throughout December: singing carols together; reading Christmas picture books with the littles in the afternoons; collecting nativity scenes; reading from chapter books that emphasize the birth of Christ, such as Max Lucado’s Cosmic Christmas, Gene Edwards’ The Birth, and Marjorie Holmes’ Two From Galilee; going to community events that point us back to the reason for the season, such as Christmas plays, live nativities, walks through Bethlehem, Christmas cantatas, movies, and plays that emphasize the coming of the Savior.

2. Create family traditions. 

We have too many holiday traditions to list in just one short article, but research has born out the importance of traditions in building a child’s outlook on many things—and it is so obvious when you hear children talk and repeat that mantra: “We always…” There is something about being able to say that "We always ..." or "In our family, we… "

 Two of our favorite traditions are decorating the house together and reading inspirational Christmas stories throughout the month of December. Our older kids laugh until they cry as they give play-by-plays of each ornament making ordeal we have gone through. (Our tree is decorated with only home made ornaments—another tradition we have is that of making ornaments together.) Anyway, they have a joke of holding up the sample ornament (one that I bought that we were modeling after) and holding up one of ours and chiming, “Sample ornament; Reish ornament” over and over. Then they tell about the time I threw the cinnamon sticks across the room in a fit of Christmas stress as we tried to make the “ornaments in a minute” out of cinnamon sticks. Then we all laugh some more—and I try my best to keep from crying as I think about Christmases gone by—and wonder where the years have gone and long for just a day from a Christmas ten or fifteen years ago.

Traditions do not have to be elaborate or expensive. Some of ours (besides the decorating night and ornament making) are as simple as watching certain Christmas movies while we wrap gifts; eating shrimp alfredo while we watch White Christmas; reading about holiday traditions each morning; learning a new carol together each year (all the verses!); having the kids exchange their gifts with each other on Christmas Eve; reading inspirational stories each night before bed; reading one of the Gospels during the month of December; etc.

3. Think about Jesus’ entire life—his birth, life, death, and resurrection—not just his birth. 

Linking the Christmas story to the fact that without it we would have no hope of salvation is important, especially with younger children. Two ways that we do this include discussing, reading about, and singing about the names of Christ and what they mean throughout the month; and reading one of the Gospels—not just the Christmas story—during December. This helps us focus on our salvation even more. (Another thing we have done to focus on Jesus’ entire life is to listen to Focus on the Family’s radio theatre “The Luke Reports.” I will put links to some excellent resources throughout December, so check back frequently!)

4. Reach out to those less fortunate—and do so in a way that costs you and your children something.

 I know that doesn’t sound very “Christmasy”—good cheer and mistletoe and all (btw, I love mistletoe if the right “mistletoe-ee” is around!), but taking a can to a canned food drive or parents buying gifts for the children to leave at the angel tree are not sacrifices for our children—and do not do much to teach our children the true meaning of Christmas—and the true meaning of sacrificial giving.

When I speak of reaching out to those less fortunate, I am talking about giving up time (a few evenings or days?) and money (money with which a child could buy himself something). I’m talking about doing hard things. I’m talking about getting dirty, being inconvenienced, etc. I know that sounds strange, but honestly, what could we possibly do or give that would be too much for our Lord? Find true, meaningful service projects for your children—extensive time spent at a nursing home or group home caroling, making cookies with residents, reading to them, etc.; earning money to be used to give gifts to truly poor or forgotten people (like county home residents or the disabled); going out into the homes of people who never have a Christmas visitor; serving food at a soup kitchen; cleaning mattresses at a rescue mission. Focus on others more than ever before this Christmas—your children will thank you for it eventually. (For the new year, read the stories written by the author of Mandate for Mercy (also the founder of the Mercy Ship ministry) about how his mom made his family squeeze together in the car every week to pick up poor and desperate people to take them to church—and the impact this had on this man causing him to spend his life on the poor and desolate—this is the kind of reaching out we are purporting here.)

5. Reach out to your relatives.

 Yes, those strangers who are watching "bad" things on television the whole family get together while puffing away on their cigarettes. Teach your children to go to family get togethers to serve—not to judge. Start out teaching your children about this concept of serving relatives with a Bible study (ahead of time) on “being great in God’s kingdom by serving” and “doing for others asking nothing in return” and “being a light by your good works.” 

Then, if it is true, tell your children that you have been more concerned about yourself than you have of others at past family get togethers. And that you want your entire family to change all of that. That you want to “do your good works that others would glorify your father in heaven.” Discuss ways that you can do this during this holiday season: working harder to make good dishes to the gatherings (no lentil casserole, please—bless these people with fat and sugar!); helping with young cousins; encouraging grandparents; helping to set up and take down; being kind to each other as an example of family unity to those who might not have any idea what that looks like. 

(Note: Because I always get asked this, I will put a caveat here—I am not talking about reaching out to relatives in any way that would put your children in danger. We recommend that your children never be left with non-Christians and never be put in situations in which they could be harmed.)

6. Really talk to others this holiday season. 

Your ministry of bringing your relatives to Christ will begin not with your family’s judgment of them, but with your interest and concern for their lives in general. Jeff Myers, leadership specialist, founder of Passing the Baton, and current president of Summit Ministries (as of 2012),  gives the following list of things to discuss this year with relatives young and old. Some are one-on-one types of discussions while others would work well for group discussions**:

Express thanks to someone in the room for something they did for you.

"I'm thankful for..." Finish the sentence.

If you could have the attention of the whole world for 30 seconds, what would you say?

One thing I'm thankful for about our country.

What is the key to success in life? Why do you say that?

Tell about a lesson you learned the hard way.

What are some ways life is different now than in the old days?

Tell a story of a decision your ancestors made that changed the direction of their lives-and yours.

Tell about a lesson you learned by watching someone else.

"A person I would like to honor publicly is..."

"Time and money aside, I would rather be..."

Tell about an experience that changed you for the better.

Tell a story about something that started out bad but had a happy ending.

"My first hero was _________."

Tell about a time when you showed courage.

Describe a teacher who had a significant influence on your life.

Tell about an invention that made your life easier.

"The most admired public figure when I was growing up was ____." Tell a story.

Tell about a memorable event in your life.

"A famous person I've met is _____." Tell about the experience.

"I got in so much trouble..." Tell the story!

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**Note: These are good to print off and use as dinner discussion for your immediate family, too!

6. Express genuine gratefulness to God and others

December is a month to really display the quality of gratefulness—and to teach your children to do so too. Not just mere ”thank-you’s”—but sincere thanksgiving to God for His Son and for others for everything they do for us. Teaching children to say thank-you, write thank-you notes, etc. is a start. However, gratefulness begins with the realization that everything good we have comes from the hand of God. That we are nothing without Him. And that He knows what we need more than we do. It is deepened when we give up materialism—the idea that we have to have this or that in order to be happy—and focus instead on the good things God has done for us. Thoughts on materialism would require an entire article in itself, but when we have to have things to make us happy, when our mood and outlook change as a result of getting more and more, or when we cannot be happy in whatever situation we are in (materially speaking), we are probably steeped in materialism. Praying through this, sharing with our family the importance of giving up our ideas that we somehow deserve this or that, focusing on gratefulness for all that God has done for us outside the material things we are lacking—these are ways to feel and exhibit true gratefulness.

7. Spend quality time reaching into your children’s hearts. 

That’s a tough one, huh? I mean, the busiest time of the year, and we have to add another thing to the list. I remember vividly eighteen years ago when I had five kids ten and under. I still had younger siblings at home who would come and spend a lot of Christmas week with us. I made four Christmas dinners in a row for various relatives. I got up early in the morning to make home baked bread and rolls and went to bed late at night to get the overnight breakfast casseroles in the oven. I get tired just thinking about it. I was trying to serve others, but found myself distanced from my kids by the time the holiday week was over. I can remember looking at Joshua, then ten, one evening after the relatives had all left, and calling him over to ”sit in Mommy’s rainbow” (my bent legs as I lay on the sofa)—and he seemed so far away. I had been with him all week—I was usually with my older kids all the time as they did not have any older siblings to take them anywhere like my littles now have! However, I felt so far from him. I had let the busy-ness of Christmas keep me from those I love the most. Now I have to remind myself that one more home made goody or one more shopping day is not worth distancing myself from my children. Stay close. It’s Christmas!

This Christmas I pray that all of us can ”keep Christmas” in a way that glorifies God and teaches our children deep Christmas truths.

*Copyright TFT 2008

Monday, December 10, 2012

Two Dozen Tried and True Holiday Recipes

Mexican Wedding Cakes

One of our favorites! So tender and rich. We make them for every occasion!

2 cups butter 1 cup powdered sugar

4 cups sifted flour 2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup finely chopped pecans

extra powdered sugar for rolling after baking

1. Whip butter with mixer; add sugar.

2. Next, add flour and vanilla.

3. Add nuts.

4. Roll in balls the size of walnuts.

5. Bake about 10-12 minutes regular oven; 7-10 minutes convection.

6. Roll in powdered sugar as soon as possible after baking.

7. Re-roll in powdered sugar before serving.

                                          Sour Cream Cookies

A favorite of several in our family, hands down! These are the most tender, soft, delicious cookies. We use various colors of sprinkles for other occasions (red and blue for July 4th, red for Valentine’s Day, pastel for Easter, etc.).

4 c flour 1 ¼ tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp soda ¾ tsp salt

1 1/4 c. butter, softened

3 eggs 2 cups sugar

1 ½ tsp vanilla 1 ¼ cup sour cream

Colored sprinkles/sugar according to occasion

1. Sift soda, flour, salt, and baking powder together; set aside.

2. Beat butter, sugar, and eggs together.

3. Beat sour cream and vanilla into the butter mixture.

4. Gradually beat dry ingredients into the wet mixture.

5. Refrigerate for one hour or longer. (We shape and freeze, freeze in one quarter containers (chunks of dough); etc. too.)

6. Drop and sprinkle with colored sugars (or sprinkle half way through baking time. (If sprinkled before baking it's not as distributed but it stays on better.)

7. Bake at 350' for 6-8 minutes for convection; 8-11 minutes regular oven.

                                  Peanut Blossom (“Kiss”) Cookies

These are better than your average peanut butter cookie. We prefer the milk chocolate taste of stars on them rather than kisses. These go quickly on holiday trays.

5 ¼ cups flour 1 ½ cups peanut butter

3 tsp soda 3 eggs

1 ½ tsp salt 6 TBSP milk

1 ½ cups sugar 3 tsp vanilla

1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed 3 pkgs Hershey’s kisses or stars

1 ½ cups shortening/butter (we use ½ Crisco and half real butter)

1. Cream butter, shortening, brown sugar, and white sugar.

2. Whisk eggs.

3. Mix milk, eggs, and vanilla in separate bowl.

4. Pour milk mixture into creamed mixture, and mix.

5. Combine remaining ingredients (except kisses) in another mixing bowl.

6. Add to mixing ingredients until well blended.

7. Shape dough into balls, using a rounded teaspoon for each.

8. Roll balls in sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheets.

9. Bake for 8-11 minutes convection; 10-13 regular.

10. Top each cookie immediately with a kiss, pressing down firmly so cookie cracks around the edge.


A simple candy (though the dipping process is best done by older kids or adults or you’ll have peanut butter balls floating in your melted chocolate!) that most people love. I’m always amazed how quickly we run out of these in spite of the large amount it seems we make on candy days.

1 (18 ox) jars creamy peanut butter 2 sticks (1 cup) butter

5 cups powdered sugar 2 cups chocolate chips

1. Mix peanut butter, powdered sugar, and butter in mixing bowl until well blended.

2. Add more peanut butter or powdered sugar if mixture is too moist or too crumbly.

3. Chill until firm.

4. Roll into small balls and place on wax paper.

5. Melt chocolate chips in large glass measure at 70% power for three minutes, stirring every one minute or so until melted and creamy.

6. Dip each ball with toothpick or candy dipper into chocolate. Leave top part of ball undipped.

7. Makes around 100 balls.

8. Let set up on foil pieces until firm (usually a few hours if doing it at room temperature).

                                         Peanut Butter Fudge

This is the yummiest peanut butter fudge I’ve ever had---when I get the texture right. It can be tricky to get it just right, but it is so worth it.

4 cups brown sugar 4 cups mini marshmallows

4 cups white sugar 4 cups peanut butter

2 cups evaporated milk 4 TBSP vanilla

1 stick butter (1/2 cup)

1. Combine sugars, evaporated milk, and butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235’), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmallows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour into 2 13x9 greased baking dishes.

7. Cool, cut, and serve.

8. Makes approximately 5-6 lbs.

                                          Never Fail Chocolate Fudge

My personal favorite holiday treat—the more walnuts, the better. This is a very simple fudge recipe that truly is no-fail.

8 cups sugar ½ lb butter (2 sticks)

2 (7 oz) jars marshmallow cream 2 cups chopped nuts

2 12 oz cans evaporated milk 2 12 oz packages choc chips (4 cups)

1. Melt butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in milk and sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on medium to medium high heat). (Bring to softball stage; 235’.)

4. Remove from heat, and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

5. Add marshmallow cream and nuts, stirring until well blended.

6. Pour into two 9 x 13 greased baking dishes.

7. Cool at room temp.

8. Makes approximately 6 lbs.

                                              Banana Bread

I like to have one of the kids use up brown bananas anytime of the year and put some of these loaves in the freezer. Then we have them for potlucks, company, or new baby gifts. Quick breads are even better after they’re frozen!

2 cups sugar 2 tsp soda

1 cup butter (1/2 lb or 2 sticks)

2 tsp salt

4 eggs 6 cups flour

1 cup sour milk 6 large bananas

1. Cream sugar and butter in mixing bowl.

2. Add eggs and blend.

3. Add sour milk. (To “make” sour milk, put 1 TBSP vinegar in bottom of one cup measure before adding milk to measure.) Blend.

4. Mix flour, salt, and soda in another bowl with a fork.

5. Stir gradually into creamed mixture.

6. Add smashed bananas.

7. Pour into four small, well-greased bread pans.

8. Bake at convection 350’ for 30-45 minutes or until fork or toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Regular oven 45-60 minutes)

                                           Scotch Crunchies

If you like butterscotch chips and cashews, you’ll love these. Don’t let their strange ingredients steer you away. They are SIMPLE and yummy.

2 (12 oz.) of butterscotch chips (4 cups) 2 cup cashews

4 cups chow mein noodles

1. Melt butterscotch chips in eight cup glass measure in micro at 70% of power for two to three minutes, stirring every thirty seconds or so, until thoroughly melted. (Do not overheat.)

2. When melted, stir in cashews and chow mein noodles.

3. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto foil.

4. Let dry.

                                              Peanut Clusters

A peanut-chocolate drop candy that is SIMPLE to make.

2 (12 oz each) packages butterscotch chips 12 cups peanuts (not redskin or dry)

2 (12 oz each) packages chocolate chips

1. Melt chips in eight cup glass measure in micro at 70% of power for two to four minutes, stirring every thirty seconds or so, until thoroughly melted. (Do not overheat.)

2. When melted, stir in peanuts.

3. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto foil.

4. Let dry.

                                     Best White Frosting for Cookies

Even years when we bought frozen shaped cookies at the restaurant supply store (instead of making them) due to time crunches, we always still used our own icing recipe. This has lots of extra flavors, but those are what make this frosting delicious. Definitely not your typical powdered sugar/butter icing!

2 cups Crisco 4 lbs. Powdered sugar

1 cup hot water 2 tsps. white vanilla

4-6 drops lemon extract 1 tsp almond flavor

2 tsp clear butter flavor ½ tsp salt

1. Mix all but powdered sugar in mixing bowl and whip until all is mixed.

2. Add powdered sugar a cup or two at a time until frosting is desired texture. (May add more hot water or more powdered sugar, as needed.)

3. Use on cookies as needed. May keep at room temperature between cookie baking as long as well covered.

4. Very delicious icing!

                                       Butterscotch Brownies

These chewy brownies are good year round. They’re easy and feed a crowd.

1 ½ cup oil 6 cups brown sugar

6 eggs, beaten 4 ½ cups all purpose flour

6 tsp. baking powder 3 tsp salt

3 tsp vanilla

1. Blend oil and brown sugar in mixing bowl until well blended.

2. Stir in beaten eggs.

3. Sift all dry ingredients together in separate bowl.

4. Add to wet mixture one cup at a time until well blended.

5. Stir in vanilla at end.

6. Pour into three 9 x 13 glass baking dishes sprayed with PAM.

7. Bake in convection at 350’ for 16-22 minutes or regular oven for 24-30 minutes. Do not overbake!

Note: This is one of the few treats that I have made healthfully with very good results. Some have even thought the healthy version was better tasting! For the healthy counterpart , substitute egg whites for eggs (two egg whites for each egg), sucanat for the brown sugar, and part white/part whole wheat flour for the all purpose (or all whole wheat pastry). Follow same instructions. Still pretty heavy on the sweetener, but very good.

                                            Butterscotch Pudding

There’s nothing like homemade butterscotch pudding. We use this for pies, occasionally, but more often than not, we use it for “banana pudding.” It is a hit everywhere we take it---layer pudding, vanilla wafers, banana slices, walnuts, and real whipped cream—then repeat. Everyone raves about it.

2 cups brown sugar 4 TBSP sugar

1 stick butter 3 eggs

6 TBSP water 4 cups milk

¼ tsp salt 2 tsp vanilla

2/3 cup cornstarch/flour mixture

1. Put brown sugar, butter, and water in pan.

2. Boil for about five minutes until syrup is light brown.

3. Add milk and heat until just about boiling.

4. Combine flour/cornstarch mixture, salt, sugar, beaten eggs, and just enough extra milk (0-4 TBSP) to pour easily.

5. Cook on medium heat until thick, stirring constantly with wire whisk. (Watch closely or it will stick or scorch.)

6. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

7. Makes 10-12 servings or enough filling for two pies.

                                          Choc-Full Oatmeal Cookies

We got this delicious cookie recipe from a friend named Suzy, so for the longest time, we called them “Suzy’s Best Cookies”---because everyone liked them so much.

4 eggs 2 cups brown sugar

2 cups regular sugar 2 cups shortening or butter (We use ½ of each.)

3 cups flour 6 cups oatmeal

2 tsp salt 1 cup coconut

1 cup nuts 2 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking soda 1-2 cups butterscotch chips or M & M’s

1. Cream shortening and sugars in mixing bowl.

2. Beat in eggs.

3. Mix all dry ingredients in large bowl. (You will have nuts, butterscotch chips or candies, and vanilla remaining.)

4. Stir in vanilla.

5. Stir in nuts and chips/candies by hand.

6. Drop onto greased cookie sheets.

7. Bake at 350’ convection for 8-12 minutes or regular oven for 10-14 minutes.

8. Makes nine dozen plus.

                                       M and M Holiday Cookies

This is our regular chocolate chip cookie recipe. It is Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies without the coconut. When sugars and butter are thoroughly whipped, these are the best chocolate chip cookies ever.

4 ½ cup flour 1 ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tsp baking soda 4 eggs

2 tsp salt 4 eggs

2 cups butter and Crisco combined (half of each)

2 (12 oz) pkg holiday M & M’s or chocolate chips

1 ½ cup sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375’.

2. In bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. In mixing bowl, cream butter, Crisco, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla thoroughly.

4. Beat in eggs.

5. Gradually add flour mixture.

6. Stir in M & M’s or chocolate chips by hand until thoroughly mixed.

7. Bake in convection at 375’ for 6-9 minutes; 9-11 minutes regular.

8. Makes 10 dozen 2 ½ inch cookies.

                                             Pecan Pie Bars

We always used to make “Pecan Pick Ups” (also known as Pecan Tassies)—which are elegant looking for a wedding, shower, etc., but these bars are quicker---and just as tasty.


6 cups all purpose flour 1 ½ cups sugar

1 tsp salt 2 cups cold butter (no subs)


8 eggs 3 cups sugar

3 cups corn syrup ½ cup butter, melted

3 tsps vanilla 5 cups chopped pecans

1. In large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

2. Cut in butter until crumbly.

3. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of two greased 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking pans (“jelly roll” pans).

4. Bake at 350’ for 14-18 minutes convection; 18-22 minutes regular (until crust edges are beginning to brown and bottom is set).

5. While crust is baking, combine the eggs, sugar, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl for the filling. Mix well.

6. Stir in pecans.

7. Bake 28-24 minutes more (convection) or 25-30 minutes regular oven or until edges are firm and center is almost set.

8. Yield: Six to eight dozen.

                                         Pumpkin Bread

I love to have moist pumpkin bread loaves in the freezer, just like banana bread. Sometimes we add nuts to this.

1 ½ tsp cinnamon 4 ½ cups sugar

3 tsp. baking soda 1 ½ tsp nutmeg

3 tsp allspice 4 ¾ cups flour

6 eggs 1 cup evaporated milk

1 ½ cups butter 1 ½ lb (24 oz) canned pumpkin

1. Mix all ingredients together in large mixing bowl until thoroughly mixed.

2. Pour into greased and floured bread pans (two).

3. Cook for 40-55 minutes convection or one hour regular at 350’.

4. Yield four large loaves.

                            Holiday Crème-Filled Sandwich Cookies

New recipe this year. We’re anxious to try them!

Basic Dough Recipe:

2 (17.5 oz each) boxes sugar cookie mix 1 cup (2 sticks) butter

2 eggs


¾ cup butter, softened 1 tsp flavoring

3 cups powdered sugar 2 to 3 TBSP half and half

20 drops or so red food coloring

1. In medium bowl, blend sugar cookie mix with butter, food coloring, and egg. Mix well. (This will make a red marbling effect.)

2. Preheat oven to 375’.

3. Roll dough into balls 1” in diameter. (Be sure each cookie is the same size.)

4. Place 2” apart on ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for 6-9 minutes convection or 8-10 minutes regular oven. (Do not let edges get brown.)

5. Let cookies cool on cookie sheet for one minute, then transfer onto cooling rack.

6. While cookies are baking, cream butter, flavoring, and powdered sugar together. Add enough half and half to make spreading consistency.

7. When cookies are cool, place approximately 1 tsp filling in center of back of one cookie.

8. Place another cookie on top (flat side over filling), and using even pressure, press down in middle of top cookie to force filling outward to cookie edges.

                                     Chocolate Topped Toffee Bars

You can’t go wrong with Heath in anything!


2 (18.25 oz each) white cake mix ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted

½ cup packed brown sugar ½ cup milk

4 eggs 3 cups toffee chips or crushed Heath

1 ½ cup chopped pecans

Chocolate Glaze:

1 cup milk chocolate chips 4 tsps. butter or shortening

1. Preheat oven to 375’.

2. In large bowl, combine cake mix, butter, brown sugar, milk, and eggs.

3. Beat on low speed to blend, about two minutes.

4. Stir in toffee chips; then stir in pecans.

5. Spread batter in two floured and greased 9 x 13 baking dishes.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned.

7. While bars are baking, melt chocolate and butter together in small sauce pan or in glass measure in microwave on 70% power for one to three minutes, stirring every minute until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

8. When bars are cool, drizzle with chocolate glaze.

                                           Gooey Snickers Brownies

A different kind of brownie, but a yummy one!

2 (18.25 oz each) box German chocolate cake mix 1 ½ cups butter, melted

1 cup evaporated milk 8 reg. Snickers bars

1. Preheat oven to 350’.

2. Slice Snickers bars in 1/8 “ slices.

3. In large bowl, combine cake mixes, butter, and evaporated milk.

4. Beat on low speed until well blended.

5. Spread half of batter into the bottom of two greased 9 x 13” baking pans.

6. Bake for ten minutes.

7. Remove from oven, and place candy bar slices evenly over surface.

8. Drop remaining half of batter by spoonfuls over candy bars, as evenly as possible.

9. Place back in oven and bake for 12-15 minutes more convection; 20 minutes regular. (Brownies will jiggle slightly on top when you remove them.)

                                               Tiger Butter Candy

Very simple candy that is as good as it is easy!

2 pound white chocolate chips or wafers 1 cup chunky peanut butter

1 cup chocolate chips 2 TBSP half and half

1. In large glass measure, heat white chocolate and peanut butter on 70% for 2-3 minutes, stirring every minute.

2. Mix well.

3. Pour onto a foil-lined baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray; spread into a thin layer.

4. In another glass measure, heat chocolate chips and half and half at 70% for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every minute until chips are soft. Stir until smooth.

5. Pour and swirl over peanut butter layer.

6. Freeze for 5 minutes or until set.

7. Break into small pieces.

8. Yield: about three pounds candy.

                   Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread—“Monkey Bread”

When my older kids were little, I made elaborate pecan rolls for Christmas morning. This is much simpler---and almost as delicious!

Two bags (24-27 rolls each) frozen dinner rolls 3-4 cups chopped pecans

2 large pkgs non-instant butterscotch pudding 2 cups sugar

1 cup brown sugar 2 tsp cinnamon

2 sticks butter

1. Butter two angel food cake pans, bunt pans, etc.

2. Sprinkle chopped pecans in bottom of the two pans.

3. Arrange 24-27 frozen dinner rolls in bottom of each pan.

4. Combine pudding mix, sugar, cinnamon, and brown sugar, and sprinkle this mixture over the rolls.

5. Melt butter and drizzle over the rolls and powdered mixture.

6. Cover and let rise in refrigerator overnight.

7. Bake at 350’ convection for 25-35 minutes; regular oven 45 minutes.

                                                  Muddy Buddies

The yummiest cereal mix, in my opinion. Make a ton if you’re having a crowd.

16 cups Chex cereal (or Crispix cereal)

1/2 cup margarine 1 ½ cup peanut butter

2 ½ cups chocolate chips 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1. Melt together the margarine, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. (May melt in large glass measure in micro at 70% for two to three minutes, stirring every minute.)

2. Pour over the cereal and stir.

3. Add powdered sugar to coat while mixture is still wet.

4. Store in air-tight container.

                                                Cherry Delight

A delicious, creamy dish that my mom made for our holidays when I was little. You can cut the filling and cherries in half and make it in one pre-made graham cracker pie crust also.


2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs ½ cup sugar

2/3 cup butter, melted


2 bars cream cheese 16 oz. Cool Whip

3 cups powdered sugar 2 tsp vanilla

Two cans cherry pie filling

1. Mix crumbs and sugar in 9 x 13 glass baking dish or rectangular Tupperware.

2. Pour melted butter over the crumb mixture and press down into the pan evenly.

3. Cream cream cheese in mixer.

4. Add powdered sugar and continue creaming. Add vanilla.

5. Fold in cool whip until it is mixed throughout.

6. Dollup filling over crust everywhere and smooth down evenly.

7. Cover entire filling with the two cans pie filling.

8. Refrigerate and serve.

9. Serves 12+.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Story for You: "The Burglar's Christmas"

Last week I posted a link to a favorite Christmas story (“Gift of the Magi”) that is available online in its entirety. I hope you and your family enjoyed reading that together!

Today I am thrilled to provide a link to another favorite, though lengthier one, by Willa Cather (author of “Oh Pioneers” and “My Antonia”) entitled “The Burglar’s Christmas.” It is rather long and may even require two reading sessions, but it is an incredibly heart-warming story of reconciliation, forgiveness, and a mother’s love.

You may find it in its entirety here:

Merry Christmas, Positive Parents who are "Character Training From the Heart"! :)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Easiest Homemade Food Gift I've Ever Made: Fudges

“The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” Johnny Carson

In earlier posts, I gave ideas and recipes for snack mixes that parents and kids can make with their kids for gifts. Today I would like to share the hands-down easiest food gift I have ever made. (Well, maybe it was so easy because Kara made all 100+ pounds of it that year!) Seriously, if you know how to make simple fudge recipes (i.e. evaporated milk, marshmallows, and marshmallow cream, etc.), you will be surprised how quickly many (dozens!) of food gifts come together in this tip.

I purchased those little six-eight inches or so across plastic holiday tubs (the real inexpensive ones without lids that are about three to five inches deep). (You can use any container really, that you don’t care to get back—but because you do not need lids, you can get them extremely cheaply—I think I got mine like 4/$1 at Dollar Tree or somewhere like that.)

Then we, uhm, Kara, began making fudge (recipes below). She started the butter melting in the huge “saucepan” and spread the containers out on counters. When the fudge was ready, rather than pouring it into 9 x 13 glass baking dishes (like we usually do), she simply filled each little plastic container (200 of them!) with fudge. She continued in this manner with all of the chocolate-walnut, then all the peanut butter. In two to three hours or so, she had like 70-80 containers filled with 50 lbs of fudge! (She was sixteen when she did this and was not all that experienced cooking on her own as she was our chief editor at the time—so she got out of kitchen duty a lot!)

When the fudge was cool and firm, she slid each one into a decorative bag (the little tub sat down in the bag so the top of the bag was twisted and tied (with ribbon) above the little tub—so tub sat upright in the bag) and tied it up. At that point, because we have a small house and little storage, she simply stacked them all in Rubbermaid tubs with lids and placed them in the storage shed (our "other refrigerator") until we were ready to distribute them!

We have done various gifts for neighbors, students, church friends, family members, librarians, and more, including cookie trays, snack mixes, quick breads, yeast breads, and goodie tins. This is the simplest and fastest, by far. It is easy to clean up (just sauce pan, measuring cups, thermometer, and spoons). Plus, they taste amazing! 

Below are the recipes for all three of the fudges she used for this—chocolate walnut, peanut butter, and chocolate-peanut butter ribbon. Merry Christmas!

  Chocolate Walnut Fudge 6 pounds

8 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Butter 1 cup = 2 sticks

2 Each marshmellow cream 7 oz jars (2 of them)

2 Cup Walnuts, chopped Or more!

2 Each Evaporated Milk 12 oz cans (2 of them)

2 Package Chocolate Chips 12 oz pkgs (2 of

them=4 cups)


1. Melt butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in milk and sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on

medium to medium high heat).

4. Bring to softball stage (235').

5. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

6. Add marshmellow cream and nuts, stirring until well blended.

7. Pour into 2 9 x 13 baking dishes.

8. Cool at room temp.

9. Makes approximately 6 lbs.


                     Chocolate Walnut Fudge -- Double 12 pounds

16 Cup Sugar

2 Cup Butter 1 cup = 2 sticks

4 Each marshmellow cream 7 oz jars (2 of them)

4 Cup Walnuts, chopped Or more!

4 Each Evaporated Milk 12 oz cans (2 of them)

4 Package Chocolate Chips 12 oz pkgs (2 of

them=4 cups)


1. Melt butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in milk and sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on

medium to medium high heat).

4. Bring to softball stage (235').

5. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

6. Add marshmellow cream and nuts, stirring until well blended.

7. Pour into 4 9 x 13 baking dishes.

8. Cool at room temp.

9. Makes approximately 6 lbs.


                               Peanut Butter Fudge 5-6 pounds

4 Cup Brown Sugar

4 Cup Marshmallows, miniature

4 Cup Sugar

4 Cup Peanut Butter, creamy

2 Cup Evaporated Milk

4 Tablespoon Vanilla

1/2 Cup Butter 1/2 cup = 1 stick


1. Combine sugars, evaporated milk, and butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235'), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmellows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour into 2 13 x 9 greased (PAM) baking dishes.

7. Cool, cut, and serve.

8. Makes approximately 5-6 pounds.


                    Peanut Butter Fudge -- Double 10-12 pounds

8 Cup Brown Sugar

8 Cup Marshmallows, miniature

8 Cup Sugar

8 Cup Peanut Butter, creamy

4 Cup Evaporated Milk

8 Tablespoon Vanilla

1 Cup Butter 1/2 cup = 1 stick



1. Combine sugars, evaporated milk, and butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235'), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmellows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour into 4 13 x 9 greased (PAM) baking dishes.

7. Cool, cut, and serve.

8. Makes approximately 10-12 pounds.


                    Chocolate-Peanut Butter Ribbon Fudge 12 pounds

Ingredients for Both Layers

4 Cup Brown Sugar

4 Cup marshmellows miniature

12 Cup Sugar

4 Cup peanut butter, creamy

2 Cup Evaporated Milk

2 Each Evaporated Milk 12 oz cans

4 Tablespoon Vanilla

1 1/2 Cup Butter 1 stick=1/2 cup

2 Each marshmellow cream each jar=7 oz

2 Each Chocolate Chips each=12 oz package

Instructions for Chocolate Fudge “Ribbon”

1. For the chocolate fudge, melt 1 cup butter in large heavy sauce pan.

2. Stir in 2 (12 oz) cans evaporated milk and 8 cups sugar.

3. Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching (on

medium to medium high heat).

4. Bring to softball stage (235').

5. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted.

6. Add marshmellow cream, stirring until well blended.

7. Pour chocolate fudge mixture into 4 9 x 13 baking dishes.

8. While chocolate layer is cooling, make peanut butter fudge according to

instructions below.

Instructions for Peanut Butter Fudge “Ribbon”

1. Combine 4 cups brown sugar, 4 cups white sugar, 1 cups evaporated milk,

and 1/2 cup butter in heavy saucepan.

2. Cook until softball stage on medium (235'), stirring often.

3. Remove from stove.

4. Stir in marshmellows, peanut butter, and vanilla.

5. Stir until all is melted and begins to thicken.

6. Pour over the four pans of chocolate fudge once it is cooled somewhat.

7. Let all cool before cutting; may put in fridge or cool garage, etc. to

cool quicker.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas in the Car--reprint

Tonight as we drove home from an extended family Christmas gathering, reading aloud and singing, I was reminded of an old article I wrote for our newsletter several years ago—Christmas in the Car. I will post it in its entirety below—gotta sneak in those family times any chance we get as our kids get older!

From 2004:

If your children are growing up as fast as ours are, and if you travel distances to church, piano lessons, grandparents, etc. as we do, you might want to try some of our “Christmas in the Car” tips. Basically, every year I see the holiday time slipping away from us. The girls are taking college classes; off to Spanish or piano; teaching their own guitar, language arts, and piano students; working at their jobs; and more. Every time I think we’re going to have a sing-along/reading time tonight, someone announces that she has a Spanish test tomorrow and has to study all evening! Thus, our “Christmas in the Car” time was born.

We spend a great deal of time in the vehicle each week—driving to lessons, church, grandparents, etc.---all forty-five minutes away from us minimum. Being the efficiency expert that I am (of sorts!), I began utilizing this time in the vehicle to keep some of our holiday traditions alive. Try some of our “Christmas in the Car” ideas—and keep those traditions going strong:

*Sing carols as you drive.

*Listen to Christmas radio dramas (Focus on the Family has good ones), Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue Christmas stories, Christmas books on tape, Adventures in Oddysey Christmas stories, etc. as you are driving.

*Sing your way through the Christmas story. Start with “Mary, Did You Know?” and move on to “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem,” then move onto anything having to do with the shepherds (“The First Noel,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Angels We Have Heard on High”). Next move into the birth/after the birth with “Silent Night,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Away in a Manger,” and “We Three Kings.” Lastly, sing of the joy of his arrival: “Joy to the World” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

*Tell the Christmas story in one sentence increments as you go around the van, person-by-person. (This gets interesting with the little ones who might have them fleeing Herod’s wrath before Jesus is even born!)

*If a passenger can read without being sick, you might read your way through a favorite (pictureless) holiday book. We enjoy reading Cosmic Christmas by Max Lucado and The Birth by Gene Edwards. Everyone looks forward to reading another chapter the next time we get in the van.

*Likewise, we read “devotional” type books about Christmas while we drive. This year, we are enjoying short chapters in the book Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (see review). We have also enjoyed Christmas Stories From the Heart, The Christmas Reader, and more in years past.

*Use the driving time to memorize the Christmas story from the book of Luke. (We like to assign one verse to each person and go from person to person.)

*We enjoy memorizing all the verses from a certain Christmas song each year. In years past, we have memorized “Away in a Manger,” “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and “We Three Kings.” We can still sing most of the verses today!

*Drive by Christmas lights on your evening travels.

*Go through a drive-through or walk-through nativity while driving by one.

*Deliver goodies to those in route.

*Play “20 Questions Christmas-Style” or “Name That Christmas Tune.”

*New game: A person picks three things about the Christmas story that are really true or just thought to be true (or embellished, such as the little drummer boy playing for Jesus), and the others try to guess which two things are really in the Bible and which one is not. This is eye-opening.

*Sing whatever Christmas song you are reminded of by the decorations you see—stars, snowmen, angels, etc.

*Make up your own humorous twelve days of Christmas song, with each person getting to add their own items to the list as you sing around the van.

*Play the ABC Christmas game—“What I love about Christmas is A for angel, B for baby, C for candy, etc.” Go around and each person starts with A and tries to remember what was previously said. (This is a spin-off of the “I went to Grandma’s and I took A for applesauce, B for blankets, etc.)

*My personal favorite: Have someone write your holiday cooking and shopping list and holiday menus down for you while you drive and dictate to them. (Be forewarned: No comments about the spelling or penmanship are allowed when the child is done writing for you!)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Only By Comparison--reprint

This week I am going to run a lengthy article that I wrote several years ago about comparing our children’s behavior with others’ behavior—and the results of that comparison. If you have read Training for Triumph newsletters or articles at our TFT website, you might have already read this.

Even though it is long—and is a “re-run”—I think it’s worth repeating. As Christian parents, we can get caught up in the comparison game very quickly, without realizing the dangers of it—the dangers from thinking we are inferior AND the dangers of thinking we are superior. Thanks for joining us!

                “Only By Comparison”

                                        By Donna Reish

Many years ago I found a comic strip that became our family’s mantra. In it, Blondie and Dagwood sat at a restaurant with their four children. The kids misbehaved mildly—spilling drinks, bickering over the orange crayon, and asking for something expensive. However, in the background of the Bumstead’s restaurant booth, other little ones were out of control everywhere—swinging from the chandelier, standing on the table, throwing food from high chairs, and screaming. A couple approached Blondie and Dagwood and commented on how well-behaved their children were, to which the tired parents smiled and then turned to their offspring and said those words that ring too true: “Only by comparison."

 Through our years of parenting seven young children (especially once we had four or more eight and under), we were often stopped in public (as many large families are) and told that our children were behaving well. They sit so nicely. They don’t talk in church. They aren’t fighting when they get in or out of the van. And through the years we have told our children two things: Only by comparison and If your behavior was really good, someone would pay for our dinner like they did for the Prides. (Mary Pride, homeschool and family author, wrote in an article over twenty years ago that someone paid for her family’s meal not once, but twice, on the same vacation, due to well-behaved children.)

Those two lines became our family’s jokes through the years—we only look like we have well-behaved children because compared to biting, screaming, thrashing kids, you guys are great! People only think you are being quiet because compared to the noise level around us, you kids are practically whispering. And the old—when you guys are really, really good in a restaurant, we’ll know it because someone will pay for our meal.

Without even saying (or thinking) the phrase, Only by comparison, Christian parents today often pat themselves on the back, rejoice, and sometimes, dare I say it, even gloat—because compared to much of children’s behavior that is permitted today, our kids are doing okay. And we develop a false sense of security in our children’s Christian development and a Pharisaical attitude about our parenting.

Our kids might fight and say mean things to each other, but at least they aren’t doing what the neighbor kids do—cussing each other out and squealing out of the neighborhood at twice the posted speed limit. Our kids might not listen and respect the pastor as much as we would like for them to—but at least they’re not texting other teens and playing games on their cell phones during the service like the kids two rows up are doing. Our kids might not work as hard as we think they should on their chores and household responsibilities, but at least they do a job or two each day—unlike a nephew or niece who never does anything around the house. And on and on it goes. And yet it is all only by comparison.

Case in point one: A couple of years ago Josiah (then ten; child #6) had a bad case of strep throat and ended up dehydrated and very sick. He was admitted into the hospital for eighteen hours to rehydrate, gets some iv antibiotics, etc. He went in at eight pm and came home the next afternoon. In the course of eighteen hours, for some reason still unknown to us, Josiah received an award—patient of the week. Now, remember he was only there for eighteen hours—and at least ten of those were spent sleeping. During the eight hours he was awake, I had to tell him at least a dozen times to quit asking so many questions when a nurse came in the room. (“Where does that lead to?” “How does that give fluid?” “What’s in that fluid?” etc. etc.) What did Josiah do in eight hours of precocious questioning that warranted him the “patient of the week” award? Nothing—that’s the point. He didn’t do anything bad. He didn’t complain, fuss, fight with me or the nurses, throw fits, argue, or disagree. He got an award not because he did anything great—he got an award because he didn’t do anything bad. Talk about low expectations! Josiah is a great kid with tons of character; however, this award didn’t make us especially proud of him. We would have been proud of him if he had gotten an award for helping the nurses straighten the parent room or for encouraging another sick child or for cleaning up his toothpaste in the sink. But he got an award simply because he wasn’t bad. Only by comparison.

More recently, I was editing at McDonald’s (my favorite editing spot, believe it or not) with Jacob, then age nine (child #7). He was taking a “recess” from his school work and went to play in the play area. After a little while, he came back out to me with an elderly lady following close behind him. He said, “Mom, this lady wants to meet you.” I introduced myself, and the lady said that Jacob was being such a good boy in there that she had to come out and find out for herself what his mom had done to raise him that way. She went on and on about well-mannered he was, how he didn’t fight with the other kids, etc. etc. Then she questioned me about how we “kept him from being like the other kids in there.” She then shook both of our hands and left, telling us that she was going to tell everyone she knew about this little boy and his homeschooling mommy. After she left, I asked Jacob what he had done to earn him such accolades, to which he replied, “I didn’t do anything, but the kids in there were really bad today, so maybe I just seemed good because they were being really bad.” Only by comparison.

The problem is widespread in Christianity—and it has invaded our parenting, forcing our parenting standards to go down lower and lower—lower than they were, but still a notch above the person or persons we are comparing to! Too often Christian parents base their performance in parenting on how poorly someone around us is parenting—and we try to at least hover above that level.

This ought not to be! Christian parenting should not be about looking, seeming, or feeling better than those around us. It should be about excellence. It should be about high expectations. It should be about pleasing God in our parenting—not others, and certainly not ourselves!

I have a list (of course!) of suggestions for those of us who seem to be sliding down into “normalcy” or “sub-par” parenting due to false and unhealthy comparisons. (And even after nearly twenty-eight years of “doin’ the Christian parenting stuff,” I still fall into that trap myself at times!)

Tips for NOT sliding into the “only by comparison” parenting model:

1. Prayerfully seek God on your current parenting approach. Is it based on how children around you act? Are you basking in the fact that your kids’ behavior is better than another family’s kids’ behavior? Do you relish the idea that compared to other young people, your teens are not “really that bad”?

2. Do you treat others whose parenting skills are not as well-established (or whose are different) as yours in a condescending or “holier than thou” way? I think we would be surprised how what we see as “confidence” or “certainty” in our parenting approach can appear to others to be pride—and actually hurt them (and unnecessarily cause them to suffer from the “comparison syndrome”).

3. Do you feel yourself slipping into a mediocrity or “only by comparison” mentality? Purpose to measure your parenting—and your children’s behavior---by God’s Word and character, not by those around you. You know in your heart of hearts that absence of bad does not necessarily mean good. God wants us to strive to live our lives fully for Him—and raise our children to do the same, not just to live in such a way that we avoid “the bad.”

4. Try to steer clear of the “putting out fires” approach to parenting. Yes, we do have to solve problems, but we should be teaching, training, and discipling all the time—not just correcting negative behaviors. Use teachable moments to instruct in righteousness, such as pointing out how others feel (empathy), discussing helpfulness and opportunities to serve (selflessness), talking about taking the high road (decisiveness), illuminating good morals (virtuousness)--encouraging godly character in our kids’ everyday lives.

5. Focus on our children’s interactions with each other and us. The way our children treat their parents and each other will eventually be the way they treat others in their lives in the future. If they are consistently selfish or hateful to a brother, they will likely not have good relationships with co-workers. If they are disrespectful to us, they will probably not respect their future spouse. All relationship and character training begins at home. It is a constant magnifying glass to show us parents exactly what our children are becoming.

6. Fill their lives with stories of good—not just stories of absence of bad. We have made it a practice to read biographical material aloud nearly every school day for the past twenty years. Reading about how Hudson Taylor gave up his daily comforts of a soft mattress and rich foods or how Amy Carmichael put her own life in danger to save children or how William Borden gave up great riches to bring people to Christ will eventually leave their mark on your children. (They also give us points of reference for discussion: Remember how decisive Hudson Taylor was before he ever left for China? What did William Borden discover about worldly riches?)

We have found out through the years that the only by comparison parenting mode does not result in good parenting—or well-behaved children. However, our second mantra, if your behavior had really been good, somebody would pay for our dinner, eventually did pay off. When Joshua turned fourteen, he chose Red Lobster for his birthday dinner (back when we could afford sit down restaurants for birthdays!), and we enjoyed the meal together—only to be approached by a couple who commented on the children’s behavior and slid Ray a $100 bill* for our food. The kids were ecstatic—and we were pretty happy parents. The children felt they had finally done it—they had, had good enough behavior to earn a free meal. And we were not out the money for an expensive meal. I wouldn’t want to get in the habit of paying my kids for good behavior—but I sure enjoyed this windfall!

Charlie Brown Christmas (reprint)

“Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.” Harriet Van Horne in the “New York World Telegram” December 1965

Every year our family enjoys reading about Christmas traditions and songs—how they began, what they mean, etc. One of my favorite readings is the story of how “A Charlie Brown Christmas” came about—and continues to bless people today. Read my “story behind the Charlie Brown Christmas” below aloud to your family—then watch the movie (or at least check out the given links from youtube). Have fun!

On Thursday, December 9, 1965 (nearly fifty years ago!), “A Charlie Brown Christmas” made its debut on CBS on television screens all over the United States. Surprising the network executives, this darling Christmas story was an immediate hit. It seems that its creator, Charles Schulz, battled with the powers-that-be at the network concerning the show’s religious content (CBS thought it was too religious) and the kids’ voices (citing that they should be professional actors, not children). Additionally, they felt that Vince Guaraldi’s theme music was too modern for kids’ tastes. (The jazz soundtrack has, by the way, become a classic.)

Rumor has it that through the years it has been suggested that Linus’ reading of the Christmas story from Luke be taken out of the movie. However, forty-five years later, this classic still contains that powerful passage from Luke, those sweet child voices, and that catchy music*—and each year the true story of Jesus’ birth and the reason for the season—is proclaimed via the secular media.

Check out the links below to watch excerpts of this classic Christmas story: AND  and

*Note: Parts of the show were removed to make space for more commercials, but the spiritual and sweet parts remain.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Innkeeper poem --free short video

John Piper, reading his short poem, "The Innkeeper." This story is eleven minutes long, but if you are looking for something shorter to show for church or other event, there is a link to a shorter version of it in the link below.

Colors of Christmas---reprint

One of the essays we have in one of our upcoming creative writing books is one about the “colors of Christ.” In it, students can write for children (i.e. think the wordless salvation book or color salvation bracelet concept), or they can write a general essay, spending one paragraph per color representing salvation. I have always liked the concept of explaining salvation through color—especially with children and the “wordless salvation book," so I was especially thrilled with how this essay project has come about.

Along that same line, Lisa Welchel, in her book “The ADVENTure of Christmas,” describes the colors of Christmas—and incorporating the colors of Christmas in your advent celebration with your children. The information below was gleaned from that book. (I recommended this book last week when we first pulled it out for our yearly Christmas read-aloud—see link there for more information.)

Some of the colors that are generally ascribed special meanings for Christmas include, but are not limited to the following:

Green—suggests “life” and is reflected in the ever green tree

Red—reminds us of the blood of Jesus shed for us and is reflected in berries and other “red” décor

White—represents the purity of the spotless Lamb and is reflected in snow of the season

Gold—denotes the royalty of Christ (or the wise men’s gifts) and is reflected in ornaments, tinsel, and more

Silver—reminds us that Christ’s sacrifice was paid for in full and is reflected in icicles, stars, and more

Yellow—reminds us that Christ came to bring light and is reflected in candle flames, stars, and more

Of course, there are more colors that can be included in an explanation of the “colorful” Christmas traditions and the birth of Christ—the wise men’s “purple” clothing and the fact that purple represents kingship; blackness of the December night—and the fact that we are in darkness before the star shone to lead us to Christ, and much more.

Tomorrow—colored popcorn recipe to add an object lesson to your colorful Christmas teaching!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Do Ahead Whenever You Can!

I have been a freezer cook for twenty-two years now, but in addition to that, I am truly a "do ahead Momma"! If there is anything that I can do ahead of time to make things run more smoothly later, I try to capitalize on that opportunity (or at least assign it to a child's chore list!).

Here are some examples of some do-aheads that I have done in the kitchen recently to make the next morning or later better:

1. Cook up three pounds of turkey bacon and bag up in fridge for egg frittatas and salads later.
2. Cut up green peppers, onions, celery, and red peppers and bag in fridge for stir fries later.
3. Cream several bars of cream cheese and stick in fridge to pull out some for cheeseballs and cheesecake filling later that week.
4. Fry up eggs, onions, and meat for breakfast pizza--stick in fridge and pull out and assemble quickly.
5. Chop nuts and bag up to sprinkle on a couple of desserts I was going to need them for.
6. Peel and cube potatoes (okay, the boys did it) and put in huge pan of water Saturday night so I can just cook and mash quickly Sunday afternoon.
7. Boil eggs, drain, and put in bag in fridge for salads and quick breakfasts/lunches.
8. Cut ham steaks in chunks to have ready to stir into potato casserole the next day when it is nearly finished baking.
9. Cube Velveeta and bag to make dip the next day.
10. Cook up hamburger and stick in fridge to use over the next couple of days for hamburger stew and taco meat.

Just to get you started....."do aheads" make things easier later!