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” d├ęcor

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!

Free Online Advent Calendar

Sheri Graham, of Graham Family Ministries, knows where all the goodies are! She just sent through another great link—this time a free online advent calendar. With the internet and all of the *freebies* available therein, we have no excuse for not doing great things with our kids all year round!

Click on the link below to get your free online advent calendar!