Monday, December 20, 2010

"It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like"...STRESS!

As I write this I’m sitting in the Comox airport waiting for a flight that will take me to Edmonton after a week long vacation on beautiful Vancouver Island. I’ll arrive in Edmonton around 5:00 this afternoon and then get up at 5:30 the next morning to drive back to Calgary for a meeting early Monday afternoon, drive out to Sunshine Ski resort for a late afternoon meeting, and then drag my body, screaming in protest from the time difference, back to Calgary to meet my step-daughter for dinner before she has to drive back home to Manitoba. Tuesday morning I’ll mount a protest as I drag myself out of bed to the sounds of Christmas music emanating from the radio fixed on Shine FM, blast myself awake with a scalding hot shower and get on the road for Lethbridge for the day. Sound familiar? Maybe not the travel schedule but you can probably relate to the early morning and action packed days.
I look around at the people in the airport, watching the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle. Children wearing red santa hats and people holding bright bouquets of flowers anxiously mill around the arrival lounge, waiting with anticipation to be reunited with their family and loved ones for the holidays. On the departure side security is buzzing with activity. Travelers with carry on packages fidget impatiently in long lines, waiting their turn to practically strip down and pass through metal detectors, pat downs and explosive swab tests. I study the nameless faces as they pass by, yes “it is beginning to look a lot like”...wait a minute...what’s that I see etched deep into travelers’ faces and hidden behind forced smiles? Perhaps not “Christmas” as the song says, but...yes...that’s it...STRESS!
It’s less than a week before Christmas. Have you found yourself over the last week or so staying up late at night to decorate the house, bake the traditional Christmas goodies, shop for gifts, wrap presents, clean the house, prepare for guests, or any other number of chores we feel need to be done before we celebrate Christmas? It’s so easy to get caught up in “Christmas mania” and forget what the season of Advent is really about—a quiet time of reflection and preparation. Not preparation for dinner, or preparation for family, or preparation for gift giving, but preparation to welcome a tiny baby, the Saviour, Jesus Christ, into our hearts. In our busy lives we lose focus of this real reason for the celebration of Christmas and instead become hamsters on the perpetual wheel – always running but getting nowhere!  Christmas celebrations have become more challenging than ever with blended families, step-parents, step-children, step-grandparents, in-laws, out-laws, immediate family, visitation schedules and everything else that piles in on top of us.
I hope this will be a gentle reminder to me and to anyone reading it that the decorations DON’T need to be perfect, the house DOESN’T have to be immaculate, the baking DOESN’T have to get done and we don’t NEED all the gifts.  December 25 will arrive whether the house is decorated or not. The birthday of our Saviour and King will come regardless of whether all the traditional baking is done. Don’t miss the real reason for Christmas. Don’t miss the awe and wonder of what happened in a stable some two thousand years ago. “She gave birth to a son...wrapped him in a blanket and laid him a manager…” Luke 2:7 “The angel said, don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Saviour has just been born in David’s town, a Saviour who is Messiah and Master…” Luke 2:10-11. Amen!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Easiest Snack Mix Recipe...EVER!

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting a lady who is a woman after my own heart sharing my love of baking and experimenting with new recipes. She shared with me what I am convinced is the absolute, EASIEST recipe in the world for a snack mix!!! No baking required, 10 minutes start to finish and very little clean up required. Tastes great, easy to make, low stress, what else could you ask for in a Christmas snack recipe! The hardest part of this recipe is finding a large brown paper bag (yes this is part of the recipe)!  Check your local grocery store to see if they'll bag your groceries in paper rather than plastic. (If you're in Calgary check out the Calgary Co-op)  So here's the recipe...


1 box Crispix cereal (or Shreddies if you prefer)
1 box mini Ritz crackers
1 bag cheddar Fishie crackers
1 bag pretzel sticks
As many peanuts as you want...or none if you wish (I used almonds and macadamia nuts)
1 envelope Hidden Valley Ranch Original Dressing Mix (dry) - find it in the salad dressing aisle
1/2 cup vegetable oil (you can use a little less if you like)
2 - 3 tablespoons dill weed

There are no rules to this recipe - use any combination of ingredients you want in whatever combination you like.

Here's the fun part...put all the cereal, crackers, fishies, pretzels and nuts in a large brown paper bag. Pour oil, ranch dressing mix and dill weed directly into the bag. Close bag and shake for a few minutes (good way of taking out frustrations, too). 

You can store the snack mix at room temperature or if you want to keep it for a long period of time put it in a container in the freezer. It's just hard to not eat it all at once!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Savoury Blended Christmas Traditions


Advent is here and so begins a time of preparation – a time of preparing our hearts, our minds and our lives to welcome a tiny baby, the son of God, born humbly into this world.  A baby whose birth some 2000 years ago continues to make a huge difference in people’s lives today.

I want to share with you a recipe for Nuts and Bolts that makes a fabulous, salty snack that kids and adults alike love!  It’s easy to make, tastes way better (in my humble opinion) than the ones you’ll buy in the store, and makes great hostess gifts over the holidays.  But before the recipe, the story behind it...

My mother was a great cook and baker.  The weeks leading up to Christmas were always exciting – the kitchen air was thick with the spicy, sweet, homey scents of baking and you could almost see the scent waves wafting through the air.  You could certainly follow them with your nose!  One of the many traditional treats in our house was homemade nuts and bolts.  As a kid I loved to take a pretzel stick from the bowl, push small, round Cherrios on either end and pretend it was a car driving across the table!  Of course I enjoyed eating the cars after I was finished playing with them!

In January of the year I turned fifteen my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  She died in December of the same year, just two weeks before Christmas.  When I was in my early twenties my father met a lovely woman and re-married.  Beryl, my step-mother, also enjoyed baking. She had her own traditional Christmas goodies, one of which (low and behold) was nuts and bolts. She used a slightly different recipe, giving the finished product a little more zing (and a lot more garlic!).  We welcomed Beryl and her traditional baking into our Christmas celebrations and the recipe you see at the end of this story is the result of blending my mother’s recipe with Beryl’s recipe for a taste sensation that is savoury, salty and sensational!

Christmas traditions change over the years as our families and lives change. My family’s traditions changed after my mother died. They changed again, and became blended with some of Beryl’s traditions, when she joined our family and yet again when my father sold the farm where we grew up as children. Traditions continued to change and evolve when my father died, when my marriage ended, and now as I start a new marriage it’s a time of change again. I’d like to encourage you this advent season to think about the Christmas traditions you try to honour. If there are some from your childhood or your past that you need to let go of, give yourself permission to do so.  Perhaps you’re secretly still clinging to some traditions in your heart.  Don’t give up the memories, allow yourself to grieve the loss of these traditions, the same way you grieved the situations that led up to the loss.  All I’m saying is don’t allow your grief over the loss of the past to prevent you from experiencing the joy that new traditions can bring to you and your family in the present.

Remember, family comes in many different shapes, sizes and configurations.  I’m happy to say that over the years, Beryl has become a cherished member of our family and also one of my best friends!  Maybe this year your family includes a friend or neighbour whose spouse has died.  Maybe it includes a friend who is going through a divorce and is alone for the first time at Christmas, maybe it’s someone from your church or work who has no family. Perhaps it’s a new step-child or maybe you’re experiencing Christmas for the first time as a single parent. Whatever form your family finds itself in this year, remember that blended families can be just as spicy and savoury as blended recipes – you don’t have to stick to “time-honoured” traditions, give yourself the freedom to start some new ones today. 

You’ll need two big roasting pans – if you don’t have these, that’s OK...go to the grocery store and buy 2 aluminum foil roasters (they’ll cost around $5 to $6 for two). You can wash them and re-use them next year.

1 box (620 g) Shreddies
1 box (260 g) Cherrios
1 box (350 g) Crispix
2 lbs Spanish peanuts
1 or 2 packages pretzel sticks

Divide the cereals, peanuts and pretzels evenly between the two roasters – getting approximately the same amount of each cereal in each pan.  Feel free to adjust the amount of pretzels to your liking – I prefer to use two packages but some people like less pretzels.

Mix 2 tablespoons soya sauce and add enough Worcestershire sauce to equal ½ cup.

In a pot on the stove melt 2 cups butter or margarine and add 1 cup cooking oil. (Yes, I know it looks like a whole lot of fat in that pot – remember it’s spread out over all that cereal so you’ll only be eating a little at time! That’s my rationale anyway! J) Then add the soya sauce and Worcestershire mixture. 
Add 2 generous tablespoons of each of the following:
onion salt 
garlic salt
celery salt
And 2 teaspoons paprika

Cook the sauce mixture slightly to dissolve the spices (they won’t quite all dissolve but that’s OK).  Now pour the sauce gradually over the cereal in the roasters, stirring as you pour so everything is evenly coated.

Bake at 225 degrees F for 1 ½ hours – stirring every 15 minutes.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pumpkin Pudding Cake

In keeping with the pumpkin theme for fall I thought I'd share another great pumpkin recipe.  This pudding/cake is a quick, easy dessert for any day of the week and tastes great!

4 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 large can pumpkin pie filling - be sure it's got the spices in it - not just plain pumpkin
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups milk
1 white cake mix
1/2 cup melted butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray. Combine eggs, sugar, pumpkin, spices and salt, mixing well. Slowly add the milk and mix until smooth. Pour the mixture into the baking dish. In a separate bowl combine the cake mix with the melted butter and mix until a crumbly mixture is formed. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the pumpkin mixture and bake for 1 1/4 hours.  You can serve this hot or cold - try it with ice cream or whipped cream.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

When You're Just Too Miserable To Pray

How does one worship from the depths of despair or from a hospital bed?  When we’re at our lowest, how do we find the drive or energy to come to God in prayer? I’ve been fighting a valiant, although losing battle with the latest flu/cold virus and succumbed to it’s nasty clutches over a week ago. As I lay immobile on the couch, sweating from the fever and popping throat lozenges and cough drops  as though they were Lindt chocolate truffles rather than some horrible tasting medicated sugar concoction, I wondered how people find the energy or motivation to come to God in prayer when life has thrown them into a pit of misery or despair. I certainly felt as though I was in my own personal pit, although I understand that a week long battle with a flu virus is very minor compared to a life long battle with cancer, multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, Alzheimer’s, depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, anorexia, abuse or any other number of illnesses or struggles that threaten to cast people into their own pits of despair.

Prior to getting sick I was doing so well, having my quiet Bible reading and prayer time with God.   That ended abruptly when all I was interested in doing was lying on the couch and pressing play on the remote control for the DVD player hoping it would whisk me into a world of oblivion while watching repeats of the  1990’s hit sitcom “Home Improvements”. What happened to my drive and desire to spend time with God? Somewhere deep inside I felt the tiniest flicker of that drive but the energy to take action and pray just wasn’t there. The best I seemed to manage was a silent prayer in my mind thanking God for each day and praying that the next one would be better.

I’ve wrestled with this question since, “how do we pray when we’re just too sick or too depressed?” and I’m not sure that I’ve really got a satisfactory answer. I think the ability to worship God and continue prayerfully when we’re living in pits of despair comes from developing a strong, close relationship with God outside of the pit. If we work at developing this close relationship in the good times, it becomes easier for us to look to God and trust in His goodness when times become more difficult.  Remember, we have the Holy Spirit on our side. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Roman 8:26 NIV) When all you’ve got to offer God is “wordless groans” (and there were a lot of those on the couch last week) remember that He is with you always. The Holy Spirit is there, offering prayers up to God when you can’t find the energy or words to do it yourself.

Another important aspect of Christianity is living in community. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends or family to share your problems. Find a person you feel comfortable with, someone you trust,  and share your struggles with them. Ask them to intercede in prayer for you. When we can’t pray ourselves, the community of faith steps in to pray for us. Sharing our struggles and problems with other people isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of a supportive community who cares for one another as Christ cares for us. Make sure that you are open to listening to someone today. Take the time to be a compassionate listener, to pray with someone close to you and to make a difference in someone’s life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


For years I’ve lived in fear of people’s opinions. I’ve allowed these fears to shape my words, opinions and actions. The taunting, teasing words of ridicule from my teenage years slashed deep into my heart leaving ugly, jagged, emotional scars.  Like a thief, fear seized my confidence, depriving me of the ability to speak my opinion without fear of judgment. Today as I go live with this blog I discard this fear like clothing that no longer fits properly!

Most people who have gone to church or been exposed to any Christian teaching are familiar with the apostle Paul. When we first meet Paul he is introduced as a zealous persecutor of early Christians. His personal mandate is to arrest and persecute as many Christians as he possibly can. He HATES these new believers that are proclaiming Jesus as the risen Christ. But one day while marching down a dusty road Paul has a personal encounter with Jesus. That’s all it takes – one encounter – to change Paul from persecutor to “persecutee”. From that very day Paul is compelled to share the good news of his risen Lord and Saviour with the world.  Is his life in danger? Absolutely! Paul understands better than anyone the consequences of being associated with the Christian movement. He wrote the book on persecution! He is arrested, beaten, thrown in prison, threatened with death on a regular basis, and on top of all of that, bitten by a poisonous snake! Was he afraid?  Wouldn’t you be? Paul doesn’t allow his fear to conquer him.  His faith in Christ is stronger that his fear of persecution. He continues to write, to teach, to preach and to proclaim the good news about the risen Christ despite the hardships he suffers.

I live in Canada, a country where we experience freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  These freedoms come with a price...the lives of our Canadian soldiers. Soldiers still leave family and friends today, believing with all their hearts that fighting for justice and freedom is worth the sacrifice they make...worth their very lives. Families around the world are without mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandsons or granddaughters because of wars – they’ve been lost as victims of war or as defenders of freedom and justice...lives lost...gone forever.

The price of giving in to fear is too high to remain silent any longer –the price of Jesus’ death on the cross and the price of freedom to speak in this country. The chains of fear no longer bind me. I’ve left them at the cross. Today I begin a new life, free to speak out and share my adventures of faith with Jesus as my Saviour.

 In the words of Paul, “So what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing Himself to the worst by sending His own Son, is there anything else He wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? ... Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing...None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us... absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Romans 8:31-39 The Message Translation

What’s your fear today? What’s holding you back from experiencing the freedom in Christ we’re meant to enjoy? Have you been deeply, emotionally wounded as a child, teenager or adult? Are you facing an uncertain future with your health, your job, your marriage or your children? Are you struggling as a caregiver to elderly parents or an ill spouse? Whatever your fear I encourage you to seek the face of Christ, reach out and ask someone to pray for you and seek help to overcome your fears. We’re not meant to live in fear, we’re meant to live in freedom!

Pumpkin Loaf

With fall well upon us there's a multitude of pumpkin and squash available. Try this fabulous recipe for pumpkin loaf for a tasty fall treat!


1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup canola oil
1 cup canned pumpkin
½ cup raisins
½ cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Grease and flour a 9 x 5” loaf pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  In another bowl, beat eggs until light, add sugar and oil and beat until fluffy; beat in pumpkin until well blended.  Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all dry ingredients are moistened.  Stir in raisins and pecans.  Pour batter into loaf pan and bake at 325° F for 1 ¼ hours, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 30 minutes; then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.