Christmas Countdown C -5

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Party Pizzas

1 loaf party rye bread

1 jar pizza sauce

shredded mozzarella cheese

Pre-heat oven 350 degrees. Place rye bread on ungreased cookie sheet. Bread may be place close together. Drop spoonful of pizza sauce on each slice of bread and spread around bread. Sprinkle top of pizzas with cheese. Place in oven for 5-10 minutes until sauce bubbles and cheese melts. Serve immediately.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Lack of Status The Shepherds

Lesson Verse Luke 2:8-20

Introduction

On the night Jesus was born, the angel appeared to one of the most under appreciated groups in the community. The angel had appeared first to Zechariah, a priest. Then to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Then to Joseph, husband of Mary and father on Earth of Jesus. The three of them are held in high regard. We understand why the angel appeared to all of them, why the angel had a message for them. Why did God send His angel to the shepherds? For me, this is the most important appearance of all.

Key Points

  • The shepherds were considered unclean
  • They lived on the fringe of society
  • The shepherds were welcomed at the stable

The shepherds were considered unclean

The shepherds lived outside of town, staying with their sheep. They lived and worked with animals so the shepherds were considered unclean. They were not allowed to associate with other people in the community because they were unclean. If they touched someone else, it would make that person unclean, a condition that could only be corrected through a cleansing ritual. Therefore, the shepherds kept to themselves.

They lived on the fringe of society

Like most people who are scorned and held in low regard, the shepherds lived on the fringe of society. They stayed with their sheep, keeping them safe from harm. Living on the fringe, the shepherds might not have known much about their faith. We don’t know what their background might be. Did they come from a family of shepherds? Did they have no family? Did their family stay with them? Shepherds didn’t seem to associate with the people in the cities. They stayed out in the wilderness where their sheep could find food and water. The shepherds never left their sheep, allowing them to protect their flock from any harm.

The shepherds were welcomed at the stable

I imagine the shepherds hesitated to go into town. The angel, however, told them where they would find this very special child so they went to see Him. If there had been room at the Inn, if Mary had given birth to the baby in a room there, the shepherds might not have felt comfortable going inside. They might nave been stopped from entering. The baby was born in a stable, though, as place the shepherds felt very comfortable in. Not only did they feel comfortable entering the stable, they found they were welcomed by Mary and Joseph.

Even as a new born child, Jesus was able to reach out to the lowest in society and the highest, with the Kings. Everyone was welcome into the presence of the Child.

Faith Vs Fear

All of us find ourselves in situations where we feel intimidated. Your fear in the situation, the people may overcome your faith in yourself. You might have a strong desire to simply stay home. I’m sure some of the shepherds hesitated to seek the newborn child. They found comfort in the hills with their sheep. Then they took a breath and stepped out to see this baby for themselves. And what a wise decision that turned out to be? Who knows how their lives were impacted by their encounter with the Christ Child.

Like the shepherds, you have no idea what you might encounter when you step out of your comfort zone this Holiday season. Even if you don’t have a life changing moment like the shepherds, you may experience something you never imagined happening. None of us know what awaits us on the other side of the door, the other side of our comfort zone. Like the shepherds, you need to step out in faith, having confidence in, if not yourself, then the Lord who only wants the best for you.

For Today

The shepherds were outsiders yet God, through the angels, invited them to be among the first to see the Christ Child. Leaving the safety and comfort of the fields, they took a bold step and went to find the Child.

You may find God calling you to go somewhere outside your comfort zone or to do something that makes you uncertain. Time to take a breath and step out boldly!

The lives of the shepherds had to have been changed by their encounter with Jesus. Such a small act had such a deep impact on our society. Even as an infant, Jesus was in the company of everyone in society, even those seen as outcasts or those on the fringe.

Your life may be changed by stepping out into the world and going where God leads. This doesn’t mean He is going to send you anywhere dangerous just somewhere outside your comfort zone. Perhaps a women’s group in another church or working at a shelter. Wherever it might be, you can rest assured you never go alone. Just like the shepherds, wherever God leads you, you always find Jesus there!

Christmas Countdown C -6

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Baked Spaghetti

My cousin, Mary would always prepare this dish for family gatherings. It is simple, filling and may be prepared ahead of time. I am able to expand this recipe as needed, enabling me to make more than one pan of spaghetti at a time. 

  • 12 oz pasta
  • 1 lb ground meat
  • 1 small onion, chopped (or ½ cup frozen chopped onions)
  • 2 small cans tomato sauce
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 cubes beef bouillon
  • seasoning as listed 

Preheat oven to 350. Brown ground meat. Drain and set aside.

Boil 1 ½ quarts water in a large stock pot. Add bouillon cubes and allow to dissolve. Add 1 tablespoon oil to boiling water. Add pasta. Stir to prevent sticking. Cook pasta until just tender.  DO NOT DRAIN.

Add tomato sauce and paste. Season with 1 tablespoon crushed garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, 1 tablespoon basil and salt and pepper. Blend thoroughly.

Add meat. Mix. Pour mixture into large flat baking dish. It will look sloppy. Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Bake one hour or until firm. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Cut into squares.

The Third Saturday in Advent

How Much Are You Worth to God?

I mean it. How much do you think you are worth to God? Yes, it’s easy to recite the verse above that tells you that God takes care of the needs of sparrows and you are worth more than them so He will take care of you. Reciting the verse, knowing the verse, however, is not the same as believing the verse.

The Lord sees to the needs of every creature on Earth and this includes YOU! You are made in His image. His Son died for YOU! Why would you think for a moment that there is ANYTHING He wouldn’t do for you, as long as it was in keeping with His rules?

No parent wants to see one of their children suffering. This is true for God as well. He doesn’t want to see you suffer. He doesn’t like to see so much stress in your life. He wants to help you ease your stress, to help you enjoy the season. Remember the sparrows and know that He cares for you even more than He does them.

Christmas Countdown C -7

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Happy Holiday  Hosting

Shaunna Privratsky

Holiday parties are festive, fun and bring together friends and families. But hosting one can become a nightmare. From the decorations to the last goodbye, there are so many things that can go awry; it is enough to make you pull a Scrooge and order takeout the entire holiday season.

Put down that phone!  Here are some easy hints on getting organized, picking the right menu and easy entertaining.

  1. The first step is to make lists. Start a holiday notebook. Write down guest lists, a menu, shopping lists for food, decorations and other party necessities. Being organized is half the battle.
  2. Simple = stress-free. Keep it simple with a few well-planned dishes instead of tons of unusual or fussy foods.
  3. Keep your guests in mind when planning the menu. Ask about food allergies and preferences like vegetarian diets, low-cholesterol, or sugar-free diets.
  4. Bite-size is best for easy appetizers. If serving a dipping sauce, provide individual serving containers to avoid “double-dipping.” 
  5. Ready at room temperature. If you don’t want to be constantly running back to the kitchen to heat things up, serve at least half of the food at room temperature or rent food warmers.
  6. Preparation is key. Do as much as possible ahead of time. Decorate, set the tables, add extra seating, cook ahead as many dishes as you can and your night will go much smoother.
  7. Be generous. It is better to have too much food and beverages than not enough. You can always send leftovers with guests or freeze them for an impromptu gathering another time.
  8. Stick with the season. Fruits and vegetables in season are cheaper and fresher, so use them in your dishes and even decor for a festive look.
  9. The decor sets the theme of your party, but don’t be overwhelmed. Simple ideas are votive candles tucked in pine branches nipped from a wreath or tree, a bowl of pinecones, or even elegant candles on a simple white or clear plate. Add extra bling with a gold doily or a bowl of bright Christmas ornaments.   
  10. Invite them right. Be specific about appropriate dress, the extent of food and beverages and the duration of the party. Setting these guidelines makes it easier for people to plan to have a wonderful time at your get together.
  11. Buffet style is best. It gives guests the freedom to help themselves and there is little for you to do, other than to replenish the food. Bring full platters instead of just adding items to a half-empty plate.
  12. Make sure there is plenty to drink, whether it is alcoholic or not. Provide at least a few beverage choices for guests and plenty of glasses. Most liquor stores offer free ice with a purchase, so don’t forget to stock up.
  13.   Music puts people at ease and helps the conversation flow. Depending on the crowd, soft jazz or classical music competes less than other types of music. This will set the tone for the evening, so choose your music in advance.
  14. Fill your home with the scents of the season. Make a large pot of apple cider on the stove, complete with cinnamon sticks. Have mugs and a ladle ready.
  15. Add a drop of peppermint oil to a burning candle. The minty smell will permeate the place and add a touch of spice.
  16. Warm up a batch of gingerbread and add it to the buffet treats.
  17. Keep track of everything in your holiday notebook. Note what worked, what didn’t and ideas on doing things easier next time. Yes, I said next time.

Oh, no!  Company is on the way and you haven’t had a chance to decorate. You search frantically for some snowman napkins or some leftover garland, but you come up empty. Before you start flinging Christmas-themed tissues around the room, take a deep breath and read these tips. Don’t worry – it is never too late to decorate.

Here are ten simple ways to get your home in the holiday spirit in a hurry. I’ve also included a bonus tip for each idea if you have a little more time. Most, if not all, can be accomplished with the things you have around your house.

1. Cut a few pine branches from the tree and place in a large vase, an old tin bucket or a big pitcher. Take the lower or hidden branches to avoid bare spots. Place in the center of the table.

Bonus tip:  Wrap the container with a cheerful ribbon.

2. Gather five to seven candles, preferably all in the same color for more impact. Red, ivory, white, gold or silver are festive holiday colors. Arrange on a fancy platter or large plate.

Bonus tip: Sprinkle Christmas potpourri or pinecones around the edge of the plate. Another option is a layer of sugar, to simulate snow.

3. Fill a large glass vase or clear jar with tiny Christmas balls. Pick a single color or mix and match.

Bonus tip: Place one ball by each plate with a personalized tag. Let them take it home as a parting gift.

4. Take a tall, cylindrical vase and put candy canes all around it. Hook the short end over the edge and let the long side dangle.

Bonus tip:  Put about a half pound of sugar into two bowls. Add a few drops of red food coloring to one bowl and stir until the sugar turns red. Now layer the white and red sugar in the vase to form stripes.

5. Place three matching presents in the center of the table. You can use the presents from under the tree, or wrap some empty boxes if you have time.

Bonus tip: Use matching tags as place settings. 

6. Take one of your large pictures down and wrap it in fancy paper. Re-hang.

Bonus tip:  Put a fancy ribbon over mirrors and doorways.

7. Turn the lights off and eat by candlelight and Christmas lights. For some extra dazzle, take a clear string of lights and wrap it around the centerpiece on the table. Make sure you unplug it when you’re finished.

Bonus tip:  Replace a few light bulbs in your lamps with colored bulbs. Red lends a cheery glow, while blue or green is very mellow.

8. Scatter a few holiday rugs around. Doorways, the foot of the stairs, in front of the sink, in the guest bedroom and bathrooms are all great places for a cheerful rug.

Bonus tip:  Pick up deeply discounted rugs and welcome mats during the after Christmas sales so you’ll be ready for next season’s festivities.

9. Put out a bowl of pinecones. Spray with non-stick spray, and then sprinkle with sugar. It will look like snow.

Bonus tip:  Simmer a small pot of apple juice or two cups of water and a cut up apple on the stove. Add a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Your home will smell like an apple pie baking.

10. Set up a manger scene in an unexpected place like the dining room table, on the television stand or the coffee table. It will remind you and your guests of the true reason for the season.

Bonus tip:  Have the youngest child tell the Christmas story.

The next time you are crunched for time, just try some of these quick ideas. Even when you’re in crisis mode, it is never too late to decorate. Hey, isn’t that your doorbell?

Now that your guests have arrived, where do you put them?  Most of us don’t have enough space to designate a whole room for guests. Yet, even if you have many uses for the “spare” room, you want an inviting space for your visitors. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have the best for your guests.

First of all, there should be a sleeping area. Look for furniture that does double duty. For example, futons combine seating and sleeping into one package. Forget the old lumpy mattresses of the past. Today’s futon has graduated into many sophisticated styles and comfort levels.

A similar type sofa is the Klick-klack bed. It is available in a range of colors and fabrics to fit any décor and budget. The lines are sleek, the concept is simple: you select the position you want and click it into place.

A sofa-sleeper has all the practicality of comfortable seating, as well as a pull out bed. These come in all sizes, including twin, to fit any size room. The mattresses are sturdy and ensure a good night’s sleep for your guests.

Air mattresses can transform any open area into an extra bedroom. Most have built in air pumps that automatically inflate and deflate the mattress to the desired firmness. Add sheets, blankets and pillows and it is off to dreamland. One drawback is that it might be more difficult for some people to get up from such a low bed. The solution: the stores have air mattresses with built in feet, to raise the bed to normal height.          

To make your guest feel at home, provide a space for their belongings, whether it is a spare dresser, some closet space with lots of empty hangers, or a table they can tuck their suitcases under.

A lamp near the bed is a plus, so that they don’t have to have the main light on at all times. Make sure there are shades or curtains for privacy and to block out light. If you provide a television, put the remote in plain sight, with a copy of the current TV guide.

Now that you have provided the basics, here are some simple ways to add some flair to your guest room. Even if the room is not primarily for guests, a cohesive décor will give it that welcoming feel. Find a theme for the room, whether it is a soothing color scheme, an extension of your home’s décor, or based on a collection.

This could be the space you could have some fun with color. Try creating a focal point by painting one wall a vibrant color. Place the largest piece of furniture, probably the bed, futon or sofa-sleeper, against this wall. Flank it with nightstands or small tables. A simple wooden chair will do as well.

Add some artwork. You could make a collage of several similarly framed photos, or create your own masterpiece with a piece of canvas and some paint. You can frame it quite inexpensively at craft stores like Michael’s.    

Perhaps your guest room doubles as a storage area. To make it more inviting, organize your storage into shelves, cabinets or built-ins. To hide the clutter and add instant glam, hang some curtains or a coordinating sheet from the ceiling. I screwed two bike hooks into the ceiling, put two drapery panels onto a closet rod, and hung it in front of our pantry shelves.

Maybe your “spare” room is your hobby area. Organize it all into a nice cabinet, desk or dresser. Your space will be nice and neat for the next time your guests arrive, or when you want to start a new project.

A few finishing touches will add that special touch. A vase of fresh flowers, a small basket of trial size toiletries, even a bowl of fresh fruit all say: I’m glad you came. Try these decorating tips on for size. Remember: only the best for your guests.

With these tips, holiday hosting can be a wonderful experience. All it takes is organization, a plan and the desire to spread cheer. Here’s to your next hassle-free holiday party!

Christmas Countdown C-8

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Cookie Exchange

One of my favorite holiday traditions was baking cookies with my mother.  Each year, we made dozens of cookies for relatives, neighbors, friends and co-workers.  Once I had my own family, I worked to continue the tradition.  Unfortunately, my time was limited. I found the stress of doing too much was robbing me of holiday joy.

Many of us have this same problem.  The fantasy Christmas that plays in our head crashes into the reality of daily life and forces us to cut back on our activities.  While most of us have accepted the fact that we can’t do everything during the holidays, it seems a pity to eliminate baking homemade Christmas cookies from our to-do list.  Instead, invite 11 friends over for a cookie exchange. Each of you bake 12 dozen of your favorite Christmas cookies.

It is tempting to nibble your way through this event, sampling all the fabulous goodies everyone has brought to share. This is a very bad thing. Tasty but bad. Too often during the Holidays, we abandon good eating habits. We miss meals. We eat too much sugar. Well, you know what you (and I) are doing!

I think it is important to serve a simple, hearty and healthy meal during your cookie event. Soups, muffins, tea and hot cider are the perfect meal for a cold winter afternoon.

Menu

Soups

Butternut Squash

Chicken Noodle

Hearty Vegetable

Muffins

Corn Jalapeno

Pumpkin Cranberry

Apple Spice

The Third Friday in Advent

Lord Grant Me Peace!

You may find yourself saying this, or some version of this statement, throughout the Holiday season. You must remember that you already have His peace within you. In the Gospel of John, during the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples that He was leaving them 3 things: A Helper, in the form of the Holy Spirit, His joy, and His peace, which He told us He was giving us but not as the world gives.

When someone gives you something, they hand it to you. It exists outside of you, in the physical world. Jesus gives you His peace, not outside of you but within you. You already have the peace of Christ within you, waiting to serve you in a way that “transcends all understanding,” guarding your heart and mind.

Unfortunately, you may be fighting against this peace. You let the chaos of the world affect your life rather than allowing the peace of Christ to guide you, comfort you. It’s time for you to get control of your life and feelings. When things seem out of control, find a quiet place. Yes, I know it is difficult but there must be SOMEWHERE you can hide or go where no one else wants to follow. Take deep breaths. Feel yourself relax and the stress leave your body. Then allow the peace that lives, all the time deep within you, come to the surface, allowing you to focus and continue with your Holiday and regular activities.

Christmas Countdown C -9

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Holiday Buffet

During the holidays, most women have too much to do and too little time in which to do it.  Our hectic schedules make it next to impossible for us to get together with friends.  One way to solve this is to host an open house that features a buffet.  You might hold your open house on a Saturday, allowing your friends to stop in for a bite to eat between their errands.  Or you might choose to invite couples and families to your open house. 

Schedule the open house just before the fifteenth of December.  People get busier as it gets closer to Christmas. By scheduling your open house earlier in the month, your guests will not have to choose between invitations.

Decorate your home for your open house.  This helps set the tone for the party and gets everyone into the holiday mood.

Create a menu that saves you time and keeps your stress to a minimum.   A suggested menu with recipes follows.  The suggested dishes can be prepared ahead and cooked just before your guests arrive.  The menu also contains pre-made items that save you from spending all your time in the kitchen.  Remember, a successful party is not determined by the number of hours you spend in the kitchen.

To set up your buffet, you will need a long table for the food, a smaller side table for beverages and a third area for dessert.  If you do not have room for three separate tables, then place the desserts on the buffet table with the rest of the food.  It is more important to have a separate area for the beverages in order to ease congestion around the buffet table.

You may prepare your tables the morning of your open house.  This will save you time later in the day.   Cover your tables with tablecloths.  Choose a simple centerpiece for each table.  An arrangement of candles and small poinsettias works well.  The centerpiece should not be large since you need every inch of table space for food.

Put out your serving dishes and determine what you plan to serve on each dish.  Place a note on each serving piece to remind you, or to inform someone else, just what goes on that dish.  This will save you time and worry when you begin setting out food.   In addition, you should prepare folded mini-cards to labels each dish on the table.  This will let guest know what everything is on the table and save you from having to answer the same question over and over.

Lay out your table to the appetizers are on one end or one side of the table and the food for the main course is on the other.  Guests have a tendency to hover around the appetizers.  Set up a traffic pattern around your buffet table that makes it easy for people to serve themselves.

An open house allows you to invite more guests than you could for a formal dinner.  Unfortunately, most of us do not have enough dinnerware or flatware to serve everyone at once.  Rather than make guests wait while you run a load of dishes through the dishwasher, simply use disposable items for your buffet.  Yes, I am sure there are some people who will roll their eyes at your paper plates.  That is their problem.  Your goal is to hold a wonderful event and enjoy yourself at the same time.  Ease your stress.  Use disposable.

The suggested buffet menu has only 2 dishes that require cooking.  Each dish may be baked just before your guests arrive allowing you to serve them hot out of the oven.  Cheeses may be set out earlier, allowing them to soften slightly for easier cutting.  Prepare your beverage table, set out other food items, and lay out desserts.  As the pasta cooks, go take a bath and get ready for the party.

Just before people begin to arrive, turn on Christmas music, light the candles and set out the entrees.  Check your list and your table one last time.  Take a deep breath, pour yourself something to drink and prepare to attend your party.

Menu

Appetizers

Cheese platter

Assorted crackers

Assorted nuts

Tortilla Chips

Spinach dip

Dill dip

Vegetable platter

Entrée

Baked Spaghetti

Pasta Marinara

Tossed Salad

Hard rolls

Dessert

Cookie platter

Assorted breads

Tray of chocolates

The Third Thursday in Advent

May I Serve You?

I assume your friends and family aren’t enemies. And if they were, you probably wouldn’t spend much time with them. I do know, however, that families can be trying. Even more so when we’re tired from all the rush of the Holidays. People push us, just a bit and we are ready to go to war! Not good!

Today’s verse tells us that the Lord wants to rescue us from our enemies. He wants to help us remain strong in the presence of those that attack us. Unfortunately, that includes family. Too often, during family gatherings, you find yourself on the receiving end of criticism or “helpful” advice.

If your extended family causes you stress, you need to spend time in prayer before you meet with them. Ask the Lord to deliver you from the stress family causes you. Ask Him to eliminate the fear you may feel when you are around them. Ask for His protection during family celebrations so you are able to enjoy the season, serving your family with joy and the Lord with praise and thanksgiving.