Friday, October 31, 2008

Make Play Dough in Holiday Colors

A gift that everyone with kiddoos will love is homemade play dough.
Today is Halloween and you could start by making batches of this play dough in orange and purple if you like, and in December for the Christmas holidays, in green and red.
My sister, Sky, sent me this play dough recipe years ago, and my sons and their friends enjoyed the results.
1 cup flour
one half cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
Mix the dry ingredients, and slowly add to the water.
Cook over medium heat, stirring until it becomes stiff.
Let it cool on wax paper. When cooled you can separate it into several sections and be creative by adding food color, glitter, and / or a few drops of vanilla or peppermint extract.
Kneed it until the consistency is right.
You can store play dough in air tight containers, even old cottage cheese containers or whatever you have at hand. For gift play dough you could buy some inexpensive plastic containers with air tight lids. It keeps very well in the refrigerator for two weeks.
I would love to hear about your play dough creations, so go ahead and leave a comment here to inspire us.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Have Homemade Gifts on Hand for Drop-in Guests

Unexpected guests are as much a part of Christmas as the angel atop the tree. To minimize your surprise—and being caught empty-handed—I have a few ideas to have on hand to reciprocate with those kindly folks who drop in unannounced, bearing cool gifts. Both of these inexpensive, yet thoughtful gifts came from my friend and fellow baseball mom, Michelle Moon.

Rosy Water Facial Toner/Astringent

Mix witch hazel with equal parts rose water (available at health food stores or online); add six drops glycerine. Fill an inexpensive corked bottle (available at craft stores or dollar stores) for a lovely homemade astringent. Decorate the bottle with a gauzy ribbon or faux jewels on the stopper.

Decoupage Cross

Purchase raw wood crosses at a craft store. Use Mod Podge® or another decoupage glue to attach small, torn bits of leftover gift wrap, Christmas or otherwise. When the design is to your liking, coat the final product with one additional layer of glue. Let dry and attach a picture hook to the back, if needed. For a variation, add a Scripture verse—printed off the computer onto quality paper—to the center. Easy to make, easy on the wallet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not For Human Consumption

my faithful readers! Being it's Wednesday, my day to post, I want to share with you two terrific homemade gifts on this "hump day."

Warning, this is not for human consumption. Ever read that on an obviously not food bag at the store? In past posts, I've shared many recipes. The two I want you to know about today are my homemade doggie biscuits and the one for sugar face scrub. Rather than repeat them here, scan back through my Wednesday posts and find those recipes. Enjoy!

by Brenda Nixon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Favorite Homemade Christmas Gift - Trish Berg

I love making homemade Christmas gifts. they just seem so personal. And you can always make some extras to keep around the house for those drop in guests who bring you a gift.

These also make great teacher gifts.

And, making homemade gifts can save you a ton of money.

One of my favorite homemade Christmas gifts is BATH SALTS:


1 cup kosher salt
1 cup baking soda
3 drops Pine balsam essential/fragrance oil
2 drops cinnamon essential/fragrance oil
2 drops cassis essential/fragrance oil
2 tablespoons of liquid glycerin (skin moisturizer) (optional)

Mix ingredients together blending well. Break up any clumps.

Note: Liquid glycerin used as a skin moisturizer, is a by-product of soap making. Glycerin can be found at health food stores, some drug stores, or major department stores depending on where you live. Its also readily available on the internet as well.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Whether you've watched The Christmas Story or not, you'll recognize that phrase in its relationship to a BB gun. I love watching the DVD of the movie, The Christmas Story (followed closely by Lampoon's Christmas Vacation). It reminds me of the Christmas my brother got his BB gun and yes, the caution every time he took it outside was, "Be careful you don't shoot an eye out!"

The movie was filmed in Cleveland and used the old Higbee building that now stands fairly empty except for some offices, I believe. It was a big deal to get dressed up and go shopping, see Santa, and then have lunch at the Silver Grille. For dessert, there was always a scoop of ice cream with chocolate syrup and whipped cream topped with a cherry and decorated with a paper parasol. Even at an early age I was intrigued by mysteries. When you took the parasol apart, there was Chinese writing on the paper that was made into a roll that slid up and down to open the parasol. I imagined it was secret code.

Suburban malls have taken the place of that Christmas shopping experience where the lights of the city, the window decorations and that special lunch were something that made memories.

What movies spark childhood memories for you?

(If you go to this site and scroll down a bit you can see a picture of Higbee's at Christmas in 1952. I would have been five, dressed in something velveteen, with little white gloves, if I remember my mother's tastes. Okay, do the math--I'm old.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story

Oh my, this is a funny and touching movie, with many scenes in it that are seared into my memory.

Some are quite horrible, in fact. The boy whose tongue freezes to the flagpole, Ralphie with the bar of soap in his mouth, the younger brother so swaddled in his snowsuit that when he falls down he can not get up on his own.

Amazing scenes, and then Ralphie's desperate craving, nay need, to own a Red Ryder carbine action BB gun, and Ralphie hearing "you'll shoot your eye out" so often from every responsible adult.

The dad is called The Old Man and he has a whacky pride in the bizarre lamp that he won.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of the zaniness herein.
Sit back and enjoy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Brenda Loves Il Divo

Oh baby, wanna get my blood brewing? Wanna look at some eye candy? Then, check out the Christmas CD by Il Divo.

If you haven't yet heard of this group of four classically trained young men, put together by Simon Cowell of American Idol fame, then you must give them a listen. Oh, their music is soft and soothing, but strong and romantic and their voices blend together at times that you think you're listening to only one.

I have Il Divo downloaded to my computer and when I'm writing articles or working on a book, I listen. Truly they have inspired me and my words at times. Il Divo CDs are also in my car so I can drive the distance while being comfortably serenaded.

What's your fav Christmas CD?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Favorite Christmas DVD - Trish Berg

Oooo, I love watching Christmas movies. In fact, even though its only October, I am ready to break them out already.

My all time favorite Christmas movie is It's a Wonderful Life - the classic movie of all time. I cry every time George Bailey gets his ear slapped as a boy. I sob when he realizes his life, no matter how messed up it seems to be, is a gift from God.

But at the Berg house, we have also grown to love The Santa Clause series of movies starring Tim Allen. What a hoot those are.

And, being a girl who spent many Christmases in New York City visiting my grandparents, attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, I also love Miracle on 34th Street, both the old and new versions, and White Christmas.

I love so many Christmas movies, it's difficult to list them all. We watch a lot of movies during the month of December. It's our evening activity on cold winter nights, and keeps ups company as we wrap Christmas gifts or bake pies or cookies.

Last year, we took the kids to Disneyworld for vacation during Christmas. Though it was an amazing vacation, and we had a blast, we all missed our at home Christmas celebrations. We may have to start early this year just to catch up.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Arts at Christmas

This week the WQs will share the names of a few of our favorite CDs and DVDs. My two picks are below with brief explanations.

Want to hear these?

1. What Child Is This? - Kemper Crabb, Dix, William Chatte
2. Let All Mortal Flesh
3. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Kemper Crabb, Neale, John M.
4. Es Kommt Ein Schiff
5. Wessex Carol
6. Coventry Carol
7. Of the Father's Love Begotten
8. Down in Yon Forest
9. Good King Wenceslas - Kemper Crabb, Neale, John M.
10. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Kemper Crabb, Traditional
11. Doulos - Kemper Crabb, Crabb, K.

All the songs listed above are from one of my favorite Christmas CDs,

A Medieval Christmas by Kemper Crabb. We heard this group in person a few year’s ago. This CD was recorded live in a small group setting. If you like the sound of the Medieval instruments, beautiful and haunting melodies, that stay with you for days. Try this CD. $15.00
Kemper Crabb

My all time favorite DVD about anything Christmas is The Star of Bethlehem. Rick Larsen explains in the DVD where his journey of discovery began. My husband, David, and I heard Rick’s presentation at Texas A & M two days before Christmas, 1500 in attendance and standing room only. He travels the globe with this message set in the heavens before The Christ was ever born. I was so happy when he found a producer and put his presentation, with gorgeous scenes and musice, on DVD. His distributor of this very classy DVD and producer is the director of Mel Gibson’s
The Passion.

You will not be disappointed in the quality and content of Rick’s findings. Here are some endorsements found at his Website

"well-researched and reasonable"Former Chief of Planetary Astronomy, NASA, and Technical Editor, Sky & Telescope magazine
"an interesting look... at the star"Christianity Today magazine
"models the scientific method at its best"Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
"wide-ranging and insightful scholarship"Former Publisher and Editor, Scientific American magazine, and President, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Check it out

What are your favorite Holiday CDs or DVDs?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Christmas Basket Winner!!!

It's not easy to wake a man from a Sunday afternoon nap and get him to make sense let alone cooperate with something he has no clue about. But undaunted, I woke my husband and showed him my bowl full of over 130 yellow slips of paper.

"What are you feeding me now?" he asked. Just back from four weeks of cruising the Mediterranean, he's still not used to getting his own coffee and clearing his dishes from the table himself.

"It's not food. It's for our Christmas Basket drawing. Pick one," I told him.

"Can I mix them myself?"


He dipped his hand in, mixed the slips of paper and drew one name. And the winner is:


who left a comment on Tamera Kraft's blog.

Thanks to all of our bloggers and readers who were so gracious and kind.

Two of our blog readers made a valiant effort to win the basket and left comments at almost every blog site and often at this site as well as the other Word Quilters' blogs. I could not let their efforts go unrewarded and will send two of my comp books out to them:



There is lots more coming to the Scrapbook blog. Stay tuned!!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Buying the Christmas Tree

Long before the artificial tree became popular, our family always had a real tree with all the wonderful pine smells and the after mess of dropped needles. As a child, I remember Mom sending my brother and me out with my father to purchase the tree each year. Looking back, it probably saved the stress of fighting over which tree to purchase and gave her some time to wrap gifts or do all those things a mom has to get done before Christmas.

We would walk through the lot, grab a tree that was leaning on a pile of others, shake it to see if the needles held on and then slowly turn it around to make sure it was full. I think my dad prided himself on choosing the best each year. We'd strap the tree to the top of the car and excitedly deliver it to the side porch at home until we were ready to bring it in to decorate.

The year we decided to spend Christmas at my parent's second home at Put-In-Bay, Ohio, was especially memorable. We loved the island and couldn't wait to spend the holiday there. The trouble was, there were no Christmas tree lots. They did things the old fashioned way; they went out into the woods and cut a tree. This time there was no need for us to shake the tree, although I suspect out of habit my dad did anyway. We used a saw to cut our tree. Then we fastened it to the old car Dad kept on the island for transportation.

When we got it home, we discovered the difference between trees straight from the woods and trees that were groomed all year for Christmas. There was a whole section of the tree missing! Mom decided the best thing was for Dad to stick it in a corner of the living room and hide the bare spot as best he could by tucking it between the two walls. Still upset by not having a perfect tree, my dad trimmed a few branches off the bottom and wired them to fill in the bare spot before he tucked it into the corner.

Needless to say, the cut branches wilted faster than the rest of the tree and the needles dropped all over our Christmas packages. It didn't bother my brother or me much at all. We swept aside the needles and dove in on Christmas morning. But every time I see the movie The Christmas Story where the father is so bent on the perfect turkey, I think about my dad and his need for the perfect tree.

Eventually as they got older and my brother and I started our own families, Mom and Dad gave in to the artificial tree. It certainly saved having to clean out the vacuum sweeper's hose each year. While we joked about it, they did draw the line at getting an aluminum one with the rotating colored light.

What's your vote? Artificial or real, needle-dropping, sappy but wonderfully smelling Christmas trees?

And speaking of artificial. . .in our book on page 45 there are instructions for making a snow scene for indoors. Here are some pictures of the one I made. The "flakes" are like very soft fluffy soap flakes. It took five days to get to the full snow scene.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cowboys Roam the Gift Packages

Cowboys Roam the Packages
A Christmas ritual my sister, Sky, and I enjoyed for many years involved our tiny toy cowboys and their trusty steeds. Yes, I was a nut for horses as a kid, and had two favorite horses at the local stable, Sunset and Frosty. My enthusiasm for horses extended to having a prized collection of plastic and rubber cowboys and horses.

Before Christmas my parents put wrapped gifts on our dining table, where they would be handy to give to visitors and to put under the tree on Christmas eve. Sky and I imagined each year that the packages were mountains and valleys, and we created landscapes with the gifts where the cowboys roamed. Sometimes there were pretend shootouts as bank robbers or cattle rustlers were caught. The horses raced up and down the hillsides and rested in the valleys, which were a gorgeous landscape of Christmas wrap, peopled with snowmen and holy men and Santas.

Our dad’s role with the hills of gifts was to find his, lift up high, and guess what was in the gaily wrapped package. His guesses were amazingly spot on, even when the size of the box attemped to fool him. Our gift landscape had a brief and much enjoyed life each year in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

So if your children or grandkids have a bored moment in the days before Christmas, let them get out favorite small toys and build themselves a world. Small race cars and trucks can become a race track, Lego construction workers could create buildings, and the wise men could set out on their holy journey. Let their imaginations reign supreme.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Favorite Christmas Activity

Christmas Ornament or Decoration and Cookie Exchange

This Christmas, I’ve decided to try a friend’s suggestion. I’m going to host a decoration and cookie exchange. I’ll report back after the event, but here are the general guidelines.

Decoration Exchange
We all have beautiful decorations that we’ve bought and tired of, or things someone else gave us that just don’t quite fit our style. I hate looking at such items year after year, wondering why I still have them when I don’t use them. Someone else might really like them—and decorate with them; the trick is getting my unused decorations in the right hands.

The idea is to have all attendees bring such unneeded, unused items to a decoration exchange. This differs from a new ornament exchange, in which everyone purchases a new ornament for $10 or less and you play some sort of game to divvy up the ornaments among participants. No, in a decoration exchange, each person brings ornaments and decorations they no longer use, places an approximate value on an item ($1.00, $5.00, $10.00), and puts it on display on card tables topped with solid-color tablecloths. Other party-goers, who’ve been credited for the value of the items they’ve brought, get to “shop,” choosing items that fit with their décor, complete their collections, etc.

Cookie Exchange
At the same time, I’m going to incorporate a cookie exchange. Everyone will bring several dozen cookies—and several copies of the recipe—packaged into dozens of half-dozens. The hostess (me!) displays all the cookies, with samples available for tasting. Again, “shoppers” peruse the available cookies, taking home as many dozen as they brought. For example, if you bring 3 dozen decorated sugar cookies and 3 dozen lemon bars, you may take home 6 dozen of any kind.

The payoff: Each attendee gets a wonderful variety of treats but had to bake or decorate only one or two batches of cookies.

The following 10 Easy Tips for a Great Cookie Exchange came from
1. Ask each guest to bring either a dozen or half dozen cookies for each attendee, plus a dozen for the party.
2. Supply plastic storage bags or paper plates and foil just in case guests forget to bring a container for transporting their cookies home. Remind guests to store each cookie variety in separate containers until serving. Mixed cookie varieties lose their flavor and texture.
3. Request that participants bring copies of their recipe to share with others. That will avoid the necessity of mailing out copies at a later date after everyone inevitably requests them at the party!
4. Prepare a large table for everyone to set out their cookies. Spread a festive cloth on the table. Place one large basket, tray or plate on the table for each guest to place their contributions.
5. Place an extra platter on the table for the cookies that will be enjoyed during the party.
6. Play Christmas music throughout the gathering.
7. Even if you haven't finished your holiday decorating by the date of the party, be sure the party room has some festive decorations.
8. A cookie exchange can be held any time of the day, but mornings are a great time during the holiday season. By hosting it in the morning, your guests will have the remainder of the day for other holiday activities such as shopping, wrapping, their own decorating, or other parties.
9. Plan to serve refreshments that can be prepared in advance and merely reheated at the party. You shouldn't be cooking during this party. It's more important to keep the cookie exchange flowing. For a morning party, overnight egg casseroles work very well.
10. Serve at least one holiday beverage such as egg nog or hot mulled cider along with coffee, tea, juices and, of course, milk!

Favorite Christmas Activity/Memory from Growing Up

During my elementary school years, my immediate family lived in Georgia. The extended family still resided in Texas, which meant we packed up every Christmas and headed west. Certainly couldn’t expect Grandmother, all dad’s siblings and their families to come all the way to the east coast now, could we?

To that end, we had to be creative in our packing. For a couple of years running, mom and dad lugged our oversized gifts to and from Odessa. They decided that had to stop; it just didn’t make sense to fill up the already crowded car with gifts, transport them to Texas to open on Christmas, and then bring right back home again.

The next year, Dad took me to the side to show me a picture—straight from the Sears catalog—of the new dishwasher he had bought my mom for Christmas. Obviously, he couldn’t pop a bow on top and carry it with us on our trip. Instead, he cut out the picture and taped it to a square piece of Styrofoam®. My mom also got dad a big gift that year, too.

As she pre-packed, she lamented the challenge of taking the gift. Sneaky girl that I was (am?), I suggested she cut out a picture, tape it to a piece of Styrofoam®, and wrap that up instead.

The look on mom and dad’s faces as they opened their gifts at the same time—also cleverly orchestrated by yours truly: Priceless.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Middle-of-the-Road Activies for Kids

Today, I want to share ways to entertain children who are between five and 10 years.

First, remember a five-year-old is light years away from a 10-year-old in both development and interests. If you have children at home who are different ages, then you know the challenge to provide activities that keep both occupied. My daughters are six years apart (hey, I'm one of six A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts authors - hmm, is there significance in the number?). There were times my kids went different directions in their play. But, many times I had to find middle-of-the road activities to keep both happy so I could be involved with them together.

I share the developmental norms and suggest age-appropriate resources for 0 - 5 year old kids in The Birth to Five Book. You could use this information anytime of the year or pull out the book for holiday gift-giving ideas.

Three of my favorite, kid-tested activities are below. Maybe you already do them, but, if not, give 'em a try. They may help calm the Christmastime chaos in your home:
  1. Playdough. This squashy stuff offers tactile and olfactory benefits. Its calming power is akin to doing art therapy. If your older child is ready, he can follow pictures or word directions to make playdough from a recipe.
  2. Bubbles. Bubbles teach kids how to blow out, which is great for children who may have speech and some facial issues because blowing strengthens oral motor skills. Bubbles can also be just plain mindless fun. Simple recipes are on the internet.
  3. Books. Take a field trip to your public library and check out several children's Christmas books. Then cozy up on the sofa with your children and read aloud. Even children who are nine will enjoy hearing your familiar voice, using her imagination, and receiving undivided time from you. I'm a big proponent of books and the benefits of reading aloud!

by Brenda Nixon

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sledding on the Golf Course - Trish Berg

This week, the Word Quilters (authors of SOCF) are going to share a fun activity from their childhood. What fun to think back on those years when Christmas was everything December was about.

My Grandma Knoedler lived about an hour away from where I grew up, and we got to see her a few times a month. We loved going to her house all the time, but in the wintertime, it was awesome!

Grandma Knoedler lived on the very edge of a golf course, and in her back yard was a steep hill leading to the course. She had a stockpile of sleds and saucers of all kinds, and baskets of hats, gloves and scarves.

We loved going sledding at Grandma's house. We would gather the mismatched hats and gloves, and head out to the hill in her back yard for starters. She would sometimes join us, and that was a BLAST. There were 2 trees at the bottom of her hill, so we had to become quite good at steering these sleds to avoid the collision. Maybe that's where I first learned to drive, I don't know. But we could all steer those sleds like NASCAR drivers around the bends.

Once we were warmed up, we would walk the entire golf course and look for hills that were even steeper. It was like walking in the wilderness, all white snow covering tons of hills and valleys. We felt like explorers.

When we were cold and tired, we would head back to Grandma's house for hot cocoa and popcorn. She always made hot cocoa with milk, not water, and it tasted sooooo good.

We would warm up a bit, and then head out again.

Boy, I wish I had some of that energy and stamina back these days.

Kids love sledding. If you live in a part of the country where you get snow near Christmas time, I encourage you to find a local golf course, get permission (if needed) and go sledding with your kiddos.

Your kids want to spend time with you. They want you to sit in the saucer and speed down the hill right beside them. Those will be the memories they will keep for a lifetime.

Christmas is not about spending money. It's not about finding the perfect gift, game or toy. There is nothing wrong with gift giving, but don't forget that the best things about Christmas sometimes come wrapped up in nothing but your time.

Spend time with your kids. Have fun with them. Get creative, and put the checkbook away.

Cash in on your children's future by spending time with them today.

This winter...this Christmas.....Go sledding with your children.

(And keep the hot cocoa handy as well...)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

. . .Starring Don

Our youngest son is developmentally handicapped. My fondest memory of him at Christmas was the first year he was in a Christmas play at church. Don has never been one to shy away from a challenge. I believe that's why he has made so much progress over the years.

Don was seven or eight the year he decided he could have a part in the Christmas program. He was finally able to speak well enough that people could understand a good part of what he had to say. When the children's director called for auditions for speaking and singing roles, Don was front and center and ready to perform.

That afternoon at Sunday dinner, his sister, Cheryl, announced that Don had a speaking part in the Christmas program. My older boys reacted with, "No way!" and "Way to go!" and of course the high fives. I thought for sure Cheryl had it wrong but I didn't want to erase the beaming smile on Don's face by voicing my doubts.

Sure enough, after talking with Mrs. Gray, she assured me that Don would have a part in the program. She felt his gumption ought to be rewarded.

The evening of the program, the children were gathered on stage and each was performing with the excellence that everyone had come to expect from one of Mrs. Gray's productions. Then the microphone was passed to Don. I held my breath. He turned to the audience, beamed that big smile and declared, "We're done!"

Two simple words but that was Don's night to shine like the star of Bethlehem to ignite the hope that one day this child of God would be able to hold his own with those around him and become all that God wanted him to be.

Pass the tissues and tell me about your favorite memory of your child's Christmas program.

(To see Don today go to Our Special Child)

Friday, October 10, 2008

See The Nutcracker Ballet With Family

When my children were younger, our family would head out to watch a local production of the Nutcracker Ballet.
Seeing a live production is an anticipated event, and each time we see it we enjoy the new twists that each choreographer and company applies.
Many of the scenes center around a huge Christmas tree, and a family gathered round, and local productions have places on stage for lots of children, so you may spot someone you know up there.
There are dances for all different tastes, with exciting sword fights between the Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King, and their allies, and humorous dances by Russian, Chinese and Spanish dancers. The Sugar Plum Fairy has a lovely starring role.
My family always got swept up in the drama, love, sweat and creativity of each staging.
Now, the brilliant production starring and choreographed by Mikhail Baryshnikov, is available on DVD. This is the best selling ballet video of all time, with Gelsey Kirkland playing Clara, the young girl at the center of the drama.
If you want to try something new that will spark up your holiday, get tickets to a local production of the Nutcracker Ballet, and consider buying the DVD to watch at leisure.
Be careful, because like me, this might lead to a colorful collection of wooden Nutcrackers to display in your home!
Do any of you have favorite Christmas shows or events you care to share with us here?
That would be great.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Christmas program or pageant

The Wilsons star in story of Jesus’ birth

It may seem as though everyone you ever met and every group you ever attended wants to get together during the month of December. Today’s busy families have to be selective about how much to take on. One of our family favorites has been Sights and Sounds of Christmas in San Marcos, Texas. Visit for more information.

I remember watching Christmas programs after the birth of my son Charlie, slightly envious of the Baby Jesus. Actually, I suppose my jealousy was more directed toward the mom whose child got to play Jesus in the live nativity scenes or the church Christmas play. You see, Charlie—who was born in June—was too big to play a newborn by the time the holiday season rolled around. I know, I’m silly, petty, and basically ridiculous.

God must’ve chuckled as He read my heart. Four years later, I had my own infant—Molly. And she did, indeed, get to play the Baby Jesus in a live nativity scene at Sights and Sounds. Little did I know the request for her was a package deal; my husband and I were automatically cast as Joseph and Mary. Charlie played a sheep which, at four years of age, he loved! The whole experience was fun for awhile, until the hay stirred up Bret’s allergies and Molly started wailing. Nothing I tried comforted either of them!

Sometimes such experiences are just better in our heads—than actually living them out. But I did get my wish, my 15 minutes of “fame,” and the chance to have a baby of mine “star” in the Christmas story. And, for that, I will always fondly remember Sights and Sounds.

This festival—which brings out most of the town of San Marcos, as well as neighboring communities—marries the best of the spiritual and secular Christmas, with lots of great food and entertainment.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Brenda's Silent Night

by Brenda Nixon

faithful readers!

Doncha just love all the fun Christmas pageants and plays this time of year? When I was growing up I always participated in school and church programs. I guess being on stage is comfortable to me and that's one reason why I love my speaking profession.

One December, I was deathly ill. We weren't sure what bug had bitten me, but I was home from school and everything else for weeks. Meanwhile, our church teen group regular rehearsed for a Christmas play in which I was one of the lead characters. As each day drew us closer to opening night, my parents, the director, and all the other cast members fretted, "How's Brenda?" or "Will Brenda be able to carry her role?" or "What do we do, we didn't plan for an understudy!"

Gradually my health bounced back and I felt well enough to go to Dress Rehearsal. During the evening, I knew I couldn't carry my lines and act. My voice was weak and raspy. So the director decided to conserve my strength . . . by giving all my lines to another character but keeping me in the play! You guessed it; I came out on stage and acted out my character without speaking. It truly was a silent night in the house.

Tell us a fun memory you have of a Christmas play. Let's get some laughing going on here!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Christmas Programs - A Mom's Perspective - Trish Berg

There is something inspiring about a children's Christmas Program. When the little ones get dressed up in angel and shepherd costumes, and play the roles of Mary and Joseph, I am just awestruck at their joy.

Every year, our church puts on a Christmas Program where the kids dress up and act out the story of the birth of Jesus. My children have played the roles of angels with halo headbands, shepherds with bath robes and plastic staffs, and wise men bring gifts of gold, Frankincense and myrrh.

I have now been a mom for over 13 years, and watching my children participate in the Christmas program is simply a joy-filled experience.

My children have grown up as angels and shepherds, and I think they better understand the story of Jesus birth as they act out the story. It makes it real for them in a way no reading of the story can.

So, even if your church does not have a Christmas program, I encourage you to have a home-spun play. Pull out the story of the birth of Jesus, gather some bath robes and halos made from head bands, and have a family theatre night this December. Let your children choose their oles, and even rotate the roles performing the play several times throughout the holiday season.

And watch as God's story, the story that started it all, melts into their little souls.

Enjoy the journey-Trish Berg
Psalm 118:24

Monday, October 6, 2008


Did you know that the word pageant comes from words that mean rolling wagon? Look into A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts to find out more about the origin of the word "pageant."

As with most books, we had to cut the length of this book to keep the cost to buyers under $20.00. One of the chapters we cut was the Pageantry chapter. This week our theme is Christmas programs or pageants, so I'm including a personal essay intended for that chapter. Enjoy, and I have a question for you at the end.


We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2

Christmas programs and holiday gatherings celebrate Christ and community. The season offers many opportunities to meet with friends and celebrate the real star of this earth—The Christ.


Good News in American Sign Language
by Cathy Messecar

On stage, the play “Christmas Journey” came to life in American Sign Language for the deaf audience. Each deaf actor signed all their lines in ASL, and a company of unseen people interpreted for the hearing audience.

Two scripture phrases came to mind the December my husband and I watched the excellent production at Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church: “lifting holy hands in the sanctuary” and Isaiah’s prophecy that the deaf would “hear the words of the scroll.”

A Woodhaven member had invited us to their annual Christmas Drama. In our conversation, she told how this generation could be the one to more completely fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the deaf will hear about the Messiah.

Over 100 sign languages exist in the world. American Sign Language is the fourth language of the United States, some colleges offer it for foreign language credit, and more than 23 million Americans are deaf. Gaulledet University’s President said, “Deaf people can do anything . . . except hear.”

As my husband and I watched the Woodhaven drama, we became enamored with the Deaf World where “sign language is spoken.” Dawn Sign Press says the deaf “listen with their eyes” and “facial expressions and body language say as much as the human voice.”

That night we “listened with our eyes,” too. On stage, a group of Christians planned a trip to the Holy Land. They packed, met at the airport, flew across an ocean and put their feet down in the land of milk and honey.

In Israel, a Messianic Jewish tour guide, in ASL, regaled the travelers with stories of the Christ. Near a large tour bus, the tour guide’s hands signed Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, the visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and Joseph’s concern when he found out about Mary’s pregnancy. During his signing, the ancient stories were acted out by more cast members on stage left.

During Act 2, fatigued tourist Fred took a siesta. He dreamed about Jesus’ birth, baptism, ministry, crucifixion, and triumphant resurrection. With precision and pageantry, the cast of 60 reenacted the later life of Jesus and 60 pairs of hands convinced us we were there, on the soil of Holy Land.

Orchestrated songs accompanied the play, and the hearing audience had the double pleasure of listening to the melodies and watching them in ASL. The signing of “Breath of Heaven” and “Come as You Are” were especially poetic.

I am thankful for the first time we saw the gospel in American Sign Language. A language foreign to me melted my heart and revealed The Christ in new dimensions.

In his ministry, Jesus opened and healed the ears of the deaf. Today, the Christian Deaf World continues his mending mission, his heart-healing mission. That December, we witnessed their passion when they shared the story about a stable, a star, a Savior, and a sacrifice.

Tell us about the special pageants you have attended?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Egg Nog At Its Best!

My most often requested extra treat for the holidays is my eggnog recipe. For a while I stopped making it because of all the salmonella scares about raw eggs but I learned that if you wash the egg shells well, there's little chance of contamination. If you're game, here's the recipe:

4 eggs separated (Since this recipe calls for raw eggs, be sure to wash the outside shells before cracking open)
1 can condensed milk
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 qt milk (for lower cal/lower fat, use 2% milk)
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. cinnamon

Beat egg yolks in large bowl with mixer. Add condensed milk and beat again until well blended. Add vanilla, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and milk. Mix well. In separate large bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into egg yolk mixture. Refrigerate. Makes ½ gallon.
Preparation hint: Save ½ gallon plastic milk jugs, rinse thoroughly and, using a funnel, pour the eggnog mixture into the milk jugs to store until ready to use.

If you don't want to chance the raw eggs, I suggest buying the prepared eggnog and cutting it with some 2% or skim milk to reduce calories and lighten the heavy flavor and consistency the prepared stuff has.

What goes best with eggnog? Cookies or salty pretzels?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Herring and Cream

A Pelkin and now Hangen tradition is eating Herring and Cream with crackers on New Year’s eve, or anytime during the holidays. My mom, Neddie, began this tradition in our house in Wisconsin, in the 1950s and we continue it here in California.
This snack requires:
One pint Herring (wine style), in a jar, from your market’s deli case.
Crackers. We like saltines and Ry Krisp crackers.
¾ cup whipping cream
1 medium cucumber
2 small bunches green onions
2 tablespoons, or less, sugar
1 tablespoon dill (fresh or dried dill can be used)
1 tablespoon wine vinegar

Drain and cut herring into bite size pieces, throw out all spices
Whip cream, then add vinegar and sugar
Stir in sliced cucumber, sliced green onions, and dill
Pour over herring and place in refrigerator. Keep it chilled until eating.
Enjoy it on crackers.
We love this because it is so tasty, not commonly found, and it is a snack that is a welcome change from all those desserts.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"Lighter" foods to have around

Leslie's scrumptious "lighter fare" to have around

At first glance, this blog post might seem a little counter-intuitive to our subject last week: Tips to Avoid Overeating. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Delicious food need not be calorie-laden or bad for you.

To that end, I give you a couple of ideas for scrumptious foods to have on hand that won’t break the bank or pop the button on your jeans.

Tortilla Wraps
Buy large tortilla wraps. (I like flavored ones, such as jalapeño or spinach.) Spread mayonnaise or mustard across the entire wrap.
Layer on the good stuff: thinly sliced deli meat and cheese, lettuce, cream cheese, cucumber or other chopped veggies.
Roll up tightly.
Slice about ¾” thick with a sharp knife. Arrange on a colorful plate and serve alone or with French onion dip.

Black Bean Dip (My Aunt Jackie’s Famous Oh-So-Low-Fat Recipe)
2 cans Progresso black beans
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
¼ c. Pace picante sauce
4-6 oz. Feta cheese

Puree in blender one can of beans with liquid. Drain the other can; add to beans with other ingredients, except Feta. Crumble Feta on top and serve chilled with tortilla chips or veggies.

The key through the holidays—and really any other time of year—is moderation. Enjoy what you like; just have smaller portions.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Got Company?

Hi faithful readers!
Although I'm usually focused on writing or speaking to parent audiences, I occasionally take time away to polish the facets of my other side. I loved getting involved in writing A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts with all it's terrific historical facts, tasty recipes, unusual stories, and tips for the holidays.

During November/December, most speakers and writers slow down a bit. That is when it's possible to relax the professional self and do the fun personal things like inviting company over or going to holiday open houses. Whether I have people in or go out, I like to share scrumptious extras.

Scrumptious doesn't always mean sweets. Matter-of-fact, I get tired of all the sweets at parties and I try to lower the processed sugars by offering fresh fruit kabobs, or I'll go with an antipasto tray.

Sharing over food has always been a way to fellowship. I don't want to stop my social calendar, but do want to make the food I serve to be healthy and satisfying.

What do you think? Do you like to make extras to keep on hand at your home or to take out? What tantalizing "extras" are around your house for the holidays?

by Brenda Nixon