Unwrapping the Gifts of the Magi

the-magi

Unwrapping the Gifts of the Magi

A Christmastime standard is the song, We Three Kings Of Orient Are. The Gospel of Matthew gives us the tale of the Magi, the Wise Men, the 3 Kings of Orient.
Matthew 2:1-12 King James Version (KJV)

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

So, what else do we know about these wise men of the east? Let’s take a look at the traditional profiles of the Magi.

The Gifts

Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice!
Al-le-lu-ia, al-le-lu-ia
Heaven to earth replies

The Magi came to bring gifts symbolic of what Jesus represents: King and God and Sacrifice. Let’s dive a bit deeper.

Gold – Gift for the King of Kings – Melchior, King of Arabia

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King for ever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign

Melchior brings gold for the King of Kings. This title worried Herod the most. He was jealously possessive of the power vested in him by the Roman Empire and the legitimacy that the Sanhedrin grudgingly acknowledged for him. A true Messiah would definitely upset the delicate balance of things. Certainly, he wanted to know where Jesus was so he could put an end to this threat to his power. Little did he know that Jesus came for a higher purpose than rulership of the Holy Land. He couldn’t have understood even if they had told him. All he knew was his lust for power and his desperate need to destroy anyone and anything that threatened to unseat him.

Frankincense – Gift for the Word made Flesh – Caspar, King of Sheba

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Prayer and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

Incense made from the resin of the Boswellia carterii or Boswellia sacara tree was extolled in Exodus 30:34-38 as an equal part of an incense to be used only for when Moses was to meet with God.

34 The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part),

35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.

36 You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you.

37 And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord.

38 Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”

As a key part of God’s own personal incense, this seems an appropriate gift for the Christ-child. Fortunately, any one of us can take advantage of the many benefits of Frankincense as long as we don’t add in all the rest of the spices that comprise the blend prescribed for the Holy of Holies. This gift represents recognition of Jesus’ divine nature and the gift of divine forgiveness he was born to bestow upon the world.

Myrrh – Gift for Sacrifice – Balthazar, King of Tarse and Egypt

Myrrh is mine
Its bitter perfume breathes
A life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone cold tomb

Oil made from the resin of the Commiphora myrrha tree was traditionally used as a perfume to mask the stench of dead bodies while preparing them for the grave. This gift symbolizes the death that Jesus would eventually have to suffer as the “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world“. As with frankincense, myrrh is also used for medicinal purposes and is very popular in toothpaste worldwide.


As you can see, the gifts of the Wise Men were certainly symbolic in nature but were actually immediately useful to the Holy Family. I mean, who doesn’t need some gold? The Frankincense and Myrrh were costly gifts but they were also particularly useful for health and sanitary purposes. People have often wondered what use the latter two gifts would be to anyone, but now you know the rest of the story!

12 Things You Don’t Want To Hear About Christmastime

12 Things You Don’t Want To Hear About Christmastime

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… some safety ideas to drum into your head about keeping Christmas safe and fun. Christmastime is a joy to behold, but can literally be the death of you as you’ll see below.

1 – Toppling Trees

It’s important to make sure that your tree is properly supported. Nobody wants a tree to crash down on their heads or their train sets or even into the fireplace. This is all the more important if you have cats who are inclined to climb the tree and bat at the ornaments. It’s one thing to ensure that you have a broad base to ensure the tree stands upright at all times, but you will probably also want to anchor the tree at various points up the height of the tree if critters are likely to climb up. Securing the tree to the spindles of a staircase near the top could help to keep it from falling.

If you have a natural tree, you’ve cut the thing away from its root structure. Traditionally, the base for real trees involve screws that burrow into the trunk and long feet standing off in three directions. Actually, a disk-like or inverted funnel type of base would be more stable. Keeping a real tree properly watered is also crucial to keep it from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. Tree fires figure annually in about 240 of all house fires with an average of 13 deaths and 27 serious injuries. Carelessness with Christmas trees accounts for up to $16,700,00 in property damage each year.

2 – Firey Wires

As we mentioned above, a dried-out real tree that is heavily decked with electric lights can become a towering inferno. The heat of the lights and even in some cases the wires of the lights could be enough to set a dried out tree afire.

Frayed wires on lights that you are either too nostalgic or too cheap to get rid of from one year to the next can cause a fire whether your tree is natural or artificial. Make sure to inspect your light strands from year to year and buy new ones when you need them.

If you want the same lights your parents and grandparents used since before you were born, there are more modern versions that look like the retro-style lights but will keep you safe and save you energy because they are LED lights.

Another common hazard of electrical lights is the desire to have too many plugged into one socket. Having a massive daisy chain of lights plugged in back to back in a single socket is an all-too-common site during the holidays. This can overload a socket and risk starting a fire within the walls of the house. These are particularly dangerous because you don’t realize your house is on fire until it is way too late and they’re harder to put out because the fire department has to break through your walls to put it out.

3 – Hazardous Hanging

Some people like to put decorations all over the house, inside and out. The important thing is to ensure that you have safe footing wherever you choose to hang your lights, garland or ornaments. Be certain that you have a ladder that is at least as high as you need to reach and that you have someone holding the ladder firmly at the bottom.

Inside, the typical ladder is a folding step ladder that forms an a-frame. People will also often use staircases and balconies as places to try to extend themselves to less accessible places. Unless you’re a professional gymnast or mountain climber, you’re probably not going to do very well hanging over a banister to try to hang decorations. People trying to hang decorations will tend to focus on the process of mounting the ornaments and disregard the awkward position they’ve extended themselves into.

Outside, a leaning ladder is more usual. Making sure that this type of ladder is firmly planted is key. Most modern aluminum ladders have grippy feet at the bottom, but these are of dubious use if there is snow or ice on the ground where you’re planting the ladder. Likewise, if you climb onto the roof, you need to be extra careful not to hit a slippery patch. The steeper the pitch of the roof, the more hazardous it is to walk around on.

4 – Pretty Poison

Some of our natural decor can have a rather bad effect on people and animals. At the top of the list is mistletoe. Every single part of the plant is disastrously toxic to people and pets. You may certainly keep on kissing under the mistletoe, but make sure none of the berries drops off into your mouth!

Another dreadfully toxic decoration is holly berries. It would take only 20 berries to kill a child. Keep it up high and away from toddlers who are inclined to put things in their mouths.

Poinsettias have a reputation for being poisonous to cats and dogs. This is only partially true. The taste of the leaves is so bitter that any animal is not likely to eat enough to have a lethal dose. For those who munch first and regret it later, eating poinsettia leaves is likely to induce drooling,  vomiting and diarrhea.

It’s been found that up to 80% of Christmas lights contain lead. Of those, up to 28% contain lead in quantities that would prohibit their sale in Europe. Lead poisoning can impact your stomach and kidneys and lead to impairment of your brain and nervous system.

Like most aerosols, spray snow is quite toxic if you inhale the fumes while you’re spraying a jolly snowman onto your window. If you’re going to be using spray snow, be sure to keep a ventilator mask on to prevent ingestion of such chemicals as methylene chloride and acetone. This is also still an issue while the snow is drying on the surface you’ve sprayed it on. Keep the kids away until the snow is dry to prevent inhalation of these carcinogenic compounds.

5 – Friendly Fire

What’s Christmas without candles, a Yule log or a blazing fire in the hearth? A good bit safer, to be sure. The days most commonly associated with house fires started by candles are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. All the more so since the original form of Christmas lights on your tree was to have candles on the branches. Can you even imagine?

We’ve already seen some of the adverse effects of letting your real tree dry out, but even a properly watered tree can catch fire due to frayed wires, sparks from the fireplace, kids playing with matches or any number of sources.

Fireplaces pose a variety of hazards. Keeping the chimney swept is important as is keeping a spark screen in front of the fireplace. Collected soot in the chimney can start an uncontrolled fire as can animal or bird nests that may have been built there in warmer months.

Yule logs were great in viking long houses in the Dark Ages, but not so much today. Modern homes lack the dirt floors and unrelenting Scandinavian winter air that made Yule logs an important holiday tradition. Having an enormous burning log laying across the length of your living room just isn’t something sustainable in modern households. You might want to put one in the backyard, but you still want to make sure that popping sparks from the log don’t set the grass or nearby trees or bushes alight. Wildfires are not festive and you will be charged with arson if you survive the blaze.

6 – Cheerful Choking

Infants, toddlers and pets are all too often tempted by the delightful ornaments we hang for Christmas. Brightly colored doodads and shiny tinsel can quickly wind up in mouths and throats. Cats in particular are inclined toward the consumption of tinsel. The tinsel itself won’t kill them, but when it passes through the string can cause internal damage if you try to pull it out. Cats with tinsel hanging out of their posteriors are a less than festive part of the holiday season.

Another choking hazard during the holidays is all of the wonderful food. It’s a time for generosity and feasting. People tend to chow down during the holidays, setting aside their diets in favor of cookies, pies and sumptuous dinners. The problem is that any number of these dishes can put you in need of the Heimlich Maneuver. Nuts, bones, unchewed morsels of meat, vegetable or baked goods can easily obstruct airways.

Giving bones to pets is an age-old treat, but not necessarily safe. Rawhide bones are a better option since actual bones can break and splinter, causing choking hazards and sharp fragments to puncture internal organs.

7 – Shiny Sharps

As we mentioned above, dogs chewing on actual bones can cause sharp fragments that can injure them internally. Likewise, we have any variety of sharp decorations that can lead to injury. Worst of all, there’s the dreaded icicle of death.

8 – Slippery Slopes

Although we established that skiing, snowboarding, tubing and sledding are awesome ways to stay fit and active during the cold days of Winter, these also combine the unfortunate mixture of an excess of speed and a dearth of friction. This can be a deadly combination. About 42 skiing/snowboarding fatalities are recorded each year while as many as 20,000 kids were injured in sledding accidents in recent years.

This is a risk you’re generally willing to accept when you’re out playing, but if you’re just walking down the street ice and snow can still be quite slippery and dangerous. I actually had this problem walking to work a few years ago. I was walking across the courthouse square on my way to work and then, WOMPA, I was suddenly horizontal. My wingtips might as well have been skis. My head hit the sidewalk and I was seeing in triple for hours afterward. That sucked.

9 – Fattening Foods

A lot of people go off their diets to enjoy the sumptuous treats of the season. That can be a problem if you’ve already got a heart condition, high cholesterol, diabetes or morbid obesity. If you don’t already have one of these problems, you might just push yourself closer to the borderline of any or all of them if you binge during the Christmas season. It takes 3500 calories over what your body naturally burns on a daily basis to add a single pound of fat. The bad news is that the typical Thanksgiving Dinner can rack up as many as 4500 calories. The occasional splurge is not going to have dreadful lasting effects, but the thing about splurging is that it quickly becomes habit-forming. The dopamine buzz you get from happily munching everything in sight will train your brain to keep on munching even when you don’t necessarily even want to. This is definitely a slippery slope.

Another binge item is alcohol. It’s found that 40% of highway deaths during the holidays are due to drunk driving. With all the Christmas parties, family get-togethers and New Year’s Eve celebrations, people find a lot of ways to consume a lot of alcohol and act very irresponsibly. Even with a designated driver to see you safely home, you may still have to deal with the awkwardness that attends facing your coworkers after a night of drunken foolishness at the company holiday event. A coworker of mine drank himself boneless before supper and proceeded to make a complete fool of himself at the company Christmas party quite a few years back. He wasn’t with the company for long after that. You definitely need to know your limit and stick to it. You also need a designated driver, a guest room to crash in or the good sense to wait until the alcohol is out of your system before you head home. Remember to wait at least one hour for each drink you’ve consumed. If you’re going to be expected to leave the party by a certain time, time your cutoff to allow for this safe waiting period or start making arrangements with less besotted buddies.

10 – Family Feuds

One of the biggest problems around the holidays is not burning trees or choking on tinsel, it’s family blowups. As much as we’d all like to have perfect families with perfect lives, people are just people. We rub each other the wrong way.

Old grudges fester from year to year. The person who irked us as a child probably totally steams us as an adult. Even though Jesus is the very embodiment of divine forgiveness, his birthday celebration is typically a chance to reopen old wounds and revisit festering age-old grievances. If you can be the bigger person and begin the process of spreading forgiveness in your family, great. This can be a truly miraculous healing experience for you and your family.

If the hurt is severe and irreparable, you might just want to skip the family get-togethers and get yourself a new family. Friends can be a family to those who can’t go home for whatever reason. Home is where the heart is. If the place you grew up only tears your heart out, you might want to leave the past in the past and move on.

Warning! Harsh Language. Not child-safe!

Warning! Harsh Language. Not child-safe!

11 – Shopping Shenanigans

What’s Christmastime without people being absolutely horrendous to each other while shopping for gifts for other people? Can we possibly get through a Black Friday without people being trampled to death when the doors open? Can we get through the holiday season without people wrestling each other over the last hot selling item at the store? Can we not deliberately smash shopping carts into people’s cars for double-parking? Can we not throw a fit and cuss out the cashier for being so slow?

Apparently not. People wonder why I do most of my Christmas shopping online. Let the UPS guy fight holiday traffic. I’ll sit home and watch Christmas movies and bake cookies.

12 – Ghoulish Ghosts

When worse comes to worst, you might just get haunted! Is there anything more of a downer for the holidays than having a gaggle of ghosts hassling you?

♫ There’ll be scary ghost stories And tales of the glories of the Christmases long, long ago… ♫

Fortunately, none of us are miserly enough to justify being haunted in order to be taught the meaning of Christmas.

Of course, there’s always the mogwai. Just don’t get them wet or feed them after midnight


On this Twelfth Day of Christmas, I wish you a fruitful, happy, healthy and absolutely wonderful New Year. The holidays may be drawing to a close, but here it’s Christmas All The Time. Stop in whenever you like. We’ll have the cocoa hot and the Christmas lights on for you all year long.

11 Facts About Bagpipes That’ll Make Your Hair Stand On End

Eleven Pipers Piping

11 Facts About Bagpipes That’ll Make Your Hair Stand On End

Bagpipes were considered a weapon at one point because they were used to frighten the enemy

  • The bagpipes took the place of trumpets in battle in 1549 at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
  • The shrill, penetrating sound works well in battle
  • Bagpipes can be heard up to 10 miles away
  • The sound of bagpipes can reach 111 decibels which is louder than a pneumatic drill, power saw and power mower

Bagpipes were made from an inside-out goat

  • Pipes can be made of wood or plastic
  • The reed can be made from water reeds, animal antlers, brass, metal or plastic
  • The chanter is the pipe that can play multiple notes while the drones play a single note
  • The chanter is never silent and its volume does not vary
  •  The bagpipe can only play 9 notes from G to A with no sharps or flats

Not invented in Scotland

#3 – Famous people love the bagpipes

  • Roman emperor Nero was an avid piper. It was during his reign that legions are thought to have introduced bagpipes into the British Isles
  • King Henry VIII owned five sets of bagpipes, but the Reformation he helped to kick off associated bagpipes with Catholicism and they fell out of favor in England
  • King Rama VI of Siam (Thailand) ordered the Great Highland Bagpipe replace the oboe as the official instrument of his elite Wild Tiger Corps
  • Queen Elizabeth II is awakened at precisely 9:30AM every day by her personal piper. Prince Phillip doesn’t enjoy this nearly as much as the Queen does.

#4 – The bagpipes were banned in Scotland by George II

After the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1746 banning various aspects of Highland culture such as wearing kilts and tartans as well as owning weapons and bagpipes. Owning bagpipes brought a death penalty such as that dished out to piper James Reid. Reid was a POW captured at the Battle of Culloden and hung for owning bagpipes. He protested that they were merely a musical instrument, but they answered that an army never fought without a piper at its head and the bagpipes were qualified as a weapon of war. The Act of Parliament banning highland cultural elements was repealed in 1785.

#5 – Bagpipes are in the Aerophone family

Bagpipes produce sound by causing a body of air to vibrate without membranes or strings or the vibration of the instrument contributing significantly to the sound. They are also qualified as a double woodwind instrument.

#6 – The song “A Flame of Wrath for Patrick MacCrimmon” is based on a historical event

Donald Mòr sought vengeance for the murder of his brother, Patrick Caog. He went to the village of Glenelg and set fire to eighteen houses because they would not turn his brother’s killer over to him. He is said to have stood on a hill playing his vengeful tune while the village burned.

#7 – There are more pipers in New Zealand and the United States than there are in Scotland

Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom use bagpipes in their military ceremonies and in police services.

#8 – Pipers were banned from playing into battle in 1915 due to the unbelievable carnage of WWI

3000 pipers were killed “going over the top” in the face of relentless German machinegun fire. The practice of having pipers lead troops into battle was suspended in the face of the horrific casualties experienced in Tommy Charges during The War To End All Wars

#9 – Flaming Bagpipes!

#10 – March 10th is International Bagpipe Day

#11 – The Elf Queen got me tickets to see the Red Hot Chili Pipers at the State Theater in on March 15th!

The 9 Ways That Dancing Can Help You Live A Better Life

Nine Ladies Dancing

The 9 Ways That Dancing Can Help You Live A Better Life

On the Ninth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Nine really good reasons to go dancing as often as possible. As New Year’s Resolutions go, dancing is a fun way to hit a lot of the most popular categories. Dancing comes in a variety of styles, but all of them render a variety of health benefits that we’ll discuss below.

Dancing Your Way To Optimum Health And Happiness

Unlike a lot of gym workouts, dancing is fun and you can keep at it for hours at a time. Likewise, you don’t need special equipment to do it. All you need is some music and a bit of floor space. Even if the music is only in your head or if you’re humming a tune to keep time, you can boogie oogie oogie ’til you just can’t boogie no mo’.

1) Better Balance

ballet-poseDepending on the type of dance you select, balance can play a major part in executing the choreography correctly. Even if you’re just moving to the beat and waving your arms around, dancing works most muscle groups in your body and leads to improved tone, posture and balance. All of these benefits can help if you’re getting older and less steady on your feet. Taking some time out of your busy week to go dancing can help you stay strong and limber well into your golden years.

2) Diminishes Depression

Studies have shown that dance can have an observable positive effect on people suffering from depression. The cardiovascular workout circulates oxygen-rich blood throughout the body and the aspect of being in a positive social setting with a lot of people who are having fun can cause a sympathetic response. People who go dancing have demonstrated less depressive symptoms. Get your heart pumping, your heart singing and your soul reaching out to your fellow dancers if you want a surefire cure for the blues.

3) Expand Energy

hip-hop-energyThe funny thing about the human body is that the more you use it, the more you can. Engaging in exercise of any kind on a regular basis fires up your internal batteries and generates more and more energy. Start slow and keep at it. With dancing, this isn’t all that hard. The more you do it, the more you’ll want to.

4) Find Friends

When you pick a style of dance you would like to engage in, you’re automatically set up to find people who have something in common with you. When you’re in a positive social setting with music you enjoy and people who like the same music as you, you’re already in your happy place. Staying socially active increases happiness which reduces stress and boosts your immune system.

5) Fortify Flexibility and Salves Stiffness

dancing-starsMost styles of dance work all the major muscle groups in your body without being jarring like jogging or team sports. Because you’re staying active and moving in a fluid and rhythmic way, the muscles will stay supple and flexible. When your muscles are worked actively without overdoing it, you won’t experience the kind of stiffness that you experience from a weight lifting session or a game of tackle football.

6) Heart Health

dancingBecause you are moving, your heart will benefit. If you suffer from a cardiovascular disorder, taking up a slow form of dance such as ballroom dancing or certain cultural forms can improve breathing, circulation and overall health. Because there are so many kinds of dance, you can choose the one that is right for you and your physical condition.

7) Slashes Stress

choreographyHaving a chance to get out with friends, listening to music you enjoy and taking a few turns with your favorite dance partner can do wonders to alleviate stress in your life. The sense of togetherness that comes from dancing with a partner or a group of friends takes your mind off of your worries for a while. The aerobic workout and social interaction will improve your frame of mind.

8) Stimulates The Smarts

Aerobic exercise like dance can reverse volume loss in the memory centers of your brain. If you are doing a specifically choreographed style of dance, having to remember the steps and the correct sequence can help to keep the brain active and offset potential development of dementia. As much as we like to sit down, switch on the TV and zone out for the night, that’s really the road to doom. Getting out and engaging socially and concentrating on your dance steps will forestall the ravages of old age.

9) Winnow Weight

elephantdancingdollThis is a gimme. Move more + eat less = lose weight. When you’re dancing, you can burn 400 or more calories an hour depending on the style and intensity. Slower forms will only burn about 200 calories per hour, while faster dancing can burn almost 400 calories per hour. Since it is enjoyable, it is easier for you to keep at it which helps to maintain the consistency needed to lose and maintain your desired body weight.


An added benefit that I discovered for dance is not only that it’s fun, but that it can keep you warm! I was working in a factory that hadn’t quite figured out how to work a thermostat. Some days, when it was really cold out, it was really cold inside as well. By turning on my mental play list, I kept my body moving. This raised my core body temperature and circulated warm blood to my extremities. What’s more, my coworkers got a free show. I kept warm and spread a lot of Christmas cheer. You can’t ask for a better result than that!

Let us know how dance has improved your life. If you haven’t started yet, give it a try. As resolutions go, this one ticks all the boxes. Give it a try this year. Your body and your mind will thank you.

Hello 2018

hello-2018

Hello 2018

Let’s keep things simple for the New Year. If you stayed up late to bring in the new year, make the day easy by not overcomplicating your meal plans. One trick is to lean on your heritage for planning a meal for the first day.

Where I come from, we have a strong German influence and the New Year’s tradition is pork and sauerkraut. There are a lot of wonderful recipes for this holiday classic, but if you have vegetarians among your guests you might want to try a pork-free alternative. Around here, it’s considered good luck to start the year off with this traditional New Year’s dish. We also typically like to watch the Mummers in Philadelphia, PA and the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA.

On the other hand, it’s Southern tradition to offer cornbread or hoe cakes with black-eyed peas and collard or turnip greens on New Years’ Day to bring in the New Year and expand luck. The black-eyed peas represent luck and the greens represent wealth. The more you can eat of each, the more you’re believed to be in line to receive in the coming year.

Other countries have their traditions that you can get some interesting ideas from.

Spain

The 12 Grapes of Luck are eaten with each stroke of midnight to ensure that the New Year gets off to a proper start. The twelve grapes also represent the twelve months of the coming year. The trick is to get all of the grapes down before the clock strikes twelve. It seems an easy enough trick to pull off, but there are those who try to stuff the whole dozen in their mouths at once. Easy does it, amigos!

Italy

Served at the stroke of midnight, Cotechino con Lenticchie is considered to bring good fortune because the lentils look like tiny little coins. The more you eat, the more your fortune will mount in the coming year. A heaping helping of this hearty stew seems like a great start to a prosperous new year.

Greece

Vasilopita is a tiered coffee cake with a coin baked inside. This is served at midnight on the first morning of the new year and is dished out to the youngest members of the family first and then proceeding by age. The person who finds the coin is considered to have good fortune coming to them in the coming year. Vasilopita is literally “St Basil’s Bread”. The story is that the emperor levied a tax on the people of Caesarea, where Basil was the bishop. The tax was so onerous that people were forced to hand over family jewels and every last coin they had to their names. Basil called upon the emperor to repent. When he did, the riches were given to Basil to return to the people. Having no idea who got what, Basil baked the lot into a giant loaf of bread and shared it with the people in his congregation. Miraculously, each person received their taxed belongings back in their piece of bread.

Russia

The Russians enjoy Salad Olivie at the stroke of midnight as their traditional New Year’s treat. The great thing about being Russian is that they get two New Year’s celebrations. The Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian Calendar, which puts them about a week askew of the Gregorian Calendar. However, in order to keep in sync with the rest of the world, they have been using the Gregorian Calendar for most secular functions. This allows them to celebrate the New Year both before and after Christmas and plenty of opportunity to enjoy some Salad Olivie.

Japan

A noodle dish called Soba is the tradition on New Year’s Eve to bring in the New Year. The noodles, made from buckwheat, symbolize longevity. The proof is in the noodles, since buckwheat is gluten-free and the protein and fiber can help you lose weight.

Whatever your heritage or culture, there is probably some sort of New Year’s tradition that you may or may not know of. If you don’t know the New Year’s tradition for your ancestor’s countries of origin you can lean on a new tradition and Google it! You can use any number of these ideas for New Year’s to liven up your holiday celebrations.

What is your family’s New Year’s Tradition?

Goodbye 2017

goodbye-2017

Goodbye 2017

Well, it’s been a fun year but we’ve got to say goodbye. Christmas may not be over yet, but 2017 will be at midnight tonight. Why not party down while the clock ticks away?

If you like the excitement of a Times Square ball drop party without the crowd, police checkpoints and freezing temperatures, you can watch the whole thing starting at 5PM Eastern at the official site of Times Square!

New Year’s Eve Party Ideas

If you’re entertaining for family and friends tonight, you’ve got a lot of options for a marvelous year-end wingding. You’re going to want to determine if you’re planning to have a supper or just appetizers and drinks. If you’re having a supper, are you providing all the food or are you having a potluck? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

If you’re planning to have a supper, then your appetizer count should be about 4-5 per guest. If you’re just doing finger foods and drinks, you’re going to want to allow for at least 12-15 per guest. With a sit-down option, you can provide appetizers that can be eaten with a fork. If it’s a standing mingle, you’ll need to stick to finger foods. Likewise, if you’re having a formal get-together you’re going to want to avoid sticky or heavily sauced items that can get on nice dresses and suits. If you’re having a casual affair, messy snacks are perfectly appropriate but be sure to provide a lot of napkins so they won’t be tempted to wipe fingers on your furniture.

Another key point for a wonderful party is providing a variety of drinks. Providing both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks is key. New Year’s Eve is commonly associated with excessive drinking, but keep the kids and the designated drivers in mind. Cocktails and mocktails can be prepared to give a broad selection of flavor profiles. Mocktails are the non-alcoholic versions of their spiked counterparts. Pina Coladas, Margaritas and Daiquiris can be just as delicious without the booze but be sure to make it obvious which is which so the designated drivers and teetotalers don’t get an unfortunate surprise.

Holding a potluck dinner is a great way for family and friends to bond as the year draws to a close. Guests can bring their favorite foods to share with everyone and create an awesome year-end feast. This kind of comfort food can serve as a marvelous backdrop to a happy gathering. It also takes a lot of the stress off of the hosts both financially and in consideration of time and preparation.

However, if you insist on being the hostess with the mostest, you might opt to prepare all the food for the feast. If you are a hardcore foodie, this might be therapy for you. Some people absolutely love cooking and preparing food for others and this can be an excellent expression of your fondness for your guests. If you’re just a masochistic control freak, this could lead to a lot of stress just before the end of the year. Be kind to yourself. If you love cooking for your loved ones, by all means, go for it. If you’re just feeling like you need to pull out all the stops to keep up with the Joneses, do yourself and your guests a favor and just don’t. You should be getting together to have fun as you wrap up the year. Getting stressed out of your brain is going to make you an awful host and the butt of a lot of jokes in the coming weeks.

When it comes right down to it, as long as you are with your favorite people on this final night of the year it doesn’t much matter what you prepare to eat and drink. Dollar store soda and generic chips & dip are going to be just as memorable as a five-course meal and exotic cocktails if you’re having fun. What really matters is ringing in the new year with your loved ones. End the year on a high note and don’t stress about the victuals.

Five, four, three, two, one… Happy New Year!

Cats vs Christmas Trees

Pet Wreath

Cats vs Christmas Trees

Okay, this isn’t a TXT Stories video but it’s entertaining nevertheless.

Cats vs Christmas Trees

🐱 trolling 🎄

Posted by Awestruck on Monday, December 11, 2017

Okay, that’s adorable and quintessentially feline but it’s not quite as funny when it’s your own tree crashing to the floor. Here are some important considerations when trying to get cats to co-exist with your Christmas tree:

Selection: The age-old question of real vs artificial comes into sharp focus when you have pets. Real trees have needles that can be tempting for cats and dogs to chew, but are actually toxic. This also goes for the water used to keep the tree fresh during the holiday season. An animal drinking from the tree’s water can become quite ill from the toxins. Granted, eating a plastic tree branch isn’t much good for their digestion but they’re less likely to go after an unscented plastic limb than an aromatic pine bough.

Slow your roll: There’s nothing more exciting than erecting your tree and proceeding to go completely Martha Stewart on the thing, but if you’ve got cats you’re well advised to let the thing sit a bit before decorating. This will give your fuzzies a chance to get used to the new item in the room and become bored with it. If you can let the tree stand a few days before decorating, it will prevent some possible issues. Cats are notoriously curious and will want to climb it just because it’s there. To that end, it might be better to have a shorter tree so that if they do climb and topple it there is less chance of them getting hurt in the process.

Site prep: We’ve already spoken about the benefits of going artificial for your animals’ sakes as well as opting for a shorter tree that’s less likely to do injury if it falls on them. Additional steps you can take are to secure a wide base by duck taping the feet of the artificial tree’s base to a wide, heavy surface. The same can be accomplished with other materials, but whatever you decide to use should be able to withstand the weight of a cat who has climbed to the top or a big dog who is leaning against the tree.

Scent: Another tactic is to make the tree smell displeasing to your cats. Citrus is lovely for us, but it’s horribly strong and repellent to cats. You can spray the tree with a citrus scent or you can soak some pine cones in citronella oil and hang them from the bottom branches among the decorations. A pine cone with some white paint and glitter on top and a loop of ribbon hot glued near the stem looks lovely as a decoration and can be dipped periodically to maintain its repellent aroma. Pomanders are also a good resource. An orange punctured with cloves and hung from the tree as an aromatic decoration will make a lovely scent for you and an invisible fence for your cats.

 Separate but equal: As much as decorating the tree is an opportunity for family togetherness, you might want to seriously consider shutting the cats away while the activity is going on. All of those different decorations coming out of their packing are just going to wind up looking like an ever-changing variety of toys for your kitties to swat at and want to play with. If it can all occur while they’re being distracted in another room or napping, it’s going to be less tempting for them overall.

Spray: When all else fails, keep the spray bottle handy. A squirt of water and a “No” will generally get the idea across. Keeping a citrus-based air freshener near the tree will also help serve as a deterrent.

Another consideration for your pets is how to handle holiday visitors. With the excitement of the season, dogs and cats can get overly excited when friends and family arrive. Not only can it annoy your visitors, but it also can be harmful to your pet. All the same, you don’t have to keep your animals crated or locked in a room in order to avoid problems. The following tips will help your pet stay calm enough to not miss out on the holiday fun:

Give your pet an extra workout: According to the American Humane Association, taking your pet for an extra long walk or having a longer playtime can help tire your pet out before the party starts.

Encourage guests to greet with care: As your guests wander in, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests asking your guests to calmly greet your pet. Giving an excited greeting will undoubtedly be reciprocated.

Amuse your pet with a toy: The Humane Society of the United States recommends using toys as a distraction from jumping up on guests or getting into things. For dogs, toys with hiding places for treats are suggested. Catnip toys will keep cats busy.

Reward good behavior a few times during the event: The American Humane Association suggests keeping treats handy. Encourage your guests not to feed “people food” to your pets. Using inappropriate foodstuffs as a treat can lead to begging for more at your guests’ feet.

Relax your pet with a supplement: Many experts say that calming products can help relieve your pet of hyperactivity. After three or four squirts in your pet’s mouth, Pet Calming Spray acts quickly to relieve fear, nervousness, restlessness and aggression. It helps rutchy pets sleep through the night.

A Letter To Santa

A Letter To Santa

There is an outfit on FaceBook called TXT Stories and they’ve made a number of interesting stories for the holidays that I’d like to share with you. Today, being Christmas Eve, I’d like to share this one. It’s an exchange between a desperate mother and a Santa her son saw at their local shopping mall.

TXTMAS 2018 #8 – A TEXT TO SANTA | by txtstories

TXTMAS EP. 8 – texting a letter to santa… ✨🎅🎁
#txtmas

Posted by TXT Stories on Wednesday, December 20, 2017

How’s that for a surprise ending? I’ve got some more to share in the coming days. Some are helpful and some are just silly.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a clever way of telling a story. Technology is definitely having a wonderful effect on our culture. The ability to tell a story in the form of a simulated text exchange is something quite new and innovative. It’s an interesting spin on the slice of life skits you see in high school and youth group amateur theatrics taken to a new level with computer animation. The folks at TXT Stories are quite creative as you’ll see in the coming days. Stay tuned!

Storage Ideas for Christmas Recipes

recipe-cards

Storage Ideas for Christmas Recipes

Every holiday season, many of us look forward to eating special treats made using long-held and cherished family recipes. Many families have holiday food traditions they hold dear. I simply cannot imagine a holiday without Nana’s plum pudding or Mom’s thimble cookies. Year after year, we enjoy these treats and use them as a way to stay connected with our families and the Christmas spirit. Keeping track of your favorite holiday treats will help things go more smoothly.

You can create that special holiday feeling each year by returning to your favorites in due course. The easiest way to do this is to have them stored in a coherent fashion. Here are some excellent ways to store your recipes:

      • 5 x 7 Cards – Many people still like keeping 5 x 7 cards in a box to save their recipes. It’s a good approach because you can take the cards out and use them while you’re cooking. Some people like to laminate the cards to keep the recipes from smudging.
      • Cookbooks – There will often be only a handful of recipes you like or cook out of any given cookbook. A great way to store these is to mark the pages that have the recipes you like and keep them on a bookshelf in your kitchen. In the table of contents, highlight the recipes you like best so that you don’t have to leaf through the entire cookbook all the time. It’s also worthwhile marking any recipes that you’ve tried and didn’t like. Highlighting the good recipes and the not-so-good will save you a lot of time searching through your cookbooks.
      • Electronically – Another way to keep your recipes is in soft copy. There is software for recipe databases that you can use on your computer, or you can just use the filing system and folders already available on your computer. For recipe-keeping software, try Big Oven. I’ve included a Holiday Meal Planner sheet and list sheet for your Favorite Christmas Recipes.
      • Online – Sites like Just a Pinch offer ways to save recipes and add your own original recipes and pictures. Just a Pinch additionally lets you print out your own cookbook based on the recipes you have created.
      • Photos – Another good way to keep a recipe is to take a photo with your phone of the dish, print it out, and then glue or write the recipe on the back of the photo. That way they know what it’s supposed to look like when they’ve made it.
      • Recipe Book – Get a notebook or scrapbook with clear sleeves, then just put the recipes inside. You can put magazine recipes, recipes printed out from the computer, your 5 x 7 cards, and even recipes written on the back of Christmas paper inside this notebook. It’s a great way to keep them.

cookingA great idea regardless of how you save your recipes is to make a note if you altered them. The holiday food traditions we look forward to are the byproducts of experimentation by previous generations. The creators of the original dishes may have never intended to make them again. They just happened to feel like doing something different or adding something new to the holiday table. When you tweak a recipe and it turns out great, making a note of it allows you to repeat it next time. This way, it becomes part of your family heritage and people can remember your contribution with as much nostalgia as you hold for your own ancestors’ recipes.

More than mere sustenance, the family traditions we enjoy year after year are a source of pride and lead to conversations about family members and fond memories of holidays past. Traditional family foods can be one of the most important parts of the holiday season for many people.

 

egg-nogThere was once, however, a time in each and every family history before those recipes existed. Mom had to make those thimble cookies for the first time. When she did, she may have placed them right next to chocolate chip cookies made with her Grandma’s secret recipe, having no idea they would become such an integral part of the holiday. She simply hoped that she could add a little bit to the holiday by trying something different. Our holiday food traditions are special to us, and it is wonderful to experience those comforting recipes each and every holiday. It’s important to remember how those traditions began. Taking the source of those traditions into account, we can be spurred to create our own.

This holiday season, consider doing something new. Think about adding a different plate to the dinner or treat table. Make a side dish not generally found on your holiday table or try a new cookie recipe. Try a few new ideas and see what happens.

dinner-with-friendsSome of the new options may not be very well received and others may be enjoyed, but not nearly as much as your family’s holiday classics. However, one might receive such rave reviews that you decide to try it again next year. In years to come, that simple decision to experiment may turn into part of your family’s traditional holiday table. The new cookie recipe you find in a holiday recipe collection this year may eventually become a staple item that your great-grandchildren cannot imagine missing.

Traditions are an important and wonderful part of the essence of one’s family. Wouldn’t it be nice to add your generation’s recipes to the holiday traditions you all hold so dear? Inventing new holiday traditions has no precise formula. One cannot really intentionally “design” a new holiday food tradition. They tend to grow over time. New traditions do require a willingness to prepare an inventive new dish. This holiday season, consider your potential role as a creator of a meaningful holiday tradition and add something new to the holiday feast.

You’ve got Elf Mail!

You've got Elf Mail!

You’ve got Elf Mail!

Everybody loves an Advent Calendar. Opening the little doors each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas to see a fancy picture or perhaps even a bit of chocolate. Great holiday fun.

Elf Mailbox

Well, I was at the Family Dollar and I saw this adorable elf mailbox. At that moment, I got the idea for a new twist on the Advent Calendar. What if I made little letters for the kids for each of the 24 days of December leading up to Christmas Day? All great ideas need a little try and a little umph in order to achieve triumph!

Gift CardsSo, I went to the Walmart and found these gift tags that look like little Christmas cards. Bingo! The perfect thing to go in to the Elf Mailbox. I have four kids and 24 days ’til Christmas, so I needed to get 96 gift tags! These came in packs of 16, so I got 6 packs and I’m good to go. I got a variety of them so each day would be a colorful holiday celebration

Next, we needed something to put in the cards. I did a bit of research and it turns out that the weeks of Advent are thematically tied to the following ideas:
Day 1Bible Verses

  • Hope
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace

Advent MessagesSo I found a collection of bible verses, motivational quotes and cheerful sayings to go with each of the themes of Advent. I’ve added an Advent Messages Planner Sheet for you to make your own Elf Mail Advent Calendar.

I think my kids are really going to enjoy this special, customized Advent Calendar. It’s a great opportunity to give them a special, personalized holiday experience and something special to look forward to on a daily basis leading up to Christmas Day.


Until you can get to the store and get your supplies, here’s a free Advent Calendar app for this year that you might enjoy.

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