Mason Jar Gift Idea

By Ashley Whisonant

With the holidays coming to a close I am always thinking of ways to save time, money, and my sanity! Between my husband, boys, coworkers, family, and friends, many gifts were given out this holiday season.

One of my year-round favorite gifts to give or receive are Mason jar mixes. I have come across cookies, breads, brownies, and even alcohol Mason jar gifts. One of my favorites is the recipe below. It is the perfect cookie for now, not too sweet and easy to make!

Check out this easy recipe:

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup flour

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ cup 1 minute oats and 1/8 cup at the end

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup sugar

½ cup chocolate chips

1 large Mason jar

 

The Plan:

  1. Mix the flour, sea salt, and baking powder. Use a funnel to fill the bottom of the Mason jar
  2. Add the packed brown sugar, making sure to level it out
  3. Next, add the regular sugar
  4. Add the chocolate chips on top, continuing to level
  5. Add 1/8 cup more oats just to top off the jar
  6. Place the top and decorate with ribbon or baker’s twine

The baking directions also need to be included with the jar.

*Add one egg, ½ cup softened butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla to jar mix. Bake cookies at 350 degrees for around 8 mins.

mason

Like nature, my to-do list abhors a vacuum

By Jeanne Reynolds

I’m writing this on a Monday afternoon in mid-December — a somewhat random day off work just to avoid losing vacation days as the window of opportunity quickly closes.

Wow, a whole day off just for me, with no doctor’s appointments, errands or family duties. So much free time just to read, relax or do whatever I want.

Yeah, right.

It started that way. Then I decided it would be the perfect time to submit online matching gift forms for my year-end charitable donations, address and stamp and stuff Christmas cards, bake my special gingerbread men that I give co-workers every year, wrap a few gifts, reorder a gift I already bought because the vendor just notified me it’s sold out, pick up air filters for all the air returns in the house (there are at least four, each a different size, so I also have to figure out where I wrote that information last year or get the ladder out of the garage and measure them), and oh, what’s that grungy stuff splashed all over the back of the pantry door, and when was the last time this sugar canister was washed?

And so it goes. This happens to me all the time — no, correction: I do this to myself all the time. I overbook and cram too much into my “time off” so the feeling of accomplishment from crossing so many things off my to-do list is outweighed by the feeling of resentment that I can’t take a simple day off and I never get it all done.

Frazzled+woman

Wait, back up a minute. I may have stumbled on the real issue here. I never get it all done because it never will be all done. Even if I draw a solid black line through every task on the list, 3 or a dozen more will leap into their places. I don’t know if it’s a female thing or a perfectionist thing or what, but there’s always going to be more to get done than I and a small army can do.

I keep thinking if I really slam it today, I can enjoy my free time tomorrow because the list will be cleared off. But no, like flipping over an hourglass so the sand runs inexorably from the top to the bottom, the list will fill, fill, fill again.

So what’s the answer? I probably could take a cue from the song in the animated film Frozen: Let it go.

Honestly, I’m not sure I can. At 60 I’m not likely to change my DNA. But maybe I can try some baby steps. Like today: I stopped what I was doing late this afternoon and went to have a pedicure, a favorite treat I enjoy only once a year or so. And it was lovely (can I get one of those massaging chairs installed in my car?).

Pedicure-4

Ladies, let’s give ourselves permission to put down the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser once in a while, close the door to the closet that looks like Mount Vesuvius erupted again, and enjoy some guilt-free down time. I’ll try if you will.

 

Because I have to say those baby steps are going to look pretty good with these awesome toes.

 

 

The Best Gift

By Chaunte McClure

I love giving Christmas gifts. To see the sweet faces of my little people light up when they open packages is heartwarming and, in some ways, rewarding. And let’s face it, it’s a joy to receive gifts too, especially when you’re not expecting one.

I was surprised with a few nice gifts the first weekend in December. I wanted to wait until the night of Christmas Eve or Christmas morning to see what was tucked in the decorative gift bags, but my friend begged me to open one of them in her presence and asked me not to consider what might have been spent on the gift or try to give her a gift based on the fact that she bought gifts for me. After removing the present from the gift bag, she explained that the gift was more of a way to show her appreciation for my influence on her life. (Pass the Kleenex, please.) Her sentiments alone were a gift and they make my heart glad.pexels-photo-257855

I’m nearly a decade into the ministry and I am at a point where I don’t care to hear how well I’ve preached because my interest is in whether the preached word of God has changed the life of the listener. No matter how often I stand behind a podium to preach the great Gospel of Jesus Christ, I must live the life of a believer. I realize that my life is a sermon and as difficult as it is at times to live it out in a way that is pleasing to God, it is good to know that I’ve impacted my friend’s life and prayerfully many others. I hold fast to the mantra “if I can help someone along the way, then my living won’t be in vain.”

In my weakest and most vulnerable moments, I think of young ladies like my friend who look up to me and to God who gave his best to me.

While we’re decking the halls, shopping for gifts, planning dinner, and sharing with family and friends, remember why there is such a day reserved for Christmas. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. . .” God gave us His best, Jesus Christ, and that is what gives us hope for the days to come.

Have a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Three Easy and Giftable (and Gluten Free) Treats

By Rachel Sircy

For all you last minute people out there (like myself), I have three ridiculously easy recipes to share: Chocolate Fondue, Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies and two types of chocolate bark (so I guess I really have four recipes.) Provided you make sure that the ingredients that you’re using are gluten free, these treats are simple gluten free gifts or desserts that you can give go celiacs and non-celiacs alike. I promise that no one will know that these things are gluten free. I’ll give you hints in each of the recipes as to which ingredients you need to be careful with.

  1. Chocolate Fondue: One year for our anniversary, my sister-in-law brought my husband and I a plate of fresh strawberries and two small bowls of chocolate fondue. It was a simple, elegant gift and the best part was that it didn’t clutter up our house afterward. Rather than giving ornaments or little trinkets, try food. It’s great while it last and the best part is, it doesn’t last forever.

 

Ingredients:                1 Cup Heavy Cream

                                      12 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate (I prefer Ghiradelli chocolate baking bars or chocolate chips. They aren’t super expensive and the quality of chocolate is just better than most other common brands in my opinion. Plus, Ghiradelli dark and semisweet chocolate are made without gluten and in a clean factory. NOTE: the same is NOT TRUE about Ghiradelli white chocolate bars or baking chips. They are not celiac safe per the Ghiradelli website.)

                                      1 tsp. Vanilla

Method:       Heat Cream in pan (careful not to boil) until very hot. Add chocolate and vanilla and stir until melted.

For Dipping choices, you can use fresh fruit – strawberries and bananas work well. You could also use cookies (store bought or homemade, just as long as their gluten free) and marshmallows. Actually, you can pretty much dip anything in chocolate. I would eat my own hand if it were covered in a good chocolate.

  1. Peanut Butter Blossoms: Probably everyone has this recipe because these are the easiest cookies ever to make. But, I thought I’d share because sometimes I find that those really simple things that everyone knows how to do are the things that nobody writes down the recipe for and then people like me – who don’t know how to do them – get stuck. Everything in this recipe should be gluten free as long as you stick with pretty simple peanut butter (don’t go for the weird flavored stuff they have out now, though some might be GF) and DON’T let anyone use your PB! I always take a permanent marker and write GF all over my peanut butter jars when I get them home from the grocery store.

 Ingredients:               1 Cup Peanut Butter

                                      1 Cup Granulated Sugar

                                      1 Tsp Baking Powder

                                      1 Egg

Method:       Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream Peanut Butter and Sugar together in a bowl. Beat in Baking Powder. Add egg and mix until well combined. Roll into balls (smaller is better) and roll in white sugar. Place on baking sheet and press with fork. Bake 10 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes on baking sheet, then cool if you want plain cookies. If you want to make the PB Blossoms, however, transfer the cookies directly to a plate after they’ve rested on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. This will ensure that they cool more slowly, but won’t make them soggy or anything. Use your favorite type of Hershey’s kiss (read the label to make sure it’s GF, but I think most kinds of Hershey’s Kisses are) and press them into the still warm cookies. The Kisses will melt, but then they will re-solidify when cooled. Letting them melt initially, however, makes them softer and makes them stick better in the PB cookies.

 

  1. Peppermint Bark: This has been a staple for me for years. No matter how much you make it, people will never turn it down. And you can do slightly different things with it. Sometimes I make it with just white chocolate. Sometimes I drizzle dark chocolate over the white chocolate for some contrast and once I even made it with just dark chocolate, and it wasn’t half bad. I know that lots of people make Peppermint Bark, but like I said, people will never turn it down. And, in chocolate barks like this, the quality of ingredients can make all the difference. I’ve had really fantastic Peppermint Barks and some that were not so great. I ate them all, of course, but you remember the really, really good ones.

 Ingredients:                12 oz white chocolate (Alas, Ghiradelli is my favorite, but it’s not celiac-safe. According to what I’ve looked up on their website, Nestle Toll House white chocolate chips claim to be gluten free and that is generally what I use. It’s a slight sacrifice in quality, but it’s better to be safe than sorry)

                                      5 Candy Canes, Crushed (Bob’s candy canes are gluten free and their peppermint candy canes are pretty delicious)

                                      ½ Tsp Peppermint Extract (I used Pure Peppermint oil that I bought at Earthfare. It was kind of expensive, but it will last for a long time and it has a great, strong flavor.)

                                      4 oz Semi-Sweet or Bittersweet Chocolate  (Optional)

Method: Melt white chocolate in a large double boiler, when it is melted, add peppermint extract. Spread chocolate out over a cookie sheet covered in wax paper and sprinkle candy cane bits onto the chocolate. Let cool in refrigerator or freezer. When white chocolate is cooled, melt dark chocolate in a double boiler and spread over the cooled white chocolate, if desired. Cool and then break apart the bark into bite-sized pieces.

  1. Cookies ‘n Cream Bark: This is one that I kind of came up with myself because my favorite candy bar used to be Hershey’s Cookies and Cream candy bar. This was something that I had to give up when I found out I had celiac disease. Necessity (or junk food cravings) is the mother of invention. So, I just put the two ingredients that I really loved together and it worked out wonderfully. Here’s a picture of the bark and the big chunks of cookie in the strata:

Ingredients:                 12 oz. White Chocolate Chips

                                      1 package Gluten Free Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (I always use Glutino Brand, but you could also use Kinninnick and I think Schar Brand and Walmart both have their own GF chocolate sandwich cookies)           

 Method: Crush cookies in a bag. Melt chocolate in double boiler, add the crushed cookie bits and spread out onto a cookie sheet line with wax paper. Chill in the fridge or the freezer.

 

Hopefully, these help with any last-minute GF guests that show up at your house or with anyone you need a small, last minute gift for. Merry Christmas!

 

 

Shop Late, If You Must, But Don’t Forget to Shop Sustainable

By Mary Pat Baldauf

There are still a few days left for holiday gift shopping, and if you’re like me, you’ll be using every last hour. A shopper at heart, I love buying gifts for the special people in my life. As a “green girl,” I shop with sustainability in mind and wanted to share some tips so you, too, can be a more sustainable holiday shopper on the last few days of this holiday season.

Think local. Studies show that every dollar spent generates twice as much income for the local economy, and who doesn’t like that? Because locally produced products are created here – not shipped in from across the country or even across the world – the footprint of your gift will be smaller and result in a cleaner, healthier environment.  Working for the City of Columbia, I do a lot of shopping in the Main Street District. My favorites for local goods include Soda City, Columbia’s Main Street market, and Uptown on Main, who also wraps gifts for free.

Consider consumables. Having issues with clutter myself, I refuse to create more for the holidays, for me or for others. My standard gift is usually a recycled-content ornament, but this year I’m only buying gifts that can be eaten or experienced. The Cotton Mill Exchange at the SC State Museum has a great selection of Palmetto State gifts, including gourmet foods produced within our borders. Or select a gift card to a local restaurant, bakery or micro-brewery. Personally, I’ll be asking Santa for a gift certificate to Spotted Salamander, a downtown Columbia café featuring inventive Southern cuisine with fresh, high quality local ingredients. And don’t forget Blue Flour Bakery’s fat and fabulous sugar cookies; with locations in Columbia and Irmo, they’re always a convenient treat.

Another favorite consideration? Think experiential. In the Midlands, it’s easy to find Nickelodeon Marquissomething for everyone on your list to enjoy, like tickets to a play or attraction you know they like. A donation in the name of your recipient will go a long way, too. At the top of my list is a membership to The Nickelodeon, Columbia’s art house theatre on Main Street. Experience gifts are true memory makers, and they don’t take up space on a shelf or need wrapping, either.

 

When you buy gifts, do you consider its impact on the environment and/or local community? Where is your favorite place to buy sustainable holiday gifts? And what is it you recommend there?  

Greatest adventures

By Stacy Thompson

In about a week I’m going to embark upon one of my greatest physical and mental challenges to date (but more about that later). As I sat down to write this post, I intended to reflect on the coolest adventures I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, but then very quickly realized that the list very clearly centered around one person – my mom.

There are many forms a mom may take, but mine has generally gone a little beyond the norm – I have, since I was very young, always noted that mine was “not a real Mom” but in the best possible way – as some examples, and as my list of greatest experiences/adventures ever, following are some of my mom’s best ringleader moments:

  • “What are you doing this weekend?” – these were the words I heard one Tuesday evening from my mom. The Saturday that followed included jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 11,000 feet with a couple of experienced jumpers at the ready to assist if our chutes didn’t open. Fortunately, the chutes opened quite nicely and we were left with an empowering, exhilarating experience of a lifetime!
  • Flipper was flippin’ awesome! We’ve had a few amazing animal-related experiences together – cuddling a Koala, hugging a monkey, getting up-close-and-personal with a giant clam and enjoying snack time with a joey in a kangaroo’s pouch – but sharing the waters with a dolphin ranks pretty high on the list!
  • “If I tell you…you cry…then you no go” – these were the words of our Peruvian guide on our treacherous way to Machu Picchu – the days were long, but worth the ultimate prize in our visit to one of the world’s wonders! It was the first of many hikes we have taken in the past several years, and started a trend that I hope will continue for many years to come!
  • Ultimate Hike – 30-mile hike in one day? Sure, why not, particularly when it means raising funds for children’s cancer research. The mother-of-all-bonding-experiences was a blast…even despite the snake – please enjoy our video journal…

https://www.facebook.com/stacyt11/videos/10209175407371613/

https://www.facebook.com/stacyt11/videos/10209175618896901/

  • “Go ahead…I dare you” – a/k/a “When in Rome…” So, our actual experiences in the Eternal City were pretty tame, but our adventures in the home of the bungee-jump, Queenstown, New Zealand, were anything but. Mom decided that we needed to engage in the home-town past-time and plunge 180 feet down a rocky cliff attached to an oversized rubber band. I stood on the platform over said cliff until our guides deigned to dare me to jump…so yeah, that one I blame on Mom and the overly exuberant Kiwis!
  • Mother Goddess of the Earth – base camp of Everest – we made it to 18,500 feet, trekked through a snowstorm and managed to survive without a shower for 6 days. The trip to Nepal and all its glory was unforgettable, unimaginable and indescribable – we truly loved the people, our Sherpas, our Yaks and our memories of The Peak of Heaven.

 

And finally, a trip we will not be taking together, but one that I am taking entirely because of her.  A few years back, after attaining her Medicare card, my mother took on the ultimate challenge to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – 19, 341 feet, the Rooftop of Africa and Mountain of Greatness.  At the time, I thought she had really lost it and did not understand why she would put herself through something like that.  Then she returned and spoke of the beauty of the hike, the serenity of the climb and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment at the summit of that great peak.  So I’m once again following my Mom’s direction and in her footsteps – she will be with me every step of the way and hers is the hug I look forward to most upon my return!  I only hope to make her proud and to share one more great adventure!!

 

The Last Thing You Were Truly Grateful for… What Was It???

By Shannon Boatwright

During the holiday season, though we’re consumed with Gift Wishes, massive To-Do lists, and the overwhelming feeling of never feeling like we have the time to do everything we always pledge to do better with the year before, you have to admit, it’s still always the season that wins our hearts.

Awesome Christmas movies, the school, church & other community performances and incredible special holiday events that make us think, make us feel, tug at our heart strings and create something in us that makes our hearts blossom in a way only the holiday season can do. If you have a heart, you know what I’m talking about. Those moments when the lump builds in our throats because a deeper meaning takes hold of us…

…whether it’s when Kevin from the movie “Home Alone” finally reunites with his Mama after successfully, comically pummeling the bad, robber guys…

…or when Buddy the Elf finds his Dad, inspires everyone around him with his joyful innocence, then helps to save Christmas…

…or when Clark finally gets his house lights to twinkle & gets his much deserved bonus…

…or when Cindy Lou Who helps to bring the Grinch to the good side and inspire his heart to grow…

I could go on and on! 🙂

Seriously, you know what I’m talking about… it’s just flat out the season that warms your heart in so many precious ways. Even the cheesy school performances can wet the eyes and fill your heart, no matter how bad the performances may be! It’s the thought and purpose that counts. It’s the coming together to remember the reason for the season. It’s the passion for giving and helping others. It’s that time of the year when you want all your loved ones right at your side. It’s the coming together to celebrate a beautiful season of love, giving and gratefulness.

So… amongst the busyness of the holiday season, what was the last thing you were grateful for? We can all name general things that we’re overwhelmingly thankful for, but without thinking too hard, what’s the last thing that happened to you that made you really stop and think, Oh My Goodness, I’m so thankful for _________.  Whether big or small, allow yourself to think on it. Allow yourself to take a moment during the holiday madness, step away from the commercialism, the shopping and party planning, and just really ponder those priceless moments that have warmed your heart and create a gratefulness in you that stops you in your busy tracks just a bit.

Just a few of my priceless moments…

Candy caneWhen my angel daughter and I get to spend quality time together and leaves me precious notes like the one you see in the picture that she left out for me this past Sunday…whew, talk about being overwhelmed with gratefulness!

IMG_2683

Candy caneWhen my angel son hugs and latches onto me, kissing me on the cheek, not because he wants something, but just because. When his 12-year-old boy self recognizes and compliments my hard work and is sincerely impressed with something I’ve accomplished. Those moments make my heart burst with gratefulness!

 

 

Candy caneWhen my amazing husband randomly comes over to me IMG_3908and sweetly, gently kisses my face and whispers in my ear, “I love you”.  And, the fact that no matter what or when, he can always tell when there is something wrong or if I’m upset or feeling bad. He has this beautiful sensibility and awareness…some sort of magical true love power of knowing me so well. I can even try to hide it, yet the man can always tell and is always ready and willing to listen, love and try to make me feel better. My heart melts with gratefulness!

 

 

I could go on and on and on and on, because it is in those priceless moments that we should feel real gratefulness. And at this time of year, it’s in these moments that we experience the reason for the season. The giving of our love, attention, time, efforts, togetherness and love ultimately can lead to an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness…if we simply take the time to recognize it.

So what was the last thing that happened to you that made you stop in your tracks and truly have a moment that made you say, “My goodness, am I ever grateful!!”