Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

By: Rachel Sircy

There are a lot of things to beware of when you have celiac disease or a non-celiac gluten intolerance. Label reading becomes a part of your life and you not only have to eat differently, but you have to think in a different way about food in general. It all seems pretty daunting, especially if you’re starting out. I know the feeling of being in a rush to get somewhere and thinking that I need to grab a quick bite to eat only to realize that there is nothing around me that is both quick and safe for me to eat. I have broken down and cried in a few of those situations. In those moments, I start to remember all the fast food places where I used to be able to eat. I start thinking that a drive-through dinner could solve all my problems if only their breaded chicken nuggets weren’t a complete hazard to my health.

It’s easy for those of us with a gluten intolerance to try to find quick fix solutions for a life-long problem, but that usually leads us into the danger zone. In fact, I just read an article about a new sort of pitfall for the gluten intolerant that is out on the market. Allergic Living Magazine published an article that answered some serious questions that I’ve had about some supplements I noticed on the shelves of some of our local health food stores. These supplements claim that they can help break down the string of proteins known as gluten so that people who are sensitive to gluten can digest it. Now, I have run into these supplements here and there for the past three or four years. A few well-meaning people in my life keep trying to get me to take these supplements so that gluten won’t bother me. They seem to think that these supplements work like an epi-pen, so that if I eat gluten I can quickly take a supplement and there won’t be any harmful effects. It’s all seemed pretty sketchy to me from the beginning. Celiac disease is sort of a digestive disease, but in truth, it’s an auto-immune disorder. It’s not that my tummy just isn’t happy when I eat gluten, it’s that my white blood cells think that gluten is poison. The digestive discomfort that occurs when I eat gluten is a result of my own body attacking itself. So, it didn’t make sense to me that a new kind of probiotic could help the root cause of my sickness. Unless these pills could break gluten down into a form that my body wouldn’t recognize as gluten, then their claim meant nothing to me.

As it turns out, my gut feeling (pardon the pun) about these supplements was right. According to Allergic Living’s article, dietary supplements in the United States are not regulated by the FDA. As long as they do not claim to cure any particular illness, they can make any claims that they want. According to a brief interview with Dr. Stefano Guandalini, the medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, there has been research that proves that the supplements on the market are ineffective for celiac patients. So, while these supplements might provide some benefit for people who may have some digestive discomfort after eating gluten-laden products, they DO NOT make it safe for people with celiac disease to eat gluten.

Keep in mind that there are plenty of things that you can do in a rush to make sure you don’t go hungry. Fruit makes a wonderful snack and there are plenty of gluten free trail mix bars and whole food bars on the market. Keep your pantry stocked with quick, healthy, gluten free snacks and you won’t have to worry about what to eat on the run. And, if you’re craving some of your old favorite snacks, there are some pretty good gluten free substitutes on the market these days. If you can’t seem to find the exact replacement for your favorite cookies, doughnuts or fried chicken, take the opportunity that you now have to find something new, something healthier. Remember, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.

Suggested reading: Below are the links to the articles that I mentioned in this piece. If you have celiac disease or know someone with a gluten intolerance, they are well worth reading. I truly believe in getting your information from reputable sources. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet (especially by crazy bloggers like me…) Make sure your sources are good ones, backed up by actual medical doctors and dieticians. Happy reading!

http://allergicliving.com/2017/04/19/a-gluten-free-reality-check/

https://sciencelife.uchospitals.edu/2014/04/01/can-glutenase-pills-help-people-with-celiac-digest-gluten/

Gluten Free and Not Broke

By: Rachel Sircy

When my husband and I first got married, I was a grocery-budgeting wizard. I could easily keep our food expenses under $100 a month. I shopped sales and bought store brands. I figured out meals made from ingredients that were inexpensive but that were also delicious. Unfortunately, none of these inexpensive delicious meals were gluten free. My dinners relied a lot on processed convenience foods like the just add water pizza crust mixes you can get for 1.00 each in some stores.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I had to give up all the basic knowledge that I had about how to shop for and prepare food. And my grocery bill quadrupled (that’s not an exaggeration). Suddenly inexpensive bleached wheat flour had to be replaced with countless tiny 1lb bags of bizarre powders – things I would never have considered edible before had I not been forced to turn to them. I learned a new vocabulary and new price tags. Amaranth, Teff, Xanthan gum were now words I knew and things I ate. Sickness forced me to eat some pretty horrible things in those days (thanks Bob’s Red Mill for your experiments with bean flours, but your beany bread was puke-worthy) and sickness also forced me to get over the sticker shock. The first bag of xanthan gum that I bought was 8oz and it cost me over $12. After a while, things stopped tasting like cardboard, and I stopped tearing up every time the cashier said the grocery bill total out loud to me. Sooner than I realized, $6 for a half-sized loaf of bread seemed normal to me. After all the terrible mishaps I made in the kitchen playing mad scientist with these tiny bags of ridiculously expensive flours, I was relieved to find a 4lb bag of all-purpose gluten free flour for $16. I was going into the grocery store trying to stick to a budget, but I was so clueless that if someone had told me that a bunch of bananas was $10 I might have believed them.

So, I’ve been broke for a while now. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. But the good news about that is that after several years of trial and error, I am finally learning how to be gluten free without breaking the bank. And now, I can take all of my mistakes and turn them into helpful knowledge for all of you out there reading this. Here are 5 tips that I hope will help you go gluten free without going broke:

  1. Keep it Simple: If you’re starting out on any kind of diet, the cravings for all the delicious food you used to eat will intensify. At least that’s what happened to me. I wanted doughnuts, fried chicken and Swedish meatloaf with gravy. Unfortunately, learning to cook gluten free was, for me, like starting all over at square one. I had no idea how to make these things with gluten free flours. Things are a bit easier now than they were nearly 8 years ago, but still, it’s hard to learn a whole new way of cooking and thinking about food. So, to keep you from making a bunch of expensive messes in the kitchen, do what I didn’t do: keep it simple. Realize that you will eventually figure out ways to make gluten free versions of your favorite foods. If you’re a beginner, start out like a beginner. A dietician gave me some very helpful advice when I was first diagnosed (and I should’ve listened, but I didn’t). She told me to just concentrate on making a balanced plate using foods that I was already familiar with. For example, have a piece of lean meat, two or three non-starchy vegetables that I already know how to make in a way that’s gluten free (i.e., steamed broccoli) and a starch like rice, or a starchy vegetable like a baked potato. You can get simple ingredients for a whole lot cheaper than boxed gluten free convenience foods and these basic meals will keep you fed and healthy while you figure out the more complicated dishes.
  2. Go Big or Go Broke: When I was diagnosed, there weren’t many gluten free all-purpose flours available on the market. And, as I said above, you had to buy a bunch of little 1lb bags of flour for anywhere from $3-$12 each and experiment by mixing them together to create different flour combinations. Each thing I wanted to make needed a different combination of flours. The flour mixture I used for dredging meat was no good for baking and the baking mix I had was no good for gravy. The gravy thing really hits home for me. Once I made the mistake of thinking that white rice flour and sweet rice flour were the same thing (who does that, right?) and ended up making a pan of stuff that was supposed to be gravy, but was really just salty, gray wet sand. Gross and costly. Anyway, my point here is that today there are more and more all-purpose gluten free flours on the market, and they are worth it! Don’t get me wrong, they’re still expensive. My favorite brand, Pamela’s Artisan Flour is $16 for 4lbs. Still, $16 for a bag of really versatile gluten free flour is SO much cheaper than having to have a separate mix for each dish that I want to make. So, skip all the cake mixes, cookie mixes and boxed gravy. You can usually substitute these all-purpose flours for wheat flour in almost any recipe. That not only means you save money, but it also means that your grandmother’s prize-winning cookie recipe is back on the menu!
  3. Make it Yourself: We all know that eating at home is cheaper than eating out. That is especially true for eating out gluten free. Most restaurants are not celiac safe anyway, but even if you’re not a celiac, you will pay more for gluten free options when you go out to eat. A few restaurants now offer sandwiches on gluten free buns, but be careful, you’ll be paying sometimes up to $2 more for that sandwich than if you purchased it with a regular wheat bun. As much as possible, cook at home. It’s cheaper and it’s healthier. I know that some of you are thinking about how much you hate to cook, and I don’t blame you. I used to hate cooking too, but now I really enjoy it. I found that what I really hated was coming home from work tired and hungry and having to put an hour or more into preparing a meal before I could eat it. The trick for me was to learn to cook on my days off – which took off most of the frustration that sapped the joy of cooking for me – and then freezing the meals in individual containers for later in the week. Now when I come home from work, there’s usually a home-made meal ready for me in the fridge or freezer. Also, let your crockpot be your guide. There are thousands of crockpot recipes floating around on the internet, many of them naturally gluten free. Throw everything into the slow cooker and let it do the hard work for you.
  4. Just Because It’s Expensive Doesn’t Mean It’s Good: Remember that. I can’t stress that enough. I mentioned above that I used to spend $6 for a small loaf of whole grain gluten free bread. The loaf was so small and my bread consumption so massive at the time that I would go through two of those little loaves per week. So, that’s $12 a week I was spending on this bread. I thought it was a really great deal at the time because the bread was at least edible – and believe me there is some gluten free bread out there that definitely isn’t – but I was settling for this expensive bread. It was thick and dense and so tough that sometimes it actually cut the inside of my mouth when I ate it. But then, one day, my mother-in-law gave me a loaf of gluten free bread from Aldi’s that was about half the price of the other bread I’d been eating. And I found something amazing. Aldi’s bread was way, way better than the other bread. Each slice was roughly the size of a regular slice of bread and the bread was actually soft! I am totally going to shill for a grocery store here, but if you want to know where the best gluten free bread is, it’s totally at Aldi. They also have some of the best gluten free crackers. So, don’t get stuck on one expensive brand and think that it must be better because it costs more. You might be pleasantly surprised by a cheaper product.
  5. Cut Down on the Cost of Other Groceries: This seems really obvious, probably, but it isn’t always. I used to tell myself that I was just going to stop into Whole Foods or Earthfare for one thing, but it was never just one thing, it was always ended up being at least 5 things. If I stopped in to grab some GF crackers to go with a pot of chili that I was going to make, I ended up getting my chili beans there. Now, the only thing wrong with the bean selection at higher end grocery stores is that they can be $3 a can. I use two cans of kidney and one can of black beans in one pot of chili. That’s $9 just for the beans to go in my pot of chili. I have since switched to purchasing store brand beans at another store that I can get for less than $1 per can. Truthfully, I really don’t notice a difference in the quality of the beans. So, be a smart shopper. When it really matters, go for the best quality you can afford (and remember, like I said above, price isn’t always and indicator of quality). However, when it comes to something like chili beans, my book says it’s okay to go with the cheapest can.

Well, I hope this lesson taken from my mistakes will help some of you avoid the pricey pitfalls of going gluten free!

Three Great Gluten Free Resources

By: Rachel Sircy

In this post, I thought I would take a break from documenting my own personal gluten free and high cholesterol woes to share with those of you out there with gluten free needs some resources that have helped me through the years.

One of the first blogs that I came across when I was first diagnosed was The Gluten Free Girl blog. This blog helped me understand what it meant to be gluten free in a way that all the medical pamphlets and jargon couldn’t. It really encouraged me to read something written by someone who was a celiac and who wasn’t depressed about it. Shauna James Ahern enjoys life and her blog helped me to realize that my life wasn’t over just because I had celiac disease and could no longer eat fried chicken and doughnuts. I would particularly recommend starting out with her post entitled, “Yes.” It’s about her engagement, but it’s also about saying yes to all aspects of life no matter if they’re good or bad.

You can find her blog at: https://glutenfreegirl.com.

While I enjoy reading The Gluten Free Girl for inspiration and some tips, the truth is, a lot of her recipes have been too expensive and too complicated for me to really want to try. The first cookbook that I received after being diagnosed that had recipes that I wanted to return to again and again was Simply…Gluten Free Quick Meals, by Carol Kicinski. Her meals were, as stated, quick to prepare and pretty easy. They were also fairly easy on the budget, and the ones that were a bit too expensive could easily be prepared with cheaper substitutes and ingredients could also be left out without affecting the overall flavor too much. I love her falafel burgers, but I have never made the tahini sauce that she makes to go with them because I would never use the tahini for anything other than these burgers. The burgers still taste great!

Also, Kicinski’s cookbook had one of the first “stocking your gluten free pantry” sections I had ever seen. This was a huge help to me, and it might be to you, too. I would visit her website first to make sure that you like her cooking and her advice before you go out and buy her book. Her website is chock full of recipes and advice.

You can find her website at: https://simplygluten-free.com.

Last but not least, for those of us who suffer from the expense of a gluten free diet, there is Nicole Hunn’s blog: Gluten Free on a Shoestring. Hunn makes simple gluten free meals that are also affordable. Her recipes have been collected in at least one cookbook and they’ve also been featured in Delight gluten free magazine. She has a section on her website that deals with stocking a gluten free pantry as well. Because going gluten free can mean learning to cook all over again, I highly recommend looking at these resources to help you know what you need (and what you DON’T need) in your gluten free kitchen.

Nicole’s blog is located at: https://glutenfreeonashoestring.com.

Good luck and great reading!

New Beginnings

By: Rachel Sircy

As I sit writing this post I am eating one of my new favorite snacks: plain toasted walnuts. That’s right, there is absolutely no seasoning, no salt, no anything on these walnuts. I bought a bag of walnuts from the baking section of my local Aldi and simply toasted them in a dry skillet. And they are delicious.

walnuts

I know what you’re probably thinking, because it’s the same thing that I tend to think when I read health food blogs. You’re probably thinking that I am either deluding myself into believing that plain, slightly burnt walnuts are really good OR I’m just pretending to like them so that I can lord my good health habits over all of you out there who are reading this while eating potato chips. Since I’m usually the one who’s out there eating potato chips, I tend to believe the latter about people who write health food blogs. While I can’t give you a 100% guarantee that I’m not delusional, I can promise you that I’m not making this up. There really are healthy foods out there that actually taste good. The trick is just finding out what tastes good to you.

Right now, I’m on an exploratory journey to find healthy, low-fat foods that taste good to me. I wasn’t planning taking this journey this year. I mean, I wanted to lose some weight, and I thought that eating a little healthier might be a part of that. To be honest, I thought I already WAS eating healthy. I thought the extra weight I was carrying around was just a natural consequence of the fact that I HATE exercising and that I snack too much. But a recent letter in the mail detailing the results of my most recent bloodwork revealed that my cholesterol was over 100 points higher than I had expected. Clearly, I wasn’t doing something right.

I still don’t know if my high cholesterol is due entirely to my diet, or if it could be a side effect of the gluten free diet that I’m on because of the celiac disease, or if it’s genetic. Really, that knowledge is of secondary importance to me. I know what I need to know. I know that my cholesterol is high. I know that people with celiac disease may be up to twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease according to a recent study by the American College of Cardiology. And, most importantly, I know that I have a chance to change my fate with a change in diet and by increasing activity and exercise in my life. Sometimes diet and exercise alone don’t work – yes, I’ve seen those cholesterol medication commercials, too. But sometimes they do and they don’t come with the nasty side effects of some medications. I worked for six years answering phones in a doctor’s office and I’ve heard people describe the hardships of life on medications. If there is anything that I can do to avoid those hardships, I am going to do it.

In my last post, I said that I was going to talk to my friend, Tiara, who has her PhD in nutrition, about what to do and what to eat to get me started on this path to lower cholesterol and a healthier life. The gist of what she told me was what I expected, but really didn’t want to hear: vegetables are good and Cheetos are not. I told Tiara that I usually get all my junk food from various health food stores around town. I thought that that fact alone should have made a difference in my health. And do you know what she told me? Junk food is junk food regardless of whether or not it has a label that says it’s organic. Gluten free junk food is some of the worst junk food on the market – it’s low on fiber and other nutrients and high on fat and salt and sugar, more so than many gluten-filled products.

So, there’s really nothing to be done other than to get rid of the junk and find some wholesome food that I like to eat. I’m starting with one of the foods that the Harvard Health Newsletter states will help to lower your cholesterol: nuts. And, of course, I have to start to find an exercise routine that I like and that I will stick to. This evening my husband is taking me to our local park to attempt to teach me how to play tennis as part of his Valentine’s day gift to me. (I’m not going to say which park because I don’t feel like being totally publicly humiliated.)

And, since I enjoy recommending books to read, I’m going to share one that I have just started reading myself: The Daniel Plan. It’s a book by Rick Warren (and others) that outlines a method for a total lifestyle change, one that is supposed to be healthier for mind, body and soul. You may like it, you may not. I haven’t read it before, so I can’t vouch for it. I haven’t committed myself to the Daniel Plan diet, but I’m at least considering it. (Actually, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I scoffed at the ideas in this book when my mother-in-law first bought it a few years ago, back when I was still nice and thin. Well, fat happens and I’ve changed my mind since then. We’ll see how things turn out.)

Until my next post, I wish you all happy reading and health(ier) eating!

Hurdles

By: Rachel Sircy 

Since my last post – the one about New Year’s resolutions and losing weight and all that – I have encountered a very unexpected obstacle in my path to health and happiness.

Every Woman Blog - Heart Health

I recently had some lab results come back in the mail with some bad news. My overall cholesterol levels were well over 100 points higher than I had expected them to be. My LDL (bad cholesterol) was way up and my HDL (good cholesterol) was way down. I actually dropped the results in horror when my eyes lighted on those awful numbers.

**Side Note: I should state here that my numbers, while high, are not so high that I have to take immediate action or that I must start medication right away. But they were pretty high for a person my age and they do require me to make some permanent lifestyle changes. **

Now, truth be told, I haven’t had my lipids checked in about 6 years. The only reason that I had labs drawn last month is that I get them for free during the month of my birthday by virtue of being a Lexington Medical Center Employee. The last time I had my levels checked, my cholesterol was only slightly elevated. Since that time, I had thought that I was eating a healthier diet overall. I have certainly become a better celiac – better at keeping myself safe from gluten. True, I have had a child since the last time I had my cholesterol checked, and I have retained the baby weight. But could an addition of 30 pounds really cause such a jump in cholesterol? Or, could it be genetics? Could it have something to do with the subject of this study by the American College of Cardiology, which found that celiac patients following strict gluten-free diets may be twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease? The study also found that celiacs may have a slightly higher risk of having high cholesterol levels while maintaining low blood pressure (which is the case with me). Could it be – and I hate to admit it – the fact that I loathe exercise?

I have no idea at this point what could have caused this change in my body. However, I do know that I am the kind of person who fixes things that are broken. And that is what I intend to do with this situation with my health. I am starting the process with this: this Saturday I am having dinner with a friend from church, Dr. Tiara Rosemond, who has her PhD in Nutrition and Public Health, to see what I should and should not be eating.

I am inviting every reader to follow along with me as I start this investigative journey and make some huge lifestyle changes. I’ve never had such a long list of resolutions in my life. This will certainly be a year to remember!

New Year, Old(er) Me

By: Rachel Sircy

Being born in December is weird. You don’t start the New Year looking forward to a birthday. Instead, you start the new year having recently survived a birthday and all of the complicated tangle of emotions that go along with that. At least the emotions that follow me after my birthdays always seem complicated and tangled.

But, every January I – along with countless others – put the cherry on top of our emotional confusion sundae by making New Year’s resolutions. I have so many this year that if I achieve them all I will be a completely different person by my next birthday. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers different. That will really complicate my emotions. But what’s life without a little melodrama, right?

Anyway, personal goofiness aside, I have made some New Year’s Resolutions that I intend to keep, especially those relating to health. I have retained all the baby weight since my gluten free weight lossdaughter was born. She was also a December baby and just turned two. I am ready to lose some weight and get healthier. And so, for those of you out there who, like me, are attempting to get into shape this year and have to also remain gluten free, I wanted to write some words of advice and encouragement.

Firstly, for those who are unaware, a gluten free diet is NOT a low calorie or low fat diet. Gluten free convenience products (such as breads, cookies, pasta, frozen entrees, etc) are usually higher in fat, salt and sugar and have far less fiber than conventional products. I have been approached by a number of people who have told me that they are “going gluten free” in an effort to lose weight. Unfortunately, switching to gluten free convenience products will only help to keep you from losing weight and they may cause you to gain weight. In the case of anyone who is not a celiac, it may be better and healthier for you to eat whole wheat products than to turn to gluten free options.

For those of us who are celiacs and can only eat gluten free products, we all know that cookies and waffles are never the key to losing weight anyway. Unfortunately, the best way for celiacs to lose weight (and to make sure that we stay safe from contamination) is to cook for ourselves. Of course, that is probably true for everyone. If celiacs want cookies or pasta, it’s better to make our own and control the amount of fat, salt, sugar and fiber that we put into these foods. (Fiber can be added to foods in the form of ground flax and by making sure that we try to use whole grain pasta like brown rice or quinoa.) And there are cookbooks available that have recipes that are both sugar and gluten free. For Christmas I received a cookbook by Kelly E. Keough titled Sugar-Free Gluten Free Baking and Desserts, which offers healthier recipes for things such as pizza crusts, cookies, and cakes by using alternative sweeteners such as fruit juice and stevia.

Secondly, better and healthier products are available to celiacs (and gluten free enthusiasts) for less money. I used to pay approximately $12-13 per week for two loaves (small loaves!) of a high fiber gluten free bread. Who can afford that? But if you have no other choice, then you have no other choice. Here is where I am going to shamelessly shill for Aldi BECAUSE now we do have another choice. Aldi sells really good bread, both white and whole grain, for half of what I used to pay for my high fiber bread. Now, that is still not dirt cheap since they also sell regular bread for less than a dollar sometimes. However, 3.99 for a loaf that is big enough to last me an entire week is the best deal I’ve found since I was diagnosed. Also, most Aldi stores sell ground flax seed and good quality organic brown rice and quinoa pasta. Healthy gluten free eating is becoming easier and more affordable.

So, go out and conquer your healthy New Year’s resolutions! You can do it!

New Christmas Traditions

By: Rachel Sircy

My husband and daughter and I are in Ohio visiting my family for the holidays. On the way up we listened to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, read by Patrick Stewart. I’ve seen several different movie versions of A Christmas Carol and my husband and I listen to the book on CD every Christmas that we drive up to Ohio. Needless to say, it’s a story that I know a-christmas-carolpretty well, and I’m pretty sure that anyone reading this blog post will be equally familiar with it. Most years that we watch the movies or listen to the book read aloud, I think of it as just one of those quintessential Christmas stories, one of those stories that’s told so often that Scrooge and Humbug and the Spirit of Christmas have become bywords in our culture.

For some reason as we listened to it this time, the story’s bizarre nature struck me like a blow to the head. It’s a Christmas horror story, really. I mean, the parts about ghosts wailing and rattling their chains is fairly reminiscent of hell. I started to wonder why on earth Dickens decided to tell a story about Christmas in this way, and why the public ate it up in the way that they did. How did this weird little spook story become such an inseparable part of our modern idea of Christmas?

According to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge) Dickens wanted to use people’s awakened interested in Christmas (in his day Christmas traditions were changing; Christmas trees were becoming popular as were Christmas cards) to promote awareness of poverty and social injustice. So, he created a strange story about a tight-fisted misanthrope being scared straight just in time for him to spread some Christmas cheer.

I have said all of the above to say that I have been thinking about the new Christmas tradition that Dickens created, and that has got me to thinking about creating new Christmas traditions of my own. Since my daughter – I’ll call her HRH (short for Her Royal Highness) – was born, I have been trying to find ways to simplify the holidays, honor the memories of loved ones, and teach HRH the true “reason for the season.” Here are three new traditions, two I have tried and one I want to try next year.

  1. Homemade Christmas Gifts: One way that I have been trying to simplify Christmas is to make each child on my list a gift rather than just buying a billion toys that will get thrown into the corner to collect dust after the child plays with them for a week. I want each child in my family circle to have something meaningful, something that Mommy or Aunt Rachel made them that they can keep and pass down. The work that goes into a homemade gift is personal. I think about each person as I make the gift, and that thought is part of the gift. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely buy a few toys as well, but my main gifts are almost always something I have made.
  2. Honoring Loved Ones: My husband’s grandmother passed away in 2012, and her passing was keenly felt by all the family. This year I wanted to revive a tradition that Grandma Sircy started during her lifetime – making a personalized ornament for each member of the family. I began this year with a simple project, wrapping styrofoam balls with fabric, yarn or tulle. I suppose this falls in the same category as the homemade gifts, but this particular homemade gift is really a tribute to Grandma Sircy – something to remind us of her.
  3. Making the story of Christmas come alive for children: My brother and sister-in-law found a Christmas activity on Pinterest that I absolutely love, Joseph and Mary on the Shelf. The idea behind this activity is basically the same idea behind Elf on the Shelf: you make it seem like toys (or Nativity set pieces) are moving around the house while the children are asleep. However, this particular version of this activity comes with the added bonus of teaching children the Christmas story. My brother and sister-in-law partially set up their Nativity scene, putting up the stable and adding the animals to it, BUT they left out Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, the wise men and the shepherds. They began the month of December by reading their children the Christmas story from the Bible and that night and each night afterward, the children have to find Mary and Joseph who are somewhere in the house, making their way toward the stable in Bethlehem. One night, Mary and Joseph were found on the kitchen counter “eating” some of the kids’ chicken nuggets to sustain them for their continued journey. Mary and Joseph arrived in the stable on Christmas Eve and Jesus, the shepherds and wise men were waiting for them on Christmas morning.

So, these are my new Christmas traditions, ones that I hope will bring the spirit and the reason for this holiday season close to my family. If anyone has any traditions that they have created for their family, or that their parents created for them, I would love a comment about it!!

Suggested Reading: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.