Tuesday, December 27, 2005

He was one of God’s special children…..

I went to a funeral service today. A friend of mine had a son who, was born 4 weeks early, with lung problems. They lived in a small town in Oklahoma at the time and the hospital did not have the facilities to adequately care for him. They had to rush him, in an ambulance, to a hospital 20 minutes away and during that time he lost critical oxygen to his brain. At his death, last Wednesday, Dec. 21st , he was 41 years old. He weighed 55 lbs. and his body was all twisted up. His legs were pulled in and his right arm lay scrunched up next to the side of his body. They said his mental capacity was that of a 14 to 18 month child. He lived with his parents till he was six years old and then they had to place him in a facility that could give him round the clock care. He never walked or talked.. He could wave his left arm and he always had a smile on his face. Many people loved and cared for this young man. He was one of Heavenly Father’s special children.

Many family and friends attended the service. It was very uplifting. Jack Hecker gave an absolutely wonder talk. He talked about Jimmy standing uprightly before God. As usual, I had tears running down my cheeks. I can’t get thru a funeral or a wedding without crying. I guess, what I am feeling right now, is the absolute power of God in my life. I have great faith that someday I will be able to live with him in the eternities. I know that he is a caring God and we have so much to learn while we are here on this earth, which is a proving ground. We learn about sorrow, pain, love and joy. We learn to treasure what life we have and to live it to it’s fullest in a pleasing manner to God. Jimmy was able to teach others about love. Even though my friend is sad with the loss of her son, she knows he is in a better place and with God himself. My whole day is brightened just knowing that….

Now on a different note: I had a great Christmas. TF, Bonnie and I started out the day at church. Around 1:00pm . Jennifer, Justin, JJ and baby Jocelyne came over to open gifts with us. William was up by then and we were ready to share. The family settled in to play with their new toys and listen to the new Paul Simon CD’s. I worked in the kitchen cooking a ham, green bean casserole and yam casserole to take to my sister’s house around 5:00pm.. We had a feast at Pat’s with my entire family in attendance. We ate, exchanged gifts, laughed, and just had a good time in general. Around 8:00pm. we headed home. I put away the leftovers and headed to the couch to RELAX…. It was a great day!

One funny note: As many of you know, I made 4 recipes of Ginger Bread cookies, 2 giant batches of “Neiman Marcus” cookies, some chocolate cookies, and two double batches of fudge for this years gift giving. TF took it on himself to test about 1/3rd of the cookies. Every time I would turn around, I would see him with another glass of milk and a plate of cookies. I would remind him that I did not make all those cookies for him. I actually had to hide the cookies so he would not devour them all by himself. We did manage to give away about 18 plates of goodies and four little baskets of cookies and fudge. That does not count all the ginger bread cookies that I shipped out via the post office and UPS.

Today’s Recipe: Speedy Ziti with Zesty Chicken:

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The "W" in Christmas

No, this is not a George Bush story, but one more important, as a nation, that we know. A friend of mine sent me this story thru email and I thought it appropriate for this Christmas season.

Each December, I vowed to make Christmas a calm and peaceful experience. I had cut back on nonessential obligations -- extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending. Yet still, I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and of course, the true meaning of Christmas.

My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six-year-old. For weeks, he'd been memorizing songs for his school's "Winter Pageant."
I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd be working the night of the production. Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher. She assured me there'd be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise.

So, the morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in ten minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down. Around the room, I saw several other parents quietly scampering to their seats. As I waited, the students were led into the room. Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor. Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song.
Because the public school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as Christmas," I didn't expect anything other than fun, commercial entertainment - songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer. So, when my son's class rose to sing, "Christmas Love," I was slightly taken aback by its bold title.

Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snowcaps upon their heads. Those in the front row-center stage -- held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As the class would sing "C is for Christmas," a child would hold up the letter C. Then, "H is for Happy," and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message, "Christmas Love."
The performance was going smoothly, until suddenly, we noticed her; a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down -- totally unaware her letter "M" appeared as a "W."

The audience of 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little one's mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W." Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together. A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that instant, we understood the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a purpose for our festivities. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear:

"C H R I S T W A S L O V E"
And, I believe, He still is.
Amazed in His presence...
Humbled by His love.

May each of you have a Merry Christmas as you reflect on His Amazing Love for us.
Hope you all have a wonderful Christwaslove holiday season.

For a beautiful story, you can read:
Two Babes in a Manger: http://tfsternsrantings.blogspot.com/2005/12/two-babes-in-manger-author-unknown.html
The Truth About Santa Clause: http://tfsternsrantings.blogspot.com/2005/12/truth-about-santa-claus-author-unknown.html

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

6 keys to fast holiday gift returns

OK Lucy, why are you posting an article on gift returns before the big day? There are just some things you need to know before you "tear" into that package...I HATE returning gifts more than anything, but if it's something that just isn't going to work for me, then I want to return it properly and get my fair share back. I was reading this article and thought it had good information on making returns. Have a happy Christmas and hope that you don't have to return anything.

For hassle-free returns, make sure you have a receipt, the package is unopened and you return the item promptly. By Kiplinger's Personal Finance MagazineYou know the drill: Everything must be returned unused and in the original package, and you should have a receipt. Without it, you may get only a merchandise credit -- and then only for the lowest price at which the item was sold in the past 30 days."This year in particular, given all the promotional activity, markdowns could be substantial," says Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

Some retailers have even stricter rules. For example, at Target you may only be allowed to exchange for an item that comes from the same department. "We encourage people to give a gift receipt," says Lena Michaud, a Target spokeswoman. The other five keys: Don't delayYou usually have from 60 days to 90 days to return unwanted gifts. But, says Davis, you should act quickly, especially where apparel is concerned. "Inventory is tight, so there might not be a lot left over."

When it comes to electronics, waiting isn't an option; you generally have just 14 days. For example, digital cameras and camcorders purchased at Best Buy as Christmas gifts must be returned by Jan. 8.That return could cost youNot the flat-screen TV you wanted? Wrong computer or portable DVD player? Don't open it. A growing number of retailers -- from Circuit City to Sears -- will charge you a percentage of the purchase price (generally 15%) for restocking. Although retailers say they're merely trying to recoup the cost of repackaging items, the fee is meant to discourage one-time use of electronic equipment. Some consumer advocates think it's unfair. "The fee is not only poorly disclosed, but it's also too high," says Gail Hillebrand, senior attorney at Consumers Union. Know the store's policy in advance.

Habitual returners may be blacklistedReturn fraud, which includes bringing back used merchandise for a full refund, costs the retail industry $16 billion a year, according to the National Retail Federation. That's why an increasing number of chains have teamed up with the Return Exchange to monitor returns. Each time you bring back an item, your driver's license will be swiped. If you exceed a store's set limit for returns, you're out of luck. "What concerns me is that this system punishes both the honest consumer -- for example, the busy mother who buys clothing for her kids to try on at home -- as well as the crooks," says Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World, an online consumer resource guide.

Online returns could get confusing. Most of the big retailers will let you return online purchases to their brick-and-mortar stores. But there are caveats. For example, items marked "online only" may need to be mailed back. And retailers that have teamed up with Amazon.com may or may not allow items to be returned to their physical stores. For example, books and DVDs must be mailed back to Amazon. But if you return toys to Amazon's partner, Toys "R" Us, the return is subject to the policies in place at Toys "R" Us, not at Amazon. Keep your packing slip handy to avoid additional hassles.

You can swap a gift cardGiven the popularity of gift cards, chances are you got one, if not several. But what if you usually don't shop at, say, Old Navy? At Swapagift.com, you can buy, sell or even trade your card for someone else's. Participating retailers include Barnes & Noble, J.Crew and Tiffany. Swapping a card will cost you $3.99, regardless of the face value.
By Vera Gibbons, Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Packages out the door….Fantasy Fudge

Well, as of tomorrow morning, all my packages, that have to be mailed, will be out the door. Yea!!! The ginger bread cookies are stacked nicely in their pretty tins and all the gifts are wrapped and snuggly packaged in there boxes. The packages to Hawaii, Virginia, New York and Maryland are packaged in those “flat rate” (no weight limit/anywhere in the USA) packages. You can mail them for $ 7.70 each Priority mail. I should save a ton on postage this year. The package to Florida is in a much larger box and will be taken to the UPS office for shipping.

I can’t believe it’s only 10 days till Christmas. Where has this month gone too…I just know that I will blink my eyes and it will be New Years Day. TF and I have been watching one Christmas show every night now since the start of December. Tonight we watched the Santa Clause movie with Tim Allen. We also saw part of a movie about a man who went back to his home town to find his real parents. We saw Miracle on 34th street , but we haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life yet.

Someone ask me if I had a good fudge recipe. I use the one on the back of the Kraft Marshmallow Crème bottle. It’s the only one I can get to set up properly. So here it is with a few helpful tips:

Fantasy Fudge (Makes about 36 pieces)

3 cups sugar
3/4 cup margarine (1 1/2 sticks)
2/3 cup evaporated milk (1 small can)
1 12-oz. (340 g) package semi-sweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
1 7-oz. (198 g) jar Kraft Marshmallow crème (store brand is OK)
1 cup chopped nuts
1 tablespoon vanilla

Traditional method:Combine sugar, margarine and milk in heavy 2 1/2 qt. saucepan; bring to full rolling bail, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate until melted. Add marshmallow creme, nuts & vanilla beat until blended. Pour into greased (foil lined) 13" x9" pan. Let cool and serve.

Helpful tips:
1) I have read several versions of this recipe. Last night I used semi-sweet chocolate chunks instead of the chocolate chips, because I was trying to use up what was left in the jar. So it doesn’t matter if you use chips, chunks or squares as long as they are semi sweet.
2) I used butter instead of margarine. Either one will work.
3) Make sure you have everything measured out and the nuts chopped when you start cooking. You will need to stir constantly and you won’t have time to be measuring while the fudge cooks.
4) Make sure you let the fudge cook at a rolling boil for five full minutes to make sure your fudge will set up. This is important.
5) I have discovered that my fudge sets up better if I cook it on a day when the humidity is down. If it is raining outside and the humidity is up, you will have a hard time getting it to set up.
6) Pour you fudge out on to a foil lined pan. It makes clean up so much faster.
7) Make sure it is completely cool before you cut it.
8) Store your fudge in an air-tight container with waxed paper between the layers.

The fudge I made last night is probably the best fudge I have ever made. It set up perfectly and I’m sure it was because I made it while the humidity was down. Give it a try.

Christmas Trivia: http://www.corsinet.com/braincandy/xmastrivia.html

Monday, December 12, 2005

Elephant Stew

Recipe by: Sally Cawood

TF and I had dinner last night with a friend. We were sitting there talking about favorite recipes when she ran for her recipe box. She says: “I love this recipe” and she proceeded to read the ingredients. We were rolling on the floor with laughter and I begged her to let me post it. So here it is:

Elephant Stew

1 – Elephant
2 – Rabbits (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
500 gallons of brown gravy

Cut the elephant into bit sized pieces. This should take about 2 months. Add enough brown gravy to cover. Cook over kerosene fire for about 4 weeks at 465 degrees. This will serve 3,800 people. If more are expected, 2 rabbits may be added but do this only if necessary, as most people do not like hare in their stew.

As she was reading the list of ingredients, my minds eye was envisioning the size of the pot that would hold the stew. All I could see was an African jungle with one of those big black pots and the “mom” was standing on a ladder stirring her stew with a huge spoon. I couldn’t help but laugh.

Actually if this had been my recipe, I would have added a couple of hundred pounds of potatos, carrots, onions and other seasonings. But its' not my recipe so experiment as you wish.

As a matter of note: My Herb & Spice order came in late Friday night. The UPS man put the boxes on the front porch, rang the door bell and ran for his truck. TF and I dragged in five huge boxes. Bubba, my cat, became very interested in one of the boxes. She decided that it was her box and she sat on it constantly. Well, I started opening the boxes to inventory the items before dividing them up for individual groups. I got to Bubba’s box and discovered that there were two bags of catnip on the very top. Evidentially Bubba could smell that catnip right thru the box. I actually had to put her outside so that I could finish inventorying the order. By the way that was the biggest order we have ever done, it was just over $ 1,000. Our den looked like a store. I had spices everywhere. As of now, I only have one more order to put together and I am done till next year. Ahhhhh…The house smells like heaven.

Holiday Travel Savings:

Christmas Gift Baskets:

How To install a wireless security system:
Go to a second-hand store, buy a pair of men's used work boots, a really big pair.
Put them outside your front door on top of a copy of Guns and Ammo magazine.
Put a dog dish beside it. A really big dog dish. Leave a note on your front door that says something like "Bubba, big Mike and I have gone to get more ammunition - back in 1/2 an hr. Don't disturb the Pitbulls, they've just been wormed."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Truly Ginger Cookies - For Grandpa Jones

Here's a picture of my well used Gingerbread recipe card complete with smudges of who knows what.

This recipe is to Grandpa Jones from Grandma Stern. My husbands family has been making this particular ginger bread cookie recipe for over 100 years. TF's mom passed it down to me years ago and so I keep the tradition going by making these cookies every year for Christmas. TF's sister would rather get these cookies than anything else for Christmas. I buy pretty Christmas tins at the dollar store and I send out about 6 different tins of cookies from Florida to Hawaii to New York every year. This year I am adding the two grown daughters (nieces) of TF in Virginia and Maryland. Of course TF and the kids want their own tin of cookies too. Bonnie likes fudge so she gets a special batch right before Christmas. I suppose I'll be making these cookies till I die and then one of the girls will have to carry on the tradition. I really do enjoy making the cookies, because it makes people happy and it is a family tradition. When we decorate our Christmas tree I usually make a large Ginger Bread cookie for each member of the family and we eat them and have a special eggnog "toast" for the family. I hope you enjoy this recipe.

Truly Ginger Cookies
Makes 6 dozen cookies.
Recipe from the kitchen of Betty Stern

Mix together:
½ cup – Soft shortening (can use part butter for flavor) I use all butter.
1 cup – Brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1 cup – molasses (unsulfered)
½ cup – evaporated milk
Grated rind of 1 orange (about 1 Tbl.) fresh

Sift together: Mix all ingredients together with a wisk, then mix in with above ingredients.

5 cups - Flour
1 tea. – baking soda
1 tea. – Ginger powder
1 tea. – Cinnamon powder
½ tea. – Ground cloves
½ tea. – Ground allspice
½ tea. - Salt

Chill thoroughly. Roll out 1/8 to ¼ inch thick, on lightly floured cloth covered board. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 375 degrees. May be iced.

Special instructions:
1) If using butter, let it sit out till it is very soft. This is a must if you want a smooth mixture.
2) Use a fresh orange for the grated orange peel. One year I used some dried, reconstituted orange peel and it just didn’t turn out the same. You can definitely tell the difference in taste.
3) The dough will get hard to mix, so be patient with it. I usually wash my hands really good and dry them and mix the last bit by hand.
4) It is important to let the dough chill before making the cookies. (You can store the dough for quite a while in the frig.) Take it out of the frig and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes before you start to roll it out. The desired thickness will depend on the type of cookie cutter you are using. An open cutter can use thicker dough. A cutter with a design on the top will need to be thinner. Just experiment an decide for your self how thick you want to roll the dough.
5) A well floured board will work for making the cookies as well as a floured pastry cloth. I personally like using the pastry cloth, but I have made it on a floured board.
6) You can use any cookie cutter you wish. I like the ginger bread men and assorted other Christmas cookie cutters. If using a cookie cutter that has a pattern on the inside, make sure you flour the cutter first so the dough won’t stick.
7) When you take the cookies out of the oven, let them sit in the pan for at least 1 minute before moving them to a wire rack to cool.
8) When you are ready to put them into tins or on a plate, use a pastry brush to dust off any excess flour.
9) These cookies may be iced, but I have never done that personally. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I Say “Merry Christmas”

Last night my husband and I went to our church Christmas party. I had signed up to take a potato dish that is a church favorite. I always like going to the Christmas party because there are a lot of people in attendance, grown ups and children alike. Last night was no different, the cultural hall was packed with people. Everyone was visiting with each other and there was plenty of food. After we ate dinner, everyone helped clean and put away the tables. All the chairs were lined up in front of the stage for the Christmas play. It was a typical play, telling the story of Christmas. The young children from primary sang several songs and then there was the church choir and assorted groupings of people who also sang. One of the young men did a rap version of “The Night Before Christmas” and then Santa showed up to talk to the children. I am glad we went because it reminded me of why we are having Christmas. For those that believe in Jesus Christ, Christmas is the reason for the season. For those that don’t then “Happy Holidays”. As for me, I say Merry Christmas…..

Here’s the recipe for the potato dish:

1 24 oz. bag frozen shredded (not diced) hash brown potatoes, thawed
2 cans – cream of chicken soup
2 cups – sour cream*
1 cup – grated cheddar cheese*
2 cups – plus 2 Tbl.. Melted butter*
1/3 cup – chopped onion
2 cups – crushed corn flakes

Combine 2 Tbl. Melted butter and conflakes. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Blend well. Pour potato mixture in a large oblong pan. (I just use a 9 x 13” pan.) Sprinkle crushed cornflake mixture on top and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve hot.
*Do not use low-fat versions of these ingredients. Low-fat sour cream and cheddar will not melt, and margarine has water in it.
This recipe has been called: Funeral Potatoes because it was used many times for the receptions after funerals.

Tips for the day:

Five tips for online shopping: http://archive.parade.com/2005/1120/1120_online_shopping.html

A Holiday Tradition to Break: Overspending!


Guide to Making Fudge: Does yours always set up?


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dos and don'ts for establishing credit

Article by: Bankrate.com

Everyone needs credit. It's a necessary part of daily life.
Whether you're renting an apartment, buying a car, renting a car, want to get a cell phone or are ready to buy at an online auction, having credit in your name is part of the approval process.
So, how does one go about establishing credit? Here's what Steve Bucci, the president of Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Southern New England suggests.

Open a bank account. This will not appear on your credit report, but bank account numbers are often requested on credit applications.

Apply for a credit card. To avoid being denied credit, apply only for those cards whose requirements you are likely to meet. Department store or gas credit cards are usually easier to obtain than a bank-issued card with a Visa or MasterCard logo because the balances do not generally revolve.

Before applying, make sure the creditor reports account activity to the credit bureaus. As the purpose of obtaining the card is to establish credit, you want to choose a card that will help you do that. If you want to get a Visa or MasterCard, ask at the bank or credit union at which you have your account.

Charge purchases and make payments on time. Use your credit card for purchases and make sure to pay the balance on time. Once you have used the card responsibly for three months, you may want to apply for a Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover. These cards will allow you more flexibility in charging purchases, but will also give you more opportunity to get in trouble.

Remember a $5,000 credit limit is not $5,000 in additional income. It is only a different way to spend the money you already have.

Create a spending plan. Before you use your credit card, you will want to make sure that you are able to pay off the balance on the items you plan to purchase. Write down all of your expenses and your income and adjust your spending accordingly.

A secured card is an option. If you have trouble qualifying for a credit card, you may opt to apply for a secured card. These cards have credit limits based on a required deposit made by you into a savings account. You use the card just as you would any other credit card.
If denied credit, ask why. Ask any creditor that denies you credit to give you the reasons you were denied. Reasons may include income, employment or credit history. It is important to find out why you are denied because frequent inquiries (applying for credit) on your credit report can be viewed as a negative to a potential creditor. If you are denied credit, you can request a free copy of your credit report to see if there is erroneous data on it, and have corrections made.
Just as important as a blueprint for establishing credit are the things you don't want to do to jeopardize your credit rating.
1) Don't overdraw your bank account. You will be charged fees and you could damage a good reference.
2) Avoid missed or late payments to any creditor. That is a sure way to damage your credit rating.
3) Don't let anyone else borrow your credit card, debit card or in any way have access to your bank account. You are responsible for any authorized use of your accounts.
4) Don't give your card number to anyone over the phone or Internet unless you have initiated the transaction.
5)Avoid cash advances at all costs. They're expensive. You'll pay an upfront fee of 2 to 4 percent on the amount you withdraw and you'll be stuck paying a high interest rate, often in the high teens or higher. And because there's no grace period on a cash advance, the interest charges will begin to mount as soon as the money comes outs of the ATM.

Tips for the Day: Do you have company coming tonight? How about some quick recipes?

Some gift ideas for that special teacher: http://www.stretcher.com/stories/03/03dec01a.cfm