Everyone here at Everyday Providence 
wishes you and yours 
a very Merry Christmas!

Functional Friday: When Preparation Has It's Day

The snow has fallen gently all day.  As dusk creeps quietly through the town, my family begins to anticipate the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Christmas.  The tree is up.  The gifts are wrapped.  The feast is prepared.  The lighted angel is placed in the window.  In a few hours we'll go to the candlelight service at church.  Then we'll come home and go to bed. And tomorrow, weeks (if not months) of preparation and anticipation will play out as it will. 

Each of us works, plays, and lives in little spheres of influence throughout our days.  Our friends, families, co-workers, even the people we pass on the street, see us and they are watching.  In times of celebration and times of desperation, people see us.  We live each day in preparation for these moments, ready to offer a glimpse of hope for a better day.

Hope is what Christmas is all about.  Hope for a better tomorrow.  Hope for a better life.  Hope for a better world.  Hope for a better you and me.  Hope for family, friends and neighbors.  That's what this blog is about as well:  Hope that together we can plan for the best.  Merry Christmas!

Two days till Christmas!

I promised some guest posts for you.  Hopefully you caught the one my husband wrote earlier this month.  Here's another by my friend, Melody Miller.  Melody is co-host of A Positive Start to Your Day, a radio morning show.  If you enjoy this, catch her on her morning show blog.

With two days until Christmas, my “this needs to be done before Christmas” checklist is beginning to dwindle.  It’s such a busy season.  There are so many preparations to made – gifts to buy and then wrap, cards to send, decorations to display, ornaments to hang, parties to attend, food to prepare – an entire season of celebration, all culminating in one special day that we spend with friends and family making memories that we will treasure for a lifetime as we celebrate the gift of a child that born more than 2000 years ago.
I think there was that same sense of the hurry (and probably stress) in the preparation on that first Christmas.  The story tells of a long journey back to Joseph’s hometown because it was time to pay the taxes.  Mary had to travel on the back of a donkey in the final days of her pregnancy.  Then, once they arrived, they couldn’t find a place to stay so they find themselves in a stable, using a manger as a baby bed.  That first night most likely was not a silent one – it was likely noisy (there were so many people in town there weren’t even rooms left) and smelly (hanging out with the animals) and painful (she was giving birth in a stable).  Yet, this was the night they had prepared for and waited for – not only for the months of a pregnancy as Mary knew the child she carried would some day save the world – and, not only for Mary and Joseph but for so many people who had waited for this day, who had hoped and prayed and prepared for Messiah to come.
In the busy-ness of the season, sometimes it’s difficult to find quiet moments to appreciate and remember the reason for the celebration.  Oh those moments are there if you look for them – it’s in the stillness of the house with the glow of the lights on the tree, it’s in the crisp winter air with the sounds of carolers in the distance, it’s in the violin solo for “Silent Night” at the Christmas concert, and it’s in the words of that story from so long ago….
"And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Ready or not, Christmas will be here in two days and soon enough we will be taking down the lights and the tree and packing them away for another year.  I think the Christmas story gives us a beautiful picture of what our response should be after it is finally time to celebrate the moment we have been preparing for.  After the shepherds visited Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus on that night, two things happened.  The shepherds left and told EVERYONE – “they made it widely known” and then went back to their jobs in the field, praising God for what had just happened.  And, Mary found a moment of quiet reflection at the end of what must have been a very long day to think about these things and “ponder them in her heart.”  You can almost picture this new mom not wanting to forget a moment of what had happened on that day as she held her child (who would some day become her Savior) in her arms. 
My hope is that during this time of celebration, we will not lose sight of what matters in the midst of the busy-ness and the preparation.
  • May we will find the time to tell everyone about the true meaning of Christmas – making certain that our children know and that our friends don’t forget the reason for the celebration.
  • May we will find a moment of quiet reflection to ponder the wonder of it all.
  • And, may we praise God for providing the greatest gift of all on that very first Christmas – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  --John 3:16
May your Christmas be filled with much hope and peace - Merry Christmas!

A Partridge in a Pear Tree...

Shrouded in rumor and mystery, The Twelve Days of Christmas is a very old carol, recorded in English song books since the 1700's and likely sung before that by commoners in England and perhaps even France.  Some have recently claimed it represents an attempt to educate Catholic children under the intolerant rule of Anglicans in England.  Others suggest it was a "Twelfth Night" song sung as a memory game for children celebrating the time between Christmas Day and Epiphany on December 6.  Either way it is certainly an enduring celebration of the festivities of Christmas.  The writing, sharing and recording of songs is a timeless tradition that preserves and extends our history and culture.  Songs can take a person back to a moment in time... and many time to a place they have never been.

Make an effort this season to enjoy some of the songs of the season.  Make a little music of your own.  Explore some new tunes or old forgotten melodies.  I've included titles and link to a few songs that make my Christmas season shine.  (I've attached links to those I've located on YouTube.  Some are my favorite version, other versions are new to me.)  Enjoy!

Old Christmas Carols
Christ is Born
Christmas is Coming
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an Open Fire)
The Holly and the Ivy
Gabriel's Message
O come, O come, Emmanuel
Deck the Halls with boughs of holly

Modern Christmas Songs
Blue Christmas
Wonderful Christmastime
Carol of the Bells
Have yourself and Merry Little Christmas
I want a Hippopotamus
Baby, It's cold outside

Songs from My Childhood
The Chipmunk Song
You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch
Snoopy's Christmas
Linus' Christmas Monologue
Christmastime is Here

Newest Songs
How Many Kings?
Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)
Always in the Season

A drink to warm you from the inside out!

We keep teasing you with the necessity of a well-stocked pantry and a few long-term "survival" supplies.  Hopefully, we are piquing your interest and building a knowledge base that helps you prepare to survive your jungle - storms, family, school, travel, unemployment, holidays, expectations, whatever.

Today, I'm touting the virtually unending benefits of a hot drink, which ties perfectly to the well-stocked pantry... and to winter warming and celebrating. 

Most of these ingredients are shelf-stable for many months, which makes them perfect additions to your pantry plan.  Stock up on the ones you are most likely to use (rotate your supply) and try a few new ones as well.

Hot drinks are social.  People tend to gather at the coffee pot or at the coffee shop.  Hot drinks are a ritual.  We start our morning or follow our dinner with a cup of coffee.  Anyone serve afternoon tea? Hot drinks are an indulgence.  Whether you're having a grande latte from Starbucks or a mug of spiced cider at home, you feel special drinking your cozy signature beverage.  Hot drinks are healthy. Did you know Americans' number one source of antioxidants is coffee?  And along with tea, chocolate, and fruit juice drinks, it provides a host of other possible benefits as well.  Hot drinks are therapeutic.  Hot drinks have traditionally been used to treat a host of problems, illnesses, and symptoms.  Although any diagnosis or treatment recommendation should come from a doctor, I did find a few references that certainly support this claim: treatment for cold and flu, first aid for hypothermia, and providing psychological benefits.  Hot drinks are a survival necessity.  Beyond the emotional benefits of a fire and a warm drink, heating water can become a necessity for killing bacteria, cooking foods, and extracting nutrients in 'teas' made of wild plants.

Here are a few ideas and recipes to get you thinking about what items to add to your pantry.

Christmas Tea (My Family Recipe)
  • 2 cups Tang orange drink mix
  • 1 package Wyler's sweetened lemonade
  • 1/2 cup Nestea instant Tea
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix and store in airtight container.  Add 3 teaspoons to 1 cup hot water.  Stir and serve.

Hot Cocoa
Hot Buttered Rum
Hot Toddy
Irish Coffee
Spiced Cider
Mulled Wine
Wassail - There are 1,000 variations.  I've included my favorite explanation which quotes Shakespeare.
Chai Tea from India is revered for its restorative qualities.
Coffee - ground coffee in the original sealed can stores the longest (check the date)
Black/Green/Oolong Tea
Herbal Teas
Hot water with lemon or honey
Warm milk (with a shot of vanilla syrup)
Vegetable or Chicken Broth or Bouillon

Air Travel Safety Preparation

As a follow up to yesterday's post, I wanted to briefly review some air travel tips.  I am not generally a fearful person, but I remain very aware of my surroundings.  I am not a suspicious person, but I am alert when someone seems too friendly, too uptight, or too alert.  I am always concerned (especially in a very public place) about any unattended bag or box.  I am more worried about traffic accidents than plane crashes.  Keep your head in the game, and everything should go well.

  • Prepare your mind and your schedule for waiting.  Pack with screening in mind.
  • Whether you are for or against x-rays, metal detectors, pat downs and full body scans, they are going to do them.  Plan ahead to comply and breeze through.
  • Always tell the truth.  Even a harmless lie to the TSA is a crime.
  • Keep your group together.  Watch out for one another.
  • Don't try to carry-on more than allowed.  It will most likely weigh you down anyway.
  • Check questionable items, or leave them at home.  With baggage fees you'll want to trim down anyway.
  • Review baggage and carry on rules. Leave your pocket knife and water bottle at home.
  • Use TSA compatible baggage locks. Otherwise, they may need to cut it off to check your bag.
  • Put OBVIOUS markers on your luggage. You might catch it walking off before it's gone.
  • Keep things simple. The less you have to keep track of, the better you'll be able to do so.
  • Keep your bags and packages at hand. Don't let anyone you don't know handle your stuff.
  • Don't get distracted by conversation or spectacles. Distractions can make you leave or lose items.
  • Keep your eyes open and stay alert.  If you are concerned about something you see, say something to an employee of the airline.

Functional Friday: Holiday Safety Tips - Travel

Are you going out of town this holiday?  Whether it's a quick overnight trip or a trek across the country, any trip can be improved with a little planning and preparation.  Planning ahead will provide peace of mind and may help avoid the pitfalls of modern travel.  Here are a few ideas to help keep your time away safe, happy, and healthy.

Prepare your home - 
Have a trusted friend or neighbor check on the house once a day.  They can pick up the paper, put out the trash, get the mail, check your messages, make sure things are secure.  Make sure they have a key and alarm codes, contact information for you, your destination, and an alternate emergency contact.
Stop your mail at the post office.
Set some lights and a radio on timers to create the appearance of someone being home.
Set your heat (or A/C?) for lower energy consumption.
Make sure pets are boarded or cared for.
Check that windows and doors are locked.

Prepare your family/travel companions -
Discuss ahead of leaving when and where you'll stop for meals and breaks.
You might want to talk about paying speeding tickets, if you're traveling with friends. I received a shock to learn that a friend expected us to split the cost of any tickets, regardless of who was driving. 
What about unexpected car repairs?
Take along some snacks that everyone likes. 
Agree ahead of time on who gets to pick the music.  May I suggest driver's choice?  Bring your own music.
Talk with kids and let them pick one or two things to take.  Help them use their imagination to entertain themselves on the road.

Prepare yourself - 
Start packing early.  Get a full night's sleep, breakfast, and a cup of coffee before you leave.
Keep a list as you think of things NOT to forget, and check it.
Plan your snacking. Some prefer to take it along and avoid inflated prices, others are willing to pay $4 for a soda and not worrying about toting it along.
Keep your packing light but thoughtful.   Overpacking is a burden. 
Exception - take more than you need of prescription drugs, medical supplies, and special dietary needs, all in original packaging, of course. 
Take versatile clothing and minimum toiletries.
(Don't forget TSA rules for flying with liquids.)
What can you possibly forget that can't be replaced at Wal-mart or the hotel gift shop?
I ALWAYS take my swimsuit and one "dressy" outfit... just in case!
Dress as nice as you can and still be comfortable.  My own experience says it can make a difference.
There are many great insights on traveling with pets and children, too.

Hopefully your trip will be more peaceful than traveling 150 miles, nine months pregnant, on the back of a donkey.  That trip required an eternity of planning. 

Wishing you much joy and peace during this season of celebration of the perfect gift!

10 Foods to Keep on Hand for the Holidays

Think it’s impractical to fly in fresh figs at their peak ripeness for your New Year’s Eve party? You’re not the only one. Our ancestors sure didn’t need them to celebrate. Traditionally, holiday treats were made from less widely available, but still non-perishable items – baked goods with sugar and ginger, dried fruits, candied nuts, preserved meats, cheese. Anticipating some impromptu holiday entertaining? Skip the figs, go to your pantry instead.

Here are 10 foods to keep on hand for the holidays:

  • fancy crackers – my favorite is the multi-pack with several individually wrapped sleeves
  • cheeses (brie and cheddar are my favorite) – they’ll last for weeks, maybe even months in the refrigerator
  • summer sausage
  • smoked salmon – buy the shelf stable kind and it will keep indefinitely
  • white & milk chocolate covered pretzels – you can make these yourself for a fraction of buying them already made
  • tin of Danish butter cookies
  • mini candy canes – part tree d├ęcor, part after-dinner mint or drink garnish
  • jar of spiced fruit preserves (a nice apple-cranberry) go well with a nice brie and crackers
  • fruitcake – everyone likes to joke about it, but fruitcake is good
  • festive beverage – I like Harpoon’s Winter Warmer, Ballatore’s Rosso Red, but hot chocolate mix or a nice tea are perfect, too.
Bon appetit!

Paper Decorations

Some of my favorite Christmas memories growing up center around very simple craft projects.   The time spent together with friends and family was valuable and certainly made the memory.  But I can't help but wonder if some of the magic was in the simplicity of the project.  Once kids are school age they can handle the scissors and tape (or stapler) skills needed to make a paper chain.  I remember year after year creating the red and green paper chains that we hung across the doorway to the kitchen.  I think the success of the project helped build the moment.  We glowed with pride after producing a lacy paper snowflake.  Or a chain of paper girls or boys that actually stayed together.  You'll need a few more supplies, but what about making orange pomanders?  Or pipe cleaner candy canes?

Ripped straight from the headlines...

Yesterday, crews had to rescue stranded motorists in Indiana after a winter storm roared through the Mid-west.  Dropping snow and ice in it's path, the storm also collapsed an arena in Minneapolis. 

Today, volunteers and Canadian government agencies rescued, evacuated, or assisted the passengers of over 300 stranded vehicles near the US and Canadian border.  Traffic stopped initially due to heavy snowfall and traffic accidents.  Some of these travelers were stranded for over 24 hours and had to survive with what they had with them in their car.

Winter weather travel tips:
  •  Stay ready for unexpected delays and weather with a plan and a kit in your car every time you travel.
  • Always wear (or take) clothes, shoes, and outerwear that you could walk a mile in.
  • Don't forget gloves, hats, water, and snacks.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full at all times, especially in extreme weather seasons and in remote locations.
Basic recommendations for your car kit:

  • Bottled Water
  • Food, snacks, candy or nutrition bars
  • First Aid Kit
  • Emergency medications (Consult your doctor or pharmacist for storage.)
  • Emergency blanket
  • Plastic sheeting (Tarps or trash bags can become shelters, repair a broken window, or keep you dry in a pinch.)
  • Tape, rope, or twine
  • Pocket knife
  • Flashlight and extra batteries (Store batteries out of the flashlight.)
  • Candles/matches/lighter
  • Whistle
  • Hooded sweatshirts
  • Blankets and additional clothing
  • Pen/pencil and paper
  • Simple Activities for adults and children to pass the time

Related posts:
Functional Friday: Holiday Safety Tips - Travel
Shiny Silver Emergency Blankets
Winterize Me!
101 Uses for a Hoodie

10 Last-Minute Gifts to Keep On Hand for the Holidays

Keep these items in mind while you're doing your holiday shopping. Even better, buy these after the holidays on sale and save them for next year:

1.) Holiday-themed Recipe Cards – everyone has a special holiday recipe that needs a special holiday card.

2.) Winter-themed kitchen towel set – even bachelors need kitchen towels.

3.) Candle – part mood enhancer, part emergency supply.

4.) Bottle of Wine – a classic gift that never gets old, add a bag of mulling spices for an extra touch.

5.) Candies, Nuts, and Chocolates – they’ll appreciate this for impromptu entertaining themselves.

6.) Local Food – jar of preserves from the farmer’s market, bottle of honey from the co-op, they’ll appreciate something they can’t buy at their own supermarket.
7.) Local Crafts – the unique apron, one-of-a-kind spoon rest, extra points if it came from a fundraiser!

8.) Re-usable – the popular ceramic “paper” cup or a commuter coffee mug - pair it with a cute, reusable grocery bag for a green gift.

9.) Gadgets – Find a neat, inexpensive item that makes your life easier? Lock de-icer keychain, LED mini-flashlight, USB toaster; buy an extra for a gift.

10.) Cold Weather Accessories – Everyone can use an extra pair of gloves, a hat, a scarf, and an ice scraper.

Let them eat cake!

History Lesson - In all likelihood Marie Antoinette never uttered these words.  But they certainly reflect an oblivious disregard to the plight of the poor.  This Christmas, you can change the world.  Really!  Most likely, if you're reading this blog, you're reading on your computer, sitting in comfy furniture, in your home (or at Starbucks), with a car in the garage and food in the fridge.  You are privileged.  You KNOW there are people out there that need help.  And in this season of peace and generosity, would you consider a small gift to give a child or a family a hand up out of poverty (or other equally dire situations)?  

Gift ideas:
Write a check (or pay by credit card) to your favorite charity.
Buy and give a gift to be given to a child or family that can't afford gifts this year.
In lieu of wrapped gifts, offer gifts given to charities in honor of friends and family.

I've listed a few of my favorite holiday gifts and charities below:

A Goat! - World Vision allows you to provide clean water, farm animals, and disaster relief to children and families all over the world.  You can also opt to provide a monthly sponsorship to provide a child with food, education, clean water and medical care.

A Toy! - Angel Tree helps you to meet the specific wants and needs of children whose parents are incarcerated.

A College Education! - Compassion International's Leadership Development Program helps exceptional students from poor and unstable nations to get a college education and leadership training to take back to their home country.

A Cure! - St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering research and treatment of children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases.

A Chance! - Samaritan's Purse delivers disaster relief and "Shoebox" gifts where they are needed all over the world.

There are thousands of other opportunities.  Find one that tugs at your heart and give.  Even better, get you friends, family, or co-workers involved to grow your gift.

The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. - Proverbs

Functional Friday: Holiday Safety Tips - Decorating

Take a quick look around you house for any possible holiday decorating hazards. Ten minutes (or so) to seriously check out your home safety could save you a boatload of stress and heart-ache this season.

  • Keep live trees well watered. Choose safe (unbreakable) ornaments in households with children and others liable to bump the tree. Make certain the tree is quite stable before loading it up with ornaments.
  • Electrical safety saves lives. Don't use frayed cords, don't overload outlets, and unplug and turn off lights when you aren't home or are sleeping. Replace old lights with safer (and more energy efficient) strands. And follow these tips for using extension cords.
  • Children don't always understand the purpose of holiday decorations. And other homes may not be as childproof as your own. Check out this article to help prepare for this holiday season.  

  • Pets are naturally curious. As you add many new plants (like a tree a bird used to live in), sparkly gifts with ribbons and bows, tree decorations that look like dog and cat toys, and treats and delicious candy to your household, remember that many of these things can cause serious injury to your pets. Click here for more ideas on keeping your pets safe.

Related Articles:
Home Fire Safety
Home Fire Escape Plan
Functional Friday: Preparedness Project - Smoke Detectors and Fire Safety

Leftover wine? Not at my house, but...

A few weeks ago, someone asked me, "What do you do with leftover wine... or wine you don't like?" First, let me say this: When people talk about "leftover wine," I usually assume "leftover" is a label name or vineyard. Leftover wine? It just doesn't happen at my house. Secondly: Wine that I don't like is almost non-existent. To be truthful, in my entire wine drinking career, I have disliked fewer than five bottles... But for the sake of folks who crack open a bottle and aren't wowed (or those who like to drink a single glass and don't know what to do with the rest), I do have a few other uses for wine that will not be consumed in its original form.

1.) Sangria
Sangria is a versatile drink because it can be made with many types of wine. Red, white, sweet, dry - you can formulate a sangria recipe to fit almost any type of wine. Here's a handy recipe that is *almost* no fail:

1 bottle "leftover" wine (I find cheap wine makes the best sangria. Really!)
1 cup fruit flavored vodka (Cheap vodka is dangerous... at least go middle of the road here.)
1 of each of the following fruits, sliced in rings: orange, lemon, and lime
enough sweet, sparkling soda (I find Diet Sierra Mist to be perfect) to top off your pitcher

Instructions: Mix first three ingredients in a two quart pitcher. Add soda and gently stir. Serve in balloon goblets filled with ice. Enjoy!

Really, it's that easy. If you're using a very dry wine, you can always decrease the amount of wine and add a little extra soda. If you're using a very sweet wine, substitute club soda (which is not sweet) for the lemon/lime flavored soda. If it's late summer, and peaches are everywhere, substitute a peach for the orange. If you hate wine, omit it completely and enjoy your freshing vodka cocktail.

2.) Mulled Wine
Mulled wine can be tricky. It's easy enough to make - and quite tasty, too. The tricky part is explaining to your husband why you can't find your purse, reiterating how delicious that hot, spicy Kool-Aid was, and asking if it's ok to just lay down for a little while. Yes, folks - it's that tricky. You've been warned! Here's another recipe that's almost no fail:

1 bottle "leftover" red wine (I don't recommend using cheap or white wine in this one)
1/4 cup raw sugar (you can use regular granulated white - but raw sugar really does make everything taste better)
1 bundle mulling spices (try your local grocer - but specialty shops like Whole Foods and World Market usually have them, especially around the holidays)

Instructions: Add all ingredients to a medium pot on the stove and simmer on LOW (if you boil this, the "tricky" part I mention above will go away... and that would really be a shame). Stir frequently at first to ensure the sugar dissolves. Once the wine has reached the desired temperature, serve in mugs and garnish with a cinnamon stick if desired.

3.) Salad Dressing
Red and white wines can be used to make salad dressing - though you probably won't get rid of an entire bottle this way (unless you eat lots of salad...). There are way too many variations of recipes out there, but here are the basics: oil, vinegar, wine, spices. Try experimenting!

4.) Grilling Food
Wine is an awesome way to tenderize meat before it's grilled. The general rule for optimal meat tenderization and flavor is to add acid+alcohol. The darker the meat, the darker the wine needs to be to counter the flavor. Here's a handy little chart I created to help you:

Beef: Dry reds are best.
Pork: Any wine can work with pork - though I never recommend anything in the very sweet category unless you're following a recipe.
Lamb: Really? You have to eat lamb? They're cute and furry! Whatever - marinate lamb in something very full, such as Merlot or Cabernet.
Chicken: For grilling, I find whites taste great and make the chicken most appealing. Red tastes good - but unless you're serving the chicken in sauce, it's going to look a little funky after being marinated (who wants to cut into chicken and find purple weirdness inside? Not me.).
Seafood: Never, ever mix seafood and red wine (really). If you're going to marinate seafood (salmon steaks, perhaps?), always use a light, dry white such as Pinot Grigio.

So the wine is one half of the magical marinade equation. You also need acid to balance the flavor. In general I like to use fruit juice as the acid because it's easy, cheap and it tastes great with wine (wine is made from grapes, you know)! Which fruit juice should you use? That's totally personal preference. Again, the darker the meat - the darker the juice. Cherry or pomegranate tastes great with beef and pork... but pork also works well with citrus juices. Chicken is great with any kind of juice - but as with the wine, unless you're serving the chicken with a sauce, dark juices can make it look funky. I recommend sticking with peach, citrus or light grape. With seafood, go very light to balance the flavor and color. Citrus with any kind of seafood is marvelous.

Don't be afraid to add spices to your marinade! I'm not a huge fan of grill rubs (too salty), but there are lots of pre-mixed salt-free options that are awesome. Complex flavors like sweet and spicy, Jerk, citrus rosemary, etc. are great on the grill.

5.) A Cool Wine-Drinking Friend
Don't ever - EVER pour wine out (unless it's been open and improperly stored in your fridge for weeks, and in that case, shame on you). Why? Because more than likely, you have a very cool wine-drinking friend who would LOVE to finish your wine.

So there you have it! A few easy, delicious ways to get rid of leftover wine. We'd love to hear your suggestions for using wine you don't plan to drink. Have any tasty recipes? Use it to kill slugs in the garden? We may never use your ideas (at least I won't... I've giggled every time I've typed "leftover wine" in this post...), but we'd love to add them to our arsenal of wine knowledge!

One Last Christmas

Everyday Providence focuses on the ways that we can be prepared in our everyday lives.  Sometimes, there is just not anyway to be prepared.  Thirty one years ago today was one of those days for a couple in Peoria, IL as they learned that their only son had cancer, was being emergency airlifted to Saint Jude’s in Memphis, and had only a mere 1 in 10,000 chance for survival.  The words don’t even seem to make sense as they enter your brain.  How could this happen?  What could have been done?  What will we do?  Would this be his last Christmas?  To be a parent and to be so helpless is such a terrifying combination.

The next 106 days were filled with chemotherapy, radiation treatments, hair loss, coma, 104.5 degree fever, too many blood draws for a child to have to endure, and so much more.  However, it was also filled with love, caring, and a never diminishing hope.  A hope that would make a Christmas magical, even one spent with IV’s, food tubes and sickness.  A hope that would drive a grandmother to keep every Christmas decoration up until her “Babydoll” came home.  And a hope that it would all make sense some day.

I know this story so well because 31 years ago today, I was that seven year old.  Looking back on having cancer, on being a St. Jude’s Kid, and my Grandmother having “Christmas” in April when I made it home has changed the way I look at life, and the way I live my life.  I got to have that Christmas, and many more!  Cancer research has come so far, and so many lives are able to be saved that were not, even as recently as just a few years ago.  The saddest part is that not all of those children get their “One Last Christmas”

Dax did get his one last Christmas, but was called home to Jesus shortly thereafter.  Pray for these children, pray for their families, and this Christmas, instead of the gift card, the mug, the popcorn, etc.  Give a donation to Saint Jude’s in someone’s name and let them know that they made a difference for Christmas!

Give to Saint Jude's Children's Research Hospital 

God Bless,

G.W. Van Alstine

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater...

...had a wife and couldn't keep her. Put her in a pumpkin shell and there he kept her very well.

I can assure you that any of these three authors are BIG fans of pumpkin, and this "unsavory" nursery rhyme scenario might not be a bad gig for us. From well before Halloween to much after Christmas, we're finding ways to sneak pumpkin into our baking, cooking, and snacking. And why not? It's one of nature's perfect foods. High fiber, low fat, Vitamin A and antioxidant rich and shelf-stable in a can, pumpkin works perfectly as a sweet or savory dish. If you're the gardening type, they are easy to grow and will inevitably produce more than you can carve, cook, eat, and admire. Here are a few of our favorite recipes:

Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

1 (9 inch) unbaked deep dish pie crust
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs
1 (15 ounce) can LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
1 (12 fluid ounce) can NESTLE® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs lightly in large bowl.
Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell.
Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees F.; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread (for graham crackers, bagels, or ginger snaps)


1 - 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla


Beat all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Makes 1-1/2 cups (24, 1-tablespoon servings). Can also be shaped into a ball as a sweet "cheese ball".

Pumpkin Mushroom Soup with Curry


1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. curry powder
3 cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp. honey
dash nutmeg
1 (1 lb.) can pumpkin
1 cup evaporated milk

Saute mushrooms and onions in butter.  Add curry and flour, stir.  Add broth gradually.  Add everything but milk, cook, stirring 10-15 minutes.  Add milk, heat through witjout boiling.  Top with cream cheese or yogurt, if desired.  Serves 6.

Pumpkin Seeds


2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon salt


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread the pumpkin seeds on a medium baking sheet. Drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted.

Add your own preference to this nutty flavor with cinnamon, cayenne pepper, etc. for a tasty treat.

Gift Giving with Preparedness in Mind

A popular concept within the Church of Latter Day Saints is having a “Food Storage Christmas”. Families will take the money that they might have spent on a new TV or diamond earrings and instead invest it in their family’s preparedness.

If you exchange gifts with extended family, you can give gifts that promote preparedness without giving a year’s supply of freeze dried lima beans. Here are some examples:

Fancy Olive Oils are all the rage these days. Buy freshly harvested, in a green bottle to keep out harmful light. It will last over a year, and up to 2 years if stored properly. Olive oils have a lot of healthful and beneficial fats, and one infused with an herb (such as rosemary) is something a little nicer than usual.

Dried fruits have so many uses. My favorite is baked in a pastry puff with brie. It makes an indulgent appetizer. Try adding it to a beef roast in the crock pot. The sweet addition to the meat, makes for a complex flavor. Dried fruits have a long shelf-life if stored properly. They are a good source of nutrition and even the little ones will eat them.

Shelf stable smoked salmon is a fantastic source of protein and heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Served up with a little bit of cream cheese on a cracker, this too makes for a great appetizer.

A fancy whole bean coffee or a tin of exotic tea would be appreciated by the most discriminating recipient. 

Maybe you can spread a little holiday spirit with someone's favorite bottled beverage.

For the gadget-minded, a new LED keychain flashlight is energy efficient and just plain cool.

Multi-tools are shrinking smaller and smaller, so that they too are keychain size. Some even have a little flashlight on them.

Who couldn't use an extra pair of gloves, a hat, and scarf to throw in their car?

Skip the gift-wrap this year and give gifts in a reusable grocery bag. Heartier than the plastic ones from the grocery store, everyone can use one of these.

You'll experience the joy of the season, giving gifts with a purpose.

Wrap It Up - I'll take it!

Wrapping gifts is a holiday hassle that's all about the preparation!  Whether you bask in the glorious glow of an elegantly wrapped gift OR hope you have enough tissue paper to "hide" the gift you dropped in the bottom of the gift bag, a little planning goes a long way here.  If you're a basic wrapper with no ambition greater than covering each gift with paper, use this list as a supplies checklist.  For those of you who are more ambitious, we have included some creative ideas and links.  If you hope to create something personal, unique, or special in your wrapping remember the styles, items, and themes that you enjoy and go for it. 

Themes - 
Green is in.  Reduce and reuse.
Nature is organic.  Unbleached paper, raffia, twigs and nuts are in.
Bling gets noticed.  Add some sparkle with metallic ribbon or gems.
Tis' a gift to be simple.  Pick a color and stick with it.
Pick you own, or pick a theme the recipient will favor.
Wrap - 
Heavier paper looks and handles better. (Hobby Lobby has some great selections every year.)
Wrap every gift in the same (or coordinating) paper.
Or use creative or "green" alternatives like newsprint, the comics, let the kids (or you) design your own.
Print a photo collage at home, or order custom paper online.
Bows - 
Buy a big bag and use tape to attach them (when you arrive, if you're traveling, to avoid smashed bows.)
Order pull-string bows.
Make your own bows.
Ribbon - 
Consider choosing a HUGE roll of a single color that will coordinate with every package.
Use plain paper and highly patterned ribbon.
Boxes - 
If you want orderly squares and rectangles under your tree, every gift will need a box.  Get one when you buy the gift, save some good boxes throughout the year, or buy what you need before wrapping day.
Store boxes that are elegant (or from trendy stores) don't need paper, just a ribbon to hold them closed.
You can buy sturdy hat-boxes in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Some are already decorated, so you can skip the wrap.
Tape -
Don't run out... Buy a extra package!  It doesn't go bad.
Bags -
Gift bags are simple and reusable.
Pick bold solid colors and prints for maximum impact.
Pick whimsical designs for personalized wrapping.
Design your own bags with stamps, marker, and other craft supplies.
Tissue -
Use coordinating colors of tissue to wrap gift in boxes and bags.
Tissue can also make an elegant wrapper by itself.
Labels -
Personalize them.
Make your own.
Cards -
Handmade greeting and gift cards are irreplaceable.  Even if you've never done this, go to your local scrapbook store for supplies, assistance, and ideas.  (Many stores have a table and equipment you can use.)
Decorations -
Tie something natural, meaningful or whimsical on the package. (Sticks, candy, action figures)
Use everyday, inexpensive, useful items.  (Candy canes, silk flowers, dried leaves)
Edible Treat Packaging -
Chinese take-out boxes are perfect and come in colors, sizes and patterns you'll like.
Clear or print plastic treat bags with ribbons, a card, or decoration attached.
Tins and reusable food containers can be as inexpensive as disposable packaging.
Other Creative Ideas-
"Wrap" in a reusable grocery bag or tote.
Bring gifts in a large (red?) fabric sack and simple hand the gifts out unwrapped. (Ho! Ho! Ho! optional.) 
Make a gift pouch.


... a new tradition.

A critical aspect of my disaster response training involves understanding and respecting others' social and religious differences.  From the meals served at a shelter to a warm hug not given to a certain disaster victim, our training constantly reminds us that there are many different cultures and expectations right here in our own cities.  Yet for all our differences people are very much the same. I hope you'll take a moment this holiday season to enjoy the beauty of festive celebrations held in your community.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Our holiday enjoyment of chocolate and poinsettias comes from Mexico and Central America. Celebrate them with a knowledge of their origin.

There are all sorts of delicious Christmas food, treats and desserts that come from other cultures and traditions.  Pizzelle, panettone, gingerbread men, or maybe a bowl of Ukraininan Grain Pudding.

Hanukkah begins at sundown December 1 and is celebrated each night through December 8.  Read or talk about the story of Hanukkah.  Eat a jelly doughnut (sufganiot).

Kwanzaa begins December 26 and continues for 7 days total.  It is a modern African cultural holiday rooted in ancient tradition of celebrating the "first fruits."  Children are given books as gifts, and seven candles are lit.

Find some new traditions you enjoy and research where they came from.  Celebrate and share your own family culture and traditions.  What unique traditions do can you share?

Functional Friday: Holiday Safety Tips: Food

Take a minute to read these tips to protect your festivities this joyous season. (Click the links for more in-depth information.)  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  With nationwide food sourcing and hectic holiday schedules, we should wisely take every precaution to NOT expose others to contamination and possible food poisoning.
  • Thaw your turkey (or other meat) in the refrigerator, cold running water, or the microwave.  Never at room temperature.  Start EARLY! 
  • Wash your hands with soap frequently when cooking and serving.  Use paper towels to dry.  Change kitchen towels often to avoid cross contamination.  Don't "share" stirring spoons and other equipment between dishes while cooking and preparing.
  • Like a chef, set a cup of teaspoons out for tasting items in the kitchen.  Then drop them in the sink to be washed.
  • Re-wash serving dishes just before putting food in them to ensure they haven't been spilled or splashed (or sneezed if you have kids around) into.
  • Dishes washed in the dishwasher are generally cleaner than hand-washed due to the hotter water temperature and sanitizing detergent.  (Dishwashers also generally use much less water which is better for the environment, especially if you use a safe detergent.)
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.  After two hours at room temperature, hot and cold food should be thrown out.  
  • Always reheat hot food thoroughly after storage.  Oven and stove top reheating are often safer than microwave. 
  • Leave chips and snack mix out on the table for snacking.  Keep dips, fruit, and veggies in the fridge.
  • Use a slow cooker if you want to leave hot food setting out.
  • Wear simple short sleeved shirts when cooking.  Save the elegant holiday wear for serving and eating.
  • Avoid burns by using pot holders.  Use colanders to drain hot items.
  • Although the kitchen is a popular hot spot (pun intended) for holiday social gathering, play it safe and keep kids and "non-cooks" away during the heavy duty cooking times.
  • Be extra attentive to "creative" cooking methods like smokers, grills, and deep fryers.  
  • Do not leave any food cooking unattended.  (Even a turkey.) Use a slow cooker when appropriate. 
  • Buy a food thermometer.  It will help keep your turkey moist yet adequately cooked.
  • Remember food allergies.  If you have food allergies make sure everyone is aware, and don't take any chances.  If someone on your guest list has a food allergy, considering black-listing that item.
Help keep your festivities, well... festive!

    Practice an Evening without Electricity

    Have you thought about what would happen if you lost power for an extended period of time? Here’s an idea for you: spend an enjoyable evening without electricity. No TV, no internet, no lights, no microwave popcorn, no electric can opener. Not only is this a chance to spend time with your family by candlelight, it’s also a chance to identify what you would need if it really happened to you.

    Could you prepare and eat a meal?
    Could you access your garage?
    Do you have a flashlight handy?
    What about a lantern?
    Extra batteries?
    Do you have enough candles?
    What if the furnace was off, too?
    Do you have enough blankets?
    Can you make a phone call?
    Charge your cell phone?

    After you’ve (hopefully) laughed at each time you mindlessly flipped the light switch, sit down with your family and talk to them. Use the opportunity to discuss the season, read a book aloud, or play a game. Don’t wait for the power to go out to enjoy your family.  And when the real thing happens, you (and the kids) will feel a bit more confident that you can handle this.

    Twenty-Five Days of Christmas (Preparedness) Traditions

    It may not seem like a preparedness kind of thing, but preserving family traditions is important! When we back up our computers, put old photos in a safety deposit box, or keep Grandma’s old letters, we’re preserving little pieces of our family memories and traditions.

    Here are 25 ideas to create family memories of Christmas. And who knows? Maybe one will become your family tradition:

    • Read the Bible Christmas Story in the book of Luke, Chapter 2
    • Read Clement C. Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
    • Write a Letter to Santa
    • Make a Christmas Card or two with construction paper, glue and glitter
    • Cut a Snowflake
    • Tell (or write down) your Favorite Christmas Memory
    • Make mulled cider or hot chocolate from scratch
    • Bake sugar cookies and decorate with colored icing and sprinkles
    • Watch Cheesy Christmas Movies
    • Hang the Mistletoe and Hug or Kiss everyone who lives in your house
    • Wear a Santa Hat for an entire day
    • Turn off all the lights and watch it snow
    • Wrap all your gifts in the same paper and ribbons
    • Go caroling (even if it's to just one house)
    • Pay for the person behind you in the drive thru
    • Buy an over-the-top festive scarf or tie (or sweater)
    • Drive around at night looking for houses lit up with Christmas lights
    • Research and recreate regional, historical, or family traditions
    • Eat a candy cane (or two)
    • Hang an apple, pickle or pepper on your tree
    • Make ice lanterns along your sidewalk
    • Leave Santa something your family enjoys
    • Use too much whipped cream on a piece of pie
    • Take an older neighbor a treat and listen to their Christmas stories
    • Burn a "yule log" (even if it's a pile of sticks in a fire pit out in the yard)
      Take time this Holiday Season to take stock of your life and find out what’s important.