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Ready or not, here comes Christmas!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Christmas Is the Perfect Time for ... a Mystery Party!

I’m a lifelong lover of mysteries, having fallen in love with them as a child when I discovered the Trixie Belden mystery series. I read Nancy Drew as well, but I preferred Trixie’s family, friends, and frequent horseback riding. My grownup tastes lean heavily toward humorous murder mysteries and cozies.

Once I grew up and moved to the South, I discovered Agatha’s A Taste of Mystery, a comedy murder mystery dinner theater in Atlanta. I enjoyed three different interactive murder mystery dinners there. One was hippy-themed, and my then-husband (whose birthday we were celebrating) was given a part and turned out to be one of a pair of killers called Gemini! Now, that was some tie-dyed fun!

I went on to host several murder-mystery dinner parties in our home, and then two Christmases ago I hosted a Christmas-themed mystery dinner where the mystery was not a whodunit murder but rather a who-stole-it mystery. The eight of us had a rollicking good time (although that particular mystery was an unsolvable letdown; I didn’t know this in advance of purchase, but this particular mystery package required the hostess to leave the room, pretend to receive a phone call, and then return to the party to explain away the mystery; the game offered no clues to lead up to the surprise ending.)

Your mystery dinner party or tea party guests may surprise you by diving into their parts with gusto. Even quiet people get caught up in the fun and play their parts with fun and determination!

Back in the old days (the 1980s–90s), mystery parties came in a box kit that included a character booklet for each guest with clues to share and clues to hide unless asked directly, invitations, dinner-theme plans, and more. Now you can go online and download most mysteries after payment. Everything you need for your party will be included—including recipe ideas. Some mysteries offer a script for the characters to read, while others just provide clues doled out to each guest/character, allowing guests to converse as they would like. Most parties are for mixed groups, but you can find some written especially for women’s groups. And while many call for 6-8 characters, some party kits include more characters. Decide what kind of party and how many people you want, and go from there!

The theme of many of the Christmas dinner party mysteries is “Who Killed Santa Claus?” HO-hum. You have to look carefully to find something different! And soon there may be one more non-Santa mystery option, as I am creating my own Christmas mystery party. In fact, I plan to test it on several groups this December! I’m so excited!!! So enjoy what’s available but check back here for news of a new Christmas-themed mystery party coming soon!

One website that sells a variety of mystery party kits and includes ideas for decorations, food, and games is Merri Mysteries. Check them out if you’re still not sure a mystery is the best Christmas party you could plan this year.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

To-Do List for July



q Shop the Independence Day clearance sales for items suitable for Christmas use: red plates (paper or plastic), napkins, tablecloths, star-shaped ornaments, star garland, candles, patriotic items that can decorate a Christmas tree, and stocking stuffers such as flag or star pencils, etc.

q Experiment with a new recipe that you may want to serve during the holiday season or to give as a gift. I found a recipe for microwaveable divinity candy a few years ago. I plan to test it to see if it is as good as my mother used to make.

q Plan your Christmas newsletter. We’ve passed the halfway mark of the year. Make note of memorable happenings so that you’re ready when it’s time to type up your newsletter to add to Christmas cards.

q Plan your Christmas photo, if you plan to include a family photo in your Christmas cards or as a gift for family members—or even as part of a calendar.

Photo Gift Tip: My daughter makes personalized calendars for her grandma, father, and me each year. She carries her camera in her purse and snaps pictures throughout the year so that she has some good shots to represent each month on the calendar; most are family shots, but some are nature scenes with quotes or verses added. The calendars become keepsake items. Plus, you can add birthdays to help scatterbrained people remember them! You can use computer software to design a calendar, but you can also upload photos to a site that has calendar templates to help you create a calendar. Any store that prints photos probably offers templates online. We’ve used Walgreens and Walmart, as well as a local printer.

This list offers you one activity per week, if you intend to do all four. All are doable, as none require a lot of time. If you choose to do less, that’s fine too. Just do something! Don’t let our favorite holiday catch you unprepared!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Okay, Okay, I'm Doing It ... And I Made a Fascinating Discovery!

It’s the beginning of March, and I—I’m taking down my Christmas decorations. Oh yes, I know it’s late for that. You don’t have to remind me that Christmas was 70 days ago and is only 295 days away!

Taking decorations down is not nearly as fun as putting them up. While unpacking them, you are getting reacquainted with forgotten friends. Setting them out, you’re anticipating the hopefully happy holiday ahead. After Christmas, when most people take down and pack away their decorations, there is nothing to look forward to but a few months of winter weather and bare trees. Blah.

Injured thumb,
mostly healed
I like to declare that I’m going to leave my decorations up till it snows! Some years, we don’t get snow at all, so I make the claim mostly in jest. But if it does snow while my trees are still up, I turn the tree lights on and enjoy a little extra Christmas magic. This year, we got a little snow late in January, and then we got a really good snow the second week in February. I had fully intended to undecorate during that second snow, but an awful thing happened as the first of the snowfall appeared: my daughter tripped while carrying glassware, which hit the ground and shattered only seconds before she herself hit the ground and cut her hand. Tears streaming down my face, we raced to the ER, where my brave young adult daughter received a tetanus shot, stitches, and packing and bandaging of the hole where her thumbprint used to be.

That was the end of my plans. I spent the rest of the week fetching and carrying, doing all the cooking, and pampering my poor pitiful princess with facials, pedicures, and back rubs. I also had to spend time working in my home office, and housework piled up. I’m happy to report that her thumb has healed nicely, and her physical therapist is pleased with her progress. So now maybe things will get back to normal around here. She helped me take down the living room trees (three of them, none very large at all) over the weekend.

Inside the stable—look, a camel left a “present.”
Just kidding!  I don’t know what that is.
As I was packing up my beloved nativity, passed down to me from my mother, I noticed something startling. On the back wall of the nativity stable is a postcard-sized picture of the traveling wisemen, which I had seen many times before. However, I recently came into possession of that same artwork, in larger, framed form, that used to hang on my paternal grandmother’s wall! It’s been hanging in the living room for three months now. I had no idea that they were the same! What a fun discovery!



Anyway, by waiting till March (accidentally, I assure you), I’m able to replace the Christmas decor with spring decor. It’s time for the floral arrangements to make their appearance. Now we are anticipating spring and noticing the early blooms around town. We haven’t quite bid the cold weather adieu, but it won’t be long now. Warm sunny weather has already given us a taste of the season to come. So really, March seems quite the right time to pack away Christmas and unpack spring, don’t you agree?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quick Tip for Christmas Gifts

Never seem to have enough money for gifts when the holidays roll around? Wish you could buy gifts all year long but have nowhere to stash them? Like the idea of gift cards but feel they are too impersonal to give to your loved ones? 

You know I’m all about preparing in advance. I have a gift cabinet where I stash the gifts I find throughout the year. That helps me avoid a Christmas that’s a blur of stressful shopping. I know not everyone has storage space available, and some may have curious children who  invariably find gifts while snooping through drawers and closets! (And some kids find gifts while helping a parent, like a friend who, as a boy, was sent to retrieve something from the trunk of the family car, where his mother had hidden one of his gifts.)  I want you to be able to avoid stressful shopping too, whether the stress comes from lack of cash or deciding where to shop!

Try this: set aside Christmas cash each month by buying a gift card or two. Choose something general like a Visa gift card, or choose cards for stores that appeal to the various people on your gift list. Keep them in a lock box or other safe place. Then, you may give them as gifts if you like (making sure they don’t expire soon), or instead of giving the intended recipients a gift card at Christmastime, use the cards to buy each recipient a gift closer to the holiday. It’s like a Christmas club bank account, except by choosing the gift cards in advance, you’ve chosen where to shop for the gifts, saving yourself some time when you’re ready to do your Christmas shopping! 

By the way, you can stack cards to shop with, meaning you might buy a $25 gift card for the same store each month, and then use them all together for your gift shopping spree in November ... because you want to avoid the December shopping crowds, right? *wink*

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Vintage Christmas


I’ve been organizing my photos. For close to ten years, they have been taken with a digital camera, but I’ve come into possession of some vintage prints that I’ve been scanning and organizing as well.

TIP: Keep your photos scanned, sorted, saved, etc. Friends have lost years’ worth of family photos to computer crashes and errors. That’s heartrending! Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do in today’s snowstorm.

I thought I’d share a couple of vintage Christmas shots. I love to look at the details and see what decorations (and people) used to look like.
My First Christmas - back in the 1960s
Real Fire, Real Tree - Christmas 1981

My mom has always had a star like that one as a tree topper. I've had stars, angels, bows, and a Santa hat. I love to change things up now and then! But my mom is content with her star. The one she has now was bought for her by my brother, she says. She might still have the tree I gave her more than 20 years ago!

The lone stocking in the picture is one I bought for my brother. We didn’t “do” stockings in my childhood. I tried to start a new tradition. I had bought one as part of my gift to my brother (filling it with candy and goofy toys), and I made myself one out of an old sheet that I decorated with magic marker drawings. I completely understand why that one is not hanging by the fire.

I’m watching it snow from the corner of my eye. Snow is an exciting occurrence in this part of the USA. I hope it blankets everything in white. I left my outside Christmas lights up, hoping for a chance to get a photo of my house with snow and lights as if it was a snowy Christmas. (Just a little eccentricity of mine)

The snow is so light it almost looks like rain. I’m going to make some hot cocoa and watch the snow before time passes and it’s too late.

What do you do when you see snow?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Word for 2014 ... Intentional

Last year I chose Joy as my word for the year, and 2013 did its best to squash the joy out of me! So after giving more careful thought for 2014, I’ve chosen Intentional as my word for the year. 

I’ve always had good intentions, so I hope nothing catastrophic happens this year! But I don’t want to live each day merely with good intentions. I want to make intentional use of my time. Why wait for good things to happen when you can make good things happen? 

A Christmas-related business project that I started last year, but then set aside, has been tackled again. I’m tickled with how much I’ve completed in a short amount of intentionally-used time. I hope to tell you more about it in the coming months. 

For now, I’ll just wish you all a happy New Year and ask what you are doing intentionally with your time?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Confession: I'm Having a Blue Christmas

Another Blue Christmas
I have a short list of things to accomplish in the next 24 hours: polish my nails, finish decorating the two trees downstairs (the main floor trees were done weeks ago, lest you wonder why I waited till the last minute), make a gingerbread train from a kit (won’t take long), experiment with microwave divinity, go to the Christmas Eve service at my church, and visit a Christmas tree display in a nearby town. It’s a doable list, so I am not hyperventilating tonight. If I don’t get to the divinity, I won’t be upset. My mom sends divinity every year, and I’ve been enjoying this year’s batch since last week! Even so, I am having a blue Christmas.

Confession time: while I love Christmas, it’s the whole season and not the day that puts joy in my heart. The day itself is kind of depressing because the anticipated feast is consumed and gifts are revealed, bringing the celebration to a sudden end—especially if the people in your family turn their attention to their electronic gadgets and cease to participate in your festivities. On the next day, no holiday music will be played in stores or on the radio. Christmas lights lose their magic. There’s nothing left to anticipate ... unless you have more family to visit. Around December 22, I start to dread the looming end of the Christmas season!

When the children were young, I could make Christmas Day last all day long. When the children were young, we also traveled long distances to be part of big, happy family gatherings. Nowadays, it’s just me and my two grown children. Traveling is too costly and risky considering the ice and snow in the mountains that separate us from our Midwestern relatives. These days, no one is interested in singing Christmas songs or reading the story of Christ’s birth. Only one is interested in watching the Christmas parade on TV. Watching anything else on TV together won’t likely occur. Neither will group participation in games. Blah. Who are these people and why are they raining on my Christmas parade?

Why can’t Christmas last all year long? Or at least all winter long. January is so cold and lifeless without the colorful lights and decorations and music. Christmas should last until Easter in the Northern Hemisphere. Once the flowers start blooming, I’d be willing to pack away all my Christmas things and replace them with bouquets and pink and purple ribbons.

Part of the blue mood is because I was unable to host a party this season. I wanted to, desperately. My party friend and I tested all kinds of appetizers for our second annual Christmas mystery dinner party, but then summer arrived and circumstances changed for both of us. This has been a difficult year in so many ways! I joined a social group to have more Christmas party opportunities, and would you believe I was prevented from attending the two I signed up for? And an annual party by my former writers’ group didn’t happen this year after the hostess moved to another state and a popular member of the group passed away. My church didn’t have its usual Jingle Jazz event either. A lot of good folks are struggling physically and/or financially.

(I’m considering a January party if I can enlist some help rearranging my dining room and office. Throwing a mystery party on short notice can be done with the help of downloadable mystery kits and online sites that allow guests to RSVP and sign up for food to bring. I’ll share what I have found in a later blog.)

When everything seems to be going wrong, it can be difficult to focus on what’s right. Tonight I went to a church’s community event called “Bethlehem Revisited.” It was a good reminder of God’s love for us. Christmas decorations and gifts and sweets are fun, but it’s a good idea to think about the humble town of Bethlehem and the people who were going about their daily business, struggling to make ends meet and pay harsh taxes, living in simple homes without the benefit of central heat and air, whose feet were the surest form of transportation. Wants were simpler back then, but the needs were the same. We’re all in need of a Savior. We all need hope. According to the Bible, “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” That night long ago, Hope came down from heaven, bringing love and light to a dark world.

May you focus on what’s right in your life and enjoy the best that this season has to offer. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Check out My Guest Blog at Action Plan Ministries!

local tree lighting ceremony 2013
Sorry I’ve been absent; I’ve been juggling jobs, battling sickness, and seeing my mom (500 miles away – I wish we lived closer). Of course, I’ve also been decorating for Christmas! Remember the bags of decorations I posted about last summer? I’ve been having fun finding places for all the new-to-me items that a friend gave me.

I’ll be blogging for real, soon. I’ve been blogging in my head for several weeks now. LOL  In the meantime, click this link to my guest blog for Action Plan Ministries: Dump Christmas Clutter — No Trash Bags Needed.

How far along in holiday preparations are you? Are you having fun yet?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why are Christmas Items Displayed for Sale so Early?


For some reason, the sight of Christmas decorations lining store shelves in August brings out the Scrooge in some people. While those of us with OCD (Obsessive Christmas Disorder) skip down the aisles, squealing with delight at the sparkly holiday displays, others show signs of annoyance, saying, “Let me enjoy summer! Let me enjoy autumn! Let me enjoy Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day! I don’t want to see Christmas stuff till after the stuffed turkey is served!” These complaints run through the month of October, as if December 1 is much farther than just five-six weeks away!

Let’s imagine for a moment that no sign of the coming holiday was evident until December 1. (It couldn’t happen much sooner due to Thanksgiving and preparations for Black Friday weekend.) Now the normal chaos of the season is ratcheted to a higher level as businesses and charitable organizations must scramble to get out and buy decorations and supplies for their various Christmas events, most of which occur in the first two weeks of December. Budgets are strained because of the inability to check prices early. Lines are even longer, and tempers are shorter because of the increased number of shoppers and the disappearance of desired items from shelves. Crafters are in tears because they were unable to purchase holiday-themed supplies early for the decorations and gifts they planned to make and don’t have the time necessary to make everything! Oh the humanity!


Here’s the bottom line: if you aren’t in the mood for Christmas shopping, then assume the displays aren’t meant for you. They exist for others: those who need to browse early, plan early, and purchase early. Don’t begrudge those Christmas-minded others their early shopping opportunities. Life’s too short to be a Scrooge who, as you know, changed his attitude by the end of his story and lived a much happier life because of it. As Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol, “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

5 Steps to Declutter Christmas!

5 Steps to Declutter Christmas! is an excellent blog post from Action Plan Ministries and authors of the book Declutter Now! You know I’m all about advance planning, and these good folks have the right idea. Click the bold red link and get some great tips.