Ready or not, here comes Christmas!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Extending the thankfulness of Thanksgiving through the Holiday Season

As we share what we’re thankful for on this Thanksgiving, let’s extend that thankfulness through the Christmas season. If you have children, discuss what each of you is thankful for each day. Bring up the idea of thank you notes. If you haven’t taught them yet to send thank you notes for their gifts, make this the year you do!

As an adult, I still write thank you notes for Christmas gifts given from long distance, although I’ll confess to the rare occasion of putting it off so long that I’ve forgotten who gave me what. The lesson there is this: Don’t procrastinate! 

Anyway, Mom always thanks me for writing a thank you letter. I write them because I was taught and trained to write them as a child. I taught my children as well. I know my adult daughter still writes them each Christmas and birthday.

Giving thanks for what you’ve received is common (or maybe uncommon) courtesy. And in these modern times, an e-mail or private message can stand in for a handwritten (or typed) note sent by snail mail. But one way you could make saying thanks fun is to create thank you postcards! Walgreens is just one company you can create and order photo postcards from. You could also print out 4x6 photos and create the postcard effect on the back and mail them that way. Kids like postcards (especially the teeny-tiny writing space)! 

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to end at the close of Thanksgiving Day. By being intentional, you can carry the spirit of Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day and beyond.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


I forgot to post my one word for 2015! Tragic, isn’t it? There are just 11 months of the year left in which to be mindful of my word.

It was a struggle to choose a word for the year. In 2013, I chose Joy, and then life proceeded to wring the joy out of me. I chose Intentional for 2014, and so many unintentional things happened that I began to wonder whose life I was living, as it couldn’t possibly be my own!

This year, I’ve made a choice that I don’t think can jinx me. My one word for 2015 is Reflect

Reflect is a word with more than one meaning. It can mean to consider, ponder, or daydream, and it can mean to shine or mirror. As a writer, I’m quite fond of daydreams, and thinking seems to come naturally to me (most of the time). As a Christian, I hope I reflect the light of Jesus in a dark world.

This year I will deliberately reflect on my life, my choices, and my relationships. I will also, to the best of my ability, reflect God’s love and grace. A year of reflection — it should be a great year! What’s your one word for 2015?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Fruits of Advance Planning: My Christmas in Pictures

Look at me! I’m a big kid at Christmas! (Dollywood)
Happy New Year! Did you have a good Christmas or, like many people on Facebook, did you insist on not beginning your Christmas preparations until after Thanksgiving, then spent the month of December moaning about the stress of cleaning, cooking, shopping, decorating, and how you didn’t have time to do everything that you wanted to do? The purpose of this blog is to encourage you to plan ahead so you can enjoy Christmas and all the season has to offer! I hope you see the value in planning a little each month. It’s worth it! (And really, how much time preparing for Thanksgiving does one need? Certainly not an entire month! You can give thanks and finalize plans for Christmas at the same time!)

I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my Illinois family, and I had a great December, even if I was late typing up my newsletter and getting the cards in the mail. Extenuating circumstances aside, suffice it to say that the month came close to meeting my expectations. I had made time to cook, decorate, volunteer for several charitable activities, attend parties, watch Christmas movies, see light displays, and even visited Dollywood for extra holiday cheer! (And in case you are wondering, I managed to do my paywork throughout the month as well!)

To demonstrate how advance planning frees up time for fun, I’m going to list my holiday activities in the order they occurred. Honestly, this was the best December yet!

1. Christmas Gift Plate Painting Party
2. Dickens of a Christmas street event

3. Angel Tree group activity: dinner and shopping (no photo)

4. Gingerbread House Decorating Party
(in my case, it was a Rice Krispie house)
5. Christmas Craft Volunteers at Children’s Event
6. Watched a Christmas parade from a chilly street corner on an otherwise sunny Sunday

7. Dressed in red for a writers group Christmas party

8. Enjoyed a Christmas Dinner Show by these performers
9. Christmas Party with Fun Photos
10. Christmas Drop-in followed by fun photos in the nearby decorated park

11. Participated in a retirement center’s Christmas program (no photo)

12. Enjoyed Christmas lights display with friends
13. Enjoyed Bethlehem Revisited (a walk-through nativity, no photo)

14. Cookie Exchange Party
15. Christmas in Dollywood! (shown in the 50s section of the park)

16. Strolled through a Festival of Trees display

17. Christmas Eve service at church with my daughter and son

18. Christmas Morning, fun photo time!
It’s me as the Elf on the Shelf!

Family Christmas Day Chili Dinner

A note about Christmas meals: in the past, I have made monkeybread for breakfast and a feast for dinner. I have spent more time in the kitchen than I liked. If you miss out on Christmas fun and relaxation with your family because you are cooking for an army, find ways to reduce your workload. You might ask everyone who is coming to dinner to bring a dish. You might switch to slow cooker meals. You might choose to start a new traditional breakfast or dinner.

For me, I discovered frozen monkeybread at the grocery store a few years ago. Two minutes in the microwave, and it’s ready to eat! I no longer make my own monkeybread. Now I have time to open stockings and watch the Disney Christmas program with the kids.

I used to try to replicate the feasts of my childhood: turkey, ham, green bean casserole, potatoes, cranberry salad, rolls, and desserts. Sometimes other things like deviled eggs or mac 'n cheese made it to the table as well. After all that work (combined with a late night gift-wrapping session), I was ready to sleep the rest of the day away! Now I wrap gifts earlier, often as soon as I have them, to avoid staying up late on Christmas Eve. And to make sure I spend as much time with my young adult kids as possible on Christmas, I gave up the feast. This year I made slow cooker Christmas chili served with shredded cheese on top. It’s a family favorite, and it’s easy. For dessert, we had cookies from the cookie exchange, plus the fudge and holly leaf candy I had made earlier. Maybe everything wasn’t perfect this season (sorry if your card arrived after Christmas!), but perfection is overrated anyway. 

So how was your Christmas? What did you enjoy, and what would you like to change for Christmas 2015? Have you shopped the clearance racks? I already have my cards for 2015 and a two-tier Christmas tray for the coming holiday’s candies!

Monday, November 24, 2014

It's a Little Late to Be "Early"

My Christmas newsletter template blog post is getting lots of hits, and yes, now is the right time to put the finishing touches on your newsletter so that you can start sending them with your Christmas cards early in December (thus giving the recipient time to put a card in the mail for you)!

Otherwise, this week of Thanksgiving is not the ideal time to prepare “in advance” for Christmas because you are probably preparing for guests for a Thanksgiving feast or for travel to a feast. Or you may be planning your Black Friday shopping strategies!

I have no new tips for preparing early for Christmas. I hope you’re ready to enjoy all the festivities in the coming month! Whether you have already begun to decorate or you are saving the work till December (or till after Thanksgiving dinner), you might want to check out this past post on creating a Christmas Memory Tree. A video is included!

Happy holidays! (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve and Day)

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?