Pages

Ready or not, here comes Christmas!

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.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Newsletters: Try a Template

I love Christmas newsletters. I’ve lived far away from family my entire adult life, and reading those newsletters allows me to catch up on the lives of my loved ones. A well-done newsletter will share the good, the bad, and the funny highlights of the year. You might want to keep one from each year for yourself as a sort of brief diary of your family’s life and growth.

After I had been married a few years, I began including a newsletter in our Christmas cards, patterning it after the one my aunt and uncle sent out: newspaper column format with short, newsy items following a different theme each year. It’s fun, it’s quirky, and it’s creative! The year I didn’t send one out, I got notes telling me how much my newsletter was missed.

I created my own template more than twenty years ago. I change it up a bit each year to keep things interesting, but if Christmas chaos gets the best of me, that template enables me to pull my family news together quickly and in time to get my Christmas cards in the recipients’ mailboxes before Dec. 25. If I had not created it in a now-defunct desktop publishing program, I could share it with you but, alas, I still use PageMaker while the rest of the world has moved on to InDesign. No problem, you can find templates for Word, and probably Mac too (but you’ll have to do your own research if you need a Mac template). There are sites that sell templates, but you can find free ones available that will suit your purposes.

Here is a Microsoft Family Christmas Newsletter template that will help you place photos and text in place as it offers ideas for news to include.

This Holiday Family Newsletter template from Microsoft has Christmas graphics instead of photos. It’s six pages, which is awfully long, but can be folded over and mailed in place of a card. This one would probably be most useful to send to a few close but long-distance relatives who would be pleased to read all about your year’s adventures; your children could add poetry or short stories to it to add some extra holiday cheer. Or, this template could work as a holiday template for a business newsletter.

WordDraw.com has five free templates with a variety of holiday designs for Christmas Newsletters in Microsoft Word. One of them is in letter form rather than a newsletter format if you prefer writing a letter to laying out articles. Another even goes with a template for matching return address labels!

October is a good month to start on a newsletter. You have time to make a list of events and accomplishments to cover; you have time to start planning your layout and choosing any photos you want to include. You may wait until mid-November before you wrap it up, but getting a headstart will ensure that you can finish easily.

Might I make a suggestion? Ideally, newsletters should be limited to one page—two at the most. Don’t waste precious space on news that is the same every year. There’s no need to share that your kids are honor students and that you are so proud year after year after year. People want to know what else they are doing.

For additional tips on writing newsletters, click the “newsletter” link in my word cloud in the righthand margin.

[Note: I ended up using one of the WordDraw templates for my 2013 newsletter. It used a lot of color ink, but it turned out great. I tried something new and liked it! How about you?]

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Things to Buy, Things to Do to Get Ready for Christmas

Treats from my 2012 Christmas Gathering
If it’s 100 days until Christmas (and as of today, Sept. 15, it is), then it is 75 days until the first of December. Are you breaking into a sweat at the thought, or have you been preparing for Christmas all summer so that the holidays can be more relaxing and fun this year?

You still have time to get some holiday business out of the way. It’s not too late. First, let’s consider three items that can be purchased in the months and weeks preceding December.

  • Gift cards/stocking stuffers
  • Postage
  • Pantry items

If you know that you will be sending/giving gift cards to anyone, buy a few each  month and tuck them away in your gift closet/cabinet/drawer. (You DO have a special place to stash gifts, don’t you?) Non-Christmas-themed stocking stuffers can be gathered as well. This helps spread your expenditures out over time and prevents that last-minute dash to the store on Christmas Eve.

If you send Christmas cards and don’t care about using special holiday stamps, go ahead and make the postage purchase now to avoid December’s long lines in the post office.

If you plan to do a lot of cooking/baking in December, stock up on supplies now. Last week I bought a 25-lb. bag of sugar. I will divide it into gallon freezer bags and keep them in the pantry. No way will I run out in the middle of my annual baking spree! Nonperishable items that stores tend to sell out of in November and December should be purchased earlier to avoid the mad dash from store to store in search of the missing and much-needed product.

As far as holiday tasks go, some possibilities for this month and the next are as follows:

  • Test new holiday recipes now to avoid possible disappointing results later.
  • Plan your cleaning strategy so that your house is ready for guests without the usual last-minute cleaning frenzy that makes you too tired to enjoy your company. Doing a set amount each day or each week is better than trying to do it all in one day and reducing yourself to a quivering heap of stress!
  • Print out Christmas card and gift box mailing labels, making sure your addresses are current.
  • Organize Christmas newsletter; cull the year to highlight the best, funniest, and worst of the year. The best newsletters are one page in length. If there is news that never changes, i.e. your kids are always honor students and make you proud, consider replacing that news with something those on your mailing list don’t already know. 
  • Take out your calendar and look at possible dates for parties. Pencil in other holiday events that are traditions, such as the parade in town, the holiday light show, and charity events. With enough advance planning, you can do it all!

BONUS: Here is a fun activity for your children or grandchildren that can be done before the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Create wrapping paper out of plain butcher paper. Give the children Christmas-colored pencils, markers, or paints and let them cut loose! One year I gave my kids star-shaped sponges and red, green, and gold paints. I loved how pretty our one-of-a-kind gift wrap looked. Even scribbles look festive when wrapped around a small package decorated with a bow on top, and think how proud the children will be to see “their” paper on the gifts you give others on Christmas Day!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Don’t Procrastinate! Here’s Why...

Where was I in July? Why wasn’t I here, reminding you to shop the After-Independence-Day sales for bargains on star decorations and napkins and things that could be used for Christmas decorations? What happened to my Celebrate Christmas in July cheers, encouraging you to plan your holiday gifts, menus, and parties in advance?

My nails were painted
for a party, not a stay at
Club Hospital
I was in the hospital, escaping death. That was my surgeon’s take on it, anyway. If my daughter had not rushed me there in the “dead of night” (pun intended), I might have died. I thought I had a nasty intestinal virus, but the surgeon believes I had a hole in my colon. Fun stuff. Writhing in pain and unable to take it any more, I arrived at the ER hoping for a shot or something on the cheap and quick side, but they knocked me out and sliced me open to see what was what. Nine days later, I was released to come home and shuffle from the guest room (closest to the bathroom) to the living room and back. I truly wondered if I would ever feel normal again. I still wonder as I feel a twinge now and then and imagine the cause. For someone who has never experienced surgery or a hospital stay before, this is all new and frightening. Being told it could be 3-6 months before I’m back to normal—and a year for my insides to be completely healed—is not very comforting. Why is my body procrastinating??? Heal already!!!

I didn’t know that July 2013 would not be mine to enjoy. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. So, if you wait until after Thanksgiving to prepare for Christmas and you get hit with the unexpected, what will happen to your favorite holiday? Will you miss out on some yearly fun? Stress yourself out by trying to do too much with too little time? Face disappointed children and beat yourself up mentally?

I lost July, but that’s okay. I already have some gifts stashed away, and the one I intended to purchase in July can be bought in August (it’s just $5 — shhhh). I have new-to-us decorations stored in my holiday closet. I have my Christmas cards that will be ready to mail at the beginning of December. And of course, my good friend Beth and I already spent several months testing new appetizers to serve at our 2nd annual Christmas mystery party, so skipping appetizers in July doesn’t affect our plans.

Because I’ve made Christmas all year long a way of life, losing an Entire Month hasn’t ruined my plans. Even if, heaven forbid, I spent December in the hospital, all would not be lost. My family would still have gifts. I might have to ask a close friend to go to my house and wrap the gifts in my gift cabinet for me, but due to my advance gift purchases, I wouldn’t miss out on the joy of giving. I could direct my daughter to our craft closet, where the cards are stashed, and have her put the labels on them and mail them for me.

Please don’t leave things till the last minute. Don’t procrastinate. Before you know it, November will be here, and time will seem to speed up. If you do what you can now, at a more leisurely pace, you won’t find yourself anxious and stressed later. You will have saved yourself some time that you can spend enjoying your family and friends and the traditions of the holidays. Isn’t that the goal? To create beautiful memories that we can enjoy with our loved ones? Make sure you have the time. If you haven’t started yet, now is the time to make plans, set goals, and look forward to a warm and wonderful holiday season.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What Time Is It?

It’s time to announce that it is:


Of course, that is six months to Christmas DAY. You have less than six months to get ready for the season. Your goal should be to have your parties/activities planned, your decorations up, and your gifts made/bought/wrapped (if possible) before/by December 1. So ideally, if you want a fun-filled holiday month, you have four-five months left to prepare for it.

Merry June 25!

Monday, June 24, 2013

WWYD?

WWYD = what would you do?


Items were removed from the plastic bins and placed
in garbage bags, but they are definitely not garbage!
What would you do if someone offered you bins, boxes, and bags of miscellaneous Christmas items? If you’re anything like me (and you have a holiday storage room to stash it in), you say yes, please and thank you and dance a happy Christmas jig. And that is one of two things that happened to me this past weekend that made it feel like Christmas in June!

A friend of mine was having a three-day liquidation sale after closing her cafĂ©, and I was helping by posting photos of the sale items online. On the third day, I noticed that no one had touched her many Christmas decorations, and I mentioned it. Then she said, "If you want ’em, take ’em. I’ll just give them to you.” You know how much I adore Christmas. I couldn’t turn down a deal like that!

Now, did I need it? No, as my daughter so obnoxiously proclaimed. But would I use any of it? Oh yes! And would some of it replace some tired old Christmas things I’ve used for years? Of course! And do I love digging through boxes of other people’s Christmas stuff? Are you kidding??? I’m like a kid in a toy store!

My daughter and I brought my haul home, and she left me to examine what I had. I almost cried—honestly!—when I unwrapped some holiday figures of cardinals perched on snowballs and some snowmen. Those are two favorites of mine, because I can display them throughout winter (when they aren’t too Christmas-y).

I now have new-to-me ornaments, figurines, and Christmas table runners. There was a dainty red tree skirt for a small tree. (I have six Christmas trees of various sizes, so that WILL be used come December!) There were never-used Christmas tins that my daughter will use for Christmas candy. There were some wall wreaths, table and candle wreaths, and greenery garland and picks. There were also colorful Christmas arrangement picks and some ribbon of varying widths and lengths. Part of the magic of this stash is the creative possibilities! As I told my daughter, if she wanted to create a new table arrangement or wreath, she could! For free! Wheeee!

That wasn’t the only thing that made last weekend feel like Christmas. The other was a launch party I attended for a new business called (here’s the link) American Echoes. I knew the mother of the company’s founder and went to show my support. I put my name in the bowl for a drawing, not believing I would win anything because of the great turnout. After we enjoyed a lovely buffet and impressive video, they drew names for hats, t-shirts, and the grand prize: American-made flag wall art made from reclaimed post-industrial wood and eco friendly paints. And I won a flag! I was so thrilled to hear my name called that I nearly cried! It felt like Christmas in June! They had a variety of flag art there, and I chose the Betsy Ross design.

There was one girl who had her heart set on a t-shirt. When her name wasn’t drawn, she was disappointed. So, when she met the company’s owner, she told him that she had wanted to win a t-shirt. And, he gave her one! I really like him. :-)  I think he’s going to be successful.

So, what would you do if someone offered you miscellaneous Christmas decor?
What intriguing Christmas projects have you seen for artificial greenery and picks? Have you ever attended a launch party or won a prize that made it feel like Christmas? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!


Christmas is less than 200 days away! 

I just thought you’d want to know. 
That is all.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

April Birthday Finger Food Friday

As mentioned in the previous blog, my good friend Beth and I share a birthday, so we choose a date near the beginning of April get together to celebrate. We also love appetizers and have a standing arrangement to meet up for FFF (finger food Fridays) once a month (the purpose of which is to make and/or sample a variety of appetizers and then choose our favorites for Christmas parties when the time comes).

Well, we were slackers in the FFF department yesterday. Instead of homemade appetizer goodness, we relied on store-bought! Beth brought over a kit containing cheese, ham, and crackers and a box of mini-cinnamon rolls, pictured below. They were very good. I believe I ate more than was wise, but I tell myself that it may be a long time (December) before I’m offered these again, so I should make the most of my chances!  


Meanwhile, I relied on frozen chicken egg rolls, which I deep-fried, with sweet & sour sauce (below) as well as ...(scroll down)


Leftover Easter deviled eggs, which I did make at home, but not specifically for FFF. Beth said she doesn’t usually care for deviled eggs, but she liked these and ate two! If I were to make these for Christmas, I'd just make red and green ones. Maybe include some white.


I’m going to experiment with some breakfast-food appetizers next. I've realized that many of my favorite appetizers have sausage in them! Otherwise, I’m not a big eater of sausage. But crumble it up and add it to balls of Bisquick and shredded cheese, and I will make myself sick popping them into my mouth!

What appetizer makes your eyes light up when you spy it on a buffet table?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

FFF ... every month!

I haven’t dished on my Christmas party yet. I promised myself that 2012 was the year I would host a party, and I did! And it was a success! (One friend prefers not to be featured online; thus, the smiley face, in case you wondered.)

My friend Beth partnered with me to pull it off. She knows more people than I do, and my house is more accessible (in town rather than out in the boonies where she and her husband live), so we each have something to offer party-planning than just a desire for fun. :-)  We both enjoy getting together with friends, and we both enjoy appetizers. I served dinner at my party, but for our next party, we agree that an appetizer buffet is the way to go.

And that leads me to FFF. What does that stand for? Isn’t it obvious? It’s Finger Food Fridays! In order to test new recipes for our Christmas buffet, we are meeting one Friday a month! Talk about fun advance planning! Yum!

January - meatball buns (I should have taken a picture!)

February - mini pepperoni cheesestick rollups and BBQ biscuit pouches
Mini pepperoni cheese roll ups

BBQ Biscuit Pouches





















March - lasagna rollups, Savannah Sunrise Dessert Cheeseball, and potato skin quesadillas (once again, I forgot to take a photo!)

Our next FFF is this Friday! It will double as a birthday celebration. Beth and I not only share a first initial; we also share a birthday. I don’t know what we’ll taste-test, but I bet it will be delicious. And I will be sure to get photos.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Quick Return to Photo Advice (with a photo)


In December, I gave you a set of tips for taking Christmas photos. One tip was to make sure you don’t hide behind the camera. I read a blog today that expressed the same opinion more eloquently and in more depth than I did. The post is titled, So You’re Feeling Too Fat to Be Photographed, and it was written by Teresa Porter of My Friend Teresa Photography.

Mom grinning, 12/2009
My mom often looks pained in photos; being photographed is not one of her favorite activities, but she puts up with it because she loves me. One of the best photos I ever took happened by accident. We were in a hotel/office building, and I had posed her near some huge windows to get natural light. As I worked my way into a better position for the shot, I bumped my head on a steel beam. This, my mother found funny. I quickly snapped the picture. Finally! She is relaxed, not pained, with a mischievous, mirthful look in her eyes and a natural grin on her face. 

That's what everyone wants—to see you as they naturally see you. Not tense, pained, or hiding. Anyway, check out that blog whether you need the message for yourself or for a member of your family. 

You already know that I don't mind having my picture taken or using my own photos in my blog. How do you feel about being photographed?



Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Word for 2013

On this first day of the new year, I have made no resolutions. That can be fun to do, but I’ve foregone that activity for the last ten years or so. This year, I decided to claim a word for the year. I got the idea from Melanie at http://www.onlyabreath.com, who not only chooses a word for herself each year but this year offered to make free one-word blog buttons for others. [NOTE: as of 2015 she is not doing this, and I haven’t found a one-word generator yet. This may have to be a DIY project for the technologically astute.]

My word for 2013 is JOY. It seems appropriate for a Christmas blog, does it not? Beyond that, so many circumstances and events can occur to steal my joy throughout the year. So, I have determined to do my best to remember that the joy of the Lord is my strength. I may need reminding now and then, but I’ll do my best not to allow anyone or any thing to steal my joy this year.

What word would you like to claim for the New Year?