Monday, December 29, 2008

Winding Down

Christmas is done for 2008, unless you plan to celebrate later than the 25th with family or friends. For the next few weeks in January, The Word Quilters will help you wind down and give you tips for tucking Christmas tinsel away but also give you hints for keeping the spirit of Christmas alive in your hearts throughout the year.

A couple of questions this week: Did you discover anything new about celebrating? Tangible or intangible? When do you typically take down your Christmas decorations? Are you sad when "Christmas" comes down?

I made this discovery this year, that everything doesn't have to be orchestrated: I kept my three-year-old granddaughter, Jolie, one day, while her brother, Jack, and his friends were birthday partying, doing guy stuff at my daughter’s home. In my pantry, Jolie saw a line-drawing of a cookie on a granulated sugar package and said, “I want to decorate cookies with sprinkles.” This grandma’s schedule didn’t include baking and the mess of frosting and multi-colored sprinkles that day. I remembered that I had vanilla wafers, a can of opened frosting in the fridge and the always-on-hand sprinkles (Jolie and my favorite quick pick me up is a spoon of peanut butter dipped into marshmallow creme and dotted with any kind of baking sprinkles).

Within minutes, I had her set up and frosting vanilla wafers. She had a fantastic time. She said she was making hers for “Jack’s party.” We later went to her home and a few of the boys were spending the night. My daughter said, “Mom, you won’t believe this. They kept coming into the kitchen and eating the frosted vanilla wafers, saying, 'Your little sister made these? They're delicious." So, that helped me learn that for children and adults the activity of doing something together doesn't have to be a big production and the results are often warm, fuzzy and covered with sprinkles.

When do you put away Christmas? Some friends of mine have the tree down by dusk on Christmas day. I usually put my tree up after December 15th, so I don't mind having it out through New Year's Day. I usually put away Christmas things after January 1st, but I leave out a small Nativity year round. It reminds me of a mother and child who both sacrificed. It's carved out of a white piece of limestone and we inhertied it from my husband's grandmother's estate. It's only about four by six inches and I keep it on an end table near our sofa for us and visitors to see.

Here is a New Year habit of mine that I do rather than resolutions. Each year I chose a theme scripture. Some years it is about an area of life that I want God's hand fully there in a special way--rescuing, delivering or altering. Other years, I may choose a scripture that fits upcoming projects that need completion, or I may choose a verse that fits hopes I have. This year, I chose the following because I refuse to choose to listen to the doom and gloom of media. I know the reality of a downturn in the economy and hardships, but I choose God's abundance: "You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance" (Psalm 65:11). In 2009, I will be frugal but I will also shop at his marketplace for the really good deals.

Happy New Year. May 2009 be crowned with his bounty for your household...Cathy Messecar

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mary Pondered

There is a verse in Luke, part of the Christmas story, that says, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:20 NIV) I have always been fascinated with Mary. She was so young and had to face so much and yet she "treasured up all these things" that happened to her.

What was Mary's treasure? She had very little that first Christmas. Not even a layette. But she had a God who loved her and had given to her Joseph, the man who would be her husband, to cherish and care for her and the beautiful baby in the manger before her. Shepherds had come to worship the baby and claimed great hosts of angels had filled the skies to tell them of this joy. Later, wise men would visit and bear expensive gifts, gifts that were meant for a king, an anointed one.

What did Mary ponder in her heart? I don't think she fully understood what the future held for her son but certainly all of the attention surrounding his birth affirmed her faith. This was truly God's son.

Each Christmas we create treasured memories with our families. Each Christmas through our celebration we honor the simple birth of Jesus. He is our treasure. Let us ponder with grateful hearts throughout the year this great gift of God's love.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Day at Our House

My family plans to spend Christmas at our house, so our young adult sons will come over, and we four will visit, exchange gifts and enjoy a feast together.

My husband will cook a ham, and I will make lots of side dishes including mozzarela cheese balls with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, in olive oil. My son described this dish last year, so I tried it and it is delicious.

What kind of pie or tart shall we have?
We haven't decided yet.

Our church had a wonderful Christmas service last Sunday, with children singing, recognition of our members who are a married couple and who are retiring from being Wycliffe Bible missionaries, and our choir with additional singers from another church.

This sets the spiritual stage for our welcoming the birth of Jesus our King, and for family celebrations in our home.

John 3:16 is wonderful: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” The Message

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Personal Christmas Day Plans

Having grown up in Colorado, my family always skied on Christmas Day. It was never very crowded—especially not compared to the days before and after. We simply ate our big turkey or roast dinner on Christmas Eve.

The year we married, Bret and I established the tradition of spending every other year with parents on my side and his side. Starting in 1988, we spent Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his; we’ve alternated every year since. Christmas is with his family this year, and we’re having all of the Wilsons come to our home because we’re centrally located. Oh, forget it. Who am I kidding? It’s because we want to leave sooner to go skiing. Fortunately, this year our kids have a longer winter break; they don’t start back to school until January 8th. We can probably do our ski trip around New Year’s.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Got a Choice? Get Wisdom!

by Brenda Nixon, speaker and co-author of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts

The book of James, in the Bible, is one of my favorites. I can relate to James, the writer. He was forthright, honest, candid, sincere, and I think his mouth may have occasionally offended readers. Did I say I can relate? Yep, I'm those descriptions and my honesty sometimes puts off people. I've been referred to as pushy, but I'd prefer the word assertive because, if I must, I can set limitations and boundaries. I can say "No," without guilt, although there are times I suffer
consequences from others who do not understand or agree with my answer.

In chapter 2, James writes about the sin of showing favoritism. He gives this example, "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there or Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" Ouch! Pretty blunt, right?

The most comforting, inspirational verse I heavily rely on is chapter 1, verse 5. Here he encourages readers to ask for wisdom and promises God will provide liberally and without fault. With daily decisions to make - and some life altering ones - I frequently ask for divine wisdom.

As a parent, I often wonder do I generously give to my children when they ask for help, and do so without a lecture or a I told you so attitude?

Here are three James facts:
  1. It's believed he was the half-brother of Jesus, having different fathers, but sharing the same mother;
  2. His readers were followers of Jesus; and
  3. His book was written around A.D. 49.
With a new year upon us, I hope you'll remember that God will always give you wisdom to make any decision. Maybe you won't recognize the wisdom (it never comes to me like a lightening bolt), but looking back you'll see you received it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Story Never Ends - Trish Berg

I have the most beautiful manger set you could imagine. But the beauty isn’t wrapped up in how it looks on the outside. My crèche has a beauty that comes from the hands that made it, the love that went into creating this place of hope and faith for me.

The walls are made up of old barn siding that was found here and there. The nails that hold it together are bent and crooked, and there are so many gaps in the corners, you are sure to feel a breeze blow through.

But it came from my husband. And it came with love.
It was our first Christmas as husband and wife, and we were poor as dirt, trying to find a way to celebrate Christmas without spending any money. So we made handmade ornaments for our families, and decided not to exchange gifts with each other.

But on Christmas morning, Mike surprised me with this handmade crèche. And every year since, he has blessed me with one figurine to fill our crèche with the story of

After sixteen years of marriage, our wooden crèche has become quite full. There are several angels that sit on top, watching from above. There are shepherds, maidens carrying water jugs, goats, oxen, sheep, camels and even three kings. And of course, there is Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus, wrapped in clothes, lying in a bed of straw at the center of it all.

When our first child was born, I decided our precious crèche was too precious to let little hands touch. So we put it up high on a shelf. But as our family grew, and the kids grew, I finally gave in and let them play with each and every piece.

Our growing crèche has become a treasured family heirloom of sorts. Not because of its beauty. Because old barn siding with cracks and dings isn’t that hard to find.

Not because of the many figurines. Because each piece is replaceable at any gift shop most places you travel.

Our crèche has become a family heirloom because of the love that went into making it, and the love that goes into playing with it every Christmas.

Year after year, my children arrange and rearrange the pieces, sometimes moving the angels closer to Jesus, sometimes the shepherds. They spend hours acting out the Christmas story with these precious figurines in this broken down, handmade crèche, and every year I marvel at their creativity and love for Christmas.

The story began in a stable, with Mary and Joseph, some cattle and sheep.

The story began with a star in the sky shining brightly, leading the way.

The story began with shepherd, abiding in the field with their flock, seeing angels singing praises.

The story began in Bethlehem, in a drafty manger since there was no room at the inn.

The story began when Jesus was born, when God Himself came down to earth to show us how much He loves us.

And the beauty of the Christmas story isn’t wrapped up in how it looks on the outside. How pretty your tree is or how much you spend on the gifts you exchange.

The story of Christmas has a beauty that comes from the hands that made the world, the love that went into creating this place and the gift of love that gives us hope and faith.

The story of Christmas is beautiful because it is Heaven sent.
And if you hold onto that - then the story never ends.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Countdown to Christmas

This is the last weekend before Christmas. For some of us it is panic time. The last minute shopping, the final Christmas card to send out to someone who sent you one, wrapping, planning the holiday meals and cooking ahead. . .the list seems endless. This week's theme was to give you some hints for preparing for impromptu visitors or for cleaning up after the holidays. Instead, I'd like to give you something else. Permission to:
  • slow down and enjoy your family for the day

  • escape with a good book or magazine for an hour or two

  • tell that last minute person who wants to stop by that you won't be home--and then take your kids to the mall or a movie for a while

  • not have a perfectly spotless house (you are probably the only one who cares about spotless)

  • indulge in a bubble bath

  • turn down another invitation to another function in order to spend some time with your spouse alone, maybe holding hands across the table from each other at a restaurant--even if it's McDonald's
You get the picture, don't you? At this point in time we Christmas organizers, keepers of the tradition, social secretaries need to stop and take a breath. We need to remember that this is a time for us to enjoy the family, renew our faith, and freshen our spirits. Don't let the to-do list zap what energy is left as you countdown to Christmas Day.

By the way, you also have permission to go out and make angels in the snow (should you be fortunate to have any). This is a picture of the snow angel made by my mother-in-law that I wrote about in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Quick Home Spruce Up

When guests are coming over and you don't have much time to spruce up the house, what to do?
Every visitor to our home is admitted directly to our living room, where our pretty oak coffee table tends to be covered with mail and magazines.
With a few minutes notice I sweep all of the papers on top of the table into my arms, and deposit them in a bedroom, out of sight.
I then grab my bottle of Old English Oil that is lemon scented and polish the top of the coffee table. This is very quick to do and the lemon is a wonderful clean scent.
We have one or two bright red Amaryllis or Poinsettias to draw visitors' attention, plus our Christmas tree that is sparkling with ornaments and lights, and which deflect attention to them in their glory.
I include here photos my husband took of our brilliant red Amaryllis, in full bloom on our dining table.
We aim to keep the focus on hospitality and colorful Christmas trees and flowers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Home Improvement

Home Improvement

The “Like Magic” Quick Tidy

Purchase a couple of giant Rubbermaid containers, plastic laundry baskets, or even wicker baskets. If someone will be stopping by (and you have any more warning that them ringing your doorbell), perform a quick tidy on your living areas. Stack newspapers, magazines and other paper clutter into one basket or tub. Use the other one to pick up kids’ toys, sporting equipment or other clutter. Stick it the baskets in your laundry room to go through as soon as your impromptu guests leave.

Stuff that Smells Good

Realtors suggest some of these same tips to improve the sales potential of your home, but the idea of things smelling good (read: homey) probably dates back to our grandmas’ kitchens. So, to re-create that peaceful, secure feeling, try popping some slice’n’bake cookies or a loaf of frozen bread dough in the oven. Or, set wassail on the stove to permeate your entire home with a Christmas-y smell. My sister-in-law Kendall uses light bulb rings dotted with scented oils, such as peppermint or apple cider.

Whatever you choose, keep in mind that the memory of such smells will linger long after the aroma is actually gone.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ready or Not, Here They Come! by Brenda Nixon

by Brenda Nixon, speaker and co-author on A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts

Greetings my faithful readers!
It's Wednesday and my day to post. I'm wondering, how do you spruce up the house for surprise company? Usually, I don't. I'm fortunate to have a living room that is rarely used, therefore it's always neat and ready to welcome guests. I might give a quick dusting if I have enough of a notice, but when impromptu guests pop in, the living room serves as a good first impression.
Now, to really get to know me and my family you'd have to go into our family room. I keep it picked up but it's not nearly as neat or clean as the living room. Go into my office and you'll see my professional side. There I have piles of books, an old school bench, calendars, a bookshelf and cluttered desk. But, of course, a cluttered desk is a mark of genius, or say I've heard. Sprucing up my office is not an option - when you come in there, it's a take it or leave it situation.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Over the Hill and through the Woods to

...Grandma's House we go....

Christmas usually means company. This week, the Word Quilters will give you hints for spiffinng up your house in a jif when you get a phone call that company is on their way, or if you do this routine early, you'll be ready all day if somone drops in for a visit.

I heard this tip years ago, and I've found it to be a good one. Keep your mirrors and appliances shiny, and the gleam will catch your visitor's attention, making a good first impression. and it will make you feel better, too. Take a spray bottle of Windex, a roll of paper towels or some lint free rags and only do the household mirrors. Go do that now. There. Do you feel better about your housekeeping?

I like to take a few minutes each day to tidy rooms. Round up any stray itmes and return them to their "homes." Also, keep a clear cookie jar filled with homebaked cookies out in a prominent place, and place something cheerful by the door guests enter--a plant, a welcome sign, r a bright welcome mat. Put on a smile and welcome any guests who happen to phone ahead or drop by.

What if thngs are mussed up and you have callers? Be gracious. Say as little about your mess as possible. You might make them feel bad for dropping in. Err on the side of hospitality and put your all-I-want-for-Christmas-is-a-neat-house ego on hold. Choose to be a blessing to all who cross your threshhold and seek your company. What a compliment. They wanted to come see YOU!

Merry Christmas this week as we go into the last few days, counting down -- 10 full days until Christmas ....Cathy Messecar

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Every Time You Hear a Bell Ring. . .

One of the best moments in It's A Wonderful Life is when Jimmy Stewart hears the bell on the Christmas tree ring and knows that his angel friend has finally earned his wings. A simple ornament made from a large jingle bell and some ribbon is a great gift to keep on hand for those unexpected Christmas visitors.

At a craft store purchase some large jingle bells. They sometimes come in colors of red or white or green as well as silver and gold. Buy some thin satin ribbon and large ornament hooks as well. Simply cut an 8-10 inch length of ribbon, thread it through the top part of the bell, tie a bow and add an ornament hook. If you want to get any fancier, you can glue on some berries and greenery or mini-pine cones. Keep the bells in a large basket or hang on your tree and use them to gift your friends in appreciation for their visit.

As always, it is more frugal to buy these after Christmas but beware that often jingle bells are one of the first things to sell out at the holiday.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Extra Gifts to Keep On Hand

We keep extra candles on the fireplace mantle, in case surprise visitors appear and we want to give them a Christmas gift.
You can readily find candles on sale, and they are festive gifts. Red candles that are cinnamon scented or green pine scented candles are super choices.
Sparkling apple cider is another welcome surprise gift to have on hand.
And Happy Birthday today to my co-author Brenda :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Last-minute gift ideas

Hints for Extra Gifts

Handy Ornaments

Again from Angela Allman. When the expensive Christmas ornaments—in the $15-25.00 range—go on sale, pick up several at half price. Wrap in tulle with a contrasting color ribbon. Keep them in a basket by the front door to hand out to folks who drop in or to deliver when you visit someone’s home. For a nice touch, add a Scripture verse printed from your computer then tied on with ribbon.

Couch Potato Kit

Buy a six-pack of Coke or Diet Coke, and hot glue the following items to the side:
· One big box of Junior Mints or other “movie theatre” candy
· One package of microwave popcorn
· A $5.00 gift card to Blockbuster (or other local DVD rental store)

I keep a few of these homemade items handy—for the drop-ins—as well as for little gifts that I give to service people along with tips (baby-sitters, hair stylist, mail and newspaper delivery folks, etc.).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Go to the Gift Drawer

Have you ever been caught with a last-minute birthday invitation? How about a holiday open house and you want to give a hostess gift? But what if time or money is limited?

That's why I keep a gift drawer in my home. I also have one in my office for professional gifts to program planners, editors, and others in my writing and speaking industry.

Throughout the year, I keep my eyes open for clearance sales, garage sale finds and markdowns. When I find something that would make a lovely, meaningful gift, I go ahead and buy it. Then my secret stock grows. It's real handy to have a gift on hand for last-minute needs.

By the way, this week is my birthday (December 12). Do you have a gift drawer? Hint, hint.

by Brenda Nixon, speaker and co-author on A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts

Monday, December 8, 2008

Scrapbook Authors on the AIR!

We have quite an exciting week for media attention on A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts this week.


Cathy Messecar (Co-Author) will be on tomorrow, December 9th, on WBCL with Lynne Ford out of Fort Wayne, Indiana from 8:05-9:00 am Central time. You can also listen online at


Trish will be on Midday Connection LIVE tomorrow, December 9th, for about 5 minutes sometime from 1:00-1:30 EST to share a few family traditions from SOCF. I will be chatting with Anita and Melinda. Yo can listen nationwide on your local Moody station, or catch us online at


Co-Authors Karen Robbins and Trish Berg will be LIVE IN STUDIO sometime from 8:20 - 8:45 am on 95.5 FM The Fish in Cleveland, Ohio with Brooke Taylor and Len Hauser. You can listen in Northern Ohio at 95.5 FM, or online anywhere at


Karen will be on 100 Huntley Street Full Circle THIS FRIDAY, December 12th, on Direct TV Channel 378. It is a Canadian, Christian television show which airs internationally on satellite TV. Think The View but with Christians. These ladies are awesome!

You can also watch online here:

So check out one or more of these appearances, and let us know that you did!

A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts Goes Texas

You can watch a 5 min video interview with co-author, Lesile Wilson, on Good Morning Texas on a segment The Not So Perfect Parent.
She shares some wonderful Christmas traditions from our book A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, so stop on by and watch, and post a comment there if you would.

Fa, la, la, la, la, SOCF went TEXAS!

Check it out

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The grandkids are coming! The grandkids are coming!

My two guest bedrooms are set up to receive young children. When the first grandchild arrived, I went in search of a good sale on cribs and found one that was quite a deal. That has served well and still has a ways to go. But as the kids grew, it was more of a challenge to arrange comfortable sleeping.

My daughter-in-law came up with a great idea for Caleb when he got bumped from the crib by little sister Annalise. She bought a small tent that pops up easily. We spread a quilt on the bottom so that he has some padding, add a pillow and he's quite content to have his own space in Mommy and Daddy's room. It also keeps him contained so that he's not rolling all over the floor as was the problem with using sleeping bags for pre-schoolers.

To add to the festive spirit of Christmas, I make sure there are Christmas books available for that last story before little eyes need to be shut. And now, I'll have to be sure to have some young reader books for Tyler, the newest reader in the family. Maybe by Christmas, he'll be able to read the Christmas story to us!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Welcome to Guests

For holiday spirit to jazz up my home, I use Christmas theme towels, and fancy scented soaps, which I get out and display for use, especially when guests are coming.
Whenever you are out shopping for bargains be alert for the colorful sets of bath towels, embroidered with Santas, Christmas trees, snow flakes etc.
When not on sale these are a bit pricey for me, and I do adore a bargain.
A month ago I bought a set of a sky blue hand towel and a washcloth, embroidered with frolicking penguins.
By chance when we picked paint color when repainting our older bathroom we selected the palest of blues.
So that is my Martha Stewart coordinated moment for the year, blue penguin towels and blue walls.
I also indulge in fancy hand soaps, and share those with guests too.
I can definitely use a few more decorating holiday tips.
What are your ideas?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Preparing for Guests

Preparing for Guests

These ideas come from my very creative friend, Angela Allman. Our sons play baseball together and in the Texas July heat, she brainstormed some small touches we can add to make our guest rooms or bathrooms special for holiday guests.

Always shop the craft stores right before or right after Christmas. They have major markdowns on expensive garlands. Angela and I agreed that we’re too frugal (read: cheap!) to spend $24.99 on an evergreen garland with berries, pinecones, or even feathers. However, we feel like we’re getting a good buy if we snag the same thing for $12.50. Drape them over bathroom mirrors for a festive touch.

Pick up freshly cut pine or cedar bundles at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Arrange a few in the top of a hurricane filled with nuts in the shell.

To have your decorating energy go even farther, place a Christmas throw at the foot of every bed or drape one over your sofa. Decorating your home for Christmas couldn’t be easier!

Another inexpensive idea that’s very classy: Collect hotel shampoos, lotions and soaps during the year. Place them in a basket lined with a piece of gingham or tulle. Set one in the guest bath—and maybe even your own!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Brenda's Tip for Braving the Bathroom

It’s time to prepare for guests, but P-U, do you have a smelly bathroom? The ways I quickly freshen my guest bath for company is to wash the sink and toilet, change towels, and spray some room spray. All that can be completed in about 10 minutes. If time permits, I light a fragrant candle and look to make sure there are no hairs in the bathtub (I hate hairs in a tub!)

When hosting long term guests, I also place out a basket of travel size toiletries for their convenience and comfort.

Do you have a tip for making your bathroom more beautiful for guests?

by Brenda Nixon, speaker and co-author, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Make Guests Feel Special - Trish Berg

Both my mom and my mother-in-law are amazing hostesses, though they have very different styles. They both make guests feel special and welcome.

My mom makes guests feel welcome by keeping things low key. Her home is very relaxed. Mealtime is just a part of the event. Guests sit around the family room and visit by the fireplace, and when people get hungry, she serves the meal. Not set time, just when people desire.

One way my mother-in-law makes guests feel special by putting little gifts at their place setting at the dinner table at Thanksgiving and Christmas. This Thanksgiving, she had hot pads and dishtowels with beautiful Christmas scenes at every female guest's place setting.

For her male guests, she had a sweet treat bag of 5 hand dipped chocolates at their place setting.

Other years, she has had seasonal pins (like snowmen or Santa's), mini flashlights for the men, cheese spreaders with holiday themes, candles or even sweet smelling hand lotion.

You can find many great little gifts at dollar type stores, and whatever you do, just welcome guests in as you would like to be welcomed.

Enjoy the journey-Trish Berg

Monday, December 1, 2008

Guest Towels and Travel Toothpaste

Last Monday, I didn't post about food drives because I was helping my mother-in-law after her surgery, but we do participate in one at our church--this year's goal is a collected 14,000 pounds distributed to families of one-seven members and up: staples, fresh produce and a ham or turkey. We shop from prepared grocery lists that we pick up when we choose the size family we can buy for. Our church is a county food distribution center all year, a main outreach for us, so we are known in the community as a food pantry.

The holidays offer another opportunity to give. On holiday distribution day, the boxes of food are arranged on the pews, and it takes nearly all of our huge auditorium to house the grocery items. It's a sight to behold. All those pews stacked with bread and ham, peanut butter and jam.

Now, let's switch gears. This week the Word Quilters will give you ideas for making your holiday guests comfortable. Not every one even has a spare room for guests, but whatever room you house your guest/s in, make sure it is as spotless as possible and clutter free. Depending upon their length of stay, provide closet space for clothing or a place where luggage can be easily accessed.

In the guest bedroom (we have one now that kids are grown and gone) I leave a few magazines and a book of devotionals and short stories in the room, and provide a lamp for soft lighting and one for reading.

In the bath area, I keep clean spare robes and small unused soaps and bottled shower gels. Also in a container, I place travel size toiletries: toothbrushes and paste, deoderant, shower cap, mouth rinse, throw away razors, and small shampoos, condtioners and hairsprays. Make sure you have a few paper cups in bathroom, too.

The final things I do--sometimes a non-family guest has a hunger or thirst late at nght and might not feel comfortable rummaging in your kitchen for food or drink. In the guest room, make sure there are light snacks and juices in a basket, and tuck in a few pretty paper napkins.

The last thing I d before a guest arrives is to fill two small vases in bedroom and bath with fresh flowers, tiny vases with just a few touches of wildflowers, garden blooms or hot house blossoms.

All the above lets my guests know that their visit was greatly anticipated. They see the "welcome mat" in all the pleasant details of care provided for their refreshment and comfort.

How do you offer hospitality to your guests?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Volunteer Early and Often

When our family was grown and beginning to go out on their own into the world, Christmas Day was not always a convenient time for everyone to be together. Our last to get married, Rob, and our youngest son, Don, would often be the only two home and we would hold off our family celebration until the rest could join us a few days later.

One year Rob suggested we use the day to reach out to others by going to one of the places in our area that serve meals to the homeless and less fortunate on Christmas Day. I thought it was a great idea and just after Thanksgiving that year began to make phone calls to various organizations to volunteer the four of us for Christmas Day.

One by one I checked off the names on my list. Each response was, "We appreciate you volunteering but we have all the volunteers we can handle. You need to call much earlier in the year if you want to help out on Christmas Day."

I was stunned. I had never heard of any volunteer organizations turning away people who were willing to, well, volunteer. Instead of serving a meal to the homeless that year, we gathered together people we knew who did not have family close by or had no family to share their Christmas. It was a wonderful time of fellowship for all of us.

I guess the moral of the story is if you want to serve the homeless a meal choose a time when the help is truly needed. Obviously at the holidays everyone wants to help. And our alternative at Christmas is still a great idea for bringing lonely folk together.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Christmas Giving

Today, the day after so many families have a Thanksgiving feast, is an appropriate time to share from our plenty with those who have less.

Paul wrote during his journey to Jerusalem, in his third missionary trip that “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

A catastrophe hit almost 20 years ago, in the county where my family lives, and homes were destroyed and people died in mud slides. A volunteer set up a command post in a local church, and she graciously coordinated help efforts. This volunteer group of Christians continues to work year round to help people in the area in need. All money donated goes directly to help people; there is only one paid staff member. Churches and volunteers do all the rest; mailings, phone calls, delivering food and Christmas celebration items, from Christmas trees and poinsettias to gifts.

Each year my husband and I contribute to this group, before Thanksgiving, and every year has its challenges, including this year’s economic slump. Many people that volunteer with this local group were helped in a previous year. There is adopt a family, gifts and food to home bound seniors, and huge holiday feasts for all who want to take part. Small loans and gifts are offered to pay rent or utilities, or to fix the family car so the owner can get to their place of work.

We each do a small part, and taken together, it adds up to a huge amount of giving. We give of our gifts that God has freely bestowed upon us, and find joy in doing this. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Holiday Food Drive

Holiday Food Drive

Helping Hands does exactly what its name suggests. This local organization has served the community of Rockwall (the town where we live) for nearly ____ years, providing food and clothing for needy families. I’ve seen those kinds of situations up close and personal on more than one occasion, so I realize the importance of supporting local groups.

My home church, Lake Pointe Church, sponsors a food drive every year in late November and early December—to help provide families with what they need for the holidays and all year long. All food donated—one week they collect rice and beans, another they ask for peanut butter and pasta, etc.—goes directly to local families through Helping Hands.

Our family loves to get the shopping list every year and do what we can to help those in need.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Give Unto Others

my faithful readers!

Do you participate in holiday food drives? Typically my family either gives to a food collection or we serve a meal to the homeless at a shelter. Either way, the joy comes from giving -- it really is more blessed to give than to receive.

by Brenda Nixon

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mrs. Christmas

If anyone could be labeled "Mrs. Christmas," it would have been my mother. I think I've posted often of things connected with her at Christmas--her early shopping for one and her cherry cheesecake tarts. Mom had a way of stretching Christmas out especially when it came to decorating. She would start with the mantel and often unrolled a large piece of cotton swabbing (this was before they made it into all those nice little balls) across the top of it to make it look like snow. Then she'd add little houses or angels or miniature trees. It was never the same way two years in a row.

On the front door that opened directly into our living room and was rarely used, she would tape all the Christmas cards. As I grew older, that became my job. One that I was very proud to do.

Decorating the tree was one of the last things to do since growing up, we always had a live tree. There were some ornaments that Mom absolutely cherished and those were always hung by her and high enough in the tree not to be knocked down by over-zealous children reaching for gifts. I don't remember when she bought them, but I do remember the box of a dozen colored glass ornaments in the shape of teapots. Each was a shiny color, red, blue, green, gold, and had a little sprig of flowers or Christmas greenery painted on the front. It sticks in my mind that those were her favorites. Maybe because they were so delicate or maybe because we were never allowed to hang those until we were grownups.

Some years after I was married, Mom decided to sort through her old ornaments and get rid of those that were tarnished. There were only two little teapots left. For the record, I do not remember breaking any. It must have been my brother. (How's that for sibling rivalry?) The teapots were tarnished pretty badly. One was gold and the other green.

Today, you cannot tell the color of either teapot. They have taken on a reddish-brown patina but they still look as delicate as ever. They are placed each year in the center of my dining room hutch where no one can touch them. They are there just for me. A reminder of Mom and how much she loved Christmas and sharing it with her family.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Favorite Decorations

Our topic is favorite Christmas decorations and I choose “the sum total of sparkles, lights, color, and the smell of pine boughs.”

Holiday towels with snowmen on them, decorative stockings hung in unexpected places, 15 wooden nutcrackers marching across our fireplace mantle, our door wreath of gold jingle bells, two nativity sets, and the star of the show: the tree.

Our tree usually reaches to the ceiling and is always topped with an angel in a white gown, who holds a candle-appearing miniature light, and the tree branches are weighed down with an incredible assortment of ornaments.

Like me, do you exclaim “My sister gave us this ornament” and “You made this one”? Some ornaments were made of dough in the 1970s and painted with model car enamel paints and include Mrs. Santa with cotton balls for her hair, the worm Ouroboros, and a red apple with a cute caterpillar smiling at us.

Lots of cat, bird and angel ornaments and two Christmas spider ornaments with a legend behind them. The mysterious Christmas pickle ornament, put in a tucked away spot, and our new this year LED Christmas lights. I chose the small round bulbs for the LED lights, for a change of pace.

So, I admit that my favorite decoration is “all of the above.”

What is your own favorite or first decoration you display? I would enjoy reading your comment here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Favorite Decoration

Favorite Decoration

Many years ago, when Bret and I were newlyweds, his maternal grandmother—affectionately known as Mama Madge—gave us a beautiful snow globe with a music box base. This gift represented to me that I had reached adulthood, started a new family with my husband, begun my own traditions in my own home. We still have that globe. Nope, even as klutzy as I can be, I haven’t broken it yet. (Knock on wood.) And since Mama Madge went to be with the Lord several years ago, the gift has taken on even more meaning.

I’m also supposed to tell you that—hands down—my husband’s favorite decoration that belongs to his mom is a set of four pillows that spell out N-O-E-L. He didn’t like them for their beauty or softness to cradle his head while he watched TV. No, he liked to irritate his mom by rearranging them to spell L-E-O-N or L-O-N-E or E-L-N-O.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Christmas Every Day

My favorite Christmas decoration to set out really should be out all year long. It's a ceramic nativity with a striking iridescent coating of azure blue.

The reason I say it should be out all year is because of it's unique beauty and because the message of the nativity should be in our hearts all year.

What's your fav Christmas decoration?

by Brenda Nixon, co-author A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Decorating Imperfection - Trish Berg

When it comes to Christmas decorations, I enjoy putting out the homemade, handmade decorations from my children. Imperfection at its best.

They look crooked, have Christmas spelled "Chrstmis"and are usually made of paper, markers and ribbons. But they hold what is most dear to me - the love of my family.

Don't try to make your home look perfect. It isn't. It is lived in, by the people you love the most in this world.

Let your children help decorate this Christmas. String some popcorn. Made a homemade garland out of construction paper rings. Make candy canes out of pipe cleaners. And let your children decide where to hang them.

Some homes may look perfect on the outside, but they seem cold on the inside. Every light is in the right place, every ornament hung to perfection. But where is the clutter that comes with living with and loving children?

I am a neat freak, and if left to my own devices, my home would look like it was ready for a photo shoot form Better Homes and Gardens. But I am not left alone. Praise the Lord!

God has blessed me with a husband and four amazing children.

So you won't find perfection here. Nope- Not even close!

If you come to my house around the holidays, you will see pretty white lights on the banister, wreaths on the doorways and stockings hung with care.

But you will also see hand drawn pictures of Santa, Rudolph, and evergreen trees as my children help decorate our home with their love.

Martha Stewart would be so jealous!

Enjoy this Christmas season - every bit of it!

Blessings-Trish Berg, Co-Author

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Be the first on your block

This week, the Word Quilters will share a bit about the first Christmas decorations we put out each year.

When our family was younger, we lived in a very small two bedroom house on the family farm. For some reason, we didn’t get into the habit of putting up a tree early; we put a tree up about 10 days before Christmas, and no more than 15 days before. But of course, our kids wanted decorations out earlier. I solved the dilemma by putting up strands of colored lights around two doorways, our front door and another door leading off of our small living room. I put up those lights early in December, and we’d turn off all other lights at night when we watched TV.

So, this happy habit has continued up until today. In this second, larger home, I place lights around our breakfast room window, and also on two shelves of teapots, where I weave greenery and lights around the tea things. I also put a strand along my counter top behind canisters, breadbox and coffee maker. A few years ago, they looked so pretty, a multi-colored light fest, that I left them there throughout the year, and when we had dinner guest, or I needed cheery surroundings, I plugged them in. I surrounded them with sprigs of dark ivy, so they didn't show unless I turned them on. If you scroll back in the early blog entries, there’s a pic of my port wine countertop with the multi-colored lights.

We are downsizing and moving into a new home in a couple of weeks. When building, I asked the electrician to put a plug up at the top of my kitchen cabinets, and a switch to that plug near the kitchen sink alongside the other on/off switches. You guessed it. I’ll lay rope lights or several strands up there near the ceiling for gentle lighting. I haven’t decided on the color, yet. The sparkle of lights is a beloved tradition of Christmas, but they can help create ambiance at other times of the year, too.

Gotta love those twinkle lights!!!

Do you use strands of lights in your home throughout the four seasons? If so, how?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Where Did I Put Those Presents?

It's in the genes. I thought I would never become my mother but it's happened. I start shopping for Christmas. . .well, right after Christmas. Usually those are for the big kids--novelty gifts that I wouldn't spend the money on but are fun to see them receive.

Around September my mother would hand my kids catalogs and tell them to circle what they wanted for Christmas. I try not to do that with my grandchildren. I remember that most everything in the catalogs got circled. While I don't often start out to shop that early, if I do happen to see something that catches my fancy for a gift, I purchase it.

I've also been known to buy something while traveling. Books are a great find when you go to unusual places. Often there are books there by local authors you don't normally see in bookstore chain stores. This year, I found a book on whales in Hawaii that has Japanese as well as English text for our bilingual granddaughter. (Shhh. Don't tell.)

The problem I have had in the past though is remembering that I bought the gift and/or remembering where I stashed it. I've solved that with my little pocket-sized notebook. Each year I start a section of a notebook and list all the names, one family to a page. I then carry that with me or keep it handy at my desk for writing down what I've purchased. I have designated a special place at home where I stash the gifts (I'd tell you where but then I'd have to. . .well, you know). I now have a record of what is purchased and when it's time to wrap, all of the gifts are in one place.

Am I the only one who's had this problem? By the way, the adult Sunday school class I used to teach thought this was so funny that they purchased a lifetime supply of little pocket-sized notebooks for me!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Saving Money Shopping for Christmas Cards

If you are like my husband and I, you love a bargain, and this season is a time for shopping, while looking for money saving ideas.
Right now Christmas cards are on my mind, and I see that my local drugstore has them on sale, buy one box get one free. Now I really love that concept.

On the other hand, at they have many many choices of cards available, and some of the boxes cost only $3.99. Shipping costs about $3.99. On the right of the screen, click on Christmas cards. They offer so many that they put the cards in categories by subject and I see a gorgeous wiseman card here that I may purchase. You will find categories of angels, birds, African American, Christmas trees, Spanish, nativity, and more.

Oh dear, I do enjoy a bargain, plus beauty in the cards I send, and where we shop is a vote to support that store so our decisions actually affect this world.
We bloggers in the U.S., Canada and around the world are blessed with many gift choices. I enjoy shopping at a mix of stores, local and online.
So shop, save money too, and consider the stores you will support.
Please leave a comment here with bargain ideas if you care to share with us.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shop Smart

Shop Smart

Thieves are known to target holiday shoppers. After all, many shoppers are distracted—talking on cell phones—and/or carrying large or unwieldy packages. Also, they’re carrying brand-new items, such as toys or electronics. This combination can spell danger for someone who’s not paying attention.

Here are a few hints for smarter holiday (or anytime) shopping:

Park smart. Scope out—even if you have to wait for it—a good parking space. It should be well-lit and close to the entrance. Would-be attackers will avoid you if they’re afraid of being seen by other shoppers, employees, or mall security.

Use the trunk. Store purchases in the trunk. Don’t give thieves a chance to window shop inside your car. If you don’t have a trunk or you run out of space in it, hide things under a blanket or box you’ve placed on the floor in the back seat.

Prepare yourself. Make more frequent trips to the car so that you can always have one hand completely free. Before leaving the inside of a store or the mall, get ready. Hold all bags in one hand. Have your car keys in the other hand. Experts recommend fanning out your keys between your fingers so that you could scratch or punch an attacker.

Walk with purpose. Know where you parked and walk straight to your car. If you’ve forgotten, hit the panic button or unlock key. The sound might deter an assailant, as well. Hold your head high and look around you as you walk quickly.

Make noise. Sing or talk to your kids—even your baby—to deter a potential attacker. If you’re alone, talk out loud. They’ll assume you’re either talking on a cell phone or acting crazy—or both. They won’t want to approach if they know you’re capable of making noise.

Load quickly and carefully. Place items on the passenger side or in the trunk. If you have a bench seat, slide across to the driver’s side. Thieves attack most often on the driver’s side, frequently parking beside their victims. If you must enter on the driver’s side, look into the window of the car parked next to yours.

Ask for help. If you’re older, disabled, trying to juggle multiple items and/or shopping with children, don’t hesitate to ask a mall security guard to walk you to your car. That’s why the mall hires extra workers during the holidays. Can you imagine an attacker approaching you while you’re being escorted by security?

The real key is to be alert, aware of your surroundings. I should know; I’ve been the victim of grand theft auto, a home invasion and a mugging!!! Please, please, please be careful—but not so paranoid that you can’t have fun.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brenda's Black Friday Shopping Tip

We stood in the crowded parking lot, the darkness just turning to dawn, steaming cups of coffee in our hands and laughing with the others what idiots we were to be waiting for a store to open at 4 AM.

Are you the avid bargain hunter who crawls out of a warm, cozy bed and braves the cold, black night to drive to your favorite shopping spot? My mom thinks it's stupid; I think it's sorta fun. But I don't have to scan the newspapers for sales and do my Christmas shopping on Black Friday every year.

But here's a life-saving, mentally healthy tip: keep your kids home. They do not need to be drug out of sleep, hastly dressed, and plopped into a cold van just so you can find a bargain. Puleeze, take 'em to a trusted relative or friend the night before if you must hit the stores early. As I share with my parenting audiences, shopping is an adult activity. Don't take a kid to the store, stuff him in a cart, and constantly tell him to stop crying or to be quiet. It's no more fun for a kid to do adult shopping than if you had to spend the day in the colored ball pit at a McDonalds.

Let's make Christmas shopping fun for everyone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm Making a List and Checking it Twice by Trish Berg

I truly think Santa had it right with the list making thing. I started years ago, making a Christmas gift buying list. I do it in Excel, with each person I am buying for in the left hand column, and then start with each cell to the right with ideas for gifts for them, and if I can, prices in the next column over.

I can then add the price column total at the bottom and see where I am spending wise. Then I can go back up and adjust my shopping list as needed to make sure that I stay within my budget.

And when a gift is bought then I check it off, and subtract it from what I have spent, so I know what I have left yet to spend.

Christmas shopping can truly get out of hand if you are not careful. We convince ourselves that this gift will make that person happy, and in turn, make us feel good about ourselves. When the reality is that over-spening on Christmas will only create self-absorbed and self centered children, and a feeling of disappointment when otherts don't react how we want them to when they open their gift.

For example, one Christmas about 15 years back, I was working way too hard to make my sisters-in-law like me. My husband, Mike, was an only son with 3 sisters, and I thought I could buy my way into their friendship circle. Sounds stupid now, but hey, I was desperate back then.

So, at a local craft show, I bought my sister-in-law, Lisa, the most beautiful and extremely expensive Christmas gift. It was a snowman pitcher with 6 matching mugs. It was ceramic, hand crafted, and gorgeous. It was the kind of gift set I would have loved to have had myself.

It cost well over $80, and we were only supposed to spend $30-40. Yep, overspent to try to find joy and friendship.

So, Christmas Eve, my grandmother-in-law handed out her gifts to everyone, and she gave Lisa this antique Santa ceramic pitcher set with matching mugs that Lisa had grown up with. Kind of like a piece of her childhood.

Now, Grandma had no idea that I had made that purchase, or that I was giving Lisa a snowman pitcher and mug set. So, as Lisa oood and cooed over the Santa set, my heart broke.

I went home and cried for hours. Wasted tears, you see. I set myself up for failure in overspending. Over reaching.

Christmas morning, I did give Lisa the snowman set, and she thanked me. I think she liked it, but it was most certainly not magical. And it did not buy her friendship.

Lisa and I have become friends because we have taken the time to get to know each other, not because of any gift we bought one another.If I had only known or realized that back then, I could have saved the $80, or graced my own counter with the snowman pitcher set.

So, as you begin your Christmas shopping, don't look for gifts to fill the holes in your life. Give gifts that are well within your budget that will make people smile. But don;t seek joy there. Simply give out of love, and let that be that.

Seek your joy in the baby in the manger. In the gift that was given to us all and the everlasting life we have in Christ.

And make lists. Stick to them, and know that 5 years form now, you probably won;t remember the gifts you gave or received. But you will remember who you spent time with.

Enjoy the journey-Trish Berg

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bank Accounts and Baubles

This week we will give shopping tips to early shoppers. Mine are a little out of the Christmas box, and have to do with next year and wedding showers and summer boredom and kids. But you will need ot do your shopping now to help you with those things this next year.

Early Shopping tip # 1

One of my firends, buys (on sale of course!) extra nativity sets during the holidays. These are what she gifts to newlyweds or if she is invitied to a wedding shower. Shop now, if you like this idea. You probably will not find these in July. She buys four or five and she said the bride and groom are always touched when they open a gift that will bless their FIRST Christmas together.

Very Early Shopping Tip #2 (for 2009)

Mothers of elemntary age kiddos know that by the second week of summer some children may already say the "B" word, "I'm bored." Here's where your planning ahead will come in handy. This Christmas find instructions and the supplies (on sale of course!) that your children will need to make 3-4 ornaments. Tuck the supplies away until summer. Write a note on your June 2009 calendar page reminding yourself that you have the supplies and where you stored them.

The first time your sweet angel says the "B" word, whip out your supplies for one onament. Make this a fun, fun event. Hint that there are more ornament making days ahead, but don't tell them what they are. Spin the mysterious into these events.

Allow your children one project, then in a few weeks another, and so on until all the ornaments are made. These can be used next Christmas as Bible class teachers' gifts, for Scout Leaders, neighbors, etc. Make it a festive summer day, by serving them snow cones, if your refrigerator makes crushed ice, or ice cream or yogurt. Just make their refreshment something cool and KOOL. Play favorite Christmas music.

Don't forget to wirte on your November 2009 calendar that you have the ornaments. Hope these tips help. Do you have any staid or new tips for early shopping or planning ahead. We'd love to hear your hints for keeping the holiday calm. Or let us hear about the best early bargain you've ever found?

Cathy Messecar

Saturday, November 8, 2008

KISS Those Christmas Letters

Christmas cards are one thing I buy at post holiday sales each year. My Christmas letter that is included with each is fresh and new however. The secret to getting your Christmas letter read by others is to KISS it!

Keep it Simple and Sweet!

  • Keep it simple: Too many details get the reader bogged down and bored. Give them just enough to know what happened and if they really want details, they'll ask you. A picture is worth a thousand words and with all the at-hand technology we have now, you can say more with one good picture than a thousand words.

  • Keep it sweet: We all have tragedies and perils and tough times but most people don't want to dwell on that at Christmas. They have enough of their own. If you have a bit of bad news to pass along, mention it and move on. Again, people who care will respond and contact you for more detail or to share their sympathy.

On the receiving end of those Christmas letters. . .to stress-less, I save all the Christmas letters in one place and when I have time after the holidays, I read them through. That's also the time when I can respond appropriately to what I find there. I even have some friends who don't send out their Christmas letter until after the first of the year. That way they're sure to be read.

Are you a lover or hater of Christmas letters?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Reindeer and Christmas Cards

One year at a craft fair I bought a wooden unpainted reindeer Christmas card holder.
Every year since then we put the deer on top of the teak cabinet that holds our tv, and put our Christmas cards in it.

Of course special cards are set up standing next to the deer, especially those with photos on the cover.

Our address book sits in it too, and some of our cards to send out, as the cards roll in, and we write more to send.

I love Christmas cards, especially when they include a note or letter. They are so beautiful, whether of a Holy Family, or a Christmas stocking or a dog in the snow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Creative Christmas Cards

Yippee! My favorite topic is finally here. I’ve been waiting to blog about this subject for—oh, about 18 weeks now. For some strange reason, Christmas cards are near and dear to my heart.

Throughout the years, I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with Christmas cards. I love to get LOTS of them every year and catch up on the lives of people I don’t see very often. I examine every photo, seeing how much kids have grown or what exotic locales friends visited that past year. I display cards in creative ways in our home—using clothespins to attach them to a piece of jute strung above our fireplace.

But (There’s always a but, yes?), I doubt any other thing exists—besides maybe my grandmother—that can make me feel as guilty about my lack of preparation or creativity. I want so badly to be like my friends Mary K or Kelly, whose cards I receive Thanksgiving weekend. Their families pose expertly for the camera—this is so not their first time to do this!

Alas, my Christmas card routine goes something like this: I start the family newsletter in August or September with every intention of getting it finished early. I tell myself I just need a few tidbits of information from my husband and kids to complete my mission. I never obtain said tidbits, and end up fabricating some other drivel instead.

I usually print labels at 11:30 p.m. the night before we leave to go visit family. Then, if I remember to pack postage stamps, I put together the photo, newsletter, envelopes, labels and stamps in a make-shift assembly line in the front seat of our van on the way to Colorado. It’s lovely . . . really. Especially when Bret takes a curve at 60 (Who am I kidding? It’s 70!) mph and my precariously balanced materials sail around the car’s interior.

But I still try. And I still covet the cards, newsletters and photos of supermom giants who manage to send out unique greetings by the first week of December.

One such mom is Andrea Burke. I laughed ‘til I cried when I got this picture from their family. Andrea’s the one with the long, black locks; I think she could sit on her hair during this time period.

Andrea had this to say about obtaining this particular pic:
“Happy Asa kept waving his arms and creating bubbles that are hiding Casey’s face. I didn’t know Casey was dealing with that until the pics came in. This photo was taken by Kelly Marley, a neighbor who had just returned from water skiing. (She was already wet and didn’t mind!) We could only get one shot per ‘dunk.’ [If any of your readers decide to do this,] the photographer needs goggles. Plan ahead. We didn’t shoot the picture until September 15th and it was a little chilly.”

Might be a tad late for this year (unless you’re a bonafide member of the Polar Bear Club), but there will be another Christmas in ’09! And this photo is exactly what I mean about being creative. I encourage you to be like Andrea or a Mary K or a Kelly. Plan ahead. Think outside the box when it comes to Christmas pix. Forget forcing the family to sit at the hearth and opt, instead, for a fun shot that showcases your collective personalities.

Just for fun, ask someone to climb a ladder or get on the top of bleachers. Then have your family members lie down in a circle or form the first letter of your last name. We’ve got a perfect name for that—W for Wilson! Why, oh why, haven’t we ever done that? Or build a pyramid. Or photo shop your heads on to glass ball ornaments on a shot of a Christmas tree.

Other ideas:
Take a photo of preschool kids while they’re sleeping. Put as the caption: “Silent Night!” OR, stop pressuring yourself with trying to attain the pristine family photo.

Capture your kids in action—arguing, wrestling, laughing, just being themselves.
I snapped this one of Molly & Reese (at 3 and 2) when they wouldn't cooperate to get a happy shot!

Laugh it up; goodness knows they do. And the possibilities are endless.

Now’s your time to shine, even show off. Please, please post your favorite—pix or stories—about your or someone else’s clever idea.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Show Me the Cards!

by Brenda Nixon, co-author A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts (Leafwood, 2008)

In the movie, Jerry Maguire, a frustrated sports agent gets into a telephone yelling match with his client repeating the phrase, "Show me the money!" That one phrase became the hallmark of the movie.

But, today I'm sharing a way for you to show me the cards! Christmas cards that is. Throughout 28 years of marriage, I've displayed my incoming cards numerous ways. Rather than let them pile up and collect dust somewhere, I prefer to put them out and admire the beautiful scenes, sparkles, and sentiments.

Take a long piece of twine and either tie or tape it to opposites of a picture window. Voila, you now have a place to string up your cards. Last year, we put our line of cards in the family room, where we spend most of our time. One year, it was in the kitchen. You can also string up the cards on the wall between two windows. Regardless of where you display those beauties, get them out and show me the cards!

If you have a copy of our A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, you’ll find the history of Christmas cards.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Christmas Card Prayer Basket - Trish Berg

Wow, it's hard to believe November is already here, and Christmas is just around the bend.

As you prepare your Christmas card list, choose cards and get organized, I wanted to share a neat tip with you.

Over the month of December, you will be receiving tons of Christmas cards in the mail. Some of you may hang your cards over doorways or place them on fireplace mantels. Those are all neat ways to decorate your home with love.

But here's another thought.

You can place all your Christmas cards in a basket, and every night at supper, have each person in your family randomly draw a card out of the basket, and then go around the dinner table and pray for those families by name.

Then return them to the basket, and know that your prayers were heard.

It's a simple, faithful way to live out your faith in front of your children, and hold up your family and friends in prayer in a real concrete way. Trust God to choose the right cards for you, and know that your prayers are making a difference.

As always, enjoy the journey-Trish
Psalm 118:24

Monday, November 3, 2008

Christmas Cards and a late entry

My co-authors did a great job last week of giving you ideas for homemade gifts. I had my idea typed out but it was on the computer that isn't working so well, so you're getting my suggestion this week....PLUS we will be talking about Christmas cards this week.

First my idea for homemade gifts: So many times, especially for young couples, money is in short supply. And this year, many are in the same bank vault--the funds just aren't available.

I read the following tip from one of Emilie Barnes' books, famous for her home tips, teas and hospitality hints. Emilie had a friend who had suffered a great loss. Emilie could have invited her friend to lunch. She could have invited her to her own home for a meal, but she chose a route that provided an outing with a twist. She invited this friend to go to the park, telling her she'd supply the snacks.

Emilie made a simple tea party to take to the park. It wasn't elaborate, but she did just enough to make it an outing. She put hot tea into a thermos and few things to accompany the tea. I don't remember all she packed in the basket, but I'm thinking a few finger sandwiches, whole fresh fruit and scones with lemon curd might be nice, but don't focus on the food too much. The whole idea was to get her friend out into the shunshine, "Out in the Fields With God," like our suggestions for getting your family outdoors at Christmas Time., chapter three in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

Emilie's compassion and hospitatlity aided her friend's healing as she took in the vitality of God's green work, the natural world where cycles are evident in growth, leaves falling and leaves sprouting again. Do you have a friend who would benefit from one on one time with you in the great outdoors? Phone them, make a date, and pick a serene inspirational view. Pack a basket with hot chocolate and comfort food, and go by and get your friend. Who knows you may just help restore their soul.....

Second, this weeks topic Christmas cards: If you have a copy of A Scrapbook of Chirstmas Firsts, you'll find a history of Christmas greeting cards and a story about a fatherless girl which involved seasonal cards, and there's a great suggestion for ways to help your family connect with the folk who send you cards and family newsletters.

In our home, I display the cards we receive on a bought holder. It's circular, with wire circles overlapping which allow me to slip the cards underneath the wires. Mine has a metal cut-out angel at the top. When it's filled, it makes a wreath of cards from all the well wishes from our friends and family.

How do you display your cards? Do you send out a newsletter or cards? Have you decided to leave off mailing out cards? Share your traditions or a story about a special Christmas card.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

No-Sew Scarf

This is a great activity for young children and teens and costs little to make especially if you run into a good sale on fleece. I love these scarves because they are light weight, warm, and less bulky than many other scarves.

  • Find some nice fleece and purchase a piece as long as you want your scarves to be--at least one yard up to two yards.
  • Cut a length of fleece as wide as you would like your scarf to be--10-16". You may want to trim off the selvaged edge.
  • Decide how long you would like the fringe to be (5-8") and begin to cut 1/2" wide strips in each end of the scarf. To make this easier for kids, you may want to purchase a pen with disappearing ink (available at fabric stores) and mark the lines for them to cut.
  • For added fringing, I take bright colored yarn and tie strips to each piece of fleece fringe.
  • You can also add beads to the fringe or know the fringe near the scarf to add to the design.

Fleece is usually 50-60 inches wide so there is enough to make 4-5 scarves. Make some for gifts and keep one for yourself!

Have you made any other fleece projects?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Make Play Dough in Holiday Colors

A gift that everyone with kiddoos will love is homemade play dough.
Today is Halloween and you could start by making batches of this play dough in orange and purple if you like, and in December for the Christmas holidays, in green and red.
My sister, Sky, sent me this play dough recipe years ago, and my sons and their friends enjoyed the results.
1 cup flour
one half cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
Mix the dry ingredients, and slowly add to the water.
Cook over medium heat, stirring until it becomes stiff.
Let it cool on wax paper. When cooled you can separate it into several sections and be creative by adding food color, glitter, and / or a few drops of vanilla or peppermint extract.
Kneed it until the consistency is right.
You can store play dough in air tight containers, even old cottage cheese containers or whatever you have at hand. For gift play dough you could buy some inexpensive plastic containers with air tight lids. It keeps very well in the refrigerator for two weeks.
I would love to hear about your play dough creations, so go ahead and leave a comment here to inspire us.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Have Homemade Gifts on Hand for Drop-in Guests

Unexpected guests are as much a part of Christmas as the angel atop the tree. To minimize your surprise—and being caught empty-handed—I have a few ideas to have on hand to reciprocate with those kindly folks who drop in unannounced, bearing cool gifts. Both of these inexpensive, yet thoughtful gifts came from my friend and fellow baseball mom, Michelle Moon.

Rosy Water Facial Toner/Astringent

Mix witch hazel with equal parts rose water (available at health food stores or online); add six drops glycerine. Fill an inexpensive corked bottle (available at craft stores or dollar stores) for a lovely homemade astringent. Decorate the bottle with a gauzy ribbon or faux jewels on the stopper.

Decoupage Cross

Purchase raw wood crosses at a craft store. Use Mod Podge® or another decoupage glue to attach small, torn bits of leftover gift wrap, Christmas or otherwise. When the design is to your liking, coat the final product with one additional layer of glue. Let dry and attach a picture hook to the back, if needed. For a variation, add a Scripture verse—printed off the computer onto quality paper—to the center. Easy to make, easy on the wallet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not For Human Consumption

my faithful readers! Being it's Wednesday, my day to post, I want to share with you two terrific homemade gifts on this "hump day."

Warning, this is not for human consumption. Ever read that on an obviously not food bag at the store? In past posts, I've shared many recipes. The two I want you to know about today are my homemade doggie biscuits and the one for sugar face scrub. Rather than repeat them here, scan back through my Wednesday posts and find those recipes. Enjoy!

by Brenda Nixon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Favorite Homemade Christmas Gift - Trish Berg

I love making homemade Christmas gifts. they just seem so personal. And you can always make some extras to keep around the house for those drop in guests who bring you a gift.

These also make great teacher gifts.

And, making homemade gifts can save you a ton of money.

One of my favorite homemade Christmas gifts is BATH SALTS:


1 cup kosher salt
1 cup baking soda
3 drops Pine balsam essential/fragrance oil
2 drops cinnamon essential/fragrance oil
2 drops cassis essential/fragrance oil
2 tablespoons of liquid glycerin (skin moisturizer) (optional)

Mix ingredients together blending well. Break up any clumps.

Note: Liquid glycerin used as a skin moisturizer, is a by-product of soap making. Glycerin can be found at health food stores, some drug stores, or major department stores depending on where you live. Its also readily available on the internet as well.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Whether you've watched The Christmas Story or not, you'll recognize that phrase in its relationship to a BB gun. I love watching the DVD of the movie, The Christmas Story (followed closely by Lampoon's Christmas Vacation). It reminds me of the Christmas my brother got his BB gun and yes, the caution every time he took it outside was, "Be careful you don't shoot an eye out!"

The movie was filmed in Cleveland and used the old Higbee building that now stands fairly empty except for some offices, I believe. It was a big deal to get dressed up and go shopping, see Santa, and then have lunch at the Silver Grille. For dessert, there was always a scoop of ice cream with chocolate syrup and whipped cream topped with a cherry and decorated with a paper parasol. Even at an early age I was intrigued by mysteries. When you took the parasol apart, there was Chinese writing on the paper that was made into a roll that slid up and down to open the parasol. I imagined it was secret code.

Suburban malls have taken the place of that Christmas shopping experience where the lights of the city, the window decorations and that special lunch were something that made memories.

What movies spark childhood memories for you?

(If you go to this site and scroll down a bit you can see a picture of Higbee's at Christmas in 1952. I would have been five, dressed in something velveteen, with little white gloves, if I remember my mother's tastes. Okay, do the math--I'm old.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story

Oh my, this is a funny and touching movie, with many scenes in it that are seared into my memory.

Some are quite horrible, in fact. The boy whose tongue freezes to the flagpole, Ralphie with the bar of soap in his mouth, the younger brother so swaddled in his snowsuit that when he falls down he can not get up on his own.

Amazing scenes, and then Ralphie's desperate craving, nay need, to own a Red Ryder carbine action BB gun, and Ralphie hearing "you'll shoot your eye out" so often from every responsible adult.

The dad is called The Old Man and he has a whacky pride in the bizarre lamp that he won.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of the zaniness herein.
Sit back and enjoy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Brenda Loves Il Divo

Oh baby, wanna get my blood brewing? Wanna look at some eye candy? Then, check out the Christmas CD by Il Divo.

If you haven't yet heard of this group of four classically trained young men, put together by Simon Cowell of American Idol fame, then you must give them a listen. Oh, their music is soft and soothing, but strong and romantic and their voices blend together at times that you think you're listening to only one.

I have Il Divo downloaded to my computer and when I'm writing articles or working on a book, I listen. Truly they have inspired me and my words at times. Il Divo CDs are also in my car so I can drive the distance while being comfortably serenaded.

What's your fav Christmas CD?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Favorite Christmas DVD - Trish Berg

Oooo, I love watching Christmas movies. In fact, even though its only October, I am ready to break them out already.

My all time favorite Christmas movie is It's a Wonderful Life - the classic movie of all time. I cry every time George Bailey gets his ear slapped as a boy. I sob when he realizes his life, no matter how messed up it seems to be, is a gift from God.

But at the Berg house, we have also grown to love The Santa Clause series of movies starring Tim Allen. What a hoot those are.

And, being a girl who spent many Christmases in New York City visiting my grandparents, attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, I also love Miracle on 34th Street, both the old and new versions, and White Christmas.

I love so many Christmas movies, it's difficult to list them all. We watch a lot of movies during the month of December. It's our evening activity on cold winter nights, and keeps ups company as we wrap Christmas gifts or bake pies or cookies.

Last year, we took the kids to Disneyworld for vacation during Christmas. Though it was an amazing vacation, and we had a blast, we all missed our at home Christmas celebrations. We may have to start early this year just to catch up.