Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Little Perspective

As we teased and argued during a lively game of Apples 2 Apples on Christmas night, my son periodically grabbed his abdomen and complained that his stomach hurt.

"So does everyone else's, Charlie," I told him, slightly irritated that he thought his pain from overeating was any more special than anyone else's.

He woke my husband, Bret, and me at 8 the next morning to tell us he had vomited several times during the night. I grabbed my copy of the Boston Children’s Hospital’s All New Child Health Encyclopedia while my husband pulled up WebMD. In less than a minute, we'd both reached the same conclusion: appendicitis.

The ER agreed with us, and Charlie had surgery a few hours later.

I'm thankful his appendix hadn't ruptured. I'm thankful he wasn't five hours away at college. I'm thankful he has three weeks to recuperate before he returns from school. I'm thankful we live five minutes from a terrific hospital.

This crisis, though relatively small, was enough to give us a little perspective on the holiday. Christmas is about Jesus's birth and giving gifts to commemorate that. But I never mind when a little extra thanksgiving gets thrown in.

I hope you have gained perspective as well--perhaps even without the crisis. What has God shown you this Christmas season?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's Wishes - By Trish Berg

I like fresh starts. Like a second chance all wrapped up in forgiveness and love, New Year’s Day is fast approaching and we are all getting a do-over.

When I was a little girl, my older sister and I would play basketball in the driveway of our childhood home with our dad. We would play games like Around the World and Horse. Being the youngest on the basketball court, I was not the best shot. When it was my turn to shoot the basketball, I would muster up all the courage and strength I could, and let her fly.

A lot of the times, my shot did not even hit the rim of the hoop, and ended in an air ball that hit the garage door. That’s when my dad would say “Do-over,” as he tossed me the basketball and let me shoot again, sometimes from a closer distance, sometimes he would even lift me up so I could make it.

There was nothing like getting a second chance. As an eight-year-old girl, I understood that. I cherished those do-overs, and took every advantage of them. Eventually, I grew stronger and older, and learned to make the baskets on my own. But I never forgot the blessing of my do-overs.

New Year’s Day is sort of like a do-over. We set new goals for the year, forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made in the past year, and take another shot at getting it right. It’s as if God is whispering in our ear, “Go ahead, take another shot. You can do it!”

God has blessed me in 2010 beyond my wildest expectations (as always). I have drawn closer to Christ as I try to walk where He leads me. My husband, Mike, myself, and our four children are all healthy and well. We are surrounded with family and friends, have been blessed with more than we need, and certainly more than we deserve.

I have girlfriends that I trust with my life, women who know me better than I know myself, and they love me in spite of all of my flaws.

I am blessed to be able to write this column and share my life with all of you every week. The fact that you enjoy reading it is like cake icing in my mouth, all sweet and yummy.

I have been able to teach at Malone University this year, and have become friends with so many amazing students, faculty and staff there. I get to go to chapel every week at work and worship the Lord. I love that!

I also have made many mistakes in 2010, too. I let anger rule my heart, lost patience with my children, and did not always reach out to those in need around me.

And so, I like fresh starts. New Year’s Day is a do-over like no other. It’s like a second chance all wrapped up in forgiveness and love.

This New Year’s Day, what would you like to do-over?

God is tossing you the ball, moving you closer to the hoop, lifting you up on His shoulders and whispering in your ear, “Go ahead, take another shot. You can do it!”

So, muster up your courage and strength and let her fly!

Happy New Year to you all!

Pick up your copy of Trish’s book A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts-Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday online or at a bookstore near you.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Wishes For You

Wishing you and your family a blessed Christmas!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Last minute gift ideas

There can be pressure going on to buy some last minute gifts, and I know I have experienced that moment of panic. I am a big fan of flowers and that is how I sometimes solve the last minute gift problem. Poinsettias glow with color and are available now for only 6 to 8 dollars and up. You probably see displays of them at drug stores and grocery stores and in garden centers. Last year I bought one and gave it the new neighbors at Christmas, when I went over to meet them. Other favorites are red and white plant bouquets and flower arrangements. See how easy that is?

Remember that the book we wrote, "Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts" is available at many stores and on Amazon and, and when I looked today I see Amazon promises delivery by Monday! Our book has many upbeat stories in it that will be fun to read in the days after Christmas.
Some favorite stories in our book are about celebrating Christmas with two adopted children (this one involves a purple stocking), camping in the Florida Everglades with a pet chihuahua, a child selling cards for needed money, and seeing a prodigal son again.
Merry Christmas One and All, as we celebrate the birth of the Holy Babe tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Simple Story - By Trish Berg

It is a simple story. A story told for many years, from generation to generation. A story you may know but hardly take the time to ponder. A story that begins and ends with love.

It began when God spoke love into this world, into the lives of a young girl and her betrothed. Into our lives as well. It began with Mary and Joseph.

I can hardly imagine what Mary and Joseph went through, the trust and faith they lived through their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. A journey from being who they were to who God wanted them to become.

A journey they did not choose. A journey that chose them.

And so they walked by faith into their marriage. And they journeyed by faith to Bethlehem on the promises from God delivered by an angel.

After they had traveled farther than any of us have ever traveled by foot, they must have been exhausted. Many believe it was about a four day journey totaling eighty miles. And after taking on such a journey, they were not welcomed with open arms. They were rejected. There was no room for them at the inn. There was no home for Jesus.

Since it was time for Mary to deliver her Baby, they made their temporary home in the stable -the cold, dark stable. Their family became the cattle, oxen and sheep. And when baby Jesus was born, he was laid in the stone manger kept warm by the sweet hay.

And so it goes.

If the story ended there, we would be left wondering. Wondering who Jesus was and why Mary and Joseph made the trip to Bethlehem Wondering why the world rejected Him before He was even born. Wondering He would become. Wondering what all of it meant for us.

But the story does not end there.

God placed a star in the sky to mark the place where Jesus was born. His sent His angels to shepherds who were watching their flocks by night to tell them of Jesus’ birth, to share with them who Jesus was.

The star shone in the sky. The angels sang of God’s glory. The shepherds went to find the Baby in the manger. The kings came bearing gifts. God’s love became real.

It is a simple story. A story told for many years, from generation to generation. A story you may know but hardly take the time to ponder.

It began when God spoke love into this world in the form of a Baby in a manger. It continued through Jesus’ life as He shared God’s love with us, through the love he exemplified on the cross for us. And it continues today in the lives of all who believe.

We may not be traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, but we are each on a journey from who we are and who God wants us to be.

A journey we may not choose. It is a journey that chooses us.

It is a simple story that begins and ends with love.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah. 9:6) Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Very Last Minute Doable Gift--even the 25th

Each year I try to do for or gift something to someone who hadn't ever received a gift from us. It might be a customer that we especially connected to that year or it might be someone in need of help financially. I've already done that this year, but who knows if someone comes to mind--even on Christmas Day--I could still honor them with this very last minute gift.

Some online companies are offering E-Mail gift certificates that you can order on Christmas Day and those will be sent to the receiver via email.

One such company is I sometimes buy books for people, but it's really nice to let them choose a book they've longed for or download a book to an electronic reader.

Gift certificates to bookstores do quadruple good and much more: Besides the nice gift, they support writers and authors who, for the most part, make less than a dollar for every book sold. They also get people reading, and a book increases knowledge or entertains--they expand our minds, and, after all who wants a small mind.

Here's a direct link to purchase a gift card by email. I'm not being compensated to tell you this, just sharing friend to friend.
Thank you for all your comments as the Word Quilters posted Christmas hints since July of this year.

Warmest Christmas wishes to you and yours.    

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Makeup Bags To Go

My husband and I have stepped foot on all seven continents and almost completely circumnavigated the globe over the 20 years or so that we have been avid travelers. When it comes to packing, we have learned that less is. . .less to carry.

When it comes to toiletries especially, you need to decide just exactly what is essential. To save weight and space, check out the samples aisle of your local drugstore (CVS, Walgreen's, etc.). You will find smaller items that will make do for your trip even if you can't find just exactly the same brand that you normally use. It is also the place to find those liquid carry-on items that are no bigger than 3 ounces to get through security at the airport.

Now since this is Crafty Saturday, here is a link to a site that has more than 18 different kinds of makeup bags you can sew. One in particular would be great to roll up and tuck in your suitcase and would make a great gift item for someone who travels.
[Posted by Karen Robbins]

Friday, December 17, 2010

Surfer Statue with Santa Hat

This week we are offering holiday travel tips, and my only tip for this is to take only a carry on bag.
I've done this for years, not checking in luggage, and A. They don't lose it or damage it, B. No waiting in the baggage area to pick up your luggage and C. Check in is faster.
Since my tip is rather tiny I share here 2 photos I took last week, of a surfer statue. Someone put a Santa hat and leis on him, and he is looking out over the ocean toward Hawaii.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Travel Tips for Around Your Neighborhood

Did you hear the one about the blond who heard that the majority of car accidents happen within two miles of your home? ..........She moved.

Many people travel long distances over the holidays by car, train, and air, but most traveling is done locally and not just the few days around Christmas, but daily. Truly, this time of year is a little hazardous to your car fenders and you. With planning you can make the roads a safer and friendlier place during the holidays with these tips to help you from now until Christmas.

  • At the beginning of your day, start a list of the local stops you need to make. Route yourself so you travel the fewest miles or the least congested miles. Make plenty of lists, essential to avoid a quick run to the stores or malls. God bless you if you have to go to the malls after the 15th.
  • Be a friendly driver. If someone lets you merge into waiting traffic, wave a thank you. Allow those having a difficult time merging into traffic to go in front of you. Even this small gesture of kindness brings its own rewards.
  • Plan your meals from now until Christmas. Buy early. Bake and relax at home while others scurry about for last minute ingredients.
  • Play Christmas music when traveling. Cheeriness will invade your heart.
  • Have you put off mammograms, dentist visits, or yearly checkups? Often those offices are slow this time of year. Make an appointment now to take care of your preventive care.
  • Moms, the kiddos will be out of school soon. It's easier to push a grocery cart single-handed than with three children in tow. If you can afford to, shop early for those everyday needs.
  • Keep a bottle of water and a healthy snack on hand in your vehicle, to avoid fat-laden burgers and drive-thru lines. Or pack a brown bag lunch, and sit in your vehicle and have lunch. That down time just might relax you enough that a forgotten errand comes to mind and you save an extra local trip to stores.
Safe travel to you and yours. HONK IF YOU LOVE CHRISTMAS.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Creative De-Stressing

When I was a florist, the holidays were truly a time of stress. Not only did I have all the usual Christmas preparations, I also had tons of orders to fill for flowers and fruit baskets in the shop. Whenever I was beginning to show signs of stress my friend, Chris, who worked with me always suggested I go home and bake to de-stress. That was what she did and we could always tell when she was over stressed. Plates of goodies would show up on our workbenches.

Now baking would be more stressful for me than many other things I could think of. Crocheting is probably my best way to deal with stress. I can whip up an afghan in no time if I'm working off nervous energy or anger or stress.

If baking or crocheting are not on your list of de-stressers, here are some other suggestions (crafty, of course):
  • Painting- Acrylics are easy to use or even watercolors. If you don't feel creative, get a paint by number. Some of them are really easy and a good distraction.

  • Embroidery- Pick a really simple kit and make an ornament, a card, or a runner for your table.

  • Put together a jigsaw puzzle. There is something calming in this and to make it crafty, get some clear coating made especially for jigsaw puzzles and coat the puzzle so you can frame it.

  • Grab your camera and take a long walk. Take some pictures of landscapes, then zero in on things a little closer and capture something unique or unusual. Try photographing textures or patterns. Or pick a theme and take pictures to fit the theme.

If all else fails, buy yourself a roll of bubble wrap or a pack of bubble gum and pop it!

[posted by Karen Robbins]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Bingo--Copying with Closeness at Christmas

I’ve eagerly anticipated this blog post for some time. Unlike my multi-talented co-authors, I didn’t receive as much craft or artistic talent. I know my limitations as a decorator, cook, and home-entertainment guru.

Though I’d love nothing more than to be able to fashion napkin rings out of fresh holly boughs or whip up a gourmet dessert out of pantry staples like chocolate chips, powdered sugar and Ranch Style beans, I probably couldn’t teach you anything new in the holiday entertaining department. However, I do have a helpful holiday hint for you this year.

My terrific tip is crafty, as in clever and innovative—no hot glue or grapevine wreaths required. It’s relational, not hospitable.

Though I’ve searched I’ve been unable to find the original magazine article containing this idea. Suffice it to say I read about it in a Christmas issue of one of the popular women’s magazines.

The helpful article contained instructions for making and playing Holiday Bingo. The grid is similar to regular Bingo except you fill each spaces with something relatives say or do that drive you crazy.

Intended as a coping mechanism, I suggested it to a friend who has—to put it mildly—a challenging relationship with her mother. My friend, whom I’ll call Anne, had to think of 24 annoying things that she predicted her mother would say or do during the holiday visit.

“Only 24?” Anne joked.

“Yeah. Sorry to limit you.” I was beginning to feel her pain—which, I suppose, was the whole point of the exercise.

If her mom said or did something my friend had noted on the Bingo grid, Anne could mark off that area. I did the same. Naturally, the idea was to see which of us could get Bingo first.

This simple game accomplished several things.

First, it completely changed Anne’s outlook on her mother’s behavior. Anne found herself laughing at her mother’s previously annoying or hurtful behavior, instead of dissolving in tears when her mother criticized her parenting abilities. Instead of being irritated when her mother belittled her for talking about the incarnation of Jesus, Anne laughed sneaking off to mark that section of her grid. Though Anne’s circumstances, resolving to be kind to a critical, overbearing mother, had not changed a bit, her perspective certainly had.

Second, her mother’s visit was pleasant, not just bearable. Anne smiled constantly and listened more intently, chuckling to herself about mother’s predictability, shallowness and critical spirit. What a change from previous visits!

Third, it gave Anne something to look forward to. Instead of dreading Christmas shopping, cooking, and sitting down to meals—all of which meant conversation with her mother—Anne eagerly anticipated them. After all, each gave her more opportunities to win.

Now you must know that I have great relationships with both my parents and my in-laws. However, being nothing if not a helpful friend, I agreed to help Anne, who so desperately needed to be lifted above the mire of depression, anger and bitterness that typically enveloped her during the holidays.

At first it was a challenge to come up with enough fodder for my grid. (Wink, wink.) I had to enlist the help of my husband, Bret. Once we got started, the items—comments and behaviors—seemed to come easier. Here’s a sampling:

My dad encourages a healthy—as in big, not health conscious—appetite. Without asking, he’ll plop anything from pancakes to biscuits to the last piece of Jimmy Dean sausage onto your plate. (Unfortunately this behavior isn’t limited to holidays.)

My mom seems to lose presents every year. She likes to buy The Perfect Gift, and then hide it so well she can’t find it when it’s time to wrap presents.

My father-in-law can hardly carry on a conversation without mentioning C.S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers or what he himself is teaching in his Bible class at church—sometimes all three.

My mother-in-law, an extremely accomplished shopper, claims she can’t think of anything to get my sons. What she really means is, she can’t buy them clothes from her favorite little boutique.

These items and more graced our Bingo grid.

How did the game turn out? Well, Anne beat me. In fact, she finished in a matter of hours, not days. But she continued to play, adding “Xs” every time her mom exhibited one of the predictable, hurtful behaviors—each one giving her a smile instead of another dagger to the heart.

And my husband and I never had such a fun Christmas!

We plan to make this a generational tradition. I have no doubts that someday my three children will develop their own game about Bret and me to make spending the holidays with Dear Ol’ Mom and Dad bearable.
I could suggest a few behaviors to get them started.

Now it’s your turn to share: What would you put on your Bingo grid?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Traditions in 20 Countries

Florine Church contacted us to share this post about Christmas traditions in 20 countries, including Ethiopia, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Japan and more.
Here is part of the article:
Although few in number, the Christians in China celebrate Christmas with a variety of traditions. The holidays kick off with fireworks, festivals and feasting. Many fill their homes with evergreens, posters, bright paper chains and cut-out red pagodas to put on the windows. Paper lanterns are hung and Christmas trees, or "trees of light," are decorated with flowers, lanterns and red paper chains. People often throw parties on Christmas Eve and celebrate Christmas Day with a big meal at a restaurant. Even Santa Claus or Dun Che Lao Ren, meaning "Christmas Old Man," is said to fill children's muslin stockings with treats on Christmas Eve.

To read the article about Christmas traditions in 20 countries you can visit:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tips to Simplify Christmas


1. STORY TIME - One of our favorite traditions is to read 2 Christmas stories. On Christmas Eve, we all gather around the tree and read Twas the Night Before Christmas. The kids love eating a Christmas cookie and listening to the words flow. Then, on Christmas morning, before a single present is unwrapped, we gather around the breakfast table and read the TRUE story of Christmas, of the birth of Jesus. You can start with Luke 2:1-20 or Matthew 1:18-2:20. This truly helps your family focus on the fun side of Christmas, and yet cherish the real gift of Jesus.

2. MAKE AHEAD BREAKFAST - Take the time on Dec 23rd or 24th to make your Christmas morning breakfast ahead of time. That way Christmas morning, you can simply enjoy eating and not have anything to do. 2 fantastic ideas are Sausage and Egg Casserole, or Sunday French Toast. For those and more great breakfast recipes click here.

3. SLOW DOWN - We tend to be in such a rush to "get done" with opening gifts and celebrating Christmas. I enjoy slowing the day down. Maybe open a few gifts in the morning. Let your kids play with those gifts, have lunch, and then open some more in the afternoon. Spread it out, take your time and enjoy the time together. Don't rush out the door to grandma's house, instead, stay home as long as you can and relax and enjoy watching your children play with their gifts.

4. CUT IN HALF - If you are a to-do list kinda person like I am, write down everything you think you need to do between now and Christmas Day and then...CUT YOUR LIST IN HALF. Christmas is Christmas not because of anything you do, it is Christmas because God gave us the gift of Jesus. Celebrate that, and don't worry about getting it all right..or all done. Celebrate what you have, thank God for all in your life, and let the rest go.

5. GIVE TO SOMEONE - Nothing will make you feel more joy than giving to someone else. Take hot cocoa to the Salvation army bell ringer at Walmart. Bring cookies to your gas station attendant or a tin of Chex Mix to the local fire or police station. Give to someone who does not expect you to give to them, and you will feel the true joy of Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Personal Loss or Stresses at Christmas

This week, we will discuss ways in which you can downsize worry at Christmas or be more sensitive to those who have had a tumultuous year. Here are my tips:

  • Prepare early. Use small increments of time to stay ahead of your schedule. Make a list of what you expect to do. Trim it down and stick to it. Your family would rather have you in a good mood than to have an additional activity or one more doo-dad sitting on a table. Doo-dad, wonder how that became a word? Is it a word?
  • Not everyone is in a celebratory mood this time of year. Due to illness, death, or finances, they may be in more of a blue mood. Be sensitive to their personal pain. If you don't know what is going on in someone's life, a question like this might help them share and help you give an appropriate response: "How has this year been for you?" 
  • Your regular workload continues through the holidays, so keep up with it, but you might consider lowering your standard just a bit. Your kitchen floor doesn't have to be clean enough to eat off of it -- that's what the table is for. A few crumbs under the cabinets can be your charity to the critters that scurry at night. You can starve them out in January. 
  • Consider doing less celebrating and less gift buying and less eating. You'll go into the new year a step ahead of those who over-killed Christmas.

Do you have a favorite tip you can share with us? Or tell us about foods you prepare ahead of time and freeze. Like you, we need to slow down and enjoy the season, too. May this week be blessed for you and yours....Cathy

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hats Off to a Themed Christmas Tree!

Themed Christmas trees are fun to do once in a while. When we lived in a home with a family room and a living room (and I had lots more energy) I did a themed tree each year in the living room. Years ago, I also recycled styrofoam cups by melting them and shaping them into little ladies' hats as favors for a ladies banquet. These would make a great themed tree as well. With some tulle and beads for garland and a few silk flowers and baby's breath placed around the branches, you will end up with a beautiful Victorian-looking Christmas tree.

For the hats you will need:

Styrofoam cups (if used be sure to wash and dry thoroughly)
dark coated cookie sheet (will not melt properly on plain aluminum or stainless)
small silk flowers
small beads
small/thin ribbons
hot glue gun

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Place a test cup upside down on the cookie sheet and set in oven. It will take about a minute before you see a change and about 1-2 minutes more before you have something that looks like a mini-hat. The test cup should give you a good idea of timing but don't put any in the oven and walk away. Also, be careful of the fumes that may build up in the oven. Don't continually inhale them directly. Remove test cup from oven and let cool on the cookie sheet. The cup will stick to the surface until it is completely cooled.

Now you're ready for a batch of hats. Place the cups upside down about 1-2" apart on the cookie sheet. Remember not to walk away from the oven! Watch them melt and pull out the sheet of cups at the appropriate time. Let them cool completely on the cookie sheet and then remove them and do another batch. Some of the cups will be a bit distorted but most should come out looking like little hats. All will be a little different.

When you are done melting your cups and they've cooled, begin the fun. Decorate each with the beads, ribbons, flowers, etc. and be sure to add a ribbon, string, or wire for hanging on the tree.

If you like, you could also use acrylic paints to add more color to your hats.

Hats off to you crafters! Karen Robbins

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas Tree trivia

Here are three questions about Christmas tree history.
Which American President began the ceremony of adding electric lights to the outdoor White House Christmas tree and having a ceremony when lighting the tree?
Herbert Hoover?
Calvin Coolidge?
Theodore Roosevelt?
The answer is President Coolidge in 1923.

When and where was tinsel invented?
Tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610 and was originally made from silver by machines which stretched the silver into paper thin strips.

It is fun to visit Christmas tree farms. How many states in the United States have these farms?
The answer is 50 since there are Christmas tree farms in all 50 states.