Saturday, December 31, 2011

How May I Serve You?

So.... yesterday's post was all about ME and what I want to accomplish in 2012...
I do want to say that much of my success in 2011 - and, however weird the year was, it was a success in the movement toward the happy life I want to have - is due to YOU, my readers.  I started this blog for two reasons: to see if I still like to write and to lay out goals and keep up with them.  So in a sense, it started as a bit of a journal.

Well.... I not only LIKE to write, apparently I NEED to write :-)  Allowing myself this area of development has been a true joy.  And I quickly found that my journal is being read.... I know a few of my regular readers - but I know there are many readers I DON'T know about.

Today I want to talk to all of you.

While, obviously serving my own needs, how may I serve you as well?

Along, the way, I have heard from several of you about things you like or dislike....  I wonder what I can add to my ramblings that will help you in any way.  You know I am an 'almost empty-nester'..... you know I am terribly curious and love to learn new things.  You probably have figured out that I like to check things off lists and go step by step in my achievements.  And that, while I like to follow lists, I usually have 5-6 lists to choose from :-)  I suppose I could be diagnosed with something or the other.. but I do operate kind of like a butterfly with a sideways linear flight pattern!

What else?  You know that I continue to deal with weight and health issues - like everyone else - and that I try to deal with things as naturally as possible.   I live a fairly conservative lifestyle but have fairly liberal views..... BUT this blog is not about politics or even religion.. though my spirituality does seep in now and again..

Think about it... you read for a reason... something I say or do is resonating with you... what can I address that will help you reach your goals?  Let me know.. or I'll keep meandering down the path in my own fashion... stopping to smell the flowers on either side as I go....

Thank you though... more than I can tell you.  Writing for an audience keeps me positive and accountable...... and writing something that may touch your life in a positive way gives me great joy :-)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Goals 2012

Time to reflect.. and set some new goals for 2012.  NOT resolutions, mind you... GOALS.   Resolutions (to me) imply WISHES... Goals imply ACTION.  I can do ANYthing if I break it down into manageable goals.

When I first started looking at this, I just continued the list I set up for 2011.... but upon reflection, that is not enough.  It was great for 2011 - year #1 in my systematic approach to moving my life where I want it to go.... but I have learned a lot along the way and have more direction :-)

For 2012, I decided to merge my 5 year vision of what I want my life to look like with the habits I have begun to create in 2011.  Writing is a passion I have come home to..... and I thank you for encouraging me!

Before I even begin, I want to say that one of the primary tasks I have set myself this year is WEEKLY goal setting.  I am THRILLED with the progress I made this year but am excited about achieving even more success by increasing my ability to focus on life improvement as I define it.  Laying out action steps weekly will help me stay where I want to be.  I find that it is too easy day by day to let my life slip away.  I want to be able to articulate what I did with my life!

So...... to start with a 5 year vision of how my life will look:

1. I am in good health
2. I have no debt. 
3. My current home will be either be a second residence (goal) or sold.

4. I have good maintenance habits
       a) The house I live in will be uncluttered and well decorated. 
       b) I have developed a healthy balance between food and movement.
       c) I enjoy my hobbies but am not storing a lot of extra supplies.
       d) I do my part to stay connected with my friends and family
5. I have published a book.


2012:

1.  HEALTH -
         a) continue on weight loss / exercise balance!
              I recognize that this is not specific enough for a goal. I am still working on action steps that will fit in my life and be sustainable.  I will share that journey with you as I go.
         b)Train for and do my 5th Breast Cancer 3Day Walk in Atlanta Oct 2012

2.  FINANCIAL -
         a) continue to live on a cash basis and work down debt balances
         b) find other sources of income to assist in this process.  It is important for me to feel financially independent.
         c) continue working with tithing.  Giving away brings more to you - seriously!  I don't know WHY this works, but I find that the more I am able to let go of.... the more finds its way back to me.

3. CURRENT HOME project -
        This one scares me but I am ready to take it on!  By the end of 2012, this home will be in a condition to sell.  I am working on a plan of action to deal with each room and all the associated STUFF... I will detail this in weekly action plans as I go.
          My photo scanning project will continue under this heading.  I will continue to scan and organize photos in folders on my computer in order to share with other family members who are involved in the photos.
         Also - I love to learn (as you probably know already) so this year, I will learn to refinish furniture and decorate.  Perhaps I can find some inexpensive course in interior design.... or some good DIY projects to attempt.

4.  Good Maintenance Habits:
         Good maintenance habits means that I don't have to THINK about them - I just do them.  To that end, I will think about them now :-)
    A) health/weight/exercise - I will deal with those under the "health" category
    B) environmental management - (fancy name for housekeeping!)  I will talk about this as I go through the work of re-newing the house.  I will develop some good maintenance habits as I tackle the larger project.
   C) relationships -
            Family - regular, purposeful dates / activities with husband and family members - separate and together
           Friends - make a point of a 'non-business' meeting with as many friends as possible during 2012
           Birthday cards :-)  I like doing them and it felt good to actually get through the year having done them!
    D) hobbies -
            *Enjoy my crocheting but work down my yarn stash
            * Less crochet - more quilting, loom knitting, knitting, and whatever other crafts I can enjoy with my current supplies     
            * Learning: is learning a hobby?
                  a) Read a minimum of 1 book per week.
                          Start on book lists of classics by Modern Library / continue with favorite authors and Oprah's recommendations   
                  b) Watch more movies - Choose classics from American Film Institute List (as well as fun choices as desired!)     
                   c) will put my spiritual reading here.  I still am not sure about what I want to do here but will make a choice soon (by the 1st :-)      

5.  Writing - Keep on with my daily blogging - Journey & Children's Liturgy
                   Join a writers group to learn more about what I am doing and where I can go with it.
                   Keep up with a written journal

Ambitious?  Probably..... but most are do-able....  most exist in some form in my life right now.... I just need to be a little more pro-active in how I go about working toward my goals....  stay tuned for my first weekly action plan! 

What are YOU planning to do with 2012?                

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Top Ten Posts

Just for Fun!

A year in review!  I started this blog in February 2011.  It was (and still is) a personal attempt to follow through with goal-setting!  It has also become a venue for me to gain daily writing practice and skills... but also, I think a way to help other people!  That is indeed a blessing to me - to be able to help ANYbody while I help myself doing something I enjoy!


Anyway - I thought it might be fun to post the links of the 10 posts that received the most hits in this last year... in case my readers either missed them or are interested in a re-read!

#1   God Has Sent Me on a Journey
                 The story of participating in the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer 3Day Walks.  (I am already registered for the walk in Atlanta in Oct 2012 - if you feel led to grab a 2011 tax deduction - let me know & I'll send you the link!)

#2  100th Post
             Self-explanatory, I think!  I am close to #200 now :-)

#3  5 Years From Now
            This one is about thinking forward and creating the future you want!

#4  Bucket List... Do YOU Have One?
            The importance of dreams and goals

#5   Prepare Ye The Way!
            A reflective piece about Christmas preparation during Advent

#6  Starting Over.....Sort Of...
            This one is an evaluation and a bit of thinking after a one month hiatus from the blog.  I will try not to do this (the involuntary break) again!  I don't think I realized how many people were regular readers :-)

#7  What Will Your Holiday Season Look Like?
            How to make this emotionally difficult season work for YOU.

#8   Depression is my Friend
             How I deal with times (seasons) of depression in my life.

#9.  Dishcloth Challenge #11 - 15
             One of the crochet posts made the Top Ten :-)  I have been working on the dishcloths in Maggie Weldon's 365 Dishcloth Challenge this year.  The patterns are free until February 2012 so if you are interested, you need to check them out now  www.bestfreecrochet.com   I plan to continue crocheting them (as well as doing other crafts) during 2012.

#10.  One Day at a Time
          How I go about turning a difficult day into a great day!

The Pages with the most views are  my 2011 Reading List....  , (which is self-explanatory but will soon be replaced with the 2012 list) followed closely by Kay's Life Rules , discoveries I choose to live by along the journey.

Thank you for reading my blog this year!  Hope you enjoyed the recap and keep traveling with me along the journey in 2012 :-)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Memories

It’s funny... thinking about Christmas past...  most overall memories aren’t that good.  Not that I had bad holidays - but I kept expecting Norma Rockwell and getting Armageddon.  I kept thinking that if I did this right, my family would turn into the Waltons.  Obviously, most of my memories are filled with the powerless child who had unrealistic impossible expectations.... and the supermom who must fulfill them.  Most Christmases had a serious meltdown in the middle of them!

As a child, Christmas was always exciting... but I always had a knot in my stomach waiting for something bad to happen.. for lots of typical familial dysfunctional reasons that we all experience (!) and because when I was very young, my father had heart surgery in December.  After that, December was check-ups and missing parents along with the annual Christmas BLUR of activities.  My parents protected me from knowledge though - so I didn't know about the WORRY for my father... I knew about my parents' absence.  And, because parents are all powerful, it had to be voluntary.   I got the wrong message!

As an adult, I spent a good bit of time as a single parent, fearful of making ends meet and being able to provide a good holiday spread.  Everything we bought from October on ended up in the Christmas pile.  Nothing made me feel more accomplished than a huge pile of presents under the tree.  Nothing made me feel more inadequate than NOT being able to provide what "everyone else" was providing their kids.  And I was always glad when it was over so I could get back to business and begin to dig myself out of the debt hole.

And then there is early marriage experiences where my husband’s and my experience and expectations were completely different.... LOTS of friction there!  (You know - like feeling unloved or unappreciated when I didn't get a gift.... you know the "poor me" feeling, I know you do!)

There were always those warm fuzzy moments.... those first few moments of a family gathering when you were actually glad to see people .... you know – BEFORE you remembered why you didn’t see each other by choice all year long. 

There was the attendant childhood excitement of all the baked goodies.  AND the adult excited dreams about MAKING them (I say dreams because MY cooking realities never matched the dreams!)

There’s that quiet moment when the kids finally go to sleep before you & Captain Morgan spend the next 6 (or 2) frantic hours trying to pull off that morning miracle. 

And, my personal favorite... Christmas night.. when the hoopla ends.

My past few Christmas memories are much better. 
    
        *Our focus is enjoying the season and each other. 
   
        *The focus in my family is no longer on the gift – and my last two children have never expected a lot of material presents.  I take full responsibility for this... if you buy into the culture.... you buy into the materialism.  I firmly believe this.. that is why I harp so much on taking charge of the season!  It is too easy to get swept away by the tide of the culture.

       *My adult children do a small gift card exchange where they draw names, get a gift card for the person and wrap it in an interesting way.

       *As a group, we do a white elephant sort of exchange of things we already own that we don’t use any more.  This is always fun :-)

      * This year, one of my kids made a donation to a charity in my name - LOVED this!  A win-win all around :-)

I feel like the past few years have been my best Christmases ever - because I have taken charge... I have made choices and rolled with them.  I still worried a bit because it "feels" like I didn't do enough - but when I got to the finish line, it was more than good.  (And THAT recognition / experience is golden because I will hold that success in my heart for NEXT year and be able to enjoy even more!)  I LOVE chalking up another holiday without a meltdown :-)

** Sometime I will write some small vignettes of specific Christmases... there are great stories once I get past memories of my own frantic meltdowns that spoiled everything for everybody..  the unhappy memories are the most forefront right now because of my personal proactive work on taking charge of my holidays (and improving my life!)**

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crochet post! Dishcloth Challenge #159 through 166.. and more!

A busy week with the crochet hooks!  I am blessed to have a friend who has kept my dogs several times for me.  I finished up this stocking for her canine companion...

and then....more hats!
These worked up quickly for a family one of my groups was sponsoring for Christmas

And two very silly cupcake hats for the grandgirls!


Dishcloths for this week:

#159 - Christmas Tree Crochet Dishcloth - pictured below on the bottom left.  This cloth uses a typical granny square type arrangement of stitches so is fairly easy to do.  It is made in two pieces that had to be sewn together.  I chose to do the edging using two strands of metallic crochet thread just to give it a little sparkle!

#160 - Simplicity Crochet Dishcloth - Below on the bottom right.  Done in alternating rows of double, half-double and single crochet, this cloth has a nice texture to it.  It's a pretty cloth and easy to do - definitely will do this one again!

#161 - Baby Steps Crochet Dishcloth - Pictured above on the upper left.  I apologize for the photo.  I used a variegated pastel cotton thread that didn't show up very well.  The stitches are lacy.. each row a little different from the one before.. a nice effect.

#162 - Summer Splash Crochet Dishcloth - pictured above on the upper right.  This one is worked like a granny square too - only in an oblong shape.  It's unusual and works up quickly...  Funny - I was just looking at it and wondering why mine was not as angular as the picture on the instructions... and I noticed that the last row of instructions is missing (according to the photo).  It should have a final row of double crochet around the outside.   Still pretty though!

The next set of four dishcloths is pictured below:

#163 - Fast & Easy Blue Crochet Dishcloth - Guess which one it is!  Just kidding - I used the right color this time :-)  The bottom left!  This one is done in alternating rows of Triple crochet and half-double crochet... works up easily and has clear instructions!

#164 - Juanita Rose Crochet Dishcloth - below on the bottom right.  This is a smaller size cloth (which I prefer) done in post crochet.  The post stitches give it a bit of texture that will make it super for cleaning!


#165 - Summer Rose Crochet Dishcloth - pictured above on the upper right.  Absolutely beautiful!  Some of these are so pretty that it is hard to imagine cleaning with them - but I kind of think they will help bring a smile to cleaning!  Another thing to remember though is that many of these patterns will also work well in afghans or other items.

#166 - Strawberry Fields Crochet Dishcloth - on the upper right.  I struggled a little bit with the instructions for this one - but it worked up quickly once I got it.  It's an unusual combination of colors - not exactly to my taste - but a neat concept.  Glad I tried it!

Remember - these patterns are all on www.bestfreecrochet.com    Free until February 2012...  Check out Maggie Weldon's other patterns while you are poking around.. what a super talent she has!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Morning After.....

...a joyous peaceful Christmas celebration.... and a sigh of relief :-)

I love the morning after Christmas almost as much as Christmas itself.....  the festivities are over.... with the promise of more at the week's end... so a little clean-up but not too much... a week of enjoying food already prepared... and dreaming of what is to come in the new year...

This is a day I spend playing... no, I'm not shopping :-)  We have two birthdays December 27.... so I will be going out then.

I envision some neatening (because I can't help myself) and some playing with my crafting stuff!   Will share more later - enjoy this day!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sav(i)or the Moments :-)

This Christmas, for me, is a bittersweet blessing.....

It's official....  the kids are grown or gone..... there is no wild Christmas morning on tap for my home this year.  As recent as last year, there was still a little excitement.... some fun trimming the tree.... some family Christmas movie watching...  but this year.... well... I live with men.... three lovely oblivious men :-)  God is good to me but loves to hand me a challenge!

This year we are blessed to have my father-in-law stay with us.... which has been a super addition to the mix... but that makes me and FOUR oblivious men.... so it would be an understatement to say that our Christmas looks different this year!

I still spent Christmas Eve wrapping - somehow I always seem to do that :-)  And I do have two absolutely adorable grandbaby girls to spoil - I will see them this afternoon.   I also spent Christmas Eve baking!  I made calzones for lunch, ham & cheese flatbread for the family gathering and a version of Panettone for this morning's breakfast (thanks to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

And I still got up early to finish wrapping - no, there isn't all that much - but yesterday, when the men were around, I wrapped the other family members' gifts... and this morning I wrapped my guys' stuff.  No real surprises for anybody - but things that are needed nonetheless.  And, I think they WILL be surprised to have anything under the tree :-)  [though they should NOT be surprised - they DO live with me, after all and this is not a new behavior on my part :-)]    But it is MY fun to do!

And this year I learned.  What I learned is that I need to decide each year what is important to ME and just do it.  What my family cares about is a happy ME.... they don't really see the rest of the Christmas excitement.. and that is okay.  We each have our own way of navigating life... and I enjoy Christmas!  But I'm not sure I ever had enough time to stop and figure that out...  I will miss church this year but I do not live with church-goers and did not plan accordingly.... besides, I want to be with my family!  I think God understands the dilemma :-)

So now I sit and write to you.... and I want to say... Savor the Moment!  I want to say that the wild frenzied Christmas mornings do not last forever... and, while it sounds great to think of some quiet moments..... you will get to a point in your life where the quiet moments will go on forever unless you choose to do it differently.  Christmas is what you make it.... and you are blessed to be loved.. Never doubt that you ARE loved..

My life has changed.... Christmas looks different.... but it's still here!  It's here in the love we have shared in our home... it's not about the trappings, though these may make it more special.. it's not about material things.  It's about what we give of ourselves and are able to receive from others - whatever that looks like. 

Change is the only constant in life...... so take a look around at the moments that surround you this morning.. whatever they are... and smile.  It's life.... beautiful, messy, blessed life.... So... savor the moments the Savior gave you!

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

If Mama Ain't Happy.....

I don't know how it is in your house - but in MY home, the person who has the very most influence on the atmosphere is ME.

You've heard the saying - 'if mom isn't happy, nobody's happy'..... that is SO true!  And when you've all been grazing on homemade cookies for days.... well.... you know what sugar does to you.

Mind you. I am NOT taking responsibility for my family's attitude..... BUT I will take responsibility for my own - and, in honesty, MY attitude has more influence than I'd like.  I can use that power for good though - IF I handle it properly!

So - what do I do to keep my emotions in hand?

First - Eat real food!  Breakfast, protein, fruits and vegetables!

        I find that the emphasis on all the candy and cookies is NOT helpful.  I don't even like having it around.  That said - fun treats are part of the way we celebrate - so I want to be part of it.  I need to be in control though - so I will choose what I eat.  I will give some treats to that little nagging kid inside me - you know - the one that is saying... "I did all the work, I made all this stuff.. I DESERVE to eat whatever I want." 

THAT kid - I will remind her that what I deserve is to feel good - physically and emotionally - and an excess of non-nutritive treats won't give that to me or anybody else!

      * I will make sure that cut veggies and healthy dip are readily available
      * I will package the treats in small containers to help regulate portions
      * I will remember (and remind my group) that veggies and fruits and dips and cheese and crackers are PARTY food!  They constitute a meal AND a party at the same time.   ( I do this a LOT when I don't feel like cooking - we have a PARTY.. LOL!)
      * I will make an extra effort to eat fruits and veggies and breakfast.  I am better off for a couple of days eating REAL food AND treats... than to eat treats alone.  I DESERVE to feel good!

Second - Drink water or herbal tea

          Here we go - same scenario..... eggnog, sugary hot chocolate, alcohol in various forms... drinks that are TREATS!  I LOVE Treat Drinks!  I have this teen inside that says.."I am tired, I am frustrated, I love these people but man, they are hard to deal with.  I DESERVE a little rum and coke or an extra cup of coffee with extra caramel creamer."  And maybe I DO - but I also DESERVE to feel healthy!

     Water helps both to hydrate and flush toxins from your body...so if I am going to take in more toxins & chemicals.... well.. it follows that more water will help!  And that is without all the knowledge we have about water helping with skin tone, headaches, fatigue, etc!

          * I will make sure I drink a full glass of water for every non-hydrating liquid I take in.
          * I will limit and be honest with myself about what and how much non-hydrating liquid I take in

Third - Rest!

         Okay, I hear you now... rest??  Are you kidding?  Seriously, think about WHAT is disturbing your sleep?  Crazy relatives?  Economic issues?  Stress about work, number of gifts, kids' desires you can't fill, the broken water faucet..... and on and on and on?  And how can I REST with all this going on?

There's that kid inside.... the one that is saying, "I don't want to miss anything"  But inside me, there is also that prideful mom who is saying, "I need to be in the middle of everything so I can fix whatever needs fixing."  And I want to say - lovingly - to both of them, "It's not all about YOU."  It's okay for the festivities to swirl around without you... and you can't fix everything anyway.  All you can do a lot of the time is agonize over your own inadequacy and pass around a plate of cookies.  It's probably better that your group learn to deal with each other and hunt for their treats anyway.  Working for it and sneaking it always feels better :-)
    
    * I will go to bed on time and also try to catch some 20-min 'lie-downs during the day. (Don't laugh - if you have time enough to be reading on the internet today, then you have time enough to lie down for a few minutes)
    * I will be careful how many chemical-laden drinks I indulge in.. (NO coffee (okay ONE) after noon)
    * I will take a 48 hour sabbatical about worrying about things I cannot change.  No more stressing over bills or dirty carpets or things I forgot.  I will ONLY deal with things I CAN change (and I will add 'change quickly and easily' to that)
    * I will try to CATCH myself when I start worrying about someone else's problems.  I can do that by sympathizing, saying a quick prayer and let God take over.  He's better at fixing stuff anyway... all I have to do is LOVE and LISTEN and keep my OWN STORY to myself. (It's not about me!)

Fourth - Move!     

        I know you are not exercising - it's too busy and you are LAST on your list.   So, take a walk..... That kid inside who doesn't want to make the effort will have a fine time once you get her outside.
      Do a few squats and bicep curls in the kitchen.... just grab whatever is handy and use it to move your arms (your baby will love it :-) and your milk jug doesn't care)  You DESERVE a rest, you say?  You just told me you didn't have TIME to rest....  Take that little negative person and challenge her....  10 push-ups off the counter for every piece of chocolate.... make it a game!    Make an after-dinner (or cookie orgy) walk part of your NEW holiday tradition!

You DESERVE to feel healthy and a little movement will help you!

And, lastly - Be nice to yourself!  

       There is no perfect Christmas like there are no perfect people.  It's a couple of emotional days and you want to have the best time possible!  You are dealing with whatever you are dealing with - and that is exacerbated with holiday expectations.  And everyone you are with is in the same boat.   Be calm.   Don't worry about calories right now.  Eat a carrot and keep a calm smile on your face.  Your family will follow your lead (if not this year, I promise you will see a difference by NEXT year IF you are patient :-)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Let There Be Peace


..and let it begin with me!

Here we go!   It’s the moment before the excitement begins.....   take a breath!  

You are not superwoman.... there is only so much that you can – even SHOULD – do.   So take a few minutes now and figure out a strategy for the next few days!

This particular holiday brings with it a TON of emotional turmoil and I’m not sure WHY!  It has religious significance for many of us... but that very significance often gets lost in the social obligations (even church ones) and the wrapping paper and cinnamon sugar.  I don’t want to talk about the religious part right now.  Right now – RIGHT NOW – we need to talk about sailing through – surviving – the next few days.

It starts here with a few minutes of reflection about how you want to feel on Christmas night (or whatever the last night of your whirlwind is).  Many of us have several obligations over the next few days.. and the very first thing to get straight is attitude :-)  Nothing will ruin a holiday quicker than an over-stressed, emotional, worn-out mom! (Trust me on this one – I have a husband and a bunch of kids that can back me up!)

So... how do you want to feel?  

I think the most important thing I can offer here is that you are in control of what you DO.  How YOU deal with the next few days is a choice.
Notice that I did not say THINGS are under your control – YOUR ACTIONS are under your control.

All emotions are heightened right now... so be realistic!

.... this time of year has its share of tragedies – like every other time.... but it feels like it is worse because of all the attendant tradition and expectations.  But in honesty – the death of a loved one is terrible any time of year.  And you will be sad in spots – how would you handle this if it were NOT Christmas?   Your job is to recognize the feeling, smile at the memory and get back to what you are doing.  I’m not downplaying grief – but be nice to yourself and be realistic and get through the next couple of days.

... traditions... oh my.. here is a biggie.  We HAVE to do this because we have ALWAYS done this.  Really?  What is amusing about this statement is that I hear it from some of the most innovative people I know.  People who are creative and funny and don’t worry about tradition any other time of year.  But they will let something as simple as not having time to make their special cookies derail the entire holiday season.  Again, be realistic – it’s a cookie.  Go to Plan B or start a new tradition.  Maybe buying cookies is a better ‘NEW tradition’

               One of my BEST ‘new’ traditions was getting my adult kids to bring a dish to family meals.  This has spun off to us all taking turns hosting.  Every once in a while, I get the twinge of “Mom / grandma is SUPPOSED to provide the big holiday meal”... but then I remember a) that thought is all about ME and b) Why am I supposed to do all of it?  Because that is the picture on television?  Who really expects that?  And this holiday is not all about me and my need to beat myself up...

.....  expectations.... the biggest problem ever!
             ..... of others..  What do you expect from others?  Face it..... you have no control over what your friends and family do.  You can suggest, cajole, whine, bribe, and even make out a list.... there is a high likelihood that you will NOT get the gift you asked for.  There is a high likelihood that your instructions about the celebration will not be followed.  GET OVER IT.  It doesn’t mean that no one loves you... it doesn’t mean that no one pays attention to you... it means that other people have their own ways of dealing with this holiday.  If it really means they don’t love or pay attention to you – well, that is another issue for another time.  Don’t let YOUR personal expectations become a control issue..... don’t let those expectations get so high that you allow them to ruin a good gathering.  You are not a selfish person so don’t let this become an issue about you.

          .. of yourself...  I find that often we are our own worst enemies.  Seriously, your family will probably not even remember the Christmas where the bows didn’t match the decor or the year there were lumps in the gravy (OR that the gravy came out of a jar)... but they will certainly remember the Christmas where mom had the meltdown in a marathon wrapping session!  Or maybe your meltdown IS part of THEIR Christmas memories and tradition... yikes!  A lot of times this is prideful perfectionism and truly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  

How do you define a successful Christmas anyway?  Matching packages?  Or happy family?  (okay, you can’t control the responses of the family)  But you CAN achieve a sense of peace in a job well-done!  YOU are in charge of your own responses!  

Sooo... the greatest piece of advice I have to offer is..... when you feel that horrible ‘oh-my-goodness-what-a-tragedy’ feeling..... STOP..... TAKE a deep breath... and consider how it will all look in 24 – 36 hours.  Everybody warm, housed and fed?  Good.

Tragic?  Probably not. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bread Adventures - Potato Bread - Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

   This week before Christmas I have been playing with breads so that I have loaves to give away & loaves for our Christmas celebrations ... I have given away a couple of loaves of English granary bread.. and am ready with some Broa (Portuguese corn bread) and Olive Bread.

Click on the links to find where I originally made them from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day!

I plan on making more so will give details next week!

But first I have to tell you about the next bread in the recipe collection -

OMG Potato Bread!

I have to say that this particular bread is the hands down favorite of my clan!  See the picture below?   That is loaf #6...  the SIXTH loaf I baked..... the other were inhaled so quickly that I forgot to get a photo!


Each batch of dough makes 3 loaves... the instructions say 4 but apparently I don't see it that way :-)

I have to tell you that this bread smells like a giant potato pancake when it comes out of the oven!  There are instructions on making the mashed potatoes used for the bread but I used my own mashed potato casserole.. (chunky with garlic and cheese).  It is exquisite!  The chunks of potato IN the bread were an added bonus according to my people :-)

The mashed potato makes the bread very moist and you definitely do NOT need butter!

I also baked the next bread - Potato Rye Bread - which is really moist.  I have to say though that I liked the rye bread we baked earlier in the book better. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Family Obligations

How many places do you have to visit over December 24th and 25th?

Are you fortunate enough to have a lot of family?  You know what I mean... your mom holds a celebration at a certain time... your husband's grandma has her time for people to come over... your Uncle Fred always hosts something or the other.. and you really want to spend some time at home or at a church service which conflicts with the annual tree trimming party at great-aunt Freda's.

 I don't care how many relatives are putting requirements on you....  the ONLY restrictions you really have are the ones YOU ACCEPT.

This is your life too.  Your feelings matter.  They might even be more important than you realize - because there are people in your life that will follow your lead.   If you are grumpy, everyone is grumpy.  If you are happy... they still might be grumpy but you are in charge of YOU :-)  How DO you want to do this?

Will grandma be mad for a whole year if you don't show up?  Maybe.... but it is still your choice!

Maybe it is more important to think about the fact that it MAY be her last Christmas and the few minutes you can drop in for.. matter far more to her than they inconvenience YOU.  OR conversely, maybe showing up provokes more family drama than you want to allow in your life...  YOUR situation.... YOUR CHOICE.   Think about it - pray about it - make your choice and go from there.

I never want to advocate ignoring other people's feelings or actively being mean.  But there is nothing productive about being a piece of driftwood and being tossed about on other people's emotions.  Do you think that God wants that for you, his child?  It is YOUR life... how do you want to spend it?

I have a friend who spent a Christmas Eve alone one year.... she listened to music, she drank some wine.... she took a bubble bath.  One of her relatives was horrified that she would spend that evening alone and tried to make her promise never to do it again.   My friend confessed to me that it was one of the best Christmas Eves that she had ever spent... SHE chose what she wanted to do, totally relaxed, and was prepared and even eager to spend the next day visiting and fulfilling social obligations.

My point is that these days ahead, important days.... are simply days nonetheless.... like any other.  Any day can be a celebration - and visits and presents can happen any time during the year.

You must think about YOU and take care of YOU.  You are the most important gift that God gave to YOU.... and, while you are devoted to taking care of others, it is your job to nourish, nurture and cultivate yourself.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Crochet Post! Dishcloth #151-154 & 155-158 and more!

This has been the week of HATS!!!

I feel like I have made TONS of hats - probably because I HAVE :-)  My daughter honored me by asking me to make hats for her to give some of her friends for Christmas.  I was surprised and pleased to do it!  I made extra at the same time for some family members - so it was an assembly line production!

I made toddler hats
and kid hats (almost all of the hats were for little girls!)


Some were made for specific people... some are left over to give away later! 

I DO make things upon request for donations towards my Breast Cancer 3Day Walk in Atlanta November 2012... I will need to raise $2300 and every dollar counts!


For the dishcloth challenge, this week I will share...

#151 - Ocean Weave Crochet Dishcloth - pictured below on the top left - Absolutely beautiful but took FOREVER!   First of all, it is bigger than all the rest I have done... and takes a smaller hook.  It is designed so that you can weave in a different color... and it turns out really pretty.  For me though, probably not a repeat.  I like a smaller cloth for cleaning.  I might consider it for an afghan though!

#152  Harvest Rows Crochet Dishcloth - pictured below on the upper right.  It's a unique way to use half-double crochet stitches and is quick and easy to do.  The color I chose is not exactly a harvest color but I wanted to see how this one worked up!  This pattern works well with variegated colors!


#153 - Red Mum Crochet Dishcloth - pictured above on the bottom right... turned out really pretty!  The stem and leaves are worked in the cloth using a chart but the flower is worked separately and sewn on.  Very nice!

#154 Country Twists Crochet Dishcloth - pictured above on the bottom left.  Another nice one for using up smaller bits of leftover colors!  Great instructions - works up quickly and turns out well!

The second set of 4 is pictured below:

#155 - Square Puff Stitch Crochet Dishcloth - pictured on the bottom left... the bright colors I used camouflage the puffy stitches.  It has a nice tight feel to it and will be great for cleaning.

#156 - Candy Cane Lane Crochet Dishcloth - pictured on the bottom right... Pretty... but I had a hard time counting the stitches on this one.  I'm not fond of patterns that make me work this hard :-)  Seriously, it's me, not the pattern.. and it make be super for someone else!  I do like the way it turned out.


#157 - Holly Square Crochet Dishcloth - pictured above on the left.  Another one I probably won't repeat unless one of my kids asks me to :-)  The berries and leaves were crocheted separately and stitched on.. so you KNOW it sat in my sewing basket for way too long!  And it is more decorative than useful in my opinion... probably better suited for a lap afghan than a dishcloth.

#158 - Festive Rows Crochet Dishcloth - pictured above on the right.  The pattern used a variegated yarn in Christmas colors... I chose a more summer-y pattern because that is when I made it!  Worked up quickly and I like doing this one...

Remember all these patterns are on www.bestfreecrochet.com... free until February 2012

Monday, December 19, 2011

Yikes! Almost Here!

Monday morning......

Less than one week...

The official Christmas Countdown started weeks ago....

Panicking yet??

Well..... stop.  Panicking will get you nowhere.  This is time for serious crisis management.  This is the time for serious planning to get you through.

*At this point, forget the cards and decorations and baking UNLESS you can have FUN pulling it together.  If it is stressful - forget it.   This is about FUN now - and whatever gives you the warm fuzzy feeling you are looking for :-)
*If you DO choose to do some of these things, give yourself a deadline and PLAN on just having fun.  Let the PROCESS be the important thing here - NOT the result.

*Look at your calendar.  Have you decided each event you and your family need to be prepared for?  Write it down.  Take a minute to decide what will be worn - this way you can get that laundry handled right away.  If you are like me, it is all too common to try on 3 different things because of the way things fit today.... or because there is a run in the tights I WAS going to wear and now I have to start over.... or because the sweater I planned on wearing really wasn't in my closet where I thought it was..

*What food are you going to have to have in the next week?
         What are you making on THE day?
         What are you creating BEFORE THE day?
         What are you eating until then?
Get all these items on your list right now.  Segregate them so you know what you need right away and what can wait until later in the week.

*What mandatory chores need to happen in the next week?
         cleaning, bill paying, yardwork, etc.  Knowing what lies ahead makes it easier to budget your time - and THAT makes less stress :-)


*And that brings me to the part that scares us all the most - GIFTS:  Who do you still need a gift for?   Read: NEED 

Close friends and family:
       Gift cards are always good
             *IF you choose a place that your recipient already frequents
             *IF you plan an event you can do together (a lunch date?)
             *IF you know that THEY can use the card
 
       Plants - seasonal plants are inexpensive but pretty.  And the men aren't buying them for us quite as often as they used to :-) 

       Groceries can be good - yes, you read that right - groceries!
            *single shelf stable microwave meals or soups for a single person packaged in a recyclable bag
            *favorite treats (one of my sons LOVES queso dip. One year each family member added a jar of it to their gift for his birthday and the QUESO is what he remembers about that particular birthday)
           *fruit and nuts are a healthy alternative to the mountains of fudge we are faced with this time of year :-)
            *foods that support a hobby (eg I like to bake bread - this year :-) and can always use and appreciate flour, yeast, sugar, etc.)

        Gift Baskets are easy and impressive... (the word basket is a term - you don't have to use a basket)
               *Take some of the groceries and package them with a related item.
                    (one of my daughters loves to drink tea.  Tea is expensive so she doesn't usually have a selection.  A fun gift for her is 2 or 3 kinds of tea in a pretty mug.  Easy to wrap up with plastic wrap and attach a bow.  DONE!  *for more of a selection - if you are a tea drinker, get 2 or 3 bags of each kind YOU have and put them in a snack-size bag and add to it)
               
           *Think of the person and what they like to do.
             *work on cars: anything related to the cleaning or care of a car packaged up in a $1 bucket
             * movie fanatic: microwave popcorn, $1 boxes of movie candy & a list of top movies http://www.afi.com/docs/100years/movies100.pdf
            *handwork: ANY kind of supply related to their craft,  Think creatively about the container you put it in
          
You are past the point where you can reasonably give gifts to everyone - so forget about it :-)  A big smile and thank you is one of the best things you can have with you!  (but failing that, I have added 3 quick, generic, fairly inexpensive things you can put together quickly and have available)

 *Candy canes :-) carry them around.  Batch 5 or 6 together and tie with a ribbon for special people ( I keep things like that around to hand to the UPS person or other service folks I didn't prepare for)

*Sign some Christmas cards with greetings from your family and have them ready to hand out

*Buy several bags of seasonal candy and bag it up in small white bags.... staple it shut and add a bit of ribbon.  Voila!

Okay troops..... you have your plan.... you have a few more ideas to play with.... and your tea is probably cold by now...  go play :-)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Just a Mom :-)

        The sense of the joy - just around the corner - is flooding me right now!  It's a week away.... Christmas!   After you get through the oppressive To Do List..... can you wrap your head around what it would be like if you KNEW that Jesus was going to arrive in a week?  I can't fathom what I would do :-)

  I think about Jesus' mother Mary today.  I LOVE to think about Mary - partly because I am Catholic and that is what we do.  But when I think that the mother of Jesus was "just a mom"..... like me, it brings me to a sacred realization about my role.  (Have you ever noticed that SACRED can easily get twisted around to SCARED? That sounds like another topic :-)

I describe myself as "just a mom"..... and that sounds like a put-down.  But I don't mean it that way.  It's what I want.... it's how I operate.... it's what I chose (and still choose) to do with my life.

But "just a mom" seems ordinary, doesn't it?  I mean, there are millions of us.  Imagine, millions of people nurturing others... content NOT to be in the limelight but to bolster and support.   We cook, we clean, we patch up boo-boos, we make you laugh.  We are the ones who are in the background cheering on the ones who are getting the attention.

Mary elevates that description even more!  I mean... there is nothing in history that tells us of any yearnings that she might have had....  or her special skills.... like baking the best bread in Nazareth... or was she well-educated for a poor girl.... or was she ambitious before all this started?  What did she do with her free time?   She had to be special.  God chose her.  What we know of Mary is that she was chosen by God to be Jesus' "just a mom".  But we also know that however special the person is, "just a mom" does not get much notice in history books :-)  Even in sacred Scripture, what we read is not everything that happened.  It is what we need to live our lives well.  So sometimes we need to fill in the holes with our sacred every day experiences.

All the joys and fears I have experienced with my own family (and often friends), remind me about what Mary must have faced.   When my toddler granddaughter recently did a ski-type slide down my indoor stairs and I heard her scream, my heart stopped and I felt that horrible adrenalin flow and then the intense joy when I realized that she was fine.  It was horribly frightening and I felt terrible that I didn't protect her.

But these things do happen to all of us... right before our eyes!  I cannot even imagine how I would feel - if I were trying to raise God's son!  Oh my..... it increases my admiration for her - and brings my every day experience to a higher plane.

Mary is the one who watched over the child Jesus and helped him grow to be a man.

Mary is the one with the heart-stopping experience of watching him learn to walk and run and hit his thumb with Joseph's hammer.

Mary is the one who agreed to be the person standing in the background assisting Jesus in his human journey to adulthood.   She even shows me how to let go!  (The hole in the story that I must fill in now is what happens next.  Mary had a long productive life after her child grew up.  She was active in Jesus' ministry so she must have had skills that she continued to use and develop!)

Mary teaches me that what I do every day.... every time I serve - food, advice, cleaning, driving, whatever... is important.  She teaches me how to watch over but not smother.... I can imagine how her heart broke when she ushered in his ministry at the Cana wedding.  Did she know then that, as His ultimate prophet and disciple, she helped him begin the fulfillment of his personal destiny?

"Just a mom"  She raised her child so he could leave her and live his own life.  By her example, she brings "holy" into my everyday "mom-ness".

She said YES to God and became "just a mom."

Like me...... and like you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

For Fun - Christmas Gift Idea #3

Stockings!

Remember the fun you had as a little kid finding all the treasures in your stocking?

I have found that most people don't lose their fondness for stockings and preparing stockings for adults has become one of my favorite things to do.  Stockings take little time, little expense, and carry a childhood meaning that we adults often forget.

So.. what constitutes “stocking stuffers”?

I take issue with all the commercials that want you to buy items that I would consider GIFTS to put into stockings.   Because, to me, stockings are filled with small inexpensive items that are FUN...  stockings are filled with trinkets with little monetary value.   So stockings are simply fun.

My definition of a stocking stuffer is this:  Items are small (to fit in the stocking) and they are inexpensive.  Period.  If you can get personal with it too – well – that’s a bonus!

But I like to add to the challenge.... my stuffers are usually fairly useful because of my personal philosophies about material possessions.  This makes it more fun for adults – I rarely put anything in a stocking that I paid more than $1 for. 

One notable exception....  the first time I made stockings for adults was for my kids (of course)... and I put ice scrapers ($1) and de-icer in them.  That particular year.. I got a lot of grief about my ‘useful’ stockings.... for 2 days.  But then the ice storm hit.... and my kids had scrapers and de-icer and now I have to put that in every year :-)  (That de-icer is $3 this year!)

It is fun though – to find the little “under $1” items that people often run out of and find that they need....  this year, so far, I have collected hand sanitizer, individual tissues, stain wipes, thumb tacks, duct tape, rubber bands and little notepads & pens.   I cruise all the departments... kitchen, automotive, pharmacy, office and stationery.  (If you have time, you can shop for these things all year and get even better deals!  But this is still an inexpensive quick gift to do now)

Candy, OF COURSE!  But this year I am doing less chocolate and more individually wrapped snacks.  We’ll see how it goes but I know many people pack their lunches these days, including my kids.... so cookies & snacks for lunches might be a service I can help with.

And don’t forget the toys....  we all like to play!  The party favor aisle is always good with mardi gras beads, super bouncy balls and silly games.  At a minimum, these items liven up the party if things slow down :-)

Stockings themselves are often expensive – so my advice is this: buy them, lots of them, after Christmas......  if you can’t afford the stocking now.... get a paper bag and draw a stocking on the side.  Remember, this is about FUN!

Stockings are a tradition here... and I always do stockings.  I especially love it when we have extra people at our celebrations because I can do more of them!

But I have to tell you... my all-time favorite stocking... was for an elderly woman.  I filled it with little nothings.... sewing notions, snacks, puzzle books...  no big deal.  But she cried, literally ... and said, “No one has given me a stocking since I was a girl!”

Do I have to tell you how that made me feel?  You can’t go wrong with a stocking.

Friday, December 16, 2011

When Bad Things Happen

I have a friend who is going through a really hard time right now.... and I feel so helpless!

After a lot of emotional drama - which is almost always heightened this time of year, she is going through some scary health issues (high blood pressure), is having to take off work because she is too upset to focus, and is really struggling to handle this thing she can't control!

I can’t fix it for my friend.... I can only listen.. and say what I would do.....

(Mind you, I would NOT give her advice to fix her family issues!  When it comes to family issues, I think we all have opinions on what other people should do... or opinions about what we THINK or HOPE we would do... but I’m not sure we can speak to what we would REALLY do in that situation...)

But I CAN speak to how I would take care of ME!

The first thing I would do is NOT (okay, TRY NOT to) focus on the latest upsetting event.  Especially if I was sitting around wondering what I could do about it (this means that I am clueless and probably helpless – at that moment anyway)

I would be nice to myself!   A cup of tea... an inspirational book.. SOMEthing that makes me feel good – really good.... not binging or overbuying or crazy stuff that we do mindlessly! 

  Of course, as agitated as I would be (because I am me) .... sitting and reading probably would not be MY answer here!  I would need to get out and take a walk!  Regardless of the weather – wearing myself out physically would help me get through the rest of the day!

Then, what I usually do when I am confused, or lost, or upset.....  is make a list.   No surprise there, huh?  If you know me, you know I write everything down :-)  I don’t have to do anything on the list if I don’t want to ... but the list helps me focus on constructive things that will help me.

I think about how I will feel when I go to bed tonight.... I try to think... what will help me rest easier?   What can I accomplish today that will make me feel a little better tonight?

Because the reality is – especially when I am upset – I can slide through a whole day or even weeks – in misery.  I can spend all that time wallowing in my self-pity or self-loathing or self-something (all SELF, mind you).... and accomplish nothing except making mySELF and everybody else more miserable.

So, if I can accomplish something that will move my life forward in a direction I want it to go... then I have not wasted this time God gave me.

I think about what I can do – TODAY – that is not SELF-oriented.  My negative emotions, however justified, are all about me.  They will not move me in the direction I want to go.  When I am focused on my own feelings... I need to come out of them in order to find logic and truth.  Giving back to someone else helps me find balance in a bad day.

A bad day.....  is another thing.  Days are neither bad nor good.... it is what happens in them and how I react to these events.. that make a day “good or bad”.  So it makes sense... when things happen and I am no longer in control... it is time to find things I CAN control.  It is time to create some positive energy to send out into the world.

I write down the things I do accomplish that make me feel good.   Sometimes that list merely says things like.... took out the trash... did a load of laundry... made dinner for the family without complaining... but looking at that list makes me realize that I took charge and did not let my day slip away in a haze of misery.

Balance – it’s about balance.  When bad things happen – and they will – I need to do what I can to even the scales.  And I often can do absolutely nothing about the things that knocked me down.... so I need to think of other ways to bring me back into balance.

I hope this helps a little, my friend.  The wisdom is inside you..... the wisdom is available for the asking... take it slow... take it one day... one hour.. at a time.... and bring that balance and positive energy back to your life.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bread Adventures Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day English Granary & Granola Bread

    As I continue my baking adventure in Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
I finally got to the English Granary Bread.  Nowhere in my physical world was I able to find wheat flakes or malt powder.... so..... online (of course) I found a company called King Arthur Flour who managed to help me out!



This dough was pretty stiff!  I almost had to knead it to get it all mixed together.  But I managed to get it done with my spoon alone :-)

The center of the loaf turned out really chewy... almost like it wasn't done.  So I tried it again in a loaf pan just to see if I had made an error.  The second loaf turned out the same.... the consistency of the center reminds me of the way white bread gums up in your mouth.  Not my favorite!  The taste is fine.. nice and grainy.. but I don't think I like the texture.  That's just me though - if you like the texture of white bread, it might work for you!   (And since I had to order the ingredients online - and I have a lot more of it, I'll be making it again here!)


The next one was the Granola Bread...



This one was fun!  There is a recipe to make the granola.. which I did :-)  It was pretty good and a fun new thing for me to try.  (Seriously though... I either need to use purchased granola OR I need more practice!)

  It is a super breakfast or snacking bread.... especially warm with butter or honey :-)

If you haven't tried any of these yet, you should!  If I can do it, anyone can :-)  I'm even negotiating with Santa for a pastry mat and rolling pin (for flat breads and pizzas) and a pizza peel.  A friend gave me a stone she didn't use much so I will be experimenting with that soon!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crochet post! Dishcloth Challenge #143 through 150 & more

       It's been a great week for getting things done :-) It is hard for me to limit what I do right now.. but I know that I am down to the Christmas wire!  No more extras (the dishcloths I am sharing have been done for a long time :-).... it's time to state what I will finish before the big day!

  I have two hats for the grandbabies that I will finish.... I have a pet stocking I am making for a friend... I have hats I am finishing up for my daughter to give as gifts... and I have one more thing that I would LIKE to make for the grandgirls but it will be fun.. and I will either finish it or not... doesn't matter!  It will be extra and will bring me joy to make so it's a good thing to do!

  I finished sweaters for the grand girls for Christmas presents....

and another....   by the way, the link for this FREE pattern is: http://www.redheart.com/free-patterns/fun-time-cardigan

and matching hats :-)  But the hats I already gave when it turned cold.... I didn't want my daughters to run out and buy hats that would fit!


Of course - this is a FREE pattern too!  It looks cuter on a head than it does flat - the back is all like a curly ponytail and absolutely adorable!   http://home.inreach.com/marthac/ponytailhat.html

Next week, I'll show you the other projects I finished!

Dishcloths for this week are:

#143 Blue Ridge Crochet Dishcloth - pictured below on the bottom left - this one drove me crazy.... I could definitely get the same effect with a lot less work.  It turned out pretty but definitely not a repeat.

#144 Beginner's Luck Crochet Dishcloth - right beside it :-)  I loved this one!  easy and fun to do - clear instructions - the variegated yarn I used reminds me of those big candy lollipops!



#145  Yipes Stripes Crochet Dishcloth  - above upper left - interesting technique.... took a while because it is all single crochet - but turned out pretty well and is nice and sturdy.

#146  Rose Granny Crochet Dishcloth - above - on the upper right - pretty, pretty!  Sat in the sewing basket for a bit because I needed to sew the center motif on - but the square itself was fairly simple

The next 8 dishcloths are pictured below :

#147 Beach Stripes Crochet Dishcloth - loved the color combo on this one!  It is a mixture of double crochet and single crochet that is fun to do.

#148 Forget me Not Crochet Dishcloth - below on the bottom right - turned out to be gorgeous!  Easy to follow instructions - simple combinations of stitches that worked up quickly for a fantastic result


#149 Mint Bobbles Crochet Dishcloth - Pictured above on the upper left - took a little longer but with a great result.. I'm not sure I like it as a dishcloth but I think that several of these in different colors would make a pretty afghan

#150 Wild Rose Crochet Dishcloth pictured on the upper right - a great way to use up little scraps!  It was fun to figure out and fairly quick to work up.  The center flower will make a good scrubber... and it is pretty as well!

Hope you try some of these... remember the site is www.bestfreecrochet.com
The patterns are free until February 2012!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Next to the Last Minute Prep - GIFTS!

    Gift management is always problematic.... balancing the desire to give with the societal expectations.  In our household, years ago, we weaned ourselves away from the massive gift-giving to the children and moved them towards 3 gifts only.  According to tradition, the infant Jesus received 3 gifts... so it worked for us and took some of the attendant Christmas expectations away.

   We also spend time around this season sorting out our annual giving... listing and sharing with each other what our family has given during the year (not just money!) and what we think we need to give to make our year complete :-)  This is entirely subjective but it brings a shift in attitude to our Decembers.

That said.... we live in a culture where gift-giving at this time of year is an expectation.  Our challenge is to make this meaningful and joyous.

There are the people who are no problem to give to (you have THREE ideas already) .... there are those who are a little choosy (stumped now?)... makes it hard when they are your CHILDREN and you need (?) to make them equal... there are those that you really don’t want to spend time, energy or money on..  so.. it’s time to get real!  

Be honest with yourself – what will make you feel good?  What will give you JOY to make or give? 

   Decisions need to be made right now.  WHAT are you giving to WHOM?  Pay attention to your budget – this should be about making someone feel special – not about money spent. 

Get specific!  
               
**Out of town loved ones first – there are lots of quick and easy things to order wrapped and delivered  OR agree NOT to send gifts!   A visit in March might actually be a better gift for both of you!

You still have a few days to order a gift online and have it get to where you need it on time – but don’t blow your budget!  (Also – most online stores have email lists – and send discounts to people on the list.  Get on the list right now for the store you choose and, at a minimum,  you will probably be able to get free shipping or a shipping upgrade!)

**Close friends / family – make your decisions right now.  Write them down – find the things you haven’t thought about.  Watch your budget – and get creative with gift cards, necessities (socks can be wrapped creatively!) and coupons for services (like perhaps baking the next item your recipient needs?)  I like to do stockings for people.  Adults get really silly with stockings full of inexpensive random items like ice scrapers and animal crackers..           
**Random..... I don’t know about you – but I almost always end up in a situation where I need a gift...  Again, get creative...  I have been known to pick up cookie assortments on sale and give those... Use the 12 Days idea (link to post) and give non-perishable food... ornaments you bought on clearance last year... or just smile and say thank you when you get the gift and you are not prepared!  You can always make a mental note to do something random for that person during the next year if you feel it is necessary.

**I’m not comfortable with NOT giving something (that’s just me – even when I make an agreement not to give gifts!)  so I always dream up (read: find inspiration on the internet!) something small and slightly unique that I have TONS of to give everyone I see.  THIS particular year I am NOT ready – so you will see me carrying around a basket of small candy canes (not unique :-) but I have enough to share with everyone I see. 
     If I get the DESIRE (NOT time or energy :-), I will dress the candy canes up somehow – tying bows or adding antlers / eyes (http://crafts.kaboose.com/candy-cane-reindeer-ornament.html).  There are literally TONS of frugal small ideas on the internet....BUT.... don’t get sidetracked into creating new projects right now!  Only have fun!

The point is.... gift-giving should not be a chore.

Figure out what YOUR needs are in all of this... not selfishly..... but make the Christmas (or Hannukkah or whatever your affiliation :-) preparations bring meaning and spiritual peace into your heart and home.

THAT is how, one by one, we bring peace to the world.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Next to the Last Minute Prep!

Sooo..... today is my day!

While I plot and plan early.. I don’t get serious about Christmas duties until mid-December.   And I won’t apologize for it either :-)  If your card is late... well..... enjoy your greeting from us when you get it!  

What is most important to me is that we (and that includes ME first and foremost, since I set the tone in the household!) have a low-stress, happy holiday season where I can focus on Christ and his coming (and still fulfill the societal expectations that I CHOOSE)  I want PEACE IN MY HEART and I don’t want other people’s issues messing with that :-)

Grab a cup of your favorite beverage, put on some music and let’s go!

This is the week....

***if a craft project isn’t finished by the end of this week, it will NOT HAPPEN.  If I still WANT to do it, I will do it next year.

***if the cards are not mostly done, they will become an AFTER CHRISTMAS project that I will ENJOY after the dust settles.  If you don’t enjoy cards, don’t do them.  Maybe make a list of your people that you haven’t gotten in touch with over the last year & write them a newsy note soon (but NOT NOW unless you choose and it brings you joy).

***Holiday cooking.... dreams and thoughts need to become plans.... and ingredients needs to be gathered.... OR I PURCHASE what I absolutely need.  (Cooking does not yet come easy to me.... so I am not able to simply whip up a batch of cookies!   I need to think it all through and make the time... so if I am going to provide cookies, I need to plan it now – or buy them!)

***The exact same process for special holiday meals :-)    It’s time to decide exactly what you are providing and prepare for it.  Many things can be made ahead and frozen.. just do a search on the internet for recipes – look for easy and prepare ahead!
       Right now we are eating out of the freezer.... soups and casseroles I made a few months ago and froze the leftovers... that gives me a little breathing space to cook something else in the “daily cooking time”.  (BTW it’s not too late to do this... whatever you make this week, either make a little extra and freeze right away.... or freeze the leftovers.   This will give you ONE meal for next week when life speeds up! Because it WILL!

*** Gifts need to be decided upon but talking about that is another post – look for it tomorrow!

***Decorations!  This is the week that I finish (start?) decorating and get my tree up. (in our world, nothing comes back down until after the Epiphany - January 7).  If it doesn't happen or get on the schedule before next weekend, it's not happening.  Period.  My happiness is not going to depend on a string of lights :-)  Even if that string will make my light show perfect :-)

***Is your calendar up to date?  Make sure that if you want to do it, it is written on the calendar!  Check for potential conflicts and make your choices now (and stick to it – no guilt!  You don’t need the drama.)
      What do you need to bring to each event?  (canned food donation, gift, food to share)
       What do you need to wear?  (and what do you need get ready for your family to wear?)

***What basics do you need to get in the house NOW?
         Tape, mailing labels, wrapping paper, flour, vanilla extract, pet food
        For this category.... what do you NOT want to run out for next week?  What do you NOT want to worry about next week?  (I might not get around to wrapping this week – but IF I do.. I don’t want LACK OF TAPE to be why I don’t!)

My purpose for today is to look ahead, to envision a peaceful, contented celebration.  I want to do everything I can TODAY to prepare for that.  And the greatest thing I can do is tailor my expectations... to make choices as to what I can reasonably achieve... and decide.... TODAY... that I will be happy.

Got that?

Decide to be happy...  (not frazzled, not frantic)... but full of grace and peace.

It’s up to you :-)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

For Fun - Christmas Gift Idea #2

Personal copies!

What on earth does that mean?

Here's my story:

      Last year, I gave my kids their own dvd copies of all the family movies - and made master copies for my own files.   They were absolutely thrilled to have their own copies that they could play.... and we all liked knowing that a natural disaster wouldn't destroy the memories!  *Remember that 3 of my 5 children have their own homes & families now :-)

We had bought a recorder for under $200 (which is less than I usually spend on Christmas anyway and counted as a FAMILY Christmas present early :-)   The link below will give you an idea of what is available!

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D1266092011&field-keywords=vhs+dv+d+recorder&x=0&y=0

Recordable dvds go on sale for half-price regularly at OfficeDepot... I get 100 for around $25

So... I managed a great gift for all 5 of my children (and an ongoing gift possibility!) for a reasonable price and a bit of effort...  but the excitement was fantastic!

Sooo.... in that vein..... personal copies of digital things.  THIS year I began scanning in family photos to create a dvd for everybody.  The project is larger than I realized so it has now become a goal that is rolling over into 2012.  But it will include historical photos that will interest my extended family as well as photos for my personal crew.

But what I CAN do is:

#1. create a small personal hard copy photo album for each person with photos of each family member..... especially

           a) the littlest ones:  my toddler grandgirls!  A small $1 photo album with printed out photos of each family member that they can have for their own - to love on, to play with, to learn the names of people they don't see all the time!  (Another idea for any age is a laminated photo collage to use as a place mat - especially nice for someone in a nursing facility because it CAN'T be hurt and CAN be replaced easily)

          b) friends and family members without computer access!   I think we who play on the computer all the time and see the photos on Facebook FORGET that we still have people connected to us who do not (or sometimes CHOOSE not) to participate online.   The same small photo album is a fun much-appreciated gift that will keep them updated.

          c) BUSY family members!  I fall into this category.... I have access to the photos of close friends and family .. but I don't get around to printing them out to display in my home... or to carry around to show off... but I'd sure love to have them!

         d) friends and family members who struggle with the visual technology that is becoming the norm...  okay - specifically, this is ME!  I used to have a little keychain thingie that had photos on it... but I can't see it very well so it's no fun for me (even though I can show other people, it is difficult to tell them about the photos because I can't see them well!)  Wallet-size hard copies are better for me.

#2.  I asked my daughters to find and hand over their husbands' VHS recorded memories (and any of their own that I did not have) so that I could record them in dvd format.

#3.  I found zippered dvd cases that I will give to each of the kids so they have a place to store these items..  Shhhhhh!  Don't tell them..... I think I'm safe because my family doesn't read my stuff :-)

#4.  Scan in all those hard copy items that are personal to your children (or other family members) that you still have.... report cards, certificates, early artwork.. and create a cd / dvd with those files.

#5..... My favorite for this year!   Recording story books for my grandchildren!   No, I am not buying the expensive recordable books, though they might be great for many people!  What I am doing is buying the books I WANT to give them... old family favorites, their parents' childhood favorites, their parents' requests... or just what I want to give....  AND having my son video record me reading it aloud.

  So... the gift is a book AND a dvd of me reading it aloud.... 

Good luck with your frugal digital gifting!   Let me know what YOUR ideas are!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Season of Giving

Does it freak you out a little how many needs are clamoring to be met this time of year?  You know - when you are already stretched to the max trying to figure out how to take care of your own holiday needs?

It gets me every year....  the needs are there all year.... but it seems like everywhere I turn this time of year.. on the street, on the internet, in my mailbox... the needs of the world are overwhelming.  I realize that this is a great time of year to make needs known.  In general, people are in a more generous frame of mind, more ready to donate... and I applaud that.   But I have an issue with compulsive, careless giving. 

Don't get me wrong, I love giving.  Giving things away... gifts, money, things I don’t need any more...  brings me a lot of pleasure.  My family even tithes... and how that came about is a whole different story for another time.

I also feel strongly that FEAR makes us hold on to things... be less generous.  And I have a personal habit.... when I feel that FEAR of NOT having enough.... rise up in my throat.... my habit is to give a little bit more.  Because GIVING makes me feel more secure... that I have MORE than enough (of whatever).

Most of us have had times in our life where we did not have enough (or we did not FEEL that we had enough...... or we WORRIED that we WOULD not have enough).  We all know that empty worried feeling.  Giving back reminds us that we are all in the same boat.  And being able to contribute makes us feel better about ourselves and our lives.

Giving should be a sacrifice.   I do believe this..... mostly because – selfishly perhaps... if I give MORE than I think I CAN... then I feel richer.  I am more satisfied with what I have.  I do NOT feel in NEED.

BUT... and this is a BIG BUT..... giving should NOT be a burden.  Giving should be about making your life a little difficult... giving up that Starbucks drink this week.... or maybe that new coat you WANTED but don’t really NEED.  GIVING should NOT be about giving up the coat you really NEED.  GIVING should not be about increasing your debt load.  GIVING should be difficult, but not burdensome.

Giving should be a thoughtful choice.... not a careless whim.  For your own purposeful existence, this is an area to take charge.

All that aside.... the societal demand TO GIVE is never louder or more strident than in this season.  On every corner is someone demanding that you give...  whether it is money or food or return gifts to people you don’t know.  If you are not careful, one of two things will happen... you will give MORE than you SHOULD (considering your own personal circumstances) or you will allow yourself to be eaten alive with guilt.

Neither of these two things is good – for anybody.  And people are hungry all year long. 

Why not take control of your money... and DECIDE how much you can reasonably give each month?  If you like giving it all in this season... then save it up and do that NEXT year.  Save all your change for the year... count it up.... and drop it in all the buckets and baskets as you go along.  Counting it is important.  You need to know how you spend your money.

Instead of giving randomly to everyone who asks, why not research and CHOOSE places to donate?  Talk about it with your family and make it a family project.  Let everyone have a voice – and let them choose their month to donate.

You might be surprised (and please) with how much you are able to give back.  We have been blessed with so much.  If your basic necessities are met, then you can give something.

THIS year, if you are just beginning to take charge, MIGHT be learning to say NO.  It might be learning how to smile at the bellringer and wish them a great day - but NOT dropping anything in the bucket OR feeling guilty about it.  Remember, you can always send a check to their organization in February.

Or it might be CHOOSING an amount, getting a roll of quarters, and dropping one in each bucket you pass.   

Prepare for food drives all year by buying discount or "buy one, get one" of items with a long shelf life - canned or dry goods.   (I buy things we don't eat - like canned meats and tuna so I know what they are for.  Protein is a special need at food banks!  Just make sure you watch those expiration dates - don't give away food you wouldn't deem edible.)

Taking charge of yourself (which includes your finances) is part of “righting the universe”.  It is part of making the world a better place.  It is part of “bringing about the kingdom”.  You name it – whatever it may be in your manner of thought.

I urge you to go about giving in a thoughtful way.... as you take control of your life.... your giving needs to be part of the whole picture.