New Years Resolutions are Coming

I’ve never been good with New Year’s resolutions. I tend to set goals throughout the year, break them, reset them, and that dance continues throughout life. But, there is just something about the start of a New Year that gives us the feeling of a fresh start.

The Top 10* New Year’s resolutions last year:
1. Get out of debt or save money
2. Lose weight
3. Develop a healthy habit (e.g. healthy eating, exercise)
4. Get organized
5. Spend more time with family and friends
6. Develop a new skill or talent
7. Work less, play more
8. Other
9. Break an unhealthy habit (e.g. smoking, alcohol, overeating)
10. Change employment

*By the RISMEDIA-FranklinCovey survey

All of the top ten goals listed seem to be good ones. However, 1 Timothy 4:8 instructs us to keep it all in perspective this way: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions, even among Christians, are in relation to physical things.

If God is the center of your New Year’s resolution, it has chance for success, depending on your commitment to it. If it is God’s will for something to be fulfilled, He will enable you to fulfill it. Is losing weight for vanity or health? If I was honest, I'd say both. Will a higher paying job let you afford luxuries, yet you won't be able to have time with your family to enjoy them? We should weigh our resolutions to God's standards if they are a means to achieve peace, joy and contentment.

So, will I make any New Year’s resolutions this year? Well, not so much resolutions as recommitments; mostly to do with my time; time alone with God to listen and learn from him more is high on the list. Of course, I’ll be in good company as I try to shed any extra holiday pounds plus a few more.

New Year Traditions

In the years around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first new moon after the vernal equinox (first day of spring)

The early Babylonian's most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment.

Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the New Year by consuming black-eyed peas with ham hocks.

The Tournament of Roses Parade dates back to 1886. Members of the Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with flowers. It celebrated the ripening of the orange crop in California.

The song, "Auld Lang Syne," is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world. Written in the 1700’s, it is an old Scottish tune. "Auld Lang Syne" literally means "old long ago," or simply, "the good old days."

To you, dear reader and friend, I hope that 2010 will be a year for you that is filled with a warm and peaceful home, happy and healthy family and Christ foremost in your heart.

Christmas Cards or Mass E-mailed Newsletters?

Waiting behind two other vehicles to drop off the last of my Christmas cards, I noticed that Main Street looked like a Thomas Kinkade painting. Firemen volunteer their time to place wreaths on the old fashion lights and hang banners and garland across the streets each year. These heroes dressed in yellow rain slickers and firemen hats are not too busy to pass out candy canes to children in awe.

“What is taking so long with these cars?” Accustomed to never having to wait in such a small town, I became annoyed with the car ahead of me. “Oh, now what?”

The young woman in the car ahead of me walked toward my truck and asked me to roll down my window. “The boxes are overflowing and so we have to go inside to mail anything. Do you want me to take yours and mail them?”

After handing her my cards and exchanging smiles and Christmas greetings, I was on my way. As I passed the three boxes I noticed white cards sprinkled with red and green stuffed tight into the slot until not one more envelope could fit without being crushed.

How wonderful that Christmas cards are not a lost tradition. It seems I have received as many, if not more, cards than before this year. In an informal poll on Facebook, 49 out of 50 responders declared they send and like to receive actual Christmas cards instead of those mass Christmas newsletter emails.

Hooray! Christmas cards take some thought about the person you are sending them to. Every card I have received has at least one handwritten sentence or phrase acknowledging and greeting me or my family. It is addressed just to my home. I am more than a “send to all” button.

OK, you may be thinking you don’t have time to send cards. Well, if you must e-mail a Christmas newsletter, there is some etiquette that can be adhered to so that it is more of a true Christmas greeting and the reader may actually enjoy getting them from you each year.

  1. Keep it concise; no more than a couple of paragraphs.
  2. No mass “send to all.” Once you have the main newsletter written, save it and then e-mail it individually (not mass “send to all”) with at least one sentence written directly to them. Actually acknowledge who you are sending it to and wish them a blessed Christmas.
  3. Cut and paste. Your family and close friends already know what happened to your family throughout the year. It is impersonal and a bit insulting to send them a rehash of it all as if you were never present in their life.
  4. Write for the reason of your family’s blessings and Christmas. That is Christ! Give Him the honor of being the center of your letter. Otherwise, do not send your newsletter at Christmas, but another date such as on your birthday or New Years. Last year I received one newsletter on Martin Luther King’s birthday. The senders did not acknowledge Christmas or Christ, so I was glad it was not meant to be for Christmas.
  5. Above all, send your email because you have a heart for the recipient and for Christ. Push a prideful heart aside and fill it, and your letter, full of good tidings at Christmas.

Look Up!

Mornings are too cold. With the turning of the calendar page to December, the freezing north wind has arrived. Clear and cold, even Callie the dog doesn't want to get out of her sheepskin bed until the fire has warmed the living room and I've broken the ice from her pond. But, the freezing, clear sky is radiant with a full moon and dazzling stars, putting my Christmas decorations to shame and making the freezing battles of the day well worth the show nature gives me in return at night.

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him? Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" Psalm 8:3, 4, 9

Crafty Advent Calendars

Loving homemade decorations and gifts, I looked at the little empty matchbox, "there must be something to do with this cute little thing." Seems I am not the only one that thinks so. The following are advent calendars made out of decorated matchboxes. I hope they inspire you to get creative this Christmas.

This is a swag I am finishing...made of large ric-rac, buttons and little matchboxes covered in scrapbook papers and embellishments.

These were made from covering the little boxes and then taping or glueing them together.

Of course, if there isn't time, just decorate the boxes and place them in a cute container!

So, what can you put into these cute little boxes?
  • Little candies and trinkets
  • A word or name from the Bible. Whoever reads a verse at the dinner table with that name in it gets an extra Christmas cookie for dessert.
  • For just couples...something romantic in each box; a long kiss, lunch together, etc.
  • Coupons for good or fun deeds.
Merry Crafting!

Thanksgiving is Not What You Think!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday filled with full and thankful hearts. It is family and tradition. There are practically no signs of this celebration in the shops, for which I am grateful for.
It is a shame, though, that our schools do not teach our children the true reason that we have a day set aside to celebrate Thanksgiving. Sure, the Pilgrims’ first feast is a tradition which plays a role in the big meal of the day, but it is not the reason we have a Thanksgiving holiday.
Read the following excerpts from the three proclamations of our forefathers who declared that there be a day set aside for “thanksgiving:”
The first Continental Congress Thanksgiving Proclamation of October, 1782:
“Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of Thursday the twenty-eight day of November next, as a day of solemn thanksgiving to God for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to God for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.”
George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789
“to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks”
Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Each of these proclamations was made in times of war and unrest. Times of distress made our country pull together in rememberance of why we would give our life to live in this country. We were thankful that God had his hand on our shoulder as a people and government.
We are in times of distress today. We are at war abroad and we have economical and political strife in the states. Are we thankful for what we have or have we become spoiled?
Traditions are important, and Thanksgiving is probably full of more traditions shared across our great country more than any other holiday. I love the traditions. But, let's not let any of them overshadow the reason for Thanksgiving...

Your Christmas Tree is Coming!

A couple of weeks ago I followed a few trucks headed through town that were loaded with fragrant Christmas trees. Each tree was bundled to protect its branches. “I wonder where these trees are headed. What delights will those branches hold?” I knew that each tree was about to be the center of a story; a story that for some would live through generations, while others would be forgotten when the last ornament was removed from it’s brittle branch.

As a birthday cake is to our own birthday party, the Christmas tree is to Christ’s birthday festivities. It is the centerpiece of the celebration around the world, adding a glow to the room and the heart.
Living on part of an old Christmas tree farm and in the area that grows more Christmas trees than anywhere in the world, I get a sneak preview of Christmas in late October as helicopters fly over the house on their way to load trucks with the fragrant firs and pines. Anticipation of the holiday swells as truck after truck head through our little town with the precious Christmas cargo.

Spiced cider and Christmas carols have already made their way into my studio and tomorrow I plan to go to the opening of my favorite holiday craft show, “Christmas in the Country.” I can’t wait!
You may be thinking,
“Thanksgiving is a couple weeks away, yet.” You are so right; isn’t it a wonderful time of year? It used to bother me that Thanksgiving was overshadowed by Christmas. Not any more. I ignore the tasteless music on the grocer’s intercom as I hum my favorite carols while searching for ornaments that reflect Christ, family and friends. Thanksgiving and Christmas have a blurred line as I thank the Lord for the grace and blessings he has given me. I enjoy celebrating from the first tree I see swinging through the air from a helicopter in October through the New Year when I am reminded that every day I have peace, hope and joy because of what happened long ago on Christmas Day. I’ve learned to sort out the materialistic and tacky and keep the worship and joy in my heart and soul.
Christ is the center, the reason, the celebration. And, what a grand celebration it should be.

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without!

Isn’t it nice that “vintage” is in vogue again?

vintage embroidered tea towels
Not only is it great to have low-cost (usually) used items to display and give as gifts in this slow economy, but it is fun to search for items that we affectionately remember our grandmothers using in their homes. Of course, some of us are a bit surprised by what is classified as vintage since we remember growing up with it ourselves!

Front and back covers of a WWII booklet issued by the National Cotton Council of America which sums up the homefront effort to conserve
"A Yard Saved Is a Yard Gained for Victory."

Maybe some of you remember the life and times growing up in the 1930’s-40’s the same as Gail Martin, a fun lady that is 83 years young.

“In the 1930’s, when feed and flour companies began using attractive print material for sacks to hold their product, Mother was in ‘seventh heaven.’ This advertising gimmick certainly had results the ad people were looking for, as everyone was soon proudly wearing feed sack dresses. Mother baked all our bread so we bought more flour than we do now. Back then, flour came in twenty-five, fifty & one hundred pound sacks. Mother's kitchen cabinet had a large flour storage area built in that held fifty pounds or more.

A lot of time and much thought went into buying the flour and chicken feed. We girls loved to go with our parents to Eureka, the closest town from our rural home, to help choose the material we liked best. Then, Mother had to be sure Daddy bought enough to make what we had in mind. When that turned out to be impossible, we traded sacks with our neighbors and relatives until we had the required yardage.”
Feed and flour sack material was colorful and cheery
Times were hard back then, but there is a reason that they are looked back upon fondly. Values were strong. For the most part, God seemed to be more accepted and present in families and society. Hard times bound the family and community closer together. More often than not, the load was lightened by many a neighbor helping neighbor.

Hospitality wasn’t so much of an art back then, as it was a necessity; a means of companionship, catching up with the latest news and checking on the needs of those you care about. So much has been lost today due to the lack of face-to-face hospitality.

There shouldn’t need to be a reason to open your heart and home, but I have a good one ...the holidays. When the house is already cleaned and decorated for autumn and winter festivities, when the cookies are already made or bought, why not invite a friend or neighbor to your home for some spiced cider and cookies? You may be surprised at how much fun it is to get to know someone and to share the blessing of your home.

Plan Ahead...Save Your Seeds!

For years I have saved heirloom flower seeds to plant a border around the vegetable gardens. They attract honey bees for pollination and "good" bugs (like ladybugs and lacewings) that help eat the "bad" bugs. Most of the seeds come up as expected, but sometimes I'm surprised at a color that pops up.
flowers surrounding cucumber plants
This year I made some cute little seed packets to save my seeds in. I pick the seeds off the plants, place them on a paper towel and let them dry for a few days. Then I place them in these envelopes and seal them. I'll sow them early next spring (usually around mid-April for our zone 7.)

Little seed saver envelopes. The flap says,
"Enjoy these flowers the Lord has made and "worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness." Psalm 96:9

You can print and make some of these cute seed-saver envelopes, too. Here's how...

 Envelope Template
  1. Click on the template picture above; a large picture of it will come up on your screen.
  2. Right click on the picture.
  3. Click on "save picture as" and save it to your computer.
  4. Bring up the picture in the software of your choice and print it. Two can fit on one page if you turn it to its side.
  5. Print, cut out, fold the flaps, then glue the bottom flap to the side flaps.
 I hope that you save some seeds for yourself and also share some with a neighbor. It is not so much about saving money, although that is nice, but seeing flowers grow into beautiful bouquets from seeds you harvested yourself. It is a colorful miracle of life.

Time to Harvest Herbs (how to dry herbs,make a wreath, herbes de provence recipe)

Time to get cozy at home, warm the hearth and have some crafting fun!

With a "pineapple express" on its way (a very wet, sultry rain here in the northwest) I decided it was time to pick herbs to dry before they got drenched. Here is some inspiration for you to preserve your aromatic bounty to enjoy all winter...

Make an Aromatic Herb Wreath

Herb bunches were trimmed uniformly after the wreath was fully assembled.

Materials You'll Need:
          Florist Wires   Heavy gage wire or wire wreath frame   Herbs   Wire Cutters   Ribbon

Use wire cutters to cut a long strip - about 2 1/2 to 3 feet in length - of heavy-gauge wire.
Bend each end into a hook.
Gather herb bundles that are about 6" long. Use herbs that are suitable for air drying (see below.) 
Use floristwire to bind the bundles of herbs to the heavy-gauge wire.
Cover the entire length of the heavy-gauge wire with herbs, making sure to keep them close together to prevent gaps. Option: add edible flowers or peppers for color (echinacea, violas, red chiles, etc.)
Bend the covered heavy-gauge wire into any shape you want, such as a typical round wreath, square or heart.
Add a bow and hang tag with the herb names.

hang tag made from scrapbook paper

For retaining highest flavor and quality, air drying is the easiest, most inexpensive method for preserving herbs. Moisture evaporates slowly and naturally during air drying, leaving the precious herb oils behind. Dehydrators are useful if you are drying large quantities of herbs or high moisture herbs such as basil. Use a microwave oven as a last resort for drying as microwaves literally cook the herbs producing very poor quality.
Sturdy herbs are best suited for air-drying, such as sage, thyme, summer savory, dill, bay leaves, oregano, rosemary and marjoram. Basil, tarragon, lemon balm and the mints have a high moisture content and will mold if not dried quickly. Chives are best frozen.

NO TIME to make a fancy wreath? Tie a bunch of herbs with a rubber band, pretty ribbon and hang tag. Why not make extras to share with your neighbors?

The best time to cut herbs for drying is just before they flower. This is when the leaves have the most oil, which is what gives herbs aroma and flavor. But, if your herbs have already flowered, they can still be harvested and dried. Cut herbs in mid-morning when the leaves are dry but before the midday sun.

To air dry herbs, follow these simple steps:
Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut large stems or branches from mature plants. Remove any old, damaged or diseased leaves.
Rinse each branch in cold water and dry with towels or paper towels to remove all visible water. Wet herbs tend to mold which destroys the whole bunch.
Tie three or four stems together in a small bunch with a rubber band. For high moisture herbs, use smaller bunches.
Place the bunch upside down. Hang them in a warm, airy room out of any light. Leave undisturbed for about two weeks or longer.
When the leaves are dry, check for any signs of mold growth. Toss the entire bunch if moldy and try again. Strip dried leaves from stems and discard stems. Crush the leaves if desired, but keep in mind that whole herbs retain their flavor longer than crushed, ground or rubbed herbs.
Store dried herbs in small airtight containers away from the light. Zip closure plastic bags, colored bailing wire jars and ceramic crocks can be used for storage. Add a cute hang tag.

Herbs Which Require Fast Drying:
Basil, tarragon, lemon balm and mints have high moisture content and will mold if not dried quickly and are best dried in a dehydrator.
Store herbs in a cool, dry, dark place (away from sunlight). Dried herbs keep for years but for best results use within a year. Most herbs will diminish in flavor with age and a larger amount will be needed to achieve the desired flavor in cooking.

Use Your Herbs:
To release the full flavor, crush whole herb leaves just before adding to the recipe. When using dried herbs, add to soups and stews during the last half-hour of cooking or follow recipe directions. Be creative and add dried herbs to flavor your favorite dishes. Make bottles of crushed herb mixtures for gifts, such as herbes de provence.

Recipe for Herbes de ProvenceIngredients:1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon chervil
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon summer savory
1 teaspoon lavender
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon mint
2 powdered or chopped bay leaves
Preparation:Mix together all of the ingredients and store in a tightly sealed container.Makes about 1/3 cup herb mix.

Happy Fall Y'all

It's here. The first official day of autumn. Most everyone I know says it is their favorite time of year. It is mine. Here's some of the reasons why...
Golden autumn mornings cast long shadows from our fir trees in the back yard.

Decorations of nature's fruits, flowers and happy findings.
(I found this cute antique pewter pitcher in Indiana for only a couple dollars. Don't you love successful treasure hunts?)

Fall brings out the crafty side of us. This is a new tea towel pattern for my "Faithful Hearts" line of fabric and home decor.

Shops are decorated so cute this time of year. I got that old pottery jug from an antique store for only $4.00 in Indiana. No wonder the antique shopkeepers travel back there to bring it to our western stores. It was a good thing I took a large, empty suitcase with me. It was just 2 pounds under the airline limit on my return!

Birds enjoy the autumn harvest for more than just feasting.

From our grapevines to mason jars in only hours. Yum!

I've come to enjoy the color orange in the gardens, and, even a spot here and there in the home.
Come autumn, orange explodes!

Take time during the harvest to sit a spell on warm autumn afternoons.
Enjoy the sight, smell and taste of autumn.