Gifts From The Heart

So, what do you give the person who has everything or the friend who drops by with an unexpected gift?  Ah ha, always a dilemma this time of year.   As any mother will tell you, that little hand print preserved in clay or the homemade card are the gifts she cherishes the most.  I always loved the “make it, bake it, grow it” theme because it meant someone really put some time and effort into their gift.

This time of year is always synonymous with homemade cookies and crafts which I hope you enjoy as much as I do.  When I was in elementary school and most moms were stay-at-home moms, cookies were the big thing and still are today. Someone must have thrown a spatula into the street as the gauntlet for the cookie wars to begin, and so they did.  Before the Thanksgiving turkey was cold, women for blocks around were pulling on their oven mitts and eyeing up the competition.  As children we had to stand single file in a line, monitored by a “patrol boy,” until a certain time before walking to school.  While standing “in line,” the conversation or rather bragging, was totally out of control.  “My mom made 75 dozen cookies.”  “Well, my mom made 90 dozen.”  “Yeah well, my mom wins because she made 120 dozen.”  No, these numbers are not exaggerated, they really did make that many cookies.  I know this because as fast as my older brother would down 2 dozen cookies and a quart of milk, we still had Christmas cookies at Easter.  Hundreds of the cookies went to what we called “shut-ins” in those days.  These were the elderly or ill, who I’m sure re-gifted the cookies or fed them to their dogs because they received so many.  Plates piled high and covered with plastic wrap accompanied us on our visits to friends and family.  If we weren’t visiting another family then they were coming to our house nearly every night from the week before Christmas until New Year’s Day.  This was great fun when you knew and enjoyed the kids of the people you were visiting.  Unfortunately, I remember more times than I care to admit, of feeling hot and sweaty in my new, usually velvet, Christmas dress, sitting stiffly on someone’s sofa praying the adults would stop talking so we could go home.

I inherited the cookie gene and used to do the same thing; however, never to the extent my mother did.  Once I started working full time and a second job at Christmas, the oven was never turned on.  Can’t remember how the kids got fed!  This is when I learned the true meaning of “gifts from the heart.”   Every Christmas, as long as she lived, our dear friend Audrey baked as many cookies as the moms from my childhood.  She was envied by many for being the best baker in our church.  Without fail, the week before Christmas there would be a knock at the front door and Audrey’s husband or one of her sons would be standing there with a large box filled with delicacies and nestled in the center was one of her famous coffee cakes.  She didn’t just do this for us, she did it for everyone she knew and I’m pretty sure some people she didn’t know.  As a working mom, this was truly a treasured gift.  She treated my family with the tradition of cookies and helped me overcome the guilt of not baking.  None of us could resist the temptation of a cookie, or four, the day they were delivered, but her coffee cake was sacred and saved for Christmas morning.  Thirty-seven years later my kids still remind me not to forget to bake Audrey’s coffee cake for Christmas morning.

Mom stored her cookies in gallon size tin cans on closet shelves, in the laundry room, in the mud room anywhere she could find room and hide them from us.  We had to  search high and low to find them when we wanted to “sneak” a cookie.  I inherited the container gene too! I am a confessed container junkie (as you will see in the following pictures), glass, paper, tin, cardboard, doesn’t matter.  If it’s pretty, has an interesting shape, or is simply well-made I can’t resist.

Our oldest daughter, picked up that old gauntlet lying in the middle of a slushy street, and decided we should give cookies as gifts.  Interpreted this means, mom did all the baking.  However, she took it further with her famous spiced pretzels which filled the second tin.  I can’t remember what we put in the third tin, but we ended up with a tower of treats.  Shopping trips looking for beautiful Christmas tins became another one of our holiday escapades.  If the tins were on sale…we were there, along with dozens of other women grabbing for the prettiest tins.  You gotta love being tall, it gives you a longer reach and we always managed to get the tins we wanted and have fun with the other shoppers.

And so, I share with you a few simple ideas that are fast and easy that you can have ready for that last minute needed gift.  Display the finished product on your mantle, a table or a window sill and you’ll be ready.  Great for teachers, the unexpected friend, or the “shut-in” down the street.  Go for the cookies or try one of the following.


 The small jars contain hot chocolate mix and the large jar contains turkey noodle soup mix.

Hot Chocolate Mix

1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 c white sugar

1/2 c chocolate chips

Miniature marshmallows

One small mason or jelly jar

The jelly size mason jar is a little tight so go for bigger or cut down on the chocolate chips or marshmallows;

 a 12 ounce size jar is perfect.

Directions:  In a small mason or jelly jar, layer cocoa powder, sugar, chocolate chips, and as many miniature marshmallows as you can squeeze in.  Just picture those marshmallows popping out when the lid is removed…hehehe.  Tighten the lid and decorate as desired.  Attach a note with the recipe and the following directions to the jar.

To Heat:  Place the contents (all but the marshmallows) in a medium saucepan with 8 cups of milk.  Simmer and stir until the chocolate is melted and the cocoa warm.  Pour into mugs and top with marshmallows; add a candy cane as a stir.

Turkey Noodle Soup

3 T chicken bouillon granules

1 t pepper

1/2 t dried whole thyme

1/4 t celery seeds

1/4 t garlic powder

1 or 2 bay leaves

Noodles to fill jar.

Directions:  Layer the ingredients in the order given into a wide-mouth, 1-quart canning jar.  Slide the bay leaves down along the sides of the jar as you add the noodles.  Screw on the lid, decorate the jar, and attach a tag or card with the directions.

To Make Soup:  Place the contents of this jar (turkey noodle soup mix) in a large pot.


12 c water

2 carrots, diced

 2 stalks of celery, diced

1/4 c minced onion

Bring mixture to a boil.  Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Discard the bay leaf.

Stir in 3 cups cooked, diced turkey and simmer an additional 5 minutes.


And there you have it!  Fast, easy gifts for everyone on your list.

There are tons of recipes on line and in books with similar ideas that you and your family can work on together.  Have fun.


More gifts from the heart.

Hand knitted slippers and hats packaged with toiletries by a church youth group for a local shelter.

Gifts are even better when given to someone you don’t know.

Joy is in the giving, not the receiving.

Quote of the day:  “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” Mother Teresa

Winners of Emerson’s Attic, The Blue Velvet

                                                 Madison, Ohio

                                                   Amy, Pennsylvania

digitalbookcoverupdated (2)Kaylee, Virginia

Evelyn, Florida

Juanita, Maryland

Sophia, Oklahoma

Elizabeth, California

Eva, Pennsylvania

Alexis, Pennsylvania

Chloe – Massachusetts

Congratulations and thank you for entering.  Watch for future contests with questions from the book.

If you haven’t visited my website please do:

Merry Christmas and may your New Year be filled with happiness.

Don’t forget to visit my site at:

Deck The Halls

 Ho, Ho, Ho…Merry Christmas




One of the best parts of the holiday season is making decorations and gifts.  This is especially fun when you can do it with your children.  Here’s a lovely ornament idea for dollhouse enthusiasts.   Hang them on your tree, in the windows of your home or tie on that special gift.  Copy the ideas to the windows on your existing dollhouse windows for an enchanted Christmas look.



Materials & Supplies:

Mom or Dad is needed for cutting.

· Windows from your favorite dollhouse store on search on line.

· Emery boards

·1/2″ strip wood
· Craft knife, Easy Cutter or Dobson Miter-Rite
· Weldbond®
· Oil-based primer and mineral spirits
· Fine flat-bristle sable brush
· Assorted craft paint brushes
· White satin-finish interior latex paint
· Craft paints in red, green and gold
· Snow-Tex
· Plastic knife
· Iridescent glitter, lace scraps, wreaths, garlands, trim, etc.
· Mini-Drill with 1/32″ bit
· Optional: tiny brass screw eyes, narrow ribbon cord


1. Slide the acetate pane out of the window. Use an emery board to sand any rough edges, especially in the grooves on the window casting.

2. Cut a 2 1/2″ length of strip wood for the interior window sill. This may be cut with a craft knife, Easy Cutter or Dobson Miter-Rite. Glue to the back of the window and let dry.

3. Use a fine sable brush to apply a thin coat of an oil-based primer like Kilz® (use mineral spirits to thin it, if necessary) to all sides of the window and sill. Avoid getting primer in the acetate pane channels. Clean up with mineral spirits and let dry. Sand again.

4. Paint with a thin coat of white satin-finish interior latex. Let dry. If necessary, sand again before applying a second coat.

5. Using craft paints and brushes, accent and embellish the window. Tip: When painting stripes on grooved mouldings, use a flat brush and pat it on the surface. When the paint has dried, any overlaps in the grooves can be scratched away with the tip of a craft knife.

6. Use a plastic knife to apply a thick layer of Snow-Tex to the top of the window and exterior window sill. Use a stiff-bristled craft paint brush to push the snow into place. Before it dries, sprinkle on iridescent glitter. Let dry.

7. Glue lace scraps to the back window frame for curtains.

8. Glue on a wreath, garland and/or other trim. Glue accessories onto the interior window sill.

9. Slide acetate pane back into position.

If you do not want to hang the window, skip steps 10 & 11.

10. With a 1/32″ bit, drill a hole in the center top of the window. Dip the screw end of a tiny brass screw eye into glue and twist into the hole.

11. Thread narrow ribbon or cord through the screw eye and tie it.


And, don’t forget little brother or sister…

Panda Bear Tree Ornament



My girls and I made these years ago for our church bazaar and I still love them.  This is a very simple little tree ornament made from items available at any craft store.  Blocks, pompoms, and eyes come in packages with numerous pieces so you will have plenty of materials to make an ornament for everyone on your Christmas list.  If your favorite craft store doesn’t have the building blocks, check a toy store or Dollar Store.  Be sure to use the smaller blocks as the big blocks are too heavy for most trees.

For each bear you will need:

Two white pompoms are approximately 1-1/2 inches in diameter for body.

Four black  pompoms are 1/2 inch for paws.

Two black  pompoms approximately 1/4 inch for ears.

One black pompom approximately 1/8 inch for nose.

Small black beads for eyes.

Approximately 8 inches of 1/4 inch wide holiday ribbon for bow.

Fishing line or gold cord for hanging loop.

Clear Tacky Glue

Heavy duty staple gun.

Instructions:  Make a small bow from the ribbon and have Dad or Mom staple the bow and approximately 8 inches of fishing line or gold cord to the top of a block and glue to make sure it’s secure.  Tie the top of the cord into a knot for hanging.  Glue white body pompoms together and let dry.  When dry, glue on paws, ears, eyes and nose.  Once all parts of the panda are dry, glue him to the block.  Voila…there you have it, a sweet little panda for your tree.  To personalize the ornament, on the bottom of the block use a fine felt-tip pen to write the name of the person to whom you will be giving the ornament and the year.


One last chance to enter to win a free copy of

Emerson’s Attic, The Blue Velvet.

digitalbookcoverupdated (2)

Enter to win a free copy of Emerson’s Attic, The Blue Velvet. Place your name and mailing address in the comment section at the bottom of the page and hit submit. Ten lucky people will receive a copy of the book mailed to their home. Last day to enter will be Tuesday, December 9, 2014, okay, make it the 10th. Winners’ names will be drawn on December 10th and announced in the following blog.  Don’t just enter because you like free things, upcoming contests will be based on questions from the book. If you don’t win you can still enter future contests by ordering your own copy from and reading it.

 Busy Mom Tip:  Have your children help choose their clothing the night before and hang or lay in a specific place to save time in the morning.  You’ll be amazed at how much time this saves.

Please leave comments, I’d love to hear from you and see pictures of your dollhouse.



The Joy of Giving

I was preparing a donation of canned goods for the Boy Scouts’ Scouting for Food Project, when the same thoughts came to mind that come every time I do this.  Why are there hungry people in the greatest country on earth AND why do we participate more during the holidays?  Aren’t there hungry people the other eleven months of the year?  These questions really bother me so I did a little research, not that it helped, but you may be interested in what I found.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust statistics Americans give more money to charitable organizations every year topping out at 335.17 billion dollars in 2013 and expected to be even higher in 2014.  Of that grand sum…and that is grand, only 16.76 billion is corporate donations, the largest source of that total is 72% from individuals.  Does that surprise you?  It does me.  The most surprising statistic to me was that 95.4% of American households give to charity.  This stat shouldn’t surprise me because Americans are the kindest and most generous people in the world.  However, these numbers represent all types of giving and not just food for the hungry.  Giving in this amount is no minor feat in these hard times, and I applaud every single person who donates to the charity of their choice.

The US government spends 82.5 billion dollars on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).   Hello…that means that we individual citizens give 4 times more to charity than does the federal government.  Individual states have their own assistance programs, and it’s still not enough. Where does it go?  At record breaking dollar amounts how can we still have hungry children?

New organizations pop up every year in an effort to make life a little better for someone else.  Following are some things we’ve enjoyed and I hope you’ll find a niche that encourages you to join the millions of other Americans who continue to give of themselves.

Our oldest daughter and I have had a tradition of getting the wish list of children to shop for at Christmas time.  Most of the time the lists are for clothing or a special toy, but one year it was boots and shoes…does that tug at your heart or what?  This makes us sound nice, right?  Nay…we get more out of it than I’m sure the recipients do.  Shopping with my daughter is pure entertainment.  She knows everyone within a 3-county radius and inevitably we spend more time greeting her friends than on the task at hand.  When doubtful of a purchase we find a child (with the parents permission of course) of the appropriate age in the store to question as to whether we’re on the right track.  From there it’s off to the check-out line where again her effervescent personality attracts the attention of everyone around us and it turns into a party rather than the often grumpy line of people impatience with the speed of the cashier.

I love the mitten tree at church because, as you can imagine, it turns into a mitten, hat and scarf tree since everyone wants to provide matching sets.

Food collections, Secret Santas, Toys for Tots, and volunteer gift wrapping all supplement the ringing of the Salvation Army bell serenading shoppers in our malls, but why only during the holidays do we give that little extra?


 Just a few of the 35 lapghans packaged and ready for delivery to a local nursing home.

Speaking of volunteers, you’ll really like this, 64.5 million adults volunteered a total of 7.9 billion hours of service worth an estimated value of 175 billion dollars.  The estimated dollar value is $22.55 per hour per person.  Is that amazing?  What charity could afford to pay people to do the work of those volunteers?   I can tell you, from personal experience, that without these volunteers our hospitals, libraries, and organizations like the American Red Cross could not survive.

From a very early age, my mother dragged me around to funding raising activities and charity dinners where I didn’t know a soul and I’m not sure she did, but we went, we cooked, we served, we cleaned up, and we went home exhausted.  I remember one spaghetti supper when I lifted the plates out from under the noses of two priests before they were finished eating.  Boy, I never heard the end of that one.  It must be hereditary because we still do the same thing in our home today.  Get those dishes done!

Here’s one I loved because I love winter; at a young age my brother and I were expected to shovel snow from the walks of neighbors for free.  The best part was seeing if we could get it done after dark and without them knowing.  We loved our secret and always wondered if the neighbors knew who did it.  Tell me your son or daughter wouldn’t hold their heads a little higher at school the next day.

Life seemed more innocent in those days.  Hand-me-down clothes to friends or taking a meal to an elderly neighbor were the norm.  You weren’t afraid to offer a stranger a lift on a cold day or someone shelter while they waited for a bus.

There are still good people today and here’s an example of a true story I heard on a talk radio program last year.  A man called in who had lost his job.  He has a family and lives in a depressed area where he didn’t know how long it would take to find a new job. Instead of waiting for the unemployment check and becoming a couch potato, he went hunting.  Lucky for him he lives in a state that does not have a limit or at least has a high limit on the number of deer one can take every year.  This man filled his freezer with venison so that his family would not go hungry.  Other people in his community were also losing their jobs so he filled their freezers as well.  As you would expect, the word got around and with the help of a few friends they fed over 40 families that year.  I have questioned for years why properly trained sportsmen are not allowed to fill food banks with venison or any type of game fit for human consumption.  Why is Congress still paying subsidies to farmers to not plant…yup, they just hide it better now.  Couldn’t the excess be provided to food banks or shipped to third world countries. And, this one will really kill you, we have a feral hog problem spreading rapidly in the United States.  I’ve researched this and talked to hunters and farmers and they all tell me, if done properly, the meat from these hogs is completely safe for humans.  If the story is good enough to be made into a TV show someone is making money from it.  Instead of bragging about how many hogs you killed, how about bragging about how many families you fed.  From what I understand, as fast as these hogs multiply, it would only take a few shipments to third world countries for them to multiply and feed the starving masses.  If you can afford to produce a TV show, you can afford to ship some hogs.  Of course, of course, I forgot about the bureaucratic red tape.

I’m a firm believer it is better to give than to receive, and this is the perfect time of year to start a new tradition with your family.  Begin by having your younger children clean out toys they no longer play with, wash them up, and give them to the Salvation Army.  Volunteer as a family at a food bank or a Ronald McDonald House once a month.  This is not a huge sacrifice, just a few hours spent with your family being kind to strangers.

It’s amazing how a simple act of kindness can make a difference in the life of a hungry person, a lonely person or a homeless person.  Everyone has something to give…kindness, love, caring. If you have a skill, share it, as those do who work all year long to donate afghans to the Warm Up America Project.  Trust me, volunteering, especially as a family, will bring you closer, teach your children empathy, and your hearts will burst with the joy of giving.



This year’s donation of handmade afghans made by volunteers.

Quote of the Day:  “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl

There’s still time to enter my contest to win a free copy of Emerson’s Attic, The Blue Velvet.

Keep sending those entries to the Readers’ Contest digitalbookcoverupdated (2)

Enter to win a free copy of Emerson’s Attic, The Blue Velvet. Place your name and mailing address in the comment section at the bottom of the page and hit submit. Ten lucky people will receive a copy of the book mailed to their home. Last day to enter will be Tuesday, December 9th. Winners’ names will be drawn on December 10th and announced in the following blog.  Don’t just enter because you like free things, upcoming contests will be based on questions from the book. If you don’t win you can still enter future contests by ordering your own copy from and reading it.

SOLD:  The Rosedawn, advertised here in past blogs, has been sold and is making one lucky lady very happy.  I have left the pictures up on the previous blogs just so you can enjoy the beautiful house.  Send me pictures of your house to share with others!

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