The 8 Easiest (& Cheapest) Christmas Presents Ever

One of the things I’ve learned about Christmas giving is that Christmas is about loving, not making sure the retail value of the presents you give match the retail value of the ones you receive. Come on, that’s just craziness!

Here are some of my favorite simple Christmas presents.



Adults usually have the means to buy more or less whatever they want, but sometimes love isn’t so easy to come by.

The very simplest present you can give is to write a honest blessing to someone. Make a list of what you appreciate about them! Tell them you love them! If it’s someone you don’t know (or…. quite honestly, cannot stand….) write a blessing for them from scripture. An honest word endures forever.


If you have kids, have them draw pictures for their grandparents, aunts and uncles, or family friends. To take things up a notch, mount their painting behind a frame (yes, those dusty old frames from the attic can be painted, stained and/or sparkled and re-used). Or, attach their tiny masterpieces to a magnet!

If your kids are too young to actually draw something, go modern-artsy with paint! Grab an old canvas (re-paint it a solid color) and let them smear and sprinkle to their heart’s content.


Got lots of broken crayons? Google melted crayon art for fun ideas of how to use them up!

crayon art

Or mount a piece of your child’s origami….


Guys like food. Girls do too. You really cant go wrong! And even though we all know they could afford to make or buy their own, admit it…. everyone gets tired of the same old same old. AND you are saving them grocery store/cooking time!

For families: homemade bread.

Kids: cereal bars (mix their favorite cereal with melted marshmallows, form into bars, let cool, decorate and package festively.)

Health nuts: Make your own trail mix and package it in pretty single-serve bags.

Athletes: Cliff bars, fruit leather or fruit.

Office friends: Chocolate covered pretzels (white chocolate w/ crushed candy canes  sprinkled on top, milk chocolate with peanut-butter chip drizzle, dark chocolate w/ craisins…. the flavor combos are endless.)



We don’t want to think about it now but…. (winter is gonna get dreary and depressing at some point.) Who can help but smile at the sight of a little cactus on the windowsill?

You can score tiny plants for less than $5.00 at most greenhouses.

Tip: Read the tags. Plants that tolerate dry soil and low light, and succulent plants like aloe or burro’s tail will survive the caretaking attempts of those less-green-thumbed among us the best.


My nieces are very young, but when they receive a coupon for an adventure with their aunt, they are thrilled! I think that’s because memories are timeless gifts.

So go ahead, think it through, then write out that Adventure Coupon. Plan a slumber party with the grand-kids, teach your co-worker to snowboard, sign your sister up to join a cooking club, take your uncle to see that museum he always talks about or help your friend overcome their fear of water.


TIP: to be sure it actually happens, set a date!


While we’re on the subject of coupons, why not write one out for a night of babysitting, or to fix your neighbor’s gutter, or to help your grandfather split that humongous pile of firewood he’s always working at? Trust me, they will most definitely cash it in!


If you’re at the bottom of your piggy bank, and still want to surprise someone with an extraordinary gift, why not re-make a thrift store find, or something you already own?

For gals: If you can sew it into a scarf or dip it in chalkboard paint, it’s sure to be a success. Also, anything of organizational use.

For guys: Four words: Wood, metal & window panes. If it has at least one of those ingredients, you can paint, stain, weather, sand or re-arrange it into contemporary trendiness.

You can also find some amazing furniture steals online and through local thrift shops if you know what to look for! My favorite haunt is our local Re-Store, a partner with Habitat for Humanity.


Even if you only have 10 minutes, one of the very best gifts you can give is your time! Drop a latte off at your friend’s workplace, actually schedule that Skype call, and make the trip to your great-aunt’s house that you’ve been promising her all year. You won’t regret it!


You’ll NEVER regret giving the gift of love.



Stick-Hopping {and other winter adventures}

My adventurous friend and I tented out in the snow last night.


We wore fleece, filled our Nalgene waterbottles with hot water and tucked them at our feet, burrowed under our sleepingbags and fell asleep to the sound of Harley’s snoring


and the loud whine the neighborhood snowmobilers whizzing through our front yard.

My friend said that her little sister was jealous of our adventure. She said, “When I get older, I hope I can have an adventurous friend!”

When I was younger, I was blessed to have an adventurous friend right within my family. She was Laura, my sister.

Slender and spunky as all get out, she was the one I was most likely to cajole into playing with me. And I was the one she could convince to aide her with her latest brainstorm. Between the two of us, we came up with many grand schemes.

In the winter, we would zip into our neon full-body snowsuits, and swish down the lane with the dog at our heels, all three of us looking for an adventure. One side of our lane sloped into the marsh, and had a steep tree-lined bank.


We sat down at the top of this bank, and slid bumpily down on our bottoms, right into the marsh. In that frozen marsh, below eye-level of most of our property, we created adventures in our own little world.

Our first step was to each find a strong, tall branch.

This was our “hopping stick” and we used it to swing ourselves across expanses of mud or parts of the stream that were too wide to jump. Pretty impressive, our stick-hopping was, now that I actually think about it. And a pretty funny sight we must have made, two little neon dwarves swinging through the “wilderness”–for that’s what it was to us–on our tall sticks.

We loved to wander across the swamp, exploring the flora and fauna of a world we never ventured into in the summer.


Tall brown reeds rattled in the wind, teasel swayed against the deep blue of the sky and tiny green things did their best to grow by the gurgling stream.

Dry grasses bent under their weight of snow to make little mouse hide-outs that the dog loved to shove her nose into. She always brought it back out snowy and looking incredibly mischievous, panting with pride because we were laughing at her.

The snow and ice made cool curvy ledges along the stream, and we loved to see how close we could get before the ledge broke, plunged into the water, and swooshed swiftly on, out of our sight.


We found a clay bank, and took some home, but were too lazy to make anything out of it. Later, I went back to the spot with my neighbor friend, and we painted our faces to look like Indians.

One of our favorite games to play was Snowball Racing. We each made a snowball of the same size, packed it as solidly as we could, and put it in the stream at the same spot. The goal was to see whose snowball would travel the farthest downstream before it melted. We could each poke our snowball 5 times with our trusty stick, if it happened to meet up with a stick, or got stuck, or just needed a helping hand. My sister usually won.

When we got cold and hungry, we clambered back up the path towards home, washing the mud off of our swishy suits with mitten-fulls of snow.

Those were the best of times.

Is there another snow storm headed your way? Don’t despair! Capture winter’s last fling in the most memorable way you can. Live a little!

Drink tea and make plans for spring if you can’t go out. Spring WILL come.

It always does.

If you can go out, DO! Make a desperate snowman. Watch the snowflakes sift over the trees. Actually look at your surroundings. What you find may surprise you.


Like these frost-flowers I found on one bitter outing this winter. If I’d have come an hour later…..

they’d have been gone.

My Best Addiction

Now that you all know I’m addicted to gummy bears….. (and oh happy day, I got a whole 1-lb bag of them for my birthday) I gotta tell ya’ll about my FAVORITE addiction.


The one I plug into when I get upset at my boss.

Or when I’m preparing to teach.

Or when I’m bored by a mindless task.

Or when I’m driving, sitting, chewing, moping, running, or staring for hours at a blank computer screen.

Pretty much, I plug in all the time. My father loves it. Tiny kiddos love it. Basically, a win no matter who you are.

Am I gonna tell you what it is? Ohhhh no. Watch it on YouTube HERE.

And join the stampede of audio/visual learners!

We’re happy to have you 🙂

(Oh yeah…. and it’s available on Audible for free, with a one-month free trial subscription. You’re welcome.)

Who are you AFTER?

She plugged her ears most of the time.


She had a definite scowl on her turned-down face, and the bent of her shoulders screamed defiance.

She was the camper who did not like the teacher’s modesty discussion one bit. I was the camp counselor, and as I watched the body language of my other campers sitting knock-kneed on the picnic bench, I could tell that they felt the same way.

I felt sorry for my campers, because I knew their backgrounds, and the concepts they were hearing were totally blowing their minds. I also felt sorry for the teacher, who was putting her all into the lesson, & was being booed by part of the crowd while the other part was soaking up every word with hunger shining from their eyes. It was a hard mixture of people to speak to.

Later that night, as I sat cross-legged in a green camp chair, the mouths of 8 young girls around me exploded. “That was crazy!! I was so mad! Why in the world would it be sinful to wear bright colors, headbands, and shirts with pockets? How could a God of love hate me for a detail that small?”

Forreal, where is the fine line between young girls cheerfully following their parent’s standards without guilt, and when is it the right time to rise above them (or, in some sad cases, fearlessly defy them) to new heights of conviction? That wasn’t the biggest question that was gnawing at the girls’ hearts, though, and after all of the emotion was released, we finally got to it. “What things will keep us out of heaven?”

I once heard a very wise man say….. umm….. something very wise…. and this was it: “Don’t ask, “What’s wrong with that?”, because by asking what is wrong, you are implying that something is right. Instead, ask, “What does God say about this?”

So, what does God say about modesty? What does He say about bright colors, headbands, and shirts with pockets? I’ll let you do that research for yourself. But I do know what the very first commandment to God’s children is. It is this: LOVE the Lord your God with ALL your heart, ALL your mind and ALL your soul.

There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION to them who follow Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but AFTER the Spirit. Romans 8:1

My version? “Now, there will be no condemnation [no charge of evil] brought against those who serve Jesus, IF they follow [relentlessly CHASE] after the ways of His Spirit instead of chasing after the earthly desires of the flesh.”

No charge of evil, that’s what Jesus promised to those who actively chase after Him.

Who are you after?

Things to do…. (with kiddos)

Summer is, like, 53 hours away, folks!! ***cue screaming***

And if you are 12, and living in smallville like I was when I was 12….. or have kiddos who are 12 and don’t have a clue what to do…. here are my top 1o free summer adventures, country style.

1) Get WET!!!

Go swimming. Go creeking with buckets and see who can catch the most species of creepy-crawlies. Have a water-balloon war. Make a slip-n-slide out of a smooth tarp or a sheet of plastic (make SURE the area is obstacle-free!)….. add soap for extra speed.

2) Learn a new backyard sport.

Can-jam, ultimate Frisbee, badminton, sand tennis, zoogle, hula-hooping, jump rope, four-square, rip-stick, unicycle….. come on, don’t even try the “I know them all” excuse 🙂

3) Go fishing.

Free anywhere in this state, as long as you’re under the age of 16.

4) Bond with the cat (or dog).

Teach him a new trick. Dress him up in a ridiculous outfit (guaranteed to bring laughs….. trust me!). Take him to see a senior friend who misses their own animals.

5) Play with ice.

Have an ice-cube melting race. Slide down a hill on a block of ice (yes, I’ve done this). Stuff an oversized tee-shirt into each of several containers, fill with water and freeze, then have a race to see who can thaw the shirt and put it on first. Make popsicles.

6) Experience nature.

Plant something. Walk barefoot. Climb a tree. Build a fort. Catch fireflies. Have a mud battle and see who comes out dirtiest. Lay on a blanket at night and see if you can find the North Star (and while you’re at it, count the satellites).

7) Go crazy with COLORS.

Draw a mural with sidewalk chalk. Make your own face paint out of lotion (thick, super-creamy works best), cornstarch, and a tiny bit of food coloring (don’t make the colors too bright, or it will stain!). Ask to decorate someone’s car with window crayons (you can make your own out of pieces of bar soap)……or decorate their house windows… but that would be, you know… a little more boring. Paint a picture on a huge piece of poster board or cardboard and hang it up for the world to see.

8) Strike it rich.

Have a marathon to see how much lost change you can find in one outing. Create and record your own music video or drama. Clean out your room and have a yard-sale.

9) Enter a reading contest.

Check with your local library or bookstores. Cool prizes are usually involved 😀

10. Cheer someone up.

Pick flowers and hand them out at a retirement home. Bake cookies and take some to your neighbors. Make dinner for your family. Write a loooooong letter to someone overseas. Call your grandmother and tell her 5 reasons why she’s awesome.

So….. what were your favorite free things to do as a kid??

April Fools ALLREADY??!?

Since I’m one of those lame people who forgets about April Fool’s Day until the day is almost over…. here’s my to-do list for NEXT year.



anytime, really……

< Make Someone The Unchewable Sandwich

Put Juicy Fruit gum in between slices of white cheese on a cheese and meat sandwich. Paste on an innocent face.

< Slurp Copious Amounts of Mayo in Public

Fill a mayonnaise jar with pudding, and slowly eat the entire jar while sitting in a highly travelled public area. Note people’s reactions.


< Create an Indoor Water Park

Tape the top of a 1/3-full-of-water plastic cup above a door on the side where it swings outward in such a way that the opening door makes the water dump out…. and, well, sorta onto the person’s…. head.

Use a clear hair band to fasten the sink sprayer in the ‘on’ position.

< Become a Phony Salesperson

Dress up in a disguise, then ring the doorbell of a close relative’s house and advertise a product. Use specific information about them, and see how long it takes them to realize that it’s you.

< Create  Odd and Random Havoc

Talk in at least 5 different voice tones during every conversation, change all the ringtones on someone’s cellphone from “Meditation” to “Teenage Road Trip”, TP a truck, squish a brownie into an unfortunate shape and float it in a pool full of adults, walk a mouse down the street on a leash, inflate balloons and place them in all the toilet bowls of a building, fill a bathtub with Jell-O.

So….. how was your April Fools?

Did anybody prank ya? What is your all-time favorite practical joke?

With Whom We Deal

“The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbors glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it,

and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.


You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations-these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is IMMORTALS whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-

immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

–excerpt from With Whom We Deal, by C. S. Lewis

I found this old tidbit from speech class–well, I found much more than one tidbit, actually, an entire portfolio of tidbits–and it made me stop and think hard yet again.
How can/do you define the word ‘mortal’?

Guardian of a million dreams

Life is a comedy for those who think; a tragedy for those who feel. Unfortunately, dream molders are feelers.

“Teachers. You are the molders of their dreams. The gods who build or crush their young beliefs of right or wrong.You are the spark that sets aflame the poet’s hand, or lights the flame of some great singer’s song.You are the gods of the young, the very young. You are the guardian of a million dreams.

Your every smile or frown can heal or pierce a heart. Yours are a hundred lives, a thousand lives, yours the pride of loving them, and the sorrow, too.

Your patient work, your touch, make you the gods of hope who fill their souls with dreams to make those dreams come true…” Guy Doud’s voice was strong and calm as he quoted the words penned by Clark Mollenhoff. He, if any, could utter them with conscience unashamed.

The twelve years that kids are in high school are the twelve most vulnerable years of their life. Dreams are made or broken there. Paradigms of values and self-worth are formed. A child’s place in society is clearly played out, and they discover whether they have what it takes to be loved, respected and wanted. They learn about themselves through the eyes of others. And unless someone intervenes, they will graduate with the hurts of a lifetime on their shoulders.

Dream molders are feelers. They understand that hurting kids aren’t afraid of failure. Failure is their life. It is normal for them, therefore, they can’t be motivated by the fear of it. Kids are motivated only by love.

This is why dream molders choose to see beyond the exterior, beyond the moment. A teen who others view as an obese, insecure adolescent, they see as a child who has incredible potential to change the world. Dream molders see beyond the external, beyond the mask, to the very soul of a person.  Like a diamond in the rough, muddy and crystallized, they see beyond the exterior to what it will be–a beautifully cut gem set in a band of silver or gold. An adornment of society. And they care, they care enough to invest their time, money, blood, sweat, tears and prayers into making a person become that gem. They care.  And because they care, they create change.

Dream molders? Ehh, they are an unstable and disillusioned lot. What would cause a gourmet chef to give a clumsy child free range of a kitchen–squandered resources, splattered woodwork, mounds of dirty dishes, and countless broken pots and pans notwithstanding? Is a smudgy, wobble-lined recipe book scrawled by the hand of a ten-year-old really a worthwhile result of all the hassle?

Not now, but the chef has a teacher’s heart, and she sees ahead. She sees down the road, to where the scrawling recipe book turns into seared scallops, juicy wood-smoked steaks, and countless batches of homemade cookies delivered to someone’s door. And what does the student learn? He learns that he has a gift. He learns that food can comfort the most ravaged heart. He learns that creativity and personal touch can bless far beyond words. And the teacher smiles, because she knew his amazing potential all along. But it would have been impossible for him to believe it. He needed to see it for himself.

We walk through life totally unaware of the scores of tiny mirrors who reflect the effects of our actions. I am–we all are–the guardians of a million dreams.

When will our actions become messengers of hope to fill their souls with dreams to make those dreams come true?

I can’t b.r.e.a.k. their fall

Pulling out of the grocery store yesterday, I spotted a butterfly.

No, it wasn’t a happy flutter of blue-winged freedom, but a helpless worm, crawling in aimless circles across the macadam. Its wings were broken and the beautiful blue markings were ripped and scratched off.

My first thought was to pick it up and put it the grass. But how would that help the poor thing? It would just wriggle around in there until it starved to death. And so I kept on walking.

[Yes, you can stop smirking. I know only I would mention the possibility of a butterfly starving, but hey. That’s just how my brain works.]

Jumping into my car, I turned for one more look before driving away. The butterfly was crawling towards the tire of a shiny silver convertible beside me. I could just envision the car speeding away and squashing half of the butterfly, leaving the intact part of its body to wriggle helplessly in pain until all of its internal organs oozed out and it finally withered up and died.

“Do something, even if it’s wrong.”

That is my Pop’s line. In other words, standing by and doing nothing is an automatic fail. It’s a lesson I really need to learn. I can use my laid-back, diplomatic nature as an excuse for not doing the hard things.

Never offend.

Never cause pain.

But I am learning that often, my attempts to not cause pain are the very actions that injure people the worst. There is such a thing as tough love. And I remember a woman-a girl, really- who was on one of my canoe trips. She was easy to love in the way I knew. But it wasn’t the kind of love she needed. She was a strong leader, and loved to call the shots. And we took her path way more often than we should have. Now, looking back, I can identify the pleading in those beautiful brown eyes as a look that plainly said,

“Be strong for me. Stand up to me, and teach me to follow. I’ve carried the responsibility of being a mother too early in life, and all I need right now is a mother to call me out on my bluffs and then allow me to not be ok. But I don’t know how to ask for that. The only way I know to get attention is to have people follow me. And I’m getting tired….”

I know now that what she was asking for with her actions was not what she was asking for with her heart.

I miss the mark so many times.

Do you know what it is that keeps me from saying the hard things… from making calls that anger 98% of the crowd… from calling people on their bluffs? Pride. Plain and simple. I don’t like the feeling of hurting someone’s feelings. I don’t like the risk that they may be offended and never speak to me again. And so, I say what sounds good, and make calls that please everyone.

It’s horrifyingly selfish, really. God is sure teaching me how much I need His vision and power.

Still thinking these things, I’m happy to say that I hopped back out of the car, strode straight up to the butterfly, and ground it to powder in one forceful stomp. For a moment, I couldn’t believe myself. But then I thought of the  innocent fellow shoppers who were no doubt watching me in fearful shock and amazement, and smiled.

Yeah, you saw me. Take THAT, ya’ll. At least I wont have to go to bed tonight with a guilty conscience, thinking of a half-squashed butterfly writhing in pain as it fries to death in the sun. This butterfly is now in a better place.”

Oh wait, no it’s not.

But I know I am, anyhow. And I’m very thankful for little things that teach big lessons.

I guess there’s a good reason Jesus admonished us to consider the lilies…..

Goodbye Innocence

 I drove past a boy today, and as I looked at him, he swiftly turned his head in shame.

Who was he? Just a long-haired kid in a gangster hat, his tee ultra-baggy and his shorts sagging. He must have been, say, thirteen? As he stood there on the edge of a shady patch of woods in his front yard, he looked up, saw me, and quickly pretended to be bored.


He had been playing with a stick before he noticed me, poking around the woods with carefree curiosity. But when he saw me, he was ashamed, and tried to nonchalantly bounce the stick in his hand and stare towards the house as if waiting for a friend.

The encounter took less than 10 seconds, but it left me feeling depressed. Who stole innocence from our society’s kids? When did carefree curiosity become “uncool”, even unheard of? When did it become not ok for kids to play with sticks and stones and just plain get dirty for no real reason? I felt sad for the boy, even though I didn’t even know his name, because I could imagine his life manual all too plainly.

  • Succeed in sports, or everyone will see I am not worth anything.
  • Succeed in flirting with the cute girls at school, or everyone will think I am a nerd.
  • Succeed in wearing cool clothes, having cool stuff, and hanging at cool places, or everyone will be embarrassed to be around me.
  • Succeed in getting away with dangerous stuff, or everyone will think I am a ninny.
  • Succeed in hiding my emotions, because no one really cares anyhow.

Life is a trap for teens today. We have scores of homeless teens, teens in juvie, teen parents, teen cutters, teen dealers,  teens hopelessly trapped by addictions, scores of teen suicides and homicides. Carefree has no meaning. Innocence can get you in a heap of trouble. Hope is nowhere to be found. Some seek it anyhow, but most are so practiced at wearing their mask of nonchalance that soon even they forget they have a problem.

Where are the kids who live out of who they really are inside… what they feel and see, what they wish and dream for? Where is hope, new birth, and a fresh start? Who is gonna’ step out, give instead of take, love like there’s no tomorrow, and be a crazy voice crying in the wilderness with a message of hope and belonging?

We need a revolution.


It can start with me. Or you….

But only if we care enough to be uncool.