10 Heartfelt Gifts for Christmas That Won’t Break Your Budget

ImageBelow are some ideas I have used over the last few years.  Christmas has always been hard because I’ve never been well to do, but that’s OK because it’s not about fancy gifts, fancy bows and gift wrap. It’s about love, giving from the heart, and making someone smile. The thought of re-gifting is easy, but if you need help with how to do it in a creative way….

  1. Make a photo calender using your computer and your printer paper. You can spend less than $10 and make multiple copies to send out to family as gifts. If you don’t have the spiral hole punch (like the majority of people don’t), take the calendar pages to Kinko’s, they can bind it for you for less than $10 a copy.
  2. Make a recipe book.  This can be added to year-round and given at Christmas, or it can  be put together quickly  You can use a scrapbook folder available at most department stores in the photo frame or craft section. Make sure and add any drawings or photographs to your recipes.  Add short family background stories to your favorite dishes. Make them personal.
  3. For your spouse: Go to a thrift store or flea market and find a rustic picture frame.  Write out and frame your wedding vows.
  4. Quilting never gets old. Surprise your loved one with a blanket made of your old clothes that have been cut into squares, lined, and stuffed.  Every square has a story and a memory that can be shared.
  5. If you have a skill in a particular area, such as music or dancing, hair design, nails, make up – offer a lesson for free. Give a homemade card that includes the invitation to “take the class.”
  6. Make a candle. Don’t be intimidated, it’s not as hard as it sounded to me at first. Do you have an old pot that you don’t mind melting wax in? If so, you can find everything you need to design and pour your own candle at the nearest hobby store. If you have small children that want to be involved, just buy the wick and sheets of beeswax, a few cookie cutters for designs, and you can make a very simple, rustic candle set, without heat, without mess, and in just a few minutes.
  7. Make a “coupon booklet” filled with things like “Doing the laundry”, “Babysitting”, “Sitting with grandma”, “Dinner’s on me!” and other personalized love offerings.
  8. Do you have puzzles that you don’t do anymore, have all the pieces, and are in good shape?  Collect all the pieces in a Ziploc bag and either give it away to a child, or donate that puzzle to your nearest assisted living/nursing home or orphanage.
  9. Do you have any knowledge of how to make a video using the Windows Movie Maker on your computer? Make a digital scrapbook. Make a short video out of embedded pictures and music, narration, scanned copies of family heirlooms, letters, graduation caps, etc.
  10. Write and perform a short skit about what you think life will be like in twenty years. This can be done alone or as a group. You can do this with your children, work buddies, church groups, or take the stage solo.


ImagePerception is all in the mind.  It’s how we sense things. It’s an opinion, and an expression of the ego – there is no standard.  There is no wrong or right way to perceive a smell, taste, sight, sound, touch, or heightened sense of awareness. How we perceive things all depends on where the feelers of our brain will choose to put emphasis – and that depends on what makes you comfortable and what doesn’t.

Is the sight of a rose pleasant, or does it make you want to leave the room because it reminds you of someone? Does the smell of manure make you wish you didn’t have to be exposed to that filth? To most people, that would be the case, but to a farmer, that distinct smell means growth and a bountiful crop.  Maybe you hear rap music coming from a car that’s next to you at a stop light. It’s so loud you hear the thumping of the bass through the windows, which are rolled up all the way. It could be obnoxious to you, but to that person, its the escape they need after a long work day. It’s their comfort food – their macaroni and cheese.

That’s why there are so many critics with different opinions, teachers with different strategies of teaching, preachers with different spiritual messages, and scientists arguing over who has the better theory.  You can put a hundred people in a room and give them one short sentence to read, and soon they would cluster into small groups sharing the same opinion about what the sentence means – and even then they would argue.  Something written in black and white can easily be misconstrued, misinterpreted – think I’m exaggerating? Try reading the Bible.  Even better, try reading assembly instructions on a tricycle.  There will always be an extra screw left over when you’re done, even though you think you followed the instructions to a tee – and you’ll always wonder where it goes.  Here’s an example of how something that’s real and tangible can disappear right in front of your eyes.  After seeing that illusion, I no longer doubt that some people can see Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, even though I can’t.  Another example of how our eyes can be tricked into seeing something that’s not there, is seen here in this video created by Dove. I feel so much better about myself after seeing that!

However you perceive a truth, honor others by remembering that the way they perceive the same truth may be very different than the way you do.

The blessing of giving back

Thanksgiving dinners all over the country of the United States are giving America a pretty nice aroma right about now. I have always loved cooking for others, especially for this holiday.  To be honest, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy much of today since I’m away from my family, but Adam and me set a simple plan into motion that made it possible to be away from family and still feel that joy that comes on this holiday – by feeding our neighbors.

We started cooking around 10 a.m. – green bean casserole, yams, stuffing, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, honey glazed ham, buttery yeast rolls, and cranberry sauce.  By noon, we prepared covered dishes for four people who we knew would appreciate the surprise knock at the door, and we set out on foot to hand deliver the meals.  It wasn’t much….just a little reminder of home to others like us who are away from their families on a day like today.  This day can be very hard for some – especially with the economy the way it is.

It felt so good to be able to do that, that I think I want to make it a yearly tradition.  Maybe next year, I’ll try my hands out on a turkey.

Random acts of kindness

That’s how we can change the world, isn’t it?  This video is only about a minute and a half long, but its filled with people sharing the best reasons why we continue to have faith, hope, and love every day.  Even in the darkest of times, the saddest moments, we long for these three gifts of the human spirit.

A random act of kindness gives renewed strength, feeds the soul, builds character, and demonstrates courage.  I’m not talking about physical courage. Courage is all about emotion.  For example, when you’re completely broke until pay day, living on a shoe string pay check to paycheck, it takes a mountain of courage to donate even $1. If your in a crowd full of strangers and something happens, some people will hesitate to act because it takes willpower to fight back the fear of being seen.   Sadly, some people are afraid to do good because they might get sued by the very person or people they want to help.  Don’t let fear destroy something good.  If it’s destiny, it will burn like a passion. You will want to do it without thinking, no matter how simple the act. Love isn’t measured in size. It’s healing to the giver as well as the receiver, and for that matter, the innocent bystander.

What are some random acts of kindness that you have seen? I would love to hear your experiences. Were you the giver,  the receiver, or a witness? 

Daring to move

Moving.  To move means, “to pass from one place to another…to progress or advance…to prompt, actuate or impel to some action.” (www.dictionary.com) It’s an action implying that a change is taking place. It’s an ability that can be taken for granted. Most people move without thinking.  A lot of our ability to move is based on faith – trusting the unseen, knowing that its safe to take those steps.

Walking by faith into a new situation only to have your future destroyed – it burns, like the pain of being cooked over an open fire. When you get burned, you think the pain will never stop, especially if you’re burned so bad that you feel it deep inside. When it finally does stop, that part of your body never quite feels the same. It’s scarred and tough. Every sensation is different from then on, which means that the way your mind perceives pain is forever altered by that one burn. Do you want to know why? When you cook meat, it changes the chemistry of the fat and muscle tissue at a cellular level. Once its cooked, it can never be uncooked. Being burned emotionally is no different. Maybe at first, you feel like you’ve been shot. It immobilizes you. That immobilization, the inability to move, comes from fear. Fear, being a false evidence appearing real – someone once told me that years ago.  Then when you can feel it subside, it’s not uncommon to re-evaluate your self worth. After all, everything that made you what you are has now been burned – the fire has changed your most basic qualities.

If you’re suffering right now, grieving the loss of someone in your life, or recovering after having the road that you saw yourself walking stripped out from under your feet….keep going. Walk through the fire. Through the pain.  Trust that what you experienced had a higher purpose. 

Just about the time that I was asking myself if I should give up recently after an immobilizing loss, I heard a song on the radio by Switchfoot called Dare You To Move.  It was exactly what I needed to hear.  It reminded me that there is more….what your feeling right now, isn’t the end.  It’s a turning point.

Just trust in that for a moment. Meditate on that.

Now, move.

The healing power of dignity

This morning I’ve been reflecting on things that have changed within the past month. There’s been a lot of good happening around me and Adam lately. When I look at all of them – job changes, Adam healing since his teeth were extracted and him having to get acquainted with a denture and his new smile – I see a common theme resurfacing over and over. Dignity.

Adam said something profound the other day when we were visiting with some friends who own a horse stable. It’s no surprise to get a call from them every weekend with the invitation to share in some smoked barbecue and outdoor music. This past weekend, we were asked to come out, and a visit was long overdue, so we went and soaked in the energy of all the animals and friends. Every trip down the road to visit this place feels better than a vacation hundreds of miles away – good energy, good people, unconditional love…you don’t want to leave. On this day we were watching how the farrier, the husband of my friend who teaches riding lessons, was handling one of the horses. This one was a rescue that we’ve blessed to watch from afar as this couple brought him back from deaths door, to be the healthy, spunky soul he is now. When he first arrived last summer, he was withered away – a skin-and-bones animal. He had lost his spirit and was dragging his head, almost lifeless. It’s hard to believe that just three months ago, the same creature we were watching had no life behind his eyes. Now he is full of life, full of energy, personality, and all he needs is a gentle hand to train him to be ridden. It’s a process that begins and never ends with love. Adam and me were leaning against the ring, watching as the farrier let the horse get used to the weight of the saddle and reins while being led on a long lead rope, and then after some time, the farrier mounted, and the magic of that unspoken communication became visible. “Horses are just like people. It’s amazing what a little dignity can do,” he said.

I recognized the miracle of gentle nudges and guidance this animal was getting. I felt the same from Adam, and from my family, and God, as I recovered last year from the emotional and physical scars that were left after I escaped my abusive ex-husband. As I leaned on that horse ring and watched the horse breathing in and out, nostrils flaring and anxious sweat pouring, learning to trust a human being again after having been so betrayed…so hurt in the past….I knew. I remember a time just two years ago, that I would break out into an anxious sweat if I entered a store, or had to look a man in the eye. I remember what it was like to want to trust someone that much, yet being terrified of doing it…but then doing it any way, coaxed and encouraged by the people who loved me.

As I was leaning on that horse ring next to my life partner and best friend, I understood the depth of what a gift it is to look beyond what we see and simply love someone. I looked at Adam and had to smile, because I saw our miracle.

It’s so easy to be fearful if we look at someone’s past and judge them based on it. It’s a divine show of respect, to give someone the right to be loved. It takes just as much courage for us not to judge the lonely and the scarred as it does for them to step out into the world. It’s character building, to trust someone before they have earned it.  That is what it’s like to give dignity to one of God’s creatures.

Knocking down the Tower of Babel


Man has always searched for knowledge.  Dating as far back as recorded history can go, there are records of “libraries” in every civilization. Whether it was carvings on the wall of a Ziggurat in ancient Babylon, paintings on the wall of a caveImage, or books and modern-day Internet, human beings, in all stages of evolution, have set out to conquer the unknown, and to learn from our mistakes – by recording life experiences, learning to speak new languages, and allowing artistry and music speak for itself.

I was born with a thirst for knowledge.  Being born and raised in the Huntsville, Alabama area under the influence of rocket science, NASA, and some very open minded relatives, I was given the opportunity to explore and research, even as a child in the 1970’s.  Before the Internet, we had thick, heavy, leather bound encyclopedias. I still remember the smell of them as I sifted through the pages, getting lost in a world outside of my own. I think I read every one of the ones my grandparents had, cover to cover, by age ten!   I was especially fascinated by anatomy, math, and language. One of my favorite hero’s in childhood that I first discovered within those pages, was a quirky little man named Albert Einstein. A world famous scientist, physicist, mathematician, and philosopher. I liked him because no matter how famous he became for his many discoveries, no matter how much he shook the world by breaking boundaries of known measure, he never seemed to lose a grip on his humble desire to help mankind.  Later on in years, I learned to appreciate how he must have been misunderstood by his fellow man. As I grew older, I learned that being such a reader was not something most people enjoyed. But I wanted to read, because I wanted to be able to understand people, in all their cultural differences. This desire eventually led me to learn new languages and dive head-first into math and science.

When I was eleven years old, I had a strange loss of hearing in one ear.  I say strange  because it disappeared by the next year. Occasionally it reappeared for short episodes in my teens and early twenties, but it never stayed. However, I am thankful for my period of unique deafness. Because of it, I learned sign language  It’s called ASL, but I don’t like that title. I don’t think someone outside of the United States would call it American Sign Language. I learned it because my (confused) ENT doctor told me I was slowly going deaf.  I didn’t obviously, but thankfully my new found language was there with me to expand upon. I’ve used it to communicate over the years when I’ve been blessed to come across hearing impaired people in the many paths this life has taken me.  Their response is always the same. General shock, that a hearing person knows their language, and then gratitude for not having to deal with the frustration that they probably have to live with daily, when dealing with the hearing public.  To them, it’s a lifeline. To me, it’s just another tool for understanding.

When I was in high school, I was given the option of learning a new language as part of my graduation credit. Spanish was what everyone else was going for, so naturally I chose German.  “Auf Deutsch!”, Frau Neidermayer used to say every time I would bust out in English during class by accident. German soon became the language I spoke even in my dreams for the next three years!  All core subjects in school became easier to understand, thanks to becoming fluent in German.Image

The more I studied and expanded my vocabulary, the more the grammar became understandable, and then as that veil between languages thinned out and I matured over time, I learned a deeper aspect of being multilingual… language isn’t limited to speech.  Language is unspoken, in everything. Math was a language that was spoken by everyone. I started to notice that we speak volumes with our eyes and facial expressions. Things in nature flowed without words. I remember thinking, when I was about 20 years old, “Why couldn’t we flow like that?”  But it’s human nature to fight what comes natural. Natural didn’t come to me until I became a mother a couple of years later.

When my oldest child was three years old, I married an Iranian-American man. He joined the US Army when our oldest was barely two years old. Because of this, I ended up living more than four years in El Paso, Texas.  If you’ve been west of Dallas before, you know that every sign and posting is written in Spanish before it’s written in English. Learning Spanish became natural. My oldest child learned it at lightening speed. She was between the ages of seven and eleven years old during our stay there. There’s also something unique to the area called “Tex-Mex”.  I can only compare it to being the Taco Bell of Spanish. Not quite Spanish, not quite English – not enough seasoning to be Mexican, but enough to give you heartburn in that five month stretch of hundred-plus degree heat.

During the years in Texas I was equally blessed to home school my children. Becoming an educator was like a puzzle falling perfectly into place.  I didn’t just teach them core subject matter. I taught them to have my love of learning. More than anything else, I wanted them to each have an open mind. I would rather them question everything than be trapped by never having the courage to ask why. After all, knowledge will expand friendships across cultures. Without the boundaries of communication barriers, you can conquer the division that has been the cause of generations of prejudice.

I encourage you to explore in whatever ways feel comfortable to you. Learn a language, taste a new food, savor a culture’s art and music, talk to someone you never expected to speak to.  You might not realize it at first, but you’re helping someone by bridging the gap.  Knocking down the Tower of Babel was God’s way of making us need knowledge to help each other.  Reach out in whatever way you can.

The right to vote… freely


On this voting day, 2012, I’ve been reflecting on what truly stands behind the right to vote in the United States of America. It’s a fragile thing, called freedom. The majority of Americans live under the assumption that if you are born in this country and you exercise your right to vote, that you are doing so, freely.  For the duration of my marriage to my ex-husband, I can honestly say – with confidence – that I was not given that right.

For 17 years I was forced to vote for whoever my ex-husband deemed worthy. Four presidential elections, to be exact. Some people have asked, “How were you forced, when no one has the right to make you choose?”  I answer them by saying “No one has the right to intimidate another human being, whether its simply to bully for their own entertainment, or to coerce someone into choosing an option that better suits the one in control.”  In my case, he would batter me, lecture me for hours until I was exhausted, and then take me to the polls himself and sit right beside me with no partition in between us while I marked the ballot and he marked his – something absurd to me, but for some reason quite normal to a small country town where the voting booth was inside of a church. So much for separating church and state. I made the mistake one election year of standing for my right to choose – voting for who I wanted to win instead of who he wanted. The punishment was hours of physical and verbal battering nonstop, while my children watched. It was a brainwashing experience that left me unable to look in the mirror at myself. I was convinced that I was worthless, the worst mother in the world, the worst wife in the world, and somehow mentally unstable because of my active desire to speak up, be heard, and choose freely.

Whether the case is an abusive man who uses constant battering to control a woman, or simply a church leader, friend, relative, or boss who uses the fear of condemnation to make you choose a certain lifestyle or vote a certain way – it is taking away your freedom. It is reducing the soul to ashes, making a mockery of the bravery of our founding fathers, and it happens….all over the country, everywhere.  Yes, people do vote for the party or candidate that someone else thinks they should vote for. Yes, people are guilty of coercing others into doing so. If you don’t believe me, check out Facebook. Nothing can ever make it right.  It destroys the human spirit.

I would like to speak to all people, who are under the thumb of a tyrant, or who may be in fear of prosecution by their peers, right now – as they go into a voting booth.  If you are being forced or coerced into voting for a certain candidate and you feel like you opinion doesn’t matter, if you are feeling like no one could ever know what you’re going through.  You are not alone. Your opinion matters. Don’t lose faith in yourself. I know what you are going through, I lived it for almost two decades… your agony, your fear, the feeling as your heart turns to stone…as you lose another piece of your dignity. Do not lose yourself in guilt. That thumping in your chest? Your beating heart that wakes you up everyday – It’s called purpose. You are here for a reason.  Things will change. Not because of an election or a vote, but because you are worth it.

Now excuse me, while I go exercise my right – freely, for the first time since 1995.

A letter to my 17-year old self

This is inspired by the Brad Paisley song Letter To Me.


Hey Karo…. You probably don’t recognize me yet, but you will one day, because you’re going to be me.  You’re so full of life! I know there are times when you feel like you can’t go on another day, because some people you love don’t understand you…believe me when I say, your family will do anything they can to protect you if you just let them.  You don’t feel like it right now, but they’ve got your back. Your Dad loves you more than he can say. Trust me, in about 25 years, you will find out how much. Your Mom was your age once, and she admires you for being so strong and brave – even for your recklessness.

You see, passion doesn’t come easy to some, but you’re hungry for it, so you walk without fear of the consequences,  where some angels fear to tread. I’m not just talking about you being an EMT in the rescue squad. I know, some of the places you go in the ambulance are in the worst parts of town, but I’m not talking about patching up gunshot victims or doing CPR countless times only to learn that God takes us when He wants us, and we don’t have the means to change that….I’m talking about boys…about sneaking out at night – which your mother knows about, don’t be fooled by her unconditional love and acceptance.

I know you’ve been writing stories since you were 10 years old. I’ll tell you now – don’t stop!  People may like them or they may think what you’re writing is stupid, but it doesn’t matter… you’re going to get better.  Keep an open mind, keep using your imagination, and use that ability you have to remember every word in a conversation. You’re going to lock the important details in your mind, and one day what you write is going to help a lot of people.

You don’t know it yet, but you’ve already met three of your future life partners!  One you only knew briefly when you were in the 4th grade….I wish I could tell you his name so you could avoid him, but you have three beautiful children by him… and I wouldn’t change that for anything. The other two live within walking distance of your house. They are as opposite to each other as the night is compared to the day.   The one who people see as descent and good, because he doesn’t do drugs or get into trouble…to the outside world he’s good, but when the chips are down, when things get dicey….he’s going to leave you stranded.  It’s the “bad boy” that no one expects to amount to anything, because he gets into all kinds of mischief,  who will surprise everyone by stepping in….and without hesitation, or expectation, he will walk beside you where angels fear to tread. You’re going to reconnect at a time when you need each other the most…and he will be the one who will love you faithfully, with more loyalty and regal appreciation than anyone else can. I wish I could tell you his name…. so you could avoid two decades of heart break. But if I did, your children wouldn’t be who they are, and they are perfect.

If you get this today in 1987, its a Thursday and you’re going to school at CHHS. It’s your senior year. You’re first class of the day is Choir, with Mr. Clements, and you’re going to stay after school to practice on the flag team for the upcoming Christmas parade. You have a project in Chemistry, and your football-jock lab partner will want you and the other smart partner to do everything, but go easy on him. There’s only a minor explosion when the beaker is corked and then heated, and the rubber cork gets lodged in the ceiling. Spend some extra time with that tall, skinny boy at the bus stop every morning, and give him a smile when you see him.  You don’t know it, but he needs your smile, and he loves you and your small family more than you know. He’s going to be very important to you one day.  He’s going to move away soon…he may have already told you by now and you’re wondering if you’ll ever see him again. Trust me, you will. And he will change your world in the best way.

People who you think are your friends now…most of them won’t stick around.  You feel it in your heart though – who your real friends are. The world is going to change in so many ways… but thankfully those people won’t.  You’re going to lose your faith one day, after being hurt one too many times, but you’ll find it again.  Remember to be open minded, and don’t be afraid of your intuition. You’re going to use it in many ways.  Right now you are wondering if you should quit the rescue squad. You think you’ve done so little that your time is not worth it…you’ll quit when you have to, but you’ll remember every face of every patient… and there will be a day when you will need to use everything you’re learning now in order to help people in ways you can’t imagine, and I can’t tell you because that would be saying too much.

I’ll close this with a gentle reminder…. to keep loving.  Learn as much as you can from your Mom about Type 1 Diabetes…spend as much time as you can with your Great-Grandma N., and listen to every word that your Grandma B. says…

Love, Carolyn…. 2012.

Letting love be the voice…

A week ago, Adam endured major facial surgery. He had all of his top teeth removed (8 surgically and 5 simple extractions).  It was something that needed to be done for a very long time, and the time was finally right for him to take off from work and do it.

In the days prior, I remember being worried about the long term affects – how losing his natural smile would change his voice, his ability to sing, and if it would hinder his self confidence. I worried about his immediate needs – diet, mostly.  One thing that never occurred to me was how we would communicate that first day, after he woke up from surgery. Maybe it’s because we have an unspoken communication. It’s something that we never put much thought into, before last week, and when the surgery was over and Adam’s mouth was full of gauze, it kicked in. Like everything else with us, it was natural.

One thing I’ve always been able to do with him, that I’ve never been able to do with anyone else in my life, is look him in the eye and pay close attention.  I think that comes from missing him for twenty years. Now that we’re together and I wake up next to him every day, I’m afraid if I blink, I’ll miss something!  Maybe beyond that, is a small amount of intuition that stems from loving each other for so long. I’m not talking about the passionate love we share now. I’m talking about the contentment your soul feels when you’ve found a missing piece of yourself in an instant best friend –  when you “recognize” someone the second you meet them, and life is better after that moment just because that person is in it. You finish each others sentences, you breathe deeper because you can feel their heartbeat even when that person is far away…and you don’t need to speak out loud to communicate basic needs, wants, worries, concerns, or pleasure.

We became closer the day of the surgery.  We held each other one last time at the door of the dental office, kissing each other one last time knowing that kisses would be different from then on. I felt his heart beating inside of his chest and prayed that the surgery would not be an unbearable shock to his body – for his blood pressure to stay normal. He breathed me into him. We listened to the birds chirping in the trees behind the office, and then we walked in – both ready.

When I stepped in and smelled the distinctive smells of the dentist office and I saw the chair, suddenly nothing else mattered to me except Adam’s health. That’s why he was going through with this after all – to remove bad teeth so his overall health could be better. I could have cared less about whether or not he sang ever again. I just wanted him to be OK.  I saw how nervous he was in the chair right before he was numbed up, so I started to focus on calm energy. The plants in the room, the painting on the wall – anything to calm me down so that Adam might feel it.

The way the room was arranged enabled me to stay in eyesight of Adam during the entire procedure without being in the way.  This was good. He didn’t want me to be far away, and I didn’t want to leave him alone. As with any crisis, when the surgery began , priorities started to get in order. No more worrying about bills. You could feel it in the air. All we have is each other. Thank you for being here.  An unspoken thought, sent and received by both of us simultaneously.


An hour and a half later, it was done.  His blood pressure was fine. Relief washed over me as he stood up and walked with me to the car. The worst part of his part of the ordeal was over. My work had just begun. I knew the best thing for him was to get him home where I could take good care of him. It was during the car ride home that the old intuition kicked in. Entire conversations were given in quick, deep glances. A look and a nod said what needed to be said. Hand me some more gauze please. I’m thirsty. Did the numbing stuff wear off yet? I love you. Thank you. 

By the next day Adam was able to talk again (and I was able to understand him). The swelling took four days for most of it to go away. His face never bruised. The doctor had done a wonderful job.  There were many things to be thankful for in this Journey.  Mostly that Adam was going to have a chance to live a longer life, because the decayed teeth that had caused him so many physical ailments were now gone.

I’ll never forget this experience.  I learned so much about true love when Love spoke for us that day.