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.