Saturday, December 20, 2014

How to Simplify Christmas

Christmas does not have to be stressful, so de-stress with these tips.
Remember the Meaning
In all the hustle and bustle of going shopping, giving gifts, and attending parties, remember the reason for the season. If you have children, read to them the story of the birth of Christ and discuss the meaning of His birth. Purchase or borrow DVDs that dramatize the birth of Christ. Many churches offer Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services in which a minister teaches about the birth of Christ: why He was born and how He was born. Services usually include a rich selection of Christmas themed songs and hymns. Some churches even put on full-length Christmas-themed musicals.

Go Christmas Caroling
Round up a few friends and family members, and practice some Christmas songs. Then go out in your neighborhood and sing. You will be surprised how all the individual off-key melodies can harmonize into beautiful songs.

Give to Others
Giving to others will spread joy. And joy is contagious. Giving does not have to cost you money; you can give one of the best gifts of your heart--time.
  • Serve in a soup kitchen.
  • Collect and distribute blankets to the homeless.
  • Collect and give coats, gloves, scarves, and boots to those in need.
  • Volunteer at a nonprofit organization that helps people in need.
  • Adopt a family in need, and buy them food, clothing, and toys for Christmas. (If you think this might be awkward, secretly give them the gifts.)
  • Visit residents in a nursing home and read to them, hold their hands, or assist them in a walk around the facilities.

Divide and Conquer
If you know your children’s gifts will need assembly, divide and conquer. Hire a babysitter to take the children out to see a Christmas movie while you (and a family member or friend) put the toys together. When my children were young, at least one of their gifts had what looked like hundreds of parts and bags of screws and unusual looking tools. So, I took the children out to see the latest Christmas movie while my husband put the toys together. When I returned home with the children, they were usually sleepy, so getting them to go to bed was easy.

Enjoy the Christmas Decorations
My mother and father started our family’s Christmas tradition of driving through downtown Detroit to see the Christmas lights and decorations. Back then, J.L Hudson’s, Detroit’s largest department store, had an enchanting Christmas display with whimsical, mechanical scenes right out of a story book. This was always an exciting event. The finale was standing in line to see Santa. I continued this tradition with my children for as long as I could—until Hudson’s was sold. 

 Erik Smith, Uploaded June 27, 2010

Most downtowns are decorated lavishly for the holidays. Take a relaxing drive and enjoy them.

Serve Finger Foods on Christmas Eve
Over the years, I learned that Christmas Eve is exciting, so exciting that the big meals I used to cook were hardly eaten. A few years ago, I decided that I would only cook and/or buy hors d’oeuvres on Christmas Eve. It works out well. I set out dip, veggies, cheese, crackers, soup, and sandwiches, and everybody eats when they get ready. We have the leftovers for Christmas lunch.

Make Christmas Cookies
For as long as I can remember I have been baking cookies on Christmas Eve or the day before Christmas Eve. I give them away as gifts, and I eat them. I eat lots of them during the holiday season. Baking cookies can be fun. It gives you an opportunity to be creative and to give to others. Most people appreciate the love that goes into the cookies.
  • Purchase cookie tins or Christmas cellophane bags with coordinating tie twists, decorative cupcake liners, and metallic doilies. Wash out the new cookie tins. Dry them well, and line them with the doilies.
  • Select several tried and tested cookie recipes. I recommend a combination: cookie dough you roll out and cut with cookie cutters, cookie dough you press into a baking dish and cut into squares when done, and cookie dough you drop by spoonful onto a cookie dish. Baking a combination helps you avoid boredom, and the different textures and shapes will thrill the recipients.
  • Write out a shopping list, and purchase the ingredients—enough to double or triple the amount if you are giving away lots of cookies. Don’t forget the sprinkles, nuts, candies, food coloring, and frosting.
  • Plan to spend all day in the kitchen, so this is a good time to order pizza for dinner. I found that the bigger I make the cookies, the less time it takes me to roll out and cut the dough. But you will need super size cookie cutters. Cookies that you have to drop by spoonful onto a cookie sheet will take more time to bake in the oven if you make them bigger. Consider the size of the cookie tins, cellophane bags, and cupcake liners to determine the size cookies you should make.
  • Always let the cookies cool on cooling racks before packaging them. If you don’t, they will sweat and become soggy.
  • Separate the cookies by placing them in the cupcake liners. If the cookie tins are large enough, layer the cookies in the tins.
  • For an added bonus--if you’re not keeping your recipes a secret--make copies of the recipes and attach them to the cookie tin or bag.

Decorate your Home the Easy Way
Your decorations can be as simple or as elaborate as you like.
  • Pick a theme (or color)—birds, butterflies, snowflakes, teddy bears, or picture frames (ornaments with pictures of your loved ones). Many stores organize their ornaments by theme and/or color, so it's easy to find what you're looking for. Dress up the tree by hanging the ornaments here and there on the tree. Don't worry about perfection. Decorating a tree is not an exact science; it's just fun. Buy some coordinating poinsettia stems and stick them in the empty spaces. 
    My Asian-themed tree with poinsettias as fillers
  • If you don’t want to bother with a large tree, buy a decorative tabletop ceramic, wooden, or metal tree.
  • If you don't want to bother with a tree at all, hang a holiday wreath on the door or hang a wreath on each window by using a suction cup hook to hold them in place. These really work. The directions on the suction cup hooks I have call for a small amount of petroleum jelly around the edges.
  • Place an artificial poinsettia plant in the center of the dining or coffee table. Or buy a few plants, and line the edge of your staircase.
  • If you have a flair for the dramatic, buy at least three lavishly dressed angels and place them on a tray. Then position the angel tray in the center of a table. 

What Christmas tradition do you have? This is the story in you. Share it.

Connect with me on Pinterest to view creative ideas about writing:

  • Why should you write?
  • How should you write?
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Smith, E. Uploaded June 27, 2010. Hudsons. Retrieved from

Friday, December 5, 2014

Forget-Me-Not Friday: Memoir Writing Prompts for Christmas

Sharing your memories is important so you are not forgotten. You have thoughts, feelings, opinions, experiences, and lessons that are valuable to others. I like to refer to these as your forget-me-nots. It reminds me of the German legend of the forget-me-not flowers (McGrath, n.d.).

This is my version:
Once upon antiquity, in a faraway land, a knight sat at the edge of the Danube River. Dressed in armor from head to toe, he was unbreakable, but his heart was soft for the love of his life. His thoughts were focused on her gentle beauty and sweet kindness. Then the soft blue wildflowers that grew along the Danube caught his attention. He decided to pick a fistful for this maiden for whom he was smitten. The flowers were blue skies, each crowned with an amber star. He eyed a long, limp reed in the shallow of the water, so he stepped in the water to fetch his find. 
Suddenly, the heavens drew its shade. That made the wind angry, so it tiptoed behind the knight, grumbling and whispering its intent. As the knight bound the stems of the blue flowers with the reed, the wind grew wild and loud—so wild that it thrust the knight into the deep of the Danube. The knight fought the wind and the water to stay afloat. His metal fists held the bouquet ever so tightly.

The knight continued to fight the wind and the water, but his strength could not save him.

The knight continued to fight the wind and the water, but his courage could not save him.

The knight continued to fight the wind and the water, but his love for his maiden could not save him.

Just as he took his last breath, he saw his lovely maiden in the midst of the storm. He mustered enough strength to toss the bouquet to her and gasp, “Forget me not.”

From that day forward, these blue flowers--little blue skies, each crowned with an amber star-- have been known as forget-me-nots. People all over the world cherish these little flowers in remembrance of their loved ones whether they are away temporarily or have transitioned from life to death.

A flower is “the blossom of a plant” (, para. 1), and we have all had blossoms in our lives. These are our forget-me-nots—little blue skies, each crowned with an amber star. Because you are unique, extraordinary, and one of a kind, it is worth sharing your forget-me-nots.

How would you like to be remembered? Be inspired by a word below. This is the story in you. Share it.


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References (2014). Retrieved from
McGrath, S. (n.d.). Forget-me-not cakes. Retrieved from

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Throwback Thursday: How to Simplify Christmas, 12/4/14

How to Simplify Christmas

With thousands of people participating in the social media trend #ThrowbackThursday (#TBT), over 100 million photos have been posted. It's the practice of sharing old photographs, lyrics, and links to songs along with the memories behind them. It has taken Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like by storm.

Have you joined in the fun yet?
You should join in the fun because nostalgia has benefits. Pondering over fond memories makes you feel better. Take a soothing bath in those times when you felt happy, protected, and loved. According to Hepper, Ritchie, Sedkikdes, and Wildschut (2012), the strength you gain from these positive memories can  have the following effect:
  • improve your self-concept
  • boost your mood
  • feel accepted
  • help you make connections between the then and the now
You can conjure up fond memories by looking at old photos, listening to old songs, smelling an aroma, touching an object, and/or tasting a food item or drink. 

Participating in #TBT is easy:
Participating in #TBT is easier than you think. 
  • Select a picture that was taken at least five years ago (one associated with fond memories).
  • Post it on your favorite social media site.
  • Write a brief description of the nostalgic memory.
Note that social media is not the only way to participate in #TBT. Start a #TBT scrapbook. Each Thursday, select an old photo that generates fond memories. Insert the photo into a scrapbook (make it or buy it). Then write about the fond memories centered around the photo. Before you know it, you'll have completed the scrapbook.

Every Christmas my siblings and I made the same promise to each other: “If I wake up first, I will wake up everybody else so we can go downstairs together.” Our pre-bed routine was the same. We watched Mama make Santa Claus a ham sandwich from the Christmas ham she had been baking in the oven all evening. She made the sandwich with white Wonder bread slices and Miracle Whip salad dressing. Then she cut it diagonally.

We followed her into the living room as she carried the sandwich on a saucer in one hand and a bottle of Coca Cola in the other hand. When Mama set the snack on the coffee table, we knew what was next. In a single file--begrudgingly--we drifted upstairs to our beds, only to find that the smoky aroma of the clove dotted ham had been waiting for us. No matter how hard we tried to fight sleep, our heavy eyelids made us vulnerable. And sleep won the battle. 

On this particular Christmas, my sister woke up first. She kept her promise and woke up my siblings and me. As we tiptoed downstairs, we saw Daddy. He took a picture of us as we peeped through the banister. He had just bumped into Santa Claus--he explained--on his way out the door.

Christmas has always been a festive time for my family and me. Because it can be a lot of work decorating, shopping, and entertaining, I recommend the following strategies:

Make a To Do List
A few weeks in advance, write down everything you need to do. Post it on the refrigerator or in a prominent place. Cross off the tasks as you complete them.

Make a Timeline
Determine when you will complete each task. Don’t beat yourself up if you stray. Just make a new deadline and go from there. As you develop your timeline, think about how you can break up larger tasks into a few smaller ones. For example, if you have meals that require sautéed onions, celery, and peppers, cook them a couple of weeks in advance. Store them in the freezer. If you are making lasagna, sauté the meat in advance, and freeze it. The short time in the freezer usually does not alter the taste. As you need the items, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight, or pop them in the microwave.

Clean in Stages
If you are having guests, squeaky clean the room(s) they will be in. If everyone will congregate in the living room or dining room, dust in corners and behind things. But if you know guests will not be using a bedroom, just make it “presentable” if you do not have time to squeaky clean it.

If you have children, involve them in this festive occasion. Newsflash: Children don’t always like to be told what to do. So, ease them into it. Tell them several days in advance you may want them to help you a bit. Then a couple of days later, tell them how they might be able to help you. You can even allow the children to select the tasks they would like to do.

Forget about Perfection
If you work and have a family, your time is probably a precious commodity. Cherish the moments you and your family are together, and remember the real reason for the celebration—the birth of Christ. So, if something gets broken, burned, or lost, don’t be upset and anxious. Think about the big picture.

What fond memories do you have of Christmas? This is the story in you. Share it.

Connect with me on Pinterest to view creative ideas about writing:

  • Why should you write?
  • How should you write?
  • The quirks of writing
  • When should you write?
  • What is writing?
  • What is a writer?
  • In what should you write?


Hepper, Ritchie, Sedkikdes, and Wildschut. (2012). Nostalgia. Retrieved from