Essential Traditions/Real Food Real Frugal

The archives for the old Essential Traditions blog and the old Real Food Real Frugal Blog

Christmas in the Heart

As Christmas approaches – it’s only a few days away now – is your heart prepared?

We always try to make sure Jesus is “the reason for the season,” and we’re on our platforms about the resistance of businesses to use even the word Christmas. We try and remind our children about the importance of giving in this season because of His gift, usually by giving either our time or our resources (or both if we can) and showing by example. Maybe your family is like mine and has a heart to give more than we keep because we really understand what it is to do without some basic things.

But how is your heart?

Worship is a heart attitude. Sometimes we have to go through the motions and be “purposefully obedient” even if and because our hearts and minds aren’t there yet, and when we discipline ourselves to do those things as an act of obedience then we are rewarded for that. (Often the reward is simply that our hearts get where they should have been in the first place.)

But sometimes we get too caught up in it all, and our actions are more out of habit than out of obedience, and our heart’s attitude has nothing to do with it.

I invite you, in these last few days before Christmas, to spend some time each and every day until your own personal celebrations in one-on-one heartfelt worship and meditation on the Lord Jesus Christ. I invite you to think on how He, in all His glory on the throne of heaven, chose to become mortal. He chose to come live among us, to guarantee in our own hearts that He knows the trials we face, to experience for Himself the evil and persecution of the enemy in the world, even unto death. I invite you to think about the prayer of Jesus at Golgotha – if there is any other way Lord, please don’t make me do this! But He didn’t stop there. He didn’t. He wanted to! But He didn’t.

I invite you to think about how it was for Mary and Joseph. The persecution, the assumptions and judgments made falsely against them. They were the most blessed people on the planet! But their circumstances caused judgments of evil against them. If those people only knew! And can you imagine being the mother of the only son of God? That’s one that always blows my mind; she was indeed chosen and blessed among women, to be trusted with the babyhood, toddlerhood, childhood of Him who would save us all.

What was it like for them? What things entered Christ’s mind? The Word says He dealt with every temptation known to man. What things have I dealt with in my life, and even privately in my mind, and how would – did – Jesus handle those same temptations? What a standard!

He was all God, but He became all Man so that I could think on those very things. This weekend, friend, make an effort to truly remember the reason for the season and to appreciate not only His sacrifice on the cross but what it meant and means now that He chose to come in the first place. Before He died, He lived, and He still lives! Praise Jesus!

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Simple Christmas Decorating

This Christmas isn’t going quite the way we’d planned it. Tomorrow or the next day we were supposed to be boarding a plane to be with family on the other side of the country. But it turns out we aren’t going anywhere for Christmas; it will be just the four of us again -and the cat.

It casts a shadow on the holidays that is true but it doesn’t have to be melancholy the entire time. I’d like to make a statement that is stated often but overlooked by so many: Jesus CHRIST is the reason for Christmas. Sometimes even in families where that is understood the mentality to commercialize the holiday has infiltrated and taken some of the meaning away. It’s been replaced by stress of what to give and what do we want.

This post however is about how we’ve decorated our home to give it a more cheerful atmosphere. We can’t replace family with decorations; of course not. But looking at them and making them make some good memories and give us times of happiness.

Last year we made cloth ornaments to send to family that was far away. This year we made cornstarch/baking soda dough ornaments. We even added cinnamon to a few in hopes of creating a pleasant smell. (The dough by itself doesn’t smell like much; it’s not offensive.) They didn’t ‘cure’ in time to send them away so when they are finished, we’ll add them to our tree.

If you are on Pinterest (if not, you should be *wink*) here is a search for Christmas crafts. I’d written a post a few weeks ago about preparing for Christmas here that includes some of the things I’ll talk about in this post, but no worries! It’s not a duplicate post. Besides ornaments, snowflakes are something that always adorn our home this time of year. Paper snowflakes of course. It is something that my daughter started many years ago.

Here are a few of ours:

You might recall that tree from a previous post I’ve done- Thankful All Year Long. We still have this tree from last year -2011, Thanksgiving. I just love that tree…

Another bit of decorating we do to first take our minds off of being far away from those we love at this time of year and to make our house more ‘festive’ are cone trees –everywhere. This is something we started last year and it’s just grown! 

The photo abover were the first ones we made and that’s where their designated spot has been. We stack these to store them away. These were originally made for an Advent activity that the kids were doing. Now they are part of our holiday decorations.

Here are more trees, placed randomly throughout our home.

Perhaps you noticed that the above photo has a paper tree that isn’t like the rest. We got the idea from a Family Fun magazine to make trees from…magazines! It is really easy to do and it doesn’t destroy the magazine (in case you would like to read it again at some point). This is something new for this year.

Perhaps the first thing that others think of when they want to get into the Christmas spirit is the Christmas tree. Since we thought we weren’t going to be here, this bit has been done in stages. Originally we were not going to put up the tree but it did indeed go up shortly after the first of December. It got decorated days later and little by little it has ‘come together’. It still does not have the topper. She is sitting among some paper trees, waiting for her moment of greatness *smile*.

The ornaments on the tree are ones we’ve carried with us for years. We’ve not bought ornaments for at least 6 years. Many are from previous years that were specially chosen for us from my mother-in-law. Each year we do add something to the tree but it’s not something we bought and sometimes it may not have even been intended for the tree.

Finally, the last thing that *I* look at to keep my spirits from getting low during the holidays that can’t be spent with family, is a gift a friend sent to me. It is a reminder that every single day is the true gift.

That is above one of the doorways in my house where it is easily visible. (I added the heart while making snowflakes; it was a result of cutting out the design.)

And I hope that I remember, as well as my family, that Jesus is the ultimate gift. His birth made it possible for his gift of redemption.

I hope that all have a wonderful Christmas season, wherever you are.

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Give Good Gifts

The Lord is really speaking to me lately about giving good gifts. His Word says in Matthew 7:11 that if we, being evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, then how much more shall our Father in heaven give good gifts to those that will ask Him.

Now, so many times the emphasis of that verse is on the last part – that we should be asking our Father for good gifts. I’ve run into the interesting conundrum lately that my children aren’t coming up with anything they want for Christmas, so I can testify that it’s very difficult to know what will give them joy on Christmas morning – because they aren’t speaking up with an opinion now.

But I’ve really been thinking lately about the first part of that verse. It says that we, being evil, [still] know how to give good gifts to our children.

I wrote previously on some of the unconventional gifts we are thinking of this year, by way of being sure to know my children and just discern from their personalities what they may enjoy and cherish. I think this is what Matthew meant when he spoke of “knowing how” to give good gifts to our children.

Here’s the thing – as a child, I know we didn’t have a lot of money. Truly, we did without things. I often remember not speaking up about a wish or a want because I knew we couldn’t afford it. At my house, though, all bets were off at Christmas! I always felt like I could ask Santa for anything, and he always brought it. I’m really not sure how it was managed; help from grandparents possibly, and purchasing items used and things like that. In fact, I think I’ll call my mother today and ask her!

I don’t ever recall having a disappointing Christmas. I don’t ever remember not getting what I asked for. I don’t ever remember thinking that Santa had forgotten something. In fact, I usually ended up with quite a bit more than I’d thought to ask for!

Now, please understand, my family (and I myself) know well the lesson of being thankful for whatever you have. We know what it is to do without, and understand that any gift is a blessing for which we should be grateful. My husband recalls a Christmas for which he received nothing, not even a visit from Santa. It is, in fact, because we have learned this lesson so well that the Lord has to speak to me about remembering to give good gifts to my children.

I wonder, now, if it is my fault my children do not ask. The Word instructs us to ask our Father for things, and promises that He will give us the desires of our hearts. If I have, through my talk about not affording and about the importance of giving what we don’t truly need to others, taught my children that it is unacceptable to ask for things, even to want them in the first place, then I have indeed done them a disservice that needs correcting.

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My heart sank when I first heard the topics were to be about “Christmas” this week. This topic is controversial to many.  But than I began to think about what Christmas is about, and the fact of being able to speak about Christs’ coming, I got excited!  Is Christmas Christian or pagan? I know many *churched* people say its pagan; look at its origin, when and how the celebrating began etc.  Lets really look at its origin…Why did Christ come? how did He come?  Christ came in the form of a baby, through a virgin-birth, to save His people. Saving from eternal damnation, not rescuing the Jewish people from the Roman Emperor. How can we as Christians say, “Christmas is pagan, when we say we believe that Christ Jesus came to save us ?”

A young mentally handicapped child was denied an air flight on one of the major Airlines…I read on Faceboo how so and so persons were not going to fly with this airline anymore…This was one flight out of this airline…so—-we just boycott them all ??? There are many similar actions taken over  so many different things that come up in life.  Unfortunately, Christians have taken a similar stance on Christmas as these well-meaning Christians concerning the denied flight to the mentally handicapped child.

We run with an idea that has been put into action by someone we would have termed *flying off the handle* 🙂  and yet we condone that and begin supporting the idea without knowing all the facts.  My response to these friends concerning the flight was this ; “Are you being fair to all involved by saying , lets boycott so and so Airline because of what they have done? This  was only this flight…”

Too many times Christians are getting on the *band wagon* for unthoughtful, unchecked, and plainly stupid reasons.  No wonder Christians are getting a BAD name!  We are more adamant about why we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas than WHY CHRIST CAME!  For every sacred and good thing God has created or established for Believers, Satan , as the prince of this world has distorted and concocted a wrong potion… to destroy and change the focus of WHY God created such with purpose!

Christians are to be *smarter* than this… The Bible does not say,   “Celebrate Christmas in such and such a way”   But, then someone will whine, “What about gifts?”   Christ was our gift…the shepherds brought the gift of their presence, glorifying God as they did so.  There are many scriptures about *stewardship* that could come into play here.  For instance, not going into debt, “Owe no man anything”  or, it could be a time to give freely, because “God loves a cheerful giver”  offerings, above what you put in the offering plate.

We *memorialize* all the time, we do things to help us remember events, places, and  things; and that isn’t sin, so why does “Christmas” become sinful?    I personally cannot say or conceive the idea that *Christmas is pagan”  when my Lord and Saviour was SENT BY MY GOD to save me! Do you celebrate the birth of your child? Do you celebrate consequent birthdays?  Its true, Dec. was probably not the date that Christ was born, but rather a date someone chose to celebrate the fact of Christs’ coming.  Fact is, we as Christians should celebrate Christs coming, forget about the doodads, those are between you and GOD, no one has the authority to say, “gifts”  or  “no gifts”


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Ornaments for Christmas

Jesus is the reason for the season, of course. Not taking away from that, my post talks about one of our ‘traditions’ around Christmas time.

Years ago, when my first child was still fairly young and my second hadn’t yet come along, my mother-in-law got our family a Christmas ornament for the tree. We didn’t have a tree of our own but we put it on the tree at their house. Each year she would give us an ornament. She started, when the kids were older, giving an ornament specifically to the kids. I gather from listening to stories of when my husband was growing up that they used to make ornaments (salt dough) for the tree.

Looking for a new ornament for the tree, even if just one, has become a tradition for our family. I’ll be honest and say that we’ve never purchased an extra special ornament for this. Generally we purchased the package of simple ones and decorated them ourselves. I am going to re-start the old tradition that my husband had of making some ornaments. Last year we, the kids and I, used felt squares and embroidery thread to make cloth ornaments to give to family members. This year we are going to try cornstarch and baking soda dough for porcelain like ornaments.

It’s interesting how different families and people prepare for Christmas. Some plan for their tree, some plan for the meal, some plan for the decorations. When I was growing up, for personal preferences of my parents, we didn’t celebrate Christmas so I have no traditions surrounding this season to share with my kids. We’ve had to make our own. Actually, I suppose we are rekindling one started with us and making it our own.

Here are some links to recipes for making beautiful ornaments:

On my Crafts board on Pinterest, I have a couple other pins for ornaments but the two above are what we will be using to make our ornaments. We will make a few for ourselves and many to give away.

How do you prepare for Christmas and what are some of your traditions?

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Wrapping it All Up

Am I weird?  I LOVE wrapping presents.  I love coming up with creative ways to create pretty wrapping.  I mean, who doesn’t love to get a pretty present.  I know that the paper and such ends up in the trash moments after being received, but I think that a pretty wrapped present is like the cherry on top of an ice cream.

While I love wrapping presents and trying to make them pretty, I DON’T like spending a fortune to do so.  My favorite wrapping paper is just plain brown paper!  It sets a nice, neutral background that can be dressed up all sorts of ways.  I’ve even been known to use paper grocery bags.  When using the brown paper, you have so many options.  In the past I’ve also used pretty ribbons, jute twine, homemade cinnamon ornaments, salt dough ornaments, pinecones, homemade cards, rubber stamps, and pretty much what ever I could think of to dress up the brown paper. I always get compliments on how the gift is wrapped, and I have to admit, they do look rather pretty! I buy cloth ribbons at after Christmas sales and whenever I find it on clearance or at garage sales. You can really dress up the brown paper and gives your presents a bit of homespun appeal. It’s also fun to see how you can change it up from year to year.

Below are some examples of wrapped Christmas presents from years past.  Altogether, the ribbon and decorations cost about $10 to wrap all the gifts (about 30 gifts total). The wired ribbon was $.95 cents a spool at Walmart. The decorations were bought at Walmart and Family Dollar for about $.99 cents for 2.  You can get even cheaper if you stock up after Christmas when everything in on clearance.

I really like to include the ornaments in the wrapping, because the person who receives the gift can use it year after year.  I’ve been known to even hand make ornaments for the packages.

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Unconventional Gifts

This year, my kids aren’t handing us just lots of ideas about gifts. I’m thankful because it’s causing me to tap into another blessing I sometimes forget, and that is reaching into the opportunity I have to really get to know my own kids and recognize what will make them happy. We recently watched a video where the family picked names Christmas Eve morning to find who they would give a gift to, resulting in no one spending any money for gifts, and it got me thinking about that sort of unconventional gift, even for kids.

Some of the things we are considering include the Love Language of our kids. Now, I read the original book a few years ago and have taken it to heart in my marriage, but I hadn’t really thought about it concerning my kids until recently. I’ve obtained the sequel to this book, The 5 Love Languages of Children, and will read it here within the next weeks, but there is more to think about than that.

The original love languages book talks about how each of us operates and communicates with others, and how that can convey how an individual will interpret a message from another person. So, watching my kids and thinking about how they communicate with me and also with each other is a big key for me in all of this.

I also have certain values I want to instill in my children, including the joy of giving, the importance of giving to those less fortunate, the realization of there always being someone less fortunate, the realization of how blessed we really are and world perspective as Americans, and most importantly the gift of God in Christ Jesus whose birth we celebrate during this season.

A few gifts we are considering include gifts in honor of our kids to places like World Vision, which provides sustainability for families who have less than nothing. There are places that do charity gifts locally, supporting children whose parents cannot give them those things, and we have done some of that in the past as well. There is doing volunteer work and other kindness, but we are thinking about things and services to give the kids which they will consider a Christmas present but will also hold significance in their hearts.

Spending time together is a big one this year. My husband is working full time, plus attending college full time, and working at home in exchange for the most of our rent payment as well. His time especially will be treasured by the children this Christmas, and so part of what we are doing is giving the gift of TIME through family fun at home as well as spontaneous or planned events. We have an exciting activity coming up this weekend – we get to ride the Polar Express! Keep an eye out for that update on my personal blog.


My oldest is really getting into music lately, and what’s more, he’s found an aptitude for the very instrument I played in high school (and majored in for college). There are all sorts of time spent opportunities for he and I in that, and I’m so thankful at his age for a common interest! Not all teen boys have something in common with their mother, eh? But it’s something to look towards when considering a unique gift – do you have a common interest with this person?

My second son is a mover, a doer, an active child with little tolerance for the sitting and the paying of attentions. He’s got a logical mind and loves to create; he’s always building with Legos or making forts inside and outside. That’s something we have in common is creativity – only, I enjoy coming up with the ideas and he enjoys implementing them. I can spend some time designing activities he will then enjoy acting out. Do any of your skills complement the interests or skills of your kids? Utilize that!

My middle son is a lot like me, emotional, attached, relational. He’s the sort that will appreciate the time and effort put into any homemade gift, the sort that keeps something forever because he’s emotionally attached to it. Maybe this is the year to start a new “add to it” tradition; I can let him help me decide what it is and get it started, and since he’s also the crafty sort he’ll enjoy it twice as much. As for a gift idea, this guy is pretty easy as he’ll love anything I make. Pinterest to the rescue! Would anyone on your list appreciate a homemade gift? Do you have a Pinterest account? (Time to get one!)

My twins are only 2 years old, and they’ll be happy with just about anything I’m certain. Rather than going “unconventional” with them, instead we are going “old fashioned” and doing more of the traditional gifts and homemade items as well as things we remember loving from our own childhood. Would anyone on your list appreciate pieces of history, whether from yours or from theirs? New, homemade, or from the back of the closet, nostalgia will likely take a prominent place under our tree this year.

We are really striving for heartfelt gifts this year, things we think the recipients will really love and cherish, no matter how much money (if any) was spent in our obtaining it. While that’s certainly a goal for most years, it’s a different line of thought when you not only don’t spend any money on purchasing a gift but also don’t have resources to obtain much in the way of materials to make them at home either. Funny feeling, sort of, but I think I’m more excited this year about not spending money than I was last year at suddenly having the ability to spend. It’s all in the attitude, and all in the heart.

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A Thrifty Christmas

Yep, I’m thinking about Christmas in July! That’s something you do when you have a large family and not much money!

But even if this doesn’t describe you , you can still glean some thrift ideas on how to celebrate the holiday and hopefully save some money. (and who doesn’t need to do that? )

Trees are expensive! Try buying a smaller one and placing it on a table that you cover with a red or green tablecloth. . Place the gifts on the table or on the floor around it and still look pretty but save about $15. Works great if you have little ones who steal the ornaments off the tree too!

Use fabric or the funnies section of the newspaper as gift wrapping. Plain paper works well too, if the kids take crayons to it and draw special pictures on it! Bows can be made of raffia, yarn, or even twine if need be.

Bake your gifts for friends and family.Cookies and sweet breads make marvelous gifts and are a great way of using up some of the fruits you canned from your garden this past harvest.

Hit up the dollar sections and the arts and crafts sections of the stores. Grab the items that you think will appeal to your child and put them all in one box. My kids love the “dollar boxes”. and they don’t cost much.

Give gifts that fill a need. No I’m not talking about underwear! A sewing kit makes a terrific present for a young lady and it’s something she can really use throughout the year. A basket filled with bath items (especially homemade ones!)  or a shaving basket makes a perfect gift for a gal or guy.

Thrift shops and yard sales  can be your best friends! I have found buckets of  Legos , baby dolls, clothing,trucks, games and more for less than half price . Start early because not all sales are the same! Stock up when you find something. (My husband’s closet is always off limits to the children because that’s where I hide my stock- up!) Remember to hit the after Christmas sales for the same reason.

Speaking of dolls, instead of spending money on a new one- have you priced those things lately?- make clothes for their favorite doll instead.

My oldest daughter knits so she makes socks and hats , scarves and totebags for everyone. My son builds so he made a nightstand for each parent and a shelf for each sibling. Put your talent to good use!  My 2 younger  daughters made barbie clothes for each other (with help from big sis) and I made candy with my husband for all our friends. My younger sons all cleaned the house real well for mama and believe me I loved that gift!! Pray about what would be the best gift for each person.

Your meal doesn’t have to be super-fancy. A turkey is nice but maybe that’s not in the budget. Why not start a new tradition and have Christmas soup? Tomato based soups are red!  If soup isn’t your thing, try a pizza. Or whatever your family LOVES to eat. It’s the time spent together, not the food you are eating.. Heck, one year we had just moved into our rental and had no money and no appliances yet! We had turkey lunch meat sandwiches and chips for Thanksgiving! Best holiday ever!

However you spend Christmas, remember it’s not about the money it’s about the family and worshiping the Lord. Don’t get hung up on money, get hung up on HIM!

Illustration by Breezy Brookshire, used with permission

isn’t this card gorgeous? You can find it at a Bowl of Moss and Pebbles drawn by my friend Breezy. She has many other beautiful cards and prints for sale also.