Best Christmas Gifts 2014


, , , ,

I know.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, and the stores have been playing Christmas tunes for weeks. Holiday displays have been twinkling even longer in store aisles like Macy’s and Target and, well, just about anywhere else that sells things. It’s annoying that Christmas has become commercialized, yes. And I’ll have to admit I’m the first one not to want to jump into a purchase frenzy before I’ve even thawed my Thanksgiving turkey. But hear me out! There is a very good reason to think about (and start!) shopping now.

Getting the shopping out of the way makes more room for celebrating Advent and the REAL meaning of Christmas when the time comes, with the family, unencumbered mentally. You won’t have to physically fight the snow and crowds and busy roads, or that stressful time crunch and pressure. You won’t click on a link and find the one sweater your mom might LOVE is just not available in her favorite turquoise blue in her size because everyone else thought their moms would like the sweater too. The early bird gets the worm, as they say, and the smart mom gets her shopping done before Thanksgiving, if she can.  In this spirit then, I’m jumping on board to share with you my favorite ideas for Christmas this year.

We’ve all read blogs that are plugging products guised under a thin veil as a creative idea for presents rather than the (not so blatant) advertising that it is.


This list, this suggestion of Christmas gifts for loved ones comes from a sincere like and appreciation for the gifts. I’m not posting a link to do anyone a favor, I promise (I am good at ignoring requests for things I don’t like and I would NEVER recommend something I didn’t.) Many (actually most- probably 99%) of these suggestions come completely unsolicited by those who sell them. In some cases I’ll even give you multiple places for purchasing them. Among other things, I’m recommending books I think look amazing (or I’ve read and they are), knowing full well that if you like THEM, you may choose them over MY BOOKS. It’s okay. I want you to trust me to recommend only what I really like, what I’d really use and what I really feel is a great gift for a loved one.

With that all straight then, here is my list (in no particular order) of Best Christmas Gift Picks for 2014:


Family photo, ornament, scrapbook. The gift of a family picture is always a best pick for a Christmas gift. Barter with an acquaintance, hire a professional or ask an camera-handy friend to take a picture of your family for you. Upload these shots to the computer and choose the coloring (black, white, sepia) and size then download to make prints. Pick up a few nice frames (Kohls has some on sale right now, as does Michaels, and probably a dozen other local places. )

This picture/print gift will be cherished especially by grandparents, members of the family, especially young adults who have moved out. The photographs can be used in many ways to make key chains, mugs, even a mouse for the computer or a child’s t-shirt (Try Zazzle, CafePress or your local Staples store for these). The prints can also be used to make unique Christmas ornaments to give away to friends, or the first page of a scrapbook for the family, a nice Christmas tradition to start. Family scrapbook ideas HERE. A starter family scrapbook is a perfect gift for a young married couple. Nothing says ‘belonging’ like a family picture. Build family unity by giving this gift this year.

Personalized Cookbook. Every family has its own unique recipes and favorite meals. Organize a family cookbook for those you love. This need not be elaborate. When my oldest children left for college I put together some recipes for them to make when they missed home. These cookbooks can be as elaborate (professionally done) or simple (typed out on the computer) as you wish. If you simply type out recipes on computer paper, cover with plastic and put in a three ring binder, the recipient can add what he likes as years go on.


One of many many beautiful prints from North Dakota local artist Nellie Edwards. Nellie is a mother of eight, who began her painting after the death of her husband and with no previous fine art training. Her work is full of vibrant colors and attention to detail. It is stunning. Her ‘Teaching Madonna’, a depiction of Jesus being taught by His mother Mary, graces my own homeschool room. This link takes you to her Immaculata Art website. However, you can also purchase prints (or framed prints) from other distributors.

teaching madonna nellieadoration nelliedivine mercy nellieSacred-Communion nellie

Something from Goodwill or a locally owned vintage shop. Yes, you heard me right! Goodwill is a great place to find gifts!  If you have a loved one who enjoys vintage gifts, you might be able to pick up a wonderful present for just a few dollars. My daughter and I each have vintage typewriters (mine from the 1930s, hers an enviable older one!) picked up from two different Goodwill stores. Figurines, silver, candy dishes (be sure to fill with Christmas candy before giving as a gift!), tin signs, salt and pepper shakers, glassware, cigar stands, decorative plates, and small furniture like stools and chairs, which can be inexpensively painted, all make wonderful gifts for the right person.

I’m lucky enough to have Mishawaka Art and Frame, a locally owned, wonderful vintage shop nearby as well. There I have purchased many quaint items for gifts, including 1950s president shaped shot glasses, antique glass Christmas bulbs, and a pretty 1940s lamp. The etsy shop for this store is online here.

BOOKS. Books-audio or traditional- make wonderful gifts. Here are some that have piqued my interest:

Love Without Limits

love without limits

From publisher website:

Even though he was born without arms or legs, Nick Vujicic created a “ridiculously good life.” But after dating disappointments and a failed relationship, he reached his mid-twenties worried that he would never find a woman to love him and share his life.

Then Nick met Kanae and everything changed.  But even with undeniable chemistry, they would have to navigate twists and turns worthy of a romantic comedy before becoming “one” in marriage.

In Love Without Limits Nick and Kanae tell how they improbably found each other, fell in love, and then fought to overcome skepticism from others about their relationship. Filled with practical insights that will benefit any couple, this inspiring book describes a godly courtship and the early years of the Vujicics’ marriage and parenting journey.

Above all, Love Without Limits is an inspiring reminder that when Christ is at the center of a relationship—even with serious challenges—true love will triumph.

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

talent is overrated

The Wall Street Journal says:

Asked to explain why a few people truly excel, most people offer one of two answers. The first is hard work. Yet we all know plenty of hard workers who have been doing the same job for years or decades without becoming great. The other possibility is that the elite possess an innate talent for excelling in their field. We assume that Mozart was born with an astounding gift for music, and Warren Buffett carries a gene for brilliant investing. The trouble is, scientific evidence doesn’t support the notion that specific natural talents make great performers.

According to distinguished journalist Geoff Colvin, both the hard work and natural talent camps are wrong. What really makes the difference is a highly specific kind of effort-”deliberate practice”-that few of us pursue when we’re practicing golf or piano or stockpicking. Based on scientific research, Talent is Overrated shares the secrets of extraordinary performance and shows how to apply these principles. It features the stories of people who achieved world-class greatness through deliberate practice…

Then Comes Baby

then comes baby

From the publisher website:

In Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood, Greg and Lisa Popcak lend readers the benefit of their twenty-five years’ experience in parenting and marriage and family counseling to help them navigate the earliest years of parenthood. They recommend rituals, routines, and tips on how to manage feeding, fatigue, and finances and how also to prioritize marital bonding and faith life, suggesting that setting the pattern early will pay dividends later. The Popcaks coach Catholic couples as they become first-time parents as they adjust to their new identities and help them face the inevitable challenges of parenthood with ideas for bonding with babies and getting sufficient sleep and nutrition—all while seeing these everyday experiences through the lens of Catholic teaching on the purpose of family life.

Wow! I wish they would’ve had something like this when David and I were first starting out….

Joyful Witness

joyful witness

“…We want others to know the joy we’ve discovered as Catholics and have an impact for good in the lives of others. But can busy, ordinary men and women of faith do something that really makes a difference? Through the heart-warming and candid stories of ordinary Catholics around the country, author Randy Hain shares creative ways Catholics can live their faith and pass it on to others–often with extraordinary results…”

I would also love if you might consider my own

Big Hearted

Big Hearted Image

Big Hearted gives you an inside look into the triumphs, struggles, joys and sorrows of ordinary families with generous hearts. It invites you to witness extraordinary love in ordinary moments like the simple cooking of a meal or the hug between a teenaged brother and his baby sister. Just like your family, these families experience pain, setbacks, and challenges. And just like your family, they also experience love and immeasurable blessing through their commitment and care for each other.

In this book, you will learn the story of:

• A father of seven healthy boys who struggled to love his Down syndrome baby girl

• A mother of twelve who learned an important lesson about Christmas from her children

• A special relationship between a teenaged brother and his infant sister

• Two grandparents in their final days who inspired their grandchildren in simple ways

• Two orphan children from Kenya who prayed for adoption by an American family and got what they asked for!

It has been said that God cannot be outdone in generosity. The stories in these pages will show you how big hearted families experience this truth in a myriad of ways, sometimes miraculously.


It’s no secret I love aprons. Aprons are fun to give because so many of us love to cook and bake! Aprons make great gifts for mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and more… and they are relatively inexpensive to purchase. Here are a few I love:

green apron

Green apron.

pink apron

Pink apron

balck apron

Black apron

Jessie Steele has a nice collection of pretty aprons. Modcloth sells many unique ones. Then there’s always Etsy and The Apron Shoppe.

If you’d rather sew your apron gifts, start with this:

apron book

For a fun flip through of the history of aprons, decade by decade see Country Living’s article here. It’s a nice break from shopping and might inspire you with ideas.

Are you hooked on aprons like I am?

Last, here is something for the little girl in your life- who likes to play with American Girl sized dolls. Have you ever wished for beautiful habits for the dolls so the girls could play pretend about that vocation too? Well, look no more! Summer DuBay at The Little Habit offers these amazing doll clothes:

shower of roses pic

This list of ideas is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully, it has given you some ideas to get those creative juices flowing and get started on your Christmas shopping. Most of all, I hope this post helps you finish your planning and shopping early so you can truly enjoy the Reason for the Season.

 God bless!


September is….


I’m a lymphoma survivor. So is one of my brothers. One sister battles chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

September is the less known lymphoma cancer awareness month. While the majority of cases of lymphoma cannot be prevented because the exact cause remains unknown, two studies show that people who eat lots of vegetables have about a 50 percent lower risk of getting lymphoma than those who don’t.

So, grab a plate of carrots and broccoli, and CHEERS!



Thanks, Mom.


, , ,

Praying and pondering this morning it occurred to me: I am SO GRATEFUL for my full-time, stay-at-home … As a baby I never looked up into a nanny’s or babysitter’s or day care worker’s eyes. It was hers, I saw. It was her arms that soothed me when I fell, learning to walk. Her lap I sat on learning to read. We didn’t have extras like dance lessons, family vacations or name brand clothes, but we had what was most important- mama’s TIME.

I remember meandering walks with her through the neighborhood, past the fire station. I remember sitting on the porch with her, eating popsicles, counting the cars and waiting for Daddy to come home. I remember an outing to a fish hatchery, for fun. I remember from scratch baked cakes rising in the oven and sending a heavenly scent throughout the house. Our home was plain. Uncluttered. Sparsely decorated. Full of love.

What a total, unselfish gift to her family. The mother I am today and strive to be comes directly from the example she set.

Thanks, Mom.

MOM AND ME as a baby

How Pornography Hurts

Along the lines of a TED talk (or an “idea worth spreading”), without actually being a Ted Talk (but still “an idea worth spreading”), here is a riveting You Tube presentation from a panel discussion of just two months ago at the University of Notre Dame. The topic is pornography. This talk is not done on an academic or theoretical level. These four panelists (two on the production side of the pornography industry and two on the consumption side) talk about the impact that pornography has had in their lives:

1. Donny Pauling- a successful producer of porn, eventually being offered a contract from Playboy to develop a lucrative new line- and how the industry not only ruined the lives of those he seduced into it (many young, naive 18 year old college freshmen), but also how it ruined his life.

2. Chrissy Moran- a model who earned $15,000 a month just from her pornographic website alone and was considered one of the most desired, ‘successful’ and beautiful porno ‘actresses’. She shares how she came into the business, what it was like in the business and how and why she got out. Her testimony dispels the common myth that women who do this do so freely and happily- and the myth that porn hurts no one because the women who participate are ‘consenting adults’.

3. Sam Meier- a married man who struggled with pornography for years, beginning in college. His testimony highlights the innumerable destructive consequences of simply viewing pornography. He talks about the degradation in his relationships especially with his wife (Beth)- how it almost destroyed their marriage and ruined his life. Sam now works to help other men who find themselves feeling compelled to turn to pornography

4. Beth Meier – Sam’s wife. She shares how pornography affected her own self worth (“Why am I not enough?”  “Why does he tune me out and not want me but wants strangers?” etc. etc.) She asked for a divorce. Her testimony banishes the theory that porn is ‘harmless’ and hurts no one outside the viewer.

These are real people and real stories. As the gentleman introducing the panelists states, this discussion delves deeply into the topics of intimacy, freedom, power and longing-

According to one panelist, pornography is a $14 BILLION per year revenue industry, exceeding in dollar amount that of the NFL. The frequency of use of porn is higher than the frequency of use of iTunes. The statistics show that the average age of first exposure to pornography is 11, and brain studies show that it impacts neurologically — watching porn, scientific studies have shown, actually produces male brain shrinkage.

I found this so compelling. Please watch and share-

Other links worth checking out related to this topic:

-Watching Pornography Damages Men’s Brains- here.

-Jason Evert- “Love vs Lust”  and The Chastity Project

jason & c evertJason and Crystalina Evert (Their website,  Chastity Project,  here)

-Matthew Fradd’s site to help you overcome pornography. Includes a “battle plan”, “ask an expert” and “encouragement” - here.

matt fradd

Matt Fradd (His website is here)

Matthew was addicted to porn at a young age. Matthew is from southern Australia. At age eight, he found pornography in his grandfather’s shed and became “hooked.”  By age 12, he was stealing porn from neighborhood stores, and by his teen years had acquired a vast pornography collection.

He commented, “No one had to tell me it was a bad thing. I knew it was shameful. I was hoping I’d grow out of it.” Matthew’s teen years were sad; he recalls how he dressed all in black and wrote suicide poems. His father discovered his porn collection, but only expressed mild disapproval.

In 2000, Matthew spent two weeks in Rome for World Youth Day, and was inspired to become Catholic. In the confessional, he admitted his addiction to pornography, and received mixed responses from the priests to whom he went. Some suggested it wasn’t that serious, but he recalls one who told him, “That’s a terrible preparation for marriage.” Matthew said, “That’s what I needed to hear. I didn’t want to justify my porn addiction, but admit that it was wrong.”

In fact, Matthew stressed, the first thing someone who wants to get away from pornography must do is admit that it is wrong, stop blaming others, and make a commitment to change. For Matthew, now 27, the struggle to be porn-free has been “brutal.” He related, “Every day I wake up and decide what kind of man I want to be. Purity is not a destination one arrives at, but a daily battle.”  -From Catholic World Report, Jan. 21, 2011

-The My House Initiative: Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s anti-pornography effort – here.

-US Church Helps Ex Porn Star Come Back To Christ- here

-April Garris, Ex Porn Star tells how the sex industry nearly destroyed her life.  – Part one here (from Ireland’s “The Morning Show”) and Part two here.

I don’t think they (people who watch porn) have the whole truth. I think that they are buying into the lie that the porn industry puts out there. . . because what you see on the video isn’t really what’s taking place. You know, you don’t see in between scenes where girls are physically sick because of the trauma … you know,  you don’t see the porn stars out back snorting coke ….or getting high…trying to cope with it. You know, you don’t see the disgusting, gross stuff that goes on…the unhealthy conditions…what you see is just a small snippet…. on my first porn set the thought that kept going through my mind was ‘this will be over soon…this will be over soon…’ Once you’re done, you’re so relieved.


I suppose it (watching porn) would be an easy trap to fall into.… (but) Anyone who watches porn – even just clicks on the internet site- is actually contributing to the victimization and degradation of these women.”

“Drugs are a huge part of it (to numb and escape) and they drive you into a really dark, dark place.”

“After leaving the industry I actually went to a psychiatric ward because of the trauma I endured.”

-Christian Leader’s Dire Warning About Porn, Horror Flicks and Demonic Possession- here.

-Catholics Come Home- facts and help- here

-Integrity Restored- Helping Catholic Men Break Free from Pornography  here

-Reclaim Sexual Health “Brain Science of Behavior in the Light of Faith” - here

-Catechism of the Catholic Church on sexual love and dangers of pornography- here

-The Serenellians Catholic Apostolate is composed of lay and religious who dedicate themselves to combat the evils of pornography and assist those affected by it to bring hope, encouragement and strength -here.

-Helping women escape from pornography and the ‘adult’ film industry: The Pink Cross, Treasures, We Are Cherished

-Porn: The Marriage Wrecker from Catholic Match – here

-Strengthen Your Marriage After Porn here.

-Rebuilding Trust in Marriage After Pornography: here. 


(the) porn generation (is) people 30 and younger who sit around and watch porn with their parents- but we just call it things like “Two and a Half Men”. We know what’s going on. They might have their clothes on but when you’re laughing about that  sort of activity with your parents then it becomes easy to recruit you into porn….

We were very good at making it seem like it was their idea. ..Manipulation. I did that by telling them porn wasn’t for them when they first came into my office (but then) they’d be around my very lavish lifestyle…I  started them off doing soft core and alone- get them used to the money then slowly (get them into harder things)… It was very easy to recruit.

I would slowly watch the lights go out (of their eyes). This isn’t the part of porn we like to see. We think this is the polished video..

On screen it is amazing and attractive, but we don’t  see the girls curled up in a ball in a corner in a fetal position between takes or sucking their thumbs because their minds are so blown away by what they just had to do, or have to have surgery to repair damage done to their body.” - Donny Pauling, former porn producer of photography and film

A good society is a society in which it is easy to be good. By that definition, we do not live in a good society. With porn use at an all time high, the stability of families and our culture itself is threatened. Share this link. Share the video. Share the resources available. Support someone you know who struggles with pornography. If it’s you, today you can begin to a path of purity, healing and true joy in the ultimate enjoyment of sexuality that God intended.  I’d like to close with a Bible quote from the  Serenellian Catholic Apostolate website. More prayers can be found here. God bless you, your marriage and your family!

When you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
undisturbed in times of adversity.
Cling to Him, forsake Him not;
thus, will your future be great.
Accept what befalls you;
in crushing misfortune be patient.
For, in fire gold is tested and worthy men
in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust God and He will help you.
Make straight your ways and hope in Him.
You who fear the Lord, wait for His mercy.
Turn not away, lest you fall.

- Sirach 2:1-7

Update on Situation in Venezuela- and what YOU can do-


, , , , , , , , , , ,

The media silence in the United States about the situation in Venezuela is deafening- I was watching CBS News this morning and heard lots of talk about the Oscars and even recreational use of marijuana, but I didn’t hear anything about Venezuela and how its government is seriously oppressing its people! The government is responsible for murder and torture and news reporters don’t report it?  I am hoping I missed it! Even the roundup of what is going on in the world, with a world map for viewers, did not include anything about Venezuela. I can’t figure out if this is intentional or not-

I suspect a lot of people don’t want to touch the topic of the serious human rights abuses because of the political implications- left leaning politicians probably don’t want to shed light on how socialism/ communism hurts people, and how government controlled society FAILS. Right leaning politicians probably don’t like the idea of the United States getting involved in something that may lead to people requesting easier immigration laws or involvement in foreign affairs not directly related to us, or they may not like a particular politician who has spoken out against the atrocities occurring in Venezuela- The fact is, this is a human rights violation and needs to be addressed regardless of one’s political affiliation! The politics of it can be sorted out later- right now these people are being murdered and oppressed by their own government and the world needs to know!

Catholics, indeed all Christians, must rise above politics to support what is RIGHT, not wait to comment until something fits neatly into a political box. Venezuelan families are suffering at the hand of a brutal oppressive government. The ‘demands’ of the people are simply peace and freedom, and to be left alone from the government’s repression of their rights. We must not let leaders of our political affiliations tell us how to react to this gross violation. We must be compassionate and truthful. How can we not speak out when people are being shot in the head, detained and tortured for holding signs?

Here is an updated video about the situation- Please view and share:

What can you do?

1. PRAY 

Prayer is powerful.

Again [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 18:19)

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

If then, my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land…” (2 Chronicles, 7:14)

“I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.” (James 5:16)

Catholics, praying the rosary is powerful. Other Christians, please join us, or pray in any other way you see fit.

2. Share Information With Your Family and Friends

Link to this blog, send the link to the videos here, discuss what is going on in Venezuela at the dinner table, at mother’s groups, after Mass, with your sister, brother, parents, friends.

3. Ask Your Senator to Make a Statement About / Address the Venezuelan Crisis

You can find your senator by zip code HERE.


Dear Senator X,

As you surely must be aware, a crisis has emerged in our Latin American neighbor country Venezuela. The oppressive, socialist Venezuelan government has turned against its people with violence against their peaceful demonstrations for peace, security and safety.  Below are some links that substantiate this fact.

Please address this issue with your colleagues and make a public statement opposing the atrocities of the Venezuelan government against its people. I wait for your response to this very important issue. 

Sincerely and Respectfully,

Your Name

4. Write to the major U.S. News Outlets and ask WHY they are not covering the gross oppression occurring just south of our country

Contact NBC News here

Contact ABC News here

Contact CBS News here

A few simple sentences asking for coverage of the event is sufficient. It only takes a few minutes, and could be done prior to your quilting group, homeschool meeting, dinner with friends, etc. This is so easy you can even do it while waiting at the doctor’s office or library on your cell phone!

5. Stay up to date on Twitter by following the following hashtags: #PrayForVenezuela, #SOSVenezuela, #VenezuelaPeaceful #Venezuela  If you follow these hashtags you will often see photos posted by Venezuelans of what is happening to them at that moment- Most of these personal posts are in Spanish, but Twitter has and you can use the ‘translate’ function. Click ‘translate’ in the upper left hand corner when prompted.

Stay up to date on Facebook by ‘liking’ these pages:

Praying for Venezuela  (my page)

Pray for Venezuela (It is my understanding that this page is posted by Ruben Blades a popular Panamanian recording artist and politician -It is a Spanish page- see below about translating) Allegedly, this page was actually responded to by Venezuelan president Maduro. Read the ‘notes’ section for more on that-

SOS Venezuela This page gets posts from those who run the SOS Venezuela website. (The website where information is shared and images are shared is here)

Some of these Facebook pages are in Spanish, but Facebook offers a ‘translate’ option when the page loads. Again, just like Twitter, you can choose the option of reading in English by clicking on ‘Translate’ on the upper left hand corner of your screen.

6. Write Letters to the Editor

Here is a list of and addresses for major news publications in the United States.

Sample letters to the editor would include information that the Venezuelan government is oppressing its people and the United States media is virtually ignoring it. Letters written could include any particular viewpoint, from pointing out the shortages and government control of all necessities, to the police shooting its own citizens to anything highlighted in news coming out from Venezuela. The point of the letter is to bring awareness and ask why there is no sustained and serious national media attention on this serious human rights issue. 

Thank you for caring about our South American neighbors. God bless you!!!

Photo from the Reality Venezuela's postPeaceful protestors in Caracas yesterday. Courtesy of ‘La Realidad en Venezuela’ Facebook page. 

UPDATE: New video from A. Nash, student whose first video on the situation in Venezuela went viral in a matter of days. This one addresses the updated situation and what people can do to help:

(Warning: Some sounds and images are disturbing. Do not view with young children.)

You may also be interested in:

-Why You Should Use Social Media To Spread the Word of Venezuelan Protests

-Top Three Reasons American Media Needs to Pay Attention to Venezuela (short video with interviews actually in Venezuela, comparing what’s on television there that the government is broadcasting and what is actually happening outside)  Mariana Atencio

-This blog by “Daniel”, a pseudonym for a Venezuelan citizen who writes extensively about pro-democracy in a post Chavez Venezuela. For safety purposes (government is not appreciative of his viewpoint against Chavez ) he does not give his real name.  The perspective is decidedly ‘insider’. I do not endorse or disapprove of any posts- I simply offer the blog as a real life view of one who lives through the Maduro regime.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 363 other followers