20 focused minutes

Sometimes with the holidays coming on, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with everything you want or need to do along with all the normal stuff.  I’ve found that if I focus on it 20-minute segments, I can stay positioned atop the heap of to-do’s instead of buried underneath.

Start by making a list to pin down that swirl in your brain.  It calms your mind and helps you establish your priorities. I try to make a list at least once a week.  Then I go down that list and designate days to work on each item, aiming to do no more than 3 ‘extra’ things each day.

Then I divide the to-do’s into 20 minute tasks.  It might look something like:

1. Spend 20 minutes brainstorming gifts for three people on my list.

2. Look for two gift ideas online.  (I try to support local businesses when I can, but I adore online shopping too.)

3. Wrap 3 gifts. (I think my new gift wrap station will make this even easier!)

4. Make one double batch of cookie dough.  Bake 1/3 and freeze 2/3 0f the recipe for later.

5.  Spend 20 minutes decorating one small corner of the house.


This kind of thing works really well for longer projects too. For example, if I’m making a bunch of jeans potholders, I’ll divide the job into 20-minute tasks like this:

1. Gather old jeans and cut into squares.

2. Cut quilt batting and backer fabric into squares.

3. Sew 2 potholders. (Repeat for several days til I’ve made as many as I’d like to make.)

The down side of doing projects in short bursts is that I’ll probably leave my sewing machine out during those 5 days to save time, and sometimes the mess gets aggravating.  But doing a project a little each day is way better than never getting the project out in the first place because you know you don’t have 2 hours to devote to the project.

This approach works for planning a big holiday meal too.  In fact, any big job broken down into smaller tasks will feel more doable.

Do you have more holiday organizing hints?  Please share below.  I’m always eager to find more ways to streamline and simplify this busy time of year.

5 Christmas Gifts You Can Make

Wondering if you could make some of the gifts that you’ll be giving this Christmas?  Here are some things that I’ve done over the years, and that folks have seemed to enjoy receiving. You can click on each photo to go to the instructions for that project.

1.  Pot Holders from Old Jeans


2. Candied Almonds


3. Cloth Gift Bags


4. T-Shirt Headbands


5. Peppermint Bark

Have a favorite project or recipe you like to make and give  at Christmas time? Tell me about it in comments, or better yet, share a link to a post describing it.  I’d love to hear your favorite homemade gift ideas.  And if you found this post helpful, please feel free to pin it.

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Getting a jump on Christmas prep

One thing about having a big family is that Christmas preparation tends to take a chunk of time, even when you give and celebrate in a moderate way. My parents, brothers and sisters, and nieces and nephews get together at my mom’s house on Christmas Eve for dinner, singing, and gifts.  I think we numbered more than 50 people last year, which fills my parents’ home to the gills. We always do a gift exchange, and the last couple years I’ve been the one to draw the names a few months before Christmas, then tell everyone who they have.   Last year I used this website. The first screen lets you plug in names, and then the second lets you specify who can’t give to each other.  (For example, my kids can’t get their own siblings, and my sister’s kids can’t get THEIR own siblings, because they are probably already buying gifts for ones in their own smaller family unit, and we want them to end up with a cousin or an aunt or something along those lines.)

This year when I typed in the names and plugged in the names of who each person couldn’t get, I got an error message saying that our group had too many exceptions and parameters.  Basically we baffled the internetz.  Hm.  I knew that if I just tossed all the names in a hat and did it the old-fashioned way, I’d also be constantly getting names that wouldn’t work.

So finally I lined up bowls on the table, each one representing a smaller subfamily of the big group:  ie, John and me and my kids in one bowl, my sister’s family in the next bowl, etc.  Then I could draw for each family member out of any bowl OTHER THAN their own immediate family’s bowl.

I also tried to make sure each sub-family ended up with one adult guy and at least one little kid, since it seems like the adult men are the hardest, and the teeny kids are the easiest to buy for.  I figured that would make the shopping more fun for everyone.  Not quite random— far from it, actually.  But it worked pretty well, and it could be our family is just too big to be truly random.  However, I’d love to hear if anyone knows of a website that actually works to draw names for a family like ours!

It’s nice to know who we have a couple months in advance– that gives us time to think about shopping or crafting ideas.  I’m hoping to do a bit of crafting as one component of some of our gifts.  One of the things I’ve been working on is these kitchen towels.  In our kitchen, I’m constantly finding hand towels that have fallen off the bar onto the floor.   Apparently I’m not a big enough nag, because few people besides mom actually think of picking UP what hits the ground.  (Either that, or the pick-it-up gene doesn’t mature til kids hit their 20’s.)

In any case, I decided that some of these towels would be a good addition to my own kitchen, and I figured they might make a fun gift as well.  I’m making some from terrycloth towels with patterned cotton as the loop fabric at the top.  Others are made from microfiber towels with terrycloth at the top.

I’m pleased with the way my first towels turned out and have already claimed one for my own kitchen.  I am looking forward to making more in the next few days as well!  (Update: here’s how I did it!)

How about you?  What early preparations are you doing so that your December won’t feel too frantic?

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a peek at our Christmas morning

In a weekend full of family and celebration, the happiest moments were right in our own living room, surrounded by our kids. Christmas Eve morning I was awake at 6:30, puttering around drinking coffee, and setting out coffee and cocoa fixings for our kids. They would soon be waking up and wandering into the living room, either via sleepy feet or in the case of our married daughters, in cars with their husbands.

John and I had done the hurry-scurrying the evening before, setting out gifts and filling stockings, and now we were ready to sit and enjoy. The little girls were awake in their beds for a good half-hour before we finally went in and told them it was okay to get up. Older kids came out a little slower, but just about everyone wore sleepy smiles of anticipation. Kids’ eyes tended to be on gifts. We parents were watching our kids, savoring their enjoyment of the day.

As always we began with the reading of the Christmas story in Luke 2. Then it was time for the singing. This year we had help from this Christmas carol collection
which was a nice addition to our tradition. Everyone got to pick a song for us to sing a verse of, and we had a really nice sing-along.  We tortured the kids a little bit longer by asking everyone to share a favorite Christmas memory.  We talked about Jesus, the real gift of the season.  And then, finally, it was time for gifts.  (Click on pictures to enlarge.)

After the gift opening, it was time for a leisurely breakfast, then games. The boys spent the majority of the day on Republic Commmando. Others of us played  Dutch Blitz
and Wits And Wagers, both games that I’d requested for Christmas.  Dutch Blitz is usually a 4-person game.  But marking a second set of cards allowed us to play with eight people– a sure way for wild chaos to ensue.

Later in the day we all went over to my mom’s for clam chowder and more gifts and lots of visiting. (ALL my siblings were there– lovely!)  And the next day we visited John’s family and had a lovely prime rib dinner there.   Every bit of those two days was good.  But none of it was better than sitting in our living room with our own kids, watching happy faces, savoring their happiness over the day, and celebrating the Greatest Gift, Jesus, who was the one to begin all this gift-giving in the first place.


Rejoice, in a manger lay
The promise of God’s love for us
For everyone

Heaven and angels sing
The coming of the King
The only son of God most high
His name is Jesus Christ

A good day at the mall


…family time this week, so I may not post much for the next week or so. I’ve a got a sewing day planned with my daughters and sisters, our son’s 20th birthday to celebrate, crafts to finish, sugared walnuts to make, stories to read, games to play, cooking to do, gifts to wrap, and other preparations to make for Christmas. Wishing your family a blessed Christmas filled with many moments to hold close to your heart in the future.

One that I will treasure from this morning: the happy chaos that comes from three teenagers jamming on three guitars all at the same time, while another helped me with a sewing project, and several other kids gathered in the kitchen to make peanut butter cookies. The noise. The life. The memories to cherish. We are blessed.




Glorious now, see Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice