September 30, 2014

Fall is the Ideal Time to Start Planning . . .

. . . next year's family reunion!

Games, crafts, activities, food.

Destinations, lodging, transportation. 

Set the date, who to invite, get it all planned.

Family reunions are lots of work --
and lots of fun!

With over 200 recipes, plus over 150 games, tips, and ideas,
and over 100 stories and state facts, handy kitchen and food preparation lists
and concise planning and preparation sections,

The Great American Family Reunion Cookbook 

can help you get a jump start on planning your 
most successful family reunion yet!

September 25, 2014

Thursday Free Printable - Gift Tags

Something sentimental,
something savory or sweet.
A little bunch of flowers.
A loaf of bread 
or a batch of cookies.

What will you make to go
with these gift tags?

Tell someone you love them;
tell them they're a friend!

Head on over to the Free Printables page and claim them!

September 24, 2014

A World Without Bullying?

This past several weeks, on Facebook as well as other social media, I've read many posts, quotes, and thoughts about bullying -- and what people believe defines it. Some seem to believe it's merely a rite of passage we all must live with. And that we should tell those who have been bullied to "get over it."

I disagree. 

Whether it's schoolyard bullying, a child or group of children intentionally being mean to another child (or teacher), a husband or father (or wife or mother) who consistently runs down his or her spouse or family with rude or demeaning comments, a parent who consciously berates their child, a neighbor who misconstrues a situation and seeks revenge, or total stranger who takes out his anger on someone else, bullying shouldn't be something we turn our back on. We need to teach our families that it isn't right. And teach that even when we're bullied, it isn't acceptable to bully in return.

What do you think? Is bullying merely a rite of passage we have to put up with? Or is there a way to turn the tide?

As in all things that impact our relationships with others, the best place to start is within ourselves

Ensure we're not contributing to the problem by letting our emotions rule our actions. Sure, there's always someone who's going to hurt or offend us -- intentionally or unintentionally -- that's a certainty. But we can choose our response; each choice to love and forgive helps forge a habit of kindness. Each kindness we extend has the potential to diminish anger and hurt. And the potential power to turn the tide and extinguish bullying. 

A world without bullying? 

It may loom as a monumental undertaking, but it's one well worth pursuing.  

September 22, 2014

Viox Family Farms Chicken And Dumplings

Fall is in the air. Hearts turn indoors to hearth and home and something warm from the kitchen. 

An hour south of St. Louis, Missouri, Viox Farms is nestled in the rolling hills of Ste. Genevieve County. Family owned and operated for more than one hundred years, the farm is now operated by Matt and Megan Viox.

Megan was kind enough to share her recipe for basic chicken and dumplings. Put the ingredients on your weekly shopping list so you can have everything on hand for a sit-down family meal for the weekend. Or ladle it into tin cups and hand them out while you're doing Saturday yard work.

Viox Family Farms Chicken and Dumplings
Serves 6

3 quarts water
One 3-4 pound whole chicken
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parelsy
1 tablespoon lemon juice


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons milk

Bring the water to a boil. Add the chicken, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and parsley. Simmer uncovered for 2 hours or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Remove the chicken from the pot and strain the stock. Pour 6 cups of stock back into the pot. If you have extra, freeze it for another use. Return the stock to a simmer and add the lemon juice.

3 Meanwhile, mix the dumpling ingredients. The dough will be slightly sticky. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then roll it out on a floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 1/2-inch squares and drop into simmering stock. Simmer 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until stock is thickened.

While the dumplings are cooking, tear the cooled chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add the chicken to the stock with the dumplings and cook until the chicken is heated through.

There are lots of ways to adapt this recipe. For instance, Megan's family prefers 
their vegetables on the side. Mine prefers them right along with the chicken 
and dumplings in the pot. You can add carrots, potatoes, broccoli, 
celery, peas, or whatever suits your taste.

Don't have time to cut the dough into squares? Cut it into thick strips, like egg noodles.
Megan suggests a pizza dough cutter to aid in the process.

September 21, 2014

Living in Joy - A Joy Jar

A few years ago my youngest painted a salsa jar, put a few slips of paper inside, and gave it to me as a gift. 

It was, she explained, a simple way to celebrate our favorite memories.

As our time permitted, we jotted down simple details of  special moments. It was amazing to me that only a few times doing so helped me begin to look for the good in each day. 

Even when I didn't have time to write something on one of the slips of paper, I formed the habit of sorting each day's good from the not so good. And even when times were downright miserable, challenging, or heartbreaking, in consciously looking for something -- anything -- joyous, I miraculously found it.  

Making a Joy Jar is indeed a wonderful way to remember blessings and wonder, happiness and all that's good in the world. You can make them as a family, have your kids make them for friends or neighbors, or just keep one to savor for yourself.

Would you like to create your own joy jar? Any jar will do, large or small. Get as creative as you like, or keep it simple.

To help get you started, I've created a Joy Jar tag. The free printable is here. It includes five shapes you can cut out and use to record your joys on. Print as many as you like -- both the tags and the shapes. Enjoy them, share them, celebrate living in joy!

September 16, 2014

The Doll Maker's Gift

My Greatgrandma Maggie was an artist.

Scouring local dime stores, she found cast off and forgotten dolls. 

Back at her home, she carefully bathed them and combed their hair. She sewed clothing for them, dressed and loved and treasured them. 

I was mesmerized by her efforts. Dolls lined her shelves and couches, occupied knick-knack cabinets, and held places of honor in special chairs and on beds. 

I didn't inherit Grandma's skill for sewing so, growing up, I never made clothing for my own small collection of dolls. 

And I didn't possess Grandma's patience —  painstaking effort that required hours upon hours to skillfully restore neglected dolls to their original beauty. 

But about ten years ago I began to draw dolls. 

Paper dolls. 

I loved giving them different hairstyles and creating paper clothing for them. Some of my dolls were even published in a workbook for children. And some were published on the Internet by a company that sold clipart. 

Making paper dolls was also a hobby I pursued now and again over the years, making them for family members and friends. 

Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to take things a step further and form Hearts and Hands Dolls. A nonprofit organization that would make soft sculpt dolls for elderly shut-ins and abused children. My wonderful seamstresses sewed dozens and dozens and dozens of dolls. 

We delivered them to nursing homes and care centers. 

There were lots of smiles, and lots of tears of joy for all involved. 

We even made Hope/Nicole Dolls for a little girl with leukemia and sold them to help defray some of her medical costs.

But then life caught up with me and I realized I couldn't keep up with the demand for all those who needed dolls —  and all the wonderful women who wanted to have a hand in sewing and stuffing them. 

While I am still involved with the soft sculpt dolls, I've had to scale back. I've had a few discussions with manufacturers who may be able to one day help make and distribute them.

In the meantime, I've kept creating my paper dolls. 

Wanting to celebrate the strength and diversity of women across America, and provide kids a way to learn state facts, I created a line of American dolls —  one from each state. I've given them names and lots of cute clothes. 

I've given them teddy bears that can be posed and other friends such as state birds and, as in the case of Aurora, the doll representing Alaska, sled dogs that can be posed as well.

I'm working toward negotiations with manufacturers to offer complete doll sets that will include all the articulated figures and separate, unique carrying cases. But all that's still a ways off. For right now, to get them out where kids can enjoy them, I'm offering limited one page jpg printables on Etsy. 

Each page includes a doll and two changes of clothing, plus a handful of fun elements like state birds and or flowers, and a positive message of hope and good cheer that kids can share with friends and family. 

You can download the pages and share them for personal use with friends and family. 

Not only are they ideal for rainy-day and sick day play, they make for awesome craft and educational activities, and they're perfect for birthday and holiday/general kid parties and get-togethers. 

And, as my youngest daughter and granddaughter will tell you, they're just plain great to play with for no reason at all other than to just have fun!  

The first several dolls are up now, with the remainder to be posted in coming weeks.
If you don't see your state, send me an email and I'll do my best to get that doll listed for you right away.

Read the complete story about my Grandma Maggie here

Or get started on your own collection of paper dolls here

September 15, 2014

God Knows My Heart

I was a young teen when my dog died.

From the time I was five, Tippy was a cherished friend. We played cowboys and Indians together. Ate cake and ice cream and corn on the cob together. 
Weathered trials together. 

Even storms. 

One storm in particular could have easily ended our lives.

Tip was only a young pup, just weeks old, when she came into my life. 
That summer, lightning struck the neighbor's towering poplar tree. 
The dog and I were only yards away, playing near a metal swing set. 

As the bright flash cut through the afternoon, the sound of thunder slammed into 
our bodies, robbing, at least me, of my hearing. 

I couldn't make sense of what had happened. 

Terror pounded in my heart. Time was suspended. It seemed the world went to 
black and white. For a moment, I didn't know if I was dead or alive. 

I don't which one of us started for the house first, but we ultimately ended up 
at the back door together. I cast one frantic backward glance at the tree -- 
it lay half in the neighbor's yard, half draped over our cinder block fence. 
Shattered and smoldering, it had been destroyed. 

That image is forever burned in my memory. 

The image and the knowing that came with it -- the knowing that life can quickly and easily be taken at any time.  

Once inside the house, Tippy and I cowered under a pile of blankets on my bed. It seemed like hours before we were ready to emerge and face the world once again. 

From that day forward, we both held a deep aversion to bright lights and loud noises. Relatives and friends listened to the story with silent amazement and polite interest. Yes, it was a miracle, they agreed, that Tip and I -- right under the metal swing set -- hadn't been struck as well. But, quickly, interest in the incident faded,
 leaving only Tip and I to share the haunting emotions.

When Tip died, my world turned to black and white again. I wanted comfort. I craved it. 
But it didn't come. My father couldn't speak of death in any form, human or 
animal, and only turned away from me. 

He wrapped Tip in an old crocheted blanket and put her in a box.

He said he would wait until I got home from school to bury her.

But after school, I didn't go home.

I could not face thinking of Tip never again being there to greet me and love me. 
Our sharing the experience with the lightning had forged a deep bond between us. 

An understanding. 

Even when days turned into weeks, months, and years, when no once else cared or remembered our near miss with fate, we still understood the fear in each other. 

When nobody else understood how I loathed the loudness of yelling in our home, Tip did and she would sit by me until the storm waned. 

When nobody else could fathom how a dog could be so terrified of the Fourth of  July, 
I did  -- and I would sit with her as long as I was allowed next to the old white chest 
freezer in the basement to wait out the last of the fireworks. 

To think of that bond of understanding and camaraderie erased, well, I simply could not 
bear it. And due to ever present storms on the horizon of my life, I didn't believe 
there would ever be any other bond or comfort available to take its place. 

How, I wondered, could I live with the pain? 

My adolescent mind -- swimming in pain and confusion -- conjured the idea that 
if I didn't physically see my dog, my friend, committed to the earth,  it wouldn't really be true that she was gone. So, no, I didn't go home . . . for hours.

By the time I had no where else to go, I walked home and quietly entered the house. 
The anger my parent's felt toward me was palpable and well voiced. 
Lightning seemed to strike again, blinding me and tearing into my heart. 
I was labeled as uncaring, cold, selfish. Why, they'd had no choice but to bury the dog without me. How could I be so calloused? The labels stung and imprinted themselves deeply, marring my ability to trust myself and others. 

In the ensuing years, lightning has, figuratively, continued to strike. Scathing remarks and judgments because of my choices and decisions. Don't I know, I've been asked, that my belief in religion is just a crutch? Blame for the unhappiness of others. Don't I know that if I would just conform to certain ideas and ideals, rationalizations of what is right and wrong, all would be fine? Don't I know how my insistence on integrity and loyalty is old fashioned? 

No, I know none of those things.

But what I do know, what I have come to know from learning to face each storm, is that I am not alone. More so that on an even deeper level than a child and a dog who shared understanding and a special bond, I know I am loved of God. And that no matter the emotional lightning strikes, He knows my heart. He understands my pain, my fear, 
my dread, and, equally, my hopes, my dreams, and my good intentions. 

He knows. 

And I am so grateful to know that He does . . .