Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Christmas Craft & Goodie Exchange

You can get some great ideas at a Craft or Cookie exchange for the Holidays. Plan a ladies event that lets everyone bring their favorite idea to share for the Christmas Holidays. Here is what we've done. First, be sure to plan early enough to allow the attendees to get their ideas together. We made sure to stress that their contribution to the evening could be either a craft, goodie to make or a recipe to serve at a Christmas party or even Christmas dinner. We asked them to bring samples of their work, food, etc. We also made it clear that they did not have to bring anything at all...maybe just a friend! I also asked anyone with idea books to bring those too. I am a big Gooseberry Patch fan, so I brought the idea books I had. I set up a table to display all the crafts and books so that the ladies could exam everything close up. I also asked everyone to bring instructions or a recipe that could be photocopied. What a great time! I have done this several times and it's always a success. I have several favorites that are quit the hit at the exchange. Here are a few so you can have a better idea of what it's all about. Also I have included a few links for a cookie exchange. You are guaranteed to have a great ladies meeting.

Here are some of my favorite ideas to bring to a craft exchange.

Soapy Snowmen

These smell really good and look adorable!
2 cups Ivory Snow Ultra (you might need a little more)
1/2 cup water
Seed beads
Tempera paints
Egg carton
Pipe cleaners

1. Pour the Ivory Snow into a bowl, add the water and whip with an electric beater until doughy.
2. Shape the damp soap into three balls. Stack them by gently pushing a toothpick halfway into the center of the bottom ball. Then, push the middle ball down onto the toothpick until the two balls touch. Do the same for the snowman's head.

3. Add twig arms, clove eyes, shirt buttons and a felt scarf. To make a smiling mouth, press on a row of seed beads. For a mini carrot nose, color the tip of a short twig with orange paint. Top off the snowman with an eggcup hat or a set of pipe cleaner earmuffs.

As the soap dries (this can take a few hours), it will lose its grayish tinge and turn bright sure not to handle it too much!

I made these for all the teacher's at a Christian School...They not only are very cute...they smell wonderful!

Round Gum Ball Ornament
You will need:
Gum Balls
Wooden toothpicks cut in half
Styrofoam ball
1 12" piece of ribbon
1. Poke one end of a toothpick into a gum ball and the other end into the Styrofoam ball.

2. Repeat until the Styrofoam ball is completely covered with gum balls.

3. Tie the 12" piece of ribbon around the ball for hanging on the tree!

Note: You can also attach the gum balls with hot glue.

Snowflake Popcorn Recipe

1 bag (3-oz) microwave popcorn (try using non-butter)
1 jar (7-oz) marshmallow crème
Small red and green candy sprinkles


Heat oven to 325F. Spray large cookie sheet with cooking spray. Microwave bag of popcorn as directed on bag. Empty the jar of marshmallow crème into a medium microwaveable bowl. Microwave uncovered on High about 2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute, until melted.

Shake popcorn into marshmallow crème, being careful not to add unpopped kernels. Stir gently until coated.

Spread popcorn on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with candies. Bake about 10 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes, until marshmallow coating is dry. Cool completely on cookie sheet on wire rack; break up large pieces. You can put popcorn into a decorative cellophane bag and give as a gift.

Links for Cookie Exchange Ideas - this is the gooseberry patch website. You can purchase their books at other locations (usually Wal-mart has a few in their craft session, but take a look at their website..they are fabulous!)

Feed Your Faith Blessings Mix

I found this idea at This is a nice alternative for the Thanksgiving Blessing Mix if you wish to incorporate it into a lesson. As far as I know there aren't any free printable cards available for this one. Just get creative with your computer or scrapbooking supplies!

Feed Your Faith Blessings Mix

2 cups small pretzels
1 cup dried fruit bits or raisins
1 cup peanuts or sunflower seeds
1 cup M&Ms brand chocolate candy
16 Hershey's brand chocolate kisses

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except Hershey's Kisses.
Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup Blessing Mix in small cellophane treat bags.Add one Hershey's Kiss to each bag.Close bag with chenille stem or twist-tie or raffia and attach a card with the following:

Pretzels: Arms folded in prayer - I Kings 8:282, 2 Chronicles 6:19, Ephesians 6:18
Dried Fruits: Blessings & Gifts - John 3:16-17 , Deuteronomy 28:1-14
Nut or Seeds: Promise of a future harvest, one we will reap only if seedsare planted and tended to with diligence.Galatians 6:8-10,Matthew 9:37, 38
M&Ms: Memories of those who came before us to guide us to a blessed future - 2 Timothy 1:3-12 ,Isaiah 38:19
Hershey's Kiss: The love of family and friends that sweetens our lives.John 13:34, 35 Romans 12:10 I John 4:7, 8 I John 4:11

Thanksgiving Blessing Mix

This sounds like a pretty cute idea. The web is filled with recipes for this blessing mix. Here is the common one I found. Seal it up in a cellophane bag or zippie and attach a card with a harvest poem. Bagged in favor-sized gift bags and decorated with a harvest poem.

Give as a favor to a Sunday School class, ladies group, etc. You can give bring in the items unbagged and have your students made their own Blessing Mix Bags to give out. If you don't want to bother making your own card there are several free ones you can print out.

Thanksgiving Blessing Mix Recipe
2 cups Bugles brand corn snacks

2 cups small pretzels

1 cup candy corn

1 cup dried fruit bits or raisins

1 cup peanuts or sunflower seeds

1 cup M&Ms-brand chocolate candy

16 Hershey's-brand chocolate kisses

In a large bowl, gently mix all ingredients except Hershey's Kisses.
Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup Thanksgiving Blessing Mix in small cellophane treat bags or small ziplock bags. Add one Hershey's Kiss to each bag. Close bag with chenille stem, raffia or twist tie and attach card.

Makes 16 Blessing Mix gift bags.

Thanksgiving Blessing Mix
Bugles: Shaped like a cornucopia or Horn of Plenty, a symbol of our nation's abundance.
Pretzels: Arms folded in prayer, a freedom sought by those who founded our country.
Candy corn: Sacrifices of the Pilgrims' first winter. Food was so scarce that settlers survived on just a few kernels of corn a day.
Nuts or seeds: Promise of a a future harvest, one we will reap only if seeds are planted and tended with diligence.
Dried fruits: Harvest gifts of our bountiful land.
M&Ms: Memories of those who came before us to guide us to a blessed future.
Hershey's Kiss: The love of family and friends that sweetens our lives

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Celebration of Thanks

Nothing like a church potluck. Of course, you can always choose to do things a bit differntly (like have your ladies (or men) prepare a big meal),but nothing beats the church potluck. You will never eat so well. So how to make things special?

I have to confess to having a bit of an obession with fall decor. I have pumpkins. Willow pumpkins, glass pumpkins, metal pumpkins, wood pumpkins...even paper mache pumpkins. Any church we have ever pastored soon found itself with a wide array of fall decorations also. It's not always possible to spend a lot of money on decorations for your tables so here are some things I have done in the past.
A really cheap and attractive start is with your table covering. Even if you have plain white plastic table clothes consider buying some of those long paper table coverings from a party store. They will hve everything from cute and country pumpkins to stylish leaves and cornucopias. Cut them in half and you have instant table runners. If they are the kind that have a white center, just use the printed sides. Save the white centers to cover your food tables. If you can afford to purchase matching napkins or napkins in similar colors. Party stores also have the paper place mates, but a table runner is just enough. Make a passionate plea for any spare fall pretties folks might not be using (or can loan just the evening). If you wish to start collecting some decor for every year try and do so during the last few weeks of the season when it is really marked down. Don't wait too late...I've spent many a madcap shopping trip scrounging through leftover fall foilage. A store like Hobby Lobby is wonderful about having half price sales. One year I got dozens of willow pumpkins for just a few dollars a piece. We were having a community Thanksgiving service and needed lots of decorations. Check out dollar stores. I purchased stand-up scarecrows for little or nothing one year. Don't be afraid of the great outdoors either. Use pretty leaves (be sure to cut the day of!) or pinecones and acorns. One of the prettiest Thanksgiving dinners we ever had though came from a big "oops" on my part. I had planned an event for another church and used some of my best stuff doing these gorgeous tablescapes with garland made of leaves, pumpkins, candles,fabric, etc...thinking I had plenty of stuff to do our own dinner at church. Imagine mydismay when I discovered upon inspection that I completely had blown it. Nothing left but a few scrawy leaves and a pumpkin or two. A friend and deacon's wife had a brilliant idea. A local florist was willing to loan us however many flower arrangements we needed, as long as we mentioned her shop. We added a few elegant candle holders and wow! We had gorgeous tables. Don't be afraid to mix and match any supplies you might have...the tables don't have to look the same!

Treats and Treasures
I love to make every occasion with the church family a special one. One way you can do this is to send them home with a favor or something special. I have a couple links below that will give you a few crafty ideas for treats and treasures.

You can have your missionette (or girl's group) help prepare favors or placecards...Sounds like a badge in progress to me!

The Service
You can choose a guest speaker or have a short service, but I have found the most touching services to be those that were filled with testimony and song. You can ask for volunteers or select a group that can testify about God's goodness during the past year...We all should have something to say! Be sure to leave plenty of time to fellowship...encourage your folks to invite friends and family. This is a perfect time for those who wouldn't normally come to church to be introduced to your church family.

Spreading Blessings Around

You can't always get everyone motivated to do a big "Blessing Baskets" project. Maybe your energies are going to a different project for the holidays or maybe you feel as if you have limited resources. I have given you a list of ideas that will allow your congregation to particpate in blessing someone or a group of someones during the Thanksgiving or even Christmas season.

1. Just do turkeys. Purchase turkeys whenever your local grocery stories start marking them way down and deliver them to previously chosen families. If you have someone in your church who owns a turkey fryer you could even fry the turkeys as a special treat before giving them away!

2. Participate in a local food pantry drive. Our local community has a wonderful food pantry called "Least of These." Contact your local organization and get a list of needs. Set out boxes or baskets and let folks bring in the items needed. You can also contact other community organizations like women shelters, etc. to see what they are in need of.

3. Encourage individual familys to do "family blessing baskets." They can choose someone in need and create their own basket to give away.

4. Take a group of church folks and volunteer at your local mission or soup kitchen.

5. Encourage your church folks to invite a "stray" to their homes for Thanksgiving dinner. My parents are pastors and this was a common occurence in my home when I was growing up. Find out who is without family or close to family and adopt them out. I can remember one holiday in which we had not only in-laws and thier friends, but college students, a widow or two and a family lived far away from their own families. Crowded, but lots of fun!

6. Choose one or two of the missionaries that you support that will be far from home on Thanksgiving. Remember...this is an American Holiday! Pack up a care package to send to them.

7. Why not support our troops in a special way? There are plenty of organizations who can hook you up with a service man or woman to send an extra blessing to during the holidays. In fact, most of us know of someone who is either serving right now overseas or has served. You might even take it a step further and bless their families members left at home as well. I know for a fact that there are many organizations dedicated to ministering to failies of service men and women. The military also has a great support system...maybe you can find out a way to help.

The Blessing Baskets

Thanksgiving can be the perfect opportunity for you to share Christ's compassion without strings attached. The food basket at Thanksgiving is not a new idea, but one so simple that it often gets lost in our "big event" planning. Here are few hints and tips.

First of all, decide who you are going to give baskets to. It's fun going all willy nilly, but be thoughtful about it. We had baskets going to families in need not only in our community, but also in our immediate church family also. It might be a single mother, a family who has faced a health or financial crisis or a senior citizen on a fixed income. Maybe it is someone who has just had a particularly hard year. Ask congregation members for names of members of community who they know might need a pick'me'up. Everyone knows someone...a fellow employee...a neighbor...a family member in need...maybe someone at school.

Gathering the items for your Blessings Baskets is as easy as opening your mouth. Most folks are just waiting on ready to help out. We contacted local merchants and received special discounts on turkeys or gift certificates. We also set up boxes in our foyer for canned goods or mixes. We also didn't limit ourselves to just food baskets. Keep in mind that people of food stamps have a certain amount of money a month that is for food purchases only...this cannot be used for household supplies, personal hygiene items, etc. And many families in need are not eligible for food stamps. Be practical in your giving. If you bless a senior citizen please keep in mind that he or she doesn't need a turkey (unless they are having company). Instead, fill their baskets with things that they could easily prepare or store. If you have a family going through a medical crisis bless them with things like gas cards, cash, snack foods that they can carry back and forth with them to the hospital or fully prepared meals at home. I have provided a list of items to consider for your blessing baskets at the end of my ramblings here.

The basket itself doesn't have to be fancy. Wal-mart has relatively inexpensive wicker baskets. Either have folks donate the funds (or they can purchase one themselves to donate) or ask Wal-mart or another retail store for a donation. We used brown paper sacks donated by a local grocery store a lot if we had many baskets to give out. Add special treats to the basket. Candy for the kids, artificial leaves or pumpkins. You can have your children's Sunday school classes decorate the outside of the brown paper bags with blessings and messages of greeting of their own. Be sure to include a brief little "thinking of you" card. You can add a tract or info about your church if you wish, but keep in mind that the thought alone is a testimony.

Delivery day is always fun. Keep in mind that some people are a bit uncomfortable with the idea of "receiving." If that is the case you can always take the "knock and run" approach. We had a few folks in our church that loved, loved deliver day. They would set out with an address list in hand, their back seat filled with baskets and big smiles plastered all over their faces. There is something about blessing someone in need with this kind of surprise.

Don't be afraid to get your whole church involved in The Blessing Basket project. Kids and adults alike need to get into the habit of blessing others. Have fun!

List of Blessing Basket Items

Turkeys or Hams
Fresh vegetables such as potatoes, onions, carrots, winter squash
Fresh fruit
Dried pasta and sauces
Canned vegetables
Canned fruit
Stuffing mix
Packets or jars of gravy
Pie crust mix
Pie filling
Muffin and/or corn bread mix
Cranberry sauce
Hot or cold cereal
Cookie, brownie or cake mixes
Fresh baked goods
Toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, tissues, etc.)
Gas or gift cards
Paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, Kleenex)
Household products (laundry detergent, dish soap)