The Christmas season is fast approaching as we finish off the last of that Thanksgiving turkey. Time to make some not-so-easy decisions about the money we will spend on gifts this year. Do we go all out and run up the credit card debts to the max, or do we simplify? Our economy is still not in the best shape, so many folks have debt problems and it seems so foolish to dig ourselves in deeper. My own personal choice is to simplify as much as I can.

Ours is a country home, decorated with things we grow or find in the pastures and tree groves. We have an overabundance of scrub cedars so they are ‘thinned out by one’ each December, and that is my Christmas tree for the year. My yearly tree is always sort of ‘Charlie Brown-ish’ and would never make it to any city Christmas tree lot, but the scent of cedar is ‘Christmas’ to me.  When I get that old Nativity set displayed in the corner of the room, it’s Christmas–no matter how few the gifts are under the tree.

The ornaments are a collection of things that were given to us or made by our children from the time when they were very young. Some of them are pretty fragile after all these years, but go on the tree in a protected spot. I have a chain made by my oldest son when he was just 3 years old. It’s an old tablet page, some colors and some glue–not a real chain after 40+ years, just pieces of it, but it was the first ornament he made all by himself.

I have a wreath frame made from some very old barbed wire, probably put on a fence by my father-in-law and my husband years ago. It’s pretty rusted and twisted but it works.  We will wire on some cedar branches with those beautiful blueberries along with some of the bittersweet that grows in my front yard, some rose hips from the rose bushes, and some of the Artemisia that grew in the strawberry patch this last summer. It will then be decorated with some chunks of corn and a big sunflower head or two and hung on the upper deck over my dining room. I may put some lights on it–or maybe not, as the birds probably wouldn’t appreciate getting all tangled up in the cord. (If I’m lucky, the birds will leave the wreath alone until after Christmas.) I may be able to wire some cedar branches along the deck railing and hang a few lights up. We shall see; weather is a big factor this time of year and I’m not one to start hanging Christmas lights until after the first of December. But don’t get me wrong–I love to drive around the small town nearby and look at all the homes decked out for the season.  Many folks spend weeks, days and hours to make their homes light up for Christmas and I love their handwork!

After the decorations are put up, I can concentrate on the gifts to be given for the year, which are mostly homemade.

Sometimes I get ambitious and make a few projects from the wood in the shop; bread boards or wooden mats to protect table tops cut in the shape of ‘country critters’.  I don’t put any stain or oil on them, but will take a marker and draw on a face. Once in a while I’ll tackle a bird house if time allows.

Years ago, my mother used to get those fancy gift catalogs in the mail and I was blown away by the prices–way too pricey for this country girl! So we figured out how to 'make it ourselves' and save those dollars. As my husband used to say, “We make it ourselves and give things from the heart, not the wallet!” We would watch for baskets at yard sales or make our own boxes from old fruit crates that we would cut and nail together in the wood shop.  We would then line them with scraps of pretty paper (found on sale of course) or scraps of fabric from the sewing that was always done (and still is).  When we ‘put up’ the produce from the garden and the pastures–wild fruit jams and jellies–some were set aside for the gift baskets and boxes.

A basket or box containing a loaf of homemade bread, a bag of homemade cookies, a cookie cutter or handmade Christmas ornament is a fine gift.  The food gets eaten and the basket can be used for other things. Who knows, I may get really ambitious and make some potholders from the fabric scraps to go along with the jelly!

Merry Christmas to all,


by Paula Vogelgesang

Paula Vogelgesang is the author of the monthly column "Pennywise", and is a monthly contributor to the Farm And Livestock Directory.

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Fall Reflections, 2014

A large flock of half-grown turkey poults and hens filled the lane as I left the ranch this morning to run errands–signs of a good hatch! Food is plentiful as we’ve been inundated with grasshoppers once again. The gardens left a lot to be desired this year; bugs, and either too much rain or not enough, and hailstorms that wreaked havoc on gardens and shredded the corn and wheat crops. But we do have some tomatoes and peppers–enough for salsa and pasta sauce. And my wonderful neighbors, who did not get hail, have shared some of their bounty.

And for that, I am grateful.