Handmade Christmas Gifts and Projects

I love making people handmade gifts.  I did a lot of that this year.  But, because I stink at photography, I actually forgot to take photos of most of the things I made!  

Fortunately, most of the ideas came from either pinterest or blogs I frequent.  So in case any of you are interested in some good gift ideas (for next year?) I thought I’d link them up here.  I am so thankful for all the crafty folks who blog out there – I am good at replicating things I see, but not so good at thinking them up myself!


Get your glue gun ready!

Ceramic Tile Coasters

First, we made Christmas coasters for teacher gifts.  They were simple, turned out really cute, and were quite inexpensive.  We found ceramic tiles at the local Habitat for Humanity Restore for 10 cents each!  Can’t beat that!  Used scrapbooking paper, glue, felt, and ModPodge that I already had on hand.  Tutorial here.

Sign Post

Made this entryway sign post for my porch. 

Since this wasn’t a gift and I still have it, I could take a photo!  Again, quite easy and I’m excited about it because I can use it year-round.  I made a Christmas sign, a Thanksgiving sign, and a generic welcome sign (wood scraps and hardware came from the Restore, and the fence-post topper thingy came from Lowe’s).  Used paint I already had.  Got the idea for the sign post here.  I also used this idea for hand-painting letters.  It worked great.

Craft Stick Nativity

I made three of these handmade nativity scenes – gave two away and kept one for myself!  So easy and took only about 1 hour to finish one.  Used paint and fabric I already had.  Bought the wooden materials at Michael’s and the moss sheets at the Dollar Tree – spent about $10 – that made these three and I have some materials left over.  Tutorial here.  One thing I did differently was to use wooden pieces for the bodies rather than clay pots and I like the way it turned out.

My favorite memory from making these was that my 4 year old helped me paint some of the body pieces – she giggled when she said “I am painting God!”.  She meant the baby Jesus – but it was too cute.

Letter Photo Art

Made one of these for my niece.  Bought scrap wood from Home Depot (and had them cut it for me!) and frames from the Dollar Tree.  Again, I used paint I already had.  Instead of hot gluing the frames to the wood, though, I used hot glue and velcro tabs to attach the frames.  I wanted her to have the option of changing out the letters and putting photos in it in the future.  Great gift – fairly easy and inexpensive.  It seemed like picking out the letters, editing and printing them took the most time!

Scrabble Tile Ornaments

My nephew and his fiancee love to play scrabble.  So I made these Christmas ornaments for them.  One for each of them with their names, and one with their wedding date on it.  As long as you can find a scrabble game at a thrift store for cheap, you’re good to go!!  (and I got some of the tiles, including the numbers, from a friend who was willing to share!  Thanks!)  Instructions here.

White Chocolate Snack Mix

This is a favorite in our home, and perfect for gifting.  Put it in a cute little snack bag and it makes a great gift accompaniment.  (we gave this to the kids’ teachers as well!)

6 cups rice or corn chex (or a mixture of the two!)

3 cups cheerios

1 cup dry roasted peanuts

1 cup pretzel twists

12 ounces m&ms

1 pound white chocolate

Mix first 5 ingredients in large bowl.  Melt white chocolate using the microwave or a double boiler.  Pour over mixture and stir to coat.  Spread out on waxed paper covered cookie sheets until chocolate is hardened and mixture is cool.  Store in an airtight container. 

Be careful because this stuff is addicting!! 

DIY Campfire Starters

I made DIY campfire starters for my hubby and brother-in-law.  We seriously have the worst time starting campfires when we’re camping!  Last summer I had to make an emergency trip to the campground store for firestarters, and at 1.50 a pop, that was my inspiration for making my own!  Survivors we are not.  But DIYers, yes!

These were simple to make – I have two monstrous evergreens in my front yard that drop copious amounts of needles.  So I used those and some old candles I already had.  Genious idea to use egg cartons! 

This makes a great gift for a camping-kinda guy, paired with a camping lighter.  I found some instructions here.  They smell delicious.

(I did find instructions elsewhere that used dryer lint.  I tried that first – but I won’t tell you what I thought they looked like when they were done.  Not exactly gift-worthy.  So I went with the pine needles!)

Melting Snowman Cookies

We made these for my kids’ classmates.  They were a huge hit.  Definitely fun for the kids to decorate, too.  I used my own sugar cookie and frosting recipe.  Inspiration was found here.

Framed Christmas Tree / Scripture Art

My friends got these for Christmas.  Free printable found here, with some scrapbook paper and ribbon I had on hand, and some classy frames from the Dollar Tree.  Wish I’d made one for myself!

Whew!  Lots of ideas here – hopefully they’re helpful to you!  Did you make any handmade gifts or decor for Christmas??  Care to share a link?


Christmas Decorating and Gifts…


Been too busy to even hear myself think, so I apologize for the lack of posts recently!  Here are some pics to show you what we’ve been working on…

We, of course, have been preparing for Christmas – the tree and decorations are up, but we still have a lot of baking to do! 

The “snowmen family decoration” was a craft I did last year – I made one for us, and then also one for each of my sisters.  This is really easy, cute, and doesn’t take long.  Perfect gift for extended family.  Instructions are here.

The last two pictures are a Christmas Card display – again, I saw something like it on Pinterest recently.  Our local Habitat for Humanity Restore had these shutters for 5 bucks, and I was intending to paint them, but decided just to leave them black and rustic looking!  I attached them using some hinges I picked up at Lowe’s going out of business sale (score!) and then added a couple of ornaments, a lighted garland, and a Merry Christmas sign that I already had.  The horizontal fold cards just slip right in, and we’re attaching vertically folded cards with red and green paper clips.  I’m so pleased with how it turned out!!

What are you up to these days?

Thanks and Giving Giveaway!

With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought I’d have me an itty-bitty giveaway on the old blog!!

This week for some reason I had been thinking a lot about giving thanks to God (maybe thanks to all my friends who are posting what they are thankful for on FB every day for the month of November??).  And I was thinking that when I have a proper attitude of thanksgiving to God, it very often spills over into an attitude of giving to others.  Then I found this verse…

2 Corinthians 2:14

“14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

Amazing!  When we are thankful for all that God has given us, we are able to submit to Him and be led by Him – and that in turn glorifies Him to others!  Let’s be so thankful each and every day and may that urge us to give, and may that glorify Christ!! 

So to get started, I want to give away a handmade crocheted shawl to one of you!!

Here are some pics:

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And here are some details: 

It is hand-crocheted in Red Heart Symphony yarn – “a worsted weight, brushed acrylic yarn with a soft, mohair look and feel” – in Persimmon.  It is a beautiful fall pumpkin-y color that reminds me of pumpkin pie!!  And it’s soft – so soft!

It is about a women’s size small or medium.  (I wear a large or extra-large and I think it’s a bit small for me!).  It can be machine washed (cold water) and machine dried at low temperature. 

This would make a wonderful gift (for yourself!!??) or someone else!  This is open to anyone who lives in the continental U.S.A. and who follows ledbytheshepherd either through an RSS feed or e-mail subscription (click on the link on the left hand side to follow / subscribe!  If you win, I’ll either mail it to or if you’re local, I’ll drop it off!  If you would like to win this shawl, please leave a comment letting me know if you’d keep it for yourself or give it away (and to whom!).  One entry per person.  I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner on Sunday evening, November 13th. 

Yay!  I’m excited to see who wins!!

(P.S.  I have to add this.  I had this post written as a draft – and then I read this post this morning.  Amazing.  And powerful.  How thankfulness to God can change us, can help us submit to Him, can turn our selfishness into serving and reaching out to others.  Read it – you’ll be blessed!)

First crocheted scarf!

L learned a new skill this summer!

Here she is showing it off…

And here’s an up-close picture.  She did a great job! 

We picked up free instructions for this scarf when we bought the yarn at Michaels.  It was called “Quick 7 Row Scarf” from Loops & Threads.

Don’t you just *love* those bright colors?


Have I ever mentioned how much I like avocados?  and guacamole? 

Well, if not, it’s been an oversight.  I love them.  And generally just can’t get enough. 

So, of course, I have tried the Baja Salad at Wendy’s, and the Turkey, Bacon, and Avocado sub at Subway.  And they’re both delicious.

But then I got thinking – these are not difficult things – I should try this at home!  And so here it is… my knock-off version of the Baja Salad:

Start with some greens – I like a spring mix.

Add some leftover Taco Soup (see recipe below) and some shredded cheddar cheese.

I used Hidden Valley Southwest Chipotle dressing and any type of salsa will do.

Add your guacamole (see recipe below) – and there you go!  (I didn’t add in any chips because, well, I’m counting those calories – but you could top it with some type of coarsely crushed chip if you want to.)  Delicious!

So here are the recipes.   I had made these for other meals and just used the leftovers for this salad lunch.

3 Haas avocados, chopped
1 T lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 tsp cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
In medium bowl, mash avocado with lime juice.  Add salt, cumin, cayenne and mix well.  Fold in onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic.
Taco Soup
2 cans kidney beans
2 cans pinto beans
2 cans corn
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies
1/4 cup (or 1 packet) taco seasoning
1 packet dry ranch dressing mix
1 pound ground beef
Cook meat in skillet and drain fat.  Put into slow cooker.  Sprinkle with seasonings.  Drain and rinse beans and add to slow cooker.  Add entire contents of corn and tomato cans.  Stir.  Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours or high 4-5 hours.  Stir well and serve topped with cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips.  (Or use in knock-off Baja Salad!!)

Summer Slow Cooker Recipes


I don’t handle hot well.  I get cranky.  Ask my kids!  (But to be fair, so do they!) And it really doesn’t help that the air conditioner in our van hasn’t been working since May!  By the time we get anywhere, we are all a hot mess.

I do think it’s especially funny that the desktop google-thingy my hubby put on my computer says it’s 88 degrees currently and the high today is going to be 86 degrees.  Huh?

There are only two reasons we are not melting (or having a meltdown) right now – and they are our pool, and our nice, cool, finished basement.  I am soooo thankful for both on these hot days!

Oh – and there’s a third – the slow cooker!  

I love to use my slow cooker in the summer.  Grilling is great, but I get tired of it after a while.  The slow cooker allows me to have more variation in our meals without heating up the kitchen.  And that’s a plus in my book!

So I thought I’d share a few of my family’s favorite slow cooker recipes for the summer (no stews this time of year!!).

Shredded Pork with Beans

3 pound pork loin, cut into 3 large pieces

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 jar (24 ounce) picante sauce

Monterey jack cheese

Tortillas or rice

Place pork, beans, and picante sauce in slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.  Shred pork and return to slow cooker.   Can be served either over rice or in tortillas.


Beef Brisket

4-5 pound beef brisket

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup white vinegar

1 T worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 tsp liquid smoke

1/4 tsp pepper

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Rub beef with salt.  Place in slow cooker.  Mix remaining ingredients and pour over beef.  Cover and cook 8-10 hours on low.

And last, but not least, this is the one I actually have in my Crockpot right now:


Chicken and Broccoli Slow Cooker Casserole

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1″ cubes

10 ounces frozen chopped broccoli

1 medium onion

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 tablespoons cheez-its, crushed  (this is a perfect use for all the crumbs in the bottom of the bag!)

3 cups cooked white rice

Toss together cornstarch and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and set aside. Put chicken, broccoli, onion, broth, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cornstarch mixture into slow cooker. Cover and cook on high 3 hours. Remove lid and stir in remaining 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and salt and pepper. Sprinkle crushed crackers over top and serve immediately with rice.


I hope you try these and let me know what you think!

And if you have any slow cooker favorites, please share!


Chore Chart Idea

We’ve gone through periods of using a chore chart and periods of not using a chore chart.  Overall, I am in favor of using a chore chart for our family and associating it with the kids’ allowance.  But sometimes it just gets old and we’ll ditch it for a while. 

But it seems to always make it’s way back in one way or another.  I find that it’s good to change it up after a while, both to combat boredom, and as the children get older they may need to focus their skills in one area rather than another.  Our chore chart includes, at the top – either things I want the kids to complete, or skills I know they’re working on and need practice.  They get a certain amount of money each week for each one completed.  Then, at the bottom, we have things that are bad habits or behaviors that they need to stop.  Check marks here mean some money taken away.

Soooo, the chore chart is in play right now.  After several weeks of printing out a new copy of it each week, I had an idea!

 **think lightbulb**

I have a ton of picture frames hanging around that I’m not using.  Why not use it for the chore chart?

And it works beautifully…

(well, the frame works beautifully – I wouldn’t go so far as to say the picture is beautiful!!)

We use a write-on/wipe-off marker and no need to print out another sheet every week!  Yay!

Now it’s your turn.  Tell me, do you have a chore chart for your kids?  Is it associated with allowance?  Is it effective? 

I’m always up for new ideas!