Taking My Time With Cold Seed Stratification

It’s that time of year again…indoor seed sowing time!!!

I’ve already sprouted and potted up brassicas, sown lettuce and pea seeds, and am getting ready to start on the nightshades, herbs, and annual flowers.

This year, in addition to all of the annual fruits and veggies that I’ll be starting from seed, I’m also going to try my hand at starting some perennial trees, shrubs, and berries indoors.  If I’m successful, I’ll save a ton of money on landscaping and will be able to supply my family and customers with even more healthy food and herbs from the garden.

I say “if” because these particular perennials that I’m starting are a little more difficult to get going than your typical annual seed.  They can’t just be planted straight out of the seed packet into a seed starting medium.  Instead, most of these seeds require a period of stratification before they are sown.  Seed stratification is the process whereby seed dormancy is broken in order to promote germination.  

There are  different types of stratification.   According to Gardening Know How.com, “Some seeds require a warm and moist treatment, while others require a cool and wet treatment. Even still, other seeds require a combination of both warm and cool treatments followed by a warm treatment, or a combination of warm and cool moist followed by a dry cycle and warm period to germinate.”

Does this sound confusing?  Intimidating?  (It used to scare me off, so I kept my distance from these plants for a long, long time).  

However, I’ve grown much more comfortable with the seed starting process over the years, so I figured why not take on the challenge of seed stratification this year?

I hopped on over to one of my favorite heirloom seed sources, Bountiful Gardens, and placed an order for some of their wild cultivars: Serviceberry, Hawthorne, Bearberry, Hardy Kiwi, Chaste Tree, Schizandra, and a few others.

When the package arrived, I found out that most of my seeds were going to require cold stratification, which is the type of stratification used for “plants or trees that require time in the ground over winter in order to germinate” (Gardening Know How).

It was a little overwhelming at first, making my way through all of the instructions included with the seeds, but after digesting it all, I found that the process, although a little time consuming, was relatively easy to complete.

Here’s what I ended up doing…

First, I picked up some plastic containers at the local Dollar Tree.  These little ones, that came in a package of four, fit the bill perfectly…


Then, using cotton balls as my medium, I created a moist, but not wet, layer on the bottom of the container…



Next, I added the seeds…


Then, I covered the seeds with more moist cotton balls…



Finally, using the information on the seed packet, I calculated the date when the seeds would finish their cold stratification period, wrote it on the seed packet instructions and calendar, taped the seed packet instructions to the container, and placed the container into the refrigerator to be left alone until the recorded date at which time they’ll be removed from the refrigerator and then sown, indoors, just as I sow my other annual seeds.



Some of the seeds can take up to a year to germinate after sowing, so this project is going to take some patience, but as the words from one of my favorite Wes King songs, Slow Miracles, says,  “the best things in life take time”, don’t they?

Curious about which perennials require cold stratification?  (I was surprised to find some of the plants I grow on this list, like lavender and catmint – I’ve never used cold stratification on these seeds before, but now maybe I will).  Head on over to A Garden for the House for a nice list of garden perennials, and Wild Ones for some great information and a chart on native, wild plants, like the ones that I am growing.

Transplanting, Instead of Culling, Makes Me a Much Happier Gardener

Ever had a hard time thinning or “culling” those extra seedlings that spring up from over-sowing or volunteering?  It’s very common, in my garden, to find seedlings that are way too tightly packed together.  Even though I know it is the absolute right thing to do, I can’t tell you how it pains me to remove these sweet little gems from my garden.


The other day I was working in a bed of lettuce that I had sown a few weeks prior – one that I sowed an over-abundance of seed in to ensure better germination rates.  It was now time for the weeding and thinning to take place.

I like to let my seedlings grow a couple of sets of true leaves before starting the thinning process.  Crickets and grasshoppers around our homestead love those first little, tender leaves and often chew them right off, leaving nothing but the stem and roots, essentially killing the plant, but they don’t tend to bother them once they get larger.  So, rather than thin early and risk losing what’s left to these pests, I leave them to grow until they are large enough that the pests won’t bother them and then begin the thinning.

As I started the process of locating the lettuce among the weeds, to my happy surprise, I also noticed that there were a ton of carrot seedlings scattered about – no doubt from seeds that had dropped off and germinated earlier in the year  from a carrot plant that I’d let go to seed for the purpose of seed saving…


If it were spring or summer, I’d thin any unwanted plants by gently pulling them up or cutting them off at the soil line and then toss them aside. But now that it’s fall, and the days are shorter, the weather is cooler, and the ground is staying saturated longer,  I’ve decided to try and salvage as many seedlings as possible.  I know it’s a risk with the carrots because transplanting can cause the roots to fork, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take to save these dainty little volunteers!

Digging up a clump of soil – plants, weeds, and all – I take care to pry the weeds away,  and then I gently divide the seedlings…


Although I try not to disturb the roots, I find that in this cooler weather the plants don’t mind having their roots exposed as much.

Then, using a hand trowel,  I pry open up a small area of soil, slip the transplants into place (evenly spacing them out as I go), and give them a good watering to get them off to a good start in their new homes.



What a joy it is to have a few more beds of lettuce and carrots growing, now.  It makes me very happy!

So, if you’re like me, and you absolutely can’t bear to sacrifice all of those perfect, albeit not so well placed, vegetable seedlings that you’ve sown or have volunteered, and if it’s the right time of year, you might just want to consider taking the time to transplant them into another area of the garden where they’ll have adequate space for proper growth, ensuring happier, healthier plants.  Knowing that you’ve save those little beauties, I’m sure you’ll feel a lot happier, too! :)

Learning From Loss and Counting our Blessings Out at Our Happy Homestead

It’s chick hatching season out at Whit’s Acres, and with it has come a month full of anticipation, expectation, stress, life and loss.

egg on new straw

Each time we hatch a new batch of chicks, I’m reminded just how fragile and precious life is.

I am always amazed at the privilege and responsibility we have to help bring new life into this world.

It doesn’t always go as planned.

Sometimes things go wrong.

Life and death decisions are made.

Lessons are learned.

New insight and understanding is gained.

I think there’s something inside of just about every human being that says, “If there’s something I can do to save a life, I have to try!”

Yet, there is truth in the way of nature.  I know.

Out of the eleven eggs that were viable in our incubator, we have five brand new healthy, happy, incredibly cute chicks — now that’s something to celebrate!

five new chicks

On the other hand, six of the baby chicks didn’t make it.  Four died in their shells.   The other two?  Well,   I couldn’t just stand by and watch them struggle hour after hour, not being able to push out of their shell.

Oh, I’d read all of the books and forum posts that said to “Never help a chick that is struggling to hatch out of its shell — if it can’t make it out on its own, then it’s not going to be able survive if you help it out.”

But, I’d also read a few posts and watched a couple of videos of people saving these struggling chicks, and testifying to how that chick would have surely died if they hadn’t intervened and how it was now thriving with the rest of the flock.  Oh, sure, these kinds were the exception, but something inside of me kept telling me I had to try.

So, I did.  One of the little chicks who’d been struggling for over 24 hours to emerge from its shell finally arrived, exhausted, after I helped finish “Unzipping” it.  He only lived for about an hour after he hatched.  The other chick managed to live for nearly a week.  He had problems from the very beginning – a ruptured air sac, spraddled legs,  but I kept hoping that he’d improve, and so I continued to care for him, hand feeding and watering him, isolating him from the other healthy chicks and comforting him by holding him in my warm hands and making him a fuzzy “sleeping buddy” to comfort him when I wasn’t around.  It was so cute to watch him nuzzle his head under those yarn pom poms, like a baby chick snuggles under the mama hen.  But it wasn’t enough.  He was just too weak.  I was sad to say good bye, but thankful to have known him and to have learned a little more about animal husbandry in the process.

little runt

Sometimes I think, “Maybe I’m just not cut out for this farm life.”

There are no guarantees.

There are so many struggles.

It’s a difficult, sometimes stressful life.

It doesn’t always go as planned.

But every loss is an opportunity to learn…

And, every success is a  reminder of the great and wonderful blessings and privileges God has given us out at our Happy Homestead, Whit’s Acres.

Constructing My First, But Definitely Not Last, Keyhole Garden

You don’t have to live in the desert to benefit from a drought-tolerant composting garden.  Constructing a  “Keyhole Garden” is a great way to bring a creative, sustainable garden into your life, no matter where you live.

A keyhole garden is, essentially, another type of raised-bed planter. It is especially designed to work well in places that have poor soil and bad weather, namely scorching heat and elusive rainfall.  The method was “developed by a humanitarian aid organization in southern Africa, where resources are scarce and the climate unforgiving” (texascooppower.com).

With this year shaping up to be one of the worst on record for rainfall here in Central California, I’ve been taking advantage of my winter gardening “down time” to look into gardening methods that will help me conserve water and still be able to raise bountiful crops, this summer.  The keyhole garden looks very promising for helping me to do just that.

Take a look at how I constructed this drought-hardy garden…

First, I measured a 6-foot diameter circle to define the inside wall of my garden, and constructed the exterior wall using cut up timbers from dead trees that we had lying around the property.  I also cut out a small notch in the circle so that I can access the wire basket that I am going to place in the center.  (One of the principles of permaculture and sustainable agriculture is that you make use of available, recycled materials that you have on hand, rather than purchasing items from an outside source.  If you don’t have access to timbers, you could use rocks, metal, bricks, or any other material that can support the weight of wet soil).  By the way, keyhole gardens do not have to be round.  Here is an example of a 10′ x 10′ keyhole garden that I found on the web.  It even comes with a planting guide! timber exterior wall Next, I created a one-foot diameter tube out of chicken wire that is going to be filled with compostable material, like kitchen scraps, that will be placed in the middle of the garden and provide it with moisture and nutrients.  The garden will also be watered from this juncture.  Watering from the middle of the garden is supposed to force the plants to send their roots down deep and over to the tube, conserving water in the process. chicken wire tube Following that, since we have so many problems with gophers around here, I lined the entire bed with chicken wire… 100_4396 Then, I lined the bed with pieces of cardboard.  These will decompose as the garden matures, helping to nourish the soil and bring in lots of beneficial worms and insects.  I also set the wire tube in place at this point… 100_4399 Then, I followed this with a thick layer of dead leaves, which are abounding around our property at this time of year.  (When I make my next keyhole garden, I will lay down a “green mulch” layer first, though, following the lasagna garden method of alternating green and brown layers.  Green layers consist of things like herbaceous weeds, grass clippings, and animal manure; brown layers consist of things like dead leaves, straw hay, wood chips, and newspaper)… 100_4400 I thoroughly watered the cardboard and leaves, and then I added a layer of hummus (a mix of compostable materials that has not yet reached the finished compost stage) on top… 100_4402 Finally, I added a layer of top soil (taken from gopher mounds around the property, which are actually a great source of top soil because the dirt is really clean and typically weed seed-free, since it’s coming up from a couple of feet underground – who knew those guys could be so useful???) gopher holes

100_4403 Well, that’s it.  Pretty simple, huh?  All that’s left, now, is to build a ton more and figure out what I want to plant inside of them.  Any suggestions?

Edibles With the Best Return on Your Investment

“All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial”, declares the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:23.  This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible because it helps me to stop and consider, more carefully, whether or not a decision I make is going to be profitable in my life.  For example, it is perfectly lawful for me to spend time on the internet, but (and I’m sure you would agree)  it would not be beneficial for me to spend all of my waking hours blogging, posting, pinning, emailing, reading, gaming, and tweeting on my computer.  I can eat chocolate to my heart’s content, without the slightest fear of my home being raided by police officers, but I wouldn’t get very far before my gall bladder violently arrested me for substance abuse — eating chocolate is definitely not beneficial for my health, as I’ve sadly come to learn.

Deciding how to spend one’s time and what to eat aren’t the only ways to apply this verse.  Another great way to use it is in planning this year’s garden.

Many gardeners dream about self-sufficiency, growing all of their own produce, and becoming less dependent on the local grocery store for their favorite fruits and vegetables.  What they may not realize, however, is that while it is completely lawful to plant any of the grocery store varieties that they are so familiar with, it may not be profitable, especially for those with small gardens.  For example, so many people tell me that they want to plant corn in their backyard gardens.  They love the taste of fresh corn on the cob, and can’t wait to get it growing.  “Well”, I say, “there really isn’t anything in the stores that compare to homegrown corn, but you have to grow a lot of it, if you’re going to get a good return on your investment.”  “It takes a lot of stalks to get good pollination rates, and high quality, open-pollinated, non-GMO, non-hybrid, non-treated seed only produces 1 – and if you’re lucky, 2 – ears of corn per stalk”, I tell them, and “Corn takes a lot of water, is a heavy feeder, takes a long time to grow, has a very small window of time for harvesting, and a short shelf life, too”.  With all of its negatives, I often wonder why I continue to grow it myself!  Corn is one of those crops that is completely permissible to grow but questionable as to its profitability.

The good news is that there are quite a few crops that not only are lawful, but beneficial to grow in your garden because they give you a great return on your investment.  

Here are some of my recommendations…


dinosaur kaleCHARD

rainbow chard


green leaf lettuce


spinach, garlic border



The value in these crops is that you can continually harvest off of them during the growing season.  Unlike corn, which produces 1-2 ears per stalk, and then you uproot and discard the plant, these plants allow you to harvest individual leaves or stems, and then leave the rest of the plant in the ground to continue growing and producing for you – some of them for the entire year, and some (like the herbs and chard) for years to come!


snow peasGREEN BEANS

beans and potatoesTOMATOES

loads of tomatoes


cucumber tunnel


cocozelle zucchini


winter squashes for baking


ancho pepperEGGPLANT

Ping Tung Eggplant


charentais melon

The great thing about these plants is that they grow on bushes or vines and produce a lot of fruit per plant over a long period of time – a lot of bang for your buck!








ornamental strawberry


green globe artichoke

These crops take a couple of years to start producing, but they have great staying power, and longevity of harvest.






colorful carrots

These crops are profitable for the gardener because they don’t take up very much space, and you get a lot of seed for a small investment.

So, as you plan out this year’s garden, look over your seed catalogs, where all vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers are permissible and ask yourself, as you make your selections, “Will this be beneficial?”  If the answer is, “yes”, then freely proceed.  If the answer is, “No” or “I don’t know”, then either move along, or find a reason why it would be beneficial or profitable to you.  Financial gain is not the only measure of profitability, after all. :)

What fruits, vegetables, herbs, or flowers would you add to this list?  Is there a plant that you love to grow even though you get very little return on your investment from it?  Which plant gives you the greatest return on your investment?

Homemade Chicken Broth – Way Better and Cheaper Than Store-Bought

Can you believe it?  We’re almost at the end of another year.  How quickly time has flown!

Looking back, there sure are a lot of new things that we’ve tried, learned about, and accomplished over the past year out at our Happy Homestead, Whit’s Acres, the most recent being the raising up and processing of our own broilers – Cornish Cross Chickens, to be exact.

To raise them up as lean and healthy as possible, we built a small, portable paddock for them to live in, where they could graze on grass and weeds, scratch for worms and other bugs and insects, and get plenty of daily sunshine and exercise.  (I don’t know what all the talk is about Cornish Crosses being horrible foragers.  This bunch could not get enough of the green stuff and bugs — they absolutely loved it!!!)

chicken tractor

Besides all of that, after reading about how much better it is for your flock, we decided to supplement the greens and bugs with our own homemade feed – a mix of whole grains, legumes, and seeds.  (In anticipation of a most logical question that you might ask, here is the recipe that we’ve settled on, which comes from a combination of several different sources that we’ve mod podged altogether):

12 cups whole oats

8 cups whole barley

16 cups Wheat berries (a mixture of hard and soft)

2 cups flax seeds

2 cups sesame seeds

6 cups millet

2 cups diotamaceous earth

8 cups milo

4 cups alfalfa meal

8 cups black sunflower seeds

6 cups popcorn

16 cups sweepings (mixed human-grade legumes, seeds, and rice that fall to the ground during the packing process and are no longer fit for human consumption.  We get these from a local packing plant, and never know what is going to be in the mix, but generally we find a mixture of yellow and green split peas, wild and pearled or long grain rice, mung beans, lentil beans, pumpkin seeds, and other small beans and seeds)

When we put it all together, it looks a little somethin’ like this – much different than the crumbles and pellets that we were used to feeding our layers…

homemade feedAll of our birds now enjoy this whole grain/legume/seed mixture.  It took a little while for the layers to adjust to the switch, and they were quite picky about what they did and didn’t like in the mix, at first, but now they gobble most of it up (yes, there are still a couple of picky eaters in the bunch who peck out what they don’t like but, for the most part, there is little waste).

Now, back to the broilers…

It took thirteen weeks, from beginning to end, to process all of the meat birds (we started processing the first ones when they were about nine weeks old).  The average weight was about four pounds.  They all had a beautiful, yellow skin (which I’ve never seen in store-bought birds), and did, indeed, have very lean meat.  So lean, in fact, that I had some trouble cooking them — homegrown, free range, pasture raised and whole grain fed birds, apparently, can not be cooked like a regular, store-bought chicken!

I did have great success, though, with my final bird, that I decided to just stew.  The meat came out tender and juicy — a perfect starting place for the chicken fajitas that I’d decided to make for lunch, that day, and then the broth that followed afterwards…let me just emphatically tell you, right here and now, that I am NEVER going back to store bought broth EVER again — it is absolutely that amazing!!!

So, let me finish my post by sharing how I created that fabulous concoction so that the next time you bring home a bird (homegrown or not) you can get it to go a few extra miles on your dinner table, and create a homemade chicken broth that’ll make you turn your nose up at the store-bought variety, too!

Simple Stewed Chicken

Remove neck and giblets from chicken, rinse, then place into a large stockpot, slightly cover with water.  Bring water to a boil, then lower temperature, cover,  and simmer bird for about an hour, or until you see meat pulling away from bones on legs.  You may want to skin the bird first, if you want a lower fat version.  You may need to skim away some foam at the beginning of cooking, using a wire strainer, or by blotting with paper towels.

When chicken is finished cooking, remove from stock pot, saving the broth, and place entire chicken onto a large platter.  Let cool a little, then remove as much of the meat from the bones as possible.  When finished, place all of the bones (including back bone and ribs) back into the stock pot to finish making the broth.

Use your cooked chicken however you’d like to at this point.  It’d be great just by itself, or used in a casserole, soup, for a chicken salad sandwich or, as I did, shredded and used as a filler for a Mexican dish, like fajitas or enchiladas.  In fact, here is the recipe I used, which will also make use of your fabulous homemade chicken broth, so you might want to store your cooked chicken in the fridge until your finished making the broth (which takes about five more hours).

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…

Homemade Chicken Broth

To your stockpot, that is filled with the starter broth and bones from your stewed chicken, add:

1 onion, peeled and quartered

4 cloves garlic, smashed and peel left on

3 stalks of celery, including tops

2 carrots, end removed and chopped into thirds

a large pinch of salt

1 bunch fresh thyme (about 7-10 sprigs)

1 bunch fresh rosemary (about 3 small sprigs)

1 bunch fresh sage (about 2 small sprigs)

1 bunch fresh parsley (about 6-7 stalks)

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 5 hours.

Allow to cool a little, then pour into containers by straining through a wire sieve. ( I used two half gallon glass jars, and poured through a canning funnel with a wire sieve on top, like this)…

jar funnel sieve

And, there you have it!

Store broth in the refrigerator and use soon, or put into freezer-safe containers and freeze for future use.  This stuff is so yummy that I am known to drink it all by itself! (I actually read it’s one of the best ways to keep your immune system in tip-top shape during the winter, too – ’cause of all the minerals in the bones – drinking a cup a day can help keep the doctor away!)

homemade chicken broth

If you’ve never made your own, homemade chicken broth before, I hope you will give this a try.  Then let me know what you think!

If you do, do you make yours any differently?   Any tips you’d like to share?

Giving Well to Those in Need, This Christmas

In Acts 20:35, the apostle Paul tells us, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said:  ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”  

At this time of year, it’s not difficult to find a place to give.  There are toy drives, food drives, and clothing drives galore.  I’ll bet each of us have given to one of these causes at least a few times in our lives.  But, have you ever really stopped to think about what and how it is that you are giving?

If you’ve never really been in a place of need, it can be difficult to know.

Until our family went through tough financial times, I never fully understood how to best help meet the needs of “the weak” – the homeless, the jobless, low-income wage earners, or those who are just plain down on their luck.  Now that we’ve experienced a few bouts of unemployment, including a couple that took place during the Christmas season (yep, that was us, just last year), I feel like I have a much better understanding of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of charitable giving, and it has opened my eyes to how I can be a much better giver. 

So, If you’re looking for ways to be a better giver, this year, stay tuned as I share a few of the lessons I’ve learned during our time of need.  I hope they will inspire you to think a little differently about your giving and make a great impact in the lives of those you bless through your giving, this year.

Wooden Christmas ornament

Head back with me to a time not too long ago, when my husband, Matt was out of work.  There was very little money coming in, and because we owned too many assets (more than one car and our wedding rings), we couldn‘t qualify for food stamps –we literally didn’t know where our next meal was coming from.  Thankfully, someone pointed us to a local food pantry where we could go, weekly, to stock up on food.  Available at the pantry were  fresh produce “seconds”, and whatever else had been donated from the community that week.  It was set up like a grocery store, which was lovely, because we were able to pick and choose from the different foods that were offered.  It was my first experience having to rely on this type of assistance, and I have to say (I hope this doesn’t sound snobby) I was greatly disappointed in the types of foods that were available, which are probably your standard run of the mill at any pantry, things like Spam, Vienna Sausages, and — ewww — sardines. Okay, maybe those were the worst of the worst, and maybe there are people who actually enjoy those types of foods, but – ugh.  Here I was, a mom striving to feed her family with healthy, wholesome, real  food during a time when we had no health insurance, and literally couldn’t afford to get sick.  It was frustrating  to find so much junk, and I do mean JUNK at that pantry.  Week after week I brought home less than a third of the foods that were made available to us.  I know that the people who gave had wonderful intentions, and really thought that they were helping poor families, like mine, who were in need, but –don’t you agree? —  We can do better.

How do we do that?  Well, here are just a few suggestions I’ve come up with to help get the ball rolling…

  • specifically set aside some time to shop for the project — don’t just quickly grab whatever’s leftover in your cupboard or pantry (especially if it’s about to expire!)
  • don’t just buy whatever’s cheapest or on sale at the store — determine to give high quality foods, regardless of the price
  • only give foods that you’d enjoy eating, yourself (even if sardines are one of your favorites, you should probably think twice about donating them to a food drive ;))
  • purchase high-quality foods that are nutritionally sound, with as few ingredients on the label as possible
  • purchase organic foods, when possible
  • give items that can be used to help make a fresh, healthy meal, as opposed to items that already are the meal
  • better yet, create and give a food gift basket:  organic flour, baking powder,  salt, baking soda,  organic sugar, pure maple syrup and instructions for making your favorite pancakes, or:  jarred organic tomatoes, organic tomato sauce, dried herbs,  salt, organic sugar, cooking wine, onions, garlic, dried organic pasta and instructions for making a homemade spaghetti meal — now you’re talkin’!
  • If you must give boxed or canned meals, try to make them the organic varieties.  They are much more nutritionally sound, and don’t have all of the icky preservatives and chemicals that their conventional counterparts contain.
  • give luxury items, like local, organic honey, pure maple syrup, organic jams and jellies and nut butters, organic, free-range chicken stock, specialty organic coffees and teas,  100% fruit juice, and non-dairy milks, like almond or rice milk, that don’t need to be refrigerated.
  • think outside the can and instead give dry beans, and peas, which taste much better when made fresh, and won’t have any preservatives or excess salt.
  • give produce that has a long shelf life, like onions, garlic, and winter squashes
  • For healthy treats, again, think about the gift basket idea, and give ingredients for making homemade quick breads, muffins, or cookies, instead of the boxed varieties.  Give popcorn kernels, instead of the unhealthy microwave variety, organic fruit snacks and protein bars that are made with fruit juices and whole grains, as opposed to ones with high fructose corn syrup, grains that have been stripped of all their nutrients, and are loaded with other fats and hydrogenated oils.
  • Give a wide variety of healthy grains, like Old Fashioned and steel-cut Oats, as opposed to quick oats, Pearled rice, as opposed to the converted variety; Pearled barley and farro and maybe even Quinoa (which reminds me – there are probably going to be some people who are gluten intolerant, so you could even include some gluten-free flours in your giving)
  • give common staples that people quickly run out of – vegetable oil (grapeseed or walnut is best), organic sugar, organic flour, real vanilla extract, garlic powder, onion powder, various herbs and spices, salt, pepper, beans, toiletries — think about the items you are continually running out of, and purchase a few extras to donate, the next time you go to the store.
  • find out what you can about the types of people who will be served by the food drive.  What ethnicity are they?  What are their ages?  Are they families, or individuals?  The more you know about who the food is going to, the better you can tailor your purchases.

Now, can I challenge you to even go beyond this?  Giving to a food drive is a wonderful way to give, but can be cold and impersonal.  If you want to take your giving up a notch, get involved with a local charity or church that works directly with individuals or families and give specifically and directly through them.

In our case, last year, an anonymous donor from the community dropped off a stack of gift cards at our church and specifically asked that they all be given to a family who was in need.  I can’t tell you how blessed we were to receive those gift cards!  To this day, we do not know who the giver was, but it was such an incredibly personal gesture!  We spent time, as a family, praying for, thanking, and asking God to bless whoever it was that gave us such a amazing gifts – allowing us to have presents under our tree on Christmas Day.

So, this Christmas season, why not go beyond dropping coins in a bucket,  and toys or cans of food in a box, and instead go out of your way and find someone – some family – who is in need,  and then surprise them with your targeted giving?   — A word about anonymous giving…I understand why people want to do this, but if it is at all possible, let the recipient know who the gift is from, even if it’s just “Mr./Mrs. So and So”, or “The _______ Family”.  A name or picture is important – so that the recipient can thank you,  even if only in their prayers.

At a loss for what to give?   Here are a few suggestions…

  •  A gift card to a local grocery or specialty food store.    Grocery store gift cards were a welcome sight for us when Matt was out of work because they allowed us more freedom when it came to food.  Instead of being relegated to whatever  unappealing food was at the food pantry, it put us more in control of our food choices, and we were able to eat more “normally” once again — that was a big deal for us, as it will be for anyone else who is struggling to put food on their table.
  • Gift cards to restaurants.  I can’t tell you how incredibly amazing it is to get to eat out when all you’ve been eating are beans and rice for days on end!
  • Gift cards to department or toy stores.  Again, there’s just something about being able to go out and do the Christmas shopping yourself.  It creates a sense of normalcy that you just don’t get when other people do the shopping for you.
  • Gift cards for pure pleasure or entertainment.  When you’re barely scraping by, the last thing you’re going to spend your money on are pleasure items, like gourmet coffees and movies.  Movie tickets and coffee shop gift cards work wonders because they force the recipient to take a break and just relax for a bit, and they allow them to fully indulge in the pleasures of the season, without feeling guilty that they are robbing their family of other necessities.  (insider alert:  cash is great, but probably won’t be used on pleasure items, even if you say, “Now I want you to promise me that you’ll spend this money on something indulgent for yourself — it’ll probably be put towards paying the electric or gas bill).
  • make a payment on one of the family or individual’s bills: telephone, gas, electric, maybe even their mortgage.  One year we came home to find our propane tank filled completely to the brim by an anonymous donor!
  • provide wood to heat with
  • give a “date night” for the parents, including dinner at a fancy restaurant and a movie with all of the trimmings.  Typically, we think about the children who are going without this time of year, and we fail to remember that the parents are struggling, too.   They are the ones who are having to hold everything together and be strong for their children.  They are the ones who sacrifice it all to give what little they have to their children so that they can have even just a little Christmas.  A night out alone will do wonders for couples who are struggling financially and need time to just focus on each other, for a change.
  • give gas cards so the individual or family can get around town, or bus passes if they don’t have a car

…Are you starting to get the idea?

Well, don’t stop there!  Dig in a little deeper, step out of your comfort zone, and really commit to this giving well thing:  Get involved, long term, with a person or family who is in need.  This goes beyond just giving money, food, or gifts.  It involves the giving of your time.  When people aren’t working, they have a lot of time on their hands.  They get lonely.  They need contact with the outside world, since they are no longer participating in many of the ordinary, daily things that the rest of the world is participating in this time of year,  like Christmas shopping and decorating their homes, and baking Christmas cookies, and …the list goes on and on.  I loved it when people would show up at our home with a bag of groceries, or a home-baked meal, or a sack of cookies, and then stay and visit for a while, and ask us how we were doing, and pray for us, or when people would invite us over to their homes to have dinner and spend the evening with them, or make a batch of homemade cookies or jelly that we could take home with us.  Those were times that we’ll never forget!

Taking time to show people that you truly care about their well-being – beyond just the giving of your finances – is priceless!

The Bible tells us that we are to mourn with those who mourn – we are to enter into the pain of others – empathize with them…love them in a way that is unexpected.  It can be as simple and free as a conversation, or as complex and expensive as a gourmet dinner invitation.  If you’ve never done it before, this year get out of your comfort zone and, as Nike says, Just Do It!  Give of yourself, bless someone with your presence.  

So, this year, let’s all be excellent givers when it comes to giving to the needy.  Let’s make a difference in someone’s life by giving well, this Christmas season.  Truth is…we’ll probably never be the same!

Have you been on the receiving end of excellent giving when you were in a time of need?  Do you have special ways that you like to give to the needy, this time of year? I’d love to hear your story.  Have  some other great “giving well” tips or suggestions?  Please share!