“The best gifts are tied with heartstrings.” – Susan Branch

Rest easy, I am not telling you to pull out the holiday decorations and get busy. Although, that time is in the near future. Today, I would like to discuss early preparation, organization, and a few of my tried and true tips for a successful holiday season.

I am a huge fan of Susan Branch. Her writing is sincere and always uplifting. And, her whimsical art is such a wonderful addition to her books. Additionally, she tells us in her book, Christmas from The Heart of the Home, “if we want to have time to stop and smell the poinsettias,” we need to be organized – prepared. A lack of organization can result in one shopping like a crazed person at the last moment, which can lead to purchasing expensive items, often costly mistakes. Costly mistakes can lead to paying for Christmas in April, something no one wants.

Many years of working and being on an extremely tight schedule taught me that being organized is the absolute key to a joy filled, memorable holiday season. And, this I know is what each of us strives to achieve. We want these beautiful memories for ourselves and those we love. And, I well know and understand TIME is paramount for this success. Today, in many homes live two hard working adults, as well as “little ones” to care for. The days begin early and end late. Therefore, I am going to share with you a few things which have helped me through the years. And, two wonderful recipes you can share with those you love as – “gifts tied with heartstrings.” Lovely and inexpensive gifts.

Much of the stress of the holidays are those long gift lists. At work, there are many co-workers you adore plus a long list of friends, family, and extended family. Daunting, isn’t it? Not to mention expensive. So, what is one to do? My solution: During this time of year, when apples are plentiful, I make (and have made for years) a lovely Apple Chutney or Cranberry-Cider jelly. If you will set aside one morning and prepare one or both of these scrumptious concoctions, listed at the end of this column, you can deliver gifts from the heart to many who are on your Christmas list. These are nice hostess gifts and are also perfect for co-workers, friends, neighbors and extended family members. And, you will be giving a gift which is unique, shows your time and thoughtfulness and is “seasoned with love.” After all, Christmas is Love.

Next, on my “Organize to Make Christmas Easier List” is, Christmas greeting cards. And, yes they are important. Often, especially as the years go along, life changes and we do not correspond with those we care about as often as we would like or should.  Social media has changed this considerably. However, at Christmas it is important for us to remember those who have touched our lives, send them merry wishes and let them know we care and think of them. And, if you would like to add a special touch (remember, special is in the details): address your cards and place postage on them, bundle them all in a large envelope and mail to one of the following in care of the postmaster: North Pole, Alaska 99705; Santa Claus, Indiana 47579; and Christmas, Florida 32709. Everyone is a child at Christmas, and receiving your card with a special postmark, shows thoughtfulness. Note: Your bundle of cards should be in the mail by November 15 – something unique, accomplished early and removed from the “to do list.” And, remember: Your card, need not be fancy or expensive. A warm note, tucked inside a white envelope, addressed in red ink, spells love and thoughtfulness.

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Last item for today – supplies. Yes, we must have supplies and now is the time to gather. Here is my list. Red and green yarn (purchased at Wal-Mart, will last several seasons), tiny ribbon from the craft store, brown or white paper lunch bags (purchased at any grocery store), pine cones – especially the tiny ones from the Hemlock trees, white, red and green tissue paper, candy canes, stick cinnamon, 2 good red pens, 1 gold pen, a few wooden spoons, recipe cards or 3×5 cards, a hand held hole punch and a bottle of craft glue. One, can decorate the world with these things. If “little ones” are involved – add glitter and Elmer’s glue. Oh, and as you are out and about, be on the lookout for unique cookie cutters. The supplies are limited after the middle of November.

Today, I hope I have given you a bit of inspiration, as you begin to gather your thoughts about the wonderful season which is fast approaching. And, I am hopeful my few tips will help make life easier and more joyful for you and those you love. More tips and recipes are on the way in the next few columns. Have fun, give these recipes a try, and listen for the lids to pop! The pop means the jars have sealed, and you have created something incredibly special. And, you have taken care of many gifts in October – wonderful!

See you soon,


Apple Chutney

  • 2 quarts – chopped, peeled, tart apples – such as Granny Smith (about 16 medium size) 2 pounds seedless raisins
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped sweet red peppers (about 2 medium size)
  • 4 cups brown sugar
  • 3 Tbls. Mustard seed
  • 2 Tbls. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 hot red peppers – cayenne
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

Combine all ingredients; simmer until thick, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove cayenne peppers. Pour, boiling hot, into hot, sterilized pint jars, leaving ¼ inch head space. Adjust caps and rings. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath. Yield – about 10 pints.

Notes: For a milder chutney, another quart of chopped apples may be used.

I always use jelly jars and the yield was about 18-20 jars. Perfect size for a little gift.

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Recipe from: 1977 30th edition of the Ball Blue Book. Published by Ball Corporation.


Cranberry-Cider Jelly

  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 1 cup cranberry juice cocktail
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 5 cups sugar

Combine apple cider, cranberry juice cocktail and lemon juice in a large stockpot. Stir in pectin. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring frequently. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jelly into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Adjust lids and rings. Process 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Yield about 6 half-pints.

Note: I always doubled this recipe.

Recipe from: 1995 edition of the Ball Blue Book. Published by Alltrista Corporation.

Equipment needed for both recipes:

  • A water bath canner – look for one that is small, used for pints.
  • Jar-lifter – to remove jars from the boiling water bath
  • Pan or baking dish – to sterilize lids and rings
  • Jars, lids and rings
  • Funnel – to sit on lid while pouring ingredients in jars
  • Ladle

All of the above are readily available at Wal-Mart, Southern States, and hardware stores. Also available online through Amazon.com.

Important Notes: Always wipe rim of jar with a damp paper towel to be sure it is completely clean before placing the lid on the jar. Something on the rim could prevent the jar from sealing.

Begin the timing of the hot water process once the water has returned to boil after placing the jars to the hot water bath.

Ways to Present Your Gift

The work is finished and you are ready to give your sweet gift. You can add a label, telling what goodness the little jar holds. Add a note with suggested ways to enjoy your gift, and tie the note, with yarn or ribbon and cinnamon sticks. I also love to glue the tiny pine cones, from the Hemlock trees, together and add them to the ribbon (use a piece of florist wire to add them to the ribbon). Each of these recipes make a perfect gift by themselves. However, if you want to do more for someone, you can prepare a sweet gift bag. Add cream cheese and crackers, or a few muffins, perhaps the recipe for your gift and a couple of wooden spoons – be creative. Your thoughtfulness will be so appreciated, because it has been tied with your heartstrings and that, my friends, always shows.

Ways to enjoy each of the recipes:

Apple Chutney -A treat served alongside of any meat. It makes a lovely hors d’oeuvre, served over cream cheese and with crackers. And, makes a wonderful pork tenderloin with an entire jar spread over the tenderloin while roasting.

Cranberry-Cider Jelly – Is nice on biscuits, toast or muffins, especially orange muffins. It also makes a great hors d’oeuvre, when served over cream cheese and with crackers. And, makes a yummy sweet glaze for chicken, by spreading over the chicken just before it is finished baking.