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This past week my college friend, Carrie, posted about a tradition she started for her family, the Countdown to Christmas.

I love the idea, and even though she starts it for her boys on December 1, you could begin at any time of the month.  

And if you are like me and don't have children in the house, you can still implement some of these ideas in your household or put together a care package for a neighbor, family member, or friend.

Here's what my friend Carrie had to say, "Many are wondering how to make the most of the 2020 holidays. Many plans have changed. Home more often than not. How to help the kids (and parents) still have fun and celebrate?

Well, we have spent many holiday months at home. But I still LOVE holiday hoopla. Shortly after having Brayden, we started a Countdown to Christmas. It may have been born out of parent guilt of not leaving the house much... but it is still something we do every year; it has become a tradition.

Each morning, starting December 1, I set out a "gift" for Countdown to Christmas. Most items are things we already have and just bringing out to celebrate/decorate for Christmas. It takes a little planning, but over the years, I have a tub of the items ready to pull out of storage and learn to add items to my grocery cart starting now.

Some of the things we have done over the years for Countdown to Christmas:

Countdown Clock

Advent calendar - you know those candy ones

Nativity set they can play with

Christmas Books can do different books to debut different days

Grinch Stole Christmas book and listen to audiobook along with it (it is the guy’s voice from the original movie). Then the following night, watch the original Grinch movie.

Peanuts Nativity set and watch the Peanuts Christmas movie

Cozy Christmas blankets for each boy

Christmas sheets and pillows for their beds

A little tree for their room or playroom

Kits to make their ornaments - I typically got the clear plastic balls and then stuff from the dollar store they can stuff in them like glitter, pompoms, etc.

Get out the Christmas mugs with some festive hot chocolate

Candy canes with a book about the story of the candy cane

Christmas lights for their room or playroom

Christmas movie and popcorn

Acts of service – delivery toys to hospital, etc.

A clue or something relating to whatever we were doing that day: getting a Christmas tree, seeing lights, going to ICE, zoo lights, a party, etc.

Small Christmas wreath for them to decorate (with things from the dollar store) and hang in a room

Cookie tools and ingredients to help make Christmas cookies

Special seasonal drink or soda, or eggnog

Christmas underwear and socks

Christmas candy

Christmas ice-cream - eggnog or peppermint stick

Christmas themed snacks

Christmas themed games

Christmas pajamas

Christmas Coloring books or Mad-libs

Cards to help write/draw notes to send to people for Christmas

Wrapping paper - they help wrap presents for their brothers

One night of shopping - I would take the boys out Christmas shopping so they could pick things out for the brothers, then get Chick-fil-a peppermint milkshake

Foam balls to have an indoor snowball fight

Having teenage boys, the Countdown Christmas mostly involves food and making food, Christmas flannel sheets, decorating their rooms, ways to give back, etc."

Your holiday season may look different this year, but you can still make the holiday season festive and fun!

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of “The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life” and "The Gratitude Challenge: 41 Days to a Happier, Healthier, & More Content Life"

It's that time of year where you may be agonizing over what gifts to get your friends, family and coworkers. Over the years, my giving has evolved. I used to think the more expensive the gift, the better. I also, got a rush from bouncing from big box story to big box store. Don't get me wrong, I still love me some Home Goods, but along my giving journey, I've discovered small businesses, with fabulous products, reasonably priced, needed my support more. 

There is a secret to giving a perfect gift, listening and paying attention to those around you. What do they love? Enjoy? What makes them happy and their face light up? That's how you discover what gift to purchase for those closest to you.

Finally, I'm a fan of giving useful gifts. Gifts that don't collect dust or create clutter. 

2020, with the year of the pandemic, has been a year of giving gifts from small business owners, and I wanted to pass along my favorite gifts to give, to make your Christmas shopping stress free this year. 

Pops Kernel: For the second year in a row, I just can't not put Pops Kernel on my list. I'm in LOVE with their popcorn! And their owner, who has become a dear friend, does so much to give back to her community. A true giver. I gotta admit, this isn't only a gift I buy for others, but I'll be buying a couple of bags for myself.  

Tricia Robinson Art: This year my home needed a little pop of color and when I stumbled upon Tricia's art, I couldn't resist buying a copy of prints. But as I perused her site, I found pictures of little country churches, with church hymns, that took me back to memories of the church I grew up. I had to buy prints for family, who I knew would appreciate the art as much as I would. I also love her journals. Again, vibrant, and will add a pop of color to any gift you want to give this year. 

All About Vibe: Recently I left the comforts of my home to take a solo vacation to South Carolina. I wanted to surprise my hubby with a funny gift while I was gone. I sent in a picture of our beloved dog, God rest his soul, Boss, and had a life like pillow made of him. Oh my gosh! It is so perfect. I think I love it more than my husband did. The pillow is so soft and snuggly. I couldn't believe how perfect the picture I sent came out on the pillow. Plus, I love that All the Vibe is a "made in the USA" company. The pillow is a perfect gift for the animal lover in your life. 

Mountain Khakis: If you have been following me for any amount of time, you know I love hiking and trouncing around back in my woods. My dear friend Jessica started a new job at Mountain Khakis and when I looked into their clothes, they were a perfect fit for my outdoor adventures. And friends, their flannel lined pants are like wearing a cloud. They are so cozy! They make the perfect gift for the adventurous person in your life. 

Fallen Timbers Woodshop: If anything good has come out of the pandemic, it's that my hubby finally started his own woodworking business!  His attention to detail, perfectist tendencies, and customize creations are the perfect gift for the person that is hard to buy for.  I'm a little bias, but I think he's the best in the business!

Pampered Chef: Back when I launch my first book, a fellow giver connected with me on social media. We became friends and even had the chance to meet in person. She recently started with Pampered Chef and I'm so impressed with the ideas she is already sending about how I can use the products I have. And let me just say, I have a ton of PC products! A day doesn't go by where I'm not using their products. My new favorite their freezer bowl sets. I love making soups but hate to have the leftovers go to waste. These one cup bowls have saved me money and help me provide future meals. Pampered Chef products are perfect for the cook in your life. If you don't have a PC consultant, Angela Stanley, mine, is best in the biz!

Bonus Gifts! Giving Gal Products. Did you know if you purchase The Giving Challenge and Gratitude Challenge as a bundle you get $5 off! The bundle makes a perfect gift for the book lover in your life.  

And remember your gift is doubled. Not only are you supporting me, an author, but through my books, we purchase meals for children in need through  Rice Bowls, and we support a local veteran's program. https://www.ricebowls.org/

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of "The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life" and “The Gratitude Challenge: 41 Days to a Happier, Healthier, & More Content Life”

P.S. I'm not paid or don't receive any compensation for recommending these products. Until this article posted, the owners didn't even know they've been selected for my list.

Friends, I'm not the best cook. What about you? Do you enjoy being in the kitchen and whipping up a fabulous meal for family and friends?

I do a good enough job to get by for my husband and me, but when I open my home, what will my guests eat, is a question that causes a bit of stress an anxiety. 

This past week I opened my home, to friend and fellow entrepreneur, Sarah Harmeyer, with Neighbor's Table. She drove from Texas to deliver tables, and we had an opportunity to catch up. I even interviewed her for my podcast. The episode will post soon, so make sure you are subscribed, to hear all the details about how to love our neighbor, and Sarah's big goal that led her to launching her business.

I had all the good intentions of making a yummy meal for us. I envisioned as she walked into my home that glorious scents would flow from the kitchen, welcoming her at the front door.

Well, my busy schedule, unexpected meetings, and remembering the guest room sheets needed washed, threw off my entire day, and left no time to make a home cook meal.

When Sarah pulled up in the driveway, in her big yellow truck and walked through the door, at 7:00 p.m., I pulled out the DoorDash app, and asked her what she wanted. In the past I would have been embarrassed and felt guilty of my lack of the appearance of being the perfect host. But remember, I gave up guilt. If you need a reminder, check it out here.

While we waited for the dasher to arrive, we sat in the living room, catching up on life. When the food arrived, we filled our plates, grabbed drinks, and gathered at the table to continue our conversation. 

What I've realized time and time again, is that my friends, and even strangers, who enter my home, aren't focused on having a meal I pulled out of the oven. What they appreciate is feeling welcomed, loved, comfortable, and engaged.  

The next time you have the opportunity to welcome someone into your home, but don't have time to cook a gourmet meal, be okay with take out, or like I've done in the past, pop a pizza in the oven and grab a good bottle of wine. Simple and easy is a tip I use, to open my home to more people, with little stress. Who will you invite to your home next?

Blessings

Stephanie

I walked into the post office to grab a priority mail shipping box and immediately realized I'd forgotten packaging tape. Dang it!

I'd brought the stack of books I needed to mail, but without the tape, I'd have to go home to package and prepare for shipping.

As I stood in line to mail other items, I overheard the lady in front of me share a bit about an act of kindness she was doing for others. 

After she finished paying for her shipping, I stepped in the lobby, and mailed my other packages. As I walked out, there she stood putting stamps on her envelopes. 

In that moment, I was grateful I didn't have packaging tape. I gave her a copy of The Giving Challenge and shared how I'd overheard that she was working on her own act of kindness. She was surprised and appreciative of the gift.

Sometimes when our plans don't work out, there is a reason why and maybe, just maybe, we can find an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge a fellow giver.

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of “The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life” and "The Gratitude Challenge: 41 Days to a Happier, Healthier, & More Content Life"

For over twenty years, I've had a dream to walk out my back door and be able to hit a running trail. 

Two years ago, I came one step closer to living out this dream. My husband and I bought a home on ten acres of wooded land. We hiked through trees and thicket and tied bright orange ribbons on trees, so the contractor we hired to cut the trail, would know the path to take.

After months of back and forth, the big day arrived. I couldn't wait for the contractor to zoom through the woods on his machinery, and within days, I'd have the path of my dreams.

But after one day of working, he encountered a muddy section of the land, where he would need to cross to get to the back half of the property. He committed to returning when the ground dried up.  

You can guess where this is going. After going back and forth for months, trying to get the contractor to return, he stopped returning calls and texts. I complained about this guy for nearly a year. And then I decided to stop complaining and figure out, without big machinery, to cut the darn trail myself. 

My husband taught me to use a weed eater. Yes, embarrassing as it may sound, I had never used a trimmer.  I had no idea trail building would be so laborious. I'd worked for an hour and no joke, the progress I made was only mere feet. My goal of two miles would take longer than anticipated.

But the more I worked in the woods, the more I enjoyed the work. I became grateful that my contractor bailed on me, because now, as I ran the trail, I discovered that God had given me everything I needed to do the job myself. 

Okay, okay, so what does this entire story have to do with loving your neighbor when it is difficult? 

As I worked my way to the back half of the property, I discovered the neighbors that butt up to my woods, had been using our property as their dumping grounds. And I'm not just talking about grass clippings, I'm talking about old Christmas trees, bushes and scrubs they'd pulled out of the dirt, landscaping concrete, and the list goes on and on.  

We put up no trespassing signs. We talked with them about illegal dumping and trespassing. And when all else failed we called the police. The property was ours that we intended to use, and they were destroying it.

Do you think any of that stopped them? Nope! As I walked back there to continue work on the trail, I must route around the damage they've caused. I am steaming mad! At one point, I considered dragging all the crap they've put onto my property, back onto their property.  But then I realized, I'd then be no better than they were. "Stephanie, is this how you love your neighbor when you are mad? Seeking revenge?"

Nope, so I left the piles of mess.

But friends, it gets better. Not only do they dump their waste on our property, but they also hit golf balls; not one or two, but tens of balls on our property. And you might think, "Stephanie, what's the big deal with golf balls on your property?"

Nothing if I'm leisurely walking through the woods. But as I'm running through on the trails, I risk turning an ankle, or worse, falling and crashing into down trees or branches sticking out of the ground. It's dangerous!

Over time I've amassed quite the pile of golf balls. One day, I thought, "I'm going to throw these golf balls in his yard. Hopefully, they tear up his riding lawnmower." 

Sad but true, my friend. These are the thoughts that ran through my mind.

No joke, as I picked up the balls to start throwing them back, I turned around to see a heart (ugly as it may be) in the tree.  I smiled, nodded my head, and whispered, "Message received God."

I dropped the golf balls and snapped a picture. I also leave the pile of the balls off on the side of the trail and add to them every time I go out on the path and work. They are a reminder to love my neighbor, even when it is difficult.

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of "The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life" and “The Gratitude Challenge: 41 Days to a Happier, Healthier, & More Content Life”

As we close out July, I want to go out on a bang and give you a gift now, instead of waiting for Christmas!

I'm discounting all my products at www.GivingGal.com/shop by 25%!!! Jump start your Christmas shopping now.

Don't need a Christmas gift? We are low on our books for Veterans. Buy a book for a Veteran and get it 25% off!

All you have to do is enter SUMMER2020 in the promo code box at checkout.

If these are gifts, and you want me to personalize the inscription of the books, just let me know.

Merry "early" Christmas!
Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of "The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life" and “The Gratitude Challenge: 41 Days to a Happier, Healthier, & More Content Life”

I run a FB Group, The Gratitude Challenge. Are you a member? If not, you should join, it's full of positive posts, challenging others to focus on what they are grateful for each day.

Recently, Harold, a long-time coaching client, posted, "I'm grateful that I've tested positive today."

I immediately thought, "Oh no! Harold has the COVID-19."

But instead of responding, I paused. I know Harold. I'd just chatted with him on Friday, his post mentioned nothing of COVID-19, he loves quotes, and I realized, he wasn't talking about a sickness, but his attitude."

Sneaky, sneaky Harold!

I scrolled through the comments, "You mean negative? If you tested positive means you have the covid virus in your system."  

And "Hopefully you mean negative!"

Oh, those sweet ladies that responded. I know they were probably concern for his well being and thought he'd made an error with is words. The mistake happens all the time. No harm and no fowl in this case. 

But what happened on this post is becoming a pandemic of sorts on social media. And unlike this post, our country is becoming divided due to words people are speaking. And at the end of the day, I'm not sure we are solving any problems.

The interaction got me thinking and I realized, there were a couple of steps I took before responding, and I think maybe moving forward could save each of us a lot of heartache and maybe a friendship.

First, I didn't immediately respond. I almost did, but I paused, and reread the post.  

Second, I thought about the person that made the post. I know him well, which made me look at the post in a different light. 

Third, I responded with a comment asking for confirmation about the meaning of his post, I didn't assume. "Knowing you...you're talking about your attitude!"

The conversation today reminded me there is a gift we can give our friends and even strangers on social media. It's the gift of pausing before we comment. It's the gift of knowing the person and their heart. I don't know about you, but often what I feel in my heart doesn't reflect properly in the words I speak or write. I often think, "That didn't come out right." If we don't know someone's heart, then it's hard to respond to their post. And finally, don't assume you know what someone is feeling or thinking at the time of their post. Engage in conversation, ask questions, maybe message the poster privately, or do like I've trained myself to do and don't comment at all.  

The last gift, on don't comment at all, is a hard pill to swallow. It's taken great willpower for me to keep scrolling and keep my mouth shut. How I react comes down to asking myself a couple of questions, maybe you could use these also.

1) What value is my comment brining to the conversation? 

2) Is my comment positive and encouraging? 

3) Is what I'm posting bringing us to unity or division?  

Usually my response is no, no, and division. The only time I post is if my answer is yes, yes, and unity. This not only goes for comments, but rules I try to follow when making a post.

There are a lot of little gifts we can give our friends, and even strangers on social media.  Be the person that helps to bring positivity, encouragement and unity to your little neck of the world.  If we all did this, we'd be a happier, less stressed, and anxious society!

Blessings,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of "The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life" and “The Gratitude Challenge: 41 Days to a Happier, Healthier, & More Content Life”

When I heard of the tragic death of retired Captain/Chief David Dorn, I knew I had to take action to ensure his murder didn't get lost in all that is going on in our country.

David Dorn retired from the St. Louis Police Department at the rank of Captain, after serving, and incredible 38 years on the department. But he didn't stay retired for long and took the helm as Chief of Police for Moline Acres Police Department. 

For over four decades, he selflessly served his community. As I read through various news articles, his friends, coworkers and family members described him as having a personality larger than life, put people on the right path, kind of leader young officers looked up to, and a family man that love his wife, children and grandchildren. 

At the age of 77, he still had a heart for protecting his community. On June 2nd, as looters ravaged his friend's pawn shop, he responded to check on the shop, when cowards shot him. 

Oh, what has become of the darken hearts of so many, they are willing to take another's life, for meaningless material possessions.

In gratitude of his service to his community, noting that he often spent time volunteering with disadvantage youth, I'm asking you to join me in a Giving Challenge to honor the life of Retired Capt./Chief David Dorn.

Do an act of kindness for someone you know, a stranger, or even a police officer.  Share why you are giving. And challenge them to keep spreading the love, one gift at a time. 

We don't change the world by hate, rioting and divisiveness, we change the world by one gift of kindness and love, to another human, at a time.

Share your gift with me or on social media and let the family of Retired Captain/Chief Dorn know he is not forgotten. #GivingChallengeforDorn

Blessings,

Stephanie

Link to: Chief Dorn's wife, Sgt. Ann Dorn's interview

Link to: My interview with Charlie Adams sharing the tragic story and challenge for Retired Chief Dorn

When I woke up this morning my heart carried a weight that had not been there the previous day. I pondered the inexcusable death of George Floyd. As a former police officer, questions swirl about the officers involved actions, or lack of action. I don't get it. I can't comprehend what the heck they were thinking! I'm appalled. 

And I'm a police wife. I love our law enforcement officers. But even when society demands we chose a side, we don't have to.

"Don't copy (conform) the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." Roman 12:2

I can be horrified by a man's death at the hands of a law enforcement officer, and still love my law enforcement family. 

I stepped out my front door and walked up and down my driveway, around my backyard, and out behind and around my husband's garage, back to my front door. It's been a prayer walk I've done almost every day for 18 days. Today I was so distracted. One second I was praying, and the next second I was thinking about a social media post that had me fired up! So many emotions and thoughts ping ponging around my mind. And as clear as the Caribbean blue waters, God said, "Focus on me."

He gave me three words that centered me. Since that moment, every time I get spun up, I stop, and am reminded there is only one place I need to focus my time and energy. Focus on the words of Bible. Not the politicians, not the media, and not even my friends, but what does God say? How would Jesus respond?

Jesus would grieve for the loss the life. Every... single... life, regardless of race, religion, sex, and age, mattered to Jesus.

This next one is a hard pill to swallow, but Jesus would have forgiven the officers. As he himself was being killed, he said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." Luke 23:34

Jesus loved everyone. He actually doesn't just instruct us to love our neighbor, he said, "You have heard the law that says, "love your neighbor" and hate your enemy, but I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:43-44, 47-48 (And note, before someone get's all crazy on me, I'm not calling anyone involved in this an enemy. I'm proving a point, that we love all. We can't be selective. Even those we call an enemy, we love).

In 100% Giving Gal fashion, I'm going to focus on three things, my time with God, practicing gratitude, and giving. I'm continuing to give to those in need, give to those that are different than me, give to those I love and give to strangers. My giving journey has stretched me outside of my circle of friends, that was predominately white, and expanded to big beautiful circle of people of many colors. 

I hope you will join me, as we continue to live giving and grateful lives, focused on God.

Blessings,
Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of “The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life” and "The Gratitude Challenge: 41 Days to a Happier, Healthier, & More Content Life"

Tis the season for morels. Yummy mushrooms that sprout up near fallen trees and smatterings of bark. The conditions must be just right, and it takes an eagle eye to spot them, camouflaged against the forest landscape. Over the past several weeks, my hubby and I have hunted for mushrooms. On several occasions we found enough to fry up for dinner. But instead of continuing to eat what we found, we bagged them up and shared our love of mushrooms. This past week we were able to give two bags away to friends. One was such a fun gift to give. 

Our plumber stopped by to fix a leaky pipe and said, "Have you guys ever found any morels out here?"  

My husband chuckled, led him into the kitchen, and showed him a plate full that we'd just washed and dried out for dinner. "Want them?" my husband asked.

"You serious?" our friend questioned. 

"Absolutely!" my husband exclaimed. 

I loved witnessing our friend receive the unexpected gift. Sure, I'll miss the mushrooms for dinner, but the smile on his face, is better than the mushrooms we'd munch on for dinner. 

What do you love? What do you have an abundance of? Give it away to someone today!

Happy Giving,

Stephanie

Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author of “The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Life” and "The Gratitude Challenge: 41 Days to a Happier, Healthier, & More Content Life"