Tag Archives: Christmas

8 tips on getting through the un-merry holidays

For many, December is the season for the Christmas Blues – the time of year that becomes the most dreaded instead of the most joyous despite how many songs have the word “merry” in them. That feeling of dread only grows if you’re broke, if you are missing a loved one, if you find yourself suddenly single… If one more person says “merry” to you, you’ll shove that merry up their….mistletoe.

I can’t promise you guaranteed happiness over the holidays. I won’t insult you by making light of your situation by telling you to fake it till you make it. The holidays can be the hardest time of year, mostly because everyone expects you to be happy – or at least pretend to be happy so everyone around you can be comfortable. Let me be the one to give you permission to cross anyone’s name off your gift-giving list if they try to pressure you into feigned happiness.

And then let me give you a few tips on how to get out of your slump on your own terms:

1. Give to others who can’t pay you back. The holiday season is supposed to be about giving and goodwill towards others. Some still abide by this. But for the most part, I think many of this has been lost. It doesn’t even have to be big. Buy a box of hand-warmers and pass them out to the homeless. Go a step further and give them a blanket too. Donate your time at a soup kitchen. Take a few hearts off the Secret Santa tree. Go to the Volunteer Center and see where they can use your help. If you personally know of a family who is struggling, lighten their burden with a bag of groceries, help with cleaning, or offer them free babysitting. Small things add up to big things, and smiles are contagious. Trust me, the love you give results in a warmed heart, and soon it becomes easy to forget who’s getting the better deal out of your generosity.

2. Refuse to overspend. Set a realistic budget, and then stick to it. Vow to keep the credit cards sheathed, and just use the cash you have. Don’t have much? Get creative. Check out Pinterest for a few ultra cute ideas. Give the gift of service instead of a wrapped gift. Bake your present. Write a poem and frame it. Write a nice letter. But don’t give so much in December that you’re hurting in January. No one wants that for you.

3. Exercise! I know, I know. It’s cold outside. The mornings and nights are too dark. That holiday pie is weighing you down. There’s too much to do. And did I mention it’s cold outside? Yes. Whine about all your excuses. Get it all out there. And then put on your walking shoes and take a walk around the neighborhood. Grab a few friends and do it every day. Do whatever you can to get your body moving. It’s hard at first, really hard. But if you stick to it, soon it will become your favorite part of your day. And then, you’ll feel restless if you don’t exercise. And then….you may even feel (cringe) happy.

4. Get your Vitamin D. The days are shorter, meaning that it’s dark when you go into the office, and dark when you leave. But Vitamin D is the happy vitamin, and so important to keep you out of the doldrums. My first suggestion to you is to make sure you take at least 20 minutes in your day to sit outside in the sunshine (when it’s not raining or cloudy). But my second suggestion is to make sure you’re taking a Vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter months. The recommended dosage is 600 IU for anyone under 70 years old, and 800 IU for anyone 71 and older.

5. Keep organized. It’s easy to feel like there’s no time in your day if you’re not sure how you’re spending it. But if you create a schedule and try to keep to it, you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in a day. Same goes for how much money you’ll find when you stick to a budget, and how much sanity you’ll have left if you keep your house clean. Do your best this month to keep all areas of your life contained, and you may even develop a new habit for the new year.

6. Don’t over-budget your time. Be realistic, you can only do so much in one day. So don’t create some crazy schedule that will only make you feel like a failure when it collapses in your lap. Instead, put a star next to two or three things you have to get done today. Then, if you finish those and still have time, you can get a jump-start on a few things on tomorrow’s list as well.

7. Allow yourself time to be sad. Let’s face it, sadness happens – and that’s okay. It’s a necessary emotion that everyone must feel sometime or another. Own it. Spend a day in it. Truly feel it. Don’t mask it with electronics, or hide it behind a smile. You are sad. And the only way to get past being sad is to give yourself permission to be sad.

8. Ask for help. If you can’t get past the sadness, there is no shame in seeking out a professional’s assistance in lifting you out of that deep hole of depression. If that’s too scary for you, talk with a trusted friend and let them make that call for you. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be so incredibly sad that everything tastes bland, every day is on repeat, life has no purpose, and the sunshine just can’t reach you. And I know that when it gets to the point, the hardest thing to do is ask for help. Be brave, and ask for it anyway. It’s the best gift you can give to yourself, as well as to those who love you.

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Stocking stuffer ideas for tweens & teens

When it comes to Christmas, the catalogs and store shelves are filled with fun ideas for the younger crowd. But what about when kids get older? Toys are generally not as exciting, and the gift options become fewer and more expensive. This doesn’t exactly make it easy for Santa’s helpers to know what to put in a teen’s stocking…

In our house, stockings are just as exciting as the bigger gifts – even in the teenage years. But what the kids don’t realize is that I struggle with what to fill them with every year! So this year I enlisted the help of a few Facebook friends, and together we came up with this list of items that teens and tweens might love.

P.S. Feel free to add to this list in the comments!

Stocking stuffer ideas for tweens & teens:
– Silly socks
– nail polish or lip gloss
– candy, gum, mints, etc.
– retro toy from Cost Plus
– magazine
– book
– DVD
– earrings, bangles, etc.
– pen and journal
– lotions and bath soaps
– travel games
– card games
– cell phone accessories
– earbuds

Gift card ideas
– gas
– coffee
– smoothies
– fast food
– movies
– restaurant
– clothing

IOU ideas
– night out sans siblings
– night with later curfew
– night off from chores
– activity of their choice

Gift ideas for the broke at heart

IOU Santa

About this time every year, I can be found juggling a half-done gift list, trying to figure out how I can finish shopping for everyone on that list from the dwindling funds in my bank account. Regardless of how carefully I plan financially for this time of year, it always seems like it’s never enough.

With Christmas less than two weeks away, this is about the point when I start hyperventilating.

The one thing I have sworn not to do is dread the holidays. I’ve come close, this year probably being the hardest as I face the reality of paying off the bills from our recent wedding while simultaneously preparing for the most expensive holiday of the year.

It just seems like such a waste to be overcome with feelings of negativity when buying presents for others. It defeats the purpose behind the holidays when you get someone a gift out of obligation and dread instead of because you were thinking of them when you happened across the perfect gift.

So this past month I’ve been racking my brain for creative ideas, trying to find items that cost a lot less money but still tell the recipient just how much they mean to me.

One of my favorite ideas was inspired by one of my co-workers. She is digging deep into her treasure trove of recipes and putting together a mini cookbook for her brother. In exchange, her brother promised to build her raised garden beds in her backyard in the spring, utilizing his construction skills to save her time and money with his talents. I love this idea of gifting presents of service, because it can translate to just about anything and is easy for friends to give to one another. Single parents would probably love the gift of free babysitting. Those who know their way around cars can give free oil changes or headlight and windshield wiper replacements. And I don’t know anyone who would turn away a free day of cleaning or the promise of a fully cooked dinner.

People who are ruled by their right brain have a bit of an advantage in this department of creative gift giving. Regardless of how cool all of the season’s expensive gadgets and toys are, nothing holds as much meaning as the gift that was made specifically for the person it’s given to.

If you’re a writer, compose a poem and place it in a pretty frame. Artists can give presents of their artwork. Create collages that have a personal touch, filled with everything from photos to 3-D items like pieces from nature (think fall leaves, a pine cone or acorn), buttons, or fabric. Put together a collection of recipes, like my co-worker did, binding them with a decorative cover.

If you know how to sew, make something everyone can use like potholders or decorative throw pillows. You can even collect a few interesting beads and put together eclectic earrings or a unique bracelet that no one else can buy in a store.

For kids, be clear that just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean they’re bound to get everything on their list. It’s actually better if they don’t. First off, most kids will receive gifts from their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members. Let that take some of the pressure off you. But beyond that, it’s better to set the precedent while they’re young that on Christmas morning they’ll receive only a few of the items they asked for instead of all of them. It’s likely that once all the presents are opened, they’ll be so focused on what they have that they’ll forget about what they didn’t get.

And of course, it’s also important to teach kids the art of giving. It’s never too early to help kids give gifts to other family members, allowing them to feel what it’s like when the other person opens a gift they picked out just for them.

Other gift ideas can be theme related. Give a “Cozy Night In” by stitching an edge on a pretty piece of fleece to create a blanket, and include a favorite book. Offer the gift of a favorite memory by framing a photo of you and the recipient, and then include a note about what why this day was so special. Send the kids on a treasure hunt for their gift by giving them a map that leads to different clues that lead to their present. Or, if a bunch of your friends or family members are in the same financial bind you are, host a gift exchange party where everyone brings one unmarked gift to trade.

Some inexpensive gifts I found:

Life of pi purseLife of Pi Coin Purse:  Cost Plus is doing this massive marketing promotion for the movie of Life of Pi, which I don’t really mind because I just read the book (and LOVED it), and plan on seeing the movie before it leaves theaters.  Plus, it fits into their worldly theme with all of the Indian saris, clothing, jewelry, and other such items.  My favorite is this mirrored coin purse in orange (it comes in fuchsia too) for only $12.99.  I almost bought myself one, before I remembered that I was buying gifts for other people and not for me.  But who knows, maybe Santa will buy this for me…  Also, Cost Plus has deals of the day going on every day, so you’ll want to sign up for their email list or check their site regularly to find some great gifts for a lot less.  www.worldmarket.com

MrsMeyers_OrangeClove_ScentedCandle_webLMrs. Meyers Holiday Candle Tin:  Candles are always a nice touch for stocking stuffers or a gift for a friend.  This particular candle is in a fresh pine scent, or (my favorite) an orange clove scent.  When lit, it fills the room with that fragrance and sets a lovely mood.  The soy-based candle not only smells delicious, it comes in a reusable can.  Plus, it’s part of the Mrs. Meyers line of all natural products, which is always a good thing.  It runs for about $3.99, and can be found at Target or Whole Foods.  More info at www.mrsmeyers.com.

flashlightsFinger flashlights:  I came across these in a pricey catalog, and was instantly enthralled with them.  But I couldn’t fathom spending as much money as they were asking on these tiny gadgets.  So I did a little sleuthing and found a box of them over at Amazon.com for less than $8.  The kids will love having light wars with each other, sneaking in a little bit of midnight reading, and just being cool with a bunch of flashlights strapped to their fingers.

hand tattooHand tattoos:  A picture is worth a thousand words.  And these are pictures ON YOUR HAND!  These are awesome!  They come in either 2 sets of 8 animal or monster tattoos each (!), and can be found at UncommonGoods.com for only $12

Oriental Trading Company:  This website was a godsend when it came to planning a wedding.  And for parents with young kids, it can be a godsend for you too.  They have so many arts & crafts ideas, as well as perfect little gifts for the stocking, it’s ridiculous.  Peruse their website and you’ll see what I mean.  www.orientaltrading.com.

st jude bearGive back to charity:  There are countless charities that need our help all year long, but especially at Christmas when giving is in the front of people’s minds.  One of these charities is through Kmart, who is collecting funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital through December 29.  They’re making it easy to donate by giving an option at checkout to add $1, $5, or $10 to your bill at checkout, funds that will go directly to St. Jude’s.  Further giving can be accomplished by purchasing a St. Jude bear ornament for $5 each, of which Kmart will donate $1 for each ornament sold.  kmart.com

What are some of your gift shortcuts when times are tight?

5 reasons for the blues

I’ve been a real ray of sunshine on this blog as of late, haven’t I? I hate that the last several posts have been so negative. I’m afraid I’m becoming one of those people that use social media to complain – the very people I eventually unfriend on Facebook because I can’t take their negativity any more on my newsfeed.

Luckily there are only two or so of you who actually read this blog religiously. Unluckily, I’ll be real sad if either of you stop reading.

So hang in there with me, ok?

First off, I promise that my life is not that miserable. I have a lot of good things going on right now. I’m newly married, and totally still in the honeymoon phase (when we’re not being cranky, lol). I hope this phase lasts a long, long time. My new raise at work takes effect this next week, something that couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time. My birthday is in two days (yay!), and Christmas is just around the corner (yay!). And the editing of my novel is going so smooth, it’s possible I might even be able to get it published before my projected May 2013 release date.

So things are good.

Then why do I have the blues?

First off, it’s possible I’m suffering from post-wedding blues. Maybe. I’m thrilled to not have to plan a wedding anymore. You guys, I am so not a wedding planner. And yet I put every ounce of my energy into planning that wedding. And then it went by before I could even remember what happened at the party. Then we went on this fantastic honeymoon. Now, things are back to normal. And the “normal” is both a relief, and a bit of a letdown. I’ve discovered I suddenly have a ton of time on my hands – which I have slowly been soaking up in novel edits.

Second, this lack of daylight is giving me the blues. In the morning it’s dark. I get home from work, it’s dark. As a result (or maybe my excuse), I’ve stopped running. A few months ago I could run 3-5 miles, no sweat. Now, I don’t think I could run a mile, at least not very easily.

Which brings me to my third thing. I’ve stopped exercising altogether. My muscles are still in that achy stage where they are trying to will me to get up off the couch and get in some exercise. But my body and mind are like, “Screw that, hand me another chocolate covered cookie, please.”

And that brings up reason #4 – I have gained back the 10 pounds I lost before the wedding. I know, I know. That doesn’t seem like a lot of weight. But on my frame, it is. All my clothes are fitting tighter, which is so depressing I keep reaching for the chocolate and carbs to make myself feel better. Any hint of muscle definition I’d gained before the wedding is now gone. My stomach is spilling over my jeans. My pants, that were loose on me two months ago, are now a struggle to get on. The simple answer is to stop the mindless grazing, forbid sugary foods from my diet, and start getting up and exercising. But for some reason, the drive I had before the wedding is totally gone. I even had to take the scale out of my bathroom because I was habitually weighing myself and getting depressed over the number, and yet I was doing nothing to change that number.

Finally, #5. I’m excited about my birthday. I’m not excited about getting older. I’m turning 35, which might not seem like such a big deal. But there was a time when 35 seemed really, really old to me. I mean, it’s practically middle aged. I’m officially leaving my early 30s and entering my mid 30s. I might have to start collecting social security.

Perhaps if I up my Vitamin D, I might feel better. Or maybe if I can get myself to at least take a daily walk I can chase away these blues. I don’t know. But please hang in there with me. I’ll try not to be so depressing.

Picking out a live tree

With all this talk about Christmas Tree farms suffering this season, I thought I’d share my own story of picking out a tree.

When I had lived on my own, I’d succumbed to the plastic tree, saving money with a $20 midget tree we used year after year.  Every time we took it out of the box, the limbs looked a little worse for wear.  But with a little bending and prodding, as well as some strategically placed ornaments, it passed as an acceptable Charlie Brown tree.  When the pre-lit lights started burning out, I compensated by throwing a few more strands over it.  But when we moved into Mr. W’s house, I gratefully placed the tree on the curb to offer to any passerby who wished to become its owner.

But I admit it.  I liked the plastic tree.  It was less hassle.  I already owned it.  There was no pine needle mess, or stray spider nest to hatch in my home.  And while it drooped a little more each year, I was willing to pretend it looked like a real tree.  Sort of.  Needless to say, when we started our holiday planning, I talked up the artificial tree to Mr. W so well that he was sold on it as well.  We started looking through the ads for a quality tree at the right price.

“Wait.  What?” Mr. W’s son asked, suddenly tuning into our conversation.  At 16 years old, it had seemed he’d outgrown the Christmas Tree farm tradition the two of them had held for years.  Previous years, they had always visited the farm to choose a tree they deemed perfect, enjoy a cup of apple cider, and then pick an ornament to hang on the tree before heading home.  But, as most teens are wont to do, it appeared he’d grown bored with the idea.  Even when we’d initially told him of our plans to choose an artificial tree, he barely registered a reaction.  But sitting at the dinner table with us as we discussed buying our fake tree, he took a sudden note of interest.  And my own two kids chimed in as well, voicing their opposition to buying a fake tree.

“But think of the environment,” I squeaked, to which I was quickly overruled by better arguments to my defense.  Trees sold in parking lots would be cut down whether we bought them or not.  Disposing of an artificial tree is worse for the environment than disposing of a real tree.  So is creating one.  It’s good for our local farms.  The kids rattled off reason after reason as to why we should be buying a real tree instead of a fake tree until even I couldn’t help but admit Christmas just isn’t Christmas until the house is filled with the scent of pine.

So Sunday, we took off for Liberty Christmas Tree Farm at 241 Liberty Rd in Petaluma.

Here’s our day, in photos:

First thing you need when you go to chop down your own tree is a sturdy cart and a good saw.  

You also need a sturdy kid to pull the sturdy cart.  Thankfully, we brought the Taz.

Looking for a tree can be a really tiring experience.  I think we saw at least 10 “perfect” trees we were forced to abandon because one of us decided it just wasn’t perfect enough.  This brings me to the next reason why it’s important to bring the kids – child labor.

Ahhh….  That’s better.

When choosing a tree, it’s good to remember that the smaller the trunk, the easier it is to bring down.  Of course, this one got vetoed by the kids.  I don’t know why they got a vote, though.  It’s not like they were cutting it down….

Great job on pulling that cart, Taz.

Oh yeah, we did make the kids cut it down.  After all, that’s why they came, right?

Finally, a tree we could all agree on!

If you take anything from our goofy story, take this – if the tree farm you go to offers to shake out your tree, TAKE THEM UP ON IT.  This not only loosens any dead needles, it also makes sure all living creatures burns off a little fat, kind of like those belted shaking machines from the 80’s.  Oh, and it encourages them to vacate the premises, as well as any nests they may have laid within the branches.  Trust me.  I have lived through a Christmas of baby spiders. It wasn’t pretty.

Finally, a cold day of hunting for the perfect tree deserves a cup of hot apple cider.  Yum!

And now our house smells absolutely wonderful.  🙂  And yes, we do use a Care Bear to top our tree.  What?

Liberty Tree Farm is located at 241 Liberty Rd in Petaluma.  They sell all of their trees at one price, regardless of size.  Monterey Pines and Sierra Redwoods are $42.99, Douglas Firs are $49.99.   They offer tree shaking and netting for an additional $3 each.  Their apple cider is free, and they sell ornaments on site.  They’re open from 9am to 5pm every weekend.  Contact them at 490-6011, or visit their website at libertychristmastreefarm.com.

Anyone else buying from a farm this year?

The Richest Christmas

This year will be our fourth out on our own. But it seems like it was only a couple months ago that we were making the jump from a single family living with my parents, gaining our bearings after the divorce. Back then, it seemed so fresh and so new. And while we’ve gotten used to this space we call our own, the novelty of having our own home wearing off, I still find times that I marvel that we’re still surviving on our own.

Four Christmases ago, I think I felt the richest I had felt in a long time. In the corner of our living room was the Charlie Brown Christmas tree we had bought on sale at Kmart, the pre-lit branches of the artificial tree decorated with some ornaments we had bought, but mostly with ones we had made. To us, it was gorgeous. Underneath, the boxes of wrapped presents grew slowly, but surely. It was never a large amount, but it was proof that we could create our own Christmas. I admit that we had a little help from some generous souls. One family we were close to handed me a couple large bills to ensure that I could buy gifts for the kids. And another family opened up their trailer so that I could find some toys to give to my kids, and any other kids I knew who were in need. I filled my car, the blessings overflowing as I shared one family’s generosity with several families I knew who were hurting that year. I think my kids would have been happy with one gift from me, but thanks to all the help from those around, they ran downstairs to see our little pile of gifts grow to a mountain of presents they never had expected.

It was this little Christmas that reminded me of another Christmas years earlier, when the kids’ father and I were still married. It had been a really hard year for us that year. We had suffered a major hardship, and weren’t handling it well. We were ending that year out of work, out of money, and out of hope. But our innocent children knew no better. To them, every day was a reason to be happy. And despite the meagerness of our surroundings, they wouldn’t believe otherwise – that there was any reason why they should feel sorry for themselves. And on Christmas morning, my three year old daughter woke up to the gifts I had laid out the night before – humble trinkets and small toys I had found here and there for a grand total of $30 – and she turned her wide eyes up to me.

“I didn’t think we were going to get gifts this year!” And it took all I had not to burst into tears.

She knew she hadn’t been bad. She knew that, by Santa’s rules, she would be on the “good list” – just as deserving of presents as any other child. But it was suddenly brought to my attention that she knew more than we gave her credit for – that things were tight, and that we were going without at times to make ends meet. And she knew that would affect gifts that year. And yet, that was ok, because there was still so much to enjoy about the year.

In the years past, the kids and I have focused on different things to make our holiday season special. We take a night out to travel the town, in search of a house with the best Christmas lights and holiday display. We bake cookies, several batches at a time, to give out to family and friends, filling our kitchen with the heavenly smells of gingersnaps and our mouths with the decadent taste of snickerdoodles. Some years we catch a showing of the Nutcracker ballet, our personal favorite being the one that the Sebastopol Ballet puts on each year. Soup has become a winter tradition, warming our insides while the winter rages on outside. Every year there is at least one winter drive up to the snow.  And we regularly snuggle up on the couch to take in a movie, pulling out all our holiday favorites. And in these times, I do believe this is the best present of all – the memories we are making every holiday season.

The holidays aren’t just about giving gifts. They aren’t just about finding that number one toy of the year, or buying that expensive video game. It’s not about how many boxes are under the tree, or how much in debt the holiday list put you this year. Sure, kids want presents. But what are they going to remember? The time that was spent with them over the season – the traditions that were instilled in them that they will one day be passing on to their own family.

This year, don’t forget the gift of your time.

As for us, I’m thankful for each and every year we have lived on our own as a small family unit. This will be our final year doing this – next year Mr. W and I are combining our households, mixing our families and creating an all new and exciting adventure together. But for four years, we did it on our own, and had some of the richest Christmases we have ever experienced.