From the quiet of Canada's northern woods...

This is the place to be, if you love to start Christmas early. I'm planning to share easy Christmas crafts, recipes, gift ideas and the occasional happy Christmas memory - and I hope you will, too!

Dealing with Christmas Debt

January 23rd, 2010

I just bought my first Christmas gift for next year – it was the perfect item for a particular family member! And it got me thinking about an all-too-familiar phenomenon: Christmas debt.

You know the scenario. You start out with a strict budget for your Christmas shopping (or Christmas craft supplies!) You discover that the $2.99 lilac yarn you were counting on buying isn’t anywhere on the planet, any more, so you have to settle for $7.99 yarn, to get the right color. Or that jewellery box you were going to buy Ashlie has gone, gone, gone. You end up buying her a gift that costs three times as much. And then there’s all the “little” things that would be “perfect” for so-and-so.

Before you know it, you’ve spent 3 times your budget, and you’re either up to your eyeballs in credit card debt, or you’ve shorted out your utilities or some other awful thing.

And The Worse Part Is…

I’m not even talking about “big spenders” – people who buy TV sets or PC’s for Christmas: I’m especially talking about people on very tight budgets, who have been as careful as they know how to be, and have a Plan. (Which, of course, goes out the window at the last minute, thanks to Christmas shopping confusion, exhaustion, lack of time, lack of availability and 101 other reasons.)

That’s why now is a good time to start buying Christmas presents. If you can’t afford or don’t want to buy them all at once, try shopping for one a month. It’s fun that way – you can really focus on just that one special person, instead of trying to do a whole list (and discovering that you got Uncle Tim two presents, and Aunt Doris none). The stores won’t be crowded. You’re more likely to find unique gift possibilities (and less inflated prices).

Christmas Credit Tip

I came across a great holiday debt reducing tip at How To Manage Money Tips for those who do use multiple credit cards, and run up high amounts at Christmas. (This tip is especially relevant to you if you have already done that, and are now suffering the consequences.)

Consolidate your balances by moving them all to one credit card – the one with the best rate.

If you don’t want to do that, choose the card with the highest interest rate as the one to pay off first – pay the minimum payments on all the others till you’ve “killed” the big one. Not only will it feel darned good when you finally see that zero balance and stop paying that nose-bleeding interest, it’s a proven tactic to killing off credit card debt much more quickly than trying to service all of them to the max at once. Repeat the process with the next highest-interest card, and so on.

(Of course, this only works if you don’t add more debt. If you do need to use a credit card occasionally, add purchases only to the lowest-interest one.)

Reality Check: How It Really Plays Out…

My own way of creating a personal money tree and making sure I’m not caught short and put in debt for Christmas is a very weird one: I buy a pre-paid Mastercard credit card from my bank (not from one of those pre-paid companies – you’ll run into problems if you go that route!) Your bank may not advertise it, but they will have a pre-paid Mastercard or VISA – just ask!

I load it with $10 here, $5 there – and I don’t spend it (unless I come across the perfect Christmas gift for someone, in July). I add to the balance easily by phone banking, and keep the card in a safe place (not in my wallet). By the time I discover I haven’t crafted the gifts I was going to make, and I haven’t been able buy a gift every single month, I have a nice little nest egg to spend, come December, when I check the final balance on that credit card.

The biggest bonus? It’s all “extra” money – it’s not coming out of my regular budget. And it feels wonderful to have that reserve to play with, for my favorite people!

Merry Christmas 2009

December 26th, 2009

christmas-night

Hope your Christmas 2009 was a healthy, safe and merry one!

Thanks for sharing this Christmas season with me – hope to see you next year…

Polish Christmas Eve: A Precious Memory

December 24th, 2009

As remembered by Gwen Foster, my mother-in-law…

first-starIn the rural areas of Poland, festivity began when the first star (representing the Star that appeared over Bethlehem so long ago) shone in the sky and the guests tried to arrive at the home of the host at that hour. However, the progress of the 20th century (along with the general exodus from rural to city) encouraged hosts to set the arrival time closer to 6 p.m. here in Canada.

Guests were greeted by the host, who kissed each arrival lightly on each cheek – a “holy” kiss of welcome, Mike said. [Ed. - my late father, who was Polish.]

After the usual chit-chat, guests were seated around the dining table. At each place there was a tiny glass of wine and a wafer, which had come all the way from Poland. It was, in fact, a Communion wafer, so that a simple family Eucharist took place. We all stood as a blessing was invoked – sometimes by Mike in Polish, sometimes in English by my husband, Alex… and sometimes all together by joining hands and repeating the Lord’s Prayer. Then we sat and broke our piece of wafer, which we exchanged with the person seated next to us.

Following this introduction, the meal proceeded with steaming bowls of barszcz, upon which pierogies of cabbage or meat were floated.

This sumptuous ethnic feast was followed by a dessert that was totally British! Mike’s wife, Eleanor, prepared the English Trifle for dessert because she wanted her traditions to be included too. It was super, and the only English Trifle which ever satisfied Alex.  Following this meal, we adjourned to the living room, where a decorated Canadian Christmas tree bore small gifts (which reminded us that Christmas is of itself a heavenly gift.)

brotherly-hugsAfter this gift exchange and socializing, we left to go our separate ways; and every year I mused that when Poland, Canada and Britain came together in this way, it showed the unity of peace about which the angels sang in that starlit sky, so long ago – a unity which can still be seen in a simple multi-national family group even as it was sung by the angels so many long years ago.

It remains a precious memory.

(Wesolych Swiat, Everyone!)

Christmas Chaos Conquers All (Almost)

December 23rd, 2009

merry-fresentsWell, in spite of my good intentions and my great beginning with my blog, life caught up with me and I haven’t been able to squeeze a square minute into updating Christmas North this last week.  BUT – I did manage to mail half my Christmas cards (usually I don’t, blush blush) AND – I mailed them on time, so that people will actually get them before Christmas.

And I’ve got all my presents made, bought and wrapped. (Usually, I’m wrapping madly at this very second.)

I met wonderful guest posters, learned some stories from my mother-in-law that I hadn’t heard before and had a lot of fun. My daughter wrote her first-ever blog post anywhere, and in spite of being extremely busy, my sister wrote and illustrated a wonderful 3D Christmas paper tree tutorial.

Thank you so much, everyone.

I can’t wait for tomorrow – it’s going to be December 24, Christmas Eve day… Polish Christmas!  I have dozens of pierogies to make, and a vat of barzcz, as well as an English Trifle (my mother’s contribution to our family traditional Christmas Eve).

Another reason I can’t wait is because my mother-in-law is taking over tomorrow’s post – I’ll be too busy making those pierogies and hanging out with grandchildren.  She lives far away since she re-married, and this is a way for us to share Christmas once more. She has written a very special post for December 24 – a memory of my late father that even I don’t have.  It will be almost like having him back among us again (which he is in spirit, anyway, every Polish Christmas Eve!)

But I’ll leave the last word to my littlest grandson, Leo (age 2 3/4). It’s really the first Christmas where Leo’s been old enough to clue into the whole festivity thing; and my daughter reported, proudly, that he’s beginning to get excited about “Fresents” – and has learned to say: “Merry Christmas!”

As proof, she put him on the phone.

“Say `Merry Christmas’ to Grandma, Leo.”

“Hi, Leo!”

“Hi, Gamma.”

“Merry Christmas, Leo!”

MERRY FRESENTS, Gamma!”

So there we go.

Merry Fresents, everyone!

A Child’s Toy

December 17th, 2009

Submitted by Gwen Foster (source unknown)

spotted-dogThe story is told of a young boy who traveled with the wise men on their long journey from Persia to Judea. The men were traveling on camels, and the camels needed care along the way. They needed food and water and grooming, with their feet checked nightly for any injuries. Therefore young lads were employed to do these jobs, and they did them well.

They knew that the adults were bringing gifts for a child who would one day become a king, and they were happy about that. However, there was one boy who seemed troubled as he approached his master and asked if he could bring a gift as well.

The wise man was astonished and asked whatever a boy would have that would be fit for a king! The boy took a small wooden dog out of his pocket. It was white with black spots and had a silly grin painted on its face. Protruding from its side was a key which the boy turned before placing the dog on the ground. Once released, the toy dog turned a somersault and another and another until the spring ran down and then it lay on its side looking up with a silly grin.

The other boys were delighted and laughed merrily but the wise man looked doubtful. “We are going to pay homage to a great king. That is not suitable for a king!”

“I know” said the boy quietly, “but this is for the child he is now…”

gwen

“Then they opened their treasures, and presented him with gifts of gold, and of incense, and of myrrh.” (Matthew 2: 11)

The Underwear Tree

December 14th, 2009

By Teresa Bell Kindred

Teresa-Bell-Kindred-And-DauMy husband and I have been married for twenty nine years. We are the parents of four boys (including a set of identical twins) and one girl. When they were all small our Christmas was pure chaos. Because our daughter was always outnumbered by the boys and their friends she learned to be tough.

The year she was twelve years old we put up our tree one busy week night, but didn’t have time to decorate it. They were all disappointed and didn’t want to wait, but it was way past their bedtime and they had school the next morning. They went to bed, but they weren’t happy about not decorating the tree.

The next morning I was cooking breakfast when I heard my daughter scream. She was in the den, and when I came running in, she pointed to the tree. It was decorated with her training bras and panties!

Not to be out done she snuck in her brother’s room (he was still sleeping) and soon the lower half of the tree was decorated with jock straps and boxers. Son number two got in on the action by adding his favorite Ninja Turtle underwear and some of his twin brother’s training pants.

We thought it was so funny that we left it that way for several days. That year was officially known as the year of the Underwear Tree. It was definitely a conversation piece!

Teresa Bell Kindred © 2009
thenanablogs.com
nanahood.com

teresa-bell-kindredA former columnist for Kentucky Living magazine, busy writer Teresa Bell Kindred has also successfully produced 7 books and 5 children.

Fake Christmas Tree or Real: Which Is Right For You?

December 12th, 2009

tree-litDo you prefer a fake Christmas tree… or a real one? No matter what you answer, you’ll most likely agree that, somehow, the family Christmas tree seems to be the heart of Christmas. The fairy lights add to the enchantment… and for some people, cutting down the tree is part of the ritual.

I admit, I adore real trees: We always had one when I was a little girl, and the scent was magical. But it was too sad when the tree finally died. The moment I realized you had to actually kill the tree to bring it home for Christmas, I stopped wanting one. And when we emigrated to Canada, we switched to artificial trees.

Green artificial trees really did the trick for me. I had the satisfaction of thinking about the living tree that didn’t get cut down (at least by my family) – and to me, the artificial green tree still looked as lovely, with its home made pine cone decorations and treasured, heirloom glass balls.

One year, we tried a silver artificial Christmas tree. It didn’t feel like Christmas at all. It was possibly the most dismal Christmas I remember, because the silver tree seemed to affect everyone’s mood. (Or maybe it was because my poor mom was going through menopause.) But that was the first, and last, time we opted for a non-green tree.

A Whole New Meaning To “Green”

Of course, nowadays, “green” has a whole new meaning. And it’s right that we should all be caretakers of this wonderful planet we inhabit. There are pros and cons for both types of tree – artificial and organic.

Real trees are grown on “tree” farms, and are destined to be cut especially for Christmas. When they are thrown out, they degrade quickly – whereas discarded plastic trees will probably still be sitting in the landfills 3,000 years from now, when archaeologists uncover them.

On the other hand, artificial trees can be re-used every Christmas. Small, pre-lit ones are a great option for seniors or the disabled – especially the ones nowadays that come with strings of fairy lights already installed. And you can use them for years.

Christmas Tree Rules It’s Harmful To Break

treesWhen it comes right down to it, “real” tree versus “artificial” tree is purely a personal choice: There is no easy “right or wrong” answer. But you can greatly minimize the impact on the environment (and on your life) by following a few common-sense rules.

  1. Take care of your artificial tree. When the Christmas season is done, pack it away carefully, and store it under dry conditions. That way it will last for years – if you’re going to play rough with your trees and toss them in your local dump every year, well, that sorta defeats the purpose, right? (Yet I know families who have done just that!)
  2. Water your organic tree. Water it often. The biggest mistake people who buy real trees make – and the one that is cited as the most common cause of house fires during the Christmas season – is forgetting, in all the excitement, that this is living material… and a plant that needs water. If it doesn’t get watered, your wonderful real tree will dry out and become a real fire hazard. (And trying to vacuum up pine needles is another challenge altogether!)
  3. Use LED lights - whether you put them on a real tree in your house, one in your yard or on an artificial Christmas tree. They not only use drastically less energy than non-LED – but if you put “ordinary” lights on an evergreen outside your house and leave them on all winter, they’ll kill the tree.

Or you could be like my sister, who digs up one of her carefully-planted white pines in the middle of her acres of forest, and keeps it potted and alive all through Christmas until it can be re-planted back in the wild, during the Spring. Nobody else I know who’s tried this seems to have made it work, or made it not look ugly – but if you want to talk about real magic, my sister is a wizard with all flora and fauna of the forest she caretakes.

Bottom line: Both artificial and organic Christmas trees can instill oodles of Christmas atmosphere and help you keep the Christmas spirit alive and well: But whichever one you pick – keep it “green”

Paper Christmas Ornaments: 3D Christmas Trees

December 7th, 2009

by Teresa of Loony Knoll

swirly-tree-snowThis is an easy way to make paper Christmas trees from card stock. Designs are flexible. Below, you can download a .ZIP file containing  three different pattern sizes, to be printed out on 8.5″ x 11″ paper.

There are plain patterns that can be coloured however you like, and also pre-colored sets. Pages 1 and 2 of the pre-colored full-tree patterns are designed to be printed on a single piece of paper. They should turn out perfectly aligned (tree print matching on both sides) if you set your printer for 8.5” x 11” specialty paper, and select “borderless” in the printer features menu.

You’ll find the assembly instructions in a separate .JPG file you can simply print. Once you have assembled your trees, it’s up to you or your children to decorate them. You can stick on paper ornaments, Christmas stickers, or paint ‘snow’ or glitter glue on the branches. You could also arrange them in a diorama – a cluster of different-sized trees on a tray lined with quilt stuffing (for snow) sprinkled with glitter.

Perhaps in the future, I’ll have Santa’s reindeer and sleigh to add. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this project.

Download Teresa’s printable patterns by right-clicking on the link below: Choose “Save Link As” or “Save Target As”…

Teresa’s Paper Christmas Trees File size: Approx 716 kb.

Teresa © 2009
Loony Knoll

tk2
Thanks to my sister, Teresa, for taking the time to create these original paper Christmas ornaments. Can’t wait to print them out and make them with Katherine and Emily (Michael too, if he’s in the mood!)

The Singing Christmas Tree

December 4th, 2009

By Gwen Foster

christmas-treeWhen we were living in an urban area and David was a small boy, we purchased Christmas trees from any vendor who was selling nearby. We were careful to choose a spruce that was well shaped, symmetrical all round, and well needled; of a size to suit the space indoors that we had allotted for the purpose.

One year we could not find a suitable spruce and settled for a Scotch Pine.

Shortly after the tree was set up and decorated we heard a sweet gentle sound – a “pingggggg!“. It was coming from the tree and David said: “Our tree is singing” as another similar sound was heard.

In short, the pine cones warmed by the heat of the room were opening and, as they did so, they emitted this special song for us. It was quite lovely, and thereafter we always searched for a Scotch Pine heavily laden with cones which opened over several days (not all at once).

gwen

“Let the fields rejoice and all that is therein. Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 16: 32 & 33)

What Is Your Best Christmas Memory?

December 3rd, 2009

presentsToday was a red-letter day for me. I got taken out for a small excursion to Home Depot to buy a lightbulb, look at the Christmas plants and trees, and enjoy a hot dog for lunch.  The trade-off was sitting in the SUV waiting for my driver to run several of his own errands, since it was neither practical nor timely to lug my customized wheelchair out from the back; assemble it; and afterwards, disassemble it at every stop.

Mind you, my driver would have been quite happy to do that, I know – but since the other stops had no Christmas plants and trees to look at, it was a dark, ice-wet day and I was guiltily full from the hot dog (besides having zero interest in car parts or groceries), I opted to stay in the nice warm SUV and listen to the radio.

I was glad I did. A Dee-Jay from a Barrie station down south (whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch) was speaking about Christmas. He offered his listeners a challenge. His topic was the insanity of Christmas shopping, and how gifts have gotten away from being meaningful, personal tokens, and are now all about high ticket items, with children not even taught to write thank you letters any more. (That last bit was mine, and probably dates me.)

Was It The Presents or The People?

The Dee-Jay wanted to know… what do you remember most about your most special Christmases from childhood? Was it the presents… or the people?

For me it always was – and still is – family.  It was singing carols with my dad, decorating the Christmas tree, our Polish Christmas barzcz and pierogies, the fairy lights, going to Midnight Mass and just the whole feeling of Christmas in general. For me, since Christ is the core of my life, it was a very Holy time.  Which was a good thing, because in post-War Glasgow, presents were few.

Oh, I have had some memorable presents – but they weren’t “big” ones. And the presents I do remember were all meaningful because of the connection; because of the love put into them…  like the rag doll called Julie that my mother sewed herself…  the “real” doll she saved up for in the local Greengrocer’s Christmas Club when I was 8 (the year after my brother’s death), putting in precious pennies a week…  her Christmas Orange Pomanders… knitting from my sister… carved wooden toys from my brother. And nowadays, my mother-in-law Gwen’s special shortbread.

What about you?  What do you remember most about your Christmas past: the presents or the people? What was your most memorable Christmas – and why?