Archive for November, 2011

Will Handmade Christmas Gifts Make A Comeback?

Decades ago, Christmastime was simple.  Gifts were handmade, families gatherings were much-anticipated, credit cards weren’t a billing option, and Black Friday hadn’t even been conceived.

Fast-forward to today.  In an environment in which the national unemployment rate hovers at 9% (much higher for certain segments of the population), poverty rates are at the highest level since 1993, household debt approaches a staggering $12 trillion (although it did decline slightly), and foreclosure rates of which we’re all vividly aware, I wouldn’t have imagined shoppers spending billions of dollars in discretionary shopping in the past few days.

So exactly how much was spent?  Black Friday 2011 sales hit a record $11.4 billion, a 39% increase over last year.  Add to that the $1.25 billion spent on Cyber Monday (another record-breaker), it’s almost inconceivable that unemployment rates could be so high.

In my mind, I imagined that there would be no time like the present (no pun intended) for a cultural return to homemade gifts for the holiday season.  (Disclaimer: I am a Christian and celebrate Christ’s birth, but do recognize that others celebrate holidays for which they shop during this time of year.  I am in no way referring to this time of year as “the holidays” for purposes of being politically correct.)  However, sales figures prove that my mental picture is wrong. 

Humor me.  What would Christmas look like if we turned a cultural corner and went back to the simple days of gift-giving and celebrating? 

  • Batches of baked goods would be exchanged
  • Families would gather to dine and sing carols
  • Scarves and mittens would be knitted with care
  • Stress level would decline
  • Toys would be built by the hands of loved ones

But who am I kidding?  Based on recent consumer spending, despite household debt figures, I don’t think we’ll make a return to simpler Christmas celebrations of old.  I’m not even convinced that consumer spending could go any lower without the proverbial bottom falling out of this already-dismal economy. 

Let’s face it.  Deal-seekers who camp out in front of electronic stores days before Black Friday, clickers who load and submit shopping carts on Cyber Monday, and a culture in which we want it all and we want it now, are both curses and blessings.  They are curses because they lead to rising household debt, but they are blessings in that without them, the unemployment rates would be much higher.

So, no, I don’t think handmade gifts will make a comeback anytime soon.  I still plan to bake a few batches of goodies though. 😉

Merry Christmas!



Stress-free Thanksgiving Vacation and Dinner…Almost

My first attempt at going solo cooking a Thanksgiving feast was nothing less than a total disaster in every sense of the word.  Who knew that frozen turkeys required days to thaw?  Who knew that there was a bag of innards that needed to be removed before cooking?  Who knew that my parents didn’t wake up to begin cooking a lavish feast soon after midnight just because it seemed like a fun thing to do?

Well, apparently, the whole world knew except me.  Draw your own conclusions as to how my first Thanksgiving attempt really went down; it’s too nightmarish for me to recount.

Fast forward almost 15 years to Thanksgiving 2010.  Two words: Boston Market.  Yes, they have become my festive meal savior.  The new tradition in my household is to log onto BM’s site, order a holiday meal complete with two pies, and choose a pick-up date and time.  That’s exactly what I’ve done each Thanksgiving and Christmas since last year.  So this year, pairing a vacation with the promise of having a stress-free, Thanksgiving feast seemed like the right thing to do.   Those plans hit a snag and were in serious jeopardy just days before the big road trip.

You see, for the entire week leading up to Thanksgiving, I’d been terribly sick and was praying for a sign as to whether we should cancel our vacation plans, or stay at home while I nursed myself back to good health.  The answer to that prayer?  I awakened on Wednesday morning feeling much better than I had in a week.

I spent the morning taking care of a few chores, we left home just 10 minutes past our self-imposed deadline, and after running a few essential errands (including a stop at Boston Market), finally hit the road a mere 1.5 hours behind schedule.  Success!  This was going to be a wonderful Thanksgiving vacation.

Although the drive out of town was harrowing at times, we arrived at our destination unscathed, but you wouldn’t have known it if you’d seen the horror on my face as we drove up to the hotel.  How could it be?  I’d booked rooms at a townhouse-style hotel without knowing it!  What’s the big deal?  Well, the two rooms were in different buildings…a no-no as we were traveling with four children.  Not to mention, breakfast was in a separate building and the only pool on location was an outdoor pool – a no-go in 50-60-degree weather.

Sigh!  So I walked inside, inquired about a penthouse suite, learned that they were all booked, and ultimately handed over my form of payment – for two rooms – in separate buildings.  Not one to be defeated, I headed out to the van to call the hotel company’s reservations center and found an alternative hotel that suited our needs.  Just as I was giving the agent a credit card number, the call was disconnected.

Had I misinterpreted “the sign” about whether or not we should stay home?  If so, how many more roadblocks would be in our way over the next few days?

Still not discouraged, I called the reservations center again, gave the agent very specific information about where we wanted to stay and skipped ahead to the good part where I heard the magic words, “Your reservation number is…” Yes!  “Kids, buckle your seat belts!  We have a new destination!”  :-)

There we were, back on the road again, but this time, we needed only cover about 15 miles to reach our destination.  As we sighted the new hotel, the word “Hallelujah” came to mind.

As we checked in, we found that although the new hotel had interior room entrances (not separate townhouse-style buildings), no adjoining rooms were to be had.  Not a big deal, because the desk clerk said she’d give us rooms next to each other.  Well, it turned out that the rooms weren’t next to each other as the room numbers would imply, they were across the hall and diagonal.  Good enough!

After settling into our rooms, we headed out to pick up a few last-minute items from the grocery store and set out to find dinner as well.  Panera was nearby according to our navigation system, so we headed over for dinner!  The parking was metered, but payment wasn’t required this time of night.  Another good sign.

My husband and I strolled hand-in-hand down the walkway toward a much-anticipated bowl of broccoli and cheese soup.  It sure seemed dark inside, but Panera does tend to have tinted windows.  We tugged at the door handles, but the doors were locked.  Now what?  It was getting late on Thanksgiving Eve and our dining options were dwindling by the minute.

Back to the car we went – no merry stroll this time.  After using the GPS to search for other restaurants, we managed to find food.  Finally, went back to the hotel to eat, my husband and kids swam, and I enjoyed the hot tub.  A great night was had by all!  Things were going our way.

As I looked through our “fully-stocked” hotel room kitchen, I realized that there wasn’t a pot big enough for something that I needed to make the next day.  So we spent a portion of Thanksgiving morning hunting for a large pot in which to boil the pasta that was needed for the homemade mac & cheese.  Sorry, but the mac & cheese and cornbread stuffing are dishes that I don’t think Boston Market does well.  After just two stores, we found a suitable pot.

Let’s get this minimal cooking underway!  Gosh!  What was that horrid smell?  The pasta!  No!  The pot was cheap, therefore, the pasta burned after just a few minutes – and it was still undercooked.  After that part of this slowly-unfolding disaster was taken care of, I had to deal with the fact that neither or our rooms had ovens.

The hotel company decided that the extended-stay rooms no longer needed ovens, so all of the newly-built and newly-renovated locations that had granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and flat-screen televisions have…no…ovens.

What happened to “all the comforts of home?”  Utensils…check!  Full-sized refrigerator and freezer…check!  Cloth dinner napkins…check!  Dishes…check!  Dishwasher…check!  Mixing bowls, pitchers, pots and pans…check, check, check!

Oven…Houston, we have a problem.  My home, as do most others, surely has an oven!  But no ovens were located in our “fully-stocked” hotel room kitchens.  Luckily, the front desk clerk offered to let us use the ovens in the main kitchen that the hotel’s chef uses.

Final crisis averted.

We enjoyed our almost-stress-free feast and relaxed before heading back to the pool and hot tub.

Our Black Friday plans didn’t involve going to stores that would be the scenes of pushing and shoving, so we slept in late (7 AM), enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and headed out at 9:30 AM to pick up a new blazer for my husband and camera lens for me.  We conquered Black Friday sales in under an hour and ended up having the rest of the day to do whatever our hearts desired.

Speaking of which, we haven’t decided what to do for the rest of the day.  The kids are enjoying a low-tech game of Monopoly, my husband has awakened from a nap, and I’m bidding farewell for now to you.

I hope that a Happy Thanksgiving was had by all!

Feeling truly blessed,


Blue and White Christmas Theme

Last spring, I painted my family room.  I had grown bored with the six-year-old wall color and the general look of the room, so out went the colors of my favorite football team, and in with something refreshing and “breezy”.  The formerly burgundy room was transformed into a beachy oasis in which the tan flooring represented sand, the white bookcases and trim are the clouds, and the light blue walls are my cool, relaxing sky.

Here’s a glimpse…

As I finished the first roll of the paintbrush, a thought came to mind: I would no longer be able to use the Christmas decorations that I’ve collected over the years.  The traditional red, gold, and green simply won’t fit in with the room’s new color scheme.

With that realization, I knew I’d have to hit the stores soon in search of new Christmas decorations that would complement, not distract from, the family room’s new theme. 

As if sent from above, I saw and advertisement for a “make and take” Christmas ornament session at the local craft store.  So, I hopped into my van with my youngest daughter in tow, so that we could get an idea of this year’s decorative trends and she could learn about the importance of being able to make something with her own hands.  Get them started young if you can.  Crafting can be therapeutic.

My reward/craft for obediently trekking to the store in search of cool Christmas decorations on a hot, summer’s day?  A beautiful clear ornament that was ultimately covered inside with light blue glitter and a pretty silver ribbon on the outside.  I love it!  My daughter chose white glitter for the interior of her ornament and it is equally beautiful.


Now, fully thinking about the work that I had ahead of me, I earnestly began my hunt for more decorations.  Due to that dogged determination (I love to decorate!), I soon found a supply of ribbons that was literally being stocked into bins as I perused the DIY aisle.  It didn’t take long for me to make a few selections for my new color scheme.  I am now the proud owner of 5 rolls of silver and white festive ribbon.  Note to self:  Need to brush up on ribbon-making skills for maximum decorative impact.

Fast forward to tonight.  This evening’s shopping trip turned up a set of snowflake ornaments that make an excellent addition to my small, but growing, collection of decorations for this year.

So, here’s everything together.  Obviously, I have my work cut out for me, but I love a challenge!

For the robust decorative look that I prefer, I’ll need to make many more trips to see what great finds are out there just waiting for me to spruce up my newly decorated room for the upcoming holiday season.  I’m also looking forward to making a few ornaments.

One more thing: no Christmas decor would be complete without matching wrapping paper.  You wouldn’t want to sabotage months of searching by using paper that doesn’t enhance the look, would you?

Happy decorating!

Share your pictures of your Christmas decorations here.