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Archive for November, 2011

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  The candle has been lit, the streets are white with snow, and the sound of Joy to the World still echoes in my ears from this morning’s church service. 

The Christmas season has begun.

Hubby and I have been busy making Christmas lists, planning celebrations, and I have at least ten homemade projects already on the go.  (Tutorials for evergreen Christmas wreaths and homemade envelopes will be up on Artisan in the Woods soon!)

But as much as I love the bows and ribbons, papers and cards, decorations and gifts, I know Christmas means so much more.

And as family begins to ask us what we want for Christmas, we are reminded just how very blessed we are in that our lists reflect beautiful things that we want, because we already have everything we really need.

It was out of this feeling and understanding that a new giving tradition has been born in my extended family. 

Many extended families have become creative with gift giving over the years.  Gift swaps, drawing names, gifts for kids only, gifts for the whole family to share, homemade gifts only, and card parties are just a few of the ways that families I know have chosen to celebrate the season of giving with each other, and as a way to lessen the number of gifts each family member needs to buy.

In my extended family, we decided that rather than trying to fill stockings with our wants, we would instead come together to help meet the needs of others.  This endeavour has had us shopping for Christmas dinner for families in need, giving gifts to those who otherwise wouldn’t have any, sharing gifts of love and handmade items to those who struggle through the season, and putting our hands and hearts into serving others.  Even my young nephews are involved in the gift-giving and love-sharing.

And this giving to others is also a gift to each other.  A gift of time spent together doing something worthwhile.  A gift of counting our blessings together and knowing we have more than enough.  The gift of watching the children among us grow in their understanding that Christmas is more than Santa and gifts under the tree.

When we come together as an extended family for Christmas dinner we may not be passing each other shiny-wrapped presents, but we share in the joy of the season and allow time spent together and warm embraces to be our gifts of the day.  It has become one of my favourite parts of celebrating the holidays together.

 It came without ribbons,
It came without tags,
It came without packages, boxes, or bags.
Christmas can’t be bought from a store…
Maybe Christmas means a little bit more.

~ Dr. Seuss 
How do you share Christmas with your extended family?    

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We have had an absolutely gorgeous fall here in Atlantic Canada.  Warm temperatures and sunny days  have meant the longest gardening season we have ever had. 

I am still harvesting the odd lettuces and spinach, many of the herbs are still growing, and some of the plants (like the celery) have been tricked into sending up new shoots! 

 

 

Despite this, we know that winter will soon be coming.  So while the weather is still warm, hubby and I spent the day putting the garden to bed for another year. 

We have been cleaning out plants here and there as they have finished their growing season, but when we began working our garden still looked like this:

 

By the time we were done, the garden looked like this:

 

We removed all of the annual plants completely, snipped off the spent perennial stems, and weeded all of the gardens.  We then piled leaves as mulch over some of the perennials, including the strawberries and newly planted Egyptian Onions.  Last year we bought straw to cover our strawberry plants and still lost them over the winter, so we’ll see if they are still around in the spring. 

We usually cover everything with a layer of compost/manure in the fall, but we missed the garden centre sale on these items this year, so will have to wait for spring.  (We make compost of our own, but not enough to cover all of the gardens!)

I have left the lettuces and spinach for now since we are still harvesting (although since we removed all of the deer netting I am not sure what will be left once they discover the “free buffet”), and we are still enjoying carrots and a new crop of green onions.  This late harvest almost made us want to build some cold frames to see how long we could extend the growing season, but I think that is going to be an experiment for another year.

And so another gardening season has come to a close.  Is anyone else still harvesting?  What do you do to prepare your garden for winter?

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Some of you might be saying, “The holidays?  Already?  Isn’t it too early for that?”   I’ll admit that I don’t like hearing Christmas carols in the grocery store in October or walking past rows of Christmas trees before the leaves have even fallen from the trees outside, but if you are thinking about planning holiday events and parties – now is the time to begin.

 And this is one of my favourites. 

 What is a “New-To-You Gift Swap?”

It is similar to the standard office party/large group gift exchange, where everyone brings a gift to the event, and everyone takes a different gift home.  The big difference is that the gift you bring is something you already own. 

What types of items do people bring to a new-to-you exchange?

It could be that beautiful Christmas ornament that you just never put out, or that scarf you were given that you never wear because it doesn’t match your coat, or that game you thought you’d love but your family never plays.  It’s something that you don’t use anymore, but you think someone else might love.  This leads to a whole lot of variety, and a whole lot of fun.  One year one of the party-goers in my group of friends wrapped up a tacky Christmas sweater as her contribution to the exchange.  What a laugh we had when that gift was opened!  It was quickly followed with a photo shoot of the recipient modeling the “beautiful” sweater.  It was such fun that it has become a tradition and there always seems to be a festive sweater hidden in the pile each year (and with the popularity of “ugly sweater” parties, it has actually become a very useful gift!)  J   Of course, if you only want pretty things or useful things at your party, you can just say so in your invite.   

Why bother?  Why not just buy something new?

In my group of friends, the gift exchange started as a way to share the joy of gift giving with each other, without having to add another item to our long “to buy” lists.  For those of us concerned about the environment, it is a way to reuse and recycle and lesson the “consumer” aspect of the holiday season.  But most of all – it’s fun!  The selection of gifts is always varied and it’s exciting to see what items will appear in the gift exchange each year. 

How do you decide who gets what gift?

This is the fun part!  We play a game commonly called a “Yankee Swap” around here.  (I have no idea how it got that name.)  You can find the rules here.  It’s the swapping and exchanging part of this gift-giving game that makes it so enjoyable – and it’s always interesting to see which gifts are the most popular and most often swapped.  There are other ways you could hand out gifts, of course.  But adding a game aspect adds to the excitement. 

What would I write in an invitation?

On top of the usual “what, where, when” here are some things you might include:

You are invited to a “New-to-You Gift Swap” – a gift exchange party without the stress of buying a gift!

As part of this evening of fun and giving, each person will give a gift, and go home with a different gift.  The only rule is – the gift must be something you already own.  Maybe it’s something you have, but never use.  Or something you love, but don’t need anymore. It doesn’t matter what the item is, as long as it is something that can be used by someone else.  The variety of gifts is half the fun!  Don’t forget to wrap it up!

Take it a step further

Are you loving the swap idea?  Here are a few ideas to take it a notch further:

  • Have a tacky swap party.  If laughs are more important than the gift, have everyone search their houses for the tackiest thing they can find and wrap that up!  This might be a great accompaniment to one of those “ugly sweater” parties!
  • With a really close group of friends you could go in the other direction and have everyone bring something they own that they really love.  This is the true spirit of giving, isn’t it?  Giving things that are important to us to those we love!
  • If you really want to make this an earth-friendly party, you could also encourage reusable wrapping for your exchange gifts.

Time to Party!

Does anyone else host these types of parties or plan to hold one this year?  Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

 I was inspired to write this post after “meeting” Amy from  Joy to the Earth.  Her plan for a more joy-filled, less commercial Christmas really resonated with me.  It reminds me of the story of the Grinch – where Christmas came to Whoville even without the presents, the decorations, the roast beast.  That’s the holiday I am celebrating this year – the one that makes us sing for joy no matter what is lying beneath the tree!  Happy party planning!

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A Costume Party

Last night Hubby and I attended a Settlers of Catan costume party and tournament.  (We’re geeks, I know, but proud of it!)  We really enjoy the game, and I like to dress up, so it was a perfect evening!  I have always wanted to own a medieval gown (and an elven cloak, but that’s a story for another day) and this was the perfect excuse to make one.

Hubby decided to be the “robber” from the game.  The robber is a grey playing piece  in the new version of the game and black in the old, so we compromised and put him in a grey tunic with a black cape.  I was lucky enough to find this fabric on sale for $1 a yard, so even with the cost of the pattern, this was one frugal costume! (and I think it turned out pretty well)

I decided I wanted to go as a settler of Catan, and so was in need of a medieval dress.  I found a really soft cotton/linen blend in the sale bin at the fabric store which turned out to be perfect.  I love this dress!  It was so comfortable to wear, although people did keep stepping on the train at the back.  I wonder how medieval women did it?  I know they didn’t wash their clothes very often, and you would think the bottom of that train would get pretty dirty pretty quickly.  For a night though, it was fun!

One of my favourite details is the laced-up back.  I am actually considering creating some of my other dresses this way.  It’s so much more fun than a zipper! 🙂   If you want to know more about how I made the costumes, you can check out this post

It was really fun to see some of the other costumes at the party.  There were some strong-looking knights, a few trees, many robbers (with so many thieves in the room it’s a wonder the trophy wasn’t stolen!) and even a sheaf of wheat!  The prize for the cutest costume definitely went to the newborn dressed up as a sheep.

It’s fun to be someone else for an evening.  If you could dress up as anyone, or own clothing from any time period, who, or what, would it be?

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