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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

The day before a New Year

 

It doesn’t seem possible that another year has gone by and we are once again looking at starting a brand new year tomorrow.  When I was younger, each year seemed to stretch out forever, and now they seem to slip by in a heartbeat. 

But despite the speedy passing of each day, I look towards the new year, like so many others, as a “fresh start.”  A blank slate where I can redesign my life, make new things happen, shake off some of the bindings of the past year and begin again.

Which is a lot to put on the turning of a page on the calendar, and yet each year I do it with a hope that there are exciting things waiting for me in the months to come. 

And there always are.  Quite mixed in with the lumps and bumps in the road there are always those moments of excitement and change, the glimmerings of dreams turning into realities.

And it is these moments that I want to dwell on at the end of the year.  There are always the negatives.  But the positives are what we celebrate – and in the strange way that our world and minds work, the more we celebrate the positives, the more positives we find!  (maybe THIS will be the year I become a full-fledged optimist??!! )  I have many hopes and dreams for 2012, but just for today, I am going to quell the dreamer in me that always wants to looks at what’s next. and for once savour and enjoy the joys that have already come to pass.     

Although I have not spent as much time here this year as in the past, I feel blessed to have this place to share my thoughts and ideas, to swap recipes, to share the joy of creating something new with others, to watch our gardens grow, to document the things that happen in my little corner of the world.  I am thankful for each one of you who has shared this year with me, both old friends and new, and look forward to whatever 2012 will hold!

Happy New Year!  Wishing you all the best in 2012!

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A Special Order for Christmas

Someone must have put in an order for Christmas snow, because on December 23 we woke up to this:

 

 

We enjoyed this snow (and more!) right through Christmas until this morning, when I woke up to green grass and rain.

Oh how I love a white Christmas!  Everything just looks prettier when it is covered by a layer of fresh white snow!

Did anyone else enjoy a Christmas that was white?

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Last year I shared with you how my mother-in-law taught me how to make an evergreen wreath.  This year we gathered with the whole family (my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, too!) to make them again.  We started our outing at our land to gather the evergreen boughs, and after a long (and somewhat wet!) hike we finally found the perfect branches.  After lunch we had a wonderful time creating our wreaths, and then going through the bags of flowers and pinecones that my mother-in-law has kept for just this purpose in order to decorate them. 

Creating an evergreen wreath is super easy and fun!  Here’s how:

1.  Gather a bucket of fresh evergreen boughs.  We found fir trees to work best for this because their needles lie flat and aren’t prickly.  I think other branches would work, but you might want to wear gloves to keep from getting poked by the needles. 

 

2.  Find or make a wire wreath frame.  You could make one out of a wire coat hanger, and the bonus is you will already have a hook for hanging!  You will also need some florist wire.

3.  Cut your boughs into lengths about as long as your hand.

4.  Gather these “hands” into a group of three or four (depending on how full your boughs are).

5.  Secure your wire to the wreath frame.  Wire the greens onto the front of your wreath frame by wrapping the wire around the wreath and greenery several times.

6.  Gather another group of “hands” and wire them to the back of your wreath frame, a small distance away from the group you just wired to the front.

7.  Continue to wire groups of branches alternately to the front and back until your whole wreath is covered.

8.  Twist the end of the wire to secure, and cut it off.  If you need a hanger, twist the wire into a hanging loop before cutting.

9.  You now have a beautiful evergreen wreath!  If the shape is a little wild, trim the boughs until you are happy with it. 

10.  Decorate as you wish!  When I purchased wreaths in years past I only ever decorated them with a long velvet bow that I reused year after year.  I can’t resist my mother-in-law’s collection of decorations though, and love the way the flowers and pinecones look on the greenery.  These are attached with a glue gun, and they pull easily off the wreath at the end of the season to reuse next year.

Happy wreath making!

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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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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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