Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas Simplified: New Tradition of Giving

The last gift I gave at Christmas was cash. And what makes everyone happier than that? Well, as it turns out the answer to that question is spending money on others. Research  shows that we obtain more lasting happiness by giving money away than we do by spending it on ourselves. 

My son had a recent experience where a stranger helped him, which I refer to in the letter I included with the money. Mr. Snarky was taking a bus from Flagstaff to Phoenix to come home for Christmas. The bus broke down in the desert and after waiting 3 hours for help to arrive my son asked the driver to get his bag out for him. He began to walk down the highway pulling his luggage with his thumb out. Car after car passed him until finally, a guy in a truck pulled up and honked. It was a Native American man named Dan. He took my son all the way to the terminal. Mr. Snarky gave him 35 dollars in gas money, made his flight, and was home in time for his sister's graduation from graduate school the next day. 

 That experience sparked the idea for "Dan Money."

Now, I should probably tell you that while my husband, daughter, son-in-law, and son really liked the idea of doing this and starting a new tradition, they thought the letter I attached the money to was cheesy. 

So, dear reader, this is your cheesy warning. Here's the letter:

 This is Your DAN $$$

 You may remember that Dan is the guy who made it possible for Jared to get home for Christmas. In honor of Dan I'm instituting a new holiday tradition in which we honor this guy, who did what was probably a small thing to him but was a huge thing for Jared as he stood on the side of the highway wondering how he could get to the airport in Phoenix.

In future years when this story is told about how Dan saved Uncle Jared's, or Dad's Christmas  I'm sure the story will be laughed at and enjoyed, probably embellished to make it even better, as all good stories are. But I hope there will always be something done by our family for strangers at this time of year in honor of Dan. Who knows? one of you may be someone else's Dan before it's all over, and how cool would that be? 

The Rules

You must spend all the Dan money you receive on someone else. 

The person must be a stranger. 

You have to share the story with each other by New Year's Day. 

The Mission

That's it! You can buy someone a coffee, pick up a soldier's tab in a restaurant, feed a homeless person, or whatever you come across that needs to be done between Christmas and the start of the new year.

The Challenge

To see how much holiday good will can be spread by our little experiment and how creative you can be.

The Payoff

Studies show that giving makes us happier so this gift is about making you happier too! 

Merry Christmas! 

Okay, so maybe is is a little cheesy. Everyone seems to be looking for some special opportunity to give so the New Year's Day deadline will probably be revised. And in the future the amount of money may fluctuate depending on circumstances. I'll let you know what my family does with it. 

Has your family developed new traditions as the family changed?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Using the Christmas Clearance Aisle all Year

You may remember that in my Christmas Simplified post: The Wrapping, I advised you to hit the after Christmas sales to stock up for Valentine's Day and beyond. Today, I'll show you what I mean.

I finally dragged myself from the house and out of my pajamas to hit Target while it was still fairly quiet. The Christmas clearance aisles had been pretty well picked over but that didn't mean there weren't some prizes to be had at half off. I picked up some shimmery silver ribbon and a roll of shiny pink  that would be perfect for a birthday, or shower gift. I also found a little can of 50 gold, silver, and gray gift tags with ribbon ties and not a reindeer or elf in sight, just sleek geometric designs that will be appropriate for any occasion.

 The thing that thrilled me most though was the spectacular copper foil paper with the white glitter pattern. I think it will be stunning as gift wrap for a wedding present! The same goes for the white and silver swirl pattern on the other roll. There were still plenty of really beautiful things left and I was careful to only purchase what I actually thought I'd be using this year. It's not a bargain if you buy it because it's cheap and you don't need it and you just have to store it. That crosses the line from thrifty to hoarding. Let's just pick up what we need and leave the rest for the next shopper.

I can mark "pick up gift wrap" off my list for all of 2015. It's a start. How are you getting ready for the new year?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Simplified: The Details

Hope you all had the most wonderful, cheeriest, merriest Christmas ever. I'm working on a post about our simplified gift giving this year, but here is some eye candy for you while I get those links together!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Simplified: The Dining Room

 I really intended for my simplified Christmas to be simpler than this. I got a little carried away as you can see. Instead of a fancy tablecloth I draped the table with a simple painter's drop cloth. The narcissus and amaryllis were lovely but I wanted candles. Then I thought how pretty those dried hydrangea blossoms from fall would be. Of course I had to add some fir branches. Luckily some people up the street had piles of trimmed branches from their trees out for the trash.  How about some silver pieces to reflect light? 

This is the third go-round for the hydrangea blossoms. First as summer splendor in the yard, then in a pitcher for fall, and now adding that amazingly restrained antique white to this Christmas table. So lovely in candlelight.

I nestled unused pieces of silver amid the flowers and greenery. Here you see the top to a butter dish. Things don't have to make sense, they just have to work visually. Save your cash and use your imagination instead. The only money I spent was on the bulbs and half of those got planted in the garden for spring.

This is some straight-up-use-what-you-have-decorating. For the picture ledge I just gathered some things from around the house that had red and green elements. A friend had given me some fabric she was discarding so I wrapped the toile around a leftover piece of foam core board and tied a bouquet of greenery with twine to hang on top. As you can see, when I'm decorating I'm just doing what looks right to me and makes me happy. On this picture ledge that includes a vintage book about bees and bee plate from Anthropology for pops of green. I used a matte and another piece of scrap in red to complete the Christmas effect.

I love the twine here instead of a fancy glittery ribbon. 

The house looks very festive even without the giant tree. There did turn out to be a lot more involved than I meant for there to be but, it just kind of evolved once I got started. I like that things were either gathered or grown. There won't be any waste afterwards and nothing will need to be stored. The storage problem is kind of how all this got started after all. It just no longer makes sense to me to store boxes and boxes of decorations for 11 months out of the year. 

holiday dining room

I feel like, for the first time ever, I actually made progress in my spiritual life instead of just getting swept up in the holiday tide while lamenting the over commercialization of the season. I was quiet more. I slowed down. I spent less. My spending was small and very deliberate. For the first time in many years I wasn't exhausted and resentful. I was thankful and thoughtful. More about that part of my Christmas coming up soon. Until then, may you and yours have a beautiful Christmas no matter how you choose to celebrate it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Simplified: Antlers

 In my quest for simplifying everything, I sold our artificial Christmas tree and thought I'd decorate less. Except that I kept seeing such great vignettes on all the Nordic sites I was looking at on Pinterest for ideas. I kept seeing antlers. My daughter commented that antlers "are everywhere this year." If you read this blog regularly, okay, if you've ever read it you know I don't spend on trends. But hey, if I have the skull of a dead animal hanging around and it happens to be all the rage then sure, I'll drag it out and dress it up.

There was something about the winter starkness of these images that captured my decorating heart. 

 I had a deer skull that my husband found in the woods a few years back. No one at this house can kill anything. We capture spiders to release outside, for crying out loud. I brought it in from the potting shed where he'd placed it last year and spray painted it silver. It looked awesome.

The antlers I loved but the skull part looked strange as part of holiday decor. I decided to cover it with moss.

I used green thread to wrap the moss onto the skull. You can see it a bit in the photo below. This project took me less than ten minutes.


I love the way this turned out. I'm using very few Christmas lights this year and employing candles  instead. The price of this project was zero. It's got a Nordic vibe. It's beautiful and kind of funky. It's surrounded by ornaments that didn't have a place to go this year.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Simplified: Family Altar

I'm a docent at our local art museum. We have a fine collection of medieval religious art including altar pieces from churches. But we also have small pieces of art that were commissioned by private citizens for inclusion in their homes. As a Protestant the idea of a family altar is a new concept but one that I've embraced this Christmas season. It's just one step away from the creche. I found this one on Pinterest and it was my inspiration.

Protestants have traditionally frowned on the inclusion of icons and images in worship. But I think perhaps we've missed the point that these items can serve as reminders. We certainly make the exception at Christmas with nativity scenes. I looked around my house for things I could include in my family altar. The place for it to be was obvious and already included an icon I'd picked up in Assisi, Italy. What better reminders of simplicity could there be than St. Francis and St. Clare?

Okay, except Jesus, the standard for simplicity. I eliminated all the pieces of my nativity scene except the Holy Family and the lamb.

 I added the rosary I purchased when visiting the Vatican, a reminder of the crucifixion, and a couple of icons of the Madonna and Jesus I'd picked up in Estonia and Russia. I arranged them on a silver tray and added greenery from the yard.

A living, potted cedar tree looms over the display. Whenever I walk through this room or sit in it, this vignette reminds me to take a moment for contemplation.

This altar is helping me restore reverence to a season that can get overwhelming and frantic if we aren't careful. I wish I'd thought to do this when my children were young. Plus it's simply beautiful...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Simplified: Trees

My vision for Christmas without a tree included forced bulbs, greenery, silver, and candles. Then last weekend a friend invited me out to visit the new home she and her husband have just purchased. While we were touring their breathtakingly beautiful lot complete with woods and a lake they pointed out several cedar trees they were planning to cut down. "Hey can I have one?" Before I knew it her husband had a shovel in hand and my friend was instructing him as to which tree she thought I should have. He dug them up for me because I wanted to keep them alive in containers. These are seriously the most beautiful trees ever to me. I like them unadorned. And is there anything that is not improved upon by moss?

Without a giant Christmas tree in the living room window I wondered if the house would look "Christmassy" enough. I needn't have fretted. I love the way these trees look here and there. This one in the living room did get blessed with vintage ornaments from my husband's childhood tree.

 The third tree, and the one that presents are likely to go under, is this one. I planted it in a galvanized bucket and set it in this old crate I picked up at a yard sale a few years back. I threw one strand of lights in the bottom and tossed in some pine cones from the yard.

The fourth one got planted in this galvanized bucket. I just can't decide if I like the galvanized metal, silver, rusted urn, or wooden crate best as a tree container. Luckily I don't have to decide!

The cost of all these trees and their containers? Zilch. Or you could say that my friend bought me some $187,000 Christmas trees and she got a house and a lake for free.

It's all in your perspective.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas: Simplified

When my kids were little I killed myself over 3 or 4 days turning our house into some kind of weird 90s Victorian fantasy. It was so much work that I secretly began to silently dread Christmas. Then I began to resent it and all the extra work it meant for me.  Out loud. Where people could hear my actual words. (Cue music from The Grinch) I complained about the decorating, shopping, cooking, cleaning, traffic, lines, and any thing else that was irritating me at the time. Then a few years ago we planned a cruise that left on Christmas Day (insert John Grisham quotes from Skipping Christmas--Christmas With the Kranks, for you non-readers).

The cruise was the present. There was no shopping or wrapping. I set up the tree and my daughter and I literally threw Mardi-Gras beads at it to decorate it. Our cruise left from New Orleans and it seemed apropos. We drove by the mall and laughed at people stuck driving in circles looking for parking places. We scoffed at commercials. We relaxed.

The cruise was fantastic and we completely rethought our Christmas priorities. The next couple of years we continued the tradition but there was a kind of Christmas creep. We took a cruise and decorated the tree. Then we did all of that and bought gifts. Eventually we were doing a stressful Christmas and planning for a vacation, boarding dogs, packing, shlepping gifts.

Time to press the reset button. This year--no cruise. And a pared down holiday. Our son has been gone for 3 months and the only thing I want is to see him drinking cocoa by the fire. Or for him to scare his safety conscious sister with tales of his southwestern adventures. I can't think of a single thing I want or need. My husband and I aren't exchanging gifts.

This has been one of those tough years that shakes your priorities into shape. Even the gift giving I will be doing has a different focus I'll be sharing with you after the holiday. The next few posts will be about decorating and preparing for Christmas.

They'll be about making the house beautiful and festive for nearly free and making the money spent on gifts mean more than just adding to some corporation's bottom line.

If you are exhausted and ready to dial the Christmas chaos back a notch, then stick around.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Photo Shoot

My daughter and son-in-law are annoyingly attractive and stylish. I recently went downtown to their loft and took pictures of them for their Christmas card. Here are the results.